Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
Chapter Five: The Whomping Willow
Harry enjoys every minute of the summer at The Burrow. The night before leaving for Hogwarts, the Weasleys and Harry eat a delicious meal and dessert, set off wizard fireworks, drink a final mug of hot cocoa and finally go to bed. The next morning is pure chaos, with six children preparing their luggage for the year at Hogwarts. Mr. Weasley has enchanted his Ford Anglia so that it will fit all of them plus their luggage and pets comfortably, and after several returns for forgotten items, they finally arrive at King's Cross in time to catch the Hogwarts Express train at platform nine-and-three-quarters. The Hogwarts students arrive at the platform by walking through the wall between platforms nine and ten, and all of the Weasleys successfully do so. When it is time for Harry and Ron to go through the wall, the wall closes up and refuses to let them through. They miss the train, and in a flash of inspiration, they decide to follow the train in Mr. Weasley's flying Ford Anglia.
The ride to Hogwarts is relaxing. The boys skim the clouds, keeping sight of the red Hogwarts train below. Several hours later, night falls and the boys are bored and hungry and wondering how much longer the trip could possibly be. The Anglia runs out of gas and begins to fall toward the Hogwarts lake. Ron and Harry do their best to control it, but still the car engine dies and the car plunges straight into a strange sprawling tree in the Forbidden Forest. The tree is the Whomping Willow, the only tree in the forest that will strike back when struck. Its thick, angry branches wallop the car, Harry, and Ron. The boys manage to collect their things. They flee toward the Hogwarts castle just in time to spy through the windows the great feast and the "Sorting" process, in which first-year students try on the "sorting hat" are selected (through the judgment of the hat) for the four different houses, Gryffindor, Slytherin, Hufflepuff, and Ravenclaw. While the boys observe the professors' table, they wonder at the absence of Professor Severus Snape, the mean and slimy Potions professor, and as they speculate, Snape appears behind them and directs them into his office.
The boys explain their story, but Snape silences them, brandishing in their faces a newspaper article proclaiming that Muggles have noticed a flying car. Snape also reprimands them for damaging the Whomping Willow, an extremely valuable tree. Harry and Ron know that they are in trouble, and that Snape is delighted at the prospect of punishing them. Snape leaves to fetch Albus Dumbledore, the headmaster, and Minerva McGonagall, the head of Gryffindor House, where Harry and Ron live. When these two stern figures arrive, Harry and Ron are lectured further on what they have done, given detentions, and told that they will be permitted to remain at Hogwarts. Snape is severely disappointed by their easy punishment. Professors Dumbledore, Snape, and McGonagall return to the feast, not without leaving Harry and Ron a plate of sandwiches and a jug of pumpkin juice for dinner.
Harry and Ron eat and return to their part of the castle, Gryffindor Tower, through a portrait of a fat lady, to whom they must give a secret password ("wattlebird," a disapproving Hermione informs them). They are greeted in the common room by a delighted crowd, clamoring to hear about their flying arrival. Percy, Ron's brother and a Gryffindor prefect, moves towards them with a scolding look on his face, and Ron and Harry hurry up to their rooms, where they are welcomed as heroes by their awestruck roommates, Seamus Finnigan, Dean Thomas, and Neville Longbottom.
Many of the adventures in the novel entail Harry, Ron, and Hermione sneaking around, finding alternate ways to achieve certain ends. Often, Harry and his friends bravely set out on their own to remedy a situation, and other times, like this one, they are impeded by events beyond their control and forced to be resourceful. Sometimes they are caught (usually by Snape) and other times they are not. In this case, Harry and Ron are not seeking glory or adventure, but rather they simply want a fast and painless way to get back to Hogwarts. Ironically, this is one of the times when they are caught and punished and accused of calling unnecessary attention to themselves. For Harry, this is the ultimate insult; attention is always called to him, simply because of who he is, regardless of whether he wants it or not. But because Harry and Ron both are curious, courageous and resourceful, they tend to be involved in many attention- getting scenarios, sometimes with heroic aims, other times simply to explore, and still other times simply to escape a bad situation. This arrival with a crash is only the first of many times they will be noticed on a large scale.
In this chapter, food plays an important role. At the Dursley house, Harry is vastly underfed, usually given some bread and cheese or a bit of cold soup. Among the cozier and more joyful images during the last night at The Burrow is that of a large meal with Harry's favorite dessert (treacle pudding) and another mug of hot cocoa. In addition to being appreciated and included by the Weasleys, Harry is also well fed, kept healthy. His comfort greatly contrasts the unhappy, unhealthy lifestyle from which Harry escapes. At Hogwarts, right after Harry and Ron have been lectured and punished by the three angry, worried professors, Professor McGonagall conjures a self-refilling plate of sandwiches for the boys to eat alone, before going up to bed. They are punished by being secluded for their meal and given a detention, but never once is food withheld. Even while in dire trouble at Hogwarts, direr than Harry could have mustered at Privet Drive, he is still kept above a certain respectable standard of living. From what we have seen, the punishments of wizards are infinitely more humane than that of regular humans. If we had come to this point of the story with any doubt as to the good intentions of the magical world, they should be dispelled in this chapter.
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