The Harry Potter Reread

The Harry Potter Reread: The Half-Blood Prince, Chapters 5 and 6

The Harry Potter Reread should probably go get some lunch, but it’s picky and difficult, and never seems to know what it wants. Perhaps it should make its own trail mix. Never mind, that sounds boring. (Unless it’s full of candy.)

This week we’re going to make fun of a houseguest and hang out at a joke shop. It’s chapters five and six of The Half-Blood Prince–An Excess of Phlegm and Draco’s Detour.

Index to the reread can be located here! Other Harry Potter and Potter-related pieces can be found under their appropriate tag. And of course, since we know this is a reread, all posts might contain spoilers for the entire series. If you haven’t read all the Potter books, be warned.

Chapter 5–An Excess of Phlegm

Summary

Harry and Dumbledore arrive at the Weasley’s door to Molly’s surprise–she hadn’t expected them until morning. Tonks is sitting at the kitchen table looking worse for wear, and scuttles off in a hurry; Molly tries to convince her to come around for dinner, but she won’t. Dumbledore also leaves, as he has a meeting with Scrimgeour. Molly makes Harry some soup and asks him how he liked Slughorn. When Harry is noncommittal about it, she confesses that she and Arthur aren’t big fans either, as Slughorn never thought much of promoting Arthur at the Ministry. (He was their Potions professor when they were at school.) Arthur has recently been promoted to the head of a new office created by Scrimgeour, in charge of finding and confiscating fake defensive spells and objects. Their family clock now shows all hands pointing to “Mortal Peril,” which Molly says happened when Voldemort came back out into the open.

Mr. Weasley arrives home and makes Molly go through their security questions before she’ll open the door. (We find out that his greatest ambition is to find out how airplanes stay up and that Molly prefers Arthur to call her “Mollywobbles” when they’re alone together.) Mr. Weasley sits down to a bowl of soup and tells them about the strange objects that people are getting to protect themselves from Death Eaters. Molly tells Harry to get up to bed; he’s got the twins’ room all to himself because they’re living over their shop in Diagon Alley. Harry falls asleep almost instantly, and is woken up in the morning by Ron and Hermione. (Ron punches him in the head because that’s how sixteen-year-old boys say hello?) Ron wants to know what he was doing with Dumbledore, and seems put out that the only thing they did together was recruit Slughorn. Hermione seems convinced that Harry should be in full mourning and keeps checking him for signs of sadness.

Ginny slumps into the room and insists that someone is driving her nuts and talking down to her. Hermione agrees with that assessment, and Harry assumes that they’re talking about Mrs. Weasley, which doesn’t sit right with him. Ron defends the person, and Ginny claims he “can’t get enough of her,” which makes Harry realize that he’s missed something. A moment later Fleur Delacour bursts into the room carrying a breakfast tray for Harry. Mrs. Weasley follows her in, seemingly aggravated that Fleur took up the tray instead of leaving it to her. Fleur tells Harry that her little sister (the one who he saved during the Tri-Wizard Tournament) talks of him all the time and that she can’t wait to see him again. At this point it comes out that she and Bill are getting married–and she’s cross that Harry hasn’t been told already. She’s also pleased that he’s arrived because, to her mind, there isn’t much to do at the Weasley home unless one enjoys “cooking and chickens.” She exits the room, and Ginny points out that Mrs. Weasley doesn’t like Fleur much either. Molly insists that she only thinks that the engagement came too fast (though she and Bill have known each other for a year). She remembers this happening last time Voldemort was in power, how everyone rushed into marrying because they were afraid that might not make it out of the war. Ginny points out that she and Arthur were also married during that time, but Mrs. Weasley insists that they were meant to be, so it’s not the same.

Ginny apparently has taken to calling Fleur “Phlegm,” which most of them seem to find funny, aside from Mrs. Weasley. She leaves the room, but Ron is still out of sorts from Fleur’s brief stop off, which has Hermione annoyed. Ginny assumes that the reason Molly keeps inviting Tonks around for dinner is to set her up with Bill and put an end to the engagement. This leads to a bit of a fight between the four, with Ron insisting that Tonks isn’t that impressive next to Fleur because she’s not as gorgeous, Ginny and Hermione insisting that Tonks is way better and smarter, and Harry pointing out that Fleur was smart enough to be a Tri-Wizard Champion. Hermione then suggests that Tonks is feeling terrible because she didn’t stop Bellatrix during the Department of Mysteries battle, and that she’s probably feeling guilty over Sirius’ death. That doesn’t sit well with Harry since they weren’t all that close as cousins, but Hermione does point out that she’s been having trouble with her Metamorphmagus powers ever since. Mrs. Weasley makes Ginny come down and help her with lunch so that she doesn’t have to be alone with Fleur.

Harry brings up the joke shop, and Ron says the twins are doing really well, and he can’t wait to see their shop. Percy still isn’t talking to the family, even though he knows that he was mistaken about Voldemort now. Harry mentions that Dumbledore is going to be giving him private lessons this year, and finally tells them what the prophecy said. Hermione makes the mistake of squeezing one of Fred and George’s joke telescopes and get punched in the face by it. She’s not interested in the injury, though–she’s more concerned for Harry. She and Ron figure that Dumbledore must think Harry has a fighting chance if he’s going to give him lessons; for Harry’s part, just the fact that his friends haven’t withdrawn from him at the news means the world to him. He mentions that their OWLs should be arriving today and Hermione rushes downstairs to see if they’ve arrived, but when Harry gets down, there’s just Mrs. Weasley trying to fix her black eye (which won’t move). They talk about their OWLs and all begin to get nervous. Their grades arrive. Harry only receives bad marks in Divination and History of Magic (during which he collapsed), and gets “outstanding” in DADA. Ron fails the same classes, but passes everything else. Hermione gets “O”s in everything but DADA, and she’s unhappy about it. The only thing that bothers Harry is that he cannot continue onto NEWT-level Potions with an “E,” so he cannot become an Auror.

Commentary

So we’ve got this thing with Tonks. This thing that we will later find out is her moping over the fact that Remus won’t date her. And… I don’t like it. And it’s not because “oh-ho, this once seemingly badass lady character falls to pieces over a guy” because frankly, we don’t know Tonks that well, and some people really do take rejection that hard. I buy it, it’s fine. It’s more the whole mystery surrounding it, which is Rowling’s usual MO, but just seems unnecessary in this specific case. This mystery isn’t really all that interesting and it crowds an already very crowded story. I understand that the primary theme of this Potter book is LOVE CONQUERS STUFF, OKAY? but I’m still bothered over the fact that we have to gaze in puzzlement every time Tonks is around, and secretly giggle over the idea of Molly setting her up with Bill. Also, the fact that it messes with abilities that she’s had since birth? That’s kinda BS.

With Arthur’s job we get mention of all the fake stuff that has flooded the magical market in the name of “protection,” which is fascinating because it’s like a weird combo of snake oil salesman commerce and building bomb shelters during the Cold War. Guys, really, if it sounds too good to be true…. It makes sense, of course, because playing on people’s paranoia is always a sure bet.

We hear about the twins and their shop and Molly is all like “I was totally against this, but they appear to have a good head for business,” and I’m like, your kids set up a business running out of your home when they were sixteen and you’re surprised that they have business acumen? Way to backpedal, Molly. Just admit that you had no idea what they were on about, but you’re glad it worked out for them. Don’t act all surprised.

The next morning, Ron and Hermione wake up Harry, and Ginny barges in all grumpy over Fleur. (The fact that Harry is first scandalized at the idea that they would be saying mean things about Mrs. Weasley is adorable.) Then Fleur comes in with a breakfast tray and Harry yanks the covers up to his chin because THINK OF HIS MODESTY, FOR GOODNESS SAKE. I’m assuming he’s shirtless here? Unless he’s just terrified at the idea of Fleur seeing him in his pajamas. Maybe they’re covered in snitches? It is summer, though.

Now we have to talk about the Bill and Fleur side plot here, and how uncomfortable-making it is. And part of what makes it uncomfortable is that it’s unfortunately realistic in terms of how woman-on-woman crime goes. (I mean, sure, there’s a little bit of that French vs. British rivalry going on, but that’s not really where the focus is here.) The reality of the situation is–Fleur has been left to spend time with Bill’s family ALONE for an extended period. Fleur is also kind of arrogant, and definitely has no problem making a judgement call on the value of other people’s lives if they are different from her own. In that way, she’s kind of a jerk. On the other side of this equation, we have Molly, Ginny, and Hermione, who all clearly don’t like Fleur and certainly aren’t going out of their way to be super nice. Moreover, Molly and Ginny are clearly hoping that Bill is just going through a phase, and will drop their engagement shortly.

Here’s the problem: Fleur’s opinion of Bill’s family is that they are quaint and simple and boring. She makes note of the fact that the only thing to do in the Weasley homestead is cook and take care of chickens, which is a gross disrespect and also an oversimplification of how much work Molly does as a homemaker (who is still in the process of raising two out of her SEVEN CHILDREN). On the other hand, Ginny, Hermione, and Molly all make the judgement call that Bill clearly only likes Fleur for her looks, and that she’s not very bright. It’s the old “a woman can either be beautiful or smart, she cannot be both” chestnut.

That said, it makes me nine kinds of proud when Harry points out that as a Tri-Wizard Champion, Fleur is not an idiot. And since the narrative is a pretty close third person for him, it’s nice to see him recover so quickly from the vague veela-shimmer about her; Ron does not, and it’s sort of weird, in that it’s not clear how much of that reaction is just “teenage boy” and how much is “strange magical allure.” Harry has a reaction to Fleur that’s more in line with any normal encounter with an exceptionally beautiful person; he’s sort of struck for a moment, then shakes it off. I suppose we could pare this down to Harry being a bit more down to earth when it comes to his relationships with women? Ron has that sheen of “women are strange foreign creatures to me, they might as well be aliens, but they sure are purtay.”

We get this hilarious conversation where Ginny thinks that Molly is trying to set up Bill with Tonks, and Hermione assumes that Tonks’ depression is due to Sirius’ death (bringing up the survivor’s guilt that she is clearly expecting to see from Harry), and then they all argue about who would be a better match for Bill, and it couldn’t be more clear how young they are, because they are all so wrong. About pretty much everything. No one is reading anyone’s emotions correctly.

Mrs. Weasley tells Ginny to come down and help her with lunch, and this is one place where the traditional setup of the Weasley family just irks me, because I want to shout at Molly YOU KNOW RON CAN HELP WITH LUNCH TOO, HE HAS HANDS AND SHOULD KNOW HOW TO COOK, HE’S GOING TO BE AN ADULT SOON. I feel like part of the reason Molly automatically goes to Ginny is because she prefers her daughter’s company (we know that the Weasleys worked pretty hard to have a girl), but still. Ron and Ginny could both help with lunch. I’m just saying.

When Harry tells Ron and Hermione about the prophecy, Hermione gets sucker-punched by that telescope, and again we run into another example of how injuries just don’t mean much to the magical community; they can mend most of them with a flick of a wand. But one thing that still niggles at me is the trauma of being injured; the actual impact caused by injuries definitely messes with a person’s body and psyche. Even if wizards don’t tend to have scars and can heal broken bones in an hour, there is never any mention of how that affects them.

The kids get their grades, and here we have a perfect example of the misconceptions surrounding Harry’s abilities because he gets really good grades. Not amazing, but above-board the whole way. The only bad grades he gets are in Divination (which is barely even a real subject as it’s taught to Hogwarts students), and History of Magic (the test he keeled over in due to Voldemort brain-stabbing him). The only class he just nabs an acceptable grade in is Astronomy (the test where he watched Hagrid being attacked by Aurors and McGonagall get taken out by a gazillion stunning spells). Every other grade is an “E,” aside from DADA because he’s a boss at it. Ron fails the same classes, and passes the rest. (And I appreciate that Molly tells him she’s pleased, since we know how Ron’s self-esteem is his worst enemy.) Hermione’s disappointment over her only not-outstanding grade in Defense hurts because I remember being that kid and how much it messed me up. The first time I got a not-stellar grade, I felt light-headed and nauseous and ashamed of myself, and it’s just not healthy.

Also, can we talk about the fact that they each have to take NINE tests? Nine. There are nine. I mean, you’re average kid in our world has… six? English, History, Math, Science, a foreign language, maybe a special course? Certain tests separate reading and writing, but that’s nowhere close. If I had to take nine tests at the end of the year that seriously affected my future, I’m pretty sure I would fake my own death and run into the mountains.

Chapter 6–Draco’s Detour

Summary

Harry enjoys his time at the Weasleys over the summer, but the peace keeps getting waylaid by news of terrible happenings all over. On his birthday, Lupin shows up and informs them that Igor Karkaroff has been found murdered by the Death Eaters, and dementors have been attacking. Florean Fortescue has been kidnapped and Ollivander is missing, though no one is sure if he was taken or ran away. Their book lists arrive, and Harry is informed that he’s been made Quidditch Captain. Mrs. Weasley decides that they’ll head to Diagon Alley on the weekend provided Arthur can come for security. A joke from Ron about the unlikelihood of Voldemort hiding in a shop gets him a round scolding and a threat that he won’t be allowed on the trip if he doesn’t keep his mouth shut. Bill comes home with gold from Harry’s vault because security at Gringotts is crazy. They get a Ministry car to Diagon Alley with extra security because Harry is there; he’s not so keen on it, thinking his Invisibility Cloak should be good enough (thought he realizes that he doesn’t know if the Ministry has any idea about the Cloak).

Their additional security turns out to be Hagrid, on Dumbledore’s orders, which Harry is glad for. The Leaky Cauldron is completely empty for the first time in Harry’s memory. Diagon Alley itself is pasted over with Ministry posters on safety and pictures of the Death Eaters currently at large. Stalls have been erected to sell amulets and other fake protections. Mr. Weasley suggests that the trio go with Hagrid to get new robes at Madam Malkin’s, and that he, Molly, and Ginny pick up the schoolbooks. When the kids arrive at the robe shop, they find Draco and his mother there. Harry and Ron get their wands out, and Narcissa threatens them, saying that if they hurt Draco, it’ll be the last thing they do. Harry isn’t bothered, and asks if she plans to sic Death Eaters on them. Narcissa insists that Dumbledore won’t always be around to protect him, and Harry needles her, suggesting that she have a go at him now since the headmaster’s not around (and making a jab at Lucius). She makes a jibe at Sirius’ absence in turn, and Harry raises his wand higher. Hermione tries to put an end to it while Madam Malkin frantically tries to pretend that nothing bad is happening. Draco says he no longer wants his robes, and he and his mother take their business elsewhere.

After getting the rest of their supplies, they make their way to the twins’ shop–it’s windows are full of light and color, and they take a swipe at the general atmosphere of paranoia in their ads. The store is full of customers and new products. Hermione gets fixated on a Daydream Charm, which she thinks is impressive magic. Fred sees Hermione’s black eye and gives her a salve to fix the bruise. The twins give Harry a tour, showing him Muggle magic tricks and then moving onto a more serious line they developed; they created Shield Hats for fun, but it turns out that most wizards aren’t very good at Shield Charms… so the Ministry ordered five hundred of them. They’re expanding the line, creating defensive items that are actually useful to the public, like Darkness Powder and Decoy Detonators. Fred and George won’t let Harry pay for anything, as their start-up investor. The twins show Hermione and Ginny their selection of love potions, but tell Ginny they won’t sell one to her, given what they’ve heard about her current dating status. Ginny is not interested in defending her dating choices to her older brothers, and asks about other products, including little fluff balls called Pygmy Puffs. The twins won’t let Ron have any of their products for free.

The trio see Draco from the window, hurrying down the street without his mother nearby. Harry figures he must be up to something shady and decides to follow him while everyone’s attention is occupied. He throws the Invisibility Cloak over them, and they follow Draco down to Knockturn Alley. Hermione sees him inside Borgin and Burkes, talking to Mr. Borgin. They use Extendable Ears from the twins’ shop to listen in. Draco is asking for Borgin’s help in fixing something, and threatens him to make certain he’ll do it. He warns Borgin not to sell something he has in the store, and advises him to tell no one of this, not even his mother. He leaves and Hermione decides to try her luck in the store, asking if certain items are for sale to figure out what Draco was trying to put on hold. Eventually she comes up with a lame story of being Draco’s friend and trying to get him a birthday present. Borgin sees through that in an instant and kicks her out. They make their way back to the joke shop and hurry inside, putting away the Cloak and insisting to Mrs. Weasley that they’ve been in the back room the whole time.

Commentary

So with Ollivander gone, that means that the kids who started coming to Hogwarts in Harry’s final years didn’t have his wands. Bet that was rough. This actually brings up a bigger question I have about the incoming kids, especially where the Muggle-born students are concerned. I mean, how could you possibly convince ANY Muggle-born students to attend Hogwarts at this point in time? You send a Ministry official to their home and say, “Hey, your kid is magical and we want to send them to this super special school… but, um… there are some, shall we say, risks in doing so? I mean you’re in just as much danger if they go to a Muggle school, probably, so you should totally come to Diagon Alley and pick up your kid’s books! Where you’ll see all these posters about escaped dangerous criminals and all the tips you need to protect yourself now. It’s cool, you’ll love it.”

Why would any of those kids go to Hogwarts?

Ron makes that side joke about whether or not Harry will keep him on the Quidditch team and ouch. Because you know he means it. On the other hand, he gets all excited that Harry will be his captain, and that makes me wibble because that’s how much Ron loves Harry.

Bill gets Harry’s gold from his vault (still wish they’d explain how they get sign-offs to access Harry’s bank account without the equivalent of a magical fingerprint or signature, something, anything) because of increased Gringotts security, and mentions that someone had a “Probity Probe stuck up his…” and I’m like WOW, WE GOT ONE OF THOSE JOKES IN THERE. That is almost as good as the Uranus jokes. Almost.

The trio face off with Draco and his mom when they go to get their new robes, and while it’s an ugly little scene, there’s something so vindicating about the fact that Harry doesn’t have to hide anymore, after a solid year of having to keep his mouth shut. Narcissa’s love for her son allows us to be sympathetic to her in the second chapter, but once she makes a jibe at Sirius’ death and calls Hermione “scum” here, we’re given a sharp reminder of the fact that–caring mother or no–she’s still tows that pureblood line and is married to a Death Eater. And poor Madam Malkin just frets the whole time. Being a business owner in that environment has to suck.

The Weasley defense work is brilliant. And there’s the added aspect that in an environment where most salespeople are exploiting the population with fake merchandise, the twins are actually selling things that work. The Ministry really should have just employed them for it (not that I think Fred and George would have said yes to the offer). What we also see at work here harkens back to Harry’s commentary at the end of GoF, about everyone needing a laugh–which is spot on, of course. Everyone else in Diagon Alley is caught up in the atmosphere of fear and contributing to it, and here are the Weasley twins, poking fun at Voldemort in their advertising. And judging by their success, it’s exactly what the public is looking for as everything gets darker.

Word about the marketed-to-women’s products; the daydreams are for ages sixteen-and-up, which makes me wonder how raunchy they get. Sort of seems like they’re live romance novels. Which is super smart, though I feel pretty confident that students would not be their only market by a long shot. Of course, we’ve also got the love potions (marketed strictly to girls, which seems stupid to me–like a boy would never consider using one of those), the unsettling-ness of which we’ll get to later in this book.

And then there’s the Pygmy Puffs. Which are tribbles. That’s what they are. Full stop. The Weasley twins are breeding tribbles.

Bless Ginny for flipping the proverbial bird to her brothers for trying to give her crap about dating too much. And acting like they’ve got rights to be protective on top of it. Naff off, dudes.

So the kids follow Draco to Borgin and Burkes, and this is where Rowling knack for setting up the mystery plays perfectly. We know it’s bad, we have no idea what Draco is up to, and she even mentions the cabinet in the narrative in a totally innocuous way. All the clues are there, but how could you guess? (Seriously, though, how did Draco slip away from his mom? That’s still the bigger mystery here, considering how concerned she is for her poor baby.)

Oh my god, Hermione, you suck at subtlety in the saddest way. (No real surprise there, it’s just funny.) But it occurs to me that this attempt in B&Bs is a good prep run for what will come next year, when they have to get into the bank.

Emily Asher-Perrin wants a Pygmy Puff. You can bug her on Twitter and Tumblr, and read more of her work here and elsewhere.

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