An Analysis in Grief: 10 Harry Potter Deaths We Did Not Get Over
4. Fred Weasley – The Deathly Hallows
And Hermione was struggling to her feet in the wreckage, and three redheaded men were grouped on the ground where the wall had blasted apart. Harry grabbed Hermione’s hand as they staggered and stumbled over stone and wood.
“No – no – no!” someone was shouting. “No! Fred! No!”
And Percy was shaking his brother, and Ron was kneeling beside them, and Fred’s eyes stared without seeing, the ghost of his last laugh still etched upon his face.
Fred Weasley is a staple character we never thought we’d lose. I think many of us readers thought – or rather hoped – that the entire Weasley family might have had some sort of protective charm around them which would save them all from untimely deaths.
There have been many speculative theories which suggest that a death in the Weasley family has been foreshadowed as early as Ginny Weasley’s encounter with a young Tom Riddle in Chamber of Secrets. In Order of the Phoenix, Harry sees Arthur Weasley being attacked by a snake in his mind and alerts others in time to save Arthur’s life. In that same book, Molly Weasley attempts to battle a boggart, but is unable to cope with the forms of dead Weasley family members that the beast generates, and is ultimately forced to accept help from a fellow Order member to subdue the creature as she sobs from being exposed to such horrific images. In Half-Blood Prince, Harry saves Ron’s life after he has been poisoned, and early in Deathly Hallows, George loses an ear to a Sectumsempra curse cast by Snape, which some fans interpreted as foreshadowing of an even larger loss for George to come. Fred’s death, though outrageously tragic, does however spark an important turn for Percy’s character, particularly in his rebellion against the Ministry and a swift return to the Weasley family after a willful exile throughout the course of several books.
Which brings us to our question, “Why Fred and not George?” JK Rowling addresses this concern for us:
“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.”
James Phelps also had to offer some words on how Fred’s death affected him as the portraying actor. On filming his character’s death scene:
“It was surreal. I feel like a really close friend has died. It was more like a Saving Private Ryan scene than Harry Potter, so it was kind of cool, because every guy wants to be in an action movie and that’s what this is. […] I think that it was an emotional day for everyone when we shot Fred lying there. We did about five takes total, and then Oliver was done because it had emotionally drained him. It’s really hard to put yourself in that position and imagine that kind of thing.”
Throughout our journey with Harry, we come to feel like the Weasley’s are our own adoptive family, taking us in to be tucked under their wing with the warmth and care and love that Harry had never really fully experienced before. From the first time we meet the family as Molly frantically attempts to usher her children through Platform 9 3/4, to Harry being welcomed into The Burrow, to Fred and George bestowing Harry with the Marauder’s Map, to everyone in The Order pledging their lives to ensure Harry’s safety, we have always felt as though we could rely on the Weasleys for comfort, acceptance, and reliability. Any family member missing from the Weasleys would make the family forever incomplete, which was why Fred was such an incredibly difficult loss for us to handle.
3. Sirius Black – The Order of the Phoenix
It seemed to take Sirius an age to fall: his body curved in a graceful arc as he sank backwards through the ragged veil hanging from the arch.
Harry saw the look of mingled fear and surprise on his godfather’s wasted, once-handsome face as he fell through the ancient doorway and disappeared behind the veil, which fluttered for a moment as though in a high wind, then fell back into place.
I refused to acknowledge that Sirius was dead. I did not and could not accept such a devastation. I speculated all sorts of methods or spells or enchantments that might be able to bring Sirius back, or to undo the Killing Curse Bellatrix inflicted upon him. Maybe the Time Turner used to save him in Prisoner of Azkaban – couldn’t we just have Hermione fetch it to undo it? Please?
In a string of potential father figures, friends, and adults introduced for Harry to look up to, Sirius stands as a symbol of a life Harry might have known, and in a way, represents that same life partially restored to him. It would never be whole and it would never be what it should have been, but it was something, and that was enough for Harry; it was enough for us readers. It was that second chance at a family that Harry always wanted, even if it wasn’t going to be perfect.
Sirius’s character progression is really quite remarkable. Kept secret until his third year at Hogwarts, we discover first that Sirius is accused of murdering Harry’s parents; second that he may well yet be in pursuit of Harry himself; and third, perhaps that most genius element to the confusion of all, was that Sirius had been named Harry’s godfather before his parents died. We take a journey with Harry from being absolutely frightened of this escaped murderous lunatic to believing the stories he is telling (with aid of Lupin, of course), to becoming incredibly fond and sympathetic to the troubles he has endured because of Wormtail. The journey continues as Prisoner of Azkaban ultimately ends in the salvation of Sirius’ very existence, and Sirius continues to show Harry the love and support of a true godfather from afar, oftentimes risking being caught or discovered in his attempts to make contact with Harry.
In his end, though, Sirius leads himself to his death thanks to both his pride and inclination to oblige risk. Bellatrix Lestrange is a powerful, ruthless witch, which is something that Sirius himself may have known best of all; yet during their final battle, he has an air of egomania as he eggs his villainous cousin on with taunts like, “Come on, you can do better than that!” and laughter as they battle. Perhaps it was those very qualities of his that gave us confidence in his character, those qualities which made us believe that he’d never leave us and that he surely couldn’t die. Apart from Cedric’s death, I would say that the death of Sirius definitely woke Harry up the most to the consequences of Voldemort’s return.
JK Rowling had her reasons for cutting Sirius from the book after reigniting Harry’s hope for some sort of semblance of belonging to a family:
“It is more satisfying I think for the reader if the hero [Harry] has to go on alone and to give him too much support [Sirius] makes his job too easy, sorry.”
It’s a harsh reality, to be certain. But in the end, we trust that Rowling knows Harry best, and, of course, that she knows her stories best. Keeping Sirius alive would have been a little too good to be true for all of the recklessness he imposed and the danger to come, but it would have made Harry a little more whole.
2. Albus Dumbledore – The Half-Blood Prince
Snape raised his wand and pointed it directly at Dumbledore.
A jet of green light shot from the end of Snape’s wand and hit Dumbledore squarely in the chest. Harry’s scream of horror never left him; silent and unmoving, he was forced to watch as Dumbledore was blasted into the air: for a split second he seemed to hang suspended beneath the shining skull, and then he fell slowly backwards, like a great rag doll, over the battlements and out of sight.
Oh, Dumbledore. Sweet, charming, kooky, odd, mystery-riddled Dumbledore. You were one of the first wizards we met; you filled us with questions and were selective with your answers. You enabled us to want more, to learn about your half-moon spectacles and your purple robe and your Put-Outer (the same device you later bequeath to Ron!). Where would we be without the kindly and clever wisdom you imparted upon Harry throughout six books, which we in turn borrowed in order to apply to our own lives?
Dumbledore is without a doubt the most unmistakeable father figure within the series. From the moment we meet him, he is awash with care and concern for Harry’s well-being, even if it means making difficult choices and perhaps sacrifices. Under Dumbledore’s own direction, Harry suffered at the hands of the Dursleys for his entire pre-Hogwarts life, which Dumbledore deemed necessary in order to keep Harry away from an otherwise astoundingly pressuring life. We can’t always know the immediate wisdom of Dumbledore’s choices or directives, but as he allows Harry (and the readers) to come to their own conclusions, we grow to trust him in his astute advice throughout the books – just as he trusts Harry to make the right decisions, which is something he stresses even in and after his own demise, as Harry searches for horcruxes to destroy Voldemort.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about Dumbledore himself is that, quite shockingly, he has flaws and secrets much darker than Harry could have imagined. The genius surrounding his character is that, while we often question his methods, we trust that he knows what he’s doing and that he is right. But the confrontation Harry has with Aunt Muriel at Bill and Fleur’s wedding about Dumbledore’s past leaves us questioning every conclusion to which Dumbledore has ever led us. Muriel asks Harry, “Honestly, my boy, are you sure you knew him at all?” Those words essentially define the hardships Harry wrestles with throughout the entirety of the Deathly Hallows, as he begins to question Dumbledore’s intentions, true self, and possibly even his own worth in Dumbledore’s eyes. The fact that these doubts occur after Dumbledore’s death make his parting that much more bitter as we, the readers, attempt to assemble the puzzling deeper layers of Albus Dumbledore.
Dumbledore is special in that, even after his death, his presence stays with until the end of the series, as we continue still see the effects and consequences of his actions unravel in Deathly Hallows over the course of Harry’s wild goose chase for horcruxes. Even after all of the questioning through which we rake Dumbledore’s integrity, his is the story that doesn’t end in death. We meet him one final time at King’s Cross Station, when Harry is suspended between worlds in a sort of fabricated Limbo. And once more, Dumbledore imparts worlds of wisdom and knowledge upon Harry, which he uses in order to return and defeat Voldemort in one final act.
In a way, Dumbledore’s death is a bit gentler and easier for us to swallow because we’re given that last little bit of closure from him there at King’s Cross. The same could be said still about other deaths, like as Lupin and Sirius, or even Harry’s parents, as they are produced from the Resurrection Stone and offer Harry words of comfort – but I like to think that Dumbledore’s post-life conversation with Harry is a bit more meaningful. Some fans have been known to regale the King’s Cross chapter as the most beautiful chapter in the entire series, with Dumbledore giving Harry thought-provoking advice with a dash of hope one last time in the most critical moment of all, just has he has done for the duration of his acquaintance with Harry.
1. Severus Snape – The Deathly Hallows
When Snape looked as though there was no blood left in him, his grip on Harry’s robes slackened.
“Look…at….me…” he whispered.
The green eyes found the black, but after a second, something in the depths of the dark pair seemed to vanish, leaving them fixed, blank, and empty. The hand holding Harry thudded to the floor, and Snape moved no more.”
I don’t know about anyone else, but I bawled my eyes out much longer than necessary over the death of this fictional person, both while reading and watching Deathly Hallows. Snape’s death struck me harder than any other death in the series.
Snape unleashed years of humiliation at Harry throughout his education at Hogwarts. Torture. Outright malice. Palpable loathing. Loss of house points, imposed detentions. Snape was literally the thing that Neville feared most, and Neville lost both of his parents to Death Eaters’ abominable methods during the First Wizarding War. Snape is a sly, cunning, oily man who has never given any house outside of Slytherin reason to feel anything but contempt for him. That is, until JK Rowling shocked the hell out of us with revelation of his memories in Dumbledore’s Pensieve just after his death.
Snape is arguably the person who cared for Harry the most. I am certain that a great many fans will object to this, but take a moment to consider a few things. Who else might compete for that esteemed title? Ron and Hermione, putting themselves in harm’s way and danger over and over for him? Hagrid, who made sure to safely deliver and return him to the world he truly belonged to? Dumbledore, the wizened mentor to whom Harry could turn for advice in nearly every problem he found himself in? Any single one of the Order of the Phoenix members who risked their life for Harry? Yes, any one of these people would go to profound lengths in order to rescue or ensure Harry’s protection. Surely, you say to yourself, they must care for him more than Snape does.
The difference between all of these people, to me, is that Snape did all of that and played a multitude of additional parts and roles for years and years and years. Snape literally led a double life as a secret agent for Dumbledore, playing his role well enough so that when the time came, there was little question of him returning as a Death Eater. Snape elevated himself to one of Voldemort’s most trusted advisers, even going so far as to make an Unbreakable Vow to murder Dumbledore, all in the name of Harry’s safety and livelihood.
So why would someone feign contempt and loathing for a student for so many years while acting as a agent for Dumbledore and engaging in all of this behavior to protect Harry? It’s no secret that all of Snape’s behaviors stemmed from Snape’s love for Lily Potter. It must have been a terrible thing for him to turn to the Dark Arts, only to have them become the very cause of Lily’s death. Only by protecting her son with every ounce of himself could he find even a sliver of personal redemption for what he felt was his fault.
Snape’s tale is the most tragic of anyone’s in the Potter saga. Unrequited love which ended first in denial and second in death, necessitating acting the part of a villainous teacher for years; putting himself in extreme danger in acting as a spy for the Order and playing his part so well even after Dumbledore’s death that every single one of us were fooled, including Voldemort himself, twice. Snape gives up any chance at happiness he could have ever had – pursuing his own personal desires, allowing himself to get close to others, making friends or pursuing relationships, or simply even just being himself – all in order to care for Harry in his own subtle way by protecting him in secret for the duration of the books. Without a doubt, it is Snape who experiences the most loss and the most personal sacrifice of any single character, save for Harry’s own mother, who protected him from Voldemort until her last breath and sacrificed her own life for Harry’s sake. Snape did the very same, only instead of lasting only moments such as Lily’s actions did, his sacrifice for Harry lasted a lifetime.
It could also be argued that, aside from Harry’s own importance, Snape was the most essential and integral character to the entire story, and even to Harry’s own life. I believe that Rowling also felt this way, which was why she chose to reveal Snape’s fate to no one but Alan Rickman during the course of production for the films, and has previously mentioned that she plotted both Snape and Dumbledore’s roles even before the first book was written.
Severus Snape is the twist we never saw coming, the ultimate anti-hero who hid in the plain sight until she was ready to share him with us. Within a few handfuls of words, Rowling managed to undo all of the work she had labored over for years, disintegrating Snape’s false image as the Terror of Hogwarts, and, in the same breath, promptly reducing us all to ugly, sobbing messes of tears and torn heartstrings.
She got us all good.
[Editor’s Note: Please note that this is one contributor’s opinion and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Mary Sue editorial staff at large.]
Sarah is a professional introvert by day and a caped crusader of justice by night, in addition to being the founder of Media for Misfits. She’s also a displaced geek from Utah who drinks from the carton and refuses to grow up. When she’s not writing or dabbling in design, she can be found marathoning Netflix documentaries in her pajamas with a cup of coffee and her pets. Find Sarah at @demosthynes, and follow @MediaforMisfits for more nerdy posts.
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