"Sure, this is legal."

“Sure, this is legal.”

“Not for the first time, an argument had broken out over breakfast at number four, Privet Drive.”

There’s no question that Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is the most well-known of the heptology, and one of the most famous and well-thumbed books in the world. Had the book not sold, I daresay that maybe it would have disappeared in a puff of smoke and we’d never have even seen one more book. Fortunately, that never happened and just a year after Harry had survived his second fight with Voldemort in eleven years, he was back, armed with new characters, new excitement and a brand new story.

In this one, as I’m sure you know, Harry is visited in his Muggle home by a house elf called Dobby. In between self-inflicted beatings, Dobby tells Harry that he mustn’t return to Hogwarts or he will die there. Harry, disbelieving and angry, says that he’s going back anyway, which still seems to be on the cards until the Dursleys lock him in his room for ruining a dinner party and he’s only saved by the arrival of his best friend Ron Weasley in a flying Ford Anglia.

He spends the rest of his summer at the Weasley’s tumbledown house The Burrow before returning to Hogwarts in September, having to do so by means of the Ford Anglia when the barrier at King’s Cross Station doesn’t let them through. The school year begins but everything is quickly thrown into turmoil when it turns out the new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher is an insufferable egotist, Harry’s ability to talk to snakes is revealed, Hermione has decided that breaking rules can be fun after all, and there’s a party to attend hosted by a ghost. Oh yeah, and something is sneaking around the castle leaving threatening messages on the walls and petrifying students.

Just one book in and the style has already changed. Rowling has found her feet, done away with many of the more Dahl-esque flourishes (not that I dislike them) and already there’s a far more adult feel here – no time spent introducing sweets with silly names or wand flourishes in Charms class. We still have somewhat silly inclusions like the Weasley’s penchant for pranks and fireworks, the Whomping Willow, and Moaning Myrtle, but all of those merely foreshadow them being more important and reappearing in bigger roles further down the line. Dobby is displayed often as a prominent character in this book, but appears in just three scenes, and Harry seems to forget about him a lot in the intervening pages, despite his clear cut threat at the beginning.

The real show-stealer though, as I’m sure he’d enjoy, is Gilderoy Lockhart, an absolute arse of a man who needs a slap round the face from the Giant Squid. Reputedly the only character that Rowling based entirely off someone she knew, he is a caricature of everything that is wrong with the celebrity industry, a man who is so blinded by his own sense of brilliance and self-worth that he cannot see that the majority of people cannot stand him. His fall from “grace” is quick and brutal and you almost (almost) feel sorry for him at the end. We’ll see him again (in one of the most unexpected reprises of a character I’ve ever seen in any medium) but I will always mourn his loss a little. He’s dangerous in a more humouros way, unlike the upcoming Umbridge who is pure venom.

As before though, reading this again means you pick up on stuff that you realise still has never been properly explained. So here are my unanswered questions from Chamber of Secrets:

Where are Hedwig and Scabbers in this novel? What caused the Ford Anglia to go from charmed to practically sentient? What happened to Arthur’s Muggle Protection Act? What made Dobby take it upon himself to protect Harry? What’s under the drawing room floor at Malfoy Manor? Why was the Sword of Gryffindor up the Sorting Hat? How the hell did Lockhart get the job? Who catered the Deathday Party? How do ghosts manage to communicate by letter? How able are the ghosts to interact with the corporeal world; they float through people, but apparently create physical splashes in toilets and can be pelted with nuts? How the hell did Nearly-Headless Nick get cured of petrification? How was Hagrid raising werewolf cubs under his bed when werewolves are people most of the time? How did the cancelling of exams affect those who should’ve been taking their OWLs and NEWTs? Could Kwikspell actually work?

It’s a speedy read, but it was still surprising how many small details had slipped my memory. Perhaps even more surprising was how much had stayed. Several scenes were very vivid in my head, but maybe that’s the work of the film – it’s a pretty accurate translation. It’s not my favourite of the seven, but it’s still a very fine book. It does the job of setting up a lot that doesn’t seem important for now, but will have colossal implications a few books down the line … on we go.

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