It’s going to be a very quiet weekend. If you listen hard enough, you might even hear the sound of pages turning. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, book six in J.K.Rowling’s seven-book saga, is to be released at the stroke of midnight Friday, with an initial printing of 10.8 million copies, the most for a Potter book yet. Eager fans will be braving the crowds at their neighborhood bookshops, or celebrating in witch and wizard robes at Potter parties around town. And it’s okay to come out of the closet: nobody except the New York Times bestseller list is pretending that Harry Potter is just for kids anymore.
In the two years since Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Potterheads have not been idle. There’s been a mind-blowing amount of speculation on Harry Potter Web sites and in chat groups about what Rowling has planned — the Potterverse rivals Star Trek and Star Wars fandom for obsessiveness. The most salient hints Rowling has dropped on her own Web site (www.jkrowling.com) are that someone dies and that the Half-Blood Prince is neither Harry nor his nemesis, Lord Voldemort.
That leaves a lot of questions. Here are some of the biggest ones. Feel free to speculate along with me.
Who is the Half-Blood Prince? Okay, it can’t be Neville, because his parents are full-blooded wizards. Same goes for Ron. It can’t be Hermione, because her parents are both Muggles. (And the book isn’t called The Half-Blood Princess.) Rowling could be introducing a new character, but at this late date that seems unlikely. I think the Half-Blood Prince is going to be someone we’ve already seen. The cover of Scholastic’s American edition shows Harry and Dumbledore peering into the memory-capturing pensieve; that suggests we’ll be spending some time in flashback, maybe flipping through the history of Hogwarts.
But what’s this? The cover of the British "adult" edition shows a well-worn "Advanced Potions Making" textbook. (It would seem that Harry has passed his Potions OWLs and is moving on to the advanced class required of aspiring Aurors, or Dark Wizard trackers.) And that sets my Snape radar on full alert. Hogwarts Potions Master Severus Snape will be unhappily welcoming Harry into his advanced class. Has he really renounced his allegiance to Voldemort and the storm-trooping Death Eaters and become a spy for Dumbledore? What’s more, Rowling has never told us flat-out that Snape is a pure-blooded wizard. She did make a tantalizing remark about his ancestry last year at the Edinburgh Book Festival: "He was a Death Eater, so clearly he is no Muggle-born, because Muggle-borns are not allowed to be Death Eaters, except in rare circumstances." I don’t think that circular answer rules out the possibility that Snape has Muggle ancestry — perhaps he is "no Muggle-born" in the same way Macbeth’s foe Macduff wasn’t "of woman born."
Or Snape could be a different sort of half-blood — half wizard and half other creature. Both Dumbledore and Voldemort trust him, but we’ve never been told why. Is it because his bloodline is so richly good and evil that it puts him above reproach? I’d like more information about Snape’s past in The Half-Blood Prince, though we probably won’t know till the last moments of book seven which side he’s on. I have a nagging suspicion that Snape is an unregistered animagus — a wizard who can turn into animal form. There’s a convincing Potterverse theory that he does his spying in the form of a spider.
Who dies? Many of the fan sites are awash with speculation that it’ll be Molly Weasley. I think it’s a no-brainer that Dumbledore has to die in book six. Rowling has adhered to a Joseph Campbell/Star Wars/Lord of the Rings path in playing out Harry’s ascendancy to manhood/herohood. The next step along that path is the loss of his father figure/mentor/protector. Farewell, Albus. But that doesn’t mean he’s gone forever. Obi-Wan Kenobi and Gandalf weren’t.
Is Sirius Black really dead? Yes. But . . . Remember how in The Order of the Phoenix Sirius (Harry’s godfather) died in battle with the Death Eaters when he fell "behind the veil" into a great void? And how Harry thought he could hear whispers coming from behind the veil? And how crazy-like-a-fox classmate Luna Lovegood told Harry that she knew she’d see her dead mother again behind the veil? Now, think back to that two-way communication mirror Sirius gave Harry earlier in The Order of the Phoenix. At the end of the book, Harry finds the mirror cracked into pieces; he tries to use it to reach the dead Sirius, but nothing happens. Perhaps in The Half-Blood Prince Harry, with help from Hermione or Luna, will figure out how to work that mirror.
The prophecy. You’ll also remember from The Order of the Phoenix the prophecy that seemed to pertain to Harry and Voldemort: "Either must die at the hand of the other, for neither can live while the other survives." Way back in The Philosopher’s/Sorcerer’s Stone, groundskeeper Hagrid told Harry that Voldemort doesn’t have "enough human left in him to die." And Dumbledore couldn’t kill Voldemort in their climactic battle in The Order of the Phoenix. How do you kill something that’s conquered death? Well . . . you could meet Voldemort on his own not-quite-human, not-quite-alive ground. What if Harry were to discover that Sirius’s mirror allowed him to cross over into that land "behind the veil"? You’d have a heck of a battlefield for a final showdown then.
The wizard world war. Rowling has set up numerous parallels between Voldemort and Hitler. In The Order of the Phoenix, she added parallels to the French Resistance (the Order) and appeasing European governments (the Ministry of Magic). She also rolled in genocidal storm clouds in the purge of known half-blood teachers (like half-giant Hagrid) from Hogwarts. She’ll have to raise the stakes in The Half-Blood Prince to set up Harry’s all-but-assured victory over evil in the finale. She’ll have to extend Voldemort’s "ethnic cleansing" to "mudbloods" like Hermione, and to the Muggle world itself. She’s made racism and tyranny central themes, and I don’t expect her to shy away from Holocaust metaphors in The Half-Blood Prince. If Hermione (or Harry’s Muggle relatives the Dursleys) were sent to a concentration camp, that might lift Harry out of adolescent self-pity and into his destiny as the savior of all that is good.
What else would I like to see in The Half-Blood Prince? Lily Potter. I want to know more about Harry’s deceased mom. What was the ancient magic she used to protect Harry from Voldemort’s killing curse? And what is the hold she still has on her surviving male classmates? Werewolf Remus Lupin reveres her, perhaps had been in love with her, as we saw in a Rowling-approved scene from the film version of The Prisoner of Azkaban. As for Snape, whom Lily rescued from her future husband’s torment in a flashback scene in The Order of the Phoenix, the Potions Master has never uttered one negative word about her — though he regularly disses James Potter. And why does everyone keep saying that Harry has his mother’s eyes? Somehow, I don’t think we’re talking about just the color.
Issue Date: July 15 - 21, 2005
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