Harry Potter is a name you’ve probably heard before. No, he’s not a 2020 democratic presidential candidate. He’s a boy wizard created by now-billionaire author J.K. Rowling. Rowling’s wizarding world became a global phenomenon more than two decades ago when the first book hit store shelves, in 1997. People of all ages lined up at midnight for subsequent book releases and movie screenings. More recently, families have saved their pennies to visit the Hogwarts castle at Universal Studios.
Over the course of seven books, Harry is stalked and harassed by an evil, snake-faced wizard named Voldemort.
Fast forward through the entire book series, many hijinks and a literal war later, and good triumphs over evil. Harry kills Voldemort with the help of friends like Neville Longbottom, Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley. The evil wizard is stopped in his tracks by — of all things — technical (magical?) difficulties with a stolen wand. And the wizarding world was safe at last.
But J.K. Rowling neglected to mention one VERY IMPORTANT thing. According to a major fan theory popularized by Reddit user HPWombat, that’s not the whole story after all. And the missing piece, the one thing you still don’t know about Harry Potter is that… he’s immortal. Really. Hand to God. Or so this theory goes.
So! For the millions of you who thought you knew the whole story, here’s exactly how and why the Harry Potter you know and love may be a lot more interesting than J.K. Rowling ever let on.
What the World Needed
Before the events of the book series, loads of important things happened.
Hogwarts was founded around the year 990 as a school for young witches and wizards in the United Kingdom.
In the 1920s, wizards and non-magic people nearly came to blows when a suitcase full of magical creatures escaped in New York City.
Tom Riddle, a half-blood wizard, believed that magic should be reserved for pure-blood wizards. Riddle tortured and killed a lot of non-magic people, including his own father. In the absence of a magical Doctor Phil to help him sort out this inner conflict, Riddle started going by the name Voldemort and leaned into self-loathing wizard supremacy.
Voldemort gained extraordinary power as armies of other racist wizards coalesced around him to do evil things to half-blood wizards and muggles (non-magic folk). Voldemort’s ultimate goal was to rid the magical world of muggle heritage and to conquer the muggle world, subjugating the non-magical into second-class citizenry. Magic would be reserved for pure-blooded witches and wizards, and Voldemort would be the supreme ruler of every person on Earth. The world needed a hero.
The Butterbeer-Fueled Story That Started It All
Now, Harry Potter’s whole saga began, like many sagas, in a pub.
Before our titular hero was born, some Hogwarts staff was sitting upstairs at the Hog’s Head Pub, drinking butterbeer and talking politics. Sybill Trelawney, a hippie divination professor with supposed predictive powers, was chatting with the Hogwarts headmaster, Albus Dumbledore, when suddenly she went into a trance-like state and made a bold prediction. Voldemort, now a bona fide warlord, was on his way out. And it was a kid who was going to take him down.
Professor Trelawney predicted the birth of a boy, a boy “with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord.” She predicted that the child would be born “as the seventh month dies” to parents who had defied Voldemort — thrice!
Sybill has a flare for the dramatic.
At this point in the timeline, Voldemort has eyes and ears everywhere, all the time. And this moment in this pub was no exception. Potions professor and Voldemort spy Severus Snape was eavesdropping on Dumbledore and Trelawney’s conversation. It seems pretty clear, right? Kill the kid and the evil dude can keep on living, right? Seems simple, right? Wrong.
The Great Wizard Tele-Fail of 1980
Trelawney kept talking, but that’s as much of the prophecy as Voldemort ever heard. Because before Trelawney could finish, the eavesdropping Snape was interrupted by Albus’ brother, Aberforth Dumbledore, and was carted out of earshot.
So because Snape is a horrible spy, he passed on what prophetic snippets he had heard to the Dark Lord, which (surprise!) was only half the scoop. He missed some extremely important details.
This unfortunate game of wizarding telephone gave Voldemort the overblown idea that he could waltz into the Potters’ home, kill Harry and Harry’s father, James, and leave, forever safe from the child in Trelawney’s prophecy.
It’s never that easy.
But Wait, There’s More
The rest of the prophecy, the part that neither Voldemort nor Snape never heard, went a little something like this:
“and the Dark Lord will mark him as his equal, but he will have power the Dark Lord knows not... and either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives... the one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord will be born as the seventh month dies...."
Clearly, this part of the prophecy is absolutely instrumental to the fate of the wizard world. Voldemort didn’t hear that choosing a baby to murder would mark said baby as his equal. Voldemort didn’t hear that the baby would have a power he didn’t understand. But there’s another subtle clue hiding in these few sentences that becomes very important to our completely insane fan theory.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves...
A Setback of Epic Proportions
By the time Harry Potter was born, Voldemort was convinced that Harry was the kid from the prophecy and became totally obsessed with killing him. Remember, at this point, Voldemort has only heard the first part of the prophecy and has, without knowing it, already started on a suicide mission.
Voldemort showed up to the Potters’ safe house, 100 percent sure he would successfully kill Harry and seal his fate as supreme ruler of everyone in the world, magical and otherwise. Harry’s mother, Lily Potter, had other ideas. She refused to stand down and sacrificed her own life to protect her son.
Lily’s loving sacrifice initiated a powerful counter-charm that bounced Voldemort’s killing curse back at him and saved Harry from certain death. This was the first time in recorded wizard history anyone had ever survived a killing curse. Harry became known as The Boy Who Lived.
Mistakes Were Made
Meanwhile, Voldemort was all but destroyed. He lost his body, his power and his pride. This, for obvious reasons, made Wizard Hitler VERY angry. And Voldemort holds a grudge like nobody’s business. Lily’s magical clapback was built into the piece of the prophecy that Snape didn’t hear. Voldemort had accidentally marked a baby as his equal and was met with a power he didn’t expect: love. And love was Voldemort’s temporary undoing.
So, years later, when he eventually gets outfitted with a new body, he goes straight for Harry (again).
And as you already know, Harry defeats Voldemort, but it’s what happens subsequently that has our minds totally blown.
Plot Armor or Something More Magical?
First, consider these facts: Throughout the Harry Potter series, time and time again, Harry is put in what we were led to believe was mortal danger. In his first year alone, Harry and his pals come face-to-face with dangerous obstacles like an aggressive three-headed dog, a plant that crushes people who get stuck in its branches, and a life-sized chess board with pieces that smash each other to bits.
In his second year, there’s a Basilisk snake on the loose paralyzing students. Harry, Ron and Hermione try to corral a professor that’s transformed into a werewolf in their third year. The following year, Harry competes in a dangerous competition called the Tri-Wizard Tournament. He goes head-to-head with a dragon. Harry and Ron even crash Ron’s father’s flying car into a violently flailing magic willow tree.
There’s no shortage of danger that befalls Harry Potter through the years. That action is part of what made this series so compelling. You. Think. He’s. Gonna. Die. All. The. Time. But Harry survives. Harry survives several battles with Death Eaters (Voldemort’s supporters). And finally, he survives a second killing curse to defeat Voldemort once and for all.
Was it just plot armor keeping him around through all of this mayhem? Maybe not...
This Mind-Blowing Fan Theory Begins Where the Book Series Ends
Then, in the epilogue of the final book, we see Harry and Ginny Weasley dropping their kids off at Platform 9¾ — the portal to the wizard train station — for their first year at Hogwarts. It’s about as happily-ever-after as the story of an orphan who spent his childhood being hunted by a homicidal maniac can get. We believe that Harry has evaded death, at least for a while.
But! What if there’s something else? According to this fan theory, there is. There’s something hiding in this part of the prophecy — a part that, if we’re reading it correctly, means that Harry may never have been in any danger in the first place. And that sentence is this: “Either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives.”
Breaking Down the Trelaw-gic
The prophecy seems to be satisfied when Harry vanquishes Voldemort and lives a full, happy life married to his high school sweetheart.
BUT Here’s where our super fan theory comes in. First popularized by Reddit user HPWombat in 2013, this fan theory suggests that a tiny quirk of English grammar may have been protecting Harry from death this whole time. And it has to do with the meaning of the word “either.”
The phrase in question: “Either must die at the hand of the other...”
That’s easy enough to understand, right? Necessarily, either Harry or Voldemort would need to kill the other. But, according to the theory, either, in this instance, actually means “both” like in the sentence “There are cars blocking either side of the street.”
The most widely accepted interpretation of this part of the prophecy is that Harry must kill Voldemort OR Voldemort must kill Harry. But the fan theory interprets this part of the prophecy to mean that both Harry and Voldemort can only be killed by the other.
So What Does That Mean for Harry?
If we’re reading the fan theory right, the prophecy is saying: “Both must die at the hand of the other.”
This would present Harry with a bit of a problem. Now that Voldemort is dead, there isn’t anyone or anything left alive that can kill Harry.
In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Voldemort hits Harry with a second killing curse which blasts Harry into a vision of a bright white King’s Cross train station. There, he shares a brief chat with the late Albus Dumbledore. Dumbledore explains that Harry has a choice: board a train to the afterlife or return to Hogwarts to defeat Voldemort once and for all.
A Mortal Sacrifice
According to HPWombat, this moment was Harry’s one opportunity to be reunited with his parents, his one opportunity to die. HPWombat believes that Harry unknowingly sacrificed his one chance at death to save his friends. And now, he’s cursed to live forever, watching everyone he’s ever love die, one by one.
There are other reasons to believe that Harry is immortal, beyond this interpretation of the prophecy.
How Does Sacrificial Blood Magic Work?
In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Voldemort uses Harry’s blood to regenerate himself into his new snake-faced body. In the books, it’s repeatedly mentioned that this is significant. According to Dumbledore, the fact that Harry’s blood runs through Voldemort’s new veins actually makes it impossible for Voldemort to kill Harry.
In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Dumbledore tells Harry in the vision in King’s Cross, “He took your blood and rebuilt his living body with it! Your blood in his veins, Harry, Lily’s protection inside both of you! He tethered you to life while he lives!”
That sounds an awful lot like a kid being told he’s immortal.
Tethered to Life, Protected Forever?
So, to recap, according to Dumbledore, Voldemort can’t actually kill Harry (again) because he used Harry’s charmed blood to build his new body. Additionally, according to HPWombat’s theory, nothing else can kill Harry because of the prophecy.
But how long-lasting is sacrificial protection magic? Does it have an expiration date? And how many people the counter charm works against? All the information we have about the science of sacrificial magic comes from one quote from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.
Dumbledore says, “He [Voldemort] didn’t realize that love as powerful as your mother’s for you leaves its own mark. Not a scar, no visible sign... to have been loved so deeply, even though the person who loved us is gone, will give us some protection forever.”
Forever is a pretty long time. And this quote seems like, as far as Dumbledore understands, Harry is (at least somewhat) protected against death forever.
And there’s one final detail that suggests that Harry Potter is immortal.
From Fable to Function: The Deathly Hallows
In Harry Potter’s wizard world, there is a fable called The Tale of the Three Brothers. As the story goes, three brothers outwit Death by building a bridge across a raging river. As a prize for their cleverness, Death awards each brother with a magical token. One brother receives a super-powerful wand — the Elder Wand. The second receives a stone that can raise the dead — the Resurrection Stone. And the third brother receives an invisibility cloak.
It is said that any witch or wizard in possession of all three of the so-called Deathly Hallows would be the Master of Death.
Let’s do a quick inventory on where the Deathly Hallows are by the end of the series.
Master of Death?
Harry unknowingly wins the allegiance of the Elder Wand in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. The Resurrection Stone is hidden inside of the Golden Snitch that Dumbledore left Harry in his will. And Harry has had the invisibility cloak since Christmas of his first year at Hogwarts. That would, if you believe wizard lore, already make Harry a Master of Death, whether you believe the fan theory is true or not.
At the end of the series, Harry intentionally hides both the Elder Wand and the Resurrection Stone. He keeps the cloak, which turns up again in the stage show Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.
We know that the location of these magical objects does not affect their allegiances. So, assuming no one finds the hidden Hallows and somehow wins the fealty of the Elder Wand, Harry is still the owner.
So, does all this mean that Harry can’t die?
Can Harry Die at All?
So let’s break this down piece by piece.
- According to HPWombat’s interpretation of Trelawney’s prophecy, Harry can only be killed by Voldemort.
- According to Dumbledore, Voldemort couldn’t fully kill Harry after Goblet of Fire because he used Harry’s blood to make his new body.
- Dumbledore also says that Harry is permanently protected by Lily Potter’s sacrificial magic anyway.
- According to wizard lore, Harry, as the de facto owner of all three Deathly Hallows, is the Master of Death and cannot be killed.
If not fully immortal, Harry Potter’s deck is extraordinarily stacked against death. Even if HP Wombat’s reading of the prophecy doesn’t convince you, there are three other canonical hints that Harry is protected against death. And two of them came from bearded genius headmaster Albus Dumbledore. We’re convinced that this insane fan theory is true.