A complex fellow
Slughorn was a complex fellow straight from the off: we were never quite sure what we were getting with the former Head of Slytherin, especially considering the first time we meet him in the books, he was disguised as a chair.
Once he was reinstalled at Hogwarts to reclaim his post as Potions master, we still didn’t know quite how to place old Horace. On paper, Slughorn seemed a far sight nicer than that Snape chap who previously occupied the position – that was, until you realised he preferred the company of successful and impressive wizards, or at least those related to one. Yes, as cheery as Slughorn was, his more cunning mannerisms appeared to be lurking just underneath the surface, often treating friends as collector’s items rather than actual friends.
However, on more than one occasion, Slughorn revealed a far more noble side – showcasing chivalry and selflessness above his dastardly cronyism.
‘After the Burial’
The scene that truly helped us see this was a particular night down at Hagrid’s hut, where Harry, under the effects of Felix Felicis, used his good luck to somehow orchestrate the best funeral for a dead spider ever. No idea what we’re on about? We’ll jog your memory.
During Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Hagrid’s beloved friend of the Forbidden Forest, Aragog (you may remember him more as the giant, terrifying spider that probably emotionally scarred Ron for life during Chamber of Secrets), passed away. And Harry, determined to secure a Pensieve memory from Slughorn that could reveal vital information about Lord Voldemort, decided to do it under the spell of the lucky potion Felix Felicis. We somehow ended up with Slughorn and Hagrid (with Harry pretending) drinking merrily into the night, sharing Aragog memories, songs about wizards long since passed, and eventually, some very tender home truths.
This was the night that stood out as Slughorn’s best, considering the fickle Potions Master’s original intentions were to go to Hagrid’s hut to extract valuable Acromantula venom from Aragog’s body.
After all, as we well know, Slughorn always had a thing for collecting items of supreme value, be they magical objects or, well, magical humans. Once there, however, Hagrid’s grief persuaded Slughorn into fully investing in Aragog’s funeral, and thanks to Harry positively pouring out good luck (as well as more wine), the night turned into a raucous affair.
After an hour or so, Hagrid and Slughorn began making extravagant toasts: to Hogwarts, to Dumbledore, to elf-made wine and to –
‘Harry Potter!’ bellowed Hagrid, slopping some of his fourteenth bucket of wine down his chin as he drained it.
‘Yes, indeed,’ cried Slughorn a little thickly, ‘Parry Otter, the Chosen Boy Who – well – something of that sort,’ he mumbled, and drained his mug, too.
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
As the trio drink to, well, everything, Slughorn seemed to turn from the obsessive collector, fishing around Hagrid’s hut for various rare trinkets, to genuinely and sincerely bonding for the right reasons, something that he often had trouble with.
Why it matters
Seeing Slughorn go from haughty to earnest was quite something, considering his entire time at Hogwarts had been spent liaising with superior wizards in his ‘Slug Club’, a sort of elite society for people who were just really cool. Now, here in Hagrid’s hut, over a suspiciously self-filling mug of wine, he finally relaxed.
And, more importantly, he was finally honest about a dark secret that had cast a horrendous, guilty shadow over him across the years: a memory of telling Tom Riddle about Horcruxes. Yes, the very Horcruxes that would turn him into the most powerful Dark wizard of all time. Talk about a faux pas. After editing his own memory from Dumbledore’s Pensieve out of shame, the night at Hagrid’s hut finally marked the moment he told Harry the truth.
‘I am not proud ...’ he whispered through his fingers. ‘I am ashamed of what – of what that memory shows ... I think I may have done great damage that day ...’
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Although completely and utterly rollicking drunk, this was the turning point for Slughorn, the point where he finally admitted he was wrong and ashamed. We realise at this scene that Slughorn wasn’t inherently a ‘baddie’, but a nuanced man who deflected his fears with glamour and frivolity, a wizard who shielded the darkness by keeping up appearances.
Although Slughorn didn’t automatically turn into a good man from this moment on, we think this is the first proper time we saw him exhibit compassion, which would become very important later on.
When Harry divulged the details of how his parents died, Slughorn seemed genuinely upset, rather than digesting it as juicy gossip – and we finally saw that Slughorn, despite his stature, was perhaps just very, very scared, spending a life hiding behind his famous friends, his collections, or, of course, turning into a chair.
As time passed, Slughorn’s allegiances faded and brightened, and we were still never sure whose side he was really on until right at the end, during the Battle of Hogwarts, when Slughorn banished his cowardice and joined the fight.
In fact this was the final time we saw Slughorn, courageously duelling against Lord Voldemort in Hogwarts’ darkest hour. This may be our last memory of him, but our best will always be that moment down at Hagrid’s hut.
Ironically, Slughorn probably didn’t even remember it.
Pottermore looks back at the moments that made our favourite characters so memorable. Read about the chapter that made us fall in love with... Professor McGonagall.