In honor of a recent poll voting the Godric’s Hollow scene as the thing that makes people ship Harmony the most, I put together some further thoughts on that sequence. This essay will be more of a literary analysis than what I’ve posted here before, pointing to possible hidden meanings and examining potential symbolism, particularly around the wreath of Christmas roses. Much of what I’m going to discuss here is new and—as far as I know—never described before by anyone else in any depth.
A disclaimer at the outset: symbolic analysis in literature is not an exact science. For example, the hippogriff in some mythological interpretations is a symbol of (impossible) love, but the meaning of H/Hr’s ride on Buckbeak has been debated for decades among various shipping camps. I will offer some commentary here on likely connections and possible readings, but I can’t claim all of these were necessarily intended by JKR.
Another thing I will be assuming here is that JKR was conscious of the “charged moment” she was writing for H/Hr in Godric’s Hollow, and that she did feel a romantic “pull” between the characters, as she has admitted in several interviews. After looking at this further, I’m pretty convinced JKR deliberately introduced elements to heighten that connection and perhaps even hinted at a level of intimate desire that thoroughly undermines Harry’s later “like a sister” characterization of the H/Hr relationship. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
Let’s begin with a review of the graveyard scene and some comments on possible symbolism and framing devices.
1. The Charged Moment
Then Hermione’s voice came out of the blackness for the third time, sharp and clear from a few yards away.
“Harry, they’re here… right here.”
And he knew by her tone that it was his mother and father this time: He moved toward her, feeling as if something heavy were pressing on his chest, the same sensation he had had right after Dumbledore had died, a grief that had actually weighed on his heart and lungs.
But they were not living, thought Harry: They were gone. The empty words could not disguise the fact that his parents’ moldering remains lay beneath snow and stone, indifferent, unknowing. And tears came before he could stop them, boiling hot then instantly freezing on his face, and what was the point in wiping them off or pretending? He let them fall, his lips pressed hard together, looking down at the thick snow hiding from his eyes the place where the last of Lily and James lay, bones now, surely, or dust, not knowing or caring that their living son stood so near, his heart still beating, alive because of their sacrifice and close to wishing, at this moment, that he was sleeping under the snow with them.
Hermione had taken his hand again and was gripping it tightly. He could not look at her, but returned the pressure, now taking deep, sharp gulps of the night air, trying to steady himself, trying to regain control. He should have brought something to give them, and he had not thought of it, and every plant in the graveyard was leafless and frozen. But Hermione raised her wand, moved it in a circle through the air, and a wreath of Christmas roses blossomed before them. Harry caught it and laid it on his parents’ grave.
As soon as he stood up he wanted to leave: He did not think he could stand another moment there. He put his arm around Hermione’s shoulders, and she put hers around his waist, and they turned in silence and walked away through the snow, past Dumbledore’s mother and sister, back toward the dark church and the out-of-sight kissing gate.
There are so many powerful elements within this passage, and I’ve discussed the context leading up to this in a previous essay about the H/Hr time alone in the tent
. This is the first time Harry cries openly in front of anyone in the books, and the first time he reaches out and embraces Hermione in this intimate fashion. Even on a surface level reading, it is the most profound encounter between any two characters in the entire book series. And yet there’s much more to this scene happening in the background. We know JKR’s favorite author is Jane Austen, and, while JKR may not always live up to the Austen standard for writing, she really outdoes herself in crafting the Godric’s Hollow sequence around this moment.
2. Beyond the Kissing Gate
Contrary to what you may read online, there’s nothing inherently romantic about a “kissing gate.” Its name is derived from the fact that the gate swings only enough to “kiss” (i.e., touch) the inside of the enclosure. They’re common in rural areas to keep livestock from passing, in this case to keep them out of the graveyard.
But that doesn’t mean the gate in Godric’s Hollow is insignificant. H/Hr could have simply “entered the graveyard,” and we would assume they made it through whatever fence or gate may have been around. The very fact that JKR includes this detail and the specific name of a “kissing gate” (a somewhat obscure term) hints that there’s a reason for the description. In this case, the reason is obviously tone
I repeat, there’s nothing romantic about a kissing gate. Yet notably, the gate isn’t even in view
at the end of the “charged moment” quoted above. It’s literally “out-of-sight” and still JKR writes it again, because she wanted to put the word “kissing” into a charged romantic moment between two characters. In case we weren’t already clued into the symbolism going on in this passage when H/Hr polyjuice into a married couple
before arriving at Godric’s Hollow, in case we didn’t get a hint when H/Hr arrive and stand “hand in hand” looking at the romantic setting of a snowy Christmas Eve with “glimmering” stars and Christmas decorations “twinkling” and “golden streetlights,” JKR beats us over the head with romance with this “out-of-sight kissing gate.”
And what of this gate? Gates are well-known sources of layered meaning in literature, one prominent example occurring in Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park
. Given JKR’s admiration of Austen, she’s undoubtedly familiar with one of the most well-known symbolic uses of gates, where Maria Bertram and Henry Crawford confront a locked gate
that functions as a (moral) boundary. Rather than waiting for someone who went to get the key, Maria and Henry eventually dodge their way around the fence, despite Fanny Price’s warning that Maria may hurt herself against (phallic) “spikes” and will “tear her gown.”
We know Austen is writing symbolically here, as Maria herself clues us into the world of double entendres
in text, asking Henry whether he means something “literally or figuratively.” Maria navigates the gate crossing with Henry, her (hymeneal) gown still “alive and well,” only to go beyond where they had promised Fanny and to disappear around a knoll. Fanny stays behind, not traversing the locked gate, and is later shocked to find that the couple had been “spending their time pleasantly” sitting down under the trees. The act of going beyond the locked gate and out of sight foreshadows the later moral transgressions of Maria and Henry, who end up having an affair and bringing shame to their families.
Like Maria’s explicit entreaty to consider words “literally or figuratively,” so JKR has Hermione invite us into the symbolic elements at play in Godric’s Hollow as she sees a biblical quotation on the Potter headstone and gently assures Harry that it isn’t a “Death Eater idea,” despite its apparent surface-level meaning. She knows it’s an allusion, as so many things around them carry hidden meanings that night. The graveyard scene is obviously quite different from the Mansfield Park
one (and this gate is not locked), but I bring up the Austen scene to note the importance of gate imagery in JKR’s influences. When two characters enter a gated area alone, there is likely to be some transformation between them before they depart.
Indeed, the choreography and characterization of some elements of the graveyard scene somewhat parallel the excitement and gambits of a classic tryst sequence. Harry hasn’t even revealed his true aim for coming to Godric’s Hollow—to see his parents—and yet Hermione knows precisely what he wants, spotting the graveyard before he does. Harry’s mixture of anticipation and fear is overcome by her eagerness:
Harry felt a thrill of something that was beyond excitement, more like fear. Now that he was so near, he wondered whether he wanted to see after all. Perhaps Hermione knew how he was feeling, because she reached for his hand and took the lead for the first time, pulling him forward.
And when they pass beyond the kissing gate, once again they encounter a barrage of beautiful imagery (a “blanket of pale blue” snow flecked with dazzling colors from the stained glass in the church) as they create their own paths through the deep snow.
Harry then talks too loudly, and Hermione begs him to be more quiet as they head out into the darkness together. Yes, she’s looking out for their safety, but it adds a degree of secrecy and intimacy to the whole endeavor. She then breaks off by herself, only to call out, and for Harry to seek her with “his heart positively banging in his chest.” He takes off on his own, maintaining “excited trepidation,” only to be called back to her once more. Finally, the lights go off in the church, leaving the two of them in utter darkness alone together, when “Hermione’s voice came out of the blackness for the third time,” and he joins her.
Of course, H/Hr are definitely not going for a flirtatious Victorian gambol in the hedges here, but Harry’s excitement to approach Hermione again and again makes for a notable device to build anticipation. After all, Harry has actually gone beyond the gate into this dark graveyard in search of love—the lost love of his parents. Instead, all he finds is disappointment. First, he encounters Dumbledore’s sister’s grave and is appalled that Dumbledore never told him about anything or even thought to bring him there. Feeling rejected by Dumbledore, he still seeks his parents, only to realize that their decaying bodies can also offer him no comfort.
Yet Harry does
find love in the graveyard that night, in the form of his best friend, who takes his hand and grips it tightly, who reads his mind yet again and produces a wreath to lay upon the grave. And Harry reaches out to this girl, and holds her intimately as they walk together through the darkness, the gate so far away that it is no longer in sight, yet its “kissing” still framing the closing of the chapter.
Notably, the next chapter picks up a bit later when they have returned near the entrance of the graveyard, still holding on to each other. If this were a Jane Austen novel, with two characters left alone in the darkness in an intimate embrace out of sight beyond a gate, we know precisely what they would have been doing with all the time during the chapter break. I don’t mean to imply that H/Hr were actually kissing here, only that the staging suggests great intimacy and lapsed time while they retain that intimacy. What may have gone on is left to the reader’s imagination, as Austen would leave it.
JKR in fact adopts this Austen-like hinting several times, as she’s writing a children’s book and can’t actually describe explicit romance. For example, when Harry earlier in DH8 thinks “back to afternoons spent alone with Ginny in lonely parts of the school grounds,” we’re surely meant to understand that more happened than a simple walk around the lake with Ginny or something. Of course, it’s a much taller order to read something into this time gap in the H/Hr moment in the darkness. Frankly, I don’t think they kissed here; but JKR’s framing and word choices are intended to make the reader think that they had the opportunity and at least might want to.
All of this potential meaning, though, is heightened quite a bit by the details of that wreath Hermione conjures for Harry, to which we’ll now turn. I’ll offer five different levels of potential interpretation, each one hinting at even greater intimacy within the H/Hr relationship. Not all of these meanings are likely intended, but all are possible given the context. And we know from a Pottermore article
that JKR paid close attention to her choices of flowers and plants (and she elsewhere has discussed doing research in treatises on this topic).
3. Herbological Interpretation
When many readers see the wreath of “Christmas roses,” they probably assume they are just some variety of rose that would look good on a Christmas wreath. And if the flowers symbolize anything, it’s likely just love, as most roses do.
Yet Christmas roses aren’t actually roses, but rather an evergreen known as a hellebore that is botanically related to the buttercup. They bloom in winter and sometimes even in the snow, so they would be an appropriate flower for the setting, a traditional choice that had been cultivated for the holidays in Victorian times. Harry actually encountered the hellebore earlier in OotP12 in Snape’s potions class, where it was an ingredient in the Draught of Peace, meant “to calm anxiety and soothe agitation.”
On the most superficial level, the Christmas roses could be seen as a symbol of calming Harry’s anxiety at the moment, as well as perhaps metaphorically as a peaceful flower to place on a grave. (Snape also notes that the potion can induce an “irreversible sleep” if not brewed correctly.)
4. Legendary Interpretation
But something deeper is going on with these flowers. The Christmas rose gets its name from a medieval legend about a shepherd girl named Madelon, who was present at the Nativity of Jesus but was poor and had no gift to bring to him. She wept in sorrow and, like Harry, in some versions of the tale looked about wishing there was a flower among the frozen landscape to offer to Jesus. Depending on the version of the tale, her tears either miraculously bloomed into Christmas roses as they hit the ground due to her devotion to Jesus, or the angel Gabriel came and struck the frozen ground to grow them in the middle of winter. Either way, Madelon gathers the flowers and presents them as a gift to the baby Jesus.
After independently discovering this legend myself, I happened upon Beatrice Groves’s interpretation of the graveyard scene
, which relies heavily on the Madelon story. (Groves is the author of the book Literary Allusion in Harry Potter
.) While I agree with Groves that there are certainly parallels, I think she fails to go far enough and doesn’t fully unpack the roles here, merely pointing toward an interpretation of Harry as the weeping Madelon and Hermione as the angel who brings forth the roses.
While that’s possible, it overlooks the pervasive religious imagery surrounding the Godric’s Hollow scene, with its multiple biblical quotations (and Harry’s later vision from Voldemort about the attack on his parents, with its crucifixion-like overtones). These begin to point to Harry as a Christ-like child figure, a savior of the wizarding world who will ultimately come back from the “dead” to fight the final battle. As the focus of this essay is on the H/Hr relationship, I won’t delve into the deep religious symbolism (which JKR has alluded to in interviews). But we should note that it is Hermione
—the young non-noble “mudblood” girl, like the lowly shepardess—who brings forth the flowers to offer to Harry
, the Christ-like child of the House of Potter in this Christmas Eve “family gathering,” as a symbol of her boundless devotion and connection to him. (The roles are made clear here not only by Harry’s Jesus parallels, but also by the common association of the lily—Harry’s mother’s name—with the Virgin Mary.)
In any case, the Madelon legend is all about deep devotion and how it allows someone to conjure flowers from nothing in the dead of winter. At a minimum, these flowers therefore likely represent Hermione’s profound commitment and dedication to Harry.
But we’re only just getting started….
5. Floriographical Interpretation
We know JKR was rather obsessed with flower names and meanings, as referenced in the Pottermore article linked above. In Victorian times, this was known as the “language of flowers” or floriography. While a gift of a lily represented purity and sweetness, a gift of a petunia signaled resentment and anger. (Get it? Lily vs. Petunia!) Given how JKR apparently looked up other flowers and plants, it’s hard to believe she didn’t happen upon the meaning of the Christmas rose when given from one person to another. And 19th-century floriographical manuals
are nearly unanimous in the message of the Christmas rose, which is “relieve my anxiety.” (Yes, that specific phrase.)
But this isn’t about relieving Harry’s anxiety and sadness. The traditional meaning of Christmas roses is roughly akin to a modern “we need to define our relationship” conversation. The sender wants to know whether the recipient returns affection and love. While ultimately these flowers are going on a grave, they are first produced by Hermione as a wreath for Harry.
Consider what has occurred between Harry and Hermione in the past weeks. Ron left, accusing Hermione of “choosing” Harry, and the H/Hr friendship suddenly becomes fraught with tension. Hermione avoids Harry the first day, deliberately dropping his hand, only to walk away from him and cry. She needs to place distance between them, lest Ron’s accusation be seen to be true. And Harry maintains that distance too, wanting to comfort her but unable to, again likely because of Ron’s accusation.
As I discussed in another essay
, Harry and Hermione’s hand-holding is a profound symbol of their connection throughout DH. For Hermione to drop Harry’s hand is to demonstrate that something has become deeply broken between them. Although they continue to work well together by day in the tent, some tension remains for weeks until Harry finally approached Hermione with great trepidation to propose this trip to Godric’s Hollow.
While things seem to be going better between them now, it is a rather recent development, and they still have never discussed Ron or their relationship. And although Harry was the one to start the discussion about Godric’s Hollow, Hermione has been the one pushing for everything since then—getting him to train to apparate under the Invisibility Cloak, arranging the polyjuice potion, then taking his hand to lead him forward as they walk through the village. She’s been the one driving their renewed relationship so far.
When Hermione reaches out and grips Harry’s hand in the graveyard, she is again clearly signaling her commitment to their friendship, their bond symbolized through tightly entwined hands that recur again and again in DH. But are they still merely friends? When Hermione has abandoned everyone in her world—including her parents and letting her love interest walk away into the rain—because of her devotion to Harry, she knows she’s revealed all to him. Perhaps Ron’s accusation finally raised the question for her about Harry—”What are we to each other?” Could he possibly love her as dearly as she loves him?
A bunch of Christmas roses then bursts forth from her wand, proffering something Harry needs, a desire she somehow instinctively is able to know and satisfy, but also carrying the encoded Victorian message: “Relieve my anxiety.”
And Harry does
. He immediately puts his arm around her shoulder, and she puts her arm around his waist, and they walk together in the darkness as lovers do, their relationship newly defined.
(To be clear, I am not suggesting Hermione or Harry are aware of the message encoded in these flowers, only that JKR likely was, given her interest in treatises on herbology and floriography.)
But wait… there’s more.
6. Hagiographical Interpretation
Christmas roses are traditionally known by another name: the Saint Agnes’s Rose, an association from medieval times and commonly referenced in floral literature. There are several associations for Saint Agnes, but of all the saints, she is the one most commonly affiliated as a patron saint of betrothed couples
. The Eve of Saint Agnes (which falls on the 20th of January) in folklore is when girls could supposedly perform a ritual to see their future husband in a dream or vision.
While H/Hr visit Godric’s Hollow on Christmas Eve (not in January), it still seems rather poor news then for Ron/Hermione fans in this scene, when a symbol of Saint Agnes is shared in those flowers. I hope no one has forgotten that Hermione used polyjuice so that H/Hr now appear as a married couple in this scene—is this a vision of Hermione’s future?—and that they are here on Christmas Eve to satisfy Harry’s “dearest wish” to visit his parents. I’ve speculated in my tent arc essay that Harry’s initial approach in the tent to Hermione about this trip—preparing her a satisfying dinner, leaving off the Horcrux so they would both be clear-minded, then approaching her with great care and trepidation while she seems to be oblivious to his advances, until he finally manages to get the question out, after which they’re both happy with excitement and planning—seems to oddly parallel the tension and dynamics of a kind of proposal scene.
Again, I’m not claiming that it was a literal proposal, only that the dialogue is perhaps somewhat staged to resemble one, just as the Godric’s Hollow graveyard sequence is choreographed as two potential lovers first rushing in through a gate with excitement and anxiety, only to separate a few times and then finally rejoin to be together alone in the darkness as Harry ultimately realizes where his true love lies.
Consider the dark place that Harry visits in his mind in the graveyard, contemplating whether he might be better off under the ground with his parents. What pulls him back from this morbid fantasy? Hermione’s hand. The hand that grips him tightly and pulls him again and again through darkness in battle, even apparating him repeatedly in midair to save him. The hand that he will ultimately grab onto repeatedly in the final battle, drawing on her strength, her love, and her devotion for him. And tonight, in Godric’s Hollow, when the tears fall freely for the first time, it is Hermione who brings his mind back from death. It is Hermione who will ultimately pull him away from Voldemort’s mind at Malfoy Manor. It is Hermione who will be the first name on his list of those he loves when he wishes he could see them for one last time before marching to his death.
At Bill and Fleur’s wedding, it is her face he sees, turning around with tears flowing when the vows are said. They may not be literally betrothed, but they might as well be. Hermione may have sealed her fate with his in tears that wedding day, but Harry is now able to break out of his death obsession as his own tears fall in Godric’s Hollow: taking her in his arm, choosing the warmth of his best friend and her beating, loving heart over the coldness of the graves surrounding him. After all the anticipation and longing to finally come to that graveyard, he can’t stand another moment there, only wanting to walk away with Hermione in his embrace.
But the potential connection to Saint Agnes doesn’t just end with marriage symbolism. Agnes suffered a horrific martyrdom: first threatened with rape, then tortured horrifically for her devotion to Christ, and (according to some stories) ultimately killed by being stabbed in the throat. As an oft-quoted passage
in Victorian times about the Christmas rose notes:
Even as the Flower of St. Agnes is whiter than other blossoms, so was the purity of St. Agnes fairer than most virgins; as the Flower bloometh in the season of winter, when there are few others, so did the saintly virgin flourish in the winter of adversity, and brave the storms of persecution, with few companions in excellency.
Hermione has always been a formidable partner at Harry’s side, but in DH her powers do indeed blossom in this “winter of adversity,” as her quick thinking and encyclopedic knowledge of magic save Harry again and again. It becomes a thematic element after Godric’s Hollow for Harry to praise her with superlatives. After she apparates them away in mid-air after the encounter with Nagini later that night, even though Harry is upset about his wand, he calls her “incredible” as she smiles at him. After the encounter with Xenophilius, where she comes up with a truly incredible plan on the spur of the moment and Harry places his complete trust in her, he “fervently” tells her that he doesn’t know what he’d do without her as she “beams” in reply.
And then, like Saint Agnes, after Hermione is threatened with rape by Greyback, after she is tortured for her association with Harry at Malfoy Manor, after Bellatrix was ready to kill her by stabbing her in the throat, Harry again is astounded by her ability to come up with a lie in the midst of torture, praising her as “amazing” as again she smiles in reply. Hermione is and will always be his closest companion, the one who saves him, his anchor, someone who can turn his mind from death, someone worth living for….
7. Freudian Interpretation
At this point, some readers may be wondering if we’ve put too much emphasis on this wreath in the graveyard scene, but its symbolic importance is signaled when it appears again in Harry’s dreams on the following night:
Harry’s dreams were confused and disturbing: Nagini wove in and out of them, first through a gigantic, cracked ring, then through a wreath of Christmas roses. He woke repeatedly, panicky, convinced that somebody had called out to him in the distance, imagining that the wind whipping around the tent was footsteps or voices.
Like the repeated reference to the kissing gate, JKR draws our attention back to this wreath. This dream is not a vision of Voldemort’s (as many of Harry’s “dreams” have been in the books), but his own subconscious. While there have been many analyses of Harry’s dreams, few have commented on this one, and no one quite seems to know what to do with the wreath. The two analysts I’ve seen who have mentioned it postulate that it’s merely a symbol of Harry missing out on family holidays (a rather odd reading) or that it was a hint that Nagini in the guise of Bathilda Bagshot may have observed them in the graveyard.
I suppose the latter is possible, but it’s hard then to see what that has to do with the imagery of the ring in the dream. Some have argued that the “gigantic, cracked ring” is emblematic of Marvolo Gaunt’s ring, though it was not the ring itself that was cracked
but rather the resurrection stone upon it. And Harry has had dreams of Horcruxes before, but yet again, we are left with no rationale for the wreath. Given that Harry laid it upon his parents’ grave, it’s possible that it’s connected to Harry’s vision of his parents when they were threatened and killed.
But we’ve seen so many different possible symbolic links between the wreath and Hermione that it’s difficult not to associate its appearance in a dream with her, as she was the one who created it. And maybe Harry’s subconscious is again feeling her threatened by Nagini: perhaps the “gigantic, cracked ring” parallels Bathilda Bagshot’s broken body, where the snake emerges from her dead neck only to come after Hermione. The previous night he had repeatedly grabbed onto Hermione desperately to shield her from the snake’s attacks:
Everything was chaos: [The snake] smashed shelves from the wall, and splintered china flew everywhere as Harry jumped over the bed and seized the dark shape he knew to be Hermione—
She shrieked with pain as he pulled her back across the bed: The snake reared again, but Harry knew that worse than the snake was coming, was perhaps already at the gate, his head was going to split open with the pain from his scar—
The snake lunged as he took a running leap, dragging Hermione with him; as it struck, Hermione screamed, “Confringo!” and her spell flew around the room, exploding the wardrobe mirror and ricocheting back at them, bouncing from floor to ceiling; Harry felt the heat of it sear the back of his hand. Glass cut his cheek as, pulling Hermione with him, he leapt from bed to broken dressing table and then straight out of the smashed window into nothingness, her scream reverberating through the night as they twisted in midair….
So perhaps Harry’s dream is merely one of concern for Hermione. But there’s one more parallel that Hermione has to Saint Agnes that we haven’t yet remarked on. Aside from her association with betrothed couples, Agnes is also one of the primary patron saints of female virgins
. (In the past, of course, betrothed women were assumed to be virgins, so these are related.) The purity of color for her white Christmas rose was also considered to be a symbol of chastity.
With that in mind, it now bears remarking that Harry’s dream is a textbook example of Freudian symbolism. Snakes in dreams are regarded as phallic symbols, but Harry’s dream goes so much further that its most straightforward interpretation is shockingly explicit. In his dream, the snake is weaving “in and out” of first a cracked ring, and then the (intact and unbroken) ring-like wreath of Christmas roses, a wreath associated with Hermione
, a wreath composed of flowers symbolizing virginity
I truly don’t it would be possible for JKR to sneak into a children’s book a more overt Freudian symbol of literal defloration
, of an initial sexual encounter. This image bubbles up from Harry’s subconscious only hours after that second “charged moment” JKR identified when Harry closes his eyes as Hermione touches his hair, and on the same day that he gazed so deeply into her eyes that he registers their color for the first time while he looks at her. What then pulls him from that dream is the feeling that someone was calling out from the distance, footsteps that we later find out to have been Ron’s.
Harry and Hermione then agree in the middle of the night to flee from those footsteps. And JKR seems so pleased with her Freudian dream imagery that she runs a little sexual innuendo victory lap in the ensuing passage. Before you accuse me of reading too much into this, recall that JKR is someone who has Ron crack a Uranus joke not just once but twice (GoF13, OotP25) and has recurring gags about Aberforth Dumbledore’s inappropriate relations with goats (GoF24, too many to count in DH). She also learned her trade from reading Jane Austen, whose spikes and gown tearing were remarked on earlier as a sexual symbolism in Mansfield Park
and who goes so far in that novel as to joke about sodomy in the British navy, when Mary Crawford declared: “Certainly, my home at my uncle’s brought me acquainted with a circle of admirals. Of Rears and Vices, I saw enough. Now do not be suspecting me of a pun, I entreat.”
What then do we make of the paragraphs immediately after Harry’s dream?
Half an hour later, with the tent packed, Harry wearing the Horcrux, and Hermione clutching the beaded bag, they Disapparated. The usual tightness engulfed them; Harry’s feet parted company with the snowy ground, then slammed hard onto what felt like frozen earth covered with leaves.
“Where are we?” he asked, peering around at a fresh mass of trees as Hermione opened the beaded bag and began tugging out tent poles.
While Harry previously experienced a sense of compression during apparition, there’s nothing typical about the phrasing here. “Tightness” is not a common word for JKR, appearing only once elsewhere in the book series. (I can give statistics, but just trust me that this is an unusual choice for JKR. I compared her word usage to the British National Corpus and Google Ngrams, and while she overuses the adverb “tightly” compared to typical written British English, she elsewhere appears to avoid “tightness,” preferring other words and phrasing.)
And despite the fact that they’ve spent months in the tent, this is the only time anyone
handles the tent poles. (They are only referenced once elsewhere in DH14 as even being present as part of the tent.) Certainly this is the only time in canon that we see Hermione handling any poles—tent or otherwise—much less “tugging” on them. It truly should make the reader wonder, “Why now, JKR?” Like the earlier appearance of the repeated “kissing gate” phrase, it begins to strain credibility to believe this is all unintentional coincidence.
And what happens next, when they successfully flee from Ron, the one person who could disrupt the intimacy that has emerged since Godric’s Hollow? After Harry has a textbook Freudian dream about a snake moving “in and out” of a ringed object decorated with flowers that are connected with Hermione and symbolize virginity, and after they spend the night with Hermione “tugging” on poles and having “tightness engulf them,” they seemingly forego their usual watches to simply spend the day inside the tent huddled up in (post-coital?) bliss as Hermione takes care of Harry:
Here too snow lay on the trees all around and it was bitterly cold, but they were at least protected from the wind. They spent most of the day inside the tent, huddled for warmth around the useful bright blue flames that Hermione was so adept at producing, and which could be scooped up and carried around in a jar. Harry felt as though he was recuperating from some brief but severe illness, an impression reinforced by Hermione’s solicitousness. That afternoon fresh flakes drifted down upon them, so that even their sheltered clearing had a fresh dusting of powdery snow.
Note that the “wind” they are now “protected from” was what carried the voices and footsteps Harry wanted to get away from, the symbol of Ron’s return. What one chooses to see in the imagery and symbolism and likely double entendres
is up to the individual reader. (For those H/Hr shippers who wish to claim “tent sex is canon,” this is the best I can do, and these references are my gift to you.)
My personal reading is that these are likely deliberate but meant to be part of the tone that hints at something that was imminent (not actual) between H/Hr, something only disrupted when Ron returned. But the snake imagery in the dream was obviously disturbing to Harry, a symbol of Voldemort and evil carrying into this sexualized context. As I argued in a previous essay
, the Horcrux vision seen by Ron and Harry then repeats this snakelike imagery around Riddle-Hermione, creating an even more unsettling and distorted version of her that Harry witnesses.
The Horcrux has recently seen into Harry’s heart, so much so that Hermione had to magically cut it away from his chest after the Bagshot encounter. Moreover, the Horcrux knows what Harry feels about Hermione, knows how the powerful love between them is a threat, and again chooses to show Harry a sinister sexualized image of Hermione becoming snakelike, the temptation of lust now associated again with evil.
And Harry recoils, the “like a sister” excuse dropping from his lips as he soothes Ron, the subconscious murmurings and cravings for physical closeness to Hermione (at least temporarily) reined in.
8. The Purity of Heroic Love
At this point, I’m sure many readers of this essay are asking, “How much of this is really there? And if JKR really wanted to convey this much about H/Hr, why not just tell us outright that Harry’s feelings about Hermione were changing?”
To the first question, as I mentioned at the outset, literary symbolism is difficult to evaluate. I certainly think it’s unlikely that JKR could have intended all
of the meanings for the Christmas roses I mentioned. But given their recurrence, there has to be more to those flowers than a mere graveside decoration conjured by Hermione. There are too many obvious symbolic elements like the kissing gate and the polyjuiced appearance for it all to be mere coincidence.
My main reason for arguing that at least a significant portion of this symbolism was intentional is partly because JKR seemed to really want to talk about this passage, again and again in interviews. Barely a year had passed after DH came out before she brought up the “charged moments” in an interview, stating “it could have gone that way” with H/Hr, knowing the stir it would cause. It’s almost as if she wanted readers to be drawn back to these passages, to read them again and see something they missed. And then in the Emma Watson interview, where JKR claimed she wanted to talk about Hermione as a character with Watson, she instead questioned the relationship with Ron and then steered the conversation immediately to H/Hr moments.
As to why she chose to bury all of this in symbolism rather than simply tell us that Harry is in danger of falling (or already is) in love with Hermione, JKR has spoken elsewhere of her instinct that a true love triangle would overburden the narrative. The Harry Potter books at heart are not romances. They are epic mystery and adventure stories surrounding a Trio of characters.
Any further digression into a love triangle would have drawn focus away from the War and likely destroyed the Trio irrevocably. If Ron found out, he would never be able to be feel secure around them again or in his relationship with Hermione. And if they didn’t tell Ron, readers would be left focusing on the fact that Harry carried feelings for his best friend yet hid them from his other best friend. That’s not what we expect of the heroic characters JKR is setting up in Harry and Hermione. We’d be left wondering about infidelity when Harry reached out for Hermione’s hand later, rather than seeing their bond as a symbol of strength.
Harry and Hermione are the epitome of a love that is so pure and deep that it can drive out Voldemort, with a devotion that knows no bounds. Harry is so worried about Hermione in the encounter with Nagini that he spends all the time protecting her, rather than fighting or defending himself. Later, Hermione submitted to torture rather than reveal anything about Harry. They have the hearts of heroes: two characters who always instinctively reach for each other. As much as I wish for H/Hr to be together, I personally would not want a canonical love triangle unless H/Hr would be endgame, as it would undermine the nobility of their connection within the greater narrative. That’s just my opinion, but I assume it went into the calculus of JKR’s decision to write in Austen-like symbolism and hints rather than expressing overt feelings in Harry’s internal monologue or even having a true romance between them. I am of course deeply saddened that she stuck with the canon pairings, but after looking into this further, I’m ever more convinced that she did feel strongly about the H/Hr connection and wanted to find a way to showcase it, most powerfully in the greatest passage from the entire series in Godric’s Hollow.
Today we're looking at efreeti
, suggested by u/MatoMask
. Full disclosure: I was originally going to make this article about all five genie types, but the instant I opened the efreet page, I decided that wasn't going to happen. If anyone's interested in the other varieties, let me know and I'll add them to the docket!
Here's the index of all posts in this series.
Meeting the Efreet - Level 9
This is the first time we've looked at an elemental creature. All elementals are composed of materials from their home plane, and intelligent ones have a mindset that reflects their plane's element. Genies are some of the most common sentient elementals; efreeti are genies from the Plane of Fire. They're massive, vindictive, and powerful, ruling great metropolises in their Plane. Their nobles---known as maliks---have the same wish-granting ability as other genie nobles. They are, however, five levels higher than regular efreeti, so I'll be looking at "commoner" efreeti in this article.
Stat Block Highlights Creature Traits -
Lawful evil elemental. Evil creatures are automatically hostile to strangers, though this may not mean immediate attack. Lawful ones may form hierarchical societies and militaries, and their strategies are often standardized. Elementals' goals are often difficult to understand, but they often follow themes associated with their element. In this case, that means fire, which---combined with the lawful evil alignment---suggests a need to expand and destroy, like devils. Ability Contour -
From highest to lowest: Str, Con/Cha, Dex. The high Strength and Constitution shows that this is a brawler that likes to spar in melee range. Charisma is pretty high; a very high mental score often indicates a spellcaster, though Charisma may also mean that the creature is a noncombatant that prefers to talk things out. The fact that it's still lower than strength means that this is a monster that uses magic and social interactions to support its melee capabilities, like a PC Champion. Skills and Senses -
Only one combat skill: Athletics. Efreeti will try to wrestle with their enemies whenever possible. Fascinatingly, they are proficient in all three social skills:
(from highest to lowest) Intimidation/Deception and Diplomacy. This shows efreeti spend most of their time getting what they want through dialogue, not battle. They're surprisingly flexible with how they can accomplish this, but they will prefer boasting or bluffing to honest persuasion.
Three knowledge skill proficiencies: Arcana, Crafting, and Society. Arcana makes sense---the elemental planes fall within the Arcane domain of magic, so this is just the efreeti being educated on the nature of their home. Society supports the image of efreeti as expert social manipulators. Not only do they know how
to talk to people, but they know who
to talk to and what
to say. Crafting doubles as an exploration skill, suggesting that they're also great artisans.
They have darkvision---they'll fight without light if possible---and have constant detect magic.
At that level (5th), detect magic
will allow the efreet to know the the vague location (5 foot cube) and school of the highest-level magical effect within 30 feet. It can also ignore friendly magic effects for this sense and automatically detect any illusions below 5th level. The highest initiative skills are Deception and Intimidation, so efreeti will definitely talk before fighting, then try to start combat by surprising or scaring their enemies. Defense -
Slightly higher-than-average AC, but way
higher-than-average HP. These things can take a hit or ten. They're obviously immune to fire damage and weak to cold damage; the fire immunity means that they'll try to fight in an area filled with fire-based hazards, exposing enemies to danger the efreet doesn't have to worry about. Offense -
There's more to unpack here. The first thing to note is the Fly speed. As noted with the brain collector
, a flying creature will always
be flying and always
above its enemies---as high as possible while still able to use its strongest abilities. A quick glance at the Strikes tells us that the efreet has Reach (10 feet), so it will always be 10 feet above its target in order to place it out of reach of other melee enemies. Edit: I made a crucial mistake here. The first thing you should do when you see a Fly speed is check the creature's Acrobatics modifier, since it will need to make a Maneuver in Flight check to do anything interesting. The efreet isn't even proficient in Acrobatics, which means it can't even try to Maneuver---it's a trained action. It will have to continually move around, spending an action to Fly or fall. Thanks, u/MatoMask and u/mal2!
Two Strikes: a Fist (pretty average) and a +1 Striking Scimitar with a TON of traits. Only two are important, though---Forceful and Sweep, like the necksplitters used by last post's orcs
. Like we said there, the result is that the wielder will want to Strike multiple times per turn, targeting different enemies each time. Doing so gets the efreet +2 damage on the first extra attack and +4 on the second, as well as +1 to the attack roll (a very small reduction to the multi-attack penalty). In order to reduce the effect of the multi-attack penalty, the first scimitar Strike will target what it believes
to be high-AC enemies first so its lower attack modifier won't matter as much for following Strikes.
There's a few unique abilities: Burning Grasp and Combat Grab work great together and will be discussed below. There are a lot of spells, so they'll be talked about in the Basic Behavior section.
But the Change Size ability is very
weird. Basically the efreet can cast enlarge
on anyone, even an unwilling creature. Enlarge
is the better combat spell, but the efreet is already Large, so it would have no effect. The fact that it can target unwilling creatures suggests that it's meant for enemies. For me, Change Size has one very specific purpose: remove nuisance melee foes from the fight completely. By using the shrink
version, the target is made Tiny, meaning that they have to enter an enemy's space to attack. By flying above the battlefield, the shrunken offender simply can't reach the efreet. The genie's allies may still have to worry about it, but that might not be a problem. It's pretty powerful when used this way. Ability Synergies -
A lot of the efreet's abilities revolve around the Grabbed condition. Burning Grasp deals fire damage when an efreet Grapples a creature, and again each round the creature stays grabbed. If the efreet isn't currently Grappling anyone, it can use Combat Grab to Strike a target and grab them. That means that if the efreet uses a scimitar Strike for its Combat Grab, it can simultaneously Grapple the target and deal 2d6+11 slashing damage and
4d6 fire damage when it hits. Its overpowering Athletics skill makes it easy to keep holding on, too, guaranteeing the Burning Grasp damage. An impressive combo.
We've come to an interesting conclusion from our stat block analysis: the efreet's is unlike any other creature we've looked at in this series. The efreet is most at home off
the battlefield. Efreeti are city-builders, craftspeople, researchers, etc. Above all, they are manipulators.
Their armory of high social skill modifiers combined with their lawful evil alignment shapes the efreeti into bureaucratic schemers, always looking for opportunities to move up the hierarchy and exploit their subordinates. They're incredibly strong, but that's not what they focus on---they want to maintain order and increase their power. Based on the flavor text, this will be focused on their magnificent cities.
Note that efreeti have the ability to plane shift
to most of the Inner Planes. This tells me that while efreeti are focused on their cities, they will travel in order to expand their cities' influence. I imagine this mostly involves negotiations for goods and services---possibly slaves. This might involve the creation of a new city, maybe even an outpost outside the Plane of Fire.
This suggests two possible reasons an efreet would fight. One, to deal with a threat to an existing
efreeti city. Two, to clear the way for a new
efreeti city. I assume that the second situation is much rarer and will mostly involve slaves, not the efreeti themselves. Since that's the case, we'll focus on the defensive scenario.
An efreet will always
try to use words to get what it wants and diffuse a situation before fighting (assuming there's a reasonable chance of success; if adventurers are charging in, having just slaughtered two efreeti in the next room, it probably won't bother with saying "hi"). As mentioned previously, if dialogue fails, the efreet will transition directly to combat using Intimidation or Deception for its Initiative roll.
Before we go into the efreet's general combat patterns, we need to look at its spells. The only relevant combat spells are gaseous form, invisibility
(two charges at level 4), and the produce flame
cantrip. The most important one here is invisibility.
At 4th level, it no longer ends when the target takes a hostile action. This, plus the ability to fly, is amazing.
PCs need to have a vague idea where the efreet is to use Seek and make it Hidden instead of Undetected. This is hard enough normally, but when the efreet could be anywhere above
the party as well? Infuriating. Especially
if the heroes don't know the efreet can fly before it casts
We now have a basic sense of the efreet's combat behavior. First, try to talk it out; then use Intimidation or Deception for Initiative. First turn is *invisibility-*Fly to somewhere unexpected. It may spend its next turn with Fly-Change Shape in order to throw off any detection attempts and remove a melee enemy from the fight by making them Tiny. Finally, it chooses someone it would like to enter melee with. It will probably pick a spellcaster, since they probably won't have a Reach weapon to hit back and many powerful spells would be unreliable (three-action spells usually have somatic components, which have the Manipulate trait; Manipulate actions require a DC 5 flat check when Grabbed and are completely impossible if Restrained).
The melee begins with Fly-Scimitar Combat Grab-Scimitar, with the second scimitar Strike aimed at anyone else within reach in order to make use of Forceful +2 and Sweep. Following turns are Grapple-Scimitar-Scimitar, though one of the scimitar Strikes may be exchanged for Demoralize or a Feint. It may repeat its Fly-Scimitar Combat Grab-Scimitar to pick a new target if necessary. Edit: Now that we know it can't Maneuver in Flight, we need to acknowledge that it will have to land in order to keep attacking a chosen target; it can't hover.
Last thing to discuss is what to do when things start to go wrong. The first thing an efreet might try is to fly 30 feet up and start using Fly-produce flame
to deal some damage at range (though it really isn't much in comparison). Its final option is to escape by using gaseous form
to flee through some impossible-to-reach window, vent, or crevice. Unless it's really determined, it'll probably do this once it gets to half health (88 HP).
When we saw that efreeti had darkvision, I commented that "they'll fight without light if possible." That's still true... but it'll almost never be possible. This is because there's a much more important environmental requirement that efreeti have: fire. Lots of it. They are immune to fire damage, so exposing enemies to as much of it as possible is in its best interest. Flaming walls, pits of flame, superheated floors, whatever it can think of. If there isn't anything on fire, but there are
some flammable materials, then it may use its first few invisible rounds using produce flame
to set them alight. Ideally, some of this will be in the form of traps and hazards, so PCs will stumble into them of their own accord. If they're visible, then once it has someone grabbed, it'll use Shove-Scimitar Combat Grab-Scimitar to push them into it.
The efreet's ability to Fly also allows them to expose their enemies to a lot of ground inconveniences. There are two ways this can be used: raw damage (probably fire traps) and movement restriction. This last one can be important, allowing the efreet to isolate whoever it wants to beat up. Examples could include complex things like pitfalls or hidden cages (without a ceiling), or as simple as difficult terrain that keeps melee characters from rushing to their comrade's aid.
This should be obvious, but I should say that an efreet will always want to be somewhere that it can fly. Given that it's Large and its longest-range combat spell (produce flame)
has a range of 30 feet, this means that the perfect area would have at least 50 feet of space above the PCs' heads. Dramatic.
One last requirement comes from its preferred method of escape: gaseous form.
This is a fantastic way to make pursuit almost impossible, but it requires a barrier that is difficult to pass without
being gassy. A vent, small crack, or even a high opening is acceptable. Once the efreet passes it, it can go wherever it wants, though it's best to go somewhere its pursuers either can't go or won't think to.
Efreeti cities probably have areas that fit all these requirements that all visitors must pass through. If a guest becomes an obvious threat, portcullises fall and they're trapped in a place filled with fire traps and awkward terrain. If the efreeti guard(s) are overwhelmed, they can flee through an escape vent and join the security team that is probably on its way already. Killboxes like these would make attacking an efreeti settlement a very dangerous proposition.
Efreeti are likely to have other elemental allies or slaves to aid it in combat. Returning readers may note that I'm usually reluctant to count slaves as potential teammates; their commitment to their masters' well-being is too unreliable. However, efreeti may be able to exert greater control over slaves in their cities. If the slaves don't fight as commanded, they are guaranteed to be noticed and punished. However, this isn't perfect. No matter what, slaves' morale will be lower than their masters'; they will flee sooner (if possible), and if they think that the people they're fighting may be able to defeat their masters or secure their freedom, they may switch sides.
A quick note: this is another benefit to the killbox discussed at the end of the previous situation. If your slaves are trapped in with the intruders, they won't be able to run and will be forced to fight to the death---leaving you free to abandon them and get reinforcements.
So let's look at the possibilities. The easiest way to find all the creatures that might find themselves on the Plane of Fire is to look at the page for Ignan
, the language of that Plane. Almost everything there might be allied with or enslaved by efreeti. Level 1 fire mephits
might be the messengers and errand boys of an efreeti city. Striding fires
(level 6), firewyrms
(level 9), and elemental infernos
(level 11) could
be found there, but they have little usage outside warfare; they may be bodyguards when efreeti need to leave the city. Obviously the firewyrms and elemental infernos will need to be closely
monitored, since they're more powerful than a single efreet.
There are two options that are most likely to be relevant, though: salamanders
. Salamanders are intelligent, half-humanoid-half-snake elementals that are great at blacksmithing---being useful off the battlefield is one indicator of a good slave. In addition, they are an excellent complement to the efreet's tactical style. In the previous section, we talked about how efreeti would like to focus on a single target and be left alone while they beat their victim up. The combination of the salamanders' +1 ranseur with Reach and its Attack of Opportunity means that it can control a large
portion of the battlefield. Anyone who tries to move towards their ally will be attacked; persistent enemies can be taken care of with a Tail-Grab-Constrict combination. If an efreet has at least one salamander ally, it might use its Change Shape ability to enlarge
the salamander, increasing its range to 15 feet
and giving it a bonus to damage. It's a fantastic partnership.
Ifrits are (to simplify things) half-efreet. They have all the diversity available to most humanoids---this is probably because Paizo is intending to make them an available ancestry someday. Their flavor text states that "most ifrits are second-class citizens who serve under the iron heel of the efreeti," so we already know that they'll be available. Their flexibility means that they could fill a bunch of roles that would be useful in an efreet encounter, such as ranged attack or support spellcaster. Unfortunately, we only have one example of an ifrit: a level one pyrochemist
that would be absolutely useless if the players are high-enough level to have a chance against the efreet. If you were up to it, you could adapt one or more of the provided NPCs
. I won't do this for now, since I can't tell what ancestral characteristics all ifrits share based on a single stat block, making it difficult to reskin the base NPC.
Putting It All Together Edit: This scenario was written before I realized my Acrobatics mistake. The efreet is shown here hovering above a target; in an actual fight, it will have to land if it wants to focus on a single enemy.
The players have been tasked with rescuing a key member of the nation's military from the efreeti metropolis of Akkros. It was hard to get to the Plane of Fire and harder to make the journey to Akkros itself, but they made it. They stand before a massive city made almost entirely of brass, built into the side of an eternally-flowing volcano. Brazen walls over a hundred feet high bar the way, and the heroes can just barely make out guards pacing at its peak. After a long and difficult conversation, they decide that the only way forward is to let themselves get captured and then break out with their target. It can't look like they intended to be taken prisoner, though; the party has to put on a show, so they get ready for a fight.
A line has formed outside the only visible gate, so our heroes take their place. It's hours before they finally cross the threshold, and hours more before they meet an actual Akkros resident. An ifrit notes their names and purposes for coming (raising an eyebrow at the claim that they're "visiting friends"), then directs them through an archway to the next chamber. It's absolutely massive, with a ceiling at least fifty feet above their heads. Pits of fire sit in all four corners. At the far end, standing before another archway, is a huge efreet flanked by two salamanders. The players look at each other---it's showtime.
The efreet asks again for their names and intentions. The champion responds with profanity. One of the salamanders flinches. The efreet growls and asks again. The champion curses the efreet's lineage and says that the party is crusading against efreeti injustice. The efreet laughs and starts listing all the horrible tortures that await the party if they don't stand down. This goes on for a while, with the champion interjecting occasionally. After several demands for surrender, the efreet draws its scimitar and shouts commands to its salamander allies, who ready their polearms.
The first thing that happens is completely unexpected: the efreet suddenly... burns up?, vanishing in a cloud of smoke. After a moment, there's a click from a lever thirty feet up a wall, thrown by an unseen force, and portcullises slam down, sealing the archways shut. One of the salamanders abruptly shudders, winces in pain, and grows to double its original size. Both salamanders rush forward, plowing into the middle of the PCs and slicing them with their wicked ranseurs.
Another unexpected turn of events: the wizard cries out in pain as an invisible red-hot blade slices his back. His cloak is grabbed by an ethereal hand and another flaming gash opens on his chest. The rogue dashes over, but is slashed by one of the salamanders' ranseurs; the champion is wrapped in a salamander tail before he can even try. When the wizard shouts that it's above him, the ranger fires blindly towards the ceiling. The arrow freezes in midair and something yelps in pain.
With a vague location to aim at, the wizard casts a desperate dispel magic.
The air itself seems to burn for a moment---when the smoke clears, the party sees the efreet in the air, upside-down, its hand wrapped in the wizard's cloak. It curses and shoves the wizard towards one of the fire pits---it shouts, and the salamanders begin doing the same to others it can reach. The wizard rushes over to the champion and touches his shoulder, casting fly.
The champion takes to the air and charges at the efreet, which curses again and dashes away.
After a few cuts from the champion's greatsword and several more arrows from the ranger, the efreet grinds its teeth and burns up again---but the smoke lingers, rising until it passes through a tiny crack between the wall and the ceiling. The salamanders immediately panic. Both run to the portcullises and start shouting in Ignan; after a few moments it becomes clear no one's coming to help them. The larger one, terrified, blindly charges the heroes---but without the efreet to divide the party's attention, it falls quickly. The smaller salamander falls to the floor and blubbers, begging for its life.
After several minutes, the far portcullis opens and six efreeti enter with at least a dozen salamanders. The leader looks at the groveling salamander with disgust, then beheads it with its scimitar. The PCs are led to Akkros' dungeons. Now they're in, it's time for the hard part...
Hope you enjoyed this! Let me know what you think. Are there any other creatures I should look at? Do you have any criticisms or ways I can improve?
Next up: Wights
, suggested by u/shane_db