Tag Archives: fail

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, a Read-along (Act One)

Loten refuses to read this [though I will be interjecting in various places] so we decided it was my turn. Let’s see how long it takes for this thing to turn my brain to mush. I’ll try to keep up running commentary as we go and summarise my final thoughts at the end.

Full disclosure: I’ve written about this play before, I’ve already read quite a few spoilers and am aware of some of the more outrageous plot points.

Title page says: “Based on an original new story by J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany & Jack Thorne. A new play by Jack Thorne.” (Rowling’s name is in the biggest letters, naturally. I’m not sure how much of it this means she actually wrote. The impression I get from this title page is that Thorne of the small-name-font-size wrote the play itself, Rowling clearly wants the most credit for the storyline but who knows what role she’s actually played. But if this ends up reading like fanfic, that’s because in a sense it is. I wish I could be optimistic that with some other writers to help, Rowling might turn out something decent.)

Also, this is a “special rehearsal edition” whatever that means. It’s 191 pages. Fucking kill me now.

There’s a dedication page with a dedication from each of the three authors. Rowling’s is to Thorne, and reads as follows: “To Jack Thorne, who entered my world and did beautiful things there.” We’ll see, Joanne. We’ll fucking see.

The play’s divided into two parts, each of which is divided into two acts.

Act one.

Scene one.

We open literally during the epilogue everyone hated, a promising start. And they’re literally recycling lines from the book, which I suppose works as callback (the fans this is aimed at will probably like it), but is already pissing me off.

Harry and family are at King’s Cross and they’re sort of telling James off for mocking Albus and saying he might be in Slytherin. Good job perpetuating house prejudice, Harry, here’s your father of the year award. It’s shaped specially like a dildo so you can shove it up your arse.

Actual stage direction: “HARRY and LILY put their hands on ALBUS’s trolley — GINNY joins JAMES’s trolley — together, the family run hard into the barrier.” Genuinely curious how they did this in the actual show; I wish I could believe they actually did force the actors to crash into a wall.

Scene two.

More actual stage directions: “His hand is empty. It’s a lame trick. Everyone enjoys its lameness.” (about Ron doing some kind of stupid trick in an attempt to amuse a child) Ron’s barely been in scene and already I hate him. Also everyone’s using the word lame, not just in the stage directions; someone tell Rowling that it’s ableist, I don’t think she knows. Hermione’s snarking at him but I don’t think Rowling meant all of her lines to be snarky, which amuses me.

This, however, does not amuse me:

ALBUS: Dad . . .
ALBUS pulls on HARRY’s robes. HARRY looks down.
Do you think — what if I am — what if I’m put in Slytherin . . .
HARRY: And what would be wrong with that?
ALBUS: Slytherin is the House of the snake, of Dark Magic . . . It’s not a House of brave wizards.

WHAT HAVE YOU BEEN TEACHING YOUR CHILDREN YOU IDIOT. Also, let’s dissect Albus’ objection here (he sounds like another Albus, doesn’t he?). What, exactly, is wrong with snakes? [I concur. Snakes are awesome and often surprisingly cute.] What, exactly, is wrong with not being brave? (I know, I know, we’re working in Rowling’s value system, where bravery is just a synonym for virtue…) Objecting to Dark Magic is the only potentially-sensible thing, I won’t go too deep into apologetics about it but suffice it to say Rowling has never once defined what ‘dark magic’ actually means, except ‘magic good people don’t like and disliking it makes you one of the good people’. Learn your Euthyphro, Rowling, your tautology is showing.

Of course from there we go into the infamous “bravest man I ever knew” line, straight out of the book, and we learn Harry’s never once explained to Albus Severus where his name came from (well, we already knew it from the book, but here it is again). Stage directions explicitly say this: “This is something he’s never said before, it resonates around his head a moment.” Way to go, Harry.

Proceed into a bunch of meaningless banter as the children board the train and leave. Most of it’s irrelevant and uninteresting, but we also get this:

HARRY: Strange, Al being worried he’ll be sorted into Slytherin.
HERMIONE: That’s nothing, Rose is worried whether she’ll break the Quidditch scoring record in her first or second year. And how early she can take her O.W.L.s.
RON: I have no idea where she gets her ambition from.
GINNY: And how would you feel, Harry, if Al — if he is?

For fuck’s sake. It’s not strange, Harry, because of your precise attitude! (Let’s also note he never responds to Ginny here, they digress and the scene ends). And then there’s Hermione’s line, it’s like they’re smashing us across the face with the fact that Rose is her and Ron’s daughter and must combine traits from them.

(Side note: I’m aware they cast a black woman as Hermione in the first performances of this show, and I’m wondering if that changes how all of these references to “ambition” come across. Hermione working at least twice as hard as everyone else and barely getting recognition for it/getting mocked for it is a bit more pointed when you put it in a racialised context.)

While we’re at it, let’s talk about ambition. Commenter janach pointed out that given the above, Rose really belongs in Slytherin. Yes, I agree. But that said, I think ‘ambition’ is a really broad category and comes in a variety of flavours. Hermione herself always comes across as having a sort of Hufflepuff/Ravenclaw flavoured ambition, hard work and hunger for knowledge (which makes it all the more puzzling she’s in Gryffindor, it’s the worst fit of the houses for her). But then there’s the Gryffindor flavour of ambition, which is what we get in Ron (and also in Gilderoy Lockhart despite him allegedly being a Ravenclaw), the hunger for fame and recognition, the desire to seem important. And, I suppose, the Slytherin flavour, which has to do with expanding social connections and influence (Slughorn, Lucius Malfoy) or wielding political power/leadership (Dumbledore, Riddle), the desire to actually be important. I’m sure there’s overlap between these, to a degree I’m oversimplifying here, but I think (for instance) what Hermione describes Rose having is, in being a ridiculous exaggeration of Hermione’s own character (and then the fusion with Ron’s) is a very Gryffindorish ambition. And no, that is not a compliment.

Scene three.

We’re on the train. Albus and Rose are having stilted dialogue about “choosing who to be friends with”. (Lovely children there. Very accepting. Much wow.)

ROSE: On the contrary, it’s exciting. I’m a Granger-Weasley, you’re a Potter — everyone will want to be friends with us, we’ve got the pick of anyone we want.

That’s really in there. That’s really something they had her say. Funny how that sounds like book one Draco, isn’t it? [It also sounds like Ron to me, not that Ron was ever in a social position to say crap like that.] I’m assuming it came from Ron also.

It gets worse.

They go immediately into a compartment which happens to contain Scorpius Malfoy and strike up a conversation with him. He talks quite a lot, and it’s actually kind of cute in a gormless way – he’s going on about sweets and how he wants to share sweets with them because his mother told him that will help him make friends with people. He comes across as nervous but friendly. So does Albus. Rose, on the contrary, is not, and keeps hitting Albus every time he tries to be friendly. (Yes, that’s actually what it says. Ron’s child, everybody.)

Then immediately they discuss the rumour that Scorpius is really Voldemort’s son, conceived via Time-Turner (except they’ve spelt it ‘rumor’, I wonder why). The dialogue about that is really stilted and awkward and nothing like how people really talk. It’s as stupid as it sounds. If they really wanted it to be credible, better to just say they’d used frozen sperms or something (oh, right, probably can’t mention sperms in a play people might take children to).

[Does it say specifically what era the rumours claim they Time-Turnered to in order to achieve this? Because Voldy as we see him in the second war is clearly not physically human, I doubt he bothered to craft himself functioning genitals for his new body even if he was fertile. And I’m not sure they could have gone back far enough for Tom Riddle. As if that’s the main objection to this pile of shite, but it’s going to be relevant later.]

No, I don’t think anyone thought about it to that level of detail (or any level of detail, really).

Even then, let’s think about this: Draco and Astoria have a child around the same age as everyone else in their cohort. Obviously that’s contrived so that we can have stories about all of the children (fucking epilogue bullshit), and Rowling couldn’t change it because she set that in stone in the epilogue. But it also doesn’t give them time for rumours of infertility to be starting. Harry’s explicitly stated to be thirty-seven earlier, so that would’ve made Draco and Astoria what, twenty-six and twenty-four when they had Scorpius? That’s pretty young. [It’s young these days, but in Rowling’s generation that was probably quite old and if you weren’t married and pregnant by 20 you were doing it wrong.]

ROSE: The rumor is that he’s Voldemort’s son, Albus.
A horrible, uncomfortable silence.
[ROSE:] It’s probably rubbish. I mean . . . look, you’ve got a nose.
The tension is slightly broken. SCORPIUS laughs, pathetically grateful.
SCORPIUS: And it’s just like my father’s! I got his nose, his hair, and his name. Not that that’s a great thing either. I mean — father-son issues, I have them. But, on the whole, I’d rather be a Malfoy than, you know, the son of the Dark Lord.

I can’t decide if this is charmingly precocious or horribly written, because Scorpius really doesn’t sound like an eleven-year-old here. [And how does Rose know Voldy didn’t have a nose?]

Rose continues to be nasty, tries to get Albus to leave. Albus knows the plot and decides he wants to be friends, so he stays. After Rose leaves, their dialogue is actually somewhat cute. End scene.

I’m only on page 17. Send help. [I’m so glad it’s you doing this. Sorry dear.]

Scene four.

We open with, yet again, what I find to be a peculiar stage direction (and written in weirdly purple prose).

And now we enter a never-world of time change. And this scene is all about magic. The changes are rapid as we leap between worlds. There are no individual scenes, but fragments, shards that show the constant progression of time.

This sounds like they want to be writing for film and doing a montage scene, but I’m having a hard time imagining that working well on an actual stage. At the very least it’s going to be challenging from a technical perspective to get all the transitions working, actors might need to change costumes very quickly, etc. I suppose it’s a good thing Rowling’s filthy rich and has name recognition (not to mention hordes of rabid fans willing to pay through the nose to see this shit) so they can throw money at the theatre to make this happen.

More weirdness:

The SORTING HAT walks through the students, who spring into their Houses. […] He puts his hat on ROSE’s head.

Sounds like there’s a person playing the Sorting Hat, but his hat is the actual sorting hat? What the fuck.

[I don’t know why they did this. Is there some problem with a teacher carrying the hat now?]

Also, what I’ve elided there is that we also get a new Sorting Hat poem-song, and again it doesn’t. fucking. scan. It’s thankfully only two stanzas, mercifully short compared to the ones in the books themselves, but someone’s actually going to be saying this onstage. In public. Couldn’t they have put in just a bit more effort to make the metre consistent?

Rose goes to Gryffindor, and actually says “Thank Dumbledore”. Really. Rowling, I know Dumbledore was your god-insert, but can we try for a bit of subtlety here? [Ew. Though it brings up a point, where are the portraits? Dumbles’ portrait would absolutely stalk Harry’s kids.]

Scorpius goes to Slytherin.

Albus goes to Slytherin and we have ALL TEH DRAMAS. The stage directions go on and on about what a profound awful silence there is. Then students start talking about how bizarre it is to have a Potter in Slytherin and someone (who’d previously said Albus looked like his father) retracts that and says “I suppose his hair isn’t that similar.” I guess the parallel works okay to highlight the hypocrisy, but this is really blatant and melodramatic. For fuck’s sake, let’s try to remember we’re assigning dormitories here (god I hate the Sorting), not putting yellow stars on a quarter of the students and sending them off to work camps.

“And suddenly a flying lesson is happening with MADAM HOOCH.” Couldn’t have said that better myself. [I’d be breaking out a bottle of hooch too. I’m surprised she’s still there though, I know witches live a long time but surely she could have found a more interesting job by now.]

Albus sucks at flying and everyone makes fun of him for being Slytherin and not like his father.

Immediately after that they transition back to platform 9 3/4 for another scene. I thought at first maybe this was meant to be the students going home for Christmas, but it seems to actually be a year later already. We’re treated to an awkward conversation between Albus and Harry, about Albus feeling like a disappointment for being in Slytherin (and James comes along to make fun of Albus for that very thing while they talk). This is actually competently written, I think, except for the fact that it’s a year later and we’re expected to believe they’ve never discussed this before? They’ve been home all summer, at the very least. Anyway, Harry’s an idiot and really isn’t very good at comforting his son or even really listening to him.

Exit children. Enter Draco. He wants Harry/the Ministry to release a statement about the time turners to help clear up that the rumours are baseless. Harry waves him off with, essentially, “don’t feed the trolls”. I don’t blame Draco being annoyed with him.

Back to the children. Rose is still being unpleasant over Scorpius. Then things move pretty rapidly, we get an announcement that Rose has made the Quidditch team (Professor McGonagall – is she headmistress? it doesn’t say – apparently failing to be unbiased over this) [imagine my surprise…], a single potions lesson with some bickering and then this heavy-handed line:

SCORPIUS: Okay. What’s the counter-ingredient? What do we need to change?
ALBUS: Everything.

I’m actually not sure whether to consider that decent foreshadowing or an anvil to the head.

We’re moving quickly, they’re back at the station starting year three now. Albus is miserable and arguing with Harry, who’s pretty unsympathetic. Albus runs off, goes to Scorpius who’s just learnt his mother died (apparently she was ill? Draco’d mentioned “she hadn’t been well” when asking Harry for help but I’m honestly surprised they meant that to mean deadly illness). Then, mood whiplash! Another sorting (and another rhyme; this one scans, at least, but it’s still pretty bad). Lily goes to Gryffindor. Albus decides to make this about himself and complain that he didn’t choose to be Harry’s son. Ah, teenage melodrama.

Scene five.

This scene takes us to Harry’s office at the Ministry. Hermione’s already there, and Harry comes in with a cosmetic injury, apparently returning from a mission/raid of some sort. The conversation here is pretty good, in the sense that it conveys what they’re talking about without falling into ‘As you know, Bob’ (although a lot of things do rely on knowledge from having read the books, I think this play would be pretty opaque to anyone not already familiar with series details).

In short: he’s arrested Theodore Nott for… something, and confiscated a Time-Turner. Which is completely special and different from other Time-Turners. Explicitly:

HARRY: And you’re sure you want to keep it?
HERMIONE: I don’t think we’ve a choice. Look at it. It’s entirely different to the Time-Turner I had.
HARRY (dry): Apparently wizardry has moved on since we were kids.

They talk a bit about Harry’s tendency not to do paperwork. Hermione reveals in conversation that she is Minister for Magic (interestingly, “Minister for Magic”, not “Minister of Magic”, that went back and forth in the books as I recall). I do like that Hermione’s his boss; less so that it seems like he’s still letting her do most of his work for him, she deliberately says she’s not scolding him and then tells him to take more time off to be with his family. [One gets the impression she’s been telling him to spend time with his family for years while watching the spare non-parent-clone child getting more and more screwed up. Or else that she just doesn’t want him near her any more, which is entirely reasonable.]

Overall, though, a decent scene and nothing particularly objectionable. Except that bloody Time-turner has shown up, and we know what that means.

Scene six.

Scene five was a nice reprieve from the awfulness but it’s back in full force now. We’re at the Potter residence (incidentally, not told more than that; a lot of fanon has them live at Grimmauld Place and it’d have been interesting if this confirmed or refuted that) and Albus has inherited his father’s penchant for eavesdropping.

Amos Diggory’s shown up at the house (in the middle of the night, which even Harry points out is off) because he can’t get an appointment to meet with Harry at the Ministry. Harry’s making excuses.

This dialogue is awful.

Anyway, Diggory is pissed off at Harry (I’m not sure if he explicitly blames Harry for Cedric’s death but he’s certainly skirting around it and that seems to be what Harry hears), and wants the Time-Turner so he can go back to save Cedric (apparently he’s “heard rumor” (sic) that the Ministry seized and kept it. What is it with this story and rumours.). Harry brushes him off and says the rumours aren’t true.

[How are there rumours? Did Harry’s team announce it to the world when they took it off Nott? This is not a rumour, it’s an information leak, and Harry really ought to be finding out which subordinate blabbed to someone in a pub.]

Suddenly we’re back with Albus, who’s been discovered.

ALBUS jumps a mile as DELPHI — a twenty-something, determined-looking woman — is revealed, looking through the stairs at him.

I’ll try not to be prejudiced based on what I already know of this character, but that’s going to be hard. I’m not looking forward to this.

She introduces herself to Albus as ‘Delphini Diggory’ and that name already irritates me (Rowling and friends sure do love alliteration, don’t they). ‘Delphini’ looks weird to me but it’s not an invented word, it’s the plural of Latin delphinus meaning dolphin (though honestly, ‘delphinus’ just makes me think of a certain flying battleship). Her name is literally Dolphins. Though it is also an astronomical name, Delphinus is a constellation and Alpha Delphini is a prominent multiple star in it. And I am giving serious side-eye to the nickname being Delphi, given certain Greek oracles (we know Rowling’s had a tendency to name characters after oracles before).

[I’ve encountered Delphine as a name, but not Delphini. Sounds more like a surname than a forename.]

In this scene, she actually comes across as pretty likeable. She talks a lot like Tonks, and is snarkily unserious with Albus. Then she trips down the stairs and I’m even more convinced she’s a Tonks clone and much less inclined to be charitable (what’s with all these clumsy female characters anyway?). [Oh God it’s Bella fucking Swan. As if this character wasn’t enough of a Sue already.] At least the script itself doesn’t seem to mention her implausible hair colour?

Apparently she’s Diggory’s niece and also works in the old-age-home where he lives (she calls him her patient so I guess she’s some kind of nurse). She seems to have intrigued Albus (somehow; the stage directions indicate her smiling at him twice) and invites him to visit them at the home sometime.

I’m also questioning why Diggory’s in an old-age home, and requiring a wheelchair (I wouldn’t have thought Potterverse wizards even used wheelchairs honestly, shouldn’t they just enchant a regular chair to move?). [Or use magic to fix the reason the chair is needed?] He wasn’t presented as a particularly young man in Goblet of Fire, but I wouldn’t have guessed him older than his forties then (which would put him, at maximum, early seventies now). And we know wizards have extended lifespans compared to non-magicals. So this just flat-out doesn’t make sense, unless he has some kind of incurable degenerative disease (and then you’d think they’d mention that instead of just saying he’s elderly and in a wheelchair).

Scene seven.

Still at the Potters’ house. We begin with some irrelevant family bickering, then Harry shows up to “deliver pre-Hogwarts gifts”. He gives Albus A LOVE POTION from Ron. Yes, a fucking love potion (I mean date rape potion who are we kidding), which in any sensible world should be an illegal or heavily controlled substance. He tries to claim it’s a joke and that he doesn’t understand Ron’s sense of humour, that the other children got joke gifts from him too.

[…what. You didn’t tell me this. WHAT. And my immediate follow-up question would be why Hermione didn’t stop him, except I fear we’re looking at the answer right now. Oh God.]

The rest of this scene… I’m really struggling to summarise this in any way that makes sense, because it’s incredibly stupid (and also lots of virtual ink has already been spilt over this).

Harry’s given each of his children a gift. James got the Invisibility Cloak (what? why? Harry’s excuse is literally “he’s been obsessed with it forever”), Lily gets “fairy wings” (so basically a sparkly Halloween/cosplay outfit) [because she’s a girl and all girls like sparkly things] and Albus gets… Harry’s disgusting old comfort blanket (which we’ve never heard of before but apparently means a lot to him). Because he wanted a gift that “meant something”. This is like Homer Simpson’s infamous bowling ball (a “gift” for his wife with his own name engraved on because he knows she’ll give it back to him).

Harry waffles on a bit about this thing, how he came to have it (apparently it’s the one he was wrapped in when he was abandoned, Petunia saved it, and Dudley found it after she died and sent it to him), and how he believes it’s a good luck charm and therefore gave it to Albus.

ALBUS: And do what with it? Fairy wings make sense, Dad, invisibility cloaks, they also make sense — but this — really?

Albus, I don’t really think fairy wings make sense either, but otherwise I’m entirely with you here (also, I thought fairy wings were pretty tiny and something you used for potions ingredients). Anyway, they keep arguing.

HARRY: Albus, please — you know, I’ve never wanted gratitude.
ALBUS: But right now I’m overflowing with it — it must be the kind gift of this moldy blanket that did it . . .

Not a huge fan of Albus as a character so far, but I’m liking the snark in this scene. [I think he inherited it from one of his namesakes.] And I’m entirely on his side because seriously, Harry’s not even trying to be a decent parent here. He’s just spouting off a lot of platitudes and projecting his own emotions onto Albus, then being shocked when that doesn’t work. [Though he shouldn’t be shocked. I remember him telling us once that Aunt Marge bought Dudley a designer watch and gave him a packet of dog biscuits one Christmas. Presumably he forgot that he was less than thrilled about it.] This ends predictably:

ALBUS: No! I just wish you weren’t my dad.
HARRY (seeing red): Well, there are times I wish you weren’t my son.

And a bit later on:

ALBUS picks up the blanket and throws it. It collides with RON’s love potion, which spills all over the blanket and the bed, producing a small puff of smoke.

I’m assuming this is going to matter for something, because it’s obviously a Chekhov’s gun. A very, very stupid one, but it has to be. I really don’t know what the inevitable bullshit payoff of this thing is going to be.

Scene eight.

It’s a dream scene. Everyone loves those, right? Flashing back to the “Yer a wizard, Harry” island scene. There are some slight variations but I can’t be bothered to do a line-by-line comparison with Philosopher’s Stone (book or film) right now.

Among differences I notice: Vernon refers to Hagrid as a “scarramanger”. I have no idea what that is. Google and online dictionaries are no help, trying to correct it to “scaremonger” (or to Scaramanga, the Bond villain). I do find some things by that name in a general Google search, but it looks like a surname of some kind. [Maybe it’s a typo, I’m not coming up with anything either. Maybe it’s just acknowledging that Vernon wasn’t in his right mind at that point.]

And the signature line is changed to this:

HAGRID: Harry — yer a wizard — yeh changed everything. Yer the most famous wizard in the whole world.

Presumably foreshadowing the time-travel bullshit. And from there, immediately after, the stage directions indicate Voldemort’s “unmistakable” voice hisses “Harry Potter”.

How is this voice supposed to be “unmistakable”, exactly, when Voldemort has never said anything in the play yet? I assume what they mean is “it’ll sound like Voldemort from the films so fans should recognise it” but that’s really quite different.

Scene nine.

Harry wakes up. It was all a dream (and a waste of my time, presumably). Harry feels pain in his scar, that thing the epilogue told us had never and would never happen again.

Harry and Ginny are talking in bed. He’s trying not to tell her what’s worrying him, but ends up doing some angsting about Amos Diggory, then about how badly he’s cocked things up with his son. Harry’s still being a pretty terrible person, he sort of understands he handled it badly but isn’t able to question his underlying assumptions.

At one point he quotes Dumbledore. “The truth is a beautiful and terrible thing, and should therefore be treated with great caution.” Sounds like Dumbledore but off the top of my head I can’t recall whether it’s actually something he said in the books, and I don’t feel like looking. [It’s definitely a Dumbles quote, though I forget where it’s from as well.]

Harry tries and fails to hide that his scar’s hurting again, and tells Ginny it’s been 22 years since the last time that happened. [Unless she’s forgotten how to count since leaving school, she already knows this, surely.]

At least the dialogue in this scene was well-written and sounded like actual people.

Scene ten.

Back on the Hogwarts Express with the children. Rose is trying to talk to Albus – she claims she wants to be friends again but it’s apparently on her parents’ orders. Also, she knows about the Time-Turner somehow and tells Albus about it; he immediately decides he has to go talk to Scorpius.

There’s a weird line where Scorpius tells Rose she smells like bread. I don’t know either, so I’ll just leave that there. If I had to read it, so do you. [What, no ‘half-baked’ pun? You’re slipping.]

After Rose leaves, Albus starts forming crazy plans. Beginning with “we have to get off this train”, yes, while it is moving. They talk about the Triwizard Tournament and Cedric Diggory, who Albus has decided he wants to save for some reason (honestly, it sounds like he also blames Harry for not being able to save him, and also for brushing Amos off, despite that CLEARLY BEING THE PRUDENT THING TO DO). Scorpius thinks he’s gone crazy, and I agree (honestly, Scorpius’ lines in this scene are pretty good).

Albus climbs out the window of the train and Scorpius reluctantly follows him. Yes, really.

Scene eleven.

Oh my god, this scene is so stupid.

Scene twelve. oh fine, I’ll talk about it.

They are on top of the train. Albus is planning, trying to figure out where they should jump off to be closest to St Oswald’s Home for Old Witches and Wizards (oh, yes, I forgot to mention the name before), and talking about cushioning charms. Scorpius is still trying to talk him out of it, and his lines here are actually pretty cute.

The “trolley witch” (who sells the snacks on the train) finds them. Yes, she is pushing the trolley on top of the train. This is meant to be *magical* and *mysterious* or something. They talk to her; she claims to have been doing that job for 190 years (which is apparently also how long there’s been a Hogwarts Express) and then basically turns into an eldritch abomination. Because “THIS TRAIN – IT DOESN’T LIKE PEOPLE GETTING OFF IT…”. She tries to frighten them by turning a pumpkin pasty into an explosive and throwing it, turning her hands into spikes, and asking them to return to their seats.

They jump off the train.


[I actually quite like the idea that the trolley witch is evil. Clearly she spikes the snacks with pro-Dumbledore happy drugs before the kids even get to school. The Slytherins aren’t affected because they’re rich enough to bring their own food.]

Scene twelve.

In the “grand meeting room” of the Ministry of Magic (have we ever heard about this before?). Hermione’s apparently called a meeting to discuss the possibility of Voldemort being back.

Oh yeah, she also says this: “I’m delighted to say there is a new generation being brought up having known only the slightest conflict.” Ha ha ha laughter. Pull the other one, Hermione, that line is a masterwork of Dumbledorean bullshittery and you should know better. [We all but know Ron’s drugging her now. That must affect your mind.]

Harry says “Voldemort’s allies” have been moving about recently (by this he means trolls, giants and werewolves). These are still “Voldemort’s allies”? Dear old Voldy’s been dead for twenty-two years, they can’t have continued being his allies after he died, surely you have a better way of referring to these groups? I’d even accept “Voldemort’s former allies”.

Professor McGonagall (who is there for some reason) mentions some boomslang skin and lacewing flies are missing from the Hogwarts potions stores, but they just blamed Peeves and thought nothing of it. WHAT. AN. IDIOT. [Somewhere in the afterlife Snape is facepalming.]

Let’s discuss that one in a bit more detail. McGonagall in particular must know about at least one incident when those ingredients were stolen – she was present in GoF when they interrogated Crouch!Moody under Veritaserum, and he explained he was stealing those to make his Polyjuice. It’s possible Hermione’s theft of them went unnoticed. But even then… HERMIONE is also in the room hearing this, she’s the one chairing this meeting and she is also very familiar with fucking Polyjuice. Does she say anything about the implication of those ingredients being missing? No, of course not. Just “Thank you, Professor. We shall investigate.” For fuck’s sake.

Hermione mentions Harry’s scar, and then Harry asks “those of you with a Dark Mark” (not clear if any are present except Draco, or who that would be if so) if there’s been any reaction. Draco flips out and accuses Harry of being prejudiced against them. Then he goes on to accuse Harry of just wanting his name in the papers, and Hermione of giving him special treatment for being her friend.

Ron “charges at” Draco and has to be restrained by Ginny, then threatens to punch him, because Ron.

Draco’s real motive comes out – he’s afraid this talk about Voldemort will cause a resurgence in the rumours about Scorpius. He leaves, and enough people follow that this ends the meeting.

For fuck’s sake, all of these characters are acting like idiotic caricatures of themselves. Even Draco, whose motive is understandable, is going out of his way to be as unsympathetic as possible and hit all of the talking points that were used against Harry in the main series. And let’s face it, Harry talking about Voldemort now really would come across as alarmist (with how certain the books’ narration was that he was gone for good, and that bloody epilogue, we can be sure that would be the official story).

This whole scene is really weird to be honest – Hermione seems to think the meeting was for the purpose of developing a strategy to deal with possible Voldemort return, but it’s seemingly open to the general public and honestly comes off looking more like a press conference than anything (Harry and Hermione are on a podium addressing a crowd). I’m not sure what Draco’s role is meant to be (we’ve not been told anything about e.g. his profession if any), he’s literally just an audience heckler who takes over the meeting.

Adults are useless! Even if they used to be children who did things! Fucking hell.

Scene thirteen.

Very short scene, but full of stupid. Here is the description given to set the scene.

This is chaos. This is magic. This is St. Oswald’s Home for Old Witches and Wizards and it is as wonderful as you might hope.
Walker frames are conjured into life, knitting wool is enchanted into chaos, and male nurses are made to dance tango.
These are people relieved of the burden of having to do magic for a reason — instead these witches and wizards do magic for fun. And what fun they have.
ALBUS and SCORPIUS enter, looking around themselves, amused, and let’s face it, slightly scared.

I’m quoting this verbatim because I have no idea what to do with it. That does not sound wonderful to me. It just sounds like more of the childish bullshit that the Potterverse has always been, that Rowling falls back on whenever she wants to depict something as “fun”. Also, I refuse to believe that Potterverse wizards refuse to do magic “for fun” during their normal lifetimes.

[…male nurses are forced to dance? WTF is that about? Is this implying that the senile old people are using Imperio against the staff, or something? Because that’s a bit of a concern.]

That really is the implication, isn’t it? It’s creepy. There’s something very disturbing about how basically everything Rowling et al think of as “fun” manifests as “pranks” that involve doing unpleasant things to other people against their will. (Recommended reading: everything Melissa McEwan has ever written about pranks)

Albus and Scorpius show up and mention they’re looking for Amos Diggory. Delphi greets them. End of scene.

Scene fourteen.

Amos Diggory doesn’t trust their offer of help, and who could blame him? These kids are nuts. (This whole plot is nuts.) Scorpius takes this as an opportunity to try to back out (good on him!) but Albus is having none of it; Delphi eventually convinces Amos with the simple argument that nobody else is offering help, and “didn’t you say yourself, having someone inside Hogwarts might be a massive advantage?”. I don’t know what that’s supposed to mean, or what Hogwarts is supposed to have to do with this exercise in tilting at windmills.

Amos suggests Delphi go with them, and they go on about how this is going to be super dangerous and they’ll be risking their lives. Albus agrees with this (why’s he in Slytherin anyway? He’s been acting like an idiot Gryffindor this entire play), Scorpius is reluctant.

Scene fifteen.

At the Potters’ house, Harry and Ginny are having dinner with Ron and Hermione, and they’re discussing Draco. They’re really unsympathetic to him.

GINNY: I wrote to him — after he lost Astoria — to ask if there’s anything we could do. I thought maybe — as he was such a good friend to Albus — maybe Scorpius might want to stay over part of the Christmas break or . . . My owl came back with a letter containing one simple sentence: “Tell your husband to refute these allegations about my son once and for all.”
HERMIONE: He’s obsessed.

I really don’t understand why they can’t just make an official statement about this, except that the conflict engendered by these stupid rumours is driving the plot.

Ron goes on for a while about how all this Voldemort stuff is probably nothing, Harry’s probably just getting old, etc etc, playing the denialist to the hilt. He’s being obnoxiously Ron about all of this, and it’s annoying and stupid, but honestly, they don’t really have much evidence at all.

HERMIONE: I mean it, Harry, I will not be Cornelius Fudge on this one. I will not stick my head in the sand. And I don’t care how unpopular that makes me with Draco Malfoy.

Very nice sentiment, Hermione. How about that Polyjuice you completely ignored?

They get an owl from McGonagall saying Albus and Scorpius never arrived at school. End scene.

Scene sixteen.

Albus, Scorpius, and Delphi are in a cellar. They have Polyjuice potion. They bicker about it a while, Scorpius complains he doesn’t want to take it because it tastes of fish (which, IIRC, contradicts canon, in the books we were told the flavour changes depending on the person you’re transforming into. Not that I liked that, mind, it gave Rowling an excuse to tell us some characters were better than others because magic says so, but it’s still a contradiction).

Delphi becomes Hermione, Albus becomes Ron and Scorpius becomes Harry. (Actually, I’m pretty curious how they did this effect in a stage play.)

Is there a reason they’ve done this along gendered lines? (We saw the Trio do the same thing in Chamber of Secrets and again in Deathly Hallows, though some women transformed into Harry in that stupid scene earlier in Deathly Hallows so we know it’s not a requirement…) [The reason is ‘because Rowling’.]

There’s some awkwardness. They’re making jokes. I don’t care.

They go into the Ministry through the main entrance and meet with no resistance whatsoever, because security in the Wizarding World is terrible. There’s some precedent for this in the DH Gringotts break-in, but it’s still stupid, and you’d think (again) a Ministry run by BLOODY HERMIONE would be aware of Polyjuice potion and the security risk it poses.

THIS IS STUPID! [Still blaming Ron having been drugging her for the last twenty years. For my sanity’s sake if nothing else. I knew I was right not to read this crap.]

Scene seventeen.

In a meeting room at the Ministry. Harry, Hermione, Ginny and Draco are discussing the disappearances. This line infuriates me:

HERMIONE: None so far. I have made the Muggle Prime Minister aware and he is filing what is known as a misper. Sounds like a spell. It isn’t.


(I assume she means somebody abbreviated “Missing Persons Report” but this is not humourous and I am not laughing.) [I have never heard of that abbreviation and I used to watch a lot of police procedurals.] Neither have I, but I suppose it stands to reason.

Draco’s not keen on reaching out to Muggles for help. Hermione mentions they’re investigating Death Eater channels, Draco says he knows it’s nothing to do with them.

There’s a lot of anger and arguing, especially once Harry reveals the argument he had with Albus, because they think that’s why they ran away. Draco offers to contribute all of his money if it will help because Scorpius is his only family, which is honestly kind of touching; Hermione just brushes him off says the Ministry has enough money. I don’t think I like this iteration of Hermione very much.

We end on this line:

DRACO: I don’t care what you did or who you saved, you are a constant curse on my family, Harry Potter.

I know how you feel, Draco.

Scene eighteen.

The children, under Polyjuice, are in the Ministry. They’re acting badly to throw off guards (they keep name-dropping that ‘Hermione’ is Minister), and somehow it works. All the while they’re discussing their plans. Apparently the Time-Turner is kept in Hermione’s office, and we’re going to have something of a rehash of the Trio trying to get Slytherin’s locket from Umbridge.

They come across the actual Harry and Hermione, who’ve left the meeting in the previous scene. They can’t find a place to hide, and decide Albus as Ron has to go distract Hermione while they go into her office (incidentally, they use fucking Alohomora and that gets them inside, this Hermione is rubbish at security).

What follows is incredibly cringeworthy and creepy and I hate it. Essentially, he distracts her by flirting and kissing her.[…oh God no. Hello explicit sexual assault, that was clearly something missing from this clusterfuck.]

And also tries to talk to them about the “I wish you weren’t my son” conversation, nearly giving himself away in the process. Then Harry leaves, Hermione tries to go into her office and he blocks her again. She’s suspicious but still fooled by his incredibly stupid bullshit, which includes suggesting she and Ron have another baby (WTF?!!) and more kissing. SHE NOTICES THE FISH TASTE but doesn’t put things together from that either. [More evidence that Ron’s been giving her love potion for the last two decades. I hate this.]

Hermione leaves and Albus-Ron goes into the office. End scene.

I really don’t know what to say about this except it’s incredibly creepy and awful and rapey and how does somebody write this. I don’t care if it’s Rowling or Thorne: whoever you are, you are an awful person and you should feel bad. Likewise if you are a spectator who enjoyed this.

Scene nineteen.

Inside the office. Albus is exhausted from the effort and the others congratulate him. They talk about the kissing, even praising his supposed nerve for doing it, and Albus’ excuse is “Ron’s an affectionate guy”. [And either Ron’s a really bad kisser or Albus is weirdly experienced.] This play is really selling Ron/Hermione as an abusive mess of a relationship, and in fairness I don’t think it’s wrong about that.

Albus and Scorpius talk about their daddy issues while they’re supposed to be searching for the Time-Turner.

Eventually they find Hermione’s stash of restricted books (which have some really stupid titles, as Rowling loves to do with books in the Potterverse. Seriously, one of them is even called “The Imperius Curse and How to Abuse It”).

The key turns out to be a book, ostensibly “My Eyes and How to See Past Them” by Sibyll Trelawney (I’m trying and failing to figure out what the fuck that title is supposed to mean; I think it being by Trelawney is meant to be a clue that it doesn’t belong, though) but which isn’t really a book. They open it and it speaks riddles at them.

What follows is a melodramatic nonsense scene which I’d rather not describe. Essentially, they realise these riddles are how she hid the Time-Turner and they need to solve them to find it, each riddle they solve leads to another book, which gives another riddle, and so forth. There’s some kind of magical chaos and they have some kind of struggle, their Polyjuices wear off as they go; in the end they eventually find a book which has the Time-Turner inside.

Here ends Act One.

That’s Act One of Part One, which means we have three more acts of this bullshit to go. But that’s enough for one post, I think, especially considering I’m nearing seven thousand words about this rubbish. For reference, in the edition I am using I have reached page 58 of 191, so there’s quite a lot still to go.

I don’t know what to say about this so far. Honestly, the content is pretty unrelentingly awful, it really does come across as mediocre fanfic at best. The dialogue occasionally manages to be good, there are some exchanges that I think would probably work well in a play and some well-written snappy comebacks etc (which, in fairness, Rowling has managed often in the books too), but there’s also a lot of really awkward and stupid dialogue to balance that out.

Suffice it to say that so far, I am not impressed. And I’m expecting it’s all downhill from here, but not in the good way (downhill in terms of quality, and I already feel like Sisyphus).

I reiterate: send help. [Please.]


Posted by on August 4, 2016 in mitchell


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Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone: Chapter Sixteen

Sorry for the delay, folks, life’s a bit hectic right now and this will probably continue through the end of this book and whatever we decide to do about the film. By the time we get to Chamber of Secrets we’ll hopefully be in a position to get these posts done much more frequently.

Chapter Sixteen: Through the Trapdoor

This illustration is meant to be a picture of Fluffy. He looks like something off Cartoon
Network, and seems to be part cat and part raccoon with a dog’s head stuck on.

We’re told that, “In years to come, Harry would never quite remember how he had managed to get through his exams when he half expected Voldemort to come bursting through the door at any moment.” In years to come, Harry’s priorities are evidently rather weird, because I don’t believe anyone is ever going to ask about his first-year exams.

But yes, we’re beginning yet another chapter with a timeskip – despite the children concluding at the end of last chapter that the villain has all the information he needs and there is now nothing between him and seizing the Philosopher’s Stone, they still don’t try to do anything about it for another week or two. Not only do they not attempt to tell anyone, they don’t discuss it amongst themselves and try to come up with some sort of plan. Luckily for them the villain is a blithering idiot and makes no attempt to do anything either.

Instead, we’re told a little about the end-of-year exams, which as you’d expect are designed to test everything they’re meant to have learned thus far. Naturally, these are summarised for us in two short paragraphs, just in case anyone wanted to see our protagonist actually do some magic for once. They’re given enchanted anti-cheating equipment for the written exams, and that’s all we’re told about those. As for the practical exams, Flitwick asks them to make a pineapple tap dance…

Credit to Natalie Dee for the whatnapple.

Of course we’re not told what charms you’d need for this – the only charms we’ve seen are the levitation one and the unlocking one, and the latter wasn’t taught in their lessons. Nor does Harry comment about whether he managed it or not. This seems a bit simplistic for an exam – how are they graded? Surely they either pass or fail. And of course it has zero practical uses in the real world, but that applies to a lot of the things I learned at school as well, so I suppose I can let it pass even though magic really ought to be cooler than this.

McGonagall’s exam gets a little more detail; she asks her students to turn a mouse into a snuff-box. None of them refuse this on the grounds that it’s really cruel to the mouse (we could be charitable and assume the mouse is already dead, if only on the grounds that it might run away otherwise so it’s more practical). Nor do any of them refuse on the grounds that they have no idea what a snuff box is. Do wizards take snuff? For those who don’t know, snuff is a type of tobacco that you snort. Don’t try this at home. (A snuff box is also the term for the area of your hand where you typically place the snuff to lift it to your nose, between the tendons at the base of your thumb. Knowledge!)

We’re not told why a snuff box, specifically, nor how this is different from literally any other instance of Transfiguration in the entire series. Though at least we know how the children get their grade – “points were given for how pretty the snuff-box was, but taken away if it had whiskers.” Non-anatomical snuff boxes come in all shapes and sizes, so really you could turn the poor mouse into just about anything and this is essentially an art exam.

There are many teachers in the world who will add or remove marks based on how pretty your work is. All of them deserve their own special private Hell. It’s bad enough that I have to write the boring essay in the first place without making me waste time illustrating it. Anyway, once again Harry doesn’t comment on how well he does.

The only other exams mentioned are Potions and History of Magic, and the latter is mentioned purely because it’s the last exam. As for Potions… “Snape made them all nervous, breathing down their necks while they tried to remember how to make a Forgetfulness Potion.” As  jokes go this isn’t too bad, it’s sort of cute, but a) why does this potion exist when there are mind-rape spells that wipe memories without leaving evidence, and b) why are you teaching first years how to make it?

Of course the main issue with this sentence is that, at this point, Harry and company still believe Snape is the villain and that he is now completely unopposed. Yet there’s no indication here that Harry’s wondering why he hasn’t acted yet, or that he’s frightened by having the man he thinks has tried to murder him breathing down his neck. Well, there’s no indication that Harry’s thinking or feeling anything at all, but that’s par for the course by this point. We don’t know what goes into a Forgetfulness Potion, how hard it is to make, or how well Harry did.

There’s no mention of a Defence exam of any kind. I’m prepared to forgive this, actually, since from the third year exams and the OWLs it seems likely that the Defence exams often involve some sort of obstacle course, and we’re going to get one of those very shortly. (It’s been suggested that the course in question is actually the pre-existing Defence exam course and it’s been co-opted for another purpose here.) There’s also no mention of Herbology or Astronomy, which are the only other subjects we know about.

Harry’s only comment about actually taking exams is to complain that he tried really hard but his scar has been giving him ‘stabbing pains in his forehead which had been bothering him ever since his trip into the Forest‘. I think we have to assume these scar pains are psychosomatic, because there’s really no reason his ten year old scar would be hurting now when it hasn’t reacted to the villain’s presence since the start of term feast and when the villain in question isn’t even there. We’re just going to ignore the question of why he didn’t seek medical attention. Harry’s easily stupid enough to think that random stabbing pains in the same area of your head all the time for a week or two is nothing to be concerned about.

Neville thinks Harry’s having exam-related nightmares because he can’t sleep. I’m pleased you made it out of the forest, Neville, and it’s sweet that you keep an eye on people like this, but don’t waste it on Harry. Why don’t the Trio tell Neville what’s going on? He’s indirectly seen half of it anyway. Rowling never seems able to decide whether they actually like him or not (based on this book I would say Ron doesn’t like him, Harry sort-of does but thinks he’s pathetic, and Hermione is friends with him offscreen as we’ve discussed before). Anyway, Harry is having nightmares, but not about the exams – he keeps having the same dream he’s had before, but now with a hooded figure dripping blood in it. This is not how dreams work. If you have a recurring dream, you can’t keep adding bits to it whenever you see or hear something suitably scary.

Harry’s decided that because he is the specialest little snowflake who ever snowflaked, Ron and Hermione can’t possibly be as worried about Voldemort as he is. After all, they don’t have random pains, and they didn’t see the guy crawling around on the floor threateningly last chapter. And Voldy’s not visiting them in their dreams. There’s no indication that Harry’s ever asked if they have nightmares, but I’m more interested in wondering whether this is literal – these recurring dreams are more interesting once you know that Harry and Voldy are linked and occasionally share dreams. In any case, Harry informs us that Ron and Hermione are too busy revising to be concerned about a supervillain stealing the plot device. Heh. Ron, revising. That’s a good joke, Harry.

Once they finish their History of Magic exam, the students all cheer and run outside, because now they have a week off before the results come out and term ends. Er, why? End the term as soon as the exams are over and send them home. Why keep them hanging around for another week? I suppose we can assume it’s because the older students haven’t finished their exams yet and the stupid magic train can somehow only make the trip once, but still.

Hermione’s one of those students who likes to go over the exam afterwards and see how everyone did – complete with solidly consistent characterisation as she mentions various bits of extra information she learned but didn’t need – but Ron overrules her and they just wander off to sit by the lake instead. The twins and their friend Lee are molesting a giant squid nearby, tickling its tentacles (no jokes please), because reasons – this is actually the first appearance of the squid, which is kraken-sized and apparently friendly. No, there’s never going to be an explanation of why there’s a squid in a fresh water lake. Rowling just likes them.

Harry starts whining that his scar’s hurting again and he doesn’t know why. Hermione tells him to go to the nurse then, and he dismisses this idea:

“‘I’m not ill,’ said Harry. ‘I think it’s a warning … it means danger’s coming …’”

He’s pulled this statement out of his arse, of course. The scar has never warned him of danger before (and never will; it does hurt at random intervals, but usually not connected to anything), causing someone chronic pain for a week is a really bad warning system, Harry knows absolutely nothing about curse scars, and his scar is a unique and special pony-mark anyway. Plus whether it’s a warning or not doesn’t mean you can’t at least get something to help with the pain.

This just comes across as him wanting to seem important.

Ron, on the other hand, gives no fucks whatsoever and just tells Harry to relax because it’s too hot to get wound up and everything’s fine really. The Stone’s safe because Dumbledore’s around, they never had any proof Snape was after it anyway, Snape’s not going to want to go and see Fluffy again after being bitten, “and Neville will play Quidditch for England before Hagrid lets Dumbledore down.”

Like I said, Ron doesn’t like Neville. Fuck you, Ron.

While I applaud a character finally pointing out that they have no evidence of anything, Ron’s been firmly on board the Snape-is-evil wagon from the start, and will never get off it. He’s also been quite keen to get involved. This sudden apathy makes no sense at all. And it’s also an utterly irrelevant and heartless response to your best friend telling you that they’re in a lot of pain.

Harry suddenly develops a feeling that he’s forgetting something, which could have been a nice touch had it shown up weeks ago but here is too out of left field. Hermione tells him it’s probably exam stress, she woke up in a panic a few nights ago to revise for an exam they’d already taken; Harry dismisses this idea too and then has a plot-related seizure while watching a passing owl, suddenly jumping up and running towards Hagrid’s hut.

It turns out Harry’s still fixated on whether or not Hagrid told anyone how to get past Fluffy safely, despite there being a dozen ways to either get this information or just kill the monster and Hagrid’s involvement not being at all necessary. This is such a clumsy transition; this scene’s been shoehorned in very awkwardly. Our hero has finally realised that it’s a bit weird for someone to have showed up randomly in a pub with the rare illegal thing Hagrid wants more than anything else, and maybe they had an ulterior motive.

This conversation should have happened as soon as the kids found out about Norbert. At the time they all found it perfectly reasonable that a bloke in a pub just happened to have a dragon egg, despite Ron at least knowing how unlikely that is, and there’s really no explanation given for why Harry suddenly thinks it’s suspicious now.

One long rambling conversation full of Hagrid’s annoying accent later, it turns out that the mysterious stranger kept his cloak on and hood up the whole evening – which is apparently normal in this particular pub – and got Hagrid drunk and asked him about all the magical creatures he works with. Hagrid helpfully mentioned Fluffy and then told the stranger what he tells the kids now – “Fluffy’s a piece o’ cake if yeh know how to calm him down, jus’ play him a bit o’ music an’ he’ll go straight off ter sleep.

I’ve already talked about that not making sense, so let’s move on. The kids rush off while Hagrid’s busy stammering that he shouldn’t have told them that – we will note that he doesn’t go after them, or warn anyone that they know more than they should.

The Trio run inside to discuss what they’re going to do. There’s an inexplicable sense of urgency, with Harry insisting that they have to go to Dumbledore right now and tell him everything. He seems to be forgetting that this conversation took place months ago – somehow Harry finding out about it is the catalyst for the plot to start moving, regardless of when the events actually occur. This is really, really stupid. Nobody has cared for weeks, you can’t expect the readers to start caring now for no reason, and if the villain didn’t act as soon as he got the information then why would he act now?

Because Plot, of course.

Incidentally, they don’t know where Dumbledore’s office is. This seems odd to me. The Head’s office is usually a landmark you’re told about even though it’s expected that you’ll never need to go there.

McGonagall shows up and asks why the three of them are standing in the entrance hall looking panicky instead of being outside in the sun like normal children after exams.

“‘We want to see Professor Dumbledore,’ said Hermione, rather bravely, Harry and Ron thought.
‘See Professor Dumbledore?’ Professor McGonagall repeated, as though this was a very fishy thing to want to do. ‘Why?'”

I don’t know why it’s brave of Hermione to say that. Nor do I know why it’s so suspicious for children to want to talk to the headmaster. (Admittedly, in my primary school the teachers would have been a bit suspicious because my saying this would usually lead to my mother coming in to shout at him… but he deserved it.) This doesn’t say much about Hogwarts, though.

Rather than explain why, Harry says lamely that it’s ‘sort of a secret‘, and McGonagall tells him to bugger off. Dumbledore’s away on business in London and in fact he literally left ten minutes ago, because stupid contrived coincidences are the only way Rowling can try to create drama. Cue panic.

The thing is, aside from this making no sense at all – it’s the middle of the afternoon on a random unspecified weekday, this is not a sensible time to enact a sneaky plan of any sort; plus the aforementioned point that why is this happening right now just because Harry learned about a conversation that took place months ago? – if it was only ten minutes ago then Dumbledore’s still here. It takes longer than that to either get down the drive to Apparate or to get out into the Forest to find a Thestral. He could have gone by Floo but then McGonagall can fetch him back just as quickly. A broom is unlikely at his age and magic phoenix teleporting seems to be emergency use only.

More to the point, though, what business could Dumbledore possibly have so urgently? I’d love to know where Dumbles keeps going on his mysterious absences whenever the plot demands he not be there. Being called to London on business must mean the Ministry, but nobody’s going to be on trial this suddenly with no warning and he never seems to need to attend the Wizengamot at any other time, and Fudge hates him and wouldn’t willingly talk to him [at least, that becomes true later; I think in this book we still had the stupid conceit of the Minister writing him to beg for advice every day?]… Who knows, maybe he just slopes off to try and guilt his brother into talking to him, or goes to pay conjugal visits to Grindelwald in prison wherever that is (probably Albania!). He seems to be the least busy head teacher of any school in existence. Rowling really doesn’t understand that it’s an actual job and you can’t drop everything and waltz off somewhere at a moment’s notice.

Harry starts flailing because clearly this is a disaster and the world will end if the ravens Dumbledore ever leaves the Tower of London castle. McGonagall calls bullshit in superb fashion.

“‘Something you have to say is more important than the Ministry  of Magic, Potter?’”

I do like her sarcasm here, but it’s really not enough to make up for her abysmal behaviour throughout the book. And despite Harry being a complete idiot here, this really isn’t how his Head of House should respond to his obvious panic; she’s making no attempt to reassure him beyond telling him that Dumbledore will be back tomorrow. (Depending on which method of transport he actually used, he probably won’t be, honestly. Rowling is from Scotland, how does she never seem able to remember how far it is from London?)

Continuing to flail, Harry finally blurts out that someone’s going to go after the Philosopher’s Stone right fucking now Professor help send up the Bat-signal we’re all going to die. The writing isn’t bad here, but it would be a lot better if there was an actual logical reason for this urgency.

McGonagall is very shocked that they know about the plot coupon, naturally, but rather than try to find out how they know – and how much they know – she tells him that he’s worrying over nothing and to go outside and play. The Trio slink off to one of my favourite scenes in the entire series:

‘It’s tonight,’ said Harry, once he was sure Professor McGonagall was out of earshot. ‘Snape’s going through the trapdoor tonight. He’s found out everything he needs and now he’s got Dumbledore out of the way. He sent that note, I bet the Ministry of Magic will get a real shock when Dumbledore turns up.’
‘But what can we –’
Hermione gasped. Harry and Ron wheeled round.
Snape was standing there.
‘Good afternoon,’ he said smoothly.
They stared at him.
‘You shouldn’t be inside on a day like this,’ he said, with an odd, twisted smile.
‘We were –’ Harry began, without any idea what he was going to say.
‘You want to be more careful,’ said Snape. ‘Hanging around like this, people will think you’re up to something. And Gryffindor really can’t afford to lose any more points, can they?’

Oh Severus, you magnificent bastard. He’ll do this again next book and it will be just as wonderful.

The Trio leave with their tails between their legs, as Snape calls after them that he’ll try to get Harry expelled if he sneaks around any more. I like to imagine he then walks out of sight and cracks up laughing at just how stupid these children are.

Harry says okay, fine, we’ll just have to deal with this ourselves, and he declares that Hermione should go to the staff room and watch for Snape and follow him if he goes anywhere.

Real nice, Harry. The murderer and villain knows you’re onto him, so you send the girl after him. Ron explains this by saying that she can pretend to be waiting for one of the other teachers, and does a squeaky-voiced impression of her talking to Flitwick about the Charms exam. I can believe this is more plausible than either of the boys doing so, but this is still a dick move, lads. Apart from anything else, what’s she meant to do if Snape does leave? She’s got no way of contacting the boys to tell them where he’s going. For some reason Hermione agrees to this stupid plan and leaves – were this a different book she would then promptly be murdered in a quiet corridor.

Meanwhile Harry and Ron are going to go and lurk outside Fluffy’s door, except they’re not bright enough to take their magic bedsheet, so McGonagall catches them. She loses her temper and says that if they don’t quit this she’s going to take another fifty points from her own house and will they bugger off already, pointing out that they’re really not an effective defence anyway. Thanks for highlighting Harry’s superiority complex, Minerva – we’re going to see it again at the end of this chapter in one of the funniest lines of the whole series.

The boys sulk off to the Gryffindor common room, and are shortly joined by Hermione, who says Snape came out and asked her what she was doing. When she said she was waiting for Flitwick he got Flitwick for her and went on his merry way, so she couldn’t follow him and doesn’t know where he went.

The rest of this scene is absolutely hilarious. Harry declares that Snape has obviously gone after the Stone (plot twist, actually he just went to the bathroom) and it’s up to him to stop it, and delivers a rousing speech at the top of his lungs – luckily there are literally no other students in Gryffindor Tower to overhear – about how school doesn’t matter and if Voldy comes back everyone will die or be forced to join the Dark Side (oh look, we’re in Star Wars now!) but he NEVER WILL, and how this is basically the end of the world and it’s so dramatic. Hermione and Ron are convinced and declare that they’re going with him (Hermione points out that he’s not likely to get to the Stone without them, and adds that she’s not worried about being expelled any more because Flitwick told her she got 112% on her exam).

And then… they do absolutely nothing. For hours. Until everyone’s had dinner and gone to bed (as if children with no exams and no lessons would go to bed early when it’s not dark until nearly midnight).

So much for urgency.

Having sat around and played cards or whatever it was they were doing for hours in the aftermath of Harry’s Rousing Protagonist Speech, after dinner the Trio sit around some more in the common room waiting for everyone to go to bed. I don’t know why they can’t just leave and wait nearer the corridor if they really think they can’t act until late at night for whatever reason; curfew won’t start immediately after dinner. Apparently the whole of Gryffindor without exception are still not speaking to them; that sucks for Ron, who has three relatives here, though the twins ignoring you is probably a good thing. Hermione is reading, trying to find something useful. Harry and Ron are just sitting there. Nobody is surprised.

Harry finally goes to get the cloak once everyone’s gone to bed, and happens to see the flute Hagrid gave him at the same time and grabs that. I wonder how they were planning to get past Fluffy, since he apparently forgot he had this? He runs back to the other two and suggests they put the cloak on in the common room so nobody sees them once they leave – yes, Harry, that is the point of having it, thank you for explaining that – and they’re interrupted by Neville, who Harry failed to notice leaving the dormitory right behind him to chase down Trevor the toad again.

Whatever happens to Trevor? He’s only seen once or twice more after this book, I believe.

Neville spots that the Trio are going to sneak out again and says they can’t, they’ll get caught and get Gryffindor into trouble again and he won’t let them. Ignoring their attempts to lie to him, he declares that he’ll fight all three of them before he lets that happen. Neville, you are precious and too good for this universe. Keep this up and you’re going to earn roles in future fics, I’d forgotten just how cool you were.

Ron tells him not to be an idiot and Neville snaps not to call him names, adding that Ron’s the one who told him to stand up to people in the first place. Ron says he didn’t mean them and steps forward, and Neville responds by letting Trevor go and accepting that Ron’s going to hit him, which is honestly a really sad reaction that says more about his abused past than Harry could ever dream of.

Harry once again fails at protagonist-hood by ordering Hermione to do something about this, rather than doing anything himself. (Spoiler alert, he’s going to do this repeatedly throughout the finale, and in fact throughout the entire series.) Unfortunately, Hermione’s solution is to put Neville in a full body-bind; she apologises repeatedly and is obviously truly miserable about doing it, and makes sure he’s not going to choke and is as comfortable as he can be in this situation, but that’s not much comfort to poor Neville now is it. At least since they’re friends offscreen she can try to explain things to him after all this is over, since nobody else is going to (seriously, we’re never told that Neville’s been given any kind of explanation).

Current spell count: Hermione, 9. Ron, 1. Draco, 1. Neville, 1. Harry, 0.

Not good, Hermione. There’s not much else she could have done at this point – even with her reading habits she must still have a fairly limited repertoire of spells – but this could have been avoided if they’d talked to Neville earlier and explained about Fluffy, and the dead unicorns, and Harry’s broom trying to kill him, and all the other things he’s seen with them. And if they hadn’t wasted so much time sitting around, they could have explained things to him now while he can’t interrupt or attack them, and then taken him with them.

We also have plenty of questions about the Full-Body Bind. What does it feel like? How is Neville breathing if his whole body is paralysed and his jaws are being forced shut? Does it prevent him blinking, in which case his eyes could dry out, which is painful and unsafe? Could it have worked on Fluffy, in which case it’d be more reliable than music? Naturally none of these things will ever be answered. It seems like it’s actually just limb paralysis and silencing, rather than a literal full body bind, but some clarification would be nice.

Sadly, we’re about to walk into the final dungeon of a video game, and it’s only set up for a three-character party. There’s no fourth puzzle that needs a fourth class to solve, so Neville can’t come. Although it’s been pointed out before that the Devil’s Snare could easily have been Neville’s if she’d decided this early on he was going to be good at Herbology.

This isn’t me being facetious, either; the finale is very much like something out of virtually any RPG you can think of. There’s a ‘maze’ that is actually very linear, and a series of arbitrary roadblocks that need specific party members to solve using skills they’ve learned over the course of the game book; there’s nothing new until the final boss, when the protagonist discovers a plot device power that somehow one-shots it but will never be used in any of the sequels.

I suppose it’s just a mercy that the token female character isn’t relegated to either healing or being kidnapped by the boss.

Anyway, they guiltily leave Neville lying on the floor and venture out. It’s convenient that nobody happened to get up at any point, found him and raised the alarm, isn’t it. Oh, wait, this is Gryffindor, I expect half a dozen students found him at various points but just laughed at him and went back to bed.

They don’t meet Filch (or Snape, which would have seriously confused them and been very funny to watch; one assumes he’s in the staff room with everyone else, passing around popcorn and watching the action on the magical equivalent of hidden cameras) but they do meet Mrs Norris, who Ron suggests they kick down the stairs. Fuck off, Ron. Then they meet Peeves, who can somehow sense invisible things and challenges them; Harry pretends to be the Bloody Baron and tells him to mind his own business, and somehow this works. Apparently Peeves can’t tell the difference between invisible humans and invisible ghosts, and apparently the Baron sounds like a prepubescent boy putting on an accent he’s made up since he’s never heard the Baron speak. Wouldn’t it be awkward if it turned out that the Baron actually doesn’t ever speak…

The door to Fluffy’s corridor is open. Since Fluffy is awake at this point, I once again ask how on earth they got him in there when he’s evidently too big to fit through the door. He can’t see the Trio, so he just growls while he tries to figure out where they are. There’s a harp by his paws – any real dog would have chewed this to pieces, it’s the closest thing to a toy he’s seen all year – and the Trio seem perfectly fine with the mental image of Snape playing the harp.

Not that Quirrell being a harpist makes any more sense – it’s a pretty complicated instrument, it takes a lot of practice, and it’s not something you’d think of and Transfigure on impulse to get past a monster. Also why did he leave the harp behind? Doesn’t he want to get back out once he’s got the plot coupon? In the film he enchants it to keep playing and keep Fluffy asleep for the duration, which would be more sensible if it didn’t randomly stop playing to create drama.

Harry starts playing the flute, rather badly. It works – Fluffy passes out almost immediately, falling to his knees in the process. This is not how dog’s legs work. Maybe he’s related to Fire Emblem 9 horses with their backwards knees (I tried to find a gif of this to show you what I mean but the internet let me down). But he’ll only sleep as long as the ‘music’ plays, meaning a wind instrument was a very poor choice; in a more realistic universe Harry would be passing out by the time he finally stops playing, and the book even states he barely pauses for breath.

‘I think we’ll be able to pull the door open,’ said Ron, peering over the dog’s back. ‘Want to go first, Hermione?’
‘No, I don’t!’

Smart girl. The boys really ought to stop trying to send her into danger ahead of them. I guess they’ve forgotten they’re meant to be brave. Ron opens the trapdoor, but it’s just black inside and there’s no way to see how deep it goes, so he says they’ll just have to drop down.

That’s a really good way to break your legs. Or your neck. Or both. At least have Hermione send some of her blue fire down to light it up a bit. Or drop something and listen for the impact. (It’s understandable that she doesn’t suggest it – if the boys want to make a blind jump, after trying to make her go first, then let them. Their bodies will break her fall if she decides to follow.)

Harry volunteers to go first, through flailing and sign language, then hands the flute to Hermione so she can keep Fluffy quiet. They both went to Muggle primary schools so they probably both know the theory behind playing the recorder, not that it’s complicated, so I suppose that makes sense. The book doesn’t comment about whether she’s any better than he was, but apart from twitching during the handover Fluffy stays unconscious.

While he’s hanging by his fingers from the edge of the drop, Harry gives Ron some noble-sounding and useless advice: ‘If anything happens to me, don’t follow. Go straight to the owlery and send Hedwig to Dumbledore, right?’ Why, exactly, didn’t they do this earlier? They’ve been sitting around for half a day.

Harry falls an unspecified distance and lands on ‘something soft‘. We’re told this is a plant, but I suspect it’s more likely to be the result of keeping a large animal in a small space for a long time. Imagine that they spend the rest of this scene covered in dog shit. The trapdoor is visible as a square of light ‘the size of a postage stamp‘, which means he fell a damn long way and soft landing or not they should all break limbs – the rest of the finale takes place underground, so presumably they have to have fallen at least four floors. Why is there a light at all? They didn’t bring a lamp (because they’re idiots). Is Fluffy scared of the dark? Anyway, he calls that it’s fine to jump, and Ron comes down, followed by Hermione who manages to jump just as Fluffy wakes up.

‘We must be miles under the school,’ she said.
‘Lucky this plant thing’s here, really,’ said Ron.
‘Lucky!’ shrieked Hermione. ‘Look at you both!’

The plant has been attacking them since they landed. Neither of the boys noticed it tying their legs together. Since Hermione’s not that unobservant, she has time to get free and makes it to the wall, but Harry and Ron are already too tied up to manage. Just leave them there, Hermione. We’ll all be much better off.

This scene annoys me. Hermione starts off perfectly calm and intelligent – she tells the boys to stop struggling, she knows what this plant is, it’s called Devil’s Snare. Ron is rude to her and she tells him to shut up, she’s trying to remember how to kill it. Professor Sprout said it likes the dark and the damp.

Harry orders her to light a fire. We get a description of him and Ron fighting with the plant, and he has at least one hand free. But of course he can’t do it himself, why would he when he can just order his lackey to do it for him?

Hermione has a plot-related seizure and in the space of two sentences forgets that she’s calm and intelligent; she suddenly starts literally wringing her hands and crying that there’s no wood and is suddenly a stereotypical useless female. Ron joins in giving orders, screaming at her that she can use magic and has she gone mad – he also has at least one hand free at this point, and unlike Harry has managed to cast a spell onscreen before – and she instantly snaps out of it and easily creates fire to scare the plant off, and will now be perfectly fine until the end of the book.

This is not how panic attacks work. This is not how anything works.

Current spell count: Hermione, 10. Ron, 1. Draco, 1. Neville, 1. Harry, 0. Congratulations on reaching double figures despite apparent brain damage, Hermione. Please never do that again. (The film version of this puzzle makes her look more competent but has a stupider solution. It’s a green plant, which implies it has chlorophyll, why would it dislike sunlight?)

‘Lucky you pay attention in Herbology, Hermione,’ said Harry as he joined her by the wall, wiping sweat off his face.
‘Yeah,’ said Ron, ‘and lucky Harry doesn’t lose his head in a crisis – “there’s no wood”, honestly.’

No, boys, the correct response is THANK YOU. Don’t mock the person who’s just saved your lives because neither of you could be bothered to do it yourself. I wish she’d left you there.

They follow a long passage which takes them even further underground. There’s water running down the walls, which suggests they may be near the lake, except we know Hogwarts is on a hill above the lake and they can’t have fallen quite that far. Harry’s reminded of Gringotts and starts wondering what if they meet a dragon – don’t be stupid, do you really think Hagrid could have been this close to a dragon and not mentioned it?

Ron hears a noise, which Harry describes as a ‘soft rustling and clinking‘ sound. Someone with no dialogue tags says it sounds like wings. They come to a huge high-ceilinged, well-lit chamber full of ‘tiny jewelled birds‘, and after a brief discussion about whether they’ll be attacked or not the Trio run across to the heavy wooden door on the far side. It’s locked, and Hermione can’t open it with Alohomora, though it doesn’t occur to any of them to try and set fire to it.

Current spell count: Hermione, 11. Ron, 1. Draco, 1. Neville, 1. Harry, 0. You need to up your game, boys. (They won’t. Maybe this really is a video game, and both Harry and Ron are melee classes with really tiny mana pools and low magic stats, which is why they’re both shit at magic and keep threatening to punch people instead.)

All three of them are very unobservant and this scene goes on for far too long anyway; to cut a long story short, they eventually realise that the ‘birds’ are keys and that there are an unspecified number of broomsticks nearby, and set about trying to find the right one based on the appearance of the lock. Yes, this is stupid, and no, nobody sane would have set this up. Why aren’t all the keys similar? Why did Quirrell let the original key go? Why is there more than one broomstick, or any at all? Why do the keys have feathered wings? I’m sticking with my theory that this is reality TV being broadcast in the staff room.

Blah, blah, Harry’s super-amazing at Quidditch, blah, blah. The three of them manage to herd the right key to where he can grab it – despite Hermione not being able to fly very well and hating it, and Ron crashing into the ceiling at least once, and Harry then flying hand-first into the wall to pin the key without breaking his wrist.

Through the door, and onto the next room, which is dark until they walk in and then lights up to show a gigantic chess board.

Welcome to Battle Chess. For your entertainment, here is a video of every single defeat animation in that game (if you never played, it was a fun computer game in the late 80s/early 90s and I think there’s a modern remake floating around on Steam now). Feel free to imagine that’s how this scene progresses – particularly since Ron’s choice of piece seems to get some very nasty death scenes and gets stabbed in the crotch a lot.

You may as well imagine that, because it’s hard to imagine what’s really going on. Describing scenery is one of the strengths of Rowling’s writing, but here she drops the ball and there’s virtually no description of anything. The chess pieces are taller than the children, made of stone and have no faces. The room they’re in is very large. That’s really all we’re told here.

The Trio stare at the board for a while before Harry, fearless leader, asks what they should do now.

‘It’s obvious, isn’t it?’ said Ron. ‘We’ve got to play our way across the room.’

I don’t think that’s obvious at all, Ron. It’s a decent guess, since the board fills the room and the pieces don’t seem to be doing anything, but it’s not an established fact. In the film, the children are more sensible and try just walking across the room, and the pieces block their way so they conclude that they have to play. Here they just immediately accept it.

Ron asks one of the pieces if he’s right and gets a nod, because stone chess pieces prove to be surprisingly flexible in this scene, and Harry and Hermione spend an unknown amount of time watching him think about it before he points out that neither of them are very good at chess. We’ve seen Harry play twice, once with a borrowed set and once with a brand-new set; we’ve never seen Hermione play at all, just been told that she loses offscreen. But this is the part of the video game where the player has to put Ron at the head of the party, because otherwise he has no function whatsoever, so he tells Harry to be a bishop and Hermione to be a castle before taking the place of a knight himself.

There’s no attempt to describe the match here. It’s understandable, because not that many readers are going to know enough about chess to be able to picture it, but it also makes it a poor choice for the finale because there’s nothing left for Rowling to write about. I’ve used chess games a couple of times in my stories, and every time the players have been having a completely unrelated conversation during the game because otherwise it’s pretty boring to read about. It’s a nice metaphor, or would be if it was ever expanded upon, and the initial concept probably seemed like a nice dramatic scene, but there’s no meat to it and we’re left with vague descriptions of pieces being knocked over the head and dragged off the board (for solid stone, they seem to be able to completely ragdoll once ‘unconscious’ and also seem to be capable of a wide range of movements) before being told that Ron’s almost won.

The only reason to play, by the way, is because when they do win the white pieces will move away from the door and let them leave. Presumably this means two or three pieces have to stay in front of the door for the whole game, because otherwise the Trio could just make a run for it once the match has started, so I can’t imagine this was too difficult.

It could have been set up so instead of just playing a standard game you had to move the pieces through a sequence of moves to unlock the door – Wikipedia has a list of 45 gambits well-known enough to have names; as our resident chess ‘expert’ Ron ought to be familiar with at least a few of the better-known ones, or even one exclusive to the wizarding world. Chessboard as password system could actually be a cool concept.

Alternatively, the children could have been presented with a game in progress, and given, say, six moves to mate, something like a chess problem. That would be more challenging, though admittedly not any more dramatic to describe to the readers.

But no, the children have to physically join the game, because this is one of the more brutal RPGs and kills off most of the characters until the postgame credits, so the original protagonist has to solo the final boss. So Ron says the only way to win now is for him to bait the queen into taking him so Harry can checkmate the king. His friends are horrified by this, but I’m more interested in wondering why he said this out loud in front of the sentient chess pieces who have already shown they can understand what he says. This seems like a very poor strategy to me. Despite that, the queen decides to tamely go along with her opponent’s plan, presumably just for the chance to whack Ron over the head and drag him off – on a related note, how do you suppose the human players are managing to take their opponent’s pieces? If ‘tag, you’re out, go sit in the corner’ works, then why are the other pieces smashing each other over the head?

We’re never going to find out exactly how this chess set was created. It’s implied to be fully Transfigured, since this is McGonagall’s contribution, but that wouldn’t necessarily let you create a functional ‘sentient’ A.I. capable of playing a non-scripted reactive game of chess. I don’t know how you’d do that with magic at all, though it’s not that hard to do with computer programming – chess-playing A.I. has been around since the 70s, and Deep Blue first beat a human in 1997. So I think we have to conclude this is a normal magic chess set and it’s just been enlarged – though of course we don’t know how the normal chess sets are made either. It would be sensible to think they take years of spellcraft and charmwork, except they’re apparently common enough to be prizes in Christmas crackers…

Honestly, it’s more likely that someone’s sitting out of sight playing the other side (just like the first “chess computers”, which were really a guy hiding inside a box manipulating the pieces with a lever). Maybe the teachers are doing it remotely from their giant TV screen in the staff room, or else it’s just Dumbledore again.

If the magical A.I. was weak enough, Ron could probably have pulled a Fool’s Mate here – if you’re not familiar with the term, it’s a two-move checkmate that can only realistically happen if White don’t know what they’re doing [Mitchell adds: when I was younger I distinctly remember pulling it off on someone in reverse once, when I was playing white, but of course that takes an extra move]. Alternatively, if McGonagall was better at chess than a twelve year old ginger idiot (who, to be fair, is under a fair amount of stress at the moment), this game could have been totally unwinnable.

All these options make it clear that this obstacle, like all the others, is just a delaying tactic and isn’t meant to actually stop anyone from getting through. The only reason to do this is to be able to arrest the villain after the fact, in which case they really screwed up by letting Harry get involved because he completely mucks up that plan. Or to provide good reality TV for the teachers, of course. Imagine if they actually did this to a random firstie every year, and this year was just a celebrity version because Harry had joined?

Anyway, back with the plot, Ron joins the list of people getting head injuries that should kill them but won’t and is dumped at the edge of the board. We’re told this is inevitable – ‘There was nothing else for it‘, which is changed to ‘there was no alternative’ in the US version even though it’s not a difficult phrase to understand – but if Ron was really the chess prodigy we’re meant to think he was then I’m sure he could have managed checkmate while keeping three pieces safe. (Particularly if he’d made one of them the king like a sensible person would have done.)

Harry checkmates the king, and the pieces all get out of the way. In defiance of human behaviour he and Hermione then run off and don’t give Ron another thought; they don’t even go and check that he’s breathing, let alone stop in the doorway to see what happens when the board resets. Hermione does start to say something, but Harry cuts her off and insists that Ron will be fine before asking her what’s going to come next, so she can exposit at the readers who haven’t managed to add everything together yet and remind us that we still need to see contributions from Quirrell and Snape.

Through the next door is Quirrell’s obstacle, which I always found cheap and disappointing. It’s just another troll. We’ve seen so little of the wizarding world, why would you recycle something that had an entire chapter devoted to it earlier? Especially since we’ve already had a guardian monster to avoid? To add insult to injury, it’s already unconscious; at least have the children show that they’ve learned enough to take it down without needing quite so much luck. If they’d brought Neville with them, Hermione could have used the body-bind here instead (does that work on trolls?). At least the other defences all used actual magic – a random troll does not say Defence Against the Dark Arts to me, even taking into account seven books of evidence that Rowling never quite decided what the subject was.

Also, why isn’t it dead? I’m not just talking about the worst villain ever who doesn’t understand that evil people kill things, either – this troll’s been locked down here for most of a year. I assume someone is throwing food in to Fluffy every so often but they’re certainly not coming all the way down here to keep a troll alive, so where’s it been getting food and water?

Now we come to what I’m sure nobody will be surprised to learn is my favourite of the obstacles: Snape’s. It’s not just because he did it, okay? Stop looking at me like that. It’s not. Potions are cool. And so are books that expect the characters to use their brains not their weaponry.

That said, this still could have been better. The main problem is that, again, we’re not given enough description; in this case this is a problem because the readers cannot try to solve this puzzle themselves. We’re told that there’s a table in the middle of the room with seven different sized bottles on it, and that when Harry and Hermione walk in purple fire cuts off their retreat and black fire blocks the way forward, and that there’s a riddle on a scroll explaining that one bottle has a potion to let you go forwards, one has a potion to let you go back, three are harmless and two are poison. It gives just enough clues about where the bottles are relative to one another to let Hermione solve it.

(If this was actually to stop anyone getting past, the riddle would be lying and all seven bottles would contain poison, or at least be useless. I assume Severus was forbidden to actually do that.)

But we’re never given a description of the bottles, so we don’t know which is which, and without that as a starting point we can’t figure it out ourselves. So we’re spending the whole of this scene watching Hermione think, which is nice in its way because the characters thinking is already quite rare and will only become rarer, but not letting the readers participate is pretty poor. The internet has since figured out possible arrangements for the bottles that let this riddle work – I believe the film used the same one that used to be on Pottermore back when that was a half-decent site that involved doing things instead of reading garbage, but I’m not sure.

For anyone who doesn’t have access to a copy of the books at the moment, here’s the riddle:

“Danger lies before you, while safety lies behind
Two of us will help you, whichever you would find,
One among us seven will let you move ahead,
Another will transport the drinker back instead,
Two among our number hold only nettle wine,
Three of us are killers, waiting hidden in line.
Choose, unless you wish to stay here for evermore,
To help you in your choice, we give you these clues four:
First, however slyly the poison tries to hide
You will always find some on nettle wine’s left side;
Second, different are those who stand at either end,
But if you would move onwards, neither is your friend;
Third, as you see clearly, all are different size,
Neither dwarf nor giant holds death in their insides;
Fourth, the second left and the second on the right
Are twins once you taste them, though different at first sight.”

The other problem with this whole scene, of course, is that this poem is utter shite. (Sorry, Severus.) Mitchell, as resident published poet, says that the meter is rubbish and will no doubt add some technical details here; I know nothing about poetry, really, though even I can tell this doesn’t scan very well.

[Mitchell here. Something definitely bugs me about the way this is put together. The rhyming is fine (size/insides is a little iffy but not quite a slant rhyme, I’ll give it a pass), but the meter and rhythm are all over the place. I think she was trying for some kind of iambic scheme; my initial instinct said iambic pentameter, possibly Shakespearean-influenced, but the lines are all too long for that. Plus they’re inconsistent from line to line, painfully so. And if she was going for iambic, she failed, because a lot of these lines end on half an iamb which feels really awkward. I can’t think of another meter scheme she could have been aiming for, though, most of these lines just feel awkward. That said, she may just have bitten off more than she could chew; I honestly don’t think I could write competent poetry that’s also a competent logic puzzle either.]

To be fair, it’s hard to write things like this, and it’s realistic enough that someone like Severus wouldn’t be able to write an amazing poem even if he somehow cared enough to try. But there are a lot of poems in the books – things like the Sorting Hat’s songs, the mercifully never-repeated school song, the threat on Gringotts’ doors, various pop songs – and they’re all bad. If you’re not a poet by nature, maybe don’t fill your books with your attempts? It’s really not that big a deal, I just find it irritating. I’m getting grumpy in my old age.

Anyway, speaking of Mitchell, time for me to shamelessly plug one of his one-shot fics about this very scene. A Logic Puzzle points out that, as I mentioned above, the logical solution here is to poison all of them and be done with it. Good job Snape’s not the villain after all, isn’t it?

Allow me to also quote something he’s just said while we were putting this post together:

“Actually, my favourite thing here is that the clue saying two bottles are the same when you taste them is almost completely useless. There are lots of different kinds of poison and this never says they’re all the same kind. And then also, who knows what the solution potions taste like? For all we know he’s made them taste like wine.”

He’s been trying to put together his own configuration while I type this up, so he’ll explain that to you now.

Mitchell here. Have an attempt to construct a valid logic puzzle from the clues Rowling’s given us. Here’s what we know:

2 bottles are nettle wine
3 bottles are poison
1 bottle takes you forward
1 bottle takes you back

And four explicit clues:

1. “However slyly the poison tries to hide, you will always find some on nettle wine’s left side”
2. “Different are those who stand at either end, but if you would move onwards neither is your friend”
3. “All are different size. Neither dwarf nor giant holds death in their insides.”
4. “The second left and second on the right are twins once you taste them, though different at first sight.”

And two additional constraints, from Hermione’s solution:
-The smallest bottle is “forward”
-The bottle farthest right (we’ll call this #7) is “backward”

So whatever puzzle we come up with needs to have a unique solution which can be reached from the four stated clues, and that solution has to agree with Hermione’s.

Now, as I said to Loten earlier, there’s actually a lot of ambiguity here, and not only because Rowling keeps talking about the sizes of the bottles in the clues without giving any information about what they actually are in the setup. The biggest offender is clue #4, because we actually don’t know what any of these things would taste like other than the wine. I’m pretty sure Rowling was just trying to think up a clever oblique way to say “these bottles look different but their contents are the same”, but that’s not actually what she said at all. We don’t know the three poisonous bottles all contain the same poison, and we don’t know anything about what the forward/back potions would taste like (and again, if Snape were being crafty he could well mess about with the flavours too). And beyond that, the implication of clue #4 is that to use the information you would actually have to taste them, which would be monumentally stupid to actually do while trying to work out the puzzle (does Snape know his audience?).

That ended up being moot for me. The only possible way for the clue to be unambiguous is if those two bottles (2 and 6) are the wine. Conveniently, working from there it’s not hard to construct a puzzle that ends up working, as there aren’t many configurations that satisfy everything where that is true. On the other hand, if you allow the possibility that it means they’re both poison, it doesn’t narrow things down much at all; I tried variations where those two were poison and couldn’t find one with a unique solution.

So let’s start there. Again, I’ve numbered the bottles from left to right, 1 to 7. Clue #4 makes 2 and 6 wine, then clue #1 makes 1 and 5 poison. This leaves 3, 4, and 7 still undetermined.

Now we apply clue #2. The only possible way to make that true is for bottle 7 to be “backward” (conveniently what Hermione ended up with). We’re left with only 3 and 4 still undetermined. Now what we know is this: we need one of them to be poison and the other “forward”, and which is which needs to be deducible from the remaining clue. Luckily there’s a simple way to do this: as long as “forward” is in the smallest or largest bottle, clue #3 specifying it’s not poison is enough to narrow it down (and it has to be the smallest, to be consistent with Hermione’s result).

There’s one last consideration. To constrain this to a unique solution, clue #3 actually provides a convenient way to ensure that my assumptions about clue #4 are correct. If we make either bottle 2 or bottle 6 the largest bottle, then we’ve guaranteed they can’t be poison (which means, barring shenanigans about the flavours of the “correct” potions, they have to be wine). So here’s one working configuration:


(Again, we can swap 2 and 6, and/or 3 and 4. And the sizes of the other bottles are completely irrelevant so I’m ignoring them. Note that what I’ve essentially done is add two more clues: “bottle 3 is the smallest” and “bottle 6 is the largest”, which is what was needed to restrict this to a unique solution.)

This works. The downside is that, once you see these additional clues written out, it becomes readily apparent that as far as logic puzzles go, this one is pretty easy to solve, especially with clue #3 explicitly stating 2 or 6 isn’t poison. Start from that, and the clues cascade into each other by logical implication, and the whole thing falls into place like dominoes. Now there’s a sense in which that’s true of all logic puzzles, but this one is very small in terms of both number of clues and number of unknowns. The challenge in logic puzzles generally comes from having to parse the clues from English into their actual logical meaning, and then deducing further information from the clues’ interactions with each other.

So what’s the takeaway here?

Firstly: I have to admit I was a bit disappointed to realise this was possible to do; I was hoping for an opportunity to scold Rowling, and have to reluctantly concede that she hasn’t done anything wrong (and she did actually put in the work to make a proper logic puzzle). I do think it would’ve been better writing to make this explicit in the text so the reader could try to work it out alongside Hermione (it’s always nice to give your readers an opportunity to feel clever, and it’s good for immersion), and it wouldn’t have taken much to do that. If she didn’t want to explicitly describe the size of all the bottles (I’ll admit that would have been tedious), all she’d have had to do is have Hermione mention it offhand while thinking aloud. “Neither dwarf nor giant holds death in their insides. Okay then, the third from the left is the smallest, and the second from the right is biggest, that means those two can’t be poison…” (Not my best writing, obviously, but I trust I’ve made my point.)

Secondly: We’ve beaten this point to death by now, but this logic puzzle is not good security. It’s never a good idea to put the key in the same room as the lock, even disregarding the fact this puzzle’s pretty easy. But honestly, I do think it’s an appropriate difficulty level for an 11-12 year old to solve, so perhaps in that sense it works. Especially if we decide that this was all intended as a test for the children by Dumbledore (maybe he told Snape not to make it too complicated?). It’s not even particularly good as a time-wasting measure, because it doesn’t take very long to solve when you know all the clues (that’s not obvious when reading the scene, because the clues implicit in the size of the bottles are missing).

I hope this wasn’t too boring of a digression. I thought it was fun to think about. Anyway, Loten, here’s your microphone back.

Why thank you. Back with the plot, Hermione likes this scene as much as I do:

Hermione let out a great sigh and Harry, amazed, saw that she was smiling, the very last thing he felt like doing.
‘Brilliant,’ said Hermione. ‘This isn’t magic – it’s logic – a puzzle. A lot of the greatest wizards haven’t got an ounce of logic, they’d be stuck in here for ever.’
‘But so will we, won’t we?’
‘Of course not,’ said Hermione.

This is the other thing I like about it. Just the point that intelligence and logic – or common sense – aren’t the same thing (and certainly aren’t synonymous with magical ability) is really nice to see, and it’s also really nice to have Rowling actually say something negative about the wizarding world for once. I just wish she’d carried it a step further and had Hermione add, “I don’t even think wizards have this type of puzzle, I’ve never found any riddle games. It’s lucky we’re both Muggle-raised, isn’t it?” but I’ll take what I can get.

It’s worth pointing out that any sort of puzzle or task based around potions is going to be difficult to write about. If you don’t use this, you’re left with brewing one – which I would have loved, but I concede most people aren’t as nerdy as me and would find fairly tedious – or something like we see in book six with the potion in the cave, which was just stupid.

She manages to solve it within a few minutes. Harry, naturally, stands and watches her with a vacant expression. It would have been so much better to have his thoughts as he tried to figure this out on his own before giving up and hoping she could do it, maybe an acknowledgement that he knows she’s smarter than he is, and maybe a thought about his maybe-unconscious maybe-dead friend a few rooms back or some fear about what he’s going to be facing after this. I’d settle for him wondering what’s for breakfast tomorrow, frankly, but he once again has no thoughts whatsoever.

It’s unclear whether Quirrell had to solve this himself, or whether he already knew the answer from when the defences were being set up, or whether he just used magic to get past the fires and ignored the potions completely. The latter seems most likely, since when Hermione identifies the bottle that lets them go forward it proves to be the smallest bottle and only has a single mouthful of potion in it, with no indication that it’s already half-empty, so presumably Quirrell didn’t drink any.

If he had, you’d hope he’d be bright enough to drink it all, or to take the right bottle with him to stop anyone following him. Or to rearrange the bottles so the one in the correct spot actually contains poison. Or to just pour all of them into one another. Or onto the floor. Or… well, you get the idea. This is not how you write villains. Don’t give them endless opportunities to gain advantages and kill threats that they’re not bright enough to seize.

Likewise, this does also raise the question of why the “go forward” potion is in such a tiny bottle to begin with. You’d think they’d want it to be in a big one, so that if someone did get through they could be followed. Or just in general, so that every time someone authorised actually needed to get past – presumably Flamel needs to access the Stone on occasion – the bottle wouldn’t need to be refilled. This is stupid.

Anyway, contrived solution is contrived, clearly Harry will have to go through on his own and this is the part of the otherwise good scene that I don’t like. Firstly, we don’t know what the needed dose of potion is – who says you need a full mouthful? Maybe it’s only a few drops. More importantly, why do they both assume it should be Harry who goes through? He’s proved to be stunningly ineffective as a protagonist thus far, and has displayed all the magical ability of a damp tissue, whereas Hermione’s well into double figures on our spell count.

I cannot stress this enough. Harry has performed zero deliberate spells. He has done no conscious magic whatsoever. And the only unconscious magic we’ve seen, rather than just being told about, was way back in Chapter Two when he vanished the glass on the snake tank, and it was never explicitly stated that was even him. I’m sure a talking snake that can nod and point at things can do magic. Oh, and a stick gave off some sparks when he touched it, but that doesn’t count either.

So why, exactly, should he be the hero? What’s he going to do? We know this ends with a blazing Deus ex Machina moment, but at this point the characters don’t.

It’s Harry who orders Hermione to drink the potion that will let her go back, and he never actually gives her a chance to argue or to ask what the hell he thinks he’s going to do. He tells her to go and make sure Ron’s not dead, then grab brooms from the key room and go and get help, while he goes and Saves the Day.

Okay, to be fair, he doesn’t say that’s what he’s going to do, but he does come out with what may be the funniest line in the entire series:

“I might be able to hold Snape off for a while, but I’m no match for him really.”

I’ll just pause for a moment for you all to get over your hysterical laughter and clear up any beverages that may have inadvertently been snorted everywhere. I have no idea why Rowling included this line. Even someone as arrogant and deluded as Harry ends up becoming should not be saying anything this moronic at this point. Hold Snape off, Harry? You can’t even stop your young, allegedly unfit, non-magical cousin hitting you. What do you think you’re going to do against a grown adult powerful wizard who knows several thousand ways of killing you, with or without magic, while you have yet to cast a single spell?

The reality TV broadcast in the staff room has to be paused at this point while Snape himself gets over hysterics and clears up his spilled drink. He then spends the rest of the scene giggling to himself.

Hermione doesn’t start laughing, though. She does ask what’ll happen if Voldemort’s there and Harry acknowledges that what happened when he was a baby was just luck, so he just needs to be lucky again. This is not a compelling argument, Harry, and is also not something I’d expect to hear literally two lines after you declaring that you’d last more than 0.0004 seconds against Snape.

Apparently unable to think of a response to this, Hermione resorts to hugging him instead, which is genuinely sweet. She spoils it by joining the list of people to tell Harry that he’s special, though, and in defiance of all evidence to the contrary tells him that he’s a great wizard. Harry has the decency to admit that she’s better, but she’s having another plot-seizure:

‘Me!’ said Hermione. ‘Books! And cleverness! There are more important things – friendship and bravery and – oh Harry – be careful!’

I have always handwaved this as just her being very worried for her friend, as well as being tired and stressed and whatever else after this insane year. But really, there’s actually no handwaving this. It’s not in character for her at this point (though I am pleased she admits to being clever; that’s already become a mortal sin in this series) although it will be suited to the butchered remains of her character in later books. More to the point, it’s not in character for any twelve year old, because twelve year olds do not talk like this. I’m not convinced anyone outside of a My Little Pony episode does, honestly.

Continuing to be terrible, Harry doesn’t respond to this but instead tells her to drink her potion first, presumably so he can see if she got the right answer or not; she says it feels like ice, and he tells her to bugger off and stop stealing his limelight. She does, and won’t reappear until the end of next chapter. I’d like to know how the character who isn’t good at flying manages to carry the unconscious Ron past a fully-conscious Fluffy; that’s certainly more challenging than Harry’s contribution to the finale.

Left alone, Harry drinks his own potion, which also feels like ice despite apparently serving a different purpose. Since we know this obstacle is just a delay rather than a prevention, it’s entirely possible every single bottle just has the same fireproof potion in that will get you through either door and you don’t need to solve the riddle at all.

He walks through the fire into the final room, and we end on this:

“There was already someone there – but it wasn’t Snape. It wasn’t even Voldemort.”

This is decently dramatic, assuming you haven’t figured it out already (neither of us had on the first time through), but it’s also flawed, because Harry doesn’t know what Voldemort looked like.

Oh well.

Next time (which will hopefully not be several months away) will be the grand finale. Full of drama and magic and bravery haha no you all know it’s full of complete bullshit already. Let me just reiterate our spell count for today:

Hermione, 11. Ron, 1. Draco, 1. Neville, 1. Harry, 0.

And I will leave you all with the thought that the trapdoor Fluffy’s guarding is a literal plot hole.


Posted by on June 28, 2016 in loten, mitchell


Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone: Chapter Fifteen

This one took more than one session to cover. Considering this entire chapter is filler to justify a single dramatic image, it’s disproportionately long.

Chapter Fifteen: The Forbidden Forest
Today’s art is a slightly camp centaur striking a weird pose. I swear
one day I’ll go back and insert the images into these posts. One day.

When we last left our hero, he and Hermione had stupidly forgotten the magic bedsheet after the unnecessary and physics-defying bit of dragon-smuggling, and were being dragged off by Filch. The first line of this chapter is Harry informing us that ‘things couldn’t have been worse‘; yes, they could. Norbert could have escaped, set you on fire and trotted off to eat someone. But no, Harry’s remembered (or been reminded by that offscreen director) that he’s meant to be afraid of punishments and authority figures, and he’s panicking about expulsion again.

Filch dumps them in McGonagall’s office and leaves them to sweat; this must mean he saw her with Draco earlier and knows she’s awake, because it’s an unspecified time between midnight and 1am at this point. Presumably McGonagall has just dragged Draco off to confront Snape – brave woman; I can’t imagine he’d be too pleased at being disturbed at such a stupid time – because when she appears it’s clear she hasn’t gone to bed like a sane person. She has Neville with her, though mercifully not being literally dragged along by his ear.

Neville instantly tells Harry that he was trying to find them to warn them, because he overheard Draco say he was going to get them into trouble, he said they had a dragon. Neville, you are a wonderful human being and you deserve so much better than being stuck in this universe. Though you have to wonder just why he was so worried about them, since he doesn’t know the dragon is real and has no reason to expect that their being out of bed is going to be a big deal. (Then again, given the general incompetence of everyone involved, I expect the whole school knows about the dragon by this point.)

McGonagall continues to display a very harsh attitude towards these pre-teen children in her care; ‘she looked more likely to breathe fire than Norbert as she towered over the three of them‘ and demands an explanation. Her behaviour for this whole scene is, frankly, inexplicably bizarre. We were forced to conclude that somehow this incident has interrupted something, because she is disproportionately furious about them being out of bed. Far more so than she was over the troll thing.

It’s especially odd that she’s so put out by their being out of bed at one in the morning, particularly since they were near the Astronomy Tower and astronomy classes meet regularly at midnight. We’re not told whether any sections meet Saturday nights, but regardless it shouldn’t be this unusual for students to be out of bed at a time when some of them will be going to and from class. If they’d been thinking (and/or Rowling wanted to make them look clever) they should have told McGonagall they were going to meet a friend and walk them back from their astronomy class, or something like that.

On a related note, why exactly are Astronomy classes held at the top of a tower anyway? The Great Hall has a magic ceiling that shows the sky, it’s basically a planetarium.

Instead of this perfectly reasonable answer, Harry says nothing, and also judges Hermione for saying nothing. Given what happened to her last time McGonagall got angry with her for the terrible crime of being attacked, I’m not at all surprised.

McGonagall doesn’t give them much opportunity to say anything, and rather quickly provides her own explanation, declaring that obviously they told Draco some lies about a dragon to get him into trouble and they probably think it’s funny Neville fell for it as well.

Now, there are two possibilities here. One is that she actually believes this, in which case she’s punishing Draco for falling for a trick, which is admittedly completely consistent with her usual victim-blaming attitude. Alternatively, she knows this is nonsense, knows all about the dragon, and is punishing Draco for telling the truth (and feeding the others a cover story) in order to cover for Hagrid breaking the law, which could at least explain her ridiculous overreaction. Either way, this whole plotline is terrible and makes her an awful person. (I’m feeling a lot better now about the way I wrote her in PTL…) She’s also training the children to never go to her for anything, which is an absolutely stellar attitude for a head of house to take.

Harry tries to psychically tell Neville this isn’t true, though I don’t know why he cares because he’s treated Neville horribly all book and will continue to do so. ‘Poor, blundering Neville‘ wants you to take your patronising attitude and cram it where the sun doesn’t shine, Snowflake.

Continuing with the hyperbole, McGonagall declares that she’s absolutely disgusted with them all, before dropping this clanger: ‘Four students out of bed in one night! I’ve never heard of such a thing before!‘ Presumably she’s spent the entirety of her teaching career to date heavily sedated, but even so, the Marauders were clearly already part of Rowling’s dubious headcanon by this point; the woman is just talking nonsense. I think we have to subscribe to the ‘trying to cover up Hagrid’s illegal dragon’ theory here because there’s just no rational reason why being out of bed is such a serious crime that justifies the very harsh punishment.

Speaking of punishment, she gives all three of them detention and takes fifty points from Gryffindor. She only took twenty from Slytherin for Draco, and that was by far the highest penalty we’d seen from anyone up until that point. Harry understandably protests, so McGonagall promptly makes it fifty points each.

To be fair, I would almost like this if it weren’t such an overreaction to a very minor infraction and if she hadn’t been so awful previously; escalating punishments in response to whining is a thing teachers often do, and for good reason. One of my chemistry teachers once increased my predicted grade for quite an important exam because I was the only one in the class who didn’t try to argue with her about it.

I have to wonder if originally this chapter was meant to involve a worse crime. Perhaps in the first draft she did find out about the dragon (or at least wasn’t able to deny knowing about it), Hagrid was fired/arrested and the children were being punished for aiding and abetting his lawbreaking. That would actually justify taking one hundred and fifty points (in context, 150 is quite a lot when the final scores at the end of the book range from 312 to 472), detention, and lectures about how disgusted she is and how awful they are. As it is, there’s no way to rationalise McGonagall’s attitude – particularly since not too many chapters ago she was perfectly happy to break rules herself in order to get Harry onto the Quidditch team, because the stupid cup meant more to her than the rules did. The sudden 180 over breaking curfew is too hard to swallow.

McGonagall finishes the scene by talking over their protests and telling them, ‘I’ve never been more ashamed of Gryffindor students‘. I would like to remind everyone that ‘Gryffindor students’ include the Weasley twins, and have included their older dragon-smuggling brother, the Marauders (and she is well aware that one of them is a Death Eater who betrayed his friends and got them murdered, even if she’s mistaken about which one), and Hagrid the monster-breeder who was expelled after a student was killed. But no, she’s deeply ashamed and disgusted that a couple of children dared to leave their bedrooms without permission, and that’s the worst infraction she’s ever seen. In isolation you can dismiss this as exaggeration just to make them feel bad, but again, she’s acted like this before and you’d better believe she will do so again.

She then hypocritically sends them off to wander the castle unaccompanied on their way back to bed, because what is consistency.

I’d just like to point out here that what we’ve seen of McGonagall throughout this book has been much, much worse than anything Snape has said or done, despite the narrative insisting that he’s scum and she’s awesome. Not that I need to point that out, since it’s pretty blatantly obvious.

We did come up with a couple of other theories that could explain her terrible behaviour here. One possibility is that she hasn’t forgotten about the Marauders at all, and in fact this whole affair is her attempt to scare Harry into behaving so that he won’t end up like his father. I’d happily accept this in a different story, but seriously, she’s just a bad person and I won’t give her this much credit.

Our other possible explanation is that this is all part of some sort of inter-staff feud and McGonagall is attempting to oppose Dumbledore. This would require her knowing that he gave Harry the magic bedsheet and is encouraging him to get into trouble a lot, but it seems pretty clear by the end of the book that Dumbles has planned most of it all, so it’s not out of the question that McGonagall could know and be trying to thwart him. Except that we’ve all seen her blindly obeying him before, when it comes to leaving infants on doorsteps in November and other such things, and she never objects to anything else throughout the series.

We’re not seriously advancing these theories as true, of course; there’s too much evidence against them. But they could have been interesting possibilities in another book.

And it gets worse. Understandably the school are a little confused the next day to see how many points Gryffindor have lost – they’re tracked by magic giant hourglasses full of jewels on display in the Great Hall, which is pretty if somewhat pointless – but by the power of authorial fiat everyone very quickly finds out what happened. We’ll see many times throughout the rest of the series that Rowling doesn’t understand how rumours actually work, but here I think we have to conclude that McGonagall has deliberately leaked at least part of the story to add social shaming to the children’s punishments. Which is just plain sadistic – they’re only eleven and twelve years old. It also shouldn’t work, but when has realism and a knowledge of how humans work ever stopped Rowling?

There could have been plenty of better ways to write the rumours getting started, if we had to keep this plotline. All she would’ve had to do is put Harry in the scene a bit earlier. As an example, let’s say everyone goes to breakfast and notices the points missing, but nobody has any idea what’s going on. People start asking each other if they know anything, but nobody does, until someone asks Harry and he reacts with embarrassment (let’s say goes red in the face and stares at his shoes, or something), giving away that he had something to do with it. That would be enough for rumours to start, especially since he’d have to be evasive to avoid incriminating Hagrid.

In any case, while I’ve covered plenty of Watsonian reasons for all this, the Doylist reason is to slather on some more over the top Angst For Harry.

‘From being one of the most popular and admired people at the school, Harry was suddenly the most hated. Even Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs turned on him, because everyone had been longing to see Slytherin lose the House Cup. Everywhere Harry went, people pointed and didn’t trouble to lower their voices as they insulted him.’

The Slytherins, by contrast, are pretty pleased and keep thanking Harry for doing them a favour.

I really can’t accept that absolutely every student with no exceptions is this fanatical about the bloody House Cup. Slytherin have won for the last seven years in a row, as we’ve been repeatedly told; them being in the lead again now is not a huge deal. We’ve also seen absolutely no justification for ‘everyone’ hating Slytherin except that some of them used to be Death Eaters a decade ago. I’m also not sure Rowling’s realised that she’s making most of her precious Gryffindors look pretty horrible right now for picking on a small boy.

Only Ron stood by him.‘ Because Hermione and Neville don’t count as people. Though admittedly by this point I can understand why they’d both hate him…

Harry’s so miserable that he resolves to never meddle in anything ever again. This resolution will last, oh, about a page or so. Just long enough to be contrived and irritating in the next scene, in fact. I don’t know why Harry’s miserable, though; we’ve been told several times that this is exactly what his last school was like, because everyone was inexplicably in awe of Dudley and thus hated Harry on principle. Yes, being ostracised is horrible, but if it’s all you’ve ever experienced you wouldn’t really know it was horrible and would be so used to it that you probably wouldn’t care – particularly since being insulted is a step up from being physically (or magically) attacked.

Alternatively, given this history of Harry’s, this ought to be the final nail in the coffin that means he will never trust anyone again because it turns out that the magic world is just as awful as the Muggle one. From this point on he ought to hate all his teachers, especially McGonagall for doing this to him but also including his precious Dumbledore who isn’t stopping it, and also ought to deliberately isolate himself and never make friends with anyone again – including his existing friends – because he can’t trust them not to arbitrarily turn on him. (There’s a reason dark!Harry fics are quite popular.)

Of course, this is the wonderful world of Harry Potter. So what actually happens is that he wallows in angst for a few more pages and then forgets this ever happened and is completely unaffected. At least until the next time this exact scenario happens.

During his angst phase, he decides to resign from the Quidditch team. Why he expects this to help is beyond me; we’re never told how Quidditch and House points tally up, or why Quidditch contributes to House points at all for that matter, but it was apparently only due to his awesome seeker powers that Gryffindor were in the lead in the first place. Wood points this out and refuses to let him resign, ‘but even Quidditch had lost its fun. The rest of the team wouldn’t speak to Harry during practice, and if they had to speak about him, they called him ‘the Seeker’.

The rest of the team includes Fred and George, remember, who have not only certainly lost far more points than this over their school career but who also think rulebreaking is funny. They also seem to like Harry and have interacted with him quite a lot. Even without that, the team are well aware that it’s thanks to their pet snowflake that they were doing well and that he’s their best hope of getting their lead back. Not to mention that Harry’s Quidditch strategy is to soar a long way above the actual game; why would he need to speak to any of the team anyway?

Rowling, please write out one hundred times, “People do not work this way”. Preferably with a blood quill.

We’re told that Hermione and Neville are suffering too, but not as badly because they’re not super-famous special snowflakes. I fail to see how they’re suffering at all, really; nobody spoke to either of them anyway except to be nasty, so this is business as usual. If anything, this incident ought to have made Harry and Ron more tolerant of both of them and they should have formed a proper little group of four friends, though obviously it doesn’t. And we know it doesn’t because Harry then tells us that the Trio keep to themselves and get on with revising. Apparently Neville is even being ostracised by the kids who got him into trouble in the first place. I’m glad we’ve established that he and Hermione are secretly friends offscreen, because seriously, poor Neville. He needs hugs and puppies.

I do find it interesting that we don’t see any onscreen reactions at all, except Ron saying it’s not so bad and Wood saying that resigning from the sports team won’t help. We’re just told everyone else hates Harry now. We don’t see reactions from the other boys in Harry’s dormitory, or Ron’s brothers – not just the twins; Percy is the Gryffindor prefect, remember? – or anyone else on the Quidditch team. The really obvious, glaring lack, though? Draco. He ought to be gloating – a detention and twenty points is a very small price to pay for successfully costing Gryffindor 150 points and their lead, even if they got away with the whole dragon thing. He’s not even mentioned, though, let alone appearing onscreen to rub Harry’s nose in it. That’s just plain lazy writing, and given the amount of filler in this chapter there’s really no excuse for it.

Then we have a slightly random interlude reminding us that there’s a plot trying to happen somewhere. Harry is walking back from the library by himself and hears voices coming from a classroom – egad! Voices in a classroom? Anyone would think this was a school, or something! To be fair, the voice is whimpering, which probably is cause for concern even in Hogwarts.

He gets closer and hears Quirrell sobbing and saying things like, ‘No – no – not again, please –‘ before finally ending with ‘All right – all right‘. Despite hearing all this perfectly clearly, Harry is somehow unable to hear the other side of the conversation, and yet doesn’t seem at all puzzled by it. I don’t know what he thinks is happening here; I don’t think you can threaten someone silently. (Also, a public classroom is a pretty poor choice of venue for torturing a minion.)

Quirrell leaves the room, pale and trying not to cry and fiddling with his turban, and somehow utterly fails to notice Harry who promptly runs past him to look into the classroom. Implausibly, this classroom just happens to have exits at both ends, and there’s nobody else there. Some rooms in some schools do end up that way, since when you adapt buildings the space doesn’t always line up and sometimes limited money means turning awkward places into classrooms instead of building extensions, but none of those reasons apply to Hogwarts even if people couldn’t use magic.

Continuing to stretch all credibility, Harry starts walking towards the second door and then reminds himself he’s not going to meddle any more because he’s emo now and trots off back to the library instead. For the record, this is the only time he’ll stop himself pursuing something, and of course it’s on the only occasion where he might have learned something that could have put a hole in his pet ‘it’s Snape’ theory. Instead he goes back to Ron and Hermione and tells them that Snape’s obviously got what he needed from Quirrell now, oh noes.

‘‘Snape’s done it, then!’ said Ron. ‘If Quirrell’s told him how to break his Anti-Dark Force spell –’ ‘

…what spell would that be? These Are Not The Droids You’re Looking For-ius? Honestly, Ron, are you sure you’re pureblood?

The Trio discuss it a bit and conclude sensibly that it’s quite possible someone could find out how to get past Fluffy from one of the thousands of books in the library, so maybe now Snape can waltz in and grab the shiny plot coupon whenever he likes. It doesn’t occur to them that since he’s not an idiot he’d be doing so literally right this moment, because really why would you wait.

Ron’s all for charging in, of course. Hermione says they should go tell Dumbledore and let him deal with it – while this is sensible, given her treatment by the staff in recent chapters I can’t think this is really her reaction. For some reason they give Harry power of authority here despite that having been a really bad idea every single time, and his opinion is that they should… do absolutely nothing. They shouldn’t go to Dumbles because they’ve got no proof of anything (okay, maybe we should give him a little credit for acknowledging that… except that he just uses it as more angst fodder, so never mind), and they shouldn’t investigate on their own because emo emo emo everyone hates us.

Best protagonist ever. Apart from anything else, if everyone already hates you, what’s the worst that can happen now?

Of course, Rowling knows they’re going to get involved anyway, so from her point of view it doesn’t matter what they say here, but this is stupid. If the children were right and Snape was the villain, and if he’s just got the last piece of information he needs to get the Stone, then the risk is that he’d do so immediately; doing nothing is not a viable option. The real question is why the actual villain hasn’t acted all year and will continue not to act for the next few weeks. Not knowing how to peacefully sedate Fluffy doesn’t mean you can’t just kill him or turn him into some sort of furniture.

And I think it’s worth mentioning here that Quirrell is really suffering. He is not a willing participant in this plot – whatever his initial motivations (which are never explained in canon; you need to go to bloody Pottermore for any sort of backstory) he’s being coerced throughout the book, and this is not the only occasion where we’re told he is literally being tortured. (However that works.) He’s not in control, this wasn’t his idea and he has no choice. Yet there will never be any sympathy for him, from anyone. Nor will his fate ever be mentioned again. More on this when we reach the finale.

Several weeks have passed by this point, but McGonagall finally gets around to actually assigning the four detentions. There is no explanation given for what took so long, and honestly we can’t really think of one, except the general lack of organisation at Hogwarts. She doesn’t even tell the children directly, instead sending them notes by owl at breakfast one morning telling them to meet Filch in the entrance hall at eleven that night.

Yes, eleven at night. Honestly, the biggest delay in my getting this post up was our doomed attempt to try and explain why anyone, even McGonagall, would assign an overnight detention (literally all night, later Filch says he’ll come back to fetch them at dawn) to a group of eleven and twelve year old children at all, dangerous or otherwise. This chapter should be called ‘Rowling wants Harry to see something in the forest at night and come Hell or high water she is going to get him there no matter what really stupid writing she has to churn out to do so’. (The rest of the delay was mostly ranting about unicorns. I’m sure nobody is surprised.)

This problem could have been easily solved by giving them a normal detention involving writing an essay or lines or something and later having Harry follow someone he thinks is Snape out into the forest, see the big dramatic thing and meet the character who helpfully explains it to him. Really nothing else about this entire chapter is important and nothing justifies this stupid setup.

Harry ‘half expected Hermione to complain that this was a whole night of revision lost, but she didn’t say a word. Like Harry, she felt they deserved what they’d got.

One, it’s not a whole night lost, the detention doesn’t start until nearly midnight. Two, I’m not going to take his word for it concerning what anyone else is feeling – Hermione’s barely said a word for most of the book anyway. Three, why does Harry suddenly think they deserve it? His complaining about the injustice of it got the punishment increased in the first place. Also, literally the preceding sentence tells us he’d forgotten they still had to serve detention anyway. Though I suppose it’s nicely ironic that Harry thinks he deserves an unjust punishment, given how often throughout the series he’ll pout over ones he actually does deserve.

Filch, with Draco in tow, meets Harry, Neville and Hermione in the entrance hall that night. There’s no real reason for Draco to be serving his detention with them, either. I would love to have seen the arguments among the staff – Snape wouldn’t take this crap lying down.

The caretaker is gloating as he leads them outside, saying that they’ll think twice before breaking rules in future (you poor deluded fool) and complaining that ‘It’s just a pity they let the old punishments die out … hang you by your wrists from the ceiling for a few days, I’ve got the chains still in my office, keep ’em well oiled in case they’re ever needed …‘ I’m reasonably sure he’s just trolling the kids, but I believe someone mentions in a later book that his predecessor literally whipped rulebreakers; I think Molly Weasley says Arthur still has scars (because they forgot they could heal using magic, I guess). Which honestly isn’t all that surprising given what we’ve seen of Hogwarts.

Long story short, the four of them are being sent into the Forbidden Forest with Hagrid. At night, in the dark, accompanied by one of the only people in the school who can’t use magic. Hunting monsters. All night. Age eleven.

This is one of the biggest plotholes in the book, in my opinion. On what planet would even somewhere as sadistic as Hogwarts do this? There’s no salvaging this one, except to assume Dumbles mindraped everyone involved (except Snape, who he’d have needed to threaten quite heavily instead).

I don’t think it really works, but playing devil’s advocate I suppose there could be a bit of really twisted reasoning going on, in the sense of ‘be careful what you wish for’ – perhaps someone (McGonagall?) thinks they should be punished for being out at night by being forced to be out at night and seeing the dangers thereof firsthand. It’s not a good reason, it’s just the best I can come up with; and even that doesn’t really work because it’s a very different sort of ‘being out at night’ anyway… and that’s not even getting into the fact that if we’re meant to believe this investigation of Hagrid’s is a serious matter, he shouldn’t be saddled with students to blunder around and get in his way.

Understandably, Draco protests, concerned about the possibility of being eaten by something. He’s heard there are werewolves in the forest (and we know there are invisible carnivorous winged horses, giant man-eating spiders, temperamental hippogryphs and Merlin knows what else). Neville starts to panic as well, having been trying not to cry all the way to the forest. Harry seems to be stoic, aka utterly mindless, and has no opinion. Nor does he tell us what Hermione’s reaction is, since this is yet again another scene where she’s present but mostly not allowed to speak.

Filch tells them to suck it up and that he’ll be back at dawn to collect the survivors (actually, he says ‘I’ll be back for what’s left of them’, which could also refer to their remains… again, we assume he’s trolling them, possibly in response to Hagrid’s having just undermined his authority and heavily implied he doesn’t take the detention seriously as punishment), reminds Hagrid that they’re meant to be being punished, and stomps off.

Draco tries to refuse to do it, finding a bit of bravado and saying that this is something for servants:

‘ ‘If my father knew I was doing this, he’d –’
‘– tell yer that’s how it is at Hogwarts,’ Hagrid growled. ‘

Hagrid tells him he’ll do it or he’ll be expelled. We never find out how Lucius does react, but somehow I highly doubt he’d be so blasé about it. I’m pretty sure most of his shenanigans in the next book, including – lol spoiler alert – getting Hagrid arrested, are at least partly revenge for this. It’s not a good idea to force the son of one of the school governors to serve a life-endangering detention. Also, is Hagrid playing on Draco’s ignorance here? We’ll never see another detention like this, so this isn’t ‘how it is at Hogwarts’ at all…

Draco gives in, as if he had any choice anyway, and Hagrid takes them into the trees and shows them some shiny silver liquid on the ground. It’s unicorn blood – something’s been hurting unicorns, he found a dead one last week, and he wants to find this injured one and put it down. He seems completely unconcerned with finding out what did it, he just wants to follow the blood trail to the unicorn to see if it needs to be euthanised. He says repeatedly throughout this whole chapter that there’s nothing dangerous around, which is a bold claim considering he admits he has no idea what’s suddenly murdering unicorns – not to mention that a wounded large animal can be pretty dangerous anyway, even a herbivore – yet he also behaves very nervously and is pretty trigger-happy with the crossbow he inexplicably has. Where do you find giant-sized crossbows in a society that doesn’t use physical weapons?

This has been happening for at least a week, so why wait until now to try to do something about it? The detention was arranged early this morning, so he presumably found the blood trail earlier than that. So he’s left an injured animal stumbling around wounded for at least a day, in order to try tracking it at night when it’s almost impossible to see its trail and he’s much less likely to find it. He’s also insistent that they not leave any of the paths in the forest, regardless of whether the blood trail follows them or not.

Never mind the bloody dragon, the RSPCA should confiscate your dog and you should be banned from ever keeping animals again.

Speaking of Fang, he’s present too, for whatever that’s worth. Great Danes were never tracking dogs, they were heavy hunters; he’ll be no use finding the unicorn but he might end up attacking it.

Now we’ve established yet again that Hagrid is sadistic and stupid, he continues proving that he shouldn’t be allowed near children either by ordering everyone to split into two groups. Draco says he wants to go with Fang – very sensible in my opinion, I’d pick the dog over the maniac any day – and Hagrid shrugs and says okay, fine, but he’s a coward. (This is unlikely. Traumatised by his master ill-treating him, perhaps.) Hagrid sends Neville with them – Neville who’s been cursed by Draco at least once and beaten up by Draco’s goons at least once. Two children who hate each other, alone in the forest full of monsters, attempting to track a wounded animal with only a dog for protection. And no mention of a second lamp for their group, either; Hagrid seems to have the only one.

I hate this chapter, for the record. Everything in it is painfully stupid. Why couldn’t they at least have another adult with them? The answer is that Rowling knows they won’t actually be hurt so it doesn’t matter, and she’s forgotten that other characters shouldn’t know that.

In a better book, Draco and Neville could decide ‘hey, screw this, nobody’s watching us now’ and go back to Hagrid’s hut to make a cup of tea and play with Fang and wait for the others to come back. An unsupervised detention is a colossal waste of time. Honestly, Draco’s smart enough to have worked that out and chosen the dog for that reason, and even if he doesn’t like Neville he’s certainly bright enough to swallow that and suggest they work together in the noble cause of not being eaten.

Hagrid tells them to send up red sparks if they’re in trouble and green sparks if they find the unicorn – I assume the children somehow already know how to do this, since it’s not like Hagrid can teach them. I don’t think this is going to help much anyway since everyone is going to be watching the ground; not only because of the blood trail but also because have you ever walked through the woods at night? It is ridiculously dark and even with a light source you will fall flat on your face unless you watch your feet. Besides, the forest seems to have quite a thick high canopy, it’s unlikely sparks would reach open sky. Which makes the tracking thing even trickier, since the book implies that the blood spots are shining in handy beams of moonlight that somehow reach them, rather than reflecting the lamp. It’s hard to tell whether the blood itself somehow glows or not. Anyway, they split up.

Harry asks if it really could be a werewolf killing unicorns, and Hagrid says no, they’re not fast enough. He says unicorns are powerful magic creatures (we will never see a unicorn doing anything remotely magical and they’re basically just horses) and he’s never known one to be injured before. All the more reason for you to have done something about this a week ago, and to be taking it a bit more seriously now and recruiting some magizoologists or even just hunters to help you instead of a bunch of children.

Also, is he really saying there’s a herd of large herbivores in the forest with no natural predators? That doesn’t happen naturally, and when it happens artificially it causes a lot of problems. Scotland is currently being overrun with deer because we killed off all the natural predators and a lot of the land is privately owned by people who don’t allow hunting on their property. As a result they have to arrange culls regularly to try to keep the numbers down, and it’s really starting to screw up the ecosystem. It’s not doing the deer much good either, predation helps keep the population healthy by picking off the weaker ones.

Anyway, moving on. Despite constant assurances that everything is fine, Hagrid panics on hearing a noise (how he heard anything over the sounds of three people stumbling near-blind through a pitch-dark forest is beyond me) and capslock-screams for Harry and Hermione to ‘GET BEHIND THAT TREE!‘ while fumbling to load his crossbow.

‘The three of them listened. Something was slithering over dead leaves nearby: it sounded like a cloak trailing along the ground.’

Why are there so many dead leaves at this time of the year? It’s May by this point. And how does Harry know what a cloak trailing over natural ground (as opposed to a floor indoors) sounds like anyway? This seems like a very quiet sound to be audible over the usual noise of a slight breeze moving through branches. I suppose Rowling wanted to avoid the cliché of a snapping twig, but really, not much else sounds like something moving through woods instead of just ambient noise.

The sound dies away and they carry on, until they see movement in a clearing up ahead and Hagrid calls out a challenge, adding that he’s armed. I don’t know why he thought this movement was something capable of understanding human speech but that the earlier noise couldn’t be, but it’s not as if anything else here makes sense either.

‘And into the clearing came – was it a man, or a horse? To the waist, a man, with red hair and beard, but below that was a horse’s gleaming chestnut body with a long, reddish tail.’

Yes, there are centaurs in the forest. No, we’re never going to get an explanation of why there’s an entire race of ancient Greek monsters in Scotland (it’s not as if Scottish legends are short on humanoid monsters capable of talking to wizards, though they’re not as pretty as centaurs). We’re also never going to see a female centaur, which raises a few unfortunate implications to those familiar with the myths – we’ll be talking about this properly once we reach that one scene in Order of the Phoenix, though I’ll state right now that actually all the centaurs we do see are completely unthreatening, generally relatively friendly and pretty much just useless window dressing, so either the females are hidden in the woods or this is a random asexual (or possibly homosexual) commune.

More to the point, how can they see what colour the centaur is? Human eyes can’t see colour in the dark and moonlight isn’t bright enough. I could nerd on for ages explaining to you just why this is, but if you’re particularly interested you can read up on it for yourself – start with looking up the Purkinje effect and the tapetum lucidum.

Hagrid knows the centaur, whose name is Ronan. Ronan also seems to know Hagrid pretty well, since after wishing them good evening he immediately asks if Hagrid was going to shoot him. Honestly, probably yes. Hagrid goes on to perform introductions:

‘ ‘An’ this is Ronan, you two. He’s a centaur.’
‘We’d noticed,’ said Hermione faintly.’


A thought occurs to me as I write this: Hagrid and Hermione were never actually introduced. Hermione wasn’t friends with the boys when Ron first went to meet him. The first time she and Hagrid are in the same scene (aside from the boat ride to the castle at the start of the year, in which they don’t interact) is at the first Quidditch match, where they just act as if they already know each other and are already friends. Oops, Rowling.

Anyway, Hagrid asks if Ronan knows anything about any dead unicorns, and we find out that ‘centaur’ is essentially a synonym for ‘charlatan horoscope writer’. Ronan repeats that Mars is bright tonight several times and waffles vaguely about the innocents always being victims and the forest is full of secrets. Another centaur – Bane – shows up and agrees that Mars is bright tonight, and they both wander off. Yes, every time we see these guys, they will be spouting this sort of pseudo-astrological nonsense, or else saying that humans suck.

We still haven’t figured out why, despite both appearing equally ineffective in-story, Rowling and/or her narrator seem to think that the centaurs’ version of astrology deserves to be treated with respect but Trelawney’s is moronic piffle. Sexism!

Hagrid grouses that there’s no point trying to get anything out of a centaur, in which case I wonder why he bothered asking in the first place. Harry asks if maybe it was a centaur they heard earlier and Hagrid answers surprisingly sensibly, ‘Did that sound like hooves to you?‘ before ruining it by saying he thinks the mystery noise was whatever killed the unicorn and that he’s never heard anything like it before. Okay, one, you have absolutely no reason to assume the noise at a random spot in the woods nowhere near either the dead or the wounded unicorn has any connection to them. Two, has he really never heard anything rustling some dead leaves before? If it was some sort of growling noise or maybe some odd breathing I could buy this, maybe.

I’d like to point out here that Hagrid should have a fair idea of what killed the previous unicorn, since he found its corpse. Did it have wounds on it? Presumably yes, since as we’ll find out shortly they’re being killed for blood (more on this in a bit). You don’t need to be much of a forensic scientist to tell whether the wounds were made by an animal or a tool or weapon of some kind. The possibility of magic makes it more complicated, but I doubt any spell replicates tooth or claw marks. Hagrid should know enough basic woodcraft to be able to tell the difference between animal or human injuries. At this point he should probably think they’re looking for human poachers.

Hermione manages to spot red sparks in the sky a while later. Presumably she then walks into a tree or falls over, but never mind that. Hagrid’s response is to charge off into the trees, taking with him the group’s only weapon and only light source (the flashlight spell doesn’t exist yet) and leaving the two children alone to panic horribly.

‘ ‘You don’t think they’ve been hurt, do you?’ whispered Hermione.
‘I don’t care if Malfoy has, but if something’s got Neville … It’s our fault he’s here in the first place.’

Harry, you’re a sociopath. Apart from anything else you should be aware that if Draco does get hurt it’s your pal who’s going to get into trouble for it. And no, it’s actually not your fault Neville’s here, it’s McGonagall. Though, notably, none of the Gryffindors repeatedly screwed over by the woman will ever blame her or even slightly dislike her for it.

Hagrid eventually comes back with the others in tow. It turns out that Draco sneaked up behind Neville and scared him, and Neville sent up the sparks. This is one of those things that’s portrayed as horrible here because Draco did it, but if one of our heroes had done it to one of their friends it would have been written as a hilarious joke. I don’t find it believable Draco’s calmed down enough to be playing tricks, either, because he was genuinely frightened earlier and being in a strange forest at night is scary enough without monsters. More importantly, though:

Current spell count: Hermione, 8. Ron, 1. Draco, 1. Neville, 1. Harry, 0.

Welcome to the list of people more effective than the protagonist, Neville.

Hagrid isn’t pleased:

‘ ‘We’ll be lucky ter catch anythin’ now, with the racket you two were makin’. Right, we’re changin’ groups – Neville, you stay with me an’ Hermione, Harry, you go with Fang an’ this idiot. I’m sorry,’ Hagrid added in a whisper to Harry, ‘but he’ll have a harder time frightenin’ you, an’ we’ve gotta get this done.’ ‘

Oh, I see. The staff are playing matchmaker and this whole detention thing was an elaborate plot to get Harry and Draco alone in the dark. (The frightening part is that this theory makes more sense than any of the others we came up with.) More seriously, this is another dig at Neville supposedly being a coward, and screw you book because Neville is awesome. It’s also stupid because hey, remember how Draco hates Harry more than Neville? Hagrid, keep Draco with you so you can stop him being an arsehole.

Harry and Draco wander off into the woods, and there’s a timeskip of half an hour or so. Try not to wonder what they were up to during that time. Then they find the unicorn, dead.

‘Harry had never seen anything so beautiful and sad.’

The unicorn never gets a description here except that it’s white and has long legs. There was a chance to make them pretty interesting – for a start they live in deep forests, which means they ought to be more like deer than anything else if they resemble any mortal animal. But they show up in later books and are just your standard shiny horse with a horn on its head, which is somewhat disappointing. It’s also rather stupid here, because horses aren’t adapted to dense forest; they’re plains animals and they need wide open spaces where they can see a long way and run in relatively straight lines to build up enough speed to outrun hunters. Admittedly since these ones apparently don’t have predators that’s not much of an issue, but food will be; horses are grazers like cattle, not browsers like deer, and you don’t get much grass growing in woods.

The boys start to approach the unicorn, which was very considerate and followed the path carefully the entire time and then chose to die in the centre of a clearing.

Let’s stop and run some numbers – with the explicit timeskip after the groups changed over I would guess everyone’s been out in the woods for at least an hour, perhaps more, and they’ve been walking for most of that time along apparently fairly clear paths. The lack of visibility would slow them down, but I’d say they’ve probably still managed to follow a blood trail for a couple of miles. If this was an ordinary forest at night, children wouldn’t get anywhere near this far, of course, but nobody’s described as stumbling, tripping etc. – not even Neville who we’ve been told repeatedly is clumsy – and the paths seem to be clear and even, and Harry doesn’t say it’s difficult to see or move. Of course, the real question is why there are paths in here at all – Hagrid can’t keep them clear by himself and animal trails don’t resemble human footpaths. I suppose we have to assume the centaurs maintain paths to compensate for the fact that horses aren’t forest animals and need more space to walk or run without breaking their legs.

Since the blood trail can’t have started at the edge of the woods where they picked it up – they walked to a fork in the path, then split up to follow the trail down both forks…

This is its own problem, incidentally. If Hagrid can’t tell which direction has fresher blood he has no business trying to track an animal. He should also have a dog capable of picking the fresher trail to follow. And there ought to be vague hoofprints since the path seems to be earth; everything’s pretty dry at this time of year but dust takes prints almost as well as mud and they only need one semi-clear print to figure out which way the unicorn was walking. Let’s assume that if they’d been smart enough to do this in daylight they could have found tracks.

Anyway, as I was saying, the trail didn’t start there, and both paths of the trail must be fairly close to one another for Hermione to have seen the sparks and for Hagrid to have found Draco and Neville. So it’s running in some form of a U shape, meaning that we’ve probably got a trail of at least four miles. And Hagrid must have found the trail at least a day ago, so it’s likely to be a lot longer than that and one arm of the U must be much longer than we see.

Google time! tells us this:

“So just how much blood does a horse have anyway? It varies some from breed to breed, but an average value is 80 ml (cc) per kilogram of body weight (100 ml/kg for “hot bloods” such as the Thoroughbred and 65 ml/kg for “cold bloods” such as a Pecheron). So, the average 1,200-pound horse (545.5 kilograms at 2.2 kilograms per pound) has about 54.5 liters of blood, which is approximately 12.3 gallons of blood.

Now that we know that the average horse has about 12 gallons of blood, how much can be lost before the danger of shock becomes significant? The general rule of thumb is that an animal will start to show signs of shock from blood loss when 10% of its blood volume has been lost. Based on the averages, the adult 1,200-pound horse can lose up to two gallons of blood before serious concern. “

Okay, we don’t know at this point that Potterverse unicorns are horses, but according to later books they are. We don’t know how heavily the unicorn was bleeding, but at no point does either party of utterly inept trackers lose the trail, meaning there are large drops falling consistently every few steps or so. It would have been running after the initial injury, assuming the trail was wide enough to let it do so, meaning an increased heart rate and thus faster bleeding, but would have slowed down fairly quickly if it wasn’t being chased assuming it behaves like a normal horse. Presumably it was blood loss that killed the unicorn, and as we’ll see shortly the blood hasn’t congealed yet so it’s only just bled out even though Hagrid has to have found the blood trail about eighteen hours ago.

It would be starting to go into shock after losing 10%, and further research suggests that 16% loss starts lowering blood pressure to potentially dangerous levels and that the 10% limit can be reached within about an hour and a half at a ‘steady drip‘ (it’s referring to nosebleeds, not wounds, so that needs to be adjusted a little for this situation). I can’t find anything that tells me what percentage of blood loss would be fatal to a horse, but it’s about 40% in humans.

Basically this unicorn should have died hours ago and wouldn’t have been able to travel as far as it has, and the blood should by now be clotted and therefore the big dramatic scene we’re about to see isn’t possible. Imagine my surprise.

We also have to ask just how the unicorn was wounded; all we’re told is that it was in the flank. Now, if we’re speaking of horses, the flank is a very specific small area where the hind legs and the barrel meet, right behind the rib cage and in front of the stifle joint. A wound there wouldn’t hit anything major except the cecum (part of the digestive tract, like our appendix only useful) and while it would be fatal eventually if it was deep enough you wouldn’t get much of a blood trail. All the bleeding would be internal, and as with most gut wounds it would be blood poisoning from the ruptured organs that would be the main risk rather than blood loss from the injury itself.

Given that Rowling seems to know nothing about any animals at all, she presumably meant ‘flank’ in the more general sense of ‘somewhere between rib and hip’, which is less useful but the same rules probably apply. A wound severe enough to produce this much blood loss would do so far more quickly than we see here – anything bleeding that slowly would clot relatively soon. I can’t think of a wound that would keep bleeding at this steady rate for a full day before being fatal.

Finally, I also have to ask why the unicorn was wounded in the first place. Our villain is apparently so inept he can’t kill it even with an instadeath spell; instead he cut its side, then let it run away and failed to catch it, then came after the same unicorn again the next night instead of going after a fresh one that hasn’t leaked away most of its precious blood staggering around the forest for hours.

If you are serious about killing unicorns for blood for whatever reason, here’s how you do it. You find a unicorn. You stun it or render it unconscious or paralysed in some way. You levitate it over some form of very large container. You cut open an artery between the heart and the container (the best way is to hang it head down and cut its throat). You drain the full 12 gallons or so of blood, and decant it into small containers to keep with you. Then you use magic to get rid of the corpse so nobody realises you’ve done it. We’re never told how much you actually need to drink, but our villain here gets an undefined amount of blood from the first unicorn and a few mouthfuls from the second, which is pretty wasteful as well as being stupid and obvious. There’s no point in asking why he’s only just started drinking unicorns, either. It will never be explained.

Of course, it would be a lot more sensible to catch and stun the unicorn, then make a small cut and take enough blood for a couple of drinks, Heal the wound and let it go. Nobody, throughout the entire series, ever stops to point out that blood does not equal death. (It’s Rand al’Thor syndrome, for any Wheel of Time readers in the audience. I never for a moment thought that ‘his blood on the rocks of Shayol Ghul’ meant he would die, even before he got a handy wound that kept bleeding at random intervals all the time and never healed.) Nothing indicates that the unicorn has to die for the properties of the blood to activate, and if the unicorn does die then the blood also curses you.

It would be interesting to handwave this as Quirrell wanting to be caught; it’s pretty clear by now that he regrets what’s going on and has been forced into it. But if that was what he wanted, there are much easier ways to go about it that don’t involve killing sparkleponies.

Back with the plot, let’s see the big dramatic scene that was the basis for this entire nonsense chapter, the climactic image that Rowling evidently loved so much she insisted on a convoluted implausible setup to get Harry to witness.

‘Harry had taken one step towards it when a slithering sound made him freeze where he stood. A bush on the edge of the clearing quivered … Then, out of the shadows, a hooded figure came crawling across the ground like some stalking beast. Harry, Malfoy and Fang stood transfixed. The cloaked figure reached the unicorn, it lowered its head over the wound in the animal’s side, and began to drink its blood.’

Yes, yes, very spooky. But also this is a more or less sane adult human we’re talking about – why on earth is he crawling across the ground licking wounds, instead of walking over and using magic or a knife to get the blood? Apart from anything else, that would make it a lot easier for Harry to realise that’s what he’s doing. There’s no mention of, say, sucking noises, or anything else that would indicate drinking blood.

Draco, understandably, screams and runs away, followed by Fang. Incidentally, we won’t see Draco again until the end of term feast in a couple of chapters. Nobody bothers to find him after this detention. I assume Fang led him home, or else Snape went to find him the next morning and was very angry that Hagrid lost him.

We’ll also never find out what Draco thinks of all this. He doesn’t know about any mysterious packages or three headed dogs or evil teachers. He’s had a normal, annoying, unfair school year full of secret crushes on boys. Now he’s suddenly seen a random guy in a cloak licking a dead unicorn, and nobody’s going to explain it to him. I wonder if he even tried to tell anyone once he finds his way back to the castle – maybe he convinces himself it was a hallucination or a trick the others were playing on him, and never mentions it again.

Harry doesn’t have as much common sense as Draco, so he just stands there vacantly as the cloaked figure looks up and starts walking towards him. He can see ‘unicorn blood was dribbling down its front‘ but somehow conveniently can’t see the face the blood is dribbling from; there’s no mention of a mask or even some contrived shadows. He just doesn’t mention it. I assume because he can see very clearly that this isn’t Snape and is keeping silent so the denial circuits in his brain can tell him that it is.

At this point, for no real reason, his scar starts hurting extremely badly, causing a level of agony we haven’t seen before and that Harry tells us he’s never felt. I can’t explain this – the only time we’ve seen Harry’s scar hurting before was a quick twinge back at the start-of-year feast when he was looking at Snape and Quirrell talking. It was implied then that it’s because he made eye contact with Snape, and we learn later that it’s because he made eye contact with Quirrell’s turban. The turban is facing away from him now, though – unless Quirrell is walking backwards, which even Harry would notice. And why has the scar not been hurting all year? It should be triggering in every single Defence lesson whenever Quirrell turns around to write on the board or something. Obviously this would spoil the big ‘plot twist’, since it would be happening in Defence and not in Potions, but in that case it shouldn’t have been included in the first place. The scar will never hurt consistently and works at the author’s whim like so many other things.

At this point another centaur conveniently gallops into the clearing, jumps over Harry’s head (not a problem for a horse on open level ground, but I don’t think it could get enough speed in a small space full of tree roots) and charges at the cloaked figure. For some reason, said evil figure doesn’t kill the unarmed centaur, but instead runs away.

This centaur is younger and prettier than the previous two, because reasons, being a shiny palomino. He’s also the only non-evil blond character we’re going to see for, oh, four books or so, and one of only two that I can think of in the entire series (the other is Luna). Rowling has issues.

His name is Firenze. This is the Italian name for the city of Florence. Centaurs don’t seem to have any sort of uniform naming convention, admittedly, but still… a Greek monster living in Scotland with an Italian name? He’s also not a true palomino, since he has blue eyes; blue-eyed horses with palomino-type colouring do exist, but they’re more properly cremello or perlino. That’s a little too nerdy and obscure for me to protest about it, though.

It’s been a while since we were reminded that Harry’s super-famous, so Firenze – despite being a half-horse living in a forest in the middle of nowhere – recognises his special scar of specialness and greets him by name. Oh, come on. Even if Firenze actually had somehow known about the scar and what it meant, why the hell would he care who Harry is? Voldy never got anywhere near Hogwarts, and while he might have killed any centaurs he happened to encounter he really wouldn’t have cared enough to hunt them down as long as they stayed in their forest. There’s no reason why the centaurs would even particularly know who he was, let alone care. Centaurs mostly think humans suck anyway, I can’t see them caring that one of them sucked more than the others. We can’t even blame Dumbles for this one, we know he’s friendly with the merpeople but there’s no mention anywhere of him ever speaking to the centaurs until book five.

Harry’s reaching new levels of stupidity even for him, since he feels the need to ask what it was he’s just seen. It was a human or at least a humanoid in a cloak, Harry. You could see that much. Firenze ignores this and tells him the forest isn’t safe and he should get back to Hagrid; I would argue that he should avoid Hagrid and get back to the castle, or back to the Muggle world if he really wants to be safe, but sure, whatever. He adds that it’ll be quicker if Harry rides, and kneels down to let him climb on. I don’t think this will be quicker, I doubt Harry’s ever even seen a horse in real life, let alone ridden one. Hope Firenze doesn’t mind being strangled by a boy trying not to fall off.

Ronan and Bane reappear for no real reason at this point, except to say ‘ew, human cooties, you’re gross Firenze’.

‘Do you realise who this is?’ said Firenze. ‘This is the Potter boy. The quicker he leaves this Forest, the better.’

Excellent point, Firenze. Everyone should want Harry a long way away from them. Carry on.

The centaurs all shout at each other for a while. Bane implies that the planets have told the centaurs exactly what’s going to happen, and that they can’t interfere. Firenze insists that the planets have also told him personally who the villain is, and that he’s going to fight against it with the humans (no, he isn’t. He does nothing to help for the entire series and we won’t even see him again for another four books, though I believe he does show up with the other centaurs to ineffectually shoot a few arrows during the final battle). This is a little like a kangaroo wanting to fight a South American drug cartel – the war involves a different species and will never touch the place where Firenze lives. There’s no reason for him to care whatsoever. There’s not much of a reason for him to even understand the problem.

Firenze declares that he’s won the fight and runs away with Harry before the other two can continue it. Harry asks again what’s going on, but the centaur doesn’t answer for a while and they walk through the woods for what seems to be a very long time. During this time Harry does not signal to Hagrid, either that he’s found the unicorn or that something bad has happened. We can’t have our wizard protagonist actually using magic, after all. Nor does he wonder if Draco’s okay, or if Hagrid’s going to be angry that he lost his dog. In fact, he doesn’t wonder about anything at all, including what he’s just seen. His inner monologue vanishes, because he’s an extremely boring narrator.

Finally Firenze stops at a random place in the trees and starts expositioning. He asks if Harry knows what unicorn blood is used for; no, says Harry, we only use the horn and tail hair in Potions.

This must mean that unicorns shed their horns like deer antlers, because they seem to be pretty ubiquitous but killing unicorns is super-bad and curses you.

Firenze tells us that killing unicorns is super-bad and curses you, and that unicorn blood will keep you alive no matter what but the whole curse thing rather spoils it. Once again, you don’t have to kill something to make it bleed. Has Rowling never had a cut or a nosebleed? And also, once again, Firenze is a random horse dude living in a forest. He’s not a wizard. His species tries to avoid contact with humans, except occasional grudging conversations with Hagrid. How the hell does he know what the properties of unicorn blood are?

Seriously, this would have been so much better if Harry had sneaked into the forest following ‘Snape’, seen the dead unicorn, and met Dumbles stalking him afterwards to have this explained to him. Or asked Hermione when he got back to the castle to help him look up unicorns and figure out why someone would want to drink one.

Harry’s continuing to be stupid, but in his defence it’s long after midnight by now, he’s spent most of the last few hours being scared, and he must be pretty tired. He can’t understand why anyone would want to be alive and cursed instead of dead.

We’re never told what ‘living a half life’ actually means, either. Does it make you semi-undead, or cut your life span in half, or what? There are plenty of other questions as well – why blood, specifically? Does it apply to other body fluids, or eating the meat, as well? Would you be cursed if you took the horn or tail hair from a dead unicorn? Can the curse tell the difference between blood from a unicorn you killed yourself and blood from a unicorn someone else killed or that died from natural causes? Would Hagrid have been cursed if he’d found the unicorn alive and had to kill it? Why doesn’t the curse activate when you kill the unicorn, rather than only when you specifically drink blood from it? Firenze specifically says you’re cursed ‘from the moment the blood touches your lips‘, so do you have to drink it at all? Does touching it with your fingers count, and if not, why not?

Of course none of these questions will ever be answered. This is Harry Potter. The HP wiki used to have an unintentionally hilarious entry about unicorn blood that mostly consisted of a long list of bullet points all beginning with ‘it is unknown’, but they seem to have taken it down now.

Firenze gently explains that yes, it’s bad, but not if you only need to buy time until you can get hold of something better – like, say, the Elixir of Life, and by the way did you forget that the thing that makes that is in the castle right now?

Yet again, how does Firenze know this? And how is he so sure that the elixir can neutralise whatever the blood does? You know what, I don’t care any more. Maybe the planets told him. I hear Mars is pretty bright. (I’m so sorry.) [Loten, the bad puns are my job, you’re leaving me nothing to do here! 😉 ] You’ve been a bad influence, clearly.

Harry still doesn’t understand. Who would possibly want immortality??? Apart from, you know, most people? I suppose I ought to be grateful that he’s not immediately defaulting to Snape is the root of all evil again, but given that he’s been doing that for the whole book the absence now is pretty stupid. We were introduced to the concept of there being a villain in this story somewhere around chapter 8 or 9 and Harry’s spent most of the year thinking about it.

Presumably trying not to facepalm very hard, Firenze reminds him that there’s this bad guy literally everyone knows about and is still too scared to name that multiple people have hinted probably isn’t dead.

Harry is utterly stunned by this revelation, of course. At this point Hermione and Hagrid show up, and Firenze takes the opportunity to get away from this idiot boy and scamper back to his forest.

Yes, Neville has vanished. No, he’s not going to reappear until next chapter. No, nobody’s going to acknowledge this. He hasn’t even got Fang with him, and all evidence suggests nobody’s going to care enough to go and look for him. I suppose he spent the rest of the night crying in the woods, since he doesn’t have special protagonist powers to summon friendly monsters, and once the sun came up he managed to climb a tree to see where Hogwarts was and had to make his own way out. We all know he’s much brighter and more resourceful than our hero. Capable of more magic, too, evidently.

Harry did tell Hagrid where the dead unicorn was, but he didn’t tell him what happened to it or what he saw. Instead he and Hermione go back to the castle, wake Ron up and tell him, because that’s much more useful. This does mean they walked away before their detention was finished, since it was meant to last until dawn, but if nobody noticed them losing two students I doubt they noticed the other two not finishing it.

Our hero spends the rest of the chapter ranting that Snape doesn’t want immortality and infinite money after all, he wants to help Voldemort get it instead, as soon as he gets the Stone Voldy will come back and kill Harry and the centaurs will be happy. Harry, I know you’re sleep deprived and not thinking straight, but you’re sounding a little crazy now. Particularly since you already think Snape knows how to get the Stone, so why would he be wasting time drinking cursed unicorns?

Ron’s only contribution is to repeatedly bleat that Harry shouldn’t be saying Voldemort’s name. That is literally the only thing he says. Good job, sidekick.

Hermione, perhaps recognising that we are not at home to Mister Logic right now, seizes on the only thing that might shut Harry up and reminds him that Dumbles is awesome and Voldy is scared of him so Hogwarts is safe and also the centaurs sounded a bit mad. Of course, this instantly makes Harry feel all better, and they all go to bed.

Where Harry finds that someone has sneaked into his bedroom and put his magic bedsheet in his bed. Appropriate place for it, I suppose, though that doesn’t change the fact that this is gross and creepy. It’s accompanied by a note saying, ‘Just in case‘.

So, yes, Dumbledore has planned at least most of the plot from start to finish. Nobody is surprised by this point.

The chapter ends here, so we have no idea what Harry thinks about this. I’m going to guess ‘nothing’.

So, the main fail of this chapter is the questionable detention that exists purely to force Harry to see something creepy in the woods, which he could have seen in far more plausible circumstances. The second big fail is unicorns and the incoherent mess of lore about their blood, which is an even larger fail when you finish the book and realise it never went anywhere and turns out never to matter. The narrative tries to imply here that it’s a big plot point, but if Quirrell had been even vaguely competent he could have got to the Stone a long time ago, and as we’ll see at the end of the book the unicorn blood doesn’t save him or Voldy in the end.

I think Rowling was just going for the evilulz here – we should be grateful it wasn’t kittens. Bad guys kill unicorns okay don’t question it. But as she so frequently does, she went too far; her protagonist is eleven and not too bright, so he doesn’t need to be told anything beyond ‘unicorn blood has important magical properties that make you stronger and harder to hurt, but it’s dangerous and cruel’. The readers know very little about the Potterverse at this point and they don’t need more details either. There’s no need to invent the weird never-developed immortality-with-a-price thing, particularly when we already have a source of immortality in the Philosopher’s Stone anyway (that will also never be relevant again).

Next time, after another long timeskip where our villain fails to do anything at all, he finally does something and we start limping through the grand finale.

Remember how in a recent post Mitchell told you that he’d had some poems published in a book of humanist poetry called Filling The Void? The physical paperback is now available, if anyone’s interested and didn’t want a digital version.


Posted by on April 18, 2016 in loten, mitchell


Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone: Chapter Fourteen

Apologies for the delay, work is being mean to me again. Have a lot of animal-related rants, amongst other things.

 Chapter Fourteen: Norbert the Norwegian Ridgeback
As baby dragons go it’s fairly cute. Looks a bit like a baby crocodile with cardboard
wings stuck on backwards and disproportionately
oversized legs, though.

The chapter opens with another timeskip of indeterminate length. This is becoming fairly common; I suppose it’s what happens when you try to stretch a few weeks’ worth of plot out over a full year. Which is why, had I been writing this, I would have spent at least the first term writing about normal awesome magic-school stuff, and not even touched the main plot bar a couple of cryptic hints until around this point. If you can’t make ordinary lessons at a magic school interesting, you’ve got no business trying to write fantasy, frankly. And think of all the lovely character development we could have had by focusing more on the kids. Not to mention a massively bloated spell count.

Ah, well. We’ll just have to deal with what we have.

Over the course of this indeterminate timeskip, the Trio have been trying to make sure the plot is continuing to limp in circles rather than advancing. Every time they go past the third floor corridor they listen at the door for Fluffy’s growling, and thus we reach our first problem with this chapter after only three sentences. If Fluffy’s growling is audible through the door, how have there not been any incidents yet beyond some firsties being scared and Snape being bitten? If you’re walking past a door and you hear something growling, you’re either going to take a look, or you’re going to tell other people who will take a look.

Oh, wait, this is Hogwarts. Fluffy’s probably eaten half a dozen children by now and casually maimed a few more. But they clearly weren’t people Harry knows, so they don’t count.

Anyway, they’re also checking up on the two plot-relevant teachers. Snape’s still ‘sweeping about in his usual bad temper‘ so they assume he hasn’t managed to get hold of the Stone yet. Fair point, since even he would probably cheer up once he got hold of money and immortality and could happily quit the job from hell. Quirrell seems paler and more nervous than ever, but hasn’t had a breakdown yet, and the boys attempt to be supportive in their own very peculiar way:

“Whenever Harry passed Quirrell these days he gave him an encouraging sort of smile, and Ron had started telling people off for laughing at Quirrell’s stutter.”

I have no idea what Harry’s expression would be like in this scenario, but probably quite funny. As for Ron, what a nice thing to do. If only it were because you’d realised that mocking someone for a speech impediment is horrible, and not because you happen to need Quirrell to not be upset for a little while. And if only Ron weren’t a first year who would never be brave enough to tell off anyone except his own yearmates, who would likewise not have developed into the type of arseholes who’d be insulting Quirrell to his face – yet.

Hermione isn’t mentioned as doing anything to help Quirrell. I prefer to think it’s because she’s not daft enough to think that a couple of pre-teens will have any effect on the self esteem of a grown adult in the space of a week or two, but the narrative tells us it’s because she’s too busy worrying about the upcoming end of year exams, ha ha isn’t that silly of her. Naturally, she’s the only child even remotely concerned about them, though the teachers are piling a lot of extra homework onto the students and are stressing the importance of them as well.

And if this were my old school, I could see how it would be silly, since until the OWL-equivalents at the end of fifth year the exams were really just practice (and in theory a way for the teachers to make sure we were actually learning, but I doubt they paid that much attention). But Hermione explicitly tells us that you have to pass these exams or you won’t be allowed back next year. I would think that’s something to worry about, particularly for someone like Harry, so desperate not to have to go back to his Muggle life.

Incidentally, we never hear of anyone failing these exams (which is just as well; I don’t know what the wizarding world would do to a twelve year old they didn’t think was ‘good enough’ but I doubt it would be pleasant). And failing a few OWLs seems to have no consequences whatsoever. It seems likely that Hogwarts is just making idle threats to try to make the little brats behave, but if Hermione’s the only one listening the idea rather falls flat, doesn’t it?

Besides, despite the narrative’s insistence, it’s not like Hermione’s disregarding the plot. Her very first line of this chapter references it.

” ‘Ten weeks,’ Hermione snapped. ‘That’s not ages, that’s like a second to Nicolas Flamel.’ “

The book’s giving out rather mixed messages here, and is also suffering from a familiar problem of the series – Rowling knows how the book ends and has forgotten that the characters don’t. Harry ought to be worried about the exams, but he isn’t because Rowling knows he’ll pass them. In fact, Harry is never worried about his lack of academic achievement, because Rowling knows it will never impact his life in any way. This is also not a good message for a children’s book. You want to encourage your audience to do their best, and explain that not being amazing at something doesn’t mean you’re worthless but just means you need to try other things until you find something you are good at. You don’t tell them that eh, it’s fine as long as you know the right people, and if you don’t then you may as well not exist.

Anyway, moving on. Harry and Ron spend most of their time complaining while Hermione tries to get them to revise – the twelve uses of dragon’s blood gets another mention here; it’s something that’s referenced quite a lot, and never gets actually explained and is never relevant to anything. The Trio are in the library one day – I don’t know exactly what time of year we’re up to, but it’s either during or just after the Easter holidays, so around April I suppose?

I don’t know why the wizarding world would acknowledge Easter, but they apparently do – Molly Weasley sends passive-aggressive Easter eggs during Goblet of Fire, though as far as I remember will never do so in any other book. There’s no indication of how long the Easter break is, or whether it fluctuates with Muggle Easter (which has never made any bloody sense anyway) or is at the same time every year. Not that it matters, of course, but I can’t be the only one who wants to know if Hogwarts ever manages to function as a school, can I?

In any case, the Easter holiday appears to be more of an enforced study leave than an actual vacation – based on the few mentions in the series (I don’t think it takes place at all in the next book, for a start), while there are no scheduled lessons, the students are given so many assignments that they seem to spend most of the time working anyway. According to the HP wiki the students are allowed to go home at Easter just like at Christmas, but none of them seem to. The teachers aren’t mentioned as being absent either, though I expect just not having to appear in class must be a nice break for them, if not for the students. It can’t be good for the children to have to work solidly from January to June, particularly the younger ones, but why would Hogwarts care about that?

As I was saying before I interrupted myself, the Trio are in the library. Hermione’s trying to work (and fantasising about murder, I suspect), Harry’s pretending to work and Ron is complaining, until he sees Hagrid. They ask what he’s doing in the library – I’d be asking how he got through all the not-giant-sized doorways between his hut and the library, personally – and he acts shifty and says he’s ‘jus’ lookin‘,’ which isn’t at all suspicious of course, before asking why they’re there, they’re not still looking for Flamel?

Of course not, says Ron, we found out about him ages ago, let me just yell his identity out for everyone else presumably also studying in here to hear. Hagrid shuts him up, and when Hagrid is giving you lessons in tact you know you’re a mess. Harry keeps talking about the Stone and its defences, though, because he’s a moron, and Hagrid says he’ll answer their questions later if they’ll just stop talking right now damnit before making a hasty exit.

Let us note that despite having been so desperate to stop them finding anything out, Hagrid now shows absolutely no concern over their sudden new knowledge and doesn’t even ask how they found out. Nor will he ever do so, nor will anyone else. It’s almost as if there was no reason why they shouldn’t know, isn’t it. Though the real question here is why Hagrid knows – we discussed earlier that the only reason to send Hagrid to collect the plot coupon was that he was the only minion who wouldn’t ask questions about what he was doing and why, so why tell him what it is? It would be more in character for Dumbles not to say what the object was or why he wanted to borrow Fluffy.

I imagine Hermione’s still trying to revise and hoping that they’re all struck by lightning or something while all this is going on. She makes no contributions to this scene other than to be a nasty spoilsport telling the poor little boys that they actually have to do work.

Once Hagrid leaves Ron decides to check what he was looking at, and comes back and tells us he was researching dragons. How Ron figured this out is not explained; it seems awfully convenient that the section on dragons just happens to be within sight of the section where the Trio are working (why and/or how is there an entire section on dragons, such that it’s completely obvious from where Hagrid was standing what he was looking at?). I’ll let Ron get away with it though, since he’s about to give us some exposition about dragons, and dragons are awesome. Even if they’re chickens.

Dragon breeding has been illegal in Britain since 1709. Given that various bits of them are apparently super-useful, this seems like a stupid rule. It’s not like they can’t make farms invisible to Muggles. They’re apparently unable to be tamed, as well, and Ron mentions that Charlie’s had some bad burns from wild ones. At this point we’ve only been told that Charlie studies dragons, but later we’ll learn that he basically works on a dragon farm (they can call it a sanctuary all they want, anywhere that rents out the resident animals for sporting events is a farm).

Harry asks if there are wild dragons in Britain, and Ron says yes, there are two kinds – Hebridean Blacks and Common Welsh Greens.

Ho boy. Here be dragons, and also dragon rants.

First let’s talk briefly about the kinds of dragon we see in the Potterverse. According to  Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, there are ten, and they can all interbreed despite being very scattered geographically and most populations being nowhere near one another. New Zealand and Australia share one, China gets one, Britain gets two as mentioned above, Scandinavia gets two (Norway and Sweden), South America gets one (Peru) and the rest are all in various countries in Eastern Europe. This sort of distribution makes no sense in a species that can fly. This fact, plus the nomenclature, suggests they’re more like breeds of dog than subspecies of a wild animal. And if this really were the case, then by now someone would have managed to breed a non-aggressive dragon that can be kept as a pet or ridden around. Because dragons are awesome. At the very least they’d have bred a more docile version so people could get useful body parts without being crispy-fried.

They’re also all standard Western dragons, with four legs, two batlike wings and lots of fire, or at least the ones we see onscreen are. Neither of the Scandinavian ones resemble the Norse ice dragons like Jörmungandr and the Chinese one isn’t the wingless Asiatic lion-headed dragon. Nor is the Peruvian one feathered, as far as I know. I don’t know any Maori/Aboriginal dragon legends but I wouldn’t expect them to fit the Western template. There aren’t any water dragons or other variations either, which is a missed opportunity – the Loch Ness Monster could easily be some sort of leviathan in this universe. (And Loch Ness is even in Scotland, so they could’ve had field trips.)

Now let’s look at the two British varieties Ron mentioned. First the Hebridean Black, because that one annoys me less. The Hebrides are two archipelagos of tiny islands off the Scottish coast. Collectively there are over a hundred, and a lot of them are uninhabited, but they’re also all very small and mostly very flat and open. Aside from livestock on the inhabited ones there’s pretty much just seabirds, there aren’t even rodents on most of them. The only dragons that could live there would be about the size of cats. Fantastic Beasts says the Hebridean Black grows up to thirty feet long, though. Given that, as I’ve just said, all Potterverse dragons are fire elementals, this is a problem. A water dragon could thrive around there, digging caves in the sea bed and hunting whales and seals and sharks and so on, but on land there’s nothing to support a large predator. I suppose they could fly to the mainland to eat deer, but if that were true they’d just live on the mainland.

More to the point, this isn’t Africa with insanely massive herds of mixed game everywhere. Britain has a few species of deer, and the odd semi-wild pony or escaped ‘wild’ boar (we don’t have them in the wild any more but people farm them). That’s really it for large wild herbivores, and most if not all large magical creatures seem to be confined to the Hogwarts grounds. Any reasonable population of large predator these days would have to also be eating livestock, humans, or both, and the Muggles might just have noticed by now. One of the reasons why it’s unlikely that we’ll ever successfully reintroduce all the large predators we killed off.

All these problems could have been fixed by Ron explaining that the surviving native dragons are very small, and that the monster-size ones died out.

Also, being native to Scotland, you’d think there would be a couple in the Forbidden Forest, wouldn’t you?

And finally, an additional problem with the Common Welsh Green. Never mind that the name implies there ought to be other varieties of Welsh Green, let me show you something.

This is the Welsh flag.

That, my friends, is Y Ddraig Goch (the pronounciation would be something like ‘ee thrayg gock’), one of the national symbols of Wales since at least the ninth century. WELSH DRAGONS ARE RED, DAMN YOU. The name even means ‘the red dragon’. I’m not Welsh by birth but I live and work in Wales and have done for years. I don’t care how irrational it is, this really annoys me.

Green dragon. Pah.

Okay. I’m fine. I’m moving on. Mitchell is laughing at me. Back to the Trio, now going to visit Hagrid. He’s clearly up to something; all the curtains are drawn, the windows are closed and his hut is overwhelmingly hot and smoky. Fang also seems to have disappeared, interestingly.

“Hagrid made them tea and offered them stoat sandwiches, which they refused.”


For those of you who don’t have them where you’re from, this is a stoat. They are utterly adorable mustelids, aka weasel-type critters. I suppose they’re probably edible, but people don’t eat them. If they live somewhere cold enough they turn white in winter and are hunted for fur (ermine), but not for meat. Apart from anything else, they’re tiny, about half the size of a rabbit. And they’re predators, who tend not to taste very nice, as well as being a bit on the smelly side like all mustelids. They’re also way too cute to eat. I used to volunteer at a zoo that acquired a hand-reared one and I fell in love and very nearly stole him.

I suppose they’ve been mentioned here to shore up Hagrid’s occasional portrayal as a savage wild man (I believe at some point in a later book there’s a ‘beef’ stew that has a talon in it), but sandwiches are a bit too civilised for that. A real gamekeeper would be trapping stoats and other predators as part of his job, but Hagrid doesn’t keep game – despite the books continuing to insist he’s “gamekeeper”, there’s never any hunting etc going on at Hogwarts. Next book he apparently keeps chickens somewhere, but there’s no sign of them here and in any case I doubt Hagrid would know about gin traps or snares, nor can he use either a gun or magic. Also, really, people do not eat stoats.

Ignoring this brief culinary interlude, Harry wants to ask about the defences protecting the Stone, and when Hagrid refuses to tell him (on the reasonable grounds that he doesn’t actually know) Hermione starts laying on the flattery and emotional manipulation to try to find out what he does know. Why? The children have no idea what Snape can get past and what would thwart him, so knowing possible obstacles won’t let them know if the Stone is safe or not. Like the earlier issue with the exams, this is Rowling forgetting what her characters know; she knows they’ll be going down the trapdoor later and would hypothetically want to know what they’re facing, but the Trio haven’t decided that yet and have no reason to need this information.

Hermione being the one to try to persuade Hagrid makes sense, though. She’s socially inept around the other children but never has a problem talking to an adult, which is often the case with a bookish only child.

Hagrid cracks within seconds, of course, and tells them that a bunch of teachers each did something to protect the Stone. Sprout, Flitwick, McGonagall, Quirrell, Dumbledore and Snape. If you don’t know anything about the teachers in question, this seems quite reasonable – the Headmaster, the four Heads of House, and the Defence teacher. Though I’ve never understood why each of them would make individual obstacles – having them all collaborate on interlinked defences would be a lot more sensible.

Oh, wait, for a moment I was in an alternate universe where protecting the Stone really was the point. My bad.

Inevitably the Trio are horrified to hear that Snape contributed. Hagrid once again tells them they’re being stupid, but Harry’s too busy making a leap of broken logic and thinks that if Snape made one of the defences then he must somehow know what all the other ones are except the one he implied he didn’t know last chapter. Harry, I think you misplaced your tin foil hat somewhere.

Harry checks with Hagrid, does anyone else know how to get past Fluffy? Hagrid says no, of course not, just him and Dumbledore. No mention of Fluffy’s past owner, who told Hagrid in the first place… A library that has books on illegal dragon-breeding probably has books on cerberuses (cerberi? Cerberus’? What the heck is the plural of cerberus?) too. Though we’re never told whether it’s just Fluffy or his entire species who suffer from music-induced narcolepsy – in the original Greek myths Orpheus lulls Cerberus to sleep with music, but it explicitly says that’s because Orpheus was an amazing musician, not because of music in general, and nobody else seems to have duplicated the feat.

We’re also never told what counts as music, of course. Humming? Whistling? Clapping? Karaoke performances of 70s disco hits? Swedish death metal?

Anyway, Harry asks if they can open a window, because it’s very hot in the hut. Hagrid says no and looks at the fire, and Harry notices there’s a huge black egg sitting in the flames. The kettle is balanced on it, which I find quite funny.

It’s a dragon egg, of course. Hagrid tells us he won it last night in a card game with a random hooded man he met in the pub. Britain does have a long tradition of pub games, in fairness, but usually not with strangers – it’s a community thing, most small villages have their own versions of games because hanging out at the pub was pretty much the only activity available except going to church. Alcohol is almost always involved, but actual gambling usually isn’t – plenty of bets, yes, but not for money or items. In any case, while Harry and company will – eventually – find it suspicious that Hagrid ended up playing against someone who just happened to have something he really, really wanted, nobody will ever ask how the mystery man got hold of the dragon egg in the first place, how he got it into the country, or how nobody else in the pub noticed it. (Shame on you, Aberforth.)

Credit where it’s due, Quirrell’s done well. His schedule isn’t quite as punishing as, say, McGonagall or Snape, but he’s still teaching full time and no doubt under at least occasional surveillance. It can’t have been easy to find and smuggle in a viable dragon egg that’s near hatching, and I’ve no idea how he paid for it. Cheating at cards to make sure Hagrid won, while drunk no less, can’t have been easy either. Though you have to wonder why he bothered, since Hagrid doesn’t need any encouragement beyond ‘hello’ to spill his secrets to anyone who asks, and his having briefly owned a dragon will never be relevant to anything again.

Of course, not every subplot should be relevant to the main story arc. In fact, in a good book, a lot of them shouldn’t be. But this isn’t developed into a side plot – it exists for this one chapter, sets up the single event that takes up the whole of next chapter, and then vanishes. It’s honestly little more than filler. Hagrid should have obtained the egg weeks or even months ago and been nurturing it this whole time, the hatching should also have happened a while ago, and this chapter should merely be dealing with the consequences once the thing’s too big for him to take care of any more.

Also I just realised, does this mean the wizarding world does in fact have other card games? Or did this really involve two grown men sitting in a dodgy pub clandestinely playing Snap? I hope it’s the latter, because that’s hilarious.

Hagrid assures the Trio that he’s been reading all about how to look after dragons – in a couple of hours, since he won the egg at night after the library had shut and has had maybe half a day at most to study whatever books were there. Kids, you need a lot more time than this to research the care of a pet. Anyway, he’s managed to identify the egg as belonging to a Norwegian Ridgeback (no, why Norway will never be explained, but at least it wasn’t Albania) and he says he knows how to look after it:

” ‘Keep the egg in the fire, ’cause their mothers breathe on ’em, see, an’ when it hatches, feed it on a bucket o’ brandy mixed with chicken blood every half hour.’ “

The only one to react to any of this is Hermione, who points out that Hagrid lives in a wooden house. The scene ends with nobody else caring about this.

Time for another diversion; let’s discuss dragon biology.

What Hagrid tells us about dragon care does sound vaguely plausible, but the mothers clearly don’t breathe fire on the eggs 24 hours a day, and a Norwegian breed isn’t going to need massively high temperatures. All he’s doing is cooking the baby alive. Also, my, that’s a lot of brandy and chickens; I wonder where Hagrid’s going to get those from, since even if he did keep his own chickens at this point bleeding your entire flock to death for a few days of dragon-feeding is a bad idea. We’re not told how long the dragon will need this food for, or whether it varies from species to species.

And why brandy? A lot of magical creatures seem to crave alcohol. Later we’re going to meet a house elf addicted to Butterbeer and some flying horses who drink single-malt whiskey. At least those are domestic, though – where would a wild dragon get brandy? (Please don’t tell us they’re mammals and produce it instead of milk. Just don’t.)

Mitchell suggested that in this instance it might be as simple as alcohol = flammable, which is a good point, though Norbert causes sparks before he’s been fed and there’s no reason why it would be brandy specifically – except that it’s traditionally used to set Christmas puddings on fire, so I suppose it’s associated with flames already. I was wondering if it was because of the association with heat and the way people think you’re meant to give brandy to people stranded in the snow – this is based entirely on some dude painting the little barrel around a St Bernard’s neck because he thought it looked neat, which never existed in reality, and giving alcohol to anyone suffering from hypothermia would likely kill them. Which means it’s exactly the sort of stupid pseudo-logic that the wizarding world would use. Choose your own explanation, I suppose.

We’re never given much detail on the diet of dragons, but there’s no reason the hatchling would need a liquid diet at all. Norbert is going to hatch able to breathe fire (well, sparks) and bite, meaning that dragons are precocial – their young are born able to move around and eat something close to the adult diet; examples include reptiles, waterfowl and hoofed animals. The opposite would be altricial, where the young are helpless and can’t do anything except squirm and be fed liquids, including humans, non-water birds and most furry carnivores. This seems to be what Hagrid’s expecting based on his ‘research’.

Given what we see of Norbert’s development, I would assume baby dragons are able to eat raw or fire-breath-cooked meat from whatever their mother kills as soon as they hatch. This is based on the egg guarding maternal behaviour we see in Goblet of Fire; it’s equally possible that baby dragons are able to hunt insects, small animals and birds for themselves as soon as they hatch. And if this is really the only food it’s being given, there’s no way Norbert can be growing as fast as it apparently does – for that sort of growth rate, which seems to be roughly equivalent to seals and dolphins, you need extremely rich milk. There’s not enough fat or protein in chicken blood to provide the calories needed, and even if there were you’d end up with a dragon unable to fly due to the thick layers of blubber (which is admittedly a cute image, but never mind that).

It’s also not clear whether Potterverse dragons are reptilian or avian. Fantasyland dragons tend to be reptiles more often than not, though avian makes more sense biologically. The eggs needing higher temperatures implies that dragons are cold blooded, but they don’t seem to hibernate in winter so they’re probably not. We don’t get much of a description of the egg shell when Norbert actually hatches, but it seems to be brittle and birdlike rather than the leathery shell of a reptile egg. Norbert doesn’t have a beak and there’s no mention of an egg tooth (a small growth on the snout of baby reptiles that falls off shortly after hatching) so how it hatches at all is another unanswered question. Norbert’s weight seems to fluctuate considerably from scene to scene as well so we don’t know if it has hollow bird bones or not.

…basically it’s very easy to tell if a fantasy author has any background in biology or not or if they bothered doing any research. See also never-tiring immortal injury-proof Fantasyland horses.

Yes, I am fully aware of how irrelevant and just plain nerdy this whole digression was. But it is possible to make magical creatures work as if they could be real, with a bit of effort, and I find it’s always much more fun when authors try it. Hopefully some of it was at least interesting.

Have another timeskip of indeterminate length. The boys continue to complain about homework and continue to be angry at Hermione for trying to help them. The plot continues to stagnate, and will do so for the fortnight or so that the rest of this chapter will cover. Most useless villain ever – what on earth is Quirrell waiting for? He has the last piece of information he needs now. Let’s assume that Severus is doing an excellent job of being a nuisance and thwarting him constantly.

Finally the egg begins to hatch, and for reasons known only to himself Hagrid abandons it for quite a while to hike up to the Owlery and give Hedwig a note to take to Harry at breakfast, instead of just going to tell the Trio directly. Incidentally, you’d think someone at Hogwarts would have noticed by now that this slightly crazy man – who we’ll learn later is at least in his sixties and probably closer to seventies – is spending a lot of time hanging out with three pre-adolescent children, wouldn’t you. Hogwarts makes Sunnydale High look like a well run and caring institution at times.

It would be nice to think it’s because Hagrid has finally learned what secrecy means, but if so he may as well not have bothered, since Ron picks a loud fight with Hermione about whether or not to skip lessons to go and watch.

” ‘Hermione, how many times in our lives are we going to see a dragon hatching?’
‘We’ve got lessons, we’ll get into trouble, and that’s nothing to what Hagrid’s going to be in when someone finds out what he’s doing –’
‘Shut up!’ Harry whispered. “

Well done, Ron. Inevitably, Draco heard them, because he’s still stalking Harry. The real question is how nobody else heard, since as I mentioned this is taking place at breakfast in the packed hall. We’re not told what Draco’s expression is like after he hears this, but Harry doesn’t like it.

Hermione actually wins the argument. I hope she doesn’t get used to it, since I don’t think the boys will ever allow it to happen again. The Trio don’t go to Hagrid until morning break, after Herbology,  ‘when the bell sounded from the castle at the end of their lesson‘.

What bell? This has never been mentioned before and will never be mentioned again. I mean, it actually makes a great deal of sense – a building the size of Hogwarts, with no access to electronic bells, in a world where few if any people seem to possess clocks, would benefit greatly from a bell tower. I’m sure they could come up with a spell to ring it every hour if they didn’t have anyone to be a bellringer. But there’s no indication that such a thing exists outside of this single sentence. Which is a shame, since it would have been a neat little bit of worldbuilding.

Hagrid meets them at the door to tell them excitedly that it’s nearly hatched. Fang is still missing, but he’ll reappear later on. The hatching is described the way almost every fantasy novel ever describes dragon eggs hatching – it rocks back and forth, there are noises from inside, cracks form all over it, and then it suddenly breaks apart. I have yet to see any animal hatch from an egg this neatly; Norbert’s egg seems to have done nothing but make noises for hours before suddenly breaking open. More realistically, little bits would have been flaking away from the first tiny hole for hours and if Hagrid didn’t help the dragon should be half hatched by now and just needing to break off a few more bits before squeezing out of the hole it had made.

Implausible hatching aside, Harry’s description of the new arrival is actually pretty good:

“The baby dragon flopped on to the table. It wasn’t exactly pretty; Harry thought it looked like a crumpled, black umbrella. Its spiny wings were huge compared to its skinny jet body and it had a long snout with wide nostrils, stubs of horns and bulging, orange eyes.”

Honestly, it sounds adorable. Especially since it immediately sneezes sparks and then tries to bite Hagrid.

Hagrid will insist on using baby talk for the rest of the chapter when talking to the dragon. This is meant to be cute. It’s not. He coos over it now and calls himself its mummy – yes, this is changed to ‘mommy’ in the US version, try not to cringe too much. Dear authors, editors and publishers of the world: if your story is set in Britain and your characters are British, for the love of Merlin please, please Britpick and avoid Americanisms like this. Even if you’re going to use the excuse that they’re trying to make things easier on American readers, the book is set in Britain. Unless you’re also going to move the setting, substituting out-of-place regionalisms for realistic ones is ridiculous.  He’ll say the same thing several times throughout the chapter, and I have no idea why he’s naming himself the female parent instead of saying ‘daddy’.

Oh, wait, yes I do. Because Rowling is very much of the female = nurture school of thought. That’s why it’s Lily’s sacrifice in particular that gives Harry snowflake powers, and not James’, even though both of them died in the same incident and for the same reason. Women are loving and men aren’t. Given how misogynistic her writing is a lot of the time, I don’t really know what to make of this random bit of misandry – at least not without speculating about her divorce, which I’d rather not do – but it’s a recurring theme throughout the series. The female parent is the caring emotional one and the male parent is the stoic dutiful one – we see it in the Potters (post-mortem, at least), the Dursleys, the Weasleys and the Malfoys, and arguably the Riddles. Hooray for gender essentialism!

Anyway, Hermione asks the relevant question of just how fast this thing is going to grow – none of the children seem particularly overjoyed or even much interested by this whole affair, which is a shame because did I mention that dragons are awesome? – but Hagrid doesn’t answer because he’s just looked out of the window and seen Draco scampering gleefully away towards the castle.

Another week passes with nothing happening, except Draco smiling nastily every time he sees any of the Trio. Good boy, we’ll make a Slytherin of you yet. I assume he either wrote to Lucius, went to Severus, or both, and was told that there will almost certainly not be any official punishment if you were to report it but you can have a lot of fun making them all sweat for weeks. We can’t make sense of this otherwise; Draco has never been patient about trying to get them in trouble before… once again, Rowling’s having characters move at the speed of plot rather than thinking about what they’d realistically do.

For once the Trio react intelligently and spend most of their free time trying to persuade Hagrid to get rid of the evidence before Draco squeals. Unfortunately Harry is arguing that Hagrid should just dump Norbert somewhere, because he is a terrible child. Please stop suggesting that someone should abandon their beloved pet. As I’ve already said, Norbert would actually be fine, so this isn’t an issue of cruelty to the animal – as it would be with, say, a puppy that was getting too big – but it would seriously screw up the ecology of the area. Fun fact, Britain has quite a few invasive species from people casually discarding pets – terrapins, wallabies, parakeets, even meerkats now, plus things like mink that idiot activists decided to release from fur farms. Adding a dragon would probably be a bad thing, especially if it found a wild Hebridean one to breed with.

Hagrid doesn’t care about that, of course, he just says that Norbert’s too little and would die. Norbert has implausibly tripled in size during his first week of life, despite the stupid diet.

” ‘He’s lost his marbles,’ Ron muttered in Harry’s ear. “

True, Ron, though you shouldn’t know that phrase. I doubt you have any idea what marbles are. Though saying someone’s lost their Gobstones doesn’t really sound right. This is another scene that Hermione’s not allowed to take part in, by the way, despite allegedly being present – maybe she’s outside with Fang, who has yet to reappear.

Harry points out that Norbert’s going to outgrow the hut in a few weeks, and that Draco could tell Dumbledore any minute. Excuse me while I laugh heartily, because even Draco’s not that naive. He does end up seriously misjudging this situation, and ought to have been smart enough to get Lucius to contact the Ministry, but he does clearly know there’s zero point in telling Dumbles. One assumes Severus told him not to bother.

Anyway, Hagrid admits he knows he can’t keep the soon-to-be giant fire-breathing vicious lizard, but refuses to just dump it somewhere. Thank you, Hagrid, your first reasonable statement in a very long time.

Somehow Harry proceeds to pull the solution out of his arse at this point:

“Harry suddenly turned to Ron. ‘Charlie,’ he said.
‘You’re losing it, too,’ said Ron. ‘I’m Ron, remember?’
‘No – Charlie – your brother Charlie. In Romania. Studying dragons. We could send Norbert to him. Charlie can take care of him and then put him back in the wild!’ “

I don’t know how Harry remembered about Charlie, who’s only been mentioned twice in the past five or six months, but good job. I’m undecided about Ron’s initial response – I like the implication that he’s entirely too used to being mistaken for one of his brothers, but he shouldn’t really have misunderstood this, particularly with something as obvious as a dragon right there in front of him to help the association. Also, because Harry is a God-Sue, this plan is exactly what happens, when what should have happened in reality was that they’d send Norbert to Charlie and Charlie would then use his contacts to get Norbert returned to Norway where the species is meant to live.

But no. Instead apparently there’s going to be a Norwegian Ridgeback/Romanian Longhorn crossbreed strain wreaking havoc on the ecology of the area in a few years. Or maybe it’ll turn out that Norbert is carrying some sort of disease that will wipe out the native Romanian dragons, and we’ll end up with a situation akin to the red squirrel vs grey squirrel problem that Britain also has.

Hagrid agrees to this surprisingly easily given how attached we’re meant to believe he is to this dragon, and they send Hedwig to ask Charlie how the hell to go about this.

Yet another week crawls past with literally nothing happening. At this point I don’t know what’s wrong with Draco; I can’t buy that he’s got the patience to wait quite this long. Norbert is bigger than ever and is now eating dead rats by the crateful – I have no idea where Hagrid’s getting those from either, but I suppose it makes marginally more sense than a certain creature’s ferret-only diet in Prisoner of Azkaban. At least you can bulk-buy dead rats to some extent for reptile feeding purposes, though to my knowledge not by the crate. The Trio have somehow been roped into helping with his feeds, apparently, though Ron’s the only one who’s mentioned as doing so – maybe Harry uncharacteristically loaned him the Invisibility Bedsheet in exchange for not having to join in.

Ron comes into the common room around midnight from this fun little job and dumps the bedsheet. Don’t bother asking why he agreed to night feeds or why Hagrid even suggested it, nobody will explain. Dont bother asking why Hagrid needs help anyway when Norbert can easily eat his own rats. Ron’s been bitten hard enough to draw blood and says he won’t be able to hold a quill for a week – we’ll see shortly that this injury is actually pretty serious, but Hagrid, who’s presumably been bitten several times by now, is absolutely fine. Maybe Ron’s allergic.

Luckily Harry and Hermione were waiting up for him, and luckily nobody else was in the common room. It’s especially lucky since this is taking place on a Wednesday around midnight, which we learned in chapter 8 is when the Gryffindor first years have an Astronomy lesson.

Seriously, Rowling, did you pay attention to anything? You only bothered to give days and times for two classes – this one and the Friday Potions lesson – and you still couldn’t avoid scheduling issues? This book wasn’t a cash cow, this was the book that allegedly meant a lot to you. Why don’t you care?

This is why worldbuilding matters. (And this is presumably why she got so many rejections before someone published this mess of a book.)

In fact, have a good article on worldbuilding. I was going to put it in later, but here’s as good a place as any.

This really does make me genuinely angry. I research the hell out of the things I write, and it’s only fanfic. A lot of it you guys don’t even realise. Tiny little things like the smell of Amortentia for my characters, or the specific type of rowan I put into Severus’ wand, are all byproducts of things I spent a long time reading about and researching. There is nothing in any of my stories that I haven’t taken care to study first, whether I explain it – or whether it ends up even being relevant – or not. And you wouldn’t believe the number of times I read back and double check things, or the number of errors I fix before you guys see a word of it. And I do still miss things, because everyone makes mistakes.

I put a hell of a lot of effort into what’s just a profitless hobby, is my point. Because I want to. Because it’s honestly never occurred to me not to. And the best authors put a lot more effort in than I do. But then there are published books by professional authors, like this, where the writer obviously doesn’t care. So many of the things we’ve been pointing out could be fixed in literally just a few seconds.

I know that research is much easier these days thanks to the internet and advances in technology, but there’s no excuse for basic continuity errors to get through on this scale. I don’t understand why anyone would bother writing a first novel they didn’t care about, and I don’t understand how someone who clearly doesn’t care can be this successful when arguably better authors are largely unknown – and no, I don’t mean me. I’m still a long way from being published. I’m not jealous (or fishing for compliments, I swear), but I am confused, and disappointed.

Rowling isn’t, overall, a terrible writer (except in regard to a few glaring issues). But that’s really the best I can say. She could probably be an amazing author who deserves every last scrap of success and more, because there are glimpses in this mess of something truly great, but she didn’t care enough to do it.

Anyway, Hedwig shows up at this point with Charlie’s answer, thus preventing anyone having time to remember that they’re meant to be in a lesson right now. Incidentally, Hermione is once again not allowed to speak. She has been inexplicably mute for almost the entire chapter despite being in every scene. I suspect this is actually the trend for most of the series and I just never noticed how constant it was before; we’ll see.

“Dear Ron,
How are you? Thanks for the letter – I’d be glad to take the Norwegian Ridgeback, but it won’t be easy getting him here. I think the best thing will be to send him over with some friends of mine who are coming to visit me next week. Trouble is, they mustn’t be seen carrying an illegal dragon.
Could you get the Ridgeback up the tallest tower at midnight on Saturday? They can meet you there and take him away while it’s still dark.
Send me an answer as soon as possible.

Honestly, this is quite sweet, it sounds like Charlie doesn’t hear from his family very often. It’s weird that he agreed so quickly, though – he’s one of the older responsible brothers, not like the Terrible Twins.

Actually, speaking of Fred and George, why haven’t the Trio roped them in to help? They’d love this sort of stupid stunt and everyone agrees they’re very good at breaking rules.

Anyway, let’s look at Charlie’s brilliant plan. Apparition and Portkeys don’t exist at this point in the series, so okay, let’s assume that Charlie’s friends do have to literally carry this dragon across Europe, which means brooms. We’ve not been told that invisibility spells such as Disillusion Charms exist, but there’s only so far I’m willing to stretch this and the Potterverse as we’ve been shown it so far must have some sort of concealment spell, especially given the emphasis on keeping out of sight of Muggles. So why is Charlie worried that his friends might be seen?

Why does Charlie think it’s possible for a group of random people to casually fly into Hogwarts, allegedly one of the safest places in the wizarding world, without Dumbledore knowing? Of course, it’s possible he immediately Floo’d Dumbles to come up with this plan, which would once again explain a lot, but I don’t really want this to be a world where literally everything has been engineered by the Headmaster even if that is often the only reasonable explanation.

Why do they have to collect the dragon from the top of a tower? Hagrid’s hut is in the grounds, and far enough away from the castle that it’s unlikely anyone would see in broad daylight, let alone in the middle of the night. Take Norbert directly from the hut and don’t be stupid.

And also, just how does Charlie think they’re going to get Norbert up the tower anyway? He’s studying dragons, he ought to know how big a three week old Ridgeback is. Then again, maybe he’s just genre-savvy and breaking the fourth wall, since thanks to the wizarding world’s unique physics this poses no problem whatsoever. (Presumably the dragon takes after Mummy Hagrid’s miraculous size-changing properties…)

Finally, how is Hedwig meant to get to him with their answer in two days, when it took her a week to make the first trip? The worldbuilding article I linked to earlier talks a lot about travel times and so on. It would have come in handy when I was ranting about trains all those chapters ago.

Harry says this crazy plan won’t be a problem, anyway, since his bedsheet can cover two of them and Norbert. It’s never clarified, but I think we can all tell that this statement means himself and Ron. I shouldn’t think Hermione minds, though.

Sadly Hermione doesn’t get to enjoy her escape for long, since the next day Ron has to go to the hospital wing. His hand has swollen to twice its normal size and is turning green, and is apparently very painful.

This will, of course, have no consequences whatsoever. He’ll be fine by tomorrow without even a scar, and Hagrid will never show any signs of guilt that his illegal dangerous pet inflicted what sounds like a very serious wound. Injuries should not be plot devices that only last a single scene.

Ron’s brilliant idea of a cover story was to tell the nurse that a dog bit him. What dog? The only ones in Hogwarts are Fang – who has yet to reappear and is apparently completely harmless – and Fluffy, who Madam Pomfrey probably doesn’t know exists. Also, dog bites don’t do this to people. I appreciate that it’s hard to think up a plausible alibi, but in a place like Hogwarts all he has to say is that he has absolutely no idea what happened and he just woke up with a badly poisoned wound on his hand out of nowhere. That’s entirely too realistic.

We actually spent some time trying to work out what was supposed to be going on here – were we meant to assume the dragon is venomous on top of everything else? Outside of snakes most reptiles aren’t venomous, and birds certainly aren’t… (It seems like Komodo dragons are, which is interesting, but that’s a more recent discovery and wouldn’t have been known when she wrote this). Venomous dragons are very uncommon in mythology, also. It’s entirely possible she just meant us to read this as an infection (some animals, especially cats, have notoriously filthy mouths that can breed pathogens, and it’s been feeding primarily on mysteriously-sourced dead rats…), but infections generally don’t progress that quickly…

Not that it matters, since not only are there no physical consequences, there are no other consequences either and nobody will ever try to find out what really happened to his hand.

Draco apparently showed up earlier to gloat, pretending he wanted to borrow a textbook in order to get the chance to laugh at Ron and threaten to tell the nurse what really happened. At this point, Draco, you really should have done. Making them panic is fun, but it’s been long enough now that you must realise you’re running out of time. Still, he’s young, I’m sure he’ll learn.

At this point Hermione is finally permitted to speak, telling Ron that it’ll all be over on Saturday night. This makes Ron almost wet himself, because he’s just remembered that he left Charlie’s letter in the book Draco took. In the real world this wouldn’t matter, because Draco doesn’t need a second hand copy of a textbook he already owns and would have just dropped it in the lake or set fire to it and gone on his merry way, but in this world he has of course found and read the letter. On the one hand this is a stupidly implausible coincidence, but on the other it’s an example of the kind of behaviour Ron’s been showing throughout this chapter, so on balance I’ll let it slide.

Harry says, accurately, that they don’t have time to come up with another plan and that he and Hermione should be fine with the bedsheet. I doubt Hermione’s as convinced, but it’s not as if there are many options at this point. The two of them leave Ron to his poisoned hand and go to tell Hagrid; for those keeping track, this is the moment where Fang reappears, sitting outside the hut with a bandaged tail. Let’s assume Hagrid trod on it, because if Norbert was involved he wouldn’t have a tail left.

Hagrid’s upset that the time has come, naturally, but he’s got other things on his mind since Norbet is now big enough to literally shake the walls of the hut and has just bitten him in the leg. No, of course this won’t react the way Ron’s bite did. I don’t know why anyone would expect any sort of consistency by this point. And for some reason Harry doesn’t warn him that Draco knows everything and that there’s a really high chance that they’ll be caught. I’ve no idea why.

Harry and Hermione dutifully sneak down to Hagrid’s on Saturday night. Once again, there are implausibly no other students in the common room to notice them, because all teenagers go to bed long before midnight on Saturdays. They’re known for it. The two of them are still running late though because Peeves was playing tennis in the entrance hall, which raises two questions. One, how does Peeves know what tennis is (and does he have an actual racquet and ball, and if so where did he find them?) and two, how the hell are the kids coming and going through the huge main entrance doors? I’m not even going to add an unlocking spell to Hermione’s spell count for this one because it’s just stupid that it’s even possible – and also because she’s going to hit double figures by the end of the book without it.

Hagrid has managed to get the dragon into a crate. We’re not told what this crate is made of, naturally, but let’s assume that even Hagrid wasn’t dumb enough to use a wooden crate to hold something that breathes fire. The wizarding world probably doesn’t have aluminium and certainly doesn’t have plastic or fibreglass, so what we’ve got here is a gigantic lizard in a (probably) iron box, and two small children now have to transport it up the hill, through the main entrance, and up a ridiculous number of stairs (many being narrow spiral staircases) and along an unknown number of corridors. Without being heard, which means carrying it not dragging it.

At this point I’m just going to give up and attempt to shut my brain down, because there is literally no way this is possible and I want to move on and finish the chapter.

Hagrid has packed some rats and brandy in case Norbert wants a snack, and a teddy bear. This is genuinely cute. Especially since Harry can hear Norbert ripping the teddy bear’s head off. Let us note here that nobody’s suggested trying to drug the dragon. Actual tranquilisers are clearly not an option, and we know they’re magic resistant, but you’d think someone would at least have tried to research a potion or something they could give it to knock it out. Isn’t it convenient that Norbert never makes a sound, even though it’s never been shut in a box before and would be panicking or furious or both?

They leave Hagrid in tears and start the Herculean task of hauling this dragon to the tower for no reason whatsoever. The book even lampshades that this shouldn’t work:

“How they managed to get the crate back up to the castle, they never knew.”

Quick, throw another attempt at drama in before the characters realise this isn’t possible.

McGonagall shows up on cue in the corridor beneath the tower. She’s in her night things and she’s in the middle of physically assaulting Draco – I’m not kidding, she’s grabbed him by the ear and is literally dragging him along while shouting at him. She gives him detention and takes twenty points off Slytherin for the crime of being out of bed – if you think this is disproportionate, you’re completely right, but wait until next chapter – and then tells him off for lying about Harry having a dragon. She then drags him off by the ear, saying she’s going to speak to Professor Snape about this, and I would pay quite a lot to see that particular conversation.

Poor, naive Draco. He’s obviously gone and woken McGonagall up so that she could catch them – which proves he’s been listening to his Head of House; in a different world this would have been a good plan to make sure nobody could deny the evidence and let the Gryffindors off. It’s even fairly in character for him, since I can see how he’d want to arrange their downfall on his own rather than letting Lucius or Severus deal with it. He just underestimated what a horrible person McGonagall is. Though given the events of next chapter, he has technically won this one – at least until the end of the book.

“The steep spiral staircase up to the top of the tower seemed the easiest thing in the world after that.”

No, damnit, Draco unfairly getting into trouble doesn’t mean you can break reality. The crate would not fit up a spiral staircase no matter what you did to it. Though honestly the idea that this universe is literally powered by Slytherin suffering is horribly plausible.

For some reason both Harry and Hermione are very happy that Draco got into trouble. They’re not relieved to not have been caught, or anything like that, just gloating to the point of literally dancing a jig. To be fair I suppose it’s not that stupid a reaction – I forget occasionally how young they are in this book – but it still seems like they should be feeling other emotions right now and gloating later. Hermione’s reaction in particular is strange, she’s the only one of the Trio who hasn’t actually fought with Draco at all. Or even spoken to him, as far as I remember. Maybe something happened offscreen?

A few minutes after they get to the top of the tower, four cheerful guys on broomsticks show up, utterly failing to trigger any sort of security whatsoever. They don’t get names or descriptions and we’ll never see any of them again. They wrangle Norbert into some sort of harness – it’s unclear whether he’s still in the crate or not, honestly – and fly off into the night, job done.

As Harry and Hermione go back down the stairs, they run into Filch. (Try to imagine ‘The Rains of Castamere‘ playing in the background, if you watch Game of Thrones.) And the chapter ends on a suitably dramatic note:

“They’d left the Invisibility Cloak on top of the tower.”

Shame on you, Hermione. Harry’s a moron but you’re meant to be the smart one.

The next chapter continues this scene, so ending here is a little jarring (we hadn’t remembered this and were actually pretty surprised), but even if we had time neither of us have the mental energy to cope with more than one chapter at a time.

Our current spell count hasn’t changed this chapter and still stands at Hermione, 8. Ron, 1. Draco, 1. Harry, 0. Have a literal spell counter, because Mitchell and I are geeks, and we’ll see you next time for a walk in the woods.


Posted by on March 26, 2016 in loten, mitchell


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The Silkworm: Part Eleven – I quit.

This is the last post you’re going to see about any of the Cormoran Strike books. This part finally pushed me over the limit. You’ll understand why in a moment – it only took half a chapter.

Content notes: physical assault, victim blaming, transphobia, rape jokes, ableist slurs, misogynistic slurs, racism, fat hatred and anything else disgusting Rowling felt like throwing into the mix. Also my excessive language, I’ve been trying to tone down my swearing but… not this time.

As expected, chapter 37 opens with Strike whining about his knee and about being poor and how he’s spent too much money on eating in a restaurant. He almost has a plot-relevant thought, about how strange it is that everyone familiar with the book is looking to blame anyone except Owen and maybe someone else did write at least some of it, but is distracted by once again encountering the woman who’s been stalking him and fulfilled happy fantasies of most of the readers by trying to stab him.

We’re treated to a nauseating paragraph about how utterly amazing Strike is, which you all have to suffer through too. I know I’m meant to be speed-running through this now, but just look at this crap.

“Strike’s pace did not falter, nor did he turn to look at her. He was not playing games this time; there would be no stopping to test her amateurish stalking style, no letting her know that he had spotted her. On he walked without looking over his shoulder, and only a man or woman similarly expert in counter-surveillance would have noticed his casual glances into helpfully positioned windows and reflective brass door plates; only they could have spotted the hyper-alertness disguised as inattentiveness.”

Excuse me while I throw up.

And it keeps going. There are two full pages of Strike walking along telling us how awesome he is and how stupid people messing with him are – interspersed with comments about his knee, and how even though it just hurts soooo badly it’s not enough to stop him being awesome. Then finally he turns into an alleyway, hears running footsteps behind him, spins around and assaults the person.

Fortunately for him it actually is the woman who was following him and not some random person running for the bus, but I don’t think that justifies a full page of him hitting her with his walking stick, getting ‘a ferocious grip that made her scream‘, putting her in a headlock or forcibly dragging her up the stairs to his office while she screams bloody murder. Of course, there are no witnesses until he actually gets to the office, when someone looks out of the room next door. Oh how I hope they call the police.

Robin lets him into the office and is understandably horrified, especially since the book informs us this woman is very young – maybe 20 – and has scratch marks on her neck where Strike grabbed her. (The book feels the need to specify her ‘white‘ neck several times. I don’t know why.)

Strike tells Robin she tried to knife him again, and orders her to call the police; as Robin picks the phone up, the woman starts crying and begging and pointing out that Strike’s just hurt her quite badly. Robin ignores this in favour of slut-shaming her.

I’m not kidding.

” ‘Why have you been following me?’ Strike said, panting as he stood over her, his tone threatening.
She cowered into the squeaking cushions yet Robin, whose fingers had not left the phone, detected a note of relish in the woman’s fear, a whisper of voluptuousness in the way she twisted away from him. “

Fuck. This. Book. (This was the start of the meltdown.)

And it gets SO MUCH WORSE.

After a lot of yelling, some more assault and battery on Strike’s part and a fucking stupid attempt at good-cop-bad-cop, it turns out this woman is the mysterious Pippa.

Although at the moment she’s actually Philip, and won’t be legally Pippa for a little while yet.

Hence Epicoene the hermaphrodite in Owen’s book, which has just become a hundred times more awful and insensitive.

Strike’s reaction to this is to stare at her Adam’s apple, which under the scratches and bruises he’s left is ‘still prominent‘.

Robin’s reaction is to try not to laugh.

My reaction was to start yelling at Mitchell.

Pippa starts crying, understandably, and these two terrible people continue their ghastly good-cop-bad-cop interrogation routine to try to work out what the fuck is going on and why she wants to kill Strike (apart from the fact that he exists, which would honestly be good enough for any jury). The single bright point is that the book is still using female pronouns.

And then somehow the book manages to become even worse, thanks to Strike.

” ‘If you go for that door one more fucking time I’m calling the police and I’ll testify and be glad to watch you go down for attempted murder. And it won’t be fun for you inside, Pippa,’ he added. ‘Not pre-op.’ “

Fucking hell, Rowling. Even for you, this is low. The yelling got worse.

Skipping past the rest of the scene, which is just filled with insults and stereotypical hysteria and a lot of bullshit I don’t want to deal with. It boils down to Pippa thinking Leonora hired Strike to frame her and Kathryn, and she’s been following Strike because she wanted him to lead her to Owen so she could kill him for the terrible way he wrote about her in his book. Owen apparently lied to the two of them and said he was writing something much different that was really lovely about them both, and then wrote Bombyx and sent it to them.

I was initially extremely sympathetic, but later in the scene Pippa calls Orlando a retard.

I quit.

I’m not kidding. I’m done. That was the straw that broke the camel’s fucking back.

I’m going to very quickly skim through the remaining chapters, and give you a brief summary of whodunit and so on. And then I am going to give this book to my father and tell him to throw it on the bonfire next time he burns some garden waste.

There is nothing this book can say or do now that would justify my continuing to read it. Rowling has literally checked every possible box of awfulness and I’m not willing to deal with it any more.

Pippa eventually escapes, and afterwards Strike calls her a ‘self-dramatising twat‘. Full fucking house, Rowling.

Highlights of the rest of the book, speed-read in about twenty minutes while ranting.

In a later chapter we learn one of Strike’s oldest friends has yet another nickname for him, this one derived from a Cornish slur for travellers/Romanies. Because it’s fine to be racist if it’s an obscure regional slur that other people won’t recognise. Their conversation involves endless misogynistic sex jokes and calling Charlotte crazy.

Brief glimpse of plot – Leonora is arrested. Kathryn had a credit card receipt, given to her by Orlando, showing that someone bought overalls, ropes, tarpaulins and a burqa shortly before Owen’s disappearance, and after Strike attacked Pippa the two of them handed it to the police. Leonora insists it was Owen’s card and she never had access to it.

Charlotte texts Strike out of the blue. ‘It was yours.‘ Don’t care, book. Later  there’s a lot more bullshit attempting to once again vilify a character who has never appeared onscreen, and I still. Don’t. Care.

Turns out Strike’s daddy knows Fancourt and is in talks with Chard about publishing his biography. Look at all the fucks I don’t give. This never turns out to be relevant and I wouldn’t give a shit if it did.

Emotional blackmail of Orlando in the hope that she happened to steal some evidence.

We finally meet Fancourt. He is true fat-shaming MRA scum who says things about Liz Tassel that make me want to do something very painful to Rowling’s nervous system. If I hadn’t already quit earlier I would have done here. And we’re still not done.

The actual plot resolution would be unbelievably annoying if I still cared. Several chapters of Strike mysteriously telling people to do things that we’re not told about, telling people his theories that we’re not told about, and generally abusing the already long-dead flogged horse.

Turns out all the shit with the Cutter was because Jerry’s daughter might not actually be his, but might be Fancourt’s. This absolutely does not justify all the shit with Charlotte.

Nina finally tells Strike to fuck off. Best bit of the book.

Lots of crap about how clever Strike is.

The final solution to the plot: there were two versions of Bombyx Mori. The version Owen wrote, and the version everyone saw, which Liz Tassel wrote. In a better book this would actually have been a decent twist.

It turns out that it was actually Liz who wrote the parody that caused Fancourt’s wife to kill herself and started this whole feud. And Owen knew and had been blackmailing her ever since.

It was Liz’s idea that Owen should stage his disappearance, and then she met him at Talgarth Road, talked him into posing for a ‘publicity photograph’ and killed him.

The whole thing is summarised in unbelievably poisonous terms. Liz’s entire motivation for all of this is because, being fat and ugly, she wasn’t laid enough. I’m not even kidding – she apparently orchestrated this whole thing out of sexual frustration and depression and a decades-long crush on Fancourt that ended badly. That is the only motivation the narrative gives her and all the depth her character gets – a sick stereotype straight from the depths of dudebro culture and modern fat hatred.

As if that wasn’t enough, over the space of two pages she breaks down and turns into a frothing lunatic talking to herself in weirdly Bellatrix terms (though not the baby-talk) and ends up a stereotypical TV ‘crazy person’.

The book ends with Liz, having been set up, getting into a ‘taxi’ driven by Robin. There’s a big dramatic car chase, and they crash. Sadly they’re both fine. Robin gets a media concussion, i.e. there are no consequences whatsoever.

Liz is on suicide watch pending trial.

She kept the original Bombyx Mori manuscript. In the freezer with Owen’s guts. It’s going to be published.

For reasons surpassing all understanding, Robin and Matthew are still together, though the very last page of the book is her and Strike flirting.

Now if you’ll excuse me I need a very stiff drink and preferably brain surgery to remove any memory of this book.

Do not read it under any circumstances.

I’m not touching anything else Rowling ever produces – unless it’s Harry Potter related, because in children’s books she can’t show her true colours and I don’t have to think about what a terrible person wrote the books that are still a big part of my life and how much she despises me and other people who look like me.

That said, there won’t be a HP post for a week or two. I need time to forget this before I can look at anything else she’s written without screaming. She has forfeited all right to ever be given the benefit of the doubt ever again and it’s going to take a conscious effort to stop my current anger with her bleeding through into our coverage of HP.

I have no idea why she decided to do this.



Posted by on February 18, 2016 in loten


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Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone: Chapter Twelve

Egad, a plot coupon. One that, of course, makes no sense whatsoever. This chapter contains a healthy dose of conspiracy-theory paranoia…

Chapter Twelve: The Mirror of Erised
Nothing wrong with the picture this time, shockingly.

Christmas is coming, and it’s finally snowing. Apparently nothing happened for the whole of November, since we’re now in mid-December; Harry makes no mention of being puzzled that wizards don’t celebrate Bonfire Night on November 5th, though he also makes no mention of anything else. I’m glad not to have to endure more Quidditch, but he’s obsessed with it, you’d think it would come up. Also apparently our villain chose not to try anything else nefarious all month. And the lake is ‘froze[n] solid‘, which… doesn’t happen. That’s not how ice works. Frozen over, yes, but not ice all the way down. Which is just as well, given the squid and all the merpeople. There’s also no mention of anyone skating on the lake, ever – I don’t believe this either. You show a group of children a decent-sized patch of ice and they’re going to skate on it.

Anyway, to represent the season, we’re told that the Weasley twins got into trouble for repeatedly bewitching snowballs to follow Quirrell around and bounce off his turban. I like this, it’s another little detail that you only notice on the second readthrough – though you do have to wonder why Quirrell didn’t prevent it. It’s basically his god getting hit, after all. I have no idea how you’d bewitch a snowball to do this without breaking apart – the twins are probably the lovely type of child who packs snow around a rock, but even so.

Continuing our theme of random animal cruelty, the narration informs us that the few owls who actually make it to the castle with post have to be nursed by Hagrid before they can leave again, because of the storms. This is why you don’t use owls. There’s no mention of whether Hagrid treks up to the Owlery to look after them, or if he makes them all huddle in his cold smoky hut with his giant dog, but I think we all know which is more likely. It’s stupid that the wizarding world doesn’t have vets; apparently the groundskeeper is meant to deal with everything at Hogwarts (Care of Magical Creatures doesn’t exist yet) and if I remember rightly everything outside Hogwarts is handled by a random shop assistant in Diagon Alley.

It’s also very, very cold. As in, ice is literally forming on the walls, and they can see their breath in the corridors and some of the classrooms. There are fires in the common room, and we’re told out of nowhere now that there are also fires in the Great Hall, but as I keep saying, fires usually mean smoke holes and you lose most of the heat anyway. Unless there are randomly a lot of chimneys in really weird places. Or the room’s just full of thick smoke all the time. In any case, why doesn’t anyone use magic to warm the place up a bit? Or at least hang some more tapestries up? That’s what they were for.

We’re also told that Snape’s classroom down in the dungeons is the coldest place in the castle. Poor Slytherins – I bet their common room and dormitories are utterly inhumane. Of course, there’s no reason why the underground part of the castle would be the coldest, because that’s really not how that works, but I assume it must be because of the damp from the lake now freezing so they have more ice around, or something.

This segues into Draco trying to be a jerk again, of course. He announces in the middle of a Potions lesson that he feels very sorry for everyone who has to stay at Hogwarts over Christmas because they aren’t wanted at home, and Harry tells us this is because nobody’s interested in listening to Draco making fun of his Quidditch catch any more and they all found it very impressive that Harry managed to stay on his broom.

The topic is never going to come up again, by the way, until Dumbledore tells Harry what happened at the end of the book. There’s no mention of anyone investigating it. Nobody appears to have asked Harry what happened, or asked to examine his broom, or anything else remotely rational and caring. Presumably Harry’s played since that match, but we don’t see another game until next chapter (oh joy) and it never occurs to him then to worry that it might happen again. It was a single isolated incident that nobody ever questions and nobody thinks will reoccur – except, as usual, Snape, owner of the only fully functioning brain in this stupid castle.

I find it funny that there’s nothing in the text to indicate that Draco’s being sarcastic except Crabbe and Goyle laughing – obviously he is, but the book ought to actually say so. Once again, though, I have to question how Draco knows Harry’s not going home for Christmas, or anything about Harry’s home life at all except that his parents are dead. Clearly he’s still keeping his crush under very close observation, but there’s no way he can know this. Is there some sort of public list on display of everyone who’s not going home? We’re told McGonagall talked to the Gryffindors the previous week to find out who was staying, but did she then post the list in the Great Hall or something?

Anyway, Harry’s not going home, understandably. We’re told later that the Dursleys are aware of this, but I don’t see how – even if the school were sadistic enough to send them an owl, which they blatantly are, I can’t see the Dursleys being brave enough to let the owl in and try to take something off its leg, let alone tie a reply on afterwards. Harry’s looking forward to a great Christmas, though, and tells us Ron and his brothers are all staying too because Mr and Mrs Weasley are going to Romania to see Charlie.

I’m choosing to believe this is because Molly and Arthur want a bit of peace, frankly. Once again, Rowling’s forgotten that they’re not Muggles; when you can travel for free and create houses out of nothing, it doesn’t cost anything to take extra children on holiday. We considered the possibility that they could be having the children stay so Hogwarts would feed them; in reality schools tend to charge fees for student meals but as we’re given no indication parents ever pay Hogwarts for anything… in any case, at this point magic has no restrictions and they can make food.

Harry makes no mention of Hermione, by the way, despite allegedly being friends with her now. We’ll find out later that she’s going home to her parents. I’m sure she’ll have fun carefully not telling them that she’s nearly died twice already and assaulted a teacher.

After Potions the students encounter Hagrid dragging a huge Christmas tree down a corridor. This is purely so Ron can offer to help and Draco can sneer that he must be trying to earn some money so he can live in a tiny hut in the woods too because it’s better than his house. Well done, Draco, an insult that actually sounds like an eleven year old came up with it. Good job.

Ron naturally charges at Draco, though quite what he’s imagining he’ll do is beyond me, and grabs his robes just as Snape appears and yells at him to quit it. Hagrid interferes and tattles on Draco like the responsible adult he absolutely is not (it really is quite remarkable: yes, Draco goaded him, but Ron was the first to get physical, and Hagrid really does seem to think this excuses him), and Snape points out perfectly reasonably that fighting is still not allowed and takes points off Ron. This is another scene where we’re meant to think Snape’s evil, but this is how any teacher would have dealt with this type of situation.

Hagrid takes Harry and Ron and his tree (and Hermione, who’s suddenly teleported into this scene) into the Great Hall to show them how pretty it is. Credit where it’s due, the decorations do mostly sound really nice – though real candles on resinous fir trees that are drying out quite nicely what with all the fires around sounds like a very bad idea to me – but I don’t know who they’re for. Most of the children are leaving tomorrow to go home; we’re not told exactly how many students are staying, but Harry, Ron, Percy and the twins appear to be the only Gryffindors of either gender still there over the holidays and no other students are actually mentioned at all. In future books so few people remain that staff and students all fit on a single table, so we clearly have slightly more than that, but is it really enough people to justify twelve huge Christmas trees?

I’m also somewhat disappointed that all the Christmas traditions we’ll see throughout the series are so ordinary. Everything is modern Western Muggle standard (though usually with some sort of sadistic twist, such as fairy lights made with actual live fairies). Even the carols are more or less the same, just with a couple of changed words. Given how old-fashioned the wizarding world is in so many other ways, why couldn’t they have stuck with some of the old pagan Yule traditions? Let’s see some wassailing, or walking the bounds, or at least celebrating the solstice on the 21st instead of sticking to the Christian festival date. They seem to like ancient Rome, at least to the extent that they still use a butchered version of Latin, so how about keeping Saturnalia? Heck, throw in some animal sacrifices, it’s not like that would be out of character for these people.

Hermione reminds the boys that they’ve got time to go to the library before lunch. Hagrid questions this, given that it’s just before the holidays, and Harry says cheerfully that they’re trying to find out who Nicolas Flamel is and would he like to save them some time and just tell them?

It’s a good point, honestly. Why doesn’t Hagrid just tell them, at least partially? What could possibly happen if he says ‘He’s one of Professor Dumbledore’s friends’? That’s a much better way of getting them to let the subject drop than pretending it’s some huge important secret.

Anyway, Hagrid says no and the three of them trot off to the library. Harry’s sure he’s read the name somewhere, so they’ve been going through hundreds of books. Er, Harry, you haven’t read a single library book except Quidditch Through The Ages. If you’ve seen it written in a book, it would only be in that book or one of your textbooks. Why are you looking in books you’ve never read for something you remember reading?

Hermione’s easily bright enough to have realised this. I assume she’s just enjoying the chance to get Harry and Ron into the library without a fight. That certainly won’t happen again.

Of course, we know it wasn’t in a book at all, but that’s not the point. The Hogwarts library is insanely huge, by the way – literally tens of thousands of books. This does not compute with the size of the wizarding world. Who wrote them all? Who publishes them? And who’s meant to be reading them? It would be slightly more sensible if this were a public library, though still somewhat unrealistic, but does a school with at most a couple of hundred students really need tens of thousands of books? Again this is a trope I heartily approve of, huge magic libraries are awesome, but it doesn’t work in this setting.

Hermione has a list of books to check out. Ron’s just grabbing books at random. Harry can’t be bothered to even do that, and decides to go and sprinkle some foreshadowing everywhere instead, wandering over to the so-called Restricted Section. I say ‘so-called’ because it’s not restricted at all, except by a single low rope in front of it. It’s not in a separate room with a lockable door, or anything else sensible. Though I concede this is a step up from the Forbidden Forest, which doesn’t even have a rope…

Harry tells us you need a signed note from a teacher to look at these books, which apparently all contain very advanced dark magic and are only looked at by older Defence Against the Dark Arts students.

There is no possible way to justify these books being in a school. Defence lessons involve learning a list of spells, when they involve anything useful at all (though obviously they shouldn’t, and at this point the most sensible conclusion is that Rowling hadn’t yet decided Defence would be the joke class taught by a sequence of incompetents). Harry is never taught a single thing about the Dark Arts in six years. If we accept that maybe the seventh years actually learn shit, they could order any particular book they might need through the library; having them just sitting around openly is asking for trouble.

Though next book we’ll learn that at least one of them is actually just an advanced Potions textbook, so I suppose it’s possible that what Harry’s saying here is a rumour spread by older students and the books are mostly just slightly rarer ordinary books that need more looking after than the rest.

The librarian, Madam Pince, shows up and asks what Harry’s looking for. She doesn’t get a description of any kind, except that she’s holding a feather duster for some odd reason, which she waves at Harry when he says he’s not looking for anything and orders him out of the library. She will never get any kind of description, to the best of my recollection, and is also apparently the only person working here. One person looking after tens of thousands of books and running a library that’s apparently open from early in the morning to late at night seven days a week? Typical Hogwarts scheduling.

In a more sensible book, they’d have asked her if she knows where they can find information on Nicolas Flamel. That’s what librarians are for, and a character described the way Hermione has been so far would absolutely talk to the library staff at any opportunity. In this series, she never does so. The book does acknowledge that this is stupid, and tries to handwave it by telling us that the children decided not to ask her in case Snape heard about it.

Er, pardon?

How would he? Do they really think Pince would be so shocked by a student asking a question that she’d go and broadcast it in the staff room? Not that she ever goes to the staff room, or the Great Hall… we’ll only ever see her in the library and never see her talk to another staff member. Or do they think Snape has ordered her to tell him if anyone asks certain questions?

This weirdness, combined with her complete lack of any kind of description and apparent ability to go without sleep permanently, must be the source of the odd fan theory that she’s secretly Eileen Snape in disguise. From what I remember this was mostly based on the fact that ‘Irma Pince’ is an anagram of ‘I’m a Prince’, but I don’t remember anyone explaining why on earth she’d bother or why she never interacts with anyone, least of all Severus himself.

In any case, even if they truly believe it’s too risky to ask the librarian, the children never suggest asking anyone else, such as another teacher or an older student. As they leave the library now, Ron does say that it would be safe for Hermione to ask her parents:

” ‘Very safe, as they’re both dentists,’ said Hermione.”

Of course, the irony is that Nicolas Flamel was a real Muggle alchemist, and it’s not out of the realms of possibility that one of Hermione’s parents might actually recognise the name. It wouldn’t help much, since any Muggle information is obviously going to be inaccurate, but it would give her something to look up when she got back after Christmas. As we’ll see next chapter, they find the answer anyway, so it wouldn’t have changed the plot at all, but it would have been nice. I’m already tired of the book insisting that Muggles all suck and can’t possibly know anything.

Once the holidays have started, Harry and Ron sit around doing nothing.

“They sat by the hour eating anything they could spear on a toasting fork – bread, crumpets, marshmallows – and plotting ways of getting Malfoy expelled, which were fun to talk about even if they wouldn’t work.”

What idiot decided to allow small children to cook their own food over open fires? And where are they getting it from? House elves don’t exist yet, remember. I also don’t believe the wizarding world has marshmallows, at least not in any form recognisable to Harry as such. The original version has been around for centuries and is made from the marshmallow plant, but Harry wouldn’t know what those were; the modern form is way too processed to exist in the wizarding world.

‘Crumpets’ is changed to ‘English muffins’ in the American version, by the way. (At least in this part. In a later sentence it’s left as crumpets.) This slightly irrationally annoyed me, because those are completely different products; they taste similar, but they’re made differently and crumpets have a very distinctive texture that’s nothing like a muffin.

Also, Harry, your obsession with Draco is not helping the subtext here.

Never mind the usual Gryffindor double standard – when Draco talks about wanting Harry to be expelled earlier it’s evidence he’s a horrible person, whereas here Harry and Ron fantasise about having him expelled and it’s all in good fun. What’s with this fixation on expulsion, anyway? It’s a theme for the next several books, and yet only one person – Hagrid – is ever said to have been expelled. (Considering he was found guilty of manslaughter, or possibly causing death by dangerous animal, mere expulsion is shockingly lenient, and never mind that he wasn’t actually guilty of that one.)

Ron is also teaching Harry ‘wizard chess’. Harry tells us this is exactly like actual chess, except with live pieces,  i.e. more sadistic; he seems to be implying that he’s familiar with Muggle chess already, though I don’t know how he would be. It’s not as if he had the kind of childhood involving chess clubs, and according to him he has no friends or friendly relatives who could have taught him.

It’s also somewhat puzzling that Ron’s so good at chess. Live pieces aside, it’s still a quiet sort of hobby involving sitting still, and really doesn’t seem to fit with the Weasley household. Not to mention that the more we see of Ron in later books the more obvious it is that he’s just not bright enough, unless he’s some sort of chess savant. I suspect the sole reason for this talent is so he’d actually have some part to play in the finale, since otherwise there’s honestly no reason for him to exist.

Then again, chess itself is an odd Potterverse hobby, because it’s seen as intellectual and requiring at least some intelligence, and the wizarding world often goes to great lengths to discourage that sort of thing. Fantasyland wizards in general are known for liking chess and other scholarly pursuits, but it doesn’t quite fit in with the Potterverse. Particularly since the only other non-Quidditch games we see are Snap and Gobstones (i.e. marbles), which are both as basic as you can possibly get. Not that Exploding Snap ever made any sense – if they have playing cards, why do they only play Snap with them? And do they use the same suits as Muggle cards? It would be neat if they played with the original Tarot and used those suits.

In any case, wizarding chess isn’t explicitly violent in this scene, despite the movie version. The pieces just heckle and mock Harry for not being very good and shout advice at him, and there’s no mention of the losing pieces being brutally smashed or anything. This sounds immensely irritating to play, but it also raises one of the Quidditch objections from last post – if your pieces give you advice, then the player with the oldest and most experienced chess set will win. Once again, it’s a contest that relies on who has the best equipment, not who’s actually better. Harry’s borrowed a set from Seamus for the purposes of this scene.

Unless the pieces are being coerced into obeying you. They come across as pretty sentient and capable of actual independent thought, which has a lot of worrying implications.

Not that it matters. I don’t think any of the characters actually play chess again after this book. It exists purely to foreshadow the finale, and then vanishes into the ether.

When Harry wakes up on Christmas morning, he’s surprised to find a pile of presents on his bed, since he wasn’t expecting anything. Well done, Harry, another normal reaction. Those are already becoming quite rare.

Ron, meanwhile, seems surprised that Harry’s surprised:

” ‘What did you expect, turnips?’ “

This once again demonstrates that the Weasleys aren’t poor; it even states that Ron’s pile of gifts is much bigger than Harry’s, and he seems to find it weird that someone wouldn’t be expecting presents. Even though he’s been told about Harry’s upbringing already. And even though he says in a couple of paragraphs that he specifically told his mother that Harry wasn’t expecting presents. In conclusion, Ron is dumb as a brick.

(Admittedly, I don’t know how common it is, but there are definitely some poor parents who try to hide the extent of that poverty from their children and go out of their way to ensure they get things like Christmas gifts, but this doesn’t seem to be the case with the Weasleys. Ron is certainly aware that his family are ‘poor’.)

Harry’s first present is from Hagrid, a hand-whittled wooden flute that sounds a bit like an owl (what kind of owl? They sound pretty different, you know). This seems an odd choice of present since Harry’s given no indication of any musical ability or interest, but it’s nice, and of course it’s good foreshadowing. I don’t know why they left it out of the film – we see Hagrid playing it at one point but he never gives it to Harry that I recall.

His second present is from the Dursleys, a note saying they got his message about not being home for Christmas and a 50 pence coin.

This is weird on several levels. I’ve already mentioned that it’s not likely they’d have replied to any message, being scared of owls and so on. But it’s also been specified repeatedly by Harry that they never give him anything at all, so them sending a gift now – even a rubbish one – is still a step up. If they usually gave him presents and were this time pointedly giving him a really bad present, that would be nasty, but as it is this is just a bit odd. They’ll keep doing it, too, sending him traditionally lousy but still perfectly civil gifts – very small amounts of money, a pair of socks, etc. And yet there’s no reason why they would, as well as no physical way to send them.

I’m hesitant to use the ‘Dumbledore did it for the lulz’ explanation, especially given the content of the rest of this chapter, but I just can’t see the Dursleys doing this. And whoever typeset the US version seems to share my view, since their note isn’t formatted letter-style as all the others have been.

Anyway, Ron’s fascinated by the coin, so Harry lets him keep it. I’ll forgive Ron this one, even though he’s referenced enough Muggle things by now that he ought to know something of their money. Most British coins are pretty normal but the 50p – and the 20p – has seven sides, it’s not round; I suppose that would look a little odd.

I would also love to see a crossover fic somewhere where this 50p is actually the magic one from ‘The Queen’s Nose’

Harry wonders who his other presents are from. Ron explains two of them are from his mother – a box of fudge and a hand-knitted jumper, which is apparently a family tradition and all the Weasleys get them every year. I think that’s sweet, honestly, and it’s a shame her children don’t seem to appreciate it. Though I do question how Molly knows what size Harry is, or what size any of her sons are given that most of the ones still at school are at the age for growth spurts.

There’s no note with these gifts, by the way. If Ron hadn’t been here to explain Harry wouldn’t have had a clue who they were from. But I bet he would have eaten the fudge anyway, despite apparently believing that the Potions teacher is trying to kill him. If Quirrell had just sent him some anonymous poisoned sweets, the series would probably have ended right here.

The next present is a large box of Chocolate Frogs, from Hermione. I don’t know where she got them from – I assume maybe she asked Percy to buy them in Hogsmeade. Harry doesn’t give this another thought, it only gets a single sentence after paragraphs about each of his other gifts; it certainly never occurs to him that he should feel bad that he didn’t get her anything. He didn’t get Ron anything either but apparently regifting his 50p was good enough – and to be fair Ron didn’t give him a present, just told his mother to do so.

Hermione also got Ron some sweets – Bertie Botts’ Every-Flavour Beans. That’s excellently nasty of you, Hermione, well done. There’s no mention that Ron got her anything either, of course, inevitably. I hope she wasn’t naive enough to expect it.

And we all know what Harry’s final gift is, don’t we…

” ‘It’s an Invisibility Cloak,’ said Ron, a look of awe on his face. “

How do you know, Ron? You tell us they’re really rare and valuable; when have you ever seen one? Particularly since we’re told in later books that Harry’s cloak is as super-special and unique as everything else he owns, and doesn’t look like regular invisibility cloaks? (Please note I’m refusing to capitalise that as well. Stop it.) And even if Ron does know what they look like, why would that be his first thought on seeing Harry unwrapping some random grey cloth? Why would he assume someone gave Harry one?

There’s also the obvious joke that this can’t be an invisibility cloak, because they can see it! As with so many things in this world, we’re never told how the cloak works. It hides inanimate objects being held by the person wearing it, but not random objects you put it on. It folds up small enough to fit in Harry’s pocket, but apparently opens out large enough to have hidden four near-grown teenage boys.

Also, Harry, once again – you think someone’s trying to murder you. Don’t grab shiny things that have been sent to you anonymously.

And this is anonymous, the note is unsigned:

“Your father left this in my possession before he died.
It is time it was returned to you.
Use it well.
A Very Merry Christmas to you.”

Translation: ‘I took this from your father – sorry, ‘borrowed’ it – at a time when he could have really, really needed it. It’s possible I feel guilty about this, but really I don’t have a conscience so that’s probably not it. I’m now giving it to you, I’m sure you won’t misuse it in any way despite your father and his friends doing so for years. I’m glad you don’t know who I am because this is pretty terrible of me.’

At least we know for a fact this is Dumbledore messing with people for his own amusement. If he thinks Harry has a reason to genuinely need this cloak, he ought to be acting to put a stop to that situation, not just giving it to him.

The note is also well hidden, it’s not pinned to the parcel or anything, so Harry could easily have missed it and had even less of an idea where the cloak came from or why.

Anyway, Harry and Ron are playing with the shiny when the twins bounce in, and Harry hastily shoves it under his bed. (And then later can’t find it since it’s invisible, and never gets to use it again, what a shame.) The twins are also wearing new jumpers, with their initials on them:

” ‘You haven’t got a letter on yours,’ George observed. ‘I suppose she thinks you don’t  forget your name. But we’re not stupid – we know we’re called Gred and Forge.’ “

I actually like this line, daft though it is. It’s good to see that not everything the twins do is awful. Particularly since they decide to immediately renege on any goodwill this may have earned them, and end this scene by casually assaulting their brother; Percy shows up to find out what the noise is, and the twins jump on him, force his own jumper over his head and drag him out of the room with his arms pinned, telling him he’s not allowed to sit with his friends because ‘Christmas is a time for family‘. Or faaaaaaamily, as used in a certain whiny tone by anyone who’s ever tried to guilt-trip a relative into putting up with a terrible situation.

We move on to more food porn. I have to dismiss most of Harry’s descriptions as hyperbole after he tells us there are a hundred whole turkeys; even if every single student was present, that would be way too many, even quite a small turkey can easily serve four or five people. Not that we still have any real idea of how many people are here. I’m not even sure how many teachers are present. One assumes all of them are; children don’t see teachers as real people with actual lives, but this does seem to be literally true of the Hogwarts staff. None of them appear to be married, none of them seem to have any relatives (except Dumbledore’s brother, and they’re estranged) and Snape’s the only one who seems to have a house. The rest of them may well literally live there.

Anyway, along with the food, there are crackers. Mitchell tells me he initially had no context for those  – Christmas crackers don’t seem to be much of a thing outside Britain. As with so much else, wizard crackers are exactly like the real thing, only more sadistic; these explode, and also contain live mice who somehow don’t die in said explosions. (They get eaten by Mrs Norris instead.)

Why does everything in this universe have to explode? Does Rowling share Michael Bay’s fetish?

Despite the sadism, they are obviously far superior to the Muggle version, because they contain more expensive toys and full-size non-paper hats. I wonder how these crackers work – Harry very conveniently gets a chess set a page after lamenting that he has to play with borrowed pieces, and in Prisoner of Azkaban, Snape’s cracker just happens to have a hat in it designed to torment him. Once again, I’m trying not to say ‘Dumbles did it for the lulz’, but I can’t think of another explanation for this.

Speaking of Dumbledore, he’s one of the few teachers specifically mentioned, sitting with Flitwick and wearing a flowery bonnet. Hagrid and McGonagall are the only other staff we’re told about – why wouldn’t Harry specifically mention Snape, and why wouldn’t the narrative try to subtly point out Quirrell? They’re the plot-relevant teachers, why aren’t they here? It’s nice to think Severus managed to escape, but he’s a head of house, I imagine he would have to stay put during the holidays unless the whole of Slytherin have implausibly gone home.

Hagrid and McGonagall are getting very drunk, by the way. Well, we’re specifically told Hagrid is, since he’s constantly calling for more wine (who from? House elves don’t exist yet and wouldn’t be serving at table if they did) and getting really red in the face. McGonagall must also be drunk, since when Hagrid kisses her she ‘giggled and blushed‘ instead of telling him to fuck off, and her silly hat is crooked. That’s very convenient, we wouldn’t want anyone pointing out that this is an unwanted sexual advance now would we.

This is just stupid. Why is there even wine in a school? Okay, I concede the Hogwarts staff probably need multiple stiff drinks to get them through a lot of working days in this place, but realistically there should not be alcohol on the premises except in their private rooms. Why is Dumbledore allowing his staff to get this drunk in the middle of the day in full view of the students? In a normal school this would lead to suspension pending an investigation and a disciplinary hearing, and the staff in question could lose their jobs.

Along with his chess set, Harry leaves the table with some luminous balloons and a ‘grow-your-own-warts kit‘. This is capitalised in the US version for no real reason. It’s also just a bit odd; why would you want to grow warts? Obviously it’s meant to sound vaguely witchy, but it’s still stupid.

He spends the rest of the day with the Weasleys, having a huge snowball fight outside and then eating until they’re all exhausted and over-full and can barely move. (Including crumpets again; this isn’t changed to muffins, though it doesn’t make sense they’d be eating either with turkey sandwiches and leftover Christmas desserts.) Except, apparently, for the twins and Percy, since they decide to steal his prefect badge and make him chase them. Everyone plays chess for a bit as well, and Harry loses to Ron; he blames Percy helping him for this, though I don’t see why that would make him lose. Percy seems pretty bright. I’d blame the fact that it’s a brand-new chess set, personally, and the pieces don’t know what they’re doing yet.

Harry says this is his best Christmas ever. Things exploded, live mice were let loose to probably die, he was sent suspicious anonymous gifts, his teachers got drunk and he watched the twins bullying their brother multiple times. Yep, sounds great… (In fairness to Harry, all he has for comparison is Christmas with the Dursleys, so it’s probably more accurate to say it’s his first Christmas than anything else. ‘Best ever’ doesn’t sound like it’d take much.)

It takes Harry until after everyone’s gone to bed to remember that he has a shiny thing that turns you invisible. What is wrong with this child? Magic is fucking awesome, why do you seem to be so bored by it? How do you forget about having the power of invisibility? Get excited about something that isn’t a phallic symbol for once!

He’s suddenly not full to bursting and almost asleep any more, now he’s finally remembered it. Ron’s already asleep, and Harry decides he doesn’t want to share – I could believe this of a normal child with Harry’s backstory, but he hasn’t seemed consistently selfish so far. He also doesn’t give any real reason, he just vaguely wants to channel Greta Garbo.

“Something held him back – his father’s Cloak – he felt that this time – the first time – he wanted to use it alone.”

Holy sentence fragments, Batman. It’s basically a magic bedsheet, Harry, it’s not something really personal like, I don’t know, your dad’s wand or something. [Loten, I’d really rather not think about Harry wanting to spend some time alone with his dad’s wand… it sounds bad enough when it’s just a bedsheet.] Snort. But whatever, at least you’ve decided to do something. Now, you’re in a magic castle with the power of invisibility, and the security is a joke so you can probably go pretty much anywhere. So what do you decide to do?

…Go to the library and look up Flamel.

Really? Are you possessed by Hermione?

I know this has already been set up as hugely important, but really, it’s not. Learning Flamel’s identity might – might – give you a clue as to what the mystery secret object is, but so what? It doesn’t matter what it is, what matters is that (you think) Snape is trying to steal it and willing to kill to do so. At least next book the Trio come up with a plan to actually investigate their suspect, instead of being sidetracked by irrelevant details.

Also, imagine how hilarious it would be if Harry tried to sneak into Severus’ rooms. I’m guessing he’d be stuck to the ceiling with Levicorpus and left there for several days before having to try and explain himself… okay, let’s be real, he’d never be seen again and the series would end here. Shame.

Well, whatever, at least he’s doing something. He still doesn’t seem at all excited, but I’ll take what I can get. He puts on the bedsheet and sneaks out; the Fat Lady (I really want to come up with another name for the poor portrait, this is obnoxious) asks who’s there when her portrait opens, but apparently has no form of alarm system, or just doesn’t give a damn.

“The library was pitch black and very eerie. Harry lit a lamp to see his way along the rows of books. The lamp looked as if it was floating along in mid-air, and even though Harry could feel his arm supporting it, the sight gave him the creeps.”

So put the cloak over it, genius. You should probably try to find out if it blocks light anyway. Also where did the lamp come from, and why weren’t you using it to get here? And, of course, why is the library not locked out of hours? This is the one thing I could see Hermione breaking curfew for, and a lot of the Ravenclaws, and honestly most students come exam time.

There’s a slight problem. Once Harry gets to the Restricted Section, he can’t read any of the titles; they’re all in foreign languages. (This is no longer the case by the next book. Maybe he just can’t read Ye Olde Textspeake. It seems pointless to let the older students access books they can’t understand – Hogwarts doesn’t teach any language classes.) Some of them don’t even have titles. Some of them are bloodstained, because reasons. And he thinks they’re whispering.

So instead of deciding that this is silly and going to see if there’s a card catalogue on Pince’s desk, or some sort of index system (or does he think she’s memorised the location of tens of thousands of books?) he just grabs a random book that looks shiny. Despite thinking these are Dark Arts books. This boy has a real problem with grabbing things that might be cursed, and it’s not going to get any better in future books. I blame his habit of running into walls.

The book screams.

No, this will never be explained. I think we’re meant to believe it’s a security system of some sort, but I don’t know how the book would know he hasn’t got a note giving him permission to look at it. And if it’s just this book in particular, why is it here? What’s the use of a book that gives off blood-curdling shrieks whenever you try to read it? And, of course, why is Harry even bothering to look at a book he can’t read?

Understandably, Harry panics, drops the book and runs for it. He knocks his lamp over on the way, and it goes out, so the rest of this scene takes place in pitch blackness and he probably runs into a few more walls along the way. (Very convenient that it went out, though, otherwise he may well have burnt down the library…)

Predictably he hears footsteps as soon as he starts running, and passes Filch in the doorway of the library. This does not make sense. We’ve just been told that the Restricted Section is right at the back of the very, very big library; if Harry heard footsteps back there, the person making them would be right on top of him, not just wandering towards the entrance which must be a few hundred yards away at least. Pay attention to this, there are a lot of things in this scene that don’t make sense.

Harry runs away for a little while, and finally stops and realises he has no idea where he is. There’s a suit of armour nearby and he knows there’s one of those near the kitchens, ‘but he must be five floors above there‘. The library is on the fifth floor? There’s no mention of him having gone up or down any stairs, just along random corridors (and into walls). Which is just as well, as it’s too dark for him to see whether or not any of the stairs have moved – you could easily fall to your death running around Hogwarts in the dark.

While he’s trying to figure this out, he hears Filch talking to someone.

” ‘You asked me to come directly to you, Professor, if anyone was wandering around at night, and somebody’s been in the library – Restricted Section.’ “

Inevitably, Snape’s voice answers.

Now, even if Harry’s been running in circles for ages, I don’t see that enough time has passed for the elderly and unfit Filch to have gone to get Snape, brought him up here, and then started this conversation. Instead of, for example, following the loud footsteps of someone running around like a crazy person. It sounds like they’ve just met nearby, but in that case why is Snape there? If they’re five floors above the kitchens, they’re at least that many floors above the dungeons. In a huge castle the size of Hogwarts, there’s only so far I’m willing to stretch coincidence, and I can’t think even Snape would bother with his usual random patrols during the holidays when most of the students aren’t there (he’s also not naive enough to expect any of them to be trying to sneak into the library, of all places).

Of course, there’s also the question of whether Snape would actually have bothered to tell Filch. Assuming he does want to enlist people to keep an eye on Quirrell is a big assumption in itself, since he’s quite capable of doing so on his own, but if he does want allies, how likely is it that he’s going to pick the one person in the castle who can’t use magic? And who isn’t fit enough to keep up with anyone? House elves still don’t exist but there are ghosts and sentient pictures. He would also specify who he’s actually looking for. So far apparently Snape’s ordered the librarian to tell him if anyone asks questions about anything and Filch if anyone is out of bed. He’s a busy man, I don’t see that he has time for this sort of nonsense.

More tellingly, while Harry says he sees Filch and Snape come around the corner towards him, there’s no description. He’ll encounter both of them at night at least a couple of times later, and mention what they’re wearing and what they’re doing and what their expressions are like, but here there’s nothing.

He tells us the corridor – in this giant castle – is so narrow that a thin man walking down it will crash into a small skinny boy, so he can’t just avoid them. (This sounds like a servant’s passage, which he should not have been able to run into from the main corridors and should not have classrooms opening off it like the one we’re about to see, and if it’s so narrow why is there a suit of armour in it? Does everyone have to try and squeeze past it?) And he can’t go back the way he came because reasons, apparently – it doesn’t seem to occur to him. But there is a door right beside him that’s slightly ajar, so he squeezes inside, and Filch and Snape walk right past without bothering to check it.

So let’s review. Harry heard footsteps where there couldn’t be any and ran off. He got very badly disorientated, and when he stopped to try to figure out where he was, in an improbably tiny corridor, he heard two people who really would not actually be there talking about something that isn’t likely to be true. He apparently only has one possible escape route. This escape route is not checked by the people allegedly searching for an intruder despite it being very obvious.

I told you this didn’t make any sense whatsoever. Just wait, I have an explanation that rather worryingly makes this entire chapter completely logical and realistic.

Harry’s in a disused classroom, with desks stacked against the walls and so on. Directly opposite the unlocked and half open door is a gigantic ceiling-height mirror which apparently nobody walking past has ever noticed before.

” There was an inscription carved around the top: Erised stra ehru oyt ube cafru oyt on wohsi.

I don’t know why this is written backwards, per se. Mirror writing isn’t just reversing the order of the letters. Presumably Rowling couldn’t come up with a clever name if the letters were backwards, or else the publishers couldn’t be bothered to reproduce true mirror writing. Despite that, it’s not bad. Though as we’ll see, it’s not accurate.

We won’t be told until the end of this chapter, but as we all know this is the Mirror of Erised, which apparently shows you the thing you most desperately want to see at the time of looking into it.

Harry goes to look in the mirror because he’s still wearing the bedsheet (that he unaccountably didn’t trip over at any point while running around in the dark) and he wants to see his lack of reflection to confirm that he’s invisible. He wants to see nothing. It specifically tells us he wants to see nothing. This is important.

He does not, in fact, see nothing, despite that being what he wanted to see. Nor does he see anything to tell him who Nicolas Flamel is, despite the fact that he’s spent every spare moment for almost two months trying to discover that. Nor does he see what Snape’s after, which he’s been obsessing over for even longer. So therefore we have to conclude that actually this mirror doesn’t show you what you most want to see at all.

Instead, Harry sees a crowd of people (not just two, as the movie claims). Understandably, he nearly screams in shock and automatically spins around to see them, and when he can’t he puts out his hands to see if he can feel them. Once he realises they’re not actually there and are only in the mirror, he takes another look.

The closest reflection to his own is of a pretty woman with dark red hair and Harry’s bright green eyes; she’s smiling and crying at the same time.


Fuck off, Lily.

Why is she crying? This is apparently from Harry’s head; why would he want to see his mother crying?

Next to her is the reflection of a man wearing glasses, with dark messy hair.

Fuck off, James.

Harry correctly identifies them as his parents, and as he looks at the rest of the people in the mirror he picks out enough familiar features to decide that these are all his relatives.

Why are they all dead? There’s no sign of his aunt or his cousin, and for all that he hates them they’re still his relatives; there’s no mention of anyone resembling either of them either, and they’re the only ones he’d recognise. We know from bloody Pottermore that implausibly James’ parents both died of dragon pox before Harry was born, so he wouldn’t know them, but what about Lily and Petunia’s parents? They are never mentioned anywhere and apparently don’t exist; presumably they’re also implausibly dead, but what are the chances that Harry lost all four grandparents before he was born?

Another problem with this is that there’s nothing in Harry’s head to generate any of these images from. Even if, despite all evidence to the contrary, he actually does want to see his family at this precise moment, he has no idea what any of them look like. He won’t get any photos of his parents for a few more chapters yet and we were specifically told that the Dursleys have no pictures up except of them and their son. Harry was only a year old and has no memory of the Potters. He has been told that Lily had green eyes and that James looked a bit like him, but that’s not enough to create his entire family tree out of nowhere. How can the mirror show you things you don’t know exist, when it apparently works from your intentions and emotions? (One potential explanation could have been that it was just generating images of people that share features with him to fit his mental picture of what a family would be, rather than people who actually existed, but if that were the case Harry would have noticed later when shown actual pictures of Lily and James, and he never does.)

If it’s making things up that Harry can’t possibly know about, come to that, why isn’t Sirius in this reflection? He’s technically a blood relative, the Blacks and Potters are very distantly related, and he’s Harry’s godfather. Harry not knowing that is apparently not an obstacle, and we know from the first chapter that sadly Sirius does in fact exist at this point. Don’t get me wrong, I’m in no hurry to deal with him, but his absence doesn’t make sense.

Also, it’s still pitch black. For my own sanity let’s assume the mirror glows. That still doesn’t explain why nobody else has seen it but I don’t care, this chapter is taking forever. Harry stares at them for a long time, possibly several hours, then realises he ought to go to bed and does so.

We’ve already established that Harry has quite a lot of urgent desires at the moment, none of which the mirror saw fit to show him, but let’s assume for a minute that we believe the narrative’s insistence that secretly all he actually wants is faaaaaaaaaaamily.

I think I’m willing to buy a neglected child projecting his desire for an actual family onto dead bioparents, but there are still all sorts of unfortunate implications in glorifying biofamily over all else. Just because someone shares your genetic makeup doesn’t make them automatically worthy of being your family.

More to the point, if we believe the narrative there’s literally no adult in Harry’s life who’s ever been nice to him, except Hagrid. He’s not even spoken to Saint Dumbles yet. if he sees any adult in the mirror at all it should be Hagrid as pseudoparent, rather than people he has no memory of, and maybe Ron as adoptive brother and perhaps by extension a few more Weasleys.

Seeing his ‘real’ family sort of works on an angst level, orphaned Harry with no family etc., etc., but it’s too out of left field for me. He’s never thought about his parents before this, even though people have mentioned them to him repeatedly. He never wonders if they’d be proud of him, or if they liked the same subjects he likes – McGonagall told him James played Quidditch but he’s never wondered about that either. He’s never asked Hagrid what they were like. When Molly sent him one of his first ever Christmas presents he didn’t wonder if his mother would have been like her. He almost never thinks about them. And he never will – he rarely thinks about them at all for the rest of the series, even after finding out more about them more or less by accident, and never asks any of the Order about them outside of a single bullying incident. So it simply can’t be his greatest desire, even without all these other things on his mind that he’d have wanted to see.

By the next morning Harry’s decided that this mirror shows people their families, for whatever reason. Frankly at this point that makes more sense than the canon explanation. When he tells Ron about it, he asks his friend to come with him, because he wants to see Ron’s family too. This is actually quite sweet. If somewhat redundant, since as Ron points out he can come and visit over the summer and meet them all anyway.

Ron adds that it’s a shame Harry didn’t find out about Flamel…

” He had almost forgotten about Flamel. It didn’t seem very important any more. Who  cared what the threeheaded dog was guarding? What did it matter if Snape stole it, really?
‘Are you all right?’ said Ron. ‘You look odd.’ “

Yeah, in addition to working very incoherently, the mirror is also apparently insanely addictive. But only in certain cases, i.e. right at this moment. Harry is utterly hooked to a sinister extent after one glimpse of a family he’s given no indication that he cares about; he’s forgotten all about his obsession of the past two months, he’s forgotten about the attempt to murder him, he’s almost forgetting to eat and he even looks noticeably different after just a couple of hours. This is creepy, at least if you’re reading for the first time and don’t realise that it’s never going to happen again.

The boys put on the bedsheet and go looking for the mirror the next night, but Harry can’t find it, and they wander around freezing corridors for almost an hour. I know Hogwarts is a little confusing, but can there really be that many passages containing classrooms near the library that they don’t already know? Also, why is there no sign of Filch or Snape this time? They were apparently patrolling on Christmas night, but not Boxing Day night?

They get there eventually, and Harry drags Ron over to look at all the happy dead people, but Ron can’t see anything. After a bit of shuffling they end up with just Ron in front of it and Harry out of the way, and all Harry can see is Ron’s reflection, but that’s not what Ron’s seeing. He sees himself, older, wearing the Head Boy badge ‘like Bill used to‘ and holding both the House Cup and the Quidditch Cup, and something unexplained that means he’s Quidditch captain too.

I really like this, it ties back to what Ron said about his brothers in an earlier chapter and it makes a lot of sense for his character – or, rather, for what we’ve been told his character is. I really, really wish the books had kept to this; this version of Ron would have been so much more interesting and likeably flawed. But, like everything else, it’s pretty much going to vanish over the rest of the series and he’ll turn into just another entitled bratty teen with about as much nuanced depth as a muddy puddle.

It’s worth noting that Ron never actually tries to make this vision happen. He doesn’t go out of his way to try to earn points for his house. He never tries out for the Quidditch team until the year his best mate is captain. He never tries to stay out of trouble and act the way a future prefect ought to, and is only eventually given the badge because Dumbles decided not to give it to Harry and the other Gryffindor boys don’t count as people. As I said, this version of Ron just vanishes.

Ron’s wondering how the mirror works, does it show the future maybe? Harry points out sensibly that it can’t because his entire family is implausibly dead, and then starts a fight because he wants to spend more hours staring at them and Ron’s not done yet. The noise finally attracts attention and they hear something outside, and shut up and scramble under the bedsheet; it’s Mrs Norris, who we shall note was not present last night with her master.

The boys wonder if the cloak works on cats. Nope, sorry lads. I’ll buy that it means she can’t see them, but she can definitely hear and smell them just fine; we know the cloak doesn’t block sounds, and I can’t imagine it blocks scent, though I don’t think that’s ever confirmed. Anyway, she displays usual cat behaviour and gets bored and wanders off – in defiance of how she’s meant to normally behave – and Ron forcibly drags Harry back to bed before Filch shows up.

The next day Harry doesn’t want to do anything, no matter what Ron suggests, and spends the whole day thinking about the mirror while Ron tries to warn him off.

Why isn’t Ron addicted? His reaction is pretty much ‘yeah, seen the magic mirror, it was kind of neat, let’s go do something else now’. His first look lasted about as long as Harry’s did, and that was enough to get Harry so addicted he spent most of the rest of the night staring. No, this is never going to be explained. During the finale other people are going to look into the mirror, and they’re not going to glaze over and stare vacantly at it for hours either. Just Harry.

Harry goes back the next night, of course, and for all Ron’s attempts to warn him off he apparently makes no real effort to stop him. I know children don’t tattle on their friends, so he wouldn’t go to a teacher, but all he’d have had to do was tell Fred and George that Harry has insomnia and wouldn’t it be funny to jump on him if he tried to go for a walk, then hide the cloak. Problem solved.

This time Harry doesn’t get lost, and he’s just sat down for another healthy dose of staring-at-dead-people when a voice says, “Back again, Harry?” and he pretty much wets himself. (Why on earth did Harry take off the cloak? He can see his visions just fine while he’s wearing it.)

The voice is Dumbledore, of course. He chides Harry for not noticing him, then goes on to imply that he’s been watching invisibly for several nights (creeeeeeepy) which means there’s no way Harry could have noticed him anyway. Lovely, it’s the first time Dumbles has ever spoken to him and he’s gaslighting him. Also, Harry was wearing his bedsheet when going to and from this room – how did Dumbledore know where to look for him? We wonders, yes precious, we wonders…

Dumbles goes on to tell us what this mirror supposedly does, though as I’ve already pointed out, that can’t be right. He uses a rather flawed example, too:

“The happiest man on earth would be able to use the Mirror of Erised like a normal  mirror, that is, he would look into it and see himself exactly as he is.”

Apparently in this universe it’s impossible for happy people to want anything, and being happy means not wanting anything to ever change.

He goes on to tell us that ‘this mirror will give us neither knowledge or truth.’

Okay, but that’s wrong. It clearly does give knowledge, self-knowledge is still knowledge. And since it’s apparently created perfectly accurate replicas of James and Lily, that gives Harry both knowledge and truth, since until now he didn’t know what they looked like.

Also, the mirror is a troll. ‘Men have wasted away before it, entranced by what they have seen, or been driven mad, not knowing if what it shows is real or even possible.’ So, yes, addictive, we already knew that – but why only certain people? Explain please. Related point – just men? Are women (and Ron) immune to this addiction, or are we using the unnecessarily gender-biased language instead of saying ‘people’?

Dumbles finishes by saying the mirror’s going to be moved tomorrow and he doesn’t want Harry to go looking for it again, and I’d like to draw everyone’s attention to this line in particular:

” ‘If you ever do run across it, you will now be prepared.’ “

We’ll get to that in a moment.

Right now I would like to point out that addiction really doesn’t work that way. Harry is not going to be magically un-addicted just because the mirror has been moved. He wouldn’t even eat over the last couple of days, it was that bad; he’d have spent every night for the rest of the year hunting for the mirror. Except, of course, that would inconvenience the plot, so in fact Harry is actually suddenly all better and will never give the mirror another thought until the finale, when he’ll be completely unaffected.

This whole sub-plot has been ridiculously rushed. It would have made much more sense if Harry had found the mirror earlier in the year – maybe the Trio and Neville could have found it while trying to get away from Filch, before running into Fluffy? Or maybe Ron and Harry stumble on it while looking for Hermione on Halloween? – and had spent the odd night every now and then creeping back to stare at it, if the addiction was a lot milder than it seems. This could have been happening over several chapters, until he finally gets caught now and has to stop it because the mirror isn’t there any more; maybe he could go and look for it every so often, but not find it, and eventually stop caring so much and give up.

I’d also like to know how Dumbles manages to move the mirror to its new home. We know where it ends up and there are a lot of things in the way. More on that in a moment.

The chapter ends with a completely irrelevant discussion of socks – Harry somehow gets the nerve to ask Dumbledore what he sees in the mirror; this is a good question, but he was terrified of getting into trouble when he was caught and at this point he doesn’t know Dumbledore at all, so it’s a bit odd he’d ask him something so personal. Dumbledore says he sees himself with some socks, because Rowling has some sort of sock fetish according to the rest of the series, and sends Harry to bed. Harry does, at least, doubt that Dumbledore gave him a truthful answer shortly afterwards…

(I think it’s a metaphor for sock puppets.)

And just to end this chapter on a very creepy note, Harry has to move Scabbers off his pillow before he can sleep. Ick.

Okay, time to try to explain all this. Let’s just review the key points.

Point one, the fact that there’s no reason for the mirror to be here. It should have been installed in the final room of the maze before any of the other defences were added around it.

Point two, the way that Harry found the mirror was horribly contrived and could not have been mere coincidence on any world – except possibly the Discworld, which runs on narrativium. He was clearly being herded to that particular room. (Were Snape and Filch really there at all, or just illusions?)

Point three, the vision Harry sees is not what he ought to have seen if the mirror works the way we’re told it does.

Point four, Dumbledore isn’t explaining things at all well, and has been aware of Harry’s addiction since it first happened, and makes a point of telling us that now Harry’s seen it he’ll be fine if he ‘happens’ to see it again.

Point five, Dumbledore has been watching him for several nights even though he was invisible when going to the room, and therefore knew where to watch for him in advance.

So, basically, Dumbledore set this entire thing up, presumably to get Harry’s mirror-addiction out of the way before it could be a problem and to plant the seeds of ‘but faaaaaamily’ as a reason for pretty much everything.

That is the only possible way to make sense of most of what’s happened throughout this chapter. Though it still doesn’t explain why Harry’s the only one to be addicted, out of the at least five people who will have looked at it by the end of the book (I’m assuming Dumbles has actually looked) or how Dumbledore knew that was going to be an issue. Or how that addiction now magically goes away – honestly I’m inclined to say Dumbledore engineered that too, though I can’t think of a reason why except to just get Harry used to being manipulated.

If anyone has a non-Illuminati theory that explains all the wild inconsistencies and implausible ‘coincidences’ here, please feel free to share.

I don’t know why this chapter is even here, except as a mixture of foreshadowing and filler, not that it does terribly well at either. It’s not relevant to the finale, since Harry doesn’t learn anything about the mirror that will be of use later – if he remembered this conversation then and realised how to use the mirror to his advantage, then I wouldn’t have a problem, but he doesn’t. Maybe it’s just to get Dumbles and Harry to meet face to face and set up the weird absolutely not student-teacher dynamic they’ll have for the rest of the series? Because otherwise it’s only here for a combination of angst and showing off the mirror.

Our current spell count has not changed: Hermione, 7. Ron, 1. Harry, 0.

Next time, more tantalising glimpses of a plot somewhere in the mess. Though I suppose I ought to force out another Silkworm post first…

And if you missed it, Mitchell published a post shortly before this one that you really ought to check out.


Posted by on February 13, 2016 in loten, mitchell


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Pottermore: other wizarding schools

The next chapter of Philosopher’s Stone is in progress. In the meantime, have some decade-overdue attempts at worldbuilding. Continuing my new policy of avoiding the mess that Pottermore has become, you get Tor’s summary of it instead:

To summarise, Rowling has named four more of the eleven wizarding schools allegedly serving the entire planet.

Castelobruxo, in Brazil – according to the comments this is very dodgy linguistics and should more properly be Castelo dos Bruxos, though either way it just translates to ‘witch castle’ which is really boring. Looks like a ruin in the rainforest and has random magical creatures stopping Muggles trying to explore it. Serves the whole continent of South America (current population around 388 million, for reference). They’re good at herbology and magizoology.

Uagadoo, in Uganda. Presumably serves all of Africa (current population over a billion) but this isn’t explicitly stated. Seems to have its own magic system that doesn’t work along any Potterverse rules:

“Instead of owls, Dream Messengers leave tokens with chosen pupils; African witches and wizards practice wandless magic, opting instead for using fingers and hand gestures; and students have performed synchronized transformations into elephants and cheetahs, panicking other Animagi.”

Good at astronomy, alchemy and self-transfiguration. Apparently all magic originated in Africa too, which makes it even weirder that their magic doesn’t exist anywhere else. What the hell is a Dream Messenger?

Mahoutokoro, in Japan. More linguistic failure, apparently this collection of syllables simply isn’t possible in Japanese and should be spelled slightly differently according to someone in Tor’s comments, but I know precisely zip about it so I’m staying out of it (also, at best the name translates as ‘magic place’, which is perhaps even worse than ‘witch castle’). Random jade palace on an uninhabited island. They take children from 7 years old as day students who are flown back and forth on giant birds. Pupils wear colour-changing robes that show what they’re studying and how well they’re doing at it, so clearly they have a horrific bullying problem. No idea what they’re good at, but they have a Quidditch team, so probably ‘bugger all’.

Ilvermorny, in the USA. Why the American school has such a thoroughly Scottish name is not explained. Implausibly serves the entire continent of North America, population 528 million. Apparently Native American tribal magic was very important to the founding of it – hence the Scottish name, clearly… – and Rowling refuses to say where it is except ‘not in New York’. They don’t seem to be any good at anything either.

Mitchell is a masochist and chose to read the actual Pottermore articles, linked in the Tor summary, and he’ll throw some of the best/worst bits at you now.

Let’s have some fun with quotes. From here:

The wand is a European invention, and while African witches and wizards have adopted it as a useful tool in the last century, many spells are cast simply by pointing the finger or through hand gestures. This gives Uagadou students a sturdy line of defence when accused of breaking the International Statute of Secrecy (‘I was only waving, I never meant his chin to fall off’).

Silliness over consistency yet again, which I suppose is consistent with Rowling’s writing over the years but still disappointing. This is really not how ‘wandless magic’ has been depicted in the rest of her series.

There is also this:

Much (some would say all) magic originated in Africa, and Uagadou graduates are especially well versed in Astronomy, Alchemy and Self-Transfiguration.

I can’t decide whether or not I think this is horribly racist (it seems sketchy to me considering various Magical Negro tropes and/or Backwards Superstitious Africa tropes, but at the same time ‘humanity originated in Africa and therefore so did magic’ shouldn’t be objectionable…), but regardless there’s something very odd about the African school’s specialities being alchemy and astronomy when those are very thoroughly European/Western concepts.

From here:

the school offers very popular exchange programmes for European students* who wish to study the magical flora and fauna of South America

It would’ve been nice to have some indication in the actual stories that things like this existed (maybe this is what happened to the students like Sally-Anne Perks that Rowling forgot existed?). That asterisk indicates the following charming footnote:

* It was one of these trips that Bill Weasley’s parents could not afford, causing his disappointed penfriend at Castelobruxo to send him something nasty in the post.

As I said, charming. (Loten adds this is in fact canon, Ron mentions it at some point; I believe it was a cursed hat that made Bill’s ears shrivel up, or something.)

And whilst we are at least vaguely on the subject of quidditch, the article about the Japanese school tells us that they were taught the game

centuries ago by a band of foolhardy Hogwarts students who were blown off course during an attempt to circumnavigate the globe on wholly inadequate broomsticks

I’m too lazy to look it up, but the sport isn’t much more than a few centuries old according to Quidditch Through the Ages and she tried to depict a timeline of developments in the game in that book, so it could be interesting to see what she said the game would have been like at a time this could have happened. And then we get this gem

Every member of the Japanese Quidditch team and the current Champion’s League winners (the Toyohashi Tengu) attributes their prowess to the gruelling training they were given at Mahoutokoro, where they practise over a sometimes turbulent sea in stormy conditions, forced to keep an eye out not only for the Bludgers but also for planes from the Muggle airbase on a neighbouring island

We’re really returning to form here, this is the same stuff we got in the first book with Draco and Ron boasting about nearly encountering hang-gliders and helicopters and things. It’s still just as stupid; I understand what she’s trying to do to some degree, but if you want to maintain a hidden world you probably shouldn’t write its inhabitants as being so completely unconcerned about being seen, and imply that in essence the entire population of the world are unobservant idiots.

Relatively unrelated, but someone has already edited the Wikipedia article of the volcanic island Rowling chose as the location of the Japanese school to add that information. I looked it up because I wanted to see how old the island was and whether or not it would be completely uninhabitable; it looks like a pretty barren place, but it’s at least vaguely plausible I suppose.

Wasn’t that entertaining, boys and girls. The phrase ‘quit while you’re ahead’ has never been so apt. Tor implies we’ll eventually see details of the last four schools; presumably one in Australia or New Zealand, one in China, maybe one around the southern Mediterranean (Italy, Greece or Turkey perhaps) and one out in the Pacific somewhere? This all just makes it even more ridiculous that Britain gets a school to itself, with our population of 64 million.

And why does the entire wizarding world just plain suck at naming things? [Well, it’s a natural consequence of the fact that Rowling does, at least most of the time.]

Have fun discussing this latest mess, the next chapter of our adventure will be done… sometime next week, I should think. See you all then.


Posted by on February 4, 2016 in loten, mitchell


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