The Harry Potter Reread is excited to have its very first post in a different year! It should probably get itself a cookie when its birthday rolls around. Mm, birthday cookie.
But first, to business! We are going to learn the importance of ferrets and have a questionable DADA lesson. It’s time for chapters 13 and 14—Mad-Eye Moody and The Unforgivable Curses.
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 13—Mad-Eye Moody
Classes begin. Hermione is eating again, having decided that there are better ways to combat the house-elf situation. The kids head to Herbology first, where they collect the pus of bubotubers, used to cure stubborn acne. Then they’re off to Care of Magical Creatures, where Hagrid has them taking care of slimy, shapeless Blast-Ended Skrewts. The animals can sting and burn, and Hagrid’s not even entirely sure what they do or what they eat.
Hermione rushes through her lunch to make it to the library, and Harry and Ron get double Divination in the afternoon. The lesson is tedious and Professor Trelawney continues to make doom-filled predictions where Harry is concerned. Ron makes an inappropriate joke in class and that might be why they get so much homework.
While waiting in line to get into the Great Hall for dinner, Malfoy comes down with a copy of the Daily Prophet, and reads aloud and article critiquing Ron’s father for how he handled the Moody situation before start of term. He insults Ron’s mother for her weight, which prompts Harry to take a potshot at Draco’s mother. Malfoy goes to hex Harry while his back is turned, which prompts Mad-Eye Moody to appear and turn Malfoy into a ferret—he’s furious at the idea that Malfoy would attack when his opponent’s back was turned. He bounces Malfoy from floor to ceiling until McGonagall shows up and realizes what he’s done. She stops it and informs Moody that Transfiguration is not a punishment, and advises him to deliver detention or speak to Draco’s Head of House. Moody opts for the later, dragging Draco off to Snape.
The trio go in for dinner (Hermione eats fast and darts off again), and Harry and Ron get the news from Fred, George, and Lee Jordan—classes with Moody are amazing. He really knows what it’s like fighting the Dark Arts. Ron laments that they won’t have a lesson with him until Thursday.
The title of this chapter should actually be “No, They’re Really Teenagers Now, For Serious.”
I’d forgotten how everything that happens in this chapter is either a real good metaphor for being all adolescent-y, or just screams it flat out. No one is safe from awkwardness, not even Draco (who usually skates by in everything).
It starts with Ron actually saying “dammit” aloud at their schedule, which I believe is the first time we’ve read him actually cursing.
Even the narrative glosses over aspects of the day with a juvenile air of disdain. It’s wickedly funny in fact; when Divination is first mentioned, this is what we get:
Divination was his least favorite subject, apart from Potions. Professor Trelawney kept predicting Harry’s death, which he found extremely annoying.
The main reason I find that nugget hilarious is that’s it’s clearly a “catch up” bit, meant to fill in anyone who jumped in with this book, or remind readers with poorer memories who Harry is talking about. But that’s an amazingly dismissive way of referring to Trelawney’s eagle-eye focus on Harry the year before. It’s both appropriate to a teenaged tone of irreverence, and a wonderfully humorous way of re-introducing a character.
All the creatures that the kids are working with seemed designed to remind us of how uncomfortable it is to be in your own skin at this age. The bubotubers have pus that can cure acne, but you have to pop them in order to harvest the pus, and it’s all just so visceral and icky. It’s always interesting to remember how practical Herbology is as a discipline; the work the students do in that class often goes toward stocking up the school’s stores for all sorts of useful potions and the like.
The Blast-Ended Skrewts that Hagrid has the students working with are all shapeless and gross, and it’s a less direct connection… but it still kind reminds me of adolescence? They’re dangerous and unpredictable and unfortunate, and all around uncomfortable. Harry can’t parse out where their mouths are, if they have them. Hagrid can’t seem to figure out which are (biologically-speaking) male and female. They can’t even figure out what to feed them.
Aside from the weird magical metaphors, this is a pretty horrible teaching move on Hagrid’s part, which Hermione rightly points out. You have to figure that Dumbledore doesn’t even read the class syllabuses that come across his desk before signing off on them: “I’m going to teach the students to care for a creature that I don’t even know what it is or what it eats, but it can burn and sting them, and I’m not sure how bad those injuries would be either, or how big they’ll eventually get. I’d like a budget to buy about 500 of them. Please give me monies.”
On the other hand, there’s a very emotional side to Hagrid’s teaching that doesn’t quite come off in the first couple books after he’s been appointed. It’s not just that Hagrid likes big, scary monsters because he’s a great big softie. Hagrid is a big, scary monster (by wizarding standards) who happens to be a softie himself. Hagrid loves these creatures because he thinks that all of them are (or least could be) just like him, and in need of someone who loves and understands them. That’s all Hagrid has wanted throughout his life, and he only received it as a child from one place—his father. And while it doesn’t exactly make up for putting students in danger, you can see what Hagrid is attempting, even when he’s not sure of how these beasts will fare in lessons. (Perhaps especially then.) Look closer. Try to see beyond how slimy or hairy or frightening they appear to be. Try to love them. Give them a chance before you dismiss them outright, or they’ll be all alone. It’s crushing to think about.
Then Harry and Ron get to Divination and Ron makes a joke about whether or not Lavender will let him see Uranus on her chart, and RON MADE A URANUS JOKE THAT I DID NOT GET AT ALL AS A KID, NO RON, RON STOP. And it’s even weirder and creepier because they’re going to be dating in two years and ugh. Gross. Ron, stop teenager-ing on everything.
And then we get to the infamous Ferret Incident.
So, first thing that need saying is, it’s easy to forget that Draco is physically harmed here. This is partly due to the fact that the film does not indicate that at all, and mostly down to the fact that the situation is such an incredible visual to begin with, it kind of blocks the other aspects from memory. And despite the fact that Draco could certainly use some super tough love in the Learn Respect Department, realizing that he’s actually been battered here is awful. There’s just no two ways about that one.
Further hammering home that these kids are getting older, this is the nastiest fight we’ve seen on the page between them. Everyone’s insulting everyone’s mom, everyone’s raring to throw a punch, everyone is being a jerk. Draco’s got nothing but humiliation to toss around and Ron, as usual, is left to bear the brunt of it because he’s considered the easiest target. It does make you wonder if other students aren’t a little frightened of Draco (or at least his family) that not a single person besides Harry tells Draco to shove it. Even if it’s not their fight, Malfoy’s being unforgivably nasty here.
This situation does beg a lot of questions (as the rest of the book will) about where Alastor Moody-vs-Barty Crouch-Jr begins and ends. For example, it strikes me as likely that Moody would really do this to punish a student in reaction to what Draco does to Harry. The idea that Moody would have a particular peeve associated with sneak attacks line up with his experience and M.O. But is there any part of Barty Crouch, Jr. in here too?
I’d argue there is. It seems likely to me that Barty would have no love for the Malfoys and the lip service they pay to Voldemort. Draco is spoiled rotten by his parents, further twisting the knife for Barty in contrast to his own cold, miserable father. Draco and his family exemplify everything that Barty Crouch Jr. would ostensibly hate about the Death Eaters who managed to stay out of Azkaban. So it’s hardly a wonder that he would enjoy the opportunity to take it out on Draco. If anything, we’re lucky that he didn’t feel comfortable hurting him more than he did.
Chapter 14—The Unforgivable Curses
Snape is in a worse mood than ever over missing out on the DADA position yet again, but he seems intent on avoiding Moody in a way he hadn’t with previous teachers in the position. The Gryffindors get their first lesson with Moody—he tells them that he’s only teaching for a year as a favor to Dumbledore, and he’s been brought on to teach them about curses. Though they’re technically only allowed to demonstrate the really bad ones to years six and above, Moody and Dumbledore have decided that the students need to learn now.
He performs the three Unforgivable Curses in front of them on spiders, so they can see what they look like. First is the Imperius Curse, which makes a person do whatever you want them to do. Next is the Cruciatus Curse, which causes torturous pain—viewing this curse seems to be horrifying for Neville, though no one knows why. The final curse is Avada Kedavra, which kills whoever it’s directed at. Harry realizes that this is how his parents were murdered.
Hermione rushes off to the library after dinner and Ron and Harry start on their Divination homework. They can’t figure it out, so they start making things up awful predictions for their own futures. Harry spots Fred and George in the corner, careful at work on something in secret. As they finish their homework, Hermione comes back and informs them of what she’s been working on; the start of an activist group of house-elf rights called S.P.E.W. (the Society for the Promotion of Elvish Welfare). She wants Harry and Ron to help her, but just as she’s about to get them started with their first meeting, Hedwig comes back with a reply from Sirius.
Sirius tells Harry that he’s heading back up north. Harry’s scar hurting is just another in a series of rumors that have him worried. Sirius takes Dumbledore’s appointment of Moody to mean that the headmaster has noticed too. Harry is furious with himself for worrying Sirius into coming back to a country where it would be easier to capture him. He rushes up to bed, and both he and Neville lay awake that night.
This chapter is hugely important for everything that it sets up for the books to come, and everything that we learn both intentionally and inadvertently.
We get various subtle signals that Dumbledore basically knows the war is coming, and coming fast. Sirius gleans it from more than one informational source, and the appointment of Moody is clearly a huge deal. His intention was to bring Alastor out of retirement for one year alone to give these kids a chance at defending themselves, even though Albus knows he’ll be taken to task for teaching students about these forms of magic before they’re old enough. It’s actually a pretty old battle between school and parents, though on much graver terms; there have always been battles between educators and guardians about what children should and should not be allowed to learn by age group.
In this case, Dumbledore’s thinking is entirely practical. What’s amusing is how so few of the children seem to glom on to the purpose of their training. They get so swept up in the idea of Moody as a legend, a stranger, a man who’s seen too much, that they don’t bother to consider the obvious—learning about the Unforgivable Curses two years head of schedule can only be because the school assumes that the students will have to face these curses sooner rather than later. These kids should be terrified, but they’re not.
And it is undoubtedly because they are still so young, as evidenced by the only people who are properly horrified by the display: Harry and Neville. The only two kids in the class who have any experience at all with the Unforgivables, who are in a unique position to understand what they can do. The only two students in the class who have experienced real loss. (It makes you wonder what Neville remembered when the Dementors got close to him.)
We get a big set-up for a Triwizard Task in the book that Moody lends Neville, and here is where the incredible skill that Crouch displays as a double agent comes to the forefront. He manages to slip useful information into the hands of one of Harry’s school friends, under the guise of being a caring and considerate mentor. Under the guise of Moody realizing that he’s gone too far, and traumatized a boy who knows the Cruciatus Curse quite well for what it did to his family. It makes us, as readers, trust Moody when what we’re truly seeing is Crouch playing a spectacular long game. And you know what? Moody still probably would have done exactly this, were he the one teaching. You could get a headache from trying to parse out Barty’s motivations here.
Hermione finally launches S.P.E.W. and… well, it’s slow-going. Partly because they get waylaid by Sirius’ letter, and partly because Hermione doesn’t know one of the most important tenants of activism yet—how to sell your cause. It’s a perfect example of one of her most interesting character flaws; she has none of the charisma and congeniality needed to be the head of an organization that hasn’t even left the ground yet. She assumes that Harry and Ron want to join the cause because she knows it’s right, but she never bothers to explain to them what she found in her research on house-elves, or why they should be following her example. In fact, Ron is the opposite of convinced, and she still believes that she can strong-arm him into going along with it. I really love how Rowling characterizes this, though. It’s a perfect example of the real mistakes that a lot of young activists make when they’re just starting out. It’s entirely realistic.
And then we find out Sirius is heading back (yay!), but Harry’s freaked out that he’ll get caught (boo!). And you get perhaps the saddest close to a chapter we’ve ever been given:
The dormitory was completely silent, and, had he been less preoccupied, Harry would have realized that the absence of Neville’s usual snores meant that he was not the only one lying awake.
Tears. I’m serious, though, I just closed the book and sobbed. So that’s a great way to end the week.