“I’ve been able to see them ever since my first day here. They’ve always pulled the carriages. Don’t worry. You’re just as sane as I am."
-- Luna Lovegood (referring to the yet to be named Thestrals) (OP10)
Harry and the Weasleys are late for the Hogwarts Express (again), Harry and Ginny encounter Neville on the train, and they are introduced to Luna Lovegood and her father’s magazine, The Quibbler. Cho Chang makes a brief appearance, and Harry sees what actually pulls the school carriages.
Calendar and Dates
Here we encounter an example of the impossibility of the dates in this book. Since we know from chapter 8 that August 12 was a Thursday, August 31 has to be a Tuesday. September 1, then, is a Wednesday, but we will discover in the next chapter that September 2 is not a Thursday, as one might expect after a Wednesday, but a Monday.
Interesting facts and notes
September 1 is a magical day for young people in the Wizarding World. From all over Britain, they arrive at King's Cross station to embark on the Hogwarts Express and begin their school year with a day-long train ride. Only once have we seen the train stop, in 1993 when the Dementors came aboard to search the train. Normally, this journey takes about nine hours and ends at Hogsmeade Station in the Scottish highlands.
Several questions come up frequently about the Hogwarts Express. One is a question of geography. Why do students come to London to travel to Scotland? What if they live in Scotland already? Surely it would make more sense for many of the students to either travel directly to Hogwarts or at least to catch the train along the route. Yes, that would make more sense... for a Muggle. The fact is, when you live in a world of Floo Powder and Apparition, distance isn't really much of a factor. Students go to King's Cross at eleven on September 1 because that's where the train leaves from. It's no more difficult for them to make that trip than it would for them to visit the next village.
This brings up the next question that's often asked...why take a train at all? If, as we've just said, Floo powder and Apparition make the distance immaterial, why not just have everyone meet in Hogsmeade and be done with it? There are two answers to this question, both important. First of all, a day-long trip on the train is important for the students to form a bond as a group "set apart" for the task of learning. Since their parents and home are just a pinch of Floo Powder away, it's necessary for the students to have a sense of being separated. After all, theoretically, their moms could just step out of a fireplace at any moment delivering anything from a reprimand to a clean pair of socks. It's important for the identity of the students as Hogwarts students that they feel that they are far away from their homes. The parents accept this unusual separation, as evidenced by the fact that they send things by owl and don't turn up every once in a while to check up on things.
The second reason for taking the train is a bit more speculative. There is some evidence that Hogwarts is NOT simply a big old castle in Scotland that's hidden by charms from Muggle eyes. Hogwarts exists in an alternate reality, sort of like Platform Nine and Three-Quarters and Diagon Alley. When you're inside that reality (the "Hogwarts grounds," perhaps) you are actually someplace else. Even time works differently there, as evidenced by the fact that within the confines of the castle, every September 2 is a Monday. One function of the train then could be to transport students between alternate realities: from Platform Nine and Three Quarters to Hogwarts.
The train is certainly visible between the two locations, of course, at least to wizard eyes. Ron and Harry were able to follow it in the flying Anglia, after all. But even that trip wasn't "normal," as we see when we locate the Muggles who saw the flying car, according to the Prophet. One of the two was from Norfolk, which is many miles from the route between London and Scotland. Either Ron was dramatically off course or the train doesn't always stay on the same tracks as it heads north. It's pretty easy to imagine the train squeezing by Muggle trains by jumping from track to track when necessary, like the Knight Bus.
Harry had a troubled night's sleep.
Harry's dreams always seem to mean something. In this case the dream seems to be mixing together images of the past and the future in a jumble.
His parents wove in and out of his dreams, never speaking;
Just a few weeks before, he had spoken with the images of his parents during the battle with Voldemort in the graveyard. They had brought comfort and reassurance and love. Now they are slipping away from that personal contact and becoming silent and furtive, no longer real.
Mrs Weasley sobbed over Kreacher's dead body,
Molly sobbed over the bodies of those she loved, supposedly lost in the war with Voldemort. It seems strange for her to care a whit about Kreacher. However, Kreacher represents the House of Black and by extension, Sirius. The relationship between Molly and Sirius has been one of struggle and irritation even though it should have been one of friendship. In the same way, Kreacher represents a messed up relationship, that of house-elf and master. This moment represents Molly weeping over Sirius, who will be lost in the war with Voldemort. It's also a reflection of Hermione's concern for Kreacher and other house elves.
watched by Ron and Hermione who were wearing crowns,
Although the reference seems obvious to the fact that Ron and Hermione were made Prefects, this image also fortells the Gryffindors singing Weasley Is Our King, twisting what was intended to be a mockery of Ron into a celebration.
and yet again Harry found himself walking down a corridor ending in a locked door.
The strong desire of Voldemort to enter the Department of Mysteries is affecting Harry's dreaming thoughts already at this stage. Harry doesn't recognize this corridor, even though he was there only two weeks before.
The spell is Locomotor Trunk. We see this sort of practical magic in use when Flitwick transports Trelawney's trunks back up to her tower residence (OP26), and earlier in the book when Tonks takes Harry's trunk downstairs in Privet Drive. Why are they doing this? Because they can, most likely. They are now of age and the restrictions no longer apply.
'Why? I thought Voldemort was supposed to be lying low, or are you telling me he's going to jump out from behind a dustbin to try to do me in?'
It took them twenty minutes to reach King's Cross on foot
No magical travel is involved here, and they are moving at Molly's rate of speed, so we can see that Grimmauld Place is within a mile of King's Cross.
"We're - well - Ron and I are supposed to go into the prefect carriage," Hermione said awkwardly.
This is such a poignant moment. All through this book, Harry is being separated from all that is important to him, starting with his friends. Back in Privet Drive, he realized that they were somewhere without him, having a wonderful time (or so he imagines). Off they go now, to begin their careers as Prefects, leaving Harry alone in the corridor to try to find a place to fit in. Thankfully, he immediately discovers that he has plenty of friends. They aren't the friends he would have chosen, though, as we see in a moment.
"To quibble" is to argue of insignificant details, or more to the point, to make little discrepencies seem a lot more significant than they are. The trick, as we shall see, is to determine when The Quibbler is simply arguing irrelevant details and when it is raising tiny details to their true importance. Harry's story, which the Daily Prophet has been denigrating and belittling, will be raised to its proper significance by The Quibbler. Which of the other stories in The Quibbler might be giving us clues to what's coming next? Interesting that Luna is reading it upside down. The Quibbler will turn the Wizarding World upside down six months from now.
"I'm nobody," said Neville hurriedly.
"No, you're not," said Ginny sharply.
Neville's transformation begins here. Ginny, who is perhaps the most observant person in Harry's circle of friends, already saw something more in Neville last Christmas when she went with him to the Yule Ball. Now she "sharply" disputes his self-deprecating comment. As the story unfolds this year, we will see Neville rising from self-doubt to become a valiant (although still somewhat ineffective) warrior in the Battle of the Department of Mysteries. We will also learn that he is a person of "prophetic" significance as well.
"Wit beyond measure is man's greatest treasure," said Luna in a singsong voice.
Luna is a very unusual person. On the surface we see someone who puts her wand behind her ear, wears a necklace of butterbeer corks, and laughs too loudly at jokes. There is far more to Luna than a lack of social skills, however. This little ditty is equally multileveled. On the surface, Luna is singing the praises of her house, Ravenclaw. However, she is saying something more than that. "Wit" refers to far more than just intelligence. It indicates understanding and even wisdom, and Luna sings that finding deep understanding to a level that is "unmeasurable" is the greatest treasure a person can hope to find. For Luna, mere intelligence is not enough. She realizes that true intelligence requires faith in what can't be seen or measured scientifically. She'll debate this concept with Hermione later in the book (see OP16).
She raised her upside-down magazine enough to hide her face and fell silent. Harry and Neville looked at each other with their eyebrows raised. Ginny surpressed a giggle.
Luna is reading The Quibbler - an unusual choice for a young person. It isn't a specific subject magazine, like Transfiguration Today, or a Witch Weekly, which is read by women Molly Weasley's age "for the recipes". We will find out a lot more about this magazine.
It was an odd, unsettled sort of day; one moment the carriage was full of sunlight and the next they were passing beneath ominously grey clouds.
And it is indeed an odd, unsettled sort of day and year that the students are approaching. Like the weather they encounter on this journey, life at Hogwarts will be an odd mixture of brilliant sunshine--the triumphs of the DA, the victory of Gryffindor in Quidditch, and Harry's stag Patronus galloping the length of the Great Hall for example--and ominous, dark grey--interference by Fudge and Umbridge, vast amounts of homework, being cut off from contact with the outside world, and so on.
This unsettled-ness is particularly keen in Harry's life. Where the drought in Privet Drive accentuates his lack of contact with the Wizarding World, the changing weather on train symbolizes the turbulence of Harry's feelings as he regains contact with the Wizarding World only to find it bittersweet and changed.
'Mimbulus mimbletonia,' he said proudly.
This extremely odd plant is unpleasant and prickly, lashing out at those around it. In some ways, it represents Harry as he struggles with the unsettled world around him. It isn't until the trip home on the train that we see what this eventful year of Hogwarts has done to both the plant and the boy. We'll look at each of them when we talk about that chapter, OP38.
There is no actual plant called the Mimbulus mimbletonia, although there is a variety called the Mimulus. The term 'mimble' is used sometimes to indicate an indecisive sound someone might make when they don't know what to say or their courage has failed them. Uncle Vernon says something that sounds like "Mimblewimble" when faced with the giant Hagrid breaking in the door of the Hut on the Rock.
Since there is no country called Assyria anymore in our Muggle geography, this reference is a bit odd. Does the wizarding world still hold to out-of-date borders and nomenclature? Do they hold onto old terms for regions even if the Muggles don't use them anymore? It is interesting that Great Uncle Algie provided this strange gift, the same relative who gave Neville his toad, Trevor. Both of these odd gifts provide evidence of Neville being a bit different from the other kids. (Remember, Hagrid made sure that Harry didn't bring a toad to Hogwarts because he said that the other kids would laugh.)
He would have liked Cho to discover him sitting with a group of very cool people laughing their heads off at a joke he had just told; he would not have chosen to be sitting with Neville and Loony Lovegood, clutching a toad and dripping in Stinksap.
Harry finds himself "stuck" with two friends he'd rather not have, people who he is embarassed to be sitting with. The contrast couldn't be more marked between this encounter with Cho and the one on the journey back home at the end of this school year (OP38). Then, he will have found genuine comfort in the frendship with Luna and genuine support from Neville during the Battle of the Department of Mysteries. Then, when Cho walks by, he feels nothing for her. It's also a direct contrast to their journey to Hogwarts a year later, when Romilda Vane enters their compartment like Cho does (HBP7). By then, Harry does think Neville and Luna are "cool".
It's also interesting to note that Harry internally calls Luna "Loony" here - one of only two times he ever does so (the other being just before Cho kisses him in the Room of Requirement). No doubt this is because he is feeling a slight resentment towards Luna and Neville in his embarassment.
Ginny calmly steps in and rescues Harry. She is very matter-of-fact here, calmly sorting out the problem. If we care to take the idea of the plant as representing Harry in all his prickliness, Ginny steps forward as the one who can mellow him and remedy his hurts. We see this coming true in the scene in the library months later (see OP29).
"I'll make Goyle do lines, it'll kill him, he hates writing," said Ron happily.
Like Dudley, who never reads books, Goyle is made out to be an idiot because he doens't like to write. Rowling is reinforcing the same philosophy that C.S. Lewis puts forward in his description of the despicable Eustace in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, who has never read any of the right kind of books to make him a decent, likeable person.
'Are you taking the mickey?' said Ron, frowning at her.
Common British slang. Translation: Are you mocking me?
What do the stories mean?
Sirius Black may not have committed the crimes for which he was sent to Azkaban. In fact, says Doris Purkiss, of 18 Acanthia Way, Little Norton, Black may not even have been present at the killings.
'What people don't realise is that Sirius Black is a false name,' says Mrs Purkiss. 'The man people believe to be Sirius Black is actually Stubby Boardman, lead singer of popular singing group The Hobgoblins, who retired from public life after being struck on the ear by a turnip at a concert in Little Norton Church Hall nearly fifteen years ago. I recognised him the moment I saw his picture in the paper. Now, Stubby couldn't possibly have committed those crimes, because on the day in question he happened to be enjoying a romantic candlelit dinner with me. I have written to the Minister for Magic and am expecting him to give Stubby, alias -Sirius, a full pardon any day now.'
Fudge's dearest ambition is to seize control of the goblin gold supplies and that he will not hesitate to use force if need be.
An article on ancient runes which at least explained why Luna had been reading The Quibbler upside-down. According to the magazine, if you turned the runes on their heads they revealed a spell to make your enemy's ears turn into kumquats.
'You see, I, unlike you, have been made a prefect, which means that I, unlike you, have the power to hand out punishments.'
And the confusion begins. Are prefects allowed to dock points? Since the school year hasn't officially begun, points can't be taken. At least, that's the argument Harry and Ron made after flying the Anglia to Hogwarts in CS5. What kinds of punishments can prefects mete out on the train?
'We'd better change,' said Hermione at last, and all of them opened their trunks with difficulty and pulled on their school robes.
So it's clear that they put their robes on over their Muggle clothes.
Jostled by the crowd, Harry squinted through the darkness for a glimpse of Hagrid; he had to be here, Harry had been relying on it - seeing Hagrid again was one of the things he'd been looking forward to most. But there was no sign of him.
One more unsettling event in an unsettling day. Harry is finding that everything important and meaningful to him is missing or changed.
The coaches were no longer horseless. There were creatures standing between the carriage shafts.
The odd appearence of the Thestrals at this moment has caused some confusion. Harry isn't supposed to be able to see them until he sees someone die. Now that he's seen Cedric's death, the Thestrals are visible to him. Some have raised objections to this for a number of reasons. First of all, they say, didn't Harry see his mother die? The answer to this is that no, he didn't since he was in his crib at the time and all he saw was the flash of green light (EBF). Of course, he didn't actually see Cedric die either for that matter. But a one-year-old child can't understand what he's just seen, no matter what specifically he saw. Harry was fully aware of what happened when Cedric's body thudded to the ground next to him.
Second, didn't Harry see Quirrell die in the Chamber of the Philosopher's Stone? No, he didn't, although the film version incorrectly shows that he did. In the book, Harry has passed out and he doesn't find out until later that Quirrell has died. The third objection is that if Harry saw Cedric die, he would have seen the Thestrals at the end of the last school year when he boarded the carriages for the trip back to the station. Rowling has answered this question on Pottermore:
"Being able to see Thestrals is a sign that the beholder has witnessed death, and gained an emotional understanding of what death means... after the death of Cedric Diggory, weeks elapsed before the full import of death's finality was borne upon [Harry]. Only at this point did the Thestrals that pull the carriages from Hogsmeade Station to Hogwarts castle become visible to him."
From a story point of view, the sudden appearance of the Thestrals shows once again how things at Hogwarts which were once benign and pleasant are now given a sinister twist.
"Don't worry. You're just as sane as I am."
And how sane is that, we can't help but wonder. All through the book, Luna is a puzzle. She is odd, there's no doubt, but she has a strength and peace about her which serves her well in difficult situations. And when the battle rages in the Department of Mysteries, Luna fights bravely. We don't see the true answer to this question, however, until the last night of the school year, when Harry encounters Luna in the corridor, calmly putting up posters asking for her things back (OP38). She not only is able to accept the misfortune which is part of her life but also holds onto a firm faith that everything will be alright in the end. It is this form of sanity--or is it insanity?--which she shares with Harry and which gives him so much comfort after this long, sad year is over.
Exceptional character moments
Luna Lovegood finding everything that Ron Weasley says funny, but also her ability to say the truth as she sees it.
Luna Lovegood's ideas and upbringing, considering the articles that her father publishes in the Quibbler.
Neville Longbottom happily experimenting with his new plant.
Harry wishing he was sitting with "cooler" students than Neville and Luna when Cho Chang comes to their compartment.
The girl gave off an aura of distinct dottiness. Perhaps it was the fact that she had stuck her wand behind her left ear for safekeeping, or that she had chosen to wear a necklace of butterbeer caps, or that she was reading a magazine upside down.
"That was funny!" Her prominent eyes swam with tears as she gasped for breath, staring at Ron. Utterly nonplussed, he looked around at the others, who were now laughing at the expression on Ron's face and at the ludicrously prolonged laughter of Luna Lovegood, who was rocking backward and forward, clutching her sides. "Are you taking the mickey?" said Ron, frowning at her.
Harry had to read this sentence several times before he was convinced that he had not misunderstood it. Since when had Sirius been a singing sensation?
Words and phrases
From the Web
Writing by J K Rowling on WizardingWorld (Pottermore): Daily Prophet
Mugglenet: Is Harry Potter Bad for Journalism?
Harry Potter Wiki:
Dwelling on Dreams blog and podcast:
- Missed Opportunities in the Wizarding World: Journalistic Reform
- Ep. 15: Lovegoods, Patronuses, and Intellectual Arrogance