The Potion Puzzle: Unraveling Snape’s Enigma


In “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone,” our young heroes, Harry, Hermione, and Ron, face a series of daunting challenges to reach the Sorcerer’s Stone. One of the most intriguing obstacles they encounter is Snape’s potion puzzle, a cleverly designed test guarding the Stone. This article delves into the step-by-step analysis of the puzzle, Hermione’s insightful deductions, and the two possible solutions that emerge from the enigma.

The Potion Puzzle Text:

Upon reaching the underground chambers beneath Hogwarts, Harry, Hermione, and Ron are met with a line of seven differently shaped bottles, each containing a potion. An accompanying riddle reads as follows:

“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.”

Step-by-Step Analysis:

  1. Constants of the Puzzle: The potion puzzle text reveals some constants: two bottles hold nettle wine, three bottles contain poison, one bottle moves the drinker forward, and another bottle moves the drinker backward. This information provides a foundation for Hermione’s analysis.
  2. Identifying Safe Bottles: Hermione quickly identifies that the two bottles at the ends of the line have different contents. These bottles are safe to drink. She also recognizes that the two bottles holding nettle wine are safe, regardless of which one they choose.
  3. Positioning Poison and Wine: The riddle indicates that there is always poison to the left of nettle wine. Hermione deduces that the bottle at the left end of the line (Position 1) contains poison, and the bottle at the right end (Position 7) is the potion that moves the drinker backward through the purple flame.
  4. Possibilities for Positions 3 and 4: With Positions 1 and 7 determined, three bottles remain in the middle. One of these contains poison, and the other contains the potion that moves the drinker forward. However, without visual cues, such as the actual sizes of the bottles, it is not possible to definitively identify which bottle is which.

Two Possible Solutions:

  1. No Sequential Like Elements: One solution involves arranging the bottles to ensure no two sequential positions have the same contents. In this scenario, the layout is as follows:

    1: Poison
    2: Wine
    3: Poison (Forward)
    4: Wine
    5: Poison
    6: Wine
    7: Backward Potion

  2. Symmetric Mirror Pattern: The other solution involves using the middle position (Position 4) as a “reset,” creating a symmetric mirror pattern on either side. The layout in this scenario is as follows:

    1: Poison
    2: Wine
    3: Forward Potion
    4: Poison (Reset)
    5: Poison
    6: Wine
    7: Backward Potion


Snape’s potion puzzle stands as a testament to the complexities and creativity of the magical world. Hermione’s sharp wit and analytical skills led her to deduce crucial information about the puzzle, but the true solution remains inconclusive without the knowledge of the bottles’ sizes.

The puzzle’s text challenges readers and characters alike, offering multiple possibilities for solving the enigma. As one of the many remarkable trials faced by Harry and his friends, Snape’s potion puzzle leaves us captivated and engaged with the intricacies of the wizarding world.

Ultimately, the journey through the potion puzzle showcases the brilliance of Professor Snape, who designed a test that required both logical thinking and attention to detail. As readers continue to explore the magical realm of Harry Potter, Snape’s puzzle remains a compelling reminder of the cleverness and ingenuity that abound in J.K. Rowling’s beloved series.