Why Voldemort Didn’t Die
J.K. Rowling told us we are not asking the right questions. We should wonder why Voldemort didn’t die, and good students as we are we have been asking ourselves that question a million times since. 99% of the answers focus on the steps Voldemort/Tom Riddle has been taking to prevent him from dying. After all, he himself told us:
“I, who have gone further than anybody along the path that leads to immortality. You know my goal – to conquer death. And now, I was tested, and it appeared that one or more of my experiments had worked…for I had not been killed, though the curse should have done it.” (GoF, 566)
But should the curse have killed Voldemort? You would obviously think so; Avada Kedavra is a deathly curse, nobody except from Harry and Voldemort has survived it. But I don’t think that is an accomplishment from Voldemort (and not from Harry either, for that matter). Let’s go back to that night in Godric’s Hollow, the night we know so little about. What do we know that happened? Voldemort entered the house, killed James Potter, threatened to kill Harry, but Lily stood in front of her son and told him to kill her instead of Harry. Voldemort killed her, but couldn’t kill Harry subsequently – his Avada Kedavra curse backfired and he was reduced to “less than spirit” (GoF, 566). We also know why he couldn’t kill Harry: because of the sacrifice Lily made for her son. Her love saved Harry. Ironically enough, it also saved Voldemort when his curse backfired. Maybe the curse should have killed Voldemort, there’s no way it could have.
Let’s take (another) look at the Prophecy.
“The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches….and either must die at the hand of the other…”.
Either must die at the hand of the other; Voldemort must die at the hand of Harry (and the other way around, of course). This has been overanalyzed during the last year, mostly projecting it to the future; Harry is the only one who will be able to kill Voldemort, so he has to be either killer or victim. We all understand that by now, but what we haven’t been stressing enough is that this Prophecy is also the answer to the question J.K. Rowling has given us.
It’s so simple.
Voldemort couldn’t die that night in Godric’s Hollow, even while the curse P. It was HIS curse that backfired. He wasn’t fighting Harry that night – no, he was fighting James, Lily and himself. Lily’s sacrifice made him unable to kill Harry and make the curse backfire, but as the curse wasn’t Harry’s, it couldn’t kill Voldemort. “Either must die at the hand of the other,” after all, not at his own hand. I this is what J.K. Rowling meant when telling us we should ask ourselves why Voldemort didn’t die. It also makes sense when you look at the events in Books 1 to 5.
In Philosopher’s Stone, Harry and Voldemort don’t fight each other. Harry fights Quirrell. Yes, Quirrell acts on Voldemort’s instructions, and he can’t touch Harry because of his connection with You-Know-Who, but still it’s not the One and the Dark Lord fighting, so it’s logical Harry survives.
In Chamber of Secrets, Harry again doesn’t fight Voldemort. He fights Tom Riddle – and vanquishes him, from the diary at least.
In Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry doesn’t fight Voldemort at all – he fights the Dementors and rescues Sirius. He gives Pettigrew the opportunity to go back to Voldemort, thereby indirectly causing Voldemort’s return in Goblet of Fire, which reminds me of something interesting: one of Voldemort’s weaknesses. He uses Harry’s blood to return – “blood of the enemy… forcibly taken”… We also hear why Voldemort wants Harry’s blood in particular, while he has so many enemies: to have the protection of his mother that saved Harry running in his veins. Good reasoning, smart move, he’s overcome ‘that particular barrier’, as Dumbledore calls it. But… blood of the enemy….yes, of course, they are enemies. But we learn in Prisoner of Azkaban that Harry doesn’t fear Voldemort much – what he fears most are the Dementors, or as Lupin says, ‘fear itself’. And do we ever in the books hear Harry tell how much he hates Voldemort? Not really. He is much stronger in his hate for Sirius all through PoA. So, maybe Voldemort would have been stronger with the blood of a wizard that truly hates him – someone other than Harry?
In Goblet of Fire, the picture gets complicated. Harry and Voldemort do fight this time. Harry is rescued by his wand, by the connection it makes with its brother, Voldemort’s wand. The don’t work well against each other, Harry has the time to recover a little, and after he breaks the connection he can reach the Portkey back to Hogwarts just in time.
Then in Order of the Phoenix, they don’t really fight again. Harry and his friends fight the Death Eaters, the members of the Order fight the Death Eaters, and when Voldemort wants to start fighting Harry, Dumbledore takes over and fights instead of Harry. Voldemort even briefly possesses Harry, but he can’t for long because of the love Harry feels for Sirius (“for he will have powers the Dark Lord knows not”) and he flees.
So the answer to the question is fairly simple: Voldemort didn’t die because the only chance he ever will is when Harry kills (or ‘vanquishes’) him, and Harry has never tried to kill him – not in the books and not in Godric’s Hollow (the Avada Kedavra curse backfired, and it was Voldemort’s, not Harry’s). The clue lies not in the steps Voldemort has taken to conquer death, but in the Prophecy Sybil Trelawney made. We won’t see how successful the steps were until Harry tries killing Voldemort.