Once upon a time, JK Rowling sat down to write the longest, most saddest and depressing book in the universe. She had it all planned out. First, she would isolate her hero to the breaking point. Then she would introduce the world’s most evil villain. She would have her hero overcome only to be stepped on and pushed down into the ground even further. The end of the book, well, that was going to be heartbreaking and intense and difficult, and not unlike a rollercoaster careening out of control and threatening to kill everyone aboard. But first before she did all that, she wanted to write about some kids taking some tests. It turned out pretty good, I think.
Oh, Hagrid. Hagrid, Hagrid, Hagrid, Hagrid. WHY.
I mean, I know why. Maybe it’s just because I’m watching Battlestar Galactica right now, and it’s the episode where they introduce the concept of ‘projection,’ but I can’t help but feel that Hagrid lives his life in a constant state of his own type of projection.
For those of you not familiar with BSG (and shame on you!), projection is an ability the Cylons have to influence directly their perception of the world around them. They want to see a lush forest surrounding them instead of the drab gray walls of their spaceship? Boom. The forest is there. They literally see it as if it were real. This of course is in itself a metaphor for the way that all people allow their beliefs and assumptions and wishes and desires to influence the way they interpret the world around them. I say that Hagrid projects not because I think he willfully deludes himself or because he is refusing to believe something deep down he already knows, but rather because his deeply ingrained belief in the goodness and beauty of dangerous creatures — and perhaps moreso his personal identification with their “misunderstood” and “monstrous” natures — leads him to see things differently than other people. He wants to believe Skrewts are harmless, that raising a baby dragon in a wooden hut is possible, that he can teach a giant to speak English and live among humans. He wants to believe it so badly that his mind interprets the evidence to fit into his worldview. And yes, this optimism is the sign of a kind heart, but it’s also the thing allows him to ignore real signs of danger.
And don’t think I’m passing judgment on Hagrid, because I’m not. First of all, because like I said above, we all project the world somewhat based on our wants and expectations, and depending on the person and the situation, that’s either good, bad, or somewhere in between. It’s called ‘perspective.’ But also: because we need kind fools like Hagrid (and Firenze and Dumbledore) to project versions of the world that are better than reality, because maybe one day reality will live up to their expectations.
All of that is to say that this is the chapter we meet Grawp, Hagrid’s “little” brother. (But first, some other stuff happens, too.)
Speaking of people changing their circumstances, most Hogwarts students (and teachers!) are trying their damndest to keep Fred and George’s legacy alive (in the case of the swamp in the corridor, quite literally). Not only does Umbridge have to clean up Fred and George’s lingering messes, but the other students are now following their lead, playing pranks, interrupting classes, taking a shit-ton of Skiving Snackboxes when in Umbridge’s class, and just generally causing mayhem. And in one of my favorite moments of the books, Peeves takes Fred and George’s request to “Give her hell from us” very seriously:
“But not even the users of the Snackboxes could compete with that master of chaos, Peeves, who seemed to have taken Fred’s parting words deeply to heart. Cackling madly, he soared through the school, upending tables, bursting out of blackboards, toppling statues and vases; twice he shut Mrs Norris inside a suit of armour, from which she was rescued, yowling loudly, by the furious caretaker. Peeves smashed lanterns and snuffed out candles, juggled burning torches over the heads of screaming students, caused neatly stacked piles of parchment to topple into fires or out of windows; flooded the second floor when he pulled off all the taps in the bathrooms, dropped a bag of tarantulas in the middle of the Great Hall during breakfast and, whenever he fancied a break, spent hours at a time floating along after Umbridge and blowing loud raspberries every time she spoke.”
And this isn’t just hilarious. It’s having a very real affect on the shape of Umbridge’s days, which are now mostly spent putting out fires all over Hogwarts (literally and figuratively). It’s pissing her off, which probably means she’s going to blow soon, but in the short-term, I bet it just feels fantastic. As the DA discovered, actually doing something to change things makes a world of difference.
Harry, meanwhile, is still dreaming of the mysterious corridor. The one that, according to everyone Harry has ever met, he should not be dreaming about ever. But even Sirius and Lupin’s warning that Occlumency is the most important thing Harry should be worrying about doesn’t deter him. He has now admitted to himself that he wants the dreams to continue because he’s curious. And this is where Dumbledore’s plan backfired, because I’m convinced if Harry knew the full and complete reason why Dumbledore was hiding things from him, Harry would have respected his wishes. Instead, armed with only the vague information he’s picked up second-hand from the Order, Harry doesn’t see the harm in indulging in the heretofore harmless visions. In fact, dreaming of the corridor once saved Mr. Weasley’s life, and as far as Harry’s concerned, that’s justification enough. The same situation + two different sets of experiences and information = two completely different perspectives. Dumbledore projects his own course of reasonable actions onto Harry, and assumes Harry will follow suit.
Another interesting case of projection is Ron and his Quidditch. The older he gets, for me, the more interesting he becomes. As a kid in the very first book, he made it clear that he felt overshadowed by his older brothers, but as he’s grown older we’ve seen physical evidence of it. Ron is a capable Quidditch player (in fact, he’s probably capable at a lot of things he’s never even bothered trying at because of the mistaken idea he’d never be good enough). He might even be great. Ron’s problem is that he doesn’t believe that he is a capable Quidditch player, and he allows his own fears and the outward signs others give (Malfoy and the Slytherins’ cruel baiting, Fred and George’s teasing, for instance) to affect him to such an extent that he actually believes himself to be what they say he is. This is interesting, especially in the case of Fred and George, who are teasing by nature, and who actually probably think Ron’s pretty cool, even if they would never say it to his face. The problem with this is that Ron is incapable of distinguishing their intent from their actions, and with someone with self-esteem issues as Ron has, that’s a dangerous combination. That’s why Ron’s Quidditch win and the turning around of “Weasley is Our King” is so great. It’s not just about Quidditch. It’s about Ron finally getting out of his own way.
Of course, Harry and Hermione miss Ron’s breakthrough entirely because Hagrid chooses the Quidditch match as the perfect distraction for taking two students into the Forbidden Forest to introduce them to a giant. A giant, might I add, who he basically kidnapped and is now holding captive.
It’s a mark of just how important Grawp is to Hagrid that he pays little to no attention to how difficult a time Harry and Hermione have trekking through the Forbidden Forest. By the time they reach Grawp’s clearing, their robes are torn, and they have scratches everywhere. And then we learn:
- Hagrid is afraid he’s going to get the sack any day now, and he’s probaby right. Umbridge has it out for him.
- Hagrid is keeping a sixteen foot giant in a clearing in the Forbidden Forest.
- Grawp is his half-brother. Because Grawp is “small for a giant” he got bullied by the other giants, so out of “protection” for Grawp, Hagrid forced him to come back to Hogwarts.
- He wants to make sure someone visits Grawp, continues trying to teach him English. He thinks if he can teach Grawp manners he can show people he is “harmless,” and that maybe then he can live among humans. (!) He says this with blood dripping down his nose from just having been injured by Grawp.
- Hagrid wants Harry and Hermione (and Ron if he’ll help, too) to continue visiting Grawp so that he knows they want him to stay.
- Grawp responds by ripping up a tree.
To repeat my earlier phrasing, it’s a mark of just how much Harry and Hermione love Hagrid that they agree. Although, to be fair, I don’t actually think either one of them ever intended to come visit Grawp again, especially after what happens with the Centaurs.
Ah, yes. The Centaurs.
In response to the second war with Voldemort and the treatment they have received in the past from wizards, the Centaurs have closed ranks. When Firenze, the most levelheaded of the bunch, deigns to help out humans, and worse, peddle Centaur secrets, they tried to murder him. We of course side with Firenze and Hagrid, but I think it’s interesting to consider why the Centaurs are acting in this way. From their insulated perspective, with their history, their actions make sense. They interpret everything as a threat, a betrayal, an insult, because that is what they expect to see. Firenze is the only one who is able to widen his perspective and interpret their circumstances with a different set of guidelines, ones that have everyone’s best interests in mind. (See above conclusion of about kindhearted fools.)
- The moment where Hermione asks if they should say something regarding Montague’s mysterious sojourn reads as incredibly ominous in hindsight (Fred and George shoved him into the Vanishing Cabinet, which was broken back in Chamber of Secrets when Nearly Headless Nick persuaded Peeves to drop it on the floor above Filch’s office, and was some time after the Montague incident stored in the Room of Requirement). If they had said something, things might have turned out very differently. Maybe someone from the Order, even Dumbledore, could have figured out the connection between the two vanishing cabinets and thus prevented the Death Eaters from entering Hogwarts in HBP. Of course, a likely outcome of this is that Malfoy quite possibly would have been murdered by Voldemort, or else, Snape would have found another excuse to kill Dumbledore, on Dumbledore’s orders. Bill’s life would have been different, anyway. Less rare steaks in his future.
- Harry finally confesses that he gave his Triwizard winnings to Fred and George.
- I once won a Harry Potter trivia contest by naming the four centaurs who appear by name in the series. You know, not to brag or anything. Three of the centaurs (Firenze, Bane, Magorian) appear in this chapter, but I cannot now for the life of me remember the fourth. Oh! Ronan! BOOM. Roasted!
– – –
So I chose these chapters because I love reading about fictional characters going to school, and especially, taking exams. And look, I do realize it’s really weird that I enjoy it so much. And I enjoy it not just a little, but like, A LOT. It makes me giggly with joy. I hoped by writing about this chapter that I would maybe be able to figure out WHY I liked it so much. I thought maybe I had some deep-seated need to be told what to do. Or maybe I just liked learning stuff. Or I just really miss school (this one is suspect, as I liked reading about it when I was still in school, so it might be more accurate to change this supposition to “I like school”). And some or all of that might still be accurate.
But really, what it all boils down to is that I am a huge fucking nerd. And that’s something I knew already, so . . . let’s stop thinking so hard and just enjoy the hell out of this chapter, why don’t we? (Mostly talking to myself here.) But before we immerse ourselves fully in my nerdery, let’s take a moment to appreciate the bromance that is Harry and Ron:
” . . . What?’ Ron asked, having stopped mid-sentence at the look on Harry’s face. ‘Why are you grinning?’
‘I’m not,’ said Harry quickly, and looked down at his Transfiguration notes, attempting to straighten his face. The truth was that Ron had just reminded Harry forcibly of another Gryffindor Quidditch player who had once sat rumpling his hair under this very tree.”
I just love that. I LOVE IT SO MUCH. Harry comparing Ron to his father . . . just friendship ❤ ❤ ❤ ❤ <3.
But Harry and Hermione have to interrupt Ron gushing about his win and being a famous Quidditch player and everything in order to tell him that they didn’t see him do anything. They had to go into the forest with Hagrid to meet a giant instead. At first, Ron is pretty angry and you can tell he’s about to have a Ron blow-up, but their story makes him forget because it is UTTER MADNESS, and by the end of it he simply says “[Hagrid’s] lost his mind.” What’s really scary is that Hermione responds with, “Yes, I’m afraid he has.”
So back to nerdery.
The fifth years are hardcore prepping for their OWLs, and like Hagrid, they are all steadily losing their minds. Ernie has taken to interrogating people about how many hours of studying they get in per day. There is a flourishing on the “black market” for illegal magical study aids, one of which Ron and Harry almost pay an arm and a leg for before Hermione consfiscates the product and informs them that no, it wasn’t dragon’s claw, but powdered doxy droppings. Blech. Even Harry and Ron, who hate studying and avoid it as much as possible, are sucked in. This paragraph gives me panic flashbacks to my own finals cramming, and especially to studying for my Master’ Exams (shudder):
“Meanwhile, Ron was reading two years’ worth of Charms notes with his fingers in his ears, his lips moving soundlessly; Seamus Finnigan was lying flat on his back on the floor, reciting the definition of a Substantive Charm while Dean checked it against The Standard Book of Spells, Grade 5; and Parvati and Lavender, who were practising basic Locomotion Charms, were making their pencil-cases race each other around the edge of the table.”
I remember staying up half the night doing Latin declensions on the white board in my dorm’s study hall, getting loopy with my friends and ordering subs and chili at three in the morning (the joys of living in a college town, ya’ll). I remember frantically trying to cram dates and names in my head for temporary memorization, and then writing them down on my exam as soon as it was handed it to me so I could just purge them from my memory (like Harry, I’m awful with little details like that. I probably would have failed History of Magic, too). I remember that horrible blank feeling you get as you’re studying, like no matter how much time you have (and you never have enough) you won’t be able to put it all in there, that feeling that when you sit down to take your exams, everything will pour out and you will finaly realize how horribly and truly stupid you really are. And studying for my Master’s exams. Just . . . unbelievable pressure. So yeah, the studying was eerily accurate and made me feel uncomfortable, but it’s the only part of this chapter I don’t outright love, mostly because it’s so true to life.
But back to the fun!
Exams will take two weeks, and they are bringing in outside examiners, including old Griselda Marchbanks. They arrive the night before exams begin, and the Trio overhear Marchbanks asking Umbridge where Dumbledore is, as if to goad her. This makes me immediately like her. One by one, subjects are knocked off. They sit the theoretical written exams in the morning, the practicals in the afternoon, proctored by one of the examiners. Harry does okay in all of his subjects, good in most, and absolutely aces Defense Against the Dark Arts. Old Professor Tofty asks him in a hushed voice to do the Patronus Charm, and Umbridge just happens to be standing right there when he does so. He leaves that exam thinking:
“Unless he was very much mistaken (and he was not planning on telling anybody, in case he was), he had just achieved an ‘Outstanding’ OWL.”
Hermione, meanwhile, is experiencing the Hurricane Sandy of bad moods, but I don’t mind because then we get this gem of a line from Ron (muttered discretely under his breath, of course):
“Such a lovely, sweet-tempered girl.”
Neville and Harry both do better than expected in Potions due to lack of Snape, which is verrrry interesting, I think. Snape should rethink his life choices. I mean, spoiler and everything, but it probably would be sort of futile? Because he’ll be dead in two years anyway? Still. Might be worth it anyway.
And then Umbridge pulls probably her Umbridgiest stunt yet. In the middle of their Astronomy exam, Umbridge and several others (including her pet Auror, Dawlish) head over to Hagrid’s and proceed to sneak attack him. Firing wasn’t good enough for Hagrid. Nope. She had to go to his house in the middle of the night and, what? Try to arrest him? No idea on what charges, but I’m sure she had some. But the worst part of all of this (besides their exam getting interrupted and NOBODY FINISHING THEIR EXAMS DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA HOW MUCH ANXIETY THIS CAUSES ME) is that when McGonagall comes storming out of the castle to find out what in the hell is going on, she gets Stunned in the chest by four different spells and drops like a sack of rocks. It’s at this point that even old Tofty and Marchbanks, who had up until then been trying to maintain order and get the students to concentrate on their exams, express their outrage. Marchbanks is flabbergasted that no one even gave McGonagall a warning, just four Stunners to the chest, and at her age. They don’t get Hagrid, though, as Stunning Spells bounce right off of his giant’s blood. He escapes on foot, with an unconscious Fang draped over his shoulders.
Which means Dumbledore, Hagrid, and now essentially McGonagall have gone from Hogwarts.
Because they spent almost the whole rest of the night riled up by the Hagrid/McGonagall/Umbridge incident, Harry falls asleep in his History of Magic exam, but instead of dreaming of troll peace conferences or whatever, he dreams about the corridor, and this time he can feel it. He’s going to get what he wants. And sure enough, he gets farther into the Department of Mysteries than he ever has before . . . only to find that his dream sojourn ends by learning that his dream self (so . . . Voldemort?) has got Sirius captive, and will soon be torturing him to get what he wants. Harry wakes up screaming and falls onto the floor. Here comes the shit.
- Angelina Johnson notes that Hagrid has been teaching much better this year. This makes me happy because THANK GOD.
- It was Lee Jordan who was putting the Nifflers in Umbridge’s office. He levitated them in through the window, and feels bad Hagrid was getting the blame.
- I want to go to Hogwarts and take my OWL exams and then wait for my grades to show up at my house by owl post in July. I would definitely get O’s in Charms, Care of Magical Creatures, and Transfiguration. I would cross my fingers for Defense Against the Dark Arts, but I can see myself reluctant to do any spells that might hurt people (so like, stunning and stuff). I would probably barely pass History of Magic and Astronomy. Maybe I would do okay in Astronomy if I studied SUPER hard. And I’m telling you what I would ACE THE FUCK out of Divination, because unlike those idiots Harry and Ron, I would totally make up believable predictions. I would probably fail Potions. Wellll, maybe not. But I might have an aneursym studying for it. And end up miraculously with an E anyway, because that has been my experience with science-y type shit. I would maybe take ancient runes because LANGUAGE, but you could not pay me to take Arithmancy. Fuck no. Magical math is probably ten times as hard as regular math. BLEH. So if you’re paying attention, that’s five O’s, two E’s, and two A’s.
- I WANT TO GO TO HOGWARTS.