Chapter 5 of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone: Diagon Alley← Chapter 4 | Chapter 6 →

Synopsis edit

Spoiler warning: Plot and/or ending details follow.

Harry awakens to an owl furiously pecking at Hagrid's coat, demanding payment for the newspaper it just delivered. Hagrid sleepily tells Harry to give the owl five Knuts, the odd-looking bronze coins stuffed inside the coat's pocket. Harry places the coins inside a small sack tied to the owl's leg, and it flies off. Soon after, Harry and Hagrid set off for London, using the same boat Vernon hired to get to the island.

Muggles (non-magical folk) stare at Hagrid, scrambling to let him and Harry pass. Riding the Underground to central London, Harry and Hagrid finally arrive at the Leaky Cauldron establishment. Harry notices that Muggles seem oblivious to the pub in-between two other businesses. Harry suspects that only Hagrid and himself can see it.

Upon entering the dark and rather shabby pub, Harry is greeted enthusiastically by its excited patrons. Hagrid introduces Harry to Quirrell, the new Defence Against the Dark Arts instructor, who appears timid and nervous. Harry and Hagrid exit into a small courtyard behind the Leaky Cauldron. While Harry reflects on people's reactions to him, Hagrid taps the wall bricks with his umbrella; a hole appears, growing bigger and bigger, forming an archway. They enter Diagon Alley, the wizard commerce district.

Harry and Hagrid walk past the many magic shops and down the street to Gringotts, the wizard bank. At Gringotts, Hagrid produces a vault key and a note authorizing him to enter another vault on Dumbledore's behalf. After a high-speed cart ride with Griphook the Goblin (making Hagrid queasy), they reach Harry's vault, which is filled with wizard money (galleons, sickles, and knuts). Hagrid helps Harry draw enough for school supplies and expenses and educates him on the wizard monetary system. After another cart ride, Hagrid removes the sole item inside vault #713, a small grubby parcel. Hagrid asks Harry to say nothing to anyone about this package.

Back on the surface, Hagrid helps Harry buy school supplies. In Madam Malkin's Robes for All Occasions shop, Harry meets another first-year Hogwarts student, a snobbish boy who espouses allowing only the finer Wizarding families to attend Hogwarts. Before introductions are exchanged, Harry leaves to buy books, a telescope, and a cauldron. Hagrid buys him a snowy owl that Harry calls Hedwig for his birthday. Finally, they stop at Ollivander's to purchase a wand. Mr Ollivander, who remembers every wand he has ever sold, says Harry will know when he finds the right one. After trying out many wands, Harry picks up one made from holly; sparks flare from its tip—this is Harry's wand. Mr Ollivander reveals the brother of this wand gave Harry his scar. Each wand's core contains one of only two tail feathers ever donated by a particular Phoenix.

Analysis edit

Just as Hagrid carried Harry to the Muggle world on a flying motorbike, now the gentle giant whisks him away, first by boat, then by underground rail to Diagon Alley in central London. Vehicles, particularly trains, become important symbols running throughout the series. The Hogwarts Express, the train that Harry will soon ride to Hogwarts for the first time, is the means that continually shuttle him back and forth between the Magical and Muggle worlds, at least until he is an adult. It is rarely a smooth ride between these two realms. Other magically enhanced vehicles will come to represent Harry's escape from danger or turmoil, his growing independence, and his overall journey through the series.

The parallel Wizarding society that Harry and we are introduced to seems to share more similarities than differences with the Muggle world Harry is about to leave behind. Magic alone is inadequate to provide for all wizards' needs, and they, therefore, have their own highly-organized commerce and social infrastructure that includes a bank, retail shops, government, penal system, mass media, an educational institution, and so on. Wizards seem to function much like Muggles—they have jobs to earn a living, buy what they need from stores, marry and raise families, and celebrate the same traditions and holidays, such as Christmas, Halloween, Easter, etc. Harry quickly encounters a more negative similarity, however, when he meets Draco Malfoy, the snobbish boy in the shop, who soon becomes Harry's primary nemesis, just as Dudley is in the Muggle world, and who represents the deep class divisions and prejudices within wizard society. This becomes a major theme in the series. Even Draco's name portends this unpleasant relationship: Draco is, of course, Latin for "dragon", and Malfoy can loosely be translated as "bad faith" in French. Apart from magic, what is quite different from Muggles is the mythic beings inhabiting this clandestine world. Here we meet Goblins and hear about Phoenixes, Dragons, Unicorns, Hags, and Vampires. This is our first intimation that these mythological creatures may have an actual, parallel existence.

Wizards have secretly co-existed alongside the Muggle world for centuries. To reflect this side-by-side (and occasionally intersecting) existence with humans, the author has cleverly named the wizard business district Diagon Alley (diagonally). Its seedy, dark underbelly is Knockturn Alley (nocturnally), where many Dark wizards ply their trade or otherwise engage in unsavoury or illegal activities. These dark and light areas represent themes of good and evil that permeate the series.

And as secret as the Wizarding world is kept, some Muggles, such as the Grangers, need to know that it exists, while a few even marry into it, sometimes unknowingly. Later in the series, it is revealed that the incumbent British prime ministers communicate as needed with the Ministry of Magic, the wizard government. It should also be assumed that wizard banking must somehow be connected to human commerce so that Muggle parents can exchange their British currency for wizard galleons and sickles to buy their magical offspring basic Wizarding necessities. Fortunately, Harry does not need to exchange currency—his parents have left him a small fortune stored in Gringotts Bank. Combined with his magical talent and celebrity, this will make for a potent combination that aids Harry throughout the series. Harry, however, remains generally unaffected by wealth and fame, caring little for material possessions and shunning the spotlight; he will, however, be able to use his new-found inheritance to bolster his independence, provide all his own needs, and further distance himself from the Dursleys' control, though, unfortunately, he must remain bound to them until he is a legal adult.

Harry is amazed by Diagon Alley, but also that everyone knows who he is and that he is so readily accepted and respected by other wizards. He has been famous almost since birth, an apparent hero to an entire population, though unaware of why or even of his fame. Having been treated his whole life as if he barely existed, Harry's reaction to this attention is mostly astonishment at being acknowledged and embarrassment, feeling he has done nothing special to deserve the adulation. To readers, who still lack any knowledge of why Harry is so famous, his being treated as a "hero" may seem premature, but this label might presage future events and designate what he may or may not have already accomplished. We will also contrast Harry's behaviour with another character who constantly thrives on and seeks out fame in the next book, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.

Harry remains curious regarding what Hagrid removed from vault #713. While it is unknown what the packet contains, there are clues that it must be valuable. Hagrid's behaviour suggests this, with the deliberate care and secrecy he shows when retrieving the package and asking Harry to mention nothing about what he has seen. Also, there being nothing else inside other than the packet indicates it is a high-security vault protecting only that one item. Storing nothing else in it prevents anyone from having a reason to access the vault other than this particular object. Any break-in attempt would reveal what a thief was after.

As Harry learns about the Wizarding world, so does he discover more about his parents, past, and relationship to Voldemort. Harry's wand plays an integral part in this relationship. A wand is a wizard's most important possession; without it, it is nearly impossible to perform magic. Ollivander tells Harry that the wand chooses the wizard, and a unique bond is created between it and its owner; this ability to select the wizard indicates wands may be somewhat sentient. The wood type and the core material apparently also play a part in this bonding process. Harry's wand, for example, is holly, a wood traditionally thought to repel evil, while a Phoenix is associated with purity and resurrection.

Harry learns that the wand destined to be his has a connection with Voldemort's wand; this seems to disturb him somewhat, as he shivers when Ollivander tells him that the core of his new wand and the core of Voldemort's wand came from the same phoenix. This fact implies a present connection between Harry and Voldemort, not just a past connection, and may foreshadow Harry's destiny. It also represents the darker, sinister side to what initially seemed to readers like a magical paradise; the Wizarding world may be far more dangerous than the unhappy Muggle one Harry is leaving behind.

Questions edit

Study questions are meant to be left for each student to answer; please don't answer them here.

Review edit

  1. Hagrid says that the Wizarding monetary system is simple. Is it?
  2. Why is there such an excited reaction to Harry when he enters the Leaky Cauldron with Hagrid?
  3. Why does Mr Ollivander believe Harry will be a great wizard? What does Harry think about his opinion and why?

Further Study edit

  1. Harry and Hagrid leave the island by using the same boat that Vernon hired to get there. If Hagrid flew there, and he and Harry take the only boat on the entire island back to the mainland, then how did the Dursleys return home?
  2. Hagrid says he flew to the island. Apparently, wizards can only fly with equipment such as a broom or a flying vehicle, or possibly with aid of a flying animal. How could Hagrid fly there, and why did he not fly back with Harry?
  3. How did the letters' sender know that Harry had been moved into the second bedroom, and then into the hotel and onto the island?
  4. How and why does a wand "choose" a wizard?
  5. Why would the "brother" to Voldemort's wand "choose" Harry?
  6. Considering how secret the wizard world is kept, why would someone as noticeable as Hagrid be sent to collect Harry and escort him through Central London to Diagon Alley?
  7. Why was nothing except the one small package kept in vault #713 at Gringotts Bank? Why does Hagrid ask Harry to say nothing about it?
  8. Compare and contrast the Wizarding and Muggle worlds. How are they different and how are they similar?
  9. What does the conversation between Harry and the boy in Madam Malkin's Robe shop reveal about wizard society?
  10. Even though the wizard world is carefully hidden, there appear to be connections and interactions between it and Muggle society. Give examples of what these connections might be and explain why they would be necessary.

Greater Picture edit

Intermediate warning: Details follow which you may not wish to read at your current level.

The "small, grubby parcel" that Hagrid removes from the vault is the titular Philosopher's Stone (US: Sorcerer's Stone), which will be central to this book's plot. With his limited classical education, Harry cannot understand why this Stone is so prized, but a classmate, Hermione Granger, will explain it to him.

Hagrid marvels at the things Muggles have created to live without magic. The reader will note that with very few exceptions (indoor plumbing, for example, and artificial illumination in some cases), the Wizarding world is not using any technology more recent than the invention of the printing press. It is uncertain why wizards have chosen to keep these older ways of doing things. Hermione later comments that the magical field around Hogwarts is so strong that technology simply doesn't work; this cannot be why Wizarding households avoid technology because technology still works perfectly around strong wizards like Harry and Hermione in their Muggle homes. It is possible that wizards feel that magic is more reliable than technology, or, especially in a certain segment of the wizard population, it may be a point of pride to avoid anything Muggle-made.

Harry's humility is shown here. While this character trait continually serves him well, it becomes masked by his unique position as "the Boy Who Lived". Harry will thwart Voldemort repeatedly until he comes to believe that only he can accomplish certain feats regarding the Dark Lord. Close examination will reveal that while he somewhat accepts his designation as a hero, he never capitalizes on his status; instead, it becomes an increasing obligation (and burden). Late in the series, the Ministry of Magic publicly begins calling him "The Chosen One" as it attempts to exploit him in a weak and misguided effort to show the public they are doing "something" to fight Voldemort. Despite being thrust into the limelight in this manner, Harry avoids exploiting his fame for personal gain, instead shunning it to continue the near-impossible mission fate has tasked him with, lending further evidence that he is destined to become the classic hero.

It is mentioned that Ollivander's window display contains only a single wand on a cushion. We discover later, notably in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, that Voldemort has been hunting artefacts belonging to the four Hogwarts Founders to make into Horcruxes. The wand in Ollivander's window might be Rowena Ravenclaw's. While this may seem related to Ollivander's disappearance in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, the lost Ravenclaw artefact, a Diadem (tiara), was found and made into a Horcrux by Voldemort many years before he encountered Harry.

Griphook, the Goblin, and Mr Ollivander, the wand maker, are introduced here. Both will play significant roles in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Ollivander's claim that "The wand chooses the Wizard" is a crucial plot point in the larger story and particularly significant in book 7. It is possible that Harry's wand, related to the one the Dark Lord owns, chose him because it recognized Voldemort's soul shard that Harry carries within him, though no one, not even Voldemort, knows it exists.

Harry and Voldemort's wands are considered "brothers" even though they are different woods. According to the author, Harry's wand is holly, a wood traditionally believed to repel evil. Voldemort's wand is yew, a long-lived tree representing death and resurrection. What bonds them are their identical magical cores: Phoenix tail feathers. A Phoenix is a mythical bird that repeatedly dies by bursting into flames and then is reborn from its ashes. Harry will learn that the particular Phoenix who donated only these two feathers is Fawkes, Dumbledore's animal familiar. Fawkes saves Harry's life in the next book and heals his wound in book 4. The provenance of the magical core within his wand becomes vitally important in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

Connections edit

  • It is revealed here that Harry's wand and Voldemort's are brothers, having cores made from the only two feathers provided by one particular phoenix, later identified as Dumbledore's animal familiar, Fawkes. The effect of Harry's and Voldemort's wands being brothers will be seen in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and explained as being the Priori Incantatem effect in a later chapter of the same book. Issues arising from the two wands being brothers will drive one of the many Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows subplots.
  • The Philosopher's Stone, of course, will power much of this book. It will be mentioned again in the final book. During the discussion of the Deathly Hallows, Hermione will argue that the Resurrection Stone is impossible, and so must be a misinterpretation of the Philosopher's Stone, which they know exists.
  • We find out that Hagrid was expelled from Hogwarts, and his wand was snapped; we also learn that the pieces, apparently still functional, are hidden in his umbrella. Hagrid using this umbrella to perform magic is seen again in the next book.
  • The Wizarding newspaper that Hagrid subscribes to, the Daily Prophet, will reappear multiple times in the series, as will the Ministry of Magic, whose activities he complains about.
  • Places seen for the first time in this chapter will reappear multiple times in the series. We will see Quality Quidditch Supplies and the Apothecary each time Harry shops for supplies. Some locations are more significantly connected:
  • The goblin, Griphook, who escorts Harry and Hagrid to the vaults, will be conscripted to assist Harry in the abovementioned break-in.