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Laying odds in the Harry Potter dead pool

J.K. Rowling has announced that two characters will die in her final Harry Potter book, but which two?
/ Source: contributor

Warning: This story will speculate on who dies in the final Harry Potter book. If you don't want to be exposed to such opinions, don't read it.

A year or more from the final chapter in the Harry Potter series, the boy wizard can still make headlines. Author J.K Rowling recently let slip a particularly juicy piece of news — in the forthcoming book, during the final confrontation with the evil wizard Lord Voldemort — and Harry himself seemed especially likely.

Rowling has known for years how the series ends; the final chapter of the as-yet-untitled closing novel was one of the earliest she wrote. But in a June interview with the British TV talk show “Richard & Judy,” she revealed that she had changed her plans: One character she’d thought would die now survives, but two others die instead.

That’s the price, said Rowling, of fighting evil. Villains “don’t target the extras, do they? They go for the main characters, or I do,” she said. Not surprisingly, fans began speculating on the identity of the unlucky pair almost immediately, and the Internet gambling site even began offering odds.

It’s not the first time a major character has died. Harry’s grandfatherly mentor, Hogwarts headmaster Albus Dumbledore, was murdered at the end of the most recent book, “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.” Or was he? It’s clear that more remains to be revealed about what really happened. Did Dumbledore fake his death? Is his apparent killer, Severus Snape, really evil, or a double agent? We have yet to find out.

In real life, death is permanent, but not always in fiction. Obi-Wan Kenobi of “Star Wars,” another mentor figure, is killed at the end of the first film, but reappears later as an advice-giving spirit. And in “Lord of the Rings,” the wizard Gandalf returns from the beyond even more powerful than before.

Odds favor Harry and VoldemortBased on both online fan reaction and the bookmakers’ odds, the smart money seems to be on Harry and Voldemort. A poll on Potter fansite had the two nearly tied, and well ahead of any other character as the most likely candidates.

Nobody seems particularly perturbed at the idea of Voldemort getting the hook — after all, he’s the chief villain, and the series’ resolution almost requires his destruction. Harry is another story. Many readers are having difficulty accepting that the hero of the story would die — and worse, one who’s still a boy.

But Rowling has shown before that she’ll shock the fainthearted when it serves the story, even letting a child die at the hands of evildoers — Harry’s classmate Cedric Diggory is killed in “Goblet Of Fire.” As for offing the main character, there’s plenty of precedent. Sherlock Holmes creator Arthur Conan Doyle got so tired of the detective that that he had Holmes thrown off a cliff  — only to be forced to bring him back when Holmes’ popularity raged on unabated. Rowling herself mentions that Agatha Christie killed her sleuth Hercule Poirot so that nobody else could write stories about him.

There’s good reason to think that Voldemort can only die if Harry does also. It’s well-known that the two are magically connected on a deep level because Voldemort’s sorcerous attempt to kill Harry as an infant backfired, destroying the dark lord’s body instead. Much of the subsequent plot has been driven by Voldemort’s return from this setback. Voldemort used Harry’s blood to regain a flesh-and-blood body at the end of “Goblet of Fire,” apparently strengthening that bond — and Dumbledore’s eyes had a “gleam of triumph” when he learned of it. Apparently Dumbledore thinks the connection can be used to defeat He Who Must Not Be Named.

But would Dumbledore have set a plan in motion that required Harry’s death? This is hard to believe — and one explanation for Rowling’s announcement of “a reprieve” for one character is that she thought of a way for Harry to survive.

So who will really get the axe? Here are some educated guesses.

Harry Potter, our hero.Doom factor:Fairly high. Harry may need to sacrifice himself to rid the world of Voldemort. It certainly would make a noble and definitive ending. But I suspect that the character Rowling decided should survive is in fact Harry. He’s got too much to live for. Odds of dying:50 to 1

Lord Voldemort, our villain. Doom factor:Voldemort is too dangerous to live. He’s killed hundreds of people, and is probably too powerful to be imprisoned.  Odds of dying:1,000 to 1 in favor

Albus Dumbledore, Hogwarts headmaster. Doom factor:Is he really dead? Sadly, I think so — but there’s probably a good reason Harry saw a phoenix over his tomb in the last book. But who returns from the dead just to keel over again 200 pages later? That’s just careless. Odds of dying:Forget about it — he’s dead already, or he’ll survive us all.

Severus Snape, former Hogwarts professor, longtime Potter antagonist, and murderer of Dumbledore.Doom factor:Very high. Nobody knows whose side Snape is really on, and double agents tend to get shot at by both sides. Odds of dying:3 to 1

Ronald Weasley and Hermione Granger, Harry’s best friends.Doom factor:Extremely unlikely. These guys will be telling their grandchildren stories about Harry and Voldemort in 50 years. Odds of dying:100 to 1

Neville Longbottom, Harry’s classmate. Doom factor:Medium. Neville has a growing heroic streak that should put him in the thick of the fight — and in harm’s way.  Odds of dying:30 to 1

Rubeus Hagrid, bearlike half-giant Hogwarts professor and friend to Harry, Ron and Hermione.Doom factor:Fairly high. Seeing the lovable lunk die would be a major downer. But if anyone in the series would take a bullet to save a friend, it’s Hagrid.Odds of dying:15 to 1

Peter “Wormtail” Pettigrew, betrayer of Harry’s parents who spent years disguised as the Weasley family rat. Now Voldemort’s henchman. Doom factor:Very high. Lackeys of the Big Bad Villain in any book don’t have long lifespans. Also, there’s a literary analogue: Wormtongue from “Lord of the Rings,” who clearly inspired Pettigrew, backstabbed his boss after one too many insults, and paid the final price. Odds of dying:2 to 1

Ginny Weasley, Harry’s girlfriend and Ron’s sister. Doom factor:Medium. She’s been a pawn of Voldemort’s in the past, and certainly will be a target again. But Ginny’s got moxie, and might be more difficult to harm than you’d think. Also, if she dies, the series can’t end happily, period. The hero gets the girl. Odds of dying:75 to 1

Arthur and Molly Weasley, Ron’s parents. Doom factor:Nah. It’s depressing enough that Harry’s an orphan. Ron’s not going to become one too. Odds of dying:60 to 1

Percy Weasley, Ron’s brother, who turned against his family to support the autocratic Ministry of Magic. Doom factor:Medium. He’s clearly chosen the wrong path — who’ll pay for his mistake? Odds of dying:75 to 1

Bill, Charlie, Fred and George Weasley, Ron’s other older brothers. Doom factor:High. All are brave, stand-up guys who can be counted on to combat the Death Eaters. They surely won’t all die — this isn’t World War One — but they’ll put themselves in harm’s way for the cause. Odds of dying:10 to 1

Remus Lupin, friend of Harry’s late parents, former Hogwarts teacher, and werewolf. Doom factor:Very high. As a werewolf, Lupin’s led a cursed life — and he has a score to settle with the evil werewolf Fenrir Greyback.  Odds of dying:6 to 1

Draco Malfoy, Harry’s classmate and chief rival. Doom factor:Low. Draco is a bully and a jerk, but he’s also just a kid born into a bad family. He’s not even all that evil — ordered to kill Dumbledore, he couldn’t do it. This far into the series, there are several dozen bad guys more dangerous (and, from a dramatic standpoint, deserving of death) than the pitiable Draco. Odds of dying:80 to 1

Lucius Malfoy, Fenrir Greyback, Bellatrix Lestrange, powerful wizards who support Voldemort. Doom factor:High, but I doubt they were the ones Rowling changed her mind about. As Voldemort’s chief henchmen, they’re major combatants, and are likely to be connected to any deaths in the upcoming novel — whether doing the killing, or being killed in self-defense. Odds of dying:2 to 1

Regulus Black, brother of Harry’s deceased godfather Sirius Black. Doom factor:Probably very high. Regulus was believed to have died already, but evidence is strong that he’s really the mysterious “R.A.B.” who may be an ally of Harry’s in book seven. We haven’t actually met him yet, and we don’t know what his game is. But R.A.B. openly taunted Voldemort and worked for his downfall — not the secret to a long life. Odds of dying:2 to 1

Minerva McGonagall, Hogwarts professor and new headmaster, after Dumbledore’s death. Doom factor:Low. McGonagall may be a fine teacher, but the idea of her dying doesn’t seem terribly dramatic — so why not just let her live? Odds of dying:150 to 1

Alastor “Mad-Eye” Moody, former Hogwarts professor and member of the anti-Voldemort Order of the Phoenix. Doom factor:Very high. Moody’s a very formidable wizard, but he also seems destined to not die peacefully. Odds of dying:3 to 1

Christopher Bahn is a writer in Minneapolis.