Alchemy and the Harry Potter series are so deeply intertwined that new insights on the theme float around cyberspace on an almost daily basis. Many writers before me have highlighted pertinent connections from each individual book and from the series as a whole. My own article, "Seeking the Golden Snitch," touches on the theme in regard to Quidditch. This article will offer a look at how Harry's Alchemical process is shaping up, and what the pattern may suggest for Book Seven. Note that many other Potter enthusiasts - so many that it's impossible to cite a single, accurate source - have mentioned some of the themes and connections that I cite here. I do not attempt to take credit, only to review so that I can speculate about the conclusion of the series.
In order to understand what follows, the briefest outline of alchemical principles is necessary. Profuse apologies to those who are far more educated than I. Given the focus of this article, this explanation must, of needs, be very rudimentary, and the scope of my understanding is limited. I shall attempt to encapsulate thousands of years of study and wisdom into a small paragraph (what folly!).
Alchemy is not, as many believe, a crude and foolish predecessor to modern chemistry. It is the process of transforming our human selves into our Divine selves - of awakening our spiritual nature and reconnecting it to our physical selves, thereby transforming our soul from its heavy, earthbound, unfinished form to its "golden" potential: Divinity. The physical discipline associated with this journey involves chemical elements and the purifying of base metals into finer metals (gold) and the ultimate creation of the Philosopher's Stone, which offers immortality to its creator. Thus, by the time one has transformed oneself into a "Philosopher's Stone," one has overcome the limitations that bind us to earth and to our mortal selves. The result is real immortality - not an eternal continuation of earthly existence such as Voldemort seeks. The Hero Journey is a metaphor for the Alchemical transformation. The processes involved have specific names, symbols and characteristics associated with them, and these characteristics mirror the process of a human being's transformation: the growth of a Soul. Various texts list and describe the processes slightly differently. However, there are three basic stages which are always mentioned: Black, White and Red. It has been pointed out by many HP enthusiasts that OotP was a study in the first process. Given this premise, one can easily see the nature and characteristics of the second process throughout HBP. If we look at the final process, can we get some idea of what's in store for Harry in Book Seven?
Nigredo - The Black Process
The Black Process is the first and, in many ways, most painful of the Alchemical journey. It is a "dark night of the soul" and feels very hopeless. It is literally the process of putrefaction or decomposition. The old, false self must be broken down and destroyed in order to find the light within. In most alchemical stories, the Seeker will be seen encountering shadows and demons (Dementors on Privet Drive, Voldemort in Harry's head), undergoing painful rituals ("I must not tell lies"), cleansing of impurities (cleaning up 12 Grimmauld Place) and a journey deep into the emotions to confront one's inner reality (Harry's emotional state throughout OotP, as well as his introduction to Occlumency and his travels in the Pensieve).
Symbols associated with the Black Process include: decapitation (house-elves' heads on the walls of Grimmauld Place; Harry's conversation with Nearly Headless Nick after Sirius' death), imprisonment or confinement (one word: Umbridge) and hot, parched, dryness (the summer on Privet Drive before Harry's fifth year). The Black Process is marked by suffering, depression and a journey to the center of the emotions. It is ruled by Saturn, a God who can cause melancholy and demonic visions (Voldemort's nocturnal visitations).
OotP is also Sirius' book, in a way. Sirius is the primary guardian and adult influence on Harry at this point in his life - Sirius Black. We learn more about Sirius in this book than we ever have before. We "meet" his family and visit the home of his childhood. We see young, pre-Azkaban Sirius. We encounter his darkness, negativity, suffering and judgment. And we lose him to the Veil. Most of Sirius' life is a personification of The Dark Night of the Soul: his twelve years in Azkaban, wrongly accused and misunderstood, left to rot (putrefy) with the Demetors (putrefaction personified); his childhood with a family of dark wizards; and his unwilling imprisonment in an extremely "Grim, Old Place." Sirius Black. Black Process indeed.
However, Sirius is also named for the brightest star in the skies - the light in the darkness. His presence in Harry's life offers light and hope when Harry is in need. At the core of the Black Process, after the pain and desolation of blackness, at the very center of his being, the Seeker finds a kernel of light: the flame from which he can begin to grow his Soul. In OotP, Harry is taunted with his own unpleasant memories, and forced to expose them to Severus Snape. He is thought to be a liar or a lunatic, and is isolated and mistrusted, ostracized and, nearly, wrongfully convicted by the wizarding world. He is bested by Ron, who is made Prefect ahead of him, and banned from playing Quidditch. He is forced to see things about his father, Sirius, and his parents' relationship that belie all of his previous notions of who they were. His attempts at romantic connection are disastrous. His mentor, Dumbledore, is aloof and absent, he cannot see or speak much to Sirius, and he feels victimized, angry, hopeless and alone. In his mistaken belief that Voldermort has Sirius - that the Darkness has captured the Light - Harry goes deep into the Department of Mysteries. Though he fights valiantly, his error in judgment costs him one of his most treasured friends. The Black Process involves digging deeper into our mysterious selves than we ever have before, and facing things about ourselves that can be devastating. It also requires sacrifice... loss. It requires us to give up our ideas about who we are, and to face the emptiness that follows. It is his love for Sirius that brings Harry to this moment in his quest - to the core of his most flawed, earth-bound nature - and then Sirius' task is finished. His purpose fulfilled, he dies, leaving Harry in the most vulnerable and shaken state of his life. With his false, outer being stripped away, Harry is ready to begin the second process: Albus.
Albedo - The White Process
The Albedo, or White Process, signifies the dawn of a new possibility for the seeker - the beginnings of the light of consciousness. It is often symbolized by the earliest hours of the dawn, when the sky begins to whiten after the darkness of night. At the end of OotP, Harry is back again with Albus Dumbledore, who patiently guides him through the pain of grief to a new understanding. Harry learns much about himself and his destiny. He must find it in himself to trust his mentor again, despite his anger and pain. This "lightening," a symbol of the dawn of the White Process, is given visual form by Jo in the very pale whitening of the morning sky as seen through Albus' windows. Harry leaves for Privet Drive having found comfort in his discussion with Luna (the Moon, the feminine principal) and in the support of his friends at King's Cross.
HBP is Harry's White Process. He meets up with Albus immediately, and has already tempered his emotional state since we last saw him. He grieves for Sirius, but has already found the strength to realize he must move on with his own life and destiny. In fact, it is his belief about what Sirius would want (remembering the new-found Light within) that helps him to stand up and continue his journey. Dumbledore leads Harry through this process, the White Process, for which the Headmaster is named. The process involves transforming this new, inner self from form to spirit. It includes washing, purifying, burning, and repeated immersions in water. Throughout HBP, Potions plays a central role in the action. Potions could be described as the act of transforming one set of ingredients or elements into something else, through the use of heat, moisture and combining of ingredients. Very Alchemical. Harry changes his relationship to the subject of Potions. He has a new Potions Professor, and a "new" - or so he thinks - source of information in the Half-Blood Prince. His unknowing allegiance with the Half-Blood Prince is the unconscious beginning of a transformation of his relationship to Snape. Harry also finds success at Potions for the first time, ironically through help from Snape! The process of making potions is described in detail, more than once, as are the transformations of the ingredients in Harry's and his friends' cauldrons.
During the White stage, the Seeker is becoming more and more aware of his own inner guidance. He listens to the deepest parts of himself, learns to trust himself and the White Process (Albus). He transforms his old negativity, heals old wounds and learns to love this inner voice, which will carry him through the remainder of his transformation. In HBP, Harry spends a great deal of time gazing into the Pensieve, and moving through that symbolic silvery, watery substance to delve into Tom Riddle's psyche. As Dumbledore says, this time he has permission. The permission is significant. He is now being guided through the Pensieve, as opposed to flailing into it alone and unawares.
At some point during the Alchemical process (accounts vary about when and how), something called the Peacock's Tail occurs, which has two meanings. It can signify the coming together of all the colors to create White. In this regard, it corresponds with the Phoenix, which is a strong image throughout HBP, and which makes its spectacular ascent at Albus' funeral. The Phoenix's ascent tells us that Harry has crossed another threshold of understanding and is ready for the final process in his transformation.
The other meaning is a failure of the Alchemical Process, where the Seeker's perceptions are not correct, even though he has gained a new trust in them. I believe that both things are true in HBP.
Harry has always been a very instinctive and intuitive person. His successes usually come from acting on impulse - trusting his inner guidance. But it has also often been flawed. OotP drove this home to Harry as Voldemort confused him with false impressions. Yet, in HBP, he has reached a new level of understanding. Voldemort finds it dangerous to invade Harry's mind now. Harry is more confident and sure of his impressions, yet he also goes to everyone to try to get help. He doesn't hold much back in HBP, working to persuade Ron, Hermione, Mr. Weasley, Lupin, McGonagall and Dumbledore of his concerns. Some of Harry's assertions are proven true: Draco is certainly up to something very foul, and does, indeed appear to be a Death Eater. Was Harry also correct about Snape? It appears so, on the surface. However, several descriptions of the White Process include this Peacock's Tail stage, where the Seeker has a false assurance of his convictions - where he believes himself to have arrived at the truth before he actually has. I believe that this is the case with Harry's perceptions about Snape. While I do not believe Snape will ever turn out to be a warm, fuzzy character, I do think that his actions had purpose that neither we nor Harry can see at the moment. Learning the ultimate and complete truth will show Harry that there is more to Snape's role than meets the eye.
Harry and Albus' trip down "memory lane" is a gradual lessening of Harry's judgment and a deepening of his understanding. By seeing himself in Tom Riddle, and by growing an understanding of the lower parts of himself, as well as Voldemort, Harry begins to strengthen and spiritualize the tiny beam of light that began to glimmer at the end of OotP. "Tom" appears to be a very "normal," name, with no further significance than its simple commonality. However, "Thomas" means "Twin." The entire HP series is full of twins, siblings and mirror images: Parvati and Padma, Fred and George, Hagrid and Grawp, Lupin and Greyback, Albus and Aberforth, Fleur and Gabrielle, Sirius and Regulus, Lily and Petunia, Bellatrix and Narcissa... Tom Riddle is so named, I believe, because he is a mirror, or "Evil Twin" to Harry. As such, Harry must fully see himself in Tom and Tom in himself, and acknowledge the mirror, before he is able to defeat the Darkness within himself. It is not sentimentality, or pity that I speak of, but compassion: an understanding of the roots and causes behind Voldemort's and Harry's own actions. We cannot master these destructive parts of ourselves unless and until we can see them clearly and dispassionately. This is where I believe Sirius' mirror will enter the picture. Not, as Harry once hoped, by bringing Sirius back from the dead, but by showing Harry someone who is a crucial mirror at a crucial moment. It may have something to do with RAB (yes, I do believe it's Regulus - another editorial for another time) and the Locket Horcrux.
Symbols of the White Process include the union of masculine and feminine - making union of duality, or opposites. As we all know, this is never an "easy" union. It takes real work, and a willingness to let go of control and many of our deeply rooted beliefs in order to truly unite with another human being. HBP is a book about the budding of relationships between the young men and women of our story. Everyone from Ron and Hermione to Bill and Fleur to Lupin and Tonks struggles through the effort to find male/female union. Ron and Hermione, particularly, have always been depicted as a duality - opposite perspectives: Harry's Head and Heart. Harry cannot succeed until these two forces in his life are in alignment. As a part of awakening the balance of masculine and feminine, Harry deepens his friendship with Luna (again, the Moon - another symbol of the White Process, representing the Feminine). He develops an appreciation and compassion for Luna, and accepts without judgment her perceptions and ideas.
Harry also finally becomes aware for the first time of his Anima, or female counterpart, who is personified by Ginny. Anima means "Soul" in Latin, and this symbolic relationship between the Hero and his Soul is often portrayed in literature by his relationship with a female - in Harry's case, Ginny. Though she has always been there, he has not yet reached a point of self-awareness to see her and connect to his very deep feelings for her. In HBP he does, and finds some of the happiest moments of his young life. He also finds something new that he will go to any lengths to protect and defend.
When Harry decides to break up with Ginny, she accepts his decision, though she clearly takes issue with his logic. Ginny has proven herself a very capable partner for Harry - her skills rival his from the Quidditch field to the classroom to the latest battle, and she is the only other person in Harry's life (aside, perhaps, from Voldemort's followers) to have been possessed, horribly used, captured and almost killed by Voldemort. She also, though she doesn't know it, has already encountered a Horcrux, in the diary. I believe that Harry will spend some time trying to remain separate from Ginny. But something will happen to make him see the fallibility of his reasoning. I believe that this reckoning will take place at Bill and Fleur's wedding. A wedding is the ultimate symbol of the union of male and female, and much as he might want to, I don't think Harry will be able to avoid the need to find a mutually acceptable reconciliation between himself and Ginny. Ginny will take an important place in his journey. I do not think she will disregard his wishes and try to remain front and center (causing possible distraction and danger for Harry), but I do believe that her contribution will be significant. Without his Anima, Harry will lose connection to this new light within him. He will require her assistance to move forward. Perhaps she'll lend that assistance from afar (at Hogwarts?), but she will be of great value. Perhaps all of the allusions to Ginny as a cat will finally result in her becoming an Animagus. We have seen just how much an unregistered Animagus can accomplish without detection.
Another symbol of the White Process is the lily. Lily's presence was felt throughout HBP, particularly in Potions class, through Slughorn's memories of her. Slughorn's fondness for Lily was palpable, and for the first time, Harry saw his mother through the eyes of someone who saw her as separate from James - someone who valued her, and honors her memory as Lily - not only as James' wife/girlfriend or Harry's mother. We hear of Lily's uncommon talent for Potions - for distilling finer ingredients from coarser: for transforming things. There is one question that I would love to know the answer to: why was Voldemort willing to allow Lily to live? Mark my words - the answer to this question will bear fruit. Whether Snape was in love with Lily or whether they developed some sort of peaceful coexistence, I think it very possible (as I've stated before) that Snape was at Godric's Hollow, and that Lily was offered the chance to live because of some value that her skills could have for Voldemort and/or as a reward or favor to Snape for giving Voldemort the opportunity to kill Harry. The fact that she chose to die to protect her and James' son solidifies Snape's deep hatred for Harry. Not only does Snape see James every time he looks at Harry, but as far as he is concerned, he sees the reason that Lily is dead. Couple this with what I believe is his own nagging guilt about his actions, and Harry becomes an unbearable symbol of failure on all counts.
Rubedo - The Red Process
The final process in Alchemy is the Rubedo, or Red Process. Rubedo - Rubeus. I believe that, much as Sirius and Albus took primary roles in Harry's journey throughout OotP and HBP, Hagrid will be in some way central to Harry's efforts in Book Seven.
The Red Process is characterized by the making permanent of the transformations that were begun during the Albedo. The Christian equivalent is the Resurrection. It is seen as a continuation of the Albedo. JKR has said that Books Six and Seven are really like two parts of one, long book. This makes sense in terms of the relationship between the Albedo and the Rubedo. In order to achieve the Rubedo, the Seeker must become aware of everything within himself, even that which continues to lie hidden. He has developed a great deal of understanding during the Albedo, but there is more to learn -- he cannot be dragged backwards and miss the fulfillment of his quest. I am struck by the image of Hagrid carrying Dumbledore's body to the tomb. Albus has served his purpose, and Rubeus must now take over and serve his. What help might Harry expect from Hagrid?
Harry's relationship to Hagrid has always been special. Hagrid rescued Harry from the ruins of Godric's Hollow so that he could begin his quest. He reappears on Harry's eleventh birthday to rescue him from the Dursleys. He introduces Harry to the Wizard World, creating the opening to Diagon Alley - Diagonally: the archway through which Harry can look at everything from a new perspective, so that he is able to perceive the magic. He takes Harry to Gringott's, where Harry finds his hidden riches, kept safe in a vault all these years. He retrieves the highly valuable Philosopher's Stone for Dumbledore, and brings it to Hogwarts. He buys Hedwig -- Harry's animal companion, messenger, and faithful pet. He accompanies Harry to purchase all of his school supplies and witnesses Harry's uniting with his wand. Finally, he gives Harry his "ticket" to his journey - to Hogwarts. He is the only non-professor who is given the important task of helping to guard the Stone, which he does with Fluffy - a highly dangerous magical creature with whom Hagrid has a special relationship. He also gives Harry a hand carved flute for Christmas: the key to getting past Fluffy.
If ever there was a jewel in the rough, it is Hagrid. His very name seems to say, "Haggard Ruby" or "Rough Jewel." Hagrid's own magic was thwarted when he was framed by Tom Riddle in his third year. His future hopes dashed, he remains at Hogwarts and becomes Gamekeeper, Keeper of the Keys, and, eventually, Professor of Care of Magical Creatures.
Hagrid has a special relationship with magical creatures. He sees them differently than others. Yes, at times he's a bit barmy about it, but the point is that he is able to see beauty in all kinds of creatures. He is able to communicate with and make relationships with creatures that others run from in terror. I believe that Hagrid's ability to see the Divine in all creatures and to gain their trust and cooperation will be important in Book Seven. I can see Witherwings, Grawp, the centaurs, the thestrals, even possibly the acromantulas offering some valuable help before Harry reaches his conclusion, and that help will come through Hagrid.
The title Keeper of the Keys interests me. The Keeper of the Keys has the ability to unlock things that others cannot. Hagrid has already unlocked many things for Harry, giving him help and support throughout the series. Harry's intention at the end of HBP is to return to Godric's Hollow: to his beginnings. Who could help him to get there? Peter was the Secret Keeper, but others must have been told how to get there. Hagrid managed to find it the first time, as did Sirius. Clearly, Sirius was in on the plan to make Peter the Secret Keeper, so Peter would certainly have told Sirius. But Hagrid couldn't have known. Did the charm break when the Potters were killed? Was Dumbledore able to override the charm somehow? Something must have happened, since, if Peter had been the one to tell Hagrid how to find Godric's Hollow, Hagrid would have known that it was Peter and not Sirius who was the Secret Keeper (which he did not). At any rate, Hagrid somehow has knowledge of Godric's Hollow. I believe he will be the one to help Harry get there, and they will use Sirius' motorcycle as a vehicle. I also think that something will happen to increase Hagrid's powers in Book Seven. I believe that it's quite likely that he will become the new Head of Gryffindor House. And I believe that he will finally meet his magical potential and become a fully polished Jewel, and it will be in service of the greater good.
The other characters who are associated with Red throughout the series make up the redheaded Weasley clan. I confess that I breathed a sigh of relief to have reached the end of HBP with nine living Weasleys. Bill's injuries notwithstanding (and I think there was purpose there -- another editorial), they have, thus far, all survived the mortal peril of the wizarding world. Will they all survive Book Seven? Unlike many, I do not believe Ron will die. I think that the Trio will survive, though they will sustain injury. The members of the Trio each have their place in the Alchemical process, and I don't see them dying to make their contributions. I believe that the Weasleys will be helpful in many and various ways, from Fred and George's products to Bill's new situation to Ginny's many talents. But will they all survive? The numbers are against them, certainly. If any of them do die, I expect it to be someone who we know and love very much, but who is not Harry's best friend or Anima - I think that either Fred or George or possibly a finally-redeemed Percy are at greatest risk. However, I am not convinced that Jo will kill off any of the family. Despite Molly's boggart, I think it's very possible that the Weasleys will survive as a symbol of that portion of the pureblood Wizard world that has its priorities right and its values well placed.
And, as the culmination of the Red Process is a symbol of completion and arrival (Resurrection), I do not believe that Harry will die. The metaphor for "Completion" or "Immortality" within the context of Harry's story will more likely be the culmination of his efforts in a successful defeat of the Darkness. It will be the fulfillment of his potential as a wizard. The past six years have prepared Harry for this arrival. Others will have to pass their NEWT exams -- Harry will have to defeat Voldemort. And he will suffer, yes, as one must to achieve one's potential. And he may have another symbolic death of sorts. He may have to give up something very dear to him, or choose "what is right" over "what is easy." He may actively choose self-sacrifice in a crucial moment, but the Love that has brought Dumbledore, Fawkes, Sirius, Dobby and many others to his side in times of need will sustain him and help him to triumph. The love that Harry has given will come back to him a thousand fold, and it may be this reflected Love that will defeat Voldemort. In fact, Harry was already so filled with Love in the Ministry in OotP that Voldemort could not possess him, and their wands cannot duel since they are related (another mirror). How much more powerful has Harry become by the end of HBP? His understanding has grown exponentially since OotP. How will this effect Voldemort? I think it depends on how Harry proceeds. He is still clearly bested by Snape at the end of HBP. I believe this is because he is trying to fight Snape on Snape's terms - and he cannot. He cannot fight Dark with Dark, and when he realizes this, he will have the power to defeat Voldemort. Only Light defeats Dark. Just walk into a dark room with a candle to see what I mean. Voldemort will not be defeated with a Dark curse, I am almost certain. He will be suffocated from his inability to bear the vibrant Light that Harry and those who love him shine on the world. He will not be able to breathe in the midst of the gratitude and devotion of all of those whom Harry has helped, saved, stood up for and loved. So, how exactly will he be defeated? Well, if I knew that...
The Hero must attain his quest in order to complete his purpose, and I don't believe that Jo has brought Harry to his adulthood to kill him. Yes, other stories do sometimes send the Hero to eternal rest after the Quest is finished. However, Jo has set Harry up to have the thing he has always desired: a family. By pairing Ron with Hermione and Harry with Ginny, Jo has given Harry instant family. He has a brother (well, several!), a sister and a true love. He also has parents in Mr. and Mrs. Weasley. Depending on who survives, Harry is poised to have the images from the Mirror of Erised fulfilled, albeit differently than he foresaw as a young boy. I do not believe that Jo set this up as a cruel tease. If Harry is faced with the same near-death nightmare that he faced in the graveyard and in the Ministry, he now has something vital to live for, something for which he has longed all of his life: his family. I believe that this is Harry's personal "immortality."
Unfortunately, as much as it pains me to say it, if I had to bet money on one death in Book Seven, it would be Hagrid. Like Sirius and Albus before him, Rubeus will risk everything on behalf of Harry, and I fear he may pay with his life. His sacrifice will be hard to bear, but instrumental to Harry's success.
And what does the Alchemical connection have to say about that other trio: Voldemort, Snape, and Draco? Excellent question. However, this editorial is already long enough, and that exploration is for another day.