Magic Leaves Traces: Echoes, Reflections, and the Fate of Harry Potter
by Richard A. Glover
The Echo of myth was a talkative muse, punished for her infidelities by being condemned to repeat that which was said to her, without the ability to enter into conversation of her own volition. As she pined away for the beautiful Narcissus, unable to speak to him without his speaking first, she turned to stone and dust so that, eventually, only her voice remained. Narcissus’ beauty proved ephemeral, but Echo’s voice remained eternal. Even now we hear her attempts to speak when our voices float away into the distance. Part of Echo’s condemnation, however, was to mar or change that which she repeated. Never an exact replica of the source, an echo is always a reflection of only part of the whole.
Echo makes her mark upon the Harry Potter saga as well. Dumbledore’s comment inHalf-Blood Prince that “Magic always leaves traces,” is representative of the key to understanding the secrets that Jo Rowling has left for us to uncover in her work. The echoes in Harry Potter provide us with certain clues to unraveling the mysteries of the Potterverse, and allow us to conjecture upon the answers to the questions that burn in the minds of Harry Potter fans.
What misleads us most about sleuthing Harry Potter‘s clues is that the parallels are never exact reflections of things we know. Always, inevitably, the parallel is loose enough to provide a measure of doubt. It is that very reason that considering parallels not as reflections, but rather as echoes, is a crucial tool to making valid conjectures concerning our particular inquiries. The echoes in Harry Potter that point us in the right direction are marred, as was the voice of the muse that lent her name to the phenomenon. Rowling has, herself, provided ample evidence of the nature of echoes throughout her books. These echoes are the key to generating an understanding of how to read her text with an accurate eye to the future, and end result, of her books. To justify these claims, I will first examine the nature of the echoes Rowling provides as a keystone. Then I will examine some broader themes that resonate throughout the text as echoes of the power required for Harry to overcome his obstacles. Finally, I will provide what I think are answers to some of the more important questions posed by the text using the idea of echoes to justify my conclusions.
Part 1 – Evidence of Magical Echoes
First, then, we need to examine those echoes that provide us keystone and hallmark for decoding JKR’s text. There are a number of magical creatures, items, and phenomena that point to the importance of echoes throughout the text. Primary among these are the imprints that witches and wizards leave upon the world when they are gone. Ghosts, as stated explicitly in the books, and in interviews with Rowling herself, are imprints of those witches and wizards who were too frightened of death to surrender themselves to it when the time arrived. At the end of Order of the Phoenix, Harry accosts Nearly-headless Nick. Nick informs Harry that Sirius will not return as a ghost, much to Harry’s dismay. Ghosts, Nick tells us, are imprints of a magical soul upon the world, left by those who feared death. They are not immortal beings, but rather echoes of the Magical beings that they once were.
Magical images provide us with yet another example of echoes. Magical photographs show images of witches and wizards in motion. While photographs don’t seem to speak, they still communicate in subtle ways (Such as Penelope Clearwater’s photo hiding in the frame when her nose becomes blurry from a spill, or Percy walking indignantly from a photo of the Weasley family after their argument.) Photos also seem to respond in certain ways to directions (such as Moody’s instructions to members of the Order to “budge along” in the photo he shows Harry at Grimmauld Place). Photos also seem to reflect the nature of those pictured (as in Harry’s first encounter with Albus Dumbledore in SS/PS, where he disappears from the chocolate frog card, and Ron tells him that Dumbledore is a busy man, and Harry couldn’t possibly expect him to hang around on the chocolate frog cards all day.) While these pictures seem to have certain personality traits, they appear to be somewhat in caricature. They are mere echoes of the wizards pictured therein. It is likewise with magical portraits. In an interview during the 2004 Edinburgh Book Festival, J.K. Rowling stated:
They are all of dead people; they are not as fully realized as ghosts, as you have probably noticed. The place where you see them really talk is in Dumbledore’s office, primarily; the idea is that the previous headmasters and headmistresses leave behind a faint imprint of themselves. They leave their aura, almost, in the office and they can give some counsel to the present occupant, but it is not like being a ghost. They repeat catchphrases, almost. The portrait of Sirius’ mother is not a very 3D personality; she is not very fully realized. She repeats catchphrases that she had when she was alive.
Again, we see that the portraits of deceased witches and wizards are little more than echoes of the people that they represent. It is not a matter of living eternally, but one of those traces that magic leaves. An imprint or aura that echoes the spirit of the magical personage that once came before.
In addition to these ghostly echoes of former magical beings, there are certain magical objects that seem to contain properties of an echo. Among these are several of the more important mirrors mentioned throughout the series. These particular mirrors provide not reflections, but rather echoes, to those who gaze into them. The Foe Glass owned by the impostor Moody, for example, shows shadows of the lurking enemy. Impostor Moody notes that he’s not in trouble until he sees the whites of the shadows’ eyes. These are not reflections, but impressions, echoes. Harry notices his salvation approaching in the Foe Glass in the form of Dumbledore, McGonagall, and Snape. Their echoes in the glass advancing as enemies to the Foe dressed as friend that sits before Harry.
The two-way mirror, as well, echoes a voice across the distance to the mirror’s companion. Many read Harry’s dialogue with this mirror at the end of OOTP as a hope that Sirius will return. While it may be possible that we haven’t heard the last of Sirius Black, I think this scene provides an echo that is far more important. It echoes Harry’s failure. It echoes his mistake. It echoes the lesson Harry learns at the Ministry. It is this echo that will prove important to understanding Harry’s role in the final chapter of his story. I will return to this later on.
Finally, The Mirror of Erised provides an important echo to help us understand the nature of this work. This mirror reflects not the image of the viewer, but rather it echoes the deepest desire of the viewer’s heart. In Harry’s case it echoes both his desire to experience the love of a family, as well as his desire to defeat the ultimate evil. In HBP, Dumbledore tells us that the echoes of Erised prove how special Harry is. How he is unique among the wizarding community to be able to see what he has seen in the mirror, despite his personal history. These echoes will also prove crucial to understanding the answers to the questions I provide later on.
The other magical objects that bear mention as representative of echoes are Horcruxes. Each item that Dumbledore and Harry presume has been used as a Horcrux provides an echo of the emotional connections of Tom Riddle. The locket, the snake, the cup, and the unknown artifact (which, I’m personally inclined to believe, is an item of Ravenclaw’s) all echo Tom’s connection to Hogwarts, its history, its secrets, and its power. The Ring, bearing the coat of arms of a pureblood magical family is an echo of Tom’s wizarding heritage. And, finally (and perhaps most importantly), the diary is an echo of the events that prove Tom Riddle was Slytherin’s heir. The diary itself echoes the words of a young Tom Riddle, and when he is released at the end of Chamber of Secrets, it is the image of young Tom Riddle that Harry sees. This is not a reflection of the young Tom though. It is marred by the soul, memories, and understandings of Lord Voldemort. It is an echo of Lord Voldemort himself. By their very creation, Horcruxes contain echoes of the witch or wizard who creates them. They contain marred bits of soul, much as the marred phrases of sound return to the speaker when we hear an echo. The soul that is bound when the body is destroyed is another form of an echo. Vapourmort was a mere echo of the powerful wizard who came before. The revelation of Horcruxes in Book 6 is a powerful representation of the nature of echoes in the Harry Potter saga.
Certain magical phenomena also provide evidence of echoes, and their importance to our understanding. Harry ventures into the thoughts of others using the Pensieve. This tool provides the user with the ability to see memories as a third party. Dumbledore refers to Harry becoming “lost in my [Dumbledore’s] thoughts” upon Harry’s first venture into the Pensieve. Through this tool, Harry experiences the past and recognizes echoes in the present. The echoes of this tool are so powerful that it becomes the primary tool in educating Harry about the nature of Voldemort and his followers. Understanding the way history resonates in the present is Dumbledore’s strategy for defeating the Dark Lord once and for all. Harry’s venture into Snape’s memory resonates and echoes throughout his interactions with those who knew his father, and again when he reads certain spells in the Prince’s Potions textbook. These memories are echoed when he sits beneath the tree with Ron, as Ron musses his own hair (much as James once did). They resonate when Sirius and Remus mention Harry’s father. They resonate when Harry encounters Snape in yet another of his particularly foul moods. The Pensieve becomes the key for Harry’s understanding of the echoes of history, and provides a clue for HP sleuths to follow and understand the echoes of the past in the present in order to unravel the mysteries.
Another magical echo is the echo of prophecy. As we have discovered in Books 5 and 6, the prophecy is an important key to understanding Voldemort’s motivation for trying to kill Harry as a baby. The Hall of Prophecy at the Ministry contains records of prophecies that only their owners may retrieve. When the records are broken, a spectral mist takes the form of the prophet and speaks the words of the prophecy. We also learn, from Dumbledore, that the person who heard the prophecy is capable of perfect recall. Oddly enough, the prophet, it would seem, cannot remember what they prophesy. Trelawney has no idea that she has, indeed, made at least two legitimate prophecies in her career. Thus, prophecy is what Jean Baudrillard would call a Simulacrum. The record in the Hall of Prophecy is a copy of a copy with no original to reference. It is an echo of the highest order. The impression JKR gives us of hearing a prophecy is itself echoing and spectral. Thus we’ve yet another example of an echo that will prove important in our final analysis.
The Patronus, or protector, is another magical echo. We have learned through various discussions and interviews that Patronuses are unique to the wizard who casts them. Patronuses are an echo of the positive energy of the caster. The wizard’s Patronus is a mark of her/his individual nature (Dumbledore’s Phoenix patronus, Hermione’s otter, Cho’s swan, Ron’s Jack Russell Terrier, etc.) Harry’s Patronus, a stag, is an echo of his father’s animagus form. JKR has also indicated on her website that the Patronus is used to send messages between members of the Order, as they cannot be tampered with. Each patronus is, itself, an echo of the caster. JKR has also, I believe, made mention of a patronus also being the animal that a person would become as an animagus, providing further evidence of its nature as an echo.
Finally, it is important to make note of the echoes that result from Priori Incantatem. InGoblet of Fire, the Priori Incantatem phenomenon occurs when Harry and Voldemort duel as a result of their wands sharing a core. The result, as we all well know by now, is that the loser of the battle of wills, required when brother wands do battle, is forced to reveal those spells it was last used to cast. Voldemort’s wand issues forth echoes of those his wand killed. Cedric, Frank Bryce, Bertha Jorkins, and James and Lily all come forth and encourage Harry. Dumbledore specifically refers to these spectral figures as echoes of the people whose lives were taken. These echoes provide Harry with protection, and they provide us with a clue: if we allow ourselves to use the echoes as a guide, if we follow their advice and do as they say, we will reveal the secrets we need to be victorious.
Part 2 – The Impact of Broader Echoes on Our Story
Rowling also, quite deviously, creates certain echoes in her thematic elements and characters. Fandom, in general, has discussed at length certain mythological, historical, and even biblical allusions in the texts. This work, itself, is an explication of the mythological connection to the story of Echo and Narcissus. In the Harry Potter saga, even the slightest whispers can echo throughout the texts. Much has been made of the way characters, for example, are mentioned briefly, only to return as important figures in the story. I need not mention a certain kerfluffle over one of Dudley’s bullying victims to note that this tendency of Rowling to create echoes is, at times, quite misleading. However, these particular echoes tell us a great deal about the characters we so enjoy, and their ultimate place in the story as it draws nearer its conclusion.
First, the echo of James Potter resonates loudly in his son, Harry. Time and again, it is noted that Harry so closely resembles James that even Sirius gets them confused in his mind. James’ three times defiance of Lord Voldemort is echoed in Harry’s own escapes. James’ heroic stand against the Dark Lord in defense of his wife and child will, undoubtedly, be resonant in the final showdown. Harry noted his own resemblance to his father during his sojourn through Snape’s memory in OOTP. It is also worth noting that Harry’s patronus even echoes his father’s animagus form. It must be further noted, however, that Harry is not a mirror image of his father. His eyes, as we all well know, are Lily’s. Harry isn’t a reflection of his father, but rather an echo of both of his parents. Slughorn tells us, frequently, that Harry reminds him a great deal of his mother. Much of what Slughorn perceives of this likeness is due, of course, to Harry’s tutelage from the Half-Blood Prince, but this merely reinforces the aspect of echo, rather than reflection.
Most importantly, when considering Harry, is the way his life echoes that of the Dark Lord himself. Harry’s life uncannily resembles that of Tom Riddle: a talented orphan, raised with no knowledge of the magical world, who is undoubtedly destined for greatness. Ollivander, displaying ominous wisdom, tells Harry that the wizard who purchased the first of the Fawkes-core wands did things that were terrible, but great, and that the magical world would do well to expect great things from Harry as well. Indeed, Harry’s own path has echoed that of the Dark Lord in so many important ways that the connection is at the crux of the story. Were it a reflection, Harry might stand alongside the power of evil, but as Dumbledore tells us in HBP, it is Harry’s unique capacity to love that sets him so far apart. This difference is what makes Harry an echo of Lord Voldemort, rather than a reflection. These two characters provide the archetypes for the story of good versus evil that echoes throughout Rowling’s work.
Other characters are also worth noting in this framework. Ginny Weasley’s character recalls in stature, ability, and attitude another powerful witch: Lily Evans Potter. Ginny, in stature and appearance, closely resembles Lily. She is described regularly with terms that reflect her beauty. Her fiery red hair, and cheeky spunky sense of humor recall those things that must have been what drew James to Lily in their school years. Ginny draws Horace Slughorn’s attention through her talent, much as Lily did. Even Ginny’s personality seems to echo Lily’s (compare Snape’s memory in the Pensieve to any of the times Ginny has stood up for Harry when he comes under attack). From this analysis, we might conclude that Ginny has an important role to play in Harry’s story.
Hermione is another witch for whom echoes tell a certain story. Her voice echoes in Harry’s mind as a voice of reason and conscience. Rowling makes note, at one point, that the voice in Harry’s head that tells him the “right” thing to do often takes Hermione’s tone. Furthermore, Hermione is the reader’s echo of history, theory, and practice of magic. She echoes those things she has read in books, or heard from important sources. Hermione’s echoes remind us of the crucial back-story. In the final pages of HBP, Hermione echoes Harry’s admonition that she and Ron have a chance to turn back, and notes that they’ve had plenty of time. Much has been made of why Hermione was placed in Gryffindor instead of Ravenclaw; this echo is the answer. Hermione echoes those characteristics that Godric Gryffindor desired in his students: talent, intelligence, courage, bravery, and strength of character. Hermione echoes the calculation that guarantees that challenges faced will result in success.
Snape, too, provides echoes of certain important things during the story. His hatred of James and Sirius is echoed in his treatment of Harry. Perhaps, also, his protection of Harry echoes his fondness for Lily. Ultimately these echoes set up a series of interesting events in the story. Harry’s suspicions of Snape are continually challenged by Snape’s coming through “in the clutch” (so to speak). Snape is frequently found on the side of good, rather than confirming Harry’s suspicion of evil. Snape also echoes certain wisdom. Even his final confrontation with Harry echoes the lessons he has tried to teach Harry throughout their years together at Hogwarts: it is important to keep your mind closed, and your emotions controlled. Snape’s echoing of his own lessons may also prove important to our ultimate resolution. Moreover, Snape himself is an echo of the Prodigal Son of the Bible. He turns away from the side of good, only to return and be welcomed with open arms by Dumbledore. The future will, perhaps, tell us more about Severus Snape and the importance of his echoes.
Furthermore, it is important to discuss the Echoes of our dearly departed Dumbledore. Dumbledore tells us that Fawkes, his Phoenix, is a loyal and powerful creature. Fawkes appears to Harry in the Chamber of Secrets, and Dumbledore tells Harry that only an act of great loyalty would have brought Fawkes to him. Harry’s loyalty to Dumbledore is again discussed in HBP, and Dumbledore is deeply moved when Harry recounts the story of his run-in with Scrimgeour. Dumbledore, himself, echoes the traits of a Phoenix. He is powerful, loyal, and his words seem to calm Harry the way Fawkes’ song does. Those moments when Dumbledore cries even seem to heal. When Dumbledore looks up at Harry with tears in his eyes to explain why he hadn’t chosen Harry for prefect, the reader’s anger over this slight to our hero evaporates.
More importantly, however, is an echo in Dumbledore’s own voice. Prior to leaving for the cave, Harry tells Ron and Hermione that he isn’t worried because he’ll be with Dumbledore. As they leave the cave, Dumbledore looks at Harry and echoes these sentiments with what I believe to be the most important words of the series: “I’m not worried, Harry. I’m with you.” Up to this point, all faith and trust has been placed in Dumbledore. Dumbledore has been the rock and foundation upon which our image of this world is built. With this echo, in Dumbledore’s weakened voice, we see that Harry has taken on the yoke of leadership. It is Harry in whom we must place our faith and hope. It is Harry who is to lead the Wizarding World out of this present danger. It is this echo that begins to tell us the story of what is to come.
Several key themes are also echoed throughout the story. Primary among these is the idea of love. The ancient Greeks gave three different conceptions of love, each is important to understand in order to grasp the nature of Harry’s tale. Eros is the name the Greeks gave to romantic love. We see this form of love echoed throughout the text in the form of relationships, and the way they affect the characters. Cho’s love of Cedric, for example, prompts her to join the DA and learn the skills necessary to battle the Dark Arts. Philios represents brotherly love of the type shown by members of the Order, and certain members of the DA, who battle evil for the sake of all people. Philios is again demonstrated in Hermione’s drive to create equality, and her desire to create and expand S.P.E.W. Dumbledore’s commentary about Kreacher, and his mention that the fountain of magical brethren told a lie, demonstrates this same desire to create brotherly love and understanding as a way to stem the tide of evil that surrounds them all. Even the ongoing prejudices of the pureblood/half-blood discourse are representative of a desire for unity and equality that is engendered by embracing Philios. Finally, Agape is the Greek word for self-sacrificing love. This is echoed most prominently in Lily’s sacrifice that gives Harry his protection. It is echoed in James’ heroic stand against Voldemort to save his wife and child. It is echoed in Sirius’ taking risks to protect Harry. It is echoed in Dumbledore’s actions prior to his death. And, most importantly, it is echoed in Harry’s decision at the end of HBP to leave his school, his safe haven, and his childhood behind to step up and face the danger that threatens the wizarding world.
Additionally, control and self-mastery are themes whose echoes resonate throughout the text, the results of which will prove important to our conclusion. I have already noted that Snape echoes his admonition of control as he escapes Hogwarts after murdering Dumbledore. Harry’s self control has constantly been challenged. From blowing up his aunt, to struggling with dementors, to his quixotic sojourn to the Ministry where Sirius meets his demise, Harry seems to be continuously challenged with mastering his magic, and learning to control what he can do. Dumbledore tells us that Riddle had learned a measure of control and mastery even as a child, but there are those he seems to be unable to control. He was never able to charm Dumbledore, he cannot possess Harry without enduring immense pain, and perhaps even Severus Snape is able to keep secrets from him. Controlling oneself and one’s desires seems to be the key to winning the final battle, as does a lack of ability to control others. These echoes resonate throughout and provide important justification for the conclusion of the series.
Part 3 – What the Echoes Tell Us
Seeking answers is a favorite pastime of Harry Potter fans. Forums, discussions, websites, editorials, and even entire books have been devoted to uncovering clues for the purpose of ‘unfogging the future’ and speculating upon what is to become of our hero and his companions on this journey. It is my belief that the echoes tell the story. From the echoes that I have thus far discussed, I am inclined to conclude the following:
First, Snape is to be trusted, and has, indeed, served his purpose well. While rather despicable, Severus Snape is worthy of trust. The echoes of sacrifice throughout the book give indication that Dumbledore’s death was a self-sacrificing act. In passing the mantle to Harry (“I’m with you.”) he has written the final chapter of his own destiny. I must note that rather than destroying Harry, or even capturing him and bringing him to the Dark Lord, Snape instead chose to echo those things he had attempted to teach Harry: control, mastery, self-possession. While I agree with Steve Vander Ark that Snape is a horrible person, I must also say that it would seem that Snape is, indeed, on the right side of the battle. The echoes in his actions speak louder than the echoes of his loathing. In a final analysis, I believe the text will provide an almost biblical redemption that echoes previous acts where Snape was presumed guilty and proved himself innocent.
Second, Harry has the ability to defeat the Dark Lord. Many people have openly wondered when we will see Harry learn the magic required to battle Voldemort the way that Dumbledore can. They question whether Harry has the ability to defeat the Dark Lord. I argue that the echoes tell us that he certainly does. Throughout the text we see the echoes of love, and are told repeatedly that this “power the Dark Lord knows not” is substantial enough to win the day. His sojourn through the echoes of memory in the Pensieve has granted him the perspective he requires to face the challenge. His struggles and trials in the face of Dark Magic have granted him the experience. His knowledge of magic echoed through his mastery of the Patronus Charm, his experiences with the Mirror of Erised, his understanding of Horcruxes and their use, and the information and understanding he has gained as a result of these powerful magical forces has already provided him with the tools he needs to win. The final showdown will echo the lessons Harry has taken away from his Hogwarts experiences. It will also echo the lessons that Snape himself has echoed throughout: mastery and control. The deaths of Sirius and Dumbledore, and his showdown with Snape have taught Harry the importance of mastering his impulsiveness, and given him the maturity to face the greatest evil stoically and with fortitude of spirit and character. These are the tools Harry will need to defeat the Dark Lord.
Third, Ron and Hermione will play a critical role in Harry’s victory. In these characters we have echoes of reason, love, friendship, and bravery. Ron and Hermione’s loyalty to Harry is demonstrated at the end of HBP when Hermione echoes their desire to stick with Harry until the end. They will not turn back, and will prove to be invaluable to Harry as he works toward finding the Horcruxes, and defeating Voldemort for good.
Fourth, in this world, death is not final, and voices from the past may be heard again. Portraits, ghosts, and the echoes of Priori Incantatem demonstrate the imprints of powerful magic, and I believe that each of these will prove to be resonant in the final episode of the series. Like a Phoenix rising from the ashes, Dumbledore’s lessons will again prove invaluable to Harry in overcoming evil. Harry will not be alone until it is absolutely necessary that he must be, and until that final moment, the echoes of those beyond the veil will provide the force that brings the story to its peak. We may even hear from Sirius, James, and Lily before our story ends, so powerful and pervasive are these echoes in the magical world.
Finally, Harry and Ginny will stand together in the end, united in the bond of love. I’m no shipper, and I’m certainly not about to hinge this story on a romantic interest, but it seems to me that if the way to victory is through the power of love, then love must be the final result. Harry and Ginny arm in arm, surrounded by friends and loved ones is such a powerful echo of the image in the Mirror of Erised that it seems to me an unavoidable image upon which to end the story. Ron asked, upon seeing the mirror, if Harry thought it foretold the future. Perhaps, in a way, it does. I have noted the resemblance of Harry and Ginny to James and Lily. Standing side-by-side this particular Potter Family, surrounded on all sides by those who love them deeply, almost like a family, would be a perfect echo of the Mirror’s image. Harry, who has never known a family, would finally have achieved his heart’s deepest desire. Were the mirror to appear before him at that moment, Harry and Ginny would see nothing more than themselves, standing together, with the Order of the Phoenix, the Weasley family, Ron and Hermione, and all of those who love them around them, victorious. It is an echo, turned into a reflection. It is the echo of the love that drives the book. It is the reflection of the love that provides the victory. It is, I believe, the image upon which the final chapter will conclude, fading away, like a vanishing scar.