Deathly Hallows Discussion Point #7: The Rubedo

Ms. Rowling said in a 1998 interview that she had read a “ridiculous amount” about alchemy before writing the books and that this is what sets the “magical parameters and logic” in Harry Potter (if you want to learn more about alchemy in these books, see chapters 3-5 in Unlocking Harry Potter: Five Keys for the Serious Reader ). The last stage of the seven cycle alchemical Great Work is called the Rubedo or “red stage” and features an alchemical wedding of the Red King and White Queen, the death of this couple and the creation of the “philosophical orphan,” the resolution of contraries, the revelation of the accomplishments of the “white stage” (here, Half-Blood Prince), and the appearance of the “Rebis” or “double-natured person” (Hermaphrodite). As the “Black” and “White” stages of the books featured the players and the death of the characters with these names, it was widely assumed that the Rubedo of Deathly Hallows would feature Rubeus Hagrid. We had the wedding, the death of a couple (just not Bill and Fleur!), an orphan, the resolution of the Gryffindor/Slytherin chasm within wizardry and the Wizards First prejudice, the revelations of what really happened in Prince, and Harry’s acting as Quintessence, Savior/sacrifice, and Rebis. But Hagrid? How important were his parts in the opening and the finale? Did his carrying Harry out of the forest close the story he began by breaking the door on the House on the Rock in Stone? Nice golden binding, though, for the last book and lead-to-gold finish…


  1. Hagrid’s role showed that Rowling was working from a pattern, not a formula. As such, we had an expectation of the death of Hagrid (which she teased us with–twice!), but she didn’t have to kill him to move the story along. Instead, he really served in a nice closing capacity, although he’s not mirroring the breaking of the door at the island. Rather, he’s mirroring when he first delivers Harry on the flying motorcycle, only it’s broken into two pieces. The first near-death experience involves the selfsame motorcycle; the second involves his carrying Harry, the victim of Voldemort, once again.

    Regarding the other marks of the rubedo stage, I started by looking for red, but I soon tripped to the fact that gold was the major motif. That was delightful to read; it really reinforced my belief (to my relief!) that this was going to complete the alchemical tale. Wonderful!

  2. The presence of gold, especially in the end scenes (from Gringotts to King’s Cross to the Great Hall), is certainly important.

    In considering the “rubedo,” I agree with Dewyn’s above reply. I also don’t think Hagrid necessarily had to die, since this was indeed the final stage, rather than one that had to be followed by another stage (others, including John I think, suggested this even before the book came out).

    As for the particular color red, personally, after George made the funny joke about being “saintlike” about midway through chapter 5, “Fallen Warrior,” that phrase always came back to me whenever one of the good guys made some sort of bloody sacrifice, especially when it resulted in death. It also reminded me of Christian tradition with the significance of the blood of the martyrs, where it is believed that not only are the martyrs themselves purified and sanctified through their very courage to face death in Christ, but they also help to purify the faithful still living (recall Tertullian’s famous line, “the blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church”).

    Is it not likely that the blood itself, so prevalent in this book of countless deaths (far more than any previous), is one of the greatest symbols we have that Harry, along with his friends, have reached and are going through this final rubedo stage?

  3. And there was on person that died in this stage being “red”.
    Rufus Scrimgeour, who’s first name means literally “the red one”.
    He sacrificed himself for the sake of Harry, not telling anything, albeit he was being tortured….

  4. This book had so many gold references, that I thougt it was the gold book and not red. But who cares right, since Harry did turn to gold with his sacrifice.

  5. As John has said on other occasions, the “red” Weasleys were prominent, including Molly’s conquest (killing?) of Bellatrix. As soon as George made his “saintlike” comments, I immediately began looking for my references to the Great Martyr George – did he lose an ear? Not as far as I can tell.
    But since the Weasley family may be connected more strongly to the Arthurian story, perhaps the loss of an ear can be found there?

  6. Arabella Figg says

    In addition to reds I noticed a lot of the purple range, from lilac (Ginny’s dress at the wedding) to dark (skies, lots of things, I’d have to reread and mark the references). It seemed to me to be a purple (kingly royalty?), gold and blue book (many blue, bright blue to midnight blue–skies, eyes, DD robe) with red.

    For red, you might add the fire in the Room of Requirement and the sunrise Harry watched when Dobby died, as well as red-eyed LV’s rages and his fire in the woods. And Ron’s “red” rage when he left Harry and Hermione.

    Speaking of red, Thudders just nipped me…

  7. This just in from Hans Andrea of “Harry Potter for Seekers,” one of the only websites with an alchemical focus. Hans bought the book in London and sat up with friends Saturday and Sunday reading it aloud. Here are his first impressions:

    Hi Friends,

    Our last post was sent to you as a joint effort by Chris, Jayne and me, from the long queue around the block on Piccadilly, London. Aldo did eventually turn up around midnight; his plane had been diverted to Bournemouth instead of London. The queue moved very very slowly, and we got our books around 3 a.m.

    We then still had to get back to the car and drive through London for half an hour, so by the time we got home none of us felt alive enough to start reading. In the end, we could have bought our books at the local store on Saturday morning. Never mind; it was great fun. It was very pleasant walking up and down the queue, looking at all the costumes and talking to people. People had come especially for this from all over Britain and Ireland, and from France, Germany, the Netherlands, and of course the U.S. and Malta (Aldo).

    We spent the Saturday and Sunday reading the book to each other. It took about 40 minutes to read each chapter, but we solidly ploughed on, each taking our turn. We finished reading the epilogue at 4 a.m. on Monday morning.

    My first reactions.

    I have mixed feelings about the book. First of all I did enjoy the shared reading enormously. There wasn’t as much weeping as I thought. So my first prediction was probably wrong. My apologies if you bought shares in a paper handkerchief company.

    Secondly I found the book very powerful. We spent a lot of time on Monday discussing the book, and it surprised me how much I remembered. The images in my mind and in my emotions are very vivid.

    Thirdly my love for the fictional character of Harry Potter has increased tremendously. So full of flaws; so full of doubt, prone to temptation, and weak, yet so absolutely determined to do what is right over what is easy. His thoughts as he walks to face certain death in the duel with Voldemort in the Forbidden Forest are gut-wrenching. You’d think Jo has faced the situation of self-sacrifice herself the way it’s written. I was particularly struck by Harry’s thoughts that his heart was beating so fast it wanted to do a lifetime’s worth of beats before the inevitable end. And I must say, there was no doubt in the plot at that stage about Harry’s death. Jo really left no loopholes – Harry’s death was absolutely inescapable at that stage.

    And I’m satisfied within my own mind and conscience that Harry defeated death. I think people will argue about it, but I don’t care what anyone else thinks; I’m satisfied that Harry passed through the Gate of Saturn, even though it didn’t turn out to be the arch in the Department of Mysteries. The crucial point is that Harry was given the choice. He could either pass ‘on’ or take the heavier option of doing what is right over what is easy by returning to the conflict against Voldemort. And we all know Harry chose to finish the fight for the liberation of his friends and the rest of the world.

    To me this is one of the reasons why I love Harry so much, and why I think the Septology conforms to al the great tales of liberation: Love “punishes” the person who has triumphed over death, by forcing him to return to the Vale of Tears to help others free themselves of their own Voldemort, who lives in every one of us.

    And so, although Harry didn’t take Hagrid’s place as I thought might happen, he did make that choice that all Bodhisattvas make.

    I am of course surprised and disappointed the Room of Love and the Gate of Saturn didn’t reappear literally. Certainly their symbolism is very clearly present in the story. Harry became a ‘Master of Death’, and it was love that finally defeated Voldemort, but the omission of any mention of these two symbols are totally unexpected, and make me wonder whether Jo changed course on these two things. It almost gives me the feeling that Jo has another book in mind where these things do play a role. That would be a book purely in her mind; she may never publish that. But then again: “Never say never”.

    Predictions that came true were the deaths of black king Snape, grey king Lupin, with his young wife Tonks. Percy also came back to the family, as I thought he would.

    Completely unexpected were the deaths of Dobby, Fred and Vincent. Dobby’s death is something I can’t explain at all. The symbolism in Part 2 is so clear; I just can’t understand what is happening here. Once the etheric body is free, it is eternal, so I can’t imagine what Jo is doing here. Anyway, I do agree with Iris that Harry’s actions in Dobby’s burial and funeral show his maturity. It really is a wonderful piece of writing.

    What on earth Jo killed Fred for is beyond me. To newcomers to the group: the Weasleys symbolise the chakras, and certainly there are still seven of them now, only George has to do all the work for the navel chakra on his own now. Perhaps there is some highly arcane fact I’m not aware of in the liberation of the chakras, for example perhaps the colour changes from red and green to one colour. I just don’t know.

    Chris and I have been discussing the death of Vincent Crabbe. He creates a fire and dies in it. I guess that’s an alchemical fire. Vincent: victorious; Gregory: watchful. If you look back at the old posts you’ll see that the two strings are feminine and masculine. In the Bible they’re referred to as Ananias and Sapphira, and in the ancient Indian traditions as Ida and Pinggala. Our guess at the moment is that the alchemical fire created by Vincent fused the masculine/feminine into one androgynous force.

    Other predictions that didn’t come true are very minor. For example Olympe didn’t come to Bill and Fleur’s wedding. Hardly a tragedy. (She could have come but not been mentioned. ha ha).

    I’m very happy about Neville. His role at the end was vital to Harry’s quest. Without it Harry couldn’t have returned to Hogwarts. His act of killing ‘the old serpent’ is extremely significant! It symbolises the death of the old serpent fire in the spinal cord by the entrance of the Holy Spirit. And, as Bill pointed out, wearing the burning sorting hat evoked the image of the fiery tongues around the heads of the apostles at Pentecost.

    Looking at my list of predictions in post 2891 I feel I haven’t done too badly. I’ll post it again later and add my comments about them.

    To Tonk_op: A long time ago you said that if Harry ended up killing, you’d turn your back on Harry Potter. Well, as I predicted, Harry did not kill Voldemort. He killed himself. So find your solace in that. I’m sure very soon you’ll be praising Jo again.

    The wonderful period now ahead of us will be one where we can dig deeply into the symbolism and together make exciting and sublime discoveries. There are some truly wonderful people in this group, some of them really good at alchemy. Let’s put our minds together now and start our heads and hearts pondering on the great symbolism in Part 7. I have to confess that many of the wonderful discoveries that I’ve put on the website are not my own but have been direct or indirect references by other people.

    Naturally we’ll start a chapter by chapter discussion, but just for now let’s get those gut reactions out, and revel in the excitement of our new treasure: Deathly Hallows.

    Love to all,

  8. I am really behind on alchemical understanding, but I do recall reading somewhere that when something happens in literature that is strange and seems random, it may be an alchemical allusion. So for the alchemists out there, I have some questions and comments:

    1. Did Hedwig’s death signify further the end of the albedo?

    2. Did the alchemists predict definitively the deaths of Lupin and Tonks as soon as Lupin announced Tonks’s pregnancy?

    3. Did Colin’s death have something to do with alchemy? If it didn’t, then does it point to anything more than the tragedy of the deaths of the innocent? Why Colin specifically? Colin, Hedwig, and Dobby are all small and feisty. Would smallness have something to do with it?

    4. I’ve read Han’s post above about Crabbe’s and Fred’s deaths, but the alchemical significance of these deaths still seems elusive.

    5. Why was the epilogue set 19 years later? Why not 20? Is there a significance to the number 19 or anything relevant to it?


  9. Hagrid’s role at the end felt very key, at least symbolically. When I first read the scene where he carries Harry (presumed dead) from the forest, I thought first of him carrying Dumbledore at his funeral. But it strikes me now that what we have is Hagrid once again carrying Harry out of a place of death. Just as he carried him out the house at Godric’s Hollow when he was a baby, with Harry having just survived a killing curse from Voldemort, he’s now carrying him away from essentially a repeat of the confrontation. And once again, Harry (unbeknownst to anyone but readers at this point) has survived.

    Both times, although he may not know it himself, Hagrid transports Harry to where he needs to be to continue the battle. The first time, it’s to Dumbledore’s protection and the front steps of the Dursley’s. This time Harry has just returned (inwardly) from Dumbledore’s spiritual presence, and is basically deposited at the front steps of Hogwarts.

  10. Christinathelibrarian says

    Here’s another red character possibility: Albus Dumbledore was a redhead in his youth (specifically auburn) and his youthful mistakes and subsequent change play an important role in DH.

  11. Do the colors of the covers or the lettering on the covers have alchemical significance? (Cover of 7 = gold, lettering red.)

  12. The alchemical formula that Rowling has been using all through the series continued into the seventh book. But I think if you tried to understand the alchemy as an end in itself, as Hans Andrea did (see John’s posting above), you will misunderstand and/or be disappointed with the ending. I’m pretty sure Rowling used alchemical symbolism to serve her overarching framework, which is Christian, through and through. This is not fundamentally a literary work about alchemy. This is fundamentally a literary work about Christ, which employs alchemy towards that end. And I believe you see this in the rubedo stage. Danyany makes an excellent point of Rufus Scrimgeour acting as a red symbol and dying on Harry’s behalf. As in many other places, Ms. Rowling manages to employ symbols, but in a much more fluid and expansive way than we thought she would. In other words, you rarely see a one to one correspondence with the symbols and the things they symbolize. But Hagrid remains the key red character. You see it at the beginning, as Hagrid carried Harry to safety. Technically, this was unnecessary. In fact, it SHOULD have been one of the more experienced protectors accompanying Harry out of Privet Drive, but it was not. You see it at the climax, when Hagrid carried Harry back to Hogwarts. This too, was unnecessary. Surely Voldemort could have done a simple “levicorpus” and caused Harry to drift into view of the onlookers in a much more degrading manner than to be gently carried by the Red Giant. But what clinches Hagrid as the continuing symbol of red, and therefore, the continuing symbol of post-resurrection redemption and peace, is his continued presence at Hogwarts! He is the only original Hogwarts staff member who is mentioned, still at Hogwarts. Don’t you all find it hugely significant that Harry’s children will be going to the very place that is still dominated by the presence of Hagrid the Red, and enjoying tea with him?

  13. Seamus Clay says

    I agree that Rubeus plays a bookend role for bearing Harry away from the scene of the crime both times Harry survives a direct hit from Avada Kedavre. When Rubeus carries Harry in Sirius’ sidecar, it acts as a fulcrum to both, reminding us of the first procession and forshadowing the final procession.

    Godric Gryffindor also seems a key rubeic presence at both the beginning of Hogwarts and the end of Riddle’s reign of terror. Rubies represent the points his house earns (the merit of his house). His ruby-adorned sword is taken from a lake (ahem, Arthur?), destroys the ring and the locket, and returns from Griphook’s grip-hooks to sever a snake, vanquishing the final horcrux and thus releasing Harry to set up the final duel by sowing the seeds of doubt in Riddle’s mind about the effectiveness of the Elder Wand.

    It is interesting in the epilogue that Ron discourages his red-haired Rose from getting too friendly with the white-blond Malfoy boy, Scorpius; gender roles reversed, but interesting.

    In reply to Carrie B:

    5. Why was the epilogue set 19 years later? Why not 20? Is there a significance to the number 19 or anything relevant to it?

    I’ve wondered this, too. The Epilogue is the only part of the series that I can recall which is set in the “real” future; that is, the Epilogue takes place after 2007. The other events of book 7 take place 1997-1998, so 19 years later in September would be about 2017 when the trio are about 37, right? If so, these numbers are linked numerologically. 1+9=10, 3+7=10, and 2+0+1+7=10.

    The number 10 signifies existence, completion, perfection, wholeness, and rebirth to various numerologists; possibly because returning to a single digit, 1+0=1 again, and a one-sided shape is a circle.

    The epilogue describes a story that seems to have come almost full circle; a new generation of first-years leaving for Hogwarts, worrying about the Sorting Hat. An only orphan relying on his godfather for guidance. Ron driving a car again. In one boy, Hogwarts again hosting both an Albus and a Severus. A James Potter that has a bit too much fun at the expense of others. James is even concerned that two people he considers as close as cousins are falling in love, but the fact that both Teddy and Victoire are both half-werewolf and genetically unrelated to each other seems to make no difference to James.

  14. Arabella Figg says

    Back to the colors. It just occured to me. This book is heavily about Dumbledore. But Dumbledore had red hair before it whitened. Just a thought.

    Now to get that ginger tabby out of the closet…

  15. FWIW, here’s my guess about the epilogue being 19 years later. Albus Severus is 11, because it’s his first year at Hogwarts. This means he was born 8 years after the close of the story, and 8 is often associated with “new beginnings.” This may signify the time at which Harry was finally able to process or come to terms with everything about Snape, and could go so far as to admire the man independently of the fact that the man despised him, and name his son after him.

  16. Stoffel Francke says

    In addition to Seamus Clay´s remarks about the rubedo-motif in Gryffindor´s sword: almost at the end, just before the climax, we read on p. 587: “In one swift, fluid motion Neville broke free of the Body-Bind-Curse upon him; the flaming Hat fell off him and he drew from its depts something silver, with a glittering, rubied handle…” I think the ruby-detail was not mentioned without a reason.
    Thank you for all the nice discussions.

  17. My nomination for a key rubedo moment is when Harry dug Dobby’s grave, and finally and fully committed himself to the destruction of the Horcruxes, refusing the temptation of personal power offered by the Hallows. It is said, a couple of times, that the soil in which Dobby’s grave was dug is red.

    And for those fans of chiastic structure, I noticed that when Xenophilus (“Lover of the Strange?”) Lovegood first mentions the Deathly Hallows, it is almost exactly halfway through the book: p. 404 of 759 pages.

  18. I don’t see how the Griffyndor/Slytherin schism was healed. All the Slytherins (except for Prof. Slughorn) left Hogwarts and either fought for the Death Eaters or remained neutral. It was the only House not represented in the reconstituted Dumbledore’s Army. In the Epilogue we still see kids from the ‘good’ families hoping that they won’t be Sorted into Slytherin. (Harry’s whispered comment that Severus Snape was a very brave man doesn’t really cut it.)

  19. Arabella Figg says

    First, I need to fix a goof: Hermione’s bridesmaid dress was lilac and Ginny’s was gold.

    Second: re Elkhound’s comments. I think we have to see Draco and Narcissa being “on the good side” by not giving Harry away at the Malfoy mansion and when Harry returns and hides under the cloak. True, they were out for themselves, but they were on the side of Harry’s success at freeing them from LV. And we mustn’t forget Severus Snape, Slytherin, who died in service to Harry. I don’t neglect Dobby and Kreacher, former Slytherin house elves, either. Nor Sirius Black, Gryffindor from Slytherin family.

    I, too, had hoped for more Slytherin/Gryffindor resolution, but I think that’s a few generations down the road. It’s unrealistic to expect this centuries-old predjudice to die down immediately. The fact that Harry and Draco are on apparently cordial, if not friendly terms, says a lot.

    Gads, Luscious BadBoy is digging in the flower pots again…

  20. Elkhound – Yeah, you’re right that we didn’t see a complete reconciliation between Gryffindor and Slytherin. But let’s not underestimate the degree of reconciliation that DID happen! First of all, that brief nod of acknowledgement between fathers Harry and Draco on the train platform spoke volumes. Sure, they probably won’t be doing fishing trips together, but even so. Also, the jokes Ron makes to his daughter about not getting too friendly with Draco’s son – I think that speaks volumes, too. The idea of a Weasley growing up to marry a Malfoy – it’s no longer a horrifying idea, but an amusing one!

  21. Fantasylover says

    Did we ever find out who the heir of Gryffindor is?
    Also, it might be really dumb, but I just noticed that Fred’s name has the word “red” in it. Did anyone else notice that?

  22. I took the concluding chapter to tell us that Neville was the Heir of Gryffindor.

    As for Harry, it looks like he’s the Heir of Peverell.

  23. It may be that while Slytherin can only have one heir (because he counted inheritance by blood), Gryffindor can have many, because he counted inheritance by spirit– any courageous scion of his house can wield his sword at need. Harry, Ron and Neville each used it, after all. The fact that Dumbledore had the sword, and used it (on the ring Horcrux), along with his griffin door knocker and companionship with Fawkes, suggests that he too was one of Gryffindor’s heirs.

  24. Tinuvielas says

    I recently read John’s “Deathly Hallows Lectures” while at the same time
    rereading DH – something to be highly recommend not only because the former is a total eye-opener (pun intended…), but also because reading the two texts practically side by side helps one see what to look for. For instance, the typical features that point to the respective Nigredo, Albedo and Rubedo-stages in the novel.

    While John’s comments on the Nigredo and Albedo stages in DH were totally on spot for me, I wasn’t entirely convinced of his identification of the respective Rubedo-features in the last stage of DH (not to be confused with his comments on DH as Rubedo of the series!). I rather thought, for instance, that the moment when Ron and Hermione kissed in the presence of all that death and fighting around them made for a very nice alchemical wedding, even if they didn’t actually “marry” in that precise moment. But they do finally recognize each other and become “one flesh” pretty obviously, with Ron lifting Hermione up etc, and Harry standing next to them and looking on.

    I also noticed two other alchemical features that I’m not sure have been mentioned in the book or on the site so far (though I may have overlooked them):

    a) the fact that it is said (in “The Forest Again”) that Harry felt like his soul was “oddly disconnected” from his body. This ties in perfectly with the idea of the soul leaving the Hermaphrodite body and coming back when it is cleaned, though I’m not sure what the cleaning is – Hagrid’s big, splashy tears are perhaps a bit late for that, seeing as Harry is already back in his body?

    b) the fact that Voldemort and Harry move in a “perfect circle” during their final confrontation when Harry has, in John’s words, “acchieved the center”, their spells meeting in a flash of gold in the middle – for isn’t the circle the symbol of perfection and quintessence, of unity and transcendence, of the wheel having turned, and the oppositions having been overcome?

    I hope these observations may be of some interest even though the discussion has by now moved on to (several) other topics… wish I had more time to follow all that 😉

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