“Snape wants the stone for Voldemort . . . and Voldemort’s waiting in the forest . . . and all this time we thought Snape just wanted to get rich . . .”

“So all I’ve got to wait for now is Snape to steal the Stone,” Harry went on feverishly, “then Voldemort will be able to come and finish me off.”

A few weeks ago, I wrote in “Sudden Sinister Snape” about Harry’s suspicions passing themselves off as facts. Well, Harry kicks his Snapespicions into high gear after meeting Voldemort in the Forest.

The bits of conversation recounted above occur just after Harry gets back to Gryffindor Tower. Harry, of course, is wrong about everything – wrong about Snape wanting to get rich, wrong about Snape wanting the Stone for Voldemort, wrong about Snape wanting to steal the Stone. But at least Harry’s wrongness gets him into action, and that action will ultimately prevent the right suspect from stealing the Stone.

Harry’s Snapespicions are pretty much how we close “The Forbidden Forest” chapter – except for one seemingly small detail. Harry’s Invisibility Cloak is mysteriously returned to him, along with the note: “Just in case.”

Oddly, JKR does not indicate that the note is written in the same thin hand as the note that originally came with the Cloak. But since the text uses the same script font for the note, we should infer that it does. And this means that Dumbledore has given Harry the Cloak for the second time.

Remember the significance of Dumbledore returning the Cloak to its rightful owner? Now, raise that significance to the next power of 10 and you can catch the significance of Dumbledore’s returning it once again. This is a man who, at this point in the tale, truly has given up his Quest of uniting the Hallows.

Now, back to those Snapespicions. As I mentioned above, they actually kick into high gear after the encounter in the Forest – carrying all the way through the chapter preceding the big reveal. From just one Snapespicious comment here to another Snapespicious comment there, the penultimate chapter (“Through the Trapdoor”) is full of them:

“Harry, relax. Hermione’s right, the Stone’s safe as long as Dumbledore’s around. Anyway, we’ve never had any proof Snape found out how to get past Fluffy. He nearly had his leg ripped off once, he’s not going to try it again in a hurry.”

“We’ve got to go to Dumbledore,” said Harry. “Hagrid told that stranger how to get past Fluffy, and it was either Snape or Voldemort under that cloak – it must’ve been easy once he’d got Hagrid drunk.”

“Professor, I think – I know – that Sn – that someone’s going to try and steal the Stone. I’ve got to talk to Professor Dumbledore.”

“It’s tonight,” said Harry, once he was sure Professor McGonnagall 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 shows up.”

“I’m going out of here tonight and I’m going to try and get to the Stone first.”

“You’re mad!” said Ron.

“You can’t!” said Hermione. “After what McGonnagall and Snape have said? You’ll be expelled!”

“SO WHAT?” Harry shouted. “Don’t you understand? If Snape gets hold of the Stone, Voldemort’s coming back!”

A few seconds later, they were there, outside the third-floor corridor – and the door was already ajar.

“Well, there you are,” Harry said quietly, “Snape’s already got past Fluffy.”

“That’s chess!” snapped Ron. “You’ve got to make some sacrifices! I take one step forward and she’ll take me – that leaves you free to checkmate the king, Harry!”

“But – ”

“Do you want to stop Snape or not?”

“Ron – ”

“Look, if you don’t hurry up, he’ll already have the Stone!”

There was no alternative.

“… go straight to the owlery and send Hedwig to Dumbledore, we need him. I might be able to hold Snape off for awhile, but I’m no match for him, really.”

Well, with that last bit, at least, Harry speaks the truth. He is definitely no match for Snape!

But snark aside, there really are bits of truth mixed in with all this fantasy about the Potions Master. Someone did find out how to get past Fluffy. Someone is going to try to steal the Stone that night. Someone did attempt to get Dumbledore out of the way by sending a note purporting to be from the Ministry of Magic. Harry is right about the essentials of what he and the Trio are up against. He’s just wrong regarding his suspect.

In other words, his suspicions are right. It’s just his Snapespicions that are all wrong.

Okay, comments are open! Have at it!

What is Slithering in the Forest

Firenze suddenly reared on his hind legs in anger, so that Harry had to grab his shoulders to stay on.

“Do you not see that unicorn?” Firenze bellowed at Bane. “Do you not understand why it was killed? Or have the planets not let you in on that secret? I set myself against what is lurking in this forest, Bane, yes, with humans alongside me if I must.”

The confrontation between Firenze and the other centaurs takes place after the thing that’s lurking in the forest – the thing that’s drinking unicorn blood – stands up and comes straight at Harry Potter. It is, of course, Voldemort, or Quirrellmort (as some like to call him at this stage of his “comeback”). And this is the first encounter between Harry and Voldemort since Voldemort gave Harry his scar.

The sound that “Quirrellmort” makes, curiously enough, is a “slithering” sound, and it is definitely out of place. It doesn’t sound like anything Hagrid has heard before in the Forest. This out-of-place sound appears twice – first, while Harry is with Hagrid and then later when Harry is with Draco. The fact that the sound is “slithering” conjures images of snakes… and reminds us subconsciously (or perhaps not so subconsciously) of Slytherin. And in reminding us of Slytherin, it reinforces the “Slytherin = Evil” notion that Hagrid first introduced to Harry in Diagon Alley.

If we need any more reinforcing, the thing making the slithering sound – Voldemort – is a Slytherin… as is Draco. But Draco is not quite up to the horror of this encounter. In fact, here is how Draco handles this first encounter with his future Lord:

The cloaked figure reached the unicorn, lowered its head over the wound in the animal’s side, and began to drink its blood.


Malfoy let out a terrible scream and bolted – so did Fang.

I find Draco’s reaction worth noting. It is easy to assume that it’s simply cowardice… except that Harry (who is hardly a coward) will find his own feet bolted to the Forest floor in fear. In addition, about 6 years from now, Draco will endanger his own life to save Harry and his friends at Malfoy Manor, and will endanger his life to save Gregory Goyle when the Room of Requirement is engulfed in Fiendfyre. So I’m not as certain as I was when I first read this passage that Draco is simply a coward. Surely he’s scared. He’d be a fool not to be. Harry’s scared too. But his response indicates to me that he is more than merely frightened. He is horrified. After all, he watched the cloaked figure slither up to the unicorn. It was only when it began to drink the unicorn’s blood that he let out the cry.

I find this potentially significant because this is the boy who will ultimately find that he is unable to commit murder. And this is his first encounter with the person who will charge him to commit murder. And he is as horrified here as he will later be when Voldemort murders Charity Burbage over the dinner table at Malfoy Manor. In other words, I think that this could very well be our first hint that Draco is not as “bad” as he’d like to believe he is.

And as for Voldemort himself, I find it curious that he’s driven away by Firenze. True, he doesn’t have his full powers. He doesn’t even have his body, and he is reduced to drinking unicorn blood in order to preserve some semblance of life. But still… this is Voldemort himself! The Dark Lord! You Know Who! He Who Must Not Be Named! And he’s slinking – or slithering – around in the Forest and getting chased away by centaurs!

And in this encounter, Harry has his first experience of the blinding pain in his scar. Though he had a flitting pain during the Great Feast at the beginning of term, this is much worse:

The hooded figure raised its head and looked right at Harry – unicorn blood was dribbling down its front. It got to its feet and came swiftly toward Harry – he couldn’t move for fear.

Then a pain like he’d never felt before pierced his head; it was as though his scar were on fire. Half blinded, he staggered backward. He heard hooves behind him, galloping, and something jumped clean over Harry, charging the figure.

The pain in Harry’s head was so bad he fell to his knees. It took a minute or two to pass.

He has never felt anything like this before. And this pain – this connection between Harry and Voldemort – will only grow stronger during the course of the series.

Now, here’s my question about the Voldemort-Quirrell-Harry encounter:

We know (or will soon know) that Quirrell encountered Voldemort during a trip to Albania and allowed the Dark Lord to become his master. Since that trip, he has developed the “stuttering Quirrell” persona – so much so that Hagrid mentions it on their trip to Diagon Alley. This indicates to me that he has probably already taught at least one term since his return. If that’s the case, then did Voldemort time his attempt to steal the Philosopher’s Stone (and gain eternal life in bodily form) to coincide with Harry’s appearance at Hogwarts?

Yes, I know the whole thing is contingent upon encountering Quirrell in Albania. But I mean afterward. If Quirrell has already taught a term, then did Voldemort decide that the time would be right when Harry arrived? Or is this Quirrell’s first term back, and is this actually Voldemort’s first opportunity to resume bodily form, and is it merely coincidental that it all coincides with Harry’s first term at Hogwarts? But let’s not forget… Harry was the target of the attack that murdered his parents. And Voldemort is scared of this boy.

Whatever the case, in their discussion about the properties of unicorn blood, Firenze gives Harry the clues he needs in order to figure out who the hooded figure is and why Harry’s life is in danger – clues that ultimately enable Harry to score his first Hogwarts defeat of Voldemort… and escalate his misinterpretation of Snape’s motives.

Centaurs of the Forest

“Hullo, Bane,” said Hagrid. “All right?”

“Good evening, Hagrid, I hope you are well?”

“Well enough. Look, I’ve jus’ bin askin’ Ronan, you seen anythin’ odd in here lately? There’s a unicorn bin injured – would yeh know anythin’ about it?”

Bane walked over to stand next to Ronan. He looked skyward.

“Mars is bright tonight,” he said simply.

“We’ve heard,” said Hagrid grumpily. “Well, if either of you do see anythin’, let me know, won’t yeh? We’ll be off, then.”

Harry and Hermione followed him out of the clearing, staring over their shoulders at Ronan and Bane until the trees blocked their view.

“Never,” said Hagrid irritably, “try an’ get a straight answer out of a centaur. Ruddy stargazers. Not interested in anythin’ closer’n the moon.”

Centaurs, as everybody knows, are horse on the bottom with human on top. They are hybrid creatures, struggling with dual natures – animal and human. Not surprisingly, classical myths depict them variably as base or wise.

In the ancient myths, centaurs are primarily bestial, embracing the more Dionysian characteristics of drunken revelry and unbridled lust. The centaur Nessus tried to rape Hercules’ (Heracles’) wife Deianira and told her the lie that resulted in the hero’s death. A group of drunken centaur guests attacked the wedding of Pirithous and tried to carry off the bride. When the wise centaur Pholus invited Hercules to dine, the wine fumes incensed the other centaurs to attack. Pholus and the wisest centaur of all, Chiron – teacher of Hercules and Achilles – both died as a result of the other centaurs’ ferocity.

Sadly, Dante places all the centaurs – whether ferocious or wise, whether Nessus or whether Pholus and Chiron – in the Inferno. But in The Chronicles of Narnia (one of JKR’s favorite works), C.S. Lewis portrays the centaurs as the wisest of Narnians, invariably loyal to Aslan and to the rightful Kings and Queens of Narnia.

JKR places her centaurs within both these traditions. As in the classical myths, there are ferocious centaurs and wise centaurs. And her wisest centaur, like Chiron, becomes a teacher. When that wisest centaur, Firenze, rescues Harry from Voldemort and places the boy on his back, though, he incenses Bane, the most ferocious of the forest centaurs:

“Firenze!” Bane thundered. “What are you doing? You have a human on your back! Have you no shame? Are you a common mule?”

The pride of JKR’s centaurs could be seen, in traditional terms, as being at odds with the animal part of their nature. Unlike horses (or mules), they do not wish to be seen as beasts of burden. After all, they possess the gift of reason. However, according to Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, centaurs have been classified as “beasts” by the Ministry of Magic at their own request. Why would these fiercely proud rational beings wish to be classified as “beasts”? Is it merely to show their disdain of human classifications? I am curious to know what anybody else makes of this.

Whatever the case, some other points of interest about centaurs (found in Fantastic Beasts):

Centaurs are believed to have originated in Greece, though there are now centaur communities in many parts of Europe. Wizarding authorities in each of the countries where centaurs are found have allocated areas where the centaurs will not be troubled by Muggles; however, centaurs stand in little need of wizard protection, having their own means of hiding from humans.

The ways of the centaur are shrouded in mystery. They are generally speaking as mistrustful of wizards as they are of Muggles and indeed seem to make little differentiation between us. They live in herds ranging in size from ten to fifty members. They are reputed to be well-versed in magical healing, divination, archery, and astronomy.

The footnote indicates that centaurs have been given a XXXX classification. And here’s the interesting part…

not because it is unduly aggressive, but because it should be treated with great respect. The same applies to merpeople and unicorns.

In JKR’s universe, centaurs, merpeople (whom we won’t meet until GoF), and unicorns all command the same respect. And on the issue of aggressiveness, Newt Scamander has apparently never met Bane!

Note also that whether ferocious or wise, all the centaurs – like their Greek mythological forerunner Chiron – are stargazers and prognosticators. In fact, JKR’s centaurs (with the exception of Firenze) are practically cultic in their adherence to what is written in the stars. For them, Fate rules, not Free Will. The future is predestined, and if the stars say that Harry Potter must die, then Harry Potter must die:

“What have you been telling him?” growled Bane. “Remember, Firenze, we are sworn not to set ourselves against the heavens. Have we not read what is to come in the movements of the planets?”

Ronan pawed the ground nervously. “I’m sure Firenze thought he was acting for the best,” he said in his gloomy voice.

Bane kicked his back legs in anger.

“For the best! What is that to do with us? Centaurs are concerned with what has been foretold! It is not our business to run around like donkeys after stray humans in our forest!”

Harry misinterprets this as a wish for him to die. When he gets back to Gryffindor Tower, he says that if Snape [sic] steals the Stone, and then Voldemort comes to finish him off, “Bane’ll be happy.” But that’s not exactly what Bane is saying. He is saying that centaurs do not interfere. They do not set themselves against the stars. That does not mean that they are necessarily happy about what is written in the stars.

The reason I’ve gone on at such length about the centaurs is that they will prove one of the more important creatures living in the Forest. They are crucial to the outcome of OotP as well as DH, so it’s important to take a look at the characteristics of JKR’s centaurs – and see how they fit in with the centaur myth.

We will take up again with Firenze when we discuss Harry’s encounter in the Forest with Voldemort.

Draco in Detention

“I suppose you think you’ll be enjoying yourself with that oaf? Well, think again, boy – it’s into the forest you’re going and I’m much mistaken if you’ll all come out in one piece.”

At this, Neville let out a little moan, and Malfoy stopped dead in his tracks.

“The forest?” he repeated, and he didn’t sound quite as cool as usual. “We can’t go in there at night – there’s all sorts of things in there – werewolves, I heard.”

Neville clutched the sleeve of Harry’s robe and made a choking noise.

“That’s your problem, isn’t it?” said Filch, his voice cracking with glee. “Should’ve thought of them werewolves before you got in trouble, shouldn’t you?”

Since a resurgent Snape War closed down the Snape thread on the CoS forum, one of the most obsessive topics of debate has been Draco. The difference between a Snape debate and a Draco debate, though, goes something like this: Most Snape fans are convinced that Snape is at core good; hardly anyone believes the same of Draco. In fact, hardly any of the people arguing that Draco is not evil incarnate are actually Draco fans per se. Most are just HP fans who believe that in Years 6 & 7 there are mitigating circumstances for Draco’s behavior. The people who reject the “mitigating circumstances” argument just want to see him locked up in Azkaban.

It’s hard to tell how much of this fierce judgment of Draco comes from his early years and how much comes from his years as a Death Eater who just seems revolted and terrified by the circumstances he finds himself in. But whatever the cause, it’s certainly true that Draco does not acquit himself well in the early books… and that he never lands even by the end of Year 7 as being solidly opposed to Voldemort. He just wants to survive. And he wants his family to survive and be restored to honor.

For me, Draco becomes a pathetic figure in Years 6 & 7, and it’s very difficult for me to work up much animus towards pathetic figures. But years before terror incarnate comes knocking at Malfoy Manor, Draco is just a little brat who does everything he can to make Harry – and the reader – detest him. The adventure in the Forest is no different.

From the start of the adventure, Draco is whinging on about how it’s too dangerous to go into the Forest, or how he simply won’t go into the Forest. He would rather be copying lines. He sounds like the spoiled child of privilege who thinks he’s well above this “servant stuff” and will go running off to daddy the moment he’s crossed.

Draco is also drawn to appearances over reality (not a terrible crime, given that this is one of Harry’s biggest flaws as well). Hagrid’s dog, Fang, looks the part of a formidable opponent, so Draco insists on being the one to take Fang. But in reality, Fang is, as Hagrid indicates “a coward.” In fact, later, when Harry and Draco (with Fang) encounter Quirrel/Voldemort in the Forest drinking the blood of the unicorn, Draco and Fang are the ones to “bolt.”

But probably the most damning thing Draco does on his detention has nothing to do with providing running commentary on how far the task is beneath him or with insisting on taking the seemingly protective hound. Rather, it’s that once he gets deep into the Forest, he plays a prank on Neville, of all people:

Malfoy, it seemed, had sneaked up behind Neville and grabbed him as a joke. Neville had panicked and sent up the sparks.

This is a kid who worried earlier about werewolves in the Forest, who insisted that the Forest was too dangerous a place for students to enter. What would possess him to play such a prank? Has he lost his fear of the Forest? Had he been faking his fear? Whatever the case, if there was ever an inappropriate time to essentially sneak up on someone and go “boo,” this was it!

I’d be interested in hearing what others think of Draco’s behavior on this first trek into the Forest – and on what motivated him to play such a prank on poor, terrified, hapless Neville.

The comments are open!

Forbidden Forest

“First years should note that the forest on the grounds is forbidden to all pupils. And a few of our older students would do well to remember that as well.”
-Albus Dumbledore, at the Great Feast

“I’m not going in that forest,” [Draco] said, and Harry was pleased to hear the note of panic in his voice.

I feel like I just returned from the Forbidden Forest!

Today – taking advantage of a great academic deal on Windows 7 (yes, I am eligible!) – I installed Win7 into Parallels on my Mac, and then had a problem with the product key. It took multiple calls to Tech Support to get it resolved.
(It’s all working fine now)

Sorry for the geek talk, but the Win7 problem is the reason this post is so hastily written – and written during the hours of the night that Hagrid took the students into the Forbidden Forest!

The Forbidden Forest has made only minor appearances before now. Dumbledore mentions it in his opening remarks. Harry sees Snape corner Quirrell in the Forest – and parks his broomstick in a tree so he can overhear the conversation. But we have not yet entered the Forest. All of that is about to change.

There’s so much diverse content in this chapter to cover that I’m going to take it in small pieces – and multiple posts. Some things I’d like to look at in particular are Quirrell, Draco, the Centaurs, Harry’s (yawn…) suspicions of Snape, and The Boy Who Lived’s direct encounter with Dark Lord who tried to kill him. Okay?

So… after losing 150 points for Gryffindor in one night, Harry determines not to get involved in all that Philosopher’s Stone business anymore. And when he overhears Quirrell cowering in a classroom, he tries to forget about it… even though he’s certain that Snape [sic] has just about achieved his dastardly aim of learning what he needs to know in order to steal the Stone.

Here’s what Harry overhears (and a little of what he assumes):

Walking back from the library on his own one afternoon, he heard somebody whimpering from a classroom up ahead. As he drew closer, he heard Quirrell’s voice.

“No – no – not again, please – ”

It sounded as though someone was threatening him. Harry moved closer.

“All right – all right – ” he heard Quirrell sob.

Next second, Quirrell came hurrying out of the classroom straightening his turban. He was pale and looked as though he was about to cry. He strode straight out of sight; Harry didn’t think Quirrell had even noticed him. He waited until Quirrell’s footsteps had disappeared, then peered into the classroom. It was empty, but a door stood ajar at the other end. Harry was halfway toward it before he remembered what he’d promised himself about not meddling.

All the same, he’d have gambled twelve Sorcerer’s Stones that Snape had just left the room, and from what Harry had just heard, Snape would be walking with a new spring in his step – Quirrell seemed to have given in at last.

Harry would have lost that bet. But let’s set Snape aside for a moment (don’t worry… we’ll come back to him. We always do!) and let’s take up with Quirrell.

The very next morning after Quirrell pleads with his unseen adversary, Harry, Hermione, and Neville get notes from McGonnagall telling them that they will be serving their detention late that night. And what is that detention? To go into the Forbidden Forest with Hagrid (as they later learn) and track down a dying unicorn whose blood can be seen all over the Forest floor. This is the second slain unicorn, and not-so-coincidentally Harry heard Quirrell pleading “no – no – not again.”

As we later learn, Quirrell is actually pleading with Voldemort, who needs to drink unicorn blood in order to preserve his own cursed half-life. According to the timeline, Quirrell pleads with Voldemort, loses his bid, heads into the Forest that night and implements the order by grievously wounding the unicorn, and the next night – detention, investigating the damage Quirrell has done. During that detention, he returns again to the Forest so that Voldemort (whom he serves as host) can drink the unicorn’s blood.

I’m mentioning all this because this is the first time it has really jumped out at me that once Quirrell agrees to kill the unicorn, he wastes no time at all in doing the Dark Lord’s bidding. The evidence is in what happens the next night.

Detention! (the quiz… and more)

Yes, detention.

No, not this kind. (sorry, detention junkies!)

Instead, here’s a quick pop quiz:

1. Who gives Harry his first detention?

2. What was Harry’s offense?

3. Who else serves the detention with Harry? (and what were their offenses?)

The comments thread is open. I will be awaiting your responses.

ETA (Quiz Answers!):

Iggy answered the challenge

Snarky Answer:
Clearly it was Snape, who woke up that morning, rubbed his hands together in an evil fashion, and cackled that his dastardly plan for the day was to put Potter in Detention because that’s his purpose in life.

Serious Answer:
I’m pretty sure it was…
2. Sneaking out at night (along with supposedly telling Draco about Nobert to get him in trouble)
3. Hermione, Neville, Draco (Hermione accompanied Harry, Neville went out to warn them, and Draco was trying to catch them.)

Both answers are correct.

No, Snape did not put Potter into his first detention. But it’s certainly the right answer for snark! And it’s probably the best answer if you’re just taking a wild guess. Given the number of times Harry ruminates on the possibility of Snape putting him into detention, it’s certainly the answer everybody would expect.

But it’s not true. Harry Potter’s first detention did not come from Professor Snape. In fact, so far as I can tell, Harry’s first Snape detention did not occur until well into his 4th year!

But Iggy’s “serious answer” is what actually happened in the book. Harry and Hermione took Norbert to the top of the Astronomy Tower underneath the Invisibility Cloak so that Charlie Weasley’s friends could take the illegal Dragon to Romania. Draco tried to catch them and got caught by McGonnagall:

Professor McGonnagall, in a tartan bathrobe and a hair net, had Malfoy by the ear.

“Detention!” she shouted. “And twenty points from Slytherin! Wandering around in the middle of the night, how dare you – ”

“You don’t understand, Professor. Harry Potter’s coming – he’s got a dragon!”

“What utter rubbish! How dare you tell such lies! Come on – I shall see Professor Snape about you, Malfoy!”

However, Harry and Hermione left the Invisibility Cloak behind and got caught by Argus Filch, who took them to McGonnagall. Meanwhile, poor hapless Neville got caught trying to warn them.

McGonnagall adds it all up as follows:

“I would never have believed it of any of you. Mr. Filch says you were up in the astronomy tower. It’s one o’clock in the morning. Explain yourselves.”

It was the first time Hermione had ever failed to answer a teacher’s question. She was staring at her slippers, as still as a statue.

“I think I’ve got a good idea of what’s been going on,” said Professor McGonnagall. “It doesn’t take a genius to work it out. You fed Draco Malfoy some cock-and-bull story about a dragon, trying to get him out of bed and into trouble. I’ve already caught him. I suppose you think it’s funny that Longbottom here heard the story and believed it, too?”

Okay, so she adds it up all wrong (and poor Neville believes her). But what she doesn’t add up wrong are the points from Gryffindor.

This little escapade costs her own House 50 points per each ickle firstie. And that’s 150 points total – putting Gryffindor into last place in the House Cup.

Anybody else like to play?

ETA 2 (More Snark!):

Referring to this post (as “next post”), Dags snarks:

[snarkII]And the correct answer to your next post is ‘the Dursleys’, BTW…[/snarkII]

Absolutely correct!
(That’s what I get for failing to specify “first detention at Hogwarts.”)

The Dragon Mommy

All at once there was a scraping noise and the egg split open. The baby dragon flopped onto the table. It wasn’t exactly pretty; Harry thought it looked like a crumpled, black umbrella. Its spiny wings were huge compared to its skinny jet body, it had a long snout with wide nostrils, the stubs of horns and bulging, orange eyes.

It sneezed. A couple of sparks flew out of its snout.

“Isn’t he beautiful?” Hagrid murmured. He reached out a hand to stroke the dragon’s head. It snapped at his fingers, showing pointed fangs.

“Bless him, look, he knows his mommy!” said Hagrid.

According to Newt Scamander’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (one of the Care of Magical Creatures texts used at Hogwarts), Dragons are a Class XXXXX fantastic beast – i.e., a “known wizard killer / impossible to train or domesticate.” In addition, its eggs are “defined as Class A Non-Tradeable Goods.” Yet, of course, the moment he gets a chance, Hagrid gets his hands on one of these dragon eggs, nurtures it like a mother hen, and then tries to raise the baby dragon.

“Norbert the Norwegian Ridgeback” is a chapter that not only helps to send the plot into its final drive toward the climax, but that also builds in character information concerning Hagrid that will prove important in later books. But first, let’s talk about memory charms and the Statute of Wizarding Secrecy!

Dragons and Memory Charms

When Harry says that there “aren’t wild dragons in Britain,” Ron corrects him:

“Of course there are,” said Ron. “Common Welsh Green and Hebridean Blacks. The Ministry of Magic has a job hushing them up, I can tell you. Our kind have to keep putting spells on Muggles who’ve spotted them, to make them forget.”

This is probably a significant moment in the series. I believe (and please correct me if I’m wrong) that this is the first reference in the books to the notion that Wizards are so secretive in relation to Muggles that Muggles need to have memory charms performed on them if they accidentally run across evidence of the magical world.

So we get our first clear hint at the scope of the Statute of Wizarding Secrecy (still unmentioned in the books by name at this point). And we learn that not only do Dragons exist in modern Europe, but the Wizards in those countries hide their existence from Muggles.

What We Learn of Hagrid

But what about Hagrid?

We already know that he has a liking for unusual animals and that he has been known to acquire them from strangers in pubs.
(Fluffy anyone?).

We already know that he has wanted a dragon since he was a kid.
(See conversation with Harry re: Gringotts within 24 hours of rescuing the boy from the Dursleys).

And now, we find that Hagrid has won a Dragon egg by playing cards with a stranger in a pub.
(My guess: the Hogs Head, which boasts some rather strange custom).

And this isn’t just any old Dragon egg. It’s the egg of a Norwegian Ridgeback! According to Scamander’s book, the Norwegian Ridgeback is “exceptionally agressive to its own kind” and is “one of the rarer dragon breeds.”

So, various Hagrid themes that JKR has been building incrementally start to come together in this chapter – which is also a pivotal chapter in the development of the story, as the events that occur in the wake of spiriting the Ridgeback out of the country lead directly to the events that propel the plot towards its ultimate climax.

Hagrid’s love of magical creatures will play itself out through the series (as will his pub adventures) – but this is the first time it will all become a major plot point.

In PS/SS, the Dragon is disposed of successfully with no harm to the Dragon… and no lasting damage to Hagrid or the Trio. In later books, though, Hagrid’s love of other magical creatures (such as the Acromantula and the Hippogriff) will reveal a richer potential for tragic outcomes. But at this point, JKR just dishes up a harmless, comical, and fairly endearing episode.

Hagrid loves his baby. And he even names it:

“I’ve decided to call him Norbert,” said Hagrid, looking at the dragon with misty eyes. “He really knows me now, watch. Norbert! Norbert! Where’s mommy?”

Okay, so it breathes fire (and he lives in a wooden hut).

Okay, so it grows at an exponential rate (and will soon be the size of his hut).

Okay, so it bites with poisonous fangs (and Ron’s bitten hand has swollen and turned green).

Okay, so it’s illegal to own one (and Malfoy knows about it).

Regardless, Hagrid is absurdly affectionate, and unashamedly maternal. He even sings it lullabyes.

Ron, though, has a rather different opinion of the creature than Hagrid does:

“I tell you, that dragon’s the most horrible animal I’ve ever met, but the way Hagrid goes on about it, you’d think it was a fluffy little bunny rabbit. When it bit me he told me off for frightening it.”

Hagrid’s strange love for dangerous magical creatures is one of the more comical aspects of Harry’s and Ron’s notes in Scamander’s book. In fact, one of the boys writes an alternative definition for the XXXXX (“known wizard killer”) rating, redefining it as “anything Hagrid likes.”

Though Harry and Ron love their friend, they are not always enamoured of the fact that his favorite magical creatures are usually the most dangerous ones. But then, Hagrid is himself the son of a magical creature – and one so dangerous that its kind was banished from Britain after the 1st Wizarding War.

Protecting the Stone

It is 10 weeks from end-of-term exams. (And 10 weeks, as Hermione helpfully tells Harry and Ron, is only “like a second to Nicolas Flamel”). Harry and Ron are obsessed with the Stone. Hermione is obsessed with color coding her notes and getting her friends to do likewise.

They spend massive amounts of time studying in the library, and Harry even looks up the ever-important curative plant Dittany for his Potions homework. (We’ll find the Dittany payoff in the Sectumsempra chapter of HBP!). And eventually, in the library, they run into Hagrid, who is studying up on… dragons!

But before we get there, we get to enjoy a little bit more of the Trio’s assumptions about where Snape and Quirrell stand with regards to the Philosopher’s Stone:

Quirrell… must have been braver than they’d thought. In the weeks that followed he did seem to be getting paler and thinner, but it didn’t look as though he’d cracked yet.

Every time they passed the third-floor corridor, Harry, Ron, and Hermione would press their ears to the door to check that Fluffy was still growling inside. Snape was sweeping about in his usual bad temper, which surely meant that the Stone was still safe. Whenever Harry passed Quirrell these days he gave him an encouraging sort of smile, and Ron started telling people off for laughing at Quirrell’s stutter.

The Trio are trying to stand in solidarity with “brave” Quirrell. Harry encourages him. Ron defends him. And in the midst of all this narrative misdirection, we get this gem:

Snape was sweeping about in his usual bad temper, which surely meant that the Stone was still safe.

Again, we see fact (Snape’s bad temper) confounded by interpretation (i.e., that he has been confounded by the protections surrounding the Stone).

Of course, all that Snape’s bad temper really means is that Snape is being Snape. He would most likely be in a much worse temper if the Stone he is helping to protect were stolen! But of course, at this point in the narrative, JKR is misdirecting us to sympathize with Quirrell, and suspect Snape.

Meanwhile, Hagrid’s “shifty” entrance in the Library sets up the cascading series of events that will drive the plot forward to its climax. Here’s a brief rundown of how this happens:

The Trio’s meeting in the Library with Hagrid (–>>>)
leads to a meeting at Hagrid’s hut to discuss who is protecting the Stone (including… gasp!… Snape!!!), (–>>>)
which leads to the Trio finding out about Hagrid’s dragon egg, (–>>>)
which leads to Draco seeing the newly-hatched dragon, (–>>>)
which intensifies the Trio’s concern for helping Hagrid get rid of an illegal dragon, (–>>>)
which leads Harry and Hermione on a trip to the top of the Astronomy Tower under the Cloak, (–>>>)
which leads to their getting caught when they accidentally leave their invisibility behind, (–>>>)
which leads to serving detention with Hagrid in the Forbidden Forest, (–>>>)
which leads Harry to have an encounter with Voldemort (who is living in a half-life), (–>>>)
which leads to suspicions that Snape [sic] is trying to steal the Stone not merely in order to get rich but to help Voldemort obtain eternal life!

I think the reader can figure out the rest of the pieces of the climax from there. Let’s just say that Harry will gladly risk expulsion if it means stopping Voldemort.

At any rate, this build toward the climax starts out very casually, with Hagrid encountering the Trio in the Library and refusing to discuss the Stone in front of students who don’t know already about it.

Next time, we’ll talk a little bit more about dragons!

Play the ‘Expecto Patronum’ Search Term Game!

Well, it’s time to play a reader-participation game!

In the poll below, I’ve provided a list of authentic search terms that have been used to reach this blog. I personally find each of them somewhat funny or outre.

So, here’s how to play the game:

Vote to select your favorite search term(s) from the list… and then write something about your choice(s) in the comments section.

Here are some possibilities to get you started:

  • Explain why you like the term(s)
  • What might the searcher have been thinking of?
  • What sort of scenario in the HP universe might apply to the term(s) you’ve selected? (try to keep this family friendly, please)
  • …Or whatever else you want to write!

Have fun! And keep the snark lock on!

Worth Twelve of Malfoy!

“There’s no need to tell me I’m not brave enough to be in Gryffindor. Malfoy’s already done that,” Neville choked out.

Harry felt in the pocket of his robes and pulled out a Chocolate Frog, the very last one from the box Hermione had given him for Christmas. He gave it to Neville, who looked as though he might cry.

“You’re worth twelve of Malfoy,” Harry said. “The Sorting Hat chose you for Gryffindor, didn’t it? And where’s Malfoy? In stinking Slytherin.”

Neville!!! I finally get to write a post about Neville!!!!
(Even if it is also in the context of talking about Omniscient Narrator POV).

The Harry Potter series (as we’ve discussed ad nauseum lately) is generally written in a limited 3rd person Point of View. But it does dip occasionally into Omniscient Narrator – for five chapters, and random occasions when Rowling needs to get us outside Harry’s consciousness and give us a broader view of the action.

For example: Quidditch. Rowling sometimes puts us right up there on the broom with Harry. But at other times, she takes us down into the stands, far far away from Harry’s point of view. And it’s in one of these Quidditch Omniscients that Neville Longbottom first shows signs of why he was sorted into Gryffindor.

We’ve talked before about how Neville is set up early on as sort of comic relief. He loses everything that’s not attached to him. His magic is weak. He brews catastrophic potions. Malfoy bullies him mercilessly. And when he receives the Remembrall from his gran, he can’t even remember what he forgot to remember!

But during the second Quidditch match, we see a completely different side of Neville. After Draco puts the Leg-Locker curse on him one night outside the Library, Neville becomes convinced he’s not brave enough for Gryffindor. And that’s when Harry tells him that he’s worth twelve of Draco – something that apparantly Neville does not forget because when Draco begins taunting him during that second Quidditch match (far far away from Harry’s consciousness)…

Neville went bright red but turned in his seat to face Malfoy.

“I’m worth twelve of you, Malfoy,” he stammered.

Malfoy, Crabbe, and Goyle howled with laughter, but Ron, still not daring to take his eyes from the game, said, “You tell him, Neville.”

“Longbottom, if brains were gold you’d be poorer than Weasley, and that’s saying something.”

Ron’s nerves were already stretched to the breaking point with anxiety about Harry.

“I’m warning you, Malfoy – one more word – “

Well, Malfoy eventually gets in his “one more word,” Ron turns on him, and Neville……

Neville hesitated, then clambered over the back of his seat to help….

Hermione… didn’t even notice… the scuffles and yelps coming from the whirl of fists that was Neville, Crabbe, and Goyle.

Okay, I snipped some extraneous words, but I didn’t change the basic meaning. Neville(!!!) gets into Ron’s fight, taking on Crabbe and Goyle by himself while Ron wrestles Draco!

Keep this in mind for the future. It may take a long time for Neville to fulfill his promise, but JKR lays in the seeds for where Neville ends up on the Gryffindor brave-o-meter right here in PS/SS.

Oh, and just to tie things together… that Chocolate Frog Harry digs out of his pocket after Draco hits Neville with the Leg-Locker Curse is the same Chocolate Frog that gives the Trio enough information on Nicolas Flamel to find out about the Philosopher’s Stone.


And now, just for fun, here are my answers to the Neville discussion questions on the CoS Forums:
(Warning: They do include questions/answers up through DH)

1) We know Neville’s upbringing (like Harry’s) hasn’t been a bed of roses. How have Neville’s formative years with his grand mother and extended family influence the person he is now? Would he be the same person if his parents hadn’t been tortured into madness?

Neville is deeply wounded and ashamed by his parents’ having been tortured into madness – so much so that he never tells his friends. It’s only when his friends inadvertently find out (and don’t think any worse of him for it) that Neville finally lets his guard down and really starts coming into his own. I love the scene in in OotP, in which Neville’s grandmother – whom we’ve been led to believe up to this point is a severe and forbidding woman – tells Neville that there’s nothing to be ashamed of.

Without the effective loss of his parents, Neville would have led a much more normal childhood, with considerably less pressure from his relatives to demonstrate that he’s not a Squib. He probably would have grown into his magic abilities more naturally.

2) Neville evolved into a remarkable leader of Dumbledore’s Army and a true Gryffindor, do you think his previous incompetence was due to lack of confidence? What events in the series allowed him to gain the confidence he needed?

I think I kind of answered this in #1, but I’ll expand here.

I believe that Neville’s incompetence is a result of fear. This is a kid whose parents have been tortured into insanity. His parents had strong magic abilities – as did the DEs who tortured them. And the DEs tortured them using magic. I personally think that even though he’s truly a Wizard, Neville is rather scared of magic because of what it has cost him. Add to that the pressure put on him by his family to prove that he’s got magic, and you get a kid who’s really a basket case.

I think that what gave him the confidence he needed was 1) excelling in Herbology and 2) becoming part of Dumbledore’s Army. Professor Sprout was very supportive of Neville’s abilities, and Professor McGonnagall was very supportive of Neville pursuing Herbology.

But perhaps more important for Neville was joining D.A. Neville got to learn some DADA without the pressure of grades. And his friendships with the Trio solidified through D.A. After the Trio discover him at St. Mungo’s, Neville realizes that they still accept him and love him. Even though I don’t think it’s specifically stated in the text, I thinks it’s probable that the Trio’s acceptance when they learn Neville’s “secret” is what helps him get over his sense of shame and come into his own.

I see the accidental meeting at St. Mungo’s as Neville’s turning point.

3) How does the power of love manifest itself in Neville’s actions throughout DH?

I think it’s the love of his friends that finally brings Neville out of himself and helps bring out the true Gryffindor in him. And in DH, Neville has a chance to “give back” to his friends what they have given to him.

In some ways, it’s shocking that it’s Neville of all people who lifts the sword out of the hat and kills Nagini. But on another level, it’s perfect. He loves Harry, and he thinks Harry is dead, and he is going to defy Voldemort even if it means his own death. It is a deeply satisfying resolution to Neville’s journey – which in some ways is the longest journey of all our young Gryffindors, from the incompetent boy who couldn’t do anything right to the young man who made it possible for Harry to win the war once and for all.

4) Neville is one of the few characters whose profession we learn. What do you think of his choice to teach? What qualities would make Neville a good teacher?

I think that Neville would be a good teacher because he has a passion for his subject, and he’s a natural leader. He didn’t know he was a leader until the position was thrust upon him in Year 7, but he completely stepped up into that role. I think he would interact well with students.