chapter twenty-three of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Harry runs to Dumbledore’s office and together the two of them watch Slughorn’s complete memory. In it Tom Riddle asks Slughorn about Horcruxes, and about what would happen to a wizard who splits his soul into seven; Dumbledore then explains to Harry that this is what Voldemort has done. He and Harry then discuss the prophecy and its meaning, and Harry finally realizes that it’s up to him to finish Voldemort off and save the wizarding world – and that he wouldn’t want it any other way.
And there were the half-dozen teenage boys sitting around Slughorn with Tom Riddle in the midst of them….
“Tom, Tom…” said Slughorn, “What with your uncanny ability to know things you shouldn’t, and your careful flattery of the people who matter – thank you for the pineapple, by the way, you’re quite right, it is my favorite -“
(by Tealin Raintree)
“Sir, I wanted to ask you something…. I wondered what you know about… about Horcruxes?”
Slughorn looked deeply troubled now: He was gazing at Riddle as though he had never seen him plainly before.
Riddle… left, but not before Harry had glimpsed his face, which was full of that same wild happiness it had worn when he had first found out that he was a wizard, the sort of happiness that did not enhance his handsome features, but made them, somehow, less human….
(by Ani Bester)
It is essential that you understand this!” said Dumbledore;… Harry had never seen him so agitated. “By attempting to kill you, Voldemort himself singled out the remarkable person who sits here in front of me, and gave him the tools for the job!”
(by Abigail Larson)
But he understood at last what Dumbledore had been trying to tell him. It was, he thought, the difference between being dragged into the arena to face a battle to the death and walking into the arena with your head held high. Some people, perhaps, would say that there was little to choose between the two ways, but Dumbledore knew – and so do I, thought Harry, with a rush of fierce pride, and so did my parents – that there was all the difference in the world.
about the chapter
For the two years between the release of book six and the release of book seven, Severus Snape may have been the primary topic of conversation, but Horcruxes were a close second. Specifically, everyone wondered what they could be, and where they could be hidden – surely there were clues buried somewhere else in the books! There were popular theories, to be sure; the Sorting Hat? A trophy in the Hogwarts trophy room? Is Harry’s scar a horcrux? But there were some outlandish suggestions, too; I’ll never forget hearing from people who were absolutely convinced that the Hand of Glory would be a horcrux, or the mirror that Sirius gave Harry, or Lily’s eyes! A lot of theories did get awfully close, however, so if you’ve yet to read the seventh book it’s worth taking some time to ponder what they might be….
Something You May Not Have Noticed
Dumbledore makes an interesting side comment to Harry when they’re discussing Tom Riddle’s diary, telling him that “When Voldemort discovered that the diary had been mutilated and robbed of all its powers, I am told that his anger was terrible to behold.” So… who told Dumbledore that? Someone who was there when it happened, of course. And at the moment we’re only aware of one spy who’s serving both Dumbledore and Voldemort, and that’s Severus Snape. You don’t suppose Snape was the one who “let slip” that the diary had been destroyed, do you? It’s hard to imagine Voldemort just casually asking Lucius about it, unless Lucius was dumb enough to bring it up himself. Maybe there are more reasons than we realized for Draco to feel like Snape has usurped his father’s position as a favored Death Eater….
The Wizarding World
Wizards may not be any better than Muggles when it comes to determining the meaning of life, but Harry has a leg up on us all – now he at least knows the meaning of his life, as long as Voldemort is alive! Dumbledore’s lesson about the prophecy, though, is an important one. It’s tempting to hear the prophecy and think that Harry and Voldemort were predestined to face one another in the end, as though they have no free will of their own. But as Dumbledore points out, a prophecy doesn’t guarantee the future – it only offers one possibility, and the rest is up to choice. It was Voldemort’s choice to act on the prophecy; it was his choice to go after Harry and not Neville; it was his choice to give Lily the option to save herself; it was Lily’s choice to protect her son instead. And now, armed with the knowledge of how to destroy Voldemort, it is Harry’s choice to march into the arena and engage in the battle. He’ll be going with Dumbledore to destroy the next horcrux they find, and if the day comes that the horcruxes are gone, he’ll take Voldemort head-on. And just as Voldemort chose to make the first part of the story come true by acting on it, so too will Harry ensure that the rest comes true by fighting back. The stage is set; let the battle begin.
Something to Remember
Dumbledore tells Harry that he has been hunting Horcruxes “for a very long time,” but Harry doesn’t stop to think about what Dumbledore means by that. After all, he’s only started noticing Dumbledore’s absences from Hogwarts this school year; and why would he suddenly notice them now if Dumbledore’s been leaving the school horcrux-hunting during previous years, too? No, I think it’s clear that Dumbledore has only been so focused on this particular mission this year. But given that he’s known about the horcruxes for at least four years, the question begging to be asked is: why start searching now?
The Final Word
(A post to her website by J.K. Rowling on September 29, 2006 as she penned book seven:)
“Sitting at my desk trying to invent a word yesterday brought back memories of the last time I did so. I had tried for days and days to hit upon the right name for ‘the receptacle in which a Dark wizard has hidden a fragment of his soul for the purposes of attaining immortality.’ Finally, after much transposition of syllables, I scribbled ‘Horcrux’ on a piece of paper and knew it was The One. But what if somebody had already used it? With some trepidation I typed ‘Horcrux’ into Google and, to my delight, saw what I was looking for: ‘Your search – “Horcrux” – did not match any documents.’ So anyway, yesterday I Googled ‘Horcrux’ again. 401,000 results. As you might imagine, this gave me something of a lift as I went back to scribbling nonsense words on the back of a takeaway menu.”–J.K. Rowling, jkrowling.com
“I think there’s a line… between the moment in “Chamber of Secrets” when Dumbledore says so famously, ‘It’s our choices that define us, not our abilities,’ straight through to Dumbledore sitting in his office, saying to Harry, “the prophecy is significant only because you and Voldemort choose to make it so.” If you both chose to walk away, you could both live! That’s the bottom line. If both of them decided, “We’re not playing,” and walked away… but, it’s not going to happen, because as far as Voldemort’s concerned, Harry’s a threat. They must meet each other…. It’s the “Macbeth” idea. I absolutely adore “Macbeth.” It is possibly my favorite Shakespeare play. And that’s the question isn’t it? If Macbeth hadn’t met the witches, would he have killed Duncan? Would any of it have happened? Is it fated or did he make it happen? I believe he made it happen. –J.K. Rowling, July 2005