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Harry Potter and The Half-Blood Prince 16



Dilligrout, he said darkly to the Fat Lady, and they climbed through the portrait hole into the common room.

Neither of them mentioned Ginny or Hermione again; indeed, they barely spoke to each other that evening and got into bed in silence, each absorbed in his own thoughts, Harry lay awake for a long time, looking up at the canopy of his four-poster and trying to convince himself that his feelings for Ginny were entirely elder-brotherly. They had lived, had they not, like brother and sister all summer, playing Quidditch, teasing Ron, and having a laugh about Bill and Phlegm? He had known Ginny for years now It was natural that he should feel protective natural that he should want to look out for her want to rip Dean limb from limb for kissing her No he would have to control that particular brotherly feeling

Ron gave a great grunting snore.

Shes Rons sister, Harry told himself firmly. Rons sister. Shes out-of-bounds. He would not risk his friendship with Ron for anything. He punched his pillow into a more comfortable shape and waited for sleep to come, trying his utmost not to allow his thoughts to stray anywhere near Ginny.

Harry awoke next morning feeling slightly dazed and confused by a series of dreams in which Ron had chased him with a Beaters bat, but by midday he would have happily exchanged the dream Ron for the real one, who was not only cold-shouldering Ginny and Dean, but also treating a hurt and bewildered Hermione with an icy, sneering indifference. What was more, Ron seemed to have become, overnight, as touchy and ready to lash out as the average Blast-Ended Skrewt. Harry spent the day attempting to keep the peace between Ron and Hermione with no success; finally, Hermione departed for bed in high dudgeon, and Ron stalked off to the boys dormitory after swearing angrily at several frightened first years for looking at him.

To Harrys dismay, Rons new aggression did not wear off over the next few days. Worse still, it coincided with an even deeper dip in his Keeping skills, which made him still more aggressive, so that during the final Quidditch practice before Saturdays match, he failed to save every single goal the Chasers aimed at him, but bellowed at everybody so much that he reduced Demelza Robins to tears.

You shut up and leave her alone! shouted Peakes, who was about two-thirds Rons height, though admittedly carrying a heavy bat.

ENOUGH! bellowed Harry, who had seen Ginny glowering in Rons direction and, remembering her reputation as an accomplished caster of the Bat-Bogey Hex, soared over to intervene before things got out of hand. Peakes, go and pack up the Bludgers. Demelza, pull yourself together, you played really well today, Ron he waited until the rest of the team were out of earshot before saying it, youre my best mate, but carry on treating the rest of them like this and Im going to kick you off the team.



He really thought for a moment that Ron might hit him, but then something much worse happened: Ron seemed to sag on his broom. all the fight went out of him and he said, I resign. Im pathetic.

Youre not pathetic and youre not resigning! said Harry fiercely, seizing Ron by the front of his robes. You can save anything when youre on form, its a mental problem youve got! You calling me mental? Yeah, maybe I am!

They glared at each other for a moment, then Ron shook his head wearily. I know you havent got any time to find another Keeper, so Ill play tomorrow, but if we lose, and we will, Im taking myself off the team.

Nothing Harry said made any difference. He tried boosting Rons confidence all through dinner, but Ron was too busy being grumpy and surly with Hermione to notice. Harry persisted in the common room that evening, but his assertion that the whole team would be devastated if Ron left was somewhat undermined by the fact that the rest of the team was sitting in a huddle in a distant corner, clearly muttering about Ron and casting him nasty looks. Finally Harry tried getting angry again in the hope of provoking Ron into a defiant, and hopefully goal-saving, attitude, but this strategy did not appear to work any better than encouragement; Ron went to bed as dejected and hopeless as ever.

Harry lay awake for a very long time in the darkness. He did not want to lose the upcoming match; not only was it his first as Captain, but he was determined to beat Draco Malfoy at Quidditch even if he could not yet prove his suspicions about him. Yet if Ron played as he had done in the last few practices, their chances of winning were very slim

If only there was something he could do to make Ron pull himself together make him play at the top of his form something that would ensure that Ron had a really good day

And the answer came to Harry in one, sudden, glorious stroke of inspiration.

Breakfast was the usual excitable affair next morning; the Slytherins hissed and booed loudly as every member of the Gryffindor team entered the Great Hall. Harry glanced at the ceiling and saw a clear, pale blue sky: a good omen.

The Gryffindor table, a solid mass of red and gold, cheered as Harry and Ron approached. Harry grinned and waved; Ron grimaced weakly and shook his head.

Cheer up, Ron! called Lavender. I know youll be brilliant! : Ron ignored her.

Tea? Harry asked him. Coffee? Pumpkin juice? Anything, said Ron glumly, taking a moody bite of toast.

A few minutes later Hermione, who had become so tired of Rons recent unpleasant behavior that she had not come down to breakfast with them, paused on her way up the table.

How are you both feeling? she asked tentatively, her eyes on the back of Rons head.

Fine, said Harry, who was concentrating on handing Ron a glass of pumpkin juice. There you go, Ron. Drink up.

Ron had just raised the glass to his lips when Hermione spoke sharply.

Dont drink that, Ron!

Both Harry and Ron looked up at her.

Why not? said Ron.

Hermione was now staring at Harry as though she could not believe her eyes.

You just put something in that drink.

Excuse me? said Harry.

You heard me. I saw you. You just tipped something into Rons drink. Youve got the bottle in your hand right now!

I dont know what youre talking about, said Harry, stowing the little bottle hastily in his pocket.

Ron, I warn you, dont drink it! Hermione said again, alarmed, but Ron picked up the glass, drained it in one gulp, and said, Stop bossing me around, Hermione.

She looked scandalized. Bending low so that only Harry could hear her, she hissed, You should be expelled for that. Id never have believed it of you, Harry!

Look whos talking, he whispered back. Confunded anyone lately?

She stormed up the table away from them. Harry watched her go without regret. Hermione had never really understood what a serious business Quidditch was. He then looked around at Ron, who was smacking his lips.

Nearly time! said Harry blithely.

The frosty grass crunched underfoot as they strode down to the stadium.

Pretty lucky the weathers this good, eh? Harry asked Ron.

Yeah, said Ron, who was pale and sick-looking.

Ginny and Demelza were already wearing their Quidditch robes and waiting in the changing room.

Conditions look ideal, said Ginny, ignoring Ron. And guess what? That Slytherin Chaser Vaisey he took a Bludger in the head yesterday during their practice, and hes too sore to play! And even better than that Malfoys gone off sick too!

What? said Harry, wheeling around to stare at her. Hes ill? Whats wrong with him?

No idea, but its great for us, said Ginny brightly. Theyre playing Harper instead; hes in my year and hes an idiot.

Harry smiled back vaguely, but as he pulled on his scarlet robes his mind was far from Quidditch. Malfoy had once before claimed he could not play due to injury, but on that occasion he had made sure the whole match was rescheduled for a time that suited the Slytherins better. Why was he now happy to let a substitute go on? Was he really ill, or was he faking?

Fishy, isnt it? he said in an undertone to Ron. Malfoy not playing?

Lucky, I call it, said Ron, looking slightly more animated. And Vaisey off too, hes their best goal scorer, I didnt fancy hey! he said suddenly, freezing halfway through pulling on his Keepers gloves and staring at Harry.

What?

I you Ron had dropped his voice, he looked both scared and excited. My drink my pumpkin juice you didnt?

Harry raised his eyebrows, but said nothing except, Well be starting in about five minutes, youd better get your boots on.

They walked out onto the pitch to tumultuous roars and boos. One end of the stadium was solid red and gold; the other, a sea of green and silver. Many Hufflepuffs and Ravenclaws had taken sides too: Amidst all the yelling and clapping Harry could distinctly hear the roar of Luna Lovegoods famous lion-topped hat.

Harry stepped up to Madam Hooch, the referee, who was stand-ing ready to release the balls from the crate.

Captains shake hands, she said, and Harry had his hand crushed by the new Slytherin Captain, Urquhart. Mount your brooms. On the whistle three two one

The whistle sounded, Harry and the others kicked off hard from the frozen ground, and they were away.

Harry soared around the perimeter of the grounds, looking around for the Snitch and keeping one eye on Harper, who was zigzagging far below him. Then a voice that was jarringly different to the usual commentators started up.

Well, there they go, and I think were all surprised to see the team that Potters put together this year. Many thought, given Ronald Weasleys patchy performance as Keeper last year, that he might be off the team, but of course, a close personal friendship with the Captain does help

These words were greeted with jeers and applause from the Slytherin end of the pitch. Harry craned around on his broom to look toward the commentators podium. A call, skinny blond buy with an upturned nose was standing there, talking into the magical megaphone that had once been Lee Jordans; Harry recognized Zacharias Smith, a Hufflepuff player whom he heartily disliked.

Oh, and here comes Slytherins first attempt on goal, its Urquhart streaking down the pitch and

Harrys stomach turned over.

Weasley saves it, well, hes bound to get lucky sometimes, I suppose

Thats right, Smith, he is, muttered Harry, grinning to himself, as he dived amongst the Chasers with his eyes searching all around for some hint of the elusive Snitch.

With half an hour of the game gone, Gryffindor were leading sixty points to zero, Ron having made some truly spectacular saves, some by the very tips of his gloves, and Ginny having scored four of Gryffindors six goals. This effectively stopped Zacharias wondering loudly whether the two Weasleys were only there because Harry liked them, and he started on Peakes and Coote instead.

Of course, Coote isnt really the usual build for a Beater, said Zacharias loftily, theyve generally got a bit more muscle

Hit a Bludger at him! Harry called to Coote as he zoomed past, but Coote, grinning broadly, chose to aim the next Bludger at Harper instead, who was just passing Harry in the opposite direction. Harry was pleased to hear the dull thunk that meant the Bludger had found its mark.

It seemed as though Gryffindor could do no wrong. Again and again they scored, and again and again, at the other end of the pitch, Ron saved goals with apparent ease. He was actually smiling now, and when the crowd greeted a particularly good save with a rousing chorus of the old favorite Weasley Is Our King, he pretended to conduct them from on high.

Thinks hes something special today, doesnt he? said a snide voice, and Harry was nearly knocked off his broom as Harper collided with him hard and deliberately. Your blood-traitor pal Madam Hoochs back was turned, and though Gryffindors below shouted in anger, by the time she looked around, Harper had already sped off. His shoulder aching, Harry raced after him, determined to ram him back

And I think Harper of Slytherins seen the Snitch! said Zacharias Smith through his megaphone. Yes, hes certainly seen something Potter hasnt!

Smith really was an idiot, thought Harry, hadnt he noticed them collide? But next moment, his stomach seemed to drop out of the , sky Smith was right and Harry was wrong: Harper had not sped upward at random; he had spotted what Harry had not: The Snitch was speeding along high above them, glinting brightly against the clear blue sky.

Harry accelerated; the wind was whistling in his ears so that it drowned all sound of Smiths commentary or the crowd, but Harper was still ahead of him, and Gryffindor was only a hundred points up; if Harper got there first Gryffindor had lost and now Harper was feet from it, his hand outstretched

Oi, Harper! yelled Harry in desperation. How much did Malfoy pay you to come on instead of him?

He did not know what made him say it, but Harper did a double-take; he fumbled the Snitch, let it slip through his fingers, and shot right past it. Harry made a great swipe for the tiny, fluttering ball and caught it.

YES! Hairy yelled. Wheeling around, he hurtled back toward the ground, the Snitch held high in his hand. As the crowd realized what had happened, a great shout went up that almost drowned the sound of the whistle that signaled the end of the game.

Ginny, wherere you going? yelled Harry, who had found hint self trapped in the midst of a mass midair hug with the rest of tinI team, but Ginny sped right on past them until, with an almighty crash, she collided with the commentators podium. As the crowd shrieked and laughed, the Gryffindor team landed beside the wreckage of wood under which Zacharias was feebly stirring,: Harry heard Ginny saying blithely to an irate Professor McGonagall, Forgot to brake, Professor, sorry.

Laughing, Harry broke free of the rest of the team and hugged Ginny, but let go very quickly. Avoiding her gaze, he clapped cheering Ron on the back instead as, all enmity forgotten, the Gryffindor team left the pitch arm in arm, punching the air ami waving to their supporters.

The atmosphere in the changing room was jubilant. Party up in the common room, Seamus said! yelled Dean exuberantly. Cmon, Ginny, Demelza!

Ron and Harry were the last two in the changing room. They were just about to leave when Hermione entered. She was twisting her Gryffindor scarf in her hands and looked upset but determined. I want a word with you, Harry. She took a deep breath. Yon shouldnt have done it. You heard Slughorn, its illegal. What are you going to do, turn us in? demanded Ron. What are you two talking about? asked Harry, turning away to hang up his robes so that neither of them would see him grinning, You know perfectly well what were talking about! said Hermione shrilly. You spiked Rons juice with lucky potion at breakfast! Ielix Felicis!

No, I didnt, said Harry, turning back to face them both.

Yes you did, Harry, and thats why everything went right, there were Slytherin players missing and Ron saved everything!

I didnt put it in! said Harry, grinning broadly. He slipped his hand inside his jacket pocket and drew out the tiny bottle that Hermione had seen in his hand that morning. It was full of golden potion and the cork was still tightly sealed with wax. I wanted Ron to think Id done it, so I faked it when I knew you were looking. He looked at Ron. You saved everything because you felt lucky. You did it all yourself.

He pocketed the potion again.

There really wasnt anything in my pumpkin juice? Ron said, astounded. But the weathers good and Vaisey couldnt play I honestly havent been given lucky potion? ]

Harry shook his head. Ron gaped at him for a moment, then rounded on Hermione, imitating her voice. You added Felix Felicis to Rons juice this morning, thats why he saved everything! See! I can save goals without help, Hermione!

I never said you couldnt Ron, you thought youd been given it too!

But Ron had already strode past her out of the door with his broomstick over his shoulder.

Er, said Harry into the sudden silence; he had not expected his plan to backfire like this, shall shall we go up to the party, then?

You go! said Hermione, blinking back tears. Im sick of Ron at the moment, I dont know what Im supposed to have done

And she stormed out of the changing room too.

Harry walked slowly back up the grounds toward the castle through the crowd, many of whom shouted congratulations at him, but he felt a great sense of letdown; he had been sure that if Ron won the match, he and Hermione would be friends again immediately. He did not see how he could possibly explain to Hermione that what she had done to offend Ron was kiss Viktor Krum, not when the offense had occurred so long ago.

Harry could not see Hermione at the Gryffindor celebration party, which was in full swing when he arrived. Renewed cheers and clapping greeted his appearance, and he was soon surrounded by a mob of people congratulating him. What with trying to shake off the Creevey brothers, who wanted a blow-by-blow match analysis, and the large group of girls that encircled him, laughing at his least amusing comments and batting their eyelids, it was some time before he could try and find Ron. At last, he extricated himself from Romilda Vane, who was hinting heavily that she would like to go to Slughorns Christmas party with him. As he was ducking toward the drinks table, he walked straight into Ginny, Arnold the Pygmy Puff riding on her shoulder and Crookshanks mewing hopefully at her heels.

Looking for Ron? she asked, smirking. Hes over there, the filthy hypocrite.

Harry looked into the corner she was indicating. There, in full view of the whole room, stood Ron wrapped so closely around Lavender Brown it was hard to tell whose hands were whose.

It looks like hes eating her face, doesnt it? said Ginny dispassionately. But I suppose hes got to refine his technique somehow. Good game, Harry.

She patted him on the arm; Harry felt a swooping sensation in his stomach, but then she walked off to help herself to more butterbeer. Crookshanks trotted after her, his yellow eyes fixed upon Arnold.

Harry turned away from Ron, who did not look like he would be surfacing soon, just as the portrait hole was closing. With a sinking feeling, he thought he saw a mane of bushy brown hair whipping out of sight.

He darted forward, sidestepped Romilda Vane again, and pushed open the portrait of the Fat Lady. The corridor outside , seemed to be deserted.

Hermione?

He found her in the first unlocked classroom he tried. She was sitting on the teachers desk, alone except for a small ring of twittering yellow birds circling her head, which she had clearly just conjured out of midair. Harry could not help admiring her spell-work at a time like this.

Oh, hello, Harry, she said in a brittle voice. I was just practicing.

Yeah theyre er really good said Harry.

He had no idea what to say to her. He was just wondering whether there was any chance that she had not noticed Ron, that she had merely left the room because the party was a little too rowdy, when she said, in an unnaturally high-pitched voice, Ron seems to be enjoying the celebrations.

Er does he? said Harry.

Dont pretend you didnt see him, said Hermione. He wasnt exactly hiding it, was ?

The door behind them burst open. To Harrys horror, Ron came in, laughing, pulling Lavender by the hand. ;

Oh, he said, drawing up short at the sight of Harry and Hermione.

Oops! said Lavender, and she backed out of the room, giggling. The door swung shut behind her.

There was a horrible, swelling, billowing silence. Hermione was staring at Ron, who refused to look at her, but said with an odd mixture of bravado and awkwardness, Hi, Harry! Wondered where youd got to!

Hermione slid off the desk. The little flock of golden birds continued to twitter in circles around her head so that she looked like a strange, feathery model of the solar system.

You shouldnt leave Lavender waiting outside, she said quietly. Shell wonder where youve gone.

She walked very slowly and erectly toward the door. Harry glanced at Ron, who was looking relieved that nothing worse had happened.

Oppugno! came a shriek from the doorway.

Harry spun around to see Hermione pointing her wand at Ron, her expression wild: The little flock of birds was speeding like a hail of fat golden bullets toward Ron, who yelped and covered his face with his hands, but the birds attacked, pecking and clawing at every bit of flesh they could reach.

Gerremoffme! he yelled, but with one last look of vindictive fury, Hermione wrenched open the door and disappeared through it. Harry thought he heard a sob before it slammed.

 

 

CHAPTER 15: The Unbreakable Vow

 

 

Snow was swirling against the icy windows once more; Christmas was approaching fast. Hagrid had already singlehandedly delivered the usual twelve C hristmas trees to the Great Hall; garlands of holly and tinsel had been twisted around the banisters of the stairs; everlasting candles glowed from inside the helmets of suits of armor and great bunches of mistletoe had been hung at intervals along the corridors. Large groups of girls tended to converge underneath the mistletoe bunches every time Harry went past, which caused blockages in the corridors; fortunat e ly, however, Harrys frequent nighttime wanderings had given him an unusually good knowledge of the castles secret passageways, so that he was often, without too much difficulty, to naviga t e mistletoe-free routes between classes.

Ron, who might once have found the necessity of these detours excuse for jealousy rather than hilarity, simply roared with laughter about it all. Although Harry much preferred this new laughing, joking Ron to the moody, aggressive model he had been enduring for the last few weeks, the improved Ron came at a heavy price. Firstly, Harry had to put up with the frequent presence of Lavender Brown, who seemed to regard any moment that she was not kissing Ron as a moment wasted; and secondly, Harry found himself once more the best friend of two people who seemed unlikely ever to speak to each other again.

Ron, whose hands and forearms still bore scratches and cuts from Hermiones bird attack, was taking a defensive and resentful tone.

She cant complain, he told Harry. She snogged Krum. So shes found out someone wants to snog me too. Well, its a free country. I havent done anything wrong.

Harry did not answer, but pretended to be absorbed in the book they were supposed to have read before Charms next morning (Quintessence: A Q uest). Determined as he was to remain friends with both Ron and Hermione, he was spending a lot of time with his mouth shut tight.

I never promised Hermione anything , Ron mumbled. I mean, all right, I was going to go to Slughorns Christmas party with her, but she never said just as friends Im a free agent

Harry turned a page of Quintessence, aware that Ron was watching him. Rons voice trailed away in mutters, barely audible over the loud crackling of the fire, though Harry thought he caught the words Krum and Cant complain again.

Hermiones schedule was so full that Harry could only talk to her properly in the evenings, when Ron was, in any case, so tightly wrapped around Lavender that he did not notice what Harry was doing. Hermione refused to sit in the common room while Ron was there, So Harry generally joined her in the library, which meant that their conversations were held in whispers.

Hes at perfect liberty to kiss whomever he likes, said Hermione, while the librarian , Madam Pince, prowled the shelves behind them. I really couldnt care less.

She raised her quill and dotted an i so ferociously that she punctured a hole in her parchment. Harry said nothing. He thought his voice might soon vanish from the lack of use. He bent a little lower over Advanced Potion-Making and continued to make notes on Everlasting Elixirs, occasionally pausing to decipher the p rinces useful additions to Libatius B orages text.

And incidentally, said Hermione, after a few moments, you need to be careful.

For the last time, said Harry, speaking in a slightly hoarse tone after three-quarters of an ho u r of silence, I am not giving back this book . Ive learned more from the Half-blood p rince than Snape or Slughorn have taught me in-

Im not talking about your stupid so-called prince, said Hermione , giving his book a nasty look as though it had been rude to her. Im talki ng about earlier. I went into the girls bathroom just before I came in here and there were about a dozen girls in there, including that Romilda Vane , trying to decide how to slip you a love potion. Theyre all hoping theyre going to get you to take them to Slughorns party, and thay all seem to have bought Fred and Georges love potions, which Im afraid to say probably work -

Why didnt you confiscate them then? demanded Harry, it seemed extraordinary that Hermiones m ania for upholding the rules could have abandoned her at this crucial juncture.

They didnt have the potions with them in the bathroom, said Hermione scornfully, They were just discussing tactics. As I doubt the Half-blood prince she gave the book another scornful look could dream up an antidote for a dozen different love potions at once, Id just invite someone to go with you, thatll stop all the others thinking theyve still got a chance. Its tomor r ow night, theyre getting desperate.

There isnt anyone I want to invite, mumbled Harry, who was still not trying to think about Ginny any more than he could help, despite the fact the fact that she kept cropping up in his dreams in ways that made him devoutly thankful that Ron could not perform Legilimency.

Well, just be careful what you drink, because Romilda Va ne looked like she meant business. said Hermione grimly.

She hitched up the long roll of parchment on which she was writing her Arithma n cy essay and continued to scratch away with her quill. Harry wa t che d her with his mind a long way away.

Hang on a moment, he said slowly. I thought Filch had banned anything bought at Weasleys Wizard Wheezes?

And when has anyone ever paid attention to what Filch has banned? asked Hermione, still concentrating on her essay.

But I thought all the owls were being searched. So how come these grils are able to bring love potions into the school?

Fred and George send them disguised as perfumes and cough potions, said Hermione. Its part of their Owl order service.

You know a lot about it.

Hermione gave him the kind of nasty look she had just given his copy of Advanced Potion-Making.

It was all on the back of the bottles they showed Ginny and me in the summer, she said coldly, I dont go around putting potions in peoples drinks or pretending too eit h er, which is just as bad

Yeah, well, never mind that, said Harry quickly. The point is, Filch is being fooled isnt he? These girls are getting stuff into the school disguised as something else! So why couldnt Malfoy have brought the necklace into the school -?

Oh, Harry not that again

Come on, why not? demanded Harry.

Look , sighed Hermione, Secrecy Sensors detect jinxes, curses, and concealment charms, dont they? Theyre used to find d ark magic and d ark obje c ts. Theyd have picked up a powerful curse , like the one in the necklace, withi n seconds. But something thats just been put in the wrong bottle wouldn t register anyway Love potions arent d ark or dangerous -

Easy for you to say, muttered Harry, thinking of Romilda Vane.

so it would be down to Filch to realise it wasnt a cough potion, and hes not a very good wizard, I doubt he can tell one potion from -

Hermione stopped dead; Harry had heard it too. Somebody had moved close behind them among the dark bookshelves. They waited, and a moment later the vulturelike countenance of Madam Pince appeared around the corner, her sunken cheeks, her skin like parchment, and her long hooked nose illuminated unflatteringly by the lamp she was carrying.

The library is now closed, she said, Mind you return anything you have borrowed to the correct what have you been doing to that book, you depraved boy?

It isnt the librarys, its mine! said Harry hastily, snatching his copy of Advanced Potion-Making off the table as she lunged at it with a clawlike hand.





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