“D’you mean ... did you just see You-Know-Who?”
“I was You-Know-Who.” 2
As the Harry Potter series moves towards its climax, readers are anticipating the final confrontation between Harry and his nemesis, Lord Voldemort. It is natural to view this as a sort of super-wizard’s duel with the same manner of spells, jinxes and dueling as in the previous encounters. Even Harry and his friends think this way; they look forward to “powerful counter-curses ... anti-jinxes [...] and evasive enchantments generally.” 3
Instead, the text points to a different, more meaningful end: a duel in consciousness between the two, based on the strange link between Harry’s and Lord Voldemort’s minds.
First, one can dismiss the notion of Harry as a wizard super-hero. Harry, a “boy’s boy,” as one critic put it,4 has shown himself to be a worthy wizard. He has “fought a man’s fight” and “met challenges that even grown wizards have never faced.” 5 Still, there is no reason to think that Harry would fare better than the adult members of the Order, such as Sirius Black, Lupin or Tonks. Snape out-dueled Harry at the end of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and would have killed him had it not been for Voldemort’s foolish order to spare him. Too, Harry’s dueling skills are all either inherited from his parents, learned from Lupin or from the Half-Blood Prince, or acquired with the help of “more talented friends,” 6 i.e. Hermione. None of this is distinctive to Harry, and this is not the way that Voldemort “mark[ed] him as an equal.” 7 Harry himself tells Dumbledore: “I couldn’t fight the way he [Voldemort] did tonight, I can’t possess people or – or kill them.” 8
If Harry defeats Voldemort, it must be through something unique and special to Harry, that others do not have – such as the link in consciousness between Harry and Voldemort.
Dumbledore is explicit about the nature of Harry’s extraordinary talent: Voldemort “not only handpicked the man most likely to finish him, he handed him uniquely deadly weapons […] the tools for the job.” 9
What “deadly weapons” did Voldemort give Harry? Here, again, Dumbledore is clear. Harry has weapons, but they are not dueling weapons:
It is Voldemort’s fault that you that you were able to see into his thoughts, his ambitions, that you even understand the snakelike language in which he gives orders [...] You have flitted into Lord Voldemort’s mind without damage to yourself, but he cannot possess you without enduring mortal agony.10
The final confrontation will rely on Harry’s strange ability to penetrate Voldemort’s consciousness.
There is a link between Harry and Voldemort, forged by Voldemort’s attack on Harry and strengthened by Voldemort’s use of Harry’s blood to regenerate (explaining the mysterious “gleam of something like triumph” 11 in Dumbledore’s eye at the time). Dumbledore knows this; after Harry witnesses the attack on Arthur Weasley through Voldemort’s eyes “Dumbledore seems almost to have been waiting for Harry to see something like this.” 12 This is more than simple possession. Dumbledore saw “a shadow of him [Voldemort] stir behind your eyes” and found that Harry “felt Voldemort awake inside [him].” 13
Harry’s window into Voldemort’s mind has been useful so far only as a source of information, but the potential is far greater then that. Voldemort has already used the link to “force his way into [Harry’s] mind, to manipulate and misdirect [his] thoughts,” but this backfires on Voldemort and leads to his public exposure in the Ministry of Magic. Voldemort has also been forced to employ Occlumency against Harry, to shut off “the dangerous access to his thoughts and feelings that [Harry has] been enjoying,” 14 possibly at great personal cost.
What if Harry is able to similarly force his way into Voldemort’s mind, so that Voldemort is forced to live with a shadow of Harry’s consciousness awake within him? What if Harry’s consciousness is able to inflict mortal agony on Voldemort, who “could not bear to reside in a body so full of the force he detests?” 15
Voldemort, like Harry (“strange likenesses” 16)may not be a good Occlumens. From the Pensieve memories it appears that Slughorn, Dumbledore and Hokey the house-elf all saw through Tom Riddle’s charming mask and got a glimpse of the real Voldemort lurking within. Rowling has said that Harry is a poor Occlumens because “his emotions were too near the surface and that he is in some ways too damaged.” 17 The same words might apply to Voldemort (“Could you possibly be feeling sorry for Lord Voldemort?” 18), whose emotions of anger and hatred are rarely in check. If Voldemort lets his Occlumens guard down, then Harry may once again have nightmare visions in which he looks in the mirror and sees “a face whiter than a skull ... red eyes with slits for pupils,” 19 while Voldemort has his own nightmare vision of being in the body of a seventeen-year-old kid full of the force he detests. This would flesh out the words of the prophecy: “neither can live while the other survives.” 20
This is the final contest between Harry and Lord Voldemort: whether Harry succeeds in penetrating Lord Voldemort’s consciousness or whether Voldemort succeeds in killing him first.
Two previous encounters between Harry and Voldemort provide models for this type of confrontation. In Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone Harry faces Quirrell/Voldemort and finds that just physical contact is enough to inflict agony on Lord Voldemort. In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire we learn that “Voldemort has overcome that particular barrier.” 21 Then there is the climactic scene in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix:
Harry’s scar burst open and he knew he was dead: it was pain beyond imagining, pain past endurance […] He was locked in the coils of a creature with red eyes [...] they were fused together, bound by pain, there was no escape […] Let the pain stop, thought Harry [...] death is nothing compared to this ...
And I’ll see Sirius again ...
And as Harry’s heart filled with emotion, the creature’s coils loosened, the pain was gone.22
This confrontation also shows the importance of the “power the Dark Lord knows not.” Rowling is careful not to name that power; in Goblet of Fire it appears only as part of the surname of a deceptively important character, Luna Lovegood.23 It is named explicitly only in Half-Blood Prince:
Nothing I have seen in the world has supported your famous pronouncements that love is more powerful than my kind of magic.24
I know! I can love! [...] Big deal!25
Dumbledore goes on to explain that Harry’s ability to love prevents Harry from being seduced by the Dark Arts, “the only protection that can possibly work against the lure of power like Voldemort’s.” This is somewhat unsatisfying. Harry got it right when he said that he could not possibly have “the slightest desire to become one of Lord Voldemort’s followers” – “Of course I haven’t! He killed my mum and dad!” 26 It does not take extraordinary powers to refuse Lord Voldemort under those circumstances.
Rather, the “power the Dark Lord knows not” gives Harry a more useful ability to confront the Dark Forces. Harry’s thoughts of Ron and Hermione enable him to repel a Dementor attack;27 his thoughts of Sirius allow him to expel Lord Voldemort and inflict mortal agony on him. This must be how Harry wins through in the end. Harry will penetrate Voldemort’s mind and penetration by a mind “so full of the force he detests” will defeat Lord Voldemort.
It may not even be necessary for Harry to kill Voldemort directly, despite the words of the prophecy. If Voldemort is left weak and vulnerable, Harry will have plenty of allies who are willing to finish the job. This may even include some Death Eaters – the Malfoys, Pettigrew and Snape.28
A word about Snape: Snape is now the unchallenged Number Two in the Dark Order, but Voldemort, like all Dark Lords, does not tolerate a powerful Number Two. Regardless of his true allegiance, he may turn on Voldemort, if only in keeping with Phineas Nigellus’s rule that “We Slytherins […] will always choose to save our own necks.” 29 Which side will Harry take if he is present within Voldemort’s mind when Voldemort confronts Snape? Harry has already witnessed the torture of Wormtail and the torture of Avery. He has never enjoyed it. What will happen if Harry finds himself witnessing and even (as Voldemort) participating in the torture of Snape? This is the point where Harry could be tempted to unmake the choice he made when he first entered Hogwarts: “You could be great, you know, it’s all here in your head, and Slytherin will help you on the way to greatness [...]– no? Well, if you’re sure –” 30 Instead, Harry may want to reach out, like Voldemort, to dominate, to control and to cause pain, and thus become seduced by the Dark Arts. This could be the final temptation for Harry and the climax of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Harry’s triumphs over Voldemort have all come when he reaches out in kindness towards others – “you were brilliant, Fawkes” 31 ... “Don’t break the connection” 32 ... “I’ll see Sirius again” 33 – not when he lashes out in anger.
Lastly, the most important feature of the final confrontation is that Harry will not be alone. Despite the loss of all his protectors at the end of Half-Blood Prince – “His mother, his father, his godfather, and finally Dumbledore [...] He could not let anybody else stand between him and Voldemort [...] he was more alone than he had ever been before” 34 – he will still not be alone. When Harry confronts Voldemort, he will carry with him the memory of Sirius, Diggory, his parents, and Voldemort’s countless other victims. Harry will also have with him the loved ones he has yet to lose in Book Seven. Harry’s loyalty to his lost loved ones, and the agony inflicted on Lord Voldemort through contact with a consciousness so full of a force he detests, will be the key elements in a final confrontation.
1. Rowling, Order of the Phoenix, 416.
2. Ibid., 517.
3. Rowling, Half-Blood Prince, 97.
4. McGuire, “Lord of the Golden Snitch.”
5. Rowling, Order of the Phoenix, 738.
6. Rowling, Half-Blood Prince, 36. Snape’s view that Harry succeeded through “sheer luck and more talented friends” is echoed by the Horcrux Tom Riddle (“nothing special about you, after all [...] merely a lucky chance that saved you,” Rowling, Chamber of Secrets, 233), by Voldemort (“Harry Potter escaped me by a lucky chance,” Rowling, Goblet of Fire, 571), and by Harry himself (“all that stuff was luck […] I didn’t get through any of that because I was brilliant at Defence against the Dark Arts,” Rowling, Order of the Phoenix, 292–3). For another perspective on Harry and the Dark Arts, see Jacobs, “Opportunity costs: What profit a man to defeat the Dark Lord but lose his soul?”.
7. Rowling, Order of the Phoenix, 741.
8. Ibid., 743.
9. Ibid., Half-blood Prince, 477.
10. Ibid., 477–8.
11. Ibid., Goblet of Fire, 604.
12. Ibid., Order of the Phoenix, 434.
13. Ibid., 730.
14. Ibid., Half-Blood Prince, 61.
15. Ibid., Order of the Phoenix, 743.
16. Ibid., Chamber of Secrets, 233.
17. Anelli and Spartz, TLC/MN Interview, Part 2.
18. Rowling, Half-Blood Prince, 246.
19. Ibid., Order of the Phoenix, 516.
20. Ibid., 741.
21. Ibid., Goblet of Fire, 604.
22. Ibid., Order of the Phoenix, 719–20.
23. Ibid., Goblet of Fire, 68.The word “love” appears twice in Dumbledore’s interview with Harry at the end of Order of the Phoenix: when Harry says that “she (Aunt Petunia) doesn’t love me” (Rowling, Order of the Phoenix, 737) and Dumbledore says “I behaved exactly as Voldemort expects we fools who love to act” (Rowling, Order of the Phoenix, 739).
24. Ibid., Half-Blood Prince, 415.
25. Ibid, 476.
26. Ibid. 477.
27. Ibid., Order of the Phoenix, 22.
28. Many Death Eaters serve Voldemort out of fear rather than loyalty (“I bet they’d be even more frightened than the rest of us to see him [Voldemort] come back,” Rowling, Goblet of Fire, 128) and might turn on Voldemort if they could do so safely. There is some direct evidence on this for Pettigrew. Dumbledore told Harry that “the time may come when you will be very glad you saved Pettigrew’s life” (Rowling, Prisoner of Azkaban, 311); and Pettigrew regretted that he returned to Voldemort almost immediately (Rowling, Goblet of Fire, 14). He also has a silver hand to do it with. Pettigrew’s “powerful new hand” (Rowling, Goblet of Fire, 563–4), having been described in detail, must play some role before the end of the saga. Snape, on the other hand, is likely to be involved in the final confrontation on one side or the other. Having murdered Dumbledore, Snape’s only chance for acceptance back into the wizarding community is if he participates in the murder of Voldemort.
29. Rowling, Order of the Phoenix, 437.
30. Ibid., Philosopher’s Stone, 91.
31. Ibid., Chamber of Secrets, 236.
32. Ibid., Goblet of Fire, 576.
33. Ibid., Order of the Phoenix, 720.
34. Ibid., Half-Blood Prince, 601.
Anelli, Melissa and Emerson Spartz. “The Leaky Cauldron and Mugglenet Interview Joanne Kathleen Rowling, Part Two.” The Leaky Cauldron, 16 July 2005. /#static:tlcinterviews/jkrhbp2 .
Jacobs, Alan. “Opportunity Costs – What does it profit a man to defeat the Dark Lord but lose his soul?” Books and Culture, Vol. 11, No. 6, November/December 2005, p. 22. http://www.ctlibrary.com/bc/2005/novdec/7.22.html (also available at the Harry Potter Lexicon, http://www.hp-lexicon.org/essays/essay-opportunity-costs.html).
McGuire, Gregory. “Lord of the Golden Snitch.” New York Times, 5 September 1999, http://www.nytimes.com/books/99/09/05/reviews/990905.05maguirt.html.
Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. London : Bloomsbury, 1998.
———. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. London: Bloomsbury, 2000.
———. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. London: Bloomsbury, 2005.
———. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. London: Bloomsbury, 2003.
———. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. London: Bloomsbury, 1997.
———. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. London: Bloomsbury, 1999.