The Tale of the Three Brothers
Let's quickly recap the story of the three brothers before delving into the alternative theory. If you’re familiar, skip this and read on from “Death or Albus Dumbledore?”
When Hermione is left The Tales of Beedle the Bard in Dumbledore‘s will, the trio discover the story of the three brothers, with a little help from Xenophilius Lovegood, who explains the story and its relevance to the Deathly Hallows.
The short story follows the three Peverell brothers. Antioch, Cadmus and Ignotus. When the brothers reach a treacherous river, they use their magical skill to fashion a bridge across it. Halfway over the bridge, they meet a hooded figure—the earthly form of death. Feeling cheated out of three victims, Death decides to pretend to reward the brothers. He allows each of them a gift of their choosing.
The eldest brother, Antioch, who was greedy, combative and thought himself superior, asked death for something that would allow him to defeat his enemies, get what he wanted and appear a formidable man. Death fashioned him "the Elder Wand"—a wand that can’t be beaten by any other and is capable of superior magic.
The second brother Cadmus, had previously suffered the terrible loss of his wife, he was also an arrogant man and wanted to humiliate death, so he decided that he’d kill two birds with one stone (no pun intended). He asked Death for something that would bring back the dead. So Death picked a stone from the riverbed and presented to Cadmus, "the Resurrection Stone".
The third brother, Ignotus, thought to be the ancestor of Harry Potter, was a modest man. He asked Death simply to be allowed to walk from the bridge, and not be looked for or found by Death. Death reluctantly fashioned a cloak from his own cloak of invisibility and gave it to Ignotus.
The brothers went their separate ways, each with their individual gifts to hand. The first brother challenged people he'd once quarrelled with; because he was using the Elder Wand, there was no match for him. However, a stranger snuck into his room one night where he laid passed out and intoxicated with alcohol, slit his throat and took the Elder Wand for his own. Death then collected the first brother.
The second brother, Cadmus, was overjoyed with the thought of bringing his wife back, therefore turning the Resurrection Stone over in his hands and watching in awe as his wife appeared. Unfortunately, the woman clearly wasn’t the same woman he’d shared his life with before she died, just a mere shadow of her. So, in his despair, he hung himself. Death then collected the second brother.
Death searched long and hard for the third brother, probably wanting to add him to the collection of Peverells, but he couldn’t find him. Only after a long and full life did Ignotus take off the cloak and go happily with Death.
It still sounds like a children’s story, aimed at teaching morals and the perils that come with arrogance and greed. However, did J.K. Rowling have a bigger picture in mind, and are the characters in the tale actually based on the key characters of Harry Potter itself?
Death or Albus Dumbledore?
Dumbledore is just as mysterious in Harry Potter as Death is in The Tale of the Three Brothers. He has had had every Deathly Hallow in his possession at some point or other. He also presented the Cloak of Invisibility to Harry in Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, and he hid the Resurrection Stone in the snitch that Harry receives in Dumbledore’s will.
The eerie similarities continue when Harry discovers the words “I open at the close” written on the snitch. Only when Harry is certain he‘s about to die does he say, “I am about to die”, and the snitch opens. Quite a fitting riddle for death to have etched on the side of the snitch.
When Harry does go into the forest during the Battle of Hogwarts, Voldemort hits him with another killing curse. Where does he end up, and who speaks to him? He wakes up in purgatory in the form of King's Cross Station, walking with Albus Dumbledore where they first met. The part of Voldemort that’s just died is cowering disgustingly under a bench. How has Dumbledore got control of both a dead part of Voldemort and Harry, who’s currently “halfway”.
The First Brother: Antioch or Lord Voldemort?
Possibly the most obvious link between the two stories is that of the first brother and Voldemort. Both consumed with being the most superior of wizards, both on the run from Death. The brother receives the Elder Wand from Death, and maybe... so does Voldemort, as he takes the Elder Wand from Dumbledore‘s grave in the last book.
Like the first brother, Voldemort is unsuccessful; he receives the Elder Wand, but the true owner is Draco Malfoy, so it ends up causing him more harm than good, just like the first brother who gets his throat slit for it.
The Second Brother: Cadmus or Severus Snape?
The second brother pined for the loss of his dead wife and asked Death for a way of bringing her back. Severus Snape also pines for the love of his life, Lily Potter. In the Pensieve, after Snape dies and Harry uses his memories to learn more, the reader learns that Snape confronts Dumbledore (Death), outraged in desperation and sadness at the news that Lily is dead. He swears to take care of Lily’s son, Harry, and do whatever it takes to protect him. He, therefore, just like Cadmus, receives the person he wanted, but not in the form he expected (Harry).
In the movie adaptation, Snape is seen cradling Lily moments after she’s been killed by Lord Voldemort. The second brother knew that his wife would never be the same again.
The Third Brother: Ignotus or Harry Potter?
Harry Potter is known for being modest and has been successfully evading being killed all his life. He, like Ignotus, receives the Cloak of Invisibility from Death (Dumbledore) in his first year of Hogwarts. When he finally goes to die, he doesn’t try to avoid it, or trick death like the other brothers had; he walks into the Forbidden Forest with the cloak and accepts it. As mentioned before, he leaves earth with Dumbledore as an equal, as Dumbledore states that Harry can choose where he wants to go—back or “on”—just as Ignotus is greeted by death as “an old friend” when he finally gives up the cloak.
In Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Harry passes his cloak on to his oldest son, James Sirius Potter, in a similar manner to that of Ignotus and his son in the tale.
Only when he had attained a great age did the youngest brother shed the cloak of invisibility and give it to his son.
— The Tales of Beedle the Bard
The Man Who Sneaks or Gellert Grindelwald?
Everyone thinks of The Tale of the Three Brothers as being a story of four characters, Death, Antioch, Cadmus and Ignotus—but there‘s a fifth. The man who sneaks into the older brother's room at night, slits his throat and takes the Elder Wand for his own.
From early on in the Harry Potter series, it’s known that Dumbledore once had a legendary duel with another extremely gifted wizard named Gellert Grindelwald. Little is known about him until the last book reveals that he was once a possessor of the Elder Wand and was once Dumbledore’s very good friend. He is also seen through Harry’s visions jumping from a window ledge and sneaking away, just like the stranger in The Tale of the Three Brothers.
So, has J.K. Rowling purposely written this masterpiece of metaphors, or has she managed to make the two stories intertwine with similarities by accident? You decide.