The Harry Potter Reread is here to remind you to take your vitamins! Or I’m reminding myself to take my vitamins, and you’ve been handily roped into said reminder. Never forget how important they are, kids.
Chapters 8 and 9 are next: The Potions Master and The Midnight Duel! We will suffer through the worst first classes ever (for Harry and Neville respectively) and then discover exactly why the third floor corridor is out of bounds. Danger and excitement for all!
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 8—The Potions Master
Harry begins adjusting to life at Hogwarts during his first week of classes. He finds that many of the students have as little knowledge as he does. Everyone whispers about him in the hallways. He learns the quirks of the school: Filch patrolling the place after dark with his cat Mrs. Norris; the staircases moving; how Peeves the poltergeist disrupts the student body. He has his first classes in Charms, Herbology, History of Magic, Defense Against the Dark Arts, and Transfiguration. Then comes time for Potions.
Harry quickly realizes that Professor Snape has it out for him; he takes two points away from Gryffindor House (the points they earn to win the House Cup), one because Harry hasn’t memorized his potions textbook, another because he decides that the reason Neville melts Seamus’ cauldron is that Harry didn’t tell Neville he’d brewed the potion wrong in order to make himself seem look like the better student. (High on logic we are not.)
Harry and Ron go to visit Hagrid later that day. Hagrid seems to know why Snape hates Harry, but he won’t say. He also seems to know more about the break-in at Gringotts Bank—the crime occurred on the day that Harry and Hagrid were there—but he won’t talk about that either. Harry figures that the tiny package Hagrid took from the bank is probably what the thieves were looking for.
Rowling’s commentary here is particularly whimsical in describing the school, and it makes one instantly jealous. You’re caught between completely understanding why Harry is overwhelmed with so much to learn and going GOSH, HARRY, THE STAIRCASES IN YOUR SCHOOL MOVE BY MAGIC, LIFE IS CLEARLY SUCH A HARDSHIP RIGHT NOW. There are very clear moments where her narration takes on a sarcastic tone—when it’s at Harry’s expense, it’s actually more funny in some ways than when it’s leveled at people like the Dursleys, a la:
Friday was an important day for Harry and Ron. They finally managed to find their way down to the Great Hall for breakfast without getting lost once.
Can you hear her amusement? I feel like she’s giggling with us.
There are some essential hints that crop up here, particularly where Quirrell is concerned: none of the students quite believe the story about how he got his turban because he can’t provide specifics for how he destroyed the “troublesome zombie” associated with it. (What are wizard zombies like, I wonder?) It’s noted that the turban smells odd and Quirrell has all this garlic around the room, which he claims is for protection. In some ways I’m surprised it doesn’t come off as a bigger red flag; you can assume that the dark arts are going to be important in these books just within the first few chapters, but the guy who teaches it seems to be a dunce?
Then there’s Snape asking Harry about the bezoar, which also comes back to bite in the Half-Blood Prince.
Speaking of… hey there, Severus.
I’ve talked about Snape at length before in these parts, and in some ways… he seems worse than I remembered. He literally tells these students on their first days of class “I can make you super powerful and awesome—provided you aren’t IDIOTS, like most of the other kids I teach.” I feel like if there was a Top Ten for rules on good teaching, number two or three would probably be Don’t Tell Your Students That You Think Most Students Are Stupid. His favoritism here is obvious, though it’s sort of odd that he goes straight to Draco and none of the other Slytherins. He knows a lot of their families, too, even if he doesn’t truly like any of the Death Eaters. Perhaps he just doesn’t want to deal with Lucius Malfoy getting snippy with him.
What does become obvious this time around is that Snape is projecting—he assumes that Harry is going to have all the faults he perceived James Potter to have. He takes the first point away from Gryffindor because Harry can’t answer questions that he might have found answers to in his textbook, specifically saying, “Thought you wouldn’t open a book before coming, eh, Potter?” (Which Harry has, but he hasn’t got them committed to memory like Hermione because that’s insane.) Rowling has explained before that James and Sirius were exceptionally gifted students, and they didn’t really study from their books all that often. We see that attitude from Sirius in particular. Snape is presuming that Harry is the same. He takes the next point away—from Harry specifically, not Neville, who is technically at fault for the accident—because he comes up with the wild idea that Harry deliberately sabotaged Neville by not offering his help, thereby making himself look better.
Sabotaging another student to make himself look better. Well, we know exactly why he would think that.
It’s also odd that Snape’s never called on abusing his power where the points system is concerned… but then again, Dumbledore allows Harry to play Quidditch shortly after that, so perhaps the Headmaster just doesn’t care much about those sorts of things? It’s a fun exercise, sure, part of elite school drama, but it’s also pretty silly.
We meet Fang! And get an inkling of Hagrid’s love for big old beasts all the way around, with how he questions Ron about Charlie and his job chasing dragons. And yet again, we watch Hagrid’s best intentions not playing out correctly, with his rock cakes being closer to actual rocks than perhaps intended.
Chapter 9—The Midnight Duel
The Gryffindors and Slytherins are to being flying lessons together. Harry is incredibly nervous about making himself look like an idiot on a broom in front of Draco. Neville gets a Remembrall from his gran, which Malfoy tries to take from him immediately, but Professor McGonagall intervenes. During their first flying lesson, Neville shoots straight up into the air, falls to the ground and breaks his arm. While the flying instructor, Madame Hooch, takes him to the hospital wing, Draco makes fun of Longbottom and discovers his Remembrall lying on the ground. He takes it, which Harry takes exception to. Malfoy insists that Harry can’t have it back unless he can catch him.
Turns out, Harry is a complete ace at flying, taking naturally to it. He scares Malfoy with his aptitude enough that the boy tosses the Remembrall away, and Harry takes a dive on the broom for it, catching it just a foot from the ground. McGonagall sees Harry and drags him out of class. Harry thinks he’s about to be expelled, but it turns out that she wants him to be Gryffindor House’s new Seeker on their Quidditch Team. Team captain Oliver Wood is overjoyed—it would seem that Gryffindor hasn’t been doing all that well recently.
Malfoy bothers Harry at dinner and ends up challenging him to a wizard duel at midnight. Hermione overhears the conversation and tells Harry he shouldn’t go. When Harry and Ron get up at night to meet Malfoy, they find that Hermione has been waiting up for them. She follows them out of the common room, then can’t get back in because the Fat Lady from their portrait is gone. Neville has been sleeping outside because he forgot their password. He won’t leave them either, so the quartet go to meet Draco.
Malfoy isn’t there—he tipped off Filch that students would be there, and it prompts a chase around the school. Harry and Co. narrowly avoid getting caught, but accidentally end up in the third floor corridor. There they find a vicious three-headed dog and barely escape back to the common room intact. Hermione points out that the dog was guarding a trap door… and now Harry has a good idea of where that package from Gringotts ended up.
Let’s just wrap Neville up in steel and reduce his percentage of Bodily Harm Incidents. Poor kid.
Harry’s first flight is nine kinds of exciting, if only because it’s great to see him finally show some innate skill in the magic arena. It also has the “discovering your superpower” sheen to it because he’s flying, and we will always be excited for flying. Showing up jerky little Draco is also a plus.
This chapter is all about Ron, though. He and Harry are starting to develop a clear dynamic, where he’s always the person with a sarcastic rejoinder, always the one who has Harry’s back. His instant rescue when Malfoy insists that Harry probably doesn’t know what the wizards duel is—by insisting he does, and offering to be his second—is not only happy-making in the friendship department, but then equally hilarious when he explains to Harry that in wizard duels you fight to the death… but that totally won’t happen here because none of us have the skills! Don’t worry, buddy!
“And what if I wave my wand and nothing happens?”
“Throw it away and punch him in the nose,” Ron suggested.
Ron, you are so beautifully practical.
But seriously, how much of a throwback is Draco to get all “dueling pistols at sunrise!” on the situation? My guess is that wizard duels don’t really happen much anymore, but you know he hears stories from Papa Malfoy all the time, probably.
It’s actually very telling that we get this little mini-adventure with what I’d call the Core Four of Harry’s generation—their version of the Marauders. This comes clearer in later books, but at this point we don’t yet know how important both Hermione and Neville are. Except this time we do, and it’s great. It’s also incredibly fun when the most dramatic thing going on is a chase after dark, knowing that these little romps are leading to much bigger, scarier things.. These are training wheels, the opening laps, and the marathon is far away yet. Just the right amount of mischief and danger.
Emmet Asher-Perrin really wonders about whether wizards are constantly slapping each other with gloves and then rushing outside to duel. You can bug her on Twitter and read more of her work here and elsewhere.