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The Most Heartbreaking Moments In The Harry Potter Franchise

The "Harry Potter" films have brought us plenty of action, laughs, and magical encounters. However, the series has no shortage of dark, devastating, and downright heartbreaking moments as well. Many fans grew up with the characters and the actors depicting them on screen. Viewers have watched each character's journey as the films went from portraying the wonder of the wizarding world to a final clash of good versus evil. As a result, there is a strong emotional resonance to this series that sticks with fans long after the credits roll.

Now that some time has passed, an additional sense of nostalgia accompanies the films that heightens those emotional moments even further. Earlier events have even more significance when viewed in the context of what comes after, adding potency that ensures each rewatch reveals something new.

The "Harry Potter" series has never shied away from death. While these events make up the majority of the series' most heart-wrenching moments, there are plenty of other smaller moments and interactions that will have you reaching for the tissues. "Harry Potter" fans, emotionally prepare yourselves for this one as we look back at the most heartbreaking moments from the entire franchise. 

Harry sees his parents in the Mirror of Erised

In "The Sorcerer's Stone," we learn that Harry is no ordinary boy, but is the Boy Who Lived -– the only known person to survive an attack from Lord Voldemort. When he is just a baby, Harry's parents, Lily and James Potter, stand up to Voldemort and are killed, which leaves Harry an orphan.

On his eleventh birthday, Harry is picked up by the gentle giant Hagrid and taken to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry to begin his magical education. After a difficult upbringing with his aunt, uncle, and spoiled cousin, it is at Hogwarts that Harry finds his chosen family in his close-knit group of friends.

While wandering the castle at night, Harry finds a mysterious mirror, which he later learns is the Mirror of Erised. When he looks into the mirror, Harry can see his parents standing beside him. Later on, Dumbledore finds Harry staring into the mirror again and offers some sage advice, telling him, "It does not do to dwell on dreams, and forget to live." 

This is a crushing thing to learn for the young Harry, but Dumbledore is right. No amount of longing or magic can bring his parents back. The honesty of this moment somehow makes it even more tragic, and it helps to cement what it is that drives Harry after this point -– the desire to make his parents proud and defeat the evil that took them.

Sirius Black asks Harry to come and live with him

Throughout the franchise, the idea of family is essential, particularly to Harry. Having lost his parents when he was a baby, Harry struggles to get on with his only other blood relatives, the Dursleys. While he is very much treated like a family member by the loving Weasley family, there is always the sense that Harry deeply desires a family of his own to give him the sense of belonging that he craves.

In "The Prisoner of Azkaban," a glimmer of hope is offered as we are introduced to Sirius Black. We're initially led to believe that Sirius is a dangerous murderer who is responsible for the death of Harry's parents and actively trying to kill Harry. However, we later learn that Sirius was framed. Not only was he not the man responsible for their murder, but that he was a trusted ally of the Potters and is Harry's godfather.

Once the truth is uncovered, however, there isn't much time for bonding. In a moment of respite, Harry and Sirius share a surprisingly heartwarming exchange. Sirius praises Harry for sparing the life of Peter Pettigrew, the man responsible for the Potters' death, before asking Harry if he would like to live with him. Harry doesn't get the opportunity to answer, as there is a werewolf to deal with, but it is a tender moment that briefly offers Harry the hope of a more secure future.

Cedric Diggory's Death

"The Goblet of Fire" is notable for being our first real experience of death in the series as well as the film where Voldemort returns. He is no longer a parasite feeding off another wizard or merely a name that people feared to say, but a tangible and horrifying being capable of doing great evil.

The film focuses on the Triwizard Tournament, a competition between rival wizarding schools Hogwarts, Beauxbatons, and Durmstrang. Historically, one champion is chosen from each school. However, in this particular year, a fourth champion, Harry Potter, is also selected. Harry faces unpopularity among his classmates, as the majority choose to support the other Hogwarts competitor, Cedric Diggory.

In the final challenge, the contestants look for the Triwizard Cup in an enchanted maze, and Harry and Cedric locate it at the same time, ultimately choosing to raise it together and share the victory. However, the cup has been replaced by a portkey, and they are transported to a graveyard where they find Voldemort and his Death Eaters. In a chilling move, Voldemort orders Peter Pettigrew to "kill the spare," referring to Cedric. As ruthless as that scene might be, the moment that will completely rip your heart out comes when Harry returns to the school with Cedric's body. The band strikes up triumphantly as Harry sobs on the ground before the realization of what has happened dawns on the cheering crowds. When Cedric's father weeps for his fallen son, it is impossible to hold it together.

Sirius Black's death

In "The Order of the Phoenix," the wizarding world reels after Voldemort's shocking return. To counteract the evil uprising, the Order of the Pheonix is mobilized to stand against the Dark Lord's army. The Order is an underground resistance for a while, as the Ministry of Magic is in denial that Voldemort has returned and questions Harry's encounter. However, Sirius never doubts Harry –- something that is demonstrative of the bond between godfather and godson -– and Sirius communicates to Harry that his life is in danger as Voldemort seeks out something hidden in the Ministry's Department of Mysteries.

Harry's path eventually leads him to the Department of Mysteries, which holds as many secrets as its name would suggest. This includes a life-changing prophecy pertaining to Harry and Voldemort, which states that "neither can live while the other survives." When the Death Eaters attack Harry and his friends, a dramatic clash ensues as the members of the Order arrive to help them. Sirius and Harry fight the Death Eaters side by side. In the heat of the battle, Sirius even calls Harry by his father's name, James –- perhaps the first suggestion that heartbreak is imminent.

The ominous cackle of Bellatrix Lestrange looms over the battle, and when she bellows the fateful killing spell, Sirius slips silently beyond the veil and dies. The silence of this scene is perhaps the most devastating thing, with Harry's inaudible primal scream speaking volumes.

Harry helping Dumbledore drink the Potion of Despair

In "The Half-Blood Prince," Voldemort's forces of evil continue to wreak havoc on the wizarding world. Thanks to the memories of the returning potions teacher, Professor Slughorn, Harry and Dumbledore learn that in the past, Voldemort sought to learn how to create Horcruxes, a taboo process of splintering your soul into pieces and storing it in magical objects to obtain immortality. This means that the only way to defeat Voldemort is to find all of the Horcruxes and destroy them.

With two Horcruxes already out of the picture, Dumbledore and Harry travel to an isolated cave where they believe there to be another Horcrux hidden in a basin containing the appropriately morbid Potion of Despair. Dumbledore tells Harry that the potion must be drunk and that Harry must make sure he drinks all of it, even though, as Dumbledore says, "it might cause me so much pain that I beg for relief."

This moment may be overshadowed by something even more distressing involving Dumbledore that happens later, but if anything, this experience makes that moment even more potent. Here, we see a completely different side to Dumbledore and the suggestion –- for the first time –- that he is fallible. Far from the commanding and powerful Headmaster we're used to, we see Dumbledore as frail, and the fact that Harry is administering the potion to the man he admires above most others makes it even more heartbreaking.

Dumbledore's death

While "The Half-Blood Prince" does have moments of frivolity, many of which involve the love potion, it also has arguably one of the most devastating in the entire franchise –- the death of Dumbledore. From the very beginning, Dumbledore and Harry share a close relationship, and it is always evident that Dumbledore feels a particular affection for the young wizard. Many hoped that Dumbledore would be by Harry's side right to the bitter end. However, in "The Half-Blood Prince," Dumbledore is killed by Professor Snape.

Draco Malfoy is recruited by Voldemort to kill Dumbledore. At the behest of Draco's mother, Snape makes an unbreakable vow to protect Draco and carry out the deed should Draco fail. While Dumbledore and Harry are away trying to find a Horcrux, Draco allows a group of Death Eaters into the school. When Dumbledore returns, Draco confronts him. From the outset, it is clear that the idea of carrying out the unthinkable deed is deeply distressing for Draco, and he is only doing it because Voldemort has threatened to kill him if he doesn't see it through. 

Despite the encouragement from Bellatrix, Draco can't bring himself to do it and Snape intervenes, striking Dumbledore down himself. In the moments that follow, the assembled crowds hold their illuminated wands aloft to counteract the Dark Mark left over the castle is a beautifully symbolic and heartbreaking gesture, emblematic of Dumbledore's earlier words about the power of light to vanquish darkness.

Hermione erases her parent's memories

Following the harrowing events of "The Half-Blood Prince," the next film in the series, "The Deathly Hallows: Part 1," establishes its somber tone right from the start with this quietly heartbreaking moment between Hermione and her muggle parents. With the remaining Horcruxes still out there, Ron and Hermione make the tough decision to leave behind their families and join Harry on his quest to find and destroy them.

For Hermione in particular, the sacrifice is even greater. As a witch with muggle parents, Hermione has faced bullying and harassment from her classmates –- particularly those in Slytherin. While they're not seen much in the films, there is the sense that her parents are tremendously supportive of her, as they allow her to study at Hogwarts and they appear to be a loving family unit.

With the Death Eater attacks increasing and spreading to muggles, Hermione not only decides to leave but also makes the heart-wrenching decision to erase herself from her parent's memories to protect them from possible harm. As Hermione fades away from the family photographs around her childhood home, the gravity of the situation weighs heavier than ever. While the film doesn't dwell upon this moment, the sadness is tangible.

Ron leaves Harry and Hermione

While out searching for the Horcruxes in "The Deathly Hallows: Part 1," Ron finds things particularly difficult, especially after he learns they must also find the sword of Gryffindor if they are to destroy them. At this point, Ron hasn't explicitly voiced his feelings towards Hermione. However, it is clear that he likes her, and his frustration with the mission, coupled with the corrosive suspicion that Harry and Hermione might be more than friends, tips him over the edge.

Ron decides to leave them behind and return to his family in a dramatic confrontation. With things as dark and desperate as they are now, there is a sense of finality to Ron's actions, as Harry and Hermione have no choice but to continue to search for the Horcruxes if they are to have a hope of defeating Voldemort.

The trio being divided is painful on its own, but the toll it takes on Hermione, in particular, makes it even more devastating. Facing the genuine prospect that they might never see Ron again, Harry and Hermione are in many ways mourning their friend. In one of the most touching moments in the series, Harry and Hermione lament by dancing together to "O Children" by Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds. Harry's awkwardness is particularly charming, and seeing Hermione laugh when she was close to tears only moments ago is wonderfully moving.

Harry and Hermione visit Godric's Hollow

As they continue to search for the Horcruxes, Harry and Hermione find themselves in Godric's Hollow, the village where Harry was born and his parents were killed. Returning for the first time since that fateful night, there is already a sense of sadness as Harry faces his traumatic past and once again confronts the loss of his parents.

While walking past the village church, the pair hear the sound of a choir singing and realize it must be Christmas Eve. Believing his parents are buried in the church cemetery, Harry and Hermione venture in and discover James and Lily's graves. Hermione conjures a floral wreath in front of it, and Harry has a brief moment of reflection, facing his grief once again in a very tangible way. His parents' deaths had a significant impact on him, and while the series has already given us moments where Harry has expressed his grief, there is something particularly sad about this one -– as if the reality of being in the place where his parents died has finally hit him.

The beauty of these films is that they make time for these smaller moments where there is a deep sense of care and affection between the characters. It might not make the same headlines as the major character deaths, but it is a touching and heartfelt moment nonetheless.

Dobby's death

From the moment this mischief-making little house elf first appeared in "The Chamber of Secrets," Dobby had been a firm fan favorite. His freedom being bought with one of Harry's old socks is one of the most heart-warming moments of the whole series. However, not content with ripping our hearts out with the previous character deaths, "The Deathly Hallows: Part 1" also sees the tragic death of Dobby in a moment so devastating it might still make you cry to think about it today.

After being reunited, Harry, Ron, and Hermione are captured and taken to Malfoy Manor, where they find the notorious Bellatrix Lestrange waiting for them. Before tragedy strikes, Dobby enjoys a particularly heroic moment, when he frees Harry, Ron, and Hermione before he utters the unforgettable line, "Dobby never meant to kill. Dobby only meant to maim, or seriously injure."

Enraged, Bellatrix hurls a dagger at Dobby. While the trio tries to disapparate to avoid the attack, it is too late for Dobby, as the blade has struck him. Dobby represented all that was good and pure in the wizarding world, and in so cruelly snatching that away, it results in a moment of devastation quite unlike anything else in the series as they lovingly bury Dobby on the beach. If Dobby's final words, "such a beautiful place, to be with friends. Dobby is happy to be with his friend, Harry Potter," don't destroy you, then nothing will.

The aftermath of the Battle of Hogwarts

There are many moments in "The Deathly Hallows: Part 2" that are heartbreaking. However, the one that stands out is the aftermath of the Battle of Hogwarts as the damage is assessed and the full scale of the devastation is realized. As the battle is raging, there is the sense that many lives have been lost, and the horrible feeling of knowing that not all of our favorites will make it through unscathed is upsetting enough on its own.

The Great Hall of Hogwarts had been the beating heart of so many of the series' magical moments, particularly in the earlier films when it was the scene of lavish feasts and triumphant celebrations. The sense of wonder typically associated with this room hangs like a dark cloud over this moment as the Great Hall is now filled with rubble, debris, and the bodies of those who have fallen during the battle.

Following the spectacle of the preceding battle scenes, this moment depicts the tragedy and loss of war. Whether it is the Weasley family clinging to each other as they mourn the loss of Fred or the heartbreaking shot of Lupin and Tonks lying side by side, their hands almost touching, this moment is almost guaranteed to make you sob.

Snape's true love

From the moment our heroes first meet Snape, they believe he is evil, despite assurances from the other Hogwarts professors that he isn't. However, following the events of "The Half-Blood Prince," there is the sense that Harry and his friends were right and that Snape is genuinely beyond redemption and has defected to Voldemort's side.

In "The Half-Blood Prince," we are introduced to the Pensieve, a device that allows wizards to store and review memories. In "The Deathly Hallows: Part 2," the Pensieve proves instrumental in uncovering the truth about Snape, delivering a twist and a moment of heartbreak so unexpected that it threatens to overshadow many of the other tragic moments from the series.

Before this happens, Voldemort viciously attacks Snape and leaves him to die in a bid to assert control over the Elder Wand. Harry soon rushes to his side, where Snape tells Harry to capture his tears in a vial and take them to the Pensieve. Harry carries out his wishes and discovers, amongst other things, that Snape was in love with his mother, Lily, and has been protecting him for his entire life. Snape, known to be a man of few words, when Dumbledore asks him in the memory, "Lily? After all this time?" Snape simply replies, "always." It is a moment that completely changes everything that we have thought or assumed about this character at a point when he is already gone, making it all the more tragic.

Harry faces Voldemort beside the ghosts of his past

After delving into Snape's memories, Harry finally realizes the horrifying truth that he is one of Voldemort's Horcruxes. As a result, to end the Dark Lord's reign of terror, Harry must die, and Voldemort must be the one to kill him. This chilling revelation is a cruel twist on what he previously believed –- that Voldemort could be defeated as long as Harry was the one to do it.

With his fate set, Harry speaks to the golden snitch he was bequeathed by Dumbledore, saying, "I'm ready to die." The snitch then opens to reveal the Resurrection Stone inside. This artifact has the power to bring back the dead, and Harry uses it to contact some of the people in his life who have passed, including Sirius, Lupin, and his parents.

Accepting that his death is inevitable, Harry asks Sirius if dying hurts, to which Sirius replies that it is "quicker than falling asleep." In one of the most poignant moments of the series, Harry apologizes to the ghosts, saying he never wanted any of them to die for him, before asking them if they will stay with him as he faces Voldemort. After all that Harry has been through, in his interactions with his parents, in particular, we are reminded of the many hardships he has suffered. Having gone on this journey with Harry, we feel the emotions even more keenly as he walks to meet his fate.