The Harry Potter Reread found some old holographic temporary tattoos from, like, 1999 and brought them into work. Someone is bound to have a desperate need for them, after all. It’s the way of the world.
This week we’re going to talk to the Grey Lady and then have a really awkward conversation with Voldemort. It’s chapters 31 and 32 of The Deathly Hallows—The Battle of Hogwarts and The Elder Wand.
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 31—The Battle of Hogwarts
McGonagall is giving direction for the evacuation in the Great Hall, to be carried out by Filch and Madam Pomfrey. She tells students that if they are of age, they may stay. One of the Slytherin students asks where Snape is, and McGonagall tells them he’s fled. As she tries to get the students moving, Voldemort’s voice suddenly sounds in the hall, filling the air. He tells them not to fight him, that he doesn’t want to spill any magical blood. He asks them to turn Harry over and promises to leave the school untouched if they do—they have until midnight. Every eye turns to look at Harry, and Pansy Parkinson tells someone to grab him. The Gryffindors rise front heir table, then the Hufflepuffs, then the Ravenclaws, all turning to face the Slytherins and defend Harry. McGonagall instructs the Slytherins to leave the school first. When she advises the Ravenclaws to go, some of the older students remain. More of Hufflepuff stays behind, and half of Gryffindor House as well, so they have to forcibly remove the underage (including Colin Creevey and Peakes).
Harry heads over to the Weasleys and asks where Ron and Hermione are, but Kingsley comes forward then to inform everyone left of the battle plan. The professors are going to take groups to the highest towers to fight. Remus, Arthur, and Kingsley will take the ground fighters. The twins take care of defense for the secret passages in and out of the school. McGonagall reminds Harry that he’s meant to be looking for something, and he runs off, but can’t figure out what to do without Ron and Hermione. He pulls out the Marauder’s Map, but he can’t find them on it. Then he recalls that Voldemort had assumed he would go to Ravenclaw Tower. The only item he can think of that’s associated with Ravenclaw is still the lost diadem. Suddenly, Harry has a thought; he dashes through the school until he comes across Nearly-Headless Nick and asks where he can find Ravenclaw House’s ghost, the Gray Lady. Nick points Harry in her direction, but she sees Harry and floats away. Harry runs after her, and gets her to pause. He asks about the lost diadem, but she insists she cannot help him. When he presses, she points out that plenty of students have bugged her about this before, but Harry tells her it’s about defeating Voldemort, shaming her into assisting him.
He finds out that she is the ghost of Helena Ravenclaw—Rowena’s daughter. She admits that she stole the diadem from her mother to become cleverer than her, and ran away with it. Rowena never told anyone what had happened, and pretended to still have it. Before she died, she wanted to see her daughter again, so she sent a man who had loved her (though Helena had never been interested) to track her down. That man was the Bloody Baron, ghost of Slytherin House. When she wouldn’t return with him, he became angry and violent, and stabbed her. Once he realized what he had done, he killed himself as well. The diadem remained hidden inside a hollow tree, in a forest in Albania. Harry realizes that she told this story to Tom Riddle—she says that he flattered her and seemed to understand—and that he probably had found the diadem directly after school, before going to work at Borgin and Burkes. He had returned to it when he had no body because it was familiar. Harry figures that he hid the diadem at the school when he came back to ask Dumbledore for the teaching job, and figures it has to be between the Headmaster’s Office and the front of the school. He thanks the Gray Lady and rushes off.
Harry turns a corner and a window breaks, Hagrid and Fang flying through it. Hagrid gives Harry and hug, telling Grawp to wait a moment outside. He heard Voldemort’s voice even up at the cave where he’d been hiding, and knew what was happening, so Grawp carried he and Fang to the school. They start tearing through the school, looking for Ron and Hermione. Harry connects the dots as they go and realizes that he knows where the Horcrux is; the room of lost objects in the Room of Requirement. Harry speeds toward it, passing by Professor Sprout and Neville (who plan to hurl Mandrakes at intruders), and the portrait figures are running back and forth, spreading news. The whole castle shakes and Fang runs off in fright, sending Hagrid tearing after him. Sir Cadogan pursues Harry through one hall, shouting encouragingly to him. Harry rushes past Fred, Lee Jordan, and Hannah Abbott, then runs into Aberforth, who scolds him for letting so many students through his pub. He suggests that Harry should have taken a few Slytherin students hostage to have leverage, but Harry points out that Voldemort wouldn’t care about that—and that it wasn’t what Albus would have done.
Around the next corner, he finds Ron and Hermione, their arms full of fangs. Apparently, they had been trying to figure out how they would get rid of the cup, when Ron remembered that the basilisk was still in the Chamber of Secrets. Harry points out that you need to speak Parseltongue to get in, but Ron had that covered too, mimicking what Harry did when he opened the locket. The cup is destroyed; Hermione stabbed it, as Ron thought she should have the honor once too. Harry explains where the diadem is, and they rush back to the Room of Requirement. The only people left in it are Ginny, Tonks, and Neville’s grandmother, who has just shown up for the fight. She tells Harry that she was the last one through, and that she sealed the pub entrance now that no one is there to watch over it. She goes to help Neville. Harry asks why Tonks is there, as she was meant to be at home with Teddy, but she insists that she couldn’t stand not knowing. Harry tells her where Remus is and she sets off. Harry asks Ginny to leave the room for a moment, which delights her. Ron points out that the house-elves are still probably in the kitchens, and that they should tell them to leave, so they don’t have anymore of them dying the way Dobby did. Hermione drops everything in her arms and kisses Ron, who lifts her off the floor. Harry has to shout to get their attention.
Once outside the room, it’s clear that the battle has worsened and the Death Eaters have nearly entered the castle. Ginny and Tonks are both fighting from a broken window as Aberforth runs by, saying that the other side has brought their own giants. Tonks asks after Remus and tears off with Aberforth to find him. Harry asks Ginny to stay safe and out of the way as he, Ron, and Hermione reenter the Room of Requirement. Back in the room of hidden things, they split up to search for the diadem. Harry finally comes across it on the stone bust with a wig, but right as he’s about to reach for it, he’s stopped by Malfoy, Crabbe, and Goyle. Draco wants his wand back, but Harry insists it’s his now—Draco is using his mother’s. Crabbe insists that the three of them hung back on purpose, so they could turn Harry over to Voldemort and get rewarded. They were using Disilliusionment Charms and waiting for them to turn up. Ron realizes Harry is talking to someone and calls out for him, so Crabbe sends a wall of junk down on him, and Hermione screams somewhere. Harry ends the spell to steady everything. Draco tries to get Crabbe under control, insisting that they should get the diadem, but Crabbe isn’t interested in taking order from Draco anymore, and casts the Cruciatus Curse on Harry when he lunges for the Horcrux. The curse hits the diadem, and it soars up onto another pile of junk. Malfoy tries to get Crabbe to stop, but he doesn’t care, and thinks it’s fine if they kill Harry since the Dark Lord wants him dead.
Hermione passes by and tries to Stun Crabbe, who responds by flinging the Killing Curse at her. He misses, but a fight breaks out between the six, and Malfoy loses his wand. Harry tells Hermione where the diadem is right before Hermione shouts to him; Crabbe has cast a Fiendfyre Spell without knowing how to control it, and everyone has to run. The fire mutates into flaming beasts and surrounds the trio. Harry grabs two broomsticks from a nearby pile. Ron and Hermione get on one, and he gets on the other, and they fly above the fire as all of the hidden piles get consumed. Harry searches the room for Malfoy, Crabbe, and Goyle, not wanting them to perish. Finally, he hears a scream and sees Malfoy holding onto an unconscious Goyle on top of a pile of desks. Harry grabs Draco, and Ron and Hermione drag Goyle onto their broom (thought Ron insists that he’ll kill Harry if they die for them). Harry turns back when he spots the diadem, despite Draco’s protest, and just manages to nab it and fly them out of the room. They collide with the wall in the corridor and fall off the broom; Draco asks after Crabbe, and Ron tells him that he’s dead. The Headless Hunt charges through the halls, and Harry realizes that Ginny is not there anymore. Ron suggests that they look for her, but Hermione insists that they stay together and asks after Harry’s arm.
When Harry holds up the diadem, he sees a tarry substance is leaking from it, then it breaks apart in his hands. Hermione realizes that the Fiendfyre is responsible; it’s one of the things that can destroy a Horcrux, but not one she’d ever dare to use. They realize that only the snake is left. Suddenly shouts fill the halls, and they see that the Death Eaters have infiltrated Hogwarts. The twins are battling Death Eaters, while Percy takes on Minster Pius Thicknesse and jokes that he’s resigning. The air explodes around them and the corridor is a wreck, one side of the castle blown away. Everyone seems injured, but Harry sees Hermione get to her feet, then notes that three of the Weasley brothers are gathered around the body of Fred… and he’s gone.
McGonagall tells the students that Snape has “done a bunk,” which is slang that basically means to flee as far as I gather. (UK rereaders, feel free to correct me if I got it wrong.) She tells the of-age students that they may stay and fight, and that everyone else will be evacuated. Then Pansy suggests that everyone should body-tackle Harry after hearing Voldemort’s message, and McGonagall tells the entire house to get on out. I suppose that if any Slytherin wanted to stay and fight, they still probably could have hung back (Draco and Co. don’t seem to have any difficulty sticking around), but it reads like a complete dismissal, never really allowing the Slytherins a chance to step up. Rowling has insisted before that none of them really would have, and it’s a sticking point for plenty of Potter fans; the idea that not a single older Slytherin student would be interested in staying and fighting. That they’re either fine with Voldemort, or they simply aren’t willing to risk their lives. For my part, I go back and forth on how I feel with how this is handled. (The movie handles this far worse, and that always bugs the heck out of me.) On the one hand, it seems ridiculous that not a single Slytherin thinks it might be important to stop Voldemort. More importantly, it denies any of the Slytherin students even the slightest bit of dignity where this war is concerned. Sure, it’s a fight against Voldemort, but when you draw battle lines like this, it might as well also be “The War on Slytherin House and What It Stands For Too.”
But then again, Rowling goes out of her way to suggest that certain parts of Hogwarts are broken, and clearly means to include Slytherin House (and in some ways, the House system) in that category. Even among families of Slytherins, kids who don’t go along with the party line seem to get Sorted elsewhere, like Sirius. The only character in the entire series who we know for sure wasn’t into the kind of stuff Voldemort was selling, and still gets Sorted in Slytherin, is Andromeda Tonks. Which might be because she didn’t come to truly disagree with her family until she was already in school. (Since it seems impossible that Ted was a Slytherin, and more likely a Hufflepuff like his daughter, my question becomes omg how did they start even talking, let alone flirting and falling in love, wow, I need to know everything.) So while it feels wrong in a larger context, it does fit in with the world Rowling has given us so far. I just wish it could be different.
The rest seem to match up by House as well. The Ravenclaws weigh their options, and some decide to stay. The Hufflepuffs mostly stay as long as they’re of age. Half of the Gryffindors, regardless of age, decide to try and stay because THEY DON’T THINK THINGS THROUGH, THEY JUST DO THE THING. The Brave Thing. Great job, Gryffs.
Harry finds the Gray Lady and gets her story, and it only halfway works for me. I mean, the fact that the Bloody Baron is tied in there seems clever, and a good explanation of why he’s all chained up in the afterlife, but… if two prominent Hogwarts House ghosts were connected, I have a really hard time believing that the whole school wouldn’t know that story. That it wouldn’t get passed down in every generation until finally the it’s full of weird additions and asides from playing telephone for centuries. On the other hand, I wish we got to know more about Helena’s relationship with her mother because it sounds fascinating, if deeply sad.
Harry realizes that the diadem is hidden in the Room of Requirement, and figures that Voldemort thought he was the only student smart enough to find it, which turns out to be the case. But like… there’s centuries of junk in there, piled to the ceiling. How could he think that. Does he thinks it’s all really old junk, and that no one has been in the room for hundreds of years? I suppose it’s possible, though that would mean he wasn’t observant enough to look hard enough at the room and notice that some of the textbooks and things were newer. It’s just a little silly, is all.
Hagrid is back! But he’s only there for about five seconds because Fang runs off scared. Because of course, in a huge war battle, Hagrid goes running after his dog (and brings the dog in the first place). Then Harry runs across Aberforth, who berates him for not using Slytherins as hostages. And while Harry knows Voldemort wouldn’t care, he also uses that as a pointed moment to tell Aberforth that Albus would have never done that to those students. And in one way, he’s right, that tactic isn’t Albus’ style. But of course, the real point is to have this insistence bite the reader in the butt when we find out his true plans regarding Harry. It’s a super wince-worthy moment on a reread.
Aaaahhhh, I totally forgot that Tonks didn’t arrive with the other Order members, and it makes her nearing death that much worse. In some ways, it reads like an omen; she keeps asking after Remus, searching for him, almost as though she has a subconscious sense that he isn’t coming home, and she wants to be with him.
We finally find out what Ron and Hermione have been up to as well, of course, and then we get the moment that seven long books have been leading up to—Ron, from a place of true selflessness, points out that they should get the house-elves out of the castle and make sure they’re safe. Hermione kisses him. Poor Harry is stuck there. This moment is perfect. Perfect. Everything about it is perfect. It’s an excellent way to break the building tension, it’s sweet, and then it’s hilarious to boot. And I feel like it’s strangely important that Harry be present for it, that rather than quiet confessions and the couple trying to break the news that they’re finally together together, he just has to stand there in exasperation and deal with it. He’s known this was coming since last year, he’s been through all the horrible back-and-forths with them, and now he has to suffer through that awkward moment where his best friends are kissing, and he’s stuck there sassing to the ceiling and trying to remind them of the war and stuff. It doesn’t help that I keep thinking this is what Harry will be like as a parent, thus making everything at least eight times funnier.
And of course, they don’t really have time to go help the house-elves just then, making the whole point a moot gesture.
We get the search for the diadem, and then Harry gets cornered by the terrible trio, and it’s clear that spending a year in the company of the Carrows has been all kinds of bad for Crabbe. As Harry notes, he’s found his voice, and what he has to say isn’t very pretty. Draco is desperate, and clearly doesn’t want any of this, but they are the only lackeys he has… had.
This sequence is smart, for so many reasons. We get a Horcrux destroyed a different way, there’s real danger involved and magic that we haven’t seen, and Harry’s skills as a Seeker are incredibly important to the outcome. And the magic they come up against has real consequences that no one foresaw—Crabbe’s death isn’t really what we’re expecting to get out of this, but it lands nonetheless. Not because we like the guy, but because his discovery of newfound power turns out to be a burden that he cannot handle. It winds up a very potent commentary on youth in war. What makes it worse is the moment where Ron has to tell Draco. Both his questioning after Crabbe and his decision to drag Goyle’s unconscious form up a stack of desks to safety proves that he’s not quite so aloof and callous as he pretends. These were his friends, even if he thought himself above them.
The twins and Percy are crowding into the space, battling Death Eaters and trading quips, and just when it seems that things are heating up, they come to a grinding halt. The hall explodes and we observe the fallout along with Harry:
“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.
Chapter 32—The Elder Wand
Harry can’t understand why the world hasn’t stopped, but curses starts flying from every direction, and everyone has to fall to the floor. Percy is shielding Fred with his body and Ron has to pull him away, insisting that there’s nothing more he can do. Large spiders come into the castle, Aragog’s descendants, and they begin throwing spells at them. Harry and Percy grab Fred’s body and hide him in a niche where a suit of armor had been, and they all retreat. Around the corner, Percy spots Rookwood, and tears after him. Hermione calls Harry to her, and seems to be wrestling with Ron, who means to follow his brother. Harry tries to reason with Ron, knowing that he wants revenge, but insisting that they need him for the final Horcrux. Hermione tells him that they’re going to fight anyway, but they have to remember what they need to do, then tells Harry to figure out where Voldemort is to find Nagini. Harry finds Voldemort in a familiar room, holding Lucius Malfoy there with him, who is desperate to find his son. He suggests that perhaps Harry will be killed in the battle, and it might be better if the Dark Lord entered the castle to find him, but Voldemort knows that Lucius only wants to locate Draco, and says that Harry will seek him out. Then he tells Lucius to bring Snape to him, and looks to Nagini, who is encased in a special safe space he’s made for her.
Harry tells Ron and Hermione that Voldemort is in the Shrieking Shack with Nagini. Hermione is surprised that he’s not fighting, but Harry explains that he expects Harry to come to him to get to Nagini. This causes a quarrel between Ron and Hermione about who will go to take out Nagini under the Invisibility Cloak. Two Death Eaters find the trio, but Hermione turns the staircase they’re standing on into a slide, and the concealing tapestry they fall through into stone, stopping the pursuants. Ron tells Harry and Hermione to get back as McGonagall parades animated desks down the hall. Harry throws the Cloak over the three of them, and they run into a corridor filled with duelers, and Peeves, who is helping out. Draco is pleading with a Death Eater who is coming after him; Harry Stuns the Death Eater, then Ron punches Draco and shouts that they’ve now saved his life twice. The battle gets more intense and confusing. Harry almost accidentally hits Neville with a Stunning Spell he’s aiming at the Death Eater, Hermione throws Fenrir Greyback off of a dying Lavender Brown, and Trelawney drops a crystal ball on his head. More spiders break in, and everyone begins to flee, while Hagrid shouts not to hurt them. Harry tries to stop him, but Hagrid rushes into their midst and Harry can do nothing. A giant puts a big hole in the castle, and Grawp comes around the corner, charging at him.
The trio run after Hagrid, but when they get to the edge of the Forbidden Forest, they’re stopped by a swarm of dementors, and the three of them can’t manage to make their Patronuses strong enough. Luna, Ernie, and Seamus comes to their rescue with their own Patronuses. Luna reminds Harry to thinks of something happy, and tells him that they’re still here and fighting when he can’t think of anything. Harry produces his Patronus and the last of the dementors flee. Another giant emerges and the group scatters, Harry telling Ron and Hermione to head to the Whomping Willow. They reach the tree, and Ron can’t figure out how to prod the knot, but Hermione reminds him that he’s a wizard, and he uses a levitation spell to poke it with a twig. They crawl through the tunnel and throw on the Cloak before they hit the end. Harry hears voices ahead, and peers out into the shack. Snape is in there with Voldemort, directly in front of Harry. He volunteers to bring Potter to the Dark Lord, but Voldemort isn’t concerned with that—he has a different problem. He holds the Elder Wand aloft and asks why it isn’t working for him.
Snape doesn’t understand, saying that he has performed excellent magic with the wand, but Voldemort disagrees. He feels that the wand is no more powerful for him than his old wand. Harry’s scar begins to pulse, though Voldemort sounds calm. He asks Snape if he knows why he has been called away, and Snape insists that he doesn’t and wishes to return to the battle, bringing up Harry again. Voldemort is unconcerned with Harry, sure that he will show up to save the lives of others. What he is worried about is what will happen when he faces Harry. He explains how his yew wand failed, then Lucius’, and how he obtained the Elder Wand. But the wand is not working as he would like, and he believes he now knows why—he is not the wand’s master. Snape killed Dumbledore, and therefore Snape must be master of the Elder Wand. Snape protests, raising his wand. Voldemort moves Nagini’s magical cage forward, and instructs her to kill. She bites Snape, and Voldemort says he regrets this. He leaves the room, and the trio push into the shack. Harry takes the cloak off and approaches Snape; when he’s close enough, Snape grabs Harry’s robes and pulls him close, telling him to “Take… it….”
Memories are gushing from Snape’s mouth and ears and eyes, and Hermione gives Harry a flask to hold them in. Snape’s memories fill the flask, and he loses blood. He asks Harry to look at him, and they lock eyes for a moment before Snape’s hand falls and he is dead.
When I first read these books, I knew long before The Deathly Hallows was released that one of the twins would die. There was no other option for the Weasley family; while many assumed that Ron and Hermione were for the chopping block (and Rowling admittedly considered Ron), I was certain that the core trio would survive. Arthur had already had his scare, as had Bill. We didn’t know Charlie well enough for it to have an impact. Percy’s redemption arc wouldn’t play as well if he immediately died. Ginny was the only daughter, far too precious to the whole family and Harry. Molly was everyone’s mother. But killing just one of the twins was the perfect kind of blow, I surmised—not quite as important as Ron or Ginny, but the thought of separating the twins by death was deeply cruel, severing their perfect bond. It was exactly the right kind of knife twist. I was adamant about it for years.
What I did not foresee was Percy. Of course he comes back, but the point is that he’s returned with a sense of humor. He sees eye to eye with the twins just a little bit more. He is their immediate older brother, and he’s happiest to see them, to fight with them and bond again. And just as he is making a joke, as Fred is praising him, as he is repairing those bonds he broke—he loses his brother. His little brother. There are no words for that. Only the knowledge that Percy is going to carry that for the rest of his life. That he lost Fred right after he got him back, and if he only done things differently, he could have been around in the years before he was gone.
And then Percy is protecting his dead brother’s body from curses and everything is over, and I can’t. I just… I was expecting it, even the first time, and it doesn’t make any difference at all.
They all get moving, and Harry reaches out to see Voldemort in the Shrieking Shack with Lucius, who could not be a more broken human than he is currently. And all he cares about is his son. All he thinks about is his son. And in that moment, you have to love Lucius Malfoy just a little bit because he never lets his fear get in the way of that.
Throughout this chapter and the trio are running through various part of the battle, we get this incredible tonal balance—moments of complete horror balanced by perfect whimsy. And it occurs to me that nothing really defines the Potter series better than this very thing. So we keep hitting on it in turns; Fenrir Greyback mauls Lavender and Trelawney hits him with a crystal ball; spiders attack but then we run across an animated army of school desks; Grawp defends the school from giants while calling for his big brother, Neville flings plants at the enemy, the Slytherin hourglass breaks and everyone is slipping on emeralds. These juxtapositions wouldn’t work in most final sequences. Fantasy wars are usually grim affairs with the occasional jaunty laugh line thrown in for levity. But Rowling manages to give us the absurd alongside the terror, and it’s something that makes these books very special.
The trio come across all the dementors, and they aren’t prepared to have their defenses up. So it’s Luna, Ernie, and Seamus to the rescue:
“That’s right,” said Luna encouragingly, as if they were back in the Room of Requirement and this was simply spell practice for the D.A. “That’s right, Harry… come on, think of something happy….”
“Something happy?” he said, his voice cracked.
“We’re all still here,” she whispered, “we’re still fighting. Come on, now….”
There was a silver spark, then a wavering light, and then, with the greatest effort it had ever cost him, the stage burst from the end of Harry’s wand.
This moment. This beautiful thing where all the magic in the world can’t make things right, so Luna becomes Harry’s Patronus. Luna turns it around, Luna makes the world right, Luna has the words to drive the dementors away. Luna, you perfect ethereal being. You bringer of light.
The trio get to the Whomping Willow, and we have a perfect callback to the very first book:
“How — how’re we going to get in?” panted Ron. “I can — see the place — if we just had — Crookshanks again —”
“Crookshanks?” wheezed Hermione, bent double, clutching her chest. “Are you a wizard, or what?”
“Oh — right — yeah —”
*wipes tear from eye* If you were only going to do a great big shoutout like that in one place in this book, that was exactly right.
And then they arrive at the shack, and we are present for the final moments of Severus Snape’s life. It’s another death I always expected was coming, but it’s awful when you realize that Snape knows it’s coming. He knows that he’s going to die—WAIT.
He dies in the Shrieking Shack. He dies right where he was going to die as a teenager if James hadn’t run after him HOW DID I NEVER NOTICE THIS?
Wow, that is horrible. That is just the worst, that makes everything so much more depressing. Whoa.
I will get into my thoughts over Snape’s passing next week, as all the emotional work gets done in the next chapter. So for now, I’m gonna sit with that horrible revelation. You’ll find me in a bar somewhere, probably. Ugh.