Merry Christmas from the Harry Potter Reread! (Happy Holidays all around of course, it’s just today is actually Christmas and they celebrate it at Hogwarts and stuff.) Whatever you celebrate, the reread hopes that today is a soothing affair with lots of yummy food because it’s currently cold and dark where the reread is, and these things sound appealing.
We are about to get on the red choo-choo train for the fourth time, and find out what the crux of the plot is this time around. It’s Chapters 11 and 12—Aboard the Hogwarts Express and The Triwizard Tournament.
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 11—Aboard the Hogwarts Express
Harry wakes up before the end of the holiday to find Arthur talking to Amos Diggory’s head floating in the Weasley fireplace. He’s telling Arthur about an incident with Muggles and someone named Mad-Eye Moody, who went off on them when they trespassed on his property. Amos needs Arthur to get Moody off with light charges because of a new job he’s about to start. Harry later finds out that Moody used to be one of the best Aurors—that’s Dark wizard catcher—the Ministry ever had, but that he’s gone a bit paranoid in his old age due to the stress of the job.
There are no Ministry cars available to take the crew to King’s Cross, so Molly has to call Muggle taxis. As the kids are getting their stuff onto the train, Bill, Charlie, and Mrs. Weasley keep dropping hints about a big to-do going on at Hogwarts this year (Charlie says he’ll be seeing them soon, in fact). No matter how much they prod, no one is willing to give it away, and the train sets off for Hogwarts. Across from their compartment, the trio hear Draco going on about how his father wanted him to attend Durmstrang rather than Hogwarts, but his mother wanted him closer to home…
Hermione gives the boys a brief lowdown on how the other magical schools work—how there’s a lot of rivalry between them, how they have charms and spells on them to prevent Muggles from noticing them, how they are Unplottable on maps and don’t reveal their locations of the schools to other magic folk. Dean, Seamus, and Neville join them in their compartment, and Ron tells Neville about the Quidditch Cup (since he didn’t get to go because his gran wasn’t interested). Draco takes that opportunity to enter their compartment and starts making fun of Ron’s dress robes, which are thrown over Pig’s cage. Then he starts asking Ron and Harry if they’re going to “enter.” Once he realizes that they have no idea what he’s talking about, he goes on about how important his dad is and how he “found out about it” ages ago, insisting that Arthur wasn’t important enough to notify. Ron is furious for the rest of the ride to Hogwarts.
So Arthur is being asked by Amos Diggory to basically cover up for Mad-Eye Moody so he can get to Hogwarts and teach DADA. There are several things going on here, some understandable and some not-so-much. The situation shows us yet again how little accountability there is in the Ministry, and how easy it is to bypass their legal system. But then again, Moody didn’t go out on his own to antagonize people; they came to him. So it’s not an example of out and out abuse toward Muggles coming from a wizard. We can say what we want about Moody needing to reign it in, but he can hardly be blamed for his manner in the long run. Alastor Moody is one of the greatest Aurors the world has ever seen, but the work that he did during the first Wizarding War damaged him irreparably. He has some very serious PTSD issues to work with, and he’s utterly paranoid. It’s played in a slightly more comedic light throughout the book because he’s so over the top, but that doesn’t change the fact that Moody’s story is tragic at face value.
And then there’s an added consideration to take this time; it’s pretty much guaranteed that when this incident occurs, this is following Mad-Eye’s capture by Barty Crouch, Jr. We have no way of knowing whether the people who went off at these Muggles was Moody… but it likely wasn’t. The set-up here is multi-layered in a way that we haven’t seen in the previous books, which makes it more fun to deconstruct.
Molly can’t get any Ministry cars to take the kids to school, seeming to indicate that the cars are still tied up following the Quidditch World Cup, or that they’re already being used to ferry around important government people in relation to the Triwizard Tournament. Yet another sneaky clue. And then all the Weasleys are having fun tweaking the kids, letting them know that something’s up at school this year, but refusing to say what.
Draco’s talk about Durmstrang leads to our first real discussion of international wizarding schools, and this is where things get wooly. Rowling has stated elsewhere that there are eleven wizarding schools around the world. If I’m not mistaken, only the three we come into contact with are named: Hogwarts, Durmstrang, Beauxbatons. These three are the largest in Europe, suggesting that there is at least one more European wizarding school that we don’t hear about. Which suggests that Europe has the largest concentration of wizarding institutions because there at most seven other schools to be split up between five other viable continents. (Safe to say, it’s unlikely that there’s a wizarding school in Antarctica.)
On Durmstrang: the institute was founded in medieval times by a witch named Nerida Vulchanova, but she died mysteriously and was succeeded as headmaster by Harfang Munter. He was responsible for giving Durmstrang a darker reputation where their practice and curriculum was concerned. The school never accepts Muggle-born students. On the other hand, the school did not actively desire to turn out Dark wizards; Gellert Grindelwald attended the school, and when it became apparent that he was using his studies toward a more practical application, he was expelled. (On the name: Durmstrang appears to be a play on Sturm und Drang, which translates to “tempest and urge/drive.” It was a pre-Romanticism movement in German art.)
We find out from Hermione that the wizarding world doesn’t have a lot of trust holding it together—the schools are all hidden from each other to prevent them from stealing each other’s “secrets.” This is clearly a play on the rivalry between various real-world boarding schools, but the idea that these schools aren’t even willing to reveal their locations to the general public is pretty extreme. It does, however, make more sense of the need for the Hogwarts Express; it’s actually being used to prevent people from knowing where the school is. (On the other hand, if the school is known to be so close to Hogsmeade, wouldn’t that make it sort of easy to track down? Or does that change when a school is made Unplottable? Unplottability is never really explained to my satisfaction…)
Draco’s nastiness around the dress robes and Arthur’s job here further builds toward Ron’s feelings of worthlessness and eventual descent coming up around the tournament. It’s easy to forget how much he gets railed on in this book—he’s about to get pelted with water balloons by Peeves in the next chapter. Not only is his family’s lack of wealth and station regularly being brought to his attention, but Ron is getting old enough for this constant abuse to start having a harsher affect on him.
Chapter 12—The Triwizard Tournament
They get to the entrance of the castle where Peeves dumps a bunch of water bombs on them. McGonagall appears to usher them into the Great Hall. The trio sit at the Gryffindor table, and Colin Creevey tells Harry that his brother is coming to Hogwarts this year. Little Dennis emerges with the First Years; he fell into the lake on their way over. The Sorting Hat sings a brand new song and the sorting begins. Dennis does end up in Gryffindor.
It turns out that Peeves’ behavior is due to not being allowed at the feast. Apparently he messed up the kitchens throwing a fit over it. As Nearly-Headless Nick explains the situation, it comes to light that house-elves are responsible for cooking meals at Hogwarts, as well as the rest of the housekeeping. Hermione refuses to eat dinner upon that realization. Post-feast, Dumbledore tells the students that the Hogwarts House Tournament will not take place this year, as something else will be taking up their time. Before he can announce it, Mad-Eye Moody arrives in the Great Hall and takes a seat. He is their new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher.
Following Moody’s introduction, Dumbledore finally announces that Hogwarts is playing host to the Triwizard Tournament this year. The tournament was established by Hogwarts, Beauxbatons and Durmstrang seven hundred years previous as a competition between these top schools, and was used to foster bonds between magical students of different nationalities. It was discontinued when the death toll continued to be an issue. The Ministry and other wizarding governments worked hard to ensure that tho would not be a problem this year. They also put an age restriction on the tournament—only students seventeen or older. (This outrages the twins.) The prize is one thousand Galleons.
Everyone is dismissed to bed. Fred and George talk about how they’re planning to hoodwink the impartial judge to try getting into the tournament, and ask if anyone else wants to try, if they figure out a way. Harry and Ron head up to bed with Seamus, Neville, and Dean, and Ron talks about how he will definitely enter if the twins figure out a way. Harry falls asleep thinking of what it would be like if he were Hogwarts Champion.
Sassy Harry is back:
“Good evening,” [Nearly-Headless Nick] said, beaming at them.
“Says who?” said Harry, taking off his sneakers and emptying them of water.
What a charmer. (Sassy Harry is probably my favorite mode for the character. He always feels realest to me when he’s mouthing off.)
So the First Years are all drenched from the terrible storm that they suffered through on boats, and no one is gonna use some fancy magic to dry them off? That would be the easiest way to awe the Muggle-borns new kids. And also, you know, none of them will get pneumonia.
After the irritation that was Colin Creevey in CoS, the arrival of his brother actually works toward making him less of a punchline. Dennis’ glee over falling out of the boat and getting recused by the giant squid is not only the cutest, but exactly the sort of reaction you want the Muggle-born students to have when they get to Hogwarts. Dennis is also lucky enough to have had some prep via his brother—it’s not entirely alien the way it was for Colin, so he’s free to be as joyful as he pleases. And that’s important because the wide-eyed wonder that we used to get via Harry is dissipating as he grows older… and that’s before it all comes crashing down as Nick mentions who’s reposnsible their lovely feast.
The reveal of the house-elves who staff Hogwarts is staggeringly deliberate. Rowling is stripping away the veneer left across the wizarding world due to Harry’s lack of knowledge. The fact that Hermione—who spends her time learning literally everything she can possibly find on paper—knows nothing about this proves that the magical world is keen to hide the uglier aspects of their society. After all, why wouldn’t information on all the house-elves who work at the school (the largest number in Britain) be included in books like Hogwarts, A History? Because they don’t want to call attention to it. Because the way the wizarding world has been able to benefit from slavery all these years is by ignoring its existence. Nick says it; the mark of the good house-elf is never knowing they were there in the first place. If the house-elves take great pains to make sure you never notice their presence, you never have to acknowledge your participation in such a blatantly exploitative system. No wonder Hermione loses her appetite.
On a much lighter note, it’s fun to finally be present for a new Sorting Hat song. And actually impressive that Rowling managed to avoid writing a whole new one until the fourth book. Clever, clever.
Moody enters the Great Hall… or rather, Crouch-as-Moody enters the Great Hall and does a brilliant job of it because no one can tell the difference. It’s quite the entrance too. Sets up just the right amount of intrigue, mystery, and concern.
Dumbledore announces the tournament which leads to one of my favorite Albus asides in the series:
“You’re JOKING!” said Fred Weasley loudly.
The tension that had filled the Hall ever since Moody’s arrival suddenly broke. Nearly everyone laughed, and Dumbledore chuckled appreciatively.
“I am not joking, Mr. Weasley,” he said, “though now that you mention it, I did hear an excellent one over the summer about a troll, a hag, and a leprechaun who all go into a bar…”
Professor McGonagall cleared her throat loudly.
“Er — but maybe this is not the time… no…”
McGonagall was probably thinking please do not tell a dirty joke at start of term, so help me, Albus….
So he says that the reason that the Triwizard Tournament was originally cancelled was due to the rising death toll. But that’s not actually true? Established in 1294, it was eventually cancelled in 1792 because a Cockatrice ended up injuring the Heads of each school. Which means that it wasn’t cancelled due to being dangerous to the kids, but due to being dangerous to the big fancy important head wizards. Which kind of tells you everything you need to know about how important the students are in this thing. Heh.
While the twins are scheming their way into the thing, Neville claims that he might like to enter if they find a way because his grandmother has been berating him for not upholding his family’s honor… and my heart just breaks. Because Neville’s grandmother may not exactly mean to, but she’s such a damaging figure for him. It takes her years to understand her grandson’s inherent worth. And you would think she’d feel the exact opposite way—after losing her son and his wife to torture at the hands of Dark wizards, you would expect her to be overprotective of their only child. But she’s just obsessing over him living up to their memory, and Neville is pressured his entire childhood for it.
It’s interesting that the tournament seems to bring up these issues for a lot of the kids. Ron is thinking of entering too, of course, of earning honor and respect from his peers and a little time in the spotlight. It’s infectious enough that Harry starts dreaming himself.
But the dream is obviously going to be half a world away from the eventual reality.
No reread next week on account of a New Year and break-taking and such! We will be back, rested and ready on January 8th!