*SPOILER ALERT!* LOOK AWAY NOW if you haven't finished the book.
This post is back-dated to keep it off the landing page. The actual date is July 29, 2007.
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First, the good news: Harry lives! So do Hermione and Ron and Hagrid, the ones we were mainly pulling for. Voldemort is "really, most sincerely dead" along with the worst of his entourage. Hogwarts is still standing -- a relief, since I had heard a rumor that it would be destroyed.
The bad news is, of course, that so many of the good guys were lost in the bloodbath. I knew all bets were off when Rowling killed poor, innocent little Hedwig and the most powerful auror of all, Mad-eye Moody, in the very first battle. Hagrid looked like a gonner at two points, and Hermione's chances were not looking good once the Death Eaters got hold of her. I loved the rollercoaster ride of all that, really not knowing from one chapter to the next who was done for and who would survive.
The battle scenes were splendid, intense and terrifying from the first attack to the final battle. There was always that sense of relentless pursuit, of desperation and exhaustion. (I did find the "wandering in the wilderness" thing to be a bit too long, though.)
Rowling had me going about Snape, right up to the end. Based on earlier clues, I had predicted he was one of the good guys. But here, there really was nothing to indicate he was anything but Voldemort's right-hand man. I was convinced I had read him wrong, which I must say was a bummer. I did not guess that the doe patronus was his; Lily's yes, but not his. And I thought it was Dumbledore behind that tree in the woods.
I got Dumbledore partly wrong. He was indeed dead, as I thought, but did not return into the world of the living as predicted. He communicated with Snape via his portrait, which sort of counts, I suppose. However, there was a section in the last book where he speaks of being able to "hide" Draco and his family in death, so I was expecting him to have a way out. Turns out, he didn't.
I did not like the turn things took with Dumbledore's past, nor with what proved to be his manipulative influence on Harry. Yes, it made him more human. But I wanted him to be more than that, a better and wiser being than the rest of us. Part of growing up involves the realization that all idols have feet of clay, so I suppose it was inevitable for Harry to experience that. Still, to me it was yet another loss.
And speaking of losses, did anyone else cry over Dobby? I hated to see him go. The little guy was brave and loyal right to the end. He deserved to come through OK. And I can't even imagine George without Fred. Who's going to finish George's sentences now? I had a pretty good idea that Lupin and Tonks were doomed when they named Harry as godfather to their baby. It's an ironic turn of fate, that Harry would become the protector of an orphan.
It was great to see Neville come into his own. And how awesome is it that Mrs. Weasley took out Bellatrix? Too bad she didn't lay a curse or two on Lucius while she was at it. He got off way too easy.
When Rowling marched Harry into the woods to die I was sure that this was it, that she really meant to kill him off. In a way, of course, she did. Harry went into the woods a boy, in the company of his parents, his uncle and his teacher. He emerges a man, standing alone.
When Voldemort is killed by his own Avada Kedavra curse, the circle is complete. Harry ends as he began: the one who lived.
A lot of people don't like the epilogue, but I do. It is the "happily ever after" of the series, and how else would a fairy tale end? Besides, there is the tantalizing potential of a whole new generation of Potters, Weasleys, and Malfoys setting off for Hogwarts. I'm keeping my fingers crossed.