Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

In recent memory, there has been no other book that has made me so pensive for an entire day after having read it. Almost melancholy, even. I was distracted all day at work, thinking about the ending and the relationships between characters and what was set up for Book 7.

If you haven’t finished reading HBP yet, and you intend to do so, you might want to hold off on reading this spoiler-laden post.

If, on the other hand, your brain did the same tailspin as mine did during the reading of HBP, and you’ve since heard rumors and theories out the yin-yang and would like to discuss, read on.

Before I link to what I’ve read in the past day on teh intarweb, though, let me try to recollect my initial thoughts about HBP. It’s a challenge to recall my original ideas, because some of the ideas I had a-birthing have been bolstered by the ideas of others.

On Snape
All throughout the book, I was aghast at his apparent about-face from the Order and his strengthened cooperation with Voldemort and the Death Eaters. I had begun to appreciate him for the complex and inwardly-tortured individual that he was, and this turn of behavior really stumped me. I truly thought that he had offed Dumbledore purely because Draco proved unable, and his Unbreakable Vow only returned to my memory after some moments of anger on my part.

On Romance
I love that Jo Rowling makes her young characters actually act like kids. I remember what it was like, being in high school, and suddenly getting that ‘OMG I’d really like to snog so-and-so’ revelation. Or jealousy. Or any of the related baggage that comes with teen romance (or lack thereof). Unlike the Harry’s-a-whiny-bitch phase, the Harry-hearts-Ginny phase was fairly believable, if a little forced in as a subplot, IMO. I’m sure it’s helpful for the setup of Book 7.

On Dumbledore
As usual, I had originally thought that Dumbledore was entirely too goody-too-shoes for his own good, ignoring Harry’s insistence that Malfoy was up to no good. Not until the end did I realize that, indeed, Albus actually did know what was going on in his school. Not until the very end did I see that he knew he would die, whether by poison potion or by Malfoy or by a Death Eater, although I honestly thought that he had been begging Snape to spare his life, which made little sense to me at the time.

However… the few ideas I had brewing in my head at work today finally came to fruition when I read the following LJ entries:

  • garlandgraves writes about Dumbledore’s End, Snape’s Betrayal, R.A.B.’s Note, and Mundungus’ Thieving.
  • Maya, aka mistful, expounds on relationships and romances, Draco v. Dumbledore, and other related topics.
  • Chrystal, aka talaria_now, brings up some good points about Snape not being evil and about Harry’s possibly being the sixth horcrux.
  • football_girl rounds things out with a few more points on Snape’s supposed betrayal.

OK. Now, to organize my own thoughts… well, what hasn’t already been said, anyway. I scribbled some stuff down during my lunch hour, but it’s not necessarily in any sort of discernable progression or order. So, I’m sorry if this is kind of disjointed, but I’m not going to take the time to craft a college-worthy thesis out of my opinions on HBP. 😉

Point to Ponder #1: Dumbledore knew his time was nearly up. He knew he was going to die sometime soon. He was unconcerned about Malfoy’s attempts to kill him—or, at least, unperturbed by them. He made certain that Harry knew everything he himself knew about Riddle’s past and about the horcruxes. He also made certain that Harry did not risk himself when he, Dumbledore, could take the risk instead.

Then, as Garland mentions:

So Dumbledore knows he is dying during the scenes after retrieving the locket, during the return to Hogsmeade and on top of the tower. Throughout the conversation with Malfoy he grows steadily weaker. Even as he is convincing Malfoy not to kill him, he is already dying (and probably has known he was coming close to death all year anyway, or why would he have taken the trouble to pass his work on the Horcruxes on to Harry?). Dumbledore reasons with Malfoy, not to save his own life but to spare Malfoy having blood and murder on his hands. The fact that Dumbledore is dying anyway would not make Malfoy’s act of murder any less despicable, and Dumbledore does not want Malfoy to become a murderer; we get the impression that Malfoy is not naturally evil, anyway, in this scene. He is under extreme coercion.

Things change a bit when the Death Eaters arrive–now there is the new problem of keeping Malfoy alive. Dumbledore knows that, if Malfoy doesn’t kill him, Malfoy will probably either be killed on the spot by the Death Eaters or taken to Voldemort, who will kill him.

So, here’s my theory: when Snape appears, Dumbledore knows this is the perfect opportunity to accomplish all of his immediate goals–save Malfoy’s life and keep him from doing a despicable act, plus allow Snape to fulfill his Unbreakable Vow (which I am sure he knew all about, just as he knew all about Malfoy’s plan) and therefore a) not die and b) remain ‘in’ with the Death Eaters as a spy–and all this simply by doing something he knew he was going to do anyway: die.

However, we are stuck in Harry’s POV, so all we see is Dumbledore apparently pleading with Severus for his life, then Snape ‘gazing at the professor for a moment’ with a ‘look of hatred and revulsion’ and finally casting the Killing Curse. Later Harry will report this to his friends and members of the Order and it will be seen as a great betrayal (by everyone except Harry, who has ‘known’ it all along).

But back up a moment: Snape gazes at the Headmaster for a moment. Two accomplished Legilimens do nothing but look at each other for a moment in the midst of a heated battle situation, and we are to assume there is nothing passing between them? Oh, no. I think Dumbledore is asking Snape, via his thoughts, to kill him. Remember that Dumbledore’s pain and delirium in the cave have already led him to ask for release by death (‘Kill me,’ he says to Harry). Now Dumbledore is a bit more rational, but he sees that his own death at Severus’ hands can serve a purpose. His pleas are not for his life but for his death.

To that, I would add the slightly obvious (in hindsight): in Hogsmeade, when Dumbledore is asking Harry to fetch Snape, it’s not because he thinks Snape can cure him. He wants Snape because he knows Snape must kill him. To fulfil his Unbreakable Vow, to protect Malfoy, to give his death more meaning, to bolster Snape’s reputation as a Death Eater—for Dumbledore has complete faith in Snape’s faithfulness to the good and the right, rather than to the Dark Lord, and knows he will continue to be a useful spy. Which brings us to…

Point to Ponder #2: Snape is not entirely evil. I wasn’t convinced of this while I was reading HBP, but in hindsight, it seems to be so. Snape isn’t totally down with making the Unbreakable Vow, but he does it anyway. I think he didn’t exactly know what he was getting himself into, and what it was that Malfoy had to do—hence his “let me help you” lecture/pep-talk to Malfoy during the Christmas party. I could be wrong on that, though—I haven’t gone back and re-read the book yet.

I think Garland covered the Death of Dumbledore aspect well enough in the above excerpt, so that anything I would add would be repetitive. Except this: even if Dumbledore didn’t know about the Unbreakable Vow, I’m sure that, at that moment, it was foremost on Snape’s mind. If he didn’t know about it before then, Dumbledore certainly learned it during that moment of Legilimency. Which would cause him to plead even more for his own death at Snape’s hand.

As Snape and Malfoy run off away from Hogwart’s, with Harry following and attempting vainly to stop them, Snape comments about Harry’s lack of non-verbal casting skillz. Strange, I thought as I read. He’s obviously going easy on Harry, and not just because Voldemort has some sort of private duel in mind. He’s not trying to hurt Harry—he’s just trying to escape and regroup. He’s just had to kill the one person who believed in him, quite against his will, and now this little inept Potter boy is following along and calling him a coward? I was surprised that all he did was block Harry’s lame attempts to stop him.

Point to Ponder #3: Harry believes all his protectors and sponsors to be dead and gone. Sirius, Dumbledore… now Harry’s on his own. However, he’s had another back-assward helping hand throughout: Snape. Snape warded off the enchantment on Harry’s broom during that early Quidditch match, and offered indirect Potions help as the Half-Blood Prince, and indirectly saved Ron’s life with the tip about the bezoar, and I’m planning to re-read the series and see if there are any other examples of Snape subtly (and/or perhaps subconsciously?) sticking his neck out for the son of the hated James Potter.

Somehow, I think that Snape will be an important ally for Harry in Book 7, be it covert or overt, subtle or obvious. It may come from the “inside,” and indirectly, but not accidentally. I’m sure that Harry either won’t see it or won’t believe it, but the help will exist, and will help to turn the tide. Assuming the tide is successfully turned.

Snape is fast becoming my favorite character in the HP universe—he’s torn in several directions, serving multiple masters, and has some seriously unresolved issues from his youth. No one, maybe even himself, is sure whether he’s good or evil… except Dumbledore, of course, who always believed the best of everyone.

I’m sure there’s more I’ve missed. I’m actually planning to re-read the entire series from Book 1, as I’ve only read each book one time through. Now I’ll be looking for more details, because I’m sure JK Rowling has had the entire series planned out from the beginning, planting details in early books that we wouldn’t need until later (like the locket in the cabinet at Grimmauld Place).

Poor Harry. Poor Snape. Poor Ron and Hermione, for offering to inflict Harry’s aunt and uncle on themselves before their next big adventure. 🙂

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2 thoughts on Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

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  1. ITA Dumbledore wanted Snape to kill him, Snape had protested but agreed much earlier – conversation in the woods – and once again Harry misunderstood.

    I think Snape is one of Harry’s great lessons – we first saw the Snape arc in Book 2 when the reversal occurred. Harry stubbornly refuses to open his mind where Snape’s concerned nor close it where Voldemort’s involved. I think another poster put it as – good people aren’t always likeable. Snape’s hatred and malice are real, but so are his loyalties to the Order and Dumbledore.

    It’s ironic because Sirius was an outcast from the Wizard community for years, thought to be a murderer. Now it’s very likely Snape’s in the same position and Harry can’t see it.

    Dumbledore’s death – I agree with the outline but have theories about the particulars. One is straightforward and agrees with everybody else, the other wonders if Snape didn’t silently recite some other spell than the prior to uttering the AK.

    One thing I haven’t seen mentioned – the source of Dumbledore’s agony after drinking the potion. I don’t think this was generic pain. I think this was Snape’s horror when he knew what Voldemort was going to do with Lily and James and their child. “Please, please, don’t hurt them. Kill me. It’s not their fault.” This is Snape’s pain. Dumbledore tells Harry he has no idea how Snape felt after realizing what Voldemort did to the Potters – I think Harry saw it for himself without realizing it when Dumbledore was in torment after drinking the potion. Voldemort would have access to this memory because it was LV Snape was begging way back then. He put it in the basin because it was so agonizing and he knew it would prostate anyone who experienced it. That’s Snape’s feelings Dumbledore is forced to channel when he drinks the potion.

    I think Snape continued to teach and protect Harry after Dumbledore’s death despite his hatred for Harry. Maybe Harry has to learn that emotion isn’t everything – maybe there are things that triumph over that, like fidelity and loyalty and integrity. Snape hasn’t learned Dumbledore’s zen qualities, so his hatred infuses his personality, but he still is a true servant of Dumbledore.

    During some of the books I do enjoy how Snape protects some of the students without copping to it. I liked his bland, ironic subversion of Dolores Umbridge’s requests for veritaserum, and I liked how he lazily told one of the Slytherin’s to quit strangling Neville. He’s too proud to show emotio other than intense, passionate rage. Maybe in a hundred years he’ll evolve.

    Also enjoy the glimpse into student Snape – very unattractive (the gray underwear) but genuinely passionate about his reading and studying. Snape is brilliant and a genuine intellect.

  2. Yeah, I also thought – in hindsight – that Dumbledore’s agony after drinking the horcrux potion was Snape’s. That was Snape’s horror he was reliving. Voldemort is sadistic and probably enjoyed Snape begging because Snape is so proud.

    I thought the final few chapters of HBP were brilliant. There are many wonderful writers out there but not as many great plotters. There are popular books out there that fall apart in Act III. As Rowling goes along her plot gets stronger, is structured better, and her prior books become stronger in context. I thought the entire cavern/black neferi-infused horcrux island lake sequence followed by the deatheater sign over Hogwarts followed by the Deatheater/Dumbledore/Snape/Harry seqeunce in the tower followed by the funeral was stunning.

    In any other book, the journey to the lake in the cave would be the climactic ordeal, and everything afterward would be the coda setting up the next book.

    Here, the cave journey was just the set-up for the tower. As soon as Harry and Dumbledore landed in Hogsmeade and didn’t regroup, but instead were confronted with the death eater mark in the sky – man.

    I felt for Snape too. Rowling’s imagry at the end – his face in pain like the dog’s in the burning house behind him – Snape might be horrible at human relations but if he truly remains on Dumbledore’s side his strength and courage are remarkable. His pride enables him to do what he does but also ensures his isolation. He’s not going to relinquish his pride and become “known” or “ordinary” because that would be torture. But the price is huge.