You gotta fight! *thump thump* For your right! *thump thump* To caaaaaaaast spells!
I dunno, I’m in a parody kind of mood today.
This week we’ll be encountering a snake on accident and yelling about dead men. It’s chapters 17 and 18 of The Deathly Hallows—Bathilda’s Secret and The Life and Lies of Albus Dumbledore.
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 17—Bathilda’s Secret
Hermione stops Harry before they are out of the graveyard; she’s sure someone is watching them by the bushes. Harry insists that it’s probably a cat, since they’d be dead by now if it were Death Eaters. They exit the graveyard and put the Invisibility Cloak back on. Hermione tugs Harry past the town square in the opposite direction they came from, and Harry spots it at the end of the lane—his family’s home. It’s still standing, though badly damaged and overgrown with ivy. Hermione wonders why no one ever rebuilt it and Harry wonders if perhaps the use of Dark Magic made it impossible. Harry touches the gate and a sign appears, saying that the house has been left in this state as a monument to the Potter family and “a reminder of the violence that tore part their family.” There is graffiti all over the sign, people’s names and initials, and the most recent swath contains messages of encouragement for Harry. Hermione is displeased that others have written on the sign, but Harry is glad for it.
The appearance of a figure moving toward them cuts off the conversation. It is an old woman, approaching slowly, and she seems to know that Harry and Hermione are there despite the Cloak. She stops a few yards away, then raises a hand and beckons them. Harry eventually asks if she’s Bathilda, and the woman nods, and Harry and Hermione decide to follow her. She takes them past a few houses and into her own home, which smells, and stares at Harry. He can feel the locket begin to tick again, and wonders if they’re close to what might destroy it. Hermione is nervous and Harry tries to reassure her, noting that Muriel claimed Bathilda wasn’t all there. Bathilda calls to them from the next room and they follow, noting how dirty the place is, and that there’s a scent like rotting meat present as well. Bathilda lights the candles by hand instead of using magic, and Harry wonders when someone last came by to see whether she was all right. He lights the rest of the candles for her. He comes across a chest of drawers with pictures across the top, cleans the dust from them and sees that some of the pictures have been removed from their frames. He finds a picture of the young man who stole the Elder Wand from Gregorovitch, and realizes that the missing photographs were probably put into Rita Skeeter’s new book.
The tries to ask Bathilda who the young man in the picture is, but she looks vacant and won’t speak. Bathilda eventually motions to Harry and then above them; she wants Harry to accompany her upstairs, but shakes her head when Hermione tries to follow. This makes Hermione suspicious, but Harry thinks he should go with her. Before leaving the room, Harry pockets the picture of the young thief. Bathilda takes him to to her bedroom, which smells even worse than the rest of the house. He lights his wand and finds her directly in front of him. She asks if he is Potter, and he confirms, asking if she has something for him. The Horcrux is beating faster. Harry feels it move, then his scar prickles and he has a brief flash of Voldemort saying “Hold him!” He asks again if Bathilda has something for him, and she points to the corner where a dressing table stands. He moves carefully to it, but the instant he looks away, Bathilda body seems to collapse and a giant snake emerges from it. The snake bites him, forcing him to drop his wand, and then knocks the wind out of him with its tail. The snake attacks again, destroying the dressing table, then pins him to the floor, saying “Yesss… hold you…”
Harry can’t call his wand because he’s struggling against the snake’s hold. Finally, he’s released due to Hermione’s arrival—her curse is deflected, shattering the window. Harry finds his wand as Hermione hits the snake with another curse, but the pain in Harry’s scar lets him know that Voldemort is coming. He shouts to Hermione and grabs hold of her, then Hermione cast a spells that makes everything in the room explode. Harry grabs her and leaps through the window, then sees the scene from Voldemort’s eyes, watching himself and Hermione disappear, knowing Voldemort’s thoughts, his anguish at not getting the chance to kill Harry so close to where he had tried the first time. He then sees the night of his parents’ deaths through Voldemort’s eyes, from his perspective. He sees Voldemort approach the house, observe Harry’s family in the sitting room, and kill James, who never gets a chance to retrieve his wand from the sofa. He sees Voldemort go upstairs and decide to kill Lily once she’s stood in the way too long. Tiny Harry does not cry until he realizes that Voldemort is unfamiliar, and then Voldemort casts the Killing Curse and feels himself break. Voldemort comes back to himself, looking down to Nagini on the floor, and he spots the picture of the thief, which Harry dropped….
When Harry wakes it’s nearly morning, hours later. Hermione has been tending to him all night; he has been shouting and moaning in a kind of semi-conscious state, and the Horcrux embedded itself in Harry’s chest. She had to use a Severing Charm to pry it off, and used the dittany on his snakebite. Hermione asks what happened, and Harry has to explain that the snake was somehow using Bathilda’s body as a disguise, that it wouldn’t speak around Hermione because it was speaking Parseltongue. He tells Hermione to get some rest and asks for his wand. Hermione is silent and tearful. When he presses, she retrieves his wand—it’s nearly snapped in two, only held together by a stand of phoenix feather. Harry asks Hermione to repair it and she tries, but the wand doesn’t work properly and splits back in two again. Hermione insists that it was likely her fault, that the blasting Spell she cast probably hit the wand. Harry tells her that they’ll find a way to repair it, but she points out that it’s an unlikely feat; when Ron’s wand broke, he had to get a new one. Harry says he’ll simply borrow Hermione’s wand to keep watch and rushes outside, desperate to get away.
They make it to Harry’s family home, and while it’s great for Harry to see the messages left by supporters on the sign out front, it seems kind of awkward to leave the house untouched as some sort of monument to the Potter family’s pain, or what have you. I understand why someone at the Ministry might have pushed to keep it as is, but monuments to tragedies are odd that way. From one side they might seem respectful, while from the other they might seem to be utterly callous toward the people who were actually effected by whatever is being memorialized. There’s already a statue in the town square—why is preserving the site of James and Lily’s murder a good idea on top of that?
This bit with Nagini-disguised-as-Bathilda is pretty clever, in my opinion. Because we know something’s off, but we can’t be certain what it is. I think the first time I read the book, I wondered if someone hadn’t put her under the Imperius Curse, or something to that effect. The idea that Nagini might be USING HER BODY AS A SKIN SUIT honestly never crossed my mind because, you know, that would be kind of a weird place for my mind to go? (Or not. If your mind went there, I respect your foresight.) It’s one of those places where I don’t mind one bit not knowing what sort of magic went into making that possible. It’s much more frightening not to know. It’s also dead clever that she doesn’t speak in front of Hermione because Harry is the only one who can understand Parseltongue. I love that bit.
I had a thought about the whole role the locket plays in this section. Harry feels it beating, the ticking, and assumes that the locket might sense the presence of something that can destroy it nearby. Funny enough the locket can sense those things (as we’ll later find out), but when it does, it’s far more active—it tries to hurt him. In this case, the ticking seems to be related to finding another Horcrux, tied into Harry’s belief that he’d know a Horcrux if he saw one. (Which he doesn’t really, but then, it seems he only sort of gains that sense once he knows what he’s looking for? Which seems sort of fair, seeing as he’d be hard-pressed to understand why Tom Riddle’s diary had seemed so important before, other than the fact that it’s a magical object.) Later on, Nagini is pressing Harry into the floor, and the locket embeds itself in Harry’s chest so well that Hermione has a hard time getting it off of him, and eventually has to use magic to do so. Which makes me wonder… since all three of them are Horcruxes, maybe the locket was trying to fuse them together? Trying to push the bits of soul back into one weird broken soul lump?
The locket could also be trying to help Nagini hold Harry down, of course, taking Voldemort’s direction the same way the snake does. I dunno. I kind of like the other idea better. That despite how broken Voldemort’s soul is, it sort of wants to weld itself back together. It can’t, but that’s still the natural state of a soul, and what it would prefer.
So… Rita Skeeter walks into the house of a vulnerable elderly woman who has no caretaker, and isn’t really mentally present anymore. She proceeds to feed the woman Veritaserum for information, then steal her personal photographs for use in her book. (Skeeter obviously isn’t paying to use those photographs when she clearly never got permission to take them in the first place.) Did she plan the book for release after Voldemort had taken over the Ministry on purpose? Because I can’t believe that the Ministry wouldn’t have taken her in for this. She admits to using the Veritaserum on Bathilda IN THE BOOK for pete’s sake. She should be sued at the very least, if not serving time in prison. Do wizards sue each other? They should figure out how if they don’t. Because no. Because Rita is worst.
It’s fascinating to finally see the fateful night of Harry’s Scar-enning from Voldemort’s perspective, if only because it’s one of the few pure insights that we get into his character that doesn’t get filtered through someone’s interpretation of him. And he is every bit as egotistical, megalomaniacal, and cruel as we’d expect. (Right down to ‘hey, maybe I’ll kill this kid in their Halloween costume—wait, no. Focus, Tom! Er, I mean, Voldemort. LORD Voldemort.’) I’m also pretty sure that this is the first time that we learn James was completely unarmed when he headed Voldemort off, which is about as tragic as it comes.
I also think this is where fandom got a little confused over Lily’s brand of protection; many assumed that the reason why Lily’s love magic protected Harry following that night was because she never had the chance to defend herself against Voldemort, while James had intended to fight him off. But once we find out what actually happened, it’s clear that James had no more chance to fight than Lily did; he’s effectively a human-shaped barricade. Rowling eventually had to explain that the distinction was in Lily offering to take Harry’s place, asking Voldemort to kill her in her son’s stead, something that James never had the chance to do. Which makes sense in terms of the magic being bound through words, I suppose. James offers to “hold him off,” not to take the place of his family. The attempt to bargain is what creates the spell, the act of speaking, making it more similar to the Unbreakable Vow in “type” of magic.
And then all sorts of horrible things go down in Bathilda’s house, and Harry’s is halfway to a coma, and when he finally comes to, we get the worst piece of news possible; his wand is broken.
I mean, it’s not a Game Over, but it sure feels like one. We’re basically at the halfway point, so we needed every last bit of hope taken away from us, right?
Chapter 18—The Life and Lies of Albus Dumbledore
Harry is awake as the sun rises, trying to come to terms with the loss of his wand and how vulnerable it makes him feel. He puts the pieces of his wand into the pouch Hagrid gave him, and for a moment considers throwing out the Snitch, furious with Dumbledore now the the trip to Godric’s Hollow has proved useless. Hermione comes out with two cups of tea and a copy of Rita Skeeter’s book—she’d found it in Bathilda’s house with a note from Skeeter, thanking her and claiming that she said everything the book contains, even if she doesn’t remember talking. They figure that the book arrived when Bathilda was still alive, but that she probably wasn’t able to read it. Hermione thinks that Harry is still angry with her about the wand, so Harry assures her that isn’t the case. He opens the book desperate to find a picture of the thief and find out who he is, and comes across the picture of young Dumbledore with his friend, the thief: Gellert Grindelwald.
Harry and Hermione are shocked, and Harry begins leafing through the book for information on the man. He finally arrives at a chapter titled “The Greater Good” and begins reading. It describes Dumbledore post-Hogwarts, brilliant and showered with awards, ready to take the Grand Tour with Doge when the news of his mother’s death strikes. Skeeter indicates that Albus didn’t care for his brother and sister the way a true guardian should, and let Aberforth run wild while he kept their sister imprisoned; the few people who saw her all “bought” the stories of her ill health. Bathilda Bagshot became a family friend after sending a letter to Albus about a Transfiguration paper he wrote for Transfiguration Today. Skeeter claims that Bagshot was the only person in the neighborhood who was on speaking terms with Kendra Dumbledore and the rest of the family. When interviewed, Bathilda insisted on Ariana’s frailty and also claimed that Kendra died due to a charm that backfired (which is what the family reported), but got some far juicier details from the old woman after giving her Veritaserum.
The summer after Hogwarts and his mother’s death was also the summer when Bathilda brought her great-nephew into her home, Gellert Grindelwald. Skeeter claims that Grindelwald only misses the top spot of “Most Dangerous Dark Wizard of All Time” due to the existence of Voldemort, and that his rise to power is not well-detailed in the UK because he left Britain alone during his bid for power. He was educated at Durmstrang, where he proved to be as brilliant a student as Dumbledore, though he focused on less-savory studies. At sixteen, he was expelled from the school for it. But he spent some time abroad following that, visiting his great aunt who introduced him to Albus. The two struck up an instant and intense friendship. Bathilda showed Skeeter a letter that Albus sent to Gellert in the middle of the night, noting that even after talking all day, Albus had to inform Gellert immediately of any new ideas he had. The letter speaks of a conversation the two young men had earlier about Wizards dominating Muggles “for their own good.” Albus agrees on this point, claiming that while power gives magical folk the right to rule, they have to accept responsibility for the people they ruled over. That when they come up against opposition, they must make it clear that what they do, they do “for the greater good.” He also insists that if they do meet resistance, they must use no more force than is necessary. (He notes that this was a mistake that Gellert made at school, but he isn’t complaining about it because “if you had not been expelled, we would never have met.”)
Skeeter goes on to say that while this evidence is damning, Dumbledore fans will surely insist that he had a change of heart, which is why he never moved on those plans, and why he became an advocate for Muggle rights. But according to Bathilda, it was Ariana’s death that prevented Albus from going off with his friend. She says that Gellert was at the house when the death occurred and that he came back to her house in distress, saying that he wanted to go home. Bathilda let him leave by Portkey and never saw him again. She believes that Aberforth blamed Albus for Ariana’s death out of confusion, but is adamant that he shouldn’t have broken Albus’ nose at the funeral. Skeeter notes that these circumstances are highly suspicious, and that Grindelwald was expelled from Durmstrang for near-fatal attacks on other students. She points out that neither man ever spoke of this friendship publicly, then suggests that perhaps the reason why Dumbledore didn’t head Grindelwald off sooner as he rose to power was out of lingering affection for the man (or perhaps because he didn’t want anyone to know of their former friendship). Skeeter goes on to hypothesize about Ariana’s death, and whether or not she stumbled onto something as Albus and Gellert made their plans. She posits that Ariana might have been the first victim of “the greater good.”
Harry and Hermione finish the chapter, and Hermione takes the book from Harry and shuts it, reminding him of who wrote it. When he mentions the letter, she tells him that is undoubtedly the worst part because “For the Greater Good” became Grindelwald’s slogan, carved above the entrance to Nurmengard, the prison where he held his enemies. (It’s the prison where he currently resides.) Still, Hermione points out that they only knew each other for a summer, and that they were both quite young. Harry dismisses that, as they happen to be the same age. Hermione continues to insist that the book is describing a young man in a very different place in his life, that he worked for the rest of that life voting for Muggle rights and doing his best to bring down the Dark Arts. She then suggests that the reason Harry is really angry is because Dumbledore never told him any of these things on his own steam, which Harry agrees with, ranting about Dumbledore’s insistence on Harry’s trust when he wouldn’t offer that trust in return. Hermione says that Dumbledore loved him, but Harry insists that the mess that’s been left to him isn’t love. He picks up Hermione’s wand, thanks her for the tea, and tells her to get warm while he finishes the watch. He hates himself for wishing what Hermione said was true.
So, let’s talk about wands. Because the internet exploded over the recent (quite brief) history that J.K. Rowling gave fans about North American magic, and while it seems a bit too much of a diversion to talk about everything that was said here, I would like to consider one particular sticking point, and that’s wandlore.
According to Rowling, European wizards are responsible for the creation of wands. They are useful for their ability to channel magic more easily, and also particularly important to the disciplines of Charms and Transfiguration. It seems as though some fans are taking this to mean that Rowling is framing European wizards as “better” than other magical folk, but I don’t really think that’s what she’s getting at. She makes a point of of constantly letting us know that it takes very skilled wizards to perform wandless magic—which means that, by rights, practically every kid studying magic in a country or area where wands are not part of the culture is a better wizard. They have to be able to channel magic without that focal point from the beginning. (I can’t help but wonder if European students don’t get ribbed for it when they go abroad/participate in exchange programs.)
As for Charms and Transfiguration, Transfiguration is a clearly difficult discipline, but not the most useful one in practical everyday life; most of what one does in Transfiguration can be achieved by other means with different types of magic. (Does anyone really need to turn a rat into a teacup? Generally speaking?) Charms is iffier because Rowling doesn’t quite separate Charms out from other types of spellwork clearly. My personal presumption is that Charms is simply a more specific form of general spellwork; there are plenty of spells that the kids learn that are not called “charms,” so we have to assume that the discipline is a bit more narrow than just “spells that let me do stuff.” With that said, it seems fair to assume that European wizards have certain areas of study that wands allow them to tackle, but not to assume that it gives them an edge over other magic users.
The wand itself is an advantage, however. It’s an advantage that makes sense in Rowling’s vague parallels between Muggle and Magical history. Wands would give European magic folk a technical push forward, akin to industrial advancements made in Europe. (We don’t really know how long wands have been made. Ollivander’s shop sign says that it’s been producing “Since 382 B.C.” but that reads like a joke without much thought behind it, so I have to wonder if we’re truly meant to believe that wands have been around since B.C.E.) Sort of akin to having a massive road system for trade, factories to build in, machinery to make jobs faster. Having that kind of advantage probably leads to an ethnocentric cultural assumption that wand users are better than magical folk who do without, but that doesn’t mean it’s true—if anything that’s kind of the point.
And it’s also a crutch in many ways. While I understand that there’s another aspect to this particular scenario (the wand acting on it’s own to stop Voldemort earlier on), the fact is, Harry is effectively paralyzed by the loss of his wand. He’s never been without it. The only reason he knows any wandless magic at all is due to tasks taken up on his own, practice during those DA meetings. He ends up having to use many other wands that don’t really work for him. It’s an effective setback for a very important mission. Wouldn’t all of this be much easier if Hogwarts were evenly split between teaching magic with and without wands? It’s something to consider, at least.
We finally get some of the background on Dumbledore that the book as been playing at since the start, and what we read is meant to horrify us the same way it does Harry. But I’m with Hermione on this one; it is super messed up, but it doesn’t account for everything and Skeeter is a monster who can’t be trusted. (Also, that parenthetical at the end of the letter? ‘Don’t feel bad about getting expelled because then we would never have met’? Oh god, Albus, stop. You’re breaking my heart with your very obvious crush.) Eventually, of course, we will learn that Skeeter doesn’t tell the whole story, and what she does tell, she doesn’t get right in its entirety.
It’s almost amusing that Skeeter ends the chapter on a suggestion that perhaps Ariana was the first victim of Albus’ slogan “For the Greater Good,” because the truth basically runs in the opposite direction. Ariana being the victim of a brutal attack from Muggle boys is precisely where Albus’ “greater good” schtick is coming from. Because if they can control Muggles, be “benevolent rulers” to the non-magical masses, then no little girl will ever suffer the way his sister did. Hermione is right, it is an unbearably young perspective, so black-and-white that it hurts. And while Harry is correct to point out that they are the same age and far from planning world domination, he fails to account what circumstances have shaped them both so differently. He does not know what Albus’ childhood and upbringing were like, and so he cannot extrapolate where these thoughts are coming from. He’s right in spirit, but not in reality.
Hermione is trying to point out the flaws in Harry’s particular reading, to remind him that Dumbledore’s actions following his friendship with Grindelwald speak louder than anything he might have said as a naive young man (in love—sorry, can’t stop, won’t stop, it really makes a difference when you know). But Harry is busy having a super Jesus-y moment; he’s shouting to the sky about how Dumbledore could ask so much of him and give nothing in return. There is a lot of Christian allegory in this book in particular, and Harry’s emotions and actions regarding Dumbledore and the task the man has left to him are a large part of that.
So what I’m saying is… Dumbledore is God spelled backwards. Stamp it out, put it on a t-shirt.