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After Hagrid lets it slip that he's guarding something related to Nicolas Flamel, Harry, Ron and Hermione start looking around in the library to find out who he is.

The trouble was, it was very hard to know where to begin, not knowing what Flamel might have done to get himself into a book. He wasn't in Great Wizards of the Twentieth Century, or Notable Magical Names of Our Time; he was missing, too, from Important Modern Magical Discoveries, and A Study of Recent Developments in Wizardry.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, Chapter 12, Mirror of Erised

Why wouldn't a prominent wizard like Flamel (the only known maker of a Philosopher's Stone) be mentioned in those books?

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    I don't have the quotes but it's mentioned later in the books. They searched in books cataloging recent famous wizards and Flamel wasn't recent enough – user13267 Feb 27 '18 at 3:03
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    @Bellatrix - Re: maker vs owner - Hermione claims that Flamel is the only known maker of the Philosopher's Stone, but the passage she cites to support her claim lists him as owner, not maker ("the only Stone currently in existence belongs to Mr Nicolas Flamel", Philosopher's Stone, chapter 13). – Gaultheria Feb 27 '18 at 3:51
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    Why didn't they try asking the librarian who Nicolas Flamel was, or looking up a biographical dictionary of wizards which should have wizards listed alphabetically, or ask the librarian what was the best type of book to look up wizards in, which should cause the librarian to recommend a biographical dictionary? Maybe the Hogwarts librarian wasn't helpful to first year students? – M. A. Golding Feb 27 '18 at 5:15
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    @M.A.Golding They didn’t want to risk Snape possibly finding out what they were doing. “He, Ron and Hermione had already agreed they’d better not ask Madam Pince where they could find Flamel. They were sure she’d be able to tell them, but they couldn’t risk Snape hearing what they were up to.” - Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, Chapter 12 (The Mirror of Erised) – Bellatrix Feb 27 '18 at 5:47
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    @sudhanva I have a Pensieve. ;) Actually, I write a lot of answers, so I’ve looked most things up before and I also remember a lot about the books. – Bellatrix Feb 27 '18 at 6:03
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They were only looking in books about modern wizards.

When Harry, Ron and Hermione searched books for Flamel, who they knew had talked to Dumbledore so would therefore be still alive, they logically presumed he’d have to be someone who couldn’t be in the distant past, so focused their search on more modern books.

“They had indeed been searching books for Flamel’s name ever since Hagrid had let it slip, because how else were they going to find out what Snape was trying to steal? The trouble was, it was very hard to know where to begin, not knowing what Flamel might have done to get himself into a book. He wasn’t in Great Wizards of the Twentieth Century, or Notable Magical Names of Our Time; he was missing, too, from Important Modern Magical Discoveries, and A Study of Recent Developments in Wizardry.”
- Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, Chapter 12 (The Mirror of Erised)

This was quite logical given the information they’d had - however it made their search ineffective, since Nicolas Flamel would have made the Philosopher’s Stone hundreds of years ago. They also had no other information on Flamel, so restricting their search to books about wizards who’d plausibly be still alive was a way to narrow down their search.

Harry eventually sees Flamel’s name on a Chocolate Frog card stating he worked on alchemy, which made Hermione think to check an old book she’d borrowed. It’s never mentioned what book she’d found him in or even what the book was about, but it presumably included more ancient wizards.

“Harry and Ron barely had time to exchange mystified looks before she was dashing back, an enormous old book in her arms.

‘I never thought to look in here!’ she whispered excitedly. ‘I got this out of the library weeks ago for a bit of light reading.”
- Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, Chapter 13 (Nicolas Flamel)

Once they do find Flamel, Ron says it makes sense that he wouldn’t have been in a book about recent wizards, since he wasn’t recent.

“And no wonder we couldn’t find Flamel in that Study of Recent Developments in Wizardry,’ said Ron. ‘He’s not exactly recent if he’s six hundred and sixty-five, is he?”
- Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, Chapter 13 (Nicolas Flamel)

Nicolas Flamel was mentioned in at least one book, and probably others as well, but they didn’t actually know what Flamel had done so they were only able to have narrowed it down by his presumed age - which turned out to be more of an impediment.

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    @Thunderforge I added it in anyway, since the titles of the books are very relevant to my point, I wanted to make sure it was directly in my answer. I thought it’d be useful for the “flow” of text, and having it ‘close’ to the other text in my answer. – Bellatrix Feb 27 '18 at 3:41
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    Well OP’s quote already says as much (Rowling sneakily made all of the books’ titles refer to recent history). But: Nicholas Flamel is still alive. So while he might not be mentioned in A study of recent developments…, there’s really no reason why he wouldn’t be included in, say, Notable magical names of our time. Assuming those are modelled after non-magical, existing works (which Rowling is wont to do), Flamel should be listed. – Konrad Rudolph Feb 27 '18 at 9:05
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    @Angew “Our time” includes “now”. And Flamel is alive now (or at least he was at the time when Harry Potter and the philosopher’s stone took place). As for my link: the print edition of Who’s who doesn’t include deceased persons. – Konrad Rudolph Feb 27 '18 at 10:24
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    Flamel was a real alchemist. He lived 1340-1418. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nicolas_Flamel – Paul Johnson Feb 27 '18 at 13:03
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    "an enormous old book" / "a bit of light reading" - Ah, I miss the humor of the earlier books. – Kevin Feb 27 '18 at 17:10
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Because, as they say in the book, "he's not exactly recent if he's 665".

  • He's not in Great Wizards of the Twentieth Century or Notable Magical Names of Our Time, as his work occurred much earlier than the Twentieth Century/"Not our time"
  • He doesn't appear in Important Modern Magical Discoveries or A Study of Recent Developments in Wizardry, as the discovery of the Philosopher's Stone is not modern/recent

Source: Sorcerer's Stone, US paperback p.320

6

We only know that Flamel owns a powerful magical object.

Hermione describes Nicolas Flamel in chapter 13 of The Philosopher's Stone:

Harry and Ron barely had time to exchange mystified looks before [Hermione] was dashing back, an enormous old book in her arms.

'I never thought to look in here!' she whispered excitedly. 'I got this out of the library weeks ago for a bit of light reading.'

[snip]

'Nicolas Flamel,' she whispered dramatically, 'is the only known maker of the Philosopher’s Stone!'

This didn't have quite the effect she'd expected.

'The what?' said Harry and Ron.

'Oh, honestly, don't you two read? Look – read that, there.'

She pushed the book towards them, and Harry and Ron read:

The ancient study of alchemy is concerned with making the Philosopher’s Stone, a legendary substance with astonishing powers. The Stone will transform any metal into pure gold. It also produces the Elixir of Life, which will make the drinker immortal.

There have been many reports of the Philosopher’s Stone over the centuries, but the only Stone currently in existence belongs to Mr Nicolas Flamel, the noted alchemist and opera-lover. Mr Flamel, who celebrated his six hundred and sixty-fifth birthday last year, enjoys a quiet life in Devon with his wife, Perenelle (six hundred and fifty-eight).

Flamel is not known to have created his Philosopher's Stone.

Hermione asserts that Flamel is the only known maker of the Philosopher's Stone, but the passage she cites to support her claim lists him as owner, not maker. As we know from The Deathly Hallows, the ownership of powerful magical objects transfers from person to person, down the centuries, through means ranging from gentle to violent.

Flamel is an alchemist, but he is not necessarily a wizard.

The Harry Potter novels never explicitly refer to Flamel as a wizard. Albus Dumbledore's chocolate frog card mentions "[Dumbledore's] work on alchemy with his partner, Nicolas Flamel" (Philosopher's Stone, chapter 6), and Hermione's library book states that "the only Stone currently in existence belongs to Mr Nicolas Flamel, the noted alchemist". Flamel does not seem to have any other claim to fame in the wizarding world, apart from his work in alchemy.

Alchemy has a long history with the (necessarily non-magical) people of the real world, so it's reasonable to suppose that non-magical people in the Potter world were similarly interested. In Deathly Hallows (chapter 16), a quote from Bathilda Bagshot's A History of Magic dates the signing of the International Statute of Secrecy to the year 1689, when Nicolas and Perenelle had already been using Nicolas' Philosopher's Stone for centuries. At the time of the Stone's creation, there was no law preventing wizards and witches from sharing magical knowledge with muggles. Nicolas could have been a brilliant researcher, without an ounce of magical ability of his own, who used the magical resources available to him at the time.

An unequal partnership?

Although Dumbledore — a brilliant wizard — worked with Flamel, the partnership does not imply that Flamel was any great talent, nor even a wizard. Dumbledore had a lifelong fascination with conquering death, and a willingness to go to great lengths for the greater good. The friendship could have begun selfishly with Dumbledore's determination to study a Flamel family heirloom.

Prejudice

Given the wizarding world's prejudice — during Harry Potter's school years — against anyone not a magically-talented pureblood, publishers would face pressure not to speak well of anyone who failed to meet these ideals.

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    From Beauxbatons Pottermore page: It is said that the stunning castle and grounds of this prestigious school were part-funded by alchemist gold, for Nicolas and Perenelle Flamel met at Beauxbatons in their youth, and a magnificent fountain in the middle of the school’s park, believed to have healing and beautifying properties, is named for them. So both he and his wife were magic folk. – sudhanva Feb 27 '18 at 6:02
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    @sudhanva - That's an interesting detail. What were Beauxbatons' policies for admission back then? The dividing line between magical and non-magical society was blurry before the signing of the Statute of Secrecy. Beauxbatons may have accepted students whose brains made up for their lack of magical ability, for instance. – Gaultheria Feb 27 '18 at 6:13
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    I liked your creator vs owner comment. If Flamel was the creator of the PS then it's a remarkable achievement, and it's indeed strange that Hermione didn't at least encounter the word 'Flamelian' in one of those books she checked. (The muggle equivalent would be 'Newtonian' or 'Pascalian') Also IIRC he did some more recent joint research with Dumbledore. Why it wasn't featured in the 'Important magical discoveries' one? Didnt they discover anything? Or maybe he wasnt credited? – user68762 Feb 27 '18 at 6:24
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    @Morrigan - Thanks. I'll add that here. – Gaultheria Feb 27 '18 at 6:37
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    It's pure speculation, but if you weren't aware of the historical figure and were taught about "newtonian physics" or "Euclidean geometry" you could be forgiven for just attaching the label and moving on rather than realising that the principles are named for real people. Likewise Hermione may well have encountered the phrase "Flamellian" and simply not made the connection in the search. – Ruadhan2300 Feb 27 '18 at 16:36
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As I understand it, Flamel was something of a recluse. (Wouldn't you be, if the whole world wanted your secret of immortality?) It's possible that he simply asked his name be removed from publications, or made sure his recent publishable work was done under a pseudonym, simply to stop random people from connecting that to the Philosopher's Stone and/or bugging him about it.

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