People are back to school this week. The trains and buses will be crowded, and the schoolyards near my house will once again echo with the yelling and screaming of kids—one of the most familiar and recognizable sounds I know.
For me, the term starts on Wednesday. I’m teaching a course in British fantasy, and I’m using Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in my first-year classes, something I’ve never done before. It should be interesting to see what my first years think of studying Harry Potter in their first-year writing class.
Here’s a piece I wrote two years ago at the beginning of the school year—“Remembering Back to School.” It’s memoir, and it carries that bitter-sweet tang of nostalgia I always feel at the start of term. Here’s something from Harry Potter to get you in the mood as well:
Whispers followed Harry from the moment he left his dormitory the next day. People lining up outside classrooms stood on tip¬toe to get a look at him, or doubled back to pass him in the corridors again, staring. Harry wished they wouldn’t, because he was trying to concentrate on finding his way to classes.
There were a hundred and forty-two staircases at Hogwarts: wide, sweeping ones; narrow, rickety ones; some that led some¬where different on a Friday; some with a vanishing step halfway up that you had to remember to jump. Then there were doors that wouldn’t open unless you asked politely, or tickled them in exactly the right place, and doors that weren’t really doors at all, but solid walls just pretending. It was also very hard to remember where any¬thing was, because it all seemed to move around a lot. The people in the portraits kept going to visit each other, and Harry was sure the coats of armor could walk.
The ghosts didn’t help, either. It was always a nasty shock when one of them glided suddenly through a door you were trying to open. Nearly Headless Nick was always happy to point new Gryffindors in the right direction, but Peeves the Poltergeist was worth two locked doors and a trick staircase if you met him when you were late for class. He would drop wastepaper baskets on your head, pull rugs from under your feet, pelt you with bits of chalk, or sneak up behind you, invisible, grab your nose, and screech, “GOT YOUR CONK!”
(Rowling, J. K. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Chapter 8, “The Potions Master”)