Apr 10 2014 9:00am

The Harry Potter Reread: The Philosopher’s Stone, Chapters 8 and 9

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's StoneThe Harry Potter Reread is here to remind you to take your vitamins! Or I’m reminding myself to take my vitamins, and you’ve been handily roped into said reminder. Never forget how important they are, kids.

Chapters 8 and 9 are next: The Potions Master and The Midnight Duel! We will suffer through the worst first classes ever (for Harry and Neville respectively) and then discover exactly why the third floor corridor is out of bounds. Danger and excitement for all!

Index to the reread can be located here! Other Harry Potter and Potter-related pieces can be found under their appropriate tag. And of course, since we know this is a reread, all posts might contain spoilers for the entire series. If you haven’t read all the Potter books, be warned.

Chapter 8—The Potions Master

Harry begins adjusting to life at Hogwarts during his first week of classes. He finds that many of the students have as little knowledge as he does. Everyone whispers about him in the hallways. He learns the quirks of the school: Filch patrolling the place after dark with his cat Mrs. Norris; the staircases moving; how Peeves the poltergeist disrupts the student body. He has his first classes in Charms, Herbology, History of Magic, Defense Against the Dark Arts, and Transfiguration. Then comes time for Potions.

Harry quickly realizes that Professor Snape has it out for him; he takes two points away from Gryffindor House (the points they earn to win the House Cup), one because Harry hasn’t memorized his potions textbook, another because he decides that the reason Neville melts Seamus’ cauldron is that Harry didn’t tell Neville he’d brewed the potion wrong in order to make himself seem look like the better student. (High on logic we are not.)

Harry and Ron go to visit Hagrid later that day. Hagrid seems to know why Snape hates Harry, but he won’t say. He also seems to know more about the break-in at Gringotts Bank—the crime occurred on the day that Harry and Hagrid were there—but he won’t talk about that either. Harry figures that the tiny package Hagrid took from the bank is probably what the thieves were looking for.


Rowling’s commentary here is particularly whimsical in describing the school, and it makes one instantly jealous. You’re caught between completely understanding why Harry is overwhelmed with so much to learn and going GOSH, HARRY, THE STAIRCASES IN YOUR SCHOOL MOVE BY MAGIC, LIFE IS CLEARLY SUCH A HARDSHIP RIGHT NOW. There are very clear moments where her narration takes on a sarcastic tone—when it’s at Harry’s expense, it’s actually more funny in some ways than when it’s leveled at people like the Dursleys, a la:

Friday was an important day for Harry and Ron. They finally managed to find their way down to the Great Hall for breakfast without getting lost once.

Can you hear her amusement? I feel like she’s giggling with us.

There are some essential hints that crop up here, particularly where Quirrell is concerned: none of the students quite believe the story about how he got his turban because he can’t provide specifics for how he destroyed the “troublesome zombie” associated with it. (What are wizard zombies like, I wonder?) It’s noted that the turban smells odd and Quirrell has all this garlic around the room, which he claims is for protection. In some ways I’m surprised it doesn’t come off as a bigger red flag; you can assume that the dark arts are going to be important in these books just within the first few chapters, but the guy who teaches it seems to be a dunce?

Then there’s Snape asking Harry about the bezoar, which also comes back to bite in the Half-Blood Prince.

Speaking of… hey there, Severus.

I’ve talked about Snape at length before in these parts, and in some ways… he seems worse than I remembered. He literally tells these students on their first days of class “I can make you super powerful and awesome—provided you aren’t IDIOTS, like most of the other kids I teach.” I feel like if there was a Top Ten for rules on good teaching, number two or three would probably be Don’t Tell Your Students That You Think Most Students Are Stupid. His favoritism here is obvious, though it’s sort of odd that he goes straight to Draco and none of the other Slytherins. He knows a lot of their families, too, even if he doesn’t truly like any of the Death Eaters. Perhaps he just doesn’t want to deal with Lucius Malfoy getting snippy with him.

What does become obvious this time around is that Snape is projecting—he assumes that Harry is going to have all the faults he perceived James Potter to have. He takes the first point away from Gryffindor because Harry can’t answer questions that he might have found answers to in his textbook, specifically saying, “Thought you wouldn’t open a book before coming, eh, Potter?” (Which Harry has, but he hasn’t got them committed to memory like Hermione because that’s insane.) Rowling has explained before that James and Sirius were exceptionally gifted students, and they didn’t really study from their books all that often. We see that attitude from Sirius in particular. Snape is presuming that Harry is the same. He takes the next point away—from Harry specifically, not Neville, who is technically at fault for the accident—because he comes up with the wild idea that Harry deliberately sabotaged Neville by not offering his help, thereby making himself look better.

Sabotaging another student to make himself look better. Well, we know exactly why he would think that.

It’s also odd that Snape’s never called on abusing his power where the points system is concerned… but then again, Dumbledore allows Harry to play Quidditch shortly after that, so perhaps the Headmaster just doesn’t care much about those sorts of things? It’s a fun exercise, sure, part of elite school drama, but it’s also pretty silly.

We meet Fang! And get an inkling of Hagrid’s love for big old beasts all the way around, with how he questions Ron about Charlie and his job chasing dragons. And yet again, we watch Hagrid’s best intentions not playing out correctly, with his rock cakes being closer to actual rocks than perhaps intended.

Chapter 9—The Midnight Duel


The Gryffindors and Slytherins are to being flying lessons together. Harry is incredibly nervous about making himself look like an idiot on a broom in front of Draco. Neville gets a Remembrall from his gran, which Malfoy tries to take from him immediately, but Professor McGonagall intervenes. During their first flying lesson, Neville shoots straight up into the air, falls to the ground and breaks his arm. While the flying instructor, Madame Hooch, takes him to the hospital wing, Draco makes fun of Longbottom and discovers his Remembrall lying on the ground. He takes it, which Harry takes exception to. Malfoy insists that Harry can’t have it back unless he can catch him.

Turns out, Harry is a complete ace at flying, taking naturally to it. He scares Malfoy with his aptitude enough that the boy tosses the Remembrall away, and Harry takes a dive on the broom for it, catching it just a foot from the ground. McGonagall sees Harry and drags him out of class. Harry thinks he’s about to be expelled, but it turns out that she wants him to be Gryffindor House’s new Seeker on their Quidditch Team. Team captain Oliver Wood is overjoyed—it would seem that Gryffindor hasn’t been doing all that well recently.

Malfoy bothers Harry at dinner and ends up challenging him to a wizard duel at midnight. Hermione overhears the conversation and tells Harry he shouldn’t go. When Harry and Ron get up at night to meet Malfoy, they find that Hermione has been waiting up for them. She follows them out of the common room, then can’t get back in because the Fat Lady from their portrait is gone. Neville has been sleeping outside because he forgot their password. He won’t leave them either, so the quartet go to meet Draco.

Malfoy isn’t there—he tipped off Filch that students would be there, and it prompts a chase around the school. Harry and Co. narrowly avoid getting caught, but accidentally end up in the third floor corridor. There they find a vicious three-headed dog and barely escape back to the common room intact. Hermione points out that the dog was guarding a trap door… and now Harry has a good idea of where that package from Gringotts ended up.


Let’s just wrap Neville up in steel and reduce his percentage of Bodily Harm Incidents. Poor kid.

Harry’s first flight is nine kinds of exciting, if only because it’s great to see him finally show some innate skill in the magic arena. It also has the “discovering your superpower” sheen to it because he’s flying, and we will always be excited for flying. Showing up jerky little Draco is also a plus.

This chapter is all about Ron, though. He and Harry are starting to develop a clear dynamic, where he’s always the person with a sarcastic rejoinder, always the one who has Harry’s back. His instant rescue when Malfoy insists that Harry probably doesn’t know what the wizards duel is—by insisting he does, and offering to be his second—is not only happy-making in the friendship department, but then equally hilarious when he explains to Harry that in wizard duels you fight to the death… but that totally won’t happen here because none of us have the skills! Don’t worry, buddy!

“And what if I wave my wand and nothing happens?”

“Throw it away and punch him in the nose,” Ron suggested.

Ron, you are so beautifully practical.

But seriously, how much of a throwback is Draco to get all “dueling pistols at sunrise!” on the situation? My guess is that wizard duels don’t really happen much anymore, but you know he hears stories from Papa Malfoy all the time, probably.

It’s actually very telling that we get this little mini-adventure with what I’d call the Core Four of Harry’s generation—their version of the Marauders. This comes clearer in later books, but at this point we don’t yet know how important both Hermione and Neville are. Except this time we do, and it’s great. It’s also incredibly fun when the most dramatic thing going on is a chase after dark, knowing that these little romps are leading to much bigger, scarier things.. These are training wheels, the opening laps, and the marathon is far away yet. Just the right amount of mischief and danger.

Emily Asher-Perrin really wonders about whether wizards are constantly slapping each other with gloves and then rushing outside to duel. You can bug her on Twitter and read more of her work here and elsewhere.

Lisamarie LiGreci-Newton
1. Lisamarie
I am sure after the events of this chapter, Snape has even more reason to dislike/project James onto Harry (not that I think its' right for him to do that). But now that I'm a bit older, I this does bother me a bit.

First, I remember the bit of a shock I had when, looking back on the books, I realized, "Hey, Harry's a JOCK". I mean, really, that's what he is - the Quidditch star.

But this chapter is a tiny bit soured for me as I can't stand the special treatment athletes get and this is just full of it. He breaks a rule that supposedly has expulsion as a punishment (and I do think Madame Hooch was just exaggerating and should not have made a threat she wasn't actually going to carry out) and not only receives NO punishment, but is allowed on the team without trying out, even though first years aren't even allowed on teams, and then, later, is given a very expensive racing broom even though first years aren't allowed brooms, either. ????? All so Gryffindor can win the Cup, woopty doo. (Also, why aren't there school brooms for the competitions????)

Now, I know we're supposed to be happy for Harry as we're reading along, and WE know he's not a big stuck up jerk, and it's nice to finally see some kindness heaped on him, but looking at it objectively is kind of unsettling. I actually have seen some people criticize the books, not for the scaaaary witchcraft aspect, but because Harry seems to get away with an awful lot with no consequences. I don't know that's really true - I think he, in the end, has to make many hard choices - nor do I think it's that unique to children's literature in general since you're rooting for the child to buck the system. But I think this is probably the most ergregious example.
Lisamarie LiGreci-Newton
2. Lisamarie
Oh, and I've had teachers kind of like Snape before (except not as mean) - the kind that clearly have high expectations and don't expect many to meet them. They usually end up being the ones I'm most driven to impress, and that I end up getting along with the best. But that's because they actually do care about teaching and don't have a big huge chip on their shoulder or particularly enjoy belittling people.

I think I would actually kind of love Potions class. I kind of wonder what Snape's opinion of women in Potions is...while we see a lot of class-ism going on, we don't really hear a whole lot about women's issues - either it's a non-issue, or just not something she went into.
Valerie Varner
3. valerieness
Goodness - I read that linked article about Snape, and then the @1 Lisamarie and these are all things I completely agree with and never thought so much about. Not that I was one of those people who felt sorry for Snape, as I haven't ever been that person, but that article made a lot of sense. I even know people like that - who would rather hold on to the idea of something than take the chance to have an actual experience, and possibly get hurt. I think some people find it safer to hide behind ideals, rather than to actually live life. JK is brilliant in the way that she kind makes Snape a characature AND so almost a person we could believe is real, at the same time.

I never thought of Harry as a jock. I mean - I can see how that is kinda sorta true, but I see him more as a product of his friends. He is best friends with Ron, and soon with Hermione. He also later befriends Luna who is so disliked that she is horribly bullied. So I guess I have a hard time seeing him as the "stereotypical" jock. I see him more like the kid who hangs out with people he likes, and since those people are not terribly popular, kind of a nerd. Which I love and don't see as a negative thing, being a nerd.

I am probably not making a lot of sense, but I really enjoyed reading this today - it has given me so many new things to think about!
Lisamarie LiGreci-Newton
4. Lisamarie
@3, right, that's what's so brilliant about it. Yes, he's a jock, but not the 'bad' type :) Which is what I was trying to say - I wasn't trying to say he's some big jerk. In a way, it was a funny thing to make me revisit MY prejudices.
Ursula L
5. Ursula
Snape doesn't just take points from Harry for not knowing things that were in the book but not yet covered in class.

He then immediately turns around and takes points from Hermione because she does know the very same things Snape wanted Harry to know.

Which is interesting, because one of the things that Snape and Lily had in common was a fondness for making potions. So you'd think that he's be sympathetic to a young girl who share's Lily's interest in potions. Except, of course because Harry drew Snapes attention to Hermione, so she's guilty by association.
David Levinson
6. DemetriosX
I cannot read the words "the potions master" without hearing them as spoken by the Potter Puppet Pals.

Snape acquires so much depth over the series that it's easy to assign most of his nastiness towards Harry, his friends, and Gryffindor in general to his history with James and Lily. But the fact is he is an absolutely terrible teacher. He belittles his students, he plays favorites (not even based on skill, but on family and house). Worst of all, we eventually learn that he uses a textbook he knows is inferior and fails to pass on his improvements to his students.

I don't really see Harry as a jock. To me, that's a very specific clique with specific behaviors. There are always some student athletes who don't quite become jocks and are capable of moving between the various groups that form in any school. Harry is always very inclusive, and he doesn't really hang out with the other members of his team. When he does, it's really more because they are Weasleys. He doesn't interact with Wood or any of the others off the pitch.

Mind you, he certainly gets the jock bonus of getting away with things that most wouldn't. And it should be noted that McGonagall is just as prepared to bend the rules for her house as Snape is. She might be a little more fair when it comes to handing out and taking away points, but that's about it.
Kit Case
7. wiredog
The situation with the DA teacher being apparently an idiot: Ummm, Dumbledore never interviewed the guy? Never noticed that he was at least somewhat possessed? And Snape being the Worst Teacher Ever? He saves Harry's life in the quidditch match (Hey! "Quidditch" is in the spell-checker!) , but how come Dumbledore didn't notice that Quirrel was trying to kill Harry?

Dumbledore is not at all a good school administrator.
Valerie Varner
8. valerieness
@4 - I agree - it was brilliant on JK's part. But I am still thinking about the rest of what you said and trying to figure out why we all root for Harry and are happy for his being placed on the Quiddich team, when everything you said in #1 was soo very true. You know? It is kind of making my brain hurt...! =)
Adam S.
Harry is a jock, but he's a small, scrawny one who grew up as the target rather than the aggressor, so he's a more acceptable hero for us fantasy fans, who tend to not be jocks (raises hand).
My favorite thing about the new teachers is Binns, who kept on teaching in the most boring way possible even after his body died. I've definitely had teachers who I could picture doing that exact thing.
Hermione's priorities are great: "We could all have been killed- or worse, expelled." HA!
Peeves is a jerk, but at least he's equally obnoxious to everyone. While he torments Harry's group, he also frustrates Filch's attempts to corner them.
Remember that not only is Snape the Head Slythin at Hogwarts, he is a Death Eater, and knows the wizarding families well. The Malfoys are one the ancient and powerful wizarding families, up there with the Blacks, Lestranges, etc.. (and Potters). So it's natural for Snape to show Malfoy favoritism. In fact, Draco does appear to be at least a fairly good student by Hogwarts standards, making into the top level classes in most areas, even when Snape isn't teaching them.
Thomas Thatcher
10. StrongDreams
@2, re:women's issues

I assume that the societal conditions that resulted in women being declared "the weaker sex" (and thus spawning the corrective women's rights movement) never happened in the wizarding world because of, you know, WANDS!

(On the other hand, while I'm glad there is no (conventional) racism in the wizarding world, I'm not sure why not. Any wizards who are clearly from immigrant stock (and not just African and Asian) should have been targets for blood purity accusations, since it should be tricky at best to prove that one's ancestors on a different continent were pureblood.)
Thomas Thatcher
11. StrongDreams
Snape is clearly a terrible teacher. I imagine Rowling was trying to make sure she connected with her target audience, who will all have experienced teachers they at least thought were unfair or played favorites. She drew Snape in the broadest possible strokes and threw subtlety out the window, at least for this book.

The biggest problem in the portrayal of Snape is the existence of the Half-Blood textbook. You could argue that Snape really just has high standards, and wants at least some of his students to excel, and takes great pride in teaching those students (presumably there are some outside the core protagonists), and that Dumbledore wouldn't have kept Snape on as teacher all those years knowing that he was deliberately holding his students back -- but the book undercuts all that.
12. Athreeren
@7: In the next book, we learn about the DADA curse, and later, that it has been going on since Dumbledore refused Riddle for the job. So clearly, Quirrell was recruited recently, and Dumbledore had to interview him when he was already possessed. It's not that the curse means that he has to recruit anyone who is willing to die horribly by the end of the year, he has been refusing Snape for years. At least, Mad-Eye Moody tried to be convincing as a DADA teacher, but with Quirrell, there is no excuse for DUMBledore.
Ursula L
13. Ursula
@12 - Given that it has been decades since Dumbledore turned down Voldemort for the DADA job, I expect that the cursed nature of the job is at least suspected by a large proportion of the wizarding community.

So Dumbledore is probably quite limited in applicants for the DADA job. And they're characterized by having an ulterior motive for wanting the position.

You get Quirrill who is under Voldemort's influence. Lockhart, who is too much of an idiot to realize the job is bad luck. Lupin, who is down on his luck and in desperate need for any job. Moody, who is brought in specifically for the Tournament. Umbridge, placed by the Ministry to undermine Dumbledore. And Snape, who finally gets the job because no one else wants it.
14. Porphyrogenitus
Snape's behavior with regard to favoritism and such seems more reasonable given the various reveals in later books about his secret allegiances.

Want to establish your creds as a loyal Death Eater as Voldemort is rising again? Show blatant favoritism for the scions of major DE families while being prejudiced against The Boy Who Lived and his friends and allies. Help potential DE candidates to succeed and try to undermine those most likely to resist, and do so in such a way that everyone in the school can see it.

This is undermined somewhat by the timing, given that Voldemort's return only really became known after book 1, but it's possible that Snape's prior relationship with the DEs gave him access to insider information that he may or may not have shared with Dumbledore (he almost certainly did after book 1, at Dumbledore's request, if he hadn't before then under his own volition).
Lisamarie LiGreci-Newton
15. Lisamarie
I thought Hagrid said that Quirell was quite intelligent until he took that 'field trip' (which is where he ended up meeting Voldy)...and I don't remember the exact timelines, but maybe he was hired based on his reputation or perhaps was interviewed before all that - I thought the turban was relatively recent.

Actually, I always had the impression that Hagrid knew Quirrell and that he had been teaching at Hogwarts before Harry started, but that doesn't jive with the curse. Maybe he taught something else?
Thomas Thatcher
16. StrongDreams
@12, except it wasn't Moody, it was Barty Crouch Jr. (who, bizarrely, was Harry's second-best DADA teacher and who gave Harry the skills to resist off Voldemort in the graveyard.)
Birgit F
17. birgit
Jocks as a stereotypical group seem very American to me and don't really exist in German schools. Are they a distinct group in GB?

This is the only flying lesson mentioned in the whole series. If only first years have a few flying lessons, what is Madam Hooch doing the rest of the year between occasional Quidditch matches?
18. Gregor Lewis
And the sense memories just keep on coming!

Man! I am enjoying the breakdowns and the comments here so much. The suppositions are very interesting and the memories being evoked so fully fleshed.

I agree with LisaMarie. The dichotomy of what Harry gets away with here is puzzling insofar as you're actively rooting for Harry but, the way his 'reward' is presented, after the rule-breaking, could possibly be a signpost to resentment for some readers.

For me, it's more about how effectively JKR evokes some of the fiercest remembrances of being a student. Encountering a teacher whose insousiance can be intimidating, OR, once again as explained above, inspiring - a direct challenge - so you push through your fear in your determination not to shrink from it.

Of course that's quickly followed by the 'you can never win' trope - an oldie but a goodie. Harry is still coming to terms with what's what, and his ignorance leaves him open to seeming persecution (because who he is may conjure painful or angering memories for Snape).

Then you have the signposted epitome of excellence in Hermione copping a 'you can never win' backhander from Snape because of what she does. People above have already noted how brilliant James & Sirius were as students. While they were effortless duxes and Hermione presents as the opposite to that - a tryhard know-it-all - she's still quite possibly a painful or angering reminder for Snape, because she's SOOOOOO RIGHT!

But my favourite evocation here is the flying lesson. Just flashing back to the first moment you discovered something in school you were good at - it doesn't have to be sports - and you unexpectedly got rewarded for it! GRAVY!

Or, perhaps I spoke too soon, because really, there's nothing better in school than realising you have a friend that 'knows some shit' and they've totally got your back ... Like Ron does for Harry here.

This reread is so much more fun than blasting through these books, just to get to the meatier tomes later on. Great stuff EAP and Commenters alike!

Nick Hlavacek
19. Nick31
Stereotypical jocks are like stereotypical nerds: they both exist, but in reality most jocks don't fit the stereotype any more than nerds fit theirs. I got called both a jock and a nerd in high school, and both were right. I had just as much fun on the football field or the track as I did at an academic decathalon or science olympiad. In my experience the jocks didn't get special treatment because they were athletes. Or not always because they were athletes. (This is high school. College it's a different story.) I'd say it was sometimes because the jocks had better social skills than the nerds and could sweet talk their way out of trouble or around rules. Is it fair? Nope. But what is?

Harry is in the unique position of being an outsider who's instantly a celebrity, but he only gets the disadvantages of being popular. He gets the attention and infamy of popularity without the large network of friends and connections that a popular kid would have built. It's the nerd side where his advantages lie - his mad wizarding skills. Of course later in the series he'll be able to build that network he needs (and starts here with the "Core Four").

As an aside, my absolute favorite part of how the series ended was the role Neville played. I love that Rowling took the character that everyone could mentally dismiss as useless at the beginning and made him critical to the final victory. Good lesson that.
Emily Asher-Perrin
20. EmilyAP
@Porphyrogenitus - This one never works for me for one very specific reason; as someone who is on Voldermort's team, the very best way to prove that would be by befriending Harry. When Voldemort comes back, then he would be in the perfect position to hand the Chosen Problem over because Harry trusts him. If you're playing the clever angle here, that would have been the way to go. The favoritism toward Slytherins makes the Death Eater families happier, sure, but it's not like Snape is in lots of contact with them. So I'm very disinclined to think this is him being clever in playing both sides.

I think it's actually much simpler - I think Snape never wanted to teach. He's in this position as penance, there at Dumbledore's beck and call in case Voldemort returns. There is no possible way he is going to enjoy this job, he never wanted it, it's not even his favorite subject. He's a bad teacher because he hates it. He favors Slytherins because he hates basically all Gryffindors - he has since he was a kid. Since Slytherins are the natural school enemies to Gryffindors, he plays to the lesser of all evils in his mind. He is, after all, head of their House. But pratically all students are awful in his mind.
Thomas Thatcher
21. StrongDreams
@20 EAP, I like that theory, but it also means that Dumbledore basically sacrificed the education of a generation of witches and wizards in order to keep Snape under his thumb as part of the long term Chosen One plan.

Great for England, bad for Coventry*.

*Yes, I know, but it still works as a metaphor.
Ursula L
22. Ursula
@21 - Dumbledore also kept Trelawny teaching Divination, even though he didn't believe that the Divination methods she taught were effective.

She had given one prophecy, unbeknownst to her, while she was in a sort of trance (the prophecy about Harry) and Dumbledore wanted her near him, for her own safety and so he would be aware if she made any other likely real prophecies.

Hagrid loved caring for magical creatures, but he wasn't a particularly good teacher of the skill. Hippogryphs are interesting animals, and students could learn to care for them - but it wasn't an appropriate first lesson for students in their first year of the class. And Dumbledore apparently hired Hagrid for the job knowing Hagrid had no experience or training as a teacher, and giving Hagrid no training or supervision in the art of teaching.

Dumbledore also knew, or suspected, that Tom Riddle had framed Hagrid for Moaning Myrtle's murder, but allowed Hagrid to be expelled without coming to his defense or arranging any appropriate investigation. Dumbledore may have believed that Tom deserved a chance. But Tom didn't deserve that chance at the expense of Hagrid's education.

Dumbledore also believed the DADA postion to be curesed, but he didn't do anything to try to break the curse, even though we know curses can be broken, as Bill Weasley works for Gringotts as a Curse Breaker.

When supposedly giving "lessons" to Harry, Dumbledore failed to explain how to destroy horcruxes before they went on the search to find one - a search where he suspected he would not make it back alive. He really didn't teach much at all, only pressed Harry to try to spy for him (without providing any instruction in espionage and information gathering techniques.)

So it is quite reasonable to read Dumbledore as willing to sacrifice the education of his students if he felt a different need was met by doing something agaisnt the students' educational interests.

He does it all the time.
23. Nessa
Loved the friendship between the trio (well Ron and Harry in any case) at the beginning. Ron really does seem to have Harry's back in these situations!

I have to say though, that Snape is a terrible teacher. He's brilliant, sure, but lots of brilliant people are bad teachers. He shows blatant favourtism to the Slytherins (amazing that he can't see past his own prejudices here - Harry is not the bully, Draco is, but Snape favours Draco anyway!) and belittles the students who may have less confidence in their abilities (Neville turned out to be an amazing wizard, no thanks to professors like Snape, but instead of the trio and professors like McGonagall who believed in him).

I agree with @1 though: Dumbledore's own favourtism with not only letting Harry play on the Quidditch team but also buying him a superior broom makes me roll my eyes a bit now. I feel like all the profs at Hogwarts are very biased to their own Houses, and if the Headmaster himself is doing it, what's stopping any of the others. Strange that the profs who seem most partial are the ones in Gryffindor and Slytherin, though. The other two Houses don't seem too fussed about things like that, though that might just be because of our lack of POVs from over there.

I always thought that Dumbledore knew what was up with Quirrel, though, but thought of it as a "the enemy you know" situation. At least this way he could keep an eye on him (and in fact tells Snape to do exactly that).
Ursula L
24. Ursula
Wasn't it McGonnagal who saw Harry fly and decided to suggest him for Quidditch seeker? And if I'm remembering correctly, the broom came from her, as well.

And it seems that while the school provides basic brooms for flying lessons, students on the teams are expected to provide their own racing brooms. Not only does Harry get one, but Ron asks for one when he's made prefect, so that he would have a chance on the team. Draco buys his way onto the team by buying new brooms for the other players on his team. It isn't unusual for someone on the team to provide their own broom.

She's the head of Gryffendor, and she's looking out for her own house.

And the fact that the team had no potential seeker in the other six older years suggests that they were desperate - that it was not necessarily that she thought Harry would be better than an experienced seeker, but that there were not enough interested students in the house to form a team.

The house teams also seem to only consist of one player for each position - no backups, no training with younger students to prepare replacements as older players graduate. Also no teachers or adult volunteers involved in coaching the teams or supervising practice.

It's really a bit of a mess, and a sign of how badly Hogworts is run, that a first year winds up on a house team playing when he'd never even heard of the game a few weeks before, and his training is one session with the team captain to explain the rules before the first full practice with experinced teammates.
Kit Case
25. wiredog
Ursula @22
And that's just a short list of Dumbledore's failings as a teacher and administrator. He's not as bad as Umbridge, but she was more deliberate. Dumbledore just comes off as incompetent.
26. Masha
My impression of Dumbledore was always that he's not the kind of guy who's going to tell you what's right or wrong, he'll let you stumble or burn yourself or whatever it takes to make up your own mind.

Not neccesarily the best personality type for somebody to run a school. Or at least not if you want to be efficient and avoid problems. But Dumbledore seems to find problems interesting, even if they are unpleasant. Not averse to risk at all.

I'ts been a while since I read the last four books so I don't remember if this comes up, but I get the impression he might have preferred not to have to be the headmaster. But I guess he thought he would be better than whoever would have replaced him.
Ursula L
27. Ursula
Wiredog @25:

I'm not inclined to credit Dumbledore's actions as incompetent.

Dumbledore has too much of an agenda. He knows Voldemort might come back. And dealing with Vodemort is his first priority. Which meant the education of an entire generation of magical children came second.

Fudge thought that Dumbledore was using Hogworts as his personal power base. To be able to counter the Ministry, if necessary. And that is exactly what Dumbledore was doing.
Chris Nelly
28. Aeryl
I don't know why everyone thinks MacGonagal pays for Harry's broom. It always seemed obvious she ordered the best broom for him, but that the money that paid for it came from Harry's own account.

I believe Dumbledore was very aware of what was going on with the school, he has the Deluminator, which we know can eavesdrop on conversations people are having about the person who possesses it, enabling Ron to return to Harry in DH, and explaing how Dumbledore always knows where to be and when to be there. It's also very likely that all the portraits report to him as well.

From the beginning, with how Harry pieced together the mystery of the stone, it's been demonstrated that THIS is how Dumbledore teaches. That it's not just enough to impart knowledge, but to give students to the tools to assemble that knowledge in a usable way. So he has a pretty hands off policy, looking to see how his students respond, as they do in OOTP when a TRULY substandard teacher arrives, by teaching themselves.

Yeah, Snape was terrible, but we didn't hear about a shortage of available Aurors and Healers, which means students were still scoring high enough on their Potions OWLS & NEWTS, which Dumbledore has no control over.

And yes, to whoever said above, Quirrell was hired BEFORE he was possessed by Voldemort, as he points out how delighted he was to find someone so suitable, who could position him close to Harry.
Lisamarie LiGreci-Newton
29. Lisamarie
@28 - really? What makes you say it was obvious? I'm not snarking, that just honestly never occurred to me, and even know...I'm not sure I buy it (ha, no pun intended). I always figured it was provided by the school...and if anything, just deducting from his own bank account is even more intrusive!

Definitely agreed that Dumbledore is a bit unorthodox...and definitely playing a bigger game than just running the school and knows what's going on (I never thought of him eavesdropping with the Deluminator though :) )
Chris Nelly
30. Aeryl
Because the school wouldn't have shelled out the money for a top of the line broom, so obviously Harry's money paid for it. It would be an incredible breach of propriety to do such a thing, Dumbledore, for all his favoritism, would never have crossed that line. The only things he ever gives Harry are things that belong to him anyway, the cloak, the Snitch, and the sword.
Cindy Smith
31. stellabymoor
@6 Re: Snape holding students back by using an inferior textbook: is he, really? The students don't seem to use the textbook when actually brewing potions, at least--Snape always puts the instructions up on the board himself; it's not until HBP that they actually use the book for instructions. My memory is not what it's used to be, though; it's entirely possible I only remember the instances where he put up the instructions and there were mentions of using the books that I don't remember.

I assumed that Snape put up his own instructions, with his own modifications, so that the potions turned out the way they should. At least, that was how I reconciled Hermione going from top of the class to second-best all of a sudden in HBP. And even if he never wanted to teach Potions, even if he thinks most of his students are idiots, it's still hard for me to believe that someone with Snape's inferiority complex would deliberately allow a whole generation of students to turn out subpar potions; if he teaches them the best way to make the potions and they still can't do it, that's on them (and you know he would relish seeing the Gryffindors fail at it), but if he teaches them mediocrity, even if they do it well, that's still mediocrity, which could reflect poorly on his own ability. Snape strikes me as the type of character who would be more bothered by that than he would be by what people think of him as a person.

Not that any of it makes much that much difference, because he's obviously still a terrible (TERRIBLE) teacher either way.
Ursula L
32. Ursula
@28 - It isn't specified, in-story, who pays for the broom. McGonnagal clearly chose it and arranged for it to be bought.

It wouldn't be appropriate for the school to pay for the broom from school funds.

But I'm not sure that it would be appropriate for McGonnagal to use Harry's money to pay for it. She didn't ask his permission to use his money. I'm sure that the Dursleys, his guardians, didn't authorize the purchase.

So just who has access to Harry's money, and who is supervising to ensure that it is used appropriately?

A third option would be for McGonnagal to pay for it herself. It seems unlikely that she'd do so, as it is an expensive gift for a student she'd only just met. It would avoid the problems of using school money or Harry's money. But it would also be favoritism, which would be a reason for McGonnagal to avoid saying anything about paying for it, and having it delivered anonymously.
Adam S.
33. MDNY
I always thought McGonnegal bought the broom, despite how inappropriate it may be for a teacher to buy a broom for a student (and how expensive a broom it is). She has shown that she cares for Harry (and cared for his parents, as was demonstrated in the beginning of the book when she met Dumbledore at the Dursleys' house), plus I think she's sick of losing to Snape and the Slytherins after 6 straight years, and she just saw that Harry is as good a flier as his father.
Chris Nelly
34. Aeryl
The funds were likely authorized the same way Sirius' were. We've already discussed that Gringott's, while being hard to penetrate, seems somewhat lax about that.
Mai Pucik
35. vampomatic
Coming in a little late, since I only found out about this reread last week:

- Snape's atrocious treatment of his students is probably the least of his sins, yet I find it the hardest to forgive. Without making excuses for his behavior towards Lily or the atrocities he committed as a Death Eater, it's difficult to see how else he could have turned out growing up the way he did, as a neglected, bullied kid with one friend and zero authority figures looking out for him. He was precisely the sort of socially isolated, disaffected but brilliant outcast any self-respecting murder cult would salivate over, and they started grooming him from the moment he got sorted into Slytherin at age 11.

But by the time the books begin he's had ten years of peacetime to grow up and deprogram himself, and apparently what he's done with that time is become a 31-year-old man who bullies 11-year-olds just as vulnerable as he used to be. Zero points for you, Snape.

- I love the way JKR writes 11-year-old thought patterns, whether it's Harry's "I'm going to be expelled!" catastrophizing, Malfoy's transparent scheming (that still snares Harry and Ron), or Hermione's grand plan of following Harry and Ron around the castle to... stay out of trouble for wandering around the castle after curfew.

- For variety's sake I'm reading the French translation for the first time. For the most part, it's extremely faithful to the original, but some names are changed -- the worst being "Severus Rogue," who's lost that gorgeous alliteration, and the best being the "Choixpeau," which is a vastly superior name for the Sorting Hat. (It's a portmanteau of "choix" - choice - plus "chapeau" - hat.)
Adam S.
36. MDNY
@35 I took French for 8 years, and Choixpeau is definitely a much better name than sorting hat. LOL.Thank you for that!
37. Greatraven
A few things: Dumbledore is prepared to sacrifice HARRY in the interests of destroying Voldemort, something that shocks Snape(DH). So why not the education of the students?

But I don't think Snape is that bad a teacher. His attitude is not the best, and I wouldn't want to be in his class, but his students learn - and learn well. And let's face it, none of the teachers seem to be qualified! If there's a wizarding teacher's college we never hear about it. In fact, I do wonder what wizarding tertiary facilities exist for anything.

The really bad teacher is Umbridge - she is all the more terrifying because she is real - I had to put up with a Principal exactly like her only a few years ago - she was loathed by staff and students alike with good reason. The only thing she didn't do was physically abuse students, but only because she wasn't allowed to!

if Snspe had befriended Harry to impress the DE's he would have been too subtle for them. No, I think his favouritism for the Slytherins is part of the act, though there's no doubt his hatred of Harry is real.

As for women in the wizarding world, they can play Quidditch, join the Department, be in leadership positions - as long as they aren't married. The minute they marry, they become housewives, cooking, cleaning and listening to 1950s-style radio programs. If you don't believe me, check out all the female adults in the books and see. I think the only woman I can recall having a profession(auror)was Neville's Mum - and look what happened to her! The wizarding community is very conservative in many ways, probably with good reason - when you experiment with magic, to devise new methods, you run a great risk of being blown up!
Chris Nelly
38. Aeryl
Well, with keeping wizarding children isolated, someone has to stay home and raise them. But I did get the impression that Ted Tonks was more of the nurturer in that home, so maybe he was the stay at home Dad.

Also, Ginny got married, and was a professional Quidditch player
Adam S.
39. MDNY
@38 Yep, for the Hollyhead Harpies, the team whose poster she had in her room at the Burrow.
Mai Pucik
40. vampomatic
I agree that there's some slightly wonky gender politics going on in the books re: women and marriage, although I think it's less that women don't have post-marriage careers as that it's often specified that they're married without explaining what their jobs are, whereas there are a lot of male characters we know are married but whom we're introduced to in the context of their profession. Alice Longbottom and Tonks continued to work as Aurors after getting married but I can't think of many other examples within the books themselves. Lily lived off of James' fortune and fought for the Order full time, but so were Remus and James himself-- I don't think that counts as her being a stay-at-home mother, especially not with the Order part.

Pottermore and JKR's post-book interviews have been better at fleshing out this stuff: Hermione is a high-ranked Ministry official, Luna becomes a naturalist, Ginny plays for the Harpies and then becomes a sports correspondent -- on Pottermore JKR's been writing Ginny's dispatches for the 2014 Quidditch World Cup, and they're very cute. Minerva McGonagall's Pottermore biography gives her a fairly detailed love life -- she was actually married in between the wars and is a widow by the time Harry comes to Hogwarts, but she always kept her maiden name.
Chris Nelly
41. Aeryl
I can't believe Hermione actually went to work at the Ministry. Sellout! LOL
James Whitehead
42. KatoCrossesTheCourtyard
@41Aeryl, I figure Arthur Weasley got her hooked on the challenge of making the muggle liaison department something more than a joke. ;-)

43. Mike Tempest
I find it worth noticing that nowhere in subsequent books, the fact that the stairs of the castle move around plays any plot-relevant and important part. In fact, it's not even mentioned again. I can think of many instances where the action would have gone differently if the stairs could actually move.
Chris Nelly
44. Aeryl
@43, Yes it does. There are constant reference to having to dodge disappearing steps, and leaping certain steps will put you out elsewhere. This is especially important in HBP, as doing this is what allows Harry to catch up with Snape and Malfoy.
45. jjpuckhead
something that I never noticed before......on Harry's first day he tries by accident to go through The Door to the forbidden corridor and is caught by Filch.....but is rescued by Quirrel. Somebody's already doing recon
46. jjpuckhead
I've always felt Snape does Malfoy and his buddies no "favors" by favoring them, but then he probably figures they aren't worth much academically anyway....he pushes Harry and Hermione to be better because he knows they are. Yes, it's crappy teaching (he should be using their admiration of him to encourage them to work harder), but he is likely trying to keep his cover and garner favor with their DE parents by doing so.

Also, Snape has one real agenda....keeping Harry alive. He knows what Harry will have to face, and he knows just how powerful the Dark Lord is. In his mind, Harry is too weak, too soft to survive against Voldy. He needs to toughen up. If he tries to get by on just a Gryffindor's mix of balls and stupidity, he's toast. I don't think it was a coincidence that the first two things he asks Harry are a method of appearing dead (which might trick an enemy into thinking he was) and a means of avoiding poison (which 6 books later saves Ron's life). And I'm guessing that a plant called Wolfsbane would have protective features against werewolves (and we know one who liked going after kids). So, yes, he is hard on Harry, but often the teachers who are the hardest on us are the ones who enable us to be our best.

Oh, and there is probably a more tactful way to go about it, but Hermione needed to be taken down a peg. She was more than a bit arrogant early on.

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