Ask a group of Harry Potter fans to list their top ten favorite moments in the series, and nine times out of ten, this chapter will make the list. I know this, because last year I asked a group of Harry Potter fans to list their top ten favorite moments in the series, and this one came up about 9 times out of ten.
This chapter is a popular one for obvious reasons, namely the cementing of the Harry/Ron/Hermione friendship. But what is it about this friendship that makes us enjoy it so much? It's certainly archetypal, the "hero" and his "sidekicks" who help him through his journey. Campbell spelled it all out for us decades ago, and yet there's something about the relationship between these three characters that speaks to us.
In some ways this chapter reaches down to the very core of what we all want friendship to be. Despite the fact that they're not speaking to Hermione and "can't stand her" as Ron so delicately puts it, when they realize she doesn't know about the troll wandering the castle, they risk punishment to go find her and tell her. Mind you, it's only punishment at this point, they believe the troll to be in the dungeon. When they inadvertently lock the troll in with Hermione, is when their true character really shines through. Neither of them really seem to think about it before rushing to her aid, despite the real risk to their own lives, they are ready to leap to the assistance of someone the profess to not even like. If you're not firmly entranced by Harry before this, chances are you are now. What kind of person would do this? Sure we'd like to think we all would, yet when it comes right down to it, most people would be far more likely to indulge in self-preservation at this point; perhaps, pull out a cell phone and call for help before running away, but very few would have done as Harry and Ron.
Then there's the other side of the coin, Hermione lying to keep the boys out of trouble. She's well aware that she's not the type to get in trouble and that McGonagall is far more likely to let her go with a slap on the wrist than the boys, who've already been on the cusp of serious trouble twice before. (Why she lies I'm a bit unclear about, it seems the truth here, or a version thereof, would be just as reasonable here: Hermione was in the bathroom when the announcement was made and the boys came to find her and tell her. I suppose this could be countered with "Why didn't they tell Percy or someone." but the same could be said for the lie, really.) Regardless of whether the lie actually needs to be told or not, the fact is that Hermione tells it with the express purpose of keeping the boys out of trouble.
This is the first of many instances where the three of them band together to get out of trouble both mild and severe, but it's the one that makes all the other times possible. Without this one moment in time, Voldemort might never be defeated. That makes this one of the all-time greatest Potter chapters.
(Other things happen in this chapter too, Harry gets a broom, Malfoy gets a shock, and Harry learns to play Quiddich, doesn't really seem worth discussing. One thing I would like to point out though, because I find it jarring every time I read it, on page 176, we suddenly jump into Ron's head: "Ron pulled out his own wand - not knowing what he was going to do he heard himself cry the first spell that came into his head: 'Wingardium Leviosa!'" It's something that happens several times in this book and never happens again, obviously Rowling is still trying to figure out her style and I, for one, am glad she abandoned this.)
Would you put this event in your top ten? Why or why not?