It’s Valentine’s Day! Let’s talk about Christmas and memories.
I’d like to preface this with my usual blather about overall impressions and background with this book, of course, before we properly begin. I’ve only read Half-Blood Prince once, and I remember not really liking it all that much when I did. To be fair, it kind of is a departure from the others in overall content, but now that I look back on it, not too much of a departure that makes sense for fifteen year old Cassandra to not enjoy it.
Or is it? All this teen drama… well, as a teenager, though my social circle and high school experiences were not this intriguing, I can’t imagine being interested in wanting to read more about the feelings and emotions of other teenagers. No; I distinctly read and wrote to escape from my reality of the time, and all this stuff about who’s-dating-who struck a little too close to home for me to enjoy it properly, I think. I rarely dabbled in Young Adult Fiction, skipping directly from children’s novels to what was on my dad’s shelves—mainly David Eddings and other stories in similar high fantasy worlds, stories that dealt with mainly adults and their troubles, or at least, other coming of age stories that detailed teenagers in an extraordinary environment. And while the Harry Potter series is precisely the latter, this installment is, one would argue, the most conventionally “Young Adult” of the seven.
I can’t remember who said it, it’s been too long, but somewhere along the way someone referred to Half-Blood Prince as “the Gossip Girl of Harry Potter” and since I agreed at the time, harboring such disdain for that series as I do, I’ve kinda carried this vague dislike of the book without entirely remembering why it was, exactly, I disliked it so much.
So it’s under these circumstances that I returned to these relatively unfamiliar pages, hoping to give it a second chance, or, at least, rediscover what it was that so decidedly turned me off to this book.
I feel a little like we’re stepping into a Pensieve after that last sentence, which I guess is appropriate, all things considered.
CHAPTER 16: A VERY FROSTY CHRISTMAS
Whenever I start one of these, I always feel like I’m not going to have much to talk about, and then it just turns into another surprisingly lengthy entry. I’m hoping the same happens again with this one, but please bear with me if it just feels like I’m spinning my wheels.
First of all, and I know I always say this, but poor Harry. Ron and Hermione are on the outs yet again, and I can sympathize a lot with Harry, trying steadfastly to remain largely neutral throughout all of it. Being stuck between two warring friends is butts. But hey, at least Christmas should fix things, right?
Nah. You should know by now, young Harry, that you rarely if ever catch a break.
The first thing that strikes me about these chapters is that they feel kind of placeholdery. The whole book feels a lot like that, really, at least up to this point. We’re roughly halfway through, yet there hasn’t really been anything terribly pressing, comparatively. Sure, there was the attack on Katie Bell, the shifty way Malfoy and now Snape are acting, and Dumbledore’s lessons, but other than that, it’s been a lot of social maneuvering and school stuff, WAY more than the preceding books, it feels like.
Which I suppose is kind of thematic. But I’ll probably touch on that in the bit for next chapter.
For now, it’s Christmas! And as there is currently a blizzard blanketing everything in snow outside as I write this, it seems oddly appropriate.
Compared to the last Christmas Harry experienced, this one seems cozy in comparison. Everyone is more or less safe and whole, enjoying the time with family and friends; we get a little glimpse of what Lupin has been doing, spying amongst the other werewolves, we get more Fred and George (which is always welcome, let’s be real), and we get treated to a bit more Bill/Fleur and how deliciously embarrassing and sappy that whole deal is, which I kinda love.
Speaking of love (tis the season, after all) can I just say how adorable Mr. and Mrs. Weasley are, even after all this time? It just shows what hard times bring out in people; I adore that they’re still clearly in love with each other and, even though both are monumentally stressed out with all that is happening in their world and their lives, it’s important to them that the other know just how much they care about each other, considering that the next day could quite conceivably be their last. It’s sweet, and it’s touching, and it’s wonderful to see here, and honestly, it’s the kind of relationship I aspire to. Sure, they get mad or annoyed with each other, they fight, but it’s always still abundantly clear that they love each other as well.
I like that in this chapter we get a taste of the many different types of love through the various interactions of these characters. We have the enduring but down to earth love of Arthur and Molly, the silly honeymooning romantic love of Bill and Fleur, the mostly physical lust and infatuation of Ron and Lavender (oh my god, her Christmas present to him, I forgot about that and just started laughing hysterically along with Harry when I read it this time).
And, of course, this being Christmas, we get a bunch of familial love as well. Even though we don’t get to see too much of Percy’s unexpected Christmas visit, I think it’s nice that it’s included in this chapter, even if he was forced into visiting by the Minister of Magic himself. It continues to underline this theme of caring and family that’s pervaded the entire book so far, even if it does end less than desirably. Then again, Percy is kind of an asshole, and though his mother is ready to forgive him in these troubling times, it stands to reason that his younger siblings are still less than kind about it.
As for Harry’s brush with the new Minister of Magic… holy shit, Harry, you’ve grown up a lot, haven’t you? I remember being incredibly impressed with and happy about Harry’s standing up for himself in the face of the Dursleys in the beginning of Prisoner of Azkaban, and now just look at him. The end of this chapter has to be one of my favorite parts so far; I like that Harry knows exactly what sort of game Scrimgeour is playing, AND how to play it. I LOVE stuff like this, political maneuvering, people saying things without actually coming forward and saying it up to a breaking point. Ugh. It’s so good. I live for stuff like this. I’m so proud that Harry’s matured enough to be able to engage in conversations like this, a sixteen year old standing his ground against a full grown man, an accomplished wizard, Auror, and politician to boot.
Fist pumping moment, that is.
CHAPTER 17: A SLUGGISH MEMORY
If last chapter highlighted the theme of love and its many different incarnations, this next highlights the social maneuvering aspects of this book as a whole.
Granted, we got a bit of that in the conversation with the Minister of Magic, and some smatterings throughout in Harry’s prior dealings with Slughorn, but I believe that by the end of the chapter we know exactly why this has been the case.
I also like that, though Harry in a sense won in the last chapter, his suspicions about Malfoy and Snape continue to fall on reluctant ears. It makes things interesting, gives Harry an immediate sense of conflict; it’s a classic case of boy who cried wolf—raise the alarm about someone in the past enough, and it eventually comes back to bite you in the ass.
Even Dumbledore loses patience with him about it, which I find fascinating more than anything else. This is a side of Dumbledore that we’ve rarely seen before, and never seen in regards to interactions with Harry. I like that these glimpses, along with the continued reminder and bad omen of his withered hand, serves as a reminder that Dumbledore, this kindly, wise mentor figure that has been a sort of constant in Harry’s life so far, is ultimately human.
And honestly, when you think about it like that, it’s hard to be surprised by certain future events……
But anyway. We get more memories of young Tom Riddle, so cruel and calculating and friendless (in contrast to, say, pretty much the entirety of that last chapter, yay for parallelism). And then Harry is set with the task for retrieving the true memory from Slughorn. I like that, after Dumbledore’s warnings to Harry about Slughorn’s nature, his tendency to “collect” people, as it were, he uses Harry not once, but now twice to get things that he wants to happen. It’s an interesting, and most definitely manipulative thing to be teaching and condoning in someone, isn’t it? But it offers another glimpse of Dumbledore as human, as well as giving Harry some real-world advice and experience, I think. Harry’s got all the love and support he could ever hope for, but he’s also got to have some street smarts and manipulation up his sleeve if he wants to get anywhere, if he wants to literally survive.
It’s just a strange way to go about it, and I remember thinking as I was reading this for the first time how betrayed I was by Dumbledore’s actions, how I found him horrible and manipulative and awful, but I know I was young and reacting to my own personal experiences with manipulative adults in my life. It’s interesting what nearly a decade (oh my god, I feel old) of life experience does to your perspective, since I now actually really enjoy these glimpses into Dumbledore’s usually infallible exterior. It’s a mark of growing up, of questioning your idols and authority figures, discovering reasons why they probably shouldn’t be on pedestals, and a reminder that we are all very human and make mistakes and questionable choices in the end.
So bring on more of that, I say. It might have been too much for fifteen year old Cassandra looking for an escape, but its more than welcome now. Which is natural; it’s a hard thing to go through, but it’s part of growing up, it’s part of coming of age, and though it might be uncomfortable at times, it is when stories are most uncomfortable to the reader that they ring the truest, I think.