The overwhelming sense that one is left with on completing Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is that of ambiguous satisfaction. More than any of the six books preceding this final instalment, Rowling's final offering leaves the reader pondering the finer points of fate and free will. Closure is only truly reached for the quadrivium of characters that Rowling has always focused on: Harry, Voldemort, Dumbledore and Snape. Everyone else — even those who meet their demise — is dealt with in a way which is simultaneously sufficient and somehow unfulfilling, like the ending of a lengthy visit with friends that has been wonderful but only reinforces how much you wish you could stay.

Deathly Hallows is not without its moments of comedy. A personal favourite is Fred's equating Voldemort's ability to move at amazing speed to "Severus Snape when confronted with shampoo". But on the whole this is the darkest of the books, and it is guaranteed to be met with no small measure of emotion from fans who will mourn the loss of so many well-loved characters, both through death and the end of the series.

Magic itself, like any other power we Muggles possess — money,
influence, oratory or the written word — is neutral by nature; it is
what you do with it that makes it either good or evil.

Anyone hoping that the last Harry Potter book will put its creator in the same league as Lewis or Tolkien should think again. Rowling herself has never claimed as much, even though her inspiration is the same mythos which formed the basis for The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings. Harry Potter was never designed to be a fantastical interpretation of Christianity or a far-reaching quest of little people against a mysterious and powerful evil. Instead, its setting is the very real, modern and imperfect world that we live in; the characters are undeniably flawed and human, albeit gifted with wondrous talents, and for this reason the black and white common to fantasy works of previous generations is replaced with a palette filled with countless shades of grey.

Time and again throughout the Harry Potter series we have seen evidence that none of the characters is perfect; in Deathly Hallows the motives of many are shown to be questionable, and none more so than those of Albus Dumbledore, the deceased Headmaster of Hogwarts. While Rowling has previously shown Dumbledore to be as human as any other character, a significant part of this last book is dedicated to the revelation of his murky past, which causes Harry — and most of the wizarding society — to doubt his intentions. Rather than exonerate him from all allegations, Rowling's eventual denouement has Dumbledore fully admitting to youthful errors of pride, selfishness and poor judgement. Yet, rather than this being a cause for concern (and, for the more critical among us, censure), this revelation of the very human nature of the characters seems to me one of Rowling's greatest achievements. Triumph for Harry and his companions comes through learning from their mistakes as much as it does from being good or using magic.

Magic itself, like any other power we Muggles possess — money, influence, oratory or the written word — is neutral by nature; it is what you do with it that makes it either good or evil. Good people can sometimes do bad things and, as is seen more than ever before in this last book through the actions of Peter Pettigrew, Draco Malfoy and most especially Severus Snape, "bad" people can be redeemed and use their actions for the good, even when it is at the cost of their own lives.

In this last Harry Potter book, as in the previous novels, what has struck me is the power of youthful insight; it is Dudley who acknowledges Harry's worth after so many years; Hermione who maintains her faith in Harry when it seems his mission is pointless; Neville, Luna and Ginny who rouse the remaining Hogwarts students in resistance against the Death Eaters who take over the school; Draco who refuses to betray his schoolmates, even in the face of potential suffering and torture; Harry who rejects Lupin's help and instead rightly tells him to return home to his expectant new wife; and Harry who chooses to believe in Dumbledore, despite the evidence that his deceased headmaster is less than perfect.

In some instances the actions of these young characters are undertaken in disobedience to the wishes and advice of the adult authority figures present, such as the moment when Ron, Hermione and Harry refuse to reveal the nature of Dumbledore's last request to Mrs Weasley, and later to Remus Lupin. However, ultimately their decisions prove to be the correct ones, and reflect an important teaching that I believe Rowling has imparted with consistency over the entire series: it is the responsibility of adults both to provide a positive and solid foundation of values and behaviours to the youth of each generation (whether their own, or those placed in their care) and to have faith that the teachings they have imparted are understood and will be used by the young as they grow into adulthood. This two-fold tenet is again brought home with particular strength in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, where we see faith and hope combining to support Rowling's ultimate message: the strongest power, the greatest magic, the ultimate goal and achievement of our lives is love.

In the world of Harry Potter, if it is the exercise of our free will for the good that is the measure of our true worth, then it is love that makes this exercise possible. In Deathly Hallows, no character reflects this truth more than Severus Snape. The truth of Snape's allegiance is finally revealed, and he is shown, against the expectations of many, to be allied with Dumbledore, because of his lifelong love for Lily Evans, Harry's mother. Snape forfeits his life because of the actions he has undertaken out of love for Lily, and he is not alone in making the ultimate sacrifice because of love.

Ron and Hermione repeatedly risk their own safety to help Harry; Tonks dies because she cannot bear to let her husband Remus battle the Death Eaters without her; Molly Weasley risks death at the hands of Bellatrix Lestrange to protect her daughter Ginny; Dobby sacrifices himself to save his adored Harry Potter; and Harry himself willingly offers his life for everyone out of love, convinced that by confronting Voldemort and allowing the Dark Lord to inflict the Adava Kedavra spell upon him, he will die. Instead, he is transported to a limbo-like King's Cross Station, where Dumbledore explains to him that, precisely because "of love, loyalty and innocence Voldemort knows nothing", Harry is able return to the world and to life and defeat him.

While so many of the characters do not receive a final nod before the curtains close — Luna, most of the Weasley family, the greater Hogwarts ensemble encompassing both teachers and students and many of the other characters we have come to love throughout the Harry Potter books — Rowling shows us that life continues, and even in the epilogue, it is love that is the focal point of Rowling's conclusions: the love of friendship that evolves to that of a couple and a family, the kind of love that shows "all is well".

Elizabeth Quinn is a 27-year-old who took English and History majors for her BA at the University of New South Wales, Sydney. Of more relevance, she is an avid Harry Potter fan, along with her eleven brothers and sisters, seven of whom have also already finished Deathly Hallows.