Fiction – audiobook. Read by Jim Dale. Listening Library, 2007. 21 hours, 45 minutes. Library copy.
Rather than return to Hogwarts for his seventh and final year at the wizarding academy, Harry Potter decides to finish Albus Dumbledore’s quest to find and destroy Voldemort’s horcruxs in order to vanquish the Dark Lord once and for all. The task was entrusted to Harry and Harry alone, although Dumbledore gave him permission to Ron and Hermione, and Harry refuses to include the members of the Order of the Phoenix in his plans.
A prudent choice given someone in the order leaked the plans to move Harry after he comes of age and, thus, is no longer protected by his mother’s love and then leaked where he was hiding out with the Weasley family. During the second ambush by the Death Eaters, the Golden Trio — Hermione, Harry, and Ron — manage to escape to London and spend much of the year they would have spent at Hogwarts on the lam moving around the countryside as they try to formulate a plan to find and destroy the remaining horcruxs. The book culminates in what been’s expected since the first novel in the series — an epic battle between Harry with his friends by his side and Voldemort with his Death Eaters.
This novel was the one I was most excited about rereading as I made my way through the series for a two reasons: (1) I had such a emotional reaction to the death of two characters in this book that I wanted to see if that still held true and (2) I remembered the details of this book the least since I read it when was first released and then never picked it up again. The final battle and the way Harry kills Voldemort has always stuck with me, but the process of getting there? Largely forgotten, with the exception of Hermione, Harry, and Ron impersonating others to gain access to the Ministry and to Gringotts.
Rowling makes the interesting choice to separate and isolate her three main characters from the network of friends and family they have built up over the past six books. It seems to run counter to message of the other books: that you’re never truly alone if you know how to give and receive love. And then she separates them further by having Ron abandon Hermione and Harry, which helped to amplify just how much I loathe Ron Weasley.
I know, I know, he’s supposed to be the unsung hero of this book. He gives Harry the only real family he has ever known; he (rather suddenly) remembers parseltongue. He returns in time to save Harry from an icy death; he retrieves the basilisk fangs needed to destroy one of the horcruxes. He expresses concern for the House Elves demonstrating a growth in his maturity and ability to empathize with a marginalized group of individuals that he’s been raised to believe are happy in their role as slaves to the Wizarding community.
Yet he also knows how to play the victim card really, really well and I, personally, have zero tolerance for people who spend their lives whining. Take a few minutes to be sad and then make a plan to move forward with your life. And while I understand the locket amplified all his insecurities, it had the same effect on Hermione and Harry — who have their own insecurities about their places in the wizarding world — and yet those two managed to push past their insecurities to be there for each other. Someone needed to tell Ron to go sit in the car while everyone else had fun saving the world, I swear.
Separating out the Golden Trio from the rest of the characters was a particularly interesting choice when you consider how much of this book is devoted to expanding out the backstories of other characters, particularly Severus Snape and Dumbledore. Snape is unapologetically one of my favorite characters in this series, and his redemption in Harry’s eyes will always be one of the more savory aspects of this novel for me. But I also love how Harry has to learn that Dumbledore wasn’t always a hero, that he made mistakes as a young man that forever altered his life and how he chose to respond to evil within the wizarding world.
One of the hardest things about growing up is learning that your heroes are fallible; one of the best things about growing up is learning how multifaceted people, even your so-called villains, are. I love how Rowling allows the reader to experience this lesson along with Harry filled with all the self-doubt, shock, and growth that accompanies it. The ability of the reader to “grow up” with Harry is one of the greatest strengths of Rowling’s series, and I hope this is something new readers will get to experience now that the series is completed and there is no need to wait between books.
I would be remiss to post my thoughts without addresses the epilogue, which I’ve repeatedly seen compared to bad fanfiction. That was, admittedly, my reaction when I first read the book, especially when it comes to the names chosen for the future Potter offspring. I had a hard time imaging someone who lived such an exciting life would be happy settling down, raising three children, and doing rather mundane tasks like school drop-off.
Now that I’m older, I understand what Rowlings was trying to give Harry, Hermione, and Ron with the epilogue: a family filled with love living in a safe society that accepts them regardless of whether or not they’re Muggle-born, half-blood, or pure-blood. I can only hope the other marginalized beings in this series — the house elves and the squibs — received their own boring lives in the end, too.