Featured in the November 2022 issue of The Rowling Library Magazine.

Book four: The Age Line

1962 words.
By Oliver Horton.

In the fourth Harry Potter book, the young wizard craves a quiet life. But death is close at hand and the end of innocence is inevitable.

Harry Potter is too young to compete in the Triwizard Tournament, which comes as a relief. After three years getting battered by various dark forces he has had enough trouble for a lifetime. He prefers to be a spectator and to watch the Tournament through his Omnioculars. Dumbledore establishes an enchanted Age Line to prevent anyone under the age of 17-years-old from entering the contest. Naturally, 14-year-old Harry’s name wafts out of the divining cup. “Zey are saying zat zis little boy is to compete also!” whines Fleur Delacour.

The comment stings, but childhood is where Harry wants to be. There are parental figures in his life now. A whisper about his godfather, the convicted murderer Sirius Black, settles any dispute with Vernon Dursley. His friend’s dad, Arthur Weasley, comes to Privet Drive to collect him for the Quidditch World Cup. And Arthur must deal with the inevitable chaos when magic meets Muggle; Harry can just Floo away. He gets to be a kid, and rather enjoys himself. “A boy like no other, perhaps – yet a boy suffering all the usual pangs of adolescence,” writes Rita Skeeter.

Naturally this cannot last. Harry Potter is not allowed to be happy. Not yet. In the meantime, the desire to remain a boy is so strong that for half the year Harry hardly dares act in case he disrupts his fragile happiness. Harry becomes strangely passive, does nothing until the absolute last moment; does not prepare for the tasks or ask out the girl. Because any of these actions is a step closer to adulthood, which means responsibility and pain and getting murdered at your front door.


Lord Voldemort, dreaded enemy and winner of an ugly baby competition, skips adolescence altogether and goes from grotesque infant to angry old man. Money mad schoolboys Fred and George grow Santa beards. Ambitious teenager Percy Weasley goes to work at the Ministry and loses his humanity. Bulgarian Quidditch ace Viktor Krum is both international sports star and schoolboy. Barty Crouch Jr plays teacher and wants Voldemort to be his dad. Tubby ex-sportsman Ludo Bagman is faded glory incarnate. Even the evergreen Dumbledore is looking older than ever, the first suggestion of his death. Adulting is cast in a disturbing light for much of Goblet of Fire. Only the biggest of Ron’s big brothers, Bill Weasley, who takes his father’s place in Harry’s surrogate family, has the knack for growing up in style.

Hermione Granger gives Harry a little push when the Goblet of Fire issues his name. This is her role, herding the boys into maturity. As Harry muses after the Yule Ball: Hermione had gotten the point much better than Ron. Already 15-years-old, Hermione transforms into a beautiful swan for the Christmas dance, dates older guy Viktor “Bonbon” Krum, and is exposed in The Daily Prophet as “a scarlet woman”. But in his too-small pyjamas Ron Weasley pulls the other way, refusing to dance with his date, sulking with Harry and sulking with Hermione. Ron’s durm und strang (storm and stress) are Harry’s emotions magnified. Where Harry fails to get a date with Cho, Ron crashes out spectacularly with Fleur. While Harry admires Krum’s flying, Ron worships the Durmstrang dreamboat… then despises him. Triwizard Champion is Ron’s Mirror of Erised vision writ large. “I’m not running around after him trying to make him grow up,” says Harry, hotly.

Dumbledore’s Age Line is easily defeated, because growing up is unstoppable. Once he enters the Tournament, Harry’s parental stand-ins prove insubstantial. Arthur is busy at work. Sirius is literally distant. Hagrid lacks the emotional maturity to deal with
his inevitable humiliation in The Daily Prophet. Dumbledore, the “obsolete dingbat”, fails to prevent the plot against his favourite student. Harry submits, and traps
himself in a state of limbo. Harry seems to expect disappointment, expects to lose, and needs devil-in-disguise FakeMoody to prop up his errant self-esteem. He really needs a big brother.


Cedric Diggory is tall and handsome and popular. Girls love him and boys want to be him (and variations thereof). Harry sees in Cedric everything he wants to be and to have. Which is ironic: in two books’ time Harry will become Cedric, the school’s chosen one,
captain of the Quidditch team, dating the hottest girl at Hogwarts, tall, handsome, popular. The hunky Hufflepuff is Harry without the horror.

Cedric Diggory shadows and foreshadows Harry. Having once beaten him at Quidditch, he pops up like Peeves to witness Harry’s (and Ron’s) various humiliations. His wand is bigger and better polished. He takes Cho Chang to the ball. Everything comes easier
to Cedric, including death. Thus, the Diggory family inverts the Potters: child dead, parents alive. Cedric, not Harry, will remain forever a boy.

But Cedric Diggory is a decent role model. He treats three-years-younger Harry like an equal. In a gesture of unity, Cedric grants him access to the Prefects’ bathroom, a space limited to students of unique maturity. He pulls and pushes Harry towards readiness, towards growth. Cedric manages the Triwizard with less help than anyone. The strapping lad battles his way through the Maze for real, and endures Krum’s Cruciatus’ curse: little wonder that in the graveyard he is not too quick on his feet. Cedric’s murder haunts Harry for months to come, and marks the series’ point of no return, the end
of innocence.

In his eulogy, Dumbledore urges the Hogwarts horde to remember Cedric when faced with “a choice between what is right and what is easy”. This is Harry’s bind. He craves easy for most of the year, but ultimately chooses what is right, the hard-fought path. When Harry decides to fight, he is an indomitable force. “I WON’T!” he yells when Voldemort hits him with the Imperius curse. I won’t die hiding like a child, he decides. “Expelliarmus!” he shouts. And Voldemort loses.


The horrors in his past made Harry susceptible to the Dementors in Prisoner of Azkaban. But the horrors of his past give Harry the strength to resist the Imperius Curse in Goblet of Fire. After four tries Harry throws off the Curse completely, while Dean Thomas and Lavender Brown hop around the classroom like idiots. Harry knows, deep down, that he cannot be truly happy while Voldemort is out there. The spell’s vague and untraceable happiness feels suspicious. Harry beats Imperio, thrives in the FourWizard Tournament and survives Voldemort’s return because of his history.

Harry’s dead parents are angels compared to other parents in this book. Amos Diggory is a blowhard. Narcissa Malfoy is a sour-faced buzzkill. Barty Crouch speaks 200 languages and cannot communicate with his son in any of them. Only Petunia Dursley shows any mettle. Echoing her sister, she throws herself on top of Dudley when the bad wizard (really Arthur Weasley) draws his wand. Molly Weasley turns against Hermione for a couple of months having been radicalised by gossip in Witch Weekly. But in the hospital wing at the end she supplies maternal solace and gives Harry the comfort he craves: He had no memory of ever being hugged like this, as if by a mother. No longer the lonely boy under the stairs, Harry Potter has become rich in friends. He has chosen a family. Here his heart is also.

Legacy is a vital aspect of Goblet of Fire, the gateway between two trilogies. While establishing the groundwork for the stories to come, this lynchpin book regathers the essential elements from the past. Harry’s parents, Ollivander and real-life Voldemort make their first appearance since Philosopher’s Stone, while Harry briefly spends time in a cupboard. Dobby-the-House-elf, Lucius Malfoy, Moaning Myrtle, Fawkes-the-Phoenix and Polyjuice Potion return from Chamber of Secrets. Wormtail, Sirius Black and Professor Trelawney roll over from Prisoner of Azkaban, plus a Dementor/Boggart.

When he looks around his bedroom in the book’s second chapter, Harry’s legacy is out on show – and will be again in the second chapter of Deathly Hallows: trunk, robes, cauldron, spellbooks, broomstick and Hedwig’s cage. Echoing DiaryRiddle, this is Harry’s “past, present and future.” The terminus in Goblet of Fire is “The Beginning”.


The first Task of the Triwizard Tournament is to snatch an egg, a symbol of life. This challenge takes us back to the first book: Hagrid, an egg, dragons, broomsticks. Harry, who has been flying since he was one, wins this easily. The First Task is child’s play.
The Second Task is completely mental, and transformative. Harry wades into the Lake, de-evolves into pond life, gets into a fight with water monsters, and encounters a spirit who tells him his destiny (Moaning Myrtle directing him towards the hostages). He discovers cave paintings and a Medieval village. Then he rescues Adam and Eve, no, sorry, Ron and Gabrielle. As he breaks free of the water, Harry evolves into man.

Team Harry is in full effect by the Second Task. Ron has got over his sulk. Hagrid has got over his sulk. Dobby helps out with the Gillyweed. Cho wishes him luck. Myrtle joins him in the water. And the judges recognise his “moral fibre”. The Second Task speaks to Harry’s values, as if designed to reignite the dormant wizard hero within, like an icy pond that conspicuously contains the Sword of Gryffindor. Harry is first to reach the hostages, and determined to rescue them all. Total Harry Potter. No matter that he only needs his Wheezy. No matter that Harry has never met Gabrielle Delacour – one day she might be family!


The Lake Task transforms Harry back into teenage superhero. Three chapters later he enjoys a ‘Rocky’-style sports-training montage of sorts, when Ron and Hermione help him perfect the Stunning spell. The Trio yet again start poking at clues and asking questions. Harry is his old self: no longer passive, active. This surge of energy unnerves FakeMoody, who achieved 12 OWLS at Hogwarts but has recently graduated to patricide.

Fleur Delacour revives Ron’s sense of humour with a pair of kisses. The belle of Beauxbatons beams at Harry now, rescuer of her little sister. Then Viktor Krum pulls our hero aside to challenge him about Hermione: It was as though the 18-year-old Krum thought that he, Harry, was an equal – a real rival. In the spirit of international cooperation, Harry shoots him in the back of the head.

The Third Task is not a maze but a labyrinth. Harry plunges into hedgey hell like the Greek hero Theseus, mind on the prize. Mazes symbolise confusion, but in the labyrinth illusions are stripped away and individual glory becomes irrelevant. Harry (and Cedric) forgo personal victory and elect to share the Triwizard Cup, demonstrating their growth. Harry makes peace with big brother Cedric, and with big brother Krum and big sister Fleur; his Triwizard family. But every labyrinth needs a monster. Theseus had the Minotaur. The Hogwarts heroes find – Voldemort. Cedric hits the ground, dead.

Lily Potter fills the role of Ariadne in the Theseus legend, and helps the hero out of the labyrinth; his ego refined, his ambition tempered. Lily is the one [Harry] had thought of more than any other tonight. And like Ariadne, she must be left behind. Harry escapes Voldemort’s reverse-funeral with his parents’ blessing and emerges as some kind of adult: a wonderful boy, a brave, brave man. The young wizard has undergone this bloody arcane rite of passage and, unofficially, he comes of age. Dumbledore concludes: “You have shouldered a grown wizard’s burden, and found yourself equal to it.”

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