One of J.K. Rowling’s greatest achievements was her characters. Even in a world that was so fantastical and unbelievable, they seem so real and human that they almost step out of the pages. Heroes, villains, and bystanders alike – some of the best characters were the ones that not only could be real, but in this particular case, actually are.
Gilderoy Lockhart is somebody that almost all of us have had the misfortune of knowing at some point in our lives. Or worse, very few of us may actually have been him1.
That’s what hooked me originally2 about these books. There was something about the way everyone spoke, how they moved, how they were described that just completed the immersion and let me visualize these completely real people. From Molly and Arthur Weasley to Luscious Malfoy, but especially Gilderoy Lockhart. From word one, he’s smarmy and self-absorbed, and the readers aren’t taken in by his charms any more than Harry is (a benefit from the forced perspective, my friends). It’s not until we get near the end of the book before we find out just how deep that rabbit hole goes, but the most egregious examples of his humblebrags start here.
Good morning. My name is Kevin, and I’m here to talk to you about the two greatest Lockhart chapters ever.
CHAPTER 10: THE ROGUE BLUDGER
Who can we possibly get to sign a note that lets Hermione into the Restricted Section? This is the question on the Trio’s mind, the question on our minds.
Who, out of all the accredited and responsible teachers at Hogwarts, perfectly qualified at their jobs and trusted by both the staff and the student body, will not pay a single bit of attention when signing–
“Well, I’m sure no one will mind me giving the best student of the year a little extra help,” said Lockhart warmly, and he pulled out an enormous peacock quill.
This chapter introduces the concept of Polyjuice Potion, which allows a witch or wizard to take another’s form. It’s a tricky potion to brew, requires about a month to prepare, and requires ingredients that are not only dangerous to acquire, but so vile that they’re often locked away in the dungeons under supervision. (Oh, and they also have to break into Snape’s storeroom for another ingredient.) There are only two places that they are practically guaranteed to never be disturbed, and one of them doesn’t even get mentioned for another two years. That leaves Myrtle’s bathroom.
Hermione had overridden Ron’s objections by pointing out that it was the last place anyone in their right minds would go, so they were guaranteed some privacy. Moaning Myrtle was crying noisily in her stall, but they were ignoring her, and she them.
I have to say, I always really liked Myrtle conceptually. She almost represents the scores of bullied children, forgotten by their peers and unnoticed by her teachers. The girl who falls through the cracks and turns invisible and suddenly gets conscripted into a secret government task force for invisible people that is never touched upon or even mentioned ever again3. It’s almost a relief that we get to see her again after this first major story arc is finished, two years later, but we have no time to ruminate further on this because SUDDENLY QUIDDITCH
Slytherin’s been kicking names and taking ass all month and hoping to strike that and reverse it at some point, and it’s up to our Gryffindor home team to knock them back into 1765. It’s time to put Lucius Malfoy’s money where their mouths are. It’s time to send them slytherin with their tails between their legs. It’s time to figure out why a Bludger is suddenly deciding that it’s Harry O’Clock Happy Hour, where the drinks are free with the purchase of a fried stoat sandwich.
The concept of Bludgers were always terrifying to me, with my fear of depths4 coupled with the fact that I’ve never really been that athletic, to my mother’s occasional dismay. Having one suddenly focus on you for the entire game would be a nightmare, and they’re mentioned multiple times as being heavy enough to do some real damage if you’re not careful.
Fred and George, of course, solidify themselves as two of my favorite characters as they work in tandem, trying to keep Harry safe. They’ve never really questioned their friendship with Harry or made real fun of his history (more than he was comfortable with, at least), and they don’t even hesitate to yell at Oliver on his behalf.
Harry, his “saving people thing” already well ingrained by this time, insists on taking care of himself to free up the twins to look after the rest of the team. This works for a while, but by now it’s raining pretty hard and visibility is low. While Malfoy takes his sweet time laughing at Harry’s misfortune, he doesn’t even see the Snitch hovering right at his own head, which is really a microcosm of Draco Malfoy’s entire life if you think about it.
an arrow to the knee a Bludger to the arm, divebombs Malfoy to get the Snitch, and wakes up to his own personal nightmare.
He came around, rain falling on his face, still lying on the field, with someone leaning over him. He saw a glitter of teeth.
“Oh, no, not you,” he moaned.
Which is really a microcosm of Gilderoy Lockhart’s entire life if you think about it.
Lockhart has the wonderful idea to cure Harry’s arm himself instead of bringing him to the hospital wing, and ends up removing the bones in his arm altogether.
Removing the bones in his arm.
Removing. The bones. In his arm.
And then he PRANCES AWAY like he did Harry a wonderful favor! “Whoops, accidentally maimed you even further, MY BAD, tell me all about it later, okay?”
(Although, as the son of an Anatomy professor, I especially liked the attention to detail that Harry was no longer able to move his arm under his own power, because the tendons have nothing to anchor themselves to.)
Of course, then we find out that it’s been Dobby that’s been inconveniencing Harry this entire time, using the time-honored tradition of doing it “for Harry Potter’s own good, it was”. Dobby admitted to stopping the letters before, but it was Dobby who blocked the entrance to Platform Nine-and-Three-Quarters. It was Dobby that hacked the Bludger’s spell matrix and set its priority list to Potter. All to get Harry out of Hogwarts. Harry’s ready to murder Dobby, and probably a vast majority of readers are behind him at this point – but then this happens:
Dobby smiled weakly.
“Dobby is used to death threats, sir. Dobby gets them five times a day at home.”
No, that’s okay, I didn’t need those feelings anyway. You can take them.
After dropping some foreshadowing and exposition, Dobby departs, just in time for Harry to see the latest victim of the Heir of Slytherin and get undeniable proof of the Chamber’s existence: Colin Creevey. He’s been turned to stone, his camera pressed to his face and the film vaporized, which is really a microcosm of Colin Creevey’s entire life if you think about it.
CHAPTER 11: THE DUELING CLUB
One of the things I’ve always liked about Harry is that the moment he learns something, he shares it with the Hogwarts Speculation Club5. Find out that the Chamber of Secrets has been opened once before? The Speculation Club is on the case! Or sometimes he’ll do some speculating of his own, and while he may not plan to jump to conclusions, often he takes a tiny step forwards and there conclusions are. Then, of course, he takes it to the Hogwarts Overreaction Club6. The Polyjuice Potion needs some time yet, so they gossip around the fire for a bit before they realize that they need to steal some ingredients from Professor Snape, and thus concludes the meeting of the Hogwarts Worst Idea Ever Club7.
Ladies and gentlemen, let me talk to you a bit about Severus Snape’s teaching style.
Severus Snape, as much of a massive unfair jerkface as he is, actually respects his craft. Potions is a dangerous class, and he tells us this from practically word one: There is no foolish wand-waving, and he can teach you how to bottle glory and stopper death.
Because it is such a dangerous class, he doesn’t tolerate any stupidity. One wrong move for a lot of these potions, even the early “safe” ones, could cause a great deal of harm. You’ll notice that he takes lengthy precautions to have an antidote prepared for anything that may go wrong – when Goyle’s cauldron explodes and everyone gets splashed with Swelling Solution, he has a Deflating Draft already waiting on his desk.
That’s not to say that Snape isn’t an irritating, self-righteous bigot who displays clear House favoritism and still hasn’t gotten over being “friendzoned“, because he very much is: if wizards wore fedoras Snape would have twelve. He’s a horrible man, but he’s a master at his craft.
Nobody in their right mind would be so vapid and delusional to try to rope Snape into a plan to make himself look even greater in the eyes of the public –Oh. Right.
There’s something rather poetic about how, of all the teachers in the school, it ends up being the one who, for all intents and purposes, loathes Harry and all he stands for and the one who treats the act of preparing children for adulthood vis a vis not getting dead as a publicity stunt who end up teaching Harry the very spell that fits his personality and fighting style to a T. In the unfortunate yet cathartic demonstration that leaves Lockhart slumped against the wall, Harry sees Expelliarmus.
Can we talk about Expelliarmus? I mean, really talk about it? Because here’s the thing about most Dark Wizards and Death Eaters and blood bigots – they think everything is about magic. Everything that comes from Muggles is beneath them, and there is a magical solution to everything. Might makes Right, and all that. So when you have a Death Eater that is so used to terrorizing the masses and slaughtering hapless civilians left and right, when you take that wand away they don’t know what to do. Most of them don’t learn any fighting styles that don’t use wands, and a vast majority of them don’t even have a backup weapon like a poisoned knife or an assault rifle.
And then you have Harry, who grew up with Muggles. Who learned how to think on his feet and adapt to the situation, who has his mother’s sense8 and his father’s sense of mischief. Who abhors violence and killing and finds it very difficult to even muster up the hatred necessary to cause someone else pain. Then you give him a spell that allows the threat level of pursuers to be drastically reduced, if not outright negated, without causing any unnecessary harm or accidental deaths. Is it any wonder that people consider it to be his signature spell?
In short, it’s precisely the kind of tool that a generally peaceful, if a bit snarky, champion of misfortune would love completely. That, and the ability to talk to snakes.
“So?” said Harry. “I bet loads of people here can do it.”
“Oh, no they can’t,” said Ron. “It’s not a very common gift. Harry, this is bad.”
“What’s bad?” said Harry, starting to feel quite angry. “What’s wrong with everyone? Listen, if I hadn’t told that snake not to attack Justin–“
When I first read this chapter, years and years ago, I was floored. Harry talking to snakes was one of the first things we saw him do, and at the time we thought it was just another sign of accidental magic popping up just in time to trigger the Hogwarts letters. Harry didn’t think anything of it at the time, and neither did we – a genius move that keeps us able to relate to Harry’s perspective.
But no, it turns out that Parseltongue is a rare gift that belongs to the darkest of dark wizards, one that Salazar Slytherin once possessed. That’s bad. The frogurt is also cursed.
So it’s no wonder that all of his classmates start avoiding Harry like the plague. Or worse, like he’s the Heir of Slytherin, responsible for the attacks on Mrs. Norris and Colin Creevey. And now Justin thinks that he set the snake on him, and so does the rest of the school.
Basically, Harry’s having a horrible, terrible, no-good, very bad day. And when he finally catches up with Justin, he’s ready to have it out–
–except someone got to him first. Justin has been Petrified, and so has Nearly-Headless Nick.
And Harry’s there. And Peeves discovers the scene.
And suddenly Harry’s being dragged to see Dumbledore, after being found in the precarious position of once again being alone at the crime scene, with no alibi, and an alleged motive to boot.
- Whether or not they realize they are and summarily make changes to stop being so are crucial points of their character.
- Way back in high school, because we’re all keeping track. Goblet of Fire had just come out, and I read through all four in short order and then re-read them six times before Order of the Phoenix was released when I was in college, and I discovered the joys of Amazon’s same-day-release pre-order guarantee, a practice I would continue for Half-Blood Prince and Deathly Hallows.No lines! No forced human contact! Only a twelve hour delay from when my friends who attended midnight-release parties, plus I got to sleep in and start with a fresh mind and a big smoothie from Jamba Juice. Sure, I had to avoid the internet that entire morning, but I was able to sit myself in my favorite chair, tell my parents I was dead to the world for the next six hours, and tear through the entire book in one sitting, because I could then talk about it online with my friends who were doing the exact same thing.
That’s the thing I miss the most about the series having ended. No longer being able to take the day, surround myself with sustenance, and experience a thousand pages of suspense and delight for the first time. Nothing since has ever come close to that.
- There are large swaths of Buffy‘s sixth season that I choose to ignore ever existed. This has absolutely nothing to do with anything.
- Heights I can deal with. I just don’t want to fall from them.
- Ron and Hermione.
- Ron. And sometimes Hermione.
- Ron. With very few appearances by Hermione.
- Well. Sometimes. When Hermione’s there to remind him to use it.