Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince – J.K. Rowling

The Prime Minister drew himself up to his fullest height and replied, ‘I am perfectly happy with the security I’ve already got, thank you very -‘
‘Well, we’re not,’ Scrimgeour cut in. ‘It’ll be a poor lookout for the muggles if their Prime Minister gets put under the Imperius Curse. The new secretary in your outer office -‘
‘I’m not getting rid of Kingsley Shacklebolt, if that’s what you’re suggesting!’ said the Prime Minister hotly. ‘He’s highly efficient, gets through twice the work the of them -‘
‘That’s because he’s a wizard.’ said Scrimgeour, without a flicker of a smile. ‘A highly trained Auror, who has been assigned to you for your protection.’

So the world has finally woken up to the fact that Volde- “He-who-must-not-be-named” is back and Dumbledore realises it’s time for Harry, still grieving over the loss of Sirius, to learn about the dark wizard whose destiny is linked to his. He turns up himself, complete with a shrivelled blackened hand to pick up Harry from the Dursleys. En route back to Hogwarts they stop by to hire Professor Slughorn as a Professor at Hogwarts.

Meanwhile, somewhere else, Snape is making an unbreakable oath, that he will help young Draco Malfoy complete the task set to him by the dark lord. Unbreakable eh? What are you going to do about that Snape? This far in and no one really knows what side you’re on.

And so back to Hogwarts, Slughorn is introduced as the new potions master at the welcoming feast. But hang on, if Slughorn is potions master, then what’s Snape going to do? You don’t mean? Yes, Finally, Snape is the Defence against the dark arts teacher! This is obviously bad news for Harry but great news for Draco. It’s not all bad though for Potter, in his first potions lessons, which are much more bearable without Snape, Harry is given an old potions book that has been heavily annotated by the Half-Blood Prince. Despite having no idea who he is Harry benefits from his excellent potions knowledge, much to the annoyance of Hermione.

As the terms roll around Harry (and us) finally learn about Voldemort’s (that’s right, I said it) past and the awful truth about Horcruxes. There’s one bit missing though, and Slughorn is the key. If only there was some way Harry could wheedle the truth out of him. Luckily, quite literally, Harry won a vial of luck potion from Slughorn in his first lesson, that should come in handy.

It’s not all doom and gloom though, in keeping with accommodating the hormones raging through most of the protagonists, Harry finally gets a girlfriend!

A roar of celebration erupted from the hole behind her. Harry gaped as people began to scream at the sight of him; several hands pulled him into the room.
‘We won!’ yelled Ron, bounding into sigh and brandishing the silver Cup at Harry. ‘We won! Four hundred and fifty to a hundred and forty! We won!’

Harry looked around; there was Ginny running towards him; she had a hard, blazing look in her face as she threw her arms around him. And without thinking, without planning it, without worrying about the fact that fifty people were watching, Harry kissed her.

But the time for celebrations is soon over, It’s time for Dumbledore and Harry to start destroying old Vordy’s Horcruxes. The first one they find is well protected and Dumbledore and Harry only just escape back to Hogwarts…where Draco is waiting with a group of Death Eaters! Luckily the order of the Phoenix are also on hand but they are too far away. Even a severely weakened Dumbledore seems to much for Draco, then more death eaters burst through. But just when it looks like all is lost, Snape arrives…

It’s no secret now what happens, and as you hit the end of the book, knowing there’s only one book left you can barely see how Harry is going to do it, and surely he must do it? Surely Voldemort has it coming?
Rowling seems to accelerate the story in volume 6, we learn how Voldemort became the greatest dark wizard in the world, and how he has protected himself against death and the daunting task ahead of Harry. But Rowling as sprung out hope throughout, as always though the book is shot through with humour to offset the tension. Ron and Hermione’s cat and mouse with each other continues, the Order of the Phoenix’s continuing resistance, Dumbledore’s searching for a way to finally defeat the Dark Lord . Even as the Half-Blood Prince closes at the series darkest moment, and the hero is a rage driven teenager full of testosterone, you still believe that he can pull it off.

Bring on the Deathly Hallows!

Ginny and Demelza scored a goal apiece, giving the red-and-gold-clad supporters below something to cheer about. Then Cadwallader scored again, making things level, but Luna did not seem to have noticed; she appeared singularly uninterested in such mundane things as the score, and kept attempting to draw the crowd’s attention to such things as interestingly shaped clouds and the possibility that Zacharias Smith, who had so far failed to maintain possession of the Quaffle for longer than a minute, was suffering from something called ‘Loser’s Lurgy’.
‘Seventy-forty to Hufflepuff!’ Barked Professor McGonagall into Luna’s megaphone.
‘Is it, already?’ said Luna vaguely. ‘Oh, look! The Gryffindor Keeper’s got hold of one of the Beater’s bats.’

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Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix – J.K. Rowling

Dudley lay curled up on the ground, whimpering and shaking. Harry bent down to see if he was in a fit state to stand up, but then he heard loud running footsteps behind him. Instinctively raising his wand again, he spun on his heel to face the newcomer.
Mrs Figg, their batty old neighbour, came panting into sight. Her grizzled grey hair was escaping from its hairnet, a clanking string shopping bag was swinging from her wrist and her feet were halfway out of her tartan carpet slippers. Harry made to stow his wand hurriedly out of sight, but – 
‘Don’t put it away, idiot boy!’ she shrieked. ‘What if there are more of them around? Oh, I’m going to kill Mundungus Fletcher!’

Or Harry Potter and the raging teenage hormones as this should be called.

Voldemort’s back! Harry knows this because he saw him, duelled with him after jointly winning the Tri-wizard tournament with Cedric Diggory. But Harry has spent the whole summer with the Dursleys, laying in the flower bed trying to listen to the news, surely when he murders loads of people even the Muggles will know about it?

But then Harry and Dudley are attacked by Dementors in Little Whingeing and after seeing them off with his Patronus, Harry is whisked away to the head quarters of the order of the Phoenix while awaiting trial for the underage use of magic. Harry’s rage at being kept in the dark while everyone else was doing something boils over upon his arrival as he takes it out on Ron and Hermione, but he’s with Sirius and Mrs Weasley amongst others, and Sirius’s somewhat ghastly mother, who berates everyone from her portrait.

After Mrs Figgs somewhat shaky testimony sees him cleared of all charges Harry returns to Hogwarts after learning that the Daily Prophet has been smearing him all summer. What’s worse (and it really is bad) is that Dolores Umbridge has been made the new defence against the dark arts teacher, which means the ministry of magic is interfering with Hogwarts (Thanks Hermione). Hem Hem. But who is Dolores Umbridge? Well, you will all find out won’t you, just don’t let that smile and sickly sweet voice fool you, this is a witch very much in the Wizard of Oz mould.

As Umbridge issues ministry approved decrees left, right and centre, Harry’s rage and anger grow as Dumbledore stays strangely aloof and he starts sharing the mind of the Dark Lord culminating in him seeing that Ron’s dad had been attacked while on guard for the Order of the Phoenix. Harry is horrified to learn that Professor Snape is assigned to help Harry protect himself against Voldemort.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. Cho Chang agrees to go to Hogsmeade with Harry on Valentines day, nothing could go wrong there. What’s that Hermione? you want to meet Harry on Valentines day for something important? Oh, well, we’ll see how that goes.

Utterly unimpressed with Umbridge’s teaching of the defence against the dark arts (“Read chapter two, there will be no need for talking”) Hermione persuades Harry to teach a group of fellow students who call themselves Dumbledore’s Army.

And it’s a good job too, because You-Know-Who has been after something during all this time, using up people in an attempt to get his hands on it. When Sirius’s life is threatened Harry, Ron, Hermione, Ginny, Neville and Luna Lovegood risk their lives to save him, and after being rescued themselves, the world finally learns that Voldemort is back.

An epic size book, the Order of the Phoenix sees Harry in full sulky, angry teenager mode, possibly making him one of the least likeable characters throughout. But it is credit to Rowling that she handles his hormones so well, so that as annoying as he becomes you completely understand why. Hermione comes into her own because of this though, and there are some great funny moments as she patiently picks her way through Harry’s moods and tantrums to make him see, as well as more poignant moments when Harry realises his own self absorption. Indeed, if the teenagers reading this listen to Hermione, Rowling will have managed to do what countless parents and teachers still fail utterly to do, reach through the thick cloud of fog covering teenage boys brains.
The real character though is Umbridge. Everyone will know someone like her to some degree, the blinkered over-eager zealot who’s blind prejudice serves to distance and anger everyone else around her. The other teachers reactions to her, particularly Professor McGonagall’s are superb.

I finished this in a sleepless night, and after 4 hours of solid reading it was 7am when I poked my head out, the ending completely gripping me as much as any action movie as it reaches it’s conclusion, and it feels that with this one Rowling has delicately prodded the series to an older audience while at the same time maintaining her younger readers.

Also, well done to Fred and George Weasley, whose shop, Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes is now open in Diagon Alley.

Hermione sighed and laid down her quill.
‘Well, obviously, she’s feeling very sad, because of Cedric dying. Then I expect she’s feeling confused because she liked Cedric and now she likes Harry, and she can’t work out who she likes best. Then she’ll be feeling guilty, thinking it’s an insult to Cedric’s memory to be kissing Harry at all, and she’ll be worrying about what everyone else might say about her if she starts going out with Harry. And she probably can’t work out what her feelings towards Harry are anyway, because he was the one who was with Cedric when Cedric died, so that’s all very mixed up and painful. Oh, and she’s afraid she’s going to be thrown off the Ravenclaw Quidditch team because she’s been flying so badly.’
A slightly stunned silence greeted the end of this speech, then Ron said, ‘One person can’t feel all that at once, they’d explode.’

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Jose Marquez – Mali Blues

So I’ve had a couple of weeks hiatus, not really planned but I’m aiming to get back in the swing of things again now, especially as I have to get the rest of the Harry Potters up.

But for this week, I wanted to share an absolute beast of a tune I heard first on Simon Harrison’s Basic Soul show, and that I finally downloaded on Saturday morning.

Jose Marquez’s Mail Blues..I absolutely love it…enjoy:

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Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire – J.K. Rowling

Hagrid had some harebrained scheme in hand, which might make him miss Sirius. If they didn’t get there soon, he was going to turn around, go straight back to the castle, and leave Hagrid to enjoy his moonlit stroll with Madame Maxine.
But then – when they had walked so far around the perimeter of the Forest that the castle and the lake were out of sight – Harry heard something. Men  were shouting up ahead … then came a deafening, ear-splitting roar …

Hagrid led Madame Maxime around a clump of trees, and came to a halt. Harry hurried up alongside them – for a split second, he thought he was seeing bonfires, and men darting around them – and then his mouth fell open.

It’s World Cup time! Harry joins Hermione and the Weasley’s at the final of the Quidditch world cup, at the same time being introduced to Floo Powder and Portkeys as means of transport. After a particularly raucas game between Bulgaria and Ireland all havoc breaks loose when a group of Death Eaters (That’s supporters of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named to you and me) start terrorising the local muggles before the dark mark appears in the sky, seemingly conjured by Barty Crouch’s house elf, with none other than Harry’s wand!

Back at Hogwarts for their 4th year, Harry, Ron and Hermione learn that this year will feature the Tri-wizard tournament, in which a champion of Hogwarts will compete with the champions of two other wizarding schools. Despite there being strict rules about competitors not being under age, the Goblet of Fire spits out Harry’s name as the second Hogwarts champion, after Cedric Diggory.

Naturally there’s a new defence against the dark arts teacher, Mad-Eye Moody, who quite literally has a mad eye, but was one of the most successful Auror’s in his day. Meanwhile another champion emerges, as Hermione creates S.P.E.W, who help out the under appreciated House Elves, whether they want to be emancipated or not.

As the tournament begins, Harry finds himself up against a dragon, then mer-people, but even worse he falls out with Ron, and the diabolical reporter Rita Skeeter paints terrible portraits of him in the Daily Prophet, while Ludo Bagman seems very intent on helping Harry, and Barty Crouch stops turning up to work and sends instructions into Percy Weasley by owl.

Luckily there is a break for the Christmas festivities and the Yule Ball, in which Harry and Ron struggle for dates, even as Ron and Hermione dance the awkward dance of teenagers around each other, while Hagrid tries it on with the visiting Madam Maxime, who may or may not also be part giant.

As the final task reaches it’s conclusion, Harry and Cedric tie for first place, but that is not quite the end of it, for Voldemort has returned, and for his first trick he wants to kill Harry and this tournament is his ideal opportunity.

Naturally Cornelius Fudge, the minister for magic, refuses to believe the return of Voldemort, even as Dumbledore  vouches for Harry. It’s been rumour for four books, but now he’s real and he’s back, and Harry Potter faces his biggest challenge yet.

A monster book, as Rowling barrels towards the introduction of Voldemort for the remainder of the series, but still surprisingly a read that flies by, with unforeseen twists and turns and the first major death in the series. The Goblet of Fire is engrossing fun, and Rowling also deals subtly with the teenage hormones raging through the students at Hogwarts as they face obstacles and threats that will take all of them coming together to overcome.

‘You know.’ said Ron, whose hair was on end because of all the times he had run his fingers through it in frustration. ‘I think it’s back to the old Divination standby.’
‘What – make it up?’
‘Yeah.’ said Ron, sweeping the jumble of scrawled notes off the table, dipping his pen into some ink and starting to write.
‘Next Monday,’ he said, as he scribbled, ‘I am likely to develop a cough, owing to the unlucky conjunction of Mars and  Jupiter.’ He looked up at Harry. ‘You know her – just put in loads of misery, she’ll lap it up.’

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Stardust -Music Sounds Better with You

My formative clubbing years, spent at Utopia in Reading pretty much until it closed down. We went Friday nights to Disco Inferno with Lionel Vinyl, which to this day has still given me one of the best Christmas eve nights I’ve ever had. Tuesday night student night, and Saturday night, the House/Chart/Garage Meat Market night. Thursday nights were the over 25’s night. Why on earth would you want to go to that I wondered in my late teens. When I hit 25 I realised exactly why you would want to go to a night like that.

But that was years away, it was Saturday night, I was inevitably driving (I didn’t drink for 5 years) and one song I loved more than any others for it’s sheer funk filled danceability  – was The Music Sounds Better with You. From the one hit wonders Stardust (featuring one half of Daft Punk, and let’s be honest, the track has French Disco smeared all over it, and no one really does disco as good as the french anymore) The Music Sounds Better With You was admittedly everywhere, in the charts, all over the radio, we are not talking a deep and dirty underground burner here, it’s pretty much pop.

But who cares, when it swung in over the preceding track through the speakers, you could not help but dance, singing to whoever was nearby that the music sounded better with them. The swaying Chaka Khan sample riding over chunky beats and a simple vocal that for me is an absolute classic slice of 90’s disco..ooh baby..

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban – J.K. Rowling

‘I don’t think it looks like a Grim,’ she said flatly.
Professor Trelawney surveyed Hermione with mounting dislike.
‘You’ll forgive me for saying so, my dear, but I perceive  very little aura around you. Very little receptivity to the resonances of the future.’
Seamus Finnigan was tilting his head from side to side.
‘It looks like a Grim if you do this,’ he said, with his eyes almost shut, ‘but it looks more like a donkey from here,’ he said, leaning to the left.
‘When you’ve all finished deciding whether I’m going to die or not!’ said Harry, taking even himself by surprise. Now nobody seemed to want to look at him.

Harry’s back at Hogwarts for year 3. After a long summer with the Dursley’s Harry is ready to return. But just before he heads back Harry sees a large black dog, which as everyone in the wizarding world knows, is a portent of doom! Safely ensconed on the Hogwarts Express Harry first comes across the Dementors, Prisoners of the wizarding prison of Azkaban. Someone has escaped, for the first time ever, and that person is Sirius Black, infamous serial killer and support of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. And he badly wants to find Harry.

Being a new year there is of course a new Defence against the Dark Arts teacher, Professor Lupin who teaches Harry how to produce a Patronus, which comes in mighty handy when Dementors are around. There is also two new lessons, divination, the first session of which Professor Trelawney forsee’s Harry’s doom! Hermione is less than impressed but then she has her own secret, as she seems to be spending more hours in lessons than there is in a day. Secondly Hagrid starts teaching care of magical creatures and inadvertently gets a Hippogriff sentenced to death. Oh Hagrid!

As Sirius gets ever closer to Harry, so do the Dementors. Fred and George Weasley help Harry out though by giving him the Marauders Map which helps him get out to Hogsmeade without a signed permission slip, even though it’s dangerous.
Finally though, Sirius and Harry meet, will Sirius be able to complete what he escaped Azkaban to do, or will Harry’s teenage hormones drive him to exact revenge?

The first time I read these, this was my favourite of the first 5 books, I think partly because the Marauders map sounds like the coolest invention ever, and I had a soft spot for Professor Lupin. As with the first two books, Prisoner of Azkaban barrels along at a great pace and continues to expand the world of Harry Potter, while at the same time driving the plot forwards, and after the Dementors are banished from Hogwarts it’s time to reach for the Goblet of fire.

A sudden sound from the corner of Hagrid’s cabin made Harry, Ron and Hermione Whip around. Buckbeak the Hippogriff was lying in the corner, chomping on something that was oozing blood all over the floor.
‘I couldn’ leave him tied up out there in the snow! choked Hagrid. ‘All on his own! At Christmas!’
Harry, Ron and Hermione looked at each other. They had never seen eye to eye with Hagrid about what he called ‘interesting creatures’ and other people called ‘terrifying monsters’. On the other hand, there didn’t seem to be any particular harm in Buckbeak. In fact, by Hagrid’s usual standards, he was positively cute.

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Reef – Consideration

So my first holiday without my parents. A driving trip to the north of France, at a Eurocamp site. One of my mate’s driving him and his girlfriend in his clapped out Vauxhall Chevette and four of us in a Vauxhall Astra. and I definitely wasn’t going to drive, no sir, not in France. After leaving the ferry a journey that was supposed to take a few hours doubled as we got completely lost. The designated driver felt tired, I drove.

Arriving at the campsite at 3 in the morning after 8 hours driving was not the worst thing to happen that holiday, that would come on the way back. But we were there, we were without our parents. The holiday itself was great, I lived in shorts and sun glasses, I ended up driving on all of our excursions, we all got on surprisingly well despite the nocturnal habits of the couple and Grizzly Bear meets a bansaw snoring of someone else.

But one night I felt rough, really rough. I was in bed while the others got ready to go out. One of the guys was playing a Reef album, I have to admit, even know I don’t know what the name of the album is, but Consideration came on, and I fell in love with it, such a beautiful heartfelt song that sunk deep into my soul after just one listen. I have returned to it time and time again throughout my life to help me unwind and contemplate and to pick me up.

It’s slow, languid pace forces you to slow down before it whirls round and round to it’s rousing conclusion, and you know that whatever you’re doing, wherever you are, it’s gonna be alright..