Last night, I was reading out Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone to my son. He was enraptured, enthralled and unwilling to go to sleep at the end of the days' instalment (which, surely, is the point of a bedtime story. Note to self: find something soporific to read out tomorrow. Like a math textbook or something), so I flipped through the book while he put his head on my shoulder and read silently to himself until he fell asleep.
Flipping through the pages, I happened to stop at Harry's first Potions class. As every HP fan knows, Potions are always done with the terribly Slytherins, in the cold, dark dungeons of Hogwarts, and the Potions Master is, of course, Snape. I love him. He is sinister and sarcastic and gets all the cool lines. So I stopped to read. Here's what I found:
"You are here to learn the subtle science and exact art of potion-making," he began. He spoke in barely more than a whisper, but they caught every word - like Professor McGonagall, Snape had the gift of keeping a class silent without effort. "As there is little foolish wand-waving here, many of you will hardly believe this si 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, bewitching the mind, ensnaring the sneses... I can teach youhow to bottle fame, brew glory, even stopper death - if you aren't as big a bunch of dunderheads as I usually have to teach."
More silence followed this little speech. Harry and Ron exchanged looks with raised eyebrows. Hermione Granger was on the edge of her seat and looked desperate to start proving that she wasn't a dunderhead.
"Potter!" said Snape suddenly. "What would I get if I added powdered root of asphodel to an infusion of wormwood?"
Powdered root of what to an infusion of what? Harry glanced at Ron, who looked as stumped as he was; Hermione's hand had shot into the air.
"I don't know, sir," said Harry.
Snape's lips curled into a sneer.
"Tut, tut - fame clearly isn't everything."
He ignored Hermione's hand.
"Let's try again. Potter, where would you look if I told you to find me a bezoar?"
(and so on for a bit)
Snape was still ignoring Hermione's quivering hand.
"What is the difference, Potter, between monkshood and wolfsbane?"
At this, Hermione stood up, her hands stretching towards the dungeon ceiling.
"I don't know, " said Harry quietly. "I think Hermione does, though, why don't you try her?"
A few people laughed; Harry caught Seamus's eye and Seamus winked. Snape, however, was not pleased.
"Sit down," he snapped at Hermione. "For your information, Potter, asphodel and wormwood make a sleeping potion so powerful it is known as the Draught of Living Death. A bezoar is a stone taken from the stomach of a goat and it will save you from most poisons. As for monkshood and wolfsbane, they are the same plant, whihc also goes by the name of aconite. Well? Why aren't you all copying that down?"
The root of the Aconite is the most poisonous, and the plant is commonly to be found in the "Lower mountain slopes of North portion of Eastern Hemisphere. (sic) From Himalayas through Europe to Great Britain." More about the poison here.
Pity Bob Woolmer didn't go to Hogwarts, or have a bezoar handy.