Tuesday, November 23, 2010

“We are pleased to welcome a new member of staff this year

“We are pleased to welcome a new member of staff this year. Professor Slughorn.” Slughorn stood up, his bald head gleaming in the candlelight, his big waistcoated

belly casting the table into shadow, “is a former colleague of mine who has agreed to resume his old post of Potions master.”



The word echoed all over the Hall as people wondered whether they had heard right.

“Potions?” said Ron and Hermione together, turning to stare Harry. “But you said —”

“Professor Snape, meanwhile,” said Dumbledore, raising voice so that it carried over all the muttering, “will be taking the position of Defense Against the Dark Arts


“No!” said Harry, so loudly that many heads turned in his direction. He did not care; he was staring up at the staff table, incensed. How could Snape be given the

Defense Against the Dark Arts job after all this time? Hadn't it been widely known for years that Dumbledore did not trust him to do it?

“But Harry, you said that Slughorn was going to be teaching Defense Against the Dark Arts!” said Hermione.

“I thought he was!” said Harry, racking his brains to remember when Dumbledore had told him this, but now that he came to think of it, he was unable to recall

Dumbledore ever telling him what Slughorn would be teaching.

Snape, who was sitting on Dumbledore's right, did not stand up his mention of his name; he merely raised a hand in lazy acknowledgment of the applause from the

Slytherin table, yet Harry was sure he could detect a look of triumph on the features he loathed so much.

“Well, there's one good thing,” he said savagely. “Snape'll be gone by the end of the year.”

“What do you mean?” asked Ron.

“That job's jinxed. No ones lasted more than a year... Quirrell actually died doing it... Personally, I'm going to keep my fingers crossed for another death... ”

“Harry!” said Hermione, shocked and reproachful.

“He might just go back to teaching Potions at the end of the year,” said Ron reasonably. “That Slughorn bloke might not want to stay long-term. Moody didn't.”

Dumbledore cleared his throat. Harry, Ron, and Hermione were not the only ones who had been talking; the whole Hall had erupted in a buzz of conversation at the news

that Snape had finally achieved his heart's desire. Seemingly oblivious to the sensational nature of the news he had just imparted, Dumbledore said nothing more about

staff appointments, but waited a few seconds to ensure that the silence was absolute before continuing.

“Now, as everybody in this Hall knows, Lord Voldemort and his followers are once more at large and gaining in strength.”

The silence seemed to tauten and strain as Dumbledore spoke. Harry glanced at Malfoy. Malfoy was not looking at Dumbledore, but making his fork hover in midair with his

wand, as though he found the Headmaster's words unworthy of his attention.

“I cannot emphasize strongly enough how dangerous the present situation is, and how much care each of us at Hogwarts must take to ensure that we remain safe. The

castle's magical fortifications have been strengthened over the summer, we are protected in new and more powerful ways, but we must still guard scrupulously against

carelessness on the part of any student or member of staff. I urge you, therefore, to abide by any security restrictions that you teachers might impose upon you,

however irksome you might find them—in particular, the rule that you are not to be out of bed after hours. I implore you, should you notice anything strange or

suspicious within or outside the castle, to report it to a member of staff immediately. I trust you to conduct yourselves, always, with the utmost regard for your own

and others’ safety.”

Dumbledore's blue eyes swept over the students before he smiled once more.

“But now, your beds await, as warm and comfortable as you could possibly wish, and I know that your top priority is to be well-rested for your lessons tomorrow. Let us

therefore say good night. Pip pip!”

With the usual deafening scraping noise, the benches moved back and the hundreds of students began to file out of the Great Hall toward their dormitories. Harry, who

was in no hurry at all to leave with the gawping crowd, nor to get near enough to Malfoy to allow him to retell the story of the nose-stamping, lagged behind,

pretending to retie the lace on his trainer, allowing most of Gryffindors to draw ahead of him. Hermione had darted ahead to fulfill her prefect's duty of shepherding

the first years, but Ron remained with Harry.

“What really happened to your nose?” he asked, once they were at the very back of the throng pressing out of the Hall, and out of earshot of anyone else.

Harry told him. It was a mark of the strength of their friendship that Ron did not laugh.

“I saw Malfoy miming something to do with a nose,” he said darkly.

“Yeah, well, never mind that,” said Harry bitterly. “Listen to what he was saying before he found out I was there... ”

Harry had expected Ron to be stunned by Malfoy's boasts. With what Harry considered pure pigheadedness, however, Ron was unimpressed.

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