Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone: Chapter Twelve
Hurrah! We’re back with another Harry Potter recap on this fine fucking freezing Sunday morning, so let’s get right into it. Oh, shit, more importantly: my book is available for pre-order as of RIGHT THE FUCK NOW and you should get on that please and so many thank yous. Here’s where we left off last time if you need reminding. To the chapter!
It’s Christmastide over at Hogwarts, and everything is getting very much In The Season and making me slightly annoyed that I didn’t think to ramp up my recaps and get this done during the actual festive period like a blogger with any semblance of an actual plan. Anyway:
“The lake froze solid and the Weasley twins were punished for bewitching several snowballs so that they followed Quirrell around, bouncing off the back of his turban.”
The Weasley twins were fucking up Voldemort before anyone even knew he was under there because they are the true heroes of this book, let it be known, let it be said, let it be spoken into being. Harry is staying at Hogwarts over Christmas, which he is already looking forward to, and Hagrid is lugging around Christmas trees like the glorious festive bae that he is, #BaeOfGiants2K19. Harry, Ron, and Hermione are still trying to discover the identity of Nicholas Flamel, who Hagrid mentioned as the man behind whatever the three-headed dog was guarding, and wow, look at all these potential five-movie franchises that Warner Brothers is going to conjure into being once Fantastic Bores and Where to Fuck Them is finally finished:
“He wasn’t in Great Wizards of the Twentieth Century, or Notable Magical Names of Our Time ; he was missing, too, from Important Modern Magical Discoveries, and A Study of Recent Developments in Wizardry. ”
To be honest, I would watch “A Study of Recent Developments in Wizardry,”, but then I’m the kind of fuck who actually enjoyed the trade federation bits of The Phantom Menace, so honestly don’t trust a word that comes out of my mouth. Hogwarts clears out for the holidays, and Ron and Harry spend some quality bro-bonding time together toasting things on the fire and learning wizard chess. Ron teaches Harry, using his old set which knows him very well, while Harry isn’t quite as lucky:
“Harry played with chessmen Seamus Finnigan had lent him, and they didn’t trust him at all. He wasn’t a very good player yet and they kept shouting different bits of advice at him, which was confusing. “Don’t send me there, can’t you see his knight? Send him, we can afford to lose him. ””
Honestly, I don’t know how many times I’ve said it before, but it’s the details in Rowling’s world-building that have rendered the Wizarding World such a fundamental part of so many people’s lives. Shit like this still delights me, even as a grown adult, and it’s also solid seeding for what we’re going to come up against in the final act.
Harry is surprised when he wakes up on Christmas morning to find a pile of gifts waiting for him, and I know it’s just because I’m pre-menstrual but I’m fully choked up at how sweet and lovely all of this segment is:
“Harry picked up the top parcel. It was wrapped in thick brown paper and scrawled across it was To Harry, from Hagrid. Inside was a roughly cut wooden flute. Hagrid had obviously whittled it himself. Harry blew it — it sounded a bit like an owl[…]
.]We received your message and enclose your Christmas present. From Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia. Taped to the note was a fifty-pence piece.
“That’s friendly,” said Harry.
Ron was fascinated by the fifty pence.
“Weird!” he said, “What a shape! This is money ?”
“You can keep it,” said Harry, laughing at how pleased Ron was […]
“I think I know who that one’s from,” said Ron, turning a bit pink and pointing to a very lumpy parcel. “My mum. I told her you didn’t expect any presents and — oh, no,” he groaned, “she’s made you a Weasley sweater. ”
Harry had torn open the parcel to find a thick, hand-knitted sweater in emerald green and a large box of homemade fudge.”
Obviously, there’s a mystery story as the driving plot behind Philosopher’s Stone, but really, this is the thread that matters: Harry finding a family. It’s a notion that runs through the entire series, and it’s such a simple basis upon which to build his character, but it works so beautifully when it’s elaborated on by characters as deeply warm and loveable as Hagrid and Molly Weasley. And it’s also one of the most powerful ways JK eases pathos from the plot as well, with the loss of major characters who have made up Harry’s extended family later in the series (such as Sirius, Lupin, and Dumbledore).
Harry recieves an invisibility cloak that once belonged to his father, with a note that has no name on it. Fred and George roll up, in matching Weasley sweaters:
““Harry’s is better than ours, though,” said Fred, holding up Harry’s sweater. “She obviously makes more of an effort if you’re not family. ””
My partner spent his first Christmas with my family this year, and I can confirm this is just universally true. Christmas dinner at Hogwarts is a jolly affair, and let me tell you it’s not the ONLY jolly affair taking place:
“Harry watched Hagrid getting redder and redder in the face as he called for more wine, finally kissing Professor McGonagall on the cheek, who, to Harry’s amazement, giggled and blushed, her top hat lopsided.”
Do you ship it? I ship it. Only if they can adopt me after the wedding. Harry goes to bed, but finds himself drawn to use his invisibility cloak to sneak into the restricted section of the library to find information on Nicholas Flamel.
“A large black and silver volume caught his eye. He pulled it out with difficulty, because it was very heavy, and, balancing it on his knee, let it fall open.
A piercing, bloodcurdling shriek split the silence — the book was screaming! Harry snapped it shut, but the shriek went on and on, one high, unbroken, earsplitting note. He stumbled backward and knocked over his lamp, which went out at once.”
Harry runs into Snape and Filch, hidden by his cloak, and makes a break for it to an abandoned classroom. There, he notices a strange mirror, which he looks into. In his reflection, he sees himself surrounded by people, including a man and a woman:
“She was a very pretty woman. She had dark red hair and her eyes — her eyes are just like mine, Harry thought, edging a little closer to the glass. Bright green — exactly the same shape, but then he noticed that she was crying; smiling, but crying at the same time. The tall, thin, black-haired man standing next to her put his arm around her. He wore glasses, and his hair was very untidy. It stuck up at the back, just as Harry’s did.”
Fuck, it’s not Christmas without a little gut-punching devastation, is it?
“The Potters smiled and waved at Harry and he stared hungrily back at them, his hands pressed flat against the glass as though he was hoping to fall right through it and reach them. He had a powerful kind of ache inside him, half joy, half terrible sadness.”
This is just such a well-crafted sequence, and a reminder that children’s literature can take on the heavy stuff if it’s handled as well as it is here. Balanced with the earlier scene where Harry recieves gifts from his new pseudo-family, this is just the right amount of bittersweet – yes, his blood-related family is lost to him, but in this chapter he has been briefly reunited with them, as well as reminded that a new, even wider family is waiting in the wings for him when he’s ready to be a part of it. Is someone cutting onions in here? Just gotta go smell my cat’s tiny head for a minute to cheer myself up, brb.
Harry wakes Ron up and brings him to see the mirror, and is confused when Ron sees himself as head boy instead of viewing his own family. When Harry returns alone, he runs into Dumbledore, who explains the function of the mirror to him in what is arguably the book’s most important segment:
““It shows us nothing more or less than the deepest, most desperate desire of our hearts. You, who have never known your family, see them standing around you. Ronald Weasley, who has always been overshadowed by his brothers, sees himself standing alone, the best of all of them. However, this mirror will give us neither knowledge or truth. Men have wasted away before it, entranced by what they have seen, or been driven mad, not knowing if what it shows is real or even possible….
The Mirror will be moved to a new home tomorrow, Harry, and I ask you not to go looking for it again. If you ever do run across it, you will now be prepared. It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live, remember that. ”
Alright, let’s get some analysis up in this joint. The climax of this entire series comes in the seventh book, where Harry allows himself to die and moves into the afterlife, where Voldemort is still fighting for his immortality against absurd odds. Harry embraces the reality of mortality – in this scene, represented by his lost family – while Voldemort continues to live in the dream of eternal life, leading to his downfall and eventual death. The harshness of reality is destructive but instructive, and vital to allowing our leading man to overcome the great forces of evil that threaten to overwhelm the Wizarding World.
It’s also an interesting metaphor to touch on the myth of Harry Potter – Harry’s existence has come, in this world, at least, as a story, a fantasy that people have created around him saving the world. But it is only by rejecting that and living as his own, flawed person that he can actually do what he has to. It’s good stuff, is what I’m saying, and it’s also a good point to close out this chapter on.