The next day in Potions, the students are assigned antidotes, and the Half-Blood Prince’s textbook is of no help to Harry. He finally finds the words “Just shove a bezoar down their throats” scribbled in a margin. Rummaging through the supply cupboard, Harry finds a bezoar, a stone from the stomach of a goat, and runs back to his seat. When Slughorn approaches his cauldron, Harry hands over the bezoar, and Slughorn laughs. After class, Harry asks Slughorn about Horcruxes, and Slughorn freezes. He knows immediately that Dumbledore has sent Harry and refuses to answer. The students begin their Apparition lessons. It is normally impossible to Apparate or Disapparate within Hogwarts, but the restrictions are lifted within the Great Hall for one hour so the students can practice. After Apparition practice, Ron and Harry return to the dorms, and Harry pulls out the Marauder’s Map to try and locate where in Hogwarts Draco Malfoy is. Ron spots him in the Slytherin common room. Harry continues to regularly consult the Marauder’s Map to check on Draco’s whereabouts. Sometimes he is unable to locate him on the map at all.
On the morning of his birthday, Ron tears through the presents at the foot of his bed as Harry rummages through his trunk for the Marauder’s Map. Ron starts eating Chocolate Cauldrons and leans on his bedpost, looking unfocused. Ron tells Harry he’s in love with Romilda Vane. Harry suddenly realizes that Ron has eaten the love potion–spiked Chocolate Cauldrons Romilda slipped him before Christmas—they fell out of Harry’s trunk and Ron assumed they were one of his presents. Harry brings Ron to Slughorn, who makes an antidote, which Ron quickly drinks. Slughorn pulls out a bottle of oak-matured mead he intended to give Dumbledore for Christmas and pours Ron a glass. Ron drinks his before the toast is over and suddenly shoots up in the air, his eyes bulging and foam coming from his mouth. Slughorn appears mystified, and Harry sprints to the cabinet and finds a bezoar, which he shoves down Ron’s throat. Ron gasps and goes still.
In the hospital wing, Fred, George, Ginny, Hermione, Hagrid, and Harry gather to look after Ron. Ginny points out that if Slughorn had intended to give the mead to Dumbledore, the poison might have been intended for Dumbledore as well. Mr. and Mrs. Weasley arrive, and Harry, Hagrid, and Hermione leave. Harry is approached by Cormac McLaggen, who wants to know if he can replace Ron as Quidditch Keeper. Harry agrees. On the way to the Quidditch pitch for a match against Hufflepuff, Harry spots Draco walking away from the field with two young girls. Harry is desperate to know where Draco is going but is already late for the match. During the game, Harry is hit with a Bludger. Harry wakes up in the hospital wing next to Ron. Madam Pomfrey tells Harry that he cracked his skull. Ron tells Harry that Gryffindor lost the match by a landslide. Harry remembers seeing Malfoy before the match and summons Kreacher, who instantly appears with Dobby, the Hogwarts House Elf. Harry requests that the two elves follow Malfoy, making sure to tell Kreacher he cannot warn Malfoy or fill him in.
Harry’s quick thinking and the Half-Blood Prince’s Potions textbook are the only things that keep Ron from being killed by Slughorn’s poisoned mead. Although Hermione is generally unhappy with Harry’s use of the Half-Blood Prince’s Potions textbook, she must concede that this time its advice saved Ron’s life. Without the bezoar, Ron would have died. Before pouring their drinks, Slughorn told Ron and Harry that he was planning on giving the bottle to Dumbledore for Christmas, but never did—this means that two cursed, murderous objects did not manage to reach their intended owners this semester. Just like Katie Bell and the cursed necklace, Slughorn’s poisoned mead was obviously meant for someone other than Ron. Clearly, whoever is responsible for planting these dangerous objects has not been planning his or her attacks very well, as both attempts failed. The clumsiness of these attacks points to Draco Malfoy, since he is a young and unaccomplished wizard, prone to adolescent mistakes. A more sophisticated villain might have realized that Horace Slughorn was more likely to keep the mead for his own use, as he is obviously very fond of food and drink and absorbed with his own comfort.
Harry’s preoccupation with Draco grows with each chapter. In Chapter 19, Harry is hit with a Bludger in the Quidditch match against Hufflepuff, and its seems highly likely that this only happened because Harry was too distracted to be playing Quidditch, thinking only about Draco and where he may have been going with two young girls. Usually, Harry is an expert Quidditch player, and mishaps such as this one are not common—but this time his mind was simply not on the game. Harry has started regularly consulting the Marauder’s Map to locate Draco within Hogwarts, but he seems confounded by the fact that there are times when he cannot find Draco at all and has no leads as to where he might be going or hiding. To help him figure it all out, Harry enlists the help of Kreacher, Sirius Black’s former House Elf, and Dobby, the Hogwarts House Elf. While Dobby clearly adores Harry, Kreacher is extremely unhappy to be forced to take orders from a Half-Blood like Harry. Consequently, asking Kreacher for help is a surprisingly risky move for Harry. Once again, Harry’s obsession with Draco leads him to take unnecessary chances.
Even though Kreacher must obey Harry’s orders, since Harry is his new master, his true allegiances lie with the Black family and Bellatrix Lestrange, an infamous Death Eater. Harry remembers to tell Kreacher that he cannot alert or warn Draco Malfoy that he is being followed, but it still seems remarkably dangerous for Harry to place so much trust in a creature that is inherently predisposed to disliking Harry and wanting to thwart his mission. Meanwhile, the students are becoming increasingly excited about taking the Apparition tests, because they will provide the young wizards with a great deal of new freedom. The easiest Muggle parallel to draw is to a teenager’s driving test—learning to drive is a difficult but ultimately rewarding lesson. Students who live up to the challenge are rewarded with liberation, adult responsibility, and a sense of maturity.