On July 21, 2007, my daughter Maggie and I fought our way into a crowded Dublin bookstore and bought not one but two copies of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, which was published worldwide that day. Over the next 36 hours, we raced each other through the pages to learn the fate of Harry Potter, his Hogwarts friends, and the world of wizardry in general.
In the last full chapter, the boy wizard at last defeats the evil Voldemort. An epilogue set 19 years later shows that Harry has achieved an ambiguous adult normality, with a happy marriage, a station wagon, and three children who are off to Hogwarts themselves. The series’ final sentence refers to the scar Harry has carried since the murder of his parents when he was a baby: “The scar had not pained Harry for nineteen years,” it reads. “All was well."
Millions of young people drew from Deathly Hallows a message every young person longs to hear: that they can triumph over the outsize fears of adolescence, and that beyond them await full and normal lives.
Let’s imagine, though, that the World’s Greatest Literary Critic—call him Gilderoy Lockhart—reviews the book in the World’s Most Important Literary Journal. Lockhart notes what he considers an important grammatical fact in the next-to-last sentence: It is written only in the past perfect. It does not say, “The scar had not pained Harry for nineteen years, did not pain him now, and would not pain him in the future.” That means, Lockhart explains, that the scar has begun to hurt at that moment—and will continue to hurt forever. He points to other places in the series where Rowling has written that things “did not” hurt or “would not” hurt. Affirming that the scar “had not pained Harry” means denying that it “is not” painful or “will not” be painful. “All was well” means that all had been well up to that moment, but was not well any more and would never be well again.