(Update, Monday, April 02, 2007: see here for thoughts about the cover art for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.)
Basically, this all came to me in rush last November, while we crawled westbound through the hellish construction traffic on 1-80/90 just south of Lake Michigan on our way home from visiting Melissa's parents for Thanksgiving. We'd seen Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire at the beginning of our vacation, which led me to spend the rest of the holiday break rereading the fourth book (to confirm my memory of various things), which then led to rereading the fifth, and then the sixth, which I'd argued about at great length the previous summer. And so there I was, driving the minivan slowly through two-lane traffic, surrounded by huge trucks, Alison screaming, about 5 miles (and 45 minutes) to go until the next exit, and suddenly, whoosh!--I had the basic plot of book seven in my head. By the time we finally escaped the bad traffic, I was well beyond guessing what seemed likely to happen in the concluding volume of the Harry Potter saga; I was practically writing fanfic. Since then, I've tried to write it all down a couple of times, and I've changed my mind about a few things, but for the most part I've left it alone. But now, since some have demanded it, here it is, in all its geeky glory. With any luck, we'll find out how wrong I am next July.
First, a few long predictions that describe what I think some of the basic set-ups and themes of Book 7 will be; then, some shorter, more specific predictions. And no, I have no guess as to what the title of the book will be.
1. Harry returns to Hogwarts as the Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher.
J.K. Rowling has said that she's written her last Quidditch match, so clearly our protagonist--who states at the end of HBP that he's through with Hogwarts anyway--is not going to come back to Hogwarts as an ordinary student. But the whole series has been built around Harry's years at Hogwarts (that's even a subtitle for the books); and moreover, can we really believe that Hermione won't return to finish her education? (And that Ron will follow her?) This would make it difficult for their pledge to stick with Harry wherever he goes in pursuit of the Horcruxes to be fulfilled. Rowling's solution will set all this straight: Harry will go back to Hogwarts, but as a teacher. He has to! No matter how successful the erstwhile members of the Order of the Phoenix (see below) are at keeping the whole story from coming out, the truth of the matter is that the wizarding world will see Hogwarts as a place where a famed Head can be killed by one of his own teachers. There will be enormous pressure to simply close the school, from the Board of Governors and from some of faculty as well, to say nothing of all the parents who will keep their children away. What could possibly keep it going? Why, the "Chosen One," of course. If it was widely known that the "boy who lived," the young and brilliant wizard Harry Potter, now all grown up and ready to teach and defend Hogwarts' students, was going to be on hand, I suspect Hogwarts will be kept open by wide proclamation. This will keep Harry, Ron, and Hermione together, continue the legacy of Dumbledore's Army, allow us to see Harry developing other aspects of his personality (interacting with other teachers as peers, for one; facing down internal challenges from Slytherin House, for another), enable Harry to have access to information that is only going to be available through and around Hogwarts anyway (again, see below), and not least, inject a little bit of light-heartedness (Harry learning how to deal with new students and grading papers) into what is bound to be a pretty dark book.
But is Harry going to come up with this idea on his own? I don't think so.
2. Percy Weasley's redemption.
No, I don't imagine that Percy is going to change overnight; not only would that make little sense, but I really don't think Rowling is interested in doing that much with his character either. But somehow, I just think there's something more to be done with him, and getting Harry to Hogwarts just might be it. Think about it this way: from the beginning, Percy has had an entirely different perspective on both magic and magical accomplishment than both his family and Albus Dumbledore. In the first book, he's calling Dumbledore crazy--a genius, but crazy. Everything he has said or written since has confirmed that opinion. But he's never disliked Hogwarts; on the contrary, he adores Hogwarts, as that was his first step into the wider wizarding world. He won't want it shut down. And it's going to occur to him that, if convincing Harry to become a Hogwarts teacher will keep it open...well, there'd be some advantages to that. We're going to see Harry in the first part of Book 7 going through a serious re-evaluation of Dumbledore--not of his affection or admiration of Dumbledore, but of his opinion of him (once more, see below). Percy will be able to approach Harry on those terms: not necessarily as a tool of the Ministry of Magic, but as someone whose suspicions of Dumbledore's methods have been at least partially born out, someone who nonetheless loves Hogwarts and wants what's best for it. Pitching this route to Harry will go along with Rowling's plan to get Harry to recognize that Dumbledore's death will be understood differently by different people: that maybe Percy and Rufus Scrimgeour, while not entirely to be trusted, have a reason for seeing things the way they do. Harry will be persuaded by Percy's suggestion (which will be given early in the book; perhaps at the wedding of Bill Weasley and Fleur Delacour?), and the result will be softening between Harry, the Weasley family, and their son. Which will be good, because the clear lines distinguishing those who are, like Harry, a "Dumbledore man," and those who are not, are going to get confused.
3. The Order of the Phoenix breaks up.
The more that I think about this, the more I believe that is an obvious one to predict. Simply put, some members of the Order of the Phoenix--Hagrid, probably Arthur and Molley Weasley, perhaps Nymphadora Tonks and Remus Lupin--are going to be absolutely certain that, whatever Dumbledore had planned with or known about Snape, his death at Snape's hand is no reason not to continue to trust his basic plans for fighting Voldemort. But others--Kingsley Shacklebolt, Alastor Moody, maybe even Minerva McGonagall--are going to have their doubts. Why didn't Dumbledore ever fully explain why he trusted Snape? Why was he so impish and secretive and solitary? Maybe his generous attitude towards even his enemies wasn't the best policy? Maybe he was just a little bit, well, out of touch? And so you're going to see the Order fall apart; Grimmauld Place will be left to Harry, and even the good guys will find themselves doubting their path. The breaking up of Harry's most immediate adult support system will, along with the aforementioned choice that I believe Percy will present him with, force him to grow and change, to recognize and respect--as an adult must--the numerous shades of grey even amongst those on the good side on any conflict. In fact, I suspect that Harry's struggles will themselves contribute to this break up, because--even while he is affected and challenged by the various interpretations of the events around Dumbledore's death which the members of the Order of the Phoenix come to--he still won't share with them his Horcrux quest, keeping that to himself as a duty that, perhaps, we will come to see as his fate to accomplish, since Dumbledore, for whatever reason, simply could not do it. Again, more growing up, more learning how hard it is to figure out how to do the right things for the right reason. (Rowling has said we will learn a great deal more about Voldemort in the final book; I suspect one of the things we will learn, at the same time Harry learns it, is all about Dumbledore's and the original Order's efforts to defeat Voldemort during the First War, and about Dumbledore's successes and failures as a leader in that war, failures that Harry will need to learn from.)
Okay, now some more particular bits.
4. Harry visits Godric's Hollow, learns that Peter Pettigrew was there the night his parents were killed, and more.
It has to have been Peter who went with Voldemort to kill James and Lily; unless I misunderstand how being a "Secret-Keeper" works (as demonstrated in the beginning of OotP), then Peter could not have simply told Voldemort the whereabouts he had been entrusted with--he would have had to physically direct Voldemort to the Potters' hideout. So Peter was there, and he heard what happened; he was the one who presumably moved Voldemort's shattered body out of the wreckage (thinking he was dead? probably...), as well as grabbing James's wand and invisibility cloak. Perhaps he thought to hide himself from everyone who was going to come after him now that the Dark Lord was out of the picture? I think we'll learn that he ran to Snape, whom he thought would be in despair over the apparent death of the Dark Lord, but who instead went into a rage at hearing of Lily's death, took the cloak from him gave it to Dumbledore, along with all the news that Peter would have given him; this is how Dumbledore came to now what was actually said that night before the murder of James and Lilly. Peter flees for his life, and we know what becomes of him.
How will Harry learn all this? I don't know. Best guess is that he talks to a neighbor, an elderly man or woman delighted to meet the son of the poor couple who lived in Godric's Hollow so long ago, and who remembers the comings and goings around the house that Halloween night. He or she will also be able to tell Harry something about his mother's genealogy and her eye color (and Harry's too), though what all that will mean, I have no guess.
5. Harry breaks into Azkaban.
Why? Because Mundungus Fletcher is in there; Rowling told us at the end HBP that he'd been locked up because of a botched robbery. Harry is going to figure out what most of Potter fandom has already guessed--that the locket found in Grimmauld Place that could not be opened was the locket containing a Horcrux which Regulus Black, who turned against Lord Voldemort once he realized what the Dark Lord had planned, stole before the Death Eaters could track him down and kill him. How Harry will figure this out I don't know, but once he figures it out, he'll have only one option: talk to Mundungus, and find out what he knows. But the Ministry of Magic is hardly going to allow Harry to go into Azkaban, especially when he won't tell them what information he's trying to find. So he'll have to break in (with help--Ron and Hermione, certainly, maybe Luna Lovegood and Neville Longbottom too) and go get him, which means that Rowling will finally be able to give her readers an inside look of the infamous prison. With any luck, this will turn out to be a major battle in the book (and I hope that partially because I think it could look fantastic in the eventual film!). Perhaps there will be others involved in the break-in as well, with different agendas...remember that Lucius Malfoy is in Azkaban too, and there are people who may want to get at him, his son not being the last in line there.
6. Harry confronts Alberforth Dumbledore.
Who knows that the bartender at the Hog's Head is Albus Dumbledore's brother, Alberforth? My guess is, almost no one--the teachers who were involved in the Order of the Phoenix, presumably, and perhaps a couple of others. Harry will find out when Mundungus tells him after they break him out of Azkaban, and confesses that he sold the locket back to Alberforth. Back? Yes--because Alberforth was with Regulus Black when Black stole the Horcrux-cursed locket in the first place. Look at the trap which Rowling gave us in the cave where the Horcrux was hidden; no one could have managed to take the locket without help, as Dumbledore needed Harry's. So, somehow Regulus convinced Alberforth to go with him; Alberforth helped him through the ordeal, they placed the fake locket there together, and made their escape. Did they fall out later? Was Alberforth present when Regulus was killed, and became so frightened for his life that he withdrew from the Order, and kept to himself thereafter? Beats me. But I believe it will be Alberforth that will give Harry the two essential bits of information that the plot will turn upon (though Harry's secret visit to the Headmistress's office--you know he's going to manage at least one such visit, perhaps with Fawkes's help--in order to talk to Dumbledore's portrait will be vital as well). First, Alberforth will be able to hazard a guess as to where the remaining Horcruxes are. (Why? Because Regulus told him? Maybe Regulus managed to snoop around, do some research, discover some secrets--maybe there is more to Regulus and his relationship with his brother Sirius that remains to be revealed? Kreacher is the only one who can say...) Second--and this will be the big reveal--he'll know the real truth about Snape.
7. The real truth about Snape.
He loved Lily from afar, watching her excel from across the room in Potions, but he hated her too, for being popular and decent and a Mudblood like himself, and thus he hated himself for loving her. He was a confused and wretched young man, and chose to become ever more hateful and self-pitying for that reason. He signed up with Voldemort. But he was both appalled by and contemptuous of what the Dark Lord was planning. He overheard the prophecy, all of it. But he only told Voldemort part of it. Why? Part of him must have been able to anticipate Dumbledore's hastily hatched plan, a plan to drive Voldemort into marking as his chosen enemy the boy who Dumbledore knew would have--unlike Neville for some mysterious reason--the power or lineage or luck to someday bring the Dark Lord down. But part of Snape must have also just been delighted at the prospect of James dead and Lilly miserable (a person like him probably could never imagine that a mother would sacrifice her life for a mere baby). The accounts that Dumbledore has given Harry about the night Snape overheard Sybill Trelawney's prophecy, and Snape's subsequent behavior, have not been entirely true: it will be revealed that while Snape did pass information about Voldemort to Dumbledore and the Order, he was always playing both sides, seeing himself as equally justified in treating both as enemies. When Voldemort returned, so did Snape's wretchedness, his hatred of Dumbledore for obliging him to use his unique talents in such a miserable way, and his equal hatred of Voldemort, for having killed his beloved Lily. Placed in an impossible situation by the events at the end of HBP, he murdered a man who trusted him to follow through on his promises and fled; by so doing, he continued his balancing act, only by extracting the maximum pain possible on all while doing so. (No, I am NOT changing my opinion that Snape is a bad guy. Snape is a bad guy, and Dumbledore is dead, and that's that. But I've been helped to realize that Snape is, in fact, a deeply conflicted and self-loathing bad guy, a tragic bad guy, a bad guy who sees himself as a martyr to both sides, forced to play a role everywhere he turns, a bad guy who, when he saw a "solution" to the crisis on the tower that would allow him to commit a little murder along the way, did not shy away.)
Okay, now a few housecleaning bits.
8. Who will be who at Hogwarts?
McGonagall is now the Headmistress of Hogwarts; who will be the new assistant head? To everyone's surprise, Minerva will choose Horace Slughorn. He will also be appointed Head of Slytherin House, and will find himself faced with a far more demanding task than he faced last time he held that post: dealing with students and parents who, as the stories of Snape and Draco Malfoy become known, will be viciously divided between denial, shame, and a desire for outright revolt. I think we'll find that Slughorn has far more decency and strength in him than he might even suspect. And along the way, Rowling will be able to finally give us a glimpse of Slytherin from the inside-out (Harry's being a teacher at Hogwarts will make this possible too). It's been too easy for Slytherins to always show up in the books simply as heavies, villains, buffoons, or all three; in Slughorn, Rowling has for the first time given us a vaguely admirable Slytherin character, and I suspect that she'll make use of it.
Someone will also have to take Minerva's place as Transfiguration teacher and Head of Gryffindor House. For the latter, by huge popular acclaim, she will choose Hagrid. For the former, by similarly huge acclaim on the part of at least half of Hogwarts's population, she will choose Viktor Krum (who already demonstrated enormous talent in transfiguration magic way back in GoF). What house will Krum be associated with? My guess is, again, Slytherin. Not only has that been foretold given the whole style of Krum's education at Durmstrang, but it'll make the ensuing fireworks as Ron, Hermione, and Harry negotiate student-teacher-lover-friend relationships all the more interesting, as well as providing an important aid to Slughorn as he attempts to overhaul Slytherin House before the final battle with Voldemort (which I am convinced will take place at Hogwarts--heck, maybe we'll even see the Chamber of Secrets opened again!).
9. Who is going to die?
As the Player puts it in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, it's going to be a slaughterhouse. I predict eight corpses, all told:
Mr. or Mrs. Granger. This is the one which reveal just how bloody-minded J.K. Rowling can be. Why would the Death Eaters target Hermione's parents? Easy--because they can. Harry has lost everyone close to him, save his Hogwarts friends; death will no longer trouble him. The Weasleys are too well protected. But to kill (or perhaps just drive insane through the Cruciatus Curse) one of Hermione's parents...well, this is not the sort thing our scholarship girl is well-prepared for. It'll devastate her, make her blame herself, and thus doubt herself, and end up being of little help to Harry, at least for a time. Take out Hermione by going after her family, her vulnerable spot, and you remove one of Harry's greatest supports, and possibly remove Ron as well (what if he's forced to choose between sticking with Harry and being with Hermione when she needs him?).
Luna Lovegood. C'mon, you know it's going to happen, no matter how much we don't want it to. Is there any character that Rowling has given us to who is more at peace with the prospect of dying, who is less likely to be too afraid to sacrifice herself should that moment come? I don't think so. For years, I thought Neville was a marked man, but now I think otherwise; it will be Luna who, at some crisis moment in the book, will see clearly what has to be done and will do it, fully aware of the cost to herself. For a Ravenclaw, she is decidedly non-rational, which means she won't go down trying to think her way through whatever impossible situation she and her friends may find themselves in; she'll just embrace it. And moreover, I think Harry will realize this, and will have to at some point make a choice that turns on Luna's fearlessness. Neville, in his heart of hearts, may never forgive Harry for this, even if he does understand why it will have been necessary, and even why Luna was capable of choosing to die freely.
Lucius Malfoy. And you know what...I think Draco will be the one to do the deed. Not because he's on Harry's side, but because his dad will have put Lord Voldemort before his own family, and Draco has absorbed his father's lessons and pride too well: never let someone else take charge. Draco would happily follow Voldemort, but he will not stand for being played by him, for being his servant. Having been forced into playing Voldemort's hired killer once, he won't do it again. No, if Draco unintentionally helps out Harry by dealing with the Death Eaters, including his dad, it will because it serves his agenda, not our hero's.
Peter Pettigrew. In this case, Dumbledore will be proved completely correct: when the moment comes, Peter will not be able to witness a repeat of what he observed 17 years earlier, especially not in the case of the boy who saved his life. Peter will save Harry's life, perhaps while giving him the key to a remaining--or the final--Horcrux, or perhaps even in the final battle with Voldemort. And he'll pay for that act with his own.
Severus Snape. Hating Voldemort, hating Harry, and most of all hating himself, Snape will spin webs, lie and deceive, work towards the destruction of everyone and feed his own self-loathing, with everything he says and does. In the end, it'll catch up to him: everyone will know the truth, and his every plan will be revealed, probably including some that extend all the way back to the moment he first heard the prophecy of Voldemort's doom that day at the Hog's Head. What will be left, then, but for Snape to take his own life? He'll bring some cavern ceiling down on himself, probably taking out some of Harry's enemies or destroying the last Horcrux along the way, and cursing both Harry and himself while doing so. Snape's end will be, I think, the penultimate point of Book 7; after it, what could be left but the final showdown? The suicide of Snape, and Harry's exposure to such a deadly mix of yearning and spite, will be the greatest lesson he learns from all his years at Hogwarts; he will never love or forgive Snape, but he will come to understand him, and that will be enough.
Minerva McGonagall. If I'm right, and the final battle takes place at Hogwarts, then its Headmistress will fight to the end, and pay a deadly price for it. Before she goes down, I hope Rowling shows us what a true master of transfiguration can do.
Lord Voldemort. Um, yeah, he's going to die. Good will triumph and all that.
10. And in the end?
Lupin and Tonks will marry, as will Bill and Fleur. I suspect there will be a scene in Book 7 where Bill comes to terms with his lycanthropy, not overcoming it entirely but definitely keeping it in check, and Lupin will be key here. Perhaps Fenrir Greyback will try to pull Bill over to the "dark side," maybe even by pretending to offer himself as an occasion for Bill to let his wolfish bloodlust take over, but Lupin will get him to choose restraint, even if that means Fenrir gets away. Anyway, these two couples are going to stay together and stay close.
Fred and George, meanwhile, will become a couple of the richest wizards in Britain, eventually opening up branches of their joke shop all around the world.
Draco Malfoy will not change his spots, but neither will he be dragged down like many other Slytherins and pure-bloods when Voldemort is finally destroyed. He'll inherit the full Malfoy estate, maybe disown his own mother or at least keep her on a short leash, spread money around like it grows on trees (since he'll have even more once he marries into the equally wealthy, pure-blood Parkinson clan), successfully hide his "youthful indiscretions" and his hatred of Harry Potter and all he will have accomplished, and find himself ending up one of the most admired and feared men in the wizarding world: in the eyes of the public, he'll be considered one of those intimidating, "old-school" aristocrats (no one will say "pure blood" any more, but everyone will know what you mean) who didn't go bad. He won't ever sully himself with politics, but I expect to see him pulling a lot of strings behind the scenes in the end. If it wasn't for all the practical jokes the Weasley twins keep pulling on him (and which he can never prove their responsibility for), his life would be pretty good.
Horace Slughorn will become the new Headmaster of Hogwarts, and will be credited with having managed to unite the school, bringing Slytherin House back into the fold with the other three houses, at the moment of the school's greatest crisis. His favorable reputation will cover up for a lot of his subsequent abuses of his position, but overall he won't be considered a bad Head, especially since, once Rufus Scrimgeour retires, Slughorn will find a near-perfect personality match in the newest Minister of Magic, who also will happen to be the youngest Minister in history--Percy Weasley.
Neville Longbottom will go on to become the Herbology teacher at Hogwarts. He'll be beloved by his students and praised by his peers, though he'll never take the lead in anything. On the contrary, we'll see him puttering along as the years go by, a confirmed old bachelor, cheering lustily for Gryffindor at Quidditch matches, forgetting names and being something of a lovable stick-in-the-mud, always waiting for the end of the day, when he can return to his quarters, put on a kettle of tea, sit down in his chair, and enjoy another evening of talk with his very best friend in all the world--the ghost of Luna Lovegood. (Perhaps she will have taken the Grey Lady's place as the Ravenclaw House ghost.)
For Hermione and Ron, the future holds naught but love, marriage, children, accomplishment, praise, honors, domesticity, travel, and peace, despite the lurking presence of Malfoy out there. I think it is inevitable that Book 7 will introduce a real change in how the wizarding world views and interacts with Muggles and other races; Dumbledore implied such several times. Hermione, no doubt, will take the lead in articulating this new, more open and humble wizarding society, through her books and lectures and workshops and activism. Ron will mind the kids, teach chess lessons, and be perfectly happy.
Ginny will leave Britain in sadness and look for a new life elsewhere, perhaps in America, perhaps even changing her name. A sequel series, eventually? We can only hope.
And Harry? Well...I only listed seven of my eight predicted deaths up above, didn't I? Remember what happened to Frodo at the end of the Lord of the Rings? There you go.
Wednesday, October 25, 2006
(Update, Monday, April 02, 2007: see here for thoughts about the cover art for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.)