We’re not even going to talk about how long it’s been since I last did one of these, or how long I’ll be doing them in future if I keep taking such long breaks.
In this chapter, Harry doesn’t know what he’s going to but it has to be better than what he’s leaving behind.
My first thought about this chapter is how good Mrs. Weasley is. And how underappreciated. She’s just the mother who had too many children and now spends all her life taking care of them and trying to keep up their house, except. Except she’s so open and so kind and so immediately welcoming to Harry, without even knowing a thing about him, including his name.
“Excuse me,” Harry said to the plump woman.
“Hullo, dear,” she said. “First time at Hogwarts? Ron’s new, too.”
She pointed at the last and youngest of her sons. He was tall, thin and gangling, with freckles, big hands and feet and a long nose.
“Yes,” said Harry. “The thing is – the thing is, I don’t know how to -”
“How to get on to the platform?” she said kindly, and Harry nodded.
“Not to worry,” she said. “All you have to do is walk straight at the barrier between platforms nine and ten. Don’t stop and don’t be scared you’ll crash into it, that’s very important. Best do it at a bit of a run if you’re nervous. Go on, go now before Ron.”
Such a mother, even to children who aren’t hers. I love her. And then:
“Hey, Mum, guess what? Guess who we just met on the train?”
Harry leant back quickly so they couldn’t see him looking.
“You know that black-haired boy who was near us in the station? Know who he is?”
Harry heard the little girl’s voice.
“Oh, Mum, can I go on the train and see him, Mum, oh please …”
“You’ve already seen him, Ginny, and the poor boy isn’t something you goggle at in a zoo. Is he really, Fred? How do you know?”
“Asked him. Saw his scar. It’s really there – like lightning.”
“Poor dear – no wonder he was alone. I wondered. He was ever so polite when he asked how to get on to the platform.”
“Never mind that, do you think he remembers what You-Know-Who looks like?”
Their mother suddenly became very stern.
“I forbid you to ask him, Fred. No, don’t you dare. As though he needs reminding of that on his first day at school.”
The most famous boy in the wizarding world, the boy who lived, who defeated Voldemort, and all she’s thinking about is how alone and scared he is on his first day in their world. And this is the first instance of her being a mother but also a steel-spined badass, putting Fred and George in their place and reminding them all that Harry is just a little boy, just like Ron. This trait of hers just builds and builds throughout the series, until it peaks with the “not my daughter, you bitch” moment, but it’s so nice to see just a hint of it here, in defense of a friendless little boy who just happens to be famous, which is how she always thinks of and treats him. I love herrrr.
This is also where we first see the seeds of Ron’s jealousy and what will later become his obnoxious tendency to resent Harry for things he never wanted or asked for and … well, I’m not much of a Ron fan, sorry!
“Five,” said Ron. For some reason, he was looking gloomy. “I’m the sixth in our family to go to Hogwarts. You could say I’ve got a lot to live up to. Bill and Charlie have already left – Bill was Head Boy and Charlie was captain of Quidditch. Now Percy’s a Prefect. Fred and George mess around a lot, but they still get really good marks and everyone thinks they’re really funny. Everyone expects me to do as well as the others, but if I do, it’s no big deal, because they did it first. You never get anything new, either, with five brothers. I’ve got Bill’s old robes, Charlie’s old wand and Percy’s old rat.”
Ron reached inside his jacket and pulled out a fat grey rat, which was asleep.
“His name’s Scabbers and he’s useless, he hardly ever wakes up. Percy got an owl from my dad for being made a Prefect, but they couldn’t aff-I mean, I got Scabbers instead.”
Ron’s ears went pink. He seemed to think he’d said too much, because he went back to staring out of the window.
Like. I would understand this more, I think, if anyone in his family ever expressed anything like this, that they expected big things from him and would be disappointed or unhappy if he didn’t live up. Of course they probably do want him to do well, that’s what parents usually want from their children, but … this is the Weasleys we’re talking about. They’re going to love him regardless. And it’s not like Ron is stupid–he’s a great strategist, after all. He just decides as an 11-year-old boy that he’s sixth and therefore last in every way, and he behaves accordingly. Ginny is seventh, so she’s technically last, and she takes Hogwarts by storm, so … it’s all a matter of perspective and Ron has the wrong one.
I do realize he’s a child, and having five older, already accomplished brothers probably would give a boy a bit of a complex, but he never grows out of it. He’s this way until the end of the series, and it’s so, so frustrating and, eventually, boring.
Seeing him bond with Harry is very cute, though, especially when they share all the food from the trolley. Harry is the sweetest, most adorable child.
“Go on, have a pasty,” said Harry, who had never had anything to share before or, indeed, anyone to share it with. It was a nice feeling, sitting there with Ron, eating their way through all Harry’s pasties and cakes (the sandwiches lay forgotten).
And just a moment that made me giggle aloud a bit:
“Thanks,” said Harry, pushing his sweaty hair out of his eyes.
“What’s that?” said one of the twins suddenly, pointing at Harry’s lightning scar.
“Blimey,” said the other twin. “Are you -?”
“He is,” said the first twin. “Aren’t you?” he added to Harry.
“What?” said Harry.
“Harry Potter,” chorused the twins.
“Oh, him,” said Harry. “I mean, yes, I am.”
Harry’s nonchalance about himself is very funny to me. He’s always just like, “Yeah, I’m Harry Potter. Also, Voldemort Voldemort Voldemort, you big babies.” Well, not with that flippant attitude, more like he just doesn’t understand the significance of his own story or Voldemort’s, either, but it still makes me laugh. And that’s something worth unpacking, too, the way everyone else tells him the story of his life rather than him knowing it for himself. I imagine that would make a person feel really helpless and also frustrated, like they don’t have control of their own narrative and can’t shape it for themselves, like everything about them has already been discussed, written about, dissected, and decided by everyone else and the life they’ve been living all this time doesn’t even matter. Hagrid is the only one who takes interest in and care of Harry’s Dursley-raised life, at first, and that’s why Hagrid is the best.
And, of course, I can’t neglect that this is the first introduction of my girl, my hero, my soulmate, Hermione Granger herself. She is not … presented in the most flattering light here, but it is through Harry’s eyes, after all.
He had just raised his wand when the compartment door slid open again. The toadless boy was back, but this time he had a girl with him. She was already wearing her new Hogwarts robes.
“Has anyone seen a toad? Neville’s lost one,” she said. She had a bossy sort of voice, lots of bushy brown hair and rather large front teeth.
“We’ve already told him we haven’t seen it,” said Ron, but the girl wasn’t listening, she was looking at the wand in his hand.
“Oh, are you doing magic? Let’s see it, then.”
She sat down. Ron looked taken aback.
“Er – all right.”
He cleared his throat.
“Sunshine, daisies, butter mellow,
Turn this stupid, fat rat yellow.”
He waved his wand, but nothing happened. Scabbers stayed grey and fast asleep.
“Are you sure that’s a real spell?” said the girl. “Well, it’s not very good, is it? I’ve tried a few simple spells just for practice and it’s all worked for me. Nobody in my family’s magic at all, it was ever such a surprise when I got my letter, but I was ever so pleased, of course, I mean, it’s the very best school of witchcraft there is, I’ve heard – I’ve learnt all our set books off by heart, of course, I just hope it
will be enough – I’m Hermione Granger, by the way, who are you?”
She said all this very fast.
Harry looked at Ron and was relieved to see by his stunned face that he hadn’t learnt all the set books off by heart either.
“I’m Ron Weasley,” Ron muttered.
“Harry Potter,” said Harry.
“Are you really?” said Hermione. “I know all about you, of course – I got a few extra books for background reading, and you’re in Modern Magical History and The Rise and Fall of the Dark Arts and Great Wizarding Events of the Twentieth Century.”
“Am I?” said Harry, feeling dazed.
“Goodness, didn’t you know? I’d have found out everything I could if it was me,” said Hermione. “Do either of you know what house you’ll be in? I’ve been asking around and I hope I’m in Gryffindor, it sounds by far the best, I hear Dumbledore himself was one, but I suppose Ravenclaw wouldn’t be too bad … Anyway, we’d better go and look for Neville’s toad. You two had better change, you know, I expect we’ll be there soon.”
And she left, taking the toadless boy with her.
I. Love. Her. Even here, in her least flattering light, I loooove her. So bossy, so take-charge, but for such a sweet cause. Poor Neville and his poor perpetually lost (or escaped?) toad. She always jumps in with both feet for the causes and people she believes in, always charges full steam ahead. As she grows she learns to make plans, do research, make sure she isn’t so easily found out, but that’s later and we’re not there yet. Right now she’s just a little girl, suddenly thrust into this magical world in much the way Harry is, but at least Harry has his name and his fame to help him along. Hermione has nothing. Her parents are Muggles, she has no “wizarding blood”, no family name to lean on, no one who’s gone before her to show her the way. All she can do is swallow books whole and parrot them back, do twice the amount of required homework, show off her knowledge at every turn to prove she belongs at Hogwarts and in the wizarding world as much as anyone else does. I used to argue that she was so much a Ravenclaw that it was wild she ended up in Gryffindor, but I don’t feel that way anymore. She’s Gryffindor in her bones. Her knowledge is just a shield and a weapon all in one, the only thing she has to secure her place in a world where half the inhabitants don’t want her.
Hermione Granger forever and ever and ever and ever, is what I’m saying.
Side note: what house is Dumbledore in? Is it specified in canon? Because here Hermione speculates that he was in Gryffindor, but that feels so utterly wrong to me. He’s too careful, too cunning, too manipulative. And far, far too patient and restrained and secretive. He feels very Slytherin to me, which is not just because I’m anti-Dumbledore (I am, but we’ve already been over how much I hate the anti-Slytherin bias), but like he could also be a Ravenclaw with Slytherin tendencies. He does favor Gryffindor shamelessly and unfairly, but I’ve always assumed that’s due to Harry.
The rest of the chapter is just blah blah Malfoy, blah blah Crabbe and Goyle, blah blah boat ride to Hogwarts. I don’t care about most of that. Except to mention that Scabbers helped them out when Malfoy, Crabbe, and Goyle were bothering them, which is interesting given, you know, who he is. I’d forgotten about that tiny detail. Why would he even bother?
Next up: sorting!