The Burrow: Why Hermione Was Right
by Robbie Fischer
“It’s obvious which gift is best, which one you’d choose–”
The three of them spoke at the same time; Hermione said, “the Cloak,” Ron said, “the wand,” and Harry said, “the stone.”
Which Deathly Hallow would you choose? Clearly, this question can yield a key insight into the different characters of J.K. Rowling’s leading trio.
Harry Potter picks the Resurrection Stone, because at the heart of his personality is the pain of loss and the wish for a family of his own. I know too well how grief can cloud a person’s judgment about right and wrong, good and evil, what they really need and what is only a selfish wish. I have seen many living examples, from the widower who holds a grudge against God for taking his wife before him (as if God mightn’t have more on His mind than pleasing one man) to the elderly couple broken up by the death of their son — a grandfather in his own right — saying, “We had such hopes for him” (how much more can you hope for, anyway?). Fortunately by the time Harry recognizes the Stone is in his possession, he has accepted that death is a natural and important part of life, and that bringing people back can be more cruel than losing them in the first place.
Ronald Weasley picks the Elder Wand because, when you ignore Rupert Grint’s exaggerated portrayal of Ron as a cowardly wimp, he is really kind of a tough guy. Ron is a fighter, with an ego that needs to prove itself superior (or at least equal) to his big brothers and his famous friend, and an angry streak that (unlike Harry’s) doesn’t express itself in all-caps paragraphs of self-pitying harangue. What? Ron — a raging berserker? What happened to the funny guy who provides the laughter Harry needs? Well, he is that, too — partly because piss-taking is a key weapon of survival in his family; partly because he has to keep up with the twins; and partly because — in case you haven’t noticed — anger is one of the essential traits of a comedian, especially the kind that uses laughter to wage war.
Think about that the next time you watch a stand-up routine by, say, Jerry Seinfeld or Robin Williams. There is a lot of yelling and bitterness behind their humor, sometimes even cruelty. Some comedians use laughter to fight the evils they hate; some, to heal the hurts they share with so many others. In a battle, except when Acromantulas are involved, Ron would be a good man to have fighting at your side. Before and after the battle, even more so. But he probably isn’t thinking very clearly when he says he would want the Elder Wand. It would turn on him as soon as he faced a stronger opponent; and that would be it for Ron.
Hermione Granger picks the Invisibility Cloak. Why? Because she is thoughtful, conscientious, and nearly always right.
Losing loved ones is very, very hard — especially when they die “before their time.” But the Resurrection Stone does more harm than good because death — from the point of view of the dead — is not such a bad thing. Getting there can be painful and terrifying, especially when it involves uncertainty about what lies on the other side. But those who have “gone on” learn — and this is apparent not only in the Harry Potter books but also in the real world — that death is also the beginning of a new life where the pains, weaknesses, and limitations of this life are left behind. People who have a good reason to face death courageously may also be people who would not willingly return to this life after tasting that which follows it.
Using the Resurrection Stone is, basically, a way of violently ripping people away from the destiny they have given everything — including life itself — to achieve. And the result is fulfilling to neither them nor to the wielder of the stone, because it does not give them a full life. Such cruelty, such selfishness, is unworthy of a wizard as excellent as Harry Potter. And he realizes that when he finds in himself the courage to face his own immediate and inevitable death. He will be with his loved ones again, some day — and he will not be afraid if that day comes sooner rather than later. An ancient king of Israel named David once observed, on the death of his infant son: “Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.” In a similar way, Harry knows that he will see Mom, Dad, Sirius, and Lupin again — when he goes to where they have gone.
Wielding a weapon that cannot be bested is also a temptation when you are weak and inexperienced, threatened by forces more powerful than yourself, and when the fate of many depends on your victory. Ron’s choice is a desperation choice. Does he learn to think differently? That we do not know. J.K. Rowling gives us no indication that Ron’s thinking on the Elder Wand has changed. But his world should be grateful that the wand did not fall into Ron’s hands — or even that Harry did not choose it for himself. For whoever uses the Elder Wand to vanquish another invites the fate of the legendary “Old West” gunslingers, many of whom either died by ambush or lived in seclusion, because their reputation attracted rivals who must either kill them or be killed. The Elder Wand attracts violence to itself, creating not so much immortality as a constant bloodbath. In most cases, its owner must be somewhat savage to obtain it, and must become entirely savage to hold it for any length of time. Such a weapon would have ensured that Harry Potter would become little better than Voldemort. The wizarding world does not need another “master of death” of that kind.
So why is Hermione right when Harry and Ron are both so very wrong?
It can’t hurt that the Cloak is the one Deathly Hallow that Dumbledore felt would be safe in Harry’s hands, or that it was the one over which Voldemort had no interest at all. For apart from the Cloak’s potential uses in sneaking, spying, and stealing, it also had innocent uses: escaping, hiding from danger, having some privacy even when others were around, protecting the secrecy of the magical world, and (I’m being flagrantly hypothetical here) avoiding social embarrassment when, for example, a scruffy teenage boy inadvertently stumbles upon a dress-up party to which he has not been invited.
The Cloak is really the Deathly Hallow that Harry needs. Can’t you picture him wearing his cloak during a visit to The Three Broomsticks when he doesn’t want to be hounded by the press? Or at the top of the owlery tower when he needs to be alone with his thoughts? Or on the grassy shore of the bottomless lake when he doesn’t want to be bothered by people approaching him with their condolences, just wants to be left alone to grieve in the sunshine? Plus, how many rules did the Cloak enable Harry to break — rules that, if he hadn’t broken them, would have prevented him from learning information and obtaining materials that he needed to fight the powers of darkness? How many visits to Hagrid’s hut did the Cloak facilitate — visits that lifted Hagrid’s spirits during the big guy’s rough patches?
The Cloak is an ambiguous object. It could be used for great evil. But, unlike the other two Deathly Hallows, it can also be used for good. For a kid who carries the burdens Harry has carried, even the increased chance of having fun that the Cloak provides is important. In early days, the Cloak was a hiding place Harry often shared with his best friends; but increasingly, it comes to fit only Harry’s shoulders. The others are crowded out not only because of their growing bodies, but because of the growing differences between them, and the growing importance of what Harry needs to do. And I imagine that its importance may continue to serve the good of the magical world as Harry fights evil magic as an Auror.
Why are we always surprised when Hermione turns out to be right? Well, she isn’t the hero of the story. And she doesn’t have to try very hard to figure things out. It seems so easy that, at times, you have to suspect she is just guessing, and could be quite wrong. But she is nearly always right, and the question of the Deathly Hallows is no exception. Harry needs to let go of the Stone so that he can let go of those he has lost, and move on with his life. He needs to let go of the Elder Wand so that it will not turn him into a monster as bad as Voldemort, or worse. But there is no reason he should let go of the Cloak, as long as he remains Harry.