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A Reader's Guide to Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
"This is the best house I've ever been in."
-- Harry Potter
On this page:
Synopsis by William Silvester
Notes and links by Steve Vander Ark and Michele L. Worley
U.S. hardcover edition: pages 24 - 41
U.K. hardcover edition: pages 24 - 36
U.K paperback edition: pages 31 - 49
Timeframe: the morning of August 5, 1992
This chapter marks Harry's first visit to the Burrow, and our first view of Arthur Weasley. The title is the name of the Weasley's house, a fitting name for the home of a family named after a burrowing mammal. Life at the Burrow is shown in stark contrast to that in Privet Drive.
an old turquoise car, which was parked in midair
The car is a completely magical device, exhibiting no aerodynamic qualities whatsoever. Here it hovers in midair. Arthur Weasley reveals in book six that his dearest wish is to find out how airplanes stay up. He clearly doesn't understand anything at all about the way a Muggle device creates lift. Presumably the car is imbued with some combination of levitation and hover magic.
"Why haven't you been answering my letters? I've asked you to stay about twelve times..."
Ron has been sending a lot of letters. That means that Dobby has been hanging about interfering with the Owl Post for weeks. The sheer scale of his effort is astounding, considering that he is also serving the Malfoys and presumably not missing any of those duties along the way.
This comment of Ron's is important to understand more of what's been going on. It seems unlikely that Ron would have invited Harry to stay at the Burrow without Dumbledore's permission, given that Harry must stay for at least some time in Privet Drive to keep his magical protection. Perhaps it was knowing that Dumbledore wanted Harry to come to stay that emboldened the boys to try a rescue on their own. One can almost imagine Ron, Fred, or George excusing their actions with "But Dumbledore said it was okay!"
can you tell them at Hogwarts that the Dursleys have locked me up and won't let me come back
Poor Harry doesn't realize that he's about to be rescued. He is very much in "Dursley mode" right now, in a sense still accepting that he "doesn't exist."
"Don't worry," said Fred, "and stand back."
The first rule for surviving in the Dursely household is "Don't ask questions." Fred's proclamation here would be a good motto for living with the Weasley twins: Don't worry and stand back!
George took an ordinary hairpin
from his pocket and started to pick the lock.
"A lot of wizards think it's a waste of time, knowing this sort of
Muggle trick," said Fred,
"but we feel they're skills worth learning, even if they are a bit
Harry apparently had sense enough to listen to Fred; by the next summer, he had learnt how to pick a lock by Muggle means, and used it to rescue his school things himself (PA1). Fred and George in some ways share their father's fascination with Muggle things, but in their case the interest is a bit more practical. Nevertheless, years later, they include Muggle tricks--including marked cards--in their shop in Diagon Alley (HBP6).
the twins disappeared onto the dark landing.
Just what have Fred and George been learning besides lock-picking? They manage to find their way silently through a dark and completely unfamiliar Muggle house, pick a lock on a cupboard, then sneak quietly back upstairs with a load of wizard gear. How many Muggle houses have they snuck into to practice these skills?
"Put your foot down, Fred!" yelled Ron, and the car shot suddenly toward the moon...
The magic on the car is controlled by the Muggle steering wheel and pedals. There is no indication of how they control pitch, however. Perhaps they tilt the wheel, since that would seem a natural motion to use for changes in altitude.
"Well," said Fred, "put it this way - house-elves have got powerful magic of their own, but they can't usually use it without their master's permission."
"Draco Malfoy?" said George, turning around. "Not Lucius Malfoy's son? ...
This is the first time Fred and George have encountered Draco, it would seem. While it seems incredible that they wouldn't know someone who figures so prominently in the story so far, it is actually very reasonable. Once Harry and Ron reach third year, they pay little attention to the goings-on in the lower classes. When the DA is formed in their fifth year, Ron doesn't even know who some of the members are. Hermione, who is far more observant, has to identify Michael Corner for him.
I've heard Dad talking about him," said George. "He was a big
supporter of You-Know-Who."
"And when You-Know-Who disappeared," said Fred, craning
around to look at Harry,
"Lucius Malfoy came back
saying he'd never meant any of it. Load of dung - Dad reckons he was right
in You-Know-Who's inner circle."
"Yeah, Mum's always wishing we had a house-elf to do the ironing," said George. "But all we've got is a lousy old ghoul in the attic and gnomes all over the garden. House-elves come with big old manors and castles and places like that; you wouldn't catch one in our house..."
Once Dobby is freed at the end of this school year, why doesn't he go live at the Weasleys? They are pureblood, after all. However, it would seem that house-elves are tied to more than family. Notice that George says that a house-elf wouldn't want to be seen in the Weasley's house. Apparently they are as tied to buildings as they are to families.
Another vivid difference between the Burrow and Privet Drive is the abundance of life in the place. Whereas Petunia's home is spotlessly clean and sterile, the Burrow is filled with all manner of creatures--chickens, gnomes, a ghoul, and yes, children. Even the non-living inhabitants of the house are animate and interesting.
You're driving too far west, Fred," he added, pointing at a compass on the dashboard. Fred twiddled the steering wheel.
Geographically, this is interesting. The Burrow is west and a little south of Surrey, so the only way that Fred could be driving is little too far west is if he overshot Ottery St. Catchpole and the Burrow and has to swing around and go back the way they came. If that were the case, one would expect Fred to do a bit more than twiddle the wheel.
One wonderes about that compass...in a magical vehicle, perhaps it acts almost as a GPS device, homing the flying car in on the destination.
"We're a little way outside the village," said George. "Ottery St. Catchpole."
Although there is no village named Ottery St. Catchpole in Britain, it is fairly easy to determine where it is located. The name "Ottery" refers to the River Otter which flows to the sea in Devon near Exeter. In fact, there is a very interesting town along the Otter named Ottery St. Catherine which is very likely where Rowling got the name. She attended university in Exeter and there are several other towns in the vicinity which have turned up on the books. Two of them--Chudleigh and Budleigh Salterton--have had their names altered as well.
We learn in book four that the Burrow is located to the south of the town, so we can imagine that Fred has driven around the town, giving it wide berth, then swung around to come back at the Burrow from the west. This makes sense if he was trying to make sure that they were not seen by early-rising Muggles.
Lower and lower went the flying car. The edge of a brilliant red sun
was now gleaming through the trees.
"Touchdown!" said Fred as, with a slight bump, they hit the ground. They had landed next to a
tumbledown garage in a small yard, and Harry looked out for the first time
at Ron's house.
Given that number four, Privet Drive and the Burrow - and the families within them - are as different as night and day, how fitting that Harry is now arriving at the Burrow for the first time at sunrise, whereas he was first delivered to the Dursley household in the dead of night (PS1). In this case he has been rescued from imprisonment and deprivation (both physical and emotional) whereas when he was a baby he was being rescued from the wreckage of his former life only to be delivered into a decade of misery.
A lopsided sign stuck in the ground near the entrance read, THE BURROW.
Interestingly enough, there is an actual farm near Ottery St Catherine called Burrow Farm. As far as I know, the owners are not named Weasley.
"Now, we'll go upstairs really quietly," said Fred, "and wait for Mum to call us for breakfast Then, Ron, you come bounding downstairs going, 'Mum, look who turned up in the night!' and she'll be all pleased to see Harry and no one need ever know we flew the car."
A moment of silence for Fred Weasley. :)
Seriously, this is a nice bit of character development. The twins at this point are fourteen years old, just about to begin their fourth year at Hogwarts. They aren't quite sophisticated enough to allow for their mother's intelligence yet, and Fred's plan seems typical of the daft sort of wishful "thinking" a mischief-making kid of that age would talk himself into believing would work.
The clock on the wall opposite him had only one hand and no numbers at all. Written around the edge were things like Time to make tea, Time to feed the chickens, and You're late. Books were stacked three deep on the mantelpiece, books with titles like Charm Your Own Cheese, Enchantment in Baking, and One Minute Feasts - It's Magic!
In case you're curious, this is the moment when the Lexicon was born. I read this passage and grabbed my notebook. I guess I was just as enchanted by Molly's kitchen as Harry was.
The clock mentioned has confused a few fans. It is not the same as the one in the living room which indicates the condition and location of each of the Weasley family members. During the second war against Voldemort, the hands on that clock always pointed to "Mortal Peril," and Molly had taken to carrying it around with her at all times. This clock is located in the kitchen and is a bit less dramatic, perhaps, but in some ways more practical.
Charm Your Own Cheese, as we discover in other places in canon, was written by Greta Catchlove (fw) who also goes by the name of Greta Curd (JKR).
And unless Harry's ears were deceiving him, the old radio next to the sink had just announced that coming up was "Witching Hour, with the popular singing sorceress, Celestina Warbeck."
As confirmed in GF22, Harry has never had access to a wizard's wireless, apart from brief encounters such as this at the Burrow. Consequently, we know that none of the Gryffindor boys of Harry's year keeps one at school, not even to listen to professional Quidditch matches on weekends.
Mrs. Weasley was clattering around, cooking breakfast a little haphazardly, throwing dirty looks at her sons as she threw sausages into the frying pan. Every now and then she muttered things like "don't know what you were thinking of," and "never would have believed it."
Remember Petunia's reaction when Dudley ran to his mum in a fright after taunting Harry about his birthday, back in CS1. Petunia knew that Harry hadn't really attempted to do magic, but rather than setting Dudley straight, or chewing out both boys for wasting her time, she swung a heavy frying pan at Harry, then gave Harry a list of heavy chores to do before he'd be allowed to eat again, while Dudley sat around eating ice cream.
"I don't blame you, dear," she assured Harry, tipping eight or nine sausages onto his plate.
The last time we saw someone "tipping" food it was in marked contrast to this:
The soup was stone-cold, but he drank half of it in one gulp. Then he crossed the room to Hedwig's cage and tipped the soggy vegetables at the bottom of the bowl into her empty food tray. (CS2)
In some ways, the contrast between these incidents reinforces the startling contrast between Privet Drive and the Burrow. Harry lovingly tries to care for his owl even in the face of near starvation, and here Molly tips a heap of sausages onto Harry's plate to lovingly care for him. In some ways this seems a very minor point, but I think that it's marvelous the way Rowling uses even small references and similarities in text to show the contrast between one part of her story and another.
She flicked her wand casually at the dishes in the sink, which began to clean themselves, clinking gently in the background.
Note that Mrs. Weasley does not appear to use an incantation for this, just a wand movement. We see other examples of cleaning spells such as Scourgify elsewhere in the books. Molly is using a similar spell in "non-verbal mode."
"You keep your mouth closed while you're eating!" Mrs. Weasley snapped.
"They were starving him, Mum!" said George.
"And you!" said Mrs. Weasley, but
it was with a slightly softened expression that she started cutting
Harry bread and buttering it for him.
More interesting contrasts with Petunia, who never seems to notice, let alone correct, Dudley's table manners. Aunt Petunia did serve Harry a couple of slices of bread, by the way, but it was unbuttered and accompanied only by a lump of cheese (CS2), not a heap of sauages and certainly not by a softened expression.
At that moment there was a diversion in the form of a small, redheaded figure in a long nightdress, who appeared in the kitchen, gave a small squeal, and ran out again.
Personally, I myself (MLW) would not be keen about meeting an unexpected guest at the breakfast table before I was dressed for the day. It seems apparent that none of her brothers bothered to mention their plans to Ginny before lighting out for Surrey the previous evening. Too bad..she is a much more accomplished liar than any of the others and would make a good accomplice for bit of midnight mischief. The boys don't really discover their sister's talents until a few years later, however.
Just then, the front door slammed.
From GF and OP7, we know that Mr. Weasley ordinarily Apparates to and from work. Today he seems to have Apparated into the front garden, then walked in through the front door and into the kitchen, rather than Apparating directly into the kitchen. This seems like a quite sensible precaution against accidents, since Molly seems to be an early riser, and Arthur himself is extremely tired after a long night's work. In HBP, Dumbledore discusses this with Harry, telling him that it is considered ill manners to Apparate directly into someone's house.
Mr. Weasley was slumped in a kitchen chair with his glasses off and his eyes closed. He was a thin man, going bald, but the little hair he had was as red as any of his children's. He was wearing long green robes, which were dusty and travel-worn.
Mr. Weasley is one of the few wizarding folk we've met who wear spectacles. The visible wear on his clothes is probably due to his activities on the raids of the evening just past, rather than to wear and tear from travel per se.
"What a night," he mumbled, groping for the teapot as they all sat down around him. "Nine raids. Nine!"
The younger Weasley boys clearly took advantage of an evening that their father had to work late to rescue Harry, when Arthur would be less likely to notice that the car was gone. We have seen that in the Potter universe, the rescue happened either late in the evening of Sunday, 4 August, or early in the morning of Monday, 5 August. Mr Weasley was working the weekend, apparently.
And old Mundungus Fletcher tried to put a hex on me when I had my back
"Find anything, Dad?" said Fred eagerly.
Harry will next hear of Mundungus two years from now, through
Percy Weasley, of all people (GF10),
complaining about the old rascal's attempt to con the Ministry into
compensating him for a non-existent tent after the
Quidditch World Cup debacle. Only a year after that
(OP2) will Harry meet the old scamp
in person. And the events of OP throw a rather interesting light on
Fred's question (although it'll be two more years
(GF5) before the rest of
the Weasleys learn about the twins' efforts to found
Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes, so Fred's question may have been innocent).
Dear me, did I just use the word "innocent" to refer to something connected with Fred Weasley?
"All I got were a few shrinking door keys and a biting kettle."
"Why would anyone bother making door keys shrink?" said George.
"Just Muggle-baiting," sighed Mr. Weasley. "Sell them a
key that keeps shrinking to nothing so they can never find it when they
need it... Of course, it's very hard to convict anyone because no Muggle
would admit their key keeps shrinking - they'll insist they just keep
losing it. Bless them, they'll go to any lengths to ignore magic, even if
it's staring them in the face..."
I believe I have a couple of these on my key ring as I write this.
"There was some pretty nasty stuff that wasn't my department, though. Mortlake was taken away for questioning about some extremely odd ferrets, but that's the Committee on Experimental Charms, thank goodness..."
We will next hear of this Committee just before the Quidditch World Cup (GF7), during Arthur's running commentary on various members of the Ministry while the Weasleys, Harry, and Hermione were waiting for their fire to be ready to cook breakfast.
"Imagine a wizard buying a rusty old car and telling his wife all he wanted to do with it was take it apart to see how it worked, while really he was enchanting it to make it fly."
Arthur may not always use the right words to describe Muggle technology, but his ability to enchant the Ford Anglia as described here indicates that he has quite a good working knowledge of it - he not only got the car back together again, but it worked afterward. See also notes on CS5.
"Arthur Weasley, you made sure there was a loophole when you wrote that law!" shouted Mrs. Weasley.
Hmm. Interesting; although Arthur Weasley is only the head of a rather small office within the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, he writes at least some laws for wizarding Britain within his area of expertise. No mention is made of laws being submitted to any higher authority, such as a wizarding segment of the House of Commons. How much accountability to the people does the government of wizarding Britain actually have?
"Harry?" said Mr. Weasley blankly. "Harry who?"
He looked around, saw Harry, and jumped.
"Good lord, is it Harry Potter? Very pleased to meet you, Ron's told us
so much about -"
What a nice man Arthur Weasley is. His first thought here is clearly just to welcome his youngest son's best friend; he doesn't even glance at the scar.
Harry just caught sight of a pair of bright brown eyes staring at him... "Ginny," said Ron.
This is where the Lexicon got some of its information about Ginny's appearance.
Then Harry realized that Ron had covered nearly every inch of the shabby wallpaper with posters of the same seven witches and wizards, all wearing bright orange robes, carrying broomsticks, and waving energetically.
We don't know the names of all these players, but various sources do reveal that the Seeker is Galvin Gudgeon (DP), one of the Beaters is Joey Jenkins (GF22), and the manager's name is Ragmar Dorkins (DP).
"The Chudley Cannons," said Ron, pointing at the orange bedspread, which was emblazoned with two giant black C's and a speeding cannonball. "Ninth in the league."
There are twelve teams in the league, so Chudely is actually doing fairly well at the moment. Chudley is a variant spelling of the town of Chudleigh, which is located near Exeter--which is near Ottery St. Catchpole.
Characters returning in this chapter:
Characters mentioned in this chapter:
Voldemort (as You-Know-Who)
(names unknown) the seven witches and wizards who play for the Chudley Cannons
Settings and locations mentioned in this chapter:
Arthur Weasley having written a loophole into the applicable law regarding Muggle artifacts, so that he could go on tinkering with his own collection.
Ron says that his sister is a chatterbox, and that she's been talking about Harry "all summer" (part of June, all of July, and the first couple of days of August), and expresses surprise that she's being so shy today.
items and devices, magical
Mrs. Weasley was marching across the yard, scattering chickens, and for a short, plump, kind-faced woman, it was remarkable how much she looked like a saber-toothed tiger.
- Malfoy made Dudley Dursley look like a kind, thoughtful, and sensitive boy.
- "Morning, Mum," said George, in what he clearly thought was a jaunty, winning voice.
- "Your sons flew that car to Harry's house and back last
night." shouted Mrs. Weasley.
"What have you got to say about that, eh?"
"Did you really?" said Mr. Weasley eagerly. "Did it go all right? I - I mean," he faltered as sparks flew from Mrs. Weasley's eyes, "that - that was very wrong, boys - very wrong indeed..."
Father Christmas (U.K. version only)
rich (U.K. version only)
windscreen (UK edition only)
The entire action of the chapter takes place during the early and mid-morning of Monday, 5 August, 1992.
Harry turns up at breakfast at the Burrow
the garden is de-gnomed
Mr Weasley returns home