Everyone from wizarding families talked about Quidditch constantly. Ron had already had a big argument with Dean Thomas, who shared their dormitory, about soccer. Ron couldn’t see what was exciting about a game with only one ball where no one was allowed to fly. Harry had caught Ron prodding Dean’s poster of West Ham soccer team, trying to make the players move.
We’ve gotten to Hogwarts. We’ve met the main characters. Now it’s time for some Wizarding Sport!
“The Midnight Duel” is really a transitional chapter between the “establishing” detail of earlier chapters and the main Hogwarts plot. It picks up on hints about Quidditch from earlier chapters and propels the Quidditch subplot forward… and spends most of the chapter developing the Gryffindor/Slytherin rivalry.
(and with that, I’m done with writing a thesis statement for a blog post!)
A Bit about Quidditch
The intro to this chapter really gives the reader a feel for the significance of Quidditch in the Wizarding World. All the kids are talking about it. Neville is terrified of flying. Hermione, of course, is trying to learn how to fly by reading a book. And Harry is afraid of making a fool of himself in front of Draco Malfoy during the upcoming Flying Lessons.
Hermione’s book, taken from the library, is called Quidditch through the Ages. In his Foreword to a Muggle edition of the book, Albus Dumbledore writes:
Quidditch through the Ages is one of the most popular titles in the Hogwarts school library. Madam Pince, our librarian, tells me that it is “pawed about, dribbled on, and generally maltreated” nearly every day – a high compliment for any book.
The book itself describes the history of Quidditch – the origins of flying by broom, racing brooms, the history of flying broom games, the development and historical changes to the game, the origin of the seeker’s Golden Snitch, as well as the various teams of Britain, Ireland, and abroad. It is a quite comprehensive history of the Wizarding Sport – all crammed in to about 56 densely packed pages.
Unfortunately, you can’t learn much about actually flying out of a book, no matter how helpful the tips. So Hermione doesn’t get much benefit out of the text. Harry Potter though – who we soon learn is a natural flyer – will later learn plenty from the book. About Quidditch, not how to fly.
Gryffindor vs. Slytherin
While Quidditch may be one of the main topics of the chapter, the Gryffindor/Slytherin rivalry is really at the chapter’s foundation:
- Flying Lessons: Gryffindor 1st years take flying lessons with Slytherin first years.
- Harry vs. Draco: The most prominent 1st year boy in Gryffindor faces off – multiple times in this chapter – against the most prominent 1st year boy in Slytherin.
- McGonnagall vs. Snape: The Gryffindor Head of House is willing to bend the rules (re: 1st years not owning racing brooms or playing on the House Quidditch teams) specifically in order to show up the Slytherin Head of House.
We know that the rivalry dates all the way back to Godric Gryffindor and Salazar Slytherin themselves – the two male founders of Hogwarts – and that it is currently embodied in the battle for the future of the Wizarding World between Albus Dumbledore (Gryff) and Lord Voldemort (Slythie).
Yet Hogwarts insists on putting these two bitter rival Houses together in Double Potions and Flying Lessons and even Care of Magical Creatures… yet they can seemingly never get along. What’s the purpose of forcing them together?
My personal theory is that these are the dominant Houses, and it’s for the well-being of the other Houses. Can you imagine putting the poor Hufflepuffs in Double Anything with either Gryffindors or Slytherins?
Ravenclaws might hold their own – particularly from an intellectual standpoint – but the Hufflepuffs would, I think, just wither away. Better to put them with the Ravenclaws and let the Gryffs and Slythies fight it out amongst themselves.
If anybody has a better theory, I’d love to hear it!