The Harry Potter Reread has decided to create a cowbell troupe that can be hired for all occasions where a cacophony is needed. The reread imagines there are plenty of those occasions lying about.
This week we’re going to find out what the fruits house-elf spy labor bear, and then we’re going to spend more inadvisable time among giant spiders. It’s chapters 21 and 22 of The Half-Blood Prince—The Unknowable Room and After the Burial.
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 21—The Unknowable Room
Harry can think of no way to convince Slughorn to confide the important memory to him, so he’s taken to looking through his Potions book for clues from the Prince. He does comes across a spell “for enemies” and dogears the page. The Apparition Test is coming up, but only Ron and Hermione will be old enough to take it—Ron is panicked because he hasn’t achieved it yet during practice (both Harry and Hermione have). Ron’s spellcheck quill isn’t working, and Hermione helps to correct it. Ron ends up talking about how he wants to end things with Lavender, but she holds on harder when he hints that way. Harry’s about to head up to bed when Kreacher shows up. Dobby shows up afterward; he hasn’t slept for a week (Harry tells him he shouldn’t be avoiding sleep to help out). Kreacher does everything he can to avoid saying what Draco is up to, but Dobby explains that Draco is going up to the seventh floor with various people to stand watch while he’s in the Room of Requirement. Harry figures that he should be able to get in there and find out what he’s up to since Malfoy discovered that DA meeting room last year, but Hermione isn’t so sure about that. The two house-elves leave.
As they discuss the variety of students helping Draco, it occurs to Harry that it must just be Crabbe and Goyle using some of the Polyjuice Potion that Slughorn had brewing in the dungeon at the start of the year. Hermione isn’t quite sure she believes all of Harry’s theories, and she’s still insistent about the difficulty in getting into the Room of Requirement. She heads up to bed, and Ron continues to mope about not being able to Apparate. That night, Harry goes to bed trying to think of what Draco might be using the room for. The next morning Hermione is cross with Harry for choosing to bother with Draco when he still has to persuade the memory off of Slughorn. She reads the paper and notes the Mundungus Fletcher has been sent to Azkaban for impersonating an Inferi during a burglary. Harry heads to the seventh floor corridor and tries to think his way into the room Draco has the Room of Requirement turing into, with no luck at all. Defense Against the Dark Arts goes horribly, with Snape giving Seamus, Harry, and Ron all a hard time. After the lesson, Ron tries to get away from Lavender by going to boys’ bathroom, where he and Harry run into Myrtle. She’s upset over not seeing a boy who promised to come back and talk to her. She says he comes into the bathroom to cry, and they have things in common, that he’s sensitive and bullied. Ron teases her about it, and she rushes away with a howl.
While Ron and Hermione head to Hogsmeade for extra Apparition lessons on the weekend, Harry goes to stake out the Room of Requirement again. Hermione tells him that he should be cornering Slughorn, but Harry has tried, and the man keeps avoiding him. So Harry heads to the room under his Cloak, and on seeing Goyle disguised as the girl with the scales, and frightens him by invisibly hitting on him. Goyle runs off and Harry tries again to room again, to no avail. He kicks the wall hard and hurts his toe—at the same time, Tonks stumbles across him. She had been looking for Dumbledore, who it turns out is away again, hoping for some news about someone in the Order. She asks Harry if he’s heard from anyone, but he tells her that no one had written him since Sirius’ death. Tonks gets teary, and Harry tries to comfort her, saying he misses him as well, but she doesn’t respond to it. Then she leaves. Ron and Hermione comes back and Harry tells them what he’s been up to, then voices a suspicion that Tonks was maybe in love with Sirius. Hermione isn’t sure that makes sense, with her abandoning her guard post to talk to Dumbledore, but Ron thinks that she’s lost her nerve, citing how easily upset women are. Hermione points out that women don’t sulk forever when Madam Rosmerta doesn’t laugh at their jokes… like Ron did today.
And here is the point where Harry decides to mark the page with the Sectumsempra spell, which even on a first read you know is going to be trouble.
Harry is assuming that he’s not going to get a great grade on his Dementors essay for Snape because they disagree on the best way to tackle Dementors. Now, I have to assume that Harry thinks the best way to fight dementors is via Patronus, since that’s what he does, and what he taught to all his DA buddies. Which means that Snape doesn’t think so. And while I’m curious as to what Snape prefers instead, the other thing that really comes to mind is that Snape doesn’t like Patronus’ because they must be produced via happy memories, and all his happy memories are about a dead woman who never loved him back. So, you know. Ouch.
I get that Dobby not sleeping for a week to follow Draco around is supposed to be kind of funny, but it’s really just depressing? Plus, a reread means that we know the endgame for Dobby, which makes his devotion to Harry err on the side of heartbreaking rather than annoying. Still a good thing that he helps, since Kreacher is utterly useless at this juncture, but mostly just fodder for tears. (New band name! Sorry, that is not what we’re about here. Think the caffeine just kicked in for me.)
What’s fascinating is that Ron’s spellchecking quill seems to reflect current spellcheck problems even better than the ones more common when Rowling wrote the book. It’s like autocorrect on your smartphone. No, smartphone, I’m trying to write “probably,” not “puerile.” (This happens EVERY TIME, ugh, they are not remotely the same word.) This actually makes me wonder if other current tech problems will filter into the wizarding world. Magical emojis? I kind of love that idea.
Yet again, we see that the kids are getting better at piecing things together, especially Harry, who probably grows up to treat everything in his life like it’s a mystery created by Death Eaters: “Ginny, I can’t find my briefcase! But I have a theory—have you noticed how every time I use the Floo Network lately, I sneeze? It must be that someone else is flooing into our home when we’re out, and they have a pet lizard! Because I’m allergic to lizards. That person must have stolen my briefcase while the lizard stood guard….” What I mean is, normally we’d find out all this stuff about Draco’s plot at the end of the book through an adult or what-have-you, but Harry pretty much nails this one.
Which is why it’s so frustrating that he thinks he’ll be able to break into the Room of Requirement. Harry, use your brain. If that worked, anyone could find anyone, which is the opposite of the point of the room. On the other hand, the fact that he doesn’t realize this provides us with narrative gems like this:
Harry tried every variation of “I need to see what Draco Malfoy is doing inside you” that he could think of for a whole hour, at the end of which he was forced to concede that Hermione might have a point: The room simply did not want to open for him.
*side eye at Rowling*
*EPIC side eye*
Like, ARE YOU KIDDING ME WITH THIS. Stop trolling the fanfic writers, Jo. (Never stop. This is perfect.)
After yet another lesson where Snape belittles his students and fails to offer any useful guidance, Harry and Ron run into Myrtle, who we will later find out is pining for Draco. Which is yet another example of just how low Malfoy must be—confiding in a ghost about his sad feelings? Myrtle, out of any of them, on top of that? (Though I suspect none of the House ghosts would really be interested…) Poor kid feels isolated enough to confide in a ghost who likes to spend her time harassing boys in the prefect’s bathroom.
By the by, is it just me, or is Draco’s warning system extra crappy? I mean, Crabbe or Goyle drop the scales to let Draco know someone’s outside. But what do they do to let him know that the coast is clear? Harry doesn’t note anyone coming back to check on him, so it sounds like they don’t check back in. So Draco just, what… hangs out there forever? Until nighttime? It’s possible that he’s engaged the entire day in there anyhow, but still. As plans go, not the best one.
I haven’t touched on the weirdness of Crabbe and Goyle being forced to transform into girls, and the extremely invasive knowledge that gives them of their female classmate’s bodies because it’s honestly just too weird to me that it’s never addressed. And weirder when you consider that there’s no reason why Draco couldn’t have collected the hair of male classmates far more easily. It’s clearly just being used for the joke of “Haha, Crabbe and Goyle are girls right now, that’s hilarious!” And it’s… not actually funny. Because then the whole joke is down to being emasculated by being stuck in a woman’s body. I’d be much more interested if Rowling had tackled that issue seriously.
Later on Harry runs into Tonks, and I guess his mystery skill aren’t perfect yet, because he comes away with the idea that she might have been in love with Sirius, when she specifically tells him that she’s looking for news from Order members. And asks Harry if he’s heard from anyone. Ahem. You know, Harry, someone. Who said he would be writing to you if his undercover work weren’t so horrendous. Cough.
Chapter 22—After the Burial
Harry has had no progress figuring out what Draco is up to, or getting the memory from Slughorn. Ron and Hermione are about to take their Apparation tests and it’s jitters all over the place. Harry gets a note, and is worried it’s from Dumbledore, but it turns out to be from Hagrid: Aragog has died, and asks if they can come to the burial because he can’t face doing it by himself. Hermione and Ron are adamant about not going, thinking of the trouble they could get into now that security is tightened. Harry wants to do it, but figures Hermione is right. She again suggests that he try to soften up Slughorn, though Harry can’t imagine he’ll be lucky this time. Ron suddenly realizes that this could be the perfect use for the Felix Felicis, and Hermione agrees. Harry says he’ll give it a go. Ron and Hermione go to take their test, and Harry winds up one of three people in Potions class: he, Ernie, and Draco. Slughorn advises them to whip up something fun, since it’s such a small class. After noting how thin, pale, and unhappy Draco seems (and figuring that his mission must be going badly), Harry finds a Prince-corrected version of the potion for inducing euphoria and decides to try it out. Slughorn is pleased, but before Harry can ask him to try it post-lesson, the man has already vanished.
Hermione has passed her exam, but Ron just barely fails for leaving half his eyebrow behind. Harry reckons he’s going to have to use the luck potion to get the memory from Slughorn, but that he’ll just take enough for a few hours’ worth of luck, so as not to waste it. He does it after dinner, and is possessed with a sudden need to go to Hagrid’s. Ron and Hermione are dismayed by that turn of events, but Harry leaves under the Cloak and they rush along behind him. Lavender sees Ron leaving the boys’ dormitory with only Hermione and starts fighting with him. On his way out of the portrait hole, Harry invisibly brushes Ginny, leading her to snap at Dean for pushing her. Harry passes no one on his way out of the school, and the door happens to be unlocked. He strolls onto the grounds and decides to take a detour by the vegetable patch on his way to Hagrid’s. When he does, he stumbles across Professor Sprout and Slughorn, picking something for Slughorn’s third-year class. After Sprout is gone, Harry takes off the cloak and greets Slughorn, telling him that he’s out because Filch forgot to lock the doors. When Slughorn asks what he’s doing out at night, Harry admits that he’s worried for Hagrid, and tells the man about Aragog. Slughorn is excited at potentially getting some of Aragog’s venom, since it’s very valuable, so Harry suggests he come to burial. Slughorn agrees, and tell Harry he’ll be back with some alcohol and a new tie.
Hagrid is happy to see Harry, telling him that they can’t bury Aragog in the forest because the other spiders will eat them. (He was shocked to learn that the only reason they hadn’t before was on Aragog’s orders.) Apparently they wanted to eat Aragog’s body too, but Hagrid got him away in time. Slughorn shows up with booze, collects the venom on the down-low, and gives Hagrid his condolences. Hagrid is pleased for the extra company and surprised that Slughorn would care about a creature like Aragog. The three go out back to bury him, and Slughorn gives a little speech, which Hagrid loves. Then they go back inside to have a drink. (Slughorn has had all the bottles tested for poison by making house-elves try the liquor first.) Slughorn spots a bunch of unicorn hair in Hagrid’s hut (also worth lots of money) and starts asking Hagrid how he cares for all the creatures in the forest to learn more. Harry refrains from drinking, but Felix Felicis helps him to cast a refilling charm on Slughorn’s bottles, and he and Hagrid get hammered. Hagrid gives Slughorn the unicorn hairs, they toast over and over, then they get melancholy after starting to sing a song about a dying wizard. Hagrid starts thinking of his dad and Harry’s parents. He soon falls asleep.
Harry starts talking about his parents when Slughorn asks if he remembers their deaths. Harry tells the story of how his mother died, which makes Slughorn uncomfortable. Harry points out that Slughorn liked his mother, but won’t help her son by giving him the memory he needs. Slughorn is waffling, but Harry insists that he needs the memory because he’s the Chosen One and he has to kill Voldemort. (The luck potion is telling him that Slughorn won’t remember this in the morning.) The professor is afraid of the potential retaliation that will occur if he helps, and also ashamed of what the memory shows, but Harry insists that he’ll be undoing that damage by giving it to him. After a long silence, Slughorn retrieves the memory and gives it to Harry in a glass bottle. Harry thanks him and Slughorn falls asleep.
We finally get to the point where Ron’s evasion of Lavender is getting plain silly. And while it’s kind of annoying to have to read through, you can’t fault it for realism. (The sudden talk of “ghosting” as a relationship term is funny for exactly that reason; people have been doing this forever, we just needed to assign it a name.)
I feel bad because I’m extra annoyed with Hermione in these chapters, primarily because her main action comes down to badgering Harry about Slughorn at every available moment. And this isn’t Hermione’s fault as a character—this book moves much slower than any of the previous ones, and neither Ron nor Hermione get much to do in it by way of helping Harry as is their typical M.O. As a result, Hermione spends chapter after chapter just nagging endlessly. And then Ron brings up the luck potion, and Hermione is reported to look “stunned”—and again, Hermione, being so shocked at Ron displaying a modicum of cleverness does nothing to help him level up as a human being. This is a problem with your relationship that has nothing to do with the stuff he’s put you through with Lavender this year (which still sucks). Loving someone means that you encourage and believe in them.
It’s interesting that Ron basically says aloud what I was thinking about the Felix potion earlier; that it seems like half of its effect in in the user’s head. Ron claims that he knows what it’s like to be on the potion because he thought he had taken it, insisting that it’s nearly the same thing. And he’s kind of right about that. A sort of intuitive suggestion, which shouldn’t be surprising, since that’s where Ron’s strength as a character lies.
Harry takes a bit of the Felix Felicis to get the memory from Slughorn, and it works a treat. But what makes me happiest is that getting the memory leads him to being there for Hagrid, which he wanted to be in the first place. I understand Hermione’s pragmatism in not wanting to get them into trouble, but Harry is Hagrid’s family in so many respects. and it’s right of him to want to go. On the other hand, I’m not so sure that I agree with Hagrid’s insistence of removing Aragog’s body for burial. For someone who loves knowing every little thing about big scary creatures, you’d think that he’d understand that he was maybe preventing something very natural, imposing human values on a completely non-human population. Just because we think eating your dead is not cool doesn’t mean that the spiders should think that.
While it’s kind of gross that Slughorn uses Aragog’s death as a way to get some fast cash, I love his presence in this moment merely for the appearance of his “somber black cravat.” Can we make that a necessary funeral accessory? I’d like to see more of them, please.
And I know that the luck potion is helping Harry along while he talks Slughorn into giving up the memory, but daaaaaamn. Son. That is some A++ manipulation, you go boy. Sheesh. I feel bad on Slughorn’s behalf, and I didn’t even do anything. You know Dumbledore would be proud, since that’s basically his stock and trade. But perhaps the best thing about Harry’s manipulation is he never twists the truth to get what he wants. He just makes the right points to Slughorn, and tells him what’s really happening.
Which is a relief because we kind of need to plot to pick up here. We’ve been in limbo for a while.
Note: Next week the reread will take a break on account of me road-tripping for Thanksgiving. So I will see you all back here in December!