Mar 13 2014 10:00am

The Harry Potter Reread: The Philosopher’s Stone, Chapter 2

Harry Potter and Sorcerer's Stone cover, Mary GrandPreWe’re back for the first time in the Harry Potter Reread! Two whole installments, ma! (I should probably stop getting so excited—we’ve got a ways to go….)

Today we’re taking a look at Chapter Two of The Philosopher’s Stone, The Vanishing Glass. The Snakey Snake Chapter. Just picture me making lots of embarrassing hissing sounds, which is probably how I will torture my coworkers as I’m writing this.

Index to the reread can be located here! Other Harry Potter and Potter-related pieces can be found under their appropriate tag. And of course, since we know this is a reread, all posts might contain spoilers for the entire series. If you haven’t read all the Potter books, be warned.


Chapter Two—The Vanishing Glass


It’s been nearly ten years since the first chapter, and young Harry Potter is close to eleven years old. His room is a cupboard under the stairs of Number 4 Privet Drive and he’s not permitted to ask questions of his relatives about basically anything. It’s his cousin Dudley’s birthday, and Harry is directed to cook the family’s breakfast and then meant to spend the day with a woman named Mrs. Figg while the Dursleys take Dudley to the zoo and give him everything he could possibly want in the world. Harry is never permitted to accompany the family on Dudley’s birthday celebrations.

Mrs. Figg has a broken leg this year, so Harry gets the chance to participate in the festivities for the first time. He enjoys the zoo very much, but everything goes south when they visit the reptile house. A large boa constrictor refuses to dance for Dudley, even when Uncle Vernon taps at its cage. Once the boy has wandered off, it speaks to Harry, tells him that it gets bugged a lot by visitors. The snake is a native species to Brazil, but was bred in zoo captivity.

When Dudley’s friend notices that the boa is moving, he shouts for Dudley and the two of them shove Harry out of the way to stare at it. Suddenly, the glass vanishes from the snake’s tank and it slithers away, hissing a thank you to Harry. We learn that strange happenings like that occur around Harry often, particularly when something incredibly embarrassing or dangerous is about to happen to him. The Dursleys are horrified and send Harry back to the cupboard where he is to stay without meals for the foreseeable future.

Harry reflects that night on how he is persona non grata in the Dursley’s sphere, but odd-looking strangers occasionally approach him with bows and handshakes and the like. He never gets a clear look at any of these people, who seem to disappear instantly. At school he is ignored and/or belittled for his glasses, hand-me-down clothes, and being the primary target of Dudley and his gang.


This is where we get to a very Dahl-like place in the narrative. Lots of vibes in a Matilda/James and the Giant Peach direction with how poorly Harry is treated, and the fairy tale-like aspects of his plight. Lost parents, nasty relatives, overblown punishments for crimes that aren’t remotely criminal. Living like a peasant in the middle of plenty. All the characters you are meant to dislike are described as unflattering animals; Aunt Petunia is horselike, Vernon and Dudley are beefy and piggish, Dudley’s friend Piers Polkiss is a rat. (This does absolutely extend into the “ugly/fat people are awful or evil” trope that is used frequently in fiction, even moreso in children’s literature. Which is more unsettling when you consider that you are programming children very early to believe that un-gorgeous folks are probably terrible.)

All of this is used to comic effect, which was something that Dahl excelled at—making horrid situations slightly absurd and utterly whimsical, thereby making them more palatable. And if every book in the Harry Potter series was written with the same inflection, these chapters would feel the same on a reread. But since the books age up with the reader, and the tone of later installments forces us to look at this setup more seriously… it’s also incredibly unfunny.

There was some talk in the comments for the last chapter about how frightening it must have been for Petunia to take on Harry, endangering her own family so soon after the death of her sister. (Lily was Petunia’s only living blood relative outside of Harry at this point—the Evans parents were already buried, though Rowling has never said what took them.) And there is some truth to that, I’m sure; we know for certain that Petunia’s issue with the wizarding world is about feeling neglected in her own family. Petunia was jealous that Lily had magic abilities because their parents were clearly very keen on it. But that doesn’t mean she hated her only sibling, no matter how badly they were estranged. We know that she crumpled up Lily’s letter to her announcing Harry’s birth, but we also know that the next Christmas, Petunia sent her sister a vase (according to a letter Lily wrote to Sirius).

So Petunia was… trying perhaps. In her own way. And she did choose to take Harry in and keep him under her roof, which not a small decision for anyone to make. There were selfish motivations at play there as well, though; the letter that Dumbledore left her in Harry’s swaddling explained that as long as he was in her care as a minor, his presence offered her family magical protection. Seeing as her sister was just murdered by a dark wizard, that probably looked pretty good. So there are complicated motivations all around here, but we can agree that knowing Lily had been murdered was not happy news to Petunia, and that it was good she offered Harry a home rather than dropping him off at an orphanage. (Wonder if Dumbledore had a contingency plan for that?)

That doesn’t change the fact that everything about Harry’s situation at the Dursleys is straight up child abuse.

Harry lives in a cramped cupboard under a staircase, and would have remained there had he not ended up going to Hogwarts. He does most of the household chores, cooks at least some of the family meals, and is never permitted to ask questions about his parents. In effect, he is a child slave who is lucky enough to be allowed to go to school. When he is “bad,” he has food withheld as punishment. (We can assume this has happened more than once because Harry waiting for the family to go to bed so he can sneak food from the kitchen is clearly not a new idea to him.) His cousin is physically abusive toward him, and it’s likely that Vernon is too: you might remember later on in this book, Harry is worried that Professor McGonagall is asking for a wooden cane to beat him with when she calls Oliver Wood out of Professor Quirrell’s class. Why would he think of that? The most logical answer is—probably because he’s been hit with one before.

What’s distressing is that the reader is clearly getting to Harry at a point where all of these things are normal to him by now—he knows how to navigate the household, how to shove his head down, how to try and keep himself out of trouble. We are missing those points when Harry was younger, less likely to censor himself, more willing to wonder at his surroundings. A time when little Harry had no filter, and didn’t realize that asking questions would get him smacked down and sent to his not-a-room. We learn that when he did ask about the origin of the scar on his forehead, he got a callous; “In the car crash when your parents died. And don’t ask questions.” Because Merlin forbid anyone tiptoe a little around the death of a mother and father to their own orphaned child. And what happened when Harry asked about his own birthday, about why they never celebrated it like they did Dudley’s? How do you imagine the Dursleys reacted to that?

We can glean still more of this isolation from the narration, from odd little asides that don’t really add up:

Aunt Petunia often said that Dudley looked like a baby angel — Harry often said that Dudley looked like a pig in a wig.

Often said to who, Harry? YOU HAVE NO FRIENDS. Kid probably spends most of the day talking to himself. Because anyone he could talk to either wants him to shut up, or isn’t interested.

It’s also fascinating to recognize those lingering aspects of Lord Voldemort that are, for the last time in Harry’s life, not bothering him whatsoever. I had completely forgotten that tiny Harry actually likes his scar, thinks of it as his favorite personal feature. And his chat with the snake just proves how anything can be demonized when associated with the wrong person. Later books make this big deal about Harry being a parselmouth because Slytherin was into it and so was Tom Riddle. And what does Harry use this great and terrible power for? To bond with a boa constrictor over annoying people at the zoo.

Harry has a lot in common with that snake, really. Living in captivity with people who constantly tap on the glass and yell at him to do this and that. It’s not his natural habitat either, living among muggles.

Learning about how Harry’s powers try to manifest under the Dursley’s care is admittedly hilarious. The image of Petunia trying to pull Dudley’s old sweater over Harry’s head and it shrinking and shrinking with every tug is excellent. As is Harry’s kid-logic about how these things must actually be happening: trying to jump behind trash cans to avoid Dudley’s gang, ending up on the roof, and assuming “that the wind must have caught him in mid-jump.” Because magic doesn’t seem so impossible when you’re a child. You can come up with an explanation for anything, no matter how far-fetched.

We get a peek at a few characters who we’ll see again as well! The man in the top hat who bows to Harry is Dedalus Diggle, and Mrs. Figg is later revealed to be the squib Arabella Figg. It’s not surprising that Harry is less than fond of their visits, but she must get a kick out of pretending to be such a whacko old lady. I’m blanking on the other two Harry recalls. Also, he dreams of Sirius’ motorbike. Part of me desperately wants to believe that the flight with Hagrid wasn’t his first trip on that thing.

And what’s next, you ask? Oh, just that letter we’ve all been waiting for…

That’s it for this week—for chapter three or four, I plan to go into more detail about the Dursleys before Harry. (There is some great info via Pottermore on that period.) So prepare for Vernon Dursley-James Potter smackdowns!

Emily Asher-Perrin is super excited for the emergence of owls. You can bug her on Twitter and read more of her work here and elsewhere.

Valerie Varner
1. valerieness
The first time I read this, I was really just along for the ride, but on re-reads, I find myself desperate to get to the part in the story where Harry makes FRIENDS. It hits me right in the feels every time.

I try to imagine how they handled him as a baby. You can't really ( I guess you can) neglect a baby - they cry and scream until you feed them or change them. I have to imagine Petunia was somewhat nice to him until he got older. But then how do you erase that bond to start treating him so badly as he grows older?

I have also been in situations (not a whole life - just situations) where kids I was with got the "big" ice cream and I just got an "ice pop," and it makes you mad. But Harry was just happy to have it. It just makes you love that kid even more.
Kit Case
2. wiredog
That doesn’t change the fact that everything about Harry’s situation at the Dursleys is straight up child abuse.
Never mind how the school is run, and the students abused there.

The books are fun to read, and very cleverly written, but you really have to assume that the muggles are in a separate universe from ours, too. Can you imagine the reaction by the teachers in a real middle-class school to a student treated by their parents the way Harry is by the Dursleys? DCFS would drop on them like a ton of bricks. And then he disappears for the school year and receives all sorts of nasty injuries. By the time the officials are done with Hogwarts...
3. Zunt
Don't forget that as little Harry got older he would have resembled James ("that awful boy") more and more. In effect he's getting the blame for his parents' natures from day one.
4. Dr. Cox
More reread, yay!
I don't have any of the books past PoA, but in OoP, doesn't Mrs. Figg say something to Harry about wishing she could've made visits less
And Mrs. Figg w/ all her cats . . . not like Dolores Umbridge and all her plates w/ paintings of simpering kittens!
And in DH we don't find out what happens to Crookshanks (or Moaning Myrtle, or Winky), if memory serves.
5. Michelle L.
@3: James is not "that awful boy." We learn in book 7 that she's actually talking about Snape.
6. bookworm1398
@2 I did wonder about Harry's situation at school when reading this. Dudley must be in the same grade as him, but he can't be with Harry constantly- how come Harry has no friends at school?
7. SteamboatMeadow
I was 10 when I first read this chapter and even though I always felt terribly sorry for Harry, a part of me felt even worse for Dudley. He was molded into this awful human being by his parents and was going to have to live the rest of his life as a jerk that no one wanted to be around. I took solace in the fact that Harry wasn't truly part of the family because although he was treated poorly he was never going to turn into one of them.

After reading the whole series I'm not sure that I feel the same way. There are some redeeming qualities that the Dursleys posess and I would argue that not all of their motivations were entirely selfish. However, this hardly justifies their abuse of Harry.

Once again you've done a great commentary that I really enjoyed reading. Can't wait for next week's installment.
Chris Nelly
8. Aeryl
This prompted me to go ahead and start rereading the books(since I will zoom through them, I'll have to do it again when we get to COS) I continue to be amazed at how much foreshadowing Rowling seeded these early books with.

Here we have the sneaky establishment of Harry's ability with Parseltongue.

I have one foul about this chapter, which is that, cupboard or no, if it was being used as someone's living space it wouldn't be infested with spiders.
Chris Nelly
9. Aeryl
@5, She refers to James as that "awful boy" as well in this book. The other mention of a "horrible boy" is about Snape in OotP, but Harry assumes it's a reference to James.

@7, I like that Dudley does become a better person that his parents taught him to be by DH.
David Levinson
10. DemetriosX
It is odd that Harry never made any friends at school. I doubt that Dudley was ever popular enough or even bully enough to ensure that Harry was completely ostracized. OK, maybe some of the odd things happening around him would have put more people off, but you'd think some other outsider would have gravitated to him. Or he might have bonded with a teacher. Maybe the protective spell made him essentially invisible to others, beyond what was necessary for minimum interaction in his education, shopping, etc.

As I was reading the recap, I suddenly realized how bad wearing Dudley's handmedowns must have been. They ought to have fit Harry like a tent. Maybe they also mysteriously shrank to fit. Or maybe we shouldn't overthink too many things in the early, lighter books. These are tropes as much as anything else.

Harry thinking that McGonnigal is asking for a cane to punish him doesn't necessarily mean he was caned. I assume that he must have been exposed to the cultural idea that canings are the norm at boarding schools, either through reading the occasional boarding school book, general cultural osmosis, or Vernon talking about the good old days at his school.
Chris Nelly
11. Aeryl
Harry states that nobody wanted to be his friend, because being his friend made you a target for Dudley. It's not that Dudley's popular, he's feared. This dynamic is not that uncommon, I still see it in my adult workplace, the angry person with power ostracizes somebody, everyone follows suit to protect themselves.
Adam S.
12. MDNY
I love this opening chapter. It has such a Roald Dahl feel, setting up Harry's troubles in cartoonish ways (the Dursleys' animal characteristics was a nice touch). Dudley becomes cooler after a few books, but Dudders is an obnoxious prick for now.
I never thought Harry was caned, but he is trained to expect the worst in any situation with the Dursleys.
Emily Asher-Perrin
13. EmilyAP
@ wiredog - This is actually something I'm planning to address, but probably more essay style--the fact that the wizarding world seems by and large more dangerous and their population simply accepts it as such. Because it's true that what goes on at Hogwarts is completely insane.

In regard to the relative realism of Harry having no friends, I will say, speaking as someone who went through a period of total ostracizing at school as a young kid, it is something that happens, and is far more likely to happen if kids have the threat of Dudley's gang hanging over them.
14. Gregor Lewis
For something that I found a bit of a chore to grind through early on, Emily's love for the work veritably sings off the page ... I mean screen.

These first two books are gonna be so much more fun for me than when i've just blasted through them myself.

In other news, many people commenting on the glorious first post noted possible timeline/continuity errors/implausibilities re Harry being left in a desteoyed house. Along the same line of thought, it strikes me that any baby left with a family who treats the juvenile Harry like the Dursley's do, would not have survived infancy.

Rowling co-opts Dahlian descriptions and classic neglected child tropes reserved for the plight of institutionalised orphans, or those who end up in a bad situation at Harry's age abruptly, not from infancy.

If Harry is a relatively healthy if now emotionally neglected primary school student, I find the dichotomy of the likely care and nurturing he must have received as a baby from the Dursleys (especially his Aunt) , impossible to reconcile with how he is treated now.

When examined so forensically, it doesn't ring true. It's as if the giant plot hammer is being brought down on Harry's Aunt ... when? ... Was it when Harry started walking? When he started talking? When he started school?

But I don't think that's the point really. The early narrative is not about such supposition IMO. It's about getting us settled with the characters in a comfortably familiar setting. We're asked to be the Greek Chorus, and to Boo/Hiss, Clap/Cheer accordingly. And because we're so familiar with the trope being presented we go right along with it.

Rowling made some inconsistent choices to start her opus. Or, rather she made choices that seem inconsistent when examined both logically and forensically. I just don't think these early chapters were designed with that in mind.

It was more to do with dropping our hero in a 'timeless trope' of fiction, while introducing him in a unique manner. In that, J.K Rowling has been an unmitigated success.

Tom Smith
15. phuzz
Just realised there is a sort of parallel between Harry and Petunia's relationship, and that of Jon Snow and Catelyn Stark. Pretty cold on the outside due to being told "you have to look after this kid that isn't yours", but some affection, which is well hidden.

Also, Petunia is the perfect name for this character.
Lisamarie LiGreci-Newton
16. Lisamarie
I don't find it odd at all that Harry had no friends at school. It was the same way with me. I had some friends growing up, but as some of the more popular people took a disliking to me once popularity became a thing in late elementary school/middle school, they all melted away and in some cases, took part in actively taunting me.

Anyway, reading these chapters are definitely harder now that I have kids of my own. I like the depth that knowing Petunia and Lily's history brings to it, but even if they were worried, or had good reasons for not encouraging magical abilities in Harry, that can all be done without locking a kid in a closet, withholding food, encouraging physical harassment (remember that in the next chapter Vernon tells Dudley to hit him with his stick), forcing him to do all the chores, and purposefully and pointedly excluding him from treats, celebrations, etc. Honestly, I was kind of shocked he got to finish the leftover Knicerbocker Glory.

And, varnerv951@1, you absolutely can neglect a baby. Especially given the steroptyical 'stiff upper lip' portrayal of Brits that Vernon and Petunia seem to fit, I can imagine they resorted to extreme cry-it-out methods with him (I kind of wonder if they would also have done that with Dudley as a matter of course) and that he was never held or cuddled or played with or talked to, all of which can have some damaging effects. Plus, it's sad to think about how, as a toddler, he was probably quashed as his personality/natural curiosity was blossoming.
Kit Case
17. wiredog
phuzz @15
Rowling is a genius at names.
Chris Lough
18. TorChris
Announcing the Wizard People, Dear Reader rewatch miniaturized inside the Harry Potter reread! (Hee hee.)
James Wolf
19. JAWolf
About the wooden cane- I hate to be white knighting Vernon, but remeber, Hogwarts is a British Public School. 'Six of the best,' would be well known to him through the media.
Judy Sonnenberg
20. ButterflyBiker
A couple of random thoughts on why Petunia especially would change her attitude toward Harry over time: as a 1 year old, he probably looks more like his mother (her eyes, no glasses, etc) and we learn later that the magic usually doesn't start manifesting until they are about 6 or 7. At first I had to check myself on making that comment (remembering the story about his little broomstick), but he doesn't have to have his own magic to ride that toy, so I stand by the thought. Until he starts looking more and more like James and then has the audacity to start displaying signs of his inner wizard, Petunia cares for him.
21. JeanTheSquare
It's pretty easy for abusive parents to severely limit a kid's access to friends. Just don't let them have anyone over, and don't ever let them go to anyone else's place. If all their social interations happen through you, you can control exactly how many friends they have, and who they are. Besides being a twisted form of punishment, it's a logical strategy to keep anyone outside the family from finding out about the abuse occurring at home. And as others have noted, the machinations of Dudley's gang, plus being the bespectacled, messy-haired kid in oversized hand-me-downs would easily take care of the rest.
Valerie Varner
22. valerieness
Lisamarie@16 - Heard. But as the mother of a new baby - it pains me to think he was never cuddled. I don't know how a woman who obviously loves her own child could neglect a baby. I have to imagine she was somewhat nice to him. That would be something I would be interested in finding out what JK imagines those years were like for Harry...
Chris Tierney
23. chris.tierney
the wizarding world seems by and large more dangerous and their population simply accepts it as such
I'm pretty sure I read an interview with JKR where she explained that wizards can survive things like playing Quidditch because they are physically more resilient than muggles. I haven't been able to find it today though.
Joseph Newton
24. crzydroid
The thing that really stood out for me regarding the abuse was when the ice cream lady asked Harry what he wanted before they could walk away. This poor lady has no idea that Harry has been abused by his caretakers. She is a normal person--of course she would sweetly engage Harry in conversation and assume he is getting ice cream too. Obviously Harry knows he is being treated badly...but how weird it must be for him to see other people attempting to treat him like an actual human being. Anyway, good for her though...because of her, Harry at least got a lemon pop.

I went to look up knickerbocker glory in our HP cookbook, and it had a funny line about the lemon pops--"...they at least have the decency to be embarrassed not to by him anything."

Reading some of the comments, I have some more general thoughts about the abuse. It's not just that Harry is the child of James and Lily, but that he is a wizard--which is also the reason they hate James and Lily. The Dursleys try very hard to shy away from anything that is not normal. In fact, according to info on Pottermore, Vernon was always like that even before he found out about wizards. Finding out about wizards and that Petunia has wizard relatives could only make him try that much harder. So, while they probably neglected them as much as they could as a baby, I'm sure the abuse stepped up some from plain ignoring his questions once the weird wizarding things started happening. Even at the age he is now, they are still allowing him to eat the same food (he gets his own bacon in the beginning), so I assume they grudgingly fed him as a toddler. It doesn't mean they liked it, and they may have even smacked him for crying. One has to wonder if the Dursleys would've treated him better had he not been a wizard or the offspring of a witch and wizard; had his muggle parents really died in a car crash. Marge probably wouldn't have...but I figure the Dursleys have slightly more decency than that.

Again, I think their main problem is fear of the wizarding world and their shunning of non-normal things. This makes it extra sad, because it's a form of racial hate. It's making Harry, this child, "other." And you hate these "others" so much that you would neglect and abuse one of their children, even when this child is your own blood an is charged to your care. It's incredibly hard for me to imagine not loving a child no matter where they came from. Imagine I was an American soldier after WWII and I had found that Hitler had had this baby that was now abandoned--why wouldn't I adopt that child (if within my purview) and love it and nurture it and raise it to be a decent human being? But this sort of thing places where there is such a strong racial and cultural hate between two peoples, that they hate and would even kill the children of the other group.
25. Porphyrogenitus
If I had to guess when Harry's treatment by the Dursleys went from acceptable to not, it would be after the first time he manifested magic. Until then Petunia may well have hoped that he'd be "normal" instead of a freak (her word) like her sister. After odd things started to happen, though, the whole family would have been confronted with ever increasing frequency about just how many freakish things there are in the world, and reminded not only that they have one of their very own living in the house (where their own child is, no less, which must have been terrifying to them), but also that said freak also brought the attention and thus the threat of the same evil wizards who killed Lilly and James (regardless of whatever assurances Dumbledore made in his letter).

Not that it excuses their behavior in any way, but it goes a long way toward explaining it.
26. Tod
JeanTheSquare is spot on. I had physically and verbally abusive parents: "dad" was a raging phychotic and me dear old mum during one of her turns delighted in keeping anything from me that might make my life liveable including friends. Its easy to isolate someone. Just treat them bad enough so they have no self esteem and then dont let them have any contact outside of school. After awhile you just give up and accept your fate. Thats why I so loved Harry Potter, we had so much in common. Even the turn where he gets magic. At the same age I started to realize I was bigger, stronger, and faster then all my classmates. Sports was my Hogwarts. I gained some new friends and the bullying at school stopped.
Scientist, Father
27. Silvertip
Harry's apparent friendlessness never bothered me as unrealistic. As a couple of others have said, not only do you have Dudley's bullying -- which would be plenty to drop Harry into the category of "everybody picks on" kids that all schools seem to have -- but he would likely be beaten down enough to be unlikely to seek out other people his own age, or to know how to relate to them if he did.

In fact that was what did bother me the most about these opening Chapters: How well-adjusted and emotionally resilient Harry is. Even Dumbledore remarks that he's basically a normal, healthy kid, just a bit undernourished (!). But treatment like that leaves scars, and can absolutely prevent the development of the social instincts and skills that are necessary to basically fit into preteen society, as Harry does immediately upon arriving at Diagon Alley and Hogwarts. Even if the abuse only really kicked in when he started manifesting magic, the social isolation alone is enough to generate an unhappy and bad-with-his-peers boy. Obviously in this sort of book you couldn't really have that, but it bugs me.

It's strange to reread this all now when my oldest child is herself 11. She's both more and less mature than Harry's character here. Maybe I'll say more about that as Harry plugs in to his friends and classmates.

28. av willis
Also worth noting that later in POA when his aunt Marge is visiting and interrogating him about his new "reform school", she asks him if they use the cane there. When he answers, at his uncles behest yes, she goes on to give her bulldog shaped stamp of approval about this being the way to run a school. The reason I bring this up is simply to bring up the possibility that he isn't being physically abused at home, but rather that he was brought up being led to believe that this would be what happened to him if he stepped out of line in the school he was attending before hogwarts. Couple this with the fact that he is initially out of his element in an environment with a system of rules that at times can come across as rather medieval, and it makes sense this would be the image he falls back on.
Heather Dunham
29. tankgirl73
@27 "In fact that was what did bother me the most about these opening Chapters: How well-adjusted and emotionally resilient Harry is. Even Dumbledore remarks that he's basically a normal, healthy kid, just a bit undernourished (!). But treatment like that leaves scars, and can absolutely prevent the development of the social instincts and skills that are necessary to basically fit into preteen society, as Harry does immediately upon arriving at Diagon Alley and Hogwarts. Even if the abuse only really kicked in when he started manifesting magic, the social isolation alone is enough to generate an unhappy and bad-with-his-peers boy."

Well, I would argue that it did leave scars. Sure, he ended up being pretty socially capable with his peers at Hogwarts, but you could easily say that that's because they're finally his peers - he has a place where he's accepted and even *celebrated*, and nobody is afraid of being his friend because of Dudley. Being a wizard made him more resilient both physically *and* emotionally, so he was not *completely* broken, and as soon as he was in a situation where he was accepted, he was able to finally blossom and flourish without a lot of awkwardness.

But beyond that, his trust of *adults* is broken.

As much as he loves Dumbledore and respects MacGonigle, his greatest character flaw through the entire series is undeniably the fact that he, over and over again, thinks he can deal with everything by himself -- and *maybe* with the help of his friends (usually only after they DEMAND he let them help), and he does NOT share his information or his planned actions with the adults around him.

There are so many instances in the books where much pain and suffering would have been avoided if he had only confided in Dumbledore from the beginning.

But his treatment at the hand of adults in his formative years has arguably led to this inherent distrust. He has basically grown up by himself -- he had to do all the chores himself, look after himself, sneak to the kitchen to get food himself. Nobody ever did anything *for* him. He is psychologically unable to depend on others and this stubborn belief that he must do everything himself persists even long after he comes to accept the value and the contributions and the merits of his friends and his adult mentors -- that's a 'scar' if ever there was one.

And it is more than just adults, really. While he's socially adept and makes friends fairly easily, he still doesn't entrust information even to Ron and Hermione as easily as perhaps he should. He does share *most* things with them, but there are still moments where he keeps things to himself. His status as "The Chosen One" only serves to augment and fortify his sense of self-sufficiency and dissociation from others, in fact, and at times he alienates even those closest to him with his insistence on 'going it alone'.
30. Zylaa
@29--Reading that post was a revelation. Harry's "saving-people thing" makes me want to shout at him sometimes, but I never really considered *why* he might have that trait, I just accepted that he did. I'm in awe of this series once again. And then of course his determination to do everything himself leads directly to the heartbreaking end of the fifth book.
31. owleyes
Great reread! Being a giant HP nerd, I absolutely love this and can't wait for next week's installment.

For those commenting about how baby Harry couldn't have survived with the level of neglect/abuse he experiences later from the Dursleys. Remember, Harry wasn't an infant when his parents were killed. We think of him as a "baby," but later Harry finds a photo of himself at Grimmauld Place hobbling about and zipping around on a little broomstick. He was a toddler when he arrived at the Dursleys. Not exactly self-sufficient, but much more plausibly abused/given minimal survival care and little to no affection. There's also evidence that his needs weren't outright ignored growing up... at some point he would have had to have an optometry appointment to get those trademark glasses. The Dursleys were very concerned with maintaining their social image... I'm sure it's not too much of a stretch to imagine them doing the minimum to keep up appearances while still emotionally and/or physically abusing Harry.
David Levinson
32. DemetriosX
@29 tankgirl73
Excellent point about Harry's problems trusting adults. I had never really thought about that resulting from the emotional scars of the way the Dursleys brought him up. It also goes some way toward explaining his acceptance of unjust treatment by teachers like Snape and most especially Umbridge. He doesn't bother to tell anyone about Umbridge's torture because subconsciously he thinks that's the way he's supposed to be treated, even after several years of acceptance.
Daniel Chevalier
33. SteamboatMeadow
@29 Very well said. Whether or not this was something that Rowling intended, I think it makes a lot of sense and explains why Harry tries to do so many things by himself.
Chris Nelly
34. Aeryl
@29, Great observation

I've gotten ahead of this in the reread, but the idea that the mistreatment really only started when Harry stared exhibited magic traits is given some creedence in the second book, when they are locked out of King's Cross, and Ron asks if he has any Muggle money, Harry responds that the Dursleys haven't given him pocket money for at least six years(i.e. since he was six years old). Which lines up with when kids start to exhibit magic.
Emily Asher-Perrin
35. EmilyAP
@tankgirl73 - ^^^^^ THIS.

It's even more interesting because then you realize exactly how important the Weasley's are to Harry. In his mind, they're not just an example of one good family, they are literally the only good family. Most of the families Harry encounters otherwise are fractured in some way; Hermione's parents sort of stay away from the wizarding business, Neville's lost his parents, the Malfoys are too power-hungry and owned by fear, Hagrid's mother left him when he was a baby. It's no wonder Harry latches onto them for dear life.
36. Dr. Cox
I've looked but haven't been able to find a reference that would indicate that Harry *wasn't* always chosen last for teams at school. Someone must've said "Oh, Potter . . . but he is good at . . . so let's choose him" despite possible consequences from Dudley and his gang. Perhaps it was a running or running and catching game since he seems to have, with sometimes magical help, usually escaped from Dudley and co. Anyone remember anything like this? I picked up on it at the time as a contrast to descriptions of the way things were at school generally. Maybe the reference was in a later book?
@29 and @30 . . . yes, not trusting adults, not confiding, and how OoP ended--that struck me as an example of the hero's tragic flaw trope.
Megan Dillon
37. catgirl
That Harry turned out to be a well-adjusted and likeable kid, despite the Dursleys, could be explained by Dumbledore’s quote at the end of PS/SS: ‘to have been loved so deeply, even though the person who loved us is gone, will give us some protection forever.’ Lily’s love gave Harry physical protection, why not emotional protection too?

Before tankgirl 73’s excellent observations @29, I had never made that direct link between Harry’s reluctance to confide in others and the Dursley’s neglect. I didn’t even see it as reluctance, really, but as Harry being so used to spending time in his own head growing up; as an introvert, I didn’t find that at all unusual!
Megan Dillon
38. catgirl
Dr Cox @36: I can only recall in The Sorting Hat chapter Harry remembering he was always picked last for sports teams because no one wanted Dudley to think they liked Harry. I can't think of anything that contradicts the other school kids' fear of Dudley and his gang :/
Ursula L
39. Ursula
As far as Harry having no friends, how much of that is Harry holding back from forming frinedships, out of fear that Dudley would hurt his friends?

We later see that he tries to leave his friends behind, repeatedly, when he knows he's going into danger. It's not just that he doesn't think to turn to others for help. Harry thinks that the danger, and harm, is for him alone.

Which makes sense - he was raised by a family which doted on each other, in a disfunctional way, but which constantly abused him. Everyone around him whas safe and cared for, but his place in the family was as punching bag and scapegoat. And when there was a mess, it was his job to clean it up.
40. LoonyLuna
I'm loving this re-read! I'm re-reading Harry Potter, as well, for my French class. (Snape's name is Rogue. Weird.) It's great to check out someone else's opinions on the series after all these years. =]

But about the Oliver Wood misunderstanting: doesn't Dudley tell Harry that, in his new school, teachers and older students use a wooden cane to beat the younger kids? I thought that was the reason Harry thought McGonagall was going to beat him.
41. Spinnity
I just started re-reading HP for the first time since the original run. I am reading SS in Spanish, as I figure I have almost gotten to a 4th grader's level of grammar. I am thrilled to find this re-read going on at the same time. V. much agree that the broad Dahlian caricatures of ugly/fat people is a sign of juvenile writing. And I am still confused about how Harry can do magic before Hogwarts and his wand. Thanks @29 for the key to why Harry never ever trusts an adult, which was the one thing that drove me nuts the first time through. Now I am off to look up a lot of vocab words! Hasta el próximo capítulo!
Chris Nelly
42. Aeryl
@41, It's explained a bit more further in, but all wizards and witches are capable of magic without a wand, just like house elves and goblins, it's just that the wand helps them focus their magic.

Neville tells the story of being thrown from an upper story window and bouncing which reveals his innate magic ability. We see Lily flying from a swing to show Petunia.
43. Michael J. D'Auben
When I first read the HP books, especially the first one, I was able to slip into the whimsical tone of Harry's situation with the Dursely's. Some of his "cheeky" comments (ex. "pig in a wig") helped in that. Later on, when I reread the first book its much harder to ignore the way he is actually treated. I want to call the British social services people and have the Dursely's arrested for their criminal neglect and emotional abuse of poor Harry.

@ 29.tankgirl73

I would argue that Harry's "scars" show not only in his realations with adults, but with his peers, too. Throughout his Hogwarts school years he has exactly *two* real friends. He shares a bedroom with three other boys besides Ron, he shares a "house" with a couple dozen other children but he never really socialized with anyone else, not even the other Weasley's or his Quidditch team mates, outside of the few weeks he dated Ginny in his sixth year. He remains throughout the books emotionally and socially stunted due to his treatment as a child.
John Massey
44. subwoofer
I'm still remembering Harry's upcoming future to be wearing Dudley's old clothes, dyed grey and then going to some penal colony type school. Fairly grim.

The other thing that comes to mind is that the conversation Harry has with the boa seemed on the level and in English. Latter on we hear all the hissing and moaning and at that point I find it creepy. Even in the movies Harry's conversation seemed normal, then when he talks with the big baddie snake comes the hissing and sighing. Somehow I feel deliberately hoodwinked.

BTW I've seen dogs that were mistreated greatly, abused, starved, chained, etc, and after they are rescued, they have wonderful, giving and forgiving natures. I don't see that Harry should be any different. Gives rise to the whole "Nature vs. Nurture" debate tho'.

45. L A Moody
What strikes me most about this chapter is how Harry identifies with, and befriends, the boa constrictor. The Dursleys tap on the window to its enclosure just like Petunia knocks on Harry’s cupboard door. Both are creatures who are forced to live outside of their natural habitat. Both are forced to perform/cook breakfast for the sake of their overlords. Just as Harry aids the snake to freedom, he himself will soon escape from incarceration at the Dursleys.

In this chapter, Rowling has subtly introduced people’s similarity to animals, thus laying the groundwork for the concept of Patronuses and Animagi. Piers Polkiss resembles a rat, a clear analogy to Pettigrew; both of them are flunkies who hold the victims down/betray their hiding place so that the Head Guy can have a go at them. Dudley is a pig in a wig, thus foreshadowing when Hagrid gives him a curly tail to match. Petunia’s long face is described as horsy, not exactly a compliment in this instance. Admittedly, horses are often high-strung, yet they can also be long-legged and graceful, in contrast to Vernon’s rotund body type
Without Harry’s assistance, Petunia is undeniably the workhorse at the Dursley household. Vernon may be obsessed with having the best suburban lawn in all of England, but he is never seen raising a finger to assist his wife around the house. As for Dudley, the crown prince would never be called upon to perform any chores; why his sense of entitlement rivals that of Draco Malfoy, himself. Coincidence that they both turn out to be bullies?
Chris Nelly
46. Aeryl
@43, Harry has superficial friendships with his housemates, and two really close friendships, same as the rest of his classmates. And he's pretty close with Fred and George, aside from his friendship with Ron.

Dean is really only friends with Seamus, Fred and George are really only friends with Lee Jordan, Lavender is friends with Parvati. This pattern is repeated throughout the books, and it's never odd for anyone else.

@44, The snake doesn't actually speak to Harry except as he's leaving. The rest is Harry guessing what the snake is thinking.
Lisamarie LiGreci-Newton
47. Lisamarie
It's also possible that Harry is a bit on the introverted side in that respect. I read the book by Susan Cain on introverts (which was fascinating and I definitely reccomend it) and it talks quite a bit about how we pressure kids to be popular and have lots of friends and get all hand-wringy and concerned when a child only seems to have one or two close friends, but there's really nothing wrong with it.
48. DougL
Except this is a very usual set up, as you have noted is common. In myths, a la Cinderalla this is exactly the same situation. This lends familiarity to the tale and comfort so we can get to it.
49. scinatfilm
This is a bit late, and anyone who makes it this far down in the comments, it's for you.

I really liked what @29 had to say, and it strikes me of the similarities, from that point of view, between Harry and Ender Wiggin. Along those same lines, the lack of significant close friends, the anger, the feeling that "I'm the only one who can get it done." continues through the rest of the series.

Also, I defnitely agree that it's great to see the foreshadowing that Rowling puts into these early books, for characters who we will meet again later.

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