Muggles' Guide to Harry Potter/Places/Hogwarts Express

Muggles' Guide to Harry Potter - Place
Hogwarts Express
Location King's Cross Station, Hogsmeade
Permanent Residents none
First Appearance Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone

General Overview edit

Hogwarts Express at King's Cross Station.

The Hogwarts Express is a train that travels between Platform 9 and Three Quarters at King's Cross Station in London, and Hogsmeade Village, the station for Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. It is a special train that carries students to school in September and brings them back to London in June or July.

Pulled by a steam engine, the Express consists of a number of old-style passenger cars with compartments, each compartment holding at most eight people, and closed off from an offset aisle down the length of the car by a sliding door. Normally, Harry and one to five of his friends will share a compartment during the trip. While some British Rail passenger cars of this design had individual doors for each compartment, the Hogwarts Express does not seem to, having two doors to a car and an aisle that runs from one end of the train to the other.

As in most passenger trains, there is a sweets trolley that is pushed the length of the train by a vendor. When he first sees it, Harry is astonished that he does not recognize any of the candy or drinks on the cart, but that does not stop him from buying quantities of Chocolate Frogs, Bertie Bott's Every Flavour Beans, Drooble's Best Blowing Gum, Pumpkin Pasties, Cauldron Cakes, and Liquorice Wands, among other things. Given the likelihood of Harry's Aunt Petunia actually making him a lunch, we can expect that Harry will buy lunch off the trolley every trip, but it is only mentioned in the first book.

Extended Description edit

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

Apparently, all students headed for Hogwarts are required to use the Hogwarts Express to get there. The physical location of Hogwarts is concealed, and the school itself is "unplottable", meaning that it cannot be located on a map, magically or otherwise, so the Express may be the only way to locate it. We note, however, that Ron and Harry have no trouble finding it in the flying car they have borrowed, though they do follow the Express in order to find it.

We know that the Express runs at the beginning of the school year, on the first of September, and again at the end of the school year on the day following the school closure. The story seems to be mute on whether it runs again at the beginning and end of the Christmas break, and at the beginning and end of the Easter break. While we see nothing at either of these holidays that suggest the Express was used, it seems unlikely that it would be required for only two of the six common school trips.

It is on the Hogwarts Express in the first book that Harry introduces himself to Ron, and where they meet Hermione, Neville, Draco Malfoy, Crabbe, and Goyle, all characters who will play a large role in the story to come. (Harry had met Draco previously, but it is in the train that we learn his name.) The trip back to London in that book is only mentioned in passing.

Harry and Ron are blocked from reaching the Express in the second book, but follow it in the flying car to find Hogwarts. The return to London in that book is covered only briefly, but it is there that Ginny reveals that Percy has a girlfriend, which is why Percy had prevented what would have been a huge revelation on her part.

The trip to Hogwarts in the third book is actually shared with Professor Lupin, who spends much of the trip asleep, though he does rouse himself to defend Harry from the Dementor. His presence also prevents Draco from attempting to jinx Harry. During the return to London in that same book, we hear Hermione planning a course schedule that does not require use of the Time-turner, Harry receives the letter from Sirius that lets us know that Sirius has managed to escape, and Ron is given the tiny owl that is soon named Pigwidgeon.

In the fourth book, we overhear Draco in the next compartment talking about a Wizarding school called Durmstrang, but most of the conversation concerns the just-past Quidditch World Cup. Draco does visit Harry's compartment to sneer at him and Ron, but as Dean, Seamus, and Neville are also present, he retreats. In that book, the return to London is interrupted by Draco, Crabbe, and Goyle bursting into Harry's compartment, telling him that now Voldemort is back, and he's picked the wrong side. Their attempt to curse the Trio is forestalled by Harry and Hermione, with help from Fred and George. As they reach London. Harry gives the Twins his Tournament winnings for their nascent joke shop, with the sole condition that they buy Ron some decent formal robes.

Because Harry has been systematically reviled in the Daily Prophet over the summer, he tries, unsuccessfully, to find an unoccupied compartment on the Express in his fifth year. Harry is dismayed by Ron and Hermione's departure towards the front of the train, where, they say, the Prefects will be meeting in a special compartment. Eventually, he, Ginny, and Neville settle on a compartment with only one other occupant, Luna Lovegood. Here, Neville displays the defensive features of the plant he has gotten for his birthday. The compartment is thus full of stinksap when Cho Chang opens the door to say hello. Ron and Hermione return and name the rest of the year's prefects. As seems to be usual, Draco barges in and snipes at Harry, asking how it feels to be second to Ron for a change? Hermione manages to force him out, but she and Harry have noticed that Draco alluded to seeing Sirius at the station.

The return trip to London this year is again punctuated with an attack by Draco and his sidekicks, this time stymied by several members of Dumbledore's Army. Some illumination is also cast on romantic affairs at this point, as Harry says that his romance with Cho is over, and Ginny admits to having dumped Michael Corner in favour of Dean Thomas.

In Harry's sixth year, the trip on the Express is quite eventful. Harry has barely settled into his seat when a delegation of girls arrives to ask them to sit with them; suspicious of their motives, he refuses. Hermione points out that Harry, who has grown over the summer, is now quite handsome, quite apart from the change in his reputation from the new slant on stories about him in the Daily Prophet. Harry overhears Draco talking about an assignment he has been given, and attempts to eavesdrop, unsuccessfully. Harry and Neville receive invitations to a gathering being held by Professor Slughorn in his compartment near the head of the train. Finding Blaise Zabini is another guest there, when the party breaks up, Harry uses his Invisibility Cloak to tail Zabini to the compartment he is sharing with Draco. Draco catches sight of him as he climbs into the luggage rack, but says nothing, and lets nothing slip, until the train has reached Hogsmeade; then he petrifies Harry, breaks his nose, and leaves him hidden under his own cloak as the train starts to head back to London. He is rescued at the very last moment by Tonks, who has been posted at the school as a guard.

The sixth book ends before Harry boards the Express to return to London, and as Harry does not attend Hogwarts in the seventh book, the Express is only mentioned in passing, as Ron wonders whether the Death Eaters monitoring their hiding place expect them to meekly board the Express on September 1.

Analysis edit

A key point in the story seems to be that legally the Express is considered an extension of Hogwarts, so use of magic by students on the train is not banned by the Decree for the Reasonable Restriction of Underage Sorcery. While the train is nominally patrolled by Prefects, with almost no exceptions there is no adult supervision. (We note above that Professor Lupin does some minimal supervision late in his journey to the school in the third book, and Professor Slughorn's supervision in the sixth book seems to be restricted to one walk-through as he gives out party invitations, and is thereafter limited to his compartment.)

Much as Platform Nine and Three Quarters represents the transition from the Muggle to the magical worlds, the Express is the place where we re-immerse ourselves in magic, once again getting acclimated to the ready availability of magical abilities. It is critical that magic be unrestricted to allow that acclimation. The lack of adult monitoring is more or less a necessary side effect of the Express being a train; a monitoring adult or prefect can see at most two compartments and the aisle of one car, leaving the vast majority of students out of sight. And as we have seen, magical duels do occur on the Express with no Ministry repercussions.

Legally requiring all Hogwarts students to take the Express is a plot contrivance, intended to ensure that interactions between students can occur in relatively unmonitored surroundings. It must be a somewhat awkward contrivance, though, particularly for any residents of Hogsmeade who attend Hogwarts. Despite living almost in the shadow of the castle walls, still the law requires that they travel to London on the first of September, only to be brought all the way back, over the course of an entire day in the Express, to their starting point.

We note that a passenger car of this compartmented design typically would have ten compartments. At 8 students per compartment that gives a capacity of, at most, 80 students per car. With a school population of 280, this would mean a minimum of four cars; a school population of 840 would require 11 cars. If we take the larger number and add a luggage van and a brake van, and possibly an additional passenger car, we end up with one engine pulling 14 cars, a large but not extreme number for a single large steam engine. As noted in the Hogwarts article, there is some dispute over the size of the school; we can see here that the requirement that students take the Express to school does not lend significant weight to either side of the dispute.

We note in passing that in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, it is mentioned that there is a special prefects' compartment at the head of the train. We can clearly see that this one must be larger than the standard, because there are twenty-four prefects. (Ron and Hermione are appointed in their fifth year, and their appointments should continue through for their sixth and seventh years also; two prefects from each House, from each of years five, six, and seven, would imply a total of twenty-four, with the possible addition of the Head Boy and Head Girl if these should by exception not be drawn from the prefects' number [like James Potter] or if, which is not made clear, they are replaced in their function as prefects.) The Slug Club meeting on the Express in the sixth book only has seven attendees, including Professor Slughorn who may be taking two seats for himself, and so would fit, if only just, into a standard eight-person compartment.

Questions edit

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

Review edit

  1. When and from where does the Hogwarts Express depart London?
  2. Describe the engine that pulls the train.
  3. What food is available on the train?
  4. Over the course of all seven books, what non-students are seen on the train?
  5. Why does Harry not sit with Ron and Hermione during the trip to Hogwarts at the start of their fifth year?

Further Study edit

  1. What might be the benefits of having all students, regardless of hometown, ride the Hogwarts Express to school together?
  2. Find a map of England and draw the most likely route for the Express.
  3. How might the experience of the trip be different if it were on a plane, or a bus?

Greater Picture edit

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

While we have noted that the train is nominally patrolled by Prefects, it also seems that this practice is commonly overlooked by even the most punctilious prefects. Hermione mentions that she and Ron are meant to be patrolling, but then remains in the compartment with Ron and Harry; with the possible exception of Draco's looking in on Harry and sniping at him in years 5 and 6, we never see any prefects on patrol in the Express. Even Percy, pompous and officious as he is, does not make an appearance in the Express in the first three books, though we could safely expect him to stick his head into Ron's compartment each time he goes by to make sure "his little brother isn't getting into trouble." It is our impression that this lack of any form of supervision is deliberate on the part of the author – one last fling of freedom before school starts, enhanced by having no parents, teachers, prefects, or the Ministry hanging over the shoulders of the young wizards.

It is foolish to postulate about an author from her published works, but from the portrayal of the Express we can't help thinking that there is some love of trains in Ms. Rowling's history. It has been suggested by other authors that the Protestant work ethic is involved. On a train, or even more on a ship, even while one is completely relaxed one is still in motion towards their eventual destination. Thus one can be totally idle while still striving for a final goal.