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  • "The Weapon We Have Is Love"
  • Karin E. Westman (bio)

Rowling's announcement at Carnegie Hall in October 2007—"My truthful answer to you . . . I always thought of Dumbledore as gay" ("J.K. Rowling at Carnegie Hall")—has rightly prompted debate about representations of homosexuality in the Harry Potter series and about the role of authorial insight. Both are fruitful avenues for consideration, as my round-table colleagues suggest. However, I would like to return to the question that prompted Rowling's response: "Did Dumbledore, who believed in the prevailing power of love, ever fall in love himself?" With this question and the now famous answer in hand, we can revisit a recurring concern of the series: the power of love.

Setting aside for a moment the object of Dumbledore's desire, I would like to focus on the desire itself. Rowling's declaration of Dumbledore as a desiring subject confirms for us his character's more human qualities. Further, it prompts us to think about the emotion fueling his desire. While the earlier books in the series depict love as a generative and protective force, Half-Blood Prince and Deathly Hallows remind us that love can wound as well as shield. In these last two books Rowling locates love's damaging consequences not only within secondary characters like Voldemort's mother Merope and Bellatrix but also within the seemingly unassailable, all-powerful character of Dumbledore, thereby forging unlikely connections between disparate characters. Such parallels diminish easy distinctions between good and bad people and foreground the paradox of love's power. By the end of Rowling's series, love is indeed a weapon, as Dumbledore often explains to Harry, but that weapon is dangerously double-edged, placing the lover and the beloved at risk if it is improperly handled. Even the most powerful of wizards may falter in its grasp, as we watch Dumbledore's love for Grindelwald restrict the headmaster's otherwise expansive generosity of spirit. [End Page 193] In this view, love becomes more ambivalent in its power than Harry and the reader's previous experience of it would otherwise suggest. Love is a weapon that must be deployed with caution, care, and collective sympathy.

From the first book in the series, Rowling establishes love as a protective force, yet this protection becomes somewhat compromised by Goblet of Fire and Order of the Phoenix. The traces of love's presence ward off the dangers of Voldemort, Harry learns at the end of Philosopher's Stone, granting him a goodness that is "agony" for one so evil as Voldemort to touch. "To have been loved so deeply, even though the person who loved us is gone, will give us some protection for ever," Dumbledore tells Harry, adding, "It is in your very skin" (216). Throughout the subsequent books, this embodied parental love supports Harry physically and emotionally. Not only does his mother's love protect him from bodily harm, but it also provides encouragement near the end of Goblet of Fire (578–79). As Harry struggles to maintain his hold on his wand, the love of his father helps him at that moment, too, having done so previously in Prisoner of Azkaban in the form of Harry's own Patronus (299–301). Dumbledore reinforces the persistence of such embodied love at the end of Azkaban: "Your father is alive in you, Harry, and shows himself most plainly when you have need of him. How else do you produce that particular Patronus? Prongs rode again last night" (312, emphasis in original). Wherever the young Harry is, his loving parents, in spirit, offer immediate and, it seems, automatic protection.

Yet even as Harry grows increasingly aware of and dependent upon the protection of others' love, he experiences its ambiguities. His parents' love, so sure and pure in the first four books, also shows disturbing qualities by Phoenix, as Harry relives their past through others' eyes in the Pensieve. His loving father shows himself to be "every bit as arrogant as Snape had always told him" (573), and his mother is someone who could have both "loathed" that same man and "ended up married" to him (576). "For nearly five years the...