Harry Potter's darkest hour is also his finest.
Harry, accompanied by the spirits of his dead family and friends, approaches Lord Voldemort prepared to die.

Much like Albus Dumbledore, it's important to note, first of all, that Harry Potter was loved – by us, and by you – long before Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. He is the hero of the stories, after all: our window into the wizarding world, the young man that we've followed ever since he was a boy, whom we've grown up with ourselves. We know Harry Potter, we know the kind of person he is. He's brave, he's loyal, he's selfless – and he's very, very nosy. By this point, the seventh and final book in the Harry Potter series, what could possibly surprise us?

As you'll no doubt recall, ‘The Forest Again’ is the chapter where everything changes: the chapter where Harry, having just learned the truth from Severus Snape's memories, has to come to terms with some disturbing revelations. Snape was really a double agent; Harry himself is a Horcrux; Dumbledore always knew; the only way to defeat Lord Voldemort is for Harry to die – for him to walk to the Forbidden Forest, and allow himself to be killed. It hits him hard.

He felt his heart pounding fiercely in his chest. How strange that in his dread of death, it pumped all the harder, valiantly keeping him alive. But it would have to stop, and soon. Its beats were numbered. How many would there be time for, as he rose and walked through the castle for the last time, out into the grounds and into the Forest?

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Harry looking into the Pensieve from the Deathly Hallows Part 2

The Harry Potter series has always been, in one way or another, about death; explicitly, about how we deal with grief and loss, less explicitly how we deal with the idea of death itself – how we face the reality of it. This is nothing new in fiction, of course. How a hero overcomes death, how they power through fear to save the day, is what makes them heroic – a condition that Harry had met many times before.

Terror washed over him as he lay on the floor, with that funeral drum pounding inside him. Would it hurt to die? All those times he had thought that it was about to happen and escaped, he had never really thought of the thing itself: his will to live had always been so much stronger than his fear of death.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

But this is different. For it is one thing to face death and come out on top, but it is quite another to give yourself to it willingly, to sacrifice your own life so that others may live, to walk, against all nature, towards your own destruction. It's an act that requires, as J.K. Rowling wrote, 'a different kind of bravery’: a heroism that goes beyond wisdom and skill, and becomes something nobler, something higher. It's little wonder why, for example, self-sacrifice plays such a huge part in religion and myth.

That doesn't mean, however, that Harry walks towards death gladly. His journey from Hogwarts castle to the Forest is fraught with sadness and fear. Under the cover of his Invisibility Cloak, he passes through the carnage of the Battle of Hogwarts, full of fallen friends and suffering comrades. He tells Neville to kill Voldemort's snake, to finish the job after he's gone; he leaves without saying goodbye to Ron, Hermione or Ginny – they would only slow him down.

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It sounds cold-blooded, but he can't risk anything changing his mind. 'He wanted to be stopped, to be dragged back, to be sent back home,' J.K. Rowling writes. He's already scared enough. Dumbledore knew this would be the case. Which is why, halfway through the Forest, Harry finds the moral support he needs – the words of the dear departed Sirius Black, Remus Lupin and his mother and father, Lily and James. Summoned through Dumbledore's Resurrection Stone – hidden in Harry's Golden Snitch – they guide him through the end.

‘You are nearly there,’ said James. ‘Very close. We are ... so proud of you.’
‘Does it hurt?’
The childish question had fallen from Harry’s lips before he could stop it.
‘Dying? Not at all,’ said Sirius. ‘Quicker and easier than falling asleep.’

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

It is fitting, in a way, that even at his final hour, Harry relies on the support of friends, which is a constant throughout the series. But ultimately, this is something he must face alone – which, after reaching his destination, he does.

Voldemort had raised his wand. His head was still tilted to one side, like a curious child, wondering what would happen if he proceeded. Harry looked back into the red eyes, and wanted it to happen now, quickly, while he could still stand, before he lost control, before he betrayed fear –
He saw the mouth move and a flash of green light, and everything was gone.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

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He could, of course, have run away. He had an Invisibility Cloak. He could have decided at any time that being alive was more important than anything else, and disappeared into the countryside. Maybe a few years beforehand he would have; maybe it is only now, after overcoming so much, that Harry had become the hero the wizarding world needed him to be. No, more than that. ‘The Forest Again’ shows Harry as more than a simple hero. It reminds us exactly who he is – the opposite of Lord Voldemort.

It all comes back to death, you see. Voldemort has devoted most of his life to avoiding death. Literally nothing is more important to him than his own life. He has performed acts of unparalleled evil in order to preserve and extend it. He is defined, entirely, by fear. Could Voldemort ever have had the courage to walk into that Forest? To give his life for something greater than himself? No, because to Voldemort there is nothing greater than himself. And that, in the end, is his undoing – and Harry's strength. There is a reason, after all, why Harry would go on to become the true Master of Death: a title that, according to J.K. Rowling herself, is 'not about striving for immortality, but about accepting mortality’.

Pottermore looks back at the moments that made our favourite characters so memorable. Come back in two weeks for the chapter that made us fall in love with Molly Weasley.

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