Having finished Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, I have some spoiler-filled thoughts. Highlight the inviso-text below.
Like everyone else, I was shocked by the climax of Half-Blood Prince. I've expected Dumbledore's death since the first book, but I never thought Snape would be the one to do him in. (Actually, I thought it a fair chance that Harry might kill him.)
What's more, I've always been soft--not to say completely enamored--with Severus Snape. How enamored? I wrote not so long ago that "My pet theory is that Snape, not Harry, is the true hero of the series." I'll put that up on the shelf with my prediction in the summer of 2000 that America was about to enter a era of Democratic political dominance. Oops.
So disaffected am I by Snape's treachery, that I hereby renounce the House of Slytherin.
That said, let me add that I still believe it possible that we will see Snape redeemed. Rowling has left enough ambiguity that we might wonder if Dumbledore was secretly imploring Snape to finish him in order to spare Draco, or why Snape made a point of preventing Harry from using an unforgivable curse outside the castle, or why, back in Prisoner of Azkaban, Snape thrust himself between the werewolf Lupin and Harry, Ron, and Hermione. Snape was a double-agent; he now appears to be a triple-agent. There seems to be the smallest possibility that he is, in fact, a quadruple agent.
All of this, I suspect, will turn on the identity of "RAB." I note that the only wizarding surname we've been exposed to so far is "Black." A careful review of the tapestry section of Order of the Phoenix might prove helpful here.
On the hierarchy of Harry Potter books, I'd put Half-Blood Prince just a half-step below Order of the Phoenix, which itself is just a half-step below Goblet of Fire. We could hardly have asked for anything more from Ms. Rowling. In a world filled with disappointments, Harry Potter has always exceeded my wildest hopes by a factor of three. I will be very sad to see the series end.
Which leads me to one final thought: When Rowling finishes the series there will naturally be a clamor for her to give us more Potter somehow--a spin-off featuring Hermione, or Fred and George, perhaps. My own hope is that she will instead settle down and write Hogwarts: A History.
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