Students continue to whisper in Harry’s wake as he walks the halls and tries to find his classes, which is made more difficult by the fact that the staircases constantly move, and that Peeves often points him in the wrong direction. Worse than Peeves is the caretaker, Argus Filch, and his cat, Mrs. Norris, who patrol the halls looking for troublemakers and rarely believe that students are lost if they happen to come upon an out-of-bounds corridor.
Perhaps part of the reason that Harry eventually feels so justified breaking the rules is that the primary enforcers of those rules (like Filch and Mrs. Norris) are so strict as to be unreasonable. Therefore, Harry and others start to feel justified in their rule-breaking because they understand that sometimes they’re not truly doing anything wrong.
The classes are just as difficult as trying to actually locate them. Harry studies planetary movements, Herbology, History of Magic, Charms, and Transfiguration. The latter is taught by Professor McGonagall, who is a very strict teacher. The first day, the students try to turn a match into a needle, but by the end of the lesson, only Hermione has made the smallest amount of difference, turning it silver and pointy.
Hermione’s intelligence and overachieving personality will eventually become a key part of her friendship with Harry and Ron, as it allows them to overcome challenges that they would not be able to tackle without her.
Harry looks forward to Quirrell’s class, but it turns out to be a bit of a joke. His room smells strongly of garlic, which everyone thinks is to ward off vampires. They notice, also, that Quirrell’s turban smells somewhat funny as well. Regardless, Harry is happy to find that he isn’t miles behind everyone else in his classes. Lots of people came from Muggle families, like Harry, and even Ron didn’t have much of a head start.
As Harry starts to understand magic and realize how much there is to learn for all of the first years, magic transforms from a thing that helps Harry find a sense of belonging, into something that helps him come into his own. Harry has less anxiety about being different, but now he needs magic in order to grow up and become the wizard he is meant to be.
At the end of their first week, Harry and Ron eat breakfast before their first potions lesson with the Slytherins. Snape, who is the Head of Slytherin House, is infamous for favoring the Slytherins. Harry wishes that McGonagall (Head of Gryffindor) favored her House. Just then, the mail arrives, brought in by hundreds of owls. Harry receives a note from Hagrid, inviting him to tea that afternoon. Harry sends a note with Hedwig accepting the invitation.
Even now that Harry has found a good set of friends in Ron and the rest of the Gryffindors, he still derives a great sense of comfort and love from his formative friendship with Hagrid. His visit to tea will help Harry again express some of his insecurities about classes and Professor Snape.
Potions class is in the dungeon. When Snape goes through the roll call, he pauses at Harry’s name, snidely commenting, “our new—celebrity.” Snape then starts his lecture, saying that potions can teach the students to “bottle fame, brew glory, even stopper death”—as long as they aren’t “dunderheads.” The students are deathly quiet, following Snape’s every word.
Snape’s scathing dislike of Harry is related to his dislike of Harry’s father, James, whom he believed to be very arrogant. Thus, Snape assumes Harry to be arrogant as well, hence his comment about Harry being “our new—celebrity.” In reality, Harry is genuinely humble and wants to prove that he is not simply a famous name.
Snape suddenly calls on Harry, asking if he knows what “powdered root of asphodel” and “infusion of wormwood” make together. Harry doesn’t know, but Hermione’s hand shoots up. “Fame clearly isn’t everything,” Snape quips. He ignores Hermione and asks Harry two more difficult potions questions. Harry again says he doesn’t know, but hold Snape’s gaze and notes that Hermione clearly does, so Snape should ask her instead. Snape is not pleased; he gives the answers to his questions and takes a point from Gryffindor for Harry’s “cheek.”
Snape affirms his assumption that he believes Harry will be arrogant in trying to humiliate Harry. But Harry is used to being humiliated and does not shy away from a challenge; in telling Snape that Hermione knows the answers, Harry simultaneously points out Snape’s unjust treatment of him and demonstrates that he’s not afraid to rebel when he knows that things are unfair.
Snape then pairs up the students and sets them to mixing up a simple potion. He criticizes everyone except Malfoy. Neville makes a mistake, melting Seamus’s cauldron into a blob, and bright red boils spring up all over his body. Snape calls Neville an idiot and sends him to the hospital wing, then turns on Harry and asks why he didn’t stop Neville from doing the wrong thing. Snape surmises that Harry thought Neville’s misstep would make Harry himself look good. Snape takes another point from Gryffindor. Harry tries to protest, but Ron tells him not to push it.
Harry’s dislike of Snape stems from Snape’s bad temperament, but particularly his abuse of power. Harry understands that Snape is picking on him unfairly because he derives pleasure from taking Harry down a peg and simply because he is able to exercise that power.
After the lesson, Harry’s spirits are low. But afterward he and Ron make their way to Hagrid’s wooden house at the edge of the forest. Hagrid welcomes them and Harry introduces him to Ron. They tell Hagrid over tea all about their first week of lessons—particularly Snape’s lesson. Harry worries that Snape seemed to hate him in particular. Hagrid says that that’s rubbish, but Harry can’t help but think that Hagrid can’t look him in the eye as he says this.
Hagrid continues to provide Harry with a deep sense of love as he continues to represent a kind of father figure for Harry. Harry relies on him to be a source of advice and comfort as he deals with new and different challenges from his classes.
Hagrid and Ron start to talk about Charlie’s work with dragons, as Hagrid liked Charlie when he was a student. While they talk, Harry’s eye is caught by a newspaper clipping. It is about the break-in at Gringotts, which Harry sees to his surprise had occurred on his birthday. He reads more: nothing was taken, and the vault that was infiltrated had been emptied that same day. He remarks on this to Hagrid, saying it must have happened while they were there. Hagrid doesn’t meet Harry’s eyes or respond.
The Gringotts’ break-in and article sets off a mystery that Harry will work to solve through the rest of the book as he comes to believe that the package Hagrid picked up is what the thief was after. This leads Harry to try to make sure it doesn’t get into evil, greedy hands (and causes him to break more than a few rules in the process).
As Harry and Ron head back to the castle for dinner, Harry thinks again about what he had read, wondering whether the grubby little package that Hagrid had removed from vault 713 could possibly be what the thief had been looking for. If so, he thinks, had Hagrid collected it just in time? Where is it now? And why was Hagrid so evasive about Snape?
Harry’s immediate dislike of Snape begins to blind him in some respects: throughout the rest of the book Harry will be so consumed with the desire to work out the mystery and to prove that Snape is a villain that he will ignore all signs that this is not the case.