Abstract: Explaining the circumstances behind Harry’s survival in Deathly Hallows, after sacrificing himself to Voldemort in the Forbidden Forest.
Update: Due to reader confusion on this matter, I will clarify that "Horcrux" is used in the absence of a better term. I do not believe Voldemort is literally a horcrux for Harry, only that Lily's protection acts similarly, in that it protects Harry's life from Voldemort's attack. As well, I only believe that Harry is invincible in regards to Voldemort, not the rest of the world, wizard and Muggle alike.
I love talking to people about Harry Potter. It really is amazing how diverse our perspectives and views are, especially when they’re controversial. Of course, that’s why MuggleNet’s editorial section is so invaluable to fans: we have an extensive collection of thoughts and theories at our disposal.
Over the years, I’ve found these editorials profoundly beneficial in helping me see the books in new ways and for understanding some of the more confusing elements of the story (especially parts I never realized I didn’t understand). And recently, it’s come to my knowledge that one of the most important scenes of Deathly Hallows is also one of the least understood mysteries of the series: how did Harry survive Avada Kedavra again, in the Forbidden Forest?
I’ve posted this question to countless fans, and heard many interesting theories. Some explain it by saying that the Elder wand lessened the effects of the killing curse, since it refused to attack its true owner (Harry). The most common theory is that the curse only killed the piece of Voldemort’s soul inside Harry. Therefore, Voldemort’s soul provided a shield for Harry’s soul. Overall, both theories have merit and are certainly reasonable, and the latter one would be close to literary genius.
Sadly, while both ideas are fairly well defended, they are not the reason Harry survived. The real answer is so much more brilliant, and is a testament to the true genius of J.K. Rowling. Ironically, this mystery was never supposed to be a mystery.
Dumbledore himself tells us how Harry survived…
He took your blood and rebuilt his living his body with it! Your blood in his veins, Harry, Lily’s protection inside both of you! He tethered you to life while he lives! (DH, p.568, UK edition)
Voldemort tethered Harry to life? What? Yes…that is exactly what he did. We all remember that fateful night Voldemort returned in Goblet of Fire, to Harry’s horror, and our tense excitement.
I can still picture that graveyard, and the dark ritual Wormtail performed to bring his master back to power. The bone of Voldemort’s father, the flesh of his servant, and the blood of his enemy. And besides Dumbledore, who is more of an enemy to the Dark Lord, than the boy who brought his downfall? That was the purpose of Voldemort’s plan: to use Harry, his greatest enemy, to restore his body and his power. He truly believed he was making himself invincible by using Harry’s blood, and then killing him in a grand gesture of his power in front of the Death Eaters. But, as the quote above says, he actually accomplished the opposite.
I know, I’m being vague. And I’m sure many of you are wondering what the hell the quote by Dumbledore even means?
Simply put, Voldemort made himself a horcrux. Not a horcrux in the traditional sense, where murder splits the soul, and a fragment of that soul is stored in an object or person. No, this time it was blood stored in a body, not a soul, and it was fueled by love and the preservation of life, rather than hatred and destruction. For all intents and purposes, Voldemort became a love-fueled horcrux for his greatest enemy.
In other words, Voldemort made Harry invincible by taking his blood. Normally, the resurrection spell’s call for the blood of an enemy is purely for the benefit of the one coming back to life. But, because of Lily’s magical protection, caused by her sacrificing herself for Harry, it mutated the spell. Voldemort did indeed resurrect himself, but by doing so, he turned himself into an anchor for Harry’s life.
It was this realization that caused the “gleam of something like triumph in Dumbledore’s eyes” that Harry saw, after telling the headmaster how Voldemort used his blood to come back to life. (GOF, p. 604, UK edition) In that moment, Dumbledore knew that, while poor Harry still had a long, hard journey in front of him to defeat Voldemort, there was now a wonderfully good chance that he just might survive (this essay is already complicated enough, so we won’t discuss if Dumbledore knew Harry was a horcrux; if you are curious about that, please check out hpboy13's essay on the topic).
And so, that night that Harry walked towards his death, in order to destroy the piece of Voldemort’s soul, he was really only walking toward the death of that splintered soul fragment. The killing curse, when it hit him, destroyed the piece of soul, but because Voldemort was a shell for Harry’s life essence, the spell didn’t kill Harry. Granted, it injured him badly enough to send him into a limbo-like state between life and death, but the fact remains…Harry wasn’t dead, and he had the choice to stay alive.
Once again Lily Potter’s sacrifice saved her son, as well as Voldemort’s ignorance. He used Harry’s blood to make Lily’s protection useless, and weaken Harry. As I said, he did the exact opposite. In fact, Voldemort made himself the vulnerable one. He made it impossible for himself to kill the very person who stood the greatest chance of finally defeating him.
Now that we understand how Harry survived, isn’t that scene in the Forbidden Forest pure literary genius? We have two men who are magically tying each other to life, and are metaphorical and literal opposites. One man (Harry) is ruled by love, and knows what it means to be truly human, while the other is fueled by hate (Voldemort), and is no longer truly a man. Even more impressive, both are carrying pieces of each other’s essence: Harry carrying the embodiment of Voldemort’s evil, and Voldemort the ultimate example of the love surrounding Harry.
All of this tells me that Harry Potter is a genuine classic, Deathly Hallows is a literary masterpiece, and J.K. Rowling is, at the absolute least, one of the greatest contemporary authors of our time. If The Casual Vacancy has even a fraction of the plot, mystery, and detail of the Potter-universe, another priceless gem will be added to the world of literature’s greatest treasures…