‘Our New Celebrity’

“There, look”
“Next to the tall kid with the red hair.”
“Wearing the glasses?”
“Did you see his face?”
“Did you see his scar?”

Whispers followed Harry from the moment he left his dormitory the next day. People lining up outside classrooms stood on tiptoe to get a look at him, or doubled back to pass him in the corridors again, staring. Harry wished they wouldn’t, because he was trying to concentrate on finding his way to classes.

Remember the scene in the Leaky Cauldron, when Tom the bartender, Dedalus Diggle, and all the pubs’ patrons form a spontaneous line to shake Harry’s hand? Well, Hogwarts is Leaky magnified a few hundredfold.

Doris Crockford may have come through that Leaky line a bundle of times, but imagine hundreds of her, lining the halls at Hogwarts to get a glimpse, doubling back to pass and goggle Harry a second time. And as if that’s not bad enough, imagine going in to Professor Flitwick’s Charms class, and have the guy fall over with excitement!

At the start of their first class [Professor Flitwick] took the roll call, and when he reached Harry’s name he gave an excited squeak and toppled out of sight.

It’s unnerving enough to have your schoolmates treat you as a celebrity, but to have your Professor react this way?

Now don’t get me wrong, I love Flitwick, and the incident is kind of endearing. And we will find in general that every time this man gets excited, he gets a little squeaky.

But imagine this scene from Harry’s perspective. The poor kid is at a new school, having to find his classes while dealing for the first time with ghosts, a poltergeist, stairways that won’t stand still, pictures that move and talk, students lining the corridors to get a look at him… and then he gets to watch his Charms Professor fall over from excitement at the mere mention of his name. It just has to be unnerving.

Professor Snape can’t help but sardonically mock all the attention at the start of the first class Harry ever has with him:

Snape, like Flitwick, started the class by taking the roll call, and like Flitwick, he paused at Harry’s name.

“Ah, yes,” he said softly, “Harry Potter. Our new – celebrity.”

I know Snape gets a bad rap for this line. But he does nicely sum up the absurdity of all the attention this unproven child is getting. And to be getting it over something that the child really is not responsible for (i.e. surviving the Killing Curse) just makes it snark fodder all the more.

Had Snape let Harry in on the joke rather than make him the butt of it, this moment might not have become the first in a long string of missed opportunities between these two.

And had Snape bothered to find out that Harry found his celebrity equally absurd (rather than assume that he enjoyed all the attention as his father would have (cf. “The Prince’s Tale”)), these two might have come to an understanding that did not first require Snape’s horrific death.

I know. In. My. Dreams.

And speaking of the Potions Master, MinervasCat on the Chamber of Secrets Forum gave this rather nice, succinct character analysis of Severus Snape (across the seven books) this morning.

Cheers, MC!

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.