However J.K. Rowling has chosen to end her phenomenally popular series, we can be fairly confident that readers arriving at the very last word of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" won't be greeted by an enigmatic black page.




It's not likely that Rowling, a wonderful storyteller who thrives on vivid detail, would cut to the Chase, so to speak, and leave it up to outraged fans to figure out what happens to Harry, as the creator of "The Sopranos" so famously and frustratingly did last month with the final episode about his New Jersey mobster.




But imagine the pressure on Rowling to come up with an ending that perfectly wraps up for her millions of fans the seven-novel coming-of-age saga of the young British wizard and his battles with his consummately evil foe, Lord Voldemort.




We know that Rowling has said at least two important characters die in "Deathly Hallows." Is Harry one of them?




Apparently only Rowling's husband knows for sure, and he, unsurprisingly, isn't talking. The rest of us will find out on Saturday, and the vast majority of Potter fanatics hope the book ushers Harry into adulthood, not the grave. It seems to stretch credulity that Rowling, a mother herself, would want to kill off her much-beloved boy, and recent news reports say she told a British Broadcasting Corp. interviewer "never say never" in response to a "Save Harry" petition demanding more adventures.




But a prophecy in Potter books five and six said one of the two battling wizards must kill the other, so the anxiety continues to simmer.




Rowling faces the dilemma of all creators of characters who grow older in book, TV and movie series and comic strips: how to, if and when the time comes, say goodbye.




Author Lemony Snicket, the pen name for Daniel Handler, ended his 13 "Series of Unfortunate Events" books, starring the ill-fated Baudelaire orphans, last year. "The End" ended with the Baudelaires on a mysterious island, and an extra chapter following the end of "The End" left them setting sail for a trip back to civilization. A final image of a question mark follows, leaving things suitably vague.




"If you've ever written a book, it's not really finished, but abandoned," Handler told CNN.com.




Sometimes beloved characters simply grow up and out of the story arc that is their natural home. Female readers of a certain age will recall the Betsy, Tacy and Tib books written in the 1940s and '50s by Maud Hart Lovelace. Set from 1897 to 1917 in the Midwest, they evolved from simple books for grade-schoolers to young adult novels as they took Betsy from childhood to marriage and then gracefully stopped.




Similarly, the "Little House on the Prairie" series by Laura Ingalls Wilder and its TV show spinoff didn't so much end as reach maturity. Knowing when to draw the curtain is important: Louisa May Alcott's "Little Women" remains an influential classic, but very few readers were as charmed by its sequel, "Little Men."




Other series are unimpeded by the flow of time, and their ageless characters just live in the moment and keep on having adventures. Nancy Drew, for example, is the eternal high-school sleuth, riding her roadster to a kind of pulp fiction immortality in a long series of novels for kids and, most recently, in the film version starring Emma Roberts.




But sometimes characters, even in the comics, do die.




Earlier this year, none other than Captain America, the Marvel Entertainment superhero who "represents the pinnacle of human physical perfection" and first appeared in 1941 to fight the Nazis, fell to a sniper's shot in a story reflecting the current clash between national security and civil liberties. But is Cap gone forever?




"He's very dead right now," temporized Dan Buckley, Marvel's president and publisher.




Even in such gentle cartoon strips as "Funky Winkerbean" and "For Better or for Worse," death might claim a character. "Funky" creator Tom Batiuk, himself a prostate cancer survivor, is slowly but inevitably accustoming his audience to the death from breast cancer of Lisa Moore.




"I've gotten a huge amount of e-mail. It's really mixed," Batiuk told The Courant in an interview in May. "There's a lot of people saying, 'Please, don't do this to Lisa.' Or, 'You shouldn't be doing this on the comics page.' But then there are people who are going through something like this, and they appreciate the story line."




And readers of Lynn Johnston's "For Better or for Worse" know that grandfather Jim, who is battling the effects of a stroke, won't be around forever.




Garry Trudeau created in his Doonesbury strip the inimitable Lacey Davenport, a congresswoman of impeccable ethics and kindness, believed to be based on Republican U.S. Rep. Millicent Fenwick of New Jersey. Lacey contracted Alzheimer's disease and later died.




"I can't write Lacey any more, and since she was a favorite character, I did give up something real," Trudeau told writer Edward Cone in 2006. "But again, the loss served a narrative purpose, an opportunity to describe the slow-motion death, the disappearance of self, that is the signature of Alzheimer's."




Still, Lacey was too good to stay gone forever. Now and again, Trudeau brings her back for some trenchant ghostly commentary.




Sometimes, it's the fans who won't let the killed-off stay dead. When Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had the evil Professor Moriarty push Sherlock Holmes' over a Swiss waterfall in "The Adventure of the Final Problem" in 1893, the outcry was so great the author felt he had to bring the great detective back in 1902 for a star turn in "The Hound of the Baskervilles."




Whatever happens to Harry in "Deathly Hallows," Rowling says she is burned out on the Potter series, having wept her way through the final revisions. She recently told a BBC interviewer that she changed the book's final word, said to have been "scar:"




"Scar? It was for ages, and now it's not.




"Scar is quite near the end, but it's not the last word."




She also told a British TV show last year that she admired authors who can kill off their heroes, so that they cannot be brought back by other writers, which has been tried with little success in sequels to books such as "Gone With the Wind."




Even a Muggle knows that the secret of great entertainment is to leave the audience wanting more.