Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is, far and away, my favorite installment of the Harry Potter series, both movies and novels, for it is the saga’s true pivot from an episodic children’s adventure (albeit a deeply enjoyable one) to an unexpected coming-of-age story in which good, valiant kids are suddenly forced to grow up way too fast in the face of an overwhelming danger. For the first three installments of this series, we were warned repeatedly: this is a world that is more dangerous than it seems. There is evil lurking everywhere, both hidden and in plain sight. And Voldemort’s return is not a matter of if, but a matter of when. Well, that when is now.
The story starts off similarly enough to its predecessors. After a summer away from friends, Harry reunites with his surrogate family (the Weasleys) as well as Hermione and the rest of his wizarding friends. But their reunion is a grim one, as a world Quidditch game is broken up by a display from Death Eaters—the minions of Voldemort who never went away, just retreated to the shadows. Once back at school, Harry is thrust into the Triwizard Cup, a special competition between Hogwarts and two other wizarding schools—the Teutonic Durmstrang Institute and the Gallic Beauxbaton’s Academy of Magic—that pits the best and brightest of their students against challenges that can prove fatal to the unprepared. Harry isn’t even close to qualifying for this thing, so he breathes a sigh of relief…until somehow he is chosen as an unprecedented fourth contestant. As he struggles to keep up with his fellow contestant—Hogwarts Hufflepuff Cedric Diggory, Durmstrang Quiddich champion Viktor Krum, and Beauxbaton’s irresistible Fleur Delacour—Harry must contend with the various other challenges of Hogwarts life and of growing up. His best friend Ron finally becomes jealous of his more famous, more able, more everything friend. Youthful hormones and awareness of the opposite sex finally surface and summon the usual romantic awkwardness that follows. And a new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher—the famed lawman Mad-Eye Moody—puts everybody edge, and with good reason.
Harry really struggles to deal with the Triwizard challenges, and were it not for some helpful intervention on behalf of his friends (as well as secret interlopers), he would never have made it to the final challenge, a dreadful hedge maze where at last, he and Cedric find the Triwizard cup at the same time. Harry is too fair-minded to blast his fellow Hogwartian just to win, and Cedric is simply too loyal. They decide to win together, and take the cup at the same time.
And then it happens.
What follows is as sudden a turn in any story I’ve ever watched or read, as our heroes’ moment of victory turns to bloody defeat as they are ambushed by the forces of Lord Voldemort himself. Before we can even grasp the depth of the scene’s danger, poor Cedric is killed outright, without warning, without buildup, without hope. Harry himself barely survives the ordeal and manages to escape with his life and with Cedric’s body in a most touching moment when Cedric’s ghost asks Harry not to leave his body behind. Harry appears back at Hogwarts to triumphant music and a crowd of cheering students…until somebody notices how distraught Harry is, and that Cedric isn’t moving. There is a scream, and they all know. Diggory is dead. And what’s more, Harry breaks one of the saga’s most persistent taboos and says aloud the name of Cedric’s killer.
This is the movie’s moment of truth, when the students realize something terrible has happened, and then after Harry’s declaration, realize that something really terrible has happened. There is panic among the students, anger on the part of Cedric’s father, and disbelief from those who are looking to vilify Harry rather than accept the grim challenge before the Wizarding World. Harry soon proves he is right, though, and helps to unmask a plot within Hogwarts to rig the entire tournament so that Harry would win, all to bring Voldemort back to life and to kill Harry once and for all. That Harry is the subject of such a fiendish scheme isn’t so disturbing. That those who carried it out so casually killed Cedric Diggory, is. And we see it on the faces of dozens of students who suddenly realize that a moment of great celebration has turned into a tragedy too big for any of them to process. In that instant, all of their childhoods are over. Whatever happens next, Voldemort and his forces have won this day, for they have taken from these kids something they can never, ever get back: their innocence.
Cedric’s funeral service is a touching coda to this story. Even though it ends on a note of stern resolve that the forces of good can, must, and will rally to meet this new challenge facing them, we are not so sure. Because Harry isn’t sure. From this point forward, everybody is in true peril. Maybe not Harry—we know he’ll at least make it to the last chapter. But everybody else is now in the line of fire. And the remaining chapters of the series will show us how true that is.