Re-Reading Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: Chapters 13-18

Chapter 13 – The Secret Riddle

  • I can’t hear the name ‘Caractacus’ without thinking of the villain from the cartoon Avenger Penguins.
  • “Of course, it is also possible that (Merope’s) unrequited love and the attendant despair sapped her of her powers; that can happen.” A bit of foreshadowing as to why Tonks is having trouble with her Metamorphosing!
  • So it’s pretty clear in this Pensieve flashback that Tom Riddle was already a psychopath even as a small child. Are these traits inherent from his Gaunt bloodline, or a result of growing up without ever having anyone who loves him, or a bit of both? Dumbledore’s concluding remarks, about how Voldemort has retained many of his childhood behavioural traits into adulthood, are certainly interesting – a psychological analysis of our main villain, who is still human no matter what he would like everyone to believe.
  • “Lord Voldemort has never had a friend, nor do I believe that he has ever wanted one.” Another children-oriented series might end with Harry teaching Voldemort that friendship isn’t such a bad concept after all, but Rowling ain’t that saccharine.

Chapter 14 – Felix Felicis

Right, let’s talk a bit about Harry/Ginny, which really gets going in this chapter. As I’ve mentioned previously, I first discovered fanfiction and shipping some time after reading Goblet of Fire, and the idea of Harry and Ginny becoming a couple just appealed to me. Certain events in Goblet of Fire had made it unlikely that Hermione would choose Harry as a romantic partner or vice versa. Ginny was clearly attracted to Harry, and while that could have just been a crush at that young age, she was quiet and endearing about it, rather than acting like a female version of Colin Creevey. I thought it would be nice if Harry ended up reciprocating those feelings.

That said, when I first read this book, the monster that appears in Harry’s chest when he sees Ginny with Dean felt far too sudden for me. Re-reading it now, having gone through the previous books in quick succession, it’s still a bit abrupt but I do appreciate it better. There are a couple of hints beforehand, with Harry being unhappy when Ginny leaves him on the train and when he imagines her with Dean in Hogsmeade; but those aren’t especially noticeable in the prose as Harry doesn’t dwell on them. Harry spent most of the last two books romantically focussed on Cho, and the results of that likely gave him a better idea of what he wants out of a girlfriend. Having spent more time with Ginny in both his fifth year and the following summer, he appreciates her more as a person, and subconsciously becomes romantically interested in her once Cho is out of his thoughts, but it’s only in this chapter that he consciously realises that. So really, it is natural, and any feeling of suddenness is due to Rowling not spelling it out, which I suppose is a good thing.

  • This year seems to be going by very quickly compared to the last two books.
  • After a number of hints and romantic comedy-style implications, there’s finally solid acknowledgement of a potential romance between Ron and Hermione. Harry contemplates the idea, and Ron and Hermione seem to be on the edge of admitting it, until Ron gets all moody at the memory of Krum and Ginny viciously pointing out his lack of romantic experience. In the last book, it was Harry who had to grow up and be more mature after a phase of teenage moodiness – now it’s Ron and Hermione’s turn.
  • Why does Harry assume that Ron would have a problem with him dating Ginny? In Goblet of Fire, it was Ron who proposed that Ginny be Harry’s partner for the Yule Ball; and when hearing about Ginny’s boyfriends in Order of the Phoenix, he implies both times that he would rather see her with Harry.
  • “If Gryffindor won, Harry knew that the whole house would forget that they had criticised him and swear that they had always known it was a great team.” Are we talking about Harry or any given manager of the England football team?
  • Did anyone else, when they first read this, guess that Harry hadn’t really put the Felix Felicis in Ron’s drink, given that the text never explicitly mentions him having done so? I did! (I don’t mean to sound immodest, but I’m usually terrible at guessing plot twists.)
  • Harry offers Ron “Tea? Coffee? Pumpkin juice?” and then tells him to “drink up” – the exact same words that Umbridge used in the last book when trying to give Harry Veritaserum!
  • We’ve already seen Ginny having an unkind sense of humour with regards to Fleur, and in this chapter she has some aggressive moments, first really laying into Ron when he encounters her with Dean, then actually attacking Zacharias Smith for his uncomplimentary commentary. Maybe it comes from being the only girl among seven siblings, and the youngest to boot – she needs to be tough.

Chapter 15 – The Unbreakable Vow

  • In the eleven years since I read this book, I’ve made several friends who would probably react to a book that had been scribbled on in the exact same way Madam Pince does.
  • Harry describes Ron’s impression of Hermione putting her hand up in class as “cruel but accurate” – he described Malfoy’s impression of Colin Creevey in Chamber of Secrets in exactly the same way.
  • Ron and Hermione’s romantic plotline becomes even more ‘romantic comedy’ than it already was as Hermione goes out with Cormac McLaggen in a clear attempt to make Ron jealous. It does feel a bit cliché, but it also emphasises what the films and a few fanfiction writers often forget – Hermione is not perfect.
  • After a few references, we finally get to see a vampire in the Harry Potter series – and for a fan of vampire fiction like me, it’s a shame we don’t see more. I think Rowling said on Pottermore that she didn’t think she could bring anything new to the table regarding vampires.
  • The conversation between Snape and Malfoy at the end of the chapter is another great piece of writing in its ambiguity. Snape is such a brilliantly hard character to figure out at this point.

Chapter 16 – A Very Frosty Christmas

  • Harry may be having trouble getting the adults to take his suspicions seriously, but at least it’s because the claims seem illogical or because they have faith in Dumbledore, rather than because Harry’s just a teenager.
  • The idea of the Ministry wanting to get some celebrity endorsement from Harry is certainly believable, but it’s very satisfying to see how Harry sees right through Scrimgeour almost immediately and makes it clear it’s not going to happen and why – he understands how the Ministry really works, and he’s not afraid to be direct even with the Minister.

Chapter 17 – A Sluggish Memory

  • After Hermione confessed to Harry at Slughorn’s party that she only brought McLaggen there to annoy Ron, she presumably feels like she might as well be honest with him. When Harry says “Look, Hermione, can’t you…” and she replies, “No, I can’t,” it does indicate that she knows he knows how she really feels.
  • The lines that Flitwick gives Seamus – “I am a wizard, not a baboon brandishing a stick” – made me laugh harder than it should have. Actually, Ron said in the last book that he would make Goyle write “I must not look like a baboon’s backside” – does Rowling have something against baboons? Homer Simpson does call them “the stupidest, ugliest, smelliest ape of them all.”
  • I really like Dumbledore’s emotional reaction to Harry declaring himself “Dumbledore’s man”, which is reminiscent of how he reacted upon learning that the Defence Against The Dark Arts group had named themselves Dumbledore’s Army. As for his apparent dismissal of Harry’s suspicions about Malfoy and Snape, we’ve just got to trust that Dumbledore’s got it sorted.
  • Tom Riddle being Sorted into Slytherin as soon as the Sorting Hat touched his head is exactly how it went down for Draco Malfoy – I wonder how often this happens, and whether it happens more often for particular houses.
  • I find it tricky to wrap my head around Voldemort’s pureblood supremacism considering he himself is half Muggle. I suppose ultimately, Voldemort is disinclined to draw any logical conclusions about half-blood magical ability from that fact. He hates Muggles, and believes that only people who are “special” like he is are worth anything – so he naturally gravitates to an ideology that promotes “pure” wizards, denying his own Muggle heritage to the point of wiping out his father’s family. And yet he still acknowledged his half-blood status when he judged Harry to be the subject of the prophecy rather than Neville: certainly Voldemort’s choice of objects and hiding places for his Horcruxes indicate that he places value in symbolism.

Chapter 18 – Birthday Surprises

  • So Harry decides the best way to get the memory out of Slughorn is…just to repeat the question that Riddle asked him. Where did Harry think that was going to lead?
  • Another slice-of-life section in the form of Apparition lessons. It’s another brand of magic which seems to be mainly based on mental concentration, which is hard to equate to anything in real life.
  • I like the scene where Peeves refuses to let Harry and Ron through a door unless they set fire to their pants – and shortly afterwards, when they’ve got back to the common room and have talked a bit, Neville comes in “bringing with him a strong smell of singed material, and began rummaging in his trunk for a fresh pair of pants.”
  • I don’t know if it’s deliberate that Ron’s love-struck utterance of ‘Romilda Vane’ comes at the bottom of a page in the first edition, but it certainly makes for a good ‘…what?’ moment. Given what I already said about love potions, I feel terribly hypocritical, but Ron’s behaviour under the influence is pretty funny (even more so in the film).

About R.J. Southworth

Hi there. I've been blogging since January 2014, and I like to talk about all sorts of things: book reviews, film reviews, writing, science, history, or sometimes just sharing miscellaneous thoughts. Thanks for visiting my blog, and I hope you find something that interests you!
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