Home at the Burrow for Christmas, Ron still can’t quite believe that Snape was offering Draco help. Their conference is interrupted by the entrance of Fred and George, who tease Ron about his new relationship. When they leave, Ron points out that even if Harry tells Dumbledore about what he heard, the professor will insist that Snape was just trying to find out what Draco is planning. Still, Harry feels justified in his suspicions.
Dumbledore is just as adamant about Snape’s loyalty as Harry is convinced of his treachery – and like Harry, he can’t or won’t provide much hard evidence to back up his claims. In a way, this suggests that all moral judgments are to some extent based on feelings, rather than facts alone.
On Christmas Eve, everyone gathers reluctantly to hear a radio broadcast by Mrs. Weasley’s favorite singer. Fleur talks loudly over the music, Fred and George play card games, and Mr. Weasley chats with Harry about his work. Although they’ve made several arrests, Mr. Weasley doesn’t think any of the suspects are actual Death Eaters. Meanwhile, the Ministry is still holding Stan Shunpike because “the top levels want to look as though they’re making some progress.”
The picture Mr. Weasley draws of the Ministry is one of bafflement and incompetence. Besides being unable to contain Voldemort’s rise, the government is actively harming its citizens by making false arrests in its own interests – this could be a nod to real-world fear-mongering against minorities, like Muslims, that occurred in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.
Harry tells Mr. Weasley – as well as Remus Lupin, who is listening in – about the overheard conference between Draco and Snape. Immediately, Mr. Weasley suggests that Snape was just pretending to help him. Lupin severely points out that Dumbledore trusts Snape, which “ought to be good enough for all of us.” Although Snape exposed Lupin as a werewolf, forcing him to resign his position at Hogwarts, he also kept him healthy by making him a special potion during his monthly transformation. Lupin neither likes nor dislikes Snape – but personal feelings have nothing to do with his decision to trust him.
Here, Lupin argues strongly against making judgments based on feelings – even though he, of all people, has strong reasons to dislike Snape personally, he refuses to let this affect his conclusions about the man. This pronouncement establishes him as a foil to James Potter and Sirius, who disliked Snape for petty reasons and treated these feelings as a justification for bullying him.
As the broadcast finally ends, Harry asks Lupin what he’s been doing. Lupin reveals he’s been undercover among the werewolf population, most of whom are sympathetic to Voldemort. They’re tired of being shunned by society and believe they’ll have a better life under his reign, especially since one of the Dark Lord’s top associates is a deranged werewolf named Fenrir Greyback, who now kills for pleasure and specializes in biting children, in the hope of creating an army of werewolves who hate wizards. In fact, it was Greyback who bit Lupin during his youth.
Fenrir Greyback is an appalling character who seems to be beyond redemption. However, his extreme disaffection with Wizarding society demonstrates the extent to which Wizarding society stigmatizes vulnerable minorities, like werewolves. While it often seems that prejudice – like bias against Muggle-borns – exist only within Voldemort’s ranks, moments like this are a sobering reminder that it’s present in mainstream society, as well.
Harry asks Lupin if he’s ever heard of the Half-Blood Prince and explains about the mysterious book he’s come to own. Lupin gently disabuses Harry of the notion that it belonged to his father – although Harry once saw James using the Levicorpus spell in Snape’s memories, it was an extremely popular jinx at the time and lots of people used it. Lupin advises Harry to figure out how old the book is, as that might lead him to its owner.
Harry is looking to the potions book to provide some sort of special connection to his father – even if it’s just a reminder of his bullying of Snape at Hogwarts. Lupin’s tact shows that he understands how much Harry craves parental guidance in his life, even if it just comes from an object his father once owned.
Harry falls asleep thumbing his copy of Advanced Potion-Making, which turns out to have been published fifty years ago – long before his father was at Hogwarts. He wakes up to Ron’s cry of disgust at the Christmas gift he’s received from Lavender, an enormous locket engraved with the words “My Sweetheart.” Ron wonders why Lavender would think he’d enjoy something like this, but when Harry questions him on the kinds of things they talk about, he admits they mostly just make out. Harry cheers him up by telling him that Hermione and Cormac fell out at Slughorn’s Christmas party.
The fact that Ron rarely actually speaks to Lavender establishes this relationship as fundamentally different and more superficial than his relationship with Hermione, which although fractured is based on mutual understanding. The novel argues that while relationships like this can pose a threat to pre-existing friendships, relationships between people who know and trust one another generally don’t.
Harry looks through his own pile of presents, which include a sweater from Mrs. Weasley, a pile of joke products from Fred and George, and a bag of maggots from Kreacher. They go down to breakfast, where the atmosphere is tense due to Mrs. Weasley’s and Fleur’s mutual antipathy. Ginny picks a maggot out of Harry’s hair and Mrs. Weasley asks Lupin if he’s heard from Tonks lately – the young witch has refused invitations to spend Christmas at the Burrow, and Mrs. Weasley worries she’s alone. Harry mentions the strange new form of Tonks’ Patronus to Lupin, who shoves some turkey in his mouth.
Harry’s pile of presents is a reminder of how integrated he is within the Weasley family – after all, during his childhood he was used to being completely ignored by the Dursleys. His secure place among Ron’s family makes him a contrast to Lupin and Tonks, who aren’t really part of the clan, and seem to lack familial connections of their own.
Suddenly Mrs. Weasley springs to her feet, seeing Percy and Rufus Scrimgeour striding towards the door. While Percy awkwardly hugs his mother, the Minister claims that they were working in the area and “couldn’t resist” stopping by. Feigning casualness, he asks Harry to show him the garden while Percy catches up with his family. Lupin and Mr. Weasley seem prepared to intervene, but Harry gets up without a word.
The unspoken conflict between the Minister of Magic and Mr. Weasley and Lupin sets up familial and governmental figures as diametrically opposed to each other. Since the novel characterizes family in such a strongly positive way, this is another indication that government figures should not be trusted.
In the garden, Scrimgeour tells Harry that he’s been anxious to talk to him, but Dumbledore has prevented him from doing so. Continuing, he says that whether or not Harry is actually “the Chosen One,” the public’s perception that he’s uniquely equipped to fight Voldemort is important to preserving morale. Given this, he wants Harry to start visiting the Ministry, in order to insinuate that he’s working with them against the Death Eaters. If he does this, Scrimgeour will introduce him to influential wizards in the Auror Department.
Here, Scrimgeour attempts to bribe Harry to pretend to the Wizarding community that the Ministry is closer to catching Voldemort than it actually is. The Minister of Magic clearly isn’t concerned about protecting his citizens nearly as much as he cares about retaining and expanding his own power. He emerges as a foil to Dumbledore, who steadfastly pursues Voldemort even when doing so harms him, as with the loss of his hand.
Harry says that he has no desire to endorse the Ministry, especially given the continued scapegoating of Stan Shunpike. Scrimgeour patronizingly responds that, as a teenager, Harry can’t possibly understand how the Ministry works. He holds up his hand, which is still scarred from his detention with Umbridge, and reminds Scrimgeour that just last year the Ministry was doing its best to smear his reputation and ignore Voldemort’s return.
As Harry states, it’s easy for him to dislike the Ministry given its treatment of him last year. At the same time, it’s telling that he so completely dismisses the opportunity to make connections at the Auror office, and that he sticks up for people who are being unfairly villainized by society. His ability to resist the temptation of celebrity emphasizes the inherent authenticity of his character.
Changing tactics, Scrimgeour asks what Dumbledore does when he’s away from Hogwarts; Harry responds that even if he knew, he wouldn’t tell. He reminds Scrimgeour that Fudge also pitted himself against Dumbledore, and the headmaster has retained power longer than the former Minister. Scrimgeour accuses Harry of being “Dumbledore’s man through and through,” and Harry proudly affirms that he is.
Harry’s strong defense of Dumbledore emphasizes the extent to which the professor has become a father figure to him – he speaks not just out of political loyalty but deep personal regard. His growing closeness with the headmaster will make the novel’s final events even more devastating.