A Celtic Solution to Harry’s Conundrum
For a while now, a lot of Harry Potter fans, myself included, have been very worried that, in the end, Harry may have to sacrifice himself to vanquish Lord Voldemort once and for all. As if this didn’t already hurt enough, post-Half-Blood Prince we find our hero more alone than he’s ever been, with still a far distance to go. But all may not be lost just yet. There may yet be ways for Harry to continue receiving the quality counsel he’s grown accustomed to and, yes, even a way to allow ‘The Boy Who Lived’ to keep on living… for a good long time. The prophecy tells us that the final act of vanquishing will be Harry’s alone to complete. But neither that nor his mentor’s untimely death has to mean his journey until that final hour must be bereft of aid and comfort, as we might otherwise fear.
So how might JKR accomplish this? Throughout the series, she’s woven together elements from an endless array of sources in order to tell her story. There are myths of Classical Greece and Rome, elements of the Bible, and numerous historical and geographical references. A number of other inspirational sources are present too, though people without a special interest might not recognize them. In this instance, I speak of the vast and ancient collection of stories amassed by the Celtic peoples throughout centuries of oral history. These stories continue to affect Western culture to this day, creeping into common imagery in many ways. As with her other sources, JKR subtly intertwines elements of Celtic mythology into her own story, both borrowing and deleting to suit her needs.
The Celts were a related group of peoples, whose earliest forebears are believed to have originated in central Asia or northwest India sometime between 2000 and 1000 BC, later emigrating westward. They became recognizable as the Celts of central Europe sometime after 1000 BC. Eventually, by around 500 BC, they had made their way across the entire breadth of the continent to its farthest corner, Ireland. All European Celtic tribes shared certain cultural characteristics, though some have survived better over time. Among them are the traditions and myths of the ‘insular’ Celts, i.e. the Celts of the British Isles. A number of these elements are present in the Harry Potter novels, but one, in particular, may play a highly significant role in Book 7. (In general, I will cite the beliefs of Wales, Scotland, England, and Ireland, although I am most familiar with the last.)
At the end of Half-Blood Prince, our hero still had an enormous challenge ahead of him: determine with certainty what the remaining Horcruxes are, find them, and destroy them – all without the continued assistance of his mentor, the late, great Albus Dumbledore. While Harry has learned a great deal in his six years at Hogwarts, especially in the last one thanks to the Pensieve journeys, there are a few items of exceedingly great import that he did not learn, things that Dumbledore simply ran out of time to teach him, but that Harry must know in order to succeed. Such as, where the remaining Horcruxes might be hidden, how to disarm the safeguards around them, and, most importantly, how to destroy them. Seeing as how even Dumbledore had life-threatening trouble with those last two, it’s no exaggeration to say Harry may find his own challenge almost impossible.
So, what is he to do? Destroying the Horcruxes is absolutely necessary if he is to vanquish Lord Voldemort. Harry has a vital task and no one else seems to have the first clue as to the existence of Horcruxes, let alone what to do about them. Well, Horace Slughorn does, but we’ve seen how much help he’s been – not. There’s no telling whether Ol’ Sluggy will come around or if he’ll just run off to hide again. After all, he was too fearful to even describe the basic nature of a Horcrux to Harry without the significant prompting of large doses of both wine and guilt, not to mention a ‘wee drop of the good stuff,’ our friend Felix Felicis. Consequently, I’m not holding my breath that he’d go the distance and help Harry figure out how to destroy the remaining ones. And if he ever figures out doing just that was how Dumbledore – Dumbledore! – was almost killed and still ended up with a blackened, useless hand, you can kiss that big round resource goodbye for good.
So, we – and Harry – are back at a Dumbledore-less Square One. Or are we? JKR has let it be known that in the Potterverse “dead is dead“. Those we’ve lost aren’t coming back, despite the needs or desires of the living and despite any magic known to wizard-kind. As Dumbledore himself said in Goblet of Fire, “No spell can reawaken the dead.” But JKR has provided a way for a shadow of the most learned of the dead to speak with the living, to continue to pass on wisdom and advice. She’s done this through the portraits of departed headmasters and headmistresses. In the Edinburgh Book Festival interview in August 2004, JKR explained that these pieces of artwork are somewhat different from other magical portraits. “The place where you see [portraits] 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…” As we’ve seen, not only do the portrait subjects retain memories and abilities from their own lifetimes, they also continue to have the ability to take in new information, to use reason to analyze that information, and to find solutions to new problems. And, sadly, there is now just such a portrait of Albus Dumbledore in the new Headmistress’s office.
An interesting thing about those portraits… One could say that collectively they are of ‘Heads.’ In “The Encyclopedia of Celtic Wisdom” by Caitlin and John Matthews, Caitlin Matthews writes, “Severed heads feature strongly in Celtic lore, especially heads which speak… To the Celts, the head was the seat of wisdom and of the soul [not the heart, as in other western mythologies]. To take the heads of one’s enemies was to appropriate their cunning and wisdom for the use of one’s own tribe, and to deny them a place among their own kind.” But the Celts also sometimes kept the heads or their own dead, as well. “To venerate the heads of one’s forebears was only a form of proper ancestral respect.” They did this in order to retain the wisdom of revered leaders and to consult with them, i.e. speak with them after death, for advice concerning life’s challenges, especially in times of trouble. And this is exactly what happens with the portraits of former Hogwarts Heads. (Daniela Teo was correct to recognize the importance of severed heads in her “Two Way Mirror #25” editorial!)
Now we all know or at least suspect that at some point Harry will indeed consult Dumbledore’s portrait for help in his own challenge, just as Dumbledore himself consulted the other portraits on many occasions. So clearly there is precedent in JKR’s story for echoes of Celtic beliefs. But this example only scratches the surface. There are many more examples scattered through all the books, too numerous, though, to mention here. For now, I will concentrate on one of the most spectacular possibilities that could arise from JKR using Celtic myth as one of her many reference pools. It’s a concept that is seen in other mythologies as well, including both Greek and Roman, and it even has a Biblical parallel. But there are a couple of special twists in the Celtic version that have led me to believe that there is indeed a real possibility of ‘Harry as Hero’ following the example of some of the Celts’ own greatest heroes. But a bit more explanation first…
There and Back Again
For the Celts, the world we live in is only one of two worlds, each as real and vital as the other. Also, per Caitlin Matthews, “the realms of the dead and the living… overlapped in numerous ways” and “communion with the ancestors was a feature of Celtic daily life.” (Hogwarts ghosts, anyone?) This alternate plane of existence is most often referred to as the Otherworld, although it bears many names, another common one being Tir-na-nog, which means Land of the Young, i.e. the eternally young, the immortals. The Otherworld is home to numerous beings besides the ancestors; deities and other magical beings reside there as well. Collectively, these other beings are referred to as the Fey (pronounced “fay”) or the Sidhe (pronounced “she”). They are known today in Welsh, Scottish, English, and Irish folklore as the Fairy Folk.
The Fairy Folk are not simply tiny winged beings who like to cause mischief, though. They can be either powerful allies or formidable enemies, which explains the considerable amount of both respect and fear they have long commanded. But their legacy never really ended. It has been alive and well over the centuries. Even now, some 1500 years after they were both literally and figuratively forced underground by the ascendancy of Christianity in the British Isles, their legacy is so strong that the Fairy Folk remain a source of deep regard by many. Many age-old customs are still practiced on a regular basis today in order to placate or gain their favor.
(These customs are not the sole realm of neo-Pagans; they are practiced by people in all sectors of British and Irish society, including many Christians. In fact, from the time Christianity first arrived in Britain, a unique Celtic version of Christianity developed, especially in Ireland, that incorporated many of the old ways into the new. This natural outgrowth of two belief systems blending together still exists to some degree, with what appears to be mere superstition and folklore actually being elements of ancient religion.)
Despite residing the majority of the time in the Otherworld, both the Sidhe, as I prefer to call them, and the ancestors are believed to regularly visit us here in the world of the living. They do so for numerous reasons, sometimes to render aid or knowledge, sometimes merely to visit. But at times people from the land of the living travel to the Otherworld as well. In Celtic terms, these people are said to be passing beyond… The Veil. Yes – the partition between this world and the Otherworld in Celtic belief shares its name with The Veil that resides deep within the Ministry of Magic in the Department of Mysteries!
In most instances, a living human who ‘passes beyond The Veil’ will not return: it is a euphemism for death. In the realm of Celtic belief, it doesn’t have to be. In a few cases, ones usually involving great heroes, the living can return from the Otherworld to continue a normal life with their loved ones, here in the land of the living. Literal self-sacrifice for their cause, as we’ve feared may happen with Harry, is not necessary. This sacrifice alternative is exactly what I think – and fervently hope – will be the case where Harry is concerned, as I’ll explain in more detail below.
Such journeys beyond The Veil are primarily of two types, the echtra (plural: echtrai) or adventure quest, and the immram (plural: immrama) or journey quest, the major difference being that the first is generally “undertaken on behalf of others, while the [second] is a more personal quest, often requiring a total spiritual transformation.” However, both involve entry into and return from the Otherworld with the hero having not only survived challenges, but having received magical objects for healing or empowerment, solutions to problems, supra-human wisdom, and/or the knowledge to release hidden potentials. (All per Caitlin Matthews.) Because Harry has both personal and greater needs, his Otherworld quest is likely to be a combination of these two basic Celtic quest types.
Aye, There’s the Rub!
Seeing as how I’ve already said Harry will be able to consult Dumbledore’s wisdom through his portrait, why, you may ask, would Harry need to even think of going to the Otherworld? This will take a bit of explaining, so please bear with me. In the Underground Lake #28, Part 3, Brandon Ford discusses a new and excitingly simple way for Harry to neutralize the remaining Horcruxes – simply toss them through The Veil. Clean, neat, no muss, no fuss, and with no time-consuming lessons on how to otherwise disable them. The only difficulty with this plan is the daunting possibility that Harry himself may be a Horcrux, albeit likely an accidental one. (Brandon nicely sums up the pros and cons of whether or not this might be true, so I highly recommend reading his editorial rather than me taking the time to rehash them all again here.) The problem most people have had with the ‘Harry is a Horcrux’ theory, which has been around since approximately, say, July 17th, is that all the Horcruxes must be destroyed before Voldemort, both body and soul, can be gotten rid of for good. It would seem to follow then that, to destroy the Horcrux within himself, Harry will have to die. “But…if he’s dead…how can he possibly vanquish Voldemort?” the objection goes. The prophecy does make it clear that only Harry has the power to vanquish the Dark Lord.
So far, the most common solution to the vexing problem of Horcrux Harry being dead too soon is for both Harry and Voldemort to die at the same moment. But that would be a tricky bit of timing, to say the least, what with another instance of Priori Incantatem possible should any of their spells meet in mid-air. The easiest way to overcome this tango with time, given Voldemort’s vastly superior dueling skills (and the fact that he now knows to expect the possibility of P.I.), is for both characters to ‘pull a Sirius’ and fall through The Veil together. Although perhaps equally as tricky, this would seem to be a valid solution to the problem. Except for one thing – Harry would still die.
(While it may be possible that this is JKR’s plan, I have to say, in a line from one of my favorite films, “Your Honor, I strenuously object.” Yup. I don’t just object, I strenuously object. In other words, I – and probably several million other people – do not want our beloved Harry to die! We already know he’s martyr-level hero material and also that he’s been to hell-in-a-handbasket too many times to count in an average life, let alone in one still so young. So please, Jo, for the love of your readers’ sanity…. let him be ‘The Boy Who Lived – For Good!’ Ummm…. sorry…. got a bit carried away there. I’m guessing you’ll understand.)
What if Harry could pass through The Veil for an Otherworld quest to remove the Horcrux and return… alive… just like a Celtic hero of yore?!
Luckily, through the auspices of the Celtic mythology JKR has worked into the series, this IS possible! Harry can leave for the Otherworld and, likely with the help of Dumbledore’s spirit, rid himself of Voldemort’s embedded soul fragment, yet still survive to return so he can vanquish the remaining seventh of Voldemort’s soul and, with it, the Dark Lord himself. True, at some point all heroes must grow beyond the need for their mentor’s help. But there was simply too much unfinished business left at the time of Dumbledore’s murder for that time to have permanently arrived, not to mention Harry’s need for the highest level of magical help possible with his little Horcrux problem. The existence of Dumbledore’s portrait almost guarantees Harry is not yet completely on his own. Even the greatest of the Celtic heroes had Otherworldly help on most occasions. Given the problematic situation of unfinished business, combined with Harry’s already prophesied final act being a lone one, I don’t see a problem with allowing Harry a bit more closure where Dumbledore is concerned, for both practicality’s and sentimentality’s sakes.
The factors necessary to the series of events that will lead to Harry’s Otherworld journey are already in place. They include the portrait, the White Tomb, Fawkes the phoenix (or perhaps Dumbledore’s phoenix Patronus), and Harry’s own Patronus, the luminescent stag he conjures to ward off Dementors as well as his Dementor-shaped boggart. (Considering the strength of a Dementor’s powers, this is saying something for a momentarily corporealized mist of happy thoughts.)
As with the portraits, there’s an interesting thing about that mist and about the particular form that Harry’s happy thoughts take… Both are highly significant symbols in Celtic mythology. It is very common for one of the many entryways to the Otherworld to be obscured by just such a mist, either in order to keep intruders away or to actually entrap them for both good and bad reasons. (A lot of very mystical things happen in Celtic myth!) But for those who know its meaning – and how to safely proceed – it is also an exceedingly clear ‘Enter Here’ sign. When a hero is not already right on top of one of the entryways to the Otherworld, an animal messenger may present itself, one recognizable to the Celts through their mythology as a guide towards The Veil and into the Otherworld. And yes, the stag, specifically the white stag, is just such a messenger! It is also the most prevalent symbol of one the most important of the Celtic Deities, Cernunnos, who just happens, among other things, to be the Guide of the Dead. Known in the British Isles as Herne the Hunter or simply as the Green Man, Cernunnos represents the entire animal kingdom, both hunter and hunted, and therefore the constant interplay of life and death. Subsequently, he is a reincarnating god, perhaps the most important in Celtic mythology. His bi-annual rebirth marks the change of the two major seasons of the year recognized by the early Celts. (In later times, the calendar was further divided, but Cernunnos’s twice-yearly rebirth continued.)
Harry’s stag Patronus isn’t the only indicator of a possible Otherworldly journey. In Cernunnos: The Celtic Horned God by Montague Whitsel, the author states, “In Celtic traditions, those who can walk… without being seen or heard are thought to be capable of walking between the worlds.” (Invisibility cloak, anyone?) And “those who are quiet… can ‘hear’ the Otherworld, and by following these sounds they may find the sidhe… and cross over.” (Remember Harry hearing whispers beyond the MoM’s Veil?)
But perhaps the clearest sign of a healthy return from the Otherworld for Harry is found in this comment from Whitsel, “Cernunnos presides over various kinds of journeys into the Otherworld… He can also lead adventurers into the Otherlands while still in their coích anama (“soul house”; i.e., the body), if they need to see something there, or if they are looking for someone. Following Cernunnos through the Veil between the Worlds is one of the surest ways of making the journey and returning unscathed, as he generally won’t abandon those who follow him with good purpose.”
You needn’t take my word, or those of my sources, though, as proof that JKR may yet use Celtic Otherworld mythology in her story, though, because Harry has already journeyed there, at least symbolically, in every book in the series. This fact may be easier to recognize if you keep in mind that the Otherworld sometimes is considered to reside beneath the ground. It was often reached by entering a ‘fairy mound’ or other geographical feature, such as a mountainside or a cave. Thus by going under the earth and through the ‘underworld’ one could reach the plane of the afterlife.
- In Book 1, Harry descended through the trapdoor into the depths of Hogwarts, overcoming numerous obstacles to keep the Philosopher’s/Sorcerer’s Stone, a provider of immortality, out of Voldemort’s clutches.
- In Book 2, deep in the Chamber of Secrets, Harry fought the dreaded basilisk in order to defeat evil the Heir of Slytherin, prevent him from being ‘reborn’ as a corporeal being, and save Ginny Weasley’s life.
- In Book 3, Harry learned of the secret tunnels out of Hogwarts and its grounds.* Descending under the Whomping Willow, Harry arrived at the haunted Shrieking Shack (a ‘house of the dead’) where he learned a supposedly dead man, Peter Pettigrew, was alive. By capturing this murderer he also ‘rebirthed’ the freedom of his good-as-dead-for-the-last-twelve-years godfather, Sirius Black.
- Book 4 varies a bit in this scenario, as it does in many other ways. First, Harry journeys to the bottom of Hogwarts Lake to save Ron. Passing under water is the second of the two major ways of reaching the Otherworld. Second, Harry threads his way through a confusing middle realm, the Triwizard maze, and is abducted into another reality, a graveyard, where he witnesses the literal rebirth of Lord Voldemort. But even with the Dark Lord reborn, Harry escapes this alternate realm as well to warns the rest of wizardkind of the return of evil.
- In Book 5, Harry penetrates the depths of the already underground Ministry of Magic, to the Department of Mysteries, in order to save a life he believes is in danger. While there he again contends with a maze-like series of guarded rooms, rescues the orb of prophecy, battles Death Eaters, and watches in horror as Sirius dies by going through The Veil, literally falling into the Otherworld.
- In Book 6, Harry and Dumbledore do double duty in a Celtic sense, passing a short way through the ocean but also under the earth into Voldemort’s Horcrux cave. Again, Harry meets unbelievably difficult obstacles including the not-so-pleasant dead, the Inferi (which themselves are mirrored in Celtic lore). Yet he resurfaces from this brush with the Otherworld as well, with yet more knowledge and experience to his name.
- *My own personal favorite of the hidden exits out of Hogwarts is the one reached through the statue of the one-eyed, hump-backed old witch. This image is the modern-day descendent of the Cailleach (pronounced CALL-y’ach or COY-luck), a Celtic goddess who represents the cycles of life by aging and being reborn each year, in a parallel to Cernunnos. By definition, death of any sort always references the Otherworld.
Another interesting incident occurs in Prisoner of Azkaban. Future-Harry produces a full-blown Patronus stag in order to save past-Harry and Sirius from “at least a hundred” Dementors. In this case, it is the Otherworld that comes to the hero (via the Dementors), not he to it. Even so, a particular feature of this scene makes it clear that it is a symbolic re-enactment of an Otherworld denizen (Future-Harry with his stag helper) intervening to save the lives of humans from some of the less reputable magical inhabitants found in either realm. That feature is the lake. All bodies of water, whether they be springs, streams, lakes, or the ocean, play a strong role in Celtic beliefs. Each was said to be the source of its own resident spirit, or deity, a denizen of the Otherworld. The happy undersea version of the Otherworld is said to be reached by sailing off into the misty ocean from the western shores of Britain or Ireland. The more dangerous version is said to be beneath the land, including that covered by lakes. Here in the scene from Prisoner of Azkaban, the white stag, both Patronus protector and Otherworld messenger from the future, gallops across an arm of the Hogwarts lake to save two lives, that of our hero, in his real-time incarnation, and that of his appointed foster father. (Another important aspect of Celtic culture was that of fostering, which takes place in spades in Harry’s story. But that is best saved as a topic for another editorial.)
Nuts and Bolts
Now that I’ve provided examples of symbolic Otherworldly journeys that have already taken place in the Potterverse, and established the possibility of an actual live return from beyond The Veil, you may be asking just when this feat is going to happen and how in the world Harry is going to accomplish it. In my theory, the journey will begin after Harry has, at some point, become stymied in finding the last of the Horcruxes, or he begins to have a niggling fear that he may be one himself and goes to consult with Dumbledore’s portrait. As the ‘Head’ of an ancestor, Dumbledore will use his accumulated wisdom to advise Harry.
I believe that, knowing he might die before his lessons with Harry were complete, Albus Dumbledore, fierce protector of both his students and the freedom of the wizarding world, saw to it that all the elements necessary for Harry to take a journey to the Otherworld were in place, beginning with this fully informed portrait. And he knew such a journey would be necessary because, as several hints throughout the series have implied, Dumbledore understood that Harry does indeed hold a piece of Voldemort’s soul in his scar, something that can only be gotten rid of safely through such a journey. Indeed, Dumbledore’s own scar of the London Underground draws a literal map to one part of the underworld! And his comment in Book 1, Chapter 1 about how useful scars can be suggests that Dumbledore has had an Otherworld quest in mind all along. Considering the enormous challenges Harry already faces and his own soft spot for Harry’s happiness, Dumbledore may simply have put off telling Harry about that little Horcrux situation, just as he put off telling him how exactly his hand was blackened, or how to uncover hidden doorways in a cave wall, or how to find invisible chains attached to tiny magical boats. However, this is not the huge mistake it might seem to be, not with the elements from Celtic myth he had ready and waiting…
The process of initiating the Otherworld journey will involve the four factors I mentioned earlier, not only Dumbledore’s portrait and Harry’s stag Patronus but two other elements of Celtic myth as well. One, if I’m correct, will allow for the return of a sentimental and endearing favorite character. According to Caitlin Matthews, the journeyer could be “propelled [into the Otherworld] by a variety of different methods, usually sound sources,” one of which was “bird-song.” While there are numerous ways to open a passage to the Otherworld, this one would provide a good reason for Fawkes the phoenix to rejoin the story. We already know Fawkes’ music has the magical ability to affect agents of good and evil differently. I believe either Harry’s loyalty to Dumbledore, instructions from Dumbledore’s portrait, a connection Dumbledore and Fawkes have that transcends even death, or some combination of these, will call Fawkes back to Hogwarts in order to open a doorway into the Otherworld for Harry.
Why do I feel Harry’s actual journey will begin at Hogwarts? Because of the second of those other elements of Celtic myth: Hogwarts is where Dumbledore is buried. Once again according to Caitlin Matthews, consulting the ancestors “…was best pursued near their earthly resting place.” And Whitsel states that “Cernunnos may appear to his mystics at graveyards and near tombs.” Something else Whitsel says illustrates, to me anyway, one of the most amazing parallels between Celtic myth and the Potterverse. He says (and you’re not going to believe this… I know I didn’t) that one of “the best places for such apparitions… is a site of a single burial off in the woods or near a body of water…” And where exactly is Dumbledore’s lone White Tomb? Where did he himself likely request that it be placed? Well, we know he specifically requested burial somewhere in the Hogwarts grounds, unlike any previous Headmaster, so who’s to say he didn’t ask that it definitely be a lakefront site?
I believe portrait-Dumbledore will instruct Harry to wait beside his White Tomb, likely at dusk or dawn – the most magically powerful times of the day in Celtic belief – and possibly on one of the most magical days of the year, of which there are several. The most powerful would be Halloween, the last day of the Celtic year and the night when The Veil is at its thinnest. However, this doesn’t fit particularly well with the timeline presented in Harry Potter books. More likely, Halloween may be the first time Harry goes to speak with portrait-Dumbledore for general advice. (Even if Harry doesn’t return for classes in Book 7, I’d love to see him visit his friends and the ghosts, perhaps for that awesome yearly Halloween feast.)
From a timeline consideration, Dumbledore will probably not need to tell Harry about the last Horcrux or have him attempt his crossing until either May Day or perhaps the Summer Solstice. For the Celts, each of these days had strong magic of its own (if such an extra boost even proves necessary). Or, given that JKR has said she herself is Christian, she may finagle the timeline to have Harry cross earlier, at Easter, a time tailor-made for rebirth imagery, a concept that was also celebrated by the Celts at the Spring Equinox around March 21. (As I said earlier, a journey to the Otherworld and back again for Harry also has a Biblical parallel – specifically the tradition of Jesus descending to Hell between the time of the Crucifixion and the Resurrection. And His purpose there? To try and save the souls of the damned, Voldemort’s spiritual brothers in arms.)
Can You Hear Me Now?
So my scenario, to this point, involves Harry seeking assistance from Dumbledore’s portrait, eventually learning the location of the final Horcrux (in himself), Fawkes being summoned to ‘sing open’ a doorway to the Otherworld near Dumbledore’s White Tomb, and Harry being led through by his white stag Patronus. (I have found no mention in Celtic myth of what constitutes the shining white animals that act as guides to the Otherworld, but it certainly would be like JKR to insert an answer of her own making, i.e. a Patronus, into an established, yet vague, mythology.) While journeying to meet Dumbledore in the Otherworld, Harry will be protected by the stag, as he would be protected by it from Dementors. In some very mystical fashion (which, quite frankly, I haven’t worked out yet – watch for a possible future editorial on that), Dumbledore will extract the soul-fragment from Harry, at which point Harry will be free to return to the land of the living and vanquish Lord Voldemort, whatever that may entail. But the Otherworld can be a confusing place; time and space act very differently there than in the land of the living. How will Harry be able to find Dumbledore there? And once their work is complete, how will Harry find his way back to our world?
Remember, the protective role is not the only function of a Patronus, at least not for members of the Order of the Phoenix. Dumbledore himself devised the Messenger Spell, so called by the Harry Potter Lexicon website, that somehow allows for the Patronus to deliver messages from one Order member to another. This delivery system does more than just act as a warning siren, though. At the very least, it can lead others to its source, as cited by the Lexicon in the example of Dumbledore summoning Hagrid to the Forbidden Forest in Goblet of Fire. Another example occurs in Half-Blood Prince when Harry finally arrives at Hogwarts. Tonks sends her Patronus to summon Hagrid and instruct him to meet her and Harry at the gates to the castle grounds. Of course Hagrid himself was late to the back-to-school feast, so it was… Snape… who came down to undo the extra spells which were keeping the front gates locked. This implies that the Patronus may also be able to deliver an actual, specific message since its original addressee was not available. If this is the case, we’ll have to hope such a message is decodable only by Order members – and no others! Exactly how the “Messenger Spell” plays out, we don’t know. Nevertheless, it does work.
For the purpose of an Otherworldly journey in Book 7, Dumbledore may use the “Messenger Spell,” via his own phoenix Patronus, to tell Harry how to find him or to lead him directly to his location in Tir-na-nog. And before you say it, I really doubt being dead or lacking a wand would keep Dumbledore from performing magic. In fact, in Celtic lore denizens of the Otherworld almost always display strong magical abilities. (By the way, we’re never told what happens to Dumbledore’s wand after his death. Unfortunately, the wands of other deceased wizards have suffered too many different fates for us to conjecture about his.) Of course, Fawkes himself may accompany Harry and lead the way. Remember, we know Fawkes can take an Avada Kedavra curse with no ill effect other than being reborn from his own ashes. It would not be surprising, then, that he may also be able to pass through The Veil with little or no ill effect.
For Auld Lang Syne
Once their work is complete, either Dumbledore, his Patronus, Harry’s Patronus, or Fawkes can guide Harry back to the land of the living. But before saying a final goodbye to his late mentor, I have hopes that Harry may also have the opportunity to say good-bye to Sirius and, even more touchingly, to visit with his long-dead parents. A cruelly short visit, you think? Not necessarily so. Remember, time does not pass in the Otherworld in the same manner it does in the world of the living. Often, such as when a human has been lured there by Fairy Folk looking for a mate, much more time will pass here than there, leading the visitor to find all his kith and kin long gone should he try to return to the land of the living. But in the case of those heroes who are able to book a “round trip,” so to speak, the difference in time’s passage is more likely to be three hours or days to the living for each hour or day spent in the Otherworld. This wouldn’t interfere too terribly with Harry’s vital work in the wizarding world, but it would be a tremendous kindness for one who has led too tragic a life to date. True, as the now late Albus Dumbledore ironically implied in Prisoner of Azkaban, the dead never truly leave us. But a bit of time in their presence seems only fair for the hero of the entire wizarding world.
Once relieved of the sixth of Voldemort’s discarnate soul fragments, Harry can return to the world of the living ready and quite able to vanquish the Dark Lord for good. Voldemort will have but one remaining soul fragment left, although he will, as Dumbledore warned, still be a very powerful wizard to contend with. But Harry has great friends who, both in number and in talent, can certainly assist him in this final round of the ‘Great Battle of the Potterverse.’ I wonder, though, should Voldemort learn of Harry’s Otherworld journey, if his own fear of death might rankle him badly while he’s facing Harry, who not only had no such fear but actually did return from the land of the dead, something Voldemort never imagined possible. It would be poetic justice indeed if Voldemort’s own unfounded fear of death, the fear that has motivated almost every act of evil in his entire life, were to be a contributing factor in his final downfall. Whatever the means, I have no doubt that Harry will indeed vanquish the Dark Lord and rid the world of Lord Voldemort for good. And, considering a final quote, I have great hopes that afterwards Harry will have a long, happy, and richly deserved life in which to enjoy a peaceful existence with his remaining loved ones. For as W.Y. Evans-Wentz wrote in 1911 in “The Fairy-Faith in Celtic Countries”, “…to have passed from the realm of mortal existence to the Realm of the Dead, of the Fairy-Folk… and back again, with full human consciousness all the while, was equivalent to having gained the Philosopher’s Stone, the Elixir of Life… which confers triumph over Death and unending happiness.”
My deepest thanks to all the fine folks on the Chamber of Secrets Shamanism and the HBP Connection thread, especially thread founder Rust Loup, for their amazing discourse, inspiration, and support.
“The Encyclopedia of Celtic Wisdom”, Caitlin and John Matthews, First paperback edition – 1996, Element
“Cernunnos: The Celtic Horned God”, Montague Whitsel, 2002: Click here
The Chamber of Secrets – The Official Forums of MuggleNet.com “Celtic Mythology and Harry Potter” (no longer available)
“Celtic Mythology and HP v.2” Click here
The Harry Potter Lexicon: Click here