How Attending College During a Pandemic Is Similar to the Events of “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince”
College is difficult no matter the circumstances, but this past semester was particularly challenging due to the pandemic. I was lucky that my university took extreme measures to keep the campus safe for us. I stayed on campus until a few weeks ago when I returned home for winter break. However, while I was at college for the fall semester, I noticed similarities of the pandemic to events in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Most of the students were returning to campus because my university actually offered free COVID testing. A lot of the parents felt safe sending their students back to college because our school seemed safer than the real world, similar to a lot of students returning to Hogwarts where Voldemort couldn’t attack them.
I was attending a liberal university, so most of the students living on campus took proper precautions for COVID: wearing masks, staying six feet away from each other, etc. However, there were a few issues with parties, specifically some students choosing not to believe in the effects of coronavirus. It reminded me a lot of how Cornelius Fudge refused to believe that Voldemort had returned from the dead despite all evidence saying otherwise. By the time Fudge had accepted the truth, it was too late to save everyone, thus Half-Blood Prince becomes a very dark and dangerous tale. If Fudge had handled the threat sooner, perhaps Hogwarts wouldn’t have been attacked by Death Eaters. Similarly, I believe if all the students on my campus had listened to the safety precautions, then we wouldn’t have been sent home early in the semester.
Another event in Half-Blood Prince that reminded me of attending college during a pandemic was the scene when the Sorting Hat gives a speech unlike any given before. The Sorting Hat warned of division and fear during difficult times, which reminded me of the COVID alert emails all students at my school received every day. Let me explain: Every day, we received updates from the school administration about possible outbreaks on campus. The emails would always end with a message about staying strong and protecting each other during such difficult times. Sound familiar? Somehow I think the message would have been more effective if delivered by a magical hat.
There are several Half-Blood Prince quotes that reminded me of this difficult semester at college. One of them is when Professor Slughorn, in the film adaptation, yelled about living during mad times, which honestly is the attitude of all my college professors this semester. Professor Slughorn is literally the embodiment of teaching during a pandemic, down to wearing pajamas because why not. Also, there is that great quote Dumbledore said about people always fearing the unknown when he and Harry go to the cave to retrieve Voldemort’s Horcrux. This quote reminded me of the feeling of uncertainty and hesitation all over campus this past semester. Everyone avoided eye contact with each other and just tried to get from place to place. It is a gloomy and isolating feeling similar to what Dumbledore described to Harry.
Also, can we talk about how Dumbledore is unwell during the events of Half-Blood Prince? He knew he had a limited time left alive, and the grief of his death affected everyone at Hogwarts. In my opinion, one of the most moving scenes in the Half-Blood Prince book is Dumbledore’s funeral and seeing everyone gathered together to grieve. This reminded me of how, when mutual friends were quarantined on campus, all of my fellow students would offer support and stand together. Sometimes students would have to enter quarantine if a COVID test was inconclusive. Whenever students had to get COVID tests, we’d all text each other and offer kind words of encouragement. Even though I spent most of my time on campus in a single room and rarely saw my friends, I felt connected through our affection for each other. We were all grieving the loss of our semester and that physical, human connection we used to share with each other. While we weren’t grieving the loss of Dumbledore, our semester was like Harry’s because it was a dark and difficult time.