After the trip to Diagon Alley, Harry has to return to the Dursleys' house to spend his last month before school starts. Instead of mistreating him as usual, they simply ignore him, and Harry spends most of his time in his bedroom with Hedwig. The day that Harry is supposed to go to Hogwarts, the Dursleys take him to King’s Cross train station in London and leave him alone to find his way to platform nine and three-quarters. Harry stands between tracks nine and ten, uncertain how to find the magical platform between them. Finally, he overhears a plump red-haired woman mention Hogwarts to her children, and asks her for help. She tells him to walk straight through the barrier between tracks nine and ten. Harry pushes his trolley through the barrier and is amazed to discover the Hogwart’s Express and platform nine and three-quarters on the other side.
Two of the woman’s sons, twin boys with red hair, help Harry stow his trunk in the corner of a compartment. They notice his unusual scar and realize that he is Harry Potter. They join their other siblings to say goodbye to their mother, while Harry sits in his compartment. As the train begins to leave, the youngest red-haired boy of the family, Ron Weasley, enters Harry’s compartment and asks if he can sit. Ron and Harry introduce themselves and talk about their background.
As the sixth son in a family of successful wizards, Ron is very concerned that he will always be overshadowed by the rest of his family. He also tells Harry that his family is poor so he is constantly burdened with his brothers’ hand-me-downs. Harry tells Ron that he understands poverty, being poor until a month before, and, even worse, he knows nothing about the wizard world or magic. Ron assures him that many Hogwarts students come from Muggle families, and he will have nothing to worry about.
A woman with a food cart knocks on the door of their compartment. Since Harry has never tried any wizard food before, he buys some of everything: Cauldron Cakes, Pumpkin Pasties, Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans, Chocolate Frogs, and Licorice Wands. Harry generously offers to share everything with Ron, and the two boys become fast friends over the feast. They experiment with the unique flavors of Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans and swap several Chocolate Frog collectible cards, including one on Dumbledore.
A bossy girl with bushy brown hair enters the compartment with Neville Longbottom, a plump boy who has lost his pet toad. The girl introduces herself as Hermione Granger and immediately gives Ron and Harry the impression that she is a bit of a know-it-all. She comes from a Muggle family and, anxious to make up for her lack of magical background, she devoted her summer to reading every magical textbook that she could find. Hermione is particularly interested to discover Harry’s identity (having read about him in “Modern Magical History,” “The Rise and Fall of the Dark Arts,” and “Great Wizarding Events of the Twentieth Century”) and reveals her hope to be sorted into Gryffindor House.
After Hermione and Neville leave, Harry and Ron talk more in-depth about the Hogwarts house system. All of Ron’s brothers have been in Gryffindor house, and he has a family expectation to live up to. Above all, Ron and Harry both hope that they are not sorted into Slytherin, if only because of Voldemort’s affiliation with it.
Suddenly, the unpleasant boy from Madam Malkin’s robe shop enters the compartment, flanked by two other mean-looking boys. The boy introduces himself as Draco Malfoy and, after mocking Ron for his poor background, tells Harry that it is important to make friends with the right people. He offers Harry his hand, but Harry turns it down, informing him that he prefers to choose his own friends. Stunned by Harry’s action, Malfoy’s picks a fight with Ron and Harry and attempts to take their leftover Chocolate Frogs. Ron’s pet rat, Scabbers, bites Malfoy’s finger and he runs out of the compartment with his two friends.
The train finally arrives at Hogwarts, and all of the first-year students are ushered into small boats that take them into the castle. The students are initially welcomed by Professor McGonagall, who informs them that a start-of-year banquet will be preceded by their “sorting,” which will divide them into one of Hogwart’s four houses. Harry and Ron try to figure out what kind of test the sorting will comprise, and Harry hopes that he will not be humiliated by his lack of magical experience.
They enter the Hogwarts banquet hall, and Harry is overwhelmed by its beauty: thousands of candles float in midair over four long tables and the ceiling is bewitched to look like the night sky. Professor McGonagall places a dirty wizard’s hat on top of a stool in front of the first-years. Each new student must place the hat on his or her head and wait until the Sorting Hat shouts the name of the Hogwarts house that is best suited for the student. The Sorting Hat introduces itself with a song and then begins to call the students in alphabetical order. When Harry tries on the Sorting Hat, he silently urges it to place him in any house other than Slytherin. The Sorting Hat considers his request, and then places him in Gryffindor.
After the sorting is complete and the first-year students have settled at their tables, Dumbledore gives a few words of welcome, and the feast begins. The food is delicious and abundant, and Harry and Ron indulge in as much food as they can. During dessert, the students at the Gryffindor table discuss their upbringing, and Neville tells the other first-years how his family was afraid that he had no magical ability until his uncle dropped him out of a window, and Neville bounced. Starting to feel warm and sleepy, Harry glances at the faculty table and feels a sharp pain in his scar when one of them stares at him angrily. Harry learns that the malevolent teacher is Professor Snape, who teaches Potions. At the end of the feast, Dumbledore gives a few final words to the students, including a warning to stay away from the third-floor corridor, and then sends them off to their houses.
Harry’s trip to King’s Cross Station is his first step toward adulthood and a new life. Every aspect of his life has always been determined by the Dursleys, from the clothes that he wears to the type of ice cream that he gets at the zoo. The only time that Harry would rebel from this controlling environment was through his magic: for example, the time that Aunt Petunia cut off all of his hair, and it grew back to its original length by the next day. When Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia leave Harry at King’s Cross Station, they do not expect him to be able to function outside of their stifling world, much less find the so-called platform nine and three-quarters.
Yet, Harry surprises himself and far exceeds any of the Dursleys’ expectations of him. Although he does need to ask Mrs. Weasley for help, he is able to find platform nine and three-quarters and find a seat on the Hogwarts Express. Uncle Vernon an Aunt Petunia’s refusal to believe in the existence of platform nine and three-quarters demonstrates their ignorance and close-mindedness but also suggests that Harry’s life with the Dursleys is not his true path. Harry has the courage to reject ten years of neglect and insecurities and run through the barrier between platforms nine and ten, opening the door to the magical world that is waiting for him.
Harry’s time on the Hogwarts Express also introduces him to the kind of social interaction that he was denied in the Dursleys’ home. Harry’s only interaction with his peers in Little Whinging was running away from Dudley’s gang; the school children were too afraid of Dudley to be Harry’s friend. Yet, suddenly, on the Hogwarts Express, Harry is not only exposed to potential friends (such as Ron Weasley), but he is given the opportunity to choose his friends. When Malfoy enters the cabin, for example, Harry has the chance to accept his proffered friendship and become a member of Malfoy’s gang. This decision would mirror the social complexities that made up Dudley’s group of friends, all inferior to one leader, and, from a psychological standpoint, would be the easiest way for Harry to have new friends.
Instead, Harry chooses the more difficult route, denying Malfoy’s friendship and sticking with Ron, the one person who, though neither handsome nor wealthy, seems willing to accept him as an equal friend. Significantly, Harry’s decision to reject Malfoy is also a subtle rejection of Voldemort’s preferred social interaction. As his later interactions with Quirrell will reveal, Voldemort does not make close friends like Ron; he situates himself as the head of a gang that is made up of lesser individuals. As it turns out, Harry’s decision to choose Ron as his first real friend will be one of the most important decisions of his first year at Hogwarts.
The Sorting ceremony at Hogwarts also outlines an important decision that Harry makes in the development of his character. When the Sorting Hat first describes Harry (“plenty of courage…not a bad mind…a nice thirst to prove yourself”), it makes no mention of Slytherin House. It is possible that the Hat has no intention of placing Harry in Slytherin. However, Harry is unwilling to leave such an important decision up to chance. He has never had control over any aspect of his life, particularly when it comes to his family and the death of his parents, and Harry refuses to take a passive role when it comes to his future in this new magical world.
His decision to be sorted into Gryffindor (or rather, not to be sorted into Slytherin) also helps to distinguish him from Voldemort. Despite their unspoken connection and the uncanny similarities of their wand, Harry is not simply a younger version of Voldemort. Had he never heard of Voldemort, Harry might have been sorted into Slytherin House and could have become an extremely successful wizard. Yet, Slytherin’s ties to Voldemort are what causes Harry to reject the House; he is determined to avoid any path that parallels that of the dark wizard who murders his parents. In effect, by murdering Lily and James Potter, Voldemort ensured that Harry would never follow any future that could lead to the dark arts.