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Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone: Chapter Seventeen

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.

Child reaching up through sea of balls, close-up of arm

Drowning in idiot balls wouldn’t be nearly such fun

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.


Posted by on September 18, 2016 in loten, mitchell


Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Final Thoughts

First off: this play really is terrible. It’s probably impossible to summarise all of the ways in which it is so, and I’m pretty sure I barely scratched the surface in my read-through and our discussions in the comments (thank you to everyone for engaging, though, it’s been fun). I want to break this down into sections to try to keep my thoughts organised.

Let’s talk about the plot.

I don’t want to talk about the plot. I already went through and summarised all of it with running commentary. And also, the plot is the most widely-discussed aspect of the play. It’s practically been done to death at this point.

The plot of this thing is an incoherent mess, taken as a whole. If you look at the interconnectedness of individual scenes, you can sort of see how they’re meant to follow from each other, but even then I don’t think it holds up. (This is a problem Loten and I have observed in a lot of fiction, which ends up being written in such a way that individual scenes aren’t terribly problematic, and scenes flow reasonably from one to the next, but when you look at the trends that emerge over the entire work it becomes a huge mess. Whether in terms of themes, or worldbuilding contradictions, characterisation turning out not to be what the author intended, or what have you.) Cursed Child doesn’t even manage that, though. From the beginning there are contradictions and inconsistencies everywhere, whether it’s internally or with respect to the books.

Then let’s look at the structure of this thing. It starts off with a sort of bait-and-switch, the first couple of scenes are setting up for this thing to be about the Next Generation’s Hogwarts experience, then they skip over that with a weird montage-style “scene”, and immediately start doing more setup for the time travel. Even disregarding the characterisation fail that’s already been rampant by this point, that was the first sign this thing was going to go off the rails: they skipped through three years of Hogwarts in a single “scene”, when I suspect the Hogwarts time is what most people would have been interested in seeing.

And most of the plot is driven by Delphi, who in turn is motivated by a prophecy of unknown provenance. It’s not even like the prophecy in the books, where she had the decency to do the self-fulfilling thing and have the mere existence of the prophecy be a motivator for people (I really don’t like prophecy tropes overall, but at least Rowling was willing to play with it a bit in the books), and in different ways for different people. I won’t say she did it particularly well there, necessarily, but it was miles better than what we got in this play. Nobody knows where this prophecy came from, nobody thinks to ask. And the only sensible explanation for why Delphi did the things she did is “the prophecy said so”, which ends up meaning authorial fiat. The writers wanted her to do things for the sake of plot, but couldn’t think up a motivation so they papered over it with a prophecy. That doesn’t make for a good character, nor for an interesting villain (which aren’t always precisely the same thing).

[Particularly since we’re never told who made the prophecy or who witnessed it or how anyone knew it was real. At least in the main series we were told all the reasons why the entire cast believed it without question.]

The final act of this play is honestly just bizarre. You would think that, if they were going to do this “rehash the backstory of the original series” thing, they’d actually do something interesting and maybe reveal some new information or a new interpretation of those events. Nope. It just served as a backdrop for the (honestly uninteresting) reconciliations and confrontations that were going to end the primary plot of this thing, and I think it was meant as nothing more than emotional manipulation of the audience (or at least of invested fans) so that the ending felt like it had more weight. I don’t think it succeeded at that because it was so blatant, but I think that’s what they were trying to do.

It doesn’t help at all that the vast majority of this thing is an Idiot Plot and required the characters to be unaware of things they should have known, and/or making the worst possible decisions they could make. And the actual events that occur are just… stupid.

Likewise, it has no sense of what the logical consequences of any particular thing should be. We’ve had lots of discussion about “Cedric the Death Eater” but that’s really symptomatic of a much larger problem, in which the writer(s) didn’t seem interested in actually thinking through how the actions taken would actually cause the timeline changes they wanted.

The play also wastes loads of our time with Harry’s prophetic dream scenes, that didn’t make any sense and also didn’t end up mattering at all in the end. They were clearly just an attempt to squeeze in certain characters (I really don’t know why it was so important to see Petunia and Vernon, really I don’t) [maybe the writers realised Harry was being openly abusive and felt they should tell us the Dursleys were (allegedly) worse, instead of actually doing something to either fix or acknowledge it?], and occasionally to feed Harry information he might have otherwise had to work to obtain (I think the only things he actually learned from the dreams were “Albus is in the Forbidden Forest”, which he could easily have learnt some other way and didn’t even need to know, and “something to do with Voldemort is afoot” which, likewise). And to make matters worse, it never even explains how Harry is capable of having such dreams, when there was no previously-established mechanism by which he could.

In the end, the plot honestly doesn’t even matter, because the play basically ends with a restoration of (and acceptance of) status quo. Yes, there’s theoretically some character development that happened, that’s normally the point of this kind of plot where the end goal is to return things to the way they started, but because the vast majority of the characters were so thoroughly derailed so early on, I found it nigh impossible to care about their development after that. (Maybe the derailment is less obvious in the actual theatre, when the actors have a chance to do something with it?) [Most of the characters don’t seem to change that much, honestly. Harry realises he’s been a complete dick to his son. Everyone else seems to stay more or less the same.] There are actually a couple of other things (Albus and Scorpius get closer and learn time travel is wrong, Harry and Draco become friends) but it’s pretty minimal.

What I found weirdest about this thing, honestly, is that it does feel qualitatively quite different from fanfiction. Fanfiction, or at least good fanfiction, in my experience generally has an awareness that it’s subverting the canon in some way and does so with purpose. It’s engaging with the canon (building on it, filling in gaps, criticising it, etc), and having a conversation. Even the worst of fanfiction tends to do this. This play, possibly by dint of having been declared canon, or possibly just because the authors didn’t feel like they had anything to say, doesn’t do that, and in failing to do that, feels very hollow. I don’t get the impression this play had anything to say about the canon, or was really doing any constructive building on the original story. It’s just kind of… there.

This has been a non-exhaustive rant about the plot of this play.

What about the themes and messages?

There are two major themes that come through loud and clear in this play: time travel is stupid and you shouldn’t do it, and something to do with parent-child relationships (well, really just father-son and father-daughter, mothers are pretty de-emphasised).

I’m not sure what can really be said about the first one, aside from maybe “thank you, Captain Obvious”. Time travel doesn’t even exist, so did we really need a heavy-handed morality play telling people not to do it?

That said, what’s less obvious about the time-travel theme is that it also ends up having some very unfortunate implications. The play is pretty clear that it views the alternative timelines are aberrations, less good than the original outcome (never mind whether or not readers/audiences agree, e.g. on Ron/Hermione versus Ron/Padma), and must be corrected. I think this is problematic for two reasons: firstly, it encourages a sort of Panglossian “best of all possible worlds” interpretation of the canonical Harry Potter endgame, when that’s failed to address all of the dystopian elements of the Potterverse, and secondly, if viewed in any kind of metaphorical sense it has to be seen as arguing that trying to change the world is pointless and destructive and the status quo must be preserved at all costs. I don’t think I need to elaborate further on how or why this is toxic.

As for what it has to say about parent-child relationships… I really don’t know that it has a coherent message, beyond “these things are important, and being a shitty parent will fuck up your kid”. “Don’t be oblivious to your kid’s concerns and try to listen to them, and don’t expect your child to be a clone of you.” Once again, thank you, Captain Obvious.

Oh, and I suppose you could argue something like “child abuse and subsequent reconciliation is a good way to get a cheap emotional response from the audience”.

What about characterisation?

As far as the existing characters went, it was almost uniformly awful. I may not think Rowling is a spectacular writer, but her characters do tend to have distinctive voices (well, with some exceptions) and this play did not do a good job adhering to those. Nobody’s dialogue sounded anything like their canon selves to me.

The only exceptions were Ginny and Draco. I actually thought that they were written better than canon, though of course this comes with the huge caveat that I’m being charitable in not holding the plot against them. Even though they were responding to a nonsense plot, their reactions seemed genuine and understandable. And I have to give them some credit for managing to have Ginny acknowledge and react to a past that the books largely forgot she’d experienced, even though they ended up contradicting the books in doing so. I never thought I’d be saying Ginny Weasley was the high point of anything.

As for the new characters… outside of Scorpius, who actually is half-decently realised, there isn’t much of a sense of who these people are. (Witness, for instance, the Sorting issues: if we were going by personality instead of plot contrivance and family allegiance, Rose should be in Slytherin, Scorpius in Hufflepuff and Albus – ironically – in Gryffindor.) The most I can say for the new generation is that they did a decent job selling me on the Albus/Scorpius relationship as friendship and possibly more, until they decided they had to No Homo the ending and ruined everything. Compulsory heterosexuality!

That only really leaves Delphi. I’m not sure what to say about Delphi, honestly. They had the opportunity to do something interesting with her, even if I think on the whole her existence was a contrivance that created way too many plot holes. If they had fleshed out her motivation and maybe given her some doubts – she’s trying to bring back a father she never knew, a regime she never knew, based solely on what she’s learned from the neglectful and possibly abusive people who raised her; she should have some questions about this. But no, biological heritage is everything. And while her plan could have been interesting, they ruined it by making it a prophecy (even if we had to keep the time travel, how much cooler would it have been if she’d analysed the history books and figured out points of divergence to try on her own? Just that would go a huge way toward improving her as a villain). And then there are all the things she shouldn’t know but somehow does, all of the amazing powers she has, and her absurd hair colour; she really is very badfic Mary Sue (right down to the absurd hair colouration and being shoehorned into canon where she doesn’t really fit).

How did this happen?

I want to talk about how this play came about, because I have a theory about the thought processes that led to it. (casts Legilimens)

[Current spell count: Mitchell, 1!]

I think it went something like this:

I don’t think the writers were clear on how to write a Harry Potter story with conflict that didn’t involve Voldemort. But Voldemort was pretty thoroughly dead, so they needed to figure out a way to keep him relevant or bring him back or something. Someone hit on the idea of time-travel from there.

Once the idea of time-travel was settled on, there are questions about who’s going to do it, what they’re going to try to change, and why they’re going to do that. Maybe Thorne just liked Goblet of Fire and wanted to do a homage to it, but I actually think it goes a bit deeper also. Goblet of Fire was probably the most structured of the books, because the Triwizard Tournament forced a distinct sequence of discrete (and recognisable!) events that had to happen in a certain order. So I think someone liked the idea of using the three tasks of the Triwizard as the touchstones where our traveller(s) would instigate changes because it would help structure the play. And if you look at Goblet of Fire… well, what are the biggest things that went wrong in that book? Cedric died, and Voldemort returned.

I suppose “go back in time and kill Voldemort/prevent Voldemort reviving” would too obviously create a huge ripple effect, but saving Cedric is the kind of thing that could look innocuous on its face and be the sort of thing that would appeal to children to try to fix. And aside from Voldemort himself, there’s not much else to fiddle with in that year.

[This raises a good point. Why was there no reference to Barty Crouch at any point? If the kids know how the tournament went wrong, they must know who did it. I realise that as you say it would be too big a change, but it’s something the characters should discuss while they’re trying to figure out what they should do.]

The parallel question is this: if someone’s instigating time travel to bring back Voldemort… well, who’s going to do it? Most of his supporters outside the Malfoys (who are better off without him and know it) were either dead or in prison. They could probably have just picked a random Death Eater who’d survived and handwave that, and would frankly have been better served to do it, but I suppose they might’ve been thinking that all of the surviving ones would reason similarly to the Malfoys (though that’s optimistic and I doubt it). The writers may have been thinking that nobody who is not intimately connected to Voldemort wouldn’t want him back? Anyway, I think we ended up with Delphi because they couldn’t think of any other reason someone might want to bring Voldemort back. I’m not sure if they decided to emphasise all of the father-son issues for parallelism after they decided Voldemort’s child was going to be integral to the plot, or if that reasoning went the other way around (we want to talk about parent-child issues, so what if Voldy had a kid?), but there’s definitely a connection there too.

And there you have it: Voldemort’s secret daughter manipulates some well-meaning children into interfering with the Triwizard tasks to try to save Cedric Diggory, in a plot to bring him back.

Or in shorter words, I think this entire play happened because they were too lazy to think up a plot that didn’t involve Voldemort, and the rest was just a chain of interconnected bad ideas from there, following at least a sort of logic. It doesn’t explain everything, and obviously I’m just speculating here, but it does seem to hang together and make sense of the otherwise incomprehensible.

[Looks like Rowling’s exam-conditions writing is catching. Someone really needs to explain to authors the world over that you can actually change things, you don’t need to just keep going and hope to stumble on a way of trying to fix the first idea that popped into your head.]

Who should see this play?


In all seriousness, I found myself repeatedly asking the question “who was this written for?”. And I did end up having some thoughts about that.

First off, there’s the question about barrier to entry. This play makes some pretty extensive assumptions about what the audience will know, and does not in any way try to explain things for newcomers. Parents of children who are into the series but haven’t read it yourself who’ve been dragged to see it? Good luck understanding anything. This is a very weird choice, considering the change in medium, though I suppose understandable if you consider this thing “Harry Potter Book Eight”. (And I suppose to some degree, Harry Potter has reached a level of saturation in the cultural consciousness that you could assume at least some baseline level of audience familiarity…)

[This could explain why the characters never seem to discuss things they really ought to talk about. The writers assume the viewers will know it all already, and overlook the fact that it’s still relevant to the characters. And assuming even a baseline level of familiarity would be optimistic, I’m thinking of my own parents here – I once challenged them to name literally any character who wasn’t Harry. My mother actually got Hermione, which is impressive, though couldn’t say who that actually was. Dad made a vague stab at Voldy and got the name wrong. That’s as far as they got. They don’t know the name Hogwarts, they don’t know the plot, my father assumed for years that my Slytherin tie was my own school tie despite my uniform never including a tie at any point ever. Yet they’ve been in the room while I watched at least two of the films, and were ostensibly watching them with me. I can confidently say that they’d be utterly lost while watching this within the first two minutes.]

I actually think part of the problem is that this thing wanted to be Book Eight, when for the change in medium it would have been much better to try to make it a more independent story. There is absolutely no reason that a story about “Harry Potter: the Next Generation” had to be so intimately tied up with plotlines from the books. I think they’d have been much better served to treat the series’ events as backstory, and try to tell an original story featuring the children (e.g. a conflict that had nothing to do with Voldemort, or at least connected only tangentially through residual social issues). Look to the future, not the past. I am not arguing that ignoring history completely is a good idea (neither in fiction nor real life), but rather that the fixation on time travel and returning to the past events of the books did this play no favours in terms of its accessibility to people who are not enfranchised fans.

So what does that say about who this is aimed at? This play is aimed squarely at deeply enfranchised fans who prefer to engage the source material with their brains firmly shut off, people who always accept what the narrative tells them rather than what it shows them. This play is aimed at validating the Goddamned Epilogue, and telling anyone remotely critical of it that alternative realities are not as good. I really do think that’s it. As an example, much ado was made (including by me) of the deathblows this play deals to e.g. the Ron/Hermione ship if you’re thinking through the implications, but it ends up coming down firmly in favour of it and arguing that it’s effectively predestined, part of a perfect world and must not be protested.

[This after even Rowling admitted it was a mistake she should never have written. Seems like she’s retconned that opinion and is back to thinking it’s wonderful. Consistency, what is that?]

Does the play succeed, as something aimed at people who loved everything about the original series? I’ve seen a few people claim to enjoy it on those terms, but it doesn’t seem to have been the most common reaction. Even a lot of people who were not critical of the series, I think, were turned off by the blatant absurdity of the plot in this, and by the character assassination of almost everyone.

Now again, maybe this play is improved somewhat by seeing it in actual theatres. It’s been pointed out many places already that a lot of work goes in between a script and the final performance you see, maybe the actors are rewriting the dialogue to sound more natural, or something. And maybe the “special effects” are seriously impressive, because the play does actually call for a lot of them. I can well imagine appreciating what the tech crew were able to pull off on a stage without necessarily approving of the plot or anything else. (What I have a harder time imagining is choosing to invest the money and resources in pulling off all those effects for such a stupid story.) And there’s also the theory I put forward in my prior post, that, essentially, after the huge downer ending on night one, the relief of seeing the status quo restored may well make the second night’s ending a high note.

I still don’t think you should see it. Or read the script. I read it so you don’t have to. Just try to forget this bullshit exists and get on with your life.

Before I forget…

Some last-minute miscellany. I was asked to look at the cast list and see if there was anything interesting there, and Loten wanted me to do the spell counter.

Firstly, the cast list.

These are the roles that were combined:

Moaning Myrtle and Lily Potter Sr
Uncle Vernon, Severus Snape, and Voldemort (!!! seriously?)
Hagrid and the Sorting Hat (again, why is someone playing the Sorting Hat)
Aunt Petunia, Madam Hooch, and Dolores Umbridge
Amos Diggory and Albus Dumbledore (again, seriously?)
Trolley Witch and Professor McGonagall
Cedric Diggory, James Potter Jr and James Potter Sr
Dudley Dursley, Karl Jenkins and Viktor Krum (these people aren’t built remotely the same!)
Rose Granger-Weasley and Young Hermione

[Okay most of these are very silly. Vernon’s the size of Snape and Voldemort combined. Umbridge is shorter and wider than Petunia or Hooch (and why was Madam Hooch even in this?) Krum and Dudley are also very different. The notion of Hagrid (presumably not actual size) being a hat is quite funny though, and McGonagall being a weird child-attacking monster works worryingly well.]

Young Harry is played by six different people, I guess so he can appear different ages in different flashbacks?
Lily Potter Jr, likewise, is played by three different people. I didn’t even realise she appeared on stage that many times.

Craig Bowker Jr, despite appearing in all of two scenes before he gets killed, has a unique actor. Bane, the centaur, who appears in exactly one scene, has a unique actor (though he’s also credited as Movement Captain later, so I think if anything this is more of a prominent crewperson getting a cameo). The stationmaster, who appears in exactly one scene and has barely any lines, has a unique actor.

I don’t really think I have any special insights from this, but perhaps someone will find this information interesting.

And the spell counter. Here are the results:

Delphi – 16
Draco – 13
Albus – 10
Harry – 9
Hermione – 5
Ginny – 4
Scorpius – 4
Cedric – 4
Snape – 3
Ron – 3
Trolley Witch – 2
Voldemort – 2
(Total = 75)

Honestly, there’s not much to remark on there. Some of this was a little ambiguous, there were some nonverbal things I chose to count as spells, and likewise a few attempts at spells that were cut off that I chose to still count (and on a couple of occasions, lots of people casting the same spell at the same time, which gave all of them a point each). I’m not sure if this actually tells us anything; there were actually a lot of spells cast in this.

Delphi, Draco and Harry have their counts inflated by participating in duels (although Harry somehow manages fewer spells than either despite being the one involved in both of those duels…). Cedric appears for one brief scene and does four spells in it. Snape is present only in three scenes in the alternate timeline, and manages three spells. The Trolley Witch and Voldemort are effectively present in only a single scene each, but manage two spells each (yes, that’s two for Voldemort also; apparently they only showed him killing James and Lily, not casting the third spell at Harry). Professor McGonagall is not on the list because she never does a single spell the entire play.

Delphi won the spell count despite not using magic at all until late in act three. Once she decides to reveal she’s evil, she starts spamming all over the place.

I found it odd Albus did so many more spells than Scorpius, despite Scorpius being present in more of the play (particularly the “bad timeline” when Albus doesn’t exist, but he does no spells in the bad timeline).

Make of that what you will.

[It’s a lot more than I was expecting. I suspect that’s going to be close to the entire spell count for at least half the canon series. Good to know Harry continues to suck magically, though.]


Posted by on August 14, 2016 in mitchell


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

I sentence this play to death. Let’s see if I can follow through and finish it off. (Previous instalments: Act One Act Two Act Three)

Act four.

Scene one.

Again in the “grand meeting room” at the Ministry. Again this basically looks like Hermione’s giving a press conference for the general public (the other characters we know are present are the usual adult crowd for this play: McGonagall, Harry, Ginny, Draco, and Ron). She announces they found Craig Bowker dead, and that they learned of the prophecy and the existence of Voldemort’s child. (I find it interesting she actually used the title Dark Lord also, because that’s appeared pretty seldom in this play, most of the time people just say “Voldemort”.)

There’s a lot of talking back and forth about how little they know and how little they can do (McGonagall in particular is extremely angry with Hermione for apparently losing track of the Time-Turner again), that they’re trying to investigate (but it seems pretty hopeless). One by one, Harry, Draco, Ginny and Ron join Hermione on the stage in solidarity basically to say “we all fucked up”, apparently it’s a huge deal and shocks everyone present that Draco is supporting them.

Not much else to be said about this scene. It’s honestly just more filler, it’s not terribly written and it’s clearly trying to ratchet up the tension but I don’t think it accomplishes much.

Scene two.

Wow, I didn’t think there were more sharks left for this play to jump, but somehow this scene manages it, and in so doing clearly sets the tone for the rest of what’s still to come. Not promising, not that I was really expecting it to be.

Anyway, the setting is specified as a train station in the Scottish Highlands, in 1981. You can already see where this is going, I’m sure. That’s actually a bit of a spoiler if you’re reading the script, because they intend the year to be a bombshell reveal at the end of this scene.

Albus and Scorpius are at the train station, arguing with each other whether to try to talk to the stationmaster who is a Muggle, to find out if anyone has seen Delphi and/or what year it is. At least, they start out trying to talk about that, it pretty quickly gets sidetracked into their issues (Albus is hung up on the fact he thinks his father will blame them for this; Scorpius thinks it’s a bigger deal they’re trapped in an unknown time without wands, etc, and that Albus has odd priorities). There’s also an exchange about how Albus fancied Delphi and now feels guilty about it (so I guess they’re now trying to insist he’s completely heterosexual?).

The stationmaster interrupts them and asks if they know the trains are running late, in a very thick Scots accent they barely understand. He hands them a timetable and this gives the super shocking reveal: the date is 30 October 1981.

From this, the boys immediately jump to a conclusion, they think they’ve figured out Delphi’s plan. They think it’s because they were going on to her about how prophecies don’t need to come true, so instead of trying to fulfill the existing one she’s going to interfere with the original one (which they recite for the sake of the audience). So they decide they need to get to Godric’s Hollow to prevent Delphi killing Harry as a baby.

I have lots of questions about this, obviously. I almost don’t think it’s necessary to explain how ridiculous this is. I did check back to the previous scene, and apparently it does hint there that she’s doing something with the Time-Turner while they were struggling over it, before she breaks it, but still. It continues to amaze me how easy it supposedly is to specify dates/times to travel to on this Time-Turner, that Delphi could do something like this on a moment’s notice.

Likewise, I think we’re intended to view this as clever of Delphi, but really this is an Idiot Ball moment for her. She’s already had it confirmed that her previous strategy worked (they already brought true her prophecy, for fuck’s sake), she could’ve just offed the boys and replicated what they did to Diggory in the second task. Instead she’s going out of her way to interfere with something else, which is needlessly complicated, and she still has the boys in the same time period (again, why don’t you just shoot them).

Obviously this play is going to try for some kind of pseudo-profound parallelism in going back to “where things all began”. I’m really not sure what it’s going to be able to accomplish, because let’s face it, there’s nothing particularly special about the backstory/setup in which Voldemort tries to kill Harry, and I’m not sure it’s a good idea to be encouraging us to put that scene under greater scrutiny when the “power of love” bullshit explanations were thin and unconvincing as it is.


Scene three.

Suddenly the boys are in Godric’s Hollow. Again I have questions – how’d they know how to get there from wherever they were? How’d they get there so quickly? We don’t see them get on a train or anything, and they explicitly go out of their way to talk about how they have neither wands nor brooms. [They’re also not old enough to Apparate.]

Anyway, they walk through the city. Scorpius points out various landmarks, apparently he’s been there before but Albus never has (he apparently refused every time Harry tried to take him there). Scorpius mentions the statue that will exist eventually, which Albus apparently never knew about. They glimpse Bathilda Bagshot who Scorpius fanboys over (okay, that’s kind of cute), then see the Potter home, and see James and Lily pushing baby Harry in a “pushchair” (why don’t they just call it a pram, is pushchair an actual thing?). [Yes, a pushchair is what you call a stroller, a pram is the fancier show-off version. Which honestly James and Lily would have had, so your argument is perfectly valid.] They realise Delphi hasn’t gotten to them yet [why, what is she doing?], but also that they have no plan for what they’re going to do when she does show up.

[…why are James and Lily out with the baby? They’re meant to be in hiding. If you know bad guys are after you, maybe don’t go out for a stroll? Also, PLOT HOLE ALERT – the Potter house is Secret-Kept at this point. Pettigrew hasn’t told the boys, or the Mary Sue, where it is. None of them should be able to see it.]

Very good point about the Fidelius thing; somehow I completely missed that. Now there is some potential ambiguity here because we’re never told how that bloody spell is supposed to work. It does seem to render 12 Grimmauld invisible to those who haven’t been told the Secret, in OotP. But at the same time, the time-travel shenanigans could also just mean that, because everyone involved already know the Secret and it’s not under Fidelius in their time, they keep that knowledge when going backward (they weren’t there when the spell was cast, so under some theories of how it works they could be unaffected by it). But the play never even acknowledges the possibility (I’d have been perfectly fine if they just used a handwave like that) or acknowledges the Fidelius was there in the first place, so that’s another zero for you, writers. (And that’s even disregarding the fact that they’re supposed to be in hiding, they shouldn’t just be parading Harry about in public view without a care in the world.)

Scene four.

Harry’s office at the Ministry. This is a long scene and full of bullshit.

We open on Harry rifling through papers, trying to find any clue he missed. Dumbledore’s portrait initiates a conversation with him. Harry doesn’t seem particularly happy to see Dumbledore, and basically tells him to get lost because “[he was] absent every time it really counted”. Dumbledore spouts some platitudes about how he would have spared Harry if he could, but Harry isn’t having any of it:

HARRY: “Love blinds us”? Do you even know what that means? Do you even know how bad that advice was? My son is — my son is fighting battles for us just as I had to for you. And I have proved as bad a father to him as you were to me.

Damn, Harry. I may not care much for how they’ve written him to this point, but that’s a pretty good line, and something that probably did need to be said. In response, more self-justification from Dumbledore. We eventually get this:

[DUMBLEDORE:] Of course I loved you . . . and I knew that it would happen all over again . . . that where I loved, I would cause irreparable damage. I am no fit person to love . . . I have never loved without causing harm.
A beat.
HARRY: You would have hurt me less if you had told me this then.

I’m not sure what to make of this. I actually like that this is giving us some explicit acknowledgment that Dumbledore wasn’t perfect (never saw much of this in the main series! even Deathly Hallows’ attempt was tepid at best), and that Harry acknowledges Dumbledore treated him pretty badly. On the other hand, it just leads from that into Dumbledore spouting more platitudes about love (albeit, I think, slightly better ones than usual) and Harry admitting he loved Dumbledore too:

HARRY: I loved you too, Dumbledore.

They’re even ripping off fucking Star Wars now?

Dumbledore leaves. I think we’re supposed to have viewed this as an emotional and moving scene, but really it’s just more of Dumbledore being an arsehole. [I’m okay with that. Though it’s somewhat invalidated by people having been swearing by him as though he’s Jesus for the entire play.] Like the books, the play wants to have its cake and eat it too where Dumbledore is concerned.

Draco shows up shortly afterward, and the scene rapidly improves (though there’s still a lot to dislike).

DRACO: Did you know that in this other reality — the reality Scorpius saw into — I was Head of Magical Law Enforcement? Maybe this room will be mine soon enough. Are you okay?
HARRY is consumed in his grief.
HARRY: Come in — I’ll give you the tour.

That’s a pretty good exchange, I actually like it. But then we get this:

DRACO: The thing is, though — never really fancied being a Ministry man. Even as a child. My dad, it’s all he ever wanted — me, no.

I guess this is written to the movie canon, in which Lucius Malfoy worked at the Ministry for some insane reason? (I remember him once telling Arthur Weasley “I’ll see you at work” but it didn’t make a whole lot of sense). I tend to agree with something I once saw Arsinoe de Blassenville say in an author’s note, “it’s obvious that Lucius Malfoy’s career is being Lucius Malfoy”. He’s on the Hogwarts board and possibly the Wizengamot, he has investments, he throws money around, but he’s not the type to work for someone else (except reluctantly Voldemort) and he’s certainly not a bureaucrat. Lucius Malfoy buys politicians and bureaucrats, he wouldn’t sink so low as to become one himself.

Anyway, here comes the big reveal. The Time-Turner that’s been driving the plot up to this point was just a prototype, hence the five-minute problem. Apparently Theodore Nott (remember him?) had actually been working on commission from Lucius Malfoy, because “he liked owning things that no one else had”, he wanted it for his collection but had no intentions of using it. Anyway, Draco has the perfected version, which doesn’t have a time limit (and is also made of gold, as opposed to the other being made “of inexpensive metal”).

[Are we ever told what happened to Lucius and Narcissa? Or Molly and Arthur, come to that? It’s unlikely that all four of them are dead, and it’s less likely that none of them care about their grandsons. I can easily assume Ginny/Ron never bothered telling their parents what was going on, but Draco wouldn’t keep this from his parents. Likewise, James 2 and Lily 2 seem unconcerned about their brother.]

Nope, nothing. (Likewise, lots of people have been making noise about the absence of Teddy Lupin; lots of people are inexplicably missing who should be around.) To an extent I can understand this as artistic licence, because in a play you do need to keep the cast at reasonable levels, but it’s weird they don’t even mention these people’s existence or explain where they are (I suppose a problem in adapting books with a large cast to this medium). And there are some weird choices made (like, for instance, having Petunia and Vernon and Hagrid show up in flashbacks) that seemed unnecessary to me (though some of these are combined with other roles, admittedly), so I don’t think this defence works either.

We also get this:

HARRY: Hermione Granger. It was the reason she kept the first, the fear that there might be a second. Hanging on to this, you could have been sent to Azkaban.

Stop rewriting history, play. She said she was keeping it because she didn’t feel she had a choice, it was something new that they hadn’t seen before. Nothing to do with worrying about there being more of them. (I went back and checked.)

Draco says they couldn’t reveal they had it, because it would’ve supported the stupid rumours about Voldemort being Scorpius’ father. He goes into a monologue about Astoria; apparently it wasn’t so much that she was ill but an ancestral curse, a “blood malediction” that “showed up in her”. Much melodrama. Apparently he didn’t want to risk her health on a pregnancy and didn’t care if the Malfoy name would die out, but she insisted because she didn’t expect to live a long life and wanted Draco to “have somebody when she left”. They decided to live in seclusion in the hope that would be better for her health, but apparently that fuelled the rumours (somehow? Plenty of people live in seclusion in the Potterverse, it shouldn’t have seemed weird). Draco is regretful about this.

Draco offers the Time-Turner to Harry, he wants to go searching for their sons (he also says he’s been constantly resisting the temptation to use it to see his wife again, which is legitimately sad and a nice touch). Harry says they can’t, it would be impossible to find them. [You’re telling me the Head of the Aurors is saying there is literally no way to track specific individuals? I get that they don’t know what time period the boys are in, allegedly, but even going back year by year and casting locator spells each time wouldn’t take all that long. Harry isn’t exactly coming across as desperate to find his son.]

It would help if they explained how the Time-Turner worked (for instance, to what level of precision they can specify when to go to); I think the implication is supposed to be “we couldn’t possibly search all of time, there’s no way we’ll find anything”. Going year by year might not be enough, and day by day would probably be too daunting. That said, Harry does give up surprisingly quickly. It’s almost like he knows the plot’s going to feed him information later.

That’s where the scene ends.

Scene five.

Back with Albus and Scorpius trying to figure out what to do. Their first ideas are to tell people something (the Potters, then Dumbledore [not Snape, the only guy who ever actually tried to stop it?]) but they end up rejecting that because they’re afraid it’ll interfere too much with the future. (Finally, they’ve learnt caution! [Out of character caution!] I guess this is meant to be character development?) They realise they can’t ask for help in the past without risking changing it, so they’ll need to try sending a message to the future. [Faulty logic is faulty. They’ve never hesitated to change things before, and it’s never done anything catastrophic; what’s so special about this time?]

You’re absolutely right, the play’s weird insistence that “minor” changes don’t matter and only major ones do (e.g. they never undid Albus and Scorpius talking to young Hermione at the Triwizard, just the disarming spell on Cedric; that conversation should rightly have changed things too) plays havoc with their reasoning here. But I suppose this is an incidence of two stupids cancelling each other out, somehow.

Their first idea for that is to use Pensieve technology to implant it in baby Harry’s memory and try to set up a trigger for him to remember eventually, but they reject this because they’re afraid it’ll traumatise him. (I’m wondering how they’ve suddenly gained the knowledge and abilities necessary to do something like that, before they started on this time-travel odyssey they couldn’t even do expelliarmus.) [I wish you’d been doing a spell count, is Albus any more competent than dear old daddy?] (There actually is a lot of spellcasting in this, but you’re right, a spell count is probably a good idea. I’ll consider going back and doing it for a later post.)

Their next idea is to hide somewhere for forty years but that gets rejected pretty quickly, they think they’ll be hunted down and killed.

Albus sees Lily wrap Harry in the blanket (oh gods, here’s how the blanket becomes relevant; I told you it was a Chekhov’s gun) and realises Harry still has it (and remembers Harry said he always likes to hold the blanket on Halloween night) [Not only have we never seen this in canon, but Harry goes through multiple Halloweens throughout the series without giving his parents a single thought.]. But they don’t want him to see the message too early, so they have to do it in a way that it will only become visible when (of course) the love potion gets spilt on it. Apparently love potions contain pearl dust, which reacts with “tincture of Demiguise”, and tincture of Demiguise is otherwise invisible. Again, I wonder how they know this, because neither of them were particularly good students and this seems very specialised knowledge.

[This is stupid. If they’d done this, then the message would have already showed up when Albus first got rape juice on the blanket. It didn’t, therefore they didn’t, therefore this is impossible.]

They actually make excuses for this, along the lines that the blanket had been thrown in a corner and nobody went into that room since Albus first went missing. It’s a bit contrived, but they did try.

Scorpius remembers a “rumor” that Bathilda Bagshot never believed in locking doors, so they break into her house to “steal some wands and get potioning”. Sigh. Something about that phrase just sounds really, really stupid. [Everything about it. And why does Bathilda have multiple wands? And Potions equipment? She was a historian.]

Scene six.

We start with Harry and Ginny in Albus’ room, Harry’s blaming himself and angsting over the situation and Ginny’s comforting him (I think we’re supposed to make something of the fact she’s finally come around to not blaming him for it). Eventually Harry picks up the blanket, at first he’s upset to realise the love potion has burnt holes in it but eventually they realise it’s a message.

The way the rest of this scene is done is almost clever, Albus and Scorpius show up on another part of the stage and we cut back and forth (I’m assuming they do this with spotlighting, or something like that) between them trying to decide how to compose the message, and Harry and Ginny slowly figuring out what it says. Anyway, the message is “Dad. Help. Godric’s Hollow. 31/10/81.”

They’re filled with hope, and go to send owls to Hermione and Draco to tell them to meet them in Godric’s Hollow with the Time-Turner, they’re all going to go back.

I probably should complain about the contrivedness of this, but in the context of the rest of this bullshit play, I actually think this is one of the better scenes, just from a writing perspective.

The final line of the scene undoes most of my goodwill, though.

HARRY: Of course you’re coming. We have a chance, Ginny, and by Dumbledore — that’s all that we need — a chance.


Scene seven.

They’re walking through Godric’s Hollow, reminiscing. Apparently they’re surprised to see lots of Muggles around. At one point Ron decides to insult Draco, Hermione doesn’t care for this and we get a bunch of pointless banter; eventually she forces him to apologise. I hate Ron. (At least Ron and Draco are calling each other ‘Malfoy’ and ‘Weasley’, they seem to have maybe finally figured out the last-name-basis thing.)

They use the Time-Turner.

Scene eight.

In “a shed” in Godric’s Hollow in 1981. Albus looks up and sees all of the others. (How’d they manage to turn up in the precise location the boys were waiting for them? Contrived coincidence is contrived.)

They talk for a bit, making plans. Eventually they decide that because they don’t know where Delphi is, they need to find a good vantage point with a wide view, to stake out and wait for her. Hermione decides on someplace called St Jerome’s Church. I don’t think we’ve ever really heard of this before, but it is one of the landmarks Scorpius pointed out when giving Albus the tour in the earlier scene. [St Jerome is the patron saint of librarians, translators and encyclopaedists. Seems an odd choice.]

Scene nine.

In the church now. Albus is taking a nap in a pew, Ginny and Harry are talking about him while wondering where Delphi is.

HARRY: Poor kid thought he had to save the world.
GINNY: Poor kid has saved the world. That blanket was masterful. I mean, he also almost destroyed the world, but probably best not to focus on that bit.

Ginny reminisces a bit about the time “[she’d] almost destroyed everything”, the Chamber of Secrets incident, and apparently one of the things that helped her get over it (even though we never saw this in canon) is that Harry, while everyone else was ignoring her, decided to play Exploding Snap with her in the Gryffindor common room. She basically tells Harry that it’s the small gestures that matter, and she thinks that’s what Albus needs from him. She doesn’t think Albus knows Harry loves him.

This is actually pretty good characterisation – a surprise, for this play – and honestly, the kind of thing Ginny’s character was missing in the books. One of the complaints we always had about her is that the books never show any of the emotional fallout of the Chamber incident for her (and the other characters, including Harry, pretty much ignore her on-page in the aftermath of that), and that as a character she was very inconsistently written from book to book. Something like this could’ve gone a long way back then, if Rowling had thought it was important enough to include, and probably would’ve helped make the Harry/Ginny ship more believable.

[I’m amused that Harry’s idea of helping someone who’s traumatised is to play a game involving things exploding.]

They talk for a while and Ginny eventually has a breakthrough. She realises that if Delphi were going to go after Harry, she could’ve done it at any time, because Harry was fifteen months old here (that’s explicitly stated, which underscores criticisms we’ve had of the Philosopher’s Stone opening but that’s a matter for another time) and she had plenty of time in which to kill him. Ginny thinks Delphi actually wants to meet “the father she loves”, and just to stop him making the attempt to kill Harry in the first place because that would be an easier way to subvert the prophecy.

[Voldy would kill her for it. Best way to do this would have been to kill Pettigrew before he could tell Voldy anything, then make sure the Order knew he was dead so they could give the Potters an actual competent Secret-Keeper. Though as I mentioned earlier the writers have forgotten about that.]

Scene ten.

Same place, but now everyone’s there. I’m not sure where the others were meant to be in the previous scene while Harry and Ginny were having their moment.

Anyway, some of the others are confused by this plan, that they’re essentially planning to help make sure Voldemort kills the Potters and tries to kill Harry properly.

Albus has the first important insight, which is apparently that none of the history books record when or where Voldemort arrived in Godric’s Hollow (fair enough, there’s no way they would have known), so he suggests they have someone Polyjuice into Voldemort and lure Delphi to them. (Apparently he thinks Bagshot has all the ingredients in her basement; he seems to have forgotten it takes a month to make the stuff. Though in fairness, I think the earlier scenes which involved Polyjuice had also forgotten that.) They realise they don’t have a piece of Voldemort to use, though, so that won’t work; they decide to use transfiguration instead (apparently that works?).

There’s much ado about everyone volunteering to play Voldemort and offering their own reasoning why it should be them to do it, which I honestly don’t care to recap (except to note that Ginny’s the only one not interested, because she “doesn’t want that voice in her head again”, I actually like that they’re going out of their way to try to give her consistent characterisation from CoS). It’s pointless, and a smokescreen for what they eventually realise has to be the way to do it, they have to use Harry because he’s the only one who speaks Parseltongue and it won’t be convincing without.

There’s much angst about how horrible this will be for Harry, and how they’re afraid he could get stuck that way if something goes wrong.

***PLOT HOLE ALERT*** hey, it’s been a while since I’ve done one of these. How do they know what Voldemort looked like in 1981? The only one who could possibly know is Harry, who never had visual memories of him. If we’re going to take this seriously, the weird snakelike noseless abomination he returns as was nothing like his original appearance, but rather a consequence of the ritual he used to rebirth himself. He should be more human looking in 1981, more “Tom Riddle” than “Voldemort”. The play will completely ignore this.

[Facepalm. Also, Harry is totally okay with this plan? He has no doubts whatsoever about helping to kill his parents?] Much angst will ensue later.

Anyway, their plan is for Harry-as-Voldy to get Delphi’s attention, then they’ll “zap her”. (Ron’s phrase.)

They all turn their wands on Harry and turn him into Voldemort. It apparently works.

Scene eleven.

Same place. Ginny’s angsting over how she doesn’t want to look at Harry while he’s in Voldemort’s form. Albus is angsting about the fact he liked Delphi, and Ginny’s empathising with him (I suppose she does have the experience of being deceived by Tom Riddle; again, they’re actually doing a decent job with Ginny).

Delphi shows up. The others take positions.

This scene is stupid. (Fitting, as it’s the climax of a thoroughly stupid play.)

She reveals herself to Pottermort and introduces herself as his daughter. He asks for an explanation. Here’s what she gives:

DELPHI: I am from the future. The child of Bellatrix Lestrange and you. I was born in Malfoy Manor before the Battle of Hogwarts. A battle you are going to lose. I have come to save you.

This does not make the logistics of her existence work out. Bellatrix showed up on-page quite a few times during Deathly Hallows [including in Malfoy Manor] and at no point during that was she shown to be pregnant. Nice fucking try, writers. (Likewise, as we’ve seen before and will shortly again, she knows how to fly without a broom, a skill we only ever saw Snape and Voldemort use. How did she learn this? Neither of them were available to teach her, regardless of which of them we’d prefer to believe taught the other.) THIS IS STUPID.

Anyway, he asks her for proof, she demonstrates first Parseltongue and then flight. Harry pretends to be impressed and implies he’ll accept her, wants her to come closer. She’s “desperately moved” by this, comes closer. Their plan is working until the transfiguration fails (a bit gradually, apparently first his hands go, then his hair “sprouts” so apparently they’re going with bald snakeymort after all, and I was right to insist this is a plot hole [I suppose they’re assuming the Mary Sue wouldn’t know what he looked like either?]) and she realises it’s Harry. (The way this spell unravels and he turns back, it seems pretty obvious to me they originally wrote this scene for Polyjuice, which comes with a built-in time limit, but may have realised that didn’t work and changed to transfiguration as a handwave. I don’t think we’ve ever seen time-limited transfigurations before.)

A fight starts. She sees the others trying to come out of the doors and shuts them with Colloportus. There’s a bit of duelling, she’s getting the better of Harry (stage directions say she’s “far stronger”), she disarms him. (She’s a huge Mary Sue.) [I don’t know, we know Harry’s magically inept and almost never uses magic…]

There’s a bit of Harry running away while she tries to kill him, Albus “emerges from a grate in the floor”, she tries to kill Albus but misses. Albus unlocks the church doors with Alohomora. (I didn’t think this is how those spells worked, as far as I knew “colloportus” was only for shutting doors, and alohomora only for opening locks, they’re not opposites.) [Agreed. Finite Incantatem would have made more sense.]

Anyway, the others come out and overwhelm her with the power of numbers.

HARRY: I’ve never fought alone, you see. And I never will.

Cheesy. [But true. He needs other people around to actually cast spells and achieve things. Even his battle against the basilisk needed Fawkes.]

They bind her but refuse to kill her. There’s some more cheesy dialogue:

DELPHI: I only wanted to know my father.
These words take HARRY by surprise.
HARRY: You can’t remake your life. You’ll always be an orphan. That never leaves you.
DELPHI: Just let me — see him.
HARRY: I can’t and I won’t.
DELPHI (truly pitiful): Then kill me.
HARRY thinks a moment.
HARRY: I can’t do that either.

Actually, that’s pretty cold for Harry. But as I said, cheesy dialogue. There’s more cheesiness as they discuss why they can’t kill her because they have to be better than her, so they’ll bring her back to the future and lock her in Azkaban “to rot like her mother”. [Yes, that’s much more noble and merciful than a quick death. Our Heroes, everyone.]

Voldemort shows up. And this happens:

DELPHI: Father!
DRACO: Silencio! (DELPHI is gagged.) Wingardium Leviosa! (She is sent upwards and away.)

This play is so stupid.

Scene twelve.

Harry angsts that they have to let his parents die and there’s nothing they can do about it. The others tell him that he could stop it, but he won’t and that makes him heroic (Mark Oshiro called this play “an after-school special on not using time travel” and this has never been so clear). They decide they have to watch it happen [once again, Secret-Kept, they can’t see the bloody house]. We get a rehash of that scene.

Scene thirteen.

It’s the Potters’ ruined house. Hagrid shows up and finds Harry, takes him, leaves. Nothing else to say.

Scene fourteen.

There’s been a significant timeskip, because apparently that was enough closure to put on the main plot of this play (no trial for Delphi?). This play is stupid. Anyway, we’re in “disgusting epilogue” territory now.

The setting is a generic “classroom” at Hogwarts, but only Albus and Scorpius are present. This scene is deliberately aimed at destroying any possible sense you may have had that these boys could be gay and attracted to each other. “Have I mentioned I am heterosexual today?” Mark is not going to be happy. [He’s not.]

This scene is cringeworthy and, frankly, misogynistic and objectifying. They’re talking about how Scorpius asked Rose out, she turned him down, but:

SCORPIUS: But I asked her. I planted the acorn. The acorn that will grow into our eventual marriage.

SCORPIUS: Pity is a start, my friend, a foundation on which to build a palace — a palace of love.
ALBUS: I honestly thought I’d be the first of us to get a girlfriend.
SCORPIUS: Oh, you will, undoubtedly, probably that new smoky-eyed Potions professor — she’s old enough for you, right?
ALBUS: I don’t have a thing about older women!
SCORPIUS: And you’ve got time — a lot of time — to seduce her. Because Rose is going to take years to persuade.

Creepy. This is some PUA bullshit. But not quite as creepy as Rape Juice Ron. [Ick.]

There’s some irrelevant talk about Quidditch and that maybe they’re going to try to get into it despite not caring before. I don’t care now.

The scene ends with them hugging. But I don’t think any of the people who wanted them to see that are going to be happy with this scene. This scene is honestly insulting.

Scene fifteen.

The setting is “a beautiful hill”. I can already tell this is going to be full of banalities. Harry and Albus are together, reminiscing. It’s a sort of reconciliation. It’s trying to be profound but it’s really hard to care.

Albus mentions watching Harry’s parents and says he thinks they’d have liked them. Harry goes from that into a monologue:

HARRY: You know, I thought I’d lost him — Voldemort — I thought I’d lost him — and then my scar started hurting again and I had dreams of him and I could even speak Parseltongue again and I started to feel like I’d not changed at all — that he’d never let me go —
ALBUS: And had he?
HARRY: The part of me that was Voldemort died a long time ago, but it wasn’t enough to be physically rid of him — I had to be mentally rid of him. And that — is a lot to learn for a forty-year-old man.

“lost” is a really strange word choice for this, it almost sounds like Harry’s talking about breaking up with an ex-boyfriend. [Suggested drinking game for anyone contemplating reading this – shipper bingo.]

There’s some reconciliation. Harry resolves to be a better father.

HARRY: Delphi wasn’t going anywhere, Albus — you brought her out into the light and you found a way for us to fight her. You may not see it now, but you saved us.
ALBUS: But shouldn’t I have done better?
HARRY: You don’t think I ask myself the same questions?

That’s actually a decent exchange, this scene isn’t entirely garbage.

HARRY: Those names you have — they shouldn’t be a burden. Albus Dumbledore had his trials too, you know — and Severus Snape, well, you know all about him —
ALBUS: They were good men.
HARRY: They were great men, with huge flaws, and you know what — those flaws almost made them greater.

This isn’t terrible either.

Anyway, it turns out they’re actually at a graveyard; specifically, Cedric Diggory’s grave, because of course they are. Apparently Harry likes to come here to “say sorry” for not having been able to save him [once again something we never saw in canon, he barely gives Cedric another thought after the single incident of Dudley overhearing nightmares], there’s a forced parallel with Albus having seen Craig Bowker die while not knowing him well.

HARRY: I didn’t know Cedric well enough either. He could have played Quidditch for England. Or been a brilliant Auror. He could have been anything. And Amos is right — he was stolen. So I come here. Just to say sorry. When I can.

This is fucking rich coming from a play that operates on the fundamental assumption that Cedric Diggory would have become a Death Eater in any timeline in which he survived.

Anyway, they have a father-and-son moment.

That’s where things end. The entire play. I think it’s supposed to be poignant or something. Fuck it all.

Semifinal thoughts on this act:

This is some heavy-handed, contrived bullshit, to force in callbacks to the backstory of the original series and use them to create pseudoprofundity. At best, it’s playing on the emotions of invested fans of the series to create a response it hasn’t earned. At worst, it’s a bunch of redundancy that’s trying way too hard.

Delphi is revealed to be an implausible Mary Sue figure shoehorned into the canon where she couldn’t possibly exist. Rather emblematic of the play as a whole, really.

All of the queerbaiting for the Albus/Scorpius ship comes to nothing as the play insists on heteronormativity in the end, which is (frankly) utterly insulting. Not that the play’s portrayal of heterosexual relationships is any better, that’s full of misogyny and rape culture. This is a bunch of regressive nonsense that we should really have moved past in this day and age, especially when Rowling likes to claim she’s feminist and progressive. She should have been embarrassed to put her name to this if that were the case.

As it turns out, my speculation was mostly right, in that (in the end) the status quo is restored and people can leave the theatre knowing that most of the bullshit they saw was irrelevant. That leaves them free to have enjoyed the special effects (which I can’t judge, not having seen them, but the script is quite demanding and to pull off what it calls for on a stage would be genuinely impressive), and some of the character development that was forced in at the end (and the final scene does manage some genuine pathos) while ignoring the parts they don’t like. Especially after the massive downer/cliffhanger at the end of part one, I can see why this ending would be a relief, so this is my hypothesis for why many people are leaving the theatre raving about this play while everyone who reads it thinks it’s a horrific mess. (Alternatively, they’re just nuts; I’m sorry for singling this person’s comment out but their perspective is utterly alien to me.)

I won’t quite say I wish I hadn’t read it – shredding it felt good in places, and I’m happy to do this as a service so other people don’t feel the need to read it themselves and put themselves through that. Hopefully I was sufficiently thorough that you can all see the bullshit for yourselves.

[For my part I’m glad I didn’t read it, and although I do have a copy of the script I don’t plan to.]

I’m planning to do a final thoughts post in a few days, once I’m more sure how to sum up this whole experience.


Posted by on August 11, 2016 in mitchell


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

I really don’t want to do this, but there’s the entire second night of play to get through. Here begins part two. I was actually expecting this to be called “part two, act one” but it’s actually “act three”; honestly, I find that preferable. So, here begins act three, the first act of part two. If you missed them: Act One Act Two.

(Side note: judging by the search terms bringing people to our blog, nobody else knows what a scarramanger is either.)

Scene one.

This is essentially an “infodump the timeline differences” scene, it looks like. We’re in the Headmistress’ office, now occupied by Dolores Umbridge, and Scorpius comes in to talk.

Umbridge is praising him for his “past actions” (how we learn what alternate-timeline-Scorpius was up to before being replaced by time-traveller-Scorpius). There’s not a lot to be said about this, really; pure blood is obviously included, she praises his athleticism (which puzzles him) and reveals he plays Quidditch and is known for catching Snitches, she favours him for Head Boy, and has apparently praised him to something called “the Augurey”. [Isn’t that something from Fantastic Beasts? Let me look it up… yes, it is. It’s an Irish phoenix-like bird that can predict when it’s going to rain. What the hell does that have to do with anything?] (I looked it up too, and discuss it later.)

But she wants to know what’s wrong with him because of his “sudden obsession with Harry Potter” and has been asking lots of questions, says they’ve “checked him for hexes and curses” but there wasn’t anything.

Scorpius assures her it was just a “temporary aberration”. She seems to accept this without any suspicion whatsoever, because for some reason lots of people like to write as though evil and stupid are synonyms.

She dismisses him with some kind of salute or secret handshake thing (“She puts her hand to her heart, and touches her wrists together.”), saying “For Voldemort and Valor”, which Scorpius reluctantly copies. [I’m trying to picture that and whichever way you look at it, it looks stupid. I’d rather they took the really obvious route and co-opted V for Victory, though I suppose a society that eliminates all Muggleborns wouldn’t know about that.]

That’s where the scene ends.

I have to wonder, here, whether this is Team Rowling’s love of alliteration getting the better of them, or if they’re so steeped in Gryffindorism that they think any victorious group would adopt that ideology and value system. “Valor” is a very peculiar thing for the Dark Lord and his followers to incorporate in their slogan. Why not “For Voldemort and Victory” or something like that? That one’s not perfect because this is after they’ve already won, but it would still be an improvement, and it keeps the alliteration they seem to want so badly. It took me less than thirty seconds to come up with something better. [Team Valor is one of the gym-claiming teams in Pokemon Go.]

Consistency in characterisation is important and this play doesn’t seem to care.

Also, while I’m at it, I should say that I can already see where this is going. The next several scenes at least are going to focus on showing exactly how awful this bad timeline is, and probably not revealing any information readers/viewers care about, or much that will be relevant to the plot once this all gets undone. It’s going to be a colossal waste of everyone’s time for the sake of Scorpius’ angst and making the audience miserable, and I’m not looking forward to reading it.

Scene two.

Hogwarts Grounds, Scorpius is with some generic Hogwarts students. More specifically, these are the three recurring generic Hogwarts students who show up whenever generic Hogwarts students are needed, I haven’t bothered mentioning them before because they’ve shown up only in a handful of scenes and had barely any lines. But here they are, all together, so I’ll give their names: Karl Jenkins, Yann Fredericks, and Polly Chapman. And here’s what we know so far about these people: absolutely nothing!

They call Scorpius “Scorpion King” and this is apparently a running nickname. Facepalm. Here’s how to make your play more interesting, reference bad movies! Okay, okay, it’s a bad nickname and Scorpius has to pretend to like it, much angst. [I’m assuming they’re all purebloods given that we’re in grimdark world now, so how have they heard the phrase before? I could see them managing Scorpion, but in conjunction with King?]

The boys are after Scorpius to see if they’re “still on for tomorrow night” to “spill some proper Mudblood guts”. Serious question: this is something like twenty years after a Voldemort victory, how are there still “Mudbloods” left who would be accessible to teenagers (i.e., haven’t been killed, imprisoned, or gone into hiding)? This is heavy-handed at the expense of making sense. We get it, it’s a Voldemort wins timeline. [I assume new Muggleborns are still being born, and powerful ones are still being registered by the magic book nobody understands? So they’re going to prove their manliness by killing children, because grimdark?]

Polly, because she’s a girl, wants to talk about balls and crushes. (Feminism!) No, not about crushing balls, that’d be interesting. She’s trying to get Scorpius to ask her to something called the Blood Ball (essentially she asks him, but because The Man must do the asking, she’s asking him to ask her. Of course). And because we haven’t heard that word enough already, the reason she’s asking him is because there were rumours he liked her, she repeats the word rumour multiple times.

And of course it’s called the Blood Ball (I almost wish they’d gone for irony factor and called it the “Purity Ball“, that’d have been halfway clever, but I suppose we mustn’t piss off Christians), because lazy implausible names are the way to go, subtle writing is out of fashion. You’d think if they wanted to stick to Goblet of Fire parallels (as is so much of this play) they’d just use the Yule Ball, but that doesn’t sound EEEEEEEEVIL enough.

[It just makes me think of the opening scene from the first Blade movie.]

Scorpius hears some screaming and asks what that is. Here’s Polly’s response:

POLLY CHAPMAN: Mudbloods, of course. In the dungeons. Your idea, wasn’t it? What’s going on with you? Oh Potter, I’ve got blood on my shoes again . . .
She bends and carefully cleans the blood off her shoes.
Like the Augurey insists — the future is ours to make — so here I am, making a future — with you. For Voldemort and Valor.

Again, why are these people at Hogwarts to torture? Where are they coming from? Is Hogwarts still recruiting Muggle-borns and then throwing them into torture chambers? (I thought the official talking point in Deathly Hallows was there were no such things as Muggleborns, they were stealing magic, so shouldn’t the official line be that after the existing ones were eliminated no more should arise?) Are these just political prisoners being tortured in Hogwarts because reasons? Why am I thinking about this when the authors clearly haven’t?

Why is Polly using Potter as a swear word? Do defeated enemies typically get made into swear words, do American soldiers go around saying “oh, Saddam”? Again, this is heavy-handed bullshit.

And of course, for maximum angst, bad-timeline-Scorpius has to be a leader in the pro-Voldemort movement.

And the clunky dialogue name-drops “the Augurey” again. I wonder. Could that possibly be something important that the audience is meant to remember? [No, seriously, I checked the HP wiki as well. It literally just predicts when it’s going to rain. Has Rowling forgotten her creations again?]

I hate this play.

Scene three.

We’re in the office of the head of magical law enforcement, which is now occupied by Draco. I have to quote the stage directions here:

DRACO is impressive in a way we haven’t seen. He has the smell of power about him. Flying down either side of the room are Augurey flags — with the bird emblazoned in a fascistic manner.

Is it really common practice, to use purple-prose descriptions in stage directions that are meant to indicate how to set things up? Is some naive theatre director going to decide they have to dunk Draco in a certain kind of cologne (maybe scented like crude oil, or something?) for this scene? [He sounds like an Ayn Rand hero…]

We start off with Draco scolding Scorpius, but it pretty quickly comes out that Draco isn’t entirely on-board with the Voldemort regime despite holding a prominent position in it. Scorpius keeps mentioning his mother and how she didn’t think Draco is evil so how could he be doing this, etc etc, which is what brings that on. This is actually a pretty well-written conversation, I don’t mind this scene. Except for the fact that Draco name-drops the Augurey again, as someone he reports to; it hasn’t even been revealed what the Augurey is (well, we know it’s a bird) and I’m already tired of hearing about it.

DRACO studies his son.
DRACO: There’s more of her in there than I thought.
Beat. He looks at SCORPIUS carefully.
Whatever you’re doing — do it safely. I can’t lose you too.

It’s heavy-handed, and there’s an extent to which this is a sexist cliche (once again Astoria is the Sainted Dead Mother, and it takes a woman to bring out the best in men or some bullshit), but I like that Draco seems to be a decent father even in the bad timeline.

This was definitely one of the better scenes, though.

Scene four.

Scorpius is in the Hogwarts library, and the question he’s asking is “How did Cedric become a Death Eater?”. The question I’m asking is how he knows to ask this, because this is the first we’ve heard of it. And also how he doesn’t know the answer, because “Team Potter turned me into a fucking hot-air fireworks ballon to try to get his friends together” is a pretty solid motivation and Scorpius saw that happen.

He runs into someone called Craig Bowker Jr (who I’m pretty sure we’ve never heard of before), who’s wearing “tattered and worn” clothes and frantically trying to do Scorpius’ homework for him (Scorpius is shocked by this, and more so when Bowker goes on and on about how much he knows Scorpius hates homework). He mentions the assignment is for Professor Snape, which gives Scorpius an idea.

SCORPIUS: Did he say Snape?

I guess you need to be a bit heavy-handed at times in theatre to make sure the audience catch the important things, but really, an explicit double-take after Bowker leaves? Really?

Scene five.

Potions classroom, and get ready for some awkward conversation. Snape’s apparently alone in there (why isn’t this, say, in his office? Why would he be alone in the classroom? Conservation of sets, I assume, but at the same time I don’t think we’ve seen the potions classroom before).

Snape is vaguely sarcastic but doesn’t really sound like I would expect him to (but there are plenty of ways this could be explained, so while I think it’s bad writing it’s probably defensible). He does get a handful of decent lines:

SCORPIUS: I just don’t know what help I — need. Are you still undercover now? Are you still working secretly for Dumbledore?
SNAPE: Dumbledore? Dumbledore’s dead. And my work for him was public — I taught in his school.

In response to Scorpius initially mentioning time travel:

SNAPE: I’d say that the rumors of Hogwarts’s beloved Scorpion King losing his mind are well-founded.

Anyway, they talk about things for a while, Snape is suspicious but for some reason still answers Scorpius’ questions. Apparently where it all went wrong is that Cedric Diggory became a Death Eater and killed Neville in the Battle of Hogwarts; Snape doesn’t know why this would matter but Scorpius concludes it’s because that meant Nagini survived. Snape’s eventually had enough, and tells Scorpius he’ll go to Draco if he doesn’t leave.

Scorpius’ response to this is to mention Lily. Once again, this is some heavy-handed bullshit. Snape is “overwhelmed” by Scorpius mentioning he loved Lily. Then this happens:

[SCORPIUS:] Harry Potter told his son you’re a great man. […] He said you were the bravest man he’d ever met. He knew, you see — he knew your secret — what you did for Dumbledore. And he admired you for it — greatly. And that’s why he named his son — my best friend — after you both. Albus Severus Potter.
SNAPE is stopped. He is deeply moved.
Please — for Lily, for the world, help me.

I understand you’re desperate, Scorpius, but do you really have to go straight for the emotional manipulation?

Anyway, apparently this is enough to convince him, and (for some reason) he uses a spell to close the door (so they were having this conversation with the door open), and “opens a hatch” which apparently leads to a secret passage. This will take them to “a room hidden in the roots of the Whomping Willow”. Snape mentions “we’ve had to move” a few times but doesn’t say who the others are.

[This is not how Snape would behave. I agree the lines don’t really sound like him, but he also would not be convinced this easily. He’d reveal nothing, admit to nothing, kick Scorpius out and then start trying to figure out who the hell had this much blackmail material on him and who he has to kill to keep it silent.]

Scene six.

The set name for this scene is just “Campaign Room”, whatever that means. Someone’s getting lazier. So much for hoping this play might’ve improved when Snape inevitably showed up.

Once again, this is hard to recap. Anyway, in this room is Hermione, and Ron will show up shortly. She threatens Scorpius and it takes a while for him and Snape to convince her he’s on their side.

SNAPE: Safe. He’s safe. (Beat.) You know you never could listen. You were a terrible bore of a student and you’re a terrible bore of — whatever you are.
HERMIONE: I was an excellent student.
SNAPE: You were moderate to average. He’s on our side!

This doesn’t really sound like Snape to me. It also sounds a bit flirtatious. I’m pretty sure this scene and the next one were put here entirely to tease the SS/HG shippers. [I do not approve, this is not fair.]

There’s this:

HERMIONE: Most people know me as Granger. And I don’t believe a word you say, Malfoy —

Oh, NOW they decide to bring the last-name-basis stuff in? So people call each other by first names in good-worlds when the side of good wins, but last names are what you use when evil is about? (That’s obviously ludicrous but how else do you interpret this?)

RON runs in. His hair spiked. His clothes scruffy. He is slightly less good at the rebel look than HERMIONE is.

What the fuck does this mean? Why does he have spiked hair? Are we supposed to get the impression that he’s trying too hard to look like a teenager’s idea of what a rebel is, because somehow that’s what you do when you’re actually a rebel against something? I don’t find this amusing. Even Ron isn’t that stupid. If you’re living in hiding because you’re one of the only holdouts against a totalitarian regime trying to kill you, you don’t really have the time or resources to gel your hair into spikes and keep it that way.

Ron tries to threaten Scorpius but “fumbles out his wand” and ends up holding it backwards. How is Ron still alive?

SNAPE: He’s safe, Ron.
RON looks at HERMIONE, who nods.
RON: Thank Dumbledore for that.

Why is Snape calling Ron by his first name? [Well, if the surname thing is apparently normal now, it’s presumably some sort of infantalising insult. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.]

And again with the “thank Dumbledore”. Dumbledore is not God, try to get this through your heads, writers! Dumbledore’s also explicitly been stated to be dead in this timeline. Dumbledore lost, why are you thanking him? THIS MAKES NO SENSE. [Technically Jesus lost too, and people still invoke him…]

Scene seven.

Apparently, between the last scene and this one Scorpius has done some off-screen explaining. Anyway, they’re inclined to believe him because there’s no other way he could’ve known what he knows about them.

Ron claims he and Hermione are the only survivors of “Dumbledore’s Army”.

[RON:] Granger here is a wanted woman. I’m a wanted man.
SNAPE (dryly): Less wanted.

Okay, I almost chuckled. I told you they’re baiting SS/HG. [Well, so far this has been the only line I actually like. I still maintain it’s not fair though.]

They ask Scorpius about the details of the original timeline, which he tells them. Hermione is shocked but happy to learn she was Minister for Magic, Ron less pleased to learn he runs a joke shop. Then we get this exchange:

SCORPIUS: You’re mostly focused on bringing up your kids.
RON: Great. I expect their mother is hot.

I hate Ron. He’s a stereotype of male chauvinism. Scorpius of course decides this is the moment to tell them they were married to each other, which we’re told “astonishes” them, and he makes a point of how they were surprised by this in the other timeline too. There’s much ado about them exchanging looks, I’m not actually sure what this scene is trying to imply about them.

HERMIONE: Close your mouth when you’re looking at me, Weasley.

Snape calls him Ron but Hermione calls him Weasley? (she also calls Snape Snape in the next sentence) Would it hurt you to use a bit of consistency, writers? Did you bang this out in one sitting and not proofread? [Still going with Snape insulting Ron. Also looks like Hermione is no longer friends with him, which I’m also okay with.]

Honestly, this naming inconsistency is the first thing I’ve seen in this play that clearly shows signs of being other than Rowling’s handiwork. She was very, very consistent with how she wrote last-name basis in the books. It’s weird.

Anyway, Snape has figured out that he’s dead in the other timelines, based on the fact that Scorpius was surprised to see him. He’s not too happy to find out that Voldemort killed him:

SNAPE: How very irritating.
There’s a silence as SNAPE digests.
Still, there’s glory in being taken down by the Dark Lord himself, I suppose.
HERMIONE: I’m sorry, Severus.
SNAPE looks at her, and then swallows the pain. He indicates RON with a flick of his head.
SNAPE: Well, at least I’m not married to him.

Being married to Ron a fate worse than death? I approve this message. Also, again with the naming weirdness – she called him Snape earlier, now she’s calling him Severus? (more SS/HG baiting) [Not fair!] Although his line before that is out of character: since when has Snape given a fuck about glory? [I suppose maybe it’s to call back to his infamous Potions speech about brewing it? Bit of a stretch. But I can see him at least being pleased to get a somewhat noble death. Luckily Scorpius didn’t tell him how that scene actually went, he’d be much less pleased about that…]

They discuss how the Time-Turner works (including the explicit five-minute time limit which Scorpius has figured out… somehow), what spells they used to mess things up and how they’ll reverse them (apparently a shield charm will do it). They also talk about the limitation that it only moves you in time, not in space, so they’re going to have to leave this safe room and endanger their lives; Snape thinks only he and Scorpius should go, but Hermione insists it’s worth the risk and she doesn’t want to trust anyone else with the task.

They use the Time-Turner (apparently, despite the five minute limit, they’re going to go back in their current location and then rush to the tournament; this seems implausible to me).

There is a bang and a flash and our gang disappear.

Our gang? That’s what you choose to call this group? I don’t know why, but that choice of word really irritates me.

Nitpick: if the Time-Turner moves you only in time and not in space, they’ll end up in the vacuum of space somewhere because they have no way of accounting for planetary motion (and motion of the solar system itself, and so on; nothing is stationary). In order for this play’s plot to work as written, it has to assume a geocentric universe. What amuses me is that that is actually not the most ridiculous assumption the play has made so far.

Scene eight.

It’s a rehash of the first Triwizard scene, but these four are now there watching. Hermione blocks Albus’ disarming spell (though the stage directions say “as Albus attempts to summon Cedric’s wand”, so they can’t even keep straight what spells people are using). As the time turner pulls them back they hear Bagman talking about Diggory pulling off the dog transfiguration.

[BAGMAN:] A dog — he’s transfigured a stone into a dog — dog diggity, Cedric Diggory — you are a doggy dynamo.

Bagman is awful and I loathe him. [What the fuck, nobody talks like this. Is he stoned?]

***PLOT HOLE ALERT*** I don’t understand why they’re undoing the first change first. That should have changed the timeline they’d return to: Albus’ entire reasoning around the second “humiliation” gambit was based on the fact Cedric still did well after losing his wand somehow, without that reasoning he’d likely try something different, and these time travellers should end up in an entirely different future. They show no awareness of even having thought about this; they could easily have dropped it in when they were discussing what spells to use.

Maybe it’s because I’ve studied programming, but it seems obvious to me that you have to treat these kind of changes as a stack: last in, first out. That way, each time you undo a change you return to a previously known state. The way this play is doing things, the characters are being incredibly reckless. Also, we’ll see in the next scene they return to the “bad timeline” as if nothing changed, so the play is ignoring the consequences of that recklessness. This is incredibly poorly-thought-out, and somebody should have caught this. You fail time travel forever.

This play is stupid.

Scene nine.

They return to the present, at the edge of the forbidden forest. Ron’s in pain for some reason [good], Scorpius mentions that happened to Albus too. Snape is aware that because they’re outdoors, they’re vulnerable (he also says “we came back to the wrong place”; apparently, they were expecting to return to wherever they used the Time-Turner at first, despite having clearly stated it moves you only in time and not in space? This is stupid), and is trying to get everyone back to shelter.

Dementors notice them. Hermione decides the dementors are after her, not the rest of them, so she’s going to sacrifice herself to buy them time (that’s your best plan? MELODRAMA). She tells Ron she loves him and has always loved him (sigh, so much for the SS/HG tease) [oh goddamnit], she doesn’t care the Dementors will suck out her soul because the timeline will be undone, and tells them to go. Ron decides to stay with her (“can we talk about the love thing?”). She prevents him from doing a Patronus because she thinks they’ll keep the dementors there longer that way (is that how that works? I didn’t think it took dementors long to kiss people), they reminisce about the fact they had children in another timeline and think that’s a nice thought (sigh), they kiss. The dementors pull them apart and kiss them.

Well, actually, it’s described like this:

And then the two are yanked apart. And pinned to the ground. And we watch as a golden-whitish haze is pulled from their bodies. They have their souls sucked from them. And it is terrifying.

No mention of the dementors actually kissing them, which is weird and probably an inconsistency. Also, for maximum drama Snape and Scorpius basically just stand there watching this [probably stunned by the stupidity]. I suppose that’s a consequence of doing this in a play, they don’t want to have multiple things going on to divide the audience’s focus? But that has the unintended consequence of making the characters look like idiots and wasting the sacrifice by not actually taking advantage of the delay.

Sidebar: Can I talk about the stupid soulmate thing now? I guess I’m going to talk about it now. I really take umbrage at the notion, promoted by this play, that each person has a “correct” partner they’re meant to be with (how this is actually determined varies depending on who you ask, but usually it’s some flavour of predestination) and can’t have the same quality of romantic relationship with anyone else. This is deeply toxic and dangerous, and does not reflect the world we actually live in. (I recommend Tim Minchin’s statistically accurate love song. Seriously, he really covers a lot of what’s wrong with the soulmate model and does it hilariously.)

This play is, pretty much explicitly, arguing for something like the soulmate model in its portrayal of Ron and Hermione in the alternate timelines. (Never mind what I think of the Ron/Hermione relationship, and how problematic it is that THAT relationship is the one they choose to be the “correct” one, or the frequent mentions of love potions rape drugs). This despite the fact that they’re also hinting that Ron was happy with Padma in the first alternate timeline and possibly that that relationship was better for him, until he gets wind that he could’ve had Hermione instead (despite the backstory of that timeline being that he’d gotten on better with Padma!) and suddenly changes course to pine over her. Unless you find your predestined match, you’re doing it wrong, even if superficially you look happy with whomever you found instead (this play seems to be arguing). No. NO. I reject this utterly. If all of the parties to a relationship are happy in it and it works for them, that’s a successful relationship, full stop. This shouldn’t be a controversial view.


[Needless to say, I agree with all of the above.]

Okay, that’s that off my chest. Back to this scene.

A dementor blocks the progress of Snape and Scorpius, rendering the sacrifice we just saw entirely meaningless. They talk a bit about why they’re doing what they’re doing and it’s not terribly interesting; Snape is trying to distract Scorpius from the effects of the dementor but it’s not working. [As opposed to, say, fighting the damned thing? Snape can cast a patronus and I’ve never believed that’s the only way to harm a dementor anyway.] Then Umbridge shows up saying they’ve caught Hermione.

Apparently this version of Snape isn’t very good at lying or keeping his sarcasm in check, because he says this

SNAPE: That’s — fantastic.

and apparently that’s enough for Umbridge to instantly conclude that they’d been working together all along. There’s a bit of argument, Snape admits it; she admits she’s suspected him for years, then this happens.

UMBRIDGE rises off the ground. She opens her arms wide, full of Dark Magic. She takes out her wand.

What’s this supposed to be? We have never seen magic work like this in the Potterverse before. And likewise, what the hell does “full of Dark Magic” even mean? This is word salad. Anyway, Snape beats her to the draw and uses a spell called Depulso on her that sends her flying away (why doesn’t he just kill her?).

He summons his Patronus, which is still Lily’s doe, and they talk about that a bit. More dementors come, and Snape basically does a “you shall not pass”, he intends to hold the dementors off while Scorpius does the time travel thing, and tells Scorpius to tell Albus he’s proud to be his namesake. Scorpius runs, and Snape too is kissed by the dementors (but again it’s described as earlier). [So… in this timeline patronuses don’t actually do anything to dementors except slow them down a bit? In complete contrast with everything we’ve ever seen or heard about them before?]

(Snape, you’re proud to be the namesake of a bumbling fool who screwed about with time and accidentally made Voldemort win? Those being his last words make this an even more ignominious death than he suffered in canon.)

[I agree. This is bullshit. It’s out of character, it breaks what passes for the magic system, I’m pissed at the mockery of my ship and this is not how any of these people would act.]

There are a lot of stage directions here. Weirdly, they don’t actually indicate Scorpius using the Time-Turner or anything, there are just a bunch of events and then Scorpius evenutally comes up in the lake. But “The sky certainly seems — bluer than before.” (heavy-handed colour imagery, fuck this play) and Albus is there too so he’s clearly back in one of the better timelines. They both start talking pretty rapidly at each other, apparently Albus has just gotten back from the second time-travel incident (I’ve already said why this makes no sense and won’t keep harping on about that) but he saw Scorpius cancelling the spell on Cedric just after it started. So we’ve actually skipped completely the time travel incident and just jumped straight to the good timeline. That seems a weird choice. Scorpius doesn’t even seem to know that he succeeded at stopping Albus, so I’m not clear how that even happened.

Anyway, he’s really happy to see Albus and hugs him while they’re trying to swim (apparently this is a struggle), and is really happy to realise that Albus is wearing Slytherin robes again. Albus is confused, because Scorpius is really happy that they failed and this doesn’t make sense to him. (This scene is definitely pushing the Albus/Scorpius ship really hard; they’re even floating in water!)

Harry, Draco, Ginny, and McGonagall show up and find them and there’s some talk. They know what was going on because apparently they found out from Myrtle; Scorpius eventually realises he doesn’t have the Time-Turner any more and says he’s dropped it. Albus is annoyed he’s given the game away, but Harry says he already knows. End scene.

This was a long one. And yes, all of this is put as one scene in the script. It was a real struggle to get through.

Scene ten.

Everyone’s in the Headmistress’ office, apparently having explained what happened, and McGonagall is lecturing the boys on their stupidity. Harry tries to interject but McGonagall cuts him off, says his role as parent is irrelevant and she as headmistress has the authority to decide their punishment. Draco and Ginny approve of this. I want to ask why it’s been decided this is a school matter; I actually think I’d be on Harry’s side here, because he’s the magical police chief and this ought to be a criminal matter, except I don’t think that’s what Harry was actually going to say.

She says she should expel them but doesn’t care to (again, why is this an issue of school discipline?) and puts them in detention for at least the rest of the school year, removes their Hogsmeade privileges and tells them “Christmas is canceled for you” (I wasn’t aware that’s how holidays work).

Hermione bursts in and McGonagall’s not pleased to see her, says she wishes she could also give her detention, and rants at her about how badly she mishandled the Time-Turner. (I’m inclined to agree, I complained about Hermione’s office security earlier.)

Then McGonagall’s brain falls out.

PROFESSOR McGONAGALL (composes herself for a moment): Your intentions to save Cedric were honorable, if misguided. And it does sound as if you were brave, Scorpius, and you, Albus, but the lesson even your father sometimes failed to heed is that bravery doesn’t forgive stupidity. Always think. Think what’s possible. A world controlled by Voldemort is —

Actually, that’s better than I expected of her (anyone in this universe recognising that bravery isn’t the be-all-end-all of virtue is a pleasant surprise to me), but still, I don’t even think they deserve that much praise or that much benefit of the doubt. But I suppose a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down, and they need an awful lot of medicine. [Not in character for McGonagall, though. These are Slytherins she’s speaking to. And that raises a point – where is their Head of House? They should be present for any punishment of Slytherin students.]

She wants them to find the Time-Turner and bring it to her. (Why does this fall under McGonagall’s authority and why are the others obeying her? This seems like yet another vestige of the books, where Dumbledore as headmaster was effectively a hugely influential political figure, nearly the ruler of the wizarding world, but the narrative liked to pretend he wasn’t.)

Scene eleven.

Albus has let Harry into the Slytherin dormitory and they’re chatting in his room. It’s uncomfortable. But they actually manage to make some progress; this is actually a decently-written scene.

Basically, Albus admits he made a mistake and was reckless, Harry admits he was wrong to think Scorpius was Voldemort’s son/the black cloud (apparently this happened in the original timeline too? We only actually saw it in the second timeline), wrong to put Albus under surveillance and he’s locked the map away.

They hint around their issues with each other but don’t really resolve them; Albus mentions that in the second timeline he was in Gryffindor but that didn’t make things any better so Houses aren’t the issue, which Harry acknowledges.

This is a competently written scene, and the dialogue feels natural enough; it’s made worse by the fact that everything they’re talking about relates to the horrendous overall plot.

Scene twelve.

It’s another one of Harry’s stupid prophetic dreams. This one’s another flashback to something that never happened, Aunt Petunia’s taken young Harry to visit and leave flowers on his parents’ graves. She tries to convince him that Lily and James were awful people and had no friends (she says Lily was repellent by nature, and James “extraordinarily obnoxious”). Go Petunia. I don’t disagree with you.

The scene doesn’t agree with her, though. Harry asks her why there are so many flowers and so many personal messages thanking Lily and James if nobody liked them. She tries to claim it’s just the wind blowing them from other graves or someone playing a prank, but the stage directions say she’s getting emotional. I’m wondering what the point of this all is.

[Plot hole alert – Petunia’s a Muggle. I doubt she could even see the graves, let alone get to them. We know there are Muggles living in Godric’s Hollow, but the Potter graves would be hidden the way the stupid statue was. Harry, your dreams fail.]

Voldemort’s voice says there’s “a stench of guilt upon the air”. We get more pseudo-symbolic bullshit. Voldemort rises from the Potters’ graves, asks Harry “do you still see with my eyes”, then for some reason Albus bursts out of Voldemort’s cloak.

We get the same prophetic Parseltongue whispers and Voldemort’s voice hissing Harry’s name.

These dream sequences are a waste of time. I don’t know why it’s so important for Harry to have all these prophetic dreams, and it’s not an ability he ever had before either (except insofar as he saw into Voldy’s mind thanks to the Horcrux). I’m not sure if they’re just trying to reference that, they’re just trying to pad out the play, or there’s actually going to be some payoff to all of this. [I’m guessing padding.]

Scene thirteen.

Potter residence. Harry wakes up in a panic. He’s disturbed because this dream was of events that never happened, and he thought that they’d resolved whatever danger Albus was in.

Ominous dreams are ominous, I guess.

Scene fourteen.

Scorpius and Albus are hanging out in their dormitory. This conversation’s pretty decent from a characterisation perspective, Scorpius is basically saying that he’s not afraid of anything any more because he saw how bad things could have been, he doesn’t mind being in detention and all that because it’s better than the bad timeline. He’s learning to appreciate things he didn’t before. He’s afraid of what the bad timeline says about him, because he didn’t like how people were afraid of the alternate-timeline-Scorpius that he replaced (not that he words it like that, he thinks of it as him).

Albus blames himself (rightly) for everything that went wrong, and wonders why he was so determined to save Cedric.

This scene’s honestly pretty shippy too.

Anyway, the reveal of the scene is that Scorpius still has the Time-Turner even though he told the adults it fell in the lake. He wants Albus to help him destroy it.

[SCORPIUS:] it’s time that time-turning became a thing of the past.
ALBUS: You’re quite proud of that phrase, aren’t you?
SCORPIUS: Been working on it all day.

That’s kind of twee, but it could’ve been worse.

Scene fifteen.

Harry and Ginny are in the dormitory trying to find Albus. Craig Bowker Jr (who is this guy again? should I call him Miscellaneous Student Number Four? This scene makes it look like he’s a prefect but that’s never stated) won’t let them in, until Professor McGonagall shows up and brushes him off. Apparently Albus and Scorpius are missing again and they’re concerned. McGonagall and Bowker leave to search the school [if only they had access to some sort of map that shows where people are… or house elves, portraits and ghosts able to cover the whole castle very quickly…], Harry and Ginny talk. Ginny thinks this is Harry’s fault and wonders if he said something to set Albus off again.

In other words, it’s a filler scene.

Scene sixteen.

Albus and Scorpius are in the Owlery (why the Owlery? Why on earth would you choose a place full of nocturnal animals to destroy something, especially when they seem to be trying to do it at night?), trying to figure out how to destroy the Time-Turner. They think they can do it with a spell and are debating which one to use. [I don’t know where the hell Rose went in all this, but it’s a shame she’s not here. She has the genes necessary to remind them that the library exists.]

Delphi shows up out of nowhere (surprise, surprise). Oh joy, not her again. [How does she keep getting into Hogwarts?] Anyway, apparently Albus sent her an owl because he thought “it felt important” to keep her updated and this concerns her too. They tell her what they’re doing, they’re planning to destroy the Time-Turner because of the bad timeline and start talking about all the awful things it involved.

She smiles (well, it says “her face breaks” but I assume that doesn’t mean the way I want to imagine). Asks them for more details to confirm Voldemort really survived and won.

They tell her that humiliating Cedric turned him into a Death Eater, he killed Neville, that’s what made everything go wrong. She plays on their emotions, she says Cedric would have understood, so they’ll destroy the Time-Turner together and then go explain to Amos. She takes the Time-Turner.

Albus notices a tattoo on the back of her neck and asks what it is. She says (dun dun dun) it’s an Augurey.

DELPHI: Haven’t you met them in Care of Magical Creatures? They’re sinister-looking black birds that cry when rain’s coming. Wizards used to believe that the Augurey’s cry foretold death. When I was growing up my guardian kept one in a cage.

Stage directions explicitly specify she’s toying them now, so this is the reveal of her villainy. [Okay, so the writers do know augureys actually don’t do anything sinister, or see the future, or anything else relevant to villains. So why use one?]

DELPHI: She used to say it was crying because it could see I was going to come to a sticky end. She didn’t like me much. Euphemia Rowle . . . she only took me in for the gold.
ALBUS: Why would you want a tattoo of her bird, then?
DELPHI: It reminds me that the future is mine to make.

Albus thinks this is cool, he might get a tattoo of it also. Scorpius is a bit cleverer and realises the Rowles were a Death Eater family, and starts asking questions, no longer believing the backstory she’d given them. Realises she was “the Augurey” in the bad timeline (which she likes hearing). She takes the Time-Turner, easily overpowers them with magic and ties them up, pauses for some villainous gloating (in which she reveals she’d been controlling Amos, surprise surprise), snaps their wands and runs off.

DELPHI: Albus. I am the new past.
She pulls ALBUS’s wand from him and snaps it.
I am the new future.
She pulls SCORPIUS’s wand from him and snaps it.
I am the answer this world has been looking for.

I am the Mary Sue. I am the Cliche Villain. The world revolves around me.

(I’m only surprised she doesn’t have an evil laugh on top of that to go full panto villain.)

[Given her alleged genetics, I suppose melodrama was inevitable, but this is just bad.]

Scene seventeen.


I’ll spare you the gag about pretending to skip it this time, but I was seriously tempted.

We open on Ron and Hermione in Hermione’s office. Ron’s eating porridge for some reason, and keeps going on about how he can’t understand how they weren’t married in the other timelines. Hermione’s annoyed at him and wonders if this is his way of asking for a separation.

RON: Shut up. Will you shut up for once? I want to do one of those marriage renewal things I’ve read about. Marriage renewal. What do you think?
HERMIONE (melting slightly): You want to marry me again?

Oh, what a healthy relationship, when you respond to your partner’s concerns with “Shut up, will you shut up for once.” FUCK THIS BULLSHIT. I still hate Ron. I also hate marriage fetishism, which this feels like, but that’s probably a rant for another time because (much as that irks me) marriage fetishism is a mainstay of mainstream romance culture so it’s not a huge surprise to see it here (it was already all over the Harry Potter books proper).

[Excuse me while I vomit.]

They’re being romantic until Harry, Ginny and Draco come in and interrupt them. They tell her what’s going on, Harry’s still having prophetic dreams and the boys are missing. Hermione wants to summon Aurors (couldn’t Harry have already done this?) but Ron says it’s fine, he’s seen Albus last night, everything’s fine.

Apparently Ron was out drinking in Hogsmeade with Neville the previous night (Ron and Neville are friends? When did that happen?) and on the way back, somehow, saw Albus with Delphi on the roof of the Owlery and concluded Albus just has a girlfriend.

RON: He hasn’t run away — he’s having a quiet moment — he’s got himself an older girlfriend —
HARRY: An older girlfriend?
RON: And a cracking one at that — gorgeous silver hair. Saw them on the roof together, near the Owlery with Scorpius playing the gooseberry. Nice to see my love potion being used well, I thought.

FOR FUCK’S SAKE, RON. Never mind the reveal of Delphi’s super-special hair colour (which, after Harry asks, he clarifies is not just silver but silver and blue). Ron’s reaction here is “your son’s fine, he’s just raping an older woman like I thought he should!”. ALBUS IS FOURTEEN. Never mind that he’s still missing, so that doesn’t really resolve what they’re concerned about either. Rape culture, everybody. Rape culture. Don’t you dare tell me it doesn’t exist.

[Fuck off and die, Ron, and by extension every writer who let this pass. Hermione, run away.]

Also, where exactly is the Owlery located in Hogwarts, that they can be on the roof of it but still visible to Ron who’s at ground level in Hogsmeade? THIS IS STUPID! [The Mary Sue’s silver hair glows in the dark, obviously.]

Harry recognises the description as “Delphi Diggory” and they hurry out of the office.

Scene eighteen.

The adults go to St Oswald’s old-age home to confront Amos Diggory. He has no clue what they’re talking about, no memory of meeting the boys or any idea why he should know where they are, even after Harry threatens him with Azkaban. The big reveal is (surprise, surprise!) he couldn’t possibly have a niece because both he and his wife were only children.

Scene nineteen.

Delphi never read the Evil Overlord List. She’s telling Albus and Scorpius her plans.

She’s taken them to the Quidditch pitch because that’s where the Triwizard maze was and she wants to go back to that. She plans to interfere again, to save Cedric in order to bring back Scorpius’ bad timeline. (wait wait wait wait… I was okay with Cedric becoming a Death Eater so far specifically because what Albus did to him was tagged explicitly as Potter-adjacent; I fail to see how it’s a necessary outcome of saving his life here)

DELPHI: I want a return to pure and strong magic. I want to rebirth the Dark. […] The one true ruler of the wizarding world. He will return.

She apparently wants to interfere with the third task because (thanks to their efforts) the previous two are too messy with time-travel shenanigans.

DELPHI: I don’t just want you to stop him. I want you to humiliate him. He needs to fly out of that maze naked on a broomstick made of purple feather dusters. Humiliation got you there before and it’ll get us there again. And the prophecy will be fulfilled.

This is stupid. (Never mind that plan, that’s also stupid.) Now there’s a fucking prophecy? We all know how good Rowling is at handling those, you’d think she’d have learnt from last time. Anyway, Albus says she’ll have to use the Imperius to get them to cooperate. She says she can’t do that, the prophecy says he can’t do it as a puppet (the prophecy doesn’t actually say this), so she has to force him some other way, so she kidnaps Scorpius and threatens him. (This play is totally shipping them.) She’s torturing Scorpius with Crucio and telling Albus to do what he’s told or she’ll continue.

[You know, there’s actually a positive message here. Entirely by accident Rowling et al have finally blundered into the concept that publicly humiliating people isn’t funny, is only done by bad people, and causes bad things.]

They’re interrupted by Craig Bowker Jr (who is he again?). I guess it doesn’t matter who he is, because Delphi kills him with Avada Kedavra. She tells him again to do obey her or she’ll kill Scorpius too. Then we get this:

DELPHI: Voldemort will return and the Augurey will sit at his side. Just as it was prophesized. “When spares are spared, when time is turned, when unseen children murder their fathers: Then will the Dark Lord return.”

Wow, that’s a stupid prophecy. And a really blatant one too, she at least tried to be subtle with the one in the books. I wouldn’t say she did it well, that prophecy was more word salad (“neither can live while the other survives”?) than anything else, but it was at least not this transparently obvious. And as if that weren’t bad enough, Delphi then goes on to spell out in detail exactly what each element of this prophecy corresponds to. I guess if I wanted to be charitable, she probably thinks Albus is an idiot and is trying to rub in how screwed he is, but I don’t want to be charitable. This writing is awful, this plot is awful, this play is awful.

She grabs Albus and makes him use the Time-Turner.

Scene twenty.

It’s 1995, they’re at the maze. Delphi is dragging Albus and Scorpius around, they’re tied up. Bagman’s announcing and (because this play is sexist garbage) we have to hear about the cheers again. This time, Hogwarts and Durmstrang’s are merely “loud”, while Beauxbatons’ is “fulsome”. At least that’s something, but I can’t help thinking what it’s saying is “those French”/”those ladies” just can’t do this cheering right, they either do too little or too much. [‘Fulsome’ is a somewhat loaded word, too…] And regardless of whether I’m right about that, it’s a pointless running gag, a waste of time and didn’t need to be there.

Delphi’s trying and failing to find Cedric; the hedges are trying to attack them. Albus and Scorpius talk (somehow without being overheard by her?) and decide their plan has to be to run out the five-minute clock, because they can’t fight her and win.

LUDO BAGMAN: Now let me remind you of the current standings! Tied in first place — Mr. Cedric Diggory and Mr. Harry Potter. In second place — Mr. Viktor Krum! And in third place — sacré bleu, Miss Fleur Delacour.

Just like the books, this play hates Fleur. I’ve already explained why this makes me angry.

The boys somehow get away from Delphi and try to run; she starts flying without a broom and chases after them. (Damn it, that’s Severus’ ability, don’t give it to her.) [To be fair (what am I saying), Voldy could do it too.] They’re shocked by this but she just gloats, and tells them they’ve used up three minutes but still have two more. Scorpius tries to logic her out of this and starts an argument about the nature of prophecies; she starts laying about with Crucio.

There’s a deus ex machina! It’s Cedric. He disarms Delphi and uses a binding spell on her. But then he seems to think they’re some kind of monsters that are part of the task; they just tell him the task is to free them and he can get on with the maze (he uses “emancipare”). They tell him his father loves him and regretfully let him go.

There’s some weirdness about that encounter if you think about it. In the book, Cedric arrives at the cup just barely at the same time as Harry; if this new encounter delayed him, it could well have altered that. It’s entirely possible they’ve just saved Cedric anyway, but I fully expect the play to ignore that. They also don’t even consider just saying “if you touch the cup along with Harry, you’ll die, don’t do that”; I kind of understand why they wouldn’t, after everything, but again, no indication they even considered it or regretted not doing it. The play doesn’t seem to really remember that Cedric was a decent guy and would not inevitably become a Death Eater if allowed to survive. [He honestly might. He’d have won and been a champion but nobody would ever have paid him any attention and it would just have been all about Harry, he’d be completely unrecognised. Decent guy or not, that would fester.]

Time’s running out, Delphi still has the Time-Turner, and they think she’s going to leave them behind. The boys grab onto it, and apparently the time limit has run out and it starts to bring them back. Delphi gives a villain speech about how they haven’t stopped her, she may have to give up on Cedric but she’s not done yet, she’s just done with them. She “crushes the Time-Turner” and it “explodes in a thousand pieces”. How? How delicate are these things, exactly? If it’s so fragile you can crush it with your bare hands (and how’d she not injure herself on glass shards, for that matter?) how did it survive this long?

She flies away and the boys realise they’re all stuck in the past now. They want to stop her but don’t know how to do it.

Scene twenty-one.

At St Oswald’s, the adults are investigating what was Delphi’s room, not learning much. Harry says she must have used a Confundus charm on Diggory to convince him she was his niece. Hermione’s found no records of her in Ministry files. Ron thinks she has to have hidden something in the walls.

Then Ginny finds something.

GINNY unscrews a chimney from an oil lamp. There’s a breathing-out noise. And then hissing words. They all turn towards it.

[…a magic lamp. Seriously? Well, problem solved, just ask the genie to undo everything.]

Apparently it’s speaking Parseltongue and wants to address someone called Augurey. Harry talks to it and it activates. It paints images of snakes on the walls and apparently the prophecy is written there. And despite this Parseltongue-as-security thing, the prophecy is written in English and Ron reads it out. I won’t repeat it here.

They figure out what it means, or close enough. Then we get this:

DRACO: Who is she? To be so obsessed with all this?
GINNY: I think I’ve got the answer to that.
They all turn to her. She points up . . . Their collective faces sink further and fill with fear.
Words are revealed on all the walls of the auditorium — dangerous words, horrible words.
“I will rebirth the Dark. I will bring my father back.”


I know why it’s written there. It’s because we needed a bombshell reveal to end the act on. It literally ends on them being incredulous and horrified at the notion that Voldemort had a daughter.

I’m horrified too, but for a different reason.

Again, full disclosure: I knew this already going in, so I’m not shocked by this. I’m not sure whether or not I would have been, really. It’s shocking in the sense that it’s hard to believe they’d actually go with this plotline, so I probably would have been surprised, but not in a good way. I still don’t understand how the logistics of Voldemort having a daughter were supposed to work out, but I suppose we’ll have to wait and see how badly they bungle that explanation later.

So that’s where this part ends. We’re on page 146 out of 191 now.

Semifinal thoughts.

I really don’t know what to say about this. I don’t think I reacted as much to things as I went this time, because mostly this is just an endless string of exposition and action scenes, and character-assassination against existing characters. They have to go into detail about the bad timeline and the different versions of characters, etc, and that takes time. Then there’s all of the reveals about (sigh) Delphi. Whose other name, Augurey, sounds far too much like “augury” for my taste considering all the prophetic bullshit being thrown around.

I did look up what an augurey is in the Fantastic Beasts book Rowling previously released, but it doesn’t have a whole lot interesting to say (apparently it’s also known as “Irish Phoenix” despite not having anything in common with phoenixes, it looks like a thin and underfed vulture, and its cries were believed to be a death omen but really foretold rain). I don’t actually know what this is supposed to have to do with Delphi the character, except that it’s apparently an ugly bird (and we all know ugly things are evil).

[It’s something everyone assumes is evil because it looks/sounds a bit creepy, but is in reality not remotely sinister or threatening and has no useful purpose whatsoever. That actually sounds about right for our villain. I suspect not the effect they were really going for, though.]

Anyway, never mind that. This plot is revolving around two of the biggest cliche plots imaginable, this time-travel farce and now the prophecy. They’re not using them together in any interesting way. I really doubt they’ll be able to redeem this thing in another act. Truthfully, I almost suspect that what’s going to happen is this: they’re going to find a way to make everything turn out all right in the end (because of course), and audiences are coming away from this with the knowledge that everything that came before that is meaningless and they no longer have to care about it. That’s my theory of why people are leaving theatres with a positive impression of this play.


Posted by on August 9, 2016 in mitchell


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

Okay, let’s keep going with this. Bring on the mental thumbscrews and iron maidens, Ramsay Bolton should’ve read this play to Theon Greyjoy. Part One if you missed it.

Act Two.

Scene one.

Another flashback scene, because everyone wanted those! Do they think that if they keep using flashbacks to the time of the books it’ll get people’s interest who care less about the next-generation stuff?

Anyway, this is another nightmare of Harry’s, as the next scene will reveal (which explains some things I found weird in it). The scene is between “young Harry” and Aunt Petunia, who woke him up to berate him for cleaning the pots incorrectly, tell him what a disappointment he is, and force him back to work. Apparently (we’re getting into Inception territory here, I feel), young Harry in Harry’s nightmare has also had a nightmare, and wet himself; Petunia yells at him for this and calls him a disgusting animal.

Harry tells her the nightmare was about his parents dying, and remembers a lot of detail (he nearly gets the incantation, even) and she tells him it’s nonsense and it was a car crash.

And the stage contorts and trees rise as the dream twists into something else entirely.
Suddenly, ALBUS appears and stands looking at YOUNG HARRY.

So that happened. And we get Voldemort-voice whispering his name again, there are “Parseltongue whispers” and something saying “He’s coming. He’s coming.” (Harry, you naughty boy, you, dreaming about such things.)

Such subtle foreshadowing, I wonder what this could possibly be about.

(Side note: I’m forgiving the lapses in detail and contradictions with the books because this is a dream and Harry could be backfilling the things he shouldn’t have known when he was a child. Likewise with Petunia being more explicitly abusive than we ever saw her in canon, Harry could well remember it as worse than it was.) [Makes sense, in his own head Harry is definitely a tragic little abuse victim despite there being no evidence of any such thing onscreen.]

Scene two.

Very short scene. Harry wakes in a panic, starts telling Ginny about his dream. Except what he describes is a bit different from what we saw, and the main thing he focuses on is that he thinks he saw Albus wearing red Durmstrang robes. Somehow from that, he thinks he’s deduced where Albus is.

That’s the entire scene. [So Harry is now explicitly psychic, because reasons. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that this will never be explained.]

Scene three.

Harry and Ginny are in McGonagall’s office (explicitly labelled as Headmistress’ office, so yes, McGonagall is Headmistress) at Hogwarts, telling her they think Albus is in the Forbidden Forest because of Harry’s dream. [How does Albus wearing Durmstrang robes = Albus being on Hogwarts grounds, exactly?] (I think the end of the dream scene was supposed to look like the Forest, but the stage directions were unclear in that scene itself.) They’re asking her for help searching, she offers Professor Longbottom because “his knowledge of plants might be useful” (nothing against Neville but I’m honestly not sure how that’s meant to be the case), then Hermione turns up (“tumbles out of the chimney”) offering help.

[Hermione is Santa now? As for Neville, maybe the night and day he had to survive on his own in the Forest after he was abandoned on that first-year detention taught him a few things. Facetiousness aside, I assume as a Herbology expert he probably goes looking for plants in there; I think the Acromantulas died off during the final battle in book 7 so there’s nothing really dangerous in there now.]

She’s followed shortly by Ron; the writers seem to be going for “comically inept” with him, he shows up “Covered in soot. Wearing a gravy-stained dinner napkin.” saying he wasn’t sure which Floo to go to and ended up in “the kitchen” accidentally. I don’t find this particularly funny, and also, while I hate to defend Ron for various reasons it’s not even in-character for him. Ron’s the one who grew up using Floo powder all the time (remember in Chamber of Secrets, it was implied to be the preferred method of travel for the Wizarding poor? before Rowling forgot this and just made it a universal thing), he’s honestly the last person I’d expect to bungle it.

Then Draco shows up and everyone’s surprised to see him. He’s the only person to show manners, and also just brushes off Harry’s rudeness toward him:

DRACO: Sorry about your floor, Minerva.
PROFESSOR McGONAGALL: I dare say it’s my fault for owning a chimney.
HARRY: Quite a surprise to see you, Draco. I thought you didn’t believe in my dreams.
DRACO: I don’t, but I do trust your luck. Harry Potter is always where the action is at. And I need my son back with me and safe.

As an aside: one weird thing I just noticed (and went back to prior scenes to check, it’s doing this consistently) is that everyone’s calling Draco “Draco” rather than “Malfoy”. The books were pretty consistent about maintaining the last-name-basis thing, except where close friends were concerned (and Draco even called his friends Crabbe and Goyle rather than Vincent and Gregory), so I find this peculiar. I’m not sure whether they intend to convey that they’re on better terms now (despite the consistent hostility of their interactions), or they think it’s too much to expect the audience to remember characters’ first and last names, or what.

They head for the forest.

Scene four.

At the “edge of the Forbidden Forest”, Albus and Delphi are practising Expelliarmus (which she is apparently teaching him). He manages to pull it off and they seem surprised/impressed by this. [Of course they do. Ugh.]

SCORPIUS appears at the back of the stage. He looks at his friend talking to a girl — and part of him likes it and part of him doesn’t.

Fuck this misogynistic bullshit. (Okay, okay, it’s probably a realistic-ish reaction for a teenager but still, fuck this.) Also: Delphi is nearly twice their age, she should not be a “girl”, thank you so much stage directions. [How on earth is an actor supposed to convey that anyway?]

Delphi’s really laying on the flattery: “I think you’re becoming quite some wizard, Albus Potter.” and they’re going on about how they’re friends. (They’ve known each other what, a day?) This is pretty creepy, but in fairness I think it’s sort of supposed to be (given that Delphi will turn out to be the villain later, but I’m not supposed to know that yet), so I will reluctantly give this a pass.

They go immediately from expelliarmus practice (how is that relevant to anything, anyway?) into discussing their ludicrously foolish plans. Scorpius has apparently found a way for them to get into the school.

Apparently their plan is to sabotage Cedric in the Triwizard Tournament because “if he doesn’t win, he can’t be killed.” Oh, here’s how expelliarmus comes in, they’re planning to disarm him while he’s fighting the dragon. Scorpius at least worries this might get him killed, but Delphi just brushes him off with “this is Hogwarts. They won’t let damage happen to any of the champions.” Aside from being very awkwardly worded, that’s really not a good fallback plan.

Oh, and they’re going to do it wearing Durmstrang robes to avoid raising questions about who they are. This is a brilliant idea that cannot possibly go wrong in any way. [Neither of the boys question how framing Durmstrang while they have a Death Eater as Headmaster is supposed to help matters? Neither of them suggest wearing something else, or using Disillusion charms, or Polyjuice again, or literally anything else?] Nope, nothing. Although the Durmstrang robes were Delphi’s idea, she suggested them first.

Delphi admits she can’t pass for a student and wonders if she should pretend to be a dragon tamer instead. The boys tell her she can’t come with them, which she does not like at all (and they argue about for a bit) but they override all her objections and she reluctantly agrees. She kisses Albus on the cheeks, they’re really emphasising all the flirtatious/seductive gestures she makes toward him. Hooray paedophilia. (Again, reluctantly forced to give this a pass because she’s the villain and undoubtedly trying to manipulate him, but that’s still a misogynistic trope.) [I’m not giving this a pass. He’s thirteen. This is gross no matter what.]

ALBUS: Let’s do this.

The scene ends.

Serious question: why didn’t they come up with a better plan than this? In an earlier scene (1-10) Albus and Scorpius discussed the Triwizard Tournament and knew precisely how it ended, so they have to know it’d make more sense to just delay Cedric in the maze somehow so Harry would get to the cup alone. I know they’ve not been portrayed as exceptionally clever, but it really doesn’t take a genius to work out that they should minimise the number of changes, and the farther back they go from the point they care about the less likely what they alter will make the difference (so Cedric gets fewer points against the dragon, big deal, they’ve now altered the entire future and he could make up the deficit on other tasks, and in the final task points barely mattered anyway). I guess this is supposed to be teenage hubris?


(Charitable reading would blame the characters. I place the blame squarely on the authors.)

[Aside from anything else why don’t any of them suggest leaving an anonymous note for Dumbles and/or Snape before the final task saying the Cup’s been sabotaged again and turned into a Portkey? Albus 2.0 should want to communicate with one or both of them anyway, he doesn’t know they’re going to be looping constantly so at this point this is his only chance to meet either of his namesakes.]

Scene five.

Harry is in the Forbidden Forest, looking for the children. Some other people are mentioned to be searching in the background but they vanish offstage. Bane, the centaur, shows up and starts talking with him. He’s not happy to see Harry and accuses him of trespassing (which Harry doesn’t appreciate, and basically asks why Bane can’t be more welcoming since they fought together in the Battle of Hogwarts and all). Bane basically says the centaurs fought to defend themselves, nothing else, and they don’t want anything to do with humans. On one level I appreciate this, and sympathise with him, but on another Bane’s basically just a talking schtick: every time he appeared in the books it was to be xenophobic toward humans and complain about trespassing, and here he is doing that again.

Apparently Bane doesn’t know where Albus is, but he’s “seen him in the movements of the stars” and there are bad omens. There’s “a black cloud around [him]” and this is dangerous (I almost said ominous, but that’s redundant because it’s an omen).

Oh joy. Just what I wanted, pretentious portents with no content. [This scene was definitely worth making the wardrobe people try to come up with a centaur costume. There is literally no other way Harry would ever learn that his son might be in danger in some vague unspecified way.]

Scene six.

Albus and Scorpius in the Forbidden Forest. They catch a glimpse of Hogwarts (I assumed this meant they’d already travelled back in time and were seeing it in the past, but nope, just happen to see the castle) and it sets them off into reminiscence for some reason. Scorpius goes on for a while about how wonderful Hogwarts is (surprising Albus, who hates the place), because

[SCORPIUS:] All I ever wanted to do was go to Hogwarts and have a mate to get up to mayhem with. Just like Harry Potter. And I got his son. How crazily fortunate is that.
ALBUS: But I’m nothing like my dad.
SCORPIUS: You’re better. You’re my best friend, Albus.

I’m not sure if this is cute or pathetic (and how must Draco feel, to have his son idolising Harry?). Also, this throws into relief something that’s been low-key bugging me about Scorpius’ character so far: he’s characterised primarily by his desire for friends, and everything he’s done so far has been motivated by friendship and loyalty to Albus. Why’s he in Slytherin and not Hufflepuff? [Because Hat racism, silly. Malfoy = Slytherin.]

They hear Ron’s voice calling out looking for them and decide it’s now or never, they have to use the Time-Turner. Albus “presses down upon it”, which doesn’t line up with any description of how Time-Turners worked before. In the book, it was explicitly like an hourglass and it sent you back an hour for each time you flipped it (and also you had to live out the time between whenever you went back to and the present, which won’t be happening here). There’s no indication here of how they knew how to set the thing up, how to specify when it would take them to, or anything like that. Inexcusably lazy. Anyway, trippy things start happening (the description is honestly incomprehensible and I have no idea how they meant to produce effects like this in a theatre) and the scene ends.

Scene seven.

They’re at the same location (“edge of the Forbidden Forest”), but it’s 1994 and the Triwizard Tournament is happening.

I already don’t want to be reading this. Help me.

Ludo Bagman is being a showman and calling for cheers in favour of each of the schools. Hogwarts and Durmstrang both get loud cheers, but Beauxbatons’ is “slightly limp”, and Bagman mocks this, saying “Slightly less enthusiastic from the French there”. This bothers me. It’s worst if you consider the film, in which Beauxbatons seems to have been made an all-girls’ school, but even in the books Beauxbatons (literally “pretty wands” in French, btw) is by far the most feminine-coded of the three (and has the only female headmaster and female champion), so this has more than a hint of misogyny about it. At its absolute best, this is playing into the cultural animus between the English and the French, but I think even that may be giving it too much credit.

Bagman introduces all of the champions and gives them stupid nicknames (which we never heard of in Goblet of Fire), and it is similarly awful. I absolutely must quote this so you can share my pain:

“there’s nothing he won’t try on a broomstick, it’s Viktor Krazy Krum”
“zut alors, it’s Fleur Delacour”
“he makes us all go weaky at the kneesy, he’s Cedric Delicious Diggory”
“you know him as the Boy Who Lived, I know him as the boy who keeps surprising us all . . . Yes, it’s Harry Plucky Potter.”

Eeeeeeurgh. How does Bagman still have a job? (Also notice how little attention the one woman gets. No, I’m not letting this go. It also explicitly notes she only gets “polite applause” while everyone else gets much more enthusiasm. FUCK THIS PLAY.) [Yes, that was absolutely terrible. Good grief. Though honestly I’m glad they didn’t nickname Fleur, fuck knows what they’d have pinned on her but there’s no way it wouldn’t have been sexist and slut-shaming.]

Scorpius and Albus cheer for “Krazy Krum” in an effort to look more like legitimate Durmstrang students. I’m inclined to think it’d make them stick out more, because I wouldn’t expect Krum’s friends and classmates to like that nickname and continue using it.

They’re standing near young Hermione (who the play explicitly notes is to be played by the same actor as Rose), and Scorpius calls her Rose by mistake. She’s suspicious of them because they don’t have accents; Albus fakes “a bad accent” [which accent? We still don’t really know exactly where Durmstrang is. I’m assuming generic B-movie Eastern Europe racist accent.] and apologises but calls her Hermione, and she’s more suspicious because he knows her name somehow. Typical stupid time-travel farce plot, which I despise on principle.

Cedric’s up against the dragon. Albus successfully disarms Cedric, and Bagman notices and discusses it in commentary: “but no, what’s this? Is it Dark Magic or is it something else entirely? His wand is flying away — Cedric Diggory is Disarmed” but somehow nobody saw where the spell came from or where the wand went?

Conveniently the Time-Turner starts malfunctioning and the two boys get sucked back to the present; this causes Albus pain and he screams. (This is nothing like how Time-Turners worked in the main series. I need to keep reiterating that. Aside from the brief exchange between Harry and Hermione about how amazingly different this thing is – with no specifics, of course – we’ve got no explanation for that. This is bad writing.) They deduce that it must have a time limit (with special emphasis on the word ‘time’ there, this play really talks down to its audience), and then they’re found by Harry, Ron, Ginny and Draco. There’s emphasis made that Ron dresses differently (apparently he now has a part in his hair and “his wardrobe choices have become more staid”).

They wonder if they’ve changed anything. And here’s how the scene ends:

ALBUS: Hello, Dad. Is something wrong?
HARRY looks at his son disbelievingly.
HARRY: Yes. You could say that.
ALBUS collapses onto the floor. HARRY and GINNY rush to help.

I hate this play. Words cannot express how much I hate this play.

Scene eight.

We’re in the hospital wing, Albus is asleep in bed and Harry’s fretting over him. “Above them is a picture of a concerned kindly man.” Actual description from the stage direction, which is surprisingly vague since this is Dumbledore’s portrait. Why’s Dumbledore’s portrait in the hospital wing? (Well, I guess this is an altered timeline now so anything goes?)

Dumbledore strikes up a conversation with Harry. Harry says this about what’s wrong with Albus:

HARRY: He’s been out twenty-four hours, mostly in order so Madam Pomfrey could reset his arm. She said it was the strangest thing, it’s like it was broken twenty years ago and allowed to set in the “most contrary” of directions.

Dumbledore’s being Dumbledore. Harry asks him how he felt about his namesake (apparently it’s never come up before?) and Dumbles says he thought it was something a child shouldn’t be burdened with. [ROWLING STOLE MY LINE FROM SNAPE AND GAVE IT TO DUMBLES. WHAT THE FUCK.] Harry asks how he can protect his son. Dumbledore says this: “You ask me, of all people, how to protect a boy in terrible danger? We cannot protect the young from harm.” Is this refreshing, to see Dumbledore having some modicum of self-awareness? I honestly can’t tell. [I don’t think this is self-awareness at all. I’ll bet everything I own that he’s only talking about what Harry went through here, and not anything that any other Hogwarts student has ever suffered.]

Anyway, they talk for a while but it’s mostly irrelevant. Albus wakes up and the portrait leaves.

The following conversation is really cringeworthy. Basically, Harry wants to know where Albus went and what they were planning, Albus lies and says they were running away from school to make a life in the Muggle world. Harry thinks Scorpius encouraged him to leave and everything’s Scorpius’ fault, then tells Albus to stay away from Scorpius because he thinks he’s dangerous, connected to “Dark Magic” and the “black cloud” from the omen. Harry’s also planning to use the Marauders’ Map to stalk Albus at Hogwarts (apparently he’s given it to McGonagall) and make sure he doesn’t spend time with Scorpius.

Then he drops what’s supposed to be a bombshell, I guess, and tells Albus to stay in the Gryffindor common room whenever he doesn’t have to leave for lessons. Yep, apparently our big time-travel change is that Albus was sorted differently. Of course Albus protests he’s a Slytherin and Harry doesn’t believe him, saying “don’t play games”. Harry’s also planning to have the Auror department investigate Scorpius’ “true heritage”, because of course he is.

HARRY: I thought for a long time I wasn’t a good enough dad for you because you didn’t like me. It’s only now I realize that I don’t need you to like me, I need you to obey me because I’m your dad and I do know better. I’m sorry, Albus. It has to be this way.

That’s how the scene ends, with Harry deciding he needs to be a more abusive parent. [Lovely. Just lovely.]

Fuck this play. I’m tempted to take inspiration from the (old) Pharyngula playbook and suggest the use of porcupines and cacti, but the poor things wouldn’t deserve that fate. FUCK. THIS. PLAY.

Scene nine.

Albus and Harry are apparently continuing their conversation on a staircase. Albus is threatening to run away again and Harry’s telling him to go back to bed. Ron shows up. Albus says “Thank Dumbledore” (this is now the second time this has shown up) and says they need Ron’s jokes to defuse things. Ron’s confused, Albus mentions he runs a joke shop and he’s more confused. Apparently he’s married to Padma in this timeline, and has a son named Panju; Albus has no idea who these people are. Anyway, apparently school supplies are this Ron’s idea of a cheer-up gift for Albus (admittedly, I like this Ron better than the version who gives rape juice, but that’s a pretty low bar).

Albus says something like “but isn’t Ron married to Hermione” and this Ron says: “Hermione. No. Nooooo. Merlin’s beard.” I’m amused even the play seems to recognise how implausible that relationship is, but at this point I’m not even capable of appreciating that. [Particularly since it’s implying that Hermione’s just that awful and has nothing to do with Ron being rapey scum.] That said, the way Ron talks about Padma is still creepy:

RON (to HARRY): Taken a Confundus Charm to the head, has he? (To ALBUS.) My wife, Padma. You remember. Talks slightly too close to your face, smells a bit minty. (Leans in.) Padma, mother of Panju! (To HARRY.) That’s why I’m here, of course. Panju. He’s in trouble again.

So basically this scene continues to be really awkward, Harry and Ron are expositing things they think Albus should know but he doesn’t (but it’s still weird that their response to his confusion is to list off details for the audience).

Also, I had my suspicions about the name Panju so I Googled it to see what Indian people might have to say. Turns out, yep, not a realistic Indian name and people are pissed. Quelle surprise. [It sounds like a Pokemon.]

The scene ends with Albus breaking up with Scorpius, because of course it does.

ALBUS: Just — we’ll be better off without each other, okay?
SCORPIUS is left looking up after him. Heartbroken.

Melodrama. Woohoo.

Scene ten.

PROFESSOR McGONAGALL is full of unhappiness, HARRY is full of purpose, GINNY is not sure what she’s supposed to be.

What the fuck kind of stage direction is that. Anyway, we’re in the Headmistress’ office and McGonagall is not comfortable with being asked to constantly spy on Albus and keep him away from Scorpius. (And I’d like to ask: doesn’t she have a job? She’s fucking Headmistress of fucking Hogwarts, she has things to do, you can’t expect her to watch surveillance all fucking day. The Potterverse continues to have no conception that school administration actually involves real work.)

Ginny isn’t keen on it either but Harry talks over her. Such feminism, Joanne!

Harry implies he got the idea from Dumbledore’s portrait, and McGonagall isn’t buying this either, saying Dumbledore’s dead and portraits aren’t really the people they represent. [I agree, but this completely contradicts everything we see of portraits in the books.]

HARRY: Albus didn’t like me before. He might not like me again. But he will be safe. With the greatest respect, Minerva — you don’t have children —

Fuck you, Harry. McGonagall is rightly offended by this, citing that she spent a lifetime as a teacher (good on her! even if I think she’s not done a particularly good job in loco parentis, that’s irrelevant here), but Harry just steamrolls over her and threatens to bring down “the full force of the Ministry” on Hogwarts if she doesn’t cooperate.

Fuck you, Harry. [Oh yes, this tired old line. You cannot possibly know anything about children unless you’ve contributed some genetic material to one. (Adoption/surrogacy doesn’t count among the type of people who say this sort of bullshit.) Donating gametes alters your brain and allows you to magically understand not only your own spawn but all other children everywhere and only then can you possibly have any idea of how to raise them or what is best for them. I agree, fuck you, Harry. And by extension, fuck the writers.]

Scene eleven.

It’s the classroom for Defence Against the Dark Arts (though this script continues to use American spellings for some reason and calls it “Defense”). Albus walks in and is surprised to see Hermione is the professor.

She’s not pleased to see him and is vaguely sarcastic at him (I see where people were comparing her to Snape, but she’s sadly not quite at that level yet), and when he continues to express disbelief the class laugh at him. She’s taking points off Gryffindor in Snapely quantities, though. I’ll admit some of it amuses me, though the “Albus is clueless at timeline changes” schtick is already wearing quite thin.

ALBUS: But you’re not this mean.
HERMIONE: And that’s twenty points from Gryffindor to assure Albus Potter that I am this mean.

She’s really offended when Albus mentions Rose (“Who’s Rose? Your invisible friend?”) and then, when he explains who Rose is she takes fifty points off Gryffindor (presumably for daring to suggest she could ever have married Ron. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it).

[I heartily approve of this version of Hermione. I’m sure nobody is surprised. Snape approves too.]

She’s lecturing on Patronuses because that’s the only thing Rowling et al could think up for a Defence lesson.

Scene twelve.

No dialogue, thank the gods. And it’s a short one. Albus and Scorpius are walking on the staircases missing each other, they exchange some poignant looks, the end. (Shippers, this scene is presumably for you.)

Scene thirteen.

Harry and Ginny are having an argument in their kitchen, or starting to anyway (there’s a knock at the door and she leaves for some reason). It’s Draco, saying Scorpius is in tears and he wants to know why Harry’s keeping them apart.

HARRY: I’m not keeping them apart.

Wow, you’ve got balls, Harry. And I don’t mean that as a compliment.

When Draco continues to ask questions, Harry says he’s trying to protect Albus, mentions the “darkness” Bane sensed and Draco’s hackles go up. When pressed further Harry actually asks Draco if he knows Scorpius is his son (ugh, will this stupid plot just die). Draco is, understandably, very angry, and pulls his wand on Harry and tells him to take it back (rather than, say, saying something like “this is slander and I’ll have your job” and calling a lawyer? Bad form, Draco.). Naturally, they end up dueling. I suppose the writers wanted to shoehorn in a duelling scene somehow, and this was the best they could come up with?

They’re using almost entirely low-level spells. (I almost said first-year spells, but it’s more like second- or third-year. Still pathetic.) Here’s a list: expelliarmus, incarcerous, tarantallegra, densaugeo (the one that did Hermione’s teeth), rictusempra, flipendo, levicorpus, mobilicorpus. There’s a couple of new ones at the end, and they’re even worse than the usual incantations: brachiabindo (which apparently wraps ropes around the torso), emancipiare (apparently undoes the former), obscuro (apparently puts a blindfold around their head). Draco’s generally getting the better of Harry, at least, but it’s still a pretty pathetic duel. [Oh good grief. This is stupid. I am also giving major side-eye to ’emancipare’, that’s a very loaded word.]

I could believe Draco holding back because he wants answers from Harry more than he wants to hurt him, but that’s honestly a stretch and not supported by the way this scene is written, and likewise I find it very difficult to believe a supposedly-qualified Auror would use such useless spells in self-defence (well, okay, it’s entirely in-character for Harry, who used bloody expelliarmus against the Dark Lord). This scene is stupid.

[Alternatively, we’ve established in Philosopher’s Stone that Harry and Draco were in love for years before both marrying women to carry on their family names, maybe they just don’t want to hurt each other. Though that invalidates Harry attempting to murder Draco in book six.]

It ends with Harry throwing a chair at Draco and Draco “slowing the chair with his wand”.

Ginny comes in and complains of the mess. (Hooray, sexist tropes!)

I will admit to being kind of curious how they pulled off the stage directions here (they’re apparently shooting spells at each other and blocking with things, at one point Draco “bounces Harry up and down on the table” – hey shippers, there’s another one for you), so maybe this scene looks nice, but this is bullshit.

Scene fourteen.

We’re at Hogwarts on the staircases again. (Wow, a lot of scenes are taking place there for some reason.) [The unnecessary centaur costume earlier cost them set-building money.] Scorpius is moping about; Delphi shows up to talk to him.

She admits she’s never been to Hogwarts (she claims to have been too sick to go as a child, which Scorpius sympathises with; I think the implication is meant to be that he’s thinking of his mother), is bemused by lots of things (including “lax security”, the portraits and ghosts), and says she shouldn’t be there because it’s “endangering our entire operation”.

They discuss how their plan failed; apparently, failing the first task only made Cedric more determined to win the later ones. Who’da thunk? Anyway, she claims she’s put the Cedric thing on hold for now because reuniting Albus and Scorpius is more important. Albus has been writing to her frequently, apparently, so she knows he’s missing Scorpius.

There’s a bit of bonding over their mutual loneliness as children, apparently they both felt the need to invent imaginary friends.

DELPHI: Albus needs you, Scorpius. That’s a wonderful thing.
SCORPIUS: He needs me to do what?
DELPHI: That’s the thing, isn’t it? About friendships. You don’t know what he needs. You only know he needs it. Find him, Scorpius. You two — you belong together.

Sounds like she ships them, honestly. (Knowing what I know about who she really is, I wonder where she’s learnt off these platitudes about friendship.) [She watches My Little Pony in her spare time. Explains the hair colour, anyway.]

***PLOT HOLE ALERT*** How does Delphi know what their plan was, let alone that it failed? She didn’t go along on the time-turner trip with them, so this should technically be new-timeline-Delphi. (I’ll reluctantly accept the conceit that past!Albus and past!Scorpius replaced their new-timeline-versions on arrival, as seems to be the norm in this kind of time-travel story but that doesn’t work for Delphi). Unless she didn’t have the slightest clue and found out from Albus’ letters, but I don’t think that works either.

I’m running out of ways to use the word fuck in a sentence. [Here’s another one. Fuck it, it’s magic.]

Scene fifteen.

We’re back at the Potter residence, right where we left off. Draco apologises to Ginny about the kitchen and she says it’s not her kitchen, Harry cooks (admittedly I like this, and it’s consistent with Harry learning to cook for the Dursleys). [Okay, so what the fuck does Ginny do all day? Harry has a full time job. We know Ginny stopped playing Quidditch professionally when she had children. Has she gone back to work in this timeline, or does she just sit around doing fuck-all while Harry does everything after work?] It’s actually mentioned in an earlier scene she’s a Quidditch writer/editor for the Daily Prophet, for whatever that’s worth.

Most of this scene is Draco monologuing at Harry. He commiserates over Harry’s inability to talk to Albus and says he and Scorpius are the same, he says he always envied Harry having real friends when he only had Crabbe and Goyle (so much for my and many others’ headcanons that Crabbe and Goyle were smarter/better friends in private when not putting on the thug act). Ginny says she envied Harry his friendships also, which is an interesting characterisation note. [Hard to say how plausible this is. Literally the only other student in Ginny’s year ever named is Luna. The other DA members and Ginny’s boyfriends are all from Harry’s year, if I remember rightly.]

Draco’s really laying into Harry here and I like it: “My father thought he was protecting me.” and then he says that being alone as a child “sent [him] to a truly dark place” and then goes further: “Tom Riddle was also a lonely child.” (How does Draco know that?) “Maybe the black cloud Bane saw was Albus’ loneliness.”

Good job, Draco. I’ll deduct some points because the dialogue in this scene is a little clunky, but overall this is actually decent.

Ginny tells Harry to get the Floo powder or she will (I guess to go to Hogwarts?).

Scene sixteen.

Scorpius runs into Albus in the Hogwarts library. Albus doesn’t want to talk to him and is trying to get out of the conversation, but Scorpius won’t let him.

Scorpius reveals that he read Rita Skeeter’s book about Ron and Hermione (this exists? and is credible? what?!) [I concur. What?] and that the reason they broke up was that they actually did go to the Yule Ball together.

SCORPIUS: As friends. And they danced in a friendly way, and it was nice, and then he danced with Padma Patil and that was nicer, and they started dating and he changed a bit and then they got married and meanwhile Hermione became a —
ALBUS: — psychopath.

SHE IS NOT A PSYCHOPATH. FOR FUCK’S SAKE, ROWLING, THORNE, WHOEVER WROTE THIS. Strict teachers are not psychopaths. Being bitter over some supposed lost love (heh, I see what you did there) does not turn people nasty; Snape had plenty of canonical reasons to be nasty to students beyond just not having love in his life or whatever bullshit way you want to word this. I am not amused. This bullshit offends me. The implication of this is that being single turns you evil, and for the sake of single people everywhere I refuse to let this stand. [I agree, this is Hallmark bullshit.]

It gets worse.

SCORPIUS: And without Krum, Ron never got jealous and that jealousy was all-important and so Ron and Hermione stayed very good friends but never fell in love — never got married — never had Rose.

THE JEALOUSY WAS ALL-IMPORTANT. THE FOUNDATION OF THEIR RELATIONSHIP WAS LITERALLY JEALOUSY. (This had been mentioned before, so it shouldn’t surprise me but I’d forgotten about this. This is one of the biggest deathblows the Ron/Hermione ship could possibly be given. Relationships founded on jealousy are not healthy. I know it’s a trope in mainstream depictions of heterosexuality, romcoms and the like, but mainstream descriptions of heterosexuality are terrible.)

I suppose we should thank the play for explicitly saying what sensible people already knew? Except the play isn’t condemning this, it’s arguing it’s a legitimate foundation for a relationship. So fuck this play. [I don’t know whether to be angry or horrified.]

(Also, I suppose I should mention for completeness’ sake that the reason Hermione didn’t go to the ball with Krum in this timeline is apparently because she thought Albus and Scorpius, qua Durmstrang students, were sent by him to sabotage Cedric.)

This scene has hit rock bottom and continues to dig.

Scorpius and Albus continue to argue. Scorpius gets angry that Albus is so focussed on his relationship with Harry when the problems are bigger than that (apparently something called Professor Croaker’s Law says the furthest you can go back in time without risking serious injury is five hours; no further explanation, just an arbitrary limit), and Scorpius thinks what they did created really bad changes. Albus wants to go back and meddle more to try to fix it and Scorpius thinks that’s “the wrong answer”. Scorpius apparently still has the Time-Turner, though.

Albus takes it from him and they continue to argue. Scorpius thinks they’ve proven they’re inept losers and they’ll just mess things up further (I don’t think he’s wrong), Albus says “I wasn’t a loser before I met you” and Scorpius loses his shit. Essentially (I’m summarising here) he goes off on Harry for being caught up in his own problems and not being supportive towards his own, Albus is so miserable to be the son of Harry when Scorpius has to deal with being thought the son of Voldemort and his mother’s dead, etc etc. Scorpius has a point. Also, Scorpius was hopeful that maybe fucking up the timeline could’ve saved his mother but he was devastated to see she’s still dead. This is decent characterisation given all the bullshit that’s come before, I can’t really criticise this.

McGonagall comes looking for them. Albus pulls out the Invisibility Cloak from “his bag” (since when has he had a bag? I guess he has a bag) and they hide under it. He explains he stole it from James. Anyway, McGonagall comes in and can’t see them, she figures out what’s going on and decides to play dumb, so she leaves.

Albus tells Scorpius that Harry’s Aurors are actually investigating the Voldy-dad thing, Scorpius says he doesn’t mind because he wants to actually know the truth, and Albus says not to worry because he’s too good a person to be Voldy’s son. (Genetics don’t work like this, but okay, I guess it’s a way to segue into apologising.) Albus starts waxing rhapsodic over how great Scorpius is and how much he appreciates him, keeps going on and on (it’s honestly sounding like a love confession). Eventually this happens:

SCORPIUS (interrupting): Albus, as apologies go this is wonderfully fulsome, but you’re starting to talk more about you than me again, so probably better to quit while you’re ahead.

*clap* *clap* okay, that’s a good line. [Agreed.]

Anyway, here’s where this scene becomes totally awful again. He’s come up with a new plan for how to change the past. He thinks, that because “losers are taught to be losers” (never mind that here, they’ve just made up their minds to keep trying, so clearly THAT DOESN’T WORK), they need to humiliate Cedric and maybe that will work. [There’s a nasty smell of victim-blaming here. Being worn down by things is your fault, just shake it off, if you don’t succeed you should have just tried harder.]

Scorpius, despite having shown signs of having a brain in the previous conversation, has now regressed and decides he thinks this sounds like “a really good strategy”. Albus also has a plan to get Ron and Hermione back together for Rose’s sake, but isn’t telling Scorpius what that is. Also Albus says that he’ll do it by himself if he has to, but asks Scorpius if he wants to come. The final line of the scene is the reveal that they need to go to Moaning Myrtle’s bathroom, whatever Albus’ “humiliation” plan is, it involves using Myrtle because they’re “not allowed to leave the school building”. I’m not sure why that matters, but I’m afraid to see where this is going. This is the stupidest plan I have ever heard.

Scene seventeen.


Scene eighteen I’m sorry for reusing this gag.

Again on the Hogwarts staircases. Ron runs into Hermione and they talk. Apparently they’re still in love, or something. Hermione’s apparently done something with her hair (she claims she’s combed it) and Ron compliments her on it; she notices he’s looking at her oddly and he explains it’s because Albus said he thought they were married. It’s awkward. Lots of wistful looks, that kind of thing. The dialogue continues to be clunky and awkward and stupid. He compliments her hair again at the end as she leaves.

[…oh for fuck’s sake.]

I’m not recapping any more of this, there’s really not much I can say about it. I suppose, if I wanted to be fair, I could say the awkwardness makes sense because how the fuck do you talk to someone about some kid randomly thinking you’re married?

I also can’t help thinking about the references to hair in a racial context, because black!Hermione (I know black women’s hair can be a sensitive issue). I don’t know if it’s appropriate to think about that, and it’s not as though he’s touching/trying to touch her hair or anything obviously inappropriate, but this is written by white people and Ron is white so this hair talk feels weird.

Scene eighteen.

McGonagall’s office. She’s pleased with herself for not following through with Harry’s plan to separate the boys. Harry and Ginny and Draco show up unexpectedly through the fireplace. There’s a bit of talking past each other but they eventually establish that Harry’s there to apologise to her and to the boys, and decide they’re going to go look for them.

They check the map and discover they’re in the first floor girls’ bathroom.

Scene nineteen.

In the bathroom. Albus tells Scorpius his plan, which is apparently to use an Engorgement Charm on Cedric’s head to make him float, so he can’t complete the task.


[I concur. Couldn’t have said it better myself.]

Furthermore, apparently Myrtle’s involvement extends only to learning how the castle pipes connect to the lake, they’re going to take gillyweed and travel there. Apparently the pipes to the bathroom sink are big enough for people to swim through? What is this?! [To be fair this is sort of canon, the pipes throughout the castle are apparently big enough for a basilisk to move through. Not that that ever made sense.]

In fairness, there are some decent bits in this scene. Firstly, Scorpius says ‘Moaning Myrtle’ and she gets offended, and wants to be called by her actual name, which is fair enough. But the actual name is Myrtle Elizabeth Warren. I don’t think she had a canonical middle or last name before, and I suppose there’s nothing wrong with this name, but I cannot help fearing that this is a dig at a certain actual person named Elizabeth Warren (a well-respected leftist US Senator, if you don’t know who she is, and someone I greatly admire). If that is the case, I am very unamused. But I suppose it could be coincidence. [I don’t believe in coincidence any more where these people are concerned. Fuck you, writers.]

And Myrtle says this about the Triwizard Tournament:

MOANING MYRTLE: Such a shame the pretty one had to die. Not that your father is not pretty — but Cedric Diggory — you’d be amazed at how many girls I had to hear doing love incantations in this very bathroom . . . And the weeping after he was taken.

WHAT IS THIS WITH THE LOVE POTIONSSPELLS. WHY IS THIS ENTIRE UNIVERSE FULL OF MAGICAL RAPISTS. I get that it’s supposed to be a joke but seriously, this shit is not funny. Cut it out.

Anyway, after a whole bunch of discussion the boys take gillyweed (where’d Albus get the gillyweed? It was a plot point in Goblet of Fire that Dobby had to steal it for Harry from Snape’s stores, I don’t think we’re meant to believe this is common stuff but he just has it in his bag?) and jump into the pipes. They apparently activate the Time-Turner.

The adults show up just barely too late, because of course they do.

MOANING MYRTLE: Oops, you caught me. And I was trying so hard to hide. Hello, Harry. Hello, Draco. Have you been bad boys again?

Okay, that line actually amused me. Anyway, she mentions Cedric Diggory and Harry immediately figures out what’s going on, and explains it to the others.

Scene twenty.

At the lake in 1995. Bagman’s announcing again. The stage directions make a point that the cheer for Beauxbatons is “slightly less limp” this time. FUCK THIS PLAY.

This scene is a fucking nightmare.

The engorgement charm works, Cedric turns into a balloon and literally floats up through the water and into the sky. Then fireworks explode around Cedric that say “Ron loves Hermione” and I want to explode as well. Bagman’s going on and on about this, how much the crowd is loving it and how much of a humiliation it is for Cedric. […oh God what.]

Stage directions:

The world becomes darker. The world becomes almost black, in fact.
And there’s a flash. And a bang. And the Time-Turner ticks to a stop. And we’re back in the present.

Because “darkness” has to be literal. My god I loathe this play.

When they come up out of the lake, they are greeted by Dolores Umbridge who is now Headmistress, and is not pleased with them. He mentions he’s looking for Albus Potter and she informs him – again, I suppose this is meant to be a bombshell – that there’s no such person, the last Potter at Hogwarts was Harry and he “didn’t turn out so well” and is dead. There are a bunch of dementors around, there are “Parseltongue whispers” and apparently it is something called Voldemort Day.

Thus ends the first “part” of the play.

I believe the two “parts” are actually shown on different nights, so this cliffhanger/downer ending is actually what people are going home on (presumably why people were so upset when the plot first leaked).

This is page 101 in my edition, so 90 more to go. Fuck me. Fuck everything.

Okay, have some semifinal thoughts I guess. I know it’s a trope in this kind of time-travel story that the bungling traveller has to go back, fuck things up, and return to a bad present/bad future, so they can regret what they’ve done and work toward fixing it (or just give up in despair, depending on the tone of the story; I’m thinking of e.g. A Sound of Thunder). Usually these stories go out of their way to make the bad future as bad as possible. Presumably the next part is going to explore how awful this bad future is, and somehow they’ll put things right in the end. That’s how these stories work.

That doesn’t make this a good story, nor does it make this anything less of an Idiot Plot (tm TvTropes). This is not a pleasant thing to read, it’s just endless contrived bullshit after contrived bullshit, the characterisation is inconsistent, the whole thing’s just thoughtlessly written at best (the other thing with these time travel plots is that the different timelines are usually used to highlight characterisation details in looking at how things could have gone, etc, but none of that works here either). I have already made my opinion of the writing, the events of this play, and everything else abundantly clear, I am sure.

Anyway, I’m taking the rest of the weekend off, as I have meatspace things to deal with (and I fully intend at some point to get thoroughly drunk, I need it). I will subject myself to Breaking Dawn Part Two oh I’m sorry did I say that? of course I meant Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Part Two, next week and hopefully have the writeups done before the week is out. I want to put this thing firmly behind me.

In the meantime, I hope you’re enjoying my suffering. That’s what makes all this worthwhile. [I was, but now I’m just horrified and sympathetic. You brave soul.]


Posted by on August 6, 2016 in mitchell


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Act one.

Scene one.

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

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

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

Scene two.

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

This, however, does not amuse me:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scene three.

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

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

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

It gets worse.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scene four.

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

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

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

More weirdness:

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

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

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

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

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

Scorpius goes to Slytherin.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scene five.

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

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

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

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

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

Scene six.

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

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

This dialogue is awful.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scene seven.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And a bit later on:

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

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

Scene eight.

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

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

And the signature line is changed to this:

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

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

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

Scene nine.

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

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

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

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

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

Scene ten.

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

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

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

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

Scene eleven.

Oh my god, this scene is so stupid.

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

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

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

They jump off the train.


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

Scene twelve.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scene thirteen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scene fourteen.

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

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

Scene fifteen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scene sixteen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scene seventeen.

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

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


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

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

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

We end on this line:

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

I know how you feel, Draco.

Scene eighteen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scene nineteen.

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

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

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

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

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

Here ends Act One.

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

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

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

I reiterate: send help. [Please.]


Posted by on August 4, 2016 in mitchell


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Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone: Chapter Sixteen

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

Chapter Sixteen: Through the Trapdoor

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

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

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

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

Credit to Natalie Dee for the whatnapple.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This just comes across as him wanting to seem important.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because Plot, of course.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So much for urgency.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And four explicit clues:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

So what’s the takeaway here?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh well.

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

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

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


Posted by on June 28, 2016 in loten, mitchell


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