I was one of those lucky kids who got to read the Harry Potter books as I was growing up.
The first one came out when I was just a little tyke—it got devoured by my impressionable little brain in a matter of days. I spent years after that impatiently awaiting the next instalment of the story, then reading voraciously for a few days before starting the cycle all over again.
By the time the fourth novel came out in 2000, I was about eight years old. We had just finished a messy move from my childhood home that involved a temporary rental house while we waited for our actual house to be built, and I was struggling to make friends. My parents had pre-ordered the book, so when it came in the mail, I was happy as could be.
Despite the fact that it was at least twice as daunting as its predecessors, I settled in for my annual Harry Potter reading marathon.
It was in this book that I started to notice a shift.
The first three books of the Harry Potter series were designed for a younger crowd. They were fantastical, creative, fun, and not too complicated. There were undertones and implications of death and darkness, but it never directly affected Harry in a way he clearly remembered.
The fourth book changed that. It was darker, it was full of teenage angst, and it dealt with death in a very real and very visible way.
It also introduced the fourth in Hogwarts’ perpetual chain of Defence Against the Dark Arts professors: Mad-Eye Moody.
One of my most vivid memories of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (you know, aside from carrying it around with me on Halloween because I was dressed up as Hermione and it was the biggest book I owned) was of Mad-Eye Moody’s class.
As an eight-year-old, I had only the vaguest inklings of what the Cruciatus and Imperio curses actually did to people. I understood they were bad, but at that age, you don’t really grasp the gravity of torture and tyranny.
So that wasn’t what really grabbed my attention.
What did was the fully capitalized phrase CONSTANT VIGILANCE, Mad-Eye’s favourite thing to shout at his unsuspecting pupils.
For whatever reason, that phrase stuck with me. I have no idea why, because honestly, I wasn’t even pronouncing it right in my head. My poor little brain, which had never seen the word vigilance before, ironically slacked off and read it as “viligance.”
Whatever that means.
It was my favourite phrase for years after that. I’d find myself randomly repeating those words in my brain, running over them again and again, but I really just repeated it with the enthusiasm of a parrot. I had no idea what I was saying.
When I re-read the book at a less tender age, I could see the mistake I had been making. Suddenly, I understood what Mad-Eye had been saying to his students, and it made a lot of sense. It also seemed like a good, if somewhat paranoid, strategy for handling the newer, darker world of Harry Potter.
Identity theft is not a joke
Once I knew what constant vigilance meant, the irony of Mad-Eye’s character in the fourth book became clear as day to me. No one was constantly vigilant around him, and that’s what the whole plot—and its new, darker twist—depended on.
That opened the door for my next most vivid memory of the professor; his identity.
The big plot twist of the whole book (and I don’t consider this a spoiler, because well, it’s only been out for 16 years) was that Mad-Eye was being impersonated by a Death Eater with way too much Polyjuice Potion.
No one in the novel was ready for its sudden and unexpected darkness, and I don’t think many of its readers were, either. If only Dumbledore had exercised some constant vigilance!