Your Mother Needn’t Have Died: Or, Lily Potter and the Voldemort Proposition
by Courtney L. Kathrys
Lily Evans Potter is an enigma to many. She is the Muggle-born girl who despised and then subsequently fell in love with James Potter. She is also the woman who died protecting Harry from Voldemort, and triggered the charm which allowed Harry to escape unscathed.
But didn’t James Potter fight valiantly to protect his wife and son? Didn’t James Potter die trying to save them? Why then didn’t Lily fall under the protection charm?
I believe this is because Lily was given the chance to live, and James never had that choice. I believe that Lily Potter was given the option to save herself or die for her son, and she willingly and knowingly chose to die for her baby.
However, the question begs to be asked: Why did Lily get this choice? The first passage which sparked my interest appeared in PS/SS. Harry was face to face with Voldemort for the first time, and he was being taunted about his parents and the way they had died. Voldemort made a comment, one not picked up by Harry or many readers from what I have encountered.
“How touching…” it hissed. “I always value bravery…Yes, boy, your parents were brave…I killed your father first, and he put up a courageous fight…but your mother needn’t have died…she was trying to protect you…Now give me the Stone, unless you want her to have died in vain.”
Voldemort to Harry (SS, pg. 365, American edition)
I have thought this through and there are only two viable explanations as to why Voldemort mentioned this in particular.
- It was a mistake: Voldemort, too caught up in the need to get the stone, was speaking laboriously and rashly. He wanted to hurt Harry, and knew exquisite detail would do so.
- It was intentional: Voldemort wanted Harry to know that he gave Lily the chance to live. He wants to understand that because of him (Harry), Lily made the conscience decision to die, rather than hand her son over to death.
- Voldemort did this for the temporary satisfaction, figuring, and counting on, Harrys selective memory to forget that comment and focus on the bigger picture (i.e., giving Voldemort the Stone). In which case, Harry complies brilliantly: ”NEVER!” (SS, pg. 365), and goes on to kill Quirrel and save the Stone.
- Voldemort clearly overestimated Harrys deductive reasoning skills, expecting him to cling to that topic and wax poetic about how he was the ultimate cause of his mother’s death, resulting in handing over the stone. Voldemort seems to be quite put out when things dont go to plan. Rowling describes him as shrieking more than once for Quirrell to kill Harry.
Now, one could argue: Maybe Voldemort was just saying this to aggravate Harry? If you have only read PS/SS, that deduction seems to be plausible response. Voldemort isn’t the type to have any qualms about lying in order to get what he wants and make his opponent feel horrid. And even if he didn’t outright lie, Voldemort has a penchant for twisting the truth around.
However, book 3, PoA, then came into the picture. In the third book Rowling introduces Harry to the Dementors and to the painful retelling of the last moments his parents spent alive. Cleverly, Rowling makes the flashbacks about the emotion and steers both the reader and Harry away from the last words of many; particularly Voldemorts:
Not Harry, not Harry, please not Harry!
Stand aside, you silly girl…stand aside, now…
Not Harry, please no, take me, kill me instead…
– Lily Potter and Voldemort (PoA, pg. 179, American edition)
Not Harry! Not Harry! Please – I’ll do anything
Stand aside. Stand aside, girl!
– Lily Potter and Voldemort (PoA, pg. 239)
These are direct flashbacks, where we can assume the conversations taking place are direct and true. In which case, Voldemort was not lying, nor stretching the truth. He asked Lily to stand aside, to move out of the way and more than once. Voldemort gave Lily Evans Potter, a Muggle-born witch working for the Order and who defied Voldemort himself three times, multiple chances to live.
From what we know of Voldemort, he is a man(?) without mercy. He kills and tortures for any number of reasons, being born a witch/wizard to Muggle parents is just one of the many. I can’t, in any logical world, see Voldemort let anything stand in his way, let alone ask them to move. He is the type that would see Lily guarding Harry, and immediately kill her.
One wouldn’t assume that a mother would so willingly give up her child. Yet Voldemort does. It is because he asks Lily to stand aside, multiple times, that she is able to die to protect Harry. Lily was given that chance to live, the chance to save her own life, and she refused it in order to protect Harry, enabling the protection magic which lives in Harry. If Voldemort had just walked in and killed Lily, the protection would have never been cast and Harry would have died that night.
So why does Voldemort assume that Lily will choose herself over Harry? It could very possibly be what so many suggest: that Voldemort doesn’t understand love, bravery, or any other such Gryffindor type qualities. He is very Slytherin in the way that he believes everyone would rather save themselves and that no one is worth losing your life for.
However, there is a subtle flaw to this. Let’s go back to the first quote:
I always value bravery…Yes, boy, your parents were brave.
Voldemort to Harry (SS, pg. 365)
Voldemort doesn’t despise Gryffindor tendencies after all. In fact, he admires the fact that they fought him, that they chose to die for the ones they loved. That bravery is something that Voldemort can respect.
Then, if the reason Voldemort assumed Lily would save herself wasnt because he underestimated bravery, what was it? Could Voldemort know something about the mysterious Lily that we as the readers are not yet privy to? Some dark secret which has yet to be revealed? We know she is not a Death Eater, Rowling has shot that theory down with a resounding “How dare you?!” So what, then, is Lily’s secret?
What we have to figure out is why Lily was the special one offered the choice, and what makes her so special. Rowling said that something huge will be revealed about Lily Potter, and I believe that the key to that information lies in that night at Godric’s Hollow. It lies in the nuances that not only Harry misses, but the readers do as well. One of the classic cases of this misunderstanding is found in PoA:
”When they get near me –” Harry stared at Lupins desk, his throat tight. “I can hear Voldemort murdering my mum.”
Harry to Remus Lupin (PoA, pg. 187)
What Harry heard, and what we read, was not his mum being murdered, but his mum being offered life. It is little nuances like this which Rowling uses to lure us away from the side plots she is hatching beneath our noses.
Voldemort went after Harry over Neville for a reason, and a far bigger one than Wormtails available information reveals. I believe it was his intention all along to dispose of Harry over Neville, and I believe that Lily is the reason why. Voldemort really believed that Lily would give Harry up, he had no intention of killing her to start with, and because of this he overlooked the magic it invoked. He will even admit that he was foolish in this regard.
His mother left upon him the traces of her sacrifices. This is old magic, I should have remembered it. I was foolish to overlook it.
Voldemort (GoF, pg. 653)
It isn’t often that Voldemort will admit his shortcomings, or even let on that he isn’t perfect. If he is willing to admit to his underlings that he made a very big mistake, then it must be something serious. Of course it is. He tried to kill a baby and the curse rebounded, what is that if not serious? What he doesnt admit, and what he is fully aware of, is that it was his fault the curse rebounded in the first place. He knows all about this protection magic now, he knows how Lily protected Harry and most importantly, why she was able to do so. Because of him. Because he had the audacity to believe that shed choose her life over her son’s. He won’t let on that he knows this, not by any means. His Death Eaters would baulk if they knew that he offered Muggle-born Lily Potter life and not killed her as soon as he saw her, which wouldn’t have spared Harry’s life.
Severus Snape has issues with James Potter, Voldemort is bound to have issues with Lily Potter, and Harry is here with two of his least favorite people in the world who hate him because his parents outsmarted Voldemort and his Death Eaters.
Something is going to be released in HBP, something big about Mrs. Potter. And I have my money on it having something to do with Voldemort’s proposition. JK Rowling doesn’t leave that many carefully hidden clues in three of the past five books to just not say anything else. Now it is up to us to figure out what it is that Lily Potter has that Voldemort was that desperate to get.