For the next several weeks, Harry relaxes at the Burrow and plays Quidditch with Ron, Hermione, and Ginny. However, the peaceful summer is often interrupted by grim stories of disappearances and death in the Daily Prophet. On Harry’s sixteenth birthday, Remus Lupin, his father’s old friend, arrives with news of new dementor attacks, as well as the murder of a Death Eater, Igor Karkaroff, who tried to desert. Bill Weasley brings up the recent disappearances of Florian Fortescue and Mr. Ollivander, both storeowners in Diagon Alley and fixtures of the Wizarding community.
Recalling previous happy summers spent at the Burrow, these weeks evoke a sense of safety and encourage Harry to see himself as situated within his childhood world. At the same time, the disappearance of several fixtures of the Wizarding world makes the cracks in this world even more apparent. Here, Harry’s halcyon youth clashes with the uncertain world in which he comes of age.
Soon afterward, the students’ booklists arrive from Hogwarts. With pleasant surprise, Harry finds out that he’s been made Quidditch Captain. The letters mean that the family has to buy supplies at Diagon Alley, a trip Mrs. Weasley has been dreading, as it might expose them to danger. On the appointed day, a special Ministry of Magic car arrives to transport them – an extra measure taken for Harry’s security.
The fact that a public space at the center of the Wizarding world is no longer secure emphasizes the gravity of Voldemort’s rise – it also reflects post-9/11 concerns about the safety of public spaces and the new feelings that civilians are in danger as they live out their daily lives.
This year the Leaky Cauldron, Diagon Alley’s most popular pub, is grim and empty. Harry and the Weasleys pass through to find that Hagrid is waiting to accompany them on their shopping and provide extra security. Everything about the alley is changed: all the window displays have been replaced by Ministry of Magic posters displaying the faces of wanted prisoners. Seedy-looking wizards are selling protective amulets, which Mr. Weasley eyes with anger and distrust. Shoppers stay in groups and don’t stop to talk to each other.
The Ministry’s large and threatening posters do little to apprehend escaped prisoners, but they do stoke fear in shoppers. Meanwhile, people selling fake amulets on the black market prey on that fear. Scenes like this show how the anxiety caused by external terrorism can cause a society to disintegrate from within.
With Mrs. Weasley’s reluctant permission, the group splits up: Ginny and her parents go to the bookstore, while Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Hagrid set off to buy new robes. When the trio enters Madam Malkin’s shop, they find Draco and his mother inside, bickering. As soon as Draco notices them, he calls Hermione a Mudblood and sneers at her black eye. When Harry and Ron draw their wands, Narcissa threatens to destroy them if they ever harm Draco. Tauntingly, Harry asks if she’s going to “get a few Death Eater pals to do us in.” Hermione tells them to put away their wands.
Draco’s appalling treatment of Hermione is one of the worst aspects of his character – calling her a “Mudblood,” he uses the Wizarding equivalent of a racial slur. Remarkably, it’s Hermione who’s usually willing to believe the best of Draco and who prevents Harry from escalating situations like this one. Hermione’s ability to view people independently of their treatment of her is one of her greatest strengths.
Unfazed, Narcissa says that Harry derives his false sense of security from Dumbledore, who won’t always be there to protect him. Harry says she should try to attack him now; then she can join her “loser of a husband” in Azkaban. Draco snarls at him not to insult his mother. Madam Malkin timidly tries to defuse the situation, but Draco and Narcissa simply storm out of the shop.
In the second chapter, Narcissa appeared as a powerless and anxious mother; however, here she’s actively promoting her husband’s Death Eater agenda. Like many other characters in this novel, her moral status and claim to the reader’s sympathy is never quite clear.
After buying their robes and stopping at the Apothecary, the group makes a quick detour to see Fred and George’s new shop. Alone among the storefronts, Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes is bedecked with bright posters and flashing displays. It’s full of customers inspecting the twins’ joke products. Even Hermione is impressed with the caliber of their magic.
Although Fred and George sometimes seem like frivolous pranksters, by remaining level-headed about new dangers and reminding people of their old lives, they’re actually helping to counteract government-induced paranoia and performing a public service.
Showing him around the shop, Fred and George show Harry their more “serious” products, like hats that protect their wearers against jinxes and Instant Darkness Powder. Even the Ministry is now buying them. In gratitude for the loan Harry gave them to start the shop (his winnings from the Triwizard Tournament), the twins tell him to take anything he wants. They head off to show a skeptical Ginny and Hermione their range of love potions, teasing their sister that, as she already has “about five boys on the go,” she doesn’t need any.
This passage recalls the fact that the twins started their store with Harry’s winnings from the Triwizard Tournament – again reminding the reader how little Harry cares about wealth or material status symbols. Meanwhile, although the twins’ comments on Ginny’s relationships are less ham-handed than Ron’s later pronouncements, they reflect a sense of entitlement to judge and meddle in their sister’s love life.
As Ginny scolds the twins to mind their own business, the trio glimpses Draco outside, hurrying down the street alone. Harry knows there must be some special and nefarious reason for Draco to escape his mother, so he pulls out his Invisibility Cloak and wraps it around his friends. Quickly, they exit the store and follow Malfoy as he turns into Knockturn alley and enters Borgin and Burkes, a secondhand shop specializing in “sinister objects.” As they look in the window, Ron produces an Extendable Ear he’s grabbed from the twins’ shop and unravels it so they can hear the conversation.
On one level, it’s Harry’s predisposition to judge Draco that eventually leads him to discover what “task” his nemesis has been assigned by Voldemort. On the other hand, his eagerness to classify people as either good or evil is his major flaw. Throughout the novel, Harry’s behavior towards Draco highlights the clash between these two impulses.
Inside, Draco is surveying a large black cabinet and asking Borgin if he can fix a certain object without seeing it. When Borgin is hesitant, Draco moves close to him and shows him something. He warns Borgin not to sell the cabinet; a “family friend,” Fenrir Greyback, will be dropping by to ensure Borgin’s loyalty. Looking pleased, Draco breezes out of the shop.
Even though Draco is a teenager, he’s somehow able to bully and intimidate the adult and experienced Borgin. Like Harry, Draco is also developing an adult persona and taking a more active role in the conflict gripping the Wizarding world.
The trio are puzzled by the entire conversation. Before the others can stop her, Hermione slips out from the cloak and strolls into the shop. Lying to Borgin that Draco is her friend, she claims she wants to buy him a birthday present and asks if there’s anything he particularly liked. Borgin sees through this story and orders her out. She and Ron bicker about her failed ruse all the way back to Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes, where they have to convince Mrs. Weasley that they’d been browsing in the back room the entire time.
While Hermione’s innocent and harmless persona has gleaned critical information for the trio before, this time the ruse fails. This is an indicator that Harry will have to develop more complex – and perhaps more dangerous – methods in order to keep up with a newly emboldened Draco. Ron and Hermione’s bickering foreshadows the stormy quality of their relationship this year.