Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone Summary and Analysis
by J.K. Rowling
Chapters 8 and 9
During his first few weeks at Hogwarts, Harry struggles to get used to his unfamiliar surroundings. Everyone talks about him and stares when he passes, and he feels uncomfortable with all of the attention. All of his classes are interesting except for the History of Magic, which is taught by a ghost and is devastatingly boring. He is also a bit disappointed by Defense Against the Dark Arts, in which Professor Quirrell seems to focus more on protecting himself from vampires than teaching the students jinxes and counter-jinxes. There are numerous rumors about the reason for Professor Quirrell’s odd-smelling turban, but Fred and George Weasley insist that he stuffs it with cloves of garlic so that he is protected wherever he goes. Harry is also relieved to discover that many of the other first-year students are just ignorant about magic as he is. During their first Transfiguration class, Hermione is the only student who is able to transform her match into a needle; the rest of the students fail just as miserably as Harry does.
During his first Potions class, Harry learns that he was not imagining things when he saw Professor Snape give him a malignant look. Harry does not know why, but the teacher truly seems to hate him. He mocks Harry as the new “celebrity” at Hogwarts and then humiliates him for being unable to answer detailed questions about magical herbs. Hermione is the only student who knows the answers to Snape’s questions, but Snape refuses to call on her. He finally docks Gryffindor several points for Harry’s inability to answer his questions.
After the unpleasant class ends, Harry and Ron go visit Hagrid at his cottage on the outskirts of the Forbidden Forest. Harry tells Hagrid about their Potions lesson, but Hagrid insists that Harry must be exaggerating because Professor Snape would have no reason to hate him. Yet, Harry can’t help but notice that Hagrid does not seem to meet his eyes when he is telling him this. While at the cottage, Harry notices a newspaper clipping from The Daily Prophet that details a break-in at Gringotts. Harry realizes that the break-in took place on his birthday, and he wonders if the mysterious package in Vault 713 had anything to do with it. Harry and Ron leave the cottage with Harry still wondering about the small package and Snape’s hatred for him.
Harry’s dislike of Draco Malfoy gradually increases until he realizes that he hates Malfoy even more than Dudley. Thus, Harry is upset to learn that the first-year students from Gryffindor and Slytherin will be taking flying lessons together. Harry knows absolutely nothing about flying, let alone Quidditch, and he is nervous about humiliating himself in front of Malfoy, who is constantly boasting about his flying experience. Neville is equally nervous about the flying lessons, having been explicitly forbidden from flying at his house by his grandmother.
The morning of their flying lesson, Neville receives a package from home that contains a Remembrall, a glass sphere that turns crimson if the owner has forgotten something. As Neville holds up the Remembrall, Malfoy walks by and snatches it. Harry and Ron instantly jump up, hoping for an excuse to fight Malfoy, but Professor McGonagall intervenes before they get a chance and orders Malfoy to return the Remembrall to Neville.
During the afternoon flying lesson, Madam Hooch coaches the students on mounting their brooms and rising a few feet above the ground. Neville accidentally pushes off his broomstick too hard and flies twenty feet into the air before falling off of his broom and breaking his wrist. Madam Hooch takes Neville to the hospital wing and orders the rest of the students to remain grounded during her absence. As soon as she is out of earshot, Malfoy begins mocking Neville and picks up his Remembrall, which had fallen out of his pocket during his fall. Harry tells Malfoy to return the Remembrall, but Malfoy merely smirks and flies up to the top of the nearest oak tree with it. Forgetting Madam Hooch’s orders, Harry quickly mounts his broom and flies after Malfoy, surprising himself as much as the other students with his flying prowess.
Malfoy still refuses to give Harry the Remembrall and throws toward the ground. Harry leans into a steep dive and catches the Remembrall a foot from the ground. He is amazed at the sheer joy that he feels when he is on the broomstick, and he wonders at this unexpected gift. Suddenly, Professor McGonagall arrives, screaming Harry’s name. She orders him to follow her, and Harry expects to be expelled. Yet, instead of punishing Harry, Professor McGonagall introduces him to Oliver Wood, a fifth-year student and the captain of the Gryffindor Quidditch team. Professor McGonagall tells Wood about Harry’s amazing fifty-foot dive to retrieve the Remembrall, and Wood offers Harry the position of Seeker on the Gryffindor team.
At dinner, an ecstatic Harry tells Ron about joining the Gryffindor team as the youngest Hogwarts Quidditch player in a century. Fred and George come over and introduce themselves as the Beaters for the Gryffindor team. Malfoy and his gang also come over to Harry and Ron, surprised that Harry hasn’t been expelled. As the tensions grow, Malfoy challenges Harry to a midnight wizard’s duel in the trophy room. Harry does not know what a wizard’s duel is but he accepts anyway.
At eleven-thirty, Harry and Ron start to sneak out of Gryffindor tower to meet Malfoy. Just as they are able to go through the portrait hole, they are surprised by Hermione, who scolds them for risking Gryffindor points by being out of bed after curfew. Harry and Ron ignore her and, much to their annoyance, she follows them. On their way, the trio runs into Neville, who has forgotten the Gryffindor password and cannot get into the dorm.
As the students quietly tiptoe into the trophy room, they stumble across the caretaker, Filch; Malfoy has tricked them into being out of bed and warned Filch that students would be entering the trophy room. Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Neville run from Filch until they find themselves in the forbidden third-floor corridor. With Filch just a few steps behind, Hermione uses a spell to open the locked door at the end of the corridor and they huddle inside and close the door, only to find themselves face-to-face with a monstrous three-headed dog. Harry quickly opens the door again, and they escape just in time. Somehow, the four students find their way back to Gryffindor tower without being caught and collapse, terrified, in the common room. Hermione reproaches Harry and Ron for leaving their dorm in the first place and mentions in passing that the three-headed dog was standing on a trap door. Harry realizes that the dog must be guarding the mysterious package from Vault 713.
At this point in the novel, it becomes clear that, though Harry is unique in many ways, he is still an ordinary boy. He is not successful in all of his classes, he dislikes several of his teachers, and he struggles with his magical assignments just as much as the other students in the class. In classic literary tradition, the hero of such a narrative would have remarkable powers and skills. In Rowling’s novel, however, Harry’s heroic characterization is a result of his personal determination and courage, rather than his inherent magical gifts. As a result, not only is Harry an unlikely hero, but he is much more appealing to young readers.
Rowling does choose to incorporate one exceptional skill in Harry’s characterization: flying. Although he has never been on a broomstick between Madam Hooch’s introductory flying class, Harry is already well beyond his classmates in terms of flying expertise. Unlike Malfoy, who uses his flying skill to show off, Harry only discovers his incredible talent because he is trying to retrieve Neville’s Remembrall. It almost seems as if Harry’s sudden flying skill is a reward for his compassionate nature and loyalty toward his friends. Still, Rowling limits Harry’s unique skills to this single talent and similarly prevents Ron and Hermione from possessing a surplus of magical skills. This way, Rowling prevents Harry from becoming arrogant or egocentric in his role as the hero and also makes his friendship with Ron and Hermione all the more convincing.
Harry’s accidental discovery of the forbidden third-floor corridor continues the important plot element of the mysterious package from Vault 713. The initial introduction of this package in the narrative is so insignificant that the readers (along with Harry) could easily assume that it will not play a major role in the novel. Yet, with Harry’s realization that the three-headed dog is standing guard over it, the package takes on a far more significant meaning in the context of the plot. From that point onward, the mysterious package becomes the driving force of the narrative, prompting Harry, Ron, and Hermione to research Nicolas Flamel, learn about the Sorcerer’s Stone, and eventually realize that Voldemort is going to try to steal it.
The presence of the Sorcerer’s Stone in Hogwarts also adds an element of mystery and suspense to the plot, as well as adventure and horror. Instead of just a novel about a young boy’s first year at magic school, the text becomes more about Harry’s detective skills and the race against time to find the Sorcerer’s Stone before Voldemort than a description of magic courses and class assignments. By introducing the mysterious package at the very beginning of Harry’s exposure to the world of magic and then incorporating it later in the plot, Rowling artfully constructs a narrative thread that is integral to the entire web of the story.
When Harry goes into the third-floor corridor, he also demonstrates a slightly rebellious nature that will become a significant aspect of his personality in this book, as well as in the later books in the series. Harry is willing to adhere to school rules most of the time, but he also feels no guilt in breaking the rules in certain situations. For example, when Harry flies after Malfoy to retrieve Neville’s Remembrall, he is disobeying a direct order by Madam Hooch. Yet, his sense of justice, compassion, and loyalty overpower his concern for breaking the rules: the ends justify the means. In this particular case, Harry only enters the forbidden third-floor corridor by accident. Still, Rowling uses this instance to foreshadow the concept of causality that will often determine Harry’s course of action in the novel, despite the consequences.
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