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?

5 responses to “Beyond the Leaky Cauldron

  1. Could be. It could also be that Snape (Professor Snape!) simply has much more revolting things in his office than were in the shop. And that could be because Snape tends to the dark arts, because he’s playing his part of tending to the dark arts, because he really is interested in all of it, because he knows he has to understand it *all* to have a chance of not only surviving, but helping defeat his former master, or because he knows it’s intimidating, which helps with his sense of inferiority and insecurities. Or some combination of the above and/or other things.

    Or you could be right. I suspect you partially are, but that several of the above factors enter in as well.

    • Yes, it could be a combination of those factors as well.

      I just found it interesting how often the slimy things specifically are referred to… and the first time we see slimy things they’re just kind of cool.

      It does seem to me, too, that JKR puts these descriptions through Harry’s POV to make the audience go along with Harry’s Snape = Evil obsession so that her big reveal in “The Prince’s Tale” will have more impact. Not to mention that a significant portion of the adult audience started going off the Harry POV reservation pretty early in the series, and it was wreaking havoc with JKR’s planned reveal at the end of the series. I mean, people figured out as early as PoA that he was in love with Lily. :)

  2. 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.

    • It took me 6 books to warm to Draco. ;) I think Draco was trying to strike up a conversation with Harry, in a reasonably friendly manner, but I’m not fond of the views Draco expresses, and even less fond of his sense of entitlement (I should be on the Quidditch team, and I’m going to bully my father into getting me a good broom). He definitely reminds me of Dudley, though far more intelligent and talented than Dudley.

      Yes, I know that Draco is parroting the views that he picked up from his parents. But as I said, it’s his sense of entitlement that troubles me more. BUT later in the series, when Draco has started to discover that being a DE is not all it’s cracked up to be, I really start to feel sympathy for him.

  3. Pingback: Snakes on a Train « Expecto Patronum

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