Here we are at the end of the story. Of course it’s sad to be here, but one thing rereading these books has taught me is that revisiting them is so much fun. I’ll certainly be doing it again and again. I think the next time I’ll be ready for a complete reread, my kids will be old enough to read along with me, which is a VERY exciting thought. And the reason it’s so great to keep coming back to this series is that it’s so broad, well-thought out, and inclusive. Ultimately, it is Harry’s story, and although his friends are closest to him, it’s the adults who have shaped the events around him (Dumbledore, Snape, Voldemort) who are as important to the story as he is. However, Rowling treats all her characters, big and small, as real people with full lives. Thusly, the conclusion of book 7 is full of hero moments. If this piece were the end of year feast at Hogwarts, Dumbledore would be handing out points left and right to everyone involved. Ranking the contributions against each other to assign point values is a little callous and I won’t do it, but everyone here deserves recognition.
First, let me give credit to Lee Jordan, for his noble efforts to keep the wizarding public informed. It’s nice to see characters who were not originally in the Order of the Phoenix getting involved, now that they are are forced to live in the nightmare the Order tried to prevent from coming to life. In addition, his radio show code names are pretty cute, though not as good as Rowling’s (I mean Xenophilius Lovegood is pretty next-level).
Here lies Dobby, a free elf
Next, of course, I have to recognize Dobby, for his brave sacrifice. The honor shown to Dobby in his final appearance is impressive and well-earned. He has evolved as a character and earned a noble death. I hadn’t cried for any of the deaths yet on this reading, but this is the hardest-hitting. Hedwig was an innocent victim. Mad-Eye was a brave soldier. Dobby is a reluctant, but noble hero. The time Rowling takes to allow Harry to process this loss makes the resulting character growth Dobby’s final gift to his Master. This event causes a shift in Harry’s perspective to a new, more mature view of the situation, the perspective of an adult who truly recognizes the stakes.
When did Neville get so HOT?
We’d be remiss not to heap great admiration on Neville GODDAMN Longbottom, for having balls the the size of quaffles. For real, Neville Longbottom is the hero of Hogwarts. The series focuses on Harry, Ron, and Hermione, because their mission is crucial to the main goal of defeating Voldemort. But Neville (along with Ginny and Luna) continuing to head up the DA for the protection of the students left behind under Snape’s regime are just as heroic. It is through his efforts that we see the heartening return of the rest of the DA members when the Battle of Hogwarrs is imminent (despite Harry’s deeply-felt dismay due to a lack of evidence about the remaining Horcrux, leaving only hunches to go on). And if keeping the DA going were his only contribution, it would be enough. But then he goes and proves his Sorting accurate by stepping to Voldemort. He didn’t know Fawkes would deliver Gryffindor’s sword, he didn’t know he’d have the opportunity to kill Nagini, he didn’t even know if the sword would be enough to kill the snake. He just knew he’d had enough.
An able leader in Dumbledore’s absence
From the Hogwarts staff, most deserved credit goes to Minerva BAMF McGonagall, for putting the safety of her students ahead of her own. Unaware of Harry’s presence, his quest, or its importance, her squaring off against Carrow is medal-worthy in and of itself. Likewise is Harry’s use of Crucio on Carrow in her defense (though his understanding of having to mean it for it to be effective smacks of Luke’s dalliances with the Dark Side). Her duel with Snape even more badass, if such a thing is possible, though I do wonder what might have happened if they’d had time to talk it out, without the threat of the Carrows eliminated.
My tear-stained notes for this moment just say “OH GOD, MAKE IT STOP.”
To the Weasley Family, what can I even say? Percy’s reunion with his family is well-earned and made me cry, especially given his fear in trying to escape the regime at the Ministry, sheds light on a predicament that probably more wizards than we realized are facing. Not only that, but as an astute tumblr poster pointed out, he gives Fred his last laugh. Speaking of whom, Fred’s death actually killed me (I’m writing this from beyond the grave) and then Ron’s grief went and did it some more. Despite all that, the Weasley I most feel for is Ginny. Even though I am a parent, I wanted her to be allowed to participate and if not that, I wanted her to go all Eponine. It’s a shame all that promise went to waste in the climax. And don’t even get me started on Molly Weasley, taking the title of most awesome mom since Ellen Ripley.
The Unsung Hero award goes to Aberforth Dumbledore, for filling in the blanks in his brother’s absence. His revelation of the Dumbledore family history is enlightening, it shows Harry that Albus was flawed, like him, like the most interesting heroes always are. Aberforth’s contempt for Albus for leaving a mission to ill-equipped kids is probably something Albus felt himself. In a way, Aberforth is sort of a shadowy reflection of Albus, one that allows us to see the darker parts of the Headmaster that he wouldn’t want anyone to see, but that need to be seen, in order to better understand him. And once all the cards are out on the table, both Harry’s and those of the Dumbledore family, Aberforth chooses not just to aid refugees fleeing Hogwarts, but to join in the battle.
I still miss Alan Rickman. Snape, not so much.
Reluctantly, I must recognize the efforts of Severus Snape, out of pure pity, for redeeming himself. Seriously? Lily Evans must have been super hot. After learning the whole story, Snape comes off as unbalanced. I mean, a girl rejects you so you turn to the DEATH EATERS? Not cool. Knowing his history makes all the sacrifice and struggle a lot less noble. In the end he’s more of a tragic figure, one mistake screwed up his whole life, which he spent trying (and I think ultimately succeeding) to make up for it by ensuring that Dumbledore’s strategy played out as planned.
And at last, we should get on to addressing Harry’s journey. The second half of the last book is really where we get into some deep dark stuff for his character. Aberforth’s complaint is that Albus left such a serious duty to a child, but undertaking the quest has turned Harry into a man. It’s obvious that any story that takes characters through their teen years is a coming-of-age story, the main characters literally come to be of legal age in the wizarding society in this book. But for Harry (and, to a lesser degree, his friends), it means a lot more than that, which was a new revelation for me. Harry experiences, addresses, processes, and understands some very adult situations and emotions in finishing his quest.
The beginning of the end
His exposure to Voldemort’s bloodlust for the Hallows and the debacle at Malfoy Manor provide perspective and allow him to grow. Just as the Dark Lord is consumed with collecting the wand, cloak and stone to the exclusion of all good sense, Harry is caught in his quest to stop him, leading to the mistake of using Voldemort’s name, which in turn leads to their capture, Hermione’s torture, and Dobby’s death (and, thankfully, the rescue of Dean, Luna, Ollivander, and Griphook), and these events lead Harry to a true understanding of the gravity of the situation. From this point, he has to make serious choices, including choosing not to race Voldemort to get the Elder Wand from Dumbledore’s tomb and choosing to continue to believe in Dumbledore. Both these choices reflect to the reader that when we don’t know what is right, we can only do what we believe is right, an important sentiment that can be difficult to impart through mere words. Seeing Harry’s choices helps readers understand how and when to trust themselves. Then, when Harry gets to “King’s Cross,” he is once again faced with a huge choice most would never want to face, and yet in some ways, it’s a choice we make every day: the choice of whether or not to continue living. Amazing.
You don’t have to be the smartest, you just need to recognize when you need help from the smartest.
Going into the Battle of Hogwarts, we get to see Harry learn about self-reliance. He’s always had his friends, but he’s at a loss when he’s separated from Ron & Hermione. This forces him to figure out what to do on his own. And, in 2017, with inclusiveness in the spotlight more than ever, I think the inclusion of the ghosts’ backstories is even more important now than when it was written. Not only does it provide the crucial information about Ravenclaw’s diadem, but it opens Harry’s eyes to see yet another marginalized group as its own entity. Once he is willing to treat the Ravenclaw ghost with the respect she deserves, he’s rewarded with the information he needs. The sequence with the diadem also serves to cement the differences between Harry and Draco, between Gryffindor and Slytherin, as if that really needed to be done. Harry’s compassion for the Slytherins gives his heroism complexity. And Harry’s catching the diadem as it falls into the Fiendfyre, as only the best Seeker could, is a nice little way of showing us that Harry was truly meant to be the one who stops Voldemort. Literally only he could have done it.
Armed with the new adult skills he has learned of late, Harry makes the choice to face Voldemort. Rowling allows us to get a clear vision of being terrified of doing the right thing and determined to do it anyway. This whole chapter feels like slow motion. Somehow the description of how precious Harry now realized the last moments of his life were could only have been written by a mother. And self-sacrifice is such a fitting move for a hero his age. For a naive young adult, it’s always the go-to solution. A more experienced hero is often able to think enough to find a solution that doesn’t involve him dying, but this resolution makes sense as what would first occur to Harry. As usual, it is Dumbledore, older, wiser, and more magically knowledgeable, who comes up with the greater plan, which teaches him yet another lesson, that there is always another way.
This was a cool moment to see, but there were others I’d have liked to have seen if we had an omniscient narrator.
The ending of the story is just so incredibly satisfying. It would have been enough for Good to defeat Evil and let our heroes live Happily Ever After, but there’s more than that. There’s closure, as the theme of mother’s love returns with a vengeance. Not only is Lily’s love for Harry his salvation in his encounters with Voldemort, but also Narcissa’s love for Draco causes her to lie and protect Harry and Molly’s love for her children allows her to take down Bellatrix, arguably a far more powerful witch under different circumstances. And there is salvation when, in Harry’s moment of triumph, not only does he defeat Voldemort, but he tries to get him to feel remorse, thereby saving his soul (thanks to Dumbledore’s influence). And, having completed his coming of age, Harry is now able to make the right choice about what to do with the Hallows, as approved by his mentor. I do find the title of the final chapter, The Flaw in the Plan, a little ironic. To me, there’s a slight flaw in Rowling’s execution here, as telling the story from the hero’s perspective necessitates that some climatic events go unseen while Harry feigns death. I’m not saying we don’t know or can’t imagine what happens, but it would have been nice to see. But that’s a minor criticism of an otherwise near-perfect ending.
Just the right amount of flash forward
I don’t have much to say about the epilogue except to say that I’m grateful for it. Glad as I am for any story that respects the power of a good ending, those types of stories always leave you wanting a little more. The epilogue gives just enough ‘more’ for us to be satisfied. And I am. But last summer, there was a little more ‘more.’ Rowling collaborated on a script for a play that became the official 8th story in the Harry Potter ‘verse. And so I’m happy to say, our journey doesn’t end here, I’ll be reading Harry Potter and the Cursed Child for the first time and will be back again soon, one more time, with my thoughts on that story. See you then!