Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows put a lot of focus on the Master of Death, but it is never made entirely clear what this meant. According to the legend surrounding the Tale of the Three Brothers, the Master of Death was the title of the person who would reunite the Deathly Hallows. The Cloak of Invisibility, Elder Wand, and Resurrection Stone could give their holder the power over death so that they need never die. However, the fact that the Hallows were not what kept Harry from dying in Harry Potter indicates that this isn’t entirely true. So, what did it mean to unite the Deathly Hallows and become Master of Death?
The Deathly Hallows quest proved fatal for many over the course of wizarding world history. Gelert Grindelwald and Albus Dumbledore were willing to step on the backs of Muggles to get them, and the Elder Wand especially led to the murder of countless witches and wizards across centuries. However, in the end, it was Harry Potter who managed to get his hands on all three—and they certainly didn’t make him immortal. The Harry Potter books and movies never overtly answer why this was, but hints throughout the story prove that the idea of a Master of Death is deeply misunderstood.
When Harry entered the Forbidden Forest in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, he intended to sacrifice himself to Lord Voldemort. He didn’t realize at the time that he actually had the loyalty of all three Deathly Hallows at that moment. The Invisibility Cloak had always been his, the Resurrection Stone had been hidden within the Golden Snitch, and the Elder Wand had given Harry its loyalty back at Malfoy Manor. This meant Harry was the Master of Death when he stood ready to die. However, it wasn’t this that saved him. Instead, Lily’s sacrifice in Voldemort’s regenerated body kept Harry tethered to life.
This shows that combining the Deathly Hallows didn’t create some magical reaction that transformed the owner into an immortal being. Instead, the Master of Death would simply be someone who didn’t fear death. With the Elder Wand to guard them against foes, an Invisibility Cloak to stay out of sight when necessary, and a Resurrection Stone to conjure deceased loved ones to guide them home, the person who united the Deathly Hallows had no reason to be afraid to die. Like in The Tale of the Three Brothers, the Master of Death could greet Death as an old friend.
The fact that Harry was the Master of Death in Deathly Hallows meant that he could carry out the impossible responsibility that had been placed on him. Without his parents’ support and the security of the Invisibility Cloak, walking into the Forbidden Forest would have been too much to ask of Harry. Dumbledore recognized this, and as he put the pieces together regarding what Harry would have to do to defeat Voldemort and realized that Harry inheriting the Invisibility Cloak had been no accident, the old headmaster saw that it had always been Harry’s destiny to unite the Deathly Hallows since they were uniquely able to assist him on his mission.
This was why Dumbledore ensured that Harry could only access the Resurrection Stone in the moments before his self-sacrifice. He hid the Hallow inside the Golden Snitch and placed a spell on it along with the inscription, “I open at the close.” Only when Harry announced that he was ready to die would he be able to take the stone, turn it in his fingers, and summon those he had lost. Harry realized this was the only acceptable way to use the Resurrection stone since “he was not really fetching them: they were fetching him.“
The fact that the Deathly Hallows wouldn’t make the owner Master of Death, but rather make death easier and something not to be feared, is alluded to in the Tale of the Three Brothers story. The third brother, who possessed the Invisibility Cloak, stayed hidden until he was ready to die, and he and Death departed the living world together as friends. This was precisely what happened to Harry. He, who had defied death several times, finally allowed himself to be killed and departed willingly with his loved ones by his side. However, Harry wasn’t the only one paralleled by the Deathly Hallows story.
Voldemort represented the oldest brother, who believed himself undefeatable and brought about his own death by boasting of his power. The Dark Lord constantly underestimated the things he did not value, such as the strength of children or the power of love—and his hubris got him killed. Dumbledore’s backstory in Harry Potter proves he did value these things. However, it was his obsession with his lost loved ones that claimed his life—just like the middle brother. When he saw the Resurrection Stone, he couldn’t resist but try to use it, even though he knew his deceased family didn’t want to return. Of course, when he put the ring on, he was fatally cursed.
Albus Dumbledore had searched for the Deathly Hallows for a large portion of his life, and he eventually learned that the quest was dangerous for the soul. So, he gave it up—and without even trying, he wound up with each of the Hallows in his possession at different times. Still, he never managed to unite them and realized he had not been worthy. In the King’s Cross Purgatory in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Dumbledore explained this to Harry:
“Maybe a man in a million could unite the Hallows, Harry. I was fit only to possess the meanest of them, the least extraordinary. I was fit to own the Elder Wand, and not to boast of it, and not to kill with it. I was permitted to tame and to use it, because I took it, not for gain, but to save others from it.
“But the Cloak, I took out of vain curiosity, and so it could never have worked for me as it works for you, its true owner. The stone I would have used in an attempt to drag back those who are at peace, rather than to enable my self-sacrifice, as you did. You are the worthy possessor of the Hallows.” – Dumbledore, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
Harry was worthy to become the Master of the Deathly Hallows because he did not use them to conquer death. The quest for the Deathly Hallows had misled many to think this was their purpose, but it wasn’t. The Hallows were only meant to make the idea of death gentler—to make the person who wielded them understand that dying wasn’t the worst of fates. Harry had many loved ones who had passed beyond the veil, and with the help of the Deathly Hallows, he could choose whether to join them or remain with the living. Though he decided to carry on Harry Potter, the day would someday come when he would gladly greet Death like an old friend.