Voldemort shouts the Killing Curse over and over, and every time he expects that he will win.
And every time, Harry moves to disarm.
The March For Our Lives was this weekend. I didn’t bring a sign, just a body that could be counted in a tally. This isn’t for me, I thought to myself. It’s for the children around me. Children who are standing with parents and friends and doing their best to still smile and laugh and make the day triumphant. That’s what we expect of children. That they must continue to be children in spite of everything. They must maintain some semblance of innocence, no matter how callous the world has become.
These children were raised on dystopia, we are told. They are growing up with Resistance fighters in Star Wars and superheroes who avenge. With Katniss Everdeen’s love for her little sister. With Maze Runner and Divergent and Uglies and The Giver and Shatter Me and Unwind and… That quote from G.K. Chesterton comes up now and again: “Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.”
But sometimes the parallels are so exact that they’re not comforting in the least.
Emma Gonzalez, standing at the center of this movement with her friends, is reading Harry Potter. She has said that the fight between Dumbledore’s Army and Death Eaters at the Ministry of Magic is what they are going through right now. Their teachers are on their side, but the government isn’t interested. Their primary goal is to keep themselves and others safe, just as Harry taught his classmates do in the Room of Requirement.
We take solace in these cues, despite the terror in the source material. We shore each other up by casting ourselves as the heroes we love and recognize. Sometimes this is the only way to make nightmares bearable. I can see the lines, the broad strokes that get to these particular connections. But there are subtler ones, too. The subtler ones dig deeper, they hurt more. And when I see felt tip marker signs at these marches and rallies that invoke Dumbledore’s Army or Voldemort, these are the thoughts that preoccupy me:
When Harry is in the cemetery at Little Hangleton with Death Eaters surrounding him, Voldemort shouts “Avada Kedavra!” and he shouts “Expelliarmus!”
Though I was the same age as Harry when the books were first published, my generation is not Harry’s anymore. In fact, I am the same age as Snape, as Lupin, as Sirius Black would have been when Harry started school. We didn’t have to contend with Grindelwald or a world of unrelenting global conflict—my parents’ generation were the ones who hid beneath their desks in preparation for nuclear devastation after fascism threatened civilization. My generation didn’t have to worry about that.
Instead, my generation remembers the fight over gun control as its ever-present reality. We were sitting at our desks as the Columbine massacre happened in 1999. We watched adults convince one another that it was an anomaly, that it could never happen a second time. We watched them blame video games and mental health. We saw the ridiculous and inadequate measures put in place that were meant to make us “safe.” Any attempt to speak up about it resulted in more blaming of video games, or sometimes music. White suburban parents really loved to chalk things up to Marilyn Manson back then.
None of the Parkland kids are mollified the way we were. And they aren’t content to be the only ones talking either. They invited a survivor of the Pulse Night Club Shooting to speak beside them. At the march, they had eleven-year-old Naomi Wadler talk to the crowd in D.C. in an attempt to recenter the conversation on those who need the platform most. Because this isn’t just a problem for students. As a part of the framework of our society, it goes far deeper than one school, or even every school. It is about communities going unaided and ignored while friends and children and loved ones are taken from them.
Wizarding society has much the same lesson to learn. From the “Mudbloods” and Muggles who can’t expect aid during Death Eater attacks, to the house-elves and werewolves and centaurs and goblins and giants and countless more who are meant to hold with the status quo and let things continue as they always have. Harry Potter is, in part, about giving voices to your allies, about knowing that you’re stronger together. It is about assuring a better future for everyone, not just the lucky few.
When Harry is being chased by Voldemort’s supporters as he escapes to the Tonks household, and comes across Stan Shunpike under the Imperius Curse, Harry shouts “Expelliarmus!”
When I was nine years old, my fourth grade class went on a short field trip to visit some local business owners—to learn a little about entrepreneurship, I guess. We went to a flower shop and the chocolate shop next door to it. I bought a carnation with some pocket change, and the chocolates were heart-shaped and delicious. The woman who owned the flower shop loved her storefront and her neighborhood. It was her passion, the shop a perfect manifestation of that “American dream” I was always hearing about.
A month later, that same woman was dead; she and her daughter and sister had been gunned down in her store. Her daughter was a year younger than I was. Their shop was one block away from my apartment building.
No one really knew what to say, except “how depressing” or “how shocking.” I suppose it was, but I didn’t have the emotional vocabulary for that kind of tragedy. I buried my terror and did my best not to think about it—there was no better option presented. And the strange thing is, I think of that flower shop owner and her daughter often… yet I never say so out loud. What the hell does that even mean, that over two decades later it still seems forbidden to remember them?
At that march on Saturday I realized—I am not a member of Dumbledore’s Army. My generation, we’re the Order of the Phoenix, at best. Faces on a picture waving up at them. Some of us are gone and some of us remain. The most I can hope for is Remus Lupin status: Here are a few spells to combat evil. Here are the fights we tried and failed to win. Here is my unflagging support. Here is some chocolate; eat it, it helps, it really helps. Forgive me for not doing more, for not ending this before you had to lose your friends and hide in a dark room and listen to adults tell you how to feel instead of telling you how they will stop this from ever happening again.
During the Skirmish at Malfoy Manor, Hermione Granger is being tortured by Bellatrix Lestrange. Ron Weasley bursts into the room and shouts “Expelliarmus!” Harry physically disarms Draco. Dobby snaps Narcissa Malfoy’s wand from her grip with a flick of his hand.
These teenagers stand up and they hold rallies and they speak about what happened and they encourage others to do the same. A new narrative emerges; Parkland was staged, and these children are “paid crisis actors.” Perhaps the people who buy and perpetuate this narrative expect that all children should be too frightened to put their grief into words and actions. They share obviously photoshopped pictures of Gonzalez tearing up the Constitution, and the kids begin receiving threats for speaking out. These kids survived a massacre and are receiving death threats for asking for help. These brave young people are berated for standing up to their state senator in a town hall, for asking him if he will continue to take money from the nation’s most powerful gun lobby, if he will continue to side with the people trying to delegitimize the death of school kids, to delegitimize the fury that their friends and classmates righteously feel. Their detractors try to gaslight a nation into ignoring the very real danger that exists in the United States, not everywhere, but potentially anywhere.
Harry Potter tells Cornelius Fudge that Voldemort is back after the Triwizard Tournament, and the government and frightened adults make moves to discredit him. The Daily Prophet becomes a newspaper full of propaganda. The Boy Who Lived is framed as unstable and dishonest. He craves attention, or something much worse.
Harry takes Defense Against the Dark Arts with Dolores Umbridge in his fifth year, and he is done with keeping truth to himself. He speaks out in the middle of the class and refuses to be gaslit by a Ministry-appointed teacher. He tells everyone that he saw Cedric Diggory die and that he saw Voldemort return. Umbridge puts him in detention and forces him to carve out words on the back of his hand with the help of a sadistic magical tool, the same words over and over each evening:
I must not tell lies.
Harry isn’t lying, and nothing that Umbridge forces him to do will change that. But the scars from that quill are the only scars that Harry carries out of the war aside from the trademark lightning bolt assigned to him by Voldemort. To put it more succinctly: Aside from the initial attack enacted on Harry by the Dark Lord, the only other physical scars he bears for the rest of his life come at the behest of someone who wants to silence him.
More guns, some say. That will solve the problem. A good guy with a gun can stop a bad one, they say. More smart gun owners will outweigh the ones who aren’t so great. Arm security guards. Arm teachers. Arm anyone who will remember to put the safety on. That will keep us safe.
We know this isn’t true. And more importantly, it’s incomprehensibly inhumane to expect others to meet violence with more violence when something so simple and sensible could prevent it all.
Just don’t give people an easy means of murder.
Harry gets dressed down in the final book for being easy to spot due to his signature move, the Disarming Charm. It’s not the first time Harry’s is given flak for it either; there are members of Dumbledore’s Army who are initially disbelieving about its usefulness. Remus Lupin eventually tries to tell Harry that it’s too dangerous to keep using the spell as his default because it makes him easy to spot. Effectively, calling to disarm makes him more of a target. Harry refuses to alter his preference: “I won’t blast people out of my way just because they’re there. That’s Voldemort’s job.”
Harry’s disarmament of Draco accidentally makes him master of the Elder Wand. When he fights Voldemort for the final time, he tells the Dark Lord that this has come to pass. But Voldemort believes he’s invulnerable and he shouts “Avada Kedavra!” and Harry shouts “Expelliarmus!”
Voldemort’s Killing Curse rebounds on him and he dies.
And everyone else lives.
And everyone here could, too.
Emmet Asher-Perrin says #NeverAgain. You can read more of her work here and elsewhere.