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, it is believed, will be instrumental in the recently-returned Voldemort's downfall.
Dumbledore arrives at the house to collect Harry. Despite Harry having received Dumbledore's letter setting the time, and having anxiously awaited Dumbledore's arrival for nearly the entire week, he is astonished and puzzled that Dumbledore is fetching him after only two weeks at the Dursleys; he is further surprised when Dumbledore actually arrives, as are Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia, who Harry never told about Dumbledore's visit. Dumbledore merely ignores their dismay and makes himself comfortable, presenting the Dursley family and Harry with glasses of mead. Harry notices that Dumbledore's hand is black and shriveled, but Dumbledore only says he will explain it later.
Dumbledore explains that Sirius Black has bequeathed Harry all his possessions, including 12 Grimmauld Place, Kreacher, and Buckbeak. Uncle Vernon's interest is clearly piqued by the news that Harry now owns a house in London. However, Dumbledore continues, 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, despite protest, it confirms that Harry is the rightful heir.
At a loss as to what to do with this filthy elf on Aunt Petunia's spotless carpet, Harry accepts Dumbledore's suggestion to order him to work at Hogwarts. Buckbeak (now renamed Witherwings) will be 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. While Harry cannot believe it, we see that Dumbledore will move Harry away from Privet Drive as soon as safely possible.
Readers may wonder at the reasoning behind Harry's elevation to the role of hero in training. Clearly, Harry will have to be the one to face Voldemort again, as we know from the prophecy, but the Ministry seems to want to keep the content of the prophecy a secret. So there must be some other basis on which the Ministry and its propaganda arm (as we now see the Daily Prophet has become) have decided to tout Harry. The specific reasoning is never made clear, but we suggest that the combination of Harry's surviving Voldemort's killing curse some fifteen years previous, and his involvement with the revelation of Voldemort's return, are the starting point. We have seen that the Ministry is a political organization, meaning that it lives and dies by the popular opinion that it has been spinning, and we believe that they have determined that they need a hero to set against Voldemort. Given Harry's track record, clearly either he or Dumbledore would have to be that hero, and Dumbledore, they almost certainly know, will not stand for the sort of image manipulation that the Ministry would be doing to make him a hero. (Also, Dumbledore is aged, and it is not a good idea to appoint a hero who is likely to die of old age.) So even without the prophecy, the image technicians at the Ministry perforce make Harry into the hero they need, not caring about his wishes in the matter.
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.
We note that neither Dumbledore nor Harry seems to show any particular reaction to the idea that Kreacher is considered a chattel, property that can be transferred through inheritance as part of the house in Grimmauld Place. This may highlight the difficulty that Hermione experienced in the previous book, and will continue to experience, in her efforts to gain some measure of equitable treatment for House-elves. Clearly the treatment of house elves has been institutionalized to the point that even the gentle and even-handed Dumbledore has no particular difficulty stomaching the idea of Kreacher as being Harry's property, despite his being willing to pay the free elf Dobby more than Dobby was willing to accept to work in the Hogwarts kitchens. Hermione is almost certainly not going to be able to overcome the inertia of this widespread belief.
In the same vein, we note that while Harry was willing to arrange to free Dobby from the Malfoys, he does not seem equally willing to free Kreacher. The obvious reasoning is that Kreacher still holds secrets that he could reveal to the Black family sisters if he were freed, and that as a Hogwarts kitchen hand he will not be ill-treated the way Dobby was. However, this reasoning is not mentioned here, it simply seems to be accepted that Kreacher is and will remain Harry's property.
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. 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. 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.
It has been suggested on a number of fan sites that Dumbledore's behavior is out of character in this book. This is particularly obvious in this chapter. While still a peaceful and wise wizard, Dumbledore's actions seem a bit more direct and urgent than usual. He magically sweeps the Dursleys to the couch, 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.
It might be wondered why the author had Dumbledore's offered mead be so insistent – the mead glasses actually become quite intrusive, even bouncing on the Dursleys' heads when they refuse to acknowledge them, for instance. This is called a "nut of fun", a bit of lighter entertainment designed to keep a serious scene from becoming overwhelming. In this chapter we are faced with Harry's having to handle some aspects of Sirius' will, which of course once again forces the realization on Harry that his godfather is dead. We also are presented with a change in Dumbledore's character, and with a sudden return of the spotlight on Harry. Coupled with the need for Harry to decide what to do with Kreacher, this part of the book could become very grim and very heavy, without the animated mead livening the scene a bit. We suspect that the mead, and its behavior, is also used to point up the Dursleys' gracelessness, a characteristic that hardly needs additional support.
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. If there is a charm meant to ensure this (what is called "entailment" in the UK) its parameters are unknown; it is 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. It is also possible that the entailment, if there was one, simply ended when the male Black line did. There is no way of knowing; we only know that the house and property passed successfully to Harry on Sirius' death.
While the Ministry is busily making Harry a hero in the press, we don't see them approaching Harry directly to get his support. We will find out that this is because the Ministry had first approached Dumbledore, as Dumbledore was shielding Harry from Ministry visitations, and Dumbledore had rebuffed them. The Ministry, in the person of Minister for Magic Rufus Scrimgeour, will approach Harry directly at Christmas this year. Dumbledore will later reveal that there had been two similar attempts previously, which he had blocked: first when Fudge had attempted to rope Harry in to shore up his crumbling hold on power, and then in the early days of Scrimgeour's administration. There will be a final attempt made by Scrimgeour after Dumbledore's funeral, but then, as earlier, Harry will rebuff him.
The reason for Dumbledore's drastic character change can be attributed to his being injured by a fatal curse embedded in a ring; the curse was apparently intended as a trap to protect a Horcrux, which was housed in that ring. The curse, triggered when he put the ring on, had withered his hand. 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.
Very little in this chapter, apart from the ongoing plot lines (Kreacher's antipathy for Harry and other "mudbloods", the Dursley family dynamic, Harry's treatment by the government-influenced press), could be considered to constitute any particular connection elsewhere in the series. Rather than explicitly connecting to other events, this chapter is to a certain extent a re-introduction to the Wizarding world and an exposition concerning how Harry's status has changed with the revelations at the end of the previous book.