Death, loss and grief are never far from the surface of the Harry Potter books. Harry is an orphan. The loss of his parents has led to his being brought up by his mother's uncaring aunt and her husband in household where he is shown no love or even kindness. Recalling how Harry's mother and father died, killed by the evil Lord Voltemort, Hagrid, the gamekeeper at Hogwart's School, is reduced to tears. At his first Christmas at Hogwarts, Harry is given an invisibility cloak which had belonged to his father; an anonymous note pinned to the gift explains, 'Your father left this in my possession before he died'. Harry's first knowledge of what his parents were like occurs when he finds the magical mirror of Erised ( a reflection of desire) and sees his parents in its glass. 'He had a powerful kind of ache inside him, half joy, half terrible sadness'. In his first encounter with Voldemort, Harry learns that his mother died trying to save him. Death is pictured by the headmaster of Hogwarts, Dumbledore, as 'like going to bed after a very very long day' and 'the next great adventure'.
Hogwart's school has a number of harmless (and in some cases quite amusing) ghosts. In the second book, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, one of these, Nearly Headless Nick,holds a Deathday Party to mark the five hundredth anniversary of the day he died. The plot focuses on a mysterious Chamber of Secrets hidden somewhere at Hogwarts. When it was last opened fifty years ago, someone died. We find out that it was Moaning Myrtle, the ghost of a girl who haunts one of the girls' lavatories, who died then.
Despite being evil, where Harry is on the side of Good, Voldemort is, in some ways like Harry and in this book we find that he, too, was brought up as an orphan - his mother died just after he was born.
The third book, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, is the darkest in the series up to this point. Sirius Black, imprisoned in Azkaban for murders he is alleged to have committed - has escaped and for most of the book it seems that Harry is in danger. Black is thought to have betrayed Harry's parents to Voldemort and to want now to kill Harry.
The book introduces the Dementors, guards from Azkaban, who can drain their victims of all happiness. When he encounters a Dementor, Harry relives the deaths of his parents.
But all is not as it seems! Sirius, who is Harry's godfather, is innocent and seeks only to protect Harry from the real betrayer, Peter Pettigrew, who is at Hogwarts School in the form of Ron Weasley's pet, rat Scabbers. Towards the end of the book, Harry has the chance to kill Pettigrew. He chooses not to do so. However great an enemy Pettigrew is, he was once Harry's father's friend and Harry has no wish to take a life.
There is an episode where Harry is surrounded by Dementors and he conjures up a Patronus - a guardian spirit - which drives them away. For a moment he thought the Patronus was his father but then realises that it is himself. Dumbledore asks Harry:
'You think the dead we have loved ever truly leave us? You think we don't recall them more clearly than ever in times of great trouble? Your father is alive in you, Harry, and shows himself most plainly when you have need of him.'
In the fourth book, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, it is clear that Harry has an enemy within Hogwarts itself who want to bring about his death: Harry's name is mysteriously placed in the Goblet of Fire amongst those of older pupils who want to compete in the dangerous Triwizard Tournament. Although under the specified age, Harry is chosen, together with Cedric Diggory, to represent Hogwarts. At the end it is Cedric Diggory who dies. Headmaster Dumbledore delivers a short eulogy to the assembled school.'Cedric was a person who exemplified many of the qualities which distinguish Hufflepuff House..He was a good and loyal friend, a hard worker, he valued fair play.' He then tells the students that Cedric was murdered by Voldemort. Harry survives the terrifying encounter.
The headmaster of Hogwarts dies in the sixth book, Harry Potter and the Half-blood Prince . There is a moving account of his funeral at the end of the book:
Bright white flames had erupted around Dumbledore's body and the table upon which it lay: higher and higher they rose, obscuring the body. White smoke spiralled into the air and made strange shapes: Harry thought, for one heart-stopping moment, that he saw a phoenix fly joyfully into the blue, but the next second the fire had vanished. In its place was a white marble tomb, encasing Dumbledore's body and the table on which he had rested.
There were a few more cries of shock as a shower of arrows soared through the air, but they fell far short of the crowd. It was, Harry knew, the centaurs' tribute: he saw them turn tail and disappear back into the cool trees. Likewise the mer-people sank slowly back into the green water and were lost from view.
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