For several weeks, Dumbledore seems to be absent from the castle, and Harry wonders whether he has forgotten about their lessons. Meanwhile, the school’s first Hogsmeade outing is scheduled on Saturday. On that morning, Harry lies in bed studying the marginalia in Advanced Potion-Making. The notes include many handy jinxes, one of which Harry has used to glue Filch’s tongue to his mouth. He’s also used the Prince’s Muffliato spell to fill the ears of those around him with buzzing in order to have conversations unheard. However, Hermione becomes disapproving and refuses to speak each time he tries a new spell.
Looking through the Half-Blood Prince’s notes, Harry most enjoys the spells that allow him to live outside the rules – punishing adults at Hogwarts, for example, or hampering the senses of others. While Harry always resists preferential treatment when offered by others, his use of spells like this shows that he does consider himself somewhat entitled to privileges that others don’t have.
Now, Harry spots a new incantation, Levicorpus. Flicking his wand in the air, he thinks the spell in his head and is shocked to see that he’s inadvertently caused Ron’s body to skyrocket into the air and hang from his ankle. Consulting the book anxiously, Harry finds the counter-spell and releases him. Fortunately, Ron is amused by the whole episode, but when he tells Hermione, she scolds Harry for trying out a strange spell with no idea what could happen. Besides, she says, she doesn’t think well of anyone who devotes his time to thinking up dodgy jinxes like this.
Although Ron and Harry dismiss Hermione’s qualms now, later events will prove that she is right to question the Prince’s morals – and Harry will eventually admit he was wrong to have trusted the book so much. Her input, however unwelcome at first, shows that true heroes can’t function alone; they have to accept guidance and help from trusted friends.
Suddenly, Harry remembers seeing his father perform this very spell when he briefly dived into Snape’s memories last year. He wonders aloud if his father was the Half-Blood Prince, but Hermione points out that lots of people use similar spells – even, for example, the Death Eaters at the Quidditch World Cup two years ago. Ron accuses of her of being biased against the Prince because he’s better at Potions than she is.
Even though there’s little evidence for the theory, Harry is enamored of the idea that he might have found a new connection to his father. This wishful thinking reflects a desire to be guided and protected by trusted adults, rather than left to figure things out alone.
Ginny arrives with a letter for Harry, summoning him to Dumbledore’s next lesson. He invites her to join them in Hogsmeade, but she’s going with her boyfriend, Dean. After being brusquely searched by Filch, the trio endures a bitterly cold walk to the village and staggers into the sweet shop – only to run into Professor Slughorn, who ribs Harry for having missed so many of his “little suppers.” In fact, Harry has been scheduling Quidditch practice every time he receives an invitation. To Hermione’s chagrin, his lesson with Dumbledore coincides with the next scheduled soiree.
In previous novels, Ginny has always been available to hang out when Harry and Ron want to spend time with her; now, she’s developing a dating life and mature personality. In part, her independence and confidence is what attracts Harry to her. However, these are also the traits that make Ron jealous, and inspire his chauvinistic behavior towards his sister.
Finished at the sweet shop, the trio heads towards the Three Broomsticks, but on the way, Harry spots Mundungus Fletcher, one of the Order’s seedier members, selling antiques out of an old suitcase. Quickly, Harry realizes that Mundungus is actually peddling stolen goods from Sirius’s house. Enraged, Harry pins the thief to the pub’s wall and interrogates him, but Mundungus squirms away and Disapparates. As Harry shouts at the air, Hermione drags him inside, exhorting him not to talk so loudly about the Order’s secret headquarters.
Mundungus’s actions violate Harry’s keen sense of right and wrong, and desecrate the memory of Sirius, whom Harry is still mourning; it’s understandable that he’s enraged. However, as it does in other moments, his moral anger makes him feel entitled to take things into his own hands, rather than reporting these events to someone empowered to punish Mundungus. It also makes him act unwisely, for example speaking publicly about the location of Order headquarters.
While Ron cranes his neck to catch sight of Madame Rosmerta, the pretty bartender, and Hermione jibes him, Harry drinks his butterbeer and reminisces about Sirius, who always hated his family’s pretentious possessions. Gloomily, they decide to cut the trip short. As they begin the cold walk, Harry wonders what Ginny and Dean are up to.
While Sirius wasn’t a perfect role model, his behavior and background taught Harry not to put much store by a family’s social standing or material possessions – after all, Sirius came from a wealthy and powerful clan, yet was punished for his values and eventually disowned.
Ahead of them, Harry sees Katie Bell, one of his Quidditch players, arguing with her friend Leanne. They appear to be grappling over a package Katie is holding. As Katie tugs it out of reach, she suddenly rises into the air, her face eerily empty. Then she starts to scream, clearly in “terrible anguish.” Harry, Ron, and Leanne grab her and pull her to the ground, where she continues to scream. Running for help, Harry soon collides with Hagrid and tells him that someone’s been cursed. The giant scoops up the girl and runs off toward Hogwarts.
Although Katie hasn’t died, the sudden attack she’s suffered is another catastrophe occurring in a public space normally considered secure. This event builds on the murders and disasters discussed at the beginning of the book to create a sense of public unease, one that permeates even the safest location in the Wizarding world – Hogwarts itself.
As Hermione comforts Leanne, Leanne explains that the curse happened when the package’s wrapping tore. Ron leans down to touch the brown paper, under which an opal necklace is visible; but Hermione pulls his arm back, saying that she saw the necklace long ago in Borgin and Burkes. Leanne said that Katie wouldn’t explain where she got the package, just repeating that she had to deliver it to someone at Hogwarts – she realizes now that her friend must have been under the Imperius Curse.
The possibility of being placed under the Imperius Curse and being used for evil is mentioned in the leaflet of Ministry guidelines Harry received at the beginning of the novel. Yet, as Leanne’s confusion shows, the leaflet gives little guidance on how to properly confront such as situation. The Ministry’s approach to this public crisis stokes fear without providing any methods to resolve it.
Harry wraps up the necklace in his scarf and takes it with him. He points out to the others that, since the necklace was at Borgin and Burkes, Draco knew about it and could easily have bought it. Ron and Hermione are skeptical, and before they have time to argue, Professor McGonagall hurries up, takes the necklace, and orders them all to her office, where Leanne recounts the day’s events.
Harry’s point here is credible – after all, they witnessed Draco look at the necklace on display. Ron and Hermione’s refusal to believe evil of Draco stems partly from fair-mindedness but also from an unwillingness to believe that the fight against the Death Eaters has escalated enough to involve people they know.
Harry asks to see Dumbledore, but as the professor is away, he’s forced to confide his suspicions about Draco to McGonagall, who asks him what proof he has. When he admits that he didn’t see Draco enter or leave Borgin and Burke’s with any suspicious packages, McGonagall sternly warns against “pointing the finger of blame” without evidence. Besides, she said, Malfoy was doing detention with her during the Hogsmeade excursion.
McGonagall’s refusal to entertain these theories, even though she dislikes Draco personally, sets her apart from Snape (who takes any chance to punish students outside his house) and teaches Harry an important lesson about not letting his personal biases inform the moral judgments he makes.
Although he’s annoyed at Ron and Hermione for refusing to back him up, Harry eagerly joins in as they discuss whom the necklace was meant for. Harry suggests that someone was targeting Slughorn, who has refused to join the Death Eaters, but Hermione worries that it was meant for Harry. Ron and Hermione conclude that the whole plan wasn’t very well thought-out – after all, the necklace didn’t even make it inside the castle. But when Harry points out that such thinking is characteristic of Draco, the others ignore him.
The fact that Harry could be a target of the Death Eaters within Hogwarts itself escalates his existing sense of unease and danger. Dumbledore is preparing Harry to actively combat Voldemort in the future, but it seems like this fight is coming to him before he’s ready to face it.