The first five chapters of Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets cover the period of time spanning from Harry’s awful 12th birthday, including his introduction to Dobby, the spoiling of Petunia’s pudding, and his imprisonment in his room, to Ron and Harry’s spectacular arrival at Hogwarts via flying Ford Anglia.
Through our introduction to Dobby, we learn house elves have powerful magic of their own. Dobby is able to apparate and disapparate, even in areas like Hogwarts where apparition and disapparition is impossible for witches and wizards. Dobby’s hover charm lands Harry in trouble with the Ministry because, we later learn, they know where magic has been performed, but not who performed it. Seems to me that houses with a lot of underage wizards, such as the Weasleys, probably get away with a lot more shenanigans than poor Harry could, as it would be difficult to determine who performed the magic, and indeed, it must be left to the parents to supervise. But Harry is the only wizard in Little Whinging, so he is unlikely to catch a break. We learn a great deal more about the Trace later on, but essential it is a charm placed on all underage wizards that alerts the ministry to magic performed in the vicinity of said underage wizard. Harry falls under more scrutiny as he lives with Muggles, and performing underage magic might not only be potentially harmful but might also breach the International Statue of Wizarding Secrecy. However, the Trace does seem to be rather inconsistently applied, and one might say, unfairly applied to Harry in particular, but when the Order of the Phoenix retrieves Harry from Privet Drive, they perform several spells, and the Ministry does not swoop in and clap Harry in the stocks. Hermione says she has tried a few simple spells before getting on the train to Hogwarts, and she seemingly did not get into trouble. Why? Because she didn’t know any better yet? It seems to me that the Trace is, for the most part, rather ineffective at preventing underage wizards who live near other wizards from doing magic. For instance, Tom Riddle murdered his father and grandparents when he was sixteen, but he didn’t he get caught performing underage magic, and his magic was much more harmful than anything Harry ever did, not just to Riddle’s family but to the wider wizarding community who wouldn’t want Muggles to start up another witch hunt. In fact, the biggest breach of the Reasonable Restriction of Underage Sorcery that Harry commits is casting a Patronus charm to save himself and Dudley from a Dementor, and of course, such magic is permitted in life-threatening situations.
At any rate, after Dobby mysteriously is able to leave Malfoy Manor to warn Harry Potter not to go to school and winds up getting Harry in a great deal of trouble both with the Ministry and with Uncle Vernon, Harry is stuck in his room, miserably eating cold soup with Hedwig, when Ron, Fred, and George come to the rescue in Arthur’s flying Ford Anglia. The Weasleys fly Harry to the Burrow, which he describes to Ron as “the best house I’ve ever been in.” The Burrow would continue to be a place of solace and comfort, where Harry would find his real family. I have to agree with Harry. The Burrow is this amazing, madcap place, and the description Rowling gives makes it seem at once incredibly magical (it is most likely held up by magic) and incredibly comfortable. It is one of my favorite places in the novels, and I always enjoy it when Harry visits.
The family goes to Diagon Alley for school supplies, and Harry, who has never used Floo Powder before, doesn’t speak clearly enough and winds up in dodgy Knockturn Alley in time to see Lucius Malfoy unload some illegal-sounding goods on Mr. Borgin at Borgin and Burkes. In this scene, we are introduced to two magical objects that become important in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: the cursed opal necklace and the Vanishing Cabinet. Draco notices the necklace on this trip to Borgin and Burkes, and we know he buys it later and winds up nearly killing Katie Bell with it (albeit in an attempt to kill Dumbledore with it). The sign indicates that the necklace has killed nineteen Muggles. I have always wondered if it was engineered precisely to kill Muggles by a dark wizard with anti-Muggle leanings. The Vanishing Cabinet’s partner is at Hogwarts. It’s not broken yet, but it will be by Halloween when Nearly-Headless Nick convinces Peeves to break it in order to distract Argus Filch from punishing Harry. Presumably, if Harry had wandered too far into the cabinet, he could have found himself at Hogwarts, although, according to the movies, you need to speak an incantation to complete the process. I consider the books, Pottermore, and official word from Rowling to be canon, and so far, there is no reason to believe based on canon that a wizard can’t simply walk into one cabinet and out the other. I have to admit I’m curious who placed the cabinets in their respective locations. Whoever it was, they were clearly up to something. Might even have been Tom Riddle. It would make sense. He worked at Borgin and Burkes, and we know he was desperate to get into Hogwarts to find artifacts to transform into horcruxes.
At Flourish and Blotts, we meet Gilderoy Lockhart, the only character J.K. Rowling confesses she based on a particularly unpleasant individual she knew. I was talking with Southern author Sharyn McCrumb about this character on McCrumb’s Facebook page. She made the comment that she could tell Lockhart was based on a real person, and I replied that Rowling had said so, and McCrumb made an interesting comment to the effect that the description was so spot on—the gender, age, and other particular details may have been changed to hide the real person’s identity better, but the essence of the character was intact and so clear a portrayal of a classic narcissist that McCrumb insisted he must be based on a real person. Facebook doesn’t make it easy to go back and find a particular post, so I can’t recall her exact words. He even retains this narcissistic element of his personality after his memory has been wiped by his own charm, which shows how deeply ingrained a part of him it is.
Another small incident that becomes interesting later: Percy is seen reading a book called Prefects Who Gained Power. Percy is really irritated when Ron teases him about it, and Ron remarks that Percy is very ambitious and would like to be Minister of Magic one day. Later on, when he acts like a complete git and sides with Fudge against his family and Harry, it makes sense because we know he is worried his association with them will hurt his prospects. I don’t think he ever became Minister of Magic, though I can well believe he devoted his career to the Ministry.
Lucius Malfoy also get into a fight over “what disgraces the name of wizard.” I do so love that scene. Pottermore reveals a great deal more about the Malfoy family. The family came to Britain with William the Conqueror, who gave Armand Malfoy the land in Wiltshire where the family still lives. They have historically been a slippery lot, and they often evade punishment for their crimes. Lucius Malfoy, for instance, claimed he had been under the Imperius Curse during Voldemort’s first reign of terror, a claim he would obviously not successfully be able to make the second time. We don’t learn this in the books, but Pottermore says he testified against Voldemort’s other Death Eaters in order to aid in their capture and conviction.
As soon as the Weasleys and Harry arrive, they eat and are put to work de-gnoming the garden, which is a pretty funny scene. Before too long, it is time to go back to school, and Harry discovers the Ford Anglia has been expertly enlarged to accommodate all the luggage and travelers. This charm must be the same charm performed on the tents at the Quidditch World Cup and possibly the same charm cast on Hermione’s beaded handbag in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and on Alastor Moody’s magical trunk in Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire. Hermione calls this charm the Undetectable Extension Charm.
At one point, the crew turns back because Ginny has forgotten her diary, which we later learn is a horcrux created by Voldemort when he murdered his father and grandparents. Ever wonder what would have happened if Arthur had said screw it, we are not going back for that? The horcrux would have been unable to do the damage it did at Hogwarts that year, unleashing the basilisk on the school, but we also may never have discovered that Voldemort made horcruxes, which might have made it impossible to defeat him later.
Pottermore has an interesting article about wizarding notions of Muggle technology. Arthur Weasley, for example, is obviously fascinated by it. However, we learn on Pottermore that wizards have at best a “condescending curiosity” about Muggle technology and at worst, an active disdain for it. Wizards don’t really need technology because they can use spells to do many of the things we need technology to do. Wizards’ aversion to technology is also cultural: using it might make it look like you don’t know how to properly perform spells. I can imagine an old pureblood wizarding family like the Malfoys having a much greater dislike for technology than, say, families mixed with Muggle heritage. Wizards have adapted two pieces of Muggle technology for their use, however: radio and cars. Apparently, there was an attempt to adapt television for wizarding use, but it was seen as too risky by the Ministry, whereas, for whatever reason, Muggles who accidently picked up wizarding communications via radio were seen as less of a threat. Cars were adopted out of practicality. Once Muggles stopped using horses and carts, then it made little sense for wizards to keep using them, unless they really wanted to attract Muggle notice. Over time, they learned to love cars as much as Muggles, but some families still held some disdain for the technology. Sirius Black’s family, for example, abhorred his flying motorcycle.
Once at King’s Cross Station, Ron and Harry are unable to get through the barrier to Platform 9¾. We learn later that Dobby has magically sealed the entrance. On Pottermore, you learn that Ministry of Magic officials are on hand at King’s Cross each year in case the Muggles do notice wizards disappearing onto the platform. It’s a wonder none of them were around when Harry and Ron caused their clamor. I suppose it’s understandable that in a moment of panic, Harry and Ron don’t think to send Hedwig to Hogwarts to explain their predicament. I suppose it stands to reason they might be concerned that Arthur and Molly can’t come through the barrier, but surely they could have apparated out. The moment Harry and Ron decide the only way they can get to Hogwarts is via flying Ford Anglia is the Dream Team at their most clueless. Naturally, they are in big trouble when they get back to school. The Whomping Willow smashes up the car, which ejects them. Snape first refers to the Whomping Willow as a valuable tree, which makes sense. They are probably rare. Later on, he calls it old, which, for a tree, it clearly isn’t. I think the exchange that takes place when he catches Harry and Ron outside the Great Hall is hilarious:
“Maybe he’s ill!” said Ron hopefully.
“Maybe he’s left,” said Harry, “because he missed out on the Defense Against the Dark Arts job again!”
“Or he might have been sacked!”said Ron enthusiastically. “I mean, everyone hates him—”
“Or maybe,” said a very cold voice right behind them, “he’s waiting to hear why you two didn’t arrive on the school train.”
At any rate, all that winds up happening to Harry and Ron is that they miss the feast and receive detention, which results in a Howler for Ron and nothing much for Harry. I imagine Hogwarts probably did talk about their arrival in the flying Ford Anglia for years.