The Boy Who Loved, or Why Love Conquers All

by David Whittaker 

“There is a room in the Department of Mysteries,” interrupted Dumbledore, “that is kept locked at all times. It contains a force that is at once more wonderful and terrible than death, than human intelligence, than the forces of nature. It is also, perhaps, the most mysterious of the many subjects for study that reside there. It is the power held within that room that you possess in such quantities and which Voldemort has not at all.…”

In this editorial, I want to discuss Harry’’s nature as revealed by his attempted use of the Dark Arts in books 5 and 6, and the implications the results present for the conclusion of the series and the final struggle with Voldemort. I’’ll also be looking at Harry and Voldemort’’s duality as “opposite sides of the same coin,” and the nature of the Dark Arts in relation to JKR’’s vision of good and evil in the overall story.

Following the violent deaths of Sirius and Dumbledore in books 5 and 6, we have seen Harry try and fail on both occasions to use an Unforgivable Curse (the Cruciatus) against their murderers, Bellatrix, and more recently, Snape. JKR clearly has something crucial to say in these scenes, to mirror them so closely at the climax of the last two books.

I believe that the vital information we can deduce from both of these encounters is that Harry, who is the vessel of love, the holder of the power the Dark Lord knows not, cannot produce (even under the most extreme circumstances) the required force of hate to cast an Unforgivable Curse. This is underlined in book 6 by the fact that Snape, its intended object, is a character for whom Rowling has repeatedly emphasized Harry’’s deep and lasting enmity, and who has just (at least for argument’s sake, all you Snape fans!) murdered Dumbledore, Harry’’s mentor and protector. Added to this massive weight of revenge motivation for Harry is the revelation that it was Snape who overheard the prophecy, and then doomed Lily and James by passing the information to Voldemort. Snape taunts Harry’s “failure” during their duel: “No Unforgivable Curses from you, Potter! You haven’’t got the nerve or the ability–” but he could not be more wrong.

Harry has shown on countless occasions, whether it be surviving a duel with Lord Voldemort and pulling off an escape with Cedric’’s body, or producing a true Patronus at the age of 13 to save Sirius, Hermione and himself from a hundred dementors, that he possesses both these qualities in quantities far beyond the “normal,” if that is a word that can be applied to the wizarding world. What Harry “lacks” is neither nerve nor ability but the vital ingredient of hatred, in the sense of truly wanting to cause someone unendurable and prolonged agony.

Bellatrix sees this far more clearly than Snape:

“You need to mean them, Potter! You need to really want to cause pain — to enjoy it — righteous anger won’t hurt me for long–“

What Rowling is showing us in both encounters is that when it comes to hatred, and its ultimate form of expression — murder — Harry simply does not have what it takes under any circumstances. This was, in fact, demonstrated as early as book 3; Harry had the chance to kill Sirius in the Shrieking Shack before Lupin’s intervention, when he still fully believed him to be the betrayer of his parents — yet he froze and did not act. This vital information about Harry’’s character is lost in the film, when the space between Harry getting Sirius at his mercy and Lupin’’s arrival is drastically shortened.

Whether Harry could actually have committed murder by magic in book 3, without knowing the Unforgivable Curses, is highly debatable. When fake Moody introduces them in book 4, he doubts whether the fourth years could give him “so much as a nose-bleed” if they were to use Avada Kedavra against him. However, I believe Harry could at least have badly hurt Sirius, particularly given — fresh from Azkaban — his state of health at the time. Harry even goes on to prevent Pettigrew’’s murder, despite knowing that he is the reason his family is dead. It is mercy, a quality of love, which defines Harry’’s character when the chips are down, and yet he has been prophesied as the one who must either kill or be killed by Voldemort. The ramifications of this go straight to the heart of the story; the vital differences between two wizards of strikingly similar background, Voldemort and Harry, the opposite sides of the same coin, and what they mean in terms of the form their final struggle might take.

As we have seen in book 6, whilst he lounges with his cronies in Slughorn’’s study, Tom Riddle at 16 (precisely the same age as the watching Harry) has already killed:

With a jolt, Harry saw that he was wearing Marvolo’’s gold and black ring; he had already killed his father.

Rowling cleverly juxtaposes this information with Voldemort’’s relaxed attitude:

His was the most handsome face, and he looked the most relaxed of all the boys. His right hand lay negligently upon the arm of his chair….

In contrast with Harry then, who cannot bring himself to cause pain to his enemies when they murder his friends, Tom Riddle is comfortable, even relaxed as a murderer — it is his nature to hate and murder, just as we see it is Harry’’s nature to love and be merciful. Tom Riddle’’s nature demands complete independence and rejection of human relationships: “He was a funny baby, too. He hardly ever cried you know.”

As Dumbledore points out to Harry: “He wished to be different, separate, notorious…Lord Voldemort has never had a friend, nor do I believe that he has ever wanted one.” Compare the boy Harry, “hungrily” staring into the Mirror of Erised, longing for a family, and the teenager with such close bonds of friendship and love to those around him, to the boy Tom, who tortured potential friends in the cave, and the teenager who happily murdered his own family. One is steeped in love, the other in hate. We have talked about Harry’’s attempted use of the Cruciatus, but it is his non-use of another Unforgivable Curse, Voldemort’’s trademark, that sheds most light on his character; throughout all his trials and heartbreak, Harry has never attempted to use Avada Kedavra. What possible circumstances, then, could bring Harry to fulfill the prophecy in his favor, and kill Voldemort?

It has been recently observed by the MuggleCast boys that Ron is “a very vulnerable character.” Harry’’s nearest and dearest, from his parents through Sirius to Dumbledore, have an unfortunate habit of dying at the hands of Voldemort and the Death Eaters. Whilst this clearly also has implications for Hermione, it is Ron, as Harry’’s best and closest friend, whose death would have the greatest impact on Harry. The evidence for this is scattered throughout the canon, particularly in book 4 during their fall-out, where Harry guiltily feels that being best friends with Hermione is not as much fun as being best friends with Ron — less laughter and more trips to the library — and in book 6, following Malfoy breaking Harry’’s nose on the train, “it was a mark of the strength of their friendship that Ron did not laugh.” Could it be that Ron’’s death will be the catalyst for Harry finally, truly losing control and killing Voldemort?

It was pointed out in the same episode of MuggleCast that the scene in Philosopher’s Stone, where Malfoy attempts to catch the trio smuggling Norbert the baby Horntail out of the castle via the Astronomy Tower, is an uncanny piece of foreshadowing for “The Lightning Struck Tower” in Half-Blood Prince. Is it equally possible then, that the chessboard scene in Philosopher’s Stone, where Ron sacrifices himself in order for Harry to proceed alone to face Voldemort, is another piece of foreshadowing, but this time for book 7? We know, after all, that Harry will ultimately face Voldemort unaided — either must die at the hand of the other, and I can think of no other revenge motivation than Voldemort causing Ron’’s death that could bring Harry to the point of murdering Voldemort by magic.

As a possible conclusion to the story of The Boy Who Loved, however, this scenario does not ring true for me. As we have already seen following the deaths of Sirius and Dumbledore (and JKR has therefore underlined this point twice) Harry could not commit murder under any circumstances. I don’’t see how Ron’’s death could change that fact if the deaths of others Harry loved could not. Harry’’s power is love, not the controlled use of hate that is the Avada Kedavra curse, and therefore his possible defeat of Voldemort must stem from love, which Dumbledore believes to be the more powerful force and of which Voldemort remains “woefully ignorant.”

If the Harry Potter series boils down to the conflict between good and evil, love and hate, as represented by the dual yet opposite characters of Harry and Voldemort, then the final battle must be a confrontation between not just Harry and Voldemort but also between those opposite forces. Hate cannot conquer hate, so Harry will not attempt, or at least triumph, through a revenge/hate-fuelled use of the Avada Kedavra curse. Voldemort was originally defeated in Godric’’s Hollow by Lily’’s love for her son, which was the motivation for her sacrifice, not by a clever spell or charm she previously cooked up with Dumbledore.

This fact is important, because it was not advanced Defence Against the Dark Arts or Potions skills that vanquished Voldemort the first time around, which Harry does not possess anyway (say to the extent that Dumbledore did). Instead, it was simple, desperate love, which we know Harry possesses in great quantities. Voldemort was defeated by the desperation of a much “weaker” witch than himself, in terms of magical force. The force of Lily’s love protecting Harry must have been stronger and more powerful than the force of hate — Avada Kedavra — Voldemort used to attack him, and thus the weak and defenceless baby miraculously survived the attack by the most powerful dark wizard in history, who was, with clear irony, destroyed by his own hatred. Things happened this way because love is always more powerful than hate in the Potterverse. Voldemort’’s weakness, and the reason for his defeat at Godric’’s Hollow, is his total lack of understanding of this basic principle: “Nothing I have seen in the world has supported your famous pronouncements that love is more powerful than my kind of magic, Dumbledore.”

Voldemort believes that hatred, through Dark Magic, gives him strength, and in the case of Horcruxes, has even made him invulnerable. The Dark Arts, as seen through the three Unforgivable Curses, are expressions of hatred. They enslave (Imperius), cause unbearable agony (Cruciatus), and kill (Avada Kedavra). In the case of all three, as in that of lesser curses like Sectumsempra, which so horrifies Harry, the motivation of a wizard to use them can only be pure hatred, indeed as Harry himself proves they will not work without it.

However, as we have learned from Slughorn, the use of Avada Kedavra makes the wizard weaker, not stronger, as “killing rips the soul apart” and the soul is “supposed to remain intact and whole.” Voldemort does not care that murder and the creation of Horcruxes are “an act of violation, it is against nature.” His greatest ambition is to transcend nature by conquering death.

The message, however, is clear: Harry is stronger for remaining pure of heart, living for love, and retains “the incomparable power of a soul that remains untarnished and whole,” whereas Voldemort’’s soul is broken, scattered and mutilated, both by his hatred and his fear of death. In Goblet of Fire, before murdering Frank Bryce (making a Horcrux of Nagini?) he declares: “But I am not a man, Muggle…I am much, much more than a man.” The tragedy of Voldemort, underlined by Rowling through his grotesque physical form before rebirth in the graveyard, is that he does not realize that he is much, much less.

Whilst I doubt that the exact circumstances of the final battle will mirror that night in Godric’’s Hollow, and will most likely involve the room behind the locked door in the Department of Mysteries, foreshadowed by the ill-fated visit in book 5, I think we can be certain that Harry will not use Avada Kedavra or any other Dark Magic to destroy Voldemort. It is clear from the concrete proof of The Curse That Failed that love is stronger than hate, no matter the relative power of the actual wizards involved (e.g. the Dark Lord at the height of his powers vs. Lily/baby Harry) and that, given the destruction of the last Horcrux, love really will conquer all.

Let me know what you think on whittaker983 at hotmail dot com and thanks for reading.