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"It is Veritaserum - a Truth Potion so powerful that three drops would have you spilling your innermost secrets for this entire class to hear. Now, the use of this potion is controlled by very strict Ministry guidelines. But unless you watch your step, you might just find that my hand slips — right over your evening pumpkin juice. And then, Potter ... then we’ll find out whether you’ve been in my office or not."
Severus Snape explaining the potion's power to Harry Potter[src]

Veritaserum was a powerful truth serum.[1][2] The potion effectively forced the drinker to answer any questions put to them truthfully,[1][2] though there were certain methods of resistance.[6][7] Use of this potion was strictly controlled by the British Ministry of Magic.[1]

History

A bottle of Veritaserum

During the 1989–1990 school year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Professor Severus Snape was brewing this particular concoction when two of his students, Jacob's sibling and Merula Snyde, came to visit him in the Potions Classroom.[8]

During the 1990–1991 school year at Hogwarts, seventh year students in Potions class were taught by Professor Snape how to brew this advanced potion.[5]

Veritaserum was used on Barty Crouch Jnr in June of 1995, when Albus Dumbledore discovered that Crouch was disguised as the Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher, Alastor Moody.[2] Severus Snape also threatened Harry Potter with it earlier that year because he suspected that Harry had been stealing supplies from his storeroom necessary to brew the Polyjuice Potion.[1] This was prior to the discovery that Barty Crouch Jnr was in fact the one who had been stealing the ingredients to keep up his disguise as Alastor Moody.[2]

Dolores Umbridge attempted to use Veritaserum on Harry the following year, but to no effect. In actuality, Snape had presented her with a fake potion, and Harry only pretended to drink it, instead dumping it in one of her plants while she was occupied. Umbridge later asked for more Veritaserum after Harry broke into her office to contact Sirius Black, but Snape said it would take a month to make more. Instead, he suggested she use poisons on Harry if the situation were very grave. Snape also taunted her about using the entire bottle during one dosage rather than using the necessary three drops. As a result, Dolores put Snape on probation and tried to use the Cruciatus Curse on Harry. However, Hermione Granger, who was also present, intervened and pretended to tell Umbridge the truth, thus sparing Harry from the curse.[3]

At the beginning of the 1996–1997 school year, Horace Slughorn, the Potions Master, brewed Veritaserum as an example of the type of potion they should be able to make after completing their N.E.W.T.S.[4] Later, Harry suggested using it on Slughorn to collect a memory. Dumbledore discouraged this idea since he knew that Slughorn would not be fooled easily and could resist the potion with an antidote. Additionally, Dumbledore did not want to use force or coercion on the Potions Master, as betraying his trust in such a way would most likely result in his memory never been collected by Harry.[6]

In 1996, the Rosenfeld case fell apart after the Veritaserum used was accused of being tainted.[9]

In 1997, Rita Skeeter used Veritaserum on Bathilda Bagshot while interviewing her for Albus Dumbledore's biography.[10]

Nature

A bottle of Veritaserum

Veritaserum was clear, colourless, and odourless and was almost indistinguishable from water. According to Severus Snape, the potion had to mature for a full lunar phase, and was quite difficult to produce;[3] it was something Horace Slughorn expected his students to be able to produce once they finished their N.E.W.T.-level Potions.[4] It could be mixed with pretty much any drink, and three drops was a sufficient dose to make the drinker "spill out his innermost secrets".[1] Thus, the potion forced the drinker to tell the complete truth to any question put to him/her, according to what the drinker perceived as true.[2]

Limitations

For the same reasons Muggles did not use polygraph tests in court, Veritaserum was no more reliable than its Muggle counterpart. Since some wizards and witches could resist its effects while others could not, Veritaserum was "unfair and unreliable to use at a trial", and would have been difficult to use as definite proof of guilt or innocence.

Another problem was that the victim stated what only they believed to be true, so the victim's sanity and perception of reality were also factors in during interrogations. Therefore, while the drinker's answers were sincere, they were not necessarily true. This was the main reason why Barty Crouch Jnr's testimony was only partially credible,[2] as some of his answers were true in his mind, but known to be false by his interrogators;[2] Cornelius Fudge believed that Crouch being a "raving lunatic" was a mitigating factor on the Veritaserum's full effectiveness, thus chose not to believe half of it.[11] However, despite Crouch's sociopathic and unhinged tendencies, his grip on reality and testimony was just.[12]

Using Veritaserum on a student was strictly forbidden, at least in Hogwarts, a prohibition that Severus Snape considered "regrettable."[13]

Resistance

Despite being the most powerful truth serum in existence, it could still be resisted through different methods, including the taking of its antidote[6] and Occlumency.[7]

Etymology

The name comes from the latin veritas, meaning "truth", and the Latin serum which means "fluid" or "liquid".

Behind the scenes

  • In the film adaptation of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Snape says that Veritaserum would make even Voldemort spill his darkest secrets. This is most likely an exaggeration meant to intimidate Harry, as Occlumency can be used as a defence against it. However, in the book Snape merely states that it would make Harry spill his innermost secrets, which would almost certainly be true.
  • In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, when Barty Crouch Jnr was being interrogated at the end of the year, Dumbledore shook three drops of Veritaserum into his mouth while he was unconscious. In the film version, Snape poured the entire contents of the bottle right into Barty's mouth while it was forced open in a struggle.
  • In the film adaptation of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Dolores Umbridge used the last of the Veritaserum on Cho Chang and made it look like she betrayed Dumbledore's Army by exposing the location of their meeting place, the Room of Requirement. Marietta Edgecombe, who betrayed the D.A. in the novels, was omitted from the film. Cho's unwilling "betrayal" was also the cause of her split with Harry Potter in the film, as Harry was unaware that Cho was under the influence of Veritaserum until revealed by Snape in a conversation with Umbridge; in the novel, it was her continuing grief over Cedric Diggory, irrational jealousy of Hermione Granger, and defence of Marietta's betrayal.
  • Because of the potion's usage being heavily controlled by the Ministry, the usages over the series are unauthorised and/or illegal: Dumbledore did not acquire permission from the Ministry before using it on Crouch, Umbridge used it for interrogating students despite such action being forbidden (though being a high-ranking Ministry official herself, she may have had the authority then), and Skeeter used it on Bagshot for an interview.
  • Ironically enough, Umbridge's use of what she thought was Veritaserum on Harry wouldn't have worked even if it had been the real potion. Sirius was hiding in 12 Grimmauld Place, which was protected by a Fidelius Charm and Harry wasn't a Secret Keeper at the time and thus unable to reveal its location. Even if he had been, Veritaserum can't make a Secret Keeper reveal their secret, as they must do so willingly.
  • In the fourth film, Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery and Harry Potter: Wizards Unite, Veritaserum is depicted as a dark green liquid, as opposed to a clear one in the books.

Author's comments

J. K. Rowling has said that Veritaserum "works best upon the unsuspecting, the vulnerable and those insufficiently skilled (in one way or another) to protect themselves against it... just like every other kind of magic within the books, Veritaserum is not infallible."[12] For this reason, she explained that even if Sirius Black had been given the opportunity to testify to his innocence under Veritaserum, the Wizengamot likely still would have found him guilty by claiming that Sirius was using trickery to be immune to it.[14]

Appearances

Notes and references

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Chapter 27 (Padfoot Returns)
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Chapter 35 (Veritaserum)
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Chapter 32 (Out of the Fire)
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Chapter 9 (The Half-Blood Prince)
  5. 5.0 5.1 Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery, Year 7, Chapter 2 (More Questions Than Answers) - Potions Lesson "Veritaserum"
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Chapter 17 (A Sluggish Memory)
  7. 7.0 7.1 F.A.Q: Veritaserum at J. K. Rowling's official site (Internet Archive)
  8. Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery, Year 6, Chapter 9 (Artefact Check)
  9. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (film)
  10. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Chapter 18 (The Life and Lies of Albus Dumbledore)
  11. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Chapter 36 (The Parting of the Ways)
  12. 12.0 12.1 F.A.Q.: Veritaserum at J. K. Rowling's official site
  13. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (film)
  14. J. K. Rowling.com
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