Wednesday 15 April 2020

Potions, gas explosions and Neville's Remembrall goes flying

The bit where Neville melts his cauldron and everyone is climbing on to their stools to avoid getting their shoes dissolved by the escaped potion, in the Potions Chapter, reminds me very much of chemistry lessons at school.  Today, the Health and Safety regulations mean that school chemistry lessons are taught without much practical 'experimentation', and the dangerous stuff is generally shown to the class by multimedia or YouTube demonstrations.

But when I went to 'big school' as an 11 year old in 1966, 'safety' meant wearing a lab coat to save your school uniform from getting burnt by the acids in racks on the bench, or scorched by the flame from the bunsen burner each of us had, for heating up test tubes full on interesting chemicals in the practical sessions.  And of course wearing the safety glasses provided.

As well as our own 'experiments' in the chemistry coursework, large 'spectacular' or 'risky' experiments were demonstrated live on the front bench by the chemistry teacher whose name I think was Mr Auty. 

One of the best used a large round cake tin with a small hole punched in the lid, which was used to demonstrate that for an explosion to occur, you needed exactly the right mixture of fuel and oxygen.  The fuel was mains gas, which was supplied by a rubber hose connected to the laboratory bench gas tap - the gas was piped into the tin through the hole in the lid, for a few minutes making sure that the tin was full of gas, (with no air mixed in).  

The tin was placed in the centre of the bench and a lighted match applied just above the hole, producing a tall bright flame as the escaping gas burned in the air.

The flame got progressively smaller as the gas was used up, so we thought that was the end of the demonstration and relaxed - then - BOOM! as the flame went inside the tin the gas air mixture hit just the right mixture needed for a loud explosion - which blew the tin lid right up to the ceiling.  Excellent!  

If you want to know how this worked - google 'Chemistry - demonstration of spontaneous combustion', but if you get into trouble I never told you about it!

Harry and Ron ended up going to see Hagrid for tea, and Hagrid seems a bit reticent about the details of their visit to Gringotts bank, which was in the news following a burglary where nothing was taken from the vault - odd!

Neville's barn owl brought him a present from his Gran - a Remembrall - which Draco Malfoy immediately took a fancy to - giving it back only when Mr Snape turns up in the nick of time.

Later - the class are taken outside to practice Broomstick flying - Harry seems to be a natural, managing to get his Broomstick to obey the Up command - and then chasing Draco into the air when he again 'borrows' Neville's new Remembrall, managing to dive after it and catch it when Malfoy spitefully threw it in the air - looks like trouble brewing!  

Harry Potter is told off by Professor McGonagall - could be serious. and it's only page 160. 



  1. I’m enjoying reading your blog! Very entertaining getting to hear about your experience reading the series for the first time as an adult. I’m in my mid thirties and recently one of my near sixty coworkers decided to start reading the series after hearing me talk about it so often (I enjoy showing them my yearly Harry-potter themed Halloween set-up - this year I set up a herbology scene with my toddler dressed as a mandrake, myself Professor Sprout and my husband as Neville. You’ll learn all about herbology in book 2!) Anyways, my coworker is on book 3 now and says she is really enjoying them. I hope you do to!

  2. This is so fun! I am glad you are documenting your journey. A lot of us "Potterheads", I'm sure, wish we could read them all again as if we never had. While I have reread them several times by now, I am really enjoying seeing the wizarding world through someone else's eyes and a different point-of-view. Can't wait to see where Harry takes you from here.

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  4. I never had a Chemistry class and now that you've described it in such a compelling way, I do regret it. I could've, but it wasn't necessary for the studies I wanted to undertake after high school. What a shame!

    What I loved about these books is how so many things are not the way they seem. The plot twists were always so satisfying! Once you finish this book (and the other ones), I highly suggest you check out Merphy Napier's Youtube channel where she made a series about what she loved about the books and what didn't necessarily made sense (such as plot holes). As a fellow Ravenclaw, I really enjoyed it! ;)

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