After the Burial
Chapter 22 of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: After the Burial
Ron and Hermione are studying the Apparition handbooks in preparation for their test, and Harry, too young to take the test, is keeping them company. Hagrid sends a message saying that Aragog, the giant spider, has died. He asks if Harry, Ron, and Hermione could attend the funeral. Between the three, they decide not to go; it is such a silly thing to get detention over, after all.
Hermione suggests Harry have another try at Professor Slughorn's memory during class, as it will be pretty sparse with students off taking Apparition tests. Ron suggests using the Felix Felicis potion to help Harry get Professor Slughorn's memory. Hermione agrees, but Harry is reluctant; he had been saving it, although he is unsure for what – but it has something to do with Ginny breaking up with Dean, and Ron somehow getting a girlfriend he actually likes.
With only three people in Potions class (Harry, Ernie, and Draco), Professor Slughorn sets an open challenge: make whatever they like. Harry notices that Draco is looking thinner and rather unhealthy, and believes that whatever he is doing in the Room of Requirement is not going so well. Slughorn is impressed with Harry's Euphoria Elixir, but he again escapes when they are left alone. Returning to the Gryffindor Common room, Harry learns that Hermione passed Apparition, but Ron failed for splinching half an eyebrow.
Harry, Hermione, and Ron head for the dorm, where Harry drinks some Felix Felicis. To Ron and Hermione's amazement, Harry suddenly decides to attend Aragog's funeral. Covered by his Invisibility cloak, Harry returns to the Common room, followed by Ron and Hermione. Lavender, seeing only Ron and Hermione emerging from the boy's dorm, flies into a jealous rage. Heading out the portrait hole, Harry brushes against Ginny; she thinks it is Dean, and rounds on him.
Following a detour that the potion seems to suggest, Harry runs into Slughorn who, upon learning about Aragog's death, notes that Acromantula venom is particularly valuable. Recognizing that this might entice Slughorn to share his memory about Tom Riddle, Harry invites him to the funeral. Slughorn arrives at Hagrid's hut, well dressed and carrying bottles of mead. After an emotional service, and with help from Harry's flawless and surreptitious refilling charm, Hagrid and Slughorn become drunk. Knowing Slughorn will remember nothing the next morning, Harry talks about his parents' death. Hearing how his favorite student, Lily Evans, died, causes Slughorn to become extremely sad. Harry says he needs the memory about Tom Riddle, and, as a persuasion tactic, reminds Slughorn that he is Lily's son. After being convinced that Harry is the "Chosen One", the teary-eyed professor yields his memory to Harry, then falls asleep.
This is the first time Harry's persuasion powers have been truly observed, though as he was using Felix Felicis at the time, we are uncertain if he would be so persuasive without it. This is also the first time that Harry has spoken about his parents' death in this manner, and probably the only time without experiencing extreme emotion, knowing it will help secure Slughorn's memory and to fight Voldemort. Even in death, James and Lily are still able to battle the Dark Lord. Readers should recall some chapters back that Professor Dumbledore said Harry was uniquely equipped to obtain Slughorn's memory. Dumbledore may have known about the Felix Felicis, though using it may actually have been unnecessary; Dumbledore knows that Harry having Lily's eyes, and Lily being one of Slughorn's favorite students, would be a powerful and emotional persuasion tactic. That, and being well plied with alcohol, is enough to coax Slughorn into divulging the memory; remembering Lily's sacrifice in fighting Voldemort also helped. Although Slughorn will have forgotten the incident when he awakes, he probably would have appreciated the irony that it was his own Good Luck potion that allowed Harry to retrieve a memory that he tried so hard to keep hidden.
Slughorn's self-centredness also becomes more evident here. He mentions that all the mead he brought is quite safe, he had a House-Elf drink some from each bottle to ensure it was not poisoned. This revelation disquiets Harry, as it shows that Slughorn sees nothing wrong with risking a House-elf's life to protect his own. We can give him the benefit of the doubt, here, and assume that he had another Bezoar on hand in case a bottle was poisoned, though this is not mentioned. However, this rather callous display might lead Harry to be more involved with, or at least less dismissive of, Hermione's Society for the Protection of Elvish Welfare.
Hagrid's almost child-like simplicity is seen again. His reaction to most setbacks is to get drunk, which he manages quite quickly here. Hagrid's amazement at Aragog's children not affording him safe passage is also a sign of his innocence. Though he is probably at least 65-years-old, he still fails to understand that obligations are not indefinite, and that a covenant Aragog considered binding may not extend to his descendants, nor will it protect Hagrid's friends.
Harry's first year at Hogwarts started in September after he turned 11-years-old, though this is the first time that his, Hermione's, and Ron's relative ages have been mentioned. Hermione, whose birthday falls in September, is nearly a year older than Harry, while Ron, who has a March birthday, is four or five months older than Harry and six months younger than Hermione. Harry's birthday falling in July means he is unable to take his Apparition test until the summer.
Ron's failing the Apparition test by such a small margin is fully in character; his use of magic seems somewhat slap-dash and, perhaps, marginally competent at times. One wonders if the author's reason for his failure is a nod to idiom; "missed it by half an eyebrow" seems a very likely sort of colloquialism. And while Ron's magical ability can sometimes be marginal, his natural intelligence is becoming more overt when he suggests Harry use the good luck potion to get Slughorn's memory.
- Why does Harry invite Slughorn to the funeral?
- What might Harry have been intending to save the Felix Felicis potion for?
- How does Harry persuade Slughorn to give him the memory? What helps him?
- Why is Acromantula venom so valuable? Slughorn also seems impressed by Hagrid's collection of Unicorn hair; why is that valuable?
- What does Slughorn's comment about the mead being safe say about him and wizards in general? How does Harry feel about his comment?
- Why might Draco be looking so unwell? What does Harry think?
- Why does Slughorn finally agree to Harry's request?
Ron's failing his Apparition test will result in him signing up for additional classes, held in Hogsmeade, over the next few weeks. This will be mentioned in passing, as will his eventual success in the test, but will not have any significant effect on the story.
As mentioned, Harry has been saving the potion to help improve both his and Ron's situations regarding girlfriends. As luck and Felix Felicis would have it, he manages that as a side effect of his efforts to retrieve Slughorn's memory. We will find out that the blazing row Lavender started when Ron and Hermione appeared unaccompanied from the dorm ended that relationship, leaving Ron free to pursue a relationship with Hermione, one that turns out significantly better. At the same time, Ginny, already annoyed by Dean's over-solicitousness, will misinterpret Harry's invisibly pushing past them as a final instance of that and will break up with Dean, leaving her free to answer Harry's pursuit.
In the next chapter, we learn that Slughorn's memory is critical to understanding what Voldemort is doing.