And so we come to it at last. The conclusion to the series, and Harry Potter’s greatest moment.
And that moment is not his final defeat of Voldemort, though we’ll discuss that too. No, the watershed moment for Harry and the series itself was his journey out the castle, to the woods, to meet his death.
“The Forest Again” was the most powerful chapter of the seven books, I thought. Immediately after seeing Snape’s memories, he accepts the truth of what Dumbledore had revealed: that Harry must die. He faces fear and doubt, all mixed together in a sort of poignant numbness. But right away, he’s also resolved to it. He doesn’t try to run; he knows there’s no point. This was his destiny all along.
While struggling with the weightier issue of life and death, Harry retains an impressive clarity. He still has the foresight to warn Neville about Nagini, adding to the chances that the snake would be destroyed after he’s gone. Ginny was a bigger test. I desperately wanted him to reveal himself to her, tell her how he felt about her. I might not have been inspired by their relationship up to that point, but I couldn’t not be moved by his longing as he passed her by.
By the time he reaches the forest, his resolve is weakening, and Rowling makes you feel the effort in every step. Heck, my own resolve was weak by that point. I knew he would ultimately be ok, but there’s something so immersive about that chapter that you lose yourself in it, and lose any knowledge outside of what Harry is feeling.
With that, we get the welcome return of his parents, Sirius, and Lupin. This was always my favorite scene in the films, the only one that moved me to the brink of tears before reading the books. As expected, it’s even better here. The comfort and reassurance he derives from these loved ones wraps around you like a warm blanket as you hyperventilate your way through that emotional scene.
If this were the way Harry really died, I would have been fine with it. It would have been tough to see him truly cut down at the end of this long, winding adventure, but it was so powerful, it would have made a meaningful end. The calm, understated confrontation between Harry and Voldemort felt like an organic growth from the tone of the rest of the chapter. Harry has surrendered to fate, to death, sacrificing himself so that others might live.
I had to take a few deep breaths after that. I’m sure if you were reading it for the first time without knowing the ending, you might race immediately to the next page to find what happens next, after the seeming death of our hero. But I need a minute to recover from that chapter. It was draining in the best possible way.
From there, we get Harry’s semi-afterlife scene, including a welcome return from Dumbledore. To be honest, I felt like this chapter perhaps went on a little too long; the various recounts and explanations helped give needed resolution to a few matters, so I really don’t know how you could cut much from it; after all that Harry learned about Dumbledore in this book, we needed to see them see each other, plainly and as they really were, and come to terms with all that has happened. Still, I just felt like the volume of exposition or backstory took away some from the serenity of that place.
Harry returns, and is greeted by the closest thing we see to redemption for the Malfoys: Narcissa’s lie about whether he was alive. He recognizes that she no longer cares about whether Voldemort wins, but just wants to find her son. My first thought was that this blatant self-interest adds no redemptive quality to the family. But the more I think about it, the more inclined I am to view at least Narcissa more favorably. Whatever awful flaws she and her family have, she has enough genuine love for her son that she’s willing to risk everything for a chance to find him again. Lying was really quite a risk; the other Death Eaters could easily have seen during the walk that Harry was actually alive (especially because he keeps insisting on peeking out to see what’s happening). Voldemort would have killed her for lying, and Draco would have been no better off. But she takes a risk so she can see her son again. It hardly puts the Malfoys on the side of angels, but it reinforces that they’re more cowardly than pure evil. I feel a little better about them not receiving any more serious retribution for their previous crimes throughout the series. Only a little, though.
Upon the return to Hogwarts, I think we can safely assume that everyone would still have risen up against Voldemort. Obviously, Hermione, McGonagall, and the remaining Weasleys, among many others, would have fought to the death regardless. But none of them make that first charge. It’s Neville Longbottom: the man, the wizard, the legend. If you want to look at it that way, the HP series is bookended by Neville saving the day. Gryffindor only wins in Sorcerer’s Stone because Neville stood up for what seemed right. And Voldemort is only defeated because Neville’s suicidal charge shows the bravery to draw the Sword of Gryffindor and slay the beast. A nice bonus in the book version is that Harry has to secretly cast a Shield Charm between Neville and Voldemort right after. That means Neville acted while completely open to Voldemort, ready for the fact that he might be killed within a second of chopping off the snake’s head. But Harry told him it had to be done, so he did it. You’re the greatest, Neville.
Shortly after, another Voldemort lieutenant gets taken out by another unexpected source. Molly Weasley drops the first and last B-word of the series before killing Bellatrix. We’ve been led to believe Bellatrix is one of the most powerful among the Death Eaters, and this is the first time we’ve ever seen Molly fight. I like to imagine that Molly has a variable power level. Under normal circumstances, she’s normally powerful and skilled, content to use her magic around the house. But threaten one of her children, and she becomes MOLLY WEASLEY: DEVOURER OF WORLDS and is nearly unbeatable.
The climax is mildly anticlimactic. Harry acts like an old Bond villain, feeling the need to explain to Voldemort how and why he’ll be able to defeat him. The readers are the ones who really need that explanation, confirming what we expected about the wands. And I like that Voldemort has to feel dread before dying. But they circle each other and talk for like five pages. Then it ends with Voldemort’s own curse rebounding on him, perhaps to spare Rowling from having her innocent hero deliberately kill. It was still satisfying, but I’m not sure that moment was all it could be. Though, in fairness, that would be an almost impossible to moment to write after so much buildup.
I yelled at Harry for not disposing of the Deathly Hallows better. We just learned like five minutes ago that you only have to disarm, not kill, the owner of the Elder Wand to become its new master, yet his plan is to rob it of its power by dying a natural death. But until that death, if he gets disarmed once, someone else can go get the wand. Also, maybe go find the Resurrection Stone and hide it more thoroughly than just on the ground somewhere.
I have little to say about the epilogue. It was sweet, in its way, to see the main trio seeing their own children off to Hogwarts, thus completing the cycle where we began the series. I was disappointed that we don’t learn more about what their lives have become; we watched them complete all this magical education only to never find out what they use it for the rest of their lives. (Except Neville, who’s now an herbology professor. Well done, sir.) But we can see that they’re happy, and we know that whatever they lives have become, at least they’re getting to live them. And when that conclusion seemed so perilously uncertain for seven books, perhaps that’s the point.
And like that, the series, like all good things, must come to an end.