The end is nigh, as J.K. Rowling’s seventh and final installment in the “Harry Potter” series hits stores July 21. With the epic’s closure, fans of the Wizarding world can expect loose ends to be tied up and long-held mysteries to finally find resolution. But some answers can’t come soon enough.
There’s one mystery so anticipated and hotly debated that it eclipses all others. It’s not about whether good will conquer evil in the end. That’s safe enough to assume. The big question is, at what cost? The release of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” could mark more than just the end of the story. It might just mean the end of the much-loved bespectacled protagonist himself.
But would the author of the top selling magical franchise really kill off Harry Potter? Reader opinion be damned, Rowling’s never shied away from an unpopular fatality. Just ask fans who still get a bit weepy at the mention of Dumbledore’s name. Or Sirius Black’s, for that matter. That’s not to say Harry’s untimely passing is a given, but it’s one of the possibilities.
In the direction of demiseA noble trait can also be a deadly one; such is Harry’s tendency toward self-sacrifice and rushing in to dangerous situations sans fear. Time and time again, flying in the face of advice from friends and mentors, he’s charged on impulse, blindly driven to right wrongs.
But in the past protections were in place to save him while he went on with the business of saving the day. Now Dumbledore’s safeguard of the house on Privet Drive is set to expire, and the love of Harry’s mother can no longer prevent the ultimate evil from touching him. How will he fare without those shields in place the next time he faces Voldemort?
It’s that final battle with the Dark Lord that poses the greatest risk to the young wizard. There’s no doubt that Voldemort’s days are numbered, but can the Big Bad fall while Harry lives?
The two share a bond that neither fully understands, from their rare ability to speak in parseltongue, the language of snakes, to their twinned wands, each containing a feather from the same phoenix. And then, connecting them more than ever before, Voldemort used Harry’s blood to restore his physical form. Perhaps the only way to finish He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named is for Harry to die as well.
Playing into that theory is the quest that began near the end of book six: the search for the horcruxes. In order to gain immortality, Voldemort split his soul between several magical artifacts, using acts of murder to imbue them. Each of these horcruxes must be found and destroyed before he can be killed. Not all have been identified at this point, but one important clue is that a horcrux can be a living thing. Maybe Harry himself, the lone survivor in the attack on his family, contains a piece of Voldemort’s essence. If true, his death could be vital.
Hopeful horizonsBefore fans flood Rowling with scarlet howlers in anticipation of Harry’s end, consider the arguments for his survival. As dark as it looks for “The Boy Who Lived,” he earned that moniker for a reason. His legacy has been to exist beyond all odds. He can’t simply become “The Boy Who Lived Until He Didn’t.”
What sort of story would that make? "There once was an orphaned boy who had a horrible life. It got a little better, but it was still a struggle filled with constant risks. Lots of people he cared about died. Then the boy died. The end."
There has to be a bright spot for Harry to finally make all his suffering worthwhile. Not to mention that a story bookended with the deaths of good guys is hardly a reader-pleasing recipe.
Even without all that working in Harry’s favor, there’s the prophecy. In “The Order of the Phoenix,” one of the rare instances of actual divination from Professor Trelawney relates the terms of the final face-off. “Either must die at the hand of the other, for neither can live while the other survives.” This hints that only one party need die to satisfy the prophecy. And since the story isn’t called “Voldemort and the Deathly Hallows,” it’s looking good for Harry.
Not all deaths are fatal
In a world of magic, almost anything is possible. Even if Harry checks out, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s over. In fact, it would be a fitting step in this hero’s journey if just such a thing happened. The hero dies, but comes back changed from the experience.
A more symbolic passing is another option for Harry. Death can mean many things, all dealing with loss and profound change. If he turns to the dark side, rids himself of the scar Voldemort branded him with, or loses his powers all together, it would mean the death of the chosen one, even if the boy behind the myth still lived.
Then again, maybe Rowling has devised a way for Harry to give up the ghost, and yet somehow not leave the masses sobbing at the loss. Long before writing book seven, she announced that the epilogue was already complete. It’s the end after the end, which promises to reveal what happens in the lives of those that survive the drama of the final battle. This could be where Harry dies, not at the hands of his old nemesis, but in the distant future, after a life well lived.
Ree Hines is a writer in Tampa.