The Ancient Wisdom of Harry Potter

Prof. Abditus Questor

Book 7: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

PLOT SUMMARY: Harry reaches his seventeenth birthday, the age at which wizards come of age and after which his mother’s magic can no longer protect him in the Dursley’s home, so he leaves for a safe house of one of his fellow wizards. As he flies away, Voldemort attacks him, but Harry escapes. Ron, Hermione, and Harry get bequests from Dumbledore’s will: respectively, a deluminator (which turns lights off and on), a copy of The Tales of Beedle the Bard, and the snitch Harry caught in his first Quidditch game. Voldemort takes over the Ministry of Magic, destroying the protection of the safe house, so the three friends have to flee. They hunt for the missing Horcruxes, which must be destroyed before Voldemort can be defeated. They find one, the Slytherin locket, but have no way to destroy it, so they take it with them on their search for the others. The locket, however, affects their moods, and Ron deserts Harry and Hermione, who continue their search until Harry discovers the sword of Gryffindor at the bottom of a lake, and Ron (guided by the deluminator) returns to help Harry retrieve it and uses it to destroy the locket. In Hermione’s copy of the Tales, they find the story of three brothers who won from Death the three Deathly Hallows: the Elder Wand, most powerful of all wizard wands; the Resurrection Stone, which can summon the spirits of the dead; and the Cloak of Invisibility, the cloak Harry’s father left him. The three are captured by Voldemort’s men but escape after Harry has disarmed Draco Malfoy of his wand. Then Voldemort, having learned that the Elder Wand is in Dumbledore’s tomb, retrieves it. The three companions steal another of the Horcruxes, the Hufflepuff cup, from Gringott’s bank, and Hermione destroys it with a basilisk fang. They return to Hogwarts and retrieve another Horcrux, the Ravenclaw diadem, which is destroyed accidentally by Draco’s companion Crabbe with a magical fire spell. Harry learns that he himself if a Horcrux and goes to face Voldemort, accompanied by the spirits of his parents and teachers whom he invokes with the Resurrection Stone, which was hidden inside the snitch Dumbledore left him. Voldemort cannot kill Harry because he used Harry’s blood for his own resurrection, but Voldemort does kill the fragment of his soul inside Harry, thus freeing Harry from being a Horcrux. In the following battle at Hogwarts, Nevil Longbottom slays the serpent Nagini with the Gryffindor sword, thus destroying the last Horcrux and removing Voldemort’s remaining protection. Voldemort tries to kill Harry with the Elder Wand, but Harry is its proper owner now because its ownership had passed from Dumbledore to Draco, when Draco disarmed the headmaster in the tower, and from Draco to Harry, when Harry disarmed Draco. Voldemort’s killing curse rebounds on himself, and he dies from his own magic. Nineteen years later, Harry and Ginny have married and have three children. Ron and Hermione have married and have two children. They have all gathered on the platform for the Hogwarts Express train to see their school-aged children off to Hogwarts.

QUEST: The final book of the Harry Potter series sees Harry on three separate, but interrelated, quests. (1) Harry’s quest for self-discovery overarches all others and is the unifying quest of the entire series; it began in book 1, with Harry’s discovery that he is in fact a wizard, and reaches its culmination at the end of book 7, when Harry has discovered who he essentially is, as both a wizard and a human being. (2) More specific is the quest to destroy all of Voldemort’s Horcruxes, a quest that actually began in book 2, when Harry stabbed Tom Riddle’s diary with the tusk of a basilisk, but became specific in book six, when Dumbledore destroyed the Horcrux of the Gaunt family ring and went with Harry in search of the Slytherin locket. The remaining five Horcruxes (locket, cup, diadem, Nagini, and Harry) had to be found and destroyed or purged in this last book. (3) The third quest is reflected in the title of the book: to find the missing Deathly Hallows, magical objects of immense power, whose joint possession is said to make their possessor the “master of Death.” Harry has had the third of the Hallows, the Cloak of Invisibility, since his first year at Hogwarts; but he must still find the Resurrection Stone and the Elder Wand. The three quests are interrelated because Harry has to find the missing Horcruxes to fulfill his destiny as “the Chosen One” who can overcome Voldemort, and he discovers, through the Deathly Hallows, his own family origins, which go back to the creation of the Deathly Hallows, he being a direct descendant of Ignotus Peverell, the youngest of three brothers who were the prototypes of the three brothers in The Tales of Beedle the Bard.


The climax of Harry’s quest for self-discovery in book 7 is a double one: Harry’s two face-to-face combat encounters with Voldemort, the first in the Forbidden Forest and the second in Hogwarts Great Hall. Harry goes to the first encounter believing that he is going to die and reconciled to that fate as part of a plan he does not understand for controlling Voldemort. In stark contrast, Harry goes to the second encounter knowing that he will be victorious because he then understands the entire situation and his own part in it. Both encounters are necessary, but they are strikingly different in expectation and in feeling. The first combat has overtones of Christ’s Way of the Cross to Golgotha, of self-abnegation and surrender to circumstances one does not understand. The second combat is utterly different, being the confident march to battle of the epic hero who has taken the full measure of his opponent and knows that his triumph is assured.

In ending the cycle, J. K. Rowling had a problem, which she resolved with the double climax. The climax had to be a confrontation between Harry and Voldemort. In that confrontation, Voldemort had to die and Harry had to live. But Voldemort cannot die as long as any of the Horcruxes still exist. And Harry is a Horcrux. Harry can hardly destroy the fragment of Voldemort’s soul inside himself; and he must not actually kill Voldemort, for Harry has never killed anyone and must not—he represents life, the antithesis of killing.

Rowling solved the problem with the two confrontations, and by making Voldemort responsible both for destroying his own soul fragment in Harry and for killing himself. Those two events could hardly happen at the same time, so two confrontations were needed. The double confrontation is a sort of shell game or thimblerig, in which the reader thinks the first confrontation is the final climax, though it is not. Yet the first confrontation is actually the more important of the two, for in it Harry makes the choice that defines his whole life. And he makes it without regard for the consequences he foresees that choice as having on himself. Harry’s action in the first confrontation is what the Gita calls nishkama karma (action without desire for personal benefit), what the Tao Te Ching calls wu wei (doing nothing, in the sense of not acting for self), and what our contemporary culture calls “being in the zone” or “going with the flow” (not striving or opposing but becoming one with the action and doing what is to be done).

First confrontation: Voldemort announces that he is giving Harry one hour to meet him in the Forbidden Forest. If Harry does not come, Voldemort will personally lead an assault on Hogwarts and kill everyone there. Harry has learned from Severus Snape’s memory that he himself is one of Voldemort’s Horcruxes. Although Dumbledore did not actually use the term “Horcrux” in his exchange with Snape, that was clearly what he was saying, and Harry, as a bright lad, understands: “[Dumbledore:] ‘And while that fragment of soul, unmissed by Voldemort, remains attached to and protected by Harry, Lord Voldemort cannot die.’ Harry seemed to be watching the two men from one end of a long tunnel, they were so far away from him, their voices echoing strangely in his ears. ‘So the boy . . . the boy must die?’ asked Snape quite calmly. ‘And Voldemort himself must do it, Severus. That is essential. . . . If I know [Harry], he will have arranged matters so that when he does set out to meet his death, it will truly mean the end of Voldemort’.” (pp. 686-7)

Because Harry has confidence in Dumbledore, he believes that what the headmaster foresaw—although daunting for him personally—is necessary for the general good. Harry must sacrifice himself for others: “Finally the truth. . . . Harry understood at last that he was not supposed to survive. His job was to walk calmly into Death’s welcoming arms. . . . He envied even his parents’ deaths now. This cold-blooded walk to his own destruction would require a different kind of bravery. . . . And Dumbledore had known that Harry would not duck out . . . that Harry would not let anyone else die for him now that he had discovered it was in his power to stop it.” (pp. 691-3)

Harry cannot let Voldemort destroy Hogwarts and kill all of those inside it who have been defending him, nor can he let Voldemort continue to ravage the world, so Harry must go into the Forbidden Forest, though he knows he cannot kill Voldemort because both he and Nagini are Horcruxes, and Voldemort cannot be killed as long as any Horcrux exists. On his way to Forest, Harry meets Neville and asks him to kill Nagini if others fail, thus fulfilling Dumbledore’s knowledge of how Harry would arrange matters: “This was crucial, he must be like Dumbledore, keep a cool head, make sure there were backups, others to carry on.” (p. 696)

So Harry goes, as he believes, to his death, as a sacrifice to spare the many who would otherwise die; and he can only trust that someone else will follow him and kill Voldemort later. As he enters the Forest, Harry uses the Resurrection Stone to evoke four spirits to accompany him: his parents, Sirius Black, and Remus Lupin. But when Harry confronts Voldemort, he does so alone, unarmed, and unresisting. He is a Christ, a Bodhisattva, giving himself up for the welfare of the world.

Voldemort sends a Killing Curse on Harry. As a result of that curse, both Harry and Voldemort fall unconscious in the Forest. But Harry finds himself in a half-way world, a sort of staging place for “going on,” a threshold of the Astral Plane. In that half-way world is also a miserable, agonizing, flayed child, which Harry both fears and wants to comfort, although he is repulsed by it. Dumbledore appears and tell Harry, “You cannot help.” Harry asks what the child is, and Dumbledore replies, “Something that is beyond either of our help.” Gradually Harry realizes that the miserable child is all that remains of Voldemort’s soul after he has repeatedly fragmented it in the vain effort to ensure his mortal continuation.

While their bodies are unconscious in the Forbidden Forest, Harry’s and Voldemort’s souls are both in the half-way world, in the condition they will be in after the actual deaths of their bodies. The headmaster goes on to tell Harry many things about Dumbledore himself and about Harry. The Killing Curse that Voldemort had used in Godric’s Hollow in an attempt to slay the infant Harry put the lightning-shaped scar on his forehead. It also apparently opened a way for a torn fragment of Voldemort’s soul to lodge within Harry’s soul, but it did not destroy Harry’s infant body, which was protected by the enchantment placed in Harry’s blood by his mother’s sacrifice.

The Killing Curse in the Forbidden Forest still could not destroy Harry because of his mother’s enchantment, but it did destroy the fragment of Voldemort’s soul in Harry, which was not protected, thus making Harry no longer a Horcrux. The curse also again rebounded on Voldemort, but this time it could not destroy his body, because Voldemort’s body had in it some of Harry’s blood. Harry’s enchanted blood, even in Voldemort’s body, was a protection for both of them. However, the curse drove both of their souls into the half-way world. Harry and Voldemort have a double connection: Voldemort’s soul fragment in Harry and Harry’s blood in Voldemort. Thus, just as their wands were connected, so are they, and they unknowingly influence each other.

In the half-way world, Dumbledore says that Harry is not really dead, but has a choice: he can go “on” (that is, actually die to the world and continue the after-death journey), or he can go back and fight Voldemort. After talking with Dumbledore, Harry elects to return from the half-way world to fulfill his destiny with Voldemort, and he becomes conscious again in his body on the ground of the Forbidden Forest. Voldemort’s miserable child-soul returns to his body at the same time as Harry does because of the linkage between them. They both simultaneously recover consciousness in the Forest. Voldemort takes what he thinks is Harry’s dead body back to Hogwarts to display it to Harry’s supporters there.

Second confrontation: Neville Longbottom encounters Voldemort and the serpent with Harry’s body on their way to Hogwarts. Voldemort summons the Sorting Hat, which he puts on Neville’s head and sets it afire. But Neville draws the Gryffindor sword out of the hat and uses it to slay the serpent. Nagini having been killed and Harry having been de-Horcruxed in the Forest, Voldemort’s life is no longer protected. Harry, now transformed by his near-death experience, knowledgeable, and confident of his mission, faces Voldemort, whom he now calls by his proper name—Tom Riddle—in the Great Hall at Hogwarts. They have a long circling preliminary, in which Harry tells Riddle (and all others in the Hall) the truth about all that has happened. Harry repeatedly urges Riddle to try for some remorse because of what will otherwise happen to him on the other side when he dies, what is left of his soul being now only that pitiful, agonizing child.

Neither Harry nor anyone else can directly help the Riddle-baby soul. Only Riddle himself can. Traditionally, recovery from the consequences of evil action (or sin) requires remorse that leads to a firm purpose of amendment (a determination not to repeat the evil), then to confession (acknowledgment of the wrong done) and also to satisfaction and restitution (bearing the consequences and repairing the harm done). Only Riddle can begin that process of recovery by experiencing remorse; no one else can do it for him.

Harry also explains why the Elder Wand will not help Riddle because Riddle has never been its master. The history of the mastership of the Elder Wand is complex, but the Wand’s mastership passed from Dumbledore to Draco Malfoy when Draco disarmed Dumbledore atop the tower, then to Harry when Harry disarmed Draco. All wands are empowered with a life of their own, but the Elder Wand is so empowered even more than other wands. One wizard need not actually take the Elder Wand from another to become its master. It is necessary only that one wizard defeat the true owner of the Elder Wand. Part of the wand’s magic is that it has only one true owner at a time, and it knows who that owner is. Harry was talking generally with Ollivander about wands and ownership of wands: “‘You talk about wands like they’ve got feelings,’ said Harry, ‘like they can think for themselves.’ ‘The wand chooses the wizard,’ said Ollivander. ‘That much has always been clear to those of us who have studied wandlore. . . . The best results, however, must always come where there is the strongest affinity between wizard and wand. These connections are complex. An initial attraction, and then a mutual quest for experience, the wand learning from the wizard, the wizard from the wand’.” (pp. 493-4)

Thus, when Harry was fleeing from Privet Place on the eve of his seventeenth birthday, Volemort attacked him with Lucius Malfoy’s wand, which he was using because he knew that his own wand was powerless against Harry’s, which was its twin. The intense pain from Harry’s scar blinded him so he could not defend himself. But Harry’s wand acted on its own, with a spell Harry did not even know, and snapped Lucius’s wand: “As the pain from Harry’s scar forced his eyes shut, his wand acted of its own accord. He felt it drag his hand around like some great magnet, saw a spurt of golden fire through his half-closed eyelids, heard a crack and a scream of fury.” (p.61)

Wands are alive and have wills of their own, so in an emergency they can act on behalf of their wizard master, particularly when a strong connection has been established. The Elder Wand, being the most powerful of all wands, is especially willful; it simply will not accept a loser as its master. Thus if its true owner is defeated by anyone else, that former owner has lost the allegiance of the Elder Wand, which transfers its loyalty to the victor over its former owner. It does not have to pass physically into the hands of the victor. It just knows who its true owner is. So the Elder Wand’s loyalty went from Dumbledore to Draco, without Draco’s ever being aware of that fact. Draco had caught Dumbledore off guard atop the Tower and disarmed him while Harry was under his Cloak of Invisibility. To protect Harry, Dumbledore had put a Freezing Charm on him, and Harry “saw Dumbledore’s wand flying in an arc over the edge of the ramparts and understood. . . . Dumbledore had wordlessly immobilized Harry, and the second he had taken to perform the spell had cost him the chance of defending himself.” (Half-Blood Prince, p. 584)

It is not clear whether the wand that Draco Expelliarmus-ed out of Dumbledore’s hand was the Elder Wand or another. But it makes no difference, just as none of the three wands Harry wrested from Draco’s grip [Bellatrix’s, Wormtail’s, and Draco’s, pp. 473-4] was the Elder Wand. What matters is not that one wizard physically seizes the Elder Wand from another, but rather that one wizard masters another in some fashion. Harry did not know when he overpowered Draco that, by doing so, he had won the Elder Wand. People don’t have to know. The Wand knows.

Thus when Harry meets Riddle/Voldemort in Hogwarts Great Hall for their final confrontation, he is by then the true master of the Elder Wand, and he knows it. Harry and Riddle both utter spells at the same time—Riddle’s is a Killing Curse, and Harry’s is a Disarming Spell (which he has repeatedly used against Death Eaters instead of killing them). The two spells meet in the center between the two combatants. Harry’s is the stronger because he is in fact the greater Wizard. His spell disarms Riddle of the Elder Wand, which flies through the air and into the hands of its true master, Harry. Riddle’s spell rebounds back onto Riddle and kills him because his soul is no longer protected by any Horcruxes. Only Riddle’s dead body remains. What is left of his soul is in the half-way world, with an uncertain future.

Epilogue: And so the second confrontation ends. Evil has destroyed itself. Goodness survives. The world can return to normal. And so it does, as we learn in the Epilogue, “Nineteen Years Later.” As Robert Ellwood has pointed out, the ending of the Harry Potter cycle is not apocalyptic like that of Lord of the Rings: “Rowling's real point is that good and evil are mixed up in this world, and after one manifestation of the latter is defeated, life still goes on. As a Zen master said, in effect, Even after enlightenment, you still have to do the laundry. The Tolkienesque cosmic battle between absolute good and evil, with absolute victory of good in the end, can be inspiring when we're in a tight spot, if kept properly at the level of archetypal myth, but as so many examples have shown, can itself produce great evil if superimposed concretely on this mixed-up world, and we divide real people into saviors and orcs.” (personal communication)

As Ellwood has observed, Harry Potter is a postmodern, realistic fantasy. All of its good characters are flawed, but they recognize their flaws and deal with them. After the climax of the story, the world does not end, nor is it utterly transformed. It is only saved from one great evil and continues, much like the world of the Pandavas in the Mahabharata. The laundry must still be done. The next generation must still be loved and schooled. The past must be remembered; but life, as the Epilogue promises us, goes on. Harry’s touching relationship with his younger son, Albus Severus Potter, whose eyes are those of his grandmother, Lily, shows life going on. The Harry Potter cycle ends, with neither a bang nor a whimper, but with a promise. That promise is expressed in the final words of the book and the series: “The scar had not pained Harry for nineteen years. All was well.”

Those final words, “All was well,” echo St. Julian of Norwich, a fourteenth-century mystic who lived most of her life sequestered in a cell next to a church. At the age of thirty, she had had a grave illness, during which she had visions of Jesus, which she wrote down on recovering and spent the rest of her life contemplating. Of one of her visions, she wrote: “He shewed me a little thing, the quantity of an hazelnut, in the palm of my hand; and it was as round as a ball. I looked thereupon with eye of my understanding, and thought: What may this be? And it was answered generally thus: It is all that is made. I marveled how it might last, for methought it might suddenly have fallen to naught for little. And I was answered in my understanding: It lasteth, and ever shall for that God loveth it. And so All-thing hath the Being by the love of God.”

During those visions, Julian also worried about the problem of evil. That is, if God is all-good, all-powerful, and all-loving, why does he permit evil, pain, and sin to exist in the world: why does he not prevent it? She asked Jesus about this, and Jesus answered her: “It behooved that there should be sin; but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.” That is, evil, pain, and sin have a place in the order of the world, where finally all things work for good. H. P. Blavatsky gave essentially the same answer to the question, although she phrased it differently. In an article on “The Origin of Evil” (Collected Writings 8:112), HPB wrote: “Buddha left us an example of fortitude to follow: in living, not in running away from life. His doctrine shows evil immanent, not in matter which is eternal, but in the illusions created by it: through the changes and transformations of matter generating life—because these changes are conditioned and such life is ephemeral. At the same time those evils are shown to be not only unavoidable, but necessary.” According to Julian’s Jesus, sin is behooved, which means “necessary, fit, or proper”; according to HPB’s Buddha, evils are both unavoidable and necessary. The two statements say much the same thing.

St. Julian’s comfortable words (to use a phrase from the Book of Common Prayer, meaning “words free from doubt, which comfort us”) were quoted also by T. S. Eliot in “Little Gidding,” the last part of his greatest poem, The Four Quartets: “And all shall be well and / All manner of thing shall be well / By the purification of the motive / In the ground of our beseeching.” According to both St. Julian and Eliot, whatever ills and pain and evil we experience, everything will end well. The words are an assurance that, despite all problems, a divine intelligence we personify as “God” sustains the whole world, like a hazelnut in one’s hands. Similarly, Blavatsky wrote of “the absolute necessity for some solution [to the problem of evil], which embraces the facts of existence on an optimistic basis” (CW 8:124). The Harry Potter cycle ends with an echo of the same thought: “All was well

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