Note: I apologize for the very long wait for this chapter read-through.
The final chapter starts off with Harry “lying facedown on the ground again” (724). The word “again” here relates to the start of the previous chapter where Harry “lay facedown, listening to the silence” (705). There is commotion around Voldemort because he seems to have passed out. What happened to the Dark Lord? This question relates to what exactly was that thing at King’s Cross that “had the form of a small, naked child, curled on the ground, its skin raw and rough, flayed-looking…” (706)? One theory is that it was the piece of Voldemort’s soul that was in Harry. This would make sense if not for the fact that Voldemort destroyed the Horcrux by using Avada Kedavra on Harry. Why would the soul fragment be at King’s Cross when it was destroyed? The other theory, one that is supported by the novel, is that it is actually Voldemort himself, de-souled and grotesque because of his dabbling in that dark, macabre magic of making Horcruxes. Consider J.K. Rowling’s thoughts on the matter:
It is the last piece of soul Voldemort possesses. When Voldemort attacks Harry, they both fall temporarily unconscious, and both their souls – Harry’s undamaged and healthy, Voldemort’s stunted and maimed – appear in the limbo where Harry meets Dumbledore.
Harry’s thoughts on page 725 support this:
The Death Eaters had been huddled around Voldemort, who seemed to have fallen to the ground. Something had happened when he had hit Harry with the Killing Curse. Had Voldemort too collapsed? It seemed like it. And both of them had fallen briefly unconscious and both of them had now returned….
Notice the part where it says “both of them had fallen briefly unconscious and both of them had now returned”. This suggests that both of their souls were in limbo at King’s Cross. This revelation (at least to Harry) brings up another question: why did Voldemort fall unconscious also when he “killed” Harry? How come the Elder Wand didn’t kill Voldemort then? The answer lies in Harry’s blood as Rowling wrote on her website:
Having taken Harry’s blood into himself, Voldemort is keeping alive Lily’s protective power over Harry. So Voldemort himself acts almost like a Horcrux for Harry – except that the power of Lily’s sacrifice is a positive force that not only continues to tether Harry to life, but gives Voldemort himself one last chance (Dumbledore refers to this last hope in chapter 35). Voldemort has unwittingly put a few drops of goodness back inside himself; if he had repented, he could have been healed more deeply than anyone would have supposed. But, of course, he refused to feel remorse.
Voldemort is also using the Elder Wand – the wand that is really Harry’s. It does not work properly against its true owner; no curse Voldemort casts on Harry functions properly; neither the Cruciatus curse nor the Killing Curse. The Avada Kedavra curse, however, is so powerful that it does hurt Harry, and also succeeds in killing the part of him that is not truly him, in other words, the fragment of Voldemort’s own soul still clinging to his. The curse also disables Harry severely enough that he could have succumbed to death if he had chosen that path (again, Dumbledore says he has a choice whether or not to wake up). But Harry does decide to struggle back to consciousness, capitalises on Lily’s ‘escape route’, and pulls himself back to the realm of the living.
When Bellatrix offers to help Voldemort, the Dark Lord says, “I do not require assistance” (725). This parallels once again the previous chapter where Dumbledore tells Harry “You cannot help” (707) and “There is no help possible” (709), and ultimately foreshadows Voldemort’s fate when he refuses to have any remorse for anything he’s done throughout his life. A temporarily weakened Voldemort contrasts greatly with a weakened Dumbledore who allows Harry to help him after he’s drunken the potion at the cave in Half-Blood Prince and places his full faith and trust in Harry to get the both of them back to Hogsmeade. Voldemort will not allow himself to be helped because he cannot feel or be vulnerable. Dark Lords do not require assistance especially in the triumph of the moment.
Narcissa Malfoy defies Voldemort once again. Before, Narcissa spoke of the Dark Lord’s plans to use her son Draco to murder Dumbledore to Severus Snape in the “Spinner’s End” chapter in Half-Blood Prince. This time around she is sent to investigate whether Harry is really dead. She knows he’s alive after feeling his heart beating. She whispers to him asking about her son, “Is Draco alive? Is he in the castle?” (726). A mother’s love for her son (or daughter, as we are about to see) runs throughout the series. The primary example, of course, is Lily Potter. Just because Narcissa is a Slytherin and the wife of a prominent, albeit disgraced, Death Eater doesn’t mean she can’t love her son deeply and care about his well being. Perhaps this is a surprise because of Walburga Black, a Slytherin and mother of Sirius, who disinherited her son when he ran away from home to live with the Potter family. Walburga’s example serves as a parody to the motherly love shown by Narcissa here. Ron was more right than he would ever know when he says in Goblet of Fire, “Shame his mother likes him” (167).
Next we see “her nails pierced him” (726) before her hand withdraws from Harry’s chest and she finally declares him to be dead. For those looking for Christian symbolism here will be reminded of the nails in Jesus’ hand at the Crucifixion. A better example would be the spear that pierced Jesus’ side in order to confirm that he was dead before they took him off the cross (John 19.31-37). Of course Jesus was really dead at this point while Harry is pretending he is dead after he came back from limbo. Once again the novels are not meant to be allegory, but contain religious symbolism, especially from the Christian tradition (for more information on this chapter alone, see John Granger’s How Harry Cast His Spell, pp. 236-242). Harry is not Jesus, although he is a sort of messianic figure in the Wizarding World.
Voldemort, thinking himself victorious, subjects Harry’s body to further humiliation by using the Cruciatus Curse on a seemingly dead body. That Harry’s body doesn’t suffer pain owes to the fact that the Elder Wand doesn’t entirely work for Voldemort as the wand’s true allegiance is to Harry. It is interesting that Hagrid is chosen to carry the “dead” Harry. This harkens back to Sorcerer’s Stone where he was carrying the baby Harry in a “bundle of blankets” (14). There is a contrast though. In the first chapter of the first novel, Harry is sleeping, unaware of what he accomplished and unaware that he is the boy who lived. Now in the last chapter of the last novel, Harry feigns sleeping, fully aware of what he accomplished and fully aware that once again he is the Boy Who Lived.
Voldemort promises a “new world” (729), but already that new world is built on lies, namely the lie that the Wizarding World’s savior was killed while running for his life. The Dark Lord continues to perpetuate this lie to the survivors, but what is interesting is that Hagrid does not try to refute it. He was there in the Forest; he saw how Harry sacrificed himself. Perhaps he was so overcome with grief and had no fight left in him since the Good Hats were all outnumbered at this point. Voldemort continues to explain his plans for this new world, “There will be no more Sorting at Hogwarts School. There will be no more Houses. The emblem, shield, and colors of my noble ancestor, Salazar Slytherin, will suffice for everyone” (732). At first glance this seems to be a noble cause. Who wouldn’t want unity? It’s not so simple though. Unity here has a cost. They will be unified under the Slytherin banner. Not only that but going from what the Dark Lord told Neville: “you are a pureblood”, “you come of noble stock”, “We need your kind” (731); participation in this new world will most likely be based on magical ancestral origins. Muggle-borns will either be discriminated and regulated to second class status or expelled. We’ve seen this new world already. MAGIC IS MIGHT, anyone? This unity runs counter to the one shown in the founding of Hogwarts. There, four friends came together to found a school to train young witches and wizards in the midst of growing antagonism and fear toward magical people. It was only when Slytherin’s personal agenda started running counter to his three other friends that a falling out occurred. We shouldn’t expect any less from his Heir. True unity in the series has always been four houses coming together to expel an outside threat as the Sorting Hat has suggested twice (Order of the Phoenix, 204-207; Half-Blood Prince, 163). The survivors don’t want any part of Voldemort’s false new world or unity so it’s no wonder why they continue to fight.
All hell seems to break loose. Centaurs have joined the fight. Hagrid’s words earlier on page 728 (“Happy now, are yeh, that yeh didn’ fight, yeh cowardly bunch o’ nags? Are yeh happy Harry Potter’s – d-dead…?”) must have provoked them to enter the battle. A Voldemort in power would not be good for any magical creature so the proud Centaurs are fighting alongside wizards not to help as if they are subservient to humans, but because it would be mutually beneficial for both species, human and Centaur, to do so. This parallels Firenze’s words in the first novel, “I set myself against what is lurking in this forest, Bane, yes, with humans alongside me if I must” (257). Then someone was slaying Unicorns; now Voldemort has returned. Perhaps they are fighting out of loyalty to Dumbledore and Harry Potter. The Centaurs’ actions here are interesting because usually they concern themselves with reading the stars and their movements; they don’t concern themselves with humans or set themselves against the heavens. But there they are fighting here nonetheless. Winged creatures such as Thestrals and Buckbeak the Hippogriff are helping Hagrid’s brother dispatch Voldemort’s giants. Even the house-elves of Hogwarts join in led by Kreacher, who shouts for them to fight in the name of the man who owned the locket on his chest, Regulus Black. We haven’t even counted the Order members and the defenders of Hogwarts, students, families and friends, Hogsmeade inhabitants, and others. Great battle indeed. Two people need to be singled out here: Neville Longbottom and Molly Weasley. Neville charged out against Voldemort and shown his loyalty to both Harry and Dumbledore. This loyalty led to him pulling out the Sword of Gryffindor from the Sorting Hat, reminiscent of Harry in the Chamber of Secrets, and cutting off the head of Nagini, getting rid of Voldemort’s last Horcrux at Harry’s request two chapters ago. If that were not enough, he tag teams with Ron and battles Fenrir Greyback. And Mrs. Weasley? She sees her only daughter almost killed by Bellatrix Lestrange and yells out “NOT MY DAUGHTER, YOU BITCH!” (736) before running to duel her. Once again a mother’s love is shown here in a terribly awesome way here. She is protecting her daughter here. To put it in perspective, Death Eaters are adults and are trying to kill children. Mrs. Weasley’s actions and language are perfectly justified here. The battle seems to stop as onlookers from both sides are watching Voldemort duel Professors McGonagall and Slughorn, and Kingsley Shacklebolt as well as the Mrs. Weasley-Bellatrix duel. Bellatrix lives to offend people and she makes fun of now-dead Fred Weasley (“Freddie”) and threatens Mrs. Weasley’s remaining children. Mrs. Weasley says a great line, “You – will – never – touch – our – children – again!” before her curse hits Bellatrix, killing her.
Harry reveals himself to be alive and the conversation between him and Voldemort is on. Harry shows great poise and wisdom with no fear. He calls the Dark Lord by the name that he eschewed, along with his part muggle parentage, Tom Riddle. He is taking a page out of Dumbledore’s book. He also reveals that his sacrifice has protected him and his friends against the Dark Lord. Think of Lily’s sacrifice, but on a much grander scale. Nothing in the whole exchange though unnerved Voldemort as when Harry asked him to “Think, and try for some remorse, Riddle” (741). Like Rowling wrote on her website, if Voldemort would’ve shown remorse over his lifelong wrongs, he “could have been healed more deeply than anyone would have supposed.” He doesn’t go that route in the end, but why did Harry offer it to Voldemort in the first place? This is the man who killed his parents and who hasn’t stopped trying to kill him ever since. Harry knows what’s going to happen. He knows the Elder Wand’s true allegiance is to him. Revenge is not on display here. If it was then Harry would’ve used something different than a simple disarming charm. Why would Harry even tell Voldemort, “Does the wand in your hand know its last master was Disarmed? Because if it does…I am the true master of the Elder Wand” (743)? It’s as if Harry is continuing to warn Voldemort and force him to think about what he’s about to do. Harry has come a long way and his alchemical transformation is complete as the “red-gold glow” suggests. Voldemort in the end kills himself. He sent the killing curse, but the curse rebounds on himself, killing him. The flaw in the plan is really the flaw in two plans, Voldemort’s (become the Master of the Elder Wand and kill Harry) and Dumbledore’s (have Snape possess the Elder Wand), but Harry stands in the end. And to think it was all because he snatched Draco’s wand away from him at the Malfoy mansion.
What happens afterward is pure celebration and relief that it is all over. Families and friends are sitting together, irrespective of House, unified by their jubilation and comforting the bereaved. There is work to be done. The Wizarding World needs to heal and Harry, Ron, and Hermione will be a big part in making “a new world”, as Rowling told Meredith Vieira in an interview. For now, the Trio needs to break away and visit Dumbledore’s portrait in the Headmaster’s Office. The portraits applaud them and Phineas Nigellus pointed out “And let it be noted that Slytherin House played its part! Let our contribution not be forgotten!” (747). Of course, we need only look at Severus Snape, Horace Slughorn, Regulus Black, and others (don’t forget Narcissa Malfoy). All the Houses played a part in the second and final fall of Voldemort. While it wasn’t all unity and there’s some more work to be done, it was better than the one envisioned by the Dark Lord. Rowling’s next words here are poignant, “But Harry had eyes only for the man who stood in the largest portrait directly behind the headmaster’s chair. Tears were sliding down from behind the half-moon spectacles into the long silver beard, and the pride and gratitude emanating from him filled Harry with the same balm as phoenix song.” Harry shows that he is a true descendent of Ignotus Peverell by keeping the Invisibility Cloak and not going after the Resurrection Stone in the Forest or keeping the Elder Wand. He does however repair his Phoenix wand with the Elder Wand and decides to keep the Elder Wand with the dead Dumbledore. The power will be broken when Harry dies, and besides he says it best here, “I’ve had enough trouble for a lifetime” (749).