The next week, the Gryffindors begin flying lessons. Harry had been looking forward to learning to fly more than anything else, but he is frustrated that they will be learning with the Slytherins. He isn’t keen on making a fool of himself in front of Malfoy, who often talks boastfully about his Quidditch skills and complains loudly about first years never making the House teams.
In contrast with the love and protection that Harry feels from friends like Ron, Malfoy’s and Harry’s rivalry continues to make Harry feel vulnerable, dampening his excitement about learning to fly. Malfoy’s ego is also once again on display in contrast with Harry’s humility.
Seamus and Ron are also excited for flying lessons, but Neville is nervous about it. Hermione, too, is uneasy, as flying isn’t something she can learn from a textbook. At breakfast the morning of the lesson, Neville receives a present from his grandmother in the mail: a Remembrall, which is a small glass ball full of smoke that turns red if the person holding it has forgotten something. Just then, Malfoy comes over and snatches it from Neville, but McGonagall sees this interaction and makes him return it.
Malfoy’s interaction with Neville sets the groundwork for the later episode during the flying lesson. Malfoy continues to pick on those weaker than he is, and this sparks Harry’s desire to do what is right, to protect his friend, and to stand up for those who have less power than others.
That afternoon, Madam Hooch leads their flying lesson. She tells each student to stand by a broom on the ground, stick out their hand, and say, “UP!” Harry’s broom effortlessly jumps into his hand. Just as the students start to mount their brooms, Neville pushes off a little too quickly, and he rises twenty feet before tumbling to the ground and breaking his wrist. Madam Hooch takes him to the hospital wing, warning the students not to try any flying while she is gone or they will be expelled.
Harry’s facility with the broom and with flying is foreshadowed here, in that it immediately jumps into his hand, giving him an immediate sense that he is meant to fly. Madam Hooch also lays down a rule for the students, setting the stage for Harry to break it.
As soon as Neville and Madam Hooch leave, Malfoy begins to make fun of Neville. He then spots Neville’s Remembrall on the ground and picks it up. Harry tells Malfoy to return it; instead, Malfoy gets on his broomstick and takes off, taunting Harry to “come and get it.” Harry grabs his broom, but Hermione stops him, warning that he’ll get in trouble.
Harry leaps to break the rules not for the sake of breaking them, as Malfoy does, but instead to stand up for his friend. Even though Hermione warns him about the rules, Harry knows that he is trying to do what is right, and that sometimes breaking rules is warranted.
Harry ignores Hermione’s warning. He takes off and glides easily through the air, delighted that he’s found something he’s naturally good at. He hears gasps of admiration behind him as he faces Malfoy, threatening to knock him off his broom if he doesn’t hand over the Remembrall. Malfoy throws the Remembrall high into the air and challenges Harry to catch it. Harry dives instinctively for the ball, catching it just in time before landing on the ground.
Just then, Professor McGonagall runs over, scolding Harry furiously and telling him to follow her. Harry worries that he’s about to be expelled. She leads him back to the castle and outside a classroom, where she retrieves Oliver Wood from his Charms class. Professor McGonagall introduces Wood to Harry, excitedly telling Wood that she has found a “Seeker.” Wood is delighted; McGonagall confirms that she’s never seen anyone as naturally talented on a broomstick as Harry. McGonagall explains to Harry that Wood is captain of the Gryffindor Quidditch team.
At first, McGonagall’s reaction appears to be furious, and it seems that Harry is sure to be punished, if not expelled. But when her reaction turns around, Harry gets positive reinforcement rather than negative reinforcement for breaking the rules. Harry is once again rewarded for breaking the rules, when he is doing what he believes to be right.
Professor McGonagall tells Wood that she’ll ask Dumbledore to bend the rule saying that first years can’t have their own broomsticks; she knows that they need a better team than the one they had last year. She concludes by telling Harry that she wants to hear that he’s training hard, otherwise she may change her mind about not punishing him. But, she tells Harry, James would have been proud of him—he was an excellent Quidditch player, too.
Not only does McGonagall let Harry get away with breaking the rules, she even suggests “bending” another rule to allow him to be on the Quidditch team, a further reward for his rule-breaking tendencies. Additionally, Quidditch becomes even more important to Harry in this moment, because it provides him with a connection to his father that he had never had before.
At dinner, Harry tells Ron all about what happened, explaining that Wood told him he’s the youngest House player in about a century. Harry starts training the following week, though the team wants to keep Harry’s involvement a secret from everyone else. Fred and George come over and congratulate Harry—they’re on the Quidditch team, too.
Quidditch not only gives Harry a sense of belonging, as his exceptional talent is celebrated, but it also gives him a new set of friends on the Quidditch team.
After Fred and George leave, Malfoy, Crabbe, and Goyle come up to Harry and ask when he’s taking the train home, presuming that he’s been expelled. Harry comments that Malfoy’s a lot braver with Crabbe and Goyle next to him. Malfoy says that he can take Harry by himself, challenging him to a wizard’s duel at midnight in the trophy room. Ron quickly accepts the challenge for Harry.
Ron again shows the many layers of protection that friendship can afford. He not only accepts the duel so that Harry will not look foolish (knowing Harry doesn’t know what a wizard’s duel is) but also backs Harry up, in the same way that Crabbe and Goyle back up Malfoy.
When the bullies leave, Ron explains to Harry that a wizard’s duel is a magical duel, but that he and Malfoy don’t know enough magic to do any real damage to one another. Hermione comes up to them, overhearing their conversation. She warns them not to wander the school at night, or they’ll lose points for Gryffindor if they’re caught. They tell her it’s none of her business, though Harry does feel he’s pushing his luck.
Hermione continues to be the biggest proponent of the school’s rules, but even Harry has his doubts about the duel—perhaps because he knows that in contrast to his earlier instance of rule-breaking, in this case, he isn’t breaking the rules to do what’s morally right.
That night, Ron and Harry leave for the duel just before midnight. When they reach the portrait hole, Hermione is there to stop them. As she warns them, they climb through the portrait, and she follows. When they insist on going, she turns back, but the pink lady has left her portrait, and Hermione can’t get back into the dormitory. Hermione is frustrated that now she too can get into trouble. She says haughtily that she’ll go with them, and tell Filch that she was trying to stop them if they are caught. They also find Neville sleeping on the ground in the hall because he couldn’t remember the password to get back into the dorm. Left without any options, Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Neville all go to the trophy room together.
This episode lays the groundwork for Hermione’s eventual friendship with Harry and Ron, though there are still a few key obstacles at this point. She is more concerned with breaking the rules than she is with making friends and protecting them, even though in this episode she does work to keep them out of trouble. But eventually, Hermione overcomes this strict aversion to breaking the rules when she realizes that sometimes it is necessary to do so.
When Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Neville arrive at the trophy room, Malfoy isn’t there yet. Filch, on the other hand, is in the next room, searching for rule-breakers. Neville then crashes right into a suit of armor; Harry shouts to run, galloping down corridor after corridor. Then Peeves sees them and bellows that there are students out of bed. They hear Filch running as fast as he can towards Peeves’ shouts. They run down to the end of the corridor, but they find only a locked door.
It is also interesting to note Harry’s behavior in this episode in contrast to his behavior in the Remembrall episode. There, he had no fear of the consequences of breaking rules as he acted, because he knew that he was justified. In this instance, however, he understands that he’s not justified in his actions (he’s not breaking the rules for the right reasons), and therefore he knows to some degree that punishment would be warranted or expected.
Hermione swiftly casts a spell to unlock the door. They all cram through the door, shutting it quickly behind them and putting their ears to the door to listen. They hear Filch in the corridor, but Peeves won’t tell him where the students went. Filch walks away, “cursing in rage.” Harry breathes a sigh of relief, but it is short lived. When he and the others turn around, they realize that they are in the forbidden corridor on the third floor. And now they know why it's forbidden there is a monstrous three-headed dog in the room.
Here Hermione reveals why her friendship will ultimately be so crucial to the trio later on in the novel: her cleverness offers them a form of protection, as she is able to perform advanced magic that they are unable to. And inadvertently, this moment serves as a gateway to her breaking the rules, as she unlocks a room that they know they aren’t supposed to be in.
The dog starts to growl menacingly, and Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Neville immediately fling themselves back out the door, flying down the hall once again until they reach the portrait of the Fat Lady, who has returned. They all scramble into the common room and collapse. Ron wonders aloud why they keep a thing like that in the school, and Hermione scoffs, pointing out that it was standing on a trapdoor—it’s clearly guarding something. With a final quip that they could have been “killed—or worse, expelled,” Hermione huffily goes to bed. Harry wonders about what the dog might be guarding, thinking it is perhaps the package from vault 713.
Hermione’s statement highlights the fallacies of those who follow the rules to the letter, as it causes Hermione to believe in this moment that being expelled (due to rule-breaking) is worse than being killed. Yet at the end of the novel, readers see the transformation she has undergone, breaking rules to in order to prevent many people from dying in the future.