Life Debts

by Lucy Wilson

“”When one wizard saves another wizard’s life, it creates a certain bond between them …– and I’’m much mistaken if Voldemort wants his servant in the debt of Harry Potter.””

“”I don’’t want a bond with Pettigrew!”” said Harry. ““He betrayed my parents!””

“”This is magic at its deepest, its most impenetrable, Harry. But trust me –… the time may come when you will be very glad you saved Pettigrew’’s life.””

(page 311, The Prisoner of Azkaban)

Anyone who spends time reading the editorials on various Harry Potter sites knows about the host of new theories that deal with the question, “Why didn’t Voldemort die?” The most plausible, in my opinion, are the so-called “soul theories,” that suggest Harry is host to Voldemort’s soul, or heart, or life force, or similar, and that Harry’’s soul is anywhere from still inside him to within Fawkes the phoenix. I like these hypotheses because they present a way of looking at the Harry Potter universe that explains a lot of things: the appearance of Dementors in the series, for instance, and why Voldemort did not die.

I also love the way they are merely hypotheses, rather than theories. They substitute ideas for the unknowns in the books, and seldom bother to really get into the whole complicated issue of how Harry will actually vanquish Voldemort in the end.

I like the way they do this, because every time someone tries to actually predict what’s actually going to happen in the final battle or whatever it turns into, something doesn’’t fit. I have read plausible enough theories that deal with Harry burning away Voldemort’’s essence with the power of Love while one possesses the other; there have been some good ones that deal with the mysterious bond between the Dark Lord and the Boy Who Lived, and I believe at least one person has thought up a decent scenario that brings the mysterious locked room in the Department of Mysteries into play. But all the theories that deal with the connection between Voldemort and Harry, at least every one that I have read, miss one thing.

Peter Pettigrew owes Harry Potter a life debt.

Before I go on, I warn you: this editorial does not present one of those lovely hypotheses. In fact, it never even gets so far as to become a theory. It’’s really only an idea. If you want something more concrete, you may be better to read something else.

That Pettigrew owes Harry his life is not a missing link. It is an extra link. It is something that does not fit. Going by some of the aforementioned theories, there are several ways for the books to function well without that detail. And yet, it happened. It appeared in the movie, so we know it’’s important. It’’s just that every time someone starts speculating about how the series will end (with a few exceptions) this detail is forgotten.

Think back to Sorcerer’’s Stone, where the concept of the life-debt is very important, though we don’’t realize how much until the very end. Snape spends his whole year helping Harry out to pay back James. (Incidentally, how many times did Snape save Harry? Is Harry in debt to Snape? Voldemort may not be happy with a servant who is in debt to Harry, but he would very much appreciate a servant who has a claim on Harry’’s life.) Obviously, to owe someone your life is a very serious thing.

It was partly an act of pity that saved Pettigrew. An obvious parallel is of course with Bilbo and Gollum in The Lord of the Rings. If not for the pity of Bilbo, the ring would never have been destroyed, and the world would have been swamped with darkness. I cannot help thinking that something similar is going on here. Because of Harry’’s pity that night in the Shrieking Shack, Pettigrew will be forced to save him at some point, and that will ultimately influence the fate of the series.

But what does it mean to save another’’s life?

In the examples we know, that have occurred during the series, the wizard has to be in mortal peril when he is saved. I would imagine that Arthur Weasley owes Harry his life after the snakebite incident, and probably Ginny too, as Harry retrieved her from the Chamber of Secrets. Were Cedric Diggory still alive, he too might owe Harry his life. Cedric, as we know, endured the Cruciatus curse inflicted by Viktor Krum in the labyrinth of the Third Task.

But what about Krum himself? If he had gone so far as to kill Cedric, what would have happened? He might well have received the Dementor’s Kiss for his crime. Such was not the case, however, because Harry stopped him from killing Cedric. Does Krum owe Harry?

What about the night Harry’’s parents died? Voldemort may not have killed James when he did. He might have chosen instead to stun him and let the poor man wake up to find his young family murdered, before his own death came.

But we know that this would not have happened. Lily would still have died for Harry, and Voldemort would still have been vanquished. The only difference would be that James was alive. By taking Voldemort out of the equation, effectively, Harry would have saved his father’s life. In that scenario, would James be in debt to the infant Harry?

Of course, that never happened. Voldemort delivered a quick, efficient death to the Potters, and that’’s the end of that. But there were other people saved that night. Did Voldemort write down all the people he planned to eliminate on a list? Whether it existed physically or not, I imagine Neville Longbottom was on that list, and probably Dumbledore, and Mad-Eye Moody, and perhaps Snape, and a host of other characters. The whole Muggle world was on that list.

Technically, all these people were in mortal danger. Whatever Harry did that night, whatever powers were working through him, he eliminated the thing that would have killed these people. Does this mean they all owe him their lives?

I know, the obvious rebuttal to this is that Harry was barely conscious at the time. He did not know what he was doing, and what he did do was not in his control, and he did not do it out of any concern for those other lives. I agree: this has the potential to rip a wide, gaping hole in this tentative theory of mine. All I can say is this:

1. In the movie, when we are shown that flashback sequence to the night Harry’’s parents were killed, we see how Harry reacted to almost being killed himself. He just sits there, looking confused as only a young child can. But he isn’’t crying or anything, and he doesn’’t try to escape. It’’s not as if whatever happened was completely against Harry’’s will.
2. Harry did not save Peter Pettigrew because he wanted Pettigrew to live; he saved him because he didn’t want Lupin and Sirius to become murderers and get into more trouble than they already were.

Therefore, the saving of a life just has to happen; it does not have to have anything to do with the one wizard’’s feelings towards the other.

Assume you can save a life that would have been in danger by eliminating the threat. What lives were in danger? The Death Eaters, for instance. What if some of the aurors had found out where the Death Eaters would be holding their next meeting, and had been planning to torch the place and kill all those within? What if this was scheduled to happen the night Voldemort was destroyed, and because he was, they all lived. Technically, all of the Death Eaters would be in Harry’’s debt. (This is a bit far-fetched, I think. I’’ll get back to it.)


The night Voldemort returned. I bet we all know that passage by heart. In his lengthy explanation to the Death Eaters, he says:

“There was no hope of stealing the Sorcerer’’s Stone anymore, for I knew that Dumbledore would have seen to it that it was destroyed. But I was willing to embrace mortal life again, before chasing immortal. I set my sights lower… …”(page 569, The Goblet of Fire)

So, it seems that for now Voldemort is in a mortal body, and a case could be made that he now has a life. A life achieved by Tom Riddle Sr.’’s bone, Pettigrew’’s flesh, and the blood of Harry Potter. Without that blood, Voldemort would not be as strong as he is, and the spell may not have worked at all. Much speculation has followed the “gleam of triumph” in Dumbledore’’s eyes when he hears the story of that night. I suggest that this is because Voldemort owes Harry his life.

And, for those of you who will use the Prophecy as proof against Voldemort’’s mortality, arguing that it has been stated in canon that Voldemort is immortal, you are wrong. The Prophecy says that either Voldemort will kill Harry, or Harry Voldemort, or according to some interpretations that one of them will die at the hand of “the Other.” It does not say that nobody else can kill Voldemort; simply that nobody else will. On the other hand, it does say, in canon, that Voldemort is in a mortal body.

Or, there’’s the less satisfying, more complicated explanation. It was Peter Pettigrew who cared for Lord Voldemort for so long and eventually conducted the magic that resurrected his master. Therefore, if Voldemort indeed has a life, it’’s a pretty safe bet he owes it to Wormtail. Wormtail owes his life to Harry. In the right circumstances, it is possible the middleman will simply be cut out, leaving Voldemort in debt to Harry. It’’s probably more likely that this is the correct interpretation, but far less likely that the situation will come up where it can make a difference.

Don’’t get me wrong. I believe, in the end, it’s going to come down to just Harry and Voldemort. It’s just that, while the unanimous opinion of the theorists of MuggleNet seems to be that Harry will somehow use the power of Love, nobody has come up with a really satisfying explanation of how that will happen. Every theory that sounds believable simply doesn’t make sense when you factor in the rest of the HP universe – that is, the theory works, but it would never happen.

The only way we have seen Love used before in the series (that is, actually consciously channelled), is in the case of Lily Potter sacrificing herself for Harry. For it to be consciously used again, I think this would be the easiest way, and it would probably work. JK Rowling doesn’’t want to introduce some completely new concept at this point. Somebody else will sacrifice themselves, either in Harry’’s name or Harry himself.

Back to the people Harry has saved: perhaps the entire wizarding world was saved that night by a baby, sitting in his crib in Godric’s Hollow. If everyone Harry has ever come into contact with owes him his or her life, it could help explain why he is so filled with Love (if indeed that is the power he has in such great quantities). Of course, that doesn’’t explain the Voldemort side of the equation.

And one last thing, on the subject of Peter Pettigrew. There has been much speculation on the reason behind his silver hand, and the theory runs thus: Lupin is a werewolf, and therefore vulnerable to silver. Peter has a silver hand. Each would probably like to kill the other. Ergo, Pettigrew will use his hand to kill Lupin.

I hate this theory. According to tradition, werewolves are burned by silver, it’’s true, but unless Pettigrew got the chance to drug the guy first, or just happened to be lucky enough to grab him round the throat, it would be pretty difficult to actually injure him enough to kill. Lupin would be fighting back all the time, and even if he were in his tame wolf form he would be dangerous.

But this doesn’’t mean that the silver hand/werewolf connection should not be made. I just think the current theory has it backwards. While Pettigrew will do his best with the hand to burn away Lupin’’s flesh, Lupin will be fighting back, and you can bet he’’s bright enough, perhaps, to administer the bite. And if Pettigrew became a werewolf … well, any other werewolf could just run away from that hand, but Wormtail’’s rather attached to it. Can’’t you just see him, clawing at his arm as the skin begins to blister and steam, as slowly his life force diminishes to dust? Personally, I would think that was somehow satisfying, especially considering the irony that the biggest piece they’’d ever find of Peter Pettigrew would be his hand.

Anything to add? Email me at happysnail82 at hotmail dot com.