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Rowling's gift to reading This month's finale for Harry Potter leaves a lingering magic all its own

Snape. Just to say the name conjures up a world of deceit. If you could look it up in the dictionary, the definition would surely include such odious descriptives as "treacherous," "smarmy" and "greasy-haired murderer of Dumbledore."

That would be Albus Dumbledore, of course, the headmaster of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, located in a magical castle somewhere in England and accessible by the train that leaves from Track 9 3/4 at King's Cross Station in London. Or at least, he was headmaster until two years ago when Severus Snape, Hogwarts' double-dealing potions master, murdered him, evidently at the behest of Vol . . . Voldem . . . well, you know who.

Or, so we have been led to believe. It's possible, too, that instead of being the desperate killer he seems, Snape is key to some cunning plan to outfox and finally do away with the evil Vol . . . Voldem . . . well, you know, that same one as in the last paragraph? Him.

Soon we will know, assuming that J.K. Rowling, the writer who also serves as official channeler for the world of young Harry Potter, deigns to tell us. She has finished the last of the seven books that for the past 10 or so years have incautiously yanked the invisibility cloak from around this magical place for millions of young (and not-so-young) readers.

Some observers, we are told, believe these books to be works of fiction. We're not going to comment on that astonishing idea, except to warn against telling it to the armies of budding wizards and witches who are counting down the days until the July 21 release of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows." These are, many of them, youngsters who weren't much interested in reading until Rowling's connections to Hogwarts unlocked their imaginations and fired in them what may turn out to be a lifelong love of books. That's an achievement more fantastic than conjuring a really great patronus (see book three, "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban," for an explanation).

It's a remarkable thing Rowling has done, and she deserves all of her success. What she has understood is that while Harry is at the center of these stories, he is only one part of them. It's a whole universe that she has uncovered, where good clashes with evil and where youth and age find their heroism -- or their depravity -- together.

So while readers want to know what becomes of Harry and Ron and Hermione and Hagrid, they are also eager to learn the fates of the loathsome Malfoys and of the villainous V-o-l-d-e-m-o-r-t (there, we said it).

And Snape.

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