In the Harry Potter books, we learn that Harry survives the Killing Curse thanks to his mother's willingness to sacrifice herself for him. This causes the curse to backfire on Voldemort, and leaves Harry with a scar on his forehead.

Has anyone else ever survived a Killing Curse in the Potter-verse? I find it hard to believe that no other witch or wizard have ever put themselves in harms way for someone they love before by choice. As such, was there some mitigating or special circumstances about the event in question?

  • 4
    part of your answer exists at Why didn't James' love and sacrifice for Lily protect her?
    – Ajo Koshy
    Jun 22 '15 at 11:18
  • @AjoKoshy Thank you, I'll remove that part of the question. Jun 22 '15 at 11:23
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    I thought this too, but I realized: it might have happened, just not so publicly. "The baby who survived Voldemort" would be much more widely-known than "the guy whose buddy saved him during a battle" or "the guy who survived a home invasion." Maybe it has happened, it just wasn't as famous an event so most wizards don't know about it.
    – Nerrolken
    Jun 22 '15 at 18:51

The circumstances in which Lily sacrificed herself for Harry were unique. Five characteristics in particular seem important:

  1. Lily loved Harry.
  2. Lily did not try to protect Harry by fighting.
  3. Harry was defenseless; Lily was his only remaining protector.
  4. Voldemort had a specific intention not to kill Lily.
  5. Lily had no idea that her sacrifice could cause the Curse to rebound.

Dumbledore attributed Harry's survival to love. And, although Harry did not know it until after Dumbledore's death, there were two loves involved--Lily's love for Harry, and Snape's love for Lily. Voldemort would have intended to kill Lily without Snape's request that her life be spared. Had he not made that request, Lily's sacrifice would not have been effective, because she would have been on Voldemort's hit list. Circumstances like this are very rare. For a witch or wizard not to at least attempt to fight back is, of course, very unusual. Even more unusual is for a murderer to specifically intend to spare one of his victims' relatives.

While it might be possible for a Killing Curse to have rebounded before, the Curse aimed at Harry was apparently the first to rebound within recorded history. Voldemort, for all his knowledge of Dark Magic, had no idea that a Killing Curse could ever go wrong. Neither did Lily. Most likely, if she had known, then the Curse would not have rebounded: later on, Dumbledore did not want Harry to know he might survive Voldemort's Killing Curse again, because then Harry's attempted sacrifice would have failed. Harry had to believe that he was genuinely going to die for people he cared about. That was what his mother had done. In both cases, the sacrifice worked, and the people who needed to be protected were saved. (And Harry survived his sacrifice thanks to several even more unusual things, which involved his mother's sacrifice and his own status as Voldemort's final Horcrux.)

In short: It requires a very complicated set of circumstances for a Killing Curse to rebound. Love is the most important factor, but several other things are also required. Such a situation cannot be set up intentionally, or the Killing Curse will function as usual.

  • why would lily fighting do anything? Jun 22 '15 at 19:07
  • Good answer. I don't see why it was downvoted. Jun 22 '15 at 19:53
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    albusseveruspotter : Of course Lily couldn't have saved Harry by fighting. But she could have fought out of instinct. If she had, then her intentions would have been slightly different. People can fight to save someone else's life from motives that are less than pure. Giving yourself up as a sacrifice, without attempting to fight, takes another type of courage, and generally a lot of love for something--a person, a cause, whatever. Different motives = different results.
    – E. J.
    Jun 23 '15 at 0:12
  • But... if she had know that fighting couldn't save Harry, and she just chose to give up, without knowing that would save him, how would that be better than at least go down fighting?
    – user11521
    Sep 2 '15 at 20:05

I find it hard to believe that no other witch or wizard have ever put themselves in harms way for someone they love before by choice. As such, was there some mitigating or special circumstances about the event in question?

The entire series is packed full of examples of witches and wizards choosing to willingly put themselves in harm's way for somebody they love. However, unlike in Lily's case, they're choosing to resist and to fight; dying isn't a certainty, only a possibility, and they don't get to choose the outcome.

Lily knew that she was definitely going to die if she didn't stand aside, and she still didn't fight against it. She just accepted it, made the decision that her son's life was worth more than her own, and knowingly sacrificed herself for him.

That seems to be the key distinction, and I don't think it's that unbelievable that those circumstances had never occurred before.

  • Since the OP hasn't really given any sort of timeline restraints, it's really impossible to say whether or not those circumstances had ever occurred before. How long have witches/wizards been casting that spell? Hundreds of years? Thousands?
    – Daft
    Jun 22 '15 at 12:34
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    @Daft The books tell us that it never happened. Wizards have a much better historical record than Muggles, due to things such as longer lifespans, seemingly sentient magical artefacts like the Sorting Hat, and ghosts who have been around for hundreds or thousands of years. I don't think it's unfeasible that they'd know if it had happened before, since it would be a really big deal (as it was with Harry). Ultimately, this isn't a question of what the facts are, but of belief of those facts; the whole premise is essentially "I don't think this is realistic". Jun 22 '15 at 12:45
  • @AnthonyGrist I was predominantly wondering if I had missed some extenuating circumstances that only the scenario in question contained - my issue isn't that it's unrealistic, it's that I was curious about the exact circumstances in play. Jun 22 '15 at 13:13
  • But how would her sacrifice stop Voldemort from killing Harry next? She had no way of knowing her sacrifice would cause the killing curse to rebound, and given the Voldemort is after Harry because of the prophecy that only one of them can survive, why would he stop just because Lily is dead?
    – user11521
    Sep 2 '15 at 20:07

I think the answer is kinda simple. Lily was very powerful with non-verbal, non-wand magic, even when she was a child. Remember witches and wizards could perform magic, sometimes called ancient magic, long before the invention of the wand. Similar to how childrens magical abilities manifest before they have a wand. And like with wand magic, there are varying degrees of strength, and Lily was top-notch in ancient magic. Therefore, it was very powerful, very ancient magic that saved Harry .

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    Is this backed up by any evidence? If so, it would improve this answer if you provide it.
    – Möoz
    Aug 7 '17 at 2:37

Most people who are hunted by You-Know-Who usually are chased(I presume) into a corner and then murdered. But in case of Harry, he had his mother who wanted to sacrifice herself inorder to save her son, which is far more protective that the killing curse is weakened by such a gesture. And so Harry is able to survive.

NOTE: There is a canon reference which Dumbledore explains to Harry about this, I will add to my answer shortly.

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