The Missing Halloweens – Part 3: “Half-Blood Prince”
In this series of essays, we are exploring the pattern of key events happening on Halloween and what would have happened on Halloween in the later books if the pattern had been upheld. For context, please read “The Missing Halloweens – Part 1: A Pattern Established.”
What I wouldn’t give to see an outline of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince like the one we have for Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix! Alas, we have no such resources, so we have to rely purely on the finished text to find our Halloween incident.
Fortunately, the answer is readily apparent because an inciting incident that fits all of our criteria takes place “halfway through October”: the attack on Katie Bell.
The calendar surrounding the attack on Katie Bell is wide open in either direction. After all the excitement of the first two weeks of the school year (lessons with Dumbledore, mysterious textbooks, Quidditch tryouts), we skip straight to the Hogsmeade trip. After the one-two punch of the Hogsmeade trip and the second lesson with Dumbledore, we have a diversion in November of Quidditch and the latest lovers’ quarrel between Ron and Hermione before we arrive at the Christmas holidays. So unless whatever was once the Halloween event moved to a very different place in the manuscript, that leaves Katie Bell’s attack as the obvious choice.
This is the clear Halloween incident for the two integral mysteries at play in Half-Blood Prince, and I leave it to the reader to decide which one is to be considered the central mystery of the book. Option 1: Who is hurting students, and who is their real target? And could Harry possibly be right that it’s Draco Malfoy? Option 2: What on earth is Draco Malfoy up to?
Who is hurting students?
If the central conflict is the former option, the attack on Katie Bell certainly fits. Much like in the book it mirrors, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, the Half-Blood Prince Halloween event is the first attack of several. The question to ponder is, who qualifies as the false suspect in this scenario?
Prior to the incident, Mundungus is skulking around, certainly not making a good impression by stealing the Black family silver. But he is never really suspected of anything beyond “treating [Harry’s] inheritance with light-fingered contempt” (HBP 260).
The person at whom the finger of blame is pointed, in another echo of Chamber of Secrets, is Draco Malfoy. Harry says in no uncertain terms, “I think Draco Malfoy gave Katie that necklace, Professor” (HBP 253).
But wait – that suspect isn’t false! Draco is, indeed, the culprit behind the attacks. And here is where we must look at Half-Blood Prince’s role in the seven-book series. In the prior books of the series, there is always an epic twist that proves Harry had the wrong suspect in his sights the whole time.
It was Quirrell.” (SS 288)
’Voldemort,’ said Riddle softly, ‘is my past, present, and future.’” (CoS 313)
’An Animagus,’ said Black, ‘by the name of Peter Pettigrew.’” (PoA 348)
’No,’ said Moody slowly. ‘No, he didn’t. It was I who did that.’” (GoF 675)
’It’s time you learned the difference between life and dreams, Potter,’ said Malfoy.” (OotP 782)
When Half-Blood Prince rolled around, we were expecting a mind-blowing twist. But Jo pulled a twist on that. In Book 6, the twist is… there is no twist! Harry was actually right all along! It was one of the most genius moves she pulled.
If Half-Blood Prince contained an aberration in the pattern of mysteries, it stands to reason it could also contain an aberration of the Halloween pattern. There are no false suspects in Half-Blood Prince, so on Halloween, Harry actually guesses right! The one who looks guilty actually is!
What’s Draco up to?
Option 2 for the key mystery at play takes a very different tack. Here, we consider the central story to be what Draco is up to during the year. The attack on Katie Bell still fits the bill since whatever he is up to is very clearly going to have deadly consequences, kick-starting the story as intended.
So here, the “suspects” of the mystery aren’t who’s behind it, but rather what Draco is doing. And in this sense, we get a false suspect as promised: the opal necklace.
Malfoy knows about this necklace. It was in a case at Borgin and Burkes four years ago, I saw him having a good look at it while I was hiding from him and his dad. This is what he was buying that day when we followed him! He remembered it and he went back for it!” (HBP 251)
Whatever Draco is up to, Harry theorizes that the opal necklace is at the center of it: It’s the item featured in “Draco’s Detour” and is the centerpiece of all his plans. It makes sense: The item very nearly kills Katie Bell, and we recall Draco smirking at it in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (CoS 52).
However, it’s a red herring, as per usual: The real culprit here is the Vanishing Cabinet, which is what Draco’s détente with Borgin was about and which is the focal point of Draco’s plans for the year. The opal necklace just appeared to be the sinister thing behind it all, as is stipulated in our pattern of Halloween events.
The fact that the attack on Katie Bell fits perfectly, even with the built-in ambiguity of what the thesis of Half-Blood Prince is, seems to indicate that it was surely meant as Book 6’s Halloween event.