Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows plays thoughtfully upon the standard Harry Potter formula that we've all gotten used to over the course of the last six books – we begin with a menacing taste of what's to come (this time with a glimpse of what Voldemort and his Death Eaters are up to), find ourselves at Privet Drive at the end of the summer, and then make our way to Hogwarts. However, this version of the trajectory is thwarted at every point, as Rowling throws in curveball after curveball, shaking up all of our expectations.
The central struggle of this book is established right away: Voldemort is gathering his forces to eliminate Harry once and for all (yikes). The Death Eaters are in the midst of infiltrating the Ministry of Magic, and it seems like they'll succeed soon (yikes). Meanwhile, their enemies, the Order of the Phoenix, are making plans to move Harry from Privet Drive, which will cease to be a safe place for him as soon as he turns seventeen. Snape betrays the Order's plans to Voldemort (dangit). Harry himself is making plans for his mission to destroy Voldemort, left to him by Dumbledore; speaking of whom, the former Headmaster's reputation has fallen into question, due to a new exposé biography by notorious journalist Rita Skeeter. Yes, this is going to be a turbulent one.
The night of the big move, Death Eaters ambush the Order. So, right from the get-go, casualties include Harry's owl Hedwig and George Weasley (who's alive, but seriously injured). Worst of all, Alastor "Mad-Eye" Moody is killed. Harry is now seriously full of rage – he can't wait to get going on his quest for Voldemort's Horcruxes, but must hold off until his birthday, and then wait for Bill Weasley and Fleur Delacour's wedding to take place.
On Harry's birthday, Harry, Ron, and Hermione find that they've been left certain mysterious objects in Dumbledore's will – Ron receives the Deluminator (which eliminates light – we're guessing it gets more interesting than this as the book progresses), Hermione a copy of The Tales of Beedle the Bard, and Harry receives the first Golden Snitch he ever caught and the sword of Godric Gryffindor (which the Ministry refuses to surrender to him). Dumbledore's motives seem more mysterious than ever.
Bill and Fleur's wedding falls right on the heels of Harry's birthday and the event, a disguised Harry encounters two intriguing things: first, a strange symbol that Viktor Krum says is the symbol of the evil, Hitler-esque wizard Grindelwald (defeated many years ago by Dumbledore); and second, Elphias Doge, an old friend of Dumbledore's, whose defense of the dead man only eggs Harry on more to find out the truth about his old mentor.
The wedding gets derailed by the arrival of Death Eaters – the Ministry has officially fallen. Harry, Ron, and Hermione make a quick escape, but are immediately found by Death Eaters. They escape once more, and flee to the former Order of the Phoenix headquarters at Sirius's house, 12 Grimmauld Place. There, they discover the secret of who R.A.B. is (the mystery man who stole the locket Horcrux before Harry and Dumbledore in Book 6) – it was Sirius's brother Regulus Arcturus Black, who was a Death Eater, but turned against Voldemort. They learn all about Regulus from Kreacher, the Black family house-elf; Harry makes friends with Kreacher through this ordeal.
They discover that the real Horcrux locket is in the possession of Dolores Umbridge, now a high-up Ministry official – and to get it, they have to secretly infiltrate the Ministry. Things go fairly smoothly until they're discovered by a Death Eater called Yaxley, who manages to follow them to Grimmauld Place after they get the locket; their safe haven is no longer safe. After this point, our trio of heroes is on the run for real. They travel around, living in a tent and subsisting on horribly cooked, scavenged mushrooms, which doesn't do any favors for anyone's mood. Furthermore, since they don't have Gryffindor's sword, which is capable of destroying Horcruxes, they've got nothing to break the locket with – and it seems to spread Voldemort's pernicious influence to whoever's wearing it. (Not what they need right about now.)
The tensions rise so high that Ron storms off in a huff, leaving Harry and Hermione on their own. To make things even more depressing, it's Christmas; they're lonely, cold, and disgruntled. They decide to go to Godric's Hollow, which was the home of both the Potters and the Dumbledores, to see Bathilda Bagshot, an old friend of Dumbledore's. While there, they visit Harry's parents' grave, as well as the ruins of the Potters' old house – the house Lily and James died in.
Bathilda Bagshot seems to be a creepy old lady, but turns out to be a creepy giant snake – turns out that "she" was a trap crafted by Voldemort to lure Harry in. The poor woman died, and was used as a kind of human puppet for Nagini, Voldemort's terrible serpent. Harry and Hermione narrowly escape as Voldemort approaches, but Harry's beloved holly and phoenix feather wand is broken in their flight. Nothing can fix it, and he's in despair – what if he's not strong enough to face Voldemort without it? Furthermore, Harry and Hermione have been reading Skeeter's biography of Dumbledore, and have learned that he and the evil Grindelwald guy were friends in their youth – what does this say about their former idol?
Through mysterious means, Harry discovers the sword of Gryffindor waiting for him in an icy pond – but as he leaps in to fetch it, the Horcrux locket tries to strangle him. Luckily, Ron comes back just in time to save him, and they destroy the Horcrux with the sword. Now that the boys are reunited, the next thing to do is visit Luna Lovegood's father – it seems like an odd choice, but Hermione's noticed that the same weird symbol Mr. Lovegood was wearing at Bill and Fleur's wedding was written in a lot of Dumbledore's things. Turns out that the symbol, according to Mr. Lovegood, is the mark of the Deathly Hallows, a kind of wizarding Holy Grail. The Hallows are three objects – the Cloak of Invisibility, the Resurrection Stone (which brings the dead back), and the Elder Wand (a kind of all-powerful, undefeated wand). But Mr. Lovegood betrays them, and another very narrow escape follows.
Back at camp, Harry is all worked up – based on his glimpses into Voldemort's mind, he's sure that the Dark Lord is looking for the Elder Wand. In his excitement, he accidentally says Voldemort's name (there's been a taboo set on it by the Death Eaters, so anyone who says "Voldemort" can be tracked), and they're beset by captors. The Death Eaters take the trio to Malfoy Manor, where they're thrown in with a bunch of other captives – Luna, their old friend Dean Thomas, Mr. Ollivander the wandmaker, and a Gringotts goblin, Griphook. At the Manor, evil standby Bellatrix Lestrange is in charge – she's alarmed that they have Gryffindor's sword, which she thought was hidden in her Gringotts vault. However, Hermione and Griphook tell her it's a fake so, satisfied, she calls Voldemort. As he's on his way, though, Harry desperately calls for help through a shard of magic mirror, and lo and behold, Dobby the house-elf shows up. He helps them escape to Bill and Fleur's home, Shell Cottage, but gets killed in the process. Sigh.
Dobby's death reaffirms Harry's burning need to conquer Voldemort. He's sure that Bellatrix is hiding a Horcrux in her Gringotts vault, so he makes a deal with Griphook to get into the notoriously impenetrable bank – he'll give the goblin the (goblin-made) sword of Gryffindor if he helps them. The bank break is successful (if you count a narrow escape on dragonback successful), and they have another Horcrux, Hufflepuff's cup. However, Griphook made off with the sword right away, so there's nothing to destroy the Horcrux with. Meanwhile, Harry figures out that the last Horcrux they need to find (other than Nagini, Voldemort's constant companion) is hidden somewhere at Hogwarts. It's time to return to school.
They Apparate to Hogsmeade, and are saved from roving Death Eaters by Aberforth Dumbledore, Albus's brother – he's gruff and unwilling to admit that the Order has a chance this time around (he was an Order member last time), but he still helps them get into Hogwarts. There, they discover that Neville Longbottom has organized an army of rebels based on their old Defense group, and the squad is hiding out in the Room of Requirement, where the Death Eaters running Hogwarts, Alecto and Amycus Carrow, can't find them.
Harry, Ron, and Hermione initially won't let Neville's group help them, but they find that Dumbledore's Army is raring to go – they all assumed that when Harry showed up, they would stage a rebellion. Ron convinces Harry to let everyone help. More supporters show up; Neville's already spread the word that Harry's at Hogwarts, and old members of the DA, as well as members of the Order of the Phoenix, come to support him.
With the help of the Ravenclaw students, Harry figures out that the last Horcrux must be Rowena Ravenclaw's diadem – Luna, who's arrived with Dean from Shell Cottage, takes him to Ravenclaw Tower to get a look at the statue of the founder. While they're up there, they're discovered by evil Alecto Carrow; Luna stuns her, but it's too late, and her equally evil brother, Amycus, is already outside trying to get in. Professor McGonagall, irritated, lets him in to the tower, where Luna and Harry are hidden under the Cloak, and she and the conscious Carrow get into a fight. When Amycus spits on Professor McGonagall, Harry can't take it anymore; he throws off the Cloak and uses the Crucio Curse for the first time ever, rendering the Death Eater unconscious. Whoa, Harry!
Professor McGonagall is shocked by Harry's appearance, but quickly recovers her senses and agrees to rally the teachers of Hogwarts to buy Harry some time to find the Horcrux before Voldemort arrives. In the hallway, they run into Snape; he and McGonagall get into a showdown, but he's soon outnumbered when professors Flitwick, Sprout, and Slughorn show up in support. They immediately spring into action and start evacuating students and preparing the school for battle. The whole school gathers in the Great Hall, and younger students are evacuated through the passage into the Hog's Head, while students of age are allowed to stay and fight if they choose. Meanwhile, Voldemort announces that he's just there for Harry – he will only fight if they won't surrender him. Needless to say, they won't.
Harry dashes off to find the Horcrux, and runs into the missing Ron and Hermione, who have done something quite clever – using basilisk fangs from the Chamber of Secrets, they've destroyed Hufflepuff's cup. Nice! Next up is Ravenclaw's diadem, which, Harry remembers, he's seen before in the Room of Requirement, in one of its configurations where hidden things are stored. They make it in there, but as Harry's right about to get the diadem, Draco Malfoy and his two thugs, Crabbe and Goyle, ambush them – classic. Malfoy isn't exactly in charge of his gang anymore – Crabbe has gotten some ideas from their new Death Eater teachers, and he's eager to use them. He hurls curses everywhere, and unintentionally sets an unstoppable Fiendfyre (a kind of magical flame that destroys everything). He doesn't make it out of the room, but Harry, Ron, and Hermione manage to save Malfoy and Goyle and make it out alive. As one stroke of luck, the diadem is destroyed by the Fiendfyre – another Horcrux down!
The fight is really on at the castle now, and there are invaders trying to get in from all sides. Battles are being fought everywhere, and our first tragic casualty happens: Fred Weasley is killed instantly in an explosion. Before there's time to mourn, Harry figures out that Voldemort is in the Shrieking Shack, and he, Ron, and Hermione fight through the fray to get there.
In the Shrieking Shack, we indeed find Voldemort, who's awaiting Snape; he coldly informs Snape that he needs to do one thing to truly become master of the Elder Wand… kill its last master, who was not Dumbledore, according to him, but Snape himself. He mercilessly sets Nagini upon Snape, and leaves as the man lies dying. Harry goes over to the dying Snape, and Snape gives him a final gift – his memories. Harry's totally confused and dazed. Before he can process anything, though, Voldemort makes another magical loudspeaker announcement, saying that Harry has one hour to meet him in the Forbidden Forest, or everyone dies. No time for mourning, indeed.
Ron and Hermione don't want Harry to go, but he doesn't listen to them. He walks through the castle and sees terrible things on his way – Fred's body, next to those of Lupin and Tonks. He somehow nimbly makes his way up to Dumbledore's office and dumps Snape's memories in the Pensieve.
What he sees there is shocking. Snape, we learn, was close friends with Harry's mother, Lily, when they were kids, even though she was Muggle-born. He was in love with her from the moment he saw her, and even though their paths took them in opposite directions – him to Voldemort, her to the Order – he never stopped loving Lily. When he found out that Voldemort meant to kill her and her family because of Professor Trelawney's prophecy, Snape went to Dumbledore to beg him to save them, to no avail.
Since then, he's been working for Dumbledore all the way – Dumbledore is the one who engineered Snape's "betrayal" of the Order, and made sure that Snape would remain close to Voldemort all along, in order to save Harry for his destiny. The crafty Headmaster even planned his own so-called "murder" by Snape – it turns out that his injury from the ring Horcrux (the Resurrection Stone) was going to kill him eventually anyway. The last thing we learn is that Harry's ultimate destiny is to sacrifice himself in order to kill Voldemort, since a part of Voldemort lives on in him. Snape did all of what Dumbledore asked – all out of love for Lily.
Harry leaves Dumbledore's office, shell-shocked. So this is what he's been saved for all along? He knows that there's no choice – he must go. He heads slowly to the Forbidden Forest, clad in his Invisibility Cloak, observing his friends and loved ones on the way. Before he goes in, he stops and interrupts Neville to tell him that Voldemort's snake has to be killed, no matter what – just in case Ron and Hermione can't get to it themselves.
Walking to the Forest, Harry also figures out that it's time to open the Golden Snitch – this is the "close" Dumbledore wrote about. He holds it to his lips and, as he predicted, the Resurrection Stone falls out. He turns it, and the people he longs for the most are there beside him to go with him on this last walk – his mother, his father, Sirius, and Lupin. They give him love and support as he goes to his death. Deep in the Forest, Harry finds Voldemort and reveals himself – he doesn't even put up a struggle as Voldemort aims the Killing Curse at him.
However, this isn't the end (much to the betterment of our blood pressure): Harry awakens in a strange, bright place, accompanied by a strange, mewling, repellent infant, and none other than Albus Dumbledore. Dumbledore explains gleefully to Harry that he hasn't actually died – rather, Voldemort has killed the small part of his own soul that lived on in Harry… that is, unwittingly Voldemort has undone his own Horcrux (which is what Harry was). (Man, that J.K. Rowling can sure write a story.)
Dumbledore also reveals more about himself and his quest for the Hallows; he admits that he was, in his time, too selfish and ambitious for his own good – or for anyone's good, maybe. Harry, however, has proven himself to be a worthy possessor of the Hallows. The time comes for Harry to go back, if he so desires – and, knowing that his job is unfinished, he does. Before he leaves, he asks Dumbledore if this is real, or just in his head… and Dumbledore, with characteristic playfulness, asks why it can't be both.
Harry finds himself facedown in the woods, surrounded by Death Eaters. Voldemort has also apparently passed out from whatever happened between them. Harry plays dead, but then Voldemort, conscious again, sends Narcissa Malfoy over to confirm his death. To our surprise (and wonder), she plays along because Harry oh-so-quietly tells her that Draco is still alive and in the castle.
Voldemort triumphantly parades Harry's body to the castle, where he shows it to all of his opponents, who are heartbroken. However, the Order and the students stand strong – and Neville stands up to Voldemort. Voldemort mockingly announces that there will no longer be Sorting at Hogwarts, and that all students from how on will be Slytherins. He jams the Sorting Hat on Neville's head and lights it ablaze. In this moment, though, chaos breaks out. Neville breaks free of the flaming hat, and draws an unexpected object from the hat: the sword of Gryffindor (dude, how'd that get there? These questions are not for us to ask). Neville does Harry proud and takes the sword to cut off the head of Nagini, the huge creepy snake Horcrux – snakerux? – and her head flies off dramatically. Assuming everyone's plenty distracted, Harry flings the Invisibility Cloak over himself and slinks off as a huge battle breaks out.
It seems like everyone's fighting everyone. All the good guys we know are engaged in dramatic duels with all of the bad guys. Well, all except for the Malfoy parents, who have given up on the whole good vs. evil thing, and are just looking out for family – they're searching frantically for Draco. All of our peeps keep putting down the bad guys and getting away with miraculous near-misses; when one of Bellatrix's curses narrowly misses Ginny, Molly Weasley rushes in with a mother's vengeance (here, we hear the first swear word in Harry Potter history – wow, Mrs. Weasley really means it!). Bellatrix and Molly duel viciously, and in the end, Bellatrix falls under one of Mrs. Weasley's curses. Voldemort, fighting next to Bellatrix, sees this and turns on Mrs. Weasley.
However, before the Dark Lord can do anything, Harry shoots a Shield Charm between them and reveals himself. It's down to him and Voldemort now, just as we always knew it would be. Harry tells Voldemort the truth about Snape and his love for Lily Evans; Voldemort is unfazed and doesn't care, as long as victory is still just a wandstroke away for him. However, there's one thing he wasn't counting on – the fact that Severus Snape wasn't actually the master of the Elder Wand, since he killed Dumbledore with the latter's consent, and therefore didn't defeat him in a duel. Huh. OK – so who is? Well, we have to go back to the events of Book 6, in which Draco Malfoy disarmed Dumbledore, but didn't kill him. Voldemort is still unfazed – he can take care of Draco later, no prob.
But Harry's not done yet. Draco wasn't the last master of the Elder Wand – because someone bested Draco and took his wand, which means that Voldemort better hope that the Elder Wand hasn't felt this change. The new master of the Elder Wand, and the possessor of the Deathly Hallows, and thus the Master of Death is… drumroll please… Harry Potter.
Voldemort and Harry both shoot spells at one another simultaneously, each sending their signature spell – Voldemort's Avada Kedavra and Harry's Expelliarmus (Disarming spell). The beams meet in the middle with golden flames, and the Elder Wand goes spinning through the air. Harry catches it as Voldemort flies back, hit by his own rebounding curse. Slam! He crumples to the ground, finally really absolutely 100% genuinely dead.
And the rest is history. Harry is cheered by everyone, and sneaks away with Ron and Hermione to calm down and talk things through (and maybe go find a therapist, while he's at it). They end up in Dumbledore's office, where the portraits of the Headmasters and Headmistresses applaud him, even pompous Phineas Nigellus. Dumbledore is proudest of all – Harry did just what he'd hoped he would. One last matter of business is the Hallows; Harry decides to let the Resurrection Stone stay where it fell, lost in the forest, and intends to put the Elder Wand back where it belongs, in Dumbledore's tomb. First, though, he uses it to repair his old holly and phoenix wand, which feels just about right when it's fixed. The Invisibility Cloak, he'll keep, since it's his birthright – at least, until he has a son to pass it on to.
Speaking of which, it's Harry's children that carry us into the brief epilogue, which closes this long book, this long saga, and this loooong summary: we find Harry and Ginny nineteen years later, married and sending two sons, James and Albus Severus, off to Hogwarts (their daughter, Lily, is too young to go just yet). It's Al's first year, and he's afraid he'll get Sorted into Slytherin, but Harry reassures him that one of the bravest men he ever knew – Snape – was a Slytherin, and no matter what house he's in, they'll be proud of him. All is well in the wizarding world.