Note: Hogwarts Professor John Granger explains the Epilogue’s context, alchemy, symbolism, and themes, in his book The Deathly Hallows Lectures, and also in a great wrap-up essay that’s a must-read. This post concludes our Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows readthrough.
“All was well.”
When the story ended with Harry, Ron, and Hermione, triumphant, exhausted, filthy, and grieving with their loved ones in the rubble at Hogwarts, I had questions.
Were they ultimately okay? Did they just survive or did they thrive?
When we first meet Harry Potter, he’s a friendless, abused orphan forced to live on the periphery of the only family he knows, and his only experience of love is seeing what passes for it demonstrated in excessive and harmful ways in the spoiling of his cousin. His heritage is kept from him, and his emerging and mysterious abilities mystify him and enrage his aunt and uncle. No one cares for Harry, influences him for good, or shows him how to negotiate his way in the world in a positive or healthy manner.
Harry’s life changes dramatically when he learns his identity as a wizard and goes to Hogwarts, where he makes friends and becomes part of a community, the most magical thing to ever happen to him. He learns that, in harmony, friends, even rivals, can accomplish great feats together, and that unselfish love is the most powerful force of all.
Below Hogwarts at the end of his first year, Harry meets his parents’ murderer, Lord Voldemort, and learns two important things: Voldemort is a parasite, and he doesn’t understand love. While indwelling his willing host, Professor Quirrell, Voldemort is unable to touch Harry, who is infused with Lily’s love. He flees, abandoning Quirrell to die, and must find another host to accomplish his ends. Although we don’t know this yet, the Dark Lord has, in addition, created an avenue to immortality through Horcruxes.
And it is in the Horcruxes that we understand the significance of the Epilogue. As they play a critical role in our heroes’ character development, it’s illuminating to look at who destroys them and when, and how this matters to those we see on Platform 9 ¾.
Voldemort’s Horcruxes–soul lockboxes—symbolize the Dark Lord’s obsession with and fear of death, self-pity, and desire for human immortality; a desire so strong that he will murder, torture, and suck the life others to gain it; in his world there are only enemies, flunkies, and himself. Believing he can be both human and divine, he divides his soul and becomes completely inhuman, the antithesis of life. Therefore, it’s no coincidence that every Horcrux destruction involves an affirmation of humanity and life.
Harry destroys Riddle’s diary Horcrux at the end of his second year, during his confrontation with Riddle and the Basilisk in the Chamber of Secrets. In fury at the Dark Lord’s parasitic use of Ginny and at his plans to regain power, Harry scorns Riddle’s fantasies about himself, claims his mother’s protective love, proclaims his allegiance to Dumbledore, and receives Fawkes, the Sorting Hat, and the Sword of Gryffindor, using the last to fatally stab the Basilisk. Pierced by a venomous fang, the dying Harry breaks it off and stabs it into the heart of the diary. Unlike Riddle, Harry’s soul is intact and pure, reflected in his continuing choices for good, despite having some Voldemort implanted within. (By the way, Harry’s impregnating the Sword in Basilisk venom makes it a surefire weapon of Horcrux mass destruction.)
Dumbledore destroys the Resurrection Stone Horcrux ring with the Sword of Gryffindor, after succumbing to the temptation to use it. This weak and foolish act with the cursed ring sets in motion Dumbledore’s own death, leaving Harry without a mentor, the Sword of Gryffindor to destroy the remaining Horcruxes, or vital information. Dumbledore’s use of the Hallow/Horcrux is tied to his deepest shame, and is the crux of his most penitent confession to Harry at King’s Cross. Although only mortal injury from the ring halts Dumbledore’s pursuit of his dead family, he chooses life and humanity by destroying the stone with the Sword, using the time he has left to learn more about Riddle and work to defeat him.
Ron destroys the locket in Harry’s presence, after abandoning his friends out of jealousy and simmering insecurities that have roiled within him for over six years. Instead of shaming Ron, Harry offers him the Horcrux to destroy. By retrieving the Sword, Ron has earned the right to wield it, but Harry’s offer also does more than words to affirm to Ron his equality, and worth. In sticking the Sword through his fears and resentments, Ron puts to death mistaken perceptions that have been destructive to spirit and relationships. No longer consumed with his importance, or seeming lack of it, Ron develops initiative and leadership during Harry’s Hallows obsession. He executes the retrieval of Basilisk fangs from the Chamber of Secrets to destroy remaining Horcruxes, even mustering up some rough Parseltongue. Ron also takes a cue from Harry’s generosity, and instead of grabbing more glory by destroying the cup, offers it to Hermione to destroy. With this and his consideration of the House Elves, Ron wins Hermione’s complete admiration, and is a hero equal to anyone. Interestingly, Ron is the only pureblood wizard who knowingly destroys a Horcrux.
Hermione destroys the cup in the Chamber of Secrets with a Basilisk fang. Hermione has given much to Ron over the years, and he finally does something worthy of her, stepping aside for her right to vanquish a Horcrux. Hermione has always remained faithful to Dumbledore’s plan to destroy Horcruxes, even when Harry is sidetracked by the Hallows, Ron has left, and she is cruelly tortured by Bellatrix. It’s important that she share this experience with Harry and Ron, and I only wish we could witness the scene and learn if she suffers any temptation from the Horcrux. But I’m guessing that Miss Granger dispatches it efficiently and without fuss, and without Hogwarts, A History.
Crabbe’s Fiendfyre destroys the diadem in the Room of Requirement. Crabbe and Goyle are out of control, disobeying Draco’s order, and the flames become out of control, too. “Below them the cursed fire was consuming the contraband of generations of hunted students, the guilty outcomes of a thousand banned experiments, the secrets of the countless souls who had sought refuge in the room” (DH 632). As kingdoms, represented by the diadem and the ancient room of hidden things, pass away, the old dark reign of Wizarding World ancestral prejudice is also passing away. Sadly, Crabbe dies of his own handiwork, although Harry and Ron risk their lives in an attempt to save him.
Voldemort himself unknowingly destroys the accidental Horcrux lodged in Harry’s scar. The arrogant Dark Lord has so died to life and humanity that he can detect nothing of himself in another human being. Believing that killing Harry is his ticket to eternal glory as a powerful god, Voldemort instead creates for himself a wretched eternity in which he’s unlamented, uninteresting, and forgotten.
Neville Longbottom, the faithful soldier fulfilling Harry’s command to kill the snake, slays the Horcrux Nagini with the Sword. Neville’s grandmother has made an idol of her injured son, and consequently has raised Neville to believe himself worthless. With a deep sense of inadequacy, boosted by his grandmother’s scorn, Neville is the despised loser at school, the butt of cruel pranks. Yet Neville always exemplifies courage and nobility, and constantly proves himself a worthy Gryffindor. In beheading the snake, a symbol of corrupting falsehood and distortions, Neville also slays forever the cruel and twisted narrative about himself.
Voldemort was so very wrong. The Horcruxes weren’t the future. Instead, all along, they were the past, he was the past, representing the arrogant, brutality and divisiveness of an order that denied those deemed “other.” The Horcruxes emotionally, intellectually, and physically dismembered their self-willed creator, now a revolting, inhuman fragment.
What a contrast to the men, women, and children on Platform 9 ¾.
Our beloved characters are leading happy, constructive lives, and remain fast friends. They have recovered from, or made peace with, their traumas, have married, and have children. Hogwarts has survived for succeeding generations, and the Hogwarts Express takes children to school every fall where they will sit under the Sorting Hat, suffer Peeves, learn from Hagrid about magical creatures, and repot mandrakes with the coolest and most popular teacher in school, Herbology professor Neville. All is well.
Ron’s confidence and sense of humor still shine, and he lightheartedly jokes about his secondary status to Harry while affectionately bickering with Hermione. Draco, sending off his son Scorpius, gives a polite, “curt nod” to the Potters and Weasleys. Teddy Lupin, orphaned in the Battle of Hogwarts and godfathered by Harry, is close with the Potters and is developing a romance with Bill and Fleur’s daughter, Victoire. All is well.
Harry so esteems Albus Dumbledore (who misled him) and Severus Snape (who tormented him) that he’s named his second son after them both, tying together in a name wisdom, heroism, bravery, and, symbolically, two Houses with historic enmity. When Albus Severus expresses his fear of being sorted into Slytherin, Harry reveals something he’s never revealed to his children before: that he might have been Sorted into Slytherin, and that the Sorting Hat takes choice into account. It’s fine to be a Slytherin, he reassures his boy, just like “the bravest man I ever knew.”
Most important, Harry—neglected, ignored, and unloved for his first eleven years—has a normal, affectionate, happy family, to whom he’s not the lonely child who lived under the stairs, the Boy Who Lived, the Chosen One, or the famous sacrificial hero who defeated Voldemort. To them he’s just Dad, loved, trusted, and treasured for himself. What was taken from him as an infant has been restored in abundance, and Lily’s legacy lives on through the eyes of her child and grandchild. Unlike his father and other male mentors in his life, Harry is a good role model, without haunting burdens or immaturity. Unlike their father, Harry’s children are free to be children without fear or condemnation, to act out their personalities, to find understanding and comfort.
As Harry, wearing Fabian Prewett’s old watch, waves goodbye to Albus, he’s a peaceful man. And his scar pains him no more.
All is well.