“But He Will Have Power the Dark Lord Knows Not”
—Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, 841
By Pam Nail
Love—Wonderful and Terrible
At the end of Order of the Phoenix, Dumbledore describes love—specifically in terms of the power that resides in the locked room at the Department of Mysteries—as follows: “a force that is at once more wonderful and more terrible than death, than human intelligence, than forces of nature.”7 It might seem contradictory to refer to love both as something great and something awful, but then again it might seem astonishingly accurate for readers who have experienced real love for themselves. The relationships that make up Harry’s complex web of human experience are rife with this duality.
Lily’s love for Harry provided him with a powerful spell of protection. This love stopped the killing curse—a curse that no other wizard has ever survived—and caused it to rebound, destroying Voldemort’s body. It also allowed Harry to have this same protection under the roof of his Aunt Petunia. It saved his life on the night Voldemort intended to kill him, and it has protected him ever since. But it also came at the cost of Lily’s life, making Harry an orphan and depriving him of the mother’s love he would have had if she had not chosen to die for him.
Harry’s love for Sirius is something that brings him a great deal of happiness and gives him a strong connection to the parents who were so cruelly taken from him. He is overjoyed at the short-lived prospect of moving in with Sirius, and letters and other communications from Sirius are an obvious comfort to Harry during the stress of Triwizard tasks and the conflict with Umbridge. However, Sirius’s presumed guilt keeps him and Harry apart for much of the brief time they know each other. Voldemort specifically uses Harry’s love for Sirius against Harry, luring him to the Department of Mysteries under the ruse of saving his godfather from being tortured and killed only to find that Sirius would not have been in danger if Harry hadn’t gone. Similarly, Sirius’s love for Harry leads him to risk everything by also going to the Department of Mysteries—a move that results in his death, which is the most painful experience Harry has had in all of the books so far.
Harry has a sincere affection for Hagrid as the person who revealed to him his true heritage and who introduced him to the wizarding world. He feels an immense amount of pride and loyalty, for example, when Hagrid is given a chance to teach at Hogwarts, and visiting Hagrid is typically something that comforts Harry and cheers him up. On the other hand, Harry’s friendship with Hagrid seems occasionally more trouble than it is worth and has gotten him into some scrapes with a baby dragon, spiders, skrewts, giants and centaurs. It also causes him pain to disappoint Hagrid, such as when he and Ron and Hermione drop Hagrid’s Care of Magical Creatures class or when he lies to Hagrid about his progress on the egg clue for the Triwizard tournament.
Dumbledore and Harry have a relationship that crosses over the mentor-student boundary into an almost filial love. Dumbledore feels a fatherly affection for Harry and is one of several father substitutes in Harry’s life. This is very heartwarming to read about and comforting for Harry as he grows up and is forced to face Voldemort again and again, but it too is costly. Harry’s affection for Dumbledore leads him to be hurt when Dumbledore avoids him for so much of Order of the Phoenix. Dumbledore’s affection for Harry leads him to make an enormous mistake by keeping the truth about the Prophecy from Harry for so long, even though this mistake was out of love for Harry. There are few passages as bittersweet and poignant as Dumbledore’s explanation and guilty justification of this error: “What did I care if numbers of nameless and faceless people and creatures were slaughtered in the vague future, if in the here and now you were alive, and well, and happy?”8 Wonderful and terrible, indeed.
Ron and Hermione are arguably the most important people in Harry’s life. It is the image of their faces that allows Harry to produce a Patronus at the beginning of Order of the Phoenix and save himself and Dudley from dementors. They are the people he confides in the most and in whom he takes comfort time and time again. Their friendship is one of the great loves in the story, but it is not without its share of pain. They have had some significant conflicts over their six-year friendship. Harry is furious with Hermione for weeks when she goes over his head and leads McGonagall to confiscate his Firebolt in Harry Potter and thePrisoner of Azkaban. Harry and Ron have their own silent treatment skirmish when Ron doesn’t believe that Harry didn’t put his own name in the Goblet of Fire. And in Half-Blood Prince, Harry worries about what will happen to the three of them if Ron and Hermione start dating—whether they will be unbearably sickening to be around or if they will fall apart, causing their friendship with Harry to suffer. There is even an equal measure of inspiration and dread (with an optional dash of tears for the reader) in Ron’s and Hermione’s promise at the conclusion of Half-Blood Prince to go with Harry on his quest, “whatever happens.”9
Of course, no discussion of the pain and pleasure of love would be complete without the topic of romance. Regarding his first foray into romance, Harry is elated to discover that Cho Chang is interested in him, but the actual relationship is terrifying for him and ends almost as soon as it begins. On a grander scale, Harry’s bumbling feelings of attraction for Ginny Weasley are truly a roller coaster of emotions for him. He feels an irrational jealousy at seeing her kissing Dean, but the thought of kissing her himself moments later is quite pleasant indeed. When he finally starts dating Ginny, he is described as “happier than he could remember being for a very long time”10 and his first kiss with Ginny is characterized as “several sunlit days.”11 However, after only a few short weeks, these nascent feelings of love become painful as well, as Harry believes he must give up this sublime happiness—a happiness that feels “like something out of someone else’s life”12—in order to keep Ginny safe.
It seems inevitable that love will continue to be both blessing and torment for Harry in Deathly Hallows. If Harry does go to Godric’s Hollow as planned, learning more about his parents will doubtless bring both of these conflicting feelings. In returning to the Burrow for Bill and Fleur’s wedding, Harry will have to face Ginny after having so recently made a painful break with her. It doesn’t necessarily follow that seeing her once again would be entirely unpleasant, but Harry’s effort to keep to his resolution of not being with her will certainly prove to be a source of misery. Much more ominous, however, is Rowling’s assurance to us outside the books that “there are deaths, more deaths, coming.”13 It would be folly to presume that none of these are going to include people that Harry loves and who have brought happiness into his life, and whose deaths would bring Harry a tremendous amount of pain. And the most painful death of all, particularly for the readers, would be Harry’s; but this, too, could be both wonderful and terrible. Harry could very well choose to sacrifice his own life (or be willing to do so) in order to achieve the greater good and defeat Voldemort.
“Magic At Its Deepest, Its Most Impenetrable”14
Despite the many loving relationships Harry has within the story, Harry’s feelings for the people he loves might not seem all that extraordinary. They might resemble most readers’ feelings for the loved ones in their own lives. It is not that difficult to love people who are likable and who love you back. However, Harry’s power goes much deeper than this, and involves a kind of love that—though many people might identify with it—is much more difficult to exercise. It is a compassion for other people, mercy for another human being, even a person we despise. It might be seen by some as a Christian ideal of love. Christ had compassion for people who had been shunned by their society, and forgave even the people who put him to death. This gives quite a new meaning to the term “tough love”: a pardon of wrongs or the laying aside of hatred to show pity to another person, not because we don’t feel hatred or perceive ourselves to have been wronged anymore, but because it is the right and noble thing to do. This kind of love is seen by many to be a weakness, and that is most certainly how Voldemort perceives it. On the contrary, it takes an immense amount of strength to demonstrate mercy.
There are very few examples of this kind of love in the Harry Potter books, but each of them is emphasized fairly strongly in the story. The first example, which is perhaps the least striking, is James’s rescue of Snape. We know that James hated Snape and bullied him quite a bit. Yet when Snape’s life was in danger, James came to his rescue. A much more dramatic example, and one that is closer to a Christ parallel, is Dumbledore’s mercy to Draco. Draco has smuggled Death Eaters into Hogwarts, put the other students’ and professors’ lives at great risk, and has cornered Dumbledore with intent to kill him. Yet Dumbledore talks him down and offers him sanctuary, as well as offering the same to his mother and father, even though his father is a known Death Eater.
The most vivid example of this more challenging type of love, however, can be seen in Harry’s mercy to Peter Pettigrew. At this point in Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry has just learned that Pettigrew was the one who betrayed James and Lily to Voldemort, making the Potters’ former friend an accomplice to their murder. Harry has every reason to hate Pettigrew at this moment, to want him dead, just as he had wanted to kill Sirius just moments before, when Sirius was believed to be the traitor. Harry had not been able to act when he had his wand pointed at Sirius, ready to destroy him. Yet Harry’s mercy to Pettigrew is much more active. He literally throws himself in front of the pitiful man to stop Sirius and Remus from killing him.
Having shown this kind of love once, it would not be surprising to see Harry bestow it on someone else in the future. Someone he hates and who has taken from him a person he loved. Someone who he feels is absolutely undeserving of mercy. Someone like Severus Snape, perhaps. In addition, by showing mercy to Pettigrew, Harry sets a tremendous and difficult precedent for a hero who is destined to conquer a Dark Lord. It seems unfathomable that the boy who wouldn’t even allow someone else to murder the person who betrayed his parents would go on to commit murder himself in order to rid the world of Voldemort. It is probable that this will be a moral dilemma for Harry in Deathly Hallows, and the way in which Harry resolves this dilemma could prove to be the turning point in the final conflict.