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– CHAPTER ELEVEN –
Hermione’s Helping Hand
As Hermione had predicted, the sixth-years’ free periods were not the hours of blissful relaxation Ron had anticipated, but times in which to attempt to keep up with the vast amount of homework they were being set. Not only were they studying as though they had exams every day, but the lessons themselves had become more demanding than ever before. Harry barely understood half of what Professor McGonagall said to them these days; even Hermione had had to ask her to repeat instructions once or twice. Incredibly, and to Hermione’s increasing resentment, Harry’s best subject had suddenly become Potions, thanks to the Half-Blood Prince.
Non-verbal spells were now expected, not only in Defence Against the Dark Arts, but in Charms and Transfiguration too. Harry frequently looked over at his classmates
in the common room or at mealtimes to see them purple in the face and straining as though they had overdosed on U-No-Poo; but he knew that they were really struggling to make spells work without saying incantations aloud. It was a relief to get outside into the greenhouses; they were dealing with more dangerous plants than ever in Herbology, but at least they were still allowed to swear loudly if the Venomous Tentacula seized them unexpectedly from behind.
One result of their enormous workload and the frantic hours of practising non-verbal spells was that Harry, Ron and Hermione had so far been unable to find time to go and visit Hagrid. He had stopped coming to meals at the staff table, an ominous sign, and on the few occasions when they had passed him in the corridors or out in the grounds, he had mysteriously failed to notice them or hear their greetings.
‘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 practising that Aguamenti charm for 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.’
‘I hate not talking to Hagrid,’ said Hermione, looking upset.
‘We’ll go down after Quidditch,’ Harry assured her. He, too, was missing Hagrid, although like Ron he thought that they were better off without Grawp in their lives. ‘But trials might take all morning, the number of people who have applied.’ He felt slightly nervous at confronting the first hurdle of his captaincy. ‘I dunno why the team’s this popular all of a sudden.’
‘Oh, come on, Harry,’ said Hermione, suddenly impatient. ‘It’s not Quidditch that’s popular, it’s you! You’ve never been more interesting and, frankly, you’ve never been more fanciable.’
Ron gagged on a large piece of kipper. Hermione spared him one look of disdain before turning back to Harry.
‘Everyone knows you’ve been telling the truth now, don’t they? The whole wizarding world has had to admit that you were right about Voldemort being back and that you really have fought him twice in the last two years and escaped both times.