The Harry Potter Reread

The Harry Potter Reread: The Half-Blood Prince, Chapters 11 and 12

The Harry Potter was just given a gift of tea from a co-worker who was lucky enough to be in London last week… but there is no strainer in her office, and now she must wait to sample it. Tears, my friends.

This week we’re going to go to Quidditch tryouts and have a rough trip to Hogsmeade. It’s chapters 11 and 12 of The Half-Blood Prince—Hermione’s Helping Hand and Silver and Opals.

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 11—Hermione’s Helping Hand

Summary

The sixth year workload is already insane, and nonverbal magic is turning into a requirement for most classes. The trio haven’t had time to talk to Hagrid, who has now stopped coming to meals in the Great Hall. Hermione wants to go see him immediately, but Harry and Ron insist that they wait until after the morning Quidditch tryouts. Harry can’t figure out why so many people are trying out, but Hermione points out that it’s because they’re all fascinating by him—and he’s become even more fanciable than before. (Ron seems put-off by Hermione’s appraisal of Harry and feels the need to talk about his own attributes.) Harry receives his new copy of Advanced Potion-Making and swaps its cover for his used one, intending to keep the Half-Blood Prince copy. Hermione isn’t happy about it, but gets distracted by her copy of the Daily Prophet, which has details on the arrest of Stan Shunpike. Harry can’t believe the Ministry would take him seriously, but Hermione figures that they just want to look like they’re doing something. Students have been withdrawing from school, and Dumbledore hasn’t been around much. Hannah Abbott’s mother was recently found dead.

On their way down to the Quidditch pitch, they pass Parvati and Lavender, who smiles at Ron. Harry resists the impulse to laugh at Ron’s strut afterward, and Hermione seems cold and upset. A good deal of the candidates are either entirely unskilled or from different Houses. Cormac McLaggen is trying out for Keeper and clearly thinks he’ll get special treatment from Harry due to being the Slug Club. Harry picks his three Chasers: Katie Bell, Ginny, and Demelza Robins. Then he picks Jimmy Peakes and Ritchie Coote for his new Beaters. Most of the Keeper tryouts don’t do well, but McLaggen saves four out of five penalties thrown his way. Then Ron goes up for his tryout looking green (Lavender wishes him luck beforehand), and saves every single shot thrown his way. McLaggen tries to intimidate Harry, claiming Ginny isn’t throw hard enough at him, and demanding a retry. Harry insists that he step aside. As the trio walk to Hagrid’s hut, Ron talks of each of his saves, then mentions that McLaggen almost looked Confunded on his one miss, and Hermione turns suspiciously pink.

They say hello to Buckbeak, which gets Hagrid out of his hut. Once he realizes it’s Harry and Co, he turns back and shuts the door on them. Harry threatens to break it down, and Hagrid comes out again so they can have it out. The quarrel doesn’t last long, and they head inside. Hagrid stomps about making tea and peeling potatoes. A question about the giant grubs he has stored in the corner gets him bursting into tears; Aragog is sick and appears to be dying. Hermione asks if they can help, but he figures no one should go near the spider colony except him now. The gesture seems to cheer him, though, and after the three kids point out that they could not apply for Time Turners this year (the Ministry stock was smashed in the Battle of the Department of Mysteries) and swear that Professor Grubbly-Plank was a horrible teacher, Hagrid seems appeased.

Harry doesn’t have much time for dinner before his detention with Snape, but notices the McLaggen is bouncing off the door frame on his way into the Great Hall and holds Hermione back, insisting that she Confunded the guy. Hermione admits to it, pointing out that he was saying terrible things about Ron and Ginny, and that his temper made him ill-suited to the team. Harry agrees, though he’s still surprised at her behavior. Ron reappears, but before they can head in for dinner, they’re stopped by Slughorn, who wants Harry and Hermione to come to a Slug Club supper (he ignores Ron’s presence completely). Harry tells him he has detention, and Slughorn insists that he have a word with Snape to get him out of it. After dinner, the trio head back to the common room and Hermione picks up the Evening Prophet, where there’s a story about Arthur raiding Malfoy Manor and yielding no new results. Harry figures Malfoy brought whatever he’s hiding to school, with him, but Hermione explains that everyone was scanned by Filch when they arrived this year, and that the owls are being checked as well. Ron tells Harry to lay off it, and Harry snaps at Ron for being ill-tempered just because he and Hermione got invited to Slughorn’s thing that neither or them want to go to. Ron heads up to bed, and Harry receives a message from Snape that he has to attend his detention no matter what. Surprise, surprise.

Commentary

It has a lot to do with how much you like the given pairings of the Potter series, but I’ve always loved points where Hermione praises Harry for obvious reasons that are obvious, and Ron takes it to mean that she likes him. Because Ron forgets that Hermione isn’t emotional in the same way that he is; so when she starts talking about how many people fancy Harry, she’s not doing it as a proxy to make it known that she fancies him. She’s just giving him information—you got tall! You’re chosen! You’re a tortured heroic type now! Chicks love that stuff. Meanwhile Ron’s all “I’m tall,” and its so sweetly pathetic.

We get this pointed bit about how Harry doesn’t get mail these days because Sirius is gone, and Lupin doesn’t write to him, though Harry had hoped that he would. And it sort of drives the point home that while Lupin’s relationship with Harry might be slightly healthier than the one Harry had with his godfather, that same closeness is missing. Lupin’s attitude comes off poorly to some fans in these last two books, and I think that has a lot to do with the Tonks romance, but this is still on point characterization in my opinion; Remus Lupin considers himself to be a burden on people due to his condition. Tonks brings this to the forefront, but it’s important to note outside of his relationship with her. It’s not just sad for Harry that Remus fails to reach out following Sirius’ death, it’s sad for Remus too—because he clearly doesn’t think he’s valuable to Harry the way that Sirius was, and he’s dead wrong.

Rowling gets very good at slipping in constant reminders of what it’s like to live during wartime, and it’s these little jabs that bring us back to what’s at stake in these stories every time. So Hermione opens the paper, and Ron always starts by asking if anyone they know is dead, and you’re reminded. Then later on, Hermione notes that Arthur is in the paper, but doesn’t preface it by saying that he’s in it due to work, and Ron briefly goes into a panic. This is Ron’s mindset every single day; where are all my people, is there news, are we safe? It’s exhausting to imagine, never mind live through.

Harry has Quidditch tryouts, and it’s mentioned that First Years are there, which confuses me—did the rules changes once Harry was allowed to play in his first year? Or is he just uncertain of their year? Either way, it’s a mess of a thing, and again makes me feel like Hogwarts should be a bigger school. Because how could Harry not recognize who is from his house if there are literally only 70ish people in it? Cormac McLaggen shows his true colors and comes off a nasty brute… but where was he last year? Wouldn’t he have tried out when Angelina was captain? (EDIT: Dur, he says earlier that he was sick because someone dared him to eat a bunch of Doxie eggs, there goes my memory. Thanks, everyone.)

So we find out that Hermione Confunded McLaggen to make him miss, but Ron still managed to block the penalties on his trial, which is pretty impressive given how nervous he was. My guess is that seeing Cormac miss a goal improved his confidence. I know there’s a bit of a moral quandary here with Hermione doing this to help Ron, but it’s hard to care—Quidditch is the least important thing that these kids have to deal with right now, and if Hermione abuses her power a little to make life nicer for everyone, I’m fine with it. It’s a total double standard, given how hawkishly she watches over Harry and Ron for any foul play, but the incident itself doesn’t bug me much. Especially when we see that McLaggen is a bully.

They go to see Hagrid, and we get this smart exchange when Harry threatens to bust into the hut:

“I’m a teacher!” he roared at Harry. “A teacher, Potter! How dare yeh threaten ter break down my door!”

“I’m sorry, sir,” said Harry, emphasizing the last word as he stowed his wand inside his robes.

Hagrid looked stunned, “Since when have yeh called me ‘sir’?”

“Since when have you called me ‘Potter’?”

“Oh, very clever,” growled Hagrid. “Very amusin’. That’ me outsmarted, innit? All righ’, come in then yeh ungrateful little…”

It’s a mark of Harry growing up that he becomes more willing to head things off at the pass and call people on their crap. He still won’t do it for everyone, but I love the instances where he does. Hagrid is his family, and rather than get all worried like Ron and Hermione, he just pushes until they can talk like adults. The world is too fraught to stay away from Hagrid until he’s over the hurt, and Harry knows that.

 

Chapter 12—Silver and Opals

Summary

Harry doesn’t see Dumbledore at all for the next few weeks, perturbing him. Hogsmeade visits are still happening, and the morning of the first one, Harry is lying awake reading the Half-Blood Prince’s notes. A lot of them are jinxes and hexes invented by the mysterious figure, and Harry has already tried out a few successfully (vexing Hermione thoroughly). He sees a new one in the margins, a nonverbal spell called “Levicorpus.” Harry’s has had difficult with nonverbal magic, but decides to give it a go. It works and Ron is hanging upside-down by his ankle. Harry finds the counter jinx quickly and drops him, apologizing while Dean and Seamus laugh hysterically. Ron ends up finding it funny and talks about it at breakfast, upsetting Hermione; she can’t believe Harry would try an unknown spell out of that book. When she suggests that the Half-Blood Prince might not be a nice character for inventing such a spell, Ron is quick to point out that it’s more of a Fred-and-George thing to do than a harmful one. Harry suddenly remembers that he’s seen the spell used before—by his father in Snape’s worst memory, making him wonder if perhaps the old textbook belonged to James. Hermione is quick to point out that the Death Eaters also used the jinx at the Quidditch World Cup, but Harry doesn’t think it’s likely that the Prince was a Death Eater if he was boasting about being a half-blood. (It then occurs to him that his father was a pureblood, so his theory is likely unworkable.) Hermione points out that most Death Eaters are likely half-bloods, and that they’d probably be happy to have Harry and Ron sign up. (Ron protests this idea, but Harry concedes the point.)

Harry gets his note for the next lesson with Dumbledore from Ginny. He asks her if she wants to hang out with them in Hogsmeade, but she’s going with Dean. Getting out of the castle takes longer than usual because Filch keeps checking them over with sensors. The wind is bitter, and Zonko’s Joke Shop turns out to be boarded up. The trio duck into Honeydukes, where Slughorn bothers Harry about never coming to his suppers—Harry’s been deliberately scheduling Quidditch practice whenever he gets an invite. But Slughorn is determined to have Harry come some time. Ron is bothered again by the fact that Slughorn keeps pretending that he doesn’t exist. They set off for The Three Broomsticks next, and find the barman from Hog’s Head standing outside with Mundungus Fletcher. When they bump into him, his suitcase breaks open, its contents spilling on the ground; Harry recognizes the items, and realizes that he’s stealing things from Grimmauld Place to sell. He throws Mundungus up against a wall and threatens him, but is stopped by Tonks, allowing the man to Disapparate and escape.

They head inside and Harry complains about the Order not being able to control Mundungus, but Hermione insists that he quiet down in case anyone tries to listen in on their conversation. She then berates Ron for looking around for Madam Rosmerta, and the three drink their butterbeer in silence. Once they’re done, Hermione suggests they go back to the castle. They follow Katie Bell and a friend out of the pub, Harry’s thoughts straying to Ginny spending time with Dean. He eventually notices that Katie and her friend Leanne are having a row; Leanne is trying to prize a package from Katie’s hands. When it falls to the ground, Katie suddenly raises up into the air and begin screaming in pain. The three rush forward and pull Katie down, but she’s still screaming, so Harry runs for help. He careens with Hagrid on his way back to school, and calls him back to the scene.

Hagrid picks Katie up and rushes her back to the castle, leaving the trio with Leanne, who explains that the package was the cause of the trouble. Inside the package is an opal necklace, one that Harry recognizes as a cursed object that used to be on display at Borgin and Burkes. Leanne explains that Katie came back from the bathroom at the Three Broomsticks with the package and said that it was a surprise for someone at Hogwarts. She realizes that Katie had probably been Imperiused. Harry picks up the necklace with his scarf, insisting that they take it to Madam Pomfrey for inspection. Harry points out that he saw Draco admiring this necklace in their second year, and thinks that it’s what he bought for Borgin and Burkes in Diagon Alley. Ron and Hermione aren’t sure they buy it. McGonagall appears and takes the necklace from Harry, handing it off to Filch and telling him to bring it to Snape for study. She calls the trio up to her office to find out what happened. Leanne tells her side, and McGonagall sends her to the hospital wing to be treated for shock. Then she asks the trio for their accounts. Harry wants to talk to Dumbledore, but McGonagall explains that he won’t be back until Monday, so Harry tells her his suspicions about Draco. McGonagall insists that it’s not enough to go on, and tells them that Draco was doing detention with her today. She then departs to check on Katie.

The trio mull over who the parcel was meant for—Ron suggest Dumbledore or Slughorn, Hermione suggests Harry, but he points out that Katie could have given him the package right then were that the case. He’s till adamant that Malfoy’s behind it, and Ron and Hermione don’t have it in them to argue. They all agree that the attack wasn’t very well though out, either way.

Commentary

And poor Harry starts feeling all abandoned again because Dumbledore keeps disappearing. Just basic communication here, Albus. Hey, I know we have these lessons, but I have a lot to do. I might not be reachable outside of them. That’s literally all you have to say.

Hermione is already getting on Harry’s case about using the jinxes in the Half-Blood Prince’s book, and here we have an interesting problem. On the one hand, Hermione’s protests are completely correct, since they know nothing about where the spells come from. On the other hand, a spell like Muffliato is incredibly useful for the upcoming war effort. It’s basically a gift horse, and refusing to engage with the boys when they use it on principle is frankly silly. I suppose it’s just interesting where Hermione’s morality lies in all these arguments. She always makes great points, but she has that bullheaded tendency to stick with her opinion far past the point of pragmatism. By now, she should know that Harry’s mind is a hard one to change.

Harry goes to try Levicorpus, which is nonverbal. He doesn’t think he’ll be able to (since he can’t manage it in DADA), but notes that the Half-Blood Prince has been a far better teacher to him than Snape ever was, so he tries it out and it works. Which just goes to show that if Snape had it in him to be a kinder teacher, he’d be an excellent one. He’s creative, innovative, and has so much in his repertoire that would be useful to students. Without his constant badgering and abuse, the concepts that he could impart to the kids would be invaluable. It’s a valuable point to make in the narrative, I think—how you chose to impart information is every bit as important as the material itself. Fascinating subject matter in the hands of a boring or cruel teacher has little chance of reaching its intended audience.

Hermione is right to scold Harry over trying a jinx with no definition attached (which will be important later), and in the connection she makes with the Death Eaters. Harry recalls his father’s use of the jinx and Lupin’s words that it underwent a “vogue” period while the Marauders were at Hogwarts, which is depressingly ironic; it means that Snape created one of the methods for his own torment, and I highly doubt it’s the only time that occurred. There were probably other spells that he popularized, that were then used against him by James and/or Sirius. In addition, the Death Eaters clearly adopted his moves as well. And this plays into the problems Snape has with Lily as they grow up because whatever can be said about innovation, it is true that the majority of the spells Snape created are harmful or humiliating. His fascination with spells of that nature are clearly tied into the abuse he underwent at home (while Snape probably created plenty of these curses to get back at James and company, he undoubtedly started coming up with them as a kid, likely in reaction to his father), and further complicate the tragedy of his development.

The narrative states that “a distraction arrived in the shape of Ginny,” and if you can’t tell that Harry crushing by now, you can by the time that he invites her to come to Hogsmeade with them. The trip is far from enjoyable, starting first with a Slughorn run-in, and I’m sorry, I know that this guy has his schtick, but someone should just up and tell him that he’s being flipping rude. He’s got his favorites, fine, but the way he passes over everyone else like they don’t exist is plain bad form. For a guy who awfully concerned with appearances, he has absolutely no decorum. That said, it does a great job of pointing out how people of influence have no need to be kind to those they consider “beneath” their notice. There are plenty of Slughorns in the world.

We have another Aberforth sighting, as he stands around with Mundungus, and then we get that nice, awkward run-in. This is actually a fairly sharp setup; Mundungus stealing things from Sirius’ house will prove vitally important much later on, but we get a perfect window on it now. Good plotting. Then the kids sit in the Three Broomsticks and Hermione proceeds to scold Ron for looking around for Rosmerta, and sheesh Hermione, I know you’ve got a crush, but give the guy a break. He doesn’t know you like him yet. He’s tall, remember? He made a point of saying so last chapter.

The Katie Bell incident is, to my mind, one of the most upsetting acts of these books. For so many reasons, too: she’s Imperiused and out of her own control, her friend has a hand in the mistake that leads to her touching the necklace, the whole thing happens off school grounds, we don’t know the nature of what’s happening to her, the whole thing is just deeply disturbing. Harry is right, of course, about it being Draco’s handiwork, but he can’t prove it well enough. (McGonagall’s aside about Draco having detention due to not turning in homework is certainly meant to be a clue to us; we’ve never been given an indication that Draco doesn’t complete his work, which means that something is weighing on him to prevent it now.) I think it’s notable that the plan might not have worked even if it had played out—Katie survives the curse from the necklace, and while I know that part of the reason is supposed to be that it only touched her through a small hole in her glove, Dumbledore is a much more powerful wizard. But the logistics of the plan are incredibly sound, making it clear that one place where Draco is incredibly skilled is in tactical thinking. He is shaping up to be a formidable foe.

Only thing that bugs me—maybe I’m forgetting something here, but do we ever find out when Draco had the occasion to put Madam Rosmerta under the Imperius Curse?

Emily Asher-Perrin thinks that years’ Quidditch tryout would have made an excellent episode of reality television. You can bug her on Twitter and Tumblr, and read more of her work here and elsewhere.

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