CHAPTER 2 – The Vanishing Glass
Ten years further on, and Privet Drive remains largely unaltered.
Harry Potter sleeps in a small room under the stair and his Aunt Petunia in
her shrill voice is trying to get him to wake. Harry is reluctant to return to the real world as he was having a wonderful dream about a flying motorbike.
Aunt Petunia wants Harry to help with cooking breakfast.
It is a special day as it is Dudley’s birthday.
Harry shakes the spiders off his socks. He is used to them in his
little cupboard. Harry makes his way to the kitchen where the table is covered in Dudley’s birthday presents.
Dudley is a bully and an overweight child, and Harry can’t think what use he will make of a racing bike, which is one of his presents.
In contrast, Harry is small and skinny for his age, and he wears a pair of
round glasses, “held together with a lot of tape because of all the times Dudley had punched him on the nose”. It doesn’t help Harry’s appearance that he wears Dudley’s old baggy clothes. Harry still
sports the thin scar on his forehead shaped like a bolt of lightning, the result of his encounter with Voldemort.
Harry was frying the eggs when Dudley eventually arrived in the kitchen.
To his parents he looked like an angel, but to Harry he “looked like a pig in a wig”. Dudley is slightly upset that he has one present less than last year – 37.
Every year on Dudley’s birthday, he is taken out to visit theme parks or
zoos, and Harry is left in the care of a neighbor Mrs. Figg, whose house smells of cabbage and is full of photographs of cats she owned. However, this year Harry will have to go with Dudley and his friend
because Mrs. Figg has a broken leg.
Harry doesn’t particularly want to go and suggests that they leave him at home, but the Dursleys don’t wish to leave Harry on his own because strange things seem to happen when he is around, and they don’t want to come home to a wrecked house. The Dursleys like a life that is normal, and the fact that when Harry gets his hair cut it grows back to its original length the next day, is a matter of concern for them.
Dudley and his friend Piers bully Harry in the back of the car as they make
their way to the zoo. The Dursleys warn Harry to behave himself, for they don’t want anything unusual to happen on this special day.
In the reptile house, Dudley and Piers stare at a boa constrictor that lies
motionless staring out of the glass. The two bang the glass and make faces at the snake, but it does not respond. The pair soon become bored and move on to the next exhibit. Harry looks at the snake and slowly it comes to ‘life’, raises
its head level with Harry’s, and winks.
Suddenly Harry is able to communicate with the snake and asks it where it is from. The snake uses his tale and points to the sign next to the glass, “Boa Constrictor, Brazil”. The snake tells Harry he doesn’t know what Brazil is like as it was bred in the zoo. Dudley notices that the snake has come alive and pushes Harry to the floor so he can have a closer look at the snake, but the glass has disappeared and the huge boa constrictor uncoils itself out onto the floor. People scream and run for the exits. As the snake passes Harry, it says, “Brazil, here I come. Thanksss, amigo.”
The Dursleys blame Harry for the incident and when they arrive home, he is
sent to his cupboard with nothing to eat. Some time later, Harry wishes he had a watch to see if it was safe to emerge for some food.
Harry has spent 10 miserable years in the Dursley household. He has been told that his parents died in a car crash, but he doubts this. He has a distant memory of a “blinding flash of green light and a burning pain on his forehead”.
Harry has always felt himself to be different.
He is now used to complete strangers acknowledging him in the street. Usually they are dressed strangely with cloaks or odd hats. The strange thing about these people is that they seem to vanish whenever Harry tries to get a closer look at them. He also remembers a time at school when he was being bullied by Dudley’s gang and suddenly he found himself on top of the school building, much to the dismay of the Head Teacher.
Rowling continues an interesting blend of mystery and humour in this Chapter.
There are various examples of this humour, in particular the description of
Mrs. Figg and her cat photographs. Although Harry is sorry to hear of her broken leg, he then remembers, “it would be a whole year before he had to look at Tibbles, Snowy, Mr. Paws and Tufty again”.
Another example is the scene with the snake, and the panic and disarray caused to the Dursleys’ family and friend.
However, there is also an ominous element in this Chapter concerning the
cruel treatment of Harry by his Aunt and Uncle and their son, the obnoxious Dudley.
There is also reference to bullying at school, and the suggestion that
Dudley’s gang terrorized other children as well as Harry.
You would think that Dudley would have some loyalty to his cousin, but clearly the example set by his parents leads him to think that he can contribute to the cruelty meted out to Harry. It doesn’t help Harry’s case that he has to wear Dudley’s cast-off clothes and the fact that he is slight in stature and wears taped-up glasses.
There is reference to Harry’s connection with the mystical world covered in
the first Chapter.
He dreams about flying motorbikes and he remembers the blinding flash of green light aimed at him by Voldemort. We also have the impression that Harry is being watched over, and is easily recognised by members of this secret society.
It is also becoming obvious to the reader that Harry has strange powers, but
he clearly does not fully appreciate these.
He can climb buildings, talk to animals, and there is some force that protects him from experiencing things that he dislikes. This is illustrated when Aunt Petunia tries to fit a particularly unattractive item of clothing over Harry’s head and it just seems to get smaller and smaller. His hair also grows back overnight, after being cut.