Quidditch… through the Ages

Everyone from wizarding families talked about Quidditch constantly. Ron had already had a big argument with Dean Thomas, who shared their dormitory, about soccer. Ron couldn’t see what was exciting about a game with only one ball where no one was allowed to fly. Harry had caught Ron prodding Dean’s poster of West Ham soccer team, trying to make the players move.

We’ve gotten to Hogwarts. We’ve met the main characters. Now it’s time for some Wizarding Sport!

“The Midnight Duel” is really a transitional chapter between the “establishing” detail of earlier chapters and the main Hogwarts plot. It picks up on hints about Quidditch from earlier chapters and propels the Quidditch subplot forward… and spends most of the chapter developing the Gryffindor/Slytherin rivalry.
(and with that, I’m done with writing a thesis statement for a blog post!)

A Bit about Quidditch

The intro to this chapter really gives the reader a feel for the significance of Quidditch in the Wizarding World. All the kids are talking about it. Neville is terrified of flying. Hermione, of course, is trying to learn how to fly by reading a book. And Harry is afraid of making a fool of himself in front of Draco Malfoy during the upcoming Flying Lessons.

Hermione’s book, taken from the library, is called Quidditch through the Ages. In his Foreword to a Muggle edition of the book, Albus Dumbledore writes:

Quidditch through the Ages is one of the most popular titles in the Hogwarts school library. Madam Pince, our librarian, tells me that it is “pawed about, dribbled on, and generally maltreated” nearly every day – a high compliment for any book.

The book itself describes the history of Quidditch – the origins of flying by broom, racing brooms, the history of flying broom games, the development and historical changes to the game, the origin of the seeker’s Golden Snitch, as well as the various teams of Britain, Ireland, and abroad. It is a quite comprehensive history of the Wizarding Sport – all crammed in to about 56 densely packed pages.

Unfortunately, you can’t learn much about actually flying out of a book, no matter how helpful the tips. So Hermione doesn’t get much benefit out of the text. Harry Potter though – who we soon learn is a natural flyer – will later learn plenty from the book. About Quidditch, not how to fly.

Gryffindor vs. Slytherin

While Quidditch may be one of the main topics of the chapter, the Gryffindor/Slytherin rivalry is really at the chapter’s foundation:

  • Flying Lessons: Gryffindor 1st years take flying lessons with Slytherin first years.
  • Harry vs. Draco: The most prominent 1st year boy in Gryffindor faces off – multiple times in this chapter – against the most prominent 1st year boy in Slytherin.
  • McGonnagall vs. Snape: The Gryffindor Head of House is willing to bend the rules (re: 1st years not owning racing brooms or playing on the House Quidditch teams) specifically in order to show up the Slytherin Head of House.

We know that the rivalry dates all the way back to Godric Gryffindor and Salazar Slytherin themselves – the two male founders of Hogwarts – and that it is currently embodied in the battle for the future of the Wizarding World between Albus Dumbledore (Gryff) and Lord Voldemort (Slythie).

Yet Hogwarts insists on putting these two bitter rival Houses together in Double Potions and Flying Lessons and even Care of Magical Creatures… yet they can seemingly never get along. What’s the purpose of forcing them together?

My personal theory is that these are the dominant Houses, and it’s for the well-being of the other Houses. Can you imagine putting the poor Hufflepuffs in Double Anything with either Gryffindors or Slytherins?

Ravenclaws might hold their own – particularly from an intellectual standpoint – but the Hufflepuffs would, I think, just wither away. Better to put them with the Ravenclaws and let the Gryffs and Slythies fight it out amongst themselves.

If anybody has a better theory, I’d love to hear it!

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.

Lemon Drop?

I have come to the conclusion that lemon drops are the gateway drug into the Potterverse. It’s a Muggle sweet, you know, that the Headmaster is particularly fond of.

Several days ago, I created a Content Map for Chapter 1. (And yes, it included lemon drops). The map shows, basically, that Rowling laid the groundwork for the entire series right here in the first chapter. We’re missing references to only one major character (and a second minor one) who prove significant in the events leading up to Harry Potter’s being left, an orphan, on the Dursleys’ doorstep. And what happened in Godric’s Hollow on All-Hallow’s Eve, 1981 – and what is happening on Privet Drive on All-Saints Day – are the events that provide the key to everything else.

Let’s break down the chapter a bit. I’ll place the most serious spoilers (plus a few asides) in a smaller font – in parentheses.

Cloaks and Deluminators

Albus Dumbledore arrives on Privet Drive in a purple cloak and high-heeled boots, carrying a “Put-Outer.” When McGonnagall comes out of her Tabby Animagus transfiguration, we will find her adorned in an emerald cloak. Much later, at Hogwarts, Severus Snape will swoop in and out of the scene in an ubiquitous black cloak. Cloaks are, quite simply, the finest fashion statement of the Wizarding World. (Vernon Dursley, of course, sees only “Weirdos” when he sees Wizards in cloaks, congregating on Muggle street corners.)

The “Put-Outer” Dumbledore uses to …put out… the street lamps initially seems like a little touch of gratuitous magic – something to show Muggle readers a hint of what Wizards can accomplish. But in Year 7, we get the payoff. The “Put-Outer” is really called a Deluminator. And it can do a lot more than turn off the lights on a Muggle street.

“Would You Care for a Lemon Drop?”

I love Albus Dumbledore. Yes, yes, I know he gets knocked off his pedestal a bit in DH, but he’s still, you know, Dumbledore. Brilliant. Eccentric. “Nitwit. Blubber. Oddment. Tweak.”

While McGonnagall’s concerns and questions about “You-Know-Who” provide the backplot needed for narrative exposition, Rowling tosses in this supremely casual aside about lemon drops. Dumbledore’s love of sweets becomes one of the standing jokes of the series. Lemon Drop, Fizzing Whizbee, Cockroach Cluster, Acid Pops – all pop up as passwords to the Headmaster’s study during Dumbledore’s tenure. “Acid Pops,” I believe, is Dumbledore’s last known password. (But perhaps the most touching password is Severus Snape’s, as Harry learns when he goes up to the Headmaster’s study to view the memories after Snape has been murdered. The password to Snape’s study is the simple, prosaic, yet poignant tribute: “Dumbledore.”)


While Dumbledore fiddles with his lemon drops, the stern, severe, but compassionate McGonnagall puts Muggle readers on notice that Wizards intentionally hide from the Muggle World (thanks to the International Statue of Wizarding Secrecy). But perhaps more significantly, Muggle readers learn that someone who apparently must not be named has terrorized the Wizarding World over the past 11 years.

McGonnagall’s fear of Voldemort’s name sets the stage for the whole “You-Know-Who” motif that will play out throughout the series. Snape will snarl at Harry not to mention the Dark Lord’s name. Ron Weasley and all of Harry’s Wizard-raised friends will nearly jump out of their skins every time Harry does. Only Dumbledore will encourage Harry not to be afraid to name the man who killed his parents and tried to kill him. (The pay-off to the “He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named” motif finally comes in DH, when Voldemort takes over the Ministry of Magic and has a spell put on his name so that the Death Eaters and Snatchers can track down anyone who uses it.)

The Letter

Dumbledore intends to leave the orphaned child on the Dursleys’ doorstep with no explanation but a letter. Is his judgment sound? Is he out of his mind? Is this a result of the International Statute of Wizarding Secrecy? Is it necessary in order for the magic to be sealed that will protect Harry when he’s living with his relatives?

Whatever the case, it probably helps reinforce Petunia’s hatred of the Wizarding World – bringing back memories of her own humiliation (when she wrote Dumbledore begging to be let in to Hogwarts, even though she had no magical abilities. On that occasion, Dumbledore also wrote a letter – declining her request. Now, he drops off her Wizarding sister’s child and explains “everything” in a letter.)

The Motorcycle

Hagrid and Sirius. Our introduction to Hagrid comes with his entry on Sirius’ “Misused Muggle Artifact” – an enchanted motorcycle. This kind, emotional giant of a man (or man-giant) brings Sirius’ orphaned godson to Privet Drive. Harry’s godfather, of course, will become increasingly important as the story spins out. (And Hagrid’s howl is remniscient of the terrible sound Severus Snape makes on this same day in Dumbledore’s office, after hearing about Lily Potter’s death – a sound “like a wounded animal.”)

The Scar

A whole book could be written on the scar. Right now, it’s just a lightning-shaped cut. But it will ultimately help Dumbledore unravel how young Harry survived Voldemort’s killing curse, how the scar connects Harry to the man who tried to kill him, and what Harry needs to do about it.

When next we meet Harry at 10 years old, he will consider the scar the only cool thing about his physical appearance. It will help the Weasley twins recognize him as being Harry Potter on the train to Hogwarts. And soon, it will burn in the presence of Voldemort.

This small cut on baby Harry’s forehead will prove to be one of the keys to the larger story.