I'm about two-thirds of the way through the newest Harry Potter book, and it's been even better than I expected.
(I'm making the rest of this post invisible, to avoid spoiling anything. If you want to read it, use your mouse to highlight it.)
Before we started the book Saturday morning, my wife and I thought we had worked out some of the things that were going to happen. We reckoned that Dumbledore would assist Harry, Ron and Hermione from beyond the grave; we were confident that the mysterious R.A.B. would prove to be Regulus Black, and that the Horcrux he had taken was the locket that Mundungus Fletcher had stolen from Grimmauld Place; we believed that Snape was fairly rotten but still on the right side; and we were pretty sure that this book was going to be worth the wait.
So far, we've been right on all those counts, mostly. We had thought from Rowling's description of Dumbledore's funeral, and from his close association with the phoenix, that Dumbledore had been resurrected as a phoenix, and that he would be guiding the triad along their quest. That hasn't happened yet, but Harry has seen Dumbledore's eye in the broken shard of mirror that Sirius gave him, and the second time Dobby showed up inexplicably just after Harry asked the eye for help escaping the Malfoys.
R.A.B. has indeed been revealed to be Regulus, and that locket was the Horcrux, but so far we haven't seen any sign of him still alive. I can't see how he could have escaped the Inferi after sending Kreacher away with the Horcrux, but the note he left Voldemort indicated that he was going to do all he could to bring him down. That's hard to do if you let Inferi drown you.
Snape's been a puzzle. He's definitely an foul, twisted being, and rather cold, which makes it hard to tell what side he's really going to end up on, or fall down with in the end. No one in the Order of the Phoenix believes he's still with them, from what I can tell, which makes sense, since he killed Dumbledore at the end of "Half Blood Prince." And when Voldemort killed the Muggle studies professor, Snape played it so cool it was unsettling.
But we keep coming back to the fact that Dumbledore trusted Snape, for reasons he never expressed, and (I have to believe) part of Dumbledore's plan invovled having Snape kill him. Snape after all had sworn the Unbreakable Oath to assist Draco in his mission to kill Dumbledore, and later we overheard the two of them arguing, because Snape didn't want to go through with something, and Dumbledore told him it was too late, he had sworn an oath, and so on. It'll be interesting to see how it plays out, because whatever side he's on, Snape remains an evil and contemptible being.
Natasha and I also expected that Wormtail would save Harry's life somehow -- which he did, ironically, at the cost of his own -- thus fulfilling the debt he had owed since the end of "Prisoner of Azkaban. More recently, as I was re-reading part of "The Sorcerer's Stone," I started to wonder if Draco and Harry were going to save one another's lives, in a parallel of the Snape-James relationship. In the chapter we just finished, Draco didn't save Harry's life, but he wasn't in any hurry to identify him to Lucius Malfoy and Bellatrix Lestrange.
This is probably pretty boring the way I'm writing it.
All right, let me say this: We are wondering if Dumbledore is related to Harry, whether he is Lily and Petunia's uncle or grandfather; and if they are descended from Godric Gryffindor. We are wondering if the Deathstick is a real wand, or just a metaphor for the sort of power that wizards amass perhaps once every generation; and as a corollary, we are wondering how much of that fairy tale told by Beedle the Bard is actual history and how much of it is a story that simply masks greater truths without relying on crass literalism for meaning, as the best stories do.
We are about two-thirds of the way through the book, and we are amazed at the twists and turns the story has taken, and the edge-of-your-seat close calls the triad have had, with Nagini at Godric's Hollow, with the ministry officials at Xenophilius Lovegood's house, and with the Death Eaters at Malfoy Manor.
I've loved the depiction of Voldemort and the way he rules his roost by setting one Death Eater against another, keeping them in line through fear and humiliation, trying to rattle Snape by killing a Hogwarts professor in front of him, and the abject fear he has of death and weakness. I was especially intrigued by the moment at Godric's Hollow where Harry and Voldemort started seeing themselves and one another through each other's eyes, because of the scar Voldemort gave Harry.
I'm curious about the doe Patronus that led Harry and Ron to the sword of Godric Gryffindor, and I wonder whose it was. The white stag is a recurring motif in Medieval and Arthurian literature, usually symbolic of Christ in its purity, but so far, its nature here is unclear.
It does seem clear at this point that one of the missing Horcruxes is in Bellatrix Lestrange's vault at Gringott's. So far they've destroyed Riddle's diary and the locket; and Dumbledore himself destroyed Slytherin's ring, which Harry now thinks is the Resurrection stone. That seems doubtful to me, since it's (again) requiring a story to be literally true rather than literarily so. Kind of like some people's approach to Bible interpretation. Anyway, that's three Horcruxes down, a fourth in Gringott's, and Nagini the snake probably representing a fifth.
That means the sixth is probably at Hogwart's, or possibly even in Harry himself. Personally, I'd like to think that Harry can use the scar in reverse direction, to show Voldemort what his actions have cost other people, and make him feel remorse for what he has done, an action that Hermione has said would cause the sundry pieces of Voldemort's sundered soul to reunite, killing him in the process. The best victories always lie through the path of defeat, but that may not be the way Rowling has chosen to go. We'll have to see.
In any event, we're enjoying the back. Nice work, Joanne.