An Ounce of Logic

“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 forever.”

Snape’s logic puzzle guards the chamber where the Mirror of Erised guards the Stone. And curiously, it is his task, not that of the Deputy Headmistress, that stands right next to Dumbledore’s – perhaps giving an early hint of the extent to which Albus Dumbledore trusts Severus Snape.

Additionally, the logic puzzle wins Hermione’s admiration… and for the first time in the text, we get a hint that there might be more to Snape than what is circumscribed by Harry’s feelings.

But Hermione is also partially wrong. There is magic involved in the task… just not in the solution to the puzzle.

More Magic Than Advertised

The Trio is trapped in a chamber – between purple flame on one side and black flame on the other. The flames, obviously, were conjured by a spell Snape cast.

There are 7 bottles, 5 of which contain wine or poison – concoctions that can be created by Muggles. However, the 2 bottles that will actually get the drinker through the magically-conjured flames contain potions that could only have been brewed by persons with magic powers.

Rowling herself makes this clear in the following Q&A:

Q: Can Muggles brew potions if they follow the exact instructions and they have all the ingredients?

Rowling: Well, I’d have to say no, because there is always … there is a magical component to the potion, not just the ingredients. So, at some point you’re going to have to use a wand. I [have] been asked what would happen if a Muggle picked up a magic wand in my world. And the answer would probably be something accidental … possibly quite violent. Because a wand, in my world, is merely a vehicle — a vessel for what lies inside the person.

[snip]

But, you’re right. Potions seems, on the face of it, to be the most Muggle-friendly subject. But there does come a point where you need to do more than stir.

So potions are part of magic. They are not created by mechanically brewing the right ingredients in the right proportions. They involve the use of a wand. And even if a Muggle were to put the same ingredients into a cauldron in the right proportions at the right temperature for the right amount of time, the end result would still not be the right potion.

The task, then, does involve more magic than Hermione lets on. Magic flames guard the doors, and magical potions get the drinker through those doors. But a maze of non-magical logic guards the potions that conquer the flames.

The Logic Puzzle

Snape’s logic puzzle is solvable. In fact, we’ve been discussing the solution in the Comments to the previous post.

Mad, one of the commenters, has pointed out an elaborate solution at the Harry Potter Lexicon. Iggy and I have discussed our solutions, and I have written up the details of my solution on a page here called “Solving Snape’s Logic Puzzle.” (If you take that link now, you can skip down this page to A Slytherin Task? when you return).

The poster at HPL, Iggy, and I all arrived at the same solution, by the way. But before we discuss the solution, let’s first take a look at the puzzle itself!

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 forevermore,
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 onward, 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.

Okay, my eyes glaze over with bad verse (and sorry, but whatever else he is, Severus Snape is not a master versifier).

But when I finally managed to get my eyes in focus, here’s what I took away from the first half of the poem: one bottle will move you ahead (line 3), one will send you back (line 4), two hold nettle wine (line 5), three hold poison (line 6). Or, as Hermione sums it up quite succinctly:

“Seven bottles: three are poison; two are wine; one will get us safely through the black fire, and one will get us back through the purple.”

And, of course, if you don’t make a choice, you’re stuck in the chamber forever between the purple flame and the black. Nice.

Now, let’s look at the clues that help Hermione make her choice.

  1. There is always poison to the left of nettle wine (lines 9-10)
  2. The bottles on either end of the line contain different contents, but neither will move you forward (lines 11-12)
  3. The smallest and largest bottles do not contain poison (lines 13-14)
  4. The second from the left and the second from the right are housed in different-sized bottles, but they hold the same contents (lines 15-16)

I’m going to cut to the chase and offer my solution right now:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7
Poison Wine x y Poison Wine Backward

If you want to see how I arrived at this solution (and why there are still unsolved variables in the sequence), you can go to the solution in “Solving Snape’s Logic Puzzle.”

A Slytherin Task?

Severus Snape is, of course, the Slytherin Head of House.

We don’t learn until CoS that Slytherin is associated with Pureblood Supremacy… and we don’t learn until HBP that Snape is not a Pureblood… but the Half-Blood son of a Muggle father. In DH, we also learn that the Muggle slum of Spinner’s End is not merely where Snape sets up shop during the summer. It is the place where he grew up. So where did he acquire his capacity for logic?

If most Wizards, as Hermione suggests, don’t have “an ounce of logic,” then Snape most likely acquired his logic before he got to Hogwarts – and most likely as a result of his Muggle background. While logical capabilities and great mental discipline should be crucial for the more scientific aspects of potions-making, most Wizards aren’t any better at potions than they are at logic. In fact, Snape suggests that most students in his class will “hardly believe” that potions are magic.

So potions is probably not what gave him his logic. Logic is more likely what allowed him to excel at potions. (Perhaps he was educated by Jesuits before he came to Hogwarts!)

The traits associated with Slytherin are ambition, cunning, determination, and resourcefulness. So we can expect that in creating the task, Snape would draw on whatever resources were at his disposal, whether they came from the Wizarding World or from the Muggle world.

He draws on his ability to cast spells that conjure flames. He draws on his ability to brew potions that get the drinker through the flames. And he draws on his logical ability to create a puzzle that would snag many Wizards.

Additionally, cunning is at the core of the task. Poison “slyly” hides inside the line. The largest bottle must contain wine (not the potion that moves the drinker “backwards”), while the smallest bottle contains the potion that moves the drinker forward. And of course, using logic to defeat Wizards would be quite nearly the definition of cunning.

Ambition? Snape is the youngest Head of House. He is 32 years old at the conclusion to PS/SS, and he has a strong rivalry with Minerva McGonnagall – his own former Transfiguration Professor and the Gryffindor Head of House. I can imagine Snape designing his task not only to protect the Stone but also to compete with hers.

A Turning Point

The logic puzzle also serves as a bit of a turning point for Snape’s character.

Up to this point, Snape has been presented primarily as the Professor Harry hates and suspects. Yet right here, in the midst of the Trio’s journey into the bowels of Hogwarts to protect the Philosopher’s Stone (from… Snape! [sic]), we learn that the Potions Master is a man of skill and intellect – not just a one-dimensional villain. He is a man whose task Hermione deems “brilliant.”

Snape’s brilliance puts some flesh onto the man… and that flesh subtly begins to humanize him for the audience… just in time for the big reveal that will occur just beyond the black flame.

So what do you think? Where did Snape get his logic? What Slytherin qualities do we see in this task? What do we learn of Snape? What did I miss?

T, for Troll

That’s the grade I’d give Professor Quirrell’s protection for the Stone. Why? Because, it’s bogus! It’s just a waste of space!

As I mentioned in the Comments to the previous post:

He had a way with trolls, so he planted a troll in order to get past it easily. Since his method for getting past it meant knocking it out, he basically allowed anyone who came after him to get past the troll as well. So Quirrell, I don’t think, really counts.

And so that means that the next task we’ll discuss is…

Professor Snape’s Logic Puzzle!

So here’s a little question I have for all of you. Is there any remotely canonical visual representation of how the bottles should be arranged – size and all? Is it possible to recreate the bottle presentation by means of the poem? Is it possible to figure out the answer to the Logic Puzzle without the visual aid of seeing the bottles?

Please let me know in the Comments thread.

Thanks!

Shall We Play a Game?

They were standing on the edge of a huge chessboard, behind the black chessmen, which were taller than they were and carved from what looked like black stone. Facing them, way across the chamber, were the white pieces. Harry, Ron and Hermione shivered slightly – the towering white chessmen had no faces.

“Now what do we do?” Harry whispered.

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

As a Wizarding Chess afficionado, Ron quickly figures out that the giant chess pieces they encounter in Professor McGonnagall’s task have been transfigured into the moving, “living” pieces of Wizarding Chess. He quickly deduces that the three of them will have to take the places of black chess pieces and confirms this with one of the black knights:

[Ron] walked up to a black knight and put his hand out to touch the knight’s horse. At once, the stone sprang to life. The horse pawed the ground and the knight turned his helmeted head to look down at Ron.

“Do we – er – have to join you to get across?”

The black knight nodded.

The Task

Unlike Professor Flitwick’s complex task, this one is fairly straightforward – once it’s figured out. The prospective thief has to take the place of a black chess piece and play a successful game of chess. But therein lies the problem. While it takes intelligence to play chess, having intelligence is no guarantee of success.

Chess is a game of strategy, and so it takes a strategic thinker to win at it – someone who can see the big picture, comprehend the implications of the opponents’ moves, and plan moves in advance. In other words, it takes a specific type of intelligence. This is what makes McGonnagall’s task rather brilliant. It narrows the field considerably concerning who would be able to get to the next door. Hermione herself (minus Ron) would likely not have passed successfully through this task.

But Why Is This Task for Gryffindor?

Shouldn’t chess be more of a Ravenclaw specialty? I mean, in RL it is the province of those crypto-Ravenclaws of the Muggle world – Math and Computer geeks. So why should this be the task for the Head of House for Gryffindor?

Transfiguration: Well, the most obvious answer is that the task requires the pieces to undergo Transfiguration spells… and Transfiguration is McGonnagall’s specialty. In fact, it seems that Transfiguration is something of a Gryffindor specialty. Such noted Gryffindors as Professor Dumbledore have specialized in Transfiguration. And several recent Gryffindors (three Marauders and Professor McGonnagall) are known to be capable of making the animagus transformation (not technically Transfiguration, but certainly requiring Transfiguration skills as a prerequisite).

Transfiguration, according to McGonnagall, is among the most “complex and dangerous magic” taught at Hogwarts – the danger, perhaps, being a reason the discipline seems to coalesce around Gryffindor. But thus far (at Hogwarts at least), we’ve seen mainly the lighter side of Transfiguration. We’ve watched Professor McGonnagall transfigure her desk into a pig (and back again), teach her First Years to change a match into a needle, and test them on turning a mouse into a snuffbox. In the chess task, we finally see the more serious application of Transfiguration.

War: Additionally, chess is a warlike game, involving pieces that emulate soldiers crossing a battlefield. The game, in fact, is won by capturing the opposing player’s King. Gryffindor, of course, is the most warlike of Houses – the House that most highly values bravery and chivalry. And McGonnagall’s version of chess creates an aura of battlefield danger, guaranteed to unnerve your average prospective thief.

The white pieces don’t just “take” black pieces. They hit and break them, with strong stone arms:

[The Trio’s] first real shock came when their other knight was taken. The white queen smashed him to the floor and dragged him off the board, where he lay quite still, facedown.


Every time one of their men was lost, the white pieces showed no mercy. Soon there was a huddle of limp black players slumped along the wall.

McGonnagall’s transfiguration transforms a game based on war into an actual simulation of war.

Strategy: Smart as the Ravenclaws are, and crafty as the Slytherins, the best strategic thinker in the series is Albus Dumbledore – who manages the wars against Voldemort like a master moving pieces around the board. While Dumbledore’s Slytherin protegé, Severus Snape, is a brilliant tactician, Snape is not essentially a strategist. And this perhaps shows us something about the differences between Ravenclaw intelligence, Slytherin intelligence, Hufflepuff intelligence, and Gryffindor intelligence.

Ravenclaw is often said to admire abstract, theoretical knowledge. Slytherin admires skill and practical application. Hufflepuff emphasizes an earthy, pragmatic, common-sense approach. But despite its reputation (largely among Slytherins) for reckless action, Gryffindor, perhaps, brings the strongest capacity for strategic thought.

Certainly the evidence for strategy being the most Gryffindorish type of intelligence is a bit thin if we base it entirely on Dumbledore, but if we consider that strategy is the quality most desired in warfare – and martial ability is a huge part of the Gryffindor portfolio – then we perhaps have a more solid circumstantial basis for linking Gryffindor with strategic intelligence.

So What Do We Learn about McGonnagall?

She’s pretty formidable – far more formidable than the no-nonsense witch who sternly greets new students.

Not only does she perform the necessary transfiguration to animate the pieces, she “programs” the white pieces to respond to the black strategy and create a dynamic strategy for defense of the Stone. (Curiously, too, she uses the traditional color scheme of white representing the “good” defenders of the Stone and black representing the “bad” prospective thieves).

Unless there is a ready-made spell that gives transfigured pieces the sort of strategic knowledge necessary to play a human opponent without human assistance, McGonnagall must have chess-expert knowledge of the inner workings of the game in order to give the pieces that ability. (And given that chess is the task she chooses, my bet is that she does.)

Additionally, this simulation of battle foreshadows what we will ultimately see of McGonnagall in the context of a real battle in DH – as she defends Hogwarts against the minions (and assumed minions) of the Dark Lord.

McGonnagall ruthlessly duels presumed Death Eater Severus Snape in one of the corridors of the castle (making it, I think, safe to say that the scary White Queen of Transfigured Chess is a striking symbolic representation of McGonnagall herself). And the actual animation of the chess pieces is a foreshadowing of McGonnagall’s calling on the statues and armor to do their duty and defend the school during the Battle of Hogwarts:

“And now – Piertotem Locomotor!” cried Professor McGonnagall.

And all along the corridor the statues and suits of armor jumped down from their plinths, and from the echoing crashes from the floors above and below, Harry knew that their fellows throughout the castle had done the same.

“Hogwarts is threatened!” shouted Professor McGonnagall. “Man the boundaries, protect us, do your duty to our school!”

Clattering and yelling, the horde of moving statues stampeded past Harry: some of them smaller, others larger, than life. There were animals too, and the clanking suits of armor brandished swords and spiked balls on chains.

“Now, Potter,” said McGonagall, “you and Miss Lovegood had better return to your friends and bring them to the Great Hall – I shall rouse the other Gryffindors.”

That is the quintessentially Gryffindor Professor McGonnagall in the context of war. She takes charge. She defends the school. And she shows no mercy to any she believes would dare overthrow Hogwarts.

[Translation of Piertotem Locomotor: “All do your duty!”]

The Filius Charm

They reached the end of the passageway and saw before them a brilliantly lit chamber, its ceiling arching high above them. It was full of small, jewel-bright birds, fluttering and tumbling all around the room. On the opposite side of the chamber was a heavy wooden door.

“Do you think they’ll attack us if we cross the room?” said Ron.

“Probably,” said Harry. “They don’t look very vicious, but I suppose if they all swooped down at once…”

The Trio have now reached Professor Flitwick’s protection for the Stone, a protection involving keys that have been charmed to behave like a flock of birds.

Filius Flitwick

We have briefly met Professor Flitwick in the classroom. When he first reads Harry Potter’s name on his roll sheet, he squeaks and tumbles out of view. On Halloween, while Hermione famously pesters Ron over the proper way to say “Wingardium Leviosa,” Flitwick claps his hands and cries “Well done!” after she successfully levitates a feather four feet into the air.

Flitwick could not even contain himself from confiding in Hermione that she had received 112% on his exam. And this information – coming on the day that the Trio decide to go through the trapdoor – leads Hermione to conclude that (in terms of potential expulsion, at least), it is positively safe for her to go sneaking around the castle after curfew in order to protect the Stone.

Filius Flitwick is an excitable, and rather charming, little man who makes First Year students demonstrate a capacity for making a pineapple tapdance across a desk. But he’s also quite formidable in his own way. He is a retired Dueling Champion and Head of Ravenclaw – meaning that we should expect a certain amount of ingenuity in his protection for the Stone.

The beauty of his protective Charm – aside from the sheer physical beauty of the metallic flock – is that it involves both consideration in working out the task and performance in catching the right key.

In fact, in their initial analysis of the task, Harry and Ron get it all wrong. The keys (which they still think are birds) are not charmed to attack. They are charmed to perform like hundreds of Golden Snitches. That is, they will fly swiftly away from whoever tries to catch them. Consequently, identifying and then catching the right key requires Seeker skills.

The Task

Here’s a short breakdown of the (not-necessarily-sequential) elements involved in the successful performance of this task:

  • To identify the relationship between the winged objects and the door that must be passed through (i.e., recognize that the objects are keys, not birds).
  • To identify the exact key – among hundreds – that must be caught in order to pass through the door.
  • To find and mount a broom – and be a good enough flyer to stay mounted while zooming around trying to catch the right key.
  • To figure out a strategy for catching the key. This final element requires speed, agility, and (in the case of the Trio) teamwork.

The Golden Snitch

As mentioned above, performing this task successfully requires Seeker skills, and (as the text reminds us) it was “not for nothing” that “Harry was the youngest Seeker in a century.”

The entire purpose of Harry’s position at Quidditch is to catch the Golden Snitch. But what exactly is the Snitch?

Okay, we know that it’s a small, winged metal ball. But more than that, it’s a small, winged metal ball that mimics the size, shape, and swift, erratic movements of the Snidget – a bird so fast and so talented at hiding itself from predators that few Muggles have ever seen it. Classified as a Magical Creature, the Snidget has a XXXX MoM rating thanks to the penalties now attached to its capture or injury.

But how and why did those penalties come into existence? Well, around the early 11th century, hunting the elusive bird became a favorite sport among Wizards and Witches. Snidget hunting finally crossed paths with Quidditch in the late 13th century when a Wizarding official released a Snidget into a game of Quidditch. From that time on, the Snidget hunt became a part of the game – excellent for Quidditch, but not so excellent for the small bird.

What happened next is the element that appears to have inspired Filius Flitwick’s Charm. According to Kennilworthy Whisp’s Quidditch through the Ages:

The invention of the Golden Snitch is credited to the wizard Bowman Wright of Godric’s Hollow. While Quidditch teams all over the country tried to find bird substitutes for the Snidget [which was now on the brink of extinction], Wright, who was a skilled metal-charmer, set himself to the task of creating a ball that mimicked the behavior and flight patterns of the Snidget. That he succeeded perfectly is clear from the many rolls of parchment he left behind him on his death (now in the possession of a private collector), listing the orders he had received from all over the country.

Filius Flitwick almost certainly found inspiration for the performance of the enchanted keys in the performance of the Golden Snitch:

[Each of the members of the Trio] seized a broomstick and kicked off into the air, soaring into the midst of the cloud of keys. They grabbed and snatched, but the bewitched keys darted and dived so quickly it was almost impossible to catch one.

We don’t know from the passage if Flitwick gave the keys’ wings the rotational joints found in the wings of Snidgets (and by extension, Snitches), but it seems reasonable to assume that the idea of charming metal to perform like swift, elusive birds (catchable only on broomstick) would be inspired by the greatest of all Wizarding sports.

When Birds Attack!

So let’s go back to the question that Ron asked earlier about whether or not the “birds” would attack. As a consequence of the anxiety his question stirred,

[Harry] took a deep breath, covered his face with his arms, and sprinted across the room. He expected to feel sharp beaks and claws tearing at him any second, but nothing happened.

Compare Ron and Harry’s anxiety with the charmed bird attack that actually does occur in HBP.

In 6th year, when Lavender Brown makes her play for Ron’s affections, Hermione consoles herself in an abandoned classroom by conjuring birds out of thin air… then sets the birds on Ron when he comes into the classroom with Lavender:

Harry spun around to see Hermione pointing her wand at Ron, her expression wild: The little flock of birds was speeding like a hail of fat golden bullets toward Ron, who yelped and covered his face with his hands, but the birds attacked, pecking and clawing at every bit of flesh they could reach.

Given this later incident, I think it rather signficant that it’s Ron who asks in PS/SS if Flitwick’s “birds” will attack. It serves as foreshadowing for that moment nearly 6 years later when a very hurt and jealous Hermione finally does set birds on Ron – birds that she conjured as practice for Flitwick’s NEWT-level Charms class.

So my question is this: When Hermione set those birds on Ron, might she (consciously or unconsciously) have remembered Ron’s concern about being attacked by charmed keys that initially appeared to be birds?

Regardless of the answer to that question, there is nothing vicious about Flitwick’s flock of keys. The Charms protection for the Stone seems (like Flitwick himself) rather more genial than the Devil’s Snare. Yet it still requires considerable thought and skill to achieve a successful outcome – qualities that one would expect from a spell produced by the Head of House for Ravenclaw.

Devil’s Snare

“We must be miles under the school,” [Hermione] said.

“Lucky this plant thing’s here, really,” said Ron.

Lucky!” shrieked Hermione. “Look at you both!”

She leapt up and struggled toward a damp wall. She had to struggle because the moment she landed, the plant had started to twist snakelike tendrils around her ankles. As for Harry and Ron, their legs had already been bound tightly in long creepers without their noticing.

The Trio’s fall through the trapdoor is broken by Professor Sprout’s protection for the Stone – Devil’s Snare.

So far, about the only thing we know about Professor Sprout (whom we have not yet met) is that she’s a “dumpy little witch” who teaches Herbology in the Greenhouses. With the Devil’s Snare, though, we at least meet her handiwork.

The brilliance of Sprout’s protection is that while the Devil’s Snare breaks the fall of those who go through the trapdoor, it also tries to kill them… and will succeed, unless the potential victim remembers how to fight it. If Harry’s and Ron’s reaction to their soft landing is any indication, most people would be lulled into a feeling of safety and might not even think to escape the plant’s tendrils until they are already being strangled or crushed to death. Worse yet, the more they struggle, the tighter the plant will bind them.

Devil’s Snare may not be as flashy as transfigured chess pieces, but it is truly an impressive bit of protection. In standard vampire fighting mode, fire or light will defeat the plant. But remembering that requires some knowledge of Herbology – and who but an Herbology geek would remember back to First Year Herbology lectures while they’re under attack from the plant?

Based on what we’ve seen of the Wizarding community, the average Wizard would most likely pay more attention to flashier subjects like DADA or Transfiguration or Charms, and wouldn’t stand a chance if attacked by Devil’s Snare – making it a doubly effective defense.

Thankfully the Trio have Hermione on hand to remember what Professor Sprout told them about the plant. And thankfully, they also have Ron on hand to remind her that she can conjure fire:

“Devil’s Snare, Devil’s Snare… what did Professor Sprout say? – it likes the dark and the damp – ”

“So light a fire!” Harry choked.

“Yes – of course – but there’s no wood!” Hermione cried, wringing her hands.

“HAVE YOU GONE MAD? Ron bellowed. “ARE YOU A WITCH OR NOT?”

“Oh right!” said Hermione, and she whipped out her wand, waved it, muttered something, and sent a jet of the same bluebell flames she had used on Snape at the plant. In a matter of seconds, the two boys felt it loosening its grip as it cringed away from the light and warmth.

And so the Trio escape the Devil’s Snare’s clutches.

But as with so many other elements introduced in PS/SS, this episode serves also to foreshadow later events. In OotP, a Devil’s Snare sent by a Death Eater as a “Christmas gift” to spell-damaged Unspeakable Broderick Bode successfully strangles the intended victim. And during the Battle of Hogwarts, Professor Sprout again uses Devil’s Snare – this time as part of the castle’s defenses against Voldemort’s minions.

Professor Sprout, Head of House for Hufflepuff, is also (as we can see) a formidable, if unconventional, fighter who who brings her less conventional resources as an Herbologist to bear in the battle against evil. Significantly, she will teach Neville Longbottom to do the same.

A Pack of Enchantments

“I don’t know how you found out about the Stone, but rest assured, no one can possibly steal it, it’s too well protected.”


“I suppose you think you’re harder to get past than a pack of enchantments!” she stormed.

Poor Professor McGonnagall. She’s left to guard the castle while Dumbledore’s running off to the Ministry, and now some ickle firsties are claiming that someone’s going to steal the Stone! As much sympathy as I have for the Deputy Headmistress, though, I do find her confidence in the enchantments disturbingly overconfident.

Yes, the Stone is guarded, as Hagrid earlier told the Trio:

“… he borrowed Fluffy from me … then some o’ the teachers did enchantments …. Professor Sprout – Professor Flitwick – Professor McGonnagall -” he ticked them off on his fingers, “Professor Quirrell – an’ Dumbledore himself did somethin’, o’ course. Hang on, I’ve forgotten someone. Oh yeah, Professor Snape.”

But the enchantments will fall… first to a determined thief, and then to a very determined group of 11 and 12 year olds!

So now that we know who is guarding the stone (and it reads largely like a staff roster of House Heads at Hogwarts!), let’s get a brief overview of the how:

  1. Hagrid (Care of Magical Creatures): Fluffy
  2. Professor Sprout (Herbology): Devil’s Snare
  3. Professor Flitwick (Charms): Enchanted Keys
  4. Professor McGonnagall (Transfiguration): Living Chess Pieces
  5. Professor Quirrell (Defense Against the Dark Arts): Troll
  6. Professor Snape (Potions): Logic Puzzle, Potions, Enchanted Fire
  7. Professor Dumbledore (Headmaster): Re-Enchanted Mirror of Erised

Fluffy

As guardian of the trapdoor (and we have discussed the Fluffy/Cerberus connection before), Fluffy should prove a formidable foe. After all, he nearly ripped off the leg of Severus Snape… who wasn’t even trying to steal the Stone!

But perhaps that’s whole point. Fluffy’s presence would dissuade all but the most determined of thieves (or, apparently, the most determined of Gryffindors!). And that is why Snape asked Quirrell if he had figured out how to get past the dog. As Voldemort’s slave, Quirrell does have the determination required. This is a man who made an attempt on the Stone at Gringotts after all! And since the time Snape cornered Quirrell in the Forbidden Forest, Hagrid has rendered Fluffy’s protection null by unknowingly revealing Fluffy’s weak spot to “Quirrellmort.” Consequently, when the Trio arrive at the door to the 3rd floor corridor, an enchanted harp has already played the beast to sleep.

Their reaction to seeing the harp? Predictably: “Snape must have left it there.”

Gryffindor Determination

But the Trio, too, came prepared to play Fluffy to sleep. Harry brought a flute, and that flute proves their salvation when the harp stops playing.

The young Gryffindors’ determination to get through the trapdoor comes not from a desire to steal the Stone but from the desire to prevent Voldemort’s return to power – a determination spearheaded by Harry’s reminder of the threat that he… and Hogwarts… and the Wizarding World as a whole would face if Voldemort returns:

“If Snape gets hold of the Stone, Voldemort’s coming back! Haven’t you heard what it was like when he was trying to take over? There won’t be any Hogwarts to get expelled from! He’ll flatten it, or turn it into a school for the Dark Arts! Losing points doesn’t matter anymore, can’t you see? D’you think he’ll leave you and your families alone if Gryffindor wins the house cup? If I get caught before I can get to the Stone, well, I’ll have to go back to the Dursleys and wait for Voldemort to find me there, it’s only dying a bit later than I would have, because I’m never going over to the Dark Side! I’m going through the trapdoor tonight and nothing you two say is going to stop me! Voldemort killed my parents, remember?”

He glared at them.

“You’re right, Harry,” said Hermione in a small voice.

As DH shows, 6 years later, Harry is quite on target with his analysis of what the return of Voldemort would mean. And this is before he learns about blood prejudice or about the blood prejudice campaign that would also target the likes of Hermione (Muggle-born) and Ron (blood traitor)… and it is well before Harry learns that he himself was the target on the night his parents were killed.

The only thing Harry is substantially wrong about (apart from the Snape bit) is that Voldemort would be able to kill him at the Dursleys. Actually, the Dark Lord can’t. In fact, as we learn much later, Harry is under special blood protection under his aunt’s roof because of his mother’s sacrifice. And this is the reason Dumbledore “inexplicably” keeps sending him back to the Dursleys during school breaks.

Because of the Trio’s determination to stop Voldemort’s return, nothing is going to stop these kids from going through that trapdoor – not Neville (on whom Hermione, regretfully, uses a Petrificus Totalus), not Peeves (on whom Harry tests his best “Bloody Baron” voice), and not Fluffy.

I’ll be back later to discuss, individually, the enchantments created by the House Heads on the other side of the of the trapdoor … and how the Trio overcome them. But this, at least, should get us started on our journey into the bowels of Hogwarts.

Master of Death? (gasp!)

Well, it’s official. After completing four challenges, I won the “Quest for the Hallows” contest on the CoS Forum! And that, according to Professor Dumbledore, makes me “Master of Death”… whether I like it or not.

So here’s how it all breaks down:

Task #1: The Elder Wand: For the Elder Wand task, we had to write a story (or submit a graphic) about one person who was canonically Master of the Elder Wand.

I found the whole idea of writing a fictional story terrifying because I have always rather emphatically not specialized in fiction. But I entered the contest to help my House (Gryffindor) get enough entries into the contest to rack up some House points. I honestly never expected to win anything myself. But I got an idea, and people really liked it.

My entry took “2nd Place” and “Best Overall” (thanks to split votes between “Best Story” and “Best Overall”). Here’s my entry. And here are my banners:

Task #2: The Resurrection Stone: Having done well in a task, I was excited going in to the next one. For the Resurrection Stone task, we could create a HP-related story (or image) or a Personal story (or image) showing how we would use the Stone.

The most popular HP-related scenario was to bring Fred back so that George could say goodbye. But I did something entirely different. I was a bit confused by the task. When the instructions said you, I thought they literally meant me (not a narrator). Since I did not want to use the Stone, I came up with an elaborate workaround on how I could use the Stone without actually intending to use the Stone.

The entry took 4th place for HP-related story and 5th place overall. No banners this time, but I did get extra points. Here’s my entry.

Task #3: The Invisibility Cloak: After placing in the first two tasks, I was one of the contest leaders. But this was the task that I thought was going to destroy me. We had to cover something that we never wanted to see again with a Cloak of Invisibility unlimited by size. But I just didn’t see any logic in merely covering something if the thing was still actually there.

So I thought and thought and thought… and ultimately overthought it! Eventually, the only logical thing I could think of to cover was my garage. I didn’t want to remove the garage. I just didn’t want to see it. I knew I had no chance of winning the task the minute I saw the winning entry (Entry 17). But at least I placed 4th again! (oh, and here’s my entry!).

Task #4: Master of Death: Having placed in all three tasks, I was now in 2nd place in the contest overall, thanks to cumulative points. In the final task, we had to tell why we would or would not unite the Hallows and become the Master of Death.

Within a day, I got an idea. How about a narrator from the distant future, looking back on the past – sort of like the Babylon 5 episode “The Deconstruction of Falling Stars”? Eventually, this idea morphed into a post-apocalyptic Wizarding future in which goblins rule.

I knew the idea was potentially catastrophic for my contest chances. But being a Gryffindor, I reasoned that now was the time for a bold move, not a time to play it safe. I decided that if I was going to go down, I was going to go down in flames. Here’s my entry. Thankfully, enough people liked it that it again got into the final round of voting… and this time I tied for 3rd place (and I won a whole new banner!):

Tallying it all up: At this point, I was the only participant in the competition who had placed in all four tasks, and this gave me the highest cumulative score, which gave me First Place in the Contest. But there was an additional surprise. Because I also scored the highest number of House Points in the contest, I was the 1st Place House Champion (Go Gryffindor!). So here are  those cool banners:

Finally, what all this means is that I get the title “Master of Death.” And even though I don’t really want to be MoD, I do like the banner:

I put all of my banners into that nifty little animated GIF that opened this post. It is now my sig pic on the CoS Forum.

ETA: Oh! I forgot the best part! My big prize was the User Title of my choice! Custom User Titles are highly coveted on CoS (they appear right under the username). I chose, of course, my favorite HP quote: “Nitwit! Blubber! Oddment! Tweak!”

Okay… snarking is open now on the Comments thread! Have fun!