There’s a lot to be said about J.K. Rowling, her consistent novel output since 2007, her living below the poverty line despite her level of fame, her absolute devotion to the representation of minorities and the LGBT community, but truly her greatest contribution to the literary world – no, society in general – is the eighteenth book in the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Portrait of What Looked Like a Large Pile of Ash. Where do I begin with it? What do I say that other minds more clever and eloquent than mine haven’t already? It’s exceedingly well-written with so many iconic moments etched into our hearts: the unicorns’ strike, Snape and Professor Grubbly-Plank finally confessing their feelings for each other, the drunken game of Quidditch over Mt. Fuji, Cornelius Fudge discovering the cure for herpes, Dobby marrying his sock collection! And yeah, I liked the goblin musical number! It was witty and a bold departure from the genre! All you musical haters can suck a dragon’s toenail!
If you can’t already tell, I have a lot of strong feelings for this particular entry in the Harry Potter saga. But instead of recapping the entire book, I’m going to do something a little different, possibly even risky. I’ll be reviewing the chapter that defines this whole story and is the crux of Harry’s emotional arc throughout the entire series, Chapter Thirteen: The Handsome One.
We open once again with J.K. Rowling flexing her craft with vivid descriptions of the nighttime area surrounding Hogwarts: the night sky as a great black ceiling full of blood, the winds snarling under magical magnification, you can’t buy this kind of quality in writing. The wind carries on its back the angry shrieks of Hagrid’s sentient furniture. I’m still upset about how the furniture was dealt with earlier, but I’d be shrieking too if I were forcibly possessed by a hippogriff with a bachelor’s degree in microbiology.
After a brief reminder of how Harry views magic as a very good thing, he meets up with Ron, who’s still stuck in that awful Ron shirt that his great-aunt Tessie gave him back in Chapter Ten: The Floo Powder Tragedy, which reflects all his bad qualities. At the moment, Ron is doing a kind of frenzied tap dance, as you do. Hermione reminds the two they’d better get along – oh, I’m sorry, “clump happily” (this is why nobody from Australia goes to Hogwarts, Hermione) – or she’ll get aggressive with them. That’s a rather light punishment in the face of Ron eating her family right in front of her.
It’s then revealed that Harry views Ron and his self-proclaimed special brand of “Ron magic” as a loud, slow and soft bird – and he doesn’t like to think about birds. It’s a bone-chilling bit of foreshadowing for Chapter Nineteen: The Birdening, but I’m getting ahead of myself. Ron spoils the mood by crying out in fear that he sees Death Eaters on top of the castle. Then Ron becomes spiders against his will and –
Wait a minute.
Ron is terrified of spiders.
In the third movie, he has a nightmare where spiders make him tap dance.
The same spiders that cover Ron and make him one of them are what made him tap dance! That is genius, Rowling, GENIUS!
Hermione gets the idea to listen in on the Death Eaters’ plans and they apparate to the castle roof – they don’t leg it, of course, witches are not climbing, after all. Unfortunately, the way into the Death Eaters’ convergence is blocked by a door, a locked door, as the dearly departed Mr. Staircase informs them. Good ol’ Mr. Staircase, you can always count on him to relay some crucial information. They shout and rail at the locked passage, but it’s not until Hermione guesses the password – Beef Women – that the door opens and I’m forced to change all my accounts’ passwords now that my phrase is out in the open. Thanks, Hermione.
The Death Eaters are taking a break from their evil plans to discuss relationships. A particular pair of dark wizards in the group are coming to terms with their attraction to each other. One admits it’s fine if the other likes him and even plants a kiss on his cheek, and the move is met with cheerful applause from his peers. You know, the Death Eaters in Harry Potter are supposed to be stand-ins for nazis, but I don’t recall nazis being this supportive towards gay people, especially in their ranks. Isn’t it great to see bad guys fleshed out with a previously unseen caring side? Well done, Rowling. Well done.
The Death Eaters continue plotting their next move – to get rid of Harry’s magic for good – when Harry realizes Voldemort is standing right behind him. He feels he’s about to overreact to his mortal enemy appearing and overreact he does – he takes out his own eyeballs and tosses them. Is Harry thinking if he can’t see Voldemort then Voldemort can’t see him? I don’t think that’s how it works. Even Voldemort is weirded out by this action if his noticeable eyebrow raise is any indication. Regardless, Harry, with encouragement from Hermione, gives Voldemort the sickest burn in the entire canon:
Voldemort, you’re a very bad and mean wizard!
Hermione discovers one Death Eater is wearing a shirt proclaiming that Hermione’s forgotten how to dance (a truly low blow when one remembers the incident with the memory charm in Chapter Seven: Revenge of the Yule Ball) so she dunks his face in the mud. Good thing he wasn’t singing a mocking song about her drawing skills or she’d really let him have it. Ron gets a round of applause from everyone, even the Death Eaters, when he successfully throws his wand at Voldemort. This earns some reluctant jealousy from Harry as he internally fumes over Ron’s status as The Handsome One.
The battle for Hogwarts commences, with Harry, Ron and Hermione casting spells at one end and the Death Eaters on the other shooting deadly green light out of their foreheads. It may not be traditional magic, but it looks amazingly cool. Perhaps this was the Ron magic Ron was referring to? Ron flinches at his own magic being used against him, and Harry takes some small vindictive joy in The Handsome One looking not so handsome now, even as he makes his final move of dipping Hermione in hot sauce.
In a shocking swerve, the scene abruptly ends with all the Death Eaters dead, either slain in the battle or victims of their overuse of Ron magic. There’s no sign of Voldemort, however, leaving us to presume he’s either among the deceased or escaped. It’s unfortunate that we’re going to have to wait until Harry Potter and the Nice Bit of Battenberg Trim to find out his true fate. Harry is left hungry, but thankfully there’s something in the castle that keeps him from eating up Hermione, even as she’s covered in hot sauce.
From there we get a standard celebratory feast in the Great Hall complete with moaning chandeliers (from Hagrid’s hut, perhaps?) A nameless librarian whom I assume is Madame Pince marks the occasion by decorating the bathroom sinks with books about masonry. Placing the books in spots where they could easily be ruined is a bit out of character for her, but Pince is presently under an engorgement charm that makes her twice as tall as everyone else in the room so maybe it’s messing with her head too. Though I think I could have done without the exploding mountains of mice everywhere. Wizard ASPCA must have their hands full with these shenanigans on top of dealing with dragons and blast-ended skrewts.
McGonagall disposes of the last of those long pumpkins she was jinxed with back in Chapter Two: The Unreasonable Esquilax. Dumbledore’s arrival is heralded by his lengthy sentient beard scooting up next to Hermione. And then, the moment we’ve all been waiting for: Dumbledore formally declares the Pig of Hufflepuff is the new Hagrid. That pig has been through so much that this title was a long time coming. I know I got choked up when I got to this part.
Harry, Ron and Hermione mark the occasion by singing a brief song about how Dumbledore will never kick them out of school because they’re the only students that matter. This brutal self-awareness is refreshing. I’m glad Rowling herself acknowledged it at last. I’m surprised they lasted as long as they did at Hogwarts concerning the number of life-threatening escapades and rules they break every year. Our chapter comes to a close as we’re reassured that the Dursleys will never come to the castle with its floors like large piles of magic (in this book at least) and Harry beginning his summer-long tumble down the stairs, proudly declaring that the Dark Arts had better be worried about him because he’s Harry Freaking Potter.
So that was The Handsome One, and if you can’t see why this chapter is so brilliant then you need to learn how to read. I’ll be back next week when I share my thoughts on Dante’s Inferno’s recently unearthed missing Circle of Hell: Ignoring Your Customer’s Request To Leave Parsley Off Their Food Despite The Fact That They Ask Every Time They Order From You.
Thank you for reading, be sure to support me on Patreon and tell me what your favorite chapter of HPATPOWLLAPOA is in the comments – or not! April Fools! Sorry if this is not what you were expecting today but I haven’t done an April First prank since my first year on this blog and wanted to have a little fun. And no, I did not make this story or chapter up. It was written by a computer fed all seven Harry Potter books and it made the rounds on the internet a few years ago. Here it is in all its ridiculous glory:
This month’s actual movie review of a film based on some real books, The Pagemaster, will be up by tonight. Also, apologies for not getting the Sleeping Beauty review up on time. It will be up later this month, I promise. See you soon!