As October (and my data-generation period) draws to an end, I’ve been rushing to read the last two books of the Harry Potter series so I have time to include notes in my blog. I finished reading Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince last night and began reading the last book with breakfast this morning.

Book cover of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Here are some of the thoughts I had while reading the sixth book:

  • So only the Muggle Prime Minister has any sort of interaction with the Minister for Magic? No other Muggle-magical person interaction seems to be allowed. Power dynamics are evident even within these leadership roles where the Muggle leader is given only the most cursory consideration but not actually treated with any sort of equal respect. He’s treated quite patronisingly
  • Snape lives in an impoverished Muggle neighbourhood. Why does he still live there? Doesn’t he make enough money teaching at Hogwarts to move out? Is it due to childhood ties to Lily? Bellatrix is aghast that he lives there and she is forced to be there because of her sister displaying an intersection of pureblood and class privilege. I wonder how many Death Eaters come from wealthy families. How was Snape treated for not coming from money? Bellatrix still doesn’t seem to respect him but is that because of the class issue or because she doesn’t trust him or both?
  • The way they talk about faith in Voldemort is very religious reflecting an authoritarian god. His word is law, the followers can’t question his authority, they have to understand his displeasure at being disappointed, they must make sacrifices (like Bellatrix’s time in Azkaban). Even the title the Dark Lord has religious connotations. After his perceived downfall, some of his followers (another religious connotation) thought they might rally around Harry as a new dark lord. It’s weird that these presumably wealthy pureblood families need someone to lead them. It’s not just power for its own sake which they already have.
  • The Ministry’s tips for protecting families (page 34-35) makes Death Eaters sound like violent white supremacists or just the way men are a threat to women at any point in their lives.
  • Travelling via Apparition seems so dreadfully uncomfortable too (p. 49). Incorporating some Muggle transport technology wouldn’t go amiss in the magical world!
  • Slughorn is the only sympathetic Slytherin we meet and he seems to be the exception that proves the rule – very moderate exception at that but heaps ahead of the other Slytherins. He exhibits some benign bigotry he’s “much too surprised that a Muggle-born should make a good witch” (speaking of Lily Evans). Reminds me of a white English PhD student I met who was much too surprised that I knew Western cultural, social and political references as an Indian woman.
  • Harry describes Mrs. Weasley as “could cook better than anyone he knew” 🙄 That’s all she’s good for, is it?
  • The way Ginny, Hermione and Molly treat Fleur is honestly terrible. It’s positioned as a joke and something not to be taken seriously but as someone who’s currently living in my partner’s mum’s house with his mother and sister, if they behaved like this, I would leave. Does Bill know his family is being atrocious? Why would he leave her alone with them?! So much internalised misogyny from the girls and outright misogyny by Ron and a pile of uselessness with vaguely good intent from Harry. I’m glad Fleur is made of stern stuff and isn’t cowed down by their behaviour – but she shouldn’t have to put up with this nonsense. Especially such behaviour from the three female role models the series presents is absurd.
  • An empty pub – The Leaky Cauldron – and a despondent owner, Tom + shoppers with harried and anxious looks who don’t want to tarry due to Voldemort’s reign of terror made me think of more pandemic parallels! I wonder if rereading the books every year with a more critical lens will make different meanings emerge based on the current social, political and environmental climate of the world.
  • Draco is being outwardly bigoted while shopping and calls Hermione a slur. At least Madam Malkin stops it though she should just have kicked then out and refused to serve them. They do eventually walk out anyway so at least she would have taken a firmer stand, but I suppose not everyone can afford to – either financially or psychologically.
  • Fred and George’s joke shop is booming and their products are so clever and creative. Hogwarts failed them in not having room to explore their skills and interests but forcing them into narrow educational binaries where they didn’t excel. For them, it worked out in the end because of who they are, but what about other children who don’t have the same personality and attitude? Failed pedagogy at Hogwarts as all the fan podcasts point out.
  • I also like that the shop has a line of Muggle magic tricks as curiosities. The twins don’t seem to share the usual attitude of considering anything to do with Muggles is useless.
  • In terms of class, the Gaunt family living in their shack in the shadow of the Riddle manor is a stark contrast between both families. It is a much more familiar notion of poverty than the Weasley family. But I suppose that there are nuances within poverty as well – different experiences and attitudes.
  • And also what about looking after someone like Merope who had no access to family, no access to money or any other resources when she’s pregnant and desperately impoverished and refuses to/is unable to use magic to save herself? In the magical community, who looks after those who have fallen through the cracks? Whose lives don’t go according to plan or have the same opportunities which everyone else seems to take for granted – education, job, knowledge?
  • If we consider witches and wizards and Other Magical People as belonging to different classes, we can see how classism, class anxiety, ruling class and other classes play out in terms of who has access to knowledge, whose knowledge matters, whose culture is celebrated and whose is denigrated, who has social and cultural capital, who has access to the systems of power.
  • At one point somebody says that there aren’t enough pureblood families around to have all-pureblood Death Eaters. Most of them are half-bloods and hate Muggleborns and Muggles. How do they justify this hatred with their Muggle parent? It reflects so many real world parallels where you’re racist or casteist to everyone except the people of a different race or caste you personally know/are married to.
  • Tom Riddle in the orphanage is very quick to believe he has magic, that he always knew he was special. I wonder if this was the direct result of growing up at such close proximity to Muggles and having powers they didn’t, and whether it’d have been the same had he grown up in a wizarding community. Are there no magical orphanages where they accept children from both magical and Muggleborn backgrounds? Isn’t there some sort of book and quill system which decides who’s magical right when they’re born? Why are magical orphans not looked after better? It’s not like they’re doing this to promote any sort of intercultural exchange.
  • A lot of this book can be read through the lens of Ron as a potential incel – or at least as someone who’s heading down that path. He thinks of women as his possessions and is jealous when either Ginny or Hermione have other men in their lives, takes out his insecurities on the women in his life, uses Lavender to address these insecurities without really liking her. I can see him easily turning to hating women. It’s a good thing he grows out of this because he has good friends who don’t put up with it, but it’s scarily easy to see how other boys wouldn’t grow out of it and turn into awful adults.
  • Are garden gnomes like animals then? Are they a different species like centaurs, merpeople etc.? For Christmas, Fred has stupefied one and dressed it up as an angel to decorate the Christmas tree! Would this be like attacking an animal or another person?
  • I never realised the icikiness of Hermione having to escape Cormac McLaggen at the Christmas party until Witch, Please pointed it out. It’s something which neither Harry nor the narrative seems to take seriously. It’s actual sexual assault! She hides from him all party because it’s implied he expects sexual favours from her because she invited him.to the party??? Nobody questions the assault either. Rape culture is alive and well even in the magical world. What’s more, Harry thinks Hermione deserves it for inviting someone as awful as Cormac in the first place. Which ???
  • Mr. Weasley admits that most of the people arrested as Death Eaters are probably innocent but the Ministry thinks it sounds good to promote the image that they know what they’re doing and don’t want to release them and admit they were mistaken. Great insight into the criminal justice system and the lengths governments go to to protect their own image. Not familiar under current circumstances at all!
  • Lupin has such low standards for his own self worth and and basic dignity. He’s grateful to Snape for making the Wolfsbane potion for him while he was teaching at Hogwarts which alleviated his suffering. This makes up for Snape’s hatred, prejudice and outing him as a werewolf out of spite, does it?! And does this mean he no longer has access to the potion now that he’s not teaching at Hogwarts? Why doesn’t St Mungo’s supply him with it? Is there a magical version of the NHS?
  • It’s a bit unsettling that the entire werewolf community seems to have made a life for themselves on the margins of the magical society and living away from witches and wizards. Presumably they don’t lose their magical abilities since Lupin hasn’t. Do they choose to not practise as a form of protest? The magical society and government has failed them and they’re vulnerable to Voldemort’s promises of a better life. Greyback is the most extreme version of this who attacks children to create an army of werewolves to overtake the magical human population. Why does nobody talk about including werewolves into the community at large? Lupin is obviously safe and has to manage his condition with medication. But even he’s brought into the anti-werewolf narrative when it comes to his own sense of self-worth.
  • Fleur doesn’t even get a Christmas sweater even though everyone else in the house has one. I would honestly have left and go lived in a hotel or something!
  • Hagrid has some very dubious politics – insults Filch by hurling the word Squib at him like a slur. He’s previously done it with Muggles. I know we see Hagrid through Harry’s eyes but hmm. And the Dursleys too. Sure, he does this with terrible people but it’s still using the term like an insult. Why is being a Muggle or a Squib inherently bad?
  • I really do see in this book Harry being obsessed with Draco (role reversal from previous books). Especially interesting considering how I never read it as romantic before fan interpretations took over my brain. Also, I was reading Carry On while reading this – which is a parallel to this book and the series. In Carry On, the queerness is much more explicit and is quite clearly inspired from this book so it’s really fun.
  • Ginny seriously is such a better, more independent, more fun character in the book, even as she’s largely in the background. I’d love to read fic about her adventures in Hogwarts and beyond. Terrible that the movies have reduced her to such an inconsequential character merely around to first be rescued by Harry and then become his insipid love interest.
  • Ministry is predisposed to suspecting house elves of crimes it seems. Ugh! Why didn’t Harry save the world by starting a revolution!?
  • Malfoy uses Crabbe and Goyle to keep guard. They’re disguised as first year girls thanks to the Polyjuice Potion. When the trio find out, they’re horrified and think it’s hilarious that both had to dress up as girls. Very conservative gender politics and also vaguely transphobic.
  • At one point, Ron feels better after he’s bullied Moaning Myrtle a bit. This is after he himself was bullied by Snape. The cycles of psychological violence in this school! Also just taking out your frustrations on someone who’s less powerful than you. Reading Myrtle through the lens of mental illness just makes it worse. When will the kids (and ghosts) get some therapy!
  • Page 439: “It must have been a girl or a woman to be in the ladies toilet to Imperius Katie … Or someone who looks like a girl or a woman … don’t forget there’s Polyjuice Potion in the dungeon” This might be the most innocuous of statements but with Rowling’s recent transphobic revelations, it’s difficult to not over-analyse this especially with the context of transphobic discourse and bathroom bans.
  • Not only is compulsory heterosexuality alive and well but also men’s sense of ownership over women. Harry is constantly worried and obsessing over what Ron will think of his crush on Ginny with not a single thought given to what she will think. Even when they kiss for the first time, he looks at Ron for approval rather than at her. Like she’s just an object being passed from the protection/ownership of one man to another.
  • I can look at Draco through the lens of mental distress but it’s hard to sympathise when he’s actively attempting murder. Parallels with far right nationalists/bigots in India and the US where people – who are largely men – need to be held accountable to their actions too.
  • Snape’s mother Eileen Prince is first and foremost described as not pretty. What is the need?!?
  • Death rituals: this is the first time we see a funeral and it’s not for any ordinary magical person. Not only a range of witches and wizards but merpeople and centaurs who live on the Hogwarts grounds also come to pay tribute in their own unique ways which was interesting. How do other magical beings celebrate life and mourn death? Even with magical humans, do the practices differ across regions/countries?
  • Grawp comes to the funeral too and puts all the giant prejudice to shame. The way everyone behaved when Hagrid first brought his half-brother back to Britain and the way Grawp himself behaved versus the progress that’s been made due to a combination of kindness, determination and attempts at communication. It’s incredible what just Hagrid was able to accomplish. Imagine if the whole world changed to accommodate all the different beings and treat them with equal dignity and respect. Where’s that revolution when we need it?