The Burrow: The Truth About the Deathly Hallows

by Magical Me

The Deathly Hallows were introduced at an unfortunate moment in the story’s progression. While many of us read through the seventh book with the anticipation of the final battle on our minds, or the curiosity as to the fate of our beloved characters, we were distracted from the true significance of the Deathly Hallows, not only in the magical world but in the eyes of the characters themselves. In this essay I take a more thorough look at the Deathly Hallows and what they tell us about the magical world and the characters we know and love.

As we all know, the earliest record of the Hallows is “The Tale of the Three Brothers.” This children’s story gives us an explanation of what the Hallows are generally thought to be:

  • Wand: Unbeatable, strongest magic possible
  • Stone: To do the impossible, to bring the living back from the dead
  • Cloak: To become completely undetectable

Like most children’s stories, these descriptions are not all together true, but there is truth in it…kind of. The story also claims that the person to unite all the Hallows, which I interpret to be in possession of all three, will master death. “Master death” could be interpreted to mean will never die, or it could be a mastery such as the one Dumbledore possessed – where one is not afraid of death.

By reading all of the Harry Potter books, we (the readers) have learned a great deal about the Hallows. And unlike the information in the story, our information is as correct as possible. What we actually know about the Hallows:

    • The wand itself is not unbeatable. Grindelwald was defeated by Dumbledore in a duel in which Grindelwald used the wand. This means that in the end, it is the wizard that makes the magic, not the wand. The wand is only a conduit for the magic conjured by the wizard. Also, the wand attracts a great deal of Slytherin types, who are willing to do anything to get power. The wand does allow for exceptionally powerful magic that can do things that others consider impossible, such as repairing Harry’s wand. But again, Dumbledore, the smartest wizard alive, and possessing the most powerful wand imaginable, could not defeat Voldemort, only force him to retreat. The wand can also apparently not be used to harm the rightful owner, regardless of who holds it.
    • The stone does not bring people back from the dead, as no known magic can. Instead it allows the user to converse with a spirit form of their departed. This does seem to actually be the departed, unlike bewitched photographs or paintings (or Marauder maps) that just capture a certain aspect of a once living person. The stone also attracts a different sort of reaction from people than the wand. As Dumbledore put it, Voldemort wouldn’t care for the stone at all, even if he knew what it really was. The stone was nothing to him but a powerful piece of useless magical history. However, to people who are stripped of their loved ones (they have to be able to love others first), the stone is a chance to bring them back. But, as we know, the stone doesn’t really bring them back. It only allows the owner to see their ghostlike loved ones. Yes, the wielder of the stone can communicate with the dead, even share emotions with them. But in the end it cannot return the dead to a living body, only give them ghostlike properties to the wielder. It is unknown if other people can see the ghostlike bodies conjured by the owner of the stone. If the answer to that question is no, then it is very possible that Dumbledore spent a great deal of the seventh book surrounded by the deceased. The stone also possesses the same damaging effects of the Mirror of Erised — it shows you something that isn’t really there. A wizard could spend so much time conversing with the dead that they wish to stop living, as is the case in the story.
  • The Invisibility Cloak is the safest choice. It does not grant unstoppable power (which always comes at a cost), or allow the user to do the seemingly impossible of bringing life to those that have already experienced it (which is usually related to the Darkest of magic). The Cloak’s mythology claims it makes the wearer completely undetectable. Making it impossible for anyone to know the wearer is there or to affect the wearer? This is not true. On multiple occasions the Cloak failed to fully hide Harry and Co., and it certainly doesn’t make the wearer invulnerable to those around it. Harry was hit by Dumbledore’s freezing curse on the Astronomy tower, showing again that the Hallows do not provide absolute power and that they are only as good as the wizard wielding them. Granted, the Cloak is much more…consistent…than other so-called invisibility cloaks, and it appears to take little to no damage itself, having never been reported as torn or falling apart. It, for the most part, does aid the wearer in staying out of harm’s way, much more than the other two Hallows, and unlike the other two Hallows, it does not come at a heavy price (attracting those willing to kill you for it, or dealing with resurrecting the dead).

So we now fully understand what the Hallows are, and what they are not. Along with their magical properties, the Hallows also possess meaning in that which they have brought to their owners:

    • Wand: Death to all previous users, just for owning it. Malfoy is still alive, though I wouldn’t consider him a real owner as he never laid a hand on it. Dumbledore didn’t die directly because of the wand, but he is still dead nonetheless. Grindelwald, Voldemort, the first brother? All dead, all previous owners of the Elder Wand.
    • Stone: The Gaunts did not know what it was, and neither did Voldemort. Has shown no real purpose in the present or future, only the past. So far the only good that has come from it is giving Harry the proper motivation to do the hardest thing he has ever had to do.
  • Cloak: Not completely undetectable (Dumbledore knew the Cloak-hidden trio were in Hagrid’s hut) and only as good as the user (Malfoy caught a glimpse of Harry’s foot on the train). The Cloak itself also has a habit of going unnoticed. I am willing to bet that James did not know what it truly was. As Ron put it, there are many invisibility cloaks out there. The trio didn’t realize it was one of the greatest magical artifacts in history, and they had know-it-all Hermione wearing it throughout her six-year stay at Hogwarts.

One particular scene in Deathly Hallows amused me to no end when I first read it, and is an example of the storytelling magic of which J.K. Rowling is capable:

“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.”

Ron, who above all else wants to win at everything he does (whether it’s for family approval, the spotlight, Hermione’s affection, or completely selfish reasons like being the #1 wizard in the universe is for another article), chose the wand as the most obvious Hallow to go for. He, like nearly all the rest of the wizarding world, sees the wand as the greatest weapon a wizard could possess. With it he assumes the wielder could defeat any other wizard out there, including Voldemort. But we know this is not true, as not even Dumbledore could defeat Voldemort with the wand. Ron dismisses the stone because he has not truly lost anyone he loves; his loved ones are his best friend, the girl of his dreams, and his family, all still alive at this point in the story (I miss Fred). The Cloak he sees as just another invisibility cloak, something many wizards have (Mad-Eye had two … I miss him too). So naturally the wand would be the best object to have, and with it he could finally amaze his brothers with magic they had never seen.

Harry, unlike Ron, has lost everyone he loves except for his two best friends. He has lost his parents, which he never knew, but naturally fell in love with after hearing so much about them. He lost his godfather, who was the closest thing to a father he ever had. And lastly he lost his mentor, his savior, the only person who he thought could make everything right. Naturally Harry wants these people back. He wants to really get to know his parents, he wants to tell Dumbledore everything that is going on. He wants Siriss to be there for him. He knows that no matter what happens, he doesn’t stand a chance at beating Voldemort in a duel, if Dumbledore couldn’t do it he couldn’t do it. Like Ron, he sees the Cloak as just another invisibility cloak, useful, but not unique. He is willing to look past the dark mythology that surrounds bringing people back from the dead, because he knows he wouldn’t use it for the wrong purposes, he would only use the stone to bring back his loved ones that were taken from him.

Hermione, blessed Hermione. We know from the books that due to her love of logic, she has a great fear of what Dumbledore would call death, darkness and the beyond. She avoids Dark Magic at all costs simply because it is Dark. And to her, once something is dead, it is gone. That is it. No coming back. A person has done all they can in the land of the living, and have since moved on. I believe she wouldn’t even encourage the use of the Philosopher’s Stone, simply because it unnaturally delays something that is meant to happen according to the rules of life. To her, the Resurrection Stone breaks the realm of possibilities, in a way that should not be broken, not even for reasons that would seem good. And, for the most part, she is right. The stone makes the wearer live in the past. But as Harry demonstrated, it could be used to allow someone to do something in the present, or even give hope for the future. Hermione also understands the power of the wand. She doesn’t fully understand how it works so isn’t quick to jump to conclusions. She strongly believes that magic comes from the wizard, not the wand. She has it right, as those that claim to be unbeatable are always beaten, even if not in a duel. It is my belief that she thinks the wand may actually be more powerful than a regular wand, but the side effects, like getting killed in your sleep, are not worth it. So even if she did believe the wand was as powerful as wizards claimed, she would still not say go for it. So, logically, she dismisses the wand, is afraid of the stone (for rightful reasons), and claims the Invisibility Cloak as the right choice. And as the story goes, it is the smartest choice, and the one Harry ultimately chooses.

At the long-awaited end of our story, Harry possesses all three Deathly Hallows: He is wearing the Cloak, is holding the stone, and is the rightful owner of the wand. As we all know, Harry then faces death head on, as if he masters it. He surrenders himself to death at the hands of Voldemort. As predicted, Voldemort blasts him with a Killing Curse. But Harry does not die, due to a number of odd magical circumstances that will never be repeated and were nearly impossible to predict. At the end of the Battle of Hogwarts, the Elder Wand refuses to kill its master, and results in the death of the Dark Lord.

Harry now knows the location of all Deathly Hallows. Granted, the stone is somewhere in the forest. Ultimately, he chooses only the Invisibility Cloak to keep for himself. He sees what Hermione saw earlier: while the wand may be more powerful than other wands, and the stone does allow for the impossible, the side effects of owning either have resulted in nothing good for the previous owners. He knows if he were to keep the stone it would result with him sitting in a room talking with the dead, instead of living his life. And the wand would bring nothing but endless battles to his doorstep. Ultimately, Harry comes to the best possible conclusion, which is how he becomes the true master of death.