We all know that love plays probably the most central role of any concept in the series, but as I’ve previously noted, much of that love centers around the devotion of a mother to her child or that found between friends. Today, however, I want to talk about the vast array of romantic love that is exemplified by JK throughout the books, even if it does take a backseat to other types of care.
Perhaps the most widely discussed relationship from the entire series is that of Snape and Lily. Readers’ opinions on the subject vary from proclaiming it as the love story of our time to entirely discrediting the idea that Snape even truly understood what love was. I think I fall somewhere in the middle of these two extremes: I see Snape as a man who loved as best as he knew how, only to discover too late that what he comprehended as love would undeniably be marked by pain – for both he and Lily – if he pursued it further. Thus, he yielded to the fact that regardless of the path he chose, he was destined to be hurt by this love, but he still had the chance to save Lily from that same pain. So he let her go. In my opinion, he resigned himself to the fact that she was happier with James and didn’t seek to disrupt that, although that didn’t stop him from wishing that things had turned out differently. The worst memory of his entire life was the day when he let the word “Mudblood” slip out while referring to her, and while he regretted every moment after saying such a thing, it is a perfect example of a relationship that is crumbling beneath the feet of those involved, and yet they refuse to recognize the fact that it is over until there is a defining argument to attribute “the end” to. Many times, those involved wish that they could take back the words that began the final fight, but doing so would only have prolonged the inevitable. Snape’s childhood and his choice in friends were the hands guiding him down the dark path that he ended up following, and sadly it seems that he was, in many ways, destined to pursue that direction. His friendship with and love for Lily was an unexpected disturbance in that fate, and it just did not fit in with the life that was planned for him and that he so easily fell into. Square peg, round hole. Sometimes love is not enough. No passion, no care, no friendship, no boundless devotion can outweigh the burden that presses down upon two people who are simply not meant to be together for whatever reason. Snape’s love for Lily began purely, but after her death it became an obsession, his entire being fixated on what he should have differently, on if it could have worked out if only, if he himself was responsible for her murder and what that meant about himself. I am personally of the opinion that, had Dumbledore not given Snape the task of protecting Harry as a purpose in his life, Snape likely would have killed himself. It is clear that he was miserable at every moment after he lost Lily – both emotionally and physically – and it seems to me that Snape’s sole reason for continuing to live was an attempt to posthumously make amends with Lily. Snape tortured himself endlessly about not being a different person (more specifically, not being James) who could have deserved and won the love of Lily, and his continuing to live after her death was another extension of this self-masochism.
Thinking about Lily always makes me wonder what the relationship between she and James really was. There was so little background revealed about their love in the books that it has always made it difficult to believe that they were ~*OMG MEANT FOR EACH OTHER*~. Maybe it’s just me, but my gut reaction has always been that Lily somehow settled for James. Lily detested James for years, but he continued to pursue her, and suddenly she likewise fell for him. It was probable that their mutual participation in the Order helped to bring them closer, but did she realize that he was so much more than she’d always thought, or that she had always loved him deep inside? Or was it that she came to recognize that James could love her in a way that Snape never could, and that was good enough? She knew that Snape would never be able to love her or respect her and her ideals in the way that she needed, and she also knew that James could – no matter how she felt in return. I have no doubt that Lily cared for James deeply, but do I believe that she felt as passionately about him as Snape did about her? No, I do not. This is, again, most likely because almost nothing was shown of their courtship or marriage in the series; but if I had to take a guess as to what type of love JK was really hinting at between the two of them, it would be the good enough love. There comes a point when the need for a life without pain overrules the desire for a life with overwhelming passion, as, I suspect, Lily well knew.
Another highly intriguing adult pairing (at least in my opinion) is that of Narcissa and Lucius Malfoy. Readers don’t see all that much behind-the-scenes in their relationship, yet I do get the sense that they were one of those couples who really needed a disaster to understand how much they depended on and respected one another. But granted, it’s difficult to interpret their relationship because of how important upholding facades towards the outside world are to the both of them. Thus, how much of Narcissa’s care for Lucius is borne out of the desire to “keep up appearances,” and how much is genuine? As is common for many Pureblood couples, there is widespread suspicion that Narcissa and Lucius were part of an arranged marriage rather than beginning as a real couple. I think that regardless of their love’s origins or some of their motives for portraying it, the Malfoys have a deep admiration and compassion for one another; they are, perhaps, two people who became involved out of convenience and tradition, grew to love each other, and gradually became entangled in a desperate situation that increasingly tested whether or not their devotion could last beyond the scope of seeking power, influence, and wealth. As it turns out, we as readers never are able to learn what exactly happened between the Malfoys after the second Wizarding War, but I tend to think that they attempted to rebuild their lives together because through it all – just as other couples deal with crises and tragedies – they experienced the reemergence of Voldemort together: the rise, the pride, the fall, the attempt at redemption, the failure, the disgrace, the abuse, the fear.
At first I was really rather averse to the idea of a Remus-Tonks relationship for a number of completely valid reasons: she was somuch younger than him, he was a werewolf and was constantly fighting his own personal demons, and they should have been concentrating on the fact that a war was in progress rather than allowing themselves to be distracted by the drama that a relationship would undoubtedly create. Why, at the end of HBP when members of the Order were crowded around Bill Weasley’s hospital bed, Lupin himself rattled off these same complications that he had been thinking about, and when he did I felt even more justified for disliking the pairing. Even in the face of an upset Tonks begging him to give the relationship a chance, Lupin was as he always was – calm, rational: “I am not being ridiculous. Tonks deserves somebody young and whole.” And then Arthur Weasley said something that made me realize that both Lupin’s and my own objections to the couple were entirely ludicrous: “But she wants you. And after all, Remus, young and whole men do not necessarily remain so.” Who can argue with that? Remus and Tonks represent the fact that there will always be excuses why something will not work, why two people should not be together, and many times those reasons are legitimate. But even so, what use is listening to those excuses if they end up making both people miserable without each other? Tonks and Lupin are the epitome of pushing aside the ifs, ands, and buts and finally saying, “We love each other, and maybe it will be a mess, but let’s figure that out together.”
It is strange to think of Dumbledore ever having been in love because, like Harry, most readers have a hard time imagining a Dumbledore who was not old, wise, and bearded. But however brief, I find it interesting that Dumbledore’s feelings toward Grindelwald when they were teenagers are really the best case in the books for showing just how strong youthful infatuation can be, and how that sort of attraction can lead to dangerous situations and bad decisions. Dumbledore’s obsession with Grindelwald caused him to turn a blind eye to the reality of what type of person Grindelwald really was. Just as nearly every schoolgirl has at one point or another secretly lusted after the “bad boy,” I believe that Dumbledore was so caught up in the thrill of finding someone just as brilliantly intelligent and ambitious as he, not to mention the experience of falling in love for the first time, that he would have refused to hear a word against Grindelwald even had someone attempted to put a stop to their friendship. It is that excitement that causes common sense to falter, and when something finally does occur to bring reality crashing back down, it serves as a slap in the face that can be downright brutal. Grindelwald’s feelings for Dumbledore extended just far enough to plot a rise to power together, but when the shit hit the fan, he ran instead of taking responsibility and helping his best friend. Grindelwald’s fight with the Dumbledores and his immediate disappearance after possibly killing Ariana was such a betrayal of Albus that I doubt he ever really recovered – not only from his guilt for being involved in the situation, but also from the pain at discovering the ugly truth that often lies beneath that which seems so perfect.
While the portrayal of Ginny and Harry in the films has turned me away from being a huge fan of theirs, I do think their relationship is an important one to represent in the series. Harry could have had virtually any girl he chose simply because of his fame, and for a long time he took no notice of Ginny, thinking her simply the little sister of his best mate and nothing more, even as she secretly (and sometimes not-so-secretly) longed for him from afar – “I never really gave up on you. Not really.” Yet she gradually became part of his support system, accepting that even if he never returned her affection, she still genuinely cared enough about him to want to be in his life even if it was only as a friend. Ginny was the person who Harry didn’t ever expect to have feelings for, yet when he first thought that perhaps she really was the right one for him, it was a case of realizing that he had missed seeing what was standing right in front of him all along.
Ron and Hermione are the absolute classic example of friends-turned-lovers, two halves of a whole, yin and yang. However, I’ve already discussed their relationship in depth in a previous post, so… go read that one if necessary.
Lastly, there’s Arthur and Molly Weasley, who, in my opinion, have one of the best relationships in the series, and they just balance one another out so well. They were school sweethearts – probably each other’s first and only loves if I had to guess – and here they are, however many years later, doing a wonderful job of raising a large family on little money and keeping the love alive between them. Arthur and Molly are JK’s way of showing very pure and simple love that, when found, seems to lead the way to happiness in whatever form that appears for different people. Love is the absolute foundation of the Weasleys’ existence, and their entire family speaks so much to the strength of untainted, innocent, uncomplicated love from start to finish.