Happy birthday, Harry Potter! On this day, the wizarding world celebrates the birthday of the Boy Who Lived – but perhaps they’d be somewhat surprised to learn just how much he has in common with his arch-enemy, Voldemort. Oh, I don’t mean Parseltongue, or anything like that. No, Harry – just like his mentor – actually spends most of his time facing off against Voldemort’s own enemy.
Let’s take a look at how that works:
VOLDEMORT - Who sought to conquer death
Voldemort was touched by the brittle hand of death at an early age, when his mother passed away shortly after giving birth. When he first learned he was a wizard, Voldemort was dismissive of his mother – he couldn't understand how someone with magic could possibly die. From the outset, Voldemort saw in magic a way to confront his one, true enemy – death.
At Hogwarts, mastery over death remained Voldemort’s fascination. His friends – they quickly became ‘followers’ – rejoiced in the idea of being Death Eaters, those who consume death. And Voldemort wheedled out the secret of the Horcruxes, of the deadly magic that would enable him to tear his soul asunder when he committed certain key murders. Even when he was only a schoolboy, Voldemort was willing to murder, and to divide his soul.
Voldemort’s reign of terror only came to an end when he learned of a boy who could defeat him, and rushed to kill the Potters. But Lily Potter’s sacrificial love – in other words, the nobility and love of her death – had the power to deflect his curse, and Voldemort was left cursed himself, living a half-life. Incredibly, to Voldemort even that half-life was better than death; afterwards he will still refuse to admit that anything is worse than death.
Ultimately, it is Harry Potter’s willingness to die for his friends that breaks Voldemort’s power. None of his curses will land, and then Harry – the true victor over death – emerges triumphant.
DUMBLEDORE - Who embraced death
Just like Voldemort, Dumbledore knew death from childhood. And he, too, became fascinated with the idea of conquering death – except he chose the Hallows. His pursuit of them, his obsession with them, ultimately led to tragedy in his family, and the death of his sister.
And here’s the catch. Dumbledore’s whole philosophy changed as the years went on; he embraced the concept of the Phoenix, the idea that death and rebirth are intimately interwoven, and he named his resistance to Voldemort the Order of the Phoenix. They would give their lives for a noble cause, because, Dumbledore learned, there were worse things than death.
Dumbledore ultimately chose to arrange his death, hoping that in so doing he might break the power of the Elder Wand once and for all. He embraced death, fearing it no longer, learning the true lesson of the Hallows.
HARRY POTTER - The Boy who Lived
Where Voldemort sought to overcome death, where Dumbledore embraced death, Harry triumphed over it. Orphaned by Voldemort, Harry found in his mother’s death a protective magic that would save his life time and again. And from the outset, he refused to stop risking his own life to do good – he saw the evil of Voldemort as more threatening than his own death.
Death brooded over Harry’s circle of friends as the years passed; he saw so many of those he loved killed in the battle with the Death Eaters, and lost so many mentors to death’s embrace. He always remained fascinated by death – in the Mirror of Erised, he saw his parents, and in the Department of Mysteries he was drawn to the curtain. When he had seen death, he also saw the thestrals, and he rode them to the rescue.
For Harry, it all comes to a head in a single, fateful decision. He too made the choice to give his life for others, to embrace death for the sake of others, and in so doing he gave his friends and allies protection from Voldemort’s spells. But it was the darkness that Harry unwittingly carried within him – the Horcrux – that truly died, and Harry was reborn, striking Voldemort down once and for all.
In the ordinary world, there is little we can do about death - we do our best to ignore it. But in the wizarding world, all three of these great figures have been drawn to confront it. And so, in the final book of the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, J. K. Rowling happily uses a quote - one from the Bible, where another confronted death and gave His life for others.