I got sick again. And then Mitchell got Zelda. (Don’t talk to me about Zelda.) And then I had to work a lot to cover for an absent co-worker, which is still ongoing. Sigh.
Chapter Four: At Flourish & Blotts
Before we start, I thought of a possible solution to the question last chapter of how the Weasleys seem to know what’s going on. Dobby had letters from Hagrid in the pile of stolen mail, as well as Ron and Hermione. If we assume that Hagrid, despite most of his onscreen behaviour, is enough of an adult not to be emo and decide that Harry just hates him, his first action will be to tell Dumbles that something is wrong. Since Dumbles isn’t likely to care, his second action will be to check it out himself, except he doesn’t know where Harry lives and isn’t allowed to do magic. So he’s likely to contact Ron, as Harry’s best friend; or rather Ron’s parents, by proxy, since Ron would probably have mentioned it if he’d heard directly. It’s still a stretch and still doesn’t explain why the boys knew they’d need something to break bars off the window, and Hagrid himself won’t ever mention it, but it’s all I’ve got.
[Later in this chapter we’ll unfortunately encounter reasons this explanation doesn’t work either, but it’s the best we had. This book really isn’t giving us a lot to work with.]
Anyway, moving on to this chapter. We open with Harry telling us about life at the Burrow and what a contrast it is with Privet Drive and the Dursleys; mostly this is due to the presence of magic, as you might expect. He gets a shock when a mirror shouts at him to tuck his shirt in, for example.
I never know how to picture this. Is it a disembodied voice or is it his reflection shouting at him in his own voice? Because either way it sounds creepy but the latter has the potential to be truly horrifying. Particularly when you consider mental illness – imagine someone with an eating disorder or other body issues looking at their reflection and their reflection shouts at them about how bad they look. On a less awful level, why can some mirrors talk when others – like Erised – can’t? Do any of the mirrors at school do this? Harry’s never mentioned it.
The Weasleys also have a ghoul in the attic, as we learned in the previous chapter. Harry tells us it howls and drops pipes whenever things get too quiet – I don’t know why a ghoul would be attention seeking, but then we’re never told what a ghoul really is in this universe. (Honestly, my pet theory is that it’s actually the Squib cousin, hence its ability to convincingly pass for Ron in book seven. The accountant story is a lie.) Where is it finding pipes, anyway? Any pipes in the attic are probably part of something important it shouldn’t be breaking. [Or would be in a Muggle house; I’m utterly at a loss for why there would be pipes in a wizarding residence when there’s a spell to make water, and apparently vanishing spells are used to get rid of waste. Though I’m fairly certain we’ve complained about that before, and I think at this point Rowling might still be assuming wizards use modern plumbing like everyone else before apparently changing her mind later.]
Harry also tells us it’s normal to hear small explosions from the twins’ bedroom every so often. Well, in this world playing cards explode, so I imagine it’s not limited to Fred and George. [I think we’re supposed to interpret this as them doing some kind of experiments, obviously, but I’m amused by the idea that they could just be playing bloody Snap all day.]
It’s not as if there’s anything else to do in the wizarding world.
Then we get this line:
“What Harry found most unusual about life at Ron’s, however, wasn’t the talking mirror or the clanking ghoul: it was the fact that everybody there seemed to like him.”
And I really like this, but yet again it doesn’t lead to anything. It’s followed by a single sentence telling us that Molly keeps trying to overfeed him, and then we move on to other things. Harry ought to be consciously marvelling at this in every single scene – people are listening to him, involving him in conversations, being polite to him, treating him like he’s one of them, and he hasn’t received a single threat or insult. He should be permanently in awe, or paranoid and waiting for it all to go wrong, and at the very least be going to insane lengths to behave so he doesn’t ruin it. Instead he seems to have saved all his wonder for the house and to accept his sudden adoption into this family as no more than his due, which is admittedly perfectly in character for him but really shouldn’t be.
[This brief lip-service is all the acknowledgment we’re going to get, when really all of Harry’s reactions should be informed by this. That’s what makes this a characterisation fail. It makes sense, but it needs to actually matter and affect his behaviour in other scenes; instead Rowling merely tells us this and shows us something else, as she always does.]
Also, all of this just underscores how the Burrow really ought to have been shown to us in book one. He should have gone home with Ron for Christmas.
[The way this is written, it’s almost as if Harry is experiencing culture shock at experiencing the magical world for the first time, or perhaps more generally life outside the Dursley household for the first time, which is a very strange choice for Book Two. It feels like Rowling wants to replicate the misery-to-magicland transition in every book, which could I guess be okay in theory, except that it shouldn’t be utterly new to the characters every time it happens. People aren’t goldfish. Well, okay, all evidence suggests that Harry could be.]
Goldfish have better memories than people think, actually. Certainly more than Harry displays most of the time.
Harry mentions that Arthur likes asking him questions about how things in the Muggle world work – the examples we’re given are plugs, the postal service and how to use a telephone. Arthur is clearly not listening to the answers, since in later books we’ll see that the Weasleys don’t know how to send letters or make phone calls and Arthur can’t even pronounce ‘electricity’. This is never going to come up again, either, even though Arthur is going to spend an increased amount of time with both Harry and Hermione. I suppose he got bored. [In fairness, I think I’ve met people like this, who whenever encountering some thing talk about how cool and interesting they think it is and how they’ve always wanted to know how it works etc – but when not immediately present, it’s out of sight and out of mind, so they never bother actually looking it up or trying to learn anything about it.]
Ginny is continuing to act strangely – she turns really clumsy whenever Harry’s in the room and can’t speak to him most of the time. Rowling clearly thinks this is cute. I disagree. If this was in the next book, I could forgive it, because after the events of this one she does have some pretty compelling reasons to hero-worship Harry and develop the mother of all crushes, at least for a while (so naturally she won’t do any such thing and will instead start behaving normally) but at this point she has no reason to. She doesn’t know him, and she hasn’t had a chance to absorb any weird propaganda about how amazing he is; she clearly hasn’t learned it at home because none of the other Weasleys treat Harry like a mythological hero, and in fact half her brothers were quite happy to turn on him last year over losing a bunch of house points. I suppose we have to conclude that since she’s almost certainly been homeschooled he’s simply the first boy she’s ever met who isn’t related to her, but I would think she’s a little young for a crush this intense, particularly since anyone with six brothers is likely to find all boys loud, messy and irritating things to be avoided. She could be starting puberty early and be battling hormones, but almost every YA book in existence avoids that subject like the plague, so we’ll never know.
[I can see why a fair portion of the fandom started bandying about conspiracy theories involving Ginny being deliberately brought up to idolise Harry (I think the most common version involves Molly doing it in order to bring about a marriage and connect the Weasleys to him), because there’s really not a good explanation for it. The only other characters who obsess over Harry to this ridiculous degree are the Creevey brothers, one of whom we’ll meet in this book, and because they’re Muggleborn that doesn’t add evidence of some kind of wizarding culture thing encouraging it (so no help with Ginny). If it were a cultural/urban legend kind of thing, you’d expect more students than just these specific ones to care.]
Not that the Creeveys make sense either, but time for that when Colin appears later.
Everyone’s letter from Hogwarts arrives with their book and equipment lists for the new year, including Harry’s. Arthur credits Dumbledore with this, but the letters are obviously addressed automatically, and we’ll learn in later books that the owls (somehow) go by name not address anyway.
“Second-year students will require:
The Standard Book of Spells, Grade 2 by Miranda Goshawk
Break with a Banshee by Gilderoy Lockhart
Gadding with Ghouls by Gilderoy Lockhart
Holidays with Hags by Gilderoy Lockhart
Travels with Trolls by Gilderoy Lockhart
Voyages with Vampires by Gilderoy Lockhart
Wanderings with Werewolves by Gilderoy Lockhart
Year with the Yeti by Gilderoy Lockhart”
Why is the generic spellbook the only one to be updated? Apparently in every other subject they’re still learning first-year content. Not that the textbooks seem to feature much – they almost never seem to use them in the lessons themselves, and a lot of homework seems to be done from library books.
The rest of the list is just stupid. Why would any subject be allowed to assign seven textbooks, particularly when these aren’t even textbooks? They’re (allegedly) travel memoirs. Even if they were competently written, there’s not going to be anything for the children to learn. And Ginny, the twins and Percy all have the same list – why is every single year group assigned the same books? I know what Rowling was trying to do here, but even a school as badly run as Hogwarts wouldn’t do this. Dumbledore would, and the other teachers wouldn’t know about it in advance, but there would be objections after the start of term, and we know there is a board of governors even if it does seem to consist entirely of Lucius Malfoy.
Fred comments that the new Defence teacher must be female, to be a fan of Lockhart. This is of course grossly heteronormative, but it’s not entirely unknown – look at various pop stars like Justin Bieber and One Direction; they’re not really known for male fans. Molly glares, and George changes the subject to point out that Lockhart’s books aren’t cheap. She says they’ll manage, they can probably get a lot of Ginny’s things second hand – Harry is at this point surprised to learn she’s starting at Hogwarts, because he is as observant as a fucking brick – but it’s a valid point. They’re known to be very poor and now they have to buy five sets of seven expensive books on top of everything else.
Since they won’t be in Defence lessons at the same time, one set would be enough, assuming the twins and Ron could be trusted not to lose any of them, but that doesn’t seem to occur to anyone. Nor will anyone realise until book five that you can use magic to duplicate texts (Harry’s Quibbler interview). You’d think some enterprising student would have set up a little business, wouldn’t you? They buy one set of full-price new books, duplicate them, and sell the copies for half price or better. If it comes to that, would you even have to buy a set? Would anyone in the shop notice if you copied them, put the store copies back and walked out with the imitations? (Yeah, yeah, piracy is a crime, don’t do it, blah blah blah.)
We’re not told how much the books are individually, and we still don’t have concrete numbers for how many kids there are at Hogwarts, but we’ve been assuming somewhere around 150-250. Not all the sixth and seventh years will be taking Defence – I’d be surprised if any of them were, given that it’s apparently been a complete joke for decades – so we can take off up to 40 kids for that but it’s probably more like 20. That still leaves over a hundred at minimum, all buying seven books each. Given the size of the wizarding world I don’t even know that there would even be that many in print, since they only seem to have one bookstore, but if there are, that’s a truly extortionate amount of money that Lockhart never has to pay back and the Weasleys can’t be the only family who can’t readily spare it.
Percy walks in at this point to provide slapstick (because that’s how Rowling deals with potentially serious topics and/or awkward segues) and he sits down on Errol, the elderly and infirm Weasley owl, who has passed out on a chair unnoticed by anyone. This is treated as a mild inconvenience, because this book is stupid – we know Percy likes animals, being the only family member apart from Ron to have pets, and he would be worried he’d hurt Errol. (He would have done. Bird bones are fragile and Percy’s almost full-grown.) Harry doesn’t even describe the owl as an animal but as a feather duster. Hey, Harry, where is your own owl? She’s still not been mentioned. And Ron just casually dumps the unconscious owl on the draining board – that the magical family have attached to their sink because reasons – and calls him pathetic.
[I don’t know why, but the casual and callous animal cruelty in these books always shocks me even though I should know to expect it by now.] I think it’s because these are children. In the real world, children showing this sort of cruel disregard for animals is usually an early warning sign that they’re going to become a serial killer.
Errol has a letter from Hermione. It’s not clear just when this was sent. Given how little attention anyone pays to their owl and how poor his health is, she could have written weeks ago and never received an answer; Harry’s been at the Burrow for a week prior to this scene. As I mentioned in the last post, it’s also not clear how much she knows about the rescue-Harry plan. She’s not sure if Harry is there or not but says she hopes everything went all right and didn’t involve anything illegal that would get them into trouble (poor naive girl). She’s worried that Harry might not be okay but clearly doesn’t know the full story, or she’d be much more worried and would have demanded to be involved. She might be humouring Ron, because it would sound pretty unbelievable.
She asks multiple times to be told everything’s fine immediately, but there’s no mention that they ever write back. She suggests meeting up in Diagon this week and they don’t bother to confirm it – they run into her by chance later this chapter and she doesn’t know anything that’s happened. She even suggests they should write to her using a different owl because Errol clearly can’t cope and might well literally die.
You all know Hermione’s one of my favourite characters but I really didn’t intend to spend time in virtually every post ranting about how badly she gets treated. I didn’t realise it was this bad, frankly, and we’re still in the very early part of the series. Sigh. I’d like to say I’ll stop, since I know she’s not liked by everyone, but the books clearly aren’t going to stop shitting on her any time soon. (I’d like to point out something I missed last book – she didn’t make friends with the boys until Halloween. Her birthday is in September. She spent her first birthday away from home by herself. I hope we’re right about her and Neville being friends offscreen.)
She also mentions that she’s been busy with schoolwork. Ron finds this comically horrifying, of course, but also seems confused, and there’s been no mention of him or Harry having assignments to do. Either Hermione really is teaching herself everything, or else she’s in some sort of advanced education program that involves summer lessons (difficult for a Muggleborn living in a Muggle house, I’d have thought) that the boys just don’t know about because they’re not bright enough to be in it or observant/caring enough to be aware of. [Thinking about it now, it’s already disturbing me how Hermione’s academic diligence is being played for laughs in moments like this instead of treated as a legitimate character trait (the narrative is very much on the boys’ side here). These books are anti-intellectual as fuck.]
Rather than write to their very worried friend, the boys fuck off to play Quidditch instead, along with the twins. [They need to sort out their priorities.] The Weasleys apparently own a random paddock some distance from the house with enough trees around it to screen them so they can fly without being seen. Given that the house is already isolated, there is no reason this is necessary; also, land is expensive and they could sell this field for some extra money. This is not how poverty works.
‘Playing Quidditch’ in this instance is just helping Harry be amazing, of course. Fred and George are beaters, and Ron isn’t even on the team – they can’t use bludgers in a Muggle area, fair enough, but the quaffle isn’t sentient and they could easily throw it around among themselves, maybe set up some makeshift goals made out of sticks or something, use more sticks as beater’s bats. [Real people, when they play casual pickup sports without the ideal number of players, tend to be willing to play different positions/roles than they might prefer, and change the game’s rules a little to make it more fair so everyone has fun.] But no, they just throw snitch-sized apples around for Harry to practice on, even though he’s a sporting savant and doesn’t need it. And they all take turns to ride Harry’s broom because it’s just so much better than theirs. Because he’s just so much better than they are.
It’s not a pleasant dynamic to read about, honestly, throughout this entire chapter – he’s just moved into their family and is outshining them all as well as gaining their parents’ favour. The surprise isn’t that Percy (and arguably Ron) turn against him later, the surprise is that they’re the only ones to do so. It could be salvaged by making him aware of how lucky he is but he’s rarely even slightly grateful and just takes it for granted.
We’re given more hints that Percy is up to something, because he declined to come and play with them. There’s no mention that he likes Quidditch (and he shares a dormitory with Oliver Wood; if that didn’t put him off, nothing would) but apparently this is unreasonable of him. Fred says he hardly gloated about his OWL results at all – he got twelve, apparently, the same as Bill.
Except we’ll find out in the next book that Hogwarts only offers twelve OWL options, and that it’s not physically possible to take all of them without literally breaking time. For context, I got ten GCSEs, and some of those don’t count because they’re the same subject; I have separate grades for English and English Literature, for example. I suppose you could handwave this as the twins just not paying attention to their brothers and getting the numbers wrong, but that’s a bit of a stretch.
While they’re playing, George mentions again that he’s not sure how their family can pay for everything the five Weasley kids need for school. It’s clearly preying on his mind; he seems the slightly nicer twin.
Harry said nothing. He felt a bit awkward.
We’re reminded that Harry has a huge vault of gold that he’s never told his relatives or anyone else about. And then the scene ends before there can be any possibility whatsoever of him thinking of doing something nice. This is going to come up again shortly and I’ll talk about it then. For now, let’s just say again that Harry Potter is an awful human being.
The next scene takes place a week later, when everyone’s going to Diagon Alley to get their school things. Once again we open with Molly overfeeding everyone – I love bacon sandwiches but I wouldn’t be able to eat half a dozen in one sitting, good grief. This is a weird choice; I understand that food = nurture and that in Harry’s particular case she’s trying to compensate for him not being fed enough before, but the woman isn’t stupid, and when we’re constantly being told that they’re very poor it’s bizarre that she would be constantly wasting food like this.
Once they’ve eaten, everyone gathers in the sitting room, and Molly offers Harry a flower pot. He’s understandably very confused by this, and when he asks what on earth it’s for Ron remembers he won’t have travelled by Floo powder before. Because it didn’t exist last book. Arthur asks how Harry got to Diagon last year – well, there are at least two other ways to get in; does he really somehow not know the Leaky Cauldron exists? – and Harry says he went via Muggle London.
‘Really?’ said Mr Weasley eagerly. ‘Were there escapators? How exactly –’
How has he heard enough to know about escalators, but not enough to know the actual word? And why is the concept of a moving staircase so amazing to him? Molly tells him to shut up, apparently as bored by this attempt at characterisation as I am, and seems worried that Harry is new to this.
Flower pots have holes in the bottom, by the way. Don’t try to store powder in them. It won’t work very well.
Fred and George demonstrate how it works. You throw glitter into an open fire, then jump in after it and yell your destination, and you disappear. Molly says you have to speak clearly (see one of our older posts about Pottermore bullshit for some awfulness about what can happen if you don’t) and that you have to be sure to jump out at the right grate.
Floo travel will never work like this again, for the record. Though if I remember rightly nobody will actually use it to travel again (except Lupin within Hogwarts once), and it’ll just be a very strange equivalent of a telephone. How does this work when you’re just sticking your head in a fire to talk to someone? How does it work anyway – what on earth is in Floo powder that lets you teleport through fires and how did anyone manage to invent/discover it? And given what happens to Harry here, how do they teach children to use it?
Why not just ask for the grate you want? Here, everyone’s just shouting ‘Diagon Alley’, which is really vague. How does the glitter know which specific part you mean? Come to that, how do all the Weasleys know which grate Molly’s assuming they’re going to meet at? The dialogue in this scene is odd, it reads more like people all catching different buses to a town none of them are familiar with and needing to end up at the same stop.
I don’t object to this scene in principle; introducing new magical things as Harry encounters them is a nice idea and should happen a lot more throughout the series. But almost everything we do encounter is a new form of travel that renders previous ones obsolete. [To do this properly, all of the new things he’s learning about should already fit with the worldbuilding and make sense in retrospect, not raise more questions about why we haven’t previously heard of them. But that would have required some degree of prior planning and/or willingness to reread her work, and this is Rowling we’re talking about.] This is going to be replaced by the Knight Bus next book, and then that will be replaced by teleporting (and yet people will still use brooms and other means of flight instead). Given that most of the action in six out of seven books takes place in the same building, we really don’t need that much emphasis on travel anyway.
Inevitably, Harry messes up. So the book tells us, anyway. He starts coughing as he says ‘Diagon Alley’, making him stutter a bit. But he does actually say it. He’s coughing and stuttering but that couldn’t turn ‘Diagon’ into ‘Knockturn’ and certainly not into ‘Borgin & Burkes’. So how does he end up there? Ending up in the wrong part of Diagon and then wandering into Knockturn because he doesn’t know where he is would have worked better.
However it works, he staggers out into a random shop he doesn’t recognise. He’s covered in soot, he’s dizzy, he’s nauseous, and he faceplants and breaks his glasses. Holding them up and squinting, he describes his new location:
A glass case nearby held a withered hand on a cushion, a blood-stained pack of cards and a staring glass eye. Evil-looking masks leered down from the walls, an assortment of human bones lay upon the counter and rusty, spiked instruments hung from the ceiling. Even worse, the dark, narrow street Harry could see through the dusty shop window was definitely not Diagon Alley.
I wonder if that glass eye gets purchased by Moody? [Interesting thought but I don’t think the time-frame works, everything we hear about him suggests ‘Mad-Eye’ (sigh) is a long-standing nickname and implies it’s been longer than two years.] I also wonder how Harry can identify that the bones are human – it’s only the skull that’s easily recognisable to a layman, really, and it could just as easily be an ape or a humanoid magical creature. And why are there (presumably) Muggle torture instruments on the ceiling? Mitchell’s theory is that this is wizard kink [more specifically, that they find it more transgressively thrilling to use non-magical items for such purposes; I can’t think what other purpose torture devices could serve when there are torture spells]. Honestly, almost everything we see in Knockturn is just evil window dressing that wouldn’t actually be there if this was a real setting.
Borgin & Burkes is dodgy as hell, by the way. So why are they even on the Floo, let alone apparently unsecured? Nobody’s heard Harry arrive and come to find out who he is. And why would you want customers stumbling aimlessly out in the middle of the store, crashing into things?
Anyway, Harry has bigger problems on his mind:
Two people appeared on the other side of the glass – and one of them was the very last person Harry wanted to meet when he was lost, covered in soot and wearing broken glasses: Draco Malfoy.
Aww, he’s worried that his crush is going to see him when he looks bad! Luckily for him there’s a huge empty cabinet right next to him, so he jumps inside it to hide. (Even more luckily, since this is a Vanishing Cabinet, it’s broken and he doesn’t get teleported elsewhere.) This is turning into a bad romantic comedy, not that there’s any other type.
…it’s just occurred to me that Harry is literally in the closet right now.
I’m sorry. No, wait, I’m not.
Draco comes in with his father, the first time we meet Lucius. They look very alike. Lucius rings the bell on the counter for service and tells Draco not to touch anything – I really like Draco in this scene, he’s acting like a normal boy wandering around and randomly asking for cool-looking things. Including a certain opal necklace, incidentally, that will feature in book six along with the cabinet Harry is currently hiding in. He says Lucius promised to buy him a present, and Lucius says he promised to get him a broom. (See, Harry, I mentioned last book that Draco was going to get one and that you weren’t all that special.) Cue Draco pouting that it doesn’t matter when he’s not on the team, and then going off on an utterly adorable rant about Harry.
‘… everyone thinks he’s so smart, wonderful Potter with his scar and his broomstick –’
‘You have told me this at least a dozen times already,’ said Mr Malfoy.
Lucius just sounds so done; Draco really has been boring his family to death all summer talking about nothing but Harry Potter. I love this conversation. And I’m very disappointed that we don’t get any kind of reaction from Harry.
A staff member finally shows up, later named as Mr Borgin. He has greasy hair, inevitably, because that’s what evil does to people unless they’re Malfoys. Must be in the genes. The conversation is long and dull and unrealistic, just to give Harry some key words to overhear, but the summary is that the Ministry have been raiding people’s houses and Lucius has some illegal poisons he wants to sell off before they’re discovered. I don’t know why he would have poison or what for – a gift from a certain Potions master, perhaps? – but sure, whatever.
Draco decides the Hand of Glory on the counter looks cool and asks for it. This segues rather awkwardly into Lucius scolding him, in public, because Hermione got better marks than he did in every subject. Not only is this completely out of character – we can tell even from this short scene that Lucius isn’t the type who would do this in front of other people and that he looks down on Borgin – but how do they know? Even Hogwarts isn’t stupid enough to make everyone’s marks public. Unless they’re just assuming that of course Hermione’s beating him because she’s beating everyone because she’s just that good. I suppose since Lucius is on the school board (not that we know that at this point) and Hermione somehow got over 100% in at least one exam he might have heard about it, but it’s not likely. Maybe he asked Severus to tell him the names of all the kids who beat his son.
[I’ve just noticed that literally every object that is randomly mentioned as set-dressing in this scene will show up in Draco’s possession as part of his plot in book six. The opal necklace, the Vanishing Cabinet, and the Hand of Glory… and actually, if we want to stretch it a little, he also uses poison! People talk about Rowling being good at Chekhov’s Guns and this sort of thing is probably one of the reasons why, but if anything I think it’s more likely that when she runs out of ideas she flips through old books to see if she mentioned anything she could use later. The way every single thing mentioned here came back, and nothing else, suggests to me she literally took this chapter and used it as the basis for an entire book plot later on. Though how this combines with her distaste for rereading, I’ll admit I’m not sure.] Appealing to an editor/blood-related fan for ideas, perhaps. I forgot the Hand of Glory also appears again – probably because it’s stupid, it can’t do anything spells can’t also do without the hassle of having to carry corpse bits around.
Lucius and Borgin go back to haggling over how much the poisons are worth. I don’t think Lucius would have done this in person, it’s all a bit beneath him. He’d probably have done it by mail or sent an elf. And why isn’t Narcissa with her family? Oh, wait, my mistake; she’s female, of course she’s not onscreen. Harry’s too busy watching Draco browsing to pay attention anyway.
This scene is supposedly here to reinforce that the Malfoys are evil and obsessed with blood purity. It really just reminds us that Harry and Draco are obsessed with each other and that Hermione is smart, and we already know that.
The Malfoys leave, Borgin leaves, and Harry sneaks out to start trying to figure out where the hell he is. He sees a sign saying Knockturn Alley, which doesn’t help since he’s never heard of it, and a few very mildly creepy stores – honestly, the description of this whole area is pretty boring. There’s a store selling shrunken heads, a store selling large spiders, and another selling candles that Harry somehow knows are poisonous. That’s not very evil, and why do the candles even exist?
Perhaps realising that this isn’t screaming evil to us, Rowling has him run into a friendly-seeming witch holding a tray of human fingernails. Again, why? We will never hear of any use for human body parts except Riddle’s resurrection. Potion ingredients, I suppose, but there are legal poisons etc. I can’t think of anything a potion could do that was so bad it would need human body parts, and it wouldn’t be common enough to need a street of shops devoted to it. This is one of the many problems with a point stick, say word magic system – lack of props to provide scenery. The evil spells are just words, so what can you sell in evil shops? But at least you can talk about how evil people are ugly – the witch has mossy teeth. Presumably literally.
It occurs to me that it’s strange everyone Harry meets down here is human. Given the wizarding world’s prejudices against other races, you’d think there would at least be some goblins, or something entirely new.
Knockturn itself makes no sense anyway. It’s supposedly a black market full of illegal things, but it’s completely out in the open and both visible and accessible from Diagon, as well as being on the Floo, and everyone knows it’s there. Why has nobody shut it down and forced them all underground? The Ministry are raiding people’s homes, but not the pawn shop everyone knows they sell their illegal things to?
Hagrid shows up before this can turn into anything interesting, and hauls Harry out into Diagon by the scruff of the neck, scolding him for being in such a nasty place. Harry points out repeatedly that he was lost and didn’t want to be there, before asking why Hagrid was down there.
‘I was lookin’ fer a Flesh-Eatin’ Slug Repellent,’ growled Hagrid. ‘They’re ruinin’ the school cabbages.’
I never understood this line, it’s one of the few things I remember from my first readthrough. Why would a flesh-eating slug be bothering with cabbage? I assume it’s a clumsy lie and he’s trying to buy illegal monsters again – we know in a couple of years he’s going to manage to crossbreed manticores with fire crabs. It did spark a brief digression as we tried to figure out what flesh-based animals could possibly be caught by slugs, though. Maybe they eat all the dead unicorns carelessly lying around the Forbidden Forest. This led to a further digression about the unicorn blood getting into the soil and wondering whether the place is now full of cursed immortal trees.
[I think I always assumed he meant the slugs lived in the cabbages but didn’t eat them (maybe they infest them hoping to attack herbivores that come to eat it?), and just by being there they were ruining them with slime. But that’s pretty tenuous and it’s still hard to explain how such a thing would come to exist at all, let alone be common enough that repellent is readily available. Maybe these slugs were one of Hagrid’s breeding experiments, and by ‘looking for repellent’ in Knockturn he’s really trying to find a potion brewer who will invent that for him and not tell the authorities?]
The two of them wander off to look for the Weasleys, and Hagrid asks why Harry never replied to his letters, and Harry explains all about it. So you can disregard everything I said in the first paragraph of this post, since we know Hagrid can’t lie convincingly under any circumstances. Naturally we won’t get any sort of discussion about it or even see much of Hagrid’s response (it will never be mentioned again either and he clearly doesn’t do anything like notify the authorities about the case of child abuse), since they accidentally meet Hermione at this point – it’s clear from her reaction that she wasn’t expecting to see Harry, so I assume they really didn’t bother writing back to her. The pack of Weasleys find them at the same time, so at least Harry’s spared having to talk to her.
I know I’m harping on about this, but think about it. If Harry had gone to the right grate they could have missed her completely, and since the boys miss the train next chapter she wouldn’t have seen either of them until the second day of school and would have been worrying herself sick for weeks not knowing what had happened.
Arthur mends Harry’s glasses for him, thus joining our spell count. Dobby, 1. Molly, 1. Arthur, 1.
Hagrid buggers off, and Harry tells everyone about what he saw inside Borgin and Burkes as they all go into Gringotts. Arthur gloats about making Lucius worried, and Molly warns him to be careful. Though interestingly Arthur doesn’t ask for more details – what exactly was he selling? Did he have it with him? He can’t be all that interested. And honestly it’s got nothing to do with Arthur anyway, because Lucius isn’t misusing Muggle stuff so this doesn’t fall under his department. It must be personal. Then Arthur notices Hermione’s parents and gives us one of the cringiest scenes in the entire series.
‘But you’re Muggles!’ said Mr Weasley delightedly. ‘We must have a drink! What’s that you’ve got there? Oh, you’re changing Muggle money. Molly, look!’ He pointed excitedly at the ten pound notes in Mr Granger’s hand.
This is not cute or amusing. It’s patronising and creepy. But Hermione’s barely a character and her family aren’t important – her parents never get first names or any kind of physical description, and certainly don’t get dialogue, so we never see their reaction to a crazy man speaking to them as if they’re rather slow children or some sort of exotic animal, nor do we see Hermione’s reaction to how her family are being treated, and it certainly never occurs to Harry to see anything wrong with it. And it gets worse, since once Harry and the Weasleys have been to their respective vaults Arthur drags the Grangers off to the pub to drink with him, with the implication that they’re left with very little choice.
But before that, let’s see Harry being awful again.
Harry enjoyed the breakneck journey down to the Weasleys’ vault, but felt dreadful, far worse than he had in Knockturn Alley, when it was opened. There was a very small pile of silver Sickles inside, and just one gold Galleon. Mrs Weasley felt right into the corners before sweeping the whole lot into her bag. Harry felt even worse when they reached his vault. He tried to block the contents from view as he hastily shoved handfuls of coins into a leather bag.
You can’t tell me that Harry feels bad when he doesn’t do anything about it except try to hide his part in it and then immediately forgets all about it. He’s not obligated to give the Weasleys anything just because he’s rich and they’re not, obviously, and it is a really difficult and awkward situation, particularly for someone with no social skills. And honestly part of the Weasleys’ apparent poverty is almost certainly a) poor planning and b) not understanding how to use magic for things. But Harry’s a kid and wouldn’t really think about any of this; his friends are struggling, they’ve been looking after him, and he has money. We know he’s a selfish little shit, but he’s not supposed to be. The book tells us he’s a nice boy, yet it doesn’t seem to actually occur to him he can just offer to give them some money. He’s not wondering how to bring the subject up, or whether they’ll accept it, or if they’ll be offended. He’s not thinking about it at all and it literally never occurs to him.
This is not how people work and it’s certainly not how hero-protagonists work. He’s completely sociopathic but without the intelligence [in fairness, most real-world sociopaths don’t live up to the intelligence level common in fictional depictions either]. I don’t object to Harry not giving away all his money to anyone in need, but I do object to him never even considering it. This is as bad as Katniss in the early parts of Catching Fire, whining simultaneously about how difficult life is for all her friends and family in the Seam and about how she literally has more money than she can spend but somehow never making the connection.
If you want to tell me Harry feels bad, then have him at least consider the obvious solution. He could so easily draw Molly to one side here and offer to at least buy one set of textbooks or some of Ginny’s school stuff as a thank you for her looking after him. She’ll refuse, but at least he’d have tried. He could ask one of the Gringotts goblins if he can transfer some of his piles of gold to the Weasleys, too.
Also, what the hell does Molly think she can buy with one galleon? Ginny’s wand alone is going to cost five. I don’t think Rowling ever stopped to work out an exchange rate and get a grasp on just what her fantasy currency is worth. To me, this small handful of coins is well below the extreme poverty level and the Weasleys should be virtually homeless and all near starvation, and when compared to Harry’s vault he’s apparently Bill Gates. We know Arthur doesn’t earn much but this doesn’t even sound like an hour’s wages. (And yet in two books’ time a thousand galleons will be considered a fortune worth risking death for that’s enough to start a business. If you’re going to play with money you need to work this out in advance.)
[Does the wizarding world have some equivalent of buying things on credit? It’s the only explanation I can think of but we’ll never be told it exists.]
But Harry’s a little shit, so who cares. Arthur drags the poor Muggles off to be his own private zoo exhibit for an hour – I can all too easily imagine him showing them to everyone in the pub as if they were some new species he’d personally discovered – and the rest of them separate to go about their own business.
Molly warns the twins to stay out of Knockturn Alley before they separate. Earlier they seemed jealous when Harry said he’d come out of the Floo down there, because they’ve never been. Go now, then. There’s not even a door, you can literally just walk down there and you’re unsupervised. All Molly’s done is put the idea back in their heads; she must know there’s no way to enforce it.
The bag of gold, silver and bronze jangling cheerfully in Harry’s pocket was clamouring to be spent, so he bought three large strawberry and peanut-butter ice-creams.
Jesus fucking Christ on a bicycle, Harry. It has literally been two paragraphs. You’re pretty much just rubbing Ron’s nose in it at this point.
Also strawberry and peanut butter ice cream, while sounding absolutely delicious, is really boring and Muggle. We’re in Magicland and they’re really keen on weird magic candy; you’d think their ice cream would at least change colour and flavour as you eat it or something, or be flavoured with magic fruits the readers have never heard of.
The three of them go shopping for a while. There’s still no indication that they talk about what happened to Harry. Or about anything at all, honestly. When Hermione first meets Harry she calls his name, then asks if he’s going into Gringotts and he says, “As soon as I’ve found the Weasleys.” When Ron shows up he ignores Hermione completely for a while, then later says, “Meet you back here” before they go to their vaults. That is the only dialogue shared by the supposed best friends who haven’t seen one another for weeks, which is ridiculous even without the whole breaking one of them out of an abusive home issue. They won’t have an actual conversation, no matter how mundane, for the rest of the chapter.
Ron stops to stare at some Chudley Cannons robes on display in the window of the Quidditch shop, which also makes no sense. There’s no such place as Chudley but there is a Chudleigh, in Devon where the Weasleys live, so it’s presumably his local team and they have a reputation for being really terrible – why would the London store have them on display? I’d expect either a local London team, the current league champions, or the England robes. Maybe it’s some kind of ironic hipster thing. Though in lieu of my earlier rant, it’s just more of the book pointing out how poor Ron and his family are and thus making Harry look shitty for ignoring it. He could have bought these for Ron as a Christmas or birthday present. He doesn’t.
In Gambol and Japes Wizarding Joke Shop, they met Fred, George and Lee Jordan, who were stocking up on ‘Dr Filibuster’s Fabulous Wet-Start, No-Heat Fireworks’, and in a tiny junk shop full of broken wands, wonky brass scales and old cloaks covered in potion stains they found Percy, deeply immersed in a small and deeply boring book called Prefects Who Gained Power.
We will never hear about this particular joke store again. There’s also a joke shop called Zonko’s in Hogsmeade; either they’re both independents or the tiny wizarding world can somehow support two chains. I assume either the Weasleys buy this one out or see it destroyed at the end of book four. ‘Dr Filibuster’ is also a strange brand name; the wizarding world doesn’t have doctors. Or filibusters. [In fairness, filibuster is a fun word, even if it’s got nothing whatsoever to do with fireworks.]
Why would anyone write the book Percy is reading? I know people can be interested in all sorts of ridiculously dull trivia, but really. That said, Tom Riddle and Lucius Malfoy were both prefects [and actually I think they’re the only wizarding adults we know of who were][except bloody Lupin]; maybe this book isn’t actually boring at all. Harry can’t really say either way since he hasn’t read it. Percy reading about Voldemort is a fun image, though. More to the point, can someone explain to Rowling that the term ‘junk shop’ is not to be taken literally and that they do not actually sell junk?
Finally they make it to Flourish and Blotts, and find a huge crowd all pushing and shoving and acting like small girls at a One Direction concert. Gilderoy Lockhart is signing copies of his autobiography, apparently. I’ve been to a few book signings and the crowd are usually perfectly civilised and well behaved, but maybe this sort of thing happens at celebrity autobiography signings, I wouldn’t know. (I’m always surprised rabid celebrity-stalking fans can read. Unless these types of books are written in crayon with colourful pictures in.) Hermione, inevitably, turns into a squealing fangirl for her final line of dialogue in the entire chapter. I am going to bite my tongue quite hard and repeatedly blame hormones for the next several chapters. [I think I’d be more okay with this if she really took a lesson from it, and started trusting textbooks less blindly after realising Lockhart was full of shit, but IIRC the only time she ever questions a textbook is when it was assigned by Umbridge. She magically knows when to do so by authorial fiat, and blindly believes them otherwise.]
Mrs Weasley is also fangirling really obviously, which is somewhat awkward since so many of her family are standing right there. Including her husband. Though he’s probably too busy gaping at the Grangers, who managed to survive what must have been the most excruciating hour of their entire lives.
The trio grab random books from their booklist – that Lockhart is not advertised as signing; big signings usually have rules about that – and casually jump the queue to join their parents without anyone getting angry about it. That’s practically treason in Britain, you know.
A short, irritable-looking man was dancing around taking photographs with a large black camera that emitted puffs of purple smoke with every blinding flash.
I don’t think you’ll get very clear pictures if you’re dancing around, dude. Particularly since given the level of wizarding technology you’d need to hold the camera still for at least a few seconds to take each shot. I don’t know why it’s emitting purple smoke, either; we’ll be told later in this book that wizard and Muggle cameras are functionally the same and you only get magic moving pictures by developing the film in a special potion.
Which begs the question of why wizards seem unaware that default photos don’t move. Someone had to develop that from the regular chemicals that make still pictures. Photography’s been around since the 1820s, after all.
Anyway, this guy is from the Daily Prophet, who apparently really care about telling everyone about a book signing after it has taken place. He steps on Ron’s foot and growls at him to get out of the way, and despite the huge crowd (that they aren’t even at the front of) this is enough for Lockhart to overhear them and look up.
Lockhart is actually written pretty well throughout this scene, in fairness. He’s completely self-absorbed and horribly smug, and while he doesn’t get much action or dialogue it’s enough to present his entire character very clearly to the readers. The problem is that it also presents him very clearly to the cast, but the author insists most of them have to ignore it because her storylines never work in conjunction with normal human behaviour.
[In fairness, while we’re trying to avoid spending too much time on the orange elephant in the room, I have to admit that I find Lockhart significantly less implausible after everything that’s happened with Donald Trump and that is affecting our reading of this book quite a bit. Apparently a lot of people really do fall for stupidly obvious cons, and people this arrogant and narcissistic and dishonest really do exist.] True. Before that happened we really thought this was too implausible a caricature. Apparently the universe took that as a challenge…
He shouts for everyone to hear that hey look it’s Harry Potter oh my gosh everyone! and literally grabs Harry for a photoshoot, telling him to suck it up and smile because together they rate the front page. Except no, they don’t. Lockhart is apparently famous enough that he should achieve that on his own, and Harry’s been wandering around Diagon for the past few hours completely unrecognised. Nobody cared until some random guy told them they ought to. Honestly, it amuses me that despite all the emphasis on Harry’s inexplicable fame some random pretty man who has his name on trashy books is more famous.
Harry does blush and squirm a bit, but being famous has never really bothered him and never will so forgive me if I don’t feel remotely sorry for him. Not even when Lockhart forces him into a one-armed hug while making a speech to the crowd. He declares that he’s giving Harry some free shit, because reasons, and announces that he’s going to be the latest Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher.
At this point, that’s plausible. All we know about him is that he’s written a lot of books and most of them seem to involve monsters. Yes, he’s an irritating egomaniac, but it still sort of makes sense. It’s only once we reach the school and see lessons with him that we’re going to see the major flaw here, so we’ll talk about it then.
I’m questioning why Lockhart’s making this announcement now. He’s good at publicity, he should have launched a press release prior to this book signing in order to promote it. He couldn’t possibly know that Harry would be here. It’s also odd that none of the children react.
Despite all the attention, Harry somehow manages to run away unnoticed at this point, and finds Ginny near the back of the store. I don’t know why she’s not standing with her family. He gives her all the free books he was handed and says he’ll buy his own. Too little, too late, Harry; the time to be a decent human being was several pages ago.
‘Bet you loved that, didn’t you, Potter?’ said a voice Harry had no trouble recognising.
Quick, Harry, find another closet to hide in!
Draco mocks Harry’s fame for a bit. He still sounds plausible and like an actual twelve year old boy, particularly when Ginny tries to defend Harry and Draco sneers that she must be Harry’s girlfriend; there is some genuinely good writing in this chapter. Also Draco is quite obviously not jealous in any way shut up. Ron and Hermione show up with their own piles of books; Ron and Draco trade insults for two sentences, and then Ron defaults to attempting violence, again, and has to be restrained by his friends, again. Arthur intervenes at this point, with twins in tow, and then Lucius shows up.
Arthur and Lucius perfectly echo the Ron and Draco interaction we’ve just witnessed; there’s some sneering, a few insults, and then Arthur defaults to violence. It’s funny how both boys are complete copies of their fathers, though it also further diminishes the relevance and characterisation of their mothers. And it’s interesting that Arthur and Lucius are on first-name terms, unlike their sons.
Lucius comments that he didn’t think the Weasleys could sink any lower, but here they are with Muggles, or at least that’s the implication. I’m not sure how he knows the Grangers are Muggles. They won’t be wearing robes, but nor are any of the children and I’m sure plenty of Muggleborn and half-blood adults don’t bother all the time. Had Rowling ever bothered to give either of them a physical description we could assume that Hermione resembles one or both of them and that Lucius saw that, but who knows. We also don’t get to see or hear any reaction from Hermione over her family being insulted; instead it’s Arthur who loses his temper over it for no reason, or rather uses it as an excuse to throw himself at Lucius.
I guess Draco inherited gay magnetism from his father, too.
Slashfic plots notwithstanding, Arthur and Lucius proceed to have a brawl in the middle of the crowded bookshop. I will be forever disappointed that this did not happen in the films because Mark Williams and Jason Isaacs would have had the time of their lives doing it. It is a completely hilarious mental image – and I like to imagine that Severus was out with his friends and is standing on the other side of the store pissing himself laughing. Possibly accompanied by Narcissa who is either facepalming or getting very angry. Artists?
Wonderful though this image is, though, it’s also stupid. We’ve already talked on numerous occasions about how wizards should not be resorting to physical violence so easily. And nobody uses magic to break them up. Molly is bleating in a useless female way to one side, despite this not being at all in character for her [or at least it won’t be later, right now she’s still just an amalgam of housewife stereotypes]. The store assistants are equally useless and bleating. The twins are cheering their father on (I find it unlikely that Ron isn’t joining in, and I wish Draco was cheering for his father) and we have no idea what the other children are doing. Eventually Hagrid shows up again and physically wades into the fight to pull them apart like a nightclub bouncer.
This is only the second time we’ve seen Lucius Malfoy, but we can already tell this is not in character for him. He would never lower himself to a physical brawl, especially not in public and particularly not with someone like a Weasley. In a better book I would accept this as a hint that they’re not the aristocrats they pretend to be and that they come from common stock, but I don’t think Rowling had thought of their backstory at this point and this is also not that book. Besides, if anyone assaulted Lucius he would laminate them to the wall and set fire to them with the power of his mind before the first punch landed and Arthur would come out of this – if he came out of it at all – with far more than just a cut lip; we already know Lucius was a Death Eater even if we don’t know the name yet, and we know he’s a Slytherin.
More to the point, this is not in character for anyone. Ordinary people do not randomly start violent fistfights over minor disagreements except in very specific high-tension situations [and when there’s a certain degree of cultural licence for it] – important sporting events, or when everyone is very drunk, for example. ‘You are poor and keep bad company’ is not a serious enough remark to start a fight; people don’t work like this. I’m not sure even tongue-in-cheek slash theories can explain it.
Once the fight is broken up Lucius – who has apparently been hit in the eye with a book; this really would have been a great fight to see onscreen – hands one of Ginny’s second-hand textbooks back to her with a nasty comment and sweeps dramatically out of the shop with Draco in tow. Presumably for a hasty conversation about how he’ll buy his son anything he likes as long as he does not tell his mother about this.
The bit with the book is a nice touch, one of those things a first-time reader is going to completely miss and will really appreciate on subsequent readthroughs, but it also doesn’t make sense. We’re never really told just what Lucius intended to do with the diary and whether he had been instructed to or not, but he didn’t know anyone else from Hogwarts would be in Diagon. Has he just been carrying it around with him in the hope of finding someone to plant it on? It would make more sense to give it to Draco to sneak into someone’s luggage on the train.
Though actually if he has just been carrying it around with him all summer looking for a target, that would explain why he’s been acting rather out of character this chapter. I mean, we know what the diary actually is, and we know it tends to affect people. That could also explain why he’s apparently been talking very indiscreetly in front of Dobby, if not openly conspiring with him. Hmm.
‘Yeh should’ve ignored him, Arthur,’ said Hagrid, almost lifting Mr Weasley off his feet as he straightened his robes. ‘Rotten ter the core, the whole family, everyone knows that. No Malfoy’s worth listenin’ ter. Bad blood, that’s what it is. Come on now – let’s get outta here.’
This is interesting. Hagrid being a blood snob is no surprise to anyone, but why does he hate the Malfoys so much? We don’t know much about Abraxas Malfoy, Lucius’ father, but there’s no mention of him being a contemporary of Voldemort or being associated with him in any way – Lucius is the first Death Eater in the family, so that’s not an excuse to despise the entire bloodline either – so it’s not very likely that he and Hagrid were at school together, though it is vaguely possible. Lucius himself would not have given the groundskeeper a moment’s thought at school and it’s not likely he ever met or spoke to Hagrid. Draco tattled about Norbert, but Hagrid didn’t get into trouble for that, Draco was punished for it, and he admitted he’d have had to get rid of the dragon eventually anyway. We know the Malfoys don’t like Dumbledore, which is enough to trigger Hagrid into disproportionate rage, but nor do plenty of other people and this seems oddly personal.
The Grangers are apparently literally shaking with fright. I can understand them being taken aback, since as I’ve just pointed out you don’t really see fights very often in the Muggle world, and it can’t be fun to realise that the idiot who’s been patronising them for the past few hours is a violent thug, but I’m not sure they’d be utterly terrified either. It would be interesting to see them discuss it with Hermione afterwards. [It does make a lot more sense if we interpret this as them being afraid of the kind of people they’ve just realised they’ve fallen in with.] True, and more specifically afraid of the kind of people their daughter is apparently friends with…
Molly is continuing in her stereotype of angry shrew, and is mostly concerned with what Lockhart must have thought. You know, that’s an interesting point – you’d think that photographer would have jumped at the chance to take a few photos of a Ministry official and a well-known member of the community having a punchup in a shop, wouldn’t you. Especially since according to Fred, Lockhart was eager to use the fight as publicity. It’s still rather bad taste to be lecturing your husband about making the family look bad in front of your crush, though. I remember their relationship being better than this.
The chapter fizzles out rather abruptly over the next paragraph as everyone meekly goes home and Harry tells us he doesn’t like travelling by Floo powder. Apparently that’s the only thing he absorbed from this entire day.
From a storytelling point of view, this entire chapter is a little strange. Its purpose is to introduce Lockhart, to let the readers know he’s a publicity-hungry egomaniac, and to let Lucius come into contact with Ginny. The brawl part wasn’t needed for that, but we’ve seen Rowling default to a fight several times before when she doesn’t know how to end a conversation and she’ll do so again. Maybe the issue is how her brain works and she really does think people act like this? I’d question the company she keeps, in that case.
I haven’t been doing rewrites as we go along this time – I don’t know if it’ll be possible to do one at the end of the book; this one may be beyond saving – but it wouldn’t be hard to fix this specific part. Have the kids attend the book signing precisely so Harry can try to use his fame to blag some free books for his friends, and have the Malfoys briefly sneer at them afterwards. It makes the celebrity thing less obnoxious, it makes our hero look like a decent person, it tells us everything we need to know about Lockhart and gives Lucius the chance to pass on the plot coupon. (If we were trying to save the entire book that would need to be rewritten or scrapped, but for the purposes of this chapter, sure, why not.) Nothing else in this chapter is necessary and most of it is terrible.
Next time, things manage to get several orders of magnitude stupider, despite the already high bar that’s been set. We do also get one of my favourite scenes in the entire series, though. And hopefully it won’t take us a month to get to it.