JK Rowling’s “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” left us with a head full of questions, a wizard world in shambles and lots of ground to cover in the final book, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” which comes out at 12:01 a.m. Saturday.

JK Rowling’s “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” left us with a head full of questions, a wizard world in shambles and lots of ground to cover in the final book, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” which comes out at 12:01 a.m. Saturday.

A quick recap.

The evil Lord Voldemort and his Death Eaters were in full-out war with the benevolent Order of the Phoenix; Hogwarts Headmaster Albus Dumbledore was murdered - perhaps in a covert act of self-sacrifice - by the hand of the morally ambiguous Severus Snape. And Harry, 16, was left to fulfill his own destiny: To search the world for the pieces of Voldemort’s soul, destroy them, then find the world’s most fearsome wizard and kill him.

What’s going to happen in “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” is certainly a worthy topic of discussion, but what’s even more interesting is how all these events are going to unfold.

Anybody who read the fifth book knows how much trouble prophecies can cause, so we’ll do our best here not to make predictions. What follows are three questions Potter fans need answered, and why they’re important.

Consider it a Cliffs Notes for those of you who haven’t been re-reading.

Snape: Good or evil? Or both?

An intriguing question about the series’ most intriguing character, and we have been promised a clear answer in Book Seven.

Is he a spy for the Order or an undercover Death Eater? Or a double agent? Readers have always had their doubts about Snape, and Harry has always flat-out hated him.

Harry’s anger at the sullen, strict and gleefully cruel Hogwarts teacher grew exponentially when he saw him execute a weakened Dumbledore at the end of the sixth book.

Hardcore Potter fans know that Rowling loves misdirection, especially when it comes to Snape; he rarely is as he seems, a quality that makes him an ideal spy. Remember in the first book at the Quidditch match when Snape was seen muttering something and Harry was struggling to stay on his broom? Harry and his pals thought Snape was cursing him, but in reality he was performing a counter-curse to keep Harry safe.
Likewise, in killing Dumbledore, Snape very well may have been following the headmaster’s orders. Consider the following: Dumbledore’s last words were “Severus Severus, please.”

What Harry took to be a plea for mercy may well have been Dumbledore ordering a highly conflicted Snape to murder him and maintain his credibility with the Death Eaters.

It’s also quite possible that Snape had told Dumbledore he’d been forced, while spying on the Death Eaters, into taking a binding magical vow to kill Dumbledore if Draco Malfoy, the youngest Death Eater and a Hogwarts student, couldn’t pull the trigger.

Why it matters:

Snape’s true loyalties - and how quickly everybody learns about them - will be a huge part of Book Seven.

Harry could try and avenge Dumbledore, only to learn that there was nothing to avenge. Think of Harry’s turmoil knowing that he has innocent blood on his hands.

Or Snape could turn out to be bad. Think of a confrontation between Harry and the man who had tricked Dumbledore into trusting him.

Good stuff either way.

Who is R.A.B., and is he still alive?

Much of the sixth book focuses on Voldemort’s pursuit of immortality. Through intense research, Dumbledore finds out that Voldemort, while a Hogwarts student, had persuaded a teacher to tell him about horcruxes - objects in which you can hide pieces of your soul. As long as they’re safe, you’re alive, if only in a vaporous state.

To make one, you have to kill somebody. Voldemort is believed to have seven; at least two have been destroyed.

Harry and Dumbledore tracked down a third, but when they got to its hiding place, someone had beaten them to it. He left a note and signed it R.A.B., and he taunted the Dark Lord by saying he knew his secret.

The popular theory is that R.A.B are the initials of Regulus Black, a former Voldemort henchman who tried to defect and was killed (we think) on the Dark Lord’s orders. He is the brother of Harry’s godfather, Sirius.

Why it matters:

If R.A.B. is Regulus Black, and if he is still alive and hunting down horcruxes, that’s a big deal for Harry. Not only would this give him a partner in his quest, it means that partner is the next of kin of his dearly departed godfather, who was, of course, the best friend of his dearly departed parents.

Imagine that: Harry destroying Voldemort with the help of Sirius’ brother. It’s a nice thought.

Bonus nice thought: What if Snape was the Death Eater Voldemort ordered to kill Regulus Black, only he refused and that’swhen he defected to the good side? Regulus lives, and Snape is redeemed completely.

Deaths: Who, when, where?

Rowling ignited an inferno of speculation by revealing that two characters will die in “Deathly Hallows.” The online discussion boards are alight with guesses, and Vegas has established odds.

So who’s it going to be?

First, keep this in mind: The wizard world is at war. Powerful sorcerers are fighting one another, and you can bet the Killing Curses will fly with fury throughout the book. No one is safe. In saying two characters will die, Rowling most likely meant that two major characters will die.

One of the big deaths is a coin-toss: Either Harry or Voldemort is going to get it. Or maybe both. Book Five informed us that neither can live while the other survives, and Rowling has said “Deathly Hallows” contains their final confrontation.

Mythologically - and Harry Potter is nothing if not a bit of modern mythology - it would make sense if Harry dies, because sometimes that is what heroes do.

If Harry dies, he will have done so willingly. In his first year, he begged the Sorting Hat to put him in Gryffindor house, whose students are distinguished by their bravery. Brave people realize that dying is sometimes the cost of bravery, and Harry is brave as they come.

The book’s American editor said in an interview on the “Today” show that one death scene is particularly emotional, which puts the Avada Kedavra cross-hairs on a particularly beloved character: a Weasley, or Hermione Granger, or Neville Longbottom. Or, if Rowling wishes to rob Harry of yet another father figure, she may kill off the gentle Hogwarts groundskeeper Rubeus Hagrid.

Why it matters:

Just as vital as who is killed is when and where it happens. An early death of a friend will greatly color Harry’s emotions, and thus his judgment, throughout the book.

Not to get too maudlin here, but it seems odd that Rowling would confirm that the book includes the wedding of Bill Weasley (now a werewolf) and Fleur Delacour (the smoking-hot French vixen we met in Book Four). The ceremony is likely to be a room full of targets, and Death Eaters are not above attacking weddings.

Other items of interest:

Why is it important that Harry has his mother’s eyes? What is it we’ll learn about Lily Potter and her sister?

What will happen with the two-way mirror that Sirius gave Harry, who is the character who performs emergency magic late in life.

And is the last word really going to be “scar?”

John Zaremba of The Patriot Ledger (Quincy, Mass.) may be reached at jzaremba@ledger.com.