The Potions Master

chapter eight of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

Harry attends a memorable first week of classes, capped off by a Potions lesson in which Snape makes his dislike for Harry abundantly clear. Harry and Ron then visit Hagrid, where they learn that Gringotts was robbed the same day Harry and Hagrid visited.

Professor Flitwick, by Laurence Peguy

Professor Flitwick, the Charms teacher, was a tiny little wizard who had to stand on a pile of books to see over his desk.


Quirrell, by Edgar Torné

Quirrell’s lessons turned out to be a bit of a joke. His turban, he told them, had been given to him by an African prince as a thank-you for getting rid of a troublesome zombie, but they weren’t sure they believed this story.


Snape, by Laura Freeman

Snape, like Flitwick, started the class by taking the roll call, and like Flitwick, he paused at Harry’s name. “Ah, yes,” he said softly, “Harry Potter. Our new – celebrity.


The Potions Master, by Keith James

“Potter!” said Snape suddenly. “What would I get if I added powdered root of asphodel to an infusion of wormwood?”


Severus Snape, by Michael Greenholt

“And a point will be taken from Gryffindor House for your cheek, Potter.”


Hagrid, by Michael Greenholt

“Make yerselves at home,” said Hagrid.


Hogwarts - Ron and Harry, by Maria Abagnale

As Harry and Ron walked back to the castle for dinner, their pockets weighed down with rock cakes they’d been too polite to refuse, Harry thought that none of the lessons he’d had so far had given him as much to think about as tea with Hagrid.


about the chapter


Harry’s classes seem so extraordinary to us (and to him!) that we barely notice how mundane his school life really is. It’s part of what is so captivating about Rowling’s writing – it’s always interesting to hear what Harry’s studying, because from our perspective it’s so outlandish; yet at the same time, we can relate to his experiences because they’re so familiar. After all, it feels to me like every single year in school I had a teacher who was super strict and gave loads of homework (McGonagall), one who taught fairly well but whose classes tended to devolve into chaos (Flitwick), one who was just plain mean (and also gave loads of homework – Snape), one whose classes seemed like the most boring thing on earth (Binns), and one who was a bit of a joke (Quirrell). Even the interesting part – the subject material – will soon be little more to the students than something else they have to study and write papers on.

Something You May Not Have Noticed

Listen to Harry’s descriptions of Snape’s eyes – “black like Hagrid’s, but they had none of Hagrid’s warmth;” or “cold and empty and made you think of dark tunnels.” Meanwhile the whole time Snape is calling him out in class, Harry is forcing “himself to keep looking straight into those cold eyes.” As time goes on we’ll learn that Snape’s maintaining eye contact with Harry is significant on a couple of levels, and this won’t be the last time their interactions are described this way. It’s worth paying attention to and thinking about what’s going on behind those eyes.

Life at Hogwarts

Binns being a ghost is just a side note for Harry’s class, but I can’t help but wonder what kind of reaction his students had the day he died. After all, he’d been in class as a living teacher the day before, and now was still there, but as a ghost. I’m sure there was plenty of shock to go around, but given his age and the nature of his classes, I’d have to guess that a common reaction was something along the lines of, “Are you SERIOUS? He DIED and he’s STILL teaching???” I can almost hear Seamus Finnigan shouting his disbelief around the Gryffindor common room.

Something to Remember

When Harry and Ron accidentally found themselves near the locked corridor, there were two adults nearby – Filch, who was obviously looking for troublemakers, and Quirrell, “who was passing.” There are lots of reasons he could be walking by, but we’ll find out the real one later on.

The Final Word

“I get letters from children addressed to Professor Dumbledore headmaster at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and it’s not a joke, begging to be let into Hogwarts, and some of them are really sad. Because they want it to be true so badly they’ve convinced themselves it’s true.”–J.K. Rowling, July 2000

25 Responses to “The Potions Master”

  1. Snape doesn’t even give Harry a chance.

  2. Isn’t it brilliant how she mentions the vanishing step (just in a half sentence) and the bezoar here? They will be important again in the fourth resp. the sixths book. Amazing!

  3. I think the JK quote at the bottom is quite interesting because it kind of foreshadows what we learn about Petunia in DH.

  4. Interesting thought about Binns’ students reacting to his death and still teaching. I wonder if any were actually sad he had died.

  5. Always a bit jarring to see an ugly (as in countenance, not drawing!) Snape and read about his unlikeable eyes. We fans take a lot of liberties with Snape (thanks in no small part to my man Alan Rickman) but Rowling has called him deeply horrible and describes him as quite unattractive. Having met more than a few men with cold, black eyes, I can say it’s not a gaze you want to love adoringly into.
    I’m getting addicted to this site.

  6. Sean
    How could they be sad–he’s still here, and no different than when he was alive!

  7. Sheri

    Well, now the students know they get rid of him. Plus it’s a lot harder to pull pranks on a ghost.

  8. This is my first comment, so a little side note, first:

    I am astounded to have found this website only now!! Josie, you are AWESOME!! =)
    I’m seriously addicted to the chapter-by-chapter read: I’m currently NOT listening to a very interesting conference and if I do bad on my Civil Procedure oral next week it’s all your fault.

    That said, I was finally moved to comment because of my undying love for Snape, who is without a doubt one of the best written characters I ever read about.

    I have to quote woadisme here: I’m so taken with Snape as a character (not to mention fanfiction!Snape) that I tend to forget how ugly and physically umpleasant he’s supposed to be. Then again, we live the story through Harry’s eyes: before Harry found how mean Snape was to him, he was just a hooked-nose Professor… The nastiness of his appearance is directly proportional to the ugliness of his attitude towards the Trio. An attitude which, we’ll learn, can be thoroughly explained by his own life experiences.

    Which brings me to my actual point. Snape’s feelings upon locking eyes with Harry for the first time. Harry is almost all James, which makes it easy for Snape to hate on him, but given what we know after book 7 it’s nothing short of miraculous that Snape managed to keep his composure as Harry was trying so hard to look him straight in the eyes.

    Could it be that all those times Harry feels Snape’s eyes burning through him it’s really very little Legilimency and much more Snape looking past James’ features and into those green, green eyes? After all, guessing what Harry’s thinking required very little skill…

  9. haha i hadn;t thought about it before, but yes, i think binns’ students would have been sad. sad that they STILL have to be taught by him. The first thought when he died was probably “FINALLY! SOMEONE NEW!” only to be shocked when he ghosted into the classroom, with his notes! (which had to have become intangible enough for him to carry around with him). Also, its good he teaches HISTORY of magic, and nothing recent, like perhaps a modern history class, or else those notes are completely out of date!

  10. In hindsight, knowing what we know now about Lilly Evans aptitude at Potions, I’ve often thought of Snape’s questioning of Harry’s knowledge (along with his focus on Harry’s green eyes,) was a way to gauge if he’d inherited his mother’s skill.

  11. LoL, another thought: What if Lily’s knowledge of Potions came not from duteous studying like Hermione, but instead from Snape! As of book seven we know of their friendship, and we know Gryffindors and Slytherins shared Potions together all throughout the series… Maybe Snape was giving her the answers on the down-low?

  12. I was re-reading this book for the nth time when something struck me about Harry’s eye contact with Snape. How did Snape feel when he sees those green eyes? And did he see Lily in Harry’s eyes?

    I wonder if seeing Lily’s eyes whenever he makes eye-contact with Harry makes him feel angry and sad over and over again, which is another reason he hates Harry.

  13. Irene I totally understand. Even though JK made him so horrible in appearance and personality I secretly loved Snape as a character. I loved his snarky attitude and his comebacks. And since it was a book I could form a image in my own mind of how he looked. And then the movies came out and Alan Rickman spoke with that voice in Snape’s words and I COMPLETELY LOST MY MIND. Fandom made me lose it even further. lol. But every now and then I’ll see a pic like above of how he’s really supposed to look and I always go “Damn!” cuz I takes me by surprise. I really did forget that he’s supposed to look like that. I curse Fandom and the Fangirl epidemic. It spreads quickly.
    I feel bad for Snape. If you think about it he’s the one that made Harry who he is: Orphan, The Boy Who Lived, etc. Had he never given that Prophecy to Voldemort things would have been different. He knows that too and I think he realizes that every time he sees Harry’s eyes. Everyone says Harry looks like his Dad but I think he has a lot of Lily’s mannerisms and attitude as well. Snape HAS to be hurting every time Harry does something that reminds him of Lily. He’s still an ass to Harry, don’t get me wrong. He takes a lot of stuff too far, But I can’t imagine that feeling of watching this product of the man you hate and the woman you loved growing up around you and knowing that you’re part of the reason his parents are dead.
    Also I never did give props to this site. I’m completely hooked on it as well and I thank you SO MUCH for creating it. You’re Brilliant man.

  14. I think Snape also brings up the hatred he felt for James as a shield to his sadness and guilt. It is a purly human trait to mask guilt and sadness with anger and hatred. He may have even tried to transfer some of it to Harry, if he hadn’t been born, then his parents wouldn’t have been targets. Harry is know to transfer his guilt onto Snape as a relieve a few different times in the series. His anger was like a temporary balm to his other emotions.

    I do love the end though in DH, where the truth is reveiled to Harry and 7 years of hatred and confusion and anger toward Snape is changed in just 15 minutes.

  15. I’ve been wondering… What if Harry was a girl. Snape wouldn’t propably hate Harry then. Because now he sees James everytime he looks at Harry. But if Harry was a girl then he would see Lily.

  16. And I just found this site and it’s really great! I’m a huge Harry Potter fan and I just love this idea!

  17. Very true about how interesting we find the mundane school life of Hogwarts. It continues to be one of the most attractive parts of this series. Rowling has created such an intricate world. I could infinitely read about “everyday” life without the supervillain Voldemort and I would still be in love with these books.

    Also, Josie I would like to echo Irene’s comment. I only just “stumbledupon” this website today and left my first comment last chapter. I just want to commend you for an amazing job! I love being able to relive the books and discuss them with the most loyal and knowledgeable fans!

  18. Snape also foreshadows PoA in referring to wolfsbane. But… but… Snape made a mistake!

    Wolfsbane and monkshood are not the same plant. They are separate species of aconite, which is the genus name. In chemical structure, wolfsbane and monkshood are quite different, and they simply wouldn’t react similarly in a potion. Substituting monkshood for wolfsbane would be a major mistake for a potioneer!

  19. Zombie? What about an Inferus? Are they not the same thing?

  20. firstly, i just stumbledupon this website. man is it going to keep me up all night, i love the facts!

    when i was little my mom used to read the harry potter books to me before bed. i always have had trouble sleeping, and whenever i was up because of night terrors or insomnia she would read them to me until i was snoozing like a baby. one time, when i had brain inflammation, i was being put under so that i could get a spinal tap, and i can remember her reading harry potter and the chamber of secrets to me as i fell asleep and the anesthesia kicked in.

    as i got older, obviously she stopped reading the books out loud to me and i started reading for myself, (i got the first harry potter book for Christmas in 2nd grade, a few months after it had come out and before it was popular, so she read them to me for a while) but my sleeping problems have never fully disappeared. recently, i acquired the harry potter audio books, and i listen to them all the time! lately, i’ve been listening to them at night to get me to sleep. i sleep like a baby listening to harry potter, and then whenever i’m having difficulty, i get to listen to harry potter in the meantime instead of lying in bed anxious to fall asleep, fidgeting.

    i love all your notes, because as i’ve been reading and listening to harry potter more and more, i find more and more little details to marvel at! it seems there’s always something new to notice, which i think is a testament for the growth within the series and the overall level of detail. one thing that i always think about in this particular chapter is the points teachers deduct from harry and students in general, when compared to the rest of the books. snape takes off one point for harry’s cheek in this chapter, when in later books he doesn’t hesitate to take off 20+ points for the same type of thing. funny, huh?

  21. @Grace has Victory I think Snape has made a number of mistakes. The one that comes to mind is when he covers DADA for Lupin. He marks one of Harry’s answers wrong when according to Fantastical Beasts it’s actually correct. ‘Harry’ even annotated the part (about where a creature lives) saying something like ‘Snape hasn’t read this’. Not only is he a bully but he’s not a good teacher.

  22. one point doesn’t seem like very much, harry frequently loses way more for far more mundane things. point allocation doesn’t seem very fair either, hermione loses the same amount of points for wandering at night as for saving the world from voldemorts return 3 years early.

  23. A re-read of the whole series has truly brought my attention down to even the smallest significant details. Snape maintaining eye contact with Harry here has shed a whole new light on it. After everything he’s gone through with Lily, and undoubtedly the wound opened by her death still fresh in his mind, it is a miracle how he successfully masks the pain he must be now feeling all over again. And yet, the way he was raised and the cruel stuff that happened to him must have forced him to detach himself from his emotions over time. Snape is one VERY interesting character, no doubt about that.

    I oh-so-dearly love Laurence Peguy’s portrait of Flitwick, particularly noting how the whole artwork is shaded in blue! Exactly how I imagined him to be. ;)

  24. interesting thoughts about Harry and Snape’s eye contact. I’m wondering if Snape can see The Dursleys’ behavior to Harry using Legillimence..

  25. I’m wondering if Shape can see Lilly in Harry’s mind. While Harry only had a little over a year with his mom, wouldn’t the memories be there, even if Harry’s brain couldn’t retrieve them? Maybe Snape can.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: