Horace Slughorn: Slytherin, Potions master ... and war hero?
In case readers have forgotten his cameo on the side of good during the Battle for Hogwarts in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the Pottermore Presents ebook Short Stories From Hogwarts of Power, Politics and Pesky Poltergeists revealed more about the former Potions professor’s history, his unwitting role in the rise of Voldemort, and his hour of redemption.
The three Pottermore Presents ebooks released on Tuesday weave together existing writing from the Pottermore site, written by both the author herself and Pottermore staff, as well as some new stories.
In the spankin’ new chapter Rowling penned on Slughorn, she delves into his background as the goodnatured only son of prideful Pureblood parents, who, “while [...] never militant in their pure-blood beliefs, [...] encouraged a quiet belief in the family’s innate superiority.” While Slughorn happily befriended Muggle-born students during his time at Hogwarts, this parental classism translated into “his own brand of elitism” ― as his later institution of the Slug Club (an informal group for after-hours socializing with his most promising students) would indicate, he loved surrounding himself with talent and prestige.
Though his father was a high-ranking Ministry of Magic official, Rowling writes that Slughorn had the self-knowledge to avoid “the cut and thrust of politics [...] Perhaps he knew in his heart of hearts that he was not the stuff of which great Ministers are made, aware that he preferred a less taxing and more comfortable existence.”
Instead, he went back to Hogwarts as Potions master, where he cultivated mentorships of the students he deemed most likely to one day shower him in reflected glory ― students including Lily Potter, but also Tom Marvolo Riddle.
After trusting Riddle with dangerous knowledge about the formation of Horcruxes, Slughorn was left racked with guilt when he realized his pet student had reemerged as the terrifying Dark wizard, Lord Voldemort.
Blaming himself for making Voldemort’s return to power possible (though Riddle had already learned about Horcruxes through other means before approaching Slughorn), the Potions master particularly distinguished himself in the Battle for Hogwarts. At first it appeared he’d led the Slytherins away to safety, but he soon returned, having rallied more troops to support Dumbledore’s Army ― and even dueled Voldemort personally over the course of the battle.
For a man constitutionally prone to laziness and self-preservation, this was a heroic moment indeed. Rowling concludes, “Slughorn’s behaviour during the most dangerous night of his life reveals the worth of the man.”
In the wizarding world, with very few exceptions, the baddies are Slytherins. What’s more, Potions masters tend to be Slytherins ― like Harry Potter’s least favorite teacher, Severus Snape, who often wielded his power as a professor to benefit Slytherin. No surprise, then, that Rowling has admitted before that she viewed Potions as the wizarding equivalent of her own most loathed Muggle subject: chemistry.
Of course, it turned out that Snape was a more complicated, even noble, figure than a villain ― a tension that launched ten thousand sympathetic fanfics.
But before there was Snape, there was Slughorn, a Potions professor and Slytherin house head who, nonetheless, turned out to be more good than bad at heart.
Maybe J.K. Rowling’s feelings about chemistry ― and Slytherin ― are more complicated than they initially seemed.