We’ve made it! We’ve made it to the end of the very long saga that inspired a generation of children to read and terrified fundamentalists and Catholics with nonsense Latin phrases.
(Vatican exorcists claim that the spells in Harry Potter are real, but let’s be honest, I haven’t been able to lazily summon a single thing with Accio in all these years, so I’m not sure I can trust an Anglican author to properly convey workable magic spells to me.)
It has been a journey, both in-universe as we see Harry and his friends grow up, and IRL as we see J.K. Rowling’s writing evolve from a children’s book to an engaging fantasy for all ages. So, without further ado, let’s take a look at the final installment of the Harry Potter series.
We open with a Death Eater meeting, in which there is no cake. The Malfoys are in high disgrace, not only due to Lucius and Draco’s failures, but also because Tonks married Lupin, and apparently Death Eaters are equal opportunity bigots. They’ll hate anyone who isn’t them, and are we sure this isn’t a service at Westboro Baptist?
Anyways, Voldemort murders the Muggle Studies teacher from Hogwarts and feeds her to Nagini, and I’m not judging, look, my girl Nagini probably has few joys in life at this point and a nice filling meal is one of them. Next, they make plans to nab Harry as soon as the blood protection from his mother ends when he turns 17. Imagine having to know and plan a surprise for your enemy’s birthday in order to defeat him.
Meanwhile, the Dursleys prepare to leave their house, somewhat unwillingly. Vernon, paranoid as usual, thinks it’s some weird plot to get the house, but Petunia, despite her inability to be pleasant to her dead sister’s son, still has sense enough to realize that Voldy is Bad Touch and Do Not Want. Dudley finally mans up and tries to be pleasant to Harry. Both in the story and amongst fans, it’s been pointed out that he doesn’t directly thank Harry or apologize for his past actions, but that’s extremely realistic. Both things are very difficult to do, especially for someone who is just beginning to consider their behavior and life in a different light. And some people, uncomfortable with words, convey their thoughts and feelings better through actions. We know that Harry and Dudley later on have a decent relationship when they’re older, so at the very least Dudley breaks away from some of his parents’ toxic behavior and thought processes.
Next, the whole crew arrives with the plan: they will all take Polyjuice Potion to act as decoys as they leave the house. Harry is appalled at the idea of his friends being placed in danger because of him (something that will be echoed at the end), but he is outnumbered, and has to quietly submit to the scheme.
AND THEN EVERYTHING GETS BAD AND HEDWIG DIES AND PEOPLE ARE HURT AND OH GOD GEORGE’S EAR AND NOT MAD-EYE MOODY AND WHY IS VOLDEMORT FLYING LIKE A BAT WAS HE WATCHING NOSFERATU THE NIGHT BEFORE I BET HE WAS WATCHING NOSFERATU
Anyways, this scene is a perfect representation of the coming bloodbath as J.K. Rowling turns full-on author sadist.
It’s okay, every writer has had that moment at least once.
During this mid-flight battle, something strange happens. Despite using Lucius’ wand, the twin core effect still prevents Voldemort from overcoming Harry, even though Harry, per usual, uses Expelliarmus.
Now that we know exactly what to expect, we get a breather at the Burrow. Mrs. Weasley tries her best to stop Harry, Ron, and Hermione from plotting their quest, Bill and Fleur are in the midst of wedding preparations, and Scrimgeour wants to know why Dumbledore left stuff to these three loser kids in his will. One of the things is the sword of Gryffindor. One can understand why an adult would be concerned that another adult is giving sharp objects to teenagers. However, the other ones demonstrate more of the Ministry’s paranoia than anything. No one but the Ministry of Magic could be concerned about a teacher giving his students: a book of fairy tales, a useful magic tool, and an athlete’s first caught Snitch.
I mean, Scrimgeour is totally right, these all have way more significance, but his insistence isn’t…normal.
Harry celebrates a quiet birthday, Ron cockblocks him and Ginny, and the wedding is a smashing success, right up until the literal smashing begins. Of course villains wait until the party to come calling. You think Voldemort, the most extra antagonist in the wizarding world, is content to interrupt a normal Tuesday? Naw, they’re gatecrashing a fancy wedding. It’s the only way.
The book then starts into a pattern: the trio find a quiet hiding place, they plan their next mission, something goes wrong with the mission, and at most they only get another piece of the puzzle. The time at Grimmauld Place is probably the nicest part of it all. Kreacher’s transformation into an utterly loveable muppet all because they said nice things about Regulus is kind of adorable. It also serves to demonstrate, on a smaller scale, of Voldemort’s chief inability to understand positive emotions. He couldn’t possibly think that anyone would care for a House Elf, so he had no idea Regulus would turn against him and all the entire Black family (save for Sirius) believed in, solely because Voldemort abused his House Elf. It also shows how easy it can be to win over someone’s loyalty through kindness and compassion.
In the midst of the very long camping trip, we get some highlights and character development. Hermione keeping cash on hand so she can pay for the food they have to sneak from people’s houses or from stores is extremely in character. Most people would think this is a time to forget about this; just smash down that door and take their Eggos!
But not Hermione. She has a very specific idea of when to break rules and when to follow them.
Ron leaving is often pointed as a sign of how awful he is as a friend. But he was injured, probably not eating enough for an injured person, and having a piece of Voldemort’s soul poke at all his insecurities at once. In fact, his losing faith in Harry is extremely out of character; in the past he has never doubted Harry, even when he was violently jealous of him. Why, I ask, why did they have to actively wear the damn thing? Just stick it in Hermione’s bag of holding and be done with it! Anyways, Ron coming back is also completely in character. Ron can do impulsive things, which he almost instantly regrets. His character development has been his ability to more quickly acknowledge his regrets openly, and swallowing his pride when this happens.
Finally, seeing everyone’s built up vision of Dumbledore as the wise old mentor crumble is utterly fascinating. Part of growing up is recognizing and understanding the faults of the adults around you. It can be disheartening, but in the end, it can also be encouraging. If the nice old guy that fights against bigots once used to be something of a bigot himself but managed to grow out of it and become a better person, that means you also have a chance to be that nice old person. My generation likes to joke about “adulting”, but the biggest part of adulting is recognizing your faults and working to overcome them. Some adults who are good at “adulting”, i.e. keeping their outward lives together, haven’t grasped the important part.
Anyways, once the camping trip is over, the trio make their way to Hogwarts, thanks to the assistance of Aberforth, who really, really likes goats for some reason. I mean, they’re okay. They do useful things, and baby goats are kind of cute, but this is kind of an obsession. Apart from the obvious very adult joke about goats that J.K. Rowling was going for, the only thing I can figure is that Aberforth is so stubborn and goat-like himself that he gets along better with them than other animals or people.
While Hogwarts prepares for a siege, Harry goes searching for Rowena Ravenclaw’s lost diadem, which is exactly where we left it in the last book. Unfortunately, Crabbe sets everything on fire. Fortunately, it’s super extra magical fire that destroys Horcruxes!
Unfortunately, ROCKS FALL AND EVERYONE DIES.
Seriously, these next few chapters are a frigging bloodbath. Fred dies! Tonks and Remus die! Snape dies, and leaves Harry his Sad Incel Memories.
These memories show that Snape’s entire motivation was his rather creepily obsessive love for Lily. It’s a good way to demonstrate that even rather unhealthy love can be a powerful motivator for positive action.
It also reveals that Voldemort accidentally turned Harry into a Horcrux.
This theory started almost as soon as Book 6 came out, and I wouldn’t have any of it, and I was wrong, so very wrong. Harry walks to his death, hangs out with Dumbledore the White, and comes back to life. In a way, he does die, since the love protection settles on everyone at Hogwarts, but he also doesn’t die, as thanks to Voldy using some of Harry’s blood, Lily’s blood protection is still on Harry when he’s around Voldy. Complicated? Wait till we get to the part about the Elder Wand!
The final battle happens. Neville cuts off Nagini’s head (MY POOR NAGINI), Mrs. Weasley murders the crap out of Bellatrix, and Voldemort is just as confused as we are right up until he gets Expelliarmused to death.
So let’s touch on a few things. First, the obvious thread of Hallows versus Horcruxes also demonstrates the fairly obvious point that’s been made since Book 1. The true “master of death” isn’t the one who runs from death or tries to avoid it, but accepts it. Harry uses the Invisibility Cloak to shield his friends; he uses the Resurrection Stone to make his walk to death easier; he uses the Elder Wand only to mend his own wand. Voldemort hadn’t even heard of the Deathly Hallows, but even if he had, he wanted a permanent way to remain alive. He wanted Horcruxes to eternally avoid death. In the end, he experienced both bodily and spiritual death. J.K. Rowling was clearly drawing on Christian beliefs here, so blatantly I was surprised that no one else guessed the ending, and I was also surprised by how many people missed the implications. Western civilization has been shaped by Christianity. Even if one isn’t a Christian, so much of literature has themes of self-sacrifice and acceptance of death.
Next, the book presents an interesting paradox. Dumbledore and Grindelwald used the concept of “the greater good” to justify tyranny. Yet, in the end, Harry points out that sometimes we really do have to do things for something other than ourselves. But that’s where he differs, once again, from Dumbledore, Grindelwald, and even Voldemort. His “greater good” involves his own actions to achieve it, rather than asking others to do it for him. In the beginning he hated the idea of others being hurt to shield him, and in the end he acts on this repulsion by offering himself as a shield instead. That said, Dumbledore himself came to realize this. He was the shield, not only to protect Harry, but also to protect Draco and Snape from Voldemort’s wrath and suspicion. Dumbledore prefers working behind the scenes to achieve things, but in the end he will step up and put himself in the crossfire if necessary.
Another issue that often comes up is that of the epilogue. I’ve seen a lot of arguments about it, and more and more it has turned into a “generational” thing. Boomers (those icky Boomers!) like the idea of Babies Ever After, whereas us jaded Millenials and Gen-Z don’t like things that wrap up neatly because that’s not how real life works!
Except, quite a few of us have stated we like the epilogue.
Look, we all know that sometimes real life can be, to put it frankly, a bitch. Life doesn’t go according to plan. We don’t always marry our childhood sweethearts, the people we love best don’t always survive, and sometimes the world just seems chaotic.
Sometimes, it’s nice to have a book that ends on a positive, uplifting, optimistic note. Rampant cynicism is no better than unrelenting optimism. Fiction can be unrealistic; or, even scarier, can be more realistic than we realize, because good things happen in real life too.
Is the epilogue a bit cheesy? Yes. Is it nice to see this last dark book reveal that our characters are still friends years later, that they’ve started families of their own and that “All is well”? Absolutely.
Apropos of nothing, why didn’t the trio just tell Griphook they needed to keep the sword of Gryffindor for a bit while they defeated Voldemort, and then he could have it back? How hard would that have been????
So let’s get to the movies. Weirdly, these movies did more for character development than any of the others, which is rather sad, because this all could have been built up much better in the past movies.
I liked that it began with Hermione making the choice to remove her parents’ memories and send them off to Australia. Last thing we need is Lady Stark to die and come back as a vengeful revenant again. That never ends well. More seriously, it shows that as much as the Wizarding World is in danger, it’s the regular world, unaware of the danger, that is getting hit the hardest. Voldemort and his Death Eaters may be powerful wizards, but other wizards can fight them. Muggles don’t stand a chance, unless they hire a good sniper to take them out. No, I definitely have not considered writing fanfiction about that.
I’m kind of sad that they completely left out the beginning of Dudley’s change of heart, although it’s understandable given the limitations of the medium, but even worse is that they cut the goodbye scene between Harry and Petunia. At the very least, in the book, Petunia shows that she understands that implications of what is happening. Here, it isn’t even touched on.
Harry letting Hedwig out before they left made me think the movie chose to spare my poor owl. Nope, she came back last minute to do some stupid heroics, which ought to make Harry proud, being good at those himself.
I liked the added hilarious moment of George cockblocking Harry and Ginny. These two can’t get a break around that house, seriously. I’m also kind of glad they left out Harry’s Spider-Man moment from the last movie. Seriously, what makes you think breaking up with her will change anything? She’s a Weasley, she’s already got a target on her back, Harry!
In fact, looking back, the movie wasn’t as tedious as I thought of it. I think it’s because they can do “worst camping trip” montages better than writing can do. However, it made it hard to show Ron’s slow descent as the situation started to seem more hopeless. His hostility had to start rather early, which made it seem like they were going for more of Ron’s bad characterization that had been set up before. Overall, however, the first movie pretty much followed the book very well without being too by the numbers like the early movies.
One change that I thought was fitting was that Hermione was the one to pick up on the recurrence of the Deathly Hallows symbol. I know in the books it was written as Harry’s part because he had to make the choice between “hallows and horcruxes”, but it made better sense that Hermione, a scholar and endlessly curious, would be the one to notice this and become intrigued.
The scene in Godric’s Hollow was less creepy than the books, for the mere fact that Nagini was not straight up wearing a corpse as a meatsuit.
Ron’s return was done very well, although this starts an abrupt change of characterization which would have been nicer to have as a slow build up. Still, post-return Ron acts more like we wanted him to act in the past movies. He’s trying to be more attentive to Hermione, but his goofiness shines through.
Overall, there was nothing extremely remarkable or anything I particularly hated in part 1. Part 2, however, gets intense, in a good way.
Everyone has already talked about how amazing it was to see Helena Bonham-Carter acting as Emma Watson acting as Hermione acting as Bellatrix, but let me add how well done it was. It was better than Chris Evans acting as Tom Hiddleston acting as Loki acting as Captain America. (Sci-fi and fantasy universes get complicated, y’all.)
Griphook was presented as much less sympathetic from the get-go than he was in the book, which is fine. I’m actually a bit disappointed that we didn’t get an even more sympathetic characterization given the backstory of how goblins had been mistreated by wizards. But perhaps it was showing us that regardless of how someone had been mistreated, their actions can still be bad.
I think the most disappointing part of this movie is that they left out so much of Dumbledore’s back story. Not one person mentions who Grindelwald is or shows any shock that Dumbledore could have been friends with him. Aberforth never explains why Ariana was a point of contention between him and Dumbledore.
Let me say, though Ciaran Hinds did a great job of showing how much Aberforth was like Dumbledore despite his blunt nature and general crankiness. Dumbledore spewed wisdom gently, in small doses. Aberforth just lays it out there. Also, though we see little of him in the final battle, the very little we see shows he’s actually quite a powerful wizard himself.
The battle itself is fantastic and epic and that’s really all I can say of it. That’s what we want from a really big battle, and we got it.
Now let’s move on to the big part: Snape biting it (pun intended) and Harry seeing his memories.
I’ve been harping all along on how much of the sympathetic views of Snape is due to Alan Rickman’s portrayal, and this really hammers that in. Alan Rickman made me feel sorry for Snape, lying there crying out his memories and letting Harry cradle his head. Notably, his memories don’t show Snape being particularly awful in any way. We don’t see him try to injure Petunia when he and Lily are young; we don’t see his and Lily’s final argument after he calls her a Mudblood. All we see are him and Lily becoming close friends, James and the Marauders bullying him, and then suddenly Lily marries James. No wonder people use this as an example of “nice guys finish last” even though in the books that is emphatically not what happens. One could argue this is an unreliable narrator and is how Snape viewed events but not how they actually happened, but I doubt this is what the movie was going for. They just showed us the highlights to explain everything.
Rickman, overall, portrays Snape as a more feeling person than he was in the books. No doubt Snape held Dumbledore in high respect, but in the movies he refers to him by his first name, and shows actual concern for him. In some ways, I sort of like this style of characterization; on the other hand, I think J.K. Rowling’s intended characterization of Snape as a genuinely terrible person who winds up doing some good things is more nuanced, and I think that’s why people struggle to grasp it. Our culture right now really does tend to think of people as divided between good people and “Death Eaters”, forgetting that people are extremely complex. There are calls to completely ignore authors or historical figures that did bad things, even though they also had good things to say, or did some good things in history. In some ways Snape’s movie characterization reflects this eventual trend (and one that was already starting then). Movie Snape can more easily be depicted as merely a victim of society, rather than someone who is still responsible for his choices (as depicted in the books).
Anyways, leaving that rabbit trail, Harry comes to terms with the fact that he is a Horcrux. The scene where he goes to his death is built up very well. The pacing and tension are perfect, as is the Death Eater’s triumphant march on Hogwarts.
Also, let’s spare some sympathy for Draco, who just wants to be with his parents but gets intercepted by the Most Awkward Hug Ever.
The second big battle, the one directly between Harry and Voldemort, is a bit…odd. At one point, Voldemort channels his inner Slenderman (and can I just say that watching this movie right after I discovered the Slenderman mythos in 2011 and was in the middle of the typical Slenderparanoia made for a very uncomfortable experience?), and his and Harry’s mid-air battle was quite possibly the goofiest mid-air battle I’ve ever seen. On the other hand, the timing between their fight and Neville killing Nagini (who, may I remind you, deserves better) made for some great tension.
Voldemort literally falling apart is a good way to depict his death, especially since we don’t have Peeves to sing “Voldy’s Gone Moldy” over his corpse.
They did not take two seconds to show Harry fixing his wand with the Elder Wand, and I have no idea why.
So, overall, the movies were a pretty good end to the series, and even though at the time I ranted about the last one being split in two, I think it made sense (especially since we actually had eight Horcruxes, not seven).
And here we are, at the end of our re-read and re-watch. Did we learn anything?
We learned that Alan Rickman’s acting was phenomenal, all Slytherins except for Slughorn got the shaft (especially as many people have pointed out that there had to be at least one Slytherin in the group that would have really wanted to fistfight their bigoted relatives), and #NaginiDeservedBetter, #JusticeForNagini, #VoldemortPeopleDon’tTurnTheirFriendsIntoHorcruxesWTF
(Look, Fantastic Beasts started this when they gave us Nagini as a poor sad cursed cinnamon roll who apparently has a habit of befriending angsty pale kids who turn to the Dark Side. What do you want me to do?)
Besides, this is the only headcanon I will accept now.
Anyways, tune in next year for…
THE GREAT TOLKIEN RE-READ AND RE-WATCH.