The silver lining of Ron’s poisoning is that Hermione has abandoned her grudge and is now friends with them again. Even better, she tells them that Ginny has fought with her boyfriend because Dean laughed at Harry’s injury. As Harry digests this information – claiming to a suspicious Hermione that he only cares about the dynamics of his Quidditch team – Hermione stops before a terrified first-year girl who has dropped her brass scales and quickly repairs them.
Even though Harry is reluctant to speak about his crush on Ginny and Ron is oblivious to it, Hermione has somehow deduced his feelings. Her ability to intuit what other people are thinking, compared to Ron’s inability to understand the feelings she actively demonstrates, displays her superior emotional maturity.
Luna arrives with a message from Dumbledore, summoning Harry to another lesson. Ron is flustered to see Lavender approaching behind her. Harry and Ron speed away from the incipient argument; although Ron gives no details once he rejoins them, he doesn’t talk to Lavender for the rest of the day. Hermione is in an exceptionally good mood and helps Harry with his homework, even though she knows he’ll let Ron copy.
Harry has always worried that a relationship between Ron and Hermione would tear the friend group apart; however, as such a development appears to be imminent, the trio is also growing much closer and more cohesive than before, showing that not all romance is threatening to friendship.
Harry arrives in Dumbledore’s office as he’s finishing a meeting with Professor Trelawney. When Dumbledore asks Harry what progress he’s made with Slughorn, he’s abashed, having largely forgotten about it since Ron’s poisoning. Although he makes some feeble excuses, Dumbledore remarks sternly that after Ron’s recovery, Harry should have remembered the importance of his task and exercised his “considerable ingenuity” to fulfill it. Harry feels that this “cold disappointment” is much worse than anger.
Harry’s forgetfulness about the assignment reflects a reluctance to believe that Dumbledore has truly assigned him a critical task and expects him to behave like an adult. It’s also telling that Harry’s remorse stems from his desire for Dumbledore to think positively of him – in his relationship with the professor, respect is a much better motivator than fear.
After an uncomfortable silence, Harry apologizes sincerely for not having given the matter more attention. Dumbledore quietly acknowledges this and changes the subject to Voldemort’s murky life after Hogwarts. Having become a top student and Head Boy by his last year at school, Tom Riddle confounded expectations by going to work at Borgin and Burkes. He also approached the current headmaster about teaching Defense Against the Dark Arts at Hogwarts. Dumbledore theorizes that he wanted to influence a new generation of students, or that he had a genuine attachment to the school, which was “the first and only place he had felt at home.”
Even though this is a comparatively small matter, Harry has acknowledged the fact that he did something wrong, and Dumbledore has absolved him from this transgression and allowed him to move on. Instead of judging other people for their flaws, Harry is learning to appreciate his own fallibility as well as the possibility of personal change in which Dumbledore so strongly believes.
At Borgin and Burkes, Voldemort quickly rose through the ranks and was often sent to persuade people to sell their valuable antiques. Standing by the Pensieve, Dumbledore draws Harry into the memory of a house-elf Hokey, who is tying the shoelaces of her mistress, Hepzibah Smith, in the midst of a living room overstuffed with luxurious furniture, books, and statuettes. The doorbell rings and Tom Riddle enters; more handsome than ever, he presents a bouquet of flowers, which Hepzibah flirtatiously accepts.
It’s important that many of Dumbledore’s memories come from people often ignored by mainstream society – the eccentric Morfin, overworked Hokey, and even Burke, who’s usually dismissed as a mere shopkeeper. Combatting Voldemort is less a matter of heroic individual conduct than of listening to marginalized people and putting together the clues they offer.
Riddle begins to negotiate for some armor that Burke wants to buy, but Hepzibah interrupts him, offering to show him treasures that no one else knows she owns. She orders Hokey to bring over two leather boxes. In the first is a golden chalice that once belonged to Helga Hufflepuff; letting Riddle hold it briefly, Hepzibah doesn’t seem to notice “the shadow that crossed Voldemort’s face” as she takes it away.
Hepzibah allows her feelings for Riddle to cloud her judgment, and this is what ultimately causes her demise. Although Harry doesn’t seem to realize it now, it’s a lesson on forming moral judgments based on emotional impulses.
The second box reveals a large golden necklace; holding it up, Riddle immediately deduces that it once belonged to Slytherin. Hepzibah says she bought the necklace from Burke, who himself acquired it from a poor woman who had no idea what it was worth. Harry sees Riddle’s eyes go “scarlet,” and for a moment he thinks that Riddle won’t return the locket. However, after a minute he lets it slip back into the box.
When Harry heard how Merope was forced to sell the necklace, he felt pity for the woman’s vulnerability; however, Voldemort doesn’t seem to identify with his mother at all. Instead, he feels rage to have started his life in such an impoverished and ignominious state. Family is without value to him unless it confers status.
Dumbledore pulls Harry out of the memory and tells him that Hepzibah Smith died two days after this episode. Having admitted to putting a substance she thought was sugar but was actually a lethal poison in her mistress’s cocoa, Hokey herself was convicted of the crime. Harry remarks that the Ministry was probably predisposed to blame her because she was a house-elf. Meanwhile, Hepzibah’s family notices that her two most valuable possessions are missing and Tom Riddle suddenly vanishes from his job.
Just as he did to his Uncle Morfin, Voldemort pins his crime on someone he knows the Ministry is likely to suspect. His ability capitalize on biases within the Wizarding world reveals not only his malice but the extent to which that society is flawed and weakened by its close-mindedness.
Thinking over this episode, Dumbledore remarks that Riddle killed not for revenge, as with his father, but to gain trophies – the same reason that he bullied children in his orphanage. Harry remarks that this behavior is insane, but Dumbledore says he probably thought the locket was rightfully his and wanted to own the cup as a stronger connection to Hogwarts.
It’s interesting that Voldemort has such a strong and apparently heartfelt connection to Hogwarts – he relates to the school much as Harry does. As with other events in the villain’s early life, this creates a sense of similarity between him and the boy he’s chosen as his enemy.
Finally, Dumbledore produces one of his own recollections, the last thing he has to share with Harry until they obtain Slughorn’s memory. Harry dives into the Pensieve and finds himself back in the same office, looking at a younger version of his professor. The door opens and Riddle enters; no longer a handsome young man, his face seems “waxy and oddly distorted.” Dumbledore politely refuses to address his pupil by the new name he has adopted. Riddle unctuously commends Dumbledore for remaining at Hogwarts, rather than seeking a more glamorous job, before announcing that he has returned to seek a teaching position at the school.
Although Harry doesn’t yet know it, Voldemort’s “distorted” appearance indicates the extent to which he has destroyed his own humanity. Even though the Horcruxes give him immortality, by taking away human feelings like love and empathy they ultimately make him vulnerable. Although Harry and Voldemort have similar origins, the values they develop ultimately separate them and make Harry a serious opponent to the villain.
With composure, Dumbledore says that frightening rumors have reached him about Riddle’s activities; Riddle dismisses this, saying that people are jealous of his greatness and his knowledge of magic. Dumbledore remarks that, while his former pupil is knowledgeable in some areas, he’s “woefully ignorant” in others; Riddle responds leeringly that no evidence supports Dumbledore’s famous theory that love is the most powerful form of magic.
Riddle automatically dismisses Dumbledore’s theory, but in fact it’s Lily Potter’s love that will eventually protect Harry from Voldemort’s curse. In this sense, Riddle underscores Dumbledore’s lesson to Harry that he should interrogate the things that frighten him – like Voldemort’s past – rather than cultivating his own ignorance about them.
Dumbledore remarks on the sinister group of acolytes Riddle has cultivated. Many of them, calling themselves Death Eaters, are waiting for him in Hogsmeade at this minute. It’s odd that he would return to his old school surrounded by henchmen. Seeing that he’s not going to get a job, Riddle stands up to leave; Dumbledore sadly wishes that Riddle were young again and could be frightened into repenting of his actions.
Growing up is supposed to be a positive experience, emphasizing all the possibilities that lie before a young person. However, Dumbledore seems to view it as a tragic end to a period in which Voldemort’s character had the potential to change. For Voldemort, coming of age means the stagnation, rather than the growth, of character.
As Voldemort leaves, Harry and Dumbledore exit the memory. Dumbledore says that he doesn’t know exactly why Voldemort wanted the job, but will share his hypotheses after Harry acquires Slughorn’s memory. He believes the school’s subsequent inability to retain a Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher is Voldemort’s revenge.
Dumbledore’s unhurried revelation of Voldemort’s secrets gives Harry the sense that the professor is powerful and secure in his role as protector, and that there’s plenty of time to learn from him – two beliefs that will turn out, unfortunately, to be false.