The Harry Potter Reread isn’t going to bother you about sweaters and pumpkin spice lattes and leaves falling off trees… but it needs a caramel apple. Stat.
This week some terrible caretakers are going to get a proper telling off, and we’ll meet the new… Potions professor? It’s chapters 3 and 4 of The Half-Blood Prince—Will and Won’t and Horace Slughorn.
Index to the reread can be located here! Other Harry Potter and Potter-related pieces can be found under their appropriate tag. And of course, since we know this is a reread, all posts might contain spoilers for the entire series. If you haven’t read all the Potter books, be warned.
Chapter 3—Will and Won’t
Harry is asleep in a chair by the window of his room on Privet Drive. On his desk are a slew of newspapers, with articles detailing speculation about Voldemort’s plans and Harry’s potential role in defeating the him, the new security measures at Hogwarts, and the appointment of Scrimgeour; rumors are the Dumbledore isn’t particularly excited about his rise to power. There’s also a leaflet from the Ministry with tips on how to defend homes from dark forces. The sleeping chosen one is holding a letter from Dumbledore, which states that he plans to collect Harry on this very night at 11pm to take him to the Burrow (and also to get his aid in some task on the way that Dumbledore’s entirely vague about). Harry replied in the affirmative to the letter, but he has not packed, unable to believe that he is going to leave the Dursleys after only two weeks.
Yet as soon as the clock strikes eleven, all the lights on the street go out, and Harry bolts up to see Dumbledore coming up the garden path. He frantically begins dumping everything into his trunk as Vernon opens the door to Dumbledore; Harry hysterically realizes that he never warned the Dursleys he might be coming. He hurries downstairs to see Dumbledore invite himself in while Vernon and Petunia look on in shock. He heads into the sitting room, explaining that he has a few matters to discuss before they leave, and knock all three Dursleys onto their couch. (Harry notes that Dumbledore’s wand hand is black and shriveled up.) Dumbledore continually points out the rudeness of the Dursleys as hosts, providing refreshment to the group when they offer none. The Dursleys refuse to take the magically proffered glasses, which means that they are continually thumped in the head by them as they float nearby. Dumbledore starts by telling Harry that they found Sirius’ will and Harry was left everything he owned, including Grimmauld Place. Harry offers the house up to the Order—he clearly doesn’t want to keep it—but Dumbledore had the Order vacate the house, since he is reasonable sure that there are spells on it to prevent anyone but a pureblood from owning it. He is concerned that the house would then pass to Bellatrix, so they must find out if Harry is capable of owning the house before using it again.
Vernon shouts about the cups currently smacking them in the head, and Dumbledore calls them off with apologies (still pointing out that it would have been polite for them to drink the mead). He then calls Kreacher to them, pointing out that they’ll know if Harry owns the house if he can give Kreacher orders. Harry doesn’t want him, but tells the house-elf to shut up (he’s making a lot of noise about the situation), and Kreacher does as he’s told. Dumbledore suggests that Harry send Kreacher to the Hogwarts kitchens to work if he doesn’t want to keep him—that way the Hogwarts elves can keep an eye on him. Then he asks about Buckbeak (renamed Witherwings for the time being), and Harry says that he can stay with Hagrid. Dumbledore then asks if Harry is packed, guessing at the kid’s concern that he might not turn up. Once Harry has all of his things together, he comes back downstairs, and Dumbledore reveals that he has one more thing to discuss… with the Dursley family.
He tells them that Harry will come of age in a year (something that Petunia protests until Dumbledore explains that wizarding coming-of-age is seventeen rather than eighteen). He reminds them of Voldemort’s return and the state of war in the magical world. He tells them that Harry is in more danger now than when he left him on the Dursley’s doorstep as a baby with a letter. That letter explained the deaths of his family and showed hope that they might adopt Harry into their lives. Dumbledore goes on to say that they did not go according his wishes and make Harry a member of their family, that they have been cruel to him, and that the only saving grace is that they did not raise him the way they raised Dudley. Then he tells them that the protections he cast on Harry and their family (which apply because Privet Drive is the place he has called home) will extend until he is seventeen, and asks only that Harry return to their house next summer to continue the protection until he comes of age.
Dumbledore sends Harry’s things on to the Burrow after asking him to retrieve his Invisibility Cloak just in case. Then they depart.
The article in Harry’s room states that the magical community doesn’t really know for sure that the Hall of Prophecy even exists, which is messed up. It makes sense, sure, because it seems like the Department of Mysteries is kind of like the magical equivalent of the Pentagon or what-have-you. But still.
I love the fact that Rowling deliberately describes the bottom of Harry’s empty trunk and how it’s covered in broken quills and spilled ink and the rest. It’s like the bottom of every purse and suitcase you’ve ever owned. I’ve cleared out bags and found things at the bottom that have been lying there uselessly for YEARS. It just happens. I don’t understand how.
Dumbledore shows up to take Harry personally, and while I suspect I’ll get more into depth about this through these two chapters (and the entire book really), it’s important to note from this first action that we are seeing a solid 180 in terms of how Dumbledore engages with Harry. We begin with him coming to retrieve the kid personally, a way of proving to Harry that the apology at the end of last school year was genuine (even if there are ulterior motives). And we can see from Albus’ point of view that he’s right to do this, mainly because he needs Harry to fight the fight he’s been prepping him for. If Harry doesn’t feel absolute loyalty to Dumbledore and his cause, he might not make that “final sacrifice” as it were. So there’s a change here, even in the way he speaks to Harry—more like an adult, an equal. One of the most interesting aspects of this book already on a reread is trying to decide how much of Dumbledore’s actions are subtle manipulation and how much are done out of genuine affection for Harry. And I think in most cases, both factors are in play.
I know we’ve talked in this reread more than once about how literally we can take Harry’s abuse at the Dursleys hands, since the first two books deal with the family in this Dahl-esque overblown manner. But even if some of the more cartoonish elements aren’t meant to carry over, I’d say that it’s pretty clear that the harm he suffered was meant to be taken literally, even just from this sentence alone:
Harry ran down the stairs two at a time, coming to an abrupt halt several steps from the bottom, as long experience had taught him to remain out of arm’s reach of his uncle whenever possible.
Right there. If that’s not the clearest cue from someone who’s accustomed to physical abuse, I don’t know what is. I don’t necessarily think that Vernon beat the hell out of Harry, but that mode of punishment and Vernon’s quick temper, coupled with a complete lack of affection? I dunno, I think it becomes even more pronounced in these final two books how incredible it is that Harry is such a good kid. Not stupendous or genius or overly impressive. Just good.
We get a look at that injury Snape mentioned in the previous chapter, being that Dumbledore’s hand is all shriveled and burned-looking. We’ll find out later that this is the result of the ring he is currently wearing on his opposite hand. The stone in the ring is none other than the Resurrection Stone—making the ring the only item in the series to be both a Deathly Hallow and a Horcrux. After the Ministry battle, Dumbledore went looking for Horcruxes at the old Gaunt family shack (Tom Riddle’s maternal side of the family, related to Slytherin) and discovered the ring, but upon realizing that it contained the Resurrection Stone, he couldn’t resist putting it on. (We’ll get into the Dumbledore family tragedies that made this action appealing to Albus later on.) Voldemort had put a potent curse on the ring however; Dumbledore didn’t just ruin his hand, he is effectively dying, though he and Snape have slowed the process. He destroyed the ring with Gryffindor’s sword, cracking the stone and eliminating the Horcrux.
It’s so interesting to me that the passing of Grimmauld Place and Kreacher to Harry worked out. I have to assume Sirius wrote up one airtight will for all of that to actually play. So props to him, I guess. All that really matters there is that Kreacher ends up at Hogwarts where he will continue to be useful during the year. And Buckbeak is back with Hagrid! At least one good thing came out of it.
You have to appreciate that the presence of magic in the Dursley household is so horrific to them, that the look of Dumbledore’s hand is scarcely on their radar. And it’s always worth a chuckle that the family is so determined never to come into contact with said magic that they allow a trio of magic cups to beat them over their heads repeatedly rather than simply grab them. And yes, what Dumbledore is doing here is pretty mean; he’s invaded this home and is essentially bullying the whole family into silence and compliance. But I’m pretty sure that’s the point—he’s giving the Dursleys a dose of their own medicine, showing them what it feels like to be abused and ignored and silenced. And he does it all with a smile and a few gentle scoldings for rudeness.
In a way, we’ve been waiting the entire series for this—it was nice to have everyone tell the Dursleys to be kind to Harry at the end of the previous book, but no one has ever told them to their faces that they have been terrible guardians to their nephew. No one has ever taken them to task for refusing to treat him like family. With that in mind, I’d say that what Dumbledore does here is rather mild, if still satisfying.
Also, I love the fact that he serves up mead to everyone, and is like “whatever Harry, you’re sixteen, it’s booze time.” I know that butterbeer has a little alcohol in it, but mead isn’t some 1.5% kid drink.
Dumbledore mentions that he and Petunia have corresponded before, which Harry thinks is in reference to the Howler he sent last year. Of course, it could have been in reference to the letter that he left with baby Harry on their doorstep, but we’ll later find out that it’s really because Petunia wrote to him as a child, asking to be let into Hogwarts. I also think that it’s worth noting that Petunia was assumed their family got one more year of protection; she thought that Harry came of age at eighteen, same as Dudley. I get the sneaking suspicion that this conversation gave her a lot to think about in the end, and a lot to fear.
But they say their goodbyes, and then Harry and Dumbledore are stepping out into the night on the heels of one of the best quotes of the series:
“And now, Harry, let us step out into the night and pursue that flighty temptress, adventure.”
Chapter 4—Horace Slughorn
Harry feels a bit awkward hanging out with the headmaster outside of school, but Dumbledore seems fine with it. He advises Harry to keep his wand out, giving him permission to use magic if they are attacked regardless of what the laws are. (Though he highly doubts they will be attacked since he’s there.) Dumbledore then advises Harry to take his arm for Side-Along Apparition, which Harry finds he does not like in the slightest. They set out from a village square someplace else entirely and Dumbledore asks Harry about his scar. Harry admits that it hasn’t been bothering him, and Dumbledore confesses that he suspected it wouldn’t; Voldemort now knows how much access Harry has to him, and is blocking any future attempts. Harry asks where they are, and Dumbledore tells him that they’re there to persuade a former colleague out of retirement—Hogwarts is one staff member short again. Harry asks why they didn’t simply Apparate into the man’s house, but Dumbledore tells him that would be rude, and that most magical homes have charms and spells to prevent such entry.
Harry asks about Scrimgeour, and while Dumbledore won’t say that the man is good, he will say that he’s different from Fudge and won’t underestimate Voldemort. Harry asks about his injured hand, but Dumbledore insists that he won’t explain until he has enough time to relay the story. Harry also asks about the Ministry leaflet, which he didn’t get much out of. (Dumbledore teasingly tells Harry that his favorite flavor of jam is raspberry in reference to the leaflet’s suggestion for security questions.) But Harry wants to know what Inferi are. Dumbledore tells him that they are reanimated corpses; Voldemort had a lot of them at his disposal in the previous war, made up of the many people he’d killed. They arrive at their destination, a small stone house with a garden, but it’s door is hanging off the hinges. Dumbledore tells Harry to have his wand ready and they go inside to find a scene of total destruction, all the items in the house smashed to bits. Harry figures that the person who lived in the house was dragged off, but Dumbledore pokes an armchair, which precedes to yelp. The headmaster calls the armchair Horace, and Horace suddenly reverts to a bald, portly old man dressed in very fine pajamas. He asks what gave him away, and Dumbledore points out that the Dark Mark wasn’t over the house.
The two men clear up the mess together, repairing all the furniture and such. Once they’re finished, Dumbledore properly introduced Horace Slughorn to Harry. Slughorn clearly know who Harry is, and perceives that Dumbledore has brought Harry over to persuade him out of retirement. Dumbledore wheedles him into a drink while Slughorn goes on about how old and tired he is, and how he certainly can’t be called upon to teach again. Dumbledore points out that he’s older still, to which Slughorn suggests that he retire as well, pointing to his injury. Dumbledore admits he’s not as fast as he used to be and spreads his hands, and that draws Harry’s attention to a ring with a cracked black stone on it that he’s never seen Dumbledore wear before. Slughorn admits that he’s been on the run for a year, squatting in the houses of Muggles who are on holiday. He says that he’s heard about what happened with Umbridge and would never consider returning to Hogwarts if that’s what going on these days, but Dumbledore tells him that she upset the centaurs. When Harry laughs at Slughorn’s pronouncement that he never liked the woman, Dumbledore suddenly has to use the bathroom and excuses himself.
Slughorn is awkward at being left alone with Harry, but he soon launches into the spiel about who Harry looks like, then mentions that Lily was one of his favorite students. He says that he wanted her for his house; it turns out that he was Head of Slytherin back in the day. He tells Harry not to hold it against him, pointing out that houses usually run in families. That leads him to talk about Sirius, not realizing that Harry knew him quite well. He mentions that his little brother Regulus was in Slytherin, but he would have liked the family set. It occurs to Harry that he talks about the students like a collector. Slughorn expresses surprise that Lily was so good as a Muggle-born student, which irritates Harry. Slughorn insists that he’s not prejudiced and talks of all his favorite Muggle-born students. He points to his wall of signed student photos, all the influential ones who give him lots of fancy freebies—Quidditch tickets, Honeydukes candy, and the like. Harry asks him if all these people know where to find him and send him things, which brings Slughorn down; he hasn’t been in touch for a year, so no care packages for him. Still, he won’t return to Hogwarts, fearing that his employment would make it seem as though he was in league with the Order of the Phoenix. (He has no problems with their work, just with dying.) Harry’s isn’t impressed and points out that most of the teachers aren’t in the Order, and that they’re safer at the school anyhow because Voldemort is scared of Dumbledore. Slughorn mulls that one over.
Albus returns from the bathroom and tells Slughorn that he and Harry will be off, since he knows a lost cause when he sees one. Slughorn finally agrees to take the job. After they’ve left, Dumbledore thanks Harry for doing exactly what he needed—pointing out that Hogwarts was a safer place for Slughorn. He asks Harry if he likes the new professor, which brings Harry up short. Dumbledore explains to him that Slughorn had a habit of selecting students who would go on to great things, arranging them in a club of sorts where he could make introductions and forge relationships. He is warning Harry of this because he is certain that Slughorn will try to do the same to him in the coming year. They Apparate again and the Burrow is in sight, but Dumbledore asks to have a word with Harry in private before he goes. He tells Harry that he is proud of how well he has handled himself since the Ministry incident, and Harry suspects that Dumbledore knows how he has been mourning over Sirius. He admits that he realized he couldn’t shut down or lose it because he knew Sirius wouldn’t have wanted it, and he knows that the danger now is too great to waste any of his precious time. When he tells Dumbledore that he plans to take as many Death Eaters with him if he’s next, Dumbledore applauds him for living up to the memory of his family.
Then Albus tells Harry that despite the media blitz, they are the only two people who truly know what the prophecy contained. With that in mind, he advises Harry to tell Ron and Hermione about it, insisting that he needs his friends. He also tells Harry that he will be giving him private lessons this year, though he refuses to specify what they will entail. Harry is pleased to find out that this means he will not have anymore Occlumency lessons with Snape, and realizes that this means he won’t probably see Snape at all, since he’s sure he didn’t get a good enough OWL in Potion to continue the subject. Dumbledore tells him not to assume his grades before he’s seen them. He instructs Harry to keep the Invisibility Cloak on him all the time this year, even inside the school. He also requests that Harry not do anything risky while in the care of the Weasleys, for their sake. With those instructions in mind, they both enter the Burrow.
My immediate thought is just… why does Apparition have to suck so much? I mean, I guess if you literally have the ability to teleport, something should make your life harder because that’s just not fair, but it sounds awful.
Again Dumbledore is playing things close to the vest; he tells Harry that they’re recruiting a new teacher, and Harry is going to assume it’s for Defense Against the Dark Arts because that’s what it is every year. He also later tells Harry not to count Snape (or taking Potions class) out in the coming year, but doesn’t just come out and say that Slughorn is going to be the new Potions professor. There’s a funny balance act going on here where Albus is making Harry think that he’s letting him in more, but still not really telling him anything. If I were Harry, once I found out that Snape was the new DADA teacher, I’d be all Why didn’t you just tell me, dude, what the hell.
There’s a brief discussion of Inferi here, and they’re mentioned in the Ministry “protect your house” leaflet. It’s one of those conversations that lets you know that this will be important going forward, so you bookmark Inferi for later.
And here we get the best introduction of a Hogwarts teacher in the whole series because he’s disguised as a cushiony chair. Horace Slughorn is important for showing the reader an aspect of Slytherin House that we don’t come into contact with very much, because he’s not actively courting evil. (We can assume that plenty of Slytherins don’t, but they’re not the ones we generally hear about in these books.) He’s a materialist, someone who enjoys power, but not from an executive position. To a certain extent he’s harmless, a man preoccupied with status and finery and comfort. On the other hand, his desire to “collect” powerful/connected students to perpetuate his influence is creepy and smacks of the most gated kind of privilege. The fact that he’s out for no one but himself is certainly lamentable, and also a common trait of Slytherin House.
Dumbledore is clearly using Harry to court Slughorn back, but they do have a chat first where Slughorn talks about how old he is and points out Albus’ charred hand, insisting that the headmaster is losing a step too. And Albus agrees, but then says “on the other hand…” and spreads his hands apart, drawing attention to his uninjured hand where the destroyed Horcrux is, and I’m like ON THE OTHER HAND, HAHA, GOOD PUN ALBUS, I GET IT.
Dumbledore then leaves under the pretense of going to the bathroom so Harry and Slughorn can talk. It’s around here where I feel like we begin to see Harry’s more adult personality emerge, which is part of what makes the final two books so much fun to me. Harry has always been a little sassy, but now that he’s growing up and generally past his angst phase, he’s through with all of it. He’s sardonic and weary and so very done with people who waste his time. So Slughorn is all “You look like you dad except—” and Harry’s like DON’T TELL ME—DO I HAVE MY MOTHER’S EYES? IS THAT IT? WOW YOU ARE SO ORIGINAL, THANK YOU SIR, WHAT A GIFT TO BE TOLD THAT.
And then we get this:
“You mother was Muggle, born, of course. Couldn’t believe is when I found out. Thought she must have been pure-blood, she was so good.”
“One of my best friends is Muggle-born,” said Harry, “and she’s the best in our year.”
“Funny how that sometimes happens, isn’t it?” said Slughorn.
“Not really,” Harry said coldly.
HARRY POTTER AND THE TEARS OF PUREBLOOD BUFFOONS (Year Six)
And it so funny because Slughorn’s recovery is all about how he can’t possibly be prejudice because he said that Harry’s mom was one of his favorite students, and this is an exact mirror of arguments people use to justify all kinds of prejudice every day. I’m not against the LGBT community—I have a gay friend! It surprised me that this black student is so good at math—but not because I’m racist! I pal around with the checkout clerk at my grocery store, and she seems real bright for someone who never went to college! It’s annoying to hear Slughorn spout the same sort of garbage, but there’s relief in the fact that Harry’s having none of it. This will continue to be a theme in the book, which makes sense in terms of the ground we’ve already covered; Harry has seen how the social structures of the wizarding world disenfranchise certain species in the community, and this year he gets a chance to better observe how the same mode of thinking affects his dearest friends and classmates.
Albus comes out of the bathroom and confesses to reading the magazines in there, and now I’ve just got this image of Dumbledore sitting on the toilet, paging through Cosmo and chuckling to himself. I need fan art of this. I should learn to draw so I can do it myself.
Harry accidentally pointed out the one thing Slughorn feared most, and gets him to come out of retirement so he can benefit from Dumbledore’s protection. They scram and make their way to Burrow, where Dumbledore takes Harry aside into the shed and tells him that he’s proud Harry hasn’t shut down in the wake of Sirius’ death. Harry puts on the brave face and tells him that, now that he knows the prophecy, the only thing he cares about is taking down as many evil jerks as he can before he kicks it. And Dumbledore is all “Spoken like a true Potter! You go, kid!” and you wanna be all like ALBUS NO, but… that is exactly what he needs from Harry. He needs him to be ready to die for the cause, so it’s hardly any surprise that he praises him for that Gryffindor gung-ho attitude. But it’s eerie all the same, and depressing to boot.
One piece of advice he does dispense, however, is the suggestion that Ron and Hermione be let in on the prophecy deal. Which proves in my mind that Dumbledore has a much better grasp of the long game than he sometimes seems to; he knows that the trio have to see it through together, that Harry won’t be able to complete his journey alone. He encourages Harry to keep his most trusted friends closer than ever because he understands that Harry himself is only a piece of this puzzle—the trio are a unit that must function as one to win the war.