The Harry Potter Reread wants to know why sometimes when you hold your breath to get rid of hiccups it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. It seems as though this reveal might be incredibly relevant to the human race’s advancement.
We’ve made it to the middle book! Everything’s about to get crazy! And long! And full of dragons! So let’s start out with Chapters 1 and 2 of The Goblet of Fire—The Riddle House and The Scar.
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 1—The Riddle House
In the small village of Little Hangleton, there’s a manor home that the locals call the Riddle House, even though no one by the name of Riddle lives there anymore. Fifty years previous, the entire Riddle family—mother, father, and adult son—died, the cause presumed to be murder. The fingers pointed to their gardener, Frank Bryce, a World War II veteran. He was taken in and questioned by the police, insisting all the while that he was innocent, and that a young boy had been hanging around the manor. Later, the charges were dropped, as the autopsies on the family indicated that they all seemed to have somehow died of fright.
No family has taken up residence in the house for decades, and Frank Bryce has remained the gardener with a cottage on the property. Kids occasionally trespass to aggravate Frank into chasing them off. One night Frank wakes in pain and goes to fill his hot water bottle. He sees a light up at the Riddle House, and goes to investigate. Once there he overhears a conversation between Voldemort and Peter Pettigrew. The later has been nursing the Dark Lord, milking his pet snake Nagini to keep him alive. Voldemort talks of the murder of a woman named Bertha Jorkins and a plan that involves Harry Potter. He also talks of a more loyal servant than Wormtail, who will help them enact their plan.
Nagini arrives and makes Voldemort aware of Frank’s presence. The Dark Lord calls the old man into the room and murders him—and 200 miles away, Harry Potter wakes up with a pain in his scar.
This is the first book since Philosopher’s Stone to open from a perspective other than Harry’s, and it lets you know right quick that bad stuff is going down. But before we get to that, we get the sort of narrative Rowling has an incredible knack for: British villages and their denizens, small-town mentalities, gossip and intrigue. It’s a great sort of hearsay tale.
So, we know something’s up here because we know that the Riddles must be related to Tom Riddle, the boy who becomes Voldemort. The introduction is designed to give us more questions than answers, however; while we can assume that Tom killed the Riddle family based on Frank’s insistence that a young man had been hanging around the place, we don’t know what led him to seek them out in the first place. We also find out very little about the Riddles themselves, other than the fact that they were rich, snobby, and preferred isolation.
Voldemort’s plan is also perfectly alluded to without giving much away at all. The basic gist is that Harry is in danger again, there’s a long game being played, someone has already died, and Voldemort has a better servant than Wormtail as his ace in the hole. Also, that he has to drink milk from Nagini to currently survive. I would like to point out Voldemort is essentially drinking milk from something that’s already got a piece of his soul in it. So that’s probably why it gives him strength? Whatever, it’s creepy no matter how you cut it.
There’s a certain amount of glee to be gotten over how much Peter is not enjoying his return to the Dark Lord, but it’s simultaneously creepy-making to realize that Voldemort has no delusions whatsoever about Peter’s loyalties. Not a great position to be in as a minion. I also feel the need to point out this bit of dialogue, which cannot possibly land when you read it the first time:
“Liar,” said the second voice again, the cruel amusement more pronounced than ever. “However, I do not deny that her information was invaluable. Without it, I could never have formed our plan, and for that, you will have your reward, Wormtail. I will allow you to perform an essential task for me, one that many of my followers would I’ve their right hands to perform….”
Right… right hand. Like the one Peter will have to actually cut off at the end of the—
GUYS. YOU GUYS. VOLDEMORT MADE A JOKE. I CANNOT—I AM DYING, SAVE ME.
Sorry, hang on. I need a minute. Oh, that Dark Lord. He’s a real beaut’.
There are other places in the narrative here where Rowling just nails her characterization, even in places that would often go overlooked. This one line dealing with Frank always gets me:
“What’s that you’re calling me?” said Frank defiantly, for now that he was inside the room, now that the time had come for some sort of action, he felt braver; it had always been so in the war.
Ugh, everything about that line hurts so much. Because that’s a common experience for soldiers, it’s exactly the how the body reacts to danger in fight mode… and tellingly, he feels it right before he dies. That bravery makes no difference. And for this poor man to die after making it out of the war, surviving charges of murder and a town that treats him like a scary bedtime story, it’s just a profoundly sad tale. It’s important to note that much of what makes the town fear Frank Bryce are difficulties that clearly come from PTSD; Rowling makes a point of saying that he doesn’t like crowds or loud noises, for example.
On a completely different note, we learn that the Riddle family were murdered by the Killing Curse, but the best that Muggles can figure, they were frightened to death. And it’s that’s not interesting, I don’t know what is.
Chapter 2—The Scar
Harry wakes just before dawn due to a pain in his scar and a dream of the events at the Riddle House. He cannot keep hold of the dreams images, but he wonders if it isn’t an indication that that Voldemort is close, just like the last time he felt a similar pain. He worries a lot over it and how he doesn’t have an appropriate figure to tell about it; the Dursleys don’t want to hear anything about magic, Hermione would hit the books, Ron would be nervous. It then occurs to Harry that he can write to Sirius. He writes his godfather a letter, and sends it off. He hopes that it will be time for him to leave the Dursleys soon and spend the rest of his summer break at Ron’s house.
I have to say, I’m deeply impressed by Harry’s internal imitations of his friends. His brain versions of Hermione and Ron are pretty on the nose.
We get a lot of retread in this chapter, reminding the reader of who Harry is, or introducing him. I think it’s better handled in this book than we’ve seen it thus far. It’s also the first book in which we don’t experience Harry’s birthday—it’s passed by the time we get to him, and this one at seems to have been better than last year’s by a significant margin.
Rowling doesn’t waste any time in making it clear how important Sirius’s presence has already become to Harry:
Harry kneaded his forehead with his knuckles. What he really wanted (and it felt almost shameful to admit it to himself) was someone like — someone like a parent: an adult wizard whose advice he could ask without feeling stupid, someone who cared about him, who had had experience with Dark Magic….
And then the solution came to him. It was so simple, and so obvious, that he couldn’t believe it had taken so long—Sirius.
Harry is so accustomed to being without guidance that admitting that he needs it is “shameful” to him. That’s important, and also heartbreaking. But it makes sense psychologically; when you’re not used to receiving certain types of care, it’s hard to acknowledge that you deserve it even when the need is more pronounced. Harry figures that he’s gone without this sort of comfort for so long, he has no right to need it now. He should be used to his lot.
But now Sirius is in the picture and that changes everything. Sirius is in the position to be a guardian, but also someone Harry trusts to keep secrets, to take him seriously, to give advice without making him uncomfortable. As Harry recalls in his own, Ron has a tendency to worry him more, and Hermione always wants to draw more attention to the issue by roping other people in. Both are ways of responding to problems that make Harry turn in on himself even more.
So he sends the letter, and we all get to sit back and (not) enjoy the fact that this is a harbinger of everything that will be troubling Harry for the next four years. Youch.