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Why Colin Creevey’s death was saddest of all

"He was tiny in death."

First-year Colin holds his camera excitedly
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Death was a huge part of Harry Potter’s existence. Death marked his earliest years, then followed him through life, the Grim lurking behind every corner. It wasn’t just Harry, either, who was dogged by mortality: George lost his other half, Dumbledore’s life was defined by the tragedies of his family, and Petunia’s existence was tainted by the memories her late sister left behind.

We’re never given a respite. Even as we celebrated victory in the Battle of Hogwarts, all happiness was tempered by the ones we lost, lined up along the floor. You don’t have to view Snape as a heroic figure to think his death a tragedy. That Tonks and Lupin left their only child behind is unthinkable.

We’re not in the business of ranking death. We’ve shed tears for all of the above, and many besides. And yet… There is a case to say that the death of Colin Creevey was perhaps the saddest of all.

The central reason for this was his utter lack of an agenda. When Colin first encountered Harry, his reaction was familiar: the recognition, the hero worship, the flick of the eyes to the scar.

‘All right, Harry? I’m – I’m Colin Creevey,’ he said breathlessly, taking a tentative step forward. ‘I’m in Gryffindor, too. D’you think – would it be all right if – can I have a picture?’ he said, raising the camera hopefully.
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Professor Dumbledore visits a Petrified Colin Creevey in the Hospital Wing.
© JKR/Pottermore Ltd. ™ Warner Bros.

What set Colin apart was the fact that his admiration never changed – instead, his awe over encountering an idol morphed into an appreciation for Harry as a person. Many people who followed Harry around did so only for the cachet of association with the Chosen One, and they were quick to turn away when tides of opinion turned against him. When, for example, it was widely thought that Harry was the heir to Slytherin, and that it was he perpetuating the attacks against Hogwarts students, many of his classmates withdrew. Their loyalty to him was tied to his fame; they didn’t know him at all. Hermione and Ron rallied around Harry. And so did Colin, though his loyalty earned him only peril.

‘There was a bunch of grapes next to him,’ said Professor McGonagall. ‘We think he was trying to sneak up here to visit Potter.’ Harry’s stomach gave a horrible lurch. Slowly and carefully, he raised himself a few inches so he could look at the statue on the bed. A ray of moonlight lay across its staring face. It was Colin Creevey. His eyes were wide and his hands were stuck up in front of him, holding his camera.
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

This loyalty never wavered. Though Colin became something of a secondary character in the following books, his appearances were always marked with breathless awe and respect. He wanted to introduce Harry to his friends; he wanted to make sure Harry met his brother. This wasn’t just so he could be elevated by association, but simply because he guilelessly liked him. In a world where Harry was hounded by hordes who knew him only for his history, Colin liked him for him.

This loyalty cropped up again in Order of the Phoenix, where Colin showed his bravery by being among the first members of Dumbledore’s Army. He was a nervous wizard, hardly a born battler, but his kinship with Harry saw him keen to fight on the side of right, though it threatened to put him firmly in harm’s way.

He and the DA were resisting her under her very nose, doing the very thing she and the Ministry most feared, and whenever he was supposed to be reading Wilbert Slinkhard’s book during her lessons he dwelled instead on satisfying memories of their most recent meetings, remembering how Neville had successfully disarmed Hermione, how Colin Creevey had mastered the Impediment Jinx after three meetings’ hard effort, how Parvati Patil had produced such a good Reductor Curse that she had reduced the table carrying all the Sneakoscopes to dust.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

It’s this same loyalty, perhaps his defining characteristic, that was the undoing of him. In the Battle of Hogwarts Colin rebelled against orders to stay safe and snuck back into the castle, standing, one last time, by Harry Potter’s side. And it was there that he died.

Then Neville nearly walked into him. He was one half of a pair that was carrying a body in from the grounds. Harry glanced down, and felt another dull blow to his stomach: Colin Creevey, though under-age, must have sneaked back just as Malfoy, Crabbe and Goyle had done. He was tiny in death. ‘You know what? I can manage him alone, Neville,’ said Oliver Wood, and he heaved Colin over his shoulder in a fireman’s lift and carried him into the Great Hall.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Illustration of Colin Creevey from the Dumbledore's Army infographic
Colin Creevey. © JKR/Pottermore Ltd.™ Warner Bros.

Colin’s Creevey’s death was devastating not simply because it was the death of someone so young, but because it was the death of a single pure soul; a character untouched by greed, hate or cruelty. He remained, throughout his time at Hogwarts, the same breathless embodiment of joy he was on his first day. Whether it be meeting a celebrity wizard or his brother getting pushed into the Hogwarts lake, everything to Colin was met with such exquisite excitement.

Many people in Harry Potter’s world are heroes and got their moment in the spotlight. Look at Neville, hefting the Sword of Gryffindor above his head, beheading Lord Voldemort’s beloved Nagini. Colin, quite literally, was simply content to be behind the camera. We do not know how, or by whose hand, he died – not like Dumbledore, falling from a parapet, not like Snape, laid low by Voldemort’s own hand – and there was no drama to the moment that his small body was hefted over a shoulder and laid to rest among hundreds. The ending of his little life was a small death, the kind of passing that passes by, unremembered. And that made it the saddest of all.