Life lessons we can all take from Philosopher’s Stone

It’s been 20 years since Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was published, but the staff and students of Hogwarts still have things to teach us.

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Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

It’s important to remain humble

Dumbledore leaves Harry with the Dursleys because he doesn’t want him growing up famous. ‘It would be enough to turn any boy’s head,’ he tells McGonagall.

Thanks to Trelawney’s prophecy Dumbledore already suspects what’s in store for Harry. And yet placing Harry with the Dursleys is important because it protects him not only from Voldemort’s followers, but also from the prying eyes of more well-meaning witches and wizards.

Living with the Dursleys gives Harry a whole new set of problems, but it certainly keeps him humble. When Harry learns about his past he feels unequal to it: embarrassed by strangers’ responses, modest about his part in Voldemort’s downfall, worried about his lack of knowledge.

He might not be aware of it, but this very human vulnerability will actually help Harry. When he arrives at Hogwarts, Harry is ready to learn. Unlike Voldemort he responds to kindness, not power. He wants friends, not followers; he looks for help, not to intimidate.

Because Dumbledore was right, of course. He can’t have known how starved of love and affection Harry would be, but he did know that a Harry who’d grown up famous would be far less equipped to deal with Voldemort, whose arrogance is key to his defeat. Harry, while he grows in confidence, remembers his past in a way that Voldemort does not. This makes him human, and gives him tools Voldemort will never understand.

JKR Harry and the Dursleys illustration

Love conquers hate

The most significant of Harry’s advantages is love.

Harry survived Voldemort’s curse because of his mother’s instinct to protect him. Love has literally saved Harry’s life, and its power remains as the magic associated with his mother’s sacrifice takes root in the home of his only surviving relative. It’s a pity this protection lives only in Aunt Petunia’s blood but still, it keeps Harry safe, even if she doesn't know it.

Voldemort can’t comprehend why love should be so important. Even Harry can’t quite appreciate its full significance – in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince he barely stops himself saying ‘Big deal!’ when Dumbledore tells him, again, that love is the one power Harry has over Voldemort. But eventually we all learn just how much Voldemort loses because of his inability to understand love.

The Potter Memorial
© JKR/Pottermore Ltd. ™ Warner Bros.

Friendship and loyalty beats wealth and status

The first time Harry meets Draco Malfoy he knows they won’t be friends. Malfoy’s reaction to Harry before he knows his name is disinterested and sneering, yet when they meet again he extends the hand of friendship. Harry, unimpressed by Malfoy’s dismissal of Ron, won’t take it. He doesn’t need to be an expert in the wizarding world to see through Malfoy.

Whether he really wanted to be Harry’s friend is up for debate but either way Malfoy doesn’t stand a chance against Ron, with his messy family and uncomplicated warmth. Money and power aren’t important to Harry, who has grown up without much of either, subsequently discovered a bit of both, and still gravitates towards the things that he’s really lacking – friendship, affection and loyalty. This is what Harry regards as important and, like love, it’s these things that help him defeat Voldemort. After all, you couldn’t pay someone to come Horcrux hunting with you, and only a friend would do that for free.

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Illustration by Jim Kay © Bloomsbury Publishing Plc 2015, taken from Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone - Illustrated Edition

Standing up for yourself is tough, but rewarding

It’s a while before we learn that Neville Longbottom could have been the Chosen One, but as a counterpart to Harry in Philosopher’s Stone he’s quite interesting. He’s grown up in the wizarding world but he’s more worried than anyone about starting Hogwarts and his anxieties get the better of him. He’s intimidated by Malfoy and too nervous to listen to flying instructor Madam Hooch, resulting in a bad start and a broken wrist.

He is brave, though – the Sorting Hat knows it from the start. With the encouragement of Ron and Harry, Neville starts to stand up for himself. Dumbledore knows it, too, awarding Neville ten points for facing up to Harry, Ron and Hermione, and thus securing Gryffindor the House Cup.

Neville shows us that being scared doesn't mean you can’t be brave – on the contrary, standing up when you’re scared is what makes you brave. Neville’s is a quiet, quivering kind of courage, but when Dumbledore recognises him at the end-of-year feast, it shows that bravery comes in many forms.

Neville falls victim to Hermione's Petrificus Totalus spell
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

Don’t be afraid to ask for help

Whether it’s nervously asking Mrs Weasley for help at King’s Cross or recovering the Philosopher’s Stone with the aid of Ron and Hermione, Harry realises that he’s not going to get very far in the wizarding world without help.

It’s not just Harry, either. In the Forbidden Forest centaur Firenze acknowledges that Voldemort will only be defeated by communities coming together.

This becomes more significant as Harry’s battle with Voldemort intensifies. From the Order of the Phoenix to Dumbledore’s Army to the Battle of Hogwarts, Harry comes to realise he can’t do everything on his own. And here, too, he shows an awareness that Voldemort never quite grasps.

Harry and Dumbledore's Army in the Room of Requirement
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Stay away from three-headed dogs

Just an idea.

To celebrate the 20th anniversary of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Pottermore will explore themes, moments, characters and much more from the very first Harry Potter story. Come back on Thursday when we look at how the iconic Philosopher's Stone locations defined the characters.