The Two-Way Mirror #24: Defense Against the Dark Arts: As If We Need It!

By Daniela

What exactly does fighting the Dark Arts mean? At the simplest level, it involves fighting against the straightforward attacks of the Dark Arts. In fact, that is all that students learn in DADA: how to fight against dark creatures and how to shield themselves against curses and counterattack with anti-curses and anti-jinxes.

A more profound aspect of DADA that does not seem to be actively taught in the Hogwarts class is how to resist the lure of the Dark Arts, how to resist the desire to learn how to use the Dark Arts. The only way this second skill is taught at Hogwarts is indirectly, through ignorance. Draco expressed once on the train ride his interest in going to Durmstrang because at that school students were allowed to get closer to the Dark Arts and actually practice them.

Dumbledore tells Harry that his love, which unlike Harry he thinks is both an “uncommon skill and power” constitutes the greatest defense against the Dark Arts, in the profound sense:

“you even understand the snakelike language in which he gives orders, and yet, Harry, despite your privileged insight into Voldemort’s world (which, incidentally, is a gift any Death Eater would kill to have), you have never been seduced by the Dark Arts, never, even for a second, shown the slightest desire to become one of Voldemort’s followers!”
(Chapter 23, “Horcruxes”)

Of course, Harry has used some Dark Magic, but has not been lured by it, has not found it attractive. When he used Crucio on Bellatrix he was distraught in the extreme and even so could not do it properly, while when he used Sectumsempra on Draco, he didn’t realize what he was doing, and he immediately regretted it and kneeled beside his victim, apologizing. He did try Sectumsempra again on Snape when he knew what it did, but that was a very special circumstance and does not show he was lured.

Snape underestimates Harry’s power to resist the lure of the Dark Arts. Ironically, it is when Snape claims that he has underestimated Harry (but implicitly no longer does) that he begins to underestimate him:

“‘Apparently I underestimated you, Potter,’ he said quietly. ‘Who would have thought you knew such Dark Magic? Who taught you that spell?'”
(Chapter 24, “Sectumsempra”)

Notice that this statement is in the chapter directly following the chapter in which Dumbledore tells Harry that he admires his ability to resist the lure of the Dark Arts. I am sure that although Snape told the entire faculty what Harry had done in the bathroom, Dumbledore didn’t jump to any conclusions about Harry’s relationship to the Dark Arts like Snape did.

Snape is, after Voldemort, the weakest character in the novel in his relationship with the Dark Arts. This weakness is ironic, considering his great power in the sense of defense against the attacks of the Dark Arts, but it is a weakness in the profound sense. Snape cannot resist the lure. We find out that Snape was up to his eyes in the Dark Arts when he entered Hogwarts. I think that because love protects Harry against them, we can deduce that it is hate that weakened Snape’s character and made him susceptible to the Dark Arts. Again ironically, the only time the word “love” is applied to Snape is in relation to the Dark Arts. Harry detects a “loving caress” in Snape’s voice as he describes them:

“‘The Dark Arts,’ said Snape, ‘are many, varied, ever-changing, and eternal. Fighting them is like fighting a many-headed monster, which, each time a neck is severed, sprouts a head even fiercer and cleverer than before. You are fighting against that which is unfixed, mutating, indestructible'”
(Chapter 9, “The Half-Blood Prince”)

I think these two views of DADA, one in the sense of defense against their attack, and the other in the sense of defense against their lure, might help interpret what I found to be a puzzling and intriguing comment that Draco made when he was talking to Snape in the dark classroom, overheard by Harry:

Snape: “If your friends Crabbe and Goyle intend to pass their Defense Against the Dark Arts O.W.L. this time around, they will need to work a little harder than they are doing at pres ?”Draco: “What does it matter? Defense Against the Dark Arts ? it’s all just a joke, isn’t it, an act? Like any of us need protecting against the Dark Arts ?”

Snape: “It is an act that is crucial to success, Draco!” said Snape.
(Chapter 15, “The Unbreakable Vow”)

Draco’s comment seems almost outrageously absurd. Although by “us” he probably meant Crabbe, Goyle and himself, and maybe even Snape – that is, anyone with Death Eater connections, and therefore people who use the Dark Arts – he still shows himself naïve if he thinks he has nothing to fear as far as “attacks” from the Dark Arts go. Does Draco think his “buddies” will never turn their Dark Arts against him? In fact, wasn’t Draco sobbing regularly in the bathroom about being bullied and threatened with death? Wouldn’t he need protecting then? Moreover, does Draco think the world is divided between Voldemort’s followers and people who never use the Dark Arts? As we see in the “Sectumsempra” chapter, it can happen even out of sheer ignorance that an enemy in the good camp will use the Dark Arts to attack, and Draco needed protecting at that point against what Harry had done; he would have either died or been horribly scarred had Snape not been there in time.

I think the only way Draco’s comment can make sense when he says “like any of us need protecting against the Dark Arts,” especially considering his past comments about the more sensible attitude towards the Dark Arts demonstrated at Durmstrang, is that he means that no one needs protecting against the lure of the Dark Arts, no one needs to be kept from using them, that they are a great source of power and knowledge. This attitude towards the Dark Arts reveals a weakness in Draco’s character. We know that he has less ability to love than quite a few people, which explains why he became Voldemort’s follower. But he is not entirely devoid of love, and thus he hesitated on the tower and sabotaged his own murder plans a number of times even before then. Perhaps Rowling put that absurd comment in Draco’s mouth in order to illustrate the great danger in which his soul was.

It makes sense that to someone who finds the Dark Arts useful, a DADA class that teaches students only how to defend themselves against them, keeping the most vital information away from them, is a joke. In Draco’s opinion, DADA as it is taught at Hogwarts is worthless the same way that DADA as it was taught by Umbridge was a waste of time by anybody’s standards. So perhaps the DADA tests are also a joke because they only examine students’ defenses against but not their true knowledge of the Dark Arts. A good DADA test in Draco’s opinion might also test the students’ abilities to use the Dark Arts.

Of all the classes taught at Hogwarts, DADA would have been the last that I would have thought anyone could qualify in principle as a “joke,” and even after explaining it to myself as I have, I admit I still don’t see how one can call a class a joke simply because it offers “incomplete” information. One might call it “not good enough” but not entirely worthless. It is true that the DADA teachers have been a bit of a joke, but Draco’s comment was uttered when supposedly the best teacher available had taken over! The subject itself, regardless of the teachers, unlike Divination, has been treated with the utmost respect by all characters in the books. Ironically, in the sixth book, Trelawney starts getting with it (personally, I think her sense of competition with the “horse” really improved her), and the tables are turned around. Divination begins to make sense while Draco calls the most vital subject of study a “joke”, and Snape does not even contradict him. I was in such a state of shock upon reading that passage that it was the first thing I wanted to write about post-HBP. Surely no comment about DADA in a Harry Potter book, especially a provocative comment like Draco’s, is to be taken lightly.

Dumbledore’s comment jolted me as much as Draco’s, because it seemed so unnecessary and beside the point. What in the world does he mean by stressing what an awesome and impressive thing it is that Harry hasn’t become Voldemort’s follower? Is he kidding? How in the world can he even contemplate such a possibility? Voldemort killed Harry’s parents and Sirius and has been trying to kill Harry all along and… he is the most evil thing that ever walked this earth. There are quite a few other lesser characters who would resist Voldemort’s “temptation” even without these circumstances! It is true that Harry has had “privileged insight” into Voldemort’s world because of his scar, but he has suffered enough at Voldemort’s hands that it seems more than enough to counterbalance the temptation factor. In fact, never once throughout the series has Harry done anything (besides his hungry reading of the Prince’s book) to show that he was susceptible to giving in to a powerful temptation and yet that he resisted through the sheer power of his love. Harry, too, showed incredulity at Dumbledore’s comments, as if he was crazy to suggest Harry could ever have become Voldemort’s follower if it hadn’t been for his love.

How important are these observations about the second aspect of Defense Against the Dark Arts? The reason I took the time to write about this topic is that both Dumbledore’s and Draco’s comments sounded so absurd that I thought Rowling was using them in order to draw our attention to the lure of the Dark Arts, something that I don’t think she has adequately illustrated so far. Since the luring aspect of the Dark Arts has not been developed in the past, I thought that perhaps she has placed these comments in the text as clues foreshadowing future illustrations of this less obvious and spiritual danger of the Dark Arts.

I will feel more satisfied after these comments if Rowling illustrates compellingly in the seventh book the lure of the Dark Arts as a real threat. We know that there is supposed to be a Christian dimension to the books that Rowling said would become evident in the conclusion of the series. The temptation of evil constitutes a big theme in Christianity. “Satan’s temptation” was one of the important events of Jesus’ life. When he spent forty days in the desert, Satan tempted him to use all kinds of powers. Since it seems that in the seventh year Harry does plan to do his own version of Jesus’ “wandering in the desert” by leaving Hogwarts, maybe he will meet similar temptation on his way, and then we will understand the power of his love in the full sense as Dumbledore described it.

“‘Don’t be a fool,’ snarled the face. ‘Better save your own life and join me…'”
(Chapter 17, “The Man with Two Faces”)

But he didn’t do a very good job of being persuasive. First of all, maybe he should have used honeyed tones rather than snarling. He also made the grave mistake of appealing to a cowardice that Harry does not have, and claiming Harry’s parents died begging for mercy. When that insult didn’t succeed in luring Harry (surprise, surprise) he tried to use the guilt trip method by telling him his mother gave her life to save him, and he shouldn’t let her sacrifice be in vain. That was still not a very good argument, seeing that Harry was not quite as cornered as Voldemort tried to make him out to be. It was Voldemort who needed help at that point.

The movie argument, on the other hand, was much more persuasive than the book’s, and we saw Harry almost give in. I wonder how much Rowling allowed for that part of the script to be written, and if it was just to illustrate the power Dumbledore described in the HBP, or if it was to foreshadow a bigger temptation later on. We know that Rowling collaborated quite a bit on the script for the Sorcerer’s Stone, more than on the subsequent one (see the interview on the DVD of the Chamber of Secrets movie). Voldemort showed Harry his parents in the Mirror of Erised and told him he could bring them back. I would say that was quite a powerful temptation. Harry began to take out the stone from his pocket and to hold it forth. But then, the images of his parents vanished from the mirror and Voldemort continued to say things like “together, we’ll do extraordinary things” without the persuasive vision of those whom Harry loved. We could understand on a visual level how Harry suddenly woke up upon the disappearance of his parents and called Voldemort a “Liar!” But it was a cinematic trick rather than a true illustration of the power of Harry’s love.

The problem is, this late in the game I simply can’t envision any plausible scenario of a convincing method that Voldemort might use to lure Harry. Promising safety for Ginny would not work, as Harry has already begun to arm himself against that temptation by breaking up with her. Promising to bring back anyone from the dead would not work because it is impossible. Of course, we are not yet sure of that, are we, especially since Rowling allowed Voldemort to make that very proposition in the first movie. Voldemort could kill someone in front of Harry and then reanimate him or her in order to illustrate his power. He could also use illusion to illustrate a power that in fact he does not have. In any case, I don’t see Harry standing still even for one minute to listen to Voldemort. And what would Voldemort ask in return, if he tempted Harry with such offers? And what would guarantee that either man would keep his side of the bargain (besides an Unbreakable Vow, as has been recently argued by Maya)?

Perhaps what I feel has been missing in order to justify Dumbledore’s statement about the value of Harry’s resistance to the Dark Arts is an illustration of their luring power. Crucio, Imperio, Avada Kedavra, Sectumsempra, the Horcruxes, the Dementors and the Inferi simply are not attractive enough! They are such blatant and horrid violations of humanity that it would take a real lack of any sense of ethics to feel enticed by them, rather than the most special of hearts. I would really expect the Dark Arts to have, besides what we have seen so far, a subtler perverse side, one that only the purest of hearts could resist. I would expect to see a promise of a great deal of power at what appears to be only very little ethical expense. Then I could understand the value of Harry’s resistance as an effect of his exceptional capacity to love.

Maybe we will see this aspect of the Dark Arts in the seventh book. It will feel more satisfying for me after the topic of resisting the supposed lure of the Dark Arts has been brought up in HBP. Perhaps Harry will not be tempted by Voldemort, but suppose the next DADA teacher will present this luring and perhaps most dangerous aspect of the Dark Arts to the students? We have seen that students don’t often reveal what they learn to other teachers, or at least I doubt anyone found out that Impostor Moody was illegally using Imperio on all the students in his class. Perhaps a mass temptation of Hogwarts students will happen in the seventh book, a much more dangerous attack aimed at their soul rather than their body. Perhaps at that point we will be able to understand the resisting power of love that Dumbledore was talking about in Half-Blood Prince.