Chapter 35 of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: King's Cross
Harry finds himself alone and naked in an otherworldly place. Hearing noise, he wishes for and receives clothing, then notices a hideous, child-like creature, nude and with flayed-looking skin, crumpled up on the floor. Dumbledore appears and lovingly greets Harry. He explains that when Voldemort took some of Harry's blood as his own, he thereby tethered his life to Harry's; Harry cannot die while Voldemort lives. Rather than killing Harry outright, Voldemort's curse destroyed the seventh soul shard within Harry's body.
Dumbledore also guesses that the two wands interacted as they did during Harry's escape from Privet Drive because after Harry and Voldemort's blood was joined, their brother wands, already connected by identical magical cores, and wielded by wizards already sharing pieces of their souls, and further bonded by their blood, merged even closer. Furthermore, during Harry and Voldemort's duel in the cemetery, Harry was the stronger; Voldemort feared death, while Harry embraced the possibility. Harry's wand thus imbibed some powers from Voldemort's, making it more powerful than Lucius Malfoy's wand. That wand, even when wielded by Voldemort, was easily overpowered by Harry's. As to why Hermione's wand was able to break his, Dumbledore speculates that Harry's wand was abnormally powerful only when it was directed against Voldemort, who it sensed was Harry's mortal enemy, as well as being his blood kin after the events in the cemetery.
Harry wonders where they are, though he himself suggests it resembles a deserted King's Cross station. More important issues are addressed: the Hallows. Dumbledore asks Harry's forgiveness for withholding information about the Deathly Hallows. Dumbledore was obsessed with them in his youth, eager to escape death, and equally eager to shine and attain glory, while Aberforth looked on in disgust. Dumbledore resented having to care for his sister, which is partly why he was so happy to befriend Gellert Grindelwald. The two young wizards bonded over their mutual search for the Deathly Hallows. An undefeatable wand would surely help them rise to power in the Wizarding world. Dumbledore wanted the Resurrection Stone to reunite his family, but Grindelwald saw it as a means to procure an Inferi army. And while neither had much interest in the Invisibility Cloak, as both were proficient in disillusionment, Dumbledore thought it would be useful to hide Ariana.
Their short-lived friendship culminated into a fight, along with Aberforth, over Dumbledore's family. Somehow, a stray curse fatally hit Ariana. Grindelwald fled, eventually starting on his rampage, but Dumbledore delayed dueling him, fearing he might learn who actually killed Ariana. After much bloodshed and desperate pleas from the Wizarding world, he felt obliged to confront his former friend and defeated him - thereby winning the Elder Wand. Dumbledore learned that Grindelwald lied to Voldemort when he said he never owned the Elder Wand, perhaps trying to protect Dumbledore in a belated remorseful act. Finally, when Dumbledore retrieved the Peverell Ring, knowing it was a Horcrux, he discovered it contained the Resurrection Stone. While he never explicitly states this, it is clear that his desire to once again see his mother and sister was too great a temptation to resist trying on the ring. But putting it on his finger triggered the deadly curse that would claim his life within a year.
By withholding this information about the Hallows, Dumbledore hoped it would take Harry longer to find them, thus giving him more time to understand their true nature and avoid the same temptation for greed and power Dumbledore had succumbed to. Death's true master is the one who never seeks to escape it, but is prepared to face it without fear.
Finally, Dumbledore tells Harry that he has a choice: if he chooses, he can head to a platform, and he would likely find a train that would take him onwards, or he can return to the living world for a chance to finish Voldemort. Harry chooses to return, but he first asks Dumbledore if their conversation has been real or is it only in his mind. Dumbledore responds, "Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean it is not real?"
Throughout the series, Harry has traveled to King's Cross Station, either to depart for Hogwarts or return to London on the Hogwarts Express. The station has always symbolized the crossroad between the Muggle world and the Wizarding realm and Harry's constant shuffling between, and his conflict with, the two extremes. As Harry now finds himself between life and death, his seeing that station's simulacrum is purely expected. And though Dumbledore assures Harry that he (Harry) is not actually dead, it seems Harry can choose that option if he so wishes. Harry has literally and figuratively been stripped bare, and must decide either to board a train that will transport him to the "other side", or return to the living world and an opportunity to finally finish off Voldemort. Both are difficult choices. And though "moving on" seems frightening and contains many unknowns, Harry knows he would finally be at peace, as well as be reunited with his dead parents, and also Sirius, Lupin, and the others he has lost. Dumbledore had once told Harry that, "to the well-organised mind, death is but the next great adventure", a gateway to another realm, likely one that is better and more enjoyable than the living world, and it is a natural progression that should be embraced, not feared. But for Harry, who has yet to fully live his life, he would be forced to leave behind those he loves in the living world, especially Ginny, and any opportunity for a future with her. Also, only Harry can kill the Dark Lord, and if he "moves on," it would ensure Voldemort's victory; countless lives hinge on his decision to return to the living world, though there is no guarantee he can win. Harry finally realizes that Dumbledore did indeed always love him, and Dumbledore's actions, pitting Harry against Voldemort, was only because he knew Harry was destined by fate to do so, not because Dumbledore personally decreed it. Harry's faith and trust in the headmaster have been restored.
Before Harry's final decision, more questions are answered. The creature on King's Cross' floor would appear to be Voldemort's soul shard that had been within Harry. While this is never explained in the book, Dumbledore tells Harry that his soul is now wholly his own. According to the author in a later interview, however, it was actually the remnant of Voldemort's original soul left in his body, flayed by being sheared off for Horcruxes and damaged by his repeated murders. If that is true, we should still assume that the soul shard within Harry was destroyed when Voldemort's curse hit Harry. This would then leave one Horcrux, Nagini, that must still be killed, and Voldemort's flayed soul, though apparently dying, should not be considered dead just yet.
We now have two viewpoints regarding what happened the night Dumbledore retrieved the Ring Horcrux. Snape's memories only reveal the aftermath. And Dumbledore seems reticent to explain exactly why he put on the Ring. The Horcrux within it was likely sentient and aware that anyone wearing it would be cursed - it would fight for its survival. Earlier, the Locket Horcrux attempted to strangle Harry to protect itself, then, failing that, preyed upon Ron's emotions; would the Ring Horcrux have done any less? Dumbledore's desire was likely the same as Harry's: to be reunited with his deceased family. Recognizing the Horcrux as the Resurrection Stone, would he not, driven by guilt and desire, have been tempted to use the Stone to see them again? And would not the Horcrux, sensing this, entice him to put on the ring, knowing this should kill Dumbledore before he could destroy the Horcrux?
Dumbledore said Ariana's death was accidental. The question that continually haunted Dumbledore, and likely has been troubling Aberforth, was whose curse killed her. If it was Grindelwald, then presumably Aberforth would have sought revenge, though he probably would have been killed in the attempt. If it was Albus, then Aberforth would never have forgiven him. If it was Aberforth, then neither Aberforth nor Albus would be able to forgive himself, Aberforth for killing his own sister, and Albus for inflicting this tragic horror onto his brother. This uncertainty left the situation clouded, and prevented Albus and Aberforth from ever moving past Ariana's death, though it perhaps prevented the brothers from killing one another. Grindelwald, being considerably less caring, was only concerned that he could be blamed and took his usual course, running away.
Harry tells Dumbledore that Grindelwald lied to Voldemort, claiming he never possessed the Elder Wand, perhaps in a belated effort to protect his former friend. Dumbledore believes Grindelwald may have felt remorse in his later years. It would seem his last act on Earth was an attempt to save the world from the likes of himself. Despite lying to Voldemort, his effort was futile. Through reading Grindelwald's mind, or just through common sense, Voldemort determined that Dumbledore possessed the Elder Wand and it was now entombed with him.
Harry realizes Dumbledore planned either to die still commanding the Elder Wand, or expected that Snape would unknowingly become the Elder Wand's master, when Snape killed him, according to their prearranged plan. In either event, Dumbledore's expectation was that the Elder Wand would lose its power, either at his own death, or when Snape died without having had anyone challenge Snape for its possession. As there would be nobody left to challenge, the Wand would never transfer its allegiance to a new master. The plan failed to work out as Dumbledore intended; it has not yet been completely revealed how things did fall out, but it is likely that Voldemort, despite murdering Snape, is finding that the Elder Wand still resists his command.
Dumbledore, forever shamed by his delay to fight Grindelwald, chose to remain at Hogwarts, declining more prestigious appointments, solely to avoid succumbing again to power's seductive allure. It is difficult to imagine that Dumbledore, a brave and formidable wizard, could have ever feared anything or would leave others in peril. However, he ignored the Wizarding world's desperate pleas for help and avoided confronting Grindelwald for as long as he could because he dreaded learning that it may have been his own stray curse that accidentally killed his sister, Ariana. He may also have foreseen, and feared, the demands that he become Minister for Magic following that duel. It is only after much bloodshed during Grindelwald's five-year rampage that Dumbledore finally relented and mustered the courage to duel him. Dumbledore's delay seems incomprehensible, and he could be considered indirectly responsible for many deaths during the interim. Dumbledore, however, understood that truth can be a person's most fearsome and crippling enemy, and that fear incapacitated him during those intervening years.
- Why did Dumbledore wait to fight Grindelwald? What finally prompted him to do so?
- Who does Dumbledore say is Death's true master? Why?
- Was Voldemort ever the true master of the Elder Wand? Why?
- What might the creature curled up on the floor be? Why does Dumbledore say it cannot be helped?
- Where does Harry awaken, and what might J.K. Rowling intend for this place to represent?
- Why does Harry see this location as his "place"?
- If the scene with Dumbledore took place in only Harry's mind, how does Dumbledore know so much that Harry did not?
- What does Dumbledore mean when he tells Harry, "This is, as they say, your party."
- Dumbledore admits that his plan regarding the Elder Wand did not work out as he intended. Exactly what was his plan, and what would have happened if it had unfolded as he expected?
- Should Dumbledore have withheld information from Harry about the Deathly Hallows or told him more about them early on?
- Why did Dumbledore fear that Harry might be tempted by the Deathly Hallows? Was Dumbledore justified in thinking this?
- Even though Dumbledore possessed the Resurrection Stone, was he ever Death's true master? Explain.
- How was Dumbledore able to beat Grindelwald, even though Grindelwald mastered the "undefeatable" Elder Wand?
- Dumbledore waited five years to duel Grindelwald. Does this delay make him partially responsible for the deaths of Grindelwald's many victims during those intervening years? Explain.
- Why did it fall upon Dumbledore to combat Grindelwald?
- Even though Dumbledore assures Harry that he (Harry) is not dead, why is Harry given a choice to "move on" to the next world or return to the living? Why does Harry make the choice he does?
While the story never states whether the other soul seen in what we are calling the Waystation is Voldemort's principal soul or the shard that was within Harry, evidence that it was Voldemort's soul, as stated by the author, will be seen in the next chapter. Voldemort was knocked out by the rebounding Killing Curse he cast on Harry; as it thrust Harry's spirit into the void that became King's Cross station, Voldemort's diminished soul, tethered to Harry's by their shared blood bond, was dragged along.
At last, the victorious look in Dumbledore's eye when he heard that Voldemort had used Harry's blood to create his new body is explained: through their conversation here, it is clear that Dumbledore realized that this would aid Harry more than it would help Voldemort. As Harry had been protected by his mother's blood, so now would he be shielded by his own blood, now coursing through Voldemort's veins. Dumbledore also knew, though Voldemort did not, that by using Harry's blood to re-animate himself, Voldemort had ensured that Harry's death would be impossible as long as this incarnation of Voldemort lived. Further, because he willingly sacrificed himself, Harry is using the same magic to protect his friends, shielding them from Voldemort's and Death Eaters' curses, just as Lily had protected Harry by sacrificing herself.
Regarding Harry's statement that Snape was meant to be the Elder Wand's master, Dumbledore admits that that had failed to work out as planned. Harry sees this, though we do not as yet. In the next chapter, it will be learned that the Elder Wand never allied itself with Snape, and Snape's death, in turn, never gave Voldemort control over it. And though Harry confirmed this thought with Mr. Ollivander, he is still at least a little unsure about it. Dumbledore may have made the same misstep as Voldemort: despite the still-living (until Voldemort murdered them) Gregorovitch and Grindelwald as evidence, Voldemort mistakenly believed that the Elder Wand would only fully align itself to the wizard who killed its previous Master, rather than to a wizard who forcibly removes the wand from its current owner's possession. Ollivander, however, was quite emphatic that murder is unnecessary, though that trail does seem to have followed the Elder Wand. As the wand's allegiance was forcibly wrenched from Dumbledore's possession by Draco Malfoy, even though Dumbledore retained physical custody, Harry theorizes that it has allied itself with Draco. It is uncertain whether Dumbledore shares this belief, but his admission that Snape does not command the Elder Wand (nor did he ever command it) suggests that Snape's death has given him a little extra understanding. The question remains whether the Elder Wand has aligned itself with Harry once it "sensed" that Harry disarmed Draco while using Draco's own wand, the same one Draco had used to disarm Dumbledore.
Not only did Dumbledore's plan for Snape to obtain the Elder Wand ultimately fail, but it seems to have been rather risky from the start. As mentioned above, Dumbledore should have known that capturing the wand from its owner could result in it transferring its allegiance, as he certainly fully controlled the Elder Wand, as Grindelwald had had before him, when both Gregorovitch and Grindelwald were still alive – a point that Voldemort missed, not once but twice. Even though Voldemort came to physically possess the wand, he never commanded it. As it was known that Snape killed Dumbledore, there was a high probability that Voldemort would eventually deduce (wrongly) that Snape was the Elder Wand's master, and he would therefore target and kill Snape to transfer its ownership to himself. That is exactly what happened, though, fortunately, and unknown to Voldemort, Snape never commanded the Elder Wand. As Dumbledore had a pre-arranged plan with Snape to kill him, it may be that he intended for Snape alone to witness his death, thus forcibly claiming, and secretly wielding the Elder Wand. Likewise, just as Dumbledore never foresaw that Draco Malfoy would disarm him and unknowingly win the wand's allegiance (though Draco never physically possessed it), Dumbledore may also have failed to anticipate that circumstances would force Snape to return to Voldemort when he did, placing him in a dangerously close proximity to the Dark Lord.
If Dumbledore's scheme had worked as he intended, the story's outcome would depend on whether the Elder Wand remained entombed with Dumbledore, or if Snape had physically obtained it after killing Dumbledore. Entombed with Dumbledore, the wand would have remained Snape's, even after Voldemort retrieved it and carried it; Snape's death would not have aligned the wand with Voldemort, as Voldemort would not have forcefully removed the wand from its previous owner, Snape. (While this appears parallel to Harry's case, as Harry defeated Malfoy when Malfoy was not carrying the wand, there is one vital difference: the Elder Wand, in Voldemort's hands, then faced the wand that had wrenched it from Dumbledore, in the hand of the one who had seized it from Malfoy. Tenuous a connection as that seems, apparently that was enough for the Elder Wand to switch alliance. To get the same effect, Voldemort would have to claim the Elder Wand from Dumbledore's tomb while wielding Snape's wand.) However, equally the wand would not have aligned itself with Harry, as Harry would likely never have had the opportunity to wrest it from Snape. If Snape had retained the wand, Voldemort would have had one additional step to retrieve it, and it is possible that Snape would have simply given the wand to Voldemort. In that case, again as the wand was not wrested from Snape, it would remain his, and thus somewhat ineffectual in Voldemort's hands. Only if Snape had resisted turning over the wand, and Voldemort had seized it by force, would the wand owe allegiance to Voldemort, and in that case, Harry likely would have had a much more painful time of things.
It has also been suggested that Dumbledore's plan was considerably simpler: he meant to die as the Elder Wand's final master, with the wand's allegiance transferring to no one upon his death. If his plan had worked, Snape would have killed Dumbledore on Dumbledore's orders, while Dumbledore was still the Elder Wand's master, and which the Wand would not have recognized as a defeat. The Elder Wand would never afterward have had an allegiance to any living wizard, and, as a result, its bloody and dangerous cycle would have been extinguished forever. This would imply that Dumbledore was fully aware of the distinction between death and defeat, from the Wand's point-of-view. His plan failed only in that he never expected Draco to disarm him. While this is by far the simplest scenario for Dumbledore's plan, it must be mentioned that it is not explicitly described anywhere in these terms, either in the books or in the author's interviews since publication. And though it is unknown if this was ever Dumbledore's intention, it will become Harry's. After discovering that he is the Elder Wand's true master, and following Voldemort's defeat, Harry decides against ever using Elder Wand, and intends to return it to Dumbledore's tomb with the hope that its power will be terminated when he eventually dies.
It should also be noted that if Draco had killed Dumbledore as he had been ordered to do (in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince), then Voldemort would likely have murdered Draco in an attempt to win the wand, though, unknown to anyone, Draco had since lost its allegiance to Harry when Harry disarmed him at Malfoy Manor. However, if Draco had remained the Wand's master, murder alone may have been insufficient to transfer its power to Voldemort had he killed Draco. The Wand's allegiance could instead have remained with Draco, its power snuffed out upon his death.
It is worth mentioning, perhaps, that in discussing the interaction between the two wands, Dumbledore also specifically refers to the wand that Voldemort was carrying during the earlier attack on Harry as, "Malfoy's poor stick". While we know from the meeting in Chapter 1 that Voldemort was carrying Lucius Malfoy's wand, Harry does not know this. Harry's later actions at Malfoy Manor in this book would indicate that he believed Lucius still had his own wand. While there are several other points that would be known only to Dumbledore in this chapter, regarding his own family life and his friendship with Grindelwald, there is no clear path by which knowledge of Malfoy's wand could have reached Dumbledore, except possibly through posthumous conversations between Snape and Dumbledore's living portrait. This one point does create some speculation about death and afterlife, as perhaps it is meant to.