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The end is near

Christopher Kelly
McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)

Below, you'll find a spellbinding guide to all of the major characters and conflicts so far -- and what big questions should be answered in Book Seven.


Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Publisher: Scholastic
ISBN: 0545010225
Author: J. K. Rowling
Price: $34.99
Length: 759
Formats: Hardcover
US publication date: 2007-07
UK publication date: 2007-07
Amazon

Dumbledore is dead.

His longtime protege, Severus Snape, while operating under an Unbreakable Vow, zapped the Hogwarts headmaster with an "Avada Kedavra" curse, as poor Harry watched from beneath his Invisibility Cloak.

You remember all that, right? It happened near the end of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2005), the sixth book in J.K. Rowling's phenomenally successful series.

OK, maybe you don't remember. And that's where we come in.

Friday night brings the publication of the epic saga's concluding volume, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. With 12 million copies set to be printed in the United States alone, the book has already broken publishing industry records.

But if you're having trouble remembering the difference between a Horcrux and a Thestral, you may need a bit of a refresher course before diving into The Deathly Hallows.

Below, you'll find a spellbinding guide to all of the major characters and conflicts so far -- and what big questions should be answered in Book Seven.

And since we're just like all the other Potter-addicted Muggles, we couldn't resist serving up a few prophecies of our own.

HARRY POTTER

Where we left him:

Harry watched Dumbledore drink a potion that he said would help him locate one of Voldemort's hidden Horcruxes. But the potion weakened Dumbledore, who was then killed by Snape, as Harry lay on the ground immobilized under his Invisibility Cloak. (And -- as bad luck would have it -- the Horcrux wasn't even there; it had apparently been stolen by a mysterious figure with the initials "R.A.B.") Harry later dumped his girlfriend, Ginny Weasley, using a variation on that age-old break-up line: "It's not you, it's that I don't want you to be tortured and murdered by an evil warlord who will use you to get to me."

What's next?

Harry has dropped out of Hogwarts and must now find and destroy the remaining Horcruxes, making stops at the Dursleys' and at Godric's Hollow along the way. Then he must destroy the final piece of Voldemort's soul, which is presumably somewhere inside the dark wizard's body.

Our best prophecy:

Harry will successfully destroy all of the Horcruxes, only to discover that a final Horcrux rests in the scar that's permanently tattooed on Harry's forehead. After Voldemort is defeated, the scar will magically evaporate. (This would certainly jibe with longstanding reports that one of the final words in Book Seven is "scar.")

VOLDEMORT

Where we left him:

He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named was curiously absent from Book Six, though through a series of flashback sequences we learned how he transformed from Tom Riddle into Lord Voldemort. (Long story short: He had an unhappy childhood.) We also learned that he assigned young Draco Malfoy the task of killing Dumbledore.

What's next?

Voldemort will be trying to protect the remaining Horcruxes and once again rise to full power -- but already two are gone, and Harry is determined to destroy the rest.

Our best prophecy:

The prophecy revealed in Book Five is clear on this subject: Either Harry must kill Voldemort, or Voldemort must kill Harry -- and our money's on Harry. As for the "secret" about Voldemort that "R.A.B." refers to in a mysterious letter at the end of Book Six, we think it's this: When Harry was an infant, Voldemort intended to kill him in order to create the final Horcrux. But when the murder attempt failed, the Horcrux became embedded within Harry's lightning-bolt scar. (Either that, or Voldemort's big secret is that he likes to dress up in women's clothing.)

SEVERUS SNAPE

Where we left him:

At the start of Book Six, the longtime potions teacher -- whom Harry has never trusted but who Dumbledore always insisted was one of the good guys -- met with Bellatrix Lestrange and Narcissa Malfoy, and made an "unbreakable vow": If Narcissa's son Draco was unable to carry out Voldemort's orders to murder Dumbledore, Snape would do it for him. And Snape ended up doing just that in the finale -- and then escaped unscathed with Draco and a group of Death Eaters.

What's next?

Harry will no doubt try to chase Snape down and kill him. But a few more intriguing questions remain: Is Snape truly evil, or was he acting as a double agent when he aligned himself with the Death Eaters? Was it actually Dumbledore who ordered Snape to murder him? And did he really kill Dumbledore -- or merely use a highly advanced spell that made it "appear" as if Dumbledore is dead?

Our best prophecy:

Snape will be exonerated on all charges, after it's revealed that Dumbledore ordered Snape to kill him. He will then join forces with Harry to finally defeat Voldemort. By the end of Book Seven, he will be appointed the new headmaster of Hogwarts.

THE WEASLEYS

Where we left them:

Ron vowed to join Harry in his quest to obtain the Horcruxes. After six books' worth of tension between him and Hermione, he also seems to be on the verge of taking that relationship to the next level. The Weasley parents, meanwhile, continue to fight alongside the Order of the Phoenix against Voldemort's Death Eaters. As for the extended family: Younger sister Ginny was left heartbroken when Harry broke off their budding relationship. Eldest brother Bill was maimed by a deadly werewolf (but his French fiancee, Fleur, was willing to marry him anyway). Twins George and Fred were off running their magic shop in Diagon Alley. And we hadn't heard much from older brother Percy, the sycophantic and slightly slippery Weasley brother who joined the Ministry of Magic in Book Five and continues to work closely with the recently appointed Minister of Magic, Rufus Scrimgeour.

What's next?

There are intimations throughout the series that Percy's allegiance to the ministry might pit him directly against his family. (At the end of Book Six, after Harry has a tense encounter with the Minister of Magic, Ron not-so-jokingly says, "Let me go back and hit Percy.") And considering how many times a Weasley family member has "nearly" died (Papa Weasley was attacked in Book Five), it seems inevitable that Rowling is going to have to kill off at least one of them.

Our best prophecy:

You heard it here first: Ron will be the most popular character to bite the dust, and it will happen early in the book, leaving Harry and Hermione devastated and determined to avenge his death. Bill and Fleur will have a child (whom they will name Ron). And Percy will be revealed to have been conspiring with the enemies and sentenced to a life term in Azkaban prison.

HERMIONE GRANGER

Where we left her:

She seems to have fallen for Ron (suggesting that she has really bad taste in men), and she pledged to join forces with Harry to fight Voldemort.

What's next?

There aren't too many mysteries surrounding Hermione, though it should be interesting to see how far her long-gestating relationship with Ron will go -- or if that Bulgarian hottie Viktor Krum will return from oblivion to sweep her off her feet.

Our best prophecy:

After Ron is murdered (see our Weasley prophecy, above), she is plunged into deep grief and set on a path to spinsterhood. But then she summons the strength to help Harry defeat Voldemort. As for our future, we're guessing this nerdy-to-her-core young lady will head off to some graduate school in wizardry and -- decades hence -- take over as Hogwarts Headmistress, circa 2040.

THE MALFOYS

Where we left them:

At the start of Book Six, Lucius Malfoy was in Azkaban prison for leading the failed attack on the Ministry of Magic's Department of Mysteries. His wife, Narcissa, believes that Voldemort assigned their son Draco the task of murdering Dumbledore as revenge against Lucius for messing up the mission at the Department of Mysteries. Draco, meanwhile, froze when the time came for him to destroy Dumbledore, but he was rescued in the nick of time by Snape, who finished the job for him.

What's next?

Voldemort would seem to have completely turned against the Malfoys, especially now that Draco failed to complete his assignment. Does that mean the Malfoys will collectively redeem themselves by joining forces with the Order of the Phoenix?

Our best prophecy:

Forget about redemption; these folks are lousy to the core. Before facing down Voldemort, Harry will have to square off against and finally kill longtime rival Draco. And Narcissa will be sent to Azkaban prison alongside her melatonin-deprived husband, Lucius.

THE DURSLEYS

Where we left them:

Harry's Uncle Vernon, Aunt Petunia and his cousin Dudley didn't do much in Book Six, other than sit around stupefied as Dumbledore dramatically entered their house to retrieve Harry for his sixth year at Hogwarts.

What's next?

Before he died, Dumbledore told Harry he must return to the Dursley house one last time, where presumably two big mysteries will be resolved. First, what is the secret about Aunt Petunia that Rowling says will finally be revealed in Book Seven? And what is it that Dudley saw in his mind when the Dementors attacked him at the start of Book Five?

Our best prophecy:

It's anybody's guess how the Dursleys -- whom Rowling has mostly used for comic relief -- will ultimately factor into Harry's saga. But we like the possibility that Dudley and Harry are not cousins but actually brothers, a secret that Lily kept from Dudley until that fateful encounter with the Dementors.

___

A POTTER GLOSSARY

If our guide to all things Potter is Parseltongue to you (that's wizard-speak for snake language), here's a glossary of essential terms that you'll need to know as you embark upon reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

The Horcruxes: Objects in which Lord Voldemort has stored fragments of his soul. A Horcrux can be created only by murdering someone.

Azkaban: The prison where the wizard-world criminals are sent. Despite the high security, numerous people have broken out over the years, including Harry's (now deceased) godfather, Sirius Black, and Death Eater Bellatrix Lestrange.

Dementors: Mysterious and ghoulish figures capable of sucking a person's soul out of his body; first introduced as the guards at the Azkaban prison in Book Three. Before Harry's fifth year at Hogwarts, they joined forces with Voldemort, allowing for many of the imprisoned Death Eaters to escape.

Death Eaters: The name given to followers of Lord Voldemort. One of their goals is to destroy any wizard families that have Muggle (i.e., human) blood in their lineage.

The Order of the Phoenix: The organization of wizards and witches dedicated to defeating Lord Voldemort. Members include Mr. and Mrs. Weasley, Remus Lupin, "Mad-Eye" Moody, Kingsley Shacklebolt and Nymphadora Tonks, as well as such Hogwarts luminaries as Hagrid and Minerva McGonagall.

The Unbreakable Vow: A pledge between two or more wizards or witches that must be carried out at all costs.

"R.A.B.": The mysterious figure who tracked down one of Voldemort's Horcruxes and stole it, leaving behind only a letter addressed to Voldemort that proclaimed, "I intend to destroy (the Horcrux) as soon as I can." R.A.B's identity remains unknown, though many fans speculate that it might be Sirius Black's brother, Regulus (though Regulus is believed to be dead).

Godric's Hollow: The village where Harry's parents, Lily and James, were hiding when Voldemort tracked them down and killed them. At the end of Book Six, Harry pledges to travel there; many fans have speculated that one of the Horcruxes is hidden on the grounds.

___

McClatchy Newspapers reporter Erin White contributed to this article.

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