Harry Potter and The Half-Blood Prince 17

Spoiled! she hissed . Desecrated, befouled !

Its just a book thats been written on! said Harry, tugging it out of her grip.

She looked as though she might have a seizure; Hermione, who had hastily packed her things, grabbed Harry by the arm and frogmarched him away.

Shell ban you from the library if youre not careful. Why did you have to bring that stupid book?

Its not my fault shes barking mad, Hermione. Or dyou think she overheard you being rude about Filch? Ive always thought there might be something between them

Oh, ha ha..

Enjoying the fact that they could speak normally again, they made their way along the deserted lamp-lit corridors back to the common room, arguing w hether or not Filch and Madam Pince were secretly in love with each other.

Baubles said Harry to the Fat Lady, this being the new, festive password.

Same to you, said the fat lady with a roguish grin, and she swung forward to admit them.

Hi, Harry! said Romilda Vane, the moment he had climbed through the portrait hole. Fancy a gillywater?

Hermione gave him a what-did-I-tell-you? look over her shoulder.

No thanks, said Harry quickly. I dont like it much.

Well, take these anyway, said Romilda, thrusting a box into his hands. Chocolate Cauldrons, theyve got firewhiskey in them. My gran sent them to me, but I dont like them.

Oh right thanks a lot. said Harry, who could not think what else to say. Er I m just going over here with

He hurried off behind Hermione, his voice tailing away feebly.

Told you, said Hermione succinctly, Sooner you ask someone, sooner theyll all leave you alone and you can -

But her face suddnly turned blank; she had just spotted Ron and Lavender, who were i ntertwined in the same armchair.

Well, good night, Harry said Hermione, though it was only seven oclock in the evening, and she left for the girl s dormitory without another word.

Harry went to bed comforting himself that there was only one more day of lessons to struggle through, plus Slughorns party, after which he and Ron would depart together for the B urrow. It now seemed impossible that Ron and Hermione would make up with each other before the holidays began, but perhaps, somehow, the break would give them time to calm down, think better of their behavior

But his hopes were not high, and they sank still lower after enduring a Transfiguration lesson with them both next day. They had just embarked upon the immensely difficult topic of human transfiguration; working in front of mirrors , they were suposed to be changing the color of their own eyebrows. Hermione laughed unkindly at Rons disastrous first attempt, during which he somehow managed to give himself a spectacular handlebar mustache; Ron retaliated by doing a cruel but accurate impression of Hermione jumping up and down in her seat every time Profe s sor McGonagall asked a question, which Lavender and Parvati found deeply amusing and which reduced Hermione to the verge of tears again. She raced out of the classroom on the bell, leaving half her things behind; Harry, deciding that her need was greater than Rons just now, scooped up her remaining po ssessions and followed her.

He finally tracked her down as she emerged from a girls bathroom on the floor below. She was accompanied by Luna Lovegood, who was patting her vaguely on the back.

Oh, hello, Harry , said Luna . D id you know one of your eyebrows is bright yellow?

Hi, Luna. Hermione , you left your stuff

He held out her books.

Oh, yes, said Hermione in a choked voice, taking her things and turning away quickly to hide the fact she was wiping her eyes with her pencil case. Thank you , Harry. Well, Id better get going

And she hurried off, without ever giving Harry any time to offer words of comfort, though admittedly he could not think of any.

Shes a bit upset , said Luna. I thought at first it was Moaning Myrtle in there, but it turned out to be Hermione. She said something about Ron Weasley

Yeah, theyve had a row, said Harry.

He says funny things sometimes, doesnt he? said Luna as they set off down the corridor together. But he can be a bit unkind. I noticed that last year.

I spose , said Harry. Luna was demonstrating her usual knack of speaking uncomfortable truths; he had never met anyone quite like her. So have you had a good term?

Oh, its been al l right, said Luna. A bit lonely without the D.A. Ginnys been nice, though. She stopped two boys in our Transfiguration class calling me Loony the other day -

How would you like to come to S lughorns party with me tonight?

The words were out of Harrys mouth before he could stop them; he heard himself say them as though it were a stranger speaking.

Luna turned her protuberant eyes to him in surprise.

Slughorns party? With you?

Yeah, said Harry, Were supposed to bring guests, so I thought you might like.. I mean He was keen to make his intentions perfectly clear. I mean, just as friends, you know. But if you dont want to

He was already half hoping that she didnt want to.

O h no, Id love to go with you as friends! said Luna, beaming as he had never seen her beam before. Nobodys ever asked me to a party before, as a friend! Is that why you dyed your eyebrow, for the party? Should I dye mine too?

No said Harry firmly, That was a mistake. Ill get Hermione to put it right for me. So Ill meet you in the entrance hall at eight oclock then .

AHA! screamed a voice from overhead and both of them jumped; unnoticed by either of them, they had just passed underneath Peeves, who was hanging upside down from a chandelier and grinning maliciously at them.

Potty asked Loony to go to the part y ! Potty lurves Loony! Potty luuuuuurves Looooony!

And he zoomed away cackling and shrieking, Potty loves Loony!

Nice to keep these things private, said Harry. And sure enough, in no time at all the whole school seemed to know that Harry Potter was taking Luna Lovegood to Slughorns party.

You couldve taken anyone! said Ron in disbelief over dinner. Anyone! And you chose Loony Lovegood?

Dont call her that, Ron! snapped Ginny, pausing behind Harry on her way to join friends. Im really glad youre taking her Harry, shes so excited.

And she moved on down the table to sit with Dean. Harry tried to feel pleased that Ginny was glad he was taking Luna to the party but could not quite manage it. A long way along the table Hermione was sitting alone, playing with her stew. Harry noticed Ron looking at her furtively.

You could say sorry , suggested Harry bluntly.

What , and get attacked by another flock of canaries? muttered Ron.

What did you have to imitate her for?

She laughed at my mustache!

So did I, it was the stupidest thing Ive ever seen.

But Ron did not seem to have he a rd; Lavender had just arrived with Parvati. Squeezing herself in between Harry and Ron, Lavender flung her arms around Rons neck.

Hi, Harry, said Parvati who, like Harry, looked faintly embarrassed and bored by the behavior of their two friends.

Hi, said Harry, Howre you? Youre staying at Hogwarts, then? I heard your parents wanted you to leave.

I managed to talk them out o f it for the time being, said Parvati. That Katie thing really freaked them out, but as there hasnt been anything since Oh, hi, Hermione!

Parvati positively beamed. Harry could tell that she was feeling guilty for having laughed at Hermione in Transfiguration. He looked around and saw that Hermione was beaming back, if possible even more brightly. Girls were very strange sometimes.

Hi, Parvati! said Hermione, ignoring Ron and Lavender completely. Are you going to Slughorns party tonight?

No invite, said Parvati gloomily. Id love to go, though, it sounds like its going to be really good Youre going, arent you?

Yes, Im meeting Cormac at eight, and were -

There was a noise like a plunger being withdrawn from a blocked sink , and Ron surfaced. Hermione acted as though she had not seen or heard anything.

were going up to the party together.

Cormac? said Parvati. Cormac McLaggen, you mean?

Thats right, said Hermione sweetly. The one who *almost* she put a great deal of emphasis on the word bec a me Gryffindor Keeper.

Are you going out with him, then? asked Parvati, wide-eyed.

Oh yes didnt you know? said Harmione, with a most un-Hermione-ish giggle.

No! said Parvati, looking positively agog at thi s piece of gossip. Wow , you like your Quidditch players, dont you? First Krum, then McLaggen.

I like *really good* Quidditch players, Hermione corrected her, still smiling. Well, see you Got to go and get ready for the party

She left. At once Lavender and Parvati put their heads together to discuss this new development, with everything they had ever heard about McLaggen, and all they had ever guessed about Hermione. Ron looked strangely blank and said nothing. Harry was left to ponder in silence the depths to which girls would sink to get revenge.

When he arrived in the entrance hall at eight oclock that night, he found an unusually large number of girls lurking there, all of whom seemed to be staring at him resentfully as he approached Luna. She was wearing a set of spangled silver robes that were attracting a certain amount of giggles from the onlookers, but otherwise she looked quite nice. Harry was glad, in any case, that she had left off her radish earrings, her butterbeer cork necklace, and her Spectrespecs.

Hi, he said. Shall we get going then?

Oh yes, she said happily. Where is the party?

Slughorns office, said Harry, leading her up the marble staircase away from all the staring and muttering. Did you hear, theres supposed to be a vampire coming?

Rufus Scrimgeour? asked Luna.

I what? said Harry, disconcerted. You mean the Minister of Magic?

Yes, hes a vampire, said Luna matter-of-factly. Father wrote a very long article about it when Scrimgeour first took over from Cornelius Fudge, but he was forced not to publish by somebody from the Ministry. Obviously, they didnt want the truth to get out!

Harry, who thought it most unlikely that Rufus Scrimgeour was a vampire, but who was used to Luna repeating her fathers bizarre views as though they were fact, did not reply; they were already approaching Slughorns office and the sounds of laughter, music, and loud conversation were growing louder with every step they took.

Whether it had been built that way, or because he had used magical trickery to make it so, Slughorns office was much larger than the usual teachers study. The ceiling and walls had been draped with emerald, crimson , and gold hangings, so that it looked as though they were all inside a vast tent. The room was crowded and stuffy and bathed in the red light cast by an ornate golden lamp dangling from the center of the ceiling in which real fairies were fluttering, each a brilliant speck of light. Loud singing accompanied by what sounded like mandolins issued from a distant corner; a haze of pipe smoke hung over several elderly warlocks deep in conversation, and a number of house-elves were negotiating their way squeakily through the forest of knees, obscured by the heavy silver platters of food they were bearing, so that they looked like little roving tables.

Harry, mboy! boomed Slughorn, almost as soon as Harry and Luna had squeezed in through the door. Come in, come in, so many people Id like you to meet!

Slughorn was wearing a tasseled velvet hat to match his smoking jacket. Gripping Harrys arm so tightly he might have been hoping to Disapparate with him, Slughorn led him purposefully into the party; Harry seized Lunas hand and dragged her along with him.

Harry, Id like you to meet Eldred Worple, an old student of mine, author of Blood Brothers: My L ife Amongst the Vampires and, of course, his friend Sanguini.

Worple, who was a small, stout, bespectacled man, grabbed Harrys hand and shook it enthusiastically; the vampire Sanguini, who was tall and emaciated with dark shadows under his eyes, merely nodded. He looked rather bored. A gaggle of girls was standing close to him, looking curious and excited.

Harry Potter, I am simply delighted! said Worple, peering shortsightedly up into Harrys face. I was saying to Professor Slughorn only the other day, Where is the biography of Harry Potter for which we have all been waiting?

Er, said Harry, were you?

Just as modest as Horace described! said Worple. But seriously his manner changed; it became suddenly businesslike I would be delighted to write it myself people are craving to know more about you, dear boy, craving! If you were prepared to grant me a few interviews, say in four or five-hour sessions, why, we could have the book finished within months. And all with very little effort on your part, I assure you ask Sanguini here if it isnt quite Sanguini, stay here! added Worple, suddenly stern, for the vampire had been edging toward the nearby group of girls, a rather hungry look in his eye. Here, have a pasty, said Worple, seizing one from a passing elf and stuffing it into Sanguinis hand before turning his attention back to Harry. My dear boy, the gold you could make, you have no idea

Im definitely not interested, said Harry firmly, and Ive just seen a friend of mine, sorry. He pulled Luna after him into the crowd; he had indeed just seen a long mane of brown hair disappear between what looked like two members of the Weird Sisters.

Hermione! Hermione !

Harry! There you are, thank goodness! Hi, Luna !

Whats happened to you? asked Harry, for Hermione looked distinctly disheveled, rather as though she had just fought her way out of a thicket of Devils Snare.

Oh, Ive just escaped I mean, Ive just left Cormac, she said. Under the mistletoe, she added in explanation, as Harry continued to look questioningly at her.

Serves you right for coming with him, he told her severely. I thought hed annoy Ron most, said Hermione dispassionately. I debated for a while about Zacharias Smith, but I thought, on the whole

You considered Smith? said Harry, revoked.

Yes, I did, and Im starting to wish Id chosen him, McLaggen makes Grawp look a gentleman. Lets go this way, well be able to see him coming, hes so tall The three of them made their way over to the other side of the room, scooping up goblets of mead on the way, realizing too late that Professor Trelawney was standing there alone.

Hello, said Luna politely to Professor Trelawney.

Good evening, my dear, said Professor Trelawney, focusing upon Luna with some difficulty. Harry could smell cooking sherry again. I havent seen you in my classes lately

No, Ive got Firenze this year, said Luna.

Oh, of course, said Professor Trelawney with an angry, drunken titter. Or Dobbin, as I prefer to think of him. You would have thought, would you not, that now I am returned to the school Professor Dumbledore might have got rid of the horse? But no we share classes Its an insult, frankly, an insult. Do you know Professor Trelawney seemed too tipsy to have recognized Harry.

Under cover of her furious criticisms of Firenze, Harry drew closer to Hermione and said, Let s get something straight. Are you planning to tell Ron that you interfered at Keeper tryouts?

Hermione raised her eyebrows. Do you really think Id stoop that low?

Harry looked at her shrewdly. Hermione, if you can ask 011I McLaggen

Theres a difference, said Hermione with dignity. Ive got no plans to tell Ron anything about what might, or might not, have happened at Keeper tryouts.

Good, said Harry fervently. Because hell just fall apart again, and well lose the next match

Quidditch! said Hermione angrily. Is that all boys care about? Cormac hasnt asked me one single question about myself, no, Ive just been treated to A Hundred Great Saves Made by Cormac McLaggen nonstop ever since oh no, here he comes! She moved so fast it was as though she had Disapparated; one moment she was there, the next, she had squeezed between two guffawing witches and vanished.

Seen Hermione? asked McLaggen, forcing his way through the throng a minute later.

No, sorry, said Harry, and he turned quickly to join in Lunas conversation, forgetting for a split second to whom she was talking.

Harry Potter! said Professor Trelawney in deep, vibrant tones, noticing him for the first time.

Oh, hello, said Harry unenthusiastically.

My dear boy! she said in a very carrying whisper. The rumors! The stories! The Chosen One! Of course, I have known for a very long time The omens were never good, Harry But why have you not returned to Divination? For you, of all people, the subject is of the utmost importance!

Ah, Sybi l l, we all think our subjects most important! said a loud voice, and Slughorn appeared at Professor Trelawney s other side, his face very red, his velvet hat a little askew, a glass of mead in one hand and an enormous mince pie in the other. But I dont t hink Ive ever known such a natural at Potions! said Slughorn, regarding Harry with a fond, if bloodshot, eye. Instinctive, you know like his mother! Ive only ever taught a few with this kind of ability, I can tell you that, Sybi l l why even Severus And to Harrys horror, Slughorn threw out an arm and seemed to scoop Snape out of thin air toward them. Stop skulking and come and join us, Severus! hiccuped Slughorn happily. I was just talking about Harrys exceptional potion-making! Some credit must go to you, of course, you taught him for five years!

Trapped, with Slughorns arm around his shoulders, Snape looked down his hooked nose at Harry, his black eyes narrowed. Funny, I never had the impression that I managed to teach Potter anything at all.

Well, then, its natural ability! shouted Slughorn. You should have seen what he gave me, first lesson, Draught of Living Death never had a student produce finer on a first attempt, I dont think even you, Severus

Really? said Snape quietly, his eyes still boring into Harry, who felt a certain disquiet. The last thing he wanted was for Snape to start investigating the source of his newfound brilliance at Potions.

Remind me what other subjects youre taking, Harry? asked Slughorn .

Defense Against the D ark Arts, Charms, Transfiguration , Herbology

All the subjects required, in short, for an Auror , said Snap e with the faintest sneer.

Yeah, well, thats what Id like to do, said Harry defiantly.

And a great one youll make too! boomed Slughorn.

I dont think you should be an Auror, Harry, said Luna unex pectedly. Everybody looked at her. The Aurors are part of the Rotfang Conspiracy, I thought everyone knew that. Theyre planning to bring down the Ministry of Magic from within using a c om bination of Dark Magic and gum disease.

Harry inhaled half his mead up his nose as he started to lau gh. Really, it had been worth bringing Luna just for this. Emerging, from his goblet, coughing, sopping wet but still grinning, he saw something calculated to raise his spirits even higher: Draco Malf o y being dragged by the ear toward them by Argus Filch.

Professor Slughorn, wheezed Filch, his jowls aquiver and the maniacal light of mischief-detection in his bulging eyes, I discovered this boy lurking in an upstairs corridor. He claims to have been invited to your party and to have been delayed in setting out. Did you issue him with an invitation?

Malfoy pulled himself free of Filchs grip, looking furious. All right, I wasnt invited! he said angrily. I was trying to gate crash, happy?

No, Im not! said Filch, a statement at complete odds with the glee on his face. Youre in trouble, you are! Didnt the headma ster say that nighttime prowling s out, unless youve got permission, didnt he, eh?

Thats all right, Argus, thats all right, said Slughorn, waving it 1.I nd. Its Christmas, and its not a crime to want to come to a party . Just this once, well forget any punishment; you may stay , Draco.

Fil ichs expression of outraged disappointment was perfectly pre di c t able; but why, Harry wondered, watching him, did Malfoy look almost equally unhappy? And why was Snape looking at Malfoy as though both angry and was it p ossible? a lit tl afraid? But almost before Harry had registered what he had seen, Filch had turned and shuffled away, muttering under his breath; Malfoy h ad composed his face into a smile and was thanking Slughorn for his generosity, and Snapes face was smoothly inscrutable again.

Its nothing, nothing, said Slughorn, waving away Malfoys t hanks. I did know your grandfather, after all

He always spoke very highly of you, sir, said Malfoy quickly. Said you were the best potion-maker hed ever known

Harry stared at Malfoy. It was not the sucking-up that intrigued him; he had watched Malfoy do that to Snape for a long time. It was the fact that Malfoy did, after all, look a little ill. This was the first time he had seen Malfoy close up for ages; he now saw that Malfoy had dark shadows under his eyes and a distinctly grayish tinge to his skin.

Id like a word with you, Draco, said Snape suddenly.

Now , Severus, said Slughorn, hiccuping again, its Christ mas, do nt be too hard

I am his Head of House, and I shall decide how hard, or otherwise, to be, said Snape curtly. Follow me, Draco.

They left, Snape leading the way, Malfoy looking resentful. Harry stood there for a moment, irresolute, then said, Ill be back in a bit, Luna er bathroom.

All right, she said cheerfully, and he thought he heard her, as he hurried off into the crowd, resume the subject of the Rotfang Conspiracy with Professor Trelawney, who seemed sincerely in terested. It was easy, once out of the party, to pull his Invisibility Cloak out of his pocket and throw it over himself, for the corridor was quite deserted. What was more difficult was finding Snape and Malfoy. Harry ran down the corridor, the noise of his feet masked by the music and loud talk still issuing from Slughorns office behind him. Perhaps Snape had taken Malfoy to his office in the dungeons or perhaps he was escorting him back to the Slyt herin common room Harry pressed his ear against door after door as he dashed down the corridor until, with a great jolt of excitement, he crouched down to the keyhole of the last classroom in the corridor and heard voices.

cannot afford mistakes, Draco, because if you are expelled

I didnt have anything to do with it, all right?

I hope you are telling the truth, because it was both clumsy a nd foolish. Already you are suspected of having a hand in it.

Who suspects me? said Malfoy angrily. For the last time, I didnt do it, okay? That Bell girl must ve had an enemy no on e knows about dont look at me like that! I know what youre doing, Im not stupid, but it wont work I can stop you!

There was a pause and then Snape said quietly, Ah Aunt Bellatrix has been teaching you Occlumency, I see. What thoughts are you trying to conceal from your master, Draco?

Im not trying to conceal anything from him, I just dont want you butting in ! Harry pressed his ear still more closely against the keyhole What had happened to make Malfoy speak to Snape like this Snape, toward whom he had always shown respect, even liking?

So that is why you have been avoiding me this term? You have feared my interference? You realize that, had anybody else failed to come to my office when I had told them repeatedly to be there, Draco

So put me in detention! Report me to Dumbledore! jeered Malfoy.

There was another pause. Then Snape said, You know perfectly well that I do not wish to do either of those things .

Youd better stop telling me to come to your office then!

Listen to me, said Snape, his voice so low now that Harry had to push his ear very hard against the keyhole to hear. I am trying to help you. I swore to your mother I would protect you. I made the Unbreakable Vow, Draco

Looks like youll have to break it, then, because I dont need your protection! Its my job, he gave it to me and Im doing it, Ive got a plan and its going to work, its just taking a bit longer than I thought it would!

What is your plan ?

Its none of your business !

If you tell me what you are trying to do, I can assist you

I have all the assistance I need, thanks, Im not alone!

You were certainly alone tonight, which was foolish in the extreme, wandering the corridors without lookouts or backup, these are elementary mistakes

I wouldve had Crabbe and Goyle with me if you hadnt put them in detention!

Keep your voice down! spat Snape, for Malfoy s voice had risen excitedly. If your friends Crabbe and Goyle intend to pass their Defense Against the Dark Arts OWL this time around, they will need to work a little harder than they are doing at pres


What does it matter? said Malfoy. Defense Against the Dark Arts its all just a joke, isnt it, an act? Like any of us need protecting against the Dark Arts

It is an act that is crucial to success, Draco! said Snape. Where do you think I would have been all these years, if I had not known how to act? Now listen to me! You are being incautious, wandering around at night, getting yourself caught, and if you are placing your reliance in assistants like Crabbe and Goyle

Theyre not the only ones, Ive got other people on my side, better people!

Then why not confide in me, and I can

I know what youre up to! You want to steal my glory!

There was another pause, then Snape said coldly, You are speaking like a child. I quite understand that your fathers capture and imprisonment has upset you, but

Harry had barely a second s warning; he heard Malfoys footsteps on the other side of the door and flung himself out of the way just as it burst open . Malfoy was striding away down the corridor, past the open door of Slughorns office, around the distant corner, and out of sight. Hardly daring to breathe, Harry remained crouched down as Snape emerged slowly from the classroom. His expression unfathomable, he returned to the party. Harry remained on the floor, hidden beneath the cloak, his mind racing.



CHAPTER 16: A Very Frosty Christmas



So Snape was offering to help him? He was definitely offering to help him?

If you ask. that once more, said Harry, Im going to stick this sprout

Im only checking! said Ron. They were standing alone at the Burrows kitchen sink, peeling a mountain of sprouts for Mrs. Weasley. Snow was drifting past the window in front of them.

Yes, Snape was offering to help him! said Harry. He said hed promised Malfoys mother to protect him, that hed made an Unbreakable Oath or something

An Unbreakable Vow? said Ron, looking stunned. Nah, he cant have Are you sure?

Yes, Im sure, said Harry. Why, what does it mean?

Well, you cant break an Unbreakable Vow

Id worked that much out for myself, funnily enough. What happens if you break it, then?

You die, said Ron simply. Fred and George tried to get me to make one when I was about five. I nearly did too, I was holding hands with Fred and everything when Dad found us. He went mental, said Ron, with a reminiscent gleam in his eyes. Only time Ive ever seen Dad as angry as Mum, Fred reckons his left buttock has never been the same since.

Yeah, well, passing over Freds left buttock

I beg your pardon? said Freds voice as the twins entered the kitchen.

Aaah, George, look at this. Theyre using knives and everything. Bless them.

Ill be seventeen in two and a bit months time, said Ron grumpily, and then Ill be able to do it by magic!

But meanwhile, said George, sitting down at the kitchen table and putting his feet up on it, we can enjoy watching you demonstrate the correct use of a whoops-a-daisy!

You made me do that! said Ron angrily, sucking his cut thumb. You wait, when Im seventeen

Im sure youll dazzle us all with hitherto unsuspected magical skills, yawned Fred.

And speaking of hitherto unsuspected skills, Ronald, said George, what is this we hear from Ginny about you and a young lady called unless our information is faulty Lavender Brown?

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