The idea has been suggested1 that after the end of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Harry visits the ruins of Godric’s Hollow, where his parents were murdered. During that visit he travels back in time to the night Voldemort murdered his parents. He witnesses events and in the aftermath – the “missing” 24 hours – Dumbledore learns about some or all of the events described in books one through six. Finally, as Dumbledore travels to Privet Drive to meet Hagrid and baby Harry, our seventeen-year-old hero returns to the main timeline, better prepared to face an increasingly powerful Voldemort.
I have thought this through in some detail, and come to the conclusion that Dumbledore does not have to be involved. It’s great fun if he is, but it is not necessary to have him interact with time-travelling Harry in any way. Whether Dumbledore is there or not, however, the theory offers plausible answers to questions such as why Harry’s eyes are so important, what James and Lily did for a living and why James sent his Invisibility Cloak to Dumbledore before he died.
In order to grasp the idea properly, we need to think quite carefully about time travel. We also need to think about the details surrounding the night of Voldemort’s attack on the Potter family and some other pieces of narrative background that have implications for time travel. Because of that, I’ve divided the essay into six main sections.
The first of these takes a detailed, lengthy look at time travel in the Harry Potter universe. While I’ve read a lot of science fiction novels that refer to the philosophy, practicalities and possible paradoxes of time travel, I don’t think much – if any – of that background is relevant to Rowling’s stories. Just as she is not really aware of the conventions of fantasy literature, I rather suspect that she is not aware of the extensive analysis of time travel in the world inhabited by sci-fi geeks.
All we have to go on are her descriptions of time travel, along with the dangers of messing with time as outlined by Hermione and Dumbledore towards the end of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Necessarily, therefore, the main section of this essay explores the events of the third book in some detail.
The second section looks at the background of the night Voldemort attacked the Potter family. It highlights a number of areas that need to be properly explained, and proposes some possible explanations and points of view that prove helpful later in the essay.
The third section moves away from the details and looks at how Ms Rowling is writing the story and what she has kept hidden, and tries to explain why some of those details may have been withheld from us until the final book.
A brief fourth section offers some very limited speculation about Time-Turners and deals with some problems that other readers have raised.
Next, I get on to the night when Voldemort murdered James and Lily. I describe events there, bringing in the background and explanations given earlier in the essay and try to show how these elements come together on the night of the murders to make a coherent, plausible description of what happened that night and what Harry might have seen. I also bring in some of Ms Rowling’s comments in interviews and the evidence posted in the books to date as supporting evidence.
A final twist tries to offer an analysis of Dumbledore’s role in events. Then it’s on to a brief conclusion in which I let you know that I have convinced myself, if no one else.
Time Travel and the Author
J.K. Rowling spends some time in Prisoner of Azkaban establishing that time loops are possible. By a time loop, I refer to Harry’s ability to cast his powerful Patronus Charm across the lake during the confrontation with Dementors. He says that his confidence to do it came from the knowledge that he had already seen himself succeed.2
Rowling describes in great detail the Dementors’ attack on Sirius and Harry,3 and she is careful to make it clear that Harry could only summon a powerful Patronus to drive off a feeding frenzy of Dementors because he realised he had seen himself do it. She is underlining the fact that this kind of loop is not just possible, but it is fully acceptable in the world she has created.
If you think about it too hard, it becomes a completely mind-bending chicken-and-egg problem. But for those who enjoy some mind-bending, there is a detailed analysis below.
Analysing the Buckbeak Episode
Before we can explore the idea that Harry travels back in time to witness events at Godric’s Hollow, we need to know more about Rowling’s idea of time travel. However, in order to equip ourselves for that task, we need to spend some time reflecting on Harry and Hermione’s adventure in the third book. Prior to that, however, a brief thought experiment might help explain some of the basic principles and dangers of time travel.
Suppose for a moment that Harry has a Time-Turner. He is standing in front of a cupboard and spins it three times. As soon as the swirling sensation has worn off, he steps into the cupboard behind him and waits exactly three hours. Then he steps out of the cupboard.
Any outside observers would see Harry apparently Apparating into the cupboard and then stepping out of it an instant later. If the same observers had been there three hours previously, they would have seen something slightly odd: Harry arriving out of thin air, and then stepping inside the cupboard. For the rest of the world, however, nothing unusual has happened. Life is carrying on, time is progressing, decisions are being made and the world continues to turn.
Even if Harry does not jump inside a box, but wears his Invisibility Cloak and wanders the grounds for three hours, nothing unusual happens. He sees things and watches people going about their business. He might even see himself walking with Ginny or playing Quidditch. But there is no difficulty at all with the events unfolding. Time marches forward with no issues about fate or pre-destiny or any such philosophical complexity.
In other words, so long as Harry does not allow himself to be seen or interact with anyone, there are no problems with time travel. This is what Dumbledore tries to explain to Harry when he and Hermione first went back in time. “But remember this, both of you. You must not be seen. Miss Granger, you know the law. You know what is at stake ... you – must – not – be – seen.” 4
Now let us return to Prisoner of Azkaban. You will remember that Harry and Hermione use the Time-Turner to revisit a three-hour period in which they save both Buckbeak and Sirius Black. After Dumbledore tells Hermione that she and Harry need more time,5 they spin the Time-Turner and arrive in the Entrance Hall and immediately hide in a cupboard for a few moments.
To illustrate the principles of time travel, let us suppose that instead of proceeding out of Hogwarts to rescue Buckbeak and Sirius, they both remain in that cupboard for two hours fifty-five minutes, and then sneak back to the hospital wing, down some secret passages which only Harry knows about.
Everything that occurred in the run-up to the confrontation with the Dementors happens exactly the way Harry remembers it. Each of the other characters “repeats” his or her actions exactly, because each of the participants is living those few hours for the first and only time in their lives. There is no repeating: it is just like that initial thought experiment: everyone is simply living through those events with no awareness of anything strange. But Harry’s Patronus never appears.
Time has been changed, with important consequences. Things that Harry remembers from his first trip through the time loop do not come to pass. There is no super-powerful Patronus down by the lake, so Harry and Sirius both end up as soulless zombies because nothing protects them from the Dementors. Buckbeak dies because no one unties him.
Remember, though, that this is a thought experiment. The books do not portray any such events, and it is useless to speculate (see below) at which point Harry might lose his soul – before or after he time-travels? – or whether Buckbeak is alive or dead at the end of Harry’s first trip through the loop.
So long as Harry does not intervene while time travelling, he merely observes events. This is both like and unlike his experience in the Pensieve. As in the Pensieve, he watches events unfold before him. However, unlike in the Pensieve, he is not watching a recording. Nor is he watching anything repeating itself; he is witnessing other people live through those moments for the first and only time in their lives. It is important to understand that difference.
The other big difference is that in a Pensieve, Harry has no option but to simply observe, whereas with the Time-Turner, he can participate and interact. Please keep that thought in mind for later.
Now let us return to the events as described in the book. Think for a moment how some of the participants in the Buckbeak adventure remembered that night.
In the case of Macnair, the executioner, he experiences those three hours just once. He walks down to Hagrid’s hut, sees the condemned hippogriff, and then spends far too long in the hut signing things and hearing speeches. When he emerges, Buckbeak is gone.6
It’s similar with Severus Snape. He visits Remus Lupin’s office with the Wolfsbane potion, sees the Marauder’s Map and goes to the Whomping Willow. There he finds Harry’s Invisibility Cloak, and ducks through the tunnel to the Shrieking Shack. He confronts Sirius and is blasted unconscious. When he wakes up, he finds himself lying on the grass next to Ron, and a few moments later finds Sirius, Hermione and Harry lying by the lake, also unconscious. He takes them all up to the castle and expects to get his Order of Merlin award, only to discover that Sirius mysteriously disappears between being locked up and the arrival of the Dementors.7
Even Buckbeak sees nothing odd. One moment he is tied up, watching Macnair and others walk into Hagrid’s hut, and seeing some peculiar depressions in the grass, like footsteps. The next, Harry is hauling him into the forest while Hermione feeds him dead stoats (if you believe the movies). A couple of hours later, he flies Harry and Hermione up to one of the castle towers and picks up a strange man, who flies him off into the night.8 None of the people in the scene sees anything inconsistent about Harry and Hermione’s activities. Snape interacts only with Harry and Hermione on their first time through the loop, while Buckbeak interacts with them only when they are on their second trip through the loop. But still, Rowling has written the text so that none of the players in these scenes notices anything inconsistent in the events described during Harry’s first trip through the loop compared with his second.
This is the key to understanding Rowling’s model of time travel. If a scene is witnessed by a time traveller, then that scene is successful if – and only if – everyone comes out of the loop with a completely consistent set of memories and experiences.
The only apparent quibble with the Buckbeak episode is that Patronus. So we need to think quite carefully about that. As soon as we start to think about it, we realise that, if Harry is to prevent any time paradoxes, then he (in the second spin through the loop) has to create that Patronus. He remembers it happening when he first experienced that moment, so to keep his memories consistent, he has to perform it during the second run through.
To stand by and do nothing would have been messing with time. And as we have seen, if he had not produced the Patronus during his second trip through the loop, he would have ended up as a soulless husk of a man. History would definitely have changed. And the one thing you are not allowed to do with a Time-Turner is change history: “No!” said Hermione in a terrified whisper. “Don’t you understand? We’re breaking one of the most important wizarding laws! Nobody’s supposed to change time, nobody!” 9
We have to be clear about this. Dumbledore said the Ministry rules state that you must not be seen; you must not interact with anyone.10 However, in saying this, the Ministry does not account for time loops. The Ministry only considers the situation described at the top of this essay: when Harry wandered the grounds in his cloak, unseen and without participating or interacting in any way.
When time loops are involved, things get incredibly complicated and difficult. The real rules of time travel seem to be (if we think carefully about the Patronus episode) that you must not change anything which you or anyone else remembers from your first experience of that time period.
I would argue that the rule is more restrictive than that: once you choose to re-visit a scene from the past, you have to strive to make sure that all the people affected by those events leave that scene with their memories completely identical to the way they were after the first trip through the loop.
That’s because if, when you leave the time loop, things are different from how you or anyone else remembers them, then you have messed with time, and someone, somewhere will have a memory malfunction. As Dumbledore said, “the consequences of our actions are always so complicated, so diverse, that predicting the future is a very difficult business indeed.” 11
No one ever said time travel was easy.
What If... Questions About Time-Travel
As noted above, we can speculate endlessly about what might have happened if...
- Harry, Ron and Hermione had watched Macnair execute Buckbeak on their first run through the loop
- Harry had not cast the Patronus on his second run through the loop
- Harry had intervened (on his second cycle) to prevent Pettigrew escaping.
From what we have seen, when Rowling writes about time travel, she makes sure that all the ends are tied up, and the second trip through the loop serves for the time traveller to become a stage manager and ensure events turn out to match everyone’s recollection of events.
We can get all philosophical about which models of time travel Rowling uses, and refer back to other great works where authors – predominantly in the sci-fi field – have thought about time travel and its possible paradoxes. But Rowling has already shown us how she treats time travel: she sets things up so that the time traveller is in a position to “restore” events to match his or her own recollection of those same events.
If I had to get all philosophical, then I would say Rowling appears to have used the multiple universe model, in which many outcomes are possible from a given set of circumstances. Each outcome results in a separate, parallel universe. That would mean that after the first run through of events in Prisoner of Azkaban, there are (at least) two parallel universes.
In one of them, Buckbeak is dead, executed by Macnair. In that universe, nobody travelled in time, so there was no Patronus across the lake and the Dementors sucked the soul right out of Harry. If Rowling had written that universe, then the series would have finished at the third book. But she did not write that. She wrote the other universe, in which Harry and Hermione become heroes, helping both Beaky and Sirius to escape their respective injustices.
However, there really is no point in such speculation and sophistry: this is fiction. Rowling wrote it. She controls everything and because she wrote it, there is no way she could allow any of those alternative universes to happen, because the story would then lack internal consistency and she wouldn’t be such a good author and her editors would reprimand her. We are going to have to accept that Rowling has created Harry’s universe and she has created these time loops to be both possible and self-consistent.
Having analysed time travel in a rather exhaustive way, I now move on to the second part of the essay, in which we look at some of the details that are likely to come into play when Harry witnesses the murder scene at Godric’s Hollow.
Studying the Details
The Potters’ house – or perhaps a temporary safe house – was protected by a Fidelius Charm.12 Peter Pettigrew was the Secret-Keeper for the Potters.13 Is there any way time-travelling Harry (TT!Harry) can see the house at Godric’s Hollow on the night of the murders?
Yes, there is. We first have to understand the Fidelius Charm. Number twelve Grimmauld Place is protected by every spell known to wizardkind to protect it from intruders and spies, so we are not sure whether it is the Fidelius Charm or something else that makes the house invisible to passers-by. When Fudge explains the Charm to Madam Rosmerta and the others in the Three Broomsticks, he says that Voldemort could, “search the village where Lily and James were staying for years and never find them, not even if he had his nose pressed up against their sitting-room window!”, unless the Secret-Keeper revealed the secret.14
So it appears that the charm hides the people and not the dwelling.
When Pettigrew and the Potters sealed the charm, Harry would have been nearly fifteen months old. If baby Harry is not told the secret, then he would be unable to see his parents. This is obviously unacceptable to new parents, so the only sensible option is to have the Secret-Keeper tell baby Harry the secret, immediately after the charm is sealed.
If Pettigrew told baby Harry the secret, then somewhere deep inside himself, TT!Harry also knows the secret. But anyone time-travelling with him – Ron or Hermione, for example – will be unable to find the Potters. Nor can they see or hear any of the events that take place within the house. Harry will be on his own.
Another detail is the Invisibility Cloak. Harry has a terrible habit of leaving his cloak at the scene of the crime. He left it at the top of the tower when sending Norbert on his way.15 He left it under the witch statue after getting into Hogsmeade in the third book.16 He left it under the Whomping Willow for Snape to find.17 He left it at the top of the Astronomy tower at the end of the sixth book.18 He’s quite likely to leave it at Godric’s Hollow if things get a bit tense there, as they certainly will.
Could this be the thinking behind the never-asked-question on Rowling’s site: “Why did Dumbledore have James’ Invisibility Cloak at the time of James’ death, given that Dumbledore could make himself invisible without a cloak?” She says to this, “There IS a significant – even crucial – answer.” 19
In light of this, we should perhaps explore the cloak a bit further. When we first see the cloak, in the first book, Ron tells us that Invisibility Cloaks are both rare and valuable.20 So they are the kind of thing any sensible wizard would look after fairly carefully.
We know from Lupin that James was regularly using the cloak during their schooldays,21 so James certainly had it with him during the Marauders’ school years. It’s likely that James had it when he suspected Voldemort was about to attack.
Remember also that Harry’s memory includes Dumbledore’s telling him that James left the cloak in Dumbledore’s possession before James died.22 This is one of the details that must be matched if there is any time travelling to be done. It is a tiny, almost insignificant detail, but to keep the time loop intact, it has to fit in with the events Harry is about to re-live.
The cloak Harry uses is the exact same physical object that James used. So when TT!Harry arrives in his parents’ house, the cloak is there twice: once with TT!Harry, and once with James. I don’t know if this causes a time problem in Rowling’s world, but to keep Dumbledore’s memory intact, we need to find a way for James to get one version of that cloak to Dumbledore, and let TT!Harry take the other back into the future. Otherwise the details no longer fit and the time loop is broken.
A third detail – and we have been bashed over the head by this one – is the fact that Harry looks extraordinarily like his father.23 Harry will be just over seventeen when he goes back in time. We don’t know exactly how old James was when he died, but twenty-two or twenty-three is the most likely age.24 Young men don’t change a great deal in appearance between the end of puberty at sixteen or seventeen, and their mid-twenties.
Harry saw his time-travelling self in Prisoner of Azkaban – at less than fourteen years old – and thought it was James.25 It is possible that someone at Godric’s Hollow will see TT!Harry and mistake him for James. Personally, if Harry does time travel, I think this confusion is almost inevitable, especially if things are dark, or Harry’s eyes are somehow obscured. That would be a nice twist on the events of the third book, and I can see Rowling enjoying writing that scene.
Also, this similarity suggests why Harry having his mother’s eyes is so important.26 The most conclusive way for someone to distinguish TT!Harry from James is by looking at his eyes and recognising Lily there. We can speculate endlessly about who might see TT!Harry and think it is James, but the list of people who will look into his eyes and realise it is not James is relatively short.
I suspect it will be Lily. What a great moment that will be to read. Honestly, from what we know of Harry so far, if he were hiding under his cloak alone in a room with his mother, just a few hours before her death, would he really be able to resist the temptation to talk to her? Of course not!
And I think the story arc needs Harry to have a conversation with his mother, for reasons I explore in my next section.
In discussing the first chapter of the first book, Rowling said that it went through several re-drafts, some of which showed scenes of Voldemort killing the Potters.27 She wants to write that scene. It is the keystone upon which whole series rests. If she is to explain things properly – as she has said she will28 – then she has to show us exactly what happened that night.
The vast majority of the series has been seen through Harry’s eyes and it would make perfect sense to see this vital, powerful scene from the same perspective. How to do that, except to have Harry re-visit the events, either in a Pensieve (but whose memory would that be?) or in person?
A second issue is Harry’s need to understand his mother and her love for him. Harry, like another important character, does not know nearly enough about his mother. As soon as Tom Marvolo Riddle discovered he was a wizard, he immediately thought the power had come through his father’s line. He spent a great deal of time exploring that theory before finally realising that the power came from his mother.29
Harry has done the same. We know a lot about James and his friends, but almost nothing about Lily. There was a hint of it from Lupin in the fifth book, when Harry tried to find out about the Snape-baiting exercise shown in Snape’s worst memory.30 But her qualities are only really highlighted in Half-Blood Prince when we hear Slughorn singing her praises. It turns out she was clever, charming, popular, attractive and skilled in both Charms and Potions.31 And she died to save her son. Yet Harry knows nothing about her. If this were real life we would think Harry mad for not finding out as much as he can about her.
As it is fiction, we can be sure that Rowling has plenty up her sleeve to tell us about Lily. Since it has been saved for the last book, we have to assume it is something significant. Indeed, Rowling has said, “you’ll find out something incredibly important about her [Lily] in book seven.” 32 So there has to be a moment when Harry makes contact with Lily or with her memory. I am guessing that the book seven revelation is personal, so it should not be relayed by a third party. Instead, we have to see some direct communication from Lily to Harry.
I have always thought it has to be a two-way conversation between Lily and Harry, and I still do. He has to be able to question her motives, and to find out what she thought of James and Snape during the incident described in “Snape’s Worst Memory.”33 Up to now, I had imagined that the conversation would take place behind the veil at the Ministry of Magic, from which Harry would somehow return. Now I’m not so sure. The veil is a wonderful, powerful object and is surely a portal into the land of the dead, but Rowling has said that once a person is properly dead, they stay dead.34
I thought maybe there would be a resurrection scene, or that Harry would do a Lyra Belacqua35 and make a return trip to the land of the dead, but this time travel thing seems to make a lot more sense. It breaks fewer of the rules Rowling has set out. To be strictly accurate, it breaks none of the rules.
Also, from a literary perspective, the time travel theory allows this meeting to take place earlier in the book, before the final showdown. A meeting behind the veil surely has to happen during the confrontation with Voldemort. But having that scene earlier in the book gives Harry time to absorb the lessons Lily teaches him about sacrifice and unconditional love and honour, and then to realise that some things really are worth dying for. (Not that I think he is going to finish the series dead, but we can’t rule it out.)
In this scenario, Rowling can easily create a scene in which TT!Harry and his mother have time to talk at some leisure, when she is alive and vivacious and happy. I think that would be a truly beautiful scene both for Rowling to write and for us to read.
Filling in the Background
Having outlined the theory let me explore it a little. First, if Harry does witness his parents’ murder at some point in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, then it has to be before the final confrontation. The only reason for Rowling to take Harry back there is to learn something, or to see something that will be useful in his final confrontation with the real Voldemort.
He can’t kill – erm, “vanquish” – Voldemort there, because then history would change and the books would all evaporate in an instant like Marty McFly’s photograph of himself in Back to the Future36... or something.
We learned at the end of the sixth book that Harry plans to re-visit Godric’s Hollow quite soon after the start of the seventh.37 He seems to tell us it is the next stop on his journey, probably after a short visit to Privet Drive and the Burrow for Bill and Fleur’s wedding. So that visit is going to happen in the first half of the book, and probably in the first quarter.
I’ll throw in a bit of speculation here that Time-Turners come in multiples of one hour, one week, one month and one year. Small ones (like Hermione’s) are one hour per turn, while bigger ones – like we saw smashed in the Ministry at the end of Order of the Phoenix38 – are for longer periods. So let’s guess that Harry somehow obtains an annual Time-Turner and, on the night of Hallowe’en three months after coming of age, he twists it 16 times. That seems to fit with the story arc, but the precise timing of the voyage backwards in time is not especially important.
It’s only necessary to the theory that he travel back in time at some point before the final conflict with Voldemort. And to those who say all the Time-Turners were destroyed in the battle of the Department of Mysteries, I say look to the text. In Half-Blood Prince, Hermione tells Hagrid (and us) that the Daily Prophet (not always the most reliable of sources) reports that the Ministry’s entire stock was destroyed. (“We smashed the entire stock of Ministry Time-Turners when we were there in the summer. It was in the Daily Prophet.” 39)
There were enough of them in that glass-fronted cabinet40 to suggest that, while unusual, they exist in the wizarding world in small, but significant numbers – rather like Invisibility Cloaks. I have no doubt that Rowling can arrange for one of Harry’s friends – or the Room of Requirement – to produce a Time-Turner should Harry need one badly enough.
That Night at Godric’s Hollow
All that pre-amble was doing no more than setting the scene for Harry’s journey back in time.
Whether Harry goes back in time with anyone else, or not, once he gets there, he is the only one who can get inside the house because of the Fidelius Charm.
Remember that from now on, TT!Harry has to ensure that the events he witnesses over the next few hours match everything that he remembers or knows about that night. He also needs to ensure that anyone who was affected by events that night does not have their memories compromised in any way.
If things seem to be going wrong, then Harry has to intervene to make sure everything works out the same as his own memories, and that no one else has a memory malfunction. Again, we need to be clear about this. Harry must intervene if things are not going according to his memory, and set things back on the right track. If he fails to do that, then Harry is likely to end up with his soul sucked out, or dead, or even worse: Rowling’s editors will ask her to re-write the whole thing.
Do you see where this is going, I wonder?
As I said earlier, I think Harry needs to have a heart-to-heart with his mother. There is so much she can tell him (and us) about Petunia, about Snape, and even about James and Sirius.
Let’s assume he arrives in Godric’s Hollow during the afternoon of 31 October. He needs to be there two or three hours before Voldemort’s attack if he is to have time to speak with Lily and James.
He gets inside the house, wearing the Invisibility Cloak, and keeps watch over his parents. Will he just stand there and watch passively for a couple of hours? Of course not! Eventually, his emotions will get the better of him and he’ll throw off his cloak and start talking to them. More particularly, I think he talks to Lily. She, however, is confused and believes she is talking to James.
As I said, Harry has a habit of leaving that cloak at the scene of the crime. Shall we speculate that Lily, still thinking she was talking to James, picks it up for him? Later that evening she tries to return it to James. This means James has two cloaks. He notices the duplication and at that point Lily and James guess whom Lily was speaking with.
Harry does not have to be present when they realise who he is, but I think it makes everything easier if he is. He can then tell them James gives the cloak to Dumbledore and Dumbledore gives it to Harry on Harry’s first Christmas at Hogwarts (hence the rather odd wording on Dumbledore’s note that Christmas “… It is time it was returned to you...”).41
James then sends the “spare” cloak to Dumbledore, with brief instructions on what to do with it. In the simplest version of the theory, Dumbledore is not involved, so James sends it by a slow owl. In other versions of the theory, Dumbledore needs to be at Godric’s Hollow in time to meet TT!Harry, so James could send it by a more rapid means of transport: magic has many options for doing that, I am sure.
I think it now becomes rather easy to guess that either Lily or James knows a great deal about the Time Room at the Department of Mysteries. This knowledge means Lily and James are all too aware of the risks of time travel, so they (along with Rowling and her editors) will make certain that TT!Harry does not create any time paradoxes.
It also accounts for Rowling’s comments that James’ occupation is critical to the story, and why she has not told us about that earlier in the series.42 If we knew James or Lily had been working in the Time Room, we would quickly guess that time, or time travel, is a significant part of the plot.
In order to keep the time loop intact, therefore, it is absolutely essential that Harry has that cloak with him when he time-travels back to Godric’s Hollow. In the sixth book, Dumbledore tells Harry to keep that cloak with him at all times.43 Interesting.
Back to Harry’s conversation with Lily. Once he has been “outed” as their son from the future, she’ll ask about the scar, or some other detail that will lead Harry to tell her (or them?) that Lily and James are about to die. Perhaps he will encourage her to escape. Perhaps the voice he heard in Prisoner of Azkaban when the Dementors draw near is his own, trying to persuade his mother to run away. There are all kinds of possibilities here.
One thing, I think, is certain. As he talks with Lily, she listens and eventually understands. By being there and through his words, Harry shows his mother what she has to do. When the attack begins, Lily knows she is going to die. When Voldemort arrives, she walks into the arena with her head held high, knowing that her son will survive and grow to a fine young man; the man in front of her now.
It is Harry’s visit that drives his mother to sacrifice herself.
That is pretty much the worst thing that anyone can do or experience. Think back for a moment to Rowling’s comment from the Edinburgh Book Festival in 2004. When asked which character she would like to be, the answer was, “Definitely not Harry, because I would not want to go through it all. I know what is coming for him so there is no way that I would want to be him.”44
This comment starts to make a lot of sense if Harry not only has to watch his mother die, but also believes himself responsible for her death.
Harry has been tortured, possessed by an evil monster, fed a demonic drink to his favourite teacher and mentor, watched his most beloved friends and mentors die and almost had his soul sucked out. And – worst of all – he has dumped his first proper girlfriend, just in case some big bad bully goes after her. Terrible though these things are, Harry has been there and done all of that before the age of seventeen. There’s nothing Voldemort or anyone else can do to Harry that is significantly worse than the things he has already experienced.
But the discovery that he persuaded his mother to sacrifice herself is far worse than anything that has happened to him so far. Especially if he chooses to do it in the full knowledge that he must force himself to stand back and watch the murder, impotent to save either his mother or his father.
By now Lily (and James?) have worked out who TT!Harry is and she (they?), mindful of the risks of time travel, persuades Harry that he has to stand by under James’s cloak and watch Voldemort do his thing. It’s even possible Lily puts a Petrificus Totalus on Harry to prevent him interfering.
Under the cloak, Harry sees some of the Death Eaters – possibly Snape and Pettigrew, but it doesn’t matter – and watches how they behave. Then, in the nursery with Lily and the baby, he hears his father fighting and sees Voldemort burst into the nursery. Harry watches as his mother sacrifices herself and then sees Voldemort prepare an object to receive the soul-fragment which will split off with the murder of baby Harry. There are high, cold laughs every couple of seconds and Harry’s scar is burning fit to burst.
It may be that Harry notices Voldemort looks ever so slightly less inhuman in Godric’s Hollow than he did at the resurrection party,45 or in the Ministry.46
On second thoughts, maybe Harry’s scar does not hurt – just yet. I firmly believe that a piece of Voldemort’s soul lies under Harry’s scar. This essay does not attempt to justify or prove that belief – the theory works whether Harry is a Horcrux or not. But if he is one, and the Voldemort who murders Lily and James still has two-sevenths of a complete soul, then there is no connection between the younger Voldemort and TT!Harry’s scar. If things do turn out this way, then I suggest readers look out for the moment TT!Harry’s scar starts to burn. If there is no pain when Voldemort kills James or Lily, but it bursts in agony after Voldemort attempts to kill baby Harry, then I think the case is conclusive: the scar is a Horcrux.
When Voldemort casts the fateful Avada Kedavra at the baby, TT!Harry can barely watch. If he can bear to look, I think Harry will see the signature green Avada Kedavra blast, watch it reflect back toward Voldemort and then immediately the green streak hits Voldemort, he evaporates, to be replaced by a kind of ghostly snake-like thing. That thing, Voldemort’s soul, rips itself into in two. One part shoots skyward. The other flies toward the baby, causing a lightning-shaped cut as it forces its way under baby Harry’s forehead.
But you don’t have to believe that, if you don’t want to.
Once all the fireworks are over and any Death Eaters have removed Voldemort’s wand and Apparated away, Harry slumps over his mother, and sobs his heart out. He might still be under the cloak. In fact he probably is.
There is no time paradox, because events at Godric’s Hollow have now turned out exactly as Harry remembers and exactly as Voldemort remembers and exactly as Dumbledore remembers. Any Death Eaters present did not see Harry under the cloak, so they are none the wiser.
Lily and James saw TT!Harry and spoke with him, so there the Ministry would tell us that there is a possible time paradox. But there is not, because they are now dead, so even though their memories and experiences were affected by Harry’s visit, they cannot make any decisions or actions based on that new knowledge. Also, they did not interact with anyone else except Dumbledore, but in sending the cloak to him, they ensured Dumbledore’s memory of that unexpected event is uncompromised.
Just as Harry cast the Patronus in order to preserve the time line in Prisoner of Azkaban, he now has caused his mother to sacrifice herself and preserved another, much longer time line. All is well with the world, except that Harry is distraught with grief and incapable of doing anything worthwhile.
Meanwhile, Ron and Hermione are enjoying a romantic moment outside in the street, when they suddenly see the house start collapsing, and a ghostly snake-like thing coiling away from the crumbling structure.
It appears that the Fidelius Charm has been broken either with the destruction of the house, or with the death of Lily and James. We know that Sirius arrives at the house around the same time as Hagrid.47 At that time, just a few hours after the attack, Hagrid could enter the ruined house and retrieve baby Harry with no problems.48 We know that Hagrid believed Sirius to be the secret keeper, which means Pettigrew had not told Hagrid the secret. Thus, the Fidelius Charm must have been broken.
So at this point, Ron and Hermione charge into the house and find James and Lily dead and TT!Harry and baby Harry both alive. Ron retrieves the (extremely valuable) object Voldemort was intending to use as a Horcrux while Hermione discovers Harry’s cloaked body slumped over Lily and removes the cloak, putting it in her own pocket. Then she fusses first over baby Harry and then TT!Harry. They wonder briefly what to do about the sleeping baby, but Hermione quickly realises that they have to leave the baby there for Hagrid to collect, and just hope he is okay. Well, they know he is going to be okay, because that is what happened.
Unfortunately for Ron, he cannot take the proto-Horcrux object away with him, because to do so would cause a memory malfunction in the person who did eventually retrieve the object, hours or days into the future. However, they can examine it and, I guess, if it is a Horcrux, they could probably disarm it with no ill effects on the time line. But it isn’t a Horcrux, so there are no problems with time or causality.
And the result is that the time loop remains intact. The only loose end is that Dumbledore unexpectedly receives an Invisibility Cloak from James on the night James dies, together with instructions on what to do with it. Receiving this cloak is equivalent to Harry and Ron noticing something strange about Hermione’s attendance of classes during the third book.49 Peculiar, unexplained, but not enough to cause a problem with time itself.
In the minimal version of the theory, Dumbledore does not need to know anything about events at Godric’s Hollow. He just has to know it is important that he returns the cloak to Harry on Harry’s 11th Christmas. As long as that happens, the time loop is complete and no one is any the wiser, except Harry who now knows far more about love and self-sacrifice than anyone, frankly, could wish to know.
The Trio then use the Time-Turner to reverse the sixteen-year time shift and after recovering from the experience, Harry realises the significance of the scar, and is filled with understanding of the power of love and self-sacrifice.
This assumes a Time-Turner can be used to return to the original time zone. If not, then Harry Hermione and Ron have to spend sixteen years in hiding, learning everything they can about the dark arts and how to destroy Horcruxes and defeat Voldemort. After sixteen years, they return to the place from which they left and an outside observer sees only that all three of them age by sixteen years in the space of a second or two. But I’m sure Rowling will find a way to return them to the main time line with no such interruption.
The Dumbledore Variation
A major variant (though, as I’ve noted above, an unnecessary one), is to assume that Dumbledore arrives on the scene soon after receiving the message and cloak from James. He cannot enter the house because of the Fidelius Charm, so he talks with Hermione and Ron who tell him what is going on. As soon as the house starts to crumble, he rushes in, sedates TT!Harry somehow, and then spirits all three of them away, while he requests that Hagrid collects the baby.
In the “missing” 24 hours,50 Harry and the others extract their memories of the previous sixteen years, giving Dumbledore complete knowledge of the future. He is wise enough not to interfere, though it requires immense self-control at some points. Everyone else in the drama simply lives out their lives with no sense that anything unusual has happened, and time marches on (as we saw in the thought experiments earlier in this essay).
Personally, I rather like this variant because it explains a lot about Dumbledore’s character. There’s something about him that appears to be taking things far less seriously than he should. I’ve never quite been able to put my finger on what that is, but this seems to explain it. He knows all along what is going to happen where, when and how. So he can find humour in some rather peculiar things (which he most certainly does).
It also resolves the issue of whether Dumbledore planned his own death or not. And answers it most emphatically in the positive. Once he has seen the memories of TT!Harry, TT!Hermione and TT!Ron, the rules of time travel apply to him. He must do everything he can to ensure that the events of books one to six match exactly with those sixteen-years-worth of memories. If he fails to do this, all is lost. So, yes: he planned his own death. He also reminded Hermione, in book three, that she needed a little more time51: around about three hours. He did these and many other things to ensure that all real life events matched the memories recorded during those missing 24 hours, and kept the timeline intact.
This essay aims to explore some of the implications of the TT!Harry theory. I heard a brief outline of the theory on Pottercast 72 and some follow-ups at the end of Pottercast 73. I have not gone online to explore it much further. Apart from the basic idea, all the extrapolations are my own. I’m not a very original thinker, so it’s quite likely that there are people out there who thought these things through better and more clearly than I was able to. If I seem to have repeated your ideas, I apologise and encourage you to claim credit for your own originality. My only interest here is in getting to the heart of the mystery before Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is published.
I started writing this mostly to explore the ideas in my own mind, to see if the theory has any merit. Now that I’m done writing, I am completely convinced. It solves a lot of puzzles that I’ve been concerned about. It allows us to meet Lily and James and have a long conversation with them. It helps both Harry and us to realise that his scar is a Horcrux; it puts Harry through even more anguish (helping his parents decide to die) and it shows us the most critical scene of the series so far.
Most importantly of all, it resolves all those difficulties easily and with no implausible constructs and it sticks to the rules Rowling has stated both explicitly and implicitly. I’ve worked on plenty of theories about the Potter series, but this is the only one in which the answers seem to fall naturally out of the story. As soon as you pose a question, the answer is obvious, and then there are quotes from Rowling to support the idea. This astonishing coherence makes me think Deathly Hallows really will contain something very similar to the description above.
Let the discussion commence.
1. Pottercast 72.
2. Rowling, Prisoner of Azkaban, 301.
3. Ibid., 280–82.
4. Ibid., 288.
6. Ibid., 294.
7. Ibid., 301.
8. Ibid., 303.
9. Ibid., 291–2.
10. Ibid., 288.
12. Ibid., 152.
13. Ibid., 268, 274.
14. Ibid., 152.
15. Ibid., Philosopher’s Stone, 176.
16. Ibid., Prisoner of Azkaban, 208.
17. Ibid., 263.
18. Ibid., Half-Blood Prince, 557.
19. Rowling Official Site, “NAQ.”
20. Rowling, Philosopher’s Stone, 148.
21. Ibid., Prisoner of Azkaban, 254.
22. Ibid., Philosopher’s Stone, 217.
23. Ibid., 39.
24. Lexicon, s.v.“Potter Family: James.”
25. Rowling, Prisoner of Azkaban, 301.
26. Ibid., interview with Lizo Mzimba.
27. Rowling Official Site, “Opening Chapters of Philosopher’s Stone.”
28. Ibid., interview with Jeremy Paxman.
29. Ibid., Half-Blood Prince, 339.
30. Ibid., Order of the Phoenix, 591–2.
31. Ibid., Philosopher’s Stone, 63, Half-Blood Prince, 70–71.
32. Ibid., Connection Interview.
33. Ibid., Order of the Phoenix, 570–71.
34. Hattenstone, “Harry, Jessica and me.”
35. Pullman, Amber Spyglass, Ch.22.
36. Back to the Future.
37. Rowling, Half-Blood Prince, 606.
38. Ibid., Order of the Phoenix, 696.
39. Ibid., Half-Blood Prince, 218.
40. Ibid., Order of the Phoenix, 696.
Ibid,, Philosopher’s Stone,148.
42. Ibid., Scholastic.com chat.
43. Ibid., Half-Blood Prince, 80.
44. Rowling Official Site,“J K Rowling at the Edinburgh Book Festival.”
45. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, 559.
46. Ibid., Order of the Phoenix, 716.
47. Ibid., Prisoner of Azkaban, 153.
49. Ibid., 85–6.
50. Lexicon, s.v.“Missing 24 Hours.”
51. Rowling, Prisoner of Azkaban, 288.Bibliography
Back to the Future (Robert Zemeckis, Universal Pictures, 1985).
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———, s.v. “Wizards: Potter Family: James.” Member of the Floo Network. http://www.hp-lexicon.org/wizards/james.html (accessed 24 February 2007).
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———. The Connection Interview.WBUR Radio, 12 October, 1999. Transcript, Accio Quote!, courtesy of Sugarquill.net transcription project. http://www.accio-quote.org/articles/1999/1099-connectiontransc.html.
———. Interview with Jeremy Paxman. “JK’s OOTP interview,”BBC Newsnight, 19 June 2003. Transcript, Accio Quote! http://www.accio-quote.org/articles/2003/0619-bbcnews-paxman.htm (accessed 26 February 2007).
———. Interview with Lizo Mzimba. “JK Rowling talks about Book Four.”cBBC Newsround, July 2000. http://www.accio-quote.org/articles/2000/0700-cbbc-mzimba.htm (accessed 26 February 2007).
———. Online chat transcript, Scholastic.com, 3 February 2000. http://www.accio-quote.org/articles/2000/0200-scholastic-chat.htm#living (accessed 26 February 2007).