Felix Felicis – Part 5: Fight with the Fat Lady
Please note, we’ll be diving deep into the workings of Felix Felicis here, so I would urge you to keep Part 1 open in a separate tab to reference as needed. We’ll be discussing #17 and #18 specifically in this editorial.
I also recommend reading the prior installments of this Felix Felicis series first. Recall that, in Part 3, we discussed how Felix Felicis works, and we came away with two important facets of Felix’s magic: It knows where everyone is and can direct the drinker’s movements accordingly; it also serves as a magical intuition and directs the drinker to do certain things for a favorable outcome.
These two things are used impressively in combination with each other as a final hurrah in Harry’s Felix-fueled night: getting Harry and the memory to Albus Dumbledore ASAP.
A Complex Route
We discussed earlier how Felix Felicis can function as a GPS to get Harry where he needs to be. Perhaps the most impressive bits of navigation Felix does are #17 and #18 because it’s a multi-step route. On “the third floor he met Peeves and only narrowly avoided detection by diving sideways through one of his shortcuts.” Taking this shortcut gets him to the Fat Lady presumably sooner than expected – where Nick is gliding by moments later when they’re arguing about Dumbledore.
Now we can see Felix’s hand: It directed Harry to the third floor, knowing Peeves was there, which made Harry dive through the shortcut. This allowed Harry to be in position when Nick glides by. Felix knows Nick is nearby and gliding in a direction that goes past the Fat Lady, and Felix also knows that Nick has found out about Dumbledore’s return and would share that information.
This tells us something about Felix: that it prefers to be unobtrusive, all other things being equal. Maybe part of this is to further the aims of the drinker. It is rarely helpful for other people to know the drinker has taken Felix, so Felix makes them behave as naturally as possible. (Another reason I loathe the film interpretation of this chapter.)
Felix could have made Harry sprint to catch Nearly Headless Nick elsewhere and strike up a conversation: “Hey, Nick, gosh, I sure wish Dumbledore were around…” Or it could have made Harry just “have a good feeling” about trying to go to Dumbledore’s office in the middle of the night. Those were probably Felix’s backup plans but far better to just get Harry in position near the Fat Lady and let things play out.
Felix’s Predictive Power
What sets Felix apart from the Marauder’s Map and things like Wit-Sharpening Potions is that it seems to be able to predict other people’s behavior, like we saw with Slughorn. Part of Felix’s ability to predict behavior comes from the fact that it knows what other people know, as evidenced by Nick’s knowledge of Dumbledore’s whereabouts factoring into Felix’s plan.
This is a big part of its magic – knowing all these things and giving the drinker directions accordingly. It’s interesting how Felix’s magic works here. Instead of imparting this omniscience to the drinker, it withholds the information but uses it to give instruction. At no point does Harry know things he otherwise wouldn’t while drinking Felix, but he still acts in a way to capitalize on those things.
In any event, Felix does seem to predict, with a high degree of specificity, the Fat Lady’s conversation with Harry in #18.
‘What sort of time do you call this?’
‘I’m really sorry – I had to go out for something important -‘
‘Well the password changed at midnight, so you’ll just have to sleep in the corridor, won’t you?’
‘You’re joking!’ said Harry. ‘Why did it have to change at midnight?’
‘That’s the way it is,’ said the Fat Lady. ‘If you’re angry, go and take it up with the headmaster, he’s the one who tightened security.’
‘Fantastic,’ said Harry bitterly, looking around at the hard floor. ‘Really brilliant. Yeah, I would go and take it up with Dumbledore if he was here, because he’s the one who wanted me to -‘
‘He is here,’ said [Nearly Headless Nick].” (HBP 492–93)
The conversation needs to be about Dumbledore’s absence at the exact moment Nick is floating by, which is not at all a natural consequence of a grumpy Fat Lady and sassy Harry butting heads. But Felix thought this was the most sensible way for Harry to find out Dumbledore is back, so it must have been very confident in how this conversation would go.
Out of Character
This is more impressive than it seems because both the Fat Lady and Harry behave in unprecedented ways here. Calling this an “unhelpful mood” is actually a wild exaggeration – the Fat Lady never, at any other point in the books, refuses entry when given the password. Harry has been out this late a handful of times (though perhaps not quite as often as fandom stereotypes would suggest), and there’s usually no mention of the Fat Lady interfering.
Twice, we do see her reaction. In Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone Chapter 9, “The Midnight Duel,” she seems more inclined to lecture the students:
‘Where on earth have you all been?’ she asked, looking at their bathrobes hanging off their shoulders and their flushed, sweaty faces.
‘Never mind that – pig snout, pig snout,’ panted Harry, and the portrait swung forward.” (SS 161)
In this case, the Fat Lady was still awake, given that she’d just been visiting with a friend when the intrepid first years left the common room. There’s also less strictness all around. Hogwarts security is laughable in Book 1, and the first years haven’t reached the “they ought to know better” stage of their relationship with the Fat Lady.
The only other instance she’s mentioned after a late-night sojourn is in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire Chapter 19, “The Hungarian Horntail,” when Harry returns just before 1:00 a.m. after Hagrid shows him the dragons. In this instance, she was snoozing, so “she muttered sleepily, without opening her eyes, and the picture swung forward to admit him” (GoF 330).
So one wonders what precisely put her into such an unhelpful mood. But if we look at the conversation, this may be an instance when Harry’s sass actually hurt more than helped. After his other late-night larks, Harry never tries to justify himself to the Fat Lady; in general, he’s never rude to her. Their conversation begins this time as if it’s leading to a lecture, but then Harry tries to justify himself with “I had to go out for something important” instead of just accepting the Fat Lady’s admonition. This appears to be what sets her off.
While Harry is at his sassiest in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, the rest of this conversation is somewhat out of character for him. Harry doesn’t usually question how the passwords work, especially since resetting them at midnight seems a perfectly reasonable thing to do, but here he whines about “[w]hy did it have to change…?” This serves as the perfect cue for the Fat Lady to bring up Dumbledore.
Then, once again, Harry acts in a way most unlike him: expressing intent to complain to Dumbledore about something that inconvenienced him. This is the boy who let Umbridge carve words into his hand rather than go to Dumbledore, yet he’s going to go to Dumbledore about this? It all reads a bit Draco-ish. “Wait ‘til my headmaster hears about this!” But saying those words cues up Nick to tell him Dumbledore is back.
So while Harry does not appear cognizant of Felix guiding this conversation, assuming the sass just comes naturally, I’m left in little doubt that Felix has planned out every line.
- Fat Lady begins to lecture Harry about the late hour.
- Harry justifies himself, which pisses her off even further.
- Fat Lady refuses entrance.
- Harry goads her by questioning the decision.
- Fat Lady tells him to take it up with Dumbledore, whose decisions are mostly unimpeachable to students.
- Harry says he does want to talk to her supervisor but can’t because Dumbledore is gone.
- Nick hears this and tells Harry that Dumbledore is back.
Nick’s role here isn’t hard to suss out: Felix knows that Nick usually tries to be helpful to Harry, so if he hears that Harry wants to see Dumbledore, he’ll relay the relevant information.
But this all requires Felix to predict the Fat Lady’s behavior to a much more exact degree than Slughorn’s or anyone else’s that we see. Even with Slughorn, as we’ve seen in Part 4, his interaction with Harry doesn’t need to go word-perfect in one particular way to get the memory.
I think we can attribute Felix’s heightened predictive powers here to the Fat Lady’s lack of complex motivation. Jo has said on several occasions that portraits are not fully realized echoes of the people painted: “It is not like being a ghost. They repeat catchphrases, almost.” So Felix isn’t predicting exactly how a person will converse but rather the way an online chatbot might.
Nonetheless, the exact sequence here presents a sort of upper bound of Felix’s powers. Felix has to plan out this conversation specifically enough to guide Harry to the Fat Lady with exactly enough time to have this back-and-forth, nudge him into saying what’s needed at the exact right moment, and get him to Dumbledore’s office with no one being the wiser. Far from running out at this moment, the way Harry assumes, it actually reads like a glorious final burst of all the Felix Felicis coursing through Harry’s body to achieve this goal.
Next up: “The Felix-Struck Tower”