The Burrow: Protected by Evil, Vanquished by Love

by Calliope

Over a month ago in Edinburgh, our beloved Jo Rowling, as she so often does, threw Harry Potter fans one of her incurably tantalizing and frustrating hints. She said that there is one question in particular that she is surprised no one has asked her. This question is: Why didn’t Voldemort die in the first attempt to kill Harry, when his curse rebounded on him? She then proceeded to comment that this is something that we should be pondering. So I submit for the approval of the Mugglenet community, my opinions on the matter.

First of all, it is important to note that Voldemort does not recognize that there are things that are worse than death. His greatest fear and greatest enemy is death. (Some would argue that Harry is Voldemort’s greatest enemy, but the prophecy clears this matter up for us nicely, showing us that Voldemort sees Harry as his enemy because Harry alone has the power to vanquish him.) By contrast, Dumbledore perceives death as the next great adventure. Furthermore, he recognizes that there are conditions – being left soulless after the Dementor’s Kiss, being tortured into insanity by the Cruciatus Curse, and having no real sense of self – that are much worse than death. Voldemort refuses to see this. He refuses to see that in Dumbledore’s eyes, the cursed, evil life that he leads is a far worse fate than death.

In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Voldemort reminds his Death Eaters of his ultimate goal: to conquer death. To that end, he must have put some kind of protection on himself to prevent even a curse as powerful as Avada Kedavra from killing him. But what is this protection? What is powerful enough to give a man immortality? The way I see it, Voldemort must have used some kind of ancient magic involving pure evil to accomplish this task. Consider that if it is possible for something as purely good as Lily’s selfless love to invoke a mysterious ancient magic that protected baby Harry from death, then it is quite possible that a similarly mysterious ancient magic involving pure evil would have been enough to keep Voldemort alive – but barely.

Voldemort must have done several things (or at least attempted several things) in his effort to protect himself from death. I think this was a goal of his long before he found out about the prophecy. In fact, I think this is what he was doing in the years between his final year at Hogwarts and his ascent to power. Bear in mind that things like drinking unicorn blood cause one to lead “a half-life, a cursed life” as Ronan informs us in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Consider how many curses and how much Dark Magic Voldemort has probably subjected himself to in his quest for immortality. He seems to have tried so many different methods of becoming immortal and delved so deeply into the Dark Arts that, as Dumbledore says at the end of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, “When he resurfaced as Lord Voldemort, he was barely recognizable.”

Now that we’ve settled the matter of why he didn’t die before, the question becomes: how is Harry supposed to vanquish someone who can’t die?

Good question.

It seems to me that even “normal” wizards cannot die in Muggle ways. Remember how outraged Hagrid was at the thought that a car crash could have killed Lily and James? If Harry can regrow the bones in his arm in one night, if he can fall from a terrible height on a broomstick and live to tell about it, and if someone can Splinch themselves and turn out all right in the end, then it seems to me that Muggle accidents, injuries, ailments, and illnesses don’t affect witches and wizards. JK Rowling has said that they have longer life spans than we do. In one interview, she said that Professor McGonagall is a “sprightly seventy,” suggesting that wizards even age much slower than Muggles do. It therefore seems highly unlikely that Harry could kill Voldemort by shooting him with a gun or throwing him out of a Gryffindor Tower window.

One would think, based on the prophecy, that Harry’s Avada Kedavra would be able to kill Voldemort. I wonder, however, if any killing curse is enough to kill Voldemort; his own rebounded curse certainly didn’t do the job. For that matter, would Harry even be capable of producing a real killing curse? It is not in Harry’s nature to kill – recall the moment in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban when Harry almost kills Sirius but in the end, doesn’t go through with it. Recall also that Bellatrix Lestrange informs us in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix that to produce a proper Cruciatus Curse, you have to really want to cause pain. You have to enjoy it. In short, it has to be an act of pure evil. I wonder if the other two Unforgivable Curses would work in the same way. Whether Harry is acting out of bravery, a responsibility to defeat Voldemort for the sake of the rest of the wizarding world, or even a desire to avenge the death of his parents – none of these motives would be evil enough to produce a real killing curse, much less one powerful enough to destroy Voldemort.

In my opinion, the key to destroying Voldemort lies in the perpetually locked door in the Department of Mysteries, the door that melted Sirius’s knife when Harry tried to open it. What, you may ask, is behind this door? Dumbledore explains it to Harry in this way:

It contains a force that is at once more wonderful and more terrible than death… It is the power held within that room that you possess in such quantities and which Voldemort has not at all. That power took you to save Sirius tonight. That power also saved you from possession by Voldemort, because he could not bear to reside in a body so full of the force he detests. In the end, it mattered not that you could not close your mind. It was your heart that saved you.” (OotP)

I interpret this to mean that the room contains love. It is this force that will be the key to defeating Voldemort. Evil protected him from death, but love will be what ultimately destroys him. When Harry was one year old, Voldemort could not kill him because of Lily’s love. When he was eleven years old, Quirrell, with Voldemort in his turban, could not even touch Harry, again because of his mother’s love. When he was fifteen years old, possessed by Voldemort, at one moment Harry felt happy at the prospect of dying because it would mean he could see Sirius again – and that surge of love forced Voldemort out. The force of love clearly has the power to vanquish the Dark Lord.

Then, you may ask, how will Harry manage to harness that force and use it in a battle with Voldemort? The answer to that question, fellow Potterholics, I leave to the fabulous JK Rowling, for I have a feeling that although we might have some random guesses, the answer won’t be revealed until we are holding book seven in our eager little hands.

Please offer feedback. I would love to discuss this or anything else Potterish with you!