Finally, here we are. It’s my honor to open us at the close. The final installment of the series, the culmination of every plot thread we’ve developed thus far. I didn’t specifically request to kick off The Deathly Hallows, but I’m glad it was assigned to me.
This isn’t my last post for the project – I still have one more for this book in early April, and I’m slated for an entry in the bonus book post-game series – but this is, for all intents and purposes, the home stretch. We’ve been through a lot together, you and I. My fellow writers here in this Re-Read Project. The others who have read along with us. We didn’t recapture the exact feeling when we read these all the first time, however many years ago that was for each of us, but we did have an all-new experience. Shared a lot of memories, told some stories of our own.
Additionally, this has been the kick in the face I’ve needed to get myself back into the writing groove1. The best way to improve as a writer is, after all, to write.
Thank you for being a part of this with me. Thank you for letting me be a part of this with you.
I’m getting this out of the way now, instead of my actual last chapter, because I want to save the funny and awesome for that one.
Today, however, is going to be another serious post. Today, I’d like to take you into a world of implied backstory.
CHAPTER ONE: THE DARK LORD ASCENDING
To explain what I mean, we’ll go back a bit… all the way to the beginning of the previous book. Roughly one year ago from the “present” moment in the book2.
Aside from occasional interludes by Scrimgeour, that chapter is the only information we get about what’s going on with the Ministry. We’re informed of Death Eater attacks throughout the year through Hermione’s Daily Prophet subscription, and the fact that there’s complete and total inaction on the Stan Shunpike incident is probably the most telling of all, but aside from that? Nothing.
(Which is not to say that Harry, as our designated Third-Person Forced Perspective, hasn’t had more important things on his mind than what the Ministry’s been up to. But we’ve all just finished covering that.)
Fast forward to Yaxley’s reports. The initial feeling we get is that the Ministry takeover is a swift and complete action. The moment the changeover happens certainly is, but the reality is that it’s been happening for years. Completely discounting the “forgiven” Death Eaters in the Ministry prior to Voldemort’s resurrection, the fact remains that they’ve had nearly two full years to start working towards that moment. We’re already familiar with this tactic, actually: Voldemort used it on Professor Slughorn way back when. Slowly arrange the pieces, put them in place without being noticed, and then when the board is completely yours and no one else is the wiser?
Strike. Hard and fast, like a snake.
That is why, later on, it seems like the Death Eaters have taken the Ministry almost entirely in one move. Because for the past two years, it was done in part by clandestine dinner table meetings at Malfoy Manor just like this one.
That’s why this chapter is only twelve pages long, by the U.S. first edition hardcover’s count. It’s not just a quick exposition dump to get us up to speed with what’s been going on since Dumbledore’s funeral. It’s not just the execution of one plan. It’s the proof of Voldemort’s regime, over the past two years, building up to the moment where he strikes.
It’s genius. Wonderfully subtle, too; it’s subconscious world-building, something that’s taken J.K. seven books to even set up. Over the course of the early books, she’d been finding her voice, working on her pacing, but this one chapter? She nails it. It’s atmospheric. It’s full of imagery.
Even before the chapter begins properly, the mood is set. In this book, and no other, the narrative is prefaced by a quotation and a poem, specifically chosen for their relevance to the story. Stephen King does this to great effect in his own novels, and being used to such a literary device from his novels, I was more than happy to see these here.
“Bless the children, give them triumph now.”
“This is the comfort of friends, that though they may be said to die, yet their friendship and society are, in the best sense, ever present, because immortal.”
Of course, we can’t get so bogged down in the subtext that we ignore the actual text. While it transcends the simple exposition dump, the fact remains that it is an exposition dump. So what, in twelve short pages, do we learn?
- Dawlish continues to be a punchline. Dear, sweet Dawlish, incredibly book-smart but possessing zero common sense. I have a theory that Dawlish was introduced because we started to take Neville Longbottom seriously, and there must always be a punchline. Wonderfully weak-willed Dawlish is used to marvelous extent here, since the Order of the Phoenix knows how susceptible he is, and they use him to feed Voldemort misinformation.
- The Ministry is nearly primed for the assault, and the intended figurehead has been mind-controlled and put into position. It’s interesting to note that while it’s directly stated that Pius Thicknesse is under the Imperius Curse, the movie shows him as a full and willing Death Eater. This is a change that actually makes the movie more streamlined and coherent, as opposed to some of the other changes the movies make that are to their detriment. But I’m not going to get into that again.
- (Shooting themselves in the foot with the Marauder’s Map. SORRY NOT SORRY.)
- Harry is going to be vulnerable, out in the open, and not under Dumbledore’s protection for the first time ever. The plan is being made to take full advantage of this.
- Lupin and Tonks got married!
- Lucius Malfoy got sprung from Azkaban! He doesn’t seem very happy about this, though. None of the Malfoys seem very happy about this. Maybe it’s the continual snide remarks and insults and public humiliation Voldemort is lavishing upon them, I don’t know.
- Voldemort’s kind of a dick, isn’t he? I mean, we already knew he was a monstrous omnicidal maniac with twisted genius, semi-phenomenal nearly-cosmic power, and massive daddy issues, but on top of that? He’s an asshole.
- Malfoy Manor is pretty much exactly the way I always imagined it being. Opulent, extravagant, ostentatious. Also, there’s an albino peacock in the front yard.
- Voldemort takes Lucius Malfoy’s wand, for reasons that will be explained later. He does so in a particularly telling fashion, which is also perfectly in character for him:
“Let’s see… Lucius, I see no reason for you to have a wand anymore.”
- And finally, Snape flat-out murders the Muggle Studies professor, Charity Burbage, who Voldemort had abducted for purposes both retaliatory and propaganda-driven. Charity Burbage had been tortured for the crime of telling people how Muggles are not only our friends, but necessary in order to keep the bloodlines from dying out. Does Snape kill her because he agrees, or is this a mercy kill because he’s still potentially good? THE DEBATE RAGES ON5.
As I said, a lot to process for a simple twelve pages of narrative. The scene is nearly set, the pieces are coming into play, and the metaphors are neatly mixed. It’s time to move this along to Harry…
…but not before we get one of the most chilling sentences Voldemort has ever uttered. To this day, reading the end of this chapter creeps me out.
“Dinner, Nagini,” said Voldemort softly, and the great snake swayed and slithered from his shoulders onto the polished wood.
- I’m not nearly as groovy as I’d like to be, but that’s life.
- One of the people I send these posts to for proofreading before I post them3 is always on my case – and rightly so – about verb tense. More or less direct quote: “Events in books exist in a sort of timey-wimey state; they’re always happening.” As such, I’m supposed to always be using the present tense, and I’m always butting heads with her about when I refer back to previous books and whether or not those mentions should be in past tense or present tense4. But when you approach these posts the way I do, it tends to come up a lot.
- HI BRINN
- “Chill out,” I tell her. “You’re too tense.”
- Until The Prince’s Tale, of course. Then we’re told. End of debate.