Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling

(Spoilers through everything we know for sure at this point.)

We bought this one at our usual Barnes and Noble party. What’s especially significant is that Mike and Brian staked out a table early, so we had a great place in line and excellent seats all night. I was in charge of snacks. My cousin also came with us, and I had a great time watching him make a wand and have his fortune told and seeing all the people dressed up as characters from the series. This book came out not long after the flood/leak/whatever, and it was nice to have the story to take us out of that misery. We read it everywhere – in the living room, in the kitchen, on the back porch, on the front porch.

Order of the Phoenix was a grim book (as I was reading it, I kept saying that this was the last time I was ever going to read it, and in the future I would be skipping from Goblet of Fire straight on to Half-Blood Prince), but Half-Blood Prince, with its focus on relationships and romance, is a much happier story bookended by a grim beginning and ending. I laugh out loud with this one more than many of the others, getting involved in the silliness of Won-Won and the beast in Harry’s chest.

That’s not to say the book isn’t dark, because I am not sure what is more dark than splitting your soul as Voldemort has done. But so much of that is unanswered at this point. There’s so much we don’t know about horcruxes and about Harry’s future quest (and, of course, Snape). I am not sure that I know exactly what to say about it. I’m ready, though, for the next volume. I am ready to have some answers and to see the pieces come together.

Here are some things that stick out to me about Half-Blood Prince:

1. One of the best small victories in the series is in the beginning of this book, when Harry chooses to stay with Neville and Luna rather than hanging with the “cool kids.” I love that Harry has taken that step, that he is able to value the people who stand by him rather than being seduced by popularity. Yet another sign that he’s not truly a Slytherin. Additionally, I don’t know when I am more proud of him than when he invites Luna to Slughorn’s party. So different from the way he (and Ron) approached the Yule Ball – the prettiest girl who’d agree to go with him. This time he went with a friend, even if she’s a little strange. To say the least.

2. I think that this is, by far, the weakest A-plot of any of the books (I see the A-plot as “what this book is about” vs. the B-plot being the overall story arc of Harry vs. Voldemort). I mean, seriously. Snape is the Half-Blood Prince. That’s the big reveal. It’s . . . kind of hard to care. It pales in comparison to, say, a convicted murderer being after Harry, and, oh, by the way, he’s innocent, and, oh, by the way, he’s Harry’s godfather. The other big part of that story is that Harry believes Draco is a Death Eater. Well, so did I. And Harry and I were both right. So where’s the suspense? I mentioned this to Mike as I was reading, and he said that maybe what was important is that, for once, Harry was right the whole way through the book. I think that’s a good point. Hopefully it shows that Harry’s instincts are stronger than they used to be.

3. So, about that Half-Blood Prince. I’m still not sure how the plot of HBP could possibly have worked in CoS. How could Harry have been using the book if Snape was still his teacher? I think it worked out for the best for her to have pushed it back. I always forget that we’re supposed to make the connection between Lord Voldemort and the Half-Blood Prince as Harry does at the end of this book. I can’t figure out whether that’s pro-Snape-is-good (if this information could have been given as early as book 2, does that make it statistically insignificant) or pro-Snape-is-bad (Harry was right this whole book and he’s finally right about Snape, plus the big reveal is usually big information).

4. I love how the romantic entanglements unfold in this one – we never see Ron and Hermione having private moments, because we’re getting everything through the filter of Harry. I think that’s adorable. We see that Harry had suspected that they might date, but, unlike a girl, he hasn’t given it a whole lot of thought. Speaking of girls, and by girls I mean me, when we read this one out loud I IMMEDIATELY grasped that when Harry mentioned that the Amortentia potion smelled like “something he’d smelled at the Burrow,” he meant Ginny, though he didn’t know it himself. Mike, however, did not realize that until it came up again later. This is exactly what I mean when I talk about the difference between boys and girls. I am always on the lookout for romance.

5. I guess Harry and Ginny deserve their own bullet point. I must admit that, before HBP came out, this essay had almost convinced me that Harry and Hermione were destined to be together, but I have always been a proponent of the “one big happy Weasley family” theory (have I mentioned that I am a girl?), so I was happy at how it all worked out. Mike was reading the chapter where they finally kiss, and it was one of those moments where I had to stand up because I was too tense (both about Quidditch and about Harry and Ginny) to sit down.

6. Speaking of moments where I had to stand up, Mike was also reading the chapter in which Snape killed Dumbledore. We were reading on the front porch, and as soon as Snape came up those stairs, I had to go stand on the other side of the porch because I knew what was going to happen. I can never sit down for stuff like that. I do it when we watch TV, too.

7. Mike is a very tolerant person.

8. See also the fact that we went to see Harry and the Potters in Raleigh last night.

9. Anyway, before this gets too far off track, I must admit that I have given up trying to figure out Snape. But here is what I think – it’s going to be a pretty far stretch to convince me of any kind of redemption as far as he’s concerned. He’s been so vile and hateful to Harry when Harry had never done anything to him, when Snape is, in fact, the reason that Harry lost his parents. I don’t care if Snape had some unrequited love for Lily and that’s why he’s chosen to be on the good side, to redeem his actions . . . he’s the one who got her killed in the first place. Good luck convincing me that he deserves my compassion. And don’t get me started on his treatment of Neville or Hermione. I know the world, as someone (Sirius? Lupin?) said, isn’t divided into good people and Death Eaters, I know life’s not simple, but it’s going to take a lot for me to be able to appreciate Snape as a person.

10. Is that too mean? Snape brings out the worst in everyone, I fear.

11. I read an interesting theory yesterday that I’ll just go ahead and put here because, in case you haven’t noticed, I have completely run out of stuff to say. So, say Voldemort intended to use Harry’s murder to create the sixth horcrux. Lily’s sacrifice and her murder in some way caused the horcrux to be placed in Harry’s scar. This is why Harry could sense Voldemort so clearly in book 5. At the end of book 5, when Voldemort possesses Harry, it says that his scar “burst open.” Perhaps what was happening there was that the two pieces of soul joined back together, like drops of water would. This could also explain why Harry’s scar didn’t hurt at all in HBP.

12. I am, however, back in the camp that believes that Harry hasn’t ever been a horcrux . . . how could someone possessed by Voldemort’s soul act as Harry has acted over the series? Eschewing Slytherin, wanting to possess but not use the Sorcerer’s Stone, destroying the diary. All these things make me think that Harry is horcrux-free. But I guess we’ll see.

All right, I’m going to wrap this up now. I hope you are as thoroughly confused as I am. I would just like to say that I greatly admire J.K. Rowling’s skill as a storyteller, the way that she has managed to give us such ambiguous information. When Dumbledore says that Draco is at his mercy, is that because he knew that this was going to happen and that he was going to use Snape to keep Draco from having to be a murderer (and, by the way, I never thought I could possibly feel sympathy for Draco, so maybe there is hope for me and Snape), or is it because he was so deceived about Snape that he’s made a huge mistake? Everything she’s given us can be interpreted in multiple ways, and I love that (and hate it at the same time).

I have tried not to be overly sentimental here, but it has been such a pleasure to read these books with Mike, to share them and talk about them with my friends as we have waited for the next books. I am both dreading and anticipating the final installment. It’s been quite a ride, and I am not ready for it to be over just yet.

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