The Harry Potter Reread cut off all it’s hair because, aw yeah, scarves aren’t gonna tangle this mane into a knotted mess for months, haha, winter I have beaten you.
So now we’re going to enjoy the first few days of our exciting new relationship, and then we’re going to go do something terrible with our favorite mentor. It’s chapters 25 and 26 of The Half-Blood Prince—The Seer Overheard and The Cave.
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 25—The Seer Overheard
Harry is enjoying the fact that people are gossiping about he and Ginny dating rather than him being involved in all sorts of dark magic, so he’s happy. While she tells Harry the silly questions people ask about him (like whether he’s got a hippogriff tattooed on his chest), Ron insists that he can always revoke his permission for their relationship if they get too cozy in public. Ginny calls him a hypocrite, considering his behavior with Lavender, but there’s not much time either way, since she’s studying for O.W.L.s. Hermione insists on talking to Harry about the Prince again (Harry won’t retrieve the book from the RoR while Snape is on the lookout for it); she has found a clipping of a former student named Eileen Prince, telling him that perhaps she is the one who wrote in Harry’s book. When Harry insists it’s a man, Hermione suggests that he doesn’t think a woman is clever enough to be the Prince. Harry takes offense to that, while Hermione goes to look up more on Eileen Prince.
Ron asks about Harry’s detentions with Snape, which are cutting into all his time with Ginny, and might continue into next year if he doesn’t get all the work done. He’s brought a note from Dumbledore telling him to head to the office immediately. On his way, Harry is waylaid by a scream and a loud noise, and he heads over to the next corridor to find Professor Trelawney on the floor with several bottles of sherry alongside. Harry asks what happening, and Trelawney starts going on about visions until Harry notices where they are—he asks her if she was trying to get into the Room of Requirement. It seems as though Trelawney was trying to hide her many bottles of sherry in the room due to accusations, but someone was there when she entered. The voice was male and whooping excitedly, and when Trelawney asked who was inside, she was thrown from the room. Harry figures this is Draco, and that Trelawney should tell Dumbledore what she heard, but she tells him that the headmaster has requested fewer visits from her. Apparently she keeps getting the “lightning struck tower” out of her deck of cards, which indicates disaster. Harry tells her that he thinks she should come with him to tell Dumbledore right now since he’s going, and she agrees.
On the way, Trelawney bashes Firenze, then tells Harry about her interview for the position of Divination professor (obviously not remembering the major prophecy she made regarding Harry and Voldemort). She tells him that she and Dumbledore were interrupted by Snape; she assumes that he was listening in on her interview because he wanted the job himself. Harry freezes on the spot, realizing that Snape was the one who told Voldemort about the prophecy, leading to the death of his parents. He tells Trelawney to stay put, rushing to Dumbledore’s office, but is waylaid when he remembers that the headmaster called him there to go after a Horcrux. Dumbledore believes he might have found one, and that it’s housed in the cave where young Tom Riddle took those two other orphans on their country trip. Harry is itching to go, but Dumbledore notices something is off and asks Harry to tell him what it is. Harry tells Dumbledore what he heard and rages at the man for allowing him to teach at the school, for trusting him. Dumbledore assures Harry that Snape had no idea who the prophecy concerned, and that he felt true remorse for his actions. He tells Harry he still trusts Snape, that he’s not concerned about what Draco’s doing, and that they are going to drop the matter.
Then he asks Harry if he wants to accompany him. Harry says yes, but Dumbledore gives him a condition—that he will obey any command he is given, clouding ones like “run” or “hide.” Hesitantly, Harry agrees. Dumbledore tells him to grab the Invisibility Cloak and meet him in the entrance hall. Harry goes up to the common room, tells Ron and Hermione what going down, and asks them to watch the Marauder’s Map and be ready for whatever Draco and Snape pull tonight, suggesting they call up the old D.A. members too. Then he gives them the rest of the Felix Felicis and tells them to share it among themselves and Ginny, and leaves. At the entrance, Dumbledore asks him to wear the Cloak, and they set off across the grounds. Harry asks what everything will think Dumbledore is doing, and he says they will assume he has gone to the Three Broomsticks or Hog’s Head for a drink. He passes by Madam Rosmerta in favor of Hog’s Head since it’s emptier and they Apparate to their destination…
Harry and Ginny are cute’n’stuff. Ron’s overbearing big brother schtick, not so much. I get it, you don’t want to watch your sister kissing in the hallways. The easier way to avoid this is to turn around and walk the other way if/when you encounter it. Also, where the hell did the rumor start about Harry having a hippogriff tattooed on his chest anyway? Who looks at Harry and thinks, yup, that dude is hardcore and totally wants a chest tattoo at sixteen?
I had totally forgotten how close Hermione came to figuring out who the Prince is. What’s funny is, you could argue that her desire to prove that the Prince might be a woman prevents her from finding the true Half-Blood Prince; she focuses on Eileen without bothering to consider family. Her argument with Harry about the gender thing is also kind of weird because on the one hand, Harry is right, why would you assume he rejected the idea of the Prince being female because he doesn’t think women are smart? (I’m serious, Harry has a great track record when it comes to giving women their due credit and not piling sexist stereotypes and rhetoric on them. Ron is the one who frequently has trouble in that regard.) On the other hand, Harry insistence that he can tell that the Prince is male because of “how he writes” is equally silly. No, just… no. You really can’t tell that, Harry. Maybe you feel an affinity, and that’s cool. But it doesn’t serve as proof of anything.
Oh my Merlin, Sybil, please stop doing this to yourself. At this point in the book, it’s getting really depressing, and will be even moreso when we understand the implications of the lightning struck tower later on. A thought occurred to me while I was reading this passage—while many of Trelawney’s predictions come true in an oblique sort of way, she’s clearly not meant to be super gifted unless she’s going Full Prophecy Mode. And often, the stuff she “sees” is too vague to wow anyone (like the constant gloom she perceives around Harry, which is an easy sell, given his position in the wizarding world). But I’d argue that perhaps she’s better at cartomancy; what she perceives in this book is generally more accurate while she’s using the cards. And she says that the tower card keeps coming up, which must create a constant aura of foreboding to her, given how the “gift” of Divination seems to rely heavily on expression through senses and feelings. What I’m trying to say is… maybe Trelawney isn’t drinking because of Firenze. Maybe she’s drinking because she can feel that something terrible is coming, and she has no mechanisms to cope with it.
That deeply upsetting thought aside, I still love Harry for his sarcasm around his personal doomsayer:
“Right,” said harry hastily; he had heard about Professor Trelawney’s Inner Eye all too often before. “And did the voice say who was there?”
“No, it did not,” she said. “Everything went pitch black and the next thing I knew, I was being hurled headfirst out of the room!”
“And you didn’t see that coming?” said Harry, unable to help himself.
“No, I did not, as I say, it was pitch — “She stopped and glared at him suspiciously.
Also, there’s that bit where she’s like ‘I miss you in class, you were bad at Divination, but you were great as an Object,’ and honestly, I cackled out loud when I read that part this time around. Wow. Just A++ for that one.
So we know that Draco is celebrating over a functional Vanishing Cabinet, but I’m really trying to remember what I thought was going on the first time, and I keep coming up blank. Maybe I just avoided coming up with possibilities because I didn’t want to get too close? Either way, knowing it now actually makes for great tension. It’s just a long litany of ‘oh no oh no oh no’ in my head this time around.
And then Trelawney drops an accidental bomb on Harry, explaining that Snape was the one who overheard part of the prophecy about Harry and Voldemort. (Also, he was clearly caught at the door by Aberforth, this book is just riddled with mentions of him in every flipping corner.) Harry storms into Dumbledore’s office, and we get this line from Dumbledore about how Snape had no idea who the prophecy pertained to, and that he felt more remorse for that action than anything else in his life.
I understand that Dumbledore is trying to deflect Harry’s grief by making the point that Snape didn’t do this out of a vendetta against James, but Albus has to realize that it still doesn’t make Snape come off all that well. ‘He didn’t want to destroy your family, Harry, he was only fine with destroying other families! It’s okay!’ And then making the point about remorse when we know that all of that remorse is centered on his love for Lily… it’s an entirely different beast that way. What I find interesting about it is the fact that Albus clearly feels for Severus in this regard. It’s something to talk about later, in the final book, but I believe that this particular brand of forgiveness on Dumbledore’s part has a lot to do with forgiving himself.
Chapter 26—The Cave
They arrive on a cliff, an outcropping over the sea, and Dumbledore suggests that Tom had to use magic to get the two orphans he brought with him into the cave. The two of them climb down and plunge into the water to get to the cave they need to reach. Once inside, Dumbledore decides that they are in a antechamber and must go further in. He moves around the space, eventually finding the concealed doorway to lead them on. Then he remembers to dry Harry off. Dumbledore believes that a payment of blood is required to open the door—Harry offers to do it, but Dumbledore insists on giving the blood himself. Once the door opens, they are on the edge of a black lake. They walk along the edge, Dumbledore telling Harry not to touch the water. The headmaster is sure the the Horcrux is there, but they don’t know how to get it. Harry suggests a Summoning Charm, and Dumbledore lets him have a go. When Harry performs the charm, something erupts from the water—whatever is meant to guard the Horcrux.
Dumbledore finally pauses and reveals a boat that he draws up from the depths of the lake. It seems they need the boat to the get to the center of the lake where the Horcrux should be. Harry asks if they’ll be safe in Voldemort’s boat, but Dumbledore figures that whatever is guarding the Horcrux will eventually realize that they’re not Voldemort. He also says that they’ve probably gotten this far because Voldemort would only have expected a very powerful wizard to get there, and would have other traps in place. Harry suggests that the boat isn’t big enough for both of them, but Dumbledore thinks it responds to power, not weight—Harry might not count because he is underage. They both get in, and the boat starts to the center of the lake by itself. Harry looks down and sees dead bodies under the water. He points this out, but Dumbledore insists that they do not need to worry about them while they’re peaceful. He suggests that they might be less subdued once they get the Horcrux, and then they can be met with fire.
They reach a small smooth rock at the center of the lake holding a stone basin on a pedestal. The basin is full of green liquid that Dumbledore cannot identify, though he’s sure it’s no good. He reaches out to touch the liquid, and Harry goes to stop him, but he reveals that he cannot make his hand move any farther than it has. Harry tries to no avail as well. Dumbledore works on it for some time; the Horcrux is in the basin, he’s sure, but he can’t reach it by hand, charm, siphoning, or any other number of tricks. He decides suddenly that it must be drunk. Harry is against that plan, wondering if it might kill Dumbledore, but the headmaster is certain that it won’t because Voldemort would want time to question anyone who had gotten past his defenses. He figures the potion makes the drinker unable to get the Horcrux in some way. Knowing that, Dumbledore tells Harry that he must force him to keep drinking the potion, no matter what happens. Harry isn’t keen on that plan either, but Dumbledore forces him to promise.
He begins drinking, and it’s not until the fourth gobletful that there’s a change. When he finally responds to Harry, he sounds frightened and begs him not to make him drink anymore. This continues as Harry forces more of the potion on Dumbledore, mortified at what he’s doing. Dumbledore continues to beg, then to scream, wailing about it being all his fault, and how he promises never to do wrong again. Harry tells him that potion will make him feel better. Dumbledore begs for unnamed people not to be hurt, asking to be punished instead. Eventually they reach the bottom, and Dumbledore asks to be killed—Harry insists that the potion will do that. After drinking the final cup, Dumbledore collapses. Harry tries frantically to revive him, and finally the headmaster opens his eyes. He asks for water, but when Harry tries the charm to fill the goblet with water, it doesn’t work. Harry realizes that the only way to get water is from the lake, that Voldemort designed it that way. He hands the cup to Dumbledore, but is grabbed by one of the Inferi, who are now rising from the water. Harry beings to fight them with various spells and hexes, but more keep coming. As he’s about to be dragged under the lake, fire erupts around him; Dumbledore is back on his feet.
The headmaster grabs the locket at the bottom of the basin and puts it in his pocket. The flames distract the Inferi from noticing that they are leaving, and they get back into the boat, Harry helping Dumbledore in. He apologizes for forgetting the point about fire, though Dumbledore says it’s understandable. As soon as they reach the shore, Dumbledore’s ring of fire goes out and the Inferi do not follow. The headmaster is weak and drops his wand, the boat sinks back into the lake again. Harry takes most of Dumbledore’s weight and helps him out, using his blood to open the archway, and promising that he can get them back to Hogwarts.
I love that Rowling makes the point of telling us that Dumbledore does a “perfect breaststroke” into the cave opening because Albus Dumbledore does nothing by halves, people. Nothing.
There are a few things about this first scene that remind me a lot of Lord of the Rings. Dumbledore looking for the entrance further into the cave smacks of Gandalf trying to get into Moria to me, particularly when he has that absentminded moment where he realizes that he forgot to dry Harry off. With the archway lighting up in white, it just seems a tiny bit too similar to be a coincidence.
Of course, once we get past the preliminaries, this is easily one of the most disturbing chapters in the entire series. And that’s a tall order because just inserting what are essentially wizard zombies for LOLs could have easily backfired. But because the Inferi are rendered differently, they don’t read as generic movie zombies, and end up far more frightening. (Rowling decided not the use proper zombies because they are not part of British folklore; the difference between a zombie and an Inferius is supposed to be that the Inferi are artificially made.) That combined with the devastating effects of the Drink of Despair make this section of the story so hard to take—even worse when we have a better idea on who Albus is thinking of as he drinks it.
Dumbledore points out, at the end, that getting past those defenses to the Horcrux is really a two-man job (further proved when we find out the truth about Regulus and Kreacher going after it), which is a perfect example of one of Voldemort’s cardinal weaknesses—he never thought that a powerful wizard who might reach the cave would arrive with a companion that could skirt his security measures. House-elves don’t matter, neither do underage wizards… so many people don’t matter in Voldemort’s eyes. Refusing to acknowledge power he doesn’t understand proves again and again to be his greatest flaw.
And all of that makes this a good experience for Harry, regardless of how it ends. In fact, I’d argue that he learns more about how Voldemort thinks in the cave than his does in all the memories he’s witnessed. And though everything that happens to Harry and Dumbledore is a horror to go through, we end on this:
“It’s going to be all right, sir,” Harry said over and over again, more worried by Dumbledore’s silence than he had been by his weakened voice. “We’re nearly there…. I can Apparate us both back…. Don’t worry….”
“I am not worried, Harry,” said Dumbledore, his voice a little stronger despite the freezing water. “I am with you.”
Far too many emotions, reaching critical mass. No, stop, I can’t. I cannot even begin to articulate how much that moment means and why, with the amount of trust Dumbledore is placing in Harry, but for Harry’s benefit rather than his own. With how little he has to say to let Harry know that he is believed in, that he is a comfort rather than a danger, that he is reliable no matter how he might think of himself in at any given moment. And that’s only half of it. My heart.
Emily Asher-Perrin finds it ironic that Snape threatened to make Harry do more detention time when he’s not going to be around next year. You can bug her on Twitter and Tumblr, and read more of her work here and elsewhere.