I’m re-reading the Harry Potter series from start to finish in the name of over-analysis. Spoilers ahoy.
The Midnight Duel Harry is getting increasingly fed up with Draco Malfoy, who is now his clear archrival at Hogwarts. They have their first true confrontation during broomstick-riding lessons, when Malfoy steals Neville’s Remembrall and Harry chases it down. In the process, he discovers his natural talent for broomstick-riding. Professor McGonagall notices too, and drags him out of the class under the guise of punishing him for disobedience. Instead, she introduces him to Gryffindor’s Quidditch captain and arranges for him to be made the team’s Seeker. Later, Malfoy challenges Harry to a midnight wizard’s duel, but it’s a setup to get him caught by Filch and expelled. Harry, along with Ron, Hermione, and Neville, manages to escape from Filch and stumbles into a very restricted room containing a gigantic three-headed dog guarding a trapdoor. Once safely back in the Gryffindor tower, Harry reasons that the dog is guarding the package from Gringotts.
Thoughts Story-wise, this is another pretty rushed chapter, but it contains a lot of character development so I’m going to forgive it. The one character who really stood out for me in this chapter was Hermione. I like Hermione--having been a know-it-all myself at numerous points in my life, some more recent than I’d like to admit, I find her the easiest of the three main protagonists to relate to--but I know there are a lot of series fans who never really warmed to her. And revisiting this chapter, I can’t help but wonder if some of that might be Rowling’s fault. Here are a few choice lines about Hermione from this chapter:
Hermione wasn’t going to give up that easily. She followed Ron through the portrait hole, hissing at them like an angry goose. ... Harry couldn’t believe someone could be so interfering. ... “Now what am I going to do?” she asked shrilly.
Now, we know what Rowling is doing here. A lot of real-life friendships start out with unfounded annoyance after bad first impressions. Not only is Rowling trying to make Hermione’s later friendship with Harry and Ron more meaningful, since they started off in such a different place, but she’s also making a point to her young readers that people who annoy you might not be so bad if you make the effort to get to know them (unless they’re Malfoy, I guess). However, she’s running into a problem with point-of-view here: up until now, a lot of the book has made use of an omniscient POV. Remember in the very first chapter: “None of them noticed a large, tawny owl flutter past the window.” None of them: our POV was explicitly outside the characters’ at this point, and that effect has come up again throughout the book. But in this chapter, we get so much unflattering description of Hermione (especially the angry goose bit) that it really only makes sense if this scene is from Harry’s POV. Unfortunately, this shift happens subtly over many chapters and it’s easy to miss it.  That makes it easy to mistakenly assume that narrator (or even Rowling herself) finds Hermione annoying, and coming from that authoritative voice, it feels like an instruction. Even when Hermione’s vulnerability and insecurity comes up later, and we get to see her acting smart and capable instead of pompous and irritating, it’s hard to shake this significant early image of her nagging. I think that if Rowling had stuck with Harry’s POV for the entire book - which is pretty much what all the later books in the series do, confining other characters’ POV to single-chapter asides - she could have avoided this issue. McGonagall fares better in this segment. Since the first chapter, we haven’t had a chance to see much of her beyond the authoritarian sternness. Here, though, we get to see how much she’ll bend the rules if it means beating Slytherin at Quidditch. I still remember what a surprise it was to be a kid and learn that adults didn’t always follow the rules and didn’t care nearly as much about you stepping out of line as they made it seem. That adds a nice touch of realism to the scene, in addition to giving us a warmer (if a bit hyper-competitive) picture of McGonagall. This leads us to Harry himself, who spends this chapter showcasing both his greatest strengths and most dangerous flaws. His broomstick showdown with Malfoy says it all: he’s brave, willing to stand up for others, and cares more about doing the right thing than following the rules. He’s also reckless, impulsive, and arrogant. He has no way of knowing before he takes off that he can fly the broom at all, but Harry is a creature of the moment, as we can see in this passage:
Harry ignored her. Blood was pounding in his ears. He mounted the broom and kicked hard against the ground and up, up he soared; air rushed through his hair, and his robes whipped out behind him -- and in a rush of fierce joy he realized he’d found something he could do without being taught - this was easy, this was wonderful.
That’s a jump from rage to elation in one sentence. Harry is still mad at Malfoy and still goes after Neville’s Remembrall, but for a moment those thoughts go completely out of his head. He’s driven by intuition more than thought. This is the first time we really see Harry’s hero complex in action. He’s still just a kid, of course, but even as he matures over the course of the series he never loses that critical drive to ride to the rescue. It saves him, his friends, and Hogwarts more than once; it also, eventually, gets people killed. This is probably the strongest aspect of Harry’s characterization. Rowling has said that she values courage above all other virtues, but it’s to her credit that she’s not afraid to show what happens when courage overrides sense. Hermione might seem like she’s just nagging when she berates Harry about sneaking out to duel Malfoy, but there’s some heavy foreshadowing in these lines:
“--and you mustn’t go wandering around the school at night, think of the points you’ll lose Gryffindor if you’re caught, and you’re bound to be. It’s really very selfish of you.” “And it’s really none of your business,” said Harry.
It’s just Gryffindor points Hermione’s worried about now, but the stakes will be much higher very soon. Harry will eventually have to learn to sort out selfishness from heroism, and he’ll lose a great deal before he figures it out. Stray observations: - This book is a lot more aggressive about Americanizing the language than the later volumes are. “Soccer” instead of “football” and “bathrobe” instead of “dressing gown” were some words that stood out to me. - It used to bug me that Harry was such a natural at broomstick riding / Quidditch, since it seemed like he already had so much handed to him - he's a wizard! Not just any wizard, he's the one who took down Voldemort and he's famous and honored! And now he's a Quidditch superstar! - and that made this part read like Mary Sue wish-fulfillment fanfiction to me. But reading it again, I find that Harry doesn't really excel naturally at everything else; he struggles just as much with basic magic as his classmates, and the whole Voldemort thing is really more of a curse than a blessing, so this is the first time he's just flat-out good at something without having to try. It doesn't bother me so much now. Next up, Harry faces his first real, if a bit ridiculous, threat, and the superstar trio gets its official start.