The Harry Potter Reread is going to see a Star War tonight, which seem sort of unbelievable. And then there will be more Potter to look forward to in the year to come. Everything seems extra magical right about now.
We are about to come to the part of the book where lots of sad happens and nothing can be done to fix it, and we all cry together. It’s chapters 27 and 28 of The Half-Blood Prince—The Lightning-Struck Tower and Flight of the Prince.
Index to the reread can be located here! Other Harry Potter and Potter-related pieces can be found under their appropriate tag. And of course, since we know this is a reread, all posts might contain spoilers for the entire series. If you haven’t read all the Potter books, be warned.
Chapter 27—The Lightning-Struck Tower
Harry gets Dumbledore out of the cave and Apparates them to Hogsmeade. Dumbledore is incredibly weak, and Harry wants to get Madam Pomfrey’s help, but Dumbledore insists that he needs Snape. Madam Rosmerta comes out of the dark to aid them, but when Harry asks her to help Dumbledore while he runs to the school for help, she tells him he can’t go back there. The headmaster asks what’s wrong, and Rosmerta points to the sky—
—the Dark Mark is hanging over Hogwarts.
She tells them that it only happened a few minutes ago, and Dumlbledore asks her for transport; she offers brooms. Harry calls them while Dumbledore asks Rosmerta to send word to the Ministry about the Mark, in case no one at the school has had the opportunity. He tells Harry to put on the Invisibility Cloak and they fly to the school. Dumbledore has gotten a second wind at sight of the Mark, while Harry feels only dread, wondering if one of his friends has died again because he asked them to patrol tonight. Dumbledore undoes the protections he has over the castle as they speed closer. They land on the Astronomy Tower directly below the Dark Mark. Dumbledore tells Harry to go find Snape without stopping to talk to anyone else, keeping his cloak on. Harry is reticent, but agrees when he’s reminded of the promise he made to obey every order. But when he reaches the door, he hears footsteps coming. The door opens and someone shouts “Expelliarmus!”
Harry freezes and falls back, braced against the tower wall, confused because there’s no possible way that a disarming charm could act as a Freezing Charm. As Dumbledore’s wand flies off the tower, Harry realizes that the headmaster is responsible for immobilizing him—the disarmer is Draco. The boy spots the second broom and asks Dumbledore who else is there, but Albus deflects by asking if Draco is alone. He admits that he has Death Eaters in the school, that he found a way to let them in. They’re battling below, but Draco continued on because he has a job to do. When he does nothing, Dumbledore says that he’s not a killer. Draco insists that he’s wrong, that Dumbledore doesn’t know what he’s done, but the headmaster reveals that he knows quite well; Draco almost killed Katie Bell and Ron in his attempts to kill Dumbledore all year. He tells Draco that the attempts were weak enough that he had a hard time believing Draco truly wanted the task. He suggests that Draco gets on with it in case the Death Eaters are defeated by the Order members in the school, but Draco still doesn’t move. Dumbledore says that Draco is frightened to act without the Death Eaters at his back, which upsets Draco, but he still doesn’t make a move.
So Dumbledore requests that he explain how he got the other Death Eaters in, and Draco explains that he spent the year repairing the Vanishing Cabinet that Montague got stuck in last year. It’s partner is in Borgin and Burkes, and once repaired, the path between the two places was set. Dumbledore praises Draco’s plan, but points out the sloppiness in his other attempts to murder him. Draco claims it was still smart since Dumbledore never knew it was him behind the attempts, but the headmaster assures him that he did know. He tells Draco that Snape has been keeping an eye on him at his request, which Draco counters by pointing out that he was doing so at his mother’s request, acting as a double agent. But even after all this, Dumbledore insists that he trusts Snape. He figures that Draco must have had an accomplice, and realizes that Rosmerta has been under the Imperius Curse for quite some time. Draco used enchanted coins to contact her, getting the idea from the D.A. last year. He also got the idea to use poison from Hermione, when she pointed out that Filch wasn’t good at detecting them in the library.
Dumbledore asks Draco not to use the term Mudblood in front of him, which bemuses Draco, considering that he’s about to kill the man. But the headmaster points out that Draco has had several minutes to do that already, and has not. He asks Draco about the plot tonight, and the boy reveals that Rosmerta informed him that Albus was in Hogsmeade for the drink—he cast the Dark Mark to get him to hurry back to the castle. Dumbledore then assumes that no one was killed, but Draco tells him that someone has died, though he doesn’t know who. The fighting below gets louder and closer, so Dumbledore decides that they should discuss Draco’s options. When Draco insists that he he still must kill him because Voldemort will kill him and his entire family if he doesn’t. Dumbledore explains that this was why he never let on that he knew of Draco’s work—because Voldemort would have killed Draco immediately if he’d known that the plan was found out. He asks Draco to come over to their side, promising to hide him and his mother well. Draco insists that he’s the one with the power in this situation, but Dumbledore denies it. Harry thinks that he sees Draco’s wand hand drop a fraction.
Draco is shoved aside as four Death Eater emerge from the stairwell. Two of them are the Carrow siblings, who congratulate Draco on capturing Dumbledore alone without his wand. Fenrir Greyback is also present, attacking without the full moon these days, and happy to be in a school full of children. Dumbledore is surprised that Draco would ask him to tag along, bringing him to the school where his friends live, and Draco admits that he hadn’t known Greyback was coming. The fourth Death Eater insists that Draco get on with his orders, but Draco seems even more reticent to kill Dumbledore now. There is a shout from the staircase as the opposition below tries to break through the staircase barrier. Fenrir offers to do the deed, but it’s insisted against the it’s Draco’s job. Snape bursts on the scene, and the others look to him following Draco’s lack of resolve, but Dumbledore also calls to him, pleading. Snape approaches as everyone else backs away. Dumbledore says “Severus… please…”
…and Snape casts the Killing Curse, sending Dumbledore off of the tower to the ground below.
I mean, from the moment that you learn that the Dark Mark is a thing, you’re kind of waiting for this, right? You’re waiting for the moment where it shows up over Hogwarts. You know it’s coming, and it’s horrible. It makes you feel every bit as helpless as Harry does.
Here’s a question—why doesn’t Rosmerta try to kill Dumbledore right then and there? I mean, she tries more than once on Draco’s behalf. Maybe Draco’s instructions were to only attempt it by stealth, or to never try in the presence of anyone else? Only when she had a clear window? The Imperius Curse is complicated. You probably have to word things super carefully if you want it to work right.
So, the entire end of this book is one giant misdirect. The events play out in such a way that Harry takes on a maximum amount of guilt and all the fingers point at Snape. And this starts right from the very beginning—Harry thinks the reason that Dumbledore loses his wand is because he’s too busy casting the Freezing Charm on him, trying to protect him. He, of course, never considers the possibility that Dumbledore has known this was coming for quite some time, had prepared for it. He doesn’t know that Albus didn’t have long either way, thanks to trying the Resurrection Stone ring on.
It’s a smart device, having Harry frozen and invisible for the interaction, so they reader is forced to view the scene as passively as he is. It’s the only way we can get all the missing information we need, and it makes sense that Dumbledore would go this far to keep Harry out of the fight.
And then we have Draco. Wow. It’s hard to express how much I appreciate what Rowling does with his character arc by this point. Draco is not a poor woobie baby (the way some fans would prefer to think of him), but he’s also not a monster. And there are parts of Draco that recognize the greatness and goodness of others—because he comes from a loving home, whatever the morals of his family are—and he can’t help but lean in. The part of this chapter that always breaks my heart the most is when Dumbledore praises him for being clever, and Harry notes that Draco seems to gain comfort and some extra bravery from those words. Draco instinctively responds to that paternal sheen that Dumbledore gives off so effortlessly. In the absence of his own father, it’s hardly a wonder.
Draco is crafty and shrewd, he is everything that a good Slytherin should be. His plan is honestly impressive, and his methods might have gone completely undetected by our heroes had they not already had five odd years of experience with this sort of thing. But he’s not a killer, and he has no stomach for slaughter or endangering the people who matter to him. (His fear of Greyback is another place where my sympathy for Draco skyrockets; he wasn’t able to choose his father’s friends, after all.)
Meeting Fenrir Greyback is one of the more uncomfortable parts of this entire series, as he’s just plain evil for evil’s sake, and not even in Voldemort’s distant, calculating sort of way. Ugh.
I remember the theories that began the instant fans finished this chapter. There were plenty of people who had it figured right away, that Dumbledore’s plea to Snape was a plea for death rather than Harry’s perceived plea for aid. I remember being certain that this was part of the plan as well. In addition, I always knew Dumbledore was going to die (standard mythic structure, that), so this moment didn’t really come as a shock to me, and it has even less of an impact now—all the emotional urgency is gone once you understand what’s really at work here, and you know it’s simply Albus’ time. Sad, but not the gut punch I remember, back when I was still so attached to the character and not ready to see him go.
Chapter 28—Flight of the Prince
Harry is still frozen, unable to move. Snape insists that everyone leave quickly and the Death Eaters follow him back down the staircase. It’s then that Harry realizes that the spell has worn off, and the only thing keeping him in place is shock. He throws the Cloak off and starts petrifying the Death Eaters in front of him, determined to get to Snape and also Dumbledore, irrationally thinking he can reverse the whole thing if he can just put both of them together. He petrifies Greyback as the werewolf attacks him, then hits Amycus Carrow with a jinx while he’s harassing Ginny. Harry charges through the fight, tripping over Neville and checking to be sure he’s alright. Neville tells him that Snape and Draco ran past, and Harry continues on. It seems as though the Room of Requirement has been blocked, so Harry continues down toward the grounds avoiding hexes and jinxes, and trying to catch up, rushing past students who are waking at the tumult.
Once on the ground, he sees flashes of light as Hagrid tries to meet the group, and he keeps running to meet him. Suddenly, he’s hit in he back with a hex and falls to the ground, turning over to send one back to the Carrow twins. After tripping them up, he continues, and deciding that Hagrid seems fine going up against a large blond Death Eater, Harry continues to Snape and Draco. Once Harry catches up, Snape tells Draco to run and faces him. Harry tries to hit Snape with the torture curse, but Snape keeps parrying, knocking him off his feet. (The Death Eater fighting Hagrid sets his house on fire.) Harry calls Snape a coward for refusing to fight back, but he’s not interested, calling off the blond Death Eater and insisting that they make their escape. When Harry tries to hit him with another jinx another Death Eater casts the torture curse on him, which Snape calls off, insisting that it goes against Voldemort’s orders. Harry tries to use Sectumsempra on Snape as he’s leaving, desperate to stop him and full of rage. Snape answers in kind, looking down at Harry with hatred for using his own spells against him, just as James did… for Snape is the Half-Blood Prince.
Harry tells Snape to kill him, calls him a coward, which prompts Snape to cast a very painful hex on him. Buckbeak rushes to his aid, and Snape flees. By the time Harry gets his hands on his wand again, Snape has already Disapparated outside the grounds. Hagrid emerges from his burning hut with Fang, and rushes to check on him. Harry reminds Hagrid of the spell to put out the fire, and they douse it together. Hagrid makes mention that Dumbledore will be able to fix up the hut, and it takes Harry some time before he can stop Hagrid and explain that Snape killed him. Hagrid doesn’t believe it, insisting that Snape left with the Death Eaters to keep his cover intact. He suggests they get back up to the school, and Harry follows. There are lights on in the castle, people coming outside in their dressing gowns to find out what’s happened, and they all begins to gravitate toward the foot of the Astronomy Tower. Hagrid notices that and the Dark Mark, and worries that something might have happened. They finally reach Dumbledore’s body, and Harry walks forward, kneeling beside the headmaster to straighten his glasses and wipe away some blood.
He finds the locket there, fallen out of the Dumbledore’s pocket, and knows something is wrong about it when he picks it up; it isn’t large enough, it bears no mark of Slytherin. Inside the locket is a piece of paper, a note to Voldemort. It’s from someone with the initials “R.A.B.” who claims to have figured out the Dark Lord’s secret, and intends to destroy the real Horcrux, knowing that this course of action will lead to their death. But Harry doesn’t care because all he can think is that Dumbledore weakened himself for nothing.
It’s a well-written frenzy from this point on.
I feel really terrible saying this, but I love how the action plays out in this chapter. It’s so crisp and clear, and getting the visuals of Harry running through the castle, the slight comedy of navigating those halls in the hurry, is honestly a lot of fun despite everything that’s going on. It’s sort of funnier when you think of these events from the perspective of a recently woke student. There’s a big kerfuffle, you amble out of the dorms to find Harry Potter tearing around a corner, diving between you and your buddies, and the only thing that really separates this year out from every other year is that this time you actually get to see that Harry’s doing something rather than hearing about it after the fact. It’s a tiny bit funny. Admit it. Nothing going on around it is funny, but still.
The other piece that always strikes me here is how Rowling, without having to hang a lantern on the moral, effortlessly proves how inefficient is it for Harry to attack out of anger. It’s something that we needed to see Harry deal with, but there’s never really any fear that he’s going to go “dark side” or anything of the sort because Snape (intentionally or not… I’m gonna go with intentionally at first, but definitely not by the end) shows him exactly how easy he is to defeat when he’s too emotional to see straight. This is precisely the right place for Harry to learn this lesson, well enough before the big battles that he has time to metabolize it. Harry’s gift is love, but rage does him no favors.
The amount of control Snape wields right up until the very end of this fight kinda of proves his alignment to me—there’s no reason for him to really hold back on the kid unless it’s out of fear, but fear is never something Snape shows even in regard to Voldemort. So we have to assume that there’s something else at play here. I remember being floored by the revelation that he was the Prince, in that OH RIGHT OF COURSE kinda of way. But real emotions don’t fly from Snape’s end until Harry calls him a coward one too many times, which is something that we’ll have to get into later, when we have Snape’s whole arc in front of us.
Then there’s the aside of poor Fang stuck in a burning house that always panics me until I read that Hagrid has him out and safe. Poor Hagrid, who obviously can’t believe that Dumbledore is gone when the man has been more of a constant in his life than he’s even been for Harry. The visual of the student body crowded around Dumbledore’s body, Harry’s interaction with it, his distant aches and confusion, they all paint a bleak picture on par with the end of the Triwizard Tournament. The only difference is that Harry is older, and responds to death with far more familiarity than before.
And then the final wrench—the locket isn’t even the Horcrux they were after. That whole terrible journey was for naught, and it cost them dearly. We have a clue to another mystery in its place, but it’s hard to care when the whole school is suddenly thrown into mourning.
Next week: the end of Book Six.