The Harry Potter Reread needs to resole its shoes. But then it has to deal with waiting for the shoes to be resoled. It needs to get over this, and go to a cobbler.
This week we’re going to finally figure out what that weird symbol means, and then we’re going to flee for our lives! It’s chapters 21 and 22 of The Deathly Hallows—The Tale of the Three Brothers and the Deathly Hallows.
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 21—The Tale of the Three Brothers
Xenophilius Lovegood is not surprised that none of the trio has ever heard of the Deathly Hallows. He claims that Viktor Krum was ignorant of the symbol’s meaning, a sign meant to identify believers in the Hallows to one another. When Harry presses and tells him that they have no idea what the Hallows are, Xenophilius brings up ‘The Tale of the Three Brothers.’ Harry doesn’t know the tale, but Ron and Hermione both do—Hermione pulls out her copy of The Tales of Beedle the Bard, and Xenophilius suggests that she read the story. It goes as follows:
There were three brothers traveling on a winding road, eventually reaching a river they could not cross by wading or swimming. Because they were magic users, they created a bridge to walk across. Halfway over the bridge, they were stopped by Death, who was angry at being cheated out of victims. Being clever, Death congratulated the brothers on their magic, and said that he would give each of them a prize for evading him. The eldest brother asked for the most powerful wand in existence, the second for the power to recall others from the dead, the third for the ability to go forth from the bridge without being followed by Death. And so Death gave them each respectively: a powerful wand, a stone to resurrect the dead, and his own Invisibility Cloak. The three brothers crossed the bridge and eventually parted ways, and the first arrived in a village seeking another wizard that he had quarreled with. He won their duel and killed his enemy, then proceeded to brag about the wand and how it made him invincible. That night, another wizard killed him and stole the wand, so Death claimed the eldest brother. The second brother went home and used the stone to recall a woman he was meant to marry. But the resurrected woman was sad and detached living in a world where she did not belong, so he killed himself to join her—Death claimed the middle brother. The third brother kept himself hidden and only removed the Cloak when he was an old man, greeting Death like a friend and departing together as equals.
Xenophilius draws the symbol, showing how these items represent the Deathly Hallows. A line for the Elder Wand, a circle for the Resurrection Stone, and a triangle for the Cloak of Invisibility. Xenophilius insists that the tale is simply a children’s story, but it references these three objects which, if united, make one the “master of Death.” Hermione is shocked that Xenophilius believes that these objects actually exist, and he counters by telling her that she is close-minded. She points out that invisibility cloaks exist anyhow, but Xenophilius tells her that that Hallow is a true invisibility cloak—one that makes its wearer completely invisible and never wears out. (The trio realize that they have encountered such a cloak, and that it’s sitting right in the room with them.) Hermione continues to argue the possibility of the other Hallows existing, but Xenophilius will have none of it. In the case of the Elder Wand, he cites “endless evidence” as to its existence, talking of how it passes from wizard to wizard by being captured from the previous owner.
Hermione asks if the Peverell family has anything to do with the Hallows, and Xenophilius is surprised that she knows the name; legend has it that they are the three brothers in Beedle’s story, Antioch, Cadmus, and Ignotus. He heads downstairs to fetch soup, and the trio start talking. Ron and Hermione both think that Xenophilius is full of it, Ron insisting that it’s a morality tale and that it’s obvious which gift from Death is best. But each of them says something different on that—Hermione says it’s the Cloak, Ron says it’s the wand, Harry says the stone. Ron thinks you wouldn’t need the Cloak with an unbeatable wand, as long as you didn’t brag about it. Hermione finds that doubtful, pointing out that there have been stories about super powerful wands for years, so people clearly didn’t have a good record of “keeping quiet” about them. Harry admits that he would want the stone to bring back loved ones, but remembers that the tale indicates that they wouldn’t enjoy coming back to life. Ron begins to wonder about the Cloak, though; he claims he’s gotten so used to how good Harry’s Cloak is that he never stopped to think about the fact that it didn’t wear out, and that it was old enough to be an heirloom.
Harry’s mind wanders, and he ends up going upstairs to Luna’s room. There, he finds Luna’s ceiling painted with portraits of Harry, Ron, Hermione, Ginny, and Neville. Golden chains appear to be linking the portraits, until Harry looks closer and realizes that it’s just the word “friends” written over and over in gold ink connecting all of them. Harry feels instant affection for Luna, then spots a picture of Luna and her mother hugging, and notes that it’s dusty. It registers to him that Luna’s room has not been slept in for weeks. There is a cobweb over the window, no clothes in the wardrobe, and the carpet is dusty. Harry retreats downstairs as Xenophilius brings up soup. He asks the man where Luna is. When Xenophilius insists that she’s still collecting Plimpies, Harry points out that he’s only brought a tray with four bowls. He tells Ron and Hermione about Luna’s room, and Xenophilius drops the tray of soup. Ron and Hermione draw their wands as he moves to draw his, and the printing press suddenly spits out issues of The Quibbler showing a picture of Harry on the cover with “Undesirable Number One” written across it.
Harry realizes that Mr. Lovegood has probably sent an owl to the Ministry about their arrival. Xenophilius tells them that they took Luna from him because of what he wrote, and he thought they might give her back if he handed Harry over. Figures on broomsticks fly past the windows, Xenophilius draws his wand, and Harry gets them out of the way of his Stunning Spell, which hits the Erumpent horn. It explodes and Xenophilius falls down the stairs. Harry tries to get up, but the room is nothing but rubble. Hermione urges him to be quiet as Death Eaters come through the door. They tell Xenophilius that he needs to give them real information this time—last time they were there he tried to swap Luna for the headdress he was making, and the week before he had thought they’d give her back if he could provide proof of the Crumple-Headed Snorkack—and assume that he brought them there to kill them. Xenophilius insists that Harry is upstairs, and one of the Death Eaters uses the spell to reveal other humans. When they realize they’re not alone, they tell Xenophilius to fetch whoever is upstairs, saying that they’ll kill Luna if it’s a trick.
Hermione asks if Harry trusts her. When he nods, she tells Ron to put on the Invisibility Cloak, and has Harry hold her hand and Ron take her shoulder. Xenophilius gets closer and closer to them. When he appears, Hermione casts a memory charm on both him and the Death Eaters downstairs, then blows a hole in the floor and Disapparates them.
I give a lot of props to Rowling for this fable. It’s a nice bit of unique background that fits into your average morality tale tropes extremely well. And it’s a great way of introducing the Hallows, primarily in how it highlights the problematic aspects to the wand and the stone.
But the thing that I keep hitting on is the idea of the youngest brother departing with Death “as equals.” Because that idea is clearly designed as a counterpoint to Voldemort’s view of death. His name, of course, means “thief of death,” and his desires are all centered around the ability to escape death altogether. The idea of parting from the world as Death’s equal, as the story suggests, is all about acceptance. If you are an equal to Death, you no longer fear him—in fact, you might appreciate him. Which is in deliberate contrast to everything that Tom Riddle ever feared.
There was also an interesting fan theory that put forth the idea that everyone in the Tale of the Three Brothers could find a counterpart in the series: Voldemort as the eldest brother, Snape as a middle brother, and Harry as the youngest, while Dumbledore was Death himself. It’s a clever alignment that works in terms of their points of view within the narrative—Voldemort wants power above all, and believes that protects him. Snape is obsessed with someone he loved long gone. Harry eventually decides to meet Death as an equal (in choosing to die), and runs into Dumbledore once he’s on the other side. And Dumbledore is the one who tells him that he’s allowed to go back if he wants to. Pretty interesting.
It occurs to me that it’s very important that Dumbledore’s background contain such loss (in his mother and sister) due to the parallel it creates between he and Harry. If Dumbledore had different sorts of skeletons in his closet, it’s possible that Harry would have never forgiven him, but this is so. damned. close. We can assume that despite Albus’ pithy reply in the first book, what he sees in the mirror of Erised is much the same as what Harry sees. And then they both narrow in on the Resurrection Stone as the Hallow they would like to possess most. Dumbledore had internalized a certain amount of wisdom in his life, and reminds Harry not to dwell on his dreams when it comes to the mirror, but when he comes across the Resurrection Stone, he attempts to use it immediately, without considering the consequences—and that ultimately leads to his death. There’s a very pointed commentary to be made around this idea of Dumbledore and Harry having a similar weakness, which might account even more for why Albus chose to keep his distance.
The conversation about the possibility of the Hallows existing between Hermione and Xenophilius feels like a very clear take on the Science vs. Religion conversation. The entire fight boils down to Hermione saying “You have no evidence!” and Xenophilius saying “Not having evidence doesn’t mean that this thing I believe in doesn’t exist!” I feel as though Rowling herself falls on an interesting place on this spectrum because of how this fights bears out. The point is that Xenophilius is full conspiracies and falsehoods and the desire to believe overwhelms him entirely, but Hermione won’t even engage with the possibility of the Hallows existing without heavy prior evidence. And we end up finding out that the Hallows do all exist, but this idea of them making one “master of Death” is hogwash. So in a way, they’re both right and wrong at the same time.
Luna’s portraits. My heart. I can’t take it. It’s so beautiful and thoughtful and loving, and then you add to it the fact that this indicates that the Gryffindor crew are Luna’s only friends at all. I mean, we sort of knew that, but seeing pictorial evidence of just how much they mean to her brings it to an different level. And I love the fact that Rowling takes the time to point this out, that while Luna expresses her friendship differently from others, it is no less meaningful to her. In fact, it matters far more.
Of course the Erumpent horn comes back to bite them in the butt, but realizing that Xenophilius didn’t only obtain the horn as a gift—that he hoped providing evidence of a Snorkack would convince the Death Eaters to let his daughter go—puts it in an entirely different light. Xenophilius has many faults as a parent, but Luna is his whole world. Whatever he can be accused of, a lack of love certainly isn’t it.
And it’s down to Hermione again to save everyone’s butts. I love the fact that she asks Harry if he trusts her, as though that should ever come into question, given everything they’ve been through… forever.
Chapter 22—The Deathly Hallows
The trio land in a field, and Hermione puts the protective enchantments in place. Ron is furious, but Hermione is worried for Xenophlius—she let the Death Eater glimpse Harry before they left so that they’d know he hadn’t lied to them. She hid Ron so that they wouldn’t peg his family for traitors too. Both boys tell her she’s a genius. Ron wonders if Luna is alive, and figures that if she is, she’ll be in Azkaban. Harry insists that if she is, she’ll survive, that she’s tougher than they think. They head into the tent, and Hermione bemoans the whole trip, wondering if Xenophilius didn’t make up everything he said about the Hallows just to keep them there. Ron disagrees, knowing how difficult it is to make things up on the spot from his time at the hands of the Snatchers. He then points out that the Chamber of Secrets was supposed to be a myth, but Hermione insists that Beedle’s tale is simply a story about how humans are afraid of death. She insists that if it were true, they’d be golden because they already have the most important Hallow. Harry points out that they could really do with the Elder Wand. So Hermione points out that nothing like the Resurrection Stone could possibly exist. Harry counters with the people he saw emerge from Voldemort’s wand when they connected after the Triwizard Tournament. Hermione points out that they didn’t come back truly, that they were imitations, but Harry insists that the story says just that—that the woman didn’t really come back, but the second brother still talked to her and lived with her.
He realizes that he’s scared Hermione a little by talking about living with dead people, so he changes the subject to Ignotus Peverell, the brother buried at Godric’s Hollow. Hermione tells them that the only place she ever found the name was in a wizard genealogy book that she borrowed from Kreacher. The Peverell family was one of the first pureblood families to go extinct in the male line, meaning that they might have descendants, but they’d have a different name. Harry suddenly remembers that Marvolo Gaunt claimed he was descended from the Peverells. He also recalls that Marvolo said the Horcrux ring had the Peverell coat of arms on it, and realizes that the symbol that Marvolo had perceived as a coat of arms might have been the sign of the Hallows. And then he wonders if the stone in the ring couldn’t have been the Resurrection Stone. Hermione accuses Harry of trying to fit everything into the story, but Harry insists that the Hallows are fitting in pretty well by themselves. While Ron asks after where the ring might be, Harry begins to piece things together and wonders if perhaps the point was to pit the Hallows against Voldemort’s Horcruxes. He wonders if being master of the Hallows would keep him safe from Voldemort. Harry takes out his Invisibility Cloak, and then remembers that Dumbledore had the Cloak in his possession the night his parents died. He figures that Dumbledore wanted to examine it to see if it was the third Hallow, then realizes that he is likely a descendant of Ignotus Peverell.
Hermione is ready to be skeptical, but Harry shows her the letter from his mother to Sirius where she talks about Dumbledore looking at the Cloak, and points out that Dumbledore said he didn’t need a Cloak to be invisible. Then the Snitch falls from the pouch and Harry comes upon another thought—the ring is in the Snitch. Harry is finally hopeful again at these revelations, but the whole thing comes apart when he realizes that Voldemort is after the Elder Wand. Harry thinks it over and figures that Voldemort wouldn’t know the story of the Peverell brothers, being raised in a muggle orphanage. The fact that he had turned another Hallow into a Horcrux seemed to support that theory because Voldemort would want to obtain all three Hallows if he knew about them; they would make him a “master of Death” after all. He figures that Voldemort only knows of the Elder Wand as a very powerful object. Ron and Hermione are both frozen on the spot, and Harry cannot understand how they don’t recognize the relevance of their discovery. Hermione insists that he’s getting carried away, and points out that Dumbledore likely would have told Harry. Harry thinks it’s a quest, that Dumbledore liked Harry to figure things out for himself, but Hermione can’t believe that Dumbledore would do that when he was up against real danger. She tries to refocus him on destroying the Horcruxes, like Dumbledore asked. She asks Ron to back her up, and he does, though a bit reluctantly.
Hermione takes the first watch, but Harry can’t sleep, thinking of the Hallows. He thinks about the words on the Snitch—I open at the close—and wonders what “the close” is. He wishes that he could find out what Voldemort was up to because for the first time, they want the same thing. He thinks that Xenophilius was right and Hermione was being narrow-minded about the Hallows because she was frightened of them. Then he remembers Luna, and feels ashamed of himself for not thinking of ways to rescue her. He realizes that he needs to practice his Patronus with the blackthorn wand, then thinks of the Elder Wand again and gets lost thinking of the Hallows. They pack up in the morning and move on to an area where it rains. The entire week the rain continues, but Harry thinks only of the Hallows, though his thoughts are less happy. He begins to blame Ron and Hermione for not caring, for thinking too much about the Horcruxes. He stops caring about who sent the silver doe as well, and gets very invested in his scar prickling again. But now when he has vision from Voldemort, they’re different—they seem blurry, out of focus. He worries that perhaps the connection between them has been damaged, and blames the destruction of his old wand on the problem. He begins to notice that Ron is taking charge of the group, as though trying to make up for being gone. He suggests new places to look for possible Horcruxes, each one less likely than the last, just to keep them moving.
The closer they are to Wizarding areas, the more often they come across groups of Snatchers. Ron says that the group that caught him weren’t very smart, but that some of them are rumored to be as bad as Death Eaters. He mentions Potterwatch, which is the radio program he was telling Harry about before, the only one telling the truth about what’s happening. He tries to tune the radio to it and guess the password, but continues to have no luck, night after night. In March, he finally guesses correct, and Harry comes inside to hear Lee Jordan’s voice, apologizing for the halt of transmissions—which had been due to Death Eaters in the area. Everyone goes by codenames: Lee is River, Remus is Romulus, and Kingsley is Royal. Before they begin the show, Lee alerts everyone to the deaths of Ted Tonks, Dirk Cresswell, and Gornuk. It’s believed that Dean Thomas and Griphook escaped. A Muggle family by the name Gaddley has also been killed. He also announces that Bathilda Bagshot’s remains were discovered in her home, and that she died several months previous, showing signs of injuries from Dark magic. They have a minute of silence for the victims. Lee moves onto Kingsley, who is there to talk about how the new order is affecting Muggles. Kingsley talks of the casualties they’re sustaining, and how some wizards are working to protect their Muggle neighbors. He suggests everyone work off their example, casting protective charms over Muggles dwelling near where they live. He also reminds anyone who might be thinking that it’s time to think of “wizards first” that they’re all human, and that kind of thinking is one step away from the bad guys.
There’s a section of the show called “Pal of Potter,” done by Lupin, who maintains that Harry is still alive. He talks of the importance of Harry as a symbol of everything they’re fighting for, and says that if Harry were listening, he’d tell him to follow his instincts. Ron informs Harry and Hermione that Bill told him Lupin was living with Tonks. Lupin informs listeners that Xenophilius has been imprisoned, and that Hagrid only just escaped arrest after hosting a “Support Harry Potter” party at his hut. They suggest that he escaped with Grawp, and warn others not to host similar parties in the current climate. They move on to news about the one they call “Chief Death Eater” (as a substitute for saying Voldemort’s name) and it’s Fred presenting this segment under the codename Rapier. They point out that Voldemort is sticking to the shadows to remain more frightening and mysterious, and that certain rumors are getting blown out of proportion, like the idea that he can kill just by looking at someone. He also wants people not to feel falsely secure at the idea that he might be out of the country presently. Lee tells everyone that they’re not sure when they’ll be able to broadcast again, but they’ll be back, and the next password will be “Mad-Eye.”
Harry, Ron, and Hermione all feel wonderful for hearing the familiar voices. Harry points out that Fred said Voldemort is abroad, which means he might be after the Elder Wand. Hermione tries to shout him down from talking and Ron goes into panic—because Harry used his name aloud. Suddenly, the Sneakoscope flares up. Ron uses the Deluminator to put out the lights, but there are voices coming nearer, and finally one of them says that they must come out with their hands up.
Everyone’s like “Hermione you’re a genius!” and you’re like guys, this is not enough of a thank you for the person who continually saves your behinds when you have no plan. Ron does make the tea, though. So, progress of sorts is being made.
The trio assume that Luna must be in Azkaban, but Harry tells them that it’s alright because Luna is a super tough cookie and probably teaching dementors about Nargles, and it’s too bad that’s not what happened to Luna because Harry’s right and she would totally do that. And it would be amazing. (I do wonder how someone like Luna would respond to dementors. She’s been through a lot, but she also has such an extreme force of will.)
I find it very interesting that Hermione is frightened by Harry’s fascinating with the Resurrection Stone. It could be that she’s concerned for Harry’s obsession with reconnecting with the dead, that perhaps she’s worried he’ll get lost in it the way Dumbledore suggested. But if she’s just plain scared of the idea, I don’t really get it? Of course your friend wants to be able to contact these people he’s been without his entire life. Of course he would want to spend time with them. You don’t have to treat him like he’s nuts for wanting that. On the other hand, it does lead to this gem:
“So that Peverell bloke who’s buried in Godric’s Hollow,” he said hastily, trying to sound robustly sane,” you don’t know anything about him, then?”
Oh Harry. I think we’re all “trying to sound robustly sane.”
We have another one of those funny situations where Harry has basically figured things out on the mystery front, but applied the wrong reasons to his revelations. So he’s right about all these connections—Voldemort is after the Elder Wand, the ring is the Resurrection Stone and it’s inside the Snitch, his ancestor is Ignotus Peverell—but he’s assuming that these things are important because they will be able to keep him safe. And that’s very much not the point. So we get a rehash of Hermione and Xenophilius’ conversation, but for different reasons. This time, Harry is driven by the desire to stay alive, which is something that Hermione can’t seem to cotton onto. She points out—like a logical person—that Harry is aligning things to suit his version of the story. Problem is, Harry is basically right about all the wheres and whats. He just doesn’t know the why.
This is the point in the quest where Harry starts frantically grasping at his mortality. It’s a place we needed to arrive at, even if it’s ugly; if Harry never thinks that he’d rather not die, his eventual sacrifice loses impact. So while he’s kind of being a selfish jerk in obsessing over the Hallows and getting all pouty at Ron and Hermione not being on board, it’s all about the transition he has to make. It’s about believing there’s a light at the end of the tunnel so that it can be worse when the rug is ripped out from under him. It will make his eventual decision to die that much more meaningful. Agreeable martyrs may exist, but they don’t make for very dramatic stories. And what’s worse is, Harry knows he’s being selfish. He just can’t shake the idea that maybe he has a chance, and it’s really hard to blame him for wanting one given all he’s put up throughout his entire life. Asking a seventeen-year-old to die for everyone is a tall order, no matter how awesome and well-adjusted that kid is.
We finally get to hear Potterwatch, for a glimpse of what’s going on in the outside world. And aside from Remus staying with Tonks and their incoming baby… it’s pretty bleak. People are clearly terrified, Muggles are dying left and right, and half of the on-the-run party we encountered earlier on are dead. Poor Ted. Poor Andromeda and Tonks. Sure must be fun being pregnant and losing your dad at the same time.
I want to hug Kingsley forever for his talking point about magic folks needing to help Muggles instead of turning inward and only protecting each other. It’s a deeply important humanist argument that gets lost so often in times of upheaval, and Rowling puts a very prominent pin in it; it doesn’t matter how scared you are, or how bad things have gotten, you don’t get the allowance to turn your back on other people who are hurting and need your help. You are not allowed to say “I’m out for me and my own” just because the going got tough. And this is even more true for people who have any measure of privilege—which magic users do, in this instance.
Of course, after all that uplifting talk and reassurance, Harry picks up the Idiot Box and says Voldemort’s name, and we get one hell of a chapter cliffhanger. See you next week….