A stench of guilt: Rereading Goblet of Fire

On this reread, various thoughts on:  “A stench of guilt.” Why Voldemort went to the trouble of rigging the Triwizard Tournament.  Hallows vs. Horcruxes.

The line “I smell guilt.  There is a stench of guilt upon the air” from Voldemort in the graveyard scene of Goblet of Fire struck me as deliciously terrifying the first few times I read it, when I realized it presaged imminent punishment for the craven Death Eaters who never went looking for Voldemort during his 13-year absence.

It took me a while to sympathize with how painful that time must have been for Voldemort.  He was the villain, after all, and a successfully cardboard one, at that, less interesting than the ambiguous or more three-dimensional characters of this world.  It was also unthinkable to imagine 13 long years in the bodiless state he described, racked with pain and terror.  I think I shied away from it.  I didn’t want to think how much it was like the terror of baby Harry, who was never looked at tenderly again between the time he lost his parents and the time he gained friends at Hogwarts.

I was thunderstruck to see the return of that line in Cursed Child, when Harry is having nightmares about his late Aunt Petunia.  I know Voldemort is Harry’s shadow self, but this brought it home more starkly than I’d ever seen it:  the times that Voldemort cast Crucio on the people who claimed to care about him or even killed them, mocked or mutilated them, raged that he wanted “thirteen years’ repayment” before he would even consider forgiving them, he was expressing sentiments that Harry would have felt toward the Dursleys and even toward Dumbledore.  Harry didn’t dare express them to the Dursleys as a child with no recourse, and once he lived under threat of separation from Hogwarts, he worked even harder not to express his rage toward them.  It was even more vital that he not rage against Dumbledore for putting him with the Dursleys or failing to meet his eyes during fifth year, since despite Harry’s understandable anger, Dumbledore was still his protector and benefactor.  But once I read that line in Cursed Child, and saw Harry arguing with Dumbledore’s portrait in that play, it struck me for the first time how the “thirteen years” of repayment that Voldemort wanted were the exact same thirteen years that Harry had suffered.

Part of writing about Harry Potter or other genre or low-prestige fiction is the feeling of defensiveness when others sneer.  I’ve heard criticisms about how absurd it was for JKR to write of Voldemort going to such extreme efforts to manipulate Harry through the Triwizard Tournament and have him touch the Portkey at the end, when he could have had Barty Crouch, Jr. kidnap Harry via Portkey at any time for less trouble.  I winced, agreed that yes, there was a thinness to that premise, and turned my thoughts elsewhere.

So it took me longer than, perhaps, it should have to pay attention to the possible reasoning behind that choice.

During that graveyard scene, Voldemort said he wanted the blood of Harry Potter for the spell that would return him to his adult body and considered how to get Harry away from Dumbledore’s protection.  There was the Quidditch World Cup, he noted,

but I was not yet strong enough to attempt kidnap in the midst of a horde of Ministry wizards. And then, the boy would return to Hogwarts, where he is under the crooked nose of that Muggle-loving fool from morning until night. So how could I take him?

Why . . . by using Bertha Jorkins’s information, of course. Use my one faithful Death Eater, stationed at Hogwarts, to ensure that the boy’s name was entered into the Goblet of Fire.

Hmm.  So he would have liked to kidnap Harry at the Quidditch World Cup, a year earlier than he managed to, but he was not strong enough.  He was still in the infant-like form that Wormtail got him into, and despite Wormtail’s lie, “But you seem so much stronger, my Lord —”, he remained weak and small without the ritual to restore his body.

I wonder if he wanted Harry brought to him at the height of the Triwizard Tournament because it was the second-best thing to the Quidditch World Cup for having international attention for a grand entrance.  He certainly went through some staging for his Death Eaters, getting Harry to bow and duel before proving himself stronger “by killing him, here and now, in front of you all.”  Having Harry be hailed as a champion by three different schools and the Ministry of Magic before slaughtering him would have suited his sense of grandeur.

As much as this makes sense to me, though, I don’t think there’s anything conclusive in the text about it.  Then again, I’m not done with this reread.

I feel that defensiveness so often when I make realizations about what something “meant” in the HP series.  I imagine, not without reason, that people will ridicule the notion that a children’s series “deserves” to be figured out as though it were “serious” “literature” for adults.  I haven’t been able to reduce or eliminate that defensiveness.  But I haven’t been able to stop analyzing the series, either, exactly in the way that is supposedly reserved for “serious” “adult” literature.  For one thing, I want to do it.  For another, people who claim that HP is simplistic, child’s play, that they understood all of it and it was beneath them to puzzle over it, generally have not been able to reply when I’ve asked them, “Okay… then what did this or that part mean?”

I never understood this passage from “The Wandmaker” chapter in Deathly Hallows:

Bill said, “All right. Who do you want to talk to first?”

Harry hesitated. He knew what hung on his decision. There was hardly any time left; now was the moment to decide: Horcruxes or Hallows?

“Griphook,” Harry said. “I’ll speak to Griphook first.”

His heart was racing as if he had been sprinting and had just cleared an enormous obstacle.

Horcruxes or Hallows?  Huh?  What, exactly, hung on that decision?  I remember reading Deathly Hallows for the first time, puzzling over this, getting nowhere, feeling embarrassed and irritated that I didn’t get it, shoving it aside and moving on.  Ron didn’t get it, either; he challenged Harry’s decision, and Harry said, “I’m supposed to get the Horcruxes….”  “Supposed to”?  How did he know?

Hmm.  Hallows:  the Unbeatable Wand would have, presumably, made Harry invincible if Voldemort tried to kill him once again.

Horcruxes:  if Harry found and destroyed them, Voldemort would become mortal.


Hagrid, in Sorcerer’s Stone:  “Dunno if he had enough human in him left to die.”

Voldemort, in Goblet of Fire:  “I was willing to embrace mortal life again, before chasing immortality.  I set my sights lower . . . I would settle for my old body back again, and my old strength.”

R.A.B., in Half-Blood Prince:  “I face death in the hope that when you meet your match you will be mortal once more.”

Dumbledore, in Order of the Phoenix:  “Your failure to understand that there are things much worse than death has always been your greatest weakness…”

So Harry was supposed to interrupt Voldemort during this temporary mortal phase, on his way to immortality.  Voldemort was chasing immortality partly through Horcruxes, partly through eliminating the one who could bring him down.  Harry saving his own life, possibly, by procuring the Elder Wand would not bring Voldemort closer to mortality.  Losing time on chasing Horcruxes, though, would bring Voldemort closer to immortality, since it would give Voldemort time to catch on to what Harry was doing, locate and hide his Horcruxes more securely.  It would just prolong the fight and increase the collateral damage.

So Harry was choosing not to save his own skin in favor of possibly sacrificing himself to render Voldemort mortal and finish him off before he could do more damage, knowing that if he didn’t, nobody else could.

Hmm.  Okay.  So that was the “enormous obstacle” that Harry had just cleared.  He accepted that he’s the Chosen One and his job is not to save his own skin but to save others from this murderer.