In the morning, Harry repeats his story to Hermione, but she too seems to agree with Ron. In any case, it’s hard for them to talk because so many younger students are lurking around, trying to eavesdrop on them. As they leave Gryffindor, Hermione confiscates an illicit Frisbee from a fourth-year – only to have Ron take it for himself immediately. Passing by, Lavender Brown giggles at his audacity.
The constant attention from other students emphasizes the extent to which the trio are now considered Hogwarts celebrities. Even Ron, who often feels in Harry’s shadow, is treated to additional attention from Lavender, which probably stems from his role in the Ministry battle last year.
Over breakfast, the trio discuss how to break it to Hagrid that they’re no longer taking his class. Next, Professor McGonagall gathers the Gryffindors to look over their O.W.L results and assign the next year’s classes. With her outstanding grades, Hermione quickly settles her schedule and jets off to Ancient Runes, but others are not so lucky. Neville is upset that he can’t continue to Advanced Transfiguration, because his grandmother has pressed him to excel in the subject; but Professor McGonagall remarks crisply that she should learn “to be proud of the grandson she’s got,” especially after his bravery at the Ministry.
In her comment to Neville, Professor McGonagall establishes herself as rigorously fair-minded and – unlike Neville’s grandmother – impervious to material status symbols. In this sense, she’s a foil to Professor Snape, who routinely plays favorites among the Slytherin students and behaves unprofessionally towards students against whom he holds grudges, like Harry and Hermione.
Next, McGonagall turns to Harry and informs him that while Snape only accepts advanced students with Outstanding O.W.L. results, his grade will qualify him to continue studying under Professor Slughorn – thus keeping open the option of becoming an Auror. Although Harry hasn’t purchased any supplies, he signs up for the class. Ron and Harry set off together, pleased at their many free periods.
Professor McGonagall’s announcement reawakens a dream that Harry had given up. However, as the novel progresses it will become increasingly clear to Harry that it’s useless to fight Voldemort from within the Ministry.
In an hour, they meet up with Hermione, who’s already loaded down with homework. In Defense Against the Dark Arts, Snape has already turned his classroom into a dark lair. In his sinister voice, Snape describes the Dark Arts as “many, varied, ever-changing, and eternal;” Harry is disturbed by the “loving caress” in the professor’s voice. Snape continues that, in fighting such forces, the young wizards must remain “flexible and inventive.”
Harry views Snape’s words as malicious because of his preexisting bias against the professor; from another point of view, the professor can be seen as encouraging his students to take the Dark Arts seriously and never underestimate them. In many cases, Harry’s conclusions are based on his fears rather than facts.
Snape asks who can name the advantages of non-verbal spell-casting. Although Hermione answers immediately and correctly, Snape sneers that her words are copied directly from the textbook. He divides the class into pairs and orders everyone to jinx each other without speaking. Hermione manages the feat in twenty minutes, but Snape ignores her work and maliciously watches Harry and Ron struggle to succeed.
Snape always finds ways to discount Hermione’s intelligence, which is one of the reasons Harry loathes him. However, his behavior is somewhat reminiscent of Harry and Ron’s tendency to dismiss Hermione or undervalue the ways she helps them through all her bookish knowledge.
Grabbing Ron’s wand, Snape turns on Harry to “demonstrate;” reacting instinctively, Harry casts a Shield Charm that knocks Snape off his feet. Enraged, Snape gives him detention. Harry walks out of the class fuming about Snape’s prejudice against him and his obvious love for the Dark Arts. However, Hermione points out, Snape is actually mirroring what Harry previously said about facing Voldemort: that fighting Dark magic is about “brains and guts” more than memorizing spells. Harry is shocked that Hermione has thought his words worth memorizing.
Harry’s ability to fend off the professor is another indication of his exceptional skill at defensive magic. Meanwhile, Hermione is very astute when she points out that Snape’s words echo Harry’s own sentiments. Although Harry often considers her the trio’s expert on “feelings,” she’s often the one who is able to make clear-eyed judgments based on facts, while Harry lets his emotions get in the way of decision-making.
As they’re talking, another Gryffindor runs up with a note from Dumbledore, summoning Harry to his office this Saturday. Harry is pleased, since the lesson is scheduled at the same time as his detention with Snape. For the rest of their break, the trio speculate on the kinds of spells Dumbledore will teach Harry.
Although Harry is generally immune to the temptations of celebrity, he’s not always averse to using his special status to get out of punishment and unpleasant tasks.
In the afternoon, the friends scurry to the dungeon Potions classroom, where Slughorn greets Harry warmly. Nearby, a cauldron is emitting some of the best scents Harry has ever smelled, from broomstick handle to “something flowery he thought he might have smelled in the burrow.” Finding that Harry and Ron don’t have supplies, Slughorn presents them with a pile of old textbooks from his supply closet.
For much of the novel, Harry will think of this “flowery” smell when grappling with his feelings for Ginny. This tactic speaks not only to his growing crush on his friend, but also his shame and guilt when it comes to articulating his emotions in a straightforward way.
Turning to the class, Slughorn asks who can identify the various potions brewing at the front of the room. Hermione identifies them all, including the “flowery” mixture – which is a powerful love potion that smells different to each person. Ascertaining Hermione’s name, Slughorn asks if she’s related to a wizard he knows named Granger; when she responds that she’s Muggle-born, he crows that Harry must have been referring to her when he talked about “the best witch in our year.” Hermione turns to Harry with a delighted expression, but Ron is disgruntled, saying that there’s nothing special in pointing out the obvious.
Ron’s annoyance is a sign that he’s jealous of Hermione’s affection – he wants her to be delighted with him, not Harry. At the same time, it’s often Ron who dismisses Hermione’s intelligence and good qualities, making her insecure and hungry for praise. While Ron’s feelings for Hermione are certainly sympathetic, not until he makes an effort to understand her emotions will he be able to pursue them effectively.
Slughorn pretends to forget about the last potion brewing until a Huffllepuff asks him about it. Smugly, he reveals that it’s Felix Felicis, which endows its drinker with luck. With great flair, he adds that he’ll be giving a small bottle to whoever brews the best Draught of Living Death by the end of the class. Motivated by this prize, everyone scurries off to work.
Slughorn’s flamboyant and friendly style of teaching sets him apart from Snape. At the same time, the two men share a sense of moral ambiguity that makes it difficult for Harry to decide if they are “good” or “bad.”
Harry is annoyed to find that his loaned book is so crammed with annotations that the text is hardly visible. Squinting over the text, he sees that the previous owner has changed some of the instructions; Harry follows them and his potion immediately turns the correct color. Meanwhile, as Slughorn nears his table, Draco tries to get his attention by name-dropping his well-connected grandfather. Harry smirks to see the professor pass on without interest, muttering that he was sorry to hear of his recent death.
While Draco’s wealth and family background has usually given him a higher social standing, one of the changes in the new era of open combat against Voldemort is that Harry is deemed more important and special than Draco is. While Harry doesn’t usually take advantage of this privilege, he’s pretty merciless in watching Draco’s fall from grace.
Seeing that the book’s previous owner had valuable knowledge to share, he takes note of the additional marginalia. Hermione is frustrated to see that Harry’s potion is rapidly exceeding her own, while he is shocked to find himself succeeding in this subject for once.
While Hermione usually relies on books and established knowledge in order to succeed, Harry is more likely to take chances that lead either to spectacular success or failure.
When Slughorn calls time and surveys the potions, he instantly declares Harry’s the winner, saying it’s clear that he inherited his mother Lily’s talent for Potions. Harry pockets the tiny bottle of Felix Felicis. As he tells his friends about the secret notes in the book, Hermione shakes her head in disapproval.
It’s important that Hermione cares much less about success than morals. It’s her influence that often forces Harry to think about the ethical implications of his actions.
Catching up with him, Ginny admonishes Harry for “taking orders” from anything written in a book – she’s referring to her own disastrous experience with Voldemort’s diary years ago. Emboldened, Hermione grabs the book from Harry’s hands and casts a number of spells to reveal any enchantments, but without success. Annoyed, Harry grabs it back and stalks away. As he walks, he sees that someone has scrawled along the back cover, “This book is the property of the Half-Blood Prince.”
Harry doesn’t behave arrogantly or see himself as better than others, but in some sense his background does give him a sense of invincibility – he believes that no harm can come to him from this book, even though he’s seen similar objects inflict great damage on his friends.