A Very Frosty Christmas
Chapter 16 of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: A Very Frosty Christmas
Harry and Ron, now at The Burrow for Christmas, talk about what Harry had overheard. Ron agrees it is odd that Malfoy was assigned a task, and is incredulous that Snape claims to have made an Unbreakable Vow to help him. Anyone breaking an Unbreakable Vow, he says, will die.
A large crowd is expected at The Burrow over Christmas, though Percy, still estranged from his family, will be absent. Fred and George, on their arrival, tease Ron about Lavender; apparently Ginny had told them about her.
Mr. Weasley admits privately to Harry that the Ministry has been arresting and imprisoning innocent people, and says Stan Shunpike is still being detained to avoid bad publicity. Harry tells him and Remus Lupin about the conversation he overheard between Snape and Malfoy. Both say Dumbledore trusts Snape, and that is good enough for them. Lupin neither likes nor dislikes Snape, saying Snape always perfectly prepared his Wolfsbane Potion; and while he revealed that Lupin was a Werewolf, he could have caused worse damage and remained blameless, by simply making a mistake with that very complicated potion. Although the bitterness between them (and also Harry) cannot be healed, they should still trust Snape.
Lupin, meanwhile, has infiltrated the vicious Fenrir Greyback's Werewolf pack as a spy for the Order. Lupin says Werewolves support Voldemort because they would be free under his rule. It was Greyback who infected Lupin when he was a child. Greyback targets children to raise them to hate Wizarding kind. He wants to infect enough people for the Werewolves to take over.
Harry asks about the Half-Blood Prince and the Levicorpus spell. Lupin explains that spells come in and out of favour, and the "Prince" may not have invented it. He also has no idea about the Prince's identity except that it was not James or Sirius. As Lupin suggested, Harry later checks the book's publication date to help learn the Prince's identity. It was printed fifty years before, which seems to rule out Harry's parents and their contemporaries.
Among Harry and Ron's Christmas presents are the usual jumpers (sweaters), a really inappropriate necklace for Ron from Lavender, and a package of maggots from Kreacher to "Master" (Harry). Over Christmas dinner, the family (along with Fleur Delacour and Lupin) discuss Tonks, who declined to attend. Harry asks why Tonks' Patronus would change shape. Lupin suggests that a major upheaval in someone's life can cause a change
Percy and the Minister for Magic Rufus Scrimgeour's unexpectedly arrive. Scrimgeour claims he and Percy had business in the neighbourhood when Percy "decided" to drop in for a visit. Mrs. Weasley is ecstatic to see Percy again, but the other Weasleys react coldly. On the pretext of giving the Weasleys private family time, Scrimgeour asks Harry to show him the garden. Outside, Scrimgeour asks about the prophecy and also wants Harry to be seen frequently at the Ministry. They want to present him as the "Chosen One", and show that he supports the Ministry's policies. Harry refuses, citing the Ministry's failure to act sooner, and for imprisoning Stan Shunpike, an innocent person. Harry ignores Scrimgeour's probes about Dumbledore. Scrimgeour angrily claims Harry is "Dumbledore's man through and through," to which Harry readily agrees, though not in the way Scrimgeour meant, and abruptly returns to the house.
Scrimgeour's attempt to woo Harry as a Ministry "poster boy", along with the Ministry's continual refusal to release known innocents like Stan Shunpike, again shows how Scrimgeour is more concerned with presenting a good public face to the Wizarding community, than with obtaining actual results. It also appears he wants to separate Harry from Dumbledore's influence. Harry sees through both ruses and refuses to cooperate, turning around Scrimgeour's insult by stating that he is indeed, "Dumbledore's man." Unfortunately, this incident only serves to further estrange the Weasleys from Percy, who either colluded with Scrimgeour, or was used by him, to exploit his family connection solely to give Scrimgeour access to Harry. It seems there is no limit to what Percy will do to advance his own career, and this may be the breaking point in his relationship with his parents and siblings.
As events grow more sinister in the Wizarding world, Lupin's perilous mission for the Order of the Phoenix highlights his sad and lonely life as a Werewolf. He is risking himself by infiltrating Fenrir Greyback's dangerous realm. Lupin does provide insight into how Werewolves and other darker creatures like Vampires, Giants, Goblins, and so forth, have been ostracized by the Wizarding community, giving some justification to them supporting Voldemort who offers more advantages. Only the Goblins rebuff Voldemort; as his power increases, he increasingly interferes with their internal affairs, thus losing their allegiance. Lupin also provides a possible reason why Tonks' Patronus has changed its appearance, though he may know more about this than he is revealing.
Readers will recognize Fenrir Greyback's name as the same one Draco Malfoy mentioned at Borgin & Burkes earlier in the book. It is now clear why Mr. Borgin suddenly was so cooperative after Draco mentioned Greyback was a "family friend". Considering Greyback's reputation, Borgin likely feared for his life if he failed Draco's request.
Lavender's gift for Ron, and Ron's reaction to it, are an indication that their relationship is probably doomed. Though their union is physically intense, it seems Lavender has no idea what Ron would actually like. Additionally, it seems improbable that Ron has put any thought into what Lavender might want, as we can safely expect that he would have to ask someone, most likely Harry, and then Ginny, before making his selection. Lavender's gift to Ron seems to be something Lavender herself would like, which would indicate that she is more centered on herself in this relationship than on Ron. While Ron's feelings are still unknown, he entered this relationship largely to spite Ginny, and possibly Hermione, and we can guess that his motives also remain selfish. In that respect, Ron and Lavender seem well matched; but ultimately the relationship is unstable, as each one remains centered only on himself or herself.
- Why does Scrimgeour want to recruit Harry's help? Why does Harry refuse?
- Why does the Ministry refuse to release Stan Shunpike and other innocent people?
- Why does Lupin say he neither likes nor dislikes Snape, even though Snape apparently hates him and was responsible for his leaving Hogwarts?
- Why would magical creatures such as werewolves, giants, centaurs, and others support Voldemort? Why do the goblins not?
- Why would Tonks decline an invitation to The Burrow during Christmas?
- Harry's Potions book was printed fifty years ago. What was happening at Hogwarts at that time, and what might that tell Harry?
The printing date on Harry's book is fifty years before, putting it into a period near Tom Riddle's time at Hogwarts. In Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, we are led to believe that Tom was a sixth- or seventh-year student fifty years before Harry was a second-year, so Tom, or a contemporary, could have purchased it new. However, all this really shows is that the Half-Blood Prince attended Hogwarts sometime after that date. We have seen that there is a brisk business in second-hand books, as they appear to change little from year-to-year, so it is entirely possible that one of James Potter's contemporaries owned this book. In fact, it will turn out to be one of James' classmates, one who was impoverished and thus forced to purchase his books second hand.
Curiously, even though text books are infrequently updated, readers are constantly reminded that new spells, jinxes, and hexes are always being invented. These apparently rarely become standard magical practices, and, as Lupin points out, these new ones fall in and out of fashion.
This is not the first time that Scrimgeour attempts to manipulate Harry to help bolster the Ministry's public image; Dumbledore and Scrimgeour, back in September, had also quarreled over this, and it was publicly commented on. Dumbledore will later mention that Fudge had also wanted to exploit Harry this way to help retain his position as Minister for Magic. Scrimgeour hoped to sway Harry by talking to him directly, and he used Percy's family to get to Harry and try to remove him from Hogwarts and Dumbledore. Scrimgeour will make one last attempt later in the book, only to again be refused. This, along with Shunpike's continued incarceration, is a clear indication that Scrimgeour, who is as astute a politician in his own way as Fudge, is as driven by public opinion as Fudge, regardless of their perceived differences. Despite the deep schism between Harry and Scrimgeour, in the last book, when the Ministry falls to Voldemort, Scrimgeour is tortured for information but never reveals Harry's whereabouts, thus allowing Harry, Ron, and Hermione to escape.
Snape's Unbreakable Vow has left us wondering, as Ron is, exactly why he would agree to fulfill Draco's task at peril to his own life. The only reason is that Dumbledore had extracted Snape's promise to perform Draco's task. It is only late in the final book that we discover this, and that Snape and Dumbledore were acting together to protect Draco.
Lupin explains to Harry that a major upheaval in Tonks' life could be why her Patronus changed its shape. Unknown to Harry, and readers, just yet, is that Lupin has caused that upheaval.
This chapter, like much of this book, is largely devoid of overt connections to other books. There are, of course, the continually evolving subplots; the main ones that appear in this chapter are the relationship between Tonks and Lupin, the relationship between Ron and Lavender, the relationship between Harry and Kreacher, the estrangement of Percy from his family, and the ongoing self-preservation efforts of the Ministry.