Hogwarts: Flawless Fortress or Fortress of Flaws?
During my re-reading of my favorite series (I’m trying to complete them all as many times as I can before Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince), I came to a realization; Hogwarts isn’t safe. Think about it. Harry may be safe from interfering Muggles and video cameras, but when it comes to disguised murderers and hat-hidden killers, the castle fails miserably. During his first five years, the castle has again and again been proven as a place that is easy to penetrate. Its points of weakness are easy to determine. Hogwarts is known by almost all British wizards, as its the only Wizarding school in the country. It is also known for having many secret passages (even by those without a Marauder’s Map) and therefore many places to hide (including some that appear out of nowhere Room of Requirement anyone?). Even rooms that are charmed to stay shut can be opened by an Alohomora (third corridor in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and Sirius’s window in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban).
Sirius was the first character that really brought these flaws to my attention, although upon discovering it I realized that he is not the first character to have entered Hogwarts grounds illegally. In Sorcerer’s Stone, we see a vicious troll and the biggest breach of all, by Voldemort himself. True, he is protruding from the back of his servant’s head, but he is still recognizable as the most evil wizard of modern times. Every day he is in contact with students and very often with Harry himself, yet the castle holds no real power to prevent this and protect its students. This isn’t the only instance of such a severe breach of security either. In Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, we see a diary full of Dark Magic and intrusions by a slightly mental (but quite sweet) house-elf, not to mention the clearly psychotic Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher (just kidding, you Gilderoy lovers!).
By Prisoner of Azkaban, we are used to some of the problems produced by the lack of a good alarm system. Sirius’s appearance is shocking, but not completely unexpected. At this point, the reader still believes him to be guilty of the murders, a Voldy supporter, and after Harry. Therefore, it makes sense for him to follow him to Hogwarts, and when have Hogwarts’s walls proved any real problem for a psychopath? It becomes even less shocking when Harry receives the Marauder’s Map, which contains extensive diagrams of all the ways out of Hogwarts. But of course, they aren’t just ways out of Hogwarts; they’re also ways into Hogwarts. How difficult would it be to Alohomora your way into Honeydukes and clamber out of the hump-backed witch a little while later? Or how about sneaking into the old dilapidated haunted building and climbing from the roots of the Whomping Willow shortly after?
These are all strategies for a wizard or witch to enter Hogwarts under the cover of darkness (or invisibility), but how about the naughty wizards who manage to sneak in right under the nose of the greatest wizard who ever lived, those who are cunning enough to deceive Hogwarts (although it hardly seems difficult) but also manage to fool Dumbledore? Peter “Scabbers” Pettigrew is, of course, our first example. He gets away with it for years (remember, he did belong to Percy before Ron) before he is forced into showing himself by Lupin and Sirius. He is quickly followed by Crouch Jr. (aka Mad-Eye Moody) who manages to keep it up for almost a whole year, only giving away his true identity when he believes he is safe to. Then there is Umbridge. While not particularly evil in the Harry Potter sense of the word (i.e. shes not into snakes and skulls), she is still harming the students with her “Quill of Pain.” She does manage to take some kind of control of the school and this is the only instance when we see the castle fight back; it locks her out of Dumbledore’s office. It is not a large gesture, but a reassuring one. On some level, there is a kind of security in Hogwarts. If it was attacked tomorrow, then there is at least that one stronghold in which our heroes can devise a plan.
The most shocking problem I can see with safety at Hogwarts is demonstrated in both Chamber of Secrets and Prisoner of Azkaban. This is the ability for two people (Chamber of Secrets - Ron and Harry) and a convicted murderer (Prisoner of Azkaban - Sirius) to gain access to the common rooms of Houses they do not belong to. With Harry and Ron, it is perhaps understandable. After all, they have taken on the appearance of two Slytherins, and it is not they who give the password, but with Sirius, it is a different matter. For one thing, he must look a mess; Harry describes him as such later on. He has matted hair and a dirty sallow face; you can imagine him in ripped, dirty, smelly robes. For a second point, he is a lot older than anyone in Gryffindor by about 20 years and is not a teacher. Surely it’s just common sense not to let him in? But he is let in and manages to make it into Harry’s dormitory undetected until Ron wakes up. How can these places be so easily entered? These are the closest things students will have to a home for seven years, but they are not safe. How disconcerting would it be to be sitting all alone in your comfy common room knowing that someone who wishes you ill has been in the same room and didn’t have any real difficulty getting in? I’m willing to bet it’s not a completely relaxing situation. I certainly wouldn’t want to snooze by the fire.
You would imagine with the amount of magic in and around Hogwarts a few portraits would be shown how to lock themselves against supposed mass murderers, or secret passages shown how to close themselves to intruders, doors protected against Alohomora, a magical alarm system placed somewhere around the perimeter. But no. Hogwarts seems like a very dangerous place to me. There really seems only one way to prevent serious damage to the castle and its pupils, and this is the use of the Marauders Map.
As a strategy, this is not as strange as it seems. The map shows all secret passages into the castle, all hidden cubby-holes, and everyone inside the grounds. A particularly reassuring point is also the fact the map “never lies.” I can easily imagine Dumbledore using it faithfully in any instance of external penetration of the castle. It would show where the armies were coming from and how many they were up against. It would also give a good idea of the weakest points of the castle, for example, the secret passages and airspace (not just Quidditch players have brooms surely!). This is only, of course, if the castle is attacked, which many of you believe will happen. I only hope it doesnt as the castle has not proved itself a worthy opponent to any wrong-doers before. Fingers crossed.
You may contact this author at h_a_uk at hotmail dot com