During the next day’s Charms lesson, Harry relates the newest developments to Ron and Hermione. Ron is so impressed that he waves his wand in the air distractedly, making it snow. When he brushes the fake snow off Hermione’s shoulders Lavender bursts into angry tears. Ron admits that they split up the night before when she saw him and Hermione emerge from the dormitory. Moreover, Hermione reports that Ginny and Dean broke up after fighting about his habit of helping her through the portrait hole.
Like the new sense of responsibility Harry derives from last night’s revelations, the increasing closeness between Ron and Hermione and Ginny’s new availability are moments in which the coming-of-age process is particularly evident. However, while these hints of romance – conventional aspects of growing up – are tender and unequivocally positive, Harry is much more ambivalent about taking on Voldemort – an unprecedented task for someone so young.
For the rest of the morning both Ron and Hermione are in excellent moods and oblivious to Harry’s inner turmoil – now that Ginny’s free it seems like he could make a move, but he feels that doing so would incite Ron’s rightful anger. He’s jolted out of his reverie when he encounters Katie Bell, finally recovered, in the common room. Now that she’s back, the Quidditch team stands a chance of winning the cup; but Harry also takes her aside to ask if she can remember who gave her the cursed necklace. All she can remember from the fateful day is entering the women’s bathroom at the Three Broomsticks.
Ginny just broke up with Dean because she doesn’t like being “helped” and controlled by men. Her independent mindset should alert Harry to the fact that Ron has no business deciding who she dates. Contrasted with Ginny’s confident feminism, Harry’s inability to realize this fact emphasizes how much more emotionally mature than him she is.
Dean isn’t pleased to give up his temporary position as Chaser, but Harry is glad to see his Quidditch team back together and flying well. Apparently unfazed by her recent breakup, Ginny amuses everyone by imitating Ron and Harry; Harry sustains several Bludger injuries because he’s distracted by staring at her. Whenever he thinks about asking her out, he remembers Ron’s face when he saw her kissing Dean; but he goes out of his way to talk to her and walk home from practice with her. He even considers asking Hermione for help, but doesn’t want to deal with her self-satisfaction.
Predicting that Hermione would be “self-satisfied” should he confide in her, Harry expresses a belief that his crush is a form of weakness, which, if revealed, would expose him to the ridicule of other people. It’s interesting that he feels this way even as he sympathizes with Hermione’s obvious feelings for Ron. Even as Harry is learning to identify with other people’s problems, it’s hard for him to extend the same compassion to himself.
Besides, it’s impossible to get any time alone with Ginny. Ahead of the upcoming match with Ravenclaw, Ron constantly wants to talk strategy and the entire house is interested and tense. Due to the defeat by Hufflepuff, the team has to win by three hundred points in order to win the Championship. For Harry, success or failure in the match has become “inextricably linked” with his feelings about Ginny, making him even more stressed.
Harry’s conflation of the game and his crush gives the impression that his love life is itself a game, which he must either win or lose. This metaphor reminds the reader of the mind games Ron and Hermione played with each other all year, which gave neither of them any real satisfaction.
One day, Harry is walking to dinner alone, checking the Marauder’s Map for Draco’s location. With a start, he sees that Draco is in the sixth floor boy’s bathroom, alongside Moaning Myrtle. He remembers Myrtle’s strange comments at their last encounter and hurries down to listen outside the door. He’s shocked to see Myrtle crooning at Draco, who is leaning over a sink and crying, saying that “he’ll kill me” soon if he doesn’t succeed in his task. When Draco stands up, he sees Harry in the mirror.
While Harry has never considered Draco’s feelings or emotional vulnerability, Myrtle has given him an outlet for his feelings and thus learned more about his plans than anyone else. Showing Draco in a new light, this moment highlights the unique danger he faces and Harry’s failure to interpret or consider the emotional context of his actions.
Enraged, Draco draws his wand and the two begin fighting. Harry slips on the floor and Draco is about to use the Cruciatus curse when Harry employs the Prince’s mysterious spell, Sectumsempra. Blood starts pouring from Draco’s face and body and he falls back limply. Suddenly, Snape bursts into the room, shoves Harry aside, and bends over Draco’s body to repair the damage. He picks up the boy and takes him to the hospital room, telling Harry furiously to await him in the bathroom.
While Draco’s vulnerability was evident just a moment earlier, his willingness to use such a strong curse is suggestive of his violent nature. Although Harry is hardly in a position to appreciate the contrast now, this moment shows that people can be cruel while also suffering relatable anxiety and sadness.
Shocked at what he’s done, Harry obeys. When Snape returns, he coldly asks where Harry has learned this spell, and Harry lies that he found it in a library book. Although he tries to block his thoughts, he can tell that Snape is looking into his mind – especially when the professor orders him to retrieve all his schoolbooks. Harry runs to the dormitory and grabs Ron’s copy of the Potions textbook; then he paces before the Room of Requirement until the door opens. He finds himself in a room “like a cathedral,” filled with objects hidden over the years by Hogwarts students. Passing by the Vanishing Cabinet into which Fred and George once stuffed a prefect, Harry hides his copy of Advanced Potion-Making in an innocuous cupboard.
While Draco’s immediate resort to a terrible curse is stunning, equally so is Harry’s employment of a jinx whose result he doesn’t know. Although this moment is a culmination of the antipathy existing between the two boys it’s also indicative of their shared mindset. Both believe that the other’s flaws are so great that any action against them is justified. In a sense, Harry’s harsh moral judgments are what link him most to the people he despises.
Panting, Harry finally arrives at the bathroom and presents his book to Snape, who immediately discerns that Harry has swapped books when he sees Ron’s name inside. Snape says that Harry is “a liar and a cheat” and gives him Saturday detention for the rest of the term – notwithstanding that the Quidditch final is this weekend. When she finds out about the incident, McGonagall reprimands Harry sternly and supports Snape’s decision. By the time Harry finds Ron, Hermione, and Ginny in the common room, the whole school knows what he’s done and the rest of the Quidditch team is furious with him.
Although Snape’s punishment probably reflects his personal loathing of Harry as much as the boy’s misdeeds, McGonagall’s support of it teaches Harry an important lesson: that the misdeeds of his enemies do not justify misdeeds of his own. Like Dumbledore, she encourages him to meet cruelty not with equivalent actions but with dignity and justice.
Hermione feels vindicated, saying that the Half-Blood Prince must be a sinister character to come up with such spells. As she and Harry are arguing furiously, Ginny interrupts, pointing out that Draco was about to use an Unforgivable Curse and everyone should be glad Harry could defend himself. When the two girls start snapping at each other Ron is astonished but Harry feels “unbelievably cheerful” to be defended by Ginny.
Even though Harry knows he’s done wrong, it’s still good to have someone stick up for him no matter what – especially since, as an orphan, he hasn’t always been able to count on unconditional support. That Ginny takes on this role foreshadows that she – like her brother and other important adults – will take on this kind of familial role in Harry’s life.
However, by the time Harry arrives at detention on Saturday morning, he’s regretting his actions and desperately wishing he were on the Quidditch pitch. He finds Snape’s office piled with dusty boxes containing the records of old detentions, which Snape orders Harry to organize. He makes Harry start on the years when his father was at Hogwarts so that he can see all the detentions James received, saying sarcastically that even though his father is dead, it’s nice that “a record of [his] great achievements remains.”
No matter how much James Potter victimized Snape during their time at Hogwarts, it’s pretty appalling to see him taking his resentment out on James’ orphaned son. Snape is trying to strip away Harry’s idealized picture of his father as a brave role model, but he’s actually showing how far he himself is from being a moral example to follow.
As Harry reads through his father’s petty offenses he wonders how the match is going, especially with Ginny playing Seeker. When detention finally ends he runs up to the Gryffindor tower and opens the portrait door anxiously – to find all his friends in full celebration, having won the match. Ron waves the Quidditch Cup in the air and Ginny rushes towards Harry wearing a “hard, blazing look.” Without thinking about the consequences, Harry kisses her.
Although Harry has been overthinking his feelings for Ginny throughout the novel, when he finally resolves them it’s by discarding his preconceptions and acting from intuition. It’s also important that Ginny seems to initiate the kiss by running towards him – she demonstrates her own agency in deciding whom she wants to date and how.
After a long time, Harry and Ginny finally move apart. The whole room is silent except for a few wolf-whistles. Harry sees Dean and Romilda looking angry, but looks around until he meets Ron’s eyes. Ron seems stunned but finally gives “a tiny jerk of the head” that Harry interprets as his approval. With “the creature in his chest roaring in triumph,” Harry opens the door again and leaves Gryffindor Tower for a long walk with Ginny.
Harry’s desire for Ron’s approval contrast with the previous moment, in which he was only concerned with Ginny’s feelings and his own. Although Harry admires Ginny for her independence, he’s still not totally convinced of her agency in determining the course of her own love life.