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It all comes down to this. The big difference between Voldemort and Harry. The only difference that’s really important. It couldn’t be more important to the climax of the Harry Potter Septology Mystery. And the reason we know it’s important is because J.K. Rowling went out of her way to tell us about it, right out, in plain language, not couched in a riddle, in the very first Harry Potter book, in a way we couldn’t forget:
“Your mother died to save you. If there is one thing Voldemort cannot understand, it is love. He didn’t realize that love as powerful as your mother’s for you leaves its own mark. Not a scar, no visible sign … to have been loved so deeply, even though the person who loved us is gone, will give us some protection forever.”PS/SS pg 299/216
In the very next book, Harry meets the young Voldemort, Tom Riddle, and afterwards, Harry is troubled by the similarities between Tom and him, and the fact that the sorting hat wanted to put Harry in Slytherin.
“It only put me in Gryffindor,” said Harry in a defeated voice, “because I asked not to go into Slytherin…” “Exactly,” said Dumbledore, beaming once more. “Which makes you very different from Tom Riddle. It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”CoS pg 333/245, emphasis is author’s
So, Harry has the protection of love, and can chose to act for good, to act from love. He had a very good teacher. In Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, when Dumbledore is explaining to Harry why he waited so long to “tell him everything”, Dumbledore says:
“I cared about you too much,” said Dumbledore simply. “I cared more for your happiness than your knowing the truth, more for your peace of mind than my plan, more for your life than the lives that might be lost if the plan failed. In other words, I acted exactly as Voldemort expects we fools who love to act.OotP pg 838/739
And we know Harry knows how to access the power of love when he needs it. In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Dumbledore told Harry (it was Sirius in the movie):
“You think the dead we loved ever truly leave us? You think that we don’t recall them more clearly than ever in times of great trouble? Your father is alive in you, Harry, and shows himself most plainly when you have need of him.”PoA pg 427/312
But we also know that the ability to chose to act from love is something Tom Riddle cannot do. He can only use people for his own purposes by faking love, as we find out when he tells Harry how he trapped Ginny Weasley in Chamber of Secrets:
“But I was patient. I wrote back. I was sympathetic, I was kind. Ginny simply loved me. No one’s ever understood me like you, Tom … I’m so glad I’ve got this diary to confide in … It’s like a friend I can carry around in my pocket…” Riddle laughed, a high, cold laugh that didn’t suit him. It made the hairs stand up on the back of Harry’s neck. “If I say it myself, Harry, I’ve always been able to charm the people I needed.”CoS pg 309/228, emphasis is author’s
A lot of the Harry Potter books have to do with love, and love potions come up in the books several times. In the second book, on Valentine’s Day, Professor Lockhart suggests students could ask Professor Snape to show them how to whip up a love potion (nobody takes his advice). In the beginning of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry discovers a giggly Hermione, Ginny and Mrs. Weasley, as Mrs. Weasley is telling them about a love potion she made as a young girl (to catch Arthur?)
But in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, love potions become even more important. In Weasleys Wizarding Wheezes, Fred and George sell love potions that “work for up to twenty-four hours at a time, depending on the weight of the boy in question, and the attractiveness of the girl, but we’re not selling them to our sister!” Later in the book, Ron takes a love potion by accident and shortly thereafter is almost killed.
But most importantly, it is in Professor Slughorn’s class, when we are allowed to eavesdrop a little on their lesson:
“Amortentia doesn’t really create love, of course. It is impossible to manufacture or imitate love. No, this will simply cause a powerful infatuation or obsession. It is probably the most dangerous and powerful potion in this room — oh yes,” he said, nodding gravely at Malfoy and Nott, both of whom were smirking skeptically. “When you have seen as much of life as I have, you will not underestimate the power of obsessive love.”HBP pg 186/177
This is very important information. You can’t magically create what Harry has. If you can’t love, you can’t get it from a potion.
Most ominously, we also learn in Half-Blood Prince that Voldemort, himself, was conceived under this false kind of love. While talking about Voldemort’s mother, Dumbledore tells Harry:
“Personally, I am inclined to think that she used a love potion. I am sure it would have seemed more romantic to her.”HBP pg 213/202
And that doing so was ultimately her downfall:
“But it is my belief — I am guessing again, but I am sure I am right — that when her husband abandoned her, Merope stopped using magic. I do not think that she wanted to be a witch any longer. Of course, it is also possible that her unrequited love and the attendant despair sapped her of her powers; that can happen.HBP pg 262/245
Once again, an example of the power of love, and what happens in the absence of real love.
We saw earlier how, in Chamber of Secrets, Tom Riddle himself ridicules the importance of love. In Half-Blood Prince, via the flash-back in Dumbledore’s pensieve, we see Voldemort directly deny its importance:
“I have pushed the boundaries of magic further, perhaps, than they have ever been pushed –” “Of some kinds of magic,” Dumbledore corrected him quietly. “Of some. Of others, you remain…forgive me…woefully ignorant.” For the first time, Voldemort smiled. It was a taut leer, an evil thing, more threatening than a look of rage. “The old argument,” he said softly. “But nothing I have seen in the world has supported your famous pronouncements that love is more powerful than my kind of magic, Dumbledore.” “Perhaps you have been looking in the wrong places,” suggested Dumbledore.”HBP pg 443/415
This is all very interesting. It seems that while Dumbledore had Tom Riddle under his care at Hogwarts, he had hopes of showing him the benefits of the power of love. Tom Riddle speaks of Dumbledore’s “famous pronouncements that love is more powerful than my kind of magic”. But we know, unfortunately for the wizarding world, that it never seemed to get through to him.
All of this leads us to the culmination of the “special lessons” that Dumbledore is giving Harry during Half-Blood Prince. After discussing Voldemort’s horcruxes and the task Harry has ahead of him of destroying them and facing Voldemort, Dumbledore tells Harry:
“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!” “Yes, Harry, you can love,” said Dumbledore. “Which, given everything that has happened to you, is a great and remarkable thing. You are still too young to understand how unusual you are, Harry.” “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. “But Harry, never forget that what the prophecy says is only significant because Voldemort made it so. I told you this at the end of last year. 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!”HBP pg 509/475
The power The Dark Lord knows not, is Love. Harry is disappointed to hear this. He doesn’t yet understand how powerful he is because of this. And to re-emphasize Harry’s capacity for love (the Force is strong with this one!), Dumbledore reminds Harry:
“Despite your privileged insight into Voldemort’s world (which, incidentally, is a gift any Death Eater would kill to have), you have never been seduced by the Dark Arts, never, even for a second, shown the slightest desire to become one of Voldemort’s followers!” “Of course I haven’t!” said Harry indignantly. “He killed my mum and dad!” “You are protected, in short, by your ability to love!” said Dumbledore loudly. “The only protection that can possibly work against the lure of power like Voldemort’s! In spite of all the temptation you have endured, all the suffering, you remain pure of heart, just as pure as you were at the age of eleven, when you stared into a mirror that reflected your heart’s desire, and it showed you only the way to thwart Lord Voldemort, and not immortality or riches. Harry, have you any idea how few wizards could have seen what you saw in that mirror? Voldemort should have known then what he was dealing with, but he did not!HBP pg 510/477
Dumbledore has told us, Harry’s greatest weapon against Voldemort is Love. And Harry’s greatest protection against Voldemort’s magical power is also Love!
So, this is what it all comes down to. I think I’m correct in assuming that every Harry Potter fan on the planet assumes that at the end of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, there will be a duel between Harry and Voldemort, the result of which one does not live so that the other can survive (to paraphrase The Prophecy). But what if there is another way for the story to end between Harry and Voldemort? What if there is another way Harry can triumph over Voldemort without dueling him?
What if, after Harry destroys all of Voldemort’s horcruxes, Harry kills Voldemort by walking up to him, throwing his arms around him in a big bear hug and telling Voldemort, “I Love You!”?
Seriously! I know, on first hearing, it sounds really funny. I must admit, I didn’t create the image of Harry doing this, someone told me there is a Harry Potter parody video on the internet that ends with this “joke”. But what if it isn’t a joke?
What would happen to Voldemort if Harry did this, and really meant it?
Remember how Bellatrix told Harry in Order of the Phoenix that he couldn’t do the evil of an unforgivable curse unless he meant it? What if it works the other way, too? What if, Harry can somehow, somewhere, find it in himself to feel Love for Voldemort, and really mean it?
There’s a clue in the books that it might very well be possible for Harry to do just that. In Half-Blood Prince, after we see the sad tale of Tom Riddle’s mother Merope, Harry exclaims:
“She wouldn’t even stay alive for her son?” Dumbledore raised his eyebrows. “Could you possibly be feeling sorry for Voldemort?” “No,” Harry said quickly.HBP pg 262/246
But we know, if even for a fleeting second, he was. In Chamber of Secrets he admitted how his life and Voldemort’s were similar. I believe Harry does have it in his heart to find some love, even for Voldemort.
But what does this mean for Voldemort? Even before he started making horcruxes, he didn’t love anyone, didn’t have the need to love anyone. Now that he’s irreparably damaged his soul by splitting it into seven pieces, he no longer has the physical ability to understand or accept love. And after his horcruxes have been destroyed, there is no hope for repairing the damage (if there ever was in the first place). Voldemort is unredeemable as a human being.
Love. It is the power the Dark Lord knows not. It is Harry’s greatest power, his greatest protection.
I think, if Harry walked up to Voldemort, give him a big hug and said, “I love you!” and really meant it, it would be more than Voldemort’s twisted and irreparably damaged soul could handle, and Voldemort would simply cease to exist.