The Harry Potter Reread was getting sassy and breaking rules this week, so I put it in detention. If only that worked on rereads the same way it worked on students.
This week we’re running a marathon that leads us right up to the final showdown of The Philosopher’s Stone. It’s chapters 15 and 16—The Forbidden Forest and Through the Trapdoor. We’ll get ominous warnings of every kind, our introduction to some fantastic new species, and a series of tests hopefully leading to that special stone we were talking about before.
Index to the reread can be located here! Other Harry Potter and Potter-related pieces can be found under their appropriate tag. And of course, since we know this is a reread, all posts might contain spoilers for the entire series. If you haven’t read all the Potter books, be warned.
Chapter 15—The Forbidden Forest
Harry and Hermione are given a round scolding by McGonagall, who also found Neville out after dark—he was trying to warn them about Malfoy. She takes fifty points each from them, throwing Gryffindor into last place for the House Cup. Harry and Co. (though mostly Harry) are roundly snubbed by the school after this comes to light. Harry vows to stay out of trouble, though he does overhear Quirrell seeming to give up some information—to a person Harry assumes is Snape, though he never sees the other party. He worries that Snape now knows who to get past Quirrell’s test for the Stone.
Eventually Hermione, Neville, Draco, and Harry get their detention, which involves going into the Forbidden Forest with Hagrid. There are signs of unicorn blood all over, and Hagrid’s trying to find out what killed one and wounded another.
When they get into the forest, Harry, Hermione ,and Hagrid run into two centaurs, Ronan and Bane. Hagrid asks if they know what killed the unicorn, but their answers are indirect at best. Malfoy pulls a prank on Neville, which leads to Neville shooting up red sparks with his wand. Hagrid switches around their forest teams, having Harry go with Draco and Fang in order to stop Neville being bullied. Harry and Draco find the bleeding unicorn dead, and a figure emerges to drink its blood. Draco freaks out and runs while the hooded figure heads for Harry, whose scar is on fire.
Harry is saved by a centaur named Firenze, which seems to be against centaur cultural norms, going by the scolding he gets from Ronan and Bane. Firenze takes Harry safely to Hagrid, but not before explaining what unicorn blood can be used for and hinting who might be after it. Turns out, unicorn blood can keep a person alive, but it curses them. The only person who would likely use it is Voldemort, to keep himself alive until he can get the Philosopher’s Stone. Harry gives all the details to Ron and Hermione, who try to assure Harry that Dumbledore is still there, so everyone is safe. Harry finds the Invisibility Cloak under his pillow, with a note tacked on it that says, “Just in case.”
Any time anyone gets all weird about Gryffindor favoritism, I point at this lovely dressing down, which just seems so overblown. Like, am I supposed to believe that other kids never wander the halls at night at Hogwarts? Because that’s what kids do, I’m sorry. If you are sleeping over at camp or school, and there are places you shouldn’t be after lights out YOU ARE GOING THERE. I think what seems unbelievable to me is that McGonagall is acting as though this has never happened. It makes sense for her to be wary with the Stone in the school, but not for her to be so shocked.
Also, that detention takes a long time to come around. It seems like it’s at least been a week before they get their notes to report at 11pm. (Super late for eleven-year-olds, whoa. They couldn’t have just started at sundown?) You’d think that Filch is pulling their legs about the torturous sort of methods they used to use for punishing students, but considering that their actual detention is a pretty dangerous affair, maybe he’s not? Or at least maybe he’s not lying about what they did centuries back. I highly doubt he was cuffing kids to ceilings by their wrists.
The centaurs are just awesome. I really wish we’d gotten more of a window into their species and culture overall, but the few glimpses we get are fascinating. Ronan makes a comment about how the innocent are always the first to die, and then there’s the whole “Mars is bright tonight,” line that he and Bane keeping throwing out. On the reread this instantly clarified; Mars is the god of war to the Greeks Romans, (what I totally remember school,) so the centaurs are basically marking this as the start of the second war with Voldemort—starting with the death of innocents, the unicorns.
Just saying that this is where classes in normal things like mythology might be useful to wizards? I mean, it would.
Firenze going against his people to give Harry some hints about what is coming is intriguing, particularly because we don’t know what is at stake by him giving that admission. The centaurs do seem to put a lot of stock in fate, and they clearly believe Harry is fated to die at the hands of Voldemort or at least due to his machinations. This all works out in the end because Harry does (technically) die, so no harm, no foul on Firenze. I do love how appalled the centaurs are at the idea that Firenze would let someone ride on his back.
Also, in interest of pointing out character development, I love that Hermione dismisses what the centaurs say because it sounds like Divination, which she is already allergic too. While she never gains any love for the subject, an older Hermione would have likely never spoken down about centaur culture that way, out of hand without knowing more about them.
And of course, the first inklings of just how serious things are start to creep up on us.
Chapter 16—Through the Trapdoor
The trio finish up their exams, despite being nervous about Voldemort and the Stone’s safety. It occurs to Harry that it’s awfully convenient for Hagrid to inherit a dragon when it had been the thing he wanted most in the world. He asks Hagrid about the stranger he won Norbert off of. Hagrid basically explains the person was hooded and cloaked, got him very drunk, and asked about how Hagrid took care of other animals to make sure he could handle a dragon. Hagrid told the stranger how to calm down dear three-headed Fluffy; the trio assume that the person who gave Hagrid the egg must have been Snape or Voldemort.
They plan to tell Professor Dumbledore, but when they ask McGonagall about whether they can see him, she informs them that he was called away to the Ministry of Magic on emergency business. Which means that every line of defense for the Stone is out. Harry knows that Snape is going through that trapdoor tonight, and he plans to go ahead of him and get to the stone first. Ron and Hermione insist on going with him.
When they prepare leave the Gryffindor common room, they are stopped by Neville. He insists that whatever they are doing will get Gryffindor into trouble, and that he means to stand up to them. Hermione performs a Full Body-Bind spell on him, and they head off to the third-floor corridor. The door is already open, so they assume Snape is ahead of them.
Harry plays music on the flute Hagrid whittled for him to put Fluffy to sleep. They go through the trap door, which leads to a Devil’s Snare plant. Hermione briefly panics over how to make fire to stop the plant from choking Harry and Ron, but they snap her out of it, and she gets them free. Next there’s a room full of flying keys, and Harry puts his Seeker skills to use in spotting and catching the correct one for the locked door. Then there’s a life-sized chess board to contend with. Ron leads the way here, but the game is brutal, pieces getting pummeled before they’re removed from the board. Ron has to sacrifice his piece for them to win. He gets knocked unconscious and dragged from the board while Harry and Hermione rush to the next room. The final puzzle is Snape’s, a logic puzzle that allows the person playing to pick between seven filled bottles: three poison, two wine, one to send you back in the direction you came, one to send you forward. Hermione figures it all out, but there isn’t enough for both her and Harry to go forward. He directs her to go back, get Ron, and send Hedwig to get Dumbledore. Then Harry steps through to room where the Stone is kept.
But it is not Snape who awaits him there.
In years to come, Harry would never quite remember how he had managed to get through his exams when he half expected Voldemort to come bursting through the door at any moment.
I just love that. Mostly for the hilarious visual it gives me of Voldemort bursting through a class door with noisemakers and a funny hat, shouting “Surprise!” Also for Harry being adorable and a kid. Also for the suggestion that when Harry’s middle-aged and his kids are writing him letters about how scared exams make them, he’ll just sit back in his easy chair and remember that yesteryear when he kept expecting Voldemort to barrel in and put an end to his academic torment.
There are great bits of word play going on here, my favorite probably being how they had to “remember how to make a Forgetfulness potion” in Snape’s exam. The Weasley twins and Lee Jordan are sitting by the lake, tickling the giant squid, which I can’t believe I had forgotten because that’s definitely top on the list of Fun Things to Do at Hogwarts.
Poor Harry’s scar is hurting. (It’s going to hurt for the next seven years, someone should just tell him now so he can create coping mechanisms.) Then in a moment of utter brilliance—I’m not kidding, as an eleven-year-old this is the last thing on earth that would have occurred to me—he figures out what’s funky about Hagrid suddenly receiving a dragon of his very own. Poor Rubeus. He means so well, but he just doesn’t quite have it together.
And then Dumbledore is gone, just to make sure everyone freaks out. I’m sort of surprised that McGonagall didn’t take the trio’s warning more seriously; sure, they’re just kids, but if they know about the Stone, that’s a major security leak already. A professor or someone should have been put in place to keep an eye out, just on that red flag. But at least it prompts Harry to make his first great Speech of Panic, where he explains in no uncertain terms to Ron and Hermione that House Points Do Not Matter. It’s pretty great really, to see this little wily kid just take charge because there’s no one else to rely on. It does make you wonder if this is essentially a test that Dumbledore allows to happen if only because hardens Harry’s resolve to steel instantly.
Bam—there’s your hero.
And then we have Neville’s shining moment. You have to give the kid credit for sticking to his guns even when he has no idea what’s happening.
It’s great to see the trio work together and separately on the various obstacles, more for Ron and Hermione’s sake I’d say. Ron’s performance under pressure here really proves that there’s some serious heroic mettle under there, but it’s this line that gets me—
“That’s chess!” snapped Ron. “You’ve got to make some sacrifices!”
The reason is because we know for a fact that Rowling considered killing off Ron in the final book. If any of the trio got the ax, it was going to be him. And then you realize that if he had, it would have been in total parallel to this moment, the very first time he told Harry that sacrifices had to be made, and he would make them on their behalf. You realize that if Ron Weasley had died, he probably would have walked right into it, for Hermione and Harry, for everyone, and he never would have thought twice about whether he was making the right decision. Because Ron understands, even at this tender age, about the tactical aspects of battle. And he gives himself up without hesitation on the very first run.
I… am freaking out a little right now. About something that doesn’t even happen. Thanks, Rowling.
The logic puzzle is just excellent, moreso because the fact that Hermione is the only one here high on logic is a win all over. (It’s aggravating to think about how much Snape might have actually loved her as a student if he hadn’t been so busy hating EVERYTHING.) Her comment about how some of the best wizards don’t have an ounce of logic is great, and leaves a lot to think about. It sort of implies that magic is more art than science. This, of course, explains why Potions might be such an impossible subject for some wizards—more science and precision involved—and why it worked so well as a subject for Snape.
Logistics question: if there’s only a wall of fire, no doors blocking the way in the potion room, wouldn’t they have been able to see the next room over before the flames sprung to life? Just wondering….
And then Harry moves on to his final showdown… but that’s for next week.