As Clear as Water

by Erez R. 

The introduction of new potions has been a motif throughout the Harry Potter series. In Chamber of Secrets, we were first introduced to the Polyjuice Potion, and following it came the Wolfsbane Potion and Veritaserum. Following tradition, with the release of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, we were introduced to a wide variety of new potions: the love-inducing Amortentia, lucky Felix Felicis, and finally an ominous-looking, glowing, emerald green potion. Yet, unlike the rest of the potions, the latter’s identity remains shrouded in mystery.

Although there is no clear information about the mysterious potion in the cave, we learn the following about it after reading the book: This potion’s surface had a phosphorescent green glow. This potion had something hidden beneath it, and any physical contact with it was forbidden. This potion weakened Dumbledore after he’d been forced to drink it.

I deduced that this potion’s purpose was to simply weaken the foe who would try to get the Horcrux. I thought that Voldemort placed the potion there as another obstacle to the intruder, a means to fiddle with his mind, so he could not steal the Horcrux. It was only recently that I understood how right I was — and how terribly wrong.

The green potion in the basin did have a green glow. The locket Horcrux was hidden beneath it, and an invisible, inflexible barrier prevented Harry and Dumbledore from touching it. Dumbledore was forced to drink it in order to get the Horcrux, and it weakened him, making him hallucinate and see things which made him want to stop drinking.

But was that the green potion’s real purpose? To only weaken Dumbledore, rendering him unable to take the Horcrux? Or was there more to it? What did it make him want, ultimately?

Water,” croaked Dumbledore.”
– HBP, British edition, pg. 536

Dumbledore asks for water. After he pleads with Harry to make it stop, after he pleads with Harry to kill him, Dumbledore asks for water. Why?

A desperate Harry quickly obeys and fills the crystal goblet with water from his own wand. Alas, as the filled goblet approaches Dumbledore’s mouth, the water in it persistently vanishes. Obviously, this is another defense mechanism of Voldemort’s that forces the person who drinks the green potion to then drink water from the lake and wake up the Inferi.

Again, is that all there is to it? Or maybe there is more to it than meets the eye? Is the awakening of the Inferi another diversion created to cover something else up? Remember what Dumbledore said in the cave:

“…[Voldemort] would not want immediately to kill the person who reached this island,” Dumbledore corrected himself. “He would want to keep them alive long enough to find out how they managed to penetrate so far through his defences…”
– pg. 532

So, if Dumbledore was right, and Voldemort did not want the trespasser immediately to die, then what purpose would drinking water specifically from the lake serve?

Clues that may answer this question are hidden in Chapter 26. Several lines in this chapter describe a strange behavior of the water in the lake:

Harry looked back at the water. The surface of the lake was once more shining black glass: the ripples had vanished unnaturally fast.”
– pg. 525Harry gasped as the ghostly prow of a tiny boat broke the surface, glowing as green as the chain, and floated, with barely a ripple, towards the place on the bank where Harry and Dumbledore stood.
– pg. 526

These descriptions are highly suspicious, and clearly imply that something about this water is abnormal, unnatural. But what is it?

Before we ponder over this suspicious combination of facts, let us go back to an earlier part of the book, to the first lesson with Professor Slughorn. In this lesson, we learn about the Felix Felicis potion, which plays a big role later in the book. Slughorn then announces a competition, in which the students will do their best to try and concoct a mixture of asphodel and wormwood. The winner will receive a vial containing twelve hours of liquid luck.

Now you must ask yourselves, what does this have to do with the water in the cave? Your guess would have been as good as mine, had I not noticed a tiny, negligible piece of information given while Harry made the mixture of asphodel and wormwood. A tiny, almost invisible, piece of information which made all the difference:

His annoyance with the previous owner vanishing on the spot, Harry now squinted at the next line of instructions. According to the book, he had to stir counter-clockwise until the potion turned clear as water.
– pp. 180-181

Clear as water. Why was the behavior of the water in the cave unnatural? Because it was not water, it was a potion, clear as water, a mixture of asphodel and wormwood. And what is a mixture of asphodel and wormwood, you ask? Well, Severus Snape has done us a favor and sneeringly provided this piece of information in the first book:

“For your information, Potter, asphodel and wormwood make a sleeping potion so powerful it is known as the Draught of Living Death.”
-PS, British edition, pg. 103

The mysterious potion in the basin, then, was nothing other than a concoction to make its drinker crave water. But its properties parallel the real culprit in the cave: It was untouchable and hid something beneath its surface.

The “water” in the lake certainly hid something: Inferi, the living dead. Touching it was also forbidden, lest the intruder awaken the Inferi.

Dumbledore was forced to drink “water” from the lake, inasmuch as the green potion fulfilled its real purpose and aroused Dumbledore’s need to drink, thus forcing him to drink from the lake as there was no other source of water available. This potion weakened Dumbledore, made him drowsy, and slowly exhausted him until, if what Snape said was true, he would fall into a deep long sleep.

All these facts seem to lead to one conclusion, and they all make sense. Furthermore, what makes my belief in this theory even stronger is that J.K. herself put clues that relate Dumbledore to sleeping and carefully chooses words that imply sleeping in the events that follow Dumbledore’s and Harry’s departure from the cave:

Dumbledore closed his eyes again and nodded, as though he was about to fall asleep.
– HBP, British edition, pg. 550“Think your little jokes’ll help you on your death bed, then?”
– pg. 553

Dumbledore’s eyes were closed; but for the strange angle of his arms and legs, he might have been sleeping.
– pg. 568

In its place was a white marble tomb, encasing Dumbledore’s body and the table on which he had rested.
– (Editor’s note: The author omitted the British edition page number, but the line can be found in Chapter 30, “The White Tomb.”)

This also answers the question of how Voldemort will keep his victim alive long enough to find out how he got through the obstacles. After drinking the green potion, in an attempt to steal the Horcrux, the intruder would feel a dire need to drink water, and after drinking from the lake — not water, but the Draught of Living Death — he would fall into a long sleep until Voldemort found him.

Concerning Dumbledore’s death, this theory may foreshadow what will happen to Hogwarts’ devoted headmaster, if he’s not dead. I would not say that this theory alone proves Dumbledore did not die, as I have no explanation as to how he would have survived Snape’s Avada Kedavra. However, from an author’s perspective, hiding such an important piece of information so brilliantly and meticulously, just to kill Dumbledore later and have it all worth nothing, seems absolutely redundant. There is a possibility that Dumbledore is indeed dead, but the possibility that Dumbledore is in his tomb, sleeping an eternal sleep after unknowingly drinking the Draught of Living Death, without anyone we know of knowing about it, seems plausible to me all the same.

In conclusion, I think that we all can be assured that the potion that ultimately weakened Dumbledore in the cave was not the green potion but the Draught of Living Death, which was so cunningly and cleverly disguised as water by the literary genius, J.K. Rowling. How this important piece of information will be woven into the plot, we shall only find out once the seventh book hits shelves.
— You may contact the author at erezr868 at nana dot co dot il.