Will and Won't
Chapter 3 of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: Will and Won't
At the Dursleys' house, Harry is leaning against his window, asleep. Scattered about his room are many copies of The Daily Prophet. The paper now hails Harry as 'The Chosen One', who will be instrumental in the recently-returned Voldemort's downfall.
Dumbledore arrives at the house to collect Harry. Despite his previously sending a letter setting the time, and Harry anxiously awaiting his arrival for nearly the entire week, he is astonished and puzzled that Dumbledore is fetching him after only two weeks at the Durselys; he is further surprised when Dumbledore actually arrives, as are Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia, who Harry never told about Dumbledore's arrival. Dumbledore merely ignores their disdain and makes himself comfortable. Harry notices that Dumbledore's hand is black and shriveled, but Dumbledore only says he will explain it later.
Sirius Black has bequeathed Harry all his possessions, including 12 Grimmauld Place, Kreacher, and Buckbeak. However, a spell may exist that automatically leaves the inheritance to the eldest surviving Black male or prevents it from passing to a non-pureblood wizard. Because Sirius was the last Black male, it would likely pass to the eldest female relative, namely Bellatrix Lestrange (Sirius's cousin). To test whether Harry is the true heir, Dumbledore summons Kreacher, the loyal Black family House-elf. When Kreacher obeys Harry's command under protest, it confirms that Harry is the rightful heir.
Kreacher is sent to work at Hogwarts, and Buckbeak (now renamed Witherwings) is left in Hagrid's care. Dumbledore tells the Dursleys to expect a short visit from Harry in a year's time. The magical charm that has protected Harry from Voldemort since infancy will expire when he comes of age on his seventeenth birthday. However, he must make one final visit to the Dursleys the following summer to maintain its effectiveness, then all ties to his maternal family can be permanently severed. Before departing, Dumbledore reproaches the Dursleys for their bad manners, mistreating Harry, and over-indulging Dudley.
Harry and Dumbledore's vindication at the last book's conclusion had resulted in Harry once again being lionized; while not actively seen here, we somewhat sense Harry's discomfort at again being hailed the hero. While Harry acted heroically based on the information he had, and alerted the Wizarding world to Voldemort's return, he feels duped and indirectly responsible for Sirius' death. Dumbledore can certainly see this ambivalence in Harry, and while he realizes that Privet Drive is the one place he will be unable to emotionally heal, he also knows that Harry's protection from Voldemort depends on his returning there each summer. Dumbledore probably calculated the minimum time that Harry needed to stay at Privet Drive to retain his mother's protection and has arranged for more a appropriate accommodation, almost certainly the Burrow. He will move Harry there as soon as safely possible.
Dumbledore's injured hand indicates that sinister events may be underway in the Wizarding world that Harry is not yet privy to. For whatever reason, Dumbledore withholds this information, at least for now.
A small highlight on Petunia's character is seen here; as part of her nighttime routine, Petunia apparently cleans and disinfects the kitchen. We have already seen her assigning endless cleaning chores to Harry, and Tonks had earlier mentioned that the house seemed overly clean. Petunia may suffer from an obsessive compulsive disorder, resulting in a need to have everything spotless and germ-free. Harry's thoughts about her dismay at having Kreacher appear on her parlor carpet are not surprising; Harry clearly is aware of Petunia's cleanliness fetish. She may also subconsciously be attempting to wash away any magical traces that Harry's presence has caused to spill over into her very Muggle home.
It has been suggested that Dumbledore's behavior is out of character in this book. This is particularly obvious in here. While still a peaceful and wise wizard, Dumbledore actions seem a bit more direct and urgent than usual. He magically sweeps the Dursleys to the couch, and chides them for their ill-manners, and actively criticizes how they have treated Harry and raised Dudley. While he is still as good-natured and civil as ever, there seems to be an unanticipated edginess in his manner. As expected, the Dursleys apparently ignore Dumbledore's rebuke and seem as unlikely to ever change.
Many readers may be somewhat alarmed when Dumbledore offers Harry and Dudley each a glass of mead. Mead, a wine made from honey, is usually relatively strong at 14% alcohol by volume, and it would be illegal to give it to a minor in North America. Liquor laws are less restrictive in Britain, however, and though someone underage may not purchase liquor in the UK, there is nothing that prohibits someone younger than 18 years from drinking wine or beer if it is offered by an adult.
- Why will Harry no longer be protected at the Dursley's house after his 17th birthday? How will he cope with that?
- What effect will Harry's 17th birthday have on his relationship with the Dursleys?
- What does Dumbledore say to the Dursleys about how they've treated Harry and raised their son, Dudley? Why did he never speak up about this sooner?
- How might Dumbledore have hurt his hand? Why doesn't he tell Harry how it was injured?
- Why would Dumbledore personally fetch Harry from the Dursleys after only two weeks there? Where might he be taking him?
- Dumbledore's behavior and demeanor is somewhat different here. How has it changed, and what might be the reason?
Some theorists believe that Dumbledore used the "Kreacher test" not only to see whether Number 12 Grimmauld Place actually belonged to Harry, rather than Bellatrix Lestrange (Sirius' cousin), but also as a means to determine whether Sirius' younger brother, Regulus Black, was still alive. (It will be learned in the next book that Regulus is the mysterious R.A.B. who had left a note that is found at the end of this novel.) This test may be inconclusive, as the tradition is that property, such as a house, is directly handed down the male family line from eldest to eldest. It is entirely possible that the charm ensuring this, if there was one, would prevent a lateral transfer from the eldest male child, once he had come into his inheritance, to his younger brother. When Sirius died without offspring or living siblings, the charm might have simply ceased operation.
The reason for Dumbledore's drastic character change can be attributed to him being injured by a ring Horcrux, an object containing a deadly curse that should have killed him. He was able to get help from Severus Snape, who has kept him alive by extraordinary magical means, though only temporarily. This minute-to-minute awareness that he will soon die, and the resulting sense of urgency, is likely the cause for his changed character.
Dumbledore, speaking directly to Petunia, mentions that they have corresponded before. There were actually at least four letters, though at this point in our reading there is nothing that can be attributed as being "correspondence". Dumbledore wrote a letter, which he left, along with Harry, on the Dursleys' doorstep at the series' beginning, and the Howler addressed to Petunia in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is also revealed to have been sent by Dumbledore. There is no indication that Petunia responded to either, and correspondence does rather imply that messages are being exchanged; despite this, many readers will assume that it is either one of these letters to which Dumbledore is referring. However, we will learn, in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, that Petunia had earlier written to Hogwarts pleading for admission, and that Dumbledore responded, declining her plea on the grounds that she was unable to perform magic. Dumbledore's implied informational exchange, then, can only have been referring to this first set of letters.