Professor Snape, in the Conservatory, with the Candlestick
I guess you could say I’m a pure-blood pacifist. My parents came from different traditions, but both of those traditions encourage peaceful conflict resolution. It’s not like I was forcibly indoctrinated with my family members’ beliefs, but I did take on a number of them as my own. In the real world, I am generally anti-killing.
But the Harry Potter books aren’t the real world, and Voldemort needs to die.
In case any of you got a preconceived notion into your head the moment I used the word “pacifist,” let me clarify something before I move on. There’s every indication love will play a role in Harry’s victory. I believe love is a truly powerful force, but I also believe some theories of how the Dark Lord will be defeated are saccharine to the tenth power. If it seems like a suitable ending to a movie starring the Care Bears or the Smurfs, I’m simply not interested. I do not want Harry to hug the evil out of the Dark Lord. If it’s going to be either that or an Avada Kedavra, I’ll choose the Unforgivable Curse.
Not that the Avada is my favorite way to do it. Far from it. I think Voldemort needs to die at Harry’s hand for the sake of fulfilling the story and saving innocent lives, but there’s a (possibly hypocritical) part of me that doesn’t want Harry to kill. The most recent book emphasized how much harm murder does to the murderer. It’s not clear how significant a distinction there is- if any- between murder and killing to protect others. According to Dumbledore, Harry’s soul is currently “untarnished and whole.” It seems unfair that Harry’s soul could be damaged just because Voldemort’s crazy enough to tear his own into murderous confetti.
This is the corner I find I have painted myself into. I think Voldemort needs to die. I think Harry has to be the catalyst for that death. I want it to happen in a way that does as little damage to Harry’s soul as possible, but I don’t want a sticky-sweet ending. (It’s a good thing I’m not particular, isn’t it?)
If you’ve ever played the board game Clue (“Cluedo” in Europe and Australia), you’ll be familiar with the cards it includes. There are suspect cards, location cards, and weapon cards. The goal of the game is to solve a mystery by figuring out the correct combination of suspect, location, and weapon. For example, you might win by deducing it was “Miss Scarlet, in the ballroom, with the revolver.”
Like many of you, I’ve been playing a strangely modified version of this game. I keep flipping through “cards” in my head, looking for the combinations that are most interesting or make the most sense for the finale of Book 7. Who will be there to help Harry kill Voldemort? Where will it happen? What weapon will be used? Most random combinations are highly unlikely, but there’s no shortage of possibilities in a world as detailed as Rowling’s. It could theoretically be Petunia, in Godric’s Hollow, with Gryffindor’s sword. Or Wormtail, in the Ministry of Magic, with the veil. Or even Mrs. Norris, in the Forbidden Forest, with the world’s strongest Bat-Bogey Hex. The list goes on and on.
Of course, the part that most interests me is the weapon. Coming up with the right mode of death for Voldemort seems like the key to finding a way for Harry’s soul to stay in one piece.
In Clue, there are some standard weapons such as a knife and a revolver. Then there are odd weapons– things like a candlestick. Sure, it wasn’t designed to be a weapon- but if you hit someone over the head with a heavy brass candlestick, I doubt your victim will be concerned with that distinction. Have we been offered any “candlesticks” in HBP? Any potential weapons that weren’t designed for that purpose?
There’s always the Unbreakable Vow.
The Vow was designed to make sure a promise is kept. It can kill you, but that’s not its real purpose. Using the Unbreakable Vow normally means the best outcome is a promise kept and all parties involved in making the Vow still breathing.
You wouldn’t have to use the Vow normally, though. If you could get someone to make a promise that they either couldn’t or wouldn’t keep, that person would be sure to die. That would be using the Vow as a weapon.
A Simple Example
Harry could intentionally use the Unbreakable Vow to kill Voldemort. After destroying all of the Horcruxes, Harry could approach Voldemort and act as though he wished to call a truce. Harry would go into the story about how the prophecy doesn’t mean anything if they both agree to walk away. After that, Harry and Voldemort would make Unbreakable Vows promising that neither one will kill the other.
Voldemort’s actions show that he really does believe in the prophecy as fate. He would also believe his Horcruxes are in place to protect him from death. So he would try to kill Harry, but as soon as he did the Unbreakable Vow would be called into effect and Voldemort would also die.
I’m not actually in the “Harry must sacrifice himself” camp, but this example does give us a framework to start addressing specific issues that are involved with this type of scenario.
Problems with Using the Unbreakable Vow as a Weapon
1) Why would intelligent and evil Lord Voldemort ever agree to make an Unbreakable Vow in the first place?
I suppose it would depend on Harry being especially convincing and Voldemort being especially overconfident in his own abilities (thinking he had the system beat with his Horcruxes). We’ve seen signs of both of these character traits, so it would be a matter of Harry being persuasive enough and Voldemort being arrogant enough. Are they? Your guess is as good as mine.
2) Wouldn’t Voldemort know his Horcruxes had been destroyed?
This is a problem faced by almost any theory of how Harry will kill Voldemort. Dumbledore tells us that Voldemort probably can’t sense the destruction of individual Horcruxes, so the main concern is whether Voldemort will look into Harry’s mind and know the truth.
It’s quite possible that this will never happen. Voldemort is currently practicing Occlumency against Harry. This is presumably because he realized Harry could access his thoughts, and specifically wanted to keep Harry from learning of his Horcruxes in that manner. Voldemort certainly wouldn’t want Harry to know about the existence of the Horcruxes before the boy was safely dead. In the interest of protecting his own secret, Voldemort may never risk reopening a connection to Harry’s mind.
In the event that Voldemort does try to probe Harry’s mind for information, there are methods for hiding the truth about the Horcruxes. Occlumency or the use of a Pensieve are two potential work-arounds, and there are others as well.
3) Even if Voldemort believed his Horcruxes to be intact, why would he risk becoming “less than spirit, less than the meanest ghost” again?
Voldemort has repeatedly faced Harry and lost. I suspect he may be preparing additional protection against that outcome before facing Harry again. This protection could be in the form of having a faster way to reinstall his spirit into his body, or in finding a way to make his body as indestructible as he believes his soul to be. (See GoF Chapter 33 for ominous comments such as I was willing to embrace mortal life again, before chasing immortality. I would set my sights lower… I would settle for my old body back again, and my own strength. He’d settle for that? Sounds like there was always more to the plan than Horcruxes.)
A More Involved Example
Suppose Harry, Ron, and Hermione manage to find and destroy all of the remaining Horcruxes save one– Nagini. Using Ginny as bait, the Dark Lord could lure Harry to thefinal final showdown. Harry would have to trust his friends to take care of the snake, knowing he couldn’t kill Voldemort with one Horcrux remaining. In the meantime, our hero would have to do one of the things he’s shown a true skill for in final battles– stall like crazy. He could start by refusing to fight Voldemort unless Ginny was released. Of course Voldemort could just as easily refuse to release Ginny until Harry faces him. In desperation, Harry could then agree to fight Voldemort if he will make an Unbreakable Vow to not hurt/kill anyone else until he’s killed Harry. (Harry wouldn’t intentionally be using the Vow as a weapon in this example. It would really be more of a stalling tactic, and he might assume Voldemort would never agree to it in the first place. Harry would be expecting to attempt to kill Voldemort in some “traditional” way.)
When Voldemort agrees to make the Vow, he’ll need someone to act as Bonder. Snape would work as well as anyone– he’s demonstrated his loyalty to the Dark Lord, and the readers have seen that Snape knows how the Vow works. So poor Harry could find one of the people he hates most in the world creating yet another “till death do you part” bond between Harry and the other person he hates most in the world. While they hold hands. (This would be the part when Harry may begin to think suggesting an Unbreakable Vow was a very bad idea.)
Voldemort, believing his Horcruxes to be intact, could then decide he’s going to kill Ginny immediately. What better way to rattle his opponent than by killing Harry’s girlfriend and defying death in the process? As Voldemort is about to Avada KedavraGinny, Snape could step in with an attack against his supposed master. (I am in the “redemption for Snape” camp, but that’s a subject for a different editorial.) Voldemort would kill Snape for his betrayal. Luckily for Harry, Ron and Hermione would have destroyed the final Horcrux just in time. Voldemort, no longer immortal, would die as a consequence of breaking the Unbreakable Vow.
That’s just another example, and not necessarily the way anything would have to happen if the Unbreakable Vow is used to kill Voldemort. I could go on giving examples, but I think it’s more important to discuss why it’s worth considering such scenarios in the first place.
Advantages of using the Unbreakable Vow as a weapon
1) Voldemort would die, but Harry’s soul has a good chance of remaining intact.
Voldemort would have to make the choice to both take and break the Vow. He would ultimately be responsible for his own death. It seems unlikely that Harry would be considered a “murderer” or “killer” in that case.
2) Harry would never take away Voldemort’s ability to make his own choices.
At any point before being killed by the Unbreakable Vow, Voldemort could theoretically save himself. He could stop and beg forgiveness and pledge to mend his evil ways. Hewouldn’t, but he could. Choices are an important theme in the series, after all.
3) It would create parallels to Lily’s sacrifice at the beginning of the series without blatant repetition.
Voldemort would still be defeated because of his own cruelty and arrogance, but we wouldn’t have another scene where someone sacrifices him- or herself with a reflectedAvada Kedavra as a result. (Voldemort may not be as smart as he believes, but I really don’t expect he’s stupid enough to let the exact same thing happen again.)
4) It would fulfill the terms of the prophecy.
I know, I know. The mere existence of the prophecy doesn’t mean that it has to be fulfilled. Still, JKR said she worded the prophecy very carefully. I think it’s more likely than not that we’ll see those careful words count for something.
If Harry talks Voldemort into making an Unbreakable Vow that results in his death, I think it would be fair to say Harry is “the one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord.” The line in the prophecy that says “either must die at the hand of the other” takes on a very literal meaning. To make an Unbreakable Vow, Harry and Voldemort would have to hold hands. Speaking of which…
5) It would explain why it was important for Voldemort to be able to touch Harry.
It’s awfully hard to hold hands with someone whose flesh burns when you touch them. (Or so I would imagine.)
6) It would make for one truly bizarre moment.
Harry and Voldemort holding hands? It’s so ridiculous that it’s almost beautiful. Bringing together these two people who are so alike but so different for one surreal moment holds great appeal for me. Throw in the possibility that Snape (who was shown to have a similar background to both Harry and Voldemort) could serve as Bonder and the whole thing gets even better.
7) It wouldn’t require Harry to learn anything more than he already knows.
Harry wouldn’t have to spend Book 7 in training with the Order, researching ancient magic, or learning to focus his hatred into a really strong Unforgivable Curse. He’s already got four Horcruxes to track down and destroy before facing off against a very powerful wizard. To quote Dumbledore, that seems like “enough responsibility to be going on with.”
For these reasons, I think the Unbreakable Vow has a lot of potential as an unexpected weapon. All the same, I understand if you disagree with me. What meets my needs as a reader may not meet yours– and that’s okay. Maybe you’d prefer Dobby, in St. Mungo’s, with a broken wand. Or Nearly Headless Nick, in Diagon Alley, with a Patented Daydream Charm. After all, we’ve got about two years to keep shuffling cards…