CHAPTER-A-LONG: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince – Chapter 18

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Chapter 18 – Birthday Surprises

Harry immediately tells Ron and Hermione what he has to do – get the memory from Slughorn. Ron thinks he should be fine. After all, Harry is Slughorn’s new favorite, isn’t he? Hermione is less optimistic, saying that if Slughorn tried so hard to hide the info from Dumbledore, he isn’t likely to just give it to Harry. Also concerning: Hermione has never heard of Horcruxes before. Harry assumed that she would at least have some idea of what they are, but that is not the case. So whatever they are, they must be really Dark.

The next day in Potions class, Harry spends the class sitting uncomfortably between Ron and Hermione, who are still not talking. They are working on an advanced principle of creating antidotes to poisons, something that Hermione seems to understand right away and is gleeful that the Half-Blood Prince probably won’t be able to help Harry this time. And she’s right. Harry has no idea what to do. The Prince never wrote any notes about this particular technique. As Hermione cheerfully works her way through the problem, happy to be back in her position as the best student in class, Harry flips through the next few pages of the Prince’s book.

And there it was, scrawled right across a long list of antidotes:

Just shove a bezoar down their throats.

Harry stared at these words for a moment. Hadn’t he once, long ago, heard of bezoars? Hadn’t Snape mentioned them in their first-ever Potions lesson? “A stone taken from the stomach of a goat, which will protect from most poisions.”

While this is not the answer to the day’s lesson, Harry figures it’s worth a try. He jumps up, goes to the supply cabinet, and finds a bezoar. Once time is up, Slughorn makes the rounds checking the cauldrons of all the students. As he reaches Harry, Harry just holds up the bezoar. Slughorn is quiet for a moment, and then busts out laughing.

“You’ve got nerve, boy!” he boomed, taking the bezoar and holding it up so that the class could see it. “Oh, you’re like your mother . . . Well, I can’t fault you . . . A bezoar would certainly act as an antidote to all these potions!”

Hermione is so not having it. She worked really hard on her antidote and now Harry is getting all the praise for doing basically nothing. Still, it’s probably a good thing that Slughorn is in such a good mood. Harry hangs back after class and goes to ask Slughorn about Horcruxes. Any good humor that Slughorn had disappears in an instant. He immediately knows that Dumbledore has shown Harry the memory and he is not happy about it. He tells Harry that the memory clearly shows that he knows nothing at all about Horcruxes and then storms out of the room.

When he catches up with Ron and Hermione, Harry is a bit irritated that they are not sympathetic to his situation. Hermione is still mad at him for not doing the proper work in class and Ron just wishes Harry had told him about bezoars too. In the meantime, Harry decides to not bring up Horcruxes around Slughorn anymore and try to lull him into a false sense of security. He’s also determined to go to the next Slug Club party, no matter when it is.

While Hermione is still irritated, that doesn’t mean she isn’t willing to help Harry figure out Horcruxes. Or maybe she just can’t resist a good research project. However, the Hogwarts library for once has yielded no information. Hermione is shocked.

“I haven’t found one single explanation of what Horcruxes do!” she told him. “Not a single one! I’ve been right through the restricted section and even in the most horrible books, where they tell you how to brew the most gruesome potions — nothing! All I could find was this, in the introduction to Magick Moste Evile — listen — ‘Of the Horcrux, wickedest of magical inventions, we shall not speak nor give direction . . .’ I mean, why mention it then?” she said impatiently, slamming the old book shut; it let out a ghostly wail. “Oh, shut up,” she snapped, stuffing it back into her bag.

So whatever Horcruxes are, they are really, really bad.

Next up: Apparition Class! The Great Hall has been set up for this, the usual restrictions against Apparating in or around Hogwarts temporarily lifted in this one room. Harry sees Malfoy having an argument with Crabbe, definitely not a common occurrence, and positions himself behind them to try and listen in on their conversation. From what he can hear, something that Malfoy is trying to do is taking longer than he thought. He doesn’t want Crabbe or Goyle asking any questions, just to continue to act as lookouts. Harry says, rather loudly, that he would tell his friends what was going on if he wanted them to be lookouts for him, which shuts Malfoy up rather quickly.

The class itself is quite funny, since none of these kids know what they’re doing. The only exciting bit was when Susan Bones splinches herself. Which is good in a way, since she did in fact Apparate and was the first to actually do so, but also bad, since she left her left leg behind. That’s got to hurt! The instructor quickly fixes her up. The rest of the class passes uneventfully, but Harry can’t wait for it to be over. He dashes up to his room to get the Marauder’s Map in order to see if he can find Malfoy, or at least find Crabbe and Goyle.

It doesn’t show him much. The three of them are in the Slytherin Common room with Pansy Parkinson and Blaise Zabini. Nothing out of the ordinary there. But it does give Harry an idea.

“Well, I’m keeping an eye on him from now on,” he said firmly. “And the moment I see him lurking somewhere with Crabbe and Goyle keeping watch outside, it’ll be on with the old Invisibility Cloak and off to find out what he’s –“

They are interrupted by Neville coming in the dorm, but it’s not a bad idea. Honestly, I’m surprised he didn’t think of using the Map sooner. For the next few weeks, Harry keeps tabs on the three Slytherins but although he sees Crabbe and Goyle hanging out by themselves a few times, he doesn’t see Malfoy anywhere near them. Or anywhere else on the Map, for that matter. He wonders if Malfoy is somehow leaving the castle, but since security has been tightened so much, he doesn’t see how that’s possible. The only explanation is that maybe Malfoy had some sort of falling out with Crabbe and Goyle and maybe they aren’t friends anymore.

The next Hogsmeade trip is cancelled, which Ron wasn’t too happy about since it was going to be on his birthday, but Harry understands. Katie Bell is still in the hospital and other disappearances are still being reported in The Daily Prophet. It’s not safe. The only thing really to look forward to is Apparition lessons, which are still proving very difficult.

On Ron’s birthday, Harry consults the Map again, as he always does in the morning, and realizes that Malfoy is not in his dorm. He’s also not in the Great Hall, the bathrooms or the hospital wing. He doesn’t understand how Malfoy has managed to disappear and desperately wants to try and follow him using the Invisibility Cloak, but that would be way too hard to do. He asks Ron if he’s ready to go down to breakfast, but Ron is acting weird. First off, he says that he’s not hungry, but he’s also been eating a bunch of Chocolate Cauldrons too. Then he just starts talking nonsense.

“Harry, I can’t stand it!”

“You can’t stand what?” asked Harry, now starting to feel definitely alarmed. Ron was rather pale and looked as though he was about to be sick.

“I can’t stop thinking about her!” said Ron hoarsley.

Harry gaped at him. He had not expected this and was not sure he wanted to hear it. Friends they might be, but if Ron started calling Lavender “Lav-Lav,” he would have to put his foot down.

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! Also, I agree. But Ron isn’t talking about “Lav-Lav.”

“I don’t think she knows I exist,” said Ron with a desperate gesture.

“She definitely knows you exist,” said Harry, bewildered. “She keeps snogging you, doesn’t she?”

Ron blinked. “Who are you talking about?”

“Who are you talking about?” said Harry, with an increased sense that all reason had dropped out of the conversation.

“Romilda Vane,” said Ron softly, and his whole face seemed to illuminate as he said it, as though hit by a ray of purest sunlight.

Oh boy. So, remember back on Valentine’s Day when a bunch of girls at Hogwarts were trying to get at Harry? And Romilda gave him a box of Chocolate Cauldrons? And Hermione warned Harry that some of the girls might be using some of the Weasley twins’ love potions? Put that all together . . . yeah. Ron is in for a rough time.  Harry tricks Ron into coming with him, saying that he will introduce Ron to Romilda, when instead he takes him to Slughorn’s office. He explains the situation to Slughorn, who agrees to help them and whips up an antidote to the love potion. It works immediately and Ron is now horrified by what almost happened.

Slughorn finds the situation amusing and offers the boys a drink. He decides on a bottle of mead that he was originally going to give to Dumbledore for Christmas, but somehow forgot to. Ron tips back his glass immediately and, just as immediately, it is clear something was wrong with the mead. Ron falls to the floor and goes into convulsions. Harry screams at Slughorn to do something, but Slughorn is too shocked to move.

Harry leapt over a low table and sprinted toward Slughorn’s open potion kit, pulling out jars and pouches, while the terrible sound of Ron’s gargling breath filled the room. Then he found it — the shriveled kidneylike stone Slughorn had taken from him in Potions.

He hurtled back to Ron’s side, wrenched open his jaw, and thrust the bezoar into his mouth. Ron gave a great shudder, a rattling gasp, and his body became limp and still.

Well, that’s a hell of a way to end a chapter!

See you next time for Chapter 19!

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