The Boy Who Lived: A Tribute to My First Reading of the Harry Potter Series

Spoilers! (But I might be last person who would have needed that warning.) I closed […]

Spoilers! (But I might be last person who would have needed that warning.)

I closed Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and sat frozen in place. The weight in my chest slowly subsided as tears continued to stream down my face. I couldn’t quite figure out what to do next. The reality sunk in that there wasn’t another book waiting on my nightstand. How was I simply going to go about my day after saying goodbye to Harry and the gang? I had watched them grow up over the course of seven books; they had become part of my life as a daily conversation staple with friends and coworkers, and I became so invested in their lives as I laughed, cried (a lot), and celebrated right alongside them. How soon is too soon to start over with Sorcerer’s Stone…?

For the past several months, as I’ve read the Harry Potter series for the first time, I never tired of people’s reactions when I told them that I had not seen the last two movies and had no idea how the story ended—lots of “I’m so jealous” and “I’m so excited for you.” Although I had a fairly on-point guess (you can’t un-see the gospel elements littered throughout), I never could have imaged the breathtaking rollercoaster that would bring me to the end.

The title of the final book hinted at the direction Rowling would go on this wild ride, tackling head-on a palpable presence that lurked from the beginning: death. More specifically, the tension between dying and the constant desire to evade death and the characters who landed on either side of that tension.

The series hinged on the death of Harry’s parents, Lily and James, at the hands of Voldemort. Their deaths successfully protected Harry in that moment from the same fate but set into motion the battle between Voldemort and Harry that would continue throughout the series. Voldemort, who from an early age obsessed over death and the methods to escape it, believed the Boy Who Lived was the one obstacle to his immortality and made Harry’s death his priority. But Harry, by an impressive combination of wit, luck, and mysterious guardians, managed to remain a step ahead of Voldemort for six books.

Throughout most of Deathly Hallows, Harry maintains that upper hand as he searches for and destroys Horcruxes, completely unbeknownst to Voldemort. These objects, which could only be created by killing someone, held pieces of Voldemort’s soul, and as long as at least one remained intact, Voldemort’s soul lived on, despite not inhabiting a body. He would never truly died until every Horcrux, the ultimate symbol of his pure evil, was destroyed.

On one such Horcrux excursion, Harry and Hermione apparate to Godric’s Hollow, the site of Harry’s parents’ murder and their graves. Upon arriving in the village, they locate the graveyard where many famous wizards were buried and discover Lily and James’s gravestone which reads, “The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.” The engraving upsets Harry, understandably, because it read like something the Death Eaters, Voldemort’s faithful followers, would believe. They thrived on death, viewing it as something to be mastered and manipulated to their advantage and to the detriment of their enemies. Hermione quickly tries to reassure Harry that “it means…you know…living beyond death. Living after death.” This does little to quell Harry’s anxiety, as he is torn between that sentiment and the reality that his parents’ bodies currently lie under his feet. If Hermione knew what was coming, she could have gone a step further and told Harry that it wasn’t only living beyond death but defeating the very cause of so much death, the personification of so much evil: Lord Voldemort himself. Soon Harry would learn that he stood at the center of the plan to bring his parent’s prophetic epitaph to fruition.

Eventually, after several more thrilling, hair-raising adventures, only two horcruxes remain. Harry knew Nagini, Voldemort’s snake, was a horcrux, but she never left Voldemort’s side. When they go to search for the snake, Harry, Ron, and Hermione find Voldemort preparing to kill Snape. After the infamous flash of green light from Voldemort’s killing curse, Snape (who probably deserves his own post) lies dying and beckons to Harry to collect a vile of his memories. Harry runs up to Snape’s (Dumbledore’s) office to dive into these memories and gets a glimpse into Snape’s life, and the pieces begin to fall into place. Harry watches Dumbledore explain to Snape what happened to Harry the night his parents died:

Tell him that on the night Lord Voldemort tried to kill him, when Lily cast her own life between them as a shield, the Killing Curse rebounded upon Lord Voldemort, and a fragment of Voldemort’s soul was blasted apart from the whole, and latched itself onto the only living soul left in the that collapsing building. Part of Lord Voldemort lives inside Harry…And while that fragment of soul, unmissed by Voldemort, remains attached to and protected by Harry, Lord Voldemort cannot die.

That night, Harry became the very embodiment of the thing he had been instructed to destroy. He learns that he has been protected and kept alive all this time for the sole purpose of being killed by Voldemort. As long as Harry lives, Voldemort would continue to survive, increasing his power and that of his Death Eaters, and no one would be free. Harry and the rest of the wizard community would remain enslaved by the fear of him and the dark magic he wielded. The only path to victory was through Harry’s death:

Lying with his face pressed into the dusty carpet of the office where he had once thought he was learning the secrets of victory, Harry understood at last that he was not supposed to survive. His job was to walk calmly into Death’s welcoming arms. Along the way, he was to dispose of Voldemort’s remaining links to life, so that when at last he flung himself across Voldemort’s path, and did not raise a wand to defend himself, the end would be clean, and the job that ought to have been done in Godric’s Hollow would be finished…

And Harry does just that. He dons his Invisibility Cloak and walks to surrender his life to Voldemort. With the same curse that killed Lily and James, Voldemort defeats Harry. But only momentarily.

Harry comes back to life, striking a major blow to Death: Voldemort’s curses no longer work on those Harry died to save. While they still feel the sting of those curses, nothing works to the extent Voldemort intends:

“You won’t be able to kill any of them ever again. Don’t you get it? I was ready to die to stop you from hurting these people—” “But you did not!” “—I meant to, and that’s what did it. I’ve done what my mother did. They’re protected from you. Haven’t you noticed how none of the spells you put on them are binding? You can’t torture them. You can’t touch them.”

They circle each other in the Great Hall, and with one final dual, Harry kills Voldemort, and the last enemy is defeated. Every last bit of him is destroyed, and he has absolutely no way of returning.

One shivering second of silence, the shock of the moment suspended: and then the tumult broke around Harry as the screams and the cheers and the roars of the watchers rent the air. The fierce new sun dazzled the windows as they thundered toward him…

As we head into this season of Lent, we know that the same sacrifice already has been made for us, as we look expectantly to rejoice in it at the end of these forty days. Our own Boy Who Lived—who walked the earth as flesh and blood, who became the embodiment of sin, whose purpose in living was ultimately to die at the hands of the Enemy—hung on the cross in our place and rose again, defeating sin and death. And while we still feel the sting of both, Jesus will return to deliver the final, crushing blow. And on that day, the deafening screams and cheers and roars will be for eternity.

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3 responses to “The Boy Who Lived: A Tribute to My First Reading of the Harry Potter Series”

  1. Tiernan Boland says:

    Well done, Marg! Always look forward to your posts, especially now being so far away.

  2. Ethan Richardson says:

    Beautifully re-told, Marge. I want you to know: the pain eventually subsides, but not much…

  3. David Zahl says:

    Beautiful, Margaret, just beautiful. And so fun to relive through your eyes!

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