Priori Incantatem

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Chapter 34 of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire: Priori Incantatem← Chapter 33 | Chapter 35 →

Synopsis[edit]

Spoiler warning: Plot and/or ending details follow.

As ordered, Wormtail removes Harry's gag and cuts his bonds. Harry considers running, but his leg, injured by the giant spider in the maze, is too weak, and Death Eaters are closing in. Wormtail retrieves Harry's wand, as Voldemort explains dueling etiquette, forcing Harry to bow. Then Harry feels unbelievable pain as Voldemort casts the Cruciatus curse. Voldemort then casts the Imperius curse and is impressed when Harry resists it. As Voldemort raises his wand again, Harry ducks behind Tom Riddle's gravestone.

Voldemort asks if Harry wants to end it quickly. Harry, refusing to die while crouched subserviently, rises and casts the Disarmament jinx, as Voldemort hurls the killing curse. The wands' streams connect in mid-air, fusing into a single, golden beam. Harry and Voldemort are lifted into the air and set down some distance away. A dome of golden light surrounds them. Voldemort, taken aback by this, orders the Death Eaters to do nothing. Harry hears a familiar sound: a Phoenix song. It reminds Harry of Dumbledore and seems to say Don't break the connection. Beads of golden light appear on the wands' connection. As one approaches Harry, he feels his wand heat up and fears it will explode. Concentrating, he forces the bead away, moving it towards Voldemort. As a bead reaches Voldemort's wand, screams are heard, and a smoky replica of Wormtail's silvery hand appears. Another bead is forced into Voldemort's wand, and amid screams, Cedric's ghostly image emerges from Voldemort's wand.

Harry grips his wand tightly as, amidst more screams, Cedric is joined by an old man that Harry saw in a dream, and Bertha Jorkins. Harry's father and mother appear next; Voldemort grows fearful as his victims prowl around him. Lily Potter quietly tells Harry that when the wands' connection is broken their spirit echoes can only remain a few moments to protect him; he must use the time to escape to the Triwizard Cup Portkey. Cedric requests that his body be returned to his parents. At his father's command, Harry breaks the connection. The golden dome disappears as the spirits converge on Voldemort. Dodging curses, Harry sprints to Cedric's body and Summons the Triwizard Cup. As it touches his hand, he is pulled from the graveyard, hearing Voldemort's furious screams as he is whisked to Hogwarts.

Analysis[edit]

Themes of life, death, and rebirth are seen throughout the series as Harry is confronted by, and struggles with, not only loss and grief, but a tantalizing hope that magic can restore dead loved ones to him, just as it has resurrected Voldemort. This hope to be reunited with his parents is reborn by Harry's encounter with their spirit echoes, released from Voldemort's wand. For the first time, Harry is able to communicate directly with James and Lily, and they, in turn, are able to protect their son. Even though their powers may be limited, the shades are unafraid – Voldemort can no longer harm them, though he apparently fears them. He also now fears Harry who, by force of will, forced the interlocking magical streams backwards into Voldemort's wand, a feat Voldemort never anticipated. The Potters and the other spirits disgorged from Voldemort's wand were, collectively, able to protect Harry long enough for him to escape as they perpetrated their retribution upon Voldemort for having stolen their lives.

Throughout the series, Ghosts have mostly been seen as benign but ineffectual spirits floating through Hogwarts, seemingly limited to observing the living world, occasionally providing important information, but unable to actively participate in human affairs. Here it is shown that spirits actually can play a more significant role by directly influencing events from beyond the grave. Harry may also have been aided by a living person – Dumbledore is mentioned in the Phoenix song. If Dumbledore is somehow communicating with Harry, then it is logical to conclude that it was Fawkes' song that Harry heard. Could Fawkes have detected Harry's danger, just as he did in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets? This may be what occurred here, though there could be an additional reason why it was Fawkes' song that was heard, one that may be tied to something that both Harry and Voldemort possess.

It is unclear yet if these spirit echoes are actually Ghosts or something else. Also, the order in which Voldemort's victims appear from the wand is slightly wrong. Harry's father died first, and therefore should have emerged last from Voldemort's wand. The author has stated that she had originally written it that way, but her American editor, who was almost always right about such details, had questioned it at the end of a marathon editing session, and short on sleep, she had agreed to change it. Later editions correct this mistake, and the canon order is that James appears last.

This is the first time that Harry and Voldemort actually duel. Before this, the disembodied Voldemort had ordered others to fight for him. Also, Voldemort has, presumably, killed more people with his wand than is shown here. Dumbledore states later in the novel that more victims would have appeared had the connection between the wands been held for longer.

Questions[edit]

Study questions are meant to be left for each student to answer; please don't answer them here.

Review[edit]

  1. Why does Voldemort fear the spirits? Does he also fear Harry? If so, why?
  2. Why are Harry and Voldemort's wands considered "brothers"?

Further Study[edit]

  1. Why does Harry hear the Phoenix song? Why does it remind him of Dumbledore?
  2. What causes the streams from Harry and Voldemort's wands to interconnect? Who and what are the images that spill out from Voldemort's wand?

Greater Picture[edit]

Intermediate warning: Details follow which you may not wish to read at your current level.

Why does Harry hear the Phoenix song? Recall what lies within his wand's core: one of only two tail feathers from a particular Phoenix. The other feather is within Voldemort's wand, making them "brothers." The Phoenix who gave the feathers, as will be revealed shortly, is Fawkes. We will also learn that the effect that Harry experienced, the so-called "priori incantatem" effect, is triggered by two wands, having the same origin for their cores and thus being "brothers," dueling. The effect is similar to that caused by the Prior Incantato charm.

The images seen during the Priori Incantatem are not actually Ghosts, but the "spirit echoes" or shades of victims killed with Voldemort's wand, though each person's essence is retained somewhat. A wand records the former spells that it has performed, and under certain circumstances, those spells can be shown in the reverse order they were cast. In this case, the wand's retrieved spell is the killing curse, which separates soul from body, so the spell's echo represents the separated soul.

Harry was able to force the beads of light back into Voldemort's wand because he is the stronger wizard. Much later, Dumbledore will tell Harry that Voldemort was weaker in that instance because he feared death, while Harry was prepared for it. He will also tell Harry that at this encounter, Harry's wand had taken some of the power inherent in Voldemort's wand. The exact effect that this would have, however, was unsure; it is the deepest sort of wand lore, something that was nearly impossible to study or predict.

Voldemort does not expect, and is clearly taken aback, by the Priori Incantatem effect. This is a very unusual event, as holders of "brother" wands seldom duel with each other, so his, and the Death Eaters', unfamiliarity with it is not surprising. To Voldemort, it is impossible that Harry could be the stronger wizard; nobody except Dumbledore could possibly be stronger than he is. So Harry's being able to force this effect must be due to something else; as Harry stands alone at this moment, it must be his wand. This idea will prey on Voldemort for two years. In the final book, after torturing the facts of the matter out of Mr. Ollivander, he will state that it is Harry's wand that is the source of Harry's power, and will devote himself to finding a wand that will work against it. Harry will, for most of the book, believe the same thing, and will be distraught when his wand is accidentally broken.

This is the first time Harry duels Voldemort directly, but it is not the last; while he has fought Voldemort before, once it was through the medium of another wizard, Professor Quirrell, and once it was the young Tom Riddle, via the Horcrux. He will duel Voldemort again in the next book, and once (though encountering him twice without actually dueling him) in the final book.

Connections[edit]

  • This is the point where Voldemort begins to fear, not Harry, but his wand. Voldemort will continue to believe, apparently, that Harry is merely lucky; but starting with this occasion, Voldemort will come to believe that it is Harry's wand that he must somehow counter.
  • The provenance of the core of Harry's wand, first alluded to in the first book, here plays a major role in the battle. The exact provenance will be mentioned two chapters ahead, and awareness of that linkage will inform much of Voldemort's actions in the final book.