Six down, one to go.

Six down, one to go.

“It was nearing midnight and the Prime Minister was sitting alone in his office, reading a long memo that was slipping though his brain without leaving the slightest trace of meaning behind.”

And so the end approaches.

The sixth installment in the global phenomenon that is Harry Potter arrived in 2005, two years after the last one, and changed everything that we thought was true once again. Like last time, this review contains spoilers, so don’t say I haven’t given fair warning if you’ve not read the book.

The book opens with two chapters far from Harry Potter himself. The first involves the Muggle Prime Minister meeting the Minister for Magic, Cornelius Fudge, who has been updating his non-magical counterpart on the dangers the country is facing from dark wizards and witches. The second has Bellatrix Lestrange and Narcissa Malfoy make a house call on Severus Snape, as Narcissa implores him to help her son Draco with the task he has been given by Voldemort.

And then we meet Harry, fast asleep and waiting for Dumbledore. Unlike last time, when Dumbledore was barely present in the novel, here he appears regularly and is responsible for extra lessons with Harry once term starts up. Before then, however, Harry and Dumbledore get hold of former teacher Horace Slughorn and entice him back to the school.

With the whole wizarding world now knowing that Voldemort is back and the Ministry doing its best to protect everyone, including sacking Cornelius Fudge and replacing him with the apparently much more reliable Rufus Scrimgeour, tensions are high, and Harry is soon suspicious of Malfoy who seems to be sneaking around and doing things he ought. Convinced that Malfoy is now working directly for Voldemort, but with little evidence to go on, he becomes obsessed with finding out what’s happening.

Meanwhile, back at Hogwarts, Harry has been made Quidditch captain, has become an expert at Potions thanks to the marginalia of an ex-student calling himself the Half-Blood Prince, Hermione and Ron are barely speaking after he starts going out with Lavender Brown, and Harry’s private lessons with Dumbeldore turn out to be viewing memories that show Voldemort in his youth, piecing together what is known about his rise to power. The magic he used appears to have been even darker than Harry could ever have imagined…

Fig 2: Not boyfriend material.

Fig 2: Not boyfriend material.

Even though the series is nearly over, we are still introduced to a whole collection of new characters, again many of whom are wonderful and interesting additions. Perhaps after people continually wondering why Slytherin still existed when it seemed to be nothing but evil-doers, Rowling gives us Horace Slughorn. He is a Slytherin, but shows the other side of the coin – ambitious, certainly, but only through a desire to be well-connected. He knows his limits. He is charismatic and charming, and displays immense bravery, showing that that is not a trait unique to Gryffindor. Conversely, new Gryffindor characters include Cormac McLaggen and Romilda Vane, who show the arrogant, vain and self-important traits related to Gryffindor.

This book also does wonders in showing that it isn’t just Harry having to deal with horrors. Draco Malfoy is now in too deep, perhaps at first believing that he was strong enough to help Voldemort, but now he’s been given the task of killing Dumbledore, he finds he cannot bring himself to do it. Voldemort, it seems, knows this, and will use Malfoy’s failing as a reason to do away with him. Malfoy remains a wonderfully interesting character, now no longer interested in bullying other students as he has for the last five years. He’s finally been given a taste of the glory he’s sought for so long, only to find that he doesn’t suit his palate. Again, as Rowling says, he may be seen as worryingly handsome, thanks mostly to Tom Felton, but there is no real niceness beneath.

This isn’t my favourite book of the series, and it seems in many places to be a retelling of Chamber of Secrets. Both involve the destruction of a Horcrux (although only this time round do we know that’s what we’re dealing with), and the book is mostly devoted to backstory. Through the use of the Pensieve, Rowling allows us to actually see the action of years previously without resorting to Harry and Dumbledore merely talking it through. These insights into the life of Voldemort before he became powerful, and indeed his family, are rather interesting, but all they do is show the similarities between him and Harry. Harry could easily have become either Voldemort, or Draco, but his choices show who he truly is.

In amongst the darkness of this novel, we also have the burgeoning problem of teenage hormones running as rampant as the Death Eaters. The teenage characters are coming of age and Rowling doesn’t hide away from this change in their personalities. Ron starts dating Lavender, but both he and Hermione are coming to terms with how they feel about each other, and Ginny dates Dean before finally moving onto Harry. The couples are in place, but it will all go sour again before they get their happy endings.

There’s just one book left to go, and everything hangs in the balance.

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