Harry Potter and The Half-Blood Prince 22

No idea, said Fred, frowning. You dont think he could have mixed up the glasses by mistake? Meaning to get you?

Why would Slughorn want to poison Harry? asked Ginny. I dunno, said Fred, but there must be loads of people whod like to poison Harry, mustnt there? The Chosen One and all that? So you think Slughorns a Death Eater? said Ginny. :,

Anythings possible, said Fred darkly. He could be under the Imperius Curse, said George. Or he could be innocent, said Ginny. The poison could have been in the bottle, in which case it was probably meant for Slughorn himself.

Whod want to kill Slughorn?

Dumbledore reckons Voldemort wanted Slughorn on his side, said Harry. Slughorn was in hiding for a year before he came to Hogwarts. And He thought of the memory Dumbledore had not yet been able to extract from Slughorn. And maybe Voldemort wants him out of the way, maybe he thinks he could be valuable to Dumbledore.

But you said Slughorn had been planning to give th.u Untie to Dumbledore for Christmas, Ginny reminded him. So the poisoner could just as easily have been after Dumbledore.

Then the poisoner didnt know Slughorn very well, said Hermione, speaking for the first time in hours and sounding as though she had a bad head cold. Anyone who knew Slughorn would have I known there was a good chance hed keep something that tasty for himself. I

Er-my-nee, croaked Ron unexpectedly from between them They all fell silent, watching him anxiously, but after muttering incomprehensibly for a moment he merely started snoring.

The dormitory doors flew open, making them all jump: Hagrid came striding toward them, his hair rain-flecked, his bearskin coat flapping behind him, a crossbow in his hand, leaving a trail of muddy dolphin-sized footprints all over the floor.

Bin in the forest all day! he panted. Aragogs worse, I bin readin to him didn get up ter dinner till jus now an then Professor Sprout told me abou Ron! How is he?

Not bad, said Harry. They say hell be okay.

No more than six visitors at a time! said Madam Pomfrey, hurrying out of her office.

Hagrid makes six, George pointed out.

Oh yes said Madam Pomfrey, who seemed to have been counting Hagrid as several people due to his vastness. To cover her confusion, she hurried off to clear up his muddy foot prints with her wand.

I don believe this, said Hagrid hoarsely, shaking his great shaggy head as he stared down at Ron. Jus don believe it Look at him lyin there Whod want ter hurt him, eh?

Thats just what we were discussing, said Harry. We dont know.

Someone couldn have a grudge against the Gryfinndor Quidditch team, could they? said Hagrid anxiously. Firs Katie, now Ron

I cant see anyone trying to bump off a Quidditch team, said I m urge.

Wood mightve done the Slytherins if he couldve got away with it, said Fred fairly.

Well, I dont think its Quidditch, but I think theres a connection between the attacks, said Hermione quietly

How dyou work that out? asked Fred.

Well, for one thing, they both ought to have been fatal and werent, although that was pure luck. And for another, neither the poison nor the necklace seems to have reached the person who was (supposed to be killed. Of course, she added broodingly, that makes the person behind this even more dangerous in a way, because they dont seem to care how many people they finish off In lore they actually reach their victim.

Before anybody could respond to this ominous pronouncement, tin dormitory doors opened again and Mr. and Mrs. Weasley hurried up the ward. They had done no more than satisfy themselves that Ron would make a full recovery on their last visit to the ward; now Mrs. Weasley seized hold of Harry and hugged him very tighty. Dumbledores told us how you saved him with the bezoar, she sobbed. Oh, Harry, what can we say? You saved Ginny you saved Arthur now youve saved Ron

Dont be I didnt muttered Harry awkwardly. Half our family does seem to owe you their lives, now I stop and think about it, Mr. Weasley said in a constricted voice. Well, all I can say is that it was a lucky clay for the Weasleys when Ron decided to sit in your compartment on the Hogwarts Expirv., Harry.

Harry could not think of any reply to this and was almost gl.il when Madam Pomfrey reminded them that there were only supposed to be six visitors around Rons bed; he and Hermione rose .h once to leave and Hagrid decided to go with them, leaving Ron with his family.

Its terrible, growled Hagrid into his beard, as the three ol them walked back along the corridor to the marble staircase. Ml this new security, an kids are still gettin hurt Dumbledoivs worried sick He don say much, but I can tell

Hasnt he got any ideas, Hagrid? asked Hermione desperately.

I spect hes got hundreds of ideas, brain like his, said Hagrid. But he doesn know who sent that necklace nor put poison in that wine, or theydve bin caught, wouldn they? Wha worries me, said Hagrid, lowering his voice and glancing over his shoulder (Harry, for good measure, checked the ceiling for Peeves), is how long Hogwarts can stay open if kids are bein attacked. Chamber o Secrets all over again, isn it? Therell be panic, more parents takin their kids outta school, an nex thing yeh know the board o governors

Hagrid stopped talking as the ghost of a long-haired woman drifted serenely past, then resumed in a hoarse whisper, the board o governorsll be talkin about shuttin us up fer good.

Surely not? said Hermione, looking worried.

Gotta see it from their point o view, said Hagrid heavily. I mean, its always bin a bit of a risk sendin a kid ter Hogwarts, hasn it? Yer expect accidents, don yeh, with hundreds of underage wizards all locked up tergether, but attempted murder, thas tliffrent. Sno wonder Dumbledores angry with Sn

Hagrid stopped in his tracks, a familiar, guilty expression on what was visible of his face above his tangled black beard.

What? said Harry quickly. Dumbledores angry with Snape?

I never said tha, said Hagrid, though his look of panic could not have been a bigger giveaway. Look at the time, its gettin on fer midnight, I need ter

Hagrid, why is Dumbledore angry with Snape? Harry asked loudly.

Shhhh! said Hagrid, looking both nervous and angry. Don shout stuff like that, Harry, dyeh wan me ter lose me job? Mind, I don suppose yehd care, would yeh, not now yehve given up Care of Mag

Dont try and make me feel guilty, it wont work! said Harry forcefully. Whats Snape done?

I dunno, Harry, I shouldnta heard it at all! I well, I was comin outta the forest the other evenin an I overheard em talking well, arguin. Didnt like ter draw attention to meself, so I sorta skulked an tried not ter listen, but it was a well, a heated discussion an it wasn easy ter block it out.

Well? Harry urged him, as Hagrid shuffled his enormous feet uneasily.

Well I jus heard Snape sayin Dumbledore took too much fer granted an maybe he Snape didn wan ter do it any more

Do what?

I dunno, Harry, it sounded like Snape was feelin a bit overworked, thas all anyway, Dumbledore told him flat out hed agreed ter do it an that was all there was to it. Pretty firm with him. An then he said summat abou Snape makin investigations in his House, in Slytherin. Well, theres nothin strange abou that! Hagrid added hastily, as Harry and Hermione exchanged looks full of meaning. All the Heads o Houses were asked ter look inter that necklace business

Yeah, but Dumbledores not having rows with the rest of them, is he? said Harry.

Look, Hagrid twisted his crossbow uncomfortably in his hands; there was a loud splintering sound and it snapped in two. I know what yehre like abou Snape, Harry, an I don want yeh ter go readin more inter this than there is.

Look out, said Hermione tersely.

They turned just in time to see the shadow of Argus Filch looming over the wall behind them before the man himself turned the corner, hunchbacked, his jowls aquiver.

Oho! he wheezed. Out of bed so late, thisll mean detention!

No it won, Filch, said Hagrid shortly. Theyre with me, aren they?

And what difference does that make? asked Filch obnoxiously.

Im a ruddy teacher, aren I, yeh sneakin Squib! said Hagrid, firing up at once.

There was a nasty hissing noise as Filch swelled with fury; Mrs. Norris had arrived, unseen, and was twisting herself sinuously around Filchs skinny ankles.

Get goin, said Hagrid out of the corner of his mouth.

Harry did not need telling twice; he and Hermione both hurried off; Hagrids and Filchs raised voices echoed behind them as they ran. They passed Peeves near the turning into Gryffindor Tower, but he was streaking happily toward the source of the yelling, cackling and calling, When theres strife and when theres trouble Call on Peevsie, hell make double!

The Fat Lady was snoozing and not pleased to be woken, but swung forward grumpily to allow them to clamber into the mercifully peaceful and empty common room. It did not seem that people knew about Ron yet; Harry was very relieved: He had been interrogated enough that day. Hermione bade him good night and set off for the girls dormitory. Harry, however, remained behind, taking a seat beside the fire and looking down into the dying embers.

So Dumbledore had argued with Snape. In spite of all he had told Harry, in spite of his insistence that he trusted Snape completely, he had lost his temper with him He did not think that Snape had tried hard enough to investigate the Slytherins or, perhaps, to investigate a single Slytherin: Malfoy?

Was it because Dumbledore did not want Harry to do anything foolish, to take matters into his own hands, that he had pretended there was nothing in Harrys suspicions? That seemed likely. It , might even be that Dumbledore did not want anything to distract Harry from their lessons, or from procuring that memory from Slughorn. Perhaps Dumbledore did not think it right to confide suspicions about his staff to sixteen-year-olds

There you are, Potter!

Harry jumped to his feet in shock, his wand at the ready. He had been quite convinced that the common room was empty; he had not been at all prepared for a hulking figure to rise suddenly out of a distant chair. A closer look showed him that it was Cormac McLaggen.

Ive been waiting for you to come back, said McLaggen, disregarding Harrys drawn wand. Mustve fallen asleep. Look, I saw them taking Weasley up to the hospital wing earlier. Didnt look like hell be fit for next weeks match.

It took Harry a few moments to realize what McLaggen was talking about.

Oh right Quidditch, he said, putting his wand back into the belt of his jeans and running a hand wearily through his hair. Yeah he might not make it.

Well, then, Ill be playing Keeper, wont I? said McLaggen.

Yeah, said Harry. Yeah, I suppose so

He could not think of an argument against it; after all, McLaggen had certainly performed second-best in the trials.

Excellent, said McLaggen in a satisfied voice. So whens practice?

What? Oh theres one tomorrow evening.

Good. Listen, Potter, we should have a talk beforehand. Ive got some ideas on strategy you might find useful.

Right, said Harry unenthusiastically. Well, Ill hear them tomorrow, then. Im pretty tired now see you

The news that Ron had been poisoned spread quickly next day, but it did not cause the sensation that Katies attack had done. People seemed to think that it might have been an accident, given that he had been in the Potions masters room at the time, and that as he had been given an antidote immediately there was no real harm done. In fact, the Gryffindors were generally much more interested in the upcoming Quidditch match against Hufflepuff, for many of them wanted to see Zacharias Smith, who played Chaser on the Hufflepuff team, punished soundly for his commentary during the opening match against Slytherin.

Harry, however, had never been less interested in Quidditch; he was rapidly becoming obsessed with Draco Malfoy. Still checking the Marauders Map whenever he got a chance, he sometimes made detours to wherever Malfoy happened to be, but had not yet detected him doing anything out of the ordinary. And still there were those inexplicable times when Malfoy simply vanished from the map

But Harry did not get a lot of time to consider the problem, what with Quidditch practice, homework, and the fact that he was now being dogged wherever he went by Cormac McLaggen and Lavender Brown.

He could not decide which of them was more annoying. McLaggen kept up a constant stream of hints that he would make a better permanent Keeper for the team than Ron, and that now that Harry was seeing him play regularly he would surely come around to this way of thinking too; he was also keen to criticize the other players and provide Harry with detailed training schemes, so that more than once Harry was forced to remind him who was Captain.

Meanwhile, Lavender kept sidling up to Harry to discuss Ron, which Harry found almost more wearing than McLaggens Quidditch lectures. At first, Lavender had been very annoyed that nobody had thought to tell her that Ron was in the hospital wing I mean, I am his girlfriend! but unfortunately slit-had now decided to forgive Harry this lapse of memory and was keen to have lots of in-depth chats with him about Rons feelings, a most uncomfortable experience that Harry would have happily forgone.

Look, why dont you talk to Ron about all this? Harry asked, after a particularly long interrogation from Lavender that took in everything from precisely what Ron had said about her new drew robes to whether or not Harry thought that Ron considered his relationship with Lavender to be serious.

Well, I would, but hes always asleep when I go and see him! said Lavender fretfully.

Is he? said Harry, surprised, for he had found Ron perfectly alert every time he had been up to the hospital wing, both highly interested in the news of Dumbledore and Snapes row and keen m abuse McLaggen as much as possible.

Is Hermione Granger still visiting him? Lavender demanded suddenly.

Yeah, I think so. Well, theyre friends, arent they? said Harry uncomfortably.

Friends, dont make me laugh, said Lavender scornfully. She didnt talk to him for weeks after he started going out with me! But I suppose she wants to make up with him now hes all interesting

Would you call getting poisoned being interesting? asked Harry. Anyway sorry, got to go theres McLaggen coming for a talk about Quidditch, said Harry hurriedly, and he dashed sideways through a door pretending to be solid wall and sprinted down the shortcut that would take him off to Potions where, thankfully, neither Lavender nor McLaggen could follow him.

On the morning of the Quidditch match against Hufflepuff, Harry dropped in on the hospital wing before heading down to the pitch. Ron was very agitated; Madam Pomfrey would not let him go down to watch the match, feeling it would overexcite him.

So hows McLaggen shaping up? he asked Harry nervously, apparently forgetting that he had already asked the same question twice.

Ive told you, said Harry patiently, he could be world-class and I wouldnt want to keep him. He keeps trying to tell everyone what to do, he thinks he could play every position better than the rest of us. I cant wait to be shot of him. And speaking of getting shot of people, Harry added, getting to his feet and picking up his Firebolt, will you stop pretending to be asleep when Lavender comes to see you? Shes driving me mad as well.

Oh, said Ron, looking sheepish. Yeah. All right.

If you dont want to go out with her anymore, just tell her, said Harry.

Yeah well its not that easy, is it? said Ron. He paused. Hermione going to look in before the match? he added casually.

No, shes already gone down to the pitch with Ginny.

Oh, said Ron, looking rather glum. Right. Well, good luck. Hope you hammer McLag I mean, Smith.

Ill try, said Harry, shouldering his broom. See you after the match.

He hurried down through the deserted corridors; the whole school was outside, either already seated in the stadium or heading down toward it. He was looking out of the windows he passed, trying to gauge how much wind they were facing, when a noise ahead made him glance up and he saw Malfoy walking toward him, accompanied by two girls, both of whom looked sulky and resentful.

Malfoy stopped short at the sight of Harry, then gave a short, humorless laugh and continued walking.

Wherere you going? Harry demanded.

Yeah, Im really going to tell you, because its your business, Potter, sneered Malfoy. Youd better hurry up, theyll be waiting for the Chosen Captain the Boy Who Scored whatever they call you these days.

One of the girls gave an unwilling giggle. Harry stared at her. She blushed. Malfoy pushed past Harry and she and her friend followed at a trot, turning the corner and vanishing from view.

Harry stood rooted on the spot and watched them disappear. This was infuriating; he was already cutting it fine to get to the match on time and yet there was Malfoy, skulking off while the rest of the school was absent: Harrys best chance yet of discovering what Malfoy was up to. The silent seconds trickled past, and Harry remained where he was, frozen, gazing at the place where Malfoy had vanished

Where have you been? demanded Ginny, as Harry sprinted into the changing rooms. The whole team was changed and ready; Coote and Peakes, the Beaters, were both hitting their clubs nervously against their legs.

I met Malfoy, Harry told her quietly, as he pulled his scarlet robes over his head.

So I wanted to know how come hes up at the castle with a couple of girlfriends while everyone else is down here

Does it matter right now?

Well, Im not likely to find out, am I? said Harry, seizing his Firebolt and pushing his glasses straight. Come on then!

And without another word, he marched out onto the pitch to deafening cheers and boos.

There was little wind; the clouds were patchy; every now and then there were dazzling flashes of bright sunlight.

Tricky conditions! McLaggen said bracingly to the team. Coote, Peakes, youll want to fly out of the sun, so they dont see you coming

Im the Captain, McLaggen, shut up giving them instructions, said Harry angrily. Just get up by the goal posts!

Once McLaggen had marched off, Harry turned to Coote and Peakes.

Make sure you do fly out of the sun, he told them grudgingly.

He shook hands with the Hufflepuff Captain, and then, on Madam Hoochs whistle, kicked off and rose into the air, higher than the rest of his team, streaking around the pitch in search of the Snitch. If he could catch it good and early, there might be a chance he could get back up to the castle, seize the Marauders Map, and find out what Malfoy was doing

And thats Smith of Hufflepuff with the Quaffle, said a dreamy voice, echoing over the grounds. He did the commentary last time, of course, and Ginny Weasley flew into him, I think probably on purpose, it looked like it. Smith was being quite rude about Gryffindor, I expect he regrets that now hes playing them oh, look, hes lost the Quaffle, Ginny took it from him, I do like her, shes very nice

Harry stared down at the commentators podium. Surely nobody in their right mind would have let Luna Lovegood commentate? But even from above there was no mistaking that long, dirty-blonde hair, nor the necklace of butterbeer corks Beside Luna, Professor McGonagall was looking slightly uncomfortable, as though she was indeed having second thoughts about this appointment.

but now that big Hufflepuff players got the Quaffle from , her, I cant remember his name, its something like Bibble no, Buggins

Its Cadwallader! said Professor McGonagall loudly from beside Luna. The crowd laughed.

Harry stared around for the Snitch; there was no sign of it. Moments later, Cadwallader scored. McLaggen had been shouting criticism at Ginny for allowing the Quaffle out of her possession, with the result that he had not noticed the large red ball soaring past his right ear.

McLaggen, will you pay attention to what youre supposed to be doing and leave everyone else alone! bellowed Harry, wheeling around to face his Keeper.

Youre not setting a great example! McLaggen shouted back, red-faced and furious.

And Harry Potters now having an argument with his Keeper, said Luna serenely, while both Hufflepuffs and Slytherins below in the crowd cheered and jeered. I dont think thatll help him find the Snitch, but maybe its a clever ruse

Swearing angrily, Harry spun round and set off around the pitch again, scanning the skies for some sign of the tiny, winged golden ball.

Ginny and Demelza scored a goal apiece, giving the red-and-gold-clad supporters below something to cheer about. Then Cadwallader scored again, making things level, but Luna did not seem to have noticed; she appeared singularly uninterested in such mundane things as the score, and kept attempting to draw the crowds attention to such things as interestingly shaped clouds and the possibility that Zacharias Smith, who had so far failed to maintain possession of the Quaffle for longer than a minute, was suffering from something called Losers Lurgy.

Seventy-forty to Hufflepuff! barked Professor McGonagall into Lunas megaphone.

Is it, already? said Luna vaguely. Oh, look! The Gryffindor Keepers got hold of one of the Beaters bats.

Harry spun around in midair. Sure enough, McLaggen, for reasons best known to himself, had pulled Peakess bat from him and appeared to be demonstrating how to hit a Bludger toward an oncoming Cadwallader.

Will you give him back his bat and get back to the goal posts! roared Harry, pelting toward McLaggen just as McLaggen took a ferocious swipe at the Bludger and mishit it.

A blinding, sickening pain a flash of light distant screams and the sensation of falling down a long tunnel

And the next thing Harry knew, he was lying in a remarkably warm and comfortable bed and looking up at a lamp that was throwing a circle of golden light onto a shadowy ceiling. He raised his head awkwardly. There on his left was a familiar-looking, freckly, red-haired person.

Nice of you to drop in, said Ron, grinning.

Harry blinked and looked around. Of course: He was in the hospital wing. The sky outside was indigo streaked with crimson. The match must have finished hours ago as had any hope of cornering Malfoy. Harrys head felt strangely heavy; he raised a hand and felt a stiff turban of bandages.

What happened?

Cracked skull, said Madam Pomfrey, bustling up and pushing him back against his pillows. Nothing to worry about, I mended it at once, but Im keeping you in overnight. You shouldnt over exert yourself for a few hours.

I dont want to stay here overnight, said Harry angrily, sitting up and throwing back his covers. I want to find McLaggen and kill him.

Im afraid that would come under the heading of overexertion, said Madam Pomfrey, pushing him firmly back onto the bed and raising her wand in a threatening manner. You will stay here until I discharge you, Potter, or I shall call the headmaster.

She bustled back into her office, and Harry sank back into his pillows, fuming.

Dyou know how much we lost by? he asked Ron through clenched teeth.

Well, yeah I do, said Ron apologetically. Final score was three hundred and twenty to sixty.

Brilliant, said Harry savagely. Really brilliant! When I get hold of McLaggen

You dont want to get hold of him, hes the size of a troll, said Ron reasonably. Personally, I think theres a lot to be said for hexing him with that toenail thing of the Princes. Anyway, the rest of the team mightve dealt with him before you get out of here, theyre not happy

There was a note of badly suppressed glee in Rons voice; Harry could tell he was nothing short of thrilled that McLaggen had messed up so badly. Harry lay there, staring up at the patch of light on the ceiling, his recently mended skull not hurting, precisely, but feeling slightly tender underneath all the bandaging.

I could hear the match commentary from here, said Ron, his voice now shaking with laughter. I hope Luna always commentates from now on Losers Lurgy

But Harry was still too angry to see much humor in the situation, and after a while Rons snorts subsided.

Ginny came in to visit while you were unconscious, he said, after a long pause, and Harrys imagination zoomed into overdrive, rapidly constructing a scene in which Ginny, weeping over his lifeless form, confessed her feelings of deep attraction to him while Ron gave them his blessingShe reckons you only just arrived on time for the match. How come? You left here early enough.

Oh said Harry, as the scene in his minds eye imploded. Yeah well, I saw Malfoy sneaking off with a couple of girls who didnt look like they wanted to be with him, and thats the second time hes made sure he isnt down on the Quidditch pitch with the rest of the school; he skipped the last match too, remember? Harry sighed. Wish Id followed him now, the match was such a fiasco

Dont be stupid, said Ron sharply. You couldnt have missed a Quidditch match just to follow Malfoy, youre the Captain!

I want to know what hes up to, said Harry. And dont tell nn its all in my head, not after what I overheard between him and Snape

I never said it was all in your head, said Ron, hoisting himself up on an elbow in turn and frowning at Harry, but theres no rule saying only one person at a time can be plotting anything in this place! Youre getting a bit obsessed with Malfoy, Harry. I mean, thinking about missing a match just to follow him

I want to catch him at it! said Harry in frustration. I mean, wheres he going when he disappears off the map?

I dunno Hogsmeade? suggested Ron, yawning.

Ive never seen him going along any of the secret passageway on the map. I thought they were being watched now anyway?

Well then, I dunno, said Ron.

Silence fell between them. Harry stared up at the circle of lamp light above him, thinking

If only he had Rufus Scrimgeours power, he would have been able to set a tail upon Malfoy, but unfortunately Harry did not have an office full of Aurors at his command He thought fleetingly of trying to set something up with the D.A., but there again was the problem that people would be missed from lessons; most of them, after all, still had full schedules

There was a low, rumbling snore from Rons bed. After a while Madam Pomfrey came out of her office, this time wearing a thick dressing gown. It was easiest to feign sleep; Harry rolled over onto his side and listened to all the curtains closing themselves as she waved her wand. The lamps dimmed, and she returned to her office; he heard the door click behind her and knew that she was off to bed.

This was, Harry reflected in the darkness, the third time that he had been brought to the hospital wing because of a Quidditch injury. Last time he had fallen off his broom due to the presence of dementors around the pitch, and the time before that, all the bones had been removed from his arm by the incurably inept Professor Lockhart That had been his most painful injury by far he remembered the agony of regrowing an armful of bones in one night, a discomfort not eased by the arrival of an unexpected visitor in the middle of the

Harry sat bolt upright, his heart pounding, his bandage turban askew. He had the solution at last: There was a way to have Malfoy followed how could he have forgotten, why hadnt he thought of it before?

But the question was, how to call him? What did you do? Quietly, tentatively, Harry spoke into the darkness.


There was a very loud crack, and the sounds of scuffling and squeaks filled the silent room. Ron awoke with a yelp.

Whats going ?

Harry pointed his wand hastily at the door of Madam Pomfreys office and muttered, Muffliato! so that she would not come running. Then he scrambled to the end of his bed for a better look at what was going on.

Two house-elves were rolling around on the floor in the middle of the dormitory, one wearing a shrunken maroon jumper and several woolly hats, the other, a filthy old rag strung over his hips like a loincloth. Then there was another loud bang, and Peeves the Poltergeist appeared in midair above the wrestling elves.

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