Re-Reading Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: Chapters 19-24

Chapter 19 – Elf Tails

  • Much like how in Prisoner of Azkaban, the situation with Buckbeak defused any antagonism between the trio, so Ron almost dying from poison causes Hermione to realise what’s really important.
  • After Hagrid tells Harry about the conversation he overheard between Dumbledore and Snape (the full significance of which isn’t revealed until the next book), Harry is surprisingly mature and analytical as he thinks about it, conceding that maybe Dumbledore has good reasons for not telling him everything. OOTP Harry would have just thrown a tantrum about it.
  • So that’s Harry’s last ever Quidditch match at Hogwarts: getting knocked out by a Bludger stupidly struck by his own Keeper partway through, and the team going on to lose the match spectacularly. That’s such a letdown, after how important Quidditch has been to Harry – and given that he doesn’t end up pursuing Quidditch as a career, it could be his last official match ever, unless there’s a Quidditch equivalent of Soccer Aid that he could participate in.

Chapter 20 – Lord Voldemort’s Request

  • Ron’s clearly going off Lavender at this point, and thus learning the same lessons about choosing a girlfriend that Harry did last year – though to Harry’s credit, even before he realised he and Cho weren’t compatible, he actually wanted to have pleasant social interactions with her rather than just snog her all the time.
  • After some fairly solid facts about Voldemort’s childhood, this chapter compellingly brushes the truly mysterious part of Voldemort’s life. We only ever find out the vaguest details about what he did between school and his first attack on Harry, even how he built up his followers and commenced his first attempt to seize power. Dumbledore’s statement at the end of the last flashback – “The time is long gone when I could frighten you with a burning wardrobe and force you to make repayment for your crimes. But I wish I could, Tom…I wish I could…” – feels appropriately ominous.
  • Is Hepzibah Smith related to Zacharias Smith, given the Hufflepuff connection?
  • It’s so strange to see Voldemort actually acting civilised, making an appointment to see Dumbledore and having a drink with him.
  • Another bit of Aberforth foreshadowing, as Dumbledore mentions that he is “friendly with the local barmen”.
  • Even by the rules of magic in this universe, a curse that prevents any DADA teacher from staying at Hogwarts more than one year is an unusual one. Could it perhaps be created and sustained by the presence of the diadem Horcrux?

Chapter 21 – The Unknowable Room

  • Harry may figure out a significant part of what Malfoy is doing in this chapter, but the whole story is still moving quite slowly.
  • There’s another reminder about Inferi, even though they’re still not going to show up in person for a little while, and more hints in the Daily Prophet about the war which still feels far away at the present time.

Chapter 22 – After the Burial

  • Once Harry takes the Felix Felicis, there’s a refreshing sense that things are finally about to move forward properly. The actual effects of the potion are curious: making random favourable things happen certainly counts as luck, but what about Harry getting a sense of exactly what he needs to do to achieve the desired outcome?
  • Hagrid’s grief over the death of Aragog is familiar when you’ve lost a pet yourself, even if Hagrid’s pet is a horrible monstrous spider.
  • This is why Dumbledore trusted Harry to get the memory out of Slughorn, just as he used him to get Slughorn to come to Hogwarts: Harry has ammunition to use that Dumbledore doesn’t. He just needed to utilise it in the correct way to appeal to Slughorn’s better nature.

Chapter 23 – Horcruxes

  • This is another one of those really important chapters in the whole series, which provides a lot to talk about.
  • Even though Riddle is already a murderer by the time he asks Slughorn about Horcruxes, it’s still exceptionally evil that this sixteen-year-old boy has been thinking about how to become immortal, using a method that depends upon murder and mutilation of the soul. Even before he’d left Hogwarts, Riddle clearly had big plans for his own future, plans that didn’t take morals into consideration.
  • We finally have a solid, comprehensible explanation for why Voldemort is immortal, which goes so far as to explain why Voldemort looks the way he does. While Chamber of Secrets has been the odd book out up to this point, in terms of overall relevance of the series’ plot, this revelation changes that by explaining the true nature of the diary. Voldemort has been established as an experimenter with magic, so it’s not difficult to believe that he’s the first Dark wizard ever to try making more than one Horcrux, especially given the consequences involved. And now that we know why Voldemort cannot die, we also know how Harry might go about undoing his work and killing him.
  • The wizarding world has proof of the existence of the human soul, and the afterlife, yet there’s very little – if any – religious discussion in these books. Perhaps it would just be too controversial.
  • Given how incomplete Dumbledore’s knowledge of the Horcruxes was before this chapter, how does he know that Voldemort saved the creation of Horcruxes for significant murders?
  • The final few pages, with Dumbledore’s speech about how Harry shouldn’t set so much store by the prophecy, make this chapter even more brilliant. It’s rare to see Dumbledore getting worked up like this: he needs Harry to have the right attitude – if he only goes into battle with Voldemort because he thinks destiny says he must, he’s less likely to win. The whole Chosen One trope is played with: it’s the villain who actually made the choice, and it’s only the villain’s actions that make the hero’s role certain.
  •  Then there’s the whole “Power of Love” trope: while love did provide physical protection for Harry in  earlier books, now it’s treated as necessary motivation, both driving Harry to defeat Voldemort and preventing him from turning to the Dark Side. Harry has suffered, but instead of making him less capable of love, it has just made him stronger, and that’s one of the things that makes him extraordinary.

Chapter 24 – Sectumsempra

  • It’s not just Ron and Hermione who have to grow up in this novel – Draco Malfoy, of all people, is doing so as well. He’s grown up accepting his parents’ ideologies, and how great his dad’s old boss was. Having spent years trying and failing to one-up the king of the good guys, Harry Potter, he’s now set apart by being given an important responsibility by the big man, Lord Voldemort – and of course, Draco thinks that’s awesome! That is, until the reality of grown-up villainy starts sinking in – he might not actually succeed, and the penalty for failure will be death – and his fear brings him to tears.
  • The first glimpse of the Room of Hidden Things certainly emphasises the long and varied history of Hogwarts: when and how did that blood-stained axe get there? And if only Harry had known about that Vanishing Cabinet…
  • And to end the chapter, the long-awaited kiss between Harry and Ginny, with Ginny making it very clear that she wanted it just as much as Harry did!

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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