The Vanishing Glass
The Vanishing Glass is the embodiment of everything we’ve seen so far in the first two chapters of Harry Potter. It is a wall, a barrier between this world and the magical world. A world that one can look through, but never sees.
When we meet Harry ten years in the future, he’s living in a cupboard. He is ostracized from the world. We see a clear divide between him and Dudley. Dudley is normal and because of that, he’s rewarded. He’s well fed, given gifts, taken on trips. His parents give him everything. In contrast, Harry is the other. He’s locked away, left at neighbor’s houses, forbidden to display any act that might make it clear to the world that he is different. Dudley and his friends beat him and that is okay. The Dursley’s never punish their son and his friends for treating Harry like a punching bag. In this world, the world before the vanishing glass, difference is wrong.
When Harry talks about flying motorcycles, Vernon shoots him down. It doesn’t matter that it’s a dream. When Harry’s hair grows back after Petunia seems to shave his head, he’s punished. The unexplained is unwelcome and Harry feels as if he’s alone.
When we get to the reptile room, we begin to see a shift. Harry stands in front of the snake’s aquarium and it is his difference that builds a connection. He can talk to snakes. For the first moment, the reader sees the possibility beyond the barrier. It reinforces what we learnt in the first chapter. There are others out there who are different. There is a world that runs parallel to this one where oddity is at least normal if not embraced. But for Harry, we obtain a sense of hope about his future. It is his difference that builds connections with this snake. It is what makes him special that allows him to free something else that lives in captivity. It is their isolation that brings them together.
It is after the glass vanishes, in those final sentences of the chapter, we are told how connected Harry is to the rest of the world. Random strangers approach him on the street. Weird strangers in cloaks. They tell us, you are welcome here. You are needed here. What makes you different, an oddity to the muggles, is the very reason why we adore you, why we need you. You are welcome.
From this chapter onward, we begin to see that magic creeps into everyday life. Difference is not something to hide from. The barrier that exists between the normal and the abnormal is a sheet of glass. It can and it will vanish.