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Harry Potter and The Half-Blood Prince 8



Neville! said Harry in relief, turning to see a round-faced boy struggling toward him.

Hello, Harry, said a girl with long hair and large misty eyes, who was just behind Neville.

Luna, hi, how are you?

Very well, thank you, said Luna. She was clutching a magazine to her chest; large letters on the front announced that there was a pair of free Spectrespecs inside.

Quibbler still going strong, then? asked Harry, who felt a certain fondness for the magazine, having given it an exclusive interview the previous year.

Oh yes, circulations well up, said Luna happily.

Lets find seats, said Harry, and the three of them set off along the train through hordes of silently staring students. At last they found an empty compartment, and Harry hurried inside gratefully.

Theyre even staring at us? said Neville, indicating himself and Luna. Because were with you!

Theyre staring at you because you were at the Ministry too, said Harry, as he hoisted his trunk into the luggage rack. Our little adventure there was all over the Daily Prophet, you mustve seen it.

Yes, I thought Gran would be angry about all the publicity, said Neville, but she was really pleased. Says Im starting to live up to my dad at long last. She bought me a new wand, look!

He pulled it out and showed it to Harry.

Cherry and unicorn hair, he said proudly. We think it was one of the last Ollivander ever sold, he vanished next day oi, come back here, Trevor!

And he dived under the seat to retrieve his toad as it made one of its frequent bids for freedom.

Are we still doing D.A. meetings this year, Harry? asked Luna, who was detaching a pair of psychedelic spectacles from the middle of The Quibbler.

No point now weve got rid of Umbridge, is there? said Harry, sitting down. Neville bumped his head against the seat as he emerged from under it. He looked most disappointed.

I liked the D.A.! I learned loads with you!

I enjoyed the meetings too, said Luna serenely. It was like having friends.

This was one of those uncomfortable things Luna often said and which made Harry feel a squirming mixture of pity and embarrassment. Before he could respond, however, there was a disturbance outside their compartment door; a group of fourth-year girls was whispering and giggling together on the other side of the glass.

You ask him!

No, you!

Ill do it!

And one of them, a bold-looking girl with large dark eyes, a prominent chin, and long black hair pushed her way through the door.

Hi, Harry, Im Romilda, Romilda Vane, she said loudly and confidently. Why dont you join us in our compartment? You dont have to sit with them, she added in a stage whisper, indicating Nevilles bottom, which was sticking out from under the seat again as he groped around for Trevor, and Luna, who was now wearing her free Spectrespecs, which gave her the look of a demented, multicolored owl.



Theyre friends of mine, said Harry coldly.

Oh, said the girl, looking very surprised. Oh. Okay.

And she withdrew, sliding the door closed behind her.

People expect you 10 have cooler friends than us, said Luna, once again displaying her knack for embarrassing honesty.

You are cool, said Harry shortly. None of them was at the Ministry. They didnt fight with me.

Thats a very nice thing to say, beamed Luna. Then she pushed her Spectrespecs farther up her nose and settled down to read The Quibbler.

We didnt face him, though, said Neville, emerging from under the seat with fluff and dust in his hair and a resigned-looking Trevor in his hand. You did. You should hear my gran talk about you. That Harry Potters got more backbone than the whole Ministry of Magic put together! Shed give anything to have you as a grand-son

Harry laughed uncomfortably and changed the subject to OWL. results as soon as he could. While Neville recited his grades and wondered aloud whether he would be allowed to take a Transfiguration NEWT, with only an Acceptable, Harry watched him without really listening.

Nevilles childhood had been blighted by Voldemort just as much as Harrys had, but Neville had no idea how close he had come to having Harrys destiny. The prophecy could have referred to either of them, yet, for his own inscrutable reasons, Voldemort had chosen to believe that Harry was the one meant.

Had Voldemort chosen Neville, it would be Neville sitting opposite Harry bearing the lightning-shaped scar and the weight of the prophecy Or would it? Would Nevilles mother have died to save him, as Lily had died for Harry? Surely she would But what if she had been unable to stand between her son and Voldemort? Would there then have been no Chosen One at all? An empty seat where Neville now sat and a scarless Harry who would have been kissed good-bye by his own mother, not Rons?

You all right, Harry? You look funny, said Neville.

Harry started. Sorry I

Wrackspurt got you? asked Luna sympathetically, peering at Harry through her enormous colored spectacles.

I what?

A Wrackspurt Theyre invisible. They float in through your ears and make your brain go fuzzy, she said. I thought I felt one zooming around in here.

She flapped her hands at thin air, as though beating off large invisible moths. Harry and Neville caught each others eyes and hastily began to talk of Quidditch.

The weather beyond the train windows was as patchy as it had been all summer; they passed through stretches of the chilling mist, then out into weak, clear sunlight. It was during one of the clear spells, when the sun was visible almost directly overhead, that Ron and Hermione entered the compartment at last.

Wish the lunch trolley would hurry up, Im starving, said Ron longingly, slumping into the seat beside Harry and rubbing his stomach. Hi, Neville. Hi, Luna. Guess what? he added, turning to Harry. Malfoy s not doing prefect duty. Hes just sitting in his compartment with the other Slytherins, we saw him when we passed.

Harry sat up straight, interested. It was not like Malfoy to pass up the chance to demonstrate his power as prefect, which he had happily abused all the previous year.

What did he do when he saw you?

The usual, said Ron indifferently, demonstrating a rude hand gesture. Not like him, though, is it? Well that is he did the hand gesture again but why isnt he out there bullying first years?

Dunno, said Harry, but his mind was racing. Didnt this look as though Malfoy had more important things on his mind than bullying younger students?

Maybe he preferred the Inquisitorial Squad, said Hermione. Maybe being a prefect seems a bit tame after that.

I dont think so, said Harry. I think hes

But before he could expound on his theory, the compartment door slid open again and a breathless third-year girl stepped inside.

Im supposed to deliver these to Neville Longbottom and Harry P-Potter, she faltered, as her eyes met Harrys and she turned scarlet. She was holding out two scrolls of parchment tied with violet ribbon. Perplexed, Harry and Neville took the scroll addressed to each of them and the girl stumbled back out of the compartment.

What is it? Ron demanded, as Harry unrolled his.

An invitation, said Harry.

Harry, I would be delighted if you would join me for a bite of lunch in compartment C.

Sincerely, Horace

But what does he want me for? asked Neville nervously, as though he was expecting detention.

No idea, said Harry, which was not entirely true, though he had no proof yet that his hunch was correct. Listen, he added, seized by a sudden brain wave, lets go under the Invisibility Cloak, then we might get a good look at Malfoy on the way, see what hes up to.

This idea, however, came to nothing: The corridors, which were packed with people on the lookout for the lunch trolley, were impossible to negotiate while wearing the cloak. Harry stowed it regretfully back in his bag, reflecting that it would have been nice to wear it just to avoid all the staring, which seemed to have increased in intensity even since he had last walked down the train. Every now and then, students would hurtle out of their compartments to get a better look at him. The exception was Cho Chang, who darted into her compartment when she saw Harry coming. As Harry passed the window, he saw her deep in determined conversation with her friend Marietta, who was wearing a very thick layer of makeup that did not entirely obscure the odd formation of pimples still etched across her face. Smirking slightly, Harry pushed on.

When they reached compartment C, they saw at once that they were not Slughorns only invitees, although judging by the enthusiasm of Slughorns welcome, Harry was the most warmly anticipated.

Harry, mboy! said Slughorn, jumping up at the sight of him so that his great velvet-covered belly seemed to fill all the remaining space in the compartment. His shiny bald head and great silvery mustache gleamed as brightly in the sunlight as the golden buttons on his waistcoat. Good to see you, good to see you! And you must be Mr. Longbottom!

Neville nodded, looking scared. At a gesture from Slughorn, they sat down opposite each other in the only two empty seats, which were nearest the door. Harry glanced around at their fellow guests. He recognized a Slytherin from their year, a tall black boy with high cheekbones and long, slanting eyes; there were also two seventh-year boys Harry did not know and, squashed in the corner beside Slughorn and looking as though she was not entirely sure how she had got there, Ginny.

Now, do you know everyone? Slughorn asked Harry and Neville. Blaise Zabini is in your year, of course -

Zabini did not make any sign of recognition or greeting, nor did Harry or Neville: Gryffindor and Slytherin students loathed each other on principle.

This is Cormac McLaggen, perhaps youve come across each other ? No?

McLaggen, a large, wiry-haired youth, raised a hand, and Harry and Neville nodded back at him.

and this is Marcus Belby, I dont know whether ?

Belby, who was thin and nervous-looking, gave a strained smile.

and this charming young lady tells me she knows you! Slughorn finished.

Ginny grimaced at Harry and Neville from behind Slughorns back.

Well now, this is most pleasant, said Slughorn cozily. A chance to get to know you all a little better. Here, take a napkin. Ive packed my own lunch; the trolley, as I remember it, is heavy on licorice wands, and a poor old mans digestive system isnt quite up to such things Pheasant, Belby?

Belby started and accepted what looked like half a cold pheasant.

I was just telling young Marcus here that I had the pleasure of teaching his Uncle Damocles, Slughorn told Harry and Neville, now passing around a basket of rolls. Outstanding wizard, outstanding, and his Order of Merlin most well-deserved. Do you see much of your uncle, Marcus?

Unfortunately, Beiby had just taken a large mouthful of pheasant; in his haste to answer Slughorn he swallowed too fast, turned purple, and began to choke.

Anapneo, said Slughorn calmly, pointing his wand at Belby, whose airway seemed to clear at once.

Not not much of him, no, gasped Belby, his eyes streaming.

Well, of course, I daresay hes busy, said Slughorn, looking questioningly at Belby. I doubt he invented the Wolfsbane Potion without considerable hard work!

I suppose said Belby, who seemed afraid to take another bite of pheasant until he was sure that Slughorn had finished with him. Er he and my dad dont get on very well, you see, so I dont really know much about

His voice tailed away as Slughorn gave him a cold smile and turned to McLaggen instead.

Now, you, Cormac, said Slughorn, I happen to know you see a lot of your Uncle Tiberius, because he has a rather splendid picture of the two of you hunting nogtails in, I think, Norfolk?

Oh, yeah, that was fun, that was, said McLaggen. We went with Bertie Higgs and Rufus Scrimgeour; this was before he became Minister, obviously

Ah, you know Bertie and Rufus too? beamed Slughorn, now offering around a small tray of pies; somehow, Belby was missed out. Now tell me

It was as Harry had suspected. Everyone here seemed to have been invited because they were connected to somebody well-known or influential everyone except Ginny. Zabini, who was interrogated after McLaggen, turned out to have a famously beautiful witch for a mother (from what Harry could make out, she had been married seven times, each of her husbands dying mysteriously and leaving her mounds of gold). It was Nevilles turn next: This was a very uncomfortable ten minutes, for Nevilles parents, well-known Aurors, had been tortured into insanity by Bellatrix Lestrange and a couple of Death Eater cronies. At the end of Nevilles interview, Harry had the impression that Slughorn was reserving judgment on Neville, yet to see whether he had any of his parents flair.

And now, said Slughorn, shifting massively in his seat with the air of a compere introducing his star act. Harry Potter! Where to begin? I feel I barely scratched the surface when we met over the summer! He contemplated Harry for a moment as though he was a particularly large and succulent piece of pheasant, then said, The Chosen One, theyre calling you now!

Harry said nothing. Belby, McLaggen, and Zabini were all staring at him.

Of course, said Slughorn, watching Harry closely, there have been rumors for years I remember when well after that terrible night Lily James and you survived and the word was that you must have powers beyond the ordinary

Zabini gave a tiny little cough that was clearly supposed to indicate amused skepticism. An angry voice burst out from behind Slughorn.

Yeah, Zabini, because youre so talented at posing

Oh dear! chuckled Slughorn comfortably, looking around at Ginny, who was glaring at Zabini around Slughorns great belly. You want to be careful, Blaise! I saw this young lady perform the most marvelous Bat-Bogey Hex as I was passing her carriage! I wouldnt cross her!

Zabini merely looked contemptuous.

Anyway, said Slughorn, turning back to Harry. Such rumors this summer. Of course, one doesnt know what to believe, the Prophet has been known to print inaccuracies, make mistakes but there seems little doubt, given the number of witnesses, that there was quite a disturbance at the Ministry and that you were there in the thick of it all!

Harry, who could not see any way out of this without flatly lying, nodded but still said nothing. Slughorn beamed at him.

So modest, so modest, no wonder Dumbledore is so fond you were there, then? But the rest of the stories so sensational, of course, one doesnt know quite what to believe this fabled prophecy, for instance

We never heard a prophecy, said Neville, turning geranium pink as he said it.

Thats right, said Ginny staunchly. Neville and I were both there too, and all this Chosen One rubbish is just the Prophet making things up as usual.

You were both there too, were you? said Slughorn with great interest, looking from Ginny to Neville, but both of them sat clam-like before his encouraging smile.

Yes well it is true that the Prophet often exaggerates, of course Slughorn said, sounding a little disappointed. I remember dear Gwenog telling me (Gwenog Jones, I mean, of course, Captain of the Holyhead Harpies)

He meandered off into a long-winded reminiscence, but Harry had the distinct impression that Slughorn had not finished with him, and that he had not been convinced by Neville and Ginny.

The afternoon wore on with more anecdotes about illustrious wizards Slughorn had taught, all of whom had been delighted to join what he called the Slug Club at Hogwarts. Harry could not wait to leave, but couldnt see how to do so politely. Finally the train emerged from yet another long misty stretch into a red sunset, and Slughorn looked around, blinking in the twilight.

Good gracious, its getting dark already! I didnt notice that theyd lit the lamps! Youd better go and change into your robes, all of you. McLaggen, you must drop by and borrow that book on nogtails. Harry, Blaise any time youre passing. Same goes for you, miss, he twinkled at Ginny. Well, off you go, off you go!

As he pushed past Harry into the darkening corridor, Zabini shot him a filthy look that Harry returned with interest. He, Ginny, and Neville followed Zabini back along the train.

Im glad thats over, muttered Neville. Strange man, isnt he? Yeah, he is a bit, said Harry, his eyes on Zabini. How come you ended up in there, Ginny?

He saw me hex Zacharias Smith, said Ginny. You remember that idiot from Hufflepuff who was in the D.A.? He kept on and on asking about what happened at the Ministry and in the end he annoyed me so much I hexed him when Slughorn came in I thought I was going to got detention, but he just thought it was ;i really good hex and invited me to lunch! Mad, eh?

Better reason for inviting someone than because their mothers famous, said Harry, scowling at the back of Zabinis head, or because their uncle

But he broke off. An idea had just occurred to him, a reckless but potentially wonderful idea In a minutes time, Zabini was going to reenter the Slytherin sixth-year compartment and Malfoy would be sitting there, thinking himself unheard by anybody except fellow Slytherins If Harry could only enter, unseen, behind him, what might he not see or hear? True, there was little of the journey left Hogsmeade Station had to be less than half an hour away, judging by the wildness of the scenery flashing by the windows but nobody else seemed prepared to take Harrys suspicions seriously, so it was down to him to prove them.

Ill see you two later, said Harry under his breath, pulling out his Invisibility Cloak and flinging it over himself.

But whatre you ? asked Neville.

Later! whispered Harry, darting after Zabini as quietly as possible, though the rattling of the train made such caution almost pointless.

The corridors were almost completely empty now. Nearly everyone had returned to their carriages to change into their school robes and pack up their possessions. Though he was as close as he could get to Zabini without touching him, Harry was not quick enough to slip into the compartment when Zabini opened the door. Zabini was already sliding it shut when Harry hastily stuck out his foot to prevent it closing.

Whats wrong with this thing? said Zabini angrily as he smashed the sliding door repeatedly into Harrys foot.

Harry seized the door and pushed it open, hard; Zabini, still clinging on to the handle, toppled over sideways into Gregory Goyles lap, and in the ensuing ruckus, Harry darted into the compartment, leapt onto Zabinis temporarily empty seat, and hoisted himself up into the luggage rack. It was fortunate that Goyle and Zabini were snarling at each other, drawing all eyes onto them, for Harry was quite sure his feet and ankles had been revealed as the cloak had flapped around them; indeed, for one horrible moment he thought he saw Malfoys eyes follow his trainer as it whipped upward out of sight. But then Goyle slammed the door shut and flung Zabini off him; Zabini collapsed into his own seat looking ruffled, Vincent Crabbe returned to his comic, and Malfoy, sniggering, lay back down across two seats with his head in Pansy Parkinsons lap. Harry lay curled uncomfortably under the cloak to ensure that every inch of him remained hidden, and watched Pansy stroke the sleek blond hair off Malfoys forehead, smirking as she did so, as though anyone would have loved to have been in her place. The lanterns swinging from the carriage ceiling cast a bright light over the scene: Harry could read every word of Crabbes comic directly below him.

So, Zabini, said Malfoy, what did Slughorn want?

Just trying to make up to well-connected people, said Zabini, who was still glowering at Goyle. Not that he managed to find many.

This information did not seem to please Malfoy. Who else had he invited? he demanded.

McLaggen from Gryffindor, said Zabini.

Oh yeah, his uncles big in the Ministry, said Malfoy.

someone else called Belby, from Ravenclaw

Not him, hes a prat! said Pansy.

and Longbottom, Potter, and that Weasley girl, finished Zabini.

Malfoy sat up very suddenly, knocking Pansys hand aside.

He invited Longbottom?.

Well, I assume so, as Longbottom was there, said Zabini indifferently.

Whats Longbottom got to interest Slughorn?

Zabini shrugged.

Potter, precious Potter, obviously he wanted a look at the Chosen One, sneered Malfoy, but that Weasley girl! Whats so special about her?

A lot of boys like her, said Pansy, watching Malfoy out of the corner of her eyes for his reaction. Even you think shes good-looking, dont you, Blaise, and we all know how hard you are to please!

I wouldnt touch a filthy little blood traitor like her whatever she looked like, said Zabini coldly, and Pansy looked pleased. Malfoy sank back across her lap and allowed her to resume the stroking of his hair.

Well, I pity Slughorns taste. Maybe hes going a bit senile. Shame, my father always said he was a good wizard in his day. My father used to be a bit of a favorite of his. Slughorn probably hasnt heard Im on the train, or

I wouldnt bank on an invitation, said Zabini. He asked me about Notts father when I first arrived. They used to be old friends, apparently, but when he heard hed been caught at the Ministry he didnt look happy, and Nott didnt get an invitation, did he? I dont think Slughorns interested in Death Eaters.

Malfoy looked angry, but forced out a singularly humorless laugh.

Well, who cares what hes interested in? What is he, when you come down to it? Just some stupid teacher. Malfoy yawned ostentatiously. I mean, I might not even be at Hogwarts next year, whats it matter to me if some fat old has-been likes me or not?

 

What do you mean, you might not be at Hogwarts next year? said Pansy indignantly, ceasing grooming Malfoy at once.

Well, you never know, said Malfoy with the ghost of a smirk. I might have er moved on to bigger and better things.

Crouched in the luggage rack under his cloak, Harrys heart began to race. What would Ron and Hermione say about this? Crabbe and Goyle were gawping at Malfoy; apparently they had had no inkling of any plans to move on to bigger and better things. Even Zabini had allowed a look of curiosity to mar his haughty features. Pansy resumed the slow stroking of Malfoy s hair, looking dumbfounded.

Do you mean

Malfoy shrugged.

Mother wants me to complete my education, but personally, I dont see it as that important these days. I mean, think about it When the Dark Lord takes over, is he going to care how many OWLs or N.E.W.T.S anyones got? Of course he isnt. Itll be all about the kind of service he received, the level of devotion he was shown.

And you think youll be able to do something for him? asked Zabini scathingly. Sixteen years old and noi even fully qualified yet?

Ive just said, havent I? Maybe he doesnt care if Im qualified. Maybe the job he wants me to do isnt something that you need to be qualified for, said Malfoy quietly.

Crabbe and Goyle were both sitting with their mouths open like gargoyles. Pansy was gazing down at Malfoy as though she had never seen anything so awe-inspiring.

I can see Hogwarts, said Malfoy, clearly relishing the effect he had created as he pointed out of the blackened window. Wed better get our robes on.

Harry was so busy staring at Malfoy, he did not notice Goyle reaching up for his trunk; as he swung it down, it hit Harry hard on the side of the head. He let out an involuntary gasp of pain, and Malfoy looked up at the luggage rack, frowning.

Harry was not afraid of Malfoy, but he still did not much like the idea of being discovered hiding under his Invisibility Cloak by a group of unfriendly Slytherins. Eyes still watering and head still throbbing, he drew his wand, careful not to disarrange the cloak, and waited, breath held. To his relief, Malfoy seemed to decide that he had imagined the noise; he pulled on his robes like the others, locked his trunk, and as the train slowed to a jerky crawl, fastened a thick new traveling cloak round his neck.

Harry could see the corridors filling up again and hoped that Hermione and Ron would take his things out onto the platform for him; he was stuck where he was until the compartment had quite emptied. At last, with a final lurch, the train came to a complete halt. Goyle threw the door open and muscled his way out into a crowd of second years, punching them aside; Crabbe and Zabini followed.

You go on, Malfoy told Pansy, who was waiting for him with her hand held out as though hoping he would hold it. I just want to check something.

Pansy left. Now Harry and Malfoy were alone in the compartment. People were filing past, descending onto the dark platform. Malfoy moved over to the compartment door and let down the blinds, so that people in the corridor beyond could not peer in. He then bent down over his trunk and opened it again.

Harry peered down over the edge of the luggage rack, his heart pumping a little faster. What had Malfoy wanted to hide from Pansy? Was he about to see the mysterious broken object it was so important to mend?

Petrificus Totalus!

Without warning, Malfoy pointed his wand at Harry, who was instantly paralyzed. As though in slow motion, he toppled out of the luggage rack and fell, with an agonizing, floor-shaking crash, at Malfoys feet, the Invisibility Cloak trapped beneath him, his whole body revealed with his legs still curled absurdly into the cramped kneeling position. He couldnt move a muscle; he could only gaze up at Malfoy, who smiled broadly.

I thought so, he said jubilantly. I heard Goyles trunk hit you. And I thought I saw something white flash through the air after Zabini came back

His eyes lingered for a moment upon Harrys trainers.

You didnt hear anything I care about, Potter. But while Ive got you here

And he stamped, hard, on Harrys face. Harry felt his nose break; blood spurted everywhere.

Thats from my father. Now, lets see

Malfoy dragged the cloak out from under Harrys immobilized body and threw it over him.

I dont reckon theyll find you till the trains back in London, he said quietly. See you around, Potter or not.

And taking care to tread on Harrys fingers, Malfoy left the compartment.

 

 

CHAPTER 8: Victorious Snape

 

 

Harry could not move a muscle. He lay there beneath the Invisibility Cloak feeling the blood from his nose flow, hot and wet, over his face, listening to the voices and footsteps in the corridor beyond. His immediate thought was that someone would, surely check the compartments before the train departed again. But at once came the dispiriting realization that even if somebody looked into the compartment, he would be neither seen nor heard. His best hope was that somebody else would walk in and step on him.

Harry had never hated Malfoy more than as he lay there, like an absurd turtle on its back, blood dripping sickeningly into his open mouth. What a stupid situation to have landed himself in and now the last few footsteps were dying away; everyone was shuffling along the dark platform outside; he could hear the scraping of trunks and loud babble of talk.

Ron and Hermione would think that he had left the train without them. Once they arrived at Hogwarts and took their places in the Great Hall, looked up and down the Gryffindor table a few times, and finally realized that he was not there, he, no doubt, would be halfway back to London.

He tried to make a sound, even a grunt, but it was impossible. Then he remembered that some wizards, like Dumbledore, could perform spells without speaking, so he tried to summon his wand, which had fallen out of his hand, by saying the words Accio Wand! over and over again in his head, but nothing happened.

He thought he could hear the rustling of the trees that surrounded the lake, and the far-off hoot of an owl, but no hint of a search being made or even (he despised himself slightly for hoping it) panicked voices wondering where Harry Potter had gone. A feeling of hopelessness spread through him as he imagined the convoy of thestral-drawn carriages trundling up to the school and the muffled yells of laughter issuing from whichever carriage Malfoy was riding in, where he could be recounting his attack on Harry to Crabbe, Goyle, Zabini, and Pansy Parkinson.





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