Harry can’t stop thinking about Malfoy’s excursion to Knockturn Alley, but to his frustration, Ron and Hermione don’t find it as suspicious as he does, pointing out that there could be lots of explanations for Malfoy’s behavior. Harry believes that Malfoy wants to get revenge for his Lucius’s imprisonment in Azkaban.
Both Harry and Malfoy are motivated in part by the desire to avenge their fathers, whom they consider wrongly harmed by the other’s side in the conflict. In this sense, the two rivals are very similar.
Suddenly, it occurs to Harry that Draco has replaced Lucius as a Death Eater in Voldemort’s army, but Ron and Hermione dismiss this possibility, saying that Voldemort wouldn’t want an accomplice so young. Undeterred, Harry points out that Draco slapped Madam Malkin when she touched his arm, where the Dark Mark would be tattooed; it’s also possible that the frightening thing he showed Borgin was indeed this sign of his affiliation.
Ron and Hermione can’t fathom the idea of Draco as a Death Eater because it would involve acknowledging that he has an adult role in Voldemort’s army – and, accordingly, that they must take on adult roles in the fight against him.
Annoyed, Harry stalks downstairs, where Fleur is musing to a bad-tempered Mrs. Weasley about her wedding plans and potential colors for the bridesmaids’ dresses. Seeing Harry, Mrs. Weasley cuts her off and briefs him on security preparations for tomorrow’s journey to Hogwarts. Harry remarks that he wishes Tonks were part of their security battalion, and Fleur remarks absently that Tonks has “let ‘erself go.”
Fleur doesn’t appear at her best here – as Lavender will later do to Hermione, she tears other women down based on their physical appearance. While Fleur is characterized negatively now, later events will encourage the reader to revise opinions formed at this juncture.
After a kiss goodbye from Fleur, Harry sets off to Kings Cross Station the next day with the rest of the Weasleys. An intimidating team of Aurors is there to guide them through the brick barrier to Platform 9 ¾. Before getting on the train, Harry takes Mr. Weasley aside and confesses what he saw in Diagon Alley and his suspicions about Draco. Mr. Weasley seems manifestly unconvinced that Draco is up to anything bad and ushers him back onto the train, where Mrs. Weasley reminds him to be good and stay safe.
Like Ron and Hermione, Mr. and Mrs. Weasley are unable to conceive of their children’s generation becoming active and independent players in this conflict. Mr. Weasley’s deft reassurances and Mrs. Weasley’s maternal admonitions reflect their confidence that they can still protect their children. This also shows their reluctance to see them take on adult roles.
Since Ron and Hermione are prefects and have to patrol the train, and Ginny is off to meet her boyfriend Dean, Harry has to find a compartment by himself. Walking down the hall, he’s disturbed to see groups of “mesmerized girls” looking at him, and he is relieved to finally meet Neville and Luna. Having been with Harry at the Ministry last year, even they are getting a certain amount of attention.
Rather than anticipating or exploiting his celebrity status, Harry is bewildered and displeased by it. His behavior now shows that his character is strong and genuine enough to resist change after the acquisition of fame and power. This makes him inherently different from characters like Voldemort, who are completely shaped by the power they possess.
As they’re settling down, a group of stylish fourth-year girls enters the compartment, inviting Harry to ditch Neville and Luna and sit with them. Coldly, Harry responds that he wants to stay with his friends. With her characteristic honesty, Luna remarks that people expect him to have cooler friends than them, but Harry retorts that they’re the people who always stick by him.
Rather than cultivating sycophantic acolytes, Harry stands by the “uncool” friends who have always been loyal to him. Harry’s sense of reciprocal friendship is another difference between him and Voldemort, who sees those who help him as servants and pawns.
As Neville chatters about the upcoming year, Harry muses that the infamous prophecy could have applied to Neville, as well – both boys were born in July of the same year and had parents in the Order of the Phoenix. By choosing to believe that it referred to Harry, Voldemort made him into the “Chosen One” and doomed his parents. He wonders what his life would be like if the Dark Lord had targeted Neville instead. Perhaps he would have kissed his own mother at the platform, instead of Mrs. Weasley.
Harry’s reflections here are very poignant, showing his longing for a stable family life and emphasizing that his parents are far more important to him than the unique status he’s derived from becoming the “Chosen One.” It also displays his humility – rather than conceiving of himself as destined to fight Voldemort, Harry knows that his position now stems from one of many interpretations of the fateful prophecy.
Soon, Ron and Hermione enter the compartment. Ron complains that Draco is sitting with the other Slytherins instead of doing his duty as a prefect. Since Draco usually loves bullying younger students Harry feels that he must be up to something; but before he has time to think about it, a third-year arrives with a note from Slughorn, inviting Harry and Neville to come to his compartment for lunch.
Slughorn’s invitations – which differentiate “exceptional” students from the rest – will prove divisive throughout the year. In contrast, Harry’s tendency towards inclusivity allows him to develop strong networks of friends who are always ready to help him.
Although Harry looks for Draco along the way, he can’t catch a glimpse. Instead, he notices that many students are going out of their way to look at him – all except Cho Chang, who darts away as he approaches to talk with her friend Marietta. Harry smirks to see the layer of pimples across Marietta’s face.
Harry feels that Marietta deserves long-lasting shame and punishment for having betrayed Dumbledore’s Army last year. His unwillingness to sympathize with or pardon those who have done wrong is one of the troubling aspects of his character.
Arriving in Slughorn’s compartment, Harry and Neville find it populated by a couple of Slytherins, a popular boy named Cormac McLaggan from Gryffindor, and – strangest of all – Ginny, grimacing in a corner. It’s clear that Slughorn has invited many of them because of their famous relatives. He frowns in displeasure when one boy admits that his father doesn’t get along well with his successful uncle, but encourages Cormac to talk about his family’s tight relationship with Rufus Scrimgeour. Harry feels bad for Neville when Slughorn interrogates him about his parents, who were both tortured into insanity by Death Eaters.
Harry judges families by the extent to which they support and care for their members – accordingly, he loves the Weasleys and steers clear of the Dursleys. In contrast, Slughorn views families in terms of the wealth and prestige they cultivate. Students like Cormac who come from families holding these priorities will often prove deeply flawed or unpleasant.
To Harry’s intense embarrassment, Slughorn turns eagerly to him and comments on his unwanted new moniker, “The Chosen One.” When a Slytherin coughs in disdain, Ginny pipes up to defend Harry. Slughorn continues to pump Harry for information about his exploits at the Ministry last year, but Harry stays quiet. Staunchly, Neville and Ginny say that there’s no prophecy and that the Daily Prophet is reporting rubbish. Disappointed, Slughorn changes the topic to one of his other famous former students.
Slughorn’s preferential treatment could cause Harry to develop a sense of arrogance and entitlement. Instead, he resists the professor’s chummy attitude and disavows any distinction from his fellow students. Harry’s imperviousness to these temptations is one of the most endearing aspects of his character.
Neville, Harry, and Ginny are relieved when they can finally slip away. Ginny explains that Slughorn invited her because he saw her expertly hexing Zacharias Smith, who had been pestering her for information about the Ministry. Seeing someone open the door to Draco’s compartment, Harry whips on his Invisibility Cloak and darts in, as well. Although he thinks Draco catches sight of him for a second, he’s able to hoist himself into the luggage rack. Draco is lying languidly across a seat with his head in Pansy Parkinson’s lap.
Like Harry, Ginny’s social status has increased due to her involvement in the infamous battle at the Ministry last year. However, she resists the temptation to use this new fame to attract attention, and helps protect Harry by refusing to divulge information about the fabled prophecy. In doing so, she shows that her values are fundamentally aligned with his.
Seemingly angry not to be invited, Draco quizzes Blaise Zabini about Slughorn’s lunch. He’s disgusted that Neville and Ginny, a “blood traitor,” were there. To cover up his resentment, Malfoy brags that he might not even be at Hogwarts next year; he’s planning to move on to “bigger and better things.” Seeing how impressed Pansy is, he continues that the Dark Lord won’t care about anyone’s grades, only about “the level of devotion he was shown.” Draco hints that he’s already been given some sort of job, but doesn’t explain anything further.
Historically, Draco has drawn strength and arrogance from his family’s standing in the Wizarding world; his exclusion from Slughorn’s parties shows how he is suffering from his father’s disgrace. Although Draco conspicuously lacks Harry and Ginny’s sterling values, it’s worth noting that his current position is lonely and difficult, especially for someone who cares so deeply about social status.
Waiting for a good moment to leave the carriage, Harry draws his wand. But after the other Slytherins leave, Malfoy steps back into the compartment and jinxes Harry, paralyzing him. He steps on Harry’s nose, breaking it, and tells him it’s a present “from my father.” Then he drags the Invisibility Cloak back over him, so no one will be able to find where he’s hidden.
Even though Draco is actively harming Harry right now, his intense sense of loyalty to his father is a reminder that he and Harry are driven by some of the same impulses.