Broken Knickknacks vs. Horcruxes
In my last editorial about The Christmas Pig, I first brought up the contrast between Harry’s prized possessions and Voldemort’s. The more I thought about this, the more it seemed worthy of a deep dive, so here we are.
To recap, Voldemort designates five items as the most precious objects in his life by placing a bit of his maimed soul inside them: a diary, Slytherin’s locket, Hufflepuff’s cup, Ravenclaw’s diadem, and the Peverell ring. In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Harry also designates five items as the most precious in his life by placing them in a Mokeskin pouch he wears around his neck that only he can access. The first three are “the Marauder’s Map, the shard of Sirius’s enchanted mirror, and R.A.B.’s locket” (DH 132); they are later joined by the Snitch Dumbledore bequeathed him and the pieces of his broken wand (DH 351). (To clarify, Harry never has all five of these items in the pouch at once – he gives Regulus’s locket to Kreacher before his wand breaks – but I still view the five items that were at one point in the pouch to be a set.)
I believe we are meant to compare the two as a further contrast between Harry and Voldemort – particularly since there are five of each object. After all, it’s not like Harry is lacking in magical thingamabobs in the narrative, and Jo could have easily given him seven items (as she usually does). And the narrative does not demand that he have access to all the items in there – in fact, the only ones that had to be there for plot reasons are Sirius’s mirror (for the Malfoy Manor escape) and Dumbledore’s Snitch (for “The Forest Again”). Therefore, if they aren’t there to further the plot and they aren’t a neat Easter egg of seven, I think they are a symbol of character.
In my previous editorial, I talked about how these items compare as a whole. Voldemort chose “objects that, in themselves, have a certain grandeur” (HBP 505). Harry chose objects that were “broken and useless” (DH 351) but that had a powerful sentimental value. The sentiment usually comes from Harry’s relationships – other than his wand; they represent his connection to his paternal figures, Sirius and Dumbledore (and through the Marauder’s Map, James and Lupin as well). The depth of how much they mean to Harry is seen in how, even at his lowest point, he does not throw the Snitch away or even demote it from his pouch.
Harry’s hand brushed the old Snitch through the mokeskin, and for a moment, he had to fight the temptation to pull it out and throw it away. Impenetrable, unhelpful, useless, like everything else Dumbledore had left behind –
And his fury at Dumbledore broke over him now like lava, scorching him inside, wiping out every other feeling.” (DH 351)
Despite the impulses born of his frustration, Harry never actually removes the Snitch from his pouch. He seems to regret the last time he took out his anger on a prized memento: smashing Sirius’s mirror after Sirius died, and it couldn’t bring him back. So now, however angry he gets at Dumbledore, he cares enough about the late headmaster not to destroy the Snitch.
But beyond the two sets of items, I believe the items each have a parallel in the other set, serving as a mirror to each other. So let us go in order of Harry’s objects being introduced.
Harry’s Wand vs. Ravenclaw’s Diadem
We begin with an outlier in Harry’s set: the one object that he does not associate with a father figure. He gets the wand the old-fashioned way: going to a shop and paying seven gold Galleons for it (SS 85). However, both objects are associated with learning.
Because the holly-and-phoenix-feather wand chooses Harry, they learn magic together. Ollivander describes it to Harry as “an initial attraction, and then a mutual quest for experience, the wand learning from the wizard, the wizard from the wand” (DH 494).
Ravenclaw’s “diadem bestows wisdom” (DH 615). Similar to a good wand, the diadem would help the wearer’s learning. But note the difference: Whereas Harry takes the opportunity to learn with his wand, Voldemort does not. He secrets the diadem away in the Room of Requirement, not to use but to hoard. That is why Harry grieves his wand “as though it was a living thing that had suffered a terrible injury” (DH 348) and keeps the broken pieces in the Mokeskin pouch.
Harry’s Snitch vs. Peverell Ring
To state the obvious, the Snitch that Harry gets in Deathly Hallows encases the Peverell ring. So these are clearly a pair, but it goes deeper than that.
These two objects are both connected to Dumbledore, and specifically his death. It was the Peverell ring, or rather the curse on it, that led to Dumbledore’s death. And the Snitch came to Harry through Dumbledore‘s death since he received it in Dumbledore’s will. So this is the Dumbledore pair of objects. The contrast is that Dumbledore’s final efforts with these objects were to bring about Voldemort’s death versus to preserve Harry’s life. (For the explicit details of Dumbledore’s efforts to bring down Voldemort and protect Harry by making him master of death, you can pick up a copy of Dumbledore: The Life and Lies of Hogwarts’s Renowned Headmaster, now available in hardcover.)
Another way to think about it is that both of those objects barred access to the Resurrection Stone until the person in question was dying. Dumbledore tried to get at the ring and the Resurrection Stone in it, but he got whammied by the curse; he couldn’t get to it or use it until he was dying. He then passed on that condition to Harry, ensuring the Snitch remained sealed and would only “open at the close.” Harry could not get to the Resurrection Stone inside the Snitch until he truthfully declared to it, “I am about to die” (DH 698).
The other thematic motif in these two objects is memory. As Hermione tells us, “Snitches have flesh memories” (DH 127). The Snitch proves such an adept hiding place because it remembers Harry as the person who caught it.1 The Peverell ring, on the other hand, was taken from Morfin Gaunt when Tom Riddle planted false memories of attacking the Riddles in Morfin’s mind. In fact, this is the first time we are made aware of “the complex bit of magic that would implant a false memory” (HBP 367), which appears to have been a favorite tactic of Tom Riddle’s in the procurement of his future Horcruxes.
Of course, note the contrast between the two. Harry’s object is special for an unusually true type of memory; Voldemort’s is associated with false memories.
Marauder’s Map vs. Slytherin’s Locket
The third set of objects has one huge commonality: They are Harry and Voldemort’s birthrights.
The Marauder’s Map is Harry’s legacy from James Potter. For most of the series (until the birth of Teddy Lupin), Harry is the only progeny of the Marauders. Lupin says, when giving it to Harry, “I have no hesitation in saying that James would have been highly disappointed if his son had never found any of the secret passages out of the castle” (PoA 424-425). And since Harry can claim it as James’s son and is given it by Lupin, the Marauder’s Map completes the set of father figures giving Harry his most prized possessions.
Slytherin’s locket is Voldemort’s legacy from his mother and the Gaunts, emblematic of Slytherin’s heritage, which is a source of much pride for him. Dumbledore says, “It is not difficult to imagine that he saw the locket, at least, as rightfully his” (HBP 440).
Of course, the key difference is in how Harry and Voldemort are reunited with the birthright they so cherish. Harry is given the map as a gift by his adopted brothers, Fred and George, who charitably say, “It’s a wrench, giving it to you, but we decided last night, your need’s greater than ours” (PoA 191). When it’s confiscated, it is then given back to him by Lupin, who’s like a brother to James. So the map ends up in Harry’s hands through the generosity of two generations of chosen family.
The locket, on the other hand, winds up in Voldemort’s hands through murder. Along its way there, it was used by Marvolo to throttle Merope, swindled away from Merope by Caractacus Burke, and purchased for “an arm and a leg” by the covetous Hepzibah Smith (HBP 437). There is no generosity in Voldemort’s world – objects are procured through gold, theft, or murder.2
Sirius’s Mirror vs. Hufflepuff’s Cup
If I’m being wholly honest, this pair was the “other one” – it wasn’t immediately apparent why they mirrored each other, and they ended up together once all the other items were neatly paired off in obvious sets. There’s always one comparison in these things that’s not quite as airtight. But once these were paired together, some common threads emerged.
First and foremost, both objects are heavily associated with the death of Harry’s and Voldemort’s benefactors who owned them previously. The two-way mirror was a gift to Harry from Sirius a few months before he died, but Harry learns of its existence (and smashes it) when Sirius is dead and he’s looking for a way to contact his godfather. Hepzibah Smith was besotted by Tom Riddle, showed him her treasures just before her death, and was murdered by Voldemort for them. As usual, the contrast is evident: Voldemort causes death to get the object, whereas Harry tries to use the object to reverse the effects of death.
Both objects were hidden away most of the time rather than utilized for their magical abilities. Hepzibah says about the cup, “And all sorts of powers it’s supposed to possess too, but I haven’t tested them thoroughly, I just keep it nice and safe in here….” (HBP 436). Voldemort, too, keeps the cup nice and safe in Gringotts (through the intermediary of Bellatrix). Harry, upon receiving the mirror, is “stowing the package away in the inside pocket of his jacket, but he knew he would never use whatever it was” (OotP 523). And indeed, he does not try to use it until it is too late.
A last commonality between the two is a visual motif of gleaming eyes. When Tom Riddle first sees Hufflepuff’s cup, “Harry thought he saw a red gleam in his dark eyes” (HBP 436). Meanwhile, when Harry uncovers the shard of the mirror at the beginning of Deathly Hallows, he sees “a flash of brightest blue” (DH 29). This happens again in Malfoy Manor: “The mirror fragment fell sparkling to the floor, and he saw a gleam of brightest blue” (DH 466). It’s the same word being used, a “gleam,” which is usually a cue from Jo to pay attention.
And the difference is between the lighting. Voldemort, with an affinity for Dark Arts, has a gleam in “his dark eyes.” Aberforth, who’s aligned with Harry against the Dark Arts, has eyes that flash “brightest blue.” While this may seem like a stretch, I think we are meant to pick up on this because that is the only time, in the entirety of the seven Harry Potter books, that Tom Riddle’s eye color is mentioned. His eyes are frequently described as flashing red and are full-blown red when he’s Voldemort, but this is the one singular mention of any color or shade for his eyes.3 The fact that it’s only brought up here, in connection with Hufflepuff’s cup specifically, makes me think it was deliberate.
RAB’s Locket vs. Tom Riddle’s Diary
The final pair is the last of Harry’s objects and the first of Voldemort’s that we encounter. In fact, even the places we encounter them are similar: Tom Riddle’s cave of horrors by the sea versus the subterranean and damp Chamber of Secrets. But the true connection that makes these a mirror to each other is how both are defined by the history they represent to Harry and Voldemort.
‘The diary wasn’t that special.’
‘The diary, as you have said yourself, was proof that he was the Heir of Slytherin; I am sure that Voldemort considered it of stupendous importance.'” (HBP 504–505)
Uniquely among Voldemort’s Horcruxes, the diary is not a priceless 800-year-old artifact steeped in wizarding history. Rather, it’s an emblem of Voldemort’s history and genealogy: It proves that he is the heir of Slytherin. The fact that Tom Riddle considered it of equal importance to the artifacts of the founders and the Peverells is proof of his vainglory.
The locket was accorded this place of honor not because it was valuable – in all usual senses, it was worthless – but because of what it had cost to attain it.” (DH 15)
To Harry, the locket’s importance comes from its history: Dumbledore died trying to obtain it (or so Harry believes). It’s from the last time Harry and Dumbledore spent together. Procuring the locket was also the first time Harry and Dumbledore went on a mission together as partners (give or take convincing Slughorn to return to Hogwarts). Whereas the diary symbolizes what makes Voldemort special and sets him apart from everyone else, the locket is a symbol of partnership and teamwork for Harry. The diary is a record of murder; the locket is the result of bravery and self-sacrifice.
The irony is that the locket’s symbolism in these ways is only doubled after Harry designates it as a prized possession when we hear Kreacher’s tale. It turns out that the locket is not just about Dumbledore’s bravery and self-sacrifice; it is also about Regulus Black’s bravery and self-sacrifice. And worth noting: The diary displays the worst of Slytherin House, whereas the locket showcases the very best of Slytherin House that we see in the books.
And the locket is a symbol of partnership and teamwork not only for Harry and Dumbledore but also for Harry and Kreacher and for Regulus and Kreacher. Harry gives it to Kreacher “as a token of gratitude” on behalf of Regulus (DH 199).
That is another commonality between the two: Both diary and locket are given to a servant by Voldemort and Harry. But Harry gives it to Kreacher as a gift and “assured him that they would make its protection their first priority while he was away” (DH 200). Voldemort gives Lucius Malfoy the Diarycrux, but with plenty of strings attached, and the expectation “that Lucius would not dare do anything with the Horcrux other than guard it carefully” (HBP 508).
Just as all of Harry’s items display generosity and friendship, Voldemort’s display violence and intimidation. Each pair of items has many common threads, but far more important are the differences. Dark versus light. Truth versus deceit. It’s a remarkable feat of literary symbolism by Jo, buried deep in the text, and I remain awed by the elegance of these sets of objects. In a way, I think we can view Harry’s five items as anti-Horcruxes: Rather than being created by the supreme act of evil, they are a showcase for Harry’s goodness.
1Unrelated, but can this flesh memory thing be fooled by Polyjuice Potion? Was Scrimgeour eagerly trying to get one of Harry Potter’s hairs while he was poking and prodding at Dumbledore’s personal bequests? It makes you wonder!
2For a detailed history of Slytherin’s locket and a giggle, I can point you toward the 23-stanza poem that won me a library poetry contest at age 15!
3My thanks to Greg Moors over at Quora for confirming this and saving me considerable time in double-checking my CTRL+F results.