The Horcrux Potion

by Bizzy Green

What on earth was in that stone basin guarding the locket? Perhaps it is another of JKR’’s famous red-herrings, but it is also possible that knowing what strange potion affected Dumbledore so severely could tell us a lot about Voldemort and how he works. *Note: all citations are from the UK adult version.

First, here’s what we know about the potion:

  • It’;s a glowing emerald green.
  • It cannot be “penetrated by hand, Vanished, parted, scooped up or siphoned away, nor can it be Transfigured, Charmed or otherwise made to change its nature” (pg. 531).
  • It can be removed from the basin by a conjured crystal goblet.
  • It can be drunk, i.e. removed from said goblet into the mouth of another being.
  • Not all of the potion needs to be drunk for the Horcrux to be removed.
  • It produces the following symptoms: weakness, loss of balance, delirium, fear, screaming, shortness of breath, weakness of character, loss of physical control, despair, and extreme thirst. Some of these may be further signs of delirium rather than symptoms in and of themselves.

Of course, we are taking Dumbledore’’s word that drinking the potion is truly the only way to get rid of it; personally I can think of a dozen other things I would have at least tried before I drank anything that beastly looking (pouring the stuff out of the goblet onto the floor, conjuring a dozen goblets and simply filling one at a time and lining them up, conjuring some unfortunate animal and having it drink the potion –cruel, yes, but better a stray dog than Dumbledore!). However, JKR often uses Dumbledore, and other figures, as her authoritative voice, and so we must assume that, despite the railings of logic, the Headmaster is right, and that all my ideas would have failed.

We are not told how much potion is left in the basin when Dumbledore scoops out the locket, but it was never fully emptied. Harry turned to refill the goblet when Dumbledore asked for water and they never took any more potion out of the basin. This suggests that only a certain amount of the potion must be drunk and that the enchantments over the Horcrux may allow the surface to be ‘penetrated by hand’ and the locket removed once a certain amount is drunk.

Now, it is the symptoms that are the most intriguing. For the most part, the effects are not unexpected, at least not coming from a potion left by Voldemort for some unknown person making an attempt on his life (why else would they want the Horcrux?). Weakness, uncontrollable fear, spasms, and delirium are all things that would prevent all but the most determined and powerful of wizards from achieving the goal and getting the Horcrux.

But the truly interesting effect is the delirium. Dumbledore has never once, in my recollection, been persuaded to change his mind or opinion or give ground, and yet this potion overcomes even his awe-inspiring willpower, drive, and apparently his hold on sanity. This proves the power of the potion is strong enough to not just overcome Dumbledore’’s body, which is quite old, but to overcome his mind! That is some freaky, powerful stuff. That Dumbledore would, even for a moment, forget the task at hand and its significance is mind-boggling! What is perhaps more curious is trying to decipher the kind of hallucinations brought on by the potion. Through Dumbledore’’s drunken pleadings to Harry, we see the following things: him pleading that Harry make something stop, that Harry not make him do something; agonizing that something is his fault and that he’’ll never do it again if Harry makes something stop; pleading for Harry not to hurt someone and offering himself instead; saying he’’ll do anything to avoid something; and finally, asking for death. In all these cases the ‘something’ seems to be very specific in Dumbledore’’s mind, though we are never given any information on what exactly he is referring to in any case.

It is almost impossible to tell exactly what is happening here, but I have come up with a few possibilities, so me more far-fetched than others…

Option One: these delusions are Dumbledore’s memories. This seems rather unlikely. Even if Dumbledore had gone through anything so horrible that it produces such nonsensical fear, Dumbledore’’s character is so strong it is almost unthinkable that he would react so poorly. The things that Dumbledore fears are not the type of things that would produce that kind of response, that kind of desperation. Logically it makes sense that Dumbledore would fear failure, specifically Harry’’s failure and Voldemort’’s success more than anything, and he has demonstrated that he is not afraid of personal suffering either physical or mental, which is more likely to produce the reaction he gives here.

Option Two: these delusions are somehow memories or echoes of Voldemort’’s victims. This is perhaps the likeliest of my theories, though the supporting evidence is merely circumstantial in that the mutterings of Dumbledore would make sense coming from someone in Voldemort’’s power. Either being tortured (Dumbledore at one point cowers “as though invisible torturers surrounded him” p. 535), or being made to do something unpleasant, like a reluctant Death Eater or a victim of Imperius. The only shady thing is Dumbledore insisting, ““It’’s all my fault, all my fault,”” as though he were truly horrified and repentant for whatever he had done. Even in a Death-Eater I find it hard to imagine such sincere babbling repentance in front of Voldemort.

Option Three: the potion contains echoes of Voldemort’’s splintered soul. This does not really make a whole lot of sense, but I write about it just to cover the options. What even suggested this to me was the same line quoted above, displaying horror at crimes committed. We are told that each time Voldemort splintered his soul he became less human, losing those human emotions and emotional capabilities that make us human, such as love, pity, and remorse. Other than this line, I can find nothing else at all substantial to support this theory, but it’s just to get us all thinking.

The last thought that occurred to me was that this potion, if left to work itself out, would turn the drinker into an Inferi. What suggested this was Harry’’s certain fear that the Inferi would drag him down in the lake and he would “become one more dead guardian of a fragment of Voldemort’’s shattered soul” (p. 538). Of course, had Dumbledore not saved him, he would certainly have drowned, but why would that make him an Inferi, wouldn’’t he be merely dead? But it could very well be an intended fate for an intruder into the cave.

Option Four: imagine, the potion first causes extreme trauma to the drinker, enough to muddle the senses exceedingly, then, being very thirsty, the intruder crawls to the lake and takes a drink, forgetting (if he ever knew) that disturbing the water would call out the undead guardians, who then drag the unfortunate into the lake and drown him, at which point, the potion having done its work, the corpse becomes part of the protection for the Horcrux. If this is the case, then Harry and Dumbledore had a very narrow escape. Harry was, of course, saved by Dumbledore’’s fire spell, but there is no guarantee that another wizard would have been able to perform such a spell in that condition, nor that the Inferi wouldn’’t have gotten hold of Dumbledore before then if Harry hadn’’t held them off for a few crucial seconds allowing Dumbledore to recover sufficiently. Dumbledore’’s fervent insistence to find Snape as soon as they returned to Hogwarts, and the fact that his energy continued to drain, could mean that the potion would eventually have killed him, and potentially turned him into an Inferi anyway. The biggest inherent flaw in this theory is that Dumbledore is most definitely dead and safely enclosed in a white tomb, and unless Avada Kedavra somehow counteracts the Inferi potion, Dumbledore would be an undead zombie.

Will we ever know what kind of freaky stuff Voldie uses to protect his preciouuussss? Unless it’’s plot crucial, which I doubt, but I think it is a very interesting and potentially revealing question nonetheless. I would love to hear what you all think on this! You can e-mail me at bizzy4god247 at hotmail dot com.