The Harry Potter Reread forgot its umbrella and is going to end up like that MacArthur Park song… “Someone left a cake out in the rain/Well I don’t think I can take it/’Cause it took so long to bake it/And I’ll never have that recipe again”
This week we’re back to school, and have a highly uncomfortable Defense Against the Dark Arts lesson. It’s chapters 7 and 8 of The Half-Blood Prince–The Slug Club and Snape Victorious.
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 7–The Slug Club
Harry keeps trying to parse out Malfoy’s actions in Diagon Alley over the final days of summer, but Ron and Hermione aren’t all that interested in his theories. It occurs to Harry that perhaps Draco has become a Death Eater in his father’s place (he recalls that Draco jerked away from Madam Malkin when she tried to roll up his left sleeve and that Draco showed Borgin something that scared the man), but Ron and Hermione find that even less likely. He heads downstairs to do some laundry and runs into Ginny, who warns him about Fleur downstairs. Fleur is deep into wedding plans next to an exasperated Mrs. Weasley, who asks Harry to have his things packed early, so they can leave easily in the morning.
They get to King’s Cross smoothly, and head onto Platform 9 and 3/4. Harry asks to speak with Mr. Weasley before they leave, telling him that they followed Draco, and what they saw. Mr. Weasley doesn’t think much of Harry’s Death Eater theory either, and insists that they raided the Malfoy home after Lucius’ arrest, so there’d be nothing dangerous for Draco to get his hands on. Harry is not soothed by this information at all, and is hurried onto the train. Mrs. Weasley tells him that he’s coming to their house for Christmas and asks him to be safe. Harry can’t sit with Ron and Hermione since they’re in the prefect’s car, so he asks Ginny if she wants to find a compartment, but she’s already promised to meet Dean. Students were already staring when he boarded, and now he’s surrounded by starry-eyed girls.
Luckily, Neville and Luna show up just in time to save the day. They move on the find seats, and Neville notes that the students are staring at them as well. He says his gran is finally proud of him; she got him a new wand, which might be the last one that Ollivander sold before disappearing. They ask Harry if D.A. meeting are still on–he reckons not now that Umbridge is gone. Neville is sorry for it since he learned so much, and Luna says it was like having friends when she went to meetings. A group of fourth year girls are giggling on the other side of the compartment door, and one of them steps forward. her name is Romilda Vane, and she tells Harry that he should join she and her friends in their compartment, assuring him that he doesn’t have to sit with Neville and Luna. Harry tells her that they’re his friends, and she withdraws, surprised. Luna points out that people expect Harry to have “cooler” friends, and he insists that they are cool, and that they were the ones who fought alongside him. This pleases Luna quite a bit, though Neville insists that his grandmother would still rather have Harry for a grandson than him.
Harry thinks of the prophecy that could have easily pertained to Neville if Voldemort had not chosen him. He wonders if everything would have turned out the same, if there would have been a Chosen One at all had Voldemort picked Neville instead. Neville regains Harry’s attention, and Luna asks if a Wrackspurt got Harry. Ron and Hermione eventually show up, and Ron points out that Malfoy isn’t bothering with prefect duties, just sitting with his Slytherin pals. Harry finds this very suspicious, but before he can make something of it, a third year girl delivers invitations to him and Neville; it’s from Slughorn, asking them to join him for lunch. He and Neville make their way to Slughorn’s compartment, Harry having to deal with even more staring than before (thought Cho and Marietta are careful to avoid him).
Harry and Neville arrive to find Ginny and Blaise Zabini in the car with Slughorn, along with Cormac McLaggen, and Marcus Belby. Slughorn introduces all of them and begins feeding them. He talks of Belby’s uncle and asks the boy if he sees much of him (his uncle apparently invented the Wolfsbane Potion). When Belby admits that his uncle and his father don’t really get along, Slughorn seems to go cold on him, and moves to McLaggen, who happens to know Rufus Scrimgeour and Bertie Higgs. Harry notes that everyone in the compartment is well-connected, except for Ginny. Zabini’s mother is a famously beautiful witch, and of course Neville’s parents were Aurors. Eventually Slughorn moves on to talk about Harry, and when Zabini seem skeptical, Ginny makes fun of him. We find out that Slughorn asked her to come up for lunch because he saw her cast in impressive hex on someone (who turns out to be Zacharias Smith, asking too many questions about the Ministry battle). He questions Harry about the Prophecy rumors going around, but Ginny and Neville head him off, telling him that they were also at the Ministry and no one heard the prophecy. Eventually Slughorn dismisses them, and Harry decides to follow Blaise under the Invisibility Cloak so he can listen in on whatever Malfoy says to his house-fellows.
Harry doesn’t move fast enough and has to throw out his foot to prevent their compartment door from closing, shoving it open and causing a pile up, so he can jump onto the luggage rack. He’s fairly sure that his feet go visible for a moment, but then no one says a thing. Malfoy asks Blaise about the Slughorn lunch, and he tells Draco about who was there. Draco can’t believe Neville was invited, or Ginny, though Pansy Parkinson is quick to point out that lots of boys are into her. Zabini tells Draco that it doesn’t seem like Slughorn is interested in Death Eater connected kids, which leaves Draco out, even though his father had been a Slug Club member back in the day. Draco insists that he doesn’t care much, and that he might not even attend Hogwarts next year, intimating that Voldemort will be in power by then and that he’ll be important in the new regime. Hogwarts is in view, and everyone changes into their robes; Harry gets smacked in the head by a trunk and lets out a gasp by accident, but he seems to go unheard. As everyone exits the car, Draco tells Pansy that he wants to check on something.
It turns out that Draco did notice Harry, and he body binds him. Harry crashes to the floor. Draco insists that Harry didn’t hear anything important. He the stomps on Harry’s face, breaking his nose, and throws the cloak over Harry, figuring that Harry won’t be found until the train is all the way back in London. Then he leaves the compartment.
Ultimately, there’s no way of changing this narrative that would alter the endgame enough to matter; Dumbledore is dying, so Draco’s plan is secondary in the scheme of things. But I really do have to question the general smartness of the adults on the frontline of his war constantly laughing Harry off whenever he offers up a slice of information. With how good the kid’s instincts are, every time Harry Potter approached me on the down-low, I’d be like, “Who? Who is it now? Tell me, who is the monster??? I WILL FIX IT.” With the exception of Snape, Harry’s ear for fishiness is rarely wrong. So Arthur’s faint chuckling over Draco is pretty irritating. That said, it’s adorable that he never bought their lie about hanging out in the back of the twins’ shop for a second. Because he may be the less-concerned of the Weasley parents, but Arthur’s no slouch. He’s a sharp dude.
Harry’s on the train and has a moment of sadness when he realizes that Ginny doesn’t really hang out with them at school, and it’s just subtle enough that you can miss the build here. I noticed there have been some comments about how quick Ginny seems to transform from shy, cute little girl into gorgeous spitfire who dates a lot. I don’t find it all that unrealistic, particularly because the narrative is largely centered on Harry’s POV. So he thinks of Ginny as shy and sweet early on because that’s the way she is around him as a kid. As to the abrupt beauty factor… she’s getting older. So yeah, she started looking pretty rather than cute, and the boys noticed. This is basically around the age that this happens for plenty of girls, so it doesn’t really surprise me. And Rowling is careful not to do this with all the girls, as not everyone matures at the same rate. But Ginny hits those mid-teen years and comes into her own fast. Some girls just do.
Neville and Luna show up, and you can’t help but be just as relieved as Harry. And Neville finally has his own wand! And his gran is still faint on the praise, with an added dose of thinking Harry’s way better than her own grandchild. (*growls*) Harry’s pondering about how things might have been different had Voldemort chosen Neville as his rival is an interesting aside, prompting a lot of questions about the nature of prophecy in works like these; is the point that the prophecy would have always been about Harry, even knowing that the qualifications applied to Neville as well? Can you sidestep a prophecy, make it turn out different?
Luna says that she’ll miss D.A. meetings because it was “like having friends,” and Harry thinks on Luna’s knack for stating uncomfortable truths. Between that and her comment that Romilda Vane (ugh, she’s here, we have a whole book to deal with this girl, where the heck did she come from?) and her friends expected Harry to have cooler friends, this whole section is plain achy and sad. Of course, the advantage of Luna being so blunt is that it gives Harry the opportunity to affirm their friendships. Harry from previous books would have been a bit embarrassed to be seen with Neville and Luna just then. Sixteen-year-old Harry is over it, and isn’t giving anyone else’s opinions the time of day. This is actually one of the strongest aspects of this book; Harry is becoming a better friend to his friends.
(Why have I not adopted the use of “Wrackspurt” for whenever my brain gets fuzzy? It’s such a useful creature term.)
Harry and Neville have to rush down to the first Slug Club showing, and they pass Cho and Marietta’s compartment, and this is the only thing so far that makes me really wince. Harry’s being so good to people so far, but suddenly we get this rude little smirk at Marietta’s expense, and it’s not like we get much more by way of Cho for the rest of the series. It just seems like a nasty note to leave it on for the time being. Slughorn’s whole show gives an even better impression of what we can expect from the man, and the fact that he needles Harry about the prophecy and such is proof that he knows what he’s around for, but also that he doesn’t understand how to keep things to himself. Why would you ask Harry about this in a car half-full of strangers? Did you really expect him to play ball?
Short aside: it’s mentioned that Blaise Zabini’s mother is gorgeous and murdered all her husbands so… Blaise’s mom is a black widow? I wonder if all the husbands were wizards or not.
And then Harry gets all obsessive over hearing Draco, and he causes a ruckus to get into their compartment, and it’s maybe the most recklessly stupid thing he’s ever attempted. Because it’s not just risking discovery, it’s risking discovery of the Cloak, which is such a huge asset to him. He’s lucky Draco didn’t decide to take it from him when he left the train.
Draco. Like Dumbledore, there’s going to be a lot to talk in this book where Draco is concerned. But here, I want to talk a little bit about interpersonal violence. Harry’s obsession with Draco in Half-Blood Prince is marked for how suddenly it emerges, but I think its cause is relatively specific; I think that Harry’s concern started immediately after Draco’s near-attack at the end of their previous year. Harry’s role in Lucius’ imprisonment caused an immediate turn-around in Draco, one that would have erupted into a very nasty brawl had Snape not been nearby to break up the fight. Harry is deep enough in the war at this point that threats are no longer a matter of schoolyard posturing; they are a part of the real fight going on out in the world. So the instant Draco comes at him and makes it about his father and what’s happened to his family, Harry has changed his mind about what he thinks Draco is capable of doing.
With that in mind, the end of this chapter proves the elevated state of things. Previously, whenever Draco has come at Harry, he has done it with his wand, with the desire to use magic as the means of inflicting harm. There are points in the series where a wizard’s ability to think beyond their wand in a fight is meant to prove their ingenuity–like Neville using his wand to poke a Death Eater in the eye in the Battle of the Department of Mysteries. But here, we’ve got a different distinction at work; the desire to put hands on someone to hurt them because it’s a more personal form of violence. The first time I read this book, I remember that Draco’s abuse here toward Harry was more unsettling to me than any violence we’d witnessed prior because of how personal it is, how vicious. Draco immobilizes Harry, crushing his face underneath his foot–you don’t even need to engage with metaphor to understand what Draco is getting out of this. And it’s partly because he’s always wanted to get one over on Harry, but the change in his method, the desire to hurt his schoolyard rival without the use of magic… that’s telling us a lot of things about where Draco is at right now.
Draco’s entire world gets ripped up by the roots with Lucius’ arrest, and we can see that he’s trying to re-exert some control over it. He’s busy trying to make his friends think that he’s doing something important for Voldemort (and he is, but it’s not as though he’s as excited about the whole thing as he claims to be), and he’s becoming more secretive as a form of self-protection. Draco could have easily exposed Harry in front of his Slytherin pals and beaten him up with everyone watching, but that’s precisely the point–he doesn’t want them watching. They’re not capable of understanding what he’s going through any more than Harry is.
Chapter 8–Snape Victorious
Harry lies on the floor of the compartment, frozen, upset for hoping that someone would notice his absence and come find him. Luckily, just as the train lurches, Tonks arrives and unbinds him. They jump off as it begins to pick up speed, and Tonks hands him back the Cloak. She mends his nose, then casts a Patronus to send word to the castle that she’s got him. Tonks tells him that she and a few other Aurors have been stationed at the school for extra protection. Harry follows her on foot up to the gates, noting that she seems bleak and very serious compared to the woman he met last year. They arrive at the gates, and Tonks explains that he can’t simply get in because of all the jinxes and spells on them. Instead, Snape comes down to retrieve him. Tonks intended Hagrid to get her message, but Hagrid is also late, so it fell to Snape. He comments on Tonks’ new Patronus, saying it looks weak, and shuts the gates in her face. Snape then proceeds to needle Harry on their walk up to the castle, deducting a load of house points and claiming that this is all a stunt Harry is pulling for attention. Harry wisely says nothing in reply.
When he sits between Ron and Hermione, they’re horrified at his appearance; Hermione cleans the blood off of his face. He narrowly misses dinner, and tells Ron and Hermione that Slughorn only called on him to find out about the Ministry; apparently everyone has been asking then about it too. Nearly Headless Nick claims that the ghosts have been asking him about it, but he would never betray Harry’s trust that way. Dumbledore begins his speech, and the whole school sees his hand, prompting whispers. Hermione suspects it’s an injury that he can’t cure. Then Dumbledore introduces Slughorn to the school and informs them that he will be teaching Potions, to the shock of the students. He also tells them that Snape has assumed the role of Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, which prompts a shout from Harry. He realizes that Dumbledore never told him what Slughorn would be teaching, and takes some solace in the fact that Snape will only have the job a year… after all, it is cursed. The headmaster asks the whole school to be cautious this year due to the danger of Voldemort and his followers, then dismisses them all to bed. Harry hangs back with Ron, and Harry finally tells him what happened on the train with Draco. Ron is less than impressed, insisting that Draco was just bragging to impress his pals and girlfriend.
Hagrid shows up and Harry asks why he was late; apparently he was hanging out with Grawp, who has a new cave in the mountains. He tells them to come to their post-lunch Care of Magical Creatures lesson early tomorrow, so they can say hi to Buckbeak. After he’s gone, Ron and Harry both admit that they’re not continuing Hagrid’s class, and realize Hermione isn’t either.
Sassy Harry’s at it again after walking up to the gates with Tonks:
Harry looked around.
“I could climb a wall,” he suggested.
“No, you couldn’t,” said Tonks flatly. “Anti-intruder jinxes on all of them Security’s been tightened a hundredfold this summer.”
“Well then,” said Harry, starting to feel annoyed at her lack of helpfulness. “I suppose I’ll just have to sleep out here and wait for morning.”
Snape comes to pick him up, and in the process tells Tonks that he’s noticed the change in her Patronus, and that he thinks her previous one was better–the new one is weak. Later there’s the whole theory that it’s supposed to be Padfoot, but we’ll find out it’s actually a werewolf, representing Remus. Knowing who Snape is actually talking about in this scenario… damn. What. A. Jerk. Jerk is honestly the nicest word I can think of, considering. He’s like, ‘yeah, that guy you like is weak, and you’re sad and pathetic.’ And I wanna be like, I’M SORRY, WHAT’S YOUR PATRONUS AGAIN, SEVERUS? I CAN’T HEAR OVER THE CONSTANT SOUNDTRACK OF SOBS THAT PROBABLY PLAYS IN YOUR BRAIN EVERY TIME YOU LOOK INTO HARRY POTTER’S GREEN EYES THAT ARE JUST LIKE HIS MOM’S.
The walk up to the castle doesn’t go much better, with Snape needling Harry about how he’s just trying to hog the spotlight as usual, but then preventing him from hiding under the Cloak when he enters the Great Hall. Which proves that Snape knows Harry doesn’t actually want the spotlight, and just likes insisting that he does because it allows him to project more of James onto him. And it’s still annoying, after all these years.
Also, he lets Harry walk into the Great Hall with blood all over his face, but whatevs. We get the speech from Dumbledore, and the reveal of Slughorn true position at the school, and the announcement of Snape’s switch to DADA professor, which culminates in the hilarious image of Harry shouting “No!” across the Great Hall at the news, and no one caring all that much because everyone’s still in shock.
We find out about Grawp’s new home, Hagrid is still against Harry saying Voldemort’s name for some reason, and then our favorite half-giant wanders off and we get the real bad news–none of the trio are still taking his class. Ya-whoops.