The main thing here is more depth to the Hogwarts experience, both for Harry personally and in general for the reader. The movies don’t show a lot of the students just being students at school and learning about magic and the Wizarding World. As Harry muses, there’s more to magic than just waving a wand and saying a few funny words.
This chapter opens with Harry being a celebrity at Hogwarts. The other students line up outside of the Gryffindor tower and the classrooms he’s in just to catch a glimpse of him. Harry still doesn’t quite comprehend why. He’s also having a great deal of difficulty finding his way around Hogwarts.
There were a hundred and forty-two staircases at Hogwarts: wide, sweeping ones; narrow, rickety ones; some that led somewhere different on a Friday; some with a vanishing step halfway up that you had to remember to jump. Then there were doors that wouldn’t open unless you asked politely, or tickled them in exactly the right place, and doors that weren’t really doors at all, but solid walls just pretending. It was also very hard to remember where anything was, because it all seemed to move around a lot. The people in the portraits kept going to visit each other, and Harry was sure the coats of armor could walk.
The ghost Nearly Headless Nick does help out Gryffindor students who are struggling to figure out where to go, but the poltergeist Peeves makes it more difficult for them. And then there’s the introduction to the character of Mr. Filch and his cat.
Filch owned a cat called Mrs. Norris, a scrawny, dust-colored creature with bulging, lamp like eyes just like Filch’s. She patrolled the corridors alone. Break a rule in front of her, put just one toe out of line, and she’d whisk off for Filch, who’d appear, wheezing, two seconds later. Filch knew the secret passageways of the school better than anyone (except perhaps the Weasley twins) and could pop up as suddenly as any of the ghosts. The students all hated him, and it was the dearest ambition of many to give Mrs. Norris a good kick.
The book gives deeper descriptions of the teachers of the various classes, including Professor Quirrell. Knowing what’s going to happen, this background material fits well. Quirrell seems to be a little too young to have been one of Voldemort’s followers from back in the day, and there are hints that perhaps he wasn’t a willing participant in what has and will be happening to him.
On Friday morning, Hedwig brings Harry a note from Hagrid (he writes!!) that asks him to come visit that afternoon for tea and to tell him how his first week at Hogwarts went. That day, Harry has his first Potions class, and it doesn’t go well.
The situation between Harry and Snape gets off to an even worse start in the book than in the film. Snape takes every opportunity to belittle Harry in front of the class and seems to favor Draco Malfoy. Harry can do nothing right and even gets blamed for Neville’s and Seamus’ mistakes and loses points for Gryffindor.
Ron goes with Harry to Hagrid’s.
“Another Weasley, eh?” said Hagrid, glancing at Ron’s freckles. “I spent half me life chasin’ yer twin brothers away from the forest.”
There’s no love lost between Hagrid and Filch, either. Even with normally not being able to keep secrets well, Hagrid doesn’t give away if Mrs. Norris is actually an animagus who is now permanently a cat (my theory). And he seems to possibly know more about Snape and why he hates Harry than Hagrid is willing to let on.
Harry told Hagrid about Snape’s lesson. Hagrid, like Ron, told Harry not to worry about it, that Snape liked hardly any of the students.
“But he seemed to really hate me.”
“Rubbish!” said Hagrid. “Why should he?”
Yet Harry couldn’t help thinking that Hagrid didn’t quite meet his eyes when he said that.
“How’s yer brother Charlie?” Hagrid asked Ron. “I liked him a lot — great with animals.”
Harry wondered if Hagrid had changed the subject on purpose.
While Hagrid and Ron are talking, Harry reads a clipping from The Daily Prophet about the break-in at Gringotts and puts two and two together.
The mystery that Harry has stumbled on to really seems to be taking a back seat to just getting the reader acquainted with Hogwarts and the Wizarding World. This is a great chapter with a great deal more details than was shown in the films.
Previous chapter (link): Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s (Philosopher’s) Stone Chapter 7: The Sorting Hat
Next chapter (link): Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s (Philosopher’s) Stone Chapter 9: The Midnight Duel