Hello fellow Potterphiles. Since it’s my first post, I get to regale you with stories about how I first met Harry Potter. I was in high school, the summer before senior year, and the fourth book was about to be released (yes, I’m old, you can do the math). My brother, Jeff, had been geeking out all over the series for a while, and kept telling me over and over that I had to read them, and that I would love them. This was, however, before I realized my brother was super awesome and he became one of my best friends ever. Back then, he was my annoying little brother so I basically just ignored things that he said, including the best book recommendation I have ever gotten. One day, I was looking for a book to read and randomly grabbed his copy of Book 1. I ended up devouring the first three books in one week. Then, when the fourth book was released, my mom bought the usual copy for Jeff, not realizing that I was also totally obsessed at this point, so I would steal the book from him at his bedtime to read it until my later bedtime. One of my earliest HP memories is Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire with two bookmarks in it. The rest is history, and involves my husband and I going to midnight release parties, taking pictures in our round faux glasses, and then trying to stay up all night reading, racing to finish*. Also, crying. Lots of crying. I, like Gretchen, burst into tears at my first sight of Hogwarts, and I am not ashamed.
In short, I’m just so very happy to be here with you guys, showing the love for my favorite series of all time. Let’s get to it!
CHAPTER 12: THE MIRROR OF ERISED
The lake froze solid and the Weasley twins were punished for bewitching several snowballs so that they followed Quirrell around, bouncing off the back of his turban.
Right off the bat, let’s just talk about how Fred and George are chucking snowballs at Voldemort’s face. Maybe he’s sitting there, thinking about all the bad things he’s done, and praying for repentance or some shit, and then he gets whacked in the face repeatedly with a bewitched snowball. Aah…Ack…fucking snowballs! DAMN, I WILL KILL EVERYONE IN THE WORLD!** So, thanks for that, Gred and Forge. I wonder if they ever think about that later. “Hey, remember when we hit He-who-must-not-be-named in the face with snowballs? Wicked.” If it was one of the movies, they would say that last part in obnoxious, unnatural unison.
After the description of how wonderful Hogwarts is in winter, the gang has to look into this Nicolas Flamel guy one last time before Christmas break. My grad student might be showing a little here, but I really love when they go into the library and research things. I like when they do it on Buffy too. So much of magic is apparently looking up esoteric references in musty books. Delightful. I often wonder about Madame Pince. She is sort of this disembodied sense of potential punishment and shushing. What are her hopes and dreams other than to have a library in perfect order that contains no actual Hogwarts students?
This chapter is an excellent transition and it sets up a whole lot of stuff. But first, we have to say goodbye to Hermione. Rowling is packing in all kinds of relationship building between Harry and the Weasleys, and Harry and Dumbledore, but not Hermione yet. Sending her home makes perfect sense, since she has muggle parents***. First you find out your daughter is a witch, magic is real, that you have to send her off to a mysterious boarding school, and then she doesn’t even come home for the holidays? Yeah, that would be a bit of a stretch. No worries Hermione, you will get plenty of plot time in the future.
“And you could ask your parents if they know who Flamel is,” said Ron. “It’d be safe to ask them.”
“Very safe, as they’re both dentists,” said Hermione.
Do you know how much that made me laugh when I first read this? It’s so matter of fact, which is totally in character for Hermione, but it is also pretty damn funny and unexpected. Good job, Jo.
It’s Christmas at Hogwarts, everyone! Harry gets presents! A flute from Hagrid! Foreshadowing! I mentioned before in the comments that I was keeping a tally of how many times I got teary during this re-read. Spoiler: it’s an embarrassing amount of times. In this chapter, I got a bit misty when Harry opened his Weasley Christmas sweater. Dammit, Molly! I’m nearly crying now just typing this. She met him for about five minutes and just knew he needed a mother, or at least someone who wasn’t going to give him old socks for Christmas.
Speaking of Christmas gifts, the first time I ventured over to Jo’s website, I looked at her FAQs, and my favorite one was “Does Harry give his friends Christmas presents?” Apparently, lots of readers were very concerned that Harry always gets presents but, in the first book at least, she does not mention him giving any. Jo assured those worriers that Harry does indeed give presents, they just aren’t mentioned in the book. Whew. I know I’m relieved.
Do you know what else he gets for Christmas? The invisibility cloak! Sweet! I really love the invisibility cloak. It’s a magical tool that grows up along with Harry and the gang. At first, they use it for sneaking around the castle at night, breaking rules, smuggling dragons, stuff like that, and later it becomes not only a connection between Harry and his father, but constitutes a hugely important plot point waaaaay in book 7. Way to think ahead, Jo.
After presents, Harry, who has never had a real Christmas, is surrounded by friends and love and comfort food in the only home he has ever known. It’s just so warm and fuzzy I can’t stand it. I am so fucking happy for him. We also get to see the professors out of their authoritative roles, just enjoying being home for the holidays, essentially. My mom was a teacher, and I always got to hang out at school when no other students were around. It’s like a whole different world. An awesome one, where you get to run down the halls and no one yells at you. I think that’s why I really enjoy this chapter when they are at school, but not at school.
Later that night, Harry, being the super cool happening dude that he is, uses his brand new invisibility cloak to (you guessed it!) break into the restricted section of the library to do research. He, of course, opens up a book that screams and has to run off, finding himself in a room with a giant, ominous mirror inscribed with a bunch of nonsensical gibberish. I think I figured out the whole inscription thing just because Erised is one of those truly awkward sounding words that can only be a normal word, spelled backward.
Poor little neglected, abused Harry looks into this mirror, and sees his whole family behind him (shit, the tears!).
Quick! Something funny:
Her eyes are just like mine!
Understandably, Harry is drawn to his family in the mirror, though he begins to think something is up when Ron’s vision is so different. Maybe this mirror doesn’t just show your family, but something you want. Oh man, does he want it. Enough to come back, night after night, until Dumbledore drops some serious wisdom on him.
It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live, remember that.
Sigh. This is especially poignant knowing what we know now about Dumbledore’s life, his loves, his regrets. I have an inkling that woolly socks are not actually what he sees, but knowing his true vision would give way too much away. We aren’t there yet. Patience, Grasshopper. Harry, showing great strength of character, breaks away from the mirror, and Dumbledore hides it. End scene.
Sidenote: I always sort of wondered why Hermione doesn’t get to look in the mirror. I mean, I know that the mirror is put away before she gets back from break and she would never walk the halls at night for such a frivolous reason anyway, but I’m kind of sad that she doesn’t get to see the deepest desire of her heart. On the other hand, it would probably be top marks in all her classes, since it’s too early to reveal any sort of deeper character development stuff (like feelings for a certain ginger). The real reason, though, is that Hermione would have figured out that backward inscription (because hello, it’s a mirror!) and all the kids reading at home would not have had that fun little puzzle to crack.
CHAPTER 13: NICOLAS FLAMEL
Welcome to Chapter 13, home of the shortest Quidditch match ever.
We are amping up the suspense, the action, and the lead-up to the boss battle. Quidditch? Ain’t got time for that. Like this five-minute match, my review of this chapter is going to be short and sweet, and not just because my write-up on Chapter 12 was so dang long.
Two big things happen in this chapter: we find out who Nicolas Flamel is, largely by accident, and a seemingly unimportant scene with Neville sets him up for future badassery. Harry gets another Dumbledore chocolate frog card, and remembers where he read about Nicolas Flamel! He was an alchemist! He made the Philosopher’s stone! Eureka! Something I actually did not know before doing a little bit of googling for this re-read was that Flamel was a real dude. A scrivener who lived in France in the 1300s, Flamel developed a posthumous reputation for being an alchemist. Reports that he attempted any sort of alchemical practice are highly suspect, but it was rumored that he had been sighted around Paris for hundreds of years after his death. Sort of like Elvis! See how I brought it around to the title of this post? (I would site all this, but this is a blog. Plus, I used Wikipedia. That’s my grad studentness NOT showing.)
So, they figure out that Fluffy is guarding the stone, and, incorrect as usual****, they suspect Snape is the big bad trying to steal it. I love that Rowling can take a seemingly repetitive storyline (suspecting Snape, Snape may be evil) and use it to create a truly intriguing and mysterious character in Snape, leaving us wondering up to the end whether or not Harry is right.
Last, but definitely not least, Neville gets picked on by Malfoy and they all sort of absently tell him that he needs to stand up for himself, not knowing that this might sort of backfire on them in the future (foreshadowing!). It does, however, allow Neville to take the first steps to becoming awesome. Yay, Neville!
And that’s pretty much it! Thanks for going on this journey with me! See you guys in the next book.
*I’m honestly not sure I would have married him if he didn’t love Harry Potter as much as I do. Well, I guess he wouldn’t really be him if that were the case.
**Paraphrase of Eddie Izzard’s bit about Hitler. Credit to the master.
***I know that being muggle born is part of some very important themes throughout the series, but I like to think the idea was originally put into place so every normal kid out there reading these books had hope that his or her letter from Hogwarts was on its way.
****I guess it’s not really “as usual” yet, because it’s the first book, but still, you know what I mean.