Re-Reading Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: Chapters 1-6

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On Saturday 16th July 2005, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince was published, and on that morning I headed into town as quickly as I could to get my copy. In WHSmith, not only were the staff all wearing wizard hats, but the audiobook of Order of the Phoenix was playing through the shop! Taking my copy of the book home, I retreated to my room and stayed there for the rest of the day – with a break for lunch – until I had finished it. (Order of the Phoenix had taken me two days.) I was as happy as ever with the book, though as I noted in my diary, a lot of it seemed dedicated to setting up the final instalment, which I spent the next two years both hungering for and slightly fearing.

So, while I wait just a few more days for the release of the Harry Potter and the Cursed Child script, let’s crack on!

Chapter 1 – The Other Minister

  • Starting this book from the point of the view of the Muggle Prime Minister, as he speaks to Cornelius Fudge and Rufus Scrimgeour, is certainly different. It works okay, providing a new context to things, immediately telling us in some detail what Voldemort is doing, and emphasising how wide-ranging the threat is.
  • The Prime Minister’s lamenting over the recent disasters certainly feels akin to this year – 2016 has been pretty rotten overall, though I doubt Dark wizards are behind it.
  • Fudge makes reference to meeting this Prime Minister’s predecessor, yet according to Pottermore, he only became Minister for Magic in 1990. For Fudge to have met the current and previous PM before the escape of Sirius Black, the last one must have had a very short time in office. (I’m assuming that these Prime Ministers don’t correlate to the real-life ones of the time.)

Chapter 2 – Spinner’s End

  • I like how Rowling doesn’t make up some generic, meaninglessly-designed neighbourhood for the beginning of this chapter: the rows of old houses are what you’d expect for residences in the vicinity of an old mill (plus the name, Spinner’s End).
  • I also like how when Snape appears, he isn’t initially named, but we can immediately tell who it is since his appearance is so distinctive – ‘a man with long black hair parted in curtains around a sallow face and black eyes’.
  • The last two books have only given us a vague idea of Snape’s roles working for both Voldemort and Dumbledore. This chapter solidifies things, and certainly does a good job of creating the impression that Snape really is a bad guy. The quality of his explanations for his actions becomes even more impressive after reading Deathly Hallows – he manages an incredible balancing act.
  • ‘And – forgive me – you speak of dangers…you were facing six teenagers, were you not?’ It does sound pretty pathetic unless you actually know the teenagers in question.
  • This scene reminds me of Alfred Hitchcock giving an example of creating suspense – placing a bomb under a table and telling the audience that it’s there before the characters know anything. The reader knowing all of this certainly creates tension, despite (or because of) how shadowy the details are.

Chapter 3 – Will and Won’t

  • Even when we’re finally back in Harry’s perspective, Rowling still slips in some smooth exposition through the convenient use of newspapers.
  • There’s some more great prose moments in this chapter: “‘I don’t mean to be rude –“ (Vernon) began, in a tone that threatened rudeness in every syllable” and “the atmosphere was thicker than cold custard”.
  • Dumbledore calling the Dursleys out on their treatment of Harry is satisfying, particularly when he also points out that going to the opposite extreme with Dudley hasn’t done him any good either.

Chapter 4 – Horace Slughorn

  • It’s good to see Harry and Dumbledore having a proper, mostly open conversation, after Dumbledore spent most of the last book deliberately distancing himself from Harry, which did more harm than good.
  • That Voldemort is now using Occlumency against Harry, so he won’t have to deal with disturbing visions for the duration of this book, feels slightly convenient – particularly as the visions abruptly come back in the final book.
  • Horace Slughorn is an intriguing character from the start, simply for being the first Slytherin that Harry’s met who isn’t a horrible, antagonistic person (yes, I know Snape has a decent side, but he still treats Harry terribly) – and yet he still manages to retain Slytherin characteristics, with plenty of self-interest and a dash of cunning.
  • After the end of the last book, I was worried that a) Harry would spend a lot of time dwelling on the loss of Sirius and b) he would end up isolating himself from Ron and Hermione. It’s nice of this chapter to provide reassurance that these things won’t happen.

Chapter 5 – An Excess of Phlegm

  • I wish we knew more about Hermione’s parents. What do they think about their daughter spending the majority of her summers away from them, especially in a world which is now at war? How much does Hermione even share with them about it?
  • “(The clock’s) current position suggested that Mrs Weasley had taken to carrying it around the house with her.” I love these little details which tell you so much about a person’s mindset without spelling it out.
  • Mollywobbles…not much more I can really say to that.
  • The impression of Hermione’s private thoughts – seen in the way she scrutinises Harry when she first sees him – is good, as is the fact that Ron and Hermione are still discussing things with each other when Harry’s not around. Plus there’s Harry’s reluctance to talk about Sirius: he’s not going to be brooding over it, but he’s far from recovered.
  • Bonjour, Fleur! Can’t say I was expecting you, but you’re certainly very welcome, even if Mrs Weasley and Ginny don’t agree.
  • When Hermione “vanishes” in the middle of that very tense moment when Harry’s just revealed the prophecy, it really does seem like something terrible has happened for just a second.
  • If Hermione’s frantic attitude over the O.W.L.s was familiar to me, her anticipation of the results is even more so. I still had a month to wait for my A Level results when this book came out.
  • How does Hermione only get an E in Defence Against the Dark Arts? Was that just to make Harry look better by comparison?

Chapter 6 – Draco’s Detour

  • In the last book, we saw where Gilderoy Lockhart ended up – and now Igor Karkaroff’s fate is tied up with a passing mention. It’s things like this that make the lack of resolution for Ludo Bagman stand out.
  • Did Dumbledore agree to make Harry Quidditch captain as a gesture of recognition that he could cope with extra responsibility after all?
  • The morose atmosphere of wartime Diagon Alley is certainly well done, as is the refreshing and inventive fun being had inside Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes. However, it was at this point that I began considering the ethics of love potions – but more on that later, I think.
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About velociraptor256

Hi, my name's Richard. I created this blog to talk about my interests - and I have quite a few of those. I love zoology in general, herpetology in particular (especially snakes!), writing (have won National Novel Writing Month seven times so far, plus three Camp Nanowrimos), reading, astronomy, palaeontology, and travel. Thank you for coming to my blog, and I hope you find something that interests you here!
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