The Harry Potter Reread is getting that distinct vibe where it’s time for rum drinks. Getting just warm enough to go all Captain Jack Sparrow on things.
This week we’re going to have a chat in our head that’s entirely real, and then we’re gonna defeat a Dark Lord. All in a day’s work. It’s chapters 35 and 36 of The Deathly Hallows—King’s Cross and The Flaw in the Plan.
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 35—King’s Cross
Harry is nowhere, alone. After a time, he realizes that he must be real and that he’s lying on some kind of surface, naked. He wonders if he can see, and in opening his eyes, discovers that he has them. He’s in a mist and he no longer has his glasses. He hears a frightful, pitiful noise, and suddenly wishes he was clothed. Robes appear and he puts them on. As he more carefully views his surroundings, they morph into a bright clean space with a domed glass ceiling. The thing making noise turns out to be a flayed-looking naked child, barely alive. Harry is frightened of it, but feels bad for not comforting it. Then he hears a voice that says, “You cannot help.”
The voice comes from Albus Dumbledore, striding toward him. He tells Harry they should walk and they find a two nearby seats to sit on. Harry points out that Dumbledore is dead, which he confirms. Harry asks if this means that he’s dead too, and Albus says he rather thinks not. He says the reason is because Harry allowed Voldemort to murder him. Dumbledore prompts Harry into figuring out the answer for himself; in trying to kill Harry, the part of his soul that resided in Harry is now gone. Harry asks why the Killing Curse didn’t work on him, and again, Dumbledore tells him to think. Harry remembers that Voldemort used his blood to reconstitute himself. This has bound him to life while Voldemort lives. Dumbledore admits that he had only guessed this—but his guesses are usually quite good.
Harry asks why his wand broke Lucius’ borrowed wand. Albus tells him that it was an unprecedented bit of magic that no one could have foreseen. He points out that Voldemort bound himself and Harry together when taking his blood, then attacked him with a wand that shared the same core. Because Harry’s wand won that battle in the graveyard, Dumbledore believes that the wands began to echo the relationship of their owners, that Harry’s wand like Harry himself took on some of the powers of Voldemort’s wand. It recognized Voldemort during the chase and used some of his own magic against him. But it would only work that way against Lord Voldemort, which is why Hermione’s spell was able to break it. Harry points out that Voldemort killed him with Dumbledore’s wand, but Albus corrects him—he failed to kill him with that wand.
Harry asks where they are, but Dumbledore returns the question, not being familiar with the space. Once Harry is asked, he realizes that they’re in King’s Cross station. He asks Dumbledore about the Hallows, and for the first time, Albus looks uncomfortable. He asks for Harry’s forgiveness for not telling him, saying that he feared Harry might make his same mistakes. He knows that Harry knows about his youthful obsession and asks if he was better, ultimately, than Voldemort. Harry finds it strange, defending Dumbledore from himself, but insists that he was better because he never killed if he could avoid it and because he didn’t pursue mastery of death via Horcruxes. Harry brings up Grindelwald, and Albus confirms that he came to Godric’s Hollow because of the grave of Ignotus Peverell, confirming that they were the three brothers from the story. Dumbledore presumes that they were merely very talented wizards who created powerful objects, and that the fable grew up around them. He confirms that the Potters are descendants of Ignotus, and that he had asked James if he could examine the Cloak right before his death. Then when James died, he had two of the Hallows to himself. Harry points out that the Cloak wouldn’t have saved his parents when Voldemort came to their house.
Harry figures that Dumbledore had given up looking for the Hallows when he saw the Cloak, which Albus confirms. It brings them to the story about his family, which he is deeply ashamed to tell. He explains that he resented what happened to his family, that he wanted to escape even though he loved them. He talks of Grindelwald, how he knew deep down that there was something evil about him, but how he ignored it for their glorious plans. He tells Harry how they had planned to use the Hallows; the wand would give them power; Grindelwald wanted the stone for an army of Inferi, while Albus wanted it to resurrect his parents so he could be free of his burdens; they mainly wanted the cloak to complete the Hallows, though Albus thought that perhaps they could hide Ariana with it. He confesses that he did not fully grasp the purpose of the Cloak, which allowed to user to protect others beside themselves. He then recounts what happened when Aberforth confronted them, the duel that led to Ariana death. He begins to cry, and Harry reaches out to take hold of his arm until he calms.
Dumbledore says there were rumors about Grindelwald, that he had obtained a powerful wand. Albus was offered the position of Minister of Magic several times and always refused, knowing that he could not be trusted with power. Harry insists he would have been better than Fudge or Scrimgeour, but Albus is adamant that the people who bear power the best are the ones who have no desire for it, like Harry. He talks of how Grindelwald amassed an army, and how people said that he feared only Albus. But he was afraid to face off with him because he was never sure which of them cast the curse killed Ariana, and he feared Grindelwald did and might tell him. He waited until it was impossible to hold off any longer, then finally dueled Grindelwald and won the wand. After some time, Harry tells him that Grindelwald tried to mislead Voldemort about the Elder Wand and pretended he never had it. Dumbledore says that he heard Grindelwald showed remorse in his final years, and perhaps was trying to make amends. Harry thinks he may have lied to prevent Voldemort from breaking into Albus’ tomb.
Harry brings up his use of the Resurrection Stone. Dumbledore says that he could hardly believe when he found it in the Gaunts home after so many years of searching, and that he put it on without thinking, desperately wanting to see his family and apologize. He says that he was unworthy to unite the Hallows and had proved it once again. Harry can’t understand the problem with wanting to use the stone to see them. Dumbledore explains—he was only fit to possess the least incredible of the Hallows, the wand, because he took it to save others from its power. He didn’t care enough about the Cloak to have it work for him the way it worked for Harry. And he wanted to use the stone to disturb people who were already at peace, a selfish pursuit. Harry’s difference in all these things made him a worthy possessor of the Hallows.
Harry isn’t angry with Dumbledore anymore, but asks why he made the journey so difficult. Albus admits that he was hoping Hermione might slow him down, that if Harry found out about these objects too quickly, he might be tempted to use them incorrectly, the way he had been tempted. The master of death does not run from it, he embraces it. Harry asks if Voldemort ever knew about the Hallows, but Dumbledore doesn’t think so because he turned the stone into a Horcrux. He also would have had no use for the Cloak or stone, but Albus knew he would look for the wand following his defeat in the graveyard, particularly after another wand with a different core had no effect. Harry realizes that Dumbledore intended Snape to get the wand by killing him, but that it didn’t work out that way. It occurs to Harry that he has to go back, but Dumbledore tells him that he has a choice; he is at King’s Cross and could likely board a train that would take him “on.” He believes that Harry will prevent more loss of life if he returns, and insists that he has far less to fear by coming back to this place than the figure nearby (which is now clearly Voldemort himself). So Harry agrees, though he is comfortable where he is. But he has one last question—is this happening in his head, or is it real? And Dumbledore leaves him with perhaps the greatest line in the entire series:
“Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”
This chapter is just so smart. On so many levels too—if you’re going to have a sequence where your main character is in the waiting room between life and death, it doesn’t get much better than this. Harry discovering that he can feel, that he has eyes, that the environment looks remarkably like King’s Cross station because that’s the place he associates with going on to good things. The arrival of Dumbledore, who is whole again, and evasive as always. Still a teacher, even in the hereafter, preferring Harry to come to everything himself. Though with that said, this also a very “talk to God” moment, mainly because we don’t understand the mechanics behind his arrival. Is he there because he is the person Harry most wishes to get answers from? Did he come of his own accord? We’re not really supposed to know.
I find it very poignant that Harry keeps wanting to help Voldemort’s soul. Dumbledore is right that there’s nothing to be done at this stage, but the impulse to help is very much a part of what makes Harry Harry (as we’ll see in the final chapter). He is aware that Voldemort’s soul is a raw beaten thing, and even though he doesn’t want to be near it, he still wants to do something to ease its suffering
We’re here to get the very last pieces of the puzzle, and to ultimately get some comfort from Dumbledore. In finally getting the story directly from him, we can put aside our fears (and Harry’s) about the man, and let him offer his own vantage point without the unhelpful musings of Rita Skeeter. Harry needs this final push and these last explanations for everything to coalesce, for him to make peace with all that he’s learned.
Dumbledore finally explains all the wand weirdness, and this still really hits me as the wooliest explanation in these books, just overall. Like, I’m fine with all the explanation about the wands mimicking the relationship of the masters, but that causing Harry’s wand to regurgitate magic that Voldemort had used back at him is still never explained to my satisfaction. Ah well. Can’t win them all, especially for a series that clocks in at this many pages.
When I first read this book and got to the point where Dumbledore admitted his feelings of resentment toward his family, I remember feeling sympathetic, but not quite understanding why I felt that way. As an older person, I think I feel even worse for him. While his choice to go off and make horrible plans with Grindelwald was an all-caps NOT OKAY move, his purported feelings of being trapped are totally understandable. He’s clearly accustomed to blaming himself, talking of how clever and brilliant he was, and how he wanted personal glory and the chance to travel and engage with great minds, but there’s an aspect to this that neither he nor Aberforth really take into account; that being forced into the role of caretaker when you never planned to be one is not an easy thing to bear. People who can set aside their own dreams and desires to do that are very special—I’d argue that most would bear Albus’ resentment in a similar situation, and they would feel that way at ages much older than eighteen. Obviously, this is not the fault of Aberforth or Ariana, which is why Albus feels so much guilt throughout the entirety of his life. But it strikes me that if there had only been someone for Albus to confide in—someone who was not so dangerous as Grindelwald—things might have at least been a bit easier. What he probably needed more than anything was someone to sit down with him, drink some brandy and say “you’re right, this isn’t fair. I’m really sorry. What can I do to help?” But because Aberforth perceives such superiority from his brother, they never manage to connect on that level, and there’s no one else around.
The explanation of how the Hallows are meant to be mastered works really well for me, especially after the niggly problem with the wands. The idea that the only person who truly possesses them is someone who would use them for unselfish means is an excellent way of working it out. Albus learns this the hard way when he tries to use the Resurrection Stone and is forced to realize that his motivations for using it were still selfish; he wanted to call back his family to apologize, to hopefully be consoled by them, to have their understanding. Harry uses the stone to enable his own bravery, so he can face something terrible and protect others. The same goes for the Cloak; while Harry has used it for plenty of lone nighttime wanderings, he often used it for the purpose of hiding his friends and keeping them safe (and there are a rash of examples throughout the Battle of Hogwarts just to prove that point).
On a side note, one of my favorite aspects about Dumbledore as a character is evident in this chapter, which is that despite how intelligent he is, he never stops learning. Some of what he learns comes at great cost, but you never find Albus Dumbledore disbelieving over some new piece of information. When he learns, he adjusts his worldview and takes it in stride. If I could continue to be half that flexible as time goes on, I’ll be very pleased.
Dumbledore brings up his fear in facing Grindelwald in their final duel, which won him the Elder Wand. He doesn’t discuss the details of that fight, which is very telling. And then Harry lets him know that Grindelwald misled Voldemort and told him he never had the wand. Albus says that people claimed he felt remorse toward the end, hoping that it’s true. But Harry suggests that perhaps the reason he lied was because he didn’t want Voldemort cracking open Dumbledore’s tomb. This is one of those moments where Harry’s theory is probably as good as an admission. There’s no reason to have him suggest that in the narrative if it isn’t at least partially true. And the only reason that Grindelwald would care about Voldemort desecrating Albus’ tomb would be that he felt something for the man, be it deep abiding friendship, or perhaps love.
Whatever the truth is, this moment is important because it also reminds us that people who do awful things have a shot at redemption. Remorse, as Dumbledore says, as Harry will later say to Tom Riddle. Proof that all the humanity hasn’t been leeched out of you, that you are capable of empathy, of change. And the fact that Grindelwald was able to find it in himself, even if it was only at the end, means that everyone has a choice. It’s a setup for Voldemort, like a great big billboard in the sky—you can come back from this. It won’t change what you’ve done, but you don’t have to die a monster.
Before we hit the very end of the chapter, Dumbledore gives Harry a piece of advice that may as well be a summation of the entire series:
“Do not pity the dead, Harry. Pity the living, and, above all, those who live without love.”
That’s it. That’s the whole point right there. Death is nothing to fear, it is simply a step. Life is full of pain and difficult decisions and messiness. Death is easy. In many ways, this is the reason why Harry’s un-death never felt like a copout to me, the way I know it did to some readers. Because the point being made—and it’s a very important point—is that choosing to live is harder by far. Choosing to live means that the ability to make mistakes and experience loss and feel anguish are all back on the table. But you’ll never know what your life might have amounted to unless you choose it.
Most importantly, pity those who live without love. (And I think it’s essential to note that living without love can mean living without ever feeling it, as well as living without receiving it from others.) Because those who do are barely alive at all. Love is what creates life, what gives us the ability to feel so many great and terrible things. Do not pity the dead. Pity the living for the challenges they face, and pity those who lives are worse than death because they are empty.
And just when you think you’ve gotten all the wisdom you can possibly receive from Albus Dumbledore in seven books, he piles this one on you at the end of the chapter: “Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”
Reading it makes me cry. Ugly cry. I remember gasping out loud the first time I saw those words, like I had been caught. It’s a moment that is rare in fiction, the kind where you feel as though the author has reached through the page and wrapped their arms around you tight. It makes you feel seen and understood. It’s important for Harry in the moment, absolutely. It is also deeply philosophical, a simple question that cuts to the core of human perception, and what makes up reality. But more than anything, it is a moment where we’re being acknowledged and loved, just as much as Harry.
All of this has happened in our heads. But why on earth should that mean that it is not real?
Chapter 36—The Flaw in the Plan
He is lying on the ground again. He aches everywhere, and the place where the curse hit him feels as though he’s been punched by iron. Everyone is shuffling, disbelieving, nervous. Harry doesn’t move, but takes stock of both the wand and the Cloak, still under his robes where he left them. Harry cracks open his eyes and sees Voldemort getting to his feet, Death Eaters scurrying away, leaving only Bellatrix at his side. It seems as though Voldemort also collapsed when he cast the curse—they had both gone unconscious, and were now both returned. Voldemort rejects all help, and asks someone to examine Harry to make sure he’s dead. The woman who comes forward can easily tell that Harry is alive, but she has a question for him: Is Draco alive and in the castle? Harry utters a soft yes to Narcissa Malfoy. She tells the crowd that Harry is dead. Everyone cheers and Harry knows that Narcissa doesn’t care if Voldemort wins, she only wants to head into the castle and search for her son. Voldemort is elated and casts the Cruciatus Curse on Harry, but Harry feels nothing. He is thrown into the air, and his glasses fall off, but he remains lifeless and limp.
Voldemort forces Hagrid to carry Harry’s body back, telling someone to put his glasses back on so he’ll be recognizable. Hagrid holds him, sobbing, and moves through the forest. As they make their way to the edge of the forest, Hagrid suddenly shouts to Bane and the other centaurs for refusing to fight. When they reach the grounds where the dementors stand watch, Harry cannot feel their touch any longer, his survival working as a guard against them. Voldemort speaks again to everyone in the school, telling them that Harry was killed while trying to flee and save his own life. He tells them that they should end this fight, and if they come out of the castle and kneel before him, they will be spared. Then he moves forward, Nagini draped around his shoulders, and forces Hagrid to follow. They halt in front of the doors, Death Eaters spread out in a line as the survivors gather on the steps. The first who Harry hears is McGonagall, who shouts “NO!” Then come the voices of Ron, Hermione, and Ginny, even worse. Voldemort orders Hagrid to lay Harry on the ground at his feet, and insists on Harry’s cowardice. Ron exclaims that he beat Voldemort and the survivors start shouting. Voldemort continues with his lie that Harry died while trying to escape.
Harry hears a scuffle and a bang, and realizes that someone tried to charge Voldemort, and was stopped and disarmed by him. It’s Neville. Voldemort knows he’s a pureblood, and suggests he should join the Death Eaters, but Neville gets to his feet and refuses with a cry of “Dumbledore’s Army!” and the crowd cheers despite the Silencing Charms Voldemort has cast on the crowd. Voldemort summons the Sorting Hat from the school, saying that there will be no more Sorting or Houses at Hogwarts—the emblem and colors of Slytherin will be all they require. He forces the Hat onto Neville’s head, and says that the boy will be a demonstration of what happens to anyone who opposes him. Then he sets the Hat on fire and Neville screams. Harry feels he has to act—and suddenly many things happen in concert. Hundreds of people begin charging toward the castle to to fight, Grawp appears and is charged at by Voldemort’s giants, the centaurs arrive to shoot Death Eaters with arrows, and Harry swiftly pulls the Invisibility Cloak from under his robes and tosses it over himself.
Then the Body-Bind Curse on Neville breaks and the Hat falls from his head, bearing the sword of Gryffindor, which Neville picks up and uses to slice Nagini’s head off.
Everyone’s eye is caught in the tumult as Voldemort screams in rage. Harry casts a Shield Charm between Neville and Voldemort before he can raise his wand. Hagrid finally notices that Harry’s body is missing and shouts into the crowd, asking where he is. The battle is a mess, thestrals and hippogriffs clawing out the eyes of giants, centaurs stampeding the place, and all the humans forced back into the castle to fight. Harry jinxes every Death Eater he comes across, and they fall one by one. Harry searches for Voldemort in the crowd, finding him backing into the Great Hall while he shouts commands. Harry casts Shield Charms for Seamus and Hannah, who rush into the hall and continue to fight. More people come up the front steps, and Harry sees Charlie Weasley and Slughorn, who seem to have gathered reinforcements in the form of the families and friends of every Hogwarts student in the fight, and all the denizens of Hogsmeade. The door to the kitchens blows open and all the house-elves emerge toting kitchen knives and cleavers, Kreacher at the fore, commanding them to fight in Regulus Black’s name. Harry watches the Death Eaters succumb to their sheer numbers, then bolts into the Great Hall.
George and Lee are dealing with Yaxley, Dolohov is felled by Flitwick, Macnair is tossed aside by Hagrid, Ron and Neville stop Greyback, Aberforth gets Rookwood out of the way, Arthur and Percy handle Thicknesse. The Malfoys run through the melee frantically, shouting Draco’s name. Voldemort is dueling McGonagall, Slughorn, and Kingsley at the same time, but they can’t finish him off. Bellatrix is dueling Hermione, Ginny, and Luna all at once. She shoots a Killing Curse at Ginny that barely misses her, but before Harry can reach her, he hears Molly Wealsey’s voice: “NOT MY DAUGHTER, YOU BITCH!” She shoves the girls aside and begins to duel Bellatrix in earnest, both of them fighting to kill. Others move to help Molly, but she insists that they stay back. Bellatrix taunts her, asking what will happen to her children when she’s gone the same way as Fred. Molly screams that Bellatrix will never touch her children again, and Harry sees Bellatrix give the very same laugh Sirius gave before he died, and then one of Molly’s curses hits her and she falls. The crowd cheers and Voldemort screams, blasting his duelers backwards and raising his wand to Molly. Harry shouts a Shield Charm that expands throughout the entire Great Hall, then throws off his Cloak. Everyone shouts their surprise before quickly quieting down. Harry tells everyone that he doesn’t want help, that he has to the be the one to finish it.
Voldemort insists that Harry will use others as a shield as he always does, but Harry tells him that this is it—there are no more Horcruxes. Voldemort can’t imagine why Harry believes he would survive this fight when his survival up until now has been accidental. Harry points out that none of the moments he survived were accidents, and no one else here tonight will die. Because he was prepared to die himself to stop anyone else from being hurt, he has cast the same protective charm that his mother did all those years ago. That’s why none of them are falling. He calls Voldemort by his real name, Tom Riddle, which incenses the man. Harry insists that he knows many things Tom doesn’t, that maybe he should listen before he makes a final mistake. Voldemort sneers and asks if it’s love, as Dumbledore always said, though love didn’t stop his death, or Lily’s. Voldemort figures that if it’s not love, Harry must believe that he either knows more magic, or has a more powerful weapon. Harry assures him it’s both. Voldemort laughs, saying that he has done magic that even Dumbledore never dreamed. Harry tells him that Dumbledore was too smart to use such magic, and when Voldemort insists that the man was weak, and that he had him killed, Harry tells him the truth: that Dumbledore arranged his death with Snape. That Snape hadn’t been Voldemort’s servant since he decided to hunt Lily Potter, whom he had loved since childhood. That yet again, love was the one thing that Tom Riddle never understood.
Voldemort is adamant that none of this matters because Dumbledore’s plan was to make certain that Snape got the Elder Wand instead of him, and he failed. Harry tells him that he is, in essence, correct, that the plan did fail. Harry tells him that he should maybe think on what he’s done, and try to feel remorse before setting himself on murder again. Voldemort is shocked by the suggestion, but Harry puts it to him again—he knows what waits for the man on the other side. The only chance Tom Riddle has is to feel remorse.
Because he’s still ultimately wrong about the plan. It didn’t backfire because Snape never defeated Dumbledore to become master of the Elder Wand. Dumbledore’s true plan was to die undefeated, thus nulling the wand’s power. Problem is, someone disarmed him right before Snape got to him: Draco Malfoy. Voldemort again insists this does not matter, as they will have to duel on skill alone in that case. But Harry has one more reveal—he overpowered Draco at Malfoy Manor weeks ago. He has Draco’s wand. And if that’s the case, and the Elder Wand knows it… then he is the master of the Elder Wand.
The sun begins to rise and the light hits them both. Voldemort shouts the Killing Curse and Harry shouts to disarm. The spells collide and the Elder Wand flies into the air toward Harry, who catches it with ease as Voldemort falls to the ground. His spell rebounded, and he lies dead on the floor, Harry standing over him holding two wands.
There is a moment of silence, then the Hall breaks into cheers and roars. Ron and Hermione reach Harry first and throw their arms around him, and then it’s everyone else reaching out to hug him or touch him. The morning is one of sadness and celebration, and everyone wants Harry nearby as their symbol of victory, never mind the fact that he hasn’t slept and would rather be with loved ones. They get news from all over: Imperiused folk are coming back to themselves, innocent people in Azkaban are being set free, Death Eaters are on the run, and Kingsley is temporary Minister of Magic. They remove Voldemort’s body into a chamber by itself, and McGonagall puts the House tables back, but no one sits according to their correct table; the hall is filled with all sorts of people, Firenze healing in the corner, Grawp hanging out by a window while people throw him food. Harry finally sits down beside Luna, who divines that he must want some time alone and offers a distraction so Harry can slip out under the Cloak. As he walks through the Hall he spots Ginny, Neville, then the Malfoys, huddled together and out of place, though no one is bothering them. Finally, he finds Hermione and Ron, and tells them he’s there, asking if they’ll follow. They get up and leave the Hall, hearing Peeves singing in the distance.
Harry knows that they’ll all be happy later, but right now the loss is too much, and he’s incredibly tired. He knows he owes Ron and Hermione an explanation of everything that happened after he left them. As they wander and he talks, they end up at the headmaster’s office, and the gargoyle has been knocked over. When he opens the doors, the portraits of former headmasters all applaud him (while Phineas insists that no one forget how Slytherin House contributed). But Harry can only see Dumbledore’s portrait, which stares at him with pride, crying. Harry asks the portraits to quiet down, then tells Dumbledore that he dropped the stone in the forest, and plans to leave it there. Dumbledore agrees. Harry also tells him that he plans to keep Ignotus’ present, which Dumbledore also agrees with, seeing as it’s something of a family heirloom. Then he takes out the wand and declares he doesn’t want it. Ron thinks he’s crazy, but Harry insists that he’s happier with his own. He grabs the fragments from the pouch around his neck and tries to repair it with the Elder Wand. It works.
Harry tells portrait Dumbledore that he plans to put the Elder Wand back in the tomb. If he dies without being defeated, its power will be broken. Ron still thinks it’s a bad move, but Hermione agrees. Harry thinks of heading up to the Gryffindor Tower to his four-poster bed, and wonders if Kreacher might bring him a sandwich. He decides that the wand is more trouble than it’s worth, and he’s had plenty of that.
If we ever needed more proof that Voldemort’s lack of understanding about love was going to be his downfall, this is it. This perfect betrayal from people he thought he had intimidated into husks of their former selves. The moment that Narcissa Malfoy leans over Harry Potter’s very alive body and asks him if her son is at Hogwarts, then lies to everyone in a gorgeous bit of theatre.
This is honestly in my top ten favorite moments of the series because it beautifully illustrates everything that Rowing has been putting across to us over seven books. Even Dumbledore couldn’t have predicted that this would be how the final battle began, and all because one mother was desperate to find her son. The Malfoy family is anything but blameless in this, but they were never willing to die for Voldemort. If they’re going to die for anyone, it will be Draco.
So here’s an interesting piece of information: Hagrid was never in any danger of dying during this series because of what happens here. Rowling claims that she had an image in her head from the very first book, that Hagrid would carry Harry’s seemingly dead body out of the forest at the end. In her mind, it was essential that the man who brought Harry into the magical world be the one to deliver him in this moment. And I find it very fitting in more ways than one, especially seeing as Hagrid was present for Harry’s “death.” Both he and Dumbledore were there to see Harry through what could have been his final moments, the only father figures Harry had in all this time.
Carrying him from the forest is a cutting image because we’ve spent all this time with Hagrid, enough to know that this has to be the worst moment of his life. That little baby he carried to safety sixteen years ago is lying dead in his arms, and he couldn’t protect him. After losing Dumbledore, it has to be too much, so much that he actually blames the centaurs… something that Hagrid would have never done before this moment, being the ultimate live-and-let-live soul. Then it just gets piled on, with that first cry from McGonagall, then Ron, Hermione, and Ginny.
Which brings us to Neville. Neville who, like Harry, doesn’t really have a family, and thinks nothing of throwing himself at the enemy if it does some good. Neville, who doesn’t make it very far, but doesn’t let it stop him. Neville who looks as though he’s about to become a sacrifice in this war, but when the battle reignites, finds the sword of Gryffindor at his feet and destroys the final Horcrux. Dumbledore told Harry not to trust people outside of Ron and Hermione, but Harry had the good grace to know that Neville needed that information. Because if there was anyone who would carry out his orders without fail or fear, it was Neville.
There are fans who were upset that Neville didn’t kill Bellatrix at the end in place of Nagini, which to me is a fundamental misunderstanding of what Neville is doing in this story. Neville doesn’t care about revenge; he’s not a petty person who believes that murdering Bellatrix Lestrange will somehow make him feel better about losing his parents. Neville was another potential Chosen One, which deeply entrenches him in these events, and he rises to this task more than anyone else in these stories. That final Horcrux had to be his. The sword of Gryffindor had to appear, to prove in that moment that there was no one more deserving of help at Hogwarts than him.
This final fight is a gorgeous flurry of motion, full of whimsy again, and also a level of camaraderie that makes your bones ache. The families of every student who stayed to fight suddenly appear, with Horace Slughorn at the head, proving what a good Slytherin has to offer this world—forethought, prudence, practical problem-solving. The centaurs make the choice to join the battle, coming to aid of Firenze and so many people whose problems they vowed never to care about. Grawp comes to defend his brother, the house-elves attack the Death Eaters with Kreacher leading the charge in the name of Regulus Black, and all these children Harry has grown up alongside take out every crony they come across. Everyone comes together, everyone fights to preserve what they love, exactly as it needs to be.
And poor Molly Weasley finally has enough—the instant her daughter in in real danger, she stops Bellatrix in her tracks. Boy does it feel earned. Because Molly only has one daughter, and she had to have six boys to get there. Because Molly Weasley might have more to defend in this room than anyone else, and not a single other person she cares about will die today. The death of Bellatrix sends Voldemort into a rage, and naturally that’s the point where Harry finally reveals himself and puts up the Shield Charm. Because Voldemort can fight whoever he likes, but there is no way he’s allowed to come near Harry’s surrogate mother.
The point is clear—in this final battle, all Harry really does is talk and throw a disarming spell. He tells Voldemort where he made his mistakes, point by point. He tells him to try for remorse, giving Voldemort the chance to save his soul, if he has it in him. Then he reacts to the Killing Curse with his own signature move, the Disarming Charm. And in the end, Voldemort’s hatred, panic, and utter surety that Harry couldn’t be right is what leads to his death. Because his ego doesn’t account for all these things, his superiority doesn’t allow them. It’s a perfect reveal, too; I was too wrapped up in the story to do the mental gymnastics required to figure out that Harry would be the master of the wand. When he finally says so, that’s it. Game Over.
Everything about Voldemort’s death is tiny. His unbeatable shadow is ripped down by Harry with every piece of truth he offers, showing Voldemort for what he is: petty, ignorant, and self-obsessed. By the time his small body hits the floor, like any other unremarkable being in death, you know that he’ll never be referred to as You-Know-Who again. He’s not important enough to instill fear. He’s just Tom Riddle, who never understood love and never tried to.
And Harry defeats him with the first rays of sunrise, because that’s what heroes do—they bring light.
What I love best about the sequence is that Harry is never worried. He’s performative on behalf of the people watching, so they can understand what they’re seeing, but he’s also calm. He doesn’t have anything to fear, after all; he has protected everyone he ever loved from harm. And all he has to do is defend himself to end it. It’s a fair final showdown. After all the pain and doubt it took to get here, the truth of Voldemort’s demise is a pathetic thing that Harry is able to bring off with a TKO. Then he catches the Elder Wand for good measure because he is the master of death and stuff now.
The death of Voldemort ultimately doesn’t matter as much as the aftermath, where we learn that Harry allows himself to be a figurehead, shoved back and forth among the masses for their comfort, when all he can feel is fatigue. Luna is the only person to see it, and gives him the chance to slip away, so he can go and find the two people who have been in this with him from day one, and it’s a relief really, as we haven’t had time with Ron and Hermione since Snape’s death. Harry thinks about the fact that happiness is coming, even though he can’t feel it yet, which is maybe the most realistic thought as the dust is settling on a battlefield that I’ve ever read. Then he goes to check in with Dumbledore’s portrait and make sure he’s got the right idea about what to do with the Hallows. The stone can stay lost, the Cloak he’s going to keep (handy for a future-Auror, and also how else will his kids get into trouble at school?), and he wants to get rid of the wand in the hopes that he’ll die undefeated, and carry out what Dumbledore had been going for the whole time.
But most importantly, Harry repairs his wand with the deathstick. Other wizards can lose their wands, of course, but it just wouldn’t have felt right if Harry had lost his. It is too personally tied to him, to his history. And as a hero’s reward, it is exactly right for Harry Potter; he doesn’t get to be a king or walk away with gold or marry a tall elf-queen. He’s not up for controlling the world with the Hallows. He just gets his old wand back, something comforting and also entirely unremarkable.
It’s like he said when he was eleven years old to a very tall stranger: He’s Harry. Just Harry.
I have a lot to say about the epilogue, so that will be it’s own post. And then we can either double up the final two movies or do them separately!