The police were summoned, and the whole of Little Hangleton had seethed with shocked curiosity and ill-disguised excitement. Nobody wasted their breath pretending to feel very sad about the Riddles, for they had been most unpopular. Elderly Mr. and Mrs. Riddle had been rich, snobbish, and rude, and their grownup son, Tom, had been, if anything, worse. All the villagers cared about was the identity of their murderer – for plainly, three apparently healthy people did not all drop dead of natural causes on the same night. (1.5)
A lot of the Harry Potter series emphasizes the way that evil creeps into the everyday. Sure, there's the big evil that is Voldemort, but there's also the regular cruelty of bullying and gossip, which can still destroy people's lives even if they don't seem as significant. This little passage about the murder of the Riddles highlights exactly how small-scale prejudices can contribute to larger badness. The villagers don't waste "their breath pretending to feel very sad about the Riddles" – who have just been murdered, for crying out loud. Even if the Riddles weren't popular, the fact that the villagers immediately use their murder to cast out town oddball Frank Bryce is tasteless at best and downright immoral at worst. What's more, the town's willingness not to care about the Riddles' real murderer leaves a terrible act unresolved – with awful consequences for our own Harry Potter and many others.
The floating people were suddenly illuminated as they passed over a burning tent and Harry recognized one of them: Mr. Roberts, the campsite manager. The other three looked as though they might be his wife and children. One of the marchers below flipped Mrs. Roberts upside down with his wand; her nightdress fell down to reveal voluminous drawers and she struggled to cover herself up as the crowd below her screeched and hooted with glee. (9.16)
It's striking how often cruelty is tied to cowardliness: these wizards can laugh and jeer as they expose poor Mrs. Roberts the Muggle in her underwear. But they're all safely behind masks while they do so. How exactly does it show wizarding pride to harass Muggles in the dark, without showing their faces?
"I don't like people who attack when their opponent's back is turned," growled Moody as the ferret bounced higher and higher, squealing in pain. "Stinking, cowardly, scummy thing to do ..."
The ferret flew through the air, its legs and tail flailing helplessly.
"Never – do – that – again" said Moody, speaking each word as the ferret hit the stone floor and bounced upward again. (13.105-7)
We love Moody's message here – it's "stinking, cowardly" and "scummy" to attack when your opponent's back is turned. But what do you think of his method of teaching Malfoy a lesson? What might Moody's goal be here, in punishing Malfoy so violently and humiliatingly? How does your impression of what Moody is trying to achieve in this scene change once you've reached the end of the novel and figured out who he really is and what he's up to?
The Yule Ball is approaching – a traditional part of the Triwizard Tournament and an opportunity for us to socialize with our foreign guests. Now, the ball will be open only to fourth years and above –. (22.5)
Good and evil isn't just a topic within the Harry Potter books; it's also been a problem about the Harry Potter books. A range of religious organizations have denounced the series as subtly celebrating a pagan lifestyle. It's not only that these novels describe witches and wizards (loaded terms for Christian groups). It's also that the everyday details of the novel don't represent a Christian religious tradition. Even Professor McGonagall's offhand mention of a "Yule" Ball – Yule, of course, being a pre-Christian Germanic mid-winter celebration – might be tricky for some groups. But we do think that the novel tackles moral issues that any religious practitioner would find valuable: Harry learns to identify and fight evil, after all. What do you think about the moral universe of Harry Potter? How might these books be helpful – or hurtful – for teaching strong ethical values?
"It was my mother," said Hagrid quietly. "She was one o' the las' ones in Britain. 'Course, I can' remember her too well ... she left, see. When I was abou' three. She wasn' really the maternal sort. Well ... it's not in their natures, is it? Dunno what happened to her ... might be dead fer all I know ..." [...]
"Me dad was broken-hearted when she wen'. Tiny little bloke, my dad was. By the time I was six I could lift him up an' put him on top o' the dresser if he annoyed me. Used ter make him laugh ..." Hagrid's deep voice broke. Madame Maxine was listening, motionless, apparently staring at the silver fountain. "Dad raised me ... but he died, o' course, jus' after I started school. Sorta had ter make me own way after that. Dumbledore was a real help, mind. Very kind ter me, he was ..." (23.192-4)
We might think Hagrid is like a perfect experiment in nature vs. nurture. He knows that it wasn't in his mother's nature to be "the maternal sort" – to be gentle or kind (since that's not what giants are, after all). But Hagrid is both of those things, because he was raised by a decent wizard. Even though having giant blood appears to be a very serious thing in the wizarding world, Hagrid seems as good-natured and decent as any other character in the novels, thanks to his upbringing. At the same time, Harry is brave and loyal, and he was raised by abusive cowards. And Sirius Black is noble and honest, and he was raised by Dark wizards. Hm. So, there doesn't seem to be an easy formula for who's going to turn out good or evil in these books – just like in real life.
Harry's feeling of stupidity was growing. Now he was out of the water, it seemed perfectly clear that Dumbledore's safety precautions wouldn't have permitted the death of a hostage just because their champion hadn't turned up. Why hadn't he just grabbed Ron and gone? He would have been first back ... Cedric and Krum hadn't wasted time worrying about anyone else; they hadn't taken the mersong seriously ... (26.193)
Harry's intensity about making sure that everyone is all right demonstrates a key fact about his personality. He's ambitious and he wants to win, but winning will always take a back seat to doing the right thing. We can't help but wonder if Harry's example in this scene inspired Cedric to try and share the cup with Harry at the end of the novel – with tragic results. While it may appear trite, it seems like one message of the Harry Potter novels is that life isn't fair. Bad things happen to people who try to do the right thing. Yet, even if doing good sometimes comes with a price, that doesn't mean the price isn't worth paying. Under what circumstances do you think it's necessary to stick by your ethical code, no matter what the cost? And when is it OK to compromise a little?
"Thank you, Weatherby, and when you have done that, I would like a cup of tea. My wife and son will be arriving shortly, we are attending a concert tonight with Mr. and Mrs. Fudge."
Crouch was now talking fluently to a tree again, and seemed completely unaware that Harry was there, which surprised Harry so much he didn't notice that Crouch had released him. [...]
"Don't ... leave ... me!" he whispered, his eyes bulging again. "I ... escaped ... must warn ... must tell ... see Dumbledore ... my fault ... all my fault ... Bertha ... dead ... all my fault ... my son ... my fault ..." (28.196-7, 202)
Mr. Crouch's struggle out in the forest strikes us as unbelievably sad. In the moments when he's obeying the Imperius Curse and behaving as though he's at the Ministry, he is clearly reliving good times when his wife and son were both around (and, you know, not Death Eating). But then, when he shakes free of the curse, he thinks only of warning Dumbledore because it is "[his] son" and "[his] fault." This moment really humanizes Mr. Crouch. We know from Sirius that Mr. Crouch is a proud, unbending, power-hungry wizard. And we have to wonder what role Mr. Crouch's coldness and ambition played in the development of Barty Crouch, Jr. But, at the same time, he's bitterly aware of the mistakes that he has made and he dies trying to correct them. There's some redemption in that.
"Ludo Bagman, you have been brought here in front of the Council of Magical Law to answer charges relating to the activities of the Death Eaters," said Mr. Crouch. "We have heard the evidence against you, and are about to reach out verdict. Do you have anything to add to your testimony before we pronounce judgment?"
Harry couldn't believe his ears. Ludo Bagman, a Death Eater?
"Only," said Bagman, smiling awkwardly, "well — I know I've been a bit of an idiot —"
One or two wizards and witches in the surrounding seats smiled indulgently. Mr. Crouch did not appear to share their feelings. He was staring down at Ludo Bagman with an expression of the utmost severity and dislike." (30.89-92)
The thing is, Severus Snape looks the part of a Death Eater. He's pale, snake-like, greasy-haired, and mean. Igor Karkaroff also looks like a Death Eater: he's vain, smarmy, and slimy. But Ludo Bagman doesn't look like a Death Eater. He's young, handsome, affable, and a stellar Quidditch player. So, even though he was "caught passing information to Lord Voldemort's supporters" (30.94), he doesn't seem to serve any jail time at all. What role does appearance play in determining the public's opinion of a person's moral character? Do you think a person is more likely to get away with a crime if he's good-looking? Yikes.
"You see that house upon the hillside, Potter? My father lived there. My mother, a witch who lived here in this village, fell in love with him. But he abandoned her when she told him what she was ... He didn't like magic, my father ...
"He left her and returned to his Muggle parents before I was even born, Potter, and she died giving birth to me, leaving me to be raised in a Muggle orphanage ... but I vowed to find him ... I revenged myself upon him, that fool who gave me his name ... Tom Riddle ..." (30.18-9)
What's the difference between an explanation and an excuse? Voldemort's personal history gives some explanation for why he has become the monster that he is. Still, it's difficult to feel pity for a monster that has destroyed so many families. It's also interesting to think that Voldemort and Harry share so many similarities (e.g., both are orphans, raised in isolation from the wizarding world). Yet Voldemort has become a deranged Muggle-murdering monster while Harry is a decent, generous guy.
So even though Voldemort's past provides context for why he is the way he is, we also know that he wasn't fated to become a monster. Both he and Harry have faced similar obstacles, but Voldemort chose to become a monster. It's not enough to look at Voldemort's past and say, "Ah ha! So that's why he's a mass murderer!" By that logic, Harry should be a mass murderer, too. Obviously, the importance of free will has been one of the themes of the Harry Potter series from the moment Harry chose to be in Gryffindor and not Slytherin in the first book. And Voldemort's background story only affirms Rowling's emphasis on personal choice in the fight between good and evil.
"You fool!" Professor McGonagall cried. "Cedric Diggory! Mr. Crouch! These deaths were not the random work of a lunatic!"
"I see no evidence to the contrary!" shouted Fudge, now matching her anger, his face purpling. "It seems to me that you are all determined to start a panic that will destabilize everything we have worked for these last thirteen years!"
Harry couldn't believe what he was hearing. He had always thought of Fudge as a kindly figure, a little blustering, a little pompous, but essentially good-natured. But now a short, angry wizard stood in front of him, refusing, point-blank, to accept the prospect of disruption in his comfortable and ordered world – to believe that Voldemort could have risen. (36.133)
Fudge is putting into practice the old saying that all it takes for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing. He's so afraid of the "disruption in his comfortable and ordered world" that he refuses to take any of Professor Dumbledore's advice about removing the Dementors from the prisons and sending emissaries to the giants. Not all evil has to take the form of a red-eyed, snake-faced monster, though. By refusing to take a stand against Voldemort, Fudge is basically working for him. We bet he didn't think of it that way.