When Harry finally gets his Hogwarts letter from Hagrid, it contains a list of required school supplies, but makes no mention of how he’s expected to pack it all. Nevertheless, on the 1st September, it’s all safely packed in a ‘huge, heavy trunk.’ This is fortuitous as it appears that the trunk is indeed the luggage of choice for Hogwarts students. Was it just a fluke that Harry happened to come by this archaic style of luggage? Where did Harry get this trunk? And why does the wizarding world favour this most inconvenient form of packing container?
In answer to the last question we could probably deduce that it’s for the same reason wizards use quills and parchment. Tradition. Or perhaps an element of being stuck in the past. Trunks, as we know them today, mostly date from the late eighteenth century to the early twentieth century, when they began to give way to the more convenient and lightweight suitcase. They conjure up images of long ocean voyages and definitely have a sense of nostalgia about them. They would undoubtedly be able to fit all manner of bulky objects required by Hogwarts students, such as cauldrons and scales – although broomsticks are another matter – as well as a year’s supply of clothes. However, they are hardly the most convenient item for an 11 year old to be lugging about. When Vernon Dursley drops Harry off at the station and walks away, Harry notes that he is ‘stranded in the middle of a station with a trunk he could hardly lift.’ Later, it was only with the help of the Weasley twins that he was able to get it on the train, as he could hardly raise one end of it by himself. I know this is a mundane concern but I can’t help wondering how on earth they ever manage to get those things up on the luggage racks!
Once at Hogwarts of course, they serve double duty as a piece of furniture. The students use them to store their things in throughout the year, so once in place, they serve their purpose quite well. It’s just that they’re not very portable. Struggling with the trunk seems to be an intrinsic part of Harry’s journey almost every year, until Deathly Hallows of course, when they finally resort to more practical rucksacks and the wonderfully portable beaded bag.
For an adult witch or wizard, a heavy, bulky trunk does not present too much of a problem. They can always use a levitating charm or something similar. However, for a lone underage witch or wizard, or even a Muggle-born with no magical parents on hand to take care of the luggage, these trunks must be a huge inconvenience. What would Hogwarts make of someone showing up with a nice light Samsonite on swivel wheels? Arthur Weasley at least would probably chuckle about Muggle inventiveness.
So where did Harry’s trunk come from? He didn’t buy it in Diagon Alley, and the Dursley’s wouldn’t have bought it for him, so it must have been something they already owned. Perhaps it was just the oldest piece of luggage in the house, and they weren’t about to send Harry off with a new suitcase, such as they might have bought for Dudley to go off to Smeltings. Is it possible that the trunk once belonged to Lily, that it was in fact Harry’s mother’s old school trunk? Perhaps the trunk was left with Lily’s parents and on their deaths it was passed to Petunia, where it had sat ever since, gathering dust in the attic. Well no, not gathering dust. I’m sure even Petunia’s attic is spotless. But if so, was this an uncharacteristic act of kindness on Petunia’s part, ensuring that Harry went off to school, not only with luggage that would allow him to fit in with everyone else, but also with something of his mother’s? That seems unlikely… but you never know.
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