Revisiting Harry Potter: I have nothing to say about Grawp

I’m not going to do a big post defending Harry because nobody on this readalong is saying Harry doesn’t deserve to get angry. Everyone who minds this book just says that reading about Harry yelling at everyone all the time is not fun. Which, fair enough. I do not mind it but I can see why a person would.

Isn’t it kind of heartbreaking, by the way, to see who Harry does and doesn’t lose his temper with in this book? He stomps all over Ron and Hermione because he doesn’t consider them an emotional flight risk. But he hardly says a single angry word to any of the adults in his life — not Mrs. Weasley, not Dumbledore until the very end, not Sirius, not Lupin, not Hagrid. That gives me sad feelings for Harry, y’all. Adult love and protection should not feel so fragile to him.

Anyway, sorry to have missed last week but here I am now to feel feelings and say things. This book. This one here. It grieves my heart to see everyone so unhappy, yet I do love the moral complexity that starts getting shaded in as soon as this pervasive evil and fear settles over the wizarding community. Nice people do not-nice things, like Seamus Finnigan not believing Harry, and Mrs. Weasley basically taunting Sirius for being falsely imprisoned for most of his life, and oh my God, Percy writing that letter to Ron. That’s the shittiest letter ever, and like Hermione I felt an upsurge of affection for Ron when he tore it all up. I just like this book a lot because good people do bad things without bad intentions, and later they will have to figure out how to fix their mistakes, and that is a thing I enjoy reading about.

So here’s a fun debate for us to have: Who is worse, Umbridge or Voldemort? Captain Hammer says Umbridge! I say, eh, they’re both pretty bad, but at least Voldemort doesn’t pretend like he’s doing you a favor by torturing you. Umbridge’s blood-quill writing lines punishment is maybe the creepiest thing to me in this entire series. It’s at least in my top five, up there with that thing that happens to the Muggle Studies professor in the seventh book. I think they’re just as bad as each other, and I hope Umbridge got put on trial for war crimes or whatever at some point. I don’t care if it’s in a kangaroo court! She deserves a kangaroo court!

(Grumble grumble grumble. I don’t really want Umbridge tried in a kangaroo court. I want her to have a fair trial. I believe in a proper justice system, dammit, even for people who are genuinely terrible. (I’m looking at you, Charles Taylor.))

If I weren’t going to love the fifth book for any other reason, I would love it for Dumbledore’s Army. That is my favorite Hermione idea in all of history (I mean, that one plus the jinxing thing). This?

“Don’t sit there grinning like you know better than I do, I was there, wasn’t I?” he said heatedly. “I know what went on, all right? And I didn’t get through any of that because I was brilliant at Defense Against the Dark Arts, I got through it all because — because help came at the right time, or because I guessed right — but I just blundered through it all…You think it’s just memorizing a bunch of spells and throwing them at him, like you’re in class or something? The whole time you know there’s nothing between you and dying except your own — your own brain or guts or whatever — like you can think straight when you know you’re about a second from being murdered, or tortured, or watching your friends die — they’ve never taught us that in their classes, what it’s like to deal with things like that — and you two sit there acting like I’m a clever little boy to be standing here, alive, like Diggory was stupid, like he messed up–“

I love Harry for saying all this. He’s spent most of the book so far feeling only put upon, thinking so much about what he’s done and earned and deserved (which is true), and it’s great to have him acknowledge that yes, it’s accurate that he did all those things; but yes, it’s also accurate that a lot of his survival is owed to circumstance and not skill. I just love this scene — and Hermione, she’s the best and responds to this tirade perfectly — for letting those two things sit side by side.

Dumbledore’s Army is a great idea because it’s a great idea, and it’s a great idea because it grows Harry up a lot in a hurry. The founding of the D.A. doesn’t mark the end of Harry being shouty in this book, but it does force him to realize that helping other people and building them up makes him feel better than screaming at them. And also, just, it’s nice seeing Harry be a leader a little bit. That’s not really his thing, but he does an awesome job. HARRY. I like for him to live that thing Dumbledore said about the wizarding world being only as strong as they are united. True facts, Dumbledore.

Next week: I defend Sirius with some personal anecdotes from my own life.

Revisiting Harry Potter: Goddammit, feelings!

Seriously, I’d have said that by this time, thirteen years since I read Goblet of Fire for the first time, I would be inured to how heartbreaking the last couple of chapters are. But here I am, thirteen years older and still wiping away tears when Harry tries to give his winnings to Mrs. Diggory. Why does Harry always try so hard to do the right thing?

Goblet of Fire is my second-to-least favorite of the seven books, my least favorite still being Chamber of Secrets. However, unlike in Chamber of Secrets, everyone in Goblet of Fire appears to be knocking themselves out to remind me why and how much I love them. Even people I don’t love that much. Like Percy! Don’t y’all love the part where Percy splashes out in the water to get Ron? It’s the nicest thing we ever see Percy do. This is the moment I would always point to when the Family and I would discuss, from the fifth book onward, whether Percy was irredeemable. We all knew Percy was going to turn out okay, didn’t we?

Or Hagrid. Oh Hagrid. When Rita Skeeter turns her evil green eyes on Hagrid, I want to put her in a cage with twelve Blast-Ended Skrewts and then set off a firecracker. You back off, lady. I know Hagrid makes people’s lives a little hard in this book with the Blast-Ended Skrewts, but honestly — and I hope Future Jenny remembers it this time, because I tend to remember them as being a major plot point in the book, which they really are not — they’re hardly a problem for anyone at all. When set against the awesomeness of the moment where Hagrid throws Karkaroff up against a tree for disrespecting Dumbledore, they aren’t even a blip on the radar. I do love those rare occasions when J.K. Rowling reminds us that Hagrid is a dangerous guy. That side of him never makes an appearance around Harry, whom he loves, but man. You would not want to be Karkaroff right then, amirite?

You know how later on in the series, Harry discovers that he’s destined to kill Voldemort? And he has a lot of talks about it with Dumbledore and eventually he realizes that because of what his life has made him, he wouldn’t back away from that even if he could? You know how Dumbledore sort of steers him around to realizing that this is true of him? I think if you had to pinpoint a time when it became true of him — like the day that it became inevitable that he was going to kill Voldemort — it would be this evening right here:

Lying in the darkness, Harry felt a rush of anger and hate toward the people who had tortured Mr. and Mrs. Longbottom…He understood how they had felt…Then he remembered the milk-white face of the screaming boy and remembered with a jolt that he had died a year later…

It was Voldemort, Harry thought, staring up at the canopy of his bed in the darkness, it all came back to Voldemort…He was the one who had torn those families apart, who had ruined all those lives…

And Harry is so brave and decent in this book. He and Cedric do not deserve the brutal consequences of their decency. They deserve a shiny prize and a big pile of Galleons. I got chills so intense I had to put on a sweatshirt when they were arguing about who got to take the cup. It’s such a good scene because the maze has felt very high-stakes the entire time, and all of a sudden they get Portkeyed to the graveyard, and that is JK Rowling’s way of telling us, You think you’ve seen stakes? You don’t know from stakes.

Finally, credit where credit is due, even though I never want to give Snape credit for anything because he is terrible, it’s insanely brave what Snape does at the end of this book. The way Voldemort so casually says He will be killed, of course — it’s not like Snape doesn’t know that’s what Voldemort would have said — but still Snape doesn’t even blink when Dumbledore sends him off to, for all he knows, die. Damn, Snape. I don’t want to praise you ever. This should be the only time it’s really necessary. I’ll have some sad things to say, but nothing else praisey.

Parenting Harry, Molly Weasley edition: Molly damn Weasley. I love her enormously. She’s so great. She shows up for Harry as a surprise before the third task, and, and, she refuses to badmouth the Dursleys in front of him even though they are obviously terrible. But mainly, she comes sit by Harry after he’s been through hell, and she tells him it wasn’t his fault, and she hugs him like a mother. I teared all up. What, what, what would we do without Mrs. Weasley? She sometimes tries to shelter Harry too much, but she is good and well-intentioned.

Parenting Harry, Sirius Black edition: Sirius is eating Rats. Rats. He is living on rats so he can be on hand to keep an eye on Harry. That must be maddening because Harry is a dope and always wants to go investigate crimes instead of staying put in Hogwarts and keeping his grades up. All of Sirius’s letters to Harry make me happy. Slash sad. Because Harry is a dope who doesn’t take his own safety seriously.

Sirius was sending daily owls now…He reminded Harry in every letter that whatever might be going on outside the walls of Hogwarts was not Harry’s responsibility, nor was it within his power to influence it.

If Voldemort is really getting stronger again, [he wrote,] my priority is to ensure your safety. He cannot hope to lay hands on you while you are under Dumbledore’s protection, but all the same, take no risks.

Aw, Sirius. I know that if you had your way, you’d be taking Harry out for awesome, like, wizardy expeditions every school holiday. Instead you are living as a dog, eating rats, and Harry is in near-constant danger, and you have to always be telling him to just stay focused on his own stuff and not go wandering off to address the ongoing problems of the wizarding world. Sirius is also, as Dumbledore mentions to Harry at some point in the book, a regular correspondent of Dumbledore’s. In my imagination, that means that Sirius has a big stack of copies of the same letter, which he sends to Dumbledore every Monday:

Dear Professor Dumbledore:

It looks like once again Harry has been placed in mortal danger on your watch. You are awful at keeping him out of mortal danger. Please try harder.

Best,
Sirius Black

P.S. He is all I have in the world.

Damn, y’all. It wrecks me when Harry comes back from Voldemort, and absolutely everyone is being careful and kind with him because they want so badly to help, but there is nothing they can do because the unimaginable trauma they wanted to protect him from has already occurred. Poor Dumbledore. Poor Sirius. Poor Mrs. Weasley. And everyone. It is heartbreaking.

Incidentally, if you are fixing to complain about Harry’s behavior in the fifth book, you are wrong. If you have any posts in the drafts folder right now where you get mad at Harry for shouting at people in the fifth book, please do the following: 1) remember your own adolescence; 2) reread the last few chapters of Goblet of Fire in which Harry goes through a super-horrific ordeal; and then 3) reconsider your position.

Revisiting Harry Potter: David Tennant is crushworthy and that is my final word on the subject

Hands up everyone who Goblet of Fire was the first book you waited for the release of. It was for me! When I finally got my greedy little hands on it, I stayed up late, late into the night reading it. Then I had nightmare after nightmare regarding snakes and KKK wizards. This was before I met my friend Nezabeth’s snakes, of course. I am now quite fond of snakes and would sort of like to have one as a pet. I wouldn’t use it to kill people like Voldemort does.

Goblet of Fire is so dark. It’s murdery from chapter one, and then there are so many little dark horrible details. You see the Dark Mark for the first time; and when Mr. Weasley talks about how the Dark Mark would appear over your house after the Death Eaters had killed someone there — that’s so evocatively creepy. And what’s good about the whole nighttime scene following the Quidditch cup is the way it makes you realize what everyday life was like when Voldemort was in power the first time. Everything’s fine, you’re camping, watching some Quidditch, playing with matches; and then abruptly, everything is very very not fine. And that’s what the English wizarding world’s life was for ten years. It sheds so much light on the way everyone reacts to the mention of Voldemort — from Mrs. Weasley’s boggart, to Crouch’s superintense crazy-eyes loathing of dark magic, to Fudge’s blank denial.

I love the way this book sets up Percy’s assholery in the next one. He is awful, and if I’m honest, I was hoping he’d die in the climactic battle. I felt like the Weasleys weren’t all going to make it, and I wanted Percy to be the one to go. It would have been lovely for him to come back, repent, then get killed. I know it would have been a smidge predictable, but so is the death we see in the sixth book, and it would be predictable in a way that would be heartbreaking to the characters and would not feel manipulative to me in the way that it feels manipulative when the person who dies instead of Percy, dies.

(I’m trying to be better about major spoilers for future books, because Meg reminded me she hasn’t read the whole series yet. Derp.)

You know what I hate about this book that isn’t its fault at all? I hate it that sometimes people in this country will say, “Who’s David Tennant?” and I am reduced to trying to get them to remember him in the fourth movie, where he has about two seconds of creepy, creepy screen time. And then my interlocutor will be like, “Oh. You have a crush on him?” I have a crush on him with the brainy specs. And getting the side-eye from Rose because he’s eating jam straight from the jar with his fingers. And this, man.

Here is the thing I can’t ever forgive Snape for. Also some stuff with Neville, but mainly this:

[Ron] forced Hermione to show Snape her teeth — she was doing her best to hide them with her hands, though this was difficult as they had now grown down past her collar. Pansy Parkinson and the other Slytherin girls were doubled up with silent giggles, pointed at Hermione from behind Snape’s back.

Snape looked coldly at Hermione, then said, “I see no difference.”

Hermione let out a whimper; her eyes filled with tears, she turned on her heel and ran, ran all the way up the corridor and out of sight.

Ugh. Seriously, it is one thing for a teenager to bully another teenager (though that is also bad!), and it is altogether another thing for a grown-ass man in a position of power to bully a fourteen-year-old girl. That is not how adult people should behave. Once when I was fifteen I went and deliberately scared the hell out of a twelve-year-old — who really deserved it because she and her snotty friends had been bullying a girl in their class who was a little slow, and I was trying to get her to stop because it was upsetting Social Sister — and I felt really guilty about that (I used my words! I didn’t, like, push her up against a wall with a knife to her throat or anything). Even though I was on the side of justice, and I was only three years older instead of twenty. Snape can go eat a bag of dicks.

Parenting Harry, Molly Weasley edition: I’ll have more on this next time I post, since Goblet of Fire is the book where Mrs. Weasley makes the full transition to being Harry’s stand-in mother. For now I would just like to compliment the letter she writes to the Dursleys asking if Harry can come to the World Cup. It’s extremely courteous and responsible-sounding. It sounds like the sort of letter my mother would have written to one of my friends’ parents when I was fourteen. Props, madam. Many props to you.

Parenting Harry, Sirius Black edition: Sirius is so great in this book. As soon as Harry writes to say his scar’s been hurting, Sirius is like, Sit tight, I’ll be there in a minute, and comes to Hogwarts from Africa or wherever and doesn’t leave for the whole rest of the book. I just love everything he does in this book. Like how every time Harry starts fretting about Sirius’s safety, Sirius gently reminds him, It’s not your job to worry about me, kid, it’s my job to worry about you. And in case you’re in doubt about whether this brand of reassurance is helpful to Harry, allow the text to support my position:

He couldn’t deny either that the idea that Sirius was much nearer was reassuring.

Plus:

Harry thought of Sirius, and the tight, tense knot in his chest seemed to ease slightly.

Aw, Harry. Aw sweetie. You are brave and great and you deserve the nicest, coolest, helpfullest parents in all the land.

I also super love about Sirius Black that he — unlike everyone damn else — is straight with Harry about what’s going on. Honestly, the other adults in Harry’s life err way way way on the side of babying him and keeping him in the dark, to Harry’s ultimate detriment. I think it’s great that Sirius doesn’t try this on with him. He hedges everything with a lot of, Dumbledore’s looking out for you, I’m here looking out for you, but still he doesn’t try to hide it from Harry that there are some scary, bad things going on and Harry needs to be cautious. And — again, unlike some of the other adults in Harry’s life — he’s respectful of the fact that Harry’s pretty capable for a person of his age. Viz. this letter:

I know better than anyone that you can look after yourself, and while you’re around Dumbledore and Moody I don’t think anyone will be able to hurt you. However, someone seems to be having a good try. Entering you in that tournament would have been very risky, especially right under Dumbledore’s nose.

Be on the watch, Harry. I still want to hear about anything unusual.

(emphasis mine)

I love it when people are respectful of Harry (see also, everything Dumbledore says to and about him in the last few chapters of this book). Remember how maddening it was as a kid when grown-ups would assume you didn’t know anything and weren’t capable of doing anything just because you were young? And how they would act like the really valid points you were making (like “I fought off Voldemort two years in a row like a damn champ”) were not worth their time to think about just by virtue of the fact that you were younger than they were? And if you, like, alphabetized a filing cabinet correctly it was like the adults had witnessed a miracle? So, I like it that Sirius, without stepping back from his plans to do what he can to help and protect Harry, also acknowledges that Harry is braver and awesomer than regular fourteen-year-olds. Because he is, and he deserves credit. He fought Voldemort off two years in a row like a damn champ.

I’ve noticed a lot of anger with Ron flying around this readathon. Do I need to do a big Defense of Ron post? Is that a thing that needs to happen? Or can we just be satisfied with asking where on earth you think Harry would be without Ron. He’d be curled up in a ball on the floor of the Gryffindor common room. FOREVER.

As a final note, don’t you love how happy Harry looks on the cover of this book? He’s like, I’ve got this golden egg! Hooray! I guess you can make the case that this picture portrays the moment at which he’s just finished the first task, but really, it’s kind of misleading as to the actual contents of the book. Because Harry spends most of this book miserable and scared.