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?