"Together you and I are worth the front page."
-- Gilderoy Lockhart
Harry and the Weasleys receive their required book lists from Hogwarts and go to Diagon Alley via Floo powder. There Harry arrives in Knockturn Alley, overhears the Malfoys, is found by Hagrid, meets author/teacher Gilderoy Lockhart, and Arthur Weasley comes to blows with Lucius Malfoy.
Calendar and Dates
The main action of this chapter occurs on the August Wednesday on which the Weasleys and Harry visit Diagon Alley. Using the real world calendar for August in 1992, we can surmise that this happened on August 19.
Interesting facts and notes
As hinted at by the chapter title, the main event of this chapter takes place at Flourish and Blotts: Lucius Malfoy planting Riddle's diary among Ginny's schoolbooks. Lockhart's grandstanding serves primarily as a contrast to Harry's attitude toward his own rather more substantial claim to fame, while the fistfight between Lucius and Arthur is only one (rather dramatic) demonstration of their very different attitudes toward Muggles.
Life at the Burrow was as different as possible from life in Privet Drive. The Dursleys liked everything neat and ordered; the Weasleys' house burst with the strange and unexpected.
Harry isn't the only witness to the Dursleys' overly fussy, rigid approach to neatness. Tonks will observe three years later that the Dursleys' place is "a bit too clean" (OP3).
Neatness per se isn't represented as a bad thing in the Harry Potter universe; when reasonably satisfied with their situations, for example, house-elves (such as most of those on staff at Hogwarts, and Winky before her dismissal from the Crouch household) are uncommonly tidy, while unhappy house-elves may do their work neatly but do not keep themselves tidy. Hermione is devoted to organization - even in her first year, she colour-coded her notes and drew up study schedules - but that serves a purpose in her case.
The kind of neatness practiced at number four, Privet Drive, though, is sterile and rather pointless (also note observations in OP2 about Petunia's "surgically clean kitchen"). The Dursleys mainly seem interested in conforming to some ideal of normalcy, rather than, say, just keeping the house organized to make life comfortable for the inhabitants. Petunia keeps a very clean house, but is never mentioned as having other interests apart from spying on the neighbours and fussing over her son. Even then, as observed by Harry in GF2, Petunia is quick enough to spot fingerprints on her gleaming walls, but fails to see some very obvious, important things (Dudley's dangerous obesity).
The mirror that shouted at Harry
Harry encounters another talking mirror in his room at the Leaky Cauldron a year later (PA4). That mirror, like this one, seems to have a bit of a snarky attitude.
small explosions from Fred and George's bedroom were considered perfectly normal
Fred and George are undoubtedly breaking the ban on underage magic here. Molly and Arthur have apparently given up trying to keep their children from using a little magic now and then. After all, magic is completely infused into life at the Burrow. Small explosions, though? The twins are pushing the boundaries a little. No wonder Molly loses her temper with them at the beginning of the fourth book when she discovers that they’re trying to sell their inventions (GF6).
Harry talked him through using a telephone
Arthur apparently teaches the rest of the family this Muggle skill. The next summer, Ron gives the "fellytone" a try and calls Harry in Privet Drive. However, he shouts so loudly that Uncle Vernon is incensed. Then Ron identifies himself as a member of the magical community, whereupon Vernon hangs up on him. Even Molly learns to use the phone, however, because a year later she "brave(s) the telephone in the village Post Office" to order taxis to take them to Kings Cross.
The letters from Hogwarts arrive
So the letters arrive around August 11. Has Percy’s letter arrived early, then? He already has his Prefect badge, as we saw in the last chapter. In book five we see that the Prefect badges arrive with the school letters.
Interestingly, we learn many years later from Rowling’s website that August 11 is Ginny’s eleventh birthday! It is highly unlikely that Rowling had this date worked out when she was writing this book or she would have certainly mentioned it in this chapter.
The Standard Book of Spells, Grade 2 by Miranda Goshawk
This book series follows the students through their years at Hogwarts. Grades 1 through 6 are specifically mentioned; presumably there is a Grade 7 book as well, but since Harry, Ron, and Hermione didn’t go to Hogwarts in their seventh year, we don’t know for sure.
This book (or series of books) turns up in Pottermore and we learn some of the spells which are found in the volume for each “grade.” Miranda Goshawk, the author, was born in 1921 and is still alive (according to her Famous Wizard card).
Another very similar book, called The Book of Spells, has been released as an interactive electronic book for use with the PlayStation video game system. In the promotional material for that game, the book is said to have been written hundreds of years ago, also by Miranda Goshawk.
The most likely explanation for this conundrum is that the current Miranda Goshawk is a descendent of the original spellbook writer who has carried on the family tradition by updating her famous relative’s work for modern witches and wizards.
An unexpected expense
Typically, students only have to buy a few more books each year after their first. Books such as One Thousand Magical Herbs and Fungi serves them for each year of Herbology and probably as a standard reference guide as adults as well. So George is quite surprised when he sees a long list of books for each of them to buy.
Hopefully, for Molly’s sake, Ginny will be able to use a family copy of The Standard Book of Spells (Grade One), since Ron will be using the Grade Two book this year.
Harry is surprised that Ginny is starting Hogwarts
Poor Ginny. Harry hasn’t even paid enough attention to her to realise that she’s about to start Hogwarts. Certainly she would have been talking about it ... except of course she doesn’t talk around him. Remember that we are seeing Ginny entirely through Harry’s eyes right now, which basically means that we’re not seeing her at all.
Hermione suggests that they meet her in Diagon Alley the following Wednesday
So it wasn’t until this point that plans were made to go to Diagon Alley. Somehow, Lucius found out about it, assuming that his plan all along involved passing the diary off on one of the Weasley children. The most likely explanation is that Dobby was still around, spying on Harry and reporting back to Lucius.
Another interesting point to notice is that there is apparently no ‘set day’ that all students go to Diagon Alley. In the next book, they go on the day before the kids leave on the train, which would be the 31st of August. Here, they’re going in the third week of August, on or about the 19th.
Five minutes later they were marching up the hill, broomsticks over their shoulders. They had asked Percy if he wanted to join them, but he had said he was busy.
From this, we gather that Percy can play Quidditch if he wants to, although we don't know what position (if any) he prefers to play. Also, we can see that Percy's brothers are trying to be friendly with him, but he's too preoccupied to be interested in family Quidditch games.
The boys don't seem to have thought to ask Ginny if she wanted to play, unfortunately. How they underestimate that girl...
"He's not himself. His exam results came the day before you did; twelve O.W.L.s and he hardly gloated at all."
Several pieces of information can be worked out of this remark.
Percy can ordinarily be expected to gloat over an achievement (compare his lack of response over his O.W.L.s with his making sure everyone knew he'd been selected as a Gryffindor prefect the previous year, or with his laying stress on his Head Boy status the next year), but he's preoccupied with something else this summer. As Ginny reveals on board the Hogwarts Express in C18, Percy now has a girlfriend, Penelope Clearwater, and has been writing to her.
Two of the Weasleys, in fact, are not behaving like themselves this summer - Ginny and Percy - and until the visit to Flourish and Blotts, it's for the same reason, although the reason is an open secret in Ginny's case while being hidden in Percy's: each has developed a romantic attachment to someone else. In Ginny's case, of course, she has become very taken with Harry, which is later used to distract the reader from her diary-influenced activities. In a nice piece of symmetry, though, Percy's obviously suspicious behaviour is covering up the fact that he's courting Penelope Clearwater. Notice that throughout the book Percy is dragged across the readers' path as a red herring when diary-related activity crops up.
On another note, the O.W.L. results in 1992 were reported back to the students on 3 August, not in July, so it appears that the time of delivery of O.W.L. results varies from year to year. It's implied that twelve is an unusually high number of O.W.L.s.
See also essay on the number twelve.
Ron’s old Shooting Star broomstick
According to Quidditch Through the Ages, the Shooting Star was produced starting in 1955 by Universal Brooms Ltd. and was even then a cheap and rather poor quality broom, known for losing speed over years of use. The company went out of business in 1978, so Ron’s broom is at least fourteen years old at this point, which would explain the fact that it’s so painfully slow. One of the key components of a racing broom is the enchantment cast on it to make it perform, and it’s these spells which slowly fade over time (esp. QA9).
Fred and George’s spells fade sometimes to comical effect, as with the failure of Ron’s Spell-Checking Quill as he was writing his essay eight months after buying it (HBP6, HBP21), and the enchanted poster of Harry in the Gryffindor Common Room which, after a few hours, shouted only disconnected words (“Dung!”) in a higher and higher voice (OP26). Even powerfully-enchanted items eventually lose their magical qualities; the fact that Harry’s Cloak of Invisibility did not “turn opaque” over the years was evidence that it wasn’t a normal invisibility cloak but was in fact one of the Deathly Hallows (DH21).
“Ah, but the Third Hallows is true Cloak of Invisibility, Miss Granger! I mean to say, it is not a traveling cloak imbued with a Disillusionment Charm, or carrying a Bedazzling Hex or else woven from Demiguise hair, which will hide one initially but fade with the years until it turns opaque. We are talking about a cloak that really and truly renders the wearer completely invisible, and endures eternally, giving constant and impenetrable concealment, no matter what spells are cast at it. How many cloaks have you ever seen like that, Miss Granger?” (DH21)
Percy received twelve O.W.L.s
Rowling confirmed in an interview that twelve is the most O.W.L.s it’s possible to get (WBD). O.W.L.s are ‘Ordinary Wizarding Levels’, a series of examinations which are the equivalent of A-levels in the British educational system. The exams are taken by students at end of their fifth year (OP31).
Charlie in Romania working with dragons
Charlie works at the Romanian Longhorn Dragon Reservation, the largest dragon reservation in the world, which was founded in the mid-20th Century by Harvey Ridgebit (JKR). A number of dragon species live on the reservation, not just Longhorns; Charlie's crew brought at least one of the dragons for the Triwizard Tournament in 1994, and none of them were Longhorns (GF19). Norbert, a Norwegian Ridgeback, was sent to live there in 1992 (PS14, DH7).
The reservation is very likely located in the Carpathian Mountains, one of the largest mountain ranges in Europe. These mountains dominate the central region of Romania.
Five sets of Lockhart books
Why five sets? Surely they can share these books, can’t they? The Weasley kids will all be in Gryffindor so it shouldn’t be too hard to make do with one or two sets, especially since I suspect that at least three of them seldom if ever read their textbooks. Gilderoy is certainly raking in the royalties for all the copies of his books being sold to Hogwarts students this year.
Derived from ‘flue’= Eng. ‘vent or chimney for a fireplace or other heating device’, but also a reference to magical travelling (‘flew’).
‘... And be sure to get out at the right grate …’
‘Don't fidget ...Or you might well fall out of the wrong fireplace ...’
‘But don't panic and get out too early; wait until you see Fred and George ...’
This series of instructions explains one of the minor conundrums which fans have debated: how did slightly mispronouncing the words ‘Diagon Alley’ send Harry to ‘Knockturn Alley’ when they don’t sound at all alike. The film version gets it wrong and compounds the misunderstanding.
Notice what actually happens to Harry:
It felt as though he was being sucked down a giant drain. He seemed to be spinning very fast - the roaring in his ears was deafening -he tried to keep his eyes open but the whirl of green flames made him feel sick - something hard knocked his elbow and he tucked it in tightly, still spinning and spinning - now it felt as though cold hands were slapping his face - squinting through his glasses he saw a blurred stream of fireplaces and snatched glimpses of the rooms beyond - his bacon sandwiches were churning inside him - he closed his eyes again wishing it would stop, and then he fell, face forward, onto cold stone and felt the bridge of his glasses snap.
We see here that Harry’s problem isn’t that he mispronounces the name but that he doesn’t watch and make sure he’s getting out of the right fireplace as he was instructed to do. He actually has his eyes closed just before he arrives and then just falls forward, missing his destination by one grate.
Arrival in Knockturn Alley
Harry comes face to face here with a new and sinister part of the Wizarding world. His viewpoint expands once again.
Harry climbs inside ‘a large black cabinet’ and steps inside, but leaves ‘a small crack to peer through’
This is very likely the Vanishing Cabinet which figures so prominently in book six. If so, Harry is very lucky that he didn’t close the door all the way or he might have found himself trapped very unpleasantly, the way Montague did several years later (OP28). As he climbs in, he is unwittingly following the advice which C.S. Lewis gives us through the character of Lucy in The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe: ‘You should never never shut yourself up in a wardrobe’.
Draco complains to his father, who has promised to buy him a racing broom, about Harry being allowed on the Gryffindor team
Lucius seems to pay little attention to Draco’s whining, but at some point in the next few weeks, he buys racing brooms not only for Draco but for the entire Slytherin Quidditch team.
Lucius advises Draco to at least appear to be friendly with Harry
He says that this is because Harry is well-regarded in the Wizarding community, but it could also be because Lucius and the other Death Eaters are still wondering if Harry could actually be the next Dark Lord (c.f. HBP2).
= bow-less spectacles which are worn clipped on the bridge of the nose (it’s pronounced pans-NAY).
The Hand of Glory
Draco does eventually purchase the Hand of Glory and uses it in book six. The artefact allows him to see his way through the darkness created by Peruvian Darkness Powder. Rowling didn’t invent the Hand of Glory, although she modified it from its historical description. The object is first mentioned in tales from the 1400s, although the name ‘Hand of Glory’ isn’t used for it until 1707. A Hand of Glory is a mummified hand of a hanged criminal turned into a candle by a complicated procedure. The Hand was a thieves’ amulet, a tool which when lit would render the inhabitants of a house unconscious so that robbing them would be easy.
"I am in something of a hurry, Borgin, I have important business elsewhere today -"
Lucius is intent on setting his plot into motion by somehow passing the diary along to Harry or one of the Weasleys.
Cursed opal necklace
Here we have another of the Dark items which turn up in book six, used by Draco in his plot to kill Dumbledore.
Borgin and Burkes
The name ‘Burke’ has two possible sources. William Burke was a famous murderer and grave robber in Scotland in the early 1800s, and from that the phrase ‘to burke’ has come to mean ‘to smother someone to death’. Alternately, the British slang term ‘berk’ means an idiot or objectionable person. Sirius Black refers to himself and James as ‘arrogant little berks’ when they were at Hogwarts together (OP29).
We will visit this shop again in book six, when Draco collects Dark items for his plans to kill Dumbledore. The history of this disreputable establishment, particularly the connection to Voldemort, becomes clear in that book as well.
In HBP we will also meet Caractacus Burke, one of the founders of the shop, because Dumbledore interviewed him while researching Tom Riddle’s past.
Similar to the name ‘Diagon Alley’, ‘Knockturn Alley’ is a play on the word ‘nocturnally’, which is fitting for a place specialising in the Dark Arts.
Entering Diagon Alley and seeing Gringotts
This suggests that Knockturn Alley connects to Diagon Alley near Gringotts. On the other hand, Gringotts is the largest building in the Alley so it’s likely easy to see even from some distance away.
Mr. Weasley fixes Harry’s glasses
This is a Reparo spell, cast nonverbally by Arthur. Oddly, in the first film, it’s Hermione who casts this spell aboard the Hogwarts Express before arriving at Hogwarts for the first time! The books don’t give her that kind of skill at this age, instead allowing her and the other kids to progress in their abilities at a more logical pace.
Arthur is eager to chat with Mr and Mrs Granger and suggests that the go for a drink. Considering the Weasley family’s extremely tight money situation, this is quite an irresponsible thing for Arthur to do, to say nothing of how unfeeling it is for him to leave all the work of shopping for a herd of children to Molly while he trots off to the pub.
The money in the Weasleys' vault
As it transpires, there is a ‘small pile’ of Sickles and a single Galleon in the vault. That’s worth maybe £10, or US$20. That won’t buy them very much at all, probably not even a single set of Lockhart’s books. It would seem that Molly had a little money already in her handbag or this would have been a very short shopping trip indeed.
It's also possible that here we are seeing the scene through Harry's eyes, who can't help but contrast the small amount of money to the vast hoard of gold that he knows is in his own vault.
Flourish and Blotts
Both of the words in this shop’s name relate to writing. A ‘flourish’ is an embellishment or an ornamental stroke added to handwriting or calligraphy. To ‘blot’ ink is to use absorbent ‘blotting paper’ to dry the ink on a page. This was necessary before the introduction of ball point pens and would certainly be required of anyone using a quill and ink, as they do at Hogwarts.
‘strawberry-and-peanut-butter ice creams’
Harry probably bought these from Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlour, which he visits again in book three.
Buying ‘ink and parchment next door’ to Quality Quidditch Supplies
We’re not told the name of this shop, but it’s possible that it’s Scrivenshaft's, the shop that Hermione visits in book six to buy a quill.
Gambol and Japes Wizarding Joke Shop
As was the case for Flourish and Blotts, the names of this shop are each appropriate for a joke shop. ‘To gambol’ is to frolic around playfully. A ‘jape’ is a joke or a playful trick.
The smoking black camera
Magical cameras act like Muggle ones, albeit very old-fashioned Victorian-style ones which give off great volumes of smoke as if they’re using flash powder. Rita Skeeter works with a photographer at the Triwizard Tournament’s Weighing of the Wands, and that camera is described as ‘smoking slightly’ (GF18). Colin Creevey’s camera, on the other hand, was an ordinary Muggle camera.
‘Harry's face burned as Lockhart shook his hand for the photographer, who was clicking away madly, wafting thick smoke over the Weasleys.’
This is another excellent example of Rowling’s visual humour. We can see the image in our minds of the Weasleys standing nearby, coughing a little as the smoke wafts over them, which illustrates their second-rate status next to the ‘great’ Gilderoy Lockhart.
Harry puts a full set of Lockhart books into Ginny’s cauldron
That cauldron holds all those books, and they weigh a lot, since Harry found himself ‘[s]taggering slightly under their weight’. Ron adds his books to the cauldron as well in a few moments. Still, Ginny can carry it. Clearly the cauldron is magical, rather like Hermione’s beaded bag.
‘‘Leave him alone, he didn't want all that!’’
Ginny’s first words in front of Harry are to tell off Draco Malfoy. Although Harry doesn’t notice it, we’re seeing a little bit of Ginny’s spitfire personality coming through. Technically, she’s spoken around Harry before, in King’s Cross Station at the beginning of school the year before. But since she didn’t know at that point that he was Harry Potter, it doesn’t quite count.
‘‘Bet you're surprised to see Harry here, eh?’’
Why does Ron say this? Because he’s assuming that Draco ordered Dobby to scare Harry away from Hogwarts. Draco doesn’t seem to notice, though, and our suspicions are left in place.
After the fight, Lucius is still holding Ginny’s book
This must be when he slips the diary into the book, just before he hands it back to Ginny. Clearly this encounter hasn’t gone the way Lucius assumed it would. Is this plan B now, considering that the fight has tipped over the cauldron and thrown Lucius’s plans awry? Has he decided that the closest he’s going to get to Harry is to give the diary to Harry’s ‘girlfriend’?
the Grangers leave the Leaky Cauldron for the Muggle street
The street in question is Charing Cross Road. From here they’ll probably catch the Underground at either Leicester Square Station to the south or Tottenham Court Station to the north. The proximity of The Leaky Cauldron to Tottenham Court Station may be why Hermione thought of Tottenham Court Road when she Apparated Harry and Ron away from the attack at the wedding (DH9).
Exceptional character moments
Mr. Borgin, speaking his mind once Lucius Malfoy is out of earshot.
Lucius Malfoy, who seems a far cry from the kind of father who could be bullied into giving Draco a racing broom (compare with Draco's remarks the previous year). To his credit, he's interested in seeing Draco improve his academic performance rather than, say, attempting to sabotage Hermione's to make Draco look better in comparison.
I've been really worried and if Harry is all right, will you please let me know at once, but perhaps it would be better if you used a different owl, because I think another delivery might finish your one off.
"Oh, it's you," said Ron, looking at Malfoy as if he were something unpleasant on the sole of his shoe.