Love Trumps Voldemort

How a teenage boy bested the most powerful dark wizard who ever lived.

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Two orphans, raised in unhappy homes. Two boys who were gifted with great power but given no avenue to pursue it for the first eleven years of their lives. Two boys who viewed Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry as the benevolent source of new life, a place where they are elevated for their skill in sorcery rather than punished for it. Two boys who have all of the reason and resources necessary to shape a world -- to save it, or end it.

From the outside, Harry James Potter and Tom Marvolo Riddle have strikingly similar origin stories. What, then, makes one boy The Dark Lord and the other The Boy Who Lived?

Love. The answer is love.

Harry, like Tom, may have spent almost the entirety of his early years alienated by Muggles who fear him for his inexplicable powers. But his first days, before Voldemort killed his mother and father, were marked by great love. Harry, himself, has been marked by it. As Voldemort pointed his wand at the infant boy and uttered The Killing Curse, Lily Potter threw herself in front of her child to protect him. She died to save her son, shielding him forever with her love, branding him as surely as Voldemort’s curse branded him with that small lightning bolt scar above his right eye.

Even before Harry was old enough to hear that story, even when he believed his parents died in a car accident, he must have felt that love. It carried him through eleven years living in the cupboard under the stairs, suffering the Dursleys’ contempt and neglect. It carried him to Hogwarts, where his kindness and open heart soon earned the love of others, of Dumbledore and Hermione and Ron, of the entire Weasley family who came to stand in for the parents Harry never grew to know. Harry is loved by his classmates and professors, by Dobby, Hagrid, Sirius, every member of The Order of the Phoenix. The love Harry’s mother and father felt for their baby boy rippled and grew into an entire lifetime of love, one that made Harry Potter into a hero.

Tom Riddle’s story is a little different. Voldemort’s mother, a witch, used a love potion to compel his father, a wealthy Muggle, into marrying her. Riddle’s very creation was founded on deception, and that shaped the boy he became. After he was orphaned, he spent his childhood taking petty revenge on the Muggle children of the orphanage whom he viewed as inferior. When Dumbledore met Tom, he saw that this young boy was on a dark path. Professor Dumbledore hoped Hogwarts would strengthen Tom to leave behind his cruelty and dishonesty, but the budding Dark Lord was instead emboldened to further wickedness at school. He grew to loathe all witches and wizards born to Muggles, although he himself was no pure blood. He hated his parentage, his history, his very name. He hated his own soul enough to fragment it into pieces and ensure himself eternal life of a sort. A sad, hateful sort. As much as Harry Potter was made of love, Voldemort was made of hate.

The heat of that hatred did fuel Voldemort through years of power. He amassed followers and very nearly toppled a civilization. He became one of the most powerful wizards to ever walk the earth, a ferocious adversary for Harry and Dumbledore both. He survived death and started two wars. He took Hogwarts, an institution long thought impenetrable.

But Voldemort’s supporters don’t follow him because they believe in him. They haven’t given much thought to whether he’s qualified to rule a world or become a leader. They can’t quite picture what the world will be like under his rule, and once they begin to see for themselves by the end of the Second Wizarding War, a bleak landscape in which even pure blood wizards are mistreated and imprisoned, many of them regret the very day that Voldemort came back to power. They stand with him because they fear him, and because they believe he’ll rid the world of the riffraff they disdain. There is no respect in Voldemort’s army, no true devotion, no love. Only fear and the hunger for power.

And that’s how Harry beats him. He’s a kid -- even in the final moments of Deathly Hallows, with as much as he’s been through and as many battles as he’s fought, Harry’s still just a kid. He’s no good at Potions and he’s never been much of one for studying. Harry’s most powerful defense against the Dark Arts is the love he has shown and felt his entire life. His Patronus -- long thought his most impressive defensive spell -- is the perfect symbol of that love. It was first fashioned from an early memory of love by his mother, and the Patronus itself takes the form of a stag, the same form his father’s Patronus once took.

Throughout the series, Harry is gifted with an entire arsenal of secret weapons: an invisibility cloak, a Nimbus 2000, the Maurader’s Map, the snitch from his very first Quidditch match. Each of these pieces is vital to the eventual downfall of He Who Must Not Be Named, and each of these pieces is given to Harry in love. Love is Harry’s true secret weapon. Love protected a year-old infant from the curse of a powerful wizard and left that wizard helpless for a decade. As Voldemort grew in strength and power, love protects Harry again and again, helping him escape unscathed from every clash with Voldemort.

And in the end, love is what finally trumps Voldemort. Harry, a scared boy leaving behind an entire world of people who love him, walks into that dark forest to face a dreadful fate. Harry is willing to do what his own mother did for him, and what Voldemort could never do for anyone -- he’s willing to accept death so that the people he loves may live. Voldemort sacrificed so much for his power: his soul, his family, the very form he takes, transforming himself from a handsome boy to a snake-eyed monster. But he could never make a sacrifice in the name of love. He couldn’t even conceive of it. And that’s how The Dark Lord, one of the most powerful wizards to ever hold a wand, is bested by a simple disarming charm from a seventeen-year-old boy.