It’s still a sore subject for many. Even after all this time, the very mention of The Half-Blood Prince or The Deathly Hallows can ignite a twinge of pain for Potterheads around the world. Seven years later (or three years later, depending on how you look at it), we’re still not over the tragic deaths of these characters.
[Editor’s Note: Obviously, spoilers ahead. But seriously, if you haven’t read the books, you’ll want to go do that ASAP anyways. Seriously. Go. Do it.]
10. Cedric Diggory – The Goblet of Fire
From far away, above his head, he heard a high, cold voice say, “Kill the spare.”
A swishing noise and a second voice, which screeched the words to the night:
A blast of green light blazed through Harry’s eyelids, and he heard something heavy fall to the ground beside him; the pain in his scar reached such a pitch that he retched, and then it diminished; terrified of what he was about to see, he opened his stinging eyes.
Cedric was lying spread-eagled on the ground beside him. He was dead.
Cedric wasn’t necessarily a character who was entirely integral to the overarching plot of Harry’s world. In fact, I feel pretty comfortable saying that, other than the fact that he was a noble, outstanding student, he was a pretty unremarkable character to begin with. What was important about Cedric, though, was the circumstances of his death.
The issue of Harry vs. Lord Voldemort has always been a personal one for Harry, for reasons which are painfully obvious. Year after year, we see a myriad of run-ins with Voldemort and his servants; but up until the end of Goblet of Fire, no one in close proximity to Harry (as a young adult) had died. It’s such a shocking moment; the transportation to a graveyard, a command uttered to Wormtail, the shout of a curse. And then just like that, before anyone really knows what is happening, Cedric Diggory ceases to exist.
With Cedric’s death came the responsibility of reinforcing personal conflict once more for Harry, but also for us, the readers. Cedric is the first notable character death that Harry is confronted with up until that point within the series, and the event conveys two things for us: 1) We can pinpoint this precise scene as the moment that that shit gets real for both Harry and the wizarding world as a whole, and as readers, we are now involved on even more of a personal level; and 2) Cedric’s death shows us first-hand the extent of Voldemort’s cruelty and his blatant disregard for human life, which unveils the true dangers of Voldemort’s return.
Up until this point, we were readers in a magical fairytale where the villain is defeated at the end of the book and the heroes emerge unharmed to return to normal life afterward. JK Rowling shocked us all with Cedric’s death because, by the end of Goblet of Fire, he felt like one of our classmates, too.
9. Mad-Eye Moody – The Deathly Hallows
“Oh… thanks, Ron… I’m sorry….” She blew her nose and hiccupped. “It’s just so awf-ful, isn’t it? R-right after Dumbledore… I j-just n-never imagined Mad-Eye dying, somehow, he seemed so tough!”
“Yeah, I know,” said Ron, giving her a squeeze. “But you know what he’d say to us if he was here?”
“‘C-constant vigilance,’” said Hermione, mopping her eyes.
Moody has been around the block and has the scars to prove it. Between the First Wizarding War and his years of service as a ferocious Auror and member of the Order of the Phoenix, Moody is a hardened veteran who has literally sacrificed parts of his body (and probably his mind) in order to stand against the oppressive Dark Arts and those who would choose to wield them. Brendan Gleeson says, “I see him as formidable warrior who is somewhat past his best, but who is battle-hardened and can still be effective. He has learned the hard way that life can be unforgiving and is impatient of namby-pamby half-measures, particularly among the kids. He knows they must be at their best to survive. He’s Mr. Tough Love with a vengeance. I don’t think he was without genuine affection for them, though, He’d never admit it, of course.”
In his time with the Order of the Phoenix during the Second Wizarding War, Moody placed Harry’s safety above all else, and put himself in grave danger to ensure Harry’s preservation – not unlike the rest of the order’s members. Mad-Eye served as a watchful protector to Harry with a curmudgeonous yet authoritative presence during their time together. Mad-Eye knew that might lose his life over his will to protect Harry at any cost, and in the end, he met that cause face-to-face without hesitancy.
8. Hedwig – The Deathly Hallows
“No – HELP!” The broomstick spun too, but he just managed to seize the strap of his rucksack and the top of the cage as the motorbike swung the right way up again. A second’s relief, and then another burst of green light. The owl screeched and fell to the floor of the cage.
“No – NO!”
The motorbike zoomed forward; Harry glimpsed hooded Death Eaters scattering as Hagrid blasted through their circle.
“Hedwig – Hedwig –”
But the owl lay motionless and pathetic as a toy on the floor of her cage.
Given that Harry spent much of his childhood under the Dursley’s stairs, Hedwig was Harry’s first real companion before his full initiation to the wizarding world. This gives her an incredibly important role within Harry’s life, as he never before had a friend, or even a pet, to speak of. Hedwig remained one of Harry’s closest companions until her death during the Battle of the Seven Potters, in which she was struck by The Killing Curse while attempting to protect Harry from swarming Death Eaters.
In an interview with The Leaky Cauldron, JK Rowling said, “The loss of Hedwig represented a loss of innocence and security. She has been almost like a cuddly toy to Harry at times. Voldemort killing her marked the end of childhood. I’m sorry… I know that death upset a LOT of people!” It’s safe to say that anyone who has ever experienced the loss of a pet or a close friend understands the turmoil Harry experienced with Hedwig’s death.
Did you know that the most undoubtedly recognizable piece of music within in the Harry Potter soundtrack – commonly referred to as the general Harry Potter theme – is officially called ‘Hedwig’s Theme’?
7 & 6. Nymphadora Tonks & Remus Lupin – The Deathly Hallows
He turned away and ran up the marble staircase. Lupin, Tonks… He yearned not to feel… He wished he could rip out his heart, his innards, everything that was screaming inside him…
Tonks and Lupin’s relationship endures a tumultuous beginning – the subject of love for these two is a difficult one. After months of Tonks pleading with Lupin over her feelings only to be turned away out of the werewolf prejudice he feared the community would unleash on the Tonks family, Remus and Tonks finally get together and really give their relationship a try.
The Lupins are married and finally settle into their own happiness, even with the world falling down around them due to Voldemort’s return. They have a baby named Teddy, in honor of Tonks’ father; but as events turn bleak during Deathly Hallows, Remus does not appear to be himself. In one particularly alarming confrontation with Harry, Remus is compelled to run from his family to aid Harry and The Order, clearly out of concern for his loved ones – but, at this point in Remus’ story, he was also battling with his inner demons, his sense of self-worth, and a fearful adjustment to his new responsibilities. Harry sees this in Lupin, and gives him a most excellent, heart-felt, and alarmingly harsh scolding about his responsibilities to his family, even going so far as to call Lupin a coward. It’s an amazing sort of “teacher turned student” moment, and vice versa, between the two characters, because we all know (including Lupin) that Harry is right – which is why he returns to Tonks. We later hear Lupin in a radio communication between The Order and friends saying that Harry’s instinct is “nearly always right,” which we can very clearly take to mean that he was glad he returned to Tonks.
During the final battle battle at Hogwarts, Tonks is so wrought with worry for Lupin’s well-being that she leaves the baby at home in order to travel to Hogwarts to ensure Lupin’s safety and to fight alongside her husband and friends. Sadly in the course of battle, Lupin and Tonks both meet their deaths, but Tonks’ demise is perhaps the most tragica of all. Her death could have been easily avoided had she stayed with Teddy; but in her death we see that that if she can’t live with Lupin, she can’t live at all.
So why did JK Rowling decide to let the Lupins meet their deaths? The answer is a cruel one:
“I wanted to kill parents,” she said, quickly adding that sounded ‘terrible’ to say. “I wanted there to be an echo of what happened to Harry just to show the absolute evil of what Voldemort’s doing.”
It’s devastating theme that recurs within Harry’s world. Parents die (the Potters) or are incapacitated (the Longbottoms); parental figures disappear (Sirius, Dumbledore); orphans are left in the wake of the destruction of war (Harry, Neville).
“I think one of the most devastating things about war is the children left behind,” Rowling said. “As happened in the first war when Harry’s left behind, I wanted us to see another child left behind. And it made it very poignant that it was their newborn son.”
It isn’t difficult to see why the deaths of The Lupins broke our hearts. Two people battle alongside their friends and loved ones against against the darkest wizard the world has ever seen, leaving a little orphaned boy behind to naught but his godfather. Sounds a bit familiar, doesn’t it?
5. Dobby – The Deathly Hallows
The elf swayed slightly, stars reflected in his wide, shining eyes. Together, he and Harry looked down at the silver hilt of the knife protruding from the elf’s heaving chest. “Dobby – no – HELP!” Harry bellowed toward the cottage, toward the people moving there. “HELP!” He did not know or care whether they were wizards or Muggles, friends or foes; all he cared about was that a dark stain was spreading across Dobby’s front, and that he had stretched out his own arms to Harry with a look of supplication. Harry caught him and laid him sideways on the cool grass.
“Dobby, no, don’t die, don’t die –”
The elf’s eyes found him, and his lips trembled with the effort to form words.
“Harry . . . Potter . . .”
And then with a little shudder the elf became quite still, and his eyes were nothing more than great glassy orbs, sprinkled with light from the stars they could not see.
Let’s all be honest with ourselves: Dobby was a little shit when we first met him. Dropping cakes on visiting ladies, stealing letters from Harry’s friends, blocking entry to Platform 9 3/4, tampering with bludgers to turn them murderous. Oh, Dobby. Even if you had the best of intentions, you perplexed us all with your harmful mischief!
Despite his unusual manner of “helping,” Dobby managed to save Harry and his friends’ lives on numerous occasions. For all his pestilence, we see Dobby come to Harry’s aid in many ways, from providing Harry with Gillyweed, to tracking down Mungungus Fletcher in search of Horcruxes, right down to appearing in the depths of Malfoy Manor in order to rescue the seven captives out of the clutches of communing Death Eaters in a selfless act which ultimately costs him his life.
MTV News quoted JK Rowling addressing Dobby’s death to a group of school children during a Q&A.
“I suppose you could say very prosaically that Dobby had to die so he couldn’t tell Harry who had sent him,” Rowling explained, referencing Aberforth Dumbledore, Albus’s brother who Harry doesn’t learn about until much later on in the novel. “But that’s not why. For me, Dobby’s death woke Harry up to what he was doing.”
“[Dobby was] someone that was very vulnerable and really entirely guiltless in anything concerned with the wizarding world – who wasn’t even a wizard,” Rowling said. “It was another senseless murder in the same way that Cedric Diggory’s death was senseless, purely because they were there. And I think there’s something particularly chilling about entirely innocent victims of violence. It woke Harry up.”
Though Dobby may have been a throwaway character like Cedric, throughout the books we witness his growth in massive ways, such as overcoming obstacles in mistreatment; wrestling with his compelling nature to do the right thing even if it will cause him great physical pain; struggling with belonging to essentially a slave race in the wizarding world; and helping his friends at all costs against what he knows to be wrong. Thus, when Dobby’s death hits us in such an unexpected way, it made it so hard to accept – especially during such an intense, critical part of the story.
Harry’s response to Dobby’s death – digging a grave without magic in order to exercise respect – gave us time to process the event and grieve alongside Harry, but it still wasn’t enough to help us get over it.
4. Fred Weasley – The Deathly Hallows
And Hermione was struggling to her feet in the wreckage, and three redheaded men were grouped on the ground where the wall had blasted apart. Harry grabbed Hermione’s hand as they staggered and stumbled over stone and wood.
“No – no – no!” someone was shouting. “No! Fred! No!”
And Percy was shaking his brother, and Ron was kneeling beside them, and Fred’s eyes stared without seeing, the ghost of his last laugh still etched upon his face.
Fred Weasley is a staple character we never thought we’d lose. I think many of us readers thought – or rather hoped – that the entire Weasley family might have had some sort of protective charm around them which would save them all from untimely deaths.
There have been many speculative theories which suggest that a death in the Weasley family has been foreshadowed as early as Ginny Weasley’s encounter with a young Tom Riddle in Chamber of Secrets. In Order of the Phoenix, Harry sees Arthur Weasley being attacked by a snake in his mind and alerts others in time to save Arthur’s life. In that same book, Molly Weasley attempts to battle a boggart, but is unable to cope with the forms of dead Weasley family members that the beast generates, and is ultimately forced to accept help from a fellow Order member to subdue the creature as she sobs from being exposed to such horrific images. In Half-Blood Prince, Harry saves Ron’s life after he has been poisoned, and early in Deathly Hallows, George loses an ear to a Sectumsempra curse cast by Snape, which some fans interpreted as foreshadowing of an even larger loss for George to come. Fred’s death, though outrageously tragic, does however spark an important turn for Percy’s character, particularly in his rebellion against the Ministry and a swift return to the Weasley family after a willful exile throughout the course of several books.
Which brings us to our question, “Why Fred and not George?” JK Rowling addresses this concern for us:
“I always knew it was going to be Fred, and I couldn’t honestly tell you why,” Rowling said.
Rowling guessed most people would have expected George to die before Fred because Fred was the ringleader, George the “gentler” twin. “Fred is normally the funnier but also the crueler of the two. So they might have thought that George would be the more vulnerable one and, therefore, the one to die.”
She didn’t make her decision because it was easier to kill one twin over the other, however. “Either one of them would have been terrible to kill,” she said. “It was awful killing Fred. I hated that.”
She hated it, but doesn’t regret it. “The deaths were all very, very considered,” said Rowling. “I don’t kill even fictional characters lightly.”
James Phelps also had to offer some words on how Fred’s death affected him as the portraying actor. On filming his character’s death scene:
“It was surreal. I feel like a really close friend has died. It was more like a Saving Private Ryan scene than Harry Potter, so it was kind of cool, because every guy wants to be in an action movie and that’s what this is. […] I think that it was an emotional day for everyone when we shot Fred lying there. We did about five takes total, and then Oliver was done because it had emotionally drained him. It’s really hard to put yourself in that position and imagine that kind of thing.”
Throughout our journey with Harry, we come to feel like the Weasley’s are our own adoptive family, taking us in to be tucked under their wing with the warmth and care and love that Harry had never really fully experienced before. From the first time we meet the family as Molly frantically attempts to usher her children through Platform 9 3/4, to Harry being welcomed into The Burrow, to Fred and George bestowing Harry with the Marauder’s Map, to everyone in The Order pledging their lives to ensure Harry’s safety, we have always felt as though we could rely on the Weasleys for comfort, acceptance, and reliability. Any family member missing from the Weasleys would make the family forever incomplete, which was why Fred was such an incredibly difficult loss for us to handle.
3. Sirius Black – The Order of the Phoenix
It seemed to take Sirius an age to fall: his body curved in a graceful arc as he sank backwards through the ragged veil hanging from the arch.
Harry saw the look of mingled fear and surprise on his godfather’s wasted, once-handsome face as he fell through the ancient doorway and disappeared behind the veil, which fluttered for a moment as though in a high wind, then fell back into place.
I refused to acknowledge that Sirius was dead. I did not and could not accept such a devastation. I speculated all sorts of methods or spells or enchantments that might be able to bring Sirius back, or to undo the Killing Curse Bellatrix inflicted upon him. Maybe the Time Turner used to save him in Prisoner of Azkaban – couldn’t we just have Hermione fetch it to undo it? Please?
In a string of potential father figures, friends, and adults introduced for Harry to look up to, Sirius stands as a symbol of a life Harry might have known, and in a way, represents that same life partially restored to him. It would never be whole and it would never be what it should have been, but it was something, and that was enough for Harry; it was enough for us readers. It was that second chance at a family that Harry always wanted, even if it wasn’t going to be perfect.
Sirius’s character progression is really quite remarkable. Kept secret until his third year at Hogwarts, we discover first that Sirius is accused of murdering Harry’s parents; second that he may well yet be in pursuit of Harry himself; and third, perhaps that most genius element to the confusion of all, was that Sirius had been named Harry’s godfather before his parents died. We take a journey with Harry from being absolutely frightened of this escaped murderous lunatic to believing the stories he is telling (with aid of Lupin, of course), to becoming incredibly fond and sympathetic to the troubles he has endured because of Wormtail. The journey continues as Prisoner of Azkaban ultimately ends in the salvation of Sirius’ very existence, and Sirius continues to show Harry the love and support of a true godfather from afar, oftentimes risking being caught or discovered in his attempts to make contact with Harry.
In his end, though, Sirius leads himself to his death thanks to both his pride and inclination to oblige risk. Bellatrix Lestrange is a powerful, ruthless witch, which is something that Sirius himself may have known best of all; yet during their final battle, he has an air of egomania as he eggs his villainous cousin on with taunts like, “Come on, you can do better than that!” and laughter as they battle. Perhaps it was those very qualities of his that gave us confidence in his character, those qualities which made us believe that he’d never leave us and that he surely couldn’t die. Apart from Cedric’s death, I would say that the death of Sirius definitely woke Harry up the most to the consequences of Voldemort’s return.
JK Rowling had her reasons for cutting Sirius from the book after reigniting Harry’s hope for some sort of semblance of belonging to a family:
“It is more satisfying I think for the reader if the hero [Harry] has to go on alone and to give him too much support [Sirius] makes his job too easy, sorry.”
It’s a harsh reality, to be certain. But in the end, we trust that Rowling knows Harry best, and, of course, that she knows her stories best. Keeping Sirius alive would have been a little too good to be true for all of the recklessness he imposed and the danger to come, but it would have made Harry a little more whole.
2. Albus Dumbledore – The Half-Blood Prince
Snape raised his wand and pointed it directly at Dumbledore.
A jet of green light shot from the end of Snape’s wand and hit Dumbledore squarely in the chest. Harry’s scream of horror never left him; silent and unmoving, he was forced to watch as Dumbledore was blasted into the air: for a split second he seemed to hang suspended beneath the shining skull, and then he fell slowly backwards, like a great rag doll, over the battlements and out of sight.
Oh, Dumbledore. Sweet, charming, kooky, odd, mystery-riddled Dumbledore. You were one of the first wizards we met; you filled us with questions and were selective with your answers. You enabled us to want more, to learn about your half-moon spectacles and your purple robe and your Put-Outer (the same device you later bequeath to Ron!). Where would we be without the kindly and clever wisdom you imparted upon Harry throughout six books, which we in turn borrowed in order to apply to our own lives?
Dumbledore is without a doubt the most unmistakeable father figure within the series. From the moment we meet him, he is awash with care and concern for Harry’s well-being, even if it means making difficult choices and perhaps sacrifices. Under Dumbledore’s own direction, Harry suffered at the hands of the Dursleys for his entire pre-Hogwarts life, which Dumbledore deemed necessary in order to keep Harry away from an otherwise astoundingly pressuring life. We can’t always know the immediate wisdom of Dumbledore’s choices or directives, but as he allows Harry (and the readers) to come to their own conclusions, we grow to trust him in his astute advice throughout the books – just as he trusts Harry to make the right decisions, which is something he stresses even in and after his own demise, as Harry searches for horcruxes to destroy Voldemort.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about Dumbledore himself is that, quite shockingly, he has flaws and secrets much darker than Harry could have imagined. The genius surrounding his character is that, while we often question his methods, we trust that he knows what he’s doing and that he is right. But the confrontation Harry has with Aunt Muriel at Bill and Fleur’s wedding about Dumbledore’s past leaves us questioning every conclusion to which Dumbledore has ever led us. Muriel asks Harry, “Honestly, my boy, are you sure you knew him at all?” Those words essentially define the hardships Harry wrestles with throughout the entirety of the Deathly Hallows, as he begins to question Dumbledore’s intentions, true self, and possibly even his own worth in Dumbledore’s eyes. The fact that these doubts occur after Dumbledore’s death make his parting that much more bitter as we, the readers, attempt to assemble the puzzling deeper layers of Albus Dumbledore.
Dumbledore is special in that, even after his death, his presence stays with until the end of the series, as we continue still see the effects and consequences of his actions unravel in Deathly Hallows over the course of Harry’s wild goose chase for horcruxes. Even after all of the questioning through which we rake Dumbledore’s integrity, his is the story that doesn’t end in death. We meet him one final time at King’s Cross Station, when Harry is suspended between worlds in a sort of fabricated Limbo. And once more, Dumbledore imparts worlds of wisdom and knowledge upon Harry, which he uses in order to return and defeat Voldemort in one final act.
In a way, Dumbledore’s death is a bit gentler and easier for us to swallow because we’re given that last little bit of closure from him there at King’s Cross. The same could be said still about other deaths, like as Lupin and Sirius, or even Harry’s parents, as they are produced from the Resurrection Stone and offer Harry words of comfort – but I like to think that Dumbledore’s post-life conversation with Harry is a bit more meaningful. Some fans have been known to regale the King’s Cross chapter as the most beautiful chapter in the entire series, with Dumbledore giving Harry thought-provoking advice with a dash of hope one last time in the most critical moment of all, just has he has done for the duration of his acquaintance with Harry.
1. Severus Snape – The Deathly Hallows
When Snape looked as though there was no blood left in him, his grip on Harry’s robes slackened.
“Look…at….me…” he whispered.
The green eyes found the black, but after a second, something in the depths of the dark pair seemed to vanish, leaving them fixed, blank, and empty. The hand holding Harry thudded to the floor, and Snape moved no more.”
I don’t know about anyone else, but I bawled my eyes out much longer than necessary over the death of this fictional person, both while reading and watching Deathly Hallows. Snape’s death struck me harder than any other death in the series.
Snape unleashed years of humiliation at Harry throughout his education at Hogwarts. Torture. Outright malice. Palpable loathing. Loss of house points, imposed detentions. Snape was literally the thing that Neville feared most, and Neville lost both of his parents to Death Eaters’ abominable methods during the First Wizarding War. Snape is a sly, cunning, oily man who has never given any house outside of Slytherin reason to feel anything but contempt for him. That is, until JK Rowling shocked the hell out of us with revelation of his memories in Dumbledore’s Pensieve just after his death.
Snape is arguably the person who cared for Harry the most. I am certain that a great many fans will object to this, but take a moment to consider a few things. Who else might compete for that esteemed title? Ron and Hermione, putting themselves in harm’s way and danger over and over for him? Hagrid, who made sure to safely deliver and return him to the world he truly belonged to? Dumbledore, the wizened mentor to whom Harry could turn for advice in nearly every problem he found himself in? Any single one of the Order of the Phoenix members who risked their life for Harry? Yes, any one of these people would go to profound lengths in order to rescue or ensure Harry’s protection. Surely, you say to yourself, they must care for him more than Snape does.
The difference between all of these people, to me, is that Snape did all of that and played a multitude of additional parts and roles for years and years and years. Snape literally led a double life as a secret agent for Dumbledore, playing his role well enough so that when the time came, there was little question of him returning as a Death Eater. Snape elevated himself to one of Voldemort’s most trusted advisers, even going so far as to make an Unbreakable Vow to murder Dumbledore, all in the name of Harry’s safety and livelihood.
So why would someone feign contempt and loathing for a student for so many years while acting as a agent for Dumbledore and engaging in all of this behavior to protect Harry? It’s no secret that all of Snape’s behaviors stemmed from Snape’s love for Lily Potter. It must have been a terrible thing for him to turn to the Dark Arts, only to have them become the very cause of Lily’s death. Only by protecting her son with every ounce of himself could he find even a sliver of personal redemption for what he felt was his fault.
Snape’s tale is the most tragic of anyone’s in the Potter saga. Unrequited love which ended first in denial and second in death, necessitating acting the part of a villainous teacher for years; putting himself in extreme danger in acting as a spy for the Order and playing his part so well even after Dumbledore’s death that every single one of us were fooled, including Voldemort himself, twice. Snape gives up any chance at happiness he could have ever had – pursuing his own personal desires, allowing himself to get close to others, making friends or pursuing relationships, or simply even just being himself – all in order to care for Harry in his own subtle way by protecting him in secret for the duration of the books. Without a doubt, it is Snape who experiences the most loss and the most personal sacrifice of any single character, save for Harry’s own mother, who protected him from Voldemort until her last breath and sacrificed her own life for Harry’s sake. Snape did the very same, only instead of lasting only moments such as Lily’s actions did, his sacrifice for Harry lasted a lifetime.
It could also be argued that, aside from Harry’s own importance, Snape was the most essential and integral character to the entire story, and even to Harry’s own life. I believe that Rowling also felt this way, which was why she chose to reveal Snape’s fate to no one but Alan Rickman during the course of production for the films, and has previously mentioned that she plotted both Snape and Dumbledore’s roles even before the first book was written.
Severus Snape is the twist we never saw coming, the ultimate anti-hero who hid in the plain sight until she was ready to share him with us. Within a few handfuls of words, Rowling managed to undo all of the work she had labored over for years, disintegrating Snape’s false image as the Terror of Hogwarts, and, in the same breath, promptly reducing us all to ugly, sobbing messes of tears and torn heartstrings.
She got us all good.