Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone | 2 The Vanishing Glass

by Glenn on January 12, 2022

Chapter 2 “The Vanishing Glass” in which we learn a now 10-year-old Harry has special powers. Things happen that are hard to explain, like his hair always being a mess, even after someone tries to cut it or Harry having special abilities to escape trouble. At a zoo, Harry (we assume though it isn’t stated explicitly—but assumed implicitly by Harry’s uncle) causes a protective glass to disappear in front of a snake cage. 

*   *   *

It’s ten years later. Privet Drive hasn’t changed. But based on the photos on the mantelpiece, we know time has passed. Dudley has grown into a big boy. There is this telling line: “The [living] room held no sign at all that another boy lived in the house, too.” [18]

The scene opens with Aunt Petunia yelling at Harry to get up. Harry sleeps in a cupboard under the stairs. There are spiders, but Harry is used to them. Harry is trying to remember a dream of a flying motorcycle, connecting this chapter with the last (and first). It’s Dudley’s birthday and Harry is supposed to help with the cooking to make it “perfect.” [19]

Harry is a counterpoint to Dudley. Where Dudley is fat and hated exercise, Harry is skinny, small, and very fast. In fact, he needs to be fast to escape from Dudley.

Harry also has a scar on his forehead. The first question Harry can remember asking his Aunt Petunia is how he had gotten the scar. Aunt Petunia said it was in a car crash, where Harry’s parents died. We don’t know the full truth at this point about what happened to Harry’s parents, but we know there is a contradiction between how things are and how they are spoken of.

Like in the first chapter, there is a friendly and funny comment from our narrator: “Aunt Petunia often said that Dudley looked like a baby angel—Harry often said that Dudley looked like a pig in a wig.” [21]

Dudley is totally spoiled. He’s being given 36 presents for his birthday, but that is a problem because this is two less than he was given the previous year. But there is a present from Aunt Marge unaccounted for and Aunt Petunia explains she will buy two more presents. He’ll have one more than he did last year. It feels like the Dursleys are living with a bit of a terrorist.

Aside: The mention of Aunt Marge is great. We won’t (if I recall correctly) meet her until the next book, but it’s clear that J.K. Rowling has thought through this world.

A tradition in the Dursley household is that on Dudley’s birthday, the family goes out for the day. In the past, they left Harry with a neighbor, Mrs. Figg, but Mrs. Figg called to say she had a broken leg and couldn’t take care of Harry, which was good news for Harry who didn’t like being at her house. (A bit of a cat lady.) Harry thought this might mean a day in control of the television remote but Mr. Dursley doesn’t trust Harry at home by himself.

The Dursley home is a sad one for Harry who often spoke of him “as though he wasn’t there or rather, as though he was something very nasty that couldn’t understand them, like a slug.” [22] It turned out to be Harry’s lucky day. He got to go to the zoo with the Dursleys and Dudley’s friend Piers Polkiss. The Dursley’s didn’t know what else to do with Harry.

Uncle Vernon pulled Harry aside to warn him about “any funny business,” with the threat of having to stay “in that cupboard from now until Christmas.” [24] Harry insisted that he wouldn’t do anything “But Uncle Vernon didn’t believe him. No one ever did.” [24] Why not? The narrator explains, “The problem was, strange things often happened around Harry and it was just no good telling the Dursleys he didn’t make them happen.” [24]

Unexplained things do happen around Harry. And they would again at the zoo.

On the way to the zoo, Harry brings up this dream he had had the previous night about a flying motorcycle and which earned him an angry rebuke from his uncle who yelled, “MOTORCYCLES DON’T FLY!” [25]

Things go well at first. It’s a great day for Harry. But then they all went to the reptile house. Dudley asks his father to try to make a python move. Dudley pounds on the glass. Then he gets bored and moves away. Harry goes up to the glass and the snake winks at Harry. Then Harry has a conversation with the snake. Dudley sees this, comes over, pushes Harry to the floor. Suddenly the glass disappears and the snake slithered away, thanking Harry. Note: this scene is handled really well in the film, perhaps the one scene that is actually better on screen than the page.

There’s a key and beautifully done paragraph beginning on page 29:

“[Harry]’d lived with the Dursleys almost ten years, ten miserable years, as long as he could remember, ever since he’d been a baby and his parents had died in that car crash. [This is a great bit of narrating because we get Harry’s understanding even though we as the reader know there’s more than this going on. We know Harry has been told and believes a lie.] He couldn’t remember being in the car when his parents had died. [Harry is questioning the truth of what he has been told.] Sometimes, when he strained his memory during long hours in his cupboard, he came up with a strange vision: a blinding flash of green light and a burning pain on his forehead. This, he supposed, was the crash, though he couldn’t imagine where all the green light came from. [And then just to establish how difficult all of this is for Harry . . .] He / couldn’t remember his parents at all. His aunt and uncle never spoke about them, and of course he was forbidden to ask questions. There were no photographs of them in the house.” [29–30]

The chapter finishes with some other thoughts Harry has. He has a dream of being taken away by an unknown relation. Foreshadowing, although it won’t be a relation. It will be by someone who loves him dearly. Harry also has this idea “that strangers in the street seemed to know him.” [30] The strangers either disappear or his Aunt Petunia hustles him away before he can ask questions. Things are pretty bleak.