Revisiting Harry Potter: I guess now we have to say nice things about Scrimgeour

I decided to do all Disney gifs for this post. Why? Because as usual this readalong is making me feel a lot of feelings, and most of my feelings for the first Deathly Hallows post are wrathful feelings. And Disney makes me feel happy feelings.

Exhibit A: Rita Goddamn Skeeter

How dare she. I get so angry when I read the excerpts from her rotten biography. Righteously angry! With much stomping around and wishing I had her here in my living room. You know what especially pisses me off? I will tell you. It’s when she calls his relationship with Harry “unnatural”.

Yeah, lady, we know what you’re implying with that. I hope Voldemort kills your mother.

(Oh God, I don’t hope Voldemort kills Rita Skeeter’s mother.)

Exhibit B: All these times JKR acts like she’s going to kill Hagrid

Hagrid launching himself off the motorcycle onto a Death Eater to save Harry is of course what would really happen. This is why Hagrid was top of my list for people who were not to die in the seventh book. In fact, this is the part of the book where, when I read it for the first time, I was writing stuff down as I went, and my notes for page 57 of the book (which is where it starts getting super tense with Hagrid and the Death Eaters) say:

I just flipped ahead a few pages to make sure that Hagrid was going to survive.  JK Rowling has a heart of stone and this ISN’T FUNNY.

Yeah, it’s not funny. I have enough emotions. I do not need them to be toyed with. But oh, when they get back to the Burrow, and everyone’s talking about loose lips and how they sink ships, and Harry takes a stand for trusting the people he loves. Once again with Harry making his moral choices. He decides he’s not going to be the guy who’s constantly suspicious of all his friends. He’s going to be like Dumbledore and not like Moody. That’s awesome, Harry. That’s the person you should want to be. Which brings me to:

Exhibit C: Lupin

When did he morph into such a mean jerk? He used to be so chill and calm and sensible, and now he’s all like,

in this book. Slamming Harry into walls and whatnot. Did it happen the instant he put a baby in Tonks, was that the moment? I appreciate that he was there to save George, but I hate it how he’s all “Kill people instead of disarming them!” and “Don’t trust your friends!” Ugh. My love for him started to die in these moments. Shut up Lupin. Go do something nice for your wife instead of looking grumpy and wrathful every time she speaks to you. Or if you can’t do that then, like, go tell your past self how to use a condom.

Not an Exhibit: Ron defending Ginny

Okay, I don’t know what Ginny’s birthday present for Harry was supposed to be ALTHOUGH I HAVE SOME IDEAS AND THEY ARE ALL BLOW JOBS, but I think it’s really sweet how Ron comes find Harry and tells him to knock it off. That’s nice because sometimes in the past Ron has been like awkward big brother sexual protector role, which I hated, and I like it that here he’s just saying, “Do not fuck with my little sister’s feelings.” Yay Ron. Harry shouldn’t fuck with Ginny’s feelings. You are correct.

Exhibit D: Scrimgeour crashing another Weasley party

What is with Scrimgeour’s perpetual crashing of Weasley parties to harass Harry? He can’t come on a different day than party day? First at Christmas and now Harry’s very sweet first-ever (right?) birthday party. And I’m all,

But it avails me nothing because here he is trying to bully Harry and Hermione and Ron. Spoiler alert, Scrimgeour, that has never worked. I feel like when you know three people who have faced down Voldemort and his army of Death Eaters and lived, you should probably come at them with bigger guns than just, like, your angry lion face and a whole lot of self-justification. I don’t actually have to say nice things about Scrimgeour and I’m not going to. Obviously it was not helpful to Harry for Scrimgeour to die without revealing his location, because the Death Eaters are at the Burrow in like twenty seconds.

Speaking of which, is there anyone who read “The Ministry is fallen. Scrimgeour is dead. They are coming,” and didn’t start going,

Because that’s what I always do.

And finally, Exhibit E: Voldemort

I know this is predictable. But really, Kreacher’s story about Voldemort “needing an elf” is just — man, Voldemort is an awful, awful person. I always think about how that could just as easily have been Dobby if Voldemort had gone to the Malfoys first. And the Malfoys might not have said “come back” and Dobby could have died right then and never have been free. Meanwhile I like it that Hermione’s not just carrying on and on about house-elves — finally, the people are paying attention to her. Word. I mean they should have been listening to her all along, but we’ll take what we can get.

Next up: The Ron-Harry-Hermione road trips that everyone hates!

Revisiting Harry Potter: “I am not worried, Harry. I am with you.”

Oh the feelings. Oh I have them. I was reading the end of this book on one end of the couch while Miniature Roommate was reading Good Omens on the other hand, and every time she laughed at something in Good Omens, I would think she was laughing at me for crying. And in my mind I’d be all, THIS BOOK IS SAD OKAY? But I didn’t say it out loud because I recognize that would be irrational. But this book is hella sad.

I forgot how Harry-Dumbledore-heavy the last part of this book is. All my notes on rereading it are about Harry and Dumbledore, although this could reflect my own bias, because I love those two hanging out. They’re my fave. Y’all should be prepared for smoke to come out of my ears when Rita Skeeter tries to make insinuations about Dumbledore’s affection for Harry.

I just with Harry and Dumbledore and they’re friends and they hang out and with the feelings–

Ahem. I’ll try that again.

How pleased and proud are Harry and Dumbledore at each other when Harry finally gets that memory from Slughorn? I love how Dumbledore is all tired when Harry walks in, and then when he finds out about the memory he just lights up at Harry and is so proud, and — this is huge to me — he tells Harry he can come destroy the next Horcrux they find. I’ve said before that I love for people to be respectful of what Harry’s capable of (he’s capable of a damn lot), and Harry getting this respect from Dumbledore of all people just means everything.

When they actually do go get the Horcrux, I love that we get to see Dumbledore in action as the Best and Cleverest Wizard of them all. For most of the series, we only hear about what Dumbledore can do, long after he’s already done it. We know he is definitely the Best and Cleverest Wizard, but I like seeing him prove it. It was awesome watching Dumbledore fight Voldemort in the fifth book. The Horcrux hunt is a different kind of awesome, more methodical, like watching a pro chef recreate a recipe for a dessert he’s only had one bite of. It’s extra great because Dumbledore acts about as chill as if the stakes in all of this were whether the dessert was going to come out delicious. That is how Dumbledore rolls.

Greatest thing Dumbledore ever says in this entire series:

“No, Draco,” said Dumbledore quietly. “It is my mercy, and not yours, that matters now.”

Damn. Just about to die and he knows it, and this is what he has to say. I mean, you would name your kid after this man, wouldn’t you? This is the man you name your kids after.

I am realizing belatedly that I should have had a feature in this readalong called “Oh Neville”. Because, Neville.

“We were in trouble, we were losing,” said Tonks in a low voice. “Gibbon was down, but the rest of the Death Eaters seemed ready to fight to the death. Neville had been hurt, Bill had been savaged by Greyback…It was all dark…curses flying everywhere…The Malfoy boy had vanished, he must have slipped past, up the stairs…then more of them ran after him, but one of them blocked the stair behind them with some kind of curse…Neville ran at it and got thrown up into the air–“

Of course he did. Of course he got hurt but still ran after a huge group of Death Eaters alone. Oh Neville.

I know nobody in this readalong likes the Harry-Ginny pairing, but I actually do. Ginny is widely agreed to be awesome, and unlike some of y’all, I love Harry a lot as well. They are both clever and resourceful and they have shared interests like Quidditch and fighting evil. Seems reasonable to me. I was okay with them breaking up (I see the narrative usefulness of that), but this?:

“It’s been like…like something out of someone else’s life, these last few weeks with you.”

This tears at my heart. “Someone else’s life” = “everything doesn’t all the time suck”. On the other hand:

“We’ll be there, Harry,” said Ron… “At your aunt and uncle’s house, and then we’ll go with you wherever you’re going.”

“No–” said Harry quickly; he had not counted on this, he had meant them to understand that he was undertaking this most dangerous journey alone.

“You said to us once before,” said Hermione quietly, “that there was time to turn back if we wanted to. We’ve had time, haven’t we?”

“We’re with you whatever happens,” said Ron.

YOU THREE.

The Adulting of Harry Potter

But he understood at last what Dumbledore had been trying to tell him. It was, he thought, the difference between being dragged into the arena to face a battle to the death and walking into the arena with your head held high. Some people, perhaps, would say that there was little to choose between the two ways, but Dumbledore knew — and so do I, thought Harry, with a rush of fierce pride, and so did my parents — that there was all the difference in the world.

This. Just, this. You kids these days and your heroism.

Revisiting Harry Potter: Dumbledore has a purple suit and psychic paper

Oh God, it’s so wonderful to have Hogwarts back to normal. I never realize how miserable Umbridge’s reign at Hogwarts was really making me until I get to the sixth book and McGonagall’s bossing everyone around without a mean toad lady going “Hem hem” at her shoulder all the time. Yes, Snape is teaching Defense against the Dark Arts, and yes, I think that blows and also, isn’t it sort of irresponsible of Dumbledore to keep giving that job to people when it’s plainly jinxed? Like, couldn’t he knock the subject of Defense against the Dark Arts on the head and invent a brand new subject called, like, Nefariousness Prevention, and get around the jinx that way?

I want to call Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince “The Book in which Harry is Right”. I love it when Harry’s right, and usually if there’s a conflict between him and Hermione, Hermione’s going to win. But not in this book! In this book Harry gets to be right on a number of different occasions, and Hermione gets to screw up. It’s not that I don’t like for Hermione to be right — I do! But it’s also good to see that she’s not infallible. She sometimes fails at sneakiness, and she sometimes resists available evidence that points to a conclusion she does not wish to reach. Such as that Harry is right about Malfoy, in particulars as well as just the general thing of Malfoy being Up to Something.

In the ongoing Harry-Dumbledore buddy comedy that is Book Six, Harry ribs his buddy-comedy-buddy for his fashion sense sixty years ago — props, Harry, there’s no reason for anyone of any time period to wear a purple velvet suit while not being Oscar Wilde. Or maybe Dumbledore’s just wearing it to alarm the orphanage superintendent who is so fond of gin. I cannot blame her. I am fond of gin myself, and I do not have daily responsibility for a tiny magical psychopath. If I did, I would probably drink quite as much gin as this lady does after Dumbledore does his psychic-paper spell.

I like the flashback of little Voldemort better than the flashbacks that involve the Gaunt family as a whole. Little Voldemort is just the right amount creepy, whereas the Gaunts are over the top if you ask me. If they’d lived a few decades into the future, I bet they’d have had their own reality show. They could have talked about Mudbloods and hissed at snakes, and all the wizards watching the show would shake their heads judgmentally and talk about what is wizarding television coming to these days.

Do you notice, by the way, that all evil wizards in this world seem to have the habit of doing mocking singsong voices as a sign of disrespect? Is that a thing? Voldemort’s grandfather did it and Bellatrix Lestrange is prone to it too, if you’ll recall. Either this is a thing they teach you in Taunting Class at Durmstrang, or JK Rowling’s sister used to do this to her on car trips and JK Rowling really, really hated it. Fair enough if the latter.

Are y’all fans of the incorporation into this book of hilarious romantic subplots involving Cormac McLaggen and Lavender Brown, whose name I inexplicably keep on typing as “Lavendar”? I AM. Ron’s defense of starting to go out with Lavender when he was supposed to be going to Slughorn’s party with Hermione is hilariously belligerent. In fact everything about the Ron-Lavender relationship is hilarious, from its onset to its eventual demise. Quidditch is apparently a great aphrodisiac in these books — Ron and Lavender are, ahem, not the only couple to start making out in the immediate aftermath of a successful Quidditch game.

I love everything about this exchange:

“But you are normal!” said Harry fiercely. “You’ve just got a — a problem–”

Lupin burst out laughing. “Sometimes you remind me a lot of James. He called it my ‘furry little problem’ in company. Many people were under the impression that I owned a badly behaved rabbit.”

Aw. Harry being loyal; us getting a non-douchey memory of James; Lupin laughing. Bless them.

The Adulting of Harry Potter

1. It rocks that Harry tells McGonagall (and Dumbledore, and everyone) what he suspects about Malfoy after Katie Bell gets attacked. McGonagall was obviously not going to believe him, but still, Harry has come a long way from the early books when he never told anything to anyone.

2. Asking Luna to Slughorn’s party is a delightful thing for Harry to have done. It’s extra delightful that he asks because he enjoys her company. As who wouldn’t, you know? He’s really clear with her about what the invitation portends (nothing romantic!), which is also good. And Luna’s response is so sweet and so completely Luna.

“Oh, no, I’d love to go with you as friends! Nobody’s ever asked me to a party before, as a friend! Is that why you dyed your eyebrow, for the party? Should I do mine too?”

Plus, when they’re at the party, Harry doesn’t ditch her and go hunting for other people to hang out with, as he did when he asked Parvati to the Yule Ball. He stays with Luna for the bulk of the party, and when he’s ducking out to eavesdrop on Snape he’s like, Hey Luna, I’ll be right back, okay? which is fine, because she’s engaged in a conversation anyway. Good job, Harry! Your social skills are coming along in leaps and bounds!

3. The conversation Harry has with Scrimgeour at Christmas might very well be my favorite bit of this entire series. I love how adorably obvious it is that Harry’s using Dumbledore as his model for how to behave with bullies. I love that his criticism of Scrimgeour is biting and on point and pretty calm even when Harry’s getting pissed. And, of course:

“Well, it is clear to me that he has done a very good job on you,” said Scrimgeour, his eyes cold and hard behind his wire-rimmed glasses. “Dumbledore’s man through and through, aren’t you, Potter?”

“Yeah, I am,” said Harry. “Glad we straightened that out.”

Never ever EVER gets old. Of course it is wonderful when Harry defends his belief and his people. But it is huge extra piles of awesome that he’s so consistently been a person who Will Not Abide with Your Bullshit, and now he’s the grown-up version of that person. Yay. I love Integrity Harry!

Revisiting Harry Potter: The Harry-Dumbledore Buddy Comedy Commences

Okay, “buddy comedy” may be putting it a trifle too strongly. But you know what I mean? When they go off to make Slughorn come to Hogwarts, and Dumbledore goes off to have a poop while Harry (metaphorically) seduces Slughorn with his fame, courage, and loyalty to Hogwarts? And Dumbledore’s all, “Knitting patterns! Well, we must be off,” and cracks wise about his jam preferences. (Raspberry jam is delicious; good call, Dumbledore.) All the trappings of a classic buddy comedy! (Ish.)

It is also about damn time someone told off the Dursleys for being terrible child-rearers. I don’t know why Dumbledore wasn’t keeping a closer eye on that situation. Couldn’t the wizarding world have taken up a collection to pay Petunia and Vernon for Harry’s upkeep? They’d still have been jerks to him but at least they would have been accountable to someone and Dumbledore could have stopped by now and then to stop them putting Harry in the cupboard under the stairs. But what’s past is past, I guess. I’m glad something was said about how awful the Dursleys are, and I’m glad that Dumbledore tells Harry he’s proud of him for how he’s dealt with losing Sirius.

How do people feel about the chapter with Snape and Bellatrix and Narcissa? Personally I do not care for it. I am pleased to know all the ways Snape has been explaining to Lord V. his behavior over the years, but I’d have preferred that information to come out slowly instead of in one big infodump. Also, are you extremely curious what role Snape played in Emmeline Vance’s death? I AM. Do you think it was the kind of situation where Voldemort had found out information about Emmeline from another source, and Dumbledore knew he had, so he had Snape give Voldemort basically that same information? Or do you think an element of self-sacrifice on Emmeline Vance’s part was involved? Inquiring minds want to know.

You know who sucks? Fleur. I think she’s one of those people who’s all like, “Oh, you know, I don’t really have any friends who are girls,” and she thinks the reason for this is that she’s so beautiful and other girls are jealous, but the real reason is that if there’s a guy around she immediately stops paying attention to her girl friends. I would deeply resent having to be her bridesmaid, if I were Ginny.

This book amps up the everyday scariness of Voldemort, which I appreciate — you don’t want a toothless villain! I always thought we were going to find out why Florean Fortescue got taken, but we never did. I guess we’ll have to wait for the Encyclopedia that JK Rowling better not have decided against because that would make me sad. I posit that it’s because Florean knew some information about History that Voldemort wanted (because remember he knew all about medieval witch-burnings in the third book?), and I guess if you’re Voldemort and you want to know something you abduct and torture an expert on that subject. That is the Voldemort version of going to the library.

(Like, it’s either that, or Voldemort stopped in for ice cream and Florean Fortescue spit in his milkshake.)

Fred and George’s joke shop includes this product:

“One simple incantation and you will enter a top-quality, highly realistic, thirty-minute daydream, easy to fit into the average school lesson and virtually undetectable (side effects include vacant expresion and minor drooling). Not for sale to under-sixteens.”

Not for sale to under-sixteens EH? Real talk for a second here, y’all: They’re sex daydreams, right? This is a sex product?

The Adulting of Harry Potter: I’m making this a feature for Book Six, because Harry has grown up so much since the last book, and I think it deserves its own special feature. Let’s compare some Harry behaviors to their equivalents in earlier books.

1. When Harry suspected Snape was up to no good in the first book, he didn’t tell anyone because he was all “We’ve got no proof!” When he suspects Malfoy is up to no good in this book, he tells everyone. It doesn’t do him any good — because everyone’s like, “You’ve got no proof!”, but still, way to go, Harry. If you see something say something.

2. He deals with his grief over losing Sirius like a MOTHERFUCKING CHAMP. Whereas with Cedric he couldn’t figure out a way to process what had happened (again I say, shouldn’t someone be in charge of slapping this kid into wizard therapy?), he admits to Dumbledore that he feels terribly sad about Sirius and misses having a parent but he knows Sirius wouldn’t have wanted him to just curl up into a ball o’ sadness, and that’s why he’s going to keep on fighting evil because it’s what he wants and what Sirius would have wanted.

(Truth. Also, sniffle.)

3. In the fifth book, a pretty girl finds Harry in the company of Neville and Luna and Harry wishes he could die. In the sixth when the same situation occurs, Harry’s like, “Piss off, these are my friends.” Plus:

“People expect you to have cooler friends than us,” said Luna, once again displaying her knack for embarrassing honesty.

“You are cool,” said Harry shortly. “None of them was at the Ministry. They didn’t fight with me.”

Damn straight, Harry. I am glad you and I have both come around to appreciating Luna’s charms. She was wasted on us both in the previous book.

Revisiting Harry Potter: Crying early and often

You guys. This book. How can everyone be so brave and good, and everything go so terribly wrong for them all the time? All through this readalong I’ve been excited to get to the final segment of Order of the Phoenix because, in my opinion, there is no finer set-piece throughout the entire series (and there are a lot of good set-pieces!) than the sequence in the Ministry. It is so fucking tense. Actually, this entire section of the book is fairly intense. Which is why this post is in a state of near-total incoherence and book quotes. Sorry. But, I don’t know what else could have been expected.

Like this? It is both scary and awesome.

Harry could see the tiny outline of Fang, attempting to defend Hagrid, leaping at the wizards surrounding him until a Stunning Spell caught him and he fell to the ground. Hagrid gave a howl of fury, lifted the culprit bodily from the ground, and threw him: The man flew what looked like ten feet and did not get up again.

RAWR. HAGRID. Really, as much as I hate the overarching Hagrid plotline in this book, it nevertheless shows everything that is good about Hagrid. How he is so loyal to his brother, even though it sucks for him, and how he is tough and scary in defense of the people he loves, and also at the end how good and kind and gentle and supportive he is with Harry over losing Sirius. Y’all, real talk, before the seventh book came out, I made a list of four people who absolutely must not die, and three of the four died, but the fourth was Hagrid, and if I’d had to choose only one of the people on my list to survive I’d have chosen Hagrid.

Exceptionally wonderfully, this section of the book brings up Harry’s “saving-people-thing”. Hermione, our emotional insight machine and frequent authorial voice, makes us all take a beat and address the fact that Harry, whom we love and admire for his heroism, is sometimes being heroic because he is very, very damaged.

“You…This isn’t a criticism, Harry! But you do…sort of…I mean — don’t you think you’ve got a bit of a — a — saving-people-thing?” she said.

What’s fantastic about this is that the books have never made you think about this — Harry’s been the archetypal hero, struggling along trying to do the right thing whenever he can — but once Hermione says it, you immediately recognize it as true. He exactly has a saving-people-thing. He lost his parents, he doesn’t want to lose anyone else — the kid’s got a saving-people thing. Everything Hermione says is right, and in this book, for the first time, it’s not serving Harry well. His saving-people thing is, cruelly, the reason Sirius dies. WHY, J.K. Rowling? WHY?

Anyway, this reread may have the record for how early on I started crying. Ordinarily I start crying when Harry’s facing the Death Eaters and he’s all alone, and Neville comes running down the aisle, all beat up and screaming that he’s still there to fight with Harry. (No lie, just writing that made me start crying.) But this time I started crying way sooner, viz., when:

“We were all in the D.A. together,” said Neville quietly. “It was all supposed to be about fighting You-Know-Who, wasn’t it? And this is the first chance we’ve had to do something real — or was that all just a game or something?”

Dammit Neville.

And look, I know y’all are maybe going to be angry at Harry for taking everyone to the Ministry and putting them in danger, but he had to — I mean, he had to, forget having a saving-people-thing, which he does, he had to go. He couldn’t not go. And once he’s there, and everything’s awful, I think he does a really good job of handling his shit. He figures out the leverage he has, and then he figures out a plan for getting them past all the Death Eaters, and he just does a really really good job with a shit hand of cards. I don’t care what you say, I AM PROUD OF HIM.

Oh how many tears did I cry? Many tears, friends.

But some part of him realized, even as he fought to break free from Lupin, that Sirius had never kept him waiting before…Sirius had risked everything, always, to see Harry, to help him…If Sirius was not reappearing out of that archway when Harry was yelling for him as though his life depended on it, the only possible explanation was that he could not come back.

GODDAMMIT. I don’t care about Ron! I wish Mr. Weasley had died and Sirius had lived and I do not care what you say! Ron has like sixteen thousand family members, and Harry has only exactly one. He needs his one family member, dammit! I wish Mr. Weasley had died! I wish it to infinity! I don’t care! I don’t care! I don’t care!

In case you couldn’t tell, I am writing this post approximately two seconds after finishing the book, and I haven’t yet cycled all the way through the stages of grief over Sirius’s death. I cried all the way through Dumbledore telling Harry how it was his fault what happened (and like, yes, Snape had to pretend not to take Harry seriously, but don’t you feel like any other person, i.e., anyone with a scrap of mercy for Harry’s feelings, would have figured out a way to indicate to Harry that he was going to take care of it? The kid is fifteen years old and you’re talking about the death of his only family member), and I cried when Harry found the mirror and when he talked to Nearly Headless Nick and then I cried extra when he talked to Luna, and I cried when the members of the Order came and threatened the Dursleys for him. Oh Harry.

My favorite moment of the fifth movie: When Sirius has come to save Harry at the Ministry, and Harry’s saying he wants to stay and fight, and Sirius says, “You’ve done beautifully. Now let me take it from here.” Totally destroys me. I don’t love those movies, but each of them has moments that make them worthwhile — and weirdly, it’s usually moments they haven’t pulled from the books.

The moral of the fifth Harry Potter book is: Good intentions will lead you to misery and awfulness. Excuse me while I throw away a handful of snotty Kleenex and proceed onward to the sixth book, wherein good intentions frequently produce good outcomes.

Thanks as ever to Alice for hosting this readalong!

Revisiting Harry Potter: Defending Sirius, Part 2

I will acknowledge the following up front: Sirius is a little pissy in this book. At one point, he is pissy to Harry, and it hurts Harry’s feelings. My thesis is that you would be too so dial down the judgment.

I’m going to take this to a slightly personal place right now. Bear with me. 2012 was an awful awful year, and the quality of its awfulness to my family was lots and lots and lots of unrelenting Life Stress. The quality of its awfulness to me, since I live far away, was lots and lots and lots of seeing people I cared about feel crappy, knowing that I possess qualities and resources that could help them feel a little less crappy, and not being able to employ those qualities and resources in pursuit of that end. Because I live thousands of miles away. Of course it was worse for them. They were the ones with all the shit going on. But it was not fun for me either. It made me cranky and sad and guilty.

Are you judging me for those feelings? Probably not, right? You are probably thinking of a time that you were not in a position to help your loved ones when they needed help, and how crappy it made you feel.

So now let’s imagine that instead of being a lazy layabout who is perfectly happy to lie on the couch and read for days at a time, I am Miniature Roommate, who after about three hours of a hurricane goes mad with cabin fever and starts flinging herself wrathfully about the apartment issuing jeremiads against the storm. And imagine that instead of being trapped in a pleasant-if-small New York apartment for a few days, it is a house where I was loathed my entire childhood by my screaming hateful parents, a house that still features some of the same people who made my life miserable as a kid, and those people are every day providing a large helping of the exact same verbal abuse I managed to escape from twenty years ago; and also there is no prospect of my being permitted to leave it, ever. And instead of all my favorite people facing regular life stress (albeit a disproportionate amount of it at one time), they are all out fighting evil. And not just fighting evil but also trying to conceal from the government that they are fighting evil because if the government finds out about the evil-fighting it will most likely chuck them into Depression Prison on trumped-up charges.

Do you suppose that under these circumstances I would show to best advantage? Do you think that you would? Or do you think that you’d probably be crazy stressed and likely to snap at people and get into arguments about stupid things and make a stand on even stupider things because you just really, really needed to feel like you were doing something for once?

And I agree. Sirius is not perfect in this book. He is not his best self. He’s sort of grumpy with Harry at times, and he shouldn’t have gone to the rotten train station (although, dog hug!, awwww), and there are moments at which he talks to Harry a little bit too much like an adult. I agree with you about that. However, I do not agree with anyone who would argue that Mrs. Weasley and Dumbledore are right to keep Harry in the dark (nobody in this readalong is arguing that, so hooray), and I strenuously disagree with anyone who is cross about Sirius urging Harry to form the D.A. Forming the D.A. is a genius idea that saves lives and turns Neville into the insane badass we all love so much. Way to go Hermione! Way to employ some judicious rule-breaking in pursuit of an important goal.

Here’s why you’re mad, friends. Sirius asks Harry if he can come to Hogsmeade to visit him next time they have a Hogsmeade weekend, and Harry says no, and Sirius’s feelings are hurt.

“You’re less like your father than I thought,” he said finally, a definite coolness in his voice. “The risk would’ve been what made it turn for James.”

“Look–”

“Well, I’d better get going, I can hear Kreacher coming down the stairs,” said Sirius, but Harry was sure he was lying. “I’ll write to tell you a time I can make it back into the fire, then, shall I? If you can stand to risk it?”

And yes, this is mean. That was a mean thing to say. Not the kind of thing a parent should say to a kid. But let’s maintain a normal amount of perspective. He snaps at Harry ONE. TIME. Do you know how many times I snapped at Mumsy and Social Sister last year? Like infinity! And parents snap at their kids all the time! Even the best parents in the world (mine) said unfairly critical things to us sometimes that totally hurt our feelings, and they were not under quite the same pressures that Sirius is under. And there is also this:

“I want you to take this,” he said quietly, thrusting a badly wrapped package roughly the size of a paperback book into Harry’s hands.

“What is it?” Harry asked.

“A way of letting me know if Snape’s giving you a hard time. No, don’t open it in here!” said Sirius, with a wary look at Mrs. Weasley, who was trying to persuade the twins to wear hand-knitted mittens. “I doubt Molly would approve — but I want you to use it if you need me, okay?”

I can’t even with this. It is totally merciless to write off Sirius completely for flaws he has in this book, and I say that as someone who used to love Lupin the best of all the characters and stopped completely because of that thing in the seventh book OH YOU KNOW WHAT I’M TALKING ABOUT. Sirius hurts my heart with how much he wants to do for Harry and how little he actually can do. If they launched an It Gets Better campaign for good children of dark wizards, the videos would be like, “Nothing gets better. It gets so much much worse. You will be in a torturous hell for the bulk of your adult life; your efforts in the fight against evil will regularly go for naught; and (spoilers) your eventual death will be a trauma and a ruin to the kid you love more than anything.”

Appendix A: A conversation I had with Social Sister when I was writing this post.

Jenny: I am writing up my Second Defense of Sirius Black right now
Social Sister: Haha, for Mom?
Jenny: NO.
Jenny: …yes.
Jenny: but for the blog, I mean.
Social Sister: It’s okay. We all know.

Touche, Social Sister.

Appendix B: Sirius and Lupin give Harry a fancy set of books about defensive magic. Real talk: Lupin cannot afford presents. Sirius bought those books himself and put both their names on, right? This is not part of my defense of Sirius. It’s just what I think probably happened. It must suck to be Lupin and always accepting money from Sirius and James because he can’t get a job. Also, is Snape still making Lupin the potion to make him safe when he transforms? I hope so! That would be a nice thing for Snape to do.

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.