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.)
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.)
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.”)
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.