First of all, while Dumbledore's death is indeed disturbing, I felt it coming. suitboyskin and I had postulated that Dumbledore would not - and from a mythic point of view, could not - survive the series. As long as Dumbledore is alive, there is a barrier between Harry and Voldemort, and as was revealed for certain in Order of the Phoenix and was pretty clear at least from Chamber of Secrets, it is the final confrontation between the two of them that will be the climax of this series.
The death of Dumbledore will have huge consequences not just for Harry (who is now going to be actively hunting Voldemort), but for the Wizarding community as a whole. It will come as a hard blow that somebody as wise and powerful as Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore has been killed. Now it has become clear that nobody is safe. Nobody. Voldemort will be gaining more and more power as the infrastructure of the Wizarding world breaks down, and he will gain more and more followers out of both fear and opportunism.
Speaking of characters who may not survive the series, Draco has placed himself firmly in harm's way this time around. Because of the events of chapter two, those reading the book know that Harry is absolutely right in his suspicion of Draco, and while I am not surprised that Draco didn't have it in him to actually kill Dumbledore, his involvement in the plans of the Dark Lord does not bode well for a long future. I'm not necessarily saying that Draco is dead meat, but I am saying that no matter how you slice it, he's in deep, deep, deep shit. He is rather young for a Death Eater, yes, but that was a rather well conceived plan on the part of Voldemort, the only misstep being trusting in Draco's resolve.
I really liked the fact that after five years of white-hot hate, Harry's final thoughts about Draco in this book were ones of pity. While Draco has certainly been spoiled up until now, his comfort has a price, one that he himself is only now starting to realize. His interest in the Dark Arts are one thing, but it does say something about him that though he was raised to believe that Dumbledore is a doddering old Blood Traitor, that he still couldn't bring himself to kill him.
Okay, now a lot of rumbling has been going on about Snape because of what is discussed in Chapter Two. And once one reaches the end of the book, there are serious questions about him. While there is no getting around the fact that he is Dumbledore's killer, I don't necessarily think that it was because he betrayed the Order. He was placed in a position where he needed to take an Unbreakable Vow in order to gain information, and the end result of that is that there was no way around doing what he did on the Astronomy tower. Snape is a very unpleasant man, but I still think that Dumbledore's trust in him was earned. I could be wrong, of course, but Snape has always been a red herring before. While I doubt that this was part of Dumbledore's plan, he would have been daft not to imagine that something like this might happen one day. And to be frank, Snape is now proven his worth to the Dark Lord, for having disposed of Dumbledore once and for all is closer to him than all of the other Death Eaters. If he has not betrayed the Order, then he is one of their most valuable people. Not that anybody will know the truth for a while, of course...
He also seemed to be a much better Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher than he ever was a Potions teacher. But that's just my impression.
I was a bit surprised at the revelation that he was the Half-Blood Prince. I didn't see that coming, but it seems that Slytherin and the Death Eaters in general have a lot of mixed blood people passing themselves off as Pure. I had assumed (as I suppose most do) that Snape was a Pure Blood, partly because he is head of Slytherin house, but mostly because he calls Lily a "Mudblood" in the pensieve vision we have of her. One wonders what Salazar Slytherin would think about the fact that his heir and the most powerful and feared Slytherin is a half-blood himself.
I was disappointed to see that Harry did not continue the Dumbledore's Army lessons, but hopefully that idea will come to a head in the next book. Harry has, after all, created his own analog to the Order of the Pheonix. As he tells Scrimgeour, he is Dumbledore's man through and through.
Okay, enough of the big stuff. What makes these books rewarding is that in addition to the big epic storylines there is also the added layer of the characters growing, learning and getting older. If they work at all, it is because the fantastic is bound to the mundane, and while this book was more plot oriented than the previous three, that was nevertheless an important element of this book.
After the Yule Ball in Goblet of Fire, it was a bit odd to see the Ron and Hermione storyline slowed down so much in Order of the Pheonix, but given everything else going on in that book, it makes sense because everybody was distracted. I was therefore somewhat surprised to see Rowling take the bull by the horns and deal with this outright in this book. I like that Ron starts acting so (age appropriately) shitty because he was torn apart by Ginny (who has a point) and felt that Hermione didn't have any confidence in him.
Let's face it, it's not like Hermione didn't deserve it a little bit. She has, after all, been holding Victor Krum over his head for two years, and there have been times when she could have made it easier on him. Of course, he was perhaps overly cruel, but hey, he's human. It was nice that Ron couldn't just extract himself from the situation he created for himself once its usefulness had expired, though. Ron's not stupid, he'll never do that again. While I did feel a bit sorry for Lavender Brown, who is caught up in something she doesn't really understand, it was only a bit.
Unfortunately, I have to say that I found myself rolling my eyes whenever Harry got all moony on Ginny. This was a development that wasn't entirely unhinted at before, and the fanfic community has certainly latched on to it, but it just didn't read well. I mean, what happened to that 'so true it's painful' tone taken with the whole Cho Chang debacle? I found the writing dealing with this particular storyline was quite tiresome. While she certainly describes certain sensations very well, I feel that the progression and resolution (shades of Spider-Man, perhaps?) was handled oafishly.
So yesterday was interesting, and this evening looks to be as well. Let's see how this goes...