The Harry Potter Reread

The Harry Potter Reread: The Philosopher’s Stone, Chapter 5

The Harry Potter Reread is inside your house. I mean, if you’re reading it inside your house. So it’s totally not weird. Ahem.

Today is a big ol’ chapter that gives us our first look into the wizarding world proper! We’re heading into Chapter 5, Diagon Alley. I am expecting everyone to give me their wand specifications in the comments.

Index to the reread can be located here! Other Harry Potter and Potter-related pieces can be found under their appropriate tag. And of course, since we know this is a reread, all posts might contain spoilers for the entire series. If you haven’t read all the Potter books, be warned.


A quick note before we begin this one: For anyone confused/annoyed that I’m using background given in Pottermore and interviews as canon, I’m going with Rowling’s stated facts as gospel. Most of the extra information given in Pottermore comes directly from the meticulous notes Rowling kept as she was writing the series. We know she initially intended to put a lot of this information into an encyclopedia, but it looks as though Pottermore was a easier place to keep it. Therefore, I don’t have a problem using the information, and I don’t see it as revisionist; a lot of it is merely expansions on what we knew previously anyway.


Chapter 5—Diagon Alley

Summary

Hagrid and Harry head in to London to buy Harry’s school supplies. They make for a pub called the Leaky Cauldron (that no one seems to be able to see from the outside but them), where Harry is instantly spotted and admired by all patrons. Then they head out back to the secret entrance to Diagon Alley.

This wizarding area of London includes shops and places to eat and the wizard bank, Gringotts. Hagrid says you’d be crazy to rob Gringotts because it’s run by goblins and the vaults are miles underground surrounded by things like dragons and spells, and you’d never make it out. Harry finds out that he has a small fortune left to him by his parents, and loads up on some wizard cash to get his school things. Hagrid gets him an owl for his birthday (Hi Hedwig!), and Harry goes on a spending spree that is full of wonder. While he is being fitted for his robes, he meets a snobby young boy who is suffering from a serious superiority complex—we’ve all just met Draco Malfoy.

Harry goes to get his wand and meets Mr. Ollivander, the shop’s owner who remembers literally every wand he’s ever sold. He combs the store trying to find a match for Harry. Wands have three distinctive traits they can be identified by: length, type of wood, and magical core (Ollivander only uses phoenix feathers, dragon heartstrings, and unicorn hairs). It turns out that the core of Harry’s wand is the feather of a phoenix who only gave one other feather for wand-making. That feather resides in the core of Voldemort’s wand. Ollivander expects great things from Harry as a result… since Voldemort did terrible but great things.

Harry asks Hagrid quite a few questions about his fame and Draco’s lovely viewpoints on the wizarding world, which Hagrid does his best to diffuse. Then he sends Harry back on a train to the Dursleys, where Harry will wait until the start of term at Hogwarts.


Commentary

Lotta world-building here, so let’s get right on it:

First off, how do kids with Muggle families find their way to Diagon Alley? Is there a field trip for them led by a few professors? I dearly hope so. Otherwise, it’s just Hermione standing in front of the Leaky Cauldron and insisting to her parents that there’s a pub right in from of them, how can they not see it? Which is hilarious, but doesn’t seem all that effective.

I understand that Hagrid is very proud to be taking Harry out, and that he wants Harry to realize he was telling the truth about the fame thing, but wizard people need to get it together—I don’t care who Harry defeated, it is super uncool to crowd a child and demand that he shake hands with every single person he comes across. Silence, fine. Awe, acceptable. Lots of adult strangers pressing in on a kid who they’ve never met before? Weirdness. Good thing Hagrid is big enough to eventually beat back the crowd.

First glimpse of Professor Quirrell! This time around, I almost feel like his stammering’s overdone, just in how it’s written (practically every other word gets hit, which seems unnecessary)—it kind of interfered with my reading. I’d also forgotten that he was supposed to be completely fine, and a brilliant scholar, until his trip out into the field.

This chapter kind of makes me wish I understood economics better, but even without that particular expertise, I’m pretty sure that you can’t have a mostly capitalist society and a single bank handling all your money. I’m also curious as to why the goblins are handling so much “treasure” in their bank—are most wizard fortunes in precious gems? I’ll believe what you tell me, I’m just curious about the specifics.

Hagrid goes through all this trouble to explain to Harry how impossible it is to rob Gringotts. (A lot of this will be important later; Griphook shows up in Deathly Hallows, as does the bank in greater detail, and the treatment of magical beings who are not human becomes very important as we go on.) But apparently it’s not difficult to rob Gringotts in the slightest because all you need is the key to someone’s vault who you know by name. Seriously, Hagrid walks up with Harry’s key and the goblin’s all like, “Peace, see you on your way out.” He doesn’t ask Harry for ID or a birth certificate or even something a bit less document-y like a thumbprint or a spell that confirms who he is. We know some vaults have more specific protections, but it seems likely that most of them use the key method.

So it’s really easy to rob Gringotts if you’ve got rich friends, or you’re a smart pickpocket who knows faces of the well-off and famous. Which can’t be too hard in such an insular community.

Here’s another thing I wonder about: in an effort to save time, Rowling basically gives us all the shops Harry needs in one location with no mention of any kind of competition. Are there other “alleys” like Diagon through London, or are there far more shops available to get supplies in Diagon Alley that we simply never hear about? I find it hard to believe that there’s only one apothecary in London, but we see no other examples by and large.

This chapter is full of adorable touches that drive home just how young Harry is; his excitement at finding ink that changes color as he writes, wanting to get a gold cauldron instead of a pewter one (me too, Harry), his fear of sounding like an idiot because he knows nothing about the world. Poor Hagrid is eager to be kind and clearly feels an attachment to the boy, but he’s not the most tactful guy in the world, which sometimes makes it worse. Still, he gives Harry the best birthday he’s ever had, and that makes up for a hell of a lot.

Some background on Garrick Ollivander—it turns out that he is responsible for changing how wands are made in the wizarding world. Before he took over his father’s business, most wizards would come to a wand maker with a magical core they had selected themselves, and asked the wand maker to seal it into wood for them. Ollivander believed that doing this resulted in tetchy wands; he changed the business model so that he hand-selected the cores himself and paired them with a wood that he found most complimentary. Then his “wand choses the wizard” mode of selection began. Most of the wizard community was against it from the start, but once it became clear that Ollivander’s wands were simply better than everyone else’s, he became the new standard bearer for wand-making.

Which is a long-winded way of saying—dude know what he’s doing.

It is fun (to me, at least) how the wood of the wand does give an indication of the wizard—yew is associated with death and poison, so it works for Voldemort. Harry’s is holly, which is associated with protection. James Potter’s wand was made of mahogany, probably because that’s what most of the furniture in his fancy house was made of (haha). This is what Ollivander specifically had to say about holly wands according to his guide on Pottermore that can be found here:

Holly is one of the rarer kinds of wand woods; traditionally considered protective, it works most happily for those who may need help overcoming a tendency to anger and impetuosity. At the same time, holly wands often choose owners who are engaged in some dangerous and often spiritual quest. Holly is one of those woods that varies most dramatically in performance depending on the wand core, and it is a notoriously difficult wood to team with phoenix feather, as the wood’s volatility conflicts strangely with the phoenix’s detachment. In the unusual event of such a pairing finding its ideal match, however, nothing and nobody should stand in their way.

Harry? Impetuous? GET OUTTA TOWN.

Interestingly, Harry’s wand having a phoenix feather core is not common for holly, denoting his more singular qualities right off the bat. And of course, there’s the whole spiritual quest thing, which we all know about. What’s even more fun is looking at Ollivander’s list and noting who has the same type of wood for their wand. Interestingly, both Cedric Diggory and Charlie Weasley have ash wands, which are said to be used by courageous people who are not arrogant. Ron has Charlie’s old wand for some time, but eventually switches to willow, like Harry’s mother; Ollivander claims that these wands are good for owners with unwarranted insecurities, those with great potential. Hermione’s wand is vine, which suggests she seeks greater purpose (like elf rights crusades, perhaps?) and has extraordinary vision.

Sorry, I justreallylikewandsokay. Erm.

The best treat of all—I had completely forgotten that we were introduced to Draco this early in. Hi, Draco. Wow, you just move to odious right from the get-go, don’t you? I kind of love you. Draco Malfoy is like Rachel McAdams in Mean Girls, but he’s eleven and a wizard. His hair is probably insured for 1000 Galleons. I just, I can’t even begin to take him seriously, everything about him is so affected and put on. (Which I understand is actually incredibly sad, considering that he’s just spewing hateful babble that his parents taught him, but in this opening context it’s really very funny.) Poor Harry, stuck giving him the side-eye with no real ability to hold the conversation. Considering that Draco’s robes seem to take a lot longer to fit than Harry’s, we have to assume that Draco is fidgeting like a jerk, or that everyone knows Narcissa Malfoy will lose her mind if her boy’s uniform isn’t perfect. Ugh, rich people.

That aside, this is the first glimpse we get of the pureblood mentality touted by Voldemort and his followers, and it comes from the mouth of a child who has been raised to believe it. Which is chilling. We get a firsthand taste of just how ugly things can get in the wizarding world—and we’ve only just arrived there. Our wonder gets cut off by shock. Rowling is very clever in how she choses to slip these things in, brought up in casual conversation with no weight placed on it whatsoever. It is exactly what it’s like to hear bigoted conversations on the streets every day. You can’t believe you’re hearing it, but it’s present and it comes from the most unlikely sources. Like a kid getting fitted for his school uniform.

And then Harry’s birthday is over and Hagrid lets him head back to the Dursley’s alone, with a mountain of equipment and a new pet. We’re not even sure that the Dursleys are home yet, considering that Hagrid left them on that rock out at sea after taking their boat, and we have no idea how else they were going to get back. I understand that these are sort of trivial things to care about after the whole wide magical world has opened up before me, but I’m really struggling imagining tiny, bony Harry dragging all of his school stuff down the streets of Little Whinging.

And next week’s adventure takes us to: Platform 9 and ¾…


Emily Asher-Perrin’s wand is lignum vitae, 12 inches and quite whippy. You can bug her on Twitter and read more of her work here and elsewhere.

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