by Tom Morey
The following passages are all taken from the US editions:
“Hagrid, meanwhile, was counting bricks in the wall above the trash can.
‘Three up… two across…’ he muttered. ‘Right, stand back, Harry.’
He tapped the wall three times with the point of his umbrella.
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 on to a cobble street which twisted and turned out of sight.
‘Welcome,’ said Hagrid, ‘to Diagon Alley.'” [SS, pg. 71]
“A scarlet steam engine was waiting next to a platform packed with people. A sign overhead said Hogwarts Express, eleven o’clock. Harry looked behind him and saw a wrought-iron archway where the barrier had been, with the words Platform Nine and Three-Quarters, on it. He had done it.” [SS, pg. 93-94]
“They were standing on the topmost tier of what seemed to be stone benches running all around the room and descending in steep steps like an amphitheater, or the courtroom in which Harry had been tried by the Wizengamot. Instead of a chained chair, however, there was a raised stone dais in the center of the lowered floor, and upon this dais stood a stone archway that looked so ancient, cracked, and crumbling that Harry was amazed the thing was still standing. Unsupported by any surrounding wall, the archway was hung with a tattered black curtain or veil which, despite the complete stillness of the cold surrounding air, was fluttering very slightly as though it had just been touched.” [OOTP US, pg. 773]
“Dumbledore stepped back from the cave wall and pointed his wand at the rock. For a moment, an arched outline appeared there, blazing white as though there was a powerful light behind the crack….”
“The blazing silver outline of an arch had appeared in the wall once more, and this time it did not fade away: The blood-spattered rock within it simply vanished, leaving an opening into what seemed total darkness.” [HBP US, pg. 558, 560]
At the University of Georgia in Athens, Georgia, is an archway that no students are supposed to walk through until they have graduated from the university. There are wedding traditions in many cultures where newly-wed couples walk under (or are married under) arches as part of the wedding ceremony. Many traditional military honors are given under archways formed by swords. There are many traditions of these sorts, spread across cultures worldwide, some tracing back hundreds and even thousands of years. In all of these traditions, passage under and through the archway is considered, literally, a “rite of passage” — a ceremony that indicates the change from one state of being to another.
I got to thinking about the hidden archway that Dumbledore uncovers in the Horcrux cave toward the end of The Half-Blood Prince and wondered if this trip could be seen as a rite of passage for Harry. Because, clearly, JKR has used archways in this exact way before:
- The archway into Diagon Alley that leads Harry from the Muggle to the magical world.
- The archway into Platform Nine and Three-Quarters that leads Harry from the Dursleys to Hogwarts
- The archway in the Department of Mysteries that leads from life to death
If you look at the trip to the cave in this manner, you see a before/after dichotomy to the events as described. Dumbledore apparates the two of them there; Harry apparates them back. Harry tells Ron and Hermione that he will be fine because he will be with Dumbledore; Dumbledore tells Harry he is not worried because he is with Harry. Dumbledore leads the trip into the cave; Harry must make Dumbledore take the potion in order to empty the basin. Dumbledore’s blood gets them through the archway; Harry’s blood gets them back out. As can be seen by all of these things, Harry is, when they leave the cave, Dumbledore’s equal, not his apprentice anymore. He has passed, several months before his official coming of age, from childhood to adulthood.
The trip through the archway is also a rite of passage for Dumbledore. It can be seen as representing the next step in Dumbledore’s journey, the transition from life to death, or “the next great adventure” as he so famously describes in the first book of the series. Dumbledore, having done all he could to prepare Harry, is ready for this next adventure. The leadership mantle of the fight against Voldemort has passed from Dumbledore to Harry as seamlessly as the leadership of Hogwarts has passed from Dumbledore to Professor McGonagall.
The Hidden Way
An interesting feature of all these rites of passage that Harry goes through is that the significance of them is hidden from him until he has passed through. He knows naught of the magical world until he is through the archway and into Diagon Alley, and something very similar happens once he is through the barrier archway and onto Platform Nine and Three-Quarters. And while Harry has had, sadly, far too much experience of death before Sirius passed through the archway in the Department of Mysteries, Sirius’s death brings to Harry new realizations, not only of the permanence of the death of a loved one, but of hope of seeing those loved ones in the world beyond. After all, he heard their voices beyond the veil, just out of sight.
Harry never knew he was a wizard, never knew a world of friends that existed out there for him at Hogwarts. He never knew that he might one day again see Sirius and his parents in the great void beyond the veil. And he certainly never knew that the last parts of his battle against Voldemort would have to be without the guidance of Albus Dumbledore. But in each case, the events of his past and the circumstances of his passage were marked by finding out that he was better prepared for the next stage than he ever thought. So, I believe that Harry will find himself better able to handle the task ahead… even if the way ahead seems hidden.