The Underground Lake #19: The Official Reader’s Guide to “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” – Part 1

by Brandon Ford

Today is two-for-one day, and to make up for my horrible disregard for all things Underground Lake, I stand before you now with another editorial, this one not the fluff of the last one. The reason I posted the last one is that we are almost 90 days away from the release of HBP. We’ve seen the cover. We know the page count. We know three chapter titles. We’re still guessin’ ’bout that darn lion man (sorry to burst your bubble, guys, but I think it is either the new Defense Against the Dark Arts professor or more likely Ron after a bad Transfiguration lesson – remember that in sixth year, we start animal transfigurations). But I digress. Everyone seems so on edge and tense about the imminent release of HBP, so I thought we all needed a quick breather from the searing debates. Contrary to popular opinion, I’m not the complete dork I seem to be. I’m only about 80% dork, thank you very much. But again, I digress.

Now we are in more serious territory. As I write this, the release of HBP is 91 days away. Now I know that we are all busy re-reading One through Five; we’re trying to gather a few more scraps of clues, those subtle hints, those infinitesimal specks hidden amongst the text that will help us unravel the mystery behind Harry Potter even just a few pages sooner than JKR reveals it.

I am an AP English graduate. For four and a half years of my life, all I did in English class was read books and analyze the crap out of them. I’m talking from long-winded Dickens to soliloquizing Shakespeare. All I did was read. We had to analyze for language, images, diction, detail, syntax, and tone. We had to be able to spot metaphors and foreshadowing miles away. I have decided to devote this entry to my AP English teachers and actually put all that crap to good use and outline what I believe will happen in Book 6 so that we will all be ready. I submit for your entertainment and consideration: THE OFFICIAL READER’S GUIDE TO HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE!

My mantra is, “THE WHEELS ARE IN MOTION.” But the wheels can’t be in motion without a road to drive on. This is where structure comes in. In order to know what’s going to happen, you have to know how things usually happen. Aside from the little additions every now and then the basic structure of the Harry Potter novel is as follows:


1. Introduction

In Books 1 and 4 (and if the rumors are true, Book 6 as well), we have a section that breaks the format by not being in Harry’s point of view. This point of view break happens only in this chapter as well as the early sections of Books 1 and 2 before Harry becomes self-aware. If you look at the language, you notice that the reason Books 1 and 2 are so much shorter is that Harry is not nearly as introspective in them. When we hit Book 3 (puberty anyone?), Harry becomes much more introspective and mentally critical of himself and the strange predicaments he finds himself in (especially in regard to Cho).

In any event, the significance of my famously phrased “fake chapter one” is to let us know something that Harry doesn’t know. Every time, this segment is crucial. In Book 1, we discover how Harry came to be a resident of number four, Privet Drive. And if you are a reader of my column, you know that Book 1, Chapter 1 may be the single most important chapter in the whole series (Lost day, anyone?).

If there is a false Chapter 1, read it with a fine-tooth comb, because not only will we know something Harry doesn’t, but we also learn some piece of info that will be used later (Riddle House, anyone?).


2. The Real Chapter 1, a.k.a. “The Dursley Episode”

The real Chapter 1 will either be the first or second physical chapter of the book, but it will be very helpful. First off, we know that our old pal Harry will find some new way to infuriate the Dursleys – whether it’s blowing up aunts or dementing Dudley or dropping cakes on visitors’ heads.

But most importantly, we find out about the summer. You see, time never stops between school years. Things progress and feelings change and intensify. The summer between one and two was hell for Harry as was between two and three. The summer between three and four was excellent for him. He got to talk to his friends and get sweets and food as well as leave early to go to the Quidditch World Cup. We won’t mention the summer between four and five ’cause it’s just too painful.

One thing is clear. The Dursley episode will be poignant, yet funny. Also, look for something new about the Dursleys. Every Dursley episode, we discover something new about either Dudley or Petunia or both, because there is still a part of them both that is intrinsically linked to Harry.


3. And we’re off.

Here is the narrative hook. Something happens at the Dursleys that sets the wheels in motion and gets Harry out of the house (in order: Hagrid, Dobby, Aunt Marge, an invitation to the Quidditch World Cup, and Dementors). Harry is exposed to something new that takes him away from the Dursleys but also catapults the story into phase two by starting the mystery and suspense. Strange occurrences will begin at this point that we won’t have any clue about until much later, but recognize the oddity when you see it.


4. New Locations

After Harry leaves the Dursleys’, he always gets to explore a new place he’s never been before that is good and comfortable for him. In Book 1, he gets to explore Diagon Alley. Book 2 takes us to the Burrow. Book 3 is the introduction to the Knight Bus. Book 4 takes us back to the Weasleys, but only for a brief rest on the way to the campsite of the Quidditch World Cup. In Book 5, we get introduced to the very formidable number twelve, Grimmauld Place.

Count on a new place for Harry to explore. This place is usually where Harry receives a new bit of information, as well as where he gets to catch up with Ron and Hermione and find out what’s been happening over the summer in the magical world. LOOK FOR OWL SCORES TO POSSIBLY BE REVEALED HERE!



At this point in the story, once Harry is settled in, RIGHT BEFORE WE GET TO PLATFORM NINE AND THREE QUARTERS, a crucial event will take place or a piece of information will be revealed that will affect the outcome of the entire book. Sometimes it’s so small you miss it, and other times it’s so huge that it leaps off the page and bites you. Let’s recap, shall we?

  • Book 1 – Harry receives a “special wand” and learns who killed his parents
  • Book 2 – Ginny is given Tom Riddle’s diary; the gang meets Gilderoy Lockhart
  • Book 3 – Hermione buys Crookshanks and he and Wormtail become fast friends; Harry is told not to go looking for Sirius Black
  • Book 4 – Harry’s wand is stolen, the Dark Mark is conjured, Mad-Eye Moody is attacked at his home, and we learn about the Death Eaters.
  • Book 5 – Harry goes to the Ministry of Magic and has his trial; Harry learns about the order.

This section of the book has and will have so many important pieces that can easily be missed. Watch for anything out of the ordinary and remember it. Make connections and remember that the wheels are in motion!


6. The Journey to Hogwarts

Be it train or Ford Anglia, Harry’s got to get to Hogwarts. The journey is always important because something always happens that challenges Harry’s group dynamic and sets him apart from the rest of the students. In Book 1, he shares with Ron and rejects Draco Malfoy. In Book 2, Ron and Harry have to spend a lot of time in that car alone, but that time is bonding time. Book 3e gives us a Dementor attack and the fact that Harry faints and NO ONE ELSE faints. In Book 4, we learn about Durmstrang and Hogwarts security and interschool politics that will come into play with the Triwizard Tournament. In Book 5, not only is Sirius seen, but since Ron and Hermione are prefects, Harry must also sit with Neville and Ginny; he also meets Luna Lovegood.


7. The First Feast

WATCH THE WEATHER! In Books 1 and 2, it doesn’t rain during the feast, but in Books 3, 4, and 5 (much “darker” years at Hogwarts), it is raining. Remember the weather to see when and if it clears up because the weather at the feast sets the tone for the rest of the book.

Also IMPORTANT: MEET YOUR NEW DEFENSE AGAINST THE DARK ARTS PROFESSOR. With the exception of Book 2, we meet our new Defense Against the Dark Arts professor and get our first taste of him or her as well as how they are received by the rest of the staff (yes, I know we always hear of or see the new Defense Against the Dark Arts professor beforehand, but here is where it is confirmed). Pay attention to how they are treated by the rest of the people in the room.


8. First-Week Jitters

We discover what the trio’s classes are and when, and we also get a glimpse into what they will be studying as well as seeing the new Defense Against the Dark Arts professor in action. This one is crucial because at least one of the lessons will figure prominently into the mystery storyline (Mandrakes, Boggarts, and Unforgivable Curses! Oh My!)



Halloween is always important in giving us a real glimpse at the foe of the book, who will reveal himself in some way. Halloween also has some event that brings everyone together to witness something massive.

  • Book 1 – TROLL IN THE DUNGEON! You know what else happens. If not, shame on you.
  • Book 2 – Death-Day Party and the first basilisk attack. THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS HAS BEEN OPENED!
  • Book 3 – First Sirius Black break-in
  • Book 4 – Harry becomes the fourth champion in the Triwizard Tournament.

Interestingly enough, Book 5 does not include Halloween. If it did though, it would have taken place on page 401. But around that time was the first official meeting of Dumbledore’s Army as well as the first Quidditch match.

Who knows if Halloween will reappear as a prominent Book 6 holiday? Just watch the months. If it happens on Halloween, it’s huge.


10. Competitions Galore

After Halloween, we have our first Quidditch match, which is invariably Gryffindor versus Slytherin. The only exception is Book 4, where we have the first task of the Triwizard Tournament.

Look for school rivalry to ensue and for Harry to be in conflict with himself as well as his friends as he negotiates his studies with the necessity to prepare for the upcoming competition. What will be interesting with Book 6 is seeing whether or not Harry will be able to or even want to play Quidditch again.


11. The 12 Trials of Christmas

Christmas always brings with it a Weasley sweater and an important piece of information discovered. With the exception of Book 6, Harry invariably spends Christmas at Hogwarts.

  • In Book 1, we get the Invisibility Cloak and the discovery of the Mirror of Erised.
  • In Book 2, the trio uses Polyjuice Potion and discovers some fascinating info about the Chamber of Secrets and Draco Malfoy.
  • In Book 3, Harry gets the Marauder’s Map and discovers that Sirius Black “betrayed” his parents to Voldemort and is his godfather.
  • In Book 4, we get the Yule Ball, which entails so much: the discovery of Madame Maxime and Hagrid’s little secret, the discovery of the Room of Requirement (though we don’t know it yet), the discovery of a “connection” between Snape and Karkaroff, the discovery that Hermione is hot, the discovery that Percy is moving up in the Ministry ranks, the discovery that Barty Crouch, Sr. has been MIA for quite a while, and the discovery that Cedric is really an okay guy.
  • In Book 5, we learn that a snake that Harry was possessing as Voldemort attacked Arthur Weasley and that Harry must now learn Occlumency.


Well, that ends the semester. Tune in next week for the second semester and see how the year ends. Remember, the wheels are in motion!!