The Potions Riddle and the DADAs

by Rams

Reading Daniela Teo’s detailed editorials on the significance of the seven tasks in PS/SS (The Seven Tasks and The Seven Tasks Revisited) and an excellent essay in the Harry Potter Lexicon by Prefect Marcus, The Riddle of the Potions, set me thinking about the significance of this riddle. We all know how important the position of the Defense Against the Dark Arts professor seems to be in every Harry Potter book. Here I present my analysis that the “Riddle of the Potions” represents the seven Defense Against the Dark Arts (DADA) professors we have met or will meet in the Harry Potter books.

First, the riddle:

Danger lies before you, while safety lies behind,
Two of us will help you, whichever you would find,
One among us seven will let you move ahead,
Another will transport the drinker back instead,
Two among our number hold only nettle wine,
Three of us are killers, waiting hidden in line.
Choose, unless you wish to stay here forevermore,
To help you in your choice, we give you these clues four:
First, however slyly the poison tries to hide
You will always find some on nettle wine’s left side;
Second, different are those who stand at either end,
But if you would move onward, neither is your friend;
Third, as you see clearly, all are different size,
Neither dwarf nor giant holds death in their insides;
Fourth, the second left and the second on the right
Are twins once you taste them, though different at first sight.

The seven potions and what they could represent: 3: Poison=Dangerous

2: Nettle wine=Harmless at best

1: Move-ahead Potion=Help

1: Move-back Potion=Setback

The five DADA professors we have met so far:

Quirell (PS/SS), Lockhart (CoS), Lupin (PoA), Mad-Eye Moody/Barty Crouch Jr. (GoF) and Umbridge (OotP).

We already know that three of the DADA teachers were highly dangerous: Quirrell was hosting Lord Voldemort beneath his turban; Barty Crouch Jr. masqueraded as Mad-Eye Moody and transported Harry to the waiting Voldemort for his re-birthing; and the poisonous toad, Umbridge, ordered Dementors to suck Harry’s soul and did not hesitate to use Unforgivables. (I bet she has the ability to perform, spectacularly, all three of them.)

Next, we have the two nettle wine professors. I think Lockhart qualifies for nettle wine #1. He was harmless at best, a fraud and incompetent at worst. He did not endanger the lives of Harry and co. as the above-mentioned DADA professors did, nor did he help Harry to move either forward or backward. He was useless baggage and comic relief at the Basilisk climax. We have one more nettle wine DADA professor coming up who is either going to be just plain harmless or also an old fraud. I think he is going to be in the forthcoming book, Half-Blood Prince, for the riddle says “the second left and the second on the right are twins once you taste them.” I will give you another reason below.

Now, the move-ahead potion. As far as we have seen, the only DADA professor who has actually helped Harry is Lupin. By teaching him the Patronus Charm, he in effect made sure that Harry would save his own, Hermione’s and Sirius’ life in PoA, and again his own and Dudley’s life in OotP.

That brings us to the final DADA professor, who offers a setback and, I feel, comes in the final book. It is going to be Snape. Yes, Snape will get the coveted position at last. I don’t mean that Snape is evil and will trip up Harry in the final book. As a Lupin parallel, Snape represents a setback in that, unlike Lupin, he has refused to teach Harry an important defense already–Occlumency in OotP–which effectively resulted in Harry not closing his mind to Voldemort, eventually leading to the MoM sequence and Sirius’ death. Ultimately, though, Snape will help Harry, because the riddle mentions that the move-back potion, like the move-ahead one, is also a friend.

The Lexicon essay I mentioned suggests two plausible solutions to the potion riddle:


P W F P P W B,

where P= Poison, W= Nettle Wine, F = Forward and B = Back.

According to my delineation above, I suggest that the only true solution is by considering the order of the bottles to be P W F P P W B, representing, respectively: Quirrell, Lockhart, Lupin, Mad-Eye/Barty Crouch Jr., Umbridge, “Book 6 Professor” and Snape.