Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince Launch Weekend – Part 2

Jul 29, 2007

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TLC Report: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince Launch Weekend

Edinburgh, Scotland
July 15 – July 17, 2005
By Melissa Anelli for The Leaky Cauldron

Part One | Part Two | Part Three

[There are HBP spoilers in this writeup – be warned!]

Our friends and family were off at bookstores getting their own copies of HBP, so for the first few minutes after we started, there was nothing but silence and shuffling pages, and the almost tangible excitement that came with knowing – knowing from the first page – that this book really was going to be as wonderful as we could imagine. After about three pages I threw the book down and stood up, set up my computer and opened a text file.

“For questions,” I explained to Emerson as I hastily typed, “Dementors breeding: EWWW.”

But this plan was shortly abandoned, as HBP started picking up speed and carrying us along with it. The computer was abandoned, and all hopes of taking notes as we read gone. I and my friends were reading at a slightly faster pace than Emerson and his, so we split rooms. Every half-hour or so a shout from one of the rooms sent people running down the hallway. “Did you get there? What page are you at? Oh, wait until you get to this part. THIS part, make sure you come into the room to read, please. We want to see your reactions” – and so on. By the time a certain Weasley girl got kissed, we had dragged Emerson into our room and made him sit right in front of us while he read, just to watch what he would do. (I think there was another jig.)

My friends and I, for the whole night, kept stopping to make sure one was caught up to the other. We wanted to experience things together, and fortunately we all read at basically the same rate (I’m a tad slower than they are), so there were times when we all screamed, closed the book and walked away, stopped to gape, gasped, or cried at the precise same moment as each other. This book has done what I thought impossible; eclipsed PoA as my favorite. PoA will always have an emotional spot for me, but this book was structured perfectly, written brilliantly, and has all the best elements of Jo Rowling’s writing wound into such a tight knot plot – the ride is so fun, that even though you’re dizzy you’re still gasping for more. It was also like coming up for air after “Phoenix,” which, while excellently written in its own right, placed us with a Harry who didn’t seem to appreciate our – or anyone’s – company. This Harry came into himself a bit; he got out of his own head; he still viewed the world with humor; he let people get near him; he got near other people; he started to understand his role in his world; he stepped up as hero; he sought out his friends; he sought out love; he became a man. Yes, he’ll be becoming a man officially in book seven, but he really became a man here.

I’m saving a real breakdown of my thoughts on the book for a full review sort of thing, but there are some things that I cannot let go uncommented [SPOILER ALERT]:

-“Mollywobbles” may be the best thing I’ve ever heard in my life.

-The ships that happened, I can freely say here now, are the ones I love and felt were going to happen since book one. And they were done just beautifully, and are now canon, and it makes me so joyous.

-I am hesitant about Snape; I want, so badly, to believe that he’s not evil. I wonder why he offered to protect Draco at all, and if there’s not goodness in that no matter what other horrible things he does in his life. My preferred vision includes a Snape who shall be redeemed, whom we should agree with heartily when he says, “DON’T CALL ME COWARD!” But I just don’t know. I don’t know if this can turn around again, though if anyone can do it, it will be JKR.

-Oh, Draco. I cannot explain how much I love JKR for making him so well-rounded.

-RAB: It could be Regulus Black and I feel it is, but if I had to give someone else, I’d say Amelia Bones.

I wonder who else created a Horcrux; Dumbledore did say that Riddle knew of a wizard who had split his soul in two. At first, I thought Slytherin – surely the basilisk would be a great place to stash his soul, as well as a great way to teach it to kill Muggle-borns only. I also wonder about Grindelwald, and if the reason Dumbledore is so anti the subject is because he has dealt with it before when trying to kill that wizard.

-If Regulus is RAB, and that locket at Grimmauld Place is the Horcrux, and Mundungus nicked it, is it possible Aberforth has it? If he does, he doesn’t realize what it is, or he would have told Dumbledore and this whole mess would have been averted.

-Kreacher is going to be a huge help to Harry in finding these Horcruxes.

-I wonder if we’ll see Krum because Harry will have to head to his part of the world to track down a Horcrux.

-Fleur being good looking enough for both of them killed me.

-I felt ready to say goodbye to Dumbledore, mostly because throughout the book we got so much – so very much – of his pleasant behavior, his acumen, his sharp wit, his admonitions, his bravery, his weakensses – his everything – that he felt like he gave us everything he had. With all of that, and watching Harry stand capable, ready, without him, I was ready for him to go into the beyond. I think Harry was, too, however horrible and hard it was for him, and us. It’s a mark of the brilliance of Jo Rowling’s writing that something we all knew was coming could grab us so sharply by the lapels. The inevitabilty of this death (really apparent from the moment he told off the Dursleys, if not before) did not make it any less poignant, any less perfect; his funeral had us all sobbing, which is something you need to do when a character you love so much goes. It was nice closure, and it was a fitting tribute – a fitting tribute that Harry himself insisted upon, which makes me beam with pride at his growth. Dumbledore’s man, through and through – that’s right. THAT‘S RIGHT. There were probably a lot of sentimental moments about which many editors try and cut for too much sentimentality; thank God they were left in, because they were so beautifully written, and so necessary for the reader. A phoenix spiriting from the tomb flames – I’m sure that happened. Harry didn’t imagine it.

-I loved that Hagrid and Harry were in on the heads-of-house meeting at the end. Is Hagrid the new head of Gryffindor house?

-The last page was a beautiful, fitting, absolutely perfect tribute to the trio and all they have stood for throughout this book. Those three, together no matter what, fighting side by side up to the end, supporting each other, loving each other, being friends for each other even when Hermione’s waspish, Ron’s irritable, and Harry’s downright mean – those three are the books, and that bit of nostalgia, and Harry’s appreciation of them, meant more to me than all the rest of the book combined.

Oh, lord, I’m going to stop here. This can go on forever; there will be more soon. If I keep going I’ll just have typed out the whole book, and, you know, not necessary. This book filled me with the joy and wholeness I’ve been craving since OotP; it made me feel very lucky to be a fan.

My friends and I finished around 10:30 a.m. I checked on Emerson; he was comatose and had about a hundred pages left which he said he was going to read after a nap, so we went off to one of the shops that professes to have been a spot in which Jo Rowling wrote HP (the Elephant Café, I believe it was called). We ate a hearty breakfast, and started the work. Questions poured out of us; my friends David and Kathleen started typing them up, helping me out more than I could possibly imagine. The morning was already hot, and we were stinky and gross from being as emotional as we were and up all night in a room the size of a kitchen cupboard. So, sweaty, smelly and exhausted, we trod back to the hotel. I knocked on Emerson’s door to make sure he was awake and reading, and then, while I showered my friends did two amazing things for me: David organized, typed up, and went to print my questions, while Kathleen ironed my skirt for the interview which was – OH MY GOD! – in about an two hours.

A little while later, Emerson knocked on the door, looking like someone had hit him with a truck. No jigs.

“You finished the book,” I said.

He nodded.

“OK, well, we have an hour and a half, go shower and stuff and we’ll talk about it in the car on the way over.”

He looked a little dazed, and left a few minutes later to do his preparations.

And so, a getting-ready-flurry and packing-up-of-lots-of-gifts-hustle later, we were in a car on our way to – to – to – Jo’s OFFICE. We created and reviewed questions in the car, as Emerson had much less time to prepare, having finished the book later; we spent the ride over talking Dumbledore, and Snape, and more, and then finally just lapsed into silence. I think we were still struggling to believe it.

Jo’s office is an airy, zen-like space, with two levels, marked by light hardwood floors and more windows than walls (on one side). The non-windowed walls are mostly drawers of files, and just full of Harry Potter books from all different countries, and other paraphernalia, such as a real golden snitch from WB, and pictures of the HP cow from the Leicester Square “Cow Parade.” It feels very rocks-and-waterfalls in there, like it’s a space that could calm the most abrasive of nerves – maybe that’s why I didn’t implode. We were shown around by Fiddy, Jo’s assistant (and utterly lovely person who will kill us for mentioning her at all, but there you go, so HAH), who seemed so proud of everything.

When I looked toward the desk by one of the two computers in the main workroom, I almost passed out. There, in pride of place, was a TLC sticker from our drive (which I had sent over at Christmas), and next to it, a color printout of the art that fandom artist Marta drew for Harry and Jo Rowling’s birthday last year.

Jo came in looking refreshed and relaxed; Emerson and I stood there beaming and waiting for her to come into the room, as though if we moved forward she would turn and leave. Right away, there were hugs, and I had to almost step on my own foot to stop myself from pouncing on her and shouting, “I LOVED IT I LOVED IT I LOVED IT YOU GENIUS CRAZY WOMAN MAD WONDERFUL PERSON YOU!” No, I got a little British in me and stuck to an intense smile, which probably made me look a little mad, but eh. Jo understands.

Before we did anything else, Jo’s husband, Neil Murray, walked in carrying a little pink cherub. Mackenzie! What – a – darling, and what a treat, to meet her. I tried not to grab her and tickle and coo – I wasn’t sure if it was kosher to snatch her up and giggle the way I wanted to. It was hard to hold back, as she is this barefooted plush doll, a happy little chub who dispenses these blissful, almost secretive smiles – like she knows exactly the kind of loving life she’s got.

Once we had exchanged the pleasantries, and Fiddy had kindly gotten us sodas and crisps, we were left alone. Immediately, Jo wanted to know what we thought of the book. We effused. I know it must have sounded as if we were just doing it because she was sitting there, but I was probably holding back because she was sitting there. Words seemed cheap to describe it, and I think we weren’t quite sure we were really sitting there in her office after all, so we just nodded our heads like those bobbing dolls and rambled on for a few minutes. We spoke briefly of the reviews; Jo tries to avoid reviews, but she had succumbed to the New York Times one, which appeared that morning and gave HP due as a classic among very high-echelon fellows, and she seemed relieved.

We gave her many, many gifts – from our staffs, from our families, from ourselves – and to our enormous surprise (I think the thought, “Are you NUTS, woman?” flashed through my brain), Jo gave us some as well. She implored that we not open them until she was out of range, so we set them aside, and Emerson and I looked at each other sharing what I’m sure was the same thought: “Does she know we would have swam over here for this, if that was what was required?”

I still don’t know how we got on the topic, but Jo said that she is a tremendous WEST WING fan. Although in retrospect, and comparing writing styles, this seems a natural and unsurprising fact, nothing on this great wide earth could have made me happier, as I love that show with a passion, and admire Aaron Sorkin’s writing almost as much as I do Jo’s. She waxed on about him, and how intense his life must have been, to write those shows the way he does.

Those of you on Leaky who know my record with recording equipment will understand why I brought three recorders: iPod, minidisc, and a dictaphone. Jo and Emerson had dictaphones. I couldn’t find my dictaphone in my bag, so, explaining how this was exactly why I came prepared with three, we wired Jo up and got ready to go. Only, before we were even officially “into” the interview, we were already talking about the books – I think I actually tried to stop the natural flow of conversation in order to make sure we got it on tape.

It was so natural, and felt right; we launched into a chat. As you can see from part one of the transcript, right away Jo was prepared to talk at length about the series and about her writing, and we were more than prepared to listen.

You can read the results in our transcripts, but I need to take this moment to say another thank you to Jo Rowling. We remarked a few times that it was brave of her to talk to us right after we read the book – because we had been given no – repeat, NO – restrictions about what we could ask her. Considering what’s been reported in the press about what interviews with her are like, I want to make the point very strongly that – again – we were given free reign. I think she knew we would be respectful of her and the series, and so it took that worry off, but still. And the way she put us at our ease, treated us like old friends, launched right into discussion and seemed as interested in what we had to say as we were in what she had to say, was a mark of how unassuming, gracious and genuine she is.

We didn’t want it to end. And it seemed – I’m just going to go on and say this – that she didn’t either. After some time past our hour went up, Fiddy came in to tell us that the car was there; when she discovered he hadn’t been waiting more than a few minutes, Jo said, “Oh, he hasn’t been waiting that long. Give us 10 more minutes.” That turned into 40.

Several times during the interview, I had to sit back and shake my head. Once or twice I even lost my train of thought on a question because of it, and turned to Emerson and said, “You go.” I just couldn’t get over it, even though it was a calm and relaxed event; maybe it being calm and relaxed is what shook me. While the laughing – and laughing – and laughing – we did while talking about Jo and these books didn’t exactly take me by surprise, it did disarm very effectively, and at odd intervals.

We hugged and hugged, and took a picture, and then let Jo get on with her day – she had family over, and had to finally rejoin them. When we left, completely overcome with the experience, we took a moment, collected ourselves in the car, and looked down at our stuff. The gifts from Jo were still there. Emerson and I glanced at each other, and opened them. He went first. I wouldn’t even know how to pronounce, let alone spell, the thing she got him, but it is this gorgeous silver cup – she said she wanted it to be appropriate to HBP – inscribed with “To Emerson, with love from J.K. Rowling,” the date on the back, and a lovely note explaining the gift. Simply beautiful – we were agog again. Who is this woman and why is she so generous? I opened my note – the exact contents of which I’m going to keep private. But she said that she didn’t want me to think that my gift meant I belonged in Slytherin; like Emerson’s cup, she wanted it to be HBP-appropriate, and anyway, she likes snakes. I opened a small green box to discover a beautiful – and stylish – gold ring fashioned like a snake, with his tail wrapped around him and his emerald eyes sparkling benignly. It’s a Victorian style, Jo said, modeled after Prince Albert’s engagement ring to Queen Victoria. I was speechless for the rest of the car ride home, and I’m sure my hands shook for some time after that.

I’ve been wearing it since, and every now and then look down at my hands in bewilderment.

Jo had been worried we wouldn’t like our gifts. I don’t think whether I liked or did not like (and don’t get me wrong, I love) the gift has anything to do with it. She said they were thank-yous for the work on the sites, but the point of it – the idea that she would even want to do such a thing, whether it was to get us these gifts or a piece of string as thanks – well, this woman’s heart is bigger than her bank account, and as we all are constantly reminded, that is saying something.

Part One | Part Two | Part Three





Finding Hogwarts

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