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 Philosopher's Stone

Welcome, Muggles, to Part 3 of Prior Incantato, where we’re digging into the world of Harry Potter on a chapter by chapter basis with constant vigilance. At the end of Part 2, Harry received his ticket to the Hogwarts Express, and now eagerly awaits the escape from his evil captors, the Dursleys.

Before we move on, though, a few thoughts from the last edition’s comments. Mike brought up the excellent question of Rowling’s use of foreshadowing. For the rest of you readers, did she give you just enough to keep you going but still guessing, or did her foreshadowing spell things out for you? And Travis also commented on the nature of Tom Riddle and Harry Potter’s similarities, and posed the question of what the deciding factor was in their upbringing. Was it that Harry had, if even for a brief period of time, known love? Good things to think about moving forward.

On to the re-read!

Chapter 6: The Journey from Platform Nine and Three-Quarters

Harry’s final month of the summer with the Dursleys isn’t exactly pleasant, but it’s not so shabby any more. Dudley’s fashion sense is years ahead of its time, because he’s still rocking that tail Hagrid gave him. While he waits, Harry names his owl Hedwig — a name he saw in The History of Magic (again, by Bathilda Bag-of-Nagini). Hedwig is bringing home dead mice every night, which is kind of Dexter-ish behavior, so Harry should really sleep with one eye open if he can.

A seed of doubt springs in the boy wizard’s mind when Vernon asks him what the heck a “Platform 9 and 3/4” even is. Doubly so when Vernon dumps his trunk off at the station and drives away laughing like a mad man. I imagine he also twirled his mustache and imagined Harry tied to railroad tracks while the Hogwarts Express approached. Poor Harry fumbles around the station for a bit before running into his soon-to-be surrogate family of gingers, the Weasleys.

Mrs. Weasley tells him how to get to Platform 9 and 3/4, which surprisingly doesn’t involve taking the red pill, and soon enough Harry crosses over yet again into the magical realm. Of course, one of the first people he sees on the other side is his prophecy doppelganger, Neville Longbottom, who’s lost his toad again. Once on the train proper, Fred and George Weasley catch a glimpse at his wicked scar while helping him load his bags. Instead of lying and saying that it was from a totally awesome jet ski accident, bro, Harry lets it slip that he’s Harry Potter. Maybe they’ll teach him a better poker face at Hogwarts.

Harry listens to Ron’s characterization from a window seat, where two of Ron’s brothers tease him and the other one acts snooty. Speaking of, it was nice to see Percy the Prefect, I had almost forgotten he was a real fake person (or a Percyon, if you like puns). Ron sits down near Harry, and apparently he’s been sticking his face in ashes, because he’s got a brown spot on his nose. For some reason this is important, because it keeps getting mentioned.

They quickly become pals:

“Wow,” said Ron. He sat and stared at Harry for a few moments, then, as though he had suddenly realized what he was doing, he looked quickly out of the window again.

“Are all your family wizards?” asked Harry, who found Ron just as interesting as Ron found him.


Sometimes I miss how easy it was to make friends when I was a kid. You could ask someone if they wanted to let you punch them in the arm, and then boom, you have a buddy. No weird happy hours, Facebook invites or other stuff to wallow through.

We learn that Ron is living in the shadow of a bunch of brothers who, quite frankly, sound way more awesome than him in almost every way. There’s the athlete, head boy, the prefect and the hilarious troublemakers. He’s just… Ron. It makes sense that he would subconsciously gravitate to someone whose shadow he could slip under just as easily.

After a quick introduction of Peter Pettigrew, AKA Scabbers, the two BFFs eat chocolate frogs, and get the Albus Dumbledore card, which tells of his exploits against the dark wizard Grindewald, the twelve uses of dragon’s blood and his alchemy work with Nicolas Flamel. To this day, I still don’t know any of the uses of dragon’s blood.

Hermione shows up to solve everyone’s problems: she tells Ron his spell isn’t real and is also trying to help Neville find his toad. Ron then tells Harry someone tried to rob Gringott’s, and Harry doesn’t really think much of it, because of those dastardly poems. Draco arrives to talk some trash about the Weasleys, and they all do some snapping and singing, West Side Story style, before it’s time for them to be off to Hogwarts.

Chapter 7: The Sorting Hat

Harry had never even imagined such a strange and splendid place.


The students flood into the halls of Hogwarts for the first time, and Harry is understandably in awe at the grandeur and the mystery of it. Hogwarts is a tricky beast to tackle when looking at this re-read of the books. As cliche as it is to say that a building or an object is a character, I absolutely feel like Hogwarts is one of the characters of the books. It’s the safe haven, the place where Harry grows up, and the place where he ultimately defends the ones he loves. I’m sure at some point we’ll go into it more, but Hogwarts in a lot of ways represents the deeper magic which I briefly mentioned in Part 2.

Sorting HatProfessor McGonagall (someday I’ll be able to spell that without looking it up) leads the first years through the entry way and into the Great Hall. Again, we see the idea of Harry stepping from one realm to the next as he thinks about how the whole of the Dursleys’ home could fit in the entrance hall. I wouldn’t exactly call his upbringing sheltered, but it’s certainly put him in a frame of mind to where the Dursleys are the only point of reference that he knows for almost everything.

Harry gets nervous when he hears that the first years have to do a test in front of the whole school, and immediately starts to think he’s going to get kicked out of Hogwarts. Don’t worry, Harry, you’ll have plenty of time to almost get kicked out soon enough.

Again, you know the Sorting Hat is serious business because it busts out with a clever little rhyme. This one details the nature of each House at Hogwarts, which only confirms the fact that Hufflepuffs are totally lame and get the short end of the shaft.

Mr. Sorty starts calling out names, and puts kids in their respective Houses. Hermione and Nevile make it into Gryffindor, Draco gets placed into Slytherin (with the hat barely touching his melon, I might add) and then it’s Harry’s turn. Remember how we talked about the similarities between Harry and Tom Riddle earlier, prior to the recap? And how we’re supposed to keep an eye out for them? One of the big differences shows up in this scene, where we’re introduced to another hugely important theme of the books: choices matter, and they show our nature more than our status or even our supposed “destiny.” This comes back in a big way in Order of the Phoenix as we get into the Chosen One business with Neville/Harry, but it’s touched on here, as well: Harry chooses to be in Gryffindor, and it makes all the difference in the world — to the Sorting Hat at least.

Everyone is eventually given their proper place, and just when things seem happy and normal, Harry’s scar has to get all needy on him. This just so happens right when he makes eye contact with the Potions Professor, Severus Snape. Harry gets the impression that Snape doesn’t like him. Of course, it’s actually Quirrell’s turban, which Snape is looking past, that is hurting Harry, but Harry doesn’t know that yet.

After all this scar-tickling, Dumbledore leads everyone in what’s probably the worst Glee episode ever, and then they take off into their rooms. There, Harry has a freaky dream where Quirrell’s turban is trying to smother him and tell him to go into Slytherin. It ends with Snape laughing at him, and then transitions into the green light that he remembers from the night his parents died.

Chapter Eight: The Potions Master

Harry pretty much has the worst first day of school ever. First, they almost stumble into Quirrell snooping out the hiding place for the Sorcerer’s Stone. Then, Quirrell’s class turns out to be a bit of a joke. And that’s not even mentioning all the strange and twisting corridors in Hogwarts.

But none of that compares to the agony of sitting in Professor Snape’s class. To make a long story short, Snape taunts Harry endlessly, quizzing him about all kinds of things that he has no clue about, such as the difference between monkshood and wolfsbane or what a bezoar is. To be honest, I would have failed this test, because I still have no idea what a bezoar is, even after the kerfuffle in Half-Blood Prince.

When Harry can’t answer, Snape answers for him (and a bezoar comes from a goat, it seems) and then later deducts points from Gryffindor because Harry looked at him funny with his mom’s eyes. Ron and Harry can’t leave fast enough, and manage to stop by Hagrid’s after the harrowing ordeal. There, they learn two things: that Hagrid knows why Snape doesn’t like Harry, and that the Gringott’s robbery might have been related to the object in vault 713.

Intrigue! Mystery!

Random Observations

  • I hate to be that guy, but Fred and George are so much more entertaining in the books than in the movies. I love the way they are characterized as brilliant cut-ups, and the fact that they each have their own personalities… as opposed to the films, where they’yre just the Olsen twins.
  • Scabbers tries to take a bite out of Crabbe and Goyle on the train. Defending Ron, or a friendly love nibble to his former Death Eater pal’s kid?
  • In the Great Hall scene, we again get hints that as wonderful as everyone thinks Dumbledore is, they also think he’s a total nutjob. Wisdom appears as folly, once more. Percy calls him a genius and a “bit mad” in the same breath.
  • I had nearly forgotten about how big of a deal the ghosts were in the novels. As entertaining of a concept as the ghosts of Hogwarts are, I feel like they really undermine the looming power of death that our characters have to deal with over and over in the series. Sure, it gives us symbolism that death is everywhere, even floating around Hogwarts, and is always close at hand — but it also makes death feel less scary.

    And that’s it for Part 3, folks. Thanks for reading, and we’ll be back on Monday to talk about Quidditch, Halloween and hopefully, my favorite chapter, The Mirror of Erised.

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