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Clues J.K. Rowling gave us about the Harry Potter books before they came out: death and redemption

In our final instalment of the sneaky clues J.K. Rowling gave us about Harry Potter, we now look to death and redemption.

Dumbledore and Snape talking from the Deathly Hallows Part 2
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2

‘There will be deaths.’

Book Links, July 1999

She really wasn’t kidding. Though J.K. Rowling warned us they were coming, the deaths of those beloved characters still hit us hard. But it’s not all doom and gloom in this edition, as we’ll also be looking at second chances when characters either got a reprieve or changed their wicked ways.

Naturally, this is as spoiler-heavy as it gets, so we highly recommend finishing the books first if you haven’t already.

JKR: Erm… Well… Yes there are going to be deaths – sorry, sorry, sorry – and they start in book four. Sorry.

AOL Live, 4 May 2000

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was a real turning point in the series, as everything changed with those three callous words: ‘Kill the spare.’ RIP Cedric Diggory.

Cedric and Amos before the final Triwizard Challenge.
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

‘In this book, what I consider to be a major character dies. It was awful to write. It was absolutely awful. And literally, well I did, I cried after doing it, and then, er, walked into the kitchen afterwards in tears.’

‘Dateline NBC’, 20 June 2003

It was just as awful to read. J.K. Rowling probably knew she’d be spending many future interviews answering the question, ‘How could you kill Sirius Black?’

‘I always knew it was coming, but I managed to live in denial, and carry on with the character and not think about it.’

BBC ‘Newsnight', 19 June 2003

Denial isn’t normally the healthiest approach, but given how sudden and unexpected Sirius’s death was, it seems to have worked. Most of us never saw it coming.

‘… I will ruin future books if I elaborate on that too much. But it's a strong central theme – dealing with death, yeah, and facing up to death.’

CBC News World: ‘Hot Type’, 13 July 2000

Death is one of the hardest things to face and Harry was no exception. His worldview changed after Cedric’s death (literally – he could now see Thestrals) and he struggled greatly after losing his godfather. He would need all his courage in the final book when facing his own death.

Harry, accompanied by the spirits of his dead family and friends, approaches Lord Voldemort prepared to die.
© JKR/Pottermore Ltd. ™ Warner Bros.

‘Why do some wizards/witches become ghosts and others don't?’
JKR: ‘Another superb question, and this time I can tell you that you will find out much more about that in book five.’

America Online chat, 19 October 2000

Let’s be honest – we all had our hopes up for a moment. Harry was so desperate to see Sirius again that he asked Nearly Headless Nick if he might come back as a ghost. But Sirius did not fear death, so we’d never see a pearly-white Padfoot drift into Hogwarts.

‘One character got a reprieve, but I have to say two die that I didn't intend to die…’

‘Richard and Judy’, Channel 4, 26 June 2006

Though Arthur Weasley had a lucky break in Order of the Phoenix, the same could not be said for Lupin and Tonks at the Battle of Hogwarts. Their son Teddy would be left an orphan, just like Harry.

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Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part One

‘The first question that I have never been asked – it has probably been asked in a chatroom but no one has ever asked me – is, “Why didn’t Voldemort die?” Not, “Why did Harry live?” but, “Why didn’t Voldemort die?”’

‘The other question that I am surprised no one has asked me since Phoenix came out – I thought that people would – is why Dumbledore did not kill or try to kill Voldemort in the scene in the Ministry.’

Edinburgh Book Festival, 15 August 2004

Both would hint that Voldemort, for some reason, could not be killed. If only we’d thought to ask these at the time, we might have got some clues about the existence of Horcruxes.

‘Will Wormtail ever pay Harry back?’
JKR: ‘You'll see... keep reading!’

World Book Day chat, 4 March 2004

It wasn’t exactly an earth-shattering redemption arc but Pettigrew’s moment of hesitation led to Harry’s escape and his own untimely demise by his silver hand. This also ended speculation that Wormtail might end up killing Lupin – you know, that old legend with silver and werewolves?

‘Malfoy comes from a family who has strong associations with – er – with Dark magic, as you know – and you're going to find out more about that in book four…’

‘The Connection’, WBUR Radio, 12 October 1999

We always knew Lucius was up to no good. Our suspicions were confirmed in the graveyard when Malfoy senior was named as a Death Eater. But what of his son, Draco?

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‘Harry believes that Draco would not have murdered the person in question. What that means for Draco's future? We'll just have to wait and see.’

Radio City Music Hall, New York, 2 August 2006

Draco’s hesitance to kill Dumbledore marked a change in direction for his character. In Deathly Hallows he was notably hestitant when it came to identifying Harry at Malfoy Manor. He even tried to stop his friends killing the trio at the Battle of Hogwarts. So there’s hope for the Malfoys yet.

‘… Regulus got in a little too deep. Like Draco.’

The Leaky Cauldron and MuggleNet interview, 16 July 2005

The mysterious R.A.B. had a fascinating story, known only to the house-elf Kreacher for many years. But he wasn’t the only Death Eater who had a change of heart.

‘Why did you make Quirrell the bad guy instead of Snape?’
JKR: ‘Because I know all about Snape…’

America Online chat, 19 October 2000

Knowing everything we know now, we can safely say that the choice of baddie in book one didn’t come down to a coin toss. J.K. Rowling knew where Snape was heading from the start.

‘Snape’s ancestry is hinted at. He was a Death Eater, so clearly he is no Muggle-born, because Muggle-borns are not allowed to be Death Eaters, except in rare circumstances.’

Edinburgh Book Festival, 15 August 2004

Snape was not a Muggle-born, yet the author deliberately avoided labelling him a pure-blood. Hmm, wasn’t there something about a ‘half-blood’ in one of the book titles?

‘… you'll find out why I'm so stunned if you read book seven.’

‘The Connection’, WBUR Radio, 12 October 1999

J.K. Rowling was quite taken aback when she was asked if Snape had ever been in love. She was also quizzed over his Boggart form and whether or not he could conjure a Patronus, which was said to be unusual magic for a Death Eater. Snape did have a Patronus and we know it kept the same form. Always.

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‘This is really where I wrap everything up, it's the epilogue, and I basically say what happens to everyone after they leave school – those who survive …’

‘Harry Potter and Me’, BBC, 28 December 2001

After all they’d been through, our heroes certainly deserved a happy ending. The final scene, where they wave to their children from platform nine and three-quarters, still gets us every time.

Read part one to discover the clues J.K. Rowling teased about Harry’s friends and family, and part two to read more about what the author teased about heroes, villains and Hogwarts.