To Kill a Unicorn: “A half-life, a cursed life”
Sometimes, the initial book of the HP septology lies forgotten when in search of clues and possibilities. Indeed, there are some events in PS/SS that have been analysed many times, such as the chess game below the trapdoor. But there is one scene, also included in the film, that remains one of the most important occurrences in the series, in my opinion. This is the sight of the dead unicorn.
As we know, as part of their detention in PS/SS, Harry, Hermione, Malfoy and Neville are sent into the Forbidden Forest, along with Hagrid and Fang, in search of an injured unicorn. Hagrid, himself a veteran in knowledge of magical creatures, is mystified, because:
“It’s not easy ter catch a unicorn, they’re powerful magic creatures. I never knew one ter be hurt before.”
(pg. 183, PS/SS, UK)
Hagrid knows that something of greater power has been attacking it. They focus their efforts on finding the poor creature. Harry and Malfoy are teamed together, and they follow a trail of silvery blood puddles along the tree stumps. They reach a clearing, and there they see it.
It was the unicorn all right, and it was dead. Harry had never seen anything so beautiful and sad. Its long slender legs were stuck out at odd angles where it had fallen and its mane was spread pearly white on the dark leaves.
(pg. 186, PS/SS, UK)
It has been clear to me for some time that this scene is a possible metaphor. For what, I hear you ask? Let us just see what happens when we translate the above paragraph to feature a young woman.
It was her all right, and she was dead. Her long slender legs were stuck out at odd angles where she had fallen and her hair was spread gleaming red on the dark ground.
I think that this scene could be interpreted as a metaphor for the courageous death of Lily Potter. This act is mentioned in every single book so far, yet there has yet to be a concise depiction of it. It is the reason Harry survived, the reason for Voldemort’s downfall, the reason they are connected, and most likely the trigger for many things to come.
Why am I so certain this unicorn is a symbol for her? Well, there are many symbols that link a unicorn to Lily. The unicorn is bright white in colour, very powerful, quite timid, and in general a beautiful, peaceful creature. It harms no one. This bears a striking resemblance to a lily, which is also white and considered beautiful. The word lily, in literature, is often used to depict purity and innocence. Harry’s mother has been described as having been very pretty, and a very good person. Both the unicorn and Lily have been killed by something cruel and heartless, for selfish reasons.
What follows this sight is very disturbing. The hooded figure – Quirrell/Voldemort – emerges from the shadows to feast on the dead unicorns blood.
Then, out of the shadows, a hooded figure came crawling across the ground like some stalking beast. The cloaked figure reached the unicorn, it lowered its head over the wound in the animals side, and began to drink its blood.
(pg. 187, PS/SS, UK)
The hooded figure has killed the innocent creature first, and now comes to drink from it. Harry, once rescued by Firenze, is told of the moral consequences of such an act. Once at a safe distance from the dead unicorn, Firenze explains:
“…it is a monstrous thing, to slay a unicorn,” said Firenze. ”Only one who has nothing to lose, and everything to gain, would commit such a crime. The blood of a unicorn will keep you alive, even if you are an inch from death, but at a terrible price. You have slain something so pure and defenceless to save yourself and you will have but a half life, a cursed life, from the moment the blood touches your lips.”
Refer this explanation to what happened on the night of October 31, 1981.
In an effort to prevent his own ultimate destruction, Lord Voldemort attempted to murder a baby boy. Harry, being but fifteen months old, was pure and defenseless. Voldemort, trying to avoid the occurance of his ultimate fear his own death attempted something extremely selfish and cruel. He felt he had nothing to lose, and everything to gain by killing Harry. Voldemort, in his heartless way, saw the death of this baby as an end to his own troubles, and he may have deemed it easier to do this as Harry was so young.
But Voldemort did not expect to have Lily to contend with, desperately pleading with him to take her instead. Her boundless love for her son meant that she was willing to give her own life so that he might live, and Voldemort, who desires immortality, and values his own life above all else, thinks her proposal stupid.
Thus Voldemort committed the monstrous thing. He killed a young, loving mother so that he could kill her baby, and in doing so unleashed upon himself a terrible, terrible curse that stripped him of his body and most of his powers. He fled to Albania, now the form of what had been his would-be victim – a small child. He was left to wallow in the deepest forests, abandoned by his followers, his very existence an excruciating perseverance.
But, as we know well, that was not the end of him. He returned to England, with nothing to lose, and everything to gain. Voldemort was reborn, using a potion of his own invention. This consisted of flesh, blood, and bone. Wormtail provided the flesh, his father’s skeleton the bone, but the blood …
And then the most intricate murder plot in Hogwarts history took place, succeeding in its aim to capture Harry and use his blood as the final ingredient. Voldemort explains that he did not want the blood of any foe but Harry’s. This is because he wants Lilys’ blood, the blood that carries protection in it. By using it, Voldemort made him as guarded as Harry, and sealing the fact that they can only be destroyed by each other.
he (Harry) saw the shining silver dagger shaking in Wormtail’s remaining hand. He felt its point penetrate the crook of his right arm, and blood seeping down the sleeve of his torn robes. ..
He staggered back to the cauldron with Harry’s blood. He poured it inside. The liquid within turned, instantly, a blinding white …
“He said my blood would make him stronger than if he’d used someone else’s,” Harry told Dumbledore. ”He said the protection my – my mother left in me – he’d have it, too. And he was right – he could tough me without hurting himself, he touched my face.”
(Harry, pg. 604, GoF, UK)
So Voldemort took Lily’s blood for his resurrection. The potion even turned white when it noted her presence. Voldemort consumed it, and stepped out of the cauldron as a man, reborn, horribly adopting Lily as his own mother. But at what price? He will have a half-life, and a cursed life, and we have already seen this.
His mind and Harry’s mind are fused. We see this clearly in OotP. Harry thinks Voldemort’s thoughts, he dreams Voldemort’s dreams, and he experiences his emotions. As JKR herself says, the rebounded curse opened a window between their minds. Therefore, Voldemort and Harry both live as halves. This may serve to be the reason why neither can live as the other survives, because neither can live as individual wholes. Harry suddenly gains knowledge about Voldemort that he shouldn’t have had:
It’s because he’s happy.
(Harry to Ron, OotP)
Harry knows when Voldemort is in close proximity to him, and his slips into Voldemort’s physical state become more and more frequent. They both suffer enormously when Voldemort possesses Harry at the ministry, and it is only when Harry pleads for the same thing his mother once pleaded for – death — that Voldemort can no longer tolerate being in him, and leaves.
Killing Lily was Voldemort’s undoing, and he knows it. It is clear that Firenze’s dictum on the evil in slaying the innocent reflects this act exactly. Harry and Voldemort are likely to become even more entwined in the approaching book, and will secure the statement that neither can live while the other survives. Living a half and cursed life, Voldemort has no hope of ever achieving his desires to the fullest, and his previous, half-victory/half-failure schemes are proof.
Lily was not his only heartless murder. He has killed many more innocents – most recently Cedric Diggory. Due to his and his followers evil acts, he has managed to destroy the lives of many – most obviously Harry’s.
When we first met Harry, he was an innocent, naïve eleven-year-old, totally inexperienced with the world of magic. He had to be told by Hagrid that not all wizards are good. But as Harry fell victim to many terrible and traumatic events, he lost this childishness, particularly at the end of OotP. He is so wrought with fury and pain that he launches an Unforgivable as an act of vengeance. I perceive this to be the turning point in Harry. The moment he did this, he was no longer an innocent, protected child; this is symbolised by the abrupt halt to Bella’s derogatory mock-baby voice.
If one becomes cursed from the moment the blood touches one’s lips, and Voldemort has used this innocent blood as a third of his being, we can guess that his end is likely to be a horrible one. It is on the innocent he preys, and as Ronan the centaur solemnly declares,
”Always the innocent are the first victims,” he said. ”So it has been for ages past, and so it is now.”
(pg. 184, PS/SS, UK)
The victims Ronan refers to are the victims of violence and conflict, emphasised by the centaurs’ constant observations on that night of the skies. Mars is bright tonight, Mars is the Roman god of war. Lily was, like the unicorn, an innocent victim in Voldemort’s quest for power. Neither deaths were necessary; they were victims of Voldemort’s immortality plan.
Voldemort’s cruel, selfish ways will undoubtedly catch up with him. Just as Harry is marked with his scar, so Voldemort is marked by the stars with the destruction of innocents. There is no way he can possibly escape this fact, as it is literally a part of him (a third, exactly). He is fated to be punished accordingly. Voldemort, drenched in blood of innocents, has no hope for redemption.
Unicorn blood was dribbling down its front.
(pg. 187, PP/SS, UK)