Prisoner of Azkaban, as I’ve mentioned in various comments here, was where I truly felt sucked into the world-building and became a permanent fan of the series, but Half-Blood Prince will always be my favorite book of the seven. There’s just something about the pacing that appeals to me, where it dives deep into backstory while at the same time gives us a realistic look at the Trio growing up as teenagers. Of course there’s romance drama. Of course there’s awkwardness as all three of them manage to be the awkward third wheel at various points.
In fact, that’s probably my favorite thing about this book. It’s there in all seven if you look, but here is where it’s the most prominent and simultaneously amusing and heartbreaking. Harry gets awkward when Ron and Hermione dance around their obvious feelings for each other. Hermione feels like she can’t relate to the guys on the topics that they enjoy the most: Quidditch, mostly. Ron feels like he can’t quite measure up to Harry when it comes to his amazingly strong friendship with Hermione – I may have been vaguely aboard the HMS Pumpkin Pie in various stages of my life, but I could still see that their bond was more sibling-like than romantic1.
But there is one thing I love even more than character development, anywhere and everywhere.
We’ve gotten small glimpses into greater Wizarding society ever since Prisoner of Azkaban and more significant forays into their social dynamics by Goblet of Fire, but it’s here that we’ve been slowly seeing how Voldemort came to power. How Hogwarts was run in the past. How select other Wizarding families dealt with society as a whole and Muggles and Ministry in particular.
There are so many unanswered questions about the Wizarding World and its interactions with Muggle society, and they’re not likely ever to be answered because they have nothing to do with Harry’s story. Headcanon can only go so far, after all; I need more2.
…maybe I’ll break down and go back to Pottermore. It’s grown a bit since I stopped.
TO THE BOOK!
CHAPTER 14: FELIX FELICIS
We begin with the regular meeting of the Hogwarts Speculation Club on their path to Herbology class. Harry wastes absolutely no time in sharing these things – especially as he’s been given express permission to do so3 – and the other two start dutifully weighing in with their own thoughts.
It quickly changes to discussion of the Slug Club–
“‘Slug Club,’” repeated Ron with a sneer worthy of Malfoy.
I’ve mentioned before in the comments that I very much identify with the fact that, between the Trio, they’re all the uncomfortable third friend4. This book turns it up to eleven, and rightfully so: Everyone’s sixteen (I think Hermione turns seventeen at some point) and in the throes of hormones and frustrations.
Hermione has trouble breaking past the “sports and guys” barrier with Ron and Harry. Harry and Hermione have a very close friendship and a shared Muggle upbringing (for a given value of “shared upbringing”, of course) that Ron can never really relate to beyond his father’s fascination with wires. And then Harry stumbles into a rather personal situation that I have to believe happens fairly often (or at least, starts to from that moment on, as this is the first time Harry’s actually acknowledged noticing it).
I’m not going to get into the shipping wars of 2004. But I do think that, unlike some of the other relationships in the series, Ron and Hermione did sort of happen organically. It was messy, bled into other aspects of their lives, and cost twice as much at Whole Foods as it otherwise would have at normal grocery stores, and then you get looks when you ask about the factory-farm relationships because they might be cheaper, and it all ends with you sobbing in your car in the parking lot with a quart of their delicious-yet-overpriced blackberry-açai gelato.
…I forgot what I was talking about.
Right! Teenagers. This whole chapter is a great example of how Half-Blood Prince could have been a fairly decent teen comedy – aside from all the murders, of course.
Although Harry watched his two friends more closely over the next few days, Ron and Hermione did not seem any different except that they were a little politer to each other than usual. Harry supposed he would just have to wait to see what happened under the influence of butterbeer in Slughorn’s dimly lit room on the night of the party.
Amidst Harry’s burgeoning (and slightly creepy) shipper tendencies, we see Neville practically flying-tackle the Herbology assignment, which I’ve always imagined looking a bit like this:
It’s difficult locking down the point when Neville started gaining confidence in himself. Conversations with Fake!Moody are usually my safest bet, though the D.A. probably had a greater hand than anything else. But everyone’s pretty certain on the point where he really started to show it, and that’s when he breaks his father’s wand during the Battle of the Ministry last year. Not only has he stepped out of the mental shadow of Frank Longbottom, but he gets a wand that chooses him shortly afterwards, and he really starts to come into his own after that5.
Harry, absorbed with his own problems, doesn’t really acknowledge this change until just before the Battle of Hogwarts, but it’s something that tugs at the back of his mind.
The rest of the chapter is a bunch of rapid-fire occurrences, each of them fairly important but given precisely the amount of attention that Harry’s flustered, hormonal teenage mind can devote to them because he’s trying so very hard not to think about Ginny Weasley in more-than-friendly terms.
- Ron continues to be nervous and moody during Quidditch practice, and Ginny’s impressing Harry with her brash and outspoken personality.
- Ron shouts at a young girl who is Definitely Not Crabbe Or Goyle because he and Harry are upset after catching Ginny kissing Dean Thomas in the hallways.
- Sexual tension between lots of people is very distracting.
- Okay, maybe one or two tiny thoughts about Ginny.
Tensions rise, and Ron keeps getting worse, and that’s when inspiration strikes.
“You just put something in that drink.”
“Excuse me?” said Harry.
“You heard me. I saw you. You just tipped something into Ron’s drink. You’ve got the bottle in your hand right now!”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” said Harry, stowing the little bottle hastily in his pocket.
Hermione storms off, Ron gets suspicious but takes it in stride, and everyone heads out to the Quidditch pitch where Jerky McJerkface – sorry, I mean Zacharias Smith – is commentating.
Gryffindor is on fire! Goals are saved! Goals are made! Harry catches the Snitch, to no one’s great surprise! Ginny dive-bombs the announcer’s podium in revenge! Absolutely everything is awesome for everyone with nothing backfiring at all–
“There really wasn’t anything in my pumpkin juice?” Ron said, astounded. “But the weather’s good… and Vaisey couldn’t play… I honestly haven’t been given lucky potion?”
Harry shook his head. Ron gaped at him for a moment, then rounded on Hermione, imitating her voice. “You added Felix Felicis to Ron’s joice this morning, that’s why he saved everything! See! I can save goals without help, Hermione!”
Harry had once again forgotten that vital bit of information: Ron had most likely never seen Dumbo.
It’s all downhill from there. Not only does Ron storm off in a rage, he goes and kisses the first girl that shows interest, right where Hermione can see him. Harry, to his credit, immediately runs after her to make sure she’s alright, and it’s just one awkward moment after another.
Ah, teenage love. I don’t miss it at all.
CHAPTER 15: THE UNBREAKABLE VOW
In the movies for Deathly Hallows, there is a very specific scene of Harry backing away from Hermione, hiding her wand in his pocket, and practically climbing a tree to escape her wrath (which is conveniently reflected off of Ron at the time). He has spent enough time with her to learn that you do not fuck with Hermione Granger, especially when she’s angry. Because to the casual observer, Hermione Granger will go to ridiculous lengths to prove a point.
Harry hasn’t forgotten. He probably thinks that Ron got off lucky, being on the wrong end of the Hitchcockius Hex. He knows full well that the last person to really piss Hermione off had to be rescued from suspiciously-censored activities by Dumbledore.
How far will Hermione go to prove a point? Let’s break it down. She’ll starve herself and – when that doesn’t work – teach herself how to knit from scratch, in her practically non-existent free time, all in the name of cultural understanding, not understanding that she herself is steamrolling all over their culture to do so. Hermione “There must be a useful spell in a book somewhere” Granger goes out of her way to avoid using the useful and ingenious spells in the Prince’s textbook, to the point where she will leave if they’re used near her.
How far will Hermione go to prove a point? She’ll pretend to place her faith in Blast Hardcheese.
There was a noise like a plunger being withdrawn from a blocked sink6 and Ron surfaced. Hermione acted as though she had not seen or heard anything.
“No!” said Parvati, looking positively agog at this piece of gossip. “Wow, you like your Quidditch players, don’t you? First Krum, then McLaggen…”
“I like really good Quidditch players,” Hermione corrected her, still smiling.
The other thing about Hermione is that she never does anything halfway. It’s the whole ass or nothing, and Punch Sideiron there is the biggest one she can find on short notice.
(She admits to Harry that she even considered Zacharias Smith, but it looks like there are some lengths she won’t go to prove a point.)
It’s kind of amazing that Harry actually doesn’t dwell on how hard the situation between Ron and Hermione is for him personally, especially considering how he spent a whole paragraph in the previous chapter wondering how a relationship would affect his friendships. No, Harry steps up to the plate, because he’s actually a decent friend, and he remembers how difficult it was for Hermione when he and Ron weren’t speaking two years ago. He does his duty as the go-between with remarkable aplomb, even though the efficiency of the Hogwarts Speculation Club is reduced by 33% at any given time.
It’s also refreshing that he thinks that both of them are being idiots and tells them both so.
Meanwhile, Harry asks Luna to the party, as friends. And while he’s still a bit hesitant, she quickly proves that he can trust her. She shows up in a pretty (if a bit odd) dress and proceeds to provide the most amazing distraction as he evades Slughorn, ducks around Trelawney, and gives Gristle McThornbody the slip, just so he can eavesdrop on Snape, who had pulled Malfoy aside to punish him.
That’s when Harry finds out that Snape is protecting Malfoy (!), Malfoy doesn’t want Snape’s help (!!), and Snape has made the Unbreakable Vow (???) for something (!!!).
- Please note: I began writing this post WELL BEFORE any controversial news report and/or internet backlash and I have the WordPress revision logs to prove it. I AM NOT LOOKING TO START THIS ARGUMENT UP AGAIN.
- I need to see Wizarding New York in the 1920s.
- “Alright, you’re probably going to go tell those two worrywarts anyway, so might as well make it sound like it’s my idea to trust them.” – Albus Dumbledore, the Master of the Ex Post Facto Approval.
- Credit for this statement goes to something I saw once on Tumblr and cannot find again.
- Again, I once saw a really great breakdown of this on Tumblr and I cannot for the life of me locate it to link to it.
- Can J.K. Rowling evoke imagery, or can J.K. Rowling evoke imagery? Seriously, one of my favorite lines out of the entire franchise, right there.