His Next Adventure
When we attempt to predict the outcome of the HP series, we must take into account Jo’s goals in writing these books. While she undoubtedly succeeds at entertaining us, it would be an insult to her writing to say that this is all she does.
In an interview, she said if she could change one thing about the world, she would make everyone more open minded, and I think the HP series is her way of enacting such a change. I will not attempt to list all of the topics and themes the HP books hit on, as I am sure I would only be able to skim the surface. Instead, I am choosing to focus on a topic of particular interest to me as well as most of you I’m sure: Death.
Jo has already taken several opportunities to describe death in a positive light. For example, in PS/SS, when Harry becomes concerned that Nicolas Flamel will die, Dumbledore reassures him:
“It really is like going to bed after a very, very long day. After all, to the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure.”
I’m not sure how everyone else feels about sleep, but in my world, it has a very good connotation! The second part of the quote is well known, and I think its message is fairly self explanatory. We see Harry embark on a new adventure in every book, and although they all involve danger, none of them shake his curiosity or willingness to brave the unknown. Jo probably wants those same feelings of Harry’s to transfer to death, and I think Harry will not face death until his mind is “organized.” I consider assisting him in reaching this level of maturity one of Dumbledore’s main purposes.
For example, in GoF, Dumbledore stresses to Harry that the images he saw of his parents and the others in the graveyard were not ghosts. It is so important to Dumbledore that Harry not confuse these “echoes” with ghosts that he — despite Harry’s emotional state — insists on repeating the correct term when Harry begins his story again:
“Diggory came back to life?” said Sirius sharply.
“No spell can reawaken the dead,” said Dumbledore heavily. “All that would have happened is a kind of reverse echo. A shadow of the living Cedric would have emerged from the wand –Am I correct Harry?”
“He spoke to me,” Harry said. “The –the ghost, Cedric, or whatever he was, spoke.”
“An echo,” said Dumbledore, “which retained Cedric’s appearance and character.”
I believe Dumbledore insists on using the proper term for the figures to emphasize a very important difference between ghosts and those who have “gone on.” To explain the nature of ghosts, Jo enlists the help of Nearly Headless Nick in OotP:
“Wizards can leave an imprint of themselves upon the earth, to walk palely where their living selves once trod,” said Nick miserably. “But very few wizards choose that path.”
“Why not?” said Harry. “Anyway — it doesn’t matter, Sirius won’t care if it’s unusual, he’ll come back, I know he will!”
“He will not come back,” repeated Nick quietly. “He will have –gone on.”
“What do you mean, ‘gone on’?” said Harry quickly. “Gone on where? Listen — what happens when you die anyway? Where do you go? Why doesn’t everyone come back? Why isn’t this place full of ghosts? Why–?”
“I was afraid of death,” said Nick. “I chose to remain behind. I sometimes wonder whether I oughtn’t have Well, that is neither here nor there In fact, I am neither here nor there ” He gave a small sad chuckle. “I know nothing of the secrets of death, Harry, for I chose my feeble imitation of life instead.”
Sir Nick’s misery at choosing a “feeble imitation of life” should automatically make “the secrets of death” a more appealing option to Harry. Not only does “going on” sound more mysterious and lifelike than being a ghost, but Harry can deduce (eventually, even if it didn’t occur to him during this conversation) that his parents, along with Sirius, also chose to go on after their deaths.
While Nick is “neither here nor there,” I can’t help but think some characters are both here and there. I am talking, of course, about the portraits. The portraits behave quite as normal as living people do, giving Dumbledore advice and even threatening each other with wands (pg. 473 OotP paperback version).
Although this could just be wishful thinking, I believe when we see the portraits sleeping they are in whatever realm exists for the dead and that they return to their portraits — to our world — when they are called upon. In this manner, I think the portraits serve as a physical representation or symbol of our memories. When loved or influential people die, their lives live on in our memories, and we often turn to the question “What would _____ have done?” when we are troubled. We use our knowledge of their behaviors to answer the question for ourselves, but in the case of the portraits, the individuals can answer for themselves. If the portraits are not actually the “dead” speaking, then I think its possible they are similar to the “echoes” Harry sees during the Priori Incantatem example I quoted above. If this is true, then the portraits serve as permanent “echoes,” which retain the “appearance and character” of their living selves.
Just one last thing to think of when considering the portraits– Dumbledore says the “renown” of a few headmasters earned them portraits in “multiple Wizarding institutions.” Considering Harry’s overwhelming fame, if he dies, he may well have a portrait in practically every institution!
Despite these optimistic examples, Jo does not by any means neglect the powerful effect death has on those left behind after a loved one dies. We constantly see Harry’s longing for the parents who died before he was old enough to remember them; we see the whole of Hogwarts (perhaps with the exception of Slytherin) mourning the death of Cedric Diggory; and in OotP, we see Harry’s most emotional outburst yet after the dramatic death of Sirius.
I think the most important thing to notice in these examples is that we are seeing and, to a certain extent, feeling things from the perspective of those left behind. I think it is this perspective that has many dreading the possibility of Harry’s death at the seventh book’s conclusion because we fear we will be left behind again. It is our close-mindedness, not only as readers but as people, that has caused us to perceive death in a negative fashion, and I feel it is one of Jo’s goals to portray death as gloriously as she portrays life. We all know and love her for going to extremes, and describing life after death would certainly be no exception.
My assumption is that if Harry dies, we will not be left behind, but that Jo will allow us — even if only briefly — to follow him beyond death and into his next adventure. I am not under the impression that Harry’s death would leave readers without hope, but rather that his death has the power to accomplish just the opposite. I think reuniting Harry with his parents and other loved ones (Sirius and whoever else should die along the way) has as much, if not more, potential for a “happy ending” than him surviving Voldemort to lead a life without most of the people for whom he cares so deeply.