Who Is Death?
“The Tale of the Three Brothers” can be compared to the fates of three main characters from the Harry Potter series. One died for power, one died for lost love, and one greeted Death as an old friend. Lord Voldemort represents the eldest brother, possessor of the Elder Wand, who died for power. Severus Snape represents the middle brother, possessor of the Resurrection Stone, motivated by a lost love, who eventually dies for her. Harry Potter himself represents the youngest brother, possessor of the Invisibility Cloak, who greeted death as an old friend.
But who is Death?
One died for power.
So the oldest brother, who was a combative man, asked for a wand more powerful than any in existence: a wand that must always win duels for its owner, a wand worthy of a wizard who had conquered Death!” (Deathly Hallows, p.407).
The young and malicious Tom Riddle explains himself to Harry in the Chamber of Secrets. He craves power; specifically, he desires to be the most powerful wizard in the world, yet one man has consistently, frustratingly, stood in his path.
No, Harry – I fashioned myself a new name, a name I knew wizards everywhere would one day fear to speak, when I had become the greatest sorcerer in the world!”
“You’re not,” he said, his quiet voice full of hatred.
“Not what?” snapped Riddle.
“Not the greatest sorcerer in the world,” said Harry, breathing fast. “Sorry to disappoint you and all that, but the greatest wizard in the world is Albus Dumbledore. Everyone says so. Even when you were strong, you didn’t dare try and take over Hogwarts. Dumbledore saw through you when you were at school and he still frightens you now” (Chamber of Secrets, p.314).
Lord Voldemort himself admits in Order of the Phoenix his only fear is death: “There is nothing worse than death, Dumbledore!” snarled Voldemort (Order of the Phoenix, p.814). J.K. Rowling has confirmed that should Voldemort ever come face-to-face with a boggart, he would see his own corpse before him. So why would another wizard frighten him? Even in the very beginning, Hermione explains, “Harry, everyone says Dumbledore’s the only one You-Know-Who was ever afraid of” (Sorcerer’s Stone, p.260).
Strange to think that a man whose only fear is his own demise would fear another wizard just as much.
Lord Voldemort’s last encounter with Dumbledore is at the latter’s tomb, when he steals the Elder Wand in preparation for his assault on Hogwarts.
But then, Potter, Dumbledore as good as gave me the wand!” Voldemort’s voice shook with malicious pleasure. “I stole the wand from its last master’s tomb! I removed it against its last master’s wishes! Its power is mine!” (Deathly Hallows, p. 742).
Voldemort recognized that, even dead, Dumbledore possessed more power than he did and sought to strip him of his power. The eldest brother asked Death for the most powerful wand in existence, knowing that despite his own power, he could not match Death himself.
One died for lost love.
Meanwhile, the second brother journeyed to his own home, where he lived alone. Here he took out the stone that had the power to recall the dead and turned it thrice in his hand. To his amazement and his delight, the figure of the girl he had once hoped to marry, before her untimely death, appeared at once before him” (Deathly Hallows p. 408-409).
Severus Snape was in love with Lily Evans from the first day he met her, but their lives went separate ways, and he got involved with the worst crowd imaginable. Once the Death Eater realized Lily’s life was in danger, he sought the help of the only man who could possibly compete with Lord Voldemort: Albus Dumbledore.
Hide them all, then,” he croaked. “Keep her – them – safe. Please.”
“And what will you give me in return, Severus?”
“In – in return?” Snape gaped at Dumbledore, and Harry expected him to protest, but after a long moment he said, “Anything” (Deathly Hallows, p. 678).
Snape knew that if anyone could protect Lily from Lord Voldemort, it was Dumbledore. After her death, Dumbledore convinced Snape that she was not truly gone: Her son had survived Voldemort’s curse. In Severus’s eyes, Dumbledore “resurrected” Lily’s life by asking for his help protecting Harry. “You know how and why she died. Make sure it was not in vain. Help me protect Lily’s son” (Deathly Hallows, p.679). While he did not truly bring Lily back as if with the Resurrection Stone, he made her alive in Harry in the eyes of Severus, which is why Severus eventually was willing to pay the ultimate price for Harry as well.
One greeted death as an old friend.
And then he greeted Death as an old friend and went with him gladly, and equals, they departed this life” (Deathly Hallows, p.409).
Harry has multiple near-death experiences throughout the series, all of which he faced bravely. Harry never flinched at the possibility of death. “He was more afraid than you were that night, Harry. You had accepted, even embraced, the possibility of death, something Lord Voldemort has never been able to do” (Deathly Hallows, p.711). After his “death” in the Forbidden Forest, Harry is reunited with an unexpected friend at King’s Cross Station.
Harry.” He spread his arms wide, and his hands were both whole and white and undamaged. “You wonderful boy. You brave, brave man. Let us walk.”
Stunned, Harry followed as Dumbledore strode away…
“But you’re dead,” said Harry.
“Oh yes” said Dumbledore matter-of-factly.
“Then…I’m dead, too?”
“Ah,” said Dumbledore, smiling still more broadly. “That is the question, isn’t it? On the whole, dear boy, I think not.”
They looked at each other, the old man still beaming.
“Not?” repeated Harry.
“Not,” said Dumbledore.
“But…” Harry raised his hand instinctively toward the lightning scar. It did not seem to be there. “But I should have died – I didn’t defend myself! I meant to let him kill me!”
“And that,” said Dumbledore, “will, I think, have made all the difference.”
Happiness seemed to radiate from Dumbledore like light, like fire; Harry had never seen the man so utterly, so palpably content (Deathly Hallows, p. 707-708).
Dumbledore greets Harry in death as his friend, praising him for his bravery in the face of peril. He offers him his usual vague advice, which he knows Harry will understand, and is delighted in his presence. The two carry on a detailed conversation, which ends with a discussion of the Deathly Hallows, in which Dumbledore not only names Harry his equal, but his superior.
I crave your pardon, Harry. I have known, for some time now, that you are the better man” (Deathly Hallows, p.713).
Albus Dumbledore is an enigma, through and through. Any attempt to pull back his layers just results in more questions and more theories. He is a thoroughly intimidating, wonderfully clever, slightly terrifying wizard – a perfect character representation of Death.