Hogwarts' chamber of horrors

7th February 2003 at 00:00
I see no reason to wait until the midsummer solstice before knowing the plot of the new Harry Potter book, and what happens when our hero gets into Year 11 . There are clues, because JK Rowling's publishers are so plainly anxious to make sure we all get hooked again that they have released some information about the next 255,000-word epic.

We know that the book begins on the hottest day of the summer, in Privet Drive, with "a teenage boy lying flat on his back in a flowerbed". What he is doing flat on his back we do not know, but anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of teenage boys can guess that he is either thinking about teenage girls, wondering where to get hold of some money, digesting a family-size Swiss Roll, or else he has just fallen off the roof. In other words he is on his summer holidays.

Which is not much help. On the other hand, someone auctioned a postcard on which Rowling summarised the book in 93 words including, we are coyly told, "Ron, broom, sacked, house-elf, new, teacher, dies, sorry". Still only a faint clue.

It would be nice, though, to think that the house-elf (the one who looks like Vladimir Putin in a loincloth) will get a job as a fast-track food tech teacher.

The really telling fragment is a scene between Harry and the all-wise headmaster. "Dumbledore lowered his hands and surveyed Harry through his half-moon glasses" it begins, raising the tantalising question - lowers his hands from what? Was he tearing his hair? Trying to disentangle his pet phoenix from his hat? Or is Dumbles on a middle-aged fitness kick, doing chin-ups on the ancient carven beams in his study?

The fragment continues by hinting that there is something the headmaster has been keeping from Harry, and concludes "Please sit down. I am going to tell you everything". Aha! It is obvious that something had to change at Hogwarts, and now we have evidence. If I close my eyes, I can hear the sonorous voice of Professor Dumbledore revealing that at long last, the modern age has caught up with Hogwarts school.

"Harry, you have devoted much of your time here to fighting Lord Voldemort and all he stands for. It is not that we are ungrateful for your efforts, but you must understand that as we enter the 21st century it is no longer possible for certain old-fashioned, elitist values to govern what we do here. Frankly, the Weasley family have been a less than suitable influence.

Their values are what Muggles call - ahem! - very Old Labour. I suppose it is because Mr Weasley used to work for the Ministry of Magic before the recent outsourcing of his duties to Grabita PLC, a subdivision of Death Eaters International. Mrs Weasley has steadily resisted all efforts to return her to the workplace, and social benefits for their immoderately large family have been a severe drain on common resources.

"Between you and me, the Treasury Goblins are devising a welfare-to-work programme which will have Mrs W scrubbing industrial cauldrons on the minimum wage before the year's out.

"The important thing I have to tell you, Harry, is that your vendetta against Lord Voldemort must cease. After very fruitful negotiations, I am happy to tell you that Death Eaters International, and its online curriculum subsidiary Darkarts.com, have signed a very advantageous financial agreement with Hogwarts. This most imaginative public-private partnership will bring the dynamic business values of modern Voldemortism right into the classroom, creating useful links with the Death Eating community and providing an ongoing recruitment base. Mr Lucius Malfoy takes over as chair of governors , and Professor Snape has already redrawn the 14-18 curriculum in line with the forward-looking philosophy of our new partners. We are abandoning the Ordinary Wizarding Level exams at 16 in favour of the Vol-Bacc, a wider and more relevant curriculum in modular form, with the incentive that those who pass each module are permitted to continue, while others undergo Transformation into a Vocational, or House-Elf stream and transfer to the kitchens.

"Defence Against the Dark Arts will be replaced by exciting modules in Sorcery Studies and Understanding Satanism. I do regret the departure of such staff members as Professor McGonagall, who felt unable to take on the new challenges and, following discussions with Lord Voldemort, is embarking on a new career as a large yellow spotted frog. But our staff numbers will be kept up by employing a number of ghouls and mandrakes as Year 7 and 8 classroom assistants. You may have heard the screaming.

"In short, Harry, Hogwarts school is moving forward confidently into a new era."

Worth waiting for, huh?

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