Throughout the Harry Potter series, Dumbledore constantly tells Harry that the advantage he possesses over his enemy, Voldemort, is love. As early as the conclusion to Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Dumbledore says: “If there is one thing Voldemort cannot understand, it is love.” 1
Much later, during what turns out to be his final tutorial with Harry in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, he adds:
“It will take uncommon skill and power to kill a wizard like Voldemort, even without his Horcruxes.”
“But I haven’t got uncommon skill and power,” said Harry, before he could stop himself.
“Yes, you have,” said Dumbledore firmly. “You have a power that Voldemort has never had. You can –”
“I know!” said Harry impatiently. “I can love!” 2
This is expanded upon just a few sentences later:
“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. 3
Dumbledore is clearly giving Harry important advice here, even if Harry himself struggles to see its relevance. But what does it mean, and where is it going in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows?
Varieties of Love
It is one of the rare shortcomings of the English language that there is only one word for “love.” This leads English speakers to imagine that all love is of the same kind, usually the drippingly sentimentalised variety that is frequently written about in pop songs. The ancient Greeks, by contrast, had many different words for love, in all of its various forms. So let’s examine some of the different types of love that have examples in the books. In roughly ascending order of significance they are:
Harry’s affection for Cho appears as early as the third book in the series, but there’s little real basis for what he feels. His love for her is based entirely on her attractive appearance, but as he gets to know her in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, he gradually realises that she’s far from being the sweet-natured girl that he’s imagined. Harry’s love for Cho leads nowhere and doesn’t last.
In spite of the long-running speculation from the many Harry/Hermione ’shippers, Harry’s relationship with Hermione remains entirely platonic in nature. He loves her for her friendship and loyalty, but it goes no further than that. The sheer amount of time they spend together means that he has to constantly fend off speculation that they are romantically attached in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. He even goes as far as telling her, “I don’t think you’re ugly” 4 in Order of the Phoenix, but that’s hardly a statement of romantic intent.
As Harry matures he comes to realise that he’s not going to form a lasting relationship with a girl on the basis of looks alone. Although Ginny is clearly attractive, Harry’s love for her is based more on their shared values and interests, their similar sense of humour and mutual respect than on appearances.
This is love in its most profound form. The willingness to give one’s life to save another that you love is the deepest statement of love that anyone can make. Lily Potter’s sacrifice to save her son is where the series starts and I’m sure it’s a theme that will be revisited before the final book ends, but more on that later.
The Benefits of Love
The ability to show affection and express genuine concern to those around him clearly gives Harry many benefits over his opponents. On his very first ride on the Hogwarts Express, Harry finds his first friend in Ron, and his circle of friends expands steadily as the series goes on. Harry’s friends provide direct support in times of crisis; Harry rarely has to act alone, indeed he has been accompanied to the climax of every one of the books so far.
Harry’s insistence on doing the right thing gains him intense loyalty from those who have benefited from his actions. By the end of the sixth book, Harry has directly saved the lives of no less than three members of the Weasley family, and the gratitude felt by Molly Weasley means that Harry has long had an open invitation to stay at the Burrow and much emotional support besides.
Love also buys Harry an element of magical protection, as Voldemort himself has cause to rue:
Voldemort raised one of his long white fingers, and put it very close to Harry’s cheek. “His mother left upon him the traces of her sacrifice … this is old magic, I should have remembered it, I was foolish to overlook it … but no matter. I can touch him now.” 5
Although Professor Quirrell finds it impossible to touch Harry in Philosopher’s Stone and Voldemort is unable to possess him in Order of the Phoenix, the protection afforded to Harry by his mother’s sacrifice and his own goodness appears to be a dwindling commodity. Voldemort’s use of Harry’s blood to regenerate himself appears to have significantly diminished the effect.
However, can love in Harry Potter be a weapon as well as a defence? Does love actually have an effect upon spell casting itself?
The Effect of Emotion on Magic
One factor in the success or otherwise of a spell is the emotion being felt by the wizard as they perform the magic. This is made clear in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, as Professor Lupin attempts to teach Harry the Patronus charm:
“And how do you conjure it?”
“With an incantation, which will work only if you are concentrating, with all your might, on a single, very happy memory.” 6
In spite of Professor Lupin’s normally excellent ability as a teacher, his advice is slightly erroneous here, as Harry eventually discovers:
Harry raised his wand, looked directly at Umbridge and imagined her being sacked.
“Expecto patronum!” 7
The thing that’s interesting about this example is that Harry imagines a happy event rather than remembering one. In other words it is the feeling of great happiness that is required to produce a Patronus, rather than the recollection of it.
We also see the opposite effect take place during Harry’s Occlumency lessons with Professor Snape:
“Clear your mind, Potter,” said Snape’s cold voice. “Let go of all emotion …”
But Harry’s anger at Snape continued to pound through his veins like venom. Let go of his anger? He could as easily detach his legs …” 8
Indeed, Harry’s fury at Snape is so extreme that it prevents him from performing any Occlumency at all, no matter how many lessons he attends, which is quite possibly what Snape had intended should happen.
So emotions clearly have an effect. Both positive emotions (happiness) and negative emotions (anger) affect the ability to perform spells, but is there a specific effect that arises from the emotion of love?
Love and Magic
The effect that love has on spell casting has yet to be made clear in the Harry Potter series, but the effect is likely to be profound as there is a locked room at the Department of Mysteries that specifically investigates this phenomenon.
The clues that have been given in the books so far mostly relate to the opposite emotion: the effect arising from an absence of love.
In Half-Blood Prince, Tonks loses the ability to metamorphose. Harry and the others initially assume that this is the result of her grief for Sirius, or that she may blame herself for his death, but it turns out that she is in love with Remus Lupin. He initially fends off her interest, considering himself too old, and that her life may be at risk if he transforms into a werewolf in her company. Deeply disappointed by the rejection, she loses her greatest magical gift, until Lupin is persuaded to change his mind. We see them together at Dumbledore’s funeral, at the end of Half-Blood Prince, when it’s clear that they have formed a romantic attachment and Tonks’s hair has returned to its cheerful, bubble-gum pink colour.
A similar example is given in the tragic story of Voldemort’s mother, Merope Gaunt. In Dumbledore’s memories, we see her growing up in such a loveless environment that she displays no magical ability at all. Subjecting her to repeated verbal and physical abuse, her father assumes her to be a squib (probably the worst insult that can be used in a pure-blood family). It is only when her father is jailed and she escapes his influence that she begins to perform magic, brewing a love potion to capture the affection of Tom Riddle Senior. Having married him, she stops giving him the potion and he promptly abandons her, making her magical powers evaporate once more.
So it’s clear that to be out of love, with all the attendant feelings of helplessness and depression, is a dangerous place for a witch or wizard. It reduces the sufferer’s ability to perform even their most innate magic, leaving them vulnerable to anyone who might wish to cause them harm.
However, is the converse also true? Does being in love provide heightened magical abilities? Are there any examples in the books of loving couples performing magic together? Well, sort of. It rather depends on what we mean by “love.” Let’s return to the Shrieking Shack, near the end of Prisoner of Azkaban:
It was Sirius Black.
“Expelliarmus!” he croaked, pointing Ron’s wand at them.
Harry and Hermione’s wands shot out of their hands, high in the air, and Black caught them. 9
A little later, it’s Lupin’s turn:
“Expelliarmus!” Lupin shouted.
Harry’s wand flew once more out of his hand; so did the two Hermione was holding. 10
Then something extraordinary happens:
Harry made up his mind in a split second. Before Snape could take even one step towards him, he had raised his wand.
“Expelliarmus!” he yelled – except that his wasn’t the only voice that shouted. There was a blast that made the door rattle on its hinges; Snape was lifted off his feet and slammed into the wall, then slid down it to the floor, a trickle of blood oozing from under his hair. He had been knocked out.
Harry looked around. Both Ron and Hermione had tried to disarm Snape at exactly the same moment. 11
In this scene, the same spell is performed several times. Both Sirius and Lupin create the standard effect of the Expelliarmus charm, that of knocking an opponent’s wand from their hand. When Harry, Ron and Hermione inadvertently work together, they produce an effect many times greater than that of a more experienced wizard working alone.
The fact that the trio perform the same spell at the same time would, by itself, triple the power of the magic. Just as in Order of the Phoenix, Professor McGonagall is hit simultaneously by four Stunning Spells and nearly dies as a result. However, the effect described in the Shrieking Shack is greater even than this. It’s my suggestion that love is having an effect on the magic that is being produced.
Although we find out later in the series that Ron and Hermione’s feelings have started growing beyond those of mere friends, their affection is at a very embryonic stage in Prisoner of Azkaban and is entirely unspoken. Even so, three platonic friends magnify the power of their magic greatly by co-operation. The greater the love between the protagonists, the greater is likely to be the effect.
So Where is This Going in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows?
Harry has just broken up with Ginny. While that will have come as a considerable disappointment to the legions of Harry/Ginny fans out there, it makes perfect sense in narrative terms. Harry is about to embark on a great crusade to bring down the enemy of the wizarding world. With Dumbledore gone, the Death Eaters will be on the offensive; substantial battles are to be expected; there will be casualties on both sides. Interspersing all that with lots of soppy teenage snogging just isn’t going to create the atmosphere of an epic struggle, so the author has to create some distance between Harry and Ginny just as she maintains the distance between the increasingly enamoured Ron and Hermione throughout Half-Blood Prince.
However, if Harry loves Ginny as much as he says he does, and isn’t simply giving in to teenage wishful thinking, he’s going to miss her company badly. Like Tonks in Half-Blood Prince, he’s likely to find early on in the final book that his ability to perform magic has been compromised. When you’re planning a quest to bring down Lord Voldemort, that’s not a good way to start. While I doubt that there will be any more kissing before Voldemort’s demise, Harry will need to find some way of relating to Ginny just in order to operate at all.
The history of Harry and Ginny’s friendship is already a significant one. All the way back in the Chamber of Secrets, Harry rescued Ginny from death and was mortally wounded by the basilisk’s tooth in the process. Given Ginny’s fierce and determined personality, she was a rather odd choice to be the damsel in distress, but this is a series in which very little is co-incidence. So it isn’t co-incidence that Harry rescued Ginny from the Chamber, as opposed to Ron or Hermione. In other words, years before Harry thought he would ever have any feelings for Ginny, when she was still just Ron’s slightly embarrassing little sister, Harry demonstrated in a very profound and practical way that he was prepared to die in order to save the life of the girl he now finds himself in love with. Harry’s love for Ginny isn’t merely romantic, it’s been shown to be the most profound type of all: sacrificial.
“So what?” you may ask. Wouldn’t Harry sacrifice himself to save anyone trapped in the Chamber of Secrets? Would things have happened differently if Ron or Hermione had been held captive, or for that matter, Hagrid or McGonagall? Well it’s easy to say that you’d give your life to save another, easy enough even to believe it, but Harry has proved that he would die for Ginny, and that in the context of the Harry Potter universe, where sacrifice invokes “old magic,” surely creates a powerful magical bond between them.
The Final Battle
Finding and destroying the Horcruxes in Deathly Hallows won’t be a trivial task. The ring and the locket were protected by powerful concealment charms and traps. Harry will need luck, courage and some pretty advanced magic in order to succeed. With Dumbledore now dead it’s by no means obvious from where this magic will come. Half-Blood Prince tells us that initially the quest will be carried out by the central trio of characters as they are the only ones in whom Harry has so far confided. They will, however, be up against a very different challenge from the ones that they’ve faced so far. Ron’s loyalty and Hermione’s research skills will only take Harry so far. While I think some information-gathering will be essential to Harry’s quest, Hermione in particular will find for the first time that head knowledge and logic won’t be sufficient to provide the answers.
Sooner or later a different approach is likely to be needed. If Harry can be persuaded to lay aside his initial fears and risk the girl he loves the most in order to bring down his enemy, then the magic that they will be able to perform together is likely to be very powerful, if that locked room at the Department of Mysteries is anything to go by. It will take a traumatic event to persuade Harry that Ginny ought to join in with the Horcrux hunt, but then that’s how character deaths advance the plot.
On hearing that Harry was to have special lessons with Dumbledore, Hermione speculated: “I wonder what he’ll teach you, Harry? Really advanced defensive magic, probably … powerful counter-curses … anti-jinxes …” 12 Of course, there was never any need. Dumbledore simply showed Harry what to do, making no mention of how to go about it. Harry, without even knowing it, is fully equipped for the task ahead, his ability to love and be loved in return giving him a much bigger advantage over Voldemort than initially appears to be the case.
One last thought. At the ultimate confrontation, once the Horcruxes are destroyed and Voldemort is finally mortal once more, things won’t initially go well for Harry. This is partly because Voldemort is the greatest dark wizard of the age and Harry is no match for him, and partly because that’s simply in the nature of dramatic tension. However when Voldemort advances on the prone and helpless Harry, raising his wand to speak the Avada Kedavra, I suggest that one final, desperate, loving act of sacrifice will save the day. Someone will step in front of Harry and into the path of that little beam of green light. I’ll leave you to guess who that’s going to be.
1. Rowling, Philosopher’s Stone, 216.
2. Ibid., Half-Blood Prince, 475–76.
3. Ibid., 476.
4. Ibid., Order of the Phoenix, 505.
5. Ibid., Goblet of Fire, 566.
6. Ibid., Prisoner of Azkaban, 176.
7. Ibid., Order of the Phoenix, 630.
8. Ibid., 473.
9. Ibid., Prisoner of Azkaban, 248–49.
10. Ibid., 252.
11. Ibid., 265.
12. Ibid., Half-Blood Prince, 97.
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.