Felix Felicis – Part 3: How Felix Works
In Part 2, we discussed all the ways in which Felix Felicis does not work. We have come away with the conclusion that Felix is only able to affect the actions of the person who drinks it. So now, patient readers, it is time to get into the nitty-gritty of how Felix does work.
Location, Location, Location!
Recall how we discussed events when Harry seems to run into people at just the right moment. Notice that, of those events, almost every single one is attached to words about Harry moving at some irregular speed. Felix is not lining things up to convenience Harry; rather, it’s directing Harry to move so that he’ll be in the right place at the right time. Think of Felix Felicis as a schoolwide GPS system: It knows where everyone is, what direction they’re moving, and at what speed. Given that information, it directs Harry where to go.
#1: Harry gets a good feeling about going to Hagrid’s because Slughorn is on the Hogwarts grounds.
#2: Harry dons the Invisibility Cloak and leaves the dormitory with “Ron and Hermione hurrying along behind him” (HBP 478). The fact that Ron and Hermione are “hurrying along” implies Harry is moving quickly: Felix is directing him to hurry so Lavender (who is currently in the common room) can catch Ron and Hermione leaving the dorm. Lavender’s jealousy of Hermione is predictable enough to Felix that Felix leads Harry to do this.
#3: Harry “darted across the room” in order to catch Dean and Ginny on their way through the portrait hole (HBP 478). Recall that Ginny “said he was always trying to help her through the portrait hole, like she couldn’t climb in herself” (HBP 514). Therefore, Felix can predict this would cause a row, knows that Ginny and Dean are about to go through the portrait hole, and makes Harry move quickly so as to catch them.
#4: Harry’s impression is that the castle is empty. In actuality, Felix knows where everyone is and is steering Harry along the routes where he won’t meet anyone. It’s just like Harry is subconsciously using the Marauder’s Map (which has similar magic to Felix in that it can track everyone’s location and movements). It’s not like Harry is walking through the Great Hall and it happens to be empty – this isn’t luck but navigation skills.
#6: Here, we get the most overt language about how Felix’s navigation system directs Harry. It occurs to Harry “how very pleasant it would be to pass the vegetable patch on his walk to Hagrid’s. It was not strictly on the way, but it seemed clear to Harry that this was a whim on which he should act” (HBP 479). Of course, he finds Slughorn, who (after chatting with Professor Sprout) “directed his steps to the spot where Harry stood, invisible” (HBP 479). Felix knew where Slughorn was and directs Harry to go that way even though the route isn’t strictly logical.
In fact, that’s the reason Harry picks up on it this time. In #2 through #4, Harry wasn’t going anywhere he wouldn’t go otherwise: out of the dorm, through the portrait hole, through the castle. Consequently, he doesn’t notice that Felix is directing his movements. In this case, because he goes out of his way, he does notice.
Were Ginny and Dean further away at the moment, Felix would have made Harry kneel down to tie his shoes extra tight before setting off. If Lavender had still been at dinner, maybe Felix would have had Harry sit around gabbing with Ron and Hermione for another ten minutes.
This is a good way to look at Felix, considering Hermione’s later assessment of the potion’s effects: “Luck can only get you so far, Harry. The situation with Slughorn was different; you always had the ability to persuade him, you just needed to tweak the circumstances a bit” (HBP 517). Felix couldn’t change the circumstances; it could only move Harry to take advantage of where people happened to be. After all, timing is everything.
This geolocating magic is impressive all on its own, enough to make Felix a coveted potion among wizards. But that is not Felix’s only magic – otherwise, Jo could have had Harry pay close attention to the Marauder’s Map and call it a day. The other branch of Felix’s magic has to do with a sort of magical intuition: directing the drinker regarding what to do or say for best results.
Once Felix has gotten Harry in position with Slughorn, we see this other magic kick in. Felix seems to be giving Harry a nudge in pretty much all the events from #7 to #16, the ones when Harry is with Slughorn and has to wheedle the memory out of him.
Some of them are relatively mundane. For example, #8 – Harry doesn’t need much magical intuition to tattle on Filch. And Harry isn’t much of a boozehound, so even though Felix told him not to drink in #11, that’s just plain common sense. (It’s also fascinating which actions Harry explicitly attributes to Felix, but that’s getting further into psychology than I have the expertise for.) Similarly, in #10, Felix tells Harry to tell Hagrid that Slughorn is coming. But how much magical intuition was needed for that given that Slughorn was, in fact, coming?
Felix helps make Harry more observant. Contrary to fandom stereotypes, Harry is very observant when he cares to be. So in #12, Felix just nudges him to notice the alcohol is running out.
#12 is also an interesting data point regarding the limitations of Felix’s influence. Up to this point, we don’t see Felix influencing anyone’s magical abilities. But once Harry notices the dwindling supply of booze, he has to do something about it.
Harry had not yet managed to bring off the Refilling Charm without saying the incantation aloud, but the idea that he might not be able to do it tonight was laughable.” (HBP 487)
At first glance, this seems like Felix is allowing Harry to do magic that he ordinarily couldn’t. But I think a close reading would suggest the opposite. The statement implies that Harry could do the Refilling Charm if he says the incantation aloud. And Harry can more or less do nonverbal spells in general.1 So it’s just a tiny nudge to combine the two skills, and the placebo effect of Felix’s confidence probably did much of the legwork.
This is actually similar to Ron excelling athletically when he thought he took Felix. Felix could not actually make Ron a better Quidditch player than he is at his personal best even if Harry had slipped him the genuine article. But confidence can work wonders in these situations.
So now we know how Felix Felicis does work: as a combination of magical GPS and a helpful angel on your shoulder, directing you what to do. In the latter half of this series, we are going to zero in on certain events to refine our understanding of Felix’s effects and limitations since there is enough information in the text to give us an incredibly detailed user manual to liquid luck.
Next up: “Conversing with Slughorn”
1 Harry “was still having difficulty with nonverbal spells” (HBP 239) in the first few weeks of term, but this takes place half a year after that statement. If Harry were wholly incapable of the nonverbal spells that are “expected, not only in Defense Against the Dark Arts, but in Charms and Transfiguration too” (HBP 217), we’d have been hearing a lot more about his academic woes throughout Half-Blood Prince.