The Harry Potter Reread will survive the dark hours of winter by pretending it’s still summer and wearing sunglasses all the time. (This is inadvisable. Do not listen to the reread.)
We are going to eat a slice of grapefruit for breakfast and then blow up someone’s living room! It’s chapters 3 and 4—The Invitation and Back to the Burrow.
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 3—The Invitation
Harry has to deal with Dudley’s new diet; he came home from school too big to fit into any of their uniform knickerbockers. On the bright side for Harry, he sent word of this to his friends, and he’s been receiving food all summer to help out. That morning, Vernon gets a letter from the mailman covered in stamps and is livid about the abnormality of it. The letter turns out to be an invitation from the Weasleys to take Harry to the Quidditch World Cup and have him stay for the rest of the summer. Vernon doesn’t want to let Harry go, but after the kid mentions writing to his godfather, Vernon acquiesces.
Ron sends Harry a letter with his owl Pig, telling him that they plan to pick him up tomorrow whether or not his uncle said yes. Harry sends back a note telling them it’s alright. He enjoys some birthday cake (that he’s been hiding under a loose floorboard), starts getting excited for the Quidditch World Cup, and stops worrying about Voldemort. Which is always a bad decision, but that’s dramatic irony for you.
So I’d totally forgotten this whole thing about Dudley being on a diet. It’s interesting, because I can’t help but think that if a school had sent a letter like that to Petunia today, she’d be railing at the school for not carrying bigger uniforms, and this would have gone very differently. Would a private (I’m sorry, in the U.K. this is probably a public school, they switch the terms in the U.S.) school in Britain take it upon themselves to send a student back with a detailed diet plan? I feel like in the U.S. that would be waaaaay overstepping their bounds.
It’s an awkward place to be in at this narrative point with the Dursleys. Vernon and Petunia are as abusive as ever, but what’s happening with Dudley is weirdly shaming and poorly handled. Wouldn’t the school have been dealing with his dietary issues already during the year? Is this due to a health scare with the kid? (We could argue that Dudley eats enough sugar to be at risk for all sorts of health problems.) The idea that Dudley is being put on this diet over a school uniform is absurd, but not really in a funny way.
Good thing Harry reached out for food help, though. Not sure I would store perishables under a floorboard, but needs must. Think I’d bee too freaked out about bugs and rodents getting to it.
Damn, Harry, that’s some master manipulation you pull there, getting Vernon to let you go to the Quidditch Cup. It seems so mean at first glance, but when you remember what Vernon Dursley constantly puts that kid through, it’s really hard to muster pity for him. He gets angry about STAMPS, for Pete’s sake. Vernon, you could have just said some overzealous kid sent the letter. You could have made up anything. But you are humorless (unless the jokes happen to be racist).
On the upside, the differences between Pig and Hedwig are always good for a laugh. Poor excitable pint-sized owl next to elegant, regal, fancy owl.
Chapter 4—Back to the Burrow
The next day Harry keeps away from the Dursleys as they throw themselves into a panic about the arrival of magic people. It doesn’t help that the Weasleys are late. It helps even less that when they do come, they try to get through the Dursleys’ boarded-up fireplace. (They use an electric one.) Arthur Weasley blows open the fireplace, the twins grab Harry’s trunk, and Mr. Weasley tries and fails to make small talk with the Dursleys. Fred drops some candies on the floor before they leave by Floo powder. Arthur is astounded when Harry bids the Dursleys goodbye and they say nothing in return.
Dudley eats one of the fallen candies, and his tongue grows to a ridiculous size and turns purple; it’s one of Fred and George’s joke items that they wanted to test.
I’m about to do something weird here, and that’s sympathize with the Dursleys.
Okay, while the whole scenario is built for laughs (and is funny up to a point), this just further displays how moronic wizard-kind are in general. For starters, no one thought to ask Harry how they should come to get him, knowing how crazy the Dursleys are about magic folk. Not even Hermione, who we know is at the Weasley house by then. In addition, Arthur Weasley claims he was able to have the appropriate Ministry department connect the Dursley fireplace to the Floo network for an afternoon to collect Harry, but apparently this government administration doesn’t bother to, oh, check the fireplace in question and make sure that it’s accessible? Just seems like that would be extremely important, especially when you know you’re linking up a fireplace that belongs to a Muggle family. That is, if the Ministry department even asked in the first place. (Hint: They probably didn’t. Incompetence all around!)
There is a very sharp disconnect between the Muggle and wizard worlds when it comes to damage. We’ve observed this mostly in people thus far—people are fixable. Having a broken arm is no big deal. Kids bounce when they fall out of windows. It stands to reason that the same thing goes for objects. Most things are pretty easy to fix when they break via magic (maybe moreso if they were destroyed magically in the first place?). But it’s not hard to guess that it wouldn’t be the same in the Muggle world. And that blowing open a person’s boarded-up fireplace might be a frightening experience for them. It never occurs to Arthur Weasley that destroying part of a person’s home without so much as a by-your-leave is not going to come off well. This is not rocket science or wizard science. This is basic human empathy. Everyone failed here.
On the other hand, it hurts so badly when Arthur comes up against the truly incomprehensible: the fact that the Dursleys really have no care for Harry at all. His bafflement when they refuse to bid him goodbye is crushing. He’s a father of seven, maybe a tad too indulgent at times, and always willing to give well beyond his means to someone in need. The idea that these people are actually as callous as Ron has likely been warning them must still be hard to acknowledge. It’s so far away from everything the Weasleys are.
Am I actually all that disappointed with Fred and George for leaving the toffee behind for Dudley to try? Eh, not really. It’s not just a bit of fun here; they clearly feel no compunction about trying out their products on him because they’ve heard from Harry how spoiled he is, and how horribly he treats his cousin. It’s not simply pranking—it’s retaliation. Something that Dudley hasn’t come upon in his life before. And ultimately, Dudley does it to himself; diet or not, he’s being greedy and not bothering to think before he acts. The result of this is very Dahl, a straight-up Charlie and the Chocolate Factory-style comeuppance.
On the other hand, I do think it’s important that the next time we see Dudley, he’s heading up his own gang. He’s getting to the point in his life where his behavior—created solely by the coddling of Vernon and Petunia—will no longer be looked on as “a phase” he might grow out of. Petunia having to defend him against bad reports is proof of that. He’s also getting to the point where hiding behind his parents and expecting them to fix everything for him won’t work either. And you do have to feel bad for the kid because it’s so clear that he’s been made into this. He’s inching around his own home, terrified of getting pig-tailed (good pun, Emily, you are so slick) again, but his parents are too busy being terrified themselves to assure him of his safety, the way good parents should.
So there’s a lot of mess in this chapter, both literally and figuratively, and it’s pretty sad-making. Will the Quidditch Cup make it all better?