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- Chapter 1: The Boy Who Lived
- Chapter 2: The Vanishing Glass
- Chapter 3: The Letters From No One
- Chapter 4: The Keeper of the Keys
- Chapter 5: Diagon Alley
- Chapter 6: The Journey from Platform Nine and Three-Quarters
- Chapter 7: The Sorting Hat
- Chapter 8: The Potions Master
- Chapter 9: The Midnight Duel
- Chapter 10: Hallowe'en
- Chapter 11: Quidditch
- Chapter 12: The Mirror of Erised
- Chapter 13: Nicolas Flamel
- Chapter 14: Norbert the Norwegian Ridgeback
- Chapter 15: The Forbidden Forest
- Chapter 16: Through the Trapdoor
- Chapter 17: The Man with Two Faces
The first book in the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (or Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone in the US) is written from the point-of-view of the 11-year-old Harry Potter. While its prime audience is children aged 8 to about 11, the story has enough depth to make it a satisfying, if short, read for even teen-aged and adult readers, and the characters show realistic development over the course of the book, and the entire series.
This book was published with different titles in the UK and in the US. In the UK, and in most other English-language editions, it was titled, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. Apparently the U.S. publisher felt that its younger American audience would lack sufficient background in classical mythology to know what the Philosopher's Stone was, and so re-titled the book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. While many fan sites, mostly in the US, have chosen the latter title, and the film and video games have done likewise, this book uses the UK title as being closer to the author's intent. This is the only book in the series with any difference in the title.
Chapter 1: The Boy Who Lived
Mr and Mrs Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much. They were the last people you'd expect to be involved in anything strange or mysterious, because they just didn't hold with such nonsense.
Mr. Dursley was the director of a firm called Grunnings, which made drills. He was a big, beefy man with hardly any neck, although he did have a very large moustache. Mrs. Dursley was thin and blond and had nearly twice the usual amount of neck, which came in very useful as she spent so much of her time craning over garden fences, spying on the neighbours. The Dursleys had a small son called Dudley and in their opinion there was no finer boy anywhere.
Vernon Dursley notices strange events on his way to work: a cat on Privet Drive appears to be reading a map, and people wearing colourful robes are wandering the streets. Mr Dursley attempts to ignore these oddities, but during his lunch break, he sees more such curiously-clad people. He overhears some mentioning the Potters and their son, Harry; one even stops Mr Dursley, telling him that he must be overjoyed that "You Know Who" is gone. All this reminds Vernon that the Dursleys have a shameful secret, and why they pretend the Potters never existed. Arriving home, Mr Dursley hears TV news reports about unforeseen shooting stars and owls flying during the daytime. Previously unwilling to discuss the Potters with his wife, Petunia, he finally verifies that their nephew's name is Harry. Vernon Dursley sleeps uneasily.
Late that night, a mysterious figure appears in Privet Drive. Albus Dumbledore, a wizard, uses an object called a Put-Outer to extinguish all the street lamps. Dumbledore addresses the cat, who transforms into a witch named Professor McGonagall. They discuss how recent celebrations have left "Muggles" inquisitive. Dumbledore confirms that James and Lily Potter were murdered the night before (October 31) by the Dark wizard, Lord Voldemort. He also tried to kill their one-year-old son, Harry, who is somehow involved in causing the Dark Lord's demise. Voldemort is often also referred to as "You-Know-Who" by those fearing to speak his name. Harry, according to Dumbledore, is being brought to Privet Drive by someone named Hagrid.
Soon after, the gigantic Hagrid arrives on a flying motorbike with a snugly wrapped baby tucked into his arm. Dumbledore places the infant on Number Four's doorstep with a letter addressed to Petunia Dursley. McGonagall despairs that baby Harry, an instant celebrity, must spend his childhood with such people. Hagrid re-mounts his motorcycle, McGonagall transforms back into a cat, and Dumbledore re-illuminates the streetlights; all three quietly depart.
Harry Potter enters the story when he is brought to the most seemingly normal family in all Britain—the Dursleys. Not only are they "normal", they are apparently also quite mundane, boring, and averse to anything even remotely out-of-the-ordinary in their dull, routine lives, though there may be a particular reason for some of their behaviour. Only gradually do readers become aware that a magical world populated by witches and wizards secretly co-exists alongside non-magical humans, known as "Muggles". The odd characters wandering the streets dressed in rather outlandish clothing are the first hint to this hidden society. Little is revealed about what has recently happened, though it has created some noticeable activity that has spilled over into the Muggle world. The scar on baby Harry's forehead will clearly be a lasting reminder that sinister events must have occurred, resulting in the infant being orphaned. Dumbledore's, McGonagall's, and Hagrid's actions lead us to believe that Harry is far more special than a mere orphan needing a home, though little is explained here. And while Professor Dumbledore does leave a letter with the infant, presumably explaining everything to the Dursleys, whatever information it contains is withheld, for now, from readers. We, like Harry, will gradually discover what has transpired and learn about this remarkable hidden world in small bits, though this chapter's title, "The Boy Who Lived", in addition to baby Harry's scar, indicates he must have had some near-fatal experience. Judging by Vernon Dursley's behaviour, he may already know more about this hidden world than readers are initially led to believe.
The conversation between Minerva McGonagall and Albus Dumbledore in this chapter is designed to bring several points of information to the reader without having to explicitly state them. One of the basic tenets of writing is "show, don't tell," which can make it difficult to illuminate backstory that is necessary to understanding. In particular, we need to know of the existence of Voldemort, and of his downfall, and this is communicated to us by this conversation. We also need to know that there is a reason for Dumbledore's placing Harry with his relatives, and the conversation is also tailored to inform us that there is a reason, but that it is not to be divulged just yet. Additionally, this conversation establishes the character of both McGonagall and Dumbledore, and the relationship between them, as director and trusted aide. The student could well profit by study of this one short interaction and all that it tells us.
Other commentators have noted that the author is very strong in what is called the "set-up and pay-off": creating a situation, then suddenly resolving it. Sometimes the set-up and pay-off are contained in a single chapter, other times they span multiple chapters or even multiple books. This chapter, in fact, is one example of a set-up (the list of strange things that occur in the vicinity of the Dursleys, and the discovery that they are connected to the Dursley family) and pay-off (revelation of the reason for the events and the arrival of the infant Harry). Students are encouraged to examine the work for set-ups and pay-offs, and determine how they enhance the "holding power" of the book and of the series as a whole. We will note that while the set-up and pay-off is a staple of writing for the film industry, the Harry Potter films are not as rich in this as the books; we believe this is because of the amount of material that must be elided from a novel to fit into two hours of film. In order to keep the necessary story elements, some of the less-important set-up events had to be dropped.
We will learn about the Wizarding world through Harry's eyes: in the entire series there are only five chapters, including this one, that are written apart from his point-of-view. These chapters are at each book's beginning, and provides us information that is still unknown to Harry. The other chapters are: Chapter 1 of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Chapter 1 and Chapter 2 of Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, and Chapter 1 of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. These are the only times readers are privy to information that Harry is not. Generally, we see events only when and how Harry experiences them.
Evidence indicates that Harry was born on 31 July, 1980, and orphaned on 31 October, 1981 — Hallowe'en night — when he is one year and three months old. Critics point out a lack of "trick-or-treating" and similar festivities on Privet Drive that night, but it should be mentioned that we never actually see Privet Drive on the 31st; it is the 1st of November when Vernon Dursley leaves for work, and later that same night when Dumbledore, McGonagall, and Hagrid arrive.
Evidence also suggests that there is a day between when Harry's parents died, and his arrival at Privet Drive; Harry is orphaned on 31 October, 1981, and the story opens with Vernon Dursley leaving for work on the morning of 1 November. This has sparked speculation amongst readers; is there an accident of dates, or is the "missing day" a purposeful addition by the author? It was believed by many readers that the occurrences during that day would be important, possibly even pivotal, to events in the seventh book.
There is also a contradiction: 1 November, 1981 was, in reality, a Sunday, and the book states that that day is a Tuesday. There are similar minor internal conflicts throughout the series. These errors or oversights do not detract from the sweep of the story, so while they may be mentioned, they are provided more as a curiosity than as something for the readers to concern themselves with.
Readers should also note the TV news reports about flying owls being spotted during daylight. This is an early reference to the Wizarding world's owl postal system. Voldemort's death likely prompted a huge flurry of wizard mail being carried by owls which was noticed by Muggles.
- Why would the Dursleys consider being related to the Potters a "shameful secret"?
- What exactly is the cat on Privet Drive?
- Who are the robed people Mr. Dursley sees in the streets?
- Who might "You-Know-Who" be? Why isn't this person referred to by a given name?
- Why does Dumbledore believe the celebrations may be premature?
- Why is Harry left with the Dursleys rather than a Wizard family?
- Why does McGonagall seem concerned about Harry being raised by the Dursleys?
The framework that is echoed throughout the series is established here: the contrast between the magical Wizarding realm and the more mundane Muggle world. By contrasting these two worlds, Muggle and Magic, an ongoing theme is seen throughout the series - prejudice, suspicion, and intolerance of anything or anyone different from ourselves. Vernon and his wife, Petunia, represent the great divide that exists between the magical and non-magical realms. Their constant fear, disdain, and hostility toward Harry's world shows how most Muggles would likely react if they knew wizards existed, though these two very different populations do occasionally collide. And as will be seen shortly, these fears and prejudices also exists within wizard society. Albus Dumbledore is the antithesis of Vernon Dursley, and each man becomes the figurehead for his respective world. Whereas Dumbledore, a powerful Wizard, is eccentric, unpredictable, and colourful, the blustery Muggle, Vernon, is conventional, regimented, and bland.
The specific events resulting in Harry's being orphaned, rather than revealed in this chapter, are gradually uncovered throughout the series. They are included here by way of reference.
After partially hearing a prophecy connecting him to Harry Potter, a Dark wizard, Lord Voldemort, tipped off by an informer, located Harry's wizard parents, Lily and James Potter. Voldemort attacked the Potters' house in Godric's Hollow, a tiny village, killing James before Lily and Harry could escape. Lily was also killed, her desperate pleas to spare her and her son's lives mercilessly ignored. Voldemort then cast a lethal curse at Harry that ricocheted off the toddler, fatally striking Voldemort instead.
During Harry's first year at Hogwarts, he encounters the disembodied Voldemort, who states that Harry's mother need not have died. It was Lily's sacrificial attempt to save Harry that created an ancient and protective magic, causing the deadly curse to rebound off Harry onto Voldemort. This act formed an as yet unknown connection between attacker and victim, during which Voldemort's powers were partially transferred to the infant, leaving a lightning-bolt shaped scar on Harry's forehead. The protection that Lily gave her son — which Albus Dumbledore later explains as her love for Harry — destroyed Voldemort's physical body and would have killed him completely had it not been for the Dark magic he previously used to splinter his soul into shards called Horcruxes. Voldemort's downfall renders Harry into a celebrated figure in the Wizarding world, hailed as a hero and the only person known to have survived the Killing curse.
It is entirely possible that, due to the Fidelius charm that was meant to protect the Potters from Voldemort still being active, Hagrid would have been unable to find their house until one of those privy to the secret of the Potters' location arrived on the scene. We can safely assume that Sirius Black, as one of James' closest friends, would have been one of them. Sirius does say in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban that he "saw the bodies and the house's destruction", so he must have been let into the secret by Peter Pettigrew (who we will meet in the third book), probably at James Potter's direct request. It has been conjectured that Hagrid was unable to enter the house's remains to recover Harry, and it may have been Black who actually removed Harry from the wreckage and passed him to Hagrid to carry back to Little Whinging. Hagrid does say, however, in Chapter 4, that he took Harry from the wreckage, so we have to assume that either Hagrid was also privy to the secret, or else the Fidelius charm ends automatically when the secret it is designed to protect (in this case, James and Lily's whereabouts) is no longer operative. We could speculate as to which it is, but given that the house is apparently visible to all wizards by the seventh book, it is most likely that the charm expired either upon Lily's death, even though baby Harry was left alive; or upon removal of Harry from the house.
There is no little bit of debate about the expression "house was almost destroyed" used in this chapter, and the similar terms "destruction," "wreckage," "rubble," and "debris" used to describe the Potter house after the events of 31 October. We have since discovered that the destruction was confined to Harry's nursery where Lily was killed and Harry was sleeping. We will find later that curses, if they miss, cause destruction; but the Killing Curse does not affect objects, only people, and so does not leave wreckage if it hits its target. On the other two occasions when a killing curse rebounds, in the Forbidden Forest and in the Great Hall during the series' final battle, there were no explosions or damage to anything outside Voldemort. It has been pointed out that these two cases were different, in the first as Voldemort did not actually get struck by the full force of the rebound, and in both cases because the wand Voldemort was using was not truly his own. Some weight is given the theory that the destruction occurred at the time the spell rebounded by Voldemort's recollections of that event, where he remembers having to flee the "rubble" of the failed attack, but as he had just been killed by his own spell, it is possible that the rubble in question was purely in the remains of his own mind.
There was some speculation, before the release of the seventh book, that the house could have been damaged in Voldemort's encounter with James. Voldemort's memories of that event reveal that the "duel" with James did not damage anything in the house. Likewise, Voldemort's dispatching of Lily did not result in any damage to the house, so any damage that occurred must have been either when Voldemort tried to kill Harry, or afterwards. Thus, following Voldemort's attack on Harry, there would remain a standing house (possibly with a large hole in the second story), and three dead bodies. Added to this, in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Voldemort regained his original wand, and we are led to conclude that someone had accompanied Voldemort, witnessed his downfall, recovered his wand (and perhaps concealed his body), and probably damaged the house. This may have been an act of revenge or frustration, but whoever did this left Harry unscathed, perhaps fearing that whatever felled Voldemort could also kill anyone attacking Harry. As it is Pettigrew who restores Voldemort's wand to him, it is a safe assumption that Pettigrew was the unknown third party. From Pettigrew's personality as revealed in later books, we can safely expect that, if he followed Voldemort into the house and found his corpse, he would be too scared to do anything except get out of there as quickly as possible, which would include blasting a hole through the wall to escape proximity to Harry. That Voldemort, in his memory of that night as viewed in the seventh book, does not recall Pettigrew accompanying him is inconclusive. Voldemort generally pays little attention to his minions unless they have failed him or were merely in his way.
Hagrid having seen the wreckage, and having taken Harry out of the house himself, indicates that Hagrid was trusted enough to be privy to the secret of the Potters' whereabouts. While this is never mentioned, it is possible that Hagrid is already "Keeper of the Keys and Grounds" at Hogwarts at that point. We will later discover that, when Harry enters Hogwarts, Hagrid is about 60 years old; so, when James and Lily entered Hogwarts, he would have been about 40, and likely would have held that job already for several years — it is possible Dumbledore started him assisting the then incumbent in that position when he was expelled from Hogwarts, in his third year at age 14. Harry trusts Hagrid, within the limits of his understanding of Hagrid's abilities; it is not a great stretch to believe that James trusted him as much.
Also of note: The flying motorbike Hagrid arrives on actually belongs to Harry's godfather, Sirius Black, who was falsely implicated in and later imprisoned for the Potters', Peter Pettigrew's, and twelve Muggle bystanders' deaths. Though mentioned here, Sirius appears later in book 3.
One of the characteristics of this series of books that makes it interesting is the connections throughout the series; seemingly insignificant characters or objects appearing in one book that are then referred to in another. These indicate that the entire seven-book arc had been to a large extent planned out before pen first hit paper. In the interests of highlighting these areas where connections are made throughout the story arc, many chapters will contain a Connections section like this one, in which those characters and items that connect from earlier books, to later books, or within the same book can be detailed.
This first chapter of the story, of course, sets up the entire story arc, with its mentions of the evil Voldemort, our hero Harry who survived his attack, his relatives the Dursleys, and the Wizarding world. However, the following specific items, which reappear later in our story, should be specifically mentioned:
- Sirius Black will reappear as the putative villain of the third story in the series, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. He will then play roles in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
- Sirius Black's flying motorcycle will appear again in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, where it will carry Harry away from Privet Drive. It will eventually crash, and the wreckage will be transferred to Arthur Weasley's home, where he will attempt to reconstruct it.
- The "Put-outer" will appear again in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix when Alastor Moody will use it to extinguish street lights as the Advance Guard takes Harry into Headquarters. Renamed a Deluminator, it will be bequeathed to Ron in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Ron will discover that apart from its effects on lights, it also has the ability to pick up conversations in which its owner is named, and transport its owner to the conversation's location. It will be used to help Ron and Harry escape from Malfoy Manor in that book also.
- McGonagall's changing shape from human to cat and back will be revisited in in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, where we learn that this is a very difficult bit of magic called the Animagus transform. This transformation will have additional connections and ramifications, which will be discussed in that chapter.
- We will find in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows that Petunia had applied for admission to Hogwarts and been declined. This rejection very likely formed a large part of her attitude towards magic, including her denial of Harry's magic coupled with a surprising amount of awareness of the magical world.
Chapter 2: The Vanishing Glass
Almost ten years have passed since baby Harry, now nearly 11 years old, was left with the Dursleys. Harry has grown into a skinny boy with unruly black hair, and green eyes hidden behind round glasses. And he has a lightning-bolt-shaped scar on his forehead. The Dursleys' living room is filled with Dudley's photographs, while there are none of Harry, who sleeps in a spidery cupboard under the staircase.
One morning, Aunt Petunia awakens Harry, ordering him to cook breakfast. Today is Dudley's birthday, and everything must be perfect. The kitchen table is loaded with presents. The overweight Dudley is a bully who enjoys punching Harry, though he is rarely able to catch him. Dudley enters the kitchen, and is about to throw a tantrum after counting one fewer present than last year. Petunia only narrowly averts the tantrum by quickly promising to buy Dudley two more presents that day, thereby bringing the total to 39.
The Dursleys are taking Dudley to the zoo for his birthday, but they learn that Mrs. Figg, their cat-obsessed neighbour who usually watches Harry, has broken her leg and is unavailable. They discuss what to do with their nephew, while Dudley wails that he does not want Harry to come along. However, Dudley's friend, Piers Polkiss, arrives and the Dursleys are left with no other option than to let Harry tag along. Uncle Vernon sternly warns Harry that if any "funny business" occurs he will be in the cupboard until Christmas. (Strange things seem to happen around Harry, and the Dursleys refuse to believe he did not cause them.)
Uncle Vernon becomes angry when Harry mentions dreaming about a flying motorcycle. The zoo goes well at first, and Harry even gets some ice cream. In the reptile house, Harry has a conversation with a large boa constrictor. When Dudley pushes Harry aside so he can see the snake's strange behaviour, the glass enclosing the snake exhibit vanishes. The snake slithers out, thanking Harry and saying that it will go to its natural environment in Brazil.
In the car, Dudley and Piers greatly exaggerate their snake encounter, claiming it attacked them. Back home, a furious Uncle Vernon sends Harry to his cupboard and is not allowed to have any meals for a week. As Harry lies inside, thinking, he remembers faint images of a flashing green light and pain in his forehead. He also recalls how occasionally, when he is out with the Dursleys, odd-looking people seem to recognize him.
It is immediately clear that Harry is unlike other boys, a fact not only known to Vernon and Petunia, but one they are uncomfortable with. The abusive Dursleys have treated him as little more than a slave, showing him no affection, or even the slightest respect. Despite this ill-treatment, however, Harry is neither timid nor bitter, and is generally cheerful and kind, unlike his cousin Dudley, who is being shaped into a cruel, egotistical bully by his parents' overindulgence, and whose name reflects his personality (a dud). Harry's early traits show the admirable attributes which are so vital to his destiny.
Harry's magical talents are seen burgeoning here, as he makes the glass partition at the zoo disappear and converses with the snake (the latter is explained more fully in this book's successor, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets). The author has said that this uncontrolled magical ability is normal for wizard children who are still unable to control their powers. Like other Muggle-raised wizard children, Harry knows nothing about these talents, likely making their effect even more disturbing and potentially harmful to those around them. Strangely, however, Harry hardly seems frightened by these bizarre incidents, and only casually questions them. This suggests that he innately accepts magic, and perhaps has an unconscious awareness about his true wizard nature. His enforced isolation from the wizardly world and much of the muggle world also gives him little reference as to what is considered "normal", though this would probably change as he matured, eventually realizing he is quite different from other people.
Harry has also started experiencing residual memories about his parents' deaths, though he was told they were killed in a car crash. The flying motorcycle in his dream is obviously the one Hagrid used to transport him to the Dursleys, and the green flash he recalls, though as yet unexplained, is also likely linked to those events. Harry will almost certainly experience more memories about that fateful night as he matures.
- Why did Dudley pretend to cry?
- Why did Dudley stop his fake crying when his friend arrived?
- Why do the Dursleys take Harry with them to the zoo, rather than just leave him at home?
- What strange things tend to happen around Harry?
- What do the strange things happening around Harry reveal about his character? What does he think about it?
- Why can a snake talk to Harry?
- Why would strangers on the street seem to recognize Harry?
- Why does Harry dream about a flying motorbike? Why would this make Uncle Vernon angry?
The scene with the snake could foreshadow events in the next two chapters. Harry and the snake are both prisoners, cut off from the world they truly belong: Harry, stuck with the Dursleys, is isolated from the Wizarding world, just as the snake, captive in the zoo, is prevented from living in the Amazon jungle. Also, both having been raised away from their true homes, lack knowledge about their native worlds. Each in turn is released from their prison, and heads toward an unknown future, somehow believing that it must be better than what they are leaving behind.
We learn here about Harry's ability to speak to snakes, a fact that becomes important in future books. A wizard who is able to speak to snakes is called a Parselmouth, and the language itself is called Parseltongue. Being Muggle-raised, Harry does not know just how rare this ability is, and is dismayed to learn that it is linked with the descendants of Salazar Slytherin. It will be a plot point in two later books, also, that Harry is not conscious of whether he is speaking and hearing English or Parseltongue.
The speaking with snakes, and the disappearing glass, are only the latest manifestations of Harry's magical background; we have also, in this chapter, read about flying to a rooftop to avoid a beating from Dudley's gang, hair that grew back overnight, and a jumper (sweater) that shrunk impossibly when Aunt Petunia was trying to fit it onto Harry. While it seems that these early magical signs could be the trigger that puts Albus Dumbledore's great plan into action, we must recall that Harry is about to turn 11. It is when magical children turn that age that they are invited to attend Hogwarts, which they begin the September that follows their eleventh birthday. The author has stated that Hogwarts is the only Wizarding school in the United Kingdom, thus every magical child will receive the opportunity to attend when he or she reaches 11. Not all children do attend; some, like Marvolo Gaunt, who we will meet later in the series, likely would never have entrusted the established school system with their children. Others may attend a school in another country. Draco Malfoy, Harry's future nemesis, mentions that he almost went to Durmstrang, a school hidden somewhere in Eastern Europe, and a place Harry will likely wish Draco had attended.
As the story progresses, Harry's personal qualities, as well as his flaws, are continually seen as he matures into a young man. Whereas Harry develops into a well-rounded person, the Dursleys are always depicted as rather two-dimensional, uncaring, and unpleasant characters, whose faults are deliberately exaggerated in order to contrast Harry's good nature with the worst in human attributes.
Although Harry has no idea yet that he possesses magical powers, he is beginning to realize that he has some unusual abilities that other children lack. From later conversations Harry has with Muggle-born wizard children, it appears that their families were generally unaware the Wizarding world existed until their child was old enough to attend Hogwarts. The parents, who probably realized their child was somehow different, generally are quite shocked upon learning they have a magical offspring. It is unknown why Muggle parents are apparently never told about the magical world prior to their child's eleventh birthday. At least some Muggle-born magical children may show no overt magical ability until they are older, and therefore remain undetected by the Wizarding community. Harry, however, discovers that the Dursleys have always known that he is a wizard, and not only deliberately withheld this information, but attempted to suppress his magical ability. Harry also learns his parents were wizards and were murdered, rather than killed in a car crash as the Dursleys told him. Harry will discover even later that Aunt Petunia knows far more about the Wizarding world than she has ever let on, even to her husband.
Under the pretext of explaining why the Dursleys fear leaving Harry home alone, we learn how he previously used magic before knowing he was a wizard, basically in self-defence. This story is a contrast to the tale in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince of how the young boy, Tom Riddle (later known as Lord Voldemort), used his powers to terrorize other children prior to learning he was a wizard. This comparison between the two characters adds another layer to the good vs. evil theme.
Mrs. Figg, who like many characters in this series is introduced by name before being seen in person, is the Dursleys' odd neighbour who occasionally watches Harry. Although she appears to be an unlikeable person, she is actually tied to the wizard world (though she has no magical powers), and works for Professor Dumbledore, helping to guard Harry. She is also a member of the Order of the Phoenix, Dumbledore's secret organization that fights Voldemort. Another character, Aunt Marge, who is Vernon's sister, is also mentioned by name in this chapter. Unlike Mrs. Figg, she actually is very unpleasant, as will be seen in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, where she has a small, but pivotal role in one chapter.
- Sirius Black's flying motorcycle, initially seen in the previous chapter, is very likely the motorcycle that Harry dreams about.
- The green flashes in Harry's dream likely also are the wand flashes of Voldemort killing Harry's mother and attempting to kill Harry.
- Harry's ability to talk to snakes will form a major plot point in the next book, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. It will also be key to Harry understanding an episode at the Gaunt shack in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, and will be the technique used to open a locket in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Harry's being unaware of whether he is speaking English or Parseltongue will be key to an episode in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows as well. In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Ron is able to use Harry's Parseltongue ability to open the Chamber of Secrets, repeating from memory what he once heard Harry speaking.
- Mrs. Figg will turn out to be tied to the Wizarding world, not only knowing about Harry's situation, but having the job of monitoring Harry's progress and reporting problems to Professor Dumbledore.
Chapter 3: The Letters From No One
Harry is finally released from the cupboard after being punished for the boa constrictor episode. The summer holiday has started and Dudley and his friends harass Harry daily, enjoying their favorite sport, "Harry Hunting". Dudley has been accepted to Uncle Vernon's old public school (US: private school), Smeltings, whereas Harry will be going to a local comprehensive (US:public school), Stonewall High.
In July, Petunia takes Dudley shopping for his school apparel. The next morning Harry finds his aunt dyeing Dudley's old clothes grey, to make Harry a "school uniform". As everyone sits down for breakfast, the mail arrives. Harry and Dudley have a short argument over who must retrieve the mail. Harry loses. Picking up the mail, Harry sees a letter addressed to him:
- Mr. H. Potter
- The Cupboard under the Stairs
- 4 Privet Drive
- Little Whinging
Harry has never received a letter before and is unsure who sent it. The envelope is a thick, heavy, yellow parchment with a strange wax seal on the back. Uncle Vernon snatches the letter from Harry as he tries to read it. Vernon is shocked by the letter's content and immediately sends Dudley and Harry from the kitchen so he and Petunia can discuss it. Dudley and Harry listen to the conversation through the keyhole and the gap under the door, and overhear them decide to ignore the letter.
Uncle Vernon moves Harry into Dudley's second bedroom, but day after day, more letters arrive for Harry, now addressed to him in, "The Smallest Bedroom", despite Vernon's attempts to block them. Vernon refuses to allow Harry to have the letters. On Sunday, when Uncle Vernon is certain no post will be delivered, letters begin streaming from the fireplace. Deciding enough is enough, Vernon packs everyone into the car, and drives all day to a run-down hotel on some small town's outskirts. The next day "about a hundred letters" arrive at the hotel addressed to Harry. Next, Uncle Vernon finds a rickety old shack on a rocky island off the coast, accessible only by boat. As they settle in for the night, Harry stares at Dudley's watch, counting down the minutes to midnight and his eleventh birthday. A storm is raging, but Harry thinks he hears something else outside the shack. Just as he counts the final second to his birthday a huge BOOM shakes the shack. Something is pounding on the door.
Harry is astounded to receive a letter formally addressed to him. Having been treated as a non-entity his entire life, this is among the few times he has been singled out as an individual, though he is unable to fathom who could have sent it or why. He becomes even more determined to learn the letter's contents and its sender's identity. Harry has little idea that unknown persons have already determined that he will indeed receive his letter, whatever it takes and despite the Dursleys' feeble attempts to prevent it. When the letters begin arriving non-stop and en masse, Harry, even with his limited worldly knowledge, must suspect that this is hardly a normal occurrence, though he is certainly unable to explain just what is happening. By now, he, and we, suspect that there is some extraordinary magical means underway here, though it is still unknown just what that is.
Uncle Vernon’s panicked attempts to block, then outrun, the letters are not only futile, but analogous to those who ignore facts and deny reality. Avoiding unpleasant truths, and the belief that refusing to admit something must therefore mean it is untrue, is a common human weakness. While this can provide some immediate, though short-term comfort, like the letters bursting from the fireplace, the truth tends to return and strike you full force in the face. Unfortunately, this is a lesson Vernon Dursley resists learning, as determined denial and brutish ignorance are key components to his character. As the Dursleys frantically attempt to hide, an enjoyably tense, moody atmosphere builds, almost as if Harry's true identity and destiny are rushing toward him, no matter how hard and far the Dursleys try outrunning it. In an almost Gothic-type setting, on a remote island, in the dark night, and amid a raging storm, the tension mounts until "BOOM!" it slams into the door—the truth finally catching the Dursleys; nothing in their lives, or Harry's, will ever be the same again.
As mentioned in Chapter 1, there are a few places in the series where days and dates do not line up. We have already seen that this book covers events largely in 1991 and 1992. The Dursleys leave Privet Drive for the hotel on Sunday, leave the hotel and drive to the island on Monday (Dudley complains because he is missing The Great Humberto on TV), and so Harry's birthday falls on Tuesday. However, July 31, 1991 is a Wednesday. This trivial error does not truly affect the story in any way, and is included here more as a curiosity than as something for the scholar to concern himself with.
- Why does Uncle Dursley move Harry out of the cupboard and into Dudley's smaller bedroom? What might Dudley think about this?
- Why do the Dursleys leave town? Does Vernon really believe this will help?
- How could the letters' sender know where Harry's room/place is at any given moment?
- Why do the Dursleys refuse to let Harry read his letter? Do they know who is sending the letters and why? If so, how would they know?
- Who might be sending these letters? Why?
- Who or what could be pounding on the island hut's door?
Readers can see how far the Dursleys will go to appear normal to their neighbors and avoid drawing attention to themselves, although their actions are anything but normal. Their obsessive need to maintain this facade is why they often hide Harry in his room, including when they are entertaining guests early in the next book, and it is also the reason they never carry out their threat to throw him out of their house after the dramatic events at the beginning of Harry's fifth year.
The Dursleys' trait of attempting to eliminate unpleasant truths by ignoring or denying them, which we see in this chapter, is not, it should be noted, restricted to Muggles. We will see the same behaviour in the Wizarding world throughout Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, where the Ministry of Magic will use the same technique to try to refute the return of Voldemort.
It is interesting to note that Vernon's actions during this chapter and the next are a reasonable depiction of someone suffering a stress-related nervous breakdown. Vernon has spent ten years trying to suppress the knowledge that Harry is a wizard, and now sees that effort crashing down around him as the letters from the Wizard world start appearing. And here, we see the author's sense of humour showing, as she has Vernon using a piece of fruitcake as a hammer, and has letters appear inside eggshells.
Chapter 4: The Keeper of the Keys
BOOM! The loud knocking continues outside the door. Vernon rushes in with a rifle as the door is smashed in. A huge man with a bearded face enters. He twists Uncle Vernon's gun barrel like a pretzel, sits down and wishes Harry happy birthday, then gives him a squished cake. The giant makes himself at home, starts a fire, and makes tea and cooks sausages. He introduces himself as Rubeus Hagrid, Keeper of Keys and Grounds at Hogwarts. Hagrid is dismayed that the Dursleys revealed nothing to Harry about his past or about his parents, and furious that Harry was told that his mother and father died in a car crash. Hagrid explains that Harry is a wizard, a very famous wizard. He presents Harry his letter, now addressed to him at the shack. The letter invites Harry to attend Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
Hagrid sends an owl to Professor Dumbledore saying he found Harry and will be taking him to get his school supplies. Petunia begins ranting and Harry learns that she and Uncle Vernon have always known about his past. Hagrid tells Harry about a Dark wizard named Voldemort (though Hagrid seems to have enormous difficulty saying the name, apparently afraid), who ten years ago (when Harry was only one-year-old) tracked down and murdered Harry's parents, James and Lily Potter. He also tried to kill Harry, but failed, and left Harry the scar on his forehead. Asked what happened to Voldemort, Hagrid tells Harry no one is certain, but something happened to him (on the Hallowe'en night he tried to kill Harry) that drove him into hiding.
Harry questions whether he is really a wizard, but Hagrid asks whether he ever made things happen when he was angry or scared. Harry remembers things he had done, most recently the boa constrictor, and smiles. Uncle Vernon interrupts, saying Harry is not attending a magic school. Harry is angry that his aunt and uncle knew he was a wizard, as were his parents, and that they lied about how James and Lily died. Vernon then insults Albus Dumbledore, calling him a crackpot. Hagrid, infuriated, uses his umbrella (apparently containing his wand) to give Dudley a pig's tail. The Dursleys scramble into the other room, terrified. Hagrid asks Harry to avoid mentioning to anyone at Hogwarts that he performed magic, as he is forbidden to use it, though he was allowed to use some only while on his mission to retrieve Harry. Hagrid explains that he was expelled from Hogwarts during his third year, though he changes the subject when Harry questions him further. It is late, and Hagrid says they have much to do the next day. At that they go to sleep, Hagrid on the couch, Harry under Hagrid's huge coat on the floor.
Without realizing it, Harry has reached the most significant milestone in his life thus far: his 11th birthday. Hagrid's arrival on that day not only liberates Harry from his miserable existence, it has given him knowledge about himself that, though he may have realized later, he never had imagined before. He is also empowered to stand up against the abusive Dursleys—forever altering their relationship; from here on, his life will never be the same. Now Harry is empowered to make choices that will determine his destiny. He alone decides whether to stay with the Dursleys or attend Hogwarts, leaving behind the Muggle world where he subconsciously felt he never belonged. By choosing Hogwarts, Harry shows his budding maturity and independence, and also a new ability to chart his own life's course. Later in the series, Harry develops a reluctance to put his faith into the unknown, but this time he unhesitatingly believes this is his true path, and that nothing could be worse than what he already must endure. He trusts Hagrid to lead him on those first tentative steps. Harry is livid that his aunt and uncle hid the truth, as adults often do to protect children, though the Dursleys' were entirely spurred by hate and resentment, rather than any attempt to shield a child from something unpleasant or hurtful. The obstinate Dursleys' refusal to allow Harry to attend Hogwarts is clearly intended to deny him what they know he wants most. Even though the Dursleys detest Harry's presence, and his departure would alleviate much unwanted responsibility for his care, they want to keep him at home purely to be spiteful, though Petunia may have an additional reason. This time, however, the choice is Harry's alone, and he opts to leave the Muggle world (and the Dursleys) behind, though we expect he will periodically revisit Privet Drive, at vacations and other times when the school is closed, until he reaches adulthood.
As an astonished Harry learns about his true past and how his parents actually died, we learn more about what happened the night Lord Voldemort came to Godric's Hollow. We sense the dread most wizards feel for Voldemort, or even the terror his name alone evokes, despite his being defeated ten years before. This lingering apprehension seems to indicate that the Wizarding world may still be uncertain that Voldemort is truly dead and whether he can or will return. Harry lacks this fear, perhaps because he was never conditioned to it like other Wizards have been over the years. Instead, he comes to consider Voldemort as his foe, but not an invincible one.
A central theme to these books is prejudice, divisiveness, and fear of the unknown. This chapter, particularly Petunia's tirade, shows a biased view from the Muggle side of the Muggle/Magic divide toward anything that is seemingly strange or different. The Dursleys' behaviour is also a classic example showing how human ignorance and fear tend to go hand-in-hand. In a vicious circle, their ignorance perpetually causes them to be frightened by magic, while that fear prevents them from developing a better understanding of it. In contrast, Harry's willingness to accept his magical nature when the evidence is presented, as well as his intuitiveness regarding his abilities, clearly indicates his open-minded intelligence.
- What does this chapter say about Aunt Petunia's character?
- Why did Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon hide Harry's secret from him?
- Do Vernon and Petunia reveal to Harry what that secret is? Why or why not?
- Why did Hagrid give Dudley a pig's tail?
- Why does Petunia seem to hate her sister, Lily?
- Can the Dursleys stop Harry from attending Hogwarts, and do they have the right to? Explain why or why not.
- Why might Hagrid have been expelled from Hogwarts? Why is he trusted with fetching Harry?
- Why is Hagrid afraid to speak Voldemort's name?
- Why were the Potters murdered?
This chapter briefly mentions Hagrid's expulsion from Hogwarts, which is an important plot element in the next book, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.
Hagrid's fear to speak Voldemort's name aloud will be echoed throughout the series, with people referring to him as, "the Dark Lord," "you-know-who", "he who must not be named", as well as other variants. This dread, though constant, is greatly reinforced in the seventh book when Voldemort places a taboo on his name, such that anyone uttering it is immediately detected and subjected to reprisals. The taboo is generally aimed at those fighting him, as they are among the few who dare speak his name, and most specifically at Harry Potter, who has become public enemy number one under Voldemort's new regime. While only speculated, it is possible that a similar taboo could have existed during Voldemort's initial reign, and that it engendered a fear of his name among the Wizarding populace. By contrast, Harry is also known by a different moniker, "the Boy Who Lived" (and later, "the Chosen One"), though none in the Wizarding world fear using his real name.
Petunia's tirade is meant to show how Muggles' fear and disdain what they are unable to fully understand. While this becomes a recurring theme in the series, Petunia's reaction is actually motivated by jealousy that her sister, Lily, was a witch, while she is not. After Lily received her Hogwarts letter, Petunia also desperately wanted to attend, but lacking any magical ability, she was forced to remain behind in the Muggle world. To console herself, she became convinced that Lily was a freak and the Wizarding world, and anything or anyone tied to it, is "abnormal", and she resolved to be as opposite from that as possible; she has since inflicted her bitter resentment and animosity onto Harry, and her refusal to allow her nephew to attend Hogwarts is a feeble attempt to deny him what she was unable to have. Fortunately, it is Harry's decision alone as to whether or not he will attend the school.
By learning his own true nature, Harry has taken the first step on the path leading to his eventual destiny. He will continue on it throughout the series, with some occasional setbacks.
- Petunia's hatred of her sister and fear of magic is introduced. It will reappear in each book in turn, though less pronounced than here, until finally the reason is revealed in the final book of the series.
- Hagrid's fear of mentioning Voldemort's name will be echoed by Ron in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. We will discover there, also, the reason for that fear.
- This is the first instance where we actually see the Wizarding mail system, owl post, being used. This recurs throughout the series.
Chapter 5: Diagon Alley
Harry awakens to an owl furiously pecking at Hagrid's coat, demanding payment for the newspaper it just delivered. Hagrid sleepily tells Harry to give the owl five Knuts, the odd-looking bronze coins stuffed inside the coat's pocket. Harry places the coins inside a small sack tied to the owl's leg and it flies off. Soon after, Harry and Hagrid set off for London, using the same boat Vernon hired to get to the island.
Muggles (non-magical folk) stare at Hagrid, scrambling to let him and Harry pass. Riding the Underground to central London, Harry and Hagrid finally arrive at an establishment called the Leaky Cauldron. Harry notices that Muggles seem oblivious to the pub in-between two other businesses. Harry suspects that only Hagrid and himself can see it.
Upon entering the dark and rather shabby pub, Harry is greeted enthusiastically by its excited patrons. Hagrid introduces Harry to Quirrell, the new Defence Against the Dark Arts instructor, who appears timid and nervous. Harry and Hagrid exit into a small courtyard behind the Leaky Cauldron. While Harry reflects on peoples' reaction to him, Hagrid taps the wall bricks with his umbrella; a hole appears, growing bigger and bigger, forming an archway. They enter into Diagon Alley, the wizard commerce district.
Harry and Hagrid walk past the many magic shops and down the street to Gringotts, the wizard bank. At Gringotts, Hagrid produces a vault key, and a note authorizing him to enter another vault on Dumbledore's behalf. After a high-speed cart ride with Griphook the Goblin (making Hagrid queasy), they reach Harry's vault, which is filled with wizard money (galleons, sickles, and knuts). Hagrid helps Harry draw enough for school supplies and expenses, and educates him on the wizard monetary system. After another cart ride, Hagrid removes the sole item inside vault #713, a small grubby parcel. Hagrid asks Harry to say nothing to anyone about this package.
Back on the surface, Hagrid helps Harry buy school supplies. In Madam Malkin's Robes for All Occasions shop, Harry meets another first-year Hogwarts student, a snobbish boy who espouses allowing only the finer Wizarding families to attend Hogwarts. Before introductions are exchanged, Harry leaves to buy books, a telescope, and a cauldron. For his birthday, Hagrid buys him a snowy owl that Harry names Hedwig. Finally, they stop at Ollivander's to purchase a wand. Mr. Ollivander, who remembers every wand he has ever sold, says Harry will know when he finds the right one. After trying out many wands, Harry picks up one made from holly; sparks flare from its tip—this is Harry's wand. Mr. Ollivander says it is brother to the wand that gave Harry his scar. Each wand's core contains one of only two tail-feathers ever donated by a particular Phoenix.
Just as Hagrid carried Harry to the Muggle world on a flying motorbike, now the gentle giant whisks him away, first by boat, then by underground rail to Diagon Alley in central London. Transportation vehicles, particularly trains, become important symbols running throughout the series. The Hogwarts Express, the train that Harry will soon ride to Hogwarts for the first time, is the means that continually shuttles him back-and-forth between the Magical and Muggle worlds, at least until he is an adult. It is rarely a smooth ride between these two realms. Other magically enhanced vehicles will come to represent Harry's escape from danger or turmoil, and his growing independence, as well as his overall journey through the series.
The parallel Wizarding society that we and Harry are introduced to seems to share more similarities than differences with the Muggle world Harry is about to leave behind. Magic alone is apparently inadequate to provide for all wizards' needs, and they therefore have their own highly-organized commerce and social infrastructure that includes a bank, retail shops, government, penal system, mass media, an educational institution, and so on. Wizards actually seem to function much as Muggles—they have jobs to earn a living, buy what they need from stores, marry and raise families, and celebrate the same traditions and holidays, such as Christmas, Hallowe'en, Easter, etc. Harry quickly encounters a more negative similarity, however, when he meets Draco Malfoy, the snobbish boy in the shop, who soon becomes Harry's primary nemesis, just as Dudley is in the Muggle world, and who represents the deep class divisions and prejudices within wizard society. This becomes a major theme in the series. Even Draco's name portends this unpleasant relationship: Draco is, of course, Latin for "dragon" and Malfoy can loosely be translated as "bad faith" in French. What is quite different from Muggles, apart from magic, is the mythic beings inhabiting this clandestine world. Here we meet Goblins, and hear about Phoenixes, Dragons, Unicorns, Hags, and Vampires. This is our first intimation that these mythological creatures may have a real, parallel existence.
Wizards have secretly co-existed alongside the Muggle world for centuries. To reflect this side-by-side (and occasionally intersecting) existence with humans, the author has cleverly named the wizard business district Diagon Alley (diagonally). Its seedy, dark underbelly is Knockturn Alley (nocturnally), where many Dark wizards ply their trade or otherwise engage in unsavory or illegal activities. These dark and light areas come to represent themes of good and evil that permeate the series.
And as secret as the wizard world is kept, some Muggles, such as the Dursleys and the Grangers, need to know that it exists, while a few even marry into it, sometimes unknowingly; it is revealed later in the series that the incumbent British prime ministers communicate as needed with the Ministry of Magic, the wizard government. It should also be assumed that wizard banking must somehow be connected to human commerce so that Muggle parents can exchange their British currency for wizard galleons and sickles to buy their magical offspring basic Wizarding necessities. Fortunately, Harry has no need to exchange currency, his parents have left him a small fortune stored in Gringotts Bank. This, combined with his magical talent and celebrity, will make for a potent combination that aids Harry throughout the series. Harry, however, remains generally unaffected by wealth and fame, caring little for material possessions and shunning the spotlight; he will, however, be able to use his new-found inheritance to bolster his independence, provide all his own needs, and further distance himself from the Dursleys' control, though, unfortunately, he must remain bound to them until he is a legal adult.
Harry is amazed by Diagon Alley, but also that everyone knows who he is and that he is so readily accepted and respected by other wizards. He has been famous almost since birth, an apparent hero to an entire population, though unaware of why, or even of his own fame. Having been treated his entire life as if he barely existed, Harry's reaction to this attention is mostly astonishment at being acknowledged, and embarrassment, feeling he has done nothing special to deserve the adulation. To readers, who still lack any knowledge of why Harry is so famous, his being treated as a "hero" may seem premature, but this label might actually presage future events, as well as designating what he may or may not have already accomplished. We will also contrast Harry's behavior with another character who constantly thrives on and seeks out fame in the next book, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.
Harry remains curious regarding what Hagrid removed from vault #713. While it is unknown yet what the packet contains, there are clues that it must be valuable. Hagrid's behavior suggests this, with the deliberate care and secrecy he shows when retrieving the package, and by his asking Harry to mention nothing about what he has seen. Also, there being nothing else inside other than the packet indicates it is probably a high-security vault protecting only that one item. Storing nothing else in it prevents anyone from having a reason, other than this particular object, to access the vault. Any break-in attempt would reveal what a thief was after.
As Harry learns about the wizard world, so too does he discover more about his parents, his own past, and his relationship to Voldemort. Harry's wand plays an integral part in this relationship. A wand is a wizard's most important possession; without it, it is nearly impossible to perform magic. Ollivander tells Harry that the wand chooses the wizard, and a unique bond is indeed created between it and its owner; this ability to choose the wizard indicates wands may be somewhat sentient. The wood type and the core material apparently also play a part in this bonding process. Harry's wand, for example, is holly, a wood traditionally thought to repel evil, while a Phoenix is associated with purity and resurrection.
And while Harry's wand heralds his entry into the Wizarding world, its being related to the Dark Lord makes Harry uneasy. Not only does it tie him to his enemy, it may foreshadow his destiny. That it was Voldemort's wand that inflicted Harry's scar and killed his mother and father, further connects him to the Dark Lord and his parents. It also represents the darker, sinister side to what had initially seemed to readers like a magical paradise; the wizard world actually may be far more dangerous than the unhappy Muggle one Harry is leaving behind. And while Ollivander may see the connection between the two wands as an indication that Harry will be a great wizard, Harry is disturbed by sharing even a small similarity to a wizard universally regarded as evil, further evidence of Harry's admirable character.
- Hagrid says that the Wizarding monetary system is simple. Is it?
- Why is there such an excited reaction to Harry when he enters the Leaky Cauldron with Hagrid?
- Why does Mr Ollivander believe Harry will be a great wizard? What does Harry think about his opinion and why?
- Harry and Hagrid leave the island by using the same boat that Vernon hired to get there. If Hagrid flew there, and he and Harry take the only boat on the entire island back to the mainland, then how did the Dursleys return home?
- Hagrid says he flew to the island. Apparently, wizards can only fly with equipment such as a broom, a flying vehicle, or a magic carpet. How could Hagrid fly there, and why did he not fly back with Harry?
- How did the letters' sender know that Harry had been moved into the second bedroom, and how was Hagrid able to find Harry on the island?
- How and why does a wand "choose" a wizard?
- Why would the "brother" to Voldemort's wand "choose" Harry?
- Considering how secret the wizard world is kept, why would someone as noticeable as Hagrid be sent to collect Harry and escort him through Central London to Diagon Alley?
- Why was nothing except the one small package kept in vault #713 at Gringotts Bank? Why does Hagrid ask Harry to say nothing about it?
- Compare and contrast the Wizarding and Muggle worlds. How are they different and how are they similar?
- What does the conversation between Harry and the boy in Madam Malkin's Robe shop reveal about wizard society?
- Even though the wizard world is carefully hidden, there appear to be connections and interactions between it and Muggle society. Give examples of what these connections might be and explain why they would be necessary.
The "small, grubby parcel" that Hagrid removes from the vault is the titular Philosopher's Stone (US: Sorcerer's Stone), which will be central to this book's plot. Harry, with his limited classical education, is unable to understand why this Stone is so prized, but a classmate, Hermione Granger, will explain it to him.
Hagrid marvels at the things Muggles have come up with in order to live without magic. The reader who is paying attention will note that with a very few exceptions (indoor plumbing, for example, and artificial illumination in some cases), the Wizarding world is not using any technology at all more recent than the invention of the printing press. It is uncertain why wizards have chosen to keep these older ways of doing things. Hermione later comments that the magical field around Hogwarts is so strong that technology simply doesn't work; this cannot be the reason that Wizarding households avoid technology, because technology still works perfectly around strong wizards like Harry and Hermione in their Muggle homes. It is possible that wizards feel that magic is more reliable than technology, or, especially in a certain segment of the wizard population, it may be a point of pride to avoid anything Muggle-made.
Harry's humility is shown here. While this character trait continually serves him well, it becomes masked by his unique position as "the Boy Who Lived". Harry will thwart Voldemort repeatedly, until gradually, he comes to believe that only he can accomplish certain feats regarding the Dark Lord. Close examination will reveal that while he somewhat accepts his designation as a hero, he never capitalizes on his status; rather, it becomes an increasing obligation (and burden). Late in the series, the Ministry of Magic publicly begins calling him The Chosen One, as it attempts to exploit him in a weak and misguided effort to show the public they are actually doing "something" to fight Voldemort. Despite being thrust into the limelight in this manner, Harry avoids exploiting his fame for personal gain, instead shunning it to continue the near-impossible mission fate has tasked him with, lending further evidence that he is destined to become the classic hero.
It is mentioned that Ollivander's window display contains only a single wand on a cushion. We discover later, notably in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, that Voldemort has been hunting artifacts belonging to the four Hogwarts Founders to make into Horcruxes. It has been speculated that the wand in Ollivander's window might be Rowena Ravenclaw's. While this may seem related to Ollivander's disappearance in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, the lost Ravenclaw artifact, a Diadem (tiara), was actually found and made into a Horcrux by Voldemort, many years before he encountered Harry.
Griphook, the Goblin, and Mr. Ollivander, the wand maker, are introduced here. Both will play significant roles in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Ollivander's claim that, "The wand chooses the Wizard" is a key plot point in the larger story, and particularly significant in book 7. It is possible that Harry's wand, related to the one the Dark Lord owns, chose him because it recognized Voldemort's soul shard that Harry carries within him, though no one, not even Voldemort, knows it exists.
Harry and Voldemort's wands are considered "brothers" even though they are different woods. According to the author, Harry's wand is holly, a wood traditionally believed to repel evil. Voldemort's wand is yew, a long-lived tree that also represents death and resurrection. What bonds them are their identical magical cores: Phoenix tail feathers. A Phoenix is a mythical bird that repeatedly dies by bursting into flames, then is reborn from its own ashes. Harry will learn that the particular Phoenix who donated only these two feathers is Fawkes, Dumbledore's animal familiar. Fawkes saves Harry's life in the next book, and also heals his wound in book 4. The provenance of the magical core within his wand becomes vitally important in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
- It is revealed here that Harry's wand and Voldemort's are brothers, having cores made from the only two feathers provided by one particular phoenix, later identified as Dumbledore's animal familiar, Fawkes. The effect of Harry's and Voldemort's wands being brothers will be seen in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, and explained as being the Priori Incantatem effect in a later chapter of the same book. Issues arising out of the two wands being brothers will drive one of the many subplots in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
- The Philosopher's Stone, of course, will power much of this book. It will be mentioned again in the final book. During the discussion of the Deathly Hallows, Hermione will argue that the Resurrection Stone is clearly impossible, and so must be a misinterpretation of the Philosopher's Stone, which they know exists.
- We find out that Hagrid was expelled from Hogwarts and his wand was snapped; we also learn that the pieces, apparently still functional, are hidden in his umbrella. Hagrid using this umbrella to perform magic is seen again in the next book.
- The Wizarding newspaper that Hagrid evidently subscribes to, the Daily Prophet, will reappear multiple times in the series, as will the Ministry of Magic, whose activities he complains about.
- Places seen for the first time in this chapter will reappear multiple times in the series. We will see Quality Quidditch Supplies and the Apothecary each time Harry goes shopping for supplies. Locations that are more significantly connected:
- Harry will spend the end of his school break in the Leaky Cauldron in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.
- Flourish and Blotts will reappear in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, where Harry first meets Gilderoy Lockhart, and a physical altercation occurs between Mr. Weasley and Lucius Malfoy. It is also the site where Harry later discovers the mythology behind the Grim in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.
- Madam Malkin's, where Harry first encounters Draco Malfoy, will be the scene of an argument between Narcissa Malfoy and Hermione in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.
- Harry will determine that it is necessary to break in to Bellatrix Lestrange's vault at Gringotts Bank in the final book in the series.
- The goblin, Griphook, who escorts Harry and Hagrid to the vaults will be conscripted to assist Harry in the break-in mentioned above.
Chapter 6: The Journey from Platform Nine and Three Quarters
Back at the Dursleys', Harry must wait out the month before leaving for Hogwarts. Uncle Vernon agrees to take him to London only because Dudley also has an appointment with a surgeon to have his pig's tail removed. The Dursleys leave Harry at the station, unable to find Platform 9¾ where his train is supposed to leave.
Spotting another apparent wizard family, Harry tags along to the Hogwarts Express platform. This family, who recognize him, are the Weasleys, and Harry meets three of the four Weasley children currently attending Hogwarts: Fred, George, and Ron, also a first-year, who shares a compartment with Harry. (Percy Weasley is a Prefect and so rides in the prefects' compartment.) Ron tells him about Chocolate Frogs, and the enclosed Famous Wizard cards in each package; Harry gets Albus Dumbledore's card, among others. Ron also mentions that there was a break-in at Gringotts Wizarding Bank in Diagon Alley; Harry is interested after his own recent trip there.
During the train ride, various other students stop by the compartment to introduce themselves to the famous Harry Potter. A shy boy named Neville Longbottom comes by, searching for his toad, Trevor; Hermione Granger, a rather bossy girl, arrives shortly after, helping Neville search for Trevor. She appears disdainful when Ron's attempt to cast a spell fails, causing the two boys to take a dislike to her. Later, Draco Malfoy, the boy Harry met in Madam Malkin's shop in Diagon Alley, stops by, flanked by his two friends, Crabbe and Goyle. Malfoy attempts to coerce Harry into an alliance; that fails, partially because Malfoy bad-mouths the Weasley family, who are poor. The three try to steal the snacks Harry bought, but Scabbers, Ron's pet rat, stops them by attacking Goyle. Finally, Hermione returns, saying the train is about to arrive at Hogwarts, and they should change into their school robes.
Harry's journey to a new life and an unknown future officially begins aboard the Hogwarts Express. Although he is required to periodically return to the Dursleys' home until he is of legal age, Harry's emotional ties to his erstwhile family and the Muggle world are now forever severed; it is likely that Harry will rarely, if ever, completely re-enter his former Muggle life once he becomes an adult (at age 17), permanently leaving it, and his family, behind. On the train, Harry makes many new friends, though most seem drawn by their curiosity to meet someone so famous, and likely leaving Harry a little uncomfortable that everyone already knows so much about him, while he knows nothing about them. Ron and Harry, being the same age, immediately bond, and Ron, generally unimpressed by Harry's celebrity, provides information about wizards, while Harry is able to share much about Muggles. Harry, feeling insecure and stressed, confides in Ron his worries of being the worst in the class, but Ron helps ease his misgivings. Ron will continually guide Harry (and later Hermione) about general wizard society. Harry is also reacquainted with Draco Malfoy, the snobbish boy from Diagon Alley, and meets his equally unpleasant companions, Crabbe and Goyle. By spurning Draco's offer of friendship, if it can be considered that, Harry becomes Draco's primary enemy at Hogwarts. Draco's condescending manner toward Ron and his family also gives us a closer glimpse into the lineage-related prejudice which plagues the Wizard world, and is an obsession to Voldemort and many of his followers.
Hermione Granger, making her first appearance in the series, is portrayed as a true grind – a girl whose "know-it-all" attitude is off-putting and winning her few, if any, friends, though she is likely far less confident than she hopes to appear. Harry and Ron instantly dislike her... though not as they dislike the anti-Trio—Malfoy, Crabbe, and Goyle—who they immediately despise for good reason.
- How was Harry able to tell that the Weasleys were also wizards? How do they recognize him?
- How do the students on the train react to Harry?
- Why is Harry interested in the break-in at Gringotts Bank?
- Why would Ron's rat, Scabbers, attack Goyle?
- Why would Draco attempt to befriend Harry?
- Why does Harry rebuff Draco's offer of friendship? Why does Draco react the way he does?
- Describe Hermione's character, and explain why Harry and Ron have taken a dislike to her. Are they being fair, and can their feelings about her change?
- How can Uncle Vernon convincingly explain to the surgeon how Dudley got his tail?
- Why do most students want to befriend Harry? How does Harry feel about it?
- How is Harry's budding relationship with Ron apparently different from the other students who want to befriend him?
Hermione's rigid, rule-abiding personality gradually mellows during the series; little do Harry and Ron realize how integral she will soon become to their lives, particularly Ron's. The characters' ongoing maturation, especially Hermione and Ron, and to a slightly lesser extent, Harry, significantly helps make the overall story so compelling and realistic. And while Ron finds Hermione extremely annoying and about as opposite from his personality as anyone could be, he has little idea that he has just met his one true love; their road to romance will be difficult, however.
Albus Dumbledore's "Famous Wizards" card is the key that provides a crucial clue to the riddle that needs to be solved during this book. While much of what Harry reads on Dumbledore's Chocolate Frog card will prove important to this book, it becomes even more significant in book 7. In an almost stunning amount of interconnection between the first book and the last, we discover that Grindelwald, mentioned on Dumbledore's Chocolate Frog card, was an influence on the young Dumbledore, and has a pivotal, though not central, role in the series' final book.
It is a little curious as to just why Draco Malfoy attempted to befriend Harry. Draco is already well versed in his family's "pure-blood" ethos, and presumably knows that Lord Voldemort was somehow felled by the famous Harry Potter. Whatever Draco's true motive was, it is never revealed, though it is interesting to consider what might have transpired had Harry accepted Draco's offer of friendship, and whether this would have affected his decision not to be sorted into Slytherin.
Harry's interest in the break-in at Gringotts Bank may foreshadow the episode where he, Ron, and Hermione successfully break into that very bank in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, to steal one of Voldemort's Horcruxes that is stored in the Lestrange's vault.
Also, Ron's beloved pet, Scabbers, will turn out to be something quite different than a mere rat, but readers should perhaps note here how he acts to prevent Draco and his companions from stealing Harry's and Ron's snacks.
- Later in this book, Hagrid will mention that the "small, grubby parcel" that he had taken out of Gringotts was the business only of Dumbledore and "Nicolas Flamel". Dumbledore's Famous Wizards card mentions that Dumbledore and Flamel had been working on the Philosopher's Stone. Harry will make this connection when Neville Longbottom gives him another copy of Dumbledore's Famous Wizards card later still.
- The connection between Dumbledore and Gellert Grindelwald, who is also mentioned on Dumbledore's Famous Wizards card, will be expanded in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. The duel with Grindelwald, and Dumbledore's treatise on the twelve uses of dragon's blood, will be mentioned in passing also.
- The break-in mentioned here will be expanded upon in a later chapter of this book. It will be mentioned again as Harry plans to break into Gringotts himself, in the final book. It will be partly because of this earlier break in that the goblin Griphook will agree to help them.
- This is our first view of Scabbers, who will be a pivotal character in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.
Chapter 7: The Sorting Hat
Upon reaching the castle, Hagrid hands the new students over to Professor McGonagall. In an anteroom, the students nervously wait to be sorted into school Houses. The Ghosts passing through the anteroom make Harry even more nervous. Professor McGonagall then leads them into the Great Hall, and in turn, the Sorting Hat calls out which House each student is assigned to. There are four Houses, each with specific characteristics. Slytherin is filled with ambitious, cunning witches and wizards. Ravenclaw is home to the most intelligent. Gryffindor houses only the brave, and Hufflepuff is where the most fair and honest go. It is Harry's turn, and he sits on the stool and the Sorting Hat is placed on his head; the Hat suggests quietly that Harry's intelligence, talent, and his urge to prove himself could make him great. But Harry balks when the Hat suggests Slytherin, so it instead places him in Gryffindor House. Ron and Hermione also are Sorted into Gryffindor, as well as: Neville, the boy who lost his toad; Seamus Finnigan; and Dean Thomas, who is mentioned in the US editions as being a "tall, black boy," but is not described in the book's British editions. Draco Malfoy is sorted into Slytherin. Neville later tells Harry that his family had believed he had no magical power at all until he was able to survive being dropped out of a window.
Professor Dumbledore then makes a few eccentric prefatory remarks, and the feast begins. During the feast the Gryffindor House ghost, Sir Nicholas de Mimsy-Porpington, appears. The older students know him better as Nearly Headless Nick, due to his partially severed neck that barely tethers his head to his body. As Harry scans the teacher's table, his scar throbs with pain when he sees Professor Snape, the Potions teacher, scrutinizing him. One additional Dumbledore announcement catches Harry's ear: "this year, the third floor corridor on the right-hand side is out of bounds to everyone who does not wish to die a very painful death." Harry asks Percy if Dumbledore is serious, and Percy replies that he must be.
As Percy leads the first-year Gryffindors on a convoluted path through the castle's many corridors, the wall paintings' occupants comment on the passing students. Peeves, a Poltergeist, briefly harasses them. Eventually they reach the entrance to Gryffindor tower, guarded by a portrait of a fat lady. Percy gives the password ("Caput Draconis"), and everyone heads into the common room and to their dormitories. During the night, Harry dreams about Quirrell's turban and Malfoy turning into Snape. By the next morning, Harry has forgotten the dream.
Hogwarts castle and its four Houses, Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff, Slytherin, and Gryffindor are introduced; we are also served our first taste of the rather eccentric Headmaster, Albus Dumbledore (who Harry thinks might be slightly mad), while Harry's scar may be acting as a barometer to the passing scene. Harry's fame in the Wizarding world is also further shown through the other students' excited responses to his name being called out for Sorting.
The Sorting ceremony is arguably the most important school rite that Hogwarts students participate in. It not only determines in which House they will spend their entire seven years at Hogwarts, but it reflects much about who they are and generally indicates what direction their lives may take. They will also be affected by others in their own House. These affiliations will build life-long alliances, as well as create ongoing rivalries among the Houses, though these are generally friendly; there is, however, a particular competitiveness between Gryffindor and Slytherin, two Houses that will symbolize themes of good and evil in the series, and which path, light or dark, a character chooses to follow. The four Houses are distinct and represent the individual school founders: Helga Hufflepuff, Salazar Slytherin, Rowena Ravenclaw, and Godric Gryffindor. All had varying talents and differing views, and students with similar characteristics to the founders are usually sorted into the House that best reflects those traits. The Hat sees abilities in Harry, cleverness, determination, and ambition that align with Slytherin, and could lead him to greatness, something no one has ever told Harry or that he considered about himself. Some students, like Harry, do appear to have traits suitable to more than one House, and the Sorting Hat mulls over where it should place him. Already dismayed by his connection to Voldemort, Harry immediately resists Slytherin, a House he knows is associated with Dark Wizards, as well as unpleasant students such as Draco Malfoy.
Although the Sorting Hat apparently favors putting Harry in Slytherin House, he is, of course, equally well suited to Gryffindor, which is noted for nobility and bravery, and, in many ways, seemingly opposite to Slytherin. Also, Harry's parents were both Gryffindors. Harry has certainly shown he is noble, and has already demonstrated much courage in his young life, first by standing up to the Dursleys, then by entering a strange, unknown world, and now, as he challenges the Sorting Hat. Rather than passively waiting for it to make its selection, he specifically requests not to be sorted into Slytherin. Most students probably never question or oppose which House they are assigned, and though the Hat senses Harry's talents are suitable to Slytherin, it never forces a choice on him. Instead, it entices Harry by wondering where it should place him. Harry's request shows his growing ability to consider all options and make his own decisions based on that. Even if fate has decreed that he is to one day challenge Voldemort, Harry possesses the power to affect that fate by his own design. This trait is re-emphasized in the next book and throughout the series. After some negotiating, the Hat places him in Gryffindor. It should be noted that Harry never actually requested to be in Gryffindor or the other Houses, rather he chose not to be sorted into Slytherin, a House that, to him, represents a dark path.
Despite its dark reputation, Slytherin House is not inherently evil, nor are all its students so unpleasant as Draco Malfoy and his cronies. However, that particular House does represent certain characteristics, such as ambition, power-hunger, shrewdness, slyness, etc., that Dark Wizards apparently possess in abundance. Like Harry, all Slytherins have a choice as to how they will utilize these traits and whether they will follow a light or dark path. Later in the series, a Slytherin character becomes Harry's ally.
Dumbledore's stern warning that "this year" the third-floor corridor is off limits, in addition to the package Hagrid delivered, indicates that unusual, and possibly sinister, events may be unfolding at Hogwarts. The break-in at Gringotts may be related, though Harry cannot be certain; it caught his attention purely because he had visited Gringotts a little over a month ago. Harry is beginning to tie these clues together, already suspecting that whatever Hagrid took from Gringotts is what is now being guarded on the third floor. The pain in Harry's scar when Professor Snape looks at him also convinces Harry that Snape is somehow connected to all this. Harry's keen observation and inquisitive nature are becoming apparent here, and throughout the series, he will continually need to piece information together to solve even bigger puzzles, often risking his life in the process. However, his conclusions are sometimes wrong or will lead him in the wrong direction, while his immaturity, bias, and innate stubbornness often prevent him from considering more reasonable alternatives.
Ideas are also presented on how the Wizarding realm differs from the Muggle world in which Harry had been trapped until now. Understanding how Wizard society operates here is not only appropriate for Harry's age (11), but also the details are presented in a comprehensible manner suitable for someone at that age level who is suddenly thrust into a magical world that they never knew existed. For instance, when the banquet food appears on the plates, Harry never considers who prepared it or how it got placed there. That curiosity and the resultant understanding comes in about another three years.
Harry's dream is foreshadowing this book's main plot line. The reader still knows too little to interpret this dream, but may understand that there is some connection between Quirrell's turban and the pain in Harry's scar.
- Describe what traits each Hogwarts House is known for. Do Harry, Ron, and Hermione fit Gryffindor? Based on what is known about each character, give arguments both for and against each one being sorted into Gryffindor.
- What other Houses would be suitable for Harry, Ron, and Hermione? Give examples of why they would fit there.
- Why did the Sorting Hat want to place Harry into Slytherin House? Why did it instead put him in Gryffindor?
- Why did Harry disagree with the Sorting Hat's first choice?
- Is Dumbledore actually as eccentric as he appears to be? Give reasons both for and against this characterization.
- If Harry, Ron, and Hermione had not been sorted into Gryffindor, which House would each likely be placed in? Give reasons why.
- Why would Quirrell start wearing a turban?
- Why does Harry's scar start hurting?
- What might Harry's dream mean? Why doesn't he remember it?
The byplay between Harry and the Sorting Hat becomes more germane in the second book, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, and later in illustrating the differences between Harry and Voldemort. While the Hat recognizes qualities in Harry that were unknowingly bestowed on him by a connection between him and Voldemort, it is ultimately Harry exercising his independent choice and free will that leads to him being assigned to Gryffindor. It is interesting to consider whether or not the Sorting Hat would still have considered Slytherin for Harry if this connection between him and Voldemort had never existed.
As noted in the above analysis, not all Slytherins are evil. Professor Horace Slughorn, a Hogwarts teacher who first appears in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, is also a Slytherin. He becomes Slytherin's House Head after Professor Snape apparently defects to Voldemort's side. And though Slughorn possesses many typical Slytherin traits, he always follows a light path, rejecting Voldemort's beliefs, and aligns himself with Dumbledore and Harry.
It is learned later in the series that Sirius Black, Harry's godfather, was also sorted into Gryffindor, even though his family is primarily sorted into Slytherin House and some are or were affiliated with Lord Voldemort. We do not know whether Sirius, who rejected his family's pure-blood beliefs and eventually became estranged from them, chose not to be placed in Slytherin, though we will learn that he stated a preference for Gryffindor before his own Sorting. It is possible that he, like Harry, refused the Sorting Hat's initial placement, but equally it is possible that the Hat placed him in Gryffindor of its own accord.
We are meant to believe that the exploding pain in Harry's scar is because Snape is staring at him. It is true that Snape is displeased to see him; at that distance, Snape can only see the resemblance between Harry and his father James. We learn later that James and Snape were in the same year at Hogwarts, and they were bitter antagonists. The pain in Harry's scar is because Voldemort, then riding on Quirrell's head, is either looking at Harry through Quirrell's turban, or is using Legilimency to observe the room, and has just detected Harry.
Harry's scar did not hurt when he first met Quirrell in the Leaky Cauldron, nor did Quirrell's skin burn when they shook hands there (see The Man with Two Faces), because he was not wearing the turban at the time, and hence Voldemort was not possessing him from the back of his head. Quoting from the text, at the welcoming feast, "Harry spotted Quirrell, too, the nervous young man from from the Leaky Cauldron. He was looking very peculiar in a large purple turban." (Emphasis ours.) This implies that this is the first time Harry has seen him wearing a turban.
We will learn later that the same Gringotts vault that Hagrid removed the small parcel from is the one reported as being recently broken into, which of course only adds to the mystery. We should note that Harry's visit to Gringotts is actually further in the past than it currently feels. It was on Harry's birthday, July 31, that Hagrid took Harry to Diagon Alley, and we read about the break-in at Gringotts on the Hogwarts Express, on September 1; the entire month of August falls between the two occurrences.
Harry's dream may actually foreshadow events in the entire series, rather than in just this book. It could also be an unconscious attempt by Voldemort to influence Harry's actions using Legilimency, as he will in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. While this is neither confirmed nor refuted by later events, it is unlikely that Voldemort was consciously using Legilimency; Voldemort started deliberately using Legilimency on Harry after he learned there was an existing connection at about Christmas in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. We do learn later in the series, however, that Harry gains the ability to tune into Voldemort's thoughts at will without the Dark Lord being aware. This may be an early incident where neither Harry nor Voldemort are aware it is happening.
There is also half a timeline contradiction in this book. At Nearly Headless Nick's deathday party, commemorating the five-hundredth anniversary of his death, in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, his death is stated to have been on 1492-10-31. However, in this chapter, Nearly Headless Nick states that he has been dead for nearly 400 years. It is assumed that this is an error by the author, which was changed in later editions by having Nick say that he has been dead for nearly 500 years.
As mentioned in the Greater Picture section for that Deathday Party chapter, Nearly Headless Nick's death date can determine a timeline for the entire series, leading us to all the book's specific dates. However, this timeline is not critical to this series plot or events, as it only affects the interactions between events in the books and the Muggle world, which are few.
The other teachers' reaction to Dumbledore's announcing the School Song has led many fan sites to question whether its failure to appear in subsequent volumes was due to the teachers rebelling against it. The author has said that "Dumbledore called for the school song when he was feeling particularly buoyant, but times are becoming ever darker in the Wizarding world." It is also true that the School Song, which was entertaining when we heard it initially, would not be equally so if it was re-introduced. This also may be the reason that we so seldom are present at the Sorting, to keep the Hat's annual song from becoming tedious.
- Harry's resisting the Sorting Hat's initial placement will be the reason for Dumbledore's later making one of the series' major guiding aphorisms. In Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Dumbledore will say, "It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities." This will be demonstrated again, first in the person of James Potter as revealed in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, and then later in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, this time about Dumbledore himself.
Chapter 8: The Potions Master
Harry's first few days at Hogwarts are trying indeed, and the students constantly staring at him makes him nervous and uncomfortable. The huge castle is convoluted, and Harry and Ron repeatedly get lost on their way to class, making them late, or they are caught as they are accidentally about to enter forbidden areas, putting them (on their first day at Hogwarts) on the caretaker, Argus Filch's bad side. And the lessons are difficult.
Harry meets his teachers: Professor Sprout for Herbology, Professor Binns for History of Magic, and Professor Flitwick for Charms. He also has Professor McGonagall for Transfiguration, and Professor Quirrell for Defence Against the Dark Arts, though of course he has met them before.
At breakfast on Friday, Harry receives his first owl post message, from Hagrid, inviting him to tea after class. Harry then attends his first Potions class with Professor Snape, a double-length class shared with Slytherin first-years. Class does not go well, with Snape singling Harry out, and ridiculing him for his limited magical knowledge. Snape, who apparently dislikes Harry's celebrity status, is continually harder on Harry than even the other Gryffindors in the class. In particular, when Neville melts the cauldron he shares with Seamus, Snape unjustly holds Harry partly responsible and penalizes Gryffindor House one point.
When Harry (and Ron) arrive at Hagrid's hut for tea, Harry finds a clipping from the Daily Prophet mentioning the Gringotts Wizarding Bank break-in. Hagrid refuses to discuss it, and Harry concludes that the burglarized vault was the same one Hagrid emptied during their trip to Diagon Alley.
Many Hogwarts teachers are introduced, at least those who become substantial characters in this and future books. While most teachers are delighted to have Harry Potter in their classes, Snape, hardly impressed, singles out Harry to unfairly ridicule or reproach him. This becomes an ongoing occurrence throughout the series, and it appears here that Snape's behavior is fueled by his resentment over Harry's fame. This idea is reinforced in the next book, where Snape's negative reaction to a celebrity teacher is also seen. Only later is it learned why Snape resents Harry so much, and their mutual animosity grows throughout the series.
In Harry's conversation with Hagrid, we can see Harry's natural urge to understand and investigate, a quality that will equip him to solve (with help) the many mysteries put before him throughout his seven-year story. This innate curiosity may be leading him to the forbidden third-floor corridor, determined to discover what lies hidden within, though his attempt to open that door in this chapter is apparently purely accidental.
Meanwhile, Harry's first days at Hogwarts are somewhat stressful as he copes with a new environment, unwanted fame, and his discomfort over other students constantly staring at him. Overall, though, he is happy, and there is no other place he would rather be: hero-worship, unwelcome as it may be, is a form of acceptance, and is far better than what he receives at home. In addition to adjusting to his new magical life and struggling a bit with his studies, he also learns more about wizard society as he becomes acquainted with his classmates. His initial impression may have been that all wizards were pretty much alike, though Draco Malfoy, in Diagon Alley, gave an early indication that at least some social differences exist. Harry quickly learns more about wizard backgrounds, and that some, like the Malfoys and the Weasleys, are pure blood, while others are half-bloods like Harry, whose father was a pure-blood Wizard while his mother was a Muggle-born witch like Hermione, with no magical family. Seamus Finnigan is also considered a half-blood, with one magical parent (his mother), and the other (his father) a Muggle. Neville Longbottom is pure-blood, though his family feared he had no magical ability whatsoever until the ability appeared later in his childhood. Even among pure-blood families there are class differences, as seen by how the Malfoys consider the Weasleys inferior because they are poor and have different views regarding Muggles and Muggle-born wizards. At Hogwarts, all students are treated equally, regardless of what their individual backgrounds are, and they are supposed to be judged solely on talent and performance rather than their lineage and connections. There are, however, wizards, mostly Slytherins, that believe "pure" bloodlines are superior to mixed ones, and some, like the Malfoys, advocate that only the old, pure-blood wizard families should be allowed to attend Hogwarts and study magic. These prejudicial beliefs become an increasingly prominent theme throughout the series.
The exact date that Gringotts was broken into is also learned; the clipping on Hagrid's table states it occurred on 31 July, the same day Harry was in Diagon Alley. It is from this that Harry concludes that the thief was after Hagrid's "grubby little parcel".
- Why does Hagrid invite Harry to tea?
- Why do the students stare at Harry? How does this make Harry feel?
- What does Harry learn about the different kinds of wizards there are. How does he fit into this social division?
- Why didn't Snape call on Hermione when she raised her hand?
- Why does Snape seem to dislike Harry so much?
- What makes Harry so convinced that the vault that was burglarized at Gringotts is the same one Hagrid removed the package from?
Snape's ongoing dislike for Harry is a main feature throughout the series. Harry's first-ever Potions class with Snape actually foreshadows events in the upcoming books. In his introduction, Snape says he can teach the students to, "brew fame, bottle fortune, and even stopper death." (The US book has a slightly different wording; see below.) This scene's many connections, as described below, to later parts of the series, had led many fans to speculate, following the events in the sixth book's conclusion, that Dumbledore and Snape conspired to fake Dumbledore's death. In fact, the potion mentioned had been used in that book, though we do not discover that until late in the final book; Snape had prevented or delayed Dumbledore's death caused by his touching a cursed ring. The discussion of aconite or monkshood, and the associated Draught of Living Death, reappear in the sixth book, first when Professor Slughorn has Harry's class brew this potion, and possibly (in the US edition only) atop the Astronomy tower, when Dumbledore attempts to convince Draco to switch sides, and tells him that can make Draco and all his family appear to be dead. (The reader should note that there is no immediate connection to the Wolfsbane Potion that appears in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban; that is a completed potion, and apparently a complex one, while the Wolfsbane mentioned here is a potion ingredient.) The Bezoar that Snape asks Harry to describe will play a small role in the fourth book, and a much larger one in the sixth book.
In the book's British and Canadian versions, Snape's wording in the scene mentioned above, "and even stopper death," is somewhat ambiguous; some readers have suggested that it means placing death in a bottle. This seems overly simplistic, as poisons are so common, both in the Muggle and Wizarding worlds, that they hardly merit mention. The more likely meaning is to prevent Death from acting, stoppering it inside a bottle. In the US / Scholastic version of the books, this phrase appears instead as "and even put a stopper to death." As we learn later in the series, the US version of Snape's speech is better aligned with his actual meaning, though many editors feel that the original British wording is more elegant.
Harry and Ron constantly getting lost shows the castle's magical qualities and its overall enormity. Hogwarts harbors countless secrets, many that become important later in the series. Because the castle is so confusing, Harry, Ron, Neville, and Hermione will later end up in the third floor corridor; escaping Filch, they enter that corridor by accident, and will thereby learn something very important to the overall story.
Although Neville says his family believed he might have been a "Muggle", a more accurate description would be a "Squib." Without specifically mentioning yet what exactly they are, the author appears to be dropping a hint regarding their existence in wizard society. It will be learned later that Squibs are born into wizard families, but through some genetic quirk, lack any magical ability. In addition to the pure-bloods, half-bloods, and Muggle-borns noted in the above "Analysis" section, Squibs are yet another, though tiny, division within that social order. They are polar opposite to Muggle-borns, born into a family that they are completely different from. Unlike Muggle-borns, who are identified early on and brought into wizard society, Squibs are often treated as outcasts, and encouraged to integrate themselves into Muggle society. Having been raised in a purely magical household, however, a Squib would likely find it difficult to adapt to Muggle society, and have the additional burden of hiding their wizard affiliations.
Readers also learn later that Mrs. Figg, Harry's odd Privet Drive neighbor, and Mr. Filch, are both Squibs who function within the Wizarding world despite lacking magical powers. Neville's family employed extreme lengths to coax out any magical powers he might possess, most likely fearing the social stigma that having a Squib family member, particularly a pure-blood one, generates. As extreme (and downright silly and dangerous) as their attempts were to prove otherwise, it finally resulted in Neville showing that he is indeed a wizard, though it initially appears his magical ability is rather weak. However, this changes as the series progresses, mostly due to Harry's patient efforts.
Ironically, Neville's family may have created his problems, though their intentions were good. It will be learned that Neville's parents, who were Aurors (Dark wizard catchers), were tortured into insanity by Voldemort's Death Eaters. Neville's relatives may have applied strong memory charms to alleviate Neville's painful recollections about this traumatic event. Unfortunately, these charms, applied too strongly or liberally, can damage a wizard's mental and magical abilities, perhaps permanently, particularly in one so young. Another character, Bertha Jorkins, later in the series, will suffer a similar affliction after Bartemius Crouch casts a powerful memory charm on her to erase some very damaging information, though he, unconcerned about inflicting lasting injury, probably used little restraint. Neville's and Bertha's similar conditions suggests there may be some similarity in their causes.
Considering the connections between Harry and Neville, revealed in the fifth book, it is interesting to note that they are polar opposites: while Harry's Muggle family tried to "squash the magic out of him," the Longbottoms tried to force-feed Neville magic. We will find out that, according to Trelawney's prophecy, it could have been either Neville or Harry who would end up facing Voldemort; it might be interesting to speculate, as Harry does later, what would have happened had Voldemort thought that Neville, being pure-blood wizard, was the infant the prophecy referred to.
The social stigma associated with having a Squib relative is mentioned two other times. In speaking about his own family, while aboard the Hogwarts Express in Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, Ron says he has a relative who is an accountant, but his family rarely mentions her. And we will see, in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, that when Dumbledore's sister was hidden from the neighbours due to her mental affliction, the immediate, though incorrect, assumption by others was that she was a Squib.
One episode in this chapter is particularly heavily freighted with connections going forward in the series. Harry's first Potions lesson contains the following statements by Snape:
- "... and even stopper death." This likely refers to the potion that Snape will use to preserve Professor Dumbledore's life when he runs afoul of the curse in the ring Horcrux (revealed in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows).
- "... the Draught of Living Death." Preparation of this potion appears in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, where it is used as a device to show the superiority of the marginal notes in the textbook Harry is using over the standard text. While the UK / Canadian version of the book does not include this passage, in the US / Scholastic edition, Dumbledore, bargaining with Draco late in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, mentions that if Draco wants to hide from Voldemort, it is possible to make him and his entire family seem dead. While the technique is never mentioned, it is quite possible that it includes this potion.
- "As for monkshood and wolfsbane, they are the same plant, which also goes by the name of aconite..." possibly foreshadows the arrival of Remus Lupin in the third book.
- "Where would you find a bezoar?" A vital part of an antidote Harry is brewing in Potions class in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, it is noteworthy because Harry, agitated by the proximity of the Yule Ball, forgets it. A bezoar constitutes Harry's entire answer to an antidote quiz in Potions class Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, and reappears shortly after that where Harry uses it to save Ron's life.
Other connected events include:
- When Harry and Ron are caught by Filch trying to get into the forbidden third-floor corridor, it is Professor Quirrell, chancing to pass by, who extracts them from Filch's clutches. We will learn later in this book that Quirrell has been trying throughout the book to get to the Stone that was hidden under that passageway.
- We are here introduced to Snape's hatred of Harry, and of Gryffindor House to a smaller extent. The reasons are not explained until far later in the series, but this hatred will be a constant background throughout the series.
- The break-in at Gringotts, which we read about in the clipping on Hagrid's table, was also discussed a week earlier, and we learn here that it occurred immediately after the vault in question was cleared. This leads us to believe that it was the vault that Hagrid had cleared a month earlier, when he and Harry visited Diagon Alley and Gringotts. It is worth noting that Harry meets Professor Quirrell in the Leaky Cauldron on that occasion, as we will later be led to believe that it was Quirrell who broke into Gringotts. It will be mentioned again as Harry plans to break into Gringotts himself, in the final book. It will be partly because of this earlier break in that the goblin Griphook will agree to help them.
Chapter 9: The Midnight Duel
It is the school's second week of classes, and Harry is dismayed that flying lessons are also shared with Slytherin House. Because he has not yet learned to fly, Harry knows he will be ridiculed by Draco Malfoy, who is as well-loved by Harry as cousin Dudley.
Neville's grandmother has sent him a Remembrall, a device to help him remember things. Draco attempts to steal it during breakfast, but Professor McGonagall's arrival interrupts him. At the flying lesson, Neville falls off his broom, injuring himself. The instructor, Madam Hooch, takes him to the hospital wing, ordering everyone else to remain on the ground. Spotting Neville's dropped Remembrall, Draco grabs it and takes off on his broom to place it in a tree for Neville to fetch later. Harry flies after him, discovering that he has a natural talent for flying on a broomstick. Draco, to avoid a mid-air conflict, hurls the Remembrall away, but Harry dives and catches it mid-air, just inches above the ground. He is immediately accosted by Professor McGonagall, who has been watching from her office. She drags him away, apparently in disgrace, but to his surprise introduces him to the Gryffindor Quidditch team captain, Oliver Wood, saying Harry is the new Seeker.
Later, surprised that Harry has avoided being expelled, Draco challenges him to a Wizard's Duel in the trophy room at midnight. Harry accepts, and Ron volunteers to be his second. As Harry and Ron sneak out later that night, circumstance adds Neville and Hermione to the party, though both Harry and Ron are unhappy that they are tagging along. Hermione, particularly, is unwelcome, as she keeps nagging Harry and Ron in an attempt to prevent the duel. Reaching the trophy room, they hear Filch approaching. Evidently Draco never intended to show up, but instead informed Filch that students would be there after hours. Peeves sees the students sneaking away, and yells that students are out of bed. The students run off, diving into the forbidden third-floor corridor. They evade Filch, but find their hiding place is occupied by a huge, ferocious three-headed dog. They escape back to the common room, where Hermione mentions that the dog was atop a trap door, apparently guarding something. Harry concludes the dog must be guarding the same package Hagrid retrieved from Gringotts Bank.
This is among the happiest chapters, at least initially, in Harry's early school career. We saw how he felt displaced – apart from the natural dislocation he feels being in a new school and a strange new world, Harry copes with sudden celebrity, and the associated ongoing feeling that he is somewhat a fraud. This is compounded by his seeming inability to perform magic with the same natural fluidity that many of his peers demonstrate, such as Hermione, who seems to know anything that can be learned from a book, while Harry muddles along. Harry is also concerned that his years among Muggles, particularly those Muggles, may have crippled his magical abilities – most other students have had magical upbringings and come equipped with an understanding that he lacks. However, Harry seems to overlook that Hermione, and other students, also grew up in Muggle households, with no more magical background than he has; Hermione, who has a stable home life, may just be more confident, plus she is an avid book learner, giving her a greater initiative and confidence to use her abilities than Harry.
Imagine Harry's joy to discover that flying on a broomstick is something magical that he can do, not only naturally and well, but better than anyone else in the class. Compound this with the discovery that his father was also a talented flier, that he no longer has to attend flying classes with the Slytherins, that the school will be providing him with a top-quality broom for Quidditch matches—by dinner time, Harry could likely fly from sheer joy, without a broom.
Harry is also showing a growing independence by his tendency to break rules, almost from his first day at Hogwarts, as demonstrated by his ignoring Madam Hooch's command at the flying lesson that all students remain on the ground during her brief absence. Harry also sneaks out after curfew to meet Draco for their duel. This rule-breaking attitude may partially stem from his disdain for the Dursleys, who have constantly abused their authority to torment and unfairly punish Harry when he does nothing wrong, while Dudley is continually spoiled, despite his abysmal, bullying behavior. And even though Harry's nature is showing a certain disregard for authority, it is never motivated by rebellion or to engage in mischief; he instead feels justified if he believes his actions serve some noble purpose, such as retrieving Neville's Remembrall or upholding his honor by dueling Draco. In this instance, Harry's breaking the rules and demonstrating his natural skill at flying is rewarded rather than punished. This may serve to reinforce his tendency to ignore restrictions which he feels are unjustifiable.
Ron's following Harry to the Trophy Room for the midnight duel is the first time we have seen Ron breaking rules. We expect that, given the relationship between Harry and Ron, any further rule breaking by Ron will be from following Harry's lead rather than by Ron's own initiative. In contrast, Hermione, to Harry and Ron's continued annoyance, is the boys' polar opposite, memorizing and obeying every school rule, though rarely considering the logic behind them. While Hermione does nag at the other two when she catches them breaking regulations, we have not yet seen her report them to anyone. We do not yet understand why Hermione seems to have attached herself to Harry and Ron, but it could be surmised that she is trying to protect Gryffindor's reputation against the two troublemakers in her year group who may possibly lose House points due to their activities.
The wizards' duel, which may appear somewhat arbitrary, is a natural progression and says much about Harry's, Ron's, and Draco's characters; Draco has been humiliated, and therefore must have his revenge. And for Draco, betraying Harry (and, peripherally, Ron) to Filch would be as satisfying as defeating him, if he could, in a duel. It also lessens the risk he will be further humiliated – what if Harry actually beat him in a duel? Getting Filch to do his dirty work increases the chance that Harry will suffer, while effectively shielding Draco from the consequences, if any. Draco's cowardice is also glimpsed here, and it later lands him in more trouble than he can imagine. Unlike Draco, Harry shows courage and integrity by honoring his agreement to meet Draco at the appointed time. Ron also shows bravery and loyalty by offering to act as Harry's second. Not even Hermione's bossy threats will stop either boy from going, and, after getting herself locked out of Gryffindor, she instead resigns herself to tagging along, ostensibly to monitor their actions, but likely intrigued as well. Hermione's obsession with rules, and her threats to report the two boys, seem more bluff than actual substance, showing that her peers' opinions about her overrule her need to obey authority. Throughout the series, Hermione, though disapproving, will rarely interfere with the boys' activities, and her curiosity often compels her to trail along, and, eventually, join in. Regardless, neither Harry or Ron want her there, though her presence proves beneficial.
This scene also provides further evidence that there is a mystery for Harry to investigate. Harry already suspects that the grubby little package Hagrid brought back to Hogwarts is tied to the break-in at Gringotts. The students' midnight foray may have led them in the right direction to find it, if they come to believe that its necessary. Once again, Harry's rule breaking pays off when Hermione's keen observation notices the trap door in the third-floor corridor that the fierce, three-headed dog is apparently guarding.
- Why does Draco challenge Harry to a duel?
- Why did Neville's grandmother send him a Remembrall? Will it help?
- Why does Draco take Neville's Remembrall?
- What does Hermione notice is by the three-headed dog, and why would the creature be guarding it?
- Why does Draco fail to show up for his duel with Harry?
- Why does Ron volunteer to be Harry's second for the duel? What does this say about his character?
- What does Harry believe the three-headed dog is guarding? What evidence is there for this?
- Why is Harry allowed to become Gryffindor's Quidditch Seeker, even though he is too young? Is he ready for this responsibility?
- Hermione threatened to report Harry and Ron to a prefect for sneaking out to the duel. Why didn't she report them and instead go with them? Why does Neville tag along?
The trap door under the three-headed dog is one among Hogwarts' many secrets foreshadowed in the previous chapter. The guarded hatch poses a huge question that needs to be answered: "What is under the trap door?" If the dog is guarding Hagrid's parcel, then one must question what else might lie beneath the the castle's floors. Hogwarts holds many secrets for Harry to discover in this and also later books. Like the castle's shifting staircases, Harry must navigate a dangerous and ever-changing path before finding the answers.
The reader should remember that, at this point, Harry has no need to worry about what is in the parcel, or how it is guarded. The fact that it is likely under the trap door that the dog is guarding is an interesting bit of information, but of no use to Harry. However, over the course of this year, Harry's curiosity will drive him to try and find out exactly what was in the parcel, and he will determine that it is the Philosopher's Stone of the book title. At the same time, Harry will gradually become aware that others are seeking the Stone, either for their own benefit or in the hopes of re-animating Voldemort, and will attempt to warn the authorities of his worries. The authorities, notably Professor McGonagall, will disregard his warnings, and Harry will conclude that he alone can save the Stone. It is arguable whether he has reached the correct conclusion; however, in the end he will act and will successfully keep the Stone safe.
Although Harry's fears that his difficult Muggle upbringing has permanently damaged his magical abilities are generally groundless, this belief is not entirely invalid. Whatever their backgrounds, pure-blood, half-blood, or Muggle-born, young witches and wizards do have varying talents and levels of proficiencies, and these can be affected by their respective histories. Neville Longbottom, a pure-bred from a powerful wizard family, is particularly weak in magic. But rather than lacking talent or ability, he has been emotionally (and possibly physically) crippled by events in his life that are at least as traumatic as Harry's; this similarity of background becomes a factor that bonds the two boys. Harry is probably experiencing some early difficulties for similar reasons, as well as being insecure and new to magic, though he quickly overcomes these obstacles and catches up to his classmates; Neville, who may have been impaired by his well-meaning family's memory charms to alleviate trauma over his parents' tragic fates, will take longer to progress, though he does eventually develop into a competent wizard.
Hermione retreats from her threat to report Harry and Ron, and she will continue to overlook their constant rule-breaking in future books, even after she is appointed as a Gryffindor prefect. The only time she actually reports their activities to a teacher is in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. In that instance, she reports Harry to Professor McGonagall, not for any rule breaking, but because she was legitimately concerned for Harry's safety. Both Harry and Ron react angrily, however, shunning her for months, deeply hurting Hermione, and nearly ending their friendship permanently.
- This is the first time we hear of a "Wizard's Duel." The concept of a Duel is reintroduced in the second book, and plays important roles in the battles in future books, particularly Harry's and Voldemort's interactions in the fourth and seventh books, especially with the Priori Incantatem phenomenon appearing in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.
- Draco chooses Crabbe as his second. This suggests that he believes Crabbe to be the more powerful wizard, and so albeit by a tenuous chain of circumstance, may foreshadow the fact that Crabbe will die in the last book, and the way he dies.
- This is also the first time we see the Trophy Room. At this time, the location of the duel may seem unimportant, but the location serves as a puzzle piece Harry uses to solve the mystery he pursues in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.
Chapter 10: Hallowe'en
The next morning, Harry receives a long, thin package in the morning post. The attached note warns him against opening it at the table, that it is a broom, and is signed "Professor M. McGonagall." Malfoy, already dismayed that Harry and Ron apparently escaped his plan to have them expelled, arranges to find out what is in the package. Discovering it is a broomstick, he informs Professor Flitwick, but is further dismayed that not only does the staff know the rule prohibiting first-years to have broomsticks has been waived for Harry, but that they have given their approval.
That evening, Harry heads to the Quidditch pitch to meet Oliver Wood. Oliver explains the game's rules and does some basic practice with Harry. After this, Oliver has the team practicing three evenings a week.
On Hallowe'en, Professor Flitwick decides the class is ready to practice the floating spell (Wingardium Leviosa) that they have been learning. Hermione annoys Ron by correcting how he enunciates the incantation; then, challenged by Ron to demonstrate it, is the first to successfully levitate her feather. Ron later tells Harry that Hermione is unbearable, which is why she has no friends. Hermione, overhearing this, runs crying into the girls' bathroom.
During the Hallowe'en feast, Professor Quirrell bursts into the Great Hall, hysterically shouting that a Mountain Troll is loose in the dungeons. As students are shepherded back to their common rooms, Harry and Ron remember that Hermione is still in the bathroom, and dart off to warn her about the Troll. On the way, they see Professor Snape apparently heading to the forbidden third floor corridor. Harry and Ron, seeing the troll approaching, lock it into a room, only to discover they have locked it in the girl's bathroom with Hermione. They dash in to rescue Hermione, and the Troll attacks the Trio. Frightened, Ron yells out the first spell that comes to his head, Wingardium Leviosa. The Troll's club floats into the air, then crashes down on its head, rendering the creature unconscious. Upon the teachers' arrival, Hermione lies to Professor McGonagall to protect Harry and Ron, saying it was her idea to try to defeat the Troll, and that Harry and Ron arrived just in time to save her. Professor McGonagall reprimands Hermione and deducts five points from Gryffindor, but awards Harry and Ron five points apiece for defeating the Troll. From here on, Hermione is Harry's and Ron's friend.
Harry receives great joy from his flying ability. That he has received a world-class racing broom, which we see him put so lightly through its paces, is very heartening for him. Flying and Quidditch are quickly becoming his centering point; he can retreat to the air or the pitch when things become too confusing or stressful to bear.
Hermione's personality begins to change in this chapter, and we see her transforming into a more sympathetic character whereas, previously, she was an annoying, two-dimensional goody-two-shoes grind who seemed on target to become yet another Harry nemesis. Another character could have allowed Harry and Ron to be punished when they were actually trying to help, but Hermione immediately steps in to protect them by assuming the blame, lying to Professor McGonagall. Slowly, she is learning that sometimes rules must be broken in order to make things right; we can see there is hope for her. Harry and Ron are so surprised by Hermione's generous act that they immediately lose their past animosity for her. This is also the first time the three work together and successfully combine their skills, indicating how powerful and vital this friendship will become in the greater story. The "Trio" has been born.
Once again, Harry has broken the rules, believing it is justified—to save Hermione. However, even though he and Ron only wanted to warn Hermione, their good intentions overruled their logic and judgment when, rather than inform a teacher or a prefect that a student is in danger, they instead take it upon themselves to alert Hermione about the Troll. The situation turns far more serious than they anticipated when, running headlong into the creature, they are forced to subdue it; Ron, despite his lagging confidence in his own abilities, shows budding magical talent and quick thinking here when he conjures the charm (and remembers how to pronounce it correctly) to disarm and disable the Troll.
McGonagall once again rewards Harry (and Ron) for his actions, which may reinforce his future decisions to disregard rules. To readers, with the full picture in front of them, McGonagall punishing Hermione, who is quite plainly the innocent party, seems unfair; but we must recall that the only information McGonagall has is what Hermione has told her, that she had deliberately tried to take on the troll by herself.
Harry, meanwhile, is even more suspicious about Snape after glimpsing him sneaking away, and suspects that he set the Troll loose, probably as a diversion so he could enter the forbidden corridor. That Snape is later seen limping could be evidence that the three-headed dog blocked him from entering the corridor. Considering the many magical charms and spells in place to secure Hogwarts castle, it is indeed questionable as to just how a Troll could have penetrated those protective barriers, making it seem unlikely that it merely wandered in. The Troll not only reinforces the notion that the Wizard world is a dangerous place and is filled with fearsome creatures, but that Hogwarts itself is vulnerable; this may foreshadow more sinister threats invading the castle later in the series.
According to JK Rowling: "When we were editing 'Philosopher's Stone' my editor wanted me to cut the scene in which Harry, Ron, and Hermione fight the troll. Although I had accepted most of the smaller cuts he wanted me to make I argued hard for this one. Hermione, bless her, is so very annoying in the early part of 'Philosopher's Stone' that I really felt it needed something (literally) huge to bring her together with Harry and Ron." Reference
- Why was Harry given the broom? Who gave it to him?
- What does Draco do when he finds out about the broom?
- Why does Hermione become so upset that she hides in the girls' bathroom?
- Why is Harry allowed to have his own broom, even though it is against the rules?
- Is Harry ready to be the Gryffindor team's new Seeker? Give reasons both for and against.
- How could such a huge Mountain Troll have gotten onto the Hogwarts grounds and into the castle without being seen?
- Why does Hermione claim she went looking for the Troll? How does this change her relationship with Harry and Ron?
- Gives examples of how Harry, Ron, and Hermione were all responsible for defeating the Troll. Could any one of them done this alone? Explain.
Harry becomes quite attached to his Nimbus broom, as it is among the first wizard-related objects he ever owns, and flying is not only what he is becoming best at, but it also gives him immense joy. A devastating moment in the third book is when his broom is destroyed by the Whomping Willow. Throughout the series, he will be periodically deprived of flight, causing him distress. We will see, in future chapters, that Harry places reliance on one magical artifact or another, rather than believing in his own strength as a wizard. In this and the next book, Harry will apparently come to believe that all his flying skill can be attributed to the broom, and destruction of the broom will leave him apparently thinking that he may never fly again. After Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Harry will similarly begin to believe that all his strength against Voldemort depends on his wand.
Hermione suddenly becomes more sympathetic and likable when, grateful that Harry and Ron saved her life, she lies solely to protect them, accepting the punishment on their behalf. This is a key hint showing how her caring and thoughtfulness becomes essential to the Trio's success across later years. The bond between the Trio, first formed here, is arguably the most important relationship in the entire story.
Although Harry suspects Snape set the Troll loose into the castle, it was actually Professor Quirrell, who wanted to sneak into the forbidden corridor and steal the Philosopher's Stone that can restore Voldemort's body. It will be learned that Quirrell provided a Troll as one of the dungeon security devices that protects the Stone. Quirrell later tells Harry that he has a particular talent with Trolls. Given Quirrell's known facility with these creatures, his panicked reaction at the feast must have seemed suspicious and out-of-character to Snape, who suspected Quirrell was creating a diversion so he could enter the third-floor corridor. Snape attempted to head him off, getting his leg bitten by "Fluffy," the three-headed dog, in the process. One must also assume that Dumbledore's suspicions were raised by this, as Dumbledore certainly knows Quirrell provided a Troll to defend the Stone. This perhaps explains why, in Snape's memories seven years later, we see Dumbledore suggesting that Snape keep an eye on Quirrell. We do not know if this memory was made before or after this chapter's events.
As formidable as Hogwarts always seems, the Troll in the castle is only the first time that we see the school's security being breached. In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry's fugitive godfather, Sirius Black, slips into the castle at night, apparently through a hidden passageway, and ostensibly to attack Harry, but actually for another reason. In Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Death Eaters, aided by Draco Malfoy, are also able to secretly enter the castle through a Vanishing Cabinet connected to its twin in Borgin & Burkes, a shop in Knockturn Alley, resulting in a major battle between the invaders and the Hogwarts staff, Dumbledore's Army, and the Order of the Phoenix. In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows there are two ways seen into the castle or its grounds. In addition to the tunnel to the Shrieking Shack which is first seen in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, a new secret passageway is formed leading to Aberforth Dumbledore's establishment from the Room of Requirement, where the revived Dumbledore's Army has been hiding out. This is how the Trio, and later, Harry's allies, enter the castle shortly before the final battle with Voldemort. The One-Eyed Witch tunnel that Harry uses in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban to sneak into Hogsmeade, will, by book 7, have been discovered and closed off. Also, Voldemort and his Death Eater army assault Hogwarts near the book's end. Though the faculty temporarily fend them off, the protective charms surrounding the castle are eventually broken by the enemy.
Chapter 11: Quidditch
Quidditch season starts in November, and Harry is lucky to have Hermione as his friend—the extra practices are cutting into his homework time, and only Hermione's help gets him through it. Also, she has become a bit more relaxed about rules, so when she, Harry, and Ron are out in the courtyard one day, she bends the rules to create a small wizard fire to keep them warm. Professor Snape, seeing them there, confiscates the book Harry was reading, Quidditch Through the Ages, on a flimsy pretext that library books cannot be taken outside.
That evening, Harry decides to ask Snape to return the book. Hoping to catch him with other teachers so as to defuse his anger, he peers inside the staff room. There he sees Snape with a bad leg wound, being tended by Filch, and talking about something with three heads that apparently injured him. Snape notices Harry and, enraged, orders him out. Harry, Ron, and Hermione jointly concur that his injury was caused by the three-headed dog in the forbidden third-floor corridor, but only Hermione doubts that Snape would attempt to steal anything. Both Harry and Ron are convinced he would.
The following morning is Harry's first Quidditch match, which is against Slytherin. The match proceeds well, until Harry's broom starts acting strangely, apparently trying to buck him off. Hermione notices that Professor Snape is staring fixedly at Harry and muttering, and concludes he is jinxing it. To stop it, she runs across the stands, knocking Professor Quirrell over in the process, and sets Snape's robes on fire, thus breaking his concentration. Slytherin scores five times while everyone is distracted by Harry and his cursed broom. Regaining control, Harry dives for the pitch, in the process running into and nearly swallowing the Snitch, and winning the match.
After the match, Harry, Ron, and Hermione discuss recent events with Hagrid in his hut. Hagrid voices disbelief that Snape would jinx Harry's broom. Harry mentions that Snape had apparently run afoul of the three-headed dog, which Hagrid accidentally identifies as "Fluffy". Hagrid later mentions that whatever he is guarding, "that's between Professor Dumbledore an' Nicolas Flamel —", thus accidentally providing another clue to what the object being guarded is.
As with any school, sport plays an integral part in student life. At Hogwarts, that sport is Quidditch, and it serves as both a unifying force and a divisive element. Students are bound by their enthusiasm for the game, but their Houses also compete against one another to win the Quidditch Cup, as well as the House Cup. Though these rivalries are generally amicable, Slytherin and Gryffindor have always been particularly competitive, and occasionally openly antagonistic. Slytherin's Quidditch captain, Marcus Flint, actually uses the incident with Harry's broom as a means to score more points for his team, showing just how devious and exploitative Slytherins truly are. The rivalry between these two Houses is so pronounced that it is likely to be central to the series somehow.
Meanwhile, Hermione's newly-formed friendship with Harry and Ron continues to develop and strengthen, and her intelligence and generosity are already proving useful. Initially it is the small (comparative to what comes later) matter of helping Harry with his homework when he becomes overwhelmed with the extra Quidditch practices, but she moves swiftly and decisively to protect Harry when she sees that his broom has been tampered with during the game, putting his life in danger. Her quick-thinking and fast actions become even more important to the Trio later in the series.
The jinxed broom seen during the game indicates that someone has malicious intentions against Harry, and it certainly seems obvious, at least to Harry and Ron, that this person is Snape. Even Hermione has abandoned her naive view that teachers can do no wrong and agrees that it must be Snape who seeks the Stone. Hagrid adamantly disagrees with the Trio that Snape, or any Hogwarts professor, could be involved in a plot against the school or its students. Hagrid's blind faith in Hogwarts and its teachers is noble, but it is simplistic, and almost child-like, though it should be remembered that Hagrid is privy to school information that we and the Trio are not. We, however, have seen that Snape appears to have a particular interest in the forbidden third-floor corridor, the trap door, and perhaps what lies beneath it.
- What does Hagrid have to say about Harry's theory regarding Snape? Is Hagrid right or is being deceived by someone?
- Why does Snape confiscate Harry's book, and was he justified?
- Why is Snape limping?
- Harry believes the three-headed dog injured Snape. Is he correct, or could something else have caused his wound?
- Why was Harry's broom being jinxed? Is Snape responsible, or is it someone else? Explain.
- Why would Snape treat his own leg wound, or seek assistance from Filch, rather than go to Madam Pomfrey in the Hospital Wing?
- Who might Nicolas Flamel be, and how is he (and Dumbledore) tied to the mysterious package?
- How has Hermione's character altered since she was first introduced? Give examples and explain what accounts for this change.
The rivalry between Slytherin and Gryffindor becomes a metaphor for themes of good vs. evil in the series and the battle that is to come, as Wizards either align themselves with Voldemort or choose to fight him and his Death Eaters. While Gryffindor represents Voldemort's opponents and Slytherin his followers (perhaps including Snape), both Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff Houses symbolize how many in the Wizarding world become complacent or ignorant to the evil that gradually and insidiously creeps in and takes hold as they go about their usual business, barely noticing, and finally adapting themselves to whatever the resulting outcome is. Divisions will also be formed within Harry's own House, Gryffindor, later in the series, as Harry's claim that the Dark Lord has returned is endlessly disputed, and his fellow House-mates take sides either for or against him.
The name Nicolas Flamel may trigger some interest among those who recognize it. Mentioned in a number of places, including The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo, Flamel was a 14th century alchemist who is supposed to have found or created the Philosopher's Stone. Streets in Paris are named after him and his wife, and the house he lived in is now something of a tourist attraction. Despite much excavation of the house after his death, no trace of the Philosopher's Stone or any of the gold supposedly made with it was ever found.
As can be seen here, if the Trio has a weakness, it is a tendency to become stubbornly fixated on a single-minded thought; their determined belief that Snape has malevolent intentions could have had nasty consequences at the Quidditch match had luck not favoured them. Hagrid is their opposite in this, adamantly believing that a Hogwarts teacher could never be involved in anything evil, particularly if it involves a student or the school. The truth lies somewhere in-between, and several teachers throughout the series will be involved in sinister plots.
In what has been hailed as one of the better displays in this series' interconnectedness, Harry catching the Snitch in his mouth will become an important plot point in the seventh book.
There is one timing issue in this chapter, which perhaps adds to the mounting suspicion on Snape (as opposed to Quirrell). As Hermione is rushing along the teacher's row to reach Professor Snape, she knocks Professor Quirrell over; but then "It took perhaps thirty seconds for Snape to realize that he was on fire." Thirty seconds is a long time when attempting to counter a jinx or doing something requiring intense concentration; so for thirty seconds, Snape is trying to halt a jinx that has already been interrupted, because Quirrell was knocked over and was no longer conjuring it. It is possible that the author may have been employing hyperbole here, and actually meant something closer to five seconds, which would be more reasonable all around. This was resolved in the film version by having Snape notice that he was on fire after approximately two seconds.
- Harry's catching the Snitch in his mouth in his first ever Quidditch game will be connected to the final volume of the series.
- On his death, Dumbledore bequeaths this Snitch to Harry to transfer something to Harry without the Ministry knowing about it; Dumbledore likely guesses that the Ministry will examine all his bequests. Knowing that the Snitch is charmed with "flesh memory" to identify the Seeker that caught it, the Minister for Magic, Rufus Scrimgeour, watches when Harry holds the Snitch to see if Dumbledore has used that to pass something to Harry, circumventing the Ministry. The Snitch does not react to Harry's hand, but after the Minister for Magic has left, when Harry presses it to his mouth, the Snitch reveals a message.
- When Harry sets forth to meet his doom, he again puts the Snitch to his lips and says, "I am about to die." It opens to reveal the Resurrection Stone that provides Harry the means to summon the support he needs to complete his task.
- Hermione's possibly-unique ability to conjure fire, seen twice in this chapter, will be used later in this book. With the possible exception of Hagrid earlier, we do not see any other witch or wizard doing this.
Chapter 12: The Mirror of Erised
Now that they have the name "Nicolas Flamel", Hermione, Ron, and Harry spend all their spare time in the library, trying to learn who he is. Hagrid is annoyed when he hears about their pastime. Despite searching for a fortnight, however, they have found nothing by Christmas break, when Hermione leaves for the holidays. Ron and his brothers are staying at Hogwarts because their parents are visiting their older son, Charlie, in Romania. Harry is staying because Hogwarts is more home to him than Privet Drive ever could be.
On Christmas Day, both Harry and Ron receive gifts. Among Harry's are a sweater from Mrs. Weasley, and an Invisibility Cloak from an anonymous sender. The note with the cloak says that it belonged to Harry's father, and advises him to "use it well."
The Christmas feast is very merry, including various magical accessories and truly amazing amounts of delicious food. Following dinner, Harry remembers the Invisibility Cloak, and, obedient to Hermione's parting adjuration to keep searching, decides to explore the library's Restricted section for Flamel. The first book he selects, however, screams when opened, causing Harry to break his lamp, and alerting Filch. On the run from Filch and Professor Snape, he enters a room containing a mirror. His reflection shows him amidst a crowd of people that he realizes are his parents and relations – not the Dursleys, but his mother, father, and apparently his other magical relatives.
Excited, Harry shows Ron the mirror, so he can see Harry's parents. Instead, Ron sees only himself wearing a Head Boy's badge, and holding the Quidditch Cup. Mrs. Norris apparently can sense them under the Cloak, which keeps Ron from visiting again, but over the next few days Harry keeps returning to the mirror until he is surprised by Professor Dumbledore. Dumbledore identifies the mirror as the Mirror of Erised, and explains that it shows "only the deepest desire of our hearts". When asked what he sees when he looks into it, Dumbledore claims that he sees himself holding a pair of socks, which Harry suspects is untrue. Dumbledore says he is going to hide the mirror, and asks that Harry not seek it out again.
Family has recently become important to Harry: being raised by the Dursleys, who barely mask their contempt for him, Harry barely understands how loving families interact. Recently, though, exposure to Ron and the Weasley family has given Harry some idea how these relationships work, and what having people care about him is like. He is truly touched when Mrs. Weasley, knowing he would receive few, if any, gifts, sends him Christmas presents.
Once again, Harry feels justified to ignore the rules, sneaking into the library's restricted section under his Invisibility Cloak to search for information about Nicolas Flamel. Finding none and interrupted by Filch, he is inadvertently detoured into a room containing a magical mirror. Rather than uncovering information about Flamel, Harry has instead discovered much more about himself. He is amazed and puzzled by the images reflected in the Mirror of Erised, seeing for the first time what his parents and other relatives were like in life. Having lost James and Lily when he was still an infant, he has no recollections about them.
Transfixed by his parents' images, Harry continually returns to gaze at the mirror until Dumbledore finally intervenes. The kind Headmaster explains that rather than showing what someone's outer self looks like, the mirror actually reflects what lies buried within, their deepest desires. Erised is "desire" spelled backwards (thus mimicking the properties of a mirror). What Harry desires is a loving family life, his lost mother and father restored to him. Although this loss has created a huge void in his life, it is blank, containing no memories or images to draw upon. Now Harry can begin to fill that void somewhat as he learns more about his family and starts exploring his feelings and his place in the world. While dwelling on his loss does cause him pain and grief, it also creates love and yearning, showing that Harry's emotional self is multi-faceted; his emotions alone never completely rule or control Harry, nor is his tragedy used as a reason to vent anger and hate at others. Budding logic and intellect help temper his feelings, though, at this age, he is still driven by his impulses. Dumbledore's timely intervention prevents Harry from endlessly dwelling on hopeless dreams and lost opportunities rather than actively living his life.
Already having the family that Harry lacks, Ron's desires are obviously quite different. Feeling unremarkable and always overshadowed by his talented older brothers, when Ron peers into the Mirror, he sees only himself, as Quidditch captain and Head Boy, standing completely on his own accomplishments. Unlike Harry, however, he does not feel compelled to continually return and stare at the Mirror's reflection, partially fearing being caught, but also resigned to knowing what it is he wants while believing he can never attain it.
Harry and Dumbledore's relationship is also established here, as until now there has been little significant interaction between them since Dumbledore left baby Harry on the Dursleys' door step ten years earlier. Not only has Dumbledore remained distant in the story, but he has been portrayed as being rather enigmatic and eccentric. Harry even considers that he might be a touch mad. Dumbledore is truly an enigma, and even by wizard standards he seems odd. It is doubtful that he has ever had much direct interaction with students, being a lofty and somewhat aloof authoritarian figure, and it has been unclear yet just what his role will be in the book. He is, however, a kind, gentle, and humorous man, and rather than reprimand Harry, Dumbledore steps beyond his Headmaster role to gently guide the young boy with helpful, almost fatherly, advice, understanding that Harry's needs are unique among the students. Their relationship will likely continue to grow beyond student and teacher from here on.
Of note, the mirror's entire inscription reads, "Erised stra ehru oyt ube cafru oyt on wohsi". When those words are read backwards, the inscription is: "I show not your face but your heart's desire". We can safely expect that the Mirror of Erised will play a role elsewhere in the book, though exactly what that role will be, and how the Mirror's peculiar function will be important, it is too early to tell.
- Who sent Harry the Invisibility Cloak? Why was it sent now?
- Just what might the Cloak's sender mean by, "Use it well"?
- What does the mirror's inscription mean?
- Is Dumbledore being truthful when he tells Harry he sees himself holding a pair of socks in the Mirror of Erised? If not, what might he actually see?
- Why does Dumbledore hide the mirror and tell Harry not to go looking for it?
- Why are the Trio unable find any information about Nicolas Flamel in the library? Why is Hagrid annoyed that they are looking?
Harry's desire to have an ordinary, peaceful life surrounded by family is something that follows him throughout the series and helps drive many of his actions. Although he can never be reunited with his parents, he does eventually acquire the loving family he so deeply craves. Ron also sees his heart's desire, to become Hogwarts' Head Boy and Gryffindor's Quidditch team captain, winning the Quidditch Cup. While Ron never becomes either Head Boy or Quidditch captain, he is later appointed as a Gryffindor prefect, and wins a spot on the Gryffindor Quidditch team as Keeper, his playing skills instrumental in Gryffindor's winning the Quidditch Cup. While the mirror shows that what we desire may be more than can ever be achieved, it is always possible to attain much that makes for a successful and satisfying life.
After asking what Dumbledore sees in the mirror, Harry thinks he has just asked a very impertinent question; much later in the series, Harry concludes that Dumbledore's answer was not entirely truthful. It is revealed much later, in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, that Dumbledore's desire is the same as Harry's – to be reunited with his departed family, especially his mother Kendra and sister Ariana.
Dumbledore has rarely had close relationships with Hogwarts students. Though Harry will become an exception, there is another student, also an orphan and a talented wizard, that Dumbledore also paid closer attention to, though not in the same way as with Harry. That student's name was Tom Riddle, and he eventually adopted the name Lord Voldemort.
It is unknown who returned the Invisibility Cloak to Harry until the book's end, when it is revealed it was Dumbledore. However, that raises a large question. When Harry is caught at the Mirror of Erised, Dumbledore mentions that he does not need a cloak to be invisible. Invisibility can be created by a spell, the Disillusionment charm, that Dumbledore probably excels at. Also, the note to Harry reads that James Potter "left" the Cloak in Dumbledore's possession shortly before he died. However, it is learned later that Dumbledore actually asked James if he could borrow it. Why, then, would Dumbledore have wanted James Potter's Invisibility Cloak? It would seem that he has no need for it, after all.
This last point is particularly interesting, as the author mentions that it is a peculiarly never-asked question. It is a key plot point in the series' final book as the Cloak is one of the titular Deathly Hallows. It should be noted that the author employs a technique to conceal that this is even a question. The Invisibility Cloak's previous ownership is separated in the text from Dumbledore's statement that he does not need one, by several exciting events, even though they happen in the same chapter; the admission that it was Dumbledore who had been keeping the Cloak for the intervening decade is several chapters ahead. Separating the three parts of the paradox removes the immediacy that makes it a question the reader thinks about.
Dumbledore's interest in this Cloak will be echoed again in the seventh book.
- The Invisibility Cloak, introduced in this chapter, will play a large part in the rest of the series. As mentioned, it will turn out to be one of the three Deathly Hallows in the seventh and final book. It is noteworthy that Dumbledore here mentions that he does not need a cloak to become invisible; combined with the revelations later that he had borrowed the cloak from Harry's father, it is clear that the author had intended the Cloak to be something significantly out of the ordinary by this point in the first book.
- We see here Harry's longing for information about his family. While this is not so much a connection as illumination of Harry's character, it warrants mention because it will be a major concern for Harry through the rest of the series.
- Harry's speculation in the final paragraph of the chapter, that Dumbledore might not have been telling the truth about what he sees in the Mirror of Erised, will be revisited in the final book in the series. Harry will then guess that Dumbledore's "heart's desire", what he sees in the mirror, is the same as what Harry sees: his own family, reunited.
Chapter 13: Nicolas Flamel
Quidditch practice is picking up again as Harry and the team prepare for an upcoming match against Hufflepuff. Harry is horrified to learn that Professor Snape will be refereeing this match, as are Ron and Hermione when he tells them.
Neville, his legs jinxed by Draco to stick together, tumbles into the Gryffindor Common Room through the portrait hole. Hermione frees his legs, and Harry encourages Neville to stand up to Draco, then gives him a chocolate frog. Neville hands back the card inside the package, and Harry sees that it is an Albus Dumbledore card. Harry suddenly recalls that it was on that card that he saw Nicolas Flamel's name: Professor Dumbledore is particularly famous for defeating the dark wizard, Grindelwald, in 1945, for the discovery of the twelve uses of dragon's blood, and his work on alchemy with his partner, Nicolas Flamel. Mentioning Alchemy reminds Hermione that the library book she checked out says Flamel is now 665 years old. Further discussion leads Harry, Ron, and Hermione to conclude that the mysterious package Hagrid brought to the school is the Philosopher's Stone. Eternal life and all the gold you could want. No wonder Snape wants it, they think...
Harry decides to play Quidditch even with Snape refereeing. During the game, a fight breaks out in the stands between some Gryffindors (notably Ron and Neville) and Slytherins (led by Draco Malfoy). The match lasts only about five minutes, as Harry spots and catches the Snitch before Snape can do more than award one penalty to Hufflepuff.
After the match, Harry sees Snape enter the Forbidden Forest. Using his broom, he is able to hover close enough to eavesdrop on Snape and Professor Quirrell. Their conversation confirms Harry, Ron, and Hermione's belief that the mysterious package is the Philosopher's Stone, and leads them to conclude that Quirrell is the only thing standing between Snape and the Stone.
This chapter largely serves as reinforcement.
- Harry gives Neville the Chocolate Frog because Neville was jinxed by Draco Malfoy. This again demonstrates Draco's disdain for rules and for Gryffindors. It also shows Neville's relative magical incompetence and his emotional insecurities. Harry has to encourage him to stand up for himself.
- Snape's refereeing the match further displays his dislike for Gryffindor House in general, and Harry in particular. As seen by how swiftly Harry ends the match, Harry is quickly learning that the best strategy is to just avoid Snape as much as possible.
- The revelation of who Flamel is, and what he is known for, introduces the uniquely valuable titular artifact, and solidifies Harry's belief that there is an object that needs that sort of heavy guard.
- Harry's overhearing the conversation between Snape and Quirrell supports Harry's belief, and thus also Ron's and Hermione's, that Snape is plotting to steal the Philosopher's Stone, and that poor, weak Quirrell is trying to stop him.
The only major plot advance is that we learn the Philosopher's Stone is not only being guarded, but also sought. A clue is given to its usefulness by us being told how old Flamel is. Clearly, part of the Stone's function has something to do with prolonging life. Hermione's description of the Stone's function explains why Flamel has managed to live for so long, and makes it more likely that the Stone is, in fact, what Hagrid brought to Hogwarts and what is being so carefully guarded, though it is still unclear at to just why, after so much time, this object suddenly needed to be so securely guarded.
It should be mentioned that there was a real Nicolas Flamel who lived at about the time suggested. Nicolas Flamel was born probably in the early 1330's, about 660 years before the time of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (1991-92). He and his wife Perenelle have made many other appearances in popular culture, notably in The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo.
- Why is Nicolas Flamel significant? Give examples.
- Why are Snape and Quirrell in the Forbidden Forest? What does their conversation reveal?
- Why did Draco jinx Neville? What does Harry tell Neville?
- Why did the Quidditch match end so quickly?
- Harry is convinced that what is being guarded is the Philosopher's Stone. Is he right? What evidence is there for this conclusion?
- Why would someone want to steal the Philosopher's Stone? Who might want it?
Harry notices that he seems to be running into Snape far more frequently than usual. He wonders if Snape knows that he, Ron, and Hermione have learned about the Philosopher's Stone, and he has the horrible feeling that Snape can read minds. Harry has felt this to a greater or lesser degree before, but this is the first time he has expressed that thought this clearly, even to himself. This will be a recurring concern for Harry, and will come to full fruition in the fifth book in the series, where we are told about legilimency.
Readers revisiting the series might wonder why Snape does not use his mind-reading ability on Quirrell. We can only speculate that there might be a code of ethics around Legilimency that discourages use of the ability on other wizards. It is also possible that in self-protection, Voldemort has strengthened Quirrell's ability to avoid legilimency. If there is discouragement of use of legilimency on other wizards, why does Snape still use it on Harry? Snape, as one of Harry's teachers, and given Harry's physical immaturity, may feel that as he is acting more or less in loco parentis, he has the right to inspect Harry's mind on occasion. It is also possible that Snape's hatred of Harry leads him to overstep the bounds of propriety.
Once again, Harry's single-minded and biased view of Snape's character twists his perspective on events he witnesses, so that he can only see one possible interpretation. In this particular case, what Harry overhears in the Forbidden Forest is that Snape and Quirrell are at odds. Harry has already decided that it is Snape who seeks the Stone, and allows this conversation to support his conclusion. In fact, as we will find out, Snape is attempting to prevent Quirrell from seeking the Stone. This persistent prejudice towards Snape will come back to haunt Harry as the larger story reaches its climax.
We do not yet have any idea that Voldemort is still around, apart from Hagrid's earlier comment that he thinks Voldemort was "too evil to die". We will, however, receive a large hint in that direction shortly, when a Centaur tells Harry about the uses of Unicorn blood.
- In this chapter, we have the first indication that Harry believes Snape can read his mind. We will see that Harry suspects this again in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and it will be made explicit in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, where it will be revealed that Snape is a master legilimens. Snape will use legilimency openly on Harry in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, and may be attempting it at one point in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
Chapter 14: Norbert the Norwegian Ridgeback
Professor Quirrell seems stronger than the Trio had expected, as Fluffy remains alert and growling behind the door.
With only ten weeks left until final exams, Hermione starts laying out timetables for studying, and insisting that Harry and Ron do likewise. So they are studying in the library when they see Hagrid removing a book from the Dragon section. Asked directly about Nicolas Flamel and the Philosopher's Stone, he promises to tell them something about it, but not in the library; students are not supposed to know about it.
At Hagrid's hut, they learn that the Stone is protected by Fluffy, as well as enchantments created by Professors Sprout, Flitwick, McGonagall, Quirrell, Dumbledore, and... Professor Snape. This is alarming as, of course, it is Snape who wants the Stone. Adding to the confusion, Hagrid has won a Dragon's egg from someone at a pub in Hogsmeade village, and he intends to hatch it, even though it is illegal to own one, and despite living in a wooden hut—a decidedly unsafe place to rear a fire-breathing creature.
In due course, the egg begins to hatch, and Hagrid invites Harry, Ron and Hermione down to witness it. A baby Dragon emerges that Hagrid names Norbert. Unfortunately, Draco Malfoy, who is spying on them through Hagrid's window, also sees it. Now they must somehow conceal the hatchling before Malfoy tells Professor Dumbledore. Harry suddenly has an idea: Ron's brother Charlie works with Dragons in Romania. Maybe he can find Norbert a home. Though Hagrid is unhappy to lose Norbert, he finally agrees to the plan, as does Charlie, who arranges for his friends to pick up Norbert.
Ron suffers a dragon bite while helping Hagrid with Norbert, and ends up in the Hospital Wing. Draco Malfoy, visiting to bait Ron under the guise of comforting him, borrows a book, which Ron later remembers contains Charlie's response. Draco is waiting when Harry and Hermione carry the crated Norbert to atop the Astronomy Tower where Charlie's friends are waiting to collect him. Hidden beneath the Invisibility Cloak, Harry and Hermione observe Professor McGonagall catch Draco, who is penalized twenty House points and given detention. Harry and Hermione, still safe beneath the Cloak, arrive at the tower and send Norbert off. As they head back to the dormitory, Filch catches them - in their excitement, they left the Cloak behind in the tower.
At first glance, this chapter seems to have little purpose in the book – Norbert is introduced and sent away all in one chapter and never re-appears in the series, except occasionally Hagrid gets to missing him, and there is a mention in passing in the seventh book. It does serve to introduce us to dragons, however, and provide a little information about them. While Norbert is never seen again, other dragons will appear in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. And though Norbert may seem (to Hagrid) a cute, cuddly hatchling, the fully-grown, flame-spewing dragons seen in the later books are fierce and deadly creatures.
Generally, this chapter's purpose is largely preparatory. Firstly, it partially emphasizes that protecting the Philosopher's Stone has become more urgent. The Trio quite firmly believes, and with reason, that it is Professor Snape who seeks it. Knowing that Snape was involved with installing the guardian spells for it, they are certain that he must know enough about those spells to make his way through them.
Another purpose is setting up the scene in the Forbidden Forest, in the next chapter. Without detention, there would be no reason for Harry to have to go into the Forest, and no way for him to witness the events that occur there.
Thirdly, it sets up the final scene in the book. As we have not reached that yet, it will not be discussed here, except to say that a victory is sweeter if it follows, and reverses, a defeat.
Finally, this chapter shines a light on Draco Malfoy and also Hagrid. Draco discovered an advantage that he holds over Hagrid and the Trio, knowing Hagrid is engaged in something illegal and aided by the Trio. Rather than report this to the authorities, he instead remains silent, using this information to torment Ron in the hospital wing, and exploiting the situation to gain an additional advantage. This is classic Slytherin deviousness and ambition, though in this instance, Malfoy's actions later backfire on him and he also receives detention.
Hagrid, meanwhile, is emerging as a pivotal character who is increasingly important to Harry and the story. Hagrid is the one person among Hogwarts' teachers and staff that becomes like family to Harry. Though Harry grows closer to Dumbledore as the series progresses, they will always maintain a mentor/student relationship, while Harry and Hagrid develop a true familial bond. Hagrid is portrayed as a gentle, though somewhat uncouth, giant, who is unfailingly loyal to Dumbledore and Hogwarts; he is also a rather naive man-child who lacks a mature and sophisticated thinking process. Though he is Harry's protector, his simplistic, two-dimensional views often prevent him from accurately analyzing situations or predicting any possible dark or dangerous consequences related to them. This occasionally results in his giving faulty advice to Harry. Like many in the Wizarding world, Hagrid becomes blind to the approaching evil, and he fails to consider that malevolent forces are being unleashed within Hogwarts. From his viewpoint, Hogwarts is impenetrable, every teacher is entirely good, and Dumbledore's power is unlimited. We also see Hagrid's deep love for all animals, wild or domesticated, huge or tiny. His belief that all creatures can be tamed if treated gently often blinds him to their unpredictable and potentially lethal natures, as seen with "Fluffy", the ferocious three-headed dog, and now Norbert, a baby dragon. Just how he could secretly raise an illegal, fire-breathing animal that will likely torch his hut and grow to an enormous size never seems to occur to Hagrid when he hatches the egg. Instead, he is only focused only on the moment and on having obtained something he has always desired. This inability to foresee that a small, vulnerable, motherless hatchling will grow into a fierce, uncontrollable beast, becomes a metaphor for how Voldemort, also an orphan, was able to rise to power.
- How did Hagrid get the Dragon's egg? Is there anything suspicious or coincidental about how he obtained it?
- Why would someone want Hagrid to have a Dragon?
- Why was Draco spying on Hagrid and the Trio? What does he see?
- How could Draco know when Harry and Hermione were taking Norbert to the tower?
- How did Charlie's friends fly to the school to get Norbert if there are numerous enchantments protecting the school?
- Why did Draco not report what he saw in Hagrid's hut?
- Why does Hagrid agree to tell the Trio about Nicolas Flamel?
As mentioned in the Analysis section, this chapter also is significant in setting up the final scenes in the book. Having been involved in losing Gryffindor a huge number of House Points, as Harry will be in the next chapter's opening pages, how much sweeter is it that he is also instrumental in winning them all back, and more?
We will, of course, find out later that Snape is actually trying to protect the Stone... but even for those who are in on the secret, this is thin reassurance, because Quirrell is also responsible for one of the barriers to entry.
We learn here that Fluffy, one of the barriers to entry, is Hagrid's responsibility. This might seem a bit premature, as Hagrid is not the Care of Magical Creatures teacher, and so we might expect Professor Kettleburn might be more likely to have provided Fluffy. However, Hagrid is, even now, Keeper of Keys and Grounds, and so is necessarily familiar with the Forbidden Forest and its denizens. It is possible that Fluffy was something of a joint effort, with Kettleburn taking care of him after Hagrid retrieved him from the Forest. Professor Kettleburn, however, is not mentioned, so we can only speculate as to his involvement.
Norbert is mentioned in passing in the seventh book. Hagrid and Charlie happen to be together at the Weasley home, and Hagrid inquires about Norbert. Charlie says they are calling her Norberta now. Charlie explains that they know Norberta is a female because they are more fierce.
In this chapter we also see Harry's willingness to break rules if he believes he has a good reason. This ability to think independently will be useful in later years as increasingly more daunting tasks are put before him.
- The only connection we see in this chapter is a very minor one, as Norbert is mentioned in passing in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
Chapter 15: The Forbidden Forest
When Filch hauls Hermione and Harry to Professor McGonagall, their House Head, Neville is also there for wandering the halls so late. Neville's insistence that he was only going to warn Harry leads Professor McGonagall to conclude that Harry and Hermione fabricated the dragon story to lure Draco out after hours, solely to get him detention. All three receive detention and are deducted House points. (Malfoy has been similarly punished.) In one night, Harry's actions have bumped Gryffindor to the bottom in House points. He resolves to avoid doing anything that will cost Gryffindor more House points.
Sometime later, Harry, Hermione, Neville, and Draco are escorted to Hagrid's hut for their detention. Hagrid says something in the Forbidden Forest has been killing Unicorns. They separate into two parties, to follow a wounded Unicorn's blood trail. Hagrid, Harry, and Hermione form one party, and Draco and Neville, with Fang (Hagrid's boarhound), are the other. Hagrid's party meets Ronan, a Centaur. Ronan makes a few remarks about astronomy, then is joined by Bane, another Centaur, who also comments on astronomy. After leaving the Centaurs, Hermione sees red wand sparks; Hagrid runs off to investigate.
Neville, panicked, ignited the sparks after Draco had deliberately frightened him. Hagrid, figuring Harry is harder to scare, re-groups Harry with Draco and Fang, taking Hermione and Neville. After about an hour, Harry and Draco find the Unicorn, dead. Harry hears a slithery noise, and a hooded figure appears and starts drinking the Unicorn's blood. Malfoy and Fang run off, while the hooded figure advances on Harry, whose scar is now searing with pain. A Centaur, Firenze, suddenly appears and chases the hooded figure away. He warns Harry that the forest is dangerous, and offers him a ride back to Hagrid. Ronan and Bane gallop alongside, angry that Firenze allows a human to ride him "as if he were a common mule", and also for interfering with the heavens' portents. Firenze responds that he will fight the evil, even alongside humans if he must, then gallops off with Harry.
Firenze explains that Unicorn blood will keep a person alive, "even if you are only an inch from death", but it will be a cursed half-life, causing Harry to wonder why that would be better than death. Firenze says the hooded figure may be waiting for something stronger to restore him to full life. Harry realizes this must be the Elixir of Life, a product of the Philosopher's Stone, and concludes that the hooded creature is Voldemort, who is probably only partially alive, as Hagrid speculated back in July. They reach Hagrid, who lets the students return to the castle. Harry tells Ron and Hermione what has been happening overnight, and they suspect that Voldemort is now just waiting for Professor Snape to get the Stone, and then will reappear to kill Harry.
There is one final surprise: as Harry reaches his bed near dawn, he finds his Invisibility Cloak, neatly folded, with a note reading: "Just in case."
For their punishment, Harry and the others must enter the aptly named Forbidden Forest, an ominous prospect despite Hagrid's presence. Students are rarely allowed to venture in here, for good reason, and only when they are closely supervised. Dark, dangerous, and foreboding, these ancient woods contain many secrets, as well as mysterious, deadly creatures dwelling within. And while a forest contains abundant life, death is always lurking nearby, as seen by the slain Unicorn. We can guess that the Forbidden Forest will continue to play at least some role later in the series, but it is suggested here that Voldemort may still be alive, if only just, and could be utilizing its resources to sustain his life until he is able to fully restore his body.
Rowling also uses the forest, the Centaurs, and the Unicorn to convey powerful symbolic meaning and imagery, as well as instill fear and danger. In literature and western mythology, forests can represent many things including the unknown, a wild spirit, a realm of birth, death, and resurrection, nature's secrets, and even the spiritual world. Unicorns symbolize purity, feminine chastity, morality, and other similar attributes. Harry, pure and innocent, has just entered a dark, frightening place, and he lacks any knowledge about it or its dangers. This parallels his journey into the Wizarding world, another unknown domain filled with unseen perils. Along both paths, Harry often struggles to find his footing, occasionally stumbling as he moves forward. The hooded creature lapping the Unicorn's blood is likely tied to the Dark Lord, and this may foreshadow Harry's possibly confronting Voldemort later in the story, and throughout the series. While in the forest, Harry encounters death firsthand. And not just any death, but a creature that represents all that is good and pure has been slain by something entirely vile and evil. Ironically, this malevolent being can only survive by drinking its innocent victim's blood. It was, we believe, this same evil that murdered Harry's parents, and the slain Unicorn may portend that even more virtuous and pure-hearted victims will fall prey to it.
The Centaurs that Harry encounters in the Forbidden Forest are particularly interesting. These mythological beings, half-human, half-horse, often symbolize mankind's dual nature, with its lower, savage animalistic side frequently in conflict with higher reason and morality. This struggle between good and evil will be seen throughout the series, not only in the two warring factions headed by Voldemort and (apparently) Dumbledore, but also within individual characters who must choose to follow either a light or a dark path, sometimes struggling between the two. And though the Centaurs are able to see, dimly, into the future, their predictions are so vague and abstract as to be nearly nonsensical, at least to humans. They comment several times that the planet Mars is bright, but do not expand on their understanding of this phenomenon. Mars, being the Roman god of war, may hint at a future conflict, probably involving wizards; the Centaurs' calm reaction to this suggests that they also do not believe that they share this fate.
More specifically, the Centaurs seen here provide us small tidbits about their beliefs regarding humanity and Wizard-kind. In particular, the three Centaurs clearly show that deep divisions exist among them, with Ronan and Bane advocating shunning humans altogether, while others such as Firenze are willing to set aside their opinions about "inferior races" for the general good of all. Firenze has apparently created a rift within his herd by rescuing Harry and threatening to fight evil alongside the humans, indicating that he understands better than anyone that this growing evil may affect all magical creatures, not just wizards. The Centaurs have apparently foreseen and agree that Harry Potter will play some integral role in this approaching conflict.
Another interesting point is Harry's Invisibility Cloak being returned to him, apparently by the same person who gave it to him at Christmas. Recall that Harry and Hermione left the Cloak atop the Astronomy Tower. The Tower is used fairly frequently, as Astronomy students do their practical work there; it is reasonable to assume that a class convenes there on most clear nights. Wizards being subject to the same foibles as any other human, it seems unlikely that a student would have returned it to Harry. More likely a teacher who is either frequently on the Astronomy Tower during daylight, or else is singularly aware of recent events occurring in the school, found and returned the Cloak to Harry, knowing it was his. This person must be a teacher or staff member, as a student would have been unable to obtain the Cloak from Harry's father originally. We can, however, rule out Professor McGonagall, as the accompanying message's handwriting differs from McGonagall's writing on the note included with Harry's broom in September. While it is true that the note's handwriting is never specifically described, it is likely that Harry would have noticed, and commented on, any difference from the note that had accompanied the Cloak in December. While we are beginning to suspect that the "oddly spiky" handwriting might be Professor Dumbledore's, Harry believes himself to be too insignificant to merit such attention from the school's Headmaster, and so dismisses the possibility.
- Why does McGonagall think Harry and the others are lying about the Dragon?
- Why would students be given detention in a place as dangerous as the Forbidden Forest?
- What killed the unicorn? Why was it killed?
- Why are Ronan and Bane upset that Firenze helps Harry? What does Firenze think?
- Ronan and Bane both comment that Mars is shining brightly. Mars is the Roman god of war. How might that foreshadow upcoming events in the wizarding world?
- Considering how dangerous the Forbidden Forest is, why would Hagrid split the students into two groups and allow one to wander about unsupervised?
- Who could have returned Harry's Invisibility Cloak? Who can be excluded? What does the attached note mean?
- Discuss how the author uses the forest, centaurs, and the unicorns as symbolism, and relate that to events and characters in the story so far.
We learn shortly that the unidentified figure that killed the Unicorn is Quirrell. His actions are entirely under Voldemort's control, and show that the Dark Lord will stop at nothing to regain his power. He has no remorse for killing the Unicorn, and indeed, has none for causing others' deaths. Given that he has splintered his soul and stored the pieces in Horcruxes, Voldemort is no longer quite human. While his later physical appearance reflects his inhumanity, we should bear in mind that Voldemort's facial features are likely something he chose: as the self-proclaimed Heir of Slytherin, and having a great affinity for snakes, Voldemort likely modeled his new self on a serpent, though he did not always resemble one, even after he started creating Horcruxes.
The Centaurs shun wizards and their affairs, though Hagrid, being only part-human, is an exception. They also never harm "foals", as they call human children, considering them innocent beings, though they prefer avoiding them. Human adults, however, are subject to attack should they run afoul of any Centaur, as does Dolores Umbridge in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Dumbledore is perhaps the only human the Centaurs respect. It also appears that Firenze has a greater understanding about events foreseen through the stars and planets, perhaps realizing that the coming conflict will affect all creatures in the magical world, not only humans. He is concerned enough that he vocalizes his intentions to the other Centaurs that he will help fight this growing evil. The Centaurs do agree that Harry Potter is an integral part in whatever is approaching. Firenze's continuing involvement in human events eventually causes his herd to banish him, barely escaping with his life. In the final confrontation with Voldemort, the other Centaurs will finally join the battle, fighting Voldemort and his Death Eaters alongside humans and the other magical creatures.
The following items are included because the Centaurs' personalities, which are first seen in this chapter, are necessary for their occurrence. We cannot know to what extent this was planned, of course.
- Firenze will be banished from the herd because he accepts a job from Dumbledore, teaching Divination after Professor Trelawney is sacked by Dolores Umbridge in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Firenze's willingness to be employed by a human, teaching Centaur divination to humans, clearly reflects his willingness to work against the oncoming darkness despite the herd's distaste for what Centaurs consider an inferior species.
- Later in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Bane and Ronan will again make an appearance, this time saving Harry and Hermione from Umbridge. Their reactions at this time clearly reflect the distaste for Humans that we see them exhibit in this chapter, magnified by intervening events. This distaste will also shift somewhat to Harry and Hermione, who the Centaurs no longer consider to be such "innocent foals" after Hermione manipulates the herd into helping her and Harry.
- Finally, in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, we see that Firenze has been fighting alongside the human defenders of Hogwarts, even taking a significant wound while doing so. Ronan and Bane will eventually join the battle, with the rest of the herd, under pressure from Hagrid. The behavior of all the Centaurs is entirely true to their personalities as shown in this chapter.
Chapter 16: Through the Trapdoor
End of term exam time comes, with both written and practical tests. Harry cannot figure out how he was able to take exams while worrying that Voldemort was about to burst through the door and kill him. With the exams' end, Ron and Hermione are relaxed, though Harry is not; his scar is hurting more than ever, indicating danger is approaching.
Harry suddenly realizes that he must check something with Hagrid - he needs more detail about where Hagrid got the Dragon's egg. Dragon eggs are not exactly something that one idly carries around, after all. Hagrid, when confronted, does not know what the man he won the egg from looked like, he kept his hooded cloak on. Hagrid also told this stranger that Fluffy, the three-headed dog, would calm right down if he was played a bit of music.
Harry, Ron, and Hermione, realizing that someone knows how to get past the three-headed dog, run to tell Professor Dumbledore. Professor McGonagall informs them that he has been called away to London. They try to trail Professor Snape, but fail. Harry resolves to go down the trap door as soon as the Gryffindor common room clears; Hermione and Ron immediately elect to go with him.
As they prepare to leave, Neville notices them and attempts to block their departure, refusing to allow Gryffindor to lose any more House points. Hermione regretfully puts him in a full body bind. Under the Invisibility Cloak, they leave the common room and make their way to the third-floor corridor where they find the door is already open. Using the flute that Hagrid gave him, Harry plays Fluffy to sleep, then they jump down the trap door, into a crop of Devil's Snare. Hermione, recognizing what it is, but needing to be prompted by Ron, neutralizes the plant. From there, they enter a chamber with what looks like flying birds but is actually keys. They can only escape by catching the right key using broomsticks. Naturally, Harry manages this with Ron's and Hermione's assistance. The next trap is a gigantic and violent wizard chess set. Ron brilliantly navigates them across the board by winning the game, but he is injured. After checking his condition, Harry and Hermione then pass on through a chamber in which there is a Troll that is, luckily, already knocked out. They move on to the next challenge, a logic puzzle, which Hermione solves. However, only one can proceed further, and Harry sends Hermione back to help Ron and summon help. Harry enters the last chamber. Someone is there, but it is not Snape.
The Trio is starting to work together, and we see them deriving strength from their combined talents. Each plays a vital role in reaching the Philosopher's Stone, whereas, one alone, and even two, would have likely failed. Hermione's magical ability and intellect allowed the three to escape the Devil's Snare and she solved the logic puzzle; Harry's flying talent was required to catch the key; and Ron's strategic skills were needed on the Wizard's Chess board. Notably, however, they were not simply taking turns. Ron had to prompt Hermione into conjuring a light to evade the Devil's Snare, and Harry needed Ron's and Hermione's help on the brooms to corner the key.
It was mentioned earlier that certain staff and teachers provided the protection for the Stone. In order, that would be: Hagrid (Fluffy), Professor Sprout (Devil's Snare), Professor Flitwick (charmed keys), Professor McGonagall (wizard chess set), Professor Quirrell (as we will shortly find out, the troll), and Professor Snape (potions for the logic puzzle). While we have been told that Professor Dumbledore has also contributed, his magical protection is unseen yet.
Neville's opposing the Trio is the first occasion where we have seen him evince any bravery whatsoever. Until now, he has seemed ineffectual, magically weak, and at the mercy of the passing scene. It certainly seemed questionable that the Sorting Hat placed him in Gryffindor, a house known for bravery. But Gryffindor also represents nobility, as well as courage, and the Hat apparently detected both those traits within him that, here, we see for the first time when he opposes the others. His opposition is futile, to be sure, but he believes he is protecting his House from losing more points due to what he feels is the Trio's inappropriate actions. This chapter marks a milestone in Neville's maturation, and his bravery and noble nature are gradually becoming more overt. Whether or not his magical ability can also progress remains to be seen, however.
One small point deserves notice here: It is mentioned in passing that Harry has trouble sleeping because, "he kept being woken by his old nightmare." Only twice have dreams been mentioned previously in this book. The first, Harry's vision of a flying motorbike from the early chapters, is by no means a nightmare; Harry seems to recall it as being exciting. The other dream mentioned dates back to Harry's first night at Hogwarts, and it is mentioned there that he had forgotten the dream by the next morning. So it would seem we are unacquainted with Harry's old nightmare, and there is no immediate explanation for this discrepancy.
The logic puzzle Hermione solves is interesting, in that we see the question, and the solution, but not the initial setup. The solution, as determined by Hermione, is that the smallest bottle will move you forward, and the one at the right end of the line will take you back. Clearly, from the arrangement of the bottles and the associated clues, it is possible for Hermione to determine which potion is which. Is it possible, from the clues and Hermione's solution, to work backwards and determine what the arrangement must have been? In fact, it does not, as the third clue is based on the bottles' sizes, which we are not told; however, it does refine it to one of two possible setups, both of which are uniquely solvable from the clues provided.
There are seven differently-shaped bottles on the table in front of them, and the puzzle text is:
Danger lies before you, while safety lies behind,
Two of us will help you, whichever you would find.
One among us seven will let you move ahead,
Another will transport the drinker back instead.
Two among our number hold only nettle wine,
Three of us are killers, waiting hidden in line.
Choose, unless you wish to stay here forevermore,
To help you in this choice we give you these clues four:
First, however slyly the poison tries to hide,
You will always find some on nettle wine's left side;
Second, different are those who stand at either end,
But if you would move onwards, neither is your friend;
Third, as you see clearly, all are different size,
Neither dwarf nor giant holds death in their insides;
Fourth, the second left and the second on the right,
Are twins once you taste them, though different at first sight.
Is this enough to determine the initial arrangement of bottles? Let us say that B is the potion that allows you to go back, F is the potion that allows you to move forward, W is wine, and P is poison.
|From the Poem, we know that there are 3 P's, 2 W's, 1 B, and 1 F. Let us start blank.||_ _ _ _ _ _ _|
|We know from Hermione's solution that B is the farthest to the right.||_ _ _ _ _ _ B|
|From the 2nd clue, we learn that neither end can be F, so the furthest to the left must be B, W, or P. It cannot be W, since there is always Poison to Wine's left, from clue 1, and there is no spot to the left of the leftmost. As we know where B is already, we also know that it cannot be B. Therefore, it must be P.||P _ _ _ _ _ B|
|Clue number 1 tells us that each of the two bottles of wine has poison to its left. If wine is not the second bottle, then we have the following choices for the remaining two P and the two W:
Clue 4 rules out all of these choices, because in none of them does the sixth bottle match the second. Additionally, it rules out the possibility that the second bottle is the Forwards potion, as there is only one bottle of F and so if it is in position 2, it will not match what is in position 6. So the second bottle must be wine.
|P W _ _ _ _ B|
|Now, we know that "second left and second on the right" are the same from clue number 4, so the second from the right must also be wine.||P W _ _ _ W B|
|And now, apply clue number 1 again — poison to the left of the wine.||P W _ _ P W B|
|At this point it becomes indeterminate as we can't see the sizes of the bottles to allow clue 3 to help us. The two solutions are equally likely, but whichever of the two is the "dwarf", the smallest of the lot, will be the Forward bottle, that being the only one not yet determined.||P W F P P W B
P W P F P W B
Given this arrangement, we note that clue 3, "neither dwarf nor giant holds death," means that the giant must be one of the two wine bottles, as from Hermione's solution we know that the Back potion is a smaller bottle, and the Forward potion is the smallest.
So, starting from the arrangement above, Hermione sees that the "giant" in clue 3 is either 2 or 6, meaning the largest bottle must be wine, back, or forward potion. Clue 4 tells her that 2 and 6 are both not poison, therefore they must both be wine, as there is only one of forward potion or back potion; and clue 1 tells her that 1 and 5 must both be poison.
As both wine bottles have been identified, and clue 2 says that 7 must be different from 1 but cannot be Forward, and we know that 1 is Poison, the only option available is that 7 is Back.
With three of the four non-poison bottles identified, and none of them the "dwarf" mentioned in clue 3, it is easy to determine that the smallest bottle must be Forward, and the one remaining unidentified bottle, neither dwarf nor giant, must be poison.
The analysis above assumes it is somehow possible to tell from which side the line of potion bottles is to be viewed, since the definition of "left" and "right" depend on it. From the written description of the room "... just a table with seven differently shaped bottles standing on it in a line," it is entirely possible the table was in the middle of the room and could be viewed from either side. However, Hermione "walked up and down the line of bottles" rather than around the table while contemplating the puzzle, which would suggest the bottles are only accessible from one side, as they would be if the table were pushed up against a wall. It is possible that Hermione simply assumed that the bottles were to be referred to only from the side of the room where she and Harry entered, and was staying always on that side of the table to ease her own thinking. It would, of course, be possible to affix the poem to the table so that the order of bottles is fixed relative to the poem; however, we are told that the riddle is on a scroll that Hermione can carry around. We have to assume some form of standard reference as to where the leftmost and rightmost bottles are, as the puzzle must be solvable. However, the fact remains that Hermione was lucky that the wizard who had already passed through had not made some trivial rearrangement of the bottles that would have invalidated the entire puzzle, and Harry was lucky that the same wizard had left any of the "go forward" potion for him.
- Discuss how Harry, Ron, and Hermione, independently and as a group, overcame the magical barriers protecting the Philosopher's Stone.
- Why does Neville try to stop the Trio from leaving the common room? What does Hermione do?
- Why did Harry want to know where Hagrid got the Dragon's egg?
- If someone had previously passed through the room, why then were all the potions in the logic puzzle still present? Would that person not have had to drink the "onwards" potion at least? And if it was some form of magically refilling bottle, why would only Harry be able to proceed?
- Why was the Troll already knocked out, and who would be able to accomplish such a feat?
This chapter is almost pure action; there is very little here that is carried forward to further books. However, the following points should be mentioned.
Until now, Neville's courage has been deeply buried as he has quietly endured a family tragedy that few know about. Neville's increasing strength, bravery, and magical ability will, by the seventh book, result in him becoming a leader in an underground resistance to a Dark organization.
Hermione here shows some concern for Ron; it is impossible to judge, at this early stage, if this is the starting point for their eventual relationship that develops in books six and seven, but one could speculate that a seed has been sown.
One additional point should be raised concerning "Harry's old nightmare," which is mentioned though never explained. Harry will be subject to recurring nightmares in later books, notably visions of the duel in the cemetery after Cedric's death, and later under the malign influence of Voldemort. However, we have not yet been told of any recurring nightmares, so the mention of such in this chapter may be an error, or may simply be premature.
- Ron, upset with Hermione's inertia when faced by the Devil's Snare, yells at Hermione, "Are you a witch, or what?" In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Hermione, upset with Ron's inertia when faced by the Whomping Willow, yells, "Are you a wizard, or what?" While this was certainly a conscious choice by the author, one must wonder whether it was meant to be a conscious choice by Hermione. It is also perhaps noteworthy that in response to this, Ron uses Wingardium Leviosa, the first charm he ever learned.
Chapter 17: The Man with Two Faces
Note: This chapter ties up many plot threads in a rather short space. In order to explain the necessary high points, the synopsis (and the following analysis) must be relatively long.
The man in the final chamber is Quirrell. But a changed Quirrell, no longer twitching, stuttering or timid. He tells Harry how Lord Voldemort possessed him while he was traveling abroad. Quirrell claims he was a foolish man until meeting Voldemort, who showed him that there is no good or evil, only power, and those too weak to seek it. Quirrell is quick to point out that being seen as poorly skilled, particularly alongside Snape, is a very effective disguise. Snape was suspected of creating all the mischief that Quirrell was responsible for, such as enchanting Harry's broom in the Quidditch match against Slytherin – apparently Snape was working a counter-charm, and it was Hermione knocking Quirrell off his feet that interrupted the jinx. Quirrell also admits to having a particular talent with trolls, having set one loose into the dungeons at Hallowe'en as a diversion, so he could see what was guarding the Stone; he was thwarted by Snape, however.
Now, all that stands before him is the final obstacle guarding the Stone, which Harry recognizes as the Mirror of Erised. While examining the Mirror, Quirrell mentions that Snape was at school with Harry's father, and that they hated each other, which is why he dislikes Harry, though Snape never wanted him dead. He also says that "his Master", which apparently means Lord Voldemort, is with him wherever he goes. When Quirrell is unable to decode the Mirror's secret, a voice tells him to, "use the boy". Quirrell stands Harry in front of the mirror, and Harry sees himself removing the Stone from his pants pocket, then discovers that it is actually in his pocket. He tells Quirrell that he only sees himself winning the House Cup but the mysterious voice says he is lying and demands to speak to Harry face-to-face. Quirrell demurs, but eventually removes his turban to reveal Lord Voldemort's face on the back of his head. Voldemort orders Quirrell to seize Harry, but Quirrell's skin burns and blisters when he touches Harry. As Quirrell is about to perform a deadly curse, Harry grabs his opponent's face, leaving Quirrell in too much pain to utter the incantation. By now, the pain in Harry's scar is so intense that it renders him unconscious.
Harry awakens in the hospital wing; Professor Dumbledore, who arrived at the Chamber just in time to save Harry from Quirrell, is standing nearby. He tells Harry that the Stone has been destroyed, and Nicolas Flamel and his wife, Perenelle, will die, but they have enough time left to get their affairs in order. "After all," he says, "to the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure." Dumbledore agrees with Harry that Voldemort is still out there, possibly searching for another body to inhabit, or looking for some other means to return. Dumbledore refuses, for now, to answer Harry's question about why Voldemort wanted to kill him. He does tell him that Quirrell was unable to touch Harry because Harry's mother died to save him, and a love that strong can provide protection against Dark magic. Dumbledore admits it was he who gave Harry the Invisibility Cloak - saying Harry's father left it in his care. Dumbledore also explains that Snape hates Harry because Harry's father saved Snape's life, leaving Snape in his debt, something Snape deeply resents. Dumbledore explains how Harry was able to retrieve the Stone from the enchanted Mirror: anyone who wanted to use the Stone would only see themselves using it, but would be prevented from taking it, while someone who was only seeking it but did not wish to use it, would find it.
After Dumbledore's departure, Ron and Hermione are allowed to visit. Harry recounts what happened in the last chamber and what Dumbledore told him. They conclude Dumbledore allowed Harry to fight Voldemort, if he chose, rather than trying to protect him from the Dark Lord.
The next day, Harry has another visitor: Hagrid, who is in tears because he gave Quirrell the final piece of information he needed to reach the Stone. After Harry calms him, Hagrid remembers he has a gift for him, a photo album, containing wizarding pictures of Harry's parents.
Late in the day, Madam Pomfrey, the nurse, relents and allows Harry to attend the Leaving Feast. There, Professor Dumbledore rises to award the House Cup. Slytherin is in the lead, partly because without Harry playing in the final match, Ravenclaw defeated Gryffindor at Quidditch, and also because Harry lost Gryffindor so many House points in the Norbert debacle. "However, recent events must be taken into account - I have some last-minute points to dish out." Harry, Ron, Hermione, and – surprisingly – Neville have earned between them enough House points to regain the lead and win the House Cup for Gryffindor.
Exam results are revealed and Hermione, as expected, has the best marks of the year, while both Ron and Harry have managed decent passes; even Neville has scraped through. Finally it is time for the Hogwarts Express to take students home. Ron and Hermione promise to write, and Ron says he will invite them both to visit him. And though everyone has received notices warning them that no magic is permitted outside school, Harry knows the Dursleys have no idea about that. "I'm going to have a lot of fun with Dudley this summer..."
The story ends on a high note, and Harry has won the battle, but the the reader can see that the war has just begun. Voldemort, though thwarted, has indeed survived, and he will likely attempt other ways to restore his body, biding his time before launching another assault on Harry and the Wizarding world.
Quirrell's comment that there is no good or evil, only power, and those who are too weak to seek it, reflects Voldemort's belief that achieving his goal will justify whatever means he employs to obtain it. That goal, based on his past history, is conquering the wizard realm, and for Voldemort, good and evil truly are non-existent concepts. Instead, there is only his insatiable lust for power and a self-determined right to satisfy it. This also reflects how Voldemort's Death Eaters, and Slytherins in general, appear to think and function, seizing whatever they want, whenever they want, and by any means deemed necessary, often taking the easiest and shortest route possible. However, an old axiom states that absolute power corrupts absolutely, and Voldemort, already corrupt, is likely to become even more so, probably to where he retains little rationality or sanity. As contrasted by Dumbledore, with power comes responsibility and morality, along with continual cooperation, oversight, and loyalty in order to operate and maintain a stable and productive society. Without it, a state is destined to decay through internal conflict, strife, and greed until it totally collapses. Even if Voldemort can conquer the wizard realm, retaining his power and maintaining an orderly and productive rule while keeping his followers loyal and placated would be an indomitable, if not impossible, task for him.
In this we can see some similarities to Niccolò Machiavelli's 16th century political treatise, The Prince, which advocates that to obtain or maintain power, a prince should adopt a moral public facade while secretly implementing whatever extreme amoral methods are necessary to gain and retain control, without regard to the individual or civil rights. That belief has even been utilized in the modern era by dictators such as Adolph Hitler to fuel his rise to power in mid-20th century Germany. The series' overall theme of good vs. evil, and which path, dark or light, a wizard can and will choose to follow, will seem blurred by Voldemort, who cares about neither. Though his overall plan is yet unclear, he may want to keep his presence concealed and true intentions ambiguous while insidiously plotting to take control. This would make it difficult for Voldemort's opponents to fight him if he has already solidified and entrenched his power structure once he does emerge. While Voldemort apparently cares little for appearances, when he reveals himself, his public persona, rather than a moralistic image, may instead espouse principles and ideals crafted to appeal to those already bent towards his beliefs, or those who have been denied equality under the current wizard rule and can further support the Dark Lord's rise to power. He is unconcerned about what methods he employs to achieve this, and it seems doubtful that Voldemort intends to share power once he obtains it or allow others to reap benefits from his takeover. He will, however, likely have to offer at least simplistic rewards to gain that power, and mete out penalties to retain it.
Clearly the big surprise in the story is that it was Quirrell, not Snape, who was behind the ongoing attacks on Harry. We know Snape and Harry deeply dislike one another, but Harry's animosity had biased him into wrongly believing that Snape was responsible. Harry, still too single-minded and immature, fails to consider that there could be other reasons behind Snape's behavior; Snape's hatred apparently stems from his relationship with Harry's father, James Potter, though the full circumstances are still unknown, nor why Snape would transfer this resentment to James' young son. Snape's antagonism toward Harry is widely known, even among the staff, though Dumbledore seems to discount it somewhat; Snape almost certainly was questioned following the attacks and had been cleared, though Harry apparently presumes that an interrogation never occurred, and does not realize that teachers are unlikely to discuss such matters with a first-year student, even one as directly involved as Harry is.
Life, death, and resurrection are also ongoing themes in the series, and it is reinforced here, though Quirrell's death and the Flamels' impending demise are indirectly shown, unlike the slain Unicorn seen in the Forbidden Forest. As Dumbledore explains it to Harry, death is but a gateway to another realm, likely one that is better and more enjoyable than the living world, and it is a natural progression that should be embraced, not feared, though both Voldemort and Flamel apparently do; this may partially explain why some who die, like Nearly Headless Nick, become ghosts and remain bound to the living world, rather than moving on to the "other side." While Voldemort, whose name can be translated from French as "flight from death", seeks any means to become immortal, Flamel instead chooses to end his life for the betterment and safety of wizard society. Immortality has a high price, and anyone possessing that secret holds the most sought after and valuable prize that many would pay any amount or perform any act, including murder, to obtain. Flamel realizes that the Stone is far too dangerous to exist because innocent people will be killed as others, such as Voldemort, will always seek its power. Flamel opts to destroy the Stone, finally accepting mortality as an inevitable part of living. Even if Voldemort can obtain a new body and immortality, his life will probably always be cursed and incomplete, his shredded soul never fully restored, and unable to attain love and friendship, whose power is incomprehensible to him.
Harry also learns more about his tie to the Dark Lord, his family, and that it was his mother's love for him and sacrificing her life for his that created the magical protection against Voldemort's attack when Harry was an infant. It is this same love within Harry that burned Voldemort when Harry touched Quirrell. This protection will likely continue to play an important role in the story's plot. While Harry has a better understanding regarding his relationship with Voldemort, Dumbledore's refusal to explain why Voldemort wants to kill Harry can only add to Harry's confusion and fears.
There are a few concerns regarding "one of Dumbledore's 'better ideas'", hiding the Stone in the Mirror of Erised. Dumbledore says that anyone who wanted to use the Stone, would only see themselves using it but would be unable to take it, while someone who was only seeking it but did not wish to use it, would find it. Quirrell reports that he sees himself in the Mirror, giving the Stone to his Master, which seems to fit the requirement of not using it himself. Why did Dumbledore's spell prevent the Stone from being released to Quirrell? This question must remain unanswered, but there are at least two possible reasons. The most likely reason is that Quirrell is simply lying, saying what he thinks Voldemort wants to hear while he actually sees himself amassing piles of Stone-created gold. However, it can be argued that Voldemort can sense falsehoods, as he seems to be able to sense that Harry is lying. An alternate explanation would be that Dumbledore's spell is detecting both Quirrell handing over the Stone and Voldemort using it, and is refusing to release it to Voldemort.
Also, many fan sites have noticed a discrepancy in this chapter. Hermione says that she found Dumbledore in the Entrance Hall as she was on her way to send him an owl. Yet the trap door is located in the third-floor hallway, and the Owlery, we learn later, is high in the castle, on the seventh floor. Why would Hermione head down to the main floor on her way from the third to the seventh floor? One possible answer to this can actually be found in the Harry Potter films, in which we see a large central stairwell in the castle. Combine that with Percy's earlier warning that the stairways like to move, and it is entirely possible that Hermione, emerging from the third floor corridor, would have found herself on the side of the central stairwell away from the Owlery with no staircases leading upwards from there. While descending to access a staircase that would bridge the gap, she might either have needed to go through the Entrance Hall, or else happened to see Dumbledore, below her, as he returned to the castle. This speculation is only intended to quiet a small issue that can hamper the story's enjoyment; it is unsupported by anything in the books.
- Why does Snape seem to hate Harry?
- How was Quirrell able to frame Snape for the attacks on Harry?
- Why did Snape suspect Quirrell? Did anyone else suspect him?
- Why was Harry able to retrieve the Stone from the Mirror, but Quirrell could not?
- How did Voldemort know that Harry had the Stone?
- Why was Harry able to burn Quirrell's skin?
- What does Quirrell mean when he says, "There is no good or evil, only power, and those too weak to seek it"?
- Why would Dumbledore have had James Potter's Invisibility Cloak, given that Dumbledore can make himself invisible without one?
- How can Snape justify his hating Harry for something he has had no responsibility for?
- What does Dumbledore mean when he says that death is, "the next great adventure"?
- Why did Nicolas Flamel agree to destroy the Stone, knowing that this represented a death sentence for himself?
- Why would Dumbledore refuse to say why Voldemort wants to kill Harry?
- Harry, Ron, and Hermione think that rather than try to protect Harry, Dumbledore allowed him to fight Voldemort. Is that true? If so, why?
Harry survives his second encounter with Lord Voldemort, and what protected him the first time, his mother's love, protects him again, and apparently will continue to do so. We later learn that this protection also requires Harry to live in a home where his mother's blood kin resides (in this case, her sister, Harry's Aunt Petunia). This is why Harry must return to Privet Drive each summer, until his 17th birthday, as much as he detests being there. On several occasions however, he will be prematurely liberated from his enforced confinement to spend time with the Weasleys.
While Harry has already suspected that Snape has the ability to read minds, we do not yet know whether this is a magical ability. It turns out that it is; much later, Professor Snape will be called upon to teach Occlumency to Harry, at which time we will learn, not only that there is a magical ability to examine the mind's contents (Legilimency), but also that Voldemort is a master at it. Weakened as he is, Voldemort still seems quite able to read Harry's mind, of determining what Harry sees in the mirror, and that he has obtained the Stone. We will learn, much later, details of the linkage that exists between Voldemort and Harry, here shown by the recurring pain in Harry's scar. Voldemort, however, will remain unsure of the linkage's nature until Harry's fifth year, apparently assuming until that point that the ability to read Harry's thoughts is purely his Legilimency skills.
The seeming hatred between James Potter and Severus Snape is mentioned for the first time here. This features prominently in later books, especially the fifth. As this apparent hatred is a focal point on which the series' plot turns, we will see it repeatedly over the entire story arc. Eventually, the reason for it is revealed.
A key question driving the series is asked, and left unanswered, for the first time. Harry asks why Voldemort wants to kill him; Dumbledore responds that he must refuse to answer that. We learn later about a prophecy that predicts that either Harry or Voldemort must die, as "neither can live while the other survives." Dumbledore feels that as a child of 11 years, Harry is still too young to be told this arguably harsh fact. The prophecy will be revealed to Harry in four years, along with Dumbledore's reasons for withholding it.
Also, Dumbledore voices a philosophy that centers the series: "after all, to the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure." This does not, at first glance, seem to be a particularly useful philosophy, but it is the key difference between Voldemort and those who would defeat him. Much of the series revolves around death and the attitudes towards it. Voldemort fears death, so much so that he kills others in cold blood to preserve his own life by creating Horcruxes. Dumbledore, and to a large extent Harry, are prepared to die, if necessary, to destroy Voldemort's great evil. It is the one who is prepared to meet death, on his own terms, who fully masters it; running from death does not avoid it. This, we are told, is why Harry is the stronger Wizard when he confronts and duels Voldemort near the end of book 4.
To defeat Quirrell (and Voldemort), Harry had to follow a designated path, containing dangerous obstacles he had to overcome, before confronting the Dark Lord. This same scenario is echoed in the next book, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, where Harry travels through an underground passage leading to a hidden chamber beneath Hogwarts where Tom Riddle (Voldemort) awaits. And though Voldemort does not appear in Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry (and Hermione) clambers through a secret tunnel leading to the Shrieking Shack where the fugitive and the Dark Lord's supposedly loyal supporter, Sirius Black, has taken Ron. In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Harry must navigate an enchanted maze filled with riddles and dangerous creatures as part of a Tournament, only to again face Voldemort. Harry is lured to the Ministry of Magic in Order of the Phoenix, where he maneuvers his way through the convoluted halls and mysterious rooms of the Department of Mysteries to confront the Dark Lord's minions, as well as his own destiny in the form of a prophecy. Finally, in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, he travels a dark path through the Forbidden Forest that will lead to his seemingly final encounter with Voldemort. Following a defined, but unknown and dangerous pathway symbolizes Harry's progression through the entire series, and it is the only way he will be able to defeat Lord Voldemort. At each juncture, he has the option to turn back, but instead chooses to move forward; each time he is only able reach the final destination with help from Ron and Hermione, and later, other allies such as Neville Longbottom and Luna Lovegood.
- "After all, to the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure." This aphorism is applied here by Dumbledore in reference to Nicolas Flamel. While we do not recognize it directly at the time of Dumbledore's death, we will find in the final book that Dumbledore had applied it to himself as well. And Harry's subsequent realization that in order to master Death, one must not fear it, is closely related.
- Voldemort here is seen to have survived his own apparent death. This, of course, sets up the entire seven-book story arc, and will be referred to multiple times throughout the series. The fact that the mechanism depends on fragments of Voldemort's soul being attached to physical objects ("Horcruxes"), and that Harry contains a piece of Voldemort's soul within himself, is not yet known; but the connection between Harry and Voldemort, visible in Harry's scar and known by the pain in that scar, would indicate that the nature of Voldemort's immortality had been largely worked out this early in the series.
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