Since Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, book four in J.K. Rowling’s series of stupendously popular children’s fantasy novels, a large part of the suspense for earnest and casual fans alike has been in guessing who the author will kill off next. That was the first time Rowling announced the impending death of a significant character, thereby initiating a frenzy of speculation regarding the fates of Ron, Hermione, Hagrid and other beloved protagonists.
Is it coincidence Goblet of Fire marked the point at which the series made the leap from mere best-sellerdom to worldwide publishing phenomenon? Perhaps. As it turned out, Rowling was a bit of tease. The character who died was an ally, but not a member of Harry’s inner circle. Since then, however, Rowling has upped the ante with each book, killing off progressively dearer and more important characters.
All this death serves to darken and enrich the Harry Potter series, giving it far deeper meaning than it would have if the hero’s triumph were not only assured, but assuredly bloodless.
Meanwhile, speculation about book seven, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, rages across the Potterverse. Based on remarks made by Rowling, fans are expecting two important characters to die, but it could be more. Here is a rundown on Harry and other principals, along with the odds on their demise.
Now 17, Harry has grown to be a fine youth, but also one ever ready to question authority and conventional wisdom and to follow his own sense of right and wrong. Not an egghead — glasses aside — he’s a talented athlete and a gifted sorcerer, and, of course, a child of destiny, linked via prophecy and his famous scar to the fate of his nemesis, Lord Voldemort. Many fans fear/expect/hope Harry will die, but that seems unlikely. Neither Frodo nor Luke Skywalker die at the end of their sagas, plus the death of Harry might hurt future sales of the popular books. Odds of croaking: 500-1.
Harry’s best friend throughout the series, Ron is loyal, courageous, insecure and has a bit of a temper. His large clan of siblings and loving parents serve as surrogate family to Harry, an orphan. Still, Ron chafes under the knowledge he’s little more than a sidekick, which could inspire him to take dangerous risks. Plus, Ron’s loss would have great dramatic punch. Odds of croaking: 20-1.
Brainy, bossy, independent, Hermione is the third member of the trinity at the center of the Harry Potter books. For several years, she clashed with Ron, who found her annoying, but lately they’ve become — surprise! — a romantic item. She has a much deeper knowledge of magic than either of her friends, but she lacks Harry’s inborn gifts. A well-rounded individual, she seems unlikely to die, unless Rowling wishes to deflect criticism from feminists by giving Hermione some fatal act of bravery at the climax. Odds of croaking: 20-1.
Ah, yes, Snape, the renegade Death Eater and erstwhile Hogwarts professor who showed his true colors at the end of the sixth book, “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,” by killing Dumbledore with the Avada Kedavra curse. Foul-tempered Snape was resentful of Harry and his renown all along, but he also defended the boy on more than one occasion. Plus Snape had a very unhappy upbringing, bullied by other students, including Harry’s late father. The smart money here says Snape’s not really evil, but is acting on Dumbledore’s orders. Or he could be as wicked as he seems. Either way, he’s toast, whether from Harry’s vengeance, or by sacrificing himself to defeat Voldemort. Or both. Odds of croaking: 2-1.
The prototypical jolly giant, Hagrid started out as Hogwarts’ groundskeeper, but through the patronage of Dumbledore has steadily risen, first to gamekeeper, and then to a teaching position for the care of magical creatures. A comic foil, a bit uncouth but with the best of hearts, Hagrid has survived several opportunities to get himself killed. Doesn’t seem like the kind of player who would have enough magic to be of much use to Harry in the final confrontation, but his devotion to Dumbledore is boundless, and he may be spoiling for a fight. Odds of croaking: 5-1.
Stern, proper, but with a keen sense of fair play, Professor McGonagall became acting headmistress after Dumbledore’s murder in book six. She’s intelligent to a fault, and a witch of rare talent. Indeed, she’s one of only seven registered Animagi, able to take the form of a tabby cat at will. A member of the Order of the Phoenix, she’s demonstrated physical courage on more than one occasion, and sometimes she’s suffered serious injury for her trouble. Likely to be in the thick of things at the end. Odds of croaking: 3-1.
Harry’s chief rival, and a sniveling, arrogant twit with a sense of entitlement, Draco Malfoy is the scion of a family that prides itself on its pure magical blood, with several members, including Draco’s father, Lucius, secretly serving Voldemort as Death Eaters. A bully and a coward, Draco has goons to help pick on weaker students, but he’s under enormous pressure to carry on the Malfoy heritage. His true capacity for evil is in doubt; he was unable, whether from cowardice or scruple, to obey Voldemort’s order to kill Dumbledore, forcing Snape to step in to do the deed. Could find a moral compass somewhere in his sour little heart — which would almost certainly doom him to a noble end. Odds of croaking: 10-1.
The youngest of Ron’s siblings, and the only daughter in the family, Ginny long nursed a girlish crush on Harry. She became a pawn in Voldemort’s schemes when she was a first-year student, and Harry rescued her from the Chamber of Secrets, after which she was even more awkward around him. But she’s grown to be a capable teenager, and in Half-Blood Prince Harry finally realized he reciprocated her romantic interest. She has already stood up bravely to Death Eaters, and could figure in the ultimate battle. Odds of croaking: 3-1.
A friend and classmate of Harry’s murdered parents, Lupin has led a sad life with grace and pluck. Afflicted with lycanthropy as a child, he turns into a werewolf during each full moon, and remains pale and sickly the rest of the time. Although he’s good-hearted and intelligent, anti-werewolf bigotry makes it hard for Lupin to earn a living. Nonetheless, his kindness and patience extend not only to Harry and his friends, but also to disagreeable adversaries such as Snape. Lupin might leap at the chance to redeem his disappointments in combat. Odds of croaking: 3-1.
Timid, forgetful and clumsy, Neville is the kind of boy who can’t seem to do much right, despite the best of intentions. Yet he remains one of the most interesting secondary characters. For one thing, his parents were proficient magic users until they were tortured to insanity by Bellatrix Lestrange. For another, he was born at the same time as Harry, and the prophecy regarding Voldemort’s defeat could refer to him instead. Neville’s already shown his mettle by standing next to Harry against the Death Eaters in the fight that killed Sirius Black. Wouldn’t it be a hoot if Neville, not Harry, turned out to be the boy of destiny? Odds of croaking: 2-1.