James and Lily Potter sacrificed themselves to save their young son in JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series. In Sorcerer’s Stone, it is revealed that Harry’s parents died to shelter and protect Harry from Lord Voldemort. James and Lily’s sacrifices have been reiterated several times throughout the series. Lily died to save Harry from Voldemort and once Harry learns this, he models his life and choices after his mother’s example of love and sacrifice. With each reiteration of Lily’s sacrifice the message of love is repeated to Harry and he, in turn, demonstrates these qualities in his own life.

Baby Harry in Godric's Hollow facing Lord Voldemort for the first time.
Baby Harry faces Lord Voldemort’s Wand (Warner Bros)

In Sorcerer’s Stone, Dumbledore explains to Harry how his mother’s love saved him as a baby and continues to protect him years later.

Your mother died to save you. If there is one thing Voldemort cannot understand, it is love. He 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. It is in your very skin.

Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone, The Man with Two Faces

The Love Of Lily Evans-Potter

To further illustrate the effect of Lily’s love and sacrifice, in Deathly Hallows, Dumbledore asks Snape:

You remember the shape and color of Lily Evan’s eyes, I am sure? If you love Lily Evans, if you truly love her, then your way forward is clear. You know how and why she died. Make sure it was not in vain.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, The Prince’s Tale
Young Lily Evans
Young Lily Evans (Warner Bros)

Lily used her body as a shield to protect her son. Her love is as clear to Harry as the lightning bolt scar on his forehead is to everyone else. The visual effect of Lily’s love is important to show because it reinforces the positive message of love in the Harry Potter series.

Snape holds Lily Potter's body in Godric's Hollow
Lily and Snape in Godric’s Hollow (Warner Bros)

Those Who Love & Support Harry Potter

The plot of the series could easily be interpreted as a dark tale of relentless pursuit. The evil Lord Voldemort tries to kill innocent Harry Potter regularly at home, school, during sporting events, field trips and on vacations throughout his adolescent life. Voldemort mostly fails in his attacks on Harry so he recruits his gang of evil-doers, called the Death Eaters, to attack Harry and his school friends. Even the most powerful wizard of the age, Albus Dumbledore cannot defeat Lord Voldemort or protect Harry all the time.

Perhaps the most beneficial bond Harry has is the link to his parents. Although they both were deceased prior to the start of the series, they connected with him through several magical means. Harry first encounters images of his parents in the Mirror of Erised. The mirror shows what the viewer wants most in the world. For Harry, an orphan living with cruel relatives, he yearns for the love and support of his parents.

Harry looks at Lily and James Potter in the Mirror of Erised,
Lily, Harry and James Potter (Warner Bros)

Several years later during the Tri-Wizard Tournament in Goblet of Fire when Harry faces Voldemort in a graveyard their wands connect in Priori Incantatem. This is a unique effect that only occurs when two wands who share the same core material duel. One effect is the after-images of recent spells echo from the wands. In this case, Voldemort’s wand produced ghost-like images of his deceased parents. Harry also gets reassurance and support from his parents from the Resurrection Stone in Deathly Hallows. His mother smiles and says “you’ve been so brave” while his father is “so proud” of him.

Following In The Footsteps Of Love & Sacrifice

Harry models his choices after the heroic acts of love and sacrifice by his parents. In Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry is faced with Peter Pettigrew, the wizard who sold his parent’s secret location to Voldemort which led to their deaths. James’ old school friends Remus Lupin and Sirius Black wanted vengeance against Pettigrew but Harry stayed their hand. Harry does this not because he empathizes with the wizard who betrayed his parents but “because — I don’t reckon my dad would’ve wanted them to become killers — just for you.”

Lily and James Potter
Lily and James Potter (Warner Bros)

Dumbledore later explains, “Pettigrew owes his life to you. You have sent Voldemort a deputy who is in your debt…When one wizard saves another wizard’s life, it creates a certain bond between them…and I’m much mistaken if Voldemort wants his servant in the debt of Harry Potter.” Harry saves Pettigrew’s life because he wants to honor his late father’s wishes. In doing so, Harry has earned another tool in his belt to defeat Voldemort because he chose to follow his father’s example of mercy and love.

The Strength Of Love In Harry Potter

In Deathly Hallows, Harry goes on a mythic quest to locate and use the powerful trio of items that the wizarding legend claims make one Master of Death. With Ron and Hermione, Harry looks for the Elder Wand and the Resurrection Stone. The Cloak of Invisibility Harry already possessed. Harry’s search for the Deathly Hallows is a break from Harry’s approach of leading with love. Harry goes for the easy answer: power beyond all others. This is the strategy of Lord Voldemort and Dumbledore says,

that which Voldemort does not value, he takes no trouble to comprehend. Of house-elves and children’s tales, of love, loyalty, and innocence, Voldemort knows and understands nothing. Nothing. That they all have a power beyond his own, a power beyond the reach of any magic, is a truth he never grasped.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, King’s Cross
Harry and Dumbledore sit in Harry's mental King's Cross.
Harry and Dumbledore (Warner Bros)

Lord Voldemort cannot and will not acknowledge the validity of Dumbledore’s beliefs. This will ultimately contribute to his downfall. Although Harry did possess the Deathly Hallows eventually, he did not use the Hallows to fight Voldemort. He again went back to his parents’ example of love and sacrifice.

Modeling After Lily’s Love And Sacrifice

Harry repeats his mother’s act of self-sacrifice in Deathly Hallows when he does not defend himself against Voldemort’s killing curse. After he survives, he taunts Voldemort,

Don’t you get it? I was ready to die to stop you from hurting these people….I’ve done what my mother did. They’re protected from you. Haven’t you noticed how none of the spells you put on them are binding? You can’t torture them. You can’t touch them. And you don’t learn from your mistakes, Riddle, do you?

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, The Flaw in the Plan
Voldemort casting a spell in the Forbidden Forest
Voldemort in the Forbidden Forest (Warner Bros)

Harry has learned how to love and sacrifice from his mother. He lives because of her sacrifice. In turn, his friends now live because of Harry’s sacrifice. Consequently, one young wizard, Harry, defeats the baddest wizard of the age, Voldemort, with the power of love.