The Harry Potter Reread is cuddly. At least, it likes to think of itself as cuddly. The cuddliest reread there is. It should get a stamp for that.
This week we’re going to have a chat with Kreacher and learn of a peculiar woman named Hepzibah Smith. It’s chapters 19 and 20 of The Half-Blood Prince—Elf Tails and Lord Voldemort’s Request.
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 19—Elf Tails
The twins sit with Harry, Ginny, and Hermione in the hospital wing, at Ron’s bedside. Fred and George had planned to surprise their brother in Hogsmeade with his birthday present (they went there with the intention of possibly buying Zonko’s and creating a new branch of their shop) when they heard the news. Ron is unconscious and resting; Madam Pomfrey has said that he should be fine in about a week. Hermione is silent as the rest debate who the poison was meant for. It’s suggested that Slughorn might have been trying to poison Harry, then that someone was trying to poison Slughorn (since Voldemort is concerned about how he might be helping Dumbledore), then that the target was Dumbledore himself, since the mead was supposed to be a gift to Albus from Slughorn over Christmas. Hermione speaks up to that effect and Ron stirs and mutters her name. Hagrid storms in, the picture of concern. He wonders who would want to do this, and Hermione thinks the attacks on Ron and Katie are linked; neither object reached the person they were meant for.
Mr. and Mrs. Weasley come back to the room and tearfully thank Harry for saving yet another member of their family (he’s getting quite a record in that regard). Harry, Hermione, and Hagrid leave the wing, and Hagrid points out that the there’s a chance that the school could be closed again if the attacks keep happening, just like when the Chamber of Secrets was first opened. He then lets slip that Dumbledore is upset with Snape, and Harry demands that he explain. Hagrid admits that he overheard Dumbledore being short with Snape, who was complaining that the headmaster took too much for granted. Apparently, Dumbledore was insisting that he investigate Slytherin House more carefully. Filch stops Harry and Hermione for being out after hours, but Hagrid claims they’re with him. When Filch doesn’t recognize Hagrid’s status as a professor, Hagrid calls him a Squib and the two get into row. Harry and Hermione head back to the common room. Hermione goes to bed immediately, but Harry stays up thinking about what Hagrid relayed. He wonder if Dumbledore claimed to trust Snape to keep Harry from investigating, or to keep him focused on their lessons.
Cormac McLaggen corners Harry about the upcoming Quidditch match, insisting that he should be Keeper since Ron is out of commission. Harry agrees absently. The school doesn’t seem to concerned about Ron’s poisoning, since they’re all about Quidditch. Harry is focused on Draco. Cormac and Lavender are hounding him as well, and Harry can’t decide who is worse. Cormac keeps hinting that he should be the permanent Keeper for the team and trying to captain the group, and Lavender keeps trying to talk to Harry about Ron’s feelings. She reveals that Ron is always asleep whenever she goes to the hospital wing, which surprises Harry because Ron’s always awake whenever he shows up. Lavender starts hounding Harry about Hermione going to visit him too, insisting that she wants to be more than friends. Before the match, Harry visits Ron and tells him he definitely won’t be letting McLaggen stay on as Keeper due to his attitude alone, and also that Ron should just break up with Lavender if he doesn’t want to see her. As he’s heading down to the pitch, he passes by Draco, who is walking about with two girls. Harry wants to follow him and find out what he’s up to, but he heads to the match anyhow.
Luna is giving the commentary for the match, which makes things very interesting. But McLaggen will not stay at his post, and keeps directing the players. He eventually takes one of the Beater bats, and when Harry berates him for it, he feels a terrible pain and wakes up in the hospital wing next to Ron. His skull was cracked and Madam Pompfrey insists on keeping him overnight. Ron is happy to hear that McLaggen was so horrible, and loved Luna’s commentary, which he could hear from the wing. Ron says that Ginny visited and told Ron that Harry was almost late to the match, which leads to an uncomfortable conversation about how obsessed Harry is getting with Draco. Harry ponders the situation away at night, then bolts up in bed and realizes that there is a way to follow Malfoy—he asks for Kreacher. Ron wakes, Harry casts Muffliato so they won’t be overheard, and they find Kreacher and Dobby wrestling on the floor. Peeves shows up because apparently he’d been watching the fight. Harry and Ron have to pull them apart. When Peeves continues to be a nuisance, Harry uses a hex that glues the poltergeist’s tongue to the roof of his mouth, so he retreats. Harry breaks up the fight between the house-elves, forbidding Kreacher from attacking Dobby. Dobby voluntarily agrees to obey Harry request and do the same on his end.
Harry asks them to tail Malfoy, wording things specifically so that Kreacher cannot tell Draco what he’s doing or reveal his presence. He asks them for regular updates on what Draco does, and the two agree.
The twins were in Hogsmeade to give Ron his birthday present (aw, good big brothers) and also to attempt to buy Zonko’s and convert it into another branch of their own store. Which means that Fred and George must be making bank, jeez. By all accounts, Zonko’s is a successful business too… unless it hasn’t been doing quite so well since the Weasleys started their mail-order service. Way to make that money, boys.
And then Hermione talks and Ron says her name in his sleep. I mean, even if you don’t ship it, that’s some romantic sh*t. I cooed out loud, embarrassingly.
The kids are pretty good at solving mysteries by this point, and it’s to their credit that they usually come up with the answer in the midst of their theories. It’s suggested that the poison might have been meant for Dumbledore, and of course, that’s absolutely right. My question at this point concerns Dumbledore’s cap for these incidents. He knows Draco is up to something by now, to the point where he’s giving Snape grief for not keeping better watch. At this point, two students have had near-fatal accidents. Slughorn could have also died, and Dumbledore wants Harry to get that memory for him. So… was their any point where Dumbledore would have intervened here? Told Draco he knew what was up, or at least suspected? Would he if a student had died, perhaps?
Poor Harry ends up caught between McLaggen and Lavender, who are both insufferable in different ways. It’s a bit of a cliche in either direction; McLaggen is a mean jock and Lavender is a jealous girlfriend. It’s not like we haven’t all met people like them—it’s just a shame that we never get into their heads at all, and both characters are reduced to nuisances. Especially because Harry has to intercept all of it. (Though it’s pretty adorable that Ron pretends to be asleep to avoid Lavender. Stupid, but adorable.)
Harry comes across Draco—with two annoyed-looking girls in tow, which I’ll talk about later in the post—and the two banter as usual. But I’m struck by the change in tone, which really proves just how rundown Draco is by this point. He’s basically paying Harry lip service, just to keep up appearances. He clearly doesn’t care about getting one over on him right now, he just wants to be left alone. Harry’s obsession gets worse and worse, and you know, I was never one for shipping Harry/Draco, but I completely understand the impulse for it on this reread. This book gives you so much material to work with.
The Quidditch match is an utter mess, but I really do wish we’d gotten to hear Luna’s whole commentary. In fact, if all sports commentary were like that, I’d actually watch sports. And then Harry wakes up in the hospital wing and has this great exchange with Madam Pomfrey:
“Cracked skull,” said Madam Pomfrey, bustling up and pushing him back against the pillows. “Nothing to worry about, I mended it at once, but I’m keeping you in overnight. You shouldn’t overexert yourself for a few hours.”
“I don’t want to stay here overnight,” said Harry angrily, sitting up and throwing back his covers. “I want to find McLaggen and kill him.”
“I’m afraid that would come under the heading of ‘overexertion,'” said Madam Pomfrey, pushing him firmly back onto the bed and raising her wand in a threatening manner.
Five points to Poppy Pomfrey.
Harry calls Kreacher to him, and the fight the house-elf is having with Dobby brings Peeves over. And we’ve seen that Peeves can handle physical matter in a way that the ghosts can’t, but I’m still curious about the fact that Harry can cast a hex on him. It’s an interesting rule that I’d love to have explored in more detail. (I just want to know more about ghosts versus poltergeists in general.)
Also… I wonder what Dobby and Kreacher started fighting over. And how often that occurs between them. Sounds like the Hogwarts kitchens have been lively for a while. Harry has gained some appropriate wariness since what happened to Sirius with Kreacher, and phrases those directions quite carefully. So finally he can stop obsessing quite so intently—all that checking of the Marauder’s Map was getting tedious.
Chapter 20—Lord Voldemort’s Request
The previous chaos has ensured that Hermione and Ron are friends again, and on Monday morning she heads down to breakfast with them, telling the boys that Ginny argued with Dean because he laughed about Harry getting hit with a Bludger. Harry doesn’t do the best job of hiding his interest and Hermione gets suspicious. Luckily, Luna shows up to hand Ron a Gurdyroot and Harry a note from Dumbledore for his next lesson. Ron tells her he loved her Quidditch commentary and Luna assumes he’s making fun. Ron assures her that he isn’t. Once she leaves, the trio run into Lavender, who if furious that Ron didn’t tell her he was getting out of the hospital wing and that Hermione was with him. Harry and Hermione leave to let them have it out.
Harry goes to his lesson with Dumbledore that evening, and finds Professor Trelawney there; she is clearly trying to get Firenze sacked, which Dumbledore will not agree to. Trelawney leaves with a parting shot that she might move on to a different school. Dumbledore tells Harry that he can’t get rid of either of them—Firenze is an outcast now and Trelawney would be in horrible danger if she left. Dumbledore asks Harry if he retrieved the memory from Slughorn and Harry is forced to admit that he hasn’t. When Dumbledore makes it clear that Harry was expected to do all that he could to get the memory, Harry sits there in a horribly uncomfortable silence before apologizing for not taking the task more seriously. Dumbledore accepts the apology, and tells Harry that he expects he will work harder to retrieve it or they won’t be able to carry on their lessons after tonight. Harry promises he will.
Dumbledore gets into Tom’s life after Hogwarts, pointing out that much speculation must be done because very few people remember Voldemort as a man. He has two memories for them to that end, and hopes that Harry will tell him if the conclusions he’s drawn from them seem correct. He tells Harry that when Tom graduated from Hogwarts everyone expected great things from him, offered to set up interviews and the like. But Tom turned them down and started working at Borgin and Burkes. But Dumbledore also confides that the first job Tom tries to get was as a Hogwarts DADA professor. Tom had many reasons for wanting this: Hogwarts was the first place he’d come to think of as a home, the castle was a stronghold for ancient magic, and he likely wanted the influence over a younger generation to train them into followers for himself. The former Headmaster Dippet told him he was too young, but invited him to reapply in a few years. Voldemort quickly became a person at Borgin and Burkes who was meant to convince others to part with precious magical treasures and sell them, which he excelled at.
The first go into the memory of Hokey the house-elf, who worked for Hepzibah Smith, an old wealthy witch. Hokey is helping Hepzibah prepare for the arrival of Tom Riddle, getting her all made up. Tom arrives with flowers, charming the woman, offering her a better price from his employer for her goblin-made armor. Hepzibah isn’t interested in discussing business, and asks Tom if he can keep and secret from Mr. Burke and everyone else. She shows him a cup that used to belong to Helga Hufflepuff—she’s distantly descended from the woman. Tom is obviously spellbound, but she sets it back in its box, then show him another treasure, one that she bought from Burke—a locket that belonged to Slytherin, the same one that belonged to the Gaunts. Tom’s eyes flash red and he nearly doesn’t let the locket go. Once it’s been returned to its box, Hepzibah notices that Tom looks off, and has Hokey lock the treasures away again. They leave the memory and Dumbledore tells Harry that Hepzibah died two days after that visit, and that Hokey was convicted of accidentally poisoning her cocoa. The crime has the same M.O. as the Riddle family deaths—Hokey confessed to the crime, thinking she had put sugar in the cocoa when it was in fact a poison. Because Hokey was old and a house-elf, the Ministry was inclined to believe this explanation. After Hokey’s conviction, Smith’s family realized that the cup and locket were gone… and Tom Riddle had disappeared from his post at Borgin and Burkes, not to be seen for quite some time.
Dumbledore tells Harry that he believes this was the first time Voldemort committed murder after the Riddles, and notes that he did so for gain this time rather than revenge. He also tells Harry that these objects meant a great deal to Voldemort, and that he certainly considered the locket as his. The cup belonged to a founder, and Voldemort seemed to gravitate toward anything related to the school. The next memory takes place ten years after Hokey’s, and Dumbledore has no idea what he did in the interim. It is his own memory—one where he is a recently appointed headmaster and Voldemort arrives in his office. Harry notes that he isn’t snakelike or red-eyed yet, but that he looks overpale and waxy. When Dumbledore calls him Tom, Voldemort tries to correct him with his new name, but Dumbledore insists that he will always be Tom Riddle in his eyes. Voldemort has come request the teaching job again, but Dumbledore has heard rumors of what he has done, and tells him so. Voldemort insists that he has pushed the boundaries of magic, but Dumbledore tells him that there are still areas he is ignorant of. Voldemort laughs off Dumbledore’s old insistence that love is more powerful than magic, and continues to push for the position.
Dumbledore asks him about the Death Eaters, and Voldemort is clearly surprised that he’s heard of them, and Dumbledore asks about the group awaiting his return at Hog’s Head. Then he asks why Voldemort has returned to ask for a position he does not want, which he knew Dumbledore would not grant him. Voldemort does not answer that question and instead stalks out. Harry asks why Voldemort came back, and Dumbledore admits that he only has ideas as to why… ideas that he will expand upon when they have Slughorn’s unaltered memory. Before he leaves, Harry asks if Voldemort was again after the DADA position and Dumbledore assures him of that—because since their meeting, Hogwarts has never been able to keep a Defense Against the Dark Arts professor for longer than a year.
At the opening of this chapter the trio run across a little girl who drops scales when she sees them. Hermione helps her out, since she seems frightened. We’ll find out later that this is Goyle, transformed via Polyjuice Potion and providing lookout for Draco; he dropped the scales to let him know that people were nearby. The girls in the previous chapter were also Crabbe and Goyle disguised and girls from the school. Which means that Draco is just constantly taking the hairs of various female classmates to provide for the potion. And that’s exceedingly creepy to think about, though smart.
Harry starts being nosy about Ginny and Dean’s fight, somehow thinking that he’s remotely subtle. But his goofy hints aside, it’s a relief to see Hermione happy again, despite going through the weird breakup shenanigans to get there; I have a very personal pet peeve with Lavender freaking out about Hermione when we’ve already seen this before. Because even if we do notice that Ron and Hermione have feelings for each other at this point, it’s insanely annoying that people refuse to acknowledge their friendship, which is a relationship that has been firmly in place from their first year forward. It’s the same as Cho accusing Harry of it, this extreme paranoia that every woman who is friends with a dude is secretly trying to date him. It really makes me wish that we saw more female-male friendships at the school; the trio is pretty much the only solid example until we have until Luna joins in.
The lesson with Dumbledore is delayed by Trelawney, who is now busy calling Firenze a nag (
which is a lady horse, for those who don’t know about horse things correction: it is a worthless old horse. I have memory of hearing used specifically to pertain to old lady horses, but I am clearly imagining that), and this time she doesn’t even have the sherry to blame. Sheesh.
Dumbledore pulls the best dad move ever in shaming Harry for not retrieving the memory, and man, he must have been a terrifying professor when he was still teaching classes. I can’t say that I prefer his method, but its extremely effective in making Harry realize how important the task is. He starts talking of Tom’s year post-Hogwarts, and we against get allusions to the similarities between Harry and Voldemort when Harry notes that both of them considered Hogwarts to be their first true home. At this point, I don’t feel like that parallels that all that relevant anymore. We know how Voldemort and Harry and similar and how they are different, and though Dumbledore is trying to play on Harry’s empathy here, it’s ultimately unnecessary.
Hepzibah Smith is a piece of work, and clearly has more money than she knows what to do with. I have to assume that she and Zacharias are related, with him being Hufflepuff as well. Her scene with Tom is appropriately off-putting, pointing out the charm that Riddle had as a young man, which contributes greatly to his ability to gain followers and anything else he wants. She makes the mistake of showing him two things that he desperately wants; the locket that belonged to his mother, and a cup from Hufflepuff herself.
And at this point I can’t help but roll my eyes and laugh heartily about how lucky Voldemort was that the founders branded every flipping possession they had. I know that’s not the point really, and that putting crests and things on special items is historically accurate, but it comes up a bit short when we keep hearing that these items have special powers and properties, but they’re never revealed. They’re only meant to matter to the reader as horcruxes, so instead of appearing as awesome magic artifacts in their own right (not counting the ring, of course), they sort of come off as trinket-y junk made of nice metals, stamped with a relevant animal. It makes them seem less threatening—even Harry thinks it’s just a bunch of stuff.
Poor Hepzibah’s murder is generally unremarkable unless we note that Voldemort’s crimes become less passionate every time he kills. (Which is relevant to the idea of what a horcrux does to one’s soul.) So the first set of murders were pure revenge, but this one isn’t completely devoid of passion either; he’s reclaiming a family heirloom, his birthright. Other than that, we have the aside about Hokey’s conviction, which is tragic, but completely unsurprising at this point.
I will never be over how Dumbledore diminishes Tom by refusing to use the name Voldemort. And I think showing that particular moment in his memory is important because it gives the reader the root of Dumbledore’s insistence at calling him Voldemort over He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. It denies him power, denies him the ability to dictate his own story. He’s just little Tom Riddle, and someone will always remember where he came from (unironically, the exact point of his lessons with Harry, passing that information on). Dumbledore is such a king when it comes to manipulation. It’s not nice, but it is essential to his cause.
We get our first heavy hint on Aberforth when Albus blithely insists that he knows that barman at Hog’s Head, which is why he knows that the bunch of Death Eaters are hanging out there. It’s a great drop because it’s a easy to ignore as an unimportant little aside. You’d never guess he was talking about his brother. We’ll later learn what Dumbledore means about Tom’s real reason for returning to Hogwarts, but I’m struck by Riddle’s insistence on cursing the DADA position when Albus is right, and he didn’t really come there for it. I suppose it’s simply a matter of pride.
I remember giving a little gasp and thinking that it was such a cool reveal that the DADA position was cursed when I first read the book, but now it doesn’t play as well for me. It’s so cool as a concept, but Rowling clearly decided that one late in game; if she hadn’t, we’d have heard a lot more about the trouble with that spot on staff from the beginning. So it’s great on a story level, but its logic doesn’t play out over the previous books, which weakens the idea.