(Click the character infographic to download.)
Affiliation: Order of the Phoenix
House: Gryffindor, 7th Year
Harry Potter is like the best penpal we've ever had – he's so close and yet so far, and even though we've never met him in person, we feel like we really know him. In our seventh year with him, he doesn't disappoint – basically, he remains the brave, bold (sometimes too bold) Harry who we know and love, and we rejoice to see him outgrow some of his earlier challenges. The reason this book is so heart wrenching is that we have to see him totally grow up here – gone are the childish romps of the earlier books, and they're replaced with a grim struggle to survive, not just for Harry, but for the society and culture he represents.
In a 2007 interview, Rowling identified a key point in Deathly Hallows that she felt was a real coming-of-age moment for Harry:
And Harry, throughout all seven books has been incredibly impetuous and reckless. That's one of Harry's biggest flaws. He does tend to act without thinking, and Dumbledore knows this about Harry. He wants him to work it out slowly enough to gain wisdom along the way. That's why he passed the information [about the Deathly Hallows] through Hermione, who is the most cautious person in the books, as you know. […] [Harry says] in this book, he's frightened by his decision not to race for the [Elder] wand, because he had never chosen not to act. So that's Harry's real big coming of age moment, that he's decided to hold back for the first time very in his life. (source)
This is clearly a huge moment. But we'd say that there's another point in the book that's super important for Harry: coming to terms with his own death. Basically, the whole book leads up to the moment where Harry realizes, through Snape's memories, the true meaning of his "destiny" – his necessary sacrifice is what he's been waiting for over the last seventeen years, and in turn, what we've been waiting for. He feels cheated and betrayed – and so do we! We've learned to identify wholly with Harry, and now to see that his only option is to give up everything if he wants to save the world… well, we feel like we're in his shoes, and it's a heartbreaking, cruel moment of realization.
If this novel is preparing us for the inevitable challenge of Harry's sacrifice, it's only natural, then, that Book 7 is marked by Harry's reflective attitude – he's constantly looking back and reevaluating, thinking about things that have passed and things that might have been. Once again, following his every step, he has us feeling pretty pensive and retrospective as well. Harry's memories, after all, are kind of our memories; whenever he thinks back to something that happened earlier in the series, we also have to dig back in our minds to remember it. All of this has the overall effect of making us think about how much we've learned about Harry, not only in this book, but over the course of seven of them.
So what have we learned about Harry as we've spent seven years with him? And how do these traits all come to fruition in this last volume? Well, there are several elements that we've been wondering about all along that finally emerge and get resolved here – the main one being the question of his identity as the "Chosen One," or the "Boy Who Lived." The matter of Harry's destiny has been something of a mystery ever since we met him back in Book 1. He's always been painfully aware of his role in the saga that's unfolding, but it's only here – "at the close," as Dumbledore poetically says – that he truly realizes how very, very important he actually is.
The most significant thing to note here is that Harry still has a choice in it – he can either embrace this destiny (and save the world from Voldemort's domination) or back down. Though this sounds pretty clear-cut, we have to take a minute to appreciate exactly what Harry has to sacrifice… namely, life, the future, and, well, everything. As Dumbledore tells Harry all the way back in Chamber of Secrets, "It is our choices, Harry, that show us who we truly are." Harry's choice to do the right thing and give himself up in order to stop Voldemort is Harry's greatest act of courage; this trait, the hallmark of the Gryffindors, is also one of Harry's signature characteristics.
Finally, we also see Harry's other great characteristic emerge in this final showdown between good and evil – his humanity. It's his love for others – Ron, Hermione, Ginny, and pretty much everyone – that allows him to make this choice. His decision to die for others is completely, 100% unselfish, and that sense of wholehearted sacrifice ends up being exactly what saves him and them, just as Lily protected Harry with her own sacrifice seventeen years prior.
In Book 6, Dumbledore told Harry, "You are protected in short by your ability to love!" (Half-Blood Prince, 23.154). Harry's ability to love is perhaps what most sets him apart from Voldemort. And it's Harry's humanity that truly allows him to triumph over the Dark Lord in the end (who else would offer Voldemort a chance to feel remorse, then face the world's strongest Dark wizard ever with a Disarming spell… for a second time?). It's this quality that we all fell in love with in the first place. Harry's always been understandably vulnerable, kind, and sympathetic, and it seems fitting that these traits that distinguish him as a humane hero should be the ones that save him, and the world.
In the Epilogue we see Harry all grown up. He's married to Ginny Weasley, and they have three children: James, Albus Severus, and Lily. He finally has the family that he always yearned for. But that doesn't mean that all of our questions about Harry are answered – not a chance. But, during interviews, Rowling has given her fans a number of hints about what else has happened in the nineteen years since we last saw Harry. Here's what she has to say:
Harry and Ron utterly revolutionized the Auror Department in – at the Ministry of Magic. So they – I mean, they are now the consummate – they are experts. […] So Harry and Ron lead the way in recreating the new Auror Department. And by the time – 19 years later – I would imagine that Harry is heading up that department, which is not corrupt in any way. It's – it's a really good place to be. (source)
Book 8, anyone?