The Harry Potter Reread was listening to some sweet tunes on its commute this morning, so it will begin this reread with a Lyric of the Day: My my, but time do fly, when it’s in another pair of pants.
We’re dealing with the aftermath of defeating a dragon and getting awkward about dancing. It’s chapters 21 and 22 of The Goblet of Fire—The House-Elf Liberation Front and The Unexpected Task.
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 21—The House-Elf Liberation Front
Harry goes with Ron and Hermione to send Sirius a letter detailing his performance in the First Task. When they get back, all of Gryffindor House is ready to celebrate, and Fred and George have nabbed a feast from the kitchens. They ask Harry to open the golden egg clue (Hermione feels the need to point out that no one is supposed to help him with the Tournament, but then Harry points out under his breath that she already has and she seems appropriately amused by the point). When he opens the thing, all they hear is screeching and there’s nothing else inside. Seamus wonders if he’ll have to fight a banshee, Neville panics at the idea of the Cruciatus Curse, but no one really has any idea. Fred offers Hermione a jam tart, and Hermione asks nonchalantly asks how to get into the kitchens. The twins tell her to tickle the pear on a portrait of fruit. Then Neville turns into a canary by eating the custard creams the twins thought up. New business venture!
December gets chilly and damp, and the Blest-Ended Skrewts are awful as ever. During a particularly horrible class (where the kids find out that the skrewts will not hibernate by being shut into pillowy boxes), Rita Skeeter shows up and asks if she can get an interview with Hagrid. Harry can’t manage to warn him without being too overt. Professor Trelawney is busy predicting Harry’s death again, but he’s not too concerned now that he’s got Ron back. They don’t see Hermione for the rest of the day, but she catches up to them before they hit the Gryffindor common room and drags them down to the castle kitchens.
The boys are suspicious, but Hermione insists that S.P.E.W. is not the reason she brought them down. They enter the kitchens and find that Dobby is working at Hogwarts, and he’s getting paid! He’s wearing a very strange mismatched assortment of clothes now as well. And Dumbledore has hired Winky too—though she’s far less pleased with the situation and seems to do nothing but sob. Hermione is intent on getting Winky to be happy about the situation, but she’s not having it. And she also mentions that Crouch doesn’t think much of Bagman, when her former master is mentioned. She is devastated at being freed, and scolds Dobby for speaking ill of the Malfoys. (Dobby likes doing it, though he still has the instinct to punish himself for it.) Dobby asks for permission to visit Harry, which Harry gives. Ron volunteers his incoming Christmas sweater for the elf.
Hermione thinks that it’s great that Dobby has come to work at Hogwarts; she imagines that he’ll change all the house-elves’ minds when they see how great it is to get paid for their work and be free. She doesn’t seem to notice that they’re all horrified of how Dobby talks and behaves.
I want a canary cream. They are treats that turn you briefly into a bird. Where is the downside of that? There is no downside. Gimme.
In all seriousness, it’s definitely one of the twins’ most harmless products. We get our first listen to the golden clue egg Harry rescued from the First Task, which is wonderfully mysterious and kinda scary, and also gives poor Neville a PSTD flashback. Considering that, it’s probably best that he was distracted by being briefly turned into canary.
I find it hilarious that Hermione tries to give Harry a hard time for potentially accepting help from other students on the TWT, as though she doesn’t count herself in that equation. Regardless of what is causing him difficulty, Hermione already views it as a job of sorts to help Harry however she possibly can. With exceptions to all rules. Which leads me to wonder if this is basically how Hermione is comfortable expressing friendship towards people.
It’s unnerving enough knowing that Rita Skeeter gets Hagrid alone, but we won’t get to the fallout from that until later. At least the kids seem to understand smear campaigns pretty easily, and they have no illusions about why she would want to talk to their professor.
Hermione finally goes down to the kitchens, as Fred and George suggested, and she drags Harry and Ron down next. We get our first peek of the space, and perhaps the most fascinating turn is finding that the kitchens essentially mirror the Great Hall, which sits directly above it; there are giant tables where the food gets loaded up and then transported directly in the same formation to the tables in the dining area. Logistically, I suppose this makes sense. After all, where is the food going to wait before you essentially teleport it to the Great Hall? Hogwarts isn’t like a restaurant, where dishes get run out a few at a time. It has to all be set ahead of time. It makes you wonder how often magic operates on those principles, however.
So Dobby asks Dumbledore to be paid, and Albus readily agrees to all of Dobby’s terms. (He actually offers more than Dobby wants, so the elf has to talk him down.) It’s right of Dumbledore personally, of course, but more importantly it’s in keeping with the relations Hogwarts has always had with their house-elf staff. Though the elves at Hogwarts may not be free entities, Rowling made it known in an interview that Helga Hufflepuff brought house-elves to the school to give them a refuge where they could get away from abuse. (Apparently, Helga is also responsible for most of the recipes still used at the school.)
What this tells us—apart from the fact the Helga Hufflepuff is a BAMF and a master chef—is that Hermione’s protests against the use of house-elves at Hogwarts is way off base. The school is not where true mistreatment of house-elves is taking place. While it’s still unsettling (and not okay) that the house-elves are not free entities, they are not being abused, belittled, and punished at Hogwarts. But because Hermione doesn’t grasp the subtleties of house-elf history and treatment—to be fair, there aren’t exactly a lot of places to get this information—she strolls into the kitchens and insists on imposing her own value system on them. She is distressed that Dobby doesn’t want more money and more time off each month, but she isn’t considering the two most important factors: 1) that Dobby is the victim of systematic brainwashing that has lasted centuries, and it will naturally take a long time for he and any other elves who follow in his footsteps to adjust 2) Dobby is not human, and therefore may not want/need as much time off or pay. And there are plenty of reasons why he might not.
Observing Dobby’s behavior would tell Hermione everything she needs to know: after finally getting away from the Malfoys, something Dobby had clearly wanted for a long time, he can still barely stifle the impulse to start beating himself when he speaks ill of them. That kind of conditioning doesn’t dissolve without consequence and difficulty—and this is coming from Dobby, who knows he was mistreated, who understands that what was done to him was wrong.
On the other hand, Winky cannot even go that far. Her conditioning has stayed put, and she blames herself for everything that has happened to her. She worries over Mr. Crouch and thinks of her lineage of house-elves, all of them bound to serve the Crouch family. She is ashamed and broken-hearted over what she perceives as her own failings. She cannot see that she has been used and cast away without care. She barely cares that she has. That is the place that Hermione should be starting from—not with salaries and sick days, but with helping Winky understand that her self-worth should not be dependent upon the people she serves.
Because until Winky understands that she has value and autonomy on her own terms, why the hell would she care about a paycheck?
Again, this doesn’t mean that Hermione is mistaken in taking up the fight on behalf of house-elves. It simply proves that for all her brains, she is committing the classic blunder that people in a position of privilege often make; she can only see the world from her own viewpoint. She assumes that what is right for her should be right for everyone.
I love the juxtaposition of Dobby and Winky’s clothes in this chapter. Winky’s are well-matched, but she has no personal attachment to them because she didn’t want her freedom. As a result, they’re a dirty mess; she has no reason to care for something she never wanted, and the clothes are a symbol of that. Dobby, on the other hand, is wearing a mismatched nightmare of an outfit, but it’s carefully cleaned and worn with pride. Those clothes are the iconography of Dobby’s new life, the path he’s carving for himself. He has used some of his new earnings to buy those clothes. They are a precious visual shorthand for how far he has come, a badge of honor that prove how much he loves himself.
Wow, I’ve never had such an emotional reaction to Dobby’s clothes before. Ahem.
Dobby makes a note of going to find Winky after she was sacked, which indicates that they knew each other beforehand, despite working for different masters. I assume this is because Crouch and the Malfoys run in the same circles? And because of the Dark Arts leanings in both households? It seems to indicate that elves from all over the wizarding world have ways of communicating with each other, otherwise Dobby would have never known to go and find her. Winky gives the trio a very vague clue on Bagman, making the point of how little Crouch Sr. trusts the guy. Quelle surprise.
Chapter 22—The Unexpected Task
Professor McGonagall informs the students of the upcoming Yule Ball—a traditional part of the Triwizard Tournament that takes place on Christmas. Fourth Year and up may attend, and McGonagall insists that they all be on their best behavior to represent Gryffindor House. She then calls Harry to her after class and informs him that the champions open the ball with their dance partners. This is understandable horrifying to a fourteen-year-old boy who has never danced.
Girls start asking Harry to the ball, most of them being girls he doesn’t know. He turns them all down; secretly, his heart is set on Cho. Things are better at school for Harry since the First Task—fewer students are giving him a hard time, and Malfoy’s running out of steam. Hagrid tells the trio that Rita Skeeter was trying to get him to say bad things about Harry in her interview, and Harry reckons that her “tragic hero” angle on him is getting boring to her. It’s getting closer to the Yule Ball and everyone is getting excited. Most of the student who are able to attend are staying at Hogwarts over Christmas for the event.
Fred and George ask to use Ron’s owl to send a letter, but Pig is still away. Before the trio can hassle them about who they’re writing to, the twins tell Harry and Ron to get on asking someone to the ball. Ron asks who Fred is taking, and he says he’s going with Angelina. But he hasn’t asked her yet, so he asks her on the spot in the common room and she agrees. Ron tells Harry that they really should step on it so they don’t end up with a “couple of trolls” for dates. Hermione is understandably ticked off that Ron’s most important prerequisite for a ball date is the most attractive girl he can find, personality notwithstanding.
Ron tells Harry that they just have to bite the bullet and do it, so Harry goes to ask Cho before dinner that day. She’s very kind, but she already has a date—Cedric Diggory. When Harry gets back to the common room, Ron is being comforted by Ginny because he asked Fleur to the ball; he passed by while she was flirting with Cedric and he got a dose of that veela charm. They find out that Neville asked Hermione, but she claimed to already have a date. Ron is sure she just didn’t want to go with Neville. Hermione arrives in the common room and he tries to broach that subject of her going with either him or Harry. He broaches it quite poorly.
Hermione tells him sternly that she really does have a date because other people have noticed the she’s female even if he hasn’t. She storms off. Ron insists that Ginny go with Harry, but she explains that she’s going with Neville and rushes off, annoyed. Harry sees Parvati and Lavender come into the common room and he asks the former. She agrees. Then he asks if Lavender will go with Ron, but she’s already going with Seamus. Parvati suggests her twin sister Padma as a date for Ron. Harry thinks this whole experience has been far more trouble than it’s worth.
The bell was due to ring at any moment, and Harry and Ron, who had been having a sword fight with a couple of Fred and George’s fake wands at the back of the class, looked up, Ron holding a tin parrot and Harry, a rubber duck.
…I love you guys.
Yeah, I don’t care what the heck sort of traditions we’re upholding, it’s just plain mean to host a big old ball for a bunch of teenagers and expect them to get right on it like it’s no big thing. Wizarding school is not like muggle school. Muggle schools have regular dances (usually). Either at school, or hosted by your town, whatever. But if you’d never experienced such a thing, and someone suddenly forced you to do it when you were fourteen… sorry, I just have a lot of bro feelings for Harry right now. I am so sorry, Harry, this isn’t fair. You are right.
On the other hand, Fred wins smoothest Yule Ball ask and Angelina wins smoothest reply. His shout across the common room and her nonchalance really do make you wish we spent more time with the crew Fred and George hang out with. They’re a great group. Give them a sitcom.
Ron only cares that his date is reasonably hot, which is a thing that happens in the real world. It’s a dumb crappy thing that society at large should stop perpetuating. And Hermione is right to be pissed, and Ron is going to regret not thinking of the whole thing differently (as we’ll see later). You know what matters at a dance? Having a good time. You know what ensures a good time? Taking a date who you have fun with. I swear, the number of school dances I would have skipped, the torture I could have missed out on…. Right. We’re talking about the Yule Ball. But that’s the point of these chapters, isn’t it? To remind you of the most uncomfortable instances of your youth? It works so well.
Situational touches are one of Rowling’s greatest fortes, and her bit about the suits of armor singing Christmas Carols and missing out on lyrics that Peeves fills in with curses and dirty words is the best. The narrative in this chapter kills it, with all the awkward non sequiturs and weird descriptions of internal discomfort that are appropriate to the very task the chapter names. We’re getting it all straight from Harry’s perspective, so that (very gentle, very sweet) pass from Cho is torment.
Also, according to Harry’s perspective women only go places in giant groups and do nothing but giggle. They giggle ALL THE TIME. I probably can’t count on all my fingers and toes how many times the word “giggle” is used in this chapter. I’m typing it out just to catch up to the tally. Giggle. There. I typed it again. Giggling.
It’s something of a parody, but there’s plenty of truth in there The hyper-perception you gain when you’re embarrassed, the fear that sets in when you’re worried about the tacit implications that come with asking someone to a dance or similar event. And then it gets worse because Harry finds Ron in the aftermath of asking Fleur Delacour out, and he and Ron manage to piss off both Hermione and Ginny in short order by being too stuck in Dude Space to realize that the women around them have their own jazz to deal with, thanks a lot. (I’m glad that Rowling shows girls asking boys out to the ball because girls do ask boys out, and it’s just as frightening, btw.)
I’m brought back to that veela problem again, though, with Ron’s aborted attempt. I’m not saying Fleur can’t handle herself around men since she clearly can. But she wasn’t intending to catch Ron’s eye. It’s something that happens whenever she turns on that old veela charm, as it’s put. And… that must be annoying. To not be capable of having even a little control over that brand of magic.
And we end feeling basically the same way Harry feels. That was way more trouble than it was worth. Why can’t it be simpler?
Note: I’m going to be out of the country in the following two weeks, so while there will be no pause in the reread, I won’t be able to read any of the comments until I get back! Love each other and have fun!
Emmet Asher-Perrin would have avoided practically every school dance if she could have gotten away with it. You can bug her on Twitter and Tumblr, and read more of her work here and elsewhere.