A few months ago, I fulfilled my lifelong dream of visiting The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando, FL. I say lifelong because I’m convinced that my life didn’t exist before Harry Potter, or least, it didn’t exist in any meaningful form. (I’m kidding, Mom and Dad! I had a great childhood!) I was there with my family and while they are all fans of varying degrees, they are intimately aware of how I feel about Harry Potter. We rounded the corner from the neighboring Lost Worlds attraction and entered the gates of Hogsmeade. Between the iconic John Williams’ score playing overhead to the Hogwarts Express parked right there to the roofs of Hogsmeade dusted with fake snow, I…completely lost it. I burst into tears and took it all in. My mom called us together for a picture and I tried to regain my composure. It didn’t work.
“Wait, are you crying?” asked my kid brother. “You really are crying,” affirmed my dad. My mom hugged my waist.
“Shut up!” I responsibly replied.
I didn’t need to defend myself to these people. My parents drove me to midnight releases and my brother obsessed about the little details of the books right along with me. How I responded hardly came as a surprise. I think it’s mostly just nice to know that I got a glimpse of what Harry must have felt upon viewing Hogwarts for the first time—a heady mixture of anticipation and awe and what can only be described as the unmistakable feeling of coming home.
CHAPTER SIX: THE JOURNEY FROM PLATFORM NINE AND THREE-QUARTERS
Harry spends the last month of the summer in isolation with nothing but the hope of an uncertain future to keep him going. He tentatively asks Uncle Vernon* for a ride to King’s Cross Station on September 1st. (Can I say that I love how tumblr celebrates September 1st every year? Tumblr is generally excellent at remembering all of the important dates of Harry Potter and I don’t think I’ve seen any slack in the number of posts in the past years. I expect that the tradition will continue for quite a long time to come.) Platform Nine and Three-Quarters is his destination–twelve-year-old Gretchen knew nothing about the train system in England, but even I realized just how absurd that sounded. Jo’s always had a real way with numbers, which I appreciate. The Dursleys gleefully leave him behind to work that one out on his own.
*Uncle Vernon’s response of “Funny way to get to a wizards’ school, the train. Magic carpets all got punctures, have they?” is really very funny. That man’s got some sass for being so thick-headed.
And then the Weasleys turn up to rescue Harry! Huzzah! Nobody loves Harry quite like the Weasleys do. Molly Weasley takes him under her wing not because he’s famous, but because he needs someone to be there for him. So she does just that. What’s one more in the boisterous fold of red-headed Weasley kin? In these first few moments of meeting the Weasleys, they each develop a relationship with him that will last through the books. Ginny develops her schoolgirl crush, Fred and George recognize Harry for who he truly is and still treat him with respect, and Percy is too wrapped up in his own importance to bother making time for Harry. Ron and Harry bond over the sharing of food and mutual experiences. As far as I’m concerned, this is the basis for all good friendships. Ron and Harry, out to take on the wizarding world together!
Hermione shows up to briefly boss the boys around and Malfoy stops by to work on his skills of being an underage douchebag. Harry shows a lot of courage in this chapter–courage to talk to his Uncle about getting a ride to the station, courage to run through the barrier at Platform Nine and Three-Quarters, and courage to try the funny grey Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans. There’s courage in not knowing what comes next, yet realizing that it’s got to be better than where you’ve been. The most courageous thing that Harry does, in my opinion, is when he rebuffs Malfoy’s offer to join his side. Harry may only be eleven, but he knows when people are insincere and hungry for attention. (To a certain extent, that’s all he’s ever known from the Dursleys.) Harry certainly knows the power and assurance that being connected to someone like Draco would bring him and he’s not interested. This kind of courage makes him a good candidate for Gryffindor, sure, but it mostly makes him a good person all around. That’s why I love Harry.
At last, we get our first glimpse of Hogwarts.
There was a loud ‘Oooooh!’ The narrow path had opened suddenly onto the edge of a great black lake. Perched atop a high mountain on the other side, its windows sparkling in the starry sky, was a vast castle with many turrets and towers.
Even on a fabricated Universal Studios amusement park lot, I know that feeling and it is wonderful.
CHAPTER SEVEN: THE SORTING HAT
There’s a lot to be said about the idea of sorting students into narrow groups that are based on tradition and discrimination and all that jazz. (Not that it’s all bad, of course!) Only half of the students are socially acceptable at Hogwarts—those in Gryffindor and those in Ravenclaw. Nobody likes Slytherin except for Slytherin and the Hufflepuffs get lovingly patted on the head. But I’m not going to talk about that much now because I was also conveniently assigned “The Sorting Hat’s New Song” chapter in The Order of the Phoenix.
Instead, I want to talk about how J.K. Rowling establishes Hogwarts as a home for our dear Harry. Number Four Privet Drive was always somewhere to live and sleep, but nothing more. It does represent survival on both ends of the spectrum, both a place of protection and also as a place to endure. If I were Calvin’s dad from Calvin and Hobbes, I would probably say that living with the Dursleys helped Harry to build character. Hogwarts, on the other hand, is much closer to the life that James and Lily Potter would have created for their son had they been around to do so. Hogwarts simply brims with love for Harry. It is sumptuous and comfortable and fosters imagination. There are still plenty of hard lessons to be learned there, but it’s all done with good intent and I believe we have the kindness of Albus Dumbledore as the Headmaster to thank for this.
(Boy, you want to get really sad really fast? Start thinking about how James and Lily would have raised Harry if they’d had the chance. Uncle Sirius and Uncle Remus would have come over for Sunday dinner and they would have all taught little Harry how to play Quidditch afterwards. Oof. I need to stop.)
I especially love how the great feast at Hogwarts includes nothing but comfort food…and peppermint humbugs. Harry, for once, gets his fill to eat. There’s also music, which is a favorite comfort of mine. In the immortal words of Dumbledore, “Ah, music. A magic beyond all we do here!” The Gryffindor common room is described as cozy and round and full of squashy armchairs. Velvet curtains line the windows. Everything there seems so enviable, even if there’s danger on the horizon, as indicated by his dream. Harry may have just arrived, but there’s no denying that Hogwarts is his home now.