The Potions Master

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Chapter 8 of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone: The Potions Master← Chapter 7 | Chapter 9 →

Synopsis[edit]

Spoiler warning: Plot and/or ending details follow.

Harry's first few days at Hogwarts are trying indeed, and the students constantly staring at him makes him nervous and uncomfortable. The huge castle is convoluted, and Harry and Ron repeatedly get lost on their way to class, making them late, or they are caught as they are accidentally about to enter forbidden areas, putting them (on their first day at Hogwarts) on the caretaker, Argus Filch's bad side. And the lessons are difficult.

Harry meets his teachers: Professor Sprout for Herbology, Professor Binns for History of Magic, and Professor Flitwick for Charms. He also has Professor McGonagall for Transfiguration, and Professor Quirrell for Defence Against the Dark Arts, though of course he has met them before.

At breakfast on Friday, Harry receives his first owl post message, from Hagrid, inviting him to tea after class. Harry then attends his first Potions class with Professor Snape, a double-length class shared with Slytherin first-years. Class does not go well, with Snape singling Harry out, and ridiculing him for his limited magical knowledge. Snape, who apparently dislikes Harry's celebrity status, is continually harder on Harry than even the other Gryffindors in the class. In particular, when Neville melts the cauldron he shares with Seamus, Snape unjustly holds Harry partly responsible and penalizes Gryffindor House one point.

When Harry (and Ron) arrive at Hagrid's hut for tea, Harry finds a clipping from the Daily Prophet mentioning the Gringotts Wizarding Bank break-in. Hagrid refuses to discuss it, and Harry concludes that the burglarized vault was the same one Hagrid emptied during their trip to Diagon Alley.

Analysis[edit]

Many Hogwarts teachers are introduced, at least those who become substantial characters in this and future books. While most teachers are delighted to have Harry Potter in their classes, Snape, hardly impressed, singles out Harry to unfairly ridicule or reproach him. This becomes an ongoing occurrence throughout the series, and it appears here that Snape's behavior is fueled by his resentment over Harry's fame. This idea is reinforced in the next book, where Snape's negative reaction to a celebrity teacher is also seen. Only later is it learned why Snape resents Harry so much, and their mutual animosity grows throughout the series.

In Harry's conversation with Hagrid, we can see Harry's natural urge to understand and investigate, a quality that will equip him to solve (with help) the many mysteries put before him throughout his seven-year story. This innate curiosity may be leading him to the forbidden third-floor corridor, determined to discover what lies hidden within, though his attempt to open that door in this chapter is apparently purely accidental.

Meanwhile, Harry's first days at Hogwarts are somewhat stressful as he copes with a new environment, unwanted fame, and his discomfort over other students constantly staring at him. Overall, though, he is happy, and there is no other place he would rather be: hero-worship, unwelcome as it may be, is a form of acceptance, and is far better than what he receives at home. In addition to adjusting to his new magical life and struggling a bit with his studies, he also learns more about wizard society as he becomes acquainted with his classmates. His initial impression may have been that all wizards were pretty much alike, though Draco Malfoy, in Diagon Alley, gave an early indication that at least some social differences exist. Harry quickly learns more about wizard backgrounds, and that some, like the Malfoys and the Weasleys, are pure blood, while others are half-bloods like Harry, whose father was a pure-blood Wizard while his mother was a Muggle-born witch like Hermione, with no magical family. Seamus Finnigan is also considered a half-blood, with one magical parent (his mother), and the other (his father) a Muggle. Neville Longbottom is pure-blood, though his family feared he had no magical ability whatsoever until the ability appeared later in his childhood. Even among pure-blood families there are class differences, as seen by how the Malfoys consider the Weasleys inferior because they are poor and have different views regarding Muggles and Muggle-born wizards. At Hogwarts, all students are treated equally, regardless of what their individual backgrounds are, and they are supposed to be judged solely on talent and performance rather than their lineage and connections. There are, however, wizards, mostly Slytherins, that believe "pure" bloodlines are superior to mixed ones, and some, like the Malfoys, advocate that only the old, pure-blood wizard families should be allowed to attend Hogwarts and study magic. These prejudicial beliefs become an increasingly prominent theme throughout the series.

The exact date that Gringotts was broken into is also learned; the clipping on Hagrid's table states it occurred on 31 July, the same day Harry was in Diagon Alley. It is from this that Harry concludes that the thief was after Hagrid's "grubby little parcel".

Questions[edit]

Study questions are meant to be left for each student to answer; please don't answer them here.

Review[edit]

  1. Why does Hagrid invite Harry to tea?
  2. Why do the students stare at Harry? How does this make Harry feel?
  3. What does Harry learn about the different kinds of wizards there are. How does he fit into this social division?

Further Study[edit]

  1. Why didn't Snape call on Hermione when she raised her hand?
  2. Why does Snape seem to dislike Harry so much?
  3. What makes Harry so convinced that the vault that was burglarized at Gringotts is the same one Hagrid removed the package from?

Greater Picture[edit]

Intermediate warning: Details follow which you may not wish to read at your current level.

Snape's ongoing dislike for Harry is a main feature throughout the series. Harry's first-ever Potions class with Snape actually foreshadows events in the upcoming books. In his introduction, Snape says he can teach the students to, "brew fame, bottle fortune, and even stopper death." (The US book has a slightly different wording; see below.) This scene's many connections, as described below, to later parts of the series, had led many fans to speculate, following the events in the sixth book's conclusion, that Dumbledore and Snape conspired to fake Dumbledore's death. In fact, the potion mentioned had been used in that book, though we do not discover that until late in the final book; Snape had prevented or delayed Dumbledore's death caused by his touching a cursed ring. The discussion of aconite or monkshood, and the associated Draught of Living Death, reappear in the sixth book, first when Professor Slughorn has Harry's class brew this potion, and possibly (in the US edition only) atop the Astronomy tower, when Dumbledore attempts to convince Draco to switch sides, and tells him that can make Draco and all his family appear to be dead. (The reader should note that there is no immediate connection to the Wolfsbane Potion that appears in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban; that is a completed potion, and apparently a complex one, while the Wolfsbane mentioned here is a potion ingredient.) The Bezoar that Snape asks Harry to describe will play a small role in the fourth book, and a much larger one in the sixth book.

In the book's British and Canadian versions, Snape's wording in the scene mentioned above, "and even stopper death," is somewhat ambiguous; some readers have suggested that it means placing death in a bottle. This seems overly simplistic, as poisons are so common, both in the Muggle and Wizarding worlds, that they hardly merit mention. The more likely meaning is to prevent Death from acting, stoppering it inside a bottle. In the US / Scholastic version of the books, this phrase appears instead as "and even put a stopper to death." As we learn later in the series, the US version of Snape's speech is better aligned with his actual meaning, though many editors feel that the original British wording is more elegant.

Harry and Ron constantly getting lost shows the castle's magical qualities and its overall enormity. Hogwarts harbors countless secrets, many that become important later in the series. Because the castle is so confusing, Harry, Ron, Neville, and Hermione will later end up in the third floor corridor; escaping Filch, they enter that corridor by accident, and will thereby learn something very important to the overall story.

Although Neville says his family believed he might have been a "Muggle", a more accurate description would be a "Squib." Without specifically mentioning yet what exactly they are, the author appears to be dropping a hint regarding their existence in wizard society. It will be learned later that Squibs are born into wizard families, but through some genetic quirk, lack any magical ability. In addition to the pure-bloods, half-bloods, and Muggle-borns noted in the above "Analysis" section, Squibs are yet another, though tiny, division within that social order. They are polar opposite to Muggle-borns, born into a family that they are completely different from. Unlike Muggle-borns, who are identified early on and brought into wizard society, Squibs are often treated as outcasts, and encouraged to integrate themselves into Muggle society. Having been raised in a purely magical household, however, a Squib would likely find it difficult to adapt to Muggle society, and have the additional burden of hiding their wizard affiliations.

Readers also learn later that Mrs. Figg, Harry's odd Privet Drive neighbor, and Mr. Filch, are both Squibs who function within the Wizarding world despite lacking magical powers. Neville's family employed extreme lengths to coax out any magical powers he might possess, most likely fearing the social stigma that having a Squib family member, particularly a pure-blood one, generates. As extreme (and downright silly and dangerous) as their attempts were to prove otherwise, it finally resulted in Neville showing that he is indeed a wizard, though it initially appears his magical ability is rather weak. However, this changes as the series progresses, mostly due to Harry's patient efforts.

Ironically, Neville's family may have created his problems, though their intentions were good. It will be learned that Neville's parents, who were Aurors (Dark wizard catchers), were tortured into insanity by Voldemort's Death Eaters. Neville's relatives may have applied strong memory charms to alleviate Neville's painful recollections about this traumatic event. Unfortunately, these charms, applied too strongly or liberally, can damage a wizard's mental and magical abilities, perhaps permanently, particularly in one so young. Another character, Bertha Jorkins, later in the series, will suffer a similar affliction after Bartemius Crouch casts a powerful memory charm on her to erase some very damaging information, though he, unconcerned about inflicting lasting injury, probably used little restraint. Neville's and Bertha's similar conditions suggests there may be some similarity in their causes.

Considering the connections between Harry and Neville, revealed in the fifth book, it is interesting to note that they are polar opposites: while Harry's Muggle family tried to "squash the magic out of him," the Longbottoms tried to force-feed Neville magic. We will find out that, according to Trelawney's prophecy, it could have been either Neville or Harry who would end up facing Voldemort; it might be interesting to speculate, as Harry does later, what would have happened had Voldemort thought that Neville, being pure-blood wizard, was the infant the prophecy referred to.

The social stigma associated with having a Squib relative is mentioned two other times. In speaking about his own family, while aboard the Hogwarts Express in Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, Ron says he has a relative who is an accountant, but his family rarely mentions her. And we will see, in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, that when Dumbledore's sister was hidden from the neighbours due to her mental affliction, the immediate, though incorrect, assumption by others was that she was a Squib.

Connections[edit]

One episode in this chapter is particularly heavily freighted with connections going forward in the series. Harry's first Potions lesson contains the following statements by Snape:

  • "... and even stopper death." This likely refers to the potion that Snape will use to preserve Professor Dumbledore's life when he runs afoul of the curse in the ring Horcrux (revealed in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows).
  • "... the Draught of Living Death." Preparation of this potion appears in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, where it is used as a device to show the superiority of the marginal notes in the textbook Harry is using over the standard text. While the UK / Canadian version of the book does not include this passage, in the US / Scholastic edition, Dumbledore, bargaining with Draco late in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, mentions that if Draco wants to hide from Voldemort, it is possible to make him and his entire family seem dead. While the technique is never mentioned, it is quite possible that it includes this potion.
  • "As for monkshood and wolfsbane, they are the same plant, which also goes by the name of aconite..." possibly foreshadows the arrival of Remus Lupin in the third book.
  • "Where would you find a bezoar?" A vital part of an antidote Harry is brewing in Potions class in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, it is noteworthy because Harry, agitated by the proximity of the Yule Ball, forgets it. A bezoar constitutes Harry's entire answer to an antidote quiz in Potions class Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, and reappears shortly after that where Harry uses it to save Ron's life.

Other connected events include:

  • When Harry and Ron are caught by Filch trying to get into the forbidden third-floor corridor, it is Professor Quirrell, chancing to pass by, who extracts them from Filch's clutches. We will learn later in this book that Quirrell has been trying throughout the book to get to the Stone that was hidden under that passageway.
  • We are here introduced to Snape's hatred of Harry, and of Gryffindor House to a smaller extent. The reasons are not explained until far later in the series, but this hatred will be a constant background throughout the series.
  • The break-in at Gringotts, which we read about in the clipping on Hagrid's table, was also discussed a week earlier, and we learn here that it occurred immediately after the vault in question was cleared. This leads us to believe that it was the vault that Hagrid had cleared a month earlier, when he and Harry visited Diagon Alley and Gringotts. It is worth noting that Harry meets Professor Quirrell in the Leaky Cauldron on that occasion, as we will later be led to believe that it was Quirrell who broke into Gringotts. It will be mentioned again as Harry plans to break into Gringotts himself, in the final book. It will be partly because of this earlier break in that the goblin Griphook will agree to help them.