Skip navigation.

Reflections in the Mirror of Erised: Clues to Harry's Ancestry and Destiny

by Phyllis D. Morris [author biography]


When Harry learns that Professor Trelawney’s prediction could have led Voldemort to target Neville Longbottom instead of himself, he cries: “But he might have chosen wrong! … He might have marked the wrong person!”1 It was at this point that I was fully prepared for the revelation that Voldemort chose Harry because he is the last remaining descendant of Godric Gryffindor. I had been waiting for this revelation ever since Dumbledore informed us in PoA that Trelawney had previously made one other real prediction.2 I had been sure the first real prediction would reveal that Voldemort attacked Harry as a baby in order to destroy the last remaining Gryffindor, and Harry’s observation (while waiting for Dumbledore to complete the story of the prophecy) that “the glass case in which the sword of Godric Gryffindor resided gleamed white and opaque”3 only served to heighten my anticipation.

However, my hopes were instantly dashed when Dumbledore replied:

“He chose the boy he thought most likely to be a danger to him … And notice this, Harry: he chose, not the pure-blood (which, according to his creed, is the only kind of wizard worth being or knowing) but the half-blood, like himself. He saw himself in you before he had ever seen you…”4

So much for the heir of Gryffindor theory, I thought. But then I thought some more. And the more I thought, the more I could see that, in her usual, clever, creative way, J.K. Rowling may have left a way for the heir of Gryffindor theory to survive after all.


The Ancient Feud

The griffin that Gryffindor’s name is presumably based upon is a “mythical creature, with the head, wings and talons of an eagle and the body and hind legs of a lion.”5 Appropriately, the symbol of Gryffindor house is a lion. In addition, the griffin was considered to be an “adversary of serpents and basilisks, both of which were seen as embodiments of satanic demons.”6 One doesn’t have to look hard to figure out who is represented by the serpent and basilisk in the Harry Potter series. The symbol of Slytherin house is a serpent; both Slytherin and Voldemort, the heir of Slytherin, speak Parseltongue (snake language) and the monster in the Chamber of Secrets, that can only be controlled by Voldemort (the heir of Slytherin), is a basilisk.

In CoS , we learn for the first time that there was conflict between Salazar Slytherin and Godric Gryffindor regarding admitting students to Hogwarts who were not pure-blood witches and wizards. Professor Binns refers to a “serious argument … between Slytherin and Gryffindor, and Slytherin left the school.”7 We learn that Slytherin and Gryffindor’s conflict was more severe than originally alluded to by Binns when the Sorting Hat’s song in OotP references “duelling and … fighting/And the clash of friend on friend.”8

The past battles between Slytherin and Gryffindor are continued in the present day by the current conflict between Voldemort (heir of Slytherin) and Harry (heir of Gryffindor). The symbolism is the clearest in CoS , when Harry is fighting Slytherin’s monster that can now only be controlled by Slytherin’s heir, Voldemort. Harry is aided in his defeat of the basilisk when Fawkes, Dumbledore’s phoenix, brings him the Sorting Hat (that we learn in GoF once belonged to Gryffindor). Harry is only able to kill the basilisk once he discovers Godric Gryffindor’s sword within the hat. Hence, the griffin (Gryffindor/Harry) defeats the serpent (Slytherin/Voldemort).

This battle could also be a clue to Fawkes’ past history as well. In the Chamber of Secrets, Fawkes brings Harry two of Gryffindor’s possessions—his hat and sword. Could Fawkes have been one of Gryffindor’s possessions in the past as well? Fawkes is scarlet and gold—the colours of Gryffindor House. Fawkes lives in Dumbledore’s office, along with Gryffindor’s hat (now the Sorting Hat) and sword. The preponderance of items in Dumbledore’s office that once belonged to Gryffindor, in addition to the griffin-shaped knocker on Dumbledore’s office door, suggest that Dumbledore’s office may have once been Gryffindor’s office. Perhaps Fawkes, with his ability to resurrect himself from the ashes of his elderly body, has been an inhabitant of that office since Gryffindor’s time.

If Fawkes was in fact once Gryffindor’s phoenix, it would explain why the organization fighting Voldemort is called the Order of the Phoenix . In a parallel to the good-against-evil battle between Gryffindor and Slytherin 1,000 years ago, the Order of (Gryffindor’s) Phoenix fought (heir of Slytherin) Voldemort during his first reign of terror, and returns to fight him once more after his regeneration. Fawkes, as symbolic of Gryffindor himself, swallows Voldemort’s death curse at the end of OotP, thus preserving the founder of the Order (Dumbledore) as well as protecting Gryffindor’s heir (Harry).

The likely connection between Fawkes and Gryffindor strengthens the theory that Harry is a descendant of Gryffindor. As Mr. Ollivander tells Harry, “The wand chooses the wizard,”9 and the wand that chooses Harry has one of Fawkes’ tail feathers in it. Moreover, when Harry first waves his wand in PS, red and gold sparks (the colours of Gryffindor House) fly from its tip, and red and gold sparks shoot out of his wand in his anger at Uncle Vernon after the Dementor attack in the beginning of OotP.


Clues in the Name “Godric”

It is not until CoS that we learn the first names of the founders of the four Hogwarts houses, when Professor Binns reluctantly tells the History of Magic class about the legend of the Chamber of Secrets.10 Professor Binns informs the class that Gryffindor’s first name was “Godric.”11

The name Godric is already familiar to us from PS, when Professor McGonagall asks Professor Dumbledore to confirm the rumour that Voldemort killed Lily and James Potter when he found them “in Godric’s Hollow.”12 When Rowling was asked during a Fall, 2000 BBC Newsround interview to explain “The significance of the place where Harry and his parents lived, the first name—,” Rowling replied: “Godric Gryffindor. Very good, you’re a bit good, aren’t you?”13 and then went on to say:

I’m impressed. My editor didn’t notice. I said to her, haven’t you noticed any connection between where Harry’s parents were born, not born, where they lived and one of the Hogwarts houses and she’s sitting there going erm, I’m not being rude about Emma she’s brilliant editor, the best I’ve ever had. But no, she didn’t pick that up either. You’re a bit good you are.14

This interview fragment indicates that the name Godric is significant, and that this name connects Godric Gryffindor with the place where Lily and James Potter lived when they were murdered.


St. Godric and the Stag

There is a saint named Godric (also known as Godric of Finchale) who lived in England from 1069 - 1170. St. Godric is “noted for his close familiarity with wild animals” and is represented in art as a “very old hermit dressed in white, kneeling on grass and holding a rosary, with a stag by him.”15 There are numerous legends connecting St. Godric with stags. In the legend of St. Godric and the Hunted Stag, a hunting party is pursuing a particularly beautiful stag that runs to St. Godric’s hermitage for shelter. St. Godric lets the stag in, but the hunting party follows the stag’s tracks and cuts through “the well-nigh impenetrable brushwood of thorns and briars”16 to find St. Godric. They ask St. Godric where the stag is, but “he would not be the betrayer of his guest.”17

The “well-nigh impenetrable brushwood of thorns and briars”18 in the legend of St. Godric and the Hunted Stag parallels the privet hedge that protects Harry from Voldemort when he is with the Dursleys. This legend also parallels the workings of the Fidelius Charm, with St. Godric as the stag’s Secret-Keeper. By refusing to tell the hunters where to find the stag, St. Godric keeps the stag’s whereabouts a secret and thereby protects the stag from death.

Ancient Christians considered the stag to be the enemy of the serpent, and used the stag as a symbol for Christ.19 Thus, the name Godric Gryffindor blends together the symbolism of two animals in opposition to the serpent and basilisk (i.e., Slytherin/Voldemort) — the stag and the griffin.

The stag is the Patronus form that Harry conjures. That the stag is yet another clue to Harry’s connection with Gryffindor via St. Godric is supported by the Medieval Latin definition of patronus as “patron saint.”20 It is also interesting to note that the stag was associated with healing, and a person bearing the symbol of a stag was “considered impervious to weapons.”21 Thus, the stag is a fitting animal to ward off a Dementor attack.


Other St. Godric-Harry Connections

When St. Godric became a hermit, he “is said to have been troubled by fiends and demons who took various shapes and forms.”22 Harry is particularly troubled by the Dementors, and his boggart takes the form of a Dementor. It is the stag Patronus that saves Harry from the Dementor’s Kiss - the very animal that was saved by St. Godric.

St. Godric had supernatural visions,23 and Harry also has visions. In a dream about Professor Quirrell’s turban, he hears a high, cold laugh and sees a “burst of green light.”24 We learn in PoA (when Harry relives his mother’s death as the Dementors approach) that Voldemort’s laugh is high and cold, and we learn in GoF that the Avada Kedavra curse Voldemort used to kill Lily and James Potter emits a green light when cast. Thus, Harry’s dream reveals the link between Quirrell and Voldemort, even before he is aware that Voldemort is beneath Quirrell’s turban.

In PoA, before he becomes aware that his Patronus is a stag, Harry dreams that:

He was walking through a forest, his Firebolt over his shoulder, following something silvery white. It was winding its way through the trees ahead, and he could only catch glimpses of it between the leaves. Anxious to catch up with it, he sped up, but as he moved faster, so did his quarry. Harry broke into a run and ahead, he heard hooves gathering speed. Now he was running flat out, and ahead he could hear galloping.25

When Harry casts the Patronus charm at the end of PoA to save his past self, Sirius and Hermione from the Dementors, he finally sees his Patronus, “a blinding, dazzling, silver animal”26 that gallops and has hooves—the stag. His dream, then, was about his own Patronus, whose form was unknown to him at the time of his dream.

During his first night at Number 12, Grimmauld Place , Harry dreams that:

… many legged-creatures were cantering softly up and down outside the bedroom door, and Hagrid the Care of Magical Creatures teacher was saying, ‘Beauties, aren’ they, eh, Harry? We’ll be studyin’ weapons this term …’ and Harry saw that the creatures had cannons for heads and were wheeling to face him … he ducked …27

Harry’s vision tells him he is the person whom Voldemort plans to use the weapon he is seeking against, long before Harry learns this as a fact.

St. Godric wrote songs that came to him in his visions. The St. Godric Songs are the “earliest known songs in the English language.”28 Is it any wonder, then, that the Sorting Hat that Godric Gryffindor “whipped … off his head”29 sings a new song at the start of each year at Hogwarts?

St. Godric was not always saintly. Before he became religious, “he was known to drink, fight, chase women and con customers. Even when he became religious, he had to struggle to control his impulses. He would stand in icy waters to control his lust.”30 Harry has the choice between good and evil in the face of temptation, and much like St. Godric, he chooses good (despite “a certain disregard for rules”31). As Professor Dumbledore tells Harry, “It is our choices … that show what we truly are,”32 so do both Harry and St. Godric show us that, by choosing good over evil, one can make a positive difference in the lives of others.


St. Cuthbert-Harry Connections

It was the life of St. Cuthbert that influenced St. Godric to become religious. St. Cuthbert, like Harry, was an orphan. St. Cuthbert “lived in an area of vast solitude, of wild moors.”33 The Sorting Hat tells us in GoF that Godric Gryffindor was also “from wild moor.”34 There is only one character so far in the series with the name Cuthbert — Cuthbert Mockridge, Head of the Goblin Liaison Office, who is mentioned in passing before the start of the Quidditch World Cup in GoF.35 Goblins, and possibly Cuthbert Mockridge’s role in liaising with them, may play a larger role in Books Six and Seven, especially in light of the amount of time Professor Binns has spent on the subject of goblin rebellions in Harry’s History of Magic classes, and in light of what we learn in OotP about goblins having been historically repressed by wizards.

In one of the legends about St. Cuthbert, when Cuthbert went to the beach to pray, sea otters would try to dry his feet with their fur and warm his feet with their breath. After St. Cuthbert blessed them, the otters returned to the sea.36 There are several references to otters and their relatives in the books — the Weasley’s house is near the village of Ottery St. Catchpole; the Weasleys, Diggorys, Hermione and Harry find the Portkey to the Quidditch World Cup at the top of Stoatshead Hill; Hagrid makes inedible stoat sandwiches and, of course, the weasel in the name Weasley.

When Rowling was asked in an interview: “Does the animal one turns into as an Animagi reflect your personality?” she responded: “Very well deduced … I personally would like to think that I would transform into an otter, which is my favourite animal.37 In OotP, we learn that Hermione’s Patronus takes the form of an otter, which makes sense, since Rowling has said,”When I started to write Hermione, when I actually got hold of a pen, she came incredibly easily, um, largely because she’s me.”38 As St. Godric is represented in art with a stag by his side, St. Cuthbert is represented in art tended by otters and swans. With Hermione’s Patronus an otter and Cho Chang’s Patronus a swan, perhaps Hermione and Cho will play a role in Harry’s revival in future books.

Harry even looks like St. Godric. St. Godric is described as having black hair “in youth … his knees hardened and horny with frequent kneeling.”39 When we first meet Harry, he is described as having “knobbly knees” and “black hair.”40 Harry’s father James also looks like St. Godric. When Harry first looks into the Mirror of Erised, he sees his father for the first time since babyhood, a “black-haired man.”41 Harry also sees “a little old man who looked as though he had Harry’s knobbly knees.”42 Could the little old man with the knobbly knees Harry sees in the mirror be Godric Gryffindor himself?

Professor Dumbledore tells Harry when he sees Godric Gryffindor’s name emblazoned on the silver sword Harry used to kill the basilisk: “Only a true Gryffindor could have pulled that out of the hat.”43 Since the many connections between Harry and the life of St. Godric support the theory that Harry is a descendant of Godric Gryffindor, Harry is surely the truest Gryffindor of all.


Voldemort’s Choice

The stag is also the form Harry’s father takes when he transforms into an Animagus. Given the connection between St. Godric and stags, this could be a clue that Harry’s descent from Godric Gryffindor is on his father’s side. As Harry tells us in CoS , he doesn’t “know anything about his father’s family,”44 and so, therefore, neither do we. We are following Harry on a quest to find himself and his destiny, and on the way, he’s discovering his ancestry. Dumbledore attempts to explain this to Harry at the end of PoA when he says, “So you did see your father last night, Harry… you found him inside yourself.”45 Harry’s stag Patronus is therefore the physical manifestation of James being “alive in you, Harry”46 and the outward expression of the descent of both James and Harry from Godric Gryffindor.

If James was a descendant of Godric Gryffindor, it would explain why Voldemort was initially only interested in killing James and Harry during the attack in Godric’s Hollow, and why Voldemort was prepared to spare Lily. We learn in OotP that Voldemort went to kill Harry based on the incomplete information in Professor Trelawney’s first prediction. While Dumbledore explains that Voldemort chose Harry rather than Neville because he “saw himself”47 in Harry, I maintain this is Dumbledore’s own speculation rather than a fact. Unless Voldemort had confided his rationale to Dumbledore (which is highly improbable, since we know of no instance since Voldemort’s attack on Harry when he and Dumbledore have had a private conversation), Dumbledore would have no way of knowing why Voldemort chose Harry rather than Neville. I believe Voldemort knew that James and Harry were Gryffindor’s descendants, which would explain why he viewed Harry as the greater threat (given the past feuding between Gryffindor and Slytherin), and why he would also have wanted James dead.

It is possible Dumbledore also knows that Harry is Gryffindor’s heir, and that this piece of knowledge is being saved up for a dramatic revelation in one of the remaining two books. It is also possible Dumbledore does not know this information. While Dumbledore appears all-knowing and infallible throughout the books, there are key pieces of information of which he is unaware (the existence of the Marauder’s Map comes immediately to mind), and he does make mistakes (for instance, he was the one who hired Gilderoy Lockhart).


The Philosopher’s Stone and the Alchemical Great Work

So if Harry really is a Gryffindor’s heir, what does this mean for the series? Before I answer that question, I need to explain the alchemical basis for the books. The use of the term “Philosopher’s Stone” in the title of the Bloomsbury editions of PS immediately tells us that Rowling is using alchemical symbolism. In alchemy, the Philosopher’s Stone “was viewed as a magical touchstone that could immediately perfect any substance or situation. The Philosopher’s Stone has been associated with the salt of the world, the astral body, the elixir, and even Jesus Christ.”48

Dumbledore’s Chocolate Frog card says “Professor Dumbledore is particularly famous for … his work on alchemy with his partner, Nicolas Flamel.” Hermione later discovers that “Nicolas Flamel … is the only known maker of the Philosopher’s Stone!49 Rowling isn’t making this up — there really was a person named Nicholas Flamel who lived in France in the middle of the fourteenth century, who could (legend has it) use alchemy to make gold from other materials, and who was on a life-long quest to find the Philosopher’s Stone.50

Alchemy is “the study of the transformative processes involved in the perfection or evolution of matter.”51 The Great Work of alchemy is “to speed up this natural process of perfection and resurrect the spiritual essence of man that has become trapped in matter.”52 The Great Work

is a series of purifications of a base metal from lead to gold that is accomplished by dissolving and recongealing the metal via the action of two principal reagents. These reagents reflect the masculine and feminine polarity of existence; ‘alchemical sulphur’ represents the masculine, impulsive, and red pole and ‘quicksilver’ or ‘alchemical mercury’ the feminine and cool complementary antagonist. Together and separately these reagents and catalysts advance the work from base metal to corporeal light or gold.53

The Great Work is divided “into three or four essential phases: ‘the work of blackening’ (Nigredo or Melanosis), ‘the work of whitening’ (Albedo or Leucosis), and finally ‘the work of reddening,’ which alchemists originally separated into two complementary moments, that of gold (Citrinitas or Xantosis) and that of purple or transmutation of venom (Iosis).”54 In alchemy, the griffin is “a half-lion and half-eagle creature that symbolizes the Conjunction of the fixed and volatile principles.”55 Moreover, the basilisk “represents the melding of our higher and lower natures in Conjunction, a process that must be continued in the next three operations of alchemy for this ‘Child of the Philosophers’ to become the Living Stone of the fully integrated Self.”56 Hence Harry’s battle with the basilisk at the end of CoS was the necessary precursor before the final three phases of the Great Work could commence in the series.


The Phases of the Great Work in Harry Potter

In the Harry Potter series, the first phase, the work of blackening, appears to have taken place in OotP. The work of blackening requires a “death” and a “descent into hell”57 before rebirth can take place and the work of whitening can commence. In OotP, we have the death of Sirius Black (note the blackness of his name). Harry also descends into hell in a multitude of ways, both physically and psychologically. He starts the book in the hell of Number 4, Privet Drive , tormented by dreams of “long dark corridors, all finishing in dead ends and locked doors.”58 When Harry is rescued from the Dursleys, he finds his existence little better in the darkness of Number 12, Grimmauld Place (also known as the “Noble and Most Ancient House of Black59). He is then forced to descend into a dungeon at the Ministry of Magic in order to attend his disciplinary hearing. Once at Hogwarts, Dolores Umbridge makes a private hell for Harry with her special flesh-cutting quill. At the end of OotP, Harry physically descends into the hell of the Department of Mysteries where he must fight Death Eaters to save his life and the lives of his friends. Harry’s final hell is witnessing Sirius’ death and living with his loss.

Hopefully, Harry will be able to experience the rebirth necessary to move to the second phase, the work of whitening. His empathy with Luna as she searches for her lost belongings at the end of OotP was a good first step. The work of blackening “corresponds to the ‘flight of the raven,’”60 thus perhaps explaining Harry’s break-up with Cho Chang, Ravenclaw seeker. Since the work of whitening “is completed in the paradisal vision of a white swan sailing on a silver sea,”61 it is possible that Harry and Cho may reunite at the end of Book Six, given that Cho’s Patronus is a swan.

I believe the “white” death in Book Six will be that of Albus Dumbledore. In Latin, albus means “white, or dead white.”62 Throughout the first five books, Dumbledore has been preparing Harry for his inevitable final battle with Voldemort. As we saw at the end of OotP, if Dumbledore remains alive, he will be able to step in front of Harry and protect him from Voldemort. Dumbledore must therefore die in order for Harry to be able to confront Voldemort alone at the end of Book Seven.

In alchemy, “Xantosis — the appearance of the gold — … marks the beginning of the ‘red work.’”63 Rowling has provided lots of red herrings (emphasis intended!) to lead us down the wrong path in determining who will die in Book 7. The first (rather large) red herring is the first name of the Hogwarts gamekeeper, Rubeus Hagrid. Rubeus is from the Latin stem rubor, meaning “redness.”64 However, I maintain it is one of the other meanings of rubor that prompted Rowling to give Hagrid the first name of Rubeus, namely “shame, disgrace,”65 given Hagrid’s penchant for getting himself and others into trouble.

I therefore believe the death in Book Seven will not be that of Rubeus Hagrid. In alchemy, the work of reddening is symbolized by

the ceremonial meeting of the Red King and the White Queen. The King is crowned in gold, clothed in purple; he holds a red lily in his hand. The Queen is crowned in silver and holds a white lily. Near her a white eagle has alighted, a symbol of Mercurial ‘sublimation’ which is to be ‘fixed’ by the now-beneficent force of Sulfur, symboled by the golden lion that walks close to the King.66


Ron’s Demise, Followed by Voldemort and Harry’s Final Battle

I believe in Book Seven, the Red King will be Harry, heir of Gryffindor, symbolized by the eagle and the lion, joined together in the griffin (Godric Gryffindor), and the colours of red and gold — the colours of Gryffindor House, of Fawkes (Gryffindor’s phoenix?), of the sparks that fly unintended from Harry’s wand. I believe the White Queen will be Voldemort, heir of Slytherin, symbolized by the silver of Slytherin House. The lily carried by both the Red King and the White Queen reflects the blood of Lily Potter in both Harry and, as of GoF, Voldemort. The lily in the Red King, or Harry’s, hand is red because the white of his mother is mixed with the red Gryffindor blood of his father. In the final phase of the Great Work, the Philosopher’s Stone, which is white from the purification of the second phase, is similarly turned red. 67

Before Harry and Voldemort’s final battle, however, Ron Weasley may face Voldemort (the White Queen) and die in the process. In order for Harry to pass through the chessboard obstacle to reach the Philosopher’s Stone at the end of PS, it is Ron who sacrifices himself to the white queen so that Harry can checkmate the king. The books are full of red references to Ron. The first time Ron is referred to in PS, he’s described as having “flaming red hair.”68 We then learn that Ron’s mother makes him a sweater every year, and that his sweater is “always maroon.”69 Ron’s pyjamas are even “maroon paisley.”70 Interestingly, Ron complains that he “hate[s] maroon,” 71 but wears his maroon sweaters and maroon pyjamas anyway, which could be suggestive of his acceptance of his eventual fate, however abhorrent.

Moreover, Maurice Aniane maintains that “it would be better to translate rubedo as ‘work in the purple’ rather than ‘work in the red.’ The purple results from the union of light and darkness, a union which marks the victory of light. Purple is the royal color.” 72 In GoF, Ron hands Dobby “a pair of violet socks he had just unwrapped”73 along with his annual maroon Christmas sweater. In addition, Mundungus Fletcher “rescu[es] Ron from an ancient set of purple robes…”74 in OotP.


Harry is Doomed to Die

So if, based on alchemical principals, after Ron’s demise, the White Queen, Mercury (Voldemort), is to be sublimated by the Red King, Sulphur (Harry), this surely means that Harry will defeat Voldemort in the end and we’ll have a happy ending in Book Seven! Unfortunately, given the wording of Professor Trelawney’s second real prediction, I’m not so sure. The prediction reads “…and either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives…”75 In uncharacteristic forthrightness, Rowling (through Dumbledore) confirms Harry’s interpretation of this part of the prophecy as meaning “one of us has got to kill the other one … in the end.”76

I maintain that Harry is not capable of murder. He could not bring himself to kill Sirius in the Shrieking Shack in PoA when he believed Sirius to be responsible for the death of his parents (he couldn’t bring himself to kill Crookshanks either, for that matter). When forced to duel with Voldemort in the graveyard in GoF, he throws the disarming charm, not the killing curse. The worst curse Harry has ever thrown is the Cruciatus curse, which he hurled at Bellatrix Lestrange when completely distraught over her murder of Sirius.

I also believe it is Rowling’s intention to communicate her belief that killing is wrong, no matter what the circumstances. In GoF, Sirius tells Harry, Ron and Hermione in the cave outside Hogsmeade, “I’ll say this for Moody, though, he never killed if he could help it. Always brought people in alive where possible. He was tough, but he never descended to the level of the Death Eaters.”77 To kill, therefore, is to “descend to the level of the Death Eaters” — i.e., to go as low as one can go.

So if Harry can’t bring himself to kill Voldemort, in order for the prophecy to be fulfilled, Voldemort must therefore kill Harry. While I believe most of us (including Rowling’s own daughter, Jessica) would be devastated if Harry were to die in Book Seven, this is exactly what I believe Rowling has planned all along. She has tried to get us ready for this eventuality in a number of interviews. In a chat with Jesse Kornbluth of AOL in October, 2000, Rowling was asked: “Why stop at seven books when you could make up Harry’s whole life?” to which she replied: “I notice you’re very confident that he’s not going to die!”78 In a July, 2000 interview with The Scotsman, Rowling said: “I always planned seven [Potter books], I never said I would do another one, but at the moment there will be just the seven. I’ve got it planned, and Harry dies obviously.”79 While Rowling then said: “But that’s just a joke — or is it?,”80 she has definitely left open the possibility of Harry’s death.

Moreover, when Rowling read the chapter of GoF in which Cedric dies to her daughter Jessica, she tells us “I looked up at her, expecting her to be really upset. But she said, ‘Ah, it’s not Harry. Who cares?’”81 In a later interview, Rowling tells us that Jessica has told her “unequivocally who I’m not to kill. And I’ve said, ‘Well, I already know who’s going to die, so now is not the time to come to me and tell me I mustn’t kill X, Y and Zed, because their fates are now preordained.’ And she doesn’t like hearing that at all. Not at all.”82 I contend that Rowling has intended from the start for Harry to die, and no one — not even her own daughter — is going to deter her from this course. As Rowling has said, “My Holy Grail is to end the seven-book series and know I was really true to what I wanted to write.”83


Harry will Achieve Immortality through Death

But if Voldemort kills Harry, what message does that send? That evil triumphs over good? I think not. Rowling has taken great pains to stress that Voldemort is mistaken when he says: “There is nothing worse than death.”84 As Dumbledore says in response, “You are quite wrong … Indeed, your failure to understand that there are things much worse than death has always been your greatest weakness.”85 John Granger puts it perfectly when he says, “Dumbledore teaches Harry not to fear death as much as a life without love, which is the real death.”86 Moreover, according to Granger, “Death is the necessary part of the alchemical work; only in the death of one thing, from the alchemical perspective, is the greater thing born. … But Love, the action of contraries and their resolution, transcends death; it is what brings life out of death, even eternal life and spiritual perfection.”87

Harry’s death is necessary for him to complete the third phase of the Great Work. As the series starts with Voldemort’s quest for immortality through possession of the Philosopher’s Stone, it will end with Harry completely thwarting him by becoming a living Philosopher’s Stone and achieving immortality without even seeking it. However, while Voldemort seeks to become immortal in order to remain alive on earth, Harry will become immortal in order to remain alive in death. He will remain alive forever “beyond the veil,”88 and will rejoin those he loved in life — his mother, his father, his godfather, his headmaster and his best friend — and perhaps his ancestor, Godric Gryffindor.

The series is full to the brim with symbols of Harry’s potential resurrection from the dead and immortality beyond the veil — symbols that are also associated with Christ and his resurrection. Christ is represented by the stag and the lion, and “A number of birds represented Christ, such as the … eagle, phoenix [and] swan.”89 With regard to the phoenix specifically:

The final stage of the [Great] Work was often symbolised by the Phoenix rising from the flames. This goes back to the Greek myth of the Phoenix bird which renewed itself every 500 years by immolating itself on a pyre. This is thus a kind of resurrection and was paralleled with the symbol of Christ rising from the tomb. In interior terms its marks the rebirth of the personality from out of the crucible of transformation. The alchemists in meditating on processes in their flasks threw themselves into a sea of strange experiences, and as they worked these within their meditations and sought to grasp the inner parallels and significance of each of the stages of the process they had embarked upon, in a sense they experienced an inner death and rebirth in attaining the Philosopher’s Stone. 90

The likely connection between Fawkes the phoenix, Godric Gryffindor and Harry strengthens the theory that Harry will die and be reborn beyond the veil in Book 7. Moreover, as Aniane says :

The alchemist therefore descends into the depths of ‘Matter,’ that is into the depths of life. He proceeds to awaken the ‘inner Mercurial femininity’ which lies asleep at the root of cosmic sexuality, so as to make it into a force of regeneration. In the desire, which gives birth to metals in the womb of the earth and to the child in the womb of a woman, a will for immortality is at work. But so long as this desire is oriented only toward the outside, immortality is fragmented in time, is objectified in the chain of generations. Outer birth so to say ‘syncopates’ eternal birth — cuts it up. … The alchemist refuses to run away from this mystery: he enters into it. He comprehends it, that is, ‘takes into himself’ the desire, which everywhere links Sulfur to Mercury; he obliges it to wish for God.91

Voldemort’s desire for immortality is a desire oriented toward the outside, a selfish, self-serving goal that he will therefore not be able to achieve. When Voldemort possesses Harry at the end of OotP, Harry yearns for death, thinking “death is nothing compared to this …”92 and knowing that, if he were to die, he would “see Sirius again.93 Accordingly, Harry is taking into himself the desire for death and for immortality after death in order to be reunited with those he loves. He does this unawares — the very first time he sees the veil, it “intrigue[s] him; he [feels] a very strong inclination to climb up on the dais and walk through it.”94


Hermione will be Left Behind

 Unfortunately, much like Susan in the Chronicles of Narnia, Hermione isn’t likely to be part of the group enjoying immortality beyond the veil, at least by the end of Book Seven. Hermione can’t hear the whispering voices coming from behind the veil, and she overreacts to Harry’s all-consuming interest in the archway and Luna’s claim that “‘There are people in there!’”95 by saying:

“What do you mean, ‘in there?’” demanded Hermione, jumping down from the bottom step and sounding much angrier than the occasion warranted, “there isn’t any ‘in there,’ it’s just an archway, there’s no room for anybody to be there.”96

Hermione, like Susan, refuses to believe in the possibility of a paradisal afterlife. Hermione needs to see things with her own eyes in order to be able to believe them, and scoffs at people like Luna who believe in such ridiculous things as Crumple-Horned Snorkacks. As Rowling herself has said: “In many ways Luna is the anti-Hermione. Hermione is so logical and so very intractable in many ways, whereas Luna is prepared to believe a thousand impossible things before breakfast.”98 Luna matter-of-factly believes that her dead mother is behind the veil, and that helps Harry to also believe he will find his loved ones there some day. Because it’s not provable, Hermione refuses to believe, and therefore will be left behind.


Our Journey with Harry Continues

While Hermione may be left behind, we the readers will accompany Harry into the hereafter. As Granger makes clear in his book, The Hidden Key to Harry Potter, the power of the Harry Potter series lies in Rowling’s ability to make us identify with Harry. I believe we identify with Harry largely because of the physical imagery Rowling uses to connect us with him — primarily, her descriptions of the physical manifestations of his emotions. We’ve all experienced the sensation of “a bucketful of ice cascad[ing] into [our] stomach”98 when we’ve been caught doing something naughty; we’ve all felt our heart “swollen to an unnatural size … thumping loudly under [our] ribs”99 when we’re scared. We will therefore travel with Harry through the remaining two phases of the Great Work, and become purified along the way, eventually dying with him at the end of Book Seven and rising from death to enjoy immortality with those we loved in life.


1. J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix ( London : Bloomsbury , 2003), 742. Hereafter OotP. ^ back to article

2. J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban ( London : Bloomsbury , 2000), 311. Hereafter PoA. ^ back to article

3. OotP, 740. ^ back to article

4. Ibid., 742. ^ back to article

5. Swyrich Corporation, House of Names, ^ back to article

6. Monstrous, Griffins, ^ back to article

7. J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (London: Bloomsbury, 1999), 114. Hereafter CoS. ^ back to article

8. OotP, 186. ^ back to article

9. J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (London: Bloomsbury, 1998), 65. Hereafter PS. ^ back to article

10. CoS , 114. ^ back to article

11. Ibid. ^ back to article

12. PS, 14. My emphasis. ^ back to article

13. J.K. Rowling, Fall, 2000 BBC Newsround Interview, ^ back to article

14. Ibid. ^ back to article

15. Terry H. Jones, Patron Saints Index, Godric, My emphasis. ^ back to article

16. Katherine I. Rabenstein, Saints O’the Day, May 21, ^ back to article

17. Ibid. ^ back to article

18. Ibid. ^ back to article

19. Kerry A. Shirts, Beastly Confirmation: Christ & Animal as Symbol & Meaning, ^ back to article

20. Douglas Harper, Online Etymology Dictionary, p3etym.htm. ^ back to article

21. Swyrich Corporation, House of Names, ^ back to article

22. David Simpson, North East England History Pages, ^ back to article

23. Jones. ^ back to article

24. PS, 97. ^ back to article

25. PoA, 196. ^ back to article

26. Ibid., 300-301. ^ back to article

27. OotP, 95. ^ back to article

28. Russell Oberlin and Seymour Barab, English Medieval Songs, ^ back to article

29. GoF, 157. ^ back to article

30. Jones. ^ back to article

31. CoS , 245. ^ back to article

32. Ibid. ^ back to article

33. Katherine I. Rabenstein, Saints O’the Day, March 20, ^ back to article

34. GoF, 156. ^ back to article

35. Ibid., p. 79. ^ back to article

36. Rabenstein, March 20. ^ back to article

37. J.K. Rowling, AOL Chat with Jesse Kornbluth, October 19, 2000 , ^ back to article

38. J.K. Rowling, 2002 BBC Interview, ^ back to article

39. Reginald of Durham, Britannia: Sources of British History: Life of St. Godric, ^ back to article

40. PS, 20. ^ back to article

41. Ibid., 153. ^ back to article

42. Ibid. ^ back to article

43. CoS , 245. ^ back to article

44. Ibid., 147. ^ back to article

45. PoA, 312. ^ back to article

46. Ibid. ^ back to article

47. OotP, 742. ^ back to article

48. Marcia Bower, Alchemy Electronic Dictionary, ^ back to article

49. PS, 161. ^ back to article

50. Reginald Merton, Nicholas Flamel,'s%20Stone. ^ back to article

51. Marcia Bower, The Great Work Begins Here, ^ back to article

52. Ibid. ^ back to article

53. John Granger, Alchemy, Dopplegangers, and the Irony of Religious Objections to Harry Potter, paper presented at Nimbus 2003 - A Harry Potter Symposium, July 2003, 8. ^ back to article

54. Maurice Aniane, Alchemy: The Cosmological Yoga, Part 2: Phases of the Work, http://www. ^ back to article

55. Bower. ^ back to article

56. Alchemy, ^ back to article

57. Aniane. ^ back to article

58. OotP, 14. ^ back to article

59. Ibid., 92. ^ back to article

60. Aniane. ^ back to article

61. Ibid ^ back to article

62. Kevin Cawley, University of Notre Dame Latin Dictionary and Grammar Aid, My emphasis. ^ back to article

63. Aniane. ^ back to article

64. Cawley. ^ back to article

65. Ibid. ^ back to article

66. Aniane. ^ back to article

67. Granger, Alchemy, Dopplegangers, and the Irony of Religious Objections to Harry Potter, 9. ^ back to article

68. PS, 69. ^ back to article

69. Ibid., 147. ^ back to article

70. GoF, 294. Ron also described as “pull[ing] on his maroon pyjamas” at the end of Harry’s first night at Number 12, Grimmauld Place (OotP, 92, my emphasis). ^ back to article

71. PS, 149. ^ back to article

72. Aniane. ^ back to article

73. GoF, 356. My emphasis. ^ back to article

74. OotP, 110. My emphasis. Interestingly, Mrs. Weasley is described as wearing a “quilted purple dressing gown” a few pages later (OotP, 112, my emphasis). ^ back to article

75. Ibid., 741. ^ back to article

76. Ibid., 744. ^ back to article

77. GoF, 462.^ back to article

78. Rowling, October 19, 2000 AOL Chat. ^ back to article

79. Phil Miller, “Writer gives hint of grim fate for Potter in last book,” The Scotsman, July 21, 2000 , ^ back to article

80. Ibid. ^ back to article

81. Sherry Thomas, “J.K. Rowling has the future mapped out for Harry Potter,” Houston Chronicle, March 20, 2001 , articles/2001/0301-houston-thomas.html. ^ back to article

82. Jac Chebatoris, Nayelli Gonzalez, Andrew Phillips and Karen Springen, Newsweek, June 30, 2003 , ^ back to article

83. Thomas. (Author’s note: It’s interesting that Rowling uses the Arthurian imagery of the Holy Grail in this statement. It is Arthur Weasley’s son Ron who may fulfill the royal purple of the work of redding, and it is Arthur Weasley himself who is likely destined to replace Cornelius Fudge as Minister for Magic.) ^ back to article

84. OotP, 718. ^ back to article

85. Ibid. ^ back to article

86. John Granger, The Hidden Key to Harry Potter ( Hadlock , WA : Zossima Press, 2002), 142. ^ back to article

87. Granger, Alchemy, Dopplegangers, and the Irony of Religious Objections to Harry Potter, 15. ^ back to article

88. OotP, 689. ^ back to article

89. Shirts. ^ back to article

90. Adam McLean, Animal Symbolism in the Alchemical Tradition, ^ back to article

91. Aniane. ^ back to article

92. OotP, 720. ^ back to article

93. Ibid.^ back to article

94. Ibid., 682. ^ back to article

95. Ibid., 683. ^ back to article

96. Ibid. ^ back to article

97. J.K. Rowling, Royal Albert Hall Appearance, Q&A with Stephen Fry, June 26 2003 , ^ back to article

98. PoA, 36. ^ back to article

99. OotP, 137. ^ back to article



  • Alchemy.
  • Aniane, Maurice. ,em>Alchemy: The Cosmological Yoga, Part 2: Phases of the Work. http:// AJ2-1.htm.
  • Bower, Marcia. Alchemy Electronic Dictionary.
  • Bower, Marcia. The Great Work Begins Here.
  • Cawley, Kevin. University of Notre Dame Latin Dictionary and Grammar Aid. http://
  • Chebatoris, Jac, Nayelli Gonzalez, Andrew Phillips and Karen Springen. Newsweek, June 30, 2003.
  • Granger, John. "Alchemy, Dopplegangers, and the Irony of Religious Objections to Harry Potter." Paper presented at Nimbus 2003 - A Harry Potter Symposium, July 2003.
  • Granger, John. The Hidden Key to Harry Potter. Hadlock, WA: Zossima Press, 2002. Harper, Douglas. Online Etymology Dictionary.
  • Jones, Terry H. Patron Saints Index, Godric.
  • McLean, Adam. Animal Symbolism in the Alchemical Tradition.
  • Merton, Reginald. Nicholas Flamel.'s%20Stone.
  • Miller, Phil. "Writer gives hint of grim fate for Potter in last book." The Scotsman, July 21, 2000. articles/2000/0700-scotsman-miller.html.
  • Monstrous.
  • Oberlin, Russell and Seymour Barab. English Medieval Songs.
  • Rabenstein, Katherine I. Saints O'the Day, March 20.
  • Rabenstein, Katherine I. Saints O'the Day, May 21.
  • Reginald of Durham. Britannia: Sources of British History: Life of St. Godric. docs/godric.html.
  • Rowling, J.K. AOL Chat with Jesse Kornbluth, October 19, 2000.
  • Rowling, J.K. Fall, 2000 BBC Newsround Interview.
  • Rowling, J.K. 2002 BBC Interview.
  • Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. London: Bloomsbury, 1998.
  • Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. London: Bloomsbury, 1999.
  • Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. London: Bloomsbury, 2000.
  • Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. London: Bloomsbury, 2001.
  • Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. London: Bloomsbury, 2003.
  • Rowling, J.K. Royal Albert Hall Appearance, Q&A with Stephen Fry, June 26, 2003.
  • Shirts, Kerry A. Beastly Confirmation: Christ & Animal as Symbol & Meaning.
  • Simpson, David. North East England History Pages.
  • Swyrich Corporation, House of Names. and
  • Thomas, Sherry. "J.K. Rowling has the future mapped out for Harry Potter." Houston Chronicle, March 20, 2001.


Copyright © Phyllis D. Morris. All rights reserved


Biography - Phyllis D. Morris

Phyllis Morris holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and History from the University of Notre Dame and a Master of Public Administration degree from the George Washington University. She currently lives in Albany, New York, and works on public assistance issues for New York State government. Phyllis discovered the Harry Potter books in the summer of 2002 and has been in love with Harry and his world ever since. She is grateful for having the privilege of serving as co-chair for programming for Convention Alley, and is also a member of the HP for Grownups list administration team, where she is known as "Poppy Elf."
[^ Top]