Dumbledore at the Dursleys feels like really clumsy exposition – and out of character. It seems both contrived that he would work through the entire Kreacher issue in the presence of the Dursleys – there is no reason to do so – and inconsistent with his character that he would be so overtly condescending to them.
On the other hand, Dumbledore answering / not answering Harry’s questions on their way to meet Slughorn is pretty much peak Dumbledore in my mind – incredibly polite but also incredibly measured about exactly what he wants to reveal. It gives the reader the impression that Dumbledore has already anticipated all of Harry’s questions and is thinking several moves ahead. However, he lets Harry ask the questions instead of preempting them – which is probably good for Harry’s own development – even though the conversation arrives at the same answers.
This line that Dumbledore walks between being polite, charming, and so much smarter than anyone else in the room – almost but not QUITE to the point of smug arrogance – is one that I think Harris hit much more closely than Gambon in the movie adaptations.
My book club leader, Becca, pointed out that Slughorn seems to be seeking protection through all of his influential contacts. That’s not that different (although clearly lesser in degree) than his fellow Slytherin, Voldemort, seeking literal immortality through more sinister means. Those crazy Slytherins . . . always seeking longer lives!
Of course Nicolas Flamel did the same and was not a Slytherin . . . not even a Hogwarts student at all, in fact!
It is conspicuous that Slughorn and Harry both seemed to notice Dumbledore’s ring at the same time. I wonder if this is the result of something Dumbledore did intentionally to attract their attention to it, knowing that it would somehow help him achieve is goal of luring Slughorn back to Hogwarts.
Becca also called attention to a really cool Dumbledore quote:
“And now, Harry, let us step out into the night and pursue that flighty temptress, adventure.”
It reminds me tonally of one of my favorite Tolkien quotes from The Fellowship of the Ring:
“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door,” he used to say. “You step into the Road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to.”
They both speak to the dangerous but alluring nature of adventure – and they both characterize adventure itself as having agency over you (Dumbledore says it is “tempting” you; Bilbo says it is “sweeping you off.”).
Add in . . .
“Don’t count your O.W.L.S. before they are delivered, which reminds me a lot of The Hobbit’s:
“Escaping goblins to be caught by wolves!” he said, and it became a proverb, though we now say ‘out of the frying-pan into the fire’ in the same sort of uncomfortable situations.”
. . . and this chapter seems to be the most Tolkienesque that JKR has ever written!