Horace Slughorn, Death Eater
by Harry Seeker
There is something not right with Horace Slughorn. We have encountered new characters in the series, each harboring some kind of secret, and Slughorn is no different. With all the focus in the HP fandom on Severus Snape, Slughorn has escaped relatively beneath the radar. We shall see, however, that Slughorn’s character is full of contradiction and misdirection on the information we received on him thus far, and is certainly worthy of suspicion.
We first meet Slughorn in the fourth chapter of HBP, which bears his name. Harry and Dumbledore are approaching Slughorn’s temporary home and eventually find the front door unhinged with the inside in a state of utter disarray. Harry thinks that the Death Eaters may have carried Slughorn off, but Dumbledore does not think so. Noticing an overstuffed armchair, Dumbledore simply pokes the chair with his wand and Slughorn bellows, making his first appearance in the novel. Slughorn asks the Headmaster what exactly gave it away, and the resulting exchange between the two wizards is interesting:
“My dear Horace,” said Dumbledore, looking amused, “if the Death Eaters really had come to call, the Dark Mark would have been set over the house.” The wizard clapped a pudgy hand to his vast forehead.
“The Dark Mark,” he muttered. “Knew there was something…ah well. Wouldn’t have had time anyway, I’d only just put the finishing touches to my upholstery when you entered the room.” (HBP, Scholastic, pg. 64)
I was surprised that Slughorn unashamedly tells Dumbledore that he should have remembered to cast the Dark Mark in order to make the ruse more convincing. He is in affect telling Dumbledore that he has the ability to cast the Dark Mark. Let us remember Mr. Weasley’s words regarding the Dark Mark: “it was only the Death Eaters who ever knew how to conjure it. I’d be very surprised if the person who did it hadn’t been a Death Eater once, even if they are not now” (GoF, Hardcover, pg. 143). Dumbledore wasn’t even asking Slughorn if he should have cast the Dark Mark, and yet Slughorn just blurts it out inadvertently and casually. It is definitely easy to miss and the implications are that Slughorn is a possible Death Eater, either in the past or in the present.
But let’s get back to Slughorn’s hiding. Whom was he hiding from? The circumstances are suspicious in themselves. Rowling describes Slughorn as “remarkably unabashed for a man who had just been discovered pretending to be an armchair” (p. 64). Slughorn is not at all concerned that he was caught or even found. Now we are led to believe that he is hiding from Death Eaters.
“So, all these precautions against intruders, Horace…are they for the Death Eaters’ benefit, or mine?” asked Dumbledore.“What would the Death Eaters want with a poor broken-down old buffer like me?” demanded Slughorn. (pg. 68)
Notice that Slughorn doesn’t answer Dumbledore’s question about whether he was hiding from Dumbledore. Why does he do this? He diverts attention from that and asks demandingly what the Death Eaters would want from an “old buffer” like himself. It is unlikely that he didn’t hear Dumbledore and judging from his demanding voice, Slughorn seems to be only pretending to be offended at the suggestion that he is hiding from the Death Eaters. This is more evident in the next paragraphs.
“I imagine that they would want you to turn your considerable talents to coercion, torture, and murder,” said Dumbledore. “Are you really telling me that they haven’t come recruiting yet?” Slughorn eyed Dumbledore balefully for a moment, then muttered, “I haven’t given them the chance. I’ve been on the move for a year…” (pg. 68)
Dumbledore doesn’t seem convinced, and once again Slughorn does not say whether the Death Eaters are recruiting him. Slughorn says that he has been on the move to avoid them, but before he was acting like he was offended at Dumbledore’s suggestion that the Death Eaters want him. We don’t get any real answers from Slughorn, and I find it highly convenient that Slughorn agrees to come back and teach at Hogwarts.
There are some remaining questions about Slughorn’s behavior in this chapter. First, why did Dumbledore want to keep Harry visible to Slughorn? Notice how Harry sits in a chair beside a “newly burning fire and a brightly glowing oil lamp” (pg. 66). When Slughorn “turned to face the room again, his eyes fell immediately upon Harry,” and then is described to be “looking away quickly as though frightened of hurting his eyes.” Why did Slughorn have this reaction when he looked at Harry? It is most likely that Slughorn saw the green eyes of the Boy-Who-Lived accentuated by the nearby light. Later on Slughorn has “watery eyes” (pg. 69) before moving over the scar and looking at Harry’s entire face. This is indeed curious, and the fact that Slughorn brings up Harry’s eyes is telling. What is the deal with Harry’s eyes? Why, at that moment, can’t Slughorn look Harry in the eye?
Second, why did Slughorn frown when he saw the ring that Dumbledore was wearing? We recognize that ring later on as one of the Gaunt family heirlooms, which date back to Slytherin himself. More importantly we find out later that this ring was formally a Horcrux before Dumbledore destroyed it. We also know that Slughorn knows something about Horcruxes. Aside from being one of the few wizards to know about them, I wonder if Slughorn also knows if this specifically was a Horcrux. He probably recognizes it as Tom Riddle’s ring. Why did Dumbledore show him the ring? I believe it was no coincidence that he did.
Finally, why did Slughorn mutter grudgingly “that He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named has never sought a fight with Dumbledore” (pg. 72)? Notice how Rowling used the word “grudgingly” to describe the way Slughorn was saying that statement. It seems that he does not like the fact that Dumbledore looms over a shadow over the great and powerful Dark Lord. Why would he say this grudgingly if not that he was in the service of Voldemort before? If he were truly a good character, why would he be unhappy that Voldemort fears Dumbledore?
These are just observations from the fourth chapter; there is more that can be said about the new Potions professor in another time. Whatever the case, there is something up with Horace Slughorn.