Sorry everyone. Dual bouts of flu threw our schedule off and then real life happened. Hopefully we’ll get back on track now. Nothing notable about the picture this time, so let’s jump straight in, shall we?
Tag Archives: rowling
Content warning for child abuse and self harm. Also any chapter featuring Dobby is probably going to involve discussion of slavery and possibly mental illness. But first can we just talk about this?
Where do you even start. I mean, this thing is clearly coded female – look at the lips (and the weird fur suggests eyelashes). It’s also wearing very fancy shoes and carrying an only slightly less fancy hat. What was the chapter artist reading when they did these? Because it certainly wasn’t the actual books.
Anyway. Post under the cut. Read the rest of this entry »
Those of you who have been paying attention will have spotted this post that went live yesterday morning, containing photographs of notes taken by Mitchell in the cinema as we watched Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (IMDB). The release date allowed us just enough time to see it together before he goes back home tomorrow. Now we’ve had time to put this together, enjoy our full rambling review. Spoilers later.
It probably won’t surprise any of you that Mitchell and I had pretty different views of the film by the end. We both picked out the same issues with it – spoiler, there were a lot of issues with it – but I’m far more willing to overlook most of them than he is. I’m more forgiving of bad writing in films than I am in books, too. Though we both hated the ending.
[I don’t actually think we disagree on much of anything, except how much we’re willing to forgive. I found this film utterly infuriating overall, while Loten enjoyed it, but when we started comparing complaints we found they were pretty much identical.]
If you go into this film with the right mindset, it’s mostly a lot of fun. Just don’t expect miracles. A lot of it makes no sense, there are some bad plotholes, and a lot of it is wildly inconsistent even by the already inconsistent rules of the Potterverse. But it’s pretty, and mostly silly in a good way, and has some cute moments.
[Here’s a quick attempt at a spoiler-free review for anyone who wants that. Overall, this is the sort of film that can be mindless fun if you like that sort of thing, but definitely don’t forget to switch off your brain before watching or you’ll be heavily disappointed. The core conceit of “absentminded zoologist loses magical monsters in New York City, needs to track them down, chaotic shenanigans ensue” is reasonably fun and the creatures are visually interesting (and the way they move is mostly well done too, the CGI is pretty good). Those parts are mostly fine, and we’d have liked the film much better if they’d just stuck to that (I’d probably have still complained about it being pointless, but that’s really just a matter of CGI slapstick not being my genre). But they decided it had to have an overarching plot beyond that, so they shoehorned in political intrigue and personal drama (and cringe-inducing “romances”) and very forced connections to Grindelwald and so on, and those things… just didn’t really work, and created so many issues that could have been easily avoided.]
Spoilers below the cut: Read the rest of this entry »
We saw “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” yesterday. We’ll have a full review for you all later, once we have some time to put it together, but thought it might be fun to give you this first. I attempted (do note: attempted) to take notes while watching, and I took some photos of my notebook, so here’s my initial reactions to some things. Some of it is pretty indecipherable and I’m sorry about that (wrote over myself a few times because I couldn’t see what I was doing), but honestly that’s some of the fun too.
Spoiler warning, although honestly, you probably won’t be spoilt on much without serious effort because this is a cryptic mess. [We’re writing this post the morning after seeing the film and we can’t figure out some of this…]
Despite the world going to Hell in a handbasket, life goes on, at least for now, so let’s do this. As you may know if you happened to see our post aptly entitled WHAT THE FUCK JUST HAPPENED yesterday, Mitchell and I are currently in the same country. Bore da to you all.
We didn’t have a plan for this post, particularly, so it’ll be even more rambling than usual for us. Our method, such as it was, was just to watch the film together while we each took notes and occasionally paused to talk about things. You’re welcome to go watch the film now to refresh your memories before reading this if you like. We’ll wait.
I’m also going to attempt to learn to use ‘read more’ tags properly because this post is going to be ridiculously long. If it doesn’t work, which it probably won’t because I suck, please scroll down to see our other recent non-HP posts if you missed them earlier. Read the rest of this entry »
Okay, so, this will (hopefully) be the last post that’s unreasonably delayed. Here’s some personal waffle, feel free to skip to the start of the chapter if you don’t care (since I talk about this every time).
I’m a week away from finally moving into my own place, meaning I will be living according to my own routine and not my family’s, meaning it will be much easier for the two of us to find mutual time to set up the hours-long sessions these chapters require. So future books should be tackled far more frequently.
That said, after this post – which is the final chapter of this book; let there be much rejoicing – you’re still going to have to wait a while, because the next post we want to do will cover the film. Which we won’t be watching until November. Because reasons. After that we’ll do some sort of conclusion to Philosopher’s Stone, and once we start Chamber of Secrets things should progress in a much more timely fashion.
In the meantime, thank you for your patience. Now, on with the show…
Chapter Seventeen: The Man With Two Faces
The final chapter is represented by a picture of Quirrell wearing a polo shirt and holding a ribbon that is not connected to his ‘turban’ in any way. Said turban appears to have an ear in it.
My first thought on considering the title was that it was a reference to Janus, the Roman god with two faces, the god of beginnings and endings, time, doorways and lots of other Meaningfully Symbolic things.
My second thought was that it refers to Dumbledore, since we’ve already seen that he’s fairly two-faced and this chapter makes that so, so much worse.
Then again, it could well be both. From the Wikipedia article on Janus:
While the fundamental nature of Janus is debated, in most modern scholars’ view the god’s functions may be seen as being organized around a single principle: presiding over all beginnings and transitions, whether abstract or concrete, sacred or profane.
We’ve talked before about how bizarre it is for a school headmaster to be overseeing so much of this world and how he’s universally worshipped. And the painfully bad play Mitchell heroically struggled through tells us that people will later curse in his name as if he were literally a deity.
Of course, we know the chapter title is actually meant to be completely literal and not a reference to anything interesting at all. More on this later. When we last left our hero, he’d just walked into the final boss room and found that the person in there wasn’t who he expected.
The big dramatic reveal is that it’s Quirrell. And Harry intuitively grasps that this means Quirrell must be the bad guy, thus effectively spoiling the ending for the readers who hadn’t already guessed. I would think a more realistic reaction would be for him to be very confused, look around to see if there’s anyone else there, maybe even ask where Snape is or mention the Stone. He knows Quirrell and Snape are on opposite sides – one of the few things he got right – so if he’s convinced Snape is the bad guy, he should be assuming Quirrell is an ally (and in fact did assume something similar when he saw the two arguing; Harry et al already believe the two are working against each other).
But no, plot powers have activated and he knows this is the villain. Misdirection here could have been interesting and would have been an intelligent thing for the bad guys to do, so obviously it won’t happen. Instead, Harry just stammers that he thought it would be Snape, and Quirrell laughs at him and comments that yes, it’s lucky Severus is so dramatic because otherwise someone might have paid attention to facts instead of appearances. Quirrell also mockingly imitates his previous stuttering and twitching, confirming that he was faking it, which is somewhat gross and ableist.
Harry is incapable of letting go of thoughts once they penetrate his skull, and says blankly that Snape tried to kill him. No, idiot, that was me, says Quirrell, who then proceeds to spend the rest of the page and most of the rest of the scene monologuing about how evil he is and explaining the plot to Harry. An intelligent villain would have greeted Harry as soon as he stepped into the room, explained that he’d just driven Snape away and asked for help finding the stone in case Snape gets back before Dumbledore does. Particularly since said villain is ostensibly a Ravenclaw being controlled by a Slytherin. Instead, we get… Donald Trump, essentially, needing to get credit for literally everything ever and demanding recognition of how clever he is. Harry’s not even asking questions, he’s just expressing confusion; there is nothing in this scene to trigger most of Quirrell’s several self-absorbed monologues. Even if for some reason Quirrell doesn’t want to try and pretend to be innocent, he has a task to do and should either be forcing Harry to help him or making him shut up (killing him would be the smart thing to do, but this is not a smart book) rather than expositing at him.
I understand that Rowling wants to fill in the gaps and tell the readers what’s been happening all book, and that’s fine, but it shouldn’t happen now. This is the final showdown, the big dramatic climax of the book. Don’t stop what little action we’ve had for long speeches. Let Dumbledore explain it all afterwards, that would be far less annoying than the crap he actually says and wouldn’t utterly ruin the flow of this. God knows she does just that often enough for the rest of the series, and obnoxious though it is it’s still better than this. Yes, villains do explain themselves to the heroes in a lot of stories, and it’s almost always really stupid and very bad writing. The exceptions come when the villain has a specific reason for telling the hero, usually leading up to revealing that the hero has been betrayed or that the villain has been misrepresented or something. That’s not the case here and Quirrell has absolutely no reason for telling Harry any of this, and plenty of reasons not to, not least of which being that he’s on a time limit.
Anyway, long story short, Hermione knocked Quirrell over at the match and broke his line of sight on the way to get to Snape. I mentioned at the time that someone should have noticed the curse ending before she’d done anything and that there was no reason Quirrell couldn’t have sat up and carried on doing it. Neither of those things are explained now, nor does Harry have any reaction. Quirrell adds that Snape was countering him, which Harry questions but still has no emotional response to (and never will), and explains that that’s why Snape referreed the following match, though it was pointless because it was fear of Dumbledore that stopped Quirrell trying again and all it did was make all the other teachers hate him for trying to sabotage Gryffindor.
Okay, I know everyone in the wizarding world is brainwashed at birth to believe that literally everything is related to Quidditch, but would every single staff member have thought that’s what was happening? Even the ones who know about the Stone?
“And what a waste of time, when after all that, I’m going to kill you tonight.”
You could have killed him at literally any point all year. Just kept him back after class to talk about some problem with his homework, given him a slow-acting poison, wiped his memory and sent him on his way to drop dead a couple of days later. Or hidden yourself for the next Quidditch match, sniped him out of the air with a killing curse and run away. You could have killed him a few moments ago while he was staring at you dumbly wondering why you weren’t Snape. You could be killing him now instead of talking to him.
The only reason the Order ever won is that Voldemort is really, really stupid. Which is odd, because as young Tom Riddle (in later books) he seemed reasonably clever; presumably making Horcruxes causes brain damage. Is the soul part of the brain? More questions we’ll never get answers to. Or else when we get there we’ll find out Riddle wasn’t actually all that bright and just seemed that way when contrasted to his later persona.
Quirrell then makes some fancy magic ropes, ties Harry up and tells him he’s too nosy to live (don’t be ridiculous, unless it’s about him Harry couldn’t care less and only stumbles on plot clues by accident) and monologues some more. Instead of just killing him already, or at least using something like the Body-Bind. He doesn’t gag Harry, who instead of trying a spell or screaming for help asks helpful prompting questions to keep story time going.
You know what… Spell count: Hermione, 11. Quirrell, 2. Ron, 1. Draco, 1. Neville, 1. Harry, 0. Let’s see how silly this gets. (That’s one point for magic ropes and one for cursing Harry’s broom. We don’t know what he actually did to the troll here, or what he was doing to the unicorns, and the harp only plays itself in the film.) Interestingly, Quirrell only uses wandless non-verbal magic throughout the entire book – he gestures, snaps his fingers, claps his hands. He never says any magic words and there’s no sign of a wand.
We still have nothing from Harry at this point. No thoughts, no emotions, no nothing. He should be terrified, since a wizard has tied him up and announced that he’s going to kill him. He should also be worried about the Stone, and still a bit confused, and maybe feeling a little betrayed. Anger would be nice, or trying to think of something he can do – he’s not even pulling at his ropes, let alone trying to think of spells. I’d like to see some guilt over Snape, or at least wondering about the whole saving his life thing, but this is Harry Potter.
Anyway, Quirrell let the troll in at Halloween. Apparently he has a ‘special gift‘ with trolls, and he refers proudly to what he did to the one that was part of the defences. You knocked it unconscious, mate. Ron managed that after less than two months of magical education. It’s not much of an achievement. And where has he been getting these trolls anyway? He tried to go off to the third floor, but Snape followed him straight there because it was an extremely obvious diversion and he was already suspicious. Quirrell sounds rather annoyed:
“Not only did my troll fail to beat you to death, that three-headed dog didn’t even manage to bite Snape’s leg off properly.”
That’s because you’re a rubbish villain. Stop trying to take credit for things that had nothing to do with you. (He really is Trump.) He then tells Harry to keep quiet – but doesn’t use magic or even a handkerchief to enforce this – because he has to figure out what the hell the Mirror of Erised is doing in here and where the Stone is. I like the sentiment of Harry’s unimportance, and it’s quite funny, but it makes no sense for Quirrell not to have killed him already or to have suggested it to his master. Or at least to knock him out, if we accept the book’s insistence that the bad guys think Harry’s super-important.
‘This mirror is the key to finding the Stone,’ Quirrell murmured, tapping his way around the frame. ‘Trust Dumbledore to come up with something like this … but he’s in London … I’ll be far away by the time he gets back …’
There are a few points I want to bring up here. One is Quirrell’s implication that he’s going after the Stone now because Dumbles is away and it’s safe to do so. That’s all very well, it makes sense on the surface, but since Quirrell is the one who set up the diversion in the first place why didn’t he do it weeks ago? This also further invalidates Harry’s earlier panic, which shouldn’t have triggered until the children learned that Dumbledore was gone. The timing of everything here is so incoherent that one of us commented it’s a little like a two year old doing a jigsaw puzzle – all the pieces are here, but they’re being assembled in completely the wrong order.
And how does Quirrell know the mirror is important, or connected to the Stone? It would be more in character for Dumbledore to just be trolling. Also, Dumbledore hasn’t been the one stopping Quirrell this entire time – Snape has. If anything, this plan should have been aimed at getting Snape out of the way (not that he’d have fallen for it), or there should have been a second plan to do that and get rid of both of them.
I’m glad we didn’t decide to do an Idiot-Ball-Moment count. I suspect we’d be well into triple digits by now, and it’s only book one.
This is a big argument in favour of the reality TV theory, honestly. If this were a real attempt to steal the Stone, one that might work, Snape would have been at the third floor the second he found out that Dumbledore had mysteriously been called away.
Also, the ellipsis abuse in this chapter is terrible and will only get worse. It’s also formatted pretty oddly, with spaces before each set (and in the US version it’s even worse: there are spaces between each dot, too, and these bizarre four-dot constructs when an ellipsis follows a complete sentence). I have no idea why.
Back with the plot, this is the moment where Harry himself finally notices the huge mirror he was dangerously addicted to has been standing behind Quirrell this entire time. If this book were even remotely consistent he’d immediately squirm or bunny-hop over to try to look into it, but of course he’s all better now somehow.
Not only that, he finally has the glimmer of a thought. If he keeps Quirrell talking, he won’t be able to concentrate on the mirror.
It’s not a bad thought, but Harry only has Quirrell’s word for it that the mirror has anything whatsoever to do with the Stone. For all he knows it’s just here as a distraction and the Stone is hidden under a floorboard, or not there at all, so letting Quirrell waste time on it is fine. (It’s probably one-way glass to let the staff watch the action.) Also, Harry failed to notice a six-foot-plus stand mirror, it’s entirely possible the Stone could be in plain sight – we have no description at all of the room they’re in. Other possible distractions, Harry: scream. Try to undo the magic ropes. Try to get over there and kick the mirror over, or kick Quirrell. Try to get to your fucking wand since the worst villain ever hasn’t even disarmed you. Though to be fair maybe Quirrell has been keeping his own spell count and knows he has absolutely nothing to worry about.
Instead, Harry wants more stories, so he mentions that he saw Quirrell and Snape talking in the forest. Quirrell’s not really paying attention, which must really grate on our hero, and answers vaguely that yes, Snape suspected him right from the start and was often trying to find out how far he’d got or to frighten him. He walks around the mirror and helpfully tells us out loud that he can see himself in it giving the Stone to his master, so where is it?
I think the most annoying part about all Quirrell’s monologues here is that he’s not being melodramatic. He’s not pleased with himself and scenery-chewing, he’s not gloating or raving. If anything, he’s coming across as teaching. He’s giving Harry some education. It’s such a bizarre tone that it’s ruining what little drama there could have been. It doesn’t help that half the time he’s talking more to himself than Harry anyway.
Harry finally tries to get out of his ropes. This whole scene is not well written; I can’t tell if Harry’s on the floor or if he’s just standing there with rope wrapped around him. Obviously it doesn’t work, so he keeps talking about Snape, apparently unable to think of any other topic of conversation. (Can’t blame him there.) Doesn’t Snape hate him?
‘Oh, he does,’ said Quirrell casually, ‘heavens, yes. He was at Hogwarts with your father, didn’t you know? They loathed each other. But he never wanted you dead.’
You see, Harry, not everyone’s actions are motivated solely by their opinion of someone. You can help people you don’t like. Honest. And hating someone doesn’t mean you’re going to try to kill them. I wish you’d remember that in book six. Though we’re not the first to point this out, it should be mentioned it’s also not a bad message for a children’s book, really; it might be a bit simplistic, but it’s true, it makes for a decent twist and it allows the characters to theoretically learn something.
More importantly, though, how does Quirrell know this? We’re not told his age here, but he’s described as young when no other teacher – including Snape – is, so he must be younger than Snape and James, and outside the series we’ve been told he’s somewhere in his 20s here. He’s very unlikely to have been at school with them, and even if he were he’d have been so many years below them that he wouldn’t know who either of them were, let alone how they felt about each other. The feud isn’t public knowledge; Rowling really finds it hard to keep track of what each character could realistically know, hence her penchant for ‘rumours’ helpfully telling everyone everything.
Harry comments that he heard Quirrell crying and thought Snape was threatening him. This has nothing to do with Snape hating Harry, but okay. This triggers a mood shift as Quirrell looks frightened and tells us that was Voldemort, who is always with him and punishes him whenever he fails to do something. It’s hard to tell if Quirrell regrets what’s happened or not, because he doesn’t get any more personality than anyone else and we really have no idea why he became a minion in the first place, whether he actually wanted to and why he hasn’t escaped from it either by asking for help or trying to commit suicide or something. Naturally, the narrative will never consider those questions or give him the barest scrap of sympathy.
Quirrell goes on to say that after he failed to steal the Stone, Voldy decided to keep a closer eye on him. I don’t know why – after all, Quirrell successfully broke into the vault. It’s not his fault there was nothing in it. It would make more sense for Voldy to have moved in after Halloween, when Quirrell did actually fail at something, or for the reason to simply be that he wanted to be in Hogwarts.
Also, where was Voldy prior to this? How did he manage to punish Quirrell, either before or after?
Quirrell’s voice tailed away. Harry was remembering his trip to Diagon Alley – how could he have been so stupid? He’d seen Quirrell there that very day, shaken hands with him in the Leaky Cauldron.
Harry, you have indeed been extremely stupid all book, but I don’t think anyone could have expected you to meet your new teacher in a magic pub and immediately figure out that he was evil and working for or possessed by the thing that killed your parents. Though that point about shaking hands is worth remembering for later.
Quirrell returns to blathering to himself about the mirror, and instead of thinking about the fact that he’s literally just been told that Voldemort is apparently in the room with them, Harry also carries on thinking about the mirror. What he wants at that moment more than anything else is to find the Stone before Quirrell does, he reasons, so if he can look in it now he’ll see himself finding it.
Personally, if I were being imprisoned by a dangerous wizard with the possibility of Lord Voldemort being there somewhere, I would be wanting to get the hell out of there more than anything else and I really wouldn’t give a flying fuck about a shiny rock, but maybe that’s just me. Harry’s complete lack of fear or emotion is even more noticeable now than it has been all book, because Rowling is more concerned with telling the readers the plot than with writing human characters. There’s no drama here at all. Why does he want to find the Stone over staying alive? Apart from anything else, he should be assuming that if he somehow did find the Stone Quirrell would just take it off him.
Harry tries to move over to look in the mirror, despite the fact that he already knows it won’t work if there’s more than one person in front of it, and falls over because he’s somehow forgotten that his legs are tied together. Quirrell ignores him, too busy talking to invisible people and asking for help figuring out what the mirror does – oh, come on, Harry figured it out and he’s clearly unbelievably stupid; how have you not worked this out? Apart from anything else it is literally written on the top of the frame.
Anyway, a disembodied voice says to ‘Use the boy…‘ and I’m really not sure how that’s supposed to help. Why does Voldy think Harry will see where the Stone is? An actual human boy would be terrified and would see himself somewhere safe and not tied up. Quirrell doesn’t question it and calls Harry, clapping his hands to remove the ropes.
Spell count: Hermione, 11. Quirrell, 3. Ron, 1. Draco, 1. Neville, 1. Harry, 0.
Why untie him if you think he warrants tying up in the first place? Levitate him. And if he didn’t need to be tied up, then why did you do so earlier? It’s not as if it made Harry feel helpless and scared, or caused him any pain, or added anything else to the scene. Also, Harry, this would be a great time to try to run away. Or to try to fight. You told Hermione you’d fight Snape, so why won’t you fight someone else? I suppose it might make sense if we remember Harry had to have it explained to him that some people are motivated by things other than personal vendettas. Except that doesn’t work, because surely he should consider Voldemort worth fighting. I guess this is just one of many instances in the series where Harry/Rowling seems to forget that Snape is not his arch-nemesis.
Harry walks over and looks in the mirror, and just sees his reflection. Then his reflection winks, pulls the Stone out of its pocket and holds it up, then puts it back in its pocket, and Harry feels something drop into his pocket and immediately concludes that somehow he’s got the Stone. I admit that’s a logical conclusion, but this is not a logical world, and I don’t believe he’d be able to stop himself reflexively checking. And what would have happened if he’d been wearing something without pockets big enough to hold it? It’s a nice image so I don’t want to be too harsh on it, but it makes no more sense than anything else in this scene. And, of course, Harry doesn’t react to this either. No triumph, no relief, no confusion, no fear that it’ll be discovered.
So… why didn’t Quirrell see this? He doesn’t want to use the Stone. He just wants to find it so he can give it to his master. He should see himself finding it. The ‘find it but not use it’ loophole we’re told about later should only apply if he’d turned around and let Voldy look into it (which they should have tried anyway).
Pressed to describe what he sees, Harry stammers that he’s shaking hands with Dumbledore after winning the House Cup. I like this; it’s an incredibly stupid lie, and it’s the kind of thing a scared eleven year old would come up with when forced to think of something very quickly (this is more believable than his impressive poker face about having acquired the Stone, though not consistent with that). Disappointingly, Quirrell actually believes him and tells him to bugger off out of the way, and it takes the disembodied voice to point out that he’s obviously lying.
Harry does finally consider trying to run away, but gets interrupted by Quirrell yelling at him before he can realise that actually there’s nowhere to run to except the room where the potions were. He can’t leave because Hermione drank the potion that lets you backtrack past that point. If he’d realised he was trapped we could have seen some good reactions from him and his actions for the rest of the scene would have made much more sense, but no.
The voice demands to speak to Harry face to face, and despite allegedly being terrified of his master, Quirrell argues that he’s not strong enough. Strong enough to do what? Talk? He’s been talking for a couple of pages, he clearly is. Strong enough to look at Harry? I suppose the implication is ‘strong enough to use Legilimency’ but that doesn’t exist at this point in the series and I don’t think this fragment of Voldy would be able to do it anyway. Quirrell unwraps his turban and turns around…
Harry would have screamed, but he couldn’t make a sound. Where there should have been a back to Quirrell’s head, there was a face, the most terrible face Harry had ever seen. It was chalk white with glaring red eyes and slits for nostrils, like a snake.
To be fair, this is pretty creepy. Though there’s still no description of Harry’s emotions. This is, of course, Lord Voldemort, who launches into an entirely unprompted and unnecessary monologue about how weak and pitiful he is in this form that immediately sucks the remaining shreds of drama out of the scene. I think it might be supposed to show how hard he’s been working to come back and how desperate he is for something like the Stone so he can get out of his current situation, but it’s still a really bad writing choice and not in character for him either. Our first look at the villain and he instantly tells us that he’s not scary. I’m going to quote his full speech here so I can pick it apart because almost all of it is complete nonsense.
‘See what I have become?’ the face said. ‘Mere shadow and vapour … I have form only when I can share another’s body … but there have always been those willing to let me into their hearts and minds … Unicorn blood has strengthened me, these past weeks … you saw faithful Quirrell drinking it for me in the Forest … and once I have the Elixir of Life, I will be able to create a body of my own … Now … why don’t you give me that Stone in your pocket?’
So, Voldy was completely incorporeal when Quirrell first met him and was presumably just a voice in his head. Why did Quirrell listen? Why is Quirrell doing all this? We’re told later that he was greedy and ambitious, but that doesn’t explain why he thought this plan would work. And Pottermore completely contradicted it anyway, by saying that Quirrell actually set out to try to defeat the shadowy remnant of Voldemort to prove himself and was then somehow compelled or enthralled. (Of course we can’t double-check this now, since Pottermore has removed almost all its content in order to charge people for books of it.)
Possession apparently requires consent. Quirrell was scared of Voldy by that point (I don’t know why; how did a disembodied voice punish him for anything?) so why did he agree?
How did the unicorn blood do anything?
How will the elixir help create a body? It grants immortality to anyone who drinks it. You have to already have your own body if you want to use it.
And of course, how can Voldy possibly know that Harry has the Stone?
Also, why is he telling us all this? Voldy has even less reason to waste time explaining himself to Harry than Quirrell did. This is stupid.
We’re going to have to stop here and take a long hard look at Quirrellmort. Leaving aside the logistics of just how possession is possible in this universe, or any other – fuck it, it’s magic – why has it manifested physically? It’s never explicitly called possession, but whatever you call it, Voldemort’s spirit has taken up residence in Quirrell. As far as I’m concerned, he should either just be a voice in Quirrell’s mind that nobody else can hear, or have taken over completely and control the body. I don’t understand how this halfway state is possible.
How does it work, physically? The back of Quirrell’s skull appears to have opened out and formed eye sockets, a nasal cavity and a pair of jaws complete with teeth and tongue. Both faces are sharing the same skull, so there’s apparently only one brain, which can’t possibly work – at the very least you’d need two sets of sensory receptors and processors and two speech centres, or else the second face would be blind and mute, and both entities seem to have their own personalities and memories, but there isn’t space inside a single skull for two full brains. Voldy can speak, hissing or not, so his face has its own throat, larynx and windpipe; Quirrell’s neck seems to be normal size, so those must connect to the existing ones and lead to a single set of lungs for both faces. I’m not sure if either of them have ears by this point – obviously both of them can hear, but the ears would be around the point where the two faces join. Does Quirrell have any hair left around the seam, or not? Does Voldy’s face grow facial hair? How on earth do they bathe? Inquiring minds want to know.
We’ve been trying and failing for some time to imagine what the structure of this head must be like. How can you have a skull with two fully articulated jaws attached? It seems that ends up leaving no room for a neck to attach… or if one does attach, does the trachea etc branch out into a forked shape going to the two mouths separately? What’s between them? And if there is somehow a way to put this ludicrous mess together, how the fuck does it stay the same size and shape as a single ordinary skull/head, such that it looks perfectly normal if you cover the back half with cloth?
Voldy must have been incredibly uncomfortable spending literally all year wrapped in layers of cloth. He’d be unable to see and would have to hold his breath and allow Quirrell to breathe for both of them, which would probably affect whatever throat structures his face has. And this whole setup is extremely undignified – I find it hard to accept that Voldy would ever consider this plan no matter how desperate he is. There were other options, since this was only meant to be temporary. An animal, or a small child, or a Muggle, or someone too weak to resist – someone or something he could take over completely without compromising his only minion’s body.
How were Quirrellmort planning to use the Stone if they did find it? I don’t know how you get the elixir of immortality out of it – it doesn’t seem to be secreting it and there’s no indication of a tap or something else silly – but even assuming Quirrellmort knows, despite neither half being mentioned to know anything about alchemy, then what? Voldy has no digestive system of his own, so Quirrell has to be the one to drink it, just like he did with the unicorn blood (more on that in a moment) which would just give Voldy eternity stuck on the back of his skull. Voldy says he’s going to use it to literally create a new body, which is not how it works either in this universe or in the real stories about the Philosopher’s Stone. If that was what the Flamels had actually done, someone would have said so by now.
And the same applies to the unicorn blood. What was that supposed to achieve? It will keep you alive even if you are an inch from death – which neither Quirrell nor Voldemort were. Unless the possession was killing the shared body, in which case we should have been told that. And, again, Voldy isn’t the one drinking it, so how does it strengthen him? Is the Voldemort face somehow sufficiently fully formed to have its own throat, so Quirrell will be drinking the stuff through the back of his head? Presumably not, since Harry saw the thing he thought was Snape drinking the blood before and there was no description of the insane contortions you’d need to get the back of your head to a particular point at ground level without lying down. What is it strengthening? Why is it providing strength, when that’s not what we’ve been told it does?
You know what would have fixed a lot of this, and made this scene a hell of a lot more creepy? Have Quirrell remove his turban and turn around to show just the back of his completely bald head. Harry is confused for a moment, and then Voldemort’s face physically pushes through the back of Quirrell’s skull and starts talking. If it’s a temporary manifestation rather than a permanent physical conjoined twin, some of the problems go away.
Take it a step further. Assume that the possession is killing Quirrell’s body, and that’s why they needed the unicorn blood. Their goal is to get the Philosopher’s Stone, but they don’t want to use it because until Voldemort has his own body there’s not really any point; they want it to blackmail Nicolas Flamel, who is renowned as the world’s greatest alchemist. By controlling the source of the thing keeping him and his beloved wife alive, they can force him to use alchemy to create a body for Voldemort.
Someone write this for me. I want to read it. It doesn’t solve all the problems – for instance, why the hell did Flamel agree to the Stone being moved to Hogwarts in the first place? We have a couple of theories about that to discuss later – but it’s a start.
Anyway, back with the smoking crater where the plot used to be, Voldy’s just announced that he somehow knows Harry’s somehow got the MacGuffin. Harry staggers back (while still failing to actually feel anything) and Voldy tells him not to be stupid and to save himself instead of dying like his parents, who both died begging for mercy. Harry screams, ‘LIAR!‘ but since this is not accompanied by any feelings I see no reason to pay attention to the capslock; I don’t feel charitable enough. Also, why does it matter if this is true or not? If they had died begging for mercy it would have been completely understandable and nothing to be ashamed of.
Quirrell starts walking menacingly backwards towards him, so Voldy can laugh at him. I really wish he’d then tripped over because at this point this scene is so ludicrous that slapstick might actually help. Voldy says, ‘I always value bravery‘, which must surely be sarcasm, and for some reason feels the need to immediately take back the apparent insult by telling Harry that actually no his parents did die bravely and that Lily didn’t need to die at all but was trying to protect him, before demanding the Stone again.
Harry doesn’t need to be told this in order to give you the rock, Voldy. He clearly doesn’t like you, he’s not going to be swayed by you telling him his parents were awesome really. This is typical bad villain writing: have them make a stupid offer it’d make no sense for the hero to want, so the hero can refuse and look virtuous without having to actually wrestle with difficult decisions. Take the Stone off him. He’s a skinny eleven year old boy with all the magical ability of a bucket of potato peelings. Summon the thing, or knock him over and physically take it out of his pocket. Or, and here’s an idea, kill him.
You can try to handwave this as Voldy not being quite sure how Harry survived last time and not wanting to trigger that again, but there are so many other ways to deal with him. Tip the mirror over onto him. Smash it and use the broken glass. Throw something at his head. Drag him back into the potion room and force all the other bottles down his throat. Throttle him. Set him on fire. Honestly, how does Voldy not realise that the way you use magic against a magic-resistant foe is to use it to create a non-magical threat? Blow up the floor. Launch a physical projectile. Collapse the ceiling on him. This kind of solution has even become a sort of cliché, because it is that bloody obvious. There is no excuse. Even if you’re too scared of side effects to kill him, tie him up again or knock him out or paralyse him.
I can appreciate that this wouldn’t be very dramatic and Harry can’t be much of a hero if he’s incapacitated (and obviously the main reason for not killing him is because the story is about him and ends if he dies for real), but it would inject some actual peril into the situation. Right now there’s no reason to be scared for Harry because a) Voldemort has already told us what a useless villain he is and b) there is absolutely no threat. I can’t fault Harry for not being scared at this point because by now he’s had time to realise there’s nothing to be scared of. Besides, he’s a child, he can’t be much of a hero anyway. I would have simply written him as stalling for time, since he knows Hermione’s gone to fetch help; all he has to do is stay alive and try to keep hold of the Stone until Dumbles shows up. That’s still pretty heroic for a kid his age. The rest of this scene isn’t remotely needed, adds nothing to anyone’s characterisation and creates about a billion plot holes large enough to swallow galaxies, as we’ll see shortly.
Apart from anything else, Voldy’s just demonstrated that he understands perfectly clearly what happened when Lily died, despite all Dumbles’ later claims that he can’t understand sacrifice.
Harry finally, finally decides to run away, and if he’d thought of this earlier and realised he was trapped this could be a much more interesting decision. Despite his apparent incredible speed we’ve been told about for most of the book (remember ‘Harry Hunting’?) and the fact that Quirrell has to turn around to chase him – without getting motion sickness from two sets of eyes both providing sensory input – he manages maybe two steps before Quirrell grabs him. Physically grabs his wrist (luckily Harry is apparently wearing short sleeves, rather than his fetching red jumper from the movie). What happened to the magic-rope spell? Can’t you invent stunning spells a book or two early? Why isn’t Quirrellmort bright enough to realise Harry can’t go anywhere – did they somehow not know Hermione and Ron came with him originally? Were they really not clever enough to leave some means of knowing who would follow them down?
Harry’s scar suddenly hurts so badly that he yells, and Quirrell lets go. Instead of carrying on running, Harry looks around to find out why and sees Quirrell holding his blistered hand, and Voldy screams, ‘SEIZE HIM!‘
Quirrell has by this point completely forgotten that he can do magic, and also shows less common sense than infants or animals by immediately jumping to grab the thing that just burned him. He tackles Harry to the ground and starts trying to strangle him, then screams about his hands and lets go. For some reason Harry’s scar is hurting throughout all this. Quirrell’s hands are now badly burned, and Voldy snaps, ‘Then kill him, fool, and be done!’ which is what I’ve been saying for the last half-dozen chapters. Quirrell lifts a hand to do just that – I do wonder why he’s not using a wand – and Harry instinctively reaches up to grab his face.
I actually like this. It’s a good panic reaction – don’t question why it works, just accept that it does and try to use it, worry about it afterwards. I just doubt that Harry’s instincts, which have proved to be completely useless thus far, would prompt him to do it; he seems to work it out far too quickly, particularly given that by this point he ought to be exhausted and battered and have some sort of emotional response if he were written at all realistically. Plus, of course, that this whole thing is nonsense – more on that in the next scene.
Quirrell screams a lot, unsurprisingly, and recoils with his face blistering. Harry pauses to explicitly tell the readers that Quirrell gets burned whenever he touches Harry’s skin, which again should be saved for the next scene, then scrambles up and runs to grab Quirrell’s arm to keep him too distracted to cast spells. This is quite possibly the first genuinely sensible thing Harry has done all book. Quirrell is screaming in pain, Voldy is screaming for Quirrell to kill Harry (you would think Voldy would feel the burns as well, but apparently he can’t tell when his host body is hurt) and voices are screaming Harry’s name; for a single glorious paragraph we get a genuine dramatic, chaotic action scene.
Then Harry passes out, for honestly no reason that I can fathom since nothing’s actually happening to him, and the scene ends.
When Harry regains consciousness he sees something gold glittering in front of him, and automatically tries to catch the snitch, but his arms are too heavy. After a moment he realises it’s not the snitch, it’s someone’s glasses, and then he recognises Dumbledore. I like this, it captures his disorientation well. I also like that a moment later he remembers what was happening when he passed out and starts yelling that Quirrell has the Stone; it’s nice to see him dedicated to what’s left of the plot.
Dumbledore talks to him extremely patronisingly:
‘Calm yourself, dear boy, you are a little behind the times,’ said Dumbledore. ‘Quirrell does not have the Stone.’
‘Then who does? Sir, I –’
‘Harry, please relax, or Madam Pomfrey will have me thrown out.’
Note Dumbledore interrupting Harry the moment he asks a question. This will happen constantly throughout the scene, though if you’re not watching for it it’s easy to miss because Harry doesn’t ask very many questions after this initial promising start. He looks around and confirms that he’s in the hospital wing, and there’s a table by his bed that’s piled high with sweets which Dumbledore tells him are presents from his ‘friends and admirers’.
Well, his friends aren’t old enough to go into Hogsmeade and buy sweets, and one would hope they’re too busy worrying about him to have fussed about getting him candy, but I suppose this is sort of cute. It’s nice that people are acknowledging that Harry (allegedly) did something cool, at least. Though it’s worth noting that Harry’s friends are going to be hospitalised fairly frequently over the series and he’s not going to reciprocate. Dumbledore adds that the Terrible Twins tried to send him a toilet seat but it was confiscated – I can appreciate the nod to the beginning of the book, but even on repeat readings I barely remember that conversation and Harry heard it most of a year ago so I’m not convinced it would mean much to him. I’m not convinced the twins would remember, come to that. Dumbledore remarks:
‘What happened down in the dungeons between you and Professor Quirrell is a complete secret, so, naturally, the whole school knows.’
I like this line, I admit, but it’s also nonsense. We have to assume at this point that the staff were indeed watching somehow – even if it was just Dumbles getting there relatively early and eavesdropping instead of helping – but there is absolutely no way the students could know. I can’t see either Ron or Hermione telling anyone any of the real details, and neither of them knew it was Quirrell at all (and they must have been very confused the first time they saw Snape after this was all over). The only ones who know for certain are Harry, who was unconscious, and Dumbledore. Who must therefore have been the one to tell everyone.
We’re also running into another recurring issue here; the question of belief. If someone tells you that a boy has faced down evil incarnate sharing bodies with one of the teachers in a secret obstacle course underneath the school, how likely is it that you’d believe it? Even allowing for the fact that this is Hogwarts and batshit stuff happens here all the time? The wizarding world as a whole does not believe that Voldy will ever return. Everyone except Dumbles and his allies thinks he’s permanently dead. And nobody dislikes or respects Quirrell, who’s been a figure of mild ridicule all year and not seen as either powerful or evil. Fluffy isn’t general knowledge, nor was what happened to the unicorns. The children aren’t going to believe a story like this, particularly ones with family members who are or were followers of Voldemort. Harry will go through this many times over the series. Sometimes nobody believes a word of it. Sometimes, like this instance, everyone will believe every detail without question. Very rarely do we get a natural mix of opinions.
Harry’s already losing interest in finding out what happened, and instead asks how long he’s been in here. Three days, apparently. Because when a child is in a coma for three days the best course of action is to assume they’ll wake up eventually and leave them to it, rather than taking them to hospital so specialists can find out why they’re in a coma. Particularly when said child is a super-important special snowflake. Dumbledore does add that Ron and Hermione have been really worried about him, which is nice.
Harry makes one last effort to ask what happened. Dumbledore once again interrupts him mid-question, but does explain a very small amount – Quirrell does not have the Stone, and he arrived in time to pull Quirrell away from Harry. It should have been the other way around: when Harry blacked out, he was the one grabbing Quirrell. Also, Dumbledore has apparently joined the ranks of wizards who forget they can use magic.
‘I feared I might be too late.’
‘You nearly were, I couldn’t have kept him off the Stone much longer –’
‘Not the Stone, boy, you – the effort involved nearly killed you.’
What effort? Harry wasn’t actually doing anything except holding onto someone, nor was Quirrell doing anything to him. And why exactly was Harry unconscious anyway, let alone comatose for three days? We’re never going to find out, of course.
Dumbledore keeps talking about the magic rock before Harry can ask another question, and says that the Stone has been destroyed. Harry is understandably confused by this and asks, what about Flamel? Dumbledore praises Harry for having found out about Nicolas, and says they’ve ‘had a little chat and agree that it’s all for the best’.
Harry finds this about as unbelievable as I do, at least for a moment, and points out that will mean the Flamels will die. Yes, Dumbledore agrees, so what? Eternal life’s not that great, and death’s actually something to look forward to (this is where that famous line about “the next great adventure” shows up).
This is quite a horrifying message for a children’s book, when you really stop to think about it. And with hindsight once you’ve finished the series, you can see quite clearly that Dumbledore is already grooming Harry to be a good little sacrificial lamb and not make a fuss or try to find an alternative answer.
In any case, I highly doubt that the Flamels are going to throw away six hundred years because they’ve finally realised that someone might want their magic rock that grants immortality and infinite wealth. I don’t buy that they’d give it to Dumbledore to keep in the same building as the person they know wants to steal it, either. My theory is that either the Stone was a fake, or they have more than one. I assume that Nicolas knows Dumbledore well by this point, and is planning to fake their deaths and disappear to another country with the Stone and carry on living peacefully.
Understandably Harry’s lost for words, unable to understand why his Wise Old Mentor is spouting the author’s need for therapy, and lies quietly for a while before asking whether Voldemort’s going to keep trying to come back.
Um, Harry, you don’t know whether Voldy came back this time. You don’t know what happened to Quirrellmort. You’ve asked about the magic rock, and that’s good. Now how about asking what happened to the bad guys? Flamel is interesting but he’s hardly as important as Quirrell or Voldemort.
We were rather surprised at this point to find we didn’t remember how this chapter goes in the book and were both remembering the film. In the book, we never find out what actually happens to Quirrell. We don’t even know if he dies or not. I’m serious; go look it up. Harry blacks out while Quirrell is still very much alive, and he wasn’t burned badly enough to die from it. So what happened to him? Dumbles will tell us shortly that Voldy left him to die, i.e. abandoned the possession and floated off into the ether, but we’re not actually told that Quirrell then did die. He wasn’t arrested, because Harry would have had to give evidence. Really, the only conclusion here is that Dumbledore either killed him or arranged for him to be taken away and questioned – and he will never be seen or heard from again, which is pretty sinister. It’s also worth remembering that Quirrell has drunk unicorn blood; presumably it won’t stop the Killing Curse, but in general it’s going to make him harder to kill.
Harry’s not going to ask. It’s pretty clear Rowling never realised she didn’t let him see the end of the story, and for the rest of the chapter the conversation will proceed as if he knows both Quirrell and this particular aspect of Voldy are dead. And, of course, Harry’s not thinking about any of the answers he’s receiving – this whole scene is really badly written. Harry has a list of interview questions he’s required to ask, but he doesn’t actually seem to care what the answers are; Rowling has a list of plot points she wants Dumbledore to say and has created questions that will give these answers. It’s not a natural conversation between two human beings and it’s often only tangentially related to what’s actually happened in the book.
Dumbledore agrees that yes, Voldy’s going to keep trying to come back: “Not being truly alive, he cannot be killed.” This is an interesting line. It implies that the only way to get rid of him for good is to let him win and come back first, which would explain why the plot of the fourth book somehow worked despite there being about a billion ways for Hogwarts to have stopped it. You do have to wonder how Dumbles knows this, though – it’s a hell of a gamble if he’s just guessing.
Also, if Voldy’s effectively immortal in his ghost state, what the hell is he trying to do? He doesn’t need his own body as long as he has one minion willing to provide a series of meat puppets for him to possess. We know now he’s not immortal at all and just has extra respawns (well, if he wants an actual body; it seems he could remain indefinitely in this disembodied state with no consequences), and needs to find a permanent answer before he uses them all, but the Horcruxes emphatically had not been thought of at this point.
Dumbledore adds that all Harry did was delay the inevitable, but that that’s still a really good thing and maybe if enough people do just that then maybe they can stop him coming back at all – which would be a much better line if it didn’t contradict the line I just quoted, which immediately preceded it. You can’t have it both ways, Rowling.
Though we had an interesting diversion talking about how the series might have progressed if she’d gone with this latter option of just permanently delaying Voldy’s return rather than properly defeating him. It would have played out like a comic book series, and could have turned into a long-running serial of shorter, mostly-independent episodic stories. Honestly, I think that would be better suited to Rowling’s writing; she’s proved over and over again that she can’t successfully pace long novels spanning a calendar year. She could have pared out a lot of the side plots that didn’t work or were poorly handled, and an episodic format would have smoothed over a lot of characterisation issues. Though it would have been a pretty crap book to read, so there’s that, I suppose.
There is one question I really want answered at this point. What was Dumbledore expecting to happen? He clearly knew about Quirrellmort and presumably knew they’d be able to get past all the obstacles. It seems logical that the plan was to set them up, so while they were trying to figure out how to get hold of the Stone they could be arrested and imprisoned or executed or straight-up murdered or whatever finally happened to Quirrell. Equally, though, Dumbledore must have known Harry was going to follow, hence the plausible fan theory that this was also a test for Harry. Assuming that Harry was capable of getting through all the obstacles (a bold assumption given his lack of any skills beyond Quidditch) or assuming that his friends would help him, then what? There was no chance of him actually defeating Quirrell in a fight, so either Dumbledore assumed he’d never make it that far or it was a gamble that whatever magic Sue-power saved him before would activate again. That’s a hell of a risk to take with the ‘Chosen One’. Honestly, even going full tin-foil-hat and casting Dumbledore as a straight villain doesn’t justify this plan. I can’t really find any scenario that does.
A better way of ending this book would be to have the message that the teachers had set up a trap for Quirrell, they had their own plan and he would have been arrested the moment he touched the Stone (or don’t let Harry get the Stone in the first place, get rid of the mirror thing entirely and have it be booby-trapped), and that by not trusting them and interfering Harry screwed everything up. It would need to have been handled more carefully than I think Rowling can manage, but if done right it would have told Harry that he needs to think before he acts and needs to have more faith in the adult witches and wizards around him, while at the same time having the adults concede that they should have explained enough of what was happening to reassure him. It would explain that yes, it was risky to have this all take place at the school, but Hogwarts is really important, some of the teachers are more than just teachers and there are maybe other reasons not to fully trust other institutions such as the Ministry. You could set up a lot of things for later books.
Ah, well. Harry says vaguely there’s some other stuff he’d like to know and can he have the truth please? He doesn’t sound like a child. Dumbledore essentially scolds him for wanting the truth, but says okay sure unless I don’t want to answer you, and adds: “I shall not, of course, lie.”
If someone ever tells you, unprompted, that they’re not going to lie to you, do not believe a word they say ever again. Especially if they add ‘of course’.
Harry’s first question is ‘so why did Voldemort want to kill me in the first place?’ and while this is a completely reasonable question, he’s had all year to try to find out. He could have asked Hagrid, or asked Dumbledore earlier when they met and talked about the mirror, or he could have asked if Hermione had read anything about it (since she told him when they first met that she’d read quite a lot about him) or he could have tried to look it up himself. No, he wouldn’t have found the answer, but that would give him a reason to ask now and would show the readers he actually does want to know. He’s known Voldemort was floating around since Firenze told him in the forest. So why now? He’s never even wondered about it to himself before now.
Dumbledore refuses to answer, naturally, and says, “When you are older … I know you hate to hear this … when you are ready, you will know.” I don’t know how he knows Harry hates being told this, since as far as I know he never has been, but maybe he means children in general. I have to read this as Rowling having no idea at this stage, because when you think about it there’s absolutely no reason not to tell Harry at least some of the truth. What would be the problem with telling him, “Voldy heard a psychic say you’re going to be a threat to him so he was trying to pre-empt it”? That’s a perfectly reasonable answer.
Harry abandons the subject like a good little doormat and moves on to his next question, why Quirrell couldn’t touch him. A better question would be why Rowling included this sub-plot at all. None of her floundering attempts to explain it over the series make sense. It’s incoherent, it’s stupid, a lot of it ends up being unintentionally insulting or just plain horrible, and it’s completely unnecessary. We’re going to have to pause to rant about some of it here, but we’re barely going to scratch the surface and will be forced to revisit it several times in future books.
Here is Dumbledore’s full answer; I don’t really want to quote such large chunks of the book in this post, but literally every sentence needs discussing.
“Your mother died to save you. If there is one thing Voldemort cannot understand, it is love. He didn’t realise that love as powerful as your mother’s for you leaves its own mark. Not a scar, no visible sign … to have been loved so deeply, even though the person who loved us is gone, will give us some protection for ever. It is in your very skin. Quirrell, full of hatred, greed and ambition, sharing his soul with Voldemort, could not touch you for this reason. It was agony to touch a person marked by something so good.”
Harry’s going to pause here and once again think and feel absolutely nothing (though apparently needing to wipe his eyes; it would be nice if the book actually said he was crying) so before he moves on to the next question on his checklist, let’s talk about this.
Let’s start with ‘Your mother died to save you.’ No, she didn’t. We’re never told that James and Lily were aware of the prophecy, or were ever told just why they were in danger and had to hide. She didn’t know why Voldemort wanted to kill Harry but the boy was barely a year old; her getting killed just meant delaying the inevitable for a few more seconds. Dumbledore is implying that she did it deliberately, knowing that her sacrifice would protect Harry, but we’re told later in the series that this is very old and very rare magic that almost nobody knows anything about; I can’t believe James and Lily, who weren’t even bright enough to have an escape route, could have known about it. They were both apparently talented magic users (which is an incredibly low bar in this universe) but that doesn’t mean they would have learned about something obscure. She may have died hoping someone would show up in time to save Harry, but she can’t really have thought it was likely.
But okay, let’s assume maybe she really did die deliberately to save Harry. Honestly, I could almost be willing to swallow the whole ‘someone loving you a lot means bad guys can’t touch you’ tripe in this universe if it wasn’t for the fact that it only works for Lily. James died to give Lily time to get Harry away; why didn’t that protect Lily? The Death Eaters are pretty useless villains but they did kill people fairly frequently and there’s no way she was the only parent to die trying to save their children. Frank and Alice let themselves be tortured into insanity rather than betray the Order – I’d call that a loving sacrifice; why didn’t that protect anybody?
Though the sacrifice thing is retconned in later, in one of Rowling’s many attempts to explain this nonsense. Here, Dumbledore implies that just the love is enough. If someone loves you enough, you’re invincible forever. Basically, if anyone gets hurt it’s just because nobody loves them enough. Don’t you just love the victim-blaming bullshit?
And yet Harry’s protection normally doesn’t kick in. He gets hurt by other people all the time and nothing happens to them. You can handwave Petunia and Dudley, because they’re blood relatives, but Vernon, and the boys in Dudley’s gang, should have been burned every time they hit him. Draco’s going to physically assault him a few times in later books too, if I recall correctly, and I’m sure some of the Death Eaters/other assorted bad guys must do. And remember when Harry and Quirrell shook hands in the pub? There was a distinct lack of screaming and burning. You can’t handwave it as somehow being able to detect the difference between skin contact and physical injury, or as requiring a certain level of malicious intent, because Quirrell wasn’t trying to hurt him when it first triggered during the fight or when Harry went after him and grabbed him at the end.
You can’t handwave it as only reacting to Voldy either, because Voldy himself wasn’t harmed by this. Rowling’s idea of the power of love is that it’s a big weapon that burns an abused minion (possibly) to death and lets the actual villain fly away unharmed. Voldemort doesn’t even feel any pain when Quirrell touches Harry. Dumbledore implies that Quirrell was only burned because he was just that much of an awful person (‘sharing his soul with Voldemort‘ is an afterthought in that sentence, and don’t get me started on how sharing your body does not mean sharing your soul if those are two separate things) but was he really worse than the Dark Lord? We’ve certainly never seen any sign that Quirrell is ‘full of hate‘.
Why would a magical protection only guard against physical dangers anyway? Okay, almost everyone in this whole damned book has been using muscle for everything and forgetting they can actually cast spells, but even so. Something like this magic love incineration power thing shouldn’t be so specific, it either protects you or it doesn’t. And if it’s in Harry’s skin and burns bad people who touch him, how did it originally block the Killing Curse? It doesn’t block any other magic that’s used against him over the course of the series. And after this it doesn’t block physical dangers ever again either, he still gets beaten up a lot.
So let’s review. Lily loved Harry so much that Quirrell sometimes couldn’t touch him without getting burned and that the Killing Curse didn’t work. But not enough to stop anyone else touching him, hurting him and using magic against him, including Voldemort as long as he avoids Avada Kedavra. Though still apparently more than anyone else has ever loved any of the characters in this series. That is bizarrely specific, so much so that I don’t see how it’s possible. Also Quirrell, despite all the hints that he’s being coerced into this, is apparently so evil that he can’t stand contact with someone who was loved, but every other villain in the series isn’t. As far as I remember, anyway. We’ll try to remember to keep an eye out for who has physical contact with Harry.
And we find out later that somehow this protection evaporates when Harry turns seventeen anyway, and also only applies as long as his home address contains one of Lily’s blood relatives. I’m not even going to try to explain that one.
Of course, there’s another objection to this whole theory, beyond bad writing and lack of any explanation that makes sense. It’s yet another passive ability that requires nothing from Harry except existing. Someone else did it for him and he doesn’t have to take any action to activate it. Even this early in the series, this is depressing, and we know it’s only going to get worse.
It’s possible Rowling herself realised that this is all a load of horseshit, because as far as we can remember the concept of this protection only crops up on a couple of other occasions after this. Pity she wasn’t brave enough to retcon it by having Dumbledore admit later that he doesn’t actually know what happened and was making up a pretty lie to make Harry feel better.
Moving on from the Magic Love Incineration (that sounds like an anime/manga title), Dumbledore says Voldy is unable to understand love and sacrifice. Voldy has already said he knows full well that Lily died unnecessarily in an attempt to save Harry. In later books Voldy will confirm that he knows all about the burning love thing, and there is nobody who could possibly have told him about it, so he clearly figures it out easily enough on his own. Voldy is obviously intended to be a sociopath, and sociopaths are able to understand emotions perfectly well because they’re skilled at using them against their victims. Just because they don’t feel them themselves doesn’t mean they don’t understand them in the abstract. Frankly, I would argue that Voldemort probably understands more about love than Dumbledore does.
Which brings me to my next point – why is this theory coming from Dumbledore? At this point in the series it’s not a strange choice, I grant you, but looking back in hindsight given what we know of his character, it doesn’t make sense. Dumbledore is choosing to live as an asexual/aromantic, his sole remaining relative hates him, he was distant from his family while they were alive, and he lies to and manipulates anyone who considers themselves a friend, with the possible exception of Grindelwald who he later betrayed. Certainly his actions towards Harry aren’t particularly loving, no matter how many emotional remarks he makes. I know I’m biased because I really don’t like him, but I don’t see Dumbledore understanding anything about love or sacrifice – he’s only prepared to die for his cause once he knows he’s already dying.
It wouldn’t be possible to have anyone else explain it to Harry at this point in the series, really – the only sensible candidate right now is Hagrid, who wouldn’t have the education to know this is possible. But if it were left for a later book, it could be handled by someone like Molly Weasley, who is unaccountably Harry’s surrogate mother-figure – the one Harry never writes to or even thinks of unless he’s standing in her house even though she’s inexplicably devoted to him as much as to her own children despite only seeing him for a few days a year. Or by Sirius or Lupin, who the narrative insists are both capable of love. Or even McGonagall, since the backstory we never see in the books talks about all her deep family connections, and she really should be more of a mentor to Harry as his Head of House than an old man he barely sees.
[Mitchell here. I’ve been trying to figure out if it’s possible to steelman any of this, because I don’t want to leave anything hanging some apologist could glom onto as a gotcha, so let’s see.
I don’t think it’s clear whether or not we’re meant to believe Quirrell was possessed when Harry met him in Diagon. The turban isn’t mentioned – he’s just “a pale young man” – but he’s already shaky and stuttering and Hagrid mentions he’s been off ever since travelling (“scared of the students, scared of his own subject” – also interesting because this implies he returned from his trip and saw students, which would mean the trip took place earlier than this summer… we know Rowling’s not good with timelines). I know the most common interpretation is that, at this point, he’d already encountered Voldemort and was working for him, but the actual possession didn’t happen until after he failed to get the Stone from Gringotts (I was going to call this a failed bank robbery, but actually he seems to have gotten in and out just fine, it was only unsuccessful because the Stone was not there to steal), either as punishment or because Voldy wanted to act more directly. And that’s definitely a possibility, but I’m not entirely sure it’s what Rowling intended.
Quirrell pretty explicitly states here that the stuttering is an affectation, meant to make him look weak and pitiful, but honestly that’s a pretty terrible plan. It ends up working on Harry and friends (and first-time readers, I think) because they immediately assume he’s an underdog, but those are not the people Quirrell/Voldy should be aiming to deceive. One would think he’d want to keep his behaviour as similar as possible to how he was previously, so as not to arouse suspicion among the other staff and older students who’d known him before. But I guess if he’d done that, we couldn’t have had the hints about how there’s something off about him dropped early on as a Chekhov’s gun sort of thing, for people to notice and be “astounded” at how it was there all along on rereads. Plot first, characterisation second; that seems to be a hallmark of the hack writer and Rowling rarely deviates from it.
I have to wonder if she’d originally intended the stutter/etc to be a symptom of the possession, but realised she didn’t want to have to write long rambling monologues in the supposed climax with it, and changed her mind? (In fairness, that’s not necessarily a terrible thought, because it would be annoying to read, but if that was her reasoning I don’t think she justified it well enough, and the end result seems to have been talking out both sides of her mouth.)
Regardless, the charitable reading is that magical love incineration power is specifically keyed to work only on Voldemort (which is pretty lousy for a shielding power) and therefore only hurts Quirrell when he’s actually possessed. But as Loten’s already explained in detail, there are plenty of problems even in that scenario (it harms Quirrell, not Voldy’s spirit), so I don’t care, it’s still utter fail in my book.]
In any case, Harry still has no thoughts about any of this and is ready to move on to his next interview question, so let’s leave this mess and return to what passes for the plot.
His next question is about the magic bedsheet and who sent it to him. Dumbledore says it was him – James ‘happened’ to leave it with him, and he thought it would be a good idea to give it to an eleven year old. He tells us blithely that James mostly used it to steal food from the kitchens. Ha fucking ha. This sounds a lot more wholesome than the truth (hey, remember when Dumbles assured us he wasn’t going to lie?) but I’d have liked to see if Harry would finally have a reaction to something if Dumbledore had told him James mostly used it to sneak up on his victims and to sneak dangerous monsters out of their cages.
Not even trying to pretend to respond to this, Harry says he has another question, and Dumbledore uses the decidedly un-wizardly phrase ‘Fire away‘. It’s Harry’s favourite obsession (apart from Draco) – Snape. Interestingly, Dumbledore corrects this to Professor Snape – most characters in the series seem to make a point of giving Severus his title, for whatever reason, and insisting Harry does the same – but then immediately refers to him as just Snape in his very next line, because what is consistency. Harry seems weirdly comfortable with referring to his teachers by just their surnames anyway, but that’s another topic. Anyway, Harry wants to know if Quirrell was lying about Snape and James hating one another.
Dumbledore says no, that was perfectly true, just the same as Harry and Draco hate each other now. No, the situations were different and it was far more unbalanced – but that’s a rant for another time. I’m sure you can all imagine how I’m going to react once we see more of that particular story. The comparison might be a good one to use if it sparked any sort of thoughts in Harry’s brain, but obviously that doesn’t happen. Let’s also note that, by not elaborating on the details, Dumbledore is naturally leading Harry to assume that it was Snape in Draco’s role and James in Harry’s. While he isn’t explicitly lying, this is definitely dishonest – though it’s also possible Dumbles genuinely believes this, since all Gryffindors have a blind spot the size of China where the Marauders are concerned and it’s obvious throughout the series that Dumbles really understands nothing whatsoever about Snape.
Dumbles goes on to add that the real reason Snape hated James so much was that James saved his life. Harry finds this understandably confusing. I find it infuriating, which I’m sure doesn’t surprise anyone, but once again this is a rant for another time. It does neatly illustrate my point about Dumbledore not understanding love though, as he tells Harry that Snape worked so hard to save him this year just to pay off his debt to James. The British version says ‘he felt that would make him and your father quits‘; the US version changes this to ‘make [them] even‘ even though the Britspeak was perfectly clear from context and didn’t need correcting. I’m not too annoyed about that because the slang isn’t really in character for Dumbledore to be saying in the first place.
Why, exactly, is Dumbledore so willing to share details of his staff’s personal lives with a random student? This is absolutely none of Harry’s business and it’s a petty thing to do. Our expert on love and feelings, everyone. Fuck off, Twinkles. Never mind that it’s also superfluous; Dumbledore should really have just said that teachers have a responsibility to keep their students safe and Snape was doing his job. Implying he needs an ulterior motive to do that is both impugning his character and leading Harry to believe nobody will look out for him.
Harry tried to understand this but it made his head pound, so he stopped.
That sums up the entirety of Harry’s character for the whole series, honestly. Incidentally his head has been hurting all scene, though there’s no explanation given. It’s possible he passed out because he tripped over and hit his head, though if that caused a three-day coma I’d expect some signs of actual medical treatment. Anyway, he says he has one more question – how did he get the Stone out of the mirror?
Dumbles’ response is breathtakingly obnoxious.
‘Ah, now, I’m glad you asked me that. It was one of my more brilliant ideas, and between you and me, that’s saying something. […] My brain surprises even me sometimes …’
It’s supposed to be silly and whimsical and eccentric, but on the heels of a lot of gaslighting and manipulation it’s just terrible. His explanation doesn’t really make sense either – he says that only people who wanted to find the Stone more than they wanted to use it would be able to get it, otherwise they’d just see themselves using it. That’s fine, but it doesn’t remotely explain how the reflection then becomes real and moves a physical object into Harry’s pocket, or where the Stone was prior to that. It also doesn’t explain how Quirrell was unable to see himself finding it for Voldy when that was what he wanted; we’re not going to let that go any time soon. And if none of this had played out the way it was planned, how were they going to get the Stone back? Would anyone else have had the extremely specific desire to be handed the Stone without having to do anything that Harry has?
Was Dumbledore trying to kill Flamel while maintaining plausible deniability? It’s interesting that when against all odds the Stone is recovered, his immediate reaction is to persuade his ‘friend’ to destroy it and thus kill himself.
Dumbles says he refuses to answer any more questions now and Harry should be quiet and eat his sweets like a good boy. He then casually helps himself to one of the magic jellybeans, without asking, saying that he had a vomit-flavoured one when he was young and hasn’t touched them since but feels like stealing one off Harry now (okay, so I’m paraphrasing). He eats it, chokes and tells us that it was earwax-flavoured – don’t ask how he knows what earwax tastes like; I hope that doesn’t exist in the real-world merchandise version – and the scene ends on a jarring silly note that spoils the mood of all the discussion.
The next scene sees Harry begging the extremely stereotypical school nurse, Madam Pomfrey, to let Ron and Hermione in to see him. That’s nice. Less nice is Hermione reverting to the stereotypical girly-girl, having to visibly restrain herself from hugging him (to Harry’s relief, because ew cooties) and stammering about how worried they’ve been. But at least she has been worried; Ron disregards that this is supposed to be his best friend, who’s been in a coma after facing Voldemort, and just demands story time.
We’re told that Harry tells them the whole story (complete with Hermione screaming during the dramatic face-reveal; goddamnit, Rowling). I have no idea what he actually tells them, since as I mentioned before, Harry doesn’t actually know what happened. No wonder their conversation takes place offscreen. Ron gets stuck on the whole ‘Flamel is going to die and Dumbles says death is awesome’ thing, but the book says he’s impressed at how insane Dumbledore is. Facepalm.
Harry asks what happened to them. Sadly Hermione doesn’t go into any details, just says that she got back safely and brought Ron round before they ran for the Owlery. It’s not as if she needs more spell count points, but it would be nice to know what she actually did. She says they met Dumbledore in the entrance hall, which is pretty weird; I would assume the Owlery was at the top of the school – I think we find out in a later book that it’s in one of the towers – and they were coming from the third floor, so why were they down in the entrance hall? Well, whatever. Dumbledore went off to do whatever it is he did at the end of the fight that we never saw, and the book declines to tell us what Ron and Hermione did. I’d have assumed they’d have followed, but who knows. And how did Dumbledore get past everything? He didn’t have time to play chess, unless he managed to thrash the AI very quickly, and Harry drank all the potion that lets you through the fire into the boss room.
Ron suggests that maybe Dumbledore planned this all along, what with giving Harry the magic bedsheet and all.
‘Well,’ Hermione exploded, ‘if he did – I mean to say – that’s terrible – you could have been killed.’
That sounds like a very mild explosion, but I like that she’s pointing out that this is awful. She’s the only one to object.
Harry says yeah, he’s pretty sure Dumbledore planned the whole thing, not just by giving him the cloak but teaching him how the mirror worked and so on. He’s fine with this and has already deluded himself into thinking that it’s because Dumbles thought he was just that neat and that he deserved the chance to show off, essentially. Ron’s impressed by this (and also ignores Harry using Voldemort’s name, which usually makes him freak out). Hermione doesn’t respond, possibly wondering whether Harry sustained brain damage.
Ron changes the subject, because Quidditch! It’s the end of team feast tomorrow and Harry must come, because foreshadowing. The House Cup points have all been tallied and Slytherin won because Gryffindor lost their final match against Ravenclaw while Harry was unconscious. Apparently Quidditch is factored in for the House Cup, despite there being a separate Quidditch Cup, because reasons? This makes no sense.
That’s very late in the year for Quidditch matches. And I thought the whole point of Harry being made Seeker despite his age was that Gryffindor didn’t have a reserve and couldn’t play without one – why not say that Gryffindor had to forfeit the final match because they didn’t have a full team? Not that it really matters. The scene ends with Madam Pomfrey throwing them out.
I’d forgotten this next scene even existed, honestly. It’s very short and nothing in it is ever relevant again. Hagrid shows up for a visit (complete with the description that he ‘looked too big to be allowed‘; fuck off, Rowling) and immediately bursts into tears.
This is both good and bad. It’s bad because Hagrid is an adult who should be seeing if Harry’s okay and comforting him if he needs it, not falling apart and requiring a child to comfort him. Sometimes you really do need to act like a grownup. And I was going to be pretty harsh because of it, but along with the tears Hagrid says that it was all his fault, that he told Quirrell how to get past Fluffy which was the only thing he didn’t already know, that Harry nearly died so Hagrid could get a dragon egg. He even acknowledges that he drinks too much.
This does a hell of a lot to redeem Hagrid to me, at least for this book. It’s already very rare for any character to admit they screwed up and take responsibility for their mistakes, let alone show actual remorse. It’s not enough to forgive what he did to Dudley, but it might be enough to forgive pretty much everything else he’s done wrong in this book.
Only for this book, though. As we’ll see over the series, Hagrid learns nothing from this. He’ll continue screwing up and endangering Harry and company, some of it will be because of his drinking, and he won’t change. Nor will he be sorry for any of it again as far as I remember. He also says he should be ‘chucked out and made to live as a Muggle’; we’ll learn next book that this already happened to him fifty years ago and made no difference whatsoever. So this is a redemption for this book, and this book only – it’s a nice standalone moment, but in the context of the series as a whole it’s just filler.
I also don’t like Harry’s reaction. Not only does he instantly forgive Hagrid – in fact he denies there was anything to forgive – but he also knows immediately how to comfort his friend and does so perfectly. Any child would be very uncomfortable in this situation, but Harry in particular ought to be utterly at a loss – has he even seen genuine tears before? Dudley fake-cries all the time, and Harry wouldn’t care if it was real or not anyway. He avoids and/or ignores Hermione when she cries (and will do all series). Since he had an unpleasant childhood it’s likely he’s cried to himself a lot, but we’re not meant to believe Petunia would have tried to help him when he was upset, assuming he didn’t keep it hidden. He should have no idea what to do here.
And the emotion is cut off abruptly anyway, after Hagrid asks Harry not to say Voldemort’s name and Harry screams it at the top of his lungs. (Somehow Madam Pomfrey doesn’t hear this.)
Thinking about it, the whole issue of Voldy’s name says nothing good about either Harry or Dumbledore. The books focus on how brave they are for saying it (never mind how stupid that is) but what they’re actually doing is deliberately using a word that everyone around them finds very uncomfortable and constantly asks them not to use. And instead of listening and not doing the thing that makes all their friends uncomfortable, they explain why their friends are wrong for feeling that way and carry on doing it.
Don’t do this.
Hagrid’s shocked enough to stop crying, and will now be absolutely fine about all his stupid decisions for ever. He says he’s brought Harry a present, and produces a photo album full of pictures of Lily and James. I’m in two minds about this as well – it is genuinely cute and a really nice thing to think of, but as I pointed out during the first mirror sequence, Harry doesn’t actually care about his parents except when the plot tells him to. And of course shows no emotion here – the book tells us he can’t speak, and the scene ends without him thinking or feeling anything.
Apparently Hagrid got the photos by sending owls to James and Lily’s old school friends. We aren’t told who, or how Hagrid knew any of them. The only reasonable candidate is Lupin, who Hagrid could actually know about, but none of Lily’s friends are ever named (bar one, of course) and there’s no indication that she ever knew Hagrid. How are there so many photos? It’s not like these days where every kid has a smartphone with a built-in camera. They were at school in the seventies; cameras were very expensive and not very common and schoolchildren definitely wouldn’t have had any. James was rich enough to have had a wizard camera (though next book we’ll be told they’re pretty much the same as non-digital Muggle cameras, and the magic photos come from the potion you use to develop the film) but that doesn’t mean his friends were or that any would have survived. And once they left school James and Lily were fighting for the Order, along with all James’ friends, and I would hope they were too busy for much photography. I’d accept a few framed pictures, of the wedding if nothing else, but not an entire album.
As far as I know, the only person we know for sure Lily was friends with, and who is definitely still alive, is Snape. Can you imagine if Hagrid had contacted him asking for photos for Harry? It’s probably just as well that their friendship was a secret. Though if Severus ever had any photos I imagine he probably ritually burned them in a fit of teenage angst.
And I’m talking about this in more detail than it deserves because I really don’t want to do the next scene. You all know why.
Well, let’s get this over with. Thanks to narrative convenience, Harry arrives late to the feast – just late enough to make a dramatic entrance, but not so late that he actually misses anything. And because this is fiction, all the hundreds of hungry children talking to their friends and waiting for food notice him walking in and all care enough for there to be a dramatic silence while he walks to his chair and sits down before everyone starts talking at once and moving to get a look at him. See my earlier comments that most of them shouldn’t believe him.
The book makes a point of describing to us that the Great Hall is decorated completely in Slytherin colours, with the snake banners hanging from the ceiling; it stands out even more since Rowling stopped describing settings a while ago.
Dumbledore shows up to get everyone to shut up, and makes one of his by now trademark ‘whimsical’ self-deprecating speeches about how the kids now have all summer to forget what they’ve learned and so on. I’d like it from any other character, in any other book, but I know what’s coming. He reads out the final house point tally: Gryffindor 312, Hufflepuff 352, Ravenclaw 426, Slytherin 472.
I wonder how this is calculated – do the magic hourglasses give totals, or does some poor sod have to literally count each gem? I’ve also always thought these numbers seem pretty small, with the frequency we’re expected to believe points are given out in classes and such, ,particularly if the arbitrary Quidditch scores count. Then again, with the frequency huge numbers of points are taken away, it could also be argued it’s a miracle any of them are nonzero. Or do we think Hogwarts point totals can go into the negative?
The Slytherins start cheering, stamping, banging things on the table and generally celebrating and being happy, with special focus on Draco. Harry finds this literally sickening. Nobody else applauds.
‘Yes, yes, well done, Slytherin,’ said Dumbledore. ‘However, recent events must be taken into account.’
The room went very still. The Slytherins’ smiles faded a little.
You all know how this goes. I think a lot of readers guessed, as the Slytherins just have, from the moment Dumbledore sounded so dismissive. Long story short, he gives Hermione and Ron fifty points each, and Harry sixty, and Gryffindor starts collectively cheering and screaming for them. This isn’t sickening, of course, it’s only sickening when Slytherins do it. Then there’s a dramatic pause so the book can tell us all that Gryffindor and Slytherin are now tied for first place, before Dumbledore gives ten more points to Neville and changes all the decorations to Gryffindor red and gold and lions and not only Gryffindor but also Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff go berserk celebrating.
I hate this so much.
Current spell count: Hermione, 11. Quirrell, 3. Ron, 1. Draco, 1. Neville, 1. Dumbledore, 1. Harry, 0. Obviously Quirrell will be removed from the spell count after this book; I’m mostly going to focus on the main characters, but I’ll keep track of Dumbledore, just to see how much magic this supposed great wizard actually does. I’ll be running separate counts for each book, and adding them together for the conclusion posts each time so we can compare to the series as a whole.
Anyway, I don’t want to dwell on this too much because it really makes me angry and you can all spot the problems without me needing to explain it. The whole focus of the book shifts to ignore Slytherin as much as possible and concentrate on the people who are happy at their expense; there’s no description of the Slytherins looking upset or angry. With the exception of Snape obviously faking a smile as he shakes hands with McGonagall, and that’s only included for Harry to tell us that Snape still hates him which is totally unfair because Harry’s been awesome again so Snape should now think he’s awesome, and Draco looking ‘stunned and horrified‘ for Harry and Ron to gloat about. Poor Snape now has to go to the Slytherin common room after the feast and try to make them feel better. There’s no reason why Ravenclaw or Hufflepuff would care. Dumbledore already knew he was going to do this and the only reason for decorating the hall for Slytherin in advance was to be petty and spiteful when publicly changing it afterwards to rub their noses in it.
And this didn’t have to happen. This scene could have been played out much differently. The children do deserve points for what they did, and including Neville at the end like that is really sweet, but the numbers should have been tweaked slightly. Make it so Neville’s points at the end bring Gryffindor up to tie with Slytherin and have them be joint winners. Slytherin earned the cup, they worked for it, and it’s not fair to not only ignore that achievement but to humiliate them over it because something happened at the last minute that only Dumbledore could have predicted. Have them tie, add Gryffindor banners to the existing Slytherin ones and make it a joint celebration.
Also, is there any reason Dumbledore needs to award these points so publicly? It’s not as though other point awards or deductions are announced at major events. He could easily have just awarded the points to them in private so the totals would adjust before the feast, if he wanted to avoid the spectacle, so one has to conclude that humiliating Slytherin in public was his goal all along. That could even preserve the pleasant surprise for Harry; Ron already primed him to believe they were losing because of Quidditch, so he could walk in and be shocked at the Gryffindor decorations before his friends explain why they were awarded points. There is no way to read what happened here as anything other than petty and spiteful and nasty. And yet we’re meant to hate the Slytherins later for daring to dislike Harry.
As the scene ends, Harry tells us this is the best moment of his life. The time he walked into a room and was handed a shiny thing at the expense of innocents is better than any of the (very few) times he actually achieved something. In another book I’d acknowledge that he deserves to feel happy about being rewarded, but I hate the way it was handled far too much. If the focus was on Gryffindor winning and not on Slytherin losing, it would be easier to swallow, but Harry’s (and the book’s) enjoyment of this moment really does revolve around it being taken away from the Slytherins.
The final scene wraps up the rest of the year as quickly as possible. Harry and Ron somehow not only pass their exams but get good marks. Hermione is top of the year. Neville scrapes a pass – we’re told his good Herbology grade makes up for his bad Potions one; that is not how school works – and the boys are disappointed that Goyle didn’t fail badly enough to be kicked out. I don’t know why Goyle specifically, when Crabbe’s supposed to be stupid as well, nor do I know why all the children seem to know each other’s exam results; I do hope they’re not posted publicly, but this is Hogwarts so they probably are.
Everything’s packed and the children are leaving. They’re given notes telling them not to use magic at home – Fred is disappointed, he always hopes the school will forget to do this. I don’t know why that matters, he’s not going to be allowed to use magic whether there was a note or not. For reasons surpassing all understanding the first years are sent back across the lake in boats to get to the station – I suppose there aren’t enough magic carriages for everyone?. We skip over the train ride home, except for a brief comment that they pass through Muggle towns en route because apparently despite my very thorough rant about the fucking train there are still ways to make this even stupider, and there’s a guard at the other end letting them off the platform in small groups – this is a good idea but he wasn’t there for the first journey and will never be seen again.
Ron says Harry and Hermione should both come and stay with him over the summer. (There’s no evidence that he ever invites Hermione, from what I remember; I don’t think she’s involved in anything at the start of next book.)
We see Ron’s family. Ginny continues to be obnoxious, squealing and pointing at Harry until her mother tells her off. To my surprise, Harry thanks Mrs Weasley for his Christmas presents.
We see Harry’s family. I don’t know how the Dursleys knew to come and meet him, nor why they’d bother when they have absolutely no incentive to do so. The book specifically points out that both Petunia and Dudley are terrified of him.
We do not see Hermione’s family. Of course. She does manage to stay in the scene, though, being rather taken aback by how rude Vernon seems and sounding rather concerned when she says she hopes Harry has a good summer.
This is the final paragraph of the book:
‘Oh, I will,’ said Harry, and they were surprised at the grin that was spreading over his face. ‘They don’t know we’re not allowed to use magic at home. I’m going to have a lot of fun with Dudley this summer …’
Poor Dudley. We’ll see next book that Harry does do just this, despite the fact that Petunia should know he’s not allowed to do magic – what am I saying, of course Lily would have done the same thing Harry does here.
When you first read this, particularly if you’re a child at the time, this is a good ending. Harry has triumphed over his bully. Then you get older, and you realise that actually Harry has merely become a bully in turn and this is a terrible ending. To Rowling, there are bullies and there are victims, and there is no middle ground and no grey area – not only that, but characters she likes are never bullies no matter what they do.
I think this ending is meant to be a Campbellian Hero’s Journey sort of thing – those stories tend to end with the hero returning to their normal life from whatever adventures, special world, etc they visited with new knowledge that will change how they live going forward. And on that level it does work; it’s just that normally, they’re supposed to have learned and grown and become a better person. Instead, here we just get that the power dynamics have shifted and Harry intends to exploit that. So as a technical/structural thing, it does work and give the story a sort of closure; it’s just morally repugnant. And therefore an entirely appropriate note to end this clusterfuck of a book on.
Well, we made it, folks. One down, seven to go. As I said at the start, we’ll be taking a break until November, when we’ll tackle the film and put together some sort of conclusion post. I’m sure we’ll manage some non-Potter content in the meantime. Thanks for sticking with us.