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They don't seem to be giving the correct instructions in concocting the potions- as seen when Hermione isn't able to make her draught in Slughorn's class.

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    Just as a recipe book doesn't intend for its directions to produce unpalatable or gross food, the Potions books do not intend for the students to produce sub par potions when following the directions there. A talented cook tweaks recipes to make them better; a talented potioneer tweaks potions recipes to improve the brewing process. It doesn't mean the regular way won't work. – Slytherincess Apr 16 '13 at 2:47
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    this comment doesn't actually address why the hell they feed students the wrong answer. Also, nothing in your answer gives then a core from which to be a cook/base upon. It's very literary though. – Solemnity Apr 16 '13 at 2:55
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    @banana Rather similar to how she had difficulty on a broom - it's not just "follow the instructions and you'll do well". Like cooking, skill is involved. – Izkata Apr 16 '13 at 3:03
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    @aSlytherin As evidenced by the Half-Blood Prince's notes in the textbook Harry gets; pretty simple tweaks to the recipes that produce incredible results even for somebody who wasn't previously shown to be an incredibly gifted potions brewer. – Anthony Grist Apr 16 '13 at 8:16
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    @Izkata Is it similar, though? I don't remember there being any indications in the first five books that Hermione wasn't extremely talented at Potions. If we're talking about the first Potions class in Half-Blood Prince then I think it's more likely that her annoyance at Harry not doing things the "correct" way (and, for once, doing better than she was) just caused her to make mistakes. – Anthony Grist Apr 16 '13 at 10:14
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I would hazard a guess that potion making is insanely more tough than cooking. Remember, this is something that is taught as a full subject over the course of (at least) 5 years.

There once was a course that I had to do, Engineering Drawing (Technical Drawing). It was about drawing things using a robust protocol and tools like a drafter. It seemed quite mechanical and easy to me -- all we had to do was make lines in a certain order.

Except that it wasn't easy. While it was easy to figure out what lines had to be drawn, we all made infinite mistakes. You make a mistake in one line, and notice it 20 lines later -- you have to redo the whole thing.

I think that Potions is similar. While there's a definite set and order of things to be done, these are easy to mess up. One mistake, and the potion will stop working. Following the instructions correctly may not be as easy as it looks. Hermione was never portrayed as infallible; it's quite possible she made a mistake.

Also, take a look at cooking. While following the instructions usually gets you an OK product, there's always something that a skilled cook can tweak to make it better. And there's always something a newbie can mess up. Same goes for Potions.


Here's another thing, as mentioned by Rob below: Not all the recipes may be exact. There might be something akin to "season to taste" found in cookbooks, or "left as an exercise to the reader" found in math and physics textbooks.

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    I wonder if parts of the instructions for some potions could be akin to "season to taste", e.g. "add just enough powdered bats ear". I can't remember if any specific potion recipes are called out in the books (it's been a while since I read them!) but instructions which rely on the skill and prior experience of the potion maker could be quite common in the method for a potion... – Rob Apr 16 '13 at 7:25
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    @Rob: True. Also, advanced potion books might leave some stuff up to the student, akin to the infamous "left as an exercise for the reader" found in math and physics books. – Manishearth Apr 16 '13 at 7:33
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While I don't disagree with Manishearth; I always thought of it like the old saying:

"Those who can't do - teach." (1)

But amend it with

"Those who can't teach - write the text book."

Most of potion recipes were passed down through the ages; there might have been reluctance to alter them.

It is also entirely possible that the authors of the books were not as gifted in potion-making as Snape was (e.g., to crush the bean with the flat side of a silver blade instead of cutting), and did not think outside the box.

When it would be time to release a new version of potion-making recipes they would add new ones, but leave the old recipes alone; thinking "If it isn't broke - don't fix it"


(1) Not to say that the teachers at Hogwarts were not exceptional.

  • I think this is a good answer -- it addresses the question of why it CAN be easily taught and read from a book (as evidenced by Snape's writings) but isn't (as evidenced by the trouble everybody else has following the instructions as written) – PeterL Apr 16 '13 at 14:09
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    And, as with the bean-crushing thing, the improvements likely started as accidents. (I mean, seriously: who in their right mind would try to "juice" a shrivelled-up dried bean rather than chop/grind it for infusion? Snape's discovery was likely a fortunate slip of the hand that he decided to run with.) – Stan Rogers Apr 7 '14 at 22:18
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The potions books are not actually misleading, and Hermione can make the draught, it just takes longer than when Harry makes it with the help of Snape's side-notes. The reason for that is: Potion recipes are like regular food recipes, while the recipe is the same, the potions masters (just like the cooking chefs) don't follow the recipes and do something in a way to make the recipe faster or more powerful. For example, in one of the side-notes, Snape says that crushing an ingredient with the side of the knife is more efficient than cutting it, which makes Harry go through that point of the recipe faster, while Hermione, who follows the original recipe, uses a less efficient method, which leads to taking longer to complete a step.

So, again, the text books are not misleading, they just don't have, necessarily, the best way to do something.

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Hermione is able to make her draught, and Slughorn approved of it, as is clear from the relevant passage in Half-Blood Prince.

Hermione's potion he gave an approving nod.

It's just not perfect. This is to be expected, even of someone who is a decent potions-maker and follows the textbook. As Slughorn tells them when they start:

We have a little over an hour left to us, which should be time for you to make a decent attempt at the Draught of Living Death. I know it is more complex than anything you have attempted before, and I do not expect a perfect potion from anybody.

Thus, the textbook is not inherently misleading. It's just that under the specific circumstances even someone as good as Hermione can't get a perfect potion by following the book.

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