The Missing Halloweens – Part 4: “Deathly Hallows”
In this series of essays, we are exploring the pattern of key events happening on Halloween and what would have happened on Halloween in the later books if the pattern had been upheld. For context, please read “The Missing Halloweens – Part 1: A Pattern Established.”
This thought exercise of missing Halloween events was quite doable for Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince – both answers were readily apparent to me. However, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows presented much more of a challenge. My editor Sophia Jenkins and I talked it over for ages, trying to figure out what the final Halloween incident could have been.
Part of the problem is the real-world chronological distance between when Jo abandoned the pattern and when she wrote Deathly Hallows. In the ensuing period, two more books were published, which doubtlessly required changes to Book 7, so we are now trying to reverse engineer a brainstorm from years before the finished product was created.
The other problem is one of in-universe timing: There is nothing on the calendar between the September 2 Ministry break-in and the Christmas visit to Godric’s Hollow, aside from the trio hearing about “The Goblin’s Revenge” and Ron storming off in a hissy fit (and that doesn’t seem to fit the Halloween pattern at all). So there is no event from October or November that we can easily point to and say it was shifted a few weeks one way or the other.
The Major Events
Considering the Halloween events are, well, events, we can look at all the major action set pieces of Deathly Hallows and consider which of them is movable within the story. The sequence at the beginning of the book – Seven Potters, birthday, wedding, fall of the Ministry, refuge at Grimmauld Place – can’t really be moved back because it’s needed to start the book. We can’t just read about Harry prepping wedding favors for months on end. And the events at Godric’s Hollow are so obviously meant to take place at Christmas, there is no shifting them.
Looking further on the calendar, the Gringotts break-in and Battle of Hogwarts are obviously the climax. When asked “How far was Book 7 from that original idea?,” Jo even said, “It’s really close, particularly the last third of the book is um, is as I always planned it. It really is.” (With the disclaimer that Jo isn’t great at math, the last third begins when the trio is at Shell Cottage.)
The skirmish at Malfoy Manor has to take place near the end since it sets the climax in motion with Bellatrix’s tip-off about the vault and leads to the resolution of Harry’s Hallows vs. Horcruxes debate. So that does not leave us a lot of candidates for Halloween events:
- “Kreacher’s Tale” and/or Mundungus’s reveal of bribing Umbridge with the locket
- Break-in at the Ministry
- Silver doe and the destruction of the locket
- Visit to Xenophilius Lovegood and learning about the Hallows
The appearance of the silver doe and destruction of the locketcrux can be discounted: The good guys and bad guys there are very apparent (no false suspects!), it needs to happen later on after Ron abandons the trio, and the destruction of the Horcrux can’t really be the beginning of the central story.
The Central Mystery
If one considers the destruction of the Horcruxes to be the thesis of Book 7, then either the revelation of the locket’s background (first by Kreacher, then by Mundungus) or the Ministry break-in becomes a candidate for the Halloween event. Even putting aside that these events seem like they need to happen earlier (otherwise, the trio is just chilling at Grimmauld Place for months on end), I don’t think the destruction of the Horcruxes is the central story question of the book.
There’s just not much mystery to the Horcruxes: We’re trying to figure out where they are. It’s fairly straightforward, even if it is the most important thing going on. To get at what the central question of the story is intended to be, let us look at the title.
By itself, the title of a book does not necessarily point to the book’s main mystery. However, we are privy to four titles for Book 7: the one that was published, two alternatives that Jo considered, and one that was intended to be the title in early days.
Chucky: Have you had another alternatives as book title apart from deathly hallows [sic] J.K. Rowling: The two other possibilities were ‘the Elder Wand’ (used instead as a chapter title) and ‘the Peverell Quest’, which I decided against quite quickly. I think the word ‘Quest’ is a bit corny!” (source)
‘Hallows of Hogwarts’ for years was going to be the title of the seventh, and it was wrong, just wrong.” (source)
With those two interview quotes, a picture emerges of what Jo thought the seventh book would be about: Deathly Hallows, Elder Wand, Peverell Quest, and Hallows of Hogwarts. I consider the last one most relevant since that would have been the tentative title much closer to when Jo was still upholding the pattern of Halloween events. (For historical context, the trademark was registered in 2004, when Jo was working on Half-Blood Prince.)
Therefore, the central question of the last book is “What are the Hallows, and why is Dumbledore dropping clues about them from beyond the grave?”
Learning of the Hallows
With this in mind, we can take a stab at figuring out the Halloween event of Book 7. The only candidate left that fits the criteria – a big, bold event that addresses the mystery of the Hallows and is separable from other events chronologically – is the visit to Xenophilius Lovegood’s house. That is where the trio first learns about the Deathly Hallows.
In terms of the plot, the visit to Xeno’s is almost uniquely time-agnostic among the major events in Deathly Hallows. There’s no reason it cannot take place far earlier or even later in the book. Xeno is introduced at the wedding. Luna can be kidnapped at any point in the year. Hermione’s curiosity about the Hallows symbol is first shown in December (DH 316), but the question can arise anytime after she receives The Tales of Beedle the Bard. The visit to Xeno can take place essentially anytime between the wedding (August 1) and the skirmish at Malfoy Manor (Easter break).
The one thing that is essential to learning about the Hallows is that the trio be together for that occasion. That’s how we get the terrific moment where each of them chooses a different Hallow as the “obvious” best choice (DH 414) – an important and elegant insight into their characters, which I explored in “The Trio’s Hallow Choices.” However, this can happen before Ron walks out on the trio.
So was the visit to Xenophilius Lovegood intended to be the final Halloween event? It’s certainly the only plausible candidate of the events that made it into the final published book. But there is another possibility, left on the cutting-room floor, that presents just as convincing a case: one of Jo’s ghost plots.
The Ghost Plot
Jo revealed that she had a ghost plot (her term for plots that didn’t make it into the published books) revolving around Florean Fortescue.
I imagined the historically-minded Florean might have a smattering of information on matters as diverse as the Elder Wand and the diadem of Ravenclaw, the information having been passed down in the Fortescue family from their august ancestor. As I worked my way nearer to the point where such information would become necessary, I caused Florean to be kidnapped, intending him to be found or rescued by Harry and his friends.” (source)
One of the reasons the Hallows feel like such an eleventh-hour MacGuffin to many readers is because information about them is revealed at a glacial pace. We see the symbol on Xeno’s chest and Hermione gets the book, but then we don’t hear about it for 200 pages until Hermione connects the two in December. The term “Deathly Hallows” is only introduced in the latter half of the book, on page 404 – by far the latest debut of the title in any of the books.
However, it appears the original plan was for Florean Fortescue to introduce the mystery on Halloween.
As part of this same interview, Jo said, “I originally planned Florean to be the conduit for clues that I needed to give Harry during his quest for the Hallows, which is why I established an acquaintance fairly early on.” This implies Jo was already counting on Florean dropping information about the Hallows back when she was writing Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban – while she was still consistently adhering to the Halloween pattern. And it remained part of the plan all the way through the publication of Half-Blood Prince since she did include his kidnapping in that book.
Jo even mentions the big action set piece: She was “intending him to be found or rescued by Harry and his friends.”
I think we can envision how Book 7 was supposed to go. On Halloween, still encumbered with the locket and with the trio still intact, Harry stumbles upon Florean in the company of Death Eaters. After a skirmish, they rescue Florean and get away. They ask Florean why Voldemort kidnapped him. Florean says, “He required my knowledge of magical history to trace the bloody trail of the Elder Wand… one of the Deathly Hallows.” Dun dun dun! They go over “The Tale of the Three Brothers,” and the trio still thinks it totally obvious which one you’d choose.
Because the clues must be doled out judiciously, Florean cannot tell the trio about the connection to the Peverells. That comes later, after the gravestone in Godric’s Hollow and perhaps after the trio talks to Xeno.
The False Suspect
Of course, we still have a key ingredient to suss out: the false suspect on whom suspicion is cast on Halloween. And it looks like the likeliest candidate is Albus Dumbledore.
Suspicion will be thrown on Albus through The Life and Lies of Albus Dumbledore, and specifically the letter he writes to Grindelwald where he incorporates the Hallows symbol into his signature. Harry and Hermione first see this after Hermione grabs a copy of the book from Bathilda Bagshot. However, Harry stumbles upon a copy in Umbridge’s office – perhaps in an earlier version, he grabs it along with Moody’s eye in his quest to learn the truth about his mentor.
So when Florean (or Xeno) calls the trio’s attention to the Deathly Hallows, Hermione connects it to Dumbledore’s letter. Suddenly, there is suspicion: Was young Dumbledore after the Hallows? For what nefarious purpose? Was he still after them later in life? Is that why he took the Potters’ Invisibility Cloak in 1981? Perhaps Florean can even throw a bit of fuel on the fire: “Dumbledore did discourage me from talking to people about the Elder Wand, saying that knowledge could be dangerous…”
Obviously, the published version of Deathly Hallows has veered very far from what Jo once brainstormed. But I think she envisioned the rescue of Florean Fortescue and the reveal of the Deathly Hallows to be the final Halloween event of the series, concluding the pattern she firmly established in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.
This has been a deeply thought-provoking project, and I look forward to other theories and addendums in the comments! As I researched this series, I was struck by how much the Harry Potter books changed in the revision process. It’s heartening to think that Jo, like all other writers, does have to make considerable changes as she writes, rather than these books springing from her brain fully formed like an ink-and-paper Athena. I guess there’s hope for all of our first drafts!
Missed the first parts of this series? Read Part One here.