Harry Potter and the Nice Big Knot
By Susan Faust
The Dangling Threads
You won’t need a prequel; by the time I am finished, you will know enough.4
So—given that we can be confident that no sub-plot will be dropped and no conflict left unresolved—what are the loose threads in the series that we can expect to see tied together at the end of the seventh Harry Potter book? What tensions do we, the readers, feel that we demand to be resolved?
The first group of open threads we can identify are the ones that seem most directly-related to the central plot conflict—Harry’s struggle with Voldemort. These include:
- The Horcrux hunt, including R.A.B. and the locket, Voldemort’s past, and the Hogwarts founders and their artifacts.
- The prophecy, the events in Godric’s Hollow on Halloween 1981, and Lily’s and James’s backgrounds and professions.
- Harry’s scar and mental connection to Voldemort, and their brother wands.
- Dumbledore’s death, Snape’s questionable loyalty, Snape’s connection to Lily and James, and the Half-Blood Prince’s book.
- Pettigrew’s life debt to Harry.
- Harry’s blood protection, Petunia, Voldemort having Harry’s blood, and the gleam in Dumbledore’s eye.
- The power of love and the locked room at the Department of Mysteries.
- Tom Riddle’s diary, Ginny’s knowledge of him, and other events in Chamber of Secrets.
- Sirius’s death, the broken mirror, and the veil at the Department of Mysteries.
Another group includes conflicts or unresolved relationships that do not seem as closely related to the central plot (though, considering Rowling’s writing techniques, you never know!), but definitely seem to need resolution:
- Neville, his parents, his development as a wizard, and his grudge against Bellatrix Lestrange and her husband and brother-in-law.
- Percy and the Ministry, and his conflict with the other Weasleys.
- Ron and Hermione’s contentious courtship, including the promised return of Viktor Krum.
- Harry’s broken-off relationship with Ginny.
- Remus Lupin, Fenrir Greyback, and the werewolves, possibly including Tonks and Bill Weasley.
- Hagrid, Grawp, and the giants.
- Hermione, the house-elves, S.P.E.W., and the general bad relationship between wizards and the other intelligent races, as symbolized by the fountain at the Ministry of Magic. Also Harry’s ownership of Kreacher.
- The school-days conflict between Snape and the Marauders, especially the “trick” Sirius played on Snape.
- Draco Malfoy’s near-repentance, his eventual fate, and the fate of his parents.
- Corruption and incompetence in the Ministry, including Fudge, Umbridge, Scrimgeour, and the Dementors.
Finally, we have a group of open threads that do not exactly demand resolution, but seem to hold out a tantalizing promise of further developments:
- Luna, her unorthodox beliefs, and her connection with death.
- The Flying Ford Anglia and other denizens of the Forbidden Forest.
- Missing persons such as Mr. Ollivander and Florean Fortescue.
- Aberforth Dumbledore.
- Albus Dumbledore’s past defeat of Grindelwald.
- Dudley, and what he saw when the Dementors attacked him.
- The Weasley twins and their joke shop.
I’m sure every reader will have his or her own mental list and our lists will be slightly different. Probably I have forgotten some important elements, and there are likely to be some crucial details that Rowling sneaked into the first six books and I haven’t even picked up on. But, generally speaking, these are the open strands Rowling has provided for herself, the material she has made available to weave her final tapestry from.
As readers, we will not be satisfied unless most of these sub-plots and loose threads are resolved in some way. But our future satisfaction does not depend only on having these open issues resolved—how they are resolved matters just as much.
Tying the Knot
I'm aiming to tie it all up neatly in a nice big knot... that's it, good night.5
The point of keeping many sub-plots alive in the first place is to resolve them— not individually, as separate sub-plots, but interrelatedly, as a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. As readers, we will get pleasure (or at least satisfaction) from every one of the above sub-plots that Rowling resolves in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. If, for instance, Harry finds and destroys all the Horcruxes or Percy reconciles with his family (or comes to some other final resolution of his situation), we will feel a kind of basic pleasure—the payoff of the tension/release cycle of those plots. But what we want and expect from J.K. Rowling in the last book is something better than that—something that she has given us to a greater or lesser degree at the end of every one of her books so far—a grand crashing climax where everything comes together, various sub-plots turn out to be unexpectedly related, and suddenly everything makes sense in an utterly surprising, yet somehow inevitable, way.
Having kept so many plot threads open to resolve in the seventh book, J.K. Rowling still has options for how she resolves them. Some ways are more artistically satisfying than other ways, as we have seen in her past books. From lesser to greater artistry, these four ways are:
- Resolving them sequentially.
- Resolving them simultaneously.
- Resolving them interrelatedly.
- Resolving them interrelatedly with perspective change or reversals.
Because Rowling has been so consistent in her technique of resolving most plot threads at the ends of her books, we can find examples in past books of all of these. For instance, in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, the sub-plot involving Percy Weasley behaving suspiciously (skulking around the dungeons, for instance) is resolved in a sequential manner. After the main climactic sequence is over, Ginny reveals Percy’s secret to Harry, Ron, and Hermione on the train: Percy has a girlfriend, and all his apparently suspicious behavior was a red herring. This is an amusing and satisfying explanation to resolve this sub-plot, but that’s all it is.
In comparison, we can see other sub-plots of that same book resolved simultaneously. The sub-plots about Gilderoy Lockhart and Ron’s broken wand come to a climax at the same time as the more important sub-plots, as part of the main scene where Harry, Ron, and Lockhart try to enter the Chamber of Secrets. This kind of resolution gives more “bang” to the climactic scenes, and a feeling of connectedness to the separate sub-plots.
Even better, however, is when the seemingly separate sub-plots turn out to be interrelated. We can see this in Chamber of Secrets when the sub-plot about Moaning Myrtle, the sub-plot about the diary Harry and Ron found, the sub-plot about Ginny’s unusual behavior, the monster in the Chamber of Secrets, the sub-plot about Ron’s fear of spiders, the mystery of why Hagrid was expelled, and the sub-plot about Lucius Malfoy’s conflict with Arthur Weasley all turn out to be intricately connected, part of one overall story that we finally understand as the main plot of the book. This is deeply satisfying for the reader, and it is a result that we have come to expect from reading the Harry Potter books.
However, there is one more level of artistry that Rowling sometimes achieves that we find even more satisfying: when the interrelatedness of the sub-plots also gives us a startling perspective change or reversal. That kind of experience, the gasp-out-loud or dropped-jaw moment that most readers get from the revelation that Scabbers is Peter Pettigrew and Sirius Black is innocent after all, is a highlight of the reading experience for Harry Potter fans. In Chamber of Secrets, many readers experience that sudden perspective reversal and click-into-place effect when Tom Riddle draws letters in the air saying “I am Lord Voldemort.” To a lesser extent, the discovery that Moaning Myrtle is “the girl who died” is the same type of revelation.
That fourth type of resolution is what most of us want from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. The question is—will we get it? There is every reason to think that we will.