Live Blogging Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Third Hour

Last hour, we covered among other things: telling the difference between Fred and George, why werewolves are HIV/AIDS patients, and why Harry would be utterly wretched without Hermione to whisper the answers in his ear. I’ll go ahead and say that this hour is probably the dullest one of the bunch, even though there’s a great deal that goes on in the section that I just finished off. (Update: this is the longest post so far in this series, and it’s not particularly close.) Part of the problem is that I left off just before Chapter Twenty, the wonderful “Xenophilius Lovegood,” and because of distractions, couldn’t manage to include “The Tale of the Three Brothers” either. Ah well. Let’s roll.

Hour #3: p. 268-388 (from “The Thief” through “The Silver Doe”)

–Voldemort’s vast hubris is one of those happy conflations of “strong character writing” and “deeply convenient plot” especially where it concerns his Horcruxes. If you told Hitler or Stalin that you could magically store pieces of their souls in some object somewhere, both of them would almost certainly choose something magnificent to house their little soul fragments in. So too does Voldemort, who makes his Horcruxes after important murders and places those bits of soul into antique treasures with significant meaning to him. If Voldemort were prudent instead of clever, he’d make Horcruxes into the stuff of Portkeys and then blast them into space or into the Mid-Atlantic Ridge or something. But any person who would make Horcruxes by definition cannot be that circumspect…it’s a really fine catch-22 that makes the novel work. Without that relationship, Harry could run around for the rest of his life and never find another Horcrux; with it, he can do it in the space of several months, albeit avec hijinks.

–You know that part in Thank You for Smoking where Aaron Eckhart and Rob Lowe are talking about how to get post-coital cigarettes into a sci-fi flick, and Eckhart says that cigarettes would explode once a fire was lit in an all-oxygen environment? Remember what Rob Lowe says? “Probably. But it’s an easy fix. One line of dialogue. ‘Thank God we invented the…you know, whatever device.'” That’s how I feel about this moment where Harry and Ron remember something Hermione says about Voldemort having “pushed his soul to the limit already.” And that solves so many problems that it’s almost cheating. Voldemort knows that his diary has already been destroyed and with it the Horcrux. (Knowing that Riddle’s diary is a Horcrux does incredible things for CoS, incidentally…the book improves years after the fact thanks to that little tidbit.) So if Voldemort is so big on having seven soul containers out there (including his body, he has Nagini, a relic from three of four Hogwarts founders, the Gaunt ring, and the diary), then why doesn’t he make another Horcrux after he finds out the diary is gone? There were opportunities to do it: Cedric would have been a good Horcrux=starter. I linked to an article from Mugglenet in my first hour that suggested that Amelia Bones might have been a Horcrux-starter. This particular conversation (again, thanks, Hermione, for being better at everything than Ron and Harry) closes that door, and thank goodness it does, because otherwise we’d have a big ol’ plot hole on our hands.

–I guess while we’re talking about Hermione being always-right-and-never-wrong, we may as well bring up a time when she was totally wrong. (There are more coming, and they come in rapid succession…again, Harry’s really only as good as Hermione is.) Namely, it’s when she decides that Voldemort, despite Harry’s hypothesis, could never have hidden a Horcrux at Hogwarts because “he didn’t get the job” and thus “never got the chance to find a founder’s object there and hide it in the school,” as if Voldemort could only go from the entrance to Dumbledore’s office to the exit without making any other turns. This argument also ignores the fact that Voldemort already knew the whereabouts of Slytherin’s locket and Hufflepuff’s cup at the time, and wouldn’t necessarily have had to find and then hide another relic at the school. It’s just really mediocre reasoning which has “they can’t even think about Hogwarts until page 500something” written all over it.

–My notes aren’t precisely skimpy at this point, but they don’t really touch on anything of major importance for close to twenty pages. Time for a Potter Lightning Round, I think.

1) There are a lot of people who have brought up the connections between the Lord of the Rings series and the Harry Potter series, and I won’t belabor that here. However, the similarities went from “interesting” to “ambulance siren obvious” once Horcruxes entered the picture, because the One Ring is basically a Horcrux, and anyone who wears a Horcrux around their neck (see: the Trio, Frodo Baggins) suffers immensely for it. That’s my personal favorite similarity between the two. Anyway, moving right along.

2) The Principal Exceptions to Gamp’s Law of Elemental Transfiguration. Man, I love this for a few reasons. First off, the absolute funniest moment in the entire series is related to this twice-mentioned piece of magical theory (are those bells ringing for you yet? They should be!). Second, remember that long-winded discussion I had in the last hour about the sociology of the wizarding world? The Principal Exceptions are maybe at the heart of that whole discussion. Critiques of Harry Potter are too often levied by folks who saw two movies and read half a book and thus took everything they knew from there. It’s a tempting way to criticize, but it simplifies to absurdity, not unlike Russell’s Teapot (sorry, Reddit atheists). The Principal Exceptions are latecomers to the party, but they almost certainly answer one question: why is the Weasley family so poor in comparison to say, the Malfoys? If these people are magic, certainly they can multiply money in such a way that they can buy to their hearts content? Food is one of the Principal Exceptions (you can’t just make it out of nothing), and while none of the others has ever been stated in canon or outside of it, it would make a lot of sense if money was the second exception.

3) Dawlish was basically smarter than Hermione at Hogwarts but gets pwned almost every time he comes up in conversation (I was going to say “literally,” but then I remembered that Tonks mentions him once and Harry only references the time Dumbledore beat the heck out of him as opposed to Dumbledore magically appearing and crushing him with a fish.) It’s gotten to the point where DIrk Cresswell can Stun him, largely because Dawlish has been Confunded. At this point, I just feel bad for the guy.

4) When Ron says that they are “nowhere effing near” to finding more Horcruxes and destroying the one they’ve got, that’s a moment which actually had me say, “Whoa!” when I was reading. Harry Potter never did cross that line between “I can see this on television” and “I can only see this on HBO” in terms of language and sex. For Ron to actually get an “effing” out, though, was the Great Leap Forward of Potterverse swearing.

5) If I hadn’t touched on this particular trope of the Potter books in my first hour, this wouldn’t be part of the Lightning Round, but happily, I’ve already talked about how a Potter book is barely complete without one of the Trio getting ostracized by the other two, or, more rarely but still totally valid, one of the Trio walking out. Ron takes a little more than three hundred pages to do so in DH, but he walks out on Harry and Hermione eventually. I don’t know that I’d even mention it if not for the fact that this time, Ron does something different. Instead of just giving someone the silent treatment, he tries to take someone with him. If you’re waiting for further discussion about the love triangle, keep waiting a couple minutes. We’re going to have a good time with that.

6) Bonus thought! Harry thinks to himself as sixth-year (fall 1996) that Gryffindor hadn’t finished in fourth in the Quidditch Cup in a century. That’s insane. Gryffindor has a run of sporting dominance which simply cannot be equaled. Imagine if the New York Yankees (founded in 1901 as the “Baltimore Orioles”) had never finished in last place in the American League from 1901 to 2001. (Fun fact: they finished in last in the AL in 1912 and didn’t do that again until 1966.) The Junior Circuit started with eight teams in 1901 and currently boasts fifteen. So back to our hypothetical: say the Yankees never finished in last from ’01 to ’01. That would be absolutely phenomenal, even in a league with 8-15 teams. Back to Gryffindor: in a hundred years, they have never finished worse than third. Gryffindor makes Jimmy Chitwood look just okay at basketball.

Thus ends our first Potter Lightning Round.

–I was going to be kind of teed off about Phineas Nigellus being the last Slytherin headmaster until Snape. Then I looked up when Phineas Nigellus lived, and the Black family tree tells us: 1847-1925. Offhand, I would have placed him half a century earlier than that, so that’s actually not as bad as I thought it was. The list of Hogwarts headmasters in the 20th Century, as far as I can tell, actually goes something like Phineas Nigellus Black, at least one person (but probably only one), Armando Dippet, Albus Dumbledore, Severus Snape. That’s sort of a jumping-off point for the actual thought I’ve been having: when Slytherin left the school, why the heck didn’t he take his house with him? It takes six books to find a Slytherin who isn’t actively being a so-and-so (apologies to Snape, but that’s not a guy you like until DH unless you’re one of those fourteen-year-olds with a “dark side” and a penchant for writing crap poetry), and that’s Horace Slughorn. We get the goods on Slytherin pretty early on in PS/SS, when Hagrid tells Harry that all of the bad witches and wizards during the rise of Voldemort were in Slytherin. Voldemort was a Slytherin, of course. It even extends to people who only show up once in the series. Remember when Malcolm Baddock gets Sorted into Slytherin in GoF, and Harry immediately goes off on a mental riff about how all the bad wizards are Slytherins? I mean, gosh, that’s a really positive outlook. That’s not just a bit of exposition. Harry thinks of him, once he’s sorted into Slytherin, as “Baddock,” getting the bad-children-get-called-by-their-surname treatment that Malfoy, Crabbe, Goyle, Zabini, Montague, Warrington, etc. get. It’s linguistic determinism at that point; would Harry have thought of him as “Malcolm” if he got Sorted into Ravenclaw? Once I started reading the books with any seriousness, this struck me as one of the real weaknesses in the Potterverse; it’s the same idea as all of the rats and weasels and stoats and wolves and what have you in the Redwall series being bad guys. Again, Snape manages to turn that around some, and of course Slughorn is lovable in his own way, but it’s very much a too-little too-late attempt. After all, doesn’t Slughorn tell Harry not to hold his Slytherinism against him within two minutes of meeting him? I guess that takes us back to the original question: why would Slytherin House stick around? Why not just start another rival school in the future UK with those kinds of students (albeit all the evil ones)?

–All right, I’ve been complaining a lot in this post (trust me, I’m not hate-reading this by any stretch of the imagination: Harry Potter is not The Newsroom), but here’s the part where it turns into whining. There’s not another thirty page stretch (is it really thirty pages? yeesh) in the whole series that is so uneven as this Godric’s Hollow adventure. It starts with Hermione being totally wrong again (which is always a problem) and suggesting that Bathilda Bagshot, of all the random people in the world, has been keeping the real sword of Gryffindor hidden. Harry, who has been doing that thing again — that thing = “doing exactly what Voldemort expects him to do” — decides to go with. Harry and Hermione see the house where Harry’s parents were murdered, the graveyard where they are buried, and suddenly run into a mute Bathilda Bagshot, who manages to separate Hermione from Harry (again, Hermione being uncharacteristically stupid…what on earth) and then reveals herself as Nagini, who calls Voldemort, who, in a passage which is as close as Harry Potter ever gets to stream-of-consciousness, very nearly catches Harry and Hermione even though Nagini almost killed them herself. That’s the summary. Let’s start with the good, because I honestly do think some of the most impressive parts of the whole series are in this thirty page stretch.

When Harry and Hermione arrive in Godric’s Hollow, it’s Christmas Eve. There’s a church which is full with singing: Harry is reminded of Hogwarts, though I’m reminded more of Cavalleria rusticana and the “Regina Coeli,” which is gorgeous but other than a brief solo from Santuzza, has little to do with the plot of the opera itself. (I’m not saying that’s what’s intended or even that it’s relevant: that’s just what comes to mind for me.) Harry and Hermione walk into the graveyard and find Ariana Dumbledore’s grave (complete with Matthew 6:21), the grave of Ignotus “the youngest brother from the story who chose the Invisibility Cloak” Peverell, and finally, the graves of Harry’s parents. From page 328-9 of the first American edition:

But they were not living, thought Harry: They were gone. The empty words could not disguise the fact that his parents’ moldering remains lay beneath snow and stone, indifferent, unknowing. And tears came before he could stop them, boiling hot then instantly freezing on his face, and what was the point in wiping them off or pretending? He let them fall, his lips pressed hard together, looking down at the thick snow hiding from his eyes the place where the last of Lily and James lay, bones now, surely, or dust, not knowing or caring that their living son stood so near, his heart still beating, alive because of their sacrifice and close to wishing, at this moment, that he was sleeping under the snow with them.

It’s not Faulkner, but it’s some of the more moving prose that Rowling managed to push out in the whole of the series is right here. I had never connected the dots, but James and Lily were both twenty-one when they were murdered…isn’t that absurd? I mean, I’m older now than James and Lily Potter ever got…so to speak. Meanwhile, Harry gets to do something which he has been working around for six and a half books: he finally confronts his grief. It was something which he held on to, something that we always understood as readers but was difficult to internalize. It’s not until PoA, when Sirius and Remus show up and Harry starts hearing his parents die, that we get the shock of it; it’s not until GoF that we actually run into James and Lily; OotP gives us an insight into James and Lily as students, albeit not an entirely flattering one for James; but it’s DH that manages to wrap together the package of the deaths of James and Lily, their continuing influence on their son, and all the memories we have of them through the snippets we’ve collected. It’s a sequence which is truly powerful. You might disagree with me on the next thing which I qualify as “good,” and in this case it’s a Voldemort POV of the Potter murders. While it breaks very little new ground, it’s a subject which fascinated me, at least, since PS/SS. This is the most complete account we’ve got by a long way, and even though it informs us that we knew a lot more about that night than we thought we did (the biggest revelation is that Voldemort ran into some trick-or-treaters), it’s appropriate that we get a full account in this last book; perhaps as a bonus, it affirms the Harry-Voldemort connection before we get the news that, yes, Virginia, Harry is a Horcrux.

With all that gone, here’s the bad. As I’ve hinted at, there’s no reason for those two to have ever gone to Godric’s Hollow other than “the plot demands it so that: Harry’s wand can break, they can have a great meeting with Nagini/Voldemort, we can reaffirm the Harry-Horcrux thing, and we can pick up a copy of The Life and Lies of Albus Dumbledore” and that’s really a bummer to have to deal with as a critical reader. It’s just too much to believe that Hermione could delude herself into thinking Bathilda Bagshot has the sword; perhaps even worse, it’s too much to believe as a Potter fan, reading this for the first time, that Bathilda Bagshot could possibly be that important.

–Remember that “Whoa!” I had when Ron dropped an “effing”? Yeah, I dropped a “Naaah” when Hermione suggested that Bathilda was keeping the sword. Just totally unbelievable. What’s worse is that the encounter with Nagini, even though it takes up only about three or four pages, is so abrupt that it’s almost opaque. It’s surprising and dramatic and…well, just kind of weird. The snake was hiding in a woman’s corpse? The Potterverse is a pretty kinky place, but that’s got to be one of the three or four absolute weirdest things that happens there. Apparently it surprises Harry and Hermione as well, because Harry practically dismisses it as, “Lupin said there would be magic we’d never imagined.” There are some things in the Harry Potter books which don’t work for one reason or another, and I feel like I’ve addressed most of them in this post or the two previous ones: Harry forgets about a two-way mirror he has with Sirius, Hermione gets weirdly upset about Harry’s Potions book, and the Bathilda/Nagini escapade that Harry has here.

–I’ve been biting my tongue about this for a while, but the tombstones in this graveyard which have the dates of Lily and James’ births/deaths are the most in-your-face proof that Harry Potter was born in 1980 and attended Hogwarts from 1991-1997 until going on the lam from the fall of 1997 to the spring of 1998, at which point he defeated Voldemort and faded into who-knows-what until 2017. The best of us knew that this wasn’t quite a contemporary story as far back as CoS, when we find out that Nearly-Headless Nick was executed on October 31, 1492 (eerily enough, 489 years before the deathday of James and Lily) and has a deathday party commemorating its five hundredth anniversary…by which we can tell that Harry began his second year at Hogwarts in 1992. Stubbornly, I held on to a more contemporary Potter because of an anachronism in GoF: Harry tells Sirius that Dudley owns breaks a PlayStation in the summer of 1994, even though they weren’t released in Europe in 1995. However, it’s easier to work around the PlayStation than it is to work around Nearly-Headless Nick, and of course things began to roll along in favor of an epic which takes place in the 1990s, not the early 2000s. I can’t explain why I like the ’90s Potter so fascinating; maybe it’s because there are so few hints to it throughout the books. Or maybe it’s because it smacks of math, which is sometimes a mystery to me, just as the ways of women are a mystery to Ron Weasley. More on that soon!

–But love is in the air regardless. It was difficult to predict just what would happen in the Potter books as you went from one to another because Rowling tended to find ways to include details which seemed unimportant and then blow them up to massive size. Back to a link I had in my first hour thoughts: a very good Potter critic thought that the denouement of what would become DH would take place in Egypt with a lot of involvement from Bill Weasley, because there were a bunch of random mentions of Egypt in the previous six books. It wasn’t stupid, certainly; it would have been very Rowling to do it. The Room of Requirement, which shows up offhandedly in GoF, is just short of deus ex machina in OotP, HBP, and DH. But we all should have known immediately it was Snape (ah, all of you did? Fine, so should have known it was Snape) casting his Patronus in the Forest of Dean to guide Harry (and Ron, as it turns out) to the sword of Gryffindor. And we should have known because Tonks’ Patronus changed. And as far as I know, changing Patronuses were not widely expected to be a factor in DH.

A surprisingly big deal is made of Tonks’ changing Patronus, to something which looks like a big ol’ shaggy dog from who knows what. The CW is that it’s supposed to symbolize Sirius in his Animagus form; turns out that Tonks is in love with Remus Lupin, and that her Patronus is him. We find out that her Patronus, well, exists, when she rescues Harry from the Hogwarts Express…more interestingly, we find out that Patronuses can change. But most interesting is who we find that little tidbit out from. From HBP, p. 160 of the first American edition:

“Hagrid was late for the start-of-term feast, just like Potter here, so I took it instead. And incidentally,” said Snape, standing back to allow Harry to pass him, “I was interested to see your new Patronus.”
He shut the gates in her face with a loud clang and tapped the chains with his wand again, so that they slithered, clinking, back into place.
“I think you were better off with the old one,” said Snape, the malice in his voice unmistakable. “The new one looks weak.”

And now, knowing what we know, from p. 366 of the first American edition of DH:

And then the source of the light stepped out from behind an oak. It was a silver-white doe, moon-bright and dazzling, picking her way over the ground, still silent, and leaving no hoofprints in the fine powdering of snow. She stepped toward him, her beautiful head with its wide, long-lashed eyes held high.
Harry stared at the creature, filled with wonder, not at her strangeness, but at her inexplicable familiarity. He felt that he had been waiting for her to come, but that he  had forgotten, until that moment, that they had arranged to meet.

It’s the Patronus of a man so in love with a woman who ultimately fell for another man; her identity as a doe slaved itself to James Potter’s as a stag, but he loved her so much that his own Patronus takes, in a way, after James’ identity. This passage is filled with hyphenated adjectives — “silver-white,” “moon-bright,” “long-lashed.” The effect is one of linkage, of combination between two disparate parts; we’re talking about unions because of those adjectives, and there is no more obvious union than that between two people in love. Speaking of love, I love this series. I honestly can’t wait to talk about “The Prince’s Tale.”

–One of the things I haven’t done much of in the past two hours is discuss the Potter films, especially as they relate to the books. All good things must come to end, I guess, so remember when it was announced that the DH movie would be split into two? Not only did that start a positively evil practice (looking at you, Twilight and The Hunger Games), but it also spawned endless debate about where the first DH movie would end. The smart money was on Ron’s return, though I argued against that pretty vehemently, as that would put an immense amount of pressure on the second movie to manage the Deathly Hallows, Malfoy Manor, Gringotts, the Battle of Hogwarts, the Prince’s Tale, and other various conclusions. I realized a couple days ago that my preference was deeply influenced by, of all things, Dead Man’s ChestI was totally ready for the first movie to end with a wild-eyed Xenophilius Lovegood looking at the Trio and asking, “Are you referring to the sign of the Deathly Hallows?” Cut to credits, big music. Although I didn’t solve most of the timing problems either in my solution, I argued that the traditionally non-diagetic opening credits could have that problem fixed through a voiceover, perhaps, of the Tale of the Three Brothers. I was pleasantly surprised, then, to find that ending at Shell Cottage with Dobby’s death (which no one talked about, interestingly enough, but which was really a great stopping point) (and apologies to that last scene with Voldemort finding the Elder Wand, too) worked really well. Nostalgia, guys. RIP Dobby, by the way.

–Nostalgia, guys. I was big into AIM when I was in middle school and early high school, which is when most of my Harry Potter reading and internalizing took place as well. Somewhere along the way, I found myself alternating between two of my favorite buddy icons (I know, seriously), both Potter-related. The first was one of Harry using the Sectumsempra curse on Malfoy, complete with Harry saying, “No–“. And the second is rather less canonical. Ron and Harry are in their dorm, and Ron asks Harry, “Who do you like?” And Harry says, “Um…Susan Bones.” To which Ron replies, “…WTF?” Yes, I ‘shipped Harry and Susan Bones. Not seriously or anything, mind you. I’ve posted comments on two or three blog posts about the Phillies in my life, and that’s pretty much it. I wasn’t on the Mugglenet boards wreaking havoc about how the books were setting up some foolproof future for Harry and Susan, and how my adolescent heart was set on nothing less. I vividly remember this special edition of Emerson Spartz’s Wall of Shame, which reacted to the sinking of the Harmony ‘ship (hyuk hyuk) with what a high schooler would have considered a suave detachment. He was a tool, but goodness knows he had it together; that’s more than can be said for the Harmony shippers (that’s “Harry/Hermione” for those of you who were smart enough to spend the early aughts off of Harry Potter fansites). The phrase “anvil-sized hints” became part of my vocabulary after all that.

All this is prelude to what happens when Ron adds a new page to his scrapbook: “Baby’s First Destroyed Horcrux.” “Anvil-sized hints” had to make some more room for “I have seen your heart and it is mine.” It’s a killer scene, and it’s really Ron’s last hurrah in this series; Ron has heroic moments later, but this is his final time in the limelight, and it’s a worthy “finish” for him. It brings us full circle with Ron, really. In PS/SS, our first really incisive encounter with Ron plants him firmly as a low self-esteem type. He tells Harry that it doesn’t matter terribly what he does at Hogwarts, whether it’s prestige, sports, grades, or popularity, because his older brothers have done it well already. Ron gazes into the Mirror of Erised and sees himself, as Dumbledore says, as the best of his brothers after having felt neglected and passed over for his entire life. Ron becomes something of a benign buffoon, vague antagonist, and comic relief over the rest of the series; and of course, where Hermione is the most helpful person on Earth, Ron becomes Harry’s sounding board. But we’re reminded every now and then, as Harry is in GoF, that every now and then Ron becomes tired of living in one more shadow; it’s hard enough to live in the shadow of your five older brothers who all have more clearly defined talents, but it doesn’t get any easier when you have the chance to carve out your own identity…and then blow it when you become best friends with one of the most famous wizards in the world. Ron isn’t a tragic figure, the way Harry, Dumbledore, Snape, and even Voldemort are. But there’s a deep sadness at the heart of the character, a sense of worthlessness which seeps into his behavior and his thoughts. And thus full circle: the Slytherin’s locket-Horcrux sees Ron’s heart, and it belongs to the Horcrux, finding all of those previously reported insecurities and one more as well.

I admit, the Harmony folks probably had more ammunition up through the third book than the Herons want to admit (yes, Hermione/Ron…I don’t know what the Harry/Susan group called themselves. I hope it was Hairy Bones or something like that…). Not only is Ron pretty brutal to Hermione in the early goings, Harry and Hermione have that nice little moment at the end of PS/SS, before Harry goes through the fire to Voldemort…Ron and Hermione have a fight so colossal in PoA that the narrator says it looked like their friendship might end. There was always a brittleness to the two of them…though we get the first of our anvil-sized hints at the Yule Ball, the second as the Krum relationship continues, and from there the anvils fall like it’s Looney Tunes. Ron and Hermione were never so much of a “will-they won’t-they” couple as they were a “when will they and can it happen soon because the bickering caused by their sexual frustration is giving me ulcers” kind of couple. The coup de grace for the Harmony folks, ironically (and this is assuming that you can, as the most fanatical among them did, ignore the Yule Ball and basically the first half of HBP), has nothing to do with Hermione, who from the binary visions of Harmony vs. Heron, was the variable. Nope, Harmony was totally doomed (as opposed to being merely “mostly doomed”) when Harry smelled something flowery that he recognized from the Burrow in Amortentia.

So when Ron, still under the influence of wearing the Horcrux, decides to leave Harry, it’s really only that he’s decided to leave Harry and abandon the search for more Horcruxes. As moody and depressed and downcast as he is, Ron has not given up hope that Hermione will come with him; and when she chooses to stay with Harry and keep looking, Ron’s reaction is, “You choose him.” The Horcrux figures that out without too much trouble, and there’s a Hermione, described as more attractive but also more awful than the real Hermione is, who appears. Paraphrased, she asks Ron how he could ever hope to win her affection when Harry Potter is an option available to her. And Ron only destroys the Horcrux after the Horcrux’s iterations of Harry and Hermione have kissed; the symbolism is remarkable here, really, as Ron commits himself to what must be a deeply cathartic act on different levels. There’s the honorable level, of course, in which he gets to atone for leaving Harry and Hermione in their need. There’s the personal/familial one, in which Ron, at least for a moment, is the greatest of his siblings: none of them has ever destroyed a fragment of Voldemort’s soul. And perhaps most interestingly, there’s an angry, raging level, where Ron gets to walk in on his best friend and his crush of several years kissing, on the edge of some romantic consummation that he has devoutly feared, and then he gets to kill them in the act.

One of my favorite moments in this book is the one where you know that everything is finally going to be okay between Ron and Hermione after six and a half books of fighting, moaning, gnashing of teeth, banter playful and pointed, and occasional romance: Hermione sees that Ron has returned, holding the sword of Gryffindor, which all three of them know is essential to the destruction of Horcruxes and to the finishing of Lord Voldemort. Hermione’s reaction is to punch Ron as much as possible and to greet him with, “You–complete–arse–Ronald–Weasley!” Yeah, that’s how you know.

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