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Fulfilling the Prophecy

By Torey Swink

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Read the discussion on this essay here.

Mark of an Equal

According to Dumbledore, the scar that Harry receives when Voldemort’s curse backfires is the mark mentioned in the prophecy that proclaims Harry as the Dark Lord’s “equal.” The scar is “both blessing and curse” to Harry.8 It endows him with the ability to speak with snakes and to observe the Dark Lord’s thoughts and emotions. But does it make Harry as powerful as Voldemort? Harry is quick to point out that he “couldn’t fight the way he [Voldemort] did tonight, I can’t possess people or —or kill them—”9 Dumbledore stresses that “It will take uncommon skill and power to kill a wizard like Voldemort even without his Horcruxes.”10 Indeed, Harry seems to lack many of the common skills that one would expect him to have in order to battle a powerful Dark Wizard. So how can Harry be Voldemort’s equal?

It is quite possible that Harry received other powers, which have not yet surfaced, when he received his scar. Parseltongue, the ability to speak with snakes, was a gift that Harry had at the age of ten but did not realize was a rare and special skill until he was twelve. Dumbledore also explains to Harry, “Voldemort singled you out as the person who would be most dangerous to him—and in doing so, he made you the person who would be most dangerous to him!”11 As Harry comes of age in the wizarding world, he may yet discover some still unknown talents and abilities received as a baby.

J.K. Rowling calls Harry’s scar “a magical window into Voldemort’s mind.”12 Rowling also said Harry “has amassed more knowledge than he realizes.”13 While some of the “amassed” knowledge surely comes from his classes and other experiences, apparently Harry knows things he’s not aware of consciously. Could Harry’s scar hold the key to unlocking this knowledge?

During his fifth year at Hogwarts, Harry’s conscious mind and subconscious dreams were receiving thoughts and images from the recently reborn Voldemort. For a full year the psychic link between Harry and Voldemort was wide open, and Harry continually felt pain in his scar. During this time and as he slept, Harry received information about the Hall of Prophecy and the Department of Mysteries. Could he also have been downloading information from Voldemort’s mind and storing it in his unconscious? If so, Harry could have amassed knowledge about spells, curses and how Voldemort is able to use them without knowing it. Like forgotten dreams that are suddenly remembered while awake, Harry could access such stores of information from his subconscious when needed.

The showdown between Harry and Voldemort is expected to be the climax of the seventh book and the overall series. Most likely this will take place near the end of the final installment. Therefore, Harry still has time to learn new skills and train for an ultimate battle with his very powerful enemy. Even if Harry does not return to classes at Hogwarts, he can learn from friends as he first seeks to find and destroy Voldemort’s Horcruxes. Harry can learn curse breaking from Bill Weasley, practice proper dueling skills with Aurors (such as Moody and Tonks), and hone his other abilities with Ron and Hermione.

Ultimately, Harry must face Voldemort. The prophecy gives Harry and his supporters hope that he will be equal to the task and match Voldemort’s abilities, skills and powers.

Power and Love

In addition to practical wizarding skills and magical abilities, Harry will also discover the real power he possesses is love. When Harry first learns about the prophecy, Dumbledore informs him that love is:

… a force that is at once more wonderful and more terrible than death, than human intelligence, than forces of nature. It is also, perhaps, the most mysterious of the many subjects for study that reside there [in the Department of Mysteries]. It is the power held within that room that you possess in such quantities and which Voldemort has not at all.14

In Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Harry begins to realize some of what Dumbledore has been trying to tell him about the power of love:

“So, when the prophecy says that I’ll have ‘power the Dark Lord knows not,’ it just means—love?” asked Harry, feeling a little let down.

“Yes—just love,” said Dumbledore.15

Harry has been told that love is a power. However, Harry does not yet seem to understand the connection between magical ability, his emotions, and power. Love as a power is an important theme in the series and something Harry will need to learn in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

Knowing how to perform a spell is only half of the task in performing it; magical ability requires a combination of knowledge and power. Knowing the incantation is not enough. As Moody mentions, the killing curse “needs a powerful bit of magic behind it.”16 Likewise Lupin teaches Harry that the Patronus, which is used to repel dementors, is created “with an incantation, which will work only if you are concentrating, with all your might, on a single, very happy memory.”17 The “happy memory” appears to charge the charm that powers the Patronus. Later, Hermione tells Harry that “it must have been a really powerful wizard, to drive all those dementors away.”18 Magical power seems to be tied to energies inherent in emotions like happiness and love.

In Half-Blood Prince, two minor subplots underscore that magical ability and emotions, like love, are closely connected. Tonks has troubles with her magical metamorphic abilities because of challenges in her relationship with and worries about Remus Lupin. Likewise, a broken hearted Merope Gaunt mysteriously discontinues using magic. Dumbledore explained: “… it is also possible that her unrequited love and the attendant despair sapped her of her powers; that can happen.”19 The power to perform curses and charms appears to come from a witch or wizard’s energy-filled emotions.

Certain types of magic come naturally for Harry—like riding a broom. It is not conscious but instinctive. Love too comes naturally for Harry—love for his parents, for Ginny, for Sirius and for others. However, Harry might not be aware that love is also the source of his power to perform magic. One expects that Harry will make that realization in the seventh and final book.

Kill or Be Killed

Voldemort has not heard what may be the most important part of the prophecy; he does not know that “either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives . . .”20 The fact that he attempted to kill Harry as a child seems to suggest that Voldemort suspects that killing Harry is possible. Since he has not heard the rest of the prophecy and because Harry has escaped him now four times (five if you count the diary), Voldemort may fear that Harry’s victory is inevitable. However, Harry knows about this part of the prophecy and understands its dire meaning: “ ‘So,’ said Harry, dredging up the words from what felt like a deep well of despair inside him, ‘so does that mean that … that one of us has got to kill the other one … in the end?’ ”21 Dumbledore confirms Harry’s understanding of the prophecy’s portentous pronouncement with a simple “yes.”

While many (if not most) readers believe that Harry must face Voldemort in a final showdown, the thought of Harry killing Voldemort has left nearly everyone to wonder how he will be able to do it. Others wonder if Harry will be able to do it without dying himself. Still others dread the thought of a loving, caring Harry being changed by the act of killing another person. The latter group looks for clever ways that Voldemort can die without Harry having to do the deed. They believe that Harry’s greatest power, love, is “antithetical to killing.”

The prophecy says, “the one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches” (bold and italics added). To vanquish means to “conquer or defeat in battle; force into submission.”22 Strictly speaking, this and other definitions of “vanquish” do not dictate killing as the means of conquering, defeating, or forcing an opponent into submission. Those who purport that Harry does not actually have to “kill” Voldemort to “vanquish” him often rely on the word “vanquish” being used in the prophecy. But if Harry does not kill Voldemort, then the language of the prophecy seems to suggest that Voldemort will kill him instead. Unfortunately for Harry, the prophecy does not guarantee that he will defeat Voldemort or that Harry will even survive. It simply says that Harry has the power to do it. Theories about Harry being a Horcrux, which houses a part of Voldemort’s soul, suggest that if a sufficiently wounded Voldemort kills Harry, then Voldemort may actually vanquish or kill himself in the process. Other theories suggest that phoenix song or some other powerful magic will do the job instead of Harry. Still another holds that no one is beyond redemption and that Voldemort will witness an act of true love, be moved by Harry’s power, and repent of his evil ways.

Regrettably, most of these theories do not consider Harry’s full situation. Voldemort wants to kill Harry and a lot of other people, and there does not seem to be anyone other than Harry himself who can stop it. It is also important to consider the whole prophecy—especially the part that says “either [Voldemort or Harry] must die at the hand of the other for neither [the Dark Lord nor the Chosen One] can live while the other survives.” Even the prophecy seems to suggest a kill or be killed dichotomy. At the very least, this is the position that Harry has taken at the end of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix: that either he will have to kill Voldemort or Voldemort will kill him.

Harry’s inability to kill Sirius Black, when it was believed that the escaped prisoner was going to murder Harry, is often cited as “evidence” that Harry is “incapable of killing anyone.” Harry’s merciful plea for saving Peter Pettigrew’s life shows that he obviously respects life. But time has passed since those events and Harry has changed. He has matured. Harry questioned his actions in sparing Pettigrew’s life and witnessed the effects of allowing a murderer to live when Pettigrew killed Cedric Diggory with Voldemort’s wand. While it is not in Harry’s nature to become a murderer, who indiscriminately kills for pleasure, for power, and/or for personal gain, Harry is capable of killing Voldemort. Harry possesses the proper motivation for killing: self-preservation and the overall desire to save his loved ones and protect society by eliminating a murderous menace. Killing Voldemort is not simply revenge for murders of Harry’s family and friends, but a conscious choice to end a reign of terror and to stop Voldemort from murdering other innocent people.

Yes, Harry’s greatest strength is love. And love is partly the reason why Harry will attempt to kill Voldemort in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, because the only certain and final way to vanquish Voldemort and protect Harry’s loved ones is to kill the Dark Lord. Since Voldemort has proven that he will do anything to gain power and keep it, the only way that Harry and his friends can be reasonably safe is for Harry to kill Voldemort.

Surviving is Not Living

The prophecy makes a distinction between surviving and living. Survival in the strictest sense is not dying. But living is more than mere existence; it means that one is able to enjoy the many facets of life without always looking over his shoulder for his mortal enemy and an inevitable attack.

In many ways, this part of the prophecy has already been fulfilled. Both Harry and Voldemort survived the original attack at Godric’s Hollow. While Harry survived because of his mother’s self sacrifice, Voldemort survived as a spectral form because of his Horcruxes. Voldemort existed in an Albanian forest as Harry subsisted in a cupboard under the Dursley’s stairs. When Harry finally goes to Hogwarts he endures numerous challenges and obstacles that quickly quench any amount of happiness he could otherwise enjoy. Harry’s first year is tainted by Quirrell’s efforts to kill him, by the mystery of the Sorcerer’s (Philosopher’s) Stone, and the revelation that Voldemort is not really dead. His second year is likewise beset with rumors of the Heir of Slytherin and by the real horrors within the Chamber of Secrets. Dementors blight Harry’s third year, and the prospect of leaving the Dursleys’ to live with his godfather is snatched away before it could ever become a reality. Death Eaters and the Dark Mark rudely interrupt the festive Quidditch World Cup in Harry’s fourth year; then being named a school champion and winning the Triwizard Tournament is overshadowed by Cedric Diggory’s death and Voldemort’s return. Persecution and injustice plague Harry’s fifth year before he loses Sirius permanently. A somewhat happier Harry returns for a sixth year, which is then devastated by Draco’s plotting and Snape’s slaughter of Dumbledore. Harry has survived all these awful things, but he has not been able to truly live or enjoy his life because of Voldemort and because of the prophecy that put Voldemort on this destructive path.

Harry could continue to “survive” by hiding, running, and not facing his fate. Voldemort did this for thirteen years as a spirit and for another three years after his rebirth. Voldemort has been in hiding while he puts his plans together and continues to be in survival mode since having failed to hear the full prophecy. Harry may employ some of his own survival tactics during the greater part of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows if he is to avoid Voldemort and stay alive long enough to hunt down and destroy Voldemort’s Horcruxes.

Given all that Harry has been through and may go through, death might have been easier. As a matter of fact Harry briefly welcomes death at the Ministry of Magic after losing Sirius and while being possessed by Voldemort. But Harry’s love for Sirius drives Voldemort and thoughts of dying out of his head. Indeed, Harry’s love for Sirius is unbearable to Voldemort, who then cannot continue to possess Harry. The fact that Voldemort “cannot possess [Harry] without enduring mortal agony”23 might be a clue to how Harry can defeat Voldemort. Possessing Voldemort might be a way to weaken him and make him vulnerable to other, physical and magical attacks.

Living is loving. While Harry is willing to face his enemies and put his life on the line for those he loves, because of that love, he also has a lot to live for and does not really want to die. Despite his willingness to sacrifice everything for those who mean most to him, he’s also determined to live for them. The loss of Sirius and then hearing the prophecy has given Harry perspective and ultimately purpose. He wants to save those he loves and consequently chooses to accept his fate and is determined to fight so he can eventually live with them.

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Read the archived discussion on this essay in Unfogging Deathly Hallows!