CHAPTER-A-LONG: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince – Chapter 11

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Chapter 11 – Hermione’s Helping Hand

Things are heating up for the sixth year students! Ron thought they would have a lot of free time? Not the first time he’s been wrong. They have so much homework their heads are spinning. Even Hermione has to ask Professor McGonagall to repeat things a second time in order to get a handle on things, and you know if Hermione has to ask questions, class is getting tough! They are also supposed to consistently use nonverbal spells, something that not all students have mastered yet. That has got to be frustrating, especially if they do in fact know the correct spell, just can’t actually cast it the way they want.

Also a problem right now? Hagrid. Remember, they did not sign up for Care of Magical Creatures, and since they’ve had so much work, they haven’t had time to go down and talk to him. Now Hagrid isn’t coming to meals and isn’t speaking to them.

“We’ve got to go and explain,” said Hermione, looking up at Hagrid’s huge empty chair at the staff table the following Saturday at breakfast.

“We’ve got Quidditch tryouts this morning!” said Ron. “And we’re 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 didn’t hate it!” said Hermione.

“Speak for yourself, I haven’t forgotten the skrewts,” said Ron darkly. “And I’m telling you now, we’ve had a narrow escape. You didn’t hear him going on about his gormless brother — we’d have been teaching Grawp how to tie his shoelaces if we’d stayed.”

Ron’s being very harsh right now, but he’s also not wrong. Harry promises that they will go down to see Hagrid after Quidditch trials, although that might take a while. There are a bunch of people who want to play for Gryffindor and it’s up to Harry to select the team. He’s pretty clueless that most people are showing up at trials not necessarily that they want to play, but because they are so fascinated by Harry. Or as Hermione puts it, he’s much more faciable now. Everyone knows the truth. They know that Harry was persecuted by the Ministry all last year. They know that he fought Voldy at the Ministry. They know that the Daily Prophet is calling him “The Chosen One.”

I love how Ron keeps piping up while Hermione is telling Harry how awesome everyone thinks he is, reminding us all that he was at the Ministry too, you know, and he’s also tall, thank you very much. We all know that Ron deals with being jealous of Harry a LOT and this probably isn’t helping.

Around this time, the owls come to deliver the mail. Harry doesn’t expect to get anything, since Sirius was the only one who ever really wrote to him and, well . . . yeah. He does, however, get a package from Flourish and Blotts: his new potions textbook that he ordered at the beginning of the year. Hermione is glad because he can now get rid of that old copy that the Half-Blood Prince wrote all over, but Harry isn’t stupid. That book has been an absolute gold mine of information and Harry is not about to give that up.

He pulled the old copy of Advanced Potion-Making out of his bag and tapped the cover with his wand, muttering, “Diffindo!” 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 Prince’s copy, disguised as a new book, and there sat the fresh copy from Flourish and Blotts, looking thoroughly secondhand.

“I’ll give Slughorn back the new one, he can’t complain, it cost nine Galleons.”

It’s a sneaky plan that will definitely work. Slughorn isn’t going to look that closely. Honestly, I don’t blame Harry one bit. I’m still shocked that Hermione is refusing to use the Prince’s tips — you’d think she’d be all about looking into someone’s research, especially when it is clearly yielding results. But she doesn’t approve at all and instead turns to the newspaper. No one else has died, thank goodness, but there have been some dementor attacks and one very surprising arrest: Stan Shunpike. You know, the goofy guy who was the conductor on the Knight Bus. He was arrested after someone overheard him talking about Death Eater plans in a crowded pub. Ron wonders if he had been under the Imperius Curse, but Hermione thinks it’s unlikely since he was basically gossiping in a public place. We also know that Stan likes to pretend that he’s all that, or at least in the know, even when he’s not.

So who knows if he’s a Death Eater or not. These days, you can’t be too careful. It might be that the Ministry just wants to look like it’s doing its job because people are really scared. Hermione points out that the Patil twins’ parents really want them to come home and that Eloise Midgen has already been pulled out of Hogwarts. Which does seem silly, as Ron points out, since they are probably safer at Hogwarts than anywhere else. They have all the protective spells around the castle. They have Aurors patrolling the grounds. They got Albus freakin’ Dumbledore! But wait, do they?

“I don’t think we’ve got him all the time,” said Hermione very quietly, glancing toward the staff table over the top of the Prophet. “Haven’t you noticed? His seat’s been empty as often as Hagrid’s this past week.”

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

Dumbledore must be off doing stuff for the Order, that’s the only explanation. Otherwise he would be here. Things are getting serious. They remember that yesterday, Hannah Abbott was pulled out of class to be told that her mother had been killed. There is a definite feeling of terror ramping up at Hogwarts, although not completely, not yet. As they head down to the Quidditch pitch, they pass Parvati and Lavender, who gives Ron a big smile. Someone has a crush!

There are so many people at tryouts, including a big guy who comes up to Harry and mentions that they met on the Hogwarts Express in “old Sluggy’s” compartment — Cormac McLaggen. Harry asks if he had tried out the previous year, but McLaggen never did, since he was in the hospital wing after eating doxy eggs on a dare. Yeah, that’s a good first impression. Harry is not impressed and McLaggen seems annoyed by that. Whatever. The trial itself begins with a simple flying test, which proves that most of the people there are not serious about playing Quidditch. Especially since some of them are Hufflepuffs and Ravenclaws.

After two hours, the Chasers are sorted out. Katie Bell is awesome and proves she deserves to stay on the team. Well done, Katie! We also get a newbie named Demelza Robins, who flew very well. Also on the team: Ginny Weasley, who is an amazing flyer. Remember how Hermione mentioned that Ginny used to sneak out and practice on her brothers’ brooms when they weren’t looking? It’s paid off! We also now have two Beaters, who are not as good as the Weasley twins, but are still impressive: Jimmy Peakes and Ritchie Coote. Finally it is time for the Keepers. Harry had left them for last hoping to have most of the people gone to take the pressure off Ron, but that didn’t work. Everyone stayed and the crowd even got bigger as more people came to watch after lunch.

Unfortunately, Cormac McLaggen is actually a pretty good Keeper and saves four out of five shots on goal. Funny though, for the last shot that he missed, he flew in the complete opposite direction. That’s odd. Finally, it’s Ron’s turn. Ron is about to be sick, but Lavender wishes him good luck from the stands. And Ron comes through! He saves all five shots! McLaggen gets ugly about it and tries to make a scene, but Harry stands his ground. Ron flew better. Ron is on the team. McLaggen can step off now. Which he does, but not without acting obnoxious. Ron is incredibly happy with how things have gone.

“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 he’d been Confunded . . .”

To Harry’s 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.

Hmmm, so McLaggen flew like he was Confunded, did he? Might you have had something to do with that, Hermione? Hee hee!

They head to Hagrid’s house and say hello to Buckbeak. Hagrid first hollars at them to get away from the hippogriff, but then recognizes them and stalks away. Oh boy, Hagrid is NOT happy with them at all. He won’t open the door and Harry ends up threatening to blast his door open. It’s all awkward. Hagrid calls Harry “Potter,” and Harry calls Hagrid “sir.” It’s a mess. Hagrid calls them ungrateful and accuses them of feeling sorry for him, but Hermione assures him that they really have missed him. She also tries to tell him that they really wanted to continue in his class, but couldn’t fit it in their schedules this year. He continues to grumble to them until he mentions that the large barrel of giant maggots in the corner are for Aragog.

And then he bursts into tears.

Turns out Aragog, the giant spider, is sick and Hagrid thinks he’s dying. Hagrid is heartbroken by this — remember, he’s had Aragog as a “pet” since he was in school. It was Aragog, in fact, that got him expelled from school since they suspected him of being the monster hidden in the Chamber of Secrets. Hermione asks if there is anything they can do, but there isn’t. Turns out that the rest of the giant spiders out in the forest have been acting odd towards people, including Hagrid, since Aragog got sick. It’s probably not safe. Hagrid seems to appreciate the sentiment and the conversation gets a bit more friendly. He understands that they don’t have time for his class, worried that they preferred Professor Grubbly-Plank to him. They all categorically deny this (although Professor G-P is definitely a better teacher, sorry Hagrid, but it’s true).

They leave Hagrid’s, with Hagrid feeling much happier, and head back up to the castle. McLaggen enters in front of them and is acting weird. He actually runs into the door frame before heading in. Ron just laughs, but Harry catches Hermione and holds her back.

“What?” said Hermione defensively.

“If you ask me,” said Harry quietly, “McLaggen looks like he was Confunded this morning. And he was standing right in front of where you were sitting.”

Hermione blushed.

“Oh, all right then, I did it,” she whispered. “But you should have heard the way he was talking about Ron and Ginny! Anyway, he’s got a nasty temper, you saw how he reacted when he didn’t get in — you wouldn’t have wanted someone like that on the team.”

“No,” said Harry. “No, I suppose that’s true. But wasn’t that dishonest, Hermione? I mean, you’re a prefect, aren’t you?”

“Oh, be quiet,” she snapped, as he smirked.

Hahahahahahaha!!! See, I know there are people who really wanted Harry and Hermione to be a romantic pairing, but I just love their friendship! They look out for each other. Hermione keeps Harry straight on school stuff . . . and Harry takes Hermione down a peg every once in a while when she needs it. Love it!

Before they can head into the castle, Slughorn stops them and invites Harry and Hermione to a dinner party in his quarters, along with a few others (McLaggen included, yuck). He doesn’t say a word to Ron, as though he’s not even there. Rude! Harry says he can’t, since he has his detention with Snape, and Slughorn promises to see if he can persuade Snape to let Harry come to the party instead. Yeah, good luck with that one! Hermione doesn’t want to go by herself, but Ron gets snotty and says that he’s sure Ginny will probably be there too. Ron doesn’t react well to being slighted, does he.

They relax in the common room for a bit while Hermione reads the paper. Mr. Weasley is mentioned in connection to a raid that was conducted at the Malfoy’s house. Seems like Mr. Weasley responded to Harry’s anonymous tip from the summer, how Draco had something that he was trying to get Borgin to fix for him. Nothing was found at the manor, but Harry wonders if Malfoy brought it to Hogwarts with him. Probably not, according to Hermione, since they were all searched when they got to school. All the owls are being checked too, so it couldn’t have been sent afterwards.

Ron wants Harry to give up on the whole Malfoy thing, but Harry can’t. After Ron stomps off to bed, Demelza Robbins comes up with a message for Harry from Professor Snape. Yeah, Slughorn was, shall we say, unsuccessful in getting Harry out of his detention. No dinner parties for him. Also, he will be sorting flobberworms, which sounds like a really gross job. Blech.

See you all next time for Chapter 12!

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