HP Re-read: 1.4 The Keeper of the Keys

Chapter 4 immediately picks up where chapter 3 left off. And it starts with a big bang. I remember being extraordinarily happy reading this when I was younger because finafreakingly someone was nice to Harry – and on the day of his birth no less!

There was a crash behind them and Uncle Vernon came skidding into the room. He was holding a rifle in his hands — now they knew what had been in the long, thin package he had brought with them.

“Who’s there?” he shouted. “I warn you — I’m armed!”

There was a pause. Then —

SMASH!

The door was hit with such force that it swung clean off its hinges and with a deafening crash landed flat on the floor.

Rubeus Hagrid comes into the shack and introduces himself to a surprised Harry while a frightened Dudley and outraged Vernon and Petunia look on.

Hagrid also gives Harry a nice little cake as a birthday present (“I mighta sat on it at some point, but it”ll taste alright.”) Hagrid comes to learn that Harry doesn’t know anything about his real identity nor his parents’ world.

“An’ here’s Harry!” said the giant.

Harry looked up into the fierce, wild, shadowy face and saw that the beetle eyes were crinkled in a smile.

“Las’ time I saw you, you was only a baby,” said the giant. “Yeh look a lot like yer dad, but yeh’ve got yer mom’s eyes.”

“You look so much like your father, but you’ve got your mother’s eyes.” It’s quite bizarre to know that Harry’s going to spend the rest of his life hearing that. At the same time, it’s really heartwarming that it is the very first, true thing Harry learns about his parents.

“Call me Hagrid,” he said, “everyone does. An’ like I told yeh, I’m Keeper of Keys at Hogwarts – yeh’ll know all about Hogwarts, o’ course.”

“Er – no,” said Harry.

Hagrid looked shock.

“Sorry,” Harry said quickly.

Hagrid goes on to tell Harry that he’s a a wizard (Yer a wizard, Harry), and delivers him the mysterious mail – which is an acceptance letter to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

You would think Dumbledore would have at least given Hagrid a heads up that Harry Potter has no clue a magical world exists. Also, oh Harry, so young and so quickly to apologize for everything – because if he doesn’t, he’ll always be in trouble with the Dursleys. Being a compulsive apologizer is also one thing I’d like to change about myself.

Moving on, Petunia snaps:

“Knew!” shrieked Aunt Petunia suddenly. “Knew! Of course we knew! How could you not be, my dratted sister being what she was? Oh, she got a letter just like that and disappeared off to that – that school – and came home every vacation with her pockets full of frog spawn, turning teacups into rats. I was the only one who saw her for what she was – a freak! But for my mother and father, oh no, it was Lily this and Lily that, they were proud of having a witch in the family!”

She stopped to draw a deep breath and then went ranting on. It seemed she had been wanting to say all this for years.

“Then she met that Potter at school and they left and got married and had you, and of course I knew you’d be just the same, just as strange, just as – as –abnormal – and then, if you please, she went and got herself blown up and we got landed with you!”

Man, talk about an outburst. I believe this is the first time we’ve seen an extreme reaction from Petunia. Fiona Shaw totally nailed that scene in the film adaptation. Normally, we see Petunia’s resentment and anger directed towards Harry. Her tirade in this chapter is all of her bitterness over her sister that she kept bottled up over the years. However, even if Lily was a horrid person or was really mean to her, Petunia shouldn’t cast the sins of the parents onto the child. Let’s face it though, I doubt that was ever the case. Petunia’s resentment comes from a petty, jealous place. Lily got the adoration from her parents; she was the special one. Petunia felt like she could never compete with her sister. And in turn, she became a nasty, vile person, taking out this anger on her nephew because she couldn’t do it with her sister.

Also, we get a partial exposition of Voldemort’s character. We learn that he’s “worse than worse,” and he is “as bad as a wizard could ever possibly go.” There’s a significant line here that alludes to Voldemort’s Horcruxes: “Not enough human in him [Voldemort] to die…”

Something very painful was going on in Harry’s mind. As Hagrid’s story came to a close, he saw again the blinding flash of green light, more clearly than he had ever remembered it before – and he remembered something else, for the first time in his life: a high, cold, cruel laugh.

It’s rather morbid to realize that the details of that fateful night came to Harry ever so slowly, little by little, over the course of his teenage years. Until he finally “recalls” it in Voldemort’s point of view.

And we get an initial explanation on Harry’s infamous scar.

No one ever lived after he decided ter kill ’em, no one except you, an’ he killed some o’ the best witches an’ wizards of the age–the McKinnons, the Bones, the Prewetts–an’ you was only a baby, an’ you lived.”

I don’t know about you, but if I were 11 and I learned that I’m destined to be a magical savior or a great warrior, I’m not sure exactly how I would react. As far as Harry is concerned, he is nothing special. He can’t even properly defend himself against the Dursleys – let alone the most evil wizard of all time.

Hagrid looked at Harry with warmth and respect blazing in his eyes, but Harry, instead of feeling pleased and proud, felt quite sure there had been a horrible mistake. A wizard? Him? How could he possibly be? He’d spent his life being clotted by Dudley, and bullied by Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon; if he was really a wizard, why hadn’t they been turned into warty toads every time they’d tried to lock him in his cupboard? If he’d once defeated the greatest sorcerer in the world, how come Dudley had always been able to kick him around like a football?

That right there is really moving. :’) Harry’s doubt and confusion upon hearing all this news has nothing to do with the weight of his new identity. It’s the result of his own lack of faith in himself and the sad truth that no one has ever treated him with any measure of adoration and respect. His refusal to go into this journey was fleeting. He is all up for adventure, but more than that, he is ready to break free.

Some notes:

  • It’s odd that we’ll never hear the title “The Keeper of the Keys” for the rest of the series.
  • I wonder why Dumbledore didn’t fetch Harry himself.
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