With the publication date for "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" mere weeks away, to say that Harry Potter has been a success for J.K. Rowling is like pointing out that Iowa grows corn or Ann Coulter may be slightly unhinged. The series has made Rowling a billionaire, single-handedly transformed her British publisher, Bloomsbury, from a small independent publisher into a powerhouse, and made it socially acceptable for adults to read kids' books. For better or worse, Rowling's oeuvre has become a major part of our cultural zeitgeist.
Her first six books have sold over 325 million copies worldwide, and through the sale of Harry Potter toys, movies and companion books -- ranging from "The Gospel According to Harry Potter" to "Barry Trotter and the Shameless Parody" -- it's spawned an economy of its own. With her final book slated for July 21 release, Rowling has already beaten all of her previous presale records. In this frenzied atmosphere, even Potter predictions have become big business. When Rowling announced her plans, last summer, to kill off two characters in the "Deathly Hallows," bookmakers, unsurprisingly, started taking bets.
Now the wagers have come in -- and things aren't looking good for Harry. When a disproportionate number of people started predicting that the boy wizard would die, British bookmaker William Hill changed its tack. The company is now taking bets on who will be responsible for Harry's death. Elsewhere, Voldemort and Harry have been pegged as the two most likely victims. But other gamblers have been more optimistic. At Sports Interactions, an online gambling site, Harry Potter is expected to survive (alongside the specification: "surviving as a Phantom Obi-Wan Kenobi style counts as dead").
To help make sense of the speculation -- and maybe even help you earn a buck or two -- we've assembled some of our favorite Harry Potter readers and asked for their predictions on how things will play out.
-- Thomas Rogers
I've read each of the previous books multiple times, and devoted most of the past year to sifting them for clues. To answer the Big Questions:
Is Dumbledore really dead?
Yes, though he is reincarnated as a newt.
Is Severus Snape good or evil?
Neither. He's got a substance-abuse problem. Toward the end of the book, he issues a public apology to his former Hogwarts students, goes into rehab, and emerges eager to launch a career in reality television.
Will Ron and Hermione finally work things out?
Yes. But not before some turbulence. Still smarting from Hermione's indiscretion with Viktor Krum, Ron hits his beloved with the dreaded Spell of the Itchy Sphincter. She retaliates with the Spell of the Asparagus Urine. Harry intercedes, dosing both of them with a philter that includes holy secretions from Oprah's adrenal glands. The lovers reconcile, relieve their epic sexual tension, and post the eye-popping results on the Internet.
Who is the mysterious R.A.B.?
An obscure wizard-rapper from Piggledon Province, whose theft of Voldemort's locket -- a publicity stunt -- backfires after he is shot in the throat by a rival, who runs with Draco Malfoy's posse.
Do Harry and evil Lord Voldemort finally throw down?
They most certainly do, in a 223-page rampage of blood, sweat, and potions. The action is pitched and plainly homoerotic. (At one point, transfigured into amorous bonobos, they tongue-kiss.) Having battled to a draw, they settle the matter in a most unexpected manner: a chili cook-off! Voldemort, allergic to the peanut oil Harry used to braise his tenderloin, goes into anaphylactic shock and perishes.
What about the death eaters, then?
Without Voldemort's leadership, they return to politics.
One word: Disney.
About a year ago, I realized that my friend Holly Black is a faster reader than I am. I was crushed, and also, of course, impressed. When I said as much, she told me that her friend Cassandra Clare was an even faster reader. Holly said she'd once sat in Cassandra's apartment in Brooklyn with a group of other writers/readers/fans after making the midnight trip to Books of Wonder to buy the new Harry Potter. You could tell who the fastest readers were by the gasps of astonishment and horror. (An agonizing experience for the slower readers.) Only a few hours in, and already someone stood up and went outside to sit on the stoop and wait for the next-fastest reader to come outside so that the ending could be discussed. Imagine the dread and anxiety, dear reader, of that last reader in that apartment in Brooklyn. And yet how I wished I'd been there, too.
Last night was July Fourth, and a group of us sat around at Holly Black's house in Amherst, Mass., and drank and talked politics and Harry Potter. Among the writers present were Holly, Karen Joy Fowler, Steve Berman, Cecil Castellucci, Jedediah Berry, myself, and my husband, Gavin Grant, who has repeatedly expressed the hope that book seven will be told from the point of view of Harry Potter, age 75, looking back upon the tumultuous events of his late adolescence. (Midlife-crisis Harry Potter would also be an interesting choice.) This seems unlikely. More likely are some of the theories below, attributed as accurately as I can manage. (There were a number of Tom Collinses. I drank several.)
Cecil Castellucci: Harry will turn out to be one of the Horcruxes.
Holly Black: Harry Potter is Voldemort. That is, when Voldemort tried to kill Harry Potter, he instead destroyed his own corporal form, and some essential part of himself was magically bound into Harry-the-infant. This explains why Voldemort's followers have had to laboriously make a new body for him, and also the strange connection between Harry and Voldemort (the twinned wands, the confusion of the sorting hat, etc.). Voldemort needs to kill Harry in order to reclaim the rest of himself/his power. If it turns out that Voldemort just wants to kill Harry Potter because he couldn't kill him the last time, that will suck.
Steve Berman: Like Bill Murray and the gopher in "Caddyshack."
Karen Joy Fowler: I hope Sirius comes back. Alive, preferably.
Everyone, in chorus: We hope Sirius comes back, too. His death was lame. Also, Snape is Dumbledore's secret agent. Will undoubtedly die for the cause of good and make Harry feel bad. Also, hopefully, Harry will feel stupid. Draco Malfoy will be redeemed, possibly by the example of Snape. Harry and Ginny will not do it. And what was with all that house elf stuff?
Holly Black: Maybe at the end, the magic will be removed from the world and then the house elves will have to go into the east.
Me: I hope that someone sets that stupid sorting hat on fire.
Holly Black: The sorting hat is clearly the real villain.
Steve Berman: So maybe Voldemort will be destroyed at the end, and then the sorting hat will fly up into the sky and go all Stormbringer from Michael Moorcock's Elric books and say, "I was ever more evil than you," and everyone will be dumbfounded.
Rebecca Traister is a staff writer at Salon.
Snape is good, Harry's scar is a Horcrux, and the final battle between Harry and Voldemort will take place in the Department of Mysteries at the tattered veil that separates the living from the dead, and by the time we get there, there will be more people that Harry loves on the dead side.
Snape will save Harry, possibly by removing the final scar Horcrux from his head (since I believe Snape was at Godric's Hollow the night Lily and James were killed, and saw whatever went down spell-wise, I believe he'll probably have a better idea than most about what clerical issues need to be tied up before Harry can finally off the Dark Lord), and someone -- perhaps even Wormtail, paying back his wizard-debt to Harry for saving his life -- will see Snape casting a spell at Harry's forehead, assume he is trying to kill him, and in turn kill Snape.
In the end, Harry will have to make a series of nightmarish choices: between living and dying, between killing and showing mercy, between his friends and his destiny, between giving way to his hate or using the love that has always been his greatest weapon, between trusting Dumbledore or wanting to avenge him.
I'm pretty confident he's going to choose well, though, since it is our choices that show what we truly are.
Also, I think we're going to learn a lot more about Albus' brother, Aberforth, and his strong affection for goats.
Elizabeth Hand is the author of "Illyria" and, most recently, "Generation Loss."
J.K. Rowling's once-comforting vision of an England where Magic, Bad and Good, duked it out according to supernatural Marquess of Queensberry rules has taken on the dark cast of our own world. Voldemort's factions resort to terrorism, the Ministry of Magic's alert level is Critical after Dumbledore's death, morale is at an all-time low. Plus, that nasty prophecy suggests Harry may join Dumbledore in Hogwarts' portrait gallery of dead talking heads, if Hogwarts reopens at all.
I think it will, or at least there will be a Hogwarts in exile, with Professor McGonagall running the show. Someone has to die -- my money is on Arthur Weasley, or maybe Hagrid -- but mass killings of beloved characters is a major buzzkill (c.f. "The Last Battle," by C.S. Lewis). The werewolf factor is going to be big, what with Bill Weasley's attack by Fenrir Greyback and the blossoming romance between Tonks and Lupin. Look for a supernatural wedding planner hired by Fleur for her nuptials. Rowling's professed admiration for Jane Austen will amp up the romantic quotient considerably, though snogging may be played down due to More Pressing Issues that face our central couples (Harry and Ginny, Ron and Hermione). Neville Longbottom will finally get his close-up and defeat one of the more important purebloods, maybe Bellatrix Lestrange, nee Black (I suspect a Black figures prominently in those mysterious initials R.A.B.). As for that prophecy -- love will prevail, and pity will stay Harry's wand when the time comes.
What I'd like to see: Snape and Draco Malfoy admitting their love for each other, then casting their lot with the good guys. Snape's crime of passion at the end of book six is the most selfless act of the series, after that of Harry's mother. I don't buy that whole Unbreakable Vow thing: Snape knows his way around the dark arts -- he'd find a loophole. A lot of Draco's miserable behavior can be explained by his refusal to accept his own sexuality. Surely there's room for another charmed couple at Hogwarts?
Stephen Amidon is the author of "Human Capital" and "The New City."
I have never read a word of the Harry Potter novels, nor have I watched any of the film versions. And yet I feel a strange, fractured intimacy with the boy wizard through my 8-year-old twin daughters, huge fans who even share a birthday with Harry, July 31. So I thought I'd let them speculate about "The Deathly Hallows":
Aurora: I hope that Harry, Hermione and Ron use the Time-Turner to bring Sirius and Dumbledore back to life. I also hope that Harry wakes up and finds that the whole series has been a dream -- he doesn't have a scar, and his mother and father are alive. He goes to school and sees that there is a new prime minister who looks like Cornelius Fudge and a whole new magical adventure starts. I also think Snape will turn out to be good, and he killed Dumbledore for a special reason.
Celeste: No, I think that Snape killed Dumbledore because he's really, really bad. I think that Dumbledore is going to come back as a ghost. Harry, Hermione and Ron are going to skip the last year of Hogwarts to find the Horcruxes of Voldemort. And I think Ron will die on the way by the Avada Kedavra Curse. Harry and Hermione will go on until they have to face Voldemort, and then Harry and Voldermort have a face-off and kill each other, because Harry has to die or else all his fans will want J.K. Rowling to keep writing these books until she goes nuts. I hope there will be another series, this one about what happens at Hogwarts when Hermione comes back without Harry.
Sarah Karnasiewicz is Salon's deputy Life editor.
J.K. Rowling has a mess of loose ends to tie up in this, her final Harry Potter book -- too many, in fact, for me to keep track of before I've completed a line-by-line rereading of the six previous installments. (With 16 days and counting on the Potter clock, and more than 3,400 combined pages to cover, I'll need to keep to a pace of at least 212.5 pages a day: Don't expect to see my byline again on this site anytime soon.)
Till then, I'll risk a few off-the-cuff hunches: Dumbledore really is dead as a Dumble-doornail. Ron and Hermione will indulge in some fumbling comic-relief snogging. As for other beloved characters with death on their dance card, my money's on: Hagrid, Molly Weasley (and a couple more from the Weasley brood: possibly Ron -- after the snogging -- but not Ginny), and Severus Snape. While we're on the subject of Snape: I'm guessing everyone's favorite creep will go down fighting the good fight, though his motives (A hibernating sense of honor? Vengeance on Voldemort for killing Lily Potter, once the object of his affection? Or pity on Potter?) may remain ambiguous to the last. And finally, meek Neville Longbottom will inherit some seriously powerful wizarding responsibilities -- and will prove himself more than up to the task.
OK, but what about Harry? Eh, Harry's the easy part. He'll get the girl. And go through hell and back. But the kid's gonna be all right.
Mary Elizabeth Williams is the host of Salon Table Talk.
All we've really wanted from our endings this summer has been for Tony Soprano to die and Harry to live. David Chase gave us a more cryptic finale -- will J.K. Rowling do likewise?
Whatever the outcome, the body count will rival the Jersey mob's. I'm praying Ron and Hermione make it, because an entire generation of kids (my own included) and their parents (that'd be me) would really gain a whole new appreciation of the meaning of "scarred" if we've come this far to lose them. Their deaths would sting even more than if Harry were to go, because his loss at least would somehow seem prophetic destiny.
For what it's worth, I think Snape was doing Dumbledore's bidding. I think he's a mean man who hates Harry, and I think that's the point. The ones you love -- Sirius, Dumbledore and, maybe this time, Hagrid -- can't always protect you in life. The ones you loathe may turn out to be the ones you have to trust in the clinch. I also think the poor greasy-haired bastard is a goner.
Neville, I hope, is going to step up in ways that will dazzle us all. Ron and Hermione, magic willing, will come out of this together. I think Harry is the final Horcrux, and that's going to sting to destroy. And absolutely, Voldemort must die, and we all want Harry to be the one to deliver the coup de grâce -- although He Who Must Not Be Named's nasty followers will likely keep the flame of evil alive.
Rowling has said this is truly the end of the series, that she will give us no more of Harry Potter when it's over. But I hope that she won't leave us utterly grief-stricken. I hope she'll let us imagine, as we did with Big Tony, a little of our own desires for him, whatever they may be. Personally, I just wish for Harry what I would for any talented high school graduate -- that he grows in his talents, that he sees the world, that he finds love. And that even if the scars don't heal, they get to the place where they don't hurt anymore.