I made the mistake of finishing the rest of Deathly Hallows before writing this, so bear with me if this is more of a reflection of the book and series as a whole instead of focusing on these two chapters exclusively.
Which isn’t to say that they’re not important, because they most definitely are; but it’s a lot of exposition and pieces falling into place instead of some more “iconic” chapters that follow them. But no epic is complete without its sections of exposition, and I think it’s pretty well done anyway, so I honestly don’t mind too much, because the quality of your set-up and rising action is so important to the weight of your climax; you have to answer some questions brought up earlier on before pushing forward.
For all its controversy post-finale, these chapters—and honestly the book and series as a whole—remind me a lot of LOST. Now, I know that’s a really loaded statement, and I don’t think I can really properly describe it, but there’s this scope to both stories that really strikes me as very similar in both set up and execution. Especially here, in these chapters, it reminds me of how we really get some (but not all!) answers and a sort of excitable calm before the storm of the inevitable clash of forces in the finale.
(Which is a compliment in my mind, but your mileage may vary.)
CHAPTER 28: THE MISSING MIRROR
Having only read this book once over the span of less than 24 hours on the day of its release, I’ve really enjoyed coming back to this one immensely. Since I finished the series initially, I’ve said that Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is my favorite of the seven, though I think upon this revisitation I’ve changed my mind. I definitely think this is the best-written of the books, Rowling’s magnum-opus as it were, but I’m still super partial to Goblet of Fire, in all honesty.
But since I’d only read it once (and seen the two movies once, and in theaters, so it hasn’t been recently), going through again really was like reading it for the first time in some parts. I’d completely forgotten about a lot of what transpires in these pages, and the truth about Arianna Dumbledore is on the list of those things forgotten.
Now, I know it’s not really essential to the plot to know what happened to Dumbledore’s little sister, but all of the hubbub and emphasis placed upon the mystery in the earlier bits of this book make this chapter and explanation not only incredibly cathartic in a way, but it’s… also really horrifying. Poor Aberforth. It’s a shame we don’t really get too much of him in the span of the series, but I think if we had we would have delved into Dumbledore’s past a lot sooner, which I don’t think Harry (and, by extension, we the audience) was ready for. Growing up, Harry needed Dumbledore as mentor, a solid, dependable constant in his life to ground him and give him what he needed to succeed. Once Dumbledore dies, however, is when Harry has to confront and deal with the reality of Dumbledore as man: frail, fallible, and perhaps not as pure-intentioned as was previously thought.
And I like that, cliché though it may be. I like that Harry has to struggle with his doubt and the rumors and accusations that might conflict with his memories and what he thought he knew about his mentor. I like that dealing with his grief and all of these emotions is fairly essential to his development and journey throughout this book. It’s weighty and it’s confusing and it’s so very necessary to Harry making decisions of his own accord, and not acting or feeling like a mere pawn in someone else’s long game.
Rowling does coming of age so well. She just gets it. Harry’s mental and emotional struggle is so real and palpable to me, that while the circumstances propelling him forward are extraordinary, well—I feel you, bro.
I always get so emotional while writing these entries; honestly, I don’t even know why I’m surprised anymore. I’ve said it once, I’ll say it a thousand times: Harry Potter is just a fact of life. It’s one of those things that I just carry around with me; it’s part of my identity. I don’t talk about it a lot or think/obsess over it much at all anymore, because that’d be like intensely contemplating my hands or my feet.
Harry isn’t my favorite character, but he is so essential to my intense emotional connection to this series. As I’ve said before, I literally grew up with Harry, I’ve felt what he’s felt, and experienced (obviously to a much lesser degree) quite a bit of what he’s been through, too. To add on to the feeling of growing up with Harry, there’s a little blurb in the “About the Author” section in the back of the book where it mentions that Rowling began work on the series in 1990—the year I was born. Deathly Hallows came out in 2007—I was 17. Call it coincidence, or what have you, but honestly that is like the cherry on top of the complicated emotional sundae for me.
And all these gross emotions don’t stop at Harry (honestly, where did all of these come from? Somebody take them away from me).
I tend to identify myself and develop a summarized understanding of others by three things: Hogwarts House, instrument you played in high school, and if you’re an older, middle, younger, or only child.
Being an oldest child, I feel a lot of responsibility and protectiveness over my younger siblings (and anybody close to me, really). And, while I’m pretty sure I’ll never be able to fully understand middle child psychology (I have oldest child syndrome so bad it hurts), Aberforth and I definitely share that trait.
Reading even a summarized version of the events surrounding the mystery that is Arianna Dumbledore is physically painful for me. It’s shocking, it’s disturbing, it’s horrible, and worse, I’ve been there, too. I’ve felt the frustration of being unable to really help your younger sister, being unable to really reach her or comfort her while what she’s going through is quite literally destroying her. And there’s almost nothing for you to do but sit back and watch her struggle. It’s… indescribable. You feel trapped, and angry, and you blame yourself, regardless of the validity of that blame. There’s a horrible guilt, a sort of twisted responsibility that blooms inside you and drags you down with what-ifs: what if I had done something more? What if I had tried harder? What if I had been more observant, more accessible, more caring? What if I had done something while I could?
It’s enough to drive one mad, really. It changes you.
And I think that’s why Aberforth sort of shoulders this responsibility of keeping an eye on Harry, tries to get him to turn away from the mission of the Horcruxes and get to safety. Rather than see another young life wasted because of him and/or his brother, he’d rather see Harry be alive than play the hero. I think he still feels incredibly guilty about everything, and that definitely informs his actions, especially in this chapter. There’s this perpetual responsibility and protectiveness, and he does and says what he thinks best for Harry’s survival first and foremost, not what might be best for the cause at hand.
And that’s honestly the big difference between Aberforth and his brother, all goat jokes aside; “for the greater good” vs. “for your own good”. With two such very different outlooks and life philosophies, it’s no wonder they didn’t get along.
Of course, Aberforth does finally agree to help Harry get to Hogwarts, though reluctantly and stubbornly. Which leads us to…
CHAPTER 29: THE LOST DIADEM
I just realized while working on this that both of these chapters are titled after “lost” or “missing” items, which I think is kind of interesting and symbolic in its own way, missing pieces of the larger puzzle falling into place as we read and discover along with Harry. Very clever, Jo, very clever. I dig it. Then again, that might be my crazy English major brain reading into everything, but hey, isn’t that what this is all about?
The more I think about it, the more I like this chapter a lot, though it’s one of those things that is fairly solid but you don’t really have a lot to say about it. (I realize I say this all the time, so let’s see if that holds true.)
I like that we get this kinda nostalgic glimpse of Hogwarts, though most of that nostalgia is obviously overshadowed by the grim events Neville relates to us. We’ve been away from Hogwarts for so long, though, so it’s good to be back, even under the circumstances.
Honestly, while most of this chapter is exposition and further set-up, I think the most important thing that happens is Harry’s conscious decision to be his own person and not be like Dumbledore in his search for the diadem:
Harry thought fast, his scar still prickling, his head threatening to split again. Dumbledore had warned him against telling anyone but Ron and Hermione about the Horcruxes. Secrets and lies, that’s how we grew up, and Albus…he was a natural…. Was he turning into Dumbledore, keeping his secrets clutched to his chest, afraid to trust? But Dumbledore had trusted Snape, and where had that led? To murder at the top of the highest tower…
“All right,” he said quietly to the other two. “Okay,” he called to the room at large, and all noise ceased.
Gosh, I love this bit. It’s such a huge deal for Harry, I think. We’re so used to Harry being the lone hero, shouldering all of his burdens and being afraid or unwilling to share the load, lest he endanger others. I mean, a lot of that still persists, but I think it’s a big step for Harry to willingly ask people to help him, instead of him feeling like he needs to do everything alone. I like that he first considers everything from the angle of what Dumbledore had said, and what had happened to Dumbledore, and then instead of being further mired in it, he shakes it off and makes a decision of his own accord. It’s such a small thing, but it’s so, so important to Harry’s hero journey, as well as his journey into true adulthood. He could choose to remain Dumbledore’s puppet, or choose to act in fear of what had occurred, but instead he chooses to do what he sees fit, and it makes me so proud.
Like I said before, Rowling just gets it. She gets how important a moment like this is to Harry’s development, both as a character in a plot and a story that she is telling, and as a person. It’s so great, and I love how she just slips it into this relatively quiet chapter, and that it happens at Hogwarts, while Harry is surrounded by friends, people he cares for and trusts. It’s excellent. Gosh. I just…. It’s so good.
As an aside, I also LOVE that we finally get to see Ravenclaw tower. I LOVE that instead of a password, you’re supposed to answer a question; as a Ravenclaw, that just warms my heart. And the description of the common room is everything I’d want out of a Hogwarts common room if I was a student. It sounds airy and lofty and spacious and beautiful:
The deserted Ravenclaw common room was a wide, circular room, airier than any Harry had ever seen at Hogwarts. Graceful arched windows punctuated the walls, which were hung with blue-and-bronze silks: By day, the Ravenclaws would have a spectacular view of the surrounding mountains. The ceiling was domed and painted with stars, which were echoed in the midnight-blue carpet. There were tables, chairs, and bookcases, and in a niche opposite the door stood a tall statue of white marble.
Seriously. I don’t think I’ve ever been more upset that I never got my Hogwarts letter. It sounds heavenly, like some perfect mix between my bedroom and Belle’s library. Paradise. I’m such a Ravenclaw…
I don’t really think I have anything else to say about these chapters in particular, so I’d just like to take this moment to thank Ashley again for organizing this re-read, my fellow contributors for their comments and support, and for all of you who’ve stuck with us to the (almost) end. I know I’ve fallen off a lot of the reading and commenting because of my work schedule, but you lot are awesome and lovely, and it’s been a wonderful, heart-wrenching, enlightening, and enjoyable journey.
See you all on the other side.