*This post will contain Harry Potter spoilers. If you have not read Harry Potter and do not want to be spoiled, please refrain from reading on.*
After many months of silence and distraction, I will be concluding my Harry Potter series. It was truly glorious to revisit my beloved Harry, especially now with all this Cursed Child business (more on that later). For now, let’s delve in to the seventh and final book: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (for the previous installments of this series, please see here, here, here, and here).
I started re-reading shakily. It’s a very emotional experience for me, even after all this time, to read the final Harry Potter book. I started crying at the dedication: “And to you, if you have stuck with Harry until the very end.” Gah! The thing about this book is it isn’t just a book to me and to so many others. It’s the end of an era. It’s the end of a crucial piece of my childhood and development as a person. Harry Potter is an absolutely crucial and vital part of me. I grew up with these characters. I know them inside and out, like family. I love this series fiercely and nearly blindly. But there is so much more to it than just a fan’s headstrong affection. There is an undeniable and magnificent art to the final book. So much is explained and revealed and tied together. Deathly Hallows is the culmination of so many years of work and planning and tiny details. It’s truly J. K. Rowling’s magnum opus.
The book opens with a foreboding scene of violence at Malfoy Manor as Voldemort plans his attempt to try, yet again, to capture and kill Harry Potter. This scene establishes yet more of his inhumanity as he tortures and kills Charity Burbage, the muggle studies teacher, and humiliates Bellatrix and the Malfoys about their niece Tonks and her marriage to Lupin. He encourages them to “prune [their family tree] to keep it healthy. Cut away those parts that threaten the health of the rest…We shall cut away the canker that infects us until only those of the true blood remain.”
Voldemort is a bully and bigot. He cares for nothing but himself and his own desire for power. Even his followers mean nothing to him (see how he cuts down Snape, essentially his right hand man, when he thinks his death will benefit him). This is important to keep in mind in anticipation of his hostile takeover of the Ministry of Magic and the wizarding world as a whole. His is a reign of death, intolerance, hatred, and violence exemplified during the trio’s infiltration of the Ministry after it falls to Voldemort: Magic is Might. They begin rounding up and imprisoning muggle-borns, creating the Muggle-Born Registration Commission, headed by the sadistic Dolores Umbridge. Attending Hogwarts becomes compulsory (as is a Dark Arts education). Any muggle sympathizers are harshly punished. Harry becomes Undesirable Number One, wanted for questioning regarding Dumbledore’s murder. Dementors are floating around everywhere sowing discord and wreaking havoc. The Voldemort regime twists and perverts everything good and decent about Harry’s world. The parallels between Voldemort’s ministry and Nazi Germany are many and disturbing.
Death and loss are central themes to this book and Rowling doesn’t waste any time jumping right into it. She is very serious about breaking her readers hearts and toying with our emotions (in the best way possible). Within the first 60 pages, Hedwig and Mad-Eye Moody are dead, in addition to Charity Burbage, and George is injured. By the end, we’ve lost many familiar faces: Dobby, Fred, Lupin, Tonks, Snape, even little Colin Creevey.
This book gets pretty dark. Rowling hits you hard with the reality of a wizarding war and the casualties involved. Each death accomplishes a slightly different thing in terms of furthering plot and establishing character. Hedwig’s death, for example, signals an end of innocence. Harry’s pet and constant campaign since age 11 is gone. Harry is on his own. Mad-Eye is an accomplished and seasoned auror, and yet he perishes at the hands of the Death Eaters. Everyone is in danger. The Battle of Hogwarts brings deaths horribly painful to recount. Fred’s death seems so senseless, but a part of me understands it. One of the Weasleys had to die, I suppose. How could they possibly get through this entire ordeal without losing a single family member? But why FRED? It just seems to unfair, especially to George. And then there’s Lupin and Tonks, new parents, unfairly taken. Here again, it makes some sense, I GUESS. Teddy Lupin is left orphaned, much like our own Mr. Potter was left orphaned in the struggle against the darkness. But Teddy still has a real family: his grandmother Andromeda and his godfather in Harry. He is an orphan, but he won’t face the same loneliness Harry had to for so long. The cycle of loss continues, but the wrong of lacking a family will be righted.
In the wake of all this loss, Rowling delves into the depths of grief. To quote Hamilton, “There are moments that the words don’t reach. There is suffering too terrible to name.” Her depictions of death and grief are just so beautifully sad, honest, and poignant. I could go on and on about her language, but it’s better for the words to just speak for themselves:
“His rage was dreadful and yet Harry’s grief for Dobby seemed to diminish it, so that it became a distant storm that reached Harry from across a vast, silent ocean…Shortly afterward, he set to work, alone, digging the grave in the place that Bill had shown him at the end of the garden between the bushes. He dug with a kind of fury, relishing the manual work, glorying in the non-magic of it, for every drop of sweat and every blister felt like a gift to the elf who had saved their lives.”
“And then the world resolved itself into pain and semidarkness: He was half buried in the wreckage of a corridor that had been subjected to a terrible attack. Cold air told him that the side of the castle had been blown away, and hot stickiness on his cheek told him that he was bleeding copiously. Then he heard a terrible cry that pulled at his insides, that expressed agony of a kind neither flame nor curse could cause, and he stood up, swaying, more frightened than he had been that day, more frightened, perhaps, than he had been in his life…
And Hermione was struggling to her feet in the wreckage, and three redheaded men were grouped on the ground where the wall had blasted apart. Harry grabbed Hermione’s hand as they staggered and stumbled over stone and wood.
‘No – no – no!’ someone was shouting. ‘No! Fred! No!’
And Percy was shaking his brother, and Ron was kneeling beside them, and Fred’s eyes stared without seeing, the ghost of his last laugh still etched upon his face.”
This book centers on Harry, Ron, and Hermione’s journey to find and destroy all the Horcruxes. A duty and responsibility Harry knows he has to fulfill, but isn’t quite certain on the details. Namely, he’s not sure exactly what all the Horcruxes are, where exactly they need to go, or how exactly to destroy them. It doesn’t help that his search is intersected by a parallel obsession with finding the fabled Deathly Hallows. This leads to a lot of guesswork, running around, and low morale, particularly in the beginning of the book. The book also centers the power of love and friendship – Harry literally could not have pulled this off without Ron and Hermione. Toward the end of the book, as Harry is searching for Ravenclaw’s diadem (and while Ron and Hermione are seeking basilisk fangs in the Chamber of Secrets), he has a moment of desperation: “Without Ron and Hermione to help him, he could not seem to marshal his thoughts.” Though he does manage to work everything out vis-à-vis the Hogwarts ghosts. Harry does need his friends, but he isn’t completely useless. Usually.
In the beginning, Harry’s temper and frustration at their slow progress and the sacrifices everyone’s making on his behalf tends to muck things up. At first Harry doesn’t even want either of them to hunt Horcuxes with him (his hero complex at work), but that’s never stopped Ron and Hermione. They both sacrifice and risk a lot to accompany Harry. Ron dresses up the ghoul in the attic and spreads a rumor he has spattergroit to remove suspicion from his family about why he hasn’t returned to Hogwarts. Meanwhile, Hermione modifies her parents memories so they think they are different people. (“Wendell and Monica Wilkins don’t know that they’ve got a daughter, you see.” *sobs*)
After the high of discovering the locket (with Kreacher’s help – bless Kreacher’s little elf heart by the way; the story of Regulus and Kreacher is just too heartbreaking), Ron and Hermione become discouraged by how little Harry knows about the Horcruxes and their locations and doubts his leadership. This leads to squabbling and an increasing anger and resentment, especially from Ron. In particular, this is exacerbated by the bad feelings brought on by wearing the locket and Harry’s continuous Voldemort visions (fueling his interest in the Elder Wand). Ultimately, this ends with Ron and Harry getting into a huge fight and Ron taking off, leaving Harry and a distraught Hermione alone. (I would also like to point out that Ron is the absolute worst before he takes off. He voices all of Harry’s doubts and fears and acts like a complete prat with zero tact. I get why he’s acting this way – jealousy, doubt, fear for his family. My heart absolutely breaks when he says to Hermione, “I get it. You choose him [meaning Harry].” Ron is insecure and jealous, but it’s still completely inappropriate behavior and I’m glad he is WRACKED BY SHAME.)
Ron’s absence actually ends up just making the trio’s friendship stronger. He returns when Harry and Hermione need him the most. Without Ron, Harry and Hermione have no choice but to continue on their mission. They visit Godric’s Hollow in an emotional scene where Harry visits his parent’s grave and ruined house for the first time in his life. This pain is only heightened by nearly being crushed by a giant snake and breaking his poor wand in their haste to get the hell away from the approaching Voldemort. In this sorry state, Ron comes back to them. It makes sense that Dumbledore left the deluminator to Ron. He had more at risk than Harry and Hermione, considering how he has his entire family to worry about. Ron saves Harry from drowning, then destroys the horcrux (which tortures Ron with his worst doubts and fears), and then participates in one of my favorite dialogue exchanges:
“I’m sorry, ” he [Ron] said in a thick voice. “I’m sorry I left. I know I was a- a-…”
“You’ve sort of made up for it tonight,” said Harry. “Getting the sword. Finishing the Horcrux. Saving my life.”
“That makes me sound a lot cooler than I was,” Ron mumbled.
“Stuff like that always sounds cooler than it really was,” said Harry. “I’ve been trying to tell you that for years.”
Too true, Harry. Too true. Ron’s use of the deluminator to get back shows his dedication to his friends, despite it all. Ron sheepishly admits that Dumbledore must have known he would run out on them, but Harry corrects him: “No. He must’ve known you’d always want to come back.”
And so, Ron returns. Hermione goes ballistic and really lays into him. Her anger is beautiful and RIGHTEOUS. (Ron Weasley truly doesn’t deserve her, but I ship it anyway.) But Ron’s absence turns out to be fairly handy. They learn a little more about what’s going on in the wizarding world (the snatchers and the taboo on Voldemort’s name; very clever Voldemort, clever). With Ron’s return, the book really picks up. They get captured by snatchers, Hermione is tortured by Bellatrix Lestrange (Ron’s hysteria during this moment, screaming Hermione’s name breaks my heart), Dobby sacrifices himself to save them (DOBBY!!! WHY!!!), they break into Gringotts to get Hufflepuff’s cup, and then, finally, they return to Hogwarts and things get REALLY crazy.
Harry’s mission is ultimately wrapped up with Dumbledore and what he thinks he expects of him. His doubt of his mentor is visceral and painful. The details that surface about Dumbledore’s mother, his sister, and his friendship with Gellert Grindlewald confuse and pain Harry. He feels like he didn’t know Dumbledore at all. Of course, in the end, we find out Harry assumed wrongly about a great many things concerned Dumbledore. Dumbledore was only a mortal man, granted, cleverer than most men, and he made his fair share of mistakes. His pain regarding the death of his sister consumed his life. In the end, Harry trusts in Dumbledore’s plan for him, even in walking to his own death. Harry’s anger and confusion, in the end, transforms into acceptance and heroism. Hermione is given Beedle the Bard because Dumbledore knew she’d be clever enough to figure out the story of the Hallows and also to impede Harry’s progress in the quest for them. Ron was given the deluminator so he could return to his friends. And Harry. Harry was given the snitch, which opens when he accepts that he is about to die and reveals the resurrection stone. That image, the shades of James, Lily, Sirius, and Lupin walking with Harry as he goes to his own death, is just haunting and unbelievably sad, particularly since he really does believe he’s going to die. (“You’ll stay with me?” “Until the very end.”) It’s shadowed only by that of sobbing Hagrid carrying Harry’s limp body across the Hogwarts grounds, by McGonagall’s scream of “NO!”, a scream “more terrible because he had never expected or dreamed that Professor McGonagall could make such a sound,” the cries, sobs, and disbelief of Ron, Hermione, Ginny, and all of his friends at Hogwarts. A terrible moment, only to be turned to triumph with Neville Longbottom’s grit and bravery as he slays the snake Nagini, thereby destroying Voldemort’s last Horcux and rendering him mortal!
Harry’s death is predicated by Snape’s death (sob sob sob) and the reveal that Snape is not only on the good team but one of the bravest characters in the series. (Don’t get me wrong; Snape is problematic AS HELL, but he does go through a lot, and in the end, I think his actions are admirable.) We learn of his love for Lily Potter and his sacrifice to protect Harry at all costs. That Dumbledore asks Snape to kill him. That it’s all part of a bigger plan that leads to Harry’s death. Snape dies looking into Harry’s eyes, so like his mother’s and I weep and weep and weep forever.
Of course, Harry does NOT die (hooray!). Yet again, he is saved by a mother’s love. But this time, it’s Narcissa Malfoy’s love and worry for her son Draco that gives her the resolve to lie to Voldemort and say that Harry is dead. This leads to the final battle between Voldemort and Harry and ultimately to Voldemort’s demise.
The entire Elder Wand thing is pretty complicated and it took me a few readings to actually get to the bottom of what the hell is going on with that. So, the wand chooses the wizard. Wands have personalities, of a sort, and they can give or refuse their allegiance. So. Draco disarmed Dumbledore, switching the allegiance of the Elder Wand from Dumbledore to Draco. Harry steals Draco’s wand; he bests Draco, switching the Elder Wand’s allegiance to Harry. Voldemort possessed the PHYSICAL Elder Wand, having stolen it from Dumbledore’s grave, but he did not actually have its allegiance. Therefore, when Harry duels Voldemort, the wand refuses to work for him. Harry uses Expelliarmus, Voldemort uses Avada Kedavra, and Voldemort is killed by his own rebounding curse. The Elder Wand refuses to kill Harry since he was the wand’s true master.
The Hallows are confusing. It makes sense that Voldemort would seek the Elder Wand. All he wants is power and immortality. In the end, his own hubris kills him. Voldemort is the opposite of Harry, who prizes love and friendship above all. Dumbledore feared a little, in regards to the Hallows, that once Harry knew about them, he’d abandon the Horcruxes to seek that power. (“I was afraid that your hot head might dominate your good heart.”) But his good heart wins in the end. He chooses to follow and destroy the Horcruxes and to trusts his instincts and his friends. Dumbledore tells Harry in King’s Cross that he is “the true master of death, because the true master does not seek to run away from Death. He accepts that he must die, and understands that there are far, far worse things in the living world than dying.” This acceptance of death is something Voldemort could never have and it’s a part of his downfall. This is why Harry doesn’t keep the Elder Wand. He uses it to repair his own wand and returns it to where it came from (Dumbledore’s grave, I presume). If Harry dies a natural death, it’s power will be broken.
Finally, there’s the epilogue, which I’ve grown to love. It’s weird, but I like it. All is right. All is well. There is life and marriage and families. It’s nice.
It’s hard for me to wrap my mind around how much Harry Potter has and continues to mean to me. It’s not quantifiable. It’s massive and overwhelming. There is no other story or world I love so fiercely and obsessively. There is something about Harry Potter and its story of good versus evil, of love and friendship triumphing in the face of overwhelming violence and hatred. It is nice to think that there are good people in the world who are willing to fight and sacrifice everything for love and kindness. Harry Potter is something singular in my life. I don’t think I will ever experience anything else like it. I was privileged to grow up with these books, to have Rowling’s words take shape in my consciousness as I took shape as a person. I will always be so overwhelmingly grateful to her and her pen. And the story isn’t over. It never is. As Rowling herself said at the premiere of Deathly Hallows Part 2:
“No story lives unless someone wants to listen. The stories we love best do live in us forever. So whether you come back by page or by the big screen, Hogwarts will always be there to welcome you home.”
And now, for some highlights from HP7:
- Ron giving Harry Twelve Fail-Safe Ways to Charm Witches for his birthday and then making an obvious dick joke (“It’s not all about wandwork either.”)
- Harry and Ginny’s beautiful snogging moment before the wedding.
- RON AND HERMIONE FINALLY KISS AND IT IS BEAUTIFUL AND EVERYTHING IS PERFECT AND NOTHING HURTS: “There was a clatter as the basilisk fangs cascaded out of Hermione’s arms. Running at Ron, she flung them around his neck and kissed him full on the mouth. Ron three away the fangs and broomsticks he was holding and responded with such enthusiasm that he lifted Hermione off her feet.”
- Horace Slughorn was the decent, nice, affable Slytherin character the books were missing.
- McGonagall is such a badass and her duel with Snape is excellent: “If any of you [Slytherins] attempt to sabotage our resistance or take up arms against us within this castle, then, Horace, we duel to kill. The time has come for Slytherin House to decide upon its loyalties.” (BOOM!)
- Crabbe legitimately tries to murder them with Fiendfyre and they risk their lives to save Draco. Ron to Harry: “IF WE DIE FOR THEM, I’LL KILL YOU, HARRY.”
- Ron to Draco: “That’s the second time we’ve saved your life tonight, you two-faced bastard.”
- Hermione to Ron: “Crookshanks? Are you a wizard or what?” (hearken back to Book 1, Ron to Hermione on creating fire to defeat the Devil’s Snare, “Are you a witch or what?”)
- “My word, Severus, that I shall never reveal the best of you? If you insist…”
- “After all this time?” “ALWAYS.”(crying, crying, so much crying)
- The ferocity of Molly Weasley: “NOT MY DAUGHTER, YOU BITCH.”
- “Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?” ❤ ❤ ❤