An Excess of Phlegm
Chapter 5 of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: An Excess of Phlegm
Arriving at The Burrow, Dumbledore and Harry are met by Mrs. Weasley. Also present is Tonks, whose colorless and sad appearance shocks Harry; her usually vibrant pink hair is now a mousy brown. Tonks insists she must go and declines a weekend dinner invitation, hearing that Lupin and Mad-Eye will be there. Mrs. Weasley asks Harry about Slughorn. Apparently, he started teaching at Hogwarts about the same time as Dumbledore, and he taught Mrs. Weasley. She disapproved of Slughorn's favorites, especially since Arthur Weasley was not among them.
Mr. Weasley has recently been appointed head of the new Office of Detection and Confiscation of Counterfeit Defensive Spells and Protective Objects. This promotion will help improve the Weasley finances. When Mr. Weasley arrives home, he discusses the counterfeit devices he has found. Harry is actually interested, but when he attempts to stifle a yawn, Mrs. Weasley sends him to bed in the twins' vacant room. They are now living in a little apartment over their Diagon Alley shop.
The next morning, Harry is awakened by Ron and Hermione, who are concerned about his well-being after the battle at the Ministry. Harry tells them about Horace Slughorn, who is replacing former Defence Against the Dark Arts instructor, Professor Umbridge. Ginny slouches in, complaining about her; Harry's curiosity is ended when Fleur Delacour enters with his breakfast tray and Mrs. Weasley in her wake. Fleur says she and Bill Weasley are marrying next summer, then heads back downstairs. Ron is still rather infatuated by Fleur, but the three women feel she is very full of herself and wonder what Bill sees in her. Ginny derogatorily calls her "Phlegm", upsetting Mrs. Weasley, but making Harry and Hermione laugh.
When Mrs. Weasley departs, Ron confides it is hard getting used to having Fleur around when she jumps out like that. Ron, Ginny, and Hermione agree that Mrs. Weasley is unlikely to get Bill interested in Tonks rather than Fleur. Tonks has been depressed since her cousin, Sirius Black, had died. That she blames herself for Sirius' death interests Harry, who carries the same guilt. As a result, Tonks has apparently lost the ability, or perhaps the inclination, to transform her physical appearance at will.
After Ginny leaves, Ron tells Harry that the family and Percy remain estranged, despite Voldemort's return. Ron and Hermione are amazed that Dumbledore wants to give Harry private lessons. Harry reveals the prophecy to them, and Ron and Hermione worry that Harry will have to face Voldemort. Harry is also worried, but on reflection, realizes he has always known he would eventually have to face Voldemort. Privately, he is greatly reassured by Ron and Hermione not abandoning him at the revelation that he is fated to either kill Voldemort or be killed by him.
Shortly, Harry, Ron, and Hermione receive their O.W.L. results. It is revealed that "T" is an actual grade meaning Troll, not Terrible as might be imagined. Harry's grades are:
- Astronomy: Acceptable (A)
- Care of Magical Creatures: Exceeds Expectations (E)
- Charms: E
- Defence Against the Dark Arts: Outstanding (O)
- Divination: Poor (P)
- Herbology: E
- History of Magic: Dreadful (D)
- Potions: E
- Transfiguration: E
These results are good, but Harry's hope to become an Auror has apparently been dashed. He needed an 'O' in Potions for Snape to accept him into his advanced Potions course, one of the N.E.W.T. subjects required to become an Auror.
Ron receives similar grades, minus the one 'Outstanding', and is quite pleased that he only failed Divination and History of Magic. Hermione, as everyone except herself expected, receives 9 'O's and one 'E' (in Defence Against the Dark Arts). All three have passed into N.E.W.T. level.
Harry is shocked by Tonks' radically changed appearance. There is no explanation yet as to what might have happened since she was last seen about a month ago, but she is no longer the cheerful and vibrant person Harry last saw. Some readers may believe, given the amount of Ministry hysteria about Dark wizards, that Tonks is being controlled by the Imperius curse. Hermione, Ginny, and Ron think she is suffering from grief and guilt over Sirius' death and may even have been in love with him.
Harry also fears, on getting his OWL results, that his professional future has been permanently derailed. The only career that interested him is an Auror (Dark wizard catcher), even though the primary person who encouraged him was actually a Death Eater in disguise (Barty Crouch). Unfortunately, Harry's Potions grade is too low to admit him into Snape's N.E.W.T.-level Potions classes, which he needs to fulfill the Auror prerequisites. This will deeply trouble Harry, and being unable to pursue his chosen career path leaves him discouraged and feeling adrift. Harry's tendency to be single-minded has, as yet, prevented him from seriously considering other professions, and with his chosen career track now apparently closed to him, he is uncertain how to proceed.
In another continuity glitch common in this lengthy series, we see Mrs. Weasley's clock, now with all its nine hands, one for each family member, pointing at Mortal Peril. The astute reader may have noticed that here it is apparently a mantel clock, while in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire it is described as a grandfather clock. Mrs. Weasley claims that nobody else has a clock like that, so presumably someone in the family made it. It is possible that Mrs. Weasley wanted it to be more portable, and had the original builder, or a clock-maker, separate the mechanism from the clock case and build a mantel-type case for it. This continuity problem does not hinder our appreciation of the story; it is only mentioned as a side light.
Another minor problem occurs in early editions of this book. Hermione had initially been taking "everything", which came to twelve graded courses, in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. She dropped Divination mid-year, and reports that she will no longer need the Time-turner at the end of the year because, having also dropped Muggle Studies, she can now fit all of her courses in a normal schedule. Thus, she must now be taking 10 courses. Early editions of the book show her receiving 10 Outstanding and one Exceeds Expectations grades, for a total of eleven courses. Later editions drop that to nine Outstanding grades.
- Why is Harry worried about his future?
- Why are the Weasleys unhappy about Bill's engagement to Fleur?
- What might account for Tonks' changed appearance and demeanor?
- Are Ron and Hermione right to be concerned about Harry's well being? If so, why?
- Harry wants to be an Auror, but what other careers would he be good at?
Harry's belief that Slughorn is the new Defence Against the Dark Arts instructor is to be expected, as we have seen five different teachers fill that post in the previous five books. The author clearly intends for us to make this erroneous assumption, as Slughorn, Dumbledore, and Mrs. Weasley all fail to mention that Slughorn had previously taught Potions. This revelation, when it occurs in a few chapters, will have major effects on Harry and his future, and will provide a core plot device for this book.
Tonks' forlorn emotional state has nothing to do with Sirius' death, but is actually because she is in love with Remus Lupin, who spurns her affection, believing being a Werewolf makes him unworthy and is also too old for her, and that the times are too unsettled to risk bringing children into the world in any event. Mrs. Weasley comments that in troubled times like these, people "rush into decisions that they'd normally take time over." She is referring to Bill and Fleur's engagement, that she believes was made rather hastily, but it could equally apply to Tonks, who wants to pursue a relationship with Lupin. His refusal causes Tonks' increasing depression. As a result, we will see later that Tonks' Patronus has changed into "something large and hairy." It appears to be a dog, which is what led to the mistaken belief that she was in love with Sirius Black. However, once we learn about Tonks and Lupin, we can guess that her Patronus is now a wolf.
In retrospect, Percy's continued estrangement from the family will be seen as quite in character. Dumbledore at one point will comment that it is sometimes much easier to forgive someone for being wrong, than it is to forgive them for being right. While we note that this makes Dumbledore an observant man and an excellent student of human behaviour, we must also point out that in order for Dumbledore to have this insight, the author must also possess this level of understanding.