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
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.
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
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.
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...