In this chapter by chapter analysis of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone if you’re in the US) I will analyse the story according to Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat Beats.
Chapter One – The Boy Who Lived
Chapter One of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is really a prologue. The events take place ten years before the main story starts and the point of view is largely omniscient, unlike the rest of the book which is almost entirely from Harry’s point of view.
We are introduced to the ordinary world of the Dursleys. The arrival of Albus Dumbledore, Professor McGonagall and Hagrid on a flying motorbike (with the baby Harry Potter in his arms) tells us that there is another, magical world, in parallel with the ordinary world.
From the conversation between Professors Dumbledore and McGonagall we learn that a Dark Wizard named Voldemort has killed Lily and James Potter but failed to kill their son Harry. At this stage the details are left deliberately vague, but we understand that this is going to be a story about Good versus Evil.
Chapter Two – The Vanishing Glass
Chapter Two is the real starting point of the story. We have jumped forward ten years and nothing has changed at the Dursleys except that Dudley has grown.
Harry, who is clearly unloved by his aunt and uncle, sleeps in the cupboard under the stairs. He thinks his parents died in a car crash.
This chapter has its own inciting incident, namely Dudley’s birthday. The Dursleys take Dudley, his friend Piers, and Harry to the zoo.
In the reptile house Harry finds himself talking to a boa constrictor. When Dudley pushes Harry out of the way, the glass in front of the snake’s tank mysteriously vanishes. Harry gets the blame and goes home in disgrace.
This chapter is designed to arouse the reader’s sympathy for Harry whilst making the spoilt Dudley as loathsome as possible. There is also a mystery surrounding Harry, one that he himself does not yet understand.
Chapter Three – The Letters from No one
The inciting incident for the book occurs in Chapter Three when mysterious letters start arriving for Harry, none of which he is allowed to read.
As more and more letters arrive, Mr Dursley takes increasingly desperate measures to ensure that Harry doesn’t get hold of one, eventually taking his family and Harry to a miserable shack on a rock in the middle of the sea.
On the stroke of midnight Harry turns eleven and there’s a knock at the door. The chapter ends on a cliffhanger.
Chapter Four – The Keeper of the Keys
Inciting Incident continued
Hagrid’s arrival at the shack continues the inciting incident. Everything is about to change. Harry learns that his aunt and uncle lied to him about his parents and he learns a little bit about Voldemort.
Most importantly, he learns the truth about himself, namely that he is a wizard.
This is the beat in which the protagonist resists the call to action. In Harry’s case, this beat doesn’t last very long, but he does think that Hagrid must have made a mistake about him being a wizard. Initially, he doubts the truth of what he’s been told but it doesn’t take long for Harry to realise that he does make odd things happen.
Chapter Five – Diagon Alley
The debate beat is briefly continued when Harry wakes up and thinks it was all a dream. But Hagrid is still there and Harry doesn’t need much persuading to accompany him to Diagon Alley.
Break into Act II starts
The break into Act II starts when Harry goes with Hagrid to Diagon Alley via the Leaky Cauldron, where he briefly meets Professor Quirrell. This is Harry’s first introduction to the magical world. They collect some money of Harry’s from Gringotts as well as a secret package from vault 713.
The visit to Ollivander’s wand shop is an opportunity to further deepen the mystery surrounding Harry and Voldemort when it transpires that Harry’s wand is related to Voldemort’s.
Chapter Six – The Journey from Platform Nine and Three-Quarters
Break into Act II finishes
After his visit to Diagon Alley, Harry returns briefly to the Dursleys for the rest of the summer.
Act II starts properly once Harry has found his way onto platform nine and three-quarters at King’s Cross with the help of Mrs Weasley.
Ron Weasley sits with Harry on the train. This is the point at which the relationship between Harry and Ron starts to develop.
The train ride to Hogwarts is important in that it introduces all the key student characters and their traits:
- Ron is friendly and will become Harry’s main ally and side-kick.
- Hermione is bossy and a swot.
- Neville is likeable but accident-prone.
- Malfoy, with his acolytes Crabbe and Goyle, is the bully.
Malfoy represents the B story. Throughout the book he will attempt to get Harry into trouble and thus expelled. But each of these incidents also serves to move the main plot forwards, demonstrating how skillfully Rowling has integrated the B Story with the main mystery.
For now we have a mini-fight between Harry and Ron on the one side and Malfoy, Crabbe and Goyle on the other. Harry is shown as the morally superior character when he rejects Malfoy’s offer of friendship in favour of Ron. Harry and Ron win the physical skirmish when Ron’s rat bites Golye’s finger.
Chapter Seven – The Sorting Hat
Fun and Games
The first test that Harry faces in this strange, new world is the Sorting Hat. It’s a tense moment as the hat considers putting him in Slytherin, but Harry gets his wish and the hat puts him in Gryffindor.
During the feast, Professor Snape looks at him and his scar hurts, a hint that all is not going to go smoothly for Harry.
Dumbledore informs everyone that the third-floor corridor is out of bounds, thus foreshadowing something which will become significant later.
Chapter Eight – The Potions Master
Fun and Games continued
This chapter continues to introduce Harry and the reader to Hogwarts.
The key event occurs at the end of the week when they have Potions with Professor Snape. Snape humiliates Harry by asking him questions he can’t answer. It’s obvious that Harry has an enemy in Snape.
When Harry and Ron go to meet Hagrid in his hut, they learn from the Daily Prophet that there was a break-in at Gringotts. Nothing was taken because the vault had been emptied earlier in the day.
This chapter sets up the key mystery of the book: the mysterious package from Gringotts.
Chapter Nine – The Midnight Duel
B Story leading to the Midpoint
The B-story with Malfoy is used as a catalyst for two sequences of events that will ultimately result in the discovery of the trapdoor guarded by the three-headed dog, thus bringing us to the Midpoint.
Here is the first sequence:
- When, in their first flying lesson, Neville falls off his broom and is taken to the hospital wing by Madam Hooch, Malfoy seizes the Remembrall that Neville has dropped and flies off with it.
- Harry pursues him, thus demonstrating a readiness to break the rules in the pursuit of justice.
- When Malfoy throws the Remembrall into the air, Harry performs a flying stunt, catching the ball just before it hits the ground.
- Professor McGonagall appears and marches Harry off. He thinks he’s going to be expelled.
The stakes are high here. Harry could lose his place at the school.
This first sequence of events is resolved when McGonagall introduces Harry to Oliver Wood, captain of the Gryffindor Quidditch team and tells Wood that she’s found him a new Seeker.
But Malfoy, having been humiliated, now challenges Harry to a Wizard’s duel at midnight, thus triggering the second sequence of events:
- When Harry and Ron attempt to leave the common room, Hermione tries to stop them.
- She follows them out of the common room and then can’t get back in, so goes with them.
- Having forgotten the password, Neville is also locked out. He also goes with them.
- They go to the trophy room but Malfoy isn’t there. He’s tricked them. Filch is after them so they run away.
- In their efforts to escape Filch, Hermione opens a locked door and they find themselves in the forbidden corridor, facing a huge three-headed dog.
- They run back to the common room where Hermione points out that the dog was standing on a trapdoor.
- Harry realises that he’s found the hiding place of the secret package from Gringotts.
In terms of page count, this is the Midpoint of the novel. The discovery of the package’s location does not directly affect Harry (yet), but it is a key step in the central mystery of the story.
Chapter Ten – Hallowe’en
After the high drama of Chapter Nine, Chapter Ten feels like an interlude. The main purpose of this chapter is to change Harry and Ron’s relationship with Hermione who, until now, has been a bossy know-it-all.
This chapter has its own inciting incident when Ron upsets Hermione after the Charms lesson, telling Harry that she’s a “nightmare.” Hermione overhears this remark and is so upset that she spends the afternoon crying in the girls’ toilet.
Ron feels a bit bad about Hermione, but soon forgets about her at the Hallowe’en feast.
There is a further inciting incident when Quirrell bursts into the feast, announcing that there’s a troll in the dungeons.
Whilst the prefects take everyone back to the common rooms, Harry and Ron try to make amends for Ron’s earlier gaff by going in search of Hermione. They notice Snape heading up to the third floor.
When they inadvertently lock the troll in the girls’ toilet with Hermione, they rush back to help her, overpowering the troll with a mixture of cunning and magic.
But all three of them find themselves in serious trouble when McGonagall, Snape and Quirrell arrive.
The resolution in the scene comes when Hermione tells an outright lie, saying that she went looking for the troll because she thought she could deal with it herself. This change in Hermione’s character is the moment that the chapter has been building towards.
From now on Hermione becomes Harry and Ron’s friend.
Chapter Eleven – Quidditch
Bad Guys Close In
In Chapter Eleven, Harry’s problems start to intensify.
Harry discovers that Snape has a bloodied leg and overhears him complaining to Filch about the three-headed dog. Harry, Ron and Hermione are convinced that Snape was trying to steal whatever it is the dog is guarding.
Harry’s life is threatened when his broom starts bucking during a game of Quidditch. Hagrid remarks that only powerful dark magic could interfere with a broom. Hermione sees Snape muttering under his breath and is convinced that he’s trying to kill Harry.
This is the first time that Harry’s life is seriously in danger.
Hermione rushes into the Slytherin stand, bumping into Quirrell, and sets fire to Snape’s robes. Harry recovers and flies back to the ground with the Snitch.
During a post-match tea in Hagrid’s hut, Harry tells Hagrid that Snape was trying to get past the three-headed dog. Hagrid tells them to forget about the dog and what it’s guarding, that it’s a matter for Professor Dumbledore and Nicolas Flamel.
This chapter significantly raises the stakes, putting Harry’s life at risk, but also leads to the revelation about Nicolas Flamel.
Chapter Twelve – The Mirror of Erised
Chapter Twelve is the most reflective chapter of the book.
Their attempts to discover the identity of Nicolas Flamel have led nowhere. Hermione tells Harry and Ron to keep looking over the Christmas holidays, but they spend their time enjoying themselves.
When Harry receives his father’s old Invisibility Cloak from an anonymous sender on Christmas Day, he is keen to try it out. That night he goes to the restricted section of the library to try and find out who Flamel was.
When the book lets out a piercing scream, Harry runs out of the library and, to avoid Filch, takes refuge in a disused classroom where he finds a magnificent mirror.
The mirror shows him his parents and extended family.
This is a key moment of inward character development for Harry when he experiences a mixture of joy and sadness.
But when Harry takes Ron to the room, Ron doesn’t see Harry’s family. Instead he sees himself as Head Boy.
When Harry goes back a third time, Dumbledore appears and explains that the mirror shows people the deepest, most desperate desire of their hearts. But the mirror will give neither knowledge nor truth. Men have wasted away in front of it or been driven mad. The mirror will be moved and Dumbledore tells Harry not to go looking for it.
Chapter Thirteen – Nicolas Flamel
Bad Guys Close In continued
Harry’s experiences with the Mirror of Erised cause his internal problems to intensify. He starts to have nightmares about his parents disappearing in a flash of green light. The tone is getting darker.
The rest of the chapter focuses on two revelations, one of which will ultimately prove to be false.
A comic moment involving Neville leads to the first revelation, namely the identification of Nicolas Flamel:
- Neville has been cursed by Malfoy (B story) and hops into the common room with his legs stuck together.
- Hermione soon rectifies the problem and Harry gives Neville his last chocolate frog to make him feel better.
- The accompanying card is of Dumbledore and it tells them that Dumbledore and Flamel were partners.
- In a book that Hermione borrowed weeks ago, they read that Nicolas Flamel is the only known maker of the Philosopher’s Stone.
- The Philosopher’s Stone produces the Elixir of Life which will make the drinker immortal.
Against Hermione’s advice, Harry plays in a Quidditch match in which Snape is refereeing. No harm comes to him this time but afterwards Harry notices Snape heading towards the Forbidden Forest.
Following on his broom, Harry overhears a meeting between Snape and Quirrell in which Snape asks Quirrell if he’s found out how to get past the three-headed dog. Snape says they’ll talk again when Quirrell has decided where his loyalties lie.
Harry now believes that Snape is trying to obtain the Philosopher’s Stone. This is the second revelation.
Chapter Fourteen – Norbert the Norwegian Ridgeback
Bad Guys Close In continued
Further problems ensue when they discover that Hagrid is looking after a dragon’s egg which he won in a game of cards with a stranger.
When it starts to hatch they argue about whether to skip herbology or not. Harry thinks Malfoy has overhead them. They go to Hagrid’s hut at break time but Malfoy follows them and sees the dragon (Norbert) through a gap in the curtains.
Their plan to get rid of Norbert and send him to Romania backfires when Malfoy discovers it. Norbert is successfully dispatched in a crate, but on leaving the tower, Harry and Hermione forget to take the Invisibility Cloak and run into Filch who has been tipped off by Malfoy (B-story.)
Chapter Fifteen – The Forbidden Forest
All is Lost
Filch takes Harry and Hermione to Professor McGonagall’s office. They are in massive trouble, as is Neville who was trying to warn them about Malfoy.
She thinks they told Malfoy a cock-and-bull story about a dragon to get him into trouble and Neville believed it too. She gives them all detention and deducts fifty points each from Gryffindor. Gryffindor is now in last place and as a result people turn on Harry.
Dark Night of the Soul
Harry feels deeply ashamed and offers to resign from the Quidditch team but Wood won’t let him. He vows not to meddle in things that don’t concern him.
There’s a brief scene in which Harry hears Quirrell whimpering in a classroom. This just confirms Harry’s belief that Snape is pressurising Quirrell into telling him how to get the Philosopher’s Stone. It sounds as if Quirrell has given in. Hermione thinks they should go to Dumbledore but Harry says they can’t because they have no proof.
The Dark Night of the Soul intensifies when Harry, Hermione, Neville and Malfoy are obliged to carry out their detentions in the Forbidden Forest, a suitably dark and threatening place.
They go in search of a hurt unicorn. The previous week Hagrid had found a dead one. There is evidence of evil at work.
They meet the centaurs Ronan and Bane, but the centaurs are only interested in their own affairs, not the affairs of wizards.
The darkest moment occurs when Harry and Malfoy find a dead unicorn and a hooded figure appears and starts to drink its blood. Malfoy screams and runs away, but Harry is rooted to the spot. As the hooded figure approaches Harry he feels a sharp pain in his forehead.
Harry is rescued by a third centaur who charges at the hooded figure. Firenze explains that drinking unicorn blood will keep you alive but you will have a cursed existence.
Firenze does not directly answer Harry’s questions, but poses his own questions. Does Harry know what is being hidden in the school? Can Harry think of anyone who has waited many years to return to power?
This is a key turning point of the book. Harry realises that Voldemort wants the Philosopher’s Stone.
The next morning Harry finds his Invisibility Cloak has been returned to him.
Chapter Sixteen – Through the Trapdoor
After the events of the Forbidden Forest, the summer exams seem like a moment of light relief.
After the last exam they go down to the lake. Harry’s scar is hurting and takes this as a sign that danger is coming.
At this point, Harry has a revelatory moment which will lead into Act III.
Harry suddenly realises that it’s odd that a stranger just happened to turn up with a dragon egg when Hagrid has always wanted a dragon. Upon questioning Hagrid they learn that Hagrid never saw the stranger’s face because he wouldn’t take his cloak off. The stranger plied him with drinks and Hagrid let slip that the way to get past Fluffy is to play him a tune.
They finally decide to go and see Dumbledore but he’s been called to the Ministry of Magic in London.
Harry is convinced that Snape has sent Dumbledore to London and that Snape intends to go through the trapdoor tonight.
Break into Act III
The belief that Snape is going to get the Stone and give it to Voldemort causes Harry to decide to get the Stone himself. This is the start of Act III.
Harry risks being expelled, but Harry argues that if Voldemort comes back then there won’t be a Hogwarts to get expelled from. Harry is prepared to sacrifice himself for the greater good. Ron and Hermione insist on coming too.
Inevitably they face a number of obstacles before the final showdown:
- As they prepare to leave the common room, Neville tries to stop them and Hermione has to bewitch him.
- Under the Invisibility Cloak they contend with Mrs Norris and Peeves, the Poltergeist.
- When they arrive at the door to the third-floor corridor, it is already ajar. It looks as if they are too late.
- They get past Fluffy by playing him a tune but, after they have jumped, find themselves trapped by a plant called Devil’s Snare. Hermione sets fire to the plant to make it shrivel.
- In a chamber full of flying keys, Harry has to catch the right one to open the next door.
- In the next room, they are forced to play a game of live chess in which Ron sacrifices himself so that they can win and Harry and Hermione can proceed to the next room.
- In a room with seven differently shaped bottles, Hermione uses logic to solve the riddle. One bottle will enable one person only to proceed to the next room. Another bottle will enable one person to go back.
In his book The Story Grid, Shawn Coyne talks about obligatory scenes. In the thriller genre, the most important obligatory scene is the hero at the mercy of the villain scene.
As the protagonist of the story, it’s essential that Harry faces the villain alone.
Therefore, Hermione drinks the potion that will enable her to go back and help Ron, whereas Harry drinks the potion that will enable him to go forward and meet his enemy.
When Harry reaches the final chamber, there’s already someone there but it isn’t Snape or Voldemort as expected. This chapter ends on a cliffhanger.
Chapter Seventeen – The Man with Two Faces
In the final chamber, Harry discovers Quirrell who is no longer stuttering.
This is a moment for some truths to be revealed:
- It wasn’t Snape trying to kill Harry at the Quidditch match, it was Quirrell. Snape was doing a counter-curse, trying to save him.
- It was Quirrell who let the troll into Hogwarts.
Ropes suddenly appear and Harry is tied up.
The Mirror of Erised is behind Quirrell. Quirrell realises that the mirror is the key to finding the Stone but can’t work out how to do it. Harry does his best to stop Quirrell concentrating on the mirror. Harry is in a position of weakness and all he can do for the moment is use his wits.
When Quirrell asks his Master for help, a voice instructs Quirrell to use the boy. The ropes disappear and Quirrell orders Harry to look in the mirror and tell him what he sees. Harry sees his reflection take the Stone out of its pocket and wink at him. Then he feels the Stone in his real pocket.
Harry tells Quirrell he saw himself shaking hands with Dumbledore and taking the house cup.
A voice says that Harry is lying.
This is the moment of the big reveal:
Quirrell unwraps his turban, revealing Voldemort’s face in the back of his head. Voldemort is so weak he has to share other men’s bodies to survive. He asks Harry to give him the Stone. Once he has the Elixir of Life he’ll be able to create a body of his own.
Voldemort orders Quirrell to seize him, but touching Harry causes Quirrell unbearable pain.Voldemort then tells Quirrell to kill him. As Quirrell tries to do a curse, Harry grabs hold of Quirrell’s face. Harry hears voices calling his name. He feels Quirrell’s arm wrenched from his grasp and falls into blackness.
The finale unwinds when Harry wakes up in the hospital wing and Dumbledore explains how Harry was able to obtain the Stone. The mirror would only give the Stone to someone who didn’t want to use it. The Stone has now been destroyed.
Dumbledore wraps up a few loose ends:
- He acknowledges that Voldemort is still out there and will try other means to return to power.
- He refuses to say why Voldemort tried to kill him as a baby but says Harry will know later, when he’s older.
- Quirrell couldn’t touch Harry because Harry has been marked by his mother’s love.
- It was Dumbledore who gave Harry the cloak.
- James Potter (Harry’s father) saved Snape’s life and Snape hated being in James’ debt.
At the end of term feast, Gryffindor finally beat Slytherin when Dumbledore awards points to Ron, Hermione and Harry for their part in defeating Voldemort (for the time being) and to Neville for having the courage to stand up to his friends.
The final image is the opposite of the opening image:
In the opening image Harry was a defenceless baby whose parents had just been killed by an evil wizard.
In the final image Harry is the hero of Hogwarts, having just defeated that same wizard.