Harry Potter and The Half-Blood Prince 12

So Merope, said Harry, leaning forward in his chair and staring at Dumbledore, so Merope was Sir, does that mean she was Voldemorts mother?

It does, said Dumbledore. And it so happens that we also had a glimpse of Voldemorts father. I wonder whether you noticed?

The Muggle Morfin attacked? The man on the horse?

Very good indeed, said Dumbledore, beaming. Yes, that was Tom Riddle senior, the handsome Muggle who used to go riding past the Gaunt cottage and for whom Merope Gaunt cherished a secret, burning passion.

And they ended up married? Harry said in disbelief, unable to imagine two people less likely to fall in love.

I think you are forgetting, said Dumbledore, that Merope was a witch. I do not believe that her magical powers appeared to their best advantage when she was being terrorized by her father. Once Marvolo and Morfin were safely in Azkaban, once she was alone and free for the first time in her life, then, I am sure, she was able to give full rein to her abilities and to plot her escape from the desperate life she had led for eighteen years.

Can you not think of any measure Merope could have taken to make Tom Riddle forget his Muggle companion, and fall in love with her instead?

The Imperius Curse? Harry suggested. Or a love potion?

Very good. Personally, I am inclined to think that she used a love potion. I am sure it would have seemed more romantic to her, and I do not think it would have been very difficult, some hot day, when Riddle was riding alone, to persuade him to take a drink of water. In any case, within a few months of the scene we have just witnessed, the village of Little Hangleton enjoyed a tremendous scandal. You can imagine the gossip it caused when the squires son ran off with the tramps daughter, Merope.

But the villagers shock was nothing to Marvolos. He returned from Azkaban, expecting to find his daughter dutifully awaiting his return with a hot meal ready on his table. Instead, he found a clear inch of dust and her note of farewell, explaining what she had done.

From all that I have been able to discover, he never mentioned her name or existence from that time forth. The shock of her desertion may have contributed to his early death or perhaps he had simply never learned to feed himself. Azkaban had greatly weakened Marvolo, and he did not live to see Morfin return to the cottage.

And Merope? She she died, didnt she? Wasnt Voldemort brought up in an orphanage?

Yes, indeed, said Dumbledore. We must do a certain amount of guessing here, although I do not think it is difficult to deduce what happened. You see, within a few months of their runaway marriage, Tom Riddle reappeared at the manor house in Little Hangleton without his wife. The rumor flew around the neighborhood that he was talking of being hoodwinked and taken in. What he meant, I am sure, is that he had been under an enchantment that had now lifted, though I daresay he did not dare use those precise words for fear of being thought insane. When they heard what he was saying, however, the villagers guessed that Merope had lied to Tom Riddle, pretending that she was going to have his baby, and that he had married her for this reason.

But she did have his baby.

But not until a year after they were married. Tom Riddle left her while she was still pregnant.

What went wrong? asked Harry. Why did the love potion stop working?

Again, this is guesswork, said Dumbledore, but I believe that Merope, who was deeply in love with her husband, could not bear to continue enslaving him by magical means. I believe that she made the choice to stop giving him the potion. Perhaps, besotted as she was, she had convinced herself that he would by now have fallen in love with her in return. Perhaps she thought he would stay for the babys sake. If so, she was wrong on both counts. He left her, never saw her again, and never troubled to discover what became of his son.

The sky outside was inky black and the lamps in Dumbledores office seemed to glow more brightly than before.

I think that will do for tonight, Harry, said Dumbledore after a moment or two.

Yes, sir, said Harry.

He got to his feet, but did not leave.

Sir is it important to know all this about Voldemorts past?

Very important, I think, said Dumbledore.

And it its got something to do with the prophecy?

It has everything to do with the prophecy.

Right, said Harry, a little confused, but reassured all the same.

He turned to go, then another question occurred to him, and he turned back again. Sir, am I allowed to tell Ron and Hermione everything youve told me?

Dumbledore considered him for a moment, then said, Yes, I think Mr. Weasley and Miss Granger have proved themselves trustworthy. But Harry, I am going to ask you to ask them not to repeat any of this to anybody else. It would not be a good idea if word got around how much I know, or suspect, about Lord Voldemorts secrets.

No, sir, Ill make sure its just Ron and Hermione. Good night.

He turned away again, and was almost at the door when he saw it. Sitting on one of the little spindle-legged tables that supported so many frail-looking silver instruments, was an ugly gold ring set with a large, cracked, black stone.

Sir, said Harry, staring at it. That ring

Yes? said Dumbledore.

You were wearing it when we visited Professor Slughorn that night.

So I was, Dumbledore agreed.

But isnt it sir, isnt it the same ring Marvolo Gaunt showed Ogden?

Dumbledore bowed his head. The very same.

But how come ? Have you always had it?

No, I acquired it very recently, said Dumbledore. A few days before I came to fetch you from your aunt and uncles, in fact.

That would be around the time you injured your hand, then, sir?

Around that time, yes, Harry.

Harry hesitated. Dumbledore was smiling.

Sir, how exactly ?

Too late, Harry! You shall hear the story another time. Good night.

Good night, sir.



CHAPTER 11: Hermiones helping hand



As Hermione had predicted, the sixth years free periods were not the hours of blissful relaxation Ron had anticipated, but times in which to attempt to keep up with the vast amount of homework they were being set. Not only were they studying as though they had exams every day, but the lessons themselves had become more demanding than ever before. Harry barely understood half of what Professor McGonagall said to them these days; even Hermione had had to ask her to repeat instructions once or twice. Incredibly, and to Hermiones increasing resentment, Harrys best subject had suddenly become Potions, thanks to the Half-Blood Prince.

Nonverbal spells were now expected, not only in Defense Against the Dark Arts, but in Charms and Transfiguration too. Harry frequently looked over at his classmates in the common room or at mealtimes to see them purple in the face and straining as though they had overdosed on U-No-Poo; but he knew that they were really struggling to make spells work without saying incantations aloud. It was a relief to get outside into the greenhouses; they were dealing with more dangerous plants than ever in Herbology, but at least they were still allowed to swear loudly if the Venomous Tentacula seized them unexpectedly from behind.

One result of their enormous workload and the frantic hours of practicing nonverbal spells was that Harry, Ron, and Hermione had so far been unable to find time to go and visit Hagrid. He had stopped coming to meals at the staff table, an ominous sign, and on the few occasions when they had passed him in the corridors or out in the grounds, he had mysteriously failed to notice them or hear their greetings.

Weve got to go and explain, said Hermione, looking up at Hagrids huge empty chair at the staff table the following Saturday at breakfast.

Weve got Quidditch tryouts this morning! said Ron. And were supposed to be practicing that Aguamenti Charm from Flitwick! Anyway, explain what? How are we going to tell him we hated his stupid subject?

We didnt hate it! said Hermione.

Speak for yourself, I havent forgotten the skrewts, said Ron darkly. And Im telling you now, weve had a narrow escape. You didnt hear him going on about his gormless brother wed have been teaching Grawp how to tie his shoelaces if wed stayed.


I hate not talking to Hagrid, said Hermione, looking upset.

Well go down after Quidditch, Harry assured her. He too was missing Hagrid, although like Ron he thought that they were better off without Grawp in their lives. But trials might take all morning, the number of people who have applied. He felt slightly nervous at confronting the first hurdle of his Captaincy. I dunno why the teams this popular all of a sudden.

Oh, come on, Harry, said Hermione, suddenly impatient. Its not Quidditch thats popular, its you! Youve never been more interesting, and frankly, youve never been more fanciable.

Ron gagged on a large piece of kipper. Hermione spared him one look of disdain before turning back to Harry.

Everyone knows youve been telling the truth now, dont they? The whole Wizarding world has had to admit that you were right about Voldemort being back and that you really have fought him twice in the last two years and escaped both times. And now theyre calling you the Chosen One well, come on, cant you see why people are fascinated by you?

Harry was finding the Great Hall very hot all of a sudden, even though the ceiling still looked cold and rainy.

And youve been through all that persecution from the Ministry when they were trying to make out you were unstable and a liar. You can still see the marks on the back of your hand where that evil woman made you write with your own blood, but you stuck to your story anyway

You can still see where those brains got hold of me in the Ministry, look, said Ron, shaking back his sleeves.

And it doesnt hurt that youve grown about a foot over the summer either, Hermione finished, ignoring Ron.

Im tall, said Ron inconsequentially.

The post owls arrived, swooping down through rain-flecked windows, scattering everyone with droplets of water. Most people were receiving more post than usual; anxious parents were keen to hear from their children and to reassure them, in turn, that all was well at home. Harry had received no mail since the start of term; his only regular correspondent was now dead and although he had hoped that Lupin might write occasionally, he had so far been disappointed. He was very surprised, therefore, to see the snowy white Hedwig circling amongst all the brown and gray owls. She landed in front of him carrying a large, square package. A moment later, an identical package landed in front of Ron, crushing beneath it his minuscule and exhausted owl, Pigwidgeon.

Ha! said Harry, unwrapping the parcel to reveal a new copy of Advanced Potion-Making, fresh from Flourish and Blotts.

Oh good, said Hermione, delighted. Now you can give that graffitied copy back.

Are you mad? said Harry. Im keeping it! Look, Ive thought it out

He pulled the old copy of Advanced Potion-Making out of his bag and tapped the cover with his wand, muttering, Dijjindo! The cover fell off. He did the same thing with the brand-new book (Hermione looked scandalized). He then swapped the covers, tapped each, and said, Reparo!

There sat the Princes copy, disguised as a new book, and there sat the fresh copy from Flourish and Blotts, looking thoroughly secondhand.

Ill give Slughorn back the new one, he cant complain, it cost nine Galleons.

Hermione pressed her lips together, looking angry and disapproving, but was distracted by a third owl landing in front of her carrying that days copy of the Daily Prophet. She unfolded it hastily and scanned the front page.

Anyone we know dead? asked Ron in a determinedly casual voice; he posed the same question every time Hermione opened her paper.

No, but there have been more dementor attacks, said Hermione. And an arrest.

Excellent, who? said Harry, thinking of Bellatrix Lestrange. Stan Shunpike, said Hermione.

What? said Harry, startled.

Stanley Shunpike, conductor on the popular Wizarding conveyance the Knight Bus, has been arrested on suspicion of Death Eater activity. Mr. Shunpike, 21, was taken into custody late last night after a raid on his Clapham home

Stan Shunpike, a Death Eater? said Harry, remembering the spotty youth he had first met three years before. No way!

He might have been put under the Imperius Curse, said Ron reasonably. You never can tell.

It doesnt look like it, said Hermione, who was still reading. It says here he was arrested after he was overheard talking about the Death Eaters secret plans in a pub. She looked up with a troubled expression on her face. If he was under the Imperius Curse, hed hardly stand around gossiping about their plans, would he?

It sounds like he was trying to make out he knew more than he did, said Ron. Isnt he the one who claimed he was going to become Minister of Magic when he was trying to chat up those veela?

Yeah, thats him, said Harry. I dunno what theyre playing at, taking Stan seriously.

They probably want to look as though theyre doing something, said Hermione, frowning. People are terrified you know the Patil twins parents want them to go home? And Eloise Midgen has already been withdrawn. Her father picked her up last night.

What! said Ron, goggling at Hermione. But Hogwarts is safer than their homes, bound to be! Weve got Aurors, and all those extra protective spells, and weve got Dumbledore!

I dont think weve got him all the time, said Hermione very quietly, glancing toward the staff table over the top of the Prophet. Havent you noticed? His seats been empty as often as Hagrids this past week.

Harry and Ron looked up at the staff table. The headmasters chair was indeed empty. Now Harry came to think of it, he had not seen Dumbledore since their private lesson a week ago.

I think hes left the school to do something with the Order, said Hermione in a low voice. I mean its all looking serious, isnt it?

Harry and Ron did not answer, but Harry knew that they were all thinking the same thing. There had been a horrible incident the day before, when Hannah Abbott had been taken out of Herbology to be told her mother had been found dead. They had not seen Hannah since.

When they left the Gryffindor table five minutes later to head down to the Quidditch pitch, they passed Lavender Brown and Parvati Patil. Remembering what Hermione had said about the Patil twins parents wanting them to leave Hogwarts, Harry was unsurprised to see that the two best friends were whispering together, looking distressed. What did surprise him was that when Ron drew level with them, Parvati suddenly nudged Lavender, who looked around and gave Ron a wide smile. Ron blinked at her, then returned the smile uncertainly. His walk instantly became something more like a strut. Harry resisted the temptation to laugh, remembering that Ron had refrained from doing so after Malfoy had broken Harrys nose; Hermione, however, looked cold and distant all the way down to the stadium through the cool, misty drizzle, and departed to find a place in the stands without wishing Ron good luck.

As Harry had expected, the trials took most of the morning. Half of Gryffindor House seemed to have turned up, from first years who were nervously clutching a selection of the dreadful old school brooms, to seventh years who towered over the rest, looking coolly intimidating. The latter included a large, wiry-haired boy Harry recognized immediately from the Hogwarts Express.

We met on the train, in old Sluggys compartment, he said confidently, stepping out of the crowd to shake Harrys hand. Cormac McLaggen, Keeper.

You didnt try out last year, did you? asked Harry, taking note of the breadth of McLaggen and thinking that he would probably block all three goal hoops without even moving.

I was in the hospital wing when they held the trials, said McLaggen, with something of a swagger. Ate a pound of doxy eggs for a bet.

Right, said Harry. Well if you wait over there He pointed over to the edge of the pitch, close to where Hermione was sitting. He thought he saw a flicker of annoyance pass over McLaggens face and wondered whether McLaggen expected preferential treatment because they were both old Sluggys favorites. Harry decided to start with a basic test, asking all applicants for the team to divide into groups of ten and fly once around the pitch. This was a good decision: the first ten was made up of first years, and it could not have been plainer that they had hardly ever flown before. Only one boy managed to remain airborne for more than a few seconds, and he was so surprised he promptly crashed into one of the goal posts.

The second group was comprised of ten of the silliest girls Harry had ever encountered, who, when he blew his whistle, merely fell about giggling and clutching one another. Romilda Vane was amongst them. When he told them to leave the pitch, they did so quite cheerfully and went to sit in the stands to heckle everyone else.

The third group had a pileup halfway around the pitch. Most of the fourth group had come without broomsticks. The fifth group were Hufflepuffs.

If theres anyone else here whos not from Gryffindor, roared Harry, who was starting to get seriously annoyed, leave now, please!

There was a pause, then a couple of little Ravenclaws went sprinting off the pitch, snorting with laughter.

After two hours, many complaints, and several tantrums, one involving a crashed Comet Two Sixty and several broken teeth, Harry had found himself three Chasers: Katie Bell, returned to the team after an excellent trial; a new find called Demelza Robins, who was particularly good at dodging Bludgers; and Ginny Weasley, who had outflown all the competition and scored seventeen goals to boot. Pleased though he was with his choices, Harry had also shouted himself hoarse at the many complainers and was now enduring a similar battle with the rejected Beaters.

Thats my final decision and if you dont get out of the way of the Keepers Ill hex you, he bellowed.

Neither of his chosen Beaters had the old brilliance of Fred and George, but he was still reasonably pleased with them: Jimmy Peakes, a short but broad-chested third-year boy who had managed to raise a lump the size of an egg on the back of Harrys head with a ferociously hit Bludger, and Ritchie Coote, who looked weedy but aimed well. They now joined Katie, Demelza, and Ginny in the stands to watch the selection of their last team member.

Harry had deliberately left the trial of the Keepers until last, hoping for an emptier stadium and less pressure on all concerned. Unfortunately, however, all the rejected players and a number of people who had come down to watch after a lengthy breakfast had joined the crowd by now, so that it was larger than ever. As each Keeper flew up to the goal hoops, the crowd roared and jeered in equal measure. Harry glanced over at Ron, who had always had a problem with nerves; Harry had hoped that winning their final match last term might have cured it, but apparently not: Ron was a delicate shade of green.

None of the first five applicants saved more than two goals apiece. To Harrys great disappointment, Cormac McLaggen saved four penalties out of five. On the last one, however, he shot off in completely the wrong direction; the crowd laughed and booed and McLaggen returned to the ground grinding his teeth.

Ron looked ready to pass out as he mounted his Cleansweep Eleven. Good luck! cried a voice from the stands. Harry looked around, expecting to see Hermione, but it was Lavender Brown. He would have quite liked to have hidden his face in his hands, as she did a moment later, but thought that as the Captain he ought to show slightly more grit, and so turned to watch Ron do his trial.

Yet he need not have worried: Ron saved one, two, three, four, five penalties in a row. Delighted, and resisting joining in the cheers of the crowd with difficulty, Harry turned to McLaggen to tell him that, most unfortunately, Ron had beaten him, only to find McLaggens red face inches from his own. He stepped back hastily.

His sister didnt really try, said McLaggen menacingly. There was a vein pulsing in his temple like the one Harry had often admired in Uncle Vernons. She gave him an easy save.

Rubbish, said Harry coldly. That was the one he nearly missed.

McLaggen took a step nearer Harry, who stood his ground this time.

Give me another go.

No, said Harry. Youve had your go. You saved four. Ron saved five. Rons Keeper, he won it fair and square. Get out of my way.

He thought for a moment that McLaggen might punch him, but he contented himself with an ugly grimace and stormed away, growling what sounded like threats to thin air.

Harry turned around to find his new team beaming at him.

Well done, he croaked. You flew really well

You did brilliantly, Ron!

This time it really was Hermione running toward them from the stands; Harry saw Lavender walking off the pitch, arm in arm with Parvati, a rather grumpy expression on her face. Ron looked extremely pleased with himself and even taller than usual as he grinned at the team and at Hermione.

After fixing the time of their first full practice for the following Thursday, Harry, Ron, and Hermione bade good-bye to the rest of the team and headed off toward Hagrids. A watery sun was trying to break through the clouds now and it had stopped drizzling at last. Harry felt extremely hungry; he hoped there would be something to eat at Hagrids.

I thought I was going to miss that fourth penalty, Ron was saying happily. Tricky shot from Demelza, did you see, had a bit of spin on it

Yes, yes, you were magnificent, said Hermione, looking amused.

I was better than that McLaggen anyway, said Ron in a highly satisfied voice. Did you see him lumbering off in the wrong direction on his fifth? Looked like hed been Confunded

To Harrys surprise, Hermione turned a very deep shade of pink at these words. Ron noticed nothing; he was too busy describing each of his other penalties in loving detail.

The great gray hippogriff, Buckbeak, was tethered in front of Hagrids cabin. He clicked his razor-sharp beak at their approach and turned his huge head toward them.

Oh dear, said Hermione nervously. Hes still a bit scary, isnt he?

Come off it, youve ridden him, havent you? said Ron. Harry stepped forward and bowed low to the hippogriff without breaking eye contact or blinking. After a few seconds, Buckbeak sank into a bow too.

How are you? Harry asked him in a low voice, moving forward to stroke the feathery head. Missing him? But youre okay here with Hagrid, arent you?

Oi! said a loud voice.

Hagrid had come striding around the corner of his cabin wearing a large flowery apron and carrying a sack of potatoes. His enormous boarhound, Fang, was at his heels; Fang gave a booming bark and bounded forward.

Git away from him! Hell have yer fingers oh. Its yeh lot.

Fang was jumping up at Hermione and Ron, attempting to lick their ears. Hagrid stood and looked at them all for a split second, then turned and strode into his cabin, slamming the door behind him.

Oh dear! said Hermione, looking stricken.

Dont worry about it, said Harry grimly. He walked over to the door and knocked loudly. Hagrid! Open up, we want to talk to you!

There was no sound from within.

If you dont open the door, well blast it open! Harry said, pulling out his wand.

Harry! said Hermione, sounding shocked. You cant possibly

Yeah, I can! said Harry. Stand back

But before he could say anything else, the door flew open again as Harry had known it would, and there stood Hagrid, glowering down at him and looking, despite the flowery apron, positively alarming.

Im a teacher! he roared at Harry. A teacher, Potter! How dare yeh threaten ter break down my door!

Im sorry, sir said Harry, emphasizing the last word as he stowed his wand inside his robes.

Hagrid looked stunned. Since when have yeh called me sir?

Since when have you called me Potter?

Oh, very clever, growled Hagrid. Very amusin. Thats me outsmarted, innit? All righ, come in then, yeh ungrateful little

Mumbling darkly, he stood back to let them pass. Hermione scurried in after Harry, looking rather frightened.

Well? said Hagrid grumpily, as Harry, Ron, and Hermione sat down around his enormous wooden table, Fang laying his head immediately upon Harrys knee and drooling all over his robes. Whats this? Feelin sorry for me? Reckon Im lonely or summat?

No, said Harry at once. We wanted to see you.

Weve missed you! said Hermione tremulously.

Missed me, have yeh? snorted Hagrid. Yeah. Righ.

He stomped around, brewing up tea in his enormous copper kettle, muttering all the while. Finally he slammed down three bucket-sized mugs of mahogany-brown tea in front of them and a plate of his rock cakes. Harry was hungry enough even for Hagrids cooking, and took one at once.

Hagrid, said Hermione timidly, when he joined them at the table and started peeling his potatoes with a brutality that suggested that each tuber had done him a great personal wrong, we really wanted to carry on with Care of Magical Creatures, you know. Hagrid gave another great snort. Harry rather thought some bogeys landed on the potatoes, and was inwardly thankful that they were not staying for dinner.

We did! said Hermione. But none of us could fit it into our schedules!

Yeah. Righ, said Hagrid again.

There was a funny squelching sound and they all looked around: Hermione let out a tiny shriek, and Ron leapt out of his seat and hurried around the table away from the large barrel standing in the corner that they had only just noticed. It was full of what looked like foot-long maggots, slimy, white, and writhing.

What are they, Hagrid? asked Harry, trying to sound interested rather than revolted, but putting down his rock cake all the same.

Jus giant grubs, said Hagrid.

And they grow into ? said Ron, looking apprehensive.

They won grow inter nuthin, said Hagrid. I got em ter feed ter Aragog.

And without warning, he burst into tears.

Hagrid! cried Hermione, leaping up, hurrying around the table the long way to avoid the barrel of maggots, and putting an arm around his shaking shoulders. What is it?

Its him gulped Hagrid, his beetle-black eyes streaming as he mopped his face with his apron. Its Aragog I think hes dyin He got ill over the summer an hes not gettin better I don know what Ill do if he if he Weve bin tergether so long

Hermione patted Hagrids shoulder, looking at a complete loss for anything to say. Harry knew how she felt. He had known Hagrid to present a vicious baby dragon with a teddy bear, seen him croon over giant scorpions with suckers and stingers, attempt to reason with his brutal giant of a half-brother, but this was perhaps the most incomprehensible of all his monster fancies: the gigantic talking spider, Aragog, who dwelled deep in the Forbidden Forest and which he and Ron had only narrowly escaped four years previously.

Is there is there anything we can do? Hermione asked, ignoring Rons frantic grimaces and head-shakings.

I don think there is, Hermione, choked Hagrid, attempting to stem the flood of his tears. See, the rest o the tribe Aragogs family theyre gettin a bit funny now hes ill bit restive

Yeah, I think we saw a bit of that side of them, said Ron in an undertone.

I don reckon itd be safe fer anyone but me ter go near the colony at the mo, Hagrid finished, blowing his nose hard on his apron and looking up. But thanks fer offerin, Hermione It means a lot.

After that, the atmosphere lightened considerably, for although neither Harry nor Ron had shown any inclination to go and feed giant grubs to a murderous, gargantuan spider, Hagrid seemed to take it for granted that they would have liked to have done and became his usual self once more.

Ar, I always knew yehd find it hard ter squeeze me inter yer timetables, he said gruffly, pouring them more tea. Even if yeh applied fer Time-Turners

We couldnt have done, said Hermione. We smashed the entire stock of Ministry Time-Turners when we were there last summer. It was in the Daily Prophet.

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