A Sluggish Memory
Chapter 17 of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: A Sluggish Memory
Harry, Ron, and Ginny return to Hogwarts via the Floo Network after Christmas. Evidently, the Fat Lady enjoyed too much wine over the holiday, and the new Gryffindor Tower password is "Abstinence". In the Common room, Ron is immediately enfolded by Lavender, while Ginny has promised to meet Dean, though Harry senses a lack of enthusiasm for that meeting.
Hermione, who is ignoring Ron, finds a quiet corner with Harry, and he shares what happened during Christmas break, including the conversation with Rufus Scrimgeour. Hermione naturally concurs with Mr. Weasley and Lupin, that Snape was attempting to discover what Malfoy's mission is. She reminds Harry that it was Fenrir Greyback's name that Malfoy threatened Borgin with, at Borgin and Burkes.
The next morning, a notice on the bulletin board announces Apparition training for students turning 17 before 31 August, which includes everyone in the Sixth Year class. Students are excited about learning how, even after Harry describes the unpleasant sensations of traveling by side-along Apparition.
That night, Harry arrives at Dumbledore's office for another lesson. Harry relates what happened over Christmas, including Rufus Scrimgeour's visit. Dumbledore displays a rare emotional flicker when Harry tells him about being "Dumbledore's man through and through". Harry also recounts Snape and Draco's conversation; Dumbledore thanks him for the information, but says Harry need not be concerned and reaffirms his trust in Snape.
Before they enter the memories, Dumbledore recaps: Riddle was admitted to Hogwarts and sorted into Slytherin house, where he learned about Salazar Slytherin's ability to converse with snakes. The staff expected little from Riddle. He was a polite, good-looking, ambitious orphan, so many took pity on him. Dumbledore never shared his opinions about Tom to the staff, allowing him to start anew without any bias. Dumbledore describes how Death Eater forerunners gravitated around Riddle but admits difficulty in obtaining memories of him during his time at Hogwarts. Riddle at that time also became obsessed with his parentage.
The first new memory belongs to Riddle's Uncle Morfin. In it, Riddle arrives at the Gaunts' and converses with Morfin in Parseltongue. Morfin tells Tom about his father, Tom Riddle, Sr., and his mother, Merope, and shows him the Peverell ring, saying that Merope had taken Slytherin's locket. The memory abruptly ends. Morfin remembered nothing until after he awoke the next day and the ring was gone. Dumbledore says when Riddle Sr. and his parents were found murdered, the Ministry accused Morfin, who readily confessed. Dumbledore speculates that Riddle Stunned his uncle, performed the murders, and then implanted false memories into Morfin's mind.
The second memory is Slughorn's. He and the Slug Club during Riddle's era are chatting. Twice the memory inexplicably turns foggy and only Slughorn's voice is heard, notably when Riddle asks him about Horcruxes. Slughorn seems to respond that he knows nothing about them. Dumbledore explains that the memory was tampered with and tasks Harry with obtaining Slughorn's true memory.
Dumbledore had hoped Tom Riddle would turn over a new leaf, but his underlying suspicions were well founded. It appears Tom began building the foundation for his evil plan while still at Hogwarts, recruiting followers who were to become the first Death Eaters. Riddle also sought retaliation against his father for abandoning him and his mother, even though Riddle Sr. had actually been magically seduced by Merope. That does not completely absolve Riddle, Sr., however, who rejected his child that bore no fault for his mother's duplicity, leaving him stranded in an orphanage. However, this all matters little to Tom, who is so consumed by hate and revenge that he extends his retaliation beyond his doomed father to his innocent paternal grandparents, murdering them to obliterate any ties to his despised Muggle bloodline. Although Riddle succeeded in eliminating his Muggle family, this violent act could never purge what he truly is—a half-blood. He will be continually plagued with and motivated with self-loathing over his perceived tainted lineage. Nor did Riddle feel any loyalty to his pure-blooded Gaunt side, falsely incriminating his Uncle Morfin for the Riddles' murders. By eliminating both his paternal and maternal relations, Riddle took the first step in his "rebirth" as Lord Voldemort, shedding blood ties and having loyalty to no one.
We note, in Slughorn's memory, that Slughorn mentions someone named Lestrange. While it is possible that the person referred to here is Rabastan or Rodolphus, those characters are apparently quite young when we see them at their trial. In support of their apparent age, we understand that one of them has married Bellatrix, sister to Narcissa, who is only slightly older than Harry's father. Recalling this memory is now some fifty years old, we tentatively identify this Lestrange as possibly being the father, or uncle, of Rabastan and Rodolphus.
Although the new Gryffindor password, "abstinence," supposedly refers to the Fat Lady having imbibed too much wine, it could also reflect the older students' burgeoning sexual maturity. With all the confused emotions and chaotic relationships that many characters are experiencing, this may be the author's way of humorously warning them to "slow down." This could certainly apply to Lavender, though Ron seems rather reluctant to return to her arms. Hermione may also have noticed this, which is why she is willing to talk with Harry in the common room, rather than finding an empty classroom as she had done previously. Hermione, being far more observant about human nature than either Harry or Ron, may have noticed that Ron and Lavender's relationship could be unraveling. Harry similarly notes Ginny's apparent reticence to return to Dean's side, though readers may suspect this is merely wishful thinking on Harry's part.
Note is made here that the Floo network had been extended to Hogwarts specifically to allow the students to return after Christmas. This seems something of a contradiction, as Dumbledore had returned to his own office by means of the Floo network in the previous book, Sirius Black's head had appeared on a number of occasions in the Gryffindor common room fireplace, Snape had summoned Professor Lupin using a very similar technique in an earlier book, and Professor Umbridge had mentioned that all the fireplaces were monitored. There is no explanation for this apparent contradiction, but we can speculate. It is possible that, in order to prevent students from slipping away without permission, the vast majority of the fireplaces at Hogwarts were connected to the Floo network by a very small portal, enough to admit a head and no more. Why even this connection would be made is uncertain, unless it is intended to serve as an emergency exit from the common room; a head-sized attachment may be sufficient to keep the grate attached to the Network, but not present a threat of unwanted incursions or excursions, and the charm could be set to expand the connection to full size in an emergency. It is possible that the limitations are removed from the House Heads' and the Headmaster's fireplaces, or of all teachers at the School, on the grounds that they are responsible enough to use them. In this case, the restriction against using the Floo network is not actually one of the school not being connected, but of the House Heads restricting the parade of people through their fireplaces.
The reader should note the wording Professor Dumbledore uses when Harry reports the conversation between Professor Snape and Draco Malfoy.
- Why did Tom Riddle murder his Muggle grandparents, in addition to his father?
- Why does Dumbledore react the way he does when Harry says he told Scrimgeour that he is, "Dumbledore's man?"
- Why doesn't Snape's conversation with Malfoy worry Dumbledore?
- Why would Slughorn alter his memory?
- Did Dumbledore truly believe Tom Riddle was turning over a new leaf when he started Hogwarts? Give evidence both for and against this.
- Why would Tom Riddle frame his Uncle Morfin for the Riddles' murders?
Harry points out that Tom Riddle was underage when he stunned Morfin, but the Ministry failed to detect it. Dumbledore explains that when an underaged wizard is in a Wizarding residence, the Ministry is unable to tell who performs magic, and must rely on adult wizards to monitor any underage magical activity. In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Ron calls this monitoring a Trace and says it automatically breaks on a wizard's 17th birthday. The Trace apparently detects any magic and the location, which is why Dobby's Hover charm at the Dursley house was detected just before Harry's second year. This generally would have been ignored if it occurred in a Wizarding residence, but as Harry is the only magical person living at Privet Drive, it was automatically assumed he was the one who cast it. One does rather wonder why the Trace failed to detect Tom Riddle Sr.'s murder and the creation of the resultant Horcrux. We can only speculate, of course, but one possibility is that the Trace does not report magic occurring in the immediate vicinity of an adult wizard; this would also explain the Ministry's failure to detect Harry's use of magic later in this book. If Tom were aware of that, as he likely would be, he could have brought the stunned Morfin with him to the Riddle house; and Morfin's presence would have prevented the Trace from triggering.
Before Dumbledore collected Harry from the Dursleys', he already knew about Draco Malfoy's mission, and quite possibly Snape's Unbreakable Vow almost as soon as Snape made it. This is why he seems unconcerned by Harry's revelation: because to him, it is not a revelation at all, but simply a corroborating report on a situation of which he is well aware. The specific wording Dumbledore uses here is important; he does not say that he disbelieves Harry, rather that this is not Harry's concern. Harry, however, fails to hear the actual words, seeing only the dismissal, and believes Dumbledore is discounting this threat, whatever it is.
Of course, Harry's observations that Ginny seems reluctant to return to Dean, and also Ron's hesitation to resume his relationship with Lavender, are foreshadowing. Both relationships will break up at the same time, in about four months.
Very little in this chapter connects to other books, with the possible exception of the discussions surrounding the Trace. The Decree for the Reasonable Restriction of Underage Sorcery is mentioned, or implied, a number of times through the series, and forms a backdrop to much of Harry's activities outside the school year.