Although the wizarding world provides Harry with freedom that he did not receive at his Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon’s house, there are still strict rules that he must follow in both the wizarding world in general and particularly at Hogwarts. Harry does not set out to be a troublemaker, but over the course of the novel, he ends up breaking rule after rule. Harry believes that when the rules are in conflict with doing what he feels is the moral thing to do, it is better to rebel than to submit to them. And because Harry is more often than not rewarded for this rebellious behavior, J.K. Rowling too argues that breaking rules is sometimes necessary in order to do what is right.
As quickly as Harry is introduced to some of the rules of the school, he breaks them when he feels that it will help those who are being picked on, or who would be otherwise targeted. Harry is often rewarded for the way he elevates kindness and helping others over following arbitrary rules. On the first day that Harry learns to fly on a broomstick, a classmate of his named Neville breaks his arm, and the professor, Madam Hooch, whisks him away to the hospital wing. She cautions the other students not to fly until she gets back, or else they’ll be expelled. But when Draco Malfoy, the class bully, picks up a gift from Neville’s grandmother called a Remembrall and begins to make fun of Neville, Harry tells him to return it. Malfoy instead dares Harry to get it back, mounting his broom and throwing the Remembrall as far as he can; Harry mounts his broom as well and is able to catch it while flying on his broomstick, but Professor McGonagall sees him. Yet instead of punishing him, she gets him to join the Quidditch team, making him the youngest Quidditch player at Hogwarts in a century. By bravely sticking up for Neville—even when he was not around—Harry is rewarded rather than punished for breaking the rules, a pattern that will continue to crop up throughout the novel. Another instance of rebellion comes a few months later, at Halloween. A dangerous troll is loose in the castle, and all students are instructed to return to their dormitories to take shelter while the teachers deal with the situation. Instead, Harry says that he and Ron should go to find Hermione in the girls’ bathroom; she’s been crying there all day because Ron made fun of her, and thus she doesn’t know about the troll. Unluckily, the troll ends up in the very bathroom that Hermione is hiding in. Although Harry, Ron, and Hermione are able to defeat the massive troll, Professor McGonagall is furious with the students for not being in their dormitories as instructed. But before McGonagall can punish Ron and Harry, Hermione swiftly (and surprisingly) takes the blame for their actions. Thus, again, Harry receives few consequences for not following the rules, and for good reason, too, as he is able to save Hermione as a result.
Harry is not only encouraged towards his rebellious tendencies because he often receives little punishment; he is also encouraged to disregard the rules by Dumbledore, the headmaster of Hogwarts. At Christmas, Harry receives a package left anonymously, inside of which is an Invisibility Cloak, which allows the person who wears it to become completely invisible. The package is later revealed to be from Dumbledore, who writes in a note, “use it well.” While this doesn’t explicitly counsel Harry to break the rules, it certainly allows him to do so, as long as he is using the cloak “well,” or for a good purpose. He uses the cloak to break into the restricted section of the library in order to find out more information on the Sorcerer’s Stone, ultimately aiding him in keeping the precious Stone away from those with evil intentions. Harry also uses the cloak to try to help Hagrid get rid of the dragon he has secretly raised, because keeping a dragon as a pet is illegal. Thus, again, Harry breaks the rules in order to help his friends try to stay out of trouble and do what he feels is right. Perhaps the ultimate episode of rule-breaking in which Harry, Ron, and Hermione participate occurs when they try get to the Sorcerer’s Stone before Snape does, thinking him the villain. They “petrify” (a curse that literally stuns whoever is hit with it) Neville, who tries to stop them from sneaking out at night. They then go to a corridor on the third floor, which has been expressly forbidden to students. Such blatant rule-breaking allows Harry to get to the Stone, where he is able to save it from getting into Voldemort’s possession. Even more than that, Harry’s rule-breaking consequently saves the entire magical community from Voldemort—at least for the time being. While Harry’s success is validation enough, Dumbledore confirms that he believes Harry did the right thing. He praises the young boy’s efforts to fend off Quirrell and Voldemort, and awards Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Neville enough house points to allow Gryffindor to win the House Cup.
It is worth noting that Dumbledore awards Neville points as well, observing that it takes courage to stand up to one’s friends. Thus, it is not that Dumbledore is simply rewarding rebellious behavior; he is rewarding students for doing what they feel in their heart is the right thing to do. And to Rowling, who uses Dumbledore as the highest moral authority in the novel, doing what is right is far more important than following the rules perfectly. If Harry hadn’t broken so many rules in his first year of school, Voldemort presumably would have gotten ahold of the Sorcerer’s Stone and returned to power with a vengeance, thus cutting short the entire series and ending the magical world as Harry knows it.
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Rules and Rebellion Quotes in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
Harry ignored her. Blood was pounding in his ears. He mounted the broom and kicked hard against the ground and up, up he soared; air rushed through his hair, and his robes whipped out behind him — and in a rush of fierce joy he realized he’d found something he could do without being taught — this was easy, this was wonderful.
Hermione hung her head. Harry was speechless. Hermione was the last person to do anything against the rules, and here she was, pretending she had, to get them out of trouble.
“SO WHAT?” Harry shouted. “Don’t you understand? If Snape gets hold of the Stone, Voldemort’s coming back! Haven’t you heard what it was like when he was trying to take over? There won’t be any Hogwarts to get expelled from! He’ll flatten it, or turn it into a school for the Dark Arts! […] I’m going through that trapdoor tonight and nothing you two say is going to stop me! Voldemort killed my parents, remember?”