It’s going to be hard for me to discuss this title, because there was a lot of supposition and theory that came out after its publication, and of course, now we know how it all ended. But when I first read it — hoo boy, the fights my sister and I would get into, the theories I’d read online, the wondering how it could possibly end …
And it’s that feeling (along with a couple of other things that happen) that makes this one of my favorite books in the series.
Thank goodness we’re done with Whiny!Harry. But what takes its place seems even more out of character, in my opinion: Harry’s obsession with what Draco’s doing. Because here’s my question: who cares? So Draco’s sneaking off and doing weird shit in Knockturn Alley, so what? So he wouldn’t let Madam Malkin touch his arm — big deal. Dear Harry: you are supposed to be wondering what Voldemort is up to; a student who may or may not have taken the Dark Mark shouldn’t be of any concern to you in the long run. I realize that this metaphor is most likely going to run away from me, but I think it fits: let’s say you’re on a hunting expedition in Africa, and you’re hunting lion. You shouldn’t be, because they are awesome and possibly endangered, but let’s say you’re hunting them anyway. If you’re tracking the biggest, most evil lion on the Serengeti, are you going to say “Hold on, that gazelle’s looking kind of dodgy, let me stop worrying about that big ass-lion and focus on that stupid gazelle for the rest of my time here”? NO YOU’RE NOT BECAUSE YOU PAID TO HUNT LION DIPSHIT.
… Yeah, I knew that metaphor wouldn’t work. I apologize.
ANYWAY. I mean, Draco’s always been a prat to Harry, but it seems like, all of a sudden, Harry thinks Draco’s up to something, and because Harry not only has a saving-people complex, but also has a buttinsky complex, he wants to know what he’s up to. Again, who cares? Focus on the lion!
And yeah, Harry turns out to be right, and it’s a huge sign of growth in Harry that he doesn’t go into the “I Told You So” dance in front of Hermione and Ron, but that is probably only because Bill is turning into a pseudo-werewolf in the next bed in the hospital wing. So, progress?
But, before I go into other themes, let me talk about the whole Sectumsempra thing. And let me take it from this perspective: I’m a girl. And, as a girl, I would occasionally run into girls crying in bathrooms. Hell, to this day I will try to avoid being dragged into a conversation with a stranger with running mascara. But here’s the thing — if I enter a bathroom and see someone crying, I don’t hang around. I go in, do my business, flush, wash my hands, and exit, usually without saying a single word. Now, granted, usually the crying person isn’t accompanied by a ghost, but still: the principle should apply in both the normal and the wizarding world. So, as a parting shot to Harry: DON’T SPY ON THE CRYING KID, EVEN IF IT IS DRACO. BE A MAN AND DUCK OUT AND CONFRONT HIM WHEN HE LEAVES. Geez, it’s only Etiquette 101 I’m talking about here.
Harry & Ginny
To that end, when did Harry fall in love with Ginny? I mean, last I knew, he was still brooding over Cho, and now all of a sudden, he smells the Amortentia potion and -boom!- insta!love for his best mate’s sister? Don’t get me wrong, I adore Ginny (and the entire Weasley clan, save Percy for obvious reasons), and I think Ginny is an excellent match for Harry — able to talk to him like a normal human being, not about to treat him with kid gloves, and above all, has also been violated (in a sense) by Voldemort — but the whole development came on quite suddenly, in my opinion. That’s all.
I know what you’re saying — “Quirrell? Did you go back in time? This year’s Defense teacher is Snape, dude. What’s Quirrell got to do with anything?” Well, if you’re like me, you were reading the chapter about when Voldemort asked to become Defense Against the Dark Arts professor, and Dumbledore reveals this:
“Oh, he definitely wanted the Defense Against the Dark Arts job,” said Dumbledore. “The aftermath of our little meeting proved that. You see, we have never been able to keep a Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher for longer than a year since I refused the post to Lord Voldemort.” 
And here’s what I did when I read that this time: “But, weren’t Percy, Hagrid, and the Twins both familiar with Quirrell before Harry began at Hogwarts?”
So I did what any good scholar would do — I returned to Sorcerer’s Stoneto learn the situation. And here’s what Hagrid said back in that book about Quirrell’s post:
“Poor bloke. Brilliant mind. He was fine while he was studyin’ out of books but then he took a year off ter get some first-hand experience …. They say he met vampires in the Black Forest, and there was a nasty bit o’ trouble with a hag — never been the same since.” [SS, 70-71]
And there’s a nice essay over on the Harry Potter Lexicon (which is the best thing ever for HP geeks, might I add) that insinuates that Quirrell used to teach Muggle Studies before his sabbatical, and it wasn’t until his return that he taught the Defense post, which would be Harry’s first year. So apparently, that is not a mistake.
Luna and Neville
Again, Neville takes a backseat in this edition — it’s all about Harry, Voldemort, what’s Draco doing, and the Half-Blood Prince, but Luna Lovegood has some lovely moments. For instance, this moment involving both neglected parties:
“Are we still doing D.A. meetings this year, Harry?” asked Luna, who was detaching a pair of psychedelic spectacles from the middle of the Quibbler.
“No point now we’ve got rid of Umbridge, is there?” said Harry, sitting down. Neville bumped his head against the seat as he emerged from under it. He looked most disappointed.
“I liked the D.A.! I learned loads with you!”
“I enjoyed the meetings too,” said Luna serenely. “It was like having friends.”
This was one of those uncomfortable things Luna often said and which made Harry feel a squirming mixture of pity and embarrassment. [137-138]
To that end, I am always ecstatic when Harry invites Luna to the Slug Club Christmas party.
Before we get into the meat, let’s check off some foreshadowing bits we’ve talked about before. Remember that Vanishing Cabinet, and the Opal Necklace, all the way from back in the Chamber of Secrets? Yeah, so did Draco. (Maybe he read the books too? Like in Spaceballs, where they’re watching the movie to try and figure out what happens? oh god I just compared Harry Potter to Spaceballs)
And before we get to the next book: Marvolo Gaunt’s ring has the Peverell crest, and Harry hides his Potions book in a spot marked by a bust wearing a tiara. You’re welcome.
The prophecy states that neither Harry nor Voldemort may live while the other survives. Pretty straight-forward, for a prophecy. It shows that one of them has to kill the other. And one of the things Harry struggles with in this book is: is he really the Chosen One? And while yes, he totally is, all because Voldemort overreacted (based on false knowledge) and went ahead and marked him instead of Neville because he thought Harry was going to be the bigger threat, it does bring up a question:
What if Neville had been the Chosen One? What would Harry’s life had been like? Would they have switched places in the lore? For instance: Voldemort goes to kill Alice and Frank Longbottom. Would Alice have stood in Voldemort’s place, insisting that he kill her and to spare Neville, thereby giving Neville the same protection that Harry got from Lily? Or would Voldemort have managed to kill Neville, too? And then, if that was the case, would that still leave Harry as the one to defeat Voldemort, thinking that the Potters would be the next logical choice?
But let’s say that what happened to Harry happened to Neville — he goes to his gran’s, and Harry grows up with Mom and Dad and Uncle Remus and Uncle Sirius. Would he have been the same kid in first year, or would he have ended up more like Draco? Would he still have been friends with Ron and Hermione?
It’s interesting to think about. But now, back to the prophecy. Essentially, Harry is still able to operate using free will. He doesn’t have to fight Voldemort because of the prophecy, or even for revenge against his parents or even because it’s just the right thing to do. But because Voldemort put so much into the prophecy and believes the bit he heard to end up coming true, Harry keeps getting drawn in because he’s who Voldemort believes will be the one to try and kill him. It’s knotty.
And even through the prophecy talk, Harry still trusts Dumbledore. It’s a quick question for me — why has Harry always been faithful to Dumbledore? Because here’s my experience: in the first two books, Harry sees Dumbledore for all of ten minutes by himself, but admits to having huge faith in Dumbledore’s abilities down in the Chamber with the Basilisk. Why? How does he know to have that much faith in a man he’s barely spoken to?
I think it took a lot on Dumbledore’s part at the end of Order of the Phoenix to reinstill that much faith, trust and loyalty back in Harry. And that’s why, to me, it seems just quick for Harry to proclaim to Scrimgeour that he’s Dumbledore’s man, through and through. (Although I do feel it’s completely appropriate for Harry to not want to work with the Ministry, and how awesome is the scene where Harry shows Scrimgeour his scars from the lines Umbridge gave him?)
Before we dive right into this topic, allow me to set the scene: It’s mid-July, 2005. I was working as Concessions Manager at the Maine State Music Theatre, and the president of the board’s children had all been to Bookland one fateful Saturday at midnight to pick up their editions of Half-Blood Prince. I was supposed to pick up the copy for my sister on Monday, which was my day off.
So that night, I’m down in the green room brewing coffee, and one of the girls leaves their copy on a table. And I look at it, then back to the coffee. Look at the book, then back at the coffee. Finally, after at least a pot of coffee’s worth of that type of back and forth, I tiptoe over to the book and specifically choose a part in the book that’s close to the end, but nowhere near where the action usually blows up.
I specifically remember saying to myself, “It’s only one sentence — what harm could I possibly do?”
The sentence I magically turn to:
“Don’ say that,” said Hagrid roughly. “Snape kill Dumbledore — don’ be stupid, Harry. Wha’s made yeh say tha’?” 
Just … just breathe that in for a second. Imagine if that was you, and you had always proclaimed yourself to be Snape’s Girl. And that sentence is the first sentence you read from this book.
Yeah. My head exploded. Fast-forward to Monday, where I’m sitting on the couch, skimming through the book furiously before my sister comes home, my dad teasing me for reading Missy’s book from halfway through so that I’d know what happens before she does (including throwing a rolled up paper or something at my head — I remember that, Dad). My only hope was that somewhere, in either the section before or the section after, that there would be a spark of hope — that Snape was acting on Dumbledore’s orders, that Dumbledore wasn’t actually dead. Something. Anything.
Missy couldn’t be right about this.
(If you know me in ‘real life,’ you know that this mania is similar to bets I’ve had with my friend Brad about Lost: They can’t be dead already, because Brad can’t be right about this [he wasn’t])
As soon as she was done, I took her book and read it in record time, and I’ll never forget reading Dumbledore’s funeral for the first time: I was sitting cross-legged on the floor in my bedroom, and I was listening to U2’s Greatest Hits Volume I. I know this, because “All I Want is You” began playing as I began reading about the funeral. And that was the first time I’d cried reading a book.
And then this happened:
Me: I don’t care, I trust Snape to be good.
Missy: ARE YOU KIDDING ME
Me: I trust him. I know you don’t, but I think he did it for the right reason.
Missy: HE KILLED DUMBLEDORE
Me: I’ll bet he did it on Dumbledore’s orders to protect Draco!
Me: Or his Unbreakable Vow with Narcissa kicked in, forcing him to kill Dumbledore when it looked like Draco wasn’t going to do it.
Missy: No, you dumbass, he KILLED DUMBLEDORE because HE’S A FUCKING DEATH EATER.
Me: He’s still pretending to be a Death Eater!
Missy: Even Harry said — Snape’s not that good an actor!
Me: HOW DOES HARRY KNOW HOW GOOD AN ACTOR SNAPE IS, HE’S ONLY SEEN SNAPE FUCKING ACTING
Missy: SNAPE’S EVIL
Me: SNAPE’S GOOD and will BE REDEEMED in the last book!
Missy: THAT’S BULLSHIT
Me: YOU’RE BULLSHIT
Dad: WILL YOU TWO NERDS SHUT UP IN THERE I AM TRYING TO WATCH THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK
My final thought, and it’s about the movie: I really wish they had allowed Alan Rickman to go full throttle in his final scene in Half-Blood Prince. I mean, Snape rarely gets the chance to go all CAPSLOCKY, and he’s afforded the chance when he CAPSLOCKS at Harry to NOT! CALL HIM! A COWARD!! And it would have been a perfect bookend to the scene in Spinner’s End, where Bellatrix accuses him of not going through with the Unbreakable Vow because she believes him to be a coward.
And that’s why I should be a director.
Grade for Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: 5 stars