The Tasks Pattern
Our favorite author seems to have established a series of patterns in the way she has written her story. By pattern, I mean an unwritten set of rules that JKR has followed, up to and including Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, that may help us anticipate events that may occur in the final two books.
An example of a pattern is the Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher pattern: The teacher is only introduced in the book in which they teach; Harry meets them before the start of term; they have a big secret that endangers Harry; and they only stay at Hogwarts for the one year.
The pattern which I’m going to focus on in this editorial is the Tasks Pattern. Articles on this topic have already been posted on MuggleNet, but as of yet, I don’t think anyone has come to the crux of the matter. However, several editorial writers have raised good points that I’ll quote at times; parts of this article may thus seem redundant, but I believe it is necessary so as to have an overall view of the topic. Particularly, I’m going to use as a starting point the following editorials: “The Seven Tasks” and “The Seven Tasks Revisited: A Thread” by Daniela Teo and “The Triwizard Map” by Anne.
These editorials have highlighted similarities and parallels between the seven obstacles protecting the Sorcerer’s Stone in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and the seven books and the three tasks of the Triwizard Tournament in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and Harry’s confrontations with Voldemort, respectively. What they’ve failed to notice is that all of these ten tasks constitute a giant foreshadowing of, not the entirety of the seven books, but the climax of each book. It is this giant foreshadowing that I call the Tasks Pattern.
In other words, the Tasks Pattern tells us this: Each book’s climax is foreshadowed by one of the seven obstacles protecting the stone and of the three tasks of the tournament. This foreshadowing is evidenced by situations that mirror themselves, the task mirroring on a small scale the “real” and truly important event story-wise. It’s simple enough actually, once you’ve spotted it. Please consider the following:
- Stone Task 1 (Fluffy) = climax of Sorcerer’s Stone (QuirrellMort). Multi-headed adversaries [Daniela]** and the use of music and talking to distract Fluffy and Quirrell [“All Harry could think of was to keep Quirrell talking and stop him from concentrating on the Mirror” (210)] [me].
- Stone Task 2 (Devil’s Snare) = climax of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Riddle and the basilisk). The Devil’s Snare’s “snake-like tendrils” (SS 201) for the basilisk [Daniela], the reference to “the dark and the damp” (202) for the Chamber [daveydee], and Hermione’s use of fire for Fawkes, a “fire creature” [fea]. I also like the parallel Daniela uncovered between the Devil’s Snare and Riddle’s diary. Both seem to be there to help (the Devil’s Snare to break the fall, and the diary to help Ginny as a confidante and Harry when it showed him what happened, sort of, when the Chamber was first opened), but they actually have the purpose of killing.
- Stone Task 3 (flying keys) = climax of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Pettigrew). The trio first thinks the keys are birds, as they first think that Scabbers is really a rat [me]; they fear an attack from the bird-keys that doesn’t come, as they fear the attacks of Sirius whereas he means no harm to the trio [fea, nano]; Hermione uses Alohomora on the door and on Flitwick’s window; Ron gets injured when chasing the key (crash into ceiling), as he gets injured when chasing Scabbers (broken leg) [me]. In this parallel, the key represents Pettigrew: The key is made of silver, which may foreshadow Pettigrew’s silver hand; the key has a bent wing, like Pettigrew has a finger missing [me]; the key is caught twice (by Quirrell and Harry) and escapes just after it is used by Harry, just like Pettigrew is caught twice (by Sirius after Godric’s Hollow and at the end of Prisoner of Azkaban) and escapes just after the trio and Lupin “use” him to learn the truth about Sirius. Pettigrew thus becomes the metaphorical “key” to Sirius’s past and to Harry’s future since he’ll have an essential part in Voldemort’s new rise [daveydee, fea, Daniela]. More superficially, the brooms used in this task may foreshadow the predominance of flying in Prisoner of Azkaban (three Quidditch matches described and Quidditch Cup won by Gryffindor, two flights on Buckbeak, or three if you count Sirius’s final escape flight, Nimbus 2000 broken and gift of the Firebolt) [fea, Daniela]. That was the easy part; now it gets a bit trickier.
For the sake of clarity, I’ll skip Stone Task 4 for the moment. And we have to go a hundred pages back in Sorcerer’s Stone to examine the real Stone Task 5. Quirrell had already defeated the troll in the fifth room, so Harry and Hermione didn’t have to fight it, but one may argue that the kids already accomplish this task when they fight the other troll during the Halloween feast. So since we don’t have anything to analyze in Stone Task 5, let’s look at what happened on Halloween.
- Stone Task 5 (troll, misplaced on Halloween) = climax of Order of the Phoenix (Part 2: battle with the Death Eaters). Eerie similarities between the trio/troll fight and the students/Death Eaters fight: Harry tells Ron to “confuse it” and he tells the others to “smash shelves” in order to confuse the Death Eaters; Hermione is paralyzed by fear and Hermione is incapacitated during the fight; Harry jumps on the troll’s back and pokes his wand in its nose, and Neville pokes Hermione’s wand in Macnair’s eye; Ron uses Wingardium Leviosa on the troll’s club, and Harry uses Wingardium Leviosa on the brains; “Is it dead?” is a mention of death during this scene when JKR could easily have worded it otherwise (Sirius’s death, anyone); Hermione lies to McGonagall and Hermione lies to Umbridge (lying to Umbridge happens before the battle, unlike lying to McGonagall which occurs after the fight, but I think these are the only two occurrences when Hermione lies deliberately to a teacher); finally, both fights involve unequal adversaries, i.e. first years against a troll and six teenagers against twelve Death Eaters. (Thanks, Daniela, for this last one.)
I’d like to add a quick note about a comment Harry makes when he and Hermione find the troll already beaten by Quirrell in the fifth room. I don’t know if it’s relevant or a coincidence, however. Harry says, “I can’t breathe” (206). Could it be a reference to all the strangling we have in Order of the Phoenix? Harry is strangled by Vernon (OotP 10), Ron by robes (110), Ron by tinsel (398), a Healer portrait says to Ron, “Bind it tightly about your throat” (449), Bode by Devil’s Snare (483), Ron by the brain (704), and Harry by Macnair (707). I can’t breathe either!
I haven’t forgotten about Stone Task 4, but this one is a bit more difficult to associate with a book’s climax. As Daniela Teo emphatically puts it, “The chessboard of room #4: a perfect parallel for Book 4? No way!” She’s perfectly right. However, on the one hand, we can find an interesting parallel between the chess game and the scenario of the Second Wizarding War (I’ll come back to it later), and on the other hand, in Goblet of Fire, we can get our hands on new tasks, namely the Triwizard Tournament tasks. In “The Triwizard Map,” Anne uncovered really nice parallels, although she said that each task corresponds to a confrontation between Harry and Voldemort-in-the-flesh.
- First task (dragon) = climax of Goblet of Fire (Voldemort in the graveyard). The dragon and Voldemort are both described as dangerous, tall, black (Voldemort wearing a black robe), reptilian (Voldemort’s “snake-like” face), and with pupils like a cat’s [Anne]; in both cases, Harry dodges the attacks (fire/curses), Harry’s shoulder and arm are injured by the dragon’s tail and by (Worm)tail [me] and Harry’s use of Accio is essential (Firebolt/Cup) [Anne].
- Second task (lake) = climax of Order of the Phoenix (part 1: false vision and Ministry). With Harry’s dream in the library about his Firebolt being taken from him, and Harry’s false vision of Sirius (who gave Harry the Firebolt) being captured [me]. In both cases, there is a house-elf involved, Dobby with information and Kreacher with misinformation [Anne]. Harry rushes to the lake and rushes through Hogwarts and to the MoM. In the lake, Harry misses Sirius’s knife and he uses it at the MoM [me]. In both situations, we have an “expression of Harry’s hero complex” (saving Gabrielle and Hermione’s comment about Harry’s “saving people thing”) [Anne]. In the merpeople song, “what you’ll sorely miss,” “the prospect’s black,” and “won’t come back” (GoF 402) can refer to Sirius’s death.
I said I’d come back to the Stone Task 4 (chess game) = Second Wizarding War parallel. The website K2K provides an extensive analysis of this passage, so I’ll only recap the major points:
The white queen takes the black knight = Bellatrix gets Sirius killed. With the black knight being the first piece taken and Sirius the first person who is important to Harry to be killed in the Second Wizarding War, Sirius is literally a Black knight/fighter [K2K]. In addition, look at the following line that appears just before the events that will eventually lead to Sirius’s death being set in motion: ‘… said Ron, prodding his queen to beat up one of Harry’s knights’ (OotP 631). The queen-takes-knight move is repeated during a “small-sized” game of chess just before the “real” event occurs [me].
So far, so good. Now that we’ve seen how the Tasks Pattern works, shall we try to make some predictions for what’s to come in Books 6 and 7?
The precedent move allows Hermione-as-black-castle to take a white bishop = early in the book, Hermione will say/do something to make a change in Draco. Because Draco is Harry’s rival (Harry is a black bishop, so it’s only logical for Draco to be a white one) and is described as being ‘like a vicar’ (= bishop) at the Yule Ball (GoF 359) [K2K]. JKR has kind of confirmed this when she gave us ‘Chapter 6: Draco’s Detour.’ It’s the first time a chapter has been named after Draco. It is quite early in the book to see him and ‘detour’ implies a change, a different move, somehow. Moreover, similarly to the queen-takes-knight move in the Ron/Harry chess game in Order of the Phoenix that mirrors Sirius’s fate, before (or in) Chapter 6 in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, we may well see a chess game featuring a castle taking a bishop.The white queen takes Ron-as-black-knight = nothing good for Ron, and it involves Bellatrix…and I won’t go further than that!
The precedent move allows Harry-as-black-bishop to checkmate the white king = Harry defeats Voldemort. What did you expect?
Now, let’s have a look at the remaining tasks: Stone Task 6, Stone Task 7, and the third task (I hope you all have your wits about you, because it gets more and more speculative.)
One problem is that we have three tasks left, but only two book climaxes to guess. One of them has to be split in two (like Order of the Phoenix‘s), but we have no sure way of knowing which one.
- Stone Task 6 (potions puzzle) = climax of Half-Blood Prince. Seven potion bottles and a poem holding clues. First off, some people have managed to solve almost entirely the puzzle so as to pinpoint the place of each bottle (see here, for example). The positions of the bottles thus are, from left to right: poison, nettle wine, poison, poison or go forward, go forward or poison, nettle wine, go back.
A common assumption is that the seven bottles represent seven characters, but the suggestions I’ve read, ranging from the Weasleys to about everyone in the Order to random Death Eaters, don’t satisfy me because of their lack of textual evidence. What we need is to pinpoint seven characters that can correspond to the clues of the poem.
The easiest line to start with is “three of us are killers, waiting hidden in line” because of the literal meaning of killer, which can be applied to a person. Who do we know who has killed someone in the series so far? Voldemort (too many to count), Crouch, Jr. (Crouch, Sr.), Pettigrew (Cedric), Bellatrix (Sirius), and several Death Eaters (during the First War). Among these, I discard Crouch. Jr. because he’s out of the game now (Kissed by a Dementor), and Pettigrew and Bellatrix strike me because they allow the association of one killer with one victim.
Daniela quotes ravenclawgurl, who suggested this line of the poem: “Wormtail: hidden as a rat (killed Cedric)/Bellatrix: waiting in Azkaban (killed Black). Who’s next?” This suggestion struck me because it fits very well with both the poem and the events of the septology. When I first read the poem, I thought that “in line” meant that the potions are all placed one after the other; I was wrong. But I noticed that Pettigrew and Bellatrix are introduced, respectively, in Books 3 and 4 and do their killings one book later, in Books 4 and 5, which may account for the “in line” specification. Following this line of reasoning, will a character introduced in Order of the Phoenix kill someone in Half-Blood Prince? There were a lot of new characters introduced in Order of the Phoenix, but somehow, I can’t help but think about Umbridge, who I’m sure wouldn’t hesitate to kill if “need” be. However, I guess it might be another character.
In order to narrow the possibilities down, we can use the first clue offered by the poem: “However slyly the poison tries to hide/You will always find some on nettle wine’s left side.” It means that two of the poisons/killers hide their true colors and are, or were, friends with nettle wine/”good” people. It’s easy to spot that Pettigrew also meets this criterion since he was friends with the Marauders (who were on the “good” side) and he turned out to be a traitor and a killer. Bellatrix, certainly, has never been friends with “good” people, so she is the third poison bottle, the one without wine on its right (see the puzzle solution). I then realized that Umbridge does fit in this category: She is friends with Fudge, who may not be “good” but who is not a Death Eater.
Since we know from the first clue that the wines are closely associated with the poisons, the latter should allow us to infer the former. Who could be Pettigrew’s wine? Well, conveniently, Lupin is the only Marauder left. Let’s now consider Fudge as Umbridge’s wine, since he is the only friend of Umbrige’s that we know of. The fourth clue tells us, “The second left and the second on the right [= the two nettle wine bottles; see the puzzle solution]/Are twins once you taste them, though different at first sight.” We see in Order of the Phoenix that Fudge and Lupin indeed seem to be on different sides, but they will eventually prove to fight together.
What about the last two potions? For these, we benefit from an additional clue: The shapes of the bottles that hold them are mentioned, which I think we have to consider simply because they are mentioned. The “go forward” potion is the “smallest bottle” (207). The third clue says “neither dwarf nor giant holds death in their insides.” Unlike the reference to the “killers,” I think we have to ignore the literal meanings of “dwarf” and “giant” as red herrings because it’s impossible to make them correspond to a single person, which is what we need: “Giant” might refer to Grawp, the giants in the mountains, or Hagrid; “dwarf” might refer to Lockhart’s valentine dwarfs (!) or maybe, with a stretch, the goblins or Flitwick. Anyway, it’s not precise enough, and by far!
So just considering that the “go forward” potion is the “smallest bottle,” I know I’m going to walk on thin ice here, but it reminds me of Bellatrix saying, “Take the smallest one” (OotP 691), speaking about Ginny. And the “go back” potion is a “rounded bottle”; how many times is Neville described as “round-faced”? Moreover, it isn’t hard evidence, but from Order of the Phoenix, it’s easy to guess that these two characters will have further importance in the last two books. Therefore, three poisons/killers: Bellatrix, Pettigrew, and Umbridge; two wines/”good” guys: Lupin and Fudge; the “go forward” potion: Ginny; and the “go back” potion: Neville. All of this is very good (or very wrong), but what does it tell us about the climax of Half-Blood Prince?
I predict that during the climax of Half-Blood Prince, we’ll have a confrontation between nine characters: the seven mentioned above, plus Harry and Hermione (don’t ask me how these nine will get together), and at one point, Hermione and Neville will “go back,” and Harry and Ginny (NOT implying that they will be a couple, but they may be ) will “go forward” (don’t ask me where, I’m not Trelawney! Speaking of whom…).
If Umbridge indeed becomes a “killer,” I think (and this is mainly speculation) that she’ll kill Trelawney because Trelawney really is in danger (Voldemort does want to hear the prophecy and he probably knows who made it, thanks to the eavesdropper). Dumbledore has already found a substitute for her in Firenze. Umbridge already doesn’t like her (not that she appears to like anyone apart maybe from Filch, but during her interactions with Trelawney, she seems to really dislike her). And, finally, there’s the animal parallel: Trelawney is always compared to an insect/dragonfly and Umbridge to a toad. What do toads eat? Insects. Moreover, this killing will probably happen during the climax of the book in the presence of Harry (it was the case for both Cedric and Sirius). Also, notice that the three characters thus killed, Cedric, Sirius, and Trelawney, were all introduced in Prisoner of Azkaban.
On a happier note, I’m glad to add that Ginny will survive the series: She’s the smallest bottle, and “neither dwarf nor giant holds death in their insides.” The bigger bottle is probably one of the two wines but we don’t know which one, so we can’t guess if it’s Lupin or Fudge who is guaranteed to survive the series (I really hope it’s Lupin). Furthermore, you may have noticed that Ron isn’t present. (No, please don’t ask me where he is.) And that’s it for Stone Task 6 (Er, hello? Is anybody still here, or have all my readers abandoned me?)
- Third task (maze) = climax of Book 7 (I suppose). With seven sequences: the boggart, the golden mist, the Skrewt, the Cruciatus and Imperius Curses, the sphinx, the spider, and the cup. Each sequence requires specific skills which may refer to a particular branch of magic or group of people. The Dementor/boggart forces Harry to use the Patronus Charm and Boggart-Banish Spell, both examples of light magic, in my opinion. (I know it’s arguable since we have not been introduced to such a concept as light magic yet, but it seems logical to have an opposite to the Dark Arts.) The golden mist requires daring to get past it [“Did he dare move his feet?” (542)]; daring is clearly a Gryffindor quality. Harry uses offensive spells against the Skrewt and he hits it on the underbelly; targeting the weakest point of one’s enemy is a Slytherin trait. The Cruciatus and Imperius Curses are, of course, examples of Dark Magic. Intelligence, which is a Ravenclaw trait, is needed to give an answer to the Sphinx’s riddle. Harry and Cedric act together against the giant spider; alliance is a credo of Hufflepuffs (not to mention that this particular alliance involves Cedric who IS a Hufflepuff). Finally, something very strange happens in front of the cup: Cedric suddenly becomes a Gryffindor (he says he should have stayed in the lake like Harry, and Harry accuses him of being “noble,” a Gryffindor trait) and Harry becomes a Hufflepuff (he draws back from glory and offers to share the victory).
Summing up, we have an expression of each of the four Houses, light and Dark Magic, and a reversal of Harry’s and Cedric’s qualities. It seems to suggest an all-out battle involving light and Dark Magic where the four Houses are united (the Sorting Hat will be pleased). That’s why I imagine the third task foreshadows the end of Book 7. I think it’s too soon for it to happen in Half-Blood Prince.
And finally, Stone Task 7. First, we have to decide if Quirrell is part of the task or not. I think he is, because there’s too little information regarding specifically Harry’s interaction with the Mirror of Erised during the task.
- Stone Task 7 (Mirror of Erised) = climax of Book 7. A revelation: The enemy isn’t who we thought it was; it is someone we didn’t even begin to suspect. We have the first ever mention of the Snape/James rivalry; Voldemort tells Quirrell to “use the boy” (211); Harry gets the stone; Harry thinks, “I must lie”; Harry meets Voldemort; a brief mention of Halloween 1981; the implications of Lily’s sacrifice on QuirrellMort; for the first time, Harry attacks [“Harry jumped to his feet, caught Quirrell by the arm and hung on as tight as he could” (214)]; there is the mention of keeping Quirrell “in enough pain to stop him from doing a curse”; and Harry blacks out, Dumbledore thought for a moment that he was dead.
We can see that there are references to the main plot points of the series: the presence of Voldemort himself, the Snape/James rivalry, the events of Halloween 1981 and Lily’s sacrifice, Occlumency and Legilimency (when Harry tries to lie, and Voldemort knows he’s lying)… all of this foreshadowing the final conclusion of the septology. The fact that Harry attacks his enemy is also consistent with the classic end of a story, when the hero doesn’t defend himself against his enemy anymore, but attacks him. Also interesting to note is that he is alone during the fight; he only sees Dumbledore and his friends again after the fight is over.
I can hear you from here: But what about the Mirror of Erised? What about the prophecy and Harry’s special power? To be frank, I don’t understand what role the Mirror plays in this parallel. As for the “power the Dark Lord knows not,” the mention of keeping QuirrellMort in pain by touching him reminds me of Voldemort’s inability to possess Harry at the Ministry, which, according to Dumbledore, is caused by this power. Finally, Harry’s blackout suggests that he will get hurt in the process of defeating Voldemort. Dumbledore later says that he feared “the effort involved might have killed [Harry]” (215), but it didn’t; maybe I’m too naïve, but I put all my hopes for Harry’s future in this tiny detail.
On the whole, I’m convinced that all the parallels I’ve uncovered are too numerous to be mere coincidences, and I for one am simply in awe of Rowling’s inventiveness, ingenuity, and trickiness. Now, I only have one problem left: I’m not sure whether I’m eager for July 16 to come so that I can realize that I’m right in my predictions or whether I’m eager for July 16 to come so that what’ll happen will be a total surprise for me, because I’ll discover that I’m wrong in my predictions.
**The names indicated between brackets refer to the persons who first came up with the ideas mentioned. When no name is mentioned, the findings are mine. daveydee, fea, nano, and ravenclawgurl were originally quoted by Daniela Teo in “The Seven Tasks Revisited: A Thread.”