The Harry Potter Reread has not yet said how pleased it is that we have made it to the final book together. We are all deserving of a party of some sort. Please have a party wherever you are.
This week we’re going to say goodbye to a place of safety and suffer some shocking casualties. It’s chapters 3 and 4 of The Deathly Hallows—The Dursleys Departing and The Seven Potters.
Index to the reread can be located here! Other Harry Potter and Potter-related pieces can be found under their appropriate tag. And of course, since we know this is a reread, all posts might contain spoilers for the entire series. If you haven’t read all the Potter books, be warned.
Chapter 3—The Dursleys Departing
Vernon is calling Harry downstairs, so he puts the mirror fragment with the things he’s taking on his journey and heads down. The Dursleys are dressed to travel, but Vernon wants Harry to sit down. He says that he doesn’t believe any of the nonsense they’ve been told about their home no longer being safe, that they’re staying. (Apparently this has been a regular occurrence for the past month.) This time he tells Harry that he thinks it’s a plot to get their house. Harry laughs him off and reminds him of the house Sirius left him. Harry reexplains the situation to him, but Vernon thinks they should qualify for Ministry protection. Harry explains again that they think the Ministry has been infiltrated. Vernon says that if they do accept the protection they’ve been offered, he wants Kingsley. Harry explains again that Kingsley is protecting the Muggle Prime Minister, and that Hestia Jones and Dedalus Diggle will be sufficient for the job.
When Vernon continues to fret, Harry goes off at him, reminding him that the accidents they’re seeing on television aren’t accidents, that Voldemort likes to kill Muggles, and that there are plenty of other terrifying beings at his disposal, including dementors. The mention of them frightens Dudley, who hadn’t thought there could be more than the two who attacked them. Vernon asks about work, about school, but Dudley says that he wants to go with the Order. Harry knows the argument is won and leaves to finish packing. The doorbell rings and Harry heads downstairs to greet Hestia and Dedalus. They explain the plan to the Dursleys—to have Vernon drive them all ten miles from the house, then Disapparate to a predetermined destination. They tell Harry to wait briefly for his guard; Moody was going to take him by Side-Along Apparation, but the plan has changed. They are trying to time time Harry’s departure with the Dursleys Apparation exactly, so that the protection breaks at the same time.
Hestia makes to wait in the hall to give Harry and the Dursleys privacy, but Harry assures her that it’s not needed. Vernon gives a stilted goodbye, Petunia won’t look Harry and the eye and merely asks if Dudley’s ready. By the time his aunt and uncle reach the living room entrance, Dudley expresses his confusion—he can’t understand why Harry isn’t coming with them. Vernon insists that Harry doesn’t want to, which Harry confirms, but still Dudley won’t leave—he wants to know where Harry is going to go. When it’s clear that Petunia and Vernon don’t know, Hestia and Dedalus are appalled. Hestia can’t believe that they don’t realize his importance, but Harry explains that they thinks he’s a waste of space… which Dudley denies. Harry is shocked by the admission, and thanks his cousin. Dudley then reminds Harry that he saved his life. Harry suddenly realizes that the cup of tea he stepped on might not have been a booby trap after all, and he isn’t quite sure how to react to this outpouring of emotion from his cousin.
Petunia begins to cry over her son’s sweetness, and his gratitude (at which points Hestia mentions that he didn’t actually thank Harry, only said he wasn’t a waste of space, but Harry knows that’s a practical declaration of love from his cousin). Vernon presses everyone about leaving, so they begin their exit. But Dudley approaches Harry and makes to shake his hand. Harry asks if the dementors turned him into a different person, and Dudley claims he doesn’t know. They shake hands and say goodbye. Petunia is the last to leave, not realizing that her husband and son have already made their way to the car. She bids her goodbye, but stops and looks back. Harry gets the feeling that she wants to say something to him, but she doesn’t manage it, and heads out the door.
I feel sometimes as though the book is trying to reassure of us certain unsinkable truths; in a universe where the true depths of a person’s character is often brought to light no matter how much you personally come to dislike them… Vernon Dursley will always be the worst. Because really, there’s not a single thing he says in this chapter that makes me feel bad for the guy, even knowing that he’s being forced to uproot his life for the foreseeable future.
There’s that point in the chapter where Harry explains (again) that they have to hide because Voldemort would probably torture them for information, or use them as bait to get Harry to come and rescue them, and Harry and Vernon both look at each other—and Harry wonders if they’re thinking the same thing. My assumption is that they’re both either thinking that he’d never come to their rescue in a million years… or that they’re simply wondering if he would. Which is sad, either way.
There are plenty of readers who didn’t like the final appearance of the Dursleys, mostly because we get nothing from Petunia after all these years. On the one hand, I get it—after years of silence, it would have been nice to get some closure, some small gesture. (I think it’s pretty telling that the movie does give that a moment to Petunia, almost like an apology.) On the other hand, there’s an aspect of realism to this departure that I appreciate. Petunia has worked very hard all her life to stay detached from Harry; it would be a poor choice to start caring, to try opening up even a little now. In fact, I’d argue that her hysterical weeping over Dudley’s gesture to Harry is Petunia dealing with it. That outburst of emotion directed toward her son rather than her nephew is honestly all she can manage. It’s not what we’d like to see, but it makes more sense than a sudden confession, a teary anecdote about Lily, a hug.
With Dudley, the change makes sense and also plays into Rowling’s theme of each generation improving on the one before it. Harry and Dudley are going to do better than their parents did, and this doesn’t actually come out of nowhere for Dudley—he’s had two full years to think about what happened during that dementor attack, to fully metabolize the fact that his cousin’s ability to do magic (the very thing his parents are terrified of) is the only thing that saved him. He has the chance to consider what it means that Harry is accustomed to these sorts of terrors, and to wonder what that says about his life. And Dudley doesn’t overdo it, doesn’t try to be Harry’s pal or tell him he cares about him. He just acknowledges that his family should ask about what’s coming for Harry, about where he’s going. He knows very little about Harry’s position in this other world, what he’s meant to do. But he’s not going to pretend that his cousin is invisible anymore.
And Harry, poor Harry, has no means to handle this sudden shift. It’s telling that his sarcasm comes through in the discomfort:
Again, Dudley appeared to grapple with thoughts too unwieldy for expression before mumbling, “You saved my life.”
Not really,” said Harry. “It was your soul the dementor would have taken. . . .”
I mean, I love Sassy Harry, but this is a coping mechanism. How do you respond to concern and respect from someone who treated you like a mat for wiping dirty shoes on your entire life? He just barely manages a real reply before Dudley walks out the door. And while we know that Harry and Dudley do keep in touch (Rowling has said that they exchange Christmas cards and occasionally get together so their kids can play), this easily could have been the last time they spoke. He’s protected himself so well against their abuse that it never occurs to him that one of them might have something kind to say. He’s not prepared.
Then we get that final moment with Petunia, where it almost seems that she’d like to say something to him. And it’s such a painful ending, but it still feels correct. For all that Petunia wants to reach out, she’s made it a job to keep Harry away. Breaching that gap is too much, is not something that she prepared herself for either—it’s surprising enough that Dudley does it on her behalf. So she leaves without a word, knowing that her nephew is being hunted down by the very same wizard who murdered her sister.
His odds aren’t exactly good, and she knows it. And in that moment, I can’t really fault Petunia for staying away.
Chapter 4—The Seven Potters
Harry heads upstairs to watch the Dursley’s car disappear from the window, then takes his belongings downstairs. Looking about, Harry thinks of the times he had in the house whenever the Dursleys went out without him and he was allowed some fun time to himself. They seem like memories that belong to another person. He talks to Hedwig about it, about the time he’s had in the house; saving Dudley from dementors, Dumbledore’s visit last year, the cupboard under the stairs where he used to sleep. He hears a noise outside and looks out the window to see figures appearing as they lift their Disillusionment Charms. Hagrid’s there with a motorbike that has a sidecar, and several others have thestrals and brooms. Moody has Harry retreat inside to explain the new plan to him.
Once in the kitchen, Harry observes the whole group: Ron, Hermione, Fred and George, Bill, Mr. Weasley, Moody, Tonks, Lupin, Fleur, Kingsley, Hagrid, and Mundungus. Tonks flashes her wedding ring at Harry, but Moody cuts him off in the middle of his congratulations to get things moving. He explains that Pius Thicknesse has made it an imprisonable offense to use magical means of leaving the Dursley house, in the name of “protecting” Harry. Since he’s still got the Trace on him as well, it’s down to using magic transportation that the Ministry can’t track. Lily’s charm on Harry will break as soon as he gets outside the house’s radius, but they’ve chosen to break it early to get the jump on Voldemort. Moody tells Harry that they left a fake trail at the Ministry, insisting that he would be moved on the 30th, but they presume that he’s got Death Eater’s patrolling just in case. To help, they’ve placed crazy protections on a dozen houses, all potential hiding spots.
He explains that Harry will be heading to Tonks’s parents, and from there can use a Portkey to the Burrow. Harry asks how the Death Eaters could be fooled when so many of them will be flying to the Tonks house. Moody tells him the crux of the plan—there will be seven Harrys with seven traveling companions acting as escorts, and each pair will head to a different safe house. Moody withdraws a flask of Polyjuice Potion, and Harry freaks out; he’s not all right with six people risking their lives. Hermione isn’t surprised he’s taking it this way, Ron insists that they’ve risked their lives for him before, and when Harry threatens not to cooperate, George points out that it won’t be hard for thirteen wizards to subdue him. Moody demands the hair, and Harry eventually acquiesces. The potion turns gold, and Hermione makes the comment that Harry looks much tastier than Goyle did back in second year, which gets nothing but eyebrows from Ron.
Ron, Hermione, Fred, George, Fleur, and Mundungus are lined up to be fake Harrys. (Mundungus requires some forceful handling in that regard.) Everyone takes their Polyjuice Potion and turns into Harry—the twins have fun exclaiming that they’re identical. Moody hands out better fitting clothes, tells everyone to retrieve luggage and not forget their glasses. Harry finds it entirely unsettling, but eventually he’s staring back at six more of himself. The pairs for the flight are as follows: Moody and Mundungus, Arthur and Fred, George and Remus, Fleur and Bill, Hermione and Kingsley, Ron and Tonks, and Harry with Hagrid. Harry is less-than-happy to be traveling by motorbike than broom, but Moody tells him that the Death Eaters will probably assume that he’s traveling that way. Everyone heads out back—Harry asks Hagrid if the motorbike he’s using is Sirius’, which Hagrid confirms. He also tells Harry that Mr. Weasley added a few modifications, and Arthur reminds Hagrid that he’s not sure of those and they’re only to be used in emergencies. The group kicks off, Harry feeling uncomfortable crammed into the sidecar. He forgets to get a last look at Privet Drive and by the time he looks down, he can’t tell which house it is.
Suddenly, the group is surrounded by over thirty hooded figures. Everyone starts screaming and shouting, green light is flying everywhere, and Hagrid flips the motorbike upside-down. Harry is hanging onto the sidecar, but all of Harry’s things start to slide out of the car; the broom falls, but Harry manages to hold onto his rucksack and Hedwig’s cage as the motorbike flips back right side up—
—and then Hedwig is hit by the Killing Curse.
Harry cannot fully process the death and his concern for the rest of the party takes hold. He starts telling Hagrid to turn around and go back, but Hagrid won’t endanger Harry any further. Four Death Eaters are on their tail, narrowly missing Harry with curse after curse. Hagrid hits a button and a brick wall emerges from the exhaust pipe, hitting one Death Eater square and slowing another. The other two are still in pursuit, and Harry responds to their curses with Stunning Spells. Hagrid hits another button and throws out a net, but the Death Eaters avoid it, and the third from their party catches up to them. Hagrid presses the purple button (an addition that he earlier claimed was his idea) and dragon fire shoots from the back of the motorbike. The acceleration jostles the sidecar from the bike, and Hagrid tries to repair it with his pink umbrella, but it breaks the sidecar off entirely. Harry uses a levitation charm to keep the car airborne, then hits one Death Eater with a jinx, but the next curse come so close that Harry ducks into the car and knocks out his tooth on the seat. Hagrid gets to Harry and manages to pull him from the sidecar with his rucksack. facing backward on the bike. Harry explodes the sidecar and stops one of the Death Eaters. Harry keeps shooting Stunning Spells at them, until one gets his hood knocked off and he finds Stan Shunpike, looking utterly blank. He tries to disarm Stan, and immediately afterward one of the Death Eaters shouts that he’s the real Harry.
The other two Death Eaters disappear then, and Harry cannot figure out where they’ve gone. He turns on the bike so that he can grab hold of Hagrid’s jacket, then tells him to use the dragon-fire again for speed. Hagrid thinks they’ve finally lost them, and tells Harry they’re almost to the safe house. But Harry’s scar begins to burn, and two Death Eaters appear on either side of the bike. Then Voldemort appears, flying without aid, shooting Killing Curses at Harry in earnest. Hagrid takes the motorbike into a vertical dive, Harry throws out Stunning Spells at random and manages to hit one of the Death Eaters. Another one tries to get to him, but Hagrid leaps onto the Death Eater and they disappear. Voldemort is upon Harry, and he’s sure he’s about to die when his wand suddenly acts on his behalf—a golden jet of fire emits from the end, a Death Eater yells, Voldemort screams “No!” and Harry presses the dragon-fire button again. He tries to call from Hagrid, sees the earth speeding toward him and knows he’s going to crash the bike. He hears Voldemort order for another Death Eater’s wand, sees him and thinks it’s the end… but Voldemort vanishes.
Then Harry sees Hagrid laid out on the ground below and crashes into a pond.
Harry’s incredulousness at Dudley’s farewell comes through in the nearly panicked narration he gives to Hedwig as he says goodbye to Number Four Privet Drive. And again, we get slammed with Harry’s lack of preparation, his assumption that this would be the simple part. He’s been so focused on doing, on readying himself for the war, that he doesn’t really think about bidding farewell to the only home he’s ever known, flawed as it was. Harry thinks back on the times he was able to enjoy himself in the house when it was empty, pokes his head into the cupboard under the stairs and remembers that he was small once, that he grew up here whether he likes the thought or not. Try as we might, all the places we occupy leave some kind of imprint on us, and Harry realizes it right as he’s about to walk out the door.
The crew arrives to take him away, and this line got me again:
Harry’s heart seemed to expand and glow at the sight: He felt incredibly fond of all of them, even Mundungus, whom he had tried to strangle the last time they had met.
Moody explains the plan, and we get that awkward on-the-nose comment where he says that they’re using decoys because “even You-Know-Who can’t split himself into seven” and Harry and Hermione look at each other in what I assume is an aaahahahahaa, that’s hi-LAR-ious way. (They don’t, they just meet eyes quickly, but in my mind that’s what it looks like.) Harry is very cross with the idea of all these people risking their lives for him, but everyone insists, so he has to offer up some hair, and then we get that wonderfully awkward moment where Hermione is like you’re gonna taste way better than Goyle and Ron’s all O RLY? It’s just a funny slip-up that reminds us to have a laugh regardless of the dire stakes.
Then there are seven Harrys, and we finally touch on how creepy the Polyjuice Potion is when we consider it essentially gives you sudden ownership over someone else’s body. It’s understandable that it took so long for the books to get here because the narration is primarily concerned with Harry’s POV, and it’s only once he’s the subject of the potion that he realizes that all these people are being pretty cavalier about showing off his body in a way that makes him super uncomfortable. I’m glad it’s addressed, even if it has been a long time coming. And I’m also glad that even in the midst of all the turmoil, the narrative never loses sight of the fact that chosen-or-no Harry is a teenager, and most teenagers are hyper body-conscious, so yeah, this would bother him.
The symmetry here is very deliberate; Harry arrived at Privet Drive on Sirius’ motorbike with Hagrid. Now he will depart on that same motorbike with Hagrid. When Harry was brought here, it was following a massacre by Voldemort in his family’s home where he was the intended target. Now he’s flying straight into a massacre orchestrated by Voldemort where, again, he is the intended target. Harry’s nervousness about the bike aside, assigning him to Hagrid is a smart move; it’s later pointed out that Voldemort assumed that Harry would be with the toughest Auror of the group, which is why he goes for Moody first. Yet again, Voldemort fails to understand the emotional connections at play—nervous or not, Hagrid is the guard in this group who Harry considers to be family above all. Harry is being protected by the person here who loves him most. It’s the kind of error we expect Voldemort to make, refusing to place importance on that.
I keep thinking about Snape’s position in this, how difficult it must be to toe the line; it’s not just that he has to give Voldemort valuable information (he’s got the real plan about moving Harry and Yaxley got the decoy plan, which continues to make him valuable on Voldemort’s eyes), he also has to be useful in this battle. It takes a lot of skill to hurt people, but not kill them. You can’t help but wonder what the thought process is, how he’s handling it in his mind, separating out what to say, how to behave, when to give away the important details and when to hold back. In addition, we know that Snape has not underestimated the skill of the group—we have to assume that he only gave away the real information about Harry’s moving date because he assumed that most of the Order would be able to survive the encounter, that they were skilled enough to handle the ambush. Not because he cares about any of them, but because he knows they need numbers if they’re going to win the war.
Even though we know this plan is going to hell, it’s still horrible to experience the train wreck. And we’re smacked straight out of the gate with Hedwig.
Ugh. From a narrative standpoint, of course; they won’t really have use for her on their upcoming journey, her death will only truly matter to Harry, and Rowling even said that offing her first was meant to be a sort of symbolic gesture—the end of Harry’s childhood, full stop. But like all death in war, in the midst of a battle, it’s too sudden. I remember when I first read it, thinking that Rowling would wait a little longer before she hit us with a character death. And then Hedwig is gone, and you know instantly: We’re not going to play around anymore. Kid gloves off. It racks up tension when we’re already at a breaking point, already know they’re screwed. In a weird way, Hedwig’s death feels more personal than I ever expected. You instantly translate her into your own pets, your faithful companions who are with you every step, who never burden you. Suddenly you’re weighed down by her absence.
It’s all down to Harry’s considerable strength, down to the fact that he’s suffered so much loss already, that he’s able to turn his denial into concern for the rest of his friends, to act when another person would be paralyzed. This whole sequence really does prove that Harry is far more battle-ready than we may have perceived, as he instantly launches himself into the thing, stunning and jinxing as many Death Eaters as he can. Harry’s mercy for Stan is the thing that identifies him, and it’s almost funny that he doesn’t realize it, that he can’t figure out what gave him away.
We get Harry’s wand acting of its own accord, and this might be the one thing that bugs me here? It doesn’t seem to really serve the plot to have Harry’s wand acting on Voldemort because it “recognizes” him or whatever. It just seems like a clever, instant way to get Harry out of a tough spot. The only real reason that it’s relevant is because Voldemort needs to know that using another wand on Harry won’t solve his problem, but even then, I feel like there could have been a clue to lead Harry to this weird spell, something. Have Harry hear phoenix song on the air and then the idea just hits him. Don’t make the wand do a thing. It just feels kinda lazy. That said, the whole sequence isn’t short of thrills, and Harry speeding toward the ground on Sirius’ motorbike creates some armrest-gripping tension.
The fake out with Hagrid is SO MEAN. The next chapter is called Fallen Warrior, and we don’t find out Hagrid is alive until the next page. A nasty little trick, made worse by the fact that we instantly realize—if it’s not Hagrid, then it has to be someone else.
Emily Asher-Perrin remembers that her friend got to Hedwig’s death before she did and kept making horrible noises and telling her to hurry up reading. You can bug her on Twitter and Tumblr, and read more of her work here and elsewhere.