‘But they were our kind, weren’t they?’

The last time I wrote on this very dense chapter, it took me three posts to cover what I wanted to say:

My brilliant guest author AnnieLogic later contributed this post on Draco:

Guest Post: Draco dormiens nunquam titillandusa

This time, I’m hoping to use a single post to cover a discussion of Draco and Slytherin from Diagon Alley to The Sorting Hat, but it won’t be this one. :)

Instead, it struck me this morning that there’s one line in this chapter that encapsulates the underlying cause for the unrest currently engulfing the U.S. Of Harry’s parents, Draco asks:

But they were our kind, weren’t they?

As Draco’s question very directly illustrates, we see each other often in terms of our tribal identity.

So far, Harry has experienced this sort of division mainly between himself and the Dursleys. They don’t view him as family but as a member of a different tribe (he’s some Wizard “weirdo,” and they are “perfectly normal, thank you very much”). Now that Harry has entered Diagon Alley and begun to experience the world of Wizards, he sees the same sort of tribal identification from the opposite direction.

It’s tempting to pin this sort of thinking on a Malfoy or a Slytherin, since the Malfoys have a long family history of hating Muggles and Muggle-borns, and Salazar Slytherin became a Pureblood Supremacist. But really, the tribal thinking is embedded into the very House structure at Hogwarts. Harry’s own prejudice against Slytherin begins with Draco and is reinforced by Hagrid’s claim that it would be “better” for him to land in “Hufflepuff than Slytherin” because according to Hagrid,

There’s not a single witch or wizard who went bad who wasn’t in Slytherin. You-Know-Who was one.

It’s true that Voldemort was in Slytherin. It’s not true that being in Slytherin is a requirement for going bad. And it’s certainly not true – as Hagrid implies – that being in Slytherin is an indicator that the student is drawn to darkness and is morally corrupt. (Merlin, anyone?). It takes Harry years to overcome this prejudice, but ultimately even Draco has a unicorn-tail-hair at his wand’s core.

The Wizarding World often reflects our world, and as in the Wizarding World, we tend to see our fellow citizens also in terms of tribes – whether those tribes are racial, subcultural, religious, or political. I wrote on how this phenomenon played out during the Jack the Ripper killings in 1888 and how it nearly caused riots then.

Not surprisingly, different tribes have different narratives about truth and justice. Though we, like Harry, are encouraged to adopt the perspective that Wizards of all backgrounds should be welcome at Hogwarts, the side that hates Muggles and Muggle-borns has its own narrative designed to “justify” its prejudice. The anti-Muggle-born narrative remembers a time when Muggle oppressors slaughtered witches and wizards (True! two of the Hogwarts ghosts died in the slaughter), and so the opponents of Muggle-borns mistrust the children of Muggles as a result. Over the centuries, these opponents have embellished their narratives, eventually claiming that Muggle-borns stole their magic, but regardless of the mindless bigotry that we see manifest in the 1990s, the initial prejudice against Muggle-borns was born out of fear that Muggle-borns would infiltrate the Wizarding World and serve Wizards up to their parents, not serve the Wizarding World.

What are some of the narratives we create or tell about the people who are not part of our own tribe(s)?


At-Home Video Reading: If you want to hear / watch this chapter read by Simon Callow, Bonnie Wright (Ginny), and Evanna Lynch (Luna), check out Chapter 5: Diagon Alley at Wizarding World.

A Letter from Hogwarts

The last time I wrote about this chapter, I focused on Harry’s interaction with Hagrid and on Hagrid’s explanation of Harry’s magic:

I really don’t have much to add, except that in this chapter, in the hut on the rock, Harry finally gets to read the letter that has been following him around for the past week. In contrast to Hagrid’s air of familiarity and intimacy, the letter itself is pretty straightforward and unsentimental:

Dear Mr. Potter,

We are pleased to inform you that you have been accepted at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Please find enclosed a list of all necessary books and equipment.

Term begins on September 1. We await your own no later than July 31.

Yours sincerely,

Minerva McGonagall,
Deputy Headmistress

I think we can assume that Lily’s letter was pretty much the same, though we don’t know who signed it. We do know, though, that Lily’s letter set Petunia off. As Petunia recalls:

Oh, she got a letter just like that and disappeared off to that — that school — and came home every vacation with her pockets full of frog spawn, turning teacups into rats. I was the only one who saw her for what she was — a freak.

What Petunia does not tell Harry or Hagrid (and what Harry won’t know for another 7 years) is that Petunia begged Dumbledore to allow her to go to Hogwarts alongside Lily. Petunia did not see Lily as a freak until Petunia felt left out. Lily’s letter, in other words, created the rift between the sisters, a rift that we do not see on that swingset in Snape’s memory of Cokeworth. Her own envy created it. Harry receiving his letter can only exacerbate that envy and the resulting rift.


The Hogwarts acceptance letter, though, is not supposed to cause so much drama (and trauma). It’s supposed to be a source of joy for the family. I got to have a bit of fun a few years ago writing the response of a different family when their half-blood daughter receives her letter. The entry was for contest called “A Year in the Life of a Hogwarts Student.” You can find the story originally posted here. Have fun…

The Secret Spell

The letter arrived just as mum started the seventh song in her step routine.

“RIGHT-KICK-2-3-4!
LEFT-KICK-2-3-4!
Now LEFT-ELBOW – RIGHT KNEE – 3-4.
RIGHT-ELBOW – LEFT-KNEE – 3-4.
FIST-PUMP LEFT – 3-4.
FIST-PUMP RIGHT – 3-4.”

When the owl emerged from the chimney, it connected with her right pumped fist, sending feathers flying. The startled bird screeched, dropped the letter, and darted back up the chimney to escape the Mad Muggle!

When mum saw the emerald-green ink on the envelope, she collapsed in a heap on the floor. “It’s your letter,” she blubbered. “Your letter from Hogwarts.”

She was such a sight that I barely had the presence of mind to run over and rip the letter out of her hands before she smudged the ink with tears!

Mum knew our world. She’d mingled with the witches during promotional tours for the Quidditch World Cup and heard dad do interviews about the fabled Battle of Hogwarts. The Daily Prophet called him a war hero, but he never thought he did anything special (“just what was needed to defend the castle”). Still, he had been the one to cast the secret spell.

Dad was the youngest survivor – the 4th year who snuck back in with Professor Slughorn and hid behind the rubble. When he emerged at the start of Voldemort’s one-hour truce, Professor McGonnagall found eight befuddled Death Eaters lying prostrate beside his hiding place, unable even to remember their names. So she allowed him to remain. Not one of those Death Eaters has since recovered enough of his wits to stand trial, and they are all still rotting in the prison ward at St. Mungo’s.

Dad never told the Ministry what spell he used, and they never asked specifics. He called it “Just something Professor Snape taught me a couple weeks before Dumbledore died, during a detention for casting a JellyLegs on that Malfoy prat in the Common Room.”

That’s why he gets interviewed every year on the anniversary by The Daily Prophet and even got recruited to appear in the first “Battle of Hogwarts Heroes Tour” when he was 17. That was the one where the Wizarding Wireless brought the Castle Defenders together to retrace the steps of Harry Potter in the wilderness and interview them on how it felt to “Walk where Harry Walked on (roughly) the Days that Harry Walked There.” Dad said it was a load of rubbish. Just publicity for the Wireless. But that’s how he met my mum – on the Heroes Tour, on Boxing Day, in a village beside the Forest of Dean.

She was an innkeeper’s daughter. He was a Pureblood Wizard whose family hadn’t spoken with him since the Battle. She taught him about Muggles. He taught her about Wizards. And he’d prepared her for my letter since the day I made the television turn on from two rooms down the hall.

“She’ll get a letter from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry when she’s eleven years old,” he’d declared nearly once every week since then. And then he would turn to quiz me on all the House colors and mottoes before adding proudly: “It’s addressed in emerald-green ink – like the colors of Slytherin House.”

He always found the ink color amusing since his own letter had been addressed in Slytherin-green by the Head of Gryffindor. Mine would be addressed by someone else.

He wasn’t much help, though, when I asked why mum got all teary-eyed over my letter. He’d floo’d in from Glastonbury during an outreach to “At-Risk Pureblood Youth in the West Country” after his Hogwarts contacts told him that my owl went out. Mum’s eyes were puffy when he walked out of the fireplace, and I was in the kitchen with my head down, asking why she couldn’t just be happy.

Dad thought it must be because of something the Muggles called “empty-nest syndrome” (he got that idea from her telly). But that explanation made no sense since my little sister and brother weren’t going anywhere!

Finally, I just asked her.

“Oh, love, I am happy for you!” she replied, getting weepy once again. “And proud,” she smiled through the tears. “And excited!

“I’ll go with you and dad to Diagon Alley for your school supplies,” she added with a kiss. “And to the Platform to catch the school train,” she brushed the hair out of my eyes with her fingertips. “And I’ll try very, very hard not to embarrass you again with any tears. But it’s just that you’re the first to go, and you’ll be gone such a very long time.”

Once mum’s eyes dried, the blonde woman from the Daily Prophet arrived at our doorstep, demanding to interview the “Halfblood girl about how exciting it must be to follow her father’s footsteps.”

No sooner did the reporter start asking if I already knew any secret spells than my dad yelled “Not my daughter, you lying witch!” and disarmed her Quick-Quotes Quill with one of his own secret spells. He was threatening to stomp any beetles found on the property when we heard the pop. Dad said she “just apparated back to whatever rock she crawled out from.”

Dad had sheltered the family from his notoriety since before I was born, but that part of my life was clearly done.

“I’m afraid Hogwarts will be hard on you,” he warned me that night. “People will try to get close to you and learn more about the secret spell. And they’ll ask why Professor Snape entrusted it to me. That’s something I don’t even know! Maybe he used Legilimency, to find out where my loyalties really lay. No matter, though. You’ll be under a lot pressure. Do you still want to go? We could send you to Beauxbatons.”

“Oh daddy!” I cried. “I’ve been waiting for Hogwarts forever! To live inside the castle and learn magic where you learned it! What’s a little pressure? And now I’ve got my letter! Please don’t take it away from me!”

Then I hesitated before continuing, “But there’s still one thing I’d like to know.”

“Yes?”

“Did Professor Snape give you the counter-curse?”

Dad twisted his mouth into a mischievous little grin. “Now, that, my dear, would be telling.”


At-Home Video Reading: If you want to hear / watch this chapter read by Simon Callow, Bonnie Wright (Ginny), and Evanna Lynch (Luna), check out Chapter 5: Diagon Alley at Wizarding World.

“I WANT MY LETTER!” he shouted.

Harry finds his voice

In the previous chapter, Harry seems largely cowed by the Dursleys. He had learned not to ask questions and regretted being open about his motorcycle dream. In this chapter, though, we begin to see glimpses of the bold young man Harry will become. Here’s how he responds at three different times to not being given his first letter.

Harry was on the point of unfolding his letter, which was written on the same heavy parchment as the envelope, when it was jerked sharply out of his hand by Uncle Vernon.

“That’s mine!” said Harry, trying to snatch it back.

After Vernon consults with Petunia:

“I want to read that letter,” he said loudly. “I want to read it,” said Harry furiously, “as it’s mine.”

“Get out, both of you,” croaked Uncle Vernon, stuffing the letter back inside its envelope.

Harry didn’t move.

“I WANT MY LETTER!” he shouted.

Later that night:

“Where’s my letter?” said Harry, the moment Uncle Vernon had squeezed through the door. “Who’s writing to me?”

“No one. It was addressed to you by mistake,” said Uncle Vernon shortly. “I have burned it.”

“It was not a mistake,” said Harry angrily, “it had my cupboard on it.”

Throughout his life, Harry has been told he is nothing, worthless, that nobody could possibly be interested in him. Yet he tenaciously and single-mindedly demands his letter when the letter’s very existence unmasks the Dursleys’ lie. This tenacity and demand for justice will follow him to Hogwarts.

Because the letter addresses his cupboard, Harry finally gets a real bedroom, yet

Harry sighed and stretched out on the bed. Yesterday he’d have given anything to be up here. Today he’d rather be back in his cupboard with that letter than up here without it.

And he devises his first elaborate plot (or at least the first we hear about):

Harry walked round and round his new room. Someone knew he had moved out of his cupboard and they seemed to know he hadn’t received his first letter. Surely that meant they’d try again? And this time he’d make sure they didn’t fail. He had a plan….

He was going to wait for the postman on the corner of Privet Drive and get the letters for number four first.

Even though Uncle Vernon thwarts his plot, Harry’s determination to get that letter and his willingness to devise a plan foreshadows all sorts of Hogwarts behavior – from trying to prevent Snape(!) from stealing the philosopher’s stone, to finding a way into the Chamber of Secrets, to ultimately breaking into a Hogwarts crawling with Voldemort allies.

Harry does not know yet that he is the “boy who lived.” He doesn’t know that his parents were murdered or that he was the target. He doesn’t know even that he is a wizard. But right here, with something as simple as waiting for the postman on the corner of Privet Drive, Harry begins to show the same resourcefulness that will see him through the Second Wizarding War and lead to Voldemort’s final downfall.

Previously in Chapter 3


At-Home Video Reading: If you want to hear / watch this chapter read by Eddie Redmayne, check out Chapter 3: The Letters from No One at Wizarding World.

Previous posts on this chapter:

Holiday in Hell… uh, Cokeworth

Before we get to Cokeworth, here are some previous posts on Chapter 3: “The Letters from Nowhere,” focusing largely on the chapter’s slapstick elements:

As we will soon see, it is thanks to Cokeworth that the Dursley parents rarely address Harry by name. To them, he is generally “you” or “the boy” or “one” (as in “one of them”). The Hogwarts letters don’t address him by name either. Instead, they use the more formal first initial but still give him the respected title of “Mr.” We can probably assume that Hogwarts addresses each 11-year-old letter recipient according to the same formula. Here are the addresses:

Letter 1 –

Mr. H. Potter
The Cupboard under the Stairs
4 Privet Drive
Little Whinging
Surrey

Letter 2 –

‘Mr. H. Potter, The Smallest Bedroom, 4 Privet Drive —’”‘

Letter at the hotel –

Mr. H. Potter
Room 17
Railview Hotel
Cokeworth

Part of the joke of the chapter is that as Harry moves, the letters track his location and include it in their address. Though the Dursleys suspect they are being watched, the truth more likely is that the charm used in creating the letters is simply tracking Harry – and tracking him quite precisely from the “Cupboard under the Stairs” to “The Smallest Bedroom” to the “Railview Hotel.”

Let’s take a closer look though at that final location.

Cokeworth
Photo from Harry Potter Wiki

On first glance, Cokeworth seems just some throwaway place with no real significance. In reality, it hints at a rich backstory. The address tells us that the hotel has a view of a railroad in the fictional industrial town of Cokeworth – a place we will see later in Harry’s Occlumency lessons with Snape, in Chapter 2 of Half-Blood Prince, and in Chapter 33 of Deathly Hallows. In other words, Spinner’s End is in Cokeworth. So is the swingset where Lily first met her young wizard friend Severus Snape.

Somehow, whether by chance or instinct or even providence, Vernon’s random driving has landed him in “a gloomy-looking hotel on the outskirts” of one of the most important pre-Hogwarts locations in the Harry Potter series: the home-town of Harry’s mother Lily, his Aunt Petunia, and his Potions Master, Severus Snape. In the larger plot of the saga, this is the town where Petunia learned to hate magic – because her sister had it and she did not. It is the town also where Snape learned to despise Muggles – because his Muggle father treated his mother abusively and Lily’s Muggle sister held him in contempt. And likewise, young Severus’ disdain for Muggles feeds into Petunia’s hatred of magic. In other words, many of Harry’s struggles, both at home with the Dursleys and soon at school with Snape, link back to Cokeworth.

Earlier, on reading the first letter,

[Vernon’s] face went from red to green faster than a set of traffic lights. And it didn’t stop there. Within seconds it was the grayish white of old porridge. “P-P-Petunia!” he gasped.

And when aunt Petunia’s reads the first line of Harry’s letter,

it looked as though she might faint. She clutched her throat and made a choking noise. “Vernon! Oh my goodness — Vernon!”

Petunia’s childhood experiences in Cokeworth elicited these exaggerated responses and have brought them back, perhaps unthinkingly, to Cokeworth, on the run from the ghosts of Petunia’s past and Vernon’s fears of “that dangerous nonsense.”

Meanwhile, at their hotel in Cokeworth,

Harry stayed awake, sitting on the windowsill, staring down at the lights of passing cars and wondering. . . .

To be continued


At-Home Video Reading: If you want to hear / watch this chapter read by Eddie Redmayne, check out Chapter 3: The Letters from No One at Wizarding World.

Note: J.K. Rowling has written about Cokeworth on Wizarding World, confirming the location’s significance. I’m not really sure when I first realized that Spinner’s End and the Evans sisters’ asphalt playground were in Cokeworth, but I think it was well before Rowling’s 2015 write-up because I was fairly surprised recently on re-reading my 2010 posts and realizing that I had not included that information then.

What Do You Find Funniest in CoS Chapter 1?

Chapter 1 of CoS is full of slapstick (“the magic word”), farcicle similes (“like a winded rhinoceros”), a parody of business-meeting itineraries (“We should all be in position at eight o’clock”), and even multiple “magic” attacks on poor Dudley Dursley (“Jiggery pokery!”, “Hocus pocus”, “squiggly wiggly”).

This, I think, is one of the funniest opening chapters in the HP series. So I’m wondering what you think are some of its funniest moments.

Please let us know in the Comments thread.

Like a Winded Rhinoceros… and a bit of scar tissue

Dursley-centric chapters are often great fun, and the first chapter of CoS (filled as it is with absurdity and slapstic) is no exception.

When Harry uses a common cliche (“You’ve forgotten the magic word”),

Dudley gasped and fell off his chair with a crash that shook the whole kitchen; Mrs. Dursley gave a small scream and clapped her hands to her mouth; Mr. Dursley jumped to his feet, veins throbbing in his temples.

For all this reaction, Harry may as well have arrived in black gloves wearing a mask and wielding a butcher’s knife!

But the absurdity doesn’t stop there!

“I meant ‘please’!” said Harry quickly. “I didn’t mean – ”

“WHAT HAVE I TOLD YOU, thundered his uncle, spraying spit over the table, “ABOUT SAYING THE ‘M’ WORD IN OUR HOUSE?”

The “M” word? Siriusly?

Do the Dursleys have no sense of proportion? (well, the answer to that question should be obvious, shouldn’t it?).

“HOW DARE YOU THREATEN DUDLEY!” roared Uncle Vernon, pounding the table with his fist.”

OUCH! In the HP world, magic is not inherently threatening, but after the “pig’s tail” incident from Harry’s last birthday, any suggestion of magic may certainly seem like a threat.

Finally, Uncle Vernon screams:

“I WARNED YOU! I WILL NOT TOLERATE MENTION OF YOUR ABNORMALITY UNDER THIS ROOF!”

And this is the real issue, isn’t it? The Dursleys, as we saw in our previous re-read post, pride themselves on their normality – so much so that shortly after Petunia accepted Vernon’s proposal of marriage, she realized that she needed to confront the issue of her sister’s “abnormality”:

She confessed the truth during a tear-stained date, in Vernon’s dark car as they sat overlooking the chip shop where Vernon had just bought them a post-cinema snack. Vernon, as Petunia had expected, was deeply shocked; however, he told Petunia solemnly that he would never hold it against her that she had a freak for a sister, and Petunia threw herself upon him in such violent gratitude that he dropped his battered sausage.

Absurd as the Dursley reaction to the “M” word is, it is quintessentially Dursley-esque!

When Vernon sits down, he is “breathing like a winded rhinocerous” – one of several amusing similes found in this chapter. What’s a simile, you might ask? In a simile, the author compares one thing to another by using “as” or “like.”

JKR seems to prefer “like”:

Not only does Vernon breathe “like a winded rhinocerous,” but the Dursleys treat Harry “like a bomb that might go off at any moment” and “like a dog that had rolled in something smelly.”

And it’s all because, for Harry, “magic” is more than just a word. It is part of who he is.

In the first chapter of CoS, JKR repeats for the audience the requisite background information – reminding us of Harry’s experience during the previous year at Hogwarts and the fact that Uncle Vernon has padlocked his school books and supplies in the cupboard under the stairs. In fact, Vernon has even padlocked Hedwig’s cage – leading to the chapter’s initial confrontation (in which Uncle Vernon asks if he looks stupid – all while “a bit of fried egg dangl[es] from his bushy mustache!).

But probably the most significant point that JKR emphasizes is Harry’s scar. Harry, she reminds us,

…wore rounded glasses, and on his forehead was a thin, lightning-shaped scar.

It was this scar that made Harry so particularly unusual, even for a wizard.

At one year of age, as we all know, Harry survived an attack by Voldemort. He had

…escaped with his lightning scar, and somehow – nobody understood why – Voldemort’s powers had been destroyed the instant he had failed to kill Harry.

And then, when Harry goes to Hogwarts, he learns that

he and his scar were famous

… because he is the only person who ever survived a killing curse – and he survived the Avada Kedavra from its most proficient practitioner.

When I first read the the early chapters of PS/SS, Harry’s scar seemed somewhat cosmetic – a distinguishing mark that really looked cool – though it was clearly foreshadowing something of significance.

What I like here in the first chapter of CoS is that JKR reminds us of Harry’s scar several times, just to remind us that it distinguishes him from other Wizards. And later – as the books continue – she builds on what Harry experiences via the scar (first, pain in proximity to Voldermort, then later an ability to see into Voldemort’s mind). She puts all the clues she needs in even these early books so that when the big reveal about the scar comes in “The Prince’s Tale,” we should not be surprised.

But of course, I was – given that (unlike the pre-DH fandom), I had only about three days between discovering in HBP that Voldemort sought to split his soul and reading the endgame in Deathly Hallows. I had to do a double-take, a triple-take, a quadruple-take when I came across that passage in TPT.

No matter what I experienced though. Nobody can say that JKR did not give the reader fair warning! She told us – again and again and again – the significance of the scar, just as she does here.

So… what are some things that have jumped out at you in reading through the first part of the first chapter of CoS?

Privets and Whingings and Dursleys… oh my!

I actually did start something of a CoS re-read a couple of years ago. In fact, I wrote preliminary posts on the first couple of chapters of the book, but I never got in to the in-depth over-analysis that typically characterizes this blog. ;)

If you’d like to take a look at those original re-read posts, here you go:

Like the first CoS scene on Pottermore, my old post on chapter 1 put some emphasis on “the magic word.” So let’s take a look at Pottermore’s view of that scene.

Number 4, Privet Drive

At Zoom 1 (original zoom level), we see the exterior to Number 4, Privet Drive. According to JKR, she chose the name of the Dursley street after

that most suburban plant, the privet bush, which makes neat hedges around many English gardens.

She chose the name of their town because it

sounds appropriately parochial and sniffy, ‘whinging’ being a colloquial term for ‘complaining or whining’ in British English.

She chose the number 4 because she has

never been fond of the number four, which has always struck [her] as a rather hard and unforgiving number.

These little bits of information show the degree to which JKR thought about what she was doing. I may not share her take on the number 4 (I rather like the number myself) – and I’m not quite clear on why she created 4 Houses if she has such a dislike of the number – but I do think it’s obvious that even in the details of the Dursley address, JKR was attempting to create a composite of the Dursley family. And that’s just a little bit of wonderful!

When we look at the scene on Pottermore (Zoom 1), we see the pastel hues of the Dursley home, hints of the flowery wallpaper on the home’s interior, and the trim surburban plants set against the house. And through the window, there’s a picture on the wall that appears to portray somebody in a Smelting’s uniform. Young Vernon? Dudley? It’s certainly not Harry!

Oddly, though, on the Dursley’s front porch, there appear to be some wear-and-tear flaws in the plaster near the lamp. Is that nothing more than an artist’s rendering? Or is it part of JKR’s own conception? Is the exterior of their house not quite the exemplar of suburban perfection that Petunia would have it be?

At Zoom 2, we go through the door… to find a Smelting’s straw hat on the staircase (this must be Dudley’s!) and the door to the cupboard under the stairs padlocked. The padlock will be explained when we get to the argument in the kitchen.

And at Zoom 3, we reach the kitchen… just in time to see Dudley about to fall out of his chair when Harry tells him he forgot to say “the magic word.”

Just as we have three levels of zoom, the first part of the chapter is broken up into three parts (which do not actually correspond to Pottermore’s three levels of zoom):

  • An argument at breakfast
  • A summation of Harry’s background (and the fact that it’s his 12th birthday)
  • A rehearsal of everyone’s roles for that night’s dinner party

We’ll take a look at these in the next re-read post. But for now, I’d like to go back to some Pottermore material that sets the stage. I’m speaking, of course, of that lovely exclusive JKR content on the Dursleys.

Vernon and Petunia Dursley

We know from the first chapter of PS/SS that Vernon values normalcy and that Petunia thinks her sister is a freak. The Pottermore info fills in the gaps.

One of the most sought-after pieces of information, actually, is the name of the town that the Evans girls – and, by extension, Severus Snape – grew up in. Based on Snape’s speech patterns, fans have speculated that he grew up in the north of England, perhaps even in a large industrial city like Birmingham. Actually, though, he and Lily and Petunia grew up in the fictional town of Cokeworth. This is the town that Petunia left in order to make her way in London.

And actually, we’ve been in Cokeworth before! In fact, I described the Cokeworth incident in an ancient Expecto Patronum! post concerning the Flight of the Dursleys:

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.

The next morning, at breakfast, they discover Hogwarts letters addressed to:

Mr. H. Potter
Room 17
Railview Hotel
Cokeworth

The text tells us that Cokeworth is a big city, and we know that it’s within a day’s drive of Little Whinging, Surrey – even if the driver is continuously changing course. I don’t know enough about driving in the UK to know how far a driver can get under these conditions. I’ll leave it to my UK friends to tell me whether or not it is plausible that Cokeworth is in the north.

But whatever the case, the “gloomy-looking hotel” where the Hogwarts letters hunt them down is on the outskirts of the same town in which Petunia, Lily, and Severus all grew up. Curiously, Petunia says nothing.

The Pottermore info also contains tidbits of information that have been alluded to before in the text:

  • That Petunia wanted to retreat as far into normalcy as possible in order not to be “tainted” by her sister
  • That she did not attend her sister’s wedding
  • That she did not congratulate her sister on either her wedding or the birth of her son. (In a particularly callous move, she threw the birth announcement in the bin – though she did register the name of her sister’s child, even if Vernon did not)
  • That she thought that she could “squash the magic out of Harry”

The truly new information focuses on Vernon and Petunia’s courtship and interactions with James and Lily. And this courtship info is often written in the same mocking tone that we find in the Dursley passages in the books. (Remember that wonderful Dursley intro in PS/SS: “Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much”?).

In the Dursley courtship, the “deliciously normal” junior executive “seemed a model of manliness to young Petunia.” {{{GAG! RETCH!!!}}}

He had a perfectly correct car, and wanted to do completely ordinary things, and by the time he had taken her on a series of dull dates, during which he talked mainly about himself and his predictable ideas on the world, Petunia was dreaming of the moment when he would place a ring on her finger.

When, in due course, Vernon Dursley proposed marriage, very correctly, on one knee in his mother’s sitting room, Petunia accepted at once.

It’s almost like something out of a romance made in hell! For those of you who have read A Game of Thrones, here’s an analogy: Rather than dream of true knights to rescue her from her peril, Sansa Stark instead dreams of a big beefy dullard to give her a “completely ordinary” and utterly predictable life. Petunia’s “true knight,” in other words, rescues her from anything faintly resembling romance.

And with that, I’d say we’ve had enough for our first post back on the re-read. Next time, we’ll focus more on the book itself and less on the Pottermore experience of it. :)

Harry Potter Re-Read: Let’s Open the Chamber of Secrets!

So… now that the first few chapters of CoS are available on Pottermore, it’s time for us to re-start the HP re-read by opening the Chamber of Secrets. When the next batch of chapters are published, I will take a bit of time off from the re-read to discuss the new Pottermore material but will quickly return to the re-read.

I plan to publish my first re-read post on Monday. I hope to see you then!

ETA: You can find the first re-read post here.

Pottermore: I’m In! Here’s How…

Well, I didn’t expect to try to get in to Pottermore as a Beta tester. I expected that getting early access would be really difficult, but when I read the Pottermore announcement shortly after midnight July 31 (UK time), I could not help but get caught up in all the excitement.

There wasn’t, as rumored, going to be some crazy round-the-Web scavenger hunt, and there were going to be 7 Days to get in to the Beta test group!

Naturally, I decided to give it a shot. And I decided to give it a shot on Day 1. I mean, how cool would it be to get in on Harry’s birthday – the day Harry got his own letter to Hogwarts?

Preparations

Since I was already hanging out on a fan site, I got a little bit of insider information. I learned that the first clue would be posted sometime after midnight Pacific time (8am in the UK), and that we would need to go to Diagon Alley.

The contest information had already indicated that the first day’s clue would focus on PS/SS. So Diagon Alley was clearly a reference to Chapter 5 in the first book. So of course, I skimmed the chapter and made notes before taking a nap and setting the alarm for 3am (US Eastern). It appeared that we would need to do some sort of calculation, so I particularly noted numbers in the Diagon Alley chapter.

Before taking my nap, I also made sure that I had the address I needed (http://quill.pottermore.com/) already typed in to the address bar on an open tab and that I had a calculator handy for the calculation. I didn’t want to be rushing around in excitement making mistakes if I figured out the clue.

The Clue

The clue didn’t arrive within 20 minutes of 3am, so I went back to sleep and woke up after a Pottermore dream at 4:30am. When I refreshed the Pottermore website, I saw this…

That was one number I had not written down!

But I did know where to find the Eeylops Owl Emporium because I had made a specific note of it. It was one of the first things Harry saw when he entered Diagon Alley! Five. Five breeds of owl. 5 * 49 = 245.

I couldn’t believe it had been so easy! I was pumping adrenalin as I opened up the tab with the address for the quill, typed 245 after the slash, hit Enter, and found myself trying to catch the Magic Quill!!!
(Note for anyone who wants to get into Pottermore: you have to do something with the Magic Quill. What you have to do has been different in each of the three challenges so far. But it is not hard to locate the Magic Quill).

Registration

Everything after that is a bit of a daze. After I clicked on the Magic Quill, I found myself on the registration page, then I saw my name on a list of magical people, and then I found myself having to choose a username. All the while, I was racing against the clock because I needed to get the registration completed before registration closed down for the day! Otherwise, catching the Magic Quill would not have mattered!

Anyway, I received a set of  5 possible usernames. They consisted of random Harry Potter words, coupled with a series of numbers. My choices, compared to a lot of people’s, actually seemed very good. I was ready to select one of the names at the top of the list when I found something in the middle:

AsphodelPhoenix

Seriously?!?!? I could have Asphodel and Phoenix in my username?

Asphodel is one of the ingredients in the very first question Severus Snape ever asks Harry:

“Potter! What would I get if I added powdered root of asphodel to an infusion of wormwood?”

(Answer: the Draught of Living Death)

And the Phoenix has been one of my favorite magical beasts since well before a wand with a Phoenix tail feather at the core chose Harry… or before Dumbledore befriended Fawkes or started an Order of the Phoenix!

All of my Top 4 characters are implied in that name. AsphodelPhoenix ties together Snape and Dumbledore, Harry and Riddle, and even (because there’s a plant involved) Neville! Just subtract Riddle from the list, and you know who my absolute favorite Harry Potter characters are!

Well, the choice was obvious, wasn’t it?!? And when I finished the registration process, I received a lovely piece of parchment confirming my name.

I wish I could say that the rest of the process went just as seamlessly, but I was one of the unfortunates who got caught in Yahoo Mail Limbo. It took me nearly 10 hours to get my activation email!

But hey, at least I didn’t have to wait as long as poor Evanna Lynch! (Luna in the Harry Potter movies). It seems that she had to wait about 18 hours!

So now, after recounting my own journey into Pottermore, I have something to pass on that I hope is useful to somebody.

The Numbers and the Books

It’s pretty obvious that the solution to the clue will always be a number, and that the number will be multiplied by something.

On Day 1, we had to multiply the solution by 49. Note that Pottermore is framing the challenge in terms of 7 Books, 7 Days, 7 Chances. 7 Days = 7 Chances, so we don’t really need to consider the final number. However, let’s look at the numbers so far…

Day 1: 7 books, 7 days (7 * 7 = 49)

Day 2: 7 books, 6 days (7 * 6 = 42)

Yes, it’s my understanding that on Day 2, the solution to the clue needed to be multiplied by 42. I predicted this, based on Day 1 using 7 squared. And if the pattern holds true, here are the rest of the numbers:

Day 3: 7 books, 5 days (7 * 5 = 35) – ETA (8/2/01): confirmed. The number was 35.

Day 4: 7 books, 4 days (7 * 4 = 28)

Day 5: 7 books, 3 days (7 * 3 = 21)

Day 6: 7 books, 2 days (7 * 2 = 14)

Day 7: 7 books, 1 day (7 * 1 = 7)

Note also, that on Day 3, the clue will focus on the third book, etc. So here are the remaining books you need to consider for the remaining days of the Beta test challenge:

Day 3: Prisoner of Azkaban

Day 4: Goblet of Fire

Day 5: Order of the Phoenix

Day 6: Half-Blood Prince

Day 7: Deathly Hallows

Pottermore Implications for the Expecto Patronum Blog

Once Beta testing is over and the entire public is allowed in to Pottermore, I will be re-focusing this blog on the Pottermore experience of re-reading the Harry Potter series.

Between now and then, I will re-read (and write about) some random chapters in the series. If anybody has any suggestions for favorite chapters to read, please let me know in the comments!

And with that, I’ll just say “Good luck on gaining early entry!”