Be advised, not pissed: If you haven’t read Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, but wish to do so, you might not want to read this as it contains spoilers.
I finally finished reading Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince last week. I’ve been on a Potter streak lately, and now I am finally caught up. This book wasn’t the kind of page-turner that Order of the Phoenix was with all its intensity and downward-spiraling chaos, but it easily kept my attention for the pieces of the past that Harry discovers with the aid of the great wizard Dumbledore. Their trips into the pensieve to witness the past and learn the story of how Tom Riddle became Voldemort paved the way for Book Seven in which Harry will have to face Lord Voldemort and either destroy him or be destroyed.
Half-Blood Prince jogs along at a relatively slow pace as most of the big action in the book takes place in the past. The present Hogwarts story concerns the love lives of Harry, Ron, and Hermione and their awkward efforts to find romance and do a little snogging. Much of the book is quieter than the previous books, but it is by no means boring. Rowling does a fantastic job of keeping tension seething just beneath the surface through news of the world outside the school and Harry’s growing paranoia, which contrasts sharply with the relatively peaceful year at Hogwarts following two incredibly tumultuous ones. The peace, of course, is all on the surface. All of the characters are terribly afraid and unable to articulate their fears, which set everyone on edge, ready to jump down each other’s throats at only slight provocations. Throw teenage hormones into the mix, and Rowling has created a pretty tense atmosphere.
Throughout the novel, Rowling does an excellent job humanizing the insufferable bully Draco Malfoy. One even begins to pity him the dark and mysterious task about which he is obviously conflicted and yet trapped into. At the novel’s beginning, the unpleasant Professor Snape (still apparently working as a double agent spying on Voldemort’s Death Eaters for Dumbledore) is forced to make the Unbreakable Vow to finish whatever task Malfoy has been set if he is unable to accomplish it. I assumed it would be to kill Harry. How Snape would get around the Vow was one of the things that kept the book exciting. Of course we learn the plot was to murder Dumbledore and when Malfoy can’t do it, Snape does thus proving that all along Harry was right about Snape’s lack of commitment to Dumbledore’s cause. Or does it?
I had a suspicion that Dumbledore wouldn’t make it through the book considering that someone had died in each of the previous two books with the importance of the death escalating each time. With Harry’s godfather, Sirius Black, killed off in the last book, who could be more important to Harry than Dumbledore? I also knew that ultimately Harry would have to face Voldemort utterly alone, but I still couldn’t believe Dumbldore died, nor that Snape was the one to kill him. Like Dumbledore I had always believed Snape, bastard that he is, was not working for Voldemort, and I still wonder about that.
Dumbledore knows Malfoy won’t kill him. Can’t kill him. Doesn’t have it in him. Dumbledore has also demonstrated time and again that he will do whatever he needs to do, offer any sacrifice to destroy Voldemort as was seen when he made Harry force him to drink the poison that would reveal Voldemort’s Horcrux. I can’t help but wonder if Dumbledore knew that Snape had to make the Unbreakable Vow to keep his cover. Knew that Snape would have to kill him if Malfoy couldn’t. Then at the scene of Dumbledore’s death, as Malfoy has the opportunity to kill a weakened and trapped Dumbledore, Dumbledore works on him, stalls him, because Dumbledore believes that there is good yet in Malfoy, that Malfoy, though a bully, isn’t a murderer. It is as if Dumbledore has, as Harry did, seen Malfoy in the bathroom crying, agonizing over his terrible mission. When Snape arrives, he kills Dumbledore as Dumbledore knows he must, thereby preserving Malfoy’s innocence (barely) and Snape’s cover, which of course could prove invaluable to Harry, though Harry doesn’t know it.
It would be just like Albus Dumbledore to sacrifice his life to save one student (Malfoy) from evil and set in motion a chain of events that will help Harry destroy Voldemort. It would also be just like Dumbledore (and Rowling) for none of this to be revealed until the end of Book Seven.
As I mentioned in my previous Potter post, I am still constantly amazed by the way in which Rowling grows her characters through adolescence and into young adulthood. By the end of this book, though he is more passive than in previous books, Harry has seen too much, fought too hard, lost too much to really be thought of as a boy-wizard anymore.
When in the last chapter Harry defiantly proclaims to the Minister of Magic that he is still “Dumbledore’s man, through and through,” the operative word has suddenly become ‘man.’ Book Seven will be the story of Harry finally confronting his destiny.
These books are great fun and much more engaging than I ever imagined they would be, and now I’m left pacing around the room thinking, “How long do we have to wait, Ms. Rowling?”