By Mandi Bierly
November 19, 2010 at 05:12 PM EST

The clock is at zero. But if you have to get through the day before you can go see Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part I, enjoy the final installment of our look back at the franchise by remembering Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Or, at least recall fondly how Warner Bros. announced that the film was moving from November 2008 to July 2009 to fill a hole on the studio’s summer schedule the day after EW closed its Fall Movie Preview issue featuring the film on the cover. Collector’s edition!

Half-Blood Prince marked the beginning of the end as Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) investigated a sinister scheme involving Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton) to allow Voldemort’s Death Eaters to infiltrate Hogwarts, and played spy for Professor Dumbledore (Michael Gambon), who needed him to coax the haunted Horace Slughorn (Jim Broadbent) to reveal a crucial memory from Voldemort’s school days and set Harry on a mission to destroy the Horcruxes containing fragments of Voldemort’s soul. Can we all agree that Frank Dillane’s performance as Tom Riddle at age 16 was creepier than anything we’ve seen Ralph Fiennes’ do as Voldemort to this point?

While the mood darkened, the hormones at Hogwarts raged, splitting moviegoers and critics like EW’s Lisa Schwarzbaum and Owen Gleiberman. While Gleiberman, who still ranked the film among the Harry Potter series best, said the time spent on young love bogged the movie down, Schwarzbaum, who gave the film an A-, saw it differently: “It makes you feel that they are people that you could really understand. That actually inside, internally, there’s a magic going on in a teenager’s life, which, to each teenager, is almost as big as dealing with good and evil.” (Relive their video debate below.) In a PopWatch poll after the film’s release, roughly a third of readers thought there was too much romance in the movie (gender was not a factor), but I don’t think anyone wouldn’t have wanted to see Emma Watson play that scene in which Hermione has her mini-meltdown after watching Ron (Rupert Grint) kissing Lavender (Jessie Cave) and tells Harry she knows how he feels about Ron’s sister Ginny (Bonnie Wright). EW’s Jeff Jensen was on the set when that scene was shot: “Even after ‘Cut!’ Watson continues to tear up,” he reported, “and Radcliffe offers comfort with a lingering side hug and whispered praise. ‘Bloody f—ing brilliant, Emma. Just top-notch.'” Watson, then 18, relied on her own journals and instincts to connect with Hermione’s broken heart. Radcliffe, who opened the movie flirting with a waitress before pining for Ginny told EW he played the scenes by importing lessons from ”the Daniel Radcliffe school of flirting.” Which means? ”Look at them until they notice you and hope for the best,” the then 19-year-old said. “I never had any idea how to talk to girls until a year or so ago… I still come out with trivial crap when I’m flirting, but I like to think I’m doing it in a faintly endearing way.”

As Jensen pointed out, there was one bit of romantic intrigue that didn’t make it into Prince. In writer Steve Kloves’ first draft of the screenplay, he had a line (not in the book) in which Dumbledore fondly recalls a Muggle girl from his youth. ”I was walking through Leavesden with Jo [Rowling] on our way to the first reading,” Kloves told EW. ”As we entered the Great Hall, she leaned toward me and whispered, ‘I saw the line you gave Dumbledore, but the thing is this: Dumbledore is gay.”’ Yates decided to strike the line (and Rowling would later recount the story when she outed Dumbledore publicly in the fall of 2007). ”I just felt the scene worked without it,” Kloves told EW before Half-Blood Prince‘s release. ”I think the fact that Dumbledore is gay is wonderful. It feels very authentic to the character.” While readers reveled in that reveal, those who only experience the Potterverse through the movies tried desperately to avoid a big Dumbledore spoiler — he died in Half-Blood Prince. Radcliffe told EW shooting that sequence challenged him because there were extras on set at the time, many of them so happy to be there portraying Hogwarts students they treated it like a party. Radcliffe also admitted he had limited experience dealing with death, and worried over how to play the scene. ”I don’t pretend to have given an incredibly accurate rendering,” he said. ”To people who have lost people in their lives, if I don’t bring to the screen what they would want or expect to see, I take responsibility for that and apologize.” No need, Daniel. There wasn’t a dry eye in the theater. I remember wishing I had a wand to raise and join in the moving salute. (I just got chills writing about it.)

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince was the first film in the series to open after the final book in Rowling’s saga was published. ”I’m not going to lie to you,” Kloves told EW, “I do have some concern that because the books are over, the anticipation for the movies won’t be the same.” Not surprisingly, fans are as loyal to Harry as Harry is to Dumbledore: The movie grossed $302 million domestically, and $632 million internationally. (Sure, diehards heatedly debated changes from the book — like where Ginny and Harry kissed — but that’s half the fun.) For me, reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows only increased the desire to see the story play out on film. Who wasn’t picturing Radcliffe walking through that forest toward Harry’s final confrontation with Voldemort when they got to that part of the final book, and thinking about how moving that moment will be in theaters? Are we a little sad that we won’t be seeing that scene until 2011? Yes. But we’ll be there. With tissues.

More Harry Potter:

‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows’ countdown: Remembering ‘Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix’

‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows’ countdown: Remembering ‘Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire’

‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows’ countdown: Remembering ‘The Prisoner of Azkaban’

‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows’ countdown: Remembering ‘The Chamber of Secrets’

‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows’ countdown: Remembering ‘The Sorcerer’s Stone’

EW’s ‘Harry Potter’ Central