Chapter 18 of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: Birthday Surprises
Harry confides to both Hermione and Ron about Dumbledore's task to retrieve Slughorn's memory. Meanwhile, Slughorn has the Potions class brew an antidote for different poisons. Harry's textbook provide little assistance. With only a few minutes left, Harry finds a scrawled note in his book, "Just shove a Bezoar down their throats." Harry also remembers Snape once saying that a Bezoar (a stone from a goat's stomach) will protect against most poisons. Time is almost up, and, finding a Bezoar in the cabinet, Harry holds it up to Slughorn. Amused, yet impressed, Slughorn says Harry thinks like his mother. Harry lingers after class and asks Slughorn about Horcruxes. Realizing what Harry is attempting, Slughorn insists there was nothing more to the memory that he gave Dumbledore, and departs hurriedly.
Students sit their first Apparition training in early February. During the session, Harry eavesdrops on Malfoy and Crabbe. Crabbe seems upset that he has to guard Malfoy while he is doing something. After several attempts, only Susan Bones successfully Apparates, but splinches herself, leaving a leg behind.
After overhearing Malfoy and Crabbe's conversation, Harry resolves to track Draco's movements on the Marauder's Map. Over the next several weeks, he watches Crabbe and Goyle moving around the castle more than usual, sometimes standing in an empty hall. Harry is often unable to locate Malfoy on the map and considers that he is actually leaving the school, but dismisses this due to Hogwarts' increased security.
On his birthday, Ron eats several of the chocolates that Romilda Vane gave Harry. When Ron becomes dreamy over Romilda, Harry realizes the candies were spiked with Love Potion and takes him to Slughorn. En route, they bump into Lavender, and Ron excitedly announces that Harry is taking him to Romilda. Slughorn administers an antidote, then decides they should toast Ron's birthday. Slughorn opens a bottle of mead he intended as a present for Dumbledore. After taking a sip, it quickly become obvious Ron has been poisoned. When Slughorn is slow to react, Harry finds the Bezoar in Slughorn's bag, forcing it into Ron's mouth.
Obtaining Slughorn's complete memory is more difficult than Harry realized. Slughorn knows Dumbledore wants this information, and, for whatever reason, he refuses to share it, and now carefully avoids being caught alone with Harry. It is apparent that Slughorn will never willingly yield this memory, and Harry must devise a more clever plan if he hopes to retrieve it.
Harry grows more obsessed with discovering Draco's secret and continually watches him on the Marauder's Map, though he is unable to figure out why Draco's name occasionally disappears. That no one else seems concerned about Draco's suspicious activities further frustrates Harry, and he needs some other means to trail him, if he is to discover what Draco is doing.
Although Hermione is disapproving that Harry uses information from the Half-Blood Prince's book, she is perhaps being a little overly critical and obsessive when Harry uses the Bezoar stone in Slughorn's class. It was, after all, something Harry had previously learned about in Snape's class, and the notes in the book only acted as a reminder. It is possible that Hermione not only resents what she considers cheating, but also anyone outshining her in class. We can safely assume that she will be grateful, however, that Harry knows how to use the stone when Ron is poisoned.
Romilda Vane had given Harry a box of chocolates just before Christmas. Harry, heeding Hermione's warning that they might be spiked with a love potion, tucked them away in his trunk unopened. Here, we see the truth in Hermione's words: Ron, finding the treats, assumed they were for his birthday, and ate two, immediately becoming infatuated with Romilda. It is a safe assumption that if Harry had eaten any, he would equally have been in Romilda's thrall, and would have taken her to Slughorn's party.
Harry is 16 years old; Ron is turning 17 on his birthday. American readers who know that mead is alcoholic may be dismayed that Slughorn offers an alcoholic drink to a clearly underage Harry. It is worth mentioning that the drinking age in the UK is much lower than it is in the United States; it is legal to drink at age 18 in a pub, or at 16 in a restaurant with a meal, and at age 5 at home. The laws in the Wizarding world must be even more lenient, as the Three Broomsticks and the Hog's Head are clearly pubs, yet third-years (age 13 and 14) can order Butterbeer (which is apparently mildly alcoholic).
- Why is Malfoy arguing with his cronies?
- Why does Ron fall in love with Romilda Vane? Who did Romilda intend to fall in love with her?
- Was Harry actually cheating when he presented the Bezoar stone to Slughorn during the class?
- Why does Malfoy's name keep disappearing from the Marauder's Map? Where might he be during those absences?
- Why is no one other than Harry suspicious about Draco's behavior? Is Harry over-reacting?
- Who could have poisoned the mead, and who might it have been intended for?
- Why was Slughorn unable to react after Ron drank the poisoned mead?
- Are the poisoned mead and the cursed necklace connected to one another? If so, what evidence is there for this?
Disapparating will be a point of contention again between Ron and Hermione, as Ron is among the students who have difficulty with it (he will literally fail his test by half an eyebrow) and Hermione seems to naturally get the hang of it. Hermione's repetition of the technique's mnemonic will be met by Ron using a similar mnemonic to privately insult the Ministry wizard.
When done improperly, Disapparating can be dangerous. And though Susan Bones' Splinched leg is presented as a rather humorous and generally harmless training mishap, in the next book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Ron's shoulder will be badly Splinched while he is Disapparating under perilous and chaotic circumstances, causing a severe injury with serious blood loss, needing immediate medical attention. When Apparition is first discussed, in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, there is a general wince when underage wizards Splinching themselves is mentioned; we do not yet fully understand why, even now, but having to have so many wizards on hand to re-attach Susan Bones' leg is a good indication of how serious it is.
Unknown to Harry just yet, Draco is spending time in the Room of Requirement, working on something related to his mission for Voldemort. Once Harry determines Draco's whereabouts during these disappearances, he will spend considerable time over the next few months trying unsuccessfully to get into the Room of Requirement to discover just what Draco is doing in there. It is unknown why the Room of Requirement does not appear on the Marauder's Map; possibly the Marauders never knew it existed, or whoever first thought it to be a junk warehouse instructed it to be unplottable, so as to be unseen on any map.
While Ron does recover from this accidental poisoning, it should be obvious already that his romantic entanglement with Lavender is unraveling. Injured though she may be by Ron's enthusiasm for meeting Romilda, Lavender will visit him repeatedly in the Hospital Wing, always finding him "asleep." Ron later admits to Harry and Hermione that he was feigning sleep to avoid dealing with Lavender. This rough stretch will prove too much for their relationship to weather, and it will be dealt a final blow very shortly.
It was Madam Rosmerta, placed under the Imperius curse by Draco Malfoy, who poisoned the mead. Two threats have now come from The Three Broomsticks' direction: the necklace back in October and now the mead in December, so the reader should suspect that someone at the Three Broomsticks might be involved. It will turn out also that Madam Rosmerta is reporting when Dumbledore has left the school, and that the threats are aimed at Dumbledore. It is never revealed how the poisoned mead was able to pass the Secrecy Sensors that Filch was using to track things entering and leaving the castle, though the Trio do speculate briefly on the matter.