Beliefnet
SPOILER ALERT: The following essay reveals the ending of "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince."

What counsel and succor can I offer the shocked, grieving readers of J.K. Rowling's most recent book, "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince"? I will not pretend to be a dispassionate observer. I too cried when Dumbledore fell. I too was outraged by Snape's betrayal, and frustrated by Dumbledore's seeming naiveté. I too feel the prospects for all good wizards and Muggles look bleak, now that the only wizard Voldemort ever feared has been brutally murdered.

But I hope we will take some time to process these events and move through our agonizing emotions together. Hopefully, we'll come to recognize that good still perseveres in the world, and we can move on with our lives.

First of all: Albus Dumbledore is dead. No matter how painful it is for us to deal with this fact or how much we want there to be a special potion that will bring him back, it is clear that his soul has passed behind the veil and we have to accept it.

Dumbledore was murdered, and that makes his death tragic. However, the fact of his death itself is not tragic. In the first Harry Potter book, Dumbledore himself said that endless life isn't advisable and that death is not to be feared: "After all, to the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure."

In the books, the person who fears death most is Voldemort. We learn in Book Six that he cut up his soul so that he might never have to die, but in doing so he killed the part of him that was eternal. This is contrasted with Dumbledore, who lived his life soul-fully; he kept his soul intact. Dumbledore says that Voldemort "was in such a hurry to mutilate his own soul, he never paused to understand the incomparable power of a soul that is untarnished and whole." (HBP 511)

I think Dumbledore will continue to have a crucial role in Harry's world because his untarnished soul will live on. Given the vision that Harry saw at the funeral (HBP 645), Dumbledore and his phoenix are now somehow inextricably linked and that power will not disappear. Remember, Dumbledore says, "I will only truly have left [Hogwarts] when none here are loyal to me."

Like Harry's mother, Dumbledore is a martyr: they both laid down their own lives so that other people could live. The power of their sacrifice will endure.

What, however, are we to make of Snape and his treachery? I confess that I am consumed by anger. Even if Snape were still working for Dumbledore and his brutal murder of a wandless wizard was part of Dumbledore's master plan, it is hard to feel anything but disgust for Snape. The revelation that it was Snape who passed along Professor Trelawney's prophecy to Voldemort was the last straw for me. At some point, if someone looks evil, talks evil, and acts evil, they are evil.

And then I turn to Dumbledore and I think, "How could you have been so stupid?" Many of us struggle with disillusionment when we realize our heroes (like Dumbledore) are flawed, and struggle with the impulse to never trust anyone again when we witness betrayals like Snape's.

This is when we have to decide how we want to face the world. Do we respond to betrayal by approaching people with mistrust and suspicion? Or is trying to uncover the good in each person ultimately a better way to live? Shall we use the example of Voldemort or Dumbledore?

There was a time when I wanted to like Snape. Though that feeling is gone now, I do not believe that we should renounce a basic positive approach to people. Hatred, fear and distrust pave the way for those who practice the Dark Arts. Dumbledore told Harry that his greatest strength was Harry's ability to love and to show mercy. (HBP 511) Harry never became so bitter that he began to practice the Dark Arts--which ultimately would have made him into Voldemort's pawn.

This does not mean that we should be willfully ignorant of wrongdoing or blind to evil. It simply means that we should be very careful about deciding that someone doesn't deserve love and mercy. Think of Peter Pettigrew. While Harry regretted not killing him in the Prisoner of Azkaban, Dumbledore applauded his mercy, and told him "there may come a time when you are very glad that you saved Pettigrew's life." (POA 427-428) No matter how much Malfoy makes our stomach turn, no matter how much we distrust Snape, we should always opt for a prevailing attitude of love, even if sometimes it's tough love. Let us practice a love that sees the faults of our enemies in glaring Technicolor, but does not make us into what we despise.

Ultimately, the only one who warrants the title of Evil is Voldemort because he has cast himself in that mold. Evil must be destroyed and Harry is going to do it. One of the most powerful scenes in Half-Blood Prince is when Dumbledore explains Harry's advantage over Voldemort. Voldemort is frightened of Harry because of the prophecy, and is pursuing Harry because of his fear. In contrast, Harry is pursuing Voldemort because he "wants him finished" because of the horrors that he has visited upon so many of Harry's loved ones. Harry understands the difference between "being dragged into the arena to face battle to the death and walking into the arena with your head held high" (HBP 512) The hunted has become the hunter. The tables are about to be turned. Whether he can legally Apparate or not, Harry Potter has come of age.

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