How the iconic Philosopher’s Stone’s locations defined the characters

We’ve come a long way since Harry’s cupboard, but some of the places we were introduced to in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone have stayed with us, partly because of what they signify about the characters we’ve come to know so well.

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Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone

Harry and the cupboard under the stairs

When we meet Harry, his cupboard at the Dursleys’ house is the only place he calls his own, and even this tiny, claustrophobic space is his under sufferance.

The Dursleys are not fond of Harry. At best he’s a nuisance, at worst he's a problem. Ignored and treated as a skivvy, he’s the lowest person in the Privet Drive pecking order and at times the Dursleys’ dislike of him teeters close to emotional abuse. Privet Drive is not a happy place for Harry, and his cupboard – the smallest room in the house, full of spiders and dust and other people’s coats – exemplifies that.

Harry doesn’t dwell much on life at the Dursleys’, but he longs for opportunities to get away – he’s keen to join Dudley’s trip to the zoo because it’s better than the alternative. So it’s fitting that his cupboard is the place where Harry’s Hogwarts life begins. He might not read the original letter addressed to ‘The Cupboard under the Stairs’, but Hogwarts finds him eventually.

Harry's bedroom was the cupboard under the stairs for eleven years.
© JKR/Pottermore Ltd. ™ Warner Bros.

Vernon and the Hut-on-the-Rock

The place Hogwarts finds Harry is a rain-lashed hut in the middle of the sea, to which he, Dudley and Petunia have been dragged by an increasingly enraged Uncle Vernon. It’s described as ‘the most miserable little shack you could imagine’. A damp, two-roomed dwelling, smelling of seaweed: miserable is right.

The only person not miserable is Vernon. He’s positively gleeful at the thought of escaping Harry’s Hogwarts letters. Forcing his wife and son to flee to an isolated, potentially dangerous hut to spite his nephew is pretty typical of Vernon’s attitude to Harry and says a lot about his wizarding-world paranoia. For a man so keen on doing things correctly, Vernon’s panicked response shows his fear.

Sadly for him, the hut Vernon hopes to remember as the place he thwarted the wizarding world actually becomes memorable for two very different reasons. Firstly, it’s the place Harry finds out he’s a wizard. And secondly, it’s where Dudley gains a pig’s tail.

The hut on the rock in the middle of the sea
© JKR/Pottermore Ltd. ™ Warner Bros.

Hagrid and Diagon Alley

The wizard who gives Dudley that tail is the same one who becomes Harry’s unofficial guide to the wizarding world: warm, impulsive, expansive Hagrid, who takes Harry to Diagon Alley and introduces him to magic. Covering everything from wands to Quidditch to Gringotts goblins, Hagrid’s tour of this hidden, magical London street is the perfect way to induct Harry – and us – into the wizarding world.

Diagon Alley, in all its messy, disorganised, wonderfully strange glory, has a lot in common with Hagrid. Harry warms to them both instantly, and wandering around Diagon Alley, never knowing what might pop its head around the corner, is good practice for his friendship with Hagrid.

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Ron and platform nine and three-quarters

Harry’s first encounter with Ron happens before they board the Hogwarts Express. Ron is surrounded by most of his family, literally about to follow in the footsteps of Fred and George and charge through the barrier at platform nine and three-quarters. Then Harry appears, looking for help, and Mrs Weasley suggests he go ahead of Ron.

People are always going ahead of Ron. He doesn’t seem to mind in this instance but it’s obviously something he’s aware of, and it becomes more pronounced as his friendship with Harry develops. Ultimately, his thoughts about Harry’s place in his family become something he has to face up to, an internalised worry that seriously threatens his peace of mind in Deathly Hallows.

The Hogwarts Express at platform nine and three-quarters.
© JKR/Pottermore Ltd. ™ Warner Bros.

Hermione and the Hogwarts Express

Hermione’s first time on the Hogwarts Express sees her take charge of Neville’s lost toad, lecture Ron about spells, and reveal she’s learned all their set books off by heart. Later, she tells Ron and Harry to get changed into their robes, despite the fact she’s only just met them.

All fairly standard Hermione behaviour. She shows none of the other first years’ nervousness. Not for her the worry of fitting in or following in anybody else’s footsteps. Even when events conspire to bring her bossiness down a notch, she still tackles everything head-on.

For Hermione, the Hogwarts Express is just the beginning. It’s the train journey that will kick off her future.

Teh interior of a carriage on
© JKR/Pottermore Ltd. ™ Warner Bros.

Dumbledore and Hogwarts

Enigmatic Professor Dumbledore is so closely associated with Hogwarts it’s hard to think of one without the other – they’re both full of secrets and the occasional trick step. Dumbledore’s relationship with Hogwarts is summed up by the Mirror of Erised incident.

Harry stumbles across the Mirror, apparently by accident, in a disused classroom. He visits again, desperate to look at the family he sees magically reflected there, until Dumbledore advises him against it. Dumbledore also mentions, in passing, a mysterious room full of chamber pots, aka The Room of Requirement, which will be so important later.

The next time Harry sees the mirror is during his encounter with a Voldemort-possessed Professor Quirrell. Thanks to Dumbledore, he knows exactly what to do.

Quirrell and Harry in front of the Mirror of Erised.
© JKR/Pottermore Ltd. ™ Warner Bros.

Dumbledore uses Hogwarts’ secrets to aid his plans, but it’s more than that. He understands Hogwarts. Dumbledore knows he’ll never learn all its mysteries, and that the ones he does know are not his to keep.

To celebrate the 20th anniversary of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Pottermore will explore themes, moments, characters and much more from the very first Harry Potter story. Come back tomorrow when we analyse the first chapter of Philosopher’s Stone: The Boy Who Lived.