Mischief managed! On the eve of the final film’s release, we conclude our Seven Sacraments of Harry Potter series with the final book’s namesake, The Deathly Hallows, the three folkloric and instrumental relics of magic which enable its beholder to cheat death, in costly ways. The Master of the three Hallows is the Master of Death. As a word of caution to those who have not yet read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (for shame!), or would prefer not to be made aware of insights, theological or otherwise, related to the final part of the saga, this is your spoiler alert!
Three objects, or Hallows, which, if united, will make the possessor master of Death…Master…Conquerer…Vanquisher…The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death…
The myth of the Deathly Hallows is only sparsely known throughout the wizarding world, though the very old story from which it is derived is as well-known as a child’s nursery rhyme. “The Tale of the Three Brothers” introduces the Hallows, though not explicitly, as Xenophilus Lovegood explains to Harry, Ron, and Hermione:
That (tale) is a children’s tale, told to amuse rather than to instruct. Those of us who understand these matters, however, recognize that the ancient story refers to three objects, or Hallows, which, if united, will the possessor the master of Death.
The Deathly Hallows are the Cloak of Invisibility, the Resurrection Stone, and the Elder Wand (note the symbol, which unites the three). Historically speaking, they are the original relics of the three Peverell Brothers, incredibly talented wizards who each crafted a powerfully death-proof instrument of magic. Each brother, based on his particular Hallow, represents a response to Death. The fashioner of the Elder Wand sought the power to bring death to his enemies; the brother with the Resurrection Stone sought the power to bring life back to those who are dead; and the brother with the Cloak of Invisibility wished merely to avoid death until the time was right. As the tale illustrates, the first two brothers—who essentially wished to appropriate the powers of Death—found their new gifts unfitting, the use of them resulting in a contorted and sour lifelessness. In identifying themselves with powers that were not theirs, they die. The third brother, on the other hand, wants no power but to be left to grow old on his own—his gift represents an acceptance of finitude, or mortality. Because he accepts his impending death, he lives long and “greets death as an old friend.”
The possession of the Hallows, then, provides a second, equally dangerous route to everlasting life alongside the Horcrux. While the creation of Horcruxes gives the creator eternity at the expense of his soul, the Hallows provide their master with powers too tempting to refuse, and consequences too heavy to carry. Both the Hallows and the Horcruxes meet a human being at his strongest delusion: power. It for this reason that Harry’s ethereal reunion with Dumbledore presents him with an old man’s confession:
“Real, and dangerous, and a lure for fools…And I was such a fool. But you know, don’t you? I have no secrets from you anymore. You know.”
“What do I know?”
Dumbledore turned his whole body to face Harry, and tear still sparkled in the brilliantly blue eyes.
“Master of death, Harry, master of Death! Was I better, ultimately, than Voldemort? No…I too sought a way to conquer death, Harry.”
“Not the way he did,” said Harry. After all his anger at Dumbledore, how odd it was to sit here, beneath the high, vaulted ceiling, and defend Dumbledore from himself. “Hallows, not Horcruxes.”
“Hallows,” murmured Dumbledore…
Dumbledore had been so allured by the power of the Deathly Hallows that he had tried on the ring of the Resurrection Stone, despite his knowledge that Voldemort had tainted it as a Horcrux. His motive was to atone for the guilt of the mysterious death of his sister, Ariana. This act of self-atonement, though a different kind of power hunger, was his folly: his use of the Stone meant his death…
It becomes obvious to Harry that Voldemort does not know about the Deathly Hallows, mainly because he had turned the ring upon which the Resurrection Stone was placed, into a Horcrux. Voldemort’s chief interest is the Elder Wand, or Death Stick, which is more publicly known because “The bloody trail of the Elder Wand is splattered across the pages of Wizarding history.” As Dumbledore says to Harry later:
He would not think that he needed the Cloak, and as for the stone, whom would he want to bring back from the dead? He fears the dead. He does not love… Voldemort, instead of asking himself what quality it was in you that had made your wand so strong, what gift you possessed that he did not, naturally set out to find the one wand that, they said, would beat any other. For him, the Elder Wand has become an obsession to rival his obsession with you. He believes that the Elder Wand removes his last weakness and makes him truly invincible.
Just like the other two Peverell brothers, it is this flaw in Voldemort’s logic that undoes him. His quest for power has left him looking for a tool which will make him eternal, rather than seeing in Harry the quality that makes him supreme. That quality, more penetrating than the power of a wand or a life-giving stone, is love. Harry, marked by the love of life lain down, carries that love and is compelled to do the same. Harry, in the name of love, lays down his life so that his friends might live. Because Harry has given himself up, he has gained it all.
This self-sacrificing love is what leads Harry to his encounter with Dumbledore, in an empty King’s Cross Station. There, he recognizes that he is the unlikely Master of Death, the bespectacled descendant of the third Peverell brother, and precisely because he died to death:
I was afraid that your hot head might dominate your good heart. I was scared that, if presented outright with the facts about those tempting objects, you might seize the Hallows as I did, at the wrong time, for the wrong reasons. If you laid hands on them, I wanted you to possess them safely. You are the true master of death, because the true master does not seek to run away from Death. He accepts that he must die, and understands that there are far, far worse things in the living world than dying.