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Analysis: Chapters Thirty-Four–Thirty-Five

Chapter Thirty-Four represents the climax of the novel, not only because Harry finally confronts Voldemort without any defense, but because his long struggle with his doubts about Dumbledore is finally at an end. Having seen Snape’s final memories in the Pensieve, Harry has seen his worst fears realized. He feared all along that Dumbledore did not love him or have his best interests at heart, and now he sees (or thinks he sees) that Dumbledore knew for Harry’s entire life that Harry would have to die, and that Dumbledore’s careful guidance and protection of Harry was all for the sake of sacrificing Harry. In other words, Dumbledore did not love Harry; there was something else that he loved, a vision of the future that he treasured, and he was willing to let Harry die to bring it about.

Paradoxically, Harry’s acceptance that his worst fears are true frees him from those fears. He finds that he agrees with Dumbledore: If Harry’s dying is the only way for the world to be rid of Voldemort, then Harry should die. Dumbledore’s love (or lack of love) for Harry should not be the thing by which Harry judges Dumbledore. Dumbledore’s goal was the right one, and Harry finds the courage to carry it out.

Harry’s reward for this acceptance, of course, comes in Chapter Thirty-Five, when he gets to meet Dumbledore once more and see that Dumbledore really did love him. One of the mysteries of the book, the thing readers are likely to continue pondering long after they put the book down, is what this meeting with Dumbledore means. Did Harry die and truly meet Dumbledore in the afterlife before returning? The answer would seem to be no, since Dumbledore tells Harry more or less plainly that Harry is not dead and that this meeting is all in his head—yet real nonetheless. The epigraph from William Penn stated that friends who die are never truly lost, and that we can still speak to them and commune with them fully. The author’s interpretation of this excerpt may be that when we know and love someone and they die, our mental re-creation of that person within our own minds is real and meaningful, and the conversations we have with them within our minds are precious and real as well. Harry has finally let go of his fears of Dumbledore lying to him and not loving him, and he has regained Dumbledore—a Dumbledore he carries within him.

The shuddering child on the floor, whom Harry cannot help, is a very effective element of the scene, lending just a hint of horror to counterbalance the generally positive message of the chapter. The child is horrifying and yet sympathetic, and sticks in our memory because it is never explained. Clearly, the child is connected to Voldemort, who took the form of a horrifying baby at the end of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Perhaps this is what Voldemort becomes when he passes out at the same time as Harry (as we find in the following chapter). Perhaps this is Voldemort’s soul, or perhaps only the fragment of his soul that Voldemort killed when he struck at Harry.