The Boy Who Lived

I have to confess that I really love Chapter 1. I think last time I wrote about it, I may have said it reminded me in tone a bit of Tolkien’s opening to The Hobbit.

Actually, yes, I did.

In looking back, it appears that I wrote four consecutive blog posts about just this one chapter. In addition to the Hobbit comparison, I discussed the overwhelming presence of owls, drew up a  Chapter map (complete with explanation), and wrote another whole long post about Albus Dumbledore and sundry other issues. I really went “into the weeds” with this chapter seven years ago!

But in fairness, this brief introductory chapter accomplishes a lot. It sets up the conflict between the Dursleys and Harry and the recent and future conflicts between Harry and Voldemort, shows the secret world of the Wizards and its fear of being found out, introduces part of our main cast of Wizards, and hints at the recent war with Voldemort.

It’s a writing tour de force, and in it J.K. Rowling announces her presence on the literary stage.

The Power Dynamic

In terms of our broader themes, this chapter sets up various versions of power. We don’t know yet how it’s all going to play out, but we can clearly identify four power centers in the chapter:

Vernon Dursley – Vernon is a non-magical person who abuses power and people and gets “enraged” at anything that deviates from his conception of social norms (such as older people wearing weird attire). Yelling “at five different people” at work in the morning puts him in “a very good mood.” Yet after hearing rumors about the Potters from the “weirdos,” he shrinks into worry and insecurity. With just these small character details, Rowling establishes Vernon as an abuser who will soon be placed in the position of having to foster his “weirdo” nephew (Hint: This will not go well),  but she also establishes him as something of a paper tiger. Just put some pressure on him and watch him crumple.

Voldemort (a.k.a. “You-Know-Who”) – We don’t really meet Voldemort here, just hear about him. But from the conversation between Professor McGonagall and Albus Dumbledore, we find he is a magical person whom Wizards have feared for the past eleven years – feared so much that only Dumbledore will say his name. In fact, Voldemort murdered Harry’s parents the night before… and even tried to kill the boy. On a first read, this is where it gets confusing, because apparently trying to kill the boy made him disappear. Before the night he disappeared, Voldemort clearly possessed astounding powers, but used them to evil purpose. As the story progresses and he finds a way to return, his ill intent will thwart him over and over again. It’s almost like Rowling is saying that “power is not enough.” (Hint: It’s not!).

Albus Dumbledore – Dumbledore is, in many ways, the antithesis of Vernon Dursley and even moreso of Voldemort. He’s an older man, dressed weirdly, yet Professor McGonagall (who can transform herself from a cat into a human being!) defers to him. He speaks gently, consolingly, and with a certain amount of wisdom. He’s also a bit naive. He thinks that if he just explains the situation to the Dursleys in a letter, they will accept Harry and eventually tell him who he is. In addition, Dumbledore has a bit of humility, as we can see from this snippet of dialogue:

“But you’re different” [said Professor McGonagall]. Everyone knows you’re the only one You-Know-Who – oh, all right, Voldemort, was frightened of.”

“You flatter me,” said Dumbledore calmly. “Voldemort had  powers I will never have.”

“Only because you’re too – well – noble to use them.”

McGonagall here effectively establishes Dumbledore as a man whose powers rival Voldemort’s but who restrains himself from using the more ignoble types of power. We will (much) later learn exactly why Dumbledore restrains himself, but for now, it’s simply worth noting that in the first chapter Rowling subtly establishes the possibility that life could have gone much differently for Albus Dumbledore had he just seized all the power he was capable of wielding. Instead, he has chosen a different path and consequently introduces us and the Dursleys to Harry.

Harry Potter – He’s just a baby, but he inexplicably broke Voldemort’s power just the night before. The implication here is that Harry has amazing powers of his own (we will later discover the extent to which this is true), and McGonagall argues that Dumbledore should not give him up to the Dursleys because…

“He’ll be famous – a legend – I wouldn’t be surprised if today was known as Harry Potter Day in the future – there will be books written about Harry – every child in our world will know his name!”

Dumbledore wisely replies that anonymity with the Dursleys will be better for Harry until “he’s ready to take” the fame thrust on him by the Wizarding World.

Dumbledore is right on the face of it. He’s just missing one major detail: the Dursleys are not the people he hopes they will be. And then he leaves Harry on the doorstep to face his unwilling aunt and uncle.

Harry Potter rolled over inside his blankets without waking up. One small hand closed on the letter beside him and he slept on, not knowing he was special, not knowing he was famous, not knowing he would be woken in a few hours’ time by Mrs. Dursley’s scream as she opened the front door to put out the milk bottles, nor that he would spend the next few weeks being prodded and pinched by his cousin Dudley. . . . He couldn’t know that at this very moment, people meeting in secret all over the country were holding up their glasses and saying in hushed voices: “To Harry Potter – the boy who lived!”

It is a powerful conclusion to a magnificent opening chapter.

Sudden, Sinister Snape

“Don’t talk to me for a moment,” said Ron when Harry sat down next to him. “I need to concen—” He caught sight of Harry’s face. “What’s the matter with you? You look terrible.”

Speaking quietly so that no one else would hear, Harry told the other two about Snape’s sudden, sinister desire to be a Quidditch referee.

“Don’t play,” said Hermione at once.

“Say you’re ill,” said Ron.

“Pretend to break your leg,” Hermione suggested.

“Really break your leg,” said Ron.

Well, wouldn’t you know it? I write the generally accepted fact that Harry Potter is written primarily in 3rd person limited Point of View, and I get polyjuiced and parodied. And now, I have to step right back in to the fray because we are about to enter one of the richest chapters in all of PS/SS for showing how the limited Point of View works to throw the reader off! Sometimes, you just can’t win. But hey, I’m a Gryffindor. It’s in my nature to fly into the face of danger.

Sudden, Sinister Desire

Iggy, who likes to comment here, told me yesterday that Snape’s “sudden, sinister desire to referee Quidditch” is one of her favorite lines in the series. It’s one of mine as well.

The beauty of the line is that it reads as if the narrator is indicating that Snape’s desire to ref is sudden and sinister, when actually Harry only interprets it to be sudden and sinister. How do we know that this is an interpretation? Because we later learn, during Harry’s encounter with the book’s real bad guy, that it is objectively false.

Harry believes that Snape is out to steal the Philosopher’s Stone. He believes that Snape is out to kill him. And so he interprets every action of Snape’s through the lens of those false conceptions. In actuality, Snape is acting as ref in order to protect Harry from another attempt to harm him while he is in the air.

Soon after the announcement that Snape will ref, Harry has new cause for anxiety:

Harry didn’t know whether he was imagining it or not, but he seemed to keep running into Snape wherever he went. At times, he even wondered whether Snape was following him, trying to catch him on his own. Potions lessons were turning into a sort of weekly torture, Snape was so horrible to Harry. Could Snape possibly know they’d found out about the Sorcerer’s Stone? Harry didn’t see how he could – yet he sometimes had the horrible feeling that Snape could read minds.

Again, this passage passes itself off as factual, when the most damning parts are just Harry’s mind at work. Now what can we glean from this passage, when we strip away Harry’s anxiety?

Snape probably is sticking close to him. As we know from the final conversation with Dumbledore at the end of PS/SS (and from TPT in DH), Snape is working to protect Harry Potter. An attempt has already been made on Harry’s life. It makes sense that Snape would shadow Harry, and that Harry would run into his shadow… a lot. But the passage veers off into Harry’s fantasy when Harry starts thinking that Snape is following him in order to catch him on his own – i.e., in order to finish off the murder that Snape [sic] attempted in the previous Quidditch match.

We can also glean that Potions probably is not a pleasant experience for Harry. As we know from one of Snape’s conversations with Dumbledore shortly after Harry arrives at Hogwarts (TPT), Snape thinks Harry is a mediocre student with mediocre magic, and he has a tendency to let Harry know it in Potions class. But the passage veers off into Harry’s fantasy when the boy wonders if Snape’s treatment is tied to Harry’s awareness of the Stone. Probably not. It’s probably just Snape being Snape.

(I’ll leave alone for now the fact that without specific scenes from the Potions classroom, we don’t really know how much Harry may – or may not – be exaggerating the “horrible”-ness of Snape’s treatment, though it is likely that it is at least unpleasant).

Additionally, we can glean that Harry is fairly perceptive about Snape’s Legilimency skills. Snape probably is scanning Harry’s mind at necessary intervals. Snape may or may not know that Harry knows about the Stone, though I tend to think not because of the conversation he later has with Quirrell in the Forest.

Dumbledore’s Come to Watch!

“The whole school’s out there!” said Fred Weasley, peering out of the door. “Even – blimey – Dumbledore’s come to watch!”

“Dumbledore?” he said, dashing to the door to make sure. Fred was right. There was no mistaking that silver beard.

Harry could have laughed out loud with relief. He was safe. There was simply no way that Snape would dare to try to hurt him if Dumbledore was watching.

Perhaps that was why Snape was looking so angry as the teams marched onto the field, something that Ron noticed, too.

“I’ve never seen Snape look so mean,” he told Hermione.

Well, here’s another wonderful passage, full of misdirection. It is objectively true that Dumbledore is there to watch the match, and it is almost certainly objectively true that Snape has a very sour look on his face. But the passage goes into Harry’s head when Harry starts assuming that Snape would not dare to hurt him with Dumbledore watching, and that Dumbledore’s protective presence might be the reason “Snape was looking so angry.”

As it happens, Dumbledore’s presence does prevent someone from harming Harry. But that person is not Snape. And as it happens, it is highly unlikely that Snape “look[s] so mean” because Dumbledore is preventing him from murdering Harry! (After all, Snape is working in conjunction with Dumbledore to protect Harry.)

So what are some possible reasons for Snape’s anger? Oh, I dunno. How about the fact that Snape made himself unpopular with his fellow professors, who assumed (as the Gryffindor team did) that he wanted to referee the game in order to keep Gryffindor from winning? ( something we learn in the closing chapter of the book). Or how about the fact that he’s having to referee the game in order to protect the Potter kid – who is not exactly his favorite person? Or how about the fact that he’s experiencing the indignity of having to get on a broomstick and referee a Quidditch match?!?

Then, when the game finally does start, Snape finds himself attacked by Weasley bludgers… and the game closes 5 minutes in with Harry streaking straight at Snape, missing him only by inches in his effort to catch the snitch. Not exactly a wonderful day for Severus Snape. No wonder he “spat bitterly on the ground” when he landed! It makes you wonder if he was playing all these potential scenarios over in his head as he angrily entered the field.

The Philosopher’s Stone

“So we were right” [Harry told Ron and Hermione], “it is the Sorcerer’s Stone, and Snape’s trying to force Quirrell to help him get it. He asked if he knew how to get past Fluffy – and he said something about Quirrell’s ‘hocus-pocus’ – I reckon there are other things guarding the stone apart from Fluffy, loads of enchantments, probably, and Quirrell would have done some anti-Dark Arts spell that Snape needs to break through – ”

“So you mean the Stone’s only safe as long as Quirrell stands up to Snape?” said Hermione in alarm.

“It’ll be gone by next Tuesday,” said Ron.

In this lovely pasage, we are not in narrator’s voice. Rather, the narrator reports what Harry tells Ron and Hermione after he overhears Snape and Quirrell in the Forest. But Harry has no context for the conversation and consequently interprets it entirely through his suspicions… and gets its meaning completely backwards!

In actuality, Snape is not trying to find out from Quirrell how to get past Fluffy; he wants to make sure that Quirrell never finds out how to get past the beast. Likewise, Snape is not trying to break Quirrell’s protective spells; he is most likely discussing Quirrell’s previous “hocus-pocus” attempt to get Harry off his broom. And of course, it’s not Quirrell who needs to stand up to Snape; it is Snape who needs to stop Quirrell.

Curiously, Snape’s conversation with Quirrell ends with the comment that Quirrell needs to decide where his “loyalties lie.” We never know exactly how Harry interprets this comment (though we can assume that it’s not favorable to Snape). Regardless of Harry’s interpretation, what Snape is actually asking Quirrell is whether or not he’s loyal to Dumbledore and to the school, just as he (i.e., Snape) is. Despite Harry’s opinion that Snape is a villain out to compromise the DADA professor, Snape is actually 100% loyal to Dumbledore – making this one of the more ironic points in the chapter.

But there is one thing that Harry’s right about. There are enchantments guarding the Stone.

The “Nicolas Flamel” chapter is almost a misdirection overload! But it’s very good for demonstrating how Rowling uses the 3rd person limited to lead the reader astray so that her big “reveal” will be all that more of a revelation. But remember… none of this means that the Point of View leads to a generally untrustworthy, unreliable, and therefore unstable text. What it means is that Harry’s subjectivity can at times be mistaken and that this mistaken subjectivity can at times be presented as fact. This is not a controversial or radical or (Heaven Forfend!) Deconstructive statement. It is simply an easily verifiable truth based on the text.

Harry Potter POV (helpful sources):

Just as Dumbledore does not need a cloak to become invisible, I do not need a reference source to define the Point of View in a literary work for me. 8)
(It’s that Lit. Prof. thing)

For the reader’s convenience, however, I have provided some references that discuss Point of View in the Harry Potter series.
(Hint: It’s a limited 3rd person POV!).

The Look That Launched a Thousand Flames

Professor Quirrell, in his absurd turban, was talking to a teacher with greasy black hair, a hooked nose, and sallow skin.

It happened very suddenly. The hook-nosed teacher looked past Quirrell’s turban straight into Harry’s eyes – and a sharp, hot pain shot across the scar on Harry’s forehead.

“Ouch!” Harry clapped a hand to his head.

“What is it?” asked Percy.


The pain had gone as quickly as it had come. Harder to shake off was the feeling Harry had gotten from the teacher’s look – a feeling that he didn’t like Harry at all.

Straight into Harry’s Eyes

This post is one of the scariest of all posts to write, but being a Gryffindor, I will try to ignore the fact that the comments thread could explode into vituperative rants and the entire blogosphere could fly apart into billions of tiny pieces. I will be brave. I must.

The reason this post is so potentially explosive is that the sallow-skinned Professor’s look right here, in this scene, launched a battle that has been raging ever since. Even the fact that this man looks straight into Harry’s eyes could be the spark that ignites the flames that destroy us all! And if you think I’m kidding… just take a look at some of this morning’s discussion (yes, that is me posting as ccollinsmith)!

(A word to first-time-Potter-readers: You can still move away from this page right now, before it becomes highly spoilerific!).

The opinion that Harry forms right here, in this scene, is the one that stays with some fans forever – long after Harry has moved on, gotten over it, and even… gasp!… named his child after this man.

The hook-nosed Professor is, of course, Severus Snape, who will be the seeming villain all throughout PS/SS. In actuality, he is “Mr. Red Herring,” and in this scene he first lays eyes on “Mr. Love-Me-Or-I’ll-Think-You’re-Evil” Harry Potter.

Now, I love Harry. Don’t get me wrong. But in the course of this book, Harry will take Snape’s coldness and spin out of it a wild fantasy of horrific misdeeds – of working to steal the Philosopher’s Stone in order to return Lord Voldemort fully to life.

Now mind you, Harry knows nothing of Snape’s past – nothing of Snape having been one of the Dark Lord’s Death Eaters, nothing of Snape’s role in the deaths of his parents, nothing of Snape’s subsequent deep and abiding loyalty to Albus Dumbledore, nothing of his hard work behind the scenes to protect Harry Potter. All he knows is that Snape appears to hate him, and therefore he must be eeevol!!! Murderously so.

Oh, and of course, Harry also knows that Snape is the head of Slytherin House.

When Snape looks into Harry’s eyes and Harry feels the sharp pain in his scar, Harry concludes that the pain must come from Severus Snape. The logic running through Harry’s mind goes something like this: If Professor Snape looks at me and if I then feel pain, the pain must come from Professor Snape’s look.

That’s called a “post-hoc-ergo-propter-hoc fallacy” (for anyone keeping score) – or a “post hoc fallacy” for short. What it means is that the person committing the fallacy confuses sequence with cause. That is, if x occurred before y, then x must have caused y. As Hermione will say later in this book, “Most wizards don’t have an ounce of logic.” Harry’s conclusions about Snape in PS/SS illustrate that point quite beautifully.

And how about that look? Severus Snape has never seen Harry before. But he did hear on the day that Harry’s mother died that the boy who lived had her eyes. Also on that day, he swore to protect the boy, in order to honor the mother’s sacrifice. (uh-oh… the “obsession chorus” is about to start!)

Here, Snape finally sees the boy he has vowed to protect, and see if there is something of the mother in him. And of course what he sees is that ZOMG!!! THE BOY HAS HIS FATHER’S FACE!!! It’s a miracle that he didn’t throw his resignation at Albus Dumbledore right there on the spot and fly shrieking from Hogwarts Castle as fast as Gilderoy Lockhart would run if confronted by a monster!

But I’m getting ahead of the story… and Snape is after all no snivelling coward – despite the humiliating nickname Harry’s dad gave him as a boy.

At any rate, Snape begins his relationship with Harry by looking straight into the boy’s eyes, and he will end his life looking straight into this boy’s eyes – thus bookending what Harry Potter will ultimately acknowledge to have been one of the most important relationships in the course of his life.

Because of the huge mistakes both characters make in understanding each other, the tension that rises between them over the course of seven years, and the conclusions Harry ultimately draws about his most hated Professor, we will be keeping a very close watch on the development of the Snape-Harry relationship.

Let the flames begin!

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!

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?

Harry – Yer a Wizard!

The new chapter starts with a BOOM. Any doubts on what that is all about?

In chapter 1, Hagrid was entrusted with retrieving baby Harry from the ruined house and bringing him to Privet Drive. After 7 days and hundreds of letters, Hogwarts has finally sent the same emissary to deliver a single admissions letter.

For the past 10 years, Harry has been abused, neglected, under-nourished. And now this seeming-stranger comes in to the hut and focuses almost exclusively on him. Hagrid brings Harry a birthday cake, heats him up some sausages, even takes care of the Dursleys for him! Hagrid treats Harry like a hidden Prince.

In the letter left with Harry on the Dursley’s doorstep, Dumbledore had entrusted the boy’s aunt and uncle with the job of telling Harry who he was and what he was. The Dursley’s opted, instead, to hide and even run from the truth. Now, for the first time, Harry meets somebody who knows his story… and isn’t lying about it. Harry is, he learns, a Wizard – a famous boy in the Wizarding World. And his parents didn’t die in a car crash. They were murdered:

“CAR CRASH!” roared Hagrid, jumping up so angrily that the Dursleys scuttled back to their corner. “How could a car crash kill Lily an’ James Potter? It’s an outrage! A scandal! Harry Potter not knowin’ his own story when every kid in our world knows his name!”

You’ve just got to love Hagrid. He’s just so infuriated with the Dursleys for telling Harry nothing of the truth and fabricating falsehoods and depriving Harry of his birthright.

And so it’s left to Hagrid to tell Harry the story that every Wizarding kid knows – or at least the snippets of it that are not confined only to Dumbledore’s personal knowledge. But much of it is speculation. Hagrid speculates that when he killed the Potters, maybe Voldemort was trying to recruit them and it all went wrong, or maybe he wanted them out of the way because they were too close to Dumbeldore. Hagrid doesn’t really know:

“All anyone [other than Dumbledore] knows is, he turned up in the village where you was all living, on Halloween ten years ago. You was just a year old. He came ter yer house an’ – an’ – “….

“You-Know-Who killed ’em. An’ then – an’ this is the real myst’ry of the thing – he tried to kill you, too. Wanted ter make a clean job of it, I suppose, or maybe he just liked killin’ by then. But he couldn’t do it. Never wonder how you got that mark on yer forehead? That was no ordinary cut. That’s what yeh get when a powerful, evil curse touches yeh – took care of yer mum an’ dad an’ yer house even – but it didn’t work on you, an’ that’s why yer famous, Harry. No one ever lived after he decided ter kill ’em, no one except you…. an’ you was only a baby, an’ you lived.”

This is really the first explanation we have of why this little boy will be legend. But Hagrid’s got large parts of the story wrong:

  • Harry wasn’t an afterthought. He was the primary target. Harry is the reason Voldemort turned up in the village where they were hiding and killed Harry’s parents before trying to kill him.
  • The scar is far beyond being what you get when a powerful evil curse touches you. It’s a piece of Voldemort’s soul, living in Harry. It will become a connection between Harry and the Dark Lord.

Elsewhere, Hagrid tells Harry taht Voldemort never tried taking Hogwarts  because he was afraid of Dumbledore. Of course, in the Second Wizarding War, he at least thinks he’s taken Hogwarts.

And now for the final crucial piece of information. After failing to kill the boy, Voldemort disappeared:

“Most of us reckon he’s still out there somewhere but lost his powers. Too weak to carry on. ‘Cause somethin’ about you finished him, Harry. There was somethin’ goin’ on that night he hadn’t counted on – I dunno what it was, no one does – but somethin’ about you stumped him, all right.”

This is one bit that Hagrid gets very nearly right. Something did stump Voldemort. Hagrid just doesn’t know what. Despite Hagrid’s enlightenment, much of Harry’s story is still obscure. But for the first time, Harry finally connects the flash of green light to the “high, cold, cruel laugh” that he heard on the night his parents were murdered.

The Flight of the Dursleys, Part 3

We last left off with the Dursleys about to make a run for it, after the great letter-down-the-chimney assault. Let’s join them…

On the Lam

Sunday, Day 6: On Day 6 (the day “one less than perfection”), the Dursleys make a run for it, attempting to escape the letters…

Dudley was sniffling in the back seat; his father had hit him round the head for holding them up while he tried to pack his television, VCR, and computer in his sports bag.

They drove. And they drove. Even Petunia didn’t dare ask where they were going. Every now and then Uncle Vernon would take a sharp turn and drive in the opposite direction for a while.

“Shake ’em off… shake ’em off,” he would mutter whenever he did this.

Best moments: Dudley’s packing sense, Uncle Vernon’s muttering. And it just keeps getting better!

Monday, Day 7: Harry is a bit disoriented by the week’s events, so he doesn’t really realize it yet, but this 7th day of letters is also the day before the last day of the 7th month – the day of his 11th birthday. Keep in mind the dying days of the 7th month. It will become important later in the series.

And there are many other 7s in this series: 7 years, 7 Weasley children, 7 players in Quidditch, 7 Potters, 7 intended parts to Voldemort’s soul. And of course, 7 is said to be the most magically powerful number. But of course, all of that is yet to come. Right now, Harry has not even been introduced to the Wizarding World… though the Wizarding World is doing its best to introduce itself to him!

On this 7th day of letters from no one, the Dursleys find that none of their previous attempts to outrun the letters have succeeded. 100 or so letters await Harry at the hotel desk. After hours of driving aimlessly, Petunia sensibly asks Vernon if it might not be a good idea to go home. Instead, Uncle Vernon…

… drove them into the middle of a forest, got out, looked around, shook his head, got back in his car, and off they went again. The same thing happened in the middle of a plowed field, halfway across a suspension bridge, and at the top of a multilevel parking garage.

“Daddy’s gone mad, hasn’t he?” Dudley asked Aunt Petunia dully late that afternoon.

Finally, he finds a wave-crashed island offshore with a damp and battered shack. Certainly, no post can arrive there. Yet in what Daggerstone has called “Decidedly THE funniest Deus ex machina,” with less than one second to go to Harry’s birthday, Harry hears a…


The whole shack shivered and Harry sat bolt upright, staring at the door. Someone was outside, knocking to come in.

The Wizarding World will not be dissuaded.

Best moment: Dudley inquiring after his father’s sanity.

Next time: “Harry – Yer a Wizard”