Albus Dumbledore and the Mysterious Forceful Spell – Part 3
by Gregory Hughes
Alrighty, let’s start with another recap of the previous part: Dumbledore’s mysterious forceful spell is cast nonverbally, so we never hear an incantation. It also manifests physically, causing sound waves when the spell crashes against Voldemort’s shield, indicating Dumbledore put some particularly strong feelings or desires behind it when casting the spell. Voldemort might have known exactly what the mysterious forceful spell was, but if not, he did intuit both that it was nonlethal and that it could be blocked by a physical object (in this instance, a shield). This last point – that the spell is not able to be blocked by another spell – invited a comparison to the only other magically unblockable spell we’ve seen in the books, Avada Kedavra.
Which brings us to…
Magical Theory by Adalbert Waffling
Until J.K. Rowling publishes that elusive encyclopedia – or perhaps she will publish Adalbert Waffling’s Magical Theory – we do not have a confirmed theory of how magic actually works in the Potterverse. But with Avada Kedavra more so than any other spell, we are in a position to develop our own working theory of its nature. We know how Avada Kedavra manifests, how it interacts in the physical world: It kills people without leaving a trace of damage on the victim’s body; we know it sometimes destroys nonliving objects when, we think, it is backed by particularly nasty feelings (that poor golden centaur who’s now in a hundred pieces on the floor); we know it produces green light; we know it is conventionally, magically unblockable. But what do we know about how it works?
Let us consider the etymology of the incantation, Avada Kedavra. Derived from Aramaic – not Latin – Avada Kedavra translates to “let the thing be destroyed” (Rowling confirmed the origin and translation at the Edinburgh International Book Festival in April 2004). “Let the thing be destroyed” makes sense for the Killing Curse, but it hardly answers all questions about how it actually works. Specifically, what is the thing to which the incantation refers? The physical body? That is impossible since the Killing Curse is repeatedly noted as leaving no trace of damage on its victim’s body. If the body were the thing being destroyed, one would expect the curse to… well… completely destroy the body as it did the golden centaur, not leave it undamaged. Perhaps, then, the victim’s soul is the thing to be destroyed. Again, this is directly contradicted by the books: Dementors destroy souls, yes, but the Killing Curse keeps the victim’s soul intact, as we see in chapter 35, “King’s Cross,” of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Hermione also explains in chapter 6 of the same book that physical death does not damage the soul at all. So if not the body and not the soul, what is the thing the Killing Curse destroys that causes death?
To answer that, we must engage in some degree of speculation and Dumbledorian guesswork. However, I think this passage from chapter 35 of Deathly Hallows gives a strong hint:
‘He took my blood,’ said Harry.
‘Precisely!’ said Dumbledore. ‘He took your blood and rebuilt his living body with it! Your blood in his veins, Harry, Lily’s protection inside both of you! He tethered you to life while he lives!'” (DH 709)
Again, let us set the context of the scene quoted above: Harry Potter has willingly sacrificed himself to Voldemort in the Forbidden Forest during a pause in the Battle of Hogwarts, knowing full well that a piece of Voldemort’s soul had latched on to him, his scar, and that Harry must die if Voldemort is to become mortal. He wakes in a dream-like state to find Albus Dumbledore, who explains everything, and curiously, a thing in the “form of a small, naked child, [was] curled on the ground, its skin raw and rough, flayed-looking, and it lay shuddering under a seat where it had been left, unwanted, stuffed out of sight, struggling for breath” – the piece of Voldemort’s damaged soul now very much separated from Harry (DH 706–07). Albus explains to Harry that, if he so chooses, he could “board a train” that would take him “on” (DH 722).
What we witness in chapter 35, “King’s Cross,” is not a conversation between the bodily Albus Dumbledore and Harry Potter but rather a conversation between the souls of Albus Dumbledore and Harry Potter. A conversation between spirits. It is not the living, breathing, bespectacled Harry Potter with a scar who would go “on” as Dumbledore describes. No, that Harry is still lying on the indifferent earth of the Forbidden Forest, glasses askew and scar very much still affixed to his forehead. It is this Harry, soul-Harry, pure-Harry unafflicted by Voldemort’s soul that would go “on.”
And it is this soul-Harry to whom Dumbledore refers when he says, “He tethered you to life while he lives!”
That word, tethered, is interesting. Harry’s soul was tethered to life, tethered to his living body, and it is that tethering that makes Harry alive. It was the tethering that was protected by Lily’s blood sacrifice, and it was Lily’s blood sacrifice flowing through Voldemort’s veins that continued to protect Harry’s tether to life. And what is a tether if not a connection, a link, an attachment?
This, I think, is the thing that Avada Kedavra destroys to cause death. Avada Kedavra destroys the attachment of the soul and body, normally forcing the soul “on” while keeping the body earth-bound yet damaging neither.
Lest my theory of Avada Kedavra run aground, based solely as it is on Dumbledorian guesswork, we should be reminded of Voldemort’s own words to his Death Eaters in the graveyard:
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.” (GoF 653)
Voldemort’s soul (or what was left of it) when his curse rebounded was “ripped” – though I would use the word detached – from his body.
This, then, is our working hypothesis of Avada Kedavra: The Killing Curse employs an Aramaic incantation to destroy the attachment between body and soul, and one or both of these characteristics causes the spell to manifest as a conventionally unblockable jet of green light, which sometimes also destroys nonliving things (when cast with lots of hate and anger).
Magic of Souls
Returning now to the forceful spell, we can suppositionally say that if our hypothesis of Avada Kedavra is true, then the forceful spell would also be conventionally unblockable because it either (1) employs an Aramaic incantation and/or (2) somehow seeks to act on the connection between body and soul. That is, as they say, a big IF, but it is at least firmly possible given what little we know of magical theory.
Big IFs aside – and certainly for the fun of it – let us continue pulling on this suppositional thread, starting with the notion that the forceful spell is conventionally unblockable because it employs an Aramaic incantation. This possibility cannot be dismissed outright since the Killing Curse is also conventionally unblockable and the only incantation in the entire canon derived from Aramaic – not Latin. Therefore, incantations rooted in Aramaic might produce magic that is conventionally unblockable. If that is the case, this essay must end here since we do not actually know the incantation for the forceful spell, so we cannot reasonably speculate any further as to its nature or purpose.
But that would be a rather boring end to this essay indeed, so let’s consider the second possibility that the forceful spell is conventionally unblockable because it somehow acts on the connection between bodies and souls. And here we are, again compelled to consider Horcruxes. Horace Slughorn confirms that they are created, at least in part, by a spell. This spell, whatever it is, in combination with the other unknown things one must do to create a Horcrux would work in something of an inverse mutation to Avada Kedavra – not detaching soul from body without damaging either but rather severing a piece of one’s soul from one’s body and reattaching it to something else, the object intended to become a Horcrux. It is also at least somewhat different from Avada Kedavra in that, with repeated use, it does seem to cause a dehumanizing deterioration of the body. But is the Horcrux creation spell conventionally blockable by another spell?
Suppose I were to, say, cast a transfiguring spell at a chair and intended to change it into a grand piano. You stood nearby and were determined to prevent me from transfiguring that chair into a piano, so you cast a Shield Charm between my incoming Switching Spell and the chair. A scenario like that did not, to my knowledge, occur in the books, yet conventional wisdom suggests that your Shield Charm would block my Switching Spell. The chair would remain a chair.
If, however, I intended not to transfigure the chair but turn it into a Horcrux, would your Shield Charm block my Horcrux creation spell? We do not and cannot know the answer to that, but this would be a rather simple way of testing whether spells related to souls are conventionally blockable. (Though for the record, I would bet good money that your Shield Charm doesn’t do a damn thing to stop my Horcrux creation spell, and I now cannot die, thank you very much.)
There’s another possibility that should be explicitly stated: Perhaps Aramaic is the language of all magic related to souls, that our two theories for why a spell would be conventionally unblockable are actually one and the same. Without spinning off into an analysis of Christian symbolism in the Harry Potter series, we might consider that Rowling, a self-proclaimed Christian, may have chosen Aramaic as the language of the magic of souls because Aramaic was the language spoken by the Christian God-in-the-flesh, Jesus Christ.
Next in Part 4: Conclusions!