I am going to start out this post by confessing something: It is not a coincidence that I am writing about these chapters. I abused my privilege as sitemaster (or whatever my title is) and gave them to myself as a present. I just needed to, okay? Chapter 10 is one of my favorite chapters in the series, which is important because it marks the moment that I really fell in love with this series. Other chapters are better in retrospect, but I’ll always remember vividly the feelings I had the first time I was reading it, like, what is it that I am holding in my hands? It’s like picking up a coin that’s covered in dirt, carrying it around in your pocket for a couple of weeks, and then finally realizing that what’s under the dirt ain’t no quarter like you thought, but a shiny gold doubloon or something equally as golden and magnificent (not that this has ever happened to me, mind you, but I have pirates on the brain from listening to Hans Zimmer while writing this). It’s like finding hidden treasure in something you already own.
Which is an apt metaphor, considering that for the majority of this post I will be talking about things being uncovered and discovered.
– – –
This is the point of the book where Harry has to worry about everything and nothing is solved and what is going on. Let’s list it out: Sirius Black is on the loose, he can’t go to Hogsmeade because of the stupid Dursleys and because of said mass murderer on the loose, his broomstick is dead and gone, he lost his first ever Quidditch match, he’s the only one who faints when Dementors come near and he doesn’t know why, the Grim is following him around and he’s too freaked out to tell anyone, and then, well, this chapter happens. It’s a good thing he’s so adaptable, because DAMN, listing it all out like that? I’d need a rubber room and some soft pillows to bounce against for a while*.
*I might be a bit unclear about what actually happens in mental hospitals. Thanks a bunch, movies.
At least one of Harry’s worries is put to rest soon after the chapter starts. He confesses to Lupin that the screams and voices he’s been hearing whenever Dementors are around are his mother’s last moments. That he can motherfucking hear motherfucking Voldemort killing his parents. I mean, my God. I always glossed over that bit when I was a kid, but stopping to actually think about it? What a traumatizing thing. Lupin agrees with me, when Harry voices his concerns:
“Dementors are among the foulest creatures that walk this earth. They infest the darkest, filthiest places, they glory in decay and despair, they drain peace, hope, and happiness out of the air around them. Even Muggles feel their presence, though they can’t see them. Get too near a Dementor and every good feeling, every happy memory will be sucked out of you. If it can, the Dementor will feed on you long enough to reduce you to something like itself — soul-less and evil. You’ll be left with nothing but the worst experiences of your life. And the worst that has happened to you, is enough to make anyone fall off their broom. You have nothing to feel ashamed of.”
We also get a small hint that Lupin knew Harry’s parents in his reaction upon hearing Harry’s confession. I’ll mostly leave this for the lovely person who gets that reveal, but I do want to say that for Harry (and for us) having James and Lily’s friends around makes them real people for the first time. And especially for Harry, they’re living reminders that his parents did exist and were people in their own right. They’re not just faceless symbols of something he’s lost — they had fears and hopes and dreams and they fought and loved and joked around and broke rules. So Lupin (and Sirius) are reminders of that, in addition to acting as surrogate fathers for Harry. But Lupin is also the first step in lifting the veil not just on Harry’s parents but the whole mythology surrounding them. There’s this whole mess of crap mixed up in there that we had no idea about until Lupin and the Marauder’s Map showed up. Ah, yes. The map.
Human beings have a thing for maps. There are whole fields of scholarship devoted to and around mapmaking, both of the traditional and non-traditional varieties. We make maps of countries and cities. We map the brain. We make emotional maps. We make fictional maps — treasure maps, maps of imaginary places. To plan something is to “map it out.” Maps imply knowledge and purpose, they lay out options, and often, give directions. The world didn’t exist for most people until it was put on a map. I could go on.
The thing about being human is that we’re pretty much limited in what we can perceive in any given moment. We can only see so far and remember so much. Maps record that knowledge and put it in perspective, for use now or in the future.
All of this is to say that it’s no wonder people latch so hard onto the Marauder’s Map when reading this book. It’s not just a map, it’s a magical map, and it doesn’t just show places, but people, too. If the only thing the Marauder’s Map did was show the castle’s secret passageways, that would be cool enough, but it’s enchanted so well that it can even see Dumbledore pacing in his office — it can even see past magical disguises . . . cough cough. I’m not going to claim humanity has the same level of common obsession for secret passages that I did for maps, because I just don’t have the data to support that claim, but I will say that I am obsessed with them. There is some primal part of me that deeply enjoys believing there is always more under the surface, that there’s always hidden secrets everywhere, and you can find them if you know where to look. And when that obsession is validated, I lose my damn mind.
That’s my favorite part about the Marauder’s Map (I mean, besides the fact that it was created by the Marauders WHO I AM OBSESSED WITH) — that even while it lifts the veil on the mysteries of Hogwarts, it does so in a way that doesn’t diminish the mystery. It’s a map to mystery. It’s a way to know things you shouldn’t know that makes you want to know more. You know how as soon as you learn how a magic trick works, it becomes instantly boring? Well, it’s pretty much EXACTLY THE OPPOSITE OF THAT.
Anyways, Fred and George have been using it to commit magical mayhem, and now they feel it’s time to pass on the torch.
“Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot, and Prongs,” sighed George, patting the heading of the map. “We owe them so much.”
“Noble men, working tirelessly to help a new generation of lawbreakers,” said Fred.
Little do they know that Harry is quite literally the heir apparent for said new generation of lawbreakers. So of course he immediately uses the map to sneak into Hogsmeade through a secret passageway that connects the hump-backed statue of a witch to the cellar of Honeydukes, luckily just in time to prevent Ron from buying him some Cockroach Cluster.*
*Seriously, wizards!? COCKROACHES IN YOUR CANDY? WHO THOUGHT THIS WAS A GOOD IDEA.
And this is when I fell in love.
Ron and Hermione take Harry over to The Three Broomsticks for his first ever Butterbeer* and just after he’s finished chugging it down, Butterbeer dripping down his chin, McGonagall, Flitwick, Hagrid, and frickin’ Cornelius Fudge walk in the door. Hermione and Ron push Harry under the table and pull a tree in front of them before he can be seen, which leaves all three of them in an excellent place for eavesdropping. Fudge invites Madam Rosmerta over for a drink and a chat and before anybody knows what’s happening, Fudge is spilling the beans about old Sirius Black as Harry listens, flabbergasted, from the floor. He listens as Fudge tells Rosmerta (with interruptions from Flitwick, McGonagall and Hagrid, of course) that they never would have guessed Sirius Black would turn out to be a Death Eater, that his best friend was James Potter, and they were closer than brothers (and possibly rivaled the Weasley twins for the title of most troublesome students). He listens as the adults go on to reveal that not only was Sirius his father’s best friend, but his best man at Lily and James’s wedding, and he is also Harry’s godfather. He listens as Fudge then spills a secret not widely known: It was Black who betrayed the Potters to Lord Voldemort the night they were murdered. He was their Secret Keeper and was thus the only person that could have betrayed them.
*I just feel like everyone should be aware that since I’m writing this in my bed it is apparently an invitation, and my cat is now straddling my right arm with her entire body and purring up a storm. It is very cute but also annoying and I am having a hard time typing this.
For me — and I know I might be alone in this, having already had several Twitter-fights about the subject over the years — there is nothing as satisfying as exposition done well. This is one of the reasons I love the Harry Potter books so much, is because nobody does exposition (or infodumps or backstory or whatever you want to call it) like Jo. When they’re done right, they don’t feel like they’re intruding on the narrative or like the information is just being shoved in there to get it out of the way. When they’re done right, they read like something the characters would actually talk about in real life. For a great example of exposition done wrong, see the first chapter of City of Bones — Clary just so happens to overhear some Shadowhunters explaining their own world to themselves (“This is what a demon is!”), even though they already know all about it, and it is extremely ridiculous and convenient. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you’re probably better off.* This scene isn’t Jo’s best, and Madam Rosmerta is obviously there as a vehicle for Harry to learn this information, but I DON’T EVEN CARE. The first time I read it, I certainly didn’t. And what we learn is so powerful, and has so many far-reaching consequences for Harry that it’s almost inconsequential how he learned it.
*I would like to take a moment to apologize to Dan for this aside because I know he really loves the Mortal Instruments books. Sorry dude 😦
The thing about fictional revelations like this is that they completely overturn conceptions we’ve had about the story so far. Just like with my endless talk about maps and secret passageways, Harry and Ron and Hermione are uncovering something here that has been hidden from them until now, and which will effect almost everything that comes after. And just like with the discovery of secret passageways, the uncovering of this information also makes us wonder, what else is there here for us to discover? And that’s definitely something you want your readers to be feeling, that excitement for the narrative. As Neil Gaiman has said on multiple occasions, there’s nothing more important for a story than a reader asking, “What happens next?” Plus it gives us our first glimpse of these guys:
This scene, of course, pales in comparison to later of her exposition-reveal-all-everything-yes! chapters, for instance the one coming up at the end of this book, but I will always think fondly of it for providing me with that moment of clarity that made me fall in love with this series.
The chapter ends with Ron and Hermione peering down at Harry, who is still sitting under the table. None of them have words. Because that picture above has just been turned into the one below:
How can that become this? The tragedy and the fascination and the sorrow surrounding all four of the Marauders is a huge part of why this book resonates so much with me, and Harry’s discovery in the Three Broomsticks is just the beginning of it.
- Wood tells Harry that he doesn’t blame him for what happened, “in a hollow, dead sort of voice.” I love Wood. (TWSS.)
- I’m curious to know what you guys thought of all The Grim Red Herrings in this one. I’m pretty sure even on my first read they didn’t fool me. I don’t know if it was just because I’m such a savvy reader, or I’d already caught on to Jo’s tricks by then. It always worked more as an illumination of Harry’s character for me rather than something that I was supposed to take seriously as a threat to Harry’s life.
- The detail about Dementors draining wizards of their powers if they’re left with them too long is just breathtakingly perfect the longer I think about it.
- “I solemnly swear that I am up to no good.” “Mischief managed.” Have more beautiful words ever been written?
- The thing about Hermione is that she’s not really a child as much as she is an adult in the body of a child. She’s missing that carefree sense of invulnerability that Ron and Harry especially seem to have in such abundance. Her wanting to hand in the Marauder’s Map to McGonagall in case the teachers didn’t know about the secret passageways and Black was using one of them to get in (which, he was — two of them, actually) was spot on. It also foreshadows her turning Harry and his new Firebolt in in the next chapter.
- The Fidelius Charm – so fucking cool. Secret Keeper. Genius. I’d be curious to see if this spell has any precedent in fantasy. I’ve never heard of anything like it before (of course, that doesn’t really mean much — I haven’t read every book ever published after all).
- I promised myself I wouldn’t complain about the reveal scene in the movie, but honestly? It sucks. It was about 30 seconds, nothing was actually explained, nothing about Secret Keepers or anything about them being friends, and Julie Christie was so obviously thrown in there it felt so incredibly forced. Every time I watch and she says “Now tell me what this is all about,” I want to throw myself onto the floor and scream. Why couldn’t they have kept it as it was in the book? You know, when it was plausible and not awkward?
– – –
There’s a lot of little stuff that happens in this chapter, and it’s mostly transitional. The only exception is the titular Firebolt, which shows up mysteriously at the foot of Harry’s bed on Christmas morning. Harry and Ron’s brains explode, of course, and it’s only Hermione that tut-tuts her way through the rest of the day.
Christmas at Hogwarts is even more deserted than usual as most parents don’t want their kids away from them on the holidays with a murderer on the loose and Dementors frittering around the grounds. Harry stays, of course, but Ron and Hermione only stay to keep him company. Actually, that ties into the main thing I want to talk about in this chapter, which is the subtle politics of teenage friendship. This is something that Rowling gets so so right in all of these books. The intense feelings, shifting loyalties, and cause and effect reactions common to adolescent friendships are magnified tenfold in a school setting, and especially a boarding school. She gets all the dynamics right, between Harry and the general school, between Harry and the Gryffindors, and any other permutation you could think of. But what I’m most interested in is the complicated relationship between the Trio.
Friendship is on Harry’s mind anyway as he starts the chapter out obsessing over the fact that his parents died because their best friend betrayed them. His reaction is scary to me — and much more effective than the movie’s version of this — because it’s so quiet. He just lays in his bed and seethes with hatred for Sirius Black. This whole thing pushes a lot of his buttons — he’s not just upset because of what happened, although that is HUGE part of it, but also because friendship is something sacred to Harry, having not had it until very recently. It’s also telling that Harry relates what happened to Peter Pettigrew to his own friendship with Neville. He is directly relating his own life and friendships to what happened with his parents in the past, and the revelation is hitting all that much harder because of it.
Ron and Hermione know Harry very well by now and have prepared for his reaction to the news by the time he gets up the next morning. They know he’s on the warpath and prepared to do something very rash. Harry, in turn, recognizes that they rehearsed ahead of time talking him out of it. Harry’s anger is exacerbated by Ron and Hermione because he feels they don’t understand at all what’s happening to him, and it’s incredibly frustrating for him that they don’t because he so very badly wants someone to share in that pain with him, not because he wants other people to hurt like he does, but because sharing any emotion with a friend, however painful, makes us feel less alone. Hermione is just concerned for everyone’s safety and wants to make sure nobody does anything rash. Ron is a little bit more in tune with Harry’s emotions, but he gets riled up when Harry hints that he might take Malfoy’s advice instead of his own (“Malfoy knows . . . if it was me I’d want revenge”). Everybody’s priorities in this scene (and the ones that follow) are running in completely different directions, and the result is beautiful emotional chaos.
“D’ you know what I see and hear every time a Dementor gets too near me?” Ron and Hermione shook their heads, looking apprehensive. “I can hear my mum screaming and pleading with Voldemort. And if you’d heard your mum screaming like that, just about to be killed, you wouldn’t forget it in a hurry. And if you found out someone who was supposed to be a friend of hers betrayed her and sent Voldemort after her–”
“Your mum and dad wouldn’t want you to get hurt, would they? They’d never want you to go looking for Black!”
“I’ll never know what they’d have wanted, because thanks to Black, I’ve never spoken to them.”
Ron suggests visiting Hagrid in order to distract Harry, which of course Hermione thinks is a bad idea, so that makes Harry want to do it more. Hilariously, he is manically determined to use the opportunity to needle Hagrid mercilessly about why no one ever told him his godfather was a murderer, but all their plans are put on hold when they find Hagrid sobbing and bereft about Buckbeak. The Committee for the Disposal of Dangerous Creatures has bowed to Lucius Malfoy, and Buckbeak will be executed if Hagrid can’t defend him (which he says won’t happen, as the Committe has it out for dangerous creatures and will likely killl him anyway, what with being in Malfoy’s pocket). Seeing Hagrid’s very real pain trumps Harry’s anger finally and the Trio end up putting away their own baggage to console Hagrid, who is not only upset about Buckbeak, but that no one likes his classes (“We like them,” says an unconvincing Hermione, “How are the flobberworms?” asks Ron. “Dead, too much lettuce,” says Hagrid) and that he has to walk by the Dementors every time he goes into Hogsmeade for a drink.
Harry, Ron, and Hermione are horrified and fascinated to hear Hagrid talk about being in Azkaban, information again which they weren’t privy to. He talks about how horrible it was in there and what happened to him and what it does to the other prisoners, and Ron doesn’t understand how the Dementors could do that to Hagrid if he’s innocent. Hagrid shakes his head at Ron’s naivete:
“Think that matters to them? They don’ care. Long as they got a couple o’ hundred humans stuck there with ’em, so they can leech all the happiness out of ’em, they don’ give a damn who’s guilty and who’s not.”
This is important because it suggests that dementors are going to be a huge problem in the future, that they don’t have the same value system as wizards, and that an inscrupulous person who was willing to give them what they want could easily get them to switch sides.
Hagrid’s emotional pain let the Trio set aside their own priorities momentarily, but they soon rear their heads again at the end of the chapter, when Harry — who is sitting gazing lovingly at his beautiful new Firebolt — spots McGonagall and Hermione coming into the Gryffindor common room. Where she proceeds to confiscate his new toy. Ron and Harry are outraged, even before they learn that it was Hermione who tipped off McGonagall.
Even if she did it for a good reason:
“Because I thought — and Professor McGonagall agrees with me — that that broom was probably sent to Harry by Sirius Black!”
Harry and Ron — blinded by their love of the Firebolt, and both taking it as a given that the number one rule of friendship is that you don’t fuck around with stuff your friends love, no matter what — do not understand Hermione’s actions. Hermione, practical and mature, takes a wider view, and with the exception of denying that Crookshanks has it out for Scabbers, she’s usually right. Still, it’s easy to see that there’s about to be an explosion on the Ron/Hermione front, and soon.
Other notable chapter happenings:
- Ron laughing hysterically about Malfoy’s face when he learns Harry has a Firebolt makes my heart happy.
- Dumbledore swapping his wizard’s hat for the one from the cracker topped with a stuffed vulture . . . I love that man.
- The overwhelming hints that Harry is about to die continue with Christmas dinner and Trelawney predicting either Harry or Ron will be the first to die because there were thirteen of them sitting at the feast. This turns out to have no significance in the long run, even though Harry does technically die, because the first to die at that table was actually Dumbledore. Trelawney is a huge fraud.
- The Sneakoscope makes a small appearance on Christmas morning, and I definitely think it keeps responding to Scabbers. Nobody else in the room is untrustworthy. (Earlier in the book Ron had dismissed it saying that it kept going off at dinner, a dinner at which Scabbers was present, even though he blames it on Fred and George putting beetles in Percy’s soup).