Birthday Wizarding Culture

Diagon Alley

- Chapter 5

"Welcome back, Mr Potter, welcome back"

PS5: Diagon Alley

Hagrid takes Harry to Diagon Alley in London to retrieve his inheritance and buy his school supplies including a wand. Hagrid gives Harry a snowy owl as a birthday present. At the same time Hagrid gets a secret package from a Gringotts vault, Harry meets Draco Malfoy, and Hagrid gives Harry his tickets for the Hogwarts Express.

Calendar and Dates

The entire action of this chapter takes place on Harry's eleventh birthday, 31 July 1991.

Interesting facts and notes

This chapter takes place on July 31. It is Harry's eleventh birthday.

Hagrid buys ice cream cones for Harry and himself. Perhaps this was at Florean Fortescue's Ice Cream Parlor (PA3).

It is interesting to see Hagrid dealing with the Muggle world: taking the Underground (and complaining loudly about it), eating at a hamburger restaurant and sitting on the "plastic seats," a very non-magical kind of thing indeed.

The name "Diagon Alley" is derived from "diagonally."

"How did you get here?" Harry asked, looking around for another boat.
"Flew," said Hagrid.

For years the details of this were a mystery - as Hagrid says in OP20, "Well, look at the size o' me, I don' reckon there's a broomstick that'd hold me." (And anyway, even Hagrid might have trouble stashing a broomstick in his overcoat.) Hagrid, like Dumbledore, seems to use the Hogwarts thestrals instead.

Some have suggested that what Hagrid really meant was "Floo," as in Floo Powder. However he doesn't arrive in the hut's fireplace, so this seems unlikely.

tapped it twice on the side of the boat

This spell propels a small boat along without guidance. Presumably it's the same spell that's used to propel the fleet of small boats from the landing near Hogsmeade Station to the dock at the base of Hogwarts castle.

Gringotts is hundreds of miles under London, see...

This has to be exaggeration on Hagrid's part. The cart clearly doesn't travel hundreds of miles. It could mean that the tunnels used by Gringotts extend for hundreds of miles in all directions, of course, but even that is unlikely.

" old Cornelius Fudge got the job. Bungler if ever there was one. So he pelts Dumbledore with owls every morning, askin' fer advice."

This first flash of Fudge's character is critical to understanding what drives him later on. Years later after dinner in Grimmauld Place, Arthur Weasley (in explaining why Fudge refused to believe that Voldemort had returned) confirmed what Hagrid says here: that in his first year in office, Fudge wasn't very confident and was constantly seeking help from Dumbledore. As time went on, Fudge managed to convince himself that he was the clever one, so it's not very surprising that he took against Dumbledore as a living reminder of his early awkward days.

In terms of driving the action of Stone, Fudge's behaviour lays the groundwork for the fake message arranged by Voldemort's agent to lure Dumbledore out of Hogwarts. It also explains why Dumbledore used the slowest form of transportation he could reasonably arrange: he'd had about enough of this, and didn't want to encourage Fudge's behavior. (More about the fake message later.)

[The Ministry's] main job is to keep it from the Muggles that there's still witches...

Figuring from the various dates given in different canon sources, the Ministry would seem to have been created around 1692 with the passing of the Code of Wizard Secrecy. The Ministry's chief function was centered on maintaining that secrecy.

everyone'd be wantin' magic solutions to their problems

This isn't the real reason that the magical community is in hiding. The break between the Muggle and wizarding worlds happened because the Muggles persecuted wizards to the point of burning them at the stake. It's not clear why Hagrid is soft-selling this to Harry, unless he wants to shield the boy from some of darker parts of wizarding history.

Hagrid, who didn't understand "Muggle money," as he called it, gave the bills to Harry...

So Hagrid had been supplied with some British money to take Harry to Diagon Alley. Presumably this money was obtained through Gringotts bank, which handles this sort of thing, according to an interview with Rowling (AOL).

[Hagrid] sat knitting what looked like a canary-yellow circus tent

Although Rowling has cleared up the confusion by stating in an interview that Hagrid was a Gryffindor, there was a time when fans were convinced that Hagrid was a Hufflepuff because of this reference to the color yellow and from another passage coming up in this chapter (noted below). The image of a huge, hairy, fierce-looking half-giant knitting is amusing all the same.


Notice that there is no mention of Muggle clothing to be worn under the robes. Students at Hogwarts wear robes, and all the same kind: black. The ties and other accessories in house colors which we see in the films are definitely not canon. The students are expected to wear a black pointed hat as well, as we see from this list, and they do. The final bit about name tags is a nice touch.


Rowling uses the titles and authors of books as her chance to play around with words a little bit. Names like "jigger" for a potions book and "spore" for an herbology text are clever. Some of the other names are a bit less specific, but are fun to work out all the same.

We can work out which books are required for which subjects, with two exceptions. The Standard Book of Spells is the Charms textbook, and Harry buys the next volume in the series every year. A History of Magic is the textbook for History of Magic, obviously. A Beginner's Guide to Transfiguration is clearly the Transfiguration text, while One Thousand Magical Herbs and Fungi is the book for Herbology. Potions requires Magical Drafts and Potions and Defence Against the Dark Arts requires The Dark Forces: A Guide to Self-Protection.

A bit less specific are these two books: Magical Theory and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Perhaps these are considered to be standard references which all wizards should own. The former might be a basic text for all classes, since all of the magical classes require an understanding of the theory behind the magic, but we hear about theory most often when it comes to Transfiguration. The latter might be a supplemental text for Potions. Certainly they use enough bits of magical animals as potion ingredients. Harry and his friends won't start taking Care of Magical Creatures until their third year and Scamander's famous book isn't the textbook for that class.

There is apparently no textbook for Astronomy, although this subject is rather a puzzler all around. Since there are plenty of references to the fact that astronomical phenomena affect spells and potions, perhaps the Magical Theory book is in fact used for Astronomy class.


The list in the early editions of the book starts with "1 wand." This was edited out for some reason and current versions of the book don't include this item.

Harry had never been to London before.

And therefore, the zoo where he released the boa constrictor was NOT the London Zoo.

an ordinary street full of ordinary people

The street, we will learn in book three, is Charing Cross Road. It's one of the busier streets in London, full of shops and crowded with people at all hours of the day and night.

the Leaky Cauldron

This tiny pub was founded by Daisy Dodderidge somewhere around 1500 (FW). Back then, the area which is now Charing Cross Road was not a busy street, but rather an open area where the king's game roamed. The Leaky Cauldron was built specifically to provide a gateway into Diagon Alley, but since there was no street at that time, we can surmise that Diagon Alley exists entirely in some magical alternate dimension. It is uncertain if Diagon Alley was built at the same time as the pub, but it seems likely. The current barkeep is a toothless old fellow whose name is Tom. We'll meet him again in future books.

"P-P-Potter," stammered Professor Quirrell, grasping Harry's hand, "c-can't t-tell you how p- pleased I am to meet you."

Quirrell shakes Harry's hand in the Leaky Cauldron. He is not yet "inhabited" by Voldemort at this point and he is not wearing the turban. This scene is different in the film -- Quirrell is already wearing the turban -- which has confused some people.

Tapping the bricks

Rowling's drawing of how the gateway opens in the alley behind the Leaky Cauldron.

Diagon Alley

Witches and wizards roaming through Diagon Alley.

"Dragon liver, sixteen Sickles an ounce..."

The original text read "seventeen Sickles an ounce." Seventeen Sickles equals one Galleon, we shall learn from Hagrid in a few moments. That made this statement very odd...kind of like saying something in the US costs "one hundred cents." The corrected text now reads "sixteen Sickles an ounce."

"School houses. There's four. Everyone says Hufflepuff are a lot o' duffers, but --"
"I bet I'm in Hufflepuff" said Harry gloomily.
"Better Hufflepuff than Slytherin," said Hagrid darkly. "There's not a single witch or wizard who went bad who wasn't in Slytherin. You-Know-Who was one."

This passage has caused no end of confusion. First of all, it does not say that Hagrid was in Hufflepuff. In fact, according to Rowling, he was in Gryffindor. Second, we cannot take Hagrid's statement here as being the truth; witches and wizards who went bad are not all from Slytherin. Clearly, he is exaggerating. As one fan put it, we might say that all computer professionals are geeks because that's the stereotype we're used to, but it obviously isn't really true. Hagrid is hyperbolizing here.

"I was trying to find out how to curse Dudley."
"I'm not sayin' that's not a good idea, but yer not to use magic in the Muggle world except in very special circumstances," said Hagrid.

Irony of ironies: four years later, Harry will come within an ace of being expelled over this issue, but for the sake of saving Dudley from the Dementors. Moreover, Dudley will believe that Harry was trying to curse him.

The window of Flourish and Blotts from the Studio Tour

Not a toad, toads went out of fashion years ago...

Ah, poor Neville.

beetle eyes (five Knuts a scoop)

Whoa, that's cheap for the tiny little eyes of beetles. It must be a lot easier to collect these than it would seem. Let's face it, even one scoop of these would mean removing the eyes from a LOT of beetles.


it's really the wand that chooses the wizard, of course.

The match between a witch or wizard and their wand is not only unique, it's a bit mystical. I think we can assume that Ollivander is being a bit dramatic in his pronouncement, but even so we see from what happens next with Harry that there is a connection between a wizard and a particular wand. Presumably, one couldn't perform magic as well with a mismatched wand, and interestingly enough we see this effect with both Ron and Neville. Neither boy is particularly adept at magic at first, and this is likely because they aren't using a proper wand. Ron doesn't get a wand matched to him until his third year. Neville broke the wand he had inherited from his father during the Battle of the Department of Mysteries and got a new one in his sixth year.

He paid seven gold Galleons for his wand, and Mr. Ollivander bowed them from his shop.

As we are to learn nearly four years later, Mr. Ollivander sent an owl to Dumbledore, notifying him of the purchase of this second Fawkes-feather wand, as soon as Harry and Hagrid left. Seven Galleons is about thirty-five pounds, which at the exchange rate of 31 July 1991 is US$59.01.

Exceptional character moments

The Dursleys have no sense of humor, which was one reason why Harry didn't try to convince himself that the whole thing was a practical joke.

According to Hagrid, Quirrell has a brilliant mind, but seems to have lost his nerve after taking a year off to get first-hand experience.

We begin learning about Hagrid's fondness for magical creatures (the more dangerous the better), and specifically that he's always wanted a dragon.

It's ironic that Draco Malfoy, of all people, would be the first wizarding kid Harry ever met (although neither knows the other's name yet), and the first to mention Quidditch to him. At this point Harry has no preconceived ideas cluttering up his view of Draco, and Draco is trying to be friendly: he casts around a little for something they can talk about, but unfortunately hit upon making fun of Hagrid.

Harry's first impression of Draco is that he's spoiled, like Dudley, because Draco's talking about bullying his father into buying him a racing broom so that he can break the first-year rule and smuggle it to school. Draco's also boastful (talking about how good he is at Quidditch, which turns out to be true). By the end of the conversation his pure-blood prejudices are showing.

Harry first begins taking against Draco because Draco is making fun of Hagrid, Harry's first friend. Harry defends Hagrid at once; we're being shown Harry's capacity for fierce loyalty rather than told about it.

Ollivander is happy to have a professional challenge in fitting Harry to a wand.

Memorable lines

"Just be yerself. I know it's hard. Yeh've been singled out, an' that's always hard."

Words and phrases

Characters Introduced


  Gringotts Bank in Diagon Alley. Witches and wizards roaming through Diagon Alley.  

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The Harry Potter Canon