Sorry everyone. Dual bouts of flu threw our schedule off and then real life happened. Hopefully we’ll get back on track now. Nothing notable about the picture this time, so let’s jump straight in, shall we?
Chapter Three: The Burrow
Ron is outside Harry’s bedroom window. This turns out to be because he’s sitting in a car that’s somehow parked in mid air; Harry is quite understandably bewildered by this. As well he might be, since we’re never going to get any real explanation of how the car works – prepare yourselves for a number of rants about it. Let’s start with how it’s hovering, since that’s not the same thing as flying. And let’s also wonder how nobody’s hearing it – this is a quiet street and emphatically not a quiet car (I forget when precisely we learn it, but it’s a classic Ford Anglia) and it’s sitting here with the engine running for quite a while in the middle of the night. That’s not considering the other noises we’ll be hearing shortly.
Fred and George are in the front seats. This was fairly inevitable, but you do have to wonder where/how they learned to drive. The car would have to be stick shift/manual, as all cars of that age are and as most modern cars below a certain price tag are in Britain, so you do have to vaguely know what you’re doing, and it’s old enough not to have power steering or anything else that would make it easier to handle. It also presumably needs petrol, though there’s never any mention of this and the car runs more or less continuously for the next few years. Plus, yes, it can fly. You have to assume Arthur taught them, despite there being no good reason to teach thirteen/fourteen year old troublemakers how to drive and despite them only being at home for a few weeks a year, but who taught him? He’s far too clueless to have learned in the Muggle world.
Unrelated digression – for someone so curious about Muggles, he never makes any attempt to venture into their world. We’ll learn in a later book that they live close to a Muggle village with a corner shop, which virtually guarantees a pub and probably a couple of other shops. Arthur has clearly never been near any of these places since he’s not sure how to dress and doesn’t understand money.
Though admittedly it’s worth pointing out that we haven’t seen Arthur onscreen yet. When we do, we won’t see his general flailing incompetence. That’s only really going to show up in book four, as far as I remember. In this chapter we’ll mostly learn that he is literally just a hypocritical corrupt official, and he’s pretty competent and knowledgeable given what we see of him writing loopholes to abuse into the law and modifying Muggle cars. It’s easy to forget that later on when we’ve seen him written as what is essentially a different character. This version is a much more plausible father for the twins…
Anyway. What are the boys doing here? Let’s take a look.
‘What’s been going on?’ said Ron. ‘Why haven’t you been answering my letters? I’ve asked you to stay about twelve times, and then Dad came home and said you’d got an official warning for using magic in front of Muggles …’
‘It wasn’t me – and how did he know?’
‘He works for the Ministry,’ said Ron. ‘You know we’re not supposed to do spells outside school –’
‘Bit rich coming from you,’ said Harry, staring at the floating car.
‘Oh, this doesn’t count,’ said Ron.
Okay. Harry: gets no letters from anyone, immediately turns emo and assumes everyone hates him, gives up. Ron: gets no reply to his letters, immediately assumes something is wrong, comes running to the rescue. This makes Ron a better friend, and a better Gryffindor, but Harry’s reaction is a lot more realistic. These kids are twelve, and Harry’s never really said much about his home life; Ron has no reason to jump to the worst conclusion possible. Ron is also a pessimist with some self esteem issues, and is sensitive about the way his family live, and it would be far more in character for him to assume Harry just doesn’t want to come and visit.
Also, the fact Arthur works for the Ministry does not answer Harry’s question. The Ministry is nowhere near as big as it realistically ought to be, but the Misuse of Muggle Artefacts office (we’ll be told shortly this is where Arthur actually works) is not going to come into contact with the Improper Use of Magic office – despite the names, they serve completely different functions. Admittedly I would expect there to be gossip since for some reason Harry is super famous, but in that case the entire wizarding world should know about it (including Hermione, who we’ll learn eventually has subscribed to the Daily Prophet – more on her later). In reality, nobody else is ever going to mention it. So Arthur learned gossip about an unrelated department when somehow nobody else did.
[If we make the probably-unwarranted assumption that Arthur is a responsible parent, it could be understandable for him to want to keep an eye on news surrounding his son’s famous friend who they don’t know much about… but that still leaves the question of how he’s actually able to get the information.]
My next question is how the Weasleys physically found him. It wouldn’t occur to Ron to ask for a postal address or for Harry to volunteer one, because owls don’t need them – it’s not for another couple of books that they seem to have exchanged this information. Even if we assume they did, there’s no mention of Fred and George using a map when they go home later in the chapter. We can safely assume they don’t have/know about GPS and satellite navigation either; that wasn’t particularly common back then anyway and the car’s too old to be compatible. They have a compass mounted on the dashboard, which wouldn’t help in the slightest.
Also note Ron’s last line. The reason the car doesn’t count is because it’s Arthur’s and the kids didn’t enchant it to fly themselves, so they won’t get into trouble. It doesn’t seem to have occurred to any of them that Arthur will get into trouble instead for not preventing them from accessing it (and for apparently teaching them how to use it). Luckily this will never happen because wizarding society is corrupt and useless and the author doesn’t know how laws work.
[We won’t get in trouble under that particular law due to a technicality, so everything’s fine! Never mind other people or other laws. Did Rowling hear about Shabbos goyim and Shabbos elevators and such and like the idea so much she decided her entire fictional legal system should work like that?]
Harry doesn’t ask any of these questions and instead takes the surprisingly sensible approach of asking Ron to notify Hogwarts about what’s going on and explaining that he can’t get out himself because he’ll be expelled. Ron doesn’t point out, as I did last chapter, that this is much better than staying in an abusive prison situation. Worrying about expulsion is only worthy of comment when it’s Hermione and they can mock her for it (despite the fact that, as this piece points out, expulsion would be much more catastrophic for her than it would be for them).
Remember this? They don’t.
Instead Ron says they’re going to take Harry with them, and Fred passes Harry a rope to tie around the bars on his window.
Not only are the Weasleys not at all surprised to see Harry’s being kept prisoner, but they came prepared to break him out. We’ll also see later that their parents are also not at all surprised and won’t react to being told that Harry was locked up and starved. Presumably they already know, but how? We know Mrs Figg watches him and would have seen the bars being installed on his bedroom window, assuming she knew it was his bedroom, but she has no context for this and apparently no way of contacting anyone about anything she sees anyway. Are we to ignore this and assume she somehow did know everything and told Dumbledore, and he then sent the Weasleys to rescue Harry? If so he had to have contacted the boys anonymously and then explained to their parents separately, since while Molly and Arthur clearly know that the rescue was necessary they weren’t expecting it. That’s too far-fetched for me, and I don’t believe Dumbledore would care until term started, but I can’t see any other way they could have learned; Dobby wouldn’t have told them, his goal was to keep Harry away from the wizarding world.
[Barring even more elaborate conspiracy theories in which Dobby and Lucius are colluding, and now perhaps Arthur Weasley is in on it too and that’s how he received the information? That’s too much even for me.]
Harry ties the rope to the bars, commenting that he hopes the Dursleys won’t wake up. Oh, Harry, don’t be silly. Obviously they won’t wake up until the author wants them to, even though this is about to make enough noise to wake up half the damn street. Fred revs the engine (how does he know how to do this, and how does it work when the car’s wheels aren’t on the ground and the brakes have nothing to push against?) and then… drives vertically straight up to pull the bars off the window.
One, that angle wouldn’t work. Two, how do you get a car to do that? Three, how was there enough space to do that against the wall of the house? Four, how did this noise not wake everyone? Five, how do the Dursleys explain this when they need to get someone out to repair the damage? Six, I assume the bars are set into concrete or mortar and I assume the other end of the rope is tied to the car’s bumper since it probably doesn’t have a tow bar; I would expect either the car or the rope’s knots to give before the bars did. Seven, wouldn’t the bars have smacked into the car or swung back against the wall of the house or something once they were violently ripped free, and how did nobody hear that? Eight, how the hell do you stop a car in mid-air, brakes don’t work that way.
Of course, these points will never be answered.
Fred reverses the car as close as possible to the window and Ron tells Harry to get in. Personally I would have left enough space to open the car door, but sure. Harry suddenly objects – all his school things (his wand and broomstick are specifically mentioned) are locked up downstairs and he can’t leave his bedroom.
Harry, you’re a fucking idiot. You have a literal vault full of gold. Buy new stuff later. Do you want to escape or not?
[He could also send someone to fetch his things later, presumably an adult the Dursleys would be more inclined to listen to. I can only think perhaps he’s assuming they’ll destroy his stuff out of spite as soon as they realise he’s gone, which I guess isn’t completely ridiculous for him to think, although I suspect they’d actually be too afraid to touch it. I’m also willing to excuse this as a panic reaction from Harry, to some degree at least, especially when he’s probably malnourished and not thinking straight – but much less so in the context of him remembering to care about these things, but forgetting about the pet he supposedly cares about as we’ll see shortly.]
The boys don’t comment on this. Instead Fred and George climb into Harry’s room. The car then immediately stalls and crashes onto the front lawn because they don’t know to take it out of gear first, haha no of course it doesn’t. George takes a hairpin from his pocket and picks the lock on Harry’s door…
Why does George have a hairpin? Why did the Dursleys apparently go to a lot of effort to install a proper key lock instead of just screwing a bolt to the outside? And of course how does George know how to do this? Fred says something that is meant to be an explanation:
‘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 slow.’
Good to see you’ve learned how to properly patronise lowly Muggles. But also, no. I don’t know how the twins would even learn that Muggles can do this, but… Dear fiction writers of the world. You cannot teach yourself to pick modern locks just by jamming a pin into it and fiddling about. It’s more complicated than that and you’re unlikely to learn it without someone to teach you and most modern locks need actual picks.
[Although honestly, I’m willing to believe it could work on an indoor lock. At least in my experience, especially in residential houses, most of them aren’t designed to be remotely secure and can easily be opened with a screwdriver or such. But that would be assuming the Dursleys haven’t gone to special measures and put a proper lock on Harry’s room, and I think they probably would have done. If not a deadbolt, as Loten said.]
Disregarding reality yet again, the twins wander off into the house to get Harry’s trunk, because yes, there is also a lock on the cupboard under the stairs and that too will yield to a hairpin, while Harry grabs things from his room and passes them through the window to Ron. I’m assuming just clothing, since everything else he cares about is in his trunk, but it doesn’t specify.
Harry warns the twins that the bottom stair creaks. I like this detail.
They come back with the trunk and haul it into the car. Vernon coughs a couple of times during this; either the crashing and engine revving woke him up but he didn’t bother investigating, or he’s coughing in his sleep despite the fact that he really ought to have been woken up, but either way there was no point mentioning it. [I assume Rowling is trying to build tension the best she can in this scene?] Everyone piles into the car and they’re just about to drive off when there’s a loud screech from the bedroom.
The screech is owl-language for ‘WHAT ABOUT ME, YOU WANKER?’. Harry was so busy insisting everyone risk themselves for his easily replaceable sticks and textbooks that he forgot about his pet. You are a terrible person, Harry, and this is a terrible writing choice. And of course despite all the earlier noises, it’s this that finally wakes the Dursleys up, because reasons. There’s actually no reason to wake them up at all but I assume Rowling thought this would be dramatic (it’s not).
Cue lots of flailing around as Harry scrambles to grab Hedwig’s cage and get out of the window again.He does this via climbing on a chest of drawers in front of the window that has never been mentioned before, which is left as ‘chest of drawers’ in the US version even though they call it a dresser over there.
Vernon feels it necessary to get out of bed and come and hammer on Harry’s door to tell him to keep his owl quiet, which causes the door to open because apparently it doesn’t shut properly when not locked. (It would have made more sense for George to lock the door behind them, it could have been half a day before they opened the door for a bathroom visit and realised Harry wasn’t there.) To give Vernon credit, he’s surprisingly on the ball and reacts immediately, lunging to grab Harry’s ankle and yelling for Petunia to come and help. And we’re thankfully spared the slapstick falling-out-of-the-window the film later decides to add in; instead the Weasleys just pull Harry away and they drive off.
As soon as Harry was in the car and had slammed the door shut, Ron yelled, ‘Put your foot down, Fred!’ and the car shot suddenly towards the moon.
How does Ron know that’s how you make cars go? How does that make a flying car go when again, the wheels have nothing to push against?
Fuck it, maybe the car’s just a huge Transfigured broomstick. That would certainly explain how Arthur, who is a complete idiot, has managed to enchant and maintain it.
In fairness to Rowling, the flying car and its lack of explanation is a legitimate writing choice. If you’re going to do something like that, especially in a children’s book, you want to keep it as close to the real-world equivalent as possible, so it’s recognisable and easy to understand and imagine. So of course the flying car looks and handles like a normal car. That doesn’t mean I have to like it, particularly when it doesn’t fit into what passes for the magic system, and it doesn’t mean I won’t be constantly pointing out all the things that don’t work.
[Let’s talk about the flying car for a bit. I wish I could remember who said it, but in something I was reading or listening to recently, they were discussing writing principles and the idea that it’s easier to get your audience to intuitively accept and understand an outlandish thing if you make it similar to a thing they’re familiar with and just change one aspect of it. So, for instance, “it’s a tree, but it can talk” or, in this case, “it’s a car, but it flies”. And there’s a level on which I think I agree with this – especially on the surface level, and on an initial reading, this does make things easier to understand and easier to imagine or visualise. I think there is something compelling about, staying with this scene, the characters doing actions we recognise as things that control a car and being able to control this one.
The problem with this method, I think, is that unless it’s done very carefully, whatever you write in this way is likely to fall apart under the slightest bit of actual scrutiny. Where is the talking tree’s brain? What muscles is it using to move its lips, if it has them? Where is the sound coming from? And so forth. Or, in this case: what is propelling the flying car? How do the controls we see them using, which can only account for two dimensions of movement, causing the car to move in three dimensions? How does the car hover? How do these children know how to operate a car at all? Why would wizards make a flying car, when they’re unlikely to use cars at all and already have plenty of other easily accessible ways to fly? Why/how is the magical flying car operable without wand-magic, conveniently enabling schoolchildren to use it without violating the wand prohibition? And so on, and so forth; the questions don’t stop coming. Nothing about the flying car makes the remotest bit of sense.
I do not necessarily think it’s wrong of Rowling to write a flying car in this way (especially for what is ostensibly a children’s book), it’s a legitimate writing technique, although I think that would be improved by having it behave more like a car while in the air (so no hovering). And you can explain away a lot of inconsistencies with assumptions like “whoever enchanted the car was already familiar with driving and wanted it to control similarly in the air, so they set it up that way”, though it would be nice to get that in the text at some point. If she had made even the slightest nod in that direction, I think it would have made up for a lot.
Truthfully, I can’t decide whether my criticism here is “Rowling made a stylistic choice I don’t like” or “Rowling made a stylistic choice and did it badly”. I think it’s a bit of both, which is why in the end we are so irritated by this scene.]
Back with the book, Harry yells to the Dursleys as they gape through the window at him, “See you next summer!” and he and his rescuers roar off into the night, laughing.
Why does Harry assume he’s going back? He hates it there and he knows they hate him and even someone as entitled as he inexplicably is should understand that there’s an upper limit for what people will tolerate from him. At this point he doesn’t know that Dumbledore is forcing Petunia to keep him no matter what happens to her family. For that matter why does he even want to go back? Also, this should really have voided his deus-ex protection magic – he clearly doesn’t see the Dursley house as his home. It’s part of the stupid ‘power of (familial) love’ schtick, so presumably just occasionally sleeping under the same roof as a relative shouldn’t count.
Continuing to be a lovely person, Harry orders his new minions to throw his owl out of the flying car and make her keep pace with it even though she’s been locked in a tiny cage all summer with very little food and will be very weak. [The text claims Harry’s doing this out of kindness because she needs exercise and hasn’t been able to get it, but this is more of Harry/Rowling not knowing or caring how animals work and ends up making him look like a bad pet owner.] Ron picks the lock on her cage. See previous ranting about how he shouldn’t know how to do this (nobody believes the twins would share that sort of skill), along with another rant that we will never see him do this again – and hey, remember the multiple locked doors last book they got stymied by? Or have they all only learned lockpicking in the last couple of weeks?
Ron finally asks what the hell’s been going on, and Harry explains all about it. Interesting – I’d forgotten the twins were in on part of this. It’s weird that they then drop off the edge of the world as soon as everyone goes back to school and apparently never want to find out how the story ends.
Even weirder, they provide the voice of reason, finding it suspicious that Dobby would bring a warning but not say who the threat is and gently encouraging Harry to wonder if maybe the strange creature who stole his mail and got him into legal trouble might not be entirely trustworthy. They think Dobby’s master doesn’t want Harry to go back to school and ask if there’s anyone with a grudge against him. Oh, I don’t know, maybe almost every surviving Death Eater?
Nope, Harry and Ron both immediately say it must be Draco. Rather than ask why – just as well, because really there’s no answer; Draco did pretty much nothing to them last book except get Hagrid into trouble for breaking the law, which he was then punished for anyway – George comments on the surname. The twins say Arthur talks about Lucius a lot (please, book, don’t give me another crack ship; it’s entirely too plausible that this entire diary plot is Lucius taking a breakup badly) and he’s super evil and was one of Voldy’s best supporters. [This also led me to speculate about various conspiracy theories in which Arthur is actually working with Lucius, because “talks about him a lot” is incredibly vague and it’s fun to think about the implications of intentionally misreading that.]
Harry says he doesn’t know if the Malfoys own a house elf. Of course you don’t, Harry, you’d never even heard of them until a week ago. Fred says Dobby’s owner will be an old family, and rich. Why do only rich families get house elves when you don’t pay them? Even if you have to buy them, they breed (see the Black family) so you only need one and some friendly neighbours. It’s an obvious nod to our world’s rich slave owners, except wizard society doesn’t work that way and their slaves aren’t producing anything to generate wealth. The Malfoys also aren’t technically an old rich family in the sense Fred means here; they’re new money who have only been wealthy for a couple of generations (though admittedly I think that’s entirely a Pottermore retcon). Either way, Fred could just as easily have said house elves are an outdated tradition that only the most hidebound old families still use, or something.
George adds that their mother has always wanted a house elf to do the ironing. Um. First off, why would that be necessary? I assume wizards remove creases from clothing by magic – I can’t picture any of them using a flat-iron and they certainly won’t know about electric ones. Secondly, George, you have just said your family wish they could own a slave. Stop it.
[Also, considering that clothes are what you use to free house-elves, it seems odd that the first mention of clothing in regard to them is about how Molly wants an elf to do her laundry. We checked and Dobby doesn’t talk about clothes at all in the first scene, which is weird because the pillowcase is mentioned and we thought we remembered Harry asking about it for exposition (that probably happens later). Considering how important the connection between clothing and elves is meant to be, it seems a very strange writing choice to have this be the first mention of them together. This also implies there are probably technicalities involved in what frees an elf and what doesn’t – e.g. we will learn later that they do the laundry at Hogwarts, so there are scenarios in which they can safely touch clothing – but because (as we recall) Rowling never specifies explicitly what the rules are, this will raise a lot of interesting questions in the finale of this book.]
He then says all they have is a ghoul in the attic. This is true, but we’ll never see it or be told what exactly a ghoul is in the Potterverse. In most stories they eat corpses, or turn people into corpses and then eat them, so the Weasleys having one is… interesting. We’re also never told if they own it or if it just stays with them. George continues by saying that, “House elves come with big old manors and castles and places like that,” so are they tied to families, or places?
Harry broods for a bit about how awful Draco is and how maybe the ginger brigade are right and he maybe shouldn’t have believed everything the creature clearly trying to manipulate him said. Honestly, disregarding Dobby’s very suspicious behaviour, given the events of the past year I don’t know why Harry finds it more plausible that this is a trick by Draco than that he’s actually in danger. They barely interacted, but people were definitely trying to kill Harry. [He needs to sort out his priorities.]
This is a useful picture.
Ron says he’s glad they came, he was really worried when Harry ignored him. I still don’t know why you think that would be out of character, Ron, your friend is an arsehole. He says he blamed their owl, Errol, at first, because he’s really old and routinely collapses on deliveries. So stop making him deliver shit, then. I know this is just continuing the theme of ‘everything the Weasleys have sucks’ but Ron goes on to say that Percy has his own owl, bought as a present when he became a prefect, so the family could afford a new healthy owl. Why not buy a family owl to replace the one that can’t physically do it any more? Why does nobody in this series care about their damned pets? [This honestly makes it sound like it was more important to them to be seen to reward Percy for making prefect than to relieve their poor owl, which… I don’t know precisely what it says about them, but certainly it’s nothing good. They could have found another way to reward Percy that didn’t require so much expense, and still gotten the owl they clearly need. This is, once again, Rowling trying to make the Weasleys look poor, but not doing it well.]
Cue pointless segue about how Percy refused to let Ron use his owl because he needed it to send lots of letters himself and how this is apparently weird. So it’s weird for Percy to write to friends, but normal for Ron? I think this is the brothers deciding that he’s not allowed to have friends. George also says Percy’s been behaving really weirdly all summer, but given that his family all ignore him except to mock him I’m not sure how he noticed. Spoiler, we’ll eventually find out what’s up with Percy and it’s something that could have been discovered at any point had any of his relatives bothered to talk to each other for five seconds. In any case, this conversation serves no purpose whatsoever except to amuse me and Mitchell – we were reminded of Game of Thrones, and of entirely too many scenes of Tywin Lannister writing letters until suddenly Red Wedding. If only that was what Percy was doing.
Harry changes the subject to ask if Arthur gave the boys permission to take the car. Even he knows this is a stupid question, but it provides a lead-in to some exposition about Arthur’s job. Ron says Arthur’s department is the most boring in the Ministry. Arthur goes on raids, deals with cursed objects, performs memory charms etc. That’s boring? What the heck does the rest of the Ministry do? (Well, apparently nothing.) Anyway, the main function of the Misuse of Muggle Artefacts Office (spelled ‘artifacts’ in the US version) is to deal with people who’ve put spells on items of Muggle origin in case they get back into the Muggle world; we’re given an example of a woman who bought a tea set in an antique shop that used to be owned by a witch, and it severely attacked her and her friends. Because that’s a thing you’d want your tea set to do. [Is this some kind of Beauty and the Beast crossover? Why did Mrs Potts try to murder someone?] Apparently this is a common enough problem for there to be a specific department for it, though said department is just Arthur and ‘an old warlock called Perkins’.
No, we’re never told what a warlock is or how it differs from a wizard. My personal theory is that ‘witch’ or ‘wizard’ refers exclusively to Hogwarts graduates, who are the ‘elite’, and other names like ‘warlock’ are used for alumni of the lower-class trade-based tech schools where people learn actual practical things and go on to become industry workers. Though that doesn’t really explain why the head of the Wizengamot is called Chief Warlock.
Harry shows a rare moment of astuteness and points out that they’re sitting in an enchanted Muggle object. Fred laughs this off and explains casually that yes, their father is totally corrupt and his hobby is taking Muggle objects to pieces and enchanting them.
“If he raided our house he’d have to put himself straight under arrest.”
Needless to say the entire family is perfectly okay with this, despite a couple of token objections from Molly. I’m starting to see where the twins get their personality traits from…
They arrive at the Weasley home (outside the fictional village of Ottery St Catchpole; this is perfectly plausible, the UK has some really dumb sounding place names), despite no navigational knowledge or actual means of navigation bar a compass, just as the sun is rising. Four or five in the morning at that time of year, then, though we don’t know what time they left. The Dursleys live in Surrey and the Weasleys in Devon; depending on where within those counties the houses are, this would be a drive of anything from three to four hours by road (except there’s really only one main road into Devon so add at least another hour for traffic) but I’ve no idea how fast the car flies or whether they got lost along the way. [I also took a look on Google Maps to see if there could be a shorter route as the crow flies, but not really, the roads look pretty direct.]
Fred announces their arrival by saying, “Touchdown!” as the car lands. This refers to landing an aircraft, playing rugby, or playing American football. Fred cannot possibly know about any of these things. They’ve landed next to a garage, which as we’ll see in a moment doesn’t really go with the house – either it’s a recent addition when Arthur bought his illegal car, or it’s a random outbuilding that Harry the city boy has parsed into a garage because in his world that’s what houses have.
The Weasley house is called The Burrow. I don’t know why but it’s quite probably a sneering judgement about how they breed like rabbits. [I wondered if it was meant to be some kind of Meaningful Name thing, but weasels don’t really burrow and mostly invade other animals’ dens.]
It looked as though it had once been a large stone pigsty, but extra rooms had been added here and there until it was several storeys high and so crooked it looked as though it was held up by magic (which, Harry reminded himself, it probably was). Four or five chimneys were perched on top of the red roof. A lop-sided sign stuck in the ground near the entrance read ‘The Burrow’. Round the front door lay a jumble of wellington boots and a very rusty cauldron. Several fat brown chickens were pecking their way around the yard.
This is fantasy poverty. Ye Olde Medieval Peasantes live on farms and have billions of children and raise them in a Rural Idyll where they’re Poor and Dirty but Happy and have Hearts of Gold. I suspect it’s also playing into a lot of the romanticised tropes about gypsies (please note, this is usually not a racial slur in the UK and the Irish traveller communities refer to themselves as such; Romani and other peoples emphatically do not). As with so many other things, it doesn’t work in this setting. Let’s break this down.
Why a pigsty, specifically? If this used to be a pig farm, there would be an actual farmhouse somewhere. And a lot of other buildings. I used to work for a pharmaceutical company and the site used to be a pig farm, and the many outbuildings were easily converted to laboratory buildings. There is no reason why they’re living in the specific building where the pigs were kept.
Nor is there a reason why the building still recognisably looks like a pigsty (assuming Harry the townie could actually recognise one), just as there is no reason for it to be crooked and obviously only standing because of magic. That’s the thing about magic, it can do things that physical labour can’t. It’s the same reason why I keep jumping on Rowling for describing all her less wealthy characters as having shabby clothes; magic can fix that. Magic could turn this house into something that doesn’t look like a pigsty and could add rooms that aren’t crooked. The Weasleys are not actual peasants having to scavenge for building materials to expand their hovel whilst having no education in construction.
The ironic part is that these days converted farm buildings tend to sell for a great deal of money to wealthy people. Barn conversions are highly sought after.
Why is there a rusty cauldron lying abandoned by the door? Harry knows magical people live here. The readers know magical people live here. Do we really need something this obvious to hammer the point home? Especially in a universe where this is the equivalent of leaving an old glass beaker outside the door for no reason? And why Wellington boots, those are really Muggle things. Unless this is some dragonhide equivalent and Harry’s using the term he’s more familiar with.
Why chickens? Were they left over from when this was a Muggle farm and have just kept breeding since? Or do wizards actually farm livestock, in which case where are all the food shops? I suppose it’s not unreasonable that some Muggleborns might be from farming backgrounds and/or be interested in applying magic to animal husbandry, but it doesn’t seem likely.
Also, what’s the history of this farm? The Weasleys are an old pureblood family. Molly was a Prewett before she married, likewise an old pureblood family, and we know her siblings are dead. Arthur apparently has two brothers according to the internet, though one of them isn’t even named and nobody’s sure if the other one is his brother or Molly’s, but despite the Weasley reputation they don’t seem to be a very large family. I’m sure one of them would have inherited some form of ancestral family home, unless the Weasleys really have lived in an old pigsty for generations and never bothered doing anything about it.
Even assuming that the houses were bequeathed to other siblings and Molly and Arthur bought a place together after they married, why would they pick this if they didn’t plan to put any actual effort into converting it? This is not a safe environment to raise toddlers in – the inside is full of narrow high staircases and so on, and this house would also get very cold and be very difficult to heat no matter how many fireplaces and chimneys you add, magic or no magic.
I want to like the Burrow, it sounds interesting and I have no problem with cutesy clichéd farms. But it doesn’t work.
Anyway, rant over. Harry loves the house, which is fair enough. Any child his age would like a house that wasn’t the same as everyone else’s, and an abuse victim would like a house that wasn’t the abuse house and didn’t resemble it.
Fred’s brilliant plan is that they’ll all sneak upstairs, and at breakfast time they’re going to be really surprised and amazed that Harry somehow showed up in Devon with all his things on his own in the middle of the night. Well done, Fred, there is literally no reason why that wouldn’t work perfectly. If only your mother wasn’t already aware of exactly where you’d been and how and why I’m sure she would absolutely have fallen for that.
Molly interrupts this brilliant scheme by storming across the yard to yell at them. I’m going to skip most of this scene because it’s an irritating cliché-ridden mess. Short version is that she woke up, found them and the dangerous illegal flying car gone with no note or any explanation, and she’s understandably pissed off because she’s been worried sick, and none of the elder boys ever did anything like this. The problem is that while I sympathise with her completely and think this is a very realistic reaction, it’s written in such a way that we’re clearly not meant to and Rowling is trying to make her as shrewish and stereotypical as humanly possible (she’s described as looking like a sabre-toothed tiger, which just makes no sense, and of course uses the worn phrase ‘wait until your father gets home‘). And as I mentioned earlier she isn’t remotely surprised to see Harry, and in fact says hello to him perfectly calmly once she’s done yelling at her offspring.
I do wonder occasionally why none of the Weasley boys ever resent Harry. Their mother is much nicer to him than she is to any of them, most of the time, and he’s far more of a selfish brat than they are – case in point, I don’t believe he ever thanks her for housing him.
I would give bonus points for Harry displaying an actual reasonable reaction and backing away from her while she’s shouting, and being nervous about following her inside, except it’s clearly been written for comedic purposes and not because he’s an abuse victim who would naturally be frightened of angry adults.
Mostly I’m wondering why she’s wearing an apron when she presumably does dirty chores by magic. The answer is obviously that as a housewife she must dress the part at all times, but even so. I suppose we ought to be grateful she wasn’t clutching a rolling pin just to complete the image.
Harry looks around the kitchen (which is inevitably small and cramped, because nobody thought to use magic to make it bigger while they were adding extra rooms). The clock on the wall isn’t the one they’ll have later, the cool one with a hand for each family member that says where they all are; either that’s in another room or gets retconned in later. This one only has one hand and points to various chores. There’s also a shelf of books and all the titles reference cooking and magic, and a wireless tuned to a wizarding radio station. I like this well enough, though a book that wasn’t just there to hammer home the Domestic Goddess label would have been nice.
Meanwhile Molly is cooking breakfast, and interestingly mostly by hand. I assume she just enjoys cooking, because of course she would, since she does the washing up by magic at the same time. As she does so she continues muttering random scoldings, in between assuring Harry that she doesn’t blame him and giving him a truly ludicrous amount of food, because we mustn’t leave out a single cliché.
Current spell count: Dobby, 1. Molly, 1.
The weird part is that Rowling seems to like Molly as a character; she clearly looks down on her, but is far less judgemental than she is with a lot of other characters and I don’t believe she mocks her appearance at all. Later on she gets to vaguely participate in the war, and in the final book turns out to be a good fighter. That might be partly why I like the character – she’s a domestic goddess and housewife because she enjoys it and wants to be, not because that’s what all women should do – but it would help if the rest of the Potterverse allowed it, and if Rowling could stay away from clichés for five minutes.
Molly also tells Harry that she and Arthur have been worried about him too and were going to come and get him themselves if they didn’t hear from him soon. Why? Their son’s friend isn’t answering letters. Big deal. You assume he’s just being a normal thoughtless kid and reassure your son that he’s probably just busy. This is further evidence that they already knew what had happened.
We’re interrupted by Ginny for no reason whatsoever. She arrives in the doorway, sees Harry, literally squeals, and runs away. This exists purely so Rowling can tell us all that she was shipping these two from the start right back when they were eleven and twelve, because apparently we want to know that she’s a creepy person.
Incidentally, Hedwig has disappeared. The last we saw of her was when Harry threw her out of the car.
Once they’re done eating, Fred says he wants to go to bed. Molly says no – it’s their fault they were out all night and she needs them to help out today and de-gnome the garden, though Harry can go to bed if he wants. He says no because he thinks this sounds interesting (and also because he’s had half a night’s sleep before the Weasleys showed up) and we’re given two pages of gnome-related filler that serves no purpose whatsoever except to make all the characters look terrible.
Yes, it mentions Lockhart, who has written a book dealing with getting rid of gnomes. Certainly the solution sounds like something he’d think of. It tells us he’s pretty, he’s famous, and Mrs Weasley finds him attractive (with the unspoken implication that this is awful of her). We will be told all of these things again when we first meet him, so there’s no reason to tell us now. We will also learn that he never knows what he’s talking about, so we don’t need that to be vaguely hinted at right now either. Let the boys go to bed and combine this chapter with the next, this is all pointless.
For those of you who have forgotten, ‘de-gnoming‘ involves grabbing hold of a gnome, taking hold of its feet and throwing it over the hedge into the field outside. Apparently this is only possible because the gnomes are stupid and come running to see what’s going on, but they don’t seem stupid to me – they speak Human, specifically English, and are bright enough to bite Harry to get him to let go. (His response is to fling it fifty feet. Our hero.) Ron assures us this doesn’t hurt the gnomes. Forgive me if I don’t take your word for it.
But we do get to mock the Muggles a bit more, and that’s what matters, right?
‘Muggles have garden gnomes, too, you know,’ Harry told Ron as they crossed the lawn.
‘Yeah, I’ve seen those things they think are gnomes,’ said Ron, bent double with his head in a peony bush. ‘Like fat little Father Christmases with fishing rods …’
…how does Ron know about Father Christmas? Or fishing rods, come to that? And how has he seen a garden gnome? You can’t have him this aware of the Muggle world in this book, Rowling; last book he’d never seen Muggle money and was astounded by a 50p coin, as well as being astonished to learn that our photos don’t move.
So the boys spend a page casually abusing an obviously sentient species [it’s totally okay because they’re ugly! goddamn it, Rowling], before apparently getting rid of them all. Ron then tells us they’ll be back in a day or two anyway, so this entire scene really was completely pointless. Why are they still using a method that they know doesn’t work? And why are they doing it in the first place? We’re told that the gnomes are pests, but not why. Do they try to get into the house after food? Are they damaging the garden (already described by Harry and sounding like an overgrown neglected mess anyway)?
Naturally, Harry doesn’t ask any of these questions. Or anything else. He’s been comparatively reasonable so far but seems to be regressing to the mindless plot puppet we know and loathe.
[I also think there might be some really weird class stuff going on here. “Go do chores in the garden” seems like a middle/upper class thing to me, especially when it’s clearly being ordered as punishment rather than because it needs to be done. And especially when they’re largely pointless chores, given we’re told the gnomes will just come back anyway. This is yet another scene that makes me question Rowling’s repeated insistence that the Weasleys are incredibly poor.]
Particularly since Harry tells us the garden isn’t maintained and is overgrown and messy, so who cares if there are gnomes in it? Why not send them to weed the beds or cut the grass or something instead? Let us note that when Petunia sends Harry to work in the garden she’s the lovechild of Hitler and Satan, but Molly doing the same is fine and it’s quite good fun really.
At this point Arthur comes home from his night shift, and we get to meet him for the first time. He’s tall, thin and balding, and very tired. Why was he on the night shift? His job doesn’t seem to be seen as important by anyone else, I don’t know why they would need 24-hour coverage, and if it is that important then why are there only two of them doing it? I can’t imagine he carries out raids by himself, I don’t remember him using magic onscreen at all and nobody seems to think he’s particularly good at anything except mechanical stuff. Apparently he was on nine raids in a single night, which seems highly unlikely; we also see Mundungus Fletcher’s name for the first time. Get used to him, Rowling apparently thinks he’s fun enough to keep re-using before he finally shows up in the main cast in book 5.
The raids seem to be done in conjunction with other departments, since Arthur goes on to explain that while there was a lot of nasty stuff (including some unspecified ‘extremely odd’ ferrets; this series seems weirdly fond of ferrets), most of it was for other people to deal with and all he ended up with were ‘a few shrinking door-keys and a biting kettle‘. These sound like the ‘joke’ products Fred and George will go on to sell in their stupid shop later on; I distinctly remember a punching telescope. Apparently a lot of their stock are items Arthur confiscated from wizards at work.
His shift is described as unusually heavy work, but not so unusual that there’s something going on; this is just a normal bad day. Given the size of the wizarding world, this says whole volumes about how messed up their society is.
George asks about the door keys and it’s something apparently quite common that wizards do just to fuck with Muggles and make them think they’re losing their keys. Arthur displays what we will quickly learn is his normal attitude towards the Muggles he’s apparently fascinated by:
“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 …”
He goes on to remark that they wouldn’t believe some of the things wizards have been enchanting, and Molly starts scolding him about the car. Her main objection is that Arthur didn’t tell her he was doing it and said he just wanted to take it apart and see how it worked. Her husband concedes that part was a mistake, but says hastily that legally he’s completely allowed to do it, as long as he doesn’t actually fly the car then the fact that it’s capable of flying isn’t against the law. Molly retorts that he wrote the law himself and deliberately left that loophole in.
This is nonsense. I can’t come up with a way of phrasing a law that would allow that. And why is Arthur writing laws? He’s a fairly low-level enforcement official with no connection to the legal side of things. How the hell does this government function? Police officers carrying out drug raids don’t also write the laws about drug use.
Molly goes on to say that Harry showed up in the car that wasn’t intended to fly, and I really like that Arthur a) never noticed Harry was there and b) responds with ‘Harry who?‘ before finally realising there’s another boy in the room with completely different colouring to the rest of the pack. “Good Lord, is it Harry Potter?” he adds, which is really not a wizarding phrase…
…hmm. The only ‘lord’ the wizarding world acknowledges is Voldy. Did Arthur just let slip his secret evil alignment?
Molly refuses to let him change the subject and informs him that their wayward offspring stole the illegal car, flew it across Muggle country and broke into a Muggle house. Arthur’s response is to ask how the car handled, which makes his wife angrier. We’re meant to be taking his side but really, Molly’s not wrong.
[I’d like to take a brief opportunity to comment on Arthur’s personality, as we see it in this chapter. He’s not particularly concerned with the law, except as it pertains to other people. He’s mainly interested in experiments and utterly indifferent to their consequences, brushes off his wife’s concerns and can barely be bothered to scold his children for risky illegal behaviour. Honestly, this guy makes a lot of sense as the Terrible Twins’ father. And with the emphasis on legal loopholes and such, he honestly strikes me as, well, ‘weaselly’; I found myself wondering if Rowling had originally meant that to be a Meaningful Name but then forgot about it later. Maybe she couldn’t stand to have any hint of moral ambiguity around her Designated Good People.]
The boys decide to retreat at this point and leave them to argue about it, and we get more descriptions of the Burrow.
Ron’s room is up five flights of stairs. This seems unlikely – Harry said multiple floors had been added but he didn’t mention it was that tall. The attic is apparently above his room, too. Why do they even have an attic? The ghoul lives there, but does it need to? Apparently there are pipes up there as well and I’ve no idea what those would be for in a wizarding house. Maybe some sort of water system from a rainwater tank on the roof, I doubt this place is plumbed into the mains. Also, Ron’s bedroom has a sloping ceiling, so we’re at roof level; how is there more house above that?
Ron is also a schoolboy straight out of an Enid Blyton novel; his room is filled with stacks of comics, tanks of frogspawn, etc. It’s very Muggle, and therefore very dated by the lack of technology. Where’s the alchemy set? Where’s the wrought-iron lamp in the shape of a dragon? Frogspawn, pff, why isn’t there a tank of two-headed colour-changing fish or something? I know he doesn’t like reading but there could at least be one or two books of magic lying around apart from his schoolbooks. He’s only twelve, why doesn’t he have any of his old magical toys in his room? Show us something different.
Instead all we get are Quidditch posters, because Ron is apparently obsessed with the Chudley Cannons. This obsession will rarely be mentioned throughout the rest of the series, and as far as I remember only when he’s arguing with someone.
As for the comics, they’re apparently all about ‘Martin Miggs, the Mad Muggle‘. One, fuck off, wizarding world. Two, they produce comics? Three, why doesn’t Harry look at them? One would think he’d want to see more of what wizards believe about his non-school life.
Ron’s clearly anxious about his room, making excuses and criticising it. I like this, it’s completely in character for him. The chapter ends with Harry saying he thinks the house is brilliant and Ron blushing, which is sweet. But it’s also an odd place to end. This chapter is structured really oddly – it opens with dramatic action, and then gradually slows down until it fizzles out here when Rowling runs out of house descriptions. (Also, Hedwig never reappears. Poor owl.)
Okay, so here’s the thing. I really like Harry’s (and our) introduction to the Burrow. Even if the house makes no sense, it sounds cool and a lot of it is appropriately magical in subtle ways – it has the familiar trappings, like a clock, a radio and some cookbooks, but with a magical bent. I like how Ron’s worried about what his friend will think, and I like that Harry actually seems genuinely impressed, enjoying himself and wondering – he shows more personality in this half a chapter than I think he does for most of the entire series.
So why wasn’t this our introduction to the wizarding world? This belongs in book 1. I’m not sure how you’d have to shape the plot to get Harry to the Burrow before anything else, but this works so much better as the first glimpse than all the stupidity with Hagrid. If you take out the bit with the gnomes, at least. Harry even acts as though this is his first glimpse; he’s reacting far more than he ever did in Diagon Alley.
Mitchell also raised a good point – that the Weasleys almost read like a parody of genteel normalcy, outside of the occasional insistence that no really they’re poor really, look how they mistreat their pets. We think Rowling was sort of going for a paradox here; Harry grew up with this desperate insistence on ‘being normal’ but then is so amazed and full of wonder at an actual ‘normal’ family, etc (and maybe also some commentary on how the Dursleys want to be ‘normal’ but are actually pathological). Which could be a realistic reaction for him. But then in the greater narrative context it ends up just looking like she’s condemning the Dursleys for ‘being normal badly’ while agreeing with their worldview that that’s a desirable thing.
Finally, I’d like to raise one last point. Where the fuck is Hermione?
Does she know anything about this? Her letters have been going unanswered too. Did she write to Ron as well and learn that it’s not just her, or did she assume Harry just doesn’t want to be friends any more? If she is talking to Ron, did he tell her he’s worried that something bad has happened to Harry? If so, why isn’t she involved? I’d find it more plausible that she knows how to drive a car – and read a map to get there – than Fred. (If nothing else, she almost certainly read a lot of our friend Roald Dahl, and Danny The Champion Of The World gives quite a good tutorial on how to get a car started and moving, which now that I think about it is a bit weird.) [I don’t know that that’s necessary, she’ll have been in cars with her parents… although, then again, if she’s anything like I was as a child, that may not mean she knows very much. I always brought a book and read in the car, and never paid much attention to how the thing worked or how to get anywhere.] I was mostly the same, though I went through a phase of insisting Dad told me every time he changed gear so I could keep track.
At the end of the previous book Ron says both Harry and Hermione should come and stay with him. So where is she now?
I looked through the next chapter. Yes, Hermione is aware of what the Weasleys were planning, at least in general, though clearly not the details. So… why did she leave them to it? There’s no indication she didn’t believe any of it. There are other options in the Muggle world – she could find the phone number for whichever police station covers Little Whinging and leave an anonymous tip that there’s a child being held prisoner on Privet Drive, or she could call Childline, or she could persuade her parents to get involved. Even if she didn’t feel able to do any of these things, she could at least have insisted that Ron and the twins take her along too, or asked to come and visit after the rescue to see for herself that Harry’s okay. In the next chapter she suggests they meet in Diagon Alley instead, so maybe she was too shy to invite herself along or too worried that they’d say no, but the boys could have offered.
Instead this is just one of many, many instances where Harry and Ron end up involved in something and she gets excluded. And I don’t believe it’s ever mentioned again. There’s no indication that she tries to tell anyone that Harry’s family had locked him up and were starving him, and there’s nothing to indicate whether she even knew that because I’m not sure anyone actually bothered to tell her.
[Because despite being one of Harry’s best friends and one leg of the central tripod, it’s clear Rowling regards Hermione as a side character and exposition device, and never bothers to consider what ought to be going on in her head. Sexism! In fairness I’m not 100% certain that’s deserved, because she sometimes does that with Ron too, but it’s more common with Hermione.]
Next time: … good grief.
Current spell count: Dobby, 1. Molly, 1.