Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Half Blood Prince & The Deathly Hallows

I haven’t done much reading lately. I started reading a book while I was in Los Angeles in May and I wasn’t enjoying it.

 

After getting home, by the time I finally got around to starting to read again, it was three weeks later. I just wanted to read something that wasn’t going to test me, something that I knew I would enjoy.

 

So, I settled down to read Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Last summer I started re-reading the series, ready for my trip to see the stage-play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child in October this year, and I have been periodically dipping into it since last June.

 

When I read Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire I wrote that it was the book in the series that really opened up the wider wizarding world. I also spoke about how annoying Harry was as he started to go through puberty.

 

In Phoenix, Harry is still kind of annoying, but his anger here doesn’t feel out of place. He went through a lot during Goblet and so it feels completely justified. His arrogance is still present, particularly in his refusal to fully embrace the Occlumency levels, but equally Dumbledore is frustrating, in his absence, in his reluctance to share things with Harry.

 

The beginning of the book, as you might imagine following the events at the end of the previous book, is pretty bleak, and Rowling seems to know it. There’s a line about a third of the way through where Hermione is looking out of the window and says ‘here’s something that should cheer you up. Hagrid’s back’.

 

And though not my favourite character, my heart did lift at that moment. And I remember my heart lifting the first time I read it as well. Perhaps because of the absence of Dumbledore and the in-fighting between Harry, Hermione and Ron anything familiar is a welcoming sight.

 

Books 1 to 5 of the Harry Potter series are probably some of the books I am most familiar with. Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows less so, mostly because I was eighteen and twenty respectfully when they came out. There was simply less opportunity for me to re-read the books when I became an ‘adult’.

 

So, reaching the end of Phoenix, I had to go into Prince and Hallows straight away to find out not what happened, but to remind myself how it happened. I read all three across the space of three weeks and it felt so good to be reading books that I enjoyed again, looking forward to picking up my book at the end of the day and not wanting to put it down.

 

I even woke up in the middle of the night worrying about Harry and Hermione while I was reading Deathly Hallows.

 

The last three books work so well together, like one huge book rather than just three big ones. They flow into each other well and Harry matures nicely into a character that you actually like, a great achievement for a character that comes close to being the worst character in the series during book four and five.

 

The last book neatly sews up pretty much every loose thread that had been left dangling from the previous six, even ones you didn’t know were loose. Every minor character gets a moment to shine, a shining example being Hermione saving Lavender Brown from Fenrir Greyback.

 

It’s a small moment, but the previous year, their relationship had been left frosty after Lavender went out with Ron, and Rowling doesn’t forget, she tidies it up, even with a small as interaction like that.

 

And yes… I cried at the end. It’s impossible not to.

 

For those wondering:

 

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix scores 4.1 out of 5 (same as Goblet of Fire)

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince scores 4.5 out of 5

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows scores 4.6 out of 5

 

What lets Deathly Hallows down? It’s *not* quite as funny as the previous books, and if I’m completely honest the epilogue set nineteen years later… I could do without. Nearly ten years after first reading it, I feel slightly better about it as a precursor to The Cursed Child but it still feels like a bit of a mis-step to me.

Minority Report

I can’t stop thinking about what happened in Orlando over the weekend. It’s brought up a lot of different thoughts and issues for me. Where I thought I knew my mind, I’m now unsure. This is my attempt to reconcile those thoughts.

 

Pulse is a nightclub in Orlando, Florida. On Saturday night it was the location of the worst gun massacre in US history.

 

We’re not talking about Swindon or England or United Kingdom, we’re talking about the United States of America.

 

According to the Gun Violence Archive (http://www.gunviolencearchive.org/reports/mass-shooting) this is the 136th mass shooting in the United States this year alone – that’s one every 29 hours.

 

On the 11th June the website reports that there were five mass shootings, a day later, there was just one. But it was the worst one they’d ever had. That’s why you’re hearing about it, that’s why it’s everywhere, because even somewhere like America, this was an exceptional event.

 

The shooter went into Pulse – self-styled as the hottest gay club in Orlando, and ranked second most popular according to the users of gaycities.com (http://orlando.gaycities.com/bars/) as of 13th June – and killed forty nine people, injuring many more. The death of the shooter himself takes the number of dead to a round 50.

 

Why did he do it?

 

Short of finding a signed confession, we may never be a hundred per cent certain for the reasons behind the massacre, the gunman himself has a violent history, as well as suspected links with IS. Islamic State themselves have already claimed responsibility, but there is no substantial evidence that they had any direct involvement.

 

We do know that his father has already confirmed that the gunman became “very angry” after recently seeing two men kissing.

 

If there are so many mass shootings in America, why is it this one that has upset me?

 

The reason I can’t stop thinking about it, is because it was aimed at me. At my friends. This wasn’t done for religious reasons, or race reasons, or even because of a relationship gone wrong.

 

This was beyond race, beyond religion – but not beyond love. It was love the gunman objected to. Love between men, love between women, and any variation thereof.

 

I’ve never felt like a minority before.

 

Minorities in the we talk about them are people who need protection, people who are vulnerable. I’m lucky enough to have grown up in a time and a place where I’ve never felt that.

 

I’m a white, English-speaking man, I’m by no means rich but nor do I struggle. I live in one of the most forward thinking countries of the world and I can criticise the people who lead my country without fear of retribution.

 

I’m also gay.

 

In the past, I’ve been critical of Gay Pride events in their current form. I’ve always said that I understood why Pride marches were needed, but that I felt they weren’t needed anymore.

 

Pride marches in the UK have become over-sexualised, commercial parties. When straight families are taking their children and grandchildren to Pride events, when music acts are queuing up to take part and when the event itself is part-funded by government of the day, I can’t help but feel we’ve achieved what we set out to achieve.

 

For me, the focus should shift away from standing apart and more to integration. Being gay doesn’t define me, it is just part of who I am. I don’t need a special bar or a special nightclub or a special march. I’m proud of who I am wherever I am, whatever day of the year.

 

I’ve never begrudged those who did. I’ve always understood their reasoning. A safe place to go up to a guy and ask him out, being able to be who we really are without having to worry – but the truth is, most of us feel ok to do that most of the time these days.

 

Until now.

 

Someone invaded one of those safe places and started slaughtering us. That could have been me. I’ve not been to Pulse in Orlando, but a couple of weeks ago I was enjoying drinks in gay bars in Los Angeles.

 

They’re 2,500 miles away from each other, they’re not exactly close (the distance between them is only marginally shorter than the distance between London and Syria) but the in LA are the same as they are in Florida.

 

Someone could have taken offence at me mincing through Beverly Hills and done exactly the same thing.

 

It could have been any of us.

 

The whole incident brings up lots of different issues and already has from gun control to, bizarrely, whether the UK should leave Europe (we shouldn’t, if anything this teaches us that a tolerant world with closer links to other cultures is more important than it ever was).

 

But for me, the issue is more personal… it goes to the heart of who I am. To who we are as a society.

 

We talked about what happened in Paris, we talked about what happened in Brussels. At the office today, no one talked about Orlando.

 

It’s not an attack on the United States or the Western world. It’s an attack on a community, on my community.

 

I’m not going to forget what happened in Pulse, Orlando, and I’m not going to let it scare me into hiding away. Short of breaking out into a show-stopping performance of ‘I Am Who I Am’ complete with John Barrowman-esque jazz hands, I’m going to be the gayest gay I can.

 

I’m not going to feel like a minority anymore.