o let’s fire up the wayback machine and set it to late May–early June 2007, shall we?
Item 1: Dead is Dead
We had all arrived at the end of an era. The final action of the adventure would take place off Albus Dumbledore’s watch. At least officially.
I had belatedly jumped onto the bandwagon that held that Dumbledore wasn’t dead just before the Spring update of the collection in 2006. So, along with a good many other fans, I found myself sprawled in the road with the wind knocked out of me after Rowling summarily up-ended that conclusion in August of that year.
Having adopted it so late, I hadn’t a great deal invested in it, but it entailed revisions to a number of the articles in the collection.
However, given the way that Rowling set up her world, striking a pose and declaiming that “dead is dead” really looks a lot more like another bit of slight-of-hand on her part than any sort of definitive guideline. For the plain truth of the matter is that, in the Potterverse, dead is NOT necessarily dead. Not in any sense that we would recognize. Not if you set up a universe which allows for the active presence and participation of ghosts. (ETA: not to mention Resurrection Stone revenants, or wand “echoes”, let alone sentient portraits.)
So for all that Dumbledore was dead, I found it very hard to believe that he was gone. I really did think he would linger on, in some iteration, to the last page and depart peacefully after the crisis was resolved.
But we wouldn’t necessarily see him before that. After all. If Albus decided to stick around and haunt somebody, it would hardly be Harry, would it?
Item 2: An Agenda for Book 7
A MAJOR issue that I thought was going to occupy much of the emotional payoff of Book 7 involved the fallout attendant upon Harry finally discovering, or figuring out, what was really going on concerning the death of Albus Dumbledore.
In which, he seems to have completely forgotten that he also took an active hand. On Dumbledore’s orders.
Because I was convinced that things were simply not as they appeared related to that death, even if Albus was dead. And, after my last round of dodging toppling dominoes, I thought that Rowling was saving it all up for the grand finale.
(ETA: Oh, if only, if only. The little coward of an author dodged the whole issue, because it would have taken too much effort to actually resolve it, and her precious Harry might have had to admit that he was wrong about something!)
• • • •
Rowling had been dropping anvil-sized hints for the past few years that there were some real horrors in store for Harry Potter. Claiming that she would not want to be him, since she knows what is going to happen to him.
I did not think she was tossing out red herrings in those statements.
(ETA: In retrospect it seems apparent that she was. Up to his suicide march into the Forbidden Forest I cannot see that anything much happened to Harry in DHs that was significantly worse than what had happened to him in one or other of the previous books. Unless Rowling regards the prospect of a winter camping trip — even with all the available magical “mod-cons” as being even more appalling than I do.)
The fans, of course, had taken these statements and run with them, proposing all sorts of gaudy, but ultimately rather unimaginative scenarios involving Cruciatus, or disfigurement, or of having to see more people that matter to him die.
I could not honestly say that none of these things would happen in Book 7. There was a better than average chance that Harry would catch another round of Cruciatus over the course of book 7. And a much better than average chance that he would have to see someone else (apart from Lord Voldemort) die in it.
But I really didn’t think those were the horrors that Rowling had in mind.
And I thought Albus’s death was intimately connected with the ones she did mean.
And Albus’s past life, and past actions, might be even more to the point.
(ETA: the more fool I. Not to say that Albus’s — totally irrelevant — past life and actions weren’t being forced down our throats just about every 2nd chapter.)
• • • •
But, when you stopped and thought about it, there was sure one hell of an agenda that still needed to be met in the final book of this series. Because by that time there had been so many questions and issues raised that merely to hunt down the Horcruxes, bring Lord Voldemort to bay, and to destroy him would probably leave the reader curiously unsatisfied. (ETA: called that one right, anyway!) I wouldn’t have been astonished to find that Book 7 turned out to be the longest book in the series, after all.
But, for example, I really thought that:
We all needed to know what was going on with Albus’s death. At least to the point of knowing whether Albus had deliberately chosen to die at that time in that manner.
We needed to know why he trusted Snape.
We needed to know just what part in the overall story arc Snape had played.
We also wanted to know about that triumphant gleam Harry thought he saw in Albus’s eye when he first told Albus about Voldemort using his blood to create the simulacrum. Acto Rowling that gleam was still “significant”.
Item 3: The Mysterious “Gleam”
By that time in the series I had been wondering if that gleam might be related to the way that Voldemort attempted to possess Harry during the battle of the Atrium and couldn’t. Or not without agonizing pain to both of them. He certainly didn’t expect that, and it certainly wasn’t anything he had planned.
And it was also pretty damned odd when you stopped to think about it.
Harry and Voldemort had spent the whole of year 5 flitting in and out of each other’s heads without sustaining anything more than some degree of confusion over whose emotions were whose. What is more, there were a few occasions over the year when it read as if Harry was responding to something other than his own conscious prompting. Admittedly, it was difficult to believe that these occasions were prompted by Tom, since they were universally to Harry’s benefit, but nothing related to any of this was causing Harry any more appreciable physical pain than being in Voldemort’s presence ever had, and it isn’t likely that Voldemort was feeling negative effects from the connection either. (ETA: I suppose these odd little sequences were supposed to be foreshadowing of DHs!Harry’s “hero’s instinct” where he kept repeatedly falling backwards into the correct solution by authorial fiat. Didn’t work.)
But as soon as Voldemort attempted to psychically and physically possess Harry — as he had possessed Quirrell — the attempt threw them both into agony until Harry managed to heave Voldemort out of his mind with the hope of seeing Sirius again. (Or more probably with the fact that he started welcoming the prospect of death. Voldemort has a horror of death. The combination probably made him desperate enough to summarily abandon the attempt.)
Something protected Harry from being vulnerable to possession by Lord Voldemort.
Was this due to the fact that Harry was already harboring one of Tom Riddle’s missing soul fragments?
Or was this the effect of their physically sharing blood?
Or was it a combination of the two?
Or something else, unrelated to either?
(ETA: Evidently, you cannot possess someone twice. Or encase “duplicate” bits of your soul in the same housing. So long as the disabled fragment was in place, the rest of Tom couldn’t get past it to take Harry over. Or not effectively enough to accomplish anything of value by it.)
• • • •
Among the minor clankers and awkwardnesses peppered throughout the series, the climax of OotP was particularly confusingly handled. This was probably the price of the authorial decision to tell the story as completely as possible from Harry’s PoV.
This was one of the major reasons that I regarded the possibility that Harry would need to die in order to take down his enemy with such profound skepticism. Unless Rowling chose to have the reader follow Harry into death, such a development would require an abrupt switch of PoV right in the middle of the climax. Since she had not established a practice of doing that kind of thing, I doubted that this would be the rabbit that she would suddenly choose to pull out of her hat in the final showdown of the whole series.
Indeed, unless Harry was not present in a scene at all, she had not shifted out of Harry’s PoV for any significant amount of time since the broom hexing incident all the way back in PS/SS. If she intended to use this device again, in the final show-down, she ought to have worked up to it. And she hadn’t. If Harry is present in any scene, the scene had been played from his viewpoint. I really didn’t see this changing at any point in the future. So, Harry’s death seemed unlikely.
Unless she would, in fact, enable the reader to follow Harry into death.
That option was still on the table.
• • • •
In the climax of GoF Harry may not have known all of what was going on, but the only part of the action that he completely missed due to a Voldemort-induced headache was the murder of Cedric Diggory. (And it isn’t altogether clear why he should have so completely missed it, since it was Pettigrew who did the killing. There was no headache in play when Snape presumably killed Dumbledore.) The reader was still able to get a direct line-of-sight on the rest of those proceedings.
In OotP, however, it seems that for the most significant part of the whole showdown we have to take Dumbledore’s word and Dumbledore’s interpretation on everything. At face value, too, since Harry was far too incapacitated to be aware of anything but the pain, the statements that Voldemort made through him and his own reasoning processes.
But, what appears to have been going on there is that by possessing the boy, Voldemort was trying to get Dumbledore to kill Harry rather than to do it himself.
Why not do it himself? Had he failed at it so often as to have become gun-shy? I’m not sure that really “reads”.
But we’ve only Dumbledore’s word for it that the attempt also caused Voldemort agonizing pain. And, while I can’t see any reason for him to be shaving the truth on that subject, I’m really not so inclined to accept Dumbledore’s word for everything unquestioned any more.
From Harry’s PoV, it was only the reflection that if he died NOW he would see Sirius again that threw Voldemort out of his head and made the pain stop. So was it the attachment to Sirius, or his willing embracing of death that actually repelled Voldemort? We do not know. And if you ask me, neither did Albus.
And, if the attempt at possession hurt so much, why didn’t Voldemort withdraw at once, so he would at least have control of his own wand? If he was immobilized with the pain from trying to possess Harry, why didn’t Dumbledore or somebody attack the (now undefended) simulacrum? For that matter, what happens to the simulacrum when Voldemort is off in someone else’s head? Was Dumbledore afraid that if the simulacrum was destroyed Voldemort wouldn’t withdraw from Harry at all? Did Voldemort not withdraw from Harry because he was stuck? Is this due to Harry and the simulacrum sharing the same blood?
After all; on a computer you cannot replace a folder with a file. Or vice-versa. Or give them the same name.
Or had the gleam been due to Dumbledore’s realization that Voldemort had introduced a paradox into the equation. In that by the protection that Albus had layered on top of Lily’s — in which so long as Harry was a minor in company with persons related by blood to Lily Potter he was protected from Lord Voldemort by “his mother’s blood”, and that by using Harry’s blood to create his simulacrum Lord Voldemort was now accounted as one of such “blood relations” and, that, consequently, so long as Harry was a minor and in Lord Voldemort’s company, Lord Voldemort would be unable to kill him?
And Echo answers us none
• • • •
Item 4: Book 7 Agenda (continued/revisited)
But, to continue with the shopping list, at the opening of DHs:
We also still wanted to hear the full story of what went down in the werewolf caper. WHY did Sirius Black set Severus Snape up? And how did he do it?
And what happened afterwards?
(ETA: well, she managed to drop a bombshell on us as to what order the werewolf caper and the hazing incident took place, anyway.)
*sigh* And, all right, all right, did Severus Snape have a crush on Lily Evans? Or she on him?
And just what part did Peter Pettigrew have to play in the solution? He had to be significant somehow, but how did he relate to the problem of the Horcruxes?
Speaking of which: what the hey is up with the fake one? What purpose did that serve?
And what’s with the Dementors? They had to be even more significant than Pettigrew! Particularly if I was right about Book 7 reflecting Book 3.
And where’s Malfoy got to? Were we going to have to be dodging him through the last book as well as the Death Eaters?
How long was it going to take the kids to realize that the 6th Horcrux wasn’t the snake?
And while we’re at it: just how are you supposed to destroy a Horcrux without getting blasted by it? Or DO you just pitch it through the Veil?
Speaking of which: are we ever going to be filled in on why Sirius Black “had to” be killed just when he was? That was what Rowling told us.
And that was just for starters.
Item 5: Considering Harry
Of a rather more deeply thematic importance, however; there is also the question of taking responsibility for one’s own actions.
Harry isn’t very good at that.
HHarry had been allowed to skate through the first 6 books of the series without ever having to take full responsibility for the effects of any of his own actions. There were always other people who had been all too willing to share the responsibility with him, if not to outright take the responsibility for him.
Eventually I was sure that he was going to be unable to dodge that particular bullet. And Albus was no longer around to take that bullet for him. Even Harry realized this by then.
He was also probably going to end up learning a great many of Albus’s secrets in the course of the final book. I thought he was going to need to in order to solve his Dark Lord problem. Some of those wouldn’t be welcome secrets.
Including just why Albus trusted Severus Snape.
And that was not likely to be a painless lesson, either.
(I also suspected that Harry may have to decide whether the wizarding world was worth saving. But that suspicion was just me being characteristically pessimistic, so it’s just as well not to have placed any great dependence on Rowling investing much in it.)
And, of course, we would also get the bonus of a fine, old-fashioned, extended wrap-up at the end of the story to let us all know how everything (and everyone) turned out.
This wrap-up seems to be the famous “last chapter” that Rowling had already claimed to have written more than a decade earlier, as a promise to herself that she would eventually get there. Consequently, it would be the previous couple of hundred pages which would contain the run-up to the climax and the showdown with Lord Voldemort. The wrap-up isn’t actually a part of the active story.
(ETA: and, after the fact, don’t we all just wish that this had been a “promise to herself” that Rowling had broken. Unfortunately, to Rowling, promises to herself are far more unbreakable than merely tacit promises to the reader.)
Item 6: Two Unexpected Deaths and a Reprieve
Speaking of which: Rowling set off a little flurry of controversy with statements made in June of 2006 that she was going to have to rewrite this final chapter a bit. One of the characters who she had originally intended to kill off got a reprieve. Two who had been intended to survive hadn’t.
And, for all the storm of speculation this statement set running, I rather suspected that “haven’t” may really have been the correct term, even at that point in the series. The subject chapter was written before she started on the main body of the work of writing the series, and it consequently reflected her master “plan” of over a decade ago. There had been a lot of water under the bridge in the past 10-12 years.
For that matter, there had been a lot of water under the bridge in the previous 7 years. We’d forgotten how quickly the first four books came out.
Bang, bang, bang, bang. Four books in four years. And with the fourth one she hit a snag.
Rowling has stated in interviews since GoF came out that she fell into a major plot hole that opened up in the middle of the story, requiring her to rewrite nearly a third of the book to plug it.
She also tells us that, after turning the ms of GoF in to the publishers, and after taking a year or so off to recoup from a case of incipient burnout, she subjected her master Plan to three months of intensive review to make sure that there were no more such pitfalls lurking for her in the rest of it before starting work on OotP.
I can’t answer for anyone else, but in OotP I certainly felt a distinct shift from the books that had preceded it. And, for that matter, HBP appears to have soundly ignored or dismissed just about every new issue that was raised over the course of OotP.
So I very much doubted that Rowling had only just made her decision regarding the deaths of those two characters who now wouldn’t be making it since she started writing Book 7. Even if those deaths were due to take place in Book 7. I thought those eventual deaths may already have been telegraphed over the course of the last two books that we’d already been given. They may have even already taken place. And we may have already watched the person who now did make it through get that reprieve.
(ETA: as to the reprieve, we had already seen it. Arthur Weasley was supposed to die of his snakebite in OotP. When it came down to it, however, Rowling evidently felt it would be too difficult to keep playing the pity card over Harry having lost his parents — who he does not even remember — if Ron had so recently lost a father for whom he actually cared.)
Item 7: The Birthday List
And, upon that issue...
A rather fun speculation which had cropped up since the previous Spring, proposed that since we never saw a birthday notice on Rowling’s original website for Albus, or for Sirius (or James, or Lily at that point), because, presumably, they were all dead by now, then, consequently, anyone who had been given a birthday notice on the official website was sure to be alive at the end of the series. That was a cheerful thought.
An additional escape clause was that some of the persons not on the birthday list were regarded as simply not being significant enough to rate a birthday notice from the author.
For that matter, we can see for ourselves that with the exception of Dobby, who didn’t show up until CoS, and Remus Lupin, who didn’t make his entrance until PoA, everyone else who is on the birthday list either showed up in person, or was mentioned by name in Book 1. Nobody who showed up in the story after Book 3 was on the birthday list. At All. I would certainly like to believe that this was the reason we’d never seen a birthday notice for Luna Lovegood, anyway.
But then we already knew that Luna tends to get left out of things.
Item 8: Malfoy
Which reminds me:
Who is on the birthday list.
I never intended to write an essay concerning Draco Malfoy because I had never been able to see that Malfoy really mattered.
At the end of HBP it appeared that I was wrong about that.
But until HBP I thought that I had fair enough reason to dismiss him.
Malfoy, like Snape, was a required character “type” for the series. You cannot have a series of “school stories” without including a Malfoy character. Otherwise it just doesn’t play. Malfoy was the strictly local problem. The hero’s rival at school.
Ho-hum. This hero’s real problems were clearly not at school.
And, unlike Snape, Malfoy never seemed to rise above his obligatory role.
Ergo: Malfoy was boooooring.
• • • •
You evidently “have to” have the Nasty Teacher character in a series of school stories, as well. But Severus Snape had never been content to settle down and be nothing more than the Nasty Teacher of the piece.
As such, from the beginning of the series, he had stood there as gatekeeper to the reader’s understanding that there was more going on in this story than what our viewpoint character could see on the surface, or than what was explained to him at the end of each adventure. Snape had never consented to step back and be no more than what Harry had tried to make of him. And by that time it was clear that Rowling at least, agreed with this perception. Snape, whatever else he was, was not boring.
And I was mildly surprised to discover that one of the several days attributed to the Feast of Janus is January 9, the very day that Rowling had assigned for Snape’s birthday.
Janus, the two-faced god of the Romans, is the patron God of openings, of gateways, the Lord of endings and beginnings, he whose favor must be petitioned for an auspicious start (and end) of all enterprises. I am astonished that the fans have not made more of that information. But they seem by and large to be determined to romanticize the character and have cast their eyes across the Mediterranean, squinting hopefully at the Anubis archetype.
And, downstream of HBP the fact that Snape was not boring, nor was he irrelevant, had finally even penetrated the skulls of that brigade of fans who had spent the past 5 years sniffily informing us all that the growing attention paid to Snape was far in excess of the requirements, because he was “only a secondary character” and that the story was all about the kids. That particular faction now had a nice helping of fricassee of crow to put themselves outside of.
And, for the record: the story was never about “the kids”.
The story was about Harry. Ron and Hermione are not Harry.
By that time it ought to have been clear to any attentive reader that there were four “cardinal” characters in this story arc. And those characters were Albus, Tom, Severus, and Harry.
Everyone else was a secondary character.
• • • •
But, regarding Malfoy: Malfoy never appeared to have anything like the substance of a Severus Snape, and by the time Umbridge had set up her Inquisitorial Squad he seemed to be careening off into the literary fate worse than death (i.e., total irrelevancy).
Well, as I say above, it appeared that I had my own helping of fricassee of crow to scarf down. I had been wrong about that. In OotP we got the “new Ginny” (who, by HBP bears a distressing resemblance to her distant cousin Bellatrix). In HBP we were given the “new Malfoy”. And in both cases I had a great deal of trouble not demanding; “Who the hell are you, and where did you come from?” For, imho, as far as writing technique goes, in neither case did Rowling really manage to adequately prepare us for the substitution.
That said; while I still think that the “new Ginny” appeared to have been assembled from items off a checklist, with (in HBP anyway) a perfectly beastly personality transplant pasted on, I did think the new Malfoy was just about sufficiently plausible. And he was certainly an improvement.
It would have been difficult not to be an improvement. Anything beats boring. About the best you could say in favor of the original model is that a number of his comments were legitimately funny, and he could write verse that scanned.
And, in keeping with most of the frauds and poseurs in this series, he ultimately found himself in a position where he was forced to have to do what he had been shooting his mouth off about for yonks, and found he hadn’t the stomach for it. Harry and Ron listened to him spouting off about wanting to help the Dark Lord while they were playing at Polyjuice espionage back in Year 2, and in HBP it looked like Malfoy finally got his wish.
And his gradual realization of just what he had gotten himself into showed through in glimmers around the edges of even our solidly Harry-centric viewpoint.
• • • •
And, rather to my surprise, Malfoy, unlike Harry, seemed to actually (rather than just rhetorically) grasp that there was a distinction to be drawn between the priorities of school and those of the outside world. And that if one is forced to choose between them, school is not the one that should be paramount. His moment of payback on the Hogwarts Express was a squrmingly uncomfortable passage to get through, but any reader of halfway fair mind had to admit that after seeing Harry and his friends hexing Malfoy into unconsciousness on that train for two years running without a second thought, Harry had earned that payback, and also to reflect that Malfoy’s revenge was far less vindictive than we might have expected it to be (certainly less so than Harry’s would have probably been). Malfoy, contrary to all expectations, was clearly in the process of “moving on”.
It took most of the year for Harry to catch up to him.
Maybe what Malfoy had always needed was to be given a bit of responsibility.
At any rate Malfoy acquitted himself well enough over the year to finally make me agree that, yes, I really did need to take notice of him.
And I was still not convinced that Voldemort had actually inducted him into the Death Eaters. Voldemort’s the type to know that he would get better performance out of an untested youngster by the application of the carrot as well as the stick. I think that assassinating Dumbledore and setting up a way for Death Eaters to invade the Castle may have been presented as the “test” of whether he was “worthy” of being accepted as a Death Eater. It was his initiation ordeal. He may not actually have been one of them yet.
For that matter, it was glaringly obvious that Voldemort fully intended to send Lucius the message that his only son was a failure and that He and his followers had done the world a favor by removing him from it. That so-called back-up team was in fact a team of executioners who would have taken out Dumbledore, if it were to prove necessary, yes, but I think their main orders were to kill Malfoy and make it look as if he had failed in his mission. The whole mission was set up to be a double-cross. Only Snape’s Unbreakable Vow derailed it. Snape was sworn to protect Malfoy, and Voldemort wasn’t quite ready to dispense with Snape yet.
As for the so-called evidence that Malfoy was already a DE:
Malfoy’s twitching away when touched by shopkeeper could reflect no more than a disinclination for being handled by one’s “inferiors” and Malfoy may just as easily have taken some item with him that might intimidate Borgin (or inspire his greed) rather than flash around a Dark mark in what was still a public place.
And, for that matter, I was not sure just where Malfoy now fit into the question of the last book in this series. Our nice familiar little series of formula school stories had been abruptly shot out from under us.
I could not shake the feeling that if we saw Malfoy at all in Book 7 it was likely to be only in glimpses. He was not going to suddenly openly join Harry in fighting the Powers of Darkness,™ even if he didn’t end up murdering anybody. He had managed to smuggle Death Eaters into Hogwarts, after all. He put Madam Rosemerta under Imperius (or kept her under control after someone else did so). The Ministry probably wanted to get hold of him for that. And since the three out of eight Death Eaters who were sent to serve as his back-up team that managed to get away would be able to tell Voldemort that he did not manage to finish off Dumbledore, he might be dodging them too now, all the way to the end of the story.
I thought that possibly his smartest bet would have been to talk his mother into going into hiding and to turn himself in to the Ministry and sit the rest of this conflict out with his father in the safety of Azkaban. Especially now that the Dementors were gone.
But I doubted that any of that would actually happen.
Item 9: Dragon Theories
Once the cover illustrations for the last book had been released a fresh new theory escaped which regarded Draco. Probably one of the last before the final book was upon us. I suspect that theory really belonged over in the ‘Out on a Limb’ collection, but I left it here.
It wasn’t my own theory, and I couldn’t ever quite manage to take it seriously. But it was rather fun to play with. So I did. At least briefly.
It was, of course, based upon the cover design for the US deluxe edition of DHs. A design which made me very cross with Rowling and her apparent conviction that she is above any sort of requirements pertaining to a consistent worldview.
The cover design depicted the trio, in tattered robes all flying through the air, on the back of a dragon.
Excuse me? Riding a dragon? (ETA: that anything like jumping a shark?)
Quite early in the series, in fact, quite early in the fandom, Rowling was at considerable pains to inform us all that; no, Hagrid is wrong, you cannot keep a dragon as a pet. You cannot tame a dragon. They are much too dangerous.
If you cannot tame one, you can hardly train one as a mount. You might reasonably plop one in front of your treasure and use it as a guard animal (the Goblins of Gringotts do) but that isn’t exactly training one. That’s just exploiting dragon nature.
And, yet, since Mary GrandPre had a very good track record for only illustrating scenes that were actually IN the books (whatever you may think of her interpretations of the characters), clearly Rowling had a scene in DHs in which the trio were riding a dragon.
Unless there turned out to be some kind of a trick, I was very cross.
• • • •
Of course there could have been some kind of a trick to it.
I doubted that the dragon was under Imperius — which would be perfectly legal. Dragons are not humans, that curse is only unforgivable when used against humans. However, we were given a strong impression that dragons are both highly magical and also highly magic-resistant. I doubted that the kids could manage to get control of one that way.
I even wondered whether one of my own, early, rather frivolous suggestions might turn out to be not so frivolous after all. Dragons, or some breeds of dragons, might possibly speak and understand a form of Parseltongue. Being able to actually communicate with the Beast would be an advantage in getting one’s cooperation.
But the two most common theories floating around fandom were either that the dragon was little Norbert all grown up, or that it was in fact, Draco Malfoy.
I found it hard to give a lot of credence to either theory.
For the dragon to turn out to be Norbert would certainly have tied off a loose end and given us closure on a story fragment regarding another one of Hagrid’s appalling monsters, much as we got the end of Aragog’s story in HBP. But really, given that it was OotP that echoed PS/SS, if Norbert had a further part to play in the story arc, you would have expected him to make his reappearance there (we would certainly have preferred meeting Norbert to Grawp). Given all the hints that DHs was setting up to echo PoA, if we were going to have to field one of Hagrid’s wretched monsters as well, the logical candidate would have been Buckbeak.
And, besides, by that time many fans had also taken a good look at that dragon on the cover, pointed out that it does not at all resemble the illo of baby Norbert in PS/SS, OR the description of a Norwegian Ridgeback, and have pointed out that the grey, pupiless eye suggests that the creature was, in fact, an Antipodean Opaleye. I certainly was not gong to claim that they were wrong.
(ETA: although they were.)
• • • •
As to the dragon turning out to be Draco Malfoy; permit me to point out that being named Rose does not mean you smell like one.
This variant of the theory also had two competing iterations. First; that the dragon was Draco’s Animagus form.
Well, I’m sorry, but — leaving aside the fact that it has never been established that an Animagus form can take the shape of a Fantastic beast, as opposed to a natural one — it really seemed to me that Draco had far too much on his plate over the previous year to be engaging in a clandestine attempt to become an unregistered Animagus in the middle of it as well. It took the Marauders (who have been set up as being a good deal cleverer than Malfoy) from 2nd to 5th year to accomplish it, and there were three of them. Unless you were intending to claim that Crabbe and Goyle were also Animagi by now.
You will have to excuse me if I insist upon saying that I did not believe it.
The rival iteration of this theory is that, no, this is not an Animagus transformation. This is a straightforward human-»animal Transfiguration. Basically that Snape (of all people) had transfigured Draco into a Dragon for some as yet unclear reason. Either to appear to “punish” the boy for failing to kill the headmaster, or to get him into a form in which it would be difficult for Lord Voldemort to do him any harm.
Or just to get him out of the firing lines.
The fly in that particular pot of ointment is that we were clearly told in the introductory portion of ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’ that the only way a human can take a human mind into an animal form is through the Animagus transformation. Straightforward Transfiguration into an Animal form gives you an animal mind.
However, that said, I will have to admit that the example given to illustrate this principle had a lot of potential for being another piece of pure misdirection. We were told that; say, if someone were to transfigure himself into a bat, with a tiny bat brain he would probably not be able to recall what he was doing and just filter off and lose himself.
A dragon, however is a rather large animal. With a large head, and presumably, a large brain. If brain size is actually an issue, it might conceivably be possible that if one were transfigured into a large creature, like a dragon, the large dragon brain might be able to retain the human memories, even if it didn’t precisely retain the human nature.
I’m not altogether convinced that such a transfiguration would include understanding human speech, however.
Yet, in interviews, Rowling had at one point brought up the story of young Eustace Clarence Scrubb who went to sleep on a dragon’s hoard, thinking greedy, dragonish thoughts, and woke up the following day in the shape of a dragon. And eventually learned better.
But like I say, I had a hard time taking the whole idea seriously.
Item 10: Tonks
And so long as we are dealing with descendants of the Black family:
What was Tonks doing in this story? What purpose did she serve?
I sincerely doubted that her sole function was to dwindle into Lupin’s girlfriend.
It can’t have been for her Metamorphomagus ability either, because that had never served any real function in the narrative that couldn’t be served by some other means. Apart from comic relief, such as the scenes of her “picking her nose” at the dinner table.
So why was she there?
Even Rowling refers to Tonks in association with red herrings. Or something very much like that (joint interview, July 2005).
I thought Rowling might have intended for Tonks to serve as an example.
I’d come to the conclusion that poor Tonks was a beast of burden, heavily laden with pieces of exposition. I finally concluded that she was introduced expressly for the purpose of showing her coming apart in HBP, and to be pointed out early in the book as an example of what happens when a witch or wizard comes apart in that manner. The bright, brash, friendly Tonks of OotP was created solely to display the greatest possible contrast to the mopey, drippy one in HBP.
In short, she was there to set us up for meeting Merope Gaunt.
It was poorly handled. Cho Chang would have served just as well. In fact, I thought Cho would have served rather better. But Rowling didn’t give herself the necessary wiggle room by ever showing us enough of Cho’s normal behavior to draw a proper comparison. Still, from what we’ve got (ETA: and still have), that contrast seemed to be the whole point of Tonks.
After all, I seriously doubted that Rowling was suddenly going to catapult Tonks into central plot prominence in DHs. Although we might finally get a situation where we discover why Rowling thought it was necessary to introduce a Metamorphomagus into the narrative in the first place. But I doubted that it would be a major issue in the book. Indeed, I wouldn’t have bet all that much on the likelihood of even that.
Because the significance of Tonks being a Metamorphomagus seemed to be no more than that such a flashy, super-special, Mary-Suish ability made for such a nice, loud, visible contrast which is really, really obvious when it goes away. I still rather think Rowling gave Tonks that ability just so she could take it away from her. At least temporarily.
Why? Well Rowling did use to generally prefer to introduce magical concepts before she really used them for an actual purpose, didn’t she?
We were told that the dementors drain wizards of happiness, and *of magic* all the way back in PoA, but that in itself didn’t make it clear that wizards can do the same thing to themselves, as well. Having Tonks apparently come undone from unrequited lurve, and start having difficulty transforming herself softened us up very nicely for when Merope was stated as having come apart in exactly the same manner, didn’t it? We didn’t even pause for a second to say; “Wait a minute...”
Although Sister Magpie pointed out on her Lj (or someone else pointed it out in Sister Magpie’s Lj) that it wasn’t necessarily grief that was crippling Tonks, but fear. She wasn’t moping because she had “lost” her beloved, she was terrified that she was going to lose him (before she ever had him), either to Fenrir’s band, or to the DEs or to some other horrible danger that he was out risking his neck amid. And given the really central significance that I cannot help but read into the whole issue of the Dementors = fear, I thought that whoever brought it up may have had something there.
But that’s only one piece of exposition.
So what else had Tonks done, of had happen to her that we might want to watch out for?
Well, there was that “new Patronus” of hers. That is an awfully odd sort of a concept to introduce if you don’t intend to make use of it. And you certainly can’t claim that it served any sort of necessary function in HBP. I suspected there was a punch line yet to come regarding that one.
(ETA: as if.)
So was there anything else could we expect to see? CoS wasn’t the last time we saw Polyjuice in action. Or PoA the last time we tripped over an Animagus. Could we expect to see someone else lose their magic from loss of confidence? Or from grief, or depression, or terror? I thought that maybe we would. Maybe we should try to be alert to it. Because it could happen at a really bad time.
But to whom?
(And, ETA: a decade plus downstream of the closing of canon, Rowling’s treatment of Tonks is now coming across as a choice bit of foreshadowing. Particularly given how eagerly a certain segment of the fandom had embraced Tonks as their gender-fluid poster child.)
Item 11: The Unanswered Riddle
Which brings us to:
Ever since HBP came out there’d been an amazing amount of uproar regarding the official Riddle backstory. And I will have to say that I didn’t think that was a particularly sound piece of work, myself.
It would be hard for Rowling to have come up with anything more contradictory to the message that she had presumably been harping on, since the beginning of the series, regarding the importance of our choices than the layout she had now given us.
The sly, cruel, manipulative young Tommy Riddle we met in the orphanage presents us with no real problems. We’d all rather expected him to have been that kind of kid all along. And all of his subsequent actions read according to our expectations as well.
But why did she have to depict Tom Riddle’s particular brand of evil as being both effectively hereditary, and inevitable? (Or to pretend to depict it so.)
“Bad seed” hypothesis effectively trump any issue of choices. “He’s evil because he was born evil” isn’t an illustration of any kind of choice.
We also got some reasonably solid evidence that it wasn’t being raised in an orphanage that made him what he was, either. Harry admitted to himself that Tom Riddle’s orphanage would have been a grim place to have grown up, but I suspect that, given the option, Harry might have chosen it over life with the Dursleys. Harry would have probably managed to be at least modestly happy in that orphanage. He might at least have had friends.
But Mrs Cole assures us that Tom was “a funny boy” from infancy; seldom cried, and as he got older was ...odd.
In short, he was already on the sociopath’s road, only needing a little personal motivation to spur him along the way. The first time one of the older children tried to bully him he would have acquired that. His “choices” had probably all been made by the time he was three.
And that just didn’t fit with what Rowling claimed was her message.
So; either she was falsifying her message, she didn’t really understand it herself, or there was some additional factor that she hadn’t told us yet, because, for all of his efforts, Albus didn’t really have the whole picture.
Albus admitted that he makes mistakes.
In fact he claimed that his mistakes were likely to be huge ones.
And he didn’t tell anyone everything he knew.
Given that Rowling was already laying new trails of gunpowder to blow us all up with regarding no shortage of other issues raised in HBP, it really didn’t feel like it was beyond reach of imagination that Albus might have missed something.
Tom Riddle had a lot of secrets. It was very unlikely that we’d managed to discover them all. Particularly not in only one book.
I was willing to concede that this reading of the matter did have a strong feeling of admiring the “Martian canals” and it might turn out to be just as much of an optical illusion as they had. But if it did, then there wasn’t a lot of likelihood that I was going to much enjoy the enshrinement of the escalating hypocrisies of all Rowling’s “Warriors for the Light” that seemed scheduled for the 7th book.
So, I was pinning my own hopes upon the reading that we were not going to have the whole story, until we had the whole story.
• • • •
But I’d been wrong before.
I took Rowling’s hints on there being a Christian theme to the resolution of the series at face value in the spring of 2005 when I applied my understanding of Christianity to spinning out the original iteration of the Premature Prediction (now spun off and reposted in the ‘Redeeming the Potterverse’ essay). In that I postulated a “redemption pattern” which allowed for the salvation of Harry, Tom, and the wizarding world itself. It wasn’t even that much of a stretch. The pieces were all there; it was all right out of the heroic journey monomyth; there wasn’t anything to absolutely contradict it in canon; I thought it worked.
But post-HBP, Rowling did not seem to be intending to go there. There would probably be no 11th-hour redemption for Tom Riddle. Which, given that he seems never to have been equipped to make prope choices — even from birth — at that stage of the proceedings came across as shoddy theology to match the flabby morality, enthroned hypocrisy, and situational ethics so conspicuously on parade through the Harry filter. But I did not yet have the “whole story” so followed that line of reasoning no further here.
Still, it did certainly look as though we ought to have taken Rowling at her word when she first started harping on the “he’s not really human” string all the way back in the first book.
And, frankly, that’s a Really Bad Sign on the order of poor little Billy Stubbs’s strangled rabbit for the final play-out of this series. Because, after deliberately bringing up the issue of the complexities pertaining to a face-off between good vs. evil, and the moral indefensibility of killing that she had been at such pains to raise, if her final message boils down to simply; “he’s evil. Kill him”, and that was always her real intention, then it was hard not to read the decision as both a cop-out and an example of blatant and pervasive moral cowardice.
Because “heroes” need to face up to the results of their own actions.
And killing somebody, even an evil somebody, is not a minor action.
• • • •
For that matter; heroes do NOT exist to have the way always smoothed for them by everybody else, to be catered to, and to be absolved of all responsibility for the things that they may be going to be forced to do in order to fulfill the Hero’s part, before they have even done it.
In the wizarding world, Harry Potter has been acclaimed as a hero from babyhood on the strength of his mother’s actions. He’s been told this. He knows this. But he has accepted the preferential treatment of an acclaimed hero because, if nothing else, he hadn’t properly known how not to. But the fact remains that being treated as a hero, did not make him one.
He had a battle thrust upon him at the end of GoF, and he acquitted himself well. But to escape from a trap does not necessarily make him a hero either.
In PoA the main actors of a positively Jacobean revenge tragedy ambushed him and threw him into the Hero’s rôle, and let him make the final decision as to how the action should play out. He went through the proper motions. And everyone appeared to be agreeing to play their appointed parts. But the minute they were out on the main grounds, Pettigrew tossed the script back in their faces and dodged out, and nobody seemed to have been prepared for that, despite what they all knew of Pettigrew’s past history.
In HBP he finally learned to follow orders. That didn’t make him a hero either.
The awareness of being regarded as a hero contributed to Harry’s leaping into ill-considered and unnecessary action at the end of both PS/SS and OotP. Both of which exercises ended with somebody’s death.
And in both cases, he would have done much better to stay out of the matter. In fact, in both cases the artifact that the whole scam was wrapped around had been quite safe until he meddled with things.
Only in CoS can Harry be legitimately said to have truly acted as a hero on his own initiative. No one else was going to rescue his best friend’s little sister if he didn’t. And no one else had the one quality that was needed to access where she had been taken.
When stripped of the usual glamour which tends to be draped around it, “Hero’s business” turns out to usually be a thoroughly nasty, dirty, dangerous, and sometimes thankless (and/or embarrassing) piece of work that you just have to go in and get done. And you cannot depend on being honored for it. But you do have to Take Responsibility for your actions.
Harry has a monumental problem with facing up to the consequences of his actions.
In GoF he inadvertently led Cedric Diggory into a death trap.
A few nightmares aside, he seems to have managed to get over any guilt regarding that mistake fairly quickly by distracting himself with paranoia over Voldemort’s anticipated future actions. None of which materialized for a year afterwards.
His foolhardiness (and forgetfulness over the fact that he HAD that 2-way mirror) in OotP got Sirius Black killed..
Before the day was out, he was in the process of deflecting the blame for that death onto Severus Snape, over a few utterly predictable spiteful comments that Snape had made months earlier, and onto Dumbledore for telling Sirius to stay at home where he was safe..
The following year in HBP he nearly killed another student by his own hand by rashly using an unknown spell in an impromptu duel.
That shocked and horrified him, yes. But once he got over the shock (which happened the minute he hitched up with a new girlfriend who applauded him for his actions) he sullenly resented the detentions that nearly committing manslaughter had earned him, because it took up his Saturdays and kept him out of a Quidditch game.
Harry Potter needed to learn a BIG lesson in personal responsibility.
Even if he IS a “hero”.
And, imho, he wasn’t a hero yet.
The function of a hero, in the kind of a story that Rowling seemed to be trying to convince us that this series was, is to remove the threat posed by the villain. This is not supposed to be glamorous. It is supposed to be necessary.
And we had met the villain. And, yes, he had to be stopped. Even if he could be absolved for his choices on the grounds that he was not ever equipped to make proper choices, he had to be stopped, much in the same way that a rabid dog has to be stopped. And everything Rowling did with the character had only served to dehumanize him.
And it was beginning to look as if the point of this exercise was so that when Harry finally vanquished the Dark Lord at the climax of the 7th book, he would be merely destroying a Horcrux rather than killing a man.
Item 12: A Very Good Hater
Or maybe not.
We could certainly be forgiven for anticipating that it would eventually come to that. Everything to that point certainly had led us to believe that in the end it would be Harry who had to personally destroy Voldemort. And this could certainly have been the direction Rowling intended to take it.
But there is no denying that it made for a very mixed message if on one hand killing another person is presented as the ultimate evil, one which may even split your immortal soul, and then to turn around and set it up that to kill Voldemort was somehow going to be wholesome, glorious and noble. It simply didn’t add up. Even if Voldemort “isn’t really human”. In the cosmic balance I suspected it would still read as killing a man.
Ergo: even if she didn’t take it there, I felt obligated to point out that when the matter was more closely examined, it turned out that she had given us enough winks and nudges, and strewn around a large enough bunch of hints for us to realize that she’d really given herself an astonishing amount of undisclosed wiggle-room, and a couple of viable “chicken-outs” which would keep Harry’s soul intact to the last page, but still take Voldemort out of the equation.
(I knew that it would happen. Within a couple of weeks after posting the updated essay collection, I knew that somebody would be bound to ask me a question, and I would be forced to push something a few yards further down the track to the point that something else would click into place. It always has.)
• • • •
So, ask yourself:
Given everything that Dumbledore has ever had to say on the subject throughout the series — and in particular what he had to say on the issue in HBP — he could hardly WANT to see Harry Potter, charter member of the “Pure Hearts Club,” compromise the integrity of his soul by killing Lord Voldemort, could he?
(Assuming that killing somebody in an open fight, in self defense, would do that anyway. Which upon reflection is looking like somewhat less than a certainty.)
But even Dumbledore appeared to believe that it must inevitably come to that. He admitted to Harry that he realized that Harry would never rest until he at least made the attempt to destroy his enemy.
And therein lay a possible, very muddy, detour on the bumpy road to redemption; for Albus must have known that to be able to cast an effective killing curse, one has to be capable of the bitterest sort of hatred. Mere righteous anger will probably not sustain a killing curse any more than it will sustain Cruciatus.
Which I thought might go some way towards explaining the totally bizarre game of good-cop/bad-cop that he and Severus Snape had been playing with Harry ever since Harry first showed up at the school.
For it is clear to the reader that for some as yet unexplained reason, it appeared to be vitally necessary for Harry Potter to hate Severus Snape.
Snape had gone out of his way to teach the boy to hate him. He never eased up on this extra credit course of study for a minute. And; for all that Dumbledore always insisted that Harry scrupulously maintain all of the outward forms of respect and good manners in his form of address concerning Professor Snape, he did little to deflect this process; only steadfastly defending his own choice to trust the man. This cannot be accidental.
And by this time, it did not seem to be merely necessary on the “meta” level, for Rowling’s purposes, either. I did not think that she was throwing Harry-hates-Snape into the pot to serve as a pinch of instant conflict, the way so many fanfic authors tossed in Voldemort-suspects-Snape by the handfuls over the course of the 3-year summer. The characters and the storyline genuinely seemed to need this. And at that point we could still only feebly try to determine why. And, in common with just about everything else to do with Severus Snape, I suspected the true reason comes lumbered with a considerable (and as yet unrevealed) backstory.
• • • •
More recently, I had come to the conclusion that for Harry to hate Snape, and to be known to hate Snape was a source of protection for Snape.
Snape and Albus must have always known that if Voldemort was not dead, their work was not done. There was always the possibility that he might manage to return and that Snape was going to have to work his way inside the DEs again in order to bring about a final defeat.
Consequently, their purposes would be best served by keeping Harry well away from him.
Of course the whole issue got further complicated by Voldemort’s attempt to return in Harry’s first year. With Tom actually in the school and monitoring everyone’s actions there was no way that Snape could afford to take anything but an adversarial stance against Harry Potter. And Quirrell shoved his oar in at the end of the year with the whole “he hated your father too” thread, which just kept the cauldron a-bubbling.
But the fact that Snape took the opportunity to immediately re-open hostilities as soon as Harry and Ron finally managed to land the Ford Anglia in the Willow suggests that to keep these two key characters from ever finding common ground was very much, and very deliberately in somebody’s best interests.
Item 13: The One with the Power
Still, for all of the weight of significance that this, now fully developed, hatred of Severus Snape may have for Harry, it doesn’t really get us a whole lot further toward a satisfactory conclusion regarding the problem presented by Lord Voldemort.
And on that subject, just as in the matter of the Prophecy, I think that for all his supposed cleverness and wisdom, Albus Dumbledore may have missed the point.
We need to keep reminding ourselves that Albus Dumbledore was not JK Rowling. His average was better than just about anyone else’s in the story, but he didn’t necessarily know everything that was going on. And his reading of the requirements of the situation was not necessarily that of the author.
Because if a Prophecy is a load of old pants, then it’s all a load of old pants.
Albus claimed to believe, and explained to Harry, that Prophecies usually aren’t anything until someone tries to do something about them. Which is why the Ministry has established that policy of suppressing them. Tom Riddle — who for all his brilliance and talent is fundamentally very unwise — let himself be tricked into trying to prevent this one from coming true. By doing so, he set up the very conditions that the Prophecy describes.
But, Albus says, it’s a Prophecy, and Prophecies are still a load of old pants, and if Tom and Harry choose to shake hands and go their separate ways nothing whatsoever would happen. The rest of the Prophecy would probably never play out.
Or, at least not according to Albus Dumbledore. Who admits that he never studied Divination.
That may be a part of the problem.
Of course the likelihood of a truce between Tom and Harry was always zilch, so there is no point in dwelling on it. Tom could never be trusted to leave bad enough alone, and Harry simply could not agree to live his life perpetually looking over his shoulder for the attack that he knew must surely come. That is no kind of life. Until the issue with the Dark Lord was settled, he didn’t “have a life”.
But Albus seems to have overlooked the fact that Prophecies are not innocent, they do not ever mean well, and that their entire purpose is to deceive the listener into bringing about his own ruin.
And he listened to that one
And it ruined him. Albus Dumbledore trapped himself (and Harry) every bit as thoroughly as he trapped Tom Riddle by letting that Prophecy escape. (More than just that. By calling attention to it.) The gamble appeared to be paying off at that point. But the price was astronomically high, and it hadn’t ever been necessary.
In fact, I thought it could be the biggest mistake Harry ever made to try. Right up to and including the possibility that if he failed, prematurely, Voldemort wasn’t going anywhere without a half-dozen more lives lost, assuming enough people would know about the Horcruxes by that point to know that they had to find and destroy them. And, at the moment it looked like way too many people — and particularly Albus Dumbledore — have been determined to protect Tom Riddle’s secrets for him for that to be likely.
Even Prophecies have to play by their own rules.
However much they may lie about those rules.
Which they do. Or, as near to lying as makes no difference.
(ETA: the actual situation turns out to have been even worse than that. Each one of the seven Horcruxes was finally destroyed by a different person. So there was demonstrably no need for a super-special, mystic hero in order to get rid of the Horcruxes. And the inadvertent Harrycrux wouldn’t have even existed if Albus had kept that Prophecy from escaping. Far from making it easier to get rid of Voldemort, the Harrycrux only complicated matters, by adding an additional and very fiddly obstacle to the project.)
• • • •
Albus did do his best to defuse the “And either must die by the hand of the other” clause when he was speaking of it to Harry. And I thought that was smart of him, because that statement struck me as a piece of deliberate misdirection calculated to goad the hearer into inadvisable action of the sort which is much better ignored.
But eliminate that clause, and what are you left with?
And, no. I was not one of those ingenious sorts who were out doing various contortions, trying to prove that the “other” mentioned in the text of the Prophecy was some additional, as yet undetermined third party, who was intrinsic to this mess. There are plenty of other 3rd parties already tied up in this knot, but there was no mysterious “other” that the Prophecy is referring to. The Prophecy was only concerned with the Dark Lord and the child. Or rather; “the One with the Power”.
The power to “vanquish” the Dark Lord.
It doesn’t say kill, does it?
In fact, the Prophecy never does say kill, although it does say “die”.
Albus Dumbledore claimed to be convinced that the specific power that Harry possessed was nothing less than the power of deep human attachment, which is certainly a power that Tom Riddle knows not; and Albus contended that this was the power that would ultimately bring down Lord Voldemort.
I certainly could not say that he was wrong. In fact, I agreed that the power of human attachment would almost certainly be a major part of what eventually brought Voldemort down. (Oh, as if.)
After all, it had certainly thwarted him at every confrontation so far.
In 1981 Lily’s love for her child destroyed his body and threw him into more than a decade of spectral existence.
In 1992 the residual effects of Lily’s sacrifice still kept him from touching Harry, contributed to destroying Quirrell’s body — that he had taken over — and threw him back into that spectral existence.
In 1993 Harry’s professed loyalty to Dumbledore brought him not only the weapon necessary to kill the Basilisk, but Fawkes, who assisted him in the battle and was able to heal him of the Basilisk’s poison.
In 1995 the echoes of his own victims in support for the child he had abducted, used, and intended to kill impeded Voldemort long enough to allow Harry to escape him.
In 1996 Harry’s attachment to Sirius seems to have been sufficient to throw Voldemort out of his head.
So it was not at all unreasonable to suppose that the ability to form such attachments would contribute to the final outcome of the showdown which was expected in the spring of 1998, too.
But, as I point out in the essay concerning the Prophecy; in the Potterverse the power of human attachment is not exactly thin on the ground. And Harry’s possession of this quality was neither broader nor deeper than that of most of the other people we have met there.
Despite our expectations, I thought that it was not necessarily Harry’s supposedly great power of attachment which was the relevant factor. At that point, I thought that Harry’s true advantage might lie very much elsewhere insofar as finding a final answer to the seven Riddles goes.
In fact; the indications were that Harry’s specific power to vanquish the Dark Lord might lie in a direction that Albus seemed not to have even considered.
Or at least he did not ever admit to it.
Nor, in consideration, was I wrong about that. But the essay devoted to ‘The Power He “Knows Not”’ wasn’t added to the collection until some time after canon closed. You can find that one in the Missed Opportunities’ sub-collection.
• • • •
As I point out in the essays regarding the Horcruxes; we didn’t really know how to destroy one when we found it, did we? Of course you probably could pitch them through the Veil. But pitching them through the Veil is rather on the order of a trek up Mt Doom. For all that I was pretty sure we would get back to Hall of the Veil eventually, I wasn’t convinced that was how Rowling intended to solve that particular part of the problem. So far as we knew to date, the only thing that appeared to destroy a Horcrux was to break the artifact that it was created from to let the soul fragment out.
But to destroy the artifact without killing yourself in the process might be a lot easier said than done. If even Dumbledore allegedly nearly got fatally blasted by a curse which was invoked attempting to do it (and one did believe that Albus would not have approached the problem incautiously), (ETA: well, so we thought then) it sounds like Riddle did a very good job of protecting his Horcruxes.
Of course it also looked like he did not put the same amount of work into protecting all of them. The Locket — if the one we saw at #12 was the Horcrux — was being passed hand to hand around the room without ill-effect. The Diary, as a weapon, was supposedly able to protect itself, and yet it was destroyed by a 12-year-old in what appears to be a bit of a fluke. Harry came to no harm at all by destroying the book. (Yes, the Basilisk nearly killed him, but the Basilisk wasn’t the Horcrux.)
Or was that the point?
Let’s run that all past us again.
Point: Albus Dumbledore, believed by many to be the greatest wizard of modern times, destroyed a Horcrux and allegedly would have died of it right then, but for his own prodigious skills and the timely intervention of Severus Snape. The curse was not ended, however. He had a blasted wand hand until the day of his death. Which followed in less than a year.
Point: 12-year-old Harry Potter destroyed a Horcrux and got himself shrieked at and splattered with ink.
Maybe, just maybe, that wasn’t the fluke it sounds like.
I suspected that — if he chose to, Lord Voldemort could probably destroy any of the bloody things without taking any additional harm from it, too. It would read him as a part of itself, and raise no automatic defenses.
Maybe carrying your ID as the 6th Horcrux around on your forehead means you can disarm any of the others without getting blown up by it. (The power to “vanquish” the Dark Lord.) Maybe that’s what the Prophecy’s claim that Voldemort marked him as his equal amounts to. The power to vanquish the Dark Lord was the power to destroy the Horcruxes.
Maybe Harry’s job wasn’t to destroy Voldemort himself at all. Harry’s job was just to destroy the Horcruxes. Trying to destroy Voldemort himself could be as much of a snare and a delusion as Voldemort’s attempt to protect himself by murdering Harry.
After all, repeat: once the bloody Horcruxes are out of action, Tom will be mortal again. ANYONE can kill him.
And who was closest to him now?
(What was that again about the two bishops, between them, covering the whole board?)
• • • •
I really was swinging round to the viewpoint that being the 6th Horcrux might enable Harry to destroy the damned things without being blasted for his trouble. It might even help him recognize one when he finds it.
Although it certainly didn’t do so as readily as he needed it to, not if that locket in Grimmauld Place was one of them. And youth, sheer ignorance and inexperience don’t really explain his not having had any particular reaction to the Diary. Or the Diary Revenant, either. I suspect that Rowling simply dropped the ball there. Or couldn't bear to give the readers a viable clue.
But at least it still suggested that we might not be getting quite such a mixed message after all. Dumbledore would hardly want Harry Potter to be forced into killing someone directly, even if it was in self defense, or by the way of a necessary execution. It’s still killing.
But destroying Horcruxes, evidently isn’t.
It might be Snape who would get the honor of actually killing Voldemort.
Frankly I was half hoping to see Snape to show up at the climax of the series like the 7th cavalry with Fawkes on his shoulder. That would be one in the eye for Harry. It wasn’t just Dumbledore who trusted Snape.
Item 14: And Either Must Die...
And for that matter, so long as we are playing around with the bloody Prophecy, one of the boards I hang out on eventually attempted to do a closer analysis of the “And either must die at the hand of the other” clause of the fool thing.
Frankly, given the inherently garbled obstructionism of prophecy-speak (which Swythyv has so appropriately christened bafflegab) I doubted that we were going to arrive at any solid conclusions there. But it made for a couple of reasonably interesting exchanges. The following was my own contribution (I left the verb tenses alone in this one, the discussion was some years ago, after all):
• • • •
“... and either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives...”
And just what does that boil down to?
Actually the whole statement feels like a change of subject when taken with the rest of the comments and statements in that Prophecy.
Frankly, from where I’m standing, it still sounds like a gaudy lure to unwise action. Tom Riddle was tempted into unwise action merely by the statement that the one with the power to vanquish him would be born to those who had thrice defied him, born as the 7th month dies. I get the feeling that the “And either must die at the hand of the other” line is the lure to tempt Harry into doing something stupid as well.
But it does still have to mean something.
So, what’s the catch? It stands to reason that there is a catch.
Well, right off the top; the “at” clanks upon the ear, and I don’t think that it is there by accident. Wouldn’t you expect the thing to say that either must die “by” the hand of the other if it meant one of them was supposed to kill the other? In normal usage something that is “at” hand, is merely something in proximity.
Which it would certainly chime in tune with the drum that was being banged on all through book 6 that killing other people is wrong, and it can damage your own soul to do it. That being the case, you hardly get the message that either Albus or the author actively want Harry to kill Voldemort directly.
• • • •
Do you know; I am now wondering whether that was the point of Albus hauling Harry off to the sea cave and ordering Harry to poison him. Because I am half convinced that if Albus is dead, he died of the poison, not Snape’s AK. And yet, if this is the case, although Albus technically died by Harry’s hand (or was that “at”?), his death was, if anything, assisted suicide not murder. Nevertheless, I seriously doubt that Harry’s soul took any kind of damage from it. No more than it was split by inadvertently leading Cedric into a death trap.
So does “at” in Prophecy-speak mean, to cause a death, but not do the killing oneself? Knock him through the Veil, rather than AK him?
Or does it just mean that the task requires proximity? If the final showdown takes place in the death chamber of the DoM, proximity could matter. It could matter a lot.
If the “vanquished” soul fragments pass through the Veil when they are forced out of the Horcruxes, they might exert some sort of magnetic pull on their owner (or Harry) if you can get him close enough to the Veil to be subject to it.
After all, if a soul is in 7 parts, having five of them on the other side of the Veil could constitute a risk for the other two if they get in range. The last time Harry was there, there was only one of those fragments on the other side to draw him, but he did seem to feel a pull, didn’t he?
(Let’s have a wrestling match on the footpath above the Richenbach falls, why don’t we? Somebody died there, but nobody murdered anybody.)
We probably ought in fairness to remember that it wasn’t just Harry who felt that pull. Luna, Neville, and Ginny were also drawn to the Veil. In contrast, Ron was completely unaffected by it, and Hermione seems to have been repulsed, and actively frightened by it. Also, Harry, Ginny, and Neville all seem to have needed to be physically pulled away from it, while somehow Luna either managed to pull herself back on her own, or was not so deeply affected (possibly due to having been able to detach herself and analyze what the Veil was, and what she was hearing?). This might be a clue that while they were all four affected, they did not necessarily all experience the same thing.
And, once there are six parts of Tom Riddle’s soul on the other side of the Veil, might that pull the final one out of Harry? Particularly if he had the presence of mind to take a penknife or a slicing hex to the scar?
Especially if Ron and Hermione grab hold of him to keep him from going through it physically. (Friendship; the power the Dark Lord knows not. I doubt that, even if LV does show up with minions that they would do squat to save him. Although Bellatrix might just follow him in.)
• • • •
And then there is the “for neither can live while the other survives” bit. In the opaque language of Prophecies, evidently neither of them is “living” now. Harry certainly doesn’t “have a life”. And Voldemort is in some weird sort of half, or three-quarters life, housed in a body cobbled together to simulate his previous one. But he is quite literally, “not all there”.
When you stop to think about it, even the Lord Voldemort identity was created by screwing about with his true name and leaving inconvenient — and potentially the most significant — parts out of it. (I,A,M, Lord Voldemort) This pretty accurately reflects his spiritual state ever since he created the first of his collection of Horcruxes. “Lord Voldemort” is an artificial construct in every fundamental way; physically, spiritually, and even the identity of Lord Voldemort. The only thing left of Tom Riddle that is intact is his memory.
And essentially, Tom hasn’t really been “all there” since he was Harry’s age.
Maybe one should just zap him with Obliviate and steer him through the Veil.
But what I’m now puzzling over is the “and neither can live” statement when viewed from a quasi-metaphysical standpoint. The two “real” people involved here are/were Harry Potter and Tom Riddle. The “Lord Voldemort” construction is as bogus as its (Muggle-style) title, although it seems to have taken on a half-life of its own. And what the semantic problem all appears to hinge upon is what in prophecy-speak defines the verb “to live”?
Both Harry and Tom are currently “alive,” at least in a technical sense. But the artificial Voldemort merely “survives”.
• • • •
There is certainly no question of Tom truly “living” so long as his soul is in pieces, and the pieces are scattered to the four winds and distributed on both sides of the Veil. Regardless of whether Harry survives or not, Tom will only be able to “live” once the parts are reintegrated. And that is clearly impossible this side of the Veil.
And, as for Harry; for all that he has derived some advantages from carrying around a piece of somebody else’s soul as well as his own, it is not exactly doing him any day-to-day good. And I am not convinced that it will prove any advantage in a face-to-face duel with its original owner. Once he has disarmed the other (two?) (three?) remaining Horcruxes, he needs to get rid of it ASAP. Which will probably best be accomplished in the chamber with the Veil.
Which brings us back to the “...and either must die...” statement as a whole. I’ve run into some amazing backbends being performed by determined fans who fight the good fight insisting that “the other” mentioned in the Prophecy has to be some as yet undetermined 3rd party. I flatly don’t buy it. The Prophecy speaks of the One, and the Dark Lord and I don’t think that it is concerned with 3rd-parties.
But how does it read if you solidly identify “the other” as the “Lord Voldemort” construction?
“... and either (Tom or Harry) must die at the hand of (the artificial) Lord Voldemort, because neither can live while “Lord Voldemort” survives...”
It really doesn’t come across as complete nonsense, does it?
It sounds rather as if one needs to maneuver Voldemort into destroying himself.
• • • •
Well; it’s not as if it hasn’t been done before.
Twice, in fact.
Albus set him up for targeting the subject of a Prophecy, and Lily (ETA: inadvertently) maneuvered him into killing her instead of Harry. We all know what that led to.
And it isn’t like he hasn’t been gradually destroying Tom Riddle from the day he created his first Horcrux.
If not before.
• • • •
ETA: I am croggled. I got that issue absolutely, totally, completely right.
Yes, there was more to it than that, of course. But “Voldemort” was “the Other”, and neither could live in his proximity. Harry, because Voldemort would keep trying to murder him, and the Tom fragment because it went into convulsions whenever he showed up. And I suspect that only Voldemort could have killed the fragment without killing Harry as well. And quite possibly only by trying to use the frapping Elder Wand to do it, too. Of course the prophecy was completely bas-ackward in its pronouncement. The truth was that neither Harry nor Tom could die so long as both survived — in Harry.