by David Scott
Assuming that J.K. Rowling will not take Harry Potter beyond Book 7, as she has indicated, the plot of Book 7 is actually easy to predict. Dumbledore’s plan for Harry to find and destroy the Horcruxes and then move on to a final battle with Voldemort is clearly the frame on which the last book will be hung.
Based upon Rowling’s use of the classic plot of discovery, we can make some broad guesses as to how exactly the plot will play out. Before proceeding, however, a few key terms must be defined. First is the “plot of discovery.” It is based on an important point: that crucial to the author’s manipulation of the plot is the idea of information. If the resolution of the plot depends upon the characters solving the conflicts they face, then it is imperative for the characters to discover how to overcome the complications in their path. To do this, they must 1) discover something about those complications, or about themselves, and then, 2) be able to act upon what they have discovered.
Characters are discovering information about themselves, about others, about their surroundings, and about the conflicts they face all of the time. To make a further distinction, vital information is information needed by the characters to resolve the central conflict(s) of the plot. Yet another important distinction can be made: If the vital information is learned and acted upon in time, before a certain “point of no return,” the plot may be resolved happily. If the vital information is learned or acted upon too late, after a certain “point of no return,” the plot will likely be resolved unhappily. It is therefore clear that for Harry to survive his final battle with Voldemort, he must learn the vital information before the point of no return. However, we must also acknowledge that Harry, even with the knowledge in hand, may still not survive. Learning the information gives him the chance — not the certainty — of survival.
We may now identify the vital information and the point of no return as they may appear in Book 7.
Not one, but three, pieces of Vital Information (VI) remain to be discovered in Book 7:
- Harry needs to find the Horcruxes.
- Harry needs to find how to destroy the Horcruxes.
- Harry needs to discover how to destroy Voldemort.
Emphasized here is that Harry, and Harry alone, must learn these three pieces of information if he is to survive. The prophecy seems to make it clear that Harry alone can finish Voldemort, so if Harry dies, Voldemort would seem to have his wish for immortality granted. The other characters will give Harry aid but cannot deliver the coup de grace.
The Point of No Return (PNR) for Book 7 is Voldemort catching Harry in a place where Harry can’t escape.
I choose this PNR because Voldemort will now be actively seeking to destroy Harry. Voldemort is no longer being resisted by Dumbledore, and once Harry’s seventeenth birthday has passed, he will no longer be restrained by Lily’s sacrifice. Harry, on the other hand, should have sense enough not to seek Voldemort until he has the three pieces of vital information in hand.
It’s probable that Harry will have one or more close calls with Voldemort (or his Death Eaters) throughout the book. In fact, Voldemort may, early in Book 7, try to speed things along by attacking Aunt Petunia before Harry’s birthday. It will be interesting to see if Lily’s sacrifice protects her as it has Harry. It should also be safe to say that the difficulty of his escapes will rise proportionally as he gets closer to discovering the three pieces of vital information.
To keep the audience, however, Rowling will have to have Harry escape from these early encounters. We don’t want to see our hero killed off too soon. Nor do we want Harry to be successful too soon. For the audience, part of the interest in watching the hero’s search for the VI is seeing how that new knowledge affects the hero. We generally want to see the hero become a better, stronger, smarter, more powerful, more mature person because of what he has discovered. But what makes him better should make us, the audience, better, too. Heroes have always personified the values of the literate classes but have also served as role models, teaching us about right and wrong, good and evil. If Harry simply kills Voldemort without growing as a person, we will be cheated of some of the satisfaction (and the purpose) of following his story for so long.
Let’s offer two possibilities for the plot’s resolution based upon these premises. First, if Voldemort traps Harry at the PNR before Harry has discovered, at the very least, VI 1 and VI 2, then Harry will not survive the encounter. Clearly, the Horcruxes must be destroyed, or else Harry will have no chance of killing Voldemort. As a corollary to this, if Voldemort finds Harry after he has solved VI 1 and VI 2 but before he has discovered VI 3, then it will be tantamount that Harry discover VI 3 during this encounter, or else he will die. My guess is that Harry will solve VI 1 and VI 2 before the PNR so that he will have at least a fighting chance going into the battle.
The second possible resolution to this plot would be that Harry discovers all three pieces of VI before the PNR and can therefore dictate the terms of his final encounter with Voldemort. One hopeful point to note is that since the six books so far have been told largely through Harry’s point of view (only a few chapters have not), we may also assume that Harry will survive the final battle. A large and jarring disturbance in the story’s point of view would be the result if he does not.
From a storytelling perspective, the first possibility would create the most tension — the most doubt as to whether Harry will succeed and survive — in the audience and so is more likely to occur. The reason is that the first possibility is also more likely to lead to Voldemort’s victory, since Harry will be lacking one very important piece of information. From an emotional standpoint, the second possibility would give the readers more hope for Harry’s survival. I would be very surprised if the story varied too far from either of these models — though I would applaud Rowling if she could pull it off.
More fun for us — though much harder — is guessing how she will execute either of these outcomes. For there are a number of complications she has at her disposal to keep the plot from being a mere station-to-station story. Here are four possibilities for the complications:
Harry may learn the information he needs to resolve the conflict but may not be in a position to use it.
Like setting up a Christmas tree and finding that the plug is four inches from the outlet, Harry may find he needs an extension cord to get the lights working. Here is the most likely place for him to receive help from his friends, either through some additional firepower (as at the end of Book 5), or a rescue (if Harry has been captured), or some clever detective work (like Hermione’s in Book 2), or a sacrifice (like Ron’s in Book 1).
Also, a secondary character might learn something before Harry does because of that character’s unique perspective, and further complications can arise if the character cannot get that information to Harry.
It’s very likely that Ron, Hermione, Hagrid, or some other ally may learn the vital information first but be captured or hindered in some other fashion. It’s very likely then that Harry will have to rescue one of his friends in order to gain that information. Captures and rescues have played a prominent role in the resolutions of Books 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6.
It’s possible that one of these characters may be killed before s/he can give the information to Harry. Harry will therefore have to backtrack and cover the ground the other character has already followed to make the discovery for himself — and then possibly survive what killed the other character.
It’s also possible that one of the secondary characters may discover and attempt to destroy one of the Horcruxes. But in light of the wording of the prophecy, circumstances would seem to indicate that it would be far easier for Harry to do so. Note that when Harry destroys Riddle’s diary in Book 2, he receives no bodily harm (other than the wounds he has already received) whereas Dumbledore, a far more knowledgeable wizard, destroys the ring and nearly loses his right hand.
A blocking character will actively withhold the information the hero seeks.
Here is the circumstance in which Snape, Malfoy, and the Death Eaters will have their effect on the plot. But it’s also possible that an ally such as Hagrid, Mr. and Mrs. Weasley, or Professor McGonagall may not recognize or understand what Harry is doing and attempt to prevent him from proceeding.
Since it is my understanding that Rowling has said she will not introduce any new characters in Book 7, we can assume that no one that we haven’t met before will appear to block Harry.
How the information is revealed, and by whom, can be just as important.
A how scenario: Harry may be caught up by some issue at hand and not see a piece of VI tucked innocuously at the corner of his awareness. It’s possible, for example, that while he was busy trying to hide Snape’s potions book in the Room of Requirement in Book 6 that he walked right by one of the Horcruxes — just as he appeared to walk by the cabinet that Malfoy had been working on.
A by whom scenario: An interesting twist in the plot may come if Harry learns one of the pieces of VI from Malfoy, Snape, or another character he hates, rather than one of his friends. Will he recognize the VI for what it is? How will it affect his ability to use the VI?
There are, of course, the very interesting subplots that will affect the outcome of the story as well: Who is R.A.B.? What about Dumbledore’s triumphant gleam? The subplots will affect how and when the vital information is released to Harry. The truly fun part will be seeing how Rowling resolves all of the issues.