Ickle Firsties Take On the Hogwarts Staff

“We’re nearly there,” [Ron] muttered suddenly. “Let me think – let me think . . .”

The white queen turned her blank face toward him.

“Yes . . . ” said Ron softly, “it’s the only way . . . I’ve got to be taken.”

“NO!” Harry and Hermione shouted.

“That’s chess!” snapped Ron. “You’ve got to make some sacrifices! I take one step forward and she’ll take me – that leaves you free to checkmate the king, Harry!”

“But – ”

“Do you want to stop Snape or not?”

So far, we’ve talked about the tasks and what they reveal about the House Heads and their Houses. But we haven’t focused much yet on what the tasks show us about the Trio. And there are actually 2 Rounds of encounters before the Trio even meets up with Fluffy and descends through the trapdoor.

Round 1: The adventure begins in the Gryffindor Common Room, when Neville tries to prevent the Trio from creeping out through the portrait hole. Hermione shows her excellent spell work by putting a “Petrificus Totalus” (Full Body-Bind) curse on Neville (foreshadowing many later uses of Petrificus Totalus: most memorably, Draco on Harry on Hogwarts Express, Dumbledore on Harry during Dumbledore’s death scene, Voldemort on Neville before Neville slays the snake). Round 1 goes to Hermione.

Round 2: The Trio encounter Peeves, who will of course make enough racket to get them caught roaming the halls at night. Harry ingeniously mimics the Bloody Baron from under his Invisibility Cloak. Round 2 belongs to Harry.

Round 3: The Trio meet up with Fluffy. Getting past the 3-headed beast is a collaborative effort. Harry quiets the dog by playing notes on a flute Hagrid carved for him. Ron opens the trapdoor, Harry goes through the trapdoor first, and Hermione continues blowing on the flute before jumping last. Round 3 belongs to The Trio.

Round 4: The Trio engage in another collaborative effort while tackling Sprout’s Devil’s Snare. Yes, Hermione is the one who recognizes the plant, notices its effects, and conjures the bluebell flames. But it’s Harry who recommends lighting a fire and Ron who reminds Hermione that she can light one without wood. Without Harry and Ron, Hermione would have frozen in panic. Round 4 belongs to The Trio, with some extra credit for Hermione.

Round 5: Flitwick’s Enchanted Keys also require a collaborative effort. However, for the collaboration to work, Harry has to rely on his Seeker skills and demonstrate a potential for leadership in Quidditch. He directs Hermione and Ron on the formation to fly so that he can catch the key he has identified. Round 5, I think, belongs primarily to Harry.

Round 6: Getting through McGonnagall’s Transfigured Chess match is entirely Ron’s task, with cooperation (not really collaboration) from Harry and Hermione. And this is one of the more difficult and risky tasks. So in taking the poll at the bottom of this post, it might be nice to weigh that difficulty and risk when considering Ron’s overall contribution toward saving the Stone. Round 6 goes to Ron.

Round 7: Getting past Quirrell’s Troll requires no effort on Harry’s or Hermione’s part because knocking out the Troll has already been accomplished… by Quirrell.

Round 8: Snape’s Logic Puzzle gives Hermione an opportunity to show her capacity for logical reasoning, and without her, Harry might have been stuck in that chamber forever. Round 8 belongs to Hermione.

Round 9: Dumbledore’s enchantment on Mirror of Erised gives Harry an opportunity to show his strength of character – the strength that helps him trump Voldemort’s attempt to attain the Stone and achieve immortality.  We will discuss the Mirror in more detail in the post after next. But for now, Round 9 belongs to Harry.

The three members of the Trio show, from this very first major confrontation with Voldemort, that they possess an ability to work together as a group – and an ability to step forward with individual skills as needed. This will, of course, have major implications for the Horcrux Quest in DH, as will Ron’s sacrifice in the chess match…

You’ve Got to Make Some Sacrifices

When Ron decides to be “taken,” he decides to risk the possibility of death to keep Snape[sic]/Voldemort from getting the Stone. He does not know if the Queen’s blow will be lethal (and Harry and Hermione seem uncertain that he’s still alive when they move on to the next task). What he does know is, at the very least, it will hurt a lot and knock him unconscious. But the sacrifice is necessary in order to move his friends forward. So he sacrifices himself with that aim in mind.

I could be mistaken, but I think this is the first mention of sacrifice in the books. But it becomes a key theme in the series – as we will begin to understand when Dumbledore tells Harry of his mother’s sacrifice.

Perhaps most graphically, though, Ron’s sacrifice is a foreshadowing of the sacrifice that Harry will be asked to make in DH, when he goes out to meet Voldemort. Once again, it will be a situation in which sacrifice is “the only way” to halt evil from triumphing. And once again, it’s a conscious decision to face death for the sake of something bigger than oneself.

Harry makes his sacrifice in order to prevent Voldemort from attaining immortality. And 6 years earlier, he watched a young boy make the cold, calculated decision to face the possibility of death in order to prevent Voldemort from attaining immortality.

Foreshadowing? Perhaps.

Coincidence? Perhaps not.

And now… let’s have another poll – this time on the Trio’s individual contributions. And let’s discuss your responses in the Comments thread! Multiple choice is possible this time:

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.

A Few House Elf Duties

This is proving to be a hectic week. I’m taking a Math course, and I have a midterm next week. So I’m busy trying to relearn everything that we learned before Combinatorics broke my brain.

At any rate, this is my explanation for the Snapespicion post that strings together a bunch of quotes and offers precious little analysis, and I’m sticking to it! I will revise that post and re-post it after I finish my midterm! And we will also move on with the re-read… after I finish my midterm!

Okay, so now that I’ve informed readers of where we are and when to expect some more (and better) re-read posts, I’m finished with performing the house elf duties mentioned in my title. Now we can move on to some search terms!

Here are a few more search terms that have landed people on this blog. Some of these have pretty simple answers… and some are just perplexing:

Search term: who said nitwit! blubber! oddment! tweak
Answer: Albus Dumbledore, in his opening remarks at the Welcoming Banquet the first night Harry was ever on Hogwarts grounds. Harry, consequently, asks his prefect (Percy Weasley) if Dumbledore is a bit mad.

Search term: le patronus de drago malefoy
Answer: He doesn’t have one. For starters, Hogwarts does not teach the Patronus charm. Harry learned it in one-on-one lessons from Remus Lupin and in turn taught it to Dumbledore’s Army. Secondly, JKR has said that Death Eaters cannot cast a Patronus – with the exception of Severus Snape, who is no longer a true Death Eater by the time the series begins.

Search term: can you learn expecto patronum in year 5
Answer: Not in the Hogwarts curriculum… though you can learn it from Harry if you are a member of Dumbledore’s Army.

Search term: how to get past professor snape poa vide
Answer: I don’t have an answer! But I’d love to know what this is all about! I searched google using that search term and came up with nothing. I mean, I did see the link to my blog on the first page of Google results. It landed me at “Forgiveness and the Final Pensieve” – one of the first posts I ever wrote. And sure enough, somebody landed on that post on June 27… but oddly, the search term was not used until June 28, and then it was used twice. I’d like to know what page the searcher landed on!

Search terms: godric’s hollow map / map of diagon alley
Answer: I looked these up too, and the closest I came was this (from the theme park). This blog does not appear to be in the first five pages of Google results for either of these search terms, so I’m a little surprised that people landed here using these terms.

Search term: why isn’t hagrid in half blood prince
Answer: Ummm… he is.

Well, that’s it with search terms for now. I’ll be back soon to clean up the Snapespicion post and carry on with the re-read! But first… that Math midterm! Wish me luck!

Centaurs of the Forest

“Hullo, Bane,” said Hagrid. “All right?”

“Good evening, Hagrid, I hope you are well?”

“Well enough. Look, I’ve jus’ bin askin’ Ronan, you seen anythin’ odd in here lately? There’s a unicorn bin injured – would yeh know anythin’ about it?”

Bane walked over to stand next to Ronan. He looked skyward.

“Mars is bright tonight,” he said simply.

“We’ve heard,” said Hagrid grumpily. “Well, if either of you do see anythin’, let me know, won’t yeh? We’ll be off, then.”

Harry and Hermione followed him out of the clearing, staring over their shoulders at Ronan and Bane until the trees blocked their view.

“Never,” said Hagrid irritably, “try an’ get a straight answer out of a centaur. Ruddy stargazers. Not interested in anythin’ closer’n the moon.”

Centaurs, as everybody knows, are horse on the bottom with human on top. They are hybrid creatures, struggling with dual natures – animal and human. Not surprisingly, classical myths depict them variably as base or wise.

In the ancient myths, centaurs are primarily bestial, embracing the more Dionysian characteristics of drunken revelry and unbridled lust. The centaur Nessus tried to rape Hercules’ (Heracles’) wife Deianira and told her the lie that resulted in the hero’s death. A group of drunken centaur guests attacked the wedding of Pirithous and tried to carry off the bride. When the wise centaur Pholus invited Hercules to dine, the wine fumes incensed the other centaurs to attack. Pholus and the wisest centaur of all, Chiron – teacher of Hercules and Achilles – both died as a result of the other centaurs’ ferocity.

Sadly, Dante places all the centaurs – whether ferocious or wise, whether Nessus or whether Pholus and Chiron – in the Inferno. But in The Chronicles of Narnia (one of JKR’s favorite works), C.S. Lewis portrays the centaurs as the wisest of Narnians, invariably loyal to Aslan and to the rightful Kings and Queens of Narnia.

JKR places her centaurs within both these traditions. As in the classical myths, there are ferocious centaurs and wise centaurs. And her wisest centaur, like Chiron, becomes a teacher. When that wisest centaur, Firenze, rescues Harry from Voldemort and places the boy on his back, though, he incenses Bane, the most ferocious of the forest centaurs:

“Firenze!” Bane thundered. “What are you doing? You have a human on your back! Have you no shame? Are you a common mule?”

The pride of JKR’s centaurs could be seen, in traditional terms, as being at odds with the animal part of their nature. Unlike horses (or mules), they do not wish to be seen as beasts of burden. After all, they possess the gift of reason. However, according to Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, centaurs have been classified as “beasts” by the Ministry of Magic at their own request. Why would these fiercely proud rational beings wish to be classified as “beasts”? Is it merely to show their disdain of human classifications? I am curious to know what anybody else makes of this.

Whatever the case, some other points of interest about centaurs (found in Fantastic Beasts):

Centaurs are believed to have originated in Greece, though there are now centaur communities in many parts of Europe. Wizarding authorities in each of the countries where centaurs are found have allocated areas where the centaurs will not be troubled by Muggles; however, centaurs stand in little need of wizard protection, having their own means of hiding from humans.

The ways of the centaur are shrouded in mystery. They are generally speaking as mistrustful of wizards as they are of Muggles and indeed seem to make little differentiation between us. They live in herds ranging in size from ten to fifty members. They are reputed to be well-versed in magical healing, divination, archery, and astronomy.

The footnote indicates that centaurs have been given a XXXX classification. And here’s the interesting part…

not because it is unduly aggressive, but because it should be treated with great respect. The same applies to merpeople and unicorns.

In JKR’s universe, centaurs, merpeople (whom we won’t meet until GoF), and unicorns all command the same respect. And on the issue of aggressiveness, Newt Scamander has apparently never met Bane!

Note also that whether ferocious or wise, all the centaurs – like their Greek mythological forerunner Chiron – are stargazers and prognosticators. In fact, JKR’s centaurs (with the exception of Firenze) are practically cultic in their adherence to what is written in the stars. For them, Fate rules, not Free Will. The future is predestined, and if the stars say that Harry Potter must die, then Harry Potter must die:

“What have you been telling him?” growled Bane. “Remember, Firenze, we are sworn not to set ourselves against the heavens. Have we not read what is to come in the movements of the planets?”

Ronan pawed the ground nervously. “I’m sure Firenze thought he was acting for the best,” he said in his gloomy voice.

Bane kicked his back legs in anger.

“For the best! What is that to do with us? Centaurs are concerned with what has been foretold! It is not our business to run around like donkeys after stray humans in our forest!”

Harry misinterprets this as a wish for him to die. When he gets back to Gryffindor Tower, he says that if Snape [sic] steals the Stone, and then Voldemort comes to finish him off, “Bane’ll be happy.” But that’s not exactly what Bane is saying. He is saying that centaurs do not interfere. They do not set themselves against the stars. That does not mean that they are necessarily happy about what is written in the stars.

The reason I’ve gone on at such length about the centaurs is that they will prove one of the more important creatures living in the Forest. They are crucial to the outcome of OotP as well as DH, so it’s important to take a look at the characteristics of JKR’s centaurs – and see how they fit in with the centaur myth.

We will take up again with Firenze when we discuss Harry’s encounter in the Forest with Voldemort.

Draco in Detention

“I suppose you think you’ll be enjoying yourself with that oaf? Well, think again, boy – it’s into the forest you’re going and I’m much mistaken if you’ll all come out in one piece.”

At this, Neville let out a little moan, and Malfoy stopped dead in his tracks.

“The forest?” he repeated, and he didn’t sound quite as cool as usual. “We can’t go in there at night – there’s all sorts of things in there – werewolves, I heard.”

Neville clutched the sleeve of Harry’s robe and made a choking noise.

“That’s your problem, isn’t it?” said Filch, his voice cracking with glee. “Should’ve thought of them werewolves before you got in trouble, shouldn’t you?”

Since a resurgent Snape War closed down the Snape thread on the CoS forum, one of the most obsessive topics of debate has been Draco. The difference between a Snape debate and a Draco debate, though, goes something like this: Most Snape fans are convinced that Snape is at core good; hardly anyone believes the same of Draco. In fact, hardly any of the people arguing that Draco is not evil incarnate are actually Draco fans per se. Most are just HP fans who believe that in Years 6 & 7 there are mitigating circumstances for Draco’s behavior. The people who reject the “mitigating circumstances” argument just want to see him locked up in Azkaban.

It’s hard to tell how much of this fierce judgment of Draco comes from his early years and how much comes from his years as a Death Eater who just seems revolted and terrified by the circumstances he finds himself in. But whatever the cause, it’s certainly true that Draco does not acquit himself well in the early books… and that he never lands even by the end of Year 7 as being solidly opposed to Voldemort. He just wants to survive. And he wants his family to survive and be restored to honor.

For me, Draco becomes a pathetic figure in Years 6 & 7, and it’s very difficult for me to work up much animus towards pathetic figures. But years before terror incarnate comes knocking at Malfoy Manor, Draco is just a little brat who does everything he can to make Harry – and the reader – detest him. The adventure in the Forest is no different.

From the start of the adventure, Draco is whinging on about how it’s too dangerous to go into the Forest, or how he simply won’t go into the Forest. He would rather be copying lines. He sounds like the spoiled child of privilege who thinks he’s well above this “servant stuff” and will go running off to daddy the moment he’s crossed.

Draco is also drawn to appearances over reality (not a terrible crime, given that this is one of Harry’s biggest flaws as well). Hagrid’s dog, Fang, looks the part of a formidable opponent, so Draco insists on being the one to take Fang. But in reality, Fang is, as Hagrid indicates “a coward.” In fact, later, when Harry and Draco (with Fang) encounter Quirrel/Voldemort in the Forest drinking the blood of the unicorn, Draco and Fang are the ones to “bolt.”

But probably the most damning thing Draco does on his detention has nothing to do with providing running commentary on how far the task is beneath him or with insisting on taking the seemingly protective hound. Rather, it’s that once he gets deep into the Forest, he plays a prank on Neville, of all people:

Malfoy, it seemed, had sneaked up behind Neville and grabbed him as a joke. Neville had panicked and sent up the sparks.

This is a kid who worried earlier about werewolves in the Forest, who insisted that the Forest was too dangerous a place for students to enter. What would possess him to play such a prank? Has he lost his fear of the Forest? Had he been faking his fear? Whatever the case, if there was ever an inappropriate time to essentially sneak up on someone and go “boo,” this was it!

I’d be interested in hearing what others think of Draco’s behavior on this first trek into the Forest – and on what motivated him to play such a prank on poor, terrified, hapless Neville.

The comments are open!

Forbidden Forest

“First years should note that the forest on the grounds is forbidden to all pupils. And a few of our older students would do well to remember that as well.”
-Albus Dumbledore, at the Great Feast

“I’m not going in that forest,” [Draco] said, and Harry was pleased to hear the note of panic in his voice.

I feel like I just returned from the Forbidden Forest!

Today – taking advantage of a great academic deal on Windows 7 (yes, I am eligible!) – I installed Win7 into Parallels on my Mac, and then had a problem with the product key. It took multiple calls to Tech Support to get it resolved.
(It’s all working fine now)

Sorry for the geek talk, but the Win7 problem is the reason this post is so hastily written – and written during the hours of the night that Hagrid took the students into the Forbidden Forest!

The Forbidden Forest has made only minor appearances before now. Dumbledore mentions it in his opening remarks. Harry sees Snape corner Quirrell in the Forest – and parks his broomstick in a tree so he can overhear the conversation. But we have not yet entered the Forest. All of that is about to change.

There’s so much diverse content in this chapter to cover that I’m going to take it in small pieces – and multiple posts. Some things I’d like to look at in particular are Quirrell, Draco, the Centaurs, Harry’s (yawn…) suspicions of Snape, and The Boy Who Lived’s direct encounter with Dark Lord who tried to kill him. Okay?

So… after losing 150 points for Gryffindor in one night, Harry determines not to get involved in all that Philosopher’s Stone business anymore. And when he overhears Quirrell cowering in a classroom, he tries to forget about it… even though he’s certain that Snape [sic] has just about achieved his dastardly aim of learning what he needs to know in order to steal the Stone.

Here’s what Harry overhears (and a little of what he assumes):

Walking back from the library on his own one afternoon, he heard somebody whimpering from a classroom up ahead. As he drew closer, he heard Quirrell’s voice.

“No – no – not again, please – ”

It sounded as though someone was threatening him. Harry moved closer.

“All right – all right – ” he heard Quirrell sob.

Next second, Quirrell came hurrying out of the classroom straightening his turban. He was pale and looked as though he was about to cry. He strode straight out of sight; Harry didn’t think Quirrell had even noticed him. He waited until Quirrell’s footsteps had disappeared, then peered into the classroom. It was empty, but a door stood ajar at the other end. Harry was halfway toward it before he remembered what he’d promised himself about not meddling.

All the same, he’d have gambled twelve Sorcerer’s Stones that Snape had just left the room, and from what Harry had just heard, Snape would be walking with a new spring in his step – Quirrell seemed to have given in at last.

Harry would have lost that bet. But let’s set Snape aside for a moment (don’t worry… we’ll come back to him. We always do!) and let’s take up with Quirrell.

The very next morning after Quirrell pleads with his unseen adversary, Harry, Hermione, and Neville get notes from McGonnagall telling them that they will be serving their detention late that night. And what is that detention? To go into the Forbidden Forest with Hagrid (as they later learn) and track down a dying unicorn whose blood can be seen all over the Forest floor. This is the second slain unicorn, and not-so-coincidentally Harry heard Quirrell pleading “no – no – not again.”

As we later learn, Quirrell is actually pleading with Voldemort, who needs to drink unicorn blood in order to preserve his own cursed half-life. According to the timeline, Quirrell pleads with Voldemort, loses his bid, heads into the Forest that night and implements the order by grievously wounding the unicorn, and the next night – detention, investigating the damage Quirrell has done. During that detention, he returns again to the Forest so that Voldemort (whom he serves as host) can drink the unicorn’s blood.

I’m mentioning all this because this is the first time it has really jumped out at me that once Quirrell agrees to kill the unicorn, he wastes no time at all in doing the Dark Lord’s bidding. The evidence is in what happens the next night.

The Dragon Mommy

All at once there was a scraping noise and the egg split open. The baby dragon flopped onto the table. It wasn’t exactly pretty; Harry thought it looked like a crumpled, black umbrella. Its spiny wings were huge compared to its skinny jet body, it had a long snout with wide nostrils, the stubs of horns and bulging, orange eyes.

It sneezed. A couple of sparks flew out of its snout.

“Isn’t he beautiful?” Hagrid murmured. He reached out a hand to stroke the dragon’s head. It snapped at his fingers, showing pointed fangs.

“Bless him, look, he knows his mommy!” said Hagrid.

According to Newt Scamander’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (one of the Care of Magical Creatures texts used at Hogwarts), Dragons are a Class XXXXX fantastic beast – i.e., a “known wizard killer / impossible to train or domesticate.” In addition, its eggs are “defined as Class A Non-Tradeable Goods.” Yet, of course, the moment he gets a chance, Hagrid gets his hands on one of these dragon eggs, nurtures it like a mother hen, and then tries to raise the baby dragon.

“Norbert the Norwegian Ridgeback” is a chapter that not only helps to send the plot into its final drive toward the climax, but that also builds in character information concerning Hagrid that will prove important in later books. But first, let’s talk about memory charms and the Statute of Wizarding Secrecy!

Dragons and Memory Charms

When Harry says that there “aren’t wild dragons in Britain,” Ron corrects him:

“Of course there are,” said Ron. “Common Welsh Green and Hebridean Blacks. The Ministry of Magic has a job hushing them up, I can tell you. Our kind have to keep putting spells on Muggles who’ve spotted them, to make them forget.”

This is probably a significant moment in the series. I believe (and please correct me if I’m wrong) that this is the first reference in the books to the notion that Wizards are so secretive in relation to Muggles that Muggles need to have memory charms performed on them if they accidentally run across evidence of the magical world.

So we get our first clear hint at the scope of the Statute of Wizarding Secrecy (still unmentioned in the books by name at this point). And we learn that not only do Dragons exist in modern Europe, but the Wizards in those countries hide their existence from Muggles.

What We Learn of Hagrid

But what about Hagrid?

We already know that he has a liking for unusual animals and that he has been known to acquire them from strangers in pubs.
(Fluffy anyone?).

We already know that he has wanted a dragon since he was a kid.
(See conversation with Harry re: Gringotts within 24 hours of rescuing the boy from the Dursleys).

And now, we find that Hagrid has won a Dragon egg by playing cards with a stranger in a pub.
(My guess: the Hogs Head, which boasts some rather strange custom).

And this isn’t just any old Dragon egg. It’s the egg of a Norwegian Ridgeback! According to Scamander’s book, the Norwegian Ridgeback is “exceptionally agressive to its own kind” and is “one of the rarer dragon breeds.”

So, various Hagrid themes that JKR has been building incrementally start to come together in this chapter – which is also a pivotal chapter in the development of the story, as the events that occur in the wake of spiriting the Ridgeback out of the country lead directly to the events that propel the plot towards its ultimate climax.

Hagrid’s love of magical creatures will play itself out through the series (as will his pub adventures) – but this is the first time it will all become a major plot point.

In PS/SS, the Dragon is disposed of successfully with no harm to the Dragon… and no lasting damage to Hagrid or the Trio. In later books, though, Hagrid’s love of other magical creatures (such as the Acromantula and the Hippogriff) will reveal a richer potential for tragic outcomes. But at this point, JKR just dishes up a harmless, comical, and fairly endearing episode.

Hagrid loves his baby. And he even names it:

“I’ve decided to call him Norbert,” said Hagrid, looking at the dragon with misty eyes. “He really knows me now, watch. Norbert! Norbert! Where’s mommy?”

Okay, so it breathes fire (and he lives in a wooden hut).

Okay, so it grows at an exponential rate (and will soon be the size of his hut).

Okay, so it bites with poisonous fangs (and Ron’s bitten hand has swollen and turned green).

Okay, so it’s illegal to own one (and Malfoy knows about it).

Regardless, Hagrid is absurdly affectionate, and unashamedly maternal. He even sings it lullabyes.

Ron, though, has a rather different opinion of the creature than Hagrid does:

“I tell you, that dragon’s the most horrible animal I’ve ever met, but the way Hagrid goes on about it, you’d think it was a fluffy little bunny rabbit. When it bit me he told me off for frightening it.”

Hagrid’s strange love for dangerous magical creatures is one of the more comical aspects of Harry’s and Ron’s notes in Scamander’s book. In fact, one of the boys writes an alternative definition for the XXXXX (“known wizard killer”) rating, redefining it as “anything Hagrid likes.”

Though Harry and Ron love their friend, they are not always enamoured of the fact that his favorite magical creatures are usually the most dangerous ones. But then, Hagrid is himself the son of a magical creature – and one so dangerous that its kind was banished from Britain after the 1st Wizarding War.

Protecting the Stone

It is 10 weeks from end-of-term exams. (And 10 weeks, as Hermione helpfully tells Harry and Ron, is only “like a second to Nicolas Flamel”). Harry and Ron are obsessed with the Stone. Hermione is obsessed with color coding her notes and getting her friends to do likewise.

They spend massive amounts of time studying in the library, and Harry even looks up the ever-important curative plant Dittany for his Potions homework. (We’ll find the Dittany payoff in the Sectumsempra chapter of HBP!). And eventually, in the library, they run into Hagrid, who is studying up on… dragons!

But before we get there, we get to enjoy a little bit more of the Trio’s assumptions about where Snape and Quirrell stand with regards to the Philosopher’s Stone:

Quirrell… must have been braver than they’d thought. In the weeks that followed he did seem to be getting paler and thinner, but it didn’t look as though he’d cracked yet.

Every time they passed the third-floor corridor, Harry, Ron, and Hermione would press their ears to the door to check that Fluffy was still growling inside. Snape was sweeping about in his usual bad temper, which surely meant that the Stone was still safe. Whenever Harry passed Quirrell these days he gave him an encouraging sort of smile, and Ron started telling people off for laughing at Quirrell’s stutter.

The Trio are trying to stand in solidarity with “brave” Quirrell. Harry encourages him. Ron defends him. And in the midst of all this narrative misdirection, we get this gem:

Snape was sweeping about in his usual bad temper, which surely meant that the Stone was still safe.

Again, we see fact (Snape’s bad temper) confounded by interpretation (i.e., that he has been confounded by the protections surrounding the Stone).

Of course, all that Snape’s bad temper really means is that Snape is being Snape. He would most likely be in a much worse temper if the Stone he is helping to protect were stolen! But of course, at this point in the narrative, JKR is misdirecting us to sympathize with Quirrell, and suspect Snape.

Meanwhile, Hagrid’s “shifty” entrance in the Library sets up the cascading series of events that will drive the plot forward to its climax. Here’s a brief rundown of how this happens:

The Trio’s meeting in the Library with Hagrid (–>>>)
leads to a meeting at Hagrid’s hut to discuss who is protecting the Stone (including… gasp!… Snape!!!), (–>>>)
which leads to the Trio finding out about Hagrid’s dragon egg, (–>>>)
which leads to Draco seeing the newly-hatched dragon, (–>>>)
which intensifies the Trio’s concern for helping Hagrid get rid of an illegal dragon, (–>>>)
which leads Harry and Hermione on a trip to the top of the Astronomy Tower under the Cloak, (–>>>)
which leads to their getting caught when they accidentally leave their invisibility behind, (–>>>)
which leads to serving detention with Hagrid in the Forbidden Forest, (–>>>)
which leads Harry to have an encounter with Voldemort (who is living in a half-life), (–>>>)
which leads to suspicions that Snape [sic] is trying to steal the Stone not merely in order to get rich but to help Voldemort obtain eternal life!

I think the reader can figure out the rest of the pieces of the climax from there. Let’s just say that Harry will gladly risk expulsion if it means stopping Voldemort.

At any rate, this build toward the climax starts out very casually, with Hagrid encountering the Trio in the Library and refusing to discuss the Stone in front of students who don’t know already about it.

Next time, we’ll talk a little bit more about dragons!

Play the ‘Expecto Patronum’ Search Term Game!

Well, it’s time to play a reader-participation game!

In the poll below, I’ve provided a list of authentic search terms that have been used to reach this blog. I personally find each of them somewhat funny or outre.

So, here’s how to play the game:

Vote to select your favorite search term(s) from the list… and then write something about your choice(s) in the comments section.

Here are some possibilities to get you started:

  • Explain why you like the term(s)
  • What might the searcher have been thinking of?
  • What sort of scenario in the HP universe might apply to the term(s) you’ve selected? (try to keep this family friendly, please)
  • …Or whatever else you want to write!

Have fun! And keep the snark lock on!

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.