“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” – John 12:24
“The last enemy to be destroyed is death...Death is swallowed up in victory.” – 1 Corinthians 15:26, 54
"The greater the sin, the greater the mercy, the deeper the death and the brighter the rebirth.” - C. S. Lewis
"This story...has the very taste of primary truth." - J. R. R. Tolkien

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Your blood in his veins, Harry. He tethered you to life while he lives.” – Albus Dumbledore

In their ongoing battle, these two became magically connected,1 in a sense, with what Rowling calls a “bond of blood.” Some of Voldemort’s powers (such as parseltongue, and the ability to see into Voldemort’s mind), even a fragment of his soul, were transferred to Harry at their first encounter, and when Voldemort acquired a body again, he took Harry’s blood into his own veins.

This act plays a crucial role in Voldemort’s ultimate demise, and, like his other foolish decisions (which allowed his enemies to be protected (from him) by love), it is due to his ignorance of the power of love. Voldemort needed the blood of an enemy in order to acquire a physical body once again, and he believed Harry’s blood would strengthen him:

“I knew the one I must use, if I was to rise again, more powerful than I had been when I had fallen…I wanted the blood of the one who had stripped me of power thirteen years ago…for the lingering protection his mother once gave him would then reside in my veins also.” (GoF 656)
When Harry first tells Dumbledore that Voldemort took his blood, Dumbledore knows how significant this is, and there is a “gleam of triumph” in his eyes (GoF 696). At the end of Deathly Hallows, once Voldemort’s folly has been brought to light, Dumbledore explains to Harry:
“Remember what he did, in his ignorance, in his greed and cruelty…he took your blood and rebuilt his living body with it! Your blood in his veins, Harry. Lily’s protection inside both of you. He tethered you to life while he lives…He took your blood believing it would strengthen him. He took into his body a tiny part of the enchantment your mother laid upon you when she died for you. His body keeps her sacrifice alive, and while that enchantment survives, so do you, and so does Voldemort’s one last chance for himself…Voldemort doubled the bond of blood between you when he returned to a human form. A part of his soul was still attached to yours, and, thinking to strengthen himself, he took a part of your mother’s sacrifice into himself. If he could only have understood the precise and terrible power of that sacrifice, he would not, perhaps, have dared to touch your blood…but then, if he had been able to understand, he would not have been Lord Voldemort.” (DH ch. 35)
This passage is filled with revelations. Voldemort thought that the he could exploit love in order to accomplish his dark resurrection by, as it were, feeding parasitically off of the “lingering protection” of the love Harry was given by his mother. This is a gross misunderstanding of the nature of love. The protective power it gives is not something that can be acquired by force (much as ownership of the Elder Wand cannot be acquired by sheer force). Love is powerful for the one to whom it is given – it is not a thing that can be bought or sold, or seized by anyone who craves power. The power in Harry’s blood was that of love shown to Harry – it was Lily’s sacrifice for Harry that Voldemort kept alive in his body. So it was Harry that gained strength and protection, not Voldemort: he was “tethered to life” by his own blood in the Dark Lord’s veins. While taking Harry’s blood did allow him to touch Harry without doing harm to himself (GoF 696), it made it impossible for him to kill Harry. Voldemort could only touch Harry by allowing Harry’s love to invade his own body. More generally, evil can gain nothing without good gaining more2 – because evil has no hope apart from what it has in good, no hope in itself. It is parasitic (see “An Unbalanced Duality”). Good invades and overpowers evil as Harry’s blood enters the Dark Lord.

So once again, Voldemort’s action backfires. As Dumbledore says, Voldemort’s inability to understand the “terrible power of that sacrifice” (see “The Protective Power of Sacrificial Love in Harry Potter”) was his undoing (for more on Voldemort’s ignorance and folly, see this).

Before moving on to see the significance of this action in Voldemort’s demise, it is important to note the symbolism of blood in Harry Potter.3 We already saw how the power of sacrificial love is described as being in the blood: “Your mother’s sacrifice made the bond of blood the strongest shield I could give you…[Voldemort] shed her blood, but it lives on in you and her sister. Her blood became your refuge” (OotP 836). Blood is symbolically powerful in Christianity much as it is in Harry Potter. Just as Harry’s blood was taken by Voldemort, Christ’s blood was shed on the cross. There was spiritual power in Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, and Christ’s blood is a frequent symbol for that power (see Matthew 26:28, Luke 22:20, Romans 5:9, Ephesians 1:7, Hebrews 9:14, and more broadly, Hebrews 9-10). Furthermore, blood is symbolic of the protective, shielding power of sacrificial love in Harry Potter (“her blood became your refuge”) in almost exactly the same way as it is in Christianity. We have “refuge” in Christ’s blood, that is, forgiveness from sins through his sacrificial gift of love: “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:28).

1 There are other striking similarities between Harry and Voldemort. Both were half-bloods, orphans, and raised by Muggles. But, as Dumbledore says to Harry, it’s not how they are alike, but how they are different. For example, Voldemort says to Harry, “Your mother died to defend you as a child…and I killed my father, and see how useful he has proved himself, in death” (GoF 646). Whereas Harry is marked by love and sacrifice, and a willingness to give to and receive from others, Voldemort simply uses others for his own gain.
2 We will soon see more fully what this means for Harry’s struggle with defeating death. Death, like evil, can make no lasting gains without self-destructing.
3 On a related note to Voldemort’s taking of Harry’s blood, in The Half-Blood Prince Voldemort requires “blood payment” of anyone who tries to gain access to one of his horcruxes. Again we encounter the idea of blood holding some power, and the giving or taking of blood accomplishing something. It is also interesting that in this scene, Dumbledore says that Harry’s blood is more valuable than his own. This gives even more weight to the idea that Harry is a Christ figure, for in Christianity the blood of Christ is described as being very valuable (cf. 1 Peter 1:19, “the precious blood of Christ, and Hebrews 9-10).

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