This potion has been interwoven into the very fabric of HBP and has sparked discussions as to its ability to alter lives and the world. A friend of mine, for instance, contends that if he were a wizard, he would have some on him at all times in order to take best advantage of whatever arose. He further wondered why Voldemort and Dumbledore aren’t constantly chugging it in attempts to have that lucky day in which they defeat their foes in one rush. I believe that it is of key importance to understand the true nature of Felix Felicis, in the Harry Potter world as well as in ours.
I think it is prudent, therefore, to look into what the potion represents as Rowling has created it. She has often used fantastical objects, spells, and creatures to represent powerful themes in our world. We had the dementors as depression, the Imperius curse as domination and will, the Cruciatus curse as pain, and the Mirror of Erised was a reflection on desires and how they can envelope our minds, etc. She finds ways to create these links in order to correct our impressions at times.
With Felix, it’s about luck. That is what we are told. Wouldn’t it seem so much like Rowling to have a message behind something that the world is so plagued in obsession with, like luck? In a way, it reminds me heavily of the Mirror of Erised, it has the promise of success. You drink this and it will work, whatever it is. Recall the greedy look in Malfoy’s eyes when Professor Slughorn spoke of it. We all know what he would have used that for. Yet, it seems to me that luck is too vague a term for what this potion brings.
True, I must confess, much of magic deals in vagaries, what with examples of happiness in the Patronus and love behind that door. In fact, the entire area of the Department of Mysteries is steeped in this realm of the unknown. Yet, I stray from my point.
Let me quantify what we see the potion allegedly doing. When Harry uses it (the only time we see the world from the eyes of a drinker) he A) feels confident that everything will work out B) loses sight of end goals and concentrates on what he is doing right then C) has an increased sense of understanding as to what he should do next and D) takes necessary risks. For examples of all of these, he A) directly describes this feeling B) ignores any worries about meeting Slughorn and follows his instinct to see Hagrid C) describes these instantaneous decisions based on a sort of instinctual urge and D) several of his actions were indeed risky, regardless of how he felt, but his instinct drove him through.
I must point out that Slughorn mentioned taking the potion too much is dangerous. One becomes overconfident. If it is “liquid luck, then that would not matter, would it? If you drank luck and became lucky in all that you did, it would not matter that you were overconfident because it would work out. Therefore, it must be assumed that the potion is not an infallible tool for achieving your goals. It creates a situation in which you feel the traits above (which I am about to analyze more thoroughly) and act in a manner more befitting success.
A bolstered sense of confidence is useful in many situations (provided you do not have too much). Ron learns this one first hand in the first Quidditch match of the year. He expects his luck to improve and feels a confidence that allows him to succeed. He generally lacks confidence (a major character weakness of his) and with that remedied, he plays as well as he is able. I must state that this is a trait that can obviously be improved by the mind. A more experienced person would know their limitations and strengths, play to those strengths, and have confidence in the skills they were born with.
As we saw with the Mirror of Erised, eyes fixed too tightly upon the prize can be a negative thing. How did that old song go from a Christmas video? “Put one foot in front of the other,” right Adam? Careful attention to detail and tactics can enable a broader strategy to succeed. You must not lose sight completely of your end goal, but focusing too heavily on it will inevitably make it more difficult to achieve. Harry, as we have been told by Snape, lacks subtlety. Hermione sees this as she tells him he should not just openly approach Slughorn to get the potion. He had to convince him, carefully, that what Slughorn could give him was important, vital, in fact, and that it could undo whatever damage it had done. Harry’s open attempts to corner Slughorn drew him no closer to his goals. He came closest to Slughorn when he was meeting him with other motives (helping Ron or seeing if he would go to Aragog’s funeral). It is pretty clear that a more experienced person would have seen this and approached it much more differently than Harry did at first. Dumbledore saw this was the way he had to do it, and perhaps knew that Harry would have to learn this in his attempts. Dumbledore is a teacher after all.
When Harry was using the potion he seemed to know what to say, when to say it, and where at. I think he gives too much credit to the potion itself in the sense of it knowing what to do. It is a potion. It can only enhance or detract from the skills he has, as a rule. So, inside, he had the potential to know what to do. We know, earlier, that he saw and recognized the tactful way Voldemort had manipulated people in conversation (especially when speaking with Slughorn). He knew the people he would be interacting with (Slughorn and Hagrid) and knew how each of them was. He knew, in a sense, how to act to push things in the direction most favorable of both of them opening up to such powerful drinking.
The only moment, I can see, that does not mesh perfectly with this theory is when Harry feels the need to walk along by the greenhouses and meets Slughorn there. This is an issue. How could he know where Slughorn would be? I have a couple of ideas, but no firm decision on how to treat this. First, he may have heard – as a side comment or other minute – word that Slughorn would be there or knew that Slughorn had to retrieve that sort of plant for a class as it was at that point in the year that they had that lesson and knew (somewhere inside) that it had to be done at that time of day. This would infer that his ability to put assorted facts together had increased manifold. This thought supports my theory. Another is that you become more in touch with your memories than you could otherwise be. As we know, the Pensieve can show you things stored in memory that you may not have been conscious of at the time, but are still stored in your mind. If, like the Pensieve, this potion gave one an innate connection with the subconscious knowledge, Harry may have pulled from a memory at dinner. Had Slughorn asked Professor Sprout to help him with the picking that evening at dinner, this would make sense. Both of these ideas are a bit extravagant and point at some amazing power in the potion, but so does the concept of it actually making the choice by pure luck. If it is not pure luck that drives this part, then we can assume a wizard with a more organized mind could piece together enough to do much better than Harry would have without the potion.
Risks…we take them all the time, sometimes aware of them and sometimes not. When we become aware of them, we often founder and shrink from the danger (physical, mental, or social) inherent in the choice to take the risk. This aspect seems to have given Harry more will to accept the risk and do what he had the feeling he needed to do. Speaking to Slughorn about his mother’s death was risky, as was revealing himself to a teacher outside of school after hours; however, he took the risk and the results worked in his favor. I would imagine Dumbledore, risk averse as he is in regards to those he loves (like Harry), often takes necessary risks (like alienating himself from the Ministry in order to get the word out of Voldemort’s return).
When Hermione, Ron, Ginny, and maybe others took some of the potion near the climax, we find a different sort of result. Ron, admittedly, screwed up. Hermione let Snape go by. The only thing we are told is that Ginny contributes their survival to taking the potion. If the potion had created a lucky situation for them, Ron would have bumped into the Aurors, told them the situation, found a way into the Room of Requirement, and sealed the Cabinet before the DEs had come across. That would have been lucky. Following my template above, I can see little value that Ron could have gained from confidence or risk taking. And as they were uncertain of what they were looking for in the long term (the vague goal of stopping Malfoy not being very strong) the focus on the current time would not as well. The third part, admittedly, is a little hard to interpret. However, as they only knew that Malfoy was in there doing something, they did not have any insight into how he entered and did not therefore have a way of connecting the dots to find Malfoy in there. Ron did not see Trelawney going to hide the bottles in there like Harry did.
Hermione, I believe, was blinded by her insistent belief that Snape would not turn on them. Like everyone but Harry, she trusted Dumbledore’s confidence in him until he killed Dumbledore. No amount of logical insight would have changed her feeling at that moment, even if she could have done something about it.
As for Ginny contributing their survival to the potion, I feel that was more like Ron in Quidditch. By that point, I seriously doubt the potion was active in their systems. Further, a year previous they had battled with DEs and lived – gaining a year of further experience in spell casting and general technique. They did that on their own. Perhaps they simply felt more confidence with luck potion in their systems.
So, sorry to those who would keep a bottle handy at all times, I really believe that this potion is only beneficial in helping you with your great weaknesses if they reside in the areas above. A wizard like Dumbledore or Voldemort would simply not need it. They are wise, strategic, confident, and take necessary risks. In the end, it really just shows you where you need to improve, a thing you can do within your own mind.