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Harry Potter Essays Red Hen

Molly:

By this time, it is probably quite obvious to any reader of this collection that I break with the majority of fans, certainly the younger fans, in that I do not particularly care for Molly Weasley.

I’m not the only one, either. Especially when you ask Rowling’s older fans. Most of us have met a number of Mollys in our time. Many of us have locked horns with some of them, too. It’s not a pleasant experience.

In my own defense, I must point out that I was forced to have to grow up in a variation of her household. That was not a particularly enjoyable experience, either. My own mother was very much in the same style as Madam Weasley, and Molly’s behavior dredges up some rather nasty memories. This is bound to color any interpretation I may put on Molly Weasley’s behavior. Other people’s milage may, of course, vary.

In Ma’s case, at least some of the difficulties had to do with the proscribed and rather stifling “women’s role” of the middle of the last century. That was a social contract which carried heavy hidden costs, even if it didn’t bring society as a whole to a screeching halt. But for anyone other than the confirmed doormats of the world, the fallout from the “nuclear family” tended to be just as toxic as any other kind.

Not that you could directly blame it entirely on a “male-dominated society”, of course. It was all far more complex than that. And whatever the underlying dynamics were, if you were a kid, particularly one who had been buried alive in the suburbs, your perception was that it was the women who policed it. Women like Molly. And Ma.

And you could never quite say for certain that things really were the way they were because that was the way the unidentified Powers That Be wanted them, or if it was just the way the Enforcers wanted them. Because keeping things as they were and keeping everyone under their thumbs made it easier for the Enforcers to keep order, and they got to be the ones throwing their weight around. After all, everything runs much smoother when people accept “Because I say so!” as an actual reason.

And, to be fair, it wasn’t like the Enforcers weren’t also enforcing themselves, as well.

I watched the same sort of voluntary self-suffocation re-enacted in the ’70s by a number of my own contemporaries of similarly dynamic and aggressive temperament who had bought a particularly pernicious package which was circulating in my circles regarding “the female archetype”, which one of them had discovered in a uni-level textbook somewhere and seemed to believe that they all ought to be using as a model for behavior!

Leaving aside the totally bas-ackward reading of what an archetype represents (i.e., the lowest common denominator applied to a specific group; a “stereotype” taken to the Nth degree), an archetype is an artificial construction, a flattened-out “mythic” generalization and the antithesis of any hint of individuality or character. Trust me, you would not want to be one.

In my own social circle, there was one girl in particular who was exceedingly like Ma (and Molly Weasley), and watching her trying to put herself through those hoops was like observing someone try to go about her daily business in shoes that were about two sizes too small. And of course she couldn’t help but feel that someone ought really to be taking notice of the compromises and sacrifices she was making in order to conform to the pattern and give her some public credit for her efforts.

Which of course was a vain hope, since the mission statement was that she was a woman and should naturally fall into these patterns. The actual fallout, of course, was periodic outbursts of towering rage over what were really rather petty issues that had simply constituted one too many at any given moment. As a result she tended to come across as a rather unstable and essentially petty person, when she really wasn’t. Just a misguided and wrong-headed youngster doggedly following a false premise.

Which has a fair possibility of being the problem with Molly as well.

But it would seem to be less likely to be the case in the wizarding world, if anyone actually thought about what probably constitutes a wizarding “world”. The Harry filter doesn’t allow us the clearest picture of the proper “witch’s role” (if any) in the modern wizarding world, but what we can see of it by squinting around the edges of that filter has shown women taking a very active part in all levels of their society.

Mind you, if Molly really is anything like Ma — and she sure sounds like she was drawn from a very similar template — she would have done brilliantly in almost any field that dealt with children. Ma was everybody in the family’s favorite aunt. Hell, she would have been my favorite aunt!

But.

Only if the kids involved were not her own.

If she didn’t have someone else to answer to as to what she was doing with those kids she lost all sense of proportion and you were a symbol, not a person. Dolores Umbridge went around much the same kind of bend once she got the bit between her teeth. Only worse.

Unlike Umbridge, Ma wasn’t an inherently nasty person — although she was a somewhat difficult one — but she just plain wasn’t suited to actually be a 24/7 parent. Or at least not once the kid was above the age of 2 or 3. I think the only thing that kept me from being swallowed up, the way Ginny appeared to have been for so long, is that Ma put a Project on her agenda and went back to work from the time I was 3 until I was about 7 to finance it, leaving me with Grandma until dinner time.

Gran made any number of mistakes in a long career of baby-taming (she’d already raised six of her own), but at least she treated children as if they were people. Ma didn’t. Neither does Molly. She treats children like colonies. With all of the tact and empathy of George III.

The situation at the Burrow is all the more intense in that Molly also home-schooled her brood, and, apparently, kept them from even mixing with the other wizarding kids in their own district. And there were others. We know of something like at least three.

Ron, to all appearances, seems to have had no idea who Luna Lovegood even was until they were all thrown together on the train at the start of Year 5 — even though she and her widowed father also live in the Ottery St Catchpole region (as do the Diggorys and the Fawcetts, all four families within walking distance of Stoat’s Head Hill). Nor do the Twins show any sign of having ever been pre-Hogwarts playmates with Cedric Diggory, or the Fawcett’s daughter, who must also be around the same age as the twins, having got the same idea to age herself up a little to enter her name in the TriWizard Tournament. With this in mind, perhaps the rather... uneven levels of socialization that we see in some of Molly’s kids is not all that surprising.

Which also says something distinctly uncomplimentary about Molly’s sudden and enthusiastic adoption of famous Harry Potter.

There was none of that overflowing warmth and welcome extended to poor little Luna Lovegood who lost her mother under extremely traumatic circumstances at the age of nine. Nor any apparent aid and assistance seems to have been offered to the girl’s widowed father, either. Despite the fact that Molly had a daughter exactly the same age who might have welcomed some age-appropriate female company. And the twins were already in their 2nd year at Hogwarts when Ginny and Luna were nine. Molly only still had Ron and Ginny at home by then.

It must be admitted that Molly was initially very good for Harry Potter. She was exactly what he needed at the time. But Harry’s experience of Molly Weasley does not really stack up all that closely to the experience of her that is shared by her own brood. Harry is not one of Molly’s colonies. He is visiting royalty, and even Harry was going off her style of the treatment of children a bit by Year 5.

And just what are the results of her own kids’ experience?

Percy spent most of his young life trying to live up to her expectations for him. Her three youngest boys were still all climbing, hand-over-hand, up the more-macho-than-thou flagpole in self defense. Ginny was developing a fine talent for the devious and the underhanded in order to avoid showing up on Molly’s radar any more than she could avoid, despite having what occasionally appears to be very much the same sort of aggressive, and domineering personality. Frankly, by HBP she is turning out to be a perfectly beastly girl with nothing even remotely nice to say, either to, or about, anybody other than Harry. Your stereotypical “mean girl” socialite, in short. I’d say that Bellatrix Black must have been in much the same style a couple of decades earlier, with, it must be said, much the same capacity for utterly devoted hero worship. Ron was overlooked, consistently given short shrift and openly disrespected by his mother for years. Charlie and Bill both signed up for jobs in foreign parts about ten minutes after they left Hogwarts, and for most of the first 5 years that we’ve known the family they only showed up at home for a flying visit once in a blue moon.

And the way Molly purred at Harry and then turned around to snarl at her own kids was just plain nasty.

And, up to the point that Ron was awarded his Prefect badge, just how often had we ever heard Molly address any day-to-day comment to any of her own children (apart from, perhaps, Ginny, or her deputy, Percy) that wasn’t either an order or a rebuke?

Maybe once or twice in the first two books. And that’s about it.

And never to Ron.

By OotP it is also abundantly clear that it is Molly who wears the pants in the family. That public demand that Arthur back her up in a quarrel with a man who was at least technically her host was as ugly as anything she has ever said to any of her kids, not to mention being an amazing display of ill-breeding.

As was her even more cringingly embarrassing display of publicly berating her husband in the open ward at St Mungo’s in front of strangers; or her monumentally churlish behavior toward a prospective daughter-in-law who was actually a guest in her house. The woman doesn’t seem to have the slightest idea of how to behave in public. It is little wonder that most of her kids are an unmannerly lot of boors and barbarians.

Yes, I would say that there is clearly more than one “class” of wizarding pureblood. Molly’s everyday conduct is every bit as overbearing, and much more underbred, than Severus Snape’s.

Molly may be on the side of the Light (which I have never questioned), and her heart may be in the right place (for which there is also ample evidence) but she is a blatantly vulgar woman. And a lack of family funds has nothing to do with that.

While her husband somehow is not.

Or certainly not on the same scale.

Just where is Arthur Weasley in all of this? Up through OotP Molly clearly treated him like another one of the kids in any number of respects, and she runs the Burrow to suit herself. And he let her do it, without apparent protest. But has he actually been crowded out of his own household? Ma was quite successful in crowding my father out. Completely. But I was an only child.

Is Arthur even still a genuine presence in his own home, despite the Ministry job and any Order duties that hypothetically keep him away from home for such a large percentage of the time? He has clearly never been the classic “ogre Daddy” who punishes children as a second career once he walks through the door of an evening. And he clearly likes his kids. Or at least he likes his oldest two kids. But does he really have that much influence on any of them? We can see traces that he once at least had some. But none of his four younger sons have ever been seen to gravitate to his company or make a point of asking his advice. Indeed, the longer you stare at Arthur and Molly Weasley, the more they begin to look like Mr and Mrs Bennett. (And Percy could stand in for Mary Bennett any day of the week.)

In any household which Molly rules, Arthur and his Muggle gadgets are exiled to the garden shed, (you will take note that Harry has never particularly noticed any Muggle gizmo inside the Weasley house). None of the kids seem to have been brought up to respect their father’s fascination with Muggle tech, or even the job that supported them all, let alone share that fascination. I really do not think that Molly is anywhere near as friendly toward Muggles as her husband is. (One recalls that upon our first glimpse of Molly Weasley she was complaining aloud about the number of Muggles to be found in one of the main Muggle train stations of London.) Although she undoubtedly does agree with her husband and the Ministry that they should not be subjected to nasty wizarding tricks, I’d say that Molly’s preferences regarding Muggles is to leave them strictly alone. In fact to avoid them.

Arthur is a broader-minded, more tolerant and laid-back person than Molly — who is clearly a pepper-pot. And his kids do seem to at least listen to him and sometimes to remember a bit of what he has to say. We’ve had at least a couple of “my father says” moments from Ron and the twins over the years. But all of those statements were made some time ago. We’ve heard few of them lately. The only young person who now seems to ask Arthur’s advice is Harry.

The twins consider Arthur’s fascination with Muggle tech, and his Dream Job, spectacularly dull and I don’t get the feeling that any of his kids seek out his company when he gets home — except, possibly Ginny, who is probably the apple of his eye, and even that is not made obvious.

At least Charlie and Bill do seem to be genuinely fond of him, and to spend more time with him than with their mother, when they are actually around. And there is some residual respect for him from Ron on a personal level. But Arthur doesn’t seem to have instilled all that many of his more “liberal” attitudes into his younger sons. Or his daughter.

Perhaps most tellingly; while I could readily imagine a teenaged Arthur Weasley cheerfully taking the piss out of Percy at his most pompous, I cannot envision even a very young Arthur Weasley spouting the sort of blatantly male-chauvinistic venom that we hear out of Ron and the twins on a virtually daily basis, and we get no idea what Arthur thinks of such remarks when he hears them spouting it.

I’m referring to the sort of pond scum the Weasley boys spew in every direction as a casual matter of course. If you aren’t sensitized to that sort of thing it may fly right past you. But I lived through the ’70s and I am sensitized to it.

What I mean, specifically, are the unprovoked slurs at any and all females (simply for being females) that the twins gratuitously throw into whatever commentary is in progress without compunction — and with some presumed degree of hostility, or they wouldn’t find it so necessary to do so.

All three of Molly’s younger sons seem to display the assumption that they have the right to make such comments and that any female within earshot has to just sit there and take it. These comments universally invoke the “brainless/useless female” stereotype and are the kind of comments that people have been calling men to account for since about 1972. And this simply isn’t the kind of talk that seems to be widespread throughout the rest of the wizarding world, either. I’ve never noted it coming from anyone who wasn’t a Weasley male (or a Gaunt, or Tom Riddle himself). Not even from one of “those nasty Slytherins.” For example: Malfoy is perfectly vile to Hermione Granger regarding her Muggle parentage. But he has never had a single word to say against her for being a girl.

The example that comes most readily to mind regarding the twins is the CoS “Must be a witch” quip thrown in by one of the twins when they first see that the new DADA teacher’s required texts for the upcoming school year are, essentially, the complete works of Gilderoy Lockhart.

Which automatically floats the assumption that only a female teacher would assign nothing but books by an author who trades all too openly upon his charming smile. Despite the fact that at this point in the story they cannot know that the books are lies, and that their author is a fraud who has not actually performed any of the exploits that he takes credit for in them.

As a matter of fact, that gibe turned out to be based upon false reasoning on all points and it was rapidly shown to be such. But the Twins still made a point of saying it, and I think they did it primarily to get Molly’s goat. If called on such a statement they will whine at you that the comment was “just a joke”. I’m sure it was. It was a mean-spirited and hostile joke. One of a series of many.

It is mildly interesting to note that they do sometimes seem to do their very worst in this regard in Molly’s hearing. But, by almost every indication, even when Molly isn’t around, those boys simply do not respect females, and they clearly resent Molly throughout books 2-5.

And Molly must take the lion’s share of the responsibility for that. They did not learn that kind of conduct from Arthur. Although, like Mr Bennett, he does nothing to check them.

It is interesting to note that in book 6, once Percy, their chief rival for Molly’s attention, is safely out of their path they suddenly seem determined to purchase her affections and, perhaps, to obliterate his memory, by making a parade of their success and showering her with expensive gifts. And the project seemed to be succeeding. Which was not in the least to Molly’s credit.

On Molly’s part, from Book 2-5 she did not act or speak to the twins as if she respected them, either. In fact, she does not do so even once after the very first time we met the family in Book 1. That Bill, in contrast, seems to be able to shrug off Molly’s attempts to bully him good-naturedly and with little effort suggests to me that when the kids didn’t yet outnumber the adults in the household, Arthur may have had a greater degree of input.

Of course I also take the PoV that Molly and the twins all simply have bullying natures (Ron, Arthur, and Bill, otoh, do not One can’t really tell about Charlie), it’s just the way they all are, and there is clearly a battle for dominance in progress. This is not a popular reading, but there’s been nothing in the series that would call it into question. Percy is another one who likes to throw his weight around, and he didn’t get that from his father, either.

And, now that Harry has noticed her, we are now getting loud and clear indication that this determination to dominate is also shared by Ginny. Stand by for catfights ahead.

For several years I had a lowering suspicion that the Weasleys may ultimately have been intended to serve as a demonstration to Harry of one or other of life’s nastier lessons. With a conclusion that would probably be due entirely to their own actions. And I thought we were all going to have to be witnesses to the train wreck.

But no, the Weasleys merely ended up offering us yet another example of the fact that death (at least in Rowling’s hands) is arbitrary, random, and unfair, and serves no purpose whatsoever.

Arthur and Molly do serve as a rather ominous cautionary example of how very poorly Dumbledore’s supporters seemed to be prepared for another round with Voldemort, and the kind of tactics he was likely to employ.

Arthur’s long indulgence in his own interests in all its good-hearted venality have not served his family well, and for all his intelligence, humanity and apparent understanding of principles he does not always seem to be able to keep his focus on the task at hand, or even to recognize when obliging a friend or accepting reciprocal favors may be stepping rather far over the line of any kind of professional ethics.

Molly has bullied her children unmercifully in the service of common wisdom but she has not truly prepared any of them for a coming conflict of the style in which they are likely to actually become engaged, and far too many of the conventional “wisdoms” she has bludgeoned them over the heads with for years are appallingly shallow. Or outright false. And they recognize this fact, and dismiss her.

Inside the structure of the series I always thought we were going to have to watch Harry come to the conclusion that he can’t skate through his own unique situation by trying to be “like” anyone that he has ever met or admired. Which means that even if the consequences of their actions are not fatal, he was going to have to see the consequences of the different methods that all the people he looks to for guidance use for coping with the world, and realize that these methods would not work for him. But, instead, he sat around on his hands, waiting for divine inspiration and honing his “hero’s” facility for falling bas-ackward into the correct solution without explanation.

But I did think I had reason for my original conclusion. He had already seen that Sirius was impulsive and that his temper got him into situations that were avoidable. I’m not convinced he’s learned the accompanying lesson even yet.

He had already gotten a brutal lesson from Umbridge that Molly’s exhortation to follow the rules doesn’t have all the answers, and that there are people who can and will manipulate the rules to their own advantage and to others’ cost.

I thought that he would probably also see that Arthur’s good intentions and self-indulgence are no protection in a shooting war.

But it did certainly look to me as though for all that Molly’s first career as a baby tamer started out very well, it’s ending in a bit of a shambles. She needed a new job, and the one she was opting for seems to be that of designated mother-surrogate to Harry Potter.

It’s not a bad call. Harry, not being one of her own kids, gets all the benefits and few of the disadvantages. Although even Harry was less enthusiastic about the idea than he had been a few years ago. And there is more than one way to set oneself up as the mother-in-law from Hell.

But, I admit it. It’s personal. I do not like Molly Weasley.

One Good Slytherin:

Well we’ve all been clamoring for one good Slytherin since about Book 2, haven’t we? It looks like Rowling finally listened to us.

Of course if we had wanted one whom everyone would universally like we should have said so.

And we’d still be waiting for him, too.

But, for the record: I do like Slughorn. I like him very much.

All the more so in that I don’t have to deal with him. I suspect that would get very old, very fast. He is an unconscionable bore.

But at the end of the series he is our token “one good Slytherin”. Or at any rate, the only one still standing.

I very much doubted that we would get another. Although one could make a case for the “official version” of Regulus Black. Even if it doesn’t add up.

Of course, this all comes with the usual rider that by the end of HBP, I was convinced that Snape was a White Hat. But that doesn’t mean I necessarily thought that Snape was ever going to “make friends with the children,” any more than the blackbeetles in the cupboard back in E. Nesbit’s stories ever did, and for very much the same reason. The children wouldn’t.

And I will go on record as stating that I think Horace Slughorn is a very good Slytherin. Not the least because he is so demonstrably a good Slytherin.

It is now transparently clear that until Tom Riddle showed up and set his stamp on Slytherin House, Horace Slughorn was a shining example of what, in the general purview of the wizarding world, was one of the most recognizable “types” that “a Slytherin” could be.

And a society, particularly such a society as the wizarding world has been set up as — which we know runs solidly on a principle of “Old-Boys’ Club” cronyism and by means of myriad interlocking patronage networks — needs a few Horace Slughorns to keep the wheels greased, the machinery moving smoothly, and to make sure that the System serves everyone, not just those in the drivers’ seat.

Gryffindor House produces Leaders, Lieutenants, and Lone Operators.

Slytherin House traditionally produces Politicians, Power Brokers, and Publicists.

And a functioning society needs both.

Of course the Leaders and the Politicians both tend to be vying for the same constituency, so there is a considerable potential for rivalry there. And it sometimes gets a bit heated.

But of course Tom Riddle didn’t care about any of that.

Tom Riddle landed in Slytherin quite legitimately. He was more than clever enough for Ravenclaw, but Ravenclaw is all about cleverness for its own sake. Tom wanted to use his. Ambition was what Tom Riddle was all about. There really wasn’t anywhere else for the Hat to have put him.

It is obvious now that Tom waltzed in, managed to enthrall all of his classmates, most of the staff and stole poor Sluggy’s House right out from under him. And Sluggy didn’t even notice. Lily Evans was probably quite truthfully one of Slughorn’s favorite students of all time. But so was Tom Riddle, back in the day. Or he was until Tom frightened Sluggy out of his wits by discussing the merits of creating seven Horcruxes. I rather suspect that Slughorn’s partiality for Tom cooled rapidly after that.

And Albus may have noticed as much, and later started asking uncomfortable questions.

How long was it, I wonder, before Slughorn realized what (or who) Tom had become? Was that when he started fostering the careers of Muggle-borns and children from other Houses? For he had certainly been doing it for some time by the time of his retirement.

I’ll also admit that I feel distinctly sorry for Slughorn, as I do not exactly feel sorry for Cornelius Fudge — another wrong man in the wrong place at the wrong time. Slughorn is a reasonably clever, competent wizard, and not merely a bumbling fool. But he is essentially a trusting soul and his trust has been cruelly abused.

I will also admit that I am frankly offended by the fanon response which is determined to read Slughorn as a slimy old pedophile. Even though I have to admit that Rowling’s presentation would certainly give one some excuse for drawing that conclusion. As of HBP Albus suddenly started “reading” as a pedophile too, and I doubt that she really intended that either. (Fenrir Greyback, on the other hand...)

But, to me, if anything, Sluggy is more on the order of a very big, rather clever baby.

For all that Albus was careful to put Harry on his guard against Slughorn’s anticipated attempt to “collect” him (which could just as easily have been intended as a blanket explanation for Slughorn’s manner which was calculated to keep Harry from taking the man in even greater dislike than he did) he introduced Slughorn not only as a colleague, but as a friend.

And I didn’t really think he was lying. Or not altogether.

Albus clearly thought highly enough of Slughorn to be prepared to leave the Slytherins in his hands again, because he knew that by the end of Harry’s 6th year neither he nor Severus Snape were likely to still be in the school.

And when you stop and think about it, Horace and Albus had a lot of common ground. They also went back a long way. We can take it as a given that Albus knew exactly what Horace Slughorn was. And he seems to have trusted him.

And Horace seems to have trusted Albus, too. According to his story, about five minutes after he learned that Albus Dumbledore was convinced that Lord Voldemort had returned — Horace bolted into hiding. He left his comfortable home (and you know that whatever place Horace had settled into would have been very comfortable) and claims to have spent the following year dodging anticipated Death Eaters, squatting in Muggle houses, never staying anywhere longer than a week. Despite the Ministry’s denials, despite the Prophet’s smear campaign, despite the fact that it was a year before there was the slightest evidence that Albus was right. If Albus Dumbledore believed that Lord Voldemort was back, then that was more than good enough for Horace Slughorn.

And that might be a clue to a few other things as well.

****

From a meta standpoint Sluggy is a marvelous piece of work. He is the missing piece to so many puzzles, and offers such a perfect subject for games of “compare and contrast” vis-a-vis the other characters we’ve met in the course of the series, (Fudge, Riddle, Dumbledore, Snape, Pettigrew, even Dudley). And he is also a perfect confirmation of so many of the convictions that a reader will have developed by the time Sluggy made his entrance regarding the way things work in the wizarding world.

He certainly serves as the absolute, quintessential example of the person who will typically do what is easy rather than what is right.

He is a shining, larger-than-life portrait of both the traditional faults and the traditional virtues of Slytherin House.

He is a virtual demonstration of the besetting failure of the whole wizarding world at large; in that here is a man with what is clearly intended to represent a basically sound moral compass and Not A Clue regarding any kind of functioning ethics. Morals without ethics are practically the motto of the whole bedamned wizarding culture.

And yet (unlike Ginny Weasley Mach II) he does not read as something that was assembled from a checklist. He reads as very human. And very flawed.

And, yet, many fans look at his blatant favoritism, despite his, supposedly neutral, position as a teacher, turn up their noses in disapproval, and ask “but is he really a good man?” To these I have to answer; Yes.

Horace Slughorn is a good man. In fact he is a very good one.

But he is a weak man. Very, very weak.

And is it really fair to blame a character for not being strong?

Yes, Slughorn is vain, he is boastful, he is indolent and extravagantly self-indulgent, and yes, he is a shameless opportunist, too. He is glib, facile, a flatterer, openly manipulative, and, yes, despite his denials, he is prejudiced (although far less so, I think, than Hagrid). But he is not an incorrigible bigot. He doesn’t deny excellence when it calls attention to itself, regardless of who possesses it. Indeed, he goes looking for it, and is happy to promote it once he finds it. And he is not mean-spirited. He is not a liar. And if his values are shallow, they are still the preeminent values of his whole society.

And over the course of the entire book we did not see one act of malice from the man.

We did not even see an act of petty spite.

No. That particular apple may not have fallen far from the tree, but he is NOT a rotten apple.

The worst that can be held against him is that he is a bit too quick and too willing to dismiss the apparently “ordinary” from his considerations.

He arbitrarily chooses to overlook people that we have been accustomed to thinking well of. They didn’t make the cut to be invited into the Slug Club.

But, really, can you honestly suppose that either Ron Weasley or Neville Longbottom had the social nous to have actually benefited from an inclusion in Sluggy’s little band of favorites at 16? The ballots aren’t in on Neville, who has a good deal more social maturity than either Ron or Harry (or Hermione, truth to tell) but Ron certainly hadn’t. And being included or not would make no difference whatsoever to Luna.

****

But Slughorn is essentially a timid soul. And it is not just physical timidity.

With all of his gifts, and his skills, you would think that if he had ever possessed even a scrap of courage he would have been off to scale the heights himself, to one day finish up as the eminence grise of some highly exclusive sector of wizarding society. He has the skills to do it, and he knew how to pull the right strings, as well as which are the right strings to pull. But, instead, he settled into Hogwarts, much like Albus, to spend the prime of his life impressing an endless string of schoolchildren.

We were originally led to believe that Albus had gone out in the world and done something with himself first. But that turns out not to be the case at all. He may have even been teaching by the time Aberforth left school forever (probably soon after sitting his OWLs. I cannot see ’Forth sticking around to cram for the NEWTs). I rather get the impression that Slughorn also started teaching as quite a young man. Indeed, one is tempted to conclude that the day he took his first dose of Felix Felicis potion, which he tells us was at the age of 24, was the day he had his job interview — possibly with Headmaster Black.

And while Albus may prefer to use different methods, himself; he was more than content to sit back and let Horace do his thing. For he recognized that Horace was serving a legitimate need. Albus, after all, was also a product of the wizarding world as it is.

I think that Slughorn is probably a more inspiring teacher to a wider range of students than Severus Snape. Even if he does use an inferior textbook, and tends to overlook the students that he regards as commonplace. I suspect Slughorn may have chosen Borage over Jigger for its clarity in presentation, despite the plodding mediocrity of the recommended methods. And he has probably always encouraged the student’s attempts to improve on those methods. Snape is clearly able to challenge his students, and there are students who respond well to a challenge, but he does not inspire them. Damocles Belby, the developer of the wolfsbane potion was one of Sluggy’s pets, and I suspect he may not be the only one of such to have made a contribution to the ongoing technology of Potions research. How many ground-breaking Potions researchers do you expect can be traced back to Snape’s tenure at Hogwarts?

What is more, Slughorn takes the trouble to establish that he appreciates innovation more than he demands a rigorous adherence to a strict protocol, and he sends the students a loud and clear message attesting to that fact. His students were getting perpetual reinforcement of the message that Slughorn considers innovation a Good Thing.

Snape tells them what to do, puts the directions on the board and starts prowling through the lab to catch anyone doing it dangerously wrong.

And Slughorn’s pep talks weren’t just for the purposes of flattery to Harry Potter, either. Ginny Weasley was invited into the Slug Club solely on the grounds of one chance-observed clever hex. At that point Slughorn knew nothing of more Ginny Weasley than that she was very pretty. He hadn’t encountered a Weasley since Arthur and his brothers finished school. And he had no particular memories of Arthur. Arthur wasn’t one of his protégés. Slughorn simply admires cleverness, and he loves novelty. Oooh, shiny!

And, of course, pretty. Sluggy does have a tremendous appreciation of pretty. Quite innocently, I believe, or Albus would have been aware of it. And if it had been anything other than innocent I doubt that he would have tolerated it in his school. As he did, for well over 20 years.

Indeed, given that Albus would have been perfectly capable of calling Headmaster Dippett (or Headmaster Phineas Nigellus Black)’s attention to anything over the line in the conduct of a colleague, I think we would be safe in assuming that Albus tolerated Slughorn’s open appreciation of pretty for something more like 60 years, or longer. Molly tells us that Albus and Horace both started teaching at about the same time.

Not that we can really count on that piece of information. This would have been decades before Molly was born. But a — presumably rich — uncle of hers had married into the Black family, and I very much suspect that Phineas was the Headmaster who hired both, so she might have known about it from family stories. This would put their dates of hire at almost any point between Albus’s finishing school around 1899 and before Phineas’s death in 1926.

I’d say that Snape also comes off the worst in a comparison of their respective performances as Head of House too, despite Slytherin’s seven-year winning streak with the House Cup and the Quidditch Cup during Snape’s tenure. In a perfect world, Snape would have gone straight from Hogwarts into the R&D division of St. Mungo’s. By now he would be in charge of a half the wards on the Curse damage floor, and he might be running the whole place by the time he was 60. And his portrait eventually would fit right in with the those of his bloody-minded peers on the central staircase. He would not be stuck off in a school dealing with dunderheads. Or at least not underaged dunderheads.

****

Which brings us back to the sticky issue of the Slug Club.

A lot of readers really, really dislike like the whole concept of the Slug Club. It just plain gets up their noses. And they are absolutely right that a blatant little “elitist” clique like the Slug Club ought to have no appropriate place in a truly just and virtuous society.

But since when is the wizarding world one of those?

Hermione may have downplayed it to the boys, but I think that she was very chuffed indeed to be invited into the Slug Club. And Sluggy was happy to have her, for her own sake, not merely as a favor and a possible inducement to attracting Harry Potter. He recognizes drive when he sees it.

And she is far from the first clever and talented “outsider” to have been adopted by Horace Slughorn and ultimately helped along the way to finding her own comfortable niche in the Old-Boy’s (and Old-Girl’s) Club of wizarding Britain. Slughorn looks for such promising youngsters from obscure backgrounds to speed along their way.

And all he really asks is that they not forget him.

And for those who sniff and mutter yes, but that for every clever Muggle-born or known halfblood that Horace ever adopted, there were probably a dozen high-status brats with nothing to recommend them but their family names, I answer; yes. That is the whole point of the Slug Club. Those overpriveliged little puppies are the kids who really need that Club. And throughout Snape’s term in the office they haven’t been getting it.

Who else is going to teach those little “scions” the responsibilities that their place in the pecking order entails. Their families? They are only with their families for a couple of months of the year. You don’t turn out any kind of a viable future “ruling class” without giving it a solid grounding in the duties of their high position, as well as the benefits.

The “System” only works as long as the bulk of society supports it. And it will only do that as long as those in control keep giving enough back to those who let them control it, for the masses to be willing to let them keep doing it! And the Slug Club, and its judicious sprinkling of talented incomers are the way Slughorn shows them how it’s done.

Those interlocking patronage networks that run the wizarding world are there for a purpose. He is demonstrating that purpose. Teaching the children in favored positions to recognize merit when they see it, and showing them how to cultivate it, how to manipulate the System and — even if rather crudely — something of what the rewards are.

It’s called noblesse oblige. “Passing the torch” and explaining this has probably always traditionally been one of the unwritten duties of the Head of Slytherin House. One in which Severus Snape has been conspicuously derelict. It’s small wonder the chasm built into wizarding society is only getting wider. The younger members of the “ruling class” aren’t holding up their end.

But then Snape’s hardly qualified, is he? And I rather doubt that there has ever been a whole lot of noblesse “obliging” him. Although one of the Malfoys probably got him his job. “Officially”, that is. Lucius was one of Sluggy’s favorites, after all. And he seems to have been an apt student, in that much at least.

For the talented outsiders, Sluggy’s attention, for the lucky few who catch his attention, can make all the difference in the world to their futures. And it is a bargain at the price. Even if the old bore sometimes has perfectly appalling judgement of just what qualities truly merit cultivation.

Although he really ought not to be blamed too harshly for being taken in by a dirty dish like Tom Riddle. He was certainly not the only one to have been taken in by that nasty little piece of work. But it has to be admitted that Riddle seems to have learned an awful lot of very dangerous tricks from Slughorn.

And Sluggy really ought to have turned that memory over to Albus as soon as Albus asked for it. It doesn’t matter how ashamed of it he was. He is clever enough to have known what was at stake.

****

But then that’s the real issue, isn’t it?

Horace Slughorn is rather more than just a timid soul, isn’t he?

He is in fact, an abject coward.

And by the time we met him he may very well have had good reason to be.

Let’s take another look at the facts, shall we? Or what we have been told are the facts. Five minutes after he learned that Albus Dumbledore believed that Lord Voldemort had returned — he went into hiding. As stated above, he abandoned his home and spent the following year dodging anticipated Death Eaters, squatting in Muggle houses, never staying anywhere longer than a week. Despite the Ministry’s denials, despite the Prophet’s smear campaign, despite all lack of any evidence.

Now let’s also remember that Slughorn can never really have looked like a good prospect for legitimate recruitment by Lord Voldemort. Right off the top: he’s a member of an older generation. Riddle didn’t recruit the older generation. He never sent out lures to anyone who was significantly older than himself. And certainly not Slughorn, with, by the time he retired, 40 years of openly cultivating talented Muggle-borns and half-bloods behind him. We don’t know how long Slughorn was actually at Hogwarts, even if he did start about the same time as Albus, since we don’t know how long Albus was an instructor before he became Headmaster, but Slughorn was certainly there in Riddle’s day by the late ’30s, and he was still there in Lily’s day in the mid-’70s. We assume that he was there right up to the point that Snape took over in ’81.

But Horace does seem to have been from the same pureblood, “insider” sector of society that produced most of Voldemort’s original followers. Slughorn knew Abraxus Malfoy. He remained a friend of Theodore Nott’s father, who was a former student — although he doesn’t seem to have known that his friend Nott was a Death Eater. Nott’s arrest in Year 5 wasn’t brought to Slughorn’s attention until he started talking to students on the Hogwarts Express in the year he returned to teach. And by then he’d been in hiding for a year.

And despite his waffling over the possibility that to return to the school would be tantamount to a declaration of allegiance to the Order of the Phoenix (pretty good supporting evidence for my contention that in its original iteration the Order had NOT been any kind of a “secret society”, btw) he made a point of conspicuously avoiding all known Death Eaters’ kids once he got there.

But, back in the day, he hadn’t avoided them. He had taught all of them. And they knew him. I repeat: Horace Slughorn personally taught every single British Death Eater that Tom Riddle ever enlisted. And they knew where to find him. And they would have had no difficulty approaching him.

Slughorn is an affable, and highly competent wizard, for all his weakness of character. And he really does have excellent contacts. And he boasts about how useful he can be to people. That’s just asking for it, isn’t it?

He could have announced his retirement as early as the end of June of 1981 (although it is more likely that he did so during the summer). This was at the very height of Voldemort’s first rise. And there is some reason to suspect that he may have been encouraged, or even asked to make way for Severus Snape, in order to avoid putting Snape into the DADA position. Voldemort did not fall until the end of October, four months later. And it would have taken several months more to round up all of his followers that were ultimately identified.

And it would take even longer to sort out the volunteers from those who were coerced or magically constrained. Malfoy and Avery managed to get off on Imperius defenses, which we know in their cases was completely bogus.

But in most cases it wasn’t.

The false Professor Moody told us very clearly that the Imperius Curse had given the Ministry a lot of trouble once upon a time.

And if the Death Eaters’ tactics were anything then like they are now, we have seen that they have no compunction about creating Imperiused puppets. A lot of them.

I have a terrible suspicion that one of those puppets may have been Horace Slughorn.

****

Which brings us to the Battle of Hogwarts and the end of the series.

Rowling seriously let us down on the issue of House unity. After flirting with the whole business, and even having the Sorting Hat claiming to be unsure as to whether the whole Sorting process was really the right thing to do, she blew us a collective raspberry and had Minerva order the whole of Slytherin House out of the castle before the final battle started. And in that miserable excuse for an epilogue Rowling strongly implies that the whole business of Sorting the students is still triumphantly “business as usual” (even though the Hat was allegedly set afire and no one took the time to put it out) and that, furthermore, Slytherin is still designated the house of “teh eeeevil”. We plowed through 4000 pages to validate that?

Why raise the issue if you don’t intend to deal with it? Or at least to come out and admit that you are not going to deal with it. And possibly to offer a reason why you are not going to deal with it? Otherwise you are deliberately leading people on.

Tom claimed in canon that the Slytherins all left the castle and joined him. Of course he was claiming that to taunt Lucius Malfoy and only doing it to say that all of them but Draco had checked in, so I doubt it’s a good idea to take even a word of it seriously. Frankly, the way Rowling set the whole situation up there was no way that Tom would have even known that the castle was being evacuated, unless he had a clever little silver monitoring device like one of the ones in Dumbledore’s office. Which I suppose is possible. All he had to do would have been to ask Snape to give him one. Snape could have hardly refused to do it. Snape certainly hadn’t been the one to tell Riddle that the students were being evacuated. He was “driven out” before the evacuation was even discussed, or the decision to make a stand against Riddle was even formalized. So how does Tom supposedly know this?

And at that it doesn’t explain how the Slyths could have got from the Hog’s Head and into the forest without setting off the caterwauling curfew alarm that was superimposed on the village at sunset. You cannot Apparate without a clear destination, and the Forest had remained off-limits even during Snape’s term as Headmaster.

Of course Tom also claims that Snape agreed that there were other, more worthy, fish in the sea when he turned up late to the muster in the graveyard at Little Hangleton and was questioned about his prior devotion to Lily Potter.

And I don’t believe a word of it. I’m just so convinced that the first thing that Snape would have found himself needing to justify after his tardy appearance when summoned, was his love life — not!

I say that that whole claim was a classic “Yo mama!” exchange with Harry Potter, and probably something our Tom just fired off extemporaneously.

I don’t believe that Lily wore army boots, either.

The fact is that anything we hear from Tom Riddle, under any circumstances, should probably be taken with a very large grain of salt.

But it does raise the issue of what did happen to the Slytherins. And, for that matter, what happened to all of the underage students who were evacuated from the castle. Rowling doesn’t seem to give a damn. She certainly doesn’t seem to have spared a thought for the logistics of the situation.

Post-release she has tried to claim that she showed the Slyths returning to the castle with the villagers in the morning. But until a new edition of DHs comes out with that added, that is a baldfaced lie. She wrote nothing of the sort. In fact she quite clearly wrote that Slughorn and Charlie Weasley returned at the head of a party of all the friends and family of all the students who had stayed at the castle to fight — along with the villagers of Hogsmeade.

Since all the Slytherins had been ejected from the castle before the fight started, that sounds like not a one of the Slyths returned but Slughorn — unless of course they had family members in another House who stayed, in which case they effectively came back incognito.

But then, the whole account of that stupid Battle of Hogwarts was haphazardly written and hopelessly disorganized.

It was strongly suggested that the Muggle-born students had not been permitted back at all that year, and yet Minerva was heard to be chivying one of the Creevy brothers (who have been established as Muggle-borns since CoS — although Rowling might very well still decide to claim that it’s only their father who is a Muggle any time she takes it into her mind to do so) out of the castle with the underage students. This would probably be Dennis, the younger brother. Since Colin, the elder, at the end of his 6th year was probably already of age. He remained, and was noted as having been killed in the fight.

A few others, like Luna Lovegood and Ginny had already either been taken hostage by DEs or had gone into hiding. But that still leaves anything from 200–450 students (depending upon whether or not you accept Rowling’s population numbers or more rational ones) in residence by the day of the battle.

Even if the whole of the Gryffindor 7th year and half of the Hufflepuffs and Ravenclaws stayed on to fight, that still only comes to about 20 students. (Rowling did tell us that she created 40 students in Harry’s year, and we’ve met most of them. And it never sounded like Ginny’s class was any larger.) Since it was the end of the school year all but those 6th year students who had birthdays during summer break would have probably been of age also. Perhaps another 10–15 of those stayed as well. Bringing us up to some 35 students who stayed. There are some dozen or so staff (Counting Snape and the Carrows) and there ware maybe another dozen ex-DA members and a couple of dozen Order members who also showed up. That comes to roughly 80 or so defenders, with a death count of 50 only four of whom seem to have been named.

Right. I’m not sure I believe Rowling’s numbers. Especially since so far as we were told, only Tom and Bellatrix appear to have been killed on the attackers’ side.

But that still leaves all of the students from years 1–5 who needed to be evacuated, none of whom could Apparate. That’s anything from 150–350 students. And I don’t think they could all fit in the Hog’s Head. And, as I say, it is already established that there was a caterwauling curfew in the village, set to go off if anyone stepped outside a building before dawn. So what were they supposed to do. Huddle there like sardines (with the goats) until whoever won the battle decided to deal with them?

Somebody needed to get those children away to safety. And somebody needed to organize it. I really don’t get any impression that there were any pre-existing evacuation plans in place before they actually had to do it.

So I have my own ideas of what the Slytherins might have been doing that night. One that isn’t directly contradicted by anything in the text.

But first: if the Slytherins had just left through the tunnel and gone off to join the DEs in the forest don’t you think they would have told someone what was up, and Tom would have sent someone to the Hog’s Head to close down the escape and cut off the arrival of the castle’s defenders? Or to take the children hostage? We would have had the Battle of the Hog’s Head, with the younger students right in the middle of it. And we got absolutely nothing of the sort. Tom and his followers don’t seem to have had a clue. And no one really who could have given them one.

Which still leaves the question of how the Slytherin students could have got from the Hog’s Head to the DE encampments (which they knew were where?) without setting off the curfew.

I think it is much easier to believe that Tom was simply lying. The only Slytherin students who we know took part in the battle were Draco and his goons, and they merely snuck back into the castle through the same tunnel. Assuming that they ever left in the first place.

The only adult who seems to have stayed on site at the Hog’s Head was Slughorn. Everyone else over the age of 17 was moving in the other direction; Order members Apparating directly into the bar to get into the castle to join the defenders, as well as underage students evacuated on Minerva’s orders. It must have been like Grand Central Station in there. Even Aberforth didn’t stay at the pub. He showed up at the castle along with the rest of the Order.

Sluggy and the Slytherins, were the first group though the tunnel, followed by the first through fifth years of the other three Houses (plus any 6th and 7th years who didn’t stay to fight).

I tend to doubt that it was left up to Aberforth to figure out what was to be done with them. And Sluggy, as the only teacher available had the authority to take charge.

Sluggy had a crew of perhaps 20–30 students from all four Houses who were old enough to have Apparition licenses (or at least training) and up to 300 children who needed to be taken out of the way, or someplace safe. (It is not safe to be in a crowd in a place where people are blindly Apperating in. Not safe At All.) I think that they spent the rest of the night doing it. Only those whose parents could be expected to already be on the battlefield, or who were Apparating in to take the tunnel to the castle were left to stay overnight in the Hog’s Head. It is probably big enough to house that many. And someone needed to organize that, too.

And in the morning, once the curfew went off-line, Sluggy (along with Charlie Weasley) rousted out the villagers, and led them back to the castle, in his green silk pajamas, to finally duel with Tom.

We saw him do it.

****

In common with most wizards, Slughorn consistently demonstrates that he is deficient in common sense. As stated above, in HBP he waffled over returning to the school for fear that to do so would be to make a statement of alliance with the Order of the Phoenix. (It would not have.) And yet, once he got there he took care to snub every known Death Eater’s child in the place. Now, what kind of a statement was that?

Even better; once he returned to Hogwarts and was “safe” what does he do but spend the whole year inviting his former pets back onto campus for “little Friday night suppers” and Christmas parties? Despite the fact that he does not know where any of their real loyalties may lie, and the Prophet sends out daily reports of the actions of people put under Imperius. What on earth was the silly man thinking?

Clearly, his trust in Albus Dumbledore, and Dumbledore’s protection, was boundless.

And in such a story as we thought we had, in which the plot is not almost totally driven by coincidence, I thought that there was at least some plausibility to the theory that Horace could have taken a hand in a conspiracy to orchestrate the death of Albus Dumbledore. Even if that death was real, it certainly wasn’t random. And, most unlike the deaths of Cedric Diggory and Sirius Black, it was not arbitrary. That death was designed to serve a purpose.

At the very least, someone in the school had to have had been involved in the aftermath. Neither Albus nor Severus Snape were going to be in a position to cover the wrap-up stage of the proceedings. And Hagrid cannot not have been expected to do it all alone.

There was more than one early theory out there which postulated Slughorn’s involvement in the [faked] death of Albus Dumbledore. One of these can be found in the book which a number of other online theorists and I collaborated on with John Granger, over the summer of 2006; ‘Who Killed Albus Dumbledore?’ (Zossima Press, 2006)

I will have to say that I think that some of the extraneous material which had been unearthed in support of the theory is delightful. It follows the careers of a pair of historical stage magicians by the names of Horace Goldin and The Great Albini. These men were peers and rivals, and at some point in his career, Goldin even appeared on stage with a pet tigress named Lily.

Indeed, the historical material is so delightful that I think that if Rowling was aware of it she might have rolled it into her story just for the sheer fun of it, even if it doesn’t mean anything.

However, it has since been proven that even though we may still be confident that Albus’s death may have been “staged”, it was definitely not faked.

Which does not eliminate the possibility of additional conspirators or “stage managers” being involved in the matter.

Someone a little more subtle than Hagrid might have been brought in to assist this “Dumbledore’s Men” production to make sure that everything went as planned.

For example, given the potential for Albus’s full control of the timing of the events of that evening (gone into in the essays entitled ‘Exunt Albus’ over in the Potterverse UNhallowed collection), isn’t it a little late in the proceedings to be leaving the issue of actually getting the (false) Horcrux into Harry’s hands altogether to chance?

What was the point of retrieving it from the Cave? To leave it in Albus’s pocket for Hagrid or Minerva to find? Hardly.

Hagrid probably couldn’t have managed something that was quite so finicking a detail, requiring deft spellwork. Hagrid is not even a qualified wizard. Horace could have easily managed that part of the business. And I also think that any hypothetical co-conspirator was not Minerva, who was not reported as being among the crowd at the foot of the tower (in all fairness, neither was Slughorn, but he was somewhere in the vicinity, or he would not have known of Albus’s death in order to have already informed the Ministry of the situation, as he reported when we next saw him). Minerva is an obvious suspect for having had a part to play at some point in the evening’s events, but not that part. And she’s not any kind of an actress. Her response to learning of Dumbledore’s death would have been hard to fake. She nearly fainted. Had she been at the foot of the tower with the crowd, she would have already known that he was dead.

So. If there was an additional party involved in the conspiracy, it would have probably been someone who would not be expected to be running around the corridors battling DEs, and generally getting underfoot, but someone conveniently off the radar making sure that everything stayed properly coordinated, and performing the necessary stage direction and props management to make sure that the scene was properly set.

Well, Sluggy is certainly experienced at that. Death scenes to order on a two-minute warning in chapter 4 of HBP.

****

And, after all, do we know for a certainty that Albus did not stroll down to Slughorn’s office with a bottle of oak matured mead the evening after he had finally viewed Slughorn’s memory of that interview with Riddle, and assured his old friend Horace that, yes, a great deal of damage had been done by that conversation, but he was hardly the first person to have been hoodwinked by Riddle?

And suggested also that there was a chance that they could finally put some of it right, perhaps? And that there was a very necessary part that Slughorn could help them with, a perfectly safe part, but very, very important?

I don’t think we do know otherwise. For that matter, silly as Slughorn can sometimes be, he is not really stupid. And he won’t have forgotten that the poisoned mead had been purchased as a gift for Dumbledore, and stated as such. He probably already suspected that someone was trying to kill the Headmaster.

We know that a Protean charm will work between Hogsmeade and Hogwarts. Draco and Rosemerta had been communicating that way since at least the first Hogsmeade weekend. Do we know that Albus did not intend to tip Slughorn off that they were on their way back after Harry went running off for help when he staged his second collapse in Hogsmeade?

Well, we know that he didn’t get the chance to do anything so complex at that point. Rosemerta was under instructions to be on the watch and point out the Dark mark, to draw Albus back to the school. But Harry did hear Albus muttering on the flight back. Taking down the extra protections around the perimeter accounts for it. But we don’t know that was all he was doing. Albus can perform magic nonverbally. Even just activating the charm to make the target coin warm up could be enough of a signal to alert Slughorn, or any other co-conspirators.

Once Slughorn got out of the castle and saw the Dark mark he would have been in no hurry to go back inside. He would have seen Albus and Harry fly to the tower and might have summoned Albus’s fallen wand, cast a cushioning charm, or otherwise softened Albus’s landing, the fall already having been slowed by Snape. Then he would have gotten to work.

First; banish the cushioning charms, make sure his old friend’s robes were decently covering his old skinny legs. Get the Horcrux out of his pocket. Albus only filled him in briefly, Horace wouldn’t have known it was a fake.

Then Slughorn lingers about disguised as a bush or something until Snape chivvies his party of invaders off the grounds and the defenders and Hufflepuffs follow them out of the castle. Then he mingles with the crowd (and just what called that crowd away to go and look at the base of the tower while Hagrid’s hut was blazing merrily away in plain sight? Wouldn’t you have expected them to first go and assist Hagrid?). Then to conjure the locket into place to make sure the still shocked Harry actually kneels on it, so he can’t miss it, and hover in the background until Ginny takes Harry away and Hagrid takes charge of the body. Then Sluggy can go off to notify the Ministry.

Well, it does work. Even if Rowling doesn’t appear to intend to go anywhere near it. I’m not prepared to bet the farm on it, either. But it is a possibility which I think I’ll keep in mind.

It certainly works better than the roughed-in sketch Rowling gave us.

****

And, besides, Slughorn’s specialty suggests that his help was already deployed in a different field altogether, a good deal earlier in the year. Indeed, in the previous year, too.

Rowling’s shakiness regarding anything to do with numbers is famous. And passing it off as “Oh. Maths” is begging the question. Indeed Rowling’s ability to bollix anything that deals with numbers is absolutely notorious. Almost suspiciously so, although the reader will just have to forgive me if I decline to follow that particular line of enquiry.

But, the fact remains that she does use numbers and she doesn’t always botch them. And sometimes they mean something.

We just cannot always be sure of when.

Rowling tossed us yet another irrational numerical clue in HBP. And this one is connected to Slughorn. We still do not have any clear idea regarding its relevant context. But it was so obviously flagged as a clue that it stands to reason that it had to mean something. Even if Rowling dropped it later.

Horace Slughorn had allegedly been in hiding for a year by the time Albus and Harry caught up to him and talked him into returning to Hogwarts. By his own account, he had been out of touch, and on the move pretty much ever since Albus had made his announcement that Voldemort had returned. He claims that he had stayed no longer than a week in any one place before moving on.

About six weeks later, in his first Potions class he has a selection of complex advanced, potions set up as samples for the edification of his 6th-year NEWT-Level class. We had already encountered some of these over the course of the series, some of them more than once.

Veritiserum, Polyjuice, Amortensia, and Felix Felicis.

At this point we still know nothing about the brewing of Amortensia. But we have known since CoS that Polyjuice needs three weeks to stew. Towards the end of OotP Snape states that Veritiserum takes a month.

And when, after learning of its properties, Ron comments that brewing up a batch of Felix Felicis might be a good idea, Harry discovers and relays the information that Felix Felicis requires a full six months to brew.

Six months?

Slughorn had a finished batch of it in his first class of the year.

He must have started it no later than the previous March.

Why?

On the face of it, the answer seems fairly obvious. A man in hiding might reasonably want to stack the deck in his own favor, despite the fact that the stuff is highly toxic in large quantities. But he admits to having only taken the stuff twice in his life, and both times decades ago.

But then he also tells us that Felix is “desperately” tricky to make, and disastrous to get wrong. I doubt that such a delicate potion would improve by being packed up and relocated on a weekly basis during the brewing stage.

So where did he brew it? Was it even brewed fresh for this year, or was this the end of an older batch, decanted for a classroom demonstration? The fact that he is able to state with confidence that this batch was done correctly suggests it. We can’t know without having some idea of the shelf life. That batch could have been made years ago.

But if it was a fresh batch, he must have had a secure location to set it up, and check in on it at intervals. But that doesn’t really answer the question does it? Why would he suddenly decide he needed to brew a batch of Felix Felicis 8–9 months after he stared squatting in Muggle houses? What happened at the end of February or the beginning of March in Harry’s 5th year to motivate him? Do we know?

Well; Harry’s interview with Rita Skeeter was printed in the March issue of the Quibbler. But I don’t know whether that would have convinced Slughorn he needed to keep a bit of Felix on hand. We don’t even know if he was in a place where he would have seen the Quibbler. In fact, it seems rather unlikely.

So maybe we are barking up the wrong tree.

What he had in the classroom was a very small batch of the stuff. And we don’t know how well it keeps. Given Slughorn’s general tendency for avariciousness, a controlled substance which probably would fetch a very pretty penny would be a very valuable thing to keep around. Particularly if you are on the move, and may need to raise money in a hurry, cut, and run. Maybe what he had in the classroom was the last of a batch brewed a couple of years earlier. But we cannot count on that. So what are our options? (The safest option of course is simply to say; “We don’t know.”)

But, consider; Slughorn could have been asked to make it. By someone who could offer him a secure place to do it in.

What, during Harry’s 5th year is the securest place we know of? Outside of Hogwarts, that is? And who had control of accessing it?

And we hadn’t been back there since the previous Christmas, had we? Even if it has belonged to Harry since the beginning of last June.

When the Order cleared out of it and Dumbledore discovered that the Locket had gone walkabout. (If he had ever known about the Locket, that is. Rowling seems to imply he didn’t. But then Rowling arbitrarily lowered everyone’s intelligence about 40 points when she sat down to write DHs. The damn thing had been in a display case in the parlor when Albus was in and out of the place the previous summer for ghod’s sake.)

James Potter’s name never passes Slughorn’s lips, but Horace did speak well of Sirius Black. In his fashion.

What if he hadn’t been squatting in Muggle houses for the past year, but only since the Order cleared out of #12? Or, indeed, since the previous spring.

On the other hand, Slughorn isn’t a member of the Order and wasn’t willing to commit to becoming one.

For that matter, wouldn’t the Order have already had a Headquarters during VoldWar I? What happened to that one? Albus moved Headquarters to #12 in Year 5 because of his new scam of guarding the Prophecy record, in London, but wouldn’t the old Headquarters have been protected too? And we do not know where it was (unless it was the house in Godric’s Hollow. That one is still standing as a memorial. That could explain why they didn’t go back to it).

One also might wonder just who inherited the Flamels’ cottage. Albus could have hidden Sluggy anywhere. Once he caught up to him, himself. Which he demonstrably had done.

After the example of OotP it would be a bit silly of us to lose sight of the fact that a fair part of the action of this series is taking place off the pages that we and Harry have access to.

And Dumbledore collected Harry and took him directly to where Slughorn was with rather suspicious ease once you consider the matter, didn’t he?

And the two of them seemed to immediately take up an ongoing disagreement right in the middle, upon arrival, didn’t they?

And with a complex and dangerous conspiracy to stage his own death in the equation, I should think that Albus Dumbledore might have appreciated access to a little vial of Felix Felicis on one particular evening in the following June, himself, mightn’t he? Re-read the way Harry observed Albus “feeling his way” through that sea cave and compare it with the more subjective version of Harry’s experience while under the influence the night of Aragog’s funeral. I’d say the similarities are highly suggestive. And even though it was a small batch of Felix, I don’t think that two doses would have accounted for it all.

However. The safest option is still; “We don’t know.”

And since Rowling has relegated Felix Felicis to her ever-growing list of disposable plot devices, which were used once and discarded, despite their clear potential relevance to future developments, we’ll never find out.

Although, in retrospect, that whole sequence is still inclined to take on the look of another piece of performance art. Indeed, it’s The Albus and Horace Show.

****

But if Sluggy, who we know has tremendous faith in Albus Dumbledore, likes to work behind the scenes, and whose objection to returning to Hogwarts seems largely to have been based upon the appearance such an open association with Dumbledore and the School would present, was already working with Dumbledore — behind the scenes — by the spring of Harry’s 5th year, we suddenly have to ask ourselves a few more questions regarding some other events that we’ve been taking for granted.

Slughorn may be fat, but he is not exactly lazy. Nor is he stupid, however deficient he may be in common sense. And he’s a Slytherin, with an eye to making use of whatever advantages come to hand. He also possesses an alertness which is attuned to recognizing an advantage when it is under his nose.

So, the question really has to be asked: just how much did chance really have to do with Harry being given Snape’s old Potions text? Or was that yet another of Albus’s machinations?

Post-DHs, I was disgusted to discover that the whole issue of the Potions book was yet another of Rowling’s disposable plot devices, and that it was never necessary for Harry to have known that it had once been Snape’s book at all. (Which renders the whole “mystery” both gratuitous and irrelevant.)

But the issue is still worth batting back and forth as if it had mattered. It certainly mattered that Harry should have had access to the book itself over the course of his 6th year. The only question is whether it was by accident or by design that he did have it. Having performed a frontal lobotomy upon the whole storyline, Rowling these days no doubt would like us all to passively sit like lumps (very much like Harry) and just accept that it all happened by the will of providence. I, however, still think it plays much better if it happened by some level of design. Even if not any design of the author’s.

Sluggy certainly palmed the book off onto Harry without the boy becoming suspicious. And if that was intentional he and Albus might readily have shared a grin when Harry returned the battered cover with the clean, fresh, new interior.

Because by all rights, we ought not to have heard the last of that Potions text by the end of the year. And the fact that we had, frankly, stinks.

For it gradually sinks in, that the whole “Half-Blood Prince” subplot of the book bearing his name, from where we are standing, was completely pointless!

It served absolutely no purpose to the story, as the story was presented in book 6. None. At all.

Not the Potions book, itself, mind you. It was absolutely crucial to the plot that Harry have access to the book. Without the information in that book he would not have been able to complete the task that Albus set him, and he and his friends would not have come out of that year intact.

But he didn’t need to know who had written the information in that book.

The only purpose served by discovering that the book had been Snape’s book, was to stand in as the punch line of a joke on Harry. And, incidentally, to underscore the fact that when the subject is Snape, Harry never seems to get it right.

So at the end of the book, the other shoe had yet to fall. And we never got one. There was no reason for Rowling to have been at such pains to establish that it had once been Snape’s book — unless there was going to come a point in the action that Harry would need to know that the information in that book came from Snape. Even if it was no more than that he would need to be able to recognize the handwriting. And we never got that reason. It’s completely pointless.

Ergo; it has all since devolved into apparently being a part of a lengthening string of unbelievable coincidences strung together by some never-named supreme being for reasons never revealed. This is not good storytelling.

Because if getting that Potions book to Harry was deliberate, then there should have probably been some information in that book that somebody wanted Harry to have access to. And it was probably not Sectumsempera. At the end of HBP Harry may just not have found whatever it was yet. But he still might have.

And, to pass the book to him by design would have been dead easy.

Minerva had probably passed on to Albus the information that Harry Potter wanted to train to be an Auror. The whole staff knew that Potter would need to take Potions at NEWT-Level in order to qualify for Auror training.

Albus states with such perfect certainty that the OWL results will be coming later in the day when he drops Harry off at the Burrow that you cannot help but suspect that he is already aware that Harry received an ‘E’ on his Potions OWL, but not an ‘O’. With only an E on his Potions OWL Harry would be unlikely to provide himself with the textbook in view of Snape’s widely-known policy of accepting no one who scored lower than an O into his advanced class. Harry admits as much when he showed up in Slughorn’s class without a textbook. If there had been any continuing uncertainty as to whether or not he had purchased the proper textbook, it would have been easy enough to make a Floo call to Molly Weasley to verify the matter, once she’d seen the kids off on the Hogwarts Express. It would be hours before the train arrived, after all.

And, in retrospect, a remarkable amount of care appears to have been taken during the Albus and Horace Show to not let out any hints that Slughorn would not be simply another of the string of one-year wonders teaching DADA class, but would be teaching Potions instead.

So I suspect that the staff, or at least Albus and his confederates knew in advance that Harry was going to need a Potions book.

What we cannot know for certain is who actually provided the book. Slughorn? Or Snape?

****

Slughorn was the last person seen to have possession of that book, after all.

And I really rather doubt that he didn’t know what it was he had.

Even if he’d only just been handed it a day or so before he passed it on.

But there is always the possibility that he’d had it for longer than that. Years even. Let’s explore the possibilities:

If he already had the book, he would have had some reason of his own to pass it to Harry, and to cover up for Harry’s sudden improvement in his subject. We do not know what such reasons might have been, but that is certainly what he appeared to be doing all year. So why would Slughorn have wanted to enable Harry to cheat?

Well? Any suggestions?

Ingratiating himself to Harry seems to have been the first excuse I can think of off the top of my head, but, if so, it doesn’t seem to have worked, does it? Yet we don’t get any greater impression of frustration over Harry’s continuing to evade him and his invitations than the obvious, which seems a bit odd.

What about sentiment? I could accept that reason quite easily if it had been Lily’s book. He would have probably have been very happy to give Harry Lily’s old Potions text, with her notes, perhaps, but he didn’t have that book. He had Snape’s.

Or had been given Snape’s. Unless he knew of some kind of a close association between Lily and Snape I cannot see sentiment entering into it. And if there had been such an association (which apparently there was up through 5th year) you would expect him to have mentioned it at least once during all his burbling.

Unless he’d been warned off. Which I think was likely.

As for the book itself: we are all at a standstill regarding that bloody Potions book. This is one of the puzzles that Rowling inserted (perhaps inadvertently) into HBP wherein no matter what kind of an interpretation you try to apply, there is always some detail left over that just does not fit.

But the amount of annotation in that book strongly suggests that it was used over the course of Slughorn’s 6th year Potions class by somebody, for all of the potions annotations followed the lesson plans as they were presented throughout the year that Harry was in Slughorn’s class. Even though at least one of the hexes in the margins had managed to escape a year earlier.

Since all of the writing in the book was the in the same handwriting, both types of annotations were all but certainly made by the same former owner.

And we have no information on how it got into Sluggy’s stack of loaners.

It could have been hidden there. We could be correct in our original suspicion that somebody stole the book and Snape never got it back — although it would have been at some point after 6th year, since the book was clearly in use then.

Slughorn may not have discovered it among the stack of loaners (where it had been hidden) until after the Marauder cohort had left school. Possibly not until he was packing up his classroom when he retired, but if Harry was right, and he would have recognized the handwriting as Snape’s, he held onto it. Sluggy isn’t a thief, but he will help himself to things he finds interesting. I think he would have found the Prince’s annotated Potions text extremely interesting.

Indeed, he may have enjoyed deciphering the notes and reading Snape’s improvements to the standard instructions. He’d have appreciated the hexes as well, most likely. Sluggy likes creativity and he adores novelty.

He may have even regretted having overlooked the little commoner, for I am still not convinced that Snape rated an invitation to the Slug Club (although I admit that I might be wrong about that). Snape was much too surly, gauche, and (I’m sorry to say) not nearly pretty enough to fit Sluggy’s usual profile for his little stars. There were no connections worth having there, either, and he was not a good candidate for the sort of return in obliging gratitude that Slughorn preferred for his patronage.

What’s more, if he had welcomed Snape into his Club (and I agree that he might have) and pulled strings in Snape’s favor, he would have talked about it. And he certainly did nothing of the sort throughout the entire year. We were listening.

Indeed, if Slughorn had been the one to provide that book, his statement at the end of HBP of; “I taught him. I thought I knew him!” would have some additional context. With all due respect, although I am sure that Snape was a memorable student, I suspect that Sluggy may have felt he knew Snape from something more than just the memory of having had him in his classroom for seven years, some 20 years ago. I think he may have felt he knew him from his book. But we got no confirmation that he was aware of the annotations in the book.

And, if he was, maybe to give the book to Harry (which would have probably been a bit of a wrench) provided him with a reason to feel that Harry was obliged to him. Even if the boy didn’t realize it.

It almost plays. But not quite. I cannot quite accept that reading. To me, the highest probability still seems to me that the old chess master, Albus, gave it to Slughorn and told him that he wanted Potter to have it.

And we don’t know how long Albus had it, or exactly what he intended by it either.

****

It has been suggested in various discussion groups that Albus gave Harry the book because he was hoping that if Harry managed to become a little potions star Sluggy would hand over the memory.

That one just doesn’t really fly either, does it?

The real stumbling block to the book being a feint to get around Slughorn, so Harry could pry the memory out of him is that Slughorn himself behaves as if he is in on whatever the feint was from the beginning.

First he gives Harry the book. Which would have been easy enough to do if he was in the know. (Except that “we” don’t know that he was.) And then he spends the whole year covering for Harry’s sudden Potions expertise by going on and on about Lily and her potions glory back in the day, and how Harry must have inherited her talent. And presumably neither Snape nor anyone else disabuses him of the illusion that Harry is a potions whiz by commenting that there has been no sign of excellence from Harry in Potions class in the previous 5 years. (“Remedial potions”, anyone? One wonders just what Malfoy thought of Potter suddenly eclipsing him in potions class?)

I mean, really, it is a lot easier to believe that Slughorn was a part of a plot to get the book to Harry and to get him used to depending on it.

Which, if there had been something that Harry needed in that book, makes its own kind of sense. Even if Rowling never quite delivered on that possibility.

So let’s follow that line of reasoning a while, shall we?

In fact, let’s go back to the Albus and Horace Show.

For this reading the problem is gaps, rather than extra information that you have to find a place for. Filling gaps is a doodle by contrast.

Let us not forget that when Albus showed up at Slughorn’s final hideout with Harry in tow, he and Slughorn stepped right into the middle of an ongoing discussion over Slughorn returning to the school. That argument certainly doesn’t sound like something that had been in abeyance for the past year. To say nothing of the past 15.

And I really find myself wondering whether the whole mise-en-scene wasn’t a performance for Harry’s benefit.

He and Albus certainly walked into what turned out to be a stage set.

Well, I certainly wouldn’t put running two scams at once beyond Albus’s capabilities. Slughorn may like to think of himself as kingmaker and puppet-master, but Albus is the real deal whenever he wants to be. He could have enlisted Sluggy’s active assistance in leading Harry even has he was using Harry’s celebrity as a lure to Slughorn. And I think that Sluggy would have been quite willing to oblige Albus — so long as it didn’t involve that memory.

In fact, it may have been Albus’s pressuring Slughorn over just what caused his enthusiasm for young Tom Riddle to have cooled so suddenly around the time that they were having all that trouble with a monster in the castle that had given Slughorn the idea to retire in the first place. (For you know that after that particular discussion Slughorn was unlikely to have ever been able to regard Riddle with the same level of enthusiasm.) Even though he may have been jockeyed into retiring just in order to make way for Snape, who Albus did not want in the DADA post.

So, can we really take Slughorn at his word that he has been living as a fugitive for the past year? I’m no longer sure we can. I do think we can take him at his word that he has been in hiding for the past year. I also think that Albus may have taken a hand in hiding him. It was very much in Albus’s interests to have Slughorn obliged to him.

One of the last things Albus would have wanted to have to deal with upon Tom’s return and his own split with the Ministry the year before, would have been Slughorn under Tom’s control. Lucius Malfoy waltzing in and out of the Ministry like he owned it was bad enough. Slughorn, under Imperius, using his contacts for Tom’s benefit would have been infinitely worse.

Particularly if something very much like that had happened the last time Sluggy was running around loose and unprotected.

It’s possible that one of the first things Albus did after the night of the 3rd task, was to contact Slughorn (who was probably always glad to hear from him so long as the subject of that memory didn’t come up) fill him in on the developments, both the developments, and offer to hide him. Slughorn, an abject coward, accepted with alacrity. I also think that Albus commissioned that batch of Felix from him some months later. Right about the time that Harry’s interview with Rita was printed in the Quibbler.

For that matter; was Sluggy at Hogwarts, in the stands watching the 3rd Task?

Maybe he never went home that night at all.

Conversely, as Swythyv has suggested, Albus may have been slow off the mark, what with the Ministry brangle, and Slughorn, learning that Albus was convinced that Tom was back, did a bolt before Albus could make the offer. Albus might have wanted to advance his own agenda and start rooting out Horcruxes a full year earlier and couldn’t, since he needed Slughorn to replace Snape in Potions so he could put Snape in charge of DADA. He wasn’t able to set it up because Sluggy could not be found in time, and held the DADA position open for a Ministry shill as the next best use of the time.

Slughorn may be opportunistic and a bit unclear on the concept of ethics, but he seems to have a functioning moral compass. If he left the school in the first place because Albus was suddenly asking him about his interview with young Tom Riddle, I think he is bright enough to have figured out that his holding out about that memory may have contributed to the death of one of his other most favorite students of all time. (The shame he displays when he finally does turn the memory over certainly suggests as much.)

But he couldn’t bear to reveal the memory, and he wasn’t willing either to return to the school, or to show himself publicly as long as Tom was still out there.

The prospect of having the famous Harry Potter in his classroom was the lure that finally got him to agree to return to public life — in the safety of Hogwarts castle. Albus couldn’t promise him Harry’s cooperation regarding the Slug Club, but he could sit him down in Horace’s classroom, and was prepared to pull whatever strings were necessary to facilitate it.

I really do wonder what Slughorn was told about that book. Because while it isn’t impossible for his behavior regarding it to have been totally oblivious, the whole business moves along much more smoothly if he was aware of at least something of what was afoot.

I do think that Sluggy may have been told that the boy was competent, but not creative with Potions, his main sphere of expertise being in DADA. It would have been easy enough for him to have learned that Harry’s Potions OWL had earned him an E rather than an O at least. Such things are a matter of record. And the record would be accessible to the student’s new instructor.

I also rather thought that Albus might have offered the book — which I was sure might contain some marginal information that Harry was going to need in the future — to Horace as a tool to ingratiate himself with Harry. As well as to give the boy some idea of what innovation in the subject (or thinking outside the box in general) can produce. It’s a pity I seem to have been wrong.

I also think that Sluggy, once he had the book in his hands, would have examined it. He might have recognized whose book it was. I suppose a great deal depends upon whether he would remember the handwriting of a single student from nearly 20 years earlier. How many teachers would?

But even if he didn’t recognize the writing, he would have recognized the methods — if they had ever shown up in his class, and he would have probably remembered who came up with them.

Or even that he had been filled in on it being Snape’s book, and warned not to let that particular cat out of the bag to Harry.

And, from Albus’s point of view, if Harry was able to turn the situation to his advantage in the matter of retrieving that memory, all the better.

But none of it is solid enough to really get a convincing handle on.

****

Another thing that occurs to me — given the amount of flack poor old Sluggy catches for using an “obviously” inferior textbook for over 40 years — is that while the instructions in Borage are clearly inferior to Snape’s annotations, none of them appear to be dangerously inferior.

The worst that will happen from following the set text appears to be that the potion will not be of optimum quality. Or that it will take longer to produce the same result as in the annotated version. You are not likely to blow yourself up or poison yourself by following Borage’s instructions to the letter. Ergo: it is possible that Borage quite deliberately did not use the most effective ingredients and procedures in the text, because those have the potential to go more dangerously wrong than the run-of-the-mill instructions that he did use.

This might play nicely into at least one fanfiction author’s interpretation, in that the recipes are deliberately hobbled, and that while a competent brewer will still get usable results from them, truly superior results requires taking some risks.

A further issue to be considered is that Rowling has confirmed that potions-brewing is magic. It is not a cooking class. The brewer is channeling magic into the result.

With this understanding in the equation, we have an explanation for some of the more peculiar, or dramatic, results which we have seen students achieve in Snape’s classroom over the previous 5 years. This factor also raises the probability that a student who is willing to put more of himself into his potion will get a very different result than one who sluffs along only going through the motions.

Harry is a bit suggestible. Once he brewed the Draft of Living Death according to the Prince’s instructions (which weren’t really all that much of a departure from Borage’s), he was convinced he had discovered a treasure trove of arcane knowledge. He hadn’t any real understanding of what he was doing, or why these instructions worked so much better than the ones in the text , but he was fully engaged in the process of brewing potions — as he had never been when Snape was teaching the class.

Hermione was putting the same amount of magic into her potions in Year 6 that she always had. But Harry was suddenly putting in far more than he ever had before. And Harry, I suspect, has a lot more magic to put into a potion, or a spell, than Hermione does.

We’ve seen this kind of thing before. Neville was shooting himself in the foot by not buckling down and focusing over his first 3 and a half years in the school. It wasn’t until 5th year that he finally decided that he was going to take control of his magic. It wasn’t until 6th year that Harry was evidently given the crutch needed to convince himself to take control of his magic in Potions class. And when he hid the book after the Sectumsempera incident he immediately decided that he couldn’t perform at the same level, and didn’t.

Oh, the annotations were useful, yes. Any student in the class would probably have seen real improvement in their brewing if they had access to those notes. But not the amount of improvement that Harry got. For Harry, the Prince’s book may well have been invoking a placebo effect.

In the ww, after all, knowledge is power. But power is also power.

I think it is hypothetically possible that an innately powerful student who is willing to throw himself into the work, and to approach the procedure with confidence, might perform every bit as well as one who has additional detailed knowledge about the properties of the ingredients or the ritual of the procedure when it comes to class work. Hermione has demonstrated this probability in her class work from the beginning of the series.

This will apply to almost any class work, but particularly in the study of potions, in which magic is typically performed wandlessly. Furthermore, if all wandless magic operates on the same basic principles as I have postulated for Dark magic, then it is heavily affected by the wizard’s intent. More so than in any class in which magic is performed by channeling magic through a wand.

This may well have been the real underlying advantage that Lily brought to all her classes, the ability to engage herself. But particularly to Potions. She put herself into the cauldron and learned the fine details of potions-brewing along the way. Perhaps in the lower years, from Snape.

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