By Anthony Breznican
Updated April 01, 2011 at 06:15 PM EDT
Harry Potter Hallows 2
Credit: Jaap Buitendijk

We were warned from the start that the four minutes of footage was rough. But for any lover of the Harry Potter films, it was a preview that would surely strike at the heart.

Though the story has already been finished and published by J.K. Rowling, the final half of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows won’t reach the screen until July 15. For those who’ve faithfully followed Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint over the past decade as they played the boy wizard and his friends Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley, the closing of this franchise is bound to come freighted with emotion.

The good news: The finale will lean hard on those feelings, depicting not just a climactic battle between good and evil, but also ruminating on the losses and sacrifices it took to get there. Harry Potter fans know how it all turns out, but this film is determined to remind us that the price for a happy ending is often a lot of unhappy endings.

After the jump, here’s what theater owners gathered at CinemaCon saw (and let us pause to mention the requisite SPOILER ALERT here):

The footage opens with a whisper. Ralph Fiennes’ Voldemort: “Harry… bring him to me.”

Then Harry, Hermione, and Ron are in a room talking to the rescued wand-maker Mr. Ollivander (John Hurt), who assures the boy wizard: “He’s after you Mr. Potter. You really don’t stand a chance.”

Harry responds, defiantly: “I suppose I’ll have to kill him before he finds me, then.”

There was footage of a battle with the white dragon, and Hermione cries, “We can’t just stand here. Who’s got an idea?”

“Don’t ask us,” Ron squeaks. “You’re the brilliant one!”

“I’ve got something, but it’s mad,” she says, and before she can explain it she dives through a stone archway onto the back of the beast.

The footage then cuts to the hills outside of their old school, now occupied by Snape and the Death-Eaters. “We need to get into Hogwarts tonight,” Harry says, but Hermione thinks he’s being rash.

“We can’t do that. We have to plan. We’ve got to figure it out,” she says.

But Ron decides they should just charge in, fearless. “Hermione, when have any of our plans ever actually worked? We plan, we get there, all hell breaks loose!”

Here, the footage takes a more melancholy turn. The camera scans over a hallway full of bodies, not lying peacefully, but scattered and broken with blood smearing the floor. Voldemort’s voice says: “You have allowed your friends to die for you, rather than face me yourself. Join me in The Forbidden Forest and confront your fate.”

In the forest, Harry finds the images of those Voldemort meant, the people who have given their lives for him: His mother, father, godfather Sirius Black…

“Why are you here, all of you?” he demands.

“We never left,” his mother whispers.

“You’ll stay with me?” Harry’s voice is high and fearful, while the ghosts are soothing and calm.

“Always,” his mother says.

“Until the end,” adds his father, which is as ominous as it is reassuring.

What follows is a scene already released in the teaser trailer in which Harry faces Voldemort unarmed, ready to sacrifice himself as the final horcrux keeping his nemesis alive. “Harry Potter, the boy who lived… come to die,” Voldemort says before the almost disappointingly easy slaying. Potter dies without a fight. But ..

Rowling’s vision of the afterlife is a white void, and Harry finds himself facing his mentor, the late headmaster Albus Dumbledore, slain by Severus Snape, who says, “You brave, brave man… ” It’s a simple line, but loaded with meaning for someone known as “The Boy who lived.”

“You are the true master of death, Harry,” Dumbledore tells him, and Potter finds that because he died willingly, he will be able to go back.

In the next scene, he is facing Alan Rickman’s Severus Snape in the Great Hall of Hogwarts, challenging him as thousands of students look on. “How dare you stand where he stood!” Potter screams. “Tell them how it happened that night. How you looked him in the eye, a man who trusted you, and KILLED him!” Anyone who knows the story can read layers of reaction on Snape’s face.

More battle unfolds, as the two armies clash over the battleground of the school. “Let’s finish this the way we started,” Potter tells Voldemort, grabbing him as they both tumble over a cliff as Potter’s voice echoes: “… together… ”

But the truly heartbreaking line comes just before the end, as Potter says, “I never wanted any of you to die for me.”

This is what makes the story resonate so deeply. No matter the victory, or whether he lives, this is a character who knows he has survived because others have not. He might wish it was otherwise, but even his world doesn’t have that kind of magic.

For more film news, follow Anthony Breznican on Twitter @Breznican.

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