The Other Trio: Dark, Darker, and Darkest

by Lady Lupin

Well, I put my foot in it, and now I have to deliver, don’t I? In my recent editorial “Black, Albus… Rubeus?” I hinted at a piece that would explore the connections of the alchemical process to the Potter Bad Boys: Voldemort, Snape, and Draco. This has proven to be a mare’s nest of maddening proportions. It is not a small subject, and this is not a small editorial. If you don’t like long editorials, consider yourself warned. If you do, I suggest a butterbeer or a nice pumpkin juice while you read. Or… maybe a Firewhiskey…

Intelligent skeptics have asked, “But, aren’t these themes so universal that they appear everywhere? How can you be sure that JKR is using any particular system?” The query is valid. These themes are universal. The hero’s journey is all over literature, as are the symbols of alchemy. Additionally, there are a multitude of explanations about just what the Alchemical processes are, and they vary from culture to culture and from analysis to analysis. It seems probable, therefore, that at least some of our speculation may have little or nothing to do with JKR’s intentions when writing the books. Only she knows for sure. However, there are some symbols that she has used so beautifully and clearly, and in a manner so consistent with their alchemical meanings, that those of us with an interest in these things busily look for more.

Any effort to analyze the roles of Voldemort, Snape, and Draco must, however, take into account the fact that Jo is also writing ripping good mystery yarns, and these characters, as Harry’s adversaries, have a function in that regard. Their possible strategies and motives could take the story in many directions and they are often used brilliantly to throw us off the track and confuse our various determined analyses. I, for one, was prepared for the fact that Dumbledore was probably going to die in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and felt very smug and certain about my reasons why. However, I was as “Petrificus Totalified” as Harry when it was Snape who cast that curse.


Humanity Lost = Paradise Lost

In some ways the functions of the Terrible Trio are obvious. Voldemort certainly takes the archetypal “Darkest of the Dark” award. Even our sympathy for him as a child is tempered by his disturbing “Bad Seed” tendencies at age 11. He suffers in comparison to Harry, who has such similarly humble beginnings and yet is such a different little boy in both heart and mind. Young Tom Riddle’s salient feature, aside from his innate cruelty, seems to be his unwillingness to accept the very human necessity of death. By renouncing and resisting his mortality, he renounces his humanity. As he becomes less human, he builds his terrifying power over those who insist on embracing their humanity, and, therefore, their vulnerability. He is the ultimate evil and represents that which must be conquered in order for Harry to realize his alchemical perfection.

Full integration of our human and spiritual selves is the goal and outcome of spiritual alchemy. The Kingdom of Heaven cannot be achieved by trickery. Voldemort must become human, and that means that the Dark Lord (who refuses his humanity) must be defeated. The Dark Lord (in the sense of “the one who renounces his humanity”) will be defeated when all of his Horcruxes are destroyed and he is once again vulnerable to death. But what about the rest of Tom Riddle? Is there enough left of Tom Riddle to survive the defeat of Voldemort?

I cannot help but note that JKR never actually uses the verb “kill” to describe what must happen to Voldemort or, for that matter, what Dumbledore did to Grindelwald. Harry uses the word “kill,” and Dumbledore affirms Harry’s interpretation at the end of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, but the prophecy and the Chocolate Frog card are phrased differently. In the prophecy, “the One” is described as having the power to vanquish the Dark Lord. It also says “either must die at the hand of the other” and that “neither can live while the other survives.” It would have been very easy to write that the one with the power to kill the Dark Lord approaches and that one of them must kill the other. Jo has said that she chose the words of the prophecy carefully. So why those particularly slippery and hard-to-pin-down words? On Dumbledore’s Chocolate Frog card, she uses the term “defeat” of Grindelwald. Again, not “kill.” Why?

I do think that there will be a connection between how Dumbledore defeated Grindelwald, and how Harry will vanquish Voldemort, as I’ve said in another editorial. And I think one major connection is that it won’t involve direct “killing.” It may have to do with the inability of Riddle’s tiny, mutilated soul to withstand the forces of Love that surround Harry. Without his Horcruxes, will Voldemort be as confident as he is in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire or Order of the Phoenix? Will he know when they are all gone? He wasn’t aware of the diary’s destruction, but what about when all that is left of his soul is the tiny shred that resides in his new body? Will it diminish his power? Weaken him? Will he miscalculate the actions of Harry’s friends and supporters, because love and loyalty are such mysteries to him? Will his weakened, reduced soul collapse under his own AK? As much as I wrack my brain, I cannot pin down just what our brilliant author has in mind, and for this I thank her. Although I’m having a grand time speculating, I truly want her to “get me” with the series conclusion. I confess I don’t want to figure it out. (Some editorialist, huh?)

As for Draco and Snape, these “Dark and Darker” characters are ever present in Harry’s story, confusing us with regard to their motives and ultimate loyalties. This is part of their function within the mystery: they keep us off balance and guessing (and glued to the page).

In terms of psychological alchemy, they would represent the different internal enemies that Harry comes up against in his struggle for completion. External enemies symbolize those internal features which we must first conquer in order to have the understanding to defeat our fear of our own humanity and to attain spiritual perfection. Let us look at each one and see if we can come to a theory about his ultimate role in Harry’s journey.


Bad Faith Dragon

I realize that some people feel that JKR’s names are coincidental. However, this one defies that theory completely. Draco (Dragon) Malfoy (Bad Faith). Jo has even explained that she made up the name Malfoy, and what it meant, so it was clearly intentional. Why would someone name a character Bad Faith Dragon? It would depend on how the author perceives dragons, and how those creatures will figure into her story.

Dragons appear in the literature of a multitude of cultures through the ages. Persian, Japanese, Chinese, Egyptian, Norse, Greek, Polish, Aztec, and Celtic mythology and folklore, as well as the Buddhist faith, all include dragons, and that is only a sampling. To make a sweeping generalization that will open me to all manner of criticism: dragons in Eastern stories tend to be positive influences, while dragons in Western stories tend to be evil influences: the beast that must be defeated in order for the hero to be victorious. But what does Jo think about dragons? During an interview for Kids BBC, Jo was asked if Harry would have a dragon for a pet. Her reply:

You can’t tame a dragon, no matter what Hagrid thinks. It’s simply impossible. So no. He has more common sense. (Raincoast Books Interview, March 2001)

Our other source, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, offers a bit more information. Here we are told that dragons shouldn’t be handled by anyone other than highly trained wizards, and other assorted facts. How helpful is this information in our quest to understand Draco? Probably not very helpful. Some parallels may be drawn, but I fear we would be stretching things all out of proportion.

Basically, dragons are not to be underestimated, and not to be tamed. I do believe that Harry underestimated Draco until Half-Blood Prince. He realizes in Half-Blood Prince that he has a more formidable enemy than he has ever believed. As for dragons being untamable, this seems contrary to the clues that we get about Draco at the end of Half-Blood Prince. Draco lowers his wand. This is clearly significant, and even Jo has confirmed that Draco would not have killed Dumbledore (Emerson/Melissa interview). In fact, she tells us a lot about Draco in that interview:

“JKR: Draco did a lot of growing up in this book as well. I had an interesting discussion, I thought, with my editor Emma, about Draco. She said to me, “So, Malfoy can do Occlumency,” which obviously Harry never mastered and has now pretty much given up on doing, or attempting. And she was querying this and wondering whether he should be as good at it, but I think Draco would be very gifted in Occlumency, unlike Harry. Harry’s problem with it was always that his emotions were too near the surface and that he is in some ways too damaged. But he’s also very in touch with his feelings about what’s happened to him. He’s not repressed, he’s quite honest about facing them, and he couldn’t suppress them, he couldn’t suppress these memories. But I thought of Draco as someone who is very capable of compartmentalizing his life and his emotions, and always has done. So he’s shut down his pity, enabling him to bully effectively. He’s shut down compassion – how else would you become a Death Eater? So he suppresses virtually all of the good side of himself. But then he’s playing with the big boys, as the phrase has it, and suddenly, having talked the talk he’s asked to walk it for the first time and it is absolutely terrifying. And I think that that is an accurate depiction of how some people fall into that kind of way of life and they realize what they’re in for. I felt sorry for Draco. Well, I’ve always known this was coming for Draco, obviously, however nasty he was.Harry is correct in believing that Draco would not have killed Dumbledore, which I think is clear when he starts to lower his wand, when the matter is taken out of his hands.”

Draco has shut down his pity and compassion. She doesn’t say he doesn’t have them, only that he has shut them down and compartmentalized his thoughts and feelings. So, is Draco a dragon who can be tamed? If his compassion can be awakened and his emotions can be reintegrated, is there hope for Draco? In literature where the Dragon is the obstacle, it must either be slain or tamed. Which fate awaits Draco?

Draco has been another one of those HP mirrors since the first book. He is Harry’s age, in Harry’s class. He is, like Harry, an only child. He is Sorted into the rival Hogwarts House. He joins the rival Quidditch team, in the same position as Harry. He is the pet student of Harry’s nemesis teacher, Snape. He is white-blond and Harry has dark hair. Draco has cold, gray eyes, and Harry has sparkling emerald eyes.

Draco seems to be a photographic negative image of what Harry might have been if he made different choices. He even gives Harry a personal invitation to join his circle. But Harry asks not to be Sorted into Slytherin, whereas Draco considers Slytherin the only acceptable possibility. He and Harry lock horns over every possible issue throughout their lives. While they each have their moments in the sun, Harry has generally had the last laugh and bested Draco in most areas.

In Half-Blood Prince, the relationship really begins to shift. Draco goes from being a schoolboy nemesis and tormentor to a very real and potentially lethal enemy. Harry knows it, instinctively, from the beginning of the book. He has never been as obsessive about Malfoy as he is in HBP. He learns early on, by way of a broken nose and a great deal of humiliation, that Draco has become a formidable opponent. He becomes a force that could be Harry’s undoing, and Harry has become aware of the danger in a new way.

In alchemical terms, Harry’s new understanding of the dangers that Malfoy poses would most likely represent a new awareness of his own negative, destructive side, and a determination to master it. In Order of the Phoenix, Harry has no understanding of his own negativity. He is angry and feels victimized throughout much of the book, but he hasn’t really turned an objective eye on himself yet. As Harry sinks into his negativity, Draco gains power. He is made a Prefect and Harry is not. He is made a member of the Inquisitorial Squad, while Harry’s Firebolt is chained away and he is literally “grounded” and disempowered at every turn. It is only when Hermione (Reason and Intellect) concocts a plan to penetrate the lies and oppression that a light begins to shine at the end of what is literally depicted in Order of the Phoenix as a very long tunnel (The Department of Mysteries). In the end, Draco and his father are thwarted again, and Draco begins his summer holidays as a slug.

In Half-Blood Prince, Harry has been through the crucible of Sirius’s death and the confrontation at the Ministry. He has learned about the prophecy and has finally expressed all of his anger and negativity to the one person who can fully bear it: Dumbledore. Harry has survived a great deal, and it transforms him. At the beginning of Half-Blood Prince, he meets Malfoy at Madam Malkin’s, exactly as he met him for the first time in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. But this time he has Ron and Hermione with him. He is no longer alone. And, his keen instinct senses that Malfoy has become dangerous. He acts, quickly and decisively. He sets about to neutralize Malfoy, to stop him before he can cause irreversible damage.

He also, albeit unintentionally, injures Draco horribly. Harry is reckless in casting the unknown Sectumsempra curse, but he is also defending himself against someone who is his equal and is trying to throw an Unforgivable his way. Harry catches Draco in a real moment of vulnerability. He sees Draco differently at that moment than he ever has before, with Draco’s mask of self-confidence and superiority having been ripped off.

It is interesting that JKR writes this scene so that Harry sees Draco in a mirror. I don’t believe this is a coincidence. It symbolizes the fact that Draco is representing something that also exists inside Harry. Draco, believing himself to be unobserved, reveals more truth than Harry has ever seen. He is frightened, vulnerable, grief-stricken, trapped, and feels totally unequal to the task in front of him. Harry has felt all of these things at one point or another, but I would venture, never expected to see any of these qualities in Malfoy. He sees a bit of truth about Draco, which might awaken his own compassion. Compassion means a sense of shared suffering, most often combined with a desire to alleviate or reduce such suffering.

But Draco doesn’t want to be revealed, especially to Harry. He retaliates. Draco attacks Harry and Harry defends himself. However, much like Draco has been doing throughout the book, Harry is playing with things he doesn’t understand and isn’t ready to handle. The curse is Dark Magic, and it’s vicious. It seems that both boys are in over their heads. One point of the alchemical process is described as a “false white” process in some literature. It’s the point where the alchemist thinks he understands more than he does. The image of Draco’s white-blond hair and his falseness or bad faith resonate with this theme. This may be a “false white” moment for Harry.

It appears that two major perceptual shifts occur between Draco and Harry in Half-Blood Prince: 1) Harry becomes alert to Draco’s potential as an enemy, and 2) Harry sees Draco as a vulnerable human being. Both of these things can also be seen as internal discoveries for Harry on his way to Enlightenment.

I believe that the most telling clue about Draco is in the lowering of his wand on the Tower. This is a real sign of hope for Draco. Additionally, his sincere concern for the safety of his family points to an ability to think about something or someone other than himself. It’s hard to say where JKR’s mind will take Draco’s story next. Of the Baddie Trio, he is the most likely to be redeemed, I believe. He has already realized the ruthlessness of Voldemort, and his failure to kill Dumbledore has put him and his entire family in terrible danger.

I find another interesting parallel: Harry’s task is to vanquish Voldemort; Malfoy’s task is to kill Dumbledore. Each boy must face the far more experienced leader of the opposing force. In this case, Draco was unable to complete his task, and Snape did it for him. Will Harry complete his task? Will Snape aid Harry in that task?

And, after Draco’s failure, will Snape be able to protect Draco? It’s possible that, as the youngest of the series’ villains, and the one who is the least culpable in many years of heinous crimes, Draco will redeem himself and survive. Alchemically, I am inclined to think that he’ll need to be reconciled to the side of right. I don’t think he’ll become a sweetheart, but I think he’s on his way to realizing what he’s walked into. Will he survive the redemption, or will he become another RAB?


Severe Severus

Snape’s relationship with Harry can be boiled down to one principal theme throughout the books: Snape is Harry’s most vicious critic. In psychological terms, he may represent those pitiless voices in ourselves that upbraid us for every wrong, and often quite unfairly.

After his injury and humiliation at Draco’s hands on the Hogwarts Express, it is Snape that Harry has to face, and Snape does exactly what we would expect: he diminishes Harry and thoroughly rubs Harry’s recently broken nose in his mistake. Later, Harry is jarred and horrified by the Sectumsempra incident. He’s kneeling by Draco, essentially praying for a rescue, when Snape happens along. Having Snape find Harry in these compromising positions is a stroke of genius. As Harry’s ultimate critic, Snape sees nothing redeeming in Harry. Harry can do nothing right, as far as Snape is concerned, so, when Harry actually is in the wrong, it’s like winning the lottery for Snape.

How will Harry neutralize his critic? Of course, the answer to that depends upon the answer to the Big Question: whose side is Snape on and what is he doing? Regardless of whether Snape has been and is still following Dumbledore’s orders, has been lying to Dumbledore and serving Voldemort all along, or has been lying to everyone and serving himself, he and Harry have to come to terms. Harry can’t hit his spiritual heights while his critic is running around loose. If Dumbledore was right about Snape, then I think Snape will die helping or protecting Harry and the Order’s cause and prove his ultimate loyalty, despite his exceedingly unattractive personality traits. If Snape is Voldemort’s man or his own man, he may die defending Voldemort or Draco, or Voldemort may kill him. Or, he may finally and truly leave Voldemort’s side, and die for that redemption. Any way I look at it, I believe Snape will be a casualty of the last confrontations in the books.

While I think there are really finely drawn arguments on all sides of The Snape Question, the thing that I keep coming back to is Dumbledore’s stubborn and determined trust in Snape. Remember, Dumbledore isn’t always trusting. He never fully trusted Tom Riddle again, even though the only evidence of young Tom’s villainy was his behavior as a small child. Once Tom was at Hogwarts, he kept his head down and was a model student, respectful and well-liked by nearly everyone. Dumbledore didn’t reveal his youthful mistakes to anyone else. Yet Dumbledore didn’t assume he was trustworthy. I cannot believe that this prudent, practical, and wise man would be so cautious when dealing with an 11-year-old child and so foolish when dealing with a grown man with a clearly angry and vindictive personality who is a known Death Eater and bitter enemy to Harry and his family. There is something we don’t know. Dumbledore had a reason for his trust that he never divulged. I believe he chose not to divulge this reason because he committed himself to guard the secret, probably with good cause, and he would not go back on his word. He is very tempted to tell Harry in Half-Blood Prince and almost does.

‘And isn’t Voldemort convinced that Snape’s on his side, even now? Professor… how can you be sure Snape’s on our side?’
Dumbledore did not speak for a moment; he looked as though he was trying to make up his mind about something. At last he said, ‘I am sure. I trust Severus Snape completely.'” (HBP 549)

Some people read Dumbledore’s moment of hesitancy as uncertainty: Dumbledore is uncertain about whether or not he is correct in his beliefs about Snape. I didn’t read it that way. It looked to me like a different moment of decision: to divulge or not to divulge. Dumbledore chooses not to divulge, so we all remain in the dark, just like Harry. The headmaster probably rightly reasons that Harry is drawing wrong conclusions and that there could be a danger in that. However, he weighs both sides of the argument and ultimately decides that the right course is to keep his word and the secret – probably Snape’s secret. What is the secret? Was he right to keep it? What will the outcome be? These questions are all part of the mystery portion of the HP series, and cannot be answered specifically through any kind of alchemical analysis that I know of.

Psychological alchemy tells me that Snape represents an internal enemy (The Critic) to be transformed – transformation can be achieved in a variety of ways. My analysis of the mystery tells me Dumbledore was not mistaken in him. (As Lupin says, it all comes down to whether or not you trust Dumbledore. I still do.) My gut tells me that just because he is trustworthy and, in his way, loyal, doesn’t mean that he is a secret and self-sacrificing hero. He may be trustworthy because of something that isn’t necessarily flattering to his character. I suggested an Unbreakable Vow between Snape and Dumbledore in “Severus Severed?” It has been said that Dumbledore would never demand such a thing of another person. Perhaps. However, it may be that by offering to make the UV with Snape, Dumbledore was saving him from a life in Azkaban. He may have offered Snape a choice: guarantee that I can trust you and I will help you. Dumbledore’s word was good enough to save Snape from the Dementors at a time when people were hungry for revenge against all Death Eaters. Dumbledore may have felt that a Vow was the only way to ensure the safety of both Snape and the rest of the Wizarding World. I will be shocked if Snape survives Book Seven. Whether he dies a hero or a villain is a mystery. Most certainly, he and Harry will have a meeting that will create another “legendary” chapter and page number for obsessive fans.


Terrible Trio

Draco, Snape, and Voldemort constitute a trio of increasing darkness and villainy. They are various shades and faces of evil: bullying, bad faith, false ego, extreme severity, lack of compassion, judgment, pride, cruelty, ruthlessness, vindictiveness, and, ultimately, a rejection of humanity. Alchemically, they must all be transformed in some fashion (which can include stamping out). My sense is that Draco will be redeemed, and will probably survive, though I’m not as sure about the latter. He may end up as another sad example like RAB – someone who realizes his error far too late to do anything about it. Snape will probably prove to have been loyal, in his own Snape-like fashion, all along. Even if he hasn’t been, he will be redeemed by his last choices, and, I feel almost certain, won’t survive Book Seven. Voldemort, who has little to nothing left in him but evil, must be rooted out. However, I feel quite certain that it won’t involve a direct act of murder on Harry’s part.

Dark, Darker, and Darkest: they have tormented Harry, helped spin the web of mystery, befuddled our most diligent sleuthing efforts, created an alarming number of admirers, and kept us rapt and entertained for years. Their ultimate fate, only Jo knows for sure. One thing is certain: they are all utterly fascinating characters. Without them, Harry would have no struggle – nothing to draw out the very best of his own character. Their increasing degrees of villainy have a clear and worthy purpose: to bring out the Hero in our Harry.