“Welcome back, Mr. Potter, welcome back”

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Chapters 5-7

World Building

Chapter 5, “Diagon Alley”, is essentially one big world building chapter. Harry goes with Hagrid to Diagon Alley where he buys all of his school supplies and Harry gets his first introduction to how the wizarding world works. He goes to Gringotts, gets a wand, a cauldron, an owl, and he learns about the Ministry of Magic. Though the Ministry is only briefly introduced here, it is one of the aspects of the wizarding world that fascinates me the most. Hagrid says it mostly exists to keep muggles from finding out about wizards, but it is also their entire government and will later include much more. When Harry asks why wizards need to keep their existence a secret, Hagrid gives a lame excuse about how everyone would want a magical fix. This is just kind of a hand-waving answer, laster it is expanded more on why it is so important to keep it a secret.

While in Diagon Alley, Harry meets Draco Malfoy for the first time. And Harry immediately dislikes him. Harry learns about wizard racism, the purebloods vs muggle-borns. Malfoy doesn’t use this terminology but he tells Harry that he doesn’t think that wizards born to muggle families should even be allowed at Hogwarts. Malfoy also disses Hagrid which is all Harry needs to decide Malfoy is not a wizard he wants to associate with.

J.K. Rowling has a great imagination, as is displayed in these chapters, but her world building abilities have often been criticized. There are some inconsistencies and things that don’t quite add up, but I am not someone who really gets bogged down by that stuff. I like that the world building is simplistic and doesn’t require too much work to understand. As someone who is not particularly detail oriented, I often find more intricately built fantasy worlds (like Lord or the Rings) to be distracting from the important parts of the story. Just a personal opinion, I understand though that for a lot of people it is infuriating.

Harry’s Introduction to the Wizarding World

Throughout these chapters Harry is not only getting to see magic for the first time, he is meeting wizards who have a range of reactions to seeing him for the first time. When he enters the Leaky Cauldron, everyone wants to shake his hand and Hagrid has to push him through so they can actually buy his school supplies. Not everyone recognizes Harry immediately though. Since he has been off with muggles for all of his life, no one really knows what he looks like. They know about the scar, but Harry’s hair hides it a lot of the time.

When Harry goes to get his wand he meets the wandmaker Ollivander who is incredibly creepy. He is fascinated by how magic works, to the point that he has very little tact for giving Harry space. When Harry walks in, Ollivander goes straight for touching his scar. When Harry picks a wand that has a connection to Voldemort, Ollivander talks of Voldemort’s power almost admiringly.

With all of this being new Harry hasn’t learned yet to be sensitive about anything. When Ron asks Harry if he really has the scar, Harry shows it to him without really thinking about it. Later Harry will grow to be annoyed by people staring at him and noticing the scar, but for now its all just so overwhelming Harry doesn’t know what to think.

The only person who really acts with grace towards Harry is Mrs. Weasley. She doesn’t recognize him when he asks her how to get onto Platform 9 and 3/4, but when she finds out later instead of being fascinated by being near a famous person, she just feels compassion. She realizes that he was alone because his parents are dead and that he has grown up away from the magical community. She tells her sons not to ask Harry questions about Voldemort or his parents and to just let him be.

Harry Meets Ron

On his way to Hogwarts, Harry meets Ron Weasley and the friendship beings. I love their friendship. I know not everyone is a Ron fan. He isn’t particularly skilled at anything and often fails to show his value in a practical way. But he has great heart and he and Harry have a great example of a close male friendship. Rarely in literature and movies do guys get to have close male friends where they actually confide in each other. Harry and Ron immediately click with each other, both being in awe of the other. Ron is of course excited to meet the famous Harry Potter. Ron himself is the 6th son of the Weasleys and unsure of how to find his own place in the world. He comes from a poor family but they are rich in love and warmth. Harry sees this when he meets Mrs. Weasley and Fred and George. Having grown up in the muggle world, Harry is afraid he won’t be able to catch up to the kids who grew up in wizarding families. He is fascinated by the big, loving, all-wizard Weasley family.

They barely know each other but Harry is already feeling very loyal. On the train, Harry meets Malfoy again who offers up his own friendship as a superior alternative to Ron. Harry has already had a bad impression of Malfoy and tells him he can make his own friends.

When Harry buys up all the candy from the trolley, he is doing it partly to learn more about the wizarding world and partly so he can have something to share with Ron. Ron is stoked to indulge in all these treats that he normally can’t afford. Harry isn’t trying to buy Ron’s affection, he wants to bond and share in his knowledge of this new world. Harry is even sure to mention that he grew up mostly wearing Dudley’s hand-me-downs so Ron doesn’t feel too insecure about his own lack of money.

The Sorting

Upon arriving to Hogwarts, the students are immediately sorted into their houses. The storing hat describes the qualities of each house as follows:

  • Gryffindors are brave
  • Hufflepuffs are loyal
  • Ravenclaws are smart
  • Slytherins are cunning

All of the Weasleys have been in Gryffindor and it is the house Hermione wants to be in. Malfoy is born to be in Slytherin and the hat doesn’t even take a moment to consider anything else. Harry doesn’t know what he wants other than he doesn’t want to be in Slytherin. When it is his turn to get sorted the hat spends sometime on him. Harry is begging it not to put him in Slytherin because he just knows that is where the bad guys go. The hat asks him if he is sure, Slytherin will help him to become a great wizard, but if he really doesn’t want to go there then he must be in Gryffindor. This is the only indication that we ever get that students get any choice in where they are placed. Was the hat actually considering putting him in Slytherin but considered Harry’s choice as it says more about who he really is?

The core three are conveniently put in the same house, of course it will take a few more chapters before Hermione makes the trio.

Harry’s Imposter Syndrome

Harry is feeling some major imposter syndrome throughout these chapters. While waiting to be sorted he is concerned that the sorting hat won’t be able to sort him because he won’t belong anywhere. This is all too good to be true for Harry and he is just waiting for it all to come crashing down. For him this is his salvation from the Dursleys. He gets to start over, have a new life in a new world, and it’s the world his parents were a part of. Hagrid is specifically the one that knocked down Harry’s door and changed his life, which is probably part of why Harry feels bonded to him so quickly.

He also has the added pressure of being a famous person without really knowing what he is famous for. He enters this world and immediately everyone knows him. Everyone expects that he will be this great, powerful wizard. What if he isn’t?

First Mentions

  • Hagrid tells Harry that anyone would be mad to rob Gringotts, and that there are dragons guarding the vaults. In the next chapter Harry finds out that Gringotts had been broken into but nothing was taken. But breaking into Gringotts, and specifically the dragons, will of course be important to Harry in Book 7. Hagrid also tells Harry that Gringotts is the only wizard bank. Does he mean the only bank in England? Or the entire wizarding world? At this point in the series, Rowling hasn’t really considered wizards beyond England but I have to imagine there are bank in other countries.
  • From Dumbledore’s chocolate frog card we learn that one of his greatest achievements is the defeat of Dark wizard Grindelwald in 1945.
  • Harry catches his first glimpse of Snape. He is staring right at Harry when he gets a sharp pain in his forehead, the first time this has ever happened to Harry. Snape is of course sitting next to Quirrell.
  • Percy tells Harry that Snape teaches potions but really wants to teach Defense Against the Dark Arts.

Miscellaneous

  • Harry meets Professor Quirrell for the first time in Chapter 5, it is important to note that Harry does shake his hand.
  • We also meet Neville Longbottom on the train to Hogwarts, he is looking for his toad. He is so pathetic. His family wasn’t sure if he was magical or not so they forced him into situations that would bring it out in him. The Dursleys were trying to stamp Harry’s magic out and the Longbottoms were trying to force Neville’s to appear.
  • Dumbledores words before the feast are “Nitwit! Blubber! Oddment! Tweak!” His quirkiness is completely erased from the movies.
  • Hogwarts feasts are no joke. The beginning of the year feast is a little extra but in general all of their meals are elaborate and it must be magic that keeps these kids from gaining like 50 pounds every year.
  • They finish the feast by singing the Hogwarts song which has lyrics but no defined tune so everyone gets to pick their own. This results in everyone singing at different paces. Fred and George of course pick the slowest tune so that their voices are heard long after everyone else’s.

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