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Harry Potter What-If Scenarios: The Hostage Situation

Updated on February 25, 2017

As I love the Harry Potter series so much, when reading the books, I often try to put myself in the same situations as the characters, not only to get more out the emotions that drive them, but also to understand their decision making process. Given that, the decisions Harry, Ron, and Hermione make are tied to their personalities. As such, I sometimes wonder how the outcomes of the stories might have been, if different personalities were the protagonists. One of my favourite explorations of this possibility is wondering how different the Battle of Hogwarts would have been, if Harry had done what Aberforth later said he should have done, which is 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. Seeing as some of these students were, according to Aberforth, sons and daughters of Death Eaters, and others went on to join Voldemort during the battle, using them might have given the defending army considerable leverage over several elements of Voldemort's army, potentially altering entire events of the Battle. Harry opposes this, claiming that Dumbledore would never go through with such an idea and that even if they did that, it wouldn't stop Voldemort. Both justifications are clearly true, however we have to also consider all those fighting for Voldemort. As Luna Lovegood once said: "If it's just you alone, you're not much of a threat". Ironic how in this situation, this sentence might apply to Voldemort instead of Harry.

Now, as changing this decision means a severe blow to Harry's already established personality, to really explore this alternate outcome, and to make it more fun, we'll take personalities out of the equation. That is, 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.

So before we go into what would happen 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 more than once said that there are one thousand students at Hogwarts, which means an estimated 250 students per house, so by that logic, 250 Slytherins were evacuated through the Hog's Head passage before the battle began. As far as how many of these students were in fact related to Death Eaters we cannot say, as even Aberforth does not specify, 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 most important word to retain from this line is "few". It doesn't tell us much, but it confirms that there is a reduced number of students related to Death Eaters among the students, possibly very, very few. So we can't gather much from this. However another way to estimate the advantages of this idea is by analysing the size of Voldemort's army. This is a tricky situation, so 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 whether they actually fought, we can assume they did, as it would be strange for Voldemort to simply allow them to hang out. This is a potential HUGE plus to Voldemort's army, given our calculations, but obviously we'll assume that only a small portion of 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 discover the number of Death Eaters involved in the battle I would refer you to another article you can check out, in which the author gathers all information available to estimate the size of both armies. He makes estimation for both the theory that there are 1000 students at Hogwarts and the alternate theory, that we'll not be considering, that there are 250 students at Hogwarts.

So by reading the article, we'll consider 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 we have:

  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

First of all, I added Snape as the 31st to ensure that no one pointed that out in the comments. I simply don't take him into account 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. However, I did find this disparity in numbers to be quite shocking. Even though many Hogwarts fighters were students and Voldemort had other forces at his command, namely Slytherin students, presumably, 30 is still a very small number of Death Eater combatants. Despite that, from the list, we can single out three families whose children could have been used as hostages in the battle. They are Malfoy, Crabbe, Goyle and Nott. Vincent Crabbe, Gregory Goyle and Draco Malfoy are even on the list. Additionally we have to account for the Slytherin students who presumably fought for Voldemort after their evacuation. If we take them and their families off the list, we'll be removing eight combatants from the Voldemort Death Eater team, but 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 could have meant a lot. Harry would want to keep EVERY Slytherin as a hostage, a difficult task sure, but we can expect little resistance from them, given they're kids against Aurors and professors, and they could be kept inside a magically sealed room to avoid spending any troops guarding them.

Of course, Voldemort would never allow the Malfoys, Crabbe, Goyle and Nott to willingly surrender for their sons, he would kill them, and they would know that, as would Harry. To ensure his plan worked, he would have to ensure their safety in the case of their surrender. He could cast a Sonorus charm, or McGonagall could do so, to inform everyone on Voldemort's side, and the Malfoys, Crabbe, Goyle and Nott in particular, of their sons' predicament. Then, in the half hour given by Voldemort, he could have the entire Hogwarts army march out to meet them and receive them, should they want to surrender. Some people would remain at Hogwarts to guard the hostages, and even Harry, Ron and Hermione could stay behind to search for the Horcruxes, while everything else happened, much like they did originally. The terms could be simple: should any of the five openly attack, all four hostages would be tortured or even executed. As the Malfoy example shows us, Death Eater families value the preservation of their line very much, and all four of the hostages have no brothers or sisters. I'd wager the Malfoys, Crabbe, Nott and Goyle would either forfeit and take no part, potentially Apparate to escape Voldemort's wrath, or they would 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 be at the risk of Voldemort simply opening fire on sight, and there are other creatures fighting for him so the defenders might not be at an advantage in that situation. A safer way would be for Harry to simply comunicate the situation, again via Sonorus charm or through a Patronus, but not go out to meet anyone. The Malfoys, Crabbe, Goyle and Nott could Apparate or attack. If they attacked, the consequences would be carried out but no surrender would be accepted. A more ruthless Harry would try to do this. You could say that the Malfoys never engaged anyone anyway, but I'm guessing that with the threat on Draco's life, Voldemort would want to test their loyalty and would force them to attack, not allowing them to simply stay behind, as they did. To save their son, they would be forced to leave.

So assuming the Hogwarts army stays within the castle, and Harry comunicates the threat via Sonorus or Patronus, the Malfoys, Crabbe, Goyle and Nott presumably Apparate. As they are outside the castle grounds they are able to do so, and since it's instant, Voldemort is probably 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. This obviously means that 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 derived from the Malfoys, Crabbe, Goyle, Nott or any Slytherin student. The Malfoys never even engaged anyone directly. While it could be well argued that their absence would have meant nothing, it could also be well argued that characters like Tonks, Lupin, Colin Creevey and others could have survived given the reduced attacking force, and that is a big deal to take into consideration.

However, there is something BIG that would change dramatically, given this alternate scenario. Assuming that the removal of these families and students has little to no bearing on the battle, possibly with some fewer causualties for the Hogwarts team, we still have that Harry, Ron and Hermione go to the Shrieking Shack and are confronted with basically what happened originally. Voldemort still has every reason to kill Snape and call a cease-fire, as he believes that with the Elder Wand truly his to command he'll be unstoppable in the second round of the battle. Harry still has to die and likely walks into the forest willing to do so, as he did. I think you're seeing where I'm going with this. If, as I presumed, the Malfoys abandoned the battle to avoid being forced to engage by Voldemort, there is no Narcissa to lie about Harry's condition. There would 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 for what would happen next, whether Neville would somehow kill Nagini, and someone else managed to defeat Voldemort, but once Harry dies, it all becomes wild speculation as a defeat for those at Hogwarts is the most likely scenario.

Though I doubt JK ever considered this when she wrote the book, as this is a highly complex alternate scenario that I came up with, and that likely would never come to pass, I still find it interesting that the conclusion I end up on is that the righteous path that Harry takes, that 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 run with fewer casualties, it's Harry's belief in the good in people that ultimately rewards him with the defeat of evil. An unintentional scenario that proves one of the big messages of the books.

Like I said, to create this scenario, I had to make some assumptions, 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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