Thu
Apr 3 2014 9:00am

The Harry Potter Reread: The Philosopher’s Stone, Chapters 6 and 7

The Harry Potter Reread is tap dancing for it’s dinner because I love tap dancing! Actually, I haven’t tap danced in a while, so don’t quote me on that. I only love it if I’m still good at it.

Today we’re finally meeting some very important people in Chapters 6 and 7: The Journey From Platform 9 and ¾ and The Sorting Hat. So much to discuss, mostly centering on how Ron Weasley is a treasure. Weasleys in general should be treasured. Also, there is a lot of poor planning on the part of wizard schools in general, in getting a certain chosen charge to his dorm.

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.

Chapter 6—The Journey to Platform 9 and ¾

Summary

Harry is driven by the Dursleys to King’s Cross Station so he can make his train for school. (They are happy to be rid of him and Dudley has to have his pig tail removed in the city anyhow.) When he arrives, he realizes that there is no Platform 9 and ¾, as his ticket indicated. The Dursleys gleefully leave him on his own to deal with this small problem. Eventually, Harry overhears a family of wizards (these are the Weasleys) and follows them. He approaches their mother, who explains to him that he must pass through barrier between platforms nine and ten to make it through.

Harry runs at it and finds himself on the platform for the Hogwarts Express. He is helped onto the train by twins, Fred and George Weasley, who are the first to realize that he is Harry Potter when they see his scar. They inform their mother, and Harry overhears her goodbye to the children. There are five with her: Ginny, the youngest who cannot attend school yet; Fred and George, who are clearly troublemakers; Percy, made school Prefect this year and very pleased about it; Ron, who is in his first year like Harry.

Ron ends up in Harry’s compartment because everywhere else on the train is full. After some awkward talk, Harry buys a bunch of treats from the train trolley and they share it while Ron tells him all about the wizard world. Their train compartment is invaded by a girl named Hermione Granger (a Muggleborn new student), who is helping a boy named Neville (aw, lookit him) find his lost toad. Then Draco Malfoy also flounces into their compartment, since rumor has spread that Harry Potter is on the train. He tells Harry that he should probably make friends with him and his thugs, Crabbe and Goyle, rather than making friends with garbage like the Weasleys. Harry is not amused. A fight almost breaks out until Ron’s rat Scabbers bites Goyle on the finger. Draco and crew beat a hasty retreat.

The kids arrive at the station and Hagrid is waiting for them. First years students travel from there to the school by taking little magic boats across a lake. Hogwarts turns out to be a giant castle on a cliff.

Commentary

So the Dursleys think it’ll be hilarious to leave Harry at the station, figuring that he’ll never find the platform. Actually, it just sounds like it’ll be inconvenient for them when they have to run back and pick him up, should he never make it to school. (Logistically funny thing: Harry says he sees them laughing in a car before they drive away, which does not work for the King’s Cross Station layout. Neither do the barriers between platforms—Rowling chose King’s Cross because it was where her parents met, but she was thinking of Euston Station when she wrote it. Though I did go to King’s Cross all the same when I was in London, found that trolley cart sticking out of the wall, and squealed like a baby dinosaur.)

I understand that it was likely for Harry to run into people like the Weasleys while standing there staring at the platforms, and I also understand that it’s far more fun to introduce a slew of very important characters this way. It’s also completely ridiculous that Harry would not be given written instructions on how to get through to the platform. Again, how do the other Muggleborn kids do it? Where is Harry’s escort? It’s actually quite interesting that Petunia doesn’t know about Platform 9 and ¾—it suggests that she never went to see her sister off once. I buy it, but that’s incredibly sad all the same.

And clambering their way onto the page like a good-natured redheaded battalion are the Weasleys! It’s hard not to like them instantly, primarily due to the twins’ shenanigans and the soothing nature to Molly’s presence. She instantly steps into the roll of Everyone’s Mom in her first few sentences; you forget that her concern over Harry—which morphs quickly into the primary parenting aspect in his life for the rest of the books—begins within seconds of meeting him. We learn our way around the twins fast as well; they are jovial, tricksters, but they are also incredibly kind without thought. They automatically offer to help Harry when they see him struggling.

Percy is a little over-inflated, clearly obsessed with appearance and status. His first act is to distance himself from his family (he has to get to the Prefect’s train car), which ends up being a chilling harbinger for where he’s headed. Ginny is aggravated at being left behind and who can blame her? It is suggested that all wizarding children either go to primary school or are homeschooled until Hogwarts. We can easily guess the latter for the Weasley children due to monetary considerations and the fact that they live in the middle of nowhere at all. So Ginny is going to have to spend this year at home with no siblings around for company for the first time. No wonder she’s over it.

We get brief glimpses of other students—Neville and his toad Trevor, Lee Jordan and his tarantula—but we spend most of this chapter getting introduced to Ron (and eventually Hermione). And boy, does Ron have some baggage. He’s barely known Harry for five seconds before he’s blurting out how he’s got a hand-me-down wand and pet and clothes, and how everyone in his family is special or talented except him. Harry bonds with him so quickly, and I feel there are a few reasons for this: 1) there’s an underdog element to Ron that Harry relates to, having been one throughout his childhood, 2) Ron is more than happy to share knowledge with Harry and never makes him feel stupid for being new to the whole magic thing, and 3) on that first day of school anyone who will talk to you is the best person ever.

Then Hermione comes in and starts babbling about how she knows everything already, even though she’s from a non-magic family. Harry and Ron both promptly have panic attacks. Then Draco comes in and makes further issue of Ron’s inferiority complex by going on about how much better rich Malfoys are, and how Harry should stay away from riffraff.

On rereading here, I was shocked at what hadn’t occurred to me before—every one of these First Years is terrified. They’re going someplace without supervision for the first time, without their families, to a place they know very little of. Everyone is nervous. What’s fascinating is how they handle their fear—

Harry: Decides to bond with someone and share this new abundance he’s fallen into by buying a candy feast and letting Ron help himself. This is central to Harry’s characterization, one of the most important parts of his person that makes him a hero—Harry likes to give to others. He likes to share. He wants to elevate those who feel as irrelevant as he once did.

Ron: Babbles out all his insecurities in one go. He is embarrassed of everything from Scabbers to his lack of achievement against brothers who are all older and more experienced than him to the fact that his family is dirt poor. Ron clearly has more anxiety about this than anyone in his family, which I find interesting; he’s practically apologizing about it to Harry. This makes even more sense when you consider that being the youngest brother makes this extra keen for Ron—nothing that he owns was ever originally his. Everything belonged to someone else, even his wand. (Pretty awful, considering how important it is for wizards to have a connection with their wand. I would argue that this might have even held Ron back in regard to his schoolwork. Might he have been a better student if he had started with his own wand, suited to him?)

Hermione: Comes perfectly clear, and just in these first few pages—her know-it-all snobbery is a defense mechanism. In the beginning she is absolutely lording it over Harry and Ron, and it comes off terribly self-important and rude. Why? The narration tells us that when she starts talking about all she’s learned at home, Hermione is speaking very fast, which lets you know that she’s got some nerves to work through. Because that’s what you do when you’re a smart kid, you try to prove you’re indispensable through your brain. Unfortunately, if you make everyone else feel inferior, you’re not going to gain friends. Now, show of hands, how many of us did this as kids?

Draco: Knows it’s no guarantee that he’ll be king of the castle in this new situation, and immediately starts throwing his weight around. Why go seeking Harry Potter the instant he knows the kid is on the train? To form an alliance, of course. To secure his position as Pureblood Kid to Know #2. He’s hoping Harry is the same as him, that it won’t matter if they’re First Years because they will be the First Years. He hasn’t even set foot inside the school yet, and he’s jockeying for position. Because he’s scared.

And what about Scabbers’ attack? Since this is a reread, we all know this is Peter Pettigrew. We have to figure he is in shock, coming into contact with Harry for the first time since he betrayed the kid’s parents. Why defend Harry and Ron from Draco’s pint-sized bodyguards? Does he have something personal against their dark wizard families? Does he do it to prevent a nasty fight from breaking out in close proximity to him? Or the more uncomfortable angle to consider… did he do it because there is enough remorse within him to want to protect Harry, years after offering him up to Voldemort as dessert?

That possibility is messing with me big time.

(I also feel the need to point out that a rat is not on the list of acceptable pets in the Hogwarts letter, so I’m not sure why it’s okay to have one?)

I love the conceit of bringing the First Years in on the boats across the lake. Such pageantry for the new kiddies, who are all bound to be dazzled. And of course, the first time you read this and realized they would be having class in a castle, you were all HELLS YEAH. Hogwarts is such a showoff.

On a side note: first appearance of wizard pictures! On Tumblr the other day, I saw someone suggest that wizard tattoos also moved and now I WANT ONE. Really though, I have lots of questions about wizard pictures. They can move from frame to frame, this I understand, but how does that work across the board? If a picture is reproduced to mass distribution (in a newspaper, for example), does each version of that picture get a life of its own, or are they all sort of distilled down to one per photograph? In addition, pictures and paintings do seem to retain the personality of who they are depicting—could this ever be exploited in an unethical manner? Because it seems very likely that it could, especially since you can converse with some pictures. Also, what is the difference between a picture of someone who is alive/has lived, versus a person invented by an artist? Ugh, too many questions.


Chapter 7—The Sorting Hat

Summary

The students are led into the Great Hall by Professor McGonagall to take part in the sorting ceremony, which involves placing the Hogwarts Sorting Hat on your head and letting it place you in one of the schools’ four houses: Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, and Slytherin. All the kids are nervous. When Harry puts on the hat, it tells him that he might be great in Slytherin, but Harry insists he doesn’t want to go there. The hat places him in Gryffindor. Dumbledore says some words, makes a few announcements, and has the kids sing the Hogwarts School Song in whatever tune pleases them.

The first night feast begins, and Harry meets Nearly-Headless Nick, the Gryffindor House ghost. (There are three more, one for each house—at this point we only know about the Fat Friar for Hufflepuff and the Bloody Baron for Slytherin.) Harry notices Professor Snape for the first time, and gets a pain in his scar. Then he stuffs himself silly and heads off to bed with the rest of the Gryffindors. Their house dorms are behind a portrait of a large woman in a pink dress. When he falls asleep, Harry dreams that Professor Quirrell’s purple turban is on his head, insisting that he be in Slytherin House. Draco Malfoy is taunting him and turns into Snape. He forgets the dream by the time he wakes.

Commentary

The sorting ceremony is amazing, mostly because the assumptions among the kids as to what they’ll have to do before they get to the hat are so funny. Of course, Harry’s sorting in particular will cause him a lot of angst in the next book, but we don’t have to get to that just yet.

I’d forgotten how oddly charming Nearly-Headless Nick is. And how annoying Peeves is. Go away, Peeves.

Dumbledore’s particular combo of grandfatherly warmth, absentminded madness, and keeper-at-bay of unspeakable danger just works, especially at this stage when we don’t know him quite so well. I want to give him all the hugs, mainly when he gets all emotional about music (after the twins have sung the school theme as a funeral dirge, of course).

First scar tweak! It’s distressing how clever the setup is here. On a reread, we know it has nothing to do with Snape, but Rowling’s redirect is flawless. Nothing to suggest that it has something to do with Quirrell. He’s just there, having a chat. Unlike the creeper who wants the Dark Arts job, giving you the evil eye for no reason. A+ for deflecting!

I’m going to add a note about the number of student at Hogwarts that I placed in the comments for last week’s reread because I think it’s relevant at this point:

Numbers of students! Okay, this is actually a terrible botch in the series:

According to an interview with J.K. Rowling in 2000, she intended about 1000 kids at Hogwarts. It’s clear that she realized that was impossible and later amended it to say about 600.

That still doesn’t work, even if we say that she’s not making us aware of every kid in Harry’s year (I would understand why she needed to do that from an organizational standpoint in writing the books), because one teacher per subject could not possibly teach that many kids in a week. So... there is no answer. Or rather, there is how many kids she wanted it to be (1000), how many she thought might work (600), and how many we can discern based on who we hear about at the school (which would be about 280). That works based on how many kids there are per class: 20, ten each from two different houses.

Which isn’t consistent within the series. For example, the Yule Ball has seats for 1200 people, and Beauxbaton and Durmstrang didn’t bring anywhere near their entire student populations; just seventh years who they thought might make it into the tournament. So that’s at most 200 seats set aside for the other schools and a few guests, and about 1000 for the Hogwarts kids. It’s a numbers mess. Personally, though I know we hear about far fewer kids and teachers, I want to go with the initial 1000 students and more staff who we don’t meet—or I cannot believe that the wizard community could possibly sustain itself.

So we really have no idea how many kids. Which is crazy. But I stick to my guns in thinking that there has to be more than we know.

The dream Harry has is, of course, prophetic on several levels; the importance of the turban, the suggestion that he should be in Slytherin, the similarities between Draco and Snape since Snape was school rivals with Harry’s father. Poor kid.

Next up: Time to meet that Potion’s Master...


Emily Asher-Perrin is a Gryffindor because she's a pain that way. You can bug her on Twitter and read more of her work here and elsewhere.

57 comments
David Levinson
1. DemetriosX
I think it's perfectly reasonable that Harry, um... slipped through the cracks when it came to Platform 9 3/4. As far as the Ministry is concerned, he's wizard-born and therefore doesn't need special help. Dumbledore has rather absentmindedly (and he comes across as very absentminded in the early books) left all of this up to Hagrid. Hagrid, alas, is a tad sloppy and haphazard and firmly believes that things turn out the way they're supposed to and for the best.

You've left out one important bit of foreshadowing that occurs in the candy scene: Nicholas Flamel. It's beautifully subsumed under the sensawunda of the chocolate frogs that move and other amazing treats and the unfortunate commonness of his trading card. But the fact is that this will be an important clue for the kids once they eventually remember it.

Draco's insecurities are so wonderfully there for us to see, if only we would look. They play such an important role in his entire character arc, but they're easy to forget or just dismiss. Add in the fact that his family carries the Death Eater taint and he has even more reason to be nervous.

Finally, Rowling does a terrific job of making everything point at Snape as the bad guy. His glaring at Harry while the bad vibes are actually coming from Quirrell gets quickly followed up by his nastiness in class and we never look at the nervous and inept Professor Quirrell. Marvelous misdirection.

(Oh, and kudos to Emily for saying centered on. I cannot abide "centered around". *shudder*)
Alfvaen
2. Alfvaen
I always wondered (well, from the second read-through, anyway) if the dream was actually Voldemort somehow making contact with Harry's mind, but I suppose didn't he didn't seem to figure out he could do that until Book Five, probably not.

I've also had some issues trying to figure out wizard population. It's true that it really doesn't work--witness the huge crowds at the Quidditch World Cup in Book Four, and all the Ministry of Magic employees supposedly working there (apparently 99% of wizards in Britain work for the Ministry?). I used to think that perhaps wizards lived longer, to balance out their apparently low birthrate (of the Hogwarts professors, for instance, which of them seem like they ever had any children?), but the establishment of Dumbledore's age in the last book seemed to put paid to that, too. So I guess Rowling just had some shortcomings in the consistency department...
Alfvaen
3. Muswell
The Euston thing aside (a friend of mine who used to be station master at King's Cross was the one who pointed out to JKR that it was Euston she was thinking of), the whole Hogwarts Express thing doesn't work. Why is everyone on the train, not just the London/South East kids? There should be more than one train, coming from different directions, or the train should at least stop a few times along the way, or there should be no train, or there should just be one for the Muggle-borns. Just one train that only stops at London and Hogwarts makes NO SENSE. Seriously, are the kids raised in Hogsmeade (of which there must be some, surely?) expected to side-along Apparate down to London just to get the train back home?!
Alfvaen
4. Shrader
I am loving this re-read, but you seem to have forgotten something very important.

Petunia did see Lily off to Hogwarts. This is mentioned in The Deathly Hallows. There is a scene where Lily is begging her to understand why she is leaving, and promising that she will speak to Dumbledore personally to try to convince him to allow Petunita admittance to Hogwarts. Petunia insults Lily and leaves her in tears on what is already a frightening and emotionally draining day.
When I first read these chapters, I thought the same thing; that it was awful that they would just leave him there. Upon re-read, we know that Petunia knows he will get there, she just doesn't want to help. It's funny to watch him floundering in confusion, but she's sure one of 'his kind' will come along and help.

It's not as evil as it is mean spirited.
Alfvaen
5. königr
Voldemort likes tap dancing.
Alfvaen
6. helbel
I think the train thing is a boarding school book reference. If you've not read the entirity of Malory Towers and St Clare's (and probably Chalet School) then the significance of the school train may be lost on the reader.

Also London is easy to get to for everyone in the south east pretty much every train line goes into London. Whilst I agree it works less well for wizards from the whole country, for the original boarding school books where everyone rich enough to attend is from the Home Counties it makes perfect sense for everyone to get the train together.
Kit Case
7. wiredog
pictures and paintings do seem to retain the personality of who they are depicting—could this ever be exploited in an unethical manner?
The Evil Kittens in Book 5, which let whatshername, the Evil Bureaucrat, know that her office has been infiltrated. Pretty sure there's a couple other instances, too.

There must be other wizarding schools in the UK. Hogwarts is Eton, perhaps, turning out the Future Leaders, with other lesser schools turning out shopkeepers and low-level government workers. We never hear about wizarding universities, either.
Thomas Thatcher
8. StrongDreams
I think only Hogwarts pictures can move from frame to frame. General wizards pictures/painting have much more limited capabilities. It seems to me that the film captures an echo of a person, likewsie a painting. Contrast the limited behavior of Sirius' mom's painting with the Fat Lady, who seems pretty sentient.
Gilmoure Gylbard
9. Gilmoure
Re: 5. Tap Dancing

Picturing Christopher Walkin as Voldermort, doing his thing.
Emily Asher-Perrin
10. EmilyAP
@wiredog - I wonder about the university thing as well. It seems as though practically the entire wizard community runs more on an apprentice system. If you want an academic-type career, perhaps you just attach yourself to an academic in a similar/same field that you're hoping to study?
Alfvaen
11. Muswell
No, I get the "school train" thing. I spent 14 years of my life at the school the Chalet School was partly based on. But "the school train", even in most boarding school books, isn't just one for the entire school body; even with the Chalet School where all the girls from England get the same train together, there's more than one train. And they stop along the way for more people to get on. Most boarding school stories I've read have more than one school train, though each one for its region is "the school train". Also, only people from the Home Counties? Rich Northern landowners...
Ursula L
12. Ursula
The Triwizard tournament seems to have been a major event in the wizarding world, not just in the schools. So perhaps the Yule Ball was atteneded by adults, such as Ministry workers, or tickets were sold to others?
Alfvaen
13. Athreeren
Of course the kids are terrified of going to Hogwarts! Ron believes he's going to have to fight a dragon in order to get sorted!

I wonder how Hermione can be so good at that point. I think she mentions some practice casting spells, but how could she without getting an owl from the ministry?

Wizard pictures raise a lot of questions. In fact, on my first read when I was a child, I immediately asked myself the same questions you just raised, but there are many more. For instance, if a picture is printed on a cylinder (on a tin can for instance), is the wizard trapped in this one picture forever (which means in the trash, in the case of the tin can)?

On the number of students, if there are 20 students per class, we get to almost 600 (20 * 4 houses * 7 years = 560). We know that some classes are taught to two houses at the same time, which is really hard, but doable. The problem is that I could only find 13 different classes taught at Hogwart, not all of which mandatory, and each taught by only one teacher: there's already not enough staff for the number of students. There is no way to solve this without giving everybody a time turner (Pr. Binns gets his own special ghost time turner). Also, where do they find substitute professors (especially in DADA)? And what about the examiners for the OWLs and NEWTs? I think I stopped enjoying Harry Potter as much when I started wondering how his world could work.
Alfvaen
14. SKM
@1--There's another bit of even longer-term foreshadowing here. Dumbledore's Chocolate Frog card isn't only our first mention of Nicolas Flamel, but of Gellert Grindelwald.
M T
15. Firekeeper
Trying to dig at the bones of Harry Potter doesn't really work. A lot of the early stuff was (I think) clearly created just to be whimsical and then as the series progressed Rowling tried to ground it in reality a bit as she went along, but whimsy and reality rarely line up. So of course there's going to be only one train. And of course his relatives are going to be nasty to him, he's just one more in a long line of Cinderellas. So sometimes in Harry Potter 1+1 is going to equal 5. And I like that. We need more of the whimsical in fantasy.
Alfvaen
16. Gregor Lewis
"... and 3) on that first day of school anyone who will talk to you is the best person ever."

YES!
One of the 5 wonders of a child's world.

- When your Mum shows you that love is a hug that squeezes you tight because she's holding you safe and leaving you breathless at the same time.

- The first time your Dad takes a break from his meticulous garden preparation in time for veggie planting season, and tells you to stop playing with your plastic spade and bucket because he wants you to properly help him.
'Help with what Dad?'
'We're gonna dig a hole son.'
'Can I use the big shovel?'
'You could try ... But how 'bout using this one instead eh?'
Then Dad uncovers a BRAND SPANKING NEW BRIGHT RED mini shovel and shows you how to set it, step to it and ... start digging!
'How deep should I make the hole Dad?'
'As deep as you want son, so long as you make sure to set it and step to it like I showed you.'
OH BOY! MY VERY OWN SHOVEL, MY VERY OWN HOLE & IT CAN BE AS DEEP AS I WANT ...

WONDER!

- The first time you recognise your parents laughing WITH you AND eachother because, HEY! We're a family and this is LOVE ...
... which could have happened as a result of you being lifted out of a subsequent hole you buried yourself in, because your mother's in a panic since she lost sight of you from the kitchen window and got your father to hunt you down.
As they loom over you thunderously your parents demand to know what you were doing and you calmly explain that you WANT a little brother and Dad said if we want things to grow in the garden, we have to dig a properly deep hole to make sure they take root.

- The first time you're allowed to hold (ONLY IF YOU'RE CAREFUL!) someone smaller than you - little brother/sister/cousin/friend - and you REMEMBER to try to make them feel as safe as your Mum makes you feel with her hugs.

- EVERY TIME you start somewhere new (school, sports team, book club), ANYONE who shows you kindness, consideration and acceptance ... AHHH! FRIEND ...

Apologies for the long wind and many thanks to EAP for evoking some of my bestest most favourite memories with just ONE sentence.

IMO that is what JKR is doing too - inconsistensies and all - in order to get readers to feel comfortable & imbue the youngest ones with that sense of wonder.

Fear, nervous excitement, abandonement, outside family support, possibility, acceptance. The full gamut of emotions many of us have felt when starting something/somewhere new as kids.

When you're caught up in the wonder of those sense-memories coming back, the plot inconsistensies tend not to materialise as you read.

An evocative gift JKR had in spades.

grl
Bill Reamy
17. BillinHI
I never looked at the numbers of students all that closely but as for maintaining the number of wizards, it seems like there are enough Wizard/Muggle marriages as well as 2 Muggle parents producing a witch or wizard to keep the the wizarding world's numbers up.

What wizards and witches do for a living is more problematical, but you just have to be able to suspend your sense of disbelief well enough to ignore the unrealities (something I personaly have no problem with, as I am not a particularly analytic reader).
Alfvaen
18. av willis
You mentioned Ron being held back by the fact that he has a hand-me-down wand, but it wasn't till I was re-reading the series that it occured to me the same thing could be said about Neville. We know from later books that he inherits his father's wand until book 5 when he breaks it during the fight in the ministry of mysteries. Looking back, I can't help but wonder if the fact that he is using somebody else's wand, coupled with the expectations his grandmother places on him, is what was holding it back. This might explain why he rose to prominence after the fact in the resurrection of the DA and if anything, makes the progress he made under Harry, using magic that wasn't even quite fitting him, all the more impressive.
Alfvaen
19. Dr. Cox
By the time I was eight or nine, I'd learned to hide the sharpness I've got in order not to catch crud for it, and much later, someone who's actually the most brilliant person I ever met told me he'd told someone else that you can't tell how smart I am unless you talk to me. But what other way is there--besides hiding it to avoid crud from others--to carry the sharpness one has but lightly?
(The sharpness one has . . . me: good at lit 'n copyediting 'n 'net research but terrible at math, filling out forms, etc.).
A cart at King's Cross! :) Photo op! When did they put that in? There was just a sign there in May '04. And yep I took a picture :).
Adam S.
20. MDNY
I see someone already beat me to it, but Petunia definitely came to platform 9 3/4 when Lily went to her first year at Hogwarts, as we saw in Deathly Hallows.
I always thought it spoke well for Peter Pettigrew that he attacked Goyle in his first appearance.
Rich Bennett
21. Neuralnet
several years ago when I was way more obsessed with this series, I nearly drove myself (and sig. other) crazy obsessing over the details like how many students at Hogwarts, how many course are taught, how does the economy work etc... I think you have to just let the books be fun and whimsical... dont look too closely at the details. That being said... Your questions about how the paintings work have bugged me for years and still irk me when I think too hard about them... has JKR ever given any explanation? it is almost like a shadow of the person is put in the painting. When Colin Creevey was taking pics in book 2, I started to think the pictures were stealing part of your soul, but then by book 6-7 that didnt seem right. Dumbledore seems to be able to talk, interact and actually use the portraits in his office... I have to assume that is not commonplace and sort of a special Dumbledore/hogwarts thing... otherwise it wraps my mind in a pretzel.
Chris Nelly
22. Aeryl
Yeah, the thing to remember about Peter, is the Death Eaters bullied him too. So he probably had it in for Goyle's dad.

There are wizard lawyers, wizard merchants, wizard vets, wizard animal rescue, wizard teachers, wizard scholars, wizard authors. wizard photographers, wizard journalists, wizard "bankers", wizard proprietors, wizard horticultarilists, wizard animal breeders, which are all jobs not associated with the Ministry(lawyers do business with the ministry, but they don't ALL work for the Ministry)

As far as Hermione practicing spells, my guess is that JK would say The Trace isn't put on until they get to Hogwarts, which is why Ron did his spell on the train without consequence. Snape even says "once they start teaching you". Don't forget in the 2nd movie, Hermione repairs his glasses in Diagon Alley, which is pretty bad continuity error considering HARRY JUST GOT IN TROUBLE for underage magic two scenes earlier.
Tom Smith
23. phuzz
It is suggested that all wizarding children either go to primary school or are homeschooled until Hogwarts. We can easily guess the latter for the Weasley children due to monetary considerations and the fact that they live in the middle of nowhere at all
Don't forget, schools are free in the UK from age four upwards, andthere's very few places that are far enough away from anywhere that you couldn't send your kids to school.
My little village school (which was two villages away from where I lived) had about 20-30 kids between four and about twelve years old. During the winter the few kids from my village would sometimes get a lift on the back of a tractor to get through the snow.
Chris Nelly
24. Aeryl
Portraits are different that pictures.

Pictures catch a momentary imprint of a person, and acts based on the mood of the subject at the time it was captured, like how Colin's pictures of Harry always acted irritated.

Portraits are a more time consuming process, and the extra energy put into them allows for more flexibility in what the subject can do. But all portraits are only able to move around their own general vicinity, the exception being the Headmasters portraits, who can move through their own paintings, no matter the location.

Now, I will also suppose, that if you are alive, you can actually SEE through your pictures, which is how Dumbledore is so well informed(and why he hoped they wouldn't take his chocolate frog card away in OotP), and that when Harry sees him in the chapter, it is the actual Dumbledore, looking in on Harry for the first time in 10 years.
Chris Nelly
25. Aeryl
@23, I think she meant more in that school supplies and muggle clothes would probably get prohibitively expensive for them, not the cost of school itself.
Thomas Thatcher
26. StrongDreams
JK has said that the Trace is only a general localizer, so kids in wizarding families (and Hermione in Diagon Alley) can use magic without getting caught because there are so many legit wizards nearby that the Ministry can't pin it to a specific kid. (Also, it starts at age 11, so Hermione could have practiced at home I guess.)

So The Trace really only affects kids from muggle families, which is yet another reason why the wizarding world sucks.
Andrew Berenson
27. AndrewHB
Emily, what does a squealing baby dinosaur sound like?

All -- are there evil wizards in the trading card series. Perhaps Gellert Grindelwald or some deceased death eaters? If not, there should be.

Thanks for reading my musings,
AndrewB
Thomas Thatcher
28. StrongDreams
While thinking about all the above inconsistencies, I just realized how awful the wizarding world is. There doesn't seem to be a women's rights problem (and how could there be) but the wizarding world is terribly classist and racist and endorses slavery and oppression of any non-human sentient being. The surprise is not that Hermione (a muggle raised with awareness of the modern human rights movement) would try to free the house elves, the surprise is that she is the first muggle-born to try, and that more muggle borns don't try to help out. Basically, the wizarding world should be unable to withstand the constant influx of muggle born children who know about things like human rights and freedom of speech.

Aside from Voldemort's personal quest for immortality, his basic appeal to other wizards is "You know all those muggle borns who are always complaining that you kick your slaves too much? Stick with me and I'll get rid of them for good."
Kit Case
28. wiredog
IIRC, underage wizards can use magic, just not where unaware muggles can see them doing it. So Diagon Alley is fine, and Hermione can practice in front of her parents. But, say, The Mall, would be right out.
Alfvaen
29. Lsana
As far as the number of students at school goes, my theory has always been that Harry's year was a particularly small one. He and his friends were born pretty much at the height of the first war with Voldemort. Between the casualties of the war and those who were thinking, "Who wants to bring a child into a world ruled by this monster?", I suspect that there just weren't a lot of wizard children born in 1980-1981. The classes two or three years younger than him, however, were probably a lot bigger due to the inevitable post-war baby boom. I'm thinking there were probably a lot of wizards born in July-August 1982, probably a good 30% of them named Harry or Harriet.
Alfvaen
31. An Old Friend
There are plenty of things in the Harry Potter books (just like almost all SFF books) that don't bear up under close scrutiny.
The number of teachers at Hogwarts (we know there are no more teachers because of the seating at the staff table),
The number of students per grade,
The fact that what are essentially date rape drugs are sold at joke shops (not to mention that spells that affect mood and memory are not regulated),
The economics of the wizarding world,
The inability of wizards to do anything besides magic (which makes one wonder how do any of them go about meeting muggles to have kids, as there is no way for them to get a regular job or even pay for drinks at a bar),
What squibs are supposed to do for a living,
How come no government has hired/forced (it doesn't matter how powerful magic is, an unaware mage is just as vulnerable to physical harm as anyone else) them to help with non-magical things (magic is essentially free energy- charm enough magnets to rotate and there goes any energy woes), etc.

But this happens in most YA SFF books and plenty of adult SFF books also. Embrace the MST3K mantra and just enjoy the story.
Chris Nelly
32. Aeryl
@28, I don't doubt other Muggleborns have tried, and have been as unsuccessful as Hermione. As much as I sympathize with her efforts, the fact of the matter remains, house elves don't want to be freed, they want to be treated with dignity. Whether the impetus that makes a house elf accept slavery is magical or not, it's not a conscience raising issue, but something inate to their species. Which is what Dumbledore, the biggest advocate of equality we've met, says we should do.

I think to Dirk Cresswell, who is head of the Goblin Liason Office, and Muggleborn. I think he probably went into that field with similar motivations as Hermione, that Goblins had been mistreated by wizards, and as their advocate he could affect change. And that he had to come to a more nuanced understanding, as he learned that Goblins are sentient creatures, but they don't think like humans do.
Valerie Varner
33. varnerv951
In regards to wands coming from family members, or being hand-me-downs for Neville and Ron, JK said this:

As established by Ollivander, a wizard can use almost any wand, it is simply that a wand that chooses him/her will work best. Where there is a family connection, a wand will work a little better than a wand chosen at random, I think.
Thomas Thatcher
34. StrongDreams
@32, it's not just the house elves, but the centaurs and goblins (off the top of my head -- I read the books but am not an avid Potterphile).

The biggest threat to the worldview of people like the Malfoys are muggle-borns, not just because they dilute "purebloods", but because they've embraced the lessons of King and Mandela and Ghandi.
Emily Asher-Perrin
35. EmilyAP
In regard to Petunia: Ah, I'd forgotten that she was talking to Lily on the platform in that scene. Ugh, every opportunity she has to give Harry even the slightest clue she never bothers. This makes me ANGRY.

@Ursula - Even if the Yule Ball numbers are inflated by guests (which I'm inclined to believe more for the tasks and less for what is essentially a school dance), there are other places wehre the numbers are wonky. There are hundreds of carriages that take years 2-7 to the school, and that alone is awkward if you can fit ~4 kids in them?

@Athreeren - It's still far fewer students than that; there are 20 per class, but there are always two houses per class, so that number is halved. It's really awkward as a numbers game.
Emily Asher-Perrin
36. EmilyAP
@StrongDreams - There are various ways in which we could assume Muggleborns didn't quite get the institutionized prejudice, which might go far in explaining why Hermione was the first to have success on that front. The students don't get much contact with those oppressed groups (house elves are practically invisible, and if you don't see one, how could you know what they do?) Goblins are only found banking, it seems, so there isn't much opportunity to interact. Other oppressed groups (like the centaurs and werewolves) are relegated to the fringes where most Muggleborns would never come into contact with them. Visibility seems to be one of the biggest issues here: the wizarding world keeps the status quo by keeping these groups out of sight. Who knows how long it takes a Muggleborn witch or wizard to even become aware of these issues?
Chris Nelly
37. Aeryl
@34, I talked about the goblins, and I think the centaurs would likely stomp on any wizard that came up to them trying to help "free" them from the oppressions of wizards.
Chris Meadows
38. Robotech_Master
In re Peter, I'm pretty sure that Death Eaters quarreled among themselves just like anyone else in a large loosely-aligned group—all the more so 'cuz they're Eeevil, and the cliché is that Eeevil people don't get along with each other all that well. Honor among thieves and all that. Not to mention, as Voldemort's "teacher's pet" he probably came in for a lot of backbiting from them even after school.

So, yeah, it's readily believable that he wouldn't like Malfoy and his crew. Peter only has one BFF, and that's Voldy.

(Weird. There are two comment number 28s in this thread, so there's actually one more comment than the comment number suggests. Wonder how that happened?)
Ursula L
39. Ursula
If you take Hogworts as the only magical school in Britain, and extrapolate out the size of British magical culture from that, I conclude that the whole of British magical society is quite small.

And it also seems self-isolating, thanks to the requirement of secrecy.

Which means, like a small and isolated rural town, there probably are few opportunities for entertainment. And activities at the school would probably not be just school activities for students and their immediate families, but rather activities for the whole community.

We know of only a handful of stores in Diagon Alley. And while the building numbers are in the double didgets, there are streets where each building covers several officially numbered "plots" so that the buidning numbers don't reflect the number of buidings on the street. Likewise, Hogsmead has only a few businesses that we know of, and those seem to be focused on providing for students on their rare days free to go into town. A candy shop near a school is a good business. Running a candy shop near a school where the students can only go shopping once a month, or less, is a far more shakey proposition. The fact that someone could have a candy shop in such a situation tells us a lot about how limited the wizarding community is.

So, if tickets were offered for general sales to the wizarding community for the Yule Ball, I suspect that the response from adults would be not "why would we go to a school dance?" but rather "Cool, something to do!"
j p
40. sps49
I remember correcting the tour guide at the Kennedy Space Center. I was 8 or 9. I am not proud of that.

How do hand-me-down wands work? If Ron has someone else's wand, what is that person doing for a wand now?

Rowling wasn't worried about the setting and consistency at first. This won't entirely go away, but whatever....
Chris Nelly
41. Aeryl
@39, Owl post eliminates a lot of that concern with how often the students can come to town. Fred and George can't be the first ones that thought of it.
David Levinson
42. DemetriosX
@39 Ursula
Along with what Aeryl says @41, that candy shop is essentially the factory outlet. They ship all over the British wizarding world. All that candy Harry buys on the train in chapter 6 is from there and Ron has obviously spent his little pocket money on chocolate frogs from them in order to collect trading cards. Ottery St. Catchpole is a long way from Hogsmeade.

@40
Obviously a wand gets handed down when the previous owner either dies or gets a new one. Ron's could be Percy's old wand and Percy got a new one as a reward for making prefect. Or it could have belonged to Bill, who got a new one when he got a job. Lots of possibilities.

It also just occurred to me that Ron is in a really bad position in the family order when it comes to getting new things. He has the twins right ahead of him, which means an extra expense since they need 2 of everything, and Ginny right behind him, which means extra expense at least for clothing. Bracketed like that, he's in the best position for the family to save a little money through handmedowns.
Alfvaen
43. TimmyTwoStep
Scabbers attacked Goyle because at that point he was just a pet rat, and the whole Wormtail thing was something JK came up with long after this book was written.
Chris Nelly
44. Aeryl
@43, I don't recall where I read it, but that's not the case. She always knew who Scabbers was, and that's why his advanced age and missing finger is there from the star.

@40, 42 It was Charley's wand. Charley's a rough and tumble guy, and the wand was already damaged, it's pointed out that some unicorn hair is poking out. So when Charley got a job and his own money, he went to Ollivanders to allow a new wand to choose him. Molly, not allowing anyone to throw anything useful away, kept it and when funds were short during Ron's first year...
Alfvaen
45. DanielB
@43, I agree. We tend to think of the series as a single, very long narrative, but JKR spent more than ten years writing it. She probably had a general outline, and she probably knew from the beginning more or less how the series was going to end, but I have no doubt that many details were developed during the series, when the time for them came.

For example, we know from Deathly Hallows that Petunia knew about platform 9 3/4, but here JKR doesn't seem aware of that. Petunia's relationship with Lily was clearly fleshed put later.

The same can be said of Scabbers. If JKR knew here that he was Peter she would have taken the opportunity for some foreshadowing (just like he did with Quirrell and Harry's scar, with some very clever misdirection to make us think it was all because of Snape). However, there's no such indication about Scabbers here. He's is just an old pet that Ron has in order to illustrate how he doesn't have new, nice things because of his family's economy and because, having so many siblings, he mostly gets hand-me-downs. His missing toe, if I'm not mistaken, is not mentioned until Prisoner of Azkaban.
Chris Meadows
46. Robotech_Master
@43 I honestly don't think you can really say for sure what Rowling knew when just based on how much foreshadowing there is, unless you were to ask her outright. She doesn't really tend to go in for huge foreshadowing even for things that were planned all the way from the beginning, and I think that's intentional on her part. Just because something wasn't foreshadowed doesn't mean that it wasn't planned that way all along. And there are so many tiny little details peppered throughout the books going all the way back to the beginning that just couldn't have been coincidental.

Sure, you can retcon and retrofit some things, but once your first part of a series is written, the amount of things you can retrofit into it are limited. For a lot of things, you had to know what you were doing to have laid the groundwork. There are simply far too many tiny little details even in the earliest books that snap into sharp focus later on for them to have been coincidence or retrofits.

(I've been writing a long web fiction series with a friend, with no real plan at the start, and the number of things about the background that changed in the writing of it has been astounding. We're going to have to go back and change a lot of the early stuff we wrote when we revise it from the beginning. Rowling wouldn't have had the option of doing that once her earliest books were published and out in the world.)

I mean, the fact that Harry's Dad and his friends were animagi was such an integral part of Prisoner of Azkaban, and crucial to the way the rest of the story played out—the betrayal of Lily and James, the imprisonment of Sirius, and so on—that the rest of it just naturally followed. She had planned that out in advance; why would she suddenly need to retrofit that rat? It doesn't make sense.

(There's also the fact that, when she got her first book accepted by the publisher, she sat the publisher down and told him the entire story that would play out over the rest of the series. She already knew exactly what she was going to write.)

Sometimes I wonder if we're more naturally cynical audiences than those that were around fifty or a hundred years ago. Often when I read some old mystery or suspense story from the early 20th century, I can see the plot twists coming all the way from early on. (Perhaps it's because we get exposed to so much more media these days that almost all of those plot twists have been reused over and over again so we already know what to expect?) Sometimes it just feels like it's hard to be surprised these days, and that's sad.

In that light, I have to give Rowling props for being so careful in her concealment and not succumbing to the lure of assigning any apparent significance to things that will become important later. I absolutely loved the feeling of actually being surprised by things that were right there in front of my face all along, like Scabbers being who he was, or Harry's being able to talk to snakes being significant in a whole other way than just general magic weirdness.
Alfvaen
47. Zenspinner
Re: Petunia and Platform 9 3/4 - by the time her family actually gets to the train station after that summer is over, young Petunia is in full-on flounce mode, because she tried everything to get Professor Dumbledore to let her in to Hogwarts and nothing worked. Since she can't get what she wants, she turns it around and starts telling Lily that she wouldn't want to go to that school for freaks anyway. I realize I'm way overthinking this, but I imagine at that point she wouldn't want to remember the trip or the station or anything and might actively be trying to block it from her mind...or at any rate, the subsequent years might have caused her to forget it naturally anyway. She'd remember that there was a way to get to the train, so they weren't actually abandoning Harry, but she probably really doesn't remember how they did it. (Vernon doesn't know and so may really have thought that Harry would have to walk back home - shame on him!)
Alfvaen
48. sunflower
the whole Wormtail thing was something JK came up with long after this book was written.
(@43) And you know this how?
Petunia knew about platform 9 3/4, but here JKR doesn't seem aware of that. Petunia's relationship with Lily was clearly fleshed put later.
(@45) *sigh* Read Petunia outburst in chapter 4 again. Her jealousy, resentment and intense dislike of her sister is obvious. Yes, Jo already knew all about their relationship. She doesn't mention Petunia's knowledge of platform 9 3/4 because it isn't relavant to the plot at that point.
Lisamarie LiGreci-Newton
49. Lisamarie
I love how so much of the characterization is done here - especially in Harry's glimpse of the Weasley family.

I see Peter/Scabbers as a very fair-weather friend type of person who goes wherever the wind blows, ultimately looking out for himself. Since at the time he was a Weasley rat, he'd do his best to ingratiate himself, even if just as a rat. And, probably, he didn't want to get smashed by Goyle and Crabbe fighting, heh. Not to mention the idea that somebody posited that Goyle's father probably did bully him when they were students together.

I don't remember, do we ever learn how/when he attaches himself to the Weasleys, and if it was intentional (for example, to have a convenient place to listen for news of Voldemort)?
Alfvaen
50. Masha
Lisamarie -
"I see Peter/Scabbers as a very fair-weather friend type of person who goes wherever the wind blows, ultimately looking out for himself."

That rings true for me. I also wonder how much Peter' is influenced by the his rat shape. I would imagine it makes him a lot more reactive, nervous, and impulsive -- and possibly less rational than he'd be in his human form.
Chris Nelly
51. Aeryl
It's pointed out that in POA that Pettigrew attached himself to a wizarding family to stay on top of news about Voldemort, but the logitstics are never mentioned.
james loyd
52. gaijin
I would assume Pettigrew bit Goyle because he was resentful of death eater families who were now (seemingly) free of Voldemort and moving on with their lives while he's spent the last decade in hiding as a fugitive...and in perpetual rat form.
Alfvaen
53. Mike Tempest
And nobody ever wonders why Hermione is not sorted into Ravenclaw? Just so she can be there to form a team with Harry and Ron? Seems a bit too convenient, but then again, you don't notice these things until they are pointed out.

Oh, and Neville, why is he not in Hufflepuff? Obvious things are obvious...
Chris Nelly
54. Aeryl
@52, During a DA meeting in OOTP Hermione says the Hat tried to sort her into Ravenclaw, but she preferred Gryffindor.

And Neville's entire family has been Gryffindor, and would have been a terrible disappointment to his grandmother if he wasn't, so he was likely thinking "Gryffindor, Gryffindor, Gryffindor..." the entire time, and as Dumbledore says, it is our choices that define us, not our abilities.

And both Hermione and Neville have proven their courage again and again. So, no, not so obvious.
David Levinson
55. DemetriosX
@53/54
Neville ultimately proves to be a bit of a badass. In DH, he keeps Dumbledore's Army going all by himself and winds up with a couple of Moments of Awesome. But even in this book, he demonstrates his courage when he tries to keep his friends from violating curfew and winds up getting petrified for it. In fact, it is that act which winds up giving Gryffindor the points they need to win the House Cup. Not to mention, the prophecy could also have applied to him.
Alfvaen
56. Atoz
I suppose that there are more classes and teachers but Harry doesn't tell us about them because they are more "muggle-type".

Is not there a music class? When do the students learn to play an instrument or to sing? In the movies Flitwick has a chorus. Is not there an art class?

I guess they have PE too. Perhaps Madame Hooch teach them other things besides how to fly?

They need an English class too to improve their writing and reading skills and Geography in order to learn the Countries, their culture and where are they.

Finally, I think that some kind of Biology is needed. At least, they are teens and they need to learn about the human body, reproduction and birth control.

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