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.

Is Severus Snape a Sociopath?

The LOST Finale just ate my brain! Consequently, at the moment, I’m more equipped to blog on Benjamin Linus than on the “Nicolas Flamel” chapter in PS/SS. So instead of proceeding mechanically with the re-read, how about I answer some simple questions implied by search terms people have used to land on this blog in the past few days?

Search #1: Is Severus Snape a sociopath?

Short answer: No.

Longer answer: I am assuming that the person who asked this question knows that Snape kills Dumbledore but does not know how the story ends. But if by some weird chance this person is asking the question after reading the series, I suggest doing a re-read and paying closer attention to what Snape is actually doing… not to how Harry is interpreting it! Seriously!

Severus Snape is a flawed and wounded hero with a tormented past. But he is not a man without conscience. He is a man with a very heightened sense of conscience but no externally manifested affection for Harry Potter. And because Harry is not his favorite person, Harry (who is desperate for affection) always thinks Snape is up to no good. However, Albus Dumbledore has, in fact, essentially made Snape his right-hand man, and trusts him “completely.” And despite appearances to the contrary (i.e. Snape killing Dumbledore), Snape never betrays Dumbledore’s trust.

Being completely trustworthy is not something you would ever be able to say about any sociopath. Hence long answer: Severus Snape is not a sociopath.

Search #2: I open at the close

This is the message Albus Dumbledore inscribed on the first Snitch Harry ever caught in a Quidditch match (against Slytherin, of course). The Snitch responds to the touch of Harry’s lips because Harry caught the Snitch in his mouth, and Snitches respond to the touch of the first person who touched them – i.e. the first person that caught them.

In the broader context of the series, this message is telling Harry that he will be able to access what is hidden in the Snitch (the Resurrection Stone) when the time is right – i.e., when Harry is about to meet Voldemort and sacrifice his life.

Search #3: Silver Doe

The Silver Doe is Severus Snape’s beautiful, light-filled Patronus. It is a partner to Harry’s mother’s Patronus and is an external manifestation of Snape’s light-filled soul. The Patronus is so powerful that Harry recognizes instinctively that it is not a product of Dark Magic and chooses to follow it, despite not knowing who it belongs to and despite the perilous circumstances he’s in. The Patronus leads Harry to the Sword of Godric Gryffindor, which Snape has planted in a frozen pool for Harry to retrieve.

Search #4: Harry Potter – 3 Narrative Techniques

I was sick and tired of the person in the books who wore the glasses was always the brainy one and it really irritated me and I wanted to read about a hero wearing glasses.

It also has a symbolic function, Harry is the eyes on to the books in the sense that it is always Harry’s point of view, so there was also that, you know, facet of him wearing glasses.
J. K. Rowling, 2005

3rd Person Limited: The primary narrative technique used in the Harry Potter series is a close 3rd person point of view (or a 3rd person limited point of view), tied to Harry’s consciousness and perceptions – as Rowling indicates in the quote above. Because Rowling uses this technique throughout over 95% of the series, we rarely know more than Harry knows or see more than Harry sees. Because Harry is sane, however, his perception of other characters’ actions should be taken as accurate. For example, if Harry sees Severus Snape disappearing into the 3rd floor corridor, then the reader can safely assume that Severus Snape literally did go into 3rd floor corridor.

But readers do need to be careful about accepting everything Harry believes to be true. He is often wrong in interpreting motives of characters he dislikes (cf. Snape) – as the ending of PS/SS and as “The Prince’s Tale” demonstrate. The difference here between perceiving actions and interpreting them goes something like this: Severus Snape disappears into the 3rd floor corridor (True) in order to steal the Philosopher’s Stone (False). Since the narrative is coming through Harry’s perception and interpretation, the motive he ascribes to Snape of wishing to steal the Stone is stated in the narrative as if it were fact. But it’s not.

Since we see nearly everything through Harry’s perspective, many readers accept Harry’s interpretations without question. This tendency to accept everything Harry believes to be true is what I will call the “Applied Harry Filter.” The “Applied Harry Filter” does not refer to Harry’s perceptions but to readers’ uncritical acceptance of Harry’s interpretations – even those interpretations that are objectively proven to be false.

I have written more on limited point of view on the CoS Forum. Unfortunately, what I wrote was rather seriously misinterpreted elsewhere on the Forum, where a poster claims that I make the case that we can trust nothing that Harry perceives. It’s like being polyjuiced into a Deconstructionist!

Omniscient Narrator: Omniscient narrator point of view is used in “The Boy Who Lived,” “The Riddle House,” “The Other Minister,” and a couple of Snape-centric chapters – “Spinner’s End” and “The Dark Lord Ascending.” An omniscient narrator provides the reader with information that the lead character is not privy to. JKR’s use of omniscient narrator in the Snape-centric chapters, though, is a great example of misdirection. By choosing to describe these scenes from an omniscient point of view, she shows us Snape acting as a Death Eater while offering us no access to Snape’s thoughts. Because we get no access to Snape’s thoughts, we are unaware that he is actually infiltrating the Death Eaters and working against Voldemort. JKR uses omniscient in these instances to create an impression that is actually the opposite of what is occurring beneath the surface.

Narrative Reliability: Unreliable narrator is not a point of view but is a technique that JKR uses occasionally in what I will call “micro-narrations” (i.e. short first-person trips into having another character tell a story). For instance, in one micro-narration, she has one of Snape’s enemies (Sirius Black) describe Snape as having been quite adept at the Dark Arts before ever arriving at Hogwarts. However, there is no evidence in the text to show that what Sirius says is true. When we actually see Snape’s childhood in “The Prince’s Tale,” there is not only no evidence of an interest in the Dark Arts, there is evidence that he does not want to become the type of person who would ultimately be sent to Azkaban. Sirius’ comments on Snape are not reliable – i.e, they cannot be taken at face value. But this does not mean they are untrue – just unverified by the text and unconfirmed by characters who have more objectivity concerning Snape.

Search #5: Expecto Patronum Significance

“Expecto Patronum” is Latin for “I expect a Protector.” In its most basic sense, it is the spell used to conjure a Patronus and protect a person from the Dementors.

In addition, Expecto Patronum is the name of this blog (which is probably why the user landed on this page). And as a huge fan of LOST, I’m thinking of expanding the blog to include commentary on LOST in light of the Finale.

Thankfully, the name Expecto Patronum can readily cover LOST content as well as Harry Potter content. After all, the Island needs a protector. And the native language of Jacob – the Island protector when Oceanic Flight 815 crashes – is Latin.

It works!

Note: I have reorganized and expanded this post to address some distortions of my points on 3rd person limited that have appeared elsewhere.