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In the beginning of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, we see that Hedwig is killed by the Avada Kedavra curse.

"No - HEDWIG!"
The broomstick spun to earth, but he just managed to seize the strap of his rucksack and the top of the cage as the motorbike swung the right way up again. A second's relief, and then another burst of green light. The owl screeched and fell to the bottom of the cage.
"No - NO!"
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, chapter 4

J. K. Rowling has stated that this symbolizes the death of childhood. However, is this supported by anything in the books? Is there anything to assume that this is representative of the death of childhood, and not just a random death?

  • 4
    Hedwig came into Harry's life as a gift for his eleventh birthday, his first birthday as a wizard. She dies on his seventeenth birthday, his first birthday as an adult wizard. Seems symbolic to me. – Torisuda Mar 26 '17 at 5:08
  • 1
    @Torisuda - sounds like part of an answer to me. – user58 Mar 26 '17 at 9:02
  • @Torisuda thanks for pointing that out, it helped me expand my answer greatly – Beastly Gerbil Mar 26 '17 at 12:46
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+50

WARNING: Spoilers ahead.

(Emphasis mine on all quotes below)

Why was Hedwig killed anyway?

Other than the twitter link provided in the question, Rowling gave a fuller explanation in an interview (full transcript of the interview can be found here):

Twinkletoes*: "Why did you feel that Hedwig's death was necessary?"
J.K. Rowling: "The loss of Hedwig represented a loss of innocence and security. She has been almost like a cuddly toy to Harry at times. Voldemort killing her marked the end of childhood. I’m sorry… I know that death upset a LOT of people!"
* Username of person asking question

Hedwig was the last remaining part of his childhood. Ron and Hermione both had grown up, and this supposedly caused Harry to become an adult.

The name 'Hedwig'

'Hedwig' symbolises other things too. St. Hedwig was the patron saint of orphans, making the owl even more special to Harry, who was himself an orphan:

He had had it as long as he could remember, and the first question he could ever remember asking his Aunt Petunia was how he had gotten it [the scar].
"In the car crash when your parents died," she had said. "And don't ask questions."
-- Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone - Chapter 2

Harry also chooses the name 'Hedwig' from one of his schoolbooks:

Harry kept to his room, with his new owl for company. He had decided to call her Hedwig, a name he had found in A History of Magic. His school books were very interesting. He lay on his bed reading late into the night, Hedwig swooping in and out of the open window as she pleased.
-- Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone - Chapter 6

The fact that the name came from his schoolbook, suggests that with the death of Hedwig, his schooldays and childhood was over along with his innocence.

Colouring

Hedwig in the book was white, a symbol of innocence and the protection of other, saint like, people. When she was killed this innocence was gone.

The purity and innocence of Harry when he is a child is represented by the colour white, and Hedwig is a snowy owl, the whitest owl there is.

Harry now carried a large cage that held a beautiful snowy owl, fast asleep with her head under her wing.
-- Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone - Chapter 5

Friends

Back at the Dursleys', Hedwig was also basically Harry's only childhood friend outside of Hogwarts and magic. This is summed up perfectly in this extract:

In addition to every other miserable feeling, he now felt guilty that he’d been irritable with Hedwig; she was the only friend he had at number four, Privet Drive.
-- Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix - Chapter 3

And perhaps even better, this quote from when Harry has just lost Hedwig:

"Wait a moment," said Hagrid, looking around. "Harry, where’s Hedwig?"
"She . . . she got hit," said Harry.
The realization crashed over him: He felt ashamed of himself as the tears stung his eyes. The owl had been his companion, his one great link with the magical world whenever he had been forced to return to the Dursleys.

He misses her when she is gone:

Hedwig had been absent for two nights now. Harry wasn’t worried about her: she’d been gone this long before. But he hoped she’d be back soon — she was the only living creature in this house who didn’t flinch at the sight of him.
-- Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban - Chapter 1

They have a mutual friendship:

She, too, was carrying a parcel and looked extremely pleased with herself. She gave Harry an affectionate nip with her beak as he removed her burden, then flew across the room to join Errol.
-- Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban - Chapter 1

The snowy owl clicked her beak and nibbled his ear affectionately as Harry stroked her feathers.
-- Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix - Chapter 4

He walked away from them, looking around, with Hedwig nestled contentedly on his shoulder, but this room was not likely to raise his spirits -- Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix - Chapter 4

Hedwig hooted happily at Harry from her perch on top of a large wardrobe, then took off through the window; Harry knew she had been waiting to see him before going hunting.
-- Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince - Chapter 5

Her death shows once again how the remnants of Harry's childhood were gone.

Birthdays

Credit to Torisuda for posting a comment that got me started on this bit.

While Dudley is always getting a ton of birthday presents:

Dudley, meanwhile, was counting his presents. His face fell.
"Thirty-six," he said, looking up at his mother and father. "That's two less than last year."
-- Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone - Chapter 2

All Harry got for his tenth birthday was a coat hanger and a pair of socks:

...then tomorrow, Tuesday, was Harry's eleventh birthday. Of course, his birthdays were never exactly fun -- last year, the Dursleys had given him a coat hanger and a pair of Uncle Vernon's old socks. Still, you weren't eleven every day.
-- Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone - Chapter 3

So when Hagrid gets Harry his first true birthday present, on his first birthday as a wizard, he instantly becomes attached:

"Just yer wand left - A yeah, an' I still haven't got yeh a birthday present."
Harry felt himself go red.
"You don't have to --"
"I know I don't have to. Tell yeh what, I'll get yer animal. Not a toad, toads went outta fashion years ago, yeh'd be laughed at - an' I don' like cats, they make me sneeze. I'll get yer an owl. All the kids want owls, they're dead useful, carry yer mail an' everythin'."
Twenty minutes later, they left Eeylops Owl Emporium, which had been dark and full of rustling and flickering, jewel-bright eyes. Harry now carried a large cage that held a beautiful snowy owl, fast asleep with her head under her wing. He couldn't stop stammering his thanks, sounding just like Professor Quirrell.
"Don' mention it," said Hagrid gruffly. "Don' expect you've had a lotta presents from them Dursleys.
-- Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone - Chapter 5

And then a couple of weeks before the day of his seventeenth birthday, his first birthday as an adult wizard:

[Mrs Weasley] Actually, I’ve been wanting to ask you how you want to celebrate your birthday, Harry. Seventeen, after all, it’s an important day. . . .”
-- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Chapter 6

Hedwig dies, leaving Harry distraught:

A second’s relief, and then another burst of green light. The owl screeched and fell to the floor of the cage.
“No — NO!”
The motorbike zoomed forward; Harry glimpsed hooded Death Eaters scattering as Hagrid blasted through their circle.
“Hedwig — Hedwig —”
But the owl lay motionless and pathetic as a toy on the floor of her cage. He could not take it in, and his terror for the others was paramount.
-- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Chapter 4

It seems more than just a coincidence that Harry received Hedwig on his first wizard birthday, in the first book, and lost her on just before his first adult wizard birthday, in the last book. She was present throughout his wizarding childhood, and died just before he left it.

Children's Toys

It has been a recurring theme that Hedwig was almost a child's toy to Harry.

Rowling mentions it in the aforementioned interview:

She has been almost like a cuddly toy to Harry at times.

And it is mentioned once again when she dies in the book.

But the owl lay motionless and pathetic as a toy on the floor of her cage.
-- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Chapter 4

This 'cuddly toy' idea, attaches Hedwig in a special way to Harry. She was his pet, his toy, his friend, and so much else.


I hope this provides an answer, there is a lot of evidence, you just have to take a second look.

How this was done:

I developed this answer over a few days, mostly because I didn't have the time to do it all at once. First I checked through the first and last books, before checking the rest.

To search through a book, I would open up a pdf of it and then search through it using Ctrl+F. I searched 'Hedwig' in each and came up with the quotes above. I obviously added the emphasis myself. After a couple of edits, it is the answer you know see before you.

  • Hedwig actually died a couple of weeks before Harry's 17th birthday. Otherwise this is a great answer! – The Dark Lord Apr 5 '17 at 0:16
  • @TheDarkLord ah I seems I misread that then. It's still quite close, and even if it's not on his birthday, the fact she appears in the first book, and dies in the last book still seems purposeful. Thanks for pointing this out though! I'll do some extra research and update – Beastly Gerbil Apr 5 '17 at 10:07
  • May be it was also a way to remove a channel of secure communication between Harry and the rest of the world while he is on the run in the final book. I think it established that you cannot trace an owl to the sender or receiver of a letter (otherwise Voldemort or Sirius would have been found much sooner). – user17915 Jul 2 at 1:29

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