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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.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone

Harry and the cupboard under the stairs

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

The Dursleys were not fond of Harry. At best he was a nuisance, at worst he was a problem. Ignored and treated as a skivvy, he was the lowest person in the Privet Drive pecking order and at times the Dursleys’ dislike of him teetered close to emotional abuse. Privet Drive was 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 – exemplified that.

Harry didn’t dwell much on life at the Dursleys’, but he longed for opportunities to get away – he was keen to join Dudley’s trip to the zoo because it was better than the alternative. So it’s fitting that his cupboard was the place where Harry’s Hogwarts life began. He might not have read the original letter addressed to ‘The Cupboard under the Stairs’, but Hogwarts found 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 found Harry was a rain-lashed hut in the middle of the sea, to which he, Dudley and Petunia had been dragged by an increasingly enraged Uncle Vernon. It was 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 was Vernon. He was 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 was pretty typical of Vernon’s attitude to Harry and said a lot about his wizarding-world paranoia. For a man so keen on doing things correctly, Vernon’s panicked response showed his fear.

Sadly for him, the hut Vernon hoped to remember as the place he thwarted the wizarding world actually became memorable for two very different reasons. Firstly, it was the place Harry found out he was a wizard. And secondly, it’s where Dudley gained 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 gave Dudley that tail was the same one who became Harry’s unofficial guide to the wizarding world: warm, impulsive, expansive Hagrid, who took Harry to Diagon Alley and introduced him to magic. Covering everything from wands to Quidditch to Gringotts goblins, Hagrid’s tour of this hidden, magical London street was the perfect way to induct Harry – and us – into the wizarding world.

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

Ron and platform nine and three-quarters

Harry’s first encounter with Ron happened before they boarded the Hogwarts Express. Ron was 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 appeared, looking for help, and Mrs Weasley suggested he go ahead of Ron.

People were always going ahead of Ron. He didn’t seem to mind in this instance, but it was obviously something he was aware of, and it became more pronounced as his friendship with Harry developed. Ultimately, his thoughts about Harry’s place in his family became something he had to face up to, an internalised worry that seriously threatened 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 saw her take charge of Neville’s lost toad, lecture Ron about spells and reveal she had learnt all their set books off by heart. Later, she told Ron and Harry to get changed into their robes, despite the fact she’d only just met them.

All fairly standard Hermione behaviour. She showed 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 conspired to bring her bossiness down a notch, she still tackled everything head-on.

For Hermione, the Hogwarts Express was just the beginning. It was the train journey that would kick off her future.

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

Dumbledore and Hogwarts

Enigmatic Professor Dumbledore was 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 was summed up by the Mirror of Erised incident.

Harry stumbled across the Mirror, apparently by accident, in a disused classroom. He visited again, desperate to look at the family he saw magically reflected there, until Dumbledore advised him against it. Dumbledore also mentioned, in passing, a mysterious room full of chamber pots, aka the Room of Requirement, which would be so important later.

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

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

Dumbledore used Hogwarts’ secrets to aid his plans, but it was more than that. He understood Hogwarts. Dumbledore knew he’d never learn all its mysteries, and that the ones he did know were 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.