The Harry Potter Reread

The Harry Potter Reread: The Chamber of Secrets, Chapters 5 and 6

The Harry Potter Reread could probably use some more coffee, but it has sadly reached its morning limit. This seems unjust. Wizards probably have spells for those sorts of things, and that’s alongside tea. If they can bounce from great heights, they can probably take all the stimulants!

Today’s chapters are primarily concerned with bad decisions that seem great when you’re twelve, and the realization that no one should ever wear solid aquamarine anything, let alone aquamarine floor-length robes. It’s time for chapters 5 and 6 of Chamber of Secrets—The Whomping Willow and Gilderoy Lockhart.

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 5—The Whomping Willow

Summary

It’s time to get on the Hogwarts Express and the Weasleys and Harry are running a bit late. After having to go back to the Burrow a few times for forgotten items, the group ends up at King’s Cross with only minutes to spare. Harry and Ron are the last to head through the barrier to Platform 9 and 3/4, but they somehow cannot make it through. Ron suggests that this is an emergency, so they should take Mr. Weasley’s flying car to school. Harry is keen on the idea, but the Invisibility Boosters on the car go faulty almost immediately. When they periodically drop out of cloud cover to make sure they’re on the same route as the Express, the car is visible.

The Ford Anglia starts to die right as they arrive at Hogwarts, and they crash into the Whomping Willow, which immediately begins… whomping them. The car reverses, saving their lives—it then ejects them and runs off. Ron’s wand is broken in the crash. Harry and Ron rush to the castle, hoping to get in for the feast, but they are caught and stopped by Snape. The Potion’s Master informs them that they were spotted by several Muggles in the car, and is hoping for their expulsion. Professor McGonagall is shocked by their behavior, pointing out that they simply might have informed someone at the school that they were unable to get onto the platform by owl. Dumbledore also comes in and voices his (very quiet and controlled) disapproval. He informs the boys that they are not expelled, but that they mustn’t pull stunts like that again.

Harry and Ron are given detention by McGonagall, though she doesn’t take house points from Gryffindor. Hermione is appalled at Harry and Ron’s antics, but when the boys reach the Gryffindor common room they are greeted by a horde of awed and excited classmates. In order to avoid Percy’s temper, the two quickly run off to bed, but not before allowing themselves a little victory when confronted by roommates Neville, Seamus, and Dean.

Commentary

I had completely forgotten that they had to go back and get Ginny’s diary. Which is obviously Riddle’s diary. Guys, if Arthur and Molly had only put their foot down about not going back to the house to retrieve things, THIS ENTIRE BOOK WOULD HAVE BEEN ABOUT THEIR HUMDRUM SECOND YEAR. I know, Molly probably would have mailed it. Still, it’s a great little tip off there, not knowing what its real significance is the first time around.

Also love that Molly doesn’t realize the car has been magically expanded to accommodate her whole family. It seems a pretty good signifier of just how absent-minded wizards are in regard to anything concerning the Muggle world. More interesting is the fact that Arthur wants to break the law that he helped to draft, trying to prod Molly into letting him use the car to fly to King’s Cross. I don’t know that I would view this as a sign of corruption at the Ministry, but I do think that wizards tend to view laws much more flexibly than the rest of the world, which fits in with much of what we see of their society. There’s a playfulness element to wizard culture that may be dangerous, but not in a manner that they find concerning.

The kid logic when Harry and Ron can’t make it onto the platform might be one of my favorite elements of this book because it’s so on point with the seeming finality of everything when you’re a child. They’re both panicking over missing the train, over whether or not Molly and Arthur will make it back through the barrier, over not getting to school. It goes from Fine to Everything In The World Is Wrong in a manner of seconds. As McGonagall points out, they simply could have sent an owl. Or at least waited a few minutes to see if Molly and Arthur returned. But Harry is in freak-out mode, and once Ron gets it into his head to use the car, there’s no considering a simpler option. I would argue it’s far more Ron’s fault that Harry’s; he clearly really wants to do this, he’s the instigator. Harry has just spent a month of summer vacation in a wizard house for the first time ever—his understanding of what is normal in this case has been a bit skewed.

So here’s a question—what’s the deal with the car going all feral after the Whomping Willow beating? (The obvious and simple answer is, of course: “It’s funny, Emily, leave it alone.” But when have I ever done that?) Because it basically implies that using magic on anything inanimate provides it with a certain amount of “life.” It’s not something I’d thought of before, but it sort of makes sense to me in this world. It is also an exaggerated example of something that we “Muggles” do; naming our cars, talking to pieces of technology as though they’re people, applying human attributes to anything that isn’t human.

Wonder if Snape got the Evening Prophet first, or noticed that Harry and Ron were missing from the feast first. Either way it’s pretty funny. I appreciate that McGonagall seems to realize the kid logic for what it is—once she sees Harry’s reaction to her bringing up Hedwig, it’s clear that she gets how the panic unfolded. And then Harry has to go being all sad and cute about house points, and she basically melts and decides to go easy on the poor, famished twelve-year-olds. Here is also the first place where we see how Dumbledore handles a dressing down. It’s perfectly horrible—the quiet ones are always the worst to disappoint.

And then, in true Gryffindor fashion, everyone is up waiting to congratulate Harry and Ron for being bonkers. Is it really any wonder that Gryffindors are like this as a group? They’re surrounded by a house of people every bit as nuts as they are.

Chapter 6—Gilderoy Lockhart

Summary

Victory doesn’t last long—the very next morning, Ron is sent a Howler by his mother. The screaming message informs him exactly what sort of hot water he’s in, and also that Arthur Weasley is facing an inquiry at work. They head off to Herbology and find that Professor Sprout has just patched up the Whomping Willow, while Gilderoy Lockhart insists to the students that he explained the proper way of doing it for her benefit. He takes Harry aside before class and assures him that he knows why Harry pulled that stunt with the car; he got a taste for fame after getting his picture in the paper with Lockhart. Harry is baffled, but heads into Herbology.

Sprout is having the students repot Mandrakes, which can be used in restorative potions if someone is cursed or transfigured. They emit a cry that can kill when full grown, so the kids all have to wear earmuffs. Harry, Ron and Hermione meet Justin Finch-Fletchley of Hufflepuff House. After a rough Transfiguration class, Harry is approached by a First Year named Colin Creevey, a Muggle-born student with a milkman for a father. He wants a picture of himself and Harry together so he can show his dad. (The students have apparently told Colin all about Harry, so the boy views him as something of a celebrity.) Draco Malfoy comes ’round to mock Harry about it, which leads Lockhart to think that Harry really is offering signed pictures of himself. He gives Harry another round of advice on fame, and how he shouldn’t get a big head… yet. Since he’s not quite as famous as Gilderoy Lockhart himself.

Lockhart’s first Defense Against the Dark Arts class begins with a pop quiz all about himself. He is impressed that Hermione gets every question right, which seems to sit very well with the starstruck Miss Granger. Then he unleashes a cage of Cornish Pixies on the room, which he clearly has no idea how to tame. When class is dismissed, he asks that Harry, Ron, and Hermione clean up the hoard. Harry and Ron are dismissive of Lockhart’s now-famous abilities, but Hermione insists that what he has written in his books must be true.

Commentary

The howler. Wow. Why do wizarding children ever misbehave? If there was even the slightest chance that I could get one of those from my parents, I don’t think I’d ever have done anything wrong. Ever. Just… public humiliation at the breakfast table. Sheesh. Though, this is one of the first times when Harry gets a sense of fallout from his actions (via Mr. Weasley’s work inquiry), which is a pretty important part of his development.

This is the first glimpse we get of Herbology class, and really one of the only chances we get to watch Professor Sprout in action. It’s also a clever setup for the Mandrake, which will be pretty important later on in the narrative. The introduction of Justin Finch-Fletchley is so much more random than I remember it, and I do think it could have been wedged in somewhere more appropriate. He literally introduces himself (though it makes no sense that they wouldn’t know him, having taken the same classes last year), and then nothing happens. When you know that he’s relevant later on with the attacks, it comes off even more Hand of the Author-y. (On a side note, I’m not over-burdened with knowledge of British public schools, but I do know that getting into Eton is a pretty big deal, and likely means that Justin’s family is basically swimming in $$$$$$$—except you should pretend those were pounds signs.)

“I know, I know—it’s not quite as good as winning Witch Weekly’s Most-Charming-Smile Award five times in a row, as I have—but it’s a start, Harry, it’s a start.”

Lockhart. Oh my. He’s kind of what would happen if you put Willy Wonka on steroids and gave him no life mission beyond self-promotion. He’s a complete cartoon, but in the best possible way. It’s fun to have him for this book, particularly after getting so little out of Quirrell in the first installment. Interestingly, this “Harry wants the spotlight” issue is one that comes up again and again in the books, no matter how Harry choses to deny it. And it is arguably all Lockhart’s fault for pushing that in the first place. His attentions do far more damage than Malfoy’s ever could.

Hermione’s crush on Lockhart is… I’m not quite sure how I feel about it. On the one hand, Hermione seems too smart to be taken in by the guy. On the other hand, she’s still so young; this is really the only point when you could expect her to be susceptible to the charms of someone who is so obviously a fraud. I’ll have to see if my opinion changes going forward—I think I sort of blocked it from my mind.

And then there was Colin Creevey! Poor kid. This is book is practically all the time he gets, which is unfortunate because what we get here isn’t a lot. You only ever get to feel sorry for him—there’s no real development, just a quiet kid behind a camera. He has a bit in common with Harry, not knowing about magic before getting his letter, but it doesn’t quite resonate. It makes me wonder if there were ever other plans for him that Rowling never got around to. If so, I wonder what they were….


Emily Asher-Perrin almost feels bad for the Whomping Willow. Almost. You can bug her on Twitter and read more of her work here and elsewhere.

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