The Vanishing Glass

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Chapter 2 of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone: The Vanishing Glass← Chapter 1 | Chapter 3 →

Synopsis[edit | edit source]

Almost ten years have passed since the Dursleys family took Harry Potter, now nearly 11 years old. Harry has grown into a skinny boy with unruly black hair and green eyes hidden behind round glasses. He also has a lightning-bolt-shaped scar on his forehead which his aunt and uncle attribute to the supposed car crash that killed his parents. The Dursleys' living room is filled with Dudley's photographs, while there are none of Harry, who sleeps in a spidery cupboard under the staircase.

One morning, Aunt Petunia awakens Harry, ordering him to cook breakfast. Today is Dudley's birthday, and everything must be perfect. The kitchen table is loaded with presents. The overweight Dudley is a bully who enjoys punching Harry, though he is rarely able to catch him. Dudley enters the kitchen and is about to throw a tantrum after counting the same amount of presents he received last year. Petunia only narrowly averts the temper by quickly promising to buy Dudley two more gifts that day, bringing the total to 39.

The Dursleys are taking Dudley to the zoo for his birthday, but they learn that Mrs Figg, their cat-obsessed neighbour who usually looks after Harry at her house during such outings, has broken her leg and is unavailable. They discuss what to do with their nephew while Dudley wails that he does not want Harry to come along. However, Dudley's friend, Piers Polkiss, arrives, and the Dursleys are forced to let Harry join the expedition. Uncle Vernon sternly warns Harry that if any "funny business" occurs, he will be in the cupboard until Christmas — strange things seem to happen around Harry, and the Dursleys refuse to believe he did not cause them.

Uncle Vernon becomes angry when Harry mentions dreaming about a flying motorcycle during their drive to the zoo. The trip goes well at first, and Harry even gets some ice cream. Harry has a conversation with a large boa constrictor in the reptile house. When Dudley pushes Harry aside so he can see the snake's strange behaviour, the glass enclosing the snake exhibit vanishes. The snake slithers out, thanking Harry and saying it will go to its natural environment in Brazil.

In the car, Dudley and Piers greatly exaggerate their snake encounter, claiming it attacked them. Back home, a furious Uncle Vernon sends Harry to his cupboard, saying he will not be allowed any meals for a week. As Harry lies inside, thinking, he remembers faint images of a flashing green light and pain in his forehead. He also recalls how, occasionally, when he is out with the Dursleys, odd-looking people seem to recognise him.

Analysis[edit | edit source]

It is immediately apparent that Harry is unlike other boys, a fact that is not only known by Vernon and Petunia but one they are uncomfortable with. The abusive Dursleys have treated him as little more than a slave, showing him no affection or even the slightest respect. Despite this ill-treatment, however, Harry is neither timid nor bitter and is generally cheerful and kind, unlike his cousin Dudley, who is being shaped into a cruel, egotistical bully by his parents' overindulgence, and whose name reflects his personality (a dud). Harry's early traits show the admirable attributes vital to his destiny.

Harry's magical talents are seen burgeoning here, as he makes the glass partition at the zoo disappear and converses with the snake (the latter is explained more fully in this book's sequel, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets). The author has said that this uncontrolled magical ability is normal for wizard children who are still unable to control their powers. Like other Muggle-raised wizard children, Harry knows nothing about these talents, likely making their effect even more disturbing and potentially harmful to those around them. Strangely, Harry hardly seems frightened by these bizarre incidents and only casually questions them. This suggests that he innately accepts magic and perhaps has an unconscious awareness about his true wizard nature. His enforced isolation from the wizarding world and much of the muggle world also gives him little reference for what is considered "normal".

Harry has also started experiencing residual memories about his parents' deaths, though he was told they were killed in a car crash. The flying motorcycle in his dream is the one Hagrid used to transport him to the Dursleys, and the green flash he recalls, though as yet unexplained, is the curse Voldemort cast to kill him.

Questions[edit | edit source]

Study questions are meant to be left for each student to answer; please don't answer them here.

Review[edit | edit source]

  1. Why did Dudley pretend to cry before they left to go to the zoo?
  2. Why did Dudley stop his fake crying when his friend arrived?
  3. Why do the Dursleys take Harry with them to the zoo rather than just leave him at home?
  4. What "strange" things tend to happen around Harry?

Further Study[edit | edit source]

  1. Why do you think the Dursleys treat Harry the way they do?
  2. Why do the Dursleys punish Harry for all the strange things that happen?
  3. What do the strange things happening around Harry reveal about his character? What does he think about it?
  4. Why can a snake talk to Harry?
  5. Why would strangers on the street seem to recognize Harry?
  6. Why does Harry dream about a flying motorbike? Why would this make Uncle Vernon angry?

Greater Picture[edit | edit source]

Intermediate warning: Details follow which you may not wish to read at your current level.

The scene with the snake could foreshadow events in the following two chapters. Harry and the snake are both prisoners, cut off from the world they truly belong to: Harry, stuck with the Dursleys, is isolated from the Wizarding world, just as the snake, captive in the zoo, is prevented from living in the Amazon jungle. Also, both have been raised away from their proper homes and lack knowledge about their native worlds. Each, in turn, is released from their prison and heads toward an unknown future, somehow believing that it must be better than what they are leaving behind.

We learn about Harry's ability to speak to snakes, which becomes important in future books. A wizard who can talk to snakes is called a Parselmouth, and the language itself is called Parseltongue. Being Muggle-raised, Harry does not know just how rare this ability is and will be dismayed to learn that it is linked with the descendants of Salazar Slytherin, a wizard who is seen as an originator of the highly prejudiced system of beliefs about Blood purity. It will be a plot point in two later books that Harry is unaware whether he speaks and hears English or Parseltongue.

The speaking with snakes, and the disappearing glass, are only the latest manifestations of Harry's magical background. In this chapter, we have also read about flying to a rooftop to avoid a beating from Dudley's gang, hair that grew back overnight, and a jumper that shrunk impossibly when Aunt Petunia was trying to fit it onto Harry. While it may seem that these early magical signs could trigger Albus Dumbledore's great plan into action, we must recall that Harry is about to turn 11. When magical children turn that age, they are invited to attend Hogwarts, which they begin the September that follows their eleventh birthday. The author has stated that Hogwarts is the only Wizarding school in the United Kingdom. Thus, every magical child can attend when they reach 11. Not all children do; some, like Marvolo Gaunt, who we will meet later in the series, likely would never have entrusted the established school system with their children. Others may attend a school in another country. Draco Malfoy, Harry's future nemesis, mentions that he almost went to Durmstrang, a school hidden somewhere in Eastern Europe.

It should be noted that Harry, in this chapter, produces the same effect as a Vanishing Spell, a spell that isn't taught until the fifth year and does so without a wand. Harry also demonstrates wandless magic in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban when Aunt Marge insults Harry's father. The common factor in these events, along with the earlier manifestations of magic, was that Harry was emotionally charged. From this, it is easy to infer that wandless magic is associated with strong emotional feelings.

As the story progresses, Harry's personal qualities and flaws are continually seen as he matures into a young man. Whereas Harry develops into a well-rounded person, the Dursleys are always depicted as two-dimensional, uncaring, and unpleasant characters whose faults are deliberately exaggerated to contrast Harry's good nature with the worst human attributes.

Although Harry has no idea yet that he possesses magical powers, he is beginning to realize he has some unusual abilities that other children lack. From later conversations Harry has with Muggle-born wizard children, it appears their families were generally unaware the Wizarding world existed until their child was old enough to attend Hogwarts. The parents, who probably realized their child was somehow different, generally are quite shocked upon learning they have a magical offspring. It is unknown why Muggle parents are apparently never told about the magical world before their child's eleventh birthday. At least some Muggle-born magical children may show no overt magical ability until they are older and therefore remain undetected by the Wizarding community. Harry, however, discovers that the Dursleys have always known that he is a wizard and not only deliberately withheld this information but attempted to suppress his magical ability. Harry also learns his parents were wizards and were murdered rather than killed in a car crash as the Dursleys told him. Harry will discover even later that Aunt Petunia knows far more about the Wizarding world than she has ever let on, even to her husband.

Under the pretext of explaining why the Dursleys fear leaving Harry home alone, we learn how he previously used magic before knowing he was a wizard, basically in self-defence. This story contrasts with the tale in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince of how the young boy, Tom Riddle (later known as Lord Voldemort), used his powers to terrorize other children before learning he was a wizard. This comparison between the two characters adds another layer to the good vs. evil theme.

Mrs Figg, who, like many characters in this series, is introduced by name before being seen in person, is the Dursleys' odd neighbour who occasionally watches Harry. Although she appears to be an unlikeable person, she is tied to the wizard world (though she has no magical powers) and works for Professor Dumbledore, helping guard Harry. She is also a member of the Order of the Phoenix, Dumbledore's secret organization that fights Voldemort. Another character, Aunt Marge, Vernon's sister, is also mentioned by name in this chapter. Unlike Mrs Figg, she is very unpleasant, as seen in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, where she has a small but pivotal role in one chapter.

Connections[edit | edit source]