‘Our New Celebrity’

“There, look”
“Where?”
“Next to the tall kid with the red hair.”
“Wearing the glasses?”
“Did you see his face?”
“Did you see his scar?”

Whispers followed Harry from the moment he left his dormitory the next day. People lining up outside classrooms stood on tiptoe to get a look at him, or doubled back to pass him in the corridors again, staring. Harry wished they wouldn’t, because he was trying to concentrate on finding his way to classes.

Remember the scene in the Leaky Cauldron, when Tom the bartender, Dedalus Diggle, and all the pubs’ patrons form a spontaneous line to shake Harry’s hand? Well, Hogwarts is Leaky magnified a few hundredfold.

Doris Crockford may have come through that Leaky line a bundle of times, but imagine hundreds of her, lining the halls at Hogwarts to get a glimpse, doubling back to pass and goggle Harry a second time. And as if that’s not bad enough, imagine going in to Professor Flitwick’s Charms class, and have the guy fall over with excitement!

At the start of their first class [Professor Flitwick] took the roll call, and when he reached Harry’s name he gave an excited squeak and toppled out of sight.

It’s unnerving enough to have your schoolmates treat you as a celebrity, but to have your Professor react this way?

Now don’t get me wrong, I love Flitwick, and the incident is kind of endearing. And we will find in general that every time this man gets excited, he gets a little squeaky.

But imagine this scene from Harry’s perspective. The poor kid is at a new school, having to find his classes while dealing for the first time with ghosts, a poltergeist, stairways that won’t stand still, pictures that move and talk, students lining the corridors to get a look at him… and then he gets to watch his Charms Professor fall over from excitement at the mere mention of his name. It just has to be unnerving.

Professor Snape can’t help but sardonically mock all the attention at the start of the first class Harry ever has with him:

Snape, like Flitwick, started the class by taking the roll call, and like Flitwick, he paused at Harry’s name.

“Ah, yes,” he said softly, “Harry Potter. Our new – celebrity.”

I know Snape gets a bad rap for this line. But he does nicely sum up the absurdity of all the attention this unproven child is getting. And to be getting it over something that the child really is not responsible for (i.e. surviving the Killing Curse) just makes it snark fodder all the more.

Had Snape let Harry in on the joke rather than make him the butt of it, this moment might not have become the first in a long string of missed opportunities between these two.

And had Snape bothered to find out that Harry found his celebrity equally absurd (rather than assume that he enjoyed all the attention as his father would have (cf. “The Prince’s Tale”)), these two might have come to an understanding that did not first require Snape’s horrific death.

I know. In. My. Dreams.

And speaking of the Potions Master, MinervasCat on the Chamber of Secrets Forum gave this rather nice, succinct character analysis of Severus Snape (across the seven books) this morning.

Cheers, MC!

Nitwit! Blubber! Oddment! Tweak!

Albus Dumbledore had gotten to his feet. He was beaming at the students, his arms opened wide, as if nothing could have pleased him more than to see them all there.

“Welcome!” he said, “Welcome to a new year at Hogwarts! Before we begin our banquet, I would like to say a few words. And here they are: Nitwit! Blubber! Oddment! Tweak!”

You have no idea how long I’ve been waiting to write that!

“Nitwit! Blubber! Oddment! Tweak!” is perhaps my favorite line in all seven books (and people say Snape gets all the good lines!). An entire essay is devoted to these words at The Hogwarts Professor. An essay is devoted to them at The Leaky Cauldron. Multiple threads are devoted to them on the Chamber of Secrets Forums. But of course, nobody is closer to knowing today what he meant by those words than they did in 1997 when the book was published.

And I do not intend to try my hand at interpreting them! I just wish to celebrate the strangeness that is Albus Dumbledore (okay, and maybe analyze him a little too)… as did students at the Welcoming Feast of 1991:

He sat back down. Everybody clapped and cheered. Harry didn’t know whether to laugh or not.

“Is he – a bit mad?” he asked Percy uncertainly.

“Mad?” said Percy airily. “He’s a genius! Best wizard in the world! But he is a bit mad, yes. Potatoes, Harry?”

We have met Dumbledore only briefly before, when he laid Harry at the Dursley’s doorstep. We met his accomplishments in passing when Harry opened the card in the Chocolate Frog. But now, we meet Albus Dumbledore in his element – at Hogwarts, where he serves as Headmaster of this venerable institution.

And we immediately learn that he’s perhaps a bit more eccentric than just lemon drop would indicate! Later during the Feast, that point is reinforced by his mode of conducting the school song. Dumbledore instructs the students to pick any melody they wish, and then he conducts a presumed cacaphony of melodies on the single set of words.

Nobody reading this scene for the first time is going to see any significance in the wand he’s using to conduct the school song. But the wand does have significance. It is presumably the wand that Dumbledore mastered in 1945 when he defeated Gellert Grindelwald. It is the Elder Wand, the Death Stick, the first of the Deathly Hallows.

At this point in Dumbledore’s story, we know next to nothing of his past – and we will know next to nothing of it until the final book. But there was a time in Dumbledore’s life when he sought the Hallows with Gellert Grindelwald, in order to create Wizard dominance over Muggles “for the greater good.” He has spent his life training up wizards as a sort of penance for his short, but catastrophic, trip into the Dark Arts.

In the small piece of fiction that I recently wrote for the Elder Wand contest (I won’t belabor you with the link yet again!), I imagined what might have been going through Dumbledore’s mind as he conducted the school song with this extremely powerful and often murderous wand:

The Elder Wand! If only Gellert could see it – really see his “Deathstick” – conduct a room of schoolchildren in song! The incongruous image alone was sufficient for Albus to continue the practice, no matter how disapproving the fixed stares of Minerva and Severus. Using the Wand for such mundane, even eccentric, pursuits helped diminish its power, especially over him, and render the dormant cancer benign.

And it had been a cancer, the consuming desire for power and Hallows, that had gripped him during Gellert’s summer in Godric’s Hollow. His friend’s rise, his pursuit of the Wand, his murderous reign – all of it had started there, with Albus at his side.

Before writing the story, I hadn’t really given much thought to the school song (and even less to the wand Dumbledore uses to conduct it). I just thought that the scene was very funny. But in the “King’s Cross” chapter of DH, Dumbledore tells Harry that he was allowed to “tame” the Elder Wand. In fleshing out the scenario for the story, it occurred to me that one of the ways in which Dumbledore “tamed” the wand was by putting it to such incongruous uses as this. It is a far cry from a “Death Stick” to a conductor’s baton.

I have no doubt that in many ways, Albus Dumbledore was a highly eccentric man. But much of the eccentricity seems cultivated, a front to hide his more strategic, calculating inner self. At the same time, I consider him an essentially benevolent and deeply good man… despite being a ruthless wartime general.

First View of Hogwarts Castle… and a personal note

The first-years’ first view of Hogwarts castle closes up the chapter that transports Harry from the Muggle world entirely into the Magical world.

Here is an artists’ rendering of what the ickle firsties – approaching Hogwarts in the boat fleet – would see.

And now that we’re at Hogwarts, I have a couple of personal notes.

Quest for the Hallows: I just won “Best Overall” entry for the First Task in a Potter fanfic contest called “The Quest for the Hallows.” Winning was a shocker because I never write fiction.

For the First Task, we had to write a story or create a comic about one of the people known, in DH, to have possessed the Elder Wand. “Known to have possessed the Elder Wand” means anyone at any point in the Wand’s long and bloody history.

I had planned to do either Gellert Grindelwald’s duel with Albus Dumbledore or Grindelwald confronting Voldemort. But then this crazy little idea popped into my head. I hope you enjoy it.

BTW, I did not win in the “Best Story” category. The story I voted for, however, did. Here’s that story.

Holy Week: Also, you’ll have to excuse me this week. It’s Holy Week, and I’m Catholic. It’s highly unlikely that I’ll get a chance to write any re-read posts before Easter. But when I do, we’ll be on “The Sorting Hat” chapter. In the interim, I may yet find some Potter-related items to post.

The Flight of the Dursleys, Part 3

We last left off with the Dursleys about to make a run for it, after the great letter-down-the-chimney assault. Let’s join them…

On the Lam

Sunday, Day 6: On Day 6 (the day “one less than perfection”), the Dursleys make a run for it, attempting to escape the letters…

Dudley was sniffling in the back seat; his father had hit him round the head for holding them up while he tried to pack his television, VCR, and computer in his sports bag.

They drove. And they drove. Even Petunia didn’t dare ask where they were going. Every now and then Uncle Vernon would take a sharp turn and drive in the opposite direction for a while.

“Shake ’em off… shake ’em off,” he would mutter whenever he did this.

Best moments: Dudley’s packing sense, Uncle Vernon’s muttering. And it just keeps getting better!

Monday, Day 7: Harry is a bit disoriented by the week’s events, so he doesn’t really realize it yet, but this 7th day of letters is also the day before the last day of the 7th month – the day of his 11th birthday. Keep in mind the dying days of the 7th month. It will become important later in the series.

And there are many other 7s in this series: 7 years, 7 Weasley children, 7 players in Quidditch, 7 Potters, 7 intended parts to Voldemort’s soul. And of course, 7 is said to be the most magically powerful number. But of course, all of that is yet to come. Right now, Harry has not even been introduced to the Wizarding World… though the Wizarding World is doing its best to introduce itself to him!

On this 7th day of letters from no one, the Dursleys find that none of their previous attempts to outrun the letters have succeeded. 100 or so letters await Harry at the hotel desk. After hours of driving aimlessly, Petunia sensibly asks Vernon if it might not be a good idea to go home. Instead, Uncle Vernon…

… drove them into the middle of a forest, got out, looked around, shook his head, got back in his car, and off they went again. The same thing happened in the middle of a plowed field, halfway across a suspension bridge, and at the top of a multilevel parking garage.

“Daddy’s gone mad, hasn’t he?” Dudley asked Aunt Petunia dully late that afternoon.

Finally, he finds a wave-crashed island offshore with a damp and battered shack. Certainly, no post can arrive there. Yet in what Daggerstone has called “Decidedly THE funniest Deus ex machina,” with less than one second to go to Harry’s birthday, Harry hears a…

BOOM.

The whole shack shivered and Harry sat bolt upright, staring at the door. Someone was outside, knocking to come in.

The Wizarding World will not be dissuaded.

Best moment: Dudley inquiring after his father’s sanity.

Next time: “Harry – Yer a Wizard”

The Flight of the Dursleys, Part 2

Well, I did it! I didn’t finish The Flight of the Dursleys (had to go to sleep), but at least I got it started. All things considered, I call that a WIN!

So, let’s keep going, shall we? Before falling asleep last night, I had just started with the letters

We were last on Day 2 – after Ickle Dudley Wuddykins’ snit, but before the morning post.

The Letters: A Brief Chronology (cont’d)

Wednesday, Day 2: Another single letter arrives. But significantly, it is addressed to Harry’s new location: “The Smallest Bedroom.” Someone knows he has moved.

Best moment? The three-way battle for the letter in which “everyone got hit a lot by the Smelting Stick.”

Thursday, Day 3: Harry is so determined to read the post that he tries sneaking outside before anyone else awakes.  Uncle Vernon is so determined to keep him away from the post that he camps out by the mail slot in a sleeping bag. The unknown sender is so determined to get Harry his letter that three letters arrive!

Best moment? Uncle Vernon staying home from work to nail up the mail slot:

“Oh, these people’s minds work in strange ways, Petunia, they’re not like you and me,” said Uncle Vernon, trying to knock in a nail with the piece of fruitcake Aunt Petunia had just brought him.

Note to self: What a novel use for fruitcake!

Friday, Day 4: Twelve letters arrive, pushed through every crevice available. Uncle Vernon stays home to board up the cracks.

Best moment? Uncle Vernon humming “Tiptoe Through the Tulips” while nailing stuff up… and jumping at small noises.

Saturday, Day 5: Well, things just escalate and escalate and escalate:

On Saturday, things began to get out of hand. Twenty-four letters to Harry found their way into the house, rolled up and hidden inside each of the two dozen eggs that their very confused milkman had handed Aunt Petunia through the living room window. While Uncle Vernon made furious phone calls to the post office and the dairy trying to find someone to complain to, Aunt Petunia shredded the letters in her food processor.

“Who on earth wants to talk to you this badly?” Dudley asked Harry in amazement.

A few things here. The milkman seems to have been confunded. So this means that Wizards are taking a very direct and active role, interacting with Muggles, in order to get a single letter to Harry. Not to mention that the number of letters has doubled since the day before. We are now up to two dozen letters, along with the two dozen eggs.

Best moment? Aunt Petunia shredding letters in the food processor.
Who knew those things had so many uses?

Sunday, Day 6: No post today! Well not through Muggle Mail at least. But Muggle Mail has never stopped the owl post. 30-40 letters come zipping down the chimney like bullets, and Uncle Vernon decides to make a run for it.

Best moment? Uncle Vernon “trying to speak calmly but pulling great tufts out of his mustache at the same time” and looking “so dangerous with half his mustache missing that no one dared argue” when he ordered them to pack.

I’m going to leave off the Dursleys on the lam for our next entry. Hope to see you then!

(to be continued)

The Flight of the Dursleys, Part 1

Okay, I did it. After a couple of weeks of personal trauma (including the loss of a beloved pet and two rounds of blizzard), I finally forced myself to re-read “The Letters from Nowhere” – the chapter in which Harry’s acceptance letters arrive from Hogwarts. Please bear with me while I make my re-entry into writing up the re-read. :)

I’m going to approach this first post a bit differently. In order to get writing again, I’m just going to do scattershot impressions rather than create crafted writerly paragraphs. Are you good with that? Here we go…

I really love this chapter. For starters, it’s our second close-encounter with this place they call Hogwarts. We know that those wizardly types in the first chapter had to come from somewhere, and two of them were called “Professor,” but we didn’t know Professor of what, or Professor from where. And really, at the end of this chapter, we still don’t know… because Harry’s uncle won’t let him touch those letters!

The whole letters incident is really hilarious, and it shows the incredible tenacity of the Wizarding World, and the incredible tenacity of the Dursleys in trying to avoid it!

Poor Dudley

Before looking at the letters, it might be nice to take a moment to think about poor Dudley. This is a really miserable chapter for Harry’s cousin, maybe moreso even than it is for Harry, who is accustomed to irrational behavior and abuse. But Dudley is used to being the center of attention and having all his whims met.

At the beginning of the chapter, Dudley is strutting around the house in his new school uniform with his new “Smelting Stick.” But once the letters arrive, Dudley gets shuffled to the side. In the attempt to keep the letters away from Harry, Uncle Vernon tosses Dudley (along with Harry) out into the hall by the scruff of his neck, gives Dudley’s overflow toy room to Harry (out of blind terror that the first letter came addressed to Harry at “The Cupboard Under the Stairs”), even wrestles his son to the ground when a new letter arrives. Later, when Vernon decides to flee the house, he hits Dudley on the head for taking too long to pack, and Dudley misses all his favorite TV shows on an empty stomach and even has to sleep in a horrible wet shack on a rock offshore! You almost feel some sympathy for the poor brute of a boy.

The Letters: A Brief Chronology

So now, on to the letters…

Tuesday, Day 1: Blind panic sets in at the Dursleys from the moment Uncle Vernon grabs Harry’s letter out of his hand and reads it. From the Dursleys’ point of view, a letter from these still-mysterious senders is nothing short of a catastrophe. Petunia’s voice is “quivering.” Vernon talks about “dangerous nonsense.” Dudley is forced to listen in at the keyhole (Shades of Death Eater Snape listening in on Trelawney’s prophecy). And Harry gets moved upstairs, out of the cupboard and into a bedroom.

Wednesday, Day 2:

Next morning at breakfast, Dudley was in shock. He’d screamed, whacked his father with his Smelting Stick, been sick on purpose, kicked his mother, and thrown his tortoise through the greenhouse roof, and he still didn’t have his room back.

And that’s all before the next letter arrives!

(To be continued…)