Harry Potter and the Price of Peace

In conflict resolution, we learn that peace and justice are not always compatible. Post-conflict reconciliation is a major focus within the field of conflict resolution, and it is probably one of the most challenging goals to achieve. When learning about different processes of reconciliation, and how difficult it can be for people who have spent years immersed in violence to resume a normal life, my thoughts turned to the epilogue of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series.

The death of Voldemort would not have been enough to bring a long-term peace to the wizarding world. Only a transformation of relationships among the former enemies could. The fact that Draco and his family were given a chance to participate equally in the post-conflict world, that he could acknowledge Harry and his friends without any display of aggression, and Hermione’s refusal to poison the relationships of the next generation, all provide evidence that the transformation of relationships has occurred.

 

Seventeen years after Harry defeats Lord Voldemort (who is really and truly dead at last), he and his friends are seeing their children off to school and waiting for the Hogwarts Express. There they glimpse Draco Malfoy, childhood enemy and follower of Lord Voldemort, with his wife and son waiting for the train too:

 

“The new boy resembled Draco as much as Albus resembled Harry. Draco caught sight of Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Ginny staring at him, nodded curtly, and turned away.”

 

Albus is Harry’s younger son, and the implication that both boys resemble their fathers made me wonder if history was going to repeat itself. Draco’s parents were Death Eaters and Draco became a Death Eater, and was a bitter enemy of Harry and his friends throughout their years at Hogwarts. Would Harry and Draco’s sons become enemies as well? Had the rift in the wizarding world between Lord Voldemort’s followers and those who opposed him actually healed? After all, Lord Voldemort had “died” before, when he tried to kill a one-year-old Harry. The protective spell of his mother thwarted Voldemort, who would have died if he had not divided his soul and stored it in magical items.

 

When everyone believed Voldemort had died trying to kill Harry, the war in the wizarding world came to an end. Voldemort’s supporters were either imprisoned or claimed they were forced to act on behalf of Voldemort against their will. Even though peace has supposedly been restored, Harry, Ron, and Hermione grow up in a world still defined by their parents’ conflict. Throughout the books Draco’s father Lucius Malfoy (former Death Eater who claimed the “enslaved by magic” defense) has hostile confrontations with Ron’s dad, Arthur Weasley, who was a member of the Order of the Phoenix and fought against Voldemort.

 

The confrontations between the fathers usually took place in public and even became violent, and it seemed only natural that their children hated each other too. So has anything really changed after Voldemort’s second (and final) disappearance? After re-reading the epilogue, I thought there were several important indications that the wizarding world has fundamentally changed since the end of the first war.

 

The first sign that Harry and Draco’s destructive relationship will not continue into the next generation is the fact that Draco has a son attending Hogwarts. Draco initially fought alongside his parents to end the principles that Hogwarts stood for: the idea that all people were equal, whether they were wizards or muggles, humans or non-humans.

 

If Draco’s son is attending Hogwarts along with Harry and his friends’ children, this suggests that the losing side has not been indefinitely punished for their past actions. The victors and the defeated alike are investing in a shared future.

 

Then again, it is possible that Draco is just pretending to approve of Hogwarts, the way his father did when Draco was a student… but I don’t get that impression from the epilogue. We know that Draco’s hatred was not as absolute as his parents from his actions in the last two books; he became a Death Eater because his parents were Death Eaters. If he still actively hated the things his parents hated then when he sees Harry and his friends he could easily have demonstrated this. Even if he didn’t want a confrontation like those between Arthur Weasley and Lucius Malfoy, he could have sneered, glared, smirked, or just ignored them.

 

But he doesn’t. He just “nods curtly” and turns away. Clearly he and Harry are not best friends, but acknowledging the presence of his former enemies without any appearance of hostility is a major improvement over the behavior of the previous generation.

 

Not that the anger from the past has been forgotten. Ron jokes that his daughter Rose needs to beat Draco’s son at every test in school. Academic competition is definitely preferable to physical aggression, but even this mild remark is criticized by Hermione (who is now married to Ron). Hermione has just as much reason to hate Draco as Ron or Harry do, but she chides Ron by saying:

 

“Don’t try to turn them against each other before they’ve even started school!”

 

All too often, the hatred and prejudices of one generation get passed onto the next, especially when a violent conflict has occurred. But instead of allowing Ron’s comment to be taken lightly, Hermione points out the need to let the next generation grow up without the emotional baggage of their parents. Draco, and especially his son, cannot be punished for the past (even in non-violent ways like academic competition), because “peace is not just for a few, and if it is preserved for the benefit of some and not others, it represents a farce” (Lederach, 2008, p. 17). Former enemies do not have to become friends or even like each other, but they must respect each other.

 

Reconciliation is not easy to achieve. Even after Hermione’s comment, Ron still quietly instructs his daughter not to get “too close” to Draco’s son because her grandfather would be upset if she ever married a pure-blood wizard. Still, Hermione’s active attempt to prevent passing on prejudices to their children is a hopeful sign.

 

Another sign that the wizarding world has undergone reconciliation is the location of the epilogue. For full literary symbolism and analysis, I recommend John Granger’s thought-provoking books about the Harry Potter series. I realize that King’s Cross station, and really the entire epilogue, consisted of symbolism on many levels, but I would like to suggest one more. The train station is a gathering place where every year the wizarding community share a common purpose: sending their children off to school.

 

King’s Cross station, and more specifically Platform 9 ¾ could represent another necessary ingredient of reconciliation, the existence of a space where people can interact “with the goal of creating new perceptions and a new shared experience” (p. 18)  In this case, the shared experience would be saying goodbye to their children at the start of a school year and the new perception could be seeing each other as parents and family members rather than as enemies.

 

It is also significant that all of the books except for the last two (which took place just as the fight against Voldemort was escalating into another war) ended with Harry and his friends returning to the train station at the end of their school year. Having the final book end with the next generation of Hogwarts students going to school reminds us that life goes on even after brutal, tragic conflicts. The children of Harry, Ron, Hermione, Ginny, and Draco are experiencing a new beginning, and one that we can expect to be free of the fight that overshadowed the childhoods of Harry and his peers.

 

Before ending this rather long post, I just want to add one more thing. I know that since Voldemort is actually dead this time, there is no reason for Draco to continue his parents’ fight. Therefore, he may be civil around Harry and his friends just because his own side lost. This is a fair point, but Voldemort was a symptom of the latent conflict within the wizarding community, he was not the original cause of their conflict. He may have been a powerful, charismatic leader who escalated the conflict into a violent war, but prejudice and racism against non-wizards and witches was rampant throughout their history. The discrimination against non-purebloods and muggles led to the tragic circumstances of Tom Riddle’s birth and childhood. The destructive effects of prejudice and racism shaped Tom Riddle’s identity and worldview, and he simply exploited the hatred within the wizarding community to increase his own power.

 

Not all scars are physical or observable. Conflict, and especially violent conflict, can leave emotional and psychological scars that plague people long after the fighting has officially come to an end. The final indication that a long-term peace was established after Voldemort’s defeat, and that reconciliation in progress, is that

“The scar had not pained Harry for nineteen years. All was well.”

Reference: Lederach, J.P. (2008). “Truth and Mercy, Justice and Peace.” Conflict Transformation and Restorative Justice Manual , p. 17

 

One thought on “Harry Potter and the Price of Peace

  1. Alan

    Great post. Maybe we could engage an entire population on conflict resolution by tying teaching to popular and well regarded books. I think you have found your calling!

    Reply

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