Most of these two chapters — which I assigned to myself at random, by the way — consist of Harry and Ron trying to wrap their heads around all the stuff that is happening*. And since these also happen to be the chapters where all the remaining pieces of the plot fall into place (right before the denouement, where we learn how all of those pieces fit together), that means a TON of stuff happens. Way more stuff, in fact, than I was expecting, having seen the movie a million times (in the movie, these two chapters are essentially boiled down to two sequences).
*Hagrid’s word, not mine. Hilariously.
It’s really interesting for me to read these books with the intention of writing about them. Normally, I just let myself get lost in the story, turn my brain off, and enjoy the ride. I must have read this book at least ten times (probably quite a bit more than that, actually), and during all those reads, I never once stopped to think of these chapters and how they fit into the rest of the book structurally. Perspective is weird, you guys.
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CHAPTER 14: CORNELIUS FUDGE
Where last we left off, Harry had just learned via magical fuckery that Hagrid was supposedly the one who opened the Chamber of Secrets, that the monster inside was large and had lots of legs, and that he had been expelled for his troubles. Also, importantly, that Riddle seemed only to turn him in when he realized that Hogwarts would be closed if the attacks weren’t stopped.
Harry, Ron, and Hermione spend the first part of this chapter trying to come to grips with this new and extremely disturbing information, trying to rationalize the Petrifying and kiiling of Muggle-borns with the image of their large but kindhearted friend. I don’t have very vivid memories of reading this book for the first time, but I do remember the feeling of physical dread I got at the possibility that Hagrid had even been remotely involved in something so awful. It just didn’t feel . . . right. And the trio seem to feel the same way. After talking it over with the Hogwarts Speculation Club (thanks for that, Kevin), they reach a sort of understanding. Hagrid, obviously, is NOT the Heir of Slytherin, but instead, seems to have been drawn to the monster for the same reason that he’s drawn to ANY monster, and danger (and the death of a student) followed in his wake. Harry speculates:
“And if, as a boy, Hagrid had heard that a monster was hidden somewhere in the castle, Harry was sure he’d have gone to any lengths for a glimpse of it. He’d probably thought it was a shame that the monster had been cooped up so long, and thought it deserved the chance to stretch its many legs . . . “
This is the only explanation they can wrap their heads around. It is unfathomable to them that someone so inherently kind could ever be wrapped up in such nasty business on anything more than an incidental basis. They feel it in their guts that something just isn’t right with their explanation (and the whole crappy situation), but it’s the best one they’ve got. They also make two questionable decisions: not to tell anyone else of their discovery (in order to protect Hagrid), and not to confront Hagrid unless and until there are any more attacks. (In Ron’s words, “That’d be a cheerful visit . . . Hello, Hagrid. Tell us, have you been setting anything mad and hairy loose in the castle lately?”)