First View of Hogwarts Castle… and a personal note

The first-years’ first view of Hogwarts castle closes up the chapter that transports Harry from the Muggle world entirely into the Magical world.

Here is an artists’ rendering of what the ickle firsties – approaching Hogwarts in the boat fleet – would see.

And now that we’re at Hogwarts, I have a couple of personal notes.

Quest for the Hallows: I just won “Best Overall” entry for the First Task in a Potter fanfic contest called “The Quest for the Hallows.” Winning was a shocker because I never write fiction.

For the First Task, we had to write a story or create a comic about one of the people known, in DH, to have possessed the Elder Wand. “Known to have possessed the Elder Wand” means anyone at any point in the Wand’s long and bloody history.

I had planned to do either Gellert Grindelwald’s duel with Albus Dumbledore or Grindelwald confronting Voldemort. But then this crazy little idea popped into my head. I hope you enjoy it.

BTW, I did not win in the “Best Story” category. The story I voted for, however, did. Here’s that story.

Holy Week: Also, you’ll have to excuse me this week. It’s Holy Week, and I’m Catholic. It’s highly unlikely that I’ll get a chance to write any re-read posts before Easter. But when I do, we’ll be on “The Sorting Hat” chapter. In the interim, I may yet find some Potter-related items to post.

The Mighty Hogwarts Power Trios… Face Off!

In this corner (of Harry’s train compartment), we have Team Snake. In the other corner, we have… Team Gryff?

Team Snake
Slytherin Seal
When Draco bursts into Harry’s compartment with his cohorts Crabbe and Goyle, we are given our official introduction to Slytherin’s future “shadow Trio.” These boys know each other already, though we we have to get a little deeper into the story to find out how.

As it happens, Malfoy, Crabbe, and Goyle are the sons of Death Eaters who all apparently avoided imprisonment in Azkaban at the end of the First Wizarding War.

On first sight, Harry notices of Draco’s friends that…

“Both of them were thickset and looked extremely mean. Standing on either side of the pale boy, they looked like bodyguards.”

Physically at least, they seem to be more than a match for Harry and Ron, yet when things turn nasty after Harry rebuffs Draco’s offer of “guidance,” the future Gryffindors stand up to these much larger future Slytherins. Just like a good Gryff should.

Team Gryff
Gryffindor Seal

But unlike the Slyther-friends, there is no such cohesiveness on Team Gryff (“Team Lion” doesn’t sound quite as good).

These kids barely know each other, and so our future main Trio is currently in disarray. But they remind me of something… my “gutty little Bruins” from UCLA, where I attended Grad School.

You know about teams like this, right? Statistically speaking, they don’t come close to matching up with the opposing team, and nobody would ever pick them in fantasy sports. They’re smaller than their rivals. They don’t have as much money. They often seem to have less talent. But they play with lots of heart, and they appear fearless, regardless of the odds.

That would be our Gryffindors.

A Closer Look at Team Gryff

On the train to Hogwarts, our future gutty Gryffs do not look impressive, so let’s look at their lineup:

Harry: A Half-Blood Wizard boy raised in a Muggle family. For the first time in his life, Harry is confronted with the fact that he’s famous and people are expecting “great things” of him. But he has spent his life bullied by his cousin and treated like a slave by his aunt and uncle. He fears that the kids raised in Wizarding families will know loads more magic than he does. And worse, he worries that maybe there’s been some horrible mistake and that no House at Hogwarts will have him.

Ron: A Pureblood Wizard boy raised in a very large family. As the sixth child, Ron doesn’t even have a new wand or pet. In fact, when he tries to perform “magic” on his hand-me-down pet rat, we find that a unicorn hair is sticking out of his wand. Though he’s not famous like Harry, he still has a lot to live up to. His older brothers have excelled at Hogwarts. Among them are Quidditch players, Prefects, and even a Head Boy.

Hermione: A Muggle-born Witch also raised in a Muggle family. Hermione is an overachiever who becomes more talkative and pretentious the more nervous she is. She shows off her knowledge at every given opportunity and bosses the boys around. This is not a fortuitous beginning. Her future spouse Ron, in particular, just can’t stand having her around. In fact, he hopes to sort into some House that she’s not in. (Ah, true love! Was it ever more obvious?)

Well, there you have the Trio. And then, there’s the hanger-on…

Neville: A Pureblood Wizard boy who seems completely hapless and hopeless. On the train, he’s lost his toad. In the future, he will forget his password (and everything else that isn’t tied down), botch Potions, be nearly incapable of producing any magic, and just generally embarrass the proud Gryffindor heritage. But Neville has a secret, and that secret is most likely the key to his magic problems.

I have to confess, I thought Neville was just comic relief when I first got to know him. But of all the kids, his transformation is possibly the most beautiful. This boy is a true and worthy Gryffindor. But right now? It’s all hidden. You would never know.

And that’s pretty much the way with Team Gryff. Like the gutty little Bruins, these kids don’t look like much. But you underestimate them at your own peril!

Team Gryff vs. Team Snake

In the first matchup, by the way, Team Gryff wins on a Deus ex Machina. Ron’s pet rat bites Goyle on the knuckle when he and Crabbe try to use their intimidating size to dig in to Harry’s and Ron’s Chocolate Frogs. Whatever possessed the (former Gryffindor, current Death Eater in hiding) rat to bite, I guess we’ll never know. But I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Speaking of which… I’ve seen the site stats. I know you’re out there. But man, are you quiet!

There are lots of Slytherin fans in Potter fandom, and lots of fans of Gryffindor. How do you feel about the Gryffindor / Slytherin rivalry? Which side are you on and why? What do you think of this first encounter… before the kids even sort into their respective Houses?

Would love to hear your perspectives!

Last Muggle Is Finishing Potter Series Tonight!

If you want to read a great blogger who’s doing a first-read of Harry Potter, Jess (The Last Muggle) is finally finishing the Harry Potter series tonight!

She just found out that her predictions about Snape were true. And she likes Dumbledore less than ever. Now she is on to Harry’s walk into the Forest to meet Voldemort.

She’s updating her blog in real time. Join in the fun! This is the night many of us have been waiting for!

Snakes on a Train

Rather than deal with Draco Malfoy in short spurts, I’ve carved out a little bit of space where we can talk a bit more expansively about our snaky Slytherin’s pre-Hogwarts encounters with Harry Potter.

I mentioned in Beyond the Leaky Cauldron that Draco is “a bit of a blood-prejudiced prat (and more than a little like Dudley Dursley)” – to which arithmancer replied:

I had some sympathy for Draco from the start. To me it seemed clear his approach to Harry in the robe shop was friendly. Since he did not know Harry’s mother was Muggleborn, or Hagrid was his first wizard friend, the things he said were, while revealing of the prejudices he had obviously already acquired, not intended to put off Harry in any way. He was just trying to start up a conversation with another boy who would be going to Hogwarts.

Okay. She’s got a point. The conversation in Madam Malkin’s opens with the pale, pointy-faced boy’s “Hello. Hogwarts too?” and continues with the boy rattling on about racing brooms, Quidditch, school Houses, Hagrid, and Wizarding blood. Draco (the boy) is not, at any point, intending to put Harry off. He’s just carrying on what he considers to be light conversation. The problem lies in what Draco considers to be light conversation.

As arithmancer mentions, Draco’s conversation shows the “prejudices he had obviously already acquired.” We don’t know it yet, but the parents Draco mentions (the father who is buying his books and the mother who is looking at wands) both come from wealthy pureblood families – the Malfoys and the Blacks.

Though not all purebloods engage in blood prejudice (witness the Weasleys!), both the Malfoy and Black families boast long lines of blood supremacy ideologues with long histories of despising Muggles and Muggle-borns. In fact, in Dumbledore’s notes to Beedle the Bard we find that Brutus Malfoy, one of Lucius’ ancestors, edited an anti-Muggle periodical dating back at least to 1675, when Brutus wrote:

This we may state with certainty: Any wizard who shows fondness for the society of Muggles is of low intelligence, with magic so feeble and pitiful that he can only feel himself superior if surrounded by Muggle pig-men.

Nothing is a surer sign of weak magic than a weakness for non-magical company.

In addition to inheriting a most virulent strain of blood prejudice from his ancestors, Draco’s father is an impenitent Death Eater who continues to practice Dark Magic in secret. Draco, in other words, starts from a deficit of character and empathy – despite his family wealth.

Inside Madam Malkin’s

In his first discussion with Harry Potter, here are some of the ways Draco manages not to win friends and influence people:

On the question of racing brooms:
“I don’t see why first years can’t have their own. I think I’ll bully father into getting me one and I’ll smuggle it in somehow.”

On the question of playing Quidditch:
“I [play] – Father says it’s a crime if I’m not picked to play for my house, and I must say, I agree.”

On the question of school Houses:
“Imagine being in Hufflepuff, I think I’d leave, wouldn’t you?”

On the question of Hagrid:
“Oh… I’ve heard of him. He’s sort of a servant, isn’t he?…. I heard he’s sort of savage – lives in a hut on the school grounds and every now and then he gets drunk, tries to do magic, and ends up setting fire to his bed.”

On the question of Harry’s parents being dead:
“Oh, sorry,” said [Draco], not sounding sorry at all. “But they were our kind, weren’t they?”

On the question of Muggle-borns:
“I really don’t think they should let the other sort in, do you? They’re just not the same, they’ve never been brought up to know our ways. Some of them have never even heard of Hogwarts until they get the letter, imagine. I think they should keep it in the old wizarding families. What’s your surname, anyway?”

Does Draco have any clue at all on how to make friends with strangers?

As arithmancer pointed out, none of this is intended to be rude. But much of it is rude. And what’s not rude is often disturbing.

From the moment Draco brags about bullying his father and smuggling in a broom, Harry is reminded of Dudley, and that is emphatically not a good thing. Draco is full of himself, bragging about his Quidditch-playing ability, emphasizing his social superiority over those he deems servants, expressly showing a lack of empathy over the fact the boy he’s speaking with is orphaned, and (of course) demonstrating the blood prejudice that he has absorbed from his parents – all without bothering once to find out the actual views of the boy he’s talking with, or anything else about the boy. Had he bothered, he might have had a better idea about how to proceed, but Draco just starts talking. Only when he realizes that he needs to find out whether or not this boy is from one of the old Wizarding families does he bother to ask Harry for any relevant information about himself.

Now, it’s not really possible to determine whether his narcissistic behavior is an innate character flaw or a sort of self-absorption that he has had ingrained in him as a result of his upbringing. But regardless, Harry is hardly impressed.

On the Hogwarts Express

Things get worse, though, on the Hogwarts Express – so bad, in fact, that by the time Harry puts the Sorting Hat on his head, he is begging to be put into any House besides Draco’s.

It all starts when Draco comes into the famous Harry Potter’s compartment and (in excellent Slughorn style!) starts trying to “collect” him, perhaps even bask a little in Harry’s reflected glory. But in a remark aimed precisely at Ron Weasley, Draco makes his fatal mistake… if he wishes to create a positive impression on the famous boy:

“You’ll soon find some wizarding families are much better than others, Potter. You don’t want to go making friends with the wrong sort. I can help you there.”

Oh, the arrogance! The unutterable arrogance! Harry has spent the last several hours forming a bond with Ron Weasly. What could possess young Malfoy to think that Harry would favor Draco over this new friend?

Perhaps we could say, charitably, that Draco is still something of an extension of his parents. He is only 11. He has not really reached an age where kids start to separate their own beliefs from their parents’ beliefs. But when Harry rebuffs the offer, this young extension of parental prejudice gives a positively chilling reply:

“I’d be careful if I were you, Potter,” he said slowly. “Unless you’re a bit politer, you’ll go the same way as your parents. They didn’t know what was good for them, either. You hang around with riffraff like the Weasleys and that Hagrid, and it’ll rub off on you.”

You have just been introduced to a Death Eater perspective of James’ and Lily’s deaths. Significantly, Draco is accompanied by foils Crabbe and Goyle (both sons of Death Eaters), who will go with him into Slytherin – the House that has had a blood prejudice bent since Salazar Slytherin left a Basilisk in the Chamber of Secrets, the House that has become Death Eater Central since Voldemort began to raise an army.

By filling their son with such venom, Lucius and Narcissa Malfoy have inflicted  damage on this “unfortunate boy” as appalling as any of the damage Dumbledore later sees in Dudley.

Yet just as there is hope for Dudley, there is hope for Draco. The wand that chose “the poor Malfoy boy” has a unicorn hair core. Somewhere deep down, there is still a core of innocence and purity in Draco, despite external appearances. We shall see if he fulfills that promise.

Bernie Bott’s and Chocolate Frogs

Well, just one more chapter, and we’ll be at Hogwarts! In the meantime, we’re still in the process of getting there.

Harry finds the platform thanks to Molly, gets his trunk onto the train thanks to Fred and George, and spends the time on the journey eating Chocolate Frogs and Bernie Bott’s Every Flavored Beans with Ron. It’s one big Weasley Fest, from King’s Cross to Harry’s new life at Hogwarts.

So what do we learn about Ron? As the fifth boy in the Weasley family, he goes to Hogwarts with “Bill’s old robes, Charlie’s old wand, and Percy’s old rat.” He doesn’t have enough money for the candy cart. He’s gloomy about his own prospects at Hogwarts, but reassuring when Harry thinks he himself will be a failure. And he’s from an old Wizarding family.

The conversation between Harry and Ron seems largely like something to pass the time. But in the larger context of the story, it introduces several pertinent points. Quidditch, of course, will become very important to Harry. But more important to the story are Ron’s knowledge of Chocolate Frog collectable cards, his pet rat Scabbers, and the break-in at Gringotts.

The very first Chocolate Frog card Harry collects is the one for Albus Dumbledore:

Currently Headmaster of Hogwarts

Considered by many the greatest wizard of modern times, Dumbledore is particularly famous for his defeat of the dark wizard Grindelwald in 1945, for the discovery of the twelve uses of dragon’s blood, and his work on alchemy with his partner, Nicholas Flamel. Professor Dumbledore enjoys chamber music and tenpin bowling.

The info about Grindelwald will become important in DH, but the information about Nicholas Flamel is crucial for the story at-hand.

Nicholas Flamel is the only real-world character in the series. In real-life, he was suspected of having created Alchemy’s Philosopher’s Stone (in the Harry Potter series, this suspicion is fact). Why is this important? Well, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is the actual title of the book. Scholastic didn’t think a title with “Philosopher” in it would sell in the U.S. market, so the title was changed. But elsewhere in the world – including the U.K. – publishing houses have gone with JKR’s original title.

In Alchemy, of course, there’s no such thing as a Sorcerer’s Stone. But creating the Philosopher’s Stone (i.e. turning lead into gold) is the ultimate goal of Alchemy. The reference to Nicholas Flamel is also pertinent to the Gringotts break-in that Harry and Ron discuss on the train. The Philospher’s Stone was the object of the break-in, and will later be the object of attempted theft at Hogwarts.

And let’s not forget that Dumbledore’s Chocolate Frog card introduces Harry to moving portraits. By the end of the day, he will be living in a House that you can’t enter without giving a password to a portrait!

And then, there’s Ron’s rat Scabbers. Ron doesn’t know it yet (in fact he won’t know it for nearly three more years), but Scabbers isn’t really a rat at all. He is actually the animagus form of Peter Pettigrew – a Hogwarts friend of James Potter’s who betrayed Harry’s parents to Voldemort and who will later help Voldemort regain a body.

As always, JKR is very economical, laying the groundwork for later elements early on when readers least expect it. I mean, seriously, did anyone really read the Chocolate Frog card the first time they read this chapter? But I’ll bet most re-readers took a close look at it the second time through! The card itself has a role to play, beyond the flat facts stated on its face.

Now, if only one of the boys can just collect Agrippa!

Next installment: Snakes on a Train

One Big Weasley Family

The other day, I answered a bunch of questions about the Weasley clan on the CoS forum. Since the Weasleys have just entered our re-read, I thought I’d share my responses here.

1. Do you think that anyone gets “lost” in the Weasley family? It’s a big group with a lot of strong personalities there. Does everyone get a fair look in?

Despite the Weasley family size, Arthur and Molly are loving parents who don’t play favorites. The younger kids may get short shrift when it comes to possessions because Arthur doesn’t make enough money to support a lot of recreational purchases (though he does make a sufficient income to provide the necessities). But yes, I’d say that in terms of affection and attention, everyone is treated equally and fairly in the Weasley family.

Most of Ron’s concerns are in his head, not based on reality (as we learn when he destroys the Horcrux). Ron’s parents would love him whether he made Prefect, Quidditch team, Head Boy, gets the girl of his dreams – or not.

2. How do you think that Molly and Arthur’s relationship has impacted on their brood and how they see the world.

Molly and Arthur have a wonderful, loving relationship that embraces, basically, all people of good will – regardless of blood status. This has definitely rubbed off on their kids. Only Percy goes through a major “status” phase, in which status matters more than personal ties. But at the moment when it matters most, he returns to the values he was raised with and joins his family to fight against Voldemort.

3. What do you think about the fact that we rarely see the entire Weasley Clan together? Is this just “bad fortune” or is there something askew with the family dynamic.

No, I don’t think it’s bad fortune or anything wrong with the family dynamic. I think it’s just that even before the drama with Percy, you’ve got two adult sons who are pursuing their careers in other parts of the world. There doesn’t seem to be any strain in the family relationship between Bill, Charlie, and the rest of the family. The only family dynamic issues that come up in a big way are Percy’s rejection of his family and the family’s initial dislike for Bill’s fiance. But by the time Bill and Fleur marry, they have realized that she really loves Bill for himself, and they accept her and grow to love her.

4. How big an impact did Percy’s abandonment of his family from GOF to DH have on his siblings? We’ve seen that Arthur gets quietly angry and Molly gets tearful. Is there anything Percy’s fellow siblings could have done?

It was huge. I don’t think there’s anything anybody could have done though. Percy was always status-conscious. He was embarrassed by the fact that his family couldn’t have all those nice things that other families could have. And he wanted to be more successful in his career than his father, so he became a climber.

Percy is the only one who could have realized his error, and thankfully he did before it was too late to reconcile. For me, one of the most wrenching moments of the series is Percy’s reaction to Fred’s death. Thank goodness he was actually there and fighting alongside Fred and bantering with his brother. I can’t begin to imagine Percy’s guilt if he had not gone to Hogwarts and reconciled with his family before his brother died.

5. The Weasleys were like a real family to Harry. What’s your view on this given that there were already 7 kids in the family already.

Embracing people was integral to Weasley family values. They would not have been the Weasley family if they had not taken Harry in.

The Wizard Rock band Ministry of Magic has a nice take on this aspect of the Weasleys in their song “I Heart Weasleys”:

We found the bigger
We grew, the more love we had.
It’s spilling onto our friends,
We can’t contain it.

I think that about says it.

6. If you filled out the poll above (listing all the members of the Weasley family), why did you pick the character you chose your favourite?

I chose Molly… but only because both twins were not an option. The twins are my favorite Weasleys, but I wouldn’t want to choose between the two of them.

At any rate, I chose Molly because she’s so caring, loving, human. And she instills those values in her kids, even if they manifest them differently.

The section I was writing about this morning was on the first appearance of the Weasleys. I think it’s telling that after the twins tell Molly that the black-haired boy on the platform was the famous Harry Potter, her first words are “Poor dear” – not “OMG! Harry Potter! Really?!?!?”

Even though they’ve probably heard her tell the story of the Boy Who Lived, once Molly has met the actual flesh-and-blood boy, she insists that her kids see him as a person, not a celebrity. She sees him with compassion.

This is one of the things I love the most about Molly.

7. Who are least alike in the Weasley family? Who’s most alike? Is there an element of peer pressure on those who are least like the others? Who’s the most misunderstood?

Least alike? Uh, Percy and just about anybody.

Most alike? Well, that’s obvious, isn’t it? The twins!

8. Given Arthur doesn’t seem so highly motivated, do you think that his children are “over achievers”. The have been very successful in their fields and indeed in school (think quidditch captains, head boys, prefects etc). If so, where do they get this drive?

I disagree about Arthur’s motivation. I think that Arthur has values that do not involve climbing up the ladder and pursuing prestige. Arthur values his family. And that is probably a primary source of his kids’ achievements, with the exception of Percy, who is clearly embarrassed by his father’s supposed lack of drive. As far as I can tell, none of the other kids share Percy’s embarrassment.

I think it’s obvious that the Weasleys, generally, are just a very intelligent bunch. Even jokers Fred and George do amazing magic for their jokeshop (and in their battle against Umbridge) – despite not putting much stock in academic achievement. And even though Ron is a bit of an underachiever compared to his oldest brothers and his sister, his raw intelligence is clear from his ability to beat the Wizard chess pieces as early as PS/SS.

So basically, I think it’s a combination of raw intelligence and strong family ties that are the primary drivers behind the Weasley kids’ success.


Studies in Scarlet

According to Wikipedia

Scarlet (from the Persian säqirlāt) is a bright red color with a hue that is somewhat toward the orange. It is redder than vermilion. It is a pure chroma on the color wheel one-fourth of the way between red and orange. [2] Traditionally, scarlet is the color of flame. It may also refer to the color of the blood of a living person.

Assuming that Wikipedia has got its Hex color coordinates right (#FF2000), I am now writing in Scarlet. And Harry may not know it yet, but scarlet is about to become, probably, the most important color in his life.

A Family in Scarlet

After Uncle Vernon drops Harry off at Kings Cross (and the Dursley family laughs derisively at Harry’s claim that the train will depart from the apparently non-existent Platform Nine and Three-Quarters), Harry meets another family: a mother, four boys, and a girl. All with flaming red hair. Hair the color of scarlet.

You don’t really need me to tell you what happens next. Harry asks directions to the platform. Molly Weasley tells him how to get through the anti-Muggle barrier. And Harry makes it to the train (which, by the way, happens to be driven by a scarlet steam engine!) What’s more important is the significance of this encounter. The Weasleys will become the first functional family Harry knows.

When I first read this chapter, I knew the Weasleys were important. After all, I’d seen five movies! But I didn’t really guess just how important until I was about half-way through with HBP.

On reading the chapter again, it’s fun to note that JKR tells us (nearly) everything we need to know about the Weasley clan right here, in their first appearance on the platform! Percy is pretentious, with his silver Prefect badge. The twins are uproarious. Ron is gloomy, worried that he won’t live up to the family tradition. Little Ginny, Harry’s future wife, is already obsessed with Harry Potter, at least in the abstract. And then there’s Molly.

Let’s face it, for most of us, travel days are completely frazzled days… even if we don’t have five kids in tow! Yet Molly Weasley is not only collected enough to ensure that her sons make the train – despite some good-natured mocking from her twin boys – she even has the time (and presence of mind!) to help out a confused and embarrassed black-haired boy and make him feel welcome:

“Excuse me,” Harry said to the plump woman.

“Hello, dear,” she said. “First time at Hogwarts? Ron’s new, too.”
[description snipped]

“Yes,” said Harry. “The thing is – the thing is, I don’t know how to – ”

“How to get onto the platform?” she said kindly, and Harry nodded.

“Not to worry,” she said.
[and she gave him the instructions]

No matter how large, the Weasleys are a close-knit family, with enough love to overflow family boundaries, and Molly is a caring guide.

But Molly’s best moment in this scene comes, I think, after twins Fred and George have helped Harry get his trunk onto the train, have seen the scar, recognized that he’s Harry Potter, and brought the news back to their mother:

“You know that black-haired boy who was near us in the station? Know who he is?”


Harry Potter!”

Harry heard the little girl’s voice.

“Oh, Mom, can I go on the train and see him, Mom, oh please…”

“You’ve already seen him, Ginny, and the poor boy isn’t something you goggle at in a zoo. Is he really, Fred? How do you know?”

“Asked him. Saw his scar. It’s really there – like lightning.”

“Poor dear – no wonder he was alone, I wondered. He was ever so polite when he asked how to get onto the platform.”

“Never mind that, do you think he remembers what You-Know-Who looks like?”

Their mother suddenly became very stern.

“I forbid you to ask him, Fred. No, don’t you dare. As though he needs reminding of that on his first day at school.”

Did I mention that I love Molly Weasley? Given the kids’ awareness of Harry Potter, it’s almost certain that she has told her children the story of the Boy Who Lived. But when she actually meets the famous boy, Molly regards him as a human being, not a symbol and not a celebrity (unlike the hero worshippers at the Leaky Cauldron), and she instructs her children to do so too.

On learning who he is, the first words out of Molly’s mouth (“poor dear” and “he was ever so polite”) tell us a lot about her – her values and compassion. Despite the value of his story and symbolism for the anti-Voldemort side, Molly regards real-life Harry more as an orphan, a boy alone, than as the child who came face-to-face with You-Know-Who and inexplicably survived. And we don’t know it yet, but Molly will personally see to it that this boy will never have to feel like an orphan again. Years before marrying the little girl who wants to “goggle” him, Harry will become an important part of the extended Weasley family. The marriage just makes it official.

I Heart Weasleys

Did I say that I love Molly Weasley? Actually, I heart Molly – just like Wizard Rock band Ministry of Magic, which best captures the Weasley spirit in the “I Heart Weasleys” tribute (player with song is on the right). This one’s for you, Molly and family:

There are some things in
This world that go beyond fame,
Worth more than money
Or just about anything.

Wizard or Muggle,
Some things will never change.
Like love and family,
They will last forever.

Weasleys, sing with the Weasleys.
If you, if you agree with us.
Weasleys, dance with the Weasleys.
Sing out, sing, sing along with us.

Maybe we’re not rich, but we are happy. Happy.
Maybe we can’t afford a big, dark house like the Malfoys.
We’re the Weasley clan and we love everybody. Everyone.
If you came over you’d be a Weasley too. Yes, it’s true.

Oh, and by the way, the Weasleys (like the Potters) are all in Gryffindor – with its colors of scarlet and gold.

Beyond the Leaky Cauldron

We all know what’s beyond the Leaky Cauldron, don’t we? You tap the right brick, and it opens up to Diagon Alley, where Harry can purchase his Hogwarts school supplies.

Speaking of school, I’m a little bit behind on posting because I’m taking a College Math class. I took my Midterm last week, and it appears that I haven’t posted since the day before my Midterm! I guess I’d better be getting on with it!

So I’d like to focus on the one big glaring thing I missed on my first read of “Diagon Alley.” Can you guess what it was?

It wasn’t the notion that appearances can be deceiving. When we see the item wrapped in grubby drab brown paper, that notion is so obvious that it’s hardly even subtext. After all, Hagrid is retrieving the item for Dumbledore, and it’s been kept for however long in a high security Gringott’s vault. Whatever is behind the grubby wrappings, it’s of high value – kind of like Harry. He may look like an ordinary kid, or even a rather shabby kid, but there’s something valuable beneath the appearances. A bit like transforming lead into gold, perhaps?

The crazy Gringotts wild ride is a little more important to the big story than I ever would have known on first read, but it recurs only once. The big glaring thing I didn’t catch recurs repeatedly.

It’s not that Draco Malfoy is a bit of a blood-prejudiced prat (and more than a little like Dudley Dursley). That is very nearly impossible to miss!

It’s not that Hagrid builds on the House prejudices introduced by Draco. Not that Harry has an interest in finding out how to curse Dudley. Not that the wand that chooses Harry has a tailfeather from the same phoenix as You-Know-Who’s.

No, the big glaring thing I missed on first-read is that when Harry visits the Apothecary’s shop to buy his Potions ingredients, he thinks that all those barrels of slimy things are pretty cool:

Then they visited the Apothecary, which was fascinating enough to make up for its horrible smell, a mixture of bad eggs and rotted cabbages. Barrels of slimy stuff stood on the floor; jars of herbs, dried roots, and bright powders lined the walls; bundles of feathers, strings of fangs, and snarled claws hung from the ceiling.

This is big and glaring? Well, as the story progresses and Harry’s hatred for Severus Snape (the Hogwarts Potions Master) grows, he starts to see slimy Potions ingredients somewhat differently. Here are examples of how Harry perceives Snape’s office (remember, we’re tied to Harry’s point of view):

They entered Snape’s office, shivering. The shadowy walls were lined with shelves of large glass jars, in which floated all manner of revolting things Harry didn’t really want to know the name of at the moment. The fireplace was dark and empty. Snape closed the door and turned to look at them….

Harry and Ron stared at each other, white-faced. Harry didn’t feel hungry any more. He now felt extremely sick. He tried not to look at a large, slimy something suspended in green liquid on a shelf behind Snape’s desk.
CoS, p. 78-80

Harry had been in here only once before, and he had been in very serious trouble then too. Snape had acquired a few more slimy horrible things in jars since last time, all standing on shelves behind his desk, glinting in the firelight and adding to the threatening atmosphere.
PoA, p. 282

It was a shadowy room lined with shelves bearing hundreds of glass jars in which floated slimy bits of animals and plants, suspended in variously colored potions. In a corner stood the cupboard full of ingredients that Snape had once accused Harry – not without reason – of robbing.
p. 529

“Ah, Potter,” said Snape, when Harry had knocked on his door and entered the unpleasantly familiar office that Snape, despite teaching floors above now, had not vacated; it was as dimly lit as ever and the same slimy dead objects were suspended in colored potions all around the walls.
HBP, p. 531

When you see these descriptions, just remember – the first time Harry sees jars of slimy dead things in an Apothecary, he finds them fascinating. It’s his hatred of Snape that makes him regard them as horrible, repulsive, sickening, an implied indictment of the man’s character, when in fact the collection is not at all atypical for a professional Potioner.

Anything glaring you missed on your first trip to Diagon Alley?

Inside the Leaky Cauldron

Just a day earlier, Harry was the Dursleys’ hostage in their great escape from the letters from nowhere. Now, Harry enters the Leaky Cauldron, letter in hand. And in doing so, he enters the Wizarding World.

I have to admit, this section of the chapter is almost as uncomfortable for me as reading Harry’s abuse at the hands of the Dursleys. On the one hand, it’s nice to see this fairy tale turnaround. He’s rich. He’s famous. The hopes of the Wizarding World rest on his shoulders. But Harry knows that he’s only a boy. He’s famous for something he doesn’t even remember. It doesn’t feel right.

I find it uncomfortable because I’ve experienced it. I’ve played music, on occasion, with famous people. And suddenly, all these un-famous people that you’ve never met before want to shake your hand or be your best friend or bask in your reflected glory. It doesn’t feel right because you know you’re not some god. You’re only a person.

If we can thank the Dursleys for one thing, it’s probably this: Their abuse has made Harry glaringly aware that he’s not special. It has so grounded him that he never lets his Wizarding fame go to his head – not now at 11, and not later at 17 when it’s finally time to earn the fame he’s had thrust on him.

But then again… the reaction inside the Leaky Cauldron does give us insight into how bad things really must have been under Voldemort. We recall the celebrations that greeted the news of You-Know-Who’s downfall, and the glasses raised to the Boy Who Lived. But 10 years later, when Tom the Barman at the Leaky Cauldron recognizes Harry, his reaction reveals just how deeply grateful ordinary Wizards feel to the child who survived Voldemort’s killing curse and unknowingly broke the Dark Lord’s power:

“Bless my soul,” whispered the old bartender, “Harry Potter… what an honor.”

He hurried out from behind the bar, rushed toward Harry and seized his hand, tears in his eyes.

“Welcome back, Mr. Potter, welcome back.”

Harry didn’t know what to say. Everyone was looking at him…. Hagrid was beaming.

Dedalus Diggle is delighted that Harry remembers meeting him in a shop. Doris Crockford comes through the meet-and-greet line multiple times.

On the one hand, the hero-worship is deeply unsettling. On the other hand, these people don’t see Harry as merely a hero, but as their deliverer – someone who set them free from the evil that befell the Wizarding World for many dark years. In that context, they are not just frivolous fans. Rather, their response is somewhat understandable.

Yet the evil lurks, right there in the Leaky Cauldron. The pale, stuttering young man who shakes Harry’s hand – Professor Quirrell – is actually Voldemort’s man. Over the course of the year, he will try to curse Harry off his broomstick during a Quidditch match, let a troll in to the castle so that he can seek the Philosopher’s Stone (and thus give Voldemore eternal life), kill a unicorn so Voldemort can drink the lifegiving properties found in its blood, and share his soul – and body – with Voldemort.

Right now, Quirrell’s destination is Gringotts. He plans to break in and steal the Philosopher’s Stone (which Hagrid removes just hours earlier). But soon, he will be teaching Harry and other Hogwarts students Defense Against the Dark Arts (DADA)… and bungling it all up. After all, what would Voldemort want with good defense against the Dark Arts?

From the Hut on the Rock to the Leaky Cauldron

Rowling started setting up the Wizarding World as early as Chapter 1. But even though Wizards descended on a Muggle neighborhood, leaving an orphaned Wizard child, we were still firmly planted in the Muggle World. Rowling’s foreshadowing only hinted at the hidden reality

Chapter 5 (“Diagon Alley”) finally begins to change all that. In fact, you could almost call Chapter 5 a “Wizarding World Grand Tour.”

The chapter is so jam-packed with information that I’m going to have to take it in small chunks. In fact, we’re not even going to get all the way to Diagon Alley in this post. We’re going to stop at the doors of the Leaky Cauldron.

Goblins, Dragons, and Gringotts

The morning after the Wizarding World descends again on Harry’s newest Muggle location (the Hut on the Rock), Harry wakes up thinking he’s in one fairy tale, only to find that he’s in a completely new one. No longer the abused stephchild, Harry has awakened to find himself the wealthy prince, and he’s even got a magic-making giant (or half-giant) for a protector. Cool!

His first instruction on re-entering the Wizarding World is how to buy a newspaper. It’s 5 knuts to pay the owl post.

(Geek Note: One knut = 1/493 of a Galleon and 1/29 of a Sickle. So the price of the paper is 5/493 of a Galleon, or roughly .01 Galleons.)

Yes, Wizards have their own postal system, their own newspaper delivery, their own monetary system, their own bank. With goblins running the Gringotts Bank and dragons guarding the vaults, “yeh’d be mad ter try an’ rob it.” Just the Gringotts dialog alone foreshadows a collection of future gags and plotlines.

We’ll later find assorted Weasleys working in Egypt at Gringotts or in Romania with dragons. Goblin rebellions will become a standing joke whenever our hero and his best friends get stuck in History of Magic class. Hagrid will soon try, unsuccessfully, to raise a baby dragon. Harry will be required in his 4th year to steal an egg from a mama dragon. And robbing Gringotts? Even though that idea sits on the backburner for six books, Harry and friends actually will pull off a Gringotts heist… for the purpose of saving the world from Voldemort, of course.

The Daily Prophet and the Ministry of Magic

One of the delights of this chapter is to listen to Hagrid reads The Daily Prophet and comment about how the Ministry of Magic is “messin’ things up as usual.

[The Ministry of Magic] wanted Dumbledore fer Minister, o’ course [Hagrid explains], but he’d never leave Hogwarts, so old Cornelius Fudge got the job. Bungler if ever there was one. So he pelts Dumbledore with owls every morning, askin’ fer advice.”

“But what does a Ministry of Magic do?” [Harry inquires].

“Well, their main job is to keep it from the Muggles that there’s still witches an’ wizards up an’ down the country.”

As with the Gringotts dialog, these few lines foreshadow a great deal of future plot. Though Cornelius Fudge seems like a kindly, if not terribly competent, Minister of Magic early on in the series, he turns viciously on Harry when the boy reports at the end of the TriWizard Tournament that Voldemort has returned. And Fudge uses this very newspaper, The Daily Prophet, to run a smear campaign against Harry and Dumbledore.

(The Daily Prophet itself plays a big role in this story, often becoming a mere mouthpiece for whoever is running the Ministry – including Voldemort himself).

And just as Hagrid has incomplete information on why Voldemort tried to kill Harry, he has equally inadequate information on why Dumbledore has repeatedly refused the Minister of Magic job. It’s not simply that he would never leave Hogwarts. Rather, he does not want the temptation of power – which is why he sought refuge at Hogwarts in the first place. As we know from DH, Dumbledore in his youth became friends with the Dark Wizard Gellert Grindelwald and flirted with the same ideas of Muggle subservience that Grindelwald put into place. As Dumbledore tells Harry flatly in the “King’s Cross” chapter of DH: “I was not to be trusted with power.”

As for the role of the Ministry of Magic… keeping magic from Muggles is such a huge topic that books on the topic could fill a small library. Wizards are restricted from using magic on Muggles, in the presence of Muggles, and on “Muggle artifacts.” Hogwarts students are restricted from using magic away from school. The existence of the magical world is hidden from Muggles by enchantments that prevent them from seeing some things that any Wizard can see. Hogwarts, in fact, looks to Muggle eyes like an old, abandoned ruin – not a vibrant, lively castle.

The Leaky Cauldron

The Leaky Cauldron is one of those magical places concealed by spells from Muggle eyes:

“This is it,” said Hagrid, coming to a halt, “the Leaky Cauldron. It’s a famous place.”

It was a tiny, grubby-looking pub. If Hagrid hadn’t pointed it out, Harry wouldn’t have noticed it was there. The people hurrying by didn’t glance at it. Their eyes slid from the big bookshop on one side to the record shop on the other as if they couldn’t see the Leaky Cauldron at all. In fact, Harry had the most peculiar feeling that only he and Hagrid could see it.

About 50 years earlier, Albus Dumbledore mentioned this very phenomenon to young Tom Riddle when telling the boy how to get to the Leaky Cauldron:

“You will be able to see it, although Muggles around you – non-magical people, that is – will not.”

Given that the Wizarding World opts to keep itself concealed (according to the International Statute of Wizarding Secrecy of 1689), the Leaky Cauldron would be one of the most desirable locations to hide from Muggle eyes. It’s the gateway to Diagon Alley – the great shopping district of the English Wizarding World, the district that proves the existence of magic.