Chapter 25 – The Seer Overheard
- We may not see much of it, but it’s very nice to see Harry in a proper romantic relationship at last, especially considering how much chemistry he and Ginny have.
- Professor Trelawney’s account of the night she made the prophecy doesn’t seem to agree with Dumbledore’s. Dumbledore says that the Death Eater who overheard them (i.e. Snape) was ejected from the building before he could hear all of it, but Trelawney describes Aberforth standing with Snape outside the door immediately afterwards, so shouldn’t Snape have been able to hear the whole thing? And if this happened during the prophecy, Trelawney shouldn’t have been able to remember it.
- Last year, Dumbledore explicitly said he would tell Harry everything, and then deliberately withheld the identity of the Death Eater who overheard the prophecy. Naughty Dumbledore. His only excuse is that Harry was always going to react badly to that information, and it was probably best for him not to possess the knowledge while spending another year being taught by Snape. Also, when Harry asks how Dumbledore can be sure Snape’s on their side, Dumbledore pauses and thinks before simply answering, “I am sure”: presumably, he was considering whether to tell Harry the full story about Snape.
- What comes next is only one half of the climax for this book, but it’s certainly different from this point in previous books, given that this initial action is just one step towards defeating Voldemort rather than a full resolution of anything.
Chapter 26 – The Cave
- Right from the start, there’s an ominous atmosphere to this chapter – how could there not be, heading into a dark cave in the side of a cliff – and you can cut the tension with a knife. The use of a lake inside the cave is especially effective, given how water represents the unknown: you never know exactly what’s beneath the surface. I also like the subtlety of Dumbledore’s exploration of the environment – presumably searching for traces of magic is a precise and acquired skill: Harry has a good quote where he mentions that he “had long since learned that bangs and smoke were more often the marks of ineptitude than expertise”.
- Dumbledore’s reaction as he drinks the potion is both disturbing and feeds the mystery of his character. His role as a chessmaster has already been established – though still not to its full degree; his anguished begging could indicate his acknowledgement of the fact and his guilt over the deaths he may or may not be responsible for, in addition to his troubled family background which is detailed in the next book.
- The way the Inferi are described earlier in the book, they sound like mindless automatons, so why are they afraid of fire? Is it a consequence of the spell that reanimates them, possibly a self-preservation mechanism?
- I love that last quote from Dumbledore: “I am not worried, Harry. I am with you.”
Chapter 27 – The Lightning Struck Tower
- Who’d have thought that Malfoy disarming Dumbledore would prove so important?
- Likewise, who’d have thought that Peeves smashing the Vanishing Cabinet in Chamber of Secrets would be important? I feel sorry for Montague getting stuck in limbo between the cabinets – it must have been terrifying for him.
- Once again, Dumbledore is in a situation where he should be on the defensive, and yet maintains calm, controlled superiority over an increasingly agitated opponent. I find his lack of action against Malfoy through the year questionable, though: I understand that he didn’t want Malfoy to be killed, but still, two students nearly died and they didn’t survive because of anything Dumbledore did.
- After seeing him crying in the toilet because the reality of being a Death Eater is too much, it’s not a surprise that Malfoy doesn’t have it in him to kill. Yet he still tries to pretend he wants to stay on this path – because really, it’s the only path he knows.
- Dumbledore’s death hit me harder than Sirius’s, since I liked the character so much – in spite of the fact that I’d expected Dumbledore to die at some point: in fiction, the mentor to the hero often dies to make things that much harder, and Dumbledore was getting on in years anyway. I had, however, thought he’d make it to the last book. Looking back at my diary, I was also fooled into believing Snape was definitely a bad guy – so I guess I fell into the same trap that Harry did in Philosopher’s Stone: it’s just too easy to accept.
Chapter 28 – Flight of the Prince
- The battle inside Hogwarts is brilliantly chaotic, much like the battle in the Ministry. It still doesn’t feel quite as significant as it ought to; maybe if Harry had been there from the beginning.
- Does the Gryffindor hourglass getting smashed symbolise how totally irrelevant the House Championship is, and has been for a while?
- To be fair to my younger self, Snape certainly addresses Harry in a villainous manner as he tries to escape. Him screaming “DON’T CALL ME COWARD!” takes on new meaning in hindsight; I’d originally thought it might be related to some kind of past trauma.
- And suddenly, the battle is over, all goes quiet, and the characters are given time to properly mourn the loss of another hero.
- Another mystery that I guessed correctly back in 2005: R.A.B. being Regulus Black.
Chapter 29 – The Phoenix Lament
- Since no solid reason was given for Dumbledore trusting Snape, aside from apparently giving him the benefit of the doubt, I feel I should have realised that there was more to it.
- Fleur subverting Mrs Weasley’s – and possibly some readers’ – expectations of her, and sticking with Bill despite his disfigurement, is brilliant. And now Remus and Tonks are a couple too! Rowling just piles on the shipping in this book.
- The presence of Dumbledore’s portrait in the Head’s office adds such a sad, final certainty to his death – as if the background noise of Fawkes singing wasn’t enough.
- McGonagall assumes the position of Headmistress by default – so when she calls Hagrid to her office along with Flitwick, Slughorn and Sprout, does she intend for Hagrid to replace her as Head of Gryffindor House?
- I actually find the implications of Dumbledore wanting to be buried at Hogwarts a bit sad: Dumbledore had made Hogwarts his life, because he certainly didn’t have one left in Godric’s Hollow or, as far as we know, anywhere else.
Chapter 30 – The White Tomb
- There’s a change in Harry’s approach to the upcoming Horcrux quest – “He did not feel the way he had so often felt before, excited, curious, burning to get to the bottom of a mystery…” – rather than being driven by his natural curiosity, solving the mystery is now a duty.
- The similarities between Voldemort and Snape that Harry emphasises are certainly meaningful, but with hindsight, I can’t help thinking of Dumbledore’s line about Voldemort and Harry in the Order of the Phoenix film: it is not how they are the same, but how they are not.
- I felt as sad as ever when I re-read Dumbledore’s funeral – though I do think Dumbledore, of all people, would have been pleased that it took place on a bright summer’s day, in contrast to how funerals are usually portrayed in fiction. I feel the same way as Harry that the speech at the funeral doesn’t mean much in regards to how we, the readers, knew Dumbledore. Harry smiling at a humorous memory of Dumbledore reminds me of when my family lost our dog last year: for some time afterwards, I felt like I should only be sad, yet I kept recalling the memories of him and feeling happy to have had him in my life at all.
- I can’t be the only one who got serious Peter Parker/Mary Jane Watson vibes when Harry tells Ginny it’s too dangerous for them to be together. Ginny even has the same colour of hair! It’s good that Ginny does understand, but disappointing that their future is in question.
- “He will only be gone from the school when none here are loyal to him.” And that may not be for hundreds of years, if the people at Hogwarts remain true to what Dumbledore believed in. That is true immortality.
For much of its length, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince moves slowly, and doesn’t feel especially significant. Even though the second wizarding war is underway, our main characters are (relatively) safe at Hogwarts and trying to get on with life as normal. With the amount of focus on slice-of-life events, with the occasional life-threatening situation popping up, Half-Blood Prince feels very similar to Prisoner of Azkaban. Yet the content is so interesting – both the character development and the exposition regarding Voldemort – that I can’t call the book weak for this.
From the ‘Horcruxes’ chapter onwards, things escalate, and it becomes clear that a major function of this book is to set up the next one. Harry, Ron and Hermione have been set on a proper quest, with specific step-by-step objectives. In the final pages, Harry reveals that he won’t be going back to Hogwarts for his seventh year, thus unexpectedly breaking the established pattern of the books and telling us that the final instalment will be something very different. As I read the final page, I felt almost exactly how I did when I first completed it in 2005: a strong sense of anticipation, for the end is definitely in sight.