The Harry Potter Reread is thinking about buying a humidifier, but it’s worried that the dog might try to eat it. Also, it’s not sure if a hot or cold one is better.
We’re going to spend some time in an orphanage and maybe cheat at sports! It’s chapters 13 and 14 of The Half-Blood Prince: The Secret Riddle and Felix Felicis.
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 13—The Secret Riddle
News spreads in the school about Katie’s incident as she’s moved to St. Mungo’s for treatment. Harry goes to Dumbledore’s office for his next lesson and asks after her; Dumbledore informs him that she’s not doing well, but that she was quite lucky that the necklace only touched her through a small whole in her glove, preventing instant death. Professor Snape treated her to prevent the curse from spreading, and now she’s at the hospital. When Harry asks why Snape was allowed to treat her instead of Madam Pomfrey, Dumbledore tells him it’s because Snape knows far more about the Dark Arts. (Phineas’ portrait thinks Harry is impertinent for even asking such a question.) Harry tries to ask where Dumbledore was over the weekend, but he insists that he will tell Harry everything later on. They talk about the run-in with Mundungus—Albus promises Harry that he will not make off with anymore of Sirius’ family heirlooms—and then Harry asks if McGonagall told Dumbledore about his suspicions regarding Draco. Dumbledore promises to investigate every avenue dealing with Katie’s accident and starts their lesson.
He picks up Tom Riddle’s story where they left off, after Riddle Sr. left Merope in London, which Dumbledore knows due to evidence from Caractacus Burke (of Borgin and Burkes). Harry observes a Pensieve testament from Burke, who talks of Merope coming to the shop and trying to sell Slytherin’s locket. She was far along in her pregnancy, and had no idea how much the locket was worth. He gave her only ten Galleons for it. Dumbledore believes that Merope stopped using magic following Riddle’s departure, and would not attempt to save herself even at the end of her life. Harry is surprised by this, and Dumbledore asks if he’s feeling sorry for Voldemort, which Harry is quick to dismiss, asking if Merope had a choice to live. Dumbledore reminds Harry that though she had an infant to care for, she was weak from a life of suffering. They head into one of his memories, landing on a street where a much younger Albus is attracting stares due to his plum velvet suit.
The two follow younger Dumbledore into an orphanage, where Dumbledore asks to see the woman in charge, Mrs. Cole. They go to her office, and he proceeds to question her about Tom Riddle, offering him a place at Hogwarts. When Mrs. Cole is suspicious, Dumbledore casts a charm on her and begins plying her with gin (which she is very good at drinking). He asks about Tom’s family, and she tells him that Tom was born in the orphanage on New Year’s Eve, his mother dying an hour after the birth and telling them what she wanted the boy to be named. Tom has been there ever since. Mrs. Cole claims that he’s a funny child, was even from the start, but won’t continue until Dumbledore promises that he will be going to Hogwarts no matter what she reveals. When he does, she confides that he frightens the other kids in the orphanage, but they never have luck catching him when he bullies the kids. She mentions a boy who blamed Tom for the hanging of his rabbit after they fought. Two other children went into a cave with Tom during a countryside trip and came back changed. Dumbledore makes it clear that Tom would have to return to the orphanage every summer, and Mrs. Cole takes him to meet the boy.
Tom Riddle looks like a miniature version of his father. He’s supremely suspicious of Dumbledore, sure that he’s been brought in to take him away to an asylum, even as Dumbledore tries to explain Hogwarts to him. It’s not until he says the word “magic” that Tom gives pause. He asks if what he can do is magic, and Dumbledore asks what those things are. Tom tells him that he can make things move with his mind, that he can make animals do what he wants, that he can hurt people who annoy him. He tells Dumbledore that he always knew he was special, different from the rest. He commands Dumbledore to prove that he is magical as well, but Dumbledore insists that Tom refer to him politely, by “professor” or “sir” if he plans to attend Hogwarts. Tom’s demeanor changes, and he becomes instantly cordial. He asks again for a demonstration, and Dumbledore sets the wardrobe in Tom’s room on fire, then puts it out. Tom asks about getting a wand, but Dumbledore points out a rattling sound instead; something that wants out of his wardrobe. Tom looks scared, and fishes out a box that is shaking. Dumbledore asks if there is anything in the box that he should not have, and Tom answers in the affirmative.
There are a few items in the box that finally calm once it is open: a yo-yo, a thimble, a mouth organ. Dumbledore tells Tom that he must return them to their owners before leaving, and that he will know if Tom has not done so. He tells him that he cannot be a thief at school, and that he will not be able to use magic the way he has in the past once he begins his attendance. He tells Tom that the wizarding world has rules he must abide by. Tom’s face is unreadable during this explanation, but he agrees. Dumbledore tells him there is a fund available to students who require assistance, so he can get his robes and materials. He offers to accompany him, but Tom wants to go on his own, so Dumbledore gives him instructions on how to get to Diagon Alley, and hands him his supply list, train ticket, and acceptance letter. Before Dumbledore leaves, Tom tells him that he can talk to snakes and he wants to know if it’s a normal thing for a wizard to do. Dumbledore gives brief pause before telling him that it’s not common, but not unheard of either. Then Harry and present-day Dumbledore leave the memory.
Before they end their lesson, Dumbledore calls Harry’s attention to three important aspects of it: (1) Tom despised his own name for being common, hated anything that made him ordinary. (2) Tom was self-sufficient even as a child, kept his thoughts and feelings a secret, didn’t set much store by friends. (3) Tom collected trophies from the children he abused, reminders of nasty magic he used against them. Before leaving the office, Harry’s eyes go to the table where he had seen Marvolo’s ring last time, and he comments to Dumbledore that he had expected to see the mouth organ Tom stole on the table for this lesson. Dumbledore smiles and replies:
“Very astute, Harry, but the mouth organ was only ever a mouth organ.”
At this point, we have to figure the Dumbledore has figured out exactly what’s going on with Draco, and just has to let the thing run its course. He still won’t tell Harry about his frequent sojourns outside the school, and I’m actually coming around to Albus’ way of thinking following this chapter. Explaining the ultimate quest is important, but if Harry becomes too goal-oriented, he’s going to turn deaf ear to the rest of the lessons and start pressing for a more active resolution. It’s relevant also that Albus takes time between these lessons, giving Harry a chance to fully absorb each vital piece before moving on. So again we come back to Merope Gaunt, who cuts herself off from magic once more due a different kind of abuse: abandonment. Dumbledore is quick to point out that while she did not attempt to keep going for the sake of her son, she was a victim who suffered her whole life, unlike Harry’s mother. It’s a scathing jab on Rowling’s part; in a series that is quick to celebrate motherhood in so many forms, a clear commentary can be drawn in regard to people and societies who would neglect a woman in Merope’s position, or even worse (in Burke’s case), take advantage of her.
I am going to break from this very serious commentary to give a moment for Dumbledore’s rocking plum velvet suit, of which I could find only one artistic rendering (from TomScribble on DeviantArt) that I love very much:
It seems unlikely that Albus couldn’t blend in with Muggles if he really cared to, which makes me wonder if the apparel choice isn’t down to Dumbledore wanting to wear something fabulous as a gay man. Just let me dream.
We get the measure of the orphanage where Tom grows up, and while it’s not a fun, bright place, it’s certainly not a Dickensian nightmare either—the people who work there seem to care for the children’s welfare, even if they are at their wits end about it. There’s no abundance, but no one is cold or hungry or ignored. All the same, this introduction to little Tom Riddle (and doesn’t that sound like a terrifying nursery rhyme) and his upbringing is chilling. Speaking as a person who has no degree in psychology, the armchair analysis still seems to point toward sociopathy. He has a developed narcissistic sense (believing that he’s special, better than others), an ability to instantly switch gears when his tactics don’t work (his abrupt shift to politeness when he realizes that Dumbledore won’t respond to anything less), has no want for companionship (he has no friends and frequently hurts the other children), and he’s expertly manipulative (currently through the use of magic, though it seems likely that he had other tactics before his power manifested).
Every time he uses his “magic interrogation voice” I’m put in mind of the Bene Gesserit of the Dune series, since they have a very similar power. This tactic was probably his first step on the road to Legilimancy; he began by asking for the truth, then moved on to taking it straight from the person’s mind. We can see the process Tom goes through, how calculated he is in this opening conversation: he’s starts off imperious, trying to throw his weight around. Once he realizes that his powers won’t work on Albus and the man won’t be bullied, he recalibrates and comes back polite and distant. Then, when Dumbledore has found out some of the more unsavory aspects of his person, he tries to make himself seem more singular by bringing up the Parseltongue ability.
A horribly creepy aside: what the hell did Tom do to those kids who went into the cave with him out in the countryside and came back “changed”? I mean, the possibilities are horrific and endless, and I’m not inclined to linger, but it permanently affected those children.
But the thing that I find the most unsettling? Chances are, you’ve met someone like Tom Riddle. More than once, even. We encounter them on a daily basis, the callous disregard, the overblown sense of importance, the manipulative discourse. When those people have enough charisma (and they often do), they can do untold amounts of damage. We can tell from this exchange that Dumbledore sees this in Tom. No, he’s not prepared to swear up and down that the kid is going to become the most powerful Dark Wizard of an age, but you can’t so early on. Some kids take time to learn empathy and grow out of those traits.
And others become the Lord Voldemorts of the world.
One key bit in this conversation: Tom assumes that his father must be the magical one out of his parents because his mother died and magical people shouldn’t, according to him. Right here we find the roots of his obsession with cheating death—in Tom’s mind, someone with the kind of powers he possesses should be able to sidestep such a thing. It’s tied to his sense of superiority, yes, but could it also be tied up in a twisted desire to do what he believed his mother should have been able to do after giving birth to him? I think it’s pretty likely. And that’s… sad. In just a normal human way.
Dumbledore gives Harry his Three Things to Notice About Voldemort, and Harry makes the comment about expecting to see the mouth organ in the office, which leads to that great quote above. It’s a clever way of alluding to horcruxes without spelling it out. The first trophies Tom Riddle took were merely objects—eventually, they will become something far worse.
Chapter 14—Felix Felicis
Harry tells Ron and Hermione about the lesson the next day in Herbology. Ron can’t figure out why these lessons are helpful, but Hermione thinks that it makes sense to learn as much as possible about Voldemort to find his weaknesses. Harry asks about the latest Slug Club party, and Hermione says that he drones on and loves McLaggen a bit too much, but that the food is good, and he introduced them to Gwenog Jones. Professor Sprout gives them flak for talking and the trio get to work prying pods from Snargaluff stumps. Hermione tells Harry that he won’t be able to miss the next one (a Christmas party) because Slughorn asked her to check his free days. Ron loses one of the pods during this conversation, and Harry goes to retrieve it. By the time he gets back Ron and Hermione are having a tiff over the party, Ron suggesting that Hermione hook up with McLaggen. Hermione tells Ron that she had planned to bring him as her guest, but seeing as he thought it was stupid and would rather that she hooked up with McLaggen… and Ron admits that he wouldn’t rather she did that. Harry tries to work loudly to avoid hearing their conversation, but that doesn’t work out. Finally, he breaks a bowl, and they remember he’s nearby, both looking flustered and embarrassed. (Though Ron is rather pleased too.)
Harry has a moment to think on it—he has long-suspected that this sort of thing might happen between Ron and Hermione, but he’s worried about the potential fallout either way. If they break up, it could ruin their friendships, and if they don’t, he could become a third wheel. He watches them more closely, but nothing seems to change besides their level of politeness, so he figures he’ll have to wait and see what goes down during the party. With Katie gone, he has to replace another Chaser, so he corners Dean after Transfiguration and asks him. Dean is pleased—Seamus Finnigan is not, and soon the whole House is talking about Harry picking another player from his year to be on the team. Harry figures he’s dealt with worse mutters from classmates, and is pleased with Dean in practice. In fact, he’s pleased with the whole team except for Ron, whose nerves are getting to him again. Ginny scores several goals against him, and Ron becomes so erratic that he punches Demelza Robins in the mouth. Ginny gives him hell for it, and Harry faux-scolds her for going all Quidditch captain on her brother when it’s technically his job. The practice is terrible overall after that, but Harry keeps it upbeat and tries to get Ron’s confidence up.
As they’re heading back to the common room, they come across Dean and Ginny kissing, and Harry’s internal monologue sudden goes berserk with thoughts of blood and claws and scales, so he’s clearly not pleased. Ron is also upset, and Ginny sends Dean away to have a word with Ron. She tells him off for essentially trying to slut-shame her, then points out that Ron has never been snogged in his life and would probably mind less if he got to it. They both have their wands out, and Harry tries to get between them. Ginny keeps it up, pointing out that Hermione has kissed Victor and Harry kissed Cho, and he’s the only one who’s behind the curve. She stalks off near to tears, and Ron is livid. Harry tries to tell himself that he was only upset because Ginny is Ron’s sister and promptly has an unbidden fantasy about kissing her himself, which is quickly usurped by visions of Ron trying to murder him. Ron asks Harry if he thinks Hermione really did make out with Viktor, and while Harry doesn’t answer, Ron realizes that he’s sure she did. That night Harry lays awake trying to convince himself that his feelings for Ginny are brotherly, and when that starts to seem unlikely, he simply decides that she’s off-limits due to the potential of ruining his friendship with Ron over it.
The next day Ron is ignoring Ginny and Dean, and horribly cruel to Hermione (who has no idea where the behavior is coming from). The attitude does not abate after a few days, and it makes his Keeper skills worse, as he becomes aggressive and yells at his teammates even as they get every single goal past him. Harry threatens to take Ron off the team if he doesn’t change the way he’s acting, and Ron decides that he’ll play the upcoming game since Harry doesn’t have time to replace him—but if they lose that game he’s resigning. Harry tries various tactics to make Ron buck up, but nothing works. He has a sudden spark of inspiration before bed and at breakfast, he slips something into Ron’s drink before handing it to him. Hermione notices and calls Harry on it, but he won’t admit to it; Hermione clearly thinks it’s the Felix Felicis. Once they reach the locker rooms, Ginny informs Harry that one of the Slytherin Chasers is too sore to play, and that Malfoy is sick. Ron thinks that the both occurrences are strangely lucky, and it suddenly occurs to him that Felix might be involved as well. Harry does nothing to dispel his inkling.
They begin the game, and the announcer is now Zacharias Smith, who takes great pains to make the Gryffindors look bad, suggesting that Harry’s team is built on favoritism. He shuts up once the team starts killing it during the match, with Ron making excellent saves and Ginny scoring an abundance of points. The sub-in Slytherin Seeker—a boy named Harper—deliberately checks Harry when Madam Hooch’s back is turned, making a nasty comment about Ron. Harper sees the Snitch and rushes after it, but while Harry is chasing him, he asks him how much Malfoy paid him to play the game in his stead. It causes Harper to give pause and Harry catches the Snitch. As the crowd goes nuts, Ginny “accidentally” crashes into the commenter podium, claiming she forgot to brake. Post-match, Hermione confronts Harry and Ron in the locker room to scold Harry for what he’s done. He tells them the truth: he never put the potion in, he just wanted Ron to think he had to boost his confidence. Ron is astounded, but then turns on Hermione for thinking that he couldn’t do the job without the potion. He leaves, and Hermione refuses to go to the post-match party, tired of Ron being so unkind to her. Harry is confused, thinking that his plan was supposed to bring Ron and Hermione back together.
When he gets back to the common room he is cornered by various Gryffindors, and then runs into Ginny, who calls Ron a hypocrite and points to where he’s snogging Lavender Brown. Harry spots Hermione enter and then leave the common room, and rushes after her, finding her in the first unlocked classroom he comes across. Hermione has a ring of canaries zooming around her head, and claims that she just left for a bit of practice. Then she mentions Ron’s enjoyment of the party, and Ron and Lavender choose that precise moment to enter the same classroom. Lavender ducks out while Ron tries to pretend that nothing is out of the ordinary. Hermione tells him not to keep Lavender waiting and starts to retreat, but before she leaves the room, she sends the flock of birds she conjured into attack mode and they descend on Ron. Harry is fairly sure that he hears Hermione sob before she slams the door in her wake.
Hermione hits the nail on the head pretty quickly, understanding that Harry’s lessons are about learning how to defeat Voldemort by knowing him. Though she describes it as learning his “weaknesses,” which isn’t precisely true. It’s more knowing the in and outs of your opponent, everything that makes them up. More comprehensive than a list of weaknesses.
Their Herbology lesson is such a amazing backdrop to everything going on. This bit in particular:
“Anyway,” said Hermione, continuing their interrupted conversation as though a lump of wood had not just attacked them […]
This is going to be a place where people diverge because plenty of fans hate all the romance stuff, and I just love it, okay? It’s funny and it’s nice have a change of stakes in the middle of an active war. What’s more, I love the subtlety of how Rowling brings it up on Harry’s end; Ron and Hermione have had this dance going for years at this point, but Harry’s internal monologue has never acknowledged it. When he finally does, we learn that he’s always sort of known it was coming, he just chose not to actively think about because it wasn’t affecting the present. But it’s sweet, and his concern over how their relationships will all change if his two best friends start dating is realistic and kind. In fact, he spends much of this chapter trying to mend things between them (which we’ll get to in a bit).
This entire chapter is full of perfect visuals. Here’s another, after Harry is left in the classroom with Seamus, who’s ticked off that Dean got picked as the new Chaser over him:
He sprinted out of the room, leaving Harry and Seamus alone together, an uncomfortable moment made no easier when a bird dropping landed on Seamus’s head as one of Hermione’s canaries whizzed over them.
And then we get to Ginny and Dean kissing and Harry going bonkers with jealousy (while being hilariously surprised by that emotion). The metaphors are clunky, but he’s a teenager, so I’ll cut him some slack. But here is where I part company with Ron until he pulls his head out of his butt because HE IS SUCH A JERK IN THIS CHAPTER, I JUST WANNA SMACK HIM. I kinda want to pull the whole Weasley family into this and society at large, because Ron’s concern that people will think his sister is a “loose woman” or whatever the hell you wanna call it is down to his lack of experience, but also down to being taught that a “loose woman” is a thing in the first place, and moreover, a thing that your sister should be ashamed to be. She’s just kissing a dude. I get that it’s awkward, but it’s also not a place where he gets to have an opinion.
So Ginny sort of flips out (and I get it because Ron having reaction in front of her boyfriend and Harry is very not okay), and she brings up Ron’s relative lack of experience, while pointing out that his close friends have that experience. We can be pretty sure that Ginny isn’t mistaken here because she and Hermione have been hanging out for years at this point, and Hermione doesn’t have many female friends to confide this sort of thing in. But Ron, oblivious Ron, actually thinks there was a chance in hell that Hermione dated Viktor Krum for half a year, and never bothered getting any action in all that time. Which is hilariously out of touch.
We’ve got poor Harry trying to force his way between them during the fight while trying to get hold of his own feelings in the matter, and I can’t help but feel the worst for him since the whole fight is a blindside to him in more ways than one. Thing is, Ginny has a valid point; on the maturity level, Ron is way behind his friends, and his little sister for that matter. But with Ron’s self-esteem issues, he takes that message to heart in the nastiest way possible. At this point, I don’t care about his self-esteem, I care that he is essentially shaming Hermione for daring to consider another guy beside him WITHOUT HER KNOWLEDGE. He’s just an assh*le to her for days for no reason he’s willing to admit. (Ron, the reason is because you’ve realized that Hermione has a measure of sexuality and you’re scared. Now grow up.)
This genius trick that Harry plays with the luck potion to pull Ron out of that self-esteem rut backfires beautifully when Ron turns it around and makes it all about Hermione not believing in him, and then hooks up with Lavender on a rebound because LET’S JUST HEAP MORE DOUBLE-STANDARDS ON THIS FIGHT WHY DON’T WE? So yeah, it hurts. It’s probably Ron’s lowest point as a character (the stuff in the next books is less petty in my opinion), and while I understand that this is actually a needed part of his development, it doesn’t stop me from wanting to throttle him.
I’m so angry that I can’t even bring myself to get into Draco’s paying someone to fly for him and stuff, so I suppose that’ll come up later. Huff.