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Diagon Alley

The site in London where wizards and witches go to buy, sell, or trade their wares, Diagon Alley is a wondrous assortment of shops, stores, and boutiques, Gringott’s Bank, and with a dark side in the form of Knockturn Alley.

Diagon Alley is somehow hidden in the middle of London, accessible through a secret entrance behind the Leaky Cauldron, where a wizard or witch taps a brick found by counting three up and two across, three times. It is also possible to enter Diagon Alley via the Floo Network or by Apparition.

The name Diagon Alley is a neat wordplay on diagonally. The idea here seems to be a shift into another dimension, if not physically at least metaphorically. The name may also, according to some, be associated with, or perhaps even inspired by, the tesseract from the children’s story A Wrinkle in Time by Madelaine L’Engle.

The word diagonal itself comes from the Latin diagonalis, which in turn is from Greek diagōnios, meaning ‘from angle to angle’, a compound of dia meaning through and gōnia meaning angle. Alley is a much younger word, coming from Old French alee, meaning walking or passage, which ultimately stems from the Old French aler, meaning to go. This aler (which also gives the modern French aller) comes from the Latin ambulare, meaning to walk.

The wordplay in the name Diagon Alley is lost in other languages, since it is simply not reproducible. The translations are stuck creating a rather literal version of the name, unfortunately.

French Chemin de Traverse
Spanish Callejón Diagon
German Winkelgasse
Japanese ディアゴン横丁
Latin Angiportum Diagonion

Diagon Alley is home to a wide variety of fascinating and wonderful shops, each aptly named to appeal to a child’s mind, though in Harry Potter’s world the shops are established by and run primarily for adult wizards and witches.

Ollivander’s, makers of magic wands since 382 B.C., is the best place to buy a wand, though closed on July 31, 1996 under mysterious circumstances when Mr. Ollivander disappeared. Of course we find out in Deathly Hallows that he was kidnapped and held hostage at Malfoy Manor, tortured for his knowledge of wands, and ultimately rescued by Harry, Ron, and Hermione, with help from the house elf Dobby.

Madam Malkin’s Robes for All Occasions, Eeylop’s Owl Emporium, Flourish and Blotts Bookstore, Magical Menagerie, and Quality Quidditch Supplies all take advantage of alliteration and wordplay in their names.

Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes, again alliterative, is the newest addition to Diagon Alley, opened around 1994 at 93 Diagon Alley. Fred and George Weasley, identical twins, sell a variety of joke and trick magical items, as well as items for Defense Against the Dark Arts.

Finally, Kockturn Alley, itself another clever name. Knockturn Ally is a pun on nocturnally, and neatly include the idea the risk of a bad “knock” for anyone who dares enter. The one store known to be there is Borgin and Burkes, also alliterative, which sells cursed or evil items.

The name Diagon Alley and the names of the various shops within create an ambiance of fun, adventure, and amazement, surely appropriate for the wizarding world, and especially fun when we first see it through Harry’s eyes in the first Harry Potter book and film. If you want to get a very good look at the entire area, check out the tour of Diagon Alley included on the DVD of the second film.

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