Half-Blood Prince: Page 582
Long-term Imperius Curses, Dumbledore's multilayered calculations, Snape walking a fine line, and Draco's absolutely terrible planning.
Welcome back! Today we dig into a prelude to a pivotal moment: Harry and Dumbledore have just returned from the horcrux cave, and they’re about to fly up to the Dark Mark that they’ve seen above Hogwarts. As always, when you dig into the page, there are a lot of questions. Come for the Imperius Curse, stay for Draco being a moron — enjoy!
Do you think Madam Rosmerta is happy with her career? That’s not a judgement, but a genuine question: running the most popular bar in a hip wizarding village, is she doing what she wants to do with her life? Did she always dream of opening up a pub and being at the center of town every night, surrounded by the hustle and bustle of wizarding society? Or is she more like Marion Ravenwood in Raiders, running a bar in some frigid town in the middle of the mountains and constantly dreaming of getting into a different line of work?
Rosmerta, for the most part, seems pretty happy with what she’s got going on. But in Half-Blood Prince, as we’re about to learn, she’s been going through some stuff that has probably made her question all the choices that have led to where she’s ended up. And as page 582 begins, our understanding of her troubles has barely gotten started.
Mechanics of a long-term Imperius Curse
Presently (the word, used correctly, means “soon,” and everybody should read Zinsser so that they’re aware of such things), we’ll learn that Rosmerta has been under the Imperius Curse for most of the year. She’s the one who slipped Katie Bell the cursed necklace, and who poisoned the mead that Slughorn was supposed to regift to Dumbledore. She’s been Malfoy’s pawn the entire time.
At this moment, it doesn’t really matter whether she’s under the Imperius Curse or not. Whether Draco or Rosmerta herself is in command, her actions will be the same: give Harry and Dumbledore her brooms so that they can fly up to the tower where the Dark Mark has been cast. It seems like Rosmerta herself is fully in command of what she’s doing, but again, Draco might be; it doesn’t really matter.
It brings up a bigger question, though, about how the Imperius Curse works. Rosmerta has been under it for months — ever since the first Hogsmeade weekend of the school year. We’re not sure exactly how a long-term Imperius Curse would work, but given what’s happened here, there are only two options. Either Draco has been in Rosmerta’s head the entire time, the most annoying version of a fly that you just can’t swat, or he’s been hopping in only when he needs Rosmerta to do something.
The second seems vastly more likely. With everything he’s going through in book six, Draco doesn’t seem capable of also maintaining constant mental control over Rosmerta. He also doesn’t really need to. When she’s not poisoning mead or handing out cursed necklaces, she can just run the bar as usual, and so long as she doesn’t mention to anyone else that she’s under the Imperius Curse — which he can just command her not to do — he’ll be fine.
Indeed, Draco being constantly in Rosmerta’s head seems completely impractical for both of them. Obviously, Rosmerta wants to maintain her free will and keep her mind to herself. But Draco also shouldn’t want to constantly control Rosmerta, because doing so would basically turn him into a remote-working bar manager. If Draco is in control, he has to guide Rosmerta through everything she’s doing. If two wizards get into a fight, Rosmerta can’t handle it herself; she has to wait for Draco’s instructions, which he somehow has to give while not understanding the situation and not having any clue as to how to resolve it even if he could see what was happening. Draco has to give his approval before she pours a drink or cleans a mug or takes out the trash.
So, again, Draco must be only popping in occasionally when he needs something. Which makes me wonder: how does that connection work?
At Gringotts in book seven, we see Harry cast the Imperius Curse twice on Travers. He has total control, and can make Travers do whatever he wants, but it doesn’t last that long; in fact, Harry has to cast it again pretty quickly to make Travers continue doing as he’s told. He basically tells Travers to hide somewhere deep in the bowels of Gringotts, Travers leaves to hide, and the Imperius Curse disappears. Maybe Harry could have kept it up if he wanted to, but it certainly doesn’t seem like the kind of thing he could manage continuously even as he got further and further away.
Let’s say Draco has learned more advanced Imperius Curse casting from Voldemort, so he can exercise more control for more time over longer distances. That gets rid of the plot problem, but it still doesn’t answer the key question: how in the world does this actually operate?
Is there some corner of Draco’s mind where that connection to Rosmerta is hidden away, usually quiet but always there? When he wakes up in the morning, does he instantly hear the far-off mental buzz of whatever Rosmerta is up to? Has he basically sacrificed a part of his mind to maintaining contact with her?
For Draco, the best-case scenario is that a long-term Imperius Curse works pretty much like a muted walkie-talkie. He has a walkie-talkie constantly in his ear, which might get annoying but isn’t really a lot to ask, and he can turn it on whenever he needs to give instructions, while not listening to whatever radio chatter is coming back his way. Still, though, wearing a walkie-talkie for months on end while only giving instructions every once in a long while seems like it might get tiresome pretty quickly.
The worst-case scenario, on the other hand, sounds absolutely terrible; he’s constantly dealing with a corner of his mind that’s connected to someone else. He has to focus on tuning that other mind out in order to remain in control of his own head. When he sleeps, some of Rosmerta’s thoughts trickle in, until he’s having weird dreams about being a bartender in the basement of Malfoy Manor. In its own way, while obviously not as bad as being on the wrong end of a long-term Imperius Curse, maintaining one for months at a time sounds really taxing.
One other footnote: we learn later on that Draco and Rosmerta have been communicating via enchanted coins. But Draco isn’t initiating every exchange: some of them — e.g. the one when Rosmerta lets Draco know that Dumbledore has left the school — have to come from Rosmerta first.
So Rosmerta lets Draco know via enchanted coin that Dumbledore is leaving the school. She wouldn’t do that unless the Imperius Curse was compelling her to — which means that in addition to very specific instructions (“hang around in the bathroom until a student comes in, then place them under the Imperius Curse, hand them this package, and have them bring it to Dumbledore”), he’s also given her very broad instructions that the Imperius Curse is still making her follow. He’s given her an order along the lines of “let me know whatever you can about Dumbledore’s whereabouts,” and it’s still in effect all these months later. The bottom line, I guess, is that Draco casts a pretty damn powerful Imperius Curse — but he probably has a hell of a time keeping it going.
Dumbledore’s thought processes
So Harry summons Rosmerta’s brooms, Dumbledore asks her to send word to the Ministry, and the two of them fly towards the Astronomy Tower. Dumbledore, as is his wont, is keeping his cards close to his chest, even as he’s pretty much actively dying. He tells Harry to put on his invisibility cloak, and tells Rosmerta that maybe no one in the school has even realized that anything is wrong, but clearly, inside his head, there’s a lot more going on.
At the top of the list, of course, Dumbledore knows that he’s dying, so he knows that it’s time for Snape to kill him. He’s already formulating plans to make that happen; as soon as they land, he’ll tell Harry to run through the castle, find Snape, and bring him back to the tower. But there are also several competing priorities running through his head.
Dumbledore knows that Draco has been plotting all year to kill him. When he sees the Dark Mark, he’ll instantly understand that whatever is going on is part of Draco’s plan. He’ll run through the possibilities: maybe it’s a trap, maybe someone genuinely has been killed up there, maybe the Death Eaters are rampaging through Hogwarts, taking over the whole building so that they can capture Dumbledore when he gets back. Either way, though, he has a broad idea of what’s happening: Draco’s plan to kill him is playing itself out.
Dumbledore probably knows that the Dark Mark at the top of the tower is a trap. Even if it’s not, he’ll know logically that if the Dark Mark is already there in a genuine way (i.e. it’s there because the Death Eaters cast it after they killed someone), then there’s nothing more that he can do. Either way, though, there’s no logical first-order reason for Dumbledore and Harry to fly directly to where the Mark is. The logical first step is probably to fly to the Headmaster’s Office, use the portraits to gather intel, and figure out what’s happening and how to fight back — but regardless of what the best step is, it is clearly not to just fly straight to the Dark Mark.
What Dumbledore also understands, though, is that if he takes that more logical step, Snape will instantly become compromised. If Dumbledore reveals how much he knows about Malfoy’s plot, Voldemort will understand that Snape was passing that information along. It’s a very fine line that Dumbledore and Snape are walking, but it’s an absolutely crucial distinction.
Here’s what’s actually happening: Snape is keeping watch on Malfoy, keeping Dumbledore informed as much as he possibly can, and working with Dumbledore behind the scenes to stay a step ahead of Voldemort’s master plan.
Here’s what Snape and Dumbledore want Voldemort and Malfoy to think is happening: Snape is keeping watch on Malfoy on Dumbledore’s orders, pretending to keep Dumbledore as informed as he can, but really helping Malfoy succeed while not actually giving any information of value back to Dumbledore and letting Voldemort’s master plan play out.
It’s absolutely crucial for Dumbledore and Snape to maintain the illusion of the latter. By showing himself to be overly aware of the plot that’s unfurling in front of him, Dumbledore might reveal that it’s actually the former. So he takes an illogical course, doing what Malfoy and Voldemort will expect him to do based on much less knowledge than he actually has.
Malfoy’s dumb, stupid plan
Digression: can we talk about how absolutely terrible Malfoy’s plan ends up being?
Remember, Dumbledore drinking the horcrux potion was never part of Draco’s plan; it was an unexpected bonus. Draco’s plan the way Draco himself imagines it is basically this: get Dumbledore into a space with a bunch of Death Eaters, and then kill him.
As Ron says earlier in the book, “Since when has Malfoy been one of the world’s great thinkers?” At this point, it seems like a really good question. What happened the last time Dumbledore was in a space with a bunch of Death Eaters? It was in the Department of Mysteries, and Dumbledore strolled in like it was nothing and had the whole gang of Death Eaters bound and neutralized within about 15 seconds. So what does Malfoy expect to happen this time? He brings in his group of Death Eaters, they fight their way through the Hogwarts teachers and members of the Order of the Phoenix…and then, somehow, they’re still strong enough that they can subdue Dumbledore when he gets there?
At this point in the book, Dumbledore is dying in both the short term and the long term. He’s starting to suffer the effects of the horcrux potion, and his cursed hand is also slowly killing him. But the thing is, Voldemort and Malfoy don’t know either of those things. If they did, there would be no reason to waste manpower on plotting to kill Dumbledore in the first place. Draco ends up lucking out: he faces an already-dying Dumbledore, who, indeed, has a whole master plan that involves going down without a fight. But what Draco has planned for is a fight against a fully-vigorous, angry, fighting Dumbledore. And no matter how many Death Eaters you have, that’s a bad plan.
As we know, Draco is sort of an idiot, so a bad plan is to be expected. What’s a lot weirder, though, is that Voldemort goes along with it. He allows a bunch of his Death Eaters to go into what he thinks is a battle against Dumbledore and the Order of the Phoenix, knowing that the last time this happened, a bunch of his best fighters ended up in jail and his secret return was revealed to the entire world.
What’s going on in Voldemort’s mind? Is he somehow clueless enough to think that a group of Death Eaters has any chance of overpowering Dumbledore if he doesn’t want to be overpowered? Or is his thought process that this is just a chance worth taking, a high-risk situation with a reward that’s too great to ignore?
And indeed, shouldn’t the eventual success of the plan prompt some introspection on Voldemort’s part? When Voldemort hears the story of the attack, he’ll hear that Dumbledore landed on the Astronomy Tower and was immediately disarmed and subdued — by Draco Malfoy. That should raise instant questions! Voldemort should immediately realize that events would only have played out the way they did if Dumbledore had been perfectly fine with dying. Then he should ask himself why Dumbledore would have been perfectly fine with dying, and what that means for the rest of his plans. But then again, Voldemort has never had a talent for introspection. He’s never been one of the world’s great thinkers.