Chapter 7 of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: The Slug Club
Back at the Burrow, Harry's claims that Malfoy is a Death Eater are met with skepticism by Ron and Hermione, who argue that Draco is too young and inexperienced for Voldemort to entrust him with any important task. Harry, still convinced, cites how Draco yanked his arm away from Madam Malkin, the same arm where Death Eaters carry a Dark Mark. Malfoy also showed Borgin something on the same forearm that apparently caused Borgin to take Malfoy seriously.
Vexed that Ron and Hermione remain unconvinced, Harry heads to the kitchen, interrupting Fleur, who is in full flow with her wedding plans, much to Mrs. Weasley's relief. Mrs. Weasley wants everyone packed the night before leaving for Hogwarts to avoid the usual last-minute chaotic rush. The next morning, Ministry cars arrive to transport them to the station. Surprisingly, everyone is ready on time, their trunks packed, and Hedwig, Pigwidgeon, Crookshanks, and Ginny Weasley's new pet, a Pygmy Puff named Arnold, are all safely caged. Harry speaks privately with Mr. Weasley regarding Draco Malfoy's suspicious behavior. Mr. Weasley is also doubtful that Draco is a Death Eater and says Malfoy Manor was raided; anything even slightly Dark was confiscated.
On the Hogwarts Express, Ron and Hermione report to the Prefects' carriage while Harry, Luna, and Neville find a free compartment. Harry is bemused at being in the spotlight again, and shortly after, fourth-year student Romilda Vane invites Harry to sit with her and some other students. Harry declines, saying he is with friends. Harry discusses O.W.L results, and Neville wonders if he will be able to take N.E.W.T.-level Transfiguration with only an Acceptable test result. Harry muses to himself that it could as easily have been Neville with the scar and the admirers.
Ron and Hermione return with news that Malfoy is just sitting in his compartment; it is unlike him to be doing anything other than lording over other Slytherin students. As Harry ponders Draco's uncharacteristic behavior, a third-year girl appears with lunch invitations for Harry and Neville from Professor Slughorn. There is a large gathering, including Ginny and Blaise Zabini, a Slytherin in Harry's year. As Slughorn interrogates them, it becomes apparent that the invitees are all connected to influential Wizarding families, except for Ginny, who was included because Slughorn was impressed with her Bat-Bogey Hex. Having questioned Harry, Neville, Ginny, Blaise, Cormac McLaggen and Marcus Belby, to assess their family connections and prospects, Slughorn entertains them (excepting Marcus, who is estranged from his famous uncle) for the afternoon, then dismisses them to prepare for arrival at Hogwarts.
Leaving Slughorn's carriage, Harry slips on his Invisibility Cloak and tails Zabini to the Slytherin carriage to eavesdrop on Malfoy. Climbing into the luggage rack, Harry worries that Malfoy glimpsed his trainer (US: sneaker), but Malfoy simply settles back with his head on Pansy Parkinson's lap.
Malfoy is annoyed at being excluded, but Zabini says Slughorn is only interested in students' connections to influential wizards, and speculates he is uninterested in Death Eaters. Malfoy lets slip that he may not return to Hogwarts next year, claiming he has moved on to, "bigger and better things." When Zabini asks what an unqualified wizard could do for Voldemort, Malfoy retorts his task may not require qualifications.
At Hogsmeade Station, Malfoy remains behind in the compartment. In a surprise move, he Petrifies Harry. Malfoy spotted Harry's shoe as he climbed onto the luggage rack. As revenge, Malfoy stomps on Harry's nose, breaking it, then tosses the Invisibility Cloak over him so he will go unnoticed until after the train returns to London.
Harry is frustrated that Ron and Hermione are continually dismissive regarding his suspicions about Draco. However, their frequent skepticism often acts as a counterbalance to his occasional overreaction and drawing conclusions without fully considering all facts and opinions. This time, however, Harry is positive that Draco has become a Death Eater and is involved in some malicious plot, and seems nearly obsessed with proving it. Considering the information readers are already privy to regarding Draco's task for Voldemort, Harry is obviously correct, although he, and also we, are still clueless as to just what that is, other than it requires repairing some object that probably contains Dark magic.
For the first time, Harry's budding romantic feelings for Ginny are seen. As she goes to meet Dean, Harry feels a slightly annoyed twinge which could be interpreted as jealousy. Of course, Harry may not recognize this emotion because he has never thought of Ginny this way before, but he clearly sees her in a different way.
Slughorn's personality is becoming more apparent here as he immediately begins singling out those students connected to influential families. And though Slughorn was formerly the head of Slytherin House, it appears that he does not fully embrace their pure-blood beliefs. In addition to Slytherins, Slughorn invites other well-connected students, and also those, like Ginny Weasley, displaying exceptional magical talent. Draco is offended at being excluded, but someone points out that Slughorn is probably uninterested in Death Eaters, though he may be distancing himself for other reasons. Though Harry was invited for his fame, Slughorn also included him and Neville because both were involved in the Battle at the Ministry. He repeatedly tries to pump them for details about that incident, but each remains silent for their own particular reasons. It may be that Slughorn has some awareness of the prophecy linking the two, as well as the fame of their parents – this may be why he didn't invite other people involved in the battle.
Harry also demonstrates personal integrity when he declines Romilda Vane's invitation to sit in her compartment with the other popular students. While he wishes to avoid the attention and others fawning over him, he also prefers Neville and Luna's company, two people he once would have been embarrassed to hang out with, but now feels the most comfortable being around. Their loyalty and bravery at the Ministry of Magic battle has forever altered Harry's opinion and esteem for them, showing his growing maturity in valuing others for their inner worth and accepting these two so-called "misfits" as his peers and friends. His influence has dramatically helped each one to realize their untapped potential, while they, in turn, befriend him for the person he is, rather than his celebrity.
And while Harry shows great maturity and personal integrity in accepting Luna as a friend and equal, Ron does not. When Harry invites her to a party later in the story, Ron will chastise him for asking "Loony" Luna. As Luna herself will accurately note, Ron can sometimes be funny but also hurtful. It does seem that Ron has forgotten Luna's participation in Dumbledore's Army and how she always responded to Harry's distress calls, as well as risked her own life at the Department of Mysteries battle to aid Harry and Ron.
Although Draco has always been portrayed as a cowardly bully, he is a powerful wizard, and his intelligence and magical abilities are often underrated. Throughout the story, he is well aware that Harry is trailing his movements, and he even intentionally lets slip some enticing information within Harry's hearing regarding his connection to Voldemort. Just why he does so is unknown, though Draco seldom resists showing off and extolling his own perceived virtues to others. Draco must also have been relatively confident that Harry would never report the attack (and breaking his nose), thus allowing Draco to indulge himself in his cruel act. However, there may be other underlying reasons for at least some of his brazen behavior.
- Which students are invited to Slughorn's lunch? Why does he select these particular students? Why was Malfoy excluded?
- Why does Harry follow Malfoy on the train?
- Why does Malfoy say he might not return to Hogwarts next year?
- Why does Malfoy reveal such specific, and apparently accurate, information about his connection to Voldemort, even though he knows Harry is eavesdropping?
- Why, despite compelling circumstantial evidence, do Ron and Hermione dismiss Harry's belief that Draco may be a Death Eater? Are their arguments valid?
- On the train, why does Harry decline Romilda Vane's invitation to sit with her and the other more popular students? Who does he prefer to sit with and why?
Over the school year, Harry becomes nearly obsessed with Draco Malfoy's suspicious behavior and goes to extreme lengths to uncover what he is plotting. Eventually he discovers that Malfoy is indeed involved in a sinister scheme, although Draco's participation is not entirely what it seems. Just why Draco purposely allowed Harry to overhear critical information while on the Hogwarts Express is unclear. Whether he was just being careless, arrogantly confident, or subconsciously hoping that Voldemort's plan would be discovered by Professor Dumbledore through Harry is unknown, though the latter reason will seem more plausible by the book's conclusion. Harry will report his suspicions about Draco, and later about Snape, to Dumbledore at various times throughout the year, and, from his point-of-view at least, is seemingly rebuffed each time. It is revealed later, in the final book, that Dumbledore already knows about Draco's mission and Snape's involvement. Careful attention should be paid to how Dumbledore addresses Harry's accusations: Dumbledore never says he disbelieves Harry, rather that the issue is not Harry's concern. Harry, however, fails to perceive this important detail, instead increasing his efforts to uncover some clue that will convince Dumbledore that his suspicions are valid.
This chapter is largely self-contained, dealing largely with Harry's attempts to resolve his suspicions about Malfoy, and with exposition of Professor Slughorn's character.
- Romilda Vane's attempts to snag Harry Potter as a boyfriend will continue throughout this year, resulting in a near-death experience for Ron at one point.