The Potions Master
In this chapter, JK Rowling does something interesting. It is a chapter of misdirection while at the same time providing foreshadowing clues to the future. Perhaps that is what makes this chapter work as misdirection. We as readers see what we want to see and when parts of it are proven correct in the future, we feel reassured. We are safe in the knowledge that our beliefs were correct, even if they’re not.
What do I mean by this?
Our previous chapters have set the stage for this one. Clues are given, hints are provided. When Harry stairs up at Professor Snape during the feast, his scar Burns. Ron tells us that Snape flavors Slytherin house and from our perceptions of Draco so far it can only mean trouble for Harry. So by the time Harr has Potions class, both Harry and the audience are primed to be wary. So when we see a chapter titiled The Potions Master, we automatically pay attention to the potions master. We are hyper aware of Snape’s disregard for Harry, how he takes points away from Gryffindor, how he makes Draco and his friends snicker. But is that the most important part of the chapter?
Arguably no. Upon our first read, we can’t know it yet, but it appears that Quirrel should be the main focus, shouldn’t he? [Spoiler Alert] We know who he is, who is with him.
Yet our focus is on Snape and so who cares why Quirrel wears that turbin and where it came from. Who cares what it smells like, what he smells like. I mean I would think Quirrel would want to keep his secret well… moisturised because no one wants to meet Voldemort with diaper rash, right?
Its an interesting and tricky thing isnt it? Quirrel is often referenced against Snape. They are seen together at the table, Harry goes to Defense Against the Dark Arts directly before potions class, we will hear Quirrel shout troll before we see Snape limping. As Harry’s distrust and grows for Snape, so does ours. We see what Harry sees and that makes us believe what he believes.
There is a lot of foreshadowing here, such as the beozar, the draught of living death, and wolfsbane, but to me these instances may have been rabdomly picked out by the author and expanded upon as time progressed. , Some even speculate about Harry’s mum Lily and Snape, however. Its this part that I find interesting. One blog post I found from 2010 highlights these point a pretty well and you can find it here at https://expatronum.wordpress.com/2010/04/26/asphodel-wormwood-bezoars-and-aconite/ The theory suggests that Snape’s question of “What would I get if I added powdered root of asphodel to an infusion of wormwood?” is really a reference to him him and Lily since asphodel is a kind of lily and a symbol of death where wormwood often symbolises sorrow.
If it is the case that Snape is considering his relationship with Lily, does this change his interaction with Harry? The article suggests that perhaps Snape is disappointed in Harry’s lack of inherent knowlege and passion for potions, but I want to take it further than that.
We all can see that Harry looks so much like James and we know that Snape hated James. Unfortunately, this reminds Snape of everything he never was and everything he never had. It reminds him how unlike James was, how cruel he was to Lily and who it was who helped pick her back up. It reminds him that he could never do enough to save Lily.
And so, when he looks at Harry, he doesnt want to just know Harry like potions. He’s not just saying I loved your mother and I screwed up. Here, it almost seems like Snape is begging Harry. Please, please tell me youre not just a copy of James. Please tell me youre not just your mother’s eyes. Please, love potions, love them like your mother did, be her. I need you to be her.
But Harry isnt and so he keeps asking questions, begging, pleading (in that cold, detached, and desperate way Snape can). Its almost as if he is saying, “see me, please meet me half way, understand I need to see you as more than just James Potter”.
And Harry just can’t be. Harry isn’t his mother and every reminder of that fact doesn’t bring pure hatred, but the pain of grief, despair, and loss.