It is pretty well-established at this point that love is a central theme in the Harry Potter saga, but the more sinister side of obsessive love doesn’t get quite the same attention. We see it most clearly when love potions are involved, most notably in the case with Voldemort’s mother, who fell enamored with Tom Riddle, Sr. and then slipped him a love potion before ultimately confessing and being left to die after giving birth to their son, who would grow up unloved. The obsessive love of Voldemort’s mother for his father led to consequences more severe than a lack of love could have. A lack of love would have left Merope Gaunt to a miserable life devoid of the fleeting high of the reciprocated devotion from Tom Riddle, but her anguish over his rejection of her, on top of the loss of her father and brother to Azkaban, left her without any will to carry on.
We also see obsessive love from Severus Snape, who certainly could have brewed a love potion, but—at least as far as we know—did not. Dumbledore refers to Snape’s enduring feelings for Lily as “the best of [him]” (DH33). Snape is one of my favorite characters, but it is necessary to emphasize that he says and does indefensible things to his students, going beyond what was strictly necessary for him to play his part as a spy for Voldemort. It seems clear that Snape’s outward hostility towards Harry stemmed from sincere emotions, and a sincere intent to cause pain.
The rationale behind all of it is murky, and it is not hard to get wrapped up in finding excuses for him. A favorite excuse is his grief over Lily. His love for her, if we can call it that given its one-sidedness, does motivate him to make countless heroic sacrifices for the cause she died defending: saving Harry and defying Voldemort. Those sacrifices were bound to breed resentment, which—on top of Harry’s resemblance to Snape’s childhood bully, whose relationship with Lily he must have envied terribly, and on top of his knowledge that Lily died to save Harry—must have been difficult to contain, especially when losing it bolstered his reputation as a plausible Death Eater.
Snape’s obsessive love for Lily made him a convincing and valuable spy for the Order of the Phoenix, but it made him cruel in such a way that his value was reduced to that alone. He could not be an effective teacher or a reliable authority figure. He remained a skilled Potions Master and diplomat, but his rage and self-loathing, caused by his obsessive love, fed an endless cycle of hostility.
If we need further proof of the toxicity of obsessive love, we need look no further than the situation between Bellatrix and Voldemort. Bellatrix’s insane, obsessive, romantic love of Voldemort defies even Voldemort’s inability to love, and inability to understand love. The exact circumstances of Delphini’s conception and birth are unknown, and it is interesting to speculate as to whether Voldemort intended to produce an heir, or whether this was simply a creepy, carnal reward for Bellatrix’s loyalty. Delphini did not expect Voldemort to be aware that he had a daughter. It would have been difficult for Bellatrix to keep it a secret, and we know that Voldemort did not murder her as a result, but the 1981 Voldemort never interacted with the time-turning Delphini of 2020. Regardless, it is clear that Bellatrix’s obsession nearly undid Harry’s defeat of Voldemort—proving that obsessive, unreciprocated love can and usually does have disastrous consequences.
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