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She Never Had Your Mother’s Courage

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She Never Had Your Mother’s Courage

There is a moment, during one of Harry’s sessions with Dumbledore in Half-Blood Prince, when Harry seems almost indignant on behalf of young Voldemort, whose mother left him at a Muggle orphanage, where she named him and then promptly died, apparently unwilling to use magic to save her own life.

“She wouldn’t even stay alive for her son?”

Dumbledore raised his eyebrows. “Could you possibly be feeling sorry for Lord Voldemort?”

“No,” said Harry quickly, “but she had a choice, didn’t she, not like my mother–”

Dumbledore responds with a bit of rationale that merits a close read.

“Your mother had a choice too,” said Dumbledore gently. “Yes, Merope Riddle chose death in spite of a son who needed her, but do not judge her too harshly, Harry. She was greatly weakened by long suffering and she never had your mother’s courage….”

It seems very odd that Dumbledore would suggest that courage is a quality that one can possess in a finite, predetermined quantity. Dumbledore, who emphasizes that choices determine our paths, more so than our abilities. Dumbledore, who warns his students of the choice between what is right and what is easy. Dumbledore, who gives Neville those extra ten points to win Gryffindor the House Cup, when he chooses to be courageous and stand up to his friends.

I can agree with Dumbledore that Merope had a hard life, and that judging her from this distance, with no way to grasp the full complexity of her situation, is not entirely fair or productive. But it strikes me as odd that he would brush it off as almost an inevitability, as though she simply could not have made the more difficult, more courageous choice to stay alive and raise her son with the attention and love any child deserves.

My initial reaction to Dumbledore’s “gentle” tone is that he is admiring Harry’s capacity for love and compassion. However, I think it is possible that the moment also holds an undertone of something else. I think it is possible that, even as he acknowledges Harry’s compassionate nature, Dumbledore hopes to warn Harry against a train of thought that could lead him to sympathy for Voldemort. As much as Dumbledore has tried to reassure Harry that, despite his similarities to Voldemort, they are two very different wizards–I can imagine that Dumbledore occasionally worries about the allure that dark magic might hold, for a boy who has lost as much as Harry has. We know that Dumbledore grappled with his own ambitions, and we know that Voldemort has enough charisma to attract Death Eaters–even some unlikely ones, like Peter Pettigrew and Barty Crouch, Jr.

It seems to me that, despite all of Dumbledore’s belief in and admiration for Harry, this moment showcases Dumbledore’s cunning side. I think he is managing Harry very carefully, in this moment–and maybe that’s exactly what all parental and authority figures try to do–but it is interesting that Dumbledore found it necessary to do so.

On a final note, it could also be the case that Dumbledore wished to emphasize the courage of Harry’s mother. Dumbledore could be interpreting Harry’s reaction as having taken for granted his own mother’s sacrifice—if he believes she had no choice but to die, her sacrifice is less a sacrifice than it is a typical wartime tragedy. And as we see her sacrifice mirrored by Harry’s own sacrifice in the final battle, it is clear from Dumbledore’s pride in Harry that he understood the magnitude and gravity of Harry’s own choice. It makes sense that he would want to emphasize to Harry that sometimes, being brave is a choice, not just an instinct.

Commentary

Notes

In the Harry Potter Lexicon Minute podcast you’ll hear the voices of our editors sharing some of the many little things which delight us about the Wizarding World. In each podcast, just a couple of minutes in length, we’ll talk about anything from cool trivia and interesting canon passages to the latest Wizarding World news. We hope you’ll join us! And we’d love to hear from you as well. Feel free to use the comment section on the blogpost for each podcast to post your thoughts.

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Music: "Winter Chimes" Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
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