Chapter 24 of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: Sectumsempra
In Charms class the next day, Harry shares with Ron and Hermione what he and Dumbledore learned from Slughorn's memories. Ron, in return, mentions that he and Lavender have broken up. Hermione comments that Ginny and Dean have also split. Though he tries hard to conceal his elation, Hermione senses Harry is hiding something.
Ginny and Dean's mutual silence leaves Harry worrying whether they can Chase together on the Quidditch team. Luckily, Katie Bell returns from the hospital and can resume playing. Unfortunately, she cannot recall who gave her the necklace.
With McLaggen gone and Katie back, Quidditch practice is wonderful now. Ginny becomes the life of the team, cracking jokes and doing marvelous imitations. Harry is glad to have a reason to look at her, happy to be able to walk alongside her, but he is still seriously worried about his friendship with Ron if he started dating her. Harry remembers Ron's expression when he caught Ginny and Dean together; how would he react to Ginny and him together? Meanwhile, interest grows about the upcoming Quidditch match against Ravenclaw; the Quidditch championship is still in doubt. Gryffindor must win by three hundred points to get the championship; that is still possible, but if they lose by as much as a hundred points, they will still be in second place.
Harry, making his usual pass by the Room of Requirement, sees on the Marauder's Map that Draco is in a bathroom one floor below with Moaning Myrtle. Harry investigates and finds Draco sobbing: whatever he is planning, he is frightened that he is unable to do it and fears for his parents' lives (and his own) if he fails. Malfoy spots Harry and casts a Cruciatus curse; Harry, defending himself, using the Half-Blood Prince's Sectumsempra spell without knowing its effects. It slashes Draco, spilling his blood everywhere. Moaning Myrtle flies off, screaming. Professor Snape responds swiftly and saves Draco's life, rushing him to the Hospital Wing.
Returning, Snape demands to know where Harry learned the spell, and, despite Harry's attempts at occlumency, Snape apparently gleans some information about Harry's Potions book. Snape demands to see his textbooks. Harry runs to the Common room and borrows Ron's books, including the Potions textbook, and, asking the Room of Requirement for a place to hide something, enters and finds himself in a vast warehouse filled with broken and discarded objects. Passing the damaged Vanishing Cabinet in which Montague had run into trouble the previous year, Harry hides his book in a large cupboard, placing an old stone bust, a wig, and a battered tiara on top to locate it again.
Snape seems unconvinced that the Potions book, which is signed "Roonil Wazlib", is actually Harry's. For using Dark Magic, albeit unknowingly, to cause serious harm, Snape gives Harry detention every Saturday until school ends. Snape dismisses Harry's protests, as does McGonagall, who later tells Harry he was lucky not to be expelled. Hermione, of course, affirms that she knew that the Prince was involved in Dark magic, though Harry disputes this, saying the Prince could have copied down the spell. Hermione is upset that Harry intends to retrieve the Prince's book, but Ginny tells her to leave Harry alone. Ron and Harry are both amazed, given how close Ginny and Hermione have been. Harry cannot help feeling cheered by Ginny defending him.
Ginny replaces Harry as Seeker, and Dean Thomas takes over as Chaser. That Saturday, Harry reports to Snape's office for detention and is assigned copying over old detention files for Filch. Snape suggests Harry start with the boxes detailing his father's misbehaviour. When Harry returns to the Common room, he learns that Gryffindor won the match 450 to 140, and thus the Quidditch Cup. Ginny runs into his arms and he kisses her. When he looks around: Dean Thomas is holding a broken glass, Romilda Vane looks angry, Hermione approving. Ron appears stunned, but gives a small nod, as if bowing to the inevitable. Harry suggests, wordlessly, to Ginny that they should go for a long walk.
This is the first time Draco is seen attempting an Unforgivable curse, and his familiarity with it suggests he has been practicing privately. Although Harry was justifiably defending himself against Malfoy, who was about to cast the Cruciatus Curse, using an unknown spell was dangerous and reckless. However, despite this grievous action that could have permanently expelled him from Hogwarts, Snape only assigns Harry detention. It is also the first time Draco is seen as anything but a swaggering, obnoxious bully, and his uncontrollable sobbing shows he possesses a more human side. Draco is obviously terrified for his and his family's safety should he fail in his task, indicating he is under extreme emotional duress. Harry catching him in such a vulnerable state prompted his severe reaction, which, in turn, caused Harry to react just as rashly.
Ginny defending Harry when Hermione is chastising him for wanting to retrieve the Half-Blood Prince's book serves several purposes. First, Ginny reminds Hermione that Draco was about to cast an Unforgivable curse, and shows that there is a definite possibility that Harry was acting on impulse, not rational thought. Second, this is the first time that someone other than Ron or Harry has defended the Half-Blood Prince, though in this instance, it is more to justify Harry's actions; Hermione's long-standing animosity toward the Prince seems to be based as much on her jealousy over Harry outperforming her in Potions, as it is concern that the Prince might be a Dark wizard. In particular, Hermione sees Harry using the Prince's work and claiming it as his own. For Hermione, it seems that this issue may be more about that rather than the Prince's spells possibly having Dark aspects, though she uses the Sectumsempra spell's Dark nature as justification for her excoriating the Prince. And finally, this helps set the scene for Harry and Ginny's kiss. Seeing Ginny standing up for him, Harry now knows that she is not angry with him, and this gives Harry hope that she may still have feelings for him.
While Ginny and Harry's relationship has been gradually building almost from the series' beginning, this is the first time it has been declared openly. It would seem that it took this long because they were often at cross purposes. At first, Harry simply was uninterested romantically in Ginny, having first set his sights on Cho Chang and considering Ginny only as Ron's little sister. It is only later that Harry realized that he and Cho were incompatible and that he not only had feelings for Ginny, but that they were suited to each other in nearly every way. She, however, appeared to have moved on and became involved with someone else, though she never actually lost interest in Harry; she simply gave up. Harry need not have worried about what Ron thought, however. In fact, when Ginny announced that she had broken up with Michael Corner at the end of the previous book, Ron subtly hinted to Harry that he was a better choice than Michael, even if Harry was oblivious about what he meant at the time.
The reader should take careful note of the artifacts Harry finds in the Room of Requirement when he goes to hide his textbook.
- Why does Malfoy fear for his and his family's lives should he fail to complete his task?
- What task has Draco Malfoy been asked to perform?
- Why would Harry cast a spell without knowing what it does? Was he justified in using it? Explain.
- Why does Snape only assign Harry detention for such a serious offense, rather than recommend he be expelled?
Harry and Ginny's relationship, which begins publicly here, will be thrown into turmoil near this book's end. Knowing that Voldemort will attack anyone close to him, Harry ends his and Ginny's relationship to protect her. This separation, as ill-advised as it may seem (discussion in a later chapter), is temporary, much to the reader's relief.
While inside the Room of Requirement, Harry unknowingly touches another Horcrux, putting it atop the dresser that he hides his Potions book in. This is something that he will need to remember in the next book. The fact that the Horcrux is here, meaning that Voldemort must have been able to enter this room, may reveal something about what Draco is working on; however, as we have not yet knowingly seen a Horcrux, this hint is lost to us at the moment. The Vanishing Cabinet being here could also be a clue; it was last seen in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, barely a year ago, and at that time it was in the hallway where the Twins could push Montague into it. How did it get into the Room of Requirement? This is actually a very adroit use of tension on the part of the author: Harry is under such pressure to find a hiding place for his textbook that he does not think twice about the presence of the Vanishing Cabinet in the Room of Requirement, and we readers are perforce dragged along with him. The reader interested in writing technique should carefully note how the author carries our attention past the Vanishing Cabinet, showing us the clue to what Draco is attempting, yet not giving us the necessary time to process that clue.
This will not be the last time Snape gives a light sentence for a student's serious offense. In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, when Ginny, Neville, and Luna attempt to steal Gryffindor's Sword from the Headmaster's office, Snape, the then-Headmaster, catches them, but he only assigns them detention in the Forbidden Forest with Hagrid. There may be a reason for the latter punishment's lightness, though the reason that Harry got off so lightly in this instance remains uncertain. It is possibly because both Dumbledore and Snape know that Draco, involved with the Voldemort's Dark task, fears for his and his family's life, and that Harry, having no understanding regarding Draco's predicament and feeling disfranchised by Dumbledore, has become obsessed with and highly emotional over trying to uncover what this task is. Another possibility is that Snape is aware of the origin of the hex Harry cast upon Draco. Snape's immediate demand to see Harry's Potions book suggests strongly that Snape knows where the Sectumsempra spell originated, and also perhaps that he is its original author. Whether Snape is concerned about having his half-blood past exposed (as it would be if the title he gave himself in that book, the "Half-Blood Prince," comes to light) is debatable; however, if it was determined that Snape was the source of this very Dark spell that Harry had used, there could be serious repercussions on Snape, possibly losing him his job. Snape may have eased off on Harry's punishment out of hope that the Half-Blood Prince's book would not reappear. While the reason is not explained, the analytical reader may want to examine this chapter to determine why Snape's relatively lenient punishment seems in character, despite his earlier antipathy towards Gryffindor house and Harry.