Harry’s defining traits, as they have been throughout the series, are bravery, determination, and self-sacrifice. A true Gryffindor, Harry responds to every crisis with courage and resolve. It would simply never occur to Harry to abandon his quest or to choose some other life. Not that he has any viable alternatives. He has no home and no family to go to, he’s wanted by the Ministry, and he can’t go back to Hogwarts. But more important than these considerations, his destiny—to be the boy who defeats Voldemort—is so ingrained in his identity that he can’t imagine trying to avoid it.
However, Harry is not the most focused or relentless hero, at least not until later in the book. His tendency to stray from his quest is not literal or physical, but mental and emotional. When there are no clear leads and nothing to do, Harry cannot command the sort of focus that Hermione can, digging around in books for clues, racking her brains until something occurs to her. At these moments, Harry tends to lose focus and drift, following his emotions. This happens most dangerously in Godric’s Hollow, when Harry leads them into a trap, his real reasons for going there having nothing to do with the quest and everything to do with his grief and doubt concerning Dumbledore.
This doubt is what leads him astray in his quest. Harry is first concerned that Dumbledore was not forthcoming about his own life, and now cannot ask him about it. Then he thinks that Dumbledore didn’t tell him enough to help with the quest, and questions his motives. Finally, he comes to believe that Dumbledore didn’t love him, and that Dumbledore didn’t deserve his love. Harry’s journey is an emotional one, in which he learns to come to terms with the dead, and learns to believe in Dumbledore again so he can complete his quest without his doubts getting in the way.
Chapter Thirty-Three brings us the long-awaited truth about Snape, beginning with his childhood and stretching almost to his death. After reading his life story, we see the explanations of many of the mysteries and enigmas that have surrounded this character, and yet he remains full of intriguing contradictions.
As a child he both is and is not an appealing and likable character. We want to take his side, because he has a father who doesn’t love him and a mother who dresses him, to his humiliation, in ugly rags. Also appealing is his obvious devotion to Lily, his urgent desire to make her his friend. And yet he has already developed unattractive qualities out of his reaction to the obstacles he faces. He is secretive and closed to most people, and resentful of most of the world. He wants to be special, and wants to have a special friend in Lily, scorning her Muggle sister. And in his secretiveness and desire to be special, he is somewhat sneaky, opening Petunia’s letter and telling Lily about it.
These contradictions continue during his school years at Hogwarts, and come between him and Lily. He continues to adore her and stay loyal to her, but his contempt for the Muggles who mistreated him and his desire to be special lead him into pureblood views that are offensive to Lily, and lead him to associate with other Slytherins who see themselves as special and superior. His need to cling to Lily, which is the downside of his loyalty to her, leads him to jealously resent James Potter. He develops a mixture of bad qualities partially redeemed by his loyalty and love.
After Lily tells him that they’re no longer friends, Snape joins Voldemort and becomes a Death Eater. The one unforgivable thing he does is to tell Voldemort about Professor Trelawney’s prediction regarding the boy who can destroy Voldemort, unwittingly putting Lily Potter’s life in jeopardy. Yet Dumbledore offers him a chance to redeem himself, and Snape remains true to his promise even after Lily dies, staying faithful to her by protecting her son. Thereafter, the mixture of bad and good qualities is more a matter of surface appearance. On the surface, Snape appears to be greasy, sinister, and vindictive, but he is in reality the bravest and most reliable of Dumbledore’s supporters.
Ron is tested and forced to evolve in this book in a way that Hermione is not. His abandonment of Harry and Hermione in the forest is an act that we really don’t expect from him, and in order for us to forgive him and accept his return, we need to see, as with Harry, the visible proof of what his struggle really is.
Part of the reason for Ron’s departure (aside from the negative influence of the Horcrux, which only exacerbates problems that are already there) seems to be simple immaturity. Ron has always been well fed, both at home and at school, and is quite greedy about food. When they’re on their own, he expects Hermione to feed him and take care of him, showing that he’s still basically a child. The same dynamic applies to the quest. Ron is brave and loyal enough when he’s along for the ride on one of Harry’s adventures, but the idea that Harry doesn’t know what he’s doing makes him very uncomfortable, because Ron needs to be told what to do.
When Ron comes back, however, and we see his fears manifested by the Horcrux before Ron destroys it, we see that his problem runs deeper. Always playing second fiddle to Harry, Ron does not believe that he could actually be loved—not by his girlfriend, not even by his own mother. When he accepts that he is loved, he is able to grow up and take responsibility for his part in the quest, no longer needing others to prove their love by coddling him.