Famous last words: nitwit, blubber, oddment, tweak

Tuesday, 17 July 2007 — 9:28pm | Harry Potter, Literature

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows has shipped. Consider this my last transmission in a state of blissful ignorance before I retreat to my hastily prepared hermetic shelter.

There’s been a leak online, and I personally know at least one individual who legitimately claims to have read the book. To me, the next three days are nothing more or less than a treacherous challenge to survive unblemished in a viral world polluted with too much information. I have summarily severed all inbound lines of communication. If word gets out in the next few days that a lit-crazed science camp instructor has viciously silenced a small child or three, you’ll know why, and you can tell it to the cops that I solemnly swear they were up to no good.

Here are my final predictions. I don’t have time to offer as thorough a rationale for each of them as I’d like; some of them are hunches, and some of them are cases of deliberately contrarian muckraking. If I’m right, I promise you I didn’t cheat. If I’m wrong, I’ll look rather silly, won’t I? But just this once, that’s a risk I’m willing to take.

Let’s start with the important questions.

Snape, Snape, Severus Snape. Evil.

I’ve lost sleep mulling over this and flipping back and forth, but after reading through all six of the preceding volumes again, I’m going back to the same initial impression I had when I first read Half-Blood Prince; see this blog’s most (inexplicably) popular post of all time for details. I can understand the argument that Snape killed Dumbledore on Dumbledore’s last-minute orders – making yourself completely vulnerable and committing assisted suicide to plant a double-agent right-hand man? Ingenious! – but I just don’t buy it.

First: Dumbledore wouldn’t order someone to commit murder, even as someone who believes that death is the next great adventure. I really do believe Snape took him by surprise, and that Dumbledore petrified Harry to prevent any interference only when it came to Draco Malfoy – who, as I’ve said before, probably had the right idea about Snape all along. As for the pleading, we may confidently infer that Dumbledore’s condition was something only Snape could properly address. We’ve also been told time and again that an Unforgivable Curse doesn’t work unless you really mean it and take pleasure in the act of violence.

Was Snape just securing himself the advantageous position of Voldemort’s real first lieutenant and “most loyal servant,” the delusion successively held by Peter Pettigrew, Barty Crouch Jr. and Bellatrix Lestrange (and before that, arguably Lucius Malfoy)? I doubt it. Snape, of all people, is in a position to understand that someone like Voldemort doesn’t put much stock in first lieutenants. He’s too cunning to believe that there’s any safety in such a position. I think Snape is primarily looking out for his own survival, the true mark of a Slytherin.

Will Snape end up doing something in favour of the good guys? Almost certainly, whether it’s intentional on his part or not. Will Harry forgive him? Unquestionably, not least because of our boy hero’s continued assurances that it will never happen. That’s something we’ll leave for the action in the seventh book. What I’m far more interested in is the motivation behind what Snape has been up to so far.

I think it’s imperative that we accept that Dumbledore is a flawed character – someone who has a gaping hole in his wisdom because of his willingness to see the best in people. Sooner or later, somebody was going to take advantage of it, and that someone turned out to be Snape. (Ironically, it was Dumbledore alone who saw right through the young Tom Riddle.) I was waffling on this, but what convinced me for good was this article comparing Severus the Half-Blood Prince to Severus in Machiavelli’s The Prince. There’s no way that kind of correlation is just another inconsequential blip on the radar.

Does it impugn Harry’s maturation as a character to say that on some level, he was right to have an irrational dislike of Snape all along? Maybe, but one other thing to remember about Half-Blood Prince is that much of it is a case of the boy who cried wolf: for once, Harry’s intuition is right on the money, but everyone is so used to it being ostensibly wrong that they didn’t take him seriously when it came to, say, Draco Malfoy’s degree of involvement in Voldemort’s cause.

Snape is far more dangerous than we give him credit for. He’s already accomplished two things that Voldemort only ever dreamed of doing: teaching Defence Against the Dark Arts, and getting Dumbledore out of the way. I’m not saying I’d place him as the primary antagonist over Voldemort himself, though others have pursued that train of thought; the symmetry isn’t quite there, and I’d say that even though Half-Blood Prince was named for Snape, the primary contribution it made to the series was its reassertion of a solid and credible basis for believing that Voldemort is as much of a villain as everybody makes him out to be.

I may end up eating crow, of course, and if I do, I think I know why. It’s because we still don’t know why Dumbledore trusted Snape. This is one of the two big uncertainties that characters in the book (never mind the readers) have occasionally mistaken for certainties, the other one being, “Why couldn’t Voldemort kill Harry?” Harry recognizes the sheer implausibility that Dumbledore could be hoodwinked by Snape’s apparent remorse for the deaths of the Potters. Well, it’s not just implausible – it’s impossible. In Goblet of Fire, we learned that Dumbledore testified that Snape defected prior to Voldemort’s fall. That means the defection had to occur before Voldemort marched into Godric’s Hollow. An advance warning? Perhaps, but it didn’t seem to help.

This is literature, folks. The question we should be asking isn’t, “What makes the characters the most clever?” but rather, “What results in the most elegant pattern?” J.K. Rowling may prove me horribly wrong, but I think the answer involves a Severus Snape who isn’t just doing Dumbledore’s bidding.

If we accept my take on things, the biggest question is this: why does Severus Snape feel obligated to protect Harry Potter? Is this of his own accord, or is Snape unwillingly bound through something like an Unbreakable Vow or his outstanding debt to Harry’s father?

Harry will never pull off an Unforgivable Curse. And he’ll never be a murderer. It’s not even a matter of the amount of conviction or hatred he can pour into a spell meant to torture or kill – he’s just fundamentally incapable of the act. Sectumsempra is in all likelihood the closest he’ll ever come to the Dark Arts, and it was in many ways accidental. And this leads to the central curiosity I have going into the final volume: how could Harry vanquish Voldemort without murdering him?

Dumbledore’s dead. He’s been dead for two years now. Get over it.

Who lives? Limiting myself to candidates that may or may not have been bandied about, so I don’t have to comb the dramatis personae all the way down to Dedalus Diggle: Harry Potter, Hermione Granger, Hagrid, all three of the Malfoys, all of the Weasleys (with the possible exception of Ron, but I’ll get into that later), Minerva McGonagall, Remus Lupin, the Dursleys.

Who dies? Lord Voldemort. His greatest weakness is his failure to realize that some things are worse than death, but I think that’s a reason why he will die, not why he won’t. It’s precisely the fate that all of his evil was conjured to avoid. There’s one hitch with this I can see: Voldemort is so resistant to death that theoretically, he’d come back as a ghost. There has to be some reason that his death is permanent, and it’s not going to be as simple as running out of Horcruxes. It probably involves love, but that doesn’t get us any closer to a practical solution, does it.

I’m actually inclined to think that all three of Harry, Ron and Hermione will survive. But I’ll hedge my bets and say that if one of them is going to bite the dust, it’s going to be Ron. It’s the chess game in Philosopher’s Stone that tips the balance. He has a clear arc of character development – individuation relative to his siblings and his best friend – that is reaching its saturation point. Really, what it might come down to is whether or not Rowling intends to rip him and Hermione apart just after they’ve finally gotten together.

If it’s not Ron, who will it be? We’re certain to lose someone near and dear to us, aren’t we? Who’s important enough?

Neville Longbottom, that’s who. I don’t say this on the basis of any evidence in particular, but here’s what we know. He has a score to settle with the Lestranges, that much is clear. There’s already a certain symmetry between Neville and Peter Pettigrew, and I could see a scenario in which the former takes the fall for his friends where the latter didn’t. After all, so much of the series is founded on taking similarities and splitting them in divergent directions at critical points marked by decisions that reflect one’s true character. And let’s not forget Neville’s role at the end of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, shall we?

Among the minor villains, I’m picking Bellatrix Lestrange, Peter Pettigrew and Fenrir Greyback to be out of the picture by the book’s end. Ever since Goblet of Fire, we’ve all been watching Peter Pettigrew to see what he’ll do with that silver hand, and a lot of the money’s on him killing Lupin. I actually think that if Pettigrew does slay a werewolf with a well-placed handshake, it will be Greyback; sure, the history between the characters isn’t there, but let’s not forget about that life debt to Harry.

What about Snape? I think he’s a dead man. Not at Harry’s hands, obviously. Harry will forgive and spare him. I can’t say the same for everyone else.

Ron will finally say the name “Voldemort.” And it’s about time.

Harry is not the last Horcrux. I admit the possibility, but I just don’t see it. This is a piece of Voldemort’s soul we’re talking about. If the Riddle diary was any indication, this is equivalent to an independent instance of Voldemort himself. We saw at the end of Order of the Phoenix that Voldemort is flatly unable to reside in someone who is able to love and be loved in the manner of Harry Potter. When Voldemort possessed Quirrell, he couldn’t even touch Harry with someone else’s hands because of the protection conferred by Harry’s mother. Is it really at all likely that Harry has played host to a shard of Voldemort’s soul this whole time? Not a chance.

The locket and the cup are probably givens. Some object of Ravenclaw’s? Probably, seeing as how there’s already one of Hufflepuff’s. If Dumbledore was wrong about any of the Horcruxes, it’s most likely the snake. But it’s not going to turn out to be Harry.

A brief word about R.A.B. It’s Regulus Black, but it might not be that important that it’s him. We should at least acknowledge, in passing, the possibility that Regulus was framed. For all we know, Snape could have been behind it all along. He had access to Grimmauld Place, he addresses Voldemort as the Dark Lord, he’s a known defector (genuine or otherwise), he’s proficient enough with potions that he could have filled or refilled the basin in the cave, and he is a likely candidate to attempt to subvert Voldemort from the inside. (We are, by now, well out of prediction territory and into the realm of fanciful conspiracy. My actual guess? It’s just Regulus Black.)

Someone we know or recognize will come back as an Inferius. And it will creep us out. But if you’re going to introduce a device like reanimated corpses into your story, why not use it?

Hoggy Hoggy Hogwarts. We’ll see more of it than we expect.

We will pay a visit to Azkaban. Of all the major locations mentioned in the books, Azkaban is the one we haven’t seen (Godric’s Hollow aside, but we know that’s coming). There’s a potential reason for going there, too: if Slytherin’s locket was indeed the one in Grimmauld Place, and Mundungus Fletcher indeed lifted it before being sent to the wizard prison, Harry will be hot on his trail.

The prophecy will be fulfilled, and it will be Voldemort’s fault. In other words, Harry lives and Voldemort dies. Voldemort’s is a case of Oedipal self-fulfilment par excellence. Is Divination still bunk? Yes, and it has always been. But Voldemort acts on its predictions, and has done so to his own peril on at least one occasion. That’s an exploitable trait if I ever saw one.

Sirius Black will not return as an innocent singing sensation. But they’ll finally clear his name.

The bad guys will get lucky. J.K. Rowling has proven time and again that any external utility or supplement that works in favour of the good guys can just as easily work in favour of the bad guys. She did it with Polyjuice Potion, the Invisibility Cloak, the Marauder’s Map and the Room of Requirement, and I strongly suspect Felix Felicis will fall into the wrong hands at some point. Then again, she does have limits; for example, she wrote the Time-Turner out of the story and avoided what could have been a very messy nest of Nargles.

We’ll see more of… Dobby, Kreacher, Luna Lovegood, Buckbeak, Grawp, Crabbe and Goyle, the huge and clumsy Death Eater at the end of Half-Blood Prince, the late Albus Dumbledore (who is unquestionably dead, but his portrait isn’t sitting in Hogwarts and who knows where else without reason). Norbert the Norwegian Ridgeback? We can only hope. What’s Charlie Weasley been up to lately, anyhow?

We may have seen the last of… Moaning Myrtle, Firenze, Rita Skeeter, Cho Chang, Lavender Brown, Madame Maxime, Viktor Krum, Gilderoy Lockhart, Nearly Headless Nick, Peeves, Fawkes (who may have made his final exit alongside Dumbledore), and most of the Hogwarts staff. And again, Dumbledore is not just merely dead – he’s really, most sincerely dead.

Harry will live to teach Defence Against the Dark Arts. I may hold minority opinions on a number of things, but this is not one of them. This is Harry Potter’s most likely fate. Voldemort’s curse on the position is a fairly consequential subplot of its own; who better to break the pattern and restore a settling sense of natural order?

I think that’s all I can come up with for now. I will see you all on the other side, burdened with an inevitable case of post-Potter depression.

Mischief managed?

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