As Harry begins his classes, he is relieved "that he wasn't miles behind everyone else. Lots of people had come from Muggle families and, like him, hadn't any idea that they were witches and wizards. There was so much to learn that even people like Ron didn't have much of a head start." Unfortunately, Professor Severus Snape, Potions master, does not make Harry's academic life any easier. Gryffindor and Slytherin Houses take Potions class together, and Snape-who is the faculty head of Slytherin-misses no opportunity to play favorites, and especially to mock Potter, "our new-celebrity." Harry does not know what he has done, if anything, to earn Snape's ire, but he must suffer the consequences of it nevertheless. After the first Potions class, Harry and Ron go to Hagrid's cottage for tea. Harry confides in Hagrid about Snape's ill temper toward him. Hagrid urges him to dismiss it, but "Harry couldn't help thinking that Hagrid didn't quite meet his eyes when he said that." While at Hagrid's cottage, Harry reads in the Daily Prophet-newspaper of the wizarding world-about the continuing investigation into the break-in at Gringotts. The goblins guarding the violated vault insist that nothing has been taken, for it had been emptied earlier the same day. From the article, Harry learns that the break-in took place on his birthday, while he and Hagrid had been there. Harry remembers that Hagrid emptied vault 713-could "that grubby little package" have been what the burglars sought?
For the purposes of the Harry Potter series, this chapter serves to establish the animosity between Snape and Harry which will continue in future volumes, albeit with differing degrees of intensity. Only later will readers learn the complicated history behind Snape's attitude toward Harry, which reaches a crescendo in a particularly unpleasant revelation about Harry's father in The Order of the Phoenix. In the more immediate context of this novel, however, it is a chapter that easily resonates with anyone who has received what they perceive as unfair treatment at the hands of a superior. Rowling accurately captures the emotions-confusion, anger, despair-that often accompany such situations. This emotional connection is no doubt part of her books' popularity, especially among adolescents. Additionally, this chapter develops the mythic motif of Harry's "heroic quest," setting up Snape as his (apparent?) antagonist. In mythology, heroes must do battle with villains, and Snape seems, at this point in the book, to fill that role. In the end, however, readers will have to discriminate-or, following up on an image from the previous chapter, "sort out"-whether Snape's "villainy" rises to a truly menacing level or not. Both they and Harry still have much to experience and learn.