As a classic Campbellian hero, the Boy Who Lived doesn't leave us asking for much. If you look at the great mythic archetypes throughout literature—Perseus, Arthur, Luke Skywalker—Harry Potter seems to fit right in.
Harry comes from humble origins to start with. Seriously, anyone who spends his whole life living in a cupboard knows a thing or two about tough times. We don't even see the layer upon layer of psychological scars laid down on him by his aunt and uncle's whole "we dug you out from the sole of our shoe" routine. The fact that he has any self-esteem at all is something of a minor miracle.
Even despite having been literally starved, he seems pretty a-okay:
VERNON: I'm warning you now, boy. Any funny business, any at all, and you won't have any meals for a week.
Vernon, you're the literal worst.
But like all great heroes, Harry's got a power. And a destiny. That second part is going to take a few more movies to straighten out, but for now it's enough simply to know that he has that power, and that all the mundane horrors of his Muggle life are melting away, to be replaced by…a fresh new set of horrors.
And that's really important when it comes to figuring out Harry as a character. People sometimes wonder why Dumbledore left Harry with his horrible relatives who treat him like a puppy with a chew toy, instead of in the Wizarding World where he'll be safe. If Harry's got a destiny, though, he needs to be tough enough to handle it.
And Harry's early childhood certainly toughens him up for the tasks ahead.
Not only does Harry get tough, but he also grows up with a natural sympathy for downtrodden. Just check out the way he bonds with the caged snake at the zoo:
HARRY: That's me as well. I never knew my parents either.
Harry: getting deep with scaly critters locked up behind bars since age ten.
Humility and loneliness are good qualities to have if you're going to have to go toe-to-toe with a guy who's not just so scary, but also a total snob. Yeah: Voldemort is a big believer in the purity of the wizarding bloodline. But good ol' Harry has the experience of being a man (or a boy? or a wizard?) of the people.
He can't even fathom how famous he is:
HARRY: But why am I famous, Hagrid? All those people back there, how is it they know who I am?
But not only is Harry's humility good for defeating the enemy, it's also good for winning over fans. Once Harry gets to Hogwarts, he demonstrates that his ordinary qualities are just as endearing as his extraordinary ones. He has a hard time with classes, for example—just like normal kids—and while he gets used to the fact that he's famous, he's not entirely sure he likes it.
RON: I'm telling you, it's spooky. She knows more about you than you do.
HARRY: Who doesn't?
In much the same way we heart J-Law for being down-to-earth, we love Harry for being such a somehow-relatable celebrity. He's overwhelmed by the attention he received; he's just a Muggle-bred dude in a wizard's world. Bonus: Harry's relatability quietly reminds us that we, too, may have some special qualities that the world hasn't noticed.
Outsiders may have tough time of it, but they make for extremely good heroes: they know what it's like to stand on their own without anyone's help. After a lifetime of being locked in a cupboard, Harry's not going to bend his morality just because it fits in with what the cool kids are doing.
And—more importantly—he's ready to stand up for what he thinks is right. Look at what happens when Draco oozes up to him at Hogwarts and says:
DRACO: You don't want to be making friends with the wrong sort.
Harry, having never been in this society before, really couldn't care less whose families are on the "acceptable" side of the social divide, and blows Draco off in favor of true-blue Ron and Hermione. Being a hero means having a firm moral compass, and being an outsider is a good way to find that moral compass on your own.
But being an outsider can veer dangerously close to being an outlaw.
Voldemort, too, was an outsider. Even in this early movie it's clear that Harry is linked to V-man in ways that go beyond that scar on his forehead. Look at the way the Sorting Hat considers moving Harry to Slytherin House, for instance. It's the de facto "evil house," where Draco Malfoy and his cronies have gone, where Snape is the house teacher, and where (as we learn in later entries) Voldemort himself originally crashed.
Naturally, Harry's a little reluctant:
SORTING HAT: Not Slytherin, eh? Are you sure? You could be great, you know. It's all here in your head. And Slytherin will help you on your way to greatness! There's no doubt about that!
The sorting hat is being pretty seductive here, but, as we've seen, Harry's outsider status means that he's pretty immune to suggestion. He knows what he wants, and what he wants is to not be sorted into Slytherin. Luckily, the hat acquiesces.
But there's more than just house allegiance that links Voldemort and Harry as fellow outsiders. Just check out the contents of their respective wands:
OLLIVANDER: It so happens that the Phoenix whose tail feather resides in your wand gave another feather. Just one other. It is curious that you should be destined for this wand when its brother gave you that scar.
Those are some outsider-y Phoenix feathers, eh? And Ollivander is pretty perceptive of this fact, especially when he says "Just one other."
Harry's status as an outsider leaves him vulnerable to his own darker proclivities just like Voldemort. His desire to belong—to be a part of something—can lead him astray as well. Remember his fixation with the Mirror of Erised, and the feeling of complete-ness he gets at the thought of being with his parents? The desire to escape his outsider status will lead to pitfalls on his journey, and he has to learn to get around them as much as any three-headed dog.
The good news is that the kid seems up for it. Raised hard but humble, appreciative of his gifts, and amazed that he has a future in a world where you can fly on broomsticks and launch fireworks displays from your fingertips, he finds his inner hero without having to check twice.
And uses his heroic nature to save the school, protect his friends and make life just a little better in this new world he's just joined. Not too bad, Harry. Not too bad at all.
She's bossy, excessively enthusiastic about pop quizzes, and the most irritatingly talented kid in the class. She's also brilliant, keeps her cool in a crisis, and will fall on a sword for her friends without a moment of hesitation.
On the surface, Hermione is precisely the prickly cactus fruit you don't want to mess with. She knows it all, and can't be bothered with social niceties—she simply says it how it is. Harry and Ron are both clearly irritated by her from the start.
Ron shares little jabs at her with his friends, and Harry quietly concedes a number of times before Hermione accidentally overhears Ron:
RON: Honestly, she's a nightmare! No wonder she hasn't got any friends.
Ironically, of course, it's this comment that secures the fact that Ron and Harry become her lifelong BFFs…although Ron's a teensy-weensy bit right about Hermione being a "nightmare." (Our nightmares are all about bossypants teacher's pets.)
This comment also advances the plot of this movie a whole lot. Hermione misses dinner and the boys learn that she has been crying in the girl's restroom all afternoon. And when You-Know-Who lets the troll out, Ron and Harry realize that Hermione isn't with the escaping students.
The battle in the bathroom with the troll is the real turning point for what will become one of the best trios of friends one could ever hope for. Hermione tells a complete lie to the teachers in order to keep her friends out of trouble for nearly getting themselves killed to help her.
So beneath the snooty exterior, Hermione Granger has a heart of gold: she's as brave as anyone and ready to put it all on the line for her friends. And as she grows over the course of the story, her cleverness grows as well. Look at the way she lies to McGonagall and the other teachers after the troll attack:
HERMIONE: I went looking for the troll. I'd read about them and thought I could handle it. But I was wrong. If Harry and Ron hadn't come and found me, I'd probably be dead.
This whopper demonstrates more than Hermione's willingness to bend the rules. It shows that her adherence that book learning solves all life's problems has its drawbacks…and that she needs to expand her horizons beyond the library if she's going to appreciate just how marvelous her friends are.
And this realization allows her her give Harry a big boost of confidence just before he goes in for the final confrontation with Voldemort:
HERMIONE: You'll be okay, Harry. You're a great wizard, you really are.
HARRY: Not as good as you.
HERMIONE: Me? Books and cleverness? There are more important things. Friendship, and bravery.
Hermione is at her most Hermione-eriffic at this point. She knows how good she is, but she also knows that her skills aren't always the most important. She's a boss, but that doesn't mean that other people can't also be bosses.
Hermione also shares the stranger-in-a-strange-land fascination that Harry Potter has towards the wizarding world. Her parents are both Muggles, but girl learns fast and has a clear advantage over Harry when it comes to good old-fashioned book smarts. We're not sure if Hermione had more time to read up before her trip to Hogwarts, or if her hunger for knowledge simply fueled an already voracious appetite for very heavy non-fiction books.
Her ability to accumulate knowledge and retain it proves useful to their endeavors time and again. From simple charms and spells to historical facts pertinent to their success, Hermione's always there and ready to use her many talents. We see this in the finale, where she gets the trio through the strangling vines thanks to her judicious use of her studies (and some fairly snazzy wand work).
And you just know that Hermione's A-student skills are going to aid the fight against Voldemort time and again.
Enter the sidekick.
Ron is basically the Chewbacca to Harry's Han Solo: his confidant, his best bud and his fellow traveler on the road to adventure. On the surface, there's not much to Ron beyond his unkempt red hair and pale skin. But the closer we look at him, the more we understand why he makes such a great BFF for the Boy Who Lived.
In the first place, he was born and raised in the Wizarding World. He knows all about their hidden lairs, he views magic use the same way you'd look at washing the dishes, and everything Harry sees with such wonder just feels like Tuesday to Ron.
Dumbledore and McGonagall could help…but they're adults and therefore not to be entirely trusted. Harry needs a buddy to show him the ropes. That's a job for Ron, who's got that whole magical thing covered, and can give Harry the skinny without making him feel like a teacher's pet.
Ron's also approachable. He has a bit of a scruffy underdog vibe, just like Harry does. He's a wizard, sure, but his family comes from the wrong side of the tracks in his world: workaday magic-users who don't get invited to all the cool parties like the Malfoys do. He uses a hand-me-down wand, his brothers already have the whole place scoped, and his "magical" animal companion is Scabbers the rat. Ew.
Apparently being a wizard doesn't solve all your problems.
Ron may have 99 Scabbers-related problems, but having a negligent family ain't one. In later movies, the Weasleys practically adopt Harry as one of their own, but even in these early days, their kindness shows us just how important Ron will be to Harry's life.
Look at the way Mrs. Weasley gets Harry through Platform 9 ¾:
MRS. WEASLEY: Not to worry, dear. It's Ron's first time to Hogwarts as well. Now, all you've got to do is walk straight at the wall between platforms 9 and 10. Best do it at a bit of a run if you're nervous.
It's pretty clear that Ron's mum is kind and sympathetic, which gives us the knowledge that Ron is also going to be a big-hearted bro.
Ron's struggles at Hogwarts mirror the struggles that Harry faces. This includes the snazzy stuff—like getting past Fluffy or handling the Wizard's Chess game—but it also includes issues that everyone can relate to, like studying for hard classes and steering clear of terrifying teachers like Snape.
The fact that they're brothers-in-arms bonds the two boys together in ways that no mentor or teacher ever could. They come from different worlds, meet on common ground, and eventually start learning just who and what they are together as equals.
You can tell how much that means to Ron, who's had a family to love him but has been lacking in the buddy department. Initially awed by Harry's rep, he soon figures out that Mr. Potter is just as pants-peeing scared as Ron is, and they group together like best buds always do.
And as Harry's friend, he shows the qualities that Harry has so desperately needed in someone—anyone—all his life. Ron's loyal, sympathetic and willing to set his fears aside for the sake of his chum.
Seriously, look at what he does in that final game of Wizard Chess:
RON: Do you want to stop Snape or not? Harry, it's you that has to go on. I know it. Not me, not Hermione, you.
When he sacrifices himself in order to allow Harry to win the chess match and face down Voldemort, Ron's being more than just a bro. He's being tested. And like Hermione, he passes with flying colors: not just in his raw skills, but in his willingness to take one for the team.
Whatever sunset Harry's headed for, this grinning redhead is going to be with him every step of the way. And Harry, more than anyone else, knows how much of a difference a good friend makes.
Every hero needs a guide, someone wise and learned who can show them the ropes and make sure they don't skewer themselves on the way to saving the universe. They're often wizards, or at least wizardly types: guys living in caves with beards growing down to their gross, calloused soles.
Dumbledore cleans up a little better, but otherwise he fits the type: the Headmaster of Hogwarts is wise, powerful and understands that Harry is destined for great things. So he serves as a mentor and a teacher during Harry's early start: first delivering him safely (if that's the word) into the hands of the Dursleys, then hustling him off to Hogwarts the moment Harry comes of age.
It may seem like a jerk move, but in fact he's got some very good reasons for doing so:
MCGONAGALL: This boy will be famous. There won't be a child in our world who doesn't know his name.
DUMBLEDORE: Exactly. He's better off growing up away from all that. Until he is ready.
Yup: Dumbledore's wise, all right. He knows that Harry's safest bet is also his most unpleasant…and that it's better to live uncomfortably in a suburban cupboard than comfortably where Voldemort might get him.
Apart a few explanations, though, Dumbledore really plays up the mysterious side of magic. Besides his current occupation (and the presumed benevolence of any man who wears purple socks) we don't know a whole lot about him. There are just a few bits and pieces of info surrounding some seriously intimidating magic skills.
HERMIONE: Who's the one wizard Voldemort always feared? Dumbledore! As long as Dumbledore's around, you're safe.
So yeah: Dumbledore is the Supreme Ultimate Butt-kicker in Harry's universe…so much that even Voldemort is running and hiding at the thought of him.
And yet for a wise and learned mentor, he doesn't actually do a lot of mentoring. He only talks to Harry personally a couple of times in the film, one of which is a big chunk of "here's what happened while you were unconscious" exposition at the very end.
The rest of the time, he stays hands-off. He doesn't give Harry any special treatment, and when the butter beer hits the fan at the end, Harry and his friends have to stand on their own without help from the guy who's supposed to be, well helping them.
This, of course, is entirely by design. Dumbledore's playing the long game with Harry, and he knows the kid's gotta learn stand on his own in a great big hurry. He has a willingness to let things play out without stepping in, and he shows up only when Harry really, really needs to know something important.
But there's more to it than just toughening him up. Dumbledore wants Harry to be a great wizard, sure, but he also wants Harry to be a good person. In the Wizarding World, when you knock off Voldemort before you're old enough to sleep without diapers, you are An Extremely Big Deal. As we all know from countless real world examples, being an Extremely Big Deal can really mess you up. Dumbledore can't have that, so he wants to make sure Harry never quite realizes just how important he is.
It's an unusual tactic for a mentor, and it speaks very much to the time period J.K. Rowling wrote the Harry Potter novels. King Arthur and the Greek heroes and all those old school travelers on the Hero's Journey didn't have to worry about being famous. That's a thoroughly modern conceit, but it's also a very dangerous one.
So on top of helping Harry learn to use his magic and take care of himself, Dumbledore's teaching Harry how to accept his standing in the Wizarding World. It keeps Harry humble, open to learning and grateful for small comforts (like his friends). They seem like small tools, but they're absolutely necessary if Harry's going to face the task ahead of him.
Dang. That's some big-league hero mentoring, Albus.
Dumbledore and McGonagall are Harry's mentors and teachers. Ron and Hermione are Harry's friends. In between them sits a gigantic mass of hair and beard named Rubeus Hagrid: Hogwarts' groundskeeper and literal big man on campus.
Depending upon the exact moment, Hagrid can either be Harry's good buddy or his teacher, but he's always on Harry's side, and he'd rather die than let our hero down.
The mentoring stuff mostly happens in the early scenes. Hagrid is Harry's first introduction to the Wizarding World, and as such has to answer a lot of questions early on. It's a lot to take in, which is why Hagrid makes a better choice to explain it to him than Dumbledore.
Dumbledore's great, but he's not exactly the type you want to hang out with and throw back a few butter beers with. Hagrid is a little too much sometimes, since he clearly can't keep his mouth shut about important secrets, but his warmth and approachability makes him the ideal means to delivering basic information about this magical universe, including who and what Harry is.
When he first appears in that shack on the island where the Dursleys have gone to hide, Harry's about as miserable as he can get. And suddenly here comes this great beard with a man attached—he crashes through the door with two things Harry desperately needs: a friendly smile and a little information on why he has freaky powers.
HAGRID: Did you ever make anything happen? Anything you couldn't explain when you were angry or scared?
Why, yes, Hagrid. As a matter of fact, Harry can talk to freakin' snakes. How did you know?
Hagrid's friendliness as a mentor and information tool means he segues quite easily from being a teacher to a friend. Once he's eased Harry and his friends into Hogwarts, he can leave the stern lessons and scary warnings to them, and just be there for Harry.
Again, he has a hard time keeping his yap shut (making it easy for Harry and his pals to pump him for information), but he seems quite cheerful about it, and the familial way he lets Harry and the gang just chillax in his hut means that he has no hard feelings about it.
Even when he screws up and gives away more information than he should, there's no hostility or anger. He just quietly berates himself and keeps chatting with the kids. His usual refrain goes something like this…
HAGRID: I shouldn't have said that. I should NOT have said that…
Thanks for being a blabber-mouth, Hagrid. (No really, we're glad. He keeps us in the loop, too.)
Hagrid's general Santa Claus tendencies are hidden behind a very imposing exterior. When he first kicks down the door to collect Harry, he really looks like a giant out of a fairy tale—you know, the kind that says things like "I'll grind your bones to make my bread"—and it's only when he gives out a disarming "sorry about that" that we realize he's not a threat.
In fact, this sums up Hagrid's greatest lesson: things aren't always what they appear to be in the Wizarding World. Turbans can hide evil wizard faces. Mirrors can reveal hidden desires. And massive giants with booming voices can turn out to be sweeter and milder than baby lambs.
You know Severus Snape, even if you're new to Hogwarts.
You know that teacher that always gives you the stink eye, no matter how good you're being? The one who seems to live for making snide little comments in the corner of the paper you poured your heart and soul into, right next to the "D+"? The one who always calls on you when you don't know the answer, who bores his hateful little eyes right into the back of your skull anytime you open your mouth?
Picture that guy. Now give him the ability to turn you into a frog or poison you in your sleep. Ladies and gentlemen, meet Severus Snape.
Snape teaches potions and oversees Slytherin House…which makes him a shady character to begin with. Add to that his apparent interest in the darker side of magic and the fact that he really has it in for Harry, and you have an adversary that no eleven-year-old wizard wants to tangle with.
Consider his first interaction with Harry. Having been introduced to the Wizarding World and told that he's somehow world-famous—and that everyone loves him—he suddenly finds himself with a professor who cuts him no slack at all:
SNAPE: Clearly, fame isn't everything, is it, Mr. Potter?
This is Snape in a nutshell: he assumes that Harry is capitalizing on his fame when, in fact, Harry would rather be anything but famous. We see, also, a glimmer of jealousy in what Snape says—it seems as if Snape wishes that he were cresting the wave of fame.
Naturally, all of this antagonism (and pro-Slytherin propaganda) leads Harry to think that Snape's super evil and behind all of the dangers besetting Hogwarts. As it turns out, however, Snape ain't guilty as charged.
Oh sure, he hates Harry's guts for no apparent reason and he's clearly up to multiple flavors of sinister skullduggery, but hide the spirit of Voldemort? Not his bag, baby. Professor Quirrell—and Voldemort, Quirrell's own personal Man Behind the Curtain—says as much during the final confrontation with Harry.
QUIRRELL/VOLDEMORT: Yes, [Snape] does seem the type, doesn't he? Next to me, who would suspect p-p-poor s-stammering Professor Quirrell?
When even Voldemort recognizes how inherently evil Snape appears, you just know that he's a guy who seems capable of heinous crimes. (If only he'd trim that lank black mane…)
In literary terms, that makes Snape a red herring: a character who looks unduly suspicious in order to throw the scent off the real villain. And he does his job beautifully. For as much as he hates Harry, Harry hates him back… so much in fact, that he never bothers thinking that the real enemy could be someone else.
Of course, Snape's playing the long game just like Dumbledore is, and while he doesn't actually turn out to be the villain here, he's got seven more movies to make up for lost ground. We're pretty sure he hates Harry enough to make a really serious go at it.
McGonagall is the head of Gryffindor House, Dumbledore's second in command, and professor of Harry's transfiguration class. She may be the greatest witch on the planet… but she's the Glinda kind of witch instead of the Wicked kind. Lucky for us.
She's also played by Maggie Smith. Make that super lucky for us.
Oh she may be a little sour and crusty—she's Scottish, and it comes with the territory up there—but she's dedicated herself completely to the welfare of Hogwarts and its students, and woe be to anyone who gets in her way.
That devotion means that she doesn't suffer fools lightly, even (or especially) if they come from Gryffindor. She cuts Harry and Ron absolutely zero slack, and in some ways she's as hard on them as Snape. Even when she gives them praise, as she does after they defeat the mountain troll, she adds a stinger on top of it:
MCGONAGALL: Five points will be awarded to each of you…for sheer dumb luck.
You know, just so they can tell she's not nearly as impressed as they'd like her to be.
In storytelling terms, she's a mentor, though a secondary mentor to Dumbledore (and frankly speaking, she plays a larger role later in the saga than she does here). She also serves as an example that someone can make things very tough for you and ultimately still be on your side.
She's like that teacher who knows you're capable of great things…but only if you apply yourself and make sure you keep your nose in your books even when you'd really, really, really rather be on the X-Box.
Professor Quirrell may be the Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher…but he's also a total wet noodle.
You spend most of this movie wondering what the heck he's doing teaching Defense Against the Dark Arts, since it looks like he could barely take on a little old lady at a rummage sale. But for some reason, Dumbledore trusts him and lets the stammering wimp teach the kids how to stand up and face the forces of darkness.
As it turns out, he knows a lot more about said forces of darkness than he's letting on… mostly because he's keeping Mr. Maximum Evil (a.k.a. Voldemort) slapped onto the back of his skull like a demonic tattoo.
The whole wet noodle thing was an act designed to throw off suspicion:
QUIRRELL: Next to me, who would suspect p-p-poor s-stammering Professor Quirrell?
Quirrell exists solely as a mobile home for Voldemort's spirit, and as such he wants to get his mitts on the Sorcerer's Stone awful bad. That ultimately makes him the villain of the piece, though we don't know it until the very end and his reward for being so is to turn to ash like a Cuban cigar. A fairly ignominious death, but then again, he really wasn't much of a villain. He was just possessed by one.
We learn a lot more about the malevolent yin to Harry's righteous yang in later chapters of the saga, but for now, it's enough to know the basics: he's evil, he's scary, and he tried to take over the world about eleven years ago.
Harry Potter stopped him, though how or why not even he knows, and Ol' Vol's just itching to get back at the little guy.
That's sufficient to get our heroes scuttling after the Sorcerer's Stone before he can get to it, making him more of a dramatic impetus than a character. Indeed, all of the traits we do know about him—for now at least—come second- or third-hand, and don't seem to do more than confirm his basic evilness.
The movie doesn't need any more than that, and frankly with seven more on the way, it needed to save its powder as far as Voldemort's personality goes.
But there's something else that defines Voldemort, beyond his whole here comes a scary bad guy thing: his connection to Harry. It's clear he's had a huge impact on the course of Harry's life, what with killing of his parents and all.
But Harry's also put a serious crimp in Voldemort's style, and with that scar in place, we never forget just who's waiting at the end of Harry's road. That may be what leads Voldemort to tempt Harry into joining him instead of just killing him:
VOLDEMORT: Tell me, Harry, would you like to see your mother and father again? Together, we can bring them back.
It's a tempting offer…and it's also a super low blow. Harry knows that Voldemort offed his mum and dad, so the fact that Voldemort is saying he can bring them back is a bit like saying "Hey, I stole your laptop. If you become friends with me, I'll give it back."
This exchange also does something else—it shows how important Voldemort knows Harry is. It's not every day that an immensely powerful wizard tries to join forces with an eleven-year-old kid. Harry knows that, this time and every time, it's personal.
From that moment, the rumble is on. The Sorcerer's Stone is just the opening skirmish in a very long war, and, as the later books tell us, "neither can live while the other survives."
Ah, that human ferret we ordered has arrived right on time.
Draco Malfoy doesn't quite qualify for villain status. He's too snotty, too bratty, and he really doesn't scare us the way Voldemort does. Malfoy's purpose in the story becomes more apparent in later chapters, but for now, it's enough to have someone Harry's age to serve as an adversary on the schoolyard level.
But that doesn't make him any less irritating.
As the member of a prestigious family, Malfoy comes with the snooty superiority complex pre-installed. He uses his status as an excuse to lord it over wrong-side-of-the-tracks types like Ron, and generally look down his nose at the hoi-polloi. Almost as soon as we meet him—the first night at Hogwarts, just before the big feast—he's ready to start drawing lines and judging people:
DRACO: You'll soon find out that some wizarding families are better than others, Potter. You don't want to go making friends with the wrong sort. I can help you there.
This is Draco to a T: status obsessed, grandiose, and smarmy. Stay classy, you little punk.
When Harry decides not to become part of Team Malfoy, Draco makes it his business to snitch on Harry and his friends whenever possible, cementing his status as a grade-A weasel and turning chicken the minute he faces any real danger out in the forest.
Naturally, you know he'll just pop back with that smug smile on his face, ready to make life miserable for Harry and his friends all over again.
The Dursleys—Aunt Petunia, Uncle Vernon and their hephalump of a son, Dudley—are Harry's Muggle relatives. They agree to take him in after Lord Voldemort murders his parents. Once he's in their care, though, they treat him exactly, precisely the way a cocker spaniel treats his chew toy…to the point of making him sleep in a cupboard rather than enjoy a room of his own.
Frankly speaking, they're almost living cartoons. And that's partially by design. J.K. Rowling knows the power of fairy tales, and wanted her wizard story to reflect it. Hence the Dursleys bear a more than passing resemblance to Cinderella's wicked step-sisters, for example, or (to quote a more recent example) Aunt Sponge and Aunt Spiker in Roald Dahl's James and the Giant Peach.
Strictly speaking, they're evil, though it's not the flashy 1,000-years-of-darkness stuff wielded by Voldemort and his gang. Theirs is a much smaller kind of evil, and a much pettier kind. The Dursleys are infected by the kind of workaday evil that we see way too much of in the world, but grudgingly ignore because of the much bigger problems occupying our attention.
Besides filling that fairytale role of the wicked step-family, the Dursleys also serve as a reminder of this petty kind of evil, and how damaging it can be. But it also demonstrates something just as important: that this mean-spiritedness generally comes, not from a sense of superiority, but from a sense of complete inadequacy.
PETUNIA: My perfect sister being who she was. My mother and father were so proud the day she got her letter. "We have a witch in the family. Isn't it wonderful?" I was the only one to see her for what she was...a freak!
Petunia's just jealous. Suddenly this horrible women who Harry probably looked at as the incarnation of Satan is revealed to be a sad, petty person who has to tear him down in order to build herself up.
In other words, the Dursleys are bullies.
There are characters, there are challenges, and sometimes there are artful ways of making one out of the other. Filch is a minor-league adversary, the Hogwarts's custodian who fulfills the all-important duty of skulking around in the dark and looking creepy. He really doesn't have much more to do, but it's clear that he doesn't much care for the kids and delights in catching them all in the act of being naughty.
Naturally, this puts a severe crimp in Harry's style, since he's all about sneaking out after curfew and getting to the bottom of Scooby-Doo-esque mysteries. Filch becomes a sort of walking, talking obstacle course, someone to slalom around in the quest to find out what going down in the Hogwarts's basement.
He has enough personality to make him interesting, but otherwise, he's basically another, less scary version of the giant chessboard that knocks out Ron.
We'll be honest: Nearly Headless Nick is a lot more interesting in the books than in the movie.
In the books, he makes for interesting color and the presences of ghosts in general set up some reasonably big plot points. But here, he doesn't have much to do but hang around and tell the gang "Hi" every now and again. (We're glad John Cleese got a nice fat check out of it, at least.)
So why is that? And frankly, why are a number of other characters from the Harry Potter books given such short shrift? Some of it has to do with running time. Rowling could delve into certain details with the books that movies just couldn't show without boring us to tears. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone has a lot less time to play with, and it needs to more or less stick to the really important stuff without getting too distracted.
Nearly Headless Nick is the victim of that. His back-story and personality get tossed aside in favor of the central plot. He needed to be included—gotta make the fans happy— but he really doesn't have anything much to do.
But he's basically floating scenery. He's a sign that Hogwarts is full of surprises…some of which can talk (and grouse about how they were left out of the Headless Hunt again).
Neville 's one of Harry's fellow Gryffindors, and for now he seems like a fairly anonymous one. In The Sorcerer's Stone, he's simply a surprisingly klutzy student at Hogwarts: regularly bullied, terrible in fights and unable to keep track of…well, anything.
And yet he's in Gryffindor House with all of the "brave" students. Why? Well, it's probably Rowling's subtle way of saying that bravery doesn't mean having no fear. It means being terrified and doing what you need to do anyway.
Take it from Dumbledore:
DUMBLEDORE: It takes a great deal of courage to stand up to your enemies, but a great deal more to stand up to your friends.
As we learn, Longbottom has a way of fighting through his fear and doing what he has to do.Neville's on the sidelines here, but he's in Gryffindor for a reason, and it looks like he has the makings of a first-rate ally if Harry & Co will let him.