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Complete, detailed, and amazing Reader's Guides
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Chapter Five:
The Whomping Willow

"MIND THAT TREE!"


Synopsis by William Silvester
Notes and links by Michele L. Worley
and Steve Vander Ark

U.S. hardcover edition: pages 65 - 85
U.K. hardcover edition: pages 53 - 67
U.K. paperback edition: pages 74 - 95
Timeframe: 1 September, 1992. [Y12].

In which the entire Weasley family and Harry cram into the Ford Anglia and drive to King's Cross Station. Harry and Ron cannot get through to the train and decide to fly the car to Hogwarts. The trip is uneventful until the end, when they lose power and crash into the Whomping Willow.

The Whomping Willow, CS5, by Mary GrandPré

Interesting facts and notes about the text of this chapter:

This chapter introduces the Whomping Willow. The tree plays a relatively minor role in this book; it helps set up the situation with Ron's broken wand, and serves (through Lockhart's self-important remarks to Professor Sprout) to help illuminate Lockhart's character. Only in Prisoner of Azkaban do we learn of the secrets that the tree is hiding - the tunnel leading to the Shrieking Shack.

"Not a word to Molly," he whispered to Harry as he opened the. trunk and showed him how it had been magically expanded so that the luggage fitted easily.

What would Harry have told Molly that Arthur wanted to keep secret? The fact that Muggle vehicles typically don't have magically expanded trunks, presumably. But wouldn't she have realized that Arthur had modified the Anglia when she saw how many people and trunks could fit? Apparently not:

When at last they were all in the car, Mrs. Weasley glanced into the back seat, where Harry, Ron, Fred, George, and Percy were all sitting comfortably side by side, and said, "Muggles do know more than we give them credit for, don't they?" She and Ginny got into the front seat, which had been stretched so that it resembled a park bench. "I mean, you'd never know it was this roomy from the outside, would you?"

It would be as suprising to her that a car wouldn't be able to fit that many people as it is to Harry that it does.

They had almost reached the highway when Ginny shrieked that she'd left her diary.

This is one of those moments which seem innocuous on first read. What if she had left the diary behind? All of Lucius' plans would have come to nothing, it's true. But it isn't until book six that we learn just how important that diary actually is: that it's one of Voldemort's horcruxes. If it would have remained at the Burrow, would Harry have ever destroyed it? Would Dumbledore have ever realized that Voldemort was creating horcruxes at all? Would there even be a story?

I don't understand why the gateway's sealed itself

I don't understand why Molly and Arthur didn't come back to find out what happened to the boys. Molly must have been frantically looking all over the platform on the other side, and when the train started leaving, one of the Weasley parents would have almost certainly tried to get back through the barrier. The logical explanation is that they couldn't get back through and didn't dare Apparate into the Muggle part of the station.

"The Dursleys haven't given me pocket money for about six years."

That would've been around Harry's sixth birthday.

Ron unlocked the cavernous boot with a series of taps from his wand.

Would this have been Alohomora, or is the car set to recognize the Weasley family wands in place of keys? Is the series of taps a way for an underage Wizard to legally cast a spell?

Invisibility Booster

This is some sort of magical device, one which casts a magical effect when the button is pushed. In some ways, it's similar to the headless hats invented by Fred and George several years later. Hermione remarks about that hats that they've managed something quite clever, making the invisiblity effect extend downward. Perhaps they got the idea from their father's addition of the Invisibility Booster to the Anglia.

The Hogwarts Express was streaking along below them like a scarlet snake.

The train is perfectly visible. but presumably you need to be a wizard to see it. After all, if a scarlet stream train made a regular trip from Kings Cross every September 1, Muggles would certainly notice and comment. It would seem that the Express travels on the normal Muggle tracks, although this is not certain.

Hedwig was shrieking in terror...

Harry apparently didn't think to let her out of her cage this time, but then he usually carries her to Hogwarts rather than letting her make her own way there. It is a fairly long flight, after all. However, post owls must routinely make the trip between Hogwarts and London.

"Reverse!" Harry yelled, and the car shot backward

There's no mention of Ron, the driver, doing anything to make it happen. The car does have some level of sentience, we know. It would seem that the car responded to Harry's command, more than happy to get out of the way of the tree.

dropping his trunk at the foot of the front steps and crossing quietly to look through a brightly lit window

From this we know that the windows into the Great Hall are quite near the front doors. The Great Hall in the films is in quite a different place and it would be impossible for Ron to walk over and look in the windows.

Through the forest of black pointed Hogwarts hats

Students wear pointed hats at Hogwarts, as we see here. These hats were included on the list of items Harry needed to buy in Diagon Alley (PS5). This detail has been ignored for the film, with a few exceptions.

A very small, mousey-haired boy had been called forward to place the hat on his head.

This is Colin Creevey, whom we'll meet properly later. Apparently each of the Creevey brothers was unusually small for his age when he started Hogwarts, though this is much more noticeable in Dennis' case (who will come to Hogwarts two years later).

This wasn't the first time Snape had given Harry the impression of being able to read minds.

Snape is a skilled Legilimens, we learn in book five. Yes, he can read minds.

...as Snape unrolled today's issue of the Evening Prophet.

This is the evening edition of the Daily Prophet.

Mr Angus Fleet of Peebles...

Peebles is in Scotland, not far from the location of Hogwarts. Mr Peebles' report couldn't have been made more than about an hour before. The fact that it's already reported in the Prophet indicates that the newspaper modifies itself with updates to the day's news as it happens.

"I noticed, in my search of the park, that considerable damage seems to have been done to a very valuable Whomping Willow," Snape went on.

How very ironic that Snape came close to getting Harry expelled over this incident, considering his own history with the Whomping Willow and Harry's father.

A large plate of sandwiches, two silver goblets and a jug of iced pumpkin juice appeared with a pop.

The exact nature of this spell is uncertain. Perhaps McGonagall is magicking the food from the kitchens, rather like the way food is transported to the plates in the Great Hall. It is also possible that McGonagall is conjuring this food out of thin air. The fact that the plate keep refilling itself is similar to the Refilling Charm that Harry casts on Slughorn's bottles as he and Hagrid drank to Aragog's memory...for several hours (HBP22).

But I must impress upon both of you the seriousness of what you have done.

What was so serious? The fact that they were seen by Muggles. Everything in the wizarding world is centered on the idea of staying hidden from Muggles. Many of the laws are written to that end. An entire Department of the Ministry is devoted to maintainnig wizarding secrecy, and much of the work of the Department of Magical Games and Sport and the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures involves keeping the Muggles oblivious to the activities of wizards and the existence of magical creatures. Harry and Ron, by being seen, violated the most fundamental rule of their society.

"Can you believe our luck, though?...Fred and George must've flown that car five or six times and no Muggle ever saw them."

So why were Harry and Ron seen? Just bad luck? More likely it was Dobby, improvising, since his blocked barrier hadn't stopped the boys from getting to school. Perhaps Dobby made sure they were seen in the hopes that Harry would be expelled.

They hurried up it, right to the top, and at last reached the door of their old dormitory

Students keep their same dormitory from year to year, we see from this passage. The name plate on the door simply changes to indicate the year of the occupants. In the film, Dumbledore actually claims to have roomed in that same dormitory many years before, but there is no canon evidence for this. In fact, there is no direct canon evidence that Dumbledore was even in Gryffindor.

Characters introduced in this chapter:

Characters returning in this chapter:

Characters mentioned in this chapter:

Settings and locations introduced or returning in this chapter:

Settings and locations mentioned in this chapter:

Exceptional character moments:

  • Harry and Ron, failing to think of sending an owl rather than stealing the car.
  • Harry, who has seldom in his life before Hogwarts dealt with adults whom he respected, finding Dumbledore's disappointment at his behaviour harder to bear than outright rage would've been.

Spells:

  • fire spell - McGonagall uses this to set a fire in the cold fireplace in Snapes' office (probably Incendio).
  • conjuring food (iced pumpkin juice and a plate of sandwiches)

Links and Resources:

Memorable lines:

  • "Of all the trees we could've hit, we had to get one that hits back." [Ron]
  • A delicious smell of food was wafting from the Great Hall, but Snape led them away from the warmth and light, down a narrow stone corridor that led into the dungeons.

Strictly British:

Timelines/Calendar:

The entire action of the chapter takes place on 1 September, 1992. [Y12].

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