On Saturday 21st July 2007, after an agonising and impatient wait, I got my hands on a freshly published copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. This was it. The series was about to end. Once I had finished reading this book, it would all be over. I would know whether Voldemort was defeated, and how. I would know the answers to the unresolved mysteries raised in the six previous books. And the big one: I would know whether Harry himself lived or died.
This was a matter of great debate. JK Rowling had proven that she was taking the conflict within the books seriously, and was not afraid to have the good guys suffer casualties, so ending the final instalment by killing off the hero certainly didn’t seem beyond her. One of my friends at uni was strongly convinced that Harry would die, because to sacrifice himself would be the natural end of his hero’s journey. I, meanwhile, was more inclined to think that Harry would live. To be honest, I can’t recall my exact reasoning for this. Maybe I just really wanted it to be true. Or maybe I thought that all the hints that Harry might die were really meant to mislead. The previous year, in the second series of Doctor Who, there had been strong indications that Rose Tyler might die, and she’d ended up surviving after all.
With the book in hand, I retreated into my room. There I stayed for the rest of the day, taking breaks only for lunch and dinner. It was 8:45pm when I finally reached the end, closed the book and went downstairs to my family. For a moment, I stood dazedly in the dining room doorway. And then I threw up my arms and shouted, “HARRY LIVES!”
Overall, I had found the book to be somewhat flawed, but I was very satisfied with how things turned out. And yet, over the years, I have returned to Deathly Hallows rather less than the other six books. I’m not sure why. When re-reading it in the past few weeks, I progressed slower than I had with the previous books. Perhaps that was just because I didn’t want the story to end.
Right from the beginning, Deathly Hallows sets itself apart from the rest of the series. Rowling opens with quotations from Aeschylus and William Penn, and a lightning-bolt-shaped dedication to seven different people, the last of which is “you, if you have stuck with Harry until the very end.” I seriously love that.
Chapter 1 – The Dark Lord Ascending
- As with Goblet of Fire, we open on a scene of our villains plotting to build suspense. The knowledge that Voldemort is apparently close to taking control of the Ministry is certainly very worrying.
- “Both raised their left arms in a kind of salute…” Just in case you hadn’t realised that the Death Eaters are magical Nazis.
Chapter 2 – In Memoriam
- Even when the story moves to Harry in his bedroom, the atmosphere doesn’t get much less grim.
- I like the quick look over the old items in Harry’s trunk: the Sneakoscope from Prisoner of Azkaban and the badge from Goblet of Fire. To be honest, I had to remind myself that Harry had smashed Sirius’s mirror because it happened so quickly in Order of the Phoenix.
- Even though Elphias Doge’s obituary for Dumbledore turns out to be idealised, it still gives our first real idea of his backstory – and thus, starts making him human. Dumbledore has always looked and acted like the classic wise old wizard, like Merlin or Gandalf, and he’s even been a sort of mythic figure in Harry’s eyes – “it was as though he had sprung into being as Harry had known him, venerable and silver-haired and old”. But the later books demonstrated that Dumbledore has flaws, and the examination of his past in this one makes it very clear that despite being a prodigy and a genius, Dumbledore, like Voldemort, was still just a man. This turns him from a merely likeable and admirable character into a truly deep and fascinating one.
Chapter 3 – The Dursleys Departing
- “’The Order is sure Voldemort will target you, whether to torture you to try and find out where I am, or because he thinks by holding you hostage I’d come and try to rescue you.’ Uncle Vernon’s and Harry’s eyes met. Harry was sure that in that instant they were both wondering the same thing.” I love this bit – it’s another example of Rowling not spelling things out for her readers, as well as the nature of the question itself: if placed in that position, would Harry rescue the Dursleys?
- “The hopes of the wizarding world rest upon your shoulders.” So no pressure, then.
- It’s quite a surprise seeing this different side to Dudley, and I really wish we’d gotten the chance to see more of it.
Chapter 4 – The Seven Potters
- Wow, that cupboard under the stairs feels like forever ago.
- Fred and George are hilarious in this chapter, especially when you consider that they must have planned that “Wow, we’re identical!” gag in advance. I also like when the transformed Fleur gives Bill “a soppy, slavish look that Harry hoped with all his heart would never appear on his face again.”
- And we’re thrown right into some potentially lethal action – where Hedwig gets killed! Who saw that one coming?! That image of Hedwig’s body lying on the floor of her cage is so awful. Plus there’s the fact – though it happens very quickly and Harry doesn’t dwell on it afterwards – that he loses his Firebolt too! Maybe he can buy a new one when this is all over, but still, Sirius gave him that.
Chapter 5 – Fallen Warrior
- Harry can never seem to stop blaming himself when bad things happen.
- It’s very admirable of Harry to defend his use of Expelliarmus, and refuse to consider that any of his allies might be untrustworthy, even when Lupin thinks he’s being overly idealistic.
- Given how Fred and George have brought levity to just about any situation before, Fred’s shock and fear at the state of George feels especially bad – while George’s response is especially reassuring.
- And suddenly, Harry’s visions of what Voldemort is doing are back, after playing no part in the previous book: one of several plot conveniences that turn up in this story.