First impressions: great fun read for a long afternoon (I started around 1 p.m., finished around 9 p.m. with several breaks to deal with children, food, cats, etc.) I liked it; I would not say that I loved it the way I loved POA or OOTP, but certainly more than I loved COS or GOF. It felt shorter to me than the previous several books, or at least like less happened in its pages. I did not cry when That Thing Happened. Now, these are first-reading off-top-of-head regurgitations, in no particular order, written down mostly for me to help me organize my thoughts, NOT a review, chock full of spoilers both grand and minute...some emotional reactions, some intellectual reactions, some ponderings that I may take back later, some probable errors and points of muddle, no structural or grammatical logic, and several gratuitous tense changes. You have been warned.
There is one thing I want to say first, so that if you think I am living in the Land of Denial and don't care about my reasoning, you can stop reading now: I did not, for one minute, believe that Snape was working for Voldemort. Not during the scenes with Narcissa and Draco. Not when he used Avada Kedavra on Dumbledore. Not when we found out where the name Half-Blood Prince came from, though his role vis a vis the potions book was hardly a surprise at that point. I believe as firmly as I did when I started this book that Snape will die the sacrificial hero of the Harry Potter series, the one who despised himself enough for things he had done in his past to put himself through the torture of killing Dumbledore when Dumbledore asked him to (which I am positive is what Dumbledore was pleading for, not protection -- would Dumbledore plead for his life, knowing that it would get Snape killed and cost him Voldemort's trust to spare Dumbledore in the presence of all those Death-Eaters? No way).
I took two pages of tiny-print shorthand notes while reading, and the only line I underlined was, "No one's that good an actor, not even Snape." I think it's dead wrong now and thought so on page 328 when it was said, long before the bulk of the revelations. I might better buy the argument that Snape wants to BE the Dark Lord and is waiting for the dust to settle between Harry and Voldemort, trying to keep Draco et al alive to be his apprentices with the two most powerful wizards gone, which would be a very Slytherin thing to do, but I don't really believe that of him. I think Snape is as devoted to Dumbledore as Dumbledore is to him, and cannot imagine how he persuades himself to do the things he does for him. Is it Dumbledore he loves so much that he has the strength for it? Or someone else -- since love is the only power that Dumbledore believes really matters, since Dumbledore would not trust Snape unless Snape was acting at least partly out of love, where in Snape's life did he find that love? That's the big question, not whose side is Snape on.
Okay, now that that's out of the way...I'm just going to recopy some moments/quotes/ideas I tagged on paper as I read, with additional notes here and later, now that I've finished the thing and can look with hindsight:
15--The wizarding world is united in wanting Fudge's resignation. This cracked me up. (Now, now, I'm sure that's not true of Voldemort...)
25--Bellatrix declaring her distrust for Snape, in almost the exact same words that Harry always declares his distrust for Snape -- both Bellatrix and Harry love and trust their master/headmaster in nearly all other areas but both think he has a blind spot where Snape is concerned. Although Harry may have forgotten it by the end of HBP, Bellatrix is probably the one person he still hates as much as he hates Snape -- his mortal enemies do not trust each other. And then Snape claiming to Bellatrix that he didn't want to hurt Harry because he thought Harry might be a powerful dark wizard around whom the Death Eaters could rally as a hero! Hahahahaha!
70--Lily being a phenomenal Potions student. She and Snape must have been competitive (or else sharing notes). Despite Harry announcing that Snape called his mother a Mudblood so he's sure Snape hated her, I have yet to see any evidence that Snape has the Slytherin pureblood prejudices except as something to which he must pay lip service. I also have yet to see any evidence that he hated Lily Evans.
87--I want a working Metamorph-Medal. Not one of these nasty fakes but one that will let me change my appearance at will.
92-3--Molly blaming Voldemort for premature relationships and marriages. Perhaps this is why all the romances in the storyline, every single one of them from Ron/Hermione to Harry/Ginny to Remus/Tonks to Pince/Filch even though I adore the idea of that last one, struck me as feeling forced and contrived in the reading, or perhaps it's because we're seeing them through Harry's limited POV and perspective on adult love. (It's nice to know that in the wizarding world there's no peer pressure for teenagers to lose their virginity, though -- at 16, snogging still seems to be as far as anyone goes.)
107--Ron to Harry: "You're my captain."
114--I also loved Narcissa's crack that Harry would be reunited with Sirius before she was reunited with Lucius. She didn't sound sorry about that -- of course she wouldn't be sorry if Harry died, but I did not sense any great passionate longing for her husband. Sure, she snapped at her sister for criticizing him, but that's only to be expected.
177--I absolutely love the way Snape introduces the interests and pleasures of DADA. I also absolutely love that Hermione then compares it to how Harry introduces it, which says intriguing things about Hermione and Harry both.
180--"Yes, sir." "There's no need to call me 'sir', Professor." This made me shriek aloud.
185--Amortentia. They had that in a Star Trek episode, I think. Or maybe I am thinking of rohypnol...
192--Ginny warning Harry about taking advice from strange books. This is the second time Harry fails to talk to Ginny when he should about something of great importance, the last being when he was afraid of being possessed by Voldemort in OOTP -- he crushes on her but why doesn't he LISTEN to her?
193--Hermione thinks the HBP has girl's handwriting. I wonder why we get that detail? It brings up all sorts of interesting possibilities, though given the apparent compulsory heterosexuality of the wizarding world, I should probably just take it as a swipe at the HBP's masculinity.
239--Harry announces that the HBP is a better teacher than Snape. I love this, and thought it was a dead giveaway.
253--Harry's observation that Dumbledore is actually less intimidating to talk to than McGonagall. Must ponder this.
262--Dumbledore asking Harry if he's sorry for baby Voldemort, sounding almost as if Harry shouldn't be. I would think such compassion would be vital to being the Chosen One successfully. I am still not sure to what extent we are supposed to believe that Voldemort was born (lots of incest and inbreeding in his wizarding family) versus made (dead mother, abandoned by father). Did Dumbledore ever consider trying to LOVE him instead of to teach him right from wrong? If Voldemort never knew love, did he even believe in it or its power?
283--Though I do not much enjoy the Ron/Hermione dynamic, I did like Harry worrying about his friends dating and what that will do to all their relationships. That was a very lovely, real moment I remember well from adolescence.
289--And right after that we get the bad jealousy-as-lightning analogy, the first inkling Harry gets that he has feelings for Ginny -- not a sudden recognition of her brains, her talents, her passion, but his sense of wanting to hit Dean. Maybe that's how it often is for teenage boys, but it didn't make me feel great that his first romantic/erotic impulse was violent. It's the television formula where sexual attraction always bursts out of darker emotions rather than love.
321--Snape afraid...for Draco? Of Draco? And then telling him he made an Unbreakable Vow for him? Snape willing to kill or die for this spoiled boy?
328--"No one's that good an actor, not even Snape." Harry said it about Snape convincing Draco that he wanted to help him. I am positive that he is wrong, and this is the critical line in the book.
332--Lupin announces that Dumbledore trusts Snape and therefore they all should. He says he is grateful to Snape for making the Wolfsbane for him while he was at Hogwarts, and dismisses the fact that Snape outed him as a werewolf, ostensibly costing him his job. Then we get the story of how Lupin was made a werewolf as a child, deliberately, to punish his father, and Greyback's current activities which make Greyback quite possibly the most detestable figure in the HP world behind Voldemort, definitely ahead of Bellatrix in my eyes. Preys on children! So what Snape did to Lupin is child's play next to that...particularly since we learn later that no one could have held the DADA post for more than a year and it's probable Lupin knows that now even if he didn't know it when he took the job.
357--Harry announces that he is Dumbledore's man through and through. We knew that, it's why Fawkes brought him Godric's sword in COS, but hearing him declare it twice and make Dumbledore mist up is lovely.
377--The HBP's advice dovetails perfectly with Snape's at Harry's very first Potions lesson, as Hermione points out later. Duh.
405-6--Hagrid tells Harry about Snape and Dumbledore's argument in which Snape said he didn't want to "do it" anymore and Dumbledore insisted that he had to, and also that he had to make inspections in his House. I read this as, Dumbledore knows Snape doesn't want to be the man who may have to kill him. This is another huge moment and we get it third-hand: Harry's perspective on Hagrid's recollections of what he overheard.
409--"[Harry] was rapidly becoming obsessed with Draco Malfoy" -- this line made me giggle. He sure spends more time thinking about Draco than Ginny.
438--So much of what Dumbledore "teaches" Harry are his own conclusions about things, not facts. So if he was wrong about Snape, all his conjectures are thrown into question -- he should not have trusted Snape and he may have misjudged all sorts of things relating to Tom Riddle. But Harry wants to believe that Dumbledore is right about Riddle, and that means that sooner or later he will have to confront the question of whether Dumbledore was right about Snape. It's funny, going into this book I thought Dumbledore might be proven a foolish or over-fond old man, but I no longer think that. I think everything has happened for a reason and he knew it, even the awful stuff he didn't stop. If Harry is Dumbledore's man as he says, he will have to come to understand why Snape does what he does, not just here but back over the years, why Snape has been permitted and encouraged to be the person Harry supposes him to be, which has never been anyone he could respect or love even in the slightest.
444--Another reiteration of love being more powerful than dark magic. And on 509, the explanation of love sounds reiterated from what is still my favorite children's book ever, Madeleine L'Engle's 'A Wrinkle In Time'. Love saves you from It, it saves you from Voldemort, it's the thing you have that the darkness has not.
446--Voldemort's DADA professor one-year curse. More notes on this at the end.
463--Harry stalls on getting Slughorn's memory, just as in the last book he stalled on practicing Occlumency. He says he's Dumbledore's man but he does a crappy job of listening to him! How many people have paid the price for that?
485--Slughorn calls Ron "Rupert" in one of his moments of confusion. Hee! Has Rowling been reading RPF as well as fan fiction?
500--The diary from COS as a Horcrux. I love that we finally get an explanation of how that magic worked, because it seemed ridiculous that a mere student put so much of himself into his diary and no one realized what he was capable of.
503--Dumbledore explains that when the Horcrux ring withered his hand, Snape saved him. Yep.
508--Dumbledore thinks Lucius is terrified of Voldemort! Hee.
522--Draco sobbing to Myrtle. How the mighty have fallen.
524--There is something nastily visceral yet queasily erotic about Harry's reaction to Legilimency: "He knew what Snape was going to do and he had never been able to prevent it..." That just isn't true, in fact Snape found a way to stop his Occlumency lessons precisely because Harry blocked him and broke into his memories. Harry is just not trying hard enough. On what level does he want to be revealed? It's necessary for the plot, of course, that he run and hide the book and for Snape to call him a liar and a cheat and give him detention, and Snape seems to WANT him to hide it so it stays safe -- did Snape give it to him in the first place via Slughorn? is this why Harry had to have a different Potions teacher this year and Snape got DADA, considering he had to leave anyway to get in cahoots with Voldemort to carry out Dumbledore's plans? Well, the way it plays out psychologically is rather perverse...
532--Harry gets to catalogue his father's and Sirius' detentions. Unfortunately we get no details of the transgressions. Does he have any moments as in OOTP where he is somewhat ashamed of James Potter? How come he NEVER thinks about his mother?
545--And the critical revelation of the series thus far: Snape was the one who overheard Trelawney's prophecy and told Voldemort! And told Dumbledore he has regretted it ever since! Obviously Dumbledore knew and chose not to share with Harry the information of who had heard the prophecy, and apparently Dumbledore never told Snape the part of the prophecy that he had failed to hear because he said only he and Harry knew. What Dumbledore does and does not tell people (or allow to be told -- Harry can't tell McGonagall what's up in the end, though he tells two fellow teenagers) means that every reader has to decide whether to trust his control of the truth or not. Last book I didn't; this book I did, for reasons I cannot completely explain yet, because moments like this SHOULD make me suspicious. (Go ahead, tell me that it is my desperation to believe that Snape is, if not innocent, then still redeemable...yes, but to reject that is to accept that Dumbledore was wrong, not only about Snape, but quite possibly about everything he has ever taught Harry.)
549--Dumbledore thinks Snape's telling Voldemort may be the greatest regret of his life. Why? Surely he knew the Death Eaters were killing other people he knew, possibly even people he liked since they turned on their own when anyone betrayed them like Regulus Black. Dumbledore pauses like he's trying to make up his mind and ultimately offers no explanation for why he trusts Snape, just says he does. There is a missing piece here. With Dumbledore dead how are we going to find out what it is? (Yeah, I've suspected the in-love-with-Lily thing before and I suspected it here, but it almost seems like that's not big enough. She's been dead for more than a decade, Snape can't find it in his heart to say one kind word to her son because her son is also James Potter's son...I imagine that at some point he must have had a love that transformed him, and I don't see when he and Lily would have been close enough for her to have been that.)
And from there, Dumbledore takes Harry to find the (missing) Horcrux, begs Harry to kill him, begs Harry to take him to Snape, sees the Dark Mark, renders Harry immobile to witness but not be able to act when Draco shows up, tells Draco that he knew all along that Draco was supposed to kill him and felt badly for his predicament (!)...pleads with Snape, whispering his first name when the Death Eaters close in...and Snape, with revulsion and hatred on his face, uses the Unforgivable Curse. I do not think for a moment that the revulsion and hatred is intended for Dumbledore. How much of it is for himself, versus the Death Eaters, Draco, Narcissa, etc., is hard to gauge. The greatest show of emotion we get from him in the entire book is when Harry calls him a coward -- he can deal with murderer, turncoat, etc. but NOT that, and he insists on pointing out that Harry's father was only brave with the odds 4-1 in his favor. It seems to me that Snape instinctively would like to hurt Harry, yet he deflects his spells and does not attack. I don't think cowardice has anything to do with that decision. He won't hurt Harry, and it can't be just Voldemort's orders because Bellatrix used Crucio on him to her heart's content last time out. Then there are two nifty bits of information at the end: McGonagall did not think Snape knew the Death Eaters were coming, and Harry does not believe Draco would have killed Dumbledore.
On page 446 we learn of Voldemort's DADA professor one-year curse, no surprise to anyone who's been reading this series. Did Dumbledore tell Lupin about that when he gave him the job, so Lupin knew to expect some calamity and might have known something like Snape's revelation was coming, or did Dumbledore tell Lupin after the fact, so Lupin would not blame Snape? Either way it seems that Lupin genuinely no longer blames Snape for it (after telling Harry that it was all Snape's fault!) and even if Dumbledore never said a word about the curse for fear of scaring off future candidates, surely Lupin can do the math and realize that while Snape may have been the agent of his departure, he was probably not the cause. One wonders what Dumbledore has been saying to potential candidates for the job -- "Lockhart, it's only a one-year appointment, but think of the book you'll be able to write!" "Moody" would have taken the job anyway just to be at Hogwarts, and Umbridge didn't believe Voldemort had any power so that wouldn't have stopped her. But...DUMBLEDORE KNEW HE WOULD LOSE SNAPE BY GIVING HIM THE DADA JOB. Which adds enormous interest both to his refusal to do so for the five previous years, and to his decision to do so this year, knowing how it must end. I also find it curious that Voldemort was willing to teach students just to be at Hogwarts -- Dumbledore later dismisses this as Voldemort wanting to get at Gryffindor's belongings, but he also suggests Hogwarts felt like home to Voldemort as it does to Harry, and Voldemort seems to have had a teaching capacity among his followers where the Dark Arts are concerned even if he didn't care about them as people. How much of an effort did Dumbledore make to accept/influence the adult Tom? I don't think Snape has ever been at Hogwarts for love of teaching or love of children yet Dumbledore took him in...
I wasn't amused by the opening -- the Prime Minister and Shacklebolt as his secretary -- the jokes were superficial and it just seemed cheap to me. My son asked, "How come if wizards talk to Tony Blair (heh), they haven't told him to do something about the environment?" Which I thought was a brilliant question, and it leads to so many others -- why aren't the wizards themselves doing something to save the rainforests, why doesn't a Minister of Magic speaking to a Muggle Prime Minister worry about weapons of mass destruction that could presumably affect both their realms, just for starters. It isn't that I have any issue with Rowling writing allegorically about terrorism, mass murder, pedophilia or any of the other real-world concerns that pop up in the HP books: it is very specifically this sort of crossover with the real world that presses my buttons the wrong way. I've said before that I never know whether to be comforted or disturbed by an X-Files/La Femme Nikita view of the world where nearly all evil can be attributed to a small cabal of wicked men (yes, men, as they always tend to greatly outnumber the women in such fictional scenarios). I would dearly love to believe that a Cancer Man or a Voldemort can be blamed for all suicide bombings in the Middle East, rather than an incredibly complicated series of historical, political and social factors; I would dearly love to believe that George Bush has been acting under the Imperius Curse since he took office, and that, as in HBP, a senior member of the British government has been quacking nonsense because he's been under a curse as well.
That not being the case, however, I do not want to suggest to my children that Evil is carried out in the world by a hidden few while a majority of people go about their business obliviously or cowering in terror because of what leaks out in newspaper headlines. The Holocaust didn't happen because a handful of evil men gave orders; it took thousands of citizens who were not only cooperative but active, enthusiastic participants in blaming and exterminating Jews. I dislike the idea that if there were wizards in the world, they might be manipulating contemporary politics without even paying attention to the issues that it would seem are of greatest importance to the Muggle and Wizarding worlds together: the survival of the planet, the care of the environment and the safety of people in both realms. We can't do anything about the fictional Lord Voldemort and the giants under his control, but bridges collapse and governments change because of human agency, decisions and errors made in full cognizance, not because some Obliviator showed up and made us commit to things we wouldn't have otherwise.
What's really interesting about that and the next chapter at Snape's home, though, is that they break the long stretch of information given only from Harry's POV. I don't think we've had such narration since the very first book, when we learn how Harry was brought to the Dursleys. Here we see those things, if not objectively, then at least omnisciently, and it is fascinating to see descriptions of Snape, Narcissa and Bellatrix that are not through Harry's eyes. Clearly, Snape does not revere Wormtail as the man who brought the Dark Lord back when everyone else had abandoned him. Whether he hates Peter for having been James and Sirius' friend, for being a coward and turncoat or because he's competitive with Peter for Voldemort's trust is impossible to say at this point but the idea of them living under one roof, hating each other, is quite fascinating.
So is the distrust between Cissy and Bella (!) which gives us a pretty clear picture of a Bellatrix who is NOT insane and has NOT been tortured by the Dark Lord, and, even more, Narcissa's utter distrust of Voldemort and attachment to Draco. She loves her son, and he loves her: given the way Dumbledore talks to Harry about the mother-son bond that saved Harry's life, this strikes me as hugely important, and despite everything Draco does in this story and the sacrifices people make for him, I think that in the end we are going to see Draco if not redeemed then at least choking in fear and failing to commit whatever the maximum atrocity demanded of him might be. He is not remotely the villain of this series; he's small-time stuff.
I noticed that Snape calls Lucius and Narcissa by their first names, somewhat unusual for him as he generally calls everyone by last names or titles (the Headmaster, the Dark Lord). I thought he was protecting Harry right from the start, pretending he didn't hurt him because he thought Harry might be a powerful wizard who could become a replacement Voldemort for the Death Eaters (I'm still giggling about this -- Snape wouldn't have followed Harry to the loo without a wounded Draco around, let alone to a Death Eater meeting!), calling him mediocre in every way which we know he does not believe -- Snape may begrudge Harry's skills at Defense Against the Dark Arts but he acknowledged them the night Sirius escaped from the Shrieking Shack. I find it very curious that he tells Bellatrix and Narcissa how mediocre he finds Harry -- if he's trying to impress them with the importance of his role, one might almost have expected him to make a bigger deal about Harry's powers and himself being at Hogwarts keeping an eye on him for Voldemort. That Unbreakable Vow struck me as dreadfully convenient and it's perfectly obvious Snape had his own reasons for agreeing to it -- it wasn't for Lucius, Narcissa, Draco or Voldemort. (Does Draco realize what Snape and Dumbledore both sacrificed so Draco wouldn't have to become a killer, or a failed killer?)
So Harry owns Grimmauld Place, which barely factors in here (odds of James, another pureblood, having some biological connection to the Blacks, perhaps -- or Lily?) -- like Kreacher -- if Dobby is willing to do the same assignment that Harry gives Kreacher, it's odd that he's in here at all, so I assume that both the house and the elf will become more relevant in the next book. (ETA: It has been pointed out to me that we see the locket that is probably THE locket in OOTP, when Harry is helping Sirius clean the house; seems Regulus Black, who most money is on to be RAB, hid it there. Did Mundungus steal it?) The entailment confused me because if the house was supposed to pass to the next male named Black, I would think it would have been obvious that Bellatrix couldn't have inherited it, but it does explain why Sirius got it from his spiteful mother. That business with Fletcher is odd, not the theft which is entirely predictable but the going to Azkaban: given that he's a member of the Order that must have more relevance than we see in this novel.
I also wonder whether Lupin will be more relevant in the next book but I don't much care: whiny werewolf Lupin who cries over Dumbledore in front of the children after he did not cry over Sirius, cowardly wereman Lupin who reduces Tonks to an embarrassing caricature of a pining-away girly-girl, is not anyone I care to meet again. I've previously posted about all the reasons I wanted Lupin's sexual orientation to remain a matter of conjecture -- he and Sirius living together, buying Christmas presents together and sharing secrets in OOTP are the closest thing we have ever had in a mainstream, bestselling children's series to a gay couple, and I wanted at least the option of continuing to envision them that way, particularly since there is no evidence in POA or OOTP that Sirius was ever interested in girls (they were interested in him; he largely ignored or scoffed at them) and Lupin's lycanthropy is written as a not-subtle parallel for homosexuality/AIDS ("the parents will not want someone like me teaching their children"). Now, instead, we have Lupin explaining how he got the condition due to childhood ravaging by Greyback -- the socially safe heterosexual AIDS victim versus the predator who likes little boys and spreads his condition wilfully.
But forgetting how much the pairing bothers me in terms of Lupin, it bothers me just as much in terms of snivelly Tonks, whom I sincerely hope is under Imperius because otherwise I cannot countenance an Auror running off her post to make sure her sweetheart is all right. How come Rowling always has the girls looking at daydream charms, love potions, etc. (117) and making them do all the stupid pining? Harry's "pining" is all subverted into action -- not stupid action like trying to force a romantic connection, but turning his energies to other matters. The silly girls (220) drive me batty, Lavender and Won-won drive me batty, Pansy and Draco drive me batty, the approved date-rape love potions could make me stop reading this series. Fleur does not have a single good point until the end and then she ruins it by saying she's pretty enough for both of them. And Hermione, who lacks her normal saving-the-day moment, CHEATING for Ron at Quidditch tryouts! And Tonks pining nearly to death and Merope DYING for love, when they don't have the excuse of being teenagers...I can forgive Merope because she has never experienced a moment of real love in her entire life from anyone, but what is Tonks' excuse for acting like Romilda Vane? The exception to the horrid female characters ironically is Luna, who is supposed to be a flake; I'm with Ron, her Quidditch commentary is the best I've heard, and the casual way she says (314) that the Minster of Magic is a vampire...she's somehow not-stereotypical in all her stereotypical ditziness.
I had a horrible moment upon hearing about the Inferi, thinking that someone would raise James, Lily or Sirius, but then I realized we have no idea where the former are buried and the latter didn't leave a body. Still, the fact that they suddenly exist and we find out 62 pages in that Voldemort used them was a pretty clear sign that we were going to see them eventually in a dramatic moment, and I must admit to being a little let-down by the Dead Marshes imagery, not something more powerful. In general I felt that there were several setups that didn't live up to my imagination: Draco repairing the cabinets when I expected some more ominous, deadly way to give Death Eaters access to Harry (though he's clearly a better wizard than I've ever given him credit for), Slughorn just sort of fading into the background after giving up that one bit of information about Tom Riddle...a lot of the new material just didn't light my fire. And threads not picked up...why did Lockhart have a cameo in OOTP if he's not going to play some kind of role? When do we find out why it's relevant that it was Neville who could have been in Harry's shoes -- why Neville, that boy with those parents and that personality, and not another? Is Petunia really a Muggle, and how much does she know about her sister's world and powers?
But I forgive the unwrapped threads because of the Horcruxes which are just plain neat. So Voldemort has torn his SOUL in pieces. Wow. Interesting approach to immortality! It's like a twisted inverse of the Osiris myth. (Snape used an Unforgivable Curse on Dumbledore; does that mean that Snape could...? Nah, not going to go there, I don't believe it of him.)
So, is Harry himself the last Horcrux -- it this why he can read Voldemort's mind, why he has the scar, etc.? And is Regulus Black's middle name in honor of his and Sirius' Uncle Alphard?