The Half-Blood Prince

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Chapter 9 of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: The Half-Blood Prince← Chapter 8 | Chapter 10 →

Synopsis[edit]

Spoiler warning: Plot and/or ending details follow.

The next morning, Harry tells Hermione what he overheard on the train. Ron repeats that Draco was probably just showing off for Pansy, but Hermione thinks that is an awfully big lie just to impress a girl. Ron takes a Fanged Frisbee that Hermione has just confiscated from a student, saying he has always wanted one. Lavender Brown giggles at Ron as she passes by.

Professor McGonagall hands out schedules, a complicated process for sixth-year students because OWL results determine which classes students qualify for. Hermione gets her courses straight away, but Neville's Acceptable OWL grade is too low for NEWT-level Transfiguration. He does qualify for Charms. Harry's lost hope to become an Auror is suddenly revived when he learns that Professor Slughorn accepts a lower OWL grade (Exceeds Expectations) than Professor Snape (Outstanding) for NEWT-level Potions classes. Both Harry and Ron sign up, though Harry worries that Hagrid will be upset that they are not taking Care of Magical Creatures. Professor McGonagall also hands Harry a list with new Quidditch recruits.

In Defence Against the Dark Arts class, Snape demonstrates nonverbal spells (performing magic without a spoken incantation), and uses Harry to demonstrate; Harry instinctively reacts by blasting a spoken Shield Charm at Snape, and (after giving him cheek) earns a detention. A student arrives bearing a message from Professor Dumbledore regarding their private lesson, which happens to be scheduled at the same time as the detention.

Harry finds Potions far more enjoyable without Snape. Hermione, as usual, excels and earns Gryffindor thirty points for correctly guessing three cauldrons' content, Veritaserum, Polyjuice potion, and a Love potion, and for accurately identifying the effects of Felix Felicis. Slughorn is impressed by her abilities, even though she is Muggle-born. Another Muggle-born student, Lily Evans (Harry's mother), was another favorite, though he tends to favor purebloods. That he is the former Head of Slytherin House further supports this tendency.

As the name suggests, Felix Felicis is liquid luck. One tablespoon at breakfast will provide a perfect day. It is dangerous if made improperly and is banned in competitions, examinations, and elections. Excessive consumption can cause giddiness, recklessness, and even death. For the first lesson, whoever brews the best Draught of Living Death will win a tiny flask of Felix Felicis from Slughorn, enough luck for twelve hours.

Draco attempts to curry favour with Professor Slughorn by mentioning his apparently famous grandfather, Abraxas Malfoy; Harry is pleased that it doesn't seem to work. Harry brews his potion using a second-hand textbook, Advanced Potion Making, that Slughorn loans him until he can buy his own copy. In the book's margins are many hand-written new spells and jinxes, as well as revisions to standard potions. The revisions seem more effective than the original instructions, and Harry brews the best Living Death draught in the class, winning him the Good Luck potion.

Hermione is furious when Harry later admits that he used the mysterious book's instructions. Ginny, overhearing, asks if Harry is using instructions from a book. Remembering Ginny's nearly-fatal experience with Tom Riddle's diary, Hermione tests the textbook for any hidden magical properties, but is unable to detect any. Harry notices writing on the back cover: This book belongs to the Half-Blood Prince. Whoever the "Prince" may be, Harry is grateful to this talented unknown student.

Analysis[edit]

Harry is a naturally intelligent and talented wizard, but academically he is a rather lazy student, usually getting by on average or just-above average grades and often relying on Hermione's help. Potions, in particular, has always proved tedious and difficult for him, partially due to his strained relationship with Professor Snape. It is only when a particular subject, like Defence Against the Dark Arts, interests Harry that he works hard and excels at it. For the first time, he is challenged to learn about Potions after discovering a talented former student's innovative methods to brewing standard potions more efficiently. Harry is a non-traditional learner, and while Snape has ineffectively taught him Potions, the Half-Blood Prince, in a brief time period, has inspired him to learn more than he has over the past five years, even though it is with unorthodox methods. Harry may also be feeling somewhat pressured to live up to his mother's reputation in Slughorn's Potions class. And though Hermione is outraged that Harry ignores official potion-making instructions, an action she feels is equivalent to cheating, the Prince's book has given Harry an alternative learning avenue that has aroused his academic curiosity and will serve him later in the story. Hermione's negative reaction, while justified, may also be tinged by jealousy and resentment. She has always earned the top grades in her classes (except Defense Against the Dark Arts), and she revels in the accompanying accolades; now, Harry is outshining her in Potions, something she may have difficulty accepting, especially considering that she feels Harry has done so with illicit methods compared to her diligent studying.

Though Hermione correctly identifies the three cauldrons' contents in Slughorn's class, winning her high praise and House points, it is hardly surprising that she recognizes the Polyjuice Potion, having brewed it herself during her second year (in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets). Unfortunately, for Hermione at least, the results were less than successful when she accidentally added cat hair rather than human to her portion, leaving her covered in fur and sporting a tail and whiskers, as well as landing her in the infirmary for weeks.

This chapter drops another hint that Harry has growing feelings for Ginny. In the first Potions class, when Harry sniffs the love potion, he detects "treacle tart, the woody smell of a broomstick handle, and something flowery he thought he might have smelled at the Burrow". And later, when the Trio meet Ginny, Harry, "caught a sudden waft of that flowery smell he had picked up in Slughorn's dungeon". Hermione mentions that a love potion contains the scent of what it is that attracts a person to someone, and it is different for each individual; she runs off the scents she detected, but stops short before mentioning the third, possibly afraid that it would identify someone she cares about. By this stage in the series, we should certainly know Harry's feelings about broomsticks and treacle tart, and it is hardly surprising that Hermione characteristically identifies one odor as fresh parchment. Harry's noticing Ginny's scent in the potion, even though he does not yet recognize it, shows his growing attraction to her, while simultaneously oblivious to that fact.

Neville is despondent that he is unable to take NEWT-level Transfiguration, and taking Charms as an option hardly heartens him, saying his grandmother believes it is a "soft" course with little value. However, he is greatly cheered to discover that his fearsome grandmother failed her OWL-level Charms exam. This single, small event puts a human face on Augusta Longbottom, who has only been a starchy, distant presence with a vulture on her hat, but is now revealed as having the all-too-human tendency to discount any skill she performs poorly at. It is one more step on Neville gaining his independence from his grandmother.

Questions[edit]

Study questions are meant to be left for each student to answer; please don't answer them here.

Review[edit]

  1. Why does Hermione accuse Harry of cheating at Potions? Are her accusations valid? Explain.
  2. Does it ever occur to Harry that the suspicious textbook might contain Dark Magic? Why or why not?
  3. Why are Hermione and Ron so dismissive about Draco's boasts that he is on a mission for Voldemort? Why is Harry so convinced that Draco's claims are true?
  4. When Harry sniffs the Love Potion, he detects treacle tart, a broomstick handle, and a flowery scent. Who or what might these three items refer to?

Further Study[edit]

  1. If the Half-Blood Prince was possessive enough to put his name on his book, why was it left in the Potions classroom?
  2. Why does Harry react as he does during the demonstration in Snape's class? Why did Snape choose Harry for the demonstration?

Greater Picture[edit]

Intermediate warning: Details follow which you may not wish to read at your current level.

It is interesting that Harry's mother was so talented at Potions. Particularly given that Snape was in her class, one would expect that Snape would have used Lily as a counter-example to Harry's apparent ineptness. One can almost hear Snape sneering, "Unable to brew a simple Strengthening Solution? Your mother could have done that with one hand tied behind her back. Clearly this apple has fallen far from the tree..." And yet, Snape never once mentioned Lily. There is a reason why not, of course, but it is not revealed until the final book in the series.

Harry will continue searching for hints to the Half-Blood Prince's identity. At Christmas he discovers that the book was printed some fifty years before, which he believes rules out that it may have belonged to his father. Actually, the Half-Blood Prince attended school when Harry's father and mother were there, though, as a poor student, he was unable to afford new books and purchased second-hand. It is curious, perhaps, that Harry fails to consider the possibility that used textbooks can be purchased, even though he saw that second-hand books were bought for Ginny some years before.

This used textbook becomes a large plot device throughout the book, with Harry constantly consulting it in Potions class, and thereby becoming one of Slughorn's best students. Additionally, Harry will find many other unrelated magical spells written in the book's margins, using them through the year. Hermione is never entirely happy with Harry using the book's spells, unsure what their provenance is; her worries eventually prove somewhat valid as Harry will discover the very Dark Sectumsempra spell in the book, using it with no clue as to its effect.