The Courage of Lily Potter:
At the very end of OotP Professor Dumbledore informs us that in the Department of Mysteries there is a room which is kept perpetually locked. And that room contains a force that is at once more wonderful and terrible than death, than human intelligence, than forces of nature. He contends that it is arguably the most mysterious of the many subjects for study that reside in that Department.
It takes only the very smallest of leaps to identify this mysterious force as the power of Love™. And I suspected that even Professor Trelawney on a bad day could have predicted that this locked door and the force contained by it would ultimately figure in some manner in the final resolution of the continuing adventure of Harry Potter and the Dark Lord. Indeed, given the fact that the wizarding world had shaped up into a rather nasty little dystopia, I would not have been surprised to learn that one of the intrinsic agenda items in Harry’s “Heroic Task” would be to get the damn door open.
Which really does raise the question of why the door was locked in the first place. The ww shows every sign of being just as prone to sentimental twaddle as the Muggle one, and Voldemort’s open contempt of all feelings (other than anger) is clearly not shared by the wizard in the street.
But, given the Ministry’s standing alliance with the Dementors, one has to wonder whether it might have originally been locked by treaty. And if so, then it was past time that someone reminded Minister Scrimgeour that the Dementors had broken their side of the agreement.
Well, no such luck. Evidently the Locked Door and the mysterious “power” behind it was just a portentions sounding blast of hot air that Rowling tossed in, in order to appear profound.
Indeed, some years later, when questioned on the subject in yet another bloody interview she quipped that the employees of the DoM were in there experimenting with Amotensia. Which doesn’t even produce a genuine emotion, let alone any mysterious “power”. All of which we were warned about when she first introduced the stuff.
The stupidity. It burns.
Consequently, for the purposes of this collection (indeed, both collections) of theories I am going to ignore Rowling’s unconcealed contempt for the inteligence of the people who made her fortune and treat the issues raised in the course of the series as if they meant something.
At any number of points in the series Professor Dumbledore assured Harry that it was his mother’s love for him that saved him. And it seemed blindingly apparent that despite Professor Dumbledore’s removal from the game board, we had not heard the last of that.
With all due respect, even in the face of Rowling’s dismissal of the matter, I am still convinced that Lily’s love must have had a bit of additional help. Even the most powerful weapon in existence is of little use unless you have some manner in which to aim it.
So once again I find myself butting heads with Rowling over her explanations for what she tries to claim has happened, and her excuses for why people have taken the actions she claims they have. Her explanations all too often simply do not add up, either for the characters as she established them, or under the circumstances she claims were present. The puppets’ strings show, they have gotten into a tangle and the lighting is bad.
“Because I say so,” just isn’t good enough. By this time I simply do not do not believe her. She’s also changed her stories too often for me to trust her to have any clear idea of what she is talking about.
Given that the “war” against Voldemort’s terrorists had been openly in progress by the mid-1960s, the chances that Lily Potter was the first person to have ever thrown herself into the firing line to save someone else, crying; ‘No, no kill me instead!’ seems vanishingly unlikely. Even if I am correct in my belief that the most bloody phase of Voldemort’s campaign for world domination™ was only launched after he learned of the Trelawney Prophecy, it seemed improbable that this scenario had never been enacted.
However, Rowling tells us that, no, over the course of some 20 years, Lily was the first person to whom Voldemort had actually offered the choice of saving their own life and walking away.
If that is even what he actually did. Wait for it.
Missed opportunities all around, because it could have made sense.
Welcome to another exploration of; “what if”.
Rowling’s statement alluded to above was made in response to the question of whether Lily had known that her sacrifice would save her son. And so far as I recall, Rowling’s reply was phrased along the lines of; no, she couldn’t know because no one had ever been offered that choice before. Which doesn’t exactly answer the question.
What does being offered a choice have to do with it? Throwing yourself in the path of a bullet is throwing yourself in the path of a bullet. You make that choice without ever being offered it. A fat lot of good all of Rowling’s song-and-dance about the importance of one’s choices is if you are only allowed to make the ones that are formally offered.
It’s also completely disingenuous.
By this time it not only sounds an awful lot like hair-splitting, but it doesn’t actually answer the question that was asked. No, of course Lily could not have known from report, or from experience that sacrificing her own life would save that of her child. But then why did she do it if she had no reason to think it might do something?
And frankly, from where I am standing, Rowling’s explanation diminishes Lily’s sacrifice considerably. Renders it into a combination of a useless gesture on the order of Bellatrix marching off, head-high into Azkaban, and a certain form of cowardice (or despair) manifesting as a determination to die herself before she has to watch the Dark Lord kill her baby.
Even though in the final accounting Lily Potter turns out to have been a hopelessly shallow little bint, every bit as as stuck on herself as her husband, it’s still a bit much to keep insisting that the only thing she managed to accomplish in her life was done completely by accident.
Looked at with any kind of sense of detachment, Rowling’s answer sounds rather to me like an attempt to deflect attention from the issue by wrapping it up in a supposedly impenetrable “mystery” so she wouldn’t have to explain it. Which now, downstream of DHs, we realize is probably exactly what she was doing.
Which does add a couple of mildly interesting twists to this puzzle. First it confirms that, unlikely as it may seem, Voldemort was telling a form of truth when he assures Harry in PS/SS that his mother didn’t have to die (although we certainly never heard him offering Lily her life). Second, it implies that the one who “defied” him three times probably was James, and James alone. Voldemort was quite insistent that James Potter did have to die. Lily was irrelevant to his accounting. And, given what we now know about Lily’s broad popularity in school, the tired old theory that one of Voldemort’s followers had asked that she be spared is, once again, in full play. Even Rowling seems to believe it.
I suppose the most charitable interpretation of that is that Rowling just doesn’t particularly care about how her characters got themselves into the mess. She is only concerned with getting them out. Or in conspicuously not getting them out and pointing to it as a moral.
Frankly, I’d be a lot more inclined to believe that Tom had agreed to spare Lily simply in order to get a better hold over Snape.
He really didn’t have anything like as firm a hold upon Snape as he did the rest of his followers. That was a downside of his having adopted the whole pureblood entitlement party line wholesale, back when he first started his collection of the crème de la crème of wizarding society. Snape wasn’t a pureblood, and he had never been brought up to expect that he was entitled to anything simply because of who he was.
Tom could offer him the Dark Arts, but Snape could have gotten into those without Tom’s assistance, and they both knew it. And Tom probably had managed to get a sort of a handle on him with the usual twin holds of anger and ambition, but anger doesn’t always last, and ambition can be satisfied — and if it isn’t fed, it tends to start looking elsewhere. So, he might have been very interested in getting a firmer grip. If Snape was requesting Lily’s life, then Tom may have been quite willing to tell him that he’d spare her. Even if Snape never saw her again her life would be held hostage for Snape’s good behavior forever.
And he never promised to spare her and give her to Snape.
Just to spare her.
But Rowling is correct in her additional statement in that if that ploy had even once resulted in a rebounded curse, there is no way that Voldemort would have overlooked that possibility again. He would have stunned rather than killed her, stepped over her unconscious body, murdered Harry and left her lying there for the Muggle authorities to find, or for any random followers to “take care of”. In fact, her biggest risk was that he would do that in any case.
Of course if anyone had thrown themselves into the path of a plain-vanilla AK it wouldn’t have mattered. You don’t get any kind of rebound from merely killing the wrong person.
Indeed, realizing that she had a choice (if she realized anything of the sort), she seems to have been desperate to be allowed to actually make her choice, and make it stick.
In Rowling’s hands, she isn’t even allowed to realize that much. Which undermines everything Rowling has ever had to say on the subject.
Which is not at all a place that I want to be arguing from.
Because I would much rather think that Lily must have had some reason to at least hope, that once she had given her life for her son, something would intervene to prevent Voldemort from killing Harry as well. Otherwise she was making a hollow bargain, a gesture as futile as Bellatrix Lestrange’s grand pronouncement at her own sentencing to Azkaban.
Which, as Snape rubbed Bellatrix’s nose in it, simply translated into being taken out of any position in which she could have done anything for the cause at all.
We still know far too little of Lily Potter as an individual to be able to make any sort of truly educated speculations regarding the probable resources that she was drawing upon in her ultimately successful coup against her murderer. But some degree of speculation is still possible concerning the class of magic she may have been familiar with by that point in her life.
If, that is, one squints around the edges of the “Rowling filter”. And ignores what Rowling decided at the last moment to show us. For, what she showed us was a flat contradiction of what she’d always claimed.
Unless Tom was hallucinating that supposed memory of his visit to Godric’s Hollow. As she wrote it (rather than said it) Tom simply blew himself up, and rendered Harry beyond his reach, merely by breaking his promise to Snape.
Well, hey, I can work with that, too.
Lily Potter, née Evans, may have been a bright young witch, but she wasn’t more than 21 years old at the time of her death and we do not know whether she had any specific personal strengths beyond Ollivander’s statement that her first wand was particularly well adapted for Charms, and Slughorn’s contention that she was a “natural” at Potions. She was certainly not granted the time to have become a recognized authority on any given subject.
Therefore, whatever the resources she drew upon in her sacrifice were, they must have either been ones that are in general distribution throughout the wizarding world, or she had some specialized source of information.
And I’ve kicked both possibilities around the block a few times over the past decade.
The only thing that we know for certain about Lily Evans — once she finished school, is that she made a very good marriage for a Muggle-born witch from a commonplace, presumably lower middle-class background. Her young husband was bright, (very!) well-connected, good-natured, adored her, and had inherited enough of a fortune that he did not really need to work for a living.
In short, James Potter’s primary “job”, like that of Lucius Malfoy, would have probably consisted of attending to his sources of income, his family’s investments and their financial interests. All of which would have entailed at least some familiarity with wizarding business law and, one assumes, its attendant magically binding contracts.
Or at least that was my original line of reasoning. I originally thought that Lily had managed to trick Voldemort into some form of “contract”. If he agreed to kill her, he may not touch her kid.
Well, I am afraid even I no longer support that line of reasoning. Tempting as it is.
Not that I accept Rowling’s post-release statement that all James, Sirius, and Lily ever did with themselves was to sign up as full-time fighters with the Order of the Phoenix and all lived off of James’s inheritance while they did it, either. It doesn’t really hold water, and besides, as soon as she gets another “cool idea” she’ll probably just contradict it anyway.
I will readily admit to a preference for believing that Lily Potter was a witch of stronger character than Rowling paints her; that she was just as capable of meeting death bravely as her husband.
That, according to Harry’s Dementor-assisted recollection of the event, she instead went out on a wave of classic “helpless female” tears and shrieking, seems just altogether too pat. It reduces her to a cartoon damsel in distress with no white knight on offer (question: Why doesn’t Harry’s dementor-assisted memory of the night he lost his parents ever include the noise of the house blowing up?). And yet, if the scene we witnessed in the Pensieve junket is to be trusted, it is Lily that Harry most resembles in character, rather than James. I thought for some time that this could well be significant.
But in view of my final developments in attempting to extrapolate a schematic of how Horcruxes are created which takes into account as many of the anomalies which we are forced to juggle as possible, and which is explored in the essay ‘The Changeling Hypothesis’ down in the Potterverse UNhallowed collection: such complexity over magical contracts is no longer required.
If those extrapolations are anything like correct, Lily appeares to have saved her son by literally throwing herself into the path of a curse which required that it be “grounded” by a specific relationship existing between the Murderer and the Victim, thereby destabilizing it, to unknown, but spectacular, results.
It certainly plays, even if Rowling never thought of it. She pretty obviously hasn’t any better explanation to offer in its stead. (I think she believes that explanations are for wusses.)
The whole question is whether Lily knew it would do that. Obviously she could not have known that her sacrifice would continue to protect her son for another decade, and beyond, but it seems to me that if she was aware that the curse being cast required grounding, she might have guessed that getting in the way would do *something* more to derail it than simply forcing Voldemort to make a second attempt.
It does appear that I was at least partially correct in that a paradox was created by Tom’s determination to use Harry’s blood in the creation of his simulacrum. It is uncertain whether Dumbledore’s subsequent protections, which allegedly had rendered Harry safe from Voldemort while in the company of his mother’s “blood” kin may have contributed to the underlying paradox so long as it ran, or whether the simulacrum’s blood relationship to Harry had merely replaced Lily’s original protective barrier with a different one, one in which both of them were protected, but inside it. So long as Dumbledore’s protection ran, it appeared that Harry could not be killed by Voldemort before he attained his majority, because for as long as he had not yet attained his majority, he was safe from Voldemort while in the company of a member of his mother’s “blood” kin. Which Voldemort’s new simulacrum now was.
In the event, according to Rowling, the blood protection did not work as I had extrapolated, but it certainly was still in operation.
Like most fans, I preferred to believe Lily was a valiant and an intelligent young woman. One who would have realized that for all of James’s urging that she attempt to get Harry and take him to safety, the likelihood of her managing to do that was vanishingly small and Harry’s chances of survival depended upon her not letting that curse reach him, for all that she would not live to tell the tale.
But, then, her living was not the point. Harry’s was.
And she lucked out; she may have been working from a desperate, but faulty premise. Because we know that the Avada Kedavra curse does not have any known magical block or counter-spell. Making a sacrifice of her own life would not have been enough to block an AK. The AK is known to be unblockable. It would certainly not have blocked an attempt at a subsequent AK.
But if Voldemort was trying to create his final Horcrux from the death of Harry Potter as Albus contended (and as Rowling failed to show us), then if magic works in anything like a rational manner, I believed that he would not have tried to use a mere AK to kill him. An AK in itself does not create a Horcrux. Voldemort would have used a specific Horcrux-creation spell instead. And that spell is evidently not unblockable.
So she pulled it off.
If the above reasoning holds together internally (and I am well aware that Rowling did not use this reasoning. But then Rowling’s explanation does not hold together), the only factor which remains unclear is to what degree Lily and James might have worked in concert on it.
If they even did.
It is certainly not difficult to imagine the young couple working this out as a final contingency plan should the Fidelius Charm fail them. But that would require that they knew about the prophecy, and it might even require that they (or one of them) knew about the Horcruxes. It would also require that the pair of them not be totally feckless, which, acto Rowling, they were.
On the other hand, the subject of Horcruxes is banned at Hogwarts and I do not believe that Albus would have explained tht that is what Voldemort was likely to be attempting to do by murdering Harry. They certainly did not learn about Horcruxes, or any Horcrux-creation spell from Albus.
The Black family’s private library almost certainly contains the relevant information, however, for Regulus managed to figure it out before he was even out of school, but Sirius had no access to that resource after the age of about 16. James had been raised to abhor the Dark Arts, so it is improbable that his resources would have included the information. We have no information on Lupin’s or Pettigrew’s family backgrounds, and Lily was Muggle-born.
For that matter, we do not know how much faith Lily had in Sirius Black, for all that James was perfectly willing to trust him with his life. If Lily had any qualms, she might have decided to draft out her own “Plan B”.
Or, just possibly, she had help.
Well, okay. We are now completely off the map.
“Abandon Canon All Ye Who Enter Here”.
There are a number of things we do not know about Lily. There are a lot of things to which we have no clue as to how much she knew.
For example: did she know why Voldemort wanted to kill her child?
Did she know why she and James had been invited into the Order of the Phoenix in the first place? (We’re ignoring Rowling’s off-canon statements, remember.)
Albus tells Harry that he and Harry are the only two people in the world who (are supposed to) know the full contents of the Trelawney Prophecy. He does not claim that they are the only two people who have ever known it.
Nor for that matter would Lily need to know the full contents of the Prophecy in order to know that it was essential to preserve Harry’s life?
And given the looks exchanged between Remus and Sirius when Harry was pumping them for information about the “weapon” Voldemort was trying to get access to in OotP, it seems likely that Albus may have shared the portion of the Prophecy that was leaked to Voldemort with the Order. Particularly if I am correct in my suspicion that he only formed the Order after he was the recipient of the Prophecy.
Or, perhaps, he had only leaked the fact that there even was a Prophecy when he was setting up his Year 5 scam to protect a Prophecy record.
At this point I am going to invite you all along on a side trip to admire the Martian Canals. There never was any textual support for the following theories, and Rowling has since hosed some of the main components. But I still think they play reasonably well. Certainly better than the mawkish and irrational excuses she gives us.
They also fit snugly into some of the oddly-shaped gaps in what we do know, but I agree that they are not the only things that fit into those gaps.
The main thing is; ever since I disentangled the underlying concept (which is not unsound) from the generally received Snape-loved-Lily theory (which I cannot seriously entertain. I just can’t, not the way it is generally presented.) I’ve had the conviction in the back of my mind that to establish that Snape and Lily were involved in some sort of a magical partnership would pay dividends in an area that is a LOT more important to the central issue of the story than just who originally owned that bloody Potions book.
As I say, I realize I could be off sailing on the Martian canals again. But I couldn’t really shake the idea. And I wasn’t wrong, in the essentials. What lay between Snape and Lily was a great deal more significant than a stupid teenaged crush. And for some years it did function as a partnership between them. At least until Lily bought the package that Snape had loser cooties and that if she continued to hang out with losers, she would end up a loser. Then she started brushing Snape off until he finally gave her an excuse to drop him completely. We are certainly invited to believe that she never gave him the time of day after she blew him off outside the door to the Gryffindor common room.
We cannot necessarily say the same for him.
He begged Tom for her life. Then he crossed the line and begged Albus as well.
Mightn’t he have tried to warn her?
For example: where would Lily get the idea that she could save Harry by offering her own life in exchange?
That isn’t an obvious leap of logic. And she couldn’t have known that it would work, but she gave Voldemort her life, and it did work. She completely derailed the curse he had thrown — so completely that it blew up in his own face and would have killed him if he hadn’t made himself a handful of Horcruxes already.
She didn’t get that out of a book, it hadn’t ever been done before — not so far as anyone seems to know — it’s not an obvious variant on an Unbreakable Vow. It doesn’t seem to have been a standard spell at all. It was a chaotic exchange of her own life, upon which Voldemort had laid no claim, for her son’s, magically affecting all three parties.
Well, hey, we all know what branch of magic is fueled by the powers of chaos, don’t we?
That’s the Dark Arts, loud and clear.
And once the possibility finally introduces itself, the more it seemed that Rowling had some kind of payoff in store for us regarding the issue of Light vs. Dark Magic. (ETA: no such luck.)
But the Dark Arts are not taught at Hogwarts. And James Potter and his crowd was loud in claiming to abhor them.
So where did Lily learn about it?
Somewhere she seems to have picked up enough of the underlying principles of the Dark Arts (or possibly just the underlying theory of the Horcrux-creating curse) to have been able to dare to take that risk. Otherwise it all dwindles into a wimped out “No, no, I can’t watch you kill my baby, You’ll have to kill me first. Boo-hoo!”
She must have had some reason to believe that she might be able to save Harry by throwing her own life at Voldemort’s feet in exchange.
Well, having tentatively established a working magical — possibly even a professional— partnership with what seems to have been a very talented young Dark wizard might go some way towards explaining it, mightn’t it? Particularly if — back when they were still speaking to each other and being best friends, banded against James and his pack of bullies — Severus had enough of a clue to not identify the magical theory he was discussing with her as being the Dark Arts. Just referring to it as a very old magical theory.
You don’t need to be a wealthy, prominent pureblood of ancient lineage to have access to esoteric information. All you need is access to the right books. There isn’t any shortage of books at that house in Spinner’s End. Old books. Books that probably predate the ban on the subject of Horcruxes at Hogwarts.
And, at the Snape end of the equation: if if he was desperate enough to plead for her life from both Tom and Albus — would’t he have tried to explain to her what she was up against? Even if only in an anonymous letter?
Albus certainly encouraged Harry to entrust Ron and Hermione with highly sensitive information on the matter. And Snape may have shared sensitive information with Lily without asking Albus’s permission. Particularly since it concerned her.
Snape may not have ever known the whole Prophecy, but he knows what he reported to Voldemort. He may have told Lily what Voldemort was going to try to accomplish by killing Harry. He is certainly sharp enough to have figured it out if he had ever come across any hint of the subject.
And by the time she went under the Fidelius, Lily may have known it also.
And now: everybody hang on and brace yourself for a paradigm shift.
And a flury of theories that might have been rather nice to see play out.
Waaaay back around 1999 or 2000 Rowling dropped the bomb in an interview that we would find that what Harry’s parents did for a living was “important”. (ETA: Well that certainly played out, didn’t it? As if.)
Not one further hint did we ever get in the whole series on that issue. Nor in any of Rowling’s pre DHs interviews, either, apart from a repeat of the information that James had enough money that he didn’t really need a well-paying job. By the summer HBP came out I’d finally relegated the whole issue to the “abandoned intentions” bin along with the Weasley cousin and the Granger sister.
Well, post-HBP I had to drag it back out and dust it off, and take another look at it. I thought then that we finally may have been handed a hint, and we didn’t recognize it for what it was until we’d had it a while.
Voldemort allegedly offered Lily Potter a choice to save herself, right (when? Not in my hearing)? The only person in the nearly 25 years of his first rise that he ever actually offered a choice to save herself.
So he could toss her to one of his followers as a reward? Oh really? He’d do that? He’s just a twinkly, red-eyed champion of twoo wuv, is he?
Well, maybe in a fanfic near you.
Doesn’t it sound a lot more plausible that maybe he offered her that choice because she was potentially valuable enough in herself that even he hesitated to just whack her?
Horace Slughorn spent a whole book rhapsodizing about the Potions miracle that was young Lily Evans. And he’s such an old blowhard that it blew right past us.
What if he was right?
What if — brilliant as the “Half-Blood Prince” clearly seems to have been — he still came in at 2nd place. That Slughorn overlooked Snape because Lily really was even better?
20 years down the track he compares Harry’s work to his mother’s, rather than Snape’s — whose results Harry’s can’t help but be more consistent with, since he is following Snape’s instructions — possibly because the distinctions have blurred in Slughorn’s mind with time. Besides, Harry’s results shine like a star amid a classroom of (Snape-trained) students who have just spent five years being programed to produce perfect textbook examples, rather than to attempt to innovate.
But I really did think that Rowling may have just given us a hint that Lily herself mattered for more and far better reason than just that a whole lot of different boys had fancied her.
Oh, sure, we have always been willing to accept that she was smart. You can’t hang around with Hermione Granger for six years and be unwilling to admit that girls can be smart. But we seem to have been all too willing to accept the assumption that girls are primarily only important because they attract boys. We seem to have encountered some difficulty wrapping our heads around the concept that some girls may just possibly be inherently more important for reasons that have nothing to do with their function as a mere boy magnet. Maybe with Lily Potter’s death the whole wizarding world was deprived of the greatest Potions genius of her generation.
So why haven’t we ever heard anything in canon to suggest it?
Well, was Harry listening? He didn’t even listen to Slughorn. Besides, in all fairness, she was only 21 when she died. However bright the promise, that isn’t really much time to have broken any records yet. But you will notice that even on day after they were killed, everybody in the WW seems to have been in no doubt as to just who the Potters were.
And, maybe, just maybe, that had absolutely squat to do with James.
Maybe it was Lily who was the one that was universally beloved. Maybe most people (other than Sirius and Pettigrew) regarded James as a bit of a jerk that they were willing to welcome for her sake.
And, that’s also an idea; IF Lily Evans Potter was acknowledged to be the most brilliant Potions genius of her generation, (grumpily vouched for by Severus Snape, who was almost certainly the best up-and-coming Potions geek inside the DE organization) to the point that Voldemort would actually be willing to spare her because she was potentially valuable in herself; rather than over some half-arsed theory that she was to be a bad conduct prize for one of his followers; finally her son shows up in Snape’s classroom a decade later, and to Severus’s disgust, the boy knows NOTHING. Nothing At All.
All of that potential legacy, lost. And the brat doesn’t seem to even care. All he wants to do is play Quidditch like his useless tosser of a father. Everything to that brat is about his father. He doesn’t even value the mother who saved him.
It might not be right; but it could be another brick in the wall for Snape’s contempt of Harry. And it doesn’t even require that Snape have been in love with the girl in order to deplore the utter, utter waste.
Which raises another question: just what exactly are we supposed to make of Tom’s remark that Lily “needn’t” have died?
This is the former Tom Riddle speaking.
And, no, I do NOT believe he was intending to “give” her to a follower who had begged him for her life. If Rowling had the guts to set up consistent characterizations and stick to them, instead of jerking them around to fit the plot du jour, she wouldn’t say so either. The Tom Riddle who we saw up to the end of OotP, and watched develop over the course of HBP would have treated any such soppiness with all the contempt it deserves. From any rational standpoint that script is not even in the running.
He’d not have expected to recruit her, either. Even he isn’t deranged enough to think that there would be a chance of that after killing her husband and son.
And whatever his reason was, it would have been something that benefitted him, not anyone else.
Well I can come up with a couple of possibilities. One of them is really rather sweet. The other is not nice At All.
For the nicer one, a lot depends upon just what Lily did do for a living. And, for that matter, possibly what Snape did for a living before Voldemort ordered him into Hogwarts. What if they really were professional partners. Or, rather, co-workers. Ignore the snotty brush-off scene outside the Gryffindor common room, we’re playing around with theories which might actually hang together, here. And what youngster just starting out gets to pick and choose just who they have to share professional workspace with? Given their talents and Slughorn’s contacts it isn’t hard at all to imagine that they may have both been employed at St Mungo’s or some major commercial potions supplier. Or the Ministry research labs.
So just what was Tom’s situation at that point?
Well, timing, timing, timing. Voldemort had just sent his potions specialist into Hogwarts.
And rather than be stuck in the cursed DADA position which would send him right back out by the end of the school year, he was now established in the Potions position. Which had no built-in sell-by date.
Having a permanent agent inside the school is all kinds of useful for Tom’s long-term takeover plans, but it means he can’t utilize him. Doing without his potions specialist for a year might have been regarded as a necessary sacrifice, but as things now stand, he isn’t going to be getting him back at the end of that year, and he needs to make other arrangements. Sooner rather than later.
I don’t think that Voldemort has a large ongoing need of illegal potions, but he probably has an ongoing need of healing ones for his followers’ use. Also for some more dodgy things like Veritiserum or Polyjuice. Probably some other brews that we don’t necessarily know about, too. And some of these are tricky to make and he probably doesn’t trust the Knockturn alley suppliers. Nor does he want any of the commercial suppliers to notice ongoing bulk orders that aren’t obviously going to the Ministry or St Mungo’s. Those would be far too easy to trace.
Ergo: he needs a private supplier. One with access to a commercial-grade set-up. One whose work is of a quality he can trust.
Well, Snape being inside Hogwarts means that Slughorn is out where people could get at him, and he’s a pushover. But Slughorn may not have a set-up which is up to Voldemort’s ongoing demands. He’s retired, he probably just dabbles.
Well, even Snape probably admitted that Lily was as good at potions as he was. And while there was no chance of enlisting her, it might be possible to trick or force her into making herself useful.
By using Slughorn.
We don’t know whether Imperius takes the edge off of one’s magical performance. Rowling has made so much of a botch with explaining Imperius that we can’t tell.
But lean on Sluggy a bit, and give him a reason to cooperate, and he would.
One of his favorite recent students has just had her life spared. Co-operate and she’ll come to no further harm. In fact Sluggy might have eventually been encouraged to take her on as an assistant to “keep her safe”. And incidentally, to assist him in producing what was demanded of him.
Would Lily have suspected such an offer from her old professor? Particularly when the kindness was quite genuine? How long before she might begin to wonder about the orders they were filling. How long before she realized that they were trapped? Because Slughorn’s life would be as much held hostage for her good behavior as hers was for his.
And as for Snape; I really can’t see him playing a useless “Oh Master spare my twoo wuv, give her to me!” bit. Not even at the age of 20. But I could see him coming up with a “cunning plan” such as the above to suggest to Tom which might keep a couple of (other) Potions specialists busy and out of the direct line of fire.
Which brings us to the possibility that isn’t nice at all.
Sometimes you just have to keep asking yourself: “What would Tom Riddle do?”
And perhaps take it a bit farther and ask; “What has Tom Riddle done?”
Tom never actually says that he was willing to spare Lily. He says that she “needn’t have died.”
Well, it — long belatedly — occurs to me that neither did Morfin Gaunt.
Is that what his game was? That Lily was supposed to take the fall for murdering her husband and son? With HIS memory of having done it to take off to Azkaban with her?
And for her, incidentally, to retroactively be identified as the spy in the Order, by default, leaving a shocked and grieving Peter in place to carry on the good work?
I’ll have to admit that Tom fitting Lily up for life in Azkaban is just way too hard to overlook now that the possibility has finally occurred to me. With a faked memory grafted on, she wouldn’t have even had Sirius’s cold comfort that she was innocent.
Never mind that he probably wouldn’t have had a snowball’s chance in Hell of pulling it off. He probably didn’t know that Albus was onto his little exercises in memory management. Besides he’d have needed to eliminate Sirius Black in some manner rather less, um, explosive than Peter’s.
And for that matter it isn’t by any means a done deal, since it had been a long time since he felt much need to provide a fall guy to conceal his own murders. I suspect a lot depends upon just how important Pettigrew’s ongoing information on the Order’s movements was considered to be.
Peter pulled off framing Sirius Black because he didn’t try to get excessively clever about it, and Sirius had already laid most of the groundwork for him. Tom doesn’t have Peter’s common sense and knack for keeping things in scale. We really ought to be a lot more impressed by Peter than we are. He really is far too competent to keep overlooking the way we do. Too well-informed, also.
But where the whole ww seems to have turned on a dime in their reading of Sirius Black’s character and motives on the Ministry’s say-so, and Albus didn’t make any attempt to contradict it, there isn’t any indication that they, or Albus, would have done the same to Lily, had Peter “discovered” her alive after presumably killing her husband and son.
And Sirius of course.
Maybe we ought to pay a little more attention when people tell us things. Sirius had made arrangements to check on Peter that evening, and finding him gone, rather than telling anyone about his misgivings, he ran straight off to Godric’s Hollow to investigate.
And right into an ambush, had things not already gone belly-up.
I’m sure Lily would have remembered killing him, too.
And I've tripped over another missed opportunity here, as well.
This one is even DHs-compliant.
We could have had a very nice, tidy bit of closing the circle if Rowling’s apparent blind spot about the worth of Severus Snape hadn’t been in the way.
In its place we got an excessive load of gibberish about the true ownership of the Deathstick. Which in a severe lapse of judgement ended up being handled in a manner in which it had to be applied to all wands, rather than the unique one in order to make it play at all, which rendered the whole premise into something beyond the capacity of even balognium to contain (more on that subject in another of the essays in this sub-collection).
Of course this view also requires absolutely rejecting what the Harry-centric narrator and Harry himself have to say about what is going on. But since when is Harry so all-knowing, and unfailingly right about everything?
Oh, that’s right. Not until DHs. And I don’t believe it there either. I certainly don’t believe much of anything else in that book.
We’ve already had it established that the only reason that Lily was able to give Harry that “super-special” blood protection was because she was given a legitimate choice to save herself.
Rowling isn’t making any open statements admitting as much but it looks perilously close to being established in canon that the only reason she was given that choice is because Severus had abased himself to Tom and begged for her life (and you know it would have taken that. No one petitions Tom Riddle from a position of superiority, or even anything approaching equality).
Ergo: in the end, Harry owes his mother’s blood protection (as well as his life) to Snape.
And had the matter been handed only slightly differently, that wouldn’t have been the end. And it wouldn’t just end with Harry, either.
Let’s give a bit of consideration to the issue of blood protection.
Harry claims that his marching off to let Tom kill him gave protection to everyone in the school, so that Tom's curses didn't stick.
Well, excuuuuuse me, but if Snape IS dead, we might just have another Harry and the Prince's Potions book moment here.
Whose death is more likely to protect all the people loyal to Hogwarts; a famous dropout's, or the Headmaster who has personally vowed to his predecessor to protect them all?
After all, which one of the two is even dead?
On the face of it Snape died to preserve his cover. He was under tacit orders from Tom to stand there and permit himself to be murdered without defending himself. He was also under continuing orders from Albus not to give away his own true position.
This is nowhere near as clear cut as Lily's “choice”, because there is no certainty that Snape actually had the information which would have enabled him to talk his way out of the situation and save himself. (The reader is aware of it, but we do not know that he is.) However, Severus Snape chose to permit his own murder just as surely as Albus did. Just as surely as Harry did. Just as surely as Lily did. And he fully expected to die.
Arthur Weasley was bitten by that same snake, with multiple bites, had broken ribs, and lay on the floor of the Ministry for at least a half hour before he was even found, and he survived. Snape may have thought he had at least a little time. Yes, he knew that he was dying when Tom and Nagini swept out of the Shack but he was not dead yet, and he was trying to stop the flow of blood from the wound. He had a message still to pass on, and he may have been trying to survive long enough and muster the strength to send it.
Only; Harry was suddenly right there, and Snape shifted all of his efforts not to hang onto his life, but to make sure that Harry would get Albus’s last message, and possibly enough background that he understood what had led up to it.
I think we really ought to consider that, if Snape is dead, it was the effort of wandlessly pouring out those memories that actually killed him. Letting go of any chance or even the faintest hope of survival, to pour out his blood and his memories for Harry’s sake he was certainly choosing to die for Harry and for his cause. He didn’t just give Harry a few memories, he gave him his life’s blood. Literally.
Tom had already bypassed Lily’s original blood protection at least partially (it is doubtful that he had bypassed it entirely. Harry was still pretty bullet-proof, even after GoF), but by Snape’s death, giving Harry the information he needed, along with his own life’s blood — rather than attempting to save his own life — he may have added a new level to it or recharged Lily’s original protection, which Lily owed to Snape in the first place...
That could hypothetically have contributed majorly to Harry’s survival at “Kings Cross”.
That Snape was effectively dying for the sake of Lily’s blood very well may have recharged her initial protection, even if with somewhat diminished strength, since it now came at one remove, and Snape was no blood kin of Lily’s (if that even matters. Why would dying for a fellow soldier who shares your mission count for less than dying for your child? Dead is dead. Sacrifice is sacrifice).
Given that Harry by that point was no longer even a student of the school; his death, regardless of how willing, should have had no effect upon it. But Snape’s as well as Harry’s? That’s worth considering.
And as Snape’s sacrifice regards Harry: what would be the result if Snape’s death had been spun into a renewed blood protection upon Harry which Tom didn’t know about and so hadn’t yet figured a way around?
The whole line of reasoning hangs together and flows much more smoothly than the Elder wand gibberish, doesn't it?
Because what took place in Aragog’s clearing really did echo what took place in Godric’s Hollow to quite a startling degree.
Tom was knocked out by the backwash of his own curse even if it appeared that he had managed to kill Harry. That was not the soul fragment whimpering under a bench in that station. That was Tom himself. The soul fragment had already been destroyed. And we already know that merely destroying his Horcruxes has no effect upon him. He isn't even aware of it happening. And I would guarantee that he had never before cursed anyone other than Harry and been knocked out from it.
Or, rather, just that once, at Godric’s Hollow. And that time the effect was several magnitudes worse. Enough so that he may not have recognized that even the slightest similarity could mean something.
And we don’t even need to take the Elder wand into consideration in the clearing. Without the hawthorn wand to intercede, the Elder wand, going through the motions, casting a curse from a user who was not its Master, wouldn’t know Harry from Adam. The wand simply wasn’t trying, and then it was offered a choice of targets and took the one that was unprotected. It found two victims instead of one. The AK was miraculously shielded from one party. It chose the other. And knocked Tom — who was indistinguisable from the unprotected fragment — out with the backwash. This was a flat-out, blood-protection rebound effect, just like the one in Godric’s Hollow, even if, this time, the effect was far less devastating.
Only, this time the Elder wand was being deployed by the victim.
That’s right. By the time Tom faced Harry in the Great Hall, that wand had already killed him once.
That can not possibly not matter.
I could make an argument that the Elder wand dislikes unfinished business. And it is old enough to have developed a degree of agency of its own.
That's the real danger of the Elder wand. It is centuries old. Even if it ever was, it is certainly no longer just a mostly-inert tool for channeling magic. It has a degree of awareness independent of the hands that attempt to use it. And I think that all human lives are as mayflies to it. It was never going to acknowledge one of them as Master. It may, at best accept one of them as a partner. While they last. I suspect that both Albus and Gellert managed to figure that out. Tom never even tried.
The Hawthorn wand was irrelevant. Tom was using a wand that had already mastered him. It was just looking for an excuse to turn on him and finish the job.
With his old yew wand Tom’s AK in the Great Hall would have plowed right through the Expeliarmus that Harry cast to get to him unless they had cast at exactly the same moment, and then we'd not even have been tossed another Priori Incantatum episode, for the hawthorn wand wasn't the yew wand’s brother. We don’t know for certain whether they even did cast at the same time. The Elder wand recognixed an opposing spell as a possible surface to reflect off of. It may have also picked up some sense of the hawthorn stick that had blasted it out of an earlier holder’s hand (although I doubt it. I think the spell log had been largely overwritten by that time). Between thee two-pronged defense of the Elder wand’s possible recognition of the hawthorn wand that had technically defeated it once, and Lily — and Snape’s — renewed blood protection on Harry, topped with its own determination to finish killing the demonstrated victim produced another complete rebound of Tom’s curse which killed him for the third and final time. Harry wasn’t even touched.
And not a single piece of the action related to these events really changes what Rowling has already handed us.
Just the extrapolation of what was going on underneath it.
Of course a complete rewrite of KC!Albus's pronouncements (which were already questionable) would be in order too. Maybe someone ought to hold a contest to rewrite that whole chapter.