In Honour of September 1st: Leaving Hogwarts [Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling]
The start of another year at Hogwarts…
It’s always interesting to reread a Harry Potter book every year. Not just to revisit beloved characters and place, not just to rediscover details and plotlines I’d forgotten.
No, in some ways, the most interesting thing is my own feelings, which are often not quite what I expected.
I expected a certain nostalgia about the time and place I read Half-Blood Prince for the first time, for the way my life was then.
But I didn’t expect the deep sadness about the things I no longer have… the feeling of waiting for a new book and then reading it, knowing countless people all over the world were doing the same; having something that was both the foundation of friendships and a thread of connection to casual acquaintances; the people I celebrated the book releases with, the house we lived in and the parties we had there.
I would have expected these feelings next year, when I’ll reread Deathly Hallows. The last book, the last book release party, and one of the last parties we had in general before my parents got divorced, the house was sold, and the group of friends who’d felt like extended family to me started to fall apart.
But in 2005, all was well in my world. The freedom of summer holidays, decorating the house with the Carpenter brother and my friend Myrtle McGonagall, yelling at our friend Bone-Hard for playing pranks and spoiling me for Dumbledore’s death. Games and good food and a campfire in the back garden.
And reading, reading, reading. Which, oddly enough, I don’t really remember, except for sitting in my hammock the day after the party, crying over Dumbledore’s death, and then in the middle of it, having to go say goodbye to some guests. And I hated to be seen crying.
I remember the aftermath of reading much more, trying to find some loophole, some way that Dumbledore would not be dead. Combing through all the earlier books in search of RAB (and finding him pretty soon, and waiting two years to be proved right.) Talking about how we’d always thought that Snape would get to teach Defence Against the Dark Arts in the last book so that by the time the curse on the job would have killed him or driven him out of Hogwarts, the trio would not benefit from it, and how, in a way, we were right, even if he got the job a year earlier than we thought – since the trio were leaving Hogwarts too, they still didn’t get to enjoy a Snape-free school.
Since I’ve arrived at the subject of reading, I should probably say something about the book itself. But I’ve never had very strong feelings about Half-Blood Prince, and I still don’t have any. I have feelings about bits of it, but the actual plot, the lessons about Voldemort’s past, the is-Malfoy-a-Death-Eater, the Horcrux-hunting… I just don’t know. I don’t dislike it, but I also don’t particularly love it.
I remember feeling vaguely annoyed by all the couples that were suddenly forming. Romance was not something I was interested in then, and I’m still not particularly interested now (but it’s making me think, I certainly didn’t expect then that I’d reread the book ten years later and still be every bit as single as I was then.)
I’m still rolling my eyes about the predictability and neatness of Harry/Ginny and future Ron/Hermione, and about all the dating drama and jealousy. I don’t know if my classmates and friends were unusually drama-free or if stories always exaggerate the complications of teenage dating. But it always seems ridiculous to me, and it especially bothers me to see the depths Hermione sinks to.
There are only two things about all the relationships that I like: I like Ginny refusing to be shamed for going out with different boys, and I like Remus/Tonks, because that was something I didn’t see coming at all, and if we have to have relationships in books, give me relationships that have to overcome difficulties other than jealousy.
Speaking of Tonks and Remus brings me to another reason why I don’t have any strong feelings about this book… we see so little of so many characters I love. Those two, for one; Sirius is dead; Fred and George are out of school (although I still laugh more than I probably should at “U-No-Poo”), McGonagall doesn’t get many scenes (but I love her conversation with Neville at the start of term – “It’s high time your grandmother learned to be proud of the grandson she’s got, rather than the one she thinks the ought to have.”)
I haven’t counted and compared them to other books, but it feels like there are few lines that I love enough to copy them out into one of the notebooks I use to collect quotations. And most of them come from Dumbledore. “I don’t mean to be rude-” “- yet, sadly, accidental rudeness occurs alarmingly often.” for example, still makes me laugh.
And Dumbledore’s death, of course, is one thing I did, and do, have strong feelings about. It took a very high place on the tissue ranking when I first read it. It seems the older I get, the more easily I cry, or maybe I just read sadder books, so it’s slid down a little since then, but it’s still sad.
And even though I’ve read so much criticism of Dumbledore since then, about how manipulative he was, but… I don’t care. I loved Dumbledore then and I love him now. Dumbledore’s woman through and through.
There is one strange parallel between the book and my life then, ten years ago, and my life now… leaving things behind, growing up. Leaving Hogwarts, hunting Horcruxes. Ten years ago, I had just finished grammar school – which had felt like Hogwarts to me in so many ways – and was heading off into the Unknown of adult life. Today I have just begun another era – teaching my own apprentice. I have helped teach other people’s apprentices before, I’ve supervised interns and potential apprentices on trial work days, so this shouldn’t be such a big leap. But it still feels like a huge step further into adult life, shouldering a much larger responsibility than I have so far, responsibility for another person… it’s not the same as the responsibility to save the Wizarding world, but it’s still something. Another way of leaving the safe and familiar, another way of leaving Hogwarts.