Advancement of Learning:
Speaking of which: that bloody Potions book.
The half-blood prince’s Potions book turned out to be yet another of Rowling’s lengthening list of shoddily-built, disposable plot devices which was intended to be used in one book and dispensed with. But, given the attention drawn to it, for the couple of years during which we thought the inherent contradictions concerning it meant something, and that it was actually relevant to the future development of the story arc, it was driving everybody crazy.
And it’s no wonder. Rowling actually handed us no fewer than two completely irresolvable conundrums in HBP. And the Prince’s Potions book is one of them.
Or at any rate, both were irresolvable with the information that we had at the the end of HBP. And neither was addressed satisfactorily in DHs. I suspected that either we were overlooking some key factor that would snap everything into focus, or Rowling had withheld the keys to these puzzles until book 7. And either possibility seemed as likely as the other at that point.
Instead, so far as the Potions book goes, the answer turned out to be behind door #3. It’s Rowling’s old bait-and-switch again. She threw the idea of the potions book together to grease the wheels of the HBP plot, never referred to it again, and didn’t even bother to double-check whether what she told us about it added up.
It doesn’t. It never will. She doesn’t bloody care, since she’s finished with it. And her editors didn’t care to begin with.
No matter what angle you try to approach that Potions book from, there was always at least one factor left over that does not fit into the nice tidy picture you are trying to piece together. Rather like when one has assembled the toy, and there is an extra piece left in the box that you have no idea of where it is supposed to fit, or have almost finished the jigsaw and there is only one gap and only one piece left, and the piece you’ve got just plain Does Not Fit into the hole. It is as bad as trying to figure out how Reggie Black got the Horcrux out of the sea cave.
In fact, it is exactly like trying to figure out how Reggie Black got the Horcrux out of the sea cave. (Answer: he didn’t. Kreachur did.)
Because the adventure of Reggie Black and the Dark Lord’s Sea Cave is the other unsolvable puzzle that Rowling dropped on us in HBP. And the answer she gave us for that one doesn’t add up to a rational picture either. Before DHs came out I had finally come to the conclusion that it was a trick question. And, furthermore, that it was a whopping red herring and that we did not need to know how Reggie got the Horcrux out of the cave, or even if he got it out of the cave. And it seems that I was right.
But at that point it really did appear that we needed to figure out just what was going on with that Potions book. Because I suspected that we had not seen the last of it. Although that issue might also have turned out to be a trick question. Just not the same trick.
Because, the other shoe had not dropped yet. Or not if what I was reading in the books was actually in the books.
It should probably also be noted at this point that just as with the Grand Contradiction between Albus’s and Sybill’s conflicting accounts of the events of the night Trelawney’s first Prophecy was made, quite a lot of fans see no contradictions regarding the Potions book, either. The determination of fans to believe that Rowling did not put into her books elements which are clearly in the books bemuses me, but I find it difficult to quite accept the theory that JKR indulges in “automatic writing” and isn’t aware of what is int them herself. Although post-DHs I am beginning to wonder about that.
She certainly indulges in sloppy writing. And even sloppier planning. Her editors did her no favors by letting her get away with it, either. The contradictions are there, dammit. And telling me to ignore the snake behind the curtain doesn’t make them go away.
So, what are the problems I had with the Potions book? Why do I think the information refuses to add up?
Well, point 1; none of the kids recognized the handwriting, even though Snape has been presumably scrawling across their essays for the past six years. And Rowling deliberately made a point of calling the handwriting to our attention, since — once the kids have concluded that the book was Snape’s — Harry (I think) popped out with the statement that Slughorn would have recognized the handwriting. (Even though it has been 20 years since Slughorn had any of the Marauder cohort in his classroom).
And, just for good measure; it was also stated quite clearly that there was only one person’s handwriting in that book. And that one person’s handwriting was all over that book. (It should also be noted that although Rowling had Harry being given hand-delivered messages all year long, the only one from Snape was delivered verbally. No physical note to compare the handwriting in the book to.)
This, on its own, can be worked around. For one thing, the Potions essays which get returned dripping with red ink are fanon, not canon. And the writing that regularly appears on the chalkboard appears at the wave of a wand. We don’t know whether what shows up on the board is Snape’s own script, or (as now seems likely) whether it is some standardized script generated by the spell. We also know that Snape has reinvented his posture, his mannerisms, his accent, almost certainly his vocabulary, and the state of his wardrobe since he was sixteen, so it isn’t beyond reason to assume that he reinvented his handwriting as well. And Harry did catch a glimpse of Snape’s 16-year-old handwriting in the Pensieve junket, and it was tiny and cramped, as was the script of the annotations and spell notes in the book. But the fact that the writing in the book was not recognizable as Snape’s current script was deliberately inserted, and then called to our attention, and waved under our noses through the whole volume so we cannot lightly blow it off.
Point 2; another contradiction that Rowling dropped in, and then later brought to our attention a second time, just in case we had missed it, was the fact that we saw James Potter use Levicorpus, nonverbally, in the Marauder cohort’s 5th year.
Snape claims Levicorpus as one of his own spells. He invented it. But it unquestionably got away from him at some point in 5th year. We watched James Potter use it for the entertainment of the student body at the end of Year 5, the week the Marauders were sitting the OWLs. Remus Lupin expands on this by claiming that there was a whole fad for that particular spell for some months during their 5th year, so it had to have gotten away quite some time before the day that we saw James Potter using it.
And Levicorpus is a nonverbal spell. It was developed as a nonverbal spell. You couldn’t have learned it by overhearing someone else use it. Not if they performed it correctly.
This, on its own can also be worked around. There could have been “a” nonverbal levitation spell which showed up in the Marauder cohort’s 5th year, and any number of people tried to reverse-engineer it. Magic in the Potterverse comes across as being rather like Photoshop. There are very few instances wherein an effect can only be achieved by one method in Photoshop. Levicorpus may have been Snape’s deconstruction of the nonverbal levitation spell. James’s version may have been something else. But the fact that Harry had discussed the spell with Remus by name, months before he got into Snape’s Pensieve and saw James use it argues against that.
But it already feels like we are beginning to drift down the stream of Too Many Unconfirmed Explanations. You shouldn’t have to stop and explain (let alone invent) the necessary technology in order to make a theory work. Explanations should only be necessary when you are trying to develop a unified theory of things of which you are already aware.
Of all the experimental spells recorded in that book, Snape only directly claims ownership of Levicorpus and Sectumsempera. Those alone are enough to imply that the book was his. Nor is that accidental. We are supposed to conclude that the book was Snape’s. He also claims to be the Half-Blood Prince of the book’s inscription (and just how lame is that inscription?). That ought to clinch the matter.
Somehow, for many it doesn’t. But it takes far too much effort to come up with any alternative which is even remotely viable. I thought this might be a deliberate bit of misdirection on Rowling’s part. But as to what it was misdirecting us from I hesitated to take a stand.
She certainly never offered us any convincing reason for why it was suddenly important that Harry should know that the book was Snape’s. By the time he discovered that, Harry didn’t really care who the Prince was.
We saw James Potter use something that looked to us like Levicorpus. That is the only spell out of the Potions book that we thought we saw James or Sirius use. All of their other spells in that particular sequence were standard ones which we had met before, and all of those were performed verbally, too. Levicorpus (if that’s what it was) was the only exception. Upon consideration, this suggests that my first assumption; that Snape was given the Lovegood treatment, and had his book stolen, and never got it back, could be a long way off-target. That interpretation is suddenly very much in our way. Nor is it actually supported in the text, however likely it may have appeared to be at first glance.
In the first place, there are just too many annotations in that Potions book, all closely reflecting the progress of Slughorn’s standard 6th year lesson plan for the book not to have been being used throughout Slughorn’s 6th year Potions class by somebody. And those annotations are all in Snape’s handwriting.
So it is a lot easier to believe that one spell got away from Snape, than that he lost his book, got it back, and then as a teacher either kept it in the classroom cupboard — when his own NEWT-Level classes may not even have used that textbook — rather than taking it home and keeping it among his own possessions, or that he lost the book, got it back, and then later lost it again, permanently. And that in all of that back-and-forthing, nobody saw the Half-Blood Prince inscription and gave him grief for it. (ETA: I guess we are now supposed to assume that Snape simply taught the spell to Avery and “Mulciber” to curry favor, and it somehow got away from them.)
So, during the period between HBP and DHs my tentative reading of the situation was that Levicorpus (not merely something that looked like it) was somehow lifted from the collection by a person or persons unknown. Most probably by another Slytherin, who would certainly have had the best opportunity to come across the book in the dorms and sneak a peek when he may have had a free period and Snape was off in Ancient Runes or Arithmancy class or some such. That it was this unknown person who carelessly managed to turn the spell loose, and like a bad cold it managed to work its way through the whole student body over the course of a school term or two. Well, okay. Not impossible, anyway. Not being impossible is a Good Thing. It’s just not a sure thing.
If we are limited to people whose existence and presence we are already aware of for this function, my vote goes to Reggie Black.
I’d accepted that it was Snape’s book, possibly (but not certainly, and certainly not necessarily) had been his mother’s, and that he had been taking it to school with him since about 3rd year or so and reading it in the dorm (and thinking up better methods of brewing the examples? Maybe). He was also jotting his spell notes in the margins by 3rd or 4th year. Which is why he ended up keeping it with him at school, even though he didn’t need it yet. It had his spell notes in it. Many of the potions notes didn’t get added until he was actually using the book in class.
But it was a NEWT-level text, so he wasn’t carrying it around in his school bag during the day. It was presumably tucked up safely in the dorm during the day. He probably usually kept it in his trunk. But there were also probably times that he went off to class and left in on the bed or on his bedside table.
Well in Snape’s 5th year, Regulus Black was a 2nd year, still taking only the basic course load with no electives (the dates from the Black family tapestry sketch are unworkable and have been modified to something that adds up to the numbers that match what we were given to work from in the course of Kreachur’s story. i.e., 1963–1980). This means that he had some free time while the older students were off in classes. Reggie Black also has a demonstrated track record of learning things that other people would rather that he not know about.
Not that nonverbal magic necessarily qualifies. Nonverbal magic is required of all students once they reach NEWT-level, and a child from a wizarding family (which Harry effectively is not) would probably know that. James Potter was using it at the end of his 5th year, if you remember.
And it is a really short distance for the spell to have traveled from Reggie (who was in the best position to have learned it) to the Marauders (who unquestionably used it).
Regulus as I say, was a 2nd year in the Marauder’s 5th. Narcissa had finished school the year before. To the best of our knowledge, Sirius and Regulus were the last members of the Black family still at Hogwarts.
Sirius had his own little group of cronies. We don’t know who was in Reggie’s year. It isn’t likely at this point that we are ever going to be told.
Sirius had not yet left home, so the blood relationship between the brothers was not yet being discounted by either of them.
Mental Exercise: What is likely to be the interaction between that particular pair of brothers on those occasions that they crossed one another’s path? Does Sirius come across as the sort of elder brother who grandly ignores the small fry, or the sort who makes a point of putting them in their place, just because they exist?
Remember also, Sirius had backup. Also; if Sirius considered it acceptable tactics to habitually take Snape on at 4:1 odds in his own favor, how much would he have hesitated to lean on his own brother who is 3 years younger than himself (and who therefore is his own to needle, by his right of being the eldest)? And (it is assumed) their parents’ favorite. At Hogwarts where their parents cannot interfere.
Reggie would have had no difficulty poking about in the 5th year dorm of his own House while Snape was in class. He might well have wondered why Snape had a NEWT-Level text when he hadn’t even sat the OWLs yet, and checked it out discovering the spell notes. At this point the book is not yet swimming in Potions notes, many of which were only added once the book was in use in class the following year. There is not so much else in the margins yet to detract from the spell notes. Reggie realizes he has found a treasure trove.
Now, I think that it is not that much of a stretch to suspect that a kid who had unquestionably figured out existence of the banned subject of Horcruxes at 17 just might already know about nonverbal spell-casting at 12, but at the same time, just because a spell was developed to work nonverbally does not mean that it won’t work verbally as well. The next time Sirius got out of line...
Of course Sirius was not alone. James and/or Peter grabbed Reggie or petrified him, made him turn Sirius loose, and they all put the pressure on him about where he got that spell. (Lupin does not admit to knowing where the spell came from, so I suspect he was not present.) Reggie says he got it “out of a book” and probably lets the information out about the “[nvbl]” notation. He manages not to let any of Snape’s other spells loose, however. And gets away as quickly as he can. If Regulus was somehow unaware of the significance of the notation, one of the Marauders, who are 3 years older, and at least two of them purebloods raised inside the ww and familiar with its practices, realizes that “nvbl” means nonverbal.
Snape eventually traces this leak back to its source once he sees his own spell used by someone in public, which would have happened soon enough. We do not know what the upshot was between Snape and Reggie, but if Snape was crushing on Narcissa (and he was of a reasonable age to have been, the age difference between Snape and Narcissa is the same as that between Ron and Fleur), he may have let Reggie off easily. We do not know what their relationship was after that, but we were never given any indication that it was close, regardless of whatever it may have been.
Levicorpus may not have been the only spell that escaped from the book, but it was the one that escaped Reggie and rampaged through the school. One really does wonder what Snape had to say of the matter, but in any case, from that point, Reggie Black would have certainly shown up above Snape’s horizon, even if he was 3 years younger.
And, at the very least, if Reggie had “stolen” his spell and used it in public, and let it escape, Snape would have had reason to believe that he ought to keep an eye on him.
However; we are already up to three secondary considerations that have to be explained away before we can fully accept the information that has been handed to us about that book. We cannot just accept it as a matter of course. Here’s yet another one:
The book was mixed in with Slughorn’s loaner copies.
No. I do not accept the explanation that Snape would have finished school and abandoned his textbook. Not after he went to the trouble of filling it with his annotations and spell notes.
And, no, I don’t believe that he would have brought it to school when he came back as a teacher and put it in the classroom cupboard and forgotten about it, either. If he wanted to refer to those annotations during the course of developing his lesson plans, he would have put it in his desk. And probably locked the drawer. Or kept it in his office, or in his own quarters. And he would certainly not have left it in the cupboard after he was finally appointed to the DADA position and needed to clear his stuff out of the Potions classroom to make way for Slughorn.
So, did he lose the book some time after 6th year and never got it back? Or are we — and Harry — being played?
Given that these contradictions have been handed to us, and, for the most part, called to our attention a second time, by an author with a track record for leading her readers up the garden path, I thought that it was worth considering that we could be being played.
It is my opinion, stated elsewhere, repeatedly, that we were handed some very flashy and very bogus answers over the course of HBP.
We were handed the “official” Riddle backstory. In fact we were invited to believe that we now knew everything about the life of Tom Marvolo Riddle.
— Except for the reason why he ever made the choices he did. By the time we and Albus caught up to him when he was 11, those choices were long made and he was well down the road his life has taken, and we haven’t a clue why.
We also got all our expectations regarding Severus Snape’s function in the series turned upside down, and I didn’t think it was for the last time, either.
So it would not have surprised me in the least to learn that there was something more, or something other to that Potions book that Harry and we all missed. Or that we just didn’t have the necessary information to solve the puzzle about it yet.
Which didn’t keep people from trying. There was a swarm of theories regarding that Potions book. One of the most popular was that it was originally his mother Eileen’s book. Many Snape-haters go further and claim that the potions annotations were hers as well, and that it was she who inscribed the book when she passed it on to him. None of which really makes sense. Particularly since he claims the hexes, there is only one person’s handwriting in that book, and the spell notes are in the same hand as the potions annotations.
Okay, sure, the book could have been Eileen’s old one, but there isn’t any “bang” in that, so why bother? It might explain why he had it at least a year before he needed it. But is that even a necessary detail? The “almost 50 years old” printing date takes the book right out of the Riddle era at Hogwarts, and when you stop and consider the matter, it really doesn’t matter who originally owned it. If it was Snape’s, it wasn’t necessarily Eileen’s. Eileen may not have even taken NEWT-Level Potions. Having it be Eileen’s old book doesn’t really add anything to the dynamic. It could just as easily have been any old used book. Slughorn has been using that book in his classes for over 30 years (50 years, in fact. At least). He’s still using it. Snape only needed to have possession of that copy by his 5th year.
Another popular theory, which I did think had a fighting chance of being in the right ballpark, even if the details were still waving in the breeze, unsupported, is that it was Albus who engineered Slughorn’s having the book sitting in his cupboard for the express purpose of giving it to Harry.
Looked at dispassionately, the most unlikely circumstance of all the various contradictions regarding the book is probably the fact that Severus Snape’s old Potions book was in Slughorn’s cupboard and available to be handed over to anybody at all. If we are talking about things that make no sense whatsoever...
And it’s not as if no one had any idea that Potter might be showing up without Slughorn’s assigned text or a Potions kit. Everyone knew of Snape’s policy of accepting only students who scored Os in their OWLs into his advanced class. It would have been simple enough for someone on Staff to have discovered that Potter had scraped an E, but no O, and would therefore not have believed that he would be permitted to take the class (Remember that Dumbledore was able to say with great confidence that the OWL results would be arriving later in the day that he deposited Harry with the Weasleys for the summer). And if anyone was still dithering about in any uncertainty, they could have always asked Molly. The boy had been living with the Weasleys almost all summer, and they had all gone off to purchase their required supplies together. Having the book ready and waiting for him would be an easy fix for the old manipulator to have had in place, before Harry even boarded the Hogwarts Express. This might even make a nice companion piece to Dumbledore’s giving Harry his father’s cloak back in Book 1. Particularly if Snape had at some point given the book to Lily, and it was recovered from the house at Godric’s Hollow.
But if any of this was the case, then there was almost guaranteed to be some specific information in that book that Albus wanted Harry to have access to. And at the end of HBP I didn’t think that Harry had found it yet.
It would also imply that Albus was quite familiar with the contents of that book, and that, somehow, Snape had agreed to allow it to be passed on to Potter, unlikely as that may seem. Hermione’s statement that Snape would not want Dumbledore to know about the book, even by the time she said it sounded like perfect rubbish. Snape was officially a Death Eater, for heaven’s sake! Why would Albus have cared about a collection of (exemplary!) potions notes and a few dozen homemade hexes that Snape invented as a teenager?
One of my former questions used to be: could that be what Snape and Dumbledore were arguing about, that Hagrid overheard? About, say maybe, Snape continuing to permit Harry to use the book, use his hexes, and cheat his way through Potions class, taking credit for Snape’s work? Harry had used the toenail hex on Crabbe by the middle of Autumn term. Snape would have recognized that one if it was reported to him. He would have recognized others as well. Especially Muffliato, if it showed up in his DADA classroom.
Another thing this reading would have implied is that Slughorn was in on the fix and would have reported to Albus that Potter had changed the cover and turned in the fresh copy rather than the graffitied one.
And, really, when the Sectumsempera incident took place in May, Snape didn’t need to do much hunting to find confirmation of what he suspected, did he? If he had been a party to facilitating Potter’s use of that book (even against his better judgement, and over his objections) he would have hardly needed to search for the cause, would he?
And as for Snape’s rhetorical question as to who taught Potter such dark magic; we all watched Snape dancing all around a different set of truths and half-truths all through Chapter 2, so why should we assume that he didn’t already know perfectly well the answer to the question? For that matter, throughout the whole series, he usually does already know the answers to any questions he asks Harry. Or is convinced he does, anyway. And typically he is more likely to be right than otherwise.
For that matter, it makes almost as much sense to postulate that Snape hid the book in the Room of Requirement himself, Albus retrieved it, passed it to Slughorn, who palmed it off on Harry who returned it to the Room.
A much more “out there” — but fun — theory which cropped up on one of my discussion boards was the notion that Snape and Lily had worked together on those potions notes and that Snape had charmed the book with a For Your Eyes Only charm, so that apart from himself, only Lily could read the annotations. And as we have been told repeatedly, Harry does have Lily’s eyes. Neither Ron nor Hermione were able to decipher the Prince’s handwriting, were they? (Well, Ron couldn’t. Hermione wouldn’t try.)
And for that matter; once one disentangles the Snape + Lily concept from the widely received Snape-loved-Lily theory one really needs to re-examine rather a lot of the ideas that various people have floated in aid of the theory to see whether they have any merit on their own, and the suggestion that the Potions book was originally Lily’s — even if she wasn’t the one who wrote in it — begins to look as if it almost might. This theory was another one frequently deployed by the die-hard Snape-haters who cannot stand the idea that Snape was ever good at anything. But that doesn’t happen to be where I am coming from.
So long as we are still (long after the fair) drifting aimlessly down the stream of Too Many Explanations; at the end of HBP, what did we know, I mean really know about the Evans sisters’ upbringing?
We’ve never heard of any other siblings. And their parents no longer seem to be alive, although Lily would still not yet have turned 40 if she had lived. I don’t get the idea that Petunia was much older. And she may even have been the younger sister.
We know that Lily, at least, made a very “good” marriage, from a worldly standpoint. Maybe Petunia “married-up” as well. We’d always assumed that Lily and Petunia were brought up middle-class, since Petunia and Vernon Dursley clearly seem to be middle-class. Maybe we were wrong. Maybe they were originally working class like Snape. (Which might explain some of Petunia’s social anxieties over what everyone who sees them might think of her family, and her determination to keep up with the Joneses, mightn’t it?)
There really isn’t anything to say that Lily mightn’t have gone off to school with some 2nd-hand textbooks, even if the family was middle-class. Flourish & Blotts sells 2nd-hand textbooks. It would have been easy enough for her to find them. Particularly if Lily, Like Hermione, was effectively given money for textbooks and turned loose to buy them on her own. We never caught a glimpse of the Grangers after CoS, except at Kings Cross. Lily may have decided to buy 2nd-hand where she could, and maximize her pocket money. And she seems to have been interested enough in the subject of Potions that she might very well have fudged her funds to buy a cheap copy of the Advanced text a year of two early.
And if it was her book, then it was probably her writing (well, post-DHs we know it wasn’t. Her writing resembled Harry’s). Snape’s teenaged handwriting may have been similar, but it does not mean it was the same. Just because Harry is convinced that the hexes were invented by a bloke, doesn’t mean they were. Once I was reconsidering such things, Harry’s track record isn’t so great that one can completely dismiss Hermione’s comment that the handwriting looked like a girl’s to her. And since it appears to be inarguable that none of the trio recognized the handwriting as Snape’s, when he’s presumably been scrawling notes across their essays for 5–6 yearsthat may have been a clue rather than a logic hole.
And, now that one considers it, there are rather a lot of annotations in that book for it to all have been the work of only one person, aren’t there?
Regardless of whose book and whose handwriting it was, I thought it could be possible that the two of them might have worked out those notes together. (I could easily see Lily suppressing a giggle and dutifully recording “Just shove a bezoar down it’s throat” after Snape muttered it to her under his breath during Slughorn’s lecture, under cover of Muffliato. I’ll bet Sluggy let the two of them get away with murder in his class. If, that is, the Gryffs and the Slyths shared Potions class in the Marauder’s day. They may not.)
It was rather a fun idea anyway.
But the hexes were Snape’s.
Or, at any rate, Levicorpus and Sectumsempera were his. He claims them both.
But it does not necessarily follow that the spells were all his. If this extrapolation of a cooperative effort was on the right track, I thought Snape and Lily may have worked a good many of those out together as well.
And while we are at it, who says Lily was a charter member of the pure-hearts club; so above-it-all that nothing Dark could touch her? I thought the Madonna!Lily iteration was obsolete by now.
I get the distinct picture, post-HBP, that Lily Evans was perfectly willing to try out most of whatever was out there. (Bring it on!)
Bright, brave, funny, that’s what they say. Very pretty and popular, too. And the answer that Rowling gave when someone called her on Petunia’s statement about Lily turning teacups into rats was that Lily got “a few” warning notices; she liked to “push the envelope”. In fact I think those are the exact words that Rowling used, too. (The MoM must have been a bit more lenient about that kind of thing in Lily’s day, Harry only got 1 warning, and next time was up against a full disciplinary hearing.)
So, that being the case, I can easily see Lily creating clever hexes, particularly if she was hanging out with Snape. I can see the two of them in a spirited little competition to create the cleverest one, too. Hexes are not looked down upon or disapproved of in the ww. After all, it was a Bat-boogy hex that drew Sluggy’s attention to Ginny Weasley.
I don’t think that the ones they created were all Dark hexes, either. Most of them were described as clever and inventive, not as Dark. For that matter, Levicorpus doesn’t really sound particularly Dark, does it?
There are a lot of hexes in the margins of that book, and a few of them are probably Dark ones, but only a few — and we still haven’t got an official statement on what constitutes “Dark”. If it was Lily’s book, and Lily was the scribe, she certainly wrote down her own, and the ones they worked on together, and evidently wrote down his as well. And he was aware of it and didn’t mind. After all, he was showing them off to impress her.
And, excuse me, but any girl who will turn your teacup into a rat would certainly be capable of hexing your toenails into talons.
And as for Levicorpus, which was demonstrably created at least a year before NEWT-Level, goes; Harry concluded that one must have given its inventor a lot of trouble. There were a lot of cross-outs and false starts on that one.
And then suddenly there in a corner of the page was the spell written out clean with the (nvbl) notation. Complete with the counter-spell.
There is no single way to interpret that. The two most likely probabilities, so far as I could see at that point, are that either someone was working it out in 5th year (in their own copy of a book that they might not need until the following year) — or someone was trying to duplicate a spell they’d seen used (possibly the previous year, or seen it more than once) but hadn’t ever heard spoken aloud.
And then someone else looked at what they were doing and told them the answer.
And possibly, that someone also gave her the other unknown spell, the one that she had seen him use on James. Because in the Pensieve incident, we did see Snape use what was probably a mild Sectumsempera on James.
Most of the spells did look like they were actually worked out in the margins of the book itself however, not simply copied from somewhere else (although after the impromptu duel with Malfoy, Harry was wondering where the Prince had copied out a spell like Sectumsempera, suggesting that there weren’t any spell notes or jottings accompanying that one). If we hadn’t all seen Levicorpus used the year before we’d be convinced that all of the spells were all worked out in 6th or 7th year. But Rowling made sure that we do not have that particular “comfort zone” from which to view our options. (ETA: which seems to have been a piece of sheer carelessness on her part. The incident could have been set up without including that glitch.)
Which in itself suggested that we were deliberately handed a puzzle to work out. The answer just wasn’t likely to be anything quite as obvious as that the book was simply Snape’s old textbook and no one else had ever gotten a close look at it. This whole issue had as many variables and built-in contradictions as that frapping “Reggie Black and the Dark Lord’s Sea Cave” adventure. And it didn’t happen by accident. Rowling must have meant it to be contradictory and confusing. Or at least so I thought then.
Well, no such luck. Rowling had passed well into the land of burnout by that time and was no longer passing out puzzles to her readers. Anything in the last three books that looks like a puzzle was more likely to be evidence of sheer carelessness, compounded by a lack of editing.
For that matter, I was pretty sure that the Sea Cave was a whopping red herring and that the most likely answer to emerge so far regarding that puzzle was that Reggie Black was never there at all.
But the issue of the potions book couldn’t be so easily dismissed. Because the book clearly existed, and appeared to still be actively in play. Someone clearly spent a lot of time scribbling in it. And there are just too many anomalies to conclude that the information had to have only been from Snape and nobody else ever knew about it.
But like everything else to do with Snape and Lily, the official timing was all wrong for the standard interpretations.
So why mess with it at all?
Well, I’ll admit that enhancing Lily’s role — which we were consistently led to overlook for the first 5 books, was certainly a part of it. But that isn’t the whole thing. It isn’t even the main thing.
The main thing is; ever since I disentangled the underlying concept of Snape working with Lily from the generally received Snape-loved-Lily theory I’ve had the conviction in the back of my mind that to establish that Snape and Lily were involved in some sort of a magical partnership would pay off dividends in an area that is a LOT more important to the central issue of the story than just who originally owned that Potions book.
I knew that I might be off admiring the Martian canals again. But I couldn’t really shake the idea.
And, no, trying to make the potions book Lily’s book in itself isn’t a major plot point, but it greased the wheels toward establishing that partnership. One that involved collaborative efforts between the two of them. And that there had once been such a partnership might be something that Harry really needed to learn.
It also sorted out the stupid inscription, and rendered it into a somewhat affectionate joke. Maybe the inscription; “This book is the Property of the Half-Blood Prince” really was on the same lines as “To Severus, from your partner Lily”. She might have snatched the book up, inscribed it, and turned over to him the tangible record of their 6th Year partnership to remember her by the day that he came to visit her at her Muggle home during the summer before Year 7 and explained why he had to publicly distance himself from her. (ETA: The Martian canals were particularly lovely that season...)
It clears up the fact that nobody recognized Snape’s handwriting when he has been marking their essays for the past six years (which makes all three of the kids look like fools, and is a classic “idiot plot” device). Tiny cramped handwriting is not that uncommon. And it doesn’t necessarily stay that way (mine didn’t), but Lily’s didn’t get time to change much. Made me wonder very much whether Petunia had anything lying around with Lily’s handwriting on it.
But I was not going to insist on it. I’d swung around to the view that the book really was Snape’s. Although having it turn out to be Lily’s would have been all too much in keeping with the trend that everything we “learned” in HBP was either incomplete or something other than what it seemed. i.e., that Tom was born bad, that Dumbledore was duped, and that Snape is evil.
Worked for me.
But it didn’t have to come to that. I thought it was Snape’s book regardless of the silly “Half-Blood Prince” inscription. If the book was his mother’s he could have put that inscription there before he was 10 and didn’t realize how lame it sounded. And then concealed it magically once he did. We never saw it until Hermione used that Revilatio! spell on the book, after all. Or it could have been a piece of premature irony on his part.
But if Lily was his confidant, when he explained why he had to withdraw, one of them may have given the other the book with their mutual notes in it. As a keepsake.
Or, Lily may have had a bigger role in this drama than we had realized.
This one requires that we all pay a visit to the Martian canals.
What if she was Snape’s intermediary for contacting Dumbledore?
We don’t know just when Albus developed his Patronus messenger trick. And in any case, I doubted that they can be used to carry a particularly long or detailed message.
And Snape could hardly take the risk of openly maintaining a correspondence with the Headmaster. A correspondence with a Muggle-born classmate wouldn’t have looked particularly good either, but it wouldn’t have gotten him summarily killed.
Unless it was maybe a professional correspondence.
She was certainly qualified for an entry-level job in the potions field. As was he.
And if Lily really was as good as Slughorn says she was, she might have found work in some position that Snape could justify trying to re-establish contact with his old lab partner and to curry favor with her.
Which may have even gone some way towards why Voldemort was willing to spare her. IF he was really willing to spare her. At least in order to make use of her.
And no one would bother to notice that she might have been in contact with Dumbledore. Or possibly McGonagall.
And if that is the case, how do we know that some of the spells in that book might not be ciphers? Or decoding charms?
Ones that Harry might need.
Ah well. If they were, I was sure we’d find out eventually.
Or so I thought until I read DHs.
Instead we find that Rowling hasn’t enough respect for her audience to bother to give them a coherent explanation for the shoddy work she throws to us.
On any number of points, and the Potions book is only one of them.
What we now have discovered is that she slung the whole Potions book device together to facilitate the surface plot of HBP without even caring whether the details added up to a cohesive whole.
It was a 6th year Potions book because it had to be a 6th year book. It had to be a 6th year book because Harry was in 6th year that year, and if it hadn’t been a 6th year book he wouldn’t have bothered to look at it.
Levicorpus escaped in 5th year because the Snape’s Worst Memory sequence had already been established as taking place at the end of 5th year. She had already shown James using Levicorpus at the end of 5th year (since they had all just been sitting the DADA OWL) and had confirmed that the spell had been used in his 5th year by Remus’s statement on the matter.
And she had probably only stuck that incident in the Marauders’ 5th year because the year that Harry barged into the Pensieve and witnessed it was the year that Harry was in 5th year.
If it weren’t for Levicorpus in 5th year, we would have had no problem with accepting the whole issue as being as slight and disposable she finally handed it to us.
I mean really! We’d already seen that at NEWT-Level there is only one 6th year DADA class, and students from all four Houses are in it. Would it have been so very hard to show the whole 6th year DADA class sitting a standard test and then leaving at the end of the period? Nothing in the incident requires that it take place during the OWLs. Nothing in that sequence requires that it take place just before summer break. It’s certainly not like Rowling has ever paid any real attention to what time anything else in the kids’ classes actually takes place through the rest of the series.
And then establish just when it took place by having Remus say the spell was popular in their 6th year.
It didn’t bloody need to happen in OWLs week.
She also didn’t need to have Harry wondering whether the full moon was approaching, since she has now assassinated all the Marauders’ characters by putting the hazing incident after the werewolf caper. Was this an all-but-immediate retaliation against Snape for not having rolled over and let himself be murdered? Excuse me, but by adding this incident on top of the werewolf caper those little bastards deserved expulsion. And had just given the school a nice public excuse to do it too. Or at least suspension until the end of term.
She didn’t need to even do the big reveal that it had once been Snape’s book — although I certainly have no objection to knowing it. She certainly didn’t use that information for anything. It didn’t serve any real narrative purpose. Did it matter since Harry didn’t keep the book? Because I thought he might have retrieved it from the Room of Hidden Things once Snape had left, otherwise. To find out something about his “enemy” if nothing else.
One really hopes that Snape saw a glimpse of what Harry had done with his book, and retrieved it from the Room when he returned as Headmaster. Or at least one wishes he had. To lose it to Crabbe’s fiendfyre is just a sheer bloody waste.