The Harry Potter Reread is gonna cry because how did we actually reach the end of this? Sure, we’ve got a couple movies left, but this is sad! It’s a time for handkerchiefs and toasts!
This week we’re going to deal with one of the most contentious pieces of the Potter mythos. It’s time for the Epilogue….
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.
Epilogue—Nineteen Years Later
It is a crisp autumn day on the first of September, and Lily Potter is clinging tearfully to her father’s arm because she won’t get to attend Hogwarts for two whole years. His two sons, James and Albus, have continued an argument they were having in the car; Albus is insistent that he will not be in Slytherin House, and James keeps teasing him, saying it’s a possibility. Ginny gives him a look, silencing him. James rushes through the barrier at Platform 9 and 3/4. Albus turns back to his parents and asks if they’ll write to him. Ginny promises she will every day, if that’s what he wants. When Albus points out that James said kids only got letters about once a month, Ginny tells him that they wrote James three times a week last year—and Harry wants him not to believe everything his brother tells him about Hogwarts.
They walk through the barrier and make it onto the platform, which is thick with vapor, obscuring everyone’s faces. Harry can hear Percy giving a lecture on broomstick regulations and passes him by. They finally happen upon Ron, Hermione, and their two children, Rose and Hugo. It’s Rose’s first year at Hogwarts as well. Ron makes a joke about Hermione thinking he’d have to Confund the examiner to pass the Muggle driving test (which he admits to Harry that he did do). Lily and Hugo are talking about what House they want to be Sorted into when they finally go to Hogwarts, and Ron teases that if they’re not in Gryffindor, they’ll be disinherited. Lily and Hugo find this funny—Albus and Rose do not. Hermione insists that he doesn’t mean it, while Ron directs Harry’s attention to Draco Malfoy and his wife, seeing off their son, Scorpius. Ron tells Rose to beat him at every test, while Hermione amusedly tells her husband not to set the kids against each other before they’ve even started school. He advises Rosie not to get too friendly with him either way, since her grandfather would never forgive her for marrying a pureblood.
James rushes back to give the family news—he caught Teddy Lupin snogging Victoire (Bill and Fleur’s oldest). Lily thinks it would be great if they got married, so Teddy could really become a part of the family. Harry points out that he’s over at their house half the week, so they should just invite him to live with them and get it over with. James is excited at the prospect, offering his room to Teddy and deciding he’ll stay with Albus, but Harry nixes that, saying “You and Al will share a room only when I want the house demolished.” Harry checks his watch (one that used to belong to Fabian Prewett), and tells the kids that they better get on board. Ginny tells James to give Neville their love, but James insists that he can’t walk into Herbology and give Professor Longbottom love. He gives his brother a kick and tells him to watch out for thestrals, dismaying Albus, who thought they were supposed to be invisible.
After James has boarded the train, Harry assures Albus that thestrals are gentle anyhow, and that he’ll be approaching the school by boat this time. Ginny gives him a kiss goodbye and Harry gives him basic advice: Don’t forget his tea invitation to Hagrid’s on Friday, don’t mess around with Peeves, don’t duel until he’s learned how to do it properly, and don’t let his older brother wind him up. But Albus asks his father what will happen if he does end up in Sytherin, and Harry realizes that his fear is sizable, one that he’s been hiding this whole time. He kneels down to look Albus in the eye (Albus is the only one of the Potter kids to get Lily’s eyes), and tells him plainly—Albus Severus Potter was named for two Hogwarts headmasters, one who happened to be a Slytherin, and “was probably the bravest man I ever knew.” When Albus protests again, Harry insists that the worst thing that could happen would be for Slytherin House to gain an excellent student. But he also reveals that the Sorting Hat will take his choice into account if he’s that worried… which is something he’s never told his other two children. The doors are closing, and Albus hops onto the train, asking why so many of the students and parents are staring toward Harry. Ron says it’s because he’s extremely famous, prompting everyone to laugh.
Harry walks alongside the train, smiling and waving, though he feels a certain amount of sadness seeing his son slip away. Finally, the train is gone, and Ginny tells Harry that Albus will be all right. Harry says he knows, absentmindedly touching his scar:
The scar had not pained Harry for nineteen years. All was well.
A large portion of Potter fandom hates the Epilogue.
And I do mean hates—or maybe loathes, or disdains, or pick another very angry word. Some of the complaints are valid, of course, but I’m going to say a thing that will probably bug everybody—I think the epilogue is just fine. For a multitude of reasons, actually. So I guess I’m going to have to explain that piece by piece, addressing the common problems that fans often have with this bracket of text.
Let’s start with one of the biggest complaints: The names of the kids.
There are endless memes and jokes over the names given to the kids, and there are a few common jabs in that arena. They are usually 1) none of Ron and Hermione’s kids are named after important elders 2) Why are all the Potter kids only named after people important to Harry 3) OMG ALBUS SEVERUS, R U KIDDING?
Here’s the thing. In Harry’s family, these names are all memorials. With the exception of Lily’s middle name (which is, adorably, Luna), all of the names given to Harry’s kids are after people who died as a result of the war against Voldemort. Molly and Arthur are alive—also, Rowling later said that Percy’s daughter is named Molly, so she has already had her name passed down. Some fans think that Ginny would have liked to have named one of her boys Fred, but it seems only right that George gets to use that name for his kids—which he does. (He and Angelina have two kids, Fred and Roxanne.) This is also why Hagrid’s name isn’t used; he is very alive here, which Rowling makes a point of telling us.
Then why don’t they use Remus Lupin’s name? Harry loved him, after all, and Remus also died as a result of the war. But my guess is that he left that name open in case Teddy wanted to use it for one of his own kids. You can have more than one kid with the same name in a cluster of close families, but that can get pretty confusing. Plus, taking that kind of ownership over someone in Teddy’s family when the poor kid can barely remember his parents is kind of selfish. So they leave that name alone. His first son gets the names of his father and godfather, his second son gets the names of the two men arguably most responsible for shaping his life.
Here’s the thing. It seems to me that people who take issue with the name choices are mostly upset with what they perceive as Harry’s reasoning behind picking those names. As though Harry is saying “these four men were the greatest men to walk the earth and I think my kids would be so lucky to be named after them!” And that’s really not the point. At all. The point is that he knows the flaws of each of these men quite well—and still wants to honor them.
Harry loves his father. His father who has been his protector, his Patronus, since he was thirteen years old. He learns over time that his father wasn’t the idol that he perceived him to be, and he accepted it. Whatever anyone wants to believe, the narrative is trying to tell us that James Potter used to be a jerk, then he got (mostly) better. He was a good husband and a loving father and a brave soldier in a horrible war. He died trying to protect his family. Harry knows that his father wasn’t a perfect man, and he comes to terms with that. But he still loves him.
Harry loves his godfather. His godfather who was the first living link to family that he ever had. His godfather, who was put under considerable strain by the Order of the Phoenix by being shut up in a house he abhorred, who never really emerged from Azkaban as a whole, healthy person. Who rushed to save his godson because he so desperately needed to feel useful, and as a result, got himself killed. Harry is aware that his godfather had a difficult life, that he tried his best, even when he was acting on the wrong impulses. Harry still loves him.
Harry loves Albus Dumbledore. The headmaster of Hogwarts manipulated him from the very beginning, from infancy, in hopes that he would become the right man to win this war against Voldemort. Dumbledore hid essential information from everyone, made every step of the journey as difficult as possible. Dumbledore knew to do this because he came all too close to going along with a man who wanted ultimate power, and he paid the price for that youthful mistake. Harry knows that Dumbledore meant well and cared for him, that he was trying to make up for wrongs he had committed long ago. Harry still loves him.
And yes, Harry loves Severus Snape. Harry knows that the man was petty and cruel, that he was an awful teacher, but that he lived a life that very few would be able to bear up under. He was brave. And he lived that life to make up for causing the death of the woman he loved. Whether or not that love was healthy or wanted, Severus Snape consigned himself to a life of misery to try and make good on that fatal error. He showed remorse for what he had done. Harry knows that Snape never cared for him, that he could only be reminded of James’s arrogance when he looked at him, and only once saw past that to Lily’s eyes. Harry still loves him.
Harry recognizes that each of these men were deeply flawed. But he loves them. (Don’t ever forget, love is the most potent magic in this universe.) And more importantly, he forgives them. Naming his children after them is absolution. It’s the possibility of these names meaning something even better going forward. It’s a second chance that none of them received. Maybe some people think it doesn’t feel realistic for Harry to be so kind in the aftermath of everything he was put through, but that really is his defining characteristic as a human being, so….
(Also, it kind of makes me laugh when people insist that Harry should have named one of the kids after Hagrid as though Hagrid didn’t constantly endanger his life growing up, perhaps more recklessly than Dumbledore ever did. I understand that he never meant to, but that doesn’t make him the one true saintly father figure here.)
So yes, Albus Severus Potter. The name makes perfect sense. But it’s probably more than that, if we’re being honest. Let’s be real here—Albus is probably Harry’s favorite. They have the Lily’s eyes connection, but moreover, Albus is clearly the most like his father out of his siblings. It means something very special for him to have both these names, to the be the one that we’re seeing off on the Hogwarts platform rather than James or Lily. And it’s very important that this particular son, the one who is so scared he might end up in Slytherin House, carries these names. Where this leads—which we will know once Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is available for everyone to read—is still something of a mystery, but we know that it matters.
Which brings me to the next complaint: That all the kids have intermarried predictably (many to their school sweethearts) and had nuclear families in the space of two decades.
There is a particular post on Tumblr where someone (I’m forgetting their username, forgive me) rightfully points out that the reason why this ending might have read hollow to kids in 2007 is because of the world we were emerging into at the time. We were on the cusp of the recession, many of us still kids ourselves. Kids who had no intention of marrying our high school sweethearts, who were coming into our own at the same time the world imploded. Stability was something that none of us could count on, and this idea of the perfect job complete with a pie-in-the-sky family and 2.5 kids just a few years out of school was utterly alien to us.
These criticisms are spot on. There’s only one problem—this wasn’t supposed to be our happy ending.
Look, I’m saying this as a person who has no particular banner to wave in the name of heteronormativity. I’m queer and married without kids, but I don’t personally care much if other people get married and have babies. Do what makes you happy, and enjoy your time on earth. Having said that, this ending makes perfect sense to me.
I think it’s really easy for readers of this series to forget that though many of us grew up with these characters, they’re older than the majority of the readship was at the time. The Battle of Hogwarts occurred in 1998. At the point where this epilogue takes place, Harry and his friends are all about 37-38 year old. James is going into his third year at this point—we know because Rowling Sorted him in September of 2015. That means he was born when Harry was about 25 and Ginny was about 24. That means that Rose, Hermione and Ron’s first kid, was born when they were both about 27.
Here’s another aspect that is often not taken into account: the fact that the wizarding world’s coming of age is seventeen means that having kids in your mid-twenties for them is about the same as having them in your early thirties for the rest of us. Think about it—wizards don’t go to college. They apprentice, many of them getting internships or training programs into the jobs they want straight out of school. (Provided that they don’t take that traditional year off to travel, as Dumbledore wanted to.) In the western world, you’re generally done with your first degree between the ages of 20-22. In the wizarding world, it’s more like eighteen. They have a head start on all of it, so it stands to reason that you might be thinking of getting married five or six years out of Hogwarts, and then having kids a few years later.
A lot of these kids basically marry their significant others from school, which is obviously most true for the trio. Couple things on that. One, the wizarding world seems to be pretty darn small, at least country to country. The pool for people around their age isn’t crazy big provided they want to stick to England, and marry someone who knows about the magical world. But two—and this is the biggest bullet point by far—these kids came of age during a war for which they were the primary soldiers.
That’s it. Period. Any argument you might have that this is not realistic is derailed here. You know what happens post-wars? (Also during wars, as evidenced by Lily and James and Remus and Tonks?) Lots of people get married and have babies because they can’t believe that they’re alive and everything seems precious. We have an entire generation named for that, thanks to World War II. Did you notice that the name of Bill and Fleur’s first kid translates to “Victory”? (Side note: she was born on the anniversary of the Battle of Hogwarts, likely the second one in 2000.) And, for the record, a lot of those people do marry their school sweethearts. With these kids, it makes even more sense that they intermarry, since it would be really nice to marry someone who fought in the same war and knew what you’d gone through. This idea that these people would want years to find themselves and shop around the dating scene simply doesn’t add up with their life experiences. Harry even says it when he gives up the Elder Wand—he’s had enough excitement and trouble. Now he wants to rest, he wants comfort and safety.
It doesn’t mean that none of these people did anything after the war, that they somehow didn’t live up to their potential. Harry and Ron head the Auror Office, though eventually Ron decides that’s still bit much for him, and ends up working at the joke shop. Hermione continues her crusade for the rights of magical creatures, and Ginny gets to play on a professional Quidditch team before becoming a sports reporter. All of these people have rich lives and accomplish what matters to them. They just happened to decide that having families was equally important. I’d say they’re entitled to that.
The epilogue is here to show us that life goes on, as it always does. Kids get onto the train and head to school, parents say their tearful goodbyes, Teddy Lupin is in love with Victoire Weasley because that’s what happens. It’s life. Draco Malfoy is on the platform with his wife saying goodbye to his son because Voldemort couldn’t shatter any of this, couldn’t destroy the simple turn of the earth. Post-war generations are seldom innovators. They want to return to what makes them feel at home. So here they are, on the platform for the Hogwarts Express. Home. It’s up to their children to take the next step, to make the world more vibrant, a little crazier.
Which is why I dearly hope that Albus Potter gets Sorted into Slytherin House. The wizarding world is ready for change. He’s part of the generation that can make that happen.
All that aside, this epilogue is full of wonderful bits and pieces. Neville is the Herbology Professor! Draco’s kid’s name is Scorpius! Percy still really likes talking about regulations! Teddy Lupin is so much a part of Harry’s family that he basically lives at the Potter house part-time!
What’s more, it seems as though Harry, Hermione, Ron, and Ginny are thoroughly enjoying parenthood, and their kids all seem pretty great. (There’s a fandom tendency to dump on James because at first blush he seems to be some ungodly combination of James, Sirius, and Ron, but I’m not sure that it’s fair to judge the kid for a few lines of nosy dialogue and a kick.) Interestingly, Harry seems to have a slightly hands-off approach to parenting unless he perceives that his input is wanted; he doesn’t make mention of the Sorting Hat giving you a choice of house until it’s clear that Albus is scared, but he leaves him with the advice not to duel anyone until he “knows how.” Which suggests that he knows it’s likely inevitable and mainly wants to prevent sizable accidents.
Which is to say, it’s boarding school and there’s very little you can supervise after a certain point.
Here is the thought I’d like to leave everyone with: What no one seems to truly consider is that this happy ending isn’t meant to be ours—it’s J.K. Rowling’s. A woman who started writing this series to cope with the death of her mother, who had to contend with poverty, divorce, single-motherhood. A woman who ended this series happily married again, with more children and more success than anyone on earth could have dreamed up. This ending belongs to her. She had the draft for it written from the first book, and she manifested it for herself. This is the life she wanted. No war, no pain, just peace.
Personally, I find that beautiful.
Wow. We made it.
I was really scared that my memories of this book were too rosy, that rereading it was going to somehow tarnish my feeling about the series. In fact, it might have done the opposite. Sure, I can see the narrative strings better now than I did when I was younger, but the core of the story is still strong as ever. The ending is incredibly well done. The only complaint I really have is that we don’t get enough of Ron and Hermione at the end. I can see why spending too much extra time with them would have been distracting, but considering how much they gave up to this quest, it would be nice to see more from them.
This reread on the whole has really helped to remind me of what made these books so important in the first place, and a lot of that is down to everyone who read along (whether you commented or not). So thanks to all of you for being amazing and insightful, and prompting some really interesting questions and conversations!
Of course, when this book was first released in 2007, we were left with a strange vacuum—what now? Sure, there were a couple of movies left, but that was it. Now we have a brand new film to look forward to, and a two-part play that continues the saga.
Which brings me to an announcement: the Deathly Hallows movies won’t be the end for us, will it? Obviously, we have new information coming up, and following our rewatch of the two films, I will be in London! More specifically, I will be seeing Harry Potter and the Cursed Child this June while it’s in previews. So, following the movies, I will have non-spoiler and spoiler reviews up, and there will obviously be plenty to discuss. I hope you’ll all join me again either in June or July (when you can finally get your hands on the script!)
So this is sort of ending, but in a way it’s not. Seems fitting—when we started this reread, I had no idea that Potter was going to experience a resurgence. Hopefully, it’s a good one, and we’ll be back in the thick of it, like it’s the early aughts all over again.