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


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.

Fluffy and the Gates of Hell

They were looking straight into the eyes of a monstrous dog, a dog that filled the whole space between ceiling and floor. It had three heads. Three pairs of rolling, mad eyes; three noses, twitching and quivering in their direction; three drooling mouths, saliva hanging in slippery ropes from yellowish fangs.

It was standing quite still, all six eyes staring at them, and Harry knew that the only reason they weren’t already dead was that their sudden appearance had taken it by surprise, but it was quickly getting over that, there was no mistaking what those thunderous growls meant.

In the second episode of the “Midnight Duel” chapter, Draco Malfoy has challenged Harry to, well, what the title indicates – a Wizard Duel, at midnight. Though Harry is worried about pressing his luck by breaking another school rule, he keeps seeing “Malfoy’s sneering face… looming up out of the darkness”… and knows he can’t pass up the opportunity to “beat Malfoy face-to-face.”

Of course, Malfoy doesn’t show up. But he does seemingly let Filch, the caretaker, know that some students will be in the Trophy Room at midnight. In the ensuing chase, Harry and company enter the forbidden 3rd floor corridor and discover the monstrous three-headed dog.

There’s plenty of character development in this episode:

  • Malfoy proves as cowardly as he is malicious.
  • Harry (no matter what) cannot back down.
  • Ron is impulsive and quick-tempered (in fact, he’s the one who speaks up for Harry when Malfoy makes the challenge).
  • Hermione goes into control-freak mode and decides that she just has to prevent the boys from losing Gryffindor any more points… and so follows them out of the portrait hole, “hissing at them like an angry goose.”
  • Neville, again, cannot remember something (in this case, the password), and so has been stuck outside Gryffindor Tower for hours.

Once the adventure starts, neither Hermione nor Neville can return to Gryffindor because he Fat Lady has left her portrait. So instead of two Gryffindors and two Slytherins meeting up in the Trophy Room, there are four Gryffindors (two of whom are not at all happy to be there) and no Slytherins – acting as sitting ducks for Filch and his cat Mrs. Norris.

Of course, the ensuing chase leads Harry and company to flee into the forbidden third floor corridor… and discover the monstrous three-headed dog.

Since JKR was trained in the classics we should assume, of course, that some Greek and Latin myth will wind their way into her tale. The description of the dog is one her first forays into all-out classical myth.

In fact, the three-headed dog is one of the more memorable images from the classics and Western Civilization in general. It alludes to Cerberus – the guardian dog of Hades – whom Hercules must retrieve during his final labor. But beyond the labors of Hercules, Cerberus also makes a memorable appearance in Dante’s Inferno, as a tormentor of damned spirits in Hell:

Cerberus, a beast fierce and hideous, with three throats barks like a dog over the people that are immersed there; he has red eyes, a beard greasy and black, a great belly, and clawed hands, and he scars and flays and rends the spirits. The rain makes them howl like dogs, and the profane wretches often turn themselves, of one side making a shelter for the other.

When Cerberus, the great worm, perceived us, he opened his mouths and showed us the fangs, not one of his limbs keeping still, and my Leader [Virgil] spread his hands, took up earth, and with full fists threw it into the ravenous gullets. As the dog that yelps for greed and becomes quiet when it bites its food, being all absorbed in struggling to devour it, such became these foul visages of the demon Cerberus, who so thunders at the souls that they would fain be deaf.

The way JKR draws the dog has many echoes of Dante’s description. The three-headed dog, then, has overtones of the Hound of Hell (despite Hagrid’s naming the poor misunderstood creature “Fluffy”). And given that symbolism, we could argue (as I would imagine John Granger does) that what’s underneath the trap door is some sort of Underworld – the Hades of Hogwarts, if you will – and that this Underworld is one into which Harry must descend in order to succeed in his first confrontation with Voldemort.

Regardless of Underworld symbolism, meeting up with Fluffy is very decidedly not a good thing. Though our heroes escape, through sheer dumb luck, the dog will later nearly rip Severus Snape’s leg right off.

Still, meeting up with the dog does set up the major plot that will play out through the rest of the story. As Hermione points out when they (successfully) make their way back to Gryffindor Tower, that dog was not just standing there. It was standing on top of a trap door. It was guarding something. Harry and Ron, and soon Hermione, will be speculating on what that dog is guarding – and conclude that it’s the package that Hagrid retrieved from Gringotts, the titular Philospher’s Stone. And eventually, they will brew wild fantasies about how Snape [sic] is trying to steal the Stone.

Their attempt to prevent that outcome will lead to their first adventure together to save the Wizarding World… and their first lesson that appearances may not always be quite what they seem.