Reading the sorting ceremony again makes me want to figure out exactly which houses all of Harry’s classmates are in. It’s an exercise in futility, because no one can really say where Lily Moon or Sally-Anne Perks ended up except J.K. Rowling herself. But it always makes me wonder.
Even more than that, though, reading the sorting ceremony again makes me wonder what would have happened if Harry had let the hat put him in Slytherin. If he hadn’t heard from Hagrid and Ron that it was the worst house, if he didn’t already dislike the only Slytherin he’d met so far, and went into it without such a strong preference …
I don’t have nearly enough time or space to get into all that here, but expect to see something soon on it.
I love these early chapters of Sorcerer’s Stone. It all really just comes to life: the characters, the school … you can just see Hermione frantically flipping through books, trying to memorize everything, ghosts floating through doorways, Ron bickering with Dean about quidditch vs. soccer, Malfoy bragging about that time he escaped a muggle helicopter on a broom, Professor McGonagall lecturing the kids on their very first day in her class …
There’s so much detail that you could read it a dozen times and uncover something new each time. I noticed for the first time today that Parvati Patil and Pansy Parkinson seem to know each other. When Parvati tries to stand up for Neville, Pansy tells her, “Never thought you’d like fat little crybabies, Parvati.” They’re in different houses, and they’ve only been at Hogwarts together a short time, but that line sounds like something you’d only say to someone you know well. She also uses Parvati’s first name – which means both that she can tell the difference between the Patil twins, and that she addresses her in a more familiar way than the Slytherins typically use even for their friends, let alone random Gryffindors. Both the Patils and the Parkinsons are wizarding families, and the Patils don’t seem too strongly linked to any one House, so it’s not unreasonable to think they’d have known each other before Hogwarts.
Speaking of tiny details, here are a couple of early signs that Quirrel is not to be trusted:
- He was at Diagon Alley the day Gringotts was robbed. Harry and Hagrid run into him at the Leaky Cauldron just before they go to Gringotts themselves.
- He’s seen near the forbidden third floor corridor. When Filch catches Harry and Ron trying to force their way in, unaware of which door it is, they are “rescued by Professor Quirrell”, who just so happens to be passing by.
- He teaches Defense Against the Dark Arts, but he seems terrified of dark creatures, and his stories about his accomplishments are suspected to be lies.
- His turban smells bad. The Weasley twins suspect he keeps garlic in there to ward off vampires, but of course, we know what it’s really hiding …
On a different note, one of the very best things that you miss if you only watch the movies is the scene where Malfoy challenges Harry to a wizards’ duel. Not only is it a clever way to introduce something that’s going to be important in future books (although it has changed a lot by the time it shows up again, with – for example – the idea of having a “second” to take over if you die being totally forgotten). It’s also kind of an interesting demonstration of Hogwarts House traits and how a Gryffindor would try to get back at someone they don’t like versus how a Slytherin would. Harry has no problem with breaking the rules and sneaking out at night for a wizards’ duel, but it never occurs to him that Malfoy’s challenge is actually a trap: that he has no intention of fighting Harry and is just trying to get him in trouble.
But most of all, it reminds me of a scene from Ophelia, by Lisa M. Klein. Ophelia is a YA novel that reimagines Hamlet from the point of view of – you guessed it – the novel’s title character. There’s a scene early on in the book where a young Hamlet and Laertes are play-fighting with wooden swords. It’s kind of like that. There’s nothing “friendly” about the duel Malfoy proposes, but Ron assures Harry that “people only die in proper duels” and “neither of you know enough magic to do any real damage”. By the time they do duel the very next year, that’s not necessarily the case (Malfoy’s serpensortia spell is certainly dangerous), and in the final books they duel each other several times, each with potentially deadly consequences. With sectumsempra and fiendfyre in mind, the proposed “wizards’ duel” here seems childish, bitterly ironic, and perhaps a little bit like foreshadowing.
Finally, this is also the section where the main trio – plus Neville, in the book version – first meet Fluffy. We start to get the first clues about the Sorcerer’s Stone: Nicholas Flamel was first mentioned on Dumbledore’s chocolate frog card, we saw Hagrid take the one item from a vault at Gringotts that was later broken into, and now, thanks to Hermione’s keen observation, we find out that the three-headed dog was standing on a trapdoor. It’s guarding something.