Last hour, which was more than a year ago, we discussed how goblins fit into the Potterverse, the curious road to redemption for Draco Malfoy, and the surprising choice to off Dobby but not Kreacher.
Hour #5: p. 519-658 (“Gringotts” through “The Elder Wand”…and just short of “The Prince’s Tale.” Sigh.)
–At this point in the novel, Harry starts working the Imperius Curse. This is notable for two reasons: a) the fact that he can do this curse, which like all of the Unforgivable Curses requires a great deal of power, without any practice and with a wand that he won as opposed to chose, means that people either get exponentially better at magic as they age, or Harry is secretly a member of New Directions and thus never has to practice, and b) that our little boy is not just doing Unforgivable Curses out of angry grief (see that Cruciatus Curse he levied at Bellatrix in OotP), but he’s doing them out of necessity. Somewhere around the fourth novel, the series started getting described as “gritty” and “darker” more often than it was previously, which is unsurprising; that’s when people start getting killed off. At this point, the body count has gone from “Ah, Cedric or Sirius died, that’s regrettable” to “Well, it’s not exactly the Red Wedding, but we’re getting there.” That’s hardly what makes it gritty…people died all the time on Star Trek and no one thinks that was a particularly gritty show. If there’s anything terribly gritty about the Potter series, it’s little moments like this, where Harry uses the Imperius Curse (which is Lucius Malfoy’s go-to as much as the Patronus Charm is Harry’s) that tarnish Harry’s Siegfried persona. We can overlook Harry’s hard-headedness as a flaw because that can be turned into a virtue, as it is for someone like Ned Stark; utter pragmatism, which is what Harry is displaying now with Griphook’s help, gives us someone like Petyr Baelish. I promise, I really didn’t start this paragraph with the intent of throwing as many Game of Thrones references in as I could. (Though now that I’ve started, I’m going to be repeating “You know nothing, Jon Snow” to myself for the rest of the week.)
–Griphook’s narration of all the terrible things that happen (“It’s the Thief’s Downfall!” and “It’s the Gemino and Flagrante Curses!” and “It’s a trap!”) reminds me when I used to work at a national fast food chain. My friends and I would go to a fast food joint at some stupid time of night and I would say things like, “It’s after ten, isn’t it? If you order fries, you deserve what you get. Of course, if you want new ones, just say you’d like to have them unsalted and then they’ll probably give you new ones…” or “How many two-ounce patties are you ordering? They probably only have x number out right now, so you may have to wait…” or “It’s a trap!”
–Aberforth Dumbledore is mentioned for the first time in GoF. Albus is trying to console Hagrid, whose popularity is at an all-time low once he’s found out by the general public as a half-giant, and invokes the presumed bravery of his goat-charming brother, Aberforth: “Of course, I’m not entirely sure he can read, so that may not have been bravery…” From there, his name is hardly mentioned until DH, except for one small instance: Mad-Eye Moody refers to him as a weird dude, which is quite a recommendation coming from the guy who held forth less than fifty pages previous about blowing off a buttcheek with an ill-stowed wand. I suppose we all should have known when no one mentioned the name of the barkeep at the Hog’s Head. Everyone else has a name in this universe, but somehow, through OotP and HBP (“that barman has a long memory” according to Sirius, and that barman shows up again at Albus’ funeral), Aberforth’s name doesn’t get dropped again. Of course, as we learn more and more about Albus Dumbledore via Rita Skeeter, it appears that Aberforth is every bit the goat-lovin’ illiterate son of a gun that we’d assumed he was all this time. Turns out that Aberforth is actually Rick Blaine, and thus Ilsa in this analogy is his sister Ariana, who has been dead for nearly a century. Ab talks like a pragmatist; in fact, the person he bears the strongest resemblance to in that respect is Phineas Nigellus Black. He tells the Trio to get back under their Invisibility Cloak and get out of town at first light; he asks Harry if his brother left him a mission that “an unqualified wizard kid” would be capable of; he utters the first “Save yourself!” that I think we’ve ever heard in this series; he notes, perhaps rightly, that the people Albus claimed to care about most seem to end up dead or dying (a quality that Harry, not coincidentally, has as well). But just as Claude Rains exposes Bogie by recounting his anti-Fascist history, Aberforth’s actions make it clear that he’s very nearly the idealist that his brother was. Anyone as pragmatic as Aberforth claims to be would have let Harry and his stag Patronus get caught, would never have given the Trio shelter, and never would have gotten involved with Neville and the other battered members of Dumbledore’s Army. And that’s why in a just world, Aberforth Dumbledore would have ended up with Ingrid Bergman.
–Somehow I’ve gotten into a fifth post about Harry Potter and, to the best of my knowledge, I haven’t mentioned Neville Longbottom once. That’s unacceptable, because Neville is a BAMF. The legend of Neville Longbottom is, at this point, well understood. From being the only kid at Hogwarts with a toad to being the kid who makes the difference in the House Cup by trying to stop Harry from attacking Voldemort to being the kid who is every bit as orphaned as Harry to being the kid who puts in maybe the most valuable performance in the Department of Mysteries to being the kid who becomes the leader of a resistance against Death Eater Hogwarts to being the kid who kills a huge snake with a sword (later! next hour!), he becomes the kid who grew up hotter than Daniel Radcliffe.
Since we’re here and talking about Neville already, the most interesting aspect to his personality (unless you’re a guidance counselor looking for a guest speaker) is revealed in OotP, when we discover that Voldemort decided to strike at James, Lily, and Harry rather than Frank, Alice, and Neville despite the fact that both trios could have reasonably fulfilled Trelawney’s prophecy. Harry is the Boy Who Lives, and Neville is the Boy Who Was Passed Over. Of course, Neville’s story is sadder than Harry’s. Harry at least gets to wear the mantle of destiny because of his tragic infancy. Neville’s tragic infancy comes from the fact that Death Eaters, even after Voldemort’s collapse, were still on the prowl and tortured his parents into insanity; when linked with Neville’s crippling lack of confidence and inevitable propensity to publicly foul up, it seems like he’s never going to overcome the tragedy of his youth. But in this section, we find out that there is a mirror Hogwarts where Snape is still too deep undercover to do more than the bare minimum to protect students, where two Death Eaters have taken over all discipline and two mandatory subject areas, and where children know that any deviation from the rules laid down will be meted out as torture on their families. In this crucible does Neville Longbottom, BAMF, take his final form. Bloodied, bruised, and limping, Neville returns and reveals that he has turned the Room of Requirement (a place as much associated with Harry as his cupboard under the stairs) into the base for the Hogwarts Maquis and become the de facto leader of Dumbledore’s Army. In Harry’s absence, Neville becomes Harry: scarred, valiantly unable to keep his mouth shut even when prudent, using every trick that he can to be a pest in the face of the powers that be. And although he yields to Harry once he appears poised to take control of the resistance again, Neville doesn’t shy from taking up responsibility once he
–Ready? We finally made it: the funniest moment in the history of Harry Potter:
“It’s been quite straightforward, really,” said Neville modestly. “I’d been in here about a day and a half, and getting really hungry, an wishing I could get something to eat, and that’s when the passage to the Hog’s Head opened up. I went through it and met Aberforth. He’s been providing us with food, because for some reason, that’s the one thing the room doesn’t really do.”
“Yeah, well, food’s one of the five exceptions to Gamp’s Law of Elemental Transfiguration,” said Ron to general astonishment.
–This section of the novel kills off more major characters than any equivalently-sized section of the entire series. Although we don’t see yet that the body count has included Lupin and Tonks (though they must have died during these last few pages), we know that Fred Weasley is also down, as is Crabbe, and of course, Snape. I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that if I took a straw poll of “Which Harry Potter death most affected you?” Dumbledore would be towards the top, and so would Sirius, but Fred might just take the cake. For me, and for many others, Fred’s death was the most unthinkable of the entire series; I remember being surprised by Sirius’ death, and being slightly less surprised by Dumbledore’s death, but I had to stop reading for a moment when Fred Weasley bit the dust. Remember when people were making odds on who would die in Deathly Hallows? Everyone was really sure that Hagrid and Mr. Weasley were going to die; people were split half and half on Harry; I don’t think anyone even gave Fred a second thought.
Snape’s death, while obviously more important, was the first hint for those of us who were sure that he had been a traitor all along that he wasn’t actually a bad dude. Without going into a whole great rant about tone, the mood is off. Snape’s death is clearly a murder; it’s much closer to Frank Bryce’s death than anyone else’s in the series than anyone else, and Frank Bryce was like a walking portrait of victimhood. We’ll wait for more Snape talk until until next hour.