Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Ch. 1-3: By day he’s a Weasley, but by night he’s a Disney Princess

This week, we discuss: animal descriptions; Albus Potter is an asshole even when he’s not around; things have gone to shit when you miss Draco Malfoy; the Harry-Dudley relationship; why Americans fail to grasp the subtleties of pudding; BAD DOBBY is good at time management; Vernon, Petunia and Brexit; what exactly was that Japanese golfer joke?; child abuse on Privet Drive; Weasley serenades outside windows; German vs. Scandinavian elves; racial implications of elves; add Christianity and it becomes all about the Devil; Grimm’s Fairy Tales and Dobby’s clothes; American slavery meets Gosford Park; beasts vs. beings; internalized slave identity; Ben Carson can go fuck himself; implied world expansion; why Fred and George are the SMARTEST PEOPLE IN THIS SERIES; Malfoy misdirection; wtf is a warlock anyway; Mr. Weasley identifies with Dexter and Walter White; also, his favorite movie is The Little Mermaid; Professor Creed is a secret Weasley; Kitty Forman, Molly Weasley and fierce motherhood; a wild Ginny appears; Professor Seraphine is being Muggle-baited; and please join us in singing our new Advanced Muggle Studies anthem.

Welcome back to Advanced Muggle Studies! We know you missed us. I am Professor Seraphine, and today we are going to be starting a new book!

C: Woot!

S: One that I hope you find less boring than Sorcerer’s Stone?

C: I might today, and do you know why?

S: Why?

C: In honor of not being able to fully participate in our Drunk Potterwatch, I have fixed myself a drink of Jameson and Coke.

S: Definitely less boring! Good. You deserve it. Nice way to end a weekend. Plus it’s your turn to be drunk and ramble about geography.

C: Your lack of knowledge about the UK was startling.

S: Only when drunk. And the next day I thought about it: “Weird that I forgot that!”

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Professor Seraphine’s comprehensive grasp of British geography, illustrated

Today we are looking at the first 3 chapters of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, which was the first book I read in the series. Chamber of Secrets was the first book I read because my sister kept telling me to read Sorcerer’s Stone, but then wouldn’t give me the book to read. So I read out of order, which, oddly enough, I’m glad I did because this book really hooked me.

C: This is why you never struggled with the beginning of Sorcerer’s Stone like I did, because everything from that book gets summarized in a page and a half in the first chapter of this book, and you don’t get all that boring Muggle stuff.

S: I wonder if my perception of it would have been different. I love the beginning to Book 1, but then again, I came in to it already interested.

Chapter 1: The Worst Birthday

S: Depressing! Once again, we begin with owls. This time it’s Hedwig, who is bored and locked up in Harry’s room. And we get the marvelous image of Uncle Vernon yelling at Harry about Hedwig, shouting, “Do I look stupid?” whilst he has a bit of fried egg dangling from his mustache. So yes, Uncle Vernon. Yes you do.

Harry is dealing with being back in the Muggle world now that he’s been at Hogwarts. He’s come back owl and magic books in tow, to the Dursleys, who seem quite terrified to have him back. Meanwhile, Dudley is stocking up on bacon while he’s here. We begin the long journey of Dudley being massively obese and Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia being totally fine with this.

C: You know, he’s a growing boy.

S: He’s growing into the size of a small whale if the descriptions are to be believed. I feel like Rowling feels very strongly about parents that baby their children, aren’t honest with themselves, don’t discipline or do what’s best for their kids because they’re convinced their child is perfect.

C: Your little darling can do no wrong.

S: I think this bugs her. Comes through in the subtext, maybe.

Dudley asks Harry to pass a dish at breakfast, and Harry says, “You forgot to say the magic word,” which causes instant chaos because you can’t say the M-word in the house!

C: Not the M-word!

S: Vernon: “I warned you! I will not tolerate mention of your abnormality under this roof!” Then he sits back down, “breathing like a winded rhinocerous.” These descriptions kill me.

C: I noticed in these chapters that she describes people as animals a lot. It’s very effective.

S: This first chapter is a lot of recap. I like how she weaves in the way Harry is feeling about all of this with the recap, while packing a lot of exposition into those graphs. Which, again, is useful if you read it out of order.

C: Can I take us on our first tangent?

S: I LOVE TANGENTS!

C: Talking about things he misses: “Visiting the game keeper, Hagrid, in his cabin next to the Forbidden Forest and the grounds.” It made me think – the only time we ever see Hagrid in Cursed Child is in that flashback, and I assume that Hagrid still is a gamekeeper at Hogwarts when the trio’s kids go through. So is Albus so determined to hate everything and such a fucking prick that he’s not even friends with Hagrid?

S: That’s a good point! They don’t mention him at all.

C: He hates literally everything about Hogwarts other than what’s-his-face whose name I can’t remember.

S: Scorpius. How could you forget the love of Albus’s life? I don’t understand how you could dismiss Scorpius so completely.

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C: I tried to block it out. There’s the argument that there’s not room for it in the play, sure, whatever. But he’s already such a masochistic little twat that he won’t even go to Hogsmeade and get candy because “OTHER KIDS ARE THERE OH MY GOD HOW DARE I HAVE TO BE AROUND OTHER KIDS.” I know I’m already dragging this off track, but…

S: That’s a really good question though. Because at the end of the Epilogue in 7, I specifically recall Harry, or one of the adults, telling the kids not to forget about tea with Hagrid. So the original intention at the end of 7 is that Hagrid is there still and is friends with the kids, or at least they’re trying to go that way, and he’s a close friend of the family

So all I can think is that, like everything else of even moderate importance from the original series, the weirdos who wrote Cursed Child decided to throw it out the window for their own little twisted psychosexual story.

C: I’m thinking either Albus quits going because it’s such a trial and he basically sees Hagrid the way Malfoy from the original series saw him – dumb, stupid, slow, beneath him – which, you would hope Harry and Ginny’s kid would not feel that way, but you would hope they wouldn’t have a son like Albus and look what hoping got us. So either he thinks he’s just ridiculous and dumb, and part of Hogwarts and thus terrible, or he goes every so often when Hagrid invites him and is obviously, abjectly miserable the entire time, makes no secret about how miserable he is and doesn’t want to be there, and Hagrid eventually stops asking him but continues to ask James and Lily. Then even though he hated being there, he hates it even more that he’s not there, because his brother and sister, “the NORMAL ones, that everyone LOOOOOOOVES,” get to hang out with Hagrid.

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Something that would NEVER happen with Albus Fuckwit Potter

Those are my two varying ideas of how that could be.

S: I like it. I don’t have an answer for you, mainly because that play was shit and lacked any form of internal consistency. So suffice it to say, since we know that Albus is the worst, we can safely assume he was being a prick no matter what, and if it had to do with Harry it was anathema and awful and the worst and my dad was never there for me.

C: All right, we can continue.

S: All this recap tells us who Harry is and all about him, and then we get another animal analogy: “Now the school year was over and Harry was back with the Dursleys, back to being treated like a dog that had rolled in something smelly.” We’re coming up on Harry’s 12th birthday, but Uncle Vernon is talking about ANOTHER very important day – Uncle Vernon is very focused on this dinner party at which he is hoping to make a big deal.

We have an amazing scene where they run through their schedule of all the things they will be doing. At eight o’clock, I will be … 

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Dudley will be …

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And you?

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“I’ll be in my room, making no noise and pretending I’m not there.”

They go through this three times!

C: “May I take you through to the dining room, Mrs. Mason?”

S: “Oh, my perfect little gentleman!”

C: “Vernon tells me you’re a wonderful golfer, Mr. Mason!”

S: “How about, ‘We had to write an essay about our hero at school, Mr. Mason, and I wrote about you.’”

C: That’s not even believable flattery!

S: Harry has to duck under the table so they don’t see how hard he’s laughing! So the play is to wine and dine the Masons, bring conversation around to the deal, and have it sealed by 10 p.m. Hooray for money.

Meanwhile, Vernon goes to town and Harry’s hanging in the backyard, where we learn that part of the reason he’s miserable is not just Privet Drive – he’s alone, and Ron and Hermione haven’t written, even though Ron promised to invite him over. He’s thought about sending Hedwig to them, but she’s padlocked in her cage.

C: That means he can’t even clean the poop out of her cage!

S: Which would stink! You’d think Petunia would have a problem with that. I like this little detail – she does use a lot of animal descriptions – that it was only for the Dursley’s “terror that he might turn them all into dung beetles that stopped him from locking him in the cupboard under the stairs.” For the first couple of weeks he’d been having a lot of fun muttering nonsense words under his breath to freak Dudley out.

C: I would do that.

S: He actually even sort of misses Draco, just because seeing him would make it all real. That’s a dire situation – if you’re missing Draco Malfoy, things have gone terribly wrong.

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Flashback to Voldemort, then Harry, sitting on the bench staring into the hedge – “and the hedge was staring back.

C: Dun dun dun!

S: He jumps up to see the source of the eyes peering at him, but then Dudley arrives to harass Harry. And we get sassy Harry back! Dudley: “I know what day it is.” Harry: “Well done. So you finally learned the days of the week.”

C: I am a little surprised that Dudley knows what Harry’s birthday is.

S: Their relationship is interesting. Vernon and Petunia can’t stand Harry and they’ve raised Dudley to dislike him, or at least torment him. But despite all that, when you’re raised with someone, even someone you don’t like, you’re still raised with them. It’s different. You won’t view them the same way the adults do. Even a bad sibling relationship is a sibling relationship, and despite everything, Dudley and Harry behave sort of like brothers. Dysfunctional ones, but I don’t think Dudley would ever view Harry quite the way Petunia and Vernon do. He doesn’t have the baggage.

C: I don’t remember enough about what happens between them in later books.

S: They go back and forth about Harry’s birthday, and Dudley has noticed that Harry hasn’t gotten letters or cards. Dudley’s been paying attention!

C: Which, to be fair, when you go through the trauma of being stalked by dozens of owls the previous year, you would notice if they didn’t show up the next year.

S: Excellent point! Dudley asks why he’s staring at the hedge. Harry: “I’m trying to decide the best spell to set it on fire.” He can’t resist and starts again with nonsense words, including my favorite, “jiggery pokery!”

He knows he’ll pay for that, and this is disturbing – Petunia knew he hadn’t really done magic, but he still had “to duck as she aimed a heavy blow at his head with a soapy frying pan.”

C: Not cool, Petunia!

S: Let’s pause to appreciate her attempt to assault a child!

C: She’s not a great person.

S: She did not keep that fucking blanket.

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You bet your ass I didn’t!

I like to reiterate that point whenever necessary. To make him pay for his jiggery pokery, Petunia gives Harry every bit of housework: cleaning the windows, washing the car, mowing the lawn, trimming the flower beds, pruning and watering roses, repainting the garden bench.

C: I could not have done that in one day. Granted, I’m not an energetic 12 year old anymore, but still.

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Deleted scene of Petunia assigning Harry’s chores

S: He finishes at 7:30, comes in the kitchen where he sees the fateful pudding: “a huge mound of whipped cream and sugared violets,” and a really nice dinner. She gives him 2 slices of bread and a lump of cheese and kicks him upstairs. These people are terrible.

C: Sugared violets? As in actual flowers? Or is this some kind of British dessert I don’t understand?

S: I think actual flowers. It’s common, though not so much here, to use violets that are treated and coated in sugar as an edible flower decorative element on cakes and things like that.

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C: So she made some Jell-O instant pudding, put some Cool Whip on it, and added sugared violets? That dessert needs some texture. That’s not okay.

S: I always assume, through my wealth of experience reading British lit, that whenever they say “pudding,” whatever I am imagining is not right. Because American pudding never seems to be the same thing as British pudding.

C: American pudding is like congealed sweetness.

S: Yeah, gelatinous sweet glop for lack of better words. Which, done right can be absolutely delicious, and done wrong, they sell it in little plastic cups called Snack Packs.

C: That’s not bad!

S: It’s not. Everyone has a soft spot for those, even when they’re objectively terrible. I still buy Jell-O ones.

C: Chocolate-vanilla-chocolate.

S: For this pudding I’m imagining a trifle, with pudding, whipped cream and bits of pound cake.

C: Ladyfingers.

S: Hey, British listeners? Weigh in. What is this pudding? We don’t know!

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C: And I’m so sad! Because ladyfingers would go so well with the broom-humping stuff. Maybe I’ll find a way to tie those together later. I am about to finish my alcoholic beverage, so….

S: Chug-a-lug! So yeah, help us out. We’re American, so we don’t know pudding. But whatever it is, it’s pretty and supposed to be delicious.

So Harry runs upstairs, makes it to the room just as the doorbell rings and Vernon gives a final threat that if Harry makes one sound he’s going to lock him up forever. So Harry shuts the door and turns to collapse on his bed, but the trouble is – “there was someone already sitting on it.”

Chapter 2: Dobby’s Warning

S: Dobby! I have to admit being taken aback by movie Dobby, because he wasn’t quite what I imagined. Close, but not quite. You?

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I think I imagined something more like this

C: I was more bothered by Dobby’s voice, although now that’s just how I hear it and it doesn’t bother me at all.

S: I always imagined Dobby a little squeaky but he didn’t sound like Toby Jones in my head. Now, though, it’s so ubiquitous, Dobby just sounds like Toby Jones and that’s it.

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He’s described as having “large, bat-like ears and bulging green eyes the size of tennis balls.” Harry realizes this is what’s been watching him. By way of introduction he “bows so low that the end of its long, thin nose touched the carpet.” It’s wearing what looks like a pillowcase, with holes ripped for arms and legs. And we learn quickly that it’s name is Dobby.

I find it interesting that at first he sees Dobby as a creature, an “it,” totally unsure of what he’s seeing. And this is the first time we meet house-elves!

C: SPEW!

S: We have so much to discuss. I know I’ve rabbit holed before but I rabbit holed big time here. Chapter first, then happy rabbit hole. Dobby is happy to meet Harry, and then promptly bursts into tears when invited to sit down. Loud. Loud tears. Very noisy tears.

Apparently no wizard has ever offered Dobby a seat. Harry: “You can’t have met many decent wizards.” Dobby shakes his head. Then, “without warning he leapt up and started banging his head furiously on the window, shouting, ‘Bad Dobby! Bad Dobby!’” So any time he comes close to bad-mouthing his family he has to punish himself.

C: Can’t he punish himself quietly?

S: Nope. Because he has to yell BAD DOBBY the whole time!

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BAD DOBBY!! BAD DRESSER! BAD DOBBY!!

House-elves are bound to serve one house and family forever, and Dobby’s family doesn’t know he’s here. Dobby is anticipating shutting his fingers in the oven door for this. “Dobby’s always having to punish himself for something. They lets Dobby get on with it. Sometimes they reminds me to do extra punishments.”

C: Charming family.

S: A house-elf has to be set free, otherwise it has to serve until they die. So clearly they’re magically bound somehow. Harry being normal and basically decent: “Can’t anyone help you?” Which sets Dobby off again with the wailing and rending of garments.

C: “Dobby has heard of your greatness sir, but of your goodness Dobby never knew!”

S: Dobby adores Harry. He has heard that Harry escaped Voldemort for a second time weeks ago, and he’s so inspired by Harry – I guess he finds so much hope in the notion of Harry that he has decided to single-handedly protect Harry from anything else bad happening to him. So he has come to warn Harry that he should not – sorry, MUST NOT – go back to Hogwarts this year. Which of course is the worst possible news for Harry, who is like, “Uh, say what now? Oh, I’m going back. You can’t stop me.”

Dobby is an odd little duck, isn’t he?

C: He is very brave.

S: Gutsy! And I think – Dobby doesn’t gain anything protecting Harry. What good does it do for Dobby if Harry’s safe or not? But I guess he’s so uplifted knowing Harry Potter is alive in the world somewhere that he can’t stand to have something happen to him. Dobby is…so good.

He’s also a little exposition fairy, who has come to tell us that there is A PLOT. “A plot to make terrible things happen at Hogwarts this year,” that Dobby has known about for months. And of course Harry, being Harry: “What terrible things? Who’s plotting them?” Which causes Dobby to start banging his head on the wall.

C: Poor Dobby.

S: Harry: Okay, you can’t tell me, maybe nod if this is Voldemort-related? Dobby shakes his head no. “Not – not He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, sir,” but he’s got his eyes super wide trying to give Harry a clue. I’m sure he thinks he’s being super obvious here.

Harry: “Dumbledore’s there, I’m good.” Dobby: “Yes, but—“ Now it’s the desk lamp, “beating himself about the head with ear-splitting yelps.” Gotta hand it to Rowling, she’s got a gift for hilarious imagery. This is a beautifully constructed comedic scene. You’ve got to be quiet or bad things happen, then enter this elfish figure with good motives who, ever so often, goes off batshit nuts beating himself up making squeaky sounds. It’s excellent dramatic tension.

C: I wish Harry would just open his window and escort Dobby outside.

S: Or that Dobby could mention he could Apparate them out – but no, too complicated. Meanwhile, Dobby’s thorough attentions to his own demise have alerted Vernon that something is going on, so he barges in shouting through gritted teeth about how Harry ruined the punchline of his Japanese golfer joke. I have wondered so many times what that awful joke must have been.

C: I’m going to go with – something racist. I bet Vernon and Petunia voted for Brexit.

S: You know they support Nigel Farage. And I’m sure they think that Trump fellow’s got the right idea too.

Vernon stomps away with another warning. Harry gets Dobby out, telling him he’s got to go back because that’s the only place he has friends. Dobby: “Friends who don’t even write to Harry Potter?”

OOOOOHHHHH Dobby. You done it now. Harry’s not that stupid. “Have you been stopping my letters?” Oh yes, he has a thick wad of envelopes from Ron, Hermione and Hagrid, so Harry’s been getting letters all summer and Dobby has just been collecting them. Which makes me wonder about the amount of work Dobby’s put into this all summer!

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C: On top of all his duties at Malfoy Manor!

S: Dobby’s thought this through, I’ll give him that! He must be an efficient little bugger, because he’s a busy guy and still manages to commit mail theft. Dobby thought that if Harry thought no one loved him and he was miserable and alone, he wouldn’t want to go back. Wow, Dobby.

C: It’s kind of dark.

S: Should give you a clue going forward as to the levels to which Dobby is willing to stoop to “protect” Harry. Harry tries to get his letters back, but Dobby won’t give them back until Harry swears not to go. Harry: “Hell no, give me my letters!”

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“Then Harry Potter leaves Dobby no choice!” If that’s not ominous I don’t know what is. Because he then runs to the bedroom door, sprints down the stairs. Down in the living room they’ve moved on to American plumbers.

C: “Did you know they always wear their jeans below their butt crack line?”

S: Harry sees, in the kitchen, Aunt Petunia’s pudding floating near the ceiling. He won’t cave to Dobby’s blackmail.

C: “Dobby gave him a tragic look.”

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S: And the pudding crashes tragically to the floor. They burst in and find Harry covered in pudding. Of course, at this point Dobby has conveniently vanished.

It could have been salvaged. Kids are dumb, they explain it away, they get some ice cream. Vernon might have made his deal – if it hadn’t been for the owls.

The Dursleys have bad luck with owls.

C: Do they never close their windows?

S: I have no idea. Is this where air conditioning isn’t a thing?

C: Oh, yeah, England isn’t like here with central air.

S: I always forget there are parts of the world where air conditioning is not considered an absolute necessity, and that some people view it as an unnecessary luxury or a waste of money. There’s this weird attitude about it in some places.

C: But it gets fucking hot down here!

S: You can die without it! In some parts of the world it’s a necessity if you want to live. Just not used to that. But still a fair point – aren’t there screens?

C: You don’t want to let bugs in!

S: Anyway, a large barn owl swoops in, drops a letter on Mrs. Mason’s head and swoops out. Mrs. Mason screams like a banshee and runs out shouting about lunatics. Mr. Mason stays long enough to tell the Dursleys that his wife is mortally afraid of birds and is this their idea of a joke?

C: One wonders how she makes it through the day.

S: It’s a terribly unfortunate coincidence! So this letter Uncle Vernon is holding, advancing on Harry “with a demonic glint in his tiny eyes,” does not contain birthday greetings. It’s from the Ministry notifying Harry that a Hover Charm was used at his residence, reminding him he’s not permitted to do magic, and that any further spellwork on his part may lead to expulsion and may be a felony if done in front of Muggles. Enjoy your holidays! Thanks, Mafalda.

But the one thing Harry was counting on was the Dursleys’ fear that he’d turn them into fruit bats. Now they know he can’t, and Uncle Vernon has a mad gleam in his eyes, bearing down on Harry like a great bulldog.

C: He’s lost it at this point. He already had that vacation house in Majorca all picked out and how he won’t get it.

S: They lock Harry in his room, bar his window, push food in via a cat flap 3x a day and let him out for the bathroom twice a day. That’s pretty messed up.

C: I’m pretty sure you could be arrested for it.

S: You like to think the Dursleys are awful but wouldn’t kill someone or physically endanger someone to this extent, but that may not necessarily be true. The frying pan didn’t work, so – slow starvation!

This has gone on for 3 days. They give him a bowl of canned soup. Harry is 12! Kids at that age are hungry constantly. This is awful.

C: And he’s still being a good pet owner and giving the veggies to Hedwig!

S: She’s not thrilled but that’s all they got. Pretty messed up that Harry is thinking, “supposing he was alive in the next four weeks,” what would happen if he didn’t show at school?

Now we get another great dream of Harry’s. He dreams he’s on show at a zoo with a card reading “Underage Wizard.” People goggle through the bars at him as he lies weak on a bed of straw. He sees Dobby and calls out for help, but Dobby says “No, Harry Potter is safe there!” Then the Dursleys appear and Dudley is rattling his cage laughing at him. This is so fucked up.

It makes me think of a short story called “A Hunger Artist” about a man in a circus, and that was his thing – starving himself, in his small enclosure, and people would come look at him.

C: That’s disturbing.

S: Fortunately, his dream notion of someone rattling the bars of the cage isn’t all in his head, because when he opens his eyes there’s a freckle-faced, long nosed, red-haired someone. And that’s how you know it’s true love, kids. They come to your window. Ron saves the day.

C: That really makes me want to sing that Melissa Etheridge song.

S: “Come to my windowwwwww-“

C: YES! “Crawl inside, wait by the light of the moon!”

S: For a quick second I pictured Ron standing under Harry’s window holding a boombox.

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How could anyone resist this face?

Now that we have that delightful image, which I am totally going to Photoshop for this episode, we need to talk about house elves.

C: I am ready. I might be readier if I hadn’t finished my drink. As someone who has never owned a slave or indentured servant I’m not sure how prepared I can be but I will give it a shot.

S: House elves are the biggest problem most people have with this series. J.K. Rowling has said many times that she believes in writing about the marginalized, outcast, discriminated people in society. They fit in to that – they’re 3rd class citizens – but there’s a lot of complications in how she handles them. I’m going to try not to get too much into how she handles it in later books. But first, background on elves. Seems like almost every culture has some kind of ‘little people’ mythology, but we know elves mostly from Germanic, Norse, Old English mythology and lore. There’s a lot of different versions. In Old Norse they were just like pagan gods. So jump forward a few thousand years and you have “Thor: The Dark World” with the Dark Elves, that aren’t small, just another race in this universe.

In Germanic cultures they developed considerably and became known as a group with magic powers, supernatural ability, and general ambivalence toward people. They could help or harm, depending on how they felt.

There’s a lot of British and Scandinavian material about them having sexual encounters with people.

C: OH, come on! Everything comes back to sexual encounters.

S: And not always of the consensual kind. By the time you get to the Elizabethan era they get conflated with fairies and used interchangeably more or less. I did hear an interesting podcast talking about elves in Scandinavia, where they call them the huldra or huldefolk. Even recently there was a road project that got derailed because it was in an area associated with the huldefolk! It was weird. Although I’m not one to criticize, given that we’re picking and choosing based on skin color these days. We’re basic, so why can’t anyone else be?

German lore tends to conflate elves with dwarves. Then everything gets Christianized. Elves get adopted in the 19th century into the Christmas tradition. The evolution of Santa Claus is a whole other complicated ball of string.

C: But we know for a fact that Santa is white. Don’t forget that.

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White, overweight, and possibly alcoholic: a true American hero

S: Even though there are literally stories he’s drawn from about a black figure. But sure.

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Professor Seraphine misspoke — she was thinking of the charming Black Pete tradition, which even today leads to festive blackface in Amsterdam

There’s a couple of interesting things. Originally, the Germanic cognate from which the word “elf” arises is considered a cognate with the Latin word albus, or “white,” and they all come from the same Indo-European base from Old Irish, Latin, Albanian, German and Icelandic – and they all have the connotation of whiteness. The Germanic word, presumably, originally meant “white person,” which could be a euphemism? Who knows. Grimm of the fairy tales felt that whiteness connoted good morals, thus the recurrence of whiteness in fairy tales I suppose. So there’s this historic association with whiteness.

Maybe that’s why the elves hang out with Santa! Because they’re definitively white, and Santa’s white, so. Having a party!

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Santa’s all white, this I know, cuz Megyn Kelly tells me so

It’s weird. Scandinavian and Norse elves are really beautiful. Germanic elves – it depends. Then you get to Christianity and everything gets complicated.

From around 900, the Chaucer era, you start to see elves associated with witchcraft, and people accused sometimes confessed to encounters with elves, which were included by prosecutors as evidence of encounters with the Devil.

C: Why is everything the Devil?

S: He gets around! Elves are strange. They start off associated with witchcraft, and now if you think of them in any way unrelated to a series like Harry Potter, it’s Christmas!

C: That’s not entirely true. Lord of the Rings. Elves and dwarves are really big in fantasy stuff.

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And they’re faaaaaaaaaaaaaabulous

S: And we can thank Tolkien for that, because he adopted them in a big way. Now, in medieval Anglo-Saxon times, scholars thought elves were “small, invisible, demonic beings that caused illness with arrows.”

C: It’s called a germ.

S: There was also the idea that they could cause illness by being succubi.

C: This is what happens in societies where you either don’t have science or don’t believe in science. And this is why America is so frightening. One of the many reasons.

S: Because we’re about 2 months shy of accusing people of consorting with the Devil?

C: Uh-huh.

S: We already did that during the presidential campaign, didn’t we? Weren’t there people accusing Hillary Clinton of smelling like sulfur and consorting with the Devil? To be fair they were the Alex Jones / Infowars type people, but that was a thing actually said, which is fascinating and disturbing.

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C: My mind boggles at the apparently infinite stupidity of people in this country.

S: It’s deep and complex in a way stupidity shouldn’t be.

C: You have to work hard to be so aggressively, proudly ignorant.

S: You have to jump a lot of logical hoops to maintain stupidity.

C: “Why, OF COURSE Hillary Clinton is running a child sex slave ring out of a pizzeria in New York! Let me just march in there with my AK-47 and take care of it!”

S: “Of course there’s a deep state conspiracy being manipulated by Obama to undermine and discredit us because….reasons?” Even I can’t follow that logic.

But as far as Rowling uses elves, she relies on the Grimm’s version, like “The Shoemaker and The Elves.” This is where you start getting the idea of elves as helpers. Grimm’s tale “Die Wichtelmanner,” or literally “The Little Men,” is about the elves helping the shoemaker. In that version I think the shoemaker’s wife makes clothes for the naked elves to thank them – little tunics and hats and shoes.

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“There are tiny naked men in our home. Should we call the police?” “Nah, just get some spare pillowcases.”

So I think that’s where the thing with Dobby wearing the pillowcase and the fascination with clothes comes in. She definitely went a different way than Tolkien – the Scandinavian model – and used the German model.

But we’ve got to talk about how this works. House-elves are slaves, magically bound. Are they magically forced to punish themselves?

C: I assumed there was some kind of charm where even if he tried to say something, no words would come out.

S: Pretty fucked up, but very possible. So they literally can’t talk bad about their families. And I think there’s a point where Dobby beats himself up and Harry commands him to stop, and Dobby thanks Harry for that. Which – can he only stop if someone commands him?

C: Or maybe thanking Harry for snapping him out of it. I know you don’t want to get too far into the other book, but Kreacher is interesting. He doesn’t have a lick of respect for Sirius at all. Doesn’t he really and truly get around a lot of his vows?

S: Yeah, he follows the letter of the law by taking Sirius extremely literally. We see 3 different models of thought – Dobby, Winky and Kreacher. We know the elves have their own magic, but they’re not allowed wands, obviously not allowed schooling (although they work in the school). Here’s my question: is there some kind of determinism here, or not? You’ve got Dobby, who hates slavery. And Dobby is what convinces Hermione that elves need to be set free. But every time she tries, people tell her they’re happy – and all the evidence supports that. They seem very happy and fulfilled. So what is that? Is it part of their species? Is it learned?

C: It seems to me that all sides could be happy if they set them free but asked them to work and paid them, or gave them something in return. If they truly are happy, you could set them free and they’d work anyway.

S: I think Hermione suggests that to Winky, telling her Dobby is getting paid and Winky could too, and Winky takes it as an insult. I think she says something like “I does not stoop so low as to want paying!” There’s this distinct flavor of “only white trash does that!” Forgive the phrasing. But there’s this “good slaves” thing, and then those like Dobby, and it’s gauche and not done.

We’re American, so we read this and think American slavery system, because that’s the context we reach for first. Not that we can’t look at slavery through the rest of the world, but it’s such a huge factor in our culture. But I feel like there’s a weird mix here of slavery, slavery in the UK, and servitude – this stark class distinction that existed for so long between servant classes and upper classes. I keep thinking of Gosford Park.

C: I was just thinking of that!

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“What gift do you think a good servant has? Anticipation. And I’m a good servant. I’m better than good. I’m the perfect servant. I know when they’ll be hungry and the food is prepared. I know when they’ll be tired and the beds are turned down. I know it before they even know it themselves.” … “Didn’t you hear me? I’m the perfect servant. I have no life.”

S: That notion of a “good” servant, that a good servant does certain things and if you don’t do them the other servants look down on you. Among the servants you see distinctions between the bad ones, who smoke on duty and screw the house guests, the people who behave more or less like people, and the ones who pride themselves on being serving machines. Maybe that’s what makes this feel so strange – the mix of both of those things.

C: I don’t remember how or if this gets resolved in the books.

S: It doesn’t. That’s what gets people. So much time is spent on this – so much of 4 is about Hermione awakening to social activism, and it informs her worldview going forward. Dumbledore supports her and sympathizes with her views, takes Sirius to task, points it out to Harry that there’s a serious problem here with how the magical world treats house elves and that something needs to change. But as far as we know, by the time this whole thing is over, it doesn’t. Nothing happens. It’s like, “Hey, look at all these problems we have the power to change – but we’re not gonna!”

Maybe that’s a realistic view! A lot of times society, like ours, says, “Yeah, we did horrible things, and our systems are set up to intentionally screw certain groups of people. Yeah, that’s a shame!” And we keep doing what we’re doing because no one wants to change.

C: Just like Jesus taught.

S: Maybe there’s something in that. It is a fantasy series, so you want to get to the end and feel like the things our heroes have learned have made a difference, helped these marginalized ones. But you get to the end and see that some things have changed, but not everything has. And maybe that’s more realistic than anything else.

C: I don’t remember how it’s resolved in 7, and even though it’s not like they come to a solution, at some point the conversation about it ends, so it’s resolved so far as that. I don’t even remember that. Ron says something to Hermione about SPEW and she kisses him, and is that the last we hear of it?

S: YEP. Pretty much. It just kind of stops there.

C: It reminds me of all the talk we’ve had about Slytherin, keeping that as a house, keeping things divided. You’d think hey, the majority of dark wizards and people who support them come from this house, maybe we should stop isolating them and encouraging them to prize these traits. But that’s not resolved in the story. Slytherin still exists. Everything goes back to normal and proceeds.

S: I found this great book called Harry Potter’s Worldwide Influence, and there’s a chapter on house-elves. It points out a lot of connections, and it discusses this distinction in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them between beasts and creatures versus beings.

C: I vaguely remember that.

S:  There’s a discussion of how the house-elves fit into that or not. “What we do know or can surmise is written in a Hogwarts textbook entitled Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. In the section, ‘What is a beast?’ we learn of the wizarding world’s attempt to classify all creatures as either a beast or a being, with the latter being a creature worthy of legal rights and a voice in the governance of the magical world. Because elves are 2-legged creatures with intelligence, magical powers, etc. it is assumed that they were classified as beings. Even the name Kreacher suggests that he, along with the other elves, could have been designated as creatures under wizarding law in an attempt to gain rights denied to a beast, just as black African slaves were considered sub-human or only ¾ of a person under the slavery laws that existed in the U.S.”

It compares them to plantation house slaves, in America, the West Indies. There’s also some interesting dialectical choices, especially with regard to Winky, that are associated with American slavery that we’ll come back to. There’s a lot of material here talking about clothing and how that relates to the history of slavery, the notion of wanting to be a slave or not, that slave identity or culture – “among the house-elves there is a shift in the discourse or level of self-consciousness by way of their referring to themselves with “I,” as Winky does, rather than the 3rd person, which is the choice of Dobby and Kreacher. A refusal to use 1st person shows a contempt for and an objectification of the self. Although in Winky’s case, it appears to be a contradiction. She prides herself on being a dutiful house-elf who, among other things, can be trusted with keeping the secrets of the Crouch family even after she has been given clothes and dismissed from service.” And I think Winky does both 1st and 3rd person. This book suggests that slave identity and culture makes slaves want to be slaves – which allows what Dumbledore refers to as “the enchantment of their kind” to prevail, especially when the elves have powers of their own once the master or mistress gives them clothing – actually, that’s true regardless, and not under their master’s control.

This book is arguing that in accepting slave status, “both the slave and the master are slaves to an ideology that reduces both of them to being less than human.” That’s the kind of notion you see in Toni Morrison’s work – that slavery taints everyone involved in it, anyone complicit in it. No one gets out of that system without damage.

C: Yeah, because it’s the very definition of inhumane to chain someone, figuratively or literally, deny them freedom, force them to do things – it’s appalling.

S: When we get to Goblet of Fire this is going to be fun. I’m so glad I found this book. It’s complicated. It makes you uncomfortable as you try to parse out how you feel about it, and I think that’s the idea.

C: Like you said, when we hear slavery we think of America, which was awful, and the repercussions of which we still feel today even though lots of white people like to pretend that’s not true.

S: “But some slaves were well-treated and happy!”

C: Who was it that referred to them as immigrants the other day?

S: That was Ben Carson.

C: Oh, Good God.

S: They came on slave ships, but with the same hopes and dreams for their children that immigrants did when they came to America.

C: I don’t care. It’s not the same thing.

S: It’s total bullshit anyway. What person is enslaved, brought over on a hell ship on which over half the people die, knowing that you’ll be forced into a lifetime of slavery, and so are your children and your children’s children – I’m sorry, the notion that slaves came over hoping for a better future for their children? No they fucking didn’t. They came over here wishing they could be home where their children could have a future and life as free people IN THEIR OWN HOME. And you don’t go to a country where you’re enslaved and think, “Oh, but I’m in the land of freedom and hope and one day my children will have a better life!” No, you’re probably thinking you’re all screwed for all eternity, if you even live to see your life.

C: “If we work hard enough, we can just pull ourselves up by our bootstraps!”

S: FUCK THESE PEOPLE AND THEIR FUCKING RACIST MENTALITIES.

C: What you were saying about being the best servant – it’s hard to say, because we only deal in any depth with 3 of them, and you can’t judge an entire race based on 3 people. But as far as Winky goes, that’s pretty on the nose about how she feels about things.

S: One thing that’s bugged me – and here I’m going to opine about how we’re so much better than anyone else, sorry – about other podcasts and takes on this series is that a lot of time people in the fandom look at what we’re given in the series as exhaustive. Like, we’re shown Dobby, Kreacher, and Winky, so they assume the answer to the question must be somewhere in the behaviors of Dobby, Kreacher or Winky, because that’s all we’re shown. But it seems to me that the point of having those 3 very different perspectives in this one realm is just to illustrate the point that there is no uniformity. We’re only meeting 3, but there’s enough here to indicate that there’s much more. The limitations of the narrative serve, ironically (and thanks to the complex world building), to demonstrate that there is infinitely more beyond the narrative, to imply depth that we won’t get exhaustively, but we will know is there.

It gets frustrating listening to these, where they parse every detail and then act like that’s it. I can’t think of any specific examples, but do you know what I’m talking about?

C: It’s a magical worldwide issue far outside the scope of the narrative. Obviously Rowling put it in for a reason (what that is we can only speculate), but it’s certainly not vital to the story as a whole because so little of it exists in the movies.

S: They work around it. It’s important to characterization, themes and narrative, but in terms of pure plot is it absolutely necessary? Maybe not. It should be, in Book 4, but they completely fuck the plot in Movie 4, so.

C: My favorite thing about you is your unalloyed hatred of that movie.

S: I hate it so much. I overflow with hatred of that movie. Every fiber of my being loathes the destruction they wrought upon that story.

C: Yessss, let the hate flow through you!

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S: And it’s offensive because I loved Book 4 so much! Book 4 was so powerful, it’s the book where everything changes. I remember reading 3 and thinking that in the next book someone would die – we had reached the point in the arc where things would take a serious turn. I didn’t realize Voldemort would come back, that took me by surprise. But to take that really great book and fuck it 7 ways to Sunday the way they did – it’s bad.

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Let’s see if we can get through 3 before we wrap up. Let’s end on a happy note!

Chapter 3: The Burrow

S: So not only is Ron outside Harry’s window – there is a hovering turquoise car, and Fred and George are in it with him. Ron only thought to come because he said his Dad came home and told them about an official warning Harry received for using magic in front of the Muggles, so Ron figured something was going down and decided to help. So they’re “borrowing” their dad’s enchanted car.

Harry tries to explain, but Ron just cuts through the crap. “Stop gibbering. We’ve come to take you home with us.”

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Hark! What ginger through yonder window breaks?

C: Yay Weasleys!

S: Harry: “But you can’t magic me out either!” Ron: “We don’t need to. You forget who I’ve got with me.” That’s right. Fred and George Weasley to the rescue. They tie a rope around the bars and pull them off the window with the car.

C: And the Dursleys don’t wake up? I find that hard to believe.

S: Harry’s stuff is locked in the cupboard under the stairs. Fred and George: “No problem.” They get a hairpin and pick the lock to get Harry’s stuff.

C: Would you like to read these words? Or have me read these words?

S: Please read them!

C: “A lot of wizards think it’s a waste of time knowing tricks like this,” said Fred. “But We feel they’re skills worth learning, even if they are a bit slow.” THANK YOU FRED AND GEORGE.

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“Get this, Freddie — then, she says, ‘Alohomora!'”

S: So does that make them literally the smartest people in the entire series? Because they’re the only ones who realize that it might be useful to have some non-magic skills?

C: If they’re not, they’re pretty close. Imagine the damage a Hermione who was totally on board with some kind of mischief or just needing to break in somewhere to get shit done, the havoc she could wreak with Fred and George if she ever let herself be swept along on something with them. She would be a terror to behold.

S: Okay, now in my head I’m spinning an alt-universe where it’s not Harry, Ron and Hermione but Fred, George and Hermione, and it’s all their adventures as they break in and steal things and engage in a vast campaign of underground resistance, destroying the system from within.

C: It would be amazing.

S: At the very least Fred and George could teach her to use something other than Alohomora. They are unequivocally amazing – they help Harry get his stuff, get it in the car. And now finally Uncle Vernon is woken. He’s not woken by the noise, not even by the bars being ripped off. He’s being woken by the owl. By now, Uncle Vernon has a serious problem with owls, and it will haunt him to his last day.

C: “THAT RUDDY OWL!”

S: He’s running to get Hedwig, then Uncle Vernon crashes through the door. He lets out a bellow like an angry bull and dives at Harry, grabbing him by the ankles. “HE’S GETTING AWAY!”

And they do! Ron tells Fred to floor it and they fly away. Sassy Harry is back, leans out the window and calls to Vernon, “See you next summer!” That’s the nicest “fuck you” I’ve seen from Harry yet.

And Hedwig gets to fly, finally!

C: “George handed the hairpin to Ron, and a minute later Hedwig soared joyfully” blah blah blah. Ron picked the lock on her cage.

S: He’s learned a few things too! Fuck all versions of this story that depict Ron as useless.

C: You know Ginny knows how to do this, too.

S: That and I’m sure a few other things, because she manages not to get caught. Harry tells them all about the Dobby fiasco. Fred and George explain that house elves have powerful magic of their own but they usually can’t use it without their master’s permission. Because of that they think maybe Dobby was sent as a joke. I love the misdirection she uses by just telling you immediately what family Dobby has to be with from the very beginning. Because Fred and George ask who might have a grudge against him, and both Harry and Ron say, “Draco Malfoy.”

C: It’s interesting too because so much of the time through the rest of the book, Harry and Ron are always like, “It’s Snape it’s Snape it’s Snape it’s Snape it’s Snape.” And it isn’t. And now, they’re saying it’s Malfoy – when it turns out to be Malfoy.

S: It’s nice mirroring of Book 6. By the time we get there Harry is convinced that both Snape and Malfoy are up to something. This and Book 6 mirror each other, and in this one Ron and Hermione are more or less on board with it being Malfoy. But by 6, they don’t believe him at all. I’ll ramble about it when we get to 6, but I’ve always liked how by that time Harry is absolutely right the entire book. Which is rare, because he’s usually wrong the entire book.

C: A broken watch is right twice a day, right?

S: Yes. And for once he is completely right, and no one listens. Which is important groundwork for 7. So they’re not sure about Malfoy, but whoever owns him will be rich.

The Weasleys don’t have a house elf. But they do have a ghoul in the attic and gnomes in the garden.

C: I love the gnomes!

S: We find out about Errol, the ancient owl who collapses on deliveries all the time. And we hear that Percy has been behaving oddly all summer –

C: Sending love letters to Penelope Clearwater.

S: As George says, “There’s only so many times you can polish a prefect’s badge.”

C: You know where my mind went.

S: I do. It’s a good double entendre. And to be fair, there really is only so many times you can polish a prefect’s badge. But from now on I think we should use that line to mean something else entirely. We’ll come up with so many bad euphemisms!

We learn about Mr. Weasley – he works in the Ministry’s Misuse of Muggle Artifacts office, where people bewitch things that are Muggle made. Like last year – “some old witch died and her tea set was sold to an antique shop. This Muggle woman bought it and tried to serve her friends tea in it. It was a nightmare. The teapot went berserk, squirted boiling water in her face, and one man ended up in the hospital with the sugar tongs clamped to his nose.”

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That same teapot went on to play a pivotal role in the battle for the Beast’s castle

C: I have a question – it’s only him and an old warlock called Perkins in the office. What is a warlock?

S: I don’t know! I’m so glad you brought this up because they’ve mentioned it several times in the series and I always wondered what was the difference? Google, tell me what the difference is. I need to know.

I love that there are people on the internet who have devoted time to figuring this out.

C: There are people on the internet who have devoted time to basically anything you can think of. Hmmm. Where can I find a pattern to knit a sweater for a spider? Google that and you’ll find it.

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Close enough?

S: Warlock is an older word than wizard. It comes from Old English, meaning “oathbreaker,” while the word from Middle English where we get “wizard” means “wise.” They were generally viewed as good people with strong moral codes, while warlocks were sometimes portrayed as darker individuals. Maybe he’s just older. Maybe he’s just crabby.

C: The only thing I can think, if it’s not a separate species like elf or goblin, is that it would be kind of title, like you get to a certain age or you get your Masters’ degree in magic somewhere, maybe that makes you a warlock.

S: Well, according to the Harry Potter wiki, it describes a wizard of unusually fierce appearance or skill, a title denoting particular achievement. So I was right, he does look crabby. That’s partly it.

C: So you could also say “It’s only him and an old bat called Perkins,” if it was a woman.

S: Yeah. And it also denotes one learned in dueling and martial magic. Or it was given as a title to a wizard who performed feats of bravery, as Muggles are knighted. So maybe Perkins is Sir Perkins! Why he is working in the misuse of Muggle artifacts office, I don’t know.

C: Maybe he’s just got to get his quarters in before retirement age.

S: It also leads me to believe he might be as dotty as Mr. Weasley. Dumbledore was also Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot, so maybe it’s just a title. I like it, I’m going with the knight thing and the grumpy thing. I picture a wizened old man who glares a lot.

We also learn what it would be like if Walter White of Breaking Bad worked for the narcotics squad. Mr. Weasley works in the Misuse of Muggle Artifacts office, but he loves Muggle artifacts, taking them and adding magic to them.

C: It’s like that serial killer show, Dexter.

S: Just hopefully without the murder or drugs. Fortunately Mr. Weasley’s more benign about it. He just loves Muggle stuff. He is in the Muggle fandom. It makes sense why he likes the Misuse office, since he loves these things and he doesn’t want anyone abusing them. He makes me think of Ariel in The Little Mermaid, with his collection, his treasure trove.

Okay, no joke, now I’m imagining Mr. Weasley alone in his little garage, singing about all of his beloved Muggle artifacts to himself.

C: And combing his hair with a fork.

S: Now I’m torn about Photoshopping Mr. Weasley’s head onto Ariel.

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C: “Look at this stuff, isn’t it neat? Wouldn’t you think my collection’s complete? Wouldn’t you think I’m a wizard – a wizard who has everything?”

S: He’s got gadgets and gizmos aplenty!

C: He’s got whosits and whatsits galore! You want thingamabobs? I’ve got twenty.

S: I want to rewrite this now!

C: But who cares? No big deal! I want morrrrrre….

S: I want to be where the Muggles are… Oh god, this has to happen. We have to write these lyrics, I will put them in the transcript, and we should open next week’s episode singing.

C: You know we are women of a certain generation that we both have that song memorized.

S: That is the best thing to come out of this week. When I have bad days, I will just picture Mr. Weasley singing in his cave of wonders.

Fred and George live in the best named village ever – Ottery St. Catchpole. Why can’t I live in a place named Ottery St. Catchpole?

C: There are weird names in the United States.

S: This one though – I don’t even know what it means and I love it. They land at The Burrow. I love this description: “It looks as though it had been a large stone pigpen, but extra rooms had been added here in there. It was several stories high, crooked, and looked as through it were held up by magic. Which, as Harry reminded himself, it probably was.”

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C: My favorite thing is the description of Mrs. Weasley, who is “marching across the yard, scattering chickens, and for a short, plump, kind-faced woman it was remarkable how much she looked like a saber-toothed tiger.”

S: That sentence alone deserves to go into some kind of literary hall of fame. And can I say when you were reading that I just pictured your mom?

C: Its accurate! She’s a wonderful person but if you get on her bad side boy will she come at you.

S: This sentence: “Mrs Weasley came to a halt in front of them, her hands on her hips, staring from one guilty face to the next.”

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C: And this is exactly how my mother talks when she’s upset: “BEDS EMPTY — NO NOTE — CAR GONE — COULD HAVE CRASHED – OUT OF MY MIND WITH WORRY – DID YOU CARE – NEVER AS LONG AS I’VE LIVED – YOU WAIT UNTIL YOUR FATHER GETS HOME – WE NEVER HAD TROUBLE LIKE THIS FROM BILL OR CHARLIE OR PERCY—“ She talks in sentence fragments when she gets really pissed off. My sister and I still make jokes about how she used to come into our room, and there was a mess. She would get this thunderous frown on her face and start pointing at objects on the floor: “PICK – UP – NOW—“ And that’s as much as she could say because she was spluttering with rage.

S: I won’t say what grade, because by the time this is over everyone will know exactly who we are, but listeners should know that Professor Creed’s mother was one of my teachers. You were fortunate enough not to be in your mom’s class. So not only are we friends from way back and frenemies from even further back, but Professor Creed’s mom was my teacher, so I know whereof I speak.

Mrs. Weasley is amazing. I love this: “It seemed to go on for hours,” and that “she had shouted herself hoarse,” until she turned on Harry, so pleased to see him.

C: Which is exactly what my mother does!

S: I’ve seen her in action, and it’s terrifying. The Burrow is so great, with this awesome clock: “Time to make tea,” “time to feed the chickens,” and “You’re late.” That clock would always be on “You’re late” for me. The home is just so homey, comfortable. I love that she’s still grumbling as she makes them breakfast, even though they’re wearing her down by telling her how bad Harry had it. If there’s any way to get to Mrs. Weasley’s heart it’s by taking care of a poor unloved child.

She makes me think of Kitty Forman.

C: Who is that?

S: From That 70s Show.

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C: I’ve never watched that.

S: I love that show so much, for so many reasons, but Kitty and Red remind me a lot of my own parents, and Kitty Forman isn’t quite as harsh as Mrs. Weasley, although when she does yell you better be terrified because it’s rare. She’s a super sweet, squeaky voiced mother to everyone. Her son Eric’s gaggle of ne’er-do-well friends are constantly living in her house and eating her food and she just mothers all of them. One of Eric’s friends, Steven Hyde, has a mom who’s a deadbeat who abandons him while he’s in high school. She takes off and leaves him, and he’s living in a house alone with no electricity, he doesn’t have a job, he doesn’t know what to do. Eric tells his parents, and they’re talking about what to do. Eric’s own family doesn’t have money, they’re in the middle of an economic downturn. Red’s working half time. They barely have enough money to support the family that they have. Kitty says, “I guess we could call social services, they’d know what to do….even though they have so many cases that they house them in gymnasiums….WITH NO HEAT.” She starts crying.

Eric’s dad, a total hardass, finally shouts, “I am sick and tired of being fucking Santa Claus!” But they take him in, and he moves in with them. He lives with them like one of their kids. But it makes me think of Kitty, because whenever it comes to Hyde, she’s a total softie. She wants to take him shopping and feed him and love him. There’s a moment – I think they’re talking about shopping – and they’re all in the kitchen, she’s standing behind Hyde, and Eric is complaining, “Hey mom, why don’t you do that for me?” She says, “You have a loving family and support, and –“ she reaches over and covers Hyde’s ears – “he doesn’t have any parents, Eric!”

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She’s that fierce mother, and this makes me think of her. Mrs. Weasley is the same – yell at everyone, but take care of Harry.

One day I will make you watch one or two key episodes of that show.

Then we see Ginny, a small, red-headed figure in a nightdress who appears in the kitchen, gives a small squeal, and disappears again. She’s been talking about Harry all summer, apparently. Mmmm-hmmmm.

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C: I guess he’s very dishy.

S: In true teen fashion, they’ve been up all night, plowed through a massive breakfast, and Mrs. Weasley says that since it’s their own fault that they were up all night they’re not going to bed, they’re going to de-gnome the garden. Harry’s happy to go along.

Then we get our first clue of the horrors to come. Mrs. Weasley decides, “Let’s see what Lockhart says on the subject.” And she pulls a heavy book from the mantelpiece. Gilderoy Lockhart’s Guide to Household Pests. “A very good looking wizard with wavy blond hair and bright blue eyes” is in a moving photograph. “The wizard, who Harry supposed was Gilderoy Lockhart, kept winking cheekily up at them all.”

C: Oh, Lockhart.

S: Kenneth Branagh was the perfect Lockhart.

C: He was very smarmy.

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S: I don’t think they could have cast a better one. And I love that Mrs. Weasley uses phrases like “woe betide you.” That endears her to me on a personal level.

So they go out to do the most awesome thing – de-gnoming!

C: I feel bad, but they say it doesn’t hurt them and so I’m going to take them at their word. It’s hilarious to me that the gnomes – all we hear them say is “Gerroff me! Gerroff me!”

S: “Knobby, bald heads like a potato,” and they have horny little feet that kick! I’m just picturing muddy potatoes with legs.

C: “He raised the gnome above his head (“Gerroff me!”) and started to swing it in great circles like a lasso.”

S: And it turns into a contest about who can throw one farther!

C: “The air was soon thick with flying gnomes. ‘See, they’re not too bright,’ said George, seizing five or six gnomes at once. ‘The moment they know the de-gnoming’s going on, they all storm up to have a look. You’d think they’d have learn by now to just stay put.’”

S: “Harry learned quickly not to feel too sorry for them,” because he was going to drop one nicely over a hedge, but “sensing weakness,” it sank is razor-sharp teeth into his finger. This is a beautiful chapter altogether. The boys say they’ll be back, because “Dad’s too soft with them. He thinks they’re funny.”

C: That sums up my dad. So basically my parents are the Weasleys. My dad seems so gruff and standoffish but he’s actually just really shy. He watches either Fox News or romantic movies on the Hallmark Channel.

S: He’s a big sweetheart who always encouraged you to take in stray cats.

C: Which I do to this day! Much to my mother’s annoyance. She complains about it constantly, but does nothing.

S: Your parents ARE the Weasleys! Also, this lets me know that if I were in the magical world I would have a garden full of gnomes, because I think they’re funny too, and they would sense weakness in me and move in and have parties.

C: What exactly do gnomes do? Why do gardens need to be de-gnomed?

S: Maybe they just dig tunnels which messes with the plants, who knows. I guess they’re just garden pests. Maybe they’re just noisy!

C: GERROFF ME!

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S: Now we meet Mr. Weasley, who is home.

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Molly + Arthur: I ship them

“A thin man, going bald,” with red hair, glasses, dead on his feet, and oh my god Mundungus Fletcher tried to hex him when he had his back turned! What the hell, Mundungus?

This is one of my all-time favorite things – Mr. Weasley was after a few shrinking door keys and a biting kettle. George: “Why would anyone bother making door keys shrink?” “’Just Muggle-baiting,’ sighed Mr. Weasley. ‘Sell them a key that keeps shrinking to nothing so that they can never find it when they need it. Of course it’s very hard to convict anyone because no Muggle would admit their key keeps shrinking. They’ll insist they just keep losing it. Bless them, they’ll go to any lengths to ignore magic, even if it’s staring them in the face.’”

I would like to report that I have been sold shrinking keys! I love these explanations for things that happen to everyone. Everyone does this – “I just had my keys, where are they?” – and I am the world’s worst about this, I am constantly searching for my keys. So this has a deep and personal resonance with me, knowing that it’s not my fault – I’m just being Muggle-baited.

C: It’s pretty great.

S: This is even greater. Mr. Weasley: “The things our lot have taken to enchanting, you wouldn’t believe.” Mrs. Weasley: “LIKE CARS, FOR INSTANCE?”

I love this line of reasoning. Mrs. Weasley: “Imagine a wizard buying a rusty old car and telling his wife all he wanted to do with it was take it apart to see how it worked, while really he was enchanting it to make it fly.” Mr. Weasley: “Well, I think you’ll find he would be quite within the law to do that, even if – er—he maybe would have done better to tell his wife the truth. There’s a loophole in that law, you’ll find. As long as he wasn’t intending to fly the car, the fact that the car could fly wouldn’t—“ Mrs. Weasley: “ARTHUR WEASLEY, YOU MADE SURE THERE WAS A LOOPHOLE WHEN YOU WROTE THAT LAW!”

Mrs. Weasley must tear her hair out going after him over all this, and I love that he can write these laws because no one else cares – which lets him write in loopholes so he can keep playing with his toys!

Of course, Mr. Weasley now realizes who is here. He’s getting off track, so Molly shouts some more. “Your sons flew that car to Harry’s house and back last night! What have you go to say about that, eh?” Arthur: “Really? Did it go all right?”

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Those two must really love each other, because otherwise they’d be killing each other.

C: That too is like my parents – my  mom being the disciplinarian, and my dad – his reaction to something like that would be “Did you really? How did it go? Oh, yes, that was very wrong, go to your room.”

And one more animal thing – Ron mutters to Harry as Mrs. Weasley swells like a bullfrog.

S: They go upstairs, and they pass Ginny the peeping tom peering out at Harry.

C: Bright brown eyes.

S: I like that description. They finally reach Ron’s room, covered in a violent shade of orange because Ron has covered his entire room with posters of the Chudley Cannons, who are apparently the worst team ever.

C: I thought, when I read this – how many teams are in the league? Do they get relegated like in the British premier league? I have questions.

S: I just remember that people make fun of the team in later books, so I think Ron must love this team even though they’re not very good. I also love that there are comic books in the wizarding world. Just like we have comic books about superheroes, they have comic books about mad Muggles.

C: How much you want to bet Mr. Weasley got that for Ron?

S: Oh, you know he did. “Martin Miggs, the Mad Muggle.”

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Ron’s room is such a mess – it’s tiny, it’s cramped, it’s chaotic, it’s homey – and Harry loves it. It’s warm, makes you feel so at home even though it’s a mess. Because the best homes are the lived-in ones. And I love that Harry says “This is the best house I’ve ever been in,” just as Ron is apologizing for it. That always leaves me smiling.

C: They’re a good pair.

S: They appreciate each other! And I appreciate that I now have a wizard Disney theme song.

C: “I want to be…where the Muggles are…”

S: Readers, I hope you enjoy our new theme song, hope you learn the words and can sing along! So next week will be “Flourish and Blotts,” best name for a book store ever, “The Whomping Willow,” and “Gilderoy Lockhart.” I imagine there will be enough in there to keep us busy for a while, don’t you?

C: Probably!

S: Awesome. Anything before we go?

C: “Wouldn’t you think I’m the wizard who has…everything?”

S: And this is why, Professor, you are the best. Well, until next time, you poor unfortunate souls who have to listen to us—I am Professor Seraphine—

C: I am Professor Creed –

S: And we’ll see you next time on Advanced Muggle Studies!

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