“Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” (607p)
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince was certainly 2005’s most eagerly awaited release. On its first day alone it sold more than nine million copies worldwide. In Harry’s sixth year of school the wizarding world is in turmoil as Lord Voldemort’s return reverberates, meaning Harry must prepare for his coming showdown in the war against Voldemort and his followers by getting to know just who Lord Voldemort really is.
Minister for Magic Cornelius Fudge has been forced into resignation and disgrace after allowing Voldemort to return to power, and his final act is to report to the Muggle Prime Minister1 for a talk about Voldemort and the problems facing both the magical and non-magical worlds. Rufus Scrimgeour is named Fudge’s successor. Meanwhile, Severus Snape is sworn to an unbreakable vow by Narcissa Malfoy to protect her son, Draco Malfoy, in his task set by Voldemort. The outlaw Bellatrix Lestrange, though, distrusts Snape and believes him to still be loyal to Dumbledore and forces him to further vow to fulfil the task if Draco fails.
During the summer, Albus Dumbledore enlists Harry Potter’s unwitting help to persuade retired professor Horace Slughorn to return to his old Hogwarts post. When Dumbledore comes to collect Harry, an unsuspecting Harry is told that he has inherited all of Sirius Black’s possessions, including the house used by the Order of the Phoenix as headquarters. Harry then spends the remaining holiday at The Burrow with the Weasleys and Hermione, where he receives his OWL results, but sees his dream of becoming an auror over when he fails to receive high enough marks in Potions class to qualify.
He spends a relatively relaxed and care free summer until a day out in Diagon Alley sees him run into Draco Malfoy again, and Malfoy’s suspicious behaviour at a known Voldemort sympathiser’s haunt makes him weary of Malfoy’s own involvement with the Death Eaters, resolving Harry to watch Malfoy throughout the coming school year. As school begins, Snape is unexpectedly announced as the new Defence Against the Dark Arts instructor while Slughorn replaces him as the Potions teacher, and his pre-requisites for that class allows Harry and Ron to take it at NEWT level. On the first day of class, Slughorn lends them old Potions textbooks and potions ingredients to use. The previous owner of Harry’s copy of Advanced Potion Making has scribbled notes all over the pages, making corrections on and little annotations in the margins. Initially annoyed at the previous owner, Harry changes his mind when he discovers that the unknown owner’s corrections yield better results than the instructions and Harry is able to excel at the potion Slughorn has set them.
Ominous Death Eater attacks continue throughout the year. On the first Hogsmeade visit, Katie Bell, a Gryffindor student, is seriously injured while carrying a cursed necklace through Hogsmeade, apparently while under the Imperius Curse. In another incident, Ron accidentally drinks poisoned mead intended for Dumbledore. Harry reacts by administering the Bezoar he had submitted previously as an assignment to Slughorn. Hermione is so distraught over this that she and Ron, who were feuding mostly over Ron dating Lavender Brown and Hermione’s relationship with Viktor Krum, reconcile; Ron soon breaks it off with Lavender. Meanwhile, Harry realises that he has feelings for Ginny, although she is now dating Dean Thomas.
Dumbledore privately tutors Harry using his Pensieve to view collected memories about Voldemort’s past. Dumbledore speculates that Voldemort splintered his soul into six fragments called Horcruxes to attain immortality, while leaving a seventh piece in his body. Two Horcruxes have been destroyed (Tom Riddle’s diary by Harry and Marvolo Gaunt’s ring by Dumbledore). When Harry finds Malfoy sobbing in a boys bathroom on the sixth floor, accompanied by Moaning Myrtle, they hurl curses at each other. Harry casts “Sectumsempra” inflicting huge gashes across Malfoy’s body. Snape arrives and saves Malfoy. He attempts to re-possess the Half-Blood Prince’s Potions book, but Harry hands him “Roonil Wazlib’s” copy. Harry receives detention, causing him to miss the Quidditch finals. Nonetheless, Gryffindor wins the Cup, and during the victory celebration, Harry’s suppressed feelings for Ginny are revealed when he spontaneously kisses her; Ginny has just broken up with Dean Thomas, and she and Harry begin dating.
Harry reports Malfoy’s suspicious behaviour to a seemingly unconcerned Dumbledore. He reassures Harry that he trusts Severus in keeping a lookout. Soon after, Harry learns from Professor Trelawney that it was Snape who passed a prophecy to Voldemort that ultimately led to James and Lily Potter’s deaths. Enraged, Harry confronts Dumbledore, but the Professor affirms Snape’s loyalty. Dumbledore, meanwhile, has located another Horcrux and asks Harry to accompany him in retrieving it. Distrusting Malfoy and Snape, Harry asks Ron, Hermione, Luna Lovegood, Neville Longbottom and Ginny to patrol the halls while he and Dumbledore are gone and gives them the remaining Felix Felicis potion for luck. Harry and Dumbledore apparate to a secret cave. They aim to retrieve the Horcrux (Salazar Slytherin’s locket), by advancing past Voldemort’s defences. Dumbledore, however, has been greatly weakened due to the mysterious liquid he had to drink in order to acquire the locket. Returning to Hogsmeade, Harry and Dumbledore see Lord Voldemort’s Dark Mark hovering over Hogwarts. They fly to the Astronomy Tower on borrowed broomsticks and are ambushed by Draco Malfoy. Dumbledore paralyses Harry, who is under his Invisibility Cloak, just before Draco disarms Dumbledore. Draco admits he was behind the school attacks and has helped Death Eaters secretly enter Hogwarts via the pair of Vanishing Cabinets, although Dumbledore discerns that Voldemort has cursed the obviously frightened boy. As members of the Order and the few from Dumbledore’s Army battle Voldemort’s followers in the castle below, Death Eaters appear in the tower and urge Draco to fulfil his mission — killing Dumbledore — but Draco hesitates. Snape arrives and a weakened Dumbledore entreats him with an ambiguous plea; Snape casts Avada Kedavra which hits Dumbledore squarely in the chest. The impact hurls his body over the tower wall.
Upon Dumbledore’s death, Harry is released from the paralysing spell. Harry pursues Snape and Malfoy, as their only way of escape would be to disapparate outside the boundaries of Hogwarts. Malfoy escapes as Snape duels Harry. During the duel, Snape reveals that he is the Half-Blood Prince. Harry appears to have been defeated, but suddenly Buckbeak’s intervention causes Snape to start running away. Snape disapparates outside the school gates and escapes. Harry recovers the locket from Dumbledore’s body, only to discover it is a fake. Inside is a note from someone with the initials “R. A. B.”, who has apparently stolen the real Horcrux and left the fake one in its place. The school year ends abruptly with Dumbledore’s funeral. Professor McGonagall is appointed Hogwarts’s interim headmistress and Professor Slughorn replaces Snape as the head of Slytherin House. Hogwarts is rumoured to close down due to the murder of Dumbledore. Harry decides to leave school in search for the remaining Horcruxes. Ron and Hermione vow to accompany him, while Harry seemingly ends his relationship with Ginny to protect her from Voldemort.
I found Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince infinitely more enjoyable than its predecessor, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, because there is a lot to this novel. It has a very simple and uncomplicated plot to it, the whole basis is to prepare Harry for what’s to come against Voldemort. Unlike other novels in the Harry Potter series the sub-plot – each book has one; the hunt for the philosopher’s stone, the whereabouts of Sirius Black, etc. – is so minor that it plays almost no real role in the book itself and tends to happen off page, leaving many a page instead to be filled with Harry’s interaction and time spent with Dumbledore. The other stuff, such as Harry being named as Gryffindor House Quidditch captain and the lovers tiff between Ron and Hermione, is just nice filler to keep the story ticking over and to give him something to do in between his fun with Dumbledore. All of this is highly enjoyable as well.
But what is most enjoyable is the full development of Harry-Dumbledore relationship as it takes on a different shape in this book. Previously Dumbledore very much treated Harry as a child but as the novel progresses you can visibly see the change because Harry is now a man, and so Dumbledore treats him as an adult. All those little things he would say in the past about “tell you when you are older” is revealed, too, and a number of gaps in the whole story are filled. The dialogue is quite fun as well and I appreciated the change in Harry. He acts more mature and has a lot more steal to his personality; in essence you can see him grow up. I really enjoyed these parts and the novel as a whole. It is quite a lot of fun throughout with the right amounts of humour thrown in and the little things that drag you into their world.
As I always say with the Harry Potter reviews, it is apart of a series and as such should be read in series order. Where Harry Potter and Order of the Phoenix was in effect a pointless doorstop full of irrelevant rubbish, this one is chock full of information that Harry Potter fans had been yearning to know for several years. That also means a first time reader – as in, someone who had not read the previous five – is probably going to be lost if they just picked this up off the shelf and began reading. Absolutely, read it, because it is a top notch novel, but not if you have not read the previous editions because I imagine there being so many things that would just fly over heads that it would, in all likelihood, ruin the reading experience.
1 in the narrative it is not stated or made distinguishable whether or not this is Tony Blair, then Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, or a likeness. I read and imagined this person to be him, however.