The Seven Battles
In Order of the Phoenix, Dumbledore remarks that Harry has now been able “to escape [Voldemort] not once, but four times so far — something that neither [Harry’s] parents, nor Neville’s parents, ever achieved” (OotP 842). Since Harry had now broken the old record of “thrice defying” Voldemort, everyone stops counting after this. After Harry’s next close shave, Hagrid says, “Wait till it gets out yeh did it again, Harry, […] Escaped him, fought him off when he was right on top of yeh!” (DH 83) But it does not get out, and no one keeps the tally.
However, if one were to tally up the number of times Harry directly faced off against Voldemort, it should come as no surprise to readers that it was a total of seven times. The Potter series is rife with sevens, and as I recently started exploring, many of those sevens fall into a 3-2-1-1 pattern dictated by the potions riddle in Sorcerer’s Stone. As discussed previously, the order of these is Poison-Wine-Forward-Poison-Poison-Wine-Back. The seven times Harry battles Voldemort falls into our established pattern, if one looks at them from Voldemort’s point of view. Better yet, they fit in chronological order with the solution to the potions riddle!
In their first faceoff, at the end of Sorcerer’s Stone, Voldemort definitely comes out worse. He fails to procure what he was pursuing (the Sorcerer’s Stone) and is roundly defeated – his servant is left for dead, the Stone is destroyed, and Voldemort faces more years as a spirit in Albania. The love in Harry, a mark from his mother’s sacrifice, acts as a poison toward Quirrelmort. This first encounter was poison for Voldemort.
It was agony to touch a person marked by something so good.” – SS 299
The second confrontation is between Harry and Tom Riddle from the diary in Chamber of Secrets. While this battle also ends in utter defeat for Voldemort, it involves a separate soul fragment. For the actual Voldemort, hiding in an Albanian forest, no changes stem from this encounter. This was nettle wine.
After a book’s respite, Voldemort faces off against Harry again at the end of Goblet of Fire, in the graveyard of Little Hangleton. This is the only encounter where Voldemort indisputably comes out ahead. Sure, Harry escapes and warns Dumbledore, but Voldemort emerges from the night with a new body, resurrected “greater and more terrible than ever he was” (PoA 324). This third confrontation was a huge step forward for Voldemort, corresponding with the forward potion.
The record-breaking fourth time Harry defies Voldemort is at the Battle of the Department of Mysteries in Order of the Phoenix. This encounter does not go well for Voldemort. He fails to procure something again – in this case, the prophecy. Many of his elite Death Eaters are captured, and his presence becomes known to the wizarding world. He tried to possess Harry, and once again the love in Harry acts as a poison toward him.
[Voldemort] could not bear to reside in a body so full of the force he detests. […] It was [Harry’s] heart that saved [him].” – OotP 844
Voldemort once again faces off against Harry in the Battle of Seven Potters and yet again emerges worse for the wear. He fails in his objective again – this time to capture/kill Harry. Once again, something about Harry (or his wand) acts against Voldemort – Harry’s wand destroys the wand Voldemort borrowed from Lucius; once again, this us something Voldemort cannot understand. Because Voldemort “took a part of [Harry’s] mother’s sacrifice into himself,” leading to Priori Incantatem, Harry’s wand “contained the power of [Harry’s] enormous courage and of Voldemort’s own deadly skill” and trounced Voldemort (DH 710-711). This is the third encounter that’s poisonous for Voldemort.
The two adversaries meet again five months later at Godric’s Hollow, and that one ends in something of a stalemate. Voldemort fails to kill Harry but does manage to injure him. Voldemort suffers no loss. Not much changes after this confrontation (except, unbeknownst to Voldemort, Harry’s wand is smashed). This is the second nettle wine.
The seventh and final faceoff between the two is at the Battle of Hogwarts, and Voldemort is finally killed. If restoring his body constituted moving forward, then the destruction of his body would be moving backward. Voldemort does not just suffer a temporary setback here; he loses for good. Therefore, this final confrontation corresponds with the backward potion.
I originally believed that the essay could end here, with seven battles for seven potions. But then I dug deeper. It turns out that every single one of these battles is connected to another set of seven that leads up to it. And each set of seven aligns with the potions riddle, culminating in a matrix of seven sevens stemming from that 3-2-1-1 pattern. These do not follow the order of the riddle’s solution because that likely would have stifled the story too much, but it’s still mighty impressive. So let us go through them one by one and marvel at how seamlessly it was all integrated.
Danger lies before you, while safety lies behind,
Two of us will help you, whichever you would find,
One among us seven will let you move ahead,
Another will transport the drinker back instead,
Two among our number hold only nettle wine,
Three of us are killers, waiting hidden in line.
Battle 1: Sorcerer’s Stone
The first Harry-Voldy confrontation comes with a built-in seven: the seven obstacles that protected the Stone. One of these obstacles is the potions riddle, which risks approaching a dangerous level of meta, but here goes nothing.
Three of the obstacles actively try to hurt the trio: Fluffy (who nearly eats them), Devil’s Snare (which nearly chokes them), and the chess match (where chess pieces smash each other, and one bludgeons Ron into unconsciousness). These are our three poisons.
Two of the obstacles are passive – the troll that has already been knocked out and the potions riddle. The potions do nothing to try to actively harm anyone – a “use of cool logic” gets Harry through (SS 305). These are the two nettle wines.
The flying keys do not try to hurt the trio; they allow them to move forward toward danger (the danger being the next obstacle, the chess match, which is the only one that actually hurts the trio). The keys are the forward potion.
And the Mirror of Erised is the back potion. The Mirror is designed to keep the Stone from whoever is seeking it (unless they are ridiculously selfless like Harry). The Mirror therefore represents going back toward safety – there is no danger from it, and it serves as a setback for whoever would pursue the Stone. Earlier on, the Mirror also showed Harry his dead parents, momentarily bringing him back to the safety of a loving family.
Battle 2: Chamber of Secrets
Leading up to Harry confronting Tom Riddle in the Chamber of Secrets, there are seven victims who are either Petrified or taken into the Chamber to die.
Three of the victims directly incriminate Harry – Colin Creevey, Justin Finch-Fletchley, and Mrs. Norris. As Ernie Macmillan succinctly whispers to his fellow Hufflepuffs,
Potter had some sort of run-in with Filch. Next thing we know, Filch’s cat’s attacked. That first year, Creevey, was annoying Potter at the Quidditch match, taking pictures of him while he was lying in the mud. Next thing we know — Creevey’s been attacked.” – CoS 199
Harry is then perceived to have directed a snake to bite Justin, so when Justin is Petrified, Harry is “caught in the act,” as Ernie so dramatically exclaims (CoS 203). These three attacks serve to poison the student body against Harry, leading them all to believe that he is the bloodthirsty Heir of Slytherin.
Nearly Headless Nick represents the back potion – Nick was supposed to have been safe, as a ghost. He’d already died and been brought back as a ghost, and the Basilisk brought him back toward death.
[It] was Nearly Headless Nick’s fate that seemed to worry people most. What could possibly do that to a ghost? people asked each other; what terrible power could harm someone who was already dead?” – CoS 209
Hermione and Penelope Clearwater are the two nettle wines – they do not incriminate Harry (but rather exonerate him), and they initially do not provide either forward or backward momentum.
Ginny being taken into the Chamber itself represents the forward potion. It is her abduction that compels Harry and Ron to move forward toward danger. Because she is abducted, Harry and Ron finally go into the Chamber of Secrets to face the Basilisk and have that second confrontation against Voldemort.
Battle 3: Voldemort’s Resurrection
Before Harry and Voldemort duel in the graveyard in Goblet of Fire, Voldemort first needs to regain his body. To do this, Voldemort uses an “old piece of Dark Magic” that involves flesh, blood, and bone; for it to work, however, he first needed a rudimentary body he created through spells and potions “of [his] own invention” (GoF 656). There are seven ingredients total, and they do align with the pattern.
Three of the ingredients require hurting someone else. The unicorn blood that Voldemort uses to restore himself to Babymort (GoF 656) requires the slaughter of a unicorn. “[B]lood of the enemy, forcibly taken” involves injuring Harry (GoF 642). “Flesh of the servant, willingly given” demands Wormtail’s hand (GoF 641). These three are the poisons.
Two of the ingredients are completely passive. “Bone of the father, unknowingly given” does not affect anyone (GoF 641). Harry comments that the cauldron “was full of what seemed to be water” (GoF 639), and water is a completely unremarkable ingredient. The bone and the water are the nettle wines.
Babymort himself represents the backward potion. It literally represents a reversion to childhood – it “had the shape of a crouched human child” and “seemed almost helpless.” (GoF 640-641) Voldemort himself later says that this was to “return [him] to a rudimentary, weak body” (GoF 656). Everything about this form is representative of moving backward, a regression to a younger and weaker self.
Nagini’s venom, on the other hand, represents moving forward. Nagini nurses Voldemort, and her venom is what allows him to maintain a body and regain strength – “a few days alone [without venom] would be enough to rob [Voldemort] of the little health [he] has regained” (GoF 9). It’s a perversion of a mother’s milk, which allows infants to grow and develop. Nagini’s venom is therefore the forward potion.
Battle 4: Department of Mysteries
Prior to Harry facing off against Voldemort for a record-breaking fourth time in Order of the Phoenix, he and his friends battle the Death Eaters for 40 pages throughout the Department of Mysteries. There are seven rooms that factor into this battle. I’m not counting the Love Room since no one ever actually enters it.
Once the battle gets underway, there are three rooms in which Harry’s allies get seriously injured. In “a small, dark cluttered office” adjacent to the Time Room, Harry, Hermione, and Neville face off against Dolohov and Jugson (OotP 791). Dolohov cast a streak of purple flame at Hermione; Hermione “crumpled onto the floor where she lay motionless.” Dolohov then kicked Neville – “his foot broke Neville’s wand in two and connected with his face,” breaking Neville’s nose. (OotP 792)
They reconvene with Ron, Ginny, and Luna and run into the Brain Room. In the Brain Room, Luna gets cursed by a Death Eater as she’s locking a door (OotP 797), and Ron gets strangled by a brain, which “could leave deeper scarring than almost anything else.” (OotP 947)
The final room where Harry’s allies get injured is the Death Chamber, where Dolohov injures Moody (OotP 802), Bellatrix injures Tonks (OotP 803), and Bellatrix kills Sirius (OotP 806). The three rooms where the DA and the Order suffer injuries – the office, the Brain Room, and the Death Chamber – correspond with the three poisons.
Two of the rooms don’t see any conclusive dueling – the Planet Room and the rotating antechamber. The latter is the room full of doors that Harry and co. frequently run through, but no dueling actually takes place there. Harry never goes into the Planet Room; only Ron, Ginny, and Luna do. Ginny’s ankle gets broken, Ron is hit by a spell and goes “a bit funny,” and Luna blows up Pluto in a Death Eater’s face (OotP 796). But all of these duelists are still fit to keep fighting afterward, so there is no lasting impact. Thus, the Planet Room and rotating room of doors are the nettle wines.
Forward and back is more apparent here than anywhere. The forward room is the Hall of Prophecy, which is concerned with looking forward in time. This is in keeping with moving forward toward danger since this is the room where the Death Eaters first corner Harry and his friends. The back room is the Time Room, where time literally moves backward. It also works with the idea of moving back to safety since the Time Room is the only room where Harry and his friends conclusively defeat a Death Eater (the one whose head they turn into that of a baby’s) (OotP 790).
Battle 5: Seven Potters
There’s a rather obvious seven in the Battle of Seven Potters, and the seven Potters do fall into the pattern.
Voldemort is most certainly representative of a poison, so the three Potters whom Voldemort directly pursues correspond with the three poisons. Voldemort first went straight for Mundungus, who was accompanied by Mad-Eye Moody (DH 78). When Mundungus Disapparated, Voldemort “joined the chase [for Hermione and Kingsley] halfway through but vanished pretty quickly” (DH 72). This was down to Harry giving himself away with the Disarming Charm, so Voldemort chased Harry until Harry made it to the safe house. The three poisons are Mundungus, Hermione, and Harry, in this case.
The only one of the seven Potters to be seriously injured was George, who lost an ear (DH 73). He lost it to Snape, who was meant to keep them safe but had a “mishap” (DH 690). The safety that Snape was striving for, and the setback of losing an ear, indicate that George is the backward potion.
The one representing the forward potion would be Ron, who was teamed with Tonks. They were moving toward danger since Bellatrix was trying to kill them (DH 76). But Ron and Tonks were also the only pair confirmed to have caused damage to Voldemort’s ranks – Ron “Stunned one of the Death Eaters,” who may have fallen to his death, and they “definitely injured Rodolphus” (DH 76). This is moving the cause forward; therefore, Ron is the forward potion.
That leaves Fleur and Fred, who were with Bill and Arthur, respectively, as the nettle wines. Neither of them had particularly eventful chases, or at least not ones we hear about. Bill and Fleur talk about what happen to Mundungus and Mad-Eye, whereas Fred and Arthur don’t swap stories at all because they can rush in to see George.
Battle 6: Godric’s Hollow
Harry’s reasons for visiting Godric’s Hollow and subsequently escaping Voldemort are numerous, but all of them involve people who died at Godric’s Hollow – his parents and Dumbledore’s family chief among them. There are a total of seven deaths leading up to the events that occur at Godric’s Hollow.
We can keep Voldemort as our indicator of poison because three of the deaths are caused by him – Lily Potter, James Potter, and Bathilda Bagshot. Voldemort himself kind of died at Godric’s Hollow as well when his Killing Curse bounced back, so I believe that Voldemort’s death correlates with the backward potion. His death is caused by a curse bouncing back at him. He manages to come back from this “death.” And incorporating the theme of safety, Voldemort’s temporary death brought safety to the wizarding world for over a decade.
Then there are the tragic deaths of Kendra and Ariana Dumbledore. Ariana “had one of her rages. […] it was an accident. Ariana couldn’t control it. But [Aberforth’s] mother was killed” (DH 565). Later that very same summer, Albus, Aberforth, and Grindelwald got into a duel with Ariana present. Aberforth says, “I don’t know which of us did it, it could have been any of us — and she was dead” (DH 567). These two the deaths were accidental and not part of the conflict between Harry and Voldemort. The Dumbledores are the nettle wines.
The final death at Godric’s Hollow that influences the events of Deathly Hallows is that of Ignotus Peverell, many centuries ago. Harry and Hermione stumble upon his grave and see the mark of the Deathly Hallows, and this serves to move them forward in their quest for the Hallows and set many things in motion. It convinces Hermione to pursue the symbol of the Hallows and go to Xenophilius Lovegood. Thus, Ignotus Peverell’s death represents the forward potion.
Battle 7: Battle of Hogwarts
The final time Harry and Voldemort meet in combat, it is resolved by the complex laws of wand ownership: Harry is dueling with Draco Malfoy’s wand, Voldemort is dueling with the Elder Wand whose allegiance is to Harry, and Voldemort is finally defeated by the wand whose “master it would not kill” (DH 743-744). We get to this point because in Deathly Hallows, wands are being passed around like hot potatoes. Throughout the book, Harry uses a total of seven wands: his own, Hermione’s (DH 349), the Blackthorn wand Ron gets from a Snatcher (DH 392), three wands the trio takes at Malfoy Manor, and the Elder Wand (DH 748).
For clarification, in the Malfoy Manor scene, Ron takes Pettigrew’s wand and Disarms Bellatrix with it; Harry catches Bellatrix’s wand and Stuns Lucius Malfoy (DH 472). Bellatrix forces Harry and Ron to surrender the wands and gives them to Draco. Harry “wrested the three wands [Bella’s, Wormtail’s, and Draco’s own] from Draco’s grip, pointed all three of them at Greyback, and yelled, “Stupefy!” (DH 474) This is the moment when Harry used Wormtail’s wand; Ron uses it as his wand henceforth (DH 494). Harry henceforth uses Draco’s wand, and it is this wand that he duels Voldemort for a final time with.
Three of Harry’s wands belonged to Death Eaters – Bellatrix’s, Pettigrew’s, and Draco’s. They have all likely committed numerous atrocities (Hermione comments on the awful history of Bellatrix’s wand on DH 520). These three wands are therefore the three poisons. The idea of them as a set of three is reinforced by Harry using all three of them at once, stunning Greyback with a “triple spell.” (DH 474)
Two of the wands Harry uses for some period of time without having their allegiance – Hermione’s wand and the blackthorn wand. Harry does not really do much magic with Hermione’s wand, though he feels “fatally weakened, vulnerable, and naked” when using it instead of his own wand (DH 350). And Harry frequently mentions that the blackthorn wand does not work properly for him; it “felt intrusively unfamiliar” (DH 392). These two wands are the nettle wines.
Harry’s wand represents the backward potion and safety for Harry. It protects Harry time and again, from instigating Priori Incantatem in Goblet of Fire to independently destroying Lucius Malfoy’s wand in the Battle of Seven Potters. It’s significant that the wand is removed from the equation in the sixth of seven battles and only returns after the final confrontation (DH 748). This is a parallel to Hermione in the seven obstacles of Sorcerer’s Stone – Hermione drinks the backward potion during the sixth obstacle of seven, so she isn’t part of the final confrontation and surfaces after it’s over. Since Hermione is the one to drink the backward potion, this reinforces the parallel between Harry’s wand and the backward potion.
The Elder Wand therefore represents the forward potion and danger.
The bloody trail of the Elder Wand is spattered across the pages of Wizarding history.” – DH 412
The owner of the Elder Wand must always fear attack.” – DH 497
The Elder Wand causes the death of most of Voldemort’s victims in Deathly Hallows – Snape, Grindelwald, and Gregorovitch among them – and Voldemort himself. The Elder Wand is also what moves Harry’s cause forward, allowing Harry to go on the offensive instead of the defensive for the first time and finally defeat Voldemort. But Harry is wise to avoid the danger and dispose of the Elder Wand as soon as his original wand was restored (DH 749).
Over the course of my last few essays, I have realized that the Harry Potter books are more meticulously and intricately structured than previously supposed. I originally meant to write an essay about all of the sevens popping up in the series that adhere to the potions riddle’s pattern before I realized there was one corresponding to the lead-up to each of these seven battles and spun this off into its own essay. (And there are plenty more sevens throughout the series, so expect another essay detailing them next month.)
I can’t know Jo’s mind, and I know it is the tendency of all humans and especially literary analysts to find patterns where there are none. I don’t know if Jo drew up pages and pages of 7×7 charts when outlining her stories or if these all just happened. We know that she has littered her books with sevens, and 3-2-1-1 is a good pattern for story-telling. Whether the potions riddle was intended as a blueprint or is just one example of 3-2-1-1, I don’t know, but I found it a useful framework to have. So considering how little I had to stretch to make this all fit (Full Disclosure: The only set of seven I struggled to find was the one for Godric’s Hollow), I’m inclined to believe that Jo intended much of this and imperceptibly wove these sets of seven into her story. She is just that good.