Presented by “Harry Potter and the Reread Project”
The second part of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows starts, as we all might remember, with a fairly happy occasion—Bill and Fleur’s wedding—from which things go downhill fairly quickly. It’s also a part of Deathly Hallows that I find really enjoyable even though quite a few really sad things happen.
A Get-together (of Information)
Interestingly enough, the wedding between Fleur and Bill, a wedding which has essentially been set up as a plot point from the beginning of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, isn’t especially relevant to the actual plot. Essentially, Bill and Fleur seem to be getting married to show what a Wizarding wedding looks like, to provide an opportunity for a bunch of characters to get together and exchange information, and to make the Ministry’s fall as dramatic as possible. I don’t actually think that’s a bad thing. Fleur and Bill are tertiary characters at best, so it’s unsurprising that whether they’re married or not doesn’t affect the actual plot of the book. And it doesn’t seem unusual to me to have a bigger event essentially serve as backdrop for other developments; I always saw the Hand’s tourney in A Game of Thrones as essentially serving the same purpose.
The information shared with Harry at the wedding essentially lays the ground work for the two overarching themes of the book. What Harry learns about Grindelwald’s symbol and Gregorovitch leads him to the Deathly Hallows, while Muriel’s stories about Dumbledore are the basis of Harry’s growing distrust towards him. Regardless of how well JKR does or does not handle the deconstruction of Dumbledore and the Wise Mentor archetype (spoiler alert: not that well), I do love how the plot itself is set up for a number of reasons.
Firstly, there’s the fact that JKR introduces crucial information about Albus Dumbledore through two absolutely horrible, repulsive people. Rita Skeeter and Muriel Weasley are deeply loathsome because they find pleasure in hurting others. But ultimately, they’re both right about Dumbledore’s interest in dark magic. There’s a nice lesson there about how even horrible people can sometimes be right.
Secondly, I love how the narrative of Ariana Dumbledore’s Squib status and subsequent imprisonment shows how easy it can be to construct a convincing story based on half the facts. Thirdly, I love Harry’s instant identification with and sympathy for Ariana. And finally, I like that JKR seems to lead to the Trio to getting Gryffindor’s sword in Godric’s Hollow but ultimately goes an entirely different direction with it.
At the same time, the wedding chapter left me profoundly annoyed with JKR’s portrayal of romance. I constantly feel like the main way Ron and Harry realise or show their romantic interest in Hermione and Ginny is through jealousy. Of course that’s something that’s already present in Half-Blood Prince, but I found it irritating all over again when one of Viktor Krum’s main purposes seemed to be making Ron and Harry jealous by communicating interest in Hermione and Ginny. Apart from the fact that it’s not especially healthy if one of the only ways that you realize you’re interested in someone is possessiveness and annoyance, it also just doesn’t seem realistic to me that the main way Harry realizes he’s into Ginny is because he’s jealous of Dean.
Another aspect that I found dissatisfying was the fall of the Ministry. In my last post, I wrote at length about how illogical Scrimgeour’s and the Ministry’s politics from Half-Blood Prince onward seem to me. There’s no Watsonian reason for them to act the way they do. Additionally, the conflict with the Ministry moves into the background in Half-Blood Prince despite having been set up from Chamber of Secrets onwards. I guess Scrimgeour being killed after his last confrontation with Harry over Dumbledore’s will and the Ministry being powerless to prevent a Death Eater takeover is supposed to be the resolution of this plotline. However, it feels distinctly anti-climatic, especially taking into account that ultimately, none of the flaws of the Ministry are actually addressed in any way.
This part of Deathly Hallows contains three of my favorite moments of the entire series: Kreacher revealing the truth about Regulus, Remus and Harry’s confrontation, and the break-in at the Ministry. All three of these scenes are either profoundly sad, quite disturbing, or a combination of both, but I love the underlying messages and the new facets of characters that they introduce.
Maybe it’s because I personally never engage with fan theories or try to figure out the solution to the mysteries authors present us with, but for me personally, the Regulus reveal came pretty much out of the blue. Of course, JKR placed a bunch of clues that it is Regulus in the books and a quick Google search makes it obvious that lots of people put the puzzle together, so that’s just my personal impression of it.
Of course it’s not just the “out of the blue” aspect that I love about Regulus’ story. What I like the most about it is that it’s such a good and interesting redemption arc. Regulus has plenty of logical reasons to become a Death Eater: he’s grown up in a pureblood family and was thus socialised to believe in the fictional equivalent of white supremacy. As the younger brother and spare he probably has a bit of an inferiority complex towards Sirius, and when Sirius turns his back on the family, it’s not only his chance but also his duty to shine and fulfill the role as heir that was meant to be taken up by Sirius. But in the end, Regulus turns his back on all of this, actively tries to destroy Voldemort, and dies in the attempt.
We can only theorize about his reasons for turning on Voldemort, but I see two possible ones. One, he was so horrified by the absolute disregard Voldemort showed for Kreacher that it opened his eyes to how terrible the entire ideology was. Or, he realized that Voldemort had created a Horcrux and he found that so fundamentally evil that he came to the conclusion that Voldemort needed to be destroyed. Personally, I actually find a combination of both to be most likely. However, JKR leaves the most interesting and most important question of Regulus’ belief in pureblood supremacy entirely open. While she does state that Regulus was an admirer of Voldemort for a long time before joining the Death Eaters, it remains entirely unclear what he thought of Voldemort’s ideology after discovering the Horcrux.
It’s essentially the same situation as with Snape, though I personally find the trigger for Regulus’ turning on Voldemort to be a far better reason than Snape’s. But ultimately, both characters open up an interesting and important question: What does it mean to be truly redeemed? Are good actions that aim to undo the damage you did—for example working on taking Voldemort down after you’ve supported and enabled him—enough? How necessary is it to actually, explicitly turn away from the bigoted ideology you supported?
Another thing that I love about the reveal of RAB’s identity is what it does with Kreacher as a character. It shows that he isn’t the inherently bitter, horrible, spiteful creature he was made out to be in Order of the Phoenix. Instead, Kreacher had a good reason to be bitter: he failed the only person that was ever kind to him and that reciprocated his care in any way. When he finds out that someone is working on fulfilling Regulus’ mission and even receives something that once belonged to Regulus as a token of affection, he becomes much kinder and more helpful.
At the same time, I find Kreacher to be fundamentally tragic. He’s essentially an abuse victim that values nothing as much as the approval of his long dead abusers, which is why he immediately rejects Hermione’s attempts to comfort him. He seems entirely incapable of independent thought. But at the same time, he’s so desperate for affection that the second Harry, Ron, and Hermione are nice to him, he stops treating Ron and Hermione as if they’re beneath him.
I’m torn about the message JKR is sending with Kreacher, though. I think that one the one hand, the idea that racists will stop being racists if someone is just nice to them is a profound oversimplification. On the other hand, I love the message that unkindness and cruelty towards people or beings you perceive as weaker or beneath you will come back and bite you in the ass.
A Desperate Man and Desperate Measures
Another incredibly tragic development in Deathly Hallows that I really love is Remus appearing at Grimmauld Place to ask Harry to take him along on their mission. I never thought Remus was out for glory or taking Sirius’ place, or even trying to dodge his responsibilities as a husband and father, as Harry accuses him of doing. To me, it always seemed as if Remus was trying to counterbalance the shame his lycanthropy was bringing his family by becoming a war hero through helping Harry, as if he was willing or maybe even hoping to die in the process. After all, if he died as a war hero helping Harry bring down Voldemort, who would care that he was a werewolf?
Ultimately, Remus’ wanting to run away from his family is another scene in which JKR tries to show the way marginalization affects and harms people. It’s the scene where she’s most successful with it. Remus’ deep, internalized hatred of himself is actually one of the scenes I find most heartbreaking. I also love how Harry sees through Remus and immediately rejects his offer as soon as he finds out about Tonks’ pregnancy, but also regrets and questions his own harsh treatment of Remus.
However, I’m incredibly annoyed by what this storyline does to Tonks. In Order of the Phoenix, she’s a funny, charming, capable witch who becomes more serious due to the consequences of the war in Half-Blood Prince. However, ultimately, what makes Tonks sad and reclusive isn’t even the war or the death of her cousin, it’s primarily unrequited love. When she does get together with Remus, she almost returns to her old self, except for the part where she stops being a capable fighter and instead becomes a fussy girlfriend who protests when her boyfriend wants to recover the body of her dead mentor. As nice as the idea that love fixes everything is, it would’ve been far more realistic if Tonks hadn’t simply returned to her bubbly, energetic self once her relationship with Remus started. The fact that she’s almost entirely absent in Deathly Hallows due to her pregnancy until she dies just adds the cherry on top.
Breaking and Entering and Rescuing
As I mentioned already, Harry, Ron, and Hermione breaking into the Ministry to steal the Horcrux from Umbridge is another one of my favorite scenes of the entire book. The classic “undercover mission going wrong” style also seems to be unfamiliar waters for both JKR and the characters themselves, but it’s fast paced and fun to read. The entire first Horcurx mystery is also another one of those scenes where JKR brings lots of details and characters from previous books back together to form and resolve a new plotline. She once again shows that it’s one of her strengths. On the other hand, it shows how fundamentally unprepared Dumbledore left Harry—the only reason the Trio discovers the Horcrux is because they returned to Grimmauld Place to hide instead of going somewhere else—and how bad JKR is at writing characters that are smarter than she is.
What I like most about the scenes at the Ministry of Magic, though, is JKR’s portrayal of the Wizarding World turned fascist. It’s pretty clear that she’s done her research on how fascist rule is established within societies and applied it thoroughly to her portrayal of the Ministry of Magic after it is taken over by Voldemort. The way Muggleborns are portrayed as outsiders and a threat to Wizarding society because they are “stealing” magic as justification for their treatment is a prime example of othering and scapegoating that is widespread in right-wing and fascist propaganda.
Another example of classically fascist tactics is Voldemort taking over the press and Hogwarts while making it mandatory to attend to latter. This makes it possible to indoctrinate young witches and wizards. I also like that JKR portrays the majority of wizards and witches as just going along with what’s happening and even trying to profit from it.
One aspect of the break-in at the Ministry that I personally find deeply hilarious is that the Trio spent a month coming up with a plan that partially falls apart because they don’t bother to find out why one of the people they polyjuice themselves into is desperate to go to work. The plan itself is a bit of a mixed bag. As Harry himself realizes, they focused all their planning on getting into the Ministry and spared little thought to what would happen afterwards. Then again, I don’t see how they could have done things differently unless they had reached out to someone inside the Ministry to get insider information, which would have been risky. I also love that Harry’s anger at Umbridge and the injustice of what is happening at the Ministry makes him kick caution to the curb to save the Muggleborns waiting to be tried. It’s a very Harry move, and one of the reasons I love his character so much.
Next time: The Trio starts their very extended camping trip.