The Seven Potters
Chapter 4 of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: The Seven Potters
After the Dursleys leave Number 4, Privet Drive, Harry gathers his belongings, including the caged Hedwig, his Firebolt, and his rucksack and waits for Order of the Phoenix members to arrive. Sooner than expected, a rather large group, including Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley, appear in the back garden. Alastor "Mad-Eye" Moody says that they are flying out on broomsticks, Thestrals, and a flying motorbike; six members will be disguised as Harry Potter with Polyjuice Potion to trick any nearby Death Eaters. Harry immediately refuses, saying no one is to take risks for him; Mad-Eye Moody ignores him. They have few alternatives as Privet Drive is being monitored for any Apparition, Portkeys, or Floo Network use. This monitoring, ostensibly for Harry's safety, is believed by the Order to have been established by Pius Thicknesse solely to monitor Harry's movements. Moody believes that the entire Ministry of Magic is gradually falling under Lord Voldemort's control.
The six Harry decoys include Ron, Hermione, Fred and George Weasley, Fleur Delacour, and Mundungus Fletcher. The real Harry is to go with Hagrid in a sidecar bodged on to Sirius Black's motorbike, to Ted Tonks's house, where they will be transported to The Burrow via a Portkey. The remaining six pairs, one defender and one Harry each, will travel separately to various safe-houses, all finally transferring to The Burrow.
As the Order members clear the garden, Death Eaters attack. Hedwig is struck by a Killing Curse. Hagrid's attempts to dodge four Death Eaters causes the sidecar to break free; Harry stops it falling and is rescued by Hagrid. Harry destroys the falling sidecar to disable a Death Eater. One remaining Death Eater is Stan Shunpike, evidently under the Imperius curse. To avoid killing an innocent person, Harry casts a disarming spell, whereupon the remaining Death Eater yells, "It's the real one!" and falls back.
Near the Tonks' home, as the Death Eaters, including Voldemort, surround them again, Hagrid leaps off the motorbike to tackle a Death Eater. Voldemort, using Lucius Malfoy's wand, casts a lethal curse at Harry, but golden flames spontaneously erupt from Harry's wand, destroying Malfoy's without Harry casting a spell. Before Voldemort can get another wand from a Death Eater, Harry's out-of-control motorbike crashes into a muddy pond.
While the Order is uncertain if the Ministry has been infiltrated, they suspect Death Eaters now have a presence there, and the ever-paranoid Moody believes that the "security measures" the Ministry has put in place are intended to monitor rather than protect Harry. Readers know that Moody is correct: Pius Thicknesse, who now heads the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, has been placed under the Imperius Curse by Yaxley, a Death Eater.
The immediacy with which the Order was attacked indicates that Death Eaters knew the exact date Harry was being moved. It also shows how quickly Voldemort's power is spreading. Though the Ministry of Magic has not yet fallen under Voldemort's control, his Death Eaters are infiltrating it, gradually seizing power through key officials, such as Pius Thicknesse, who is under the Imperius Curse and must do the Dark Lord's bidding. Others surrounding Minister for Magic Scrimgeour will likely fall to Voldemort, either through the Imperius Curse or by other extreme and deadly means, leaving Scrimgeour completely exposed.
Harry also loses yet another tie to his childhood, Hedwig. Her death, while sad, actually serves several purposes:
First, it shows how ruthlessly evil Death Eaters actually are. There is a wide-spread joke in England (the real one, not the Wizarding one) that, if the Germans had wanted to invade England unopposed, they should have sent in paratroopers, each cradling a cute little puppy in his arms; no true Englishman would harm a pet. Death Eaters indiscriminately firing curses that kill pets clearly indicates their inhumanity.
Second, it builds suspense. Hedwig's cage is clutched between Harry's knees in the sidecar; the curse that killed Hedwig missed Harry by mere inches.
Third, it eliminates an encumbrance. In Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Harry decided to leave Hogwarts to search for Voldemort's Horcruxes; as he is about to embark on a dangerous adventure, he would either have to put Hedwig in someone else's care, or try to care for her while he is traveling. His Firebolt, unfortunate as its loss may be, was also a burden, although it tied him to his late godfather, Sirius Black, who gave it to him during his third year at Hogwarts.
Finally, it can be argued that Hedwig's death represents an end to Harry's childhood. Harry, having increasingly lost his innocence with Cedric Diggory's, Sirius', and Dumbledore's deaths, is now a fully-grown man in the Wizarding world. Hedwig had provided Harry comfort, familiarity, and security, but when she is brutally killed, another remaining tie to Harry's childhood is lost. He realizes just how fragile those ties are and how heavy and painful adult responsibilities can be.
It is also interesting to note Voldemort's appearance in this chapter. In the previous six books, Voldemort only appeared to Harry four times, each time near the book's end. That he appears to Harry this early shows how much power Voldemort has gained in the Wizarding world, and puts us, and Harry, on notice that there are ever fewer places that he will be safe.
It is also worth observing the author's sense of humour here. We had seen much earlier in the series her sure touch with the cognitive dissonance that results in humour: the dark, foreboding setting, the violent weather, the huge shaggy thing coming in from the storm that promptly starts cooking sausages for himself and Harry. Here, as Harry, with mixed emotions, prepares to leave the residence that had been his nominal home for almost sixteen years, we have the Twins, upon taking Polyjuice Potion and transforming into Harry's likeness, immediately exclaim, in mock surprise, that they look identical. And we have Harry protesting about his own modesty when all the other Harry-clones start stripping down in the kitchen to change clothes.
As this is a children's book, we will avoid analyzing the sexual innuendo that could be developed from Hermione's comment concerning the appearance of the Polyjuice Potion; it is certain, though, that the author recognized that possible misinterpretation, as Hermione's reaction to what she had said is very much true to life. The author did not see fit to comment on the gender-bending effects of Polyjuice Potion, though the mind rather boggles when imagining Harry Potter wearing clothes that Fleur Delacour would have thought appropriate for herself. As a small side point, while there might have been some question whether attempting to change genders would result in the same sort of half-hybrid as the species change seen earlier, we should recall that Crabbe and Goyle had stood watch for Draco while disguised as little girls in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, without obvious physical effects.
- How were the Death Eaters able to distinguish the real Harry Potter from the decoys?
- Why do Voldemort and the Death Eaters suddenly vanish?
- Why did Harry use such a mild curse on Stan Shunpike, who probably would have killed him?
- When Harry was to be moved to a safer location, Mundungus seemed apprehensive about the plan and in participating in it. What are some possible reasons for his reaction?
- How could Harry's wand destroy Voldemort's borrowed wand without Harry casting a spell with it?
- Harry's departure from the Dursleys was a closely guarded secret. How could the Death Eaters have found out?
- Voldemort has generally remained hidden from the Wizarding population. Why does he now openly show himself during the pursuit?
- Was using the Potter decoys the best plan for moving Harry from Privet Drive? Discuss other ways the Order could secretly have taken Harry from there.
Hedwig's death may foreshadow what happens later in the book. It has been suggested that having Harry lose his beloved pet and best friend in this manner is one way the author further hardens Harry's heart so he is able to continue his fight against Voldemort, though witnessing Sirius', Dumbledore's, and Cedric Diggory's deaths within such a short period has certainly also toughened him.
An interesting parallel between Harry's escape and Voldemort's survival should also be mentioned here. Just as Voldemort split his soul into seven pieces to preserve his own life, so has Harry been replicated into seven simulacra in the attempt to protect him from Voldemort. The differing methods in how they achieve this once again highlights the difference between Harry and Voldemort. Harry's friends readily assume his likeness out of love and loyalty, while Voldemort splinters Horcruxes off his soul by ruthlessly murdering innocent people. Interestingly, while Voldemort believed the number seven had magical importance tied to it, this probably was not a calculated factor in the Order's plan.
Harry's wand casting a spell of its own volition is never fully explained. Dumbledore, later in the story in the Waystation, says that during the duel in the cemetery, Harry's wand and Voldemort's had recognized each other as having a common source (the phoenix Fawkes' tail feathers) for their cores, and recognized Harry and Voldemort as kin by their blood (and possibly also the soul shard). Harry was the stronger wizard at that encounter, as he was prepared to die while Voldemort feared death. Dumbledore surmises this caused Harry's wand to imbibe power from Voldemort's, and against Voldemort's own power, plus Harry's courage, "what chance did that poor stick of Lucius Malfoy's stand?" While this is arguably no explanation for the wand acting on its own, it is the only explanation ever given in the series. We can speculate that wands have some limited sentience, as it has been stated many times that "the wand chooses the wizard;" we see this again in how well or poorly a wand works, depending on the manner it was transferred from one wizard to another. It is possible that the wand, in its own limited way knowing that Harry's "kin" and enemy Voldemort is attacking, had independently acted to remove the opposing wand. All we are actually told is that Harry and Voldemort have entered an area of magic and wandlore where none have ventured before.
One possibility is that it was not Harry who cast that spell, but rather that portion within him that was Voldemort. The part, which Voldemort knows nothing about, could be protecting itself. Against that, however, we must point out that rather than Harry acting without intent, it seems to be the wand acting without Harry's input. Quoting: "his wand acted of its own accord. He felt it drag his hand around like some great magnet..." (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, UK / Canadian edition p. 56) One supposes that if the author had intended to indicate that it was Voldemort's soul fragment doing this, Harry would have felt his hand moving of its own volition, rather than feeling the wand pull his hand around. However, there is insufficient evidence to be certain of her intent.