Felix Felicis – Part 6: The Felix-Struck Tower
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.
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.
This is the final installment of my Felix Felicis series where we explore the workings of the curious lucky potion. I have gleaned all I could from Harry’s adventure with Felix, and now we turn our attention to the one other time we know it was used: by Ron, Hermione, and Ginny in the Battle of the Astronomy Tower.
In some ways, our data is more limited because we don’t have their points of view telling us when they can feel Felix’s influence. That’s why we only have two real data points here: events #19 and #20. On the other hand, it’ll be interesting to see what we can discern from the outside.
The battle reinforces our theory of Felix’s geolocation magic because most of what we see involves the drinkers moving as needed around Hogwarts.
#19 very much fits Felix’s modus operandi: Ron and Ginny are directed to where they need to be. When they are groping in the darkness of Peruvian Instant Darkness Powder, Felix does not show them the way out until the exact moment Lupin is nearby so that they run into the Order “almost immediately.” And I’m willing to bet Ron and Ginny were subtly leading their allies in looking for Death Eaters given that the Death Eaters were found “minutes later” (HBP 618).
Note that, as discussed in Part 2, Felix could not do anything to alter events other than Ron and Ginny’s movements and actions. It could not prevent Draco from getting Death Eaters into Hogwarts, ensure the Order was right where it needed to be, or do myriad other things that could have helped. All Felix can do is direct the drinkers’ actions to respond to the events unfolding.
Looking at #20, we get a feel for the “calculating power” of Felix, for lack of a better term. It is this same GPS feature that allows Ron and Ginny to dodge all the curses that come flying from the Death Eaters: Felix is just telling Ron and Ginny where to move and how.
Felix knows where the Death Eaters are. It knows when a Death Eater casts a curse and can calculate the trajectory of the curse. It therefore makes Ron and Ginny move ever so slightly so as to dodge the curses.
Here, once again, we see Felix’s unobtrusive nature. It’s not video game-style, “Move left! Jump! Duck!” It’s slight urges to move a few inches one way or the other, happening at incredible speed, so Ginny attributes her luck to “everything seemed to just miss us” (HBP 612) rather than “we seemed to just dodge everything.”
The Battle of the Astronomy Tower also presents us with a limitation on Felix’s power because it keeps Hermione out of the fray. Recall that Hermione is not actually in the battle; she spends most of it tending to a Stunned Flitwick with Luna. As we’ve seen, Felix knows the drinker’s goals (conscious and subconscious) and will nudge the drinker into going where the goals are likely to be fulfilled.
Given that, one would expect Felix to direct Hermione to the battle – maybe she’d “get a good feeling” about going to the Astronomy Tower and leaving Professor Flitwick. But apparently, Felix’s calculations told it that Hermione’s goals would be better served by keeping her out of the fray. And that’s because Felix would be unable to keep Hermione out of harm’s way.
Ron and Ginny are both athletes: They have fast reflexes from Quidditch. So if Felix gives them a nudge to shift a few inches, they can do that and thereby dodge a curse. Hermione is not an athlete and would not have fast reflexes. If Felix performed the same magic for her as for Ron and Ginny and gave her slight urges to move a few inches one way or another, she wouldn’t do so nearly as quickly as Ron and Ginny. And in a battle like this, being hit or dodging a curse is a matter of split-second movement. Hermione wouldn’t be fast enough, so her goal (of living to see tomorrow) was better served by keeping her out of the fray.
First, this tells us that Felix is running its calculations in real time. It cannot know where a Death Eater will cast a curse in two minutes’ time or predict that with a workable degree of accuracy. It only has the time between the curse being cast and it arriving at the target to work its lucky magic. Otherwise, if it knew where the curses were going, Hermione could have participated in the battle.
Second, this tells us that Felix cannot make the drinker’s body do things it would otherwise be unable to do. In this, it is different from the Imperius Curse. When a student is put under the Imperius Curse, he does things like “[perform] a series of quite astonishing gymnastics he would certainly not have been capable of in his normal state” (GoF 231). Not so for Felix. It cannot make Hermione have faster reflexes.
This complements our discussion in Part 3 about Harry casting the Refilling Charm: He is not doing any magic that he’s otherwise incapable of. He’s just getting a confidence boost. However, confidence would not be enough to let Hermione dodge Death Eaters’ curses, so Felix kept her out of the battle. Felix cannot make its drinker do actions, either physical or magical, that the drinker is otherwise unable to do.
The Overlooked Clue
The more years pass since Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was released, the more obvious it seems in hindsight that Snape was working against Voldemort all along.1 Back in the day, the arguments people corralled on both sides were as impressive as they were varied. But one of the most compelling arguments is the role that Felix Felicis played in the Battle of the Astronomy Tower.
Believe it or not, a guest writer for MuggleNet got it right exactly 18 days after Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince was published: Brianna Leigh Woell in her editorial “Felix Felicis: Understanding Severus’s Innocence.” 2
This is where Felix Felicis comes in. We know from Professor Slughorn that the drinker of Felix Felicis will ‘find that all your endeavors tend to succeed’ (HBP 187). We also know that Ginny, Ron, and Hermione all drank Felix Felicis the night of Dumbledore’s death. So when Ron says, ‘I messed up, Harry,’ and tells him how he let Draco and the Death Eaters pass, I wondered, how could something so unlucky happen to the drinker of liquid luck? Hermione joins in, saying that she was stupid not to realize that Snape had Stupefied Professor Flitwick. But for someone waiting to catch Snape betraying the Order, how could liquid luck not help her out? The answer to both of these is that Felix Felicis was working to Ron and Hermione’s advantage.
Dumbledore knew about the Unbreakable Vow and knew that Draco or Snape must kill him in order for Snape to live. He had ordered Snape to kill him when the time arose. This being the case, Snape never betrayed the Order at all. So Hermione wouldn’t have stopped him because he was on her side the whole time. The same goes for Ron; he didn’t stop Draco and the Death Eaters because it would have interfered with Dumbledore’s plan to have Snape kill him.
Given what we know of Felix, Brianna is exactly right: Felix would have directed Hermione to do something instead of letting Snape join the battle. But Felix knows what’s afoot and realizes that Snape’s presence at the battle would be conducive to Hermione’s goal of keeping Hogwarts safe. So it nudges her to tend to Professor Flitwick with Luna, keeping both of them out of harm’s way and allowing Snape to do what is needed. After all, how long could it take the brightest witch of her age to realize Flitwick was Stupefied? This was Felix’s doing.
If you have made it this far in the editorial series, accept my hearty congratulations! It’s been one of my most ambitious writing projects in this column, and I hope you found it informative.
When Harry first drinks Felix, he gets the sensation that “getting the memory from Slughorn seemed suddenly not only possible, but positively easy. . . .” (HBP 477).
That’s easy to say from Harry’s perspective given that all he has to do is follow Felix’s lead. But the work that Felix is doing in the background to ensure Harry’s success is very impressive. “Luck” is a very nebulous concept to manipulate, but now we have a grasp of how Felix manages to achieve all of its drinker’s aims.
Felix cannot control other people, nor can it make coincidences happen to suit the drinker.
Like a GPS, it knows where everyone is and which way they’re moving; this allows Felix to direct the drinker’s movements to intersect (or dodge) the appropriate characters.
Felix is omniscient in the past and present: It knows what has happened before, what is happening now, and who knows what. This allows Felix to know where the drinker needs to be, whom the drinker needs to interact with, and how this should occur.
Felix has some predictive powers based on probability. The simpler the mind it’s trying to predict, the more accurate it will be: Portraits can be predicted with a high degree of accuracy, people like Slughorn less so.
Felix can modify the behavior of the drinker within the physical limits of his body: make the drinker reveal secrets or otherwise behave in uncharacteristic ways. But given the option, Felix prefers to remain unobtrusive and let the drinker behave naturally.
In summary, the existence of Felix Felicis does not break the story. It remains consistent with other very powerful magic in the Potter books. We have now gone through every Felix-influenced event in the text, and it all fits consistently with the parameters outlined here.
This is another testament to Jo’s writing. There are few fantasy writers who can create something like a “liquid luck” potion and not leave a slew of plot holes in their wake. But Felix Felicis makes perfect sense within the wizarding world. Now where can I get my hands on a bottle?
1 I try to refrain from saying he was “working for Dumbledore” because I don’t believe that accurately captures his murky allegiance.
2 There are two other honorable mentions for writers who very nearly caught this clue.
The first honorable mention goes to Christy Morley, who edged very close to this in another MuggleNet editorial in 2005 but didn’t make the final logical leap to Snape’s true allegiance.
The second honorable mention goes to LiveJournal user felicitys_mind, in her piece “Fantastic Potions and How They Helped Albus Dumbledore in HBP.” While this writer attributes Felix’s hand in the Battle of the Astronomy Tower to some secret swigs by Dumbledore, not to the drops drunk by Harry’s friends, they are correct on many other counts, bringing Felix into evidence that Snape was working with Dumbledore that night.