Prior Incantato: In Harry Potter, a spell that can reveal the last spell performed by a particular wand. In other words — magic revisited.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

Welcome to Part 2 of my re-read of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. We last left Harry at the worst vacation ever, warming himself near a fire fueled by a bag of potato chips as he awaits his birthday. When the clock strikes midnight, someone knocks on the door.

In regards to some comments from Part 1: there was some discussion about the Dursleys in general, and whether or not they’re actually well-fleshed out characters. They are certainly one dimensional, and the borderline abuse doesn’t quite match the rest of the books in tone. I think I agree with this assessment for the most part, and while I understand their purposes in motivating Harry, I feel like they soon filter out of his motivational process. He’s got all the motivation he needs in his parents/fighting Voldemort.

Another interesting observation pointed out in the comments by Chuck – how close is this cottage on the rocks to the cave where Harry and Dumbledore tackle a set of obstacles left by one Tom Riddle?

Anyway, onto the re-read. I was hoping to get to The Sorting Hat, but these two chapters require a bit of dissection, so I’m going to cut it off after them to keep this thing from getting too long and unruly.

Chapter 4: The Keeper of the Keys

This is the first of several back-to-back info-dumping chapters by J.K. Rowling, who handles them probably better than any author I’ve ever read. She manages to just churn out info without it feeling like an overload, which is incredibly hard to do. Go girl.

Hagrid enters the cottage with a literal boom, and in so doing smashes part of Harry’s world. He even gives us the first-ever mention of Harry having his mom’s eyes. Which becomes a thing, as you well know if you’ve read these books. Once inside, it seems Hagrid’s got the swiss army knife of big coats, from which he produces a birthday cake, sausage, the NOC List and the Dead Sea Scrolls. Vernon tries to get Hagrid to leave, but Hagrid sits down and helps himself to some exposition.

“Harry – yer a wizard.” A famous wizard, no less. Hagrid is appalled that Harry was never told of his magical heritage and dishes out the fairy tale that Harry has always wanted. Petunia interrupts to give us some of that much-needed Dursley motivation, sharing the nature of her “freak” sister, Lily, and how their parents were always so proud of how magical she was. Hold a grudge much, Petunia? A better wizard in this instance would have cast the wingardium letitgosa spell, but instead, Hagrid dives into just what happened to Ma and Pa Potter.

The giant finally casts some light on Voldemort, one of the worst wizards to ever live, and how he gathered up followers to take over. Once Voldemort decided someone had to die, that’s just the way it was going to be. For some reason, the Dark Lord set his snake-like sights on the Potters, and in the process of blowing up their house, blew up himself, leaving Harry with a special scar.

Harry asks what happened to Voldemort, and Hagrid reckons he’s still out there, living in a turban and drinking unicorn blood or something – or too weak to carry on, I can’t remember which. My favorite line here:

“Cause somethin’ about you finished him, Harry. There was somethin’ goin’ on that night he hadn’t counted on — I dunno what it was, no one does — but somethin’ about you stumped him, all right.”


This is our first glimpse into the primary theme of all seven books: that love (specifically sacrificial love) is the greatest magic of all — even more powerful than death. What stumped Voldy that night? Love. And it will continue to stump him until the end of the series. He undervalues it, underestimates it and he is undone because of it.

Chapter 5: Diagon Alley

This chapter is a doozy.

Harry and Hagrid have breakfast over some world-building conversation concerning Gringott’s, and then set off to get Harry’s school supplies – which include a book by Bathilda Bagshot, whose skin we meet in Deathly Hallows. They head over to the Leaky Cauldron, which strikes Harry as a place that can’t possibly be famous since it’s so dark and shabby — sweet, innocent Harry. Everyone gets up to give the Boy Who Lived a round of fist bumps, and then they meet Professor Quirrell, who stutters and then promptly makes his exit. Guess he needed a pint before trying to rob Gringott’s.

Once Harry and Hagrid make their own exit, they step through the wardrobe and into Diagon Alley, our first truly magical location in the series. They arrive at Gringott’s shortly thereafter, where you know they mean business because instead of burly security guards, they have a catchy poem telling you not to steal. This poem seems to be enough to convince Hagrid, who reminds Harry someone would be mad to try and rob the place. Think of all the pentameters they can assault you with!

A stoic goblin named Griphook takes them first to Harry’s vault, which is stacked with enough gold for Harry to make it rain in the Leaky Cauldron for weeks on end. Second, they go to vault 713 to get a mysterious object wrapped in brown paper. We later learn this is the Sorcerer’s Stone, but at the moment, it’s a mystery to both Harry and the reader. I have to say, I find it interesting that in Book 1, Harry is lead to a Gringott’s vault to grab an object which Voldemort desires to regain his life — and in Book 7, Harry is lead to a vault by that very same goblin to steal an object which Voldemort hopes will preserve his life.

After a very Islands of Adventure-esque ride back to reality, Harry is left on his own to collect his uniform at Madam Malkin’s. It’s here that we are first introduced to Draco Malfoy, who is going on and on about some sport named Quidditch, which I assume is as boring as soccer until he mentions flying on brooms. However, his snooty tone quickly triggers Harry’s defenses:

“I don’t see why first years can’t have their own. I think I’ll bully father into getting me one and I’ll smuggle it in somehow.”
Harry was strongly reminded of Dudley.


OllivandersAnd again, we have another link to the Dursleys as the Muggle Malfoys, or the Malfoys as the Wizard Dursleys, however you want to frame it. Harry sees the connection between the two families right away, with Malfoy every bit the spoiled brat that Dudley was, ordering his family about and expecting the entire world delivered to him. As we get into Book 2, it will also be interesting to note the similarities between Harry’s treatment and that of Dobby by the Malfoys. In some regards, Harry is sort of the Dursleys’ House Elf. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Anyway, Harry is put off by Malfoy’s superiority complex, where he badmouths the Houses, Hagrid and Mudbloods. One thing that stood out to me here was that Malfoy does actually appear to be trying to make friends with Harry, but in the only uppity way that he knows how — bragging. And although he doesn’t quite mean it, he actually apologizes to Harry when he finds out Harry’s parents are dead. Madam Malkin cuts off their conversation before Malfoy can find out that he’s the famous Harry Potter, though.

Hagrid explains to Harry a little bit about the Houses of Hogwarts (and drops a brief mention of Voldemort’s time at the school), and then takes him off to Ollivander’s to buy a wand. There, we get another glimpse at something that will occasionally poke its head up from beneath the subtext of the world of Harry Potter: the deeper magic.

Harry felt strangely as though he had entered a very strict library; he swallowed a lot of new questions that had just occurred to him and looked instead at the thousands of narrow boxes piled neatly right up to the ceiling. For some reason, the back of his neck prickled. The very dust and silence in here seemed to tingle with some secret magic.


Underneath everything that we can see in the classes of Hogwarts, there is a deeper, older, more powerful magic that permeates the story. This includes wand lore, love and death, and seems known by the wisest characters in the series. Some would call this providence.

Harry is given his first lesson on wand lore, and becomes gradually more worried that no wands will ever choose him. It’s kind of like he’s getting ready for a more fickle and temperamental Sadie Hawkins dance. Eventually, Harry is chosen by a wand — holly and phoenix feather, eleven inches, nice and supple — which happens to be the brother of Voldemort’s wand. I wonder if this will be important. Nah.

Ollivander says some creepy things about how Voldemort was maybe kind of cool, and then Harry and Hagrid get the heck out of there. Harry is worried that everyone thinks he’s special, and like any good mom, Hagrid assures Harry that everyone sucks at magic at first. They part ways, and Harry receives his ticket for the Hogwarts Express.

Random Observations:

  • I’ll admit, I was a bit bummed that Hagrid doesn’t actually say “You’re a wizard, ‘Arry” like he does in the movie.
  • Hagrid sort of freaks out on Vernon for insulting Dumbledore at one point, giving us another look at the idea of love as the most powerful magic. Dumbledore’s penchant for showing grace/love to those around him produces fierce loyalty, and can even overcome shame and ridicule, as seen in Hagrid’s case, or betrayal and evil, as seen in Snape’s case. We also get the first hints of Hagrid’s expulsion.
  • As Harry is whisked away to the magical realm, it made me wonder just how similar his experience is to Tom Riddle’s in Half-Blood Prince. Tom, who found out he could speak to snakes and make bad things happen to people he was angry with, was informed of his magical heritage by Dumbledore. Did they have a similar type of outing that Hagrid and Harry did?
  • I’m a sucker for puns, so I had to laugh at the name of one of Harry’s assigned books: One Thousand Magical Herbs and Fungi by Phyllida Spore.
  • I like the idea that the description of each wand given by Ollivander somehow matches the witch or wizard it’s paired with. If that’s the case, Lily was “swishy”, James was “pliable” and Harry is certainly not “flexible” or “whippy”, but “supple”. I guess?


Phew. And that about does it for Part 2. I know I said before I want to cover more ground in these things, and I imagine now that the info-dumping is behind us, we can hopefully do that. Part 3 should be in up in a few days, and I won’t even try to pretend that I know where it’ll end up.

Comments, friends?

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