The Ties that Bind
Old Magic, Blood and Sacrifice
“...the blood is the life.”—The Holy Bible1 and Dracula2
By Prongs Patronus
He Used to Be a Lovely Boy...13
Lord Voldemort, once known as the boy Tom Marvolo Riddle, parallels his nemesis, Harry, in several ways. They look something alike, they have a similar love for the Defense Against the Dark Arts discipline, and they have had similar losses in their lives. A prophecy links them in a deadly dance of choice, loss, and fate; the Dark Lord marks Harry as “his equal,”14 thus arming The Boy Who Lived with the weapons to destroy him. Throughout the books we have seen the desperate attempts of Albus Dumbledore to play “catch-up”; he must hone his weapon for the Good, Harry, as fast and as sharp as ever he may. To that end, Dumbledore embarks on an ingenious course of study: he teaches Harry how to hunt Voldemort by telling Harry the life story of his quarry.
We come to know, through painstakingly gathered memories, the story of Tom Riddle’s life and his subsequent reinvention as Lord Voldemort. Tom Riddle is a psychopath, one who hates his mother for her weakness of dying but worships her forefather, Salazar Slytherin. He loathes the fact that he is a half-blood; his father was a Muggle and not one to accept a witch as a wife. Salazar Slytherin championed the cause of a wholly pure-blood Hogwarts; eschewing his humanity, Tom Riddle denies his father and becomes Lord Voldemort, Heir of Slytherin. To this end he slays his remaining Muggle relatives, pinning the crime on his magical uncle, Morfin; his psychopathy will admit to only one Heir.
Voldemort’s fear of death has impelled him to create abominations—Horcruxes, pieces of soul torn by murder and encased in objects, which are then hidden. One Horcrux guarantees that one will not die—Voldemort, ever a champion of wretched excess, has made six, according to Dumbledore. Including his own tattered remnant of a soul, that makes seven—a powerfully magical number and a vanity of magical prowess for the Dark Lord. Two have been destroyed (Riddle’s diary and Marvolo’s ring); Voldemort will not die unless the remaining four are discovered and rendered inoperable.
The Dark Lord also has a penchant for defiling those places and things significant in his life. We encounter this pattern first in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, when Voldemort violates the Forbidden Forest with the murder and subsequent exsanguinations of the unicorns in residence. This is a terrible encounter for the newly-made wizard, Harry; Quirrell/Voldemort comes gliding across the uneven ground toward the boy wizard, dripping the silvery blood of his most recent sustaining meal; but for the intercession of Firenze, the centaur, Harry might well have met his doom that night. In Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets Tom Riddle’s proxy, the young witch Ginny Weasley, writes terrible messages about the Chamber of Secrets and the Heir of Slytherin with blood on the walls of Hogwarts. As Harry learns from the diary Tom Riddle loves Hogwarts as much as Harry does, for many of the same reasons, yet he defiles it with blood. We will have occasion to observe this again in the cave of the locket.
I Need a Place That’s Hidden in the Deep...15
Dumbledore does not survive his contest with the protections on one of the Horcruxes well; his hand is blackened, withered, and looks dead. Dumbledore himself, throughout Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, begins to show his considerable age. One begins to sense the desperation in him; even as he opens to his protégé, Dumbledore’s watch ticks ever louder.
The Headmaster of Hogwarts has always been chary with his information; his comings and goings have been a mystery to us throughout the series. In Half-Blood Prince we finally see some of the results of Dumbledore’s journeys. Harry is finally privy to the wizard behind the title; Dumbledore becomes very much the mentor and grandfather figure. The ultimate prize is offered to Harry at the end of the book—the two of them go hunting for a Horcrux. What follows is crucial to Harry’s future.
Voldemort, ever the souvenir collector, has hidden a Horcrux in a cave he first visited as a child. Nasty things happened there, exactly what we do not know. When Harry and Dumbledore arrive the cave is protected by a door at which blood must be spilled, invisible means of transport over water filled with the living dead Inferi, and a basin filled with a potion that must be drunk to the bitter dregs.
The two wizards make their way through the sea to the cleft marking the cave’s entrance. After an examination, Dumbledore says “We need to penetrate the inner place.... Now it is Lord Voldemort’s obstacles that stand in our way, rather than those nature made....”16 Dumbledore sheds his own blood to gain entrance, remarking that Harry’s blood is worth more than his own.
Once inside the inner room of the cave, a lightless lake filled with living dead Inferi await the two hunters. A coppery green boat, hidden by an invisibility charm, takes them slowly to a small rock in the middle of the lake. The object of their search lies beneath a potion, glowing green against the darkness. Dumbledore drinks a poison that wears upon his soul—he cries out in pain as he drinks. The Inferi attack; as Harry is overwhelmed, Dumbledore comes to himself. Fire drives back the inhabitants of the cold and dark and the two wizards make good their escape. A further payment in blood is required to leave the cave; Harry’s blood now joins Dumbledore’s on the rock and they leave. A wizard and his underage apprentice went into that cave but two grown wizards emerged. The rite of passage has been accomplished; a burden has been passed.
Every hero has a journey into the dark recesses of the Underworld to complete before he can begin the final stages of his quest. From the echoes of our ancestors comes the knowledge of the cave, the cleft in the rock as the passage to meet the Great Mother, the Earth. From Her dust were we made and to Her our dust will be returned. Harry finds that even here the mother, symbolized by the cave, has been defiled by Lord Voldemort. The sequence of events re-enacts Voldemort’s view of his own life: he is born as the lifeblood of his mother is spilled, he is restricted to a cramped half-life in a Muggle orphanage, considered dead to his magical relatives; the seed of his magical power is achieved only at the expense of others, the title of Heir of Slytherin a cold comfort, given his half-blood status. He hides in the dark, an enfant terrible, a poisonous draught in the heart of the wizarding world. It is a sad echo of Lily Potter’s sacrifice at Godric’s Hollow; here, the Old Magic is rendered senile by Voldemort’s contempt.
Here, too, there is blood mingled; Dumbledore and Harry willingly give of their vital fluid to the rock at the entrance of the cave. In an ancient sense, this mingling of their blood gives Harry the beginnings of protection. Although Dumbledore is not related by lineage, Harry is the child of his heart. Love, first from Lily and now from Dumbledore, elevates the sacrifice into something as basic as birth and death: the Old Magic recognizes the call of heart to heart. Harry is now linked by blood with Dumbledore, much the same as Lily’s sacrifice of blood saved infant Harry from death. All that is left is to seal the charm.
Your Castle Hollow and Cold...17
Harry Apparates them both back to Hogsmeade. The Dark Mark glowers over the Astronomy Tower, its greenish glint seeming to spur Dumbledore to renewed vigor. Borrowing Madam Rosmerta’s brooms and ensuring that Harry is under his Invisibility Cloak, he and Harry rush to the Tower. What happens next is both touching and heart rending.
Dumbledore Petrifies Harry, who becomes an unwilling, silent witness to the events that follow. Draco disarms Dumbledore and brags about his recent subversive activities. Draco declares he is there to kill Dumbledore after introducing Death Eaters into Hogwarts; sounds of conflict echo up the stairs of the Tower. Dumbledore, though visibly weakened and barely able to stand erect, offers to shield Draco and his family from the wrath of Lord Voldemort.
Malfoy stared at Dumbledore. “But I got this far, didn’t I?” he said slowly. “They thought I’d die in the attempt, but I’m here...” [...] “You’re at my mercy...”
“No, Draco,” said Dumbledore quietly. “It is my mercy, and not yours, that matters now.”18
Why Dumbledore’s mercy? To whom did it matter? Perhaps, it was mercy to Harry, not Draco; Love must have Mercy as its handmaiden. Dumbledore’s mercy was to keep Harry safe at any cost, even that of his own life. In that moment Albus Dumbledore made a commitment to pursue that next great adventure, death, in a way that would help Harry the most. For that task, however, only one person would do; Dumbledore would not have long to wait.
Death Eaters make an appearance, including the grotesque Fenrir Greyback; Draco still cannot bring himself to kill his old Headmaster. A new character enters the fray: Severus Snape, Potions master at Hogwarts, enigmatic spy for both Dumbledore and the Dark Lord. With a glance he assesses the scene before him. A weakened Dumbledore pleads with the former Death Eater. “Severus...please...”19 His face limned with revulsion and loathing, Snape uses the Unforgivable Curse. “Avada Kedavra!”20 Dumbledore is thrown over the battlements to his death below.
Too late the release of the charm holding Harry silent and inactive, too late to stop the escape of the murderer Snape and his confederate, Draco. Harry returns to the body of the wizard he had grown to love, and wipes blood from Dumbledore’s face with his sleeve. Too late the knowledge that the Horcrux was a false one; the original had been stolen before that night time journey. Too late...