Prophetic dreams are a funny thing, when you think about them. Sometimes they’re indicative of a connection between your curse scar and the Dark Tosser that put it there. Sometimes they’re a warning of impending doom arriving at the Hellmouth. Me, I have this completely useless bit of psychic ability that gives me dreams of future events, except they’re of boring conversations that aren’t anything that I can actually do anything about because they’re usually about meals eaten or the weather. But! It’s word-for-word the same conversation with the same people in the same clothing in the same surroundings as was in my dream weeks, months, or even years ago, and nobody ever believes me except for my baby sister who has the same thing; even my wife says it’s just my brain tricking itself into thinking it remembers the dream when it happens and it’s really frustrating trying to explain it.
So we were talking about curse scars.
The definition of family is one that is continually tested, and varying interpretations amass. One of the prevailing concepts is “The Family You Choose”. It’s been done on Buffy, which trumps any other examples I can think of because – let’s face it – Buffy. It’s something that J.K. Rowling plays with herself; blood ties are ancient magic, but time and time again Harry learns that someone doesn’t have to be kin to be family.
(I’m partial to the term kith and krannt, myself. Five days ago was N7 Day, did you celebrate?)
(It’s interesting to note that the maxim is actually “The blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb“, which just goes to show that a simple omission can change the very nature of pretty much everything.)
Family, to Harry, is most certainly not the Dursleys. As Ashley pointed out on Friday, when Harry is looking for a parental figure to talk to about his curse scar, his mind goes towards Dumbledore and Sirius first, and Vernon or Petunia never. He’s not quite at the point yet where Molly and Arthur make that list – but we’ll get to that another day.
In any case, the following two chapters are a lead-in to one of the greatest dichotomies in the books, and one of my favorite plot devices ever – the worlds colliding.
CHAPTER THREE: THE INVITATION
One of the things about being back with the Dursleys is that you get to see, in just a few chapters, how they’ve developed over the past year. Not much, usually – we’re supposed to dislike them, after all – but despite being shallow people, the Dursleys aren’t shallow characters.
Vernon is boisterous and rude, but he does care about his family (even if he barely accepts Harry as part of it). Over the course of the books, you really see him struggle with trying to understand the foolishness of the Potter side while simultaneously detesting it and wanting nothing to do with it.
Petunia has a great deal of depth to her, even before we get to some of the more interesting flashbacks in future books, because as fed up as she gets with Harry, she’s always the one who actually takes care of him. She prepares his clothes, makes his food, and let’s not forget that glasses are still pretty expensive, so I’m almost positive that she was the one who scheduled his doctor’s appointments and took care of his prescriptions.
Dudley… we’ll get to Dudley in the future. But before we can see his personal growth, the Dursleys have to deal with his physical growth. And while the Dursleys turned a blind eye towards Dudley, preferring to give him everything he wants to differentiate him from the other one, the Smeltings school nurse managed to break through their short-sighted self-delusion with some choice phrases1.
I actually feel really bad for Dudley sometimes. His parents gave him no limits or rules, so how was he supposed to learn? Now he needs to lose weight, so everyone in the house has to eat grapefruit, cottage cheese, and celery, which actually sounds like a pretty good breakfast to me, so I don’t know what they’re complaining about.
Of course, the only way to actually get Dudley to go along with this is to continue to give him more than Harry2, which continues to prove that bigotry, classism, and entitlement A: is something that everyone deals with, wizard3 and muggle alike and B: begins at home.
Just as Harry is wondering when to duck out and break into his greasy, sugary, fatty care packages, Uncle Vernon gets called to the door for a letter from Mrs. Weasley.
I don’t know if anyone else finds this specific scenario as funny as I do, but I absolutely love when Vernon’s bigotry wars with his curiosity. You can see him approaching critical mass as he’s trying to make sense of Molly’s letter, and he delays responding by asking Harry questions about certain things. It’s as if he can’t decide what’s more offensive to him, these magical words or the fact that he can’t understand what they mean. J.K.’s humor can be (and often is) a lot more overt, but this is just my favorite example of the more subtle situational humor that I honestly think she put in because it made her laugh. See also: Order of the Phoenix, after Harry brings Dudley home.
And then, of course, there’s this:
“Dumpy sort of woman?” he growled finally. “Load of children with red hair?”
Harry frowned. He thought it was a bit rich of Uncle Vernon to call anyone “dumpy,” when his own son, Dudley, had finally achieved what he’d been threatening to do since the age of three, and become wider than he was tall.
Harry then continues to fill the Sass-O-Meter4 by casually dropping the S-bomb in the conversation, because nothing says blackmailing your legal guardians into letting you have fun like threatening to complain to your convicted felon godfather. Which makes me wonder how many times that summer he actually used that particular conversational tactic – it couldn’t have been that many, since Harry didn’t use it to get out of the diet. I theorize once, maybe twice total.
Of course, he probably didn’t even need to right then, since Ron sends a followup to say that they’ll be coming to get him regardless of what the Dursleys say. Which brings me into one of my favorite transitions ever.
CHAPTER FOUR: BACK TO THE BURROW
This chapter really ties into the following one – which you’ll get to on Wednesday – as the transition between Harry’s blood kin and his true family. We’ve already seen the Weasleys go from those helpful people that got Harry onto the train to his closest friends (I’ve already discussed how Harry and the Twins bonded almost immediately, a friendship that only strengthens as it goes), but it’s here – this chapter and the following one – that the bond truly shapes itself into something more.
Of course Harry’s going to spend the rest of the summer at the Burrow. By now, Arthur and Molly are not only expecting it but have taken over the planning. If Harry’s going to be there, there’s no reason he should be stolen from a locked bedroom by a flying car tearing apart half a house to get to him or that they should be instructed to look after him by the Minister of Magic himself. Instead, it’s a polite letter and an arrangement to peacefully remove Harry —
“Ouch! Fred, no – go back, go back, there’s been some kind of mistake – tell George not to – OUCH! George, no, there’s no room, go back quickly and tell Ron –”
“Maybe Harry can hear us, Dad – maybe he’ll be able to let us out –”
There was a loud hammering of fists on the boards behind the electric fire.
A polite letter and an arrangement to peacefully remove Harry —
To peacefully remove Harry —
… So we were talking about families.
The Dursleys rally themselves at this point because Dudley hasn’t quite learned that self-gratification and entitlement should be overridden by a healthy sense of self-preservation (well-cultivated by now from the last time he dealt with a wizard). And so he finds himself in his own personal gom jabbar. Vernon takes this as an attack (which to be fair, it is). The Weasleys are no longer welcome in his home, and he makes this known in the most obvious fashion he can. Harry escapes through the fire under the cover of Arthur’s defensive spells, and the rest of the family follows.
In all honesty, this chapter primarily serves as a transition to get us to the next one, and everything that I’d really like to say about that will have to wait until A: the comments of that post, B: December 16th when I get to revisit the concept of Harry’s family at the end of this book, or C: both. It also serves to set up the candies, which will play a relatively substantial role over the course of these next two books.
So I’d like to break from protocol ask you a question, readers. What do you like the most about magical methods of transportation, and which would you prefer to use on a regular basis?
- I am apparently contractually obligated to include the following, which completely throws off my normal rhythm because WHO IS WRITING THIS POST ANYWAY ASHLEY:
The school nurse had seen what Aunt Petunia’s eyes – so sharp when it came to spotting fingerprints on her gleaming walls, and in observing the comings and goings of the neighbors – simply refused to see: that far from needing extra nourishment, Dudley had reached roughly the size and weight of a young killer whale.
- Harry manages to sidestep the inherent unfairness of a caste-based society by appealing to his friends, which is really a microcosm of Harry Potter’s entire life if you think about it.
- We actually see later in the book that casual racism isn’t just for “bad guys”, which I’ve mentioned in the comments before and probably will again when we get to it. But I don’t want to step on anyone’s toes for chapters that are not mine.