Chapter 20 – Hagrid’s Tale
- It’s definitely very interesting to hear about Hagrid’s experiences with the giants, as well as the details of giant life, such as how they have been forced to live in close quarters against their natural state, and the detrimental effect that this has on them. Hagrid’s quote – ‘it was like watchin’ bits o’ the mountain movin’,’ – paints a vivid picture on its own. It’s impressive how much Dumbledore thought Hagrid’s mission through: we may not see that much of Dumbledore, but he’s obviously working as hard as he can.
- I love Hagrid’s line to Umbridge: ‘I don’ want ter be rude, but who the ruddy hell are you?’
Chapter 21 – The Eye of the Snake
- I think this is the first time in the book that Ron has actually tried using his Prefect status for anything: to tell people not to throw snowballs at the window while he’s studying.
- The Thestrals are practically a physical representation of Harry’s most recent progression: with the death of Cedric, which has made the Thestrals visible to him, a bit more of his innocence was stripped away. It’s notable that Neville can see them too: while this fact is not directly connected to what happened to his parents, Neville is most similar to Harry in terms of his childhood losses.
- The inspection of Hagrid’s class is possibly Umbridge’s most loathsome behaviour yet, pretending not to understand Hagrid (which brings to mind that Weight Watchers woman from Little Britain, a show I can’t stand) and deliberately putting a negative slant on everything he does, all in the name of magical racism. It’s so bad that it even upsets Hermione, the only one of the trio who would be willing to admit that Hagrid’s not the greatest teacher in the world.
- A momentous moment as our teenage hero gets his first kiss…off-screen, and with a girl who’s crying over her deceased boyfriend. Obviously Cho’s feelings are very confused, as Hermione explains, but it seems likely that much of her newfound attraction to Harry really stems from his connection to Cedric; she’s drawn to him through that, and then wonders if those are genuine romantic feelings.
- Another herpetological note: in Harry’s dream where he sees through Nagini’s eyes, ‘he could see objects around him shimmering in strange, vibrant colours’, but snakes don’t actually have good (if any) colour vision, especially compared to humans. The colours could be a reference to thermoreception, whereby some snakes can register different heat levels in their surroundings like a thermal camera – but none of the Vipera species I previously mentioned as candidates for Nagini have these thermoreceptors. Magic, I guess.
Chapter 22 – St Mungo’s Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries
- We know from the evidence we’re given that Dumbledore is indeed invested in Harry, but Harry himself can’t see it and just focuses on the ways that Dumbledore apparently disregards him. Dumbledore is perfectly frank with the Weasley children regarding the situation, which is fine, but Harry not getting a proper explanation for everything puts him under a lot of stress in this chapter and the next, which the adults around him really should appreciate better.
- Given that Nagini’s venom is keeping Mr Weasley’s wound open, it would appear to be haemotoxic, a frequent trait of viper venom – so the book gets that right!
Chapter 23 – Christmas on the Closed Ward
- Even with the incomplete information that Harry gets from the Order members, it still seems quite an illogical and angsty few pages of conflict as he believes that Voldemort is possessing him and somehow magicked him straight to London to attack Mr Weasley. Surely he should realise from the events of the last book that it’s not that easy?
- Dumbledore somehow knows that Harry has come to the wrong conclusion about his vision and is planning to run away – how extensive is his spy network around Harry? And if he’s just that perceptive, why doesn’t he realise that Harry really needs answers?
- The argument over the stitches is funny (‘WHAT DO YOU MEAN, THAT’S THE GENERAL IDEA?’), as is the witch with a Satsuma up her nose from an argument over Christmas dinner.
- A reappearance from Lockhart! Who was expecting that?
- The image of the frail and mentally broken Alice Longbottom giving her son a little present of a gum wrapper is such a powerful and heartbreaking one.
Chapter 24 – Occlumency
- It’s a sad day when Harry’s not looking forward to returning to Hogwarts after the holidays.
- If Harry had just opened the package from Sirius, so much trouble could have been avoided later on, and his belief that it might lure Sirius back out into danger seems a poor excuse – surely it would at least be safe to open it? That said, the book has been doing a good job of setting up Sirius’s frustration about being cooped up in Grimmauld Place, and his desire to get out and do something useful.
- There haven’t been too many scenes before now where Harry is completely alone with Snape – but when it happens here in the Occlumency lesson, he’s very confrontational, and Snape responds in kind. He appears to be doing the minimum possible, not really taking time to explain what Harry needs to do; Harry, meanwhile, who generally finds it hard to hide his feelings, is really not suited to this sort of thing. I do like Snape debunking the concept of mind-reading, though (‘The mind is not a book, to be opened at will and examined at leisure.’)
Chapter 25 – The Beetle at Bay
- The idea of Bellatrix Lestrange’s beauty fading away reminds me of Roald Dahl’s The Twits, where Mrs Twit becomes ugly because she has ugly thoughts all the time. No doubt there’s rarely anything pleasant going through Bellatrix’s brain.
- As Cho points out, the Ministry’s response to the breakout of ten Death Eaters isn’t nearly as strong as their response to one apparent Death Eater escaping two years earlier (backed up by Fudge’s ‘hi-bye’ meeting with the Prime Minister seen at the beginning of Half-Blood Prince). The level of desperate, illogical denial gets worse and worse.
- Harry’s interactions with Cho on their disastrous date feel very real considering that they ultimately don’t know each other that well and neither of them is in a good emotional place for a relationship. Harry finds it easy to talk to Cho at first but then has more difficulty keeping the conversation going; when telling Cho about his appointment with Hermione, he words it completely wrong; and then Cho’s desire to talk about Cedric, which she presumably hasn’t been able to do with anyone else, bursts out and the whole thing falls apart. Cho might have been attractive from a distance, but once Harry gets some proper alone time with her, it ain’t so great.
- Interesting statement from Rita Skeeter about how the Prophet focuses on stories that correspond with the public mood, and stories that we don’t want to hear get sidelined or ignored altogether – still very relevant fourteen years on.