Rita Skeeter’s malicious biography of Dumbledore pops up throughout the book, beginning with its advance press alongside Dumbledore’s obituary in Chapter Two. True to form (as we have seen in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire) Rita Skeeter is ruthlessly exploitative in getting her story, and she distorts the truth when she digs it up. Apart from Skeeter, Aunt Muriel is a similarly malicious gossip, as is the busybody Bathilda Bagshot, the original source for all the Dumbledore gossip. What is most remarkable about the blend of half-truths and lies that make up Skeeter’s writing, and gossip in general, is that it’s so hard for the characters not to believe. Harry has seen with his own eyes stories by Skeeter that he knows to be false from start to finish, yet her lies about Dumbledore work on him until he breaks down and doubts Dumbledore.
References to “mastering death” occur throughout the book. The inscription on the gravestone of Harry’s parents reads “the last enemy that shall be destroyed is death,” reminding Harry that Voldemort’s chief ambition, and that of the Death Eaters, is to master death. The Deathly Hallows are supposedly objects that will allow the owner to master death. The meaning of this phrase is ambiguous and changes in different contexts. What Voldemort seems to want, and what the Hallows as a whole seem to promise, is immortality—freedom from ever dying. Being able to kill others is another way of being master of death, as exemplified by the Elder Wand and by the green rays of the Killing Curse. Still another way to master death is by resurrecting dead loved ones, as the second brother in the Hallows does, as Dumbledore tries to do, and as Harry himself longs to do. Ultimately, the only true way to master death is to continue loving and believing in those who have died.
Avada Kedavra, the Killing Curse, is used again and again in this book by Voldemort and his followers. When we first learn about it, in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, we are told that it is one of the Unforgivable Curses, and its performance is rare. With Voldemort in power, it has become ubiquitous, demonstrating Voldemort’s disregard for human life. Harry casts the other two Unforgivable Curses (Cruciatus and Imperius, torture and mind control), but he never casts or tries to cast this curse, not even when Lupin urges him to, and not even to kill Voldemort. Voldemort’s death is ultimately brought about by his own Avada Kedavra backfiring upon him.