Chapter 4: At Flourish and Blotts
Harry finds life at the Burrow very different from life at Privet Drive. It’s filled with the strange and unexpected, and everybody there seems to like him. Mr. Weasley enjoys learning about the Muggle world, and asks Harry about how things like telephones work. Harry and the Weasley children receive letters from Hogwarts, with both a book list and directions to catch the Hogwarts Express at King’s Cross station on September 1st. Most of the required books on the list were written by Gilderoy Lockhart. Ron also receives a letter from Hermione, suggesting that they all meet in Diagon Alley in London to buy their school supplies together. Harry, Ron, Fred, and George practice Quidditch, a wizard sport. Percy says he is too busy to join them, which they find strange. Harry learns about two more Weasley brothers: Charlie, who is studying Dragons in Romania, and Bill, who works for Gringots, the wizards bank. George worries about how his parents will afford their school supplies. Harry feels awkward because his parents left him a fortune in wizard money (although he owns nothing in the Muggle world).
The following Wednesday the Weasleys prepare to travel to London via Floo powder. It’s Harry’s first time, so they give him a lot of advice. He takes a pinch of Floo powder, scatters it into the fire, and steps into the green flames. Then he coughs on the hot ash, which causes him to stutter in pronouncing his destination: Diagon Alley. So, Harry ends up in the wrong place, in a creepy shop on a dark, narrow street. He also breaks his glasses in the process. When he sees Draco Malfoy about to enter the shop he hides in a cabinet.
Lucius and Draco Malfoy visit Borgin and Burkes. Mr. Malfoy brings a list of items that he wants to sell because they would “embarrass” him if the Ministry of Magic raids his house. He says that the name Malfoy still commands a certain respect, but the Ministry is growing more meddlesome. There are rumors about a new Muggle Protection Act, likely the work of “that flea-bitten, Muggle-loving fool Authur Weasley.” Lucius admonishes his son for getting worse grades than Hermione Granger, a Muggle. Malfoy and Borgin haggle and then agree that Borgin will pick up the goods at Malfoy’s manor the next day. When Malfoy leaves, Borgin mutters to himself that Malfoy has more hidden in his manor. Harry leaves the shop and discovers that he is in Knockturn Alley, a dodgy place. He runs into Hagrid, the Hogwarts gamekeeper. Hagrid wants to know why Harry didn’t reply to his letters, so Harry tells him about Dobby and the Dursleys, to which Hagrid growls “Lousy Muggles.”
Harry is reunited with Hermione and the Weasleys. Mr. Weasley fixes Harry’s glasses. He is satisfied that Lucius Malfoy is worried enough to sell his Dark Arts possessions, and delighted to meet Hermione’s Muggle parents. A Gringotts goblin leads Harry and the Weasleys off to their underground vaults. They ride in small goblin-driven carts on tracks running through the bank’s underground tunnels. Harry feels bad about his wealth relative to the Weasleys’ poverty.
The group separates, agreeing to meet at Flourish and Blotts in an hour. Mr. Weasley takes the Grangers to the Leaky Caldron for a drink. Harry, Ron, and Hermione eat ice cream and window shop in Diagon Alley. They discover a crowd at Flourish and Blotts waiting to meet Gilderoy Lockhart at his book signing. Lockhart pulls Harry to the front of the line and makes a show of shaking his hand for the photographer. Then Lockhart clamps Harry tightly to his side and announces that he will be taking up the post of Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher at Hogwarts in the fall. The crowd cheers.
Lockhart presents Harry with all of his books, which Harry gives to Ginny by dropping them into her cauldron. Then Draco Malfoy mocks Harry and Ginny defends him. Then, Draco makes fun of Harry for having a girlfriend. Draco taunts Ron: “I suppose your parents will go hungry for a month to pay” for their school supplies. Ron drops his books in the cauldron too, and starts to fight Draco, but is pulled back by Harry and Hermione. Mr. Weasley struggles over to them through the crowd, where he finds Lucius Malfoy with his son. Lucius says “Busy time at the Ministry, I hear. All of those raids. I hope that they’re paying you overtime?” He reaches into Ginny’s cauldron, extracts a very old textbook, and says, “Obviously not. Dear me, what’s the use of being a disgrace to the name of wizard if they don’t even pay you well for it?” Arthur Weasley replies, “We have a very different idea of what disgraces the name of wizard, Malfoy.” Lucius Malfoy looks at Hermione’s parents and says, “The company you keep, Weasley...and I thought your family could sink no lower–” Arthur Weasley throws himself at Lucius Malfoy, knocking over Ginny’s cauldron and a shelf full of books. Hagrid breaks up the fight, pulling the two men apart. Lucius Malfoy thrusts Ginny’s Transfiguration textbook at her, “his eyes glittering with malice.”
Hagrid tells Arthur that he should have ignored Lucius, that the whole family is “rotten ter the core” with “bad blood.” Mrs. Weasley is furious about the fight. Lockhart is pleased about the extra publicity. The group heads back to the fireside in the Leaky Cauldron pub, where the Weasleys and Harry will travel to the Burrow by Floo powder. The Grangers cross the street to travel home by bus. Arthur Wesley is curious how bus stops work. Harry takes off his glasses this time.
Chapter 5: The Whomping Willow
The end of the summer vacation is bittersweet for Harry. He is looking forward to Hogwarts, but his month at the Burrow has been the happiest of his life. On their last evening, Mrs. Wesley cooks Harry’s favorite foods and Fred and George produce a fireworks display. The next morning they are running late. Mr. Wesley, unbeknownst to his wife, magically expands the small car so that all eight people and their belongings fit. They have to go back to the Burrow multiple times for forgotten possessions. Mr. Weasley tries to convince Mrs. Weasley to let him fly the car to save time, but even with an invisibility booster, she says no.
Harry is familiar with how to catch the Hogwarts Express from the previous year: To get to platform nine and three-quarters, you have to walk through the solid barrier dividing platforms nine and ten, carefully, to avoid being seen vanishing by Muggles. With only five minutes until the train departure, Percy, Mr. Weasley, Fred, George, Mrs. Weasley, and Ginny all walk through. When Ron and Harry run last towards the barrier, they crash into it conspicuously. They try again to push through, but it remains solid. The train has left without them.
Ron proposes that they fly the car to Hogwarts, assuring Harry that even underage wizards are allowed to use magic in an emergency, and that his parents can return home by apparating. Harry agrees. Once they are in the air over London, the car’s invisibility booster fails. They need to see the Hogwarts Express to follow it. So they drop below the clouds every half-hour to check on the train. As night falls, the car begins to whine. Just as they reach Hogwarts castle, the engine dies. When Ron swerves to avoid running into the castle wall they hit a huge tree. Ron’s wand snaps, almost in two. The tree they hit attacks them with its boughs. The car restarts long enough to move them out of reach, then ejects them and their luggage, and disappears into the darkness.
Harry and Ron watch the Sorting Ceremony through a window of Hogwarts. The Sorting Hat sorts first-year students into the four houses: Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, and Slytherin. Harry remembers that the Sorting Hat almost put him in Slytherin, the house known for turning out Dark witches and wizards. But he ended up in Gryffindor, along with the Weasleys and Hermione. Last term the three friends helped Gryffindor win the House Championship, beating Slytherin for the first time in seven years.
Professor Severus Snape, the Potions teacher and the head of Slytherin House, discovers them outside. Snape is “cruel, sarcastic, and disliked by everybody except for students of his own house.” He and Harry especially dislike each other. Snape leads Harry and Ron to his office and mocks them for their dramatic entrance. He tells them that they were seen by Muggles, produces a newspaper account, and points out, nastily, that Ron’s father works at the Misuse of Muggle Artifacts Office. Harry feels sick, worrying that Mr. Weasley could get into trouble for bewitching the car, realizing that he hadn’t thought of that before. Snape says that he has also found damage to a valuable Whomping Willow tree.
Snape fetches Professor McGonagall, head of Gryffindor house, in the hopes that she will expel Harry and Ron. Professor McGonagall enters, looking angry. She raises her wand, causing Harry and Ron to flinch, but it turns out she is lighting the fire. When she hears their story, she asks Harry why he didn’t simply send a message to Hogwarts via his owl. Harry realizes, again, that he missed the obvious. Dumbledore, Hogwarts' headmaster, enters and hears their story. He says that what they have done is serious but decides not to expel them. He will write to their families. He tells Harry and Ron that if they do anything like this again, he will have no choice but to expel them. Professor McGonagall disciplines Ron and Harry by assigning them detention. She waves her wand and produces a plate of bottomless sandwiches and iced pumpkin juice.
After they eat their fill, Harry and Ron head up to Gryffindor tower. They reach the passage where the secret door is hidden, behind a painting of a fat woman who asks them for the password. They’re stuck because they don’t know it, until Hermione shows up. She wants to know where they’ve been, relating the “ridiculous rumors” of them being expelled for crashing a flying car. When she learns that Harry and Ron had in fact flown a car, she disapproves. They enter to cheers from Gryffindor House students, who think that driving a car into the Whomping Willow was an inspired entrance. Ron and Harry rush to bed to avoid Percy. The other second-year Gryffindor boys (Seamus Finnigan, Dean Thomas, and Neville Longbottom) join them in their dorm, all awestruck. Harry grins.
Chapter 6: Gilderoy Lockhart
At breakfast the next morning, Errol, the Weasleys’ owl, delivers a Howler to Ron. When Ron opens the red envelope, Mrs. Weasley’s voice shakes the Great Hall. She is furious that they stole the car and risked their lives and Mr. Weasley’s job. He is now facing an inquiry at work. She threatens to bring Ron back home if he puts another toe out of line. Hermione also disapproves. Harry feels guilty.
Their first class of the day is Herbology, with Professor Sprout. She arrives to meet them at the greenhouses with her arms full of bandages. Harry spots the Whomping Willow in the distance, with its branches in slings, and feels guilty again. Gilderoy Lockhart accompanies Professor Sprout, claiming that he has been showing Prof. Sprout how to bandage a Whomping Willow. She looks unusually disgruntled. Lockhart pulls Harry aside. He thinks that Harry flew the car to Hogwarts to get attention. He also assumes that he gave Harry a taste for publicity when they appeared together on the front page of the newspaper.
Harry rejoins his class in the greenhouse. Professor Sprout is explaining that they will be repotting Mandrakes. Hermione volunteers the properties of a Mandrake: it is a powerful restorative, used to transform people who have been transfigured or cursed back to their original state. The cry of a Mandrake is fatal to anyone who hears it. Everyone puts on earmuffs. Professor Sprout demonstrates how to repot a Mandrake. It looks like a very ugly baby. Harry, Ron, and Hermione struggle to repot resistant Mandrakes, along with Justin Finch-Fletchley, a Hufflepuff student who almost went to Eton and is impressed by Lockhart.
Next, they attend Transfiguration class with Professor McGonagall, where their task is to turn a beetle into a button. Harry has difficulty, but Ron has it worse with his damaged wand. Hermione makes perfect buttons. They break for lunch, before their afternoon class: Defense of the Dark Arts with Gilderoy Lockhart. Ron discovers that Hermione has outlined all of Lockhart’s lessons with hearts, causing her to blush.
Colin Creevy, a first-year Gryffindor student, approaches Harry, carrying a camera. He asks if Ron will take his picture with Harry and asks Harry if he will sign it. Colin wants to prove that he has met the famous Harry Potter. He is amazed at everything at Hogwarts. He explains that he didn’t know all the odd stuff he could do was magic until he got a letter from Hogwarts. His dad is a milkman and couldn’t believe it either. So he is taking lots of pictures to send home to his father.
Draco Malfoy walks up with his thuggish cronies, Crabbe and Goyle, and mocks Harry for giving out signed photos. Colin defends Harry, saying that Draco is jealous. When Ron defends Harry as well, Draco makes fun of Mrs. Weasley’s howler, and the Weasley family’s poverty. Ron whips out his taped-up wand to fight Malfoy, but is interrupted by Gilderoy Lockhart, who is eager to join the photo with Harry. He offers Colin a double portrait and signature. Lockhart sweeps Harry away with him, advising him to avoid handing out photos at this point in his career so as to not look big-headed.
Professor Lockhart begins his class with a quiz all about himself. The boys are incredulous. Hermione is enraptured by Lockhart and gets a perfect score on the quiz. Lockhart lifts a large covered cage onto his desk, asks everyone to remain calm, and then whips off the cover to reveal “Freshly Caught Cornish Pixies.” He opens the cage and releases the pixies, causing pandemonium in the classroom. The pixies smash the windows, wreck the classroom, and lift Neville Longbottom into the air by his ears. Half the class hides under their desks. Neville swings on the chandelier. Lockhart brandishes his wand and bellows a spell, which has no effect. A pixie throws his wand out of the window. He dives under his desk, narrowly avoiding Neville, who falls as the chandelier gives way.
There is a rush to the exit when the bell rings. When Harry, Ron, and Hermione are almost to the door, Lockhart asks them to “just nip the rest of them back into their cage” and leaves quickly. While struggling to round up Pixies, Ron and Harry agree that Lockhart has no idea what he’s doing. Hermione defends him, reminding them of all of the amazing things he’s done. Ron is skeptical, and thinks that Lockhart made up the stories in his books.
Harry’s status in the wizarding world is the opposite of his status in Muggle world. For one thing, he has lots of wizard money, which he inherited from his parents. This represents a fairy-tale wish fulfillment. But Harry learns quickly that the same problems exist in the wizarding world as the Muggle world, which complicates the dichotomy. It also creates an awkward tension in his character, as he knows what it’s like to be poor, and so is uncomfortably aware of his privilege as compared to Ron. This contrast is symbolized by their respective boomsticks: Harry’s new, fast Nimbus 2000 vs. Ron’s older, slower Shooting Star. When they visit London to prepare for school, Harry is especially aware of his class status. In the Muggle world he is powerless and penniless; in the wizarding world he watches the Weasleys struggle at Gringotts, the wizard bank, to find enough money to buy school supplies.
Harry’s experience with Floo powder demonstrates that magic is something that takes practice. It can sound fun, but turn out dark, disorienting, and dangerous. Knockturn Alley introduces the world of the Dark Arts. Lucius Malfoy used to have power but has lost it, and is forced to hide his Dark Arts tools. His manner implies that he is of the British gentry. He is both wealthy and anti-Muggle, a foil for Arthur Weasley. He is forced into appeasement of the Ministry, as he is a minority of a minority, in alignment with Lord Voldemort before Harry defeated him. Lucius Malfoy warns his son Draco about openly complaining about Harry Potter, as “most of our kind regard him as a hero.”
Draco Malfoy thinks that Harry Potter’s fame gets him special treatment and is jealous. Harry’s fame is a burden for him, as it makes him different from his peers, and leads to jealousy and suspicion. Gilderoy Lockhart, a hyperbolic character, represents the hollowness of undeserved fame. He tries to use Harry’s fame to increase his own. When the Malfoys and the Weasleys fight at his book signing, Lockhart enjoys the conflict as it brings him more publicity. In the content of the conflict, he displays no moral rudder.
Hagrid, although one of Harry’s closest friends, is suspicious when he finds Harry in Knockturn Alley. Then Hagrid expresses casual prejudice in his judgment of the Durselys as “lousy Muggles.” Hermione, a Muggle who is also Hagrid’s friend, interrupts the moment. Even Hagrid, Harry’s rescuer and protector in book one, is not consistently free of suspicion and prejudice.
Mr. Weasley finds satisfaction in Lucius Malfoy’s worry due to the Ministry of Magic raid on his mansion. Mrs. Weasley is more cautious. In the end, she is proven right, as Malfoy uses the Dark Arts to try to regain power. Arthur Weasley is delighted to meet Hermione’s Muggle parents. This meeting sets the stage for the future coupling of Ron and Hermione. Ron and Draco act as foils throughout the book, in parallel with their fathers. The argument between Arthur Weasley and Lucius Malfoy is political: How should wizards behave? As Arthur says, they “have very different ideas about what disgraces the name of wizard.” Lucius think that Weasley’s poverty, time spent with Muggles, and raids on wizard mansions is a disgrace; Weasley thinks that Malfoy hiding Dark Arts paraphernalia and touting pureblood supremacy is a disgrace. The conflict between the Malfoys and the Weasleys leads to the inciting incident of the plot: Lucius Malfoy plants Tom Riddle’s diary on Ginny Weasley. Malfoy uses Ginny to undermine her family’s power, in an effort to change the government of both Hogwarts and the Ministry of Magic. This leads ultimately to conflict between Good, represented by Harry Potter, and Evil, represented by Voldemort.
Platform 9 ¾ at Kings Cross Station, where students board the train to Hogwarts, is a metaphor for magic: irrational, invisible to Muggle eye, it takes faith the first time Harry encounters it. The fact that Harry and Ron can’t enter the platform means that something is seriously amiss in the relation between the magical and mundane worlds. When Ron asks Harry, “Have you got any Muggle money?” it shows how Harry’s status has reversed. He’s stuck again. We learn later that this was the work of Dobby, a trickster figure. In the study of folklore the trickster archetype is identified as a figure who has secret knowledge and uses it to play tricks. He disobeys rules, ignores conventional behavior, and disrupts normal life. Dobby challenges the division between Muggle and wizarding world, disrupting Harry’s expectations, and the plot.
When Ron and Harry decide to fly Arthur Weasley’s car to Hogwarts, they seize it as a symbol of independence. The faulty invisibility booster on the car represents the tenuousness of Harry and Ron’s adolescent position. They go from the “fabulous dream” of freedom to being semi-visible and thirsty. They are not yet able to handle adulthood, running the car into a tree. In crashing into the Whomping Willow they learn that magic is not all enchantment. Magical creatures have a will of their own which is not to be messed with. The car ejects them, likely because it is filled with Mr. Weasley’s magic.
As they arrive at Hogwarts, Harry and Ron enter more fully into the gothic genre, reflected in both the architecture of the school and Snape’s dour antagonism. When Harry didn’t think to send a message by owl to inform the school that they needed help, it could be because he had been unable to do so at Privet drive. He has difficulty managing the transitions between various worlds, and his vastly different powers in each. Dumbledore sets up the threat of expulsion if they break any more school rules.
Harry and Ron find that their entrance is perceived as exciting and heroic by their peers—a heroism of novelty, originality, surprise, and spectacle. The reaction from Mrs. Weasley is the opposite of their peers: her howler is a humiliating spectacle, which also makes them feel personally ashamed. Harry and Ron learn some of the consequences of rebellion. Mr. Weasley’s enchanted car was his quiet rebellion. They made it public. Hermione is unimpressed, and characterized as a rule-obeyer; this will make it more significant when she breaks the rules later. She is generally risk-averse, and is friendly to Harry and Ron once they are punished. She believes in a system of justice.
Professor Lockhart becomes a vehicle for dramatic irony as he constantly overstates his abilities and deeds. The reader knows that Lockhart didn’t mend the Whomping Willow, and that Harry wasn’t trying to become famous by crashing into it. Lockhart also acts as comic relief in a book that can turn dark. The earthy Professor Sprout provides a contrast with the ostentatious Lockhart. The Mandrakes are a symbol of maturation, as they grow from babies into adults. It’s gruesome that the Hogwarts community waits for them to mature enough to use them as a restorative. Like the gnomes, their ugliness and dispossession make them less sympathetic. They are also plants, although personified ones. Both Justin Finch-Fetchly’s name and his name-dropping the prestigious “Eton” implies that he came from an upper-class Muggle family. Ron’s wand is a phallic symbol, and its dysfunction forms part of the coming-of-age narrative. He struggles with potency throughout the story. Hermione, like Ginny, has a crush: on Lockhart. This seems contrary to her intelligent character, but perhaps she believes what she reads in books. She is inexperienced, but a reader. Her naivety parallels Ginny’s, who believes in the voice in Riddle’s diary.
Colin Creevy, who asks for a photo with Harry, reinforces the theme of fame. Rowling became famous very quickly after the publication of the first Harry Potter book. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets could be read as her examination of that experience. While Colin is a fan, Draco is a jealous, mocking critic. Lockhart is an undeserving blowhard desiring fame for its own sake and taking credit for the work of others. Popularity and financial success matter most to Lockhart, exemplified by his gloating over his book being “six solid months at the top of the best-seller list.”