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Harry Potter's Invitation to the World

by Vickie Ewell


Chapter 30 – The Potions Master
(HP Chapter 8)

Snape began class by telling the students that Potion making was a subtle science and an art. Likewise, Alchemy is the same. It doesn’t include foolish wand waving, so many find it difficult to believe its magic. “I don’t expect you will really understand the beauty of the softly simmering cauldron with its shimmering fumes, the delicate power of liquids that creep through human veins,” he said. He spoke like an Alchemist.

To Snape, potion making was like meditation and prayer. It was poetry in action. Since we know that Dumbledore was his mentor, we should trust Dumbledore to have placed Snape where it will do him and the students the most good.

“I can teach you how to bottle fame, brew glory, even stopper death,” he said. So, he gave us a clue as to the meaning behind the pickled animals that sat in the jars. Potions can teach us to bottle our earthly desires and animal natures. They can help us to brew spiritual glory and achieve the immortality sought after by the Alchemists because excellence requires that we practice spiritual discipline.

Since Snape believed Harry was like his father, prideful and arrogant, he decided to test him. “Potter!” he said suddenly. “What would I get if I added powdered root of asphodel to an infusion of wormwood?” Asphodel is of the lily family. It was a remedy for snake bites and preserved pigs from disease. An infusion is the liquid that plants or other substances have been soaked in. Wormwood oil is extremely poisonous, but Harry didn’t know that. “I don’t know, sir,” Harry said.

Snape’s lips curled, and Harry interpreted it as being a sneer at his lack of knowledge. “Fame clearly isn’t everything,” Snape replied. Now, Hermione knew the answer, but Snape wasn’t looking for the correct answer, so he ignored her. Snape was testing Harry’s inner-discipline. “Let’s try again. Potter, where would you look if I told you to find me a bezoar?”

Draco, Crabbe, and Goyle are all laughing at Harry, but rather than react to them, he tried to ignore them. Snape was forcing him to face his feelings of inadequacy. This time he was testing Harry’s outer discipline. “I don’t know, sir,” Harry said again.

To that, Snape sarcastically replied: “Thought you wouldn’t open a book before coming, eh, Potter?” Reading represents more than mere earthly knowledge. It is a simple, outer activity of solitude that embraces the spiritual disciplines of fasting, study, meditation, and prayer. Harry forced himself to keep looking into Snape’s eyes.

He had looked through his books at the Dursleys. We know he read them well into the night, but he had not memorized everything that was in them. There were 1,000 magical herbs and fungi to learn. Snape was looking for Harry’s faults. “What is the difference, Potter, between monkshood and wolfsbane?”

Wolfsbane is a poisonous plant. It will be used by Snape later on to brew the potion Professor Lupin needs to help him maintain rationality and consciousness when undergoing his wolf transformation. He will do this service for Lupin due to Dumbledore’s request. It is a complex potion that few individuals can make safely because they do not have the spiritual discipline required.

Snape is a strong symbol for Severity, one of the three pillars of The Tree of Life. He stands in direct polarity to Dumbledore who represents mercy and love. However, Snape serves Dumbledore and submits to his guidance.

Hermione stood up and stretched her hand towards the dungeon’s ceiling, begging Snape to call on her. “I don’t know,” Harry said again, “but I think Hermione does. Why don’t you try her?” Both Hermione and Harry had missed Snape’s point. Snape snapped at Hermione to sit down. In Snape’s mind, Harry had failed the test. He was undisciplined, mediocre, and arrogant like his father.

Snape explained to Harry and the rest of the class that combining asphodel and wormwood made a strong sleeping potion known as the Drought of Living Death. This was something the students would not make until their sixth year. A bezoar can be found in the stomach of a goat (as well as other places) and will save you from most poisons. Wolfsbane and monkshood are the same plant. Snape then took another point from Griffindore for Harry’s rudeness.

The rest of the class didn’t go any better. Snape divided the students into pairs and had them mix up a simple potion for boils. Snape was critical of everyone except Draco, so we learn that Snape’s attitude wasn’t personal against Harry. Neville managed to melt Seamus’ caldron. The Potion drenched him, then spread across the floor and burned holes in everyone’s shoes.

The class jumped up onto their stools, but Neville was experiencing painful, red boils. Although Snape was angry (“Idiot boy!”) and sent Neville to the hospital wing, burning signifies that Calcination had begun for Neville, as well as some of the others.

Snape was reacting mechanically to the emergency, but showed us his intellectual ability. He knew exactly what Neville did wrong. However, his conditioning required that he find someone to blame, so he chose Harry rather than Neville. “Thought he’d make you look good if he got it wrong, did you?” Snape also took another point from Griffindore.

In Harry’s eyes Snape hated him, but Snape appeared to be unable to deal with the fact that Harry wasn’t what he expected. Fallen man tends to compare others to himself. Harry was The Boy Who Lived, yet had less spiritual discipline than Snape did. Harry also looked like James. That brought Snape’s shadow to the surface.

Some of his demons reflected how his Muggle father treated him (Idiot boy!), but there was also James’ abuse to deal with. In addition, everything he said and did at Hogwarts in Draco’s presence will undoubtedly be reported back to Draco’s father, Lucius.

Harry felt that Snape was being unfair by blaming him, but when Harry started to react, Ron kicked him. “Don’t push it,” Ron whispered. Ron no longer had any doubts that everything he’d heard about Snape was true, but he didn’t want Harry to get into trouble. Harry listened to Ron, and when class ended an hour later, he began beating himself up for losing two points for Griffindore.

Now, two points for two incidents was miniscule – another sign that things are not what they appear to be. Most teachers subtracted at least five points for each event and many times more.

Ron tried to cheer Harry up by explaining that Snape was always taking points from Griffindore due to his brothers, another clue that it wasn’t as personal as Harry believed. It was more of a Slytherin against Griffindore thing. One of the functions of polarity is to oppose the other.

Ron asked Harry if he could go to Hagrid’s with him. Hagrid lived in a small, one-roomed wooden house on the edge of the forbidden forrest. He had a very large black dog named Fang. When the boys stepped inside Hagrid’s simple home, there was a copper kettle boiling over an open fire. Copper is associated with Venus. It is soft and flexible. The kettle was also the first item that Hagrid removed from his sack when he came to rescue Harry. Despite Snape’s initial impression of Harry, he had a loving nature and manifested most of the Christian spiritual disciplines.

Harry introduced Ron to Hagrid. Immediately Hagrid pinned him as a Weasley. Hagrid served the boys rock-hard cakes with their tea: hard, shapeless lumps like the two boys. They pretended to enjoy the cakes while they told Hagrid all about their first week. Neither boy wanted to hurt Hagrid’s feelings.

Harry told Hagrid about Snape’s lesson, but Hagrid assured him it was nothing to worry about it. Snape didn’t like most of the students. When Harry pushed the hate issue, Hagrid defended Snape. “Rubbish! Why should he?”

Harry didn’t put much weight in Hagrid’s opinion because he didn’t quite meet Harry’s eyes. To Harry, that said more than words. However, Hagrid was probably trying to avoid the topic because Snape was one of the teachers guarding the Philosopher’s Stone, and Hagrid wasn’t able to keep a secret.

While Ron told Hagrid all about his brother Charlie’s work with dragons, Harry read a newspaper cutting from the Daily Prophet that was lying on the table. It was about the break-in at Gringotts. The vault had been emptied earlier that day, so the goblins were claiming nothing was taken.

As Harry and Ron returned to the castle equally weighed down with rock cakes they were both too polite to refuse, Harry wondered if Hagrid had taken what the thieves were after, and where the package was now. He also wondered what Hagrid knew about Snape that he wasn’t revealing