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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