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He Who Must Not Be Named

By Sloan de Forest

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Voldemort. The very first thing we learn about him is that we should never say his name out loud. When Hagrid first mentions him to Harry in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, he finds it next to impossible to even utter the name Voldemort because “people are still scared.”1 From the cloud of horror and superstition surrounding his legend, we gather that Lord Voldemort—during his initial reign of terror— was one serious force to be reckoned with. Torture, devastation, murder; one can only imagine what atrocities were committed by He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named before he was finally stopped and nearly obliterated by Harry Potter.

The Dark Lord’s stage for the seventh and final book is set: Dumbledore is out of the way for good, Harry Potter will be coming of age and losing the magic that protected him from Voldemort while he was in his relations’ care, and J.K. Rowling has stated that in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Voldemort will finally get “the legroom for which he has been aching during all those years in exile.”2 If you thought Lord Voldemort was bad in his heyday, in the words of Jimmy Durante, “you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.”

Dark Days

In the first book of the Harry Potter series, Harry’s arch-nemesis was sketched in very broad strokes. He was a wizard who “went bad” and collected followers to aid him in his quest to gain power. Harry Potter’s parents stood in his way, and they were killed on Halloween night in 1981. Voldemort also tried to kill baby Harry that night, yet Harry not only survived; he somehow stopped Voldemort’s murdering spree in its tracks. This left our orphaned hero with a special cursed scar on his forehead, a set of reluctant caregivers, and a reputation as the famous “boy who lived.”

As the Harry Potter saga developed, Rowling gradually peeled back the layers of her villain. By patching together saved fragments of memories, snatches of history from his younger years, and a living embodiment of his past stored in a certain magic diary she has allowed us to slowly become acquainted with “a raging psychopath, devoid of the normal human responses to other people's suffering,”3 as Rowling herself describes him. This psychopath started out life inauspiciously as a seemingly common orphan boy named Tom Marvolo Riddle. A half-blood wizard, Tom rejected the name he had received from his “filthy Muggle father”4 and fashioned a new title for himself: Lord Voldemort, the last remaining heir of Salazar Slytherin. Voldemort spent years traveling the world and studying the Dark Arts with malevolent wizards in order to become the self-proclaimed “greatest sorcerer in the world.”5 His extraordinary magic skills, as well as his formidable powers of persuasion and intimidation, allowed him to gain a following of loyal Death Eaters. Together they championed the cause of blood purity amongst wizardkind, killing not only “Mudbloods,” but anyone who stood in their way or refused to join them.

Like all great villains, Lord Voldemort has an Achilles’ heel— a tragic weakness that will likely prove to be his undoing. He and his army of Death Eaters might have taken over the whole world if Voldemort hadn’t underestimated the power of love. Lily Potter died to protect her young son, and by doing this she invoked an ancient magical protection of mother’s love that caused Voldemort’s killing curse to rebound on him. Such a great wizard should have known this, and indeed the Dark Lord admits he was “foolish to overlook it.”6 Voldemort is incapable of giving or receiving love, and therefore is vulnerable to its power. How could he have foreseen that a protection of love would be his undoing?

The Dark Lord’s extreme fear of death led him to create Horcruxes, the “wickedest of magical inventions.”7 The creation of a Horcrux requires taking a person’s life and severing your own soul, but it is the only way to ensure immortality. According to Rowling, Tom Riddle’s biggest fear has always been “Death, ignominious death,”8 so splitting his soul was apparently a small price to pay to avoid such ignominy. The fragments of soul stored within the Horcruxes kept him alive when he should have died and enabled him to exist, in one form or another, until he could return to his corporeal state.

After the gruesome graveyard ritual that brought Voldemort back to full power, what was his first order of business? Killing Harry Potter, of course! Having overheard a portion of a prophecy about his downfall and marking Harry as “the one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord,”9 Voldemort’s desire for immortality will not allow him to rest until Harry is dead. A flaw typical of many psychopaths, however, is the inability to learn from past mistakes despite their high intelligence.10 Voldemort just doesn’t know when to quit.

Tom and Harry

There’s an old proverb that states: “It takes a thief to catch a thief.” While Harry Potter is no thief and certainly no Voldemort, he is the perfect person for the nasty job of doing in the Dark Lord, once and for all. In a twist of irony, Voldemort himself actually created many of the traits that will allow Harry to defeat him. Voldemort unintentionally transferred some of his powers, like his ability to communicate with snakes, to Harry during that fateful Halloween encounter. He also created a peculiar bond between the two of them. Rowling has said:

In choosing which boy to murder, he was also (without realising it) choosing which boy to anoint as the Chosen One – to give him tools no other wizard possessed – the scar and the ability it conferred, a magical window into Voldemort's mind.11

Harry’s scar gives him an advantage no other wizard has. It enables him to connect to Voldemort’s mind, and therefore to some of his plans and activities, through visions in dreams. The scar often acts as a warning signal too, alerting Harry with searing pains whenever Voldemort is feeling particularly snippy.

Voldemort created another orphan like himself when he murdered Harry’s parents, another gifted young wizard raised by Muggles and unaware of his true identity. In many ways, Tom Riddle is Harry’s dark doppelgänger, a sinister shadow staring back at him from a mirror that separates good and evil. Tom represents what might have been had Harry chosen a different path, or been born to different parents. Tom Riddle’s witch mother tricked his Muggle father into marrying her by the cunning use of a love potion, so his very conception originated with deceit. Harry Potter’s parents were truly in love with one another; he is the product of a genuine mutual affection. From an early age Tom displayed a deceitful nature by hoarding toys he had pirated from the other children in the orphanage, whereas Harry was only too happy to share whatever he had with Ron when they first met aboard the Hogwarts Express. When Dumbledore first met eleven-year-old Tom, the boy was obsessed with being different and standing out from the crowd, already twisting his deep-seated need for love into an insatiable craving for worship and notoriety, while Harry shuns attention and feels embarrassed when the focus is all on him.

But the key difference is that Harry can feel love. He cares about other people, where Voldemort only cares about himself. According to Trelawney’s prophecy about Voldemort and Harry, “neither can live while the other survives.”12 According to practically every fairy tale ever written, good must always conquer evil in the end, and love is stronger than hate. Rowling’s fairy tale world may be unique, but it’s safe to assume that she will not end her saga by destroying love and goodness with an evil force of dark, selfish hatred. Therefore, Voldemort will be defeated and killed by Harry Potter in the seventh book. However, Mr. Avada Kedavra will not be going down without a serious fight.

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