7

I understand that as Harry can speak and understand Parseltongue, he could hear the Basilisk's voice from through the walls.

(So, people who can't understand Parseltongue would hear it speak, as a hiss.)

But, when a basilisk is speaking, it means that people who aren't Parseltongue should hear a hissing sound?

Then, why didn't Ron and Hermione hear the hissing sound, even though when they are straining their ears to hear one?


Some points to keep in mind:

  1. The basilisk spoke only to Harry, as it's on a mission. So, it might not have even hissed apart from the two occasions when it spoke(or inform?) to Harry through the walls/pipes.
  2. [Connected question, but not similar]
8

Hissing might be hard to distinguish unless it's very clear, in a very quiet environment. A snake that is visible and hissing in a quiet area is much more obvious than a hissing or shushing sound with no visible source.

In a busy castle, the hissing would be muted by the thickness and layering of the walls and pipes, and might also be covered by the noise of people moving about, voices, footsteps, and the occasional bit of drama, like a spell, or shouting, or thumps and bangs. The hissing itself, since it had no visible source, might have been taken for the kind of shushing sound from the movement of water in the pipes, the swishing of fabric (from robes or tapestries), or the distant sweep of the wind.

And people aren't used to listening for hissing - it might not stand out. @Lily K Tudor is right that in that scene they were actively looking for voices, and discounting any other sounds as distractions. As for other places and other times, people might be distracted with their thoughts or each other, they might have clearly heard the hissing but not connected it to a snake or what was going on with the petrificaitons, nor mentioned it so that someone might have a chance of realizing this was happening quite frequently.

Honestly, the basilisk might have been talking to itself daily, and it's likely people wouldn't connect the sound with anything unusual. Maybe Filch had a list of requests "to have someone look at the plumbing, it was sounding kind of loud", that he merely didn't get a chance to before the basilisk was revealed.

  • (+1) Thank you for a detailed description, and expanding @Lilyktudor's answer nicely. Same question, don't you think the basilisk would have one almighty(and a fierce) hiss, owing to it's monstrosity? And as Harry already alerted them of some voice/noise, Ron and Granger's ears being now more alert might have picked up the hiss? – Dawny33 Jan 14 '16 at 5:18
  • 4
    @Dawny33 - "Maybe I could hear that voice he's talking about, maybe I could hear better if that noisy hissing wasn't in the way! I should complain to Filch!" ... I do think that between the muffling of the layers of pipe, wall, and tapestry or painting, and the fact they were not expecting a hissing to be relevant, they might hear it and still miss the relevance. It would have been funny if they had mentioned the hissing, though. – Megha Jan 14 '16 at 5:22
  • Awesome find! Who said that? Anyways, please add it to the answer if you can. Would make it crystal clear :) – Dawny33 Jan 14 '16 at 5:25
  • @Dawny33 - Sorry, that's not from the books but merely my own attempt at a joke. It would have made sense to me if they had said it, though. – Megha Jan 14 '16 at 5:26
  • Haha okay :D I was about to take out my Kindle to go back to the corridors where they heard it! – Dawny33 Jan 14 '16 at 5:28
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Ron and Hermione were listening for a voice. Likely a hissing, which Harry did not know was what he heard because he understood it as words, would have sounded like more background noise in an old castle full of paintings and ghosts and moving staircases. If you have ever been in an old castle you are going to have heard lots of noises that sound like animals scurrying or doors swinging. The fact that Harry said voice would have made their hearing selective, and they might have dismissed other background noise as inconsequential because it wasn't a "voice" to them.

  • (+1) Nice insight! But, don't you think the basilisk would have one almighty(and a fierce) hiss, owing to it's monstrosity? – Dawny33 Jan 14 '16 at 5:05
  • @Dawny33 Most RL snakes aren't audible at all, snakes hissing is something from cartoons and the like. There are only a few species that can actually produce sounds. – Kevin Jan 14 '16 at 8:35
  • @Kevin From personal experience I can assure you that relatively small snakes (such as a 4' boa) can make a quite audible hiss, by exhaling strongly. The hiss from a 16' Burmese python can be quite intimidating the first time you hear it. – ClickRick Jan 14 '16 at 15:20
-1

We can come up with convoluted explanations for it, but the truth is it's an oversight on the part of JK Rowling. She didn't make many, but this is a clear one.

We know that other people can hear Parseltongue because in the duel in the Chamber of Secrets, Harry speaks Parseltongue, everyone hears him do it and is very shocked. They know he's speaking a language and not just hissing and it's made very clear that everyone knows that's what he was doing.

It makes no sense therefore that when a snake is making the same noises through the wall (so loud that Harry can hear the words clearly) nobody hears anything at all. Harry asks if they can hear anything on several occasions and other characters act like there isn't a noise at all.

It's worth remembering that at the time JK Rowling wrote the first two books, she wasn't a famous author with a team of staff to help her iron everything out, she was basically just a woman with a normal life writing this on her own with no real anticipation of any success. For that reason there are a few bits that don't completely make sense and this is one of them.

  • Snakes hiss inside thick walls, that made it difficult to distinguish because they are just hisses. However Harry heard them as human voices so his mind can distinguish them. During the duel, everyone can see Harry and as such they notice him hissing and making weird voices. If he were doing that behind thick castle walls, no one would have noticed except a fellow parseltongue. – Bernard the Bear Apr 10 '18 at 2:08

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