Felix Felicis – Part 4: Conversing with Slughorn
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.
It is this latter half that we’ll be exploring now. We have six events – #7, #9, and #13 through #16 – when Felix actually boosts Harry’s intuition beyond the ordinary by nudging him to do or say something to Slughorn. What’s striking here is how well Felix seems to predict Slughorn’s behavior and direct Harry accordingly. I’ve mentioned earlier how Felix could predict things about Lavender, Ginny, and Dean; here, we see Felix acting with much more finesse.
Part of Felix’s influence on Harry is combating Harry’s penchant for secrecy. Harry tends to keep his cards close to the vest, especially when it comes to people he doesn’t particularly like – such as Slughorn. This tendency gets exacerbated in the later books as Harry strives to emulate Dumbledore, whose penchant for secrecy is a major factor in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
Dumbledore assigns Harry the mission of getting Slughorn’s memory for a number of reasons, but Phineas Nigellus finds the choice questionable.
‘I can’t see why the boy should be able to do it better than you, Dumbledore.’
‘I wouldn’t expect you to, Phineas,’ replied Dumbledore.” (HBP 372)
While Dumbledore is not specifically counting on this, in order to get Slughorn’s memory, Harry has to put aside his “what would Dumbledore do?” mentality and share secrets with Slughorn to get one back in return.
In #7, Harry reveals his Invisibility Cloak to Slughorn. Harry’s Cloak is a closely guarded secret, and it’s one of his most valuable magical assets. The curious thing is that Felix urges him to reveal the Cloak to Slughorn instead of taking it off somewhere inconspicuously and then running into Slughorn. What is Felix’s reasoning here?
This lowers Slughorn’s defenses by bringing him into Harry’s confidence; Felix predicts that Slughorn will be more amenable to divulging information if he feels like there’s trust between him and Harry. But this is a decision that could have major repercussions down the line if Slughorn reveals this to someone he shouldn’t.
So Felix takes stock of the current situation and predicts that Slughorn will not reveal this information to the wrong people. Part of that is based on Slughorn’s tendency to keep secrets as needed – no one amasses influential friends if they have a big mouth. But more importantly, Felix predicts that Slughorn will not defect to Voldemort’s side.
We can’t know the confidence interval on this long-term prediction of Felix’s because it’s weighed against the clear short-term benefit of getting Slughorn to share the memory. But it is still an important indication of how Felix judges Slughorn’s character.
After implicitly bringing Slughorn into his confidence, Harry makes it explicit in #9.
‘Well, sir, it’s Hagrid,’ said Harry, who knew that the right thing to do just now was to tell the truth. ‘He’s pretty upset. . . . But you won’t tell anyone, Professor? I don’t want any trouble for him. . . . ‘” (HBP 480)
Guided by Felix, Harry is saying that he trusts Slughorn by revealing Hagrid’s misfortune, which will set the trusting tone for the evening. Harry then reveals that Hagrid is burying an Acromantula friend, and when Slughorn begins to think of how many Galleons that venom will fetch, Harry invites him to the funeral.
Felix is making quite a few predictions here:
- Upon hearing about an Acromantula, Slughorn will want to harvest its venom (as opposed to shuddering with revulsion and steering well clear of it, like a sensibly arachnophobic person would).
- Hagrid will be okay with Slughorn crashing the funeral.
- The funeral will provide circumstances likely to induce Slughorn to share the memory.
The first two tell us that Felix has a basic grasp of people’s characters. It knows Slughorn’s greed and can predict his behavior based on it, it knows that Hagrid desperately wants to share his love of monsters with other people, and it can predict that Hagrid would welcome additional mourners for Aragog.
The interesting part is that Felix thinks the best way to Slughorn’s memory is through Hagrid’s funeral. This does not necessarily mean that Felix gamed out the entire scenario as it played out. Rather, Felix can predict that the circumstances that make Slughorn most amenable to divulging information involve his greed being satisfied and an excuse for him to drink copious amounts of alcohol. Harry thinks, “It was as though the potion was illuminating a few steps of the path at a time” (HBP 479). That’s because Felix can predict people’s actions with only so much accuracy. But Felix can run the probabilities, just as a human could, of what circumstances are likelier to put Slughorn in a sharing mood.
In an interesting contrast to #7 is #14, when Harry reveals far more sensitive information but with far less uncertainty. “Dumbledore needs information. I need information […] I am the Chosen One. I have to kill him. I need that memory” (HBP 490). This makes Slughorn only the fifth person in the world to know that Harry really is the Chosen One and needs to kill Voldemort. The others are Harry himself, Dumbledore, Ron, and Hermione. (Recall that Harry had to be urged by Dumbledore to even tell his two best friends [HBP 78].)
But with information this sensitive, Felix isn’t taking any chances. “[Harry] knew he was safe: Felix was telling him that Slughorn would remember nothing of this in the morning” (HBP 490). This is much easier for Felix to know. Judging by the amount of alcohol in Slughorn’s bloodstream at the moment, it’s easy to predict he won’t remember the particulars of this conversation. But it’s notable for how Harry’s natural instincts toward secrecy have to be overridden by Felix here.
We are left with three events to explore, three instances when we see Felix at work during Harry’s conversation with Slughorn – #13, #15, and #16. To my mind, this is the most impressive effect of Felix because it’s the most magical. GPS and broad predictions about behavior are well and good, but the finesse required here is what’s hardest to achieve otherwise. Felix has to perform real-time calculations, with every word said and every bit of body language, to predict what would make Slughorn likeliest to divulge the memory. One wrong word and the whole thing goes up in flames.
I find #16 very curious because Harry ascribes to Felix one of the only moments that are actually reflective of his usual rhetorical style. With most of the other actions when we see Felix at work in conversation (#7, #9, #13, #14, and #15), Harry is doing something he would not do if left to his own devices. But he absolutely lets silences spiral in conversation. This is referred to explicitly in his conversation with Rufus Scrimgeour (HBP 345). There are also references to it in Harry’s conversations with both Griphook and Ollivander (DH, ch. 24) as well as the Grey Lady (DH, ch. 31).
Maybe Felix is just confirming Harry’s instinct here because it’s so important for Harry not to ruin the final moment before Slughorn divulges the memory. We’ve discussed how Felix usually tries to be unobtrusive, but this may have just been too important, so Felix didn’t employ its usual subtlety.
What is not in Harry’s usual style is #13, when he begins openly talking about how Voldemort murdered his parents. Harry is fiercely private about his parents and their death. Because he doesn’t like attention and notoriety and because his parents are a large part of why he gets it, he only brings them up with Ron, Hermione, Lupin, Sirius, Hagrid, and Dumbledore – and even then, often only when strictly relevant to the conversation.
Therefore, this is one of Felix’s more heavy-handed behavioral modifications. It makes Harry talk about something he never would otherwise and in a very unusual way: “remorselessly,” trying to shock Slughorn and guilt-trip him. Again, Felix’s judgment that this was necessary makes for an interesting insight into Slughorn’s character: His fondness for Harry, even when inebriated, isn’t enough to carry the day. Rather, it’s how much he cared for Lily that finally breaks down the barriers.
This brings us to #15, which is the one when Harry most of all behaves unlike himself. He offers Slughorn absolution for past misdeeds: “’You’d cancel out anything you did by giving me the memory,’ said Harry. ‘It would be a very brave and noble thing to do’” (HBP 490).
Harry never does this again, either before or after this chapter. He does not see himself as a moral authority and therefore never offers absolution to others even when they seek it. The most direct parallel is his chat with Ollivander in Deathly Hallows when Ollivander is desperately making excuses and apologies for revealing things to Voldemort under torture. Harry does not absolve him, merely saying things like, “Thank you for telling me all of this” (DH 499).
Similarly, when he interacts with the Grey Lady, the best he does is “Well, you weren’t the first person Riddle wormed things out of” (DH 617). It’s an interesting facet of Harry’s character, one to which we can draw a line all the way back in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban when he refuses to pass judgment on Wormtail and decides to offer him up to the Ministry’s justice, standing up to two adults (Sirius and Remus) in the process.
It’s doubly interesting given that Harry himself does not submit to any moral authority other than his conscience. He never expresses the sentiment that “because X says it’s right, it must therefore be right.” Not the Ministry, not the rules of Hogwarts, and not even Albus Dumbledore is considered the final word on what is right and what is wrong. It’s what Harry’s own morals say that determine right and wrong. (As a tangent, if the religious boycotters had bothered to read the Harry Potter books, they might have realized that this fact poses a much bigger threat to organized religion than the inclusion of witchcraft in the books.)
But where Harry considers himself his own moral authority, he expects that of everyone else too. Therefore, it’s not his place to offer absolution to others even when they seek it from him. So his unprompted offer of it to Slughorn sticks out even more given this context and can only be prompted by Felix. Apparently, Felix believes that Slughorn needs this final push to share the memory with Harry.
So while Harry doesn’t seem to stop and think about it, Felix actually makes him do quite a few things he wouldn’t ordinarily do in order to get the memory from Slughorn. It makes me wonder what exactly Dumbledore had in mind for how Harry would accomplish this goal, assuming Dumbledore did not expect Harry to make such uncharacteristic choices in service of the goal.
Next up: “Fight with the Fat Lady”