Imagine the temptation a Potions master must face: He has incredible skill and ample ingredients to be used in the creation of a potion that would help him achieve his goals. It seems highly unlikely that such a person would never use a potion to get what he wants. We’ve seen Severus Snape give Barty Crouch Jr., Veritaserum1 and make Wolfsbane for Professor Lupin,2 why not use potions on himself? It seems nearly impossible to imagine that Snape would never utilize such a golden opportunity as found in the potion Felix Felicis. It makes you lucky; he could make it with ease. This seems to us a near “no brainer;” he would find such an enticement impossible to resist. As we’ve expressed on the forums, it is even possible that he has abused the potion (perhaps he needs a seat at the next Felix Felicis Anonymous meeting); in this essay we will explore one possible event when Snape's luck is just too good to be true, and thus, he may have used Felix Felicis. This event is the occasion in which he murders Albus Dumbledore.
Luck is a difficult thing to analyze. Though luck helps you get what you want, it won’t just make it happen for you and this inherent uncertainty makes it very tricky to identify from the onset. Additionally, the fact that we are also uncertain of Snape’s motives adds to the challenge. It is likely that luck is nothing in the face of good planning and skill, but still, it doesn’t hurt.
But how does Felix work? Does it give others bad luck? What constitutes good luck? Does Felix help you achieve your goal, or does it just give you what would be fortunate for you? And what happens when two people take it and good luck differs for each? These questions are complicated and very difficult to answer because we only have one clear example of Felix Felicis at work: When Harry takes it in “The Burial” chapter of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince in order to retrieve Slughorn’s memory.3
Clearly, the Felix potion allows the drinker to have good luck by applying gentle direction toward the most favorable path but it also shows signs of affecting others. Harry not only found the corridors of Hogwarts empty that night, but Filch conveniently forgot to lock the front door, Slughorn just happened to be in the garden at the same time Hagrid had invited Harry to the burial of Aragog,4 and Ginny and Dean fought and broke up.5 Perhaps a universal magical force known as luck exists outside your body in the Harry Potter universe; a force that affects those around you with subtle nudges that allow you to experience good fortune, even resulting in the bad luck of others (such as what Dean must have experienced that night after his break-up with Ginny).
We cannot easily determine the answer to the last two questions above about Felix. There is not enough information to tell if it delivers what you want or what you need because in Harry’s single example, the two are conveniently the same. When the two are not the same, perhaps you get what is fortunate and not what is desired – this is what we would expect to occur. Also, we have no incident where we know for sure that two people with differing goals have taken Felix in order to determine how the luck is applied during a conflict of goals. We have chosen to assume that, in such cases, luck is rated in degrees from most lucky to most wretched. Thus, the best luck possible would be given to both, but that the one with the most terrible or dire situation will trump the less dire. For example, when Snape met Hermione in the hall outside his office on the night he killed Dumbledore, she did not try to stop him.6 If she had delayed him even a few seconds it could have resulted in his death and he may have harmed her to get past her quickly. Thus, as we know she took Felix that night, it was lucky for both that she went into his office to check on Flitwick instead of detaining Snape (although it was probably unlucky for Dumbledore that she allowed him to pass).
So, in summary, we believe luck is helpful but not as powerful as skill and good planning; Felix impacts a surrounding force known as luck to provide the drinker with good fortune by offering both confidence and guidance to the drinker and manipulating the actions of others; Felix probably gives us what we need (not necessarily what we want); and luck is rated by degrees from most lucky to most wretched to help resolve conflicts when two opposing parties have both taken Felix Felicis.
Severus Snape is uniquely suited to use potions to aid himself. He has been shown not just to be skilled at preparing them but more skilled than the author of the Potions textbook himself. This very fact is odd – why has he not conveyed his amazing insights to others? The most likely reason is that he does not want anyone else to know his secrets. By demonstrating this type of control over his knowledge, he must intend to use it to manipulate situations to his advantage. And yet we have not seen him do so. How is this possible? It must be that he has used potions to his advantage and we are not aware of this fact.
In the case of Felix Felicis, Slughorn tells us that the potion should not be used to excess because it has the side effect of “giddiness, recklessness, and dangerous overconfidence.” 7 It is possible that a Potions master of Snape’s ability could have modified the potion to counteract this unpleasant side effect in order to take the potion indiscriminately, as he did with his recipe for the Elixir to Induce Euphoria.8 But, in this essay, we assume he must be judicious with his use of the potion, and that he must select when to use it with great care.
It is our intention to analyze the night Snape murdered Dumbledore. This is a difficult thing to do because we do not know his motives and thus cannot tell for sure what constitutes luck. For the purpose of this essay we have decided that he was intent on carrying out the third clause of the Unbreakable Vow that evening. It certainly would be unlucky for him if he died as a result of his failure to kill Dumbledore; but we are taking this a step farther to say that his plan was to actually ensure he killed Dumbledore and no one else did. Some disagree with this, but the facts of the event indicate that whether it was to follow Dumbledore’s orders, further some plot of his own, or to assist the Dark Lord – his behavior supports the idea that he planned to be the one to kill Dumbledore once Draco made his move.
On this fateful evening, there is a great deal of information that is omitted but alluded to. We know McGonagall and Flitwick were patrolling the corridors with Lupin, Tonks, and Bill on Dumbledore’s Orders.9 This does not appear to be standard protocol in Dumbledore’s absence because he was absent a great deal throughout the year and Harry never mentioned the presence of others on patrol. So we may guess that he set them to patrol duty in order to be prepared in case Harry’s information about Draco making a move was correct. Dumbledore knew all year that Draco was trying to kill him10 but he did not know how he was going to do it and presumably neither did Snape. Though Dumbledore did not seem to consider Draco likely to succeed in killing him, he was clearly protecting the school from any possible actions Draco might take that evening.
We also know that Snape was not ordered to join them on patrol since he was in his chambers. Dumbledore must have ordered him to stay there; being in his room would make Snape very easy to get quickly in the event of his need. We know this because he told Harry “Go and wake Severus,” thus implying he was sure he would be in his room.11 After considering these instructions, we wondered how Dumbledore knew Snape was in his chambers since, in the wizarding world, sleep schedules seem irregular and wizards are often out of bed late at night. 12 These factors indicate that Dumbledore had a plan for Snape that evening, which did not require him to patrol the corridors but instead required him to be someplace where he could be retrieved quickly. We find it odd that he would think Snape asleep, but it is possible. Snape must have known that something was going on that night, because, given Dumbledore’s trust of Snape, it seems likely that he would fill him in.
McGonagall said she thought Snape did not know that Draco had brought the Death Eaters into the school.13 We believe that Draco refused his help throughout the entire book and that Snape was indeed in the dark about Draco’s plan. Dumbledore could not have predicted the Dark Mark trick, so we feel it is relatively safe to assume that neither he nor Snape knew that Snape would be needed on the Astronomy Tower that night. So how did he know to go there directly after being contacted by Flitwick? Especially because Flitwick could not have known Dumbledore was in the tower and Draco probably wasn’t in the tower yet at the time Flitwick went to retrieve Snape (given the timing of the events that night).14 We suggest it was Felix Felicis that told him where to go.
In light of the fact that Dumbledore most likely told Snape that Malfoy may have been making his move that night, the fact that he was waiting in his room per Dumbledore’s orders, and the fact that he knew he must kill Dumbledore once Draco made his attempt, well, he would surely have considered that evening to be a perfect time to take Felix Felicis. So we propose he took the potion some time around when Dumbledore left the building with Harry.
From this point on, everything that happened was very fortunate for Snape (assuming he was intending to be the one to kill Dumbledore). First, Draco made it into the building with his team and began his plan successfully. Notice that they even got by Ginny and Ron (who had definitely taken Felix Felicis themselves15) to begin their plan to trap Dumbledore. Next, the Death Eater named Gibbon decided not to wait on the tower after he set off the Dark Mark.16 Again, Gibbon’s presence on the tower would have complicated Snape’s chances of killing Dumbledore himself by possibly influencing or assisting Draco in Dumbledore’s murder. Dumbledore and Harry went straight to the tower to investigate the Dark Mark, as Malfoy had planned.17 McGonagall thought to send Flitwick to alert Snape to the problem.18 Then Snape was able to overpower Flitwick, which is impressive given that Flitwick is described by Hermione in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets as “a dueling champion when he was young” 19 and he most certainly would have his wand out given the circumstances. Then Snape easily fooled Hermione and Luna into letting him pass without a fight;20 since Hermione is very intelligent it seems surprising that she would fall for such a trick so readily. He then knew to go directly up to the Astronomy Tower. He was able to make it through the tower barrier, was not stopped by any members of the Order, or struck by crossfire (as had occurred with several others in the fight). He got there before Draco or anyone else had made a move against Dumbledore and performed the killing curse immediately. Then he escaped from the building with Draco in tow without being stopped by anyone, or hit by any crossfire. It should be noted that, although Harry has excellent aim and hit many Death Eaters that night, his carefully-aimed shot just missed Snape.21 This was described in the book the same way that Ginny described the shots of the Death Eaters just missing her (recall that she had taken Felix Felicis too).22
On the Hogwarts grounds, however, the luckiest scene for Snape is played out when he faces off with Harry in a “duel.” This distressing sequence of events has Snape beating Harry incredibly soundly. We would like to study this scene in detail. We have seen Snape duel only once in the series and his opponent was hardly his match – Gilderoy Lockhart.23 We have seen Snape overpowered by a curse sent by Harry, Ron and Hermione simultaneously in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban – another unfair measure.24 We have also seen him as a teenage wizard out-maneuvered by James Potter – and we may guess he has learned much since then.25
We are woefully at a shortage of evidence to know how accomplished he is at dueling before the end of Half-Blood Prince; we acknowledge that it is possible that he is a better duelist than anyone Harry has ever met in battle but are pointing out that we don’t have canon evidence of that fact.
For Harry, however, we have a great deal of evidence of his ability. He has never met an opponent who was able to block him as soundly as Severus Snape does in this scene, repetitively cutting off his curses before they escape his lips, six times in all.26 While it is possible that Snape is better than both Voldemort and Bellatrix Lestrange, or that his added experience with Harry along with his Legilimency allows him to break into Harry’s thoughts and block him, we wonder how Harry could appear so outmatched. While we agree that it is likely Harry will not have to defeat Voldemort in battle (thus feeling a bit reassured of Harry’s chances to prevail despite his failure to fight Snape with any success at all), we also wonder if Snape’s advantage in this fight came from elsewhere. Felix Felicis could be responsible for making him appear simply unbeatable.
When a new spell or potion is introduced in a Harry Potter book, it usually proves to be important later in the series.27 Jo Rowling introduced a lucky potion, Snape (as Potions master) would be the most likely person to use it, and the evidence indicates that Snape was very lucky on the evening he killed Dumbledore. Lucky because he was alerted to the presence of Death Eaters in the school, he was able to avoid being detained and go directly to the scene of the crime (even though it was unlikely he should have known where to go), he arrived just in time to fulfill his vow and save his own life, he escaped the building safely, and he defeated Harry soundly in a duel by blocking six of his curses before they could even be uttered. In any book, this is extreme luck. In light of this and the fact that Snape is an expert Potions master with secrets he has kept only for himself, it seems impossible to imagine that he did not use Felix Felicis that night.
You do well to wonder how it would ever be revealed that Snape used Felix Felicis on this evening or at any other time. We suspect it is possible he may reveal this himself. Though this would clearly be foolish, characters often feel they need to brag about their cleverness in stories. It is better, however, for him if no one ever knows (or at least if no Death Eaters know). Because he looks very powerful after killing Dumbledore, it is best (no matter what his loyalties) if they fear him and respect him, and finding out he “cheated” would lessen that effect. Perhaps evidence could be discovered during an investigation of his chambers. What use would this serve toward furthering the plot? The most obvious answer is that it makes Snape’s actions clearly premeditated, thus causing him to appear even more evil to Harry (as Harry may never know the details of the Unbreakable Vow). It is also possible that we may never discover the extent Snape has gone to in order to further his own agenda. Regardless, for him to have devised clever changes to the Potions text without passing them on to his students is a clear sign he has plans for himself. We look forward to discovering what these plans are, and if lucky little Felix once again appears in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
1. Rowling, Goblet of Fire, 683.
2. Ibid., Prisoner of Azkaban, 352–3.
3. Ibid., Half-Blood Prince, 469–91.
4. Ibid., 479.
5. Ibid., 514.
6. Ibid., 619.
7. Ibid., 187.
8. Ibid., 474–5.
9. Ibid., 617.
10. Ibid., 585.
11. Ibid., 583.
12. In Half-Blood Prince several wizards make house calls around midnight (pp. 1–18, 19, 43, 60, and 492–3). In addition to this, Draco, Harry, and Hermione serve detention in the Forbidden Forest in Sorcerer’s Stone at 11 pm (p. 247) and the students sit their Astronomy exam at midnight in Prisoner of Azkaban (p. 318).
13. Rowling, Half-Blood Prince, 616–17.
14. Ibid., 618–19.
15. Ibid., 552.
16. Ibid., 618–19.
17. Ibid., 590.
18. Ibid., 616–17.
19. Ibid., Chamber of Secrets, 189.
20. Ibid., Half-Blood Prince, 619.
21. Ibid., 602.
22. Ibid., 612.
23. Ibid., Chamber of Secrets, 190.
24. Ibid., Prisoner of Azkaban, 361.
25. Ibid., Order of the Phoenix, 645–9.
26. Ibid., Half-Blood Prince, 602–4.
27. An example of this is when Polyjuice potion is introduced in Chamber of Secrets and then becomes important again in Goblet of Fire.
Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. New York: Scholastic Press, Arthur A. Levine Books, 1999.
———. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. New York: Scholastic Press, Arthur A. Levine Books, 2000.
———. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. New York: Scholastic Press, Arthur A. Levine Books, 2005.
———. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. New York: Scholastic Press, Arthur A. Levine Books, 2003.
———. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. New York: Scholastic Press, Arthur A. Levine Books, 1999.