Lord Voldemort’s Happy Ending
When I was discussing Voldemort with my friend Britney Marler, an interesting question came up: What does Voldemort want? It was one of those questions that was so obvious that no one has thought to ask it in the last 12 years, and I was momentarily dumbfounded.
Voldemort’s short-term goals are well defined: Killing Harry and achieving immortality. The former is a means to the latter. Voldemort needs to kill Harry for two reasons. First, Voldemort believes in the prophecy and needs to eliminate “the one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord” (OotP 831). Second, Voldemort has the mother of all PR problems with Harry – the kid keeps defeating him, which is awful for his whole “unbeatable and most powerful” image.
As I briefly discussed in my essay “Revenge – Part 1: The Missing Message,” the conflict between Harry and Voldemort is surprisingly not personal. Harry is more motivated by the desire to stop Voldemort from committing further atrocities than by a need to avenge past ones. Similarly, I get the sense that Voldemort only continues chasing Harry because of the aforementioned reasons. Killing Harry is not what Voldemort wants to do; it’s just something that he needs to do to help him achieve his primary objective.
That primary objective is immortality. Jo said as much in 2005 when Emerson Spartz asked her what Voldemort would see in the Mirror of Erised: “Himself, all-powerful and eternal. That’s what he wants.” We even have it straight from the villain’s mouth: “You know my goal — to conquer death” (GoF 653). Voldemort’s pathological narcissism and his fear of death (stemming from his mother’s untimely end) combine to make this his raison d’être.
This goal of Voldemort is foiled by his arrogance – where we can explain away his mistakes regarding Harry as publicity stunts, here Voldemort has no one but himself to blame. He refuses to use any means of immortality that would make him reliant upon something, like the Elixir of Life or unicorn blood. No, he wants something that requires no maintenance, so Horcruxes it is. But Voldemort thinks so highly of himself; he doesn’t just make seven Horcruxes and get on with his eternal life. He has to wait to make Horcruxes out of significant artifacts, make them using significant deaths, and hide them in significant places.
One of the very rare moments when Harry suggests a pragmatic solution as opposed to a melodramatic one is when he first hears of the Horcruxes and immediately assumes that “they could be anything” (HBP 504). Harry is quite right – the best way for Voldemort to remain immortal is to put a piece of soul inside a rock and fling it into the English Channel. Instead, Voldemort leaves himself vulnerable because of his flair for drama.
But let us assume that Voldemort has killed Harry and become immortal with his seven fancy Horcruxes. Now what?
Is the goal Mudblood genocide? No, that doesn’t seem right. As I’ve written about in “The Big Bads: Grindelwald vs. Voldemort,” Voldemort’s crusade against Mudbloods was never about Voldemort’s personal feelings. It was a way to capitalize on the wizarding world’s prejudices and gain followers to assist him with his other ends. Voldemort may not like Mudbloods, but he doesn’t seem to much care either way.
Is the goal the overthrow of the Statute of Secrecy? Nope, we get literally no indication that Voldemort aspires to rule over the Muggles. That’s Grindelwald’s shtick. If Voldemort wanted, he could have declared open warfare on Muggles in Deathly Hallows since he was in charge of the wizarding government. Instead, he seems perfectly content ruling over his secret kingdom, as long as the Muggles don’t get in his way.
Is the goal ruling the world? Doesn’t seem like it since Voldemort doesn’t really express any interest in the world beyond Britain. This is again a contrast to the jet-setting Grindelwald, who will apparently take us all over the wizarding world in the coming films. Voldemort doesn’t really seem to crave a leadership role in politics. When he takes over the Ministry in Deathly Hallows, he does not throw himself into the running of the wizard government. Instead, he’s perfectly content to outsource that task to an Imperiused Pius Thicknesse and keep himself occupied hunting for the Elder Wand.
In opposition, one could cite his signature line from Sorcerer’s Stone: “There is no good and evil, there is only power, and those too weak to seek it” (291). But here, Voldemort is referring to magical power, not political power. Same with the Rowling quote from the 2005 interview: When Voldemort sees himself “all-powerful,” I read that as magical power. And now we begin to approach the answer to what Voldemort wants: to achieve ever more impressive Dark magic.
We are told time and again that Voldemort has done extraordinary things with magic. If he does say so himself, “I have experimented; I have pushed the boundaries of magic further, perhaps, than they have ever been pushed” (HBP 443). After his stint at Borgin and Burkes, he disappears for a decade, going on a research trip to learn about Dark magic and make himself immortal.
Voldemort has invented his own spells – aside from Morsmordre, he mentions “a spell or two of my own invention” among the ingredients needed for his Book 4 rebirth (GoF 656).¹ I believe he would have wanted to continue exploring Dark magic even after he achieved immortality.
We also know beyond a shadow of a doubt that Voldemort loved Hogwarts. Per Dumbledore, “Voldemort was, I believe, more attached to this school than he has ever been to a person. Hogwarts was where he had been happiest; the first and only place he had felt at home” (HBP 431). He wanted a post at Hogwarts, and not just for sentimental reasons (though those probably factored in). “He may have felt that there were still mysteries to unravel, stores of magic to tap” (HBP 431).
If we combine the two things, a love of Hogwarts and a desire to explore the Dark Arts, I believe we have our answer for what Voldemort ultimately wants. He wants to be the evil version of Dumbledore.
Dumbledore gets to be at Hogwarts all the time. In his spare time, Dumbledore gets to explore magic – for example, he created the Deluminator (DH 125). That’s precisely what Voldemort would love best: being at Hogwarts and exploring magic. During his job interview, he expresses a desire to “start my fresh researches […] at Hogwarts” (HBP 444).
As Headmaster, Dumbledore gets to influence students for generations, essentially molding the entire wizarding population. And though Dumbledore now serves a more administrative role, many Headmasters still teach classes. Dumbledore correctly says, “As a teacher, he would have had great power and influence over young witches and wizards” (HBP 431). Given Voldemort’s narcissism, he would love to mold entire generations to be more like him.
An interesting side question here is whether Dumbledore’s assessment was correct when he said to Voldemort, “You do not want to teach” (HBP 445). Dumbledore assumes that Voldemort just wants to influence the students, but Voldemort says he wants to “share my knowledge with your students” (HBP 444).
I believe Voldemort was being sincere in this instance. We know that Death Eaters take pride in learning Dark Arts at Voldemort’s knee. Bellatrix brags, “I learned the Dark Arts from him” (OotP 811). His pedagogical tendencies are well known enough for Pettigrew to hurl the accusation, “He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named taught [Sirius] a few tricks!” (PoA 368). So perhaps Voldemort really would want to tutor students in the Dark Arts.
In short, Voldemort wants to be in the exact position Dumbledore is in, just with a focus on Dark magic. Staying at Hogwarts, exploring magic, influencing young minds, and sharing his knowledge… on occasion, he could even wade into politics like Dumbledore does. Being Evil Dumbledore is Voldemort’s ultimate end goal once his enemies and Death have been defeated.
This puts the Voldemort/Dumbledore relationship under a fascinating lens. It makes them foils for each other, even more than they already are because they want similar things in the long term. It also adds a very strong undercurrent of jealousy to Voldemort.
We’ve heard much made of how Voldemort fears Dumbledore, and that’s probably true. And there has always been a twinge of envy there: Voldemort resents that people respect Dumbledore and think that Dumbledore is the more powerful of the two. Recall the bitterness in his speech when he is giving the Death Eaters a dressing down after being resurrected:
[H]ow could they have believed I would not rise again? […] They, who had seen proofs of the immensity of my power in the times when I was mightier than any wizard living?
“And I answer myself, perhaps they believed a still greater power could exist, one that could vanquish even Lord Voldemort … perhaps they now pay allegiance to another … perhaps that champion of commoners, of Mudbloods and Muggles, Albus Dumbledore?” (GoF 648)
It’s easy to see how rankled Voldemort is at the thought of his Death Eaters believing Dumbledore is mightier. That’s why he reminds them of the “immensity of [his] power.” But Voldemort follows that up with a smart bit of propaganda. He uses very deliberate language to make the case that he deserves the Death Eaters’ allegiance regardless of who is mightier: Because Dumbledore is a “champion of commoners, of Mudbloods and Muggles” – all the things the Death Eaters profess to hate. Voldemort must worry that his immensity of power was not sufficiently convincing.
But here, Voldemort is seething even more than it first appears (and takes the brunt of it out on Avery). There’s more there than just jealousy of the esteem for Dumbledore; there’s jealousy of the life Dumbledore leads. Because with the exception of immortality, Dumbledore has achieved exactly what Voldemort wants. Dumbledore is not just the only one he ever feared – he’s also the only one he ever envied.
¹If anyone wants to hear a really twisted theory about the process of Voldemort’s rebirth, specifically the creation of Babymort, I can point you to MuggleCast Episode 300.