I have several issues like this when it comes to the Harry Potterverse, and I’m sure you do, too. The one that bothers me the most is the issue of Love Potions in Harry Potter . We can only look at the information we have and make our best guess until J.K. Rowling writes that Encyclopedia or releases the information on Pottermore. Pending that, my main issue with Love Potions is this: they’re treated casually (and sometimes humorously) in the books, but there are consequences that are never addressed that seem like serious problems. Let’s put on our Ravenclaw hats and explore, shall we?
Ron Weasley and the Love Potion
My first problem with Love Potions is what I like to call: Ron Ingests a Date Rape Drug and Everyone Is All “LOL!” One of the most memorable scenes involving Love Potion occurs when Harry’s best friend Ron Weasley accidentally eats the Love Potion spiked Chocolate Cauldrons that fellow Hogwarts student Romilda Vane meant for Harry to receive. It’s one of the more comical scenes in Half- Blood Prince and the series as a whole, mostly due to Ron’s embarrassment and compounded by the fact that the Love Potion was bought at his brothers’ shop Weasley Wizard Wheezes. There’s no harm done in this situation and Ron quickly gets an antidote from Professor Slughorn (and in fact the real danger for Ron comes later in the chapter when he accidentally drinks poisoned mead). However, it seems that the recipient of a Love Potion remembers what happened to them under the influence, which could (and does) become a much more serious situation for other characters. We do get a few clues about the dark possibilities of Love Potions before Ron’s humiliating incident, including the fact that they are apparently banned from Hogwarts, as well as the dire warning that Professor Slughorn gives his Potions students about Amortentia. Which later seems odd, seeing as when he aids Ron with his Love Potion dilemma he doesn’t seem too rattled that one of his students was slipped what is essentially a magical roofie.
Slughorn’s apparent nonchalance gets at the real issue here: for all intents and purposes, Love Potions are nothing more than the Imperious Curse in Potion form. The “target” that ingests the Potion is left completely without their own will, and suddenly thinks and feels the way the “giver” wants them to think and feel. They might say and do things that they normally never would if they were in their right minds and in control of their faculties. So why is it that the use of a Spell that produces these effects is punishable by life in Azkaban, but a Potion that does the same thing is considered recreational enough to be sold in a joke shop? The fact that the results of Love Potions manifest themselves in a romantic and sexual way is particularly messed up, and the bottom line is that all of these features compound to make Love Potions magical date rape drugs.
Voldemort’s mom and the love potion
One of the more nuanced examples of Love Potion- gone- creepily- wrong occurs in Half-Blood Prince when we learn about Voldemort’s parents Merope Gaunt and Tom Riddle, Sr. When we first see her in the Pensieve, I felt bad for Merope; horrifyingly abused by her father and brother, hopelessly lonely, and in love with the handsome Muggle in town. As desperate as she is, she takes things too far when she slips him a Love Potion. The only real consensus on Voldemort’s father is that he was kind of a dick, so people were shocked when he ran off with the homely Merope. But he returned and later clamed that she used some form of deception to seduce him, and that he was “taken in.” We later find out that Merope died in childbirth and Tom Riddle wants nothing to do with his progeny. Voldemort, the abandoned child forced to grow up in an orphanage, understandably has some negative feelings towards his father. But I propose that the rest of us take a second to really think about the elder Tom Riddle’s situation.
Let’s put ourselves in his shoes: he’s riding by the Gaunt’s house one day, accepts a drink of water perhaps, and the next thing he knows he’s now married to someone he never wanted to marry, has had sex that he didn’t want to have, and has fathered a child he didn’t want to father. He was never in a position where he could refuse, because the whole time he was under the influence of the Potion. I think that’s super messed up. But the world sucks sometimes and (unfortunately and disgustingly so) sometimes it’s proposed that there is some sort of grey area about what exactly constitutes rape. So look at it another way with a different example. In Half-Blood Prince, Hermione Granger goes with Cormac McLaggen to Professor Slughorn’s Christmas party even though she doesn’t really like him. Hypothetically, let’s say that Cormac decided he wanted Hermione to be interested in him, slipped her some Love Potion and had sex with her, and she became pregnant from that encounter. He would be vilified, and unless you’re a maniac, that sure as hell would have been looked at as rape.
It seems interesting to me that all of the Love Potion examples we read about in the books are females administering it to males, which is problematic in two ways. First, while nobody except J.K. Rowling knows what her intent was, the examples we have seem to play into the societal norm that men are not supposed to be as upset by forced sex as women are. Just look at all of the examples of older female teachers caught having sex with their male students. Instead of being seen as victims, these boys are supposed to be seen as lucky, because what guy doesn’t want to have sex, right? Secondly, we have to assume that male-to-female Love Potion administration happens, but it’s never mentioned in the books.
All these different bits of information force a concerned fan to try and fill in the blanks, and ponder information that J.K. Rowling hasn’t revealed yet that may solve this problem. Are there laws that the Ministry of Magic has in place to either prevent situations like this or to persecute those who administer a Love Potion to an unsuspecting witch or wizard? (Although why they would be legal at all if that’s the case is still confusing…) Do they consider it something too hard to enforce? Is the magical attitude towards Love Potions the same as our Muggle “we teach our daughters not to be raped but don’t teach our sons not to be rapists” attitude? Are there available antidotes that someone could brew and take to protect themselves from an unwanted ambush? The only piece of information that J.K. Rowling seems to offer outside the canon of the books is that there is a fountain of Amortentia in the Department of Mysteries. It’s in the room behind the door that can’t be unlocked that Harry and his friends encounter on their quest to rescue Sirius Black. One of the great themes of the entire series is that love is a great and mysterious power, but the fact that Love Potion is considered dangerous enough to be kept in a room that is always locked in a place nobody is supposed to know about is a pretty big indicator that it’s serious and potentially dangerous business.
I fully realize that while Harry Potter has fans of all ages, it is a children’s book. So it’s understandable that J.K. Rowling isn’t going to spend time going into detail about potential sexual assault via Potion. I get that. But I also think that it’s just too big of a problem for it to never have occurred to her. She maintains that her world follows a set logic, and thus far she has an answer for every “problem” that fans have asked about, which leads me to believe that she has a definite and detailed answer for all of this nasty Love Potion business. And I for one would very much like to know what it is.
Does this bother anyone else as much as it bothers me, or is there some detail that I missed that makes Love Potions less sketchy? What’s on your list of “Unanswered Harry Potter Questions?”