The Two-Way Mirror #5: The Riddle of the Seven Tasks, a 7×7 Matrix
I think I have solved the nice riddle of the seven tasks that has been keeping me preoccupied. If anyone else would like to solve it before you read this editorial, I will give you this hint: think of all the collections of sevens we have had so far, pick two of them that make sense to you to put together, and create a 7 x 7 matrix of the whole series (like a 7 x 7 chessboard). See what you can predict for Books 6 & 7!
In my two previous editorials, The Seven Tasks and The Seven Tasks Revisited, I was opting for disorder: moving stairs. But perhaps those moving stairs move in predictable ways… Then I imagined being in that 6th room, faced with poison or fire, with it all depending upon whether I could be certain that my ideas on these seven tasks are true… So I finally decided to opt for certainty and logic. I think the reason Rowling opened up her door on Halloween and made of her obstacle course a miniature allusion to the Seven Tasks, beginning with the Flying Keys and ending with a Riddle, is that she was trying to tell us that we ought to try to solve the Riddle of the Seven Tasks… if we want to know more… about what’s coming in the following chapters… Snape’s riddle of the seven phials was solved by Hermione using logic. The French literary term “mise-en-abyme” means the existence of a smaller identical replica of the whole found within it. Imagine a puzzle in which one of the puzzle pieces is itself a puzzle: that little puzzle piece is a “mise-en-abyme.” I think that when Rowling is describing Hermione drawing diagrams and charts for her Arithmancy class, she is creating a mise-en-abyme of herself designing the whole series through a logic of numbers.
I spent a whole Sunday (after not sleeping an entire Saturday, thinking about disorder rather than order) drawing diagrams and equations. I wish I still had some energy left to share those with you, too. Eventually, the idea came to me to make individual diagrams for each obstacle course of the five books we’ve had so far. In addition, I wondered more and more about chess and the circular chess board in the DoM. From each circular room, one can step into the remaining rooms. Finally, I wondered: what if Rowling is building something like a circular chess board through her seven obstacle courses, and each obstacle course really reproduces the first one, only not in the same order? So we won’t find just, say, the Devil’s Snare in Book 2, but every single one of the seven tasks, just not necessarily in the same order. We’ve stepped into a different room, and all the doors have been rearranged.
A chessboard is 8 x 8 whereas this matrix is 7 x 7. I wonder why? Matrix means mother, a symbol of life. Is 7 a more positive number than 8? But 8 is associated with rebirth in Christian symbolism. Seven rooms have a central room: the 4th: maybe the number 7 is a more circular number than 8 because it has a center.
To make the following diagrams, I had to make careful choices, because there are all kinds of keys flying around, and one can seize the wrong one that won’t open the door (that is, fill the matrix according to the rules and without contradictions). Each one of the seven tasks is a key that must be correctly chosen. I give you minimal explanations for my choices for the purpose of brevity and clarity.
The diagrams are as follows:
1: Fluffy: three-headed dog; dangerous; Hagrid loves him; sleeps to music
2: Devil’s Snare: misleading good fortune: crawling snaky strangling plant
3: Keys: flying keys like the snitch at Quidditch; must choose the right one
4: Chess: faceless chess pieces; chess board; sacrifice; three players
5: Troll: dead/absent giant/danger: also absent when let loose on Halloween
6: Riddle: Snape’s logic task: choose two of the seven phials of potions
7: Mirror: Harry sees Harry + stone and a transfer takes place: mysterious contact
1: Devil (Diary = Devil’s Snare)
2: Riddle (Pipes = Riddle/Potions)
3: Fluffy (Lockhart = literally fluffy & dangerous: & “Lock…” = we need a key)
4: Key (Parseltongue = key into the Chamber: flying key: pure air, the voice)
5: Mirror (Tom Marvolo Riddle = I am Lord Voldemort)
6: Chess (Fawke’s gifts: hat, tears, sword & Basilisk’s tooth = chess pieces)
7: Troll (Basilisk = dangerous giant, absent/alive/dead: Fawkes blinds him first)
1: Troll (Scabbers = the absent/dead monster)
2: Fluffy (Padfoot = dangerous or fluffy dog?)
3: Devil (Wormtail = Devil’s snare: worm… tail… Ron’s evil pet… that endangers him: and leads to Ron’s being trapped in the roots of the Whomping willow and pulled inside…)
4: Riddle (Peter = Riddle (~Tom): Why is Peter Pettrigrew on the Map?)
5: Chess (Marauder’s Map, Snape, and Dementors = Chess Board, and faceless chess pieces: Snape, too, is under a cloak: the invisible cloak)
6: Mirror (Harry’s Patronus = the mirror image, seen twice, uniting father and son)
7: Key (Time Turner/Buckbeak = Flying Keys: the final goal is to save Sirius)
1: Fluffy (Dragon = Hagrid’s beloved (remember fluffy Norbert): First Task)
2: Devil (Gillyweed = fake devil’s snare: at first it seems to suffocate Harry, but in truth, it will help him breathe under water: Second Task)
3: Key (Triwizard Cup = Flying Portkey: Third Task)
4: Troll (Cedric = dead body)
5: Chess (Death Eaters = faceless chess pieces)
6: Mirror (Twin Wands = twin brothers)
7: Riddle (Mr. Crouch = Mr. Crouch Jr., Moody = Crouch Jr: riddle/potions: polyjuice)
1: Fluffy (Umbridge = literally fluffy monster)
2: Devil (The Vision through the Snake’s eyes = savior at first, will prove a killer)
3: Keys (Thestrals = Flying Keys well chosen)
4: Troll (Sirius = Absent or Dead?: the absence now spells danger)
5: Chess (DoM and MoM, downstairs and upstairs = chess game)
6: Mirror (Harry = Voldemort)
7: Riddle (Prophecy = Riddle)
With what we have, I will now make a partially complete 7 x 7 matrix:
When I saw the symmetries, my breath was taken away…
I will now apply what we know about Quidditch teams and about what happened in the first Seven Tasks. Why Quidditch? First, on a chessboard we must have teams of players (there are four lines of players belonging to two sides in regular chess). And second, in the initial obstacle course we started out with three team members, who were reduced to two, who were separated and reduced to one… There are 3 chasers, 2 beaters, one keeper, and one seeker in each Quidditch team. Following this logic, I attempted to form 7 vertical Quidditch teams, starting with the 3 chasers in each, as that seems to be the hint just by looking at the highlighted part.
I won’t take you through all my contradictions. This was tough work, if you can’t tell. First, because before I’d go back to revise the keys I had chosen – that is, the tasks and their order for each book – I had to first try to fill out the whole diagram. And each time you fill the diagram, every step requires choices: and choices: and choices. And then you go back and start again, and again, and again. I’ll just say, the Trolls were the hardest to pick, when I had to go back and revise my choices of tasks in the diagrams. Fluffies gave me a bit of work, too.
My principle of truth/contradiction was: each team must have three chasers, two beaters and a different seeker and keeper. No two teams may have the same chasers or beaters. And of course, all the tasks must be represented once each in both of the remaining books.
So, if when I was filling out the chart, it turned out I was missing a pair of Keys, or had two pairs of Trolls, I knew I had to go back and make different choices, either at the matrix level, or at the diagram level.
As you can see, we have to choose between Task 4 and Task 7. Shall I go with the obvious “Troll chasers” and “Riddle chasers” or try something else? Actually, Troll it is for 4 and Riddles it is for 7 (you end up with contradictions if you invert the two). But there is also another reason to go with this formation: keep the chasers together as long as possible. So now you can remove those question marks which were there just for suspense.
Now that the trios are taken care of, let’s carefully choose our duos:
The presence of so much beautiful symmetry is to me proof that this is in fact the truth.
But notice, the symmetry is not perfect: the mirror and the key pairs are one step off. Just one ounce of disorder. Why?
How did I arrive at the pairs? I started with Team 7, and again I tried the wrong choices first… Once you make a choice, it eliminates possibilities in other blanks, making it a bit easier to proceed.
Thus, a choice of 7 = Key led me to 4 = choice: Chess/Riddle: good choice = Chess => (implies) 6 = Riddle/Fluffy/Devil: good choice Riddle => 2 = Fluffy/Mirror: good choice Fluffy => 3 = Devil/Mirror: good choice Devil => 1 = Troll/Mirror: good choice Troll => 5 = Mirror
You can try the choices I don’t make. I tried them and they don’t work. Unless I made a mistake. Why don’t you check?
These doubles that I was guessing are all seekers as you can see: they make it to the final room, the blanks of Book 7. I had not placed them all in the seeking position to begin with, because I was not imagining that the beaters would give me my seekers… But filling in the next unknowns in the HBP blanks led to contradictions when I filled the rest of the chart… so I placed all these guys on the last step.
Now, for the remaining loners:
The possibilities were:
1 = K/M/C
2 = K/M/C
3 = C/M
5 = F/D/K
6 = F/D/K
Three, three, TWO, three, three: a choice. For Team 3, Chess is the good choice (M leads to contradiction) => 1 = K/M, 2 = K/M and 5 = F/D, 6 = F/D (K doesn’t work for 5/6)
There you have it: we have two choices left (and two books): after all, you can’t solve a system of equations that has more unknowns than it has equations.
Are we supposed to think about these choices? Fluffy or Devil? Key or Mirror? Do these choices mirror each other? Do Fluffy and Devil = Key or Mirror? Does Harry need a key or a mirror, or both? Does it make a difference after all? How come it’s the 6th Book that is undecided, and it doesn’t seem to alter at all the course of the 7th book?
Suppose Snape = Devil’s Snare and HBP = Felix Felicis (a guess). Whom should Harry trust? Both? Neither? Just one of the two? If Snape, from whose office Gillyweed was stolen, is just a fake Devil’s snare, then Harry had better choose carefully… Because there are a lot of nasty Fluffies out there (though not all are nasty… Padfoot… I believe Hermione will prove to be a Fluffy, too: a bushy haired Fluffy protecting Hogwarts: she does seem to know so much about how well Hogwarts is protected: a true castle, isn’t she? And she can bare her teeth some times at the slacking Harry and Ron, but melt to the music of Ron’s compliments). How about the fluffy sounding name… Felix Felicis? ( = mirror? one word, two grammatical forms) Is Felix Felicis the real devil’s snare (I would say his name means “happy go lucky”: remember “Lucky,” the word pronounced over and over in CS in the devil’s snare room: thanks to daveydee and fae in the Thread). Which choice to make? Both Fluffy and the Devil fit in both spots. If you go back to the matrix and look at the bolded trios, Fluffy/Devil/Key go together: Harry must choose the correctly: Fluffy (many F’s here: Felix Felicis?) or Devil’s Snare (“p” and “r” are adjacent in the alphabet: Snare = Snape?: I don’t think Snape = Snake: “s…k” makes me think of “Felix,” “Bellatrix”: “x”: “ks”). I tend to think Snape will end up on the good side. He was cloaked in PoA like all those Dementors… but what a pretty cloak he was under… and what nice Gillyweed he had… And I’d say, if you look at a lot of the potions he teaches in his class, they are very good things. Will choosing the right person to trust or partner with be the key to the whole series, or just another one of those mistakes Harry makes along the way but that don’t alter destiny?
Just to finish talking about the bolded trios, the Troll Troll Troll right by Chess Chess Chess for me spells Death Death Death and War War War. Although symmetry wise Troll goes with Riddle and Chess goes with Mirror.
There is I believe much more inscribed in this chart than I am going to comment on here.
While “giving it all away” to us in this wonderful matrix, Rowling has nevertheless not given away the suspense: we are still wondering about the choices. The 7 x 7 Matrix is proof that J. K. Rowling has created a deeply symbolic and numeric work of art on the theme of making choices.