Godric’s Hollow: What Really Happened?
by Jay Ortiz
What do we know of the actual events that occurred at Godric’s Hollow, stripped of the myths and conjectures added by tellers of the tale who were not actually present? We learned, from Dumbledore, that the Dark Lord was aware of the first half of Sibyll Trelawney’s prophecy, and for reasons known only to himself decided that Harry was the one described in the prophecy as having the power to vanquish the Dark Lord.(52) We know too that Dumbledore learned Voldemort was searching for the Potters and advised them to go into hiding, suggesting they invoke the Fidelius Charm for concealment.(53) James Potter chose Sirius Black to be Secret-Keeper but, at the last minute, Sirius persuaded James it would be safer to select the less obvious Peter Pettigrew.(54) Unbeknownst to Sirius and James, however, Pettigrew had become a spy for Voldemort, and immediately betrayed his trust as Secret-Keeper by informing his new master where the Potters were hiding.(55) And then, the Dark Lord appeared in Godric’s Hollow. Afterwards, James and Lily Potter were dead, Harry was alive but marked by a lightning bolt-shaped scar on his forehead, Voldemort had vanished, and the entire house was in ruins.(56)
All of the foregoing we learned from eyewitnesses to what preceded and followed Voldemorts confrontation with the Potters –
What do we know of the actual events that occurred at Godrics Hollow, stripped of the myths and conjectures added by tellers of the tale who were not actually present? We learned, from Dumbledore, that the Dark Lord was aware of the first half of Sibyll Trelawneys prophecy, and for reasons known only to himself decided that Harry was the one described in the prophecy as having the power to vanquish the Dark Lord.(52) We know too that Dumbledore learned Voldemort was searching for the Potters and advised them to go into hiding, suggesting they invoke the Fidelius Charm for concealment.(53) James Potter chose Sirius Black to be Secret-Keeper but, at the last minute, Sirius persuaded James it would be safer to select the less obvious Peter Pettigrew.(54) Unbeknownst to Sirius and James, however, Pettigrew had become a spy for Voldemort, and immediately betrayed his trust as Secret-Keeper by informing his new master where the Potters were hiding.(55) And then, the Dark Lord appeared in Godrics Hollow. Afterwards, James and Lily Potter were dead, Harry was alive but marked by a lightning bolt-shaped scar on his forehead, Voldemort had vanished, and the entire house was in ruins.(56)
All of the foregoing we learned from eyewitnesses to what preceded and followed Voldemorts confrontation with the Potters – but none of them were present during the actual attack. Harry, initially, recalled only a flash of green light, burning pain and a cruel laugh,(57) but in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban he encountered the dementors and, under their malevolent influence, gradually recalled additional unhappy memories of that night, memories that cumulatively provide an eyewitness account of virtually all that occurred:
[B]ig, blurred shapes were moving around him . . . then came a new voice, a man’s voice, shouting, panicking –
“Lily, take Harry and go! It’s him! Go! Run! I’ll hold him off –”
The sounds of someone stumbling from a room – a door bursting open – a cackle of high-pitched laughter –(58)
Someone was screaming, screaming inside his head . . . a woman . . .
“Not Harry, not Harry, please not Harry!”
Stand aside, you silly girl . . . stand aside, now . . . .
Not Harry, please no, take me, kill me instead —
* * * * *Not Harry! Please . . . have mercy . . .have mercy . . . .
A shrill voice was laughing, the woman was screaming . . . .(59)
[H]is mothers voice was louder than ever, echoing inside his head – Not Harry! Not Harry! Please – I’ll do anything –
Stand aside. Stand aside, girl!(60)
Harry’s memories end just before Voldemort killed his mother and attempted to kill him. The only other surviving eyewitness, Lord Voldemort himself, supplied the remainder of the story. In Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, long before we could have guessed its significance, Lord Voldemort provided Harry with perhaps the most crucial information of all:
“Yes, boy, your parents were brave . . . . I killed your father first, and he put up a courageous fight . . . but your mother neednt have died . . . she was trying to protect you.”(61)
In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Voldemort added some information that provides the final keys to what actually took place, and to the effect his own spell had on himself:(62)
Ah, what a story it is . . . . And it begins – and ends – with my young friend here.
* * * * *You know, of course, that they have called this boy my downfall? . . . . You all know that on the night I lost my powers and my body, I tried to kill him. His mother died in the attempt to save him – and unwittingly provided him with a protection I admit I had not foreseen . . . . I could not touch the boy.
* * * * *His mother left upon him the traces of her sacrifice . . . . This is old magic, I should have remembered it, I was foolish to overlook it . . . but no matter. I can touch him now.
* * * * *I miscalculated, my friends, I admit it. My curse was deflected by the woman’s foolish sacrifice, and it rebounded upon myself. Aaah . . . pain beyond pain, my friends; nothing could have prepared me for it. I was ripped from my body, I was less than spirit, less than the meanest ghost . . . but still, I was alive. What I was, even I do not know . . . I, who have gone further than anybody along the path that leads to immortality. You know my goal– to conquer death. And now, I was tested, and it appeared that one or more of my experiments had worked . . . for I had not been killed, though the curse should have done it . . . .(63)
Finally, in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, during his effort to persuade Professor Slughorn to disclose his conversation with Tom Riddle, Harry summarized all that occurred, based on his own memories and what Voldemort told him, and repeated once again the most important thing Voldemort had said:
“I don’t– don’t suppose you remember it, Harry?” he asked awkwardly.
”No — well, I was only one when they died,” said Harry . . . . “But I’ve found out pretty much what happened since. My dad died first. Did you know that?”
”I — I didn’t,” said Slughorn in a hushed voice.
”Yeah . . . Voldemort murdered him and then stepped over his body toward my mum,” said Harry.
* * * * *”He told her to get out of the way,” said Harry remorselessly. “He told me she needn’t have died. He only wanted me. She could have run.”
* * * * *”But she didn’t move. Dad was already dead, but she didn’t want me to go too. She tried to plead with Voldemort . . . but he just laughed . . . .”(64)
It may now be useful to summarize what we can safely deduce at this point. Voldemort appeared at Godrics Hollow, and James Potter attempted to fight him in order to afford his wife and son an opportunity to escape. However, he failed, and the Dark Lord killed him. Although not expressly stated in the text, it appears certain that Voldemort used the Avada Kedavra curse, since Harry recalled a flash of green light. We should not forget, however, that Harry remembered only one flash of green light – not two, much less three.
E. Godric’s Hollow: Creation of a Horcrux?
After James’s death, what happened was significantly different than what the wizarding community and we readers – have assumed. It is clear that Voldemort was willing to spare Lily’s life; several times he told her to stand aside. It is absolutely clear that she needn’t have died. He only wanted [Harry].(65) What possible reason could there have been for Voldemort to have repeatedly given Lily the opportunity to stand aside? Why would he not have simply killed her, and removed the only barrier between himself and Harry? We know he is not prone to mercy, and it is beyond comprehension — at this point – that he would have shrunk from committing another murder.
No, the only reason he would have let her live, as he himself stated, is that he did not need her death. His murder of James had already split his soul, and his objective now was not to commit another murder, but rather to create his final Horcrux: Harry Potter himself. He was, perhaps, simply too impatient, too eager.
Why, though, would he have chosen to use Harry as the depository for his final soul fragment? Many readers have speculated that Harry is the missing relic of Godric Gryffindor, that he is a direct descendant of the founder. Several reasons have been put forward in support of this hypothesis: He was being hidden in Godric’s Hollow, and almost certainly the name of that place refers to Godric Gryffindor. Too, Dumbledore had told Harry “[o]nly a true Gryffindor could have pulled that [Gryffindor’s sword] out of the [Sorting] hat.”(66) Although these are mere inferences and the evidence to date is hardly conclusive, this author shares the belief of other readers that, in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Ms. Rowling will disclose that James Potter and his son were descendants of Godric Gryffindor – but for an additional reason as well. The symmetry of the heir of Slytherin and the heir of Gryffindor meeting to determine the fate of the magical world is simply too perfect to be resisted. Therefore, if he transformed Harry into his sixth Horcrux, Voldemort would have fulfilled his quest to have created Horcruxes from objects (or persons) uniquely connected to all four of the Hogwarts founders.
Regardless of any relationship between Harry Potter and Godric Gryffindor, however, there is another and even more compelling reason why Voldemort would have chosen Harry as his final Horcrux. Recall, once again, that the Dark Lords ultimate objective, in splitting his soul, was to achieve immortality.(67) Yet, according to Trelawney’s prophecy (as Voldemort interpreted the portion he had heard), Harry possessed the power to vanquish the Dark Lord.(68) In Voldemorts malevolent mind, therefore, there could be only one way to guarantee his own immortality: to transform Harry into a Horcrux. Once that had been accomplished, then even if Harry were to kill him and destroy the portion of his soul that was in his mortal body, he would nonetheless survive because a replication of his soul would still exist in the body of the very person who had defeated him. In other words, whichever one of them was killed in their inevitable battle, one of the replicated pieces of Voldemorts soul would survive. By placing a fragment of his own soul in Harry, Voldemort would have an absolute certainty that his entire soul could not be destroyed even if the prophecy was fulfilled – and even if none of his other Horcruxes were available.
(52) OOTP, pp. 841-843. Interestingly, although we know that both Harry’s parents and Neville’s had thrice defied the Dark Lord, we have not yet learned what their acts of defiance were. This may or may not become significant, but in any event we can justifiably be curious about it.
(53) POA, pp. 204-205.
(54) POA, p. 365.
(55) POA, pp. 374-375.
(56) SS, p. 55; POA, p. 206.
(57) SS, pp. 29, 56.
(58) POA, p. 240.
(59) POA, p. 179.
(60) POA, p. 239.
(61) SS, p. 294.
(62) GOF, pp. 652-653.
(63) GOF, pp. 652-653.
(64) HBP, pp. 488-489.
(65) HBP, pp. 488-489.
(66) COS, p. 334.
(67) GOF, pp. 648, 653; HBP, p. 499.
(68) OOTP, p. 841.