Heliopaths, Fiendfyre, and a Cassandra Complex
On Episode 255 of Alohomora!, a very interesting theory was floated: that Luna Lovegood’s Heliopaths were actually Fiendfyre. I was immediately taken by this theory and began considering just how it would work. I think there’s a compelling case to be made that this was Jo’s original intent and it just got lost in the editing process.
Consider the language used by Luna to describe Heliopaths: “spirits of fire,” “great tall flaming creatures that gallop across the ground burning everything in front of –“ (OotP 345). That describes Fiendfyre to a T, if one looks at the description of the fiery animals devouring the contents of the Room of Requirement (DH 632).
We must consider Luna’s role in Harry Potter as a work of fantasy: She seems to fit squarely into the Cassandra complex, named for the renowned Seer of myth who was cursed by Apollo to tell the truth and always be disbelieved. We know that Cassandra was in Jo’s mind as she worked on the Potter series since there are two notable Cassandras in the Potter series: the author of Harry’s Divination textbook, Cassandra Vablatsky; and Professor Trelawney’s more authentically clairvoyant ancestor, Cassandra Trelawney. Note that both concern themselves with Divination, just as the mythical Cassandra did.
On a meta level, the Cassandra complex in the Potter series clearly belongs to Professor Sybill Trelawney, and Jo is the Apollo who cursed her to be disbelieved. Professor Trelawney’s predictions, by and large, almost all come true: Hermione leaving class, Neville breaking teacups, and even Harry dying were accurately foretold by Trelawney. (Credit where it’s due, the HP Wiki actually has a very good article about the veracity of Trelawney’s predictions.) But since the narration keeps insisting she’s a fraud, Harry and the readers believe she’s a fraud, even though she foretells the truth.
But on a textual level, rather than a meta level, the role of Cassandra seems to fall to Luna. Her outlandish theories are presented as her defining characteristic early on, and though the characters come to respect her, they never begin to believe her. (It’s also interesting that Luna and Trelawney get on famously at Slughorn’s Christmas party!) Based on the trope, at least one of Luna’s crazy theories should have paid off in a big way in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
On the flip side, the Fiendfyre really seems to come out of nowhere in the eleventh hour of Deathly Hallows. All the other Horcruxes are destroyed with something that was set up in earlier books – basilisk venom and/or the sword of Gryffindor. I always found it curious that one Horcrux is destroyed by Fiendfyre, which Hermione brushes aside as “Oh yeah, that’s another really epic form of Dark magic, moving right along!”
Picture an alternate path for the Potter books where Heliopaths and Fiendfyre are one and the same. Luna warns everyone that the Ministry is dabbling in dangerous Dark magic that can’t be controlled – it wouldn’t be the first time (coughcoughDementorscoughcough). Eventually, she’s proven right, probably during the big Ministry heist in Deathly Hallows. Hermione comments as they run past it, “Yikes, look at that, boys! That’ll destroy anything, even a Horcrux, but I wouldn’t dare use it!” Then, when Crabbe uses it at the end of the book, we are well primed for it.
It would even fit in perfectly with the two-book rule, where a bit of magic is offhandedly introduced only to be a major plot factor two books later: Animagi in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Polyjuice Potion in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, prophecy in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Pensieve in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Fiendfyre in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. (Currently, the Book 5 slot seems to be filled by Sirius’s mirror, but that’s not as big a part of Deathly Hallows as one would expect.)
For further evidence that the Heliopaths were supposed to be of some significance, we look to Luna’s reaction when Hermione questions her. It is the only time in the series Luna is ever described as saying something angrily. I originally attributed this to the Neville/Luna romance simmering below the surface and will still go down with that ship. But it may also be that Luna is irate because Hermione is deriding something that she knows to be true, beyond just believing one of her father’s theories.
‘They don’t exist, Neville,’ said Hermione tartly.
‘Oh yes they do!’ said Luna angrily.
‘I’m sorry, but where’s the proof of that?’ snapped Hermione.
‘There are plenty of eye-witness accounts, just because you’re so narrow-minded you need to have everything shoved under your nose before you –'” (OotP 345)
Luna is cut off before she can actually delve into some of the evidence behind the existence of Heliopaths, but the very fact that she believes there is proof is a change from the norm. In fact, judging by this scene and the text in general, if one of Luna’s theories turned out to be true, it would almost certainly be the Heliopaths rather than anything else.
So now we must ask ourselves the question: If Luna’s Heliopaths were originally intended to be Fiendfyre, what happened before Deathly Hallows’ publication that derailed those plans?
I believe they may have been cut for redundancy. Two of the Lovegoods’ other flights of fancy proved to have merit in Deathly Hallows: the titular Hallows and the diadem of Ravenclaw. A third revelation that they were (kinda sorta) right would have felt like overkill and would have lent too much credence to all their other wild theories (which are still supposed to not be considered credible).
There’s also a chance that the exposition just didn’t fit in the big action set piece of the Ministry caper, that it was cut in favor of showing Umbridge being more horrible than ever before.
But I am now firmly convinced that the Heliopaths are indeed meant to be creatures of Fiendfyre – and there is nothing in the text disproving this theory, even if the confirmation of it was edited from the final version of Deathly Hallows. A tip of my wizard hat to the fine folks at Alohomora! who brought this to my attention!