An Analysis in Grief: 10 Harry Potter Deaths We Did Not Get Over
The following was originally posted on Media for Misfits and has been republished with permission.
It’s still a sore subject for many. Even after all this time, the very mention of The Half-Blood Prince or The Deathly Hallows can ignite a twinge of pain for Potterheads around the world. Seven years later (or three years later, depending on how you look at it), we’re still not over the tragic deaths of these characters.
[Editor’s Note: Obviously, spoilers ahead. But seriously, if you haven’t read the books, you’ll want to go do that ASAP anyways. Seriously. Go. Do it.]
10. Cedric Diggory – The Goblet of Fire
From far away, above his head, he heard a high, cold voice say, “Kill the spare.”
A swishing noise and a second voice, which screeched the words to the night:
A blast of green light blazed through Harry’s eyelids, and he heard something heavy fall to the ground beside him; the pain in his scar reached such a pitch that he retched, and then it diminished; terrified of what he was about to see, he opened his stinging eyes.
Cedric was lying spread-eagled on the ground beside him. He was dead.
Cedric wasn’t necessarily a character who was entirely integral to the overarching plot of Harry’s world. In fact, I feel pretty comfortable saying that, other than the fact that he was a noble, outstanding student, he was a pretty unremarkable character to begin with. What was important about Cedric, though, was the circumstances of his death.
The issue of Harry vs. Lord Voldemort has always been a personal one for Harry, for reasons which are painfully obvious. Year after year, we see a myriad of run-ins with Voldemort and his servants; but up until the end of Goblet of Fire, no one in close proximity to Harry (as a young adult) had died. It’s such a shocking moment; the transportation to a graveyard, a command uttered to Wormtail, the shout of a curse. And then just like that, before anyone really knows what is happening, Cedric Diggory ceases to exist.
With Cedric’s death came the responsibility of reinforcing personal conflict once more for Harry, but also for us, the readers. Cedric is the first notable character death that Harry is confronted with up until that point within the series, and the event conveys two things for us: 1) We can pinpoint this precise scene as the moment that that shit gets real for both Harry and the wizarding world as a whole, and as readers, we are now involved on even more of a personal level; and 2) Cedric’s death shows us first-hand the extent of Voldemort’s cruelty and his blatant disregard for human life, which unveils the true dangers of Voldemort’s return.
Up until this point, we were readers in a magical fairytale where the villain is defeated at the end of the book and the heroes emerge unharmed to return to normal life afterward. JK Rowling shocked us all with Cedric’s death because, by the end of Goblet of Fire, he felt like one of our classmates, too.
9. Mad-Eye Moody – The Deathly Hallows
“Oh… thanks, Ron… I’m sorry….” She blew her nose and hiccupped. “It’s just so awf-ful, isn’t it? R-right after Dumbledore… I j-just n-never imagined Mad-Eye dying, somehow, he seemed so tough!”
“Yeah, I know,” said Ron, giving her a squeeze. “But you know what he’d say to us if he was here?”
“‘C-constant vigilance,'” said Hermione, mopping her eyes.
Moody has been around the block and has the scars to prove it. Between the First Wizarding War and his years of service as a ferocious Auror and member of the Order of the Phoenix, Moody is a hardened veteran who has literally sacrificed parts of his body (and probably his mind) in order to stand against the oppressive Dark Arts and those who would choose to wield them. Brendan Gleeson says, “I see him as formidable warrior who is somewhat past his best, but who is battle-hardened and can still be effective. He has learned the hard way that life can be unforgiving and is impatient of namby-pamby half-measures, particularly among the kids. He knows they must be at their best to survive. He’s Mr. Tough Love with a vengeance. I don’t think he was without genuine affection for them, though, He’d never admit it, of course.”
In his time with the Order of the Phoenix during the Second Wizarding War, Moody placed Harry’s safety above all else, and put himself in grave danger to ensure Harry’s preservation – not unlike the rest of the order’s members. Mad-Eye served as a watchful protector to Harry with a curmudgeonous yet authoritative presence during their time together. Mad-Eye knew that might lose his life over his will to protect Harry at any cost, and in the end, he met that cause face-to-face without hesitancy.
8. Hedwig – The Deathly Hallows
“No – HELP!” The broomstick spun too, but he just managed to seize the strap of his rucksack and the top of the cage as the motorbike swung the right way up again. A second’s relief, and then another burst of green light. The owl screeched and fell to the floor of the cage.
“No – NO!”
The motorbike zoomed forward; Harry glimpsed hooded Death Eaters scattering as Hagrid blasted through their circle.
“Hedwig – Hedwig –”
But the owl lay motionless and pathetic as a toy on the floor of her cage.
Given that Harry spent much of his childhood under the Dursley’s stairs, Hedwig was Harry’s first real companion before his full initiation to the wizarding world. This gives her an incredibly important role within Harry’s life, as he never before had a friend, or even a pet, to speak of. Hedwig remained one of Harry’s closest companions until her death during the Battle of the Seven Potters, in which she was struck by The Killing Curse while attempting to protect Harry from swarming Death Eaters.
In an interview with The Leaky Cauldron, JK Rowling said, “The loss of Hedwig represented a loss of innocence and security. She has been almost like a cuddly toy to Harry at times. Voldemort killing her marked the end of childhood. I’m sorry… I know that death upset a LOT of people!” It’s safe to say that anyone who has ever experienced the loss of a pet or a close friend understands the turmoil Harry experienced with Hedwig’s death.
Did you know that the most undoubtedly recognizable piece of music within in the Harry Potter soundtrack – commonly referred to as the general Harry Potter theme – is officially called ‘Hedwig’s Theme’?
7 & 6. Nymphadora Tonks & Remus Lupin – The Deathly Hallows
He turned away and ran up the marble staircase. Lupin, Tonks… He yearned not to feel… He wished he could rip out his heart, his innards, everything that was screaming inside him…
Tonks and Lupin’s relationship endures a tumultuous beginning – the subject of love for these two is a difficult one. After months of Tonks pleading with Lupin over her feelings only to be turned away out of the werewolf prejudice he feared the community would unleash on the Tonks family, Remus and Tonks finally get together and really give their relationship a try.
The Lupins are married and finally settle into their own happiness, even with the world falling down around them due to Voldemort’s return. They have a baby named Teddy, in honor of Tonks’ father; but as events turn bleak during Deathly Hallows, Remus does not appear to be himself. In one particularly alarming confrontation with Harry, Remus is compelled to run from his family to aid Harry and The Order, clearly out of concern for his loved ones – but, at this point in Remus’ story, he was also battling with his inner demons, his sense of self-worth, and a fearful adjustment to his new responsibilities. Harry sees this in Lupin, and gives him a most excellent, heart-felt, and alarmingly harsh scolding about his responsibilities to his family, even going so far as to call Lupin a coward. It’s an amazing sort of “teacher turned student” moment, and vice versa, between the two characters, because we all know (including Lupin) that Harry is right – which is why he returns to Tonks. We later hear Lupin in a radio communication between The Order and friends saying that Harry’s instinct is “nearly always right,” which we can very clearly take to mean that he was glad he returned to Tonks.
During the final battle battle at Hogwarts, Tonks is so wrought with worry for Lupin’s well-being that she leaves the baby at home in order to travel to Hogwarts to ensure Lupin’s safety and to fight alongside her husband and friends. Sadly in the course of battle, Lupin and Tonks both meet their deaths, but Tonks’ demise is perhaps the most tragica of all. Her death could have been easily avoided had she stayed with Teddy; but in her death we see that that if she can’t live with Lupin, she can’t live at all.
So why did JK Rowling decide to let the Lupins meet their deaths? The answer is a cruel one:
“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.”
It’s devastating theme that recurs within Harry’s world. Parents die (the Potters) or are incapacitated (the Longbottoms); parental figures disappear (Sirius, Dumbledore); orphans are left in the wake of the destruction of war (Harry, Neville).
“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.”
It isn’t difficult to see why the deaths of The Lupins broke our hearts. Two people battle alongside their friends and loved ones against against the darkest wizard the world has ever seen, leaving a little orphaned boy behind to naught but his godfather. Sounds a bit familiar, doesn’t it?
5. Dobby – The Deathly Hallows
The elf swayed slightly, stars reflected in his wide, shining eyes. Together, he and Harry looked down at the silver hilt of the knife protruding from the elf’s heaving chest. “Dobby – no – HELP!” Harry bellowed toward the cottage, toward the people moving there. “HELP!” He did not know or care whether they were wizards or Muggles, friends or foes; all he cared about was that a dark stain was spreading across Dobby’s front, and that he had stretched out his own arms to Harry with a look of supplication. Harry caught him and laid him sideways on the cool grass.
“Dobby, no, don’t die, don’t die –”
The elf’s eyes found him, and his lips trembled with the effort to form words.
“Harry . . . Potter . . .”
And then with a little shudder the elf became quite still, and his eyes were nothing more than great glassy orbs, sprinkled with light from the stars they could not see.
Let’s all be honest with ourselves: Dobby was a little shit when we first met him. Dropping cakes on visiting ladies, stealing letters from Harry’s friends, blocking entry to Platform 9 3/4, tampering with bludgers to turn them murderous. Oh, Dobby. Even if you had the best of intentions, you perplexed us all with your harmful mischief!
Despite his unusual manner of “helping,” Dobby managed to save Harry and his friends’ lives on numerous occasions. For all his pestilence, we see Dobby come to Harry’s aid in many ways, from providing Harry with Gillyweed, to tracking down Mungungus Fletcher in search of Horcruxes, right down to appearing in the depths of Malfoy Manor in order to rescue the seven captives out of the clutches of communing Death Eaters in a selfless act which ultimately costs him his life.
MTV News quoted JK Rowling addressing Dobby’s death to a group of school children during a Q&A.
“I suppose you could say very prosaically that Dobby had to die so he couldn’t tell Harry who had sent him,” Rowling explained, referencing Aberforth Dumbledore, Albus’s brother who Harry doesn’t learn about until much later on in the novel. “But that’s not why. For me, Dobby’s death woke Harry up to what he was doing.”
“[Dobby was] someone that was very vulnerable and really entirely guiltless in anything concerned with the wizarding world – who wasn’t even a wizard,” Rowling said. “It was another senseless murder in the same way that Cedric Diggory’s death was senseless, purely because they were there. And I think there’s something particularly chilling about entirely innocent victims of violence. It woke Harry up.”
Though Dobby may have been a throwaway character like Cedric, throughout the books we witness his growth in massive ways, such as overcoming obstacles in mistreatment; wrestling with his compelling nature to do the right thing even if it will cause him great physical pain; struggling with belonging to essentially a slave race in the wizarding world; and helping his friends at all costs against what he knows to be wrong. Thus, when Dobby’s death hits us in such an unexpected way, it made it so hard to accept – especially during such an intense, critical part of the story.
Harry’s response to Dobby’s death – digging a grave without magic in order to exercise respect – gave us time to process the event and grieve alongside Harry, but it still wasn’t enough to help us get over it.
Not crying hard enough yet? Numbers 4 through 1 on our list are over on the next page!
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