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J.K. Rowling sketched out the deaths in the Harry Potter series years ago, and from that point forward no amount of pleading from fans, friends or even family could convince her to change her mind. The death sentences were set in stone, even though writing her characters into oblivion was often personally painful.
“Otherwise what would you do? You would just write very fluffy, cozy books,” she said. “You know, suddenly I [would be] halfway through 'Goblet of Fire' and suddenly everyone would just have a really great life and … the plot would go AWOL.”
But there was one exception. When she reached Book 5, “Order of the Phoenix,” Rowling decided to give a character a reprieve from death and to kill off two others in his place.
“If there's one character I couldn't bear to part with, it's Arthur Weasley,” Rowling admitted for the first time publicly in an interview with TODAY’s Meredith Vieira. Hence, in “Phoenix,” Mr. Weasley survives a snakebite … just barely.
“I think part of the reason for that is there were very few good fathers in the book,” said Rowling. “In fact, you could make a very good case for Arthur Weasley being the only good father in the whole series.”
The author admits that just as Dumbledore became attached to Harry, she became too attached to Arthur Weasley. But there is another reason she selected the two additional characters, who had survived in her original vision of the story, to die at the end of “Deathly Hallows” in Mr. Weasley’s place.
“I wanted to kill parents,” she said, quickly adding that sounded “terrible” to say. “I wanted there to be an echo of what happened to Harry just to show the absolute evil of what Voldemort's doing.”
The theme resonates throughout the books with the deaths of Sirius Black and Albus Dumbledore, Harry’s flawed father figures. And that’s why, in the Battle of Hogwarts, Remus Lupin, Harry’s only remaining father figure, and Nymphadora Tonks die, in the process creating another orphan in their son, Teddy.
“I think one of the most devastating things about war is the children left behind,” Rowling said. “As happened in the first war when Harry's left behind, I wanted us to see another child left behind. And it made it very poignant that it was their newborn son.”
Why Fred and not George?
Lupin and Tonks may have taken the fall for Arthur Weasley, but the entire Weasley clan could not be saved. Fred Weasley, one half of the fun-loving twins, was another casualty in the Battle of Hogwarts.
But why Fred and not his brother George?
“I always knew it was going to be Fred, and I couldn't honestly tell you why,” Rowling said.
Rowling guessed most people would have expected George to die before Fred because Fred was the ringleader, George the “gentler” twin.
“Fred is normally the funnier but also the crueler of the two. So they might have thought that George would be the more vulnerable one and, therefore, the one to die.”
She didn’t make her decision because it was easier to kill one twin over the other, however.
“Either one of them would have been terrible to kill,” she said. “It was awful killing Fred. I hated that.”
She hated it, but doesn’t regret it.
“The deaths were all very, very considered,” said Rowling. “I don't kill even fictional characters lightly”
Staying the course
Rowling is aware her fans also despise the deaths of key characters.
There is one fan she met just before the release of “Order of the Phoenix” who sticks out in her mind. He was a little boy with trouble in his past, and he pleaded with Rowling to never let Hagrid, Dumbledore or Sirius die.
“He was definitely saying, ‘Don't kill any of these people who have been fathers to Harry,’ and I knew I'd already done it,” Rowling said. “I'd already killed Sirius, and I can't pretend that looking at him I didn't feel quite awful.”
But she has had to put those feelings aside when writing.
“I am often asked, ‘Well, don't you feel guilty killing people, characters that kids love?’ And it sounds horrible and heartless to say ‘no.’ But the truth is that when you're writing, you have to think only of what you're writing and make a writer's decision about that ... You must not sit there and think, ‘Well, I was going to kill Hagrid but, you know, people love him.’”
Many fans feared for Hagrid’s safety in the run up to “The Deathly Hallows.”
Hagrid, actually, had been safe in Rowling’s mind from the very beginning. Before her first book, “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” was even published, Rowling planned for Hagrid to carry Harry out of the forest at the end of “Deathly Hallows,” believing that Harry was dead.
“It was very significant,” Rowling said. “Hagrid brings Harry from the Dursleys. He takes him into the wizarding world … He was sort of his guardian and his guide ... And now I wanted Hagrid to be the one to lead Harry out of the forest.”
Hagrid was the one character Rowling’s sister, Di, couldn’t stand to see die. The last thing Di said to Rowling before opening “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” was “If Hagrid dies, I will never forgive you.”
“But it wasn't because of her I kept him alive,” Rowling said. “I should pretend it was. I might get a better Christmas present.”