Member preview

An Oral History of Harry Potter’s First Year at Hogwarts

The story of how Harry Potter and a small group of friends led an insurgency that resulted in the destruction of the self-styled Lord Voldemort has been well documented in the 19 years since the Battle of Hogwarts. But how did Harry Potter develop the skills, at the tender age of 17, to defeat the most powerful dark wizard of all time? In the first of a seven-part series I look at Harry Potter’s education in Hogwarts, as told by those who were there, including the Boy-Who-Lived himself.

Just months before Harry Potter came to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry he had no idea he was a wizard, let alone one of the most famous people in the wizarding world.

Harry Potter (The-Boy-Who-Lived)
It wasn’t until I got to Hogwarts that I accepted that I was actually a wizard. Until that point, I was pretty sure I was experiencing a manic depressive episode. Obviously I didn’t have the vocabulary to express this at the age of eleven. But I was really anxious. I mean I had a conversation with a snake. That’s a very unsettling experience.

Hermione Granger (friend and classmate of Harry)
I felt similarly to Harry. We have discussed this a lot recently. The way Muggle-borns are kept in the dark until they are 11 is inhumane. I was 100% sure that I was losing my mind.

HP
The letters [from Hogwarts] weren’t helpful either. The Dursleys were determined that I not read my acceptance letter, but Hogwarts just kept sending more. It’s the definition of insanity, doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. They really should have sent someone to explain things far earlier.

Professor Minerva McGonagall (head of Gryffindor, Harry’s house)
It was something I raised at the time with Dumbledore. He was obviously a great man, but during his time as headmaster our stationery costs were through the roof.

Vernon Dursley (foster father of Harry)
We were quite scared. It was harassment plain and simple. We never got a say in the boy’s education. The school essentially kidnapped him.

HP
Diagon Alley was intense too. I come out of there with a wand, an owl, a fortune guarded by bloody goblins! The entire day did my nut in.

Garrick Ollivander (wandmaker)
He [Harry] subsequently told me that I freaked him out. He freaked me out! I was certain I was looking at the new Dark Lord. He picked the same type of wand! I just said it was “curious”. I wanted to hedge my bets.

Draco Malfoy (classmate of Harry)
We didn’t hit it off. My Dad was not a fan so I wasn’t really going to give him a chance was I? At that age you just go along with what your dad says. I thought Voldemort was the good guy. Genuinely had posters of him on my wall.

HP
I was dropped to King’s Cross St Pancras by Vernon. All I had to go on was Platform 9¾ so he was certain that wasn’t real. And then he just left me there! I was 11 and he just left me on my own in central London.

PmG
I maintain that alone should have been enough for Harry to be removed from their custody, protection or not.

HP
Again, I was still worried about my mental health. And Platform 9¾ just seemed ridiculous. Why the three quarters? Why not half?

HG
It was wilfully obtuse. I’m certain that some Muggle-borns have arrived at King’s Cross, had a look around, then given up and gone home.

Ron Weasley (friend and classmate of Harry)
I was nervous around Harry at first. He was a proper celeb. When I came into the same compartment I knew he was in there, I just wanted an autograph.

When Harry arrived in first year the Sorting Hat continued to play a role in assigning class houses.

HP
At the time I was just worried about getting placed in Slytherin. But I suppose I didn’t think big picture about how strange a system it was.

HG
It was barbaric. Brave kids here in Gryffindor, smart kids here in Ravenclaw, Nazis here in Slytherin. And you also had Hufflepuff.

DM
It was a bad system. Put me in with a better mix of kids and maybe, I don’t know, maybe I would have taken a different path.

PmG
There was a lot of talk about tradition. But if a tradition consistently creates evil then what does that say? If you even read back on how Slytherins were described by the Sorting Hat itself: “power-hungry Slytherin” or “those cunning folks use any means, to achieve their ends”. The warnings were right there in front of us.

Rita Skeeter (journalist)
It’s a disgrace that Hogwarts gave into to the MC [magically correct] lobby and got rid of the Sorting Hat. It put me in Slytherin and I’m most respected journalist in the wizarding world. What does that tell you?

HG
I’m delighted it’s gone to be honest. The hat itself said the tradition was wrong. People moan about “MC gone mad”, but you’re talking about a system that allowed evil to flourish.

PmG
It’s a little more difficult now to identify the children who favour genocide, but overall, yes, I’m happy it’s gone.

In Harry’s first year at Hogwarts he faced Lord Voldemort for his first time since that fateful night in Godric’s Hollow. Voldemort had partly possessed Professor Quirrell, that year’s Defence of Dark Arts teacher, and was actively pursuing Nicholas Flamel’s Philosopher’s Stone to help him generate a new body. In a report published in 2002 it was confirmed that Professor Quirrell let a troll loose in the school and attempted to murder Harry Potter during a game of quidditch.

HG
I think when the troll was let loose there should have been a full investigation. There didn’t seem to be any major effort to find out who released it.

RW
And did they all [Hogwarts teachers] know Professor Quirrell was after the Stone from the start? I’ve never been clear on that to be honest.

HG
The thing with Harry and the broom, why were people not asking how that happened?

RW
I mean the broom thing gets overplayed I think. Even if Harry fell, well a teacher probably would have broken his fall with a spell.

RS
It was a massive child protection issue. For almost an entire school year a teacher was walking around with the most evil dark wizard of all time stuck to the back of their head. And then they covered it up!

PnG
We were quite open about what happened. Professor Dumbledore explicitly mentioned elements of it in his end-of-year speech.

Maggie Weasley (mother of Ron Weasley, member of the Order of the Phoenix)
Ron mentioned something, but we just ignored him. He was eleven and talking about He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named possessing a teacher, who would believe that? It was only a few years later we realized that it had actually happened.

HG
We just thought that was the kind of thing that happened at a wizarding school. Looking back now there should have at least been an investigation. The man stank of garlic and permanently wore a turban. I’ve spoken to teachers who say they heard a voice coming from the turban. It wasn’t like he hid it very well.

HP
I think it was part of Dumbledore’s plan. Quirrell wasn’t the strongest wizard so I suppose he thought I could take him. I just don’t think child protection comes into it when you’re the only person who can defeat a dark wizard. They were unusual circumstances.

RS
For his decisions that term alone Dumbledore should have lost his job. It’s the one subject where I’ll agree with Granger, there should have been an investigation.

HG
Rita Skeeter said that? (laughing) Well I think we probably have very different ideas of how an investigation should work.

PmG
What were we to do? Inspect every teacher’s hat or turban? There were over a dozen teachers wearing some sort of head apparel. All but one of them did not have the Dark Lord underneath it. There were some safety issues, but I think in the main it was as safe as you could reasonably expect a magical school to be.

HP
Looking back it was a pretty intense first year. But at the time I thought it was normal. In fact that was the easy year in my mind, if I’m being honest. And we won the House Cup, which was great. Rounded off the year very nicely.

DM
I’ve spoken about this before [Gryffindor’s last gasp win in the House Cup], but I don’t think it was fair what happened with the House Cup. Dumbledore gave Gryffindor something like 170 points at the end of year banquet for stopping Voldemort. Which is fine, but the point tallies he chose seemed a bit arbitrary. Just enough to defeat Slytherin. He was essentially saying “Gryffindor are the good guys”.

HG
Yeah we definitely got favoured a little bit with the points. But, on the other hand, we weren’t in favour of eugenics. So, you know, it’s a tough one.

Further reading: 
An Oral History of Harry Potter’s Second Year at Hogwarts.
An Oral History of Harry Potter’s Third Year at Hogwarts