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"There has been much talk on that very subject even amongst the ghosts," interrupted Nearly Headless Nick, inclining his barely connected head toward Harry so that it wobbled dangerously on its ruff. "I am considered something of a Potter authority; it is widely known that we are friendly. I have assured the spirit community that I will not pester you for information, however. 'Harry Potter knows that he can confide in me with complete confidence,' I told them. 'I would rather die than betray his trust.'"
After they had eaten, they remained in their places, awaiting Professor McGonagall's descent from the staff table. The distribution of class schedules was more complicated than usual this year, for Professor McGonagall needed first to confirm that everybody had achieved the necessary O.W.L. grades to continue with their chosen N.E.W.T.s.
Had Voldemort chosen Neville, it would be Neville sitting opposite Harry bearing the lightning-shaped scar and the weight of the prophecy. ... Or would it? Would Neville’s mother have died to save him, as Lily had died for Harry? Surely she would. . . . But what if she had been unable to stand between her son and Voldemort? Would there then have been no "Chosen One" at all? An empty seat where Neville now sat and a scarless Harry who would have been kissed good-bye by his own mother, not Ron's?
Malfoy dragged the cloak out from under Harry's immobilized body and threw it over him.
Harry said nothing; he was thinking too hard. Narcissa Malfoy would not have let her precious son out of her sight willingly; Malfoy must have made a real effort to free himself from her clutches.
"If you're wondering what the smell is, Mother, a Mudblood just walked in," said Draco Malfoy.
"No. I don't think so, sir. I'm Muggle-born, you see."
"This is Cormac McLaggen, perhaps you've come across each other ?? No?"
“Harry!" said Hermione, shocked and reproachful.
"We never heard a prophecy," said Neville, turning geranium pink as he said it.
The day after this rather gloomy birthday tea, their letters and booklists arrived from Hogwarts. Harry's included a surprise: he had been made Quidditch Captain.
"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 resume his old post of Potions master."
"Hold it!" said Hermione, throwing out an arm and halting a passing fourth year, who was attempting to push past her with a lime-green disk clutched tightly in his hand. "Fanged Frisbees banned, hand it over," she told him sternly. The scowling boy handed over the snarling Frisbee, ducked under her arm, and took off after his friends. Ron waited for him to vanish, then tugged the Frisbee from Hermione's grip.
"Giving him the tour? Come through the back, Harry, that's where we're making the real money—pocket anything, you, and you'll pay in more than Galleons!" he added warningly to a small boy who hastily whipped his hand out of the tub labeled edible dark
"Don't you dare talk to my mother like that, Potter!" Malfoy snarled.
Harry did not really listen. A warmth was spreading through him that had nothing to do with the sunlight; a tight obstruction in his chest seemed to be dissolving. He knew that Ron and Hermione were more shocked than they were letting on, but the mere fact that they were still there on either side of him, speaking bracing words of comfort, not shrinking from him as though he were contaminated or dangerous, was worth more than he could ever tell them.;
"Au revoir, 'Any," said Fleur throatily, kissing him good-bye. Ron hurried forward, looking hopeful, but Ginny stuck out her foot and Ron fell, sprawling in the dust at Fleur's feet. Furious, red-faced, and dirt-spattered, he hurried into the car without saying good-bye.？