For the next few weeks everyone gossips about Harry and Ginny’s new romance, but Harry doesn’t care – it’s a nice change to find himself the center of attention for a good reason. To his amusement, Ginny reports that girls have been asking her if Harry has a hippogriff tattooed on his chest. She spreads a rumor that Ron has a Pygmy Puff tattoo, causing her brother to threaten to rescind his “permission” for her to date Harry. Ginny scoffs at this, saying that she doesn’t need his permission for anything.
Ginny’s ability to publicly date Harry seems to affirm her agency, as well as the general precept that women can and should determine the direction of their own romantic lives. However, it’s important that the male perspectives have not changed. Ron sees himself as having given “permission” for the two to date, and Harry’s peace of mind is contingent on that permission.
However, Harry and Ginny can’t spend that much time together, as she has to study for her upcoming O.W.L. exams. One night when she’s retired to the library, Hermione brings up the subject of Harry’s Potions book, into whose origins she’s been conducting research. She produces an old and tiny picture showing a “cross and sullen” Hogwarts student named Eileen Prince. Harry bursts out laughing at the idea that such an unprepossessing girl could have been the owner of a book; he tells Hermione that he “can just tell” it was a boy. When Hermione storms off, Ron says she’s just mad at being outdone in Potions.
Harry’s chauvinistic assertion that a girl – especially an unattractive girl – couldn’t have written the potions book annotations is pretty dispiriting. Moreover, as the read will discover later, it’s ill-considered. Moments like this, when Harry succumbs to prejudice, are usually moments in which his judgment proves faulty or he failed to make an important conclusion.
As Harry is mulling over the Prince’s identity another student arrives with a letter summoning Harry to Dumbledore’s office immediately. As he passes by the Room of Requirement, he encounters a drunken Professor Trelawney who has been trying unsuccessfully to enter the room and dispose of her empty sherry bottles. She remarks that she heard “whooping” in celebration in the room; when she called out, everything went back and she was thrust out of the room.
Even though Professor Trelawney is generally deemed weak and incompetent, here she provides important information. Although Harry isn’t always a wholehearted listener (see his behavior above) his willingness to entertain the narratives of people who are usually ignored gives him important advantages.
Deducing that Draco is celebrating something inside the Room of Requirement, Harry persuades Trelawney to come with him and relate the story to Dumbledore. Lecturing Harry on her many talents, Trelawney recounts her initial interview with Dumbledore – during which, Harry already knows, she made the prophecy that changed his entire life. Without understanding the importance of her words, she mentions that the interview was interrupted by Severus Snape, who was caught eavesdropping at the door. Harry stops in shock, realizing that it was Snape who heard the prophecy and carried it to Voldemort, thus dooming his parents.
Throughout the year, Dumbledore has been treating Harry more and more like an adult – their most recent conference portrayed them as equal combatants, rather than teacher and student. However, in this moment Harry realizes how much Dumbledore is still concealing from him – in essence, the extent to which he’s a player in a larger scheme orchestrated by the headmaster.
Harry leaves Professor Trelawney in the hallway barges into Dumbledore’s office, intending to confront him. However, he’s confounded by Dumbledore’s announcement that he has found a Horcrux in a coastal cave, where Tom Riddle once tormented some children from his orphanage. He wants Harry to help him destroy it. Harry instantly agrees, but Dumbledore notices something is wrong and questions him – whereupon Harry bursts out that Dumbledore knew all along that Snape revealed the prophecy to Voldemort and still let him teach at the school all these years.
Harry doesn’t know whether to feel betrayed by the information Dumbledore has withheld or pleased by the invitation he’s extended. This reflects Harry’s larger confusion about the nature of his relationship with Dumbledore – sometimes the professor is warm and supportive like a parent, but other times he’s cool and distanced, giving the impression that he’s interested in Harry primarily as a tool to defeat Voldemort.
Quietly, Dumbledore tells Harry that Snape made a “terrible mistake” by working with the Death Eaters and revealing the prophecy; his role in James and Lily’s death is the “greatest regret of his life.” Again, Harry questions Dumbledore’s trust in Snape, pointing out that he’s a very good liar and that he’s probably up to something with Draco right now. Harry becomes more and more angry but Dumbledore cuts off his outburst, saying curtly that he doesn’t want to discuss this anymore.
Perhaps it’s so hard for Harry to believe in personal redemption because Snape is the test case through which Dumbledore presents this precept. Accepting the possibility of character change doesn’t just require him to extend compassion, it asks him to forgive someone who has grievously harmed his family.
Dumbledore continues that if Harry accompanies him, he must be prepared to obey any order given – even if Dumbledore should tell Harry to leave him to die and save himself. Reluctantly, Harry agrees. He returns to the dormitory to fetch his Invisibility Cloak; while he’s there he tells Ron and Hermione about Trelawney’s encounter with Draco, asking them to keep track of his whereabouts. He gives them the Marauder’s Map and the rest of his Felix Felicis potion.
By accompanying Dumbledore on this dangerous task, Harry is hoping to prove that he’s now a capable adult, not a student. At the same time, Dumbledore’s stipulation emphasizes the extent to which Harry is still a child, working under his protection rather than in equal cooperation with him.
Back in the office, Harry dons his cloak and leaves the castle with Dumbledore, who says he’s going to Hogsmeade for a drink. They pass by the Three Broomsticks, where Madame Rosmerta greets Dumbledore kindly. Once they’ve reached a more secluded street Dumbledore grabs Harry’s arm and he feels the unpleasant sensation of Apparition once again.
The traditional fixtures of Hogwarts life – the walk into Hogsmeade and Madam Rosmerta’s friendly face – are a jarring contrast with the dangerous mission Harry is now undertaking. This underscores the extent to which public life has been changed by Voldemort’s rise.