Fun fact: Until Deathly Hallows came out, Half-Blood Prince sported my favorite cover art in the series. It was the least colorful of the bunch, but those swirly greens and purples hinted at something mysterious. This was going to be a book to pay close attention to.
CHAPTER 10: THE HOUSE OF GAUNT
Hermione is expectedly angry about Harry using the Prince’s book, considering it’s pretty much cheating, and once again we’re reminded that she lets quite a bit slide when it comes to Harry and Ron. She definitely doesn’t remain quiet about her feelings, though, letting them know exactly what she thinks about the situation, although she also knows it will do nothing to dissuade them. In this case, there’s another layer to Hermione’s disdainful feelings because she resents the fact that Harry is doing better than her in Potions, which has never, ever happened before. Still, she remains as loyal as ever. It’s clear by this point that she values her friendship with Harry and Ron more than she values following the rules, and their disapproval would be worse than the disapproval of her superiors. She begrudgingly attempts to help Harry solve the mystery of the Half-Blood Prince. When she suggests that the Prince doesn’t have to be male, which is exciting and actually quite clever considering Prince could be a surname, Harry asks, “How many girls have been princes?”
Challenge accepted, Harry. I scoured the Internet and did, in fact, manage to find a female Prince. Do with that what you will.
Harry has his first private lesson with Dumbledore, which basically amounts to crime-solving and is really awesome. In re-reading this scene, I not only desperately wanted a Harry-Dumbledore duo crime-solving television show, but I also kept thinking that this was really good Auror training for Harry. I don’t know if that was part of Dumbledore’s–or Rowling’s–intention, but I can imagine that being an Auror would involve a lot of suppositional reasoning like they’re doing here, and the Pensieve has to be an extremely useful tool for an Auror. I mean, Aurors are basically FBI agents, right? And Harry’s sessions with Dumbledore involve investigating Voldemort’s past and determining the emotions and reasoning behind his actions in order to ultimately apprehend him.
Dumbledore pours out a vial containing memories from a Magical Law Enforcement employee with a shockingly normal name: Bob Ogden. They follow Ogden on a trip to Little Hangleton, where they encounter the Gaunts. There’s Mr. Gaunt and his children, Morfin and Merope, who both have eyes that stare in opposite directions, implying that there may have been some inbreeding in the family. We immediately get the impression that Mr. Gaunt is not a very nice person, and his son seems to take after him. When Merope drops a pot in the kitchen out of nervousness, Mr. Gaunt chides and taunts her, and Morfin speaks in Parseltongue the entire time. Ogden produces a court summons for Morfin, but Mr. Gaunt retaliates by showing Ogden his ring bearing the Peverell coat of arms and Merope’s locket that originally belonged to Salazar Slytherin. Ogden is immune to Gaunt’s attempts at intimidation, and he is about to proceed when they hear horses approaching outside. Speaking Parseltongue, Morfin says it’s the Muggle he jinxed because Merope fancies him. Gaunt attacks Merope, Ogden intervenes, and Harry and Dumbledore leave the memory.
Dumbledore finishes the story by explaining that Ogden returned with reinforcements, and both Morfin and Marvolo Gaunt were arrested and sent to Azkaban. Harry immediately recognizes the name Marvolo, and Dumbledore reveals that they have just witnessed Voldemort’s family, including his mother, Merope. Dumbledore explains that Merope used a love potion to make the Muggle they saw on horseback–Tom Riddle, Sr.–fall in love with her. He remained enchanted long enough for Merope to have a baby, who we now know as the Dark Lord, but eventually Merope stopped giving him the potion, and he abandoned both her and their son.
“I believe that Merope, who was deeply in love with her husband, could not bear to continue enslaving him by magical means. I believe that she made the choice to stop giving him the potion. Perhaps, besotted as she was, she had convinced herself that he would by now have fallen in love with her in return. Perhaps she thought he would stay for the baby’s sake. If so, she was wrong on both counts. He left her, never saw her again, and never troubled to discover what became of his son” – Dumbledore
Merope’s story is tragic. She was mentally, physically, and emotionally abused by her father and brother, which led to repression of her magical abilities. She had to bewitch the man she loved into being with her, and she died shortly after giving birth to her son. This is one of the saddest scenes in the entire series, in my opinion, and it really illustrates how the wizarding world can be just as dark and stunted as the Muggle world; magic doesn’t mean more evolved. It doesn’t solve all the world’s problems, and it in fact introduces a whole new set of them.
This scene is also our introduction to two important heirlooms that will become horcruxes: the Peverell ring, which holds the resurrection stone, and Slytherin’s locket. Harry notices that Dumbledore has the ring in his office, one of Rowling’s little clues that will play a major part in the arcing plot.
CHAPTER 11: HERMIONE’S HELPING HAND
This is one of those lighter chapters filled with fun and interesting stuff that’s not too imperative to the plot, so I think it’s time for another list!
- In this chapter, we discover that Harry is hot. He holds Quidditch trials to build a new team, and because Harry is so popular and attractive, there’s a very impressive turnout of students.
“Oh, come on, Harry, It’s not Quidditch that’s popular, it’s you! You’ve never been more interesting, and frankly, you’ve never been more fanciable.” – Hermione
- It’s okay, Ron/Hermione fans, you can take a moment to breathe through your anger. Or you can take comfort in the fact that while Lavender Brown and Ron are smiling at each other, Hermione is giving them the jealous cold treatment.
- Harry’s obvious choices are Katie Bell, Ginny, and Ron. Poor Ron only gets chosen because Hermione put a Confunding spell on Cormac McLaggen. Again, she proves that she really only cares about rules when they don’t involve her besties.
- The trio goes to visit Hagrid, who’s upset that they dropped Care of Magical Creatures. They go through a series of lies to reconcile with him: they couldn’t fit his class into their schedules, all the Time-Turners were destroyed in the battle at the Ministry (which is actually probably true, but still an excuse, and quick thinking on Hermione’s part), and Professor Grubbly-Plank is a horrible teacher. Hagrid forgives them.
- Aragog is dying, which is good news to arachnophobes everywhere.
- Slughorn invites Harry and Hermione to a Slug Club party and completely ignores Ron. Poor Ron gets the shaft yet again. How many times have I said “poor Ron” during this re-read? Rowling really doesn’t cut him much slack.
- Dumbledore has been MIA since his meeting with Harry, and some concerned parents are pulling their students out of Hogwarts due to the recent news, fearing that it may no longer be safe. Hogwarts has always been a safehouse, a seemingly impenetrable fortress, so it’s strange to read of possible looming danger in the castle. For the first time, it feels like anything could happen.
- Stan Shunpike was wrongfully arrested by the Ministry for boasting about Voldemort. Once again, the Ministry demonstrates their ineptitude. They are constantly barking up the wrong tree.
- Harry must grasp wordless spells if he wants to be an Auror, as an important part of his chosen future career will be casting spells without his opponent knowing what they are, giving him a fighting advantage. To continue the wordless spells discussion a bit, I feel like speaking inherently adds power. Nonverbal spells would require much more concentration not only to pronounce correctly in your head, but also to put the kind of power behind them that speaking aloud and adding a physical, energy-filled element normally would. Those are just my quick-hit thoughts on the subject.