The Harry Potter Reread has a book sitting on its desk called How to Stay Sane. A coworker just dropped it off. She’s not sure what they’re trying to tell her.
We’re about to find out how Voldemort deals with relatives and watch Ron get nearly poisoned. It’s chapters 17 and 18 of The Half-Blood Prince—A Sluggish Memory and Birthday Surprises.
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 17—A Sluggish Memory
The Ministry has arranged a one-time Floo Network connection to Hogwarts, so it’s easier and safer for kids to return to school. Mrs. Weasley tearfully sees them off, and they arrive in McGonagall’s office. When the reach the Fat Lady’s portrait, it turns out that she’s changed the password to “abstinence,” as she basically went on a Christmas bender over their break. Hermione spots them, and pretends not to hear Ron when he speaks, offering Harry a note from Dumbledore that gives the time for his next lesson. Lavender launches herself at Ron when they hit the common room, and Ginny departs to see Dean, though she doesn’t sound enthused. Harry tries to ask Hermione if she’ll consider forgiving Ron, but she won’t hear of it. He tells Hermione of the conversation that he overheard between Snape and Draco, but Hermione isn’t sure Draco is a Death Eater, assuming that his “master” could be his father. Harry brings up Greyback, and Hermione points out that Draco used him as a threat against Borgin at the start of the year. Harry thinks that proves he’s a Death Eater, but Hermione is still unsure. He tells her about his run-in with Scrimgeour as well, and they trash talk the Ministry.
The next day there’s a notice for Apparition Lessons, and while Ron’s about to sign up, Lavender throws he hand over his eyes and plays the “Guess Who?” game. Ron seems to duck her, catching up to Harry quickly. Everyone is talking about Apparition, with Harry being a novelty yet again for having already experienced it alongside Dumbledore. He heads to his lesson that night and Dumbledore brings up his visit from Scrimgeour, telling him that Fudge had the idea to meet with him for the purpose first, and Scrimgeour had pushed it too once he took office. That was why the Prophet reported that they had fought. Harry tells him that Scrimgeour accused him of being Dumbledore’s man, and that he’d said he was. The admission makes Dumbledore quite emotional. He tells Harry that Scrimgeour has tried to have him followed to find out where he’s been going when he leaves school, with no success. Harry then tells him about what he heard between Snape and Draco, but Dumbledore is adamant that Harry put the exchange out of his mind, getting testy when Harry questions Snape’s loyalties yet again. Harry is furious that Dumbledore won’t take his concerns seriously, but they launch into more Voldemort stories anyway.
Dumbledore talks of Tom Riddle coming to Hogwarts, being instantly Sorted into Slytherin. He assumes that learning that Slytherin himself was a Parselmouth would have only increased Riddle’s self-importance, but that he played the part of “poor gifted orphan” well for the staff, and no one suspected his ego. Dumbledore gave him the benefit of the doubt, but never truly trusted him; Riddle in turn never turned on the charm around him, aware that he had said too much in their initial meeting. The boy gained a group of “friends,” the pre-Death Eater crowd, a group that could never be linked to the bad incidents that seemed to occur around them (including the opening of the Chamber of Secrets). After much questioning—people aren’t exactly keen to talk about the guy—Dumbledore discovered that he was obsessed with his parentage, and after doing research and realizing that his father had not been a wizard, he was forced to look into his mother’s side of the family. Through his middle name, Marvolo, he discovered the Gaunt family, and went to find them in the summer after his sixth year at Hogwarts. He comes upon Morfin, living in squalor, and finds out about Tom Riddle, the man his mother ran away with. (Morfin briefly thinks that Tom is his father and tries to attack him.) He also hears about the locket his mother had. After Morfin is done ranting about his sister, the memory goes black—Dumbledore tells Harry that Morfin didn’t remember anything after that. He woke the next morning and Marvolo’s ring was gone from his finger.
The town of Little Hangleton was in an uproar due to the murder of Tom Riddle Sr. and his parents. The Ministry knew that the killing curse had been used and Morfin was the likely suspect; he’d already been in prison for attacking Muggles before, one of the very Muggles who was killed. When they called him in for questioning, he admitted to the murder, and upon testing his wand, it was clear that it had been used in the killings. The only thing Morfin was distressed over was losing his father’s ring. He died in prison. Harry correctly assumes that Voldemort took his uncle’s wand and committed the murders himself. Dumbledore visited Morfin in prison when he started looking into Voldemort’s history and extracted the memory using very advanced Legilimancy. By the time he was able to prove to the Ministry that Morfin was innocent, the man died in prison. Harry asks why the Ministry was not able to detect Riddle’s underage magic, and Dumbledore tells him that they cannot confirm who has done the magic, only that it has been performed. The Ministry relies on magical parents to make certain that their children don’t do magic at home.
They have one more memory to get through, and this one seems reticent to fall into the Pensieve. It belongs to Professor Slughorn, at one of his Slug Club meetings back in the day. Tom Riddle is there, asking about the potential retirement of another professor. Slughorn is complimenting him on being shrewd and gaining the favor of others, but before his sentence finished, the memory goes foggy and it’s overlaid with Slughorn’s voice insisting that Tom will “go wrong, mark my words.” The fog clears and the memory continues on. He dismisses the Club, but Riddle hangs around to ask Slughorn a question: What does he know about Horcruxes? Again, the fog fills the memory, and Slughorn’s voice insists that he knows nothing and wouldn’t tell Tom a thing about them if he did. Then the memory is over, which surprises Harry. Dumbledore explains that it has been tampered with; Slughorn has clearly altered the contents, likely because he is ashamed of what the memory contains. Dumbledore tells him that it is Harry’s homework to persuade Slughorn unto telling him what really happened that night. Harry suggests truth serum or the use of Legilimancy, but Dumbledore insists that he will be expecting that and is a very able wizard. He dismisses Harry abruptly, and Phineas expresses his disbelief that Harry could do this task any better than Dumbledore.
I feel so bad for Molly, with Percy stalking out on Christmas. And I get that the twins and Ginny are being a bit callous by all laying claim to the prank that caused their brother to leave, but it’s ultimately still on Percy. He’s not actually happy to see his family, he doesn’t want to be there. And if a small part of him did, and he wasn’t prepared to deal with some teasing on his return, I’d wonder what family he thought he belonged to. (Frankly, he’s lucky that teasing is about the worst he can expect from his family, given what he did. No one is screaming at him, or demanding his apology on bended knee.)
Always loved this exchange between Harry and Molly on his way back to school:
Mrs. Weasley sobbed harder than ever as she enfolded Harry in her arms.
“Promise me you’ll look after yourself…. Stay out of trouble….”
“I always do, Mrs. Weasley,” said Harry. “I like a quiet life, you know me.”
She gave a watery chuckle and stood back. “Be good, then, all of you….”
If that’s not a son comforting his mother, I don’t know what is.
Harry is trying to convince Hermione that Draco is a Death Eater, and once she recalls that Draco had mentioned Fenrir Greyback, I’m just having a really hard time believing that no one buys Harry’s logic. Draco’s dad is a Death Eater. A war is on. Harry overheard he and Snape talking about work he had to do for “his master.” (And no, his father does not make sense in that context at all, Draco has never talked about his father as though he were master over him.) Draco clearly knows other Death Eaters, and one of the prime ones is a family friend. Like… do you need it written on a wall for you? *remembers Chamber of Secrets* Oh. Right.
We can see Ron beginning to sour on Lavender once she jumps up behind him and covers his eyes in the old “Guess Who?” game. Does anyone like that game? I’m pretty sure no one likes that game. It’s creepy and invasive, and you usually get poked in the eyes. If it’s someone you know too well, it’s boring and obvious, and if it’s someone you know less well, you often feel like an idiot for not guessing right.
Sorry, I had more personal opinions on that than I expected to….
The buzz around getting an Apparition license is clearly meant to mirror getting a driver’s license, and everyone’s obsession reads that way. Poor, Harry, though. I get that he’s the only one who can tell them about it, but he’s got plenty on his plate, Hogwarts kids. Give the chosen dude some space.
Harry gets into his Scrimgeour conversation with Dumbledore and this happens:
“He accused me of being ‘Dumbledore’s man through and through.'”
“How very rude of him.”
“I told him I was.”
Dumbledore opened his mouth to speak and then closed it again. Behind Harry, Fawkes the phoenix let out a low, soft, musical cry. To Harry’s intense embarrassment, he suddenly realized that Dumbledore’s bright blue eyes looked rather watery, and stared hastily at his own knees. When Dumbledore spoke, however, his voice was quite steady.
“I am very touched, Harry.”
And it’s so important, because Dumbledore spends the majority of this series coming off as a basically omniscient superguy, the one who gets people down to their DNA and is usually ten steps ahead in the game, but he’s still human. He doesn’t know everything. What he does know is that he’s used Harry over and over, and the kid has borne it because he’s exceptional. Having admitted to those grand machinations last year, it seems that Dumbledore assumed Harry’s disillusionment by now. And then Harry makes it plain that that’s not the case, and Albus is moved near to tears. And we need to see that because we need to be reminded of Albus Dumbledore’s humanity. We need it because once we learn of those grave mistakes he readily admits to making, we can recall that he deserves sympathy as much as anyone else in these books.
So Harry tells Dumbledore about the convo between Snape and Draco, and Dumbledore finally gets snippy with him about not believing his party line, and I feel like he mishandles this bit. He promised Snape that he would never tell anyone about the Lily Secret, but I feel like there’s a way that he could intimate just how solid his trust is in Snape without giving that away. That probably would land better for the rebellious sixteen-year-old than ‘no, I’m right about this, just shut up and agree with me.’ Interestingly, Phineas’ comment that Dumbledore has good reason to trust Snape is a pretty substantial clue that Snape’s not on Voldemort’s side; it’s not like that
portrait guy has any reason to lie, and he’s hard to get one over on.
Dumbledore gets into Tom’s time at school, and it’s wince worthy in all the ways you’d expect. I believe I’ve mentioned this before, but I really believe that Dumbledore’s reticence in trusting young Tom comes entirely from his experiences with Grindelwald. When someone manipulates you expertly and you finally come to terms with that, the walls you build up to protect yourself from being taken in again are fierce. (I say that having been there; when I was young, I had a friend who lied to me constantly. Now, my “fake friendliness” meter is one of the most acute senses I possess.) Dumbledore would recognize those false aspects of Tom’s person having fallen prey to them once before—by someone who was far more dear to him.
Morfin Gaunt’s fate is depressing in every possible way, but I’m still really confused about the underage magic gamut. It makes sense that Tom can perform the magic in the Gaunt house without being flagged because of what Dumbledore explains to Harry regarding how the Ministry tags these things. But how does that apply when he goes to kill his father and grandparents? They are not a household of magic users, so shouldn’t Tom’s use of the killing curse have been flagged by the Ministry, making it less likely that Morfin was their killer? Super confused by how this is explained away. Which makes it pretty likely that Rowling realized that loophole and only had minimal success in writing her way out of it.
Then we get Slughorn’s memory, complete with his alterations, and I have to say, I love how Rowling renders that in the Pensieve. Everything just gets smudged away, and the curse words are bleeped out. (Get it? Curse words? Ignore me.) Dumbledore gives Harry his assignment, and the lesson is over. We part on this, a rare shift from Harry’s POV to Dumbledore’s:
As he closed the study door behind him, he distinctly heard Phineas Nigellus say, “I can’t see why the boy should be able to do it better than you, Dumbledore.”
“I wouldn’t expect you to, Phineas.” replied Dumbledore, and Fawkes gave another low, musical cry.
I adore this parting exchange. It’s just… a perfect summation of what being a hero is. It’s like when people say Oh, Frodo didn’t have to be the Ring Bearer, anyone could have gotten that thing to Mordor. No. No, they couldn’t have. It had to be him. And here, Dumbledore is saying exactly that.
Chapter 18—Birthday Surprises
Harry talks to Ron and Hermione (separately) about his latest lesson with Dumbledore. Ron reckons that Slughorn will do anything for him and that he should just ask point blank. Hermione thinks that Harry should tread very carefully, figuring Horcruxes are probably very Dark Magic (though she’s never heard of them before). In Potions class, they are instructed by Slughorn to create an antidote to a poison he has given them. Hermione is smug about this; you have to understand the principles of the antidote law to do the work, so the Prince won’t help Harry this time. Sure enough, there is no advice in that section of the book, and Hermione is so good at nonverbal magic now that she’s no help to Harry or Ron. Harry flips through the book in irritation and finds the Prince’s handwriting in regard to antidotes: “Just shove a bezoar down their throats.” He recalls Snape having mentioned them in his very first lesson; a stone taken from a goat’s stomach that can protect from the majority of poisons. Harry grabs one from the cupboard, and when Slughorn reaches him at the end of their time, shows him the stone. The professor erupts with laughter and gives Gryffindor ten points for his sheer cheek.
Harry hangs back after class and decides to try his luck asking about Horcruxes. Slughorn is immediately panicked, frightened, knowing that Dumbledore has showed him the memory and asked him to do this. He won’t admit that there’s anything more to the memory and rushes from the dungeon. Ron and Hermione are both cross with him over the lesson, so they’re less than sympathetic over his failure. Harry decides to let Slughorn think he’s forgotten about the whole thing for a while. He awaits an invitation to another Slug Club party, but no one seems to be getting them lately. Hermione is furious because she can find only one (useless) mention of Horcruxes in the entire Hogwarts library. The first Apparation lessons occurs, with Draco getting scolded at the start because he’s having a hushed argument with Crabbe while the instructor is talking. Harry rushes closer to hear the fight; apparently, Draco is asking Crabbe and Goyle to keep watch for him while he does something, but he won’t tell them what it is. Harry makes a snide remake about always letting his friends in on his plans, and Draco whirls around, but the lesson begins. On their first three tries, no one manages any kind of Apparation. On the fourth, Susan Bones screams in pain, having left her leg behind. She is immediately fixed, and they return to practice, but nothing else happens for the rest of the lesson.
Harry decides to keep tabs on Malfoy, looking for him on the Marauder’s Map. He has no luck for several weeks. At times it’s not possible to locate Malfoy on the Map, but Harry figures he can’t be leaving the school and that he’s just lost in seas of other student names. The next Hogsmeade trip is cancelled (due to the incident with Katie Bell and more disappearances), and Ron is upset because it was going to be on his birthday. Apparation lessons are slow-going, though more people have succeeded in splinching themselves. The morning of Ron’s birthday, he gets some lovely presents (it’s his coming of age year), including a box of Chocolate Cauldrons which he proceeds to eat a bunch of. Harry can’t find Draco on the Marauder’s Map at all, so he goes to head down to breakfast, but Ron suddenly breaks down and admits that he can’t stop thinking about “her.” Harry assumes he means Lavender—though he is shocked by such a confession—but it comes clear that Ron is talking about Romilda Vane. Harry thinks it’s a joke, but when he suggests as much, Ron punches him in the head. Harry realizes that he threw Romilda’s love-potion-spiked Chocolate Cauldrons out of his trunk when he went rummaging for the Marauder’s Map, and Ron thought they were a birthday present and scooped them up.
He decides to do the right thing (though he’s still pissed from being punched) and pretends that he’s going to take Ron to meet her, instead taking him to Slughorn’s office. Harry makes excuses, telling the professor that he can’t take Ron to Madam Pomfrey because then he’ll have to answer lots of uncomfortable questions about Weasley products, and he can’t make the antidote himself because he’s never made one for a love potion before. (Slughorn notes that love potions can get stronger when they’re not fresh, which explains how loopy Ron is.) Harry keeps Ron occupied and Slughorn whips up the antidote, giving it to Ron, who gains a look of horror. Slughorn breaks out the booze to celebrate, and Harry wonders if he might not be able to convince Slughorn to answer the Horcrux question now, with the application of mead. But Ron tosses back his liquor, and Harry suddenly realizes that something is horribly wrong. Ron begins to have something akin to a seizure; Harry asks Slughorn to do something, but the man is frozen to the spot. Harry goes into his bag and grabs a bezoar, feeding it to Ron, who promptly collapses.
Okay, first off, WHAT THE HELL IS THAT POTIONS LAW. Is everything in Potions written up in such a convoluted way, because if so, I can’t blame anyone for sucking at that subject. That was one of the most atrociously worded explanations I’ve ever read. Just, what. Go home, Potions, you’re supposed to be the subject for logical wizards, learn how to write a sentence. You can poison people, English shouldn’t be so hard.
I do love Harry’s cheeky solution, and am also impressed by his ability to recall something Snape said on his first day on classes six years back. But Hermione was completely right in her warning to Harry; there was no way that the casual approach was ever going to work on Slughorn, he’s a super self-protective, skittish guy.
We get to the first Apparation lesson, and Draco is spending it in the corner, quietly trying to keep his life together. Harry is the worst at playing it cool, and actually lets Draco know he’s onto him by calling him out, because I dunno, it’s fun to let your enemies know that you’re tracking their every move. We’re lucky that Draco doesn’t consider Harry to be much of a threat. We get our biggest clue when Harry has trouble finding Draco on the Marauder’s Map sometimes. We know the Map doesn’t lie, but Harry assumes he’s just failing to spot Draco. He’s not, of course, and Crabbe and Goyle are keeping guard for him when they just appear to be standing around together, while Draco messes with the Vanishing Cabinet.
On a complete aside, this random bit is one of my favorite Peeves moments of the entire series:
They were temporarily detained by Peeves, who had jammed a door on the fourth floor shut and was refusing to let anyone pass until they set fire to their own pants, but Harry and Ron simply turned back and took one of their trusted shortcuts.
Of course, poor Neville falls victim and does, in fact, incinerate his pants. (Wait, is this trousers in the UK version? Is Peeves telling people to set their trousers on fire, or their underwear?)
When we move on in Apparation class, we find that splinching yourself while you learn is a common part of the process, and again I’m struck by how common extreme pain is for the wizarding world. I just have to assume that magical people have the ability to mentally bounce back from these things in a way that Muggles cannot, otherwise all magical would probably have extreme PTSD just from physical accidents.
Poor Ron’s birthday takes a downturn when the Hogsmeade trip is cancelled, and then another downturn when he accidentally eats Harry’s Chocolate Cauldrons. I know that Ron is a growing boy, and him always eating is a part of that, but I also have to assume that the behavior is partly a learned one from growing up in a relatively poor family. I don’t think we’re meant to infer that the Weasleys ever went completely hungry, but the lack of abundance might create certain habits around food like the ones that Ron displays; when food is in front of him, he has to eat it.
We find out that the love potion Romilda slipped in there is stronger because it’s older (she gave the box to Harry three months ago, and being a normal teenager, he forgot to chuck it away like a sensible person). This whole section is wonderfully humorous when we overlook the incredibly unsavory way we arrive there, with Harry having to forcibly restrain Ron from barreling into Slughorn’s office and the rest. But more to the point, you know everything you could possibly need to know about the circus that is Harry Potter’s life when his best friend ingests crazy strong love potion, and Harry comes up with a plan in seconds and just rolls with it like it’s a normal Tuesday. Yeah, Ron. I’m taking you to her right now. Sure you can probably take Potions with her. That hat looks great on you. Of course I’ll buy you a dragon-pony.
Man, though, it’s like you hit sixteen and Hogwarts professors are all DRINK UP KIDS. I know that Slughorn is the main cause of this, but I keep having to remind myself that the UK drinking age is 18, so this isn’t that far off for them. Still, it’s funny that they’re constantly being handed mead and such.
And then the situation goes quickly from comical to terrifying, and OH GOD IS RON DEAD, WHAT HAPPENED TO RON?
Obviously, Ron is not dead. But even so, it’s a great end to a chapter.