Love in Harry Potter
July 9, 2009
by Ari Armstrong
J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, soon to be released as a blockbuster movie, is often a grim and frightening book, filled with episodes of murder and mayhem. From Dumbledore, Harry learns the secrets of Lord Voldemort's dark past. And yet, despite all the suffering and the rise of evil, the strongest theme of the book is love. Love for family and friends. Romantic love. It is in contrast with Voldemort's loveless and despicable life that the value of love shines through the story.
Note: In this essay I reveal important plot developments in Half-Blood Prince as well as in the final book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. My main purpose here is to highlight important themes of the book for those already familiar with it. Parenthetical notations refer to page numbers in the American version of novel, published in 2005 by Arthur A. Levine Books, an imprint of Scholastic.
One of the first major scenes features the villains Bellatrix Lestrange and Narcissa Malfoy, who meet with Severus Snape, the Hogwarts professor of dubious alliances.
Narcissa realizes that Voldemort has chosen her son Draco for a dangerous mission, probably a suicide mission, in order to punish Narcissa and her husband Lucius (33-34).
Narcissa pleads with Snape to protect her son. "My only son... my only son," she moans (35). Snape, who favors Draco above his other students, makes an Unbreakable Vow to protect him (35-37).
Narcissa and Snape act to protect Draco because they love him, even as they find themselves trapped in Voldemort's vicious schemes.
Soon we find Harry eagerly awaiting Dumbledore, who has promised to take Harry away from his dreadful aunt and uncle, Petunia and Vernon Dursley (43-44). While the Dursleys treat Harry as an unwelcomed and despised house guest, Dumbledore shows Harry the love of a respectful teacher. Dumbledore berates the Dursleys for failing to offer Harry a caring home (55).
Also contrasted with Dumbledore's role as an authentically caring teacher is Slughorn, who as professor acts as "an enthusiastic collector" of prized students who receive his special attentions (70). Dumbledore tells Harry that Slughorn "likes the company of the famous, the successful, and the powerful. He enjoys the feeling that he influences these people" (74). While obviously Dumbledore also wants his students to succeed in life, he focuses on building caring and respectful relationships with his students, not the power networking that preoccupies Slughorn.
We learn also that romance is in the air. Harry's ally Tonks is sad (82); later we learn this is due to her relationship trouble. Harry's friends Fleur and Bill have become engaged to be married (92). Bill's moother Molly explains that with "all this uncertainty with [Voldemort] coming back," couples are "eloping left, right, and center" (93).
Meanwhile, Harry takes comfort in his loving friendships. "You need your friends, Harry," Dumbledore says (78). As Harry meets up with Ron and Hermione, "a warmth was spreading through him that had nothing to do with sunlight; a tight obstruction in his chest seemed to be dissolving." These dear friends, "speaking bracing words of comfort... was worth more than he could ever tell them" (99).
Returning to romantic love, it is (ironically) Slughorn who educates his students about the dangers of false love created by a love potion: "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... When you have seen as much of life as I have, you will not underestimate the power of obsessive love" (186).
The information about love potions sets up one of the most tragic scenes of the story. Dumbledore shows Harry a memory about Merope Gaunt, who was to become Voldemort's mother. "Harry thought that he had never seen a more defeated-looking person" (205). Merope was a victim of a vicious and loveless father who berated her constantly and physically abused her (205, 207).
We discover that Merope has a crush on Tom Riddle, a handsome muggle who often travels the road past Merope's house. Hearing this news, Merope's father screams at her and tries to strangle her (210).
Dumbledore guesses that Merope used a love potion "to make Tom Riddle forget his Muggle companion, and fall in love with her instead" (213). Merope became pregnant. Dumbledore continues that Merope, "who was deeply in love with her husband, could not bear to continue enslaving him by magical means. I believe that she made the choice to stop giving him the potion. Perhaps, besotted as she was, she had convinced herself that he would by now have fallen in love with her in return. Perhaps she thought he would stay for the baby's sake. If so, she was wrong on both counts. He left her, never saw her again, and never troubled to discover what became of his son" (214). And so the vicious hatred of Merope's father left a broken Merope with little ability to pursue true love.
Merope's unfortunate son grows up in an orphanage after his mother dies in child birth. Unlike his mother, he entirely forsakes love. Dumbledore notes his "obvious instincts for cruelty, secrecy, and domination" (276). Dumbledore continues, "Lord Voldemort has never had a friend, nor do I believe that he has ever wanted one" (277). Thus, while Harry holds his loving friendships as a central value, Voldemort rejects all love and friendship. Finally we learn of the great evil of Voldemort's Horcruxes, created through murders. (For a detailed analysis of the Horcrux, see Chapter Five of Values of Harry Potter.)
When it comes to romance, Harry finds himself increasingly drawn to Ginny (Ron's younger sister). When she dates another boy, Harry imagines "himself kissing Ginny instead" (289). Meanwhile, Ron and Hermione struggle through their own romantic feelings (300-310). Finally Harry gets his chance after his Quidditch team wins the school cup: "Harry looked around; there was Ginny running toward him; she had a hard, blazing look in her face as she threw her arms around him. And without thinking, without planning it, without worrying about the fact that fifty people were watching, Harry kissed her" (533).
But love is not always kisses and laughter, Rowling makes clear. Sometimes to protect the ones we love we must put ourselves in harm's way. That is the meaning of the climax of the book, the death of Dumbledore. Weakened, Dumbledore finds himself pressed by Draco and Voldemort's Death Eaters. Dumbledore protects his beloved student Harry by freezing him, invisible and safely out of the way, costing Dumbledore his chance to strike first at his attackers (584).
Draco, driven by fear that Voldemort will murder his entire family, confronts Dumbledore, swearing to kill him. "Draco, Draco, you are not a killer," Dumbledore says (585). While not a favorite student, Draco too is under Dumbledore's care and protection, and Dumbledore understands that Draco acts under threat of Voldemort's retribution.
Finally Snape arrives. Though we do not learn the complete details until the final book, Dumbledore pleads with Snape to kill him so that Draco doesn't have to (595). This also maintains Snape's cover so he can continue to subvert Voldemort's plans as a double-agent. Snape delivers the deadly blow, saving Draco from becoming a murderer (596). Given his love for his students, Dumbledore has no other option. As for Snape's motives and his true love, we learn about that as well in the final book.
Ultimately, Harry discovers, love is not a weakness but a strength. True, sometimes love demands hardship. But it is love that helps give us the motivation, courage, and allies to fight evil. Loving relationships contribute profoundly to a life worth living. Dumbeldore says, "You are protected... by your ability to love! The only protection that can possibly work against the lure of power like Voldemort's!" (511)
Sometimes in the face of evil, good people must put their own safety at risk to protect their loved ones. But for Rowling love wins out in the end, even if some lovers fall along the way. Significantly, romance survives the death of Dumbledore.
In the fight at the school in which Dumbledore dies, Bill Weasley falls to disfiguring injury at the hands of the werewolf Greyback. Later Molly Weasley laments, "it doesn't matter how he looks... but he was a very handsome little b-boy... and he was g-going to be married!" The beautiful Fleur, Bill's fiance whom Molly had not entirely accepted, misunderstands Molly and fires back, "And what do you mean... 'e was going to be married? ... You theenk Bill will not wish to marry me anymore? You theenk, because of these bites, he will not love me? ... Because 'e will! ... It would take more zan a werewolf to stop Bill loving me!" Once she figures out that Molly thought she might not want to marry Bill, Fleur adds, "All these scars show is zat my husband is brave!" (622-623)
This prompts Tonks to tear into Lupin, a werewolf allied with Harry, for rejecting her love because of his physical condition. When Lupin says that "Tonks deserves somebody young and whole," Molly replies, "But she wants you" (624).
Professor McGonagall speaks up, "Dumbledore would have been happier than anybody to think that there was a little more love in the world."
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