Chapter 11 of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: Hermione's Helping Hand
Classes continue with students still trying to learn wordless spells, not only in Defence Against the Dark Arts, but in Charms and Transfiguration. Hagrid has been ignoring Harry, Ron, and Hermione, apparently because they are not taking his Care of Magical Creatures class, so Harry resolves to visit him.
Harry schedules Quidditch trials to select a new team. In attempting to explain why so many have signed up for the tryouts, Hermione offhandedly remarks to Harry that he has "never been more fanciable," and that, "it doesn't hurt that you've grown about a foot over the summer." Apparently it is Harry who is popular, rather than Quidditch. Hermione ignores Ron's comment that he is tall.
Harry and Ron's new Potions books arrive. Wanting to keep the Prince's notes, Harry removes and swaps the books' covers, then re-attaches them. The tattered-looking book, now pristine inside, can be returned to Professor Slughorn.
Dumbledore has been absent since his and Harry's private lesson. As general fear spreads throughout the wizarding population, Eloise Midgeon's parents remove her from Hogwarts, concerned about her safety. Also, Hannah Abbott's mother had been found dead.
The Trio head to the Quidditch pitch for try-outs, passing Parvati and Lavender, who smiles at Ron. When he smiles back, Hermione becomes cold and distant. The trials are a bit of a fiasco; Harry has to start by dismissing a gaggle who are apparently only present to get a look at him. Lavender wishes Ron luck as he flies up for his trial. Hearing this, Hermione later praises Ron for playing brilliantly, pleasing Ron but frustrating Lavender. Harry chooses Katie Bell, Ginny and a new player named Demelza Robins as Chasers, Jimmy Peakes and Ritchie Coote as Beaters. Ron is the new Keeper, much to Cormac McLaggen's dismay. While walking to Hagrid's hut, Ron mentions that McLaggen looked Confunded during the last goal shot; unnoticed by Ron, Hermione blushes.
The talk with Hagrid is awkward, as he appears distant and grumpy with them, but he and the Trio make up after Hagrid confides the real cause of his mood: that Aragog may be dying, and they tell him (untruthfully) that Professor Grubbly-Plank is an awful teacher. Hagrid thinks they might have fit in his class using Time-Turners, but Hermione says they were all destroyed in the battle at the Ministry.
Returning to the castle, they spot Cormac McLaggen attempting to negotiate the front steps and running into the doors. Pulling Hermione aside, Harry says Cormac looks Confunded. Hermione admits she Confunded him, defensively claiming he made horrible remarks about Ron and Ginny, and his temper would cause problems on the team.
Professor Slughorn invites Harry and Hermione to "a little party, just a few rising stars," while ignoring Ron. Harry declines, citing his detention, but Slughorn says he will ask Professor Snape to excuse him.
The Evening Prophet reports that Arthur Weasley searched the Malfoy residence for suspicious magical objects but found nothing. Hermione insists that Draco could not have smuggled an item into Hogwarts because everything was checked by Dark Detectors. Ron, meanwhile, stares at Lavender Brown, while Harry receives a message from Professor Snape saying he is expected for detention, no matter how many parties he has been invited to.
Hogwarts remains a relatively safe environment, and students have mostly been shielded from the increasingly violent events unfolding in the general wizarding population. However, as attacks increase, readers can see how fear and insecurity have seeped into the castle, creating concerns about safety, to the extent that some parents have removed their children from school. Adding to this, Dumbledore, a symbol of strength, protection, and stability to students and staff alike, is often gone now, and his absences are likely contributing to everyone's stress and concerns, as well as fostering rumors regarding Voldemort and his Death Eaters. Whatever Dumbledore is doing, he probably realizes that his frequent absences particularly affect Harry, and this may be why he re-emphasizes how important friendship and unity are. He encourages Harry to share whatever he learns with Ron and Hermione, knowing they will help protect and support Harry.
Harry is also gaining a clearer picture about the Ministry of Magic and their deceptive tactics. When Stan Shunpike is arrested as a Death Eater, Harry knows he is most likely innocent – Harry has seen Stan's tendency to over-dramatize earlier, and believes Stan was claiming knowledge he didn't have in order to impress someone. Unable to apprehend real Death Eaters, Scrimgeour instead arrests easy-to-target victims like Shunpike as a means to appease the wizarding community's fears about Voldemort and to shine a more positive light on the Ministry.
Meanwhile, Hermione is acting out-of-character by Confunding Cormac McLaggen during the Quidditch trials to help Ron. As she has done before, Hermione will break rules if she feels it is justified. Readers may believe that Harry is also bending rules and using favoritism to select Ron over a stronger player like McLaggen. Harry believes that if Ron can overcome his insecurities, he has the potential to become a talented athlete like his siblings. He also probably realizes that Ron's personality is suited to the team, unlike the egotistical McLaggen, who most likely would create turmoil by challenging Harry's authority. Without Hermione's unsolicited help, Harry might have had difficulty justifying choosing Ron over Cormac.
Despite Hermione's helping Ron, their relationship remains strained. Their mutual jealousy may indicate each has deeper feelings for the other than either will acknowledge. Events during the Yule Ball two years earlier showed that Hermione knows her feelings better than Ron, and understands Ron's feelings more than he does. Ron struggled with jealousy when Hermione dated Viktor Krum, and was angry and upset when he learned she was still writing to Viktor, though he never fully understood exactly what those emotions were. The circumstances seem reversed here when someone becomes interested in Ron. Hermione may be remaining silent because, given that Ron is not entirely aware of the feelings he has for her, she is uncertain what his reaction might be.
Students are also studying more advanced magic, and casting wordless spells is apparently difficult to learn. Being able to cast spells without your opponent knowing what they are is clearly an essential skill for an Auror. Harry struggles to master the technique, but if he is unable to learn this, his future career as an Auror could be affected.
Harry continues to avoid Slughorn's invitations, and we sense he seems somewhat pleased that Snape's detention gives him a plausible excuse to skip Slughorn's party. And while Ron probably has no real desire to attend Slughorn's get-togethers, his being slighted only adds to his continuing feelings of inferiority to Harry and Hermione. It can't have escaped Ron that even Ginny has gained Slughorn's notice.
The note about Arthur Weasley searching Malfoy Manor is related to the task Harry believes Draco has been given by Voldemort. The conversation the Trio overheard at Borgin and Burkes has left Harry believing that this involves some sort of Dark artifact at the school, and he seems to have been able to at least somewhat convince Arthur Weasley of this. We don't yet know why Arthur failed to turn up anything.
- Why are wordless spells important? Why does Harry have difficulty learning them?
- What does Harry think is the real reason the Ministry of Magic arrested Stan Shunpike? Is he right?
- Did Ron deserve to be chosen for the Quidditch team over Cormac McLaggen, who is a stronger athlete? What was Harry's reasoning?
- Why does Professor Slughorn invite Harry and Hermione to his party, but not Ron?
- Why does Hermione help Ron at the Quidditch trials, even though she is upset with him?
- Are parents justified in removing their children from Hogwarts? What evidence is there for this?
- Why is Professor Dumbledore so frequently absent from Hogwarts? How is this affecting the school?
Harry feels the Ministry has swung too far in the opposite direction. From Fudge's ineffectual denial there was ever a threat, Scrimgeour now attempts to make it appear that the Ministry is taking action against the renascent Death Eaters. Twice Scrimgeour will brace Harry directly, seeking "The Chosen One's" support for current Ministry policies. Near Christmas, he offers Harry a position in the Auror branch of the Ministry in return for Harry being frequently seen entering the Ministry. When Harry asks if Stan Shunpike has been released yet, Scrimgeour avoids answering directly; seemingly because of this evasion, Harry turns him down. When Scrimgeour repeats his offer in May, the conversation will be remarkably similar.
Aragog's ill health plays an important plot point later on. Professor Slughorn was at Hogwarts when Tom Riddle was a student, and he was present at an event that will prove to be important to Dumbledore's mission. As this event casts Slughorn in a bad light, he has given Dumbledore an altered memory. Aragog's death provides an opportunity for Harry to catch Slughorn off his guard sufficiently that he is persuaded to yield the true memory.
When Cormac substitutes for Ron in one Quidditch match, it results in Harry being sent to the Hospital Wing with a broken skull, and one of Gryffindor's worst Quidditch defeats ever. While this is a minor event, it does show Harry's increasing ability to judge character. Harry is initially reluctant to place McLaggen on the team, but had few grounds to select Ron over Cormac except for his feelings about Cormac and his erratic performance at the trials, which he correctly suspects Hermione tampered with. The one time Cormac does play on the team, Harry's gut feelings about him are confirmed.
As mentioned in the article on Time-Turners, it is necessary that they be destroyed as they are simply too useful. A wizard without scruples, like Voldemort, could use a Time-Turner to replicate himself multiple times over, thus making a virtual army of himself. Harry would stand little chance when faced with twenty Voldemorts... and being effectively in charge of the Ministry from behind the scenes, as he will be in the final book, Voldemort would have unfettered access to any remaining Time-Turners. Their destruction thus becomes necessary for the plot.
Harry will spend considerable energy avoiding Slughorn's soirées, deliberately scheduling Quidditch practices to conflict with them, and he will be pleased that, at least once, Dumbledore's lessons take precedence over a Slug Club party. Despite oft-repeated invitations, Harry only attends Slughorn's Christmas party.
The object that Malfoy is trying to repair was never at Malfoy Manor because it is at the school; and if it had been carried into the school, Dark Detectors would not have picked it up because it is not a Dark artifact. It is a Vanishing Cabinet, one of a pair, which Peeves had damaged some years before. Draco has hidden it and is attempting to repair it as a portal for Death Eaters to invade the school. The other part of the pair is likely still located at Borgin and Burkes, so searches of Malfoy manor are unlikely to turn it up.
It is never mentioned exactly what Dumbledore is doing in his extended absences, but it appears that he is involved in research into Tom Riddle's early life, in order to find weak spots in the armour of the boy who became Voldemort. Dumbledore is apparently specifically looking for clues that will point to the location of Horcruxes, as he is aware of two and believes there are more, but this is never explicitly confirmed.
Except for the ongoing plot of this book, this chapter is relatively devoid of connections. There are two recurring characters, Stan Shunpike and Aragog, who make one of their infrequent reappearances, but we generally don't treat characters as connections. And while Arthur Weasley's searching Malfoy Manor is related to the existence of the vanishing cabinets, that particular story arc is not explicit here.