They didn't think they could bear it if anyone found out about the Potters. Mrs. Potter was Mrs. Dursley's sister, but they hadn't met for several years; in fact, Mrs. Dursley pretended she didn't have a sister, because her sister and her good-for-nothing husband were as unDursleyish as it was possible to be. (1.3)
Mr. and Mrs. Dursley are so focused on the new family unit they've formed, and on severing any connection with the more disreputable (according to them) part of her old family, that they "pretend" such a connection never existed at all. The narrator even coins a word for it, calling Mrs. Dursley's sister and brother-in-law "unDursleyish," and really registering the specificity of how different the two families are.
"I've come to bring Harry to his aunt and uncle. They're the only family he has left now."
"You don't mean – you can't mean the people who live here?" cried Professor McGonagall, jumping to her feet and pointing at number four. "Dumbledore – you can't. I've been watching them all day. You couldn't find two people who are less like us." (1.79-80)
Right away, the text reminds us of the distinction between family you're related to and people you identify with. Harry may be related to his aunt and uncle, but they're as unlike his friends in the magic world as it's possible to be. When McGonagall doesn't believe that Dumbledore wants to leave Harry with these "people," she's indicating that they can't really be his "family," because they're so unsympathetic.
He couldn't remember his parents at all. His aunt and uncle never spoke about them, and of course he was forbidden to ask questions. There were no photographs of them in the house. (2.98)
This statement is particularly poignant once we find out about wizarding photographs, which are almost like small videos or holograms, showing their subjects animated and moving around. Harry doesn't even have stupid old Muggle pictures. His aunt and uncle try to keep him from developing any connection with his parents.
I really don't think they should let the other sort in, do you? They're just not the same, they've never been brought up to know our ways. Some of them have never even heard of Hogwarts until they get the letter, I imagine. I think they should keep it in the old wizarding families. What's your surname, anyway? (5.184)
Here, Malfoy sets up a connection between family and class. The "old wizarding families" are, to him, a higher class than the "other sort," who haven't been brought up to learn magic. Ironically, even though Harry can be thought of as practically wizarding royalty, he's in the same ignorant position as many mixed-blood wizards, and he is himself only one-generation pureblood.
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. (6.150)
Having "five brothers" is a problem to Ron, because of the pressure of doing well and putting up with all the hand-me-downs, but it must seem somewhat exciting to Harry. Ron's complaining about having too much family, and Harry's never had enough.
The Sorting is a very important ceremony because, while you are here, your house will be something like your family within Hogwarts. You will have classes with the rest of your house, sleep in your house dormitory, and spend free time in your house common room. (7.7)
This statement is truer than McGonagall knows. For Harry, especially, his "house" is "like [his] family within Hogwarts"; it's also just like his family. He's practically adopted as an honorary Weasley, and he's far happier at Hogwarts than he ever was at the Dursleys'.
"I want to hear you're training hard, Potter, or I may change my mind about punishing you."
Then she suddenly smiled.
"Your father would have been proud," she said. "He was an excellent Quidditch player himself." (9.88-90)
At Hogwarts, Harry's constantly finding connections to his parents, or getting to hear people's memories of them, while back at the Dursleys' he wasn't even allowed to mention them. It's got to be gratifying for Harry to hear that he shares this special, newly discovered talent with the father he never got a chance to know.
Should Harry wake him? Something held him back – his father's cloak – he felt that this time – the first time – he wanted to use it alone. (12.103)
Harry loves being able to share experiences with his new friends, but this is different. This is the first time he's had a tangible object that connects him to one of his parents, and it's understandable that he would want to savor the experience of using it all by himself.
Harry was looking at his family, for the first time in his life.
The Potters smiled and waved at Harry and he stared hungrily back at them, his hands pressed flat against the glass as though he was hoping to fall right through it and reach them. He had a powerful kind of ache inside him, half joy, half terrible sadness. (12.127-128)
This passage really emphasizes how much Harry misses the parents he lost and how badly he wants to know something, anything, of them. This is the first time he's ever seen their faces; no wonder he wants to "fall right through [the glass] and reach them." Even though "half" of his feelings are "terrible sadness," it's worth enduring that for the "joy" he feels in looking at them at long last.
Your mother died to save you. If there is one thing Voldemort cannot understand, it is love. He didn't realize that love as powerful as your mother's for you leaves its own mark. Not a scar, no visible sign… to have been loved so deeply, even though the person who loved us is gone, will give us some protection forever. (17.120)
Even though Harry's parents are gone, in a way they're still with him, "mark[ed]" on his very skin. In a way, there's no greater measure of love than giving your life for another person, and that's what Harry's mother did for him. That kind of sacrifice forms a magic spell more powerful than any other in this novel.
"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, cakes, and candies (the sandwiches lay forgotten). (6.171)
This tells us right away that Harry is, deep down, a good and generous person. Living with the Dursleys hasn't drummed all the morals and values out of him. At the first opportunity to participate in sharing, that's exactly what he does. He's rewarded with the "nice feeling" of a shared meal and also with a good friend for life.
He turned back to Harry. "You'll soon find out some wizarding families are much better than others, Potter. You don't want to go making friends with the wrong sort. I can help you there." (6.244)
Funny how certain individuals are convinced about who is the right and "wrong sort," and stick to their ideas with passionate conviction. Here, Malfoy shows his prejudice by discriminating between pure and mixed-blood "wizarding families." He implies that you should make friends with people just because of their family background. What's ironic about this is that, just as Malfoy judges others for being the "wrong sort," people like the Dursleys would judge him as the "wrong sort," based on the idea that he can do magic at all.
"Look!" said Malfoy, darting forward and snatching something out of the grass. "It's that stupid thing Longbottom's gran sent him."
The Remembrall glittered in the sun as he held it up.
"Give that here, Malfoy," said Harry quietly. Everyone stopped talking to watch. (9.40-42)
The term's just barely started, and the first-years are taking sides and forming alliances already. Harry's not going to let Malfoy get away with taunting a fellow Gryffindor (Neville), while Malfoy's capitalizing on the beginnings of Harry's friendship with Neville to really just get to Harry.
"That Quidditch cup'll have our name on it this year," said Wood happily as they trudged back up to the castle. "I wouldn't be surprised if you turn out better than Charlie Weasley, and he could have played for England if he hadn't gone off chasing dragons." (10.65)
For Harry, the exciting thing about Hogwarts isn't just getting to be friends with other open-minded first years – it's the chance to be part of and embraced by a whole community. Here's this older, well-regarded student encouraging and praising Harry, and taking time to welcome him to the team. It's a far cry from the Dursleys' household.
Someone knocked into Harry as they hurried past him. It was Hermione. Harry caught a glimpse of her face – and was startled to see that she was in tears.
"I think she heard you."
"So?" said Ron, but he looked a bit uncomfortable. "She must've noticed she's got no friends." (10.78-80)
Poor Hermione. Ron should "look[s] a bit uncomfortable" here, as he's totally gone too far in insulting her, but then he makes matters worse by accusing her of having "no friends." Hermione's "tears" show how much having friends matters at Hogwarts and how deeply Ron has hurt her feelings. For once, Harry's not the one worst off in the room; having no friends at Hogwarts is almost as bad as not having any in Little Whinging.
But from that moment on, Hermione Granger became their friend. There are some things you can't share without ending up liking each other, and knocking out a twelve-foot mountain troll is one of them. (10.160)
We might say, finally – this took them long enough. If you've read the rest of the books, you know that the friendship between Harry, Ron, and Hermione is one of the series' defining characteristics. The three really depend on each other to succeed.
It was really lucky that Harry now had Hermione as a friend. He didn't know how he'd have gotten through all his homework without her, what with all the last-minute Quidditch practice Wood was making them do. (11.4)
If Harry thinks he's "really lucky" to have Hermione around now, just wait until they're fighting for their lives in the forbidden third-floor corridor. This is welcome praise from Harry, but he doesn't realize how lucky he is to have Hermione reminding him of the importance of focusing on the academic side of Hogwarts. (This goes for Ron too.)
Ron and Hermione joined Neville, Seamus, and Dean the West Ham fan up in the top row. As a surprise for Harry, they had painted a large banner on one of the sheets Scabbers had ruined. It said Potter for President… (11.41)
While the book focuses mainly on Harry's relationships with Ron and Hermione – and to some extent Neville – it's nice to see that he has a much larger friend group, and that so many of the Gryffindor first years support and encourage him. This scene shows how Harry has become part of a real community and can count on his friends to root for him.
"But will it cover all three of us?" said Ron.
"All – all three of us?"
"Oh, come off it, you don't think we'd let you go alone?"
"Of course not," said Hermione briskly. "How do you think you'd get to the Stone without us?" (16.92-95)
This kind of thing is how you tell who your friends really are. Luckily for Harry, his friends are just as brave (and foolish, maybe) as he is. There's no question here of either Ron or Hermione letting Harry go by himself. Despite their best intentions, though, they can't accompany him all the way.
"I'm not as good as you," said Harry, very embarrassed, as she let go of him.
"Me!" said Hermione. "Books! And cleverness! There are more important things – friendship and bravery and – oh Harry – be careful!" (16.288-89)
Of all the important qualities mentioned in this passage, friendship tops the list. Friendship matters more than just learning, or just being brave – those things matter too, of course, but friendship is at the core of it all. Harry values Hermione's academic success, which is nothing to sneeze at, but she reminds him that in the life-and-death situations that they're facing, friendship is one of the only things that will help them through.
"Harry Potter come and live here!"
"It's the best place for him," said Dumbledore firmly. "His aunt and uncle will be able to explain everything to him when he's older. I've written them a letter." (1.81-82)
It's almost touching that Dumbledore would be so naive as to think that a "letter" from him would smooth things over with the Dursleys and make everything OK. As we find out by chapter two, the last thing their house feels like, to Harry, is a home. Minor spoiler: later on in the series, we learn that Dumbledore had another important reason why Harry had to spend time with the Dursleys and why it really was "the best place." But that's all we're going to say for now.
The room held no sign that another boy lived in the house, too. (2.1)
Yuck. The Dursleys are just icky. They've filled their house with pictures of and references to their favorite son Dudley, but they won't even let Harry have a single picture of his parents. The Dursleys don't make their home welcoming to their poor orphaned nephew in any way.
Harry was used to spiders, because the cupboard under the stairs was full of them, and that was where he slept.
When he was dressed he went down the hall into the kitchen. The table was almost hidden beneath all Dudley's birthday presents. (2.13-14)
These two paragraphs show how different Harry and Dudley's positions in the house are. Harry doesn't even have a bedroom. He sleeps in a "cupboard" "under the stairs" – we can only imagine how dark and dismal it is. Think of how many spiders he must have encountered in order to get "used to" them. In contrast, Dudley gets so much attention that there's barely enough room in the house for all his birthday presents. (Compare this birthday to Harry's pivotal eleventh non-celebration, too.)
Harry spent as much time as possible out of the house, wandering around and thinking about the end of the holidays, where he could see a tiny ray of hope. When September came he would be going off to secondary school and, for the first time in his life, he wouldn't be with Dudley.
Dudley had been accepted at Uncle Vernon's old private school, Smeltings. (3.3)
We can't even begin to think about how dreadful it would be to go to Smeltings with Dudley. Luckily, Harry doesn't have to. This passage reveals that Harry was excited about going to school even before he knew of Hogwarts – just the thought of getting away from Dudley gives him "a tiny ray of hope." If just going to a different school is exciting, how much more awesome is going to wizarding school going to be?
…Harry could hardly believe it when he realized that he'd already been at Hogwarts two months. The castle felt more like home than Privet Drive ever had. (10.66)
Sixty days at Hogwarts, and Harry already feels more comfortable there than he did in eleven years at his aunt and uncle's. That says a lot about how unhappy he was at the Dursleys'; after such a short while, Hogwarts is already home. It's hard to say if other students also feel as at home at Hogwarts as Harry does, but Harry's definitely not alone in his excitement to arrive and reluctance to leave.
"I do feel so sorry," said Draco Malfoy, one Potions class, "for all those people who have to stay at Hogwarts for Christmas because they're not wanted at home." …
It was true that Harry wasn't going back to Privet Drive for Christmas… He didn't feel sorry for himself at all; this would probably be the best Christmas he'd ever had. (12.3, 12.5)
Malfoy is trying to insult Harry and the other students who are staying at Hogwarts over the break, but once again he falls short of the mark. Harry may not be "wanted" at the Dursleys, but since he doesn't consider it home, it's not much of an insult. He doesn't want to go there either. In fact, he doesn't even refer to his aunt and uncle's house as a home, calling it by its street name ("Privet Drive") instead of a home or a house. While Malfoy claims to "feel so sorry" for everyone who's stuck at Hogwarts, Harry is excited for what he thinks will be the "best Christmas" of his life.
He looked very pleased with himself, but Hermione didn't.
"Hagrid, you live in a wooden house," she said. (14.51-52)
Here, Hermione reminds us of the literal importance of kinds of homes. Hagrid's home is unprepared for dragon raising for many reasons, not least of all the issue that the dragon breathes fire constantly, and the house is made of wood. His home has structural problems with the very idea of dragon raising. His idealism shows us both his big heart and total lack of practicality.
A hundred and fifty points lost. That put Gryffindor in last place. In one night, they'd ruined any chance Gryffindor had had for the house cup. Harry felt as though the bottom had dropped out of his stomach. How could they ever make up for this? (15.16)
Although Hogwarts serves as a big home for all the students during the academic year, students also feel a responsibility to their individual "houses." Each of the four Hogwarts houses is a kind of home containing a kind of family (true for at least the academic year). Here, Harry was trying to do something good, but instead has let down both his school home and school family terribly.
It seemed to be a handsome, leather-covered book. Harry opened it curiously. It was full of wizard photographs. Smiling and waving at him from every page were his mother and father.
"Sent owls off ter all yer parents' old school friends, askin' for photos… knew yeh didn' have any… d'yeh like it?"
Harry couldn't speak, but Hagrid understood. (17.175-177)
We're going to go unconventional here, so bear with us. The text has already established that Harry doesn't feel at home at the Dursleys'. While he does feel at home at Hogwarts, he also knows he's at school, and that school has a fixed term. In other words, Hogwarts isn't his forever home. Since Harry isn't fully established in a permanent, physical residence, he's open to thinking of other kinds of homes. With this kind gift from Hagrid, Harry has pictures of his parents for the first time, and in this album, he always has a "place" where he can come home.
Harry knew at once that Snape's feelings toward him hadn't changed one jot. This didn't worry Harry. It seemed as though life would be back to normal next year, or as normal as it ever was at Hogwarts. (17.201)
Having the fantasy of a perfect home is just that: a fantasy. It's too late to have the picture-perfect home and family that Harry should have started out with. So what he clings to here is the idea of what's "normal." It might seem like attending wizarding school is pretty far from normal, but it's become normal for Harry – at least, the Hogwarts definition of normal has become so for him.
"If he wants ter go, a great Muggle like you won't stop him," growled Hagrid. "Stop Lily an' James Potter's son goin' ter Hogwarts! Yer mad. His name's been down ever since he was born." (4.130)
As far as we can tell, the question of who pays Harry's tuition is not fully addressed in this scene. Instead, it's quickly overshadowed by the idea that Harry's lineage demands he go to Hogwarts. In a way, the school itself is loyal to the children of its alumni, reserving places for them as soon as they come into existence.
Harry, who hadn't had any breakfast, leapt to his feet, but Ron's ears went pink again and he muttered that he'd brought sandwiches. Harry went out into the corridor. (6.163)
Although Ron is embarrassed by his family's poverty – they just don't have as much money as other old wizarding families – he's determined not to show it. Although his "ears [g]o pink" and he clearly feels unhappy about not being able to buy any snacks on the train, he defends his family and his situation by telling Harry that he's already got "sandwiches."
"Gryffindor," said Ron. Gloom seemed to be settling on him again. "Mom and Dad were in it, too. I don't know what they'll say if I'm not. I don't suppose Ravenclaw would be too bad, but imagine if they put me in Slytherin." (6.225)
Family loyalty works in reverse too when you're a Hogwarts kid – children of alumni feel an obligation to end up in the same house as their parents. The idea of not being in Gryffindor like his parents fills Ron with "gloom." He can't even "imagine" what they would do if he wasn't: "I don't know what they'll say if I'm not." While Ron seems unable to even countenance the idea of being a Slytherin, notice that he doesn't even mention Hufflepuff at all.
"I think I can tell who the wrong sort are for myself, thanks," he said coolly.
Draco Malfoy didn't go red, but a pink tinge appeared in his pale cheeks.
"I'd be careful if I were you, Potter," he said slowly. "Unless you're a bit politer you'll go the same way as your parents. They didn't know what was good for them, either. You hang around with riffraff like the Weasleys and that Hagrid, and it'll rub off on you." (6.246-248)
Being the right sort or the "wrong sort," worrying about being Sorted… Everybody in this book is worried about what "sort" of people they are and with whom they belong. Often, characters make themselves feel better by labeling the opposing side as the "wrong sort" or "riffraff."
You might belong in Hufflepuff,
Where they are just and loyal,
Those patient Hufflepuffs are true
And unafraid of toil… (7.33)
When the Sorting Hat describes the different houses, it emphasizes Hufflepuff's loyalty. Students in other houses may be braver, or cleverer, but the Hufflepuffs are "loyal" and "true." Some of the other Hogwarts kids could learn a lot from them.
Don't you care about Gryffindor, do you only care about yourselves, I don't want Slytherin to win the house cup, and you'll lose all the points I got from Professor McGonagall for knowing about Switching Spells. (9.132)
Hermione proves her loyalty to Gryffindor while simultaneously questioning Ron and Harry's – a comparison made neater by the fact that they share their house. Hermione doesn't help her case by mentioning the points she's gotten for studying, but she's wrong when she accuses the two boys of "only car[ing] about [them]selves."
"I went looking for the troll because I – I thought I could deal with it on my own – you know, because I've read all about them."
Ron dropped his wand. Hermione Granger, telling a downright lie to a teacher? (10.142-143)
Although Ron had insulted her earlier, Hermione shows her loyalty to him and Harry – and to their house – by lying to McGonagall about trying to find the troll. She explains it later as a responsibility to stand up for them just as they stood up for her, by coming to warn her about and defend her from the troll. This show of loyalty is, in part, what makes them such good friends later.
"Very well," Snape cut in. "We'll have another little chat soon, when you've had time to think things over and decided where your loyalties lie." (13.114)
Here, Snape is taunting Quirrell, trying to provoke him into revealing whether he knows how to get past Fluffy or not. Snape does this by questioning Quirrell's loyalty. Harry overhears this and wrongly suspects Snape of evildoing, but we can totally see why Harry would think that.
Malfoy told Madam Pomfrey he wanted to borrow one of my books so he could come and have a good laugh at me. He kept threatening to tell her what really bit me – I've told her it was a dog, but I don't think she believes me – I shouldn't have hit him at the Quidditch match, that's why he's doing this. (14.105)
In a double dose of faithfulness, Ron is being loyal to Harry and Hagrid by not revealing to Madam Pomfrey what really bit him. But he's also paying for the loyalty he showed to his family and friends when he tried to beat up Malfoy for insulting them.
Only Ron stood by him.
"They'll all forget this in a few weeks. Fred and George have lost loads of points in all the time they've been here, and people still like them." (15.20-21)
Here, Ron shows temporary and long-term loyalty to Harry, supporting him in a tough moment by acting like his friend – at a time when no one else wants to be – and encouraging him that, down the road, people will forget about these lost points. He argues that if Fred and George can keep their friends after losing points time and time again, that Harry should be able to also.
You might belong in Gryffindor,
Where dwell the brave at heart,
Their daring, nerve, and chivalry
Set Gryffindors apart… (7.33)
Just as the Hufflepuffs are defined by their loyalty, according to the Sorting Hat, the Gryffindors are defined by their courage. Specifically, their courage, which has aspects of "daring, nerve, and chivalry," is founded in the heart – not the mind – it's emotional first, calculated second. In other words, Gryffindor bravery is sometimes brought on by feeling, rather than thinking.
"Malfoy tricked you," Hermione said to Harry. "You realize that, don't you? He was never going to meet you – Filch knew someone was going to be in the trophy room, Malfoy must have tipped him off." (9.169)
Malfoy, as a Slytherin, is supposed to be more adept at cunning than courage, and this moment only proves it. He didn't just chicken out of his midnight duel with Harry; he never planned to go at all. It wasn't meant to be a test of his courage, but a test of Harry's gullibility.
Harry then did something that was both very brave and very stupid: He took a great running leap and managed to fasten his arms around the troll's neck from behind. (10.123)
Here's where that idea of being "brave at heart" (7.33) kicks in again. Harry attacks the troll by being "both very brave and very stupid" – but that stupidity is almost necessary in order for him to be able to act bravely. If he'd stopped to think about it, he would have probably realized that jumping on a troll is not high on the list of acts of self-preservation.
"You've got to stand up to him, Neville!" said Ron. "He's used to walking all over people, but that's no reason to lie down in front of him and make it easier."
"There's no need to tell me I'm not brave enough to be in Gryffindor, Malfoy's already done that," Neville choked out. (13.28-29)
Ron's trying to encourage Neville, but Neville takes it as an insult. It's too bad, because Ron's right – they all have to "stand up" for themselves. Yet, that's easier said than done, especially for someone like Neville, who's frequently made fun of and shamed by the idea that he's "not brave enough."
"It's people they feel sorry for. See, there's Potter, who's got no parents, then there's the Weasleys, who've got no money – you should be on the team, Longbottom, you've got no brains."
Neville went bright red but turned in his seat to face Malfoy.
"I'm worth twelve of you, Malfoy," he stammered. (13.77-79)
Malfoy just doesn't stop with the insults, does he? We're guessing that, in this case, he's being so cruel because he's jealous: the Gryffindor Quidditch team is actually very good, and they really have assigned the best players to the field. Since their team is a match for Slytherin technique-wise, Malfoy tries to undercut them on a morale level. It takes a lot for Neville to reply to Malfoy here, even if it doesn't accomplish very much.
Harry caught Neville's eye and tried to tell him without words that this wasn't true, because Neville was looking stunned and hurt. Poor, blundering Neville – Harry knew what it must have cost him to try and find them in the dark, to warn them. (15.9)
Harry's right to feel sorry for Neville here; Neville's sacrificed himself on Harry and Hermione's account, and Harry can't even tell Neville the truth about what went down. So often when Neville tries to be brave, he gets in trouble himself: here, he gets detention.
"Don't you call me an idiot!" said Neville. "I don't think you should be breaking any more rules! And you were the one who told me to stand up to people!" (16.114)
Here Ron's encouragement to Neville backfires, as Neville takes his advice at precisely the wrong moment and stands up against precisely the wrong people. Yet, in some ways he's right to stand up for himself here, to demand that people don't call him names, and to encourage them to follow the rules. After all, he's seen firsthand the trouble they get into when they don't.
"If you want to go back, I won't blame you,' he said. 'You can take the cloak, I won't need it now."
"Don't be stupid," said Ron.
"We're coming," said Hermione. (16.148-50).
Once again bravery is act first, think later, as Harry tries to persuade his friends to turn around and let him go forward alone; as Ron tells him, that's "stupid." In a way, it is foolhardy of all of them to continue, as their bravery puts all their lives in danger. True, it's totally worth it in the end, when they defeat Voldemort and live to fight another day, but that doesn't mean it was smart.
'How touching…' it hissed. 'I always value bravery…. Yes, boy, your parents were brave…. I killed your father first, and he put up a courageous fight… but your mother needn't have died… she was trying to protect you…. Now give me the Stone, unless you want her to have died in vain.' (17.70)
Voldemort may "value bravery," but that doesn't mean everything he's saying here is true – he's using Harry's parents' bravery against him. He implies that Harry's mother will "have died in vain" unless Harry hands over the Stone. Of course, Harry takes this in the opposite sense and becomes even more determined to not give in: to act just as courageously as his parents did.
"There are all kinds of courage," said Dumbledore, smiling. "It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends. I therefore award ten points to Mr. Neville Longbottom." (17.197)
We're glad that Dumbledore's noticed Neville's bravery, just as we have. In fact, if you look back over the list of quotes in this section, you might be surprised at how many bring us back to Neville. See, Neville is brave, just as brave as anyone else in Gryffindor. Dumbledore reminds us that "all kinds of courage" exist in the world and Neville's been participating in an important one: "stand[ing] up to [his] friends." He's faced enemies, too, but sometimes it's just as difficult to face down your companions. Don't forget: it's these final ten points that Neville wins which give the Gryffindors a win at the house cup, too. Sometimes small acts of bravery are the most pivotal.
Professor McGonagall's voice trembled as she went on. "That's not all. They're saying he tried to kill the Potter's son, Harry. But – he couldn't. He couldn't kill that little boy. No one knows why, or how, but they're saying that when he couldn't kill Harry Potter, Voldemort's power somehow broke – and that's why he's gone." (1.72)
The book's barely started and already good has triumphed over evil; what's more, the good in question is a mere baby. When faced with the goodness of that little boy, the evil wizard's "power somehow broke," even though he had time, experience, training, and power on his side. None of those were a match for the unformed goodness of this baby.
"Better Hufflepuff than Slytherin," said Hagrid darkly. "There's not a single witch or wizard who went bad who wasn't in Slytherin. You-Know-Who was one." (5.199)
Well, this is kind of rough on any Slytherins without homicidal tendencies, isn't it? Seriously, though, Hagrid's statement raises questions about how much of good and evil can be put down to fate, and how much to personality. What would have happened if these "bad" wizards hadn't been put in Slytherin when they were at Hogwarts? Would they have ended up as good, responsible citizens? For more on this, see our section on "The Sorting Hat" in "Symbols, Imagery, Allegory."
"I'm sorry to say I sold the wand that did it," he said softly. "Thirteen-and-a-half inches. Yew. Powerful wand, very powerful, and in the wrong hands…well, if I'd known what that wand was going out into the world to do…." (5.225)
Ollivander makes many, many wands, and most of those are used for good. He has no way of knowing, when he sells them, which wands will be used for more evil purposes. But the wands he makes, in the wrong hands, can kill people and cause terrible wrongs. Does that make him responsible at all for the spells some of these wands' owners perform?
"I've heard of his family," said Ron darkly. "They were some of the first to come back to our side after You-Know-Who disappeared. Said they'd been bewitched. My dad doesn't believe it. He says Malfoy's father didn't need an excuse to go over to the Dark Side." (6.262)
Somewhat conveniently, Malfoy's family blames their alliance on the "Dark Side" on being enchanted themselves. It's the kind of defense that's impossible to prove or disprove, and makes them suspect to people like Mr. Weasley, who believe that the Malfoys were already inclined to Darkness.
"No – he wouldn't," she said. "I know he's not very nice, but he wouldn't try and steal something Dumbledore was keeping safe."
"Honestly, Hermione, you think all teachers are saints or something," snapped Ron. "I'm with Harry. I wouldn't put anything past Snape. But what's he after? What's that dog guarding?" (11.29-30)
According to the conclusion of Book 1, Hermione is right: Snape isn't on the evil side here. While Snape acts really weird and suspicious throughout the book, giving Harry and Ron plenty of reasons not to trust him, ultimately Dumbledore himself defends the potions master. It would appear, then, that Hermione is right in her separation of Snape being "not very nice" from the idea of him working for the Dark Lord.
"Can't have," Hagrid said, his voice shaking. "Can't nothing interfere with a broomstick except powerful Dark magic – no kid could do that to a Nimbus Two Thousand." (11.105)
Many factors combine here to emphasize how scary the enchantment of Harry's broomstick is. One, whatever did it is something that scares the large, confident Hagrid, who describes the situation with "his voice shaking." Two, broomsticks are complicated objects on their own and it would take some extremely "powerful Dark magic" to mess with them. Three, whatever did this is "no kid" but an adult with full-fledged magic powers.
Unfortunately, you needed a specially signed note from one of the teachers to look in any of the restricted books, and he knew he'd never get one. These were the books containing powerful Dark Magic never taught at Hogwarts, and only read by older students studying advanced Defense Against the Dark Arts. (12.33)
Like Ollivander's wands, these books have the potential to do evil, but they're not evil on their own. Their presence is necessary, in fact, for those who wish to learn about protecting themselves against Dark Magic. It makes sense that these books should be "restricted" from first-year students, but as Harry's actions show, rules and restrictions can only go so far in keeping people from learning the things they want to know.
Harry knew Ron and Hermione were thinking the same as he was. If Snape had been in on protecting the Stone, it must have been easy to find out how the other teachers had guarded it. He probably knew everything – except, it seemed, Quirrell's spell and how to get past Fluffy. (14.39)
In this context, Snape seems totally evil. Harry, Ron, and Hermione have a certain amount of evidence, and they have guessed rightly in many aspects of it. One of the teachers "protecting the Stone" is in the best position for figuring out how to get at it later. They're just wrong about which teacher is secretly evil, at least in this case.
"That is because it is a monstrous thing, to slay a unicorn," said Firenze. "Only one who has nothing to lose, and everything to gain, would commit such a crime. The blood of a unicorn will keep you alive, even if you are an inch from death, but at a terrible price. You have slain something pure and defenseless to save yourself, and you will have but a half-life, a cursed life, from the moment the blood touches your lips." (15.155)
Just in case we were unclear about the question of why killing unicorns is bad, Firenze reminds us with a flurry of strong adjectives: "monstrous," "terrible," and "cursed." Of all the crimes out there, this is one of the worst, only "commit[ted]" by those with "nothing to lose." Committing this crime carries with it its own instantaneous, permanent punishment of a "half-life."
Lord Voldemort showed me how wrong I was. There is no good and evil, there is only power, and those too weak to seek it… (17.31)
Spoken, of course, by someone on the "evil" side! If you've ever wondered how bad guys justify being bad, this statement by Quirrell is a fine starting point. To keep himself from doubting the "goodness" of his actions, Quirrell thinks only in terms of "power" and its absence. Of course, the absence of that power is defined by "weak[ness]"; having and manipulating power has positive connotations, while not exercising it – for whatever reason – has negative connotations.
He turned to smile at the tabby, but it had gone. Instead he was smiling at a rather severe-looking woman who was wearing square glasses exactly the shape of the markings the cat had had around its eyes. (1.47)
Rowling doesn't waste any time – we're only partway through chapter one and we've already witnessed our first Transfiguration. Here McGonagall transforms from a tabby cat into her real form – professor at Hogwarts. From context given later in the book, we know how hard just transforming a match into a needle is: given the ease with which McGonagall goes from cat to person, she must be a very powerful witch indeed.
"I'm a what?" gasped Harry.
"A wizard, o' course," said Hagrid, sitting back down on the sofa, which groaned and sank even lower, "an' a thumpin' good 'un, I'd, say, once yeh've been trained up a bit. With a mum an' dad like yours, what else would yeh be?" (4.63-64)
For Harry – and, we might imagine, anyone who's grown up only knowing about Muggles – learning that there's not only magic and wizards, but that he himself is one, comes as a pretty big shock. It's not just finding out that supernatural elements exist, it's discovering that he's one of those supernatural elements himself.
"Wizards have banks?"
"Just the one. Gringotts. Run by goblins."
Harry dropped the bit of sausage he was holding.
We're not sure what's more of a shock here: 1) the idea that "wizards have banks," just like non-wizards do, and that they would still value currency the way non-wizards do; or 2) that there are "goblins" in this world, and that they work at the wizard bank. For Hagrid, of course, who's grown up in this magical realm, it's just a matter of course. And really, for Harry, it shouldn't be too much of a stretch to start believing in goblins, when he's already been convinced about wizards.
"I don't know how the Muggles manage without magic," he said as they climbed a broken-down escalator that led up to a bustling road lined with shops. (5.76)
While Harry's still getting used to the idea that magic exists and witches and wizards are real, Hagrid reminds us that this magic is ancient and long-established, and he can't even figure out how people get along without it. This goes a long way toward establishing the tremendous size and depth of this new world, which Harry's found himself a part of.
Harry took the wand. He felt a sudden warmth in his fingers. He raised the wand above his head, brought it swishing down through the dusty air and a stream of red and gold sparks shot from the end like a firework, throwing dancing spots of light on to the walls. (5.244)
This is the first time that Harry gets a feel for doing magic himself and the potential thrill that casting charms can bring. He's seen plenty of other awesome magical things happen so far – just being in Diagon Alley is pretty cool – but this is the first kind of magic he's gotten to experience as someone who causes it, rather than someone who watches the effects.
And then, once you had managed to find them, there were the classes themselves. There was a lot more to magic, as Harry quickly found out, than waving your wand and saying a few funny words. (8.12)
Lest we think that becoming a wizard is all fun and games, Hogwarts reminds us, through Harry, that it's actually very hard work. The students at Hogwarts may have innate wizarding talent, or potential, but that doesn't translate to experience and success right out of the gate. In a way, that's kind of reassuring.
Ron also started teaching Harry wizard chess. This was exactly like Muggle chess except that the figures were alive, which made it a lot like directing troops in battle. (12.45)
This is just a small example of how the wizarding world is filled with magic, down to the board games children play. Even the small playing pieces are "alive." When you consider how a single "live" children's toy is often the inspiration for a whole book (see The Velveteen Rabbit, The Indian in the Cupboard, The Return of the Twelves, etc.), it's pretty amazing that the Harry Potter series is so rich and full of detail that this abundant topic becomes another small detail in the magic tapestry Rowling paints.
'I don't need a cloak to become invisible,' said Dumbledore gently. 'Now, can you think what the Mirror of Erised shows us all?' (12.189)
In case we needed any reminding about just how powerful Dumbledore is, he tells Harry that he doesn't "need a cloak to become invisible." Harry depends on an object with its own magical properties – he or anyone else could use it with the same effects. Not so for Dumbledore's invisibility: this is magic the first-year students can't even dream of.
The ancient study of alchemy is concerned with making the Sorcerer's Stone, a legendary substance with astonishing powers. The stone will transform any metal into pure gold. It also produces the Elixir of Life, which will make the drinker immortal. (13.50)
This quotation from a book Hermione gets from the Hogwarts library doesn't say anything that different from what a Muggle book about alchemy might say. The philosophical study of alchemy, after all, can also be thought of as a science. The difference is that, in the magic world, phrases like "will transform… into gold" and "will make the drinker immortal" aren't just "legendary"; it really works.
It was one of my more brilliant ideas, and between you and me, that's saying something. You see, only one who wanted to find the Stone – find it, but not use it – would be able to get it, otherwise, they'd just see themselves making gold or drinking Elixir of Life. My brain surprises even me sometimes… (17.137)
Here, Dumbledore inserts a little humility into the proceedings, as he pokes fun of the fact that he has so many "brilliant ideas" and lets Harry into the little secret that this one was one of the best. We're reminded, once again, of his power and wisdom as both a great wizard and as Headmaster of Hogwarts. Of course, his plan backfired a little bit, as Harry found himself holding the Stone in Voldemort's presence, but otherwise there was no harm done – at least, not this time, not to the good guys.
Viewers as far apart as Kent, Yorkshire, and Dundee have been phoning in to tell me that instead of the rain I promised yesterday, they've had a downpour of shooting stars! (1.24)
Muggles are ready to explain away anything out of the ordinary, and wizards often take advantage of this when trying to cover up or keep secret bits of magic that have slipped through the cracks. Here, they've wreaked havoc with the Muggle weather system, creating celestial disturbances the newscasters are classifying as "shooting stars."
"You'd think they'd be a bit more careful, but no – even the Muggles have noticed something's going on. It was on their news." She jerked her head back at the Dursleys' dark living-room window. (1.53)
McGonagall couldn't be clearer here about the separation between worlds. The celebrating wizards are growing careless, letting confusing signs and fragments slip as they rejoice at Voldemort's defeat. But by referring to the people inside the house as "Muggles," and by separating out the news they watch as "their news," McGonagall clarifies that there are huge gaps in understanding and knowledge separating the Muggles from the magic-wielding folk.
But Hagrid simply waved his hand and said, "About our world, I mean. Your world. My world. Yer parents' world."
"What world?" (4.45-46)
Non-magic England and magic England aren't just separate regions: they're completely different worlds. Hagrid's careful use of pronouns – "our," "your," "my," and "yer parents'" – clearly distinguishes that he and Harry belong in this other, new world. This world may be one full of magic and delight, but it's also one that Harry's been completely in the dark about. He may belong in it without question, but he doesn't know anything about it.
"A Muggle," said Hagrid, "it's what we call nonmagic folk like them. An' it's your bad luck you grew up in a family o' the biggest Muggles I ever laid eyes on." (4.82)
Although we can infer from chapter one that Muggles are "nonmagic folk," it's nice to hear a proper definition of them from Hagrid. The fact that the wizarding world have a whole set of terminology to describe and differentiate themselves from non-magic peoples – in contrast to the non-magic peoples' complete ignorance about the distinction – emphasizes the separation of and contrast between the worlds themselves.
"But what does a Ministry of Magic do?"
"Well, their main job is to keep it from the Muggles that there's still witches an' wizards up an' down the country." (5.50-51)
The worlds may be different, but they enjoy similar structures. The magic world has a government and a ministry just like the non-magic world does. However, the Ministry of Magic's primary job is to keep their existence – and the existence of their people – a secret from people in the other region.
"Help yourself," said Harry. "But in, you know, the Muggle world, people just stay put in photos."
"Do they? What, they don't move at all?" Ron sounded amazed. "Weird!" (6.186-187)
Ron may think Muggle pictures are "weird" and be "amazed" by them, but really we and Harry think that pictures with people moving are just as "weird" and "amazing." These kinds of interactions go a long way towards explaining what might seem like oddities or weirdnesses about their own world to us.
"The Chasers throw the Quaffle and put it through the hoops to score," Harry recited. "So – that's sort of like basketball on broomsticks with six hoops, isn't it?"
"What's basketball?" said Wood curiously. (10.40-41)
Face it, especially on a first-round explanation, Quidditch may not make that much sense – particularly when you're just reading about it, not seeing it. But this may be true of any sport. When Harry tries to figure it out by comparing it to other sports he's familiar with, he finds himself on shaky ground: basketball's just as foreign to Wood as Quidditch is to Harry.
Ron was fascinated by the fifty pence.
"Weird!" he said, "What a shape! This is money?"
"You can keep it," said Harry, laughing at how pleased Ron was. (12.55-57)
Compared to Knuts and Sickles, fifty pence sounds straightforward (especially if you're British). The fifty pence piece has no value to Harry – it would barely buy anything Muggle, it's an insulting gift from the dreaded Dursleys, and it has no value in the wizard world, except as a curiosity. But for Ron, it is a curiosity, and it seems as "weird" to him as the idea of a Knut might have first seemed to Harry. Maybe weirder.
"But there aren't wild dragons in Britain?" said Harry.
"Of course there are," said Ron. "Common Welsh Green and Hebridean Blacks. The Ministry of Magic has a job hushing them up, I can tell you. Our kind have to keep putting spells on Muggles who've spotted them, to make them forget." (14.25-26)
Even after the introduction of magic, witchcraft, and wizardry, of goblins, trolls, and three-headed dogs, the wizarding world is still full of surprises. In this case, it's "wild dragons," which to regular magical citizens like Ron are just part of the landscape. We can contrast Ron's use of "our kind" with Malfoy's reference to the "wrong sort," or the Dursleys' purposeful ignorance about people with differences; when magic is involved there can't always be distinctions of separate but equal.
"Ready, are you?"
It was Uncle Vernon, still purple-faced, still mustached, still looking furious at the nerve of Harry, carrying an owl in a cage in a station full of ordinary people. Behind him stood Aunt Petunia and Dudley, looking terrified at the very sight of Harry. (17.221-22)
Uncle Vernon's not that scary anymore, after facing Voldemort. He hasn't changed that much – "still purple-faced, still mustached, still looking furious" – but Harry has. He's already started to grow up. Now, the tables have turned, and Harry's relatives are "terrified at the very sight of" him, instead of it being the other way around.