The Whomping Willow

chapter five of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Harry heads to Kings Cross with the Weasleys, but when he and Ron discover they can’t get to Platform 9 3/4, they fly the car to Hogwarts instead. The car dies, though, and after a crash landing, they get into serious trouble.

Hogwarts at Sunset, by Gnatkip

Silhouetted on the dark horizon, high on the cliff over the lake, stood the many turrets and towers of Hogwarts castle.

(by Gnatkip)


by Loleia

With an earsplitting bang of metal on wood, they hit the thick tree trunk and dropped to the ground with a heavy jolt.

(by Loleia)


The Whomping Willow, by NicoPony

The car, however, had reached the end of its tether. With two sharp clunks, the doors flew open and Harry felt his seat tip sideways….


Where's Snape, by Vizen

“Or maybe,” said a very cold voice right behind them, “he’s waiting to hear why you two didn’t arrive on the school train.”

(by Vizen)


about the chapter


I know they’re twelve and not thinking through the ramifications. But Harry and Ron’s stupidity in this chapter drives me crazy, and watching them needlessly get themselves into so much trouble has always made this one of the hardest chapters for me to get through (in fact, I’ve been known to skip it on occasion). It’s a classic “both very brave and very stupid” moment for both of them, and also a classic example of why they should never be allowed out of the house without Hermione in tow. ;)

The Wizarding World

The speed with which the Evening Prophet is published is rather astonishing. After all, there’s a reference in Snape’s article to a Muggle in Peebles spotting the flying car – and Peebles is in Scotland. There’s no way it took more than a couple of hours for Harry and Ron to get from Peebles to Hogwarts, and in that time the Muggle reported it to police; wizards found out; the story was written; the newspaper was printed; and copies of the newspaper were delivered to Hogwarts.

Of course, Harry and Ron were also following the school train, and it took them longer to crash and walk up a hill to the Great Hall than it took hundreds of students to unload, take carriages and boats up to the school, sit for the feast, and begin the Sorting.

Maybe Harry and Ron just had to walk up a very large hill.

Life at Hogwarts

It’s hard to imagine there are very many students that would inspire Snape, McGonagall, and Dumbledore to all leave the welcoming feast at once. It seems the teachers probably had some very tense moments wondering what happened to Harry and Ron, especially when you consider that Snape was skipping the feast altogether before they even arrived. But no, Harry Potter wasn’t attacked by Voldemort; he was just busy being dumb.

The Boy Who Lived

Harry is so jealous of Ron for living at the Burrow, which is funny since it’s pretty clear that Ron is equally jealous of Harry for almost exactly the same reason. Because while Harry looks at the Burrow and sees a loving family and a warm, inviting house, Ron sees mostly its small size and lack of things like space and servants that would indicate wealth and status. This difference in worldview is one that the best friends will have, to varying extents, for many years.

The Final Word

“The Flying Ford Anglia was based on a real car driven by Seán Harris, the first of my friends to learn to drive. We were at school together. At the time I lived in the middle of nowhere and had to rely on my parents for transport. Sometimes Seán would come for me in his car. The sight of that car meant freedom to me…my heart still leaps whenever I see a Ford Anglia! That’s why, when I thought of Ron’s flying car, I immediately pictured a Ford Anglia.”–J.K. Rowling, November 2001.
(Chamber of Secrets is dedicated to Seán, who Rowling has said was an inspiration for the character of Ron Weasley. The inscription reads, “For Seán P.F. Harris, getaway driver and foul-weather friend.”)

29 Responses to “The Whomping Willow”

  1. Concerning “about the chapter” of Chapter 3 – the size of the car:
    “Harry couldn’t see how eight people, six large trunks, two owls and a rat were going to fit into one small Ford Anglia. He had reckoned, of course, without the special features which Mr Weasley had added.”
    which Mr Weasley had added… Maybe he had added them AFTER the boys flew the car?

  2. Yes, that makes sense except when Fred, George, and Ron rescued Harry, Harry didn’t have 6 trunks, 2 owls, and an additional 4 people.
    Since Harry was carrying much less luggage and persons, his trunk, Hedwig’s cage, and the boys would all have fit into a normal, non-magical car. I understand his reasoning.

  3. Although it was the stupidest thing they could have done, I found the chapter one my favorites for imagery since I remember doing the same sort of stupid things when I was a kid and the exhiliration of a flying car just outclasses all of those memories :)

  4. Interesting story behind the Ford Anglia.
    And I completely agree that Ron and Harry shouldn’t be allowed out of the house without Hermione!

  5. I want to know Hermiones side of the story in this chapter She’s on the train alone, no idea whats happened to Ron and Harry and probably worring herself sick. What does she do?

  6. Soraya, I’ve always wondered that too.

  7. When Snape confronts Harry & Ron about driving the flying car to Hogwarts, the text states: “This wasn’t the first time that Snape had given Harry the impression of being able to read minds.” Harry then notices the amazingly current edition of the Evening Prophet, and realizes that this is how Snape found out about their adventure. Of course, what Harry doesn’t know is that Snape is an accomplished Legilimens and IS able to read minds. He was closer to the truth than he knows.

    Like others, I’ve also always wanted to know what was happening to everyone else in this chapter… What were Hermione and the other Weasley children thinking during their trip on the train? Were Mr & Mrs Weasley able to get back through the barrier right away? Was anyone trying to locate the boys?

  8. Re:Andrea, I think they probably Apparated out

  9. Re: Andrea and Potter, But certainly the Weasley’s would have wanted to get the car home… so did they wander around the parking lot looking for their car? Seeing the two of them standing before an empty parking space would make a good off-camera sketch…

  10. @Soraya – often Hermione is not merely Harry and Ron’s friend – she’s like their single mum!

  11. I agree. Ron and Harry should not be allowed out without Hermione or a grown up.

  12. yes yes, of course this whole situation would have been avoided if level-headed hermione were there with her logic to tell them that the most reasonable thing to do would be to send an owl to dumbledore or wait for the weasleys to come find out why the boys hadn’t made it thru the barrier, but if Hermione (or an adult) were with them all the time, there would be so many things they would be kept from accomplishing! At least in the beginning, Hermione wants to stop the boys from doing many things that they needed to do.

    I dunno, just saying.

  13. Harry and Ron are very silly in this chapter, but to tell the truth the owl option is one of those things you generally tend to think of after it’s too late. People in situations where they have to spontaneously think of a solution to a problem very often tend to go with the first one they think of that’ll work, rather than weighing up all their options and then going with the best one. Plus they’re fun-loving boys. So Harry says the most obvious thing which is to go and wait in a place where the adults will find them (which is what kids are taught to do when they’re lost), the word ‘car’ triggers off the idea of flying it in Ron’s head, their minds immediately take to the idea (Harry is described as feeling immediately excited and Ron seems keen to show off to his friend his ability to fly the car) and after quickly establishing that it would work they run straight off and do it. I’m actually more surprised that they didn’t think of the owl option while they were up in the air and mulling the situation over. I think it’s endearing actually, especially considering how much more serious they both become as they get older, how naive and fun-loving they are here.

  14. I’m enjoying reading these comments and seeing the stunning pictures. Concerning the stupidity of Ron and Harry, it occurred to me (after reading a particular line in a fanfic), Dobby has been stealing Harry’s mail throughout the beginning of the book, so why on earth would Harry even think to use this unreliable method of messaging to contact the teachers (A letter which probably wouldn’t arrive). Due to Dobby flying the car would actually seem more reliable. Secondly, whose to say the Weasley parents would walk back out of the archway when its been closed? Wouldn’t they just apparate somewhere quiet outside completly bypassing the inside of Kings Cross and this would be something that Ron would realize. Or perhaps I’m thinking to much into it

  15. An interesting tendency, I have noticed, is that when Harry does something, that is “both very brave and very stupid”, it proves useful in the longer perspective. In this case if Harry and Ron would have taken the train (or found another way) to Hogwarts, the car wouldn’t have gotten into the forbidden forest and they couldn’t have used it later that year to escape from the acromantulas. So stealing the car was indeed a very silly thing to to, but it saved their lives (in a way) and it wouldnt’t have happened, if Hermione would have been with them. In conclusion: Sometimes it’s good not to have the “voice of reason” with, sometimes mistakes have to be made. I think this is what the whole series is about (among ather things).

  16. Harry was being stupid. I still think it was a little harsh for the way he’s described in this chapter. Hilarious, though, that it would make someone avoid it for that reason:)

    The picture of Vizen is absolutely gorgeous! I love that Ron’s hair looks like fire and how Snape is drawn…beautiful.

    One of my favorite parts in this book, aside from Snape’s delight when he walks in with Dumbledore is when the Ford throws out Harry after its had enough and…flashes its lights at Ron and Harry when it drives off into the distance:)

  17. Mickey: hilarious:)

  18. a few things came up while rereading this chapter:
    ginny almost left her diary at home. imagine what the rest of the story this year and in subsequent years would have been like if she left what ended up leaving a horcrux at the burrow? of course, she probably would have written molly and would have had it sent to her right away, but still.
    another thing i wonder is that last year and this year, the weasleys and harry are running late for the hogwarts express. how come there are no other families rushing to the barrier at the same time? harry would have by now noticed other wizarding famiies which are quite obivious with their clothing and trunks. so do they take different shifts or are there other gateways. since the children come from all over britain, it would be a pain to go to london and the train station should be much busier than that (and the muggles might let on).
    the last thing i don’t quite understand, and thats how long the journey takes to get to hogwarts. i’m from the US so my geography of england and scotland is very limited. but if the train leaves at 11 and takes ‘several uneventful hours’, ‘hours later still’ and ‘a little while later’ for them to finally reach the castle. i don’t know how long a train ride from london to what i would assume is the more northern part of scotland takes, without of course factoring in magic. i wonder when the feast actually takes place. if you guys have any input in this i would love to know. i’m just really curious.

  19. kayno: A quick search of transport in the UK says that a train journey from London to Inverness (in theScottish Highlands) takes 9 hrs, 55 min. So it seems the feast occurs late…at about 9:00 pm. Which would fit, because the sun needs to be down (Hagrid meeting the train with a lantern). In July, sunset in Inverness is 9 or 10 pm.

  20. thank you mary d. that’s a really late feast to have to look forward to. at least they get the snack cart on the train ride.

  21. Josie, you mentioned the speed of the Evening Prophet being slightly suspicious. Peebles is on the Scottish borders, so for the car to reach Hogwarts (which is probably in the very north of Scotland), that would take another hour or so. As for the time difference of Harry and Ron reaching the castle, in the Half Blood Prince, Harry appreciates how far Hogwarts is from Hogsmeade, and while landing in the school grounds itself, it would probably take a while for them to make their way up to the castle – as well as being hit by the tree, which would probably take a while.
    One thing I have thought of as well is that the Ministry probably has wizards in the Muggle police, especially in Scotland where Hogwarts is located, so the Prophet may have received this information from the insider.
    Please correct me if I’m wrong.

  22. @ kayno – You bring up some great points!

    It’s quite a telling moment isn’t it when Ginny “shrieked” that she left the diary at home. She must have been quite panicked about it, because I know my parents likely wouldn’t have turned the car around to retrieve a diary (especially, as you say, when Molly oculd have easily sent it to her at school!). It’s also scary to think that the piece of Tom Riddle in the diary must have already gained a hold on her… and that her initial discovery of what lay in the diary happened at the Burrow before school even started. I can just picture Ginny now, pouring out her heart in the diary, and writing about Harry (the boy she adores) being in her house!

    And I also have always wondered why so many students board Hogwarts Express at London. Surely, wizarding families live all over Britain, and you would think some students would board at different stops or for some it would make better geographical sense to take their children to school directly.

  23. Kayno, the Hogwarts Express arrives at Hogsmeade “just as the sun is setting.” The sun takes about an hour to set at that latitude, but on 1 September it is fully set at 8:10pm. I take this to mean that the train arrives at Hogsmeade around 7pm, but it is more like 8pm by the time everyone is seated at table at Hogwarts, and perhaps 8:30pm by the time the Sorting is over and the food arrives.

    In other words, the journey from London takes about eight hours. In this time it covers a distance of about 375 miles as the crow flies, but perhaps closer to 400 miles if we allow for a realistic railway track. So the train must be travelling at about 50mph. This would have been well within the capacity of a Muggle loco by the year 1870 (although Queen Victoria forbade her drivers to go faster than 40mph). I imagine that a magical train would not be any slower than its Muggle counterpart, so the Hogwarts Express must have been designed before 1870, and possibly as early as 1825, around the time when steam rail first became common.

  24. I also always wonder who else is doing what in this chapter. Hermione must have been frantic, asking everyone she could if they’ve seen her friends. I also wonder what Dumbldedore is thinking when Harry and Ron don’t show up. He must be quite worried as well. Hagrid doesn’t seem to care so much, drinking merrily (although perhaps that’s why he’s drinking so much?). And I can just see the Weasleys wandering around trying to remember where they parked the car like a couple of Muggles! Maybe that’s another reason why Molly was so angry? ;]

  25. @Andrea I wondered that too. What if a child lives in Scotland? Would they have to travel all the way down to London just to come back?

  26. @ Andrea and Amy:

    I wonder if it slipped Rowling’s attention because she always has Harry go to King’s Cross Platform 9 3/4 from a location in southern England. The Dursleys’ home, in Surrey, in the first book, the Weasleys’ home (which we know is in southern England), in the second, fourth, and sixth books, Diagon Alley (in London) in the third book, and 12 Grimmauld Place (also in London) in the fifth book.

    Maybe if Rowling had given Harry a summer holiday in northern England or Scotland, she’d have spotted that problem.

  27. It’s interesting with the Hogwarts Express and the problems it presents… but I’m thinking distances doesn’t present that much of a problem for wizards as for us Muggles :) I mean, isn’t it possible that parents take their children to the Express by Apparation as well? I know it’s dangerous, but it’s possible, just as Port-Keys or Floo powder. I can just imagine there being a couple of fireplaces at Platform 9 3/4, allowing children and their parents to come to the Express. I think the question is which travel form is the best when you bring luggage with you. Maybe there’s even other travel forms in the Wizarding world that we don’t know of.
    Btw, I’m sorry about misspellings in this message, I’m just now re-reading the books in English and I’m not quite farmiliar with what everything’s called/spelled like in English yet…

  28. There wouldn’t even be a story if Ginny had indeed left the diary. The Chamber of Secrets wouldn’t have been opened, the basilisk wouldn’t be killed, and most importantly, the diary as a Horcrux wouldn’t be destroyed. Dumbledore wouldn’t even have known about Voldemort’s search for Horcruxes if it weren’t for the diary. Come to think of it, Ginny could have written to her Mom to send her the diary, in case she did leave it behind. Oh well. :)

    The “small mousy-haired boy” called during the sorting ceremony couldn’t have been Colin Creevey, could it? :)

    Regarding the Evening Prophet, I rather thought that the newspaper was updating itself magically, much like the book Hermione used to read about Nicolas Flamel on PS. What do you guys think?

  29. Regarding the question of traveling from Kings Cross – I always assumed that children from wizarding families, for the most part, apparated directly onto the platform unless they had too many children. In the DH epilogue, we do see Ron and Hermione arriving by car, but the wizarding world is a very different place by that point.

    For example, I have a hard time imagining Lucius and Narcissa loading Draco’s things into a car and driving two hours to the station (we know Malfoy manor is somewhere in Wiltshire, which is roughly two hours outside London). And anti-Muggle prejudice in the wizarding world runs much deeper than just the Malfoys at this point.

    I think its safe to assume that parents apparate their children in or, in the case of Muggleborns from the north or from Wales, maybe they Floo to the station from home?

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