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Harry Potter What-If Scenarios: The Hostage Situation

Updated on September 25, 2017

Since I love the Harry Potter series so much, I often try to put myself in the same situations as the characters while reading. This thought experiment both helps me to get more out the emotions that drive the characters, and to understand their decision making process. The decisions Harry, Ron, and Hermione make are tied to their personalities. I sometimes wonder how events might have turned out if the protagonists had different personalities. One of my favourite possibilities to consider is the Battle of Hogwarts. What would that battle have been like if Harry had done what Aberforth later said he should have done (keep the Slytherin students of Hogwarts in the castle, to use as hostages, instead of allowing them to leave via the Hog's Head passage). Some of these Slytherin students were, according to Aberforth, sons and daughters of Death Eaters, and others went on to join Voldemort during the battle, so using them might have given the defending army considerable leverage over Voldemort's followers, potentially altering entire events of the Battle. Harry opposes keeping the students hostage, claiming that Dumbledore would never permit such a scheme and that even if he did it wouldn't stop Voldemort anyway. Both justifications are clearly true. But we should also consider all the wizards fighting for Voldemort. As Luna Lovegood once said: "If it's just you alone, you're not much of a threat". It's ironic to think about how, in this situation, her remark might apply to Voldemort instead of Harry.

Changing this decision means working outside of Harry's established personality. In other words, we would need him to act out of character. In order to fully explore this alternate outcome, and to make it more fun, I like to take personalities completely out of the equation when considering alternate outcomes. We'll assume Harry, at this point in the story, after everything he's been through, is absolutely willing to be as ruthless as he needs to be to end the conflict with as few casualties to what he considers to be his inner circle of friends and family.

Before we consider what might have happened if Harry had taken this course of action, let's try to quantify the leverage that keeping the Slytherins as hostages would have given the Hogwarts army. JK has mentioned several times that there are one thousand students at Hogwarts, which means an estimated 250 students per house. So, about 250 Slytherins were evacuated through the Hog's Head passage before the battle. The number of students who may have been related to Death Eaters is unknown. Our only clue is relative speculation from his line:

"And it never occured to any of you to keep a few Slytherins hostage? There are kids of Death Eaters you've just sent to safety. Wouldn't it have been a bit smarter to keep them here?"

So the only language that refers to quantity in this line is "few". "Few" doesn't tell us much, but it confirms that a small number of students related to Death Eaters are among the Slytherin students. Possibly very, very few. We can't gather much from that statement. However, we might be able to get close by also analyzing the size of Voldemort's army. We'll only look at humans, not Acromantulas, Dementors, etc. One important thing to remember is that Voldemort says to Lucius that the Slytherin students came to join him after their evacuation:

Lucius: "My Lord...please...my son..."

Lord Voldemort: "If your son is dead, Lucius, it is not my fault. He did not come and join me, like the rest of the Slytherins..."

Even though we don't know for sure whether the students actually fought or not, I assume they did. It would be strange for Voldemort to simply allow them to hang out. Their help is potentially of HUGE value to Voldemort's army. But we should assume that only a small portion of the Slytherins (6th and 7th years) actually participated in the battle. Another thing to remember is that Greyback is the only Snatcher mentioned as being a part of Voldemort's army. To correctly estimate the number of Death Eaters involved in the battle, the article referenced below this paragraph. The author gathers all the available information to estimate the size of both armies. He considers both the possibilities that there are 1000 students at Hogwarts and the alternate theory (one I don't consider), that there are only 250 students at Hogwarts.

From reading the article above, we'll assume that there are 112 people on the side of our heroes, and 30 Death Eaters on the side of Voldemort, including himself. It actually helps that we're able to identify all 30 so let's see who's on the list:

  1. The Dark Lord
  2. Alecto Carrow
  3. Amycus Carrow,
  4. Vincent Crabbe
  5. Antonin Dolohov
  6. Gregory Goyle
  7. Bellatrix Lestrange
  8. Draco Malfoy
  9. Lucius Malfoy
  10. Narcissa Malfoy
  11. Augustus Rookwood
  12. Thorfinn Rowle
  13. Pius Thicknesse
  14. Travers
  15. Yaxley
  16. Avery Jr
  17. Avery Sr
  18. Crabbe Sr
  19. Goyle Sr
  20. Jugson
  21. Rabastan
  22. Rodolphus
  23. Sr Lestrange
  24. Mulciber Jr
  25. Mulciber Sr
  26. Nott Sr
  27. Rosier Sr
  28. Selwyn
  29. Walden Macnair
  30. Fenrir Greyback
  31. Severus Snape

Additionally, I added Snape as the 31st member. I don't take him into account as one of the 30 because his actions in the battle are not stated and I think that if he were to participate, he would've helped the Hogwarts army and someone would have taken notice. I'm guessing he stayed back, like the Malfoys. Even so, I found the disparity in numbers to be quite shocking. Though many Hogwarts fighters were students and Voldemort had other forces at his command (including Slytherin students, as we just discussed) 30 is still a very small number of Death Eater combatants. Despite the small number of Death Eaters involved, we can single out three families whose children could have been used as hostages in the battle; Malfoy, Crabbe, Goyle and Nott. Vincent Crabbe, Gregory Goyle and Draco Malfoy are even included in the list. We also have to account for the Slytherin students who presumably fought for Voldemort after their evacuation. If we take those students and their families off the list, we'll be removing eight combatants from the Voldemort/Death Eater team, and also every other student who fought for him. We would then have only 22 active combatants on Voldemort's side. Still assuming 112 combatants on team Hogwarts, this decrease would have been a very big deal. Harry would have wanted to keep EVERY Slytherin as a hostage if not for his objections, which would have been a difficult task. But those students would have put up little resistance, given that they're still children and would be fighting against Aurors and professors, and that they could have been kept inside a magically sealed room to avoid requiring any extra troops to guard them.

Of course, Voldemort would never allow the Malfoys, Crabbe, Goyle and Nott to willingly surrender for the return of their sons. He would kill them. Harry and all the Death Eaters would already know that. To ensure his plan worked, Harry would have had to promise safety to any Death Eaters who chose to surrender. One way would be to have McGonagall cast a Sonorus charm to inform everyone on Voldemort's side (the Malfoys, Crabbe, Goyle and Nott families) in particular, of their sons' predicaments. Then, in the half hour given by Voldemort, Harry could have had the entire Hogwarts army march out to meet and protect them, should they want to surrender. A few wizards would remain at Hogwarts to guard the hostages, and even Harry, Ron and Hermione could still have stayed behind to search for the Horcruxes while everything else happened. The terms could have been very simple: should any of the five openly attack, all four hostages would be tortured or executed. As we learn from the Malfoy family, Death Eaters value the preservation of their line very much, and all four of the hostages have no brothers or sisters. I imagine the Malfoys, Crabbe, Nott and Goyle would either forfeit and take no part, Apparate to escape Voldemort's wrath, or surrender to the Hogwarts army, enter the castle without a wand, and remain captive, along with their sons. We have to take into account though, that even if 90% of the Hogwarts army left to confront the attackers and protect the surrenders, they would still risk Voldemort attacking on sight. Voldemort also had other creatures fighting for him, so the defenders might not have been at an advantage in that situation. A safer way would have been for Harry to communicate the terms, again via Sonorus charm or through a Patronus, but not go out to meet/protect anyone. The Malfoys, Crabbe, Goyle and Nott could Apparate or attack. If they attacked, the consequences would fall on their sons and no surrender would be accepted. A more ruthless Harry might try this method. The Malfoys never engaged anyone during this battle, but I'm guessing that with a threat on Draco's life, Voldemort would test their loyalty and would force them to attack, no longer permitting them to stay behind. To save their son, they would be forced to leave Voldemort's army completely.

Assuming the Hogwarts army were to stay within the castle, and Harry communicate the threat via Sonorus or Patronus, the Malfoys, Crabbe, Goyle and Nott most likely Apparate. Since they are stationed outside the castle grounds, they will be able to do so, and Voldemort would probably be unable to catch them. Crabbe Jr, Goyle Jr, Nott Jr and Draco remain inside the castle under guard, without wands, with the rest of the Slythrins. No one ambushes Harry in the Room of Requirement, it's never set on fire and destroyed, and the diadem is probably destroyed via Basilisk fang.

As for the battle outside, there are no reported casualties on the Hogwarts team inflicted by the Malfoy, Crabbe, Goyle, or Nott families, or any Slytherin student. The Malfoys never even engage anyone directly. One might argue that their absence would have meant nothing, but the case can also be made that characters like Tonks, Lupin, Colin Creevey and others may have survived given the reduced size of the attacking force.

There is another BIG thing that would change dramatically in this alternate scenario. Assuming that the removal of these families and students has little to no bearing on the battle, except, perhaps, fewer casualties for the Hogwarts team, Harry, Ron and Hermione still go to the Shrieking Shack and are confronted with the same basic scenario. Voldemort still has every reason to kill Snape and call a cease-fire. He believes that with the Elder Wand he'll be unstoppable in the second round of the battle. Harry still has to die and likely still walks into the forest willing to do so. See where I'm going with this? If the Malfoys abandoned the battle to avoid being forced to engage by Voldemort, there is no Narcissa to lie about Harry's condition. There will be no one left with any motive to lie to Voldemort. If we see Harry's inner Horcrux as a sort of extra life he spends when he sacrifices himself, if he's killed again, then that's it, no more lives. He's dead for good. We can't speak to what would happen next, whether Neville would somehow kill Nagini, and someone else manage to defeat Voldemort, but once Harry dies, it all becomes wild speculation since a defeat for those at Hogwarts is the most likely scenario.

I doubt JK ever considered this scenario when she wrote the book, since it is a highly complex alternate scenario that I came up with myself, and because it would never come to pass with the characters' canon personalities. Still, I find it interesting that the conclusion I end up making is that the righteous path that Harry takes, the one many would call too honourable and foolish, is actually the one that results in a true victory for the forces of good. Even if it provides some advantages in the short term (like fewer casualties), the real reason evil is defeated is Harry's belief in the good in people. My spin-off scenario proves one of the big messages of the books.

To create this scenario, I had to make a lot of assumptions and speculate often. Do you think they were too unrealistic? How do YOU think the battle would have played out had Harry kept the Slytherins imprisoned? Leave your thoughts in the comments and, as always, thank you for reading.

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