Chapter 4 – Horace Slughorn
You know how awkward it was back when you were a kid and you run into a teacher outside of school? It feels weird because, in your mind, they only exist at school. That’s where they live, right? Going on this little side trip is making Harry feel this same awkwardness, only ten times more. Especially since he and Dumbledore didn’t necessarily part on good terms when they left at the end of last school year.
Dumbledore cautions Harry to keep his wand out, even though Harry is technically not allowed to use magic. He gives Harry full permission to do whatever is necessary to defend himself if they are attacked, but it’s not likely this will happen. Harry is with Dumbledore after all! Who is going to attack Dumbledore? They need to travel a fair distance, and since Harry can’t Apparate yet, Dumbledore is able to take Harry along via Side-Along Apparation. It’s . . . uncomfortable.
Harry felt Dumbledore’s arm twist away from him and redoubled his grip; the next thing he knew, everything went black; he was being pressed very hard from all directions; he could not breathe, there were iron bands tightening around his chest; his eyeballs were being forced back into his head; his eardrums were being pushed deeper into his skull and then –“
When he opens his eyes, he is no longer on Privet Drive. Harry decides that he doesn’t like Apparation much.
They have arrived at the village of Budleigh Babberton. As they walk through the empty village square, Dumbledore asks if Harry’s scar has been hurting. Surprisingly, it hasn’t been. Harry thought for sure that it would be now that Voldemort was back, but as it turns out, curse scars are a two-way street. Now that Voldemort isn’t hiding anymore, he doesn’t want Harry to know too much about what he’s up to, and as such, he appears to be using Occlumency to block Harry out. Not that it’s a bad thing. Harry doesn’t mind this at ALL. As someone who used to get chronic migraines, I can relate. It was awesome when those finally went away!
So what are they doing in this little village? They are there to find an old friend of Dumbledore’s and convince him to return to Hogwarts as a professor. In the process, we learn a bit about wizarding etiquette. Harry asks why they didn’t just Apparate directly to the wizard’s house, to which Dumbledore explains that it would be very rude to do so. Also, many wizarding homes are warded against people doing that, much like Hogwarts is.
They also discuss the new Minister of Magic. Harry asks Dumbledore’s opinion of Scrimgeour. Dumbledore knows that Scrimgeour is a capable wizard and, as the former Head of the Auror office, he knows the dangers that they are facing quite well. He won’t underestimate Voldemort like Fudge did. That definitely sounds positive, even if Dumbledore didn’t really give a ringing endorsement – he doesn’t seem to dislike Scrimgeour either. Harry also asks again about Dumbledore’s blackened hand, but Dumbledore doesn’t want to tell that story just yet.
Another topic of discussion: the leaflets sent out by the Ministry to help prepare the wizarding public about the dangers of Voldemort’s return.
“Yes, I received one myself,” said Dumbledore, still smiling. “Did you find it useful?”
“No, I thought not. You have not asked me, for instance, what is my favorite flavor of jam, to check that I am indeed Professor Dumbledore and not an impostor.”
“I didn’t . . .” Harry began, not entirely sure whether he was being reprimanded or not.
“For future reference, Harry, it is raspberry . . . although of course, if I were a Death Eater, I would have been sure to research my own jam preferences before impersonating myself.”
Good to know for the future. Dumbledore likes raspberry jam. Good choice!
They finally arrive at the home of the wizard they have come to see that it has been completely trashed. Everything is broken and torn and mangled. Dumbledore walks cautiously into the room, Harry following behind him. Harry wonders if there was a fight and they had dragged the wizard away, but Dumbledore doesn’t think so. He thinks he’s still in the house. Dumbledore then quickly pokes a nearby armchair with his wand. The armchair in question yells. Turns out that it’s not an armchair at all, but Horace Slughorn, Dumbledore’s old college and the person they are there to see.
Normal people don’t disguise themselves as furniture, but Slughorn has been afraid of Death Eaters coming to find him, so he makes it look like a crime scene and then hides. Dumbledore points out that if he had wanted it to look realistic, he should have added a Dark Mark in the sky. Whoops. They quickly use magic to set the house back to normal. In doing so, Slughorn gets his first look at Harry. He recognizes him immediately, but Dumbledore goes on with the charade and introduces him. Slughorn knows that Dumbledore brought Harry along to get him to change his mind about coming back to teach, but it won’t work! Won’t work at all, he swears! But can’t they, Dumbledore says, at least have a drink? For an old friend?
They proceed to have a rather uncomfortable conversation, especially around Harry. Slughorn just wants to retire and relax with his comforts. He has enjoyed his retirement, except for the hiding out from Death Eaters part. Dumbledore points out that Slughorn is not as old as he, Dumbledore, is, but then Slughorn points out that Dumbledore isn’t as spry as he once was, pointing out his injured hand. Harry notices that Dumbledore is also wearing a ring that he hasn’t seen before.
It was large, rather clumsily made of what looked like gold, and was set with a heavy black stone that had cracked down the middle. Slughorn’s eyes lingered for a moment on the ring too, and Harry saw a tiny frown momentarily crease his wide forehead.
As we listen in on this conversation, we learn more about how Slughorn has been living over the past year. It hasn’t been fun. He has been worried about the Death Eaters finding him, despite claiming that they would never be interested in an old has-been like him. He’s been moving from Muggle house to Muggle house while the owners have been on vacation. How is this a quiet life? Isn’t that what he said he wanted and was the reason he didn’t want to come back to Hogwarts?
He knows that Hogwarts will not be restful at all. He has also heard rumors about Umbridge, but Dumbledore quickly clears that up – it’s not his fault that Umbridge decided to insult a herd of centaurs. Slughorn mentions that he never liked Umbridge, and this makes Harry chuckle a bit. He admits that he didn’t like Umbridge either. Aw look, they’re bonding! Dumbledore decides to take this opportunity to leave for the bathroom, giving Harry and Slughorn a chance to talk by themselves.
Slughorn isn’t an idiot. He knows that Dumbledore brought Harry to help convince him to come back to Hogwarts. He tells Harry that he looks so much like his father, except for his eyes, of course. How many times has Harry heard that he looks like his dad, but has his mother’s eyes? So many!! But it turns out that Lily was one of Slughorn’s favorite students. He wished she had been in his house – Slytherin. Slughorn was actually formerly the Head of Slytherin. He also says that it was so impressive that Lily was so talented despite being a Muggle-born. Harry jumps on this, saying that one of his best friends is Muggle-born and is absolutely brilliant.
I don’t think that Slughorn is as bad as the pureblood maniacs (like, say, the Malfoys), but he is still a product of his culture. He even says that he doesn’t want Harry to think that he is prejudiced at all. Lily was one of his all-time favorite students, and then there were several others that he knew that have gone far despite being Muggle-born. He shows Harry the photographs he has of his former students and talks about how they still stay in touch and send him gifts – members of the Ministry, professional Quidditch players, the editor of the Daily Prophet. But how are they keeping in touch, Harry asks, if Slughorn has been constantly moving? Slughorn grudgingly admits that he hasn’t heard from anyone since he’s been in hiding. I actually feel a little sorry for him when he says it.
“Still . . . the prudent wizard keeps his head down in such times. All very well for Dumbledore to talk, but taking up a post at Hogwarts just now would be tantamount to declaring my public allegiance to the Order of the Phoenix! And while I’m sure they’re very admirable and brave and all the rest of it, I don’t personally fancy the mortality rate –“
Teaching at Hogwarts doesn’t mean joining the Order though. Most of the other professors are not Order members. It’s just Snape and McGonagall at this point, right? Besides, Dumbledore is the only wizard that Voldemort has ever feared. Maybe it would be safer closer to Dumbledore, especially after Amelia Bones could get murdered after having all her Ministry protection.
Dumbledore returns and says that it is time for him and Harry to leave. He knows that he won’t be able to change Slughorn’s mind, so they will get out of his hair. Dumbledore does want Slughorn to know that he is always welcome to visit Hogwarts any time he wants to. As they are leaving, Slughorn bursts out that he will do it. He will come out of retirement and join them at Hogwarts. But he wants a pay raise. And a better office.
As they leave, Dumbledore explains a bit about Slughorn. He enjoys gathering influential people to him. He doesn’t want to be in charge – he prefers being behind the scenes. Slughorn will definitely want to collect Harry as one of his favorites. Dumbledore offers his arm and they Apparate to the Burrow, but before he leaves, he has one more thing to talk to Harry about: Sirius.
“It was cruel,” said Dumbledore softly, “that you and Sirius had such a short time together. A brutal ending to what should have been a long and happy relationship.”
Ugh, let’s just jab that knife back in my heart. Harry knows that Dumbledore probably knows that Harry has been suffering so far this summer. He hasn’t been eating, barely sleeping, staring out the window. It’s awful. He had gotten used to being able to write to Sirius, to actually having a parental figure in his life. Harry also knows that he can’t just give up. Life is short, especially where he is concerned. Amelia Bones. Emmaline Vance. The next person to die could be Harry! But Harry has also grown a backbone.
“It could be me next, couldn’t it? But if it is . . . I’ll make sure to take as many Death Eaters with me as I can, and Voldemort too if I can manage it.”
Dumbledore also points out that the wizarding world has been going insane with speculation as to what really happened in the Department of Mysteries. Harry hasn’t really told anyone about the prophesy, although Dumbledore says he should probably tell Ron and Hermione about it. He also says that this year, Harry will have private lessons with him. Of course, Dumbledore being Dumbledore, he won’t say what they will be studying, but still, it’s got to be better than private lessons with Snape! In fact, Harry probably won’t see Snape much at all since he didn’t get the proper grade to move up to N.E.W.T. level Potions.
A few precautions. One: keep the Invisibility Cloak with you at all times. Obvious reasons there. Two: while he is with the Weasleys, do not do anything stupid. They have accepted extra security to their home to protect Harry, and while it has been a huge hassle, they don’t mind because they want Harry to be safe. Harry agrees to these terms and Dumbledore leaves him to Mrs. Weasley’s mothering.
See you next time for Chapter 5!