It’s the first of September and in the Wizarding world, children starting at age eleven will board the Hogwarts Express at King’s Cross Station to travel north to Scotland, and the new school year will begin. I thought I’d take this opportunity to talk about some of the interesting facts and canon questions about this whole ritual.
First off, the magical gateway into Platform Nine and Three Quarters is not hidden behind a brick wall. That looks really cool in the films, but that’s not accurate. According to Rowling, the magical platform is reached by walking through a metal barrier. Here’s what it says in Chamber of Secrets chapter 5:
He wheeled his trolley forward cautiously until it was right against the barrier and pushed with all his might. The metal remained solid. (CS5)
Here’s how it’s described in Prisoner of Azkaban:
Mr. Weasley strolled toward the barrier between platforms nine and ten, pushing Harry’s trolley and apparently very interested in the InterCity 125 that had just arrived at platform nine. With a meaningful look at Harry, he leaned casually against the barrier. Harry imitated him.
In a moment, they had fallen sideways through the solid metal onto platform nine and three-quarters and looked up to see the Hogwarts Express, a scarlet steam engine, puffing smoke over a platform packed with witches and wizards seeing their children onto the train.
The kind of barrier you’ll find blocking the space between two tracks in a British railway station like King’s Cross is not a wall but somewhat similar to a fence or a guardrail along a highway, but taller. If you stand at a barrier like that, you’re able to see the space between the tracks beyond, which is the space where Platform Nine and Three Quarters is magically hidden.
But wouldn’t people notice someone veering off to walk through a barrier like that? Maybe, but the barrier in question is right where a walkway from the main concourse opens onto the platforms, so someone walking through that walkway would actually walk straight ahead into that barrier rather than veer left or right, as the Muggles would have to do.
If you’ve been to King’s Cross and seen Platforms Nine and Ten, you might be saying “Wait a moment, that’s not how things are arranged.” That’s because when Rowling wrote the books, she wasn’t in London and was describing it from memory. Here’s what she said about it in “Harry Potter and Me”:
I wrote Platform 9 3/4 when I was living in Manchester, and I wrongly visualized the platforms, and I was actually thinking of Euston, so anyone who’s actually been to the real platforms 9 and 10 in King’s Cross will realize they don’t bear a great resemblance to the platforms 9 and 10 as described in the book. So that’s just me coming clean, there. I was in Manchester, I couldn’t check. (HPM)
When I was researching my book In Search of Harry Potter in which I discovered places in Britain which just could be the real places in the Potter books, I visited both King’s Cross and Euston stations and took pictures of the barriers between platforms nine and ten. As you can see from my photo on this page, Rowling’s description definitely fits Euston … but King’s Cross is a much more beautiful building — and the symbolism in the name of the station becomes clear toward the end of the last book when Harry talks with Dumbledore in chapter 35.
And that brings up one last fact before we start traveling north: the station interiors seen in the films are King’s Cross, although that lovely pedestrian bridge has now been removed. However, the red and white confection of a station seen in the exterior shots of the flying car soaring into the sky is actually St Pancras, the station next door.
In the Harry Potter Lexicon Minute podcast you’ll hear the voices of our editors sharing some of the many little things which delight us about the Wizarding World. In each podcast, just a couple of minutes in length, we’ll talk about anything from cool trivia and interesting canon passages to the latest Wizarding World news. We hope you’ll join us! And we’d love to hear from you as well. Feel free to use the comment section on the blogpost for each podcast to post your thoughts.
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Music: "Winter Chimes" Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
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