Re-Reading Harry Potter: Harry at Hogwarts

Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey - Hogwarts CastleChapters 6-10 of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone cover the time span from Harry’s journey to Hogwarts from Platform 9¾ at King’s Cross Station to the trio’s defeat of the mountain troll in the girls’ bathroom.

After Harry is ignored for a month before school starts, he works up the nerve to ask Uncle Vernon for a ride to King’s Cross to meet the Hogwarts Express. Uncle Vernon wonders why students travel to the school by train: “Magic carpets all got punctures, have they?” Of course, we learn in Goblet of Fire that magic carpets are illegal. Obviously, Muggles must have seen witches and wizards riding them, as they had seen witches and wizards riding brooms, which is how magic carpets entered legend in folk tales and fairy stories. I suppose brooms were too popular to ban, and perhaps even more easily concealed. One wonders, though. In any case, we discover later that moving students by train is part of the drama of arriving at school. I suspect the train is more of a device for exposition and drama than a necessity for travel, but Pottermore has this to say about the Hogwarts Express:

Portkeys were therefore arranged at collecting points all over Britain. The logistics caused problems from the start. Up to a third of students would fail to arrive every year, having missed their time slot, or been unable to find the unobtrusive enchanted object that would transport them to their school. There was also the unfortunate fact that many children were (and are) ‘Portkey-sick’, and the hospital wing was frequently full to bursting for the first few days of every year, while susceptible students overcame their hysterics and nausea.

While admitting that Portkeys were not an ideal solution to the problem of school transportation, the Ministry of Magic failed to find an acceptable alternative. A return to the unregulated travel of the past was impossible, and yet a more secure route into the school (for instance, permitting a fireplace that might be officially entered by Floo powder) was strongly resisted by successive Headmasters, who did not wish the security of the castle to be breached.

A daring and controversial solution to the thorny problem was finally suggested by Minister for Magic Ottaline Gambol, who was much intrigued by Muggle inventions and saw the potential in trains. Where exactly the Hogwarts Express came from has never been conclusively proven, although it is a fact that there are secret records at the Ministry of Magic detailing a mass operation involving one hundred and sixty-seven Memory Charms and the largest ever mass Concealment Charm performed in Britain. The morning after these alleged crimes, a gleaming scarlet steam engine and carriages astounded the villagers of Hogsmeade (who had also not realised they had a railway station), while several bemused Muggle railway workers down in Crewe spent the rest of the year grappling with the uncomfortable feeling that they had mislaid something important.

The Hogwarts Express underwent several magical modifications before the Ministry approved it for school use. Many pure-blood families were outraged at the idea of their children using Muggle transport, which they claimed was unsafe, insanitary and demeaning; however, as the Ministry decreed that students either rode the train or did not attend school, the objections were swiftly silenced.

The first real wizards that Harry meets, aside from his trip to Diagon Alley, are the Weasleys. I loved Molly Weasley instantly. She is just the sort of helpful soul who would help Harry. Imagine if he had encountered Narcissa Malfoy instead. She would probably have mocked him or assumed he was Muggle-born and definitely would not have helped him. Incidentally, don’t we find out later that Muggle-born students are given instructions for how to get to Diagon Alley for supplies and how to get on the Hogwarts Express? Given that Dumbledore knows by the time the term starts that Harry knew nothing about being a wizard (surely Hagrid shared those details), Dumbledore would have thought to send along instructions. Nope. Once again, it offers Harry an opportunity to make a connection.

I also instantly loved the Weasley twins. They joke around, but they offer to help Harry with his trunk without being asked, just because they are nice.

Harry figures out early on that “The Weasleys were clearly one of those old wizarding families the pale boy in Diagon Alley had talked about.” They definitely are, and indeed, they are even distantly related to the Malfoys and just about every other old wizarding family around. But they also don’t think that makes them superior to others, which is where they differ, in all the best ways, from many of the old pureblood families.

Ron says that he has a lot to live up to as the youngest Weasley boy. He also complains about getting things second hand, including Charlie’s old wand. So why does he have Charlie’s old wand? Why did Charlie need to get a new one? I thought the wand chose the wizard. Clearly, wizards can perform magic with other wands, but Ollivander makes it clear that you do your best work with your very own tool. Also, Charlie’s old wand is made of ash and unicorn hair. Of ash wands, Pottermore says

The ash wand cleaves to its one true master and ought not to be passed on or gifted from the original owner, because it will lose power and skill. This tendency is extreme if the core is of unicorn. Old superstitions regarding wands rarely bear close examination, but I find that the old rhyme regarding rowan, chestnut, ash and hazel wands (rowan gossips, chestnut drones, ash is stubborn, hazel moans) contains a small nugget of truth. Those witches and wizards best suited to ash wands are not, in my experience, lightly swayed from their beliefs or purposes. However, the brash or over-confident witch or wizard, who often insists on trying wands of this prestigious wood, will be disappointed by its effects. The ideal owner may be stubborn, and will certainly be courageous, but never crass or arrogant.

The emphasis is mine. So it seems to me that Ron is set up not to do well until he gets his own wand, even before it breaks in Chamber of Secrets.

We also meet Peter Pettigrew for the first time. I have to admit, I never imagined that rat was really a person. I was surprised by Azkaban.

I have always loved the introduction to wizarding candy on the train. I am convinced that Rowling got the idea for Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans from Jelly Belly jelly beans, which have a huge variety of flavors (though no gross ones). If this is true, she must have been thrilled when Jelly Belly started making Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans. I also love the Chocolate Frog cards, and one of my biggest disappointments in Pottermore is that though you collect Chocolate Frog cards, they have no pictures. At least you can go look at them and re-read them once you’ve put them in your trunk. When Pottermore was first rolled out, you couldn’t re-read them.

Hermione comes along, looking for Neville’s toad. Through her, Harry learns about Hogwarts’ other two houses, Gryffindor and Ravenclaw. Hearing Harry Potter is on the train, Draco shows up with his cronies, Crabbe and Goyle. In Scabbers’s finest hour, he bites Goyle when the evil trio tries to steal Harry and Ron’s candy.

Once they arrive at Hogsmeade, the first years are taken by boat to the castle. This must be for dramatic effect, as we learn no other students travel to Hogwarts that way.

In chapter 7, we find out how students are sorted into houses. A weird side note: Hermione has read Hogwarts: A History (which I really, really, really hope becomes a real book one day), but she does not appear to know about the Sorting Hat, as she is “whispering very fast about all the spells she’d learnt and wondering which one she’d need.” How on earth is something like the Sorting Hat kept secret even in old wizarding families like the Weasleys? After all, Fred tricks Ron into thinking Ron would have to wrestle a troll (we will come to that later). At any rate, I am not buying that the Sorting Hat is never mentioned in Hogwarts: A History. Perhaps Hermione had not yet finished the book, but she knew about the ceiling being bewitched to look like the sky. So why doesn’t she know about the Sorting Hat?

One of the best parts of Pottermore is that you, too, are sorted into a house when you play. Interestingly, the numbers of students in each house have remained about evenly divided since the site’s inception. I think Rowling must be an adept observer of human nature to have figured out four groups into which society so evenly divides. I was sorted into Ravenclaw. I have always identified with that house, and I was truly nervous I wouldn’t get in when I took the test on Pottermore. What if I (gasp) was a Hufflepuff? (Just kidding, Hufflepuffs. You make the world go round.) Almost everyone I know was sorted into the exact house I thought they belonged in when they took Pottermore’s Sorting Hat test.

Another fascinating fact we learn about sorting on Pottermore is that some individuals are tough to sort, and when the Sorting Hat appears to be taking a really long time to sort a student, it is because the Sorting Hat cannot decide between two houses. Seamus Finnigan wore the hat for almost a whole minute before he was sorted into Gryffindor. We do NOT learn in the book how long it took the Hat to decide where to put Hermione, but on Pottermore, we learn it was nearly four minutes. One guess which other house was the contender. Actually, we do learn the answer to that question in Order of the Phoenix. Another student in Harry’s year also took a long time to sort: Neville. Neville really hoped to be in Hufflepuff because he didn’t feel up to Gryffindor. The Hat disagreed. The Hat was right.

Interestingly, at least for me, is that we learn there is a term for a person whom the Hat takes longer than five minutes to sort: a Hatstall. Minerva McGonagall and Filius Flitwick were both Hatstalls and like to joke about how easily it could have turned out that they would have swapped houses.

I just love it that the Hat won that silent argument with Neville. I may have actually cried a little the first time I read that. Because this is why:

neville

I love it that the Hat knew that was in Neville all along, even if Neville didn’t.

Later, as everyone is feasting, the new Gryffindors meet Nearly Headless Nick. I love Nearly Headless Nick. I also love it that Seamus asks Nick how the Bloody Baron got covered in blood, and Nick says he never asked, but even THAT tiny detail is sorted out in Deathly Hallows. Almost every single little detail is wrapped up in a neat little bow by the end of the series.

We met Quirrell before, but we see him again at the feast talking to Snape. Did you know that Quirrell was a Ravenclaw? Also of note is that Harry dreams that night that Quirrell’s turban was talking to him. Because it is Voldemort’s face, and Harry is a horcrux, is why. That Rowling is a clever witch.

We get to know Snape in chapter 8, and clearly, he has a real axe to grind. He hates Harry on sight because he looks like James, Snape’s loathed enemy. Before we get involved with Snape, I want to mention it is sad that History of Magic, which has the potential to be the most interesting class at Hogwarts, turns out to be boring. I wish Harry had a more engaging teacher in that class. Think of what we readers might have learned if he had.

So, Snape. Best quote:

“As there is little foolish wand-waving here, many of you will hardly believe this is magic. I don’t expect you will really understand the beauty of the softly simmering cauldron with its shimmering fumes, the delicate power of liquids that creep through human veins, bewitching the mind, ensnaring the senses … I can teach you how to bottle fame, brew glory, and even stopper death—if you aren’t as big a bunch of dunderheads as I usually have to teach.”

We also learn that if you add powdered root of asphodel to an infusion of wormwood, you can make the Draught of the Living Death, which Harry successfully makes for Slughorn in Half-Blood Prince, earning the Felix Felicis. By following Snape’s instructions. See, if we had paid really good attention to this chapter, we could easily have pegged Snape as the original owner of Harry’s copy of Advanced Potion-Making. Actually, I did figure that detail out because it was Potions, after all. Snape might be fascinated by the Dark Arts, but he is clearly most gifted at Potions. Snape also asks Harry where you might find a bezoar. Of course, Harry also uses a bezoar to save Ron in Half-Blood Prince, again because Snape left those instructions on the antidote recipe Harry is reading. As far as I can remember, monkshood/wolfsbane/aconite don’t become terribly important later, except that it is an ingredient in the Wolfsbane Potion that subdues werewolves during their transformation phase.

In chapter 9, Malfoy sets Harry up to be caught out of bed at midnight by challenging Harry to a duel. Curiously, he sizes up both his cronies and picks Crabbe as his second. Why not Goyle? Isn’t he bigger? Crabbe, of course, would later set Fiendfyre on the trio in the Room of Requirement and winds up killing himself with it. He is said to become gifted at Dark Arts spells. Figures he would be a good duellist, though how he rubs his two brain cells together to figure that out, who knows.

We learn in this chapter that Harry has a natural gift for flying. He commands the broom to leap into his hand and flies expertly the first time he mounts his broom. And he only does it to defend poor Neville because Malfoy tossed Neville’s Remembrall. McGonagall sees Harry catch it, and she is elated. Did you know she had been a talented Quidditch player? Yeah! She was captain of her house Quidditch team at Hogwarts. Unfortunately, a sports injury cut her Quidditch career short (via Pottermore):

A nasty fall in her final year (a foul during the Gryffindor versus Slytherin game which would decide the Cup winner) left her with concussion, several broken ribs and a lifelong desire to see Slytherin crushed on the Quidditch pitch. Though she gave up Quidditch on leaving Hogwarts, the innately competitive Professor McGonagall later took a keen interest in the fortunes of her house team, and retained a keen eye for Quidditch talent.

Pottermore does not tell us what position she played. My guess is Chaser, though I have nothing on which to base that guess, and indeed, if she had been Seeker, taking her out with a game-losing foul might make more sense. She just seems like a Chaser to me.

And of course, we learn that James Potter was a Quidditch player, too. The movie displays his team trophy and lists his position as Seeker, but Rowling has said he was a Chaser.

Of course, when Harry and Ron sneak out for the midnight duel, Hermione follows them, “hissing at them like an angry goose.” Don’t you love her? And poor Neville winds up coming along because he’s been stuck outside the Common Room. Then the four of them wind up finding Fluffy. I always thought it was dumb that the movie script changed the detail regarding Fluffy’s origin from Greek to Irish. It makes much more sense for a Greek chappie to have a three-headed dog. Anyone could tell you that, right?

In chapter 10, the trio is cemented as lifelong friends after they defeat the troll, but before that happens, Harry goes for his first Quidditch training session and learns the rules of the game. I was struck again upon reading that scene that Rowling expertly handles exposition. She figures out a natural way to explain the rules of Quidditch that doesn’t detract from the progress of the story. Oliver Wood remarks at the end of their lesson that he wouldn’t be surprised if Harry becomes a better player than Charlie Weasley, whom Wood insists “could have played for England if he hadn’t gone off chasing dragons.” I have to agree with Wood about Harry’s abilities, given how he turns out. I think definitely could have played for England, and he might even have been able to assist his team to the Quidditch World Cup. But he doesn’t choose that path. Wood, of course, winds up playing for Puddlemere United. The only other Hogwarts student among Harry’s friends that we see go into professional Quidditch is Ginny, who plays for the Holyhead Harpies.

In Charms, the first years learn how to make things fly, and Seamus sets fire to the feather he is sharing with Harry when he prods it with his wand. Unfortunately, the movies decided to exaggerate this event for comic effect, and Seamus’s pyrotechnics become a running joke.

Later on, Harry and Ron take on the troll that has cornered Hermione in the bathroom, and it’s just the best scene.

Harry then did something that was both very brave and very stupid: he took a great running jump and managed to fasten his arms around the troll’s neck from behind. The troll couldn’t feel Harry hanging there, but even a troll will notice if you stick a long bit of wood up its nose, and Harry’s wand had still been in his hand when he’d jumped—it had gone straight up one of the troll’s nostrils.

Surprisingly, Professor McGonagall only takes five points from Gryffindor because of Hermione. I mean, later in the book, she takes 50 points each from Harry, Hermione, and Neville for being out in the halls at night time. Tackling trolls alone seems to be much more dangerous than roaming the halls at night. Very odd system they have for taking points. And she is not very generous with awarding points. Harry and Ron get only ten points for tackling the troll, but later, Dumbledore gives them a whole bunch of points for various accomplishments behind the trap door.

But Rowling sums it up perfectly at the end of chapter 10:

But from that moment on, Hermione Granger became their friend. There are some things you can’t share without ending up liking each other, and knocking out a twelve-foot mountain troll is one of them.

Exactly. And can you believe an editor tried to convince Rowling to cut the troll out?

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