Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

by

J. K. Rowling

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Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: Chapter Four: Horace Slughorn Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Harry feels awkward walking down the road with Dumbledore – especially given that last time he saw Dumbledore he was distraught and furious over Sirius’s death. Dumbledore grips Harry’s arm and Apparates away from the neighborhood to a dark and deserted village. Since Harry has never Apparated before, the sensation confuses him. Walking briskly, Dumbledore asks if Harry’s scar has been hurting him; Harry says it hasn’t, which means that Voldemort has ceased trying to gain access to Harry’s mind.
Even though Dumbledore is one of the most trusted adults in Harry’s life, it’s still hard for him to relate to the headmaster on a personal level. The fact that their relationship largely revolves around fighting Voldemort suggests that, while Dumbledore is an invaluable authority figure, he’s not a perfect substitute for a parental figure whose primary concern is Harry’s safety – like Sirius.
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When Harry asks where they’re going, Dumbledore says that he’s hoping Harry can help persuade an old colleague to return to teach at Hogwarts. Harry isn’t sure how he can do this, but he changes the subject, asking if Dumbledore thinks the new Minister of Magic is a “good” man. Without quite answering the question, Dumbledore says that Scrimgeour is “more decisive and forceful” than Fudge.
One of Harry’s best traits is that he usually evaluates others based on their character, rather than the power they wield. This quality is especially remarkable given that most of the Wizarding world conceives of him in terms of his hypothetical power to fight Voldemort.
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Harry wants to know about the argument reported in the Prophet, but chooses not to pry. Instead, he asks about Dumbledore’s blackened hand. With a reassuring smile, the professor says it’s a story for another time.
Dumbledore’s ability to “reassure” Harry, as he’s done since Harry’s childhood, contrasts with this new evidence of the professor’s fragility.
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Harry and Dumbledore turn to discussing the recent Ministry leaflet they’ve received, sharing a laugh over the useless advice. Teasingly, Dumbledore suggests that Harry should’ve made him prove he wasn’t an imposter by asking his “favorite flavor of jam.” Harry asks about the Inferi mentioned in the leaflet, and Dumbledore calmly explains that they are corpses enchanted to fight for a Dark wizard.
Dumbledore and Harry’s mutual disregard for the Ministry leaflet signals their lack of trust in official government institutions and reflects the first chapter’s characterization of political leaders as seedy and incompetent.
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Dumbledore draws up before a small house whose front door looks like it was recently torn off its hinges. Full of fear and dread, Harry follows Dumbledore inside to see “a scene of total devastation” – broken chairs, a fallen chandelier, blood on the wallpaper. Harry suggests that the house’s owner has been dragged away, but after moving carefully through the wreckage Dumbledore gives a sharp prod to one of the armchairs, which emits a squeal and transforms into a squat elderly man in pajamas.
Even though Harry is filled with dread at the idea of entering a house recently sacked by Death Eaters, he’s not entirely surprised. Even at the novel’s outset, his worldview has changed to absorb the new disturbances and dangers that accompany Voldemort’s rise to power.
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The man is annoyed that Dumbledore discovered his ruse, but the professor points out that if the Death Eaters really had been there, they would have set the Dark Mark over the house. The two men use magic to reassemble the furniture and return the room to its original state. Having finished, the man glimpses Harry’s scar; his eyes widen and he makes a surprised exclamation. Dumbledore introduces them formally, telling Harry that this man is an old colleague named Horace Slughorn.
Slughorn’s immediate recognition of Harry underlines the teenager’s celebrity status, which will become increasingly prominent throughout the novel. Despite all the recognition and special treatment he receives, Harry never becomes arrogant and entitled – his lack of concern with material success is one of his best traits, and it positively differentiates him from many other characters.
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Turning on Dumbledore, Slughorn says he can’t be “persuaded;” but he agrees to pour everyone a drink. Dumbledore kindly asks after Slughorn’s health, and the old man complains of various physical ailments – even though, as the professor points out, he must have been very agile to prepare the house so quickly for their arrival. Looking pointedly at Dumbledore’s blackened hand, Slughorn says he ought to think about retiring himself. Harry notices that Dumbledore is wearing a new ring with a cracked black stone in its center.
From his first appearance, Slughorn provides a marked contrast to Dumbledore. Although the two men are of equal age, Slughorn is preoccupied with evading detection, while Dumbledore actively puts himself in harm’s way in order to lead the fight against Voldemort.
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Slughorn admits that he’s been moving from house to house and hiding from visitors in order to keep clear of the Death Eaters, who want to recruit him. Dumbledore praises him for his ingenious tactics, but remarks that his life seems very stressful; on the contrary, if he returned to Hogwarts he could enjoy the school’s protection. Horace grumbles that he doesn’t want to get involved in any of the goings-on at the school – especially with the number of teachers who have left under strange circumstances in past years.
While Slughorn’s evasive attitude and reluctance to commit himself to Dumbledore’s side seems like evidence of cowardice, it’s also evident that he’s taken significant steps in order to avoid joining the Death Eaters, which is itself a sign of bravery and resistance to Voldemort’s seemingly inexorable rise.
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Dumbledore excuses himself to go to the bathroom and Slughorn turns to Harry, saying that he has his father’s looks and his mother’s eyes – a comment Harry has heard dozens of times. Harry’s mother, Lily, was one of his Slughorn’s favorite students. He always wished that she was in Slytherin, the house of which he was Head; catching the look of suspicion in Harry’s eyes, he genially warns him not to hold this against him.
Slughorn clearly values Lily’s intellectual gifts, but he’s also the former Head of Slytherin, Hogwarts’ most nefarious House. Everything that Slughorn says makes it impossible for Harry to form a definitive moral impression of the older man.
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Slughorn continues that, given Lily’s academic abilities, he couldn’t believe she was Muggle-born. Coldly, Harry says that his best friend is both Muggle-born and the best witch in the class. Slughorn clarifies that he’s not “prejudiced” – in fact, many of his favorites are Muggle-born. He points to a collection of photos on a dresser, which display former students who have become powerful in the Ministry or the Wizarding bank, Gringotts, or have achieved fame as writers or Quidditch players. Slughorn brags that they all remember the ways he helped him and they frequently send him presents – although, since he’s in hiding, it’s been hard to receive the gifts.
Despite his assurances to the contrary, Slughorn’s disbelief that so many of his successful students are Muggle-born shows that he does harbor some ingrained prejudice. Moreover, his evident regard for students who have achieved fame or power after Hogwarts testifies to his preoccupation with material success – a trait that makes him fascinated with Harry but also differentiates him starkly from the teenager.
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Slughorn seems a little surprised to hear himself speak about the loneliness of life in hiding. Still, he says, it’s wiser to live like this than to join the Hogwarts staff and tacitly declare loyalty to the Order. Harry feels disdainful of Slughorn’s timidity – especially when contrasted to Sirius’s bravery and the hardship he himself endures – but he points out that most Hogwarts teachers aren’t in the order. None of them have been killed except for Quirrell, who was working with Voldemort and “got what he deserved.” As long as Dumbledore is Headmaster, the teachers are probably safer than anyone else.
Harry’s disdain for Slughorn is somewhat justified, given the heroic examples like Sirius to whom he compares the old professor. However, by insisting on holding everyone to impossibly high standards, Harry reveals his black-and-white conception of moral character. This trait is further highlighted by his ruthless dismissal of Quirrell and refusal to concede that the professor may have had some redeeming qualities.
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Dumbledore returns from the bathroom and pleasantly announces that it’s time to leave. Just as they’re leaving the house, Slughorn runs after them and shouts that he wants the job, after all. Dumbledore laughs and congratulates Harry as they walk away, although the boy doesn’t understand how he helped at all.
Harry doesn’t understand that, as a famous and somewhat glamorous figure, he’s the best enticement for Slughorn to return to Hogwarts.
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When Dumbledore asks Harry’s opinion on Slughorn, the boy doesn’t know how to respond. Dumbledore fills the silence by explaining Horace’s background: he’s always been attracted to “the company of the famous, the successful, and the powerful.” While he doesn’t seek limelight himself, he likes to feel that he influences people; as a Hogwarts teacher he had an “uncanny knack” of identifying students who would achieve great success and cultivating them as favorites. Dumbledore says that when he returns he will surely try to “collect” Harry, and he warns Harry to be on guard.
Just as he did during their conversation about the Minister of Magic, Dumbledore encourages Harry to evaluate people based on character rather than material power. However, it’s important that Dumbledore doesn’t share Harry’s judgmental attitude towards Slughorn; here, he enumerates the professor’s traits without making an explicit moral judgment.
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After another unsettling Apparition, Harry and Dumbledore arrive at the Burrow. Just looking at the building and knowing that Ron and Mrs. Weasley are inside makes Harry feel calm and cheerful. However, Dumbledore guides Harry into a broom shed for a conference before they part.
The Burrow, which represents friendship and family, is a marked contrast to Slughorn’s lonely abode, populated only by photos of famous students.
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First, the professor commends Harry on how he’s handling Sirius’s death. After hearing Uncle Vernon refer to this tragedy so callously, Harry doesn’t want to discuss it; but Dumbledore looks at him levelly and expresses his sorrow that Harry had so little time with his godfather. Harry suspects that Dumbledore knows he spent his entire time at the Dursleys lying on his bed and refusing to eat. He doesn’t want to admit how much it meant to him to know that someone cared about him “almost like a parent,” and how hard it is to lose that comforting presence.
Even though Harry’s behavior towards his friends and the Weasleys shows that he values family above all else, he also sees his reliance on parental figures as a weakness. In this sense, he’s eerily similar to Voldemort, who never trusts anyone. However, while Voldemort allows this impulse to fundamentally isolate him, Harry overcomes it to forge meaningful relationships.
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Harry tells Dumbledore that Sirius wouldn’t have wanted him to “crack up.” The best way to honor his godfather is to take down Voldemort. Dumbledore commends him on his sentiments, saying he’s talking like his father’s son.
Instead of openly letting himself grieve, Harry reacts to Sirius’s death by putting on a brave and adult face that doesn’t necessarily feel natural.
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Next, Dumbledore brings up the Daily Prophet, which has been reporting various rumors about a prophecy discovered last spring at the Ministry of Magic. No matter how much they pretend to know, only Harry and Dumbledore have actually heard the prophecy, which states that neither Harry nor Voldemort can live while the other survives. Dumbledore warns Harry not to speak freely about the prophecy but suggests he tell Ron and Hermione. Although doing so might entail confessing that he is “worried and frightened,” the professor points out that Sirius would not have wanted Harry to “shut himself away” from his friends.
The fact that only Harry and Dumbledore are aware of the prophecy heightens the sense that it’s only they, rather than the government, who are fully in the know about Voldemort’s motivations. Even though Dumbledore encourages Harry to think of himself as central in the fight against Voldemort, he also exhorts him to cultivate a close circle of friends with whom he can fight the Dark wizard.
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Changing the subject, Dumbledore says that this year he will be giving Harry private lessons. Harry is eager to know what he’ll be learning, but Dumbledore keeps mysteriously quiet. He warns Harry that this year he must be especially vigilant about safety, keeping his Invisibility Cloak with him at all times. He must also keep close to the Burrow, which has been given high security protection by the Ministry; the Weasleys have suffered inconvenience for Harry’s sake, and while they don’t mind at all, it would be thoughtless of Harry to risk his life while staying with them.
Even though the Ministry has given the Burrow powerful protections, Dumbledore doesn’t consider Harry completely safe. These additional security warnings from Dumbledore heighten Harry’s sense of danger and vulnerability, as well as the inability of government institutions to provide meaningful protection.
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