For the seventh and final installment of the Harry Potter series, Harry, Hermione, and Ron—all now adults in the Wizarding world—set off on their own to follow through with the mission that Dumbledore gave Harry: to discover and destroy Voldemort's Horcruxes (bits of his soul contained in physical objects) and, in doing so, to destroy Voldemort himself. At the heart of the story is a question that the series has already spent a lot of time exploring: what makes a person good or evil? As an adult, Harry begins to truly understand that people aren't born good or evil, though the particulars of one's upbringing can certainly help sway a person one way or the other. Instead, the true marker of either good or evil is what choices a person makes—and by introducing this element of choice, the novel also leaves room for morally ambiguous characters to redeem themselves.
The idea that good and evil are choices and not innate states of being is one that Harry has grappled with time and again as he's grown up and come of age in the Wizarding world. Despite this, Harry still struggles to understand how this applies to both people he loves and those he unabashedly hates. This rises to the forefront at Bill and Fleur's wedding, when Harry finds himself in the middle of a heated argument between Elphias Doge, a friend of Dumbledore's, and Auntie Muriel, the Weasleys' gossip-loving old aunt. It's important to keep in mind that, for Harry, drawing out any possible nuance in Dumbledore's character is complicated by the fact that Harry idolized Dumbledore. Dumbledore was a combination of a father figure, mentor, and co-conspirator to Harry, and the Dumbledore that Harry knew was unfailingly selfless, kind, and worked tirelessly on behalf of minorities and other marginalized communities in the Wizarding world. Because of this, it's a nasty shock for Harry when he hears that Dumbledore was possibly to blame for his own sister's death and even briefly flirted with evil as a young man by becoming friends with the evil wizard Grindelwald and plotting to subjugate Muggles. A major part of Harry's development happens as he struggles to reconcile these wildly different sides of Dumbledore. Harry must try to hold two possible truths about Dumbledore—that he was a good and kind person, and that he made horrific mistakes and held unjustifiable views as a young man—in his mind at the same time, and he must decide whether or not he can forgive Dumbledore for this misstep.
The questions of Dumbledore's ambiguous morality plague Harry throughout the novel, but as he, Ron, and Hermione journey through the countryside in search of Horcruxes, Harry is offered a variety of opportunities to see the same questions of moral ambiguity play out. From Kreacher, the house-elf that Harry grudgingly inherited (and whom Harry has detested since meeting him two years ago), Harry discovers that Sirius's younger brother, Regulus, wasn't the brainwashed, Voldemort-loving Dark wizard that Sirius made him out to be. While it's true that Regulus joined the Death Eaters because he initially believed in their mission, Harry also discovers that Regulus was kind and gentle toward Kreacher, and that he died after secretly working to take down Voldemort by stealing one of the Horcruxes. Kreacher's story adds nuance and depth to all the people he mentions, not least himself—it turns out that Kreacher wasn't an evil, spiteful creature; all he wanted was kindness, attention, and thanks. Getting recognition from Harry sways Kreacher's loyalty from dangerous Dark wizards like the Malfoys and Bellatrix Lestrange—who did treat him kindly—and means that Kreacher even shows up to rally the house-elves in the final battle at Hogwarts on Harry's behalf. Through the characters of Kreacher and Regulus, Harry is introduced to the idea that there are wizards working for Voldemort who do get cold feet and later fight for good, while also reminding Harry that even his beloved godfather, Sirius, wasn't faultless—in life, he was cruel and dismissive of Kreacher.
Later, Ron, disillusioned with Harry and their quest, leaves Harry and Hermione in a fit of rage for the comfort of a warm bed and hot meals. Though Harry's close relationship with Ron gives him the willingness to understand that Ron's bad decision doesn't make him a bad person, Ron importantly still feels horrible and spends a great deal of time trying to make up for his misstep—showing that it falls as much to the person who made the mistake to atone for their misdeeds as it does to others to forgive them. All of this primes Harry to eventually decide that, for the purposes of his quest, it's far more important to focus on and fight for Dumbledore's better qualities, while also learning from Dumbledore's mistakes that it's possible for people to change for the better. This allows Harry to accept help from former enemies like Narcissa Malfoy and even to forgive his longtime enemy, Severus Snape—who, Harry discovers, spent his entire adult life trying desperately to atone for his misdeeds.
The novel's final suggestion that good, evil, and the possibility for redemption are choices that anyone can make is clearer nowhere than at the culmination of the final battle, when Harry gives Voldemort the choice to repent. That Voldemort chooses not to, and that Voldemort's final killing curse rebounds and kills him instead of Harry, forms a poignant and cautionary tale. Anyone, the novel suggests, can atone for their bad choices by choosing to feel compassion and work for others, while doubling down on one's cruel and heartless beliefs will only bring worse outcomes—and giving someone the opportunity to make this decision, as Harry does, is one of the kindest things a person can do for another.
Choices, Redemption, and Morality ThemeTracker
Choices, Redemption, and Morality Quotes in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
He looked curiously at his cousin. They had had virtually no contact during this summer or last, as Harry had come back to Privet Drive so briefly and kept to his room so much. It now dawned on Harry, however, that the cup of cold tea on which he had trodden that morning might not have been a booby trap at all.
"Harry, the time for Disarming is past! These people are trying to capture and kill you! At least Stun if you aren't prepared to kill!"
"We were hundreds of feet up! Stan's not himself, and if I Stunned him and he'd fallen, he'd have died the same as if I'd used Avada Kedavra!"
The accusations he had heard from Muriel at the wedding seemed to have nested in his brain like diseased things, infecting his memories of the wizard he had idolized. Could Dumbledore have let such things happen? Had he been like Dudley, content to watch neglect and abuse as long as it did not affect him? Could he have turned his back on a sister who was being imprisoned and hidden?
"Sirius was horrible to Kreacher, Harry, and it's no good looking like that, you know it's true. Kreacher had been alone for a long time when Sirius came to live here, and he was probably starving for a bit of affection. I'm sure 'Miss Cissy' and 'Miss Bella' were perfectly lovely to Kreacher when he turned up, so he did them a favor and told them everything they wanted to know. I've said all along that wizards would pay for how they treat house-elves. Well, Voldemort did...and so did Sirius."
The rain was pounding the tent, tears were pouring down Hermione's face, and the excitement of a few minutes before had vanished as if it had never been, a short-lived firework that had flared and died, leaving everything dark, wet, and cold. The sword of Gryffindor was hidden they knew not where, and they were three teenagers in a tent whose only achievement was not, yet, to be dead.
"'The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death'..." A horrible thought came to him, and with it a kind of panic. "Isn't that a Death Eater idea? Why is that there?"
"It doesn't mean defeating death in the way the Death Eaters mean it, Harry," said Hermione, her voice gentle. "It means...you know...living beyond death. Living after death."
He was not being kind or generous. As certainly as he had known that the doe was benign, he knew that Ron had to be the one to wield the sword. Dumbledore had at least taught Harry something about certain kinds of magic, of the incalculable power of certain acts.
"Sometimes I've thought, when I've been a bit hacked off, he was having a laugh or—or he just wanted to make it more difficult. But I don't think so, not anymore. He knew what he was doing when he gave me the Deluminator, didn't he?" He—well, [...] he must've known I'd run out on you."
"No," Harry corrected him. "He must've known you'd always want to come back."
He did not want to express the doubts and uncertainties about Dumbledore that had riddled him for months now. He had made his choice while he dug Dobby's grave, he had decided to continue along the winding, dangerous path indicated for him by Albus Dumbledore, to accept that he had not been told everything that he wanted to know, but simply to trust. He had no desire to doubt again; he did not want to hear anything that would deflect him from his purpose.
"And are you tempted to join him?"
"No," said Snape, his black eyes on Fleur and Roger's retreating figures. "I am not such a coward."
"No," agreed Dumbledore. "You are a braver man by far than Igor Karkaroff. You know, I sometimes think we Sort too soon..."
And Dumbledore had known that Harry would not duck out, that he would keep going to the end, even though it was his end, because he had taken trouble to get to know him, hadn't he? Dumbledore knew, as Voldemort knew, that Harry would not let anyone else die for him now that he had discovered it was in his power to stop it.