I started reading Harry Potter when I was in the second half of 5th grade—which, in my opinion, is the perfect time to start, and clearly my teacher, Mr. Coulter, agreed. One day before we were dismissed for the afternoon, he read our class the first chapter, and by the time he was finished I had to know what happened next. I was 10 years old, and already a voracious reader; though the funny thing is, I literally cannot remember what I read before then. (Except Holes, probably, which remains to this day one of my favorite books, and I still have my copy from childhood sitting on my shelf, since I can’t bring myself to part with it.)
In fact, I would go so far as to say that it’s really difficult for me to imagine my life before Harry Potter, since it’s been with me for more than half the time I’ve been alive. (I suddenly feel very young and very old at the same time, it’s a strange feeling.) I grew up with Harry, Ron, Hermione, and the rest of these characters that we’ve all come to know and love. They, and the book series, are an intrinsic, very personal part of my life, and it’s difficult to separate myself from them. And why would I? They’re some of my oldest friends that I’m able to revisit again and again whenever I feel like it.
And speaking of friends…
CHAPTER 10: HALLOWEEN
When I realized I’d been assigned this chapter by pure luck of the draw, I was so excited. Not only is “Halloween” one of my favorite chapters in the entire series, I really feel like it’s an incredibly pivotal moment, and one that is very personal to me, so I’m very happy I get to discuss it.
After their midnight adventure and their run-in with the three-headed dog on the third floor corridor, Hermione isn’t on very good terms with Harry and Ron, and understandably so. It’s really a stark difference in opinion, which is highlighted quite well by this gem on the first page of the chapter:
Indeed, by the next morning Harry and Ron thought that meeting the three-headed dog had been an excellent adventure, and they were quite keen to have another one.
It’s a credit to Rowling’s writing that she’s so capable of capturing the spirit of two eleven-year old boys in so few words. She does that a lot, I’ve noticed on this re-read, little tidbits of character thrown in economically and wonderfully, not distracting from the narrative at all, but rather enhancing it. Another example that stood out to me in this chapter comes later on when Harry and Ron are rescuing Hermione from the troll, and she describes Harry doing “something that was both very brave and very stupid.” Which is incredibly telling of Harry’s character throughout the rest of the series, really. He means well, and he is very courageous, but you really have to question his life choices sometimes.
But before I go down that rabbit hole, I want to get back to the real reason I was so excited to be talking about this chapter: Hermione. Hermione Granger is one of my favorite literary characters in the history of ever, and I think the reason behind that is because I’ve always identified with her, as well as admired her. Growing up, I was very shy, but also very smart, so in the classroom it was always a battle between knowing the answer to the question and my ability to raise my hand and say it in front of people. Hermione, however, has no qualms with answering questions in a public setting. She’s smart, and she knows it, and she has no issue with telling people how it is, even though she gets an awful lot of shit for it in these early chapters.
I’ve had discussions with people before where they insist that Hermione would have probably been better suited to Ravenclaw, but I respectfully disagree, and here’s why: yes, she’s smart, but the ability to speak one’s mind regardless of potential shaming or consequences is definitely courageous, and I absolutely think that this is something that should be presented more in mainstream media, especially to young girls. I’m very passionate about feminist representation and strong female characters, and I really think that my intense love and interest in such things came from Hermione, which I adore Rowling for. She’s just so adept at writing compelling and realistic characters who aren’t perfect and make mistakes, yes, but that just lends them more credibility and offers a contrast to when they do something really extraordinary. It’s something I’ve constantly been striving to incorporate in my own writing, and I really think it changed my life.
I could write whole treatises about how much I love Hermione, I really could. She’s intelligent, she’s strong, she’s wonderful, but most importantly, she’s human. She has a thick skin, sure, but she’s also an eleven year old girl, something the boys routinely forget throughout the course of the series. After the immortal “It’s Wing-gar-dium Levi-o-sa,” Ron is a real dick, calls her “a nightmare,” and she understandably reacts:
Someone knocked into Harry as they hurried past him. It was Hermione. Harry caught a glimpse of her face—and was startled to see that she was in tears.
Honestly, I would be in tears, too. Which is another reason this chapter resonates so strongly with me, since I was bullied a lot way back when, and it’s another good life lesson: crying isn’t a weakness, it’s natural, and you can still be strong while doing so.
Of course, all of this is build up to the titular event of the chapter: the mountain troll in the girl’s bathroom on the night of the Halloween feast. It’s a great moment that arrives nearly smack-dab in the middle of the book, and really cements “The Trio” going forward, as well as highlighting more character traits for each: Harry’s compassion and impetuosity, Ron’s stubbornness and ability to perform fairly well under pressure, and Hermione’s loyalty and willingness to push personal grudges aside for the sake of helping others in need.
Reading up to this point, Harry and Ron are great on their own, don’t get me wrong, but before Hermione shows up, something is just missing. She provides such a great foil for both of the boys, and she really acts as a kind of anchor for them, especially early on. Eventually the weight and responsibility of their friendship gets distributed evenly, I think, and they all become anchors and a very important source of strength and support for each other (so that the times when they’re at odds, it just feels heavy and wrong, even while reading, which is magnificent), but Hermione just adds so much going forward, and I love it.
I just love the way this entire sequence is written, too. From Quirrell melodramatically running into the Great Hall and “gasp[ing], ‘Troll—in the dungeons—thought you ought to know’” before fainting, to Ron and Harry thinking they’ve bested the troll by locking it away somewhere, when really they’ve only made the problem about 50 times worse because they’ve put Hermione in direct danger when all they were trying to do is warn her. I love the description of the troll, I love the way the action happens—it’s all very quick, which took me by surprise when re-reading this, because it only happens over the course of a few pages—and how it’s fast-paced but also suspenseful, while also being delightfully entertaining. There’s a charming innocence to the dangerous encounters in this book so far, what with Fluffy and the troll, that disappears in the next chapter; these first two near-brushes with death are “adventures” while practically everything else moving forward has much more sinister overtones.
But honestly, I think my favorite, favorite thing about this entire chapter is the last few lines, which are just so very spot on and wonderful, of course I’m going to quote them:
Hermione, however, stood by the door, waiting for them. There was a very embarrassed pause. Then, none of them looking at each other, they all said “Thanks,” and hurried off to get plates.
But from that moment on, Hermione Granger became their friend. There are some things you can’t share without ending up liking each other, and knocking out a twelve-foot mountain troll is one of them.
I don’t even know how to follow that up, because it’s just perfect. I love everything about those lines, and I’ll fight anyone who disagrees with me.
CHAPTER 11: QUIDDITCH
Boy howdy, I really lucked out with these chapters, didn’t I? How the frick did I wind up with two of the most iconic moments in this book, let alone the series? To be fair, there are an awful lot of iconic moments. But man. I’m just really excited.
I know I skipped over it in the previous chapter because Hermione reasons, but Harry gets his Nimbus 2000! He meets up with Oliver Wood and learns all about Quidditch! And now, we get to experience our first ever Quidditch match right alongside Harry.
I love Quidditch for a lot of reasons, the first and foremost of which is world-building. Wizards have their own money and system of government and schools, of course they have their own sports! It’s brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. And the best thing about it is, not only is it great world-building, it sounds fun. And it’s easy to understand. And it’s relatively believable, I guess, if you can get past the flying broomsticks and enchanted balls.
It’s interesting how Rowling handles this chapter, because there is action on two fronts. You have the goings on up in the air as Harry plays through his first Quidditch match, and you have the stuff in the stands, which collide when Harry’s broomstick starts trying to buck him off, and Hermione sees Snape chanting under his breath intently, so she goes to set his robes on fire as a distraction. More than a few times in this chapter, I noticed that the narrative expanded outward from what had up until this point been almost exclusively Harry’s point of view (with the exception of the first chapter, of course). And I have to admit it was kind of jarring to read through this time, though I understand why she did it. You can’t just have Harry being tossed around on his broomstick without the context of what’s going on in the stands, because then it loses some of its gravity (ha. Pun). Nor can you have just what’s happening in the stands, because, well, Quidditch.
I just really love the way she goes about writing Quidditch as well. A lot of the action that doesn’t involve Harry is narrated by Lee Jordan, which I absolutely love, because it feels like we’re right there, watching alongside everyone else in the stands, waiting to see what happens. Also, the occasional back and forth between Lee Jordan and Professor McGonagall is fricking hilarious. I found myself laughing aloud more than once reading through this chapter.
Now, despite all of the good-natured fun in this chapter, I still hold with my view that, from this point on, the threats to Harry’s life start getting way more sinister. I think it has something to do with the fact that the previous two encounters kind of just happen—or they inadvertently seek them out/stumble upon them, what with the midnight duel and running into Fluffy, and trying to take care of the troll situation because of Hermione—but Harry’s broom trying to buck him off is deliberate, and malicious, and it’s really scary. Sometimes it’s hard for me to remember just how old Harry is, because the world around him is just so fantastic, and he does occasionally act older than his age (which is something that often happens in stories involving children across all different types of media, so this isn’t a criticism so much as a point), but that’s an eleven year old boy up there, hanging on for dear life hundreds of feet in the air while someone—presumably Snape—is trying to kill him. And not just outright, either, but trying really hard to make it look like an accident, in front of a ton of witnesses so there could be no doubt whatsoever. That is terrifying.
As far as the Snape thing… I won’t step on people’s toes because I know that’s for a later time, but man I love the way Rowling sets this all up so it’s organic and you can totally look back for clues as to where the twist came from, and they’re all right there. It’s brilliant. Of course it looks like it’s Snape, because our narrator is Harry, and is therefore unreliable. He’s extremely biased, and while there is some overwhelming circumstantial evidence in the form of Snape having that massive bite on his leg from Fluffy, as Harry witnesses the night before, and Hermione seeing Snape at the Quidditch match doing something shifty, there’s still an element of doubt to his accusations. Though that might all be hindsight at work here, because I think at the same time, we haven’t really had much of a reason to distrust Harry so far, and the way Rowling works that balancing act and walks such a fine line between reliable and unreliable narrator is absolutely wonderful. (Here I go again with my English major nonsense, I’ll just rein this in before I get too carried away.)
And then, after all of the commotion with the jinxed broom is resolved (thank you, Hermione), you have this wonderful moment:
Harry was speeding toward the ground when the crowd saw him clap his hand to his mouth as though he was about to be sick—he hit the field on all fours—coughed—and something gold fell into his hand.
Now, I don’t know about you, but I think that is god damn hilarious. Was Harry just randomly flying towards the ground with his mouth open? Was that on purpose and he just underestimated his flight trajectory? I have no idea, but oh my god, that is so funny. Can you imagine if Harry had survived he jinxed broomstick incident, only to start choking on the Snitch? Now I’m thinking of someone performing the Heimlich maneuver on poor Harry, and the Snitch just rocketing out of his mouth, and oh my god, I’m dying.
Anyway, all of that aside, it’s a good, humorous moment to kind of bookend the scary that happens in the middle of the chapter. But instead of ending it there, Rowling introduces a little more meat to the mystery of the package being guarded on the third floor through some of Hagrid’s slip ups about one Nicholas Flamel, and insistence that these young whippersnappers couldn’t possibly be right about Snape’s apparently bad intentions. Now, the first time I read this, I remember thinking something along the lines of, “oh, Hagrid, clearly you have no idea how bad Snape is, Harry saw him doing some awful things!” But thinking about it now, hasn’t he known Snape longer than Harry? Why do we have any reason to believe that Hagrid is wrong? And the answer is, we really don’t. Aside from the fact that Harry’s our point of view, and of course we side with him. It’s fascinating, and probably something I’m going to keep track of further as we get deeper into the series, because I think it’s a really cool element of Rowling’s writing that doesn’t get talked about much, and I’m into that sort of thing.
And hopefully you are too, otherwise I just kinda slammed out 2600 words for no reason but myself, and that seems all kinds of unnecessary.