Before we dive into what could have been different, let's consider why Ron and Harry’s friendship was so important to the series.
As soon as Harry and Ron met, the pair of them seemed to get on like a house on fire. They quickly bonded over sweets, their mutual dislike of Malfoy and the excitement of starting a new school. That initial connection only strengthened over time and by the end of the series they were family as well as friends. Without this very important relationship the story could have looked quite different indeed.
If it wasn’t for Ron, Harry would have found the wizarding world a much trickier place to navigate. Having grown up with his Muggle relatives, Harry had no understanding of how the wizarding world worked – despite his fame amongst the wizarding population. It was Ron that gave Harry so many of the useful insights that helped him to integrate into this magical world. He also stood up for him, frequently risked his life on their many escapades and quickly made him an honorary Weasley – which meant everything to Harry.
And Harry helped Ron in many ways too. Having always felt like he lived in his siblings’ shadow, Ron had been insecure and prone to jealousy. But after he became Harry’s best friend, and went on many adventures with him, he became a hero in his own right. Not only was he instrumental in helping to save the wizarding world, but he also became a Hogwarts Prefect and a member of the Gryffindor Quidditch team. Ron’s friendship with Harry certainly helped him mature and undergo a positive transformation.
Their relationship may have had ups and downs – like when Ron’s jealousy in Goblet of Fire caused him to turn against Harry – but without each other’s support, the two of them could have been very different people with very different stories.
So how important was that day on the Hogwarts Express? Would their friendship have survived without it? What would their relationship with Hermione look like? And without that encounter, would Harry have been a Gryffindor?
We would like to think that if Harry and Ron hadn’t been sat together on the Hogwarts Express, they would have still ended up as friends (if not best friends). As two Gryffindor boys in their first year, they still would have shared a dormitory and would have spent many hours together. Their personalities would still have been compatible, and we can definitely see the pair of them still having plenty of fun.
However, there is some question over whether their bond might have been quite so strong. A lot happened on that train ride, despite it being one of the less dramatic parts of the story. It was in those quieter, smaller moments that these two really gravitated towards each other.
For instance, when Ron let slip that his family didn’t have much money (with his hand-me-down pet rat, second-hand wand and a dry corned beef sandwich as his lunch), Harry sensed his vulnerability and didn’t tease him because he understood where Ron was coming from. Harry had never had anything of his own until he became a wizard, so he wanted to share what he now had with Ron. The second he responded by explaining what it had been like to live at Privet Drive and offered to swap his pasty for Ron’s rather unappealing sandwich, a fledgling friendship was formed. The two of them opened up to one another, despite being virtual strangers, and the rest was history.
Therefore, it would be easy to assume that if the pair of them had not had this moment on the train and had not walked through the doors of Hogwarts together, they wouldn’t have been so close. Yet, we like to think it probably wasn’t the case. We imagine they would have had that interaction at a different time – whether it was days, weeks or months later. Harry and Ron had a lot in common and their friendship seemed to come so naturally to them. It would have taken an awful lot to keep these two apart and we reckon that one missed day together wouldn’t have changed much.
By the time that Harry and Ron came face to face, Harry had heard a few things about Slytherin house… specifically that Voldemort belonged to it and the unpleasant boy he met in Madam Malkin’s wanted to be in it. We think that at this point Harry was already forming his opinion of Slytherin and wasn’t keen on the idea of being one. So, it would be easy to assume that even without meeting Ron, Harry would still have told the Sorting Hat not to place him there.
Yet would his aversion have been so strong without meeting Ron? They did discuss houses and Harry did find out that all of Ron’s family had been sorted into Gryffindor. He also discovered that Ron would be unhappy to be sorted into Slytherin, so that could have influenced him as well. Not to mention the fact that they had a run in with Malfoy – where he immediately insulted Harry’s new friend. At that moment, everything seemed clear to Harry. He knew that he would always choose someone like Ron over someone like Malfoy – which would have only strengthened his anti-Slytherin resolve.
Ultimately, we believe that Harry would have asked to not be sorted into Slytherin, whether Ron had sat next to him on the Hogwarts Express or not. But we also think that his interactions on the train cemented that feeling. If Harry hadn’t heard about Ron’s background, or seen Malfoy’s treatment of him and others, he might not have been quite as adamant when it came to The Sorting Ceremony.
We reckon Malfoy and Harry would not have been friends – even without the skirmish on the Hogwarts Express. Harry already had a negative impression of Malfoy long before he heard him make any comments about Ron’s family. As soon as Malfoy called Hagrid a savage in Madam Malkin’s Harry had got the measure of him.
So, if Ron hadn’t been in the carriage when Malfoy extended his hand to Harry, we believe he still would have had plenty of reasons to refuse his offer of friendship. Sooner or later Harry would have discovered the truth about the Malfoy family. He would have realised that they had been followers of the Dark wizard who had killed his parents, would have seen their pure-blood mania, would have seen Draco bully those he saw as weak and would have had plenty of exposure to his awful, entitled attitude. Harry would have rejected such hatred and would not have wanted any part in it.
All that happened with Ron being in the carriage that day was that Harry’s impression of Malfoy was reinforced more quickly. Whether that was when Malfoy said that Ron’s family had more children than they could afford. Or when Scabbers bit Goyle after he, Malfoy and Crabbe had tried to take their food. Or when Malfoy made a comment about the death of Harry’s parents. The train journey was a good example of why Harry didn’t want to be an ally of the boy with the snooty nature and nasty attitude.
While Ron and Harry’s first impressions of each other were nothing but positive, the same can’t be said for how they viewed Hermione. On the occasions that she burst into their train carriage, told them all about the books she had read, ridiculed the spell George had given Ron and pointed out the dirt on his nose, they seemed to find her… annoying.
Though while Harry was a bit taken aback by her, it was Ron who really seemed riled by her presence. The two of them started to bicker immediately – which we later came to discover was just their dynamic. But by the time they arrived at Hogwarts, Harry and Ron were already becoming fast friends and Hermione joining their pair was not close to being an idea in either of their heads. It was so far from Ron’s mind that he groaned when he heard the Sorting Hat announce that she was a Gryffindor.
So, would they have all become friends sooner if they had met under different circumstances? It could be argued that if Harry had met Hermione without Ron being there, he might have been more open to the prospect. We could imagine him reaching out to her when he realised that she didn’t have any friends after a few weeks of term – it would be in keeping with Harry’s desire to look out for the underdog. But Harry’s patience only stretched so far, and he did struggle to warm to her at the beginning, without Ron’s input.
We also believe that Ron would have needed to have Harry there to have become Hermione’s friend in the first place. Even if she had still overheard him saying mean things about her at Hallowe’en, and she had hidden in the girls’ toilets, it was Harry who convinced Ron that they needed to try and rescue her from the troll. Without the dynamic of Harry and Ron we highly doubt Hermione would have become part of their group.
The answer to this all depends on whether Harry, Ron and Hermione still became friends without having first met on the journey to Hogwarts. We don’t think that Harry would have been able to reach the Philosopher’s Stone without help, and Ron and Hermione were vital in this adventure.
The obstacles that the teachers set to protect it were no joke. While Harry was a talented flyer who could take on the enchanted keys with no issue, that alone wasn’t enough. It took a combination of all three of them and their skills, including Ron’s excellent chess ability and sacrifice along with Hermione’s cool logic and problem-solving, for Harry to reach the Mirror of Erised.
So, we think that if the journey on the Hogwarts Express was needed for Harry and Ron to become such good friends, and it never happened, then Harry wouldn’t have had the support he needed to retrieve the Philosopher’s Stone.
However, as we have said before, we still reckon that the golden trio would have found their way into each other’s lives. And while it may have taken them a little longer, we imagine they still would have forged a strong enough friendship to take on what was through the trapdoor.
What do you think? Do you agree with our musings about Harry, Ron and the train compartment?
If this has made you wonder about other ‘What if’ scenarios – then explore some of our others, such as…