Title: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Book 6)
Author: J. K. Rowling
Purchase: Bookshop.org (affiliate link)
“I don’t mean to be rude —” he began, in a tone that threatened rudeness in every syllable.
“— yet, sadly, accidental rudeness occurs alarmingly often,” Dumbledore finished the sentence gravely. “Best to say nothing at all, my dear man.”
“Horace,” said Dumbledore, relieving Harry of the responsibility to say any of this, “likes his comfort. He also likes the company of the famous, the successful, and the powerful. He enjoys the feeling that he influences these people. He has never wanted to occupy the throne himself; he prefers the backseat — more room to spread out, you see. He used to handpick favorites at Hogwarts, sometimes for their ambition or their brains, sometimes for their charm or their talent, and he had an uncanny knack for choosing those who would go on to become outstanding in their various fields. Horace formed a kind of club of his favorites with himself at the center, making introductions, forging useful contacts between members, and always reaping some kind of benefit in return, whether a free box of his favorite crystalized pineapple or the chance to recommend the next junior member of the Goblin Liaison Office.”
Harry had a sudden and vivid mental image of a great swollen spider, spinning a web around it, twitching a thread here and there to bring its large and juicy flies a little closer.
“It’s just hard,” Harry said finally, in a low voice, “to realize he won’t write to me again.”
His eyes burned suddenly and he blinked. He felt stupid for admitting it, but the fact that he had had someone outside Hogwarts who cared what happened to him, almost like a parent, had been one of the best things about discovering his godfather . . . and now the post owls would never bring him that comfort again. . . .
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.
“You all right, Harry? You look funny,” said Neville.
Harry started. “Sorry — I —”
“Wrackspurt got you?” asked Luna sympathetically, peering at Harry through her enormous colored spectacles.
“I — what?”
“A Wrackspurt . . . They’re invisible. They float in through your ears and make your brain go fuzzy,” she said. “I thought I felt one zooming around in here.”
She flapped her hands at thin air, as though beating off large invisible moths.
“What’s Dumbledore playing at, anyway, letting him teach Defense? Did you hear him talking about the Dark Arts? He loves them! All that unfixed, indestructible stuff —”
“Well,” said Hermione, “I thought he sounded a bit like you.”
“Yes, when you were telling us what it’s like to face Voldemort. You said it wasn’t just memorizing a bunch of spells, you said it was just you and your brains and your guts — well, wasn’t that what Snape was saying? That it really comes down to being brave and quick-thinking?”
Luna was demonstrating her usual knack of speaking uncomfortable truths; he had never met anyone quite like her.
“What does it feel like?” whispered Hermione.
Harry did not answer for a moment. Then, slowly but surely, an exhilarating sense of infinite opportunity stole through him; he felt as though he could have done anything, anything at all . . . and getting the memory from Slughorn seemed suddenly not only possible, but positively easy. . . .
“It is the unknown we fear when we look upon death and darkness, nothing more.”
Somewhere out in the darkness, a phoenix was singing in a way Harry had never heard before: a stricken lament of terrible beauty. And Harry felt, as he had felt about phoenix song before, that the music was inside him, not without: It was his own grief turned magically to song that echoed across the grounds and through the castle windows.
How long they all stood there, listening, he did not know, nor why it seemed to ease their pain a little to listen to the sound of their mourning . . .
It was important, Dumbledore said, to fight, and fight again, and keep fighting, for only then could evil be kept at bay, though never quite eradicated. . . .