***The following article contains plot information from across the Harry Potter series***
It’s over. The adventures of the boy wizard have been brought to a triumphant conclusion in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, with Harry defeating the dark wizard Voldemort in a gripping showdown in a bombed-to-bits Hogwarts. We always knew Harry would, but it’s been a long time coming, so it’s fitting that the film is a feast for the fans who’ve stayed with the series, and grown up alongside actors Daniel Radcliffe (Harry), Rupert Grint (Ron) and Emma Watson (Hermione), over the last 10 years.
Given that the last novel of the series was split in two, the story of Deathly Hallows Part 2 picks up right where Part 1 left off. It continues Harry, Ron and Hermione’s hunt for the horcruxes—magical objects that protect the fragments of Voldemort’s splintered soul—that tether Voldemort to life. More muted (in the films, at least) is Harry and co’s simultaneous search for the hallows, powerful magical tools—the Invisibility Cloak, the Resurrection Stone, and the Wand of Destiny—that make the wizard who unites them the Master of Death. In the midst of these quests, however, Harry comes to realise that his life is indelibly connected to Voldemort’s, and it will cost him dearly to defeat the dark wizard.
Viewers can expect a fair bit of menace from the always chilling Ralph Fiennes as Voldemort and Helena Bonham Carter as his deranged deputy Bellatrix Lestrange. The years of Ron and Hermione awkwardly shuffling in each other’s direction reach a satisfying climax. Hogwarts get spectacularly blown apart in the battle that dominates this film, as if to reward the faithful viewer who sat through the hours of camping that featured in Deathly Hallows Part 1. And we get treated to the long-awaited redemption of Severus Snape, played by the wonderful Alan Rickman.
If evil often conceals itself with a beautiful face, it’s a nice touch that Snape’s sickly pallor proves the exception to the rule. Snape’s sinister appearance and frequent run-ins with Harry became something of a fixture of the series, but in Deathly Hallows Snape is revealed to have a tender side that qualifies him as Harry’s most unlikeliest father figure of all. Harry learns in this last story how much he has in common with Snape. They’re not only bound by a mutual loathing of each other, but also united in their longing for Lily Potter (Harry) and longing after her (Snape). Harry, understandably, misses the mother he’s never met, and who gave her life in love for him. Having met and fallen in love with her as children, Snape can’t forget Lily and regrets the life they could have shared.
Snape’s love of Lily leads him to renounce his loyalty to Voldemort and commit himself to protecting Harry; no easy task, given that Harry reminds Snape all too easily of James Potter (Harry’s father) who bullied Snape at school. The truth about Snape revealed in Deathly Hallows prompts the reader to track back through the series to appreciate the tension now evident in Snape’s actions towards Harry: certainly spite and meanness, but one that was held in check (mostly!) by his devotion to Lily. His story, then, becomes one of love turning a bad man good—if grudgingly. Snape’s struggle between good and bad even after love had claimed him for its own is all too human, which makes his ending particularly tragic. But also quite noble. If imitation is the highest form of flattery, then Snape’s sacrifice of himself shows how much he esteems Lily, for he devotes his life to the cause for which she dedicated hers: protecting Harry. Snape doesn’t do it for Harry per se, but for the love of Lily.
If Snape’s story is essentially one of transformation as a result of love of Lily, Harry demonstrates just how much he is his mother’s son in his offering of himself in order to save his friends. In the first novel of the series, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Lily’s sacrifice of herself for the sake of Harry provides protection from Voldemort. It’s fitting, then, that in the last novel of the series, Harry’s willingness to die so that others might live similarly shields his friends so that they are safeguarded from the attacks of the dark wizard. This will be familiar to those who’ve read the novel, where Voldemort’s attacks on those fighting at Harry’s side have little effect. It’s less emphasised, however, in Deathly Hallows Part 2. In the film, Voldemort’s spells just have little effect on the resurrected Harry, and not anyone else Voldemort happens to strike.
This shield of protection that Harry draws around his friends also extends to his final duel with Voldemort. In the novel, the spell Harry casts that defeats Voldemort once and for all is Harry’s signature spell, ‘Expelliarmus’—a spell to disarm the opponent—whereas Voldemort hurls a death curse at Harry. Yes, Harry is at this stage counting on the unbeatable Wand of Destiny to remember that he is its master, and so perhaps the weakest of spells, when cast through this most powerful of wands, would have been enough to overpower Voldemort. But it’s significant that Harry casts a defensive spell rather than an offensive curse. His aim is not so much to kill Voldemort as to prevent him from harming others ever again.
This detail is less evident in the film, since duels in the later film adaptations of the series refrain from wizards screaming hexes each other. Perhaps silent duelling is a slicker and less childish choice but the film’s portrayal of Harry seeking to kill Voldemort rather than merely disarm him obscures Harry’s nature as revealed in Rowling’s books. The Harry of her creation does get enraged but he’s rarely murderous. His innate kindness—inherited from his mother, says Dumbledore—always holds sway. Given that Voldemort has taken so much from Harry, and that Harry is the in-principle master of the most powerful wand in the world, Harry’s choice not to use the immense power at his disposal to kill Voldemort is a gesture of surprising grace. It’s often noted that Harry Potter is a Christlike figure, and certainly the way he chooses to sacrifice himself for the sake of others qualifies him for such comparison. But less observed is his remarkable capacity for grace, especially for his enemies—not only Voldemort, but Wormtail and Draco as well—which emphasises Harry’s similarity to Christ as well.
Love conquering fear. The power of sacrifice. The redeeming power of love. These themes aren’t exclusive to a particular philosophy or religion, but they resonate powerfully with the Christian story—at the centre of which stands Jesus Christ, who offers his life in love so that others might live. The intermingling themes of love and sacrifice are also the foundations of Rowling’s sprawling epic that are given concrete form in the sacrificial actions of Harry and Snape—which themselves echo Lily’s act to save Harry. Indeed, she is Harry Potter’s original Christlike figure. That Harry and Snape’s heroism should reflect her sacrificial love is one of the most satisfying aspects of the series’ conclusion. Together she, Harry and Snape tell us a tale, wonderfully told, that a life lived—and given, ultimately—for others is a life well lived indeed.
Dr Justine Toh is a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Public Christianity and an Honorary Associate of the Media and Cultural Studies Department at Macquarie University