The first time I read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (or Philosopher’s Stone), I read and re-read it a few times before giving it back to the library. I was so engrossed in the book that some scenes just came to life and stayed in my mind long after the read. It was nice to see those scenes in the movie version of the book, and quite a few were done justice, I feel. The way Dumbledore comes in the night to leave Harry at the Dursleys and Hagrid’s motorcycle were just two of the scenes that left an impact on me. But it’s a credit to the author that what I wanted to know as I read the book then, she brought to the table sooner rather than later.
Harry Potter goes with Hagrid in the morning, taking a boat, seeing magic, and excited about the adventure that lies ahead. But soon as that happened, I had wondered, “Where would he go to buy things for a school of magic?” Opening his list, he sees a lot of things to buy… books and robes, cauldrons and a wand. Where would he find all that? And how would that be hidden from the ‘non-magic folk’? When Hagrid tapped the brick three up and two across from the trashcan in the alley behind The Leaky Cauldron, a world I so wanted to be a part of opened up. I can still remember the words…
The brick he had touched quivered — it wriggled — in the middle, a small hole appeared — it grew wider and wider — a second later they were facing an archway large enough even for Hagrid, an archway onto a cobbled street that twisted and turned out of sight.
“Welcome,” said Hagrid, “to Diagon Alley.”
Diagon Alley, with its cobblestoned paths and mix of restaurants, shops and other places, was one that I had pictured very clearly in my mind. I walked under the archway with Harry as he entered it, imagining the same excitement. I saw the sunlight on the cauldrons in the nearest shop, imagined the apothecary and heard the hoot of the owls from Eeylops Owl Emporium. I felt the excitement of the boys who were looking at the broomsticks. And was amazed when with Harry, I entered the wizarding bank. I imagined I was standing in the room where Malfoy and Harry got fitted for robes at Madam Malkin’s.
Diagon Alley is one of the places where magic is the cynosure. It isn’t known how the world is hidden from the muggles. Perhaps my favorite shop in the alley initially was Ollivander’s. The book had the memory of Harry getting his first wand. It’s the only time we see or enter the shop in the whole series, so the memory is special. I also wanted to see what Quality Quidditch Supplies looked like, but we’re only given a fleeting view of it in the movies. Magical Menagerie, from where Hermione buys her cat Crookshanks, is another shop that I could imagine nicely; imagining the show-off mice was particularly enjoyable. In the sixth book, Diagon Alley gets a great addition too – Weasley’s Wizarding Wheezes, which became my favorite shop.
So many shops I loved at Diagon Alley, but there is magic everywhere, or so I feel. Sixteen years after I first read the book and visited Diagon Alley for the first time, I look back at it and wonder, “Isn’t there something in real life that comes somewhat close to that?” Granted, I cannot recreate Diagon Alley with its magic in my city, but there is an area that comes really close. It’s one that I haunt a lot, and feel the time fly by when I visit. Some of my fellow Potterheads who have been here might understand the comparison. Church Street and Brigade Road together offer me that magic I have in my life. Blossom Book Store is my Flourish and Blotts of late; there are food haunts that feel like Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlor; there’s even a bank, and the street has lots of peddlers too. Diagon Alley even has a proper second hand bookshop, of which this area has many. For a bookworm and a foodie, that’s magic, don’t you think?
But reality always takes a break when I read Harry Potter. So as I re-read it now, only the magic of Diagon Alley is recreated in my mind. My city, and the world around me fades. So if you are a Potterhead and were to come with me as I step under the archway again to enter Diagon Alley, which would be the first shop you’d visit?
(© 5th April 2016)