The Harry Potter Reread

The Harry Potter Reread: The Half-Blood Prince, Chapters 29 and 30

We have reached the end of the penultimate book. Whoa. We should throw ourselves a pizza party, or something. It seems like a pizza party kind of accomplishment.

It’s time to mourn and figure out the final steps. Chapters 29 and 30 of The Half-Blood Prince—The Phoenix Lament and the White Tomb.

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 29—The Phoenix Lament

Summary

Hagrid tries to get Harry to leave, but he refuses. Eventually Harry hears another voice and a smaller hand pulls him away—it’s Ginny. She is taking him to the Hospital Wing on McGonagall’s orders, all the people involved in the fight are already there. Harry asks who’s dead, but Ginny assures him that Draco stepped over Bill, who is alive. Bill was attacked by Greyback, though, and Madam Pomfrey has informed them that he might not look the same and they’re not sure what the aftereffects will be. Neville and Flitwick are also injured, and one of the Death Eaters got hit by one of the Killing Curses flying around. Ginny tells him that she thinks they all might have died without the luck potion, but they just kept getting missed. They arrive at the wing and everyone is gathered around Bill’s bed. Madam Pomfrey can’t mend the wounds with traditional magic, and Lupin believes that while Bill won’t be a full werewolf, the wounds are unlikely to heal fully, and that Bill might end up with some wolfish characteristics.

Ron suggests that Dumbledore might be able to do something, that he couldn’t leave Bill in this state. Ginny tells him that Dumbledore is dead. Lupin goes into a panic, collapsing into a nearby chair, head in this hands. Harry explains how Dumbledore died, and Madam Pomfrey begins to cry, but Ginny cuts her off—they can hear phoenix song in the distance, mourning. Eventually McGonagall shows up and asks Harry to explain what happened. When he tells her that Snape killed him, Madam Pomfrey has to conjure a chair quickly beneath her. McGonagall and Tonks are having a hard time with it, insisting that Dumbledore made it seem like he had an extra secret reason why he truly trusted Snape. Harry tells them what he learned—that Snape told Voldemort about his parents, that he told Dumbledore that he hadn’t realized what he was doing, and told him he was sorry for the Potters’ deaths. Lupin can’t believe that Dumbledore bought Snape being sorry for James’ death when he hated him so much. McGonagall insists it was her fault for having Flitwick alert Snape to the battle. Harry asks if Snape joined the Death Eaters then, but no one seems certain of the flow of events.

McGonagall tells him that Dumbledore told them to patrol while he was away and everything was quiet at first. When she mentions not understanding how the Death Eaters got in, Harry explains about the Vanishing Cabinet. Ron tells Harry he messed everything up, that they (he and Ginny and Neville) were watching the Room of Requirement, but Malfoy came out with the Hand of Glory (which only gives light to the person carrying it). When he spotted them, he used Fred and George’s Peruvian Instant Darkness powder to blind them, and got all the Death Eaters past them. They found Lupin and the rest shortly after and told them what happened, then they found the Death Eaters rushing toward the Astronomy Tower. One of them broke off to cast the Dark Mark, but didn’t want to wait alone, so he came back downstairs and was hit by a Killing Curse that was meant for Lupin. Hermione and Luna were watching Snape’s office, which was quiet until Flitwick came down and asked for Snape’s help. Snape came out and told them that Flitwick had passed out and that they should look after him. Hermione is upset over failing to realize that Snape Stupefied Flitwick, and that they let him go join the fight.

Tonks explains that they were losing. Malfoy has slipped away, several Death Eaters eventually followed and cast a curse at the foot of the stairs; Neville ran at it, resulting in his injury. Snape ran past all of them and up the stairs, straight through the curse barrier. (Harry figures you needed a Dark Mark to get through it.) The big Death Eater cast a curse that made part of the ceiling fall in, which broke the barrier. They let Snape and Malfoy pass, figuring that they were being chased by the Death Eaters. Then the rest of the group descended on them, and Voldemort’s crew fled.

Everyone goes quiet for a minute and then Molly and Arthur and Fleur arrive. Arthur and Molly ask about Bill’s wounds and get the same answer everyone has been given. Then they ask if the rumor about Dumbledore is true. Arthur is shocked at the news, but Molly begins talking of Bill, how the wounds don’t matter but he had always been so handsome, how he was going to be married—she’s interrupted by Fleur, who demands to know why she would say that. Does she believe that Bill won’t love her because of the changes after being bitten? Because she knows he will. Does Molly think that she won’t want to marry him now that his looks have changed? Because she doesn’t care. She takes the wound ointment from Molly and begins to care for Bill while everyone waits for Molly to explode. But instead, Molly mentions a goblin-made tiara owned by their Great-Aunt Muriel, and how she might lend it to them for the wedding. Fleur thanks her and the two women begin crying in each other arms, much to the shock of the Weasleys, Harry, and Hermione.

Instead, it’s Tonks who explodes—at Lupin. She points out that Fleur has no problem marrying Bill after he was bitten, and insists she doesn’t care either. Lupin tells her that it’s not the same because Bill isn’t a full werewolf. Tonks still claims she does not care. Lupin tells her that they’ve been through this before, that he’s “too old for you, too poor… too dangerous….” Harry realizes that this has been the reason behind Tonks’ behavior all year, and the change in her Patronus. Molly and Arthur are on Tonks’ side, and when Lupin tries to tell everyone that they shouldn’t be discussing this right after Dumbledore has died, McGonagall is the one who tells him that Albus would have been pleased to know there was more love in the world. Hagrid walks in and tells them that he’s moved Dumbledore’s body, that Sprout got the kids back to bed, and Slughorn informed the Ministry. McGonagall asks Hagrid to tell the Head of Houses to meet in her office, with Slughorn representing Slytherin. Then she asks for a quick word with Harry first. She leads him to Dumbledore’s old office—technically hers to use now since she was Deputy Headmistress. The only thing that seems different about the place is Fawkes’ absence (he is singing over the grounds), and the presence of Dumbledore’s headmaster portrait.

McGonagall asks Harry what he and Dumbledore left the school to do, but Harry won’t tell her—Dumbledore had advised him to tell no one about the content of their lessons outside of Ron and Hermione. But he does tell her about Rosmerta being under the Imperius Curse. Then Sprout, Flitwick, and Slughorn enter the office. One of the portraits tell McGonagall that the Minster is on his way. She informs the Heads of Houses that she asked them here to determine plans for the school, including whether or not Hogwarts should reopen next year. Sprout is in favor, believing Dumbledore would want it, and that the school should open even if only one student wanted to attend. Slughorn is doubtful that they will have student after this, imagining that families will want to stay together. Flitwick insists that they consult the governors, going by procedure. McGonagall asks Hagrid what his opinion is, and when Hagrid demurs on the basis that it’s not his place, she tells him that Dumbledore always valued his thoughts and so does she. Hagrid says that he plans to stay, that the school is his home. McGonagall decides in light of this that they will consult the governors, who will make the final choice. She then talks of sending the students home, but Harry asks after Dumbledore’s funeral. There’s some concern about whether or not he will be buried on the grounds, as no headmaster ever has. Harry says that if he is, the students shouldn’t be sent home until afterward.

McGonagall notes that the Minister is arriving with a delegation, so Harry asks for permission to leave, which she grants. The Fat Lady asks Harry if Dumbledore is truly dead when he reaches her portrait, and he confirms it. The common room is packed, but Harry walks by everyone up to his dorm where Ron is waiting for him. Ron asks if they got the Horcrux, and Harry tells him they didn’t, showing the fake locket and note to him. Ron asks about who R.A.B. is, but Harry cannot bring himself to care. And then Fawkes stops singing, and Harry somehow knows that the phoenix has left the school for good.

Commentary

Man, talk about your visual metaphors, with the Gryffindor hourglass smashed and the rubies littered all over the floor. Ouch.

I always find it very telling that Ginny tells Harry she doesn’t think they would have survived the battle without the potion, but Neville and Luna both make it despite not having any. Ugh, I have too many feelings about Neville and Luna being the very best comrades that any human being could ever ask for. Everyone says the whole fight was a blur throughout, but I do wonder if any of the Order members had a moment where they realized that all these kids seemed to be just fine during this super dangerous fight—it’s certainly better than they fared last year.

So, Snape does a number of things during this battle that ultimately save lives. He’s pragmatic enough that he was likely getting people like Flitwick and Hermione and Ginny out of the way to minimize the potential for risk, and make his own mission easier, but it’s still worthy of note. But then there’s Draco…. I understand that he probably wanted to get the Death Eaters into the school quietly, but there’s no reason why he couldn’t have just let them kill anyone who was standing in their way—unless he really didn’t want them to. The use of the Peruvian Darkness Powder gives us an idea of what Draco truly has the stomach for, and it seems that he’d prefer to spare as many lives as possible in this process.

They make mention of letting Snape and Draco through before the other Death Eaters come down the tower stairs, saying that they thought they were fleeing from them. I understand that they thought Snape was on their side, but why would they have assumed that of Draco? Presumably the kids told the Order members they ran into that he was responsible for letting them into the castle…. I assume this is mostly a confusion oversight.

While it’s good to get all the facts, this chapter does drag a lot from the endless exposition. It seems like this whole situation didn’t need to be explained quite so carefully, or at least didn’t need to be told from the perspective of so many people. Or at least didn’t require Harry to repeat himself so much. I know Rowling wanted to show how various people reacted to Dumbledore’s death, but it still feels like overkill.

On the other hand, Fleur’s “I’m beautiful enough for the both of us” explosion is a nice reprieve from how serious everything has become. It seems ridiculous that something like this had to occur for Molly to finally believe that Fleur truly loves her son, but at least we’ve moved toward family bonding. This then moves us to Tonks shouting down Remus in the hospital wing, and while I get that there’s a purveying theme of love conquering all in spite of death (as McGonagall plainly states out loud because she is wonderful), I can’t help but feel awkward at their whole conversation, and find that I buy their relationship even less this time around. The problem is that we only see evidence of it from Tonks’ side, which makes it seem more like she’s badgering Remus; it would have been smart to show just a tiny bit of evidence that he was harboring feelings as well.

Still, the fact that it’s McGonagall and Arthur and Molly coming to Tonks’ aid is relevant, proving that the older generations understand better how important it is to live your life according to what you want, rather than what you believe you deserve. Arthur’s point about young and whole men rarely remaining so (with reference to Bill) hits home particularly hard. You cannot predict the future, so you might as well be happy now… and this becomes particularly relevant for Remus and Tonks, who of course do not have long at all.

McGonagall asks to speak to Harry and when they arrive at the headmaster office, he notes that Dumbledore’s portrait is already on the wall. So… it just magically appears there once he’s died? That has to be what happens. That’s the best. I wonder if any of the other portraits noticed and wanted a few words on that. They don’t seem fussed over his newfound presence.

The Head of Houses come into the office, and McGonagall asks them about whether or not they should keep the school open, and this time around I’m smacked in the face by how smart this passage is; this conversation is a reflection of the founders’ philosophies, with each Head of House standing in for their respective founder—except for McGonagall, who is busy acting as the arbiter in her position as headmistress, and so calls on Hagrid to stand in for Gryffindor (and Harry by proxy). So we have Sprout, who insists that even if only one child wants to be taught by them, it’s their responsibility to honor that, just as Helga Hufflepuff would have had it. Slughorn presents the shrewdness of Slytherin, considering first how the outside will react to Dumbledore’s death and stating plainly that perhaps no one will want to stay at Hogwarts after what has happened. Flitwick wants things done by the book, presenting a logical Ravenclaw argument that insists they speak to the school governors. Hagrid gives the emotional Gryffindor argument alongside Harry, that he won’t be going anywhere because the school is his home, while Harry points out the students have a right to attend Dumbledore’s funeral.

It’s such a clever way of showing how Hogwarts was meant to function, how the founders checked and balanced each other, creating an environment where everyone had an equal say and respected each other. (I really can’t say enough about McGonagall’s decision to let Hagrid speak on Gryffindor’s behalf because it’s just so right.) In the end, everyone’s opinion is taken seriously—the kids are allowed to stay for the funeral but classes are postponed. Still, the children aren’t immediately sent home, and they do agree to talk to the governors about the state of the school for the coming year.

Harry bolts out of there to avoid an encounter with Scrimgeour, and goes back to his dorm room, where Ron is faithfully waiting to talk things out with Harry, if that’s what he needs. Instead, Harry hears Fawkes end his song and leave the grounds, a pretty clear metaphor for death and rebirth if there ever was one—almost as though the phoenix’s life were tied to Dumbledore’s, and if he is no longer there, Fawkes must die and be reborn elsewhere.

 

Chapter 30—The White Tomb

Summary

Lessons have stopped and exams have been postponed. Some students are already gone, some don’t want to leave; Seamus has a fight with his mother in the entrance hall until she agrees to let him stay for the funeral. Witches and wizards have flocked to Hogsmeade to pay their respects. Madam Maxime comes in her giant carriage, and the Minister of Magic is staying in the castle with his delegation. Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Ginny have taken to spending all of their time together, and they visit the hospital wing daily to see Bill. The only thing about his temperament that seems to have changed is a sudden propensity for rare meat. One night after Ginny heads to bed, Hermione tells Harry that she has figured out that Eileen Prince was Snape’s mother, that she married a Muggle named Tobias Snape. Harry is still furious with Dumbledore for trusting Snape, but is forced to concede a parallel in the way the he refused to stop believing that the Half-Blood Prince was good. He laments not having shown the book to Dumbledore, but Hermione insists that he’s being too hard on himself.

The next day is the funeral, and everyone is meant to leave an hour after it is done. Harry keep his head down during breakfast, aware that Rufus Scrimgeour is looking for him from Snape’s old chair. Crabbe and Goyle are on their own without Malfoy, and Harry thinks that he does feel some pity for the boy. McGonagall gets to her feet and instructs the students to follow their Head of Houses to the funeral. They all head out to the lake where there are many chairs and a marble table. Harry recognizes some of the people there, including Lupin and Tonks (who are holding hands), Moody, Bill and Fleur, Arabella Figg, the Hog’s Head bartender, and even the castle ghosts. Neville and Luna also take a seat; they were the only ones who answered the DA summons, and Harry knows it’s because the two of them missed the group the most and probably checked their coins regularly. Cornelius Fudge, Rita Skeeter, and Dolores Umbridge are also in attendance. Once everyone is seated, the merpeople under the lake begin to sing. Hagrid carries Dumbeldore’s body, wrapped in purple velvet, and lays it on the table. Then he goes back and sits next to Grawp, who is dressed in a jacket and everything. He pats Hagrid so hard on the head that Harry has the sudden urge to laugh, but then the music stops. A small man in plain robes begins to give the eulogy, which Harry cannot hear most of. It doesn’t remind him of Dumbledore anyway, and suddenly Harry thinks of the strange words Dumbledore said on his first day at Hogwarts, and is struck with the urge to laugh again.

When he sees the merpeople and thinks of Dumbledore speaking in their language during the Tri-Wizard Tournament, it’s then that the loss hits Harry, and he begins to cry. He sees the centaurs paying their respects from the edge of the forest, and thinks of Dumbledore telling him how important it was to keep fighting. He thinks of how many people have stood in front of him, protecting him, and how no one else could stand between him and Voldemort anymore. The eulogy is over, and Harry expects more speeches, but instead there are screams as white flames ignite around Dumbledore’s body and the table, rising higher and higher until they vanish—and a white marble tomb has taken their place. The centaurs fire arrows in tribute and leave, and the merpeople depart as well.

Harry looks at Ginny, and knows that she understands what he has to do. He tells her that they can’t be together anymore. He insists that Voldemort will try to get to him through her. Ginny tells him that she doesn’t care. She tells him that she never really stopped liking him, that relaxing and dating some other people was Hermione’s idea, that she thought he might notice if she was able to act like herself and not get tongue-tied. She tells him that she’s not surprised this is happening, that she always knew he’d have to do this. Harry sees Ron holding Hermione while the two of them cry, and he can’t take it—he gets up and leaves. Scrimgeour catches up to him, gives his condolences and the rest, but Harry just keeps asking what he wants. Scrimgeour asks what harry and Dumbledore were doing the night of his death, but Harry won’t say. He insists that the Ministry can protect him, and offers to put a few Aurors on guard, but Harry laughs that off. He asks Harry again to support the Ministry, and Harry asks if he’s released Stan Shunpike yet. Scrimgeour realizes that nothing has changed, and leaves abruptly.

Ron and Hermione comes out to meet him and they sit under their favorite beech tree. Harry tells them what Scrimgeour wanted, and Ron asks Hermione to let him go back and hit Percy, making Harry laugh. Hermione can’t imagine the school closing, and can’t stand the idea of never coming back. Ron figures its not more dangerous there than anywhere else, but Harry tells them that he’s not coming back either way. He says he’ll go back to the Dursleys one more time because it’s what Dumbledore wanted, and then he thinks he might go to Godric’s Hollow, and then he’ll depart to track down the rest of the Horcruxes. After a pause, Ron assures him that he and Hermione are coming along, wherever he goes. Harry tries to tell them no, but Hermione insists as well. Ron reminds him that he has to go to Bill and Fleur’s wedding before Godric’s Hollow anyhow. Harry agrees, and feels suddenly comforted by the thought that he has one wonderful day left with the two of them.

Commentary

While it’s sad that Harry’s feeling guilty over the few days he has left with his friends and Ginny, it works as a helpful clue to prove that Dumbledore always knew he was going to die. From this point on, Harry’s on a mission. And it’s his own mission, one that he has to control and see through. Dumbledore had to get Harry to this point, and it’s doubtful that he ever would if he knew he could still count on Dumbledore to get him out of scrapes. Harry even thinks of it on those terms, of all the people who have died protecting him, and how there are none left. Dumbledore was the last barrier to adulthood. Without Albus’ guidance, Harry is forced to accept that his choices are just as good as anyone else’s, making it clear that he has to go his own way.

Dumbledore’s funeral is obviously an event of sorts, and as a event is attended by pretty much everyone. Of course, since Dumbledore was an important sort of guy not everyone attending his funeral is really a “fan” of his. We’ve got Skeeter, and Fudge, and Umbridge worst of all. But the thing that always stands out in this sequence as the most realistic to me is Harry wanting to laugh at odd moments. Extreme emotions often lead to extreme reactions, and wanting to laugh in the middle of such a somber affair is incredibly natural for many people. It’s an attempt to even out, to counter all the grief and anxiety.

Many more characters we’ve encountered throughout the books show up here, including the barman from Hog’s Head, who will later be revealed as Albus’ brother. Harry’s thoughts toward Luna and Neville are heartbreaking, but also relevant for their roles in the next book—their loyalty to the cause, the importance they place on their friendships with Harry and company, will be one of the primary reasons they win the day.

So, Harry tries to sort of break up with Ginny, and she’s not impressed by it. She also admits that this whole thing leading up to their relationship was kind of a tactic that Hermione thought up—that Ginny should chill out and maybe date some other people, giving Harry a chance to see what she was really like as a person without getting all awkward and scared shy. (Seriously, the longer we go on, the more I think that Hermione’s ability to be emotionally smart about other people while she’s terrible at handling them herself is one of my favorite character traits for her.) But this tactic led to a lot of fans giving Ginny crap for “leading on” the other guys in her life, and generally being and evil, cold woman who only care about getting her hooks in Harry Potter. Which is stupid because this is how people figure out how to navigate relationships. Sure, Ginny had an idea that she still wanted to date Harry at some point in the future, but even if she hadn’t, she probably would have gone through a few boyfriends exactly the same because she’s young and that’s what you do.

Anyway. What I’m saying is that Ginny is a smart person and Harry is kind of dumb to think that he’s going to be able to back away from that so quickly. On the other hand, the way he takes down Scrimgeour again is beautiful.

And at the end, it’s just Harry, Ron, and Hermione under their favorite tree, thinking about the precarious future. The idea that Harry thought he was going to be able to take this journey alone is adorable, but the instantaneous agreement to follow him on Ron and Hermione’s part still chokes me up. No question, no deliberation. You have to figure that they’re talked about this before, about what they would do if Harry took this path. Count on Ron again to bring it all back to family; they can take off, but only after they’ve gone to Bill and Fleur’s wedding. Love first. Life first. Family first.

Saving the world will have to wait until then.
Final Thoughts

Man, this book sort of crashes awkwardly at the end, doesn’t it? It all felt normally paced out until those last 6-8 chapters, and then everything got very swift and kind of muddy. In some ways, it feels like Rowling wanted the book over because she was more interested in the getting to the final volume. Also, I realize now that I headcanoned the heck out of this book; in my mind the nicer romantic stuff took up more of the story, rather than all the teenaged shenanigans and heartbreak. I think I prefer my brain version better? Harry barely gets half a breath to enjoy his time with Ginny, which doesn’t seem fair considering what he’s about to walk into.

It also loses some momentum when you know what’s going to happen in the final book, so that might be part of my letdown. I remember the internet being rife with little badges on profile pages and forums: “I trust Severus Snape” and the rest. It was two full years of speculation by people who were just adamant that he was unforgivably evil. A very interesting time for fandom, and for fan fic. (Hoo boy, the Harry/Hermione shippers were incensed after this book, and that was equally awkward). If you’re not a ship war person. I never have been. I’m a “enjoy your ships while I enjoy mine” person.

We’re taking a break next week, everybody! I’m going to be away and such, so we’ll adjourn for now and visit the new year with the sixth Potter film!

Emily Asher-Perrin is going to introduce her nose to a pine tree right now. Mmm, pine. You can bug her on Twitter and Tumblr, and read more of her work here and elsewhere.

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