I'm very nearly there. I've finished what is deemed to be the quintessential book in the series, and I must say that I agree with all the noise I've heard about it. You'll recall that the last book wasn't necessarily my favorite. Interestingly enough, it seem that books 5 and 6 are the most polarizing books in the series. People either hate Order and love Prince, or vice versa. They seem to be interchangeable. I count myself part of the latter camp: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is my preference out of the two, and indeed out of the whole series (thus far).
Before I get into it, a quick word. I've stated before that I've seen most of the movies and I'm aware of several major plot points, including "that one" from this book. I knew it was coming, even if I can't remember ever watching the film. That's a spoiler you can't hide from in this day and age. That didn't mean I was ready for it.
I'm not generally a fan of single-narrator stories, which is why I loved the first few chapters of this book. I'd have to say 75% of the questions I have about the series concern the way the wizarding world interacts with the normal world, or the muggle world - if you will. Can they see what wizards see? Do they know that dragons exist? This awkward relationship is on display right from the beginning of the book, as the Minister of Magic (or former Minister) meets with the "other" Minister to discuss the dark things that are occurring in the world of magic. The point of view is a refreshing change of pace, and it's nice to know that there are perspectives that are just as interesting as Harry's. Not long after, we see another point of view, this time while in the company of Narcissa, Bellatrix, and Snape, while they perform what is called an "Unbreakable Vow." More on that later,
Up until this point, we have been following only Harry around. He is our constant guide through the series, because it's obviously about him. However, I think we can safely say that this volume isn't just his story. It's also the story of his mortal enemy - Voldemort. This is overwhelmingly what I enjoyed the most about Half-Blood Prince. We get to look into the past of the world's most feared dark wizard. We see him as a child, already bending his peers to his will. We see him commit his first murder. Over time, his obsession with power slowly transforms him into the twisted Dark Lord we see at the present. It's a harrowing journey through the villain's past, and a heck of a lot more exciting than this guy's childhood:
I can understand how Harry and Dumbledore's repeated visits into the Pensieve might grow wearisome for readers. I'm surprised I didn't grow tired of it myself. Exposition and repetition aren't exactly the most exciting ways to tell a story, but Voldemort's story unfolded in a way that made it feel like a jigsaw puzzle, as Dumbledore himself pointed out. When the pieces all came together, things moved very quickly.
There are some good "Holy crap!" moments in these books, and I believe the best ones are in Prince. I repeated the above exclamation when Malfoy petrified Harry on the Hogwarts Express, then straight up stomped on his face and broke his nose. Like, really? Up until this point, Harry and Draco have been calling each other names and pointing their wands menacingly at each other, but just like most angry adolescents, it's all for show. That is no longer the case. I remember audibly freaking out when Harry blasted Malfoy with the sectumsempra curse. There they are, slinging hexes at each other in a bathroom, and all of a sudden Draco gets freaking gashed by this mysterious spell, nearly drowning in his own blood. I guess things have escalated from name-calling and pulling pranks. Let's kill each other now!
Of course, how can I not mention Harry's love life? The dude's been stumbling through five books with a crush that doesn't make sense for a character who doesn't matter, while his best friends can't figure out if they love or hate each other. This whole time, there's this A-MAZ-ING girl who dates every guy in the school, displays a keen penchant for casting jinxes, ends up as one of the better Quidditch players, and utters one of the few curse words in the series - while she's in the library! When Harry sees Dean and Ginny snogging (worst word ever, I just wanted to say it once to induce cringing), it becomes clear to him how he feels about his best friend's little sister. I remember thinking "Really? Just like that??" My wife wisely pointed out that sometimes, that's how it happens. These are teenagers, after all. All they do is snog. Either way, I remember thinking "FINALLY!" It only took 6.5 books!
There are a few scenes in Prince that are more than memorable, standing out as some of the best in the series. The whole Felix Felicis sequence was great. Any time wizards get drunk, awesome stuff happens. "The Cave" was one of the most intense passages of storytelling I've ever read, and my choice for the greatest Harry Potter chapter of all time, with one more book to go. Everything - from the chamber being hidden in a seaside cave, to the door requiring blood as payment, to the Inferi crawling out of the water - was perfect. I could play that scene in my head again and again and never grow tired of it.
It was around that chapter that I reached the point of no return. You know, the "I-can't-sleep-until-I-finish-this-book" point? I have been listening to the audiobooks at night after I get in bed. I usually fall asleep before a chapter ends, and just pick up wherever I left off in the morning. I remember just staring at the ceiling the entire time I listened to "The Cave," - and the two chapters following it. I didn't sleep well that night.
Everything seemed to slow down leading up to Dumbledore's death at the hands of Snape. I've only ever heard the words "Snape kills Dumbledore!" - I recall nothing of the sixth film. And still, it shook me. I felt something for Dumbledore that I didn't feel for Sirius. He seemed to be the one constant in the story. Stuff would go down and then someone would be like "It's all good, we have Dumbledore on our side!" Seeing the characters I've grown to love react to the death of such a noble and wise wizard was very visceral. I feel that Harry as a character is at his best when he is wrestling with his grief. I recall his struggles in the Prisoner of Azkaban, as he is repeatedly subjected to the screams of his dying mother. That traumatic experience pushed him to his limit, unleashing his ability to summon a fully formed Patronum. At this point, all the protection and guidance provided by Dumbledore vanishes, leaving Harry with another sick feeling in his stomach, right next to where the grief for his godfather exists. It's in these circumstances that I find Harry to be most admirable. The way he responds to grief molds his character in fascinating ways, and he's never the same after the fact.
I will say that the final three chapters were very heavy. I've only straight up cried twice while reading a book (Book Thief and the final volume of Malazan), but I had tears in my eyes during the scene in the hospital wing where everyone learns of Dumbledore's fate. Hagrid's cries when he sees the body...yeesh.
I have my own theories about why Snape killed Dumbledore. I won't state them here, because they're probably wrong and I'm one of the few remaining people in the world who gets to find out why it had to happen. I don't want to raise the ire of the HP purists with my silly musings. I will say this - I still believe Snape is good. He had a reason for his decision, and it will end up being the right one in the end. Like I said, I'm most likely reaching, but I only have one more book to go. Don't tell me!
One last ride.
PS I'd like to dedicate this post to my lovely wife, Blaire. On February 8th of 2014, I knelt down in the falling snow and pulled a copy of Half-Blood Prince out of my jacket and offered it to her. Inside, I had carved out the pages leading up the chapter "The Unbreakable Vow," in which I had tied a ring to a piece of purple lace. I then performed the spell that would bind us together until the day of our deaths. But seriously Blaire, I love you. You are everything that is beautiful in the world. Let me never break the vow I made to you, or you to me. I have to finish the last book first! Then we can die together happily.
Just don't spoil it.