Book 5 – Harry Potter and the Order of Phoenix

— CHAPTER ONE —

Dudley Demented

The hottest day of the summer so far was drawing to a close and

a drowsy silence lay over the large, square houses of Privet

Drive. Cars that were usually gleaming stood dusty in their

drives and lawns that were once emerald green lay parched and

yellowing -for the use of hosepipes had been banned due to

drought. Deprived of their usual car-washing and lawn-mowing

pursuits, the inhabitants of Privet Drive had retreated into the

shade of their cool houses, windows thrown wide in the hope of

tempting in a nonexistent breeze. The only person left outdoors

was a teenage boy who was lying flat on his back in a flowerbed

outside number four.

He was a skinny, black-haired, bespectacled boy who had the

pinched, slightly unhealthy look of someone who has grown a lot

in a short space of time. His jeans were torn and dirty, his Tshirt

baggy and faded, and the soles of his trainers were peeling

away from the uppers. Harry Potter’s appearance did not endear

him to the neighbours, who were the sort of people who thought

scruffi-ness ought to be punishable by law, but as he had hidden

himself behind a large hydrangea bush this evening he was quite

invisible to passers-by. In fact, the only way he would be spotted

was if his Uncle Vernon or Aunt Petunia stuck their heads out of

the living-room window and looked straight down into the

flowerbed below.

On the whole, Harry thought he was to be congratulated on his

idea of hiding here. He was not, perhaps, very comfortable lying

on the hot, hard earth but, on the other hand, nobody was

glaring at him, grinding their teeth so loudly that he could not

hear the news, or shooting nasty questions at him, as had

happened every time he had tried sitting down in the living room

to watch television with his aunt and uncle.

Almost as though this thought had fluttered through the open

window, Vernon Dursley, Harry’s uncle, suddenly spoke.

‘Glad to see the boy’s stopped trying to butt in. Where is he,

anyway?’

‘I don’t know,’ said Aunt Petunia, unconcerned. ‘Not in the

house.’

Uncle Vernon grunted.

‘Watching the news …’ he said scathingly. ‘I’d like to know what

he’s really up to. As if a normal boy cares what’s on the news –

Dudley hasn’t got a clue what’s going on; doubt he knows who

the Prime Minister is! Anyway, it’s not as if there’d be anything

about his lot on our news — ‘

‘Vernon, shh!’ said Aunt Petunia. The window’s open!’

‘Oh – yes – sorry, dear.’

The Dursleys fell silent. Harry listened to a jingle about Fruit ‘n’

Bran breakfast cereal while he watched Mrs Figg, a batty catloving

old lady from nearby Wisteria Walk, amble slowly past.

She was frowning and muttering to herself. Harry was very

pleased he was concealed behind the bush, as Mrs Figg had

recently taken to asking him round for tea whenever she met

him in the street. She had rounded the corner and vanished from

view before Uncle Vernon’s voice floated out of the window again.

‘Dudders out for tea?’

‘At the Polkisses’,’ said Aunt Petunia fondly. ‘He’s got so many

little friends, he’s so popular

Harry suppressed a snort with difficulty. The Dursleys really were

astonishingly stupid about their son, Dudley. They had swallowed

all his dim-witted lies about having tea with a different member

of his gang every night of the summer holidays. Harry knew

perfectly well that Dudley had not been to tea anywhere; he and

his gang spent every evening vandalising the play park, smoking

on street corners and throwing stones at passing cars and

children. Harry had seen them at it during his evening walks

around Little Whinging; he had spent most of the holidays

wandering the streets, scavenging newspapers from bins along

the way.

The opening notes of the music that heralded the seven o’clock

news reached Harry’s ears and his stomach turned over. Perhaps

tonight – after a month of waiting – would be the night.

‘Record numbers of stranded holiday makers fill airports as the

Spanish baggage-handlers’ strike reaches its second week –

‘Give ’em a lifelong siesta, I would,’ snarled Uncle Vernon over

the end of the newsreader’s sentence, but no matter: outside in

the flowerbed, Harrys stomach seemed to unclench. If anything

had happened, it would surely have been the first item on the

news; death and destruction were more important than stranded

holidaymakers.

He let out a long, slow breath and stared up at the brilliant blue

sky. Every day this summer had been the same: the tension, the

expectation, the temporary relief, and then mounting tension

again… and always, growing more insistent all the time, the

question of why nothing had happened yet.

He kept listening, just in case there was some small clue, not

recognised for what it really was by the Muggles – an

unexplained disappearance, perhaps, or some strange accident…

but the baggage-handlers’ strike was followed by news about the

drought in the Southeast (‘I hope he’s listening next door!’

bellowed Uncle Vernon. ‘Him with his sprinklers on at three in

the morning!’), then a helicopter that had almost crashed in a

field in Surrey, then a famous actress’s divorce from her famous

husband (‘As if we’re interested in their sordid affairs,’ sniffed

Aunt Petunia, who had followed the case obsessively in every

magazine she could lay her bony hands on).

Harry closed his eyes against the now blazing evening sky as the

newsreader said, ‘- and finally, Bungy the budgie has found a

novel way of keeping cool this summer. Bungy, who lives at the

Five Feathers in Barnsley, has learned to water ski! Mary Dorkins

went to find out more.’

Harry opened his eyes. If they had reached water-skiing

budgerigars, there would be nothing else worth hearing. He

rolled cautiously on to his front and raised himself on to his

knees and elbows, preparing to crawl out from under the window.

He had moved about two inches when several things happened

in very quick succession.

A loud, echoing crack broke the sleepy silence like a gunshot; a

cat streaked out from under a parked car and flew out of sight; a

shriek, a bellowed oath and the sound of breaking china came

from the Dursleys’ living room, and as though this was the signal

Harry had been waiting for he jumped to his feet, at the same

time pulling from the waistband of his jeans a thin wooden wand

as if he were unsheathing a sword – but before he could draw

himself up to full height, the top of his head collided with the

Dursleys’ open window. The resultant crash made Aunt Petunia

scream even louder.

Harry felt as though his head had been split in two. Eyes

streaming, he swayed, trying to focus on the street to spot the

source of the noise, but he had barely staggered upright when

two large purple hands reached through the open window and

closed tightly around his throat.

Put – it away!’ Uncle Vernon snarled into Harry’s ear. ‘Now.’

Before – anyone – sees!’

‘Get – off – me!’ Harry gasped. For a few seconds they struggled,

Harry pulling at his uncles sausage-like fingers with his left hand,

his right maintaining a firm grip on his raised wand; then, as the

pain in the top of Harry’s head gave a particularly nasty throb,

Uncle Vernon yelped and released Harry as though he had

received an electric shock. Some invisible force seemed to have

surged through his nephew, making him impossible to hold.

Panting, Harry fell forwards over the hydrangea bush,

straightened up and stared around. There was no sign of what

had caused the loud cracking noise, but there were several faces

peering through various nearby windows. Harry stuffed his wand

hastily back into his jeans and tried to look innocent.

‘Lovely evening!’ shouted Uncle Vernon, waving at Mrs Number

Seven opposite, who was glaring from behind her net curtains.

‘Did you hear that car backfire just now? Gave Petunia and me

quite a turn!’

He continued to grin in a horrible, manic way until all the curious

neighbours had disappeared from their various windows, then

the grin became a grimace of rage as he beckoned Harry back

towards him.

Harry moved a few steps closer, taking care to stop just short of

the point at which Uncle Vernon’s outstretched hands could

resume their strangling.

‘What the devil do you mean by it, boy?’ asked Uncle Vernon in a

croaky voice that trembled with fury.

‘What do I mean by what?’ said Harry coldly. He kept looking left

and right up the street, still hoping to see the person who had

made the cracking noise.

‘Making a racket like a starting pistol right outside our –

‘I didn’t make that noise,’ said Harry firmly.

Aunt Petunia’s thin, horsy face now appeared beside Uncle

Vernon’s wide, purple one. She looked livid.

‘Why were you lurking under our window?’

‘Yes – yes, good point, Petunia! What were you doing under our

window, boy?’

‘Listening to the news,’ said Harry in a resigned voice.

His aunt and uncle exchanged looks of outrage.

‘Listening to the news! Again?’

‘Well, it changes every day, you see,’ said Harry.

‘Don’t you be clever with me, boy! I want to know what you’re

really up to – and don’t give me any more of this listening to the

news tosh! You know perfectly well that your lot –

‘Careful, Vernon!’ breathed Aunt Petunia, and Uncle Vernon

lowered his voice so that Harry could barely hear him,’- that your

lot don’t get on our news!’

‘That’s all you know,’ said Harry.

The Dursleys goggled at him for a few seconds, then Aunt

Petunia said, ‘You’re a nasty little liar. What are all those -‘ she,

too, lowered her voice so that Harry had to lip-read the next

word, – owls doing if they’re not bringing you news?’

‘Aha!’ said Uncle Vernon in a triumphant whisper. ‘Get out of

that one, boy! As if we didn’t know you get all your news from

those pestilential birds!’

Harry hesitated for a moment. It cost him something to tell the

truth this time, even though his aunt and uncle could not

possibly know how bad he felt at admitting it.

‘The owls… aren’t bringing me news,’ he said tonelessly.

‘I don’t believe it,’ said Aunt Petunia at once.

‘No more do I,’ said Uncle Vernon forcefully.

‘We know you’re up to something funny,’ said Aunt Petunia.

‘We’re not stupid, you know,’ said Uncle Vernon.

‘Well, that’s news to me,’ said Harry, his temper rising, and

before the Dursleys could call him back, he had wheeled about,

crossed the front lawn, stepped over the low garden wall and

was striding off up the street.

He was in trouble now and he knew it. He would have to face his

aunt and uncle later and pay the price for his rudeness, but he

did not care very much just at the moment; he had much more

pressing matters on his mind.

Harry was sure the cracking noise had been made by someone

Apparating or Disapparating. It was exactly the sound Dobby the

house-elf made when he vanished into thin air. Was it possible

that Dobby was here in Privet Drive? Could Dobby be following

him right at this very moment? As this thought occurred he

wheeled around and stared back down Privet Drive, but it

appeared to be completely deserted and Harry was sure that

Dobby did not know how to become invisible.

He walked on, hardly aware of the route he was taking, for he

had pounded these streets so often lately that his feet carried

him to his favourite haunts automatically. Every few steps he

glanced back over his shoulder. Someone magical had been near

him as he lay among Aunt Petunia’s dying begonias, he was sure

of it. Why hadn’t they spoken to him, why hadn’t they made

contact, why were they hiding now?

And then, as his feeling of frustration peaked, his certainty

leaked away.

Perhaps it hadn’t been a magical sound after all. Perhaps he was

so desperate for the tiniest sign of contact from the world to

which he belonged that he was simply overreacting to perfectly

ordinary noises. Could he be sure it hadn’t been the sound of

something breaking inside a neighbour’s house?

Harry felt a dull, sinking sensation in his stomach and before he

knew it the feeling of hopelessness that had plagued him all

summer rolled over him once again.

Tomorrow morning he would be woken by the alarm at five

o’clock so he could pay the owl that delivered the Daily Prophet –

but was there any point continuing to take it? Harry merely

glanced at the front page before throwing it aside these days;

when the idiots who ran the paper finally realised that Voldemort

was back it would be headline news, and that was the only kind

Harry cared about.

If he was lucky, there would also be owls carrying letters from

his best friends Ron and Hermione, though any expectation he’d

had that their letters would bring him news had long since been

dashed.

We can’t say much about you-know-what, obviously… We’ve

been told not to say anything important in case our letters go

astray… We’re quite busy but I can’t give you details here…

There’s a fair amount going on, we’ll tell you everything when we

see you…

But when were they going to see him? Nobody seemed too

bothered with a precise date. Hermione had scribbled I expect

we’ll be seeing you quite soon inside his birthday card, but how

soon was soon? As far as Harry could tell from the vague hints in

their letters, Hermione and Ron were in the same place,

presumably at Ron’s parents’ house. He could hardly bear to

think of the pair of them having fun at The Burrow when he was

stuck in Privet Drive. In fact, he was so angry with them he had

thrown away, unopened, the two boxes of Honeydukes

chocolates they’d sent him for his birthday. He’d regretted it

later, after the wilted salad Aunt Petunia had provided for dinner

that night.

And what were Ron and Hermione busy with? Why wasn’t he,

Harry, busy? Hadn’t he proved himself capable of handling much

more than them? Had they all forgotten what he had done?

Hadn’t it been he who had entered that graveyard and watched

Cedric being murdered, and been tied to that tombstone and

nearly killed?

Don’t think about that, Harry told himself sternly for the

hundredth lime that summer. It was bad enough that he kept

revisiting the graveyard in his nightmares, without dwelling on it

in his waking moments too.

He turned a corner into Magnolia Crescent; halfway along he

passed the narrow alleyway down the side of a garage where he

had first clapped eyes on his godfather. Sirius, at least, seemed

to understand how Harry was feeling. Admittedly, his letters

were just as empty of proper news as Ron and Hermione’s, but

at least they contained words of caution and consolation instead

of tantalising hints:

I know this must be frustrating for you… Keep your nose clean

and everything will be OK… Be careful and don’t do anything

rash…

Well, thought Harry, as he crossed Magnolia Crescent, turned

into Magnolia Road and headed towards the darkening play park,

he had (by and .large) done as Sirius advised. He had at least

resisted the temptation to tie his trunk to his broomstick and set

off for The Burrow by himself. In fact, Harry thought his

behaviour had been very good considering how frustrated and

angry he felt at being stuck in Privet Drive so long, reduced to

hiding in flowerbeds in the hope of hearing something that might

point to what Lord Voldemort was doing. Nevertheless, it was

quite galling to be told not to be rash by a man who had served

twelve years in the wizard prison, Azkaban, escaped, attempted

to commit the murder he had been convicted for in the first place,

then gone on the run with a stolen Hippogriff.

Harry vaulted over the locked park gate and set off across the

parched grass. The park was as empty as the surrounding

streets. When he reached the swings he sank on to the only one

that Dudley and his friends had not yet managed to break, coiled

one arm around the chain and stared moodily at the ground. He

would not be able to hide in the Dursleys’ flowerbed again.

Tomorrow, he would have to think of some fresh way of listening

to the news. In the meantime, he had nothing to look forward to

but another restless, disturbed night, because even when he

escaped the nightmares about Cedric he had unsettling dreams

about long dark corridors, all finishing in dead ends and locked

doors, which he supposed had something to do with the trapped

feeling he had when he was awake. Often the old scar on his

forehead prickled uncomfortably, but he did not fool himself that

Ron or Hermione or Sirius would find that very interesting any

more. In the past, his scar hurting had warned that Voldemort

was getting stronger again, but now that Voldemort was back

they would probably remind him that its regular irritation was

only to be expected… nothing to worry about… old news…

The injustice of it all welled up inside him so that he wanted to

yell with fury. If it hadn’t been for him, nobody would even have

known Voldemort was back! And his reward was to be stuck in

Little Whinging for four solid weeks, completely cut off from the

magical world, reduced to squatting among dying begonias so

that he could hear about water-skiing budgerigars! How could

Dumbledore have forgotten him so easily? Why had Ron and

Hermione got together without inviting him along, too? How

much longer was he supposed to endure Sirius telling him to sit

tight and be a good boy; or resist the temptation to write to the

stupid Daily Prophet and point out that Voldemort had returned?

These furious thoughts whirled around in Harry’s head, and his

insides writhed with anger as a sultry, velvety night fell around

him, the air full of the smell of warm, dry grass, and the only

sound that of the low grumble of traffic on the road beyond the

park railings.

He did not know how long he had sat on the swing before the

sound of voices interrupted his musings and he looked up. The

streetlamps from the surrounding roads were casting a misty

glow strong enough to silhouette a group of people making their

way across the park. One of them was singing a loud, crude song.

The others were laughing. A soft ticking noise came from several

expensive racing bikes that they were wheeling along.

Harry knew who those people were. The figure in front was

unmistakeably his cousin, Dudley Dursley, wending his way

home, accompanied by his faithful gang.

Dudley was as vast as ever, but a year’s hard dieting and the

discovery of a new talent had wrought quite a change in his

physique. As Uncle Vernon delightedly told anyone who would

listen, Dudley had recently become the Junior Heavyweight

Inter-School Boxing Champion of the Southeast. The noble sport’,

as Uncle Vernon called it, had made Dudley even more

formidable than he had seemed to Harry in their primary school

days when he had served as Dudley’s first punchball. Harry was

not remotely afraid of his cousin any more but he still didn’t

think that Dudley learning to punch harder and more accurately

was cause for celebration. Neighbourhood children all around

were terrified of him – even more terrified than they were of ‘that

Potter boy’ who, they had been warned, was a hardened

hooligan and attended St Brutus’s Secure Centre for Incurably

Criminal Boys.

Harry watched the dark figures crossing the grass and wondered

who they had been beating up tonight. Look round, Harry found

himself thinking as he watched them. Come on… look round…

I’m sitting here all alone… come and have a go

If Dudley’s friends saw him sitting here, they would be sure to

make a beeline for him, and what would Dudley do then? He

wouldn’t want to lose face in front of the gang, but he’d be

terrified of provoking Harry… it would be really fun to watch

Dudley’s dilemma, to taunt him, watch him, with him powerless

to respond… and if any of the others tried hitting Harry, he was

ready – he had his wand. Let them try… he’d love to vent some

of his frustration on the boys who had once made his life hell.

But they didn’t turn around, they didn’t see him, they were

almost at the railings. Harry mastered the impulse to call after

them… seeking a fight was not a smart move… he must not use

magic… he would be risking expulsion again.

The voices of Dudley’s gang died away; they were out of sight,

heading along Magnolia Road.

There you go, Sirius, Harry thought dully. Nothing rash. Kept my

nose clean. Exactly the opposite of what you’d have done.

He got to his feet and stretched. Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon

seemed to feel that whenever Dudley turned up was the right

time to be home, and any time after that was much too late.

Uncle Vernon had threatened to lock Harry in the shed if he

came home after Dudley ever again, so, stifling a yawn, and still

scowling, Harry set off towards the park gate.

Magnolia Road, like Privet Drive, was full of large, square houses

with perfectly manicured lawns, all owned by large, square

owners who drove very clean cars similar to Uncle Vernon’s.

Harry preferred Little Whinging by night, when the curtained

windows made patches of jewel-bright colour in the darkness

and he ran no danger of hearing disapproving mutters about his

‘delinquent’ appearance when he passed the householders. He

walked quickly, so that halfway along Magnolia Road Dudley’s

gang came into view again; they were saying their farewells at

the entrance to Magnolia Crescent. Harry stepped into the

shadow of a large lilac tree and waited.

‘… squealed like a pig, didn’t he?’ Malcolm was saying, to guffaws

from the others.

‘Nice right hook, Big D,’ said Piers.

‘Same time tomorrow?’ said Dudley.

‘Round at my place, my parents will be out,’ said Gordon.

‘See you then,’ said Dudley.

‘Bye, Dud!’

‘See ya, Big D!’

Harry waited for the rest of the gang to move on before setting

off again. When their voices had faded once more he headed

around the corner into Magnolia Crescent and by walking very

quickly he soon came within hailing distance of Dudley, who was

strolling along at his ease, humming tunelessly.

‘Hey, Big D!’

Dudley turned.

‘Oh,’ he grunted. ‘It’s you.’

‘How long have you been “Big D” then?’ said Harry.

‘Shut it,’ snarled Dudley, turning away.

‘Cool name,’ said Harry, grinning and falling into step beside his

cousin. ‘But you’ll always be “Ickle Diddykins” to me.’

‘I said, SHUT IT!’ said Dudley, whose ham-like hands had curled

into fists.

‘Don’t the boys know that’s what your mum calls you?’

‘Shut your face.’

‘You don’t tell her to shut her face. What about “Popkin” and

“Dinky Diddydums”, can I use them then?’

Dudley said nothing. The effort of keeping himself from hitting

Harry seemed to demand all his self-control.

‘So who’ve you been beating up tonight?’ Harry asked, his grin

fading. ‘Another ten-year-old? I know you did Mark Evans two

nights ago –

‘He was asking for it,’ snarled Dudley.

‘Oh yeah?’

‘He cheeked me.’

‘Yeah? Did he say you look like a pig that’s been taught to walk

on its hind legs? ‘Cause that’s not cheek, Dud, that’s true.’

A muscle was twitching in Dudley’s jaw. It gave Harry enormous

satisfaction to know how furious he was making Dudley; he felt

as though he was siphoning off his own frustration into his

cousin, the only outlet he had.

They turned right down the narrow alleyway where Harry had

first seen Sirius and which formed a short cut between Magnolia

Crescent and Wisteria Walk. It was empty and much darker than

the streets it linked because there were no streetlamps. Their

footsteps were muffled between garage walls on one side and a

high fence on the other.

Think you’re a big man carrying that thing, don’t you?’ Dudley

said after a few seconds.

‘What thing?’

‘That – that thing you are hiding.’

Harry grinned again.

‘Not as stupid as you look, are you, Dud? But I’s’pose, if you

were, you wouldn’t be able to walk and talk at the same time.’

Harry pulled out his wand. He saw Dudley look sideways at it.

‘You’re not allowed,’ Dudley said at once. ‘I know you’re not.

You’d get expelled from that freak school you go to.’

‘How d’you know they haven’t changed the rules, Big D?’

They haven’t,’ said Dudley, though he didn’t sound completely

convinced.

Harry laughed softly.

‘You haven’t got the guts to take me on without that thing, have

you?’ Dudley snarled.

‘Whereas you just need four mates behind you before you can

beat up a ten year old. You know that boxing title you keep

banging on about? How old was your opponent? Seven? Eight?’

‘He was sixteen, for your information,’ snarled Dudley, ‘and he

was out cold for twenty minutes after I’d finished with him and

he was twice as heavy as you. You just wait till I tell Dad you

had that thing out –

‘Running to Daddy now, are you? Is his ickle boxing champ

frightened of nasty Harry’s wand?’

‘Not this brave at night, are you?’ sneered Dudley.

This is night, Diddykins. That’s what we call it when it goes all

dark like this.’

‘I mean when you’re in bed!’ Dudley snarled.

He had stopped walking. Harry stopped too, staring at his cousin.

From the little he could see of Dudley’s large face, he was

wearing a strangely triumphant look.

‘What d’you mean, I’m not brave when I’m in bed?’ said Harry,

completely nonplussed. ‘What am I supposed to be frightened of,

pillows or something?’

‘I heard you last night,’ said Dudley breathlessly. Talking in your

sleep. Moaning.’

‘What d’you mean?’ Harry said again, but there was a cold,

plunging sensation in his stomach. He had revisited the

graveyard last night in his dreams.

Dudley gave a harsh bark of laughter, then adopted a highpitched

whimpering voice.

‘”Don’t kill Cedric! Don’t kill Cedric!” Who’s Cedric – your

boyfriend?’

‘I – you’re lying,’ said Harry automatically. But his mouth had

gone dry. He knew Dudley wasn’t lying – how else would he

know about Cedric?

‘”Dad! Help me, Dad! He’s going to kill me, Dad! Boo hoo!”‘

‘Shut up,’ said Harry quietly. ‘Shut up, Dudley, I’m warning you!’

”Come and help me, Dad! Mum, come and help me! He’s killed

Cedric! Dad, help me! He’s going to -” Don’t you point that thing

at me!’

Dudley backed into the alley wall. Harry was pointing the wand

directly at Dudley’s heart. Harry could feel fourteen years’ hatred

of Dudley pounding in his veins – what wouldn’t he give to strike

now, to jinx Dudley so thoroughly he’d have to crawl home like

an insect, struck dumb, sprouting feelers…

‘Don’t ever talk about that again,’ Harry snarled. ‘D’you

understand me?’

‘Point that thing somewhere else!’

‘I said, do you understand me?’

‘Point it somewhere else!’

‘DO YOU UNDERSTAND ME?’

‘GET THAT THING AWAY FROM -‘

Dudley gave an odd, shuddering gasp, as though he had been

doused in icy water.

Something had happened to the night. The star-strewn indigo

sky was suddenly pitch black and lightless – the stars, the moon,

the misty streetlamps at either end of the alley had vanished.

The distant rumble of cars and the whisper of trees had gone.

The balmy evening was suddenly piercingly, bitingly cold. They

were surrounded by total, impenetrable, silent darkness, as

though some giant hand had dropped a thick, icy mantle over

the entire alleyway, blinding them.

For a split second Harry thought he had done magic without

meaning to, despite the fact that he’d been resisting as hard as

he could – then his reason caught up with his senses – he didn’t

have the power to turn off the stars. He turned his head this way

and that, trying to see something, but the darkness pressed on

his eyes like a weightless veil.

Dudley’s terrified voice broke in Harry’s ear.

‘W-what are you d-doing? St-stop it!’

‘I’m not doing anything! Shut up and don’t move!’

‘I c-can’t see! I’ve g-gone blind! I -‘

‘I said shut up!’

Harry stood stock still, turning his sightless eyes left and right.

The cold was so intense he was shivering all over; goose bumps

had erupted up his arms and the hairs on the back of his neck

were standing up – he opened his eyes to their fullest extent,

staring blankly around, unseeing.

It was impossible… they couldn’t be here… not in Little

Whinging… he strained his ears… he would hear them before he

saw them…

‘I’ll’t-tell Dad!’ Dudley whimpered. ‘W-where are you? What are

you d-do—?’

‘Will you shut up?’ Harry hissed, I’m trying to lis—’

But he fell silent. He had heard just the thing he had been

dreading.

There was something in the alleyway apart from themselves,

something that was drawing long, hoarse, rattling breaths. Harry

felt a horrible jolt of dread as he stood trembling in the freezing

air.

‘C-cut it out! Stop doing it! I’ll h-hit you, I swear I will!’

‘Dudley, shut—’

WHAM.

A fist made contact with the side of Harrys head, lifting him off

his feet. Small white lights popped in front of his eyes. For the

second time in an hour Harry felt as though his head had been

cleaved in two; next moment, he had landed hard on the ground

and his wand had flown out of his hand.

‘You moron, Dudley!’ Harry yelled, his eyes watering with pain as

he scrambled to his hands and knees, feeling around frantically

in the blackness. He heard Dudley blundering away, hitting the

alley fence, stumbling.

‘DUDLEY, COME BACK! YOU’RE RUNNING RIGHT AT IT!’

There was a horrible squealing yell and Dudley’s footsteps

stopped. At the same moment, Harry felt a creeping chill behind

him that could mean only one thing. There was more than one.

‘DUDLEY, KEEP YOUR MOUTH SHUT! WHATEVER YOU DO, KEEP

YOUR MOUTH SHUT! Wand!’ Harry muttered frantically, his

hands flying over the ground like spiders. ‘Where’s – wand -come

on – lumos!’

He said the spell automatically, desperate for light to help him in

his search – and to his disbelieving relief, light flared inches from

his right hand – the wand tip had ignited. Harry snatched it up,

scrambled to his feet and turned around.

His stomach turned over.

A towering, hooded figure was gliding smoothly towards him,

hovering over the ground, no feet or face visible beneath its

robes, sucking on the night as it came.

Stumbling backwards, Harry raised his wand.

‘Expecto patronum!’

A silvery wisp of vapour shot from the tip of the wand and the

Dementor slowed, but the spell hadn’t worked properly; tripping

over his own feet, Harry retreated further as the Dementor bore

down upon him, panic fogging his brain – concentrate –

A pair of grey, slimy, scabbed hands slid from inside the

Dementor’s robes, reaching for him. A rushing noise filled

Harry’s ears.

‘Expecto patronum!’

His voice sounded dim and distant. Another wisp of silver smoke,

feebler than the last, drifted from the wand – he couldn’t do it

any more, he couldn’t work the spell.

There was laughter inside his own head, shrill, high-pitched

laughter… he could smell the Dementor’s putrid, death-cold

breath filling his own lungs, drowning him – think… something

happy

But there was no happiness in him… the Dementor’s icy fingers

were closing on his throat – the high-pitched laughter was

growing louder and louder, and a voice spoke inside his head:

‘Bow to death, Harry…it might even be painless… I would not

know … I have never died …”

He was never going to see Ron and Hermione again –

And their faces burst clearly into his mind as he fought for breath.

‘EXPECTO PATRONUM!’

An enormous silver stag erupted from the tip of Harry’s wand; its

antlers caught the Dementor in the place where the heart should

have been; it was thrown backwards, weightless as darkness,

and as the stag charged, the Dementor swooped away, bat-like

and defeated.

‘THIS WAY!’ Harry shouted at the stag. Wheeling around, he

sprinted down the alleyway, holding the lit wand aloft. ‘DUDLEY?

DUDLEY!’

He had run barely a dozen steps when he reached them: Dudley

was curled up on the ground, his arms clamped over his face. A

second Dementor was crouching low over him, gripping his

wrists in its slimy hands, prising them slowly almost lovingly

apart, lowering its hooded head towards Dudley’s face as though

about to kiss him.

‘GET IT!’ Harry bellowed, and with a rushing, roaring sound, the

silver stag he had conjured came galloping past him. The

Dementor’s eyeless face was barely an inch from Dudley’s when

the silver antlers caught it; the thing was thrown up into the air

and, like its fellow, it soared away and was absorbed into the

darkness; the stag cantered to the end of the alleyway and

dissolved into silver mist.

Moon, stars and streetlamps burst back into life. A warm breeze

swept the alleyway. Trees rustled in neighbouring gardens and

the mundane rumble of cars in Magnolia Crescent filled the air

again.

Harry stood quite still, all his senses vibrating, taking in the

abrupt return to normality. After a moment, he became aware

that his T-shirt was sticking to him; he was drenched in sweat.

He could not believe what had just happened. Dementors here,

in Little Whinging.

Dudley lay curled up on the ground, whimpering and shaking.

Harry bent down to see whether he was in a fit state to stand up,

but then he heard loud, running footsteps behind him.

Instinctively raising his wand again, he span on his heel to face

the newcomer.

Mrs Figg, their batty old neighbour, came panting into sight. Her

grizzled grey hair was escaping from its hairnet, a clanking string

shopping bag was swinging from her wrist and her feet were

halfway out of her tartan carpet slippers. Harry made to stow his

wand hurriedly out of sight, but –

‘Don’t put it away idiot boy!’ she shrieked. ‘What if there are

more of them around? Oh, I’m going to kill Mundungus Fletcher!’

— CHAPTER TWO

A Peck of Owls

‘What?’ said Harry blankly.

‘He left!’ said Mrs Figg, wringing her hands. ‘Left to see someone

about a batch of cauldrons that fell off the back of a broom! I

told him I’d flay him alive if he went, and now look! Dementors!

It’s just lucky I put Mr Tibbies on the case! But we haven’t got

time to stand around! Hurry, now, we’ve got to get you back! Oh,

the trouble this is going to cause! I will kill him!’

‘But -‘ The revelation that his batty old cat-obsessed neighbour

knew what Dementors were was almost as big a shock to Harry

as meeting two of them down the alleyway. ‘You’re – you’re a

witch?’

‘I’m a Squib, as Mundungus knows full well, so how on earth was

I supposed to help you fight off Dementors? He left you

completely without cover when I’d warned him -‘

This Mundungus has been following me? Hang on – it was him!

He Disapparated from the front of my house!’

‘Yes, yes, yes, but luckily I’d stationed Mr Tibbies under a car

just in case, and Mr Tibbies came and warned me, but by the

time I got to your house you’d gone – and now – oh, what’s

Dumbledore going to say? You!’ she shrieked at Dudley, still

supine on the alley floor. ‘Get your fat bottom off the ground,

quick!’

‘You know Dumbledore?’ said Harry, staring at her.

‘Of course I know Dumbledore, who doesn’t know Dumbledore?

But come on – I’ll be no help if they come back, I’ve never so

much as Transfigured a teabag.’

She stooped down, seized one of Dudley’s massive arms in her

wizened hands and tugged.

‘Get up, you useless lump, get up!’

But Dudley either could not or would not move. He remained on

the ground, trembling and ashen-faced, his mouth shut very

tight.

‘I’ll do it.’ Harry took hold of Dudley’s arm and heaved. With an

enormous effort he managed to hoist him to his feet. Dudley

seemed to be on the point of fainting. His small eyes were rolling

in their sockets and sweat was beading his face; the moment

Harry let go of him he swayed dangerously.

‘Hurry up!’ said Mrs Figg hysterically.

Harry pulled one of Dudley’s massive arms around his own

shoulders and dragged him towards the road, sagging slightly

under the weight. Mrs Figg tottered along in front of them,

peering anxiously around the corner.

‘Keep your wand out,’ she told Harry, as they entered Wisteria

Walk. ‘Never mind the Statute of Secrecy now, there’s going to

be hell to pay anyway, we might as well be hanged for a dragon

as an egg. Talk about the Reasonable Restriction of Underage

Sorcery… this was exactly what Dumbledore was afraid of –

What’s that at the end of the street? Oh, it’s just Mr Prentice…

don’t put your wand away, boy, don’t 1 keep telling you I’m no

use?’

It was not easy to hold a wand steady and haul Dudley along at

the same time. Harry gave his cousin an impatient dig in the ribs,

but Dudley seemed to have lost all desire for independent

movement. He was slumped on Harry’s shoulder, his large feet

dragging along the ground.

‘Why didn’t you tell me you’re a Squib, Mrs Figg?’ asked Harry,

panting with the effort to keep walking. ‘All those times I came

round your house – why didn’t you say anything?’

‘Dumbledore’s orders. I was to keep an eye on you but not say

anything, you were too young. I’m sorry I gave you such a

miserable time, Harry, but the Dursleys would never have let

you come if they’d thought you enjoyed it. It wasn’t easy, you

know… but oh my word,’ she said tragically, wringing her hands

once more, ‘when Dumbledore hears about this – how could

Mundungus have left, he was supposed to be on duty until

midnight – where is he? How am I going to tell Dumbledore

what’s happened? I can’t Apparate.’

‘I’ve got an owl, you can borrow her.’ Harry groaned, wondering

whether his spine was going to snap under Dudleys weight.

‘Harry, you don’t understand! Dumbledore will need to act as

quickly as possible, the Ministry have their own ways of

detecting underage magic, they’ll know already, you mark my

words.’

‘But I was getting rid of Dementors, I had to use magic – they’re

going to be more worried about what Dementors were doing

floating around Wisteria Walk, surely?’

‘Oh, my dear, I wish it were so, but I’m afraid – MUNDUNGUS

FLETCHER, I AM GOING TO KILL YOU!’

There was a loud crack and a strong smell of drink mingled with

stale tobacco filled the air as a squat, unshaven man in a

tattered overcoat materialised right in front of them. He had

short, bandy legs, long straggly ginger hair and bloodshot, baggy

eyes that gave him the doleful look of a basset hound. He was

also clutching a silvery bundle that Harry recognised at once as

an Invisibility Cloak.

‘S’up, Figgy?’ he said, staring from Mrs Figg to Harry and Dudley.

‘What ‘appened to staying undercover?’

Til give you undercover]’ cried Mrs Figg. ‘Dementors, you useless,

skiving sneak thief!’

‘Dementors?’ repeated Mundungus, aghast. ‘Dementors, ‘ere?’

‘Yes, here, you worthless pile of bat droppings, here!’ shrieked

Mrs Figg. ‘Dementors attacking the boy on your watch!’

‘Blimey,’ said Mundungus weakly, looking from Mrs Figg to Harry,

and back again. ‘Blimey, I -‘

‘And you off buying stolen cauldrons! Didn’t I tell you not to go?

Didn’t IT

‘I – well, I -‘ Mundungus looked deeply uncomfortable. ‘It — it

was a very good business opportunity, see -‘

Mrs Figg raised the arm from which her string bag dangled and

whacked Mundungus around the face and neck with it; judging

by the clanking noise it made it was full of cat food.

‘Ouch – gerroff – gerroff, you mad old bat! Someone’s gotta tell

Dumbledore!’

‘Yes – they – have!’ yelled Mrs Figg, swinging the bag of cat food

at every bit of Mundungus she could reach. ‘And – it – had

– better – be – you – and – you – can – tell – him – why – you –

weren’t – there – to – help!’

‘Keep your ‘airnet on!’ said Mundungus, his arms over his head,

cowering. ‘I’m going, I’m going!’

And with another loud crack, he vanished.

‘I hope Dumbledore murders him!’ said Mrs Figg furiously. ‘Now

come on, Harry, what are you waiting for?’

Harry decided not to waste his remaining breath on pointing out

that he could barely walk under Dudley’s bulk. He gave the semiconscious

Dudley a heave and staggered onwards.

‘I’ll take you to the door,’ said Mrs Figg, as they turned into

Privet Drive. ‘Just in case there are more of them around… oh

my word, what a catastrophe… and you had to fight them off

yourself… and Dumbledore said we were to keep you from doing

magic at all costs… well, it’s no good crying over spilt potion, 1

suppose… but the cat’s among the pixies now.’

‘So,’ Harry panted, ‘Dumbledore’s… been having… me followed?’

‘Of course he has,’ said Mrs Figg impatiently. ‘Did you expect

him to let you wander around on your own after what happened

in June? Good Lord, boy, they told me you were intelligent…

right… get inside and stay there,’ she said, as they reached

number four. ‘I expect someone will be in touch with you soon

enough.’

‘What are you going to do?’ asked Harry quickly.

‘I’m going straight home,’ said Mrs Figg, staring around the dark

street and shuddering. ‘I’ll need to wait for more instructions.

Just stay in the house. Goodnight.’

‘Hang on, don’t go yet! I want to know –

But Mrs Figg had already set off at a trot, carpet slippers flopping,

string bag clanking.

‘Wait!’ Harry shouted after her. He had a million questions to ask

anyone who was in contact with Dumbledore; but within seconds

Mrs Figg was swallowed by the darkness. Scowling, Harry

readjusted Dudley on his shoulder and made his slow, painful

way up number four’s garden path.

The hall light was on. Harry stuck his wand back inside the

waistband of his jeans, rang the bell and watched Aunt Petunia’s

outline grow larger and larger, oddly distorted by the rippling

glass in the front door.

‘Diddy! About time too, I was getting quite – quite – Diddy,

what’s the matter!’

Harry looked sideways at Dudley and ducked out from under his

arm just in time. Dudley swayed on the spot for a moment, his

face pale green… then he opened his mouth and vomited all over

the doormat.

‘DIDDY! Diddy, what’s the matter with you? Vernon? VERNON!’

Harry’s uncle came galumphing out of the living room, walrus

moustache blowing hither and thither as it always did when he

was agitated. He hurried forwards to help Aunt Petunia negotiate

a weak-kneed Dudley over the threshold while avoiding stepping

in the pool of sick.

‘He’s ill, Vernon!’

‘What is it, son? What’s happened? Did Mrs Polkiss give you

something foreign for tea?’

‘Why are you all covered in dirt, darling? Have you been lying on

the ground?’

‘Hang on – you haven’t been mugged, have you, son?’

Aunt Petunia screamed.

‘Phone the police, Vernon! Phone the police! Diddy, darling,

speak to Mummy! What did they do to you?’

In all the kerfuffle nobody seemed to have noticed Harry, which

suited him perfectly. He managed to slip inside just before Uncle

Vernon slammed the door and, while the Dursleys made their

noisy progress down the hall towards the kitchen, Harry moved

carefully and quietly towards the stairs.

‘Who did it, son? Give us names. We’ll get them, don’t worry.’

‘Shh! He’s trying to say something, Vernon! What is it, Diddy?

Tell Mummy!’

Harry’s foot was on the bottom-most stair when Dudley found

his voice.

‘Him.’

Harry froze, foot on the stair, face screwed up, braced for the

explosion.

‘BOY! COME HERE!’

With a feeling of mingled dread and anger, Harry removed his

foot slowly from the stair and turned to follow the Dursleys.

The scrupulously clean kitchen had an oddly unreal glitter after

the darkness outside. Aunt Petunia was ushering Dudley into a

chair; he was still very green and clammy-looking. Uncle Vernon

standing in front of the draining board, glaring at Harry through

tiny, narrowed eyes.

‘What have you done to my son?’ he said in a menacing growl.

‘Nothing,’ said Harry, knowing perfectly well that Uncle Vernon

wouldn’t believe him.

‘What did he do to you, Diddy?’ Aunt Petunia said in a quavering

voice, now sponging sick from the front of Dudley’s leather

jacket. ‘Was it – was it you-know-what, darling? Did he use – his

thing?’

Slowly, tremulously, Dudley nodded.

‘I didn’t!’ Harry said sharply, as Aunt Petunia let out a wail and

Uncle Vernon raised his fists. ‘I didn’t do anything to him, it

wasn’t me, it was –

But at that precise moment a screech owl swooped in through

the kitchen window. Narrowly missing the top of Uncle Vernon’s

head, it soared across the kitchen, dropped the large parchment

envelope it was carrying in its beak at Harry’s feet, turned

gracefully, the tips of its wings just brushing the top of the fridge,

then zoomed outside again and off across the garden.

‘OWLS!’ bellowed Uncle Vernon, the well-worn vein in his temple

pulsing angrily as he slammed the kitchen window shut. ‘OWLS

AGAIN! I WILL NOT HAVE ANY MORE OWLS IN MY HOUSE!’

But Harry was already ripping open the envelope and pulling out

the letter inside, his heart pounding somewhere in the region of

his Adam’s apple.

Dear Mr Potter,

We have received intelligence that you performed the Patronus

Charm at twenty-three minutes past nine this evening in a

Muggle-inhabited area and in the presence of a Muggle.

The seventy of this breach of the Decree for the Reasonable

Restriction of Underage Sorcery has resulted in your expulsion

from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Ministry

representatives will be calling at your place of residence shortly

to destroy your wand.

As you have already received an official warning for a previous

offence under Section 13 of the International Confederation of

Warlocks’ Statute of Secrecy, we regret to inform you that your

presence is required at a disciplinary hearing at the Ministry of

Magic at 9 a.m. on the twelfth of August.

Hoping you are well,

Yours sincerely,

Mafalda Hopkirk

Improper Use of Magic Office

Ministry of Magic

Harry read the letter through twice. He was only vaguely aware

of Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia talking. Inside his head, all

was icy and numb. One fact had penetrated his consciousness

like a paralysing dart. He was expelled from Hogwarts. It was all

over. He was never going back.

He looked up at the Dursleys. Uncle Vernon was purple-faced,

shouting, his fists still raised; Aunt Petunia had her arms around

Dudley, who was retching again.

Harry’s temporarily stupefied brain seemed to reawaken.

Ministry representatives will be calling at your place of residence

shortly to destroy your wand. There was only one thing for it. He

would have to run – now. Where he was going to go, Harry didn’t

know, but he was certain of one thing: at Hogwarts or outside it,

he needed his wand. In an almost dreamlike state, he pulled his

wand out and turned to leave the kitchen.

‘Where d’you think you’re going?’ yelled Uncle Vernon. When

Harry didn’t reply, he pounded across the kitchen to block the

doorway into the hall. ‘I haven’t finished with you, boy!’

‘Get out of the way,’ said Harry quietly.

‘You’re going to stay here and explain how my son —’

‘If you don’t get out of the way I’m going to jinx you,’ said Harry,

raising the wand.

‘You can’t pull that one on me!’ snarled Uncle Vernon. ‘I know

you’re not allowed to use it outside that madhouse you call a

school!’

The madhouse has chucked me out,’ said Harry. ‘So I can do

whatever I like. You’ve got three seconds. One – two -‘

A resounding CRACK filled the kitchen. Aunt Petunia screamed,

I hide Vernon yelled and ducked, but for the third time that night

Harry was searching for the source of a disturbance he had not

made. He spotted it at once: a dazed and ruffled-looking barn

owl was sitting outside on the kitchen sill, having just collided

with the closed window.

Ignoring Uncle Vernon’s anguished yell of ‘OWLS!’ Harry crossed

the room at a run and wrenched the window open. The owl stuck

out its leg, to which a small roll of parchment was tied, shook its

leathers, and took off the moment Harry had taken the letter.

Hands shaking, Harry unfurled the second message, which was

written very hastily and blotchily in black ink.

Harry —

Dumbledore’s just arrived at the Ministry and he’s trying to sort

it all out. DO NOT LEAVE YOUR AUNT AND UNCLE’S HOUSE. DO

NOT DO ANY MORE MAGIC. DO NOT SURRENDER YOUR WAND.

Arthur Weasley

Dumbledore was trying to sort it all out… what did that mean?

How much power did Dumbledore have to override the Ministry

of Magic? Was there a chance that he might be allowed back to

Hogwarts, then? A small shoot of hope burgeoned in Harry’s

chest, almost immediately strangled by panic – how was he

supposed to refuse to surrender his wand without doing magic?

He’d have to duel with the Ministry representatives, and if he did

that, he’d be lucky to escape Azkaban, let alone expulsion.

His mind was racing… he could run for it and risk being cap-lured

by the Ministry, or stay put and wait for them to find him here.

He was much more tempted by the former course, but he knew

Mr Weasley had his best interests at heart… and after all,

Dumbledore had sorted out much worse than this before.

‘Right,’ Harry said, ‘I’ve changed my mind, I’m staying.’ He flung

himself down at the kitchen table and faced Dudley and Aunt

Petunia. The Dursleys appeared taken aback at his abrupt

change of mind. Aunt Petunia glanced despairingly at Uncle

Vernon. The vein in his purple temple was throbbing worse than

ever.

‘Who are all these ruddy owls from?’ he growled.

The first one was from the Ministry of Magic, expelling me,’ said

Harry calmly. He was straining his ears to catch any noises

outside, in case the Ministry representatives were approaching,

and it was easier and quieter to answer Uncle Vernon’s questions

than to have him start raging and bellowing. ‘The second one

was from my friend Ron’s dad, who works at the Ministry.’

Ministry of Magic?’ bellowed Uncle Vernon. ‘People like you in

government! Oh, this explains everything, everything, no wonder

the country’s going to the dogs.’

When Harry did not respond, Uncle Vernon glared at him, then

spat out, ‘And why have you been expelled?’

‘Because I did magic.’

‘AHA!’ roared Uncle Vernon, slamming his fist down on top of the

fridge, which sprang open; several of Dudley’s low-fat snacks

toppled out and burst on the floor. ‘So you admit it! What did

you do to Dudley?’

‘Nothing,’ said Harry, slightly less calmly. ‘That wasn’t me -‘

‘Was,’ muttered Dudley unexpectedly, and Uncle Vernon and

Aunt Petunia instantly made flapping gestures at Harry to

quieten him while they both bent low over Dudley.

‘Go on, son,’ said Uncle Vernon, ‘what did he do?’

Tell us, darling,’ whispered Aunt Petunia.

‘Pointed his wand at me,’ Dudley mumbled.

‘Yeah, I did, but I didn’t use -‘ Harry began angrily, but –

‘SHUT UP!’ roared Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia in unison.

‘Go on, son,’ repeated Uncle Vernon, moustache blowing about

furiously.

‘All went dark,’ Dudley said hoarsely, shuddering. ‘Everything

dark. And then I h-heard… things. Inside m-my head.’

Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia exchanged looks of utter horror.

If their least favourite thing in the world was magic – closely

followed by neighbours who cheated more than they did on the

hosepipe ban – people who heard voices were definitely in the

bottom ten. They obviously thought Dudley was losing his mind.

‘What sort of things did you hear, Popkin?’ breathed Aunt

Petunia, very white-faced and with tears in her eyes.

But Dudley seemed incapable of saying. He shuddered again and

shook his large blond head, and despite the sense of numb dread

that had settled on Harry since the arrival of the first owl, he felt

a certain curiosity. Dementors caused a person to relive the

worst moments of their life. What would spoiled, pampered,

bullying Dudley have been forced to hear?

‘How come you fell over, son?’ said Uncle Vernon, in an

unnaturally quiet voice, the kind of voice he might adopt at the

bedside of a very ill person.

‘T-tripped,’ said Dudley shakily. ‘And then –

He gestured at his massive chest. Harry understood. Dudley was

remembering the clammy cold that filled the lungs as hope and

happiness were sucked out of you.

‘Horrible,’ croaked Dudley. ‘Cold. Really cold.’

‘OK,’ said Uncle Vernon, in a voice of forced calm, while Aunt

Petunia laid an anxious hand on Dudley’s forehead to feel his

temperature. ‘What happened then, Dudders?’

‘Felt… felt… felt… as if… as if…’

‘As if you’d never be happy again,’ Harry supplied dully.

‘Yes,’ Dudley whispered, still trembling.

‘So!’ said Uncle Vernon, voice restored to full and considerable

volume as he straightened up. ‘You put some crackpot spell on

my son so he’d hear voices and believe he was – was doomed to

misery, or something, did you?’

‘How many times do I have to tell you?’ said Harry, temper and

voice both rising. ‘It wasn’t me! It was a couple of Dementors!’

‘A couple of – what’s this codswallop?’

‘De – men – tors,’ said Harry slowly and clearly. ‘Two of them.’

‘And what the ruddy hell are Dementors?’

‘They guard the wizard prison, Azkaban,’ said Aunt Petunia.

Two seconds of ringing silence followed these words before Aunt

Petunia clapped her hand over her mouth as though she had let

slip a disgusting swear word. Uncle Vernon was goggling at her.

Harrys brain reeled. Mrs Figg was one thing – but Aunt Petunia’?

‘How d’you know that?’ he asked her, astonished.

Aunt Petunia looked quite appalled with herself. She glanced at

Uncle Vernon in fearful apology, then lowered her hand slightly

to reveal her horsy teeth.

‘I heard – that awful boy – telling her about them – years ago,’

she said jerkily.

‘If you mean my mum and dad, why don’t you use their names?’

said Harry loudly, but Aunt Petunia ignored him. She seemed

horribly flustered.

Harry was stunned. Except for one outburst years ago, in the

course of which Aunt Petunia had screamed that Harry’s mother

had been a freak, he had. never heard her mention her sister.

He was astounded that she had remembered this scrap of

information about the magical world for so long, when she

usually put all her energies into pretending it didn’t exist.

Uncle Vernon opened his mouth, closed it again, opened it once

more, shut it, then, apparently struggling to remember how to

talk, opened it for a third time and croaked, ‘So – so – they – er –

they – er – they actually exist, do they – er – Dementy-whatsits?’

Aunt Petunia nodded.

Uncle Vernon looked from Aunt Petunia to Dudley to Harry as if

hoping somebody was going to shout ‘April Fool!’ When nobody

did, he opened his mouth yet again, but was spared the struggle

to find more words by the arrival of the third owl of the evening.

It zoomed through the still-open window like a feathery cannonball

and landed with a clatter on the kitchen table, causing all

three of the Dursleys to jump with fright. Harry tore a second

official-looking envelope from the owls beak and ripped it open

as the owl swooped back out into the night.

‘Enough – effing – owls,’ muttered Uncle Vernon distractedly,

stomping over to the window and slamming it shut again.

Dear Mr Potter,

Further to our letter of approximately twenty-two minutes ago,

the

Ministry of Magic has revised its decision to destroy your wand

forthwith. You may retain your wand until your disciplinary

hearing on the twelfth of August, at which time an official

decision will be taken.

Following discussions with the Headmaster of Hogwarts School

o/ Witchcraft and Wizardry, the Ministry has agreed that the

question of your expulsion will also be decided at that time. You

should therefore consider yourself suspended from school

pending further enquiries.

With best wishes,

Yours sincerely,

Mafalda Hopkirk

Improper Use of Magic Office

Ministry of Magic

Harry read this letter through three times in quick succession.

The miserable knot in his chest loosened slightly with the relief

of Knowing he was not yet definitely expelled, though his fears

were by no means banished. Everything seemed to hang on this

hearing on the twelfth of August.

‘Well?’ said Uncle Vernon, recalling Harry to his surroundings.

‘What now? Have they sentenced you to anything? Do your lot

have the death penalty?’ he added as a hopeful afterthought.

‘I’ve got to go to a hearing,’ said Harry.

‘And they’ll sentence you there?’

‘I suppose so.’

‘I won’t give up hope, then,’ said Uncle Vernon nastily.

‘Well, if that’s all,’ said Harry, getting to his feet. He was desperate

to be alone, to think, perhaps to send a letter to Ron,

Hermione or Sirius.

‘NO, IT RUDDY WELL IS NOT ALL!’ bellowed Uncle Vernon. ‘SIT

BACK DOWN!’

‘What now?’ said Harry impatiently.

‘DUDLEY!’ roared Uncle Vernon. ‘I want to know exactly what

happened to my son!’

‘FINE!’ yelled Harry, and in his temper, red and gold sparks shot

out of the end of his wand, still clutched in his hand. All three

Dursleys flinched, looking terrified.

‘Dudley and 1 were in the alleyway between Magnolia Crescent

and Wisteria Walk,’ said Harry, speaking fast, fighting to control

his temper. ‘Dudley thought he’d be smart with me, I pulled out

my wand but didn’t use it. Then two Dementors turned up —’

‘But what ARE Dementoids?’ asked Uncle Vernon furiously. ‘What

do they DO?’

‘I told you – they suck all the happiness out of you,’ said Harry,

‘and if they get the chance, they kiss you –

‘Kiss you?’ said Uncle Vernon, his eyes popping slightly. ‘Kiss

you?’

‘It’s what they call it when they suck the soul out of your mouth.’

Aunt Petunia uttered a soft scream.

‘His soul? They didn’t take – he’s still got his -‘

She seized Dudley by the shoulders and shook him, as though

testing to see whether she could hear his soul rattling around

inside him.

‘Of course they didn’t get his soul, you’d know if they had,’ said

Harry, exasperated.

‘Fought ’em off, did you, son?’ said Uncle Vernon loudly, with the

appearance of a man struggling to bring the conversation back

on to a plane he understood. ‘Gave ’em the old one-two, did

you?’

‘You can’t give a Dementor the old one-two,’ said Harry through

clenched teeth.

‘Why’s he all right, then?’ blustered Uncle Vernon. ‘Why isn’t he

all empty, then?’

‘Because I used the Patronus -‘

WHOOSH. With a clattering, a whirring of wings and a soft fall of

dust, a fourth owl came shooting out of the kitchen fireplace.

‘FOR GOD’S SAKE!’ roared Uncle Vernon, pulling great clumps of

hair out of his moustache, something he hadn’t been driven to

do in a long time. ‘I WILL NOT HAVE OWLS HERE, I WILL NOT

TOLERATE THIS, I TELL YOU!’

But Harry was already pulling a roll of parchment from the owl’s

leg. He was so convinced that this letter had to be from

Dumbledore, explaining everything – the Dementors, Mrs Figg,

what the Ministry was up to, how he, Dumbledore, intended to

sort everything out – that for the first time in his life he was

disappointed to see Sirius’s handwriting. Ignoring Uncle Vernon’s

ongoing rant about owls, and narrowing his eyes against a

second cloud of dust as the most recent owl look off back up the

chimney, Harry read Sirius’s message.

Arthur has just told us what’s happened. Don’t leave the house

again, whatever you do.

Harry found this such an inadequate response to everything that

had happened tonight that he turned the piece of parchment

over, looking for the rest of the letter, but there was nothing else.

And now his temper was rising again. Wasn’t anybody going to

say ‘well done’ for fighting off two Dementors single-handed?

Both Mr Weasley and Sirius were acting as though he’d

misbehaved, and were saving their tellings-off until they could

ascertain how much damage had been done.

‘… a peck, 1 mean, pack of owls shooting in and out of my house.

I won’t have it, boy, 1 won’t -‘

‘I can’t stop the owls coming,’ Harry snapped, crushing Sirius’s

letter in his fist.

I want the truth about what happened tonight!’ barked Uncle Yirnon.

‘If it was Demenders who hurt Dudley, how come you’ve

been expelled? You did you-know-what, you’ve admitted it!’

Harry took a deep, steadying breath. His head was beginning to

ache again. He wanted more than anything to get out of the

kitchen, and away from the Dursleys.

‘I did the Patronus Charm to get rid of the Dementors,’ he said,

forcing himself to remain calm. ‘It’s the only thing that works

against them.’

‘But what were Dementoids doing in Little Whinging?’ said Uncle

Vernon in an outraged tone.

‘Couldn’t tell you,’ said Harry wearily. ‘No idea.’

His head was pounding in the glare of the strip-lighting now. His

anger was ebbing away. He felt drained, exhausted. The

Dursleys were all staring at him.

‘It’s you,’ said Uncle Vernon forcefully. ‘It’s got something to do

with you, boy, I know it. Why else would they turn up here? Why

else would they be down that alleyway? You’ve got to be the

only – the only -‘ Evidently, he couldn’t bring himself to say the

word ‘wizard’. The only you-know-what for miles.’

‘I don’t know why they were here.’

But at Uncle Vernon’s words, Harry’s exhausted brain had

ground back into action. Why had the Dementors come to Little

Whinging? How could it be coincidence that they had arrived in

the alleyway where Harry was? Had they been sent? Had the

Ministry of Magic lost control of the Dementors? Had they

deserted Azkaban and joined Voldemort, as Dumbledore had

predicted they would?

These Demembers guard some weirdo prison?’ asked Uncle

Vernon, lumbering along in the wake of Harry’s train of thought.

‘Yes,’ said Harry.

If only his head would stop hurting, if only he could just leave

the kitchen and get to his dark bedroom and think

‘Oho! They were coming to arrest you!’ said Uncle Vernon, with

the triumphant air of a man reaching an unassailable conclusion.

That’s it, isn’t it, boy? You’re on the run from the law!’

‘Of course I’m not,’ said Harry, shaking his head as though to

scare off a fly, his mind racing now.

Then why -?’

‘He must have sent them,’ said Harry quietly, more to himself

than to Uncle Vernon.

‘What’s that? Who must have sent them?’

‘Lord Voldemort,’ said Harry.

He registered dimly how strange it was that the Dursleys, who

flinched, winced and squawked if they heard words like ‘wizard’,

‘magic’ or ‘wand’, could hear the name of the most evil wizard of

all time without the slightest tremor.

‘Lord – hang on,’ said Uncle Vernon, his face screwed up, a look

of dawning comprehension coming into his piggy eyes. ‘I’ve

heard that name… that was the one who —’

‘Murdered my parents, yes,’ Harry said dully.

‘But he’s gone,’ said Uncle Vernon impatiently, without the

slightest sign that the murder of Harry’s parents might be a

painful topic. That giant bloke said so. He’s gone.’

‘He’s back,’ said Harry heavily.

It felt very strange to be standing here in Aunt Petunia’s

surgically clean kitchen, beside the top-of-the-range fridge and

the wide-screen television, talking calmly of Lord Voldemort to

Uncle Vernon. The arrival of the Dementors in Little Whinging

seemed to have breached the great, invisible wall that divided

the relentlessly non-magical world of Privet Drive and the world

beyond, Harry’s two lives had somehow become fused and

everything had been turned upside-down; the Dursleys were

asking for details about the magical world, and Mrs Figg knew

Albus Dumbledore; Dementors were soaring around Little

Whinging, and he might never return to Hogwarts. Harry’s head

throbbed more painfully.

‘Back?’ whispered Aunt Petunia.

She was looking at Harry as she had never looked at him before.

And all of a sudden, for the very first time in his life, Harry fully

appreciated that Aunt Petunia was his mother’s sister. He could

not have said why this hit him so very powerfully at this moment.

All he knew was that he was not the only person in the room

who had an inkling of what Lord Voldemort being back might

mean. Aunt Petunia had never in her life looked at him like that

before. Her large, pale eyes (so unlike her sister’s) were not

narrowed in dislike or anger, they were wide and fearful. The

furious pretence that Aunt Petunia had maintained all Harry’s life

– that there was no magic and no world other than the world she

inhabited with Uncle Vernon – seemed to have fallen away.

‘Yes,’ Harry said, talking directly to Aunt Petunia now. ‘He came

back a month ago. I saw him.’

Her hands found Dudley’s massive leather-clad shoulders and

clutched them.

‘Hang on,’ said Uncle Vernon, looking from his wife to Harry and

back again, apparently dazed and confused by the unprecedented

understanding that seemed to have sprung up between

them. ‘Hang on. This Lord Voldything’s back, you say.’

‘Yes.’

The one who murdered your parents.’

‘Yes.’

‘And now he’s sending Dismembers after you?’

‘Looks like it,’ said Harry.

‘I see,’ said Uncle Vernon, looking from his white-faced wife to

Harry and hitching up his trousers. He seemed to be swelling, his

great purple face stretching before Harry’s eyes. ‘Well, that

settles it,’ he said, his shirt front straining as he inflated himself,

you can get out of this house, boy!’

‘What?’ said Harry.

‘You heard me – OUT!’ Uncle Vernon bellowed, and even Aunt

Petunia and Dudley jumped. ‘OUT! OUT! I should’ve done this

years ago! Owls treating the place like a rest home, puddings

exploding, half the lounge destroyed, Dudley’s tail, Marge

bobbing around on the ceiling and that flying Ford Anglia – OUT!

OUT! You’ve had it! You’re history! You’re not staying here if

some loony’s after you, you’re not endangering my wife and son,

you’re not bringing trouble down on us. If you’re going the same

way as your useless parents, I’ve had it! OUT!’

Harry stood rooted to the spot. The letters from the Ministry, Mr

Weasley and Sirius were all crushed in his left hand. Don’t leave

the house again, whatever you do. DO NOT LEAVE YOUR AUNT

AND UNCLE’S HOUSE.

‘You heard me!’ said Uncle Vernon, bending forwards now, his

massive purple face coming so close to Harry’s, he actually felt

flecks of spit hit his face. ‘Get going! You were all keen to leave

half an hour ago! I’m right behind you! Get out and never darken

our doorstep again! Why we ever kept you in the first place, I

don’t know, Marge was right, it should have been the orphanage.

We were too damn soft for our own good, thought we could

squash it out of you, thought we could turn you normal, but

you’ve been rotten from the beginning and I’ve had enough –

owls!’

The fifth owl zoomed down the chimney so fast it actually hit the

floor before zooming into the air again with a loud screech. Harry

raised his hand to seize the letter, which was in a scarlet

envelope, but it soared straight over his head, flying directly at

Aunt Petunia, who let out a scream and ducked, her arms over

her face. The owl dropped the red envelope on her head, turned,

and flew straight back up the chimney.

Harry darted forwards to pick up the letter, but Aunt Petunia

beat him to it.

‘You can open it if you like,’ said Harry, ‘but I’ll hear what it says

anyway. That’s a Howler.’

‘Let go of it, Petunia!’ roared Uncle Vernon. ‘Don’t touch it, it

could be dangerous!’

‘It’s addressed to me,’ said Aunt Petunia in a shaking voice. ‘It’s

addressed to me, Vernon, look! Mrs Petunia Dursley, The Kitchen,

Number Four, Privet Drive –

She caught her breath, horrified. The red envelope had begun to

smoke.

‘Open it!’ Harry urged her. ‘Get it over with! It’ll happen

anyway.’

‘No.’

Aunt Petunia’s hand was trembling. She looked wildly around the

kitchen as though looking for an escape route, but too late -the

envelope burst into flames. Aunt Petunia screamed and dropped

it.

An awful voice filled the kitchen, echoing in the confined space,

issuing from the burning letter on the table.

‘Remember my last, Petunia.’

Aunt Petunia looked as though she might faint. She sank into the

chair beside Dudley, her face in her hands. The remains of the

envelope smouldered into ash in the silence.

‘What is this?’ Uncle Vernon said hoarsely. ‘What – I don’t –

Petunia?’

Aunt Petunia said nothing. Dudley was staring stupidly at his

mother, his mouth hanging open. The silence spiralled horribly.

Harry was watching his aunt, utterly bewildered, his head

throbbing fit to burst.

‘Petunia, dear?’ said Uncle Vernon timidly. ‘P-Petunia?’

She raised her head. She was still trembling. She swallowed.

‘The boy – the boy will have to stay, Vernon,’ she said weakly.

‘W-what?’

‘He stays,’ she said. She was not looking at Harry. She got to her

feet again.

‘He… but Petunia…’

‘If we throw him out, the neighbours will talk,’ she said. She was

rapidly regaining her usual brisk, snappish manner, though she

was still very pale. They’ll ask awkward questions, they’ll want to

know where he’s gone. We’ll have to keep him.’

Uncle Vernon was deflating like an old tyre.

‘But Petunia, dear –

Aunt Petunia ignored him. She turned to Harry. ‘You’re to stay in

your room,’ she said. ‘You’re not to leave the house. Now get to

bed.’ Harry didn’t move. ‘Who was that Howler from?’

‘Don’t ask questions,’ Aunt Petunia snapped. ‘Are you in touch

with wizards?’

‘I told you to get to bed!’

‘What did it mean? Remember the last what?’

‘Go to bed!’

‘How come -?’

‘YOU HEARD YOUR AUNT, NOW GO UP TO BED!’

— CHAPTER THREE —

The Advance Guard

I’ve just been attacked by Dementors and I might be expelled

from llogwarts. I want to know what’s going on and when I’m

going to get out of here.

Harry copied these words on to three separate pieces of

parchment the moment he reached the desk in his dark bedroom.

He addressed the first to Sirius, the second to Ron and the third

to Hermione. His owl, Hedwig, was off hunting; her cage stood

empty on the desk. Harry paced the bedroom waiting for her to

come back, his head pounding, his brain too busy for sleep even

though his eyes stung and itched with tiredness. His back ached

from hauling Dudley home, and the two lumps on his head

where the window and Dudley had hit him were throbbing

painfully.

Up and down he paced, consumed with anger and frustration,

grinding his teeth and clenching his fists, casting angry looks out

at the empty, star-strewn sky every time he passed the window.

Dementors sent to get him, Mrs Figg and Mundungus Fletcher

tailing him in secret, then suspension fromHogwarts and a

hearing at the Ministry of Magic – and still no one was telling him

what was going on.

And what, what, had that Howler been about? Whose voice had

echoed so horribly, so menacingly, through the kitchen?

Why was he still trapped here without information? Why was

everyone treating him like some naughty kid? Don’t do any more

magic, stay in the house

He kicked his school trunk as he passed it, but far from relieving

his anger he felt worse, as he now had a sharp pain in his toe to

deal with in addition to the pain in the rest of his body.

Just as he limped past the window, Hedwig soared through it

with a soft rustle of wings like a small ghost.

‘About time!’ Harry snarled, as she landed lightly on top of her

cage. ‘You can put that down, I’ve got work for you!’

Hedwig’s large, round, amber eyes gazed at him reproachfully

over the dead frog clamped in her beak.

‘Come here,’ said Harry, picking up the three small rolls of

parchment and a leather thong and tying the scrolls to her scaly

leg. Take these straight to Sirius, Ron and Hermione and don’t

come back here without good long replies. Keep pecking them till

they’ve written decent-length answers if you’ve got to.

Understand?’

Hedwig gave a muffled hooting noise, her beak still full of frog.

‘Get going, then,’ said Harry.

She took off immediately. The moment she’d gone, Harry threw

himself down on his bed without undressing and stared at the

dark ceiling. In addition to every other miserable feeling, he now

felt guilty that he’d been irritable with Hedwig; she was the only

friend he had at number four, Privet Drive. But he’d make it up

to her when she came back with the answers from Sirius, Ron

and Hermione.

They were bound to write back quickly; they couldn’t possibly

ignore a Dementor attack. He’d probably wake up tomorrow to

three fat letters full of sympathy and plans for his immediate

removal to The Burrow. And with that comforting idea, sleep

rolled over him, stifling all further thought.

*

But Hedwig didn’t return next morning. Harry spent the day in

his bedroom, leaving it only to go to the bathroom. Three times

that day Aunt Petunia shoved food into his room through the catflap

Uncle Vernon had installed three summers ago. Every time

Harry heard her approaching he tried to question her about the

Howler, but he might as well have interrogated the doorknob for

all the answers he got. Otherwise, the Dursleys kept well clear of

his bedroom. Harry couldn’t see the point of forcing his company

on them; another row would achieve nothing except perhaps

make him so angry he’d perform more illegal magic.

So it went on for three whole days. Harry was alternately filled

with restless energy that made him unable to settle to anything,

during which time he paced his bedroom, furious at the whole lot

of them for leaving him to stew in this mess; and with a lethargy

so complete that he could lie on his bed for an hour at a time,

staring dazedly into space, aching with dread at the thought of

the Ministry hearing.

What if they ruled against him? What if he was expelled and his

wand was snapped in half? What would he do, where would he

go? He could not return to living full-time with the Dursleys, not

now he knew the other world, the one to which he really

belonged. Might he be able to move into Siriuss house, as Sirius

had suggested a year ago, before he had been forced to flee

from the Ministry? Would Harry be allowed to live there alone,

given that he was still underage? Or would the matter of where

he went next be decided for him? Had his breach of the

International Statute of Secrecy been severe enough to land him

in a cell in Azkaban? Whenever this thought occurred, Harry

invariably slid off his bed and began pacing again.

On the fourth night after Hedwig’s departure Harry was lying in

one of his apathetic phases, staring at the ceiling, his exhausted

mind quite blank, when his uncle entered his bedroom. Harry

looked slowly around at him. Uncle Vernon was wearing his best

suit and an expression of enormous smugness.

‘We’re going out,’ he said.

‘Sorry?’

‘We – that is to say, your aunt, Dudley and I – are going out.’

‘Fine,’ said Harry dully, looking back at the ceiling.

‘You are not to leave your bedroom while we are away.’

‘OK.’

‘You are not to touch the television, the stereo, or any of our

possessions.’

‘Right.’

‘You are not to steal food from the fridge.’

‘OK.’

‘I am going to lock your door.’

‘You do that.’

Uncle Vernon glared at Harry, clearly suspicious of this lack of

argument, then stomped out of the room and closed the door

behind him. Harry heard the key turn in the lock and Uncle

Vernon’s footsteps walking heavily down the stairs. A few

minutes later he heard the slamming of car doors, the rumble of

an engine, and the unmistakeable sound of the car sweeping out

of the drive.

Harry had no particular feeling about the Dursleys leaving. It

made no difference to him whether they were in the house or not.

He could not even summon the energy to get up and turn on his

bedroom light. The room grew steadily darker around him as he

lay listening to the night sounds through the window he kept

open all the time, waiting for the blessed moment when Hedwig

returned. The empty house creaked around him. The pipes

gurgled. Harry lay there in a kind of stupor, thinking of nothing,

suspended in misery.

Then, quite distinctly, he heard a crash in the kitchen below. He

sat bolt upright, listening intently. The Dursleys couldn’t be back,

it was much too soon, and in any case he hadn’t heard their car.

There was silence for a few seconds, then voices. Burglars, he

thought, sliding off the bed on to his feet – but a split second

later it occurred to him that burglars would keep their voices

down, and whoever was moving around in the kitchen was

certainly not troubling to do so.

He snatched up his wand from the bedside table and stood facing

his bedroom door, listening with all his might. Next moment, he

jumped as the lock gave a loud click and his door swung open.

Harry stood motionless, staring through the open doorway at the

dark upstairs landing, straining his ears for further sounds, but

none came. He hesitated for a moment, then moved swiftly and

silently out of his room to the head of the stairs.

His heart shot upwards into his throat. There were people

standing in the shadowy hall below, silhouetted against the

streetlight glowing through the glass door; eight or nine of them,

all, as far as he could see, looking up at him.

‘Lower your wand, boy, before you take someone’s eye out,’ said

a low, growling voice.

Harry’s heart was thumping uncontrollably. He knew that voice,

but he did not lower his wand.

‘Professor Moody?’ he said uncertainly.

‘I don’t know so much about “Professor”,’ growled the voice,

‘never got round to much teaching, did I? Get down here, we

want to see you properly.’

Harry lowered his wand slightly but did not relax his grip on it,

nor did he move. He had very good reason to be suspicious. He

had recently spent nine months in what he had thought was

Mad-Eye Moody’s company only to find out that it wasn’t Moody

at all, but an impostor; an impostor, moreover, who had tried to

kill Harry before being unmasked. But before he could make a

decision about what to do next, a second, slightly hoarse voice

floated upstairs.

‘It’s all right, Harry. We’ve come to take you away.’

Harry’s heart leapt. He knew that voice, too, though he hadn’t

heard it for over a year.

‘P-Professor Lupin?’ he said disbelievingly. ‘Is that you?’

‘Why are we all standing in the dark?’ said a third voice, this one

completely unfamiliar, a woman’s. ‘Lumos.’

A wand-tip flared, illuminating the hall with magical light. Harry

blinked. The people below were crowded around the foot of the

stairs, gazing up at him intently, some craning their heads for a

better look.

Remus Lupin stood nearest to him. Though still quite young,

Lupin looked tired and rather ill; he had more grey hairs than

when Harry had last said goodbye to him and his robes were

more patched and shabbier than ever. Nevertheless, he was

smiling broadly at Harry, who tried to smile back despite his

state of shock.

‘Oooh, he looks just like I thought he would,’ said the witch who

was holding her lit wand aloft. She looked the youngest there;

she had a pale heart-shaped face, dark twinkling eyes, and short

spiky hair that was a violent shade of violet. ‘Wotcher, Harry!’

‘Yeah, I see what you mean, Remus,’ said a bald black wizard

standing furthest back – he had a deep, slow voice and wore a

single gold hoop in his ear – ‘he looks exactly like James.’

‘Except the eyes,’ said a wheezy-voiced, silver-haired wizard at

the back. ‘Lily’s eyes.’

Mad-Eye Moody, who had long grizzled grey hair and a large

chunk missing from his nose, was squinting suspiciously at Harry

through his mismatched eyes. One eye was small, dark and

beady, the other large, round and electric blue – the magical eye

that could see through walls, doors and the back of Moody’s own

head. ‘Are you quite sure it’s him, Lupin?’ he growled. ‘It’d be a

nice lookout if we bring back some Death Eater impersonating

him. We ought to ask him something only the real Potter would

know. Unless anyone brought any Veritaserum?’

‘Harry, what form does your Patronus take?’ Lupin asked. ‘A

stag,’ said Harry nervously. That’s him, Mad-Eye,’ said Lupin.

Very conscious of everybody still staring at him, Harry

descended the stairs, stowing his wand in the back pocket of his

jeans as he came.

‘Don’t put your wand there, boy!’ roared Moody. ‘What if it

ignited? Better wizards than you have lost buttocks, you know!’

‘Who d’you know who’s lost a buttock?’ the violet-haired woman

asked Mad-Eye interestedly.

‘Never you mind, you just keep your wand out of your back

pocket!’ growled Mad-Eye. ‘Elementary wand-safety, nobody

bothers about it any more.’ He stumped off towards the kitchen.

‘And I saw that,’ he added irritably, as the woman rolled her

eyes towards the ceiling.

Lupin held out his hand and shook Harry’s. ‘How are you?’ he

asked, looking closely at Harry. T-fine…’

Harry could hardly believe this was real. Four weeks with nothing,

not the tiniest hint of a plan to remove him from Privet Drive,

and suddenly a whole bunch of wizards was standing matter-offactly

in the house as though this was a long-standing

arrangement. He glanced at the people surrounding Lupin; they

were still gazing avidly at him. He felt very conscious of the fact

that he had not combed his hair for four days.

‘I’m – you’re really lucky the Dursleys are out…’ he mumbled.

‘Lucky, ha!’ said the violet-haired woman. ‘It was me who lured

them out of the way. Sent a letter by Muggle post telling them

they’d been short-listed for the All-England Best Kept Suburban

Lawn Competition. They’re heading off to the prize-giving right

now… or they think they are.’

Harry had a fleeting vision of Uncle Vernon’s face when he

realised there was no All-England Best Kept Suburban Lawn

Competition.

‘We are leaving, aren’t we?’ he asked. ‘Soon?’

Almost at once,’ said Lupin, ‘we’re just waiting for the all-clear.’

‘Where are we going? The Burrow?’ Harry asked hopefully.

‘Not The Burrow, no,’ said Lupin, motioning Harry towards the

kitchen; the little knot of wizards followed, all still eyeing Harry

curiously. Too risky. We’ve set up Headquarters somewhere undetectable.

It’s taken a while…’

Mad-Eye Moody was now sitting at the kitchen table swigging

from a hip flask, his magical eye spinning in all directions, taking

in the Dursleys’ many labour-saving appliances.

‘This is Alastor Moody, Harry’ Lupin continued, pointing towards

Moody.

‘Yeah, I know,’ said Harry uncomfortably. It felt odd to be introduced

to somebody he’d thought he’d known for a year.

‘And this is Nymphadora -‘

‘Don’t call me Nymphadora, Remus,’ said the young witch with a

shudder, ‘it’s Tonks.’

‘Nymphadora Tonks, who prefers to be known by her surname

only,’ finished Lupin.

‘So would you if your fool of a mother had called you

Nymphadora,’ muttered Tonks.

‘And this is Kingsley Shacklebolt.’ He indicated the tall black

wizard, who bowed. ‘Elphias Doge.’ The wheezy-voiced wizard

nodded. ‘Dedalus Diggle -‘

‘We’ve met before,’ squeaked the excitable Diggle, dropping his

violet-coloured top hat.

‘Emmeline Vance.’ A stately-looking witch in an emerald green

shawl inclined her head. ‘Sturgis Podmore.’ A square-jawed

wizard with thick straw-coloured hair winked. ‘And Hestia Jones.’

A pink-cheeked, black-haired witch waved from next to the

toaster.

Harry inclined his head awkwardly at each of them as they were

introduced. He wished they would look at something other than

him; it was as though he had suddenly been ushered on-stage.

He also wondered why so many of them were there.

‘A surprising number of people volunteered to come and get

you,’ said Lupin, as though he had read Harry’s mind; the

corners of his mouth twitched slightly.

‘Yeah, well, the more the better,’ said Moody darkly. ‘We’re your

guard, Potter.’

‘We’re just waiting for the signal to tell us it’s safe to set off,’

said Lupin, glancing out of the kitchen window. ‘We’ve got about

fifteen minutes.’

‘Very clean, aren’t they, these Muggles?’ said the witch called

Tonks, who was looking around the kitchen with great interest.

‘My dad’s Muggle-born and he’s a right old slob. I suppose it

varies, just as it does with wizards?’

‘Er – yeah,’ said Harry. ‘Look -‘ he turned back to Lupin, ‘what’s

going on, I haven’t heard anything from anyone, what’s Vol—?’

Several of the witches and wizards made odd hissing noises;

Dedalus Diggle dropped his hat again and Moody growled, ‘Shut

up!’

What?’ said Harry.

‘We’re not discussing anything here, it’s too risky,’ said Moody,

turning his normal eye on Harry. His magical eye remained

focused on the ceiling. ‘Damn it,’ he added angrily, putting a

hand up to the magical eye, ‘it keeps getting stuck – ever since

that scum wore it.’

And with a nasty squelching sound much like a plunger being

pulled from a sink, he popped out his eye.

‘Mad-Eye, you do know that’s disgusting, don’t you?’ said Tonks

conversationally.

‘Get me a glass of water, would you, Harry,’ requested Moody.

Harry crossed to the dishwasher, took out a clean glass and filled

it with water at the sink, still watched eagerly by the band of

wizards. Their relentless staring was starting to annoy him.

‘Cheers,’ said Moody, when Harry handed him the glass. He

dropped the magical eyeball into the water and prodded it up

and down; the eye whizzed around, staring at them all in turn. ‘I

want three hundred and sixty degrees visibility on the return

journey.’

‘How’re we getting – wherever we’re going?’ Harry asked.

‘Brooms,’ said Lupin. ‘Only way. You’re too young to Apparate,

they’ll be watching the Floo Network and it’s more than our life’s

worth to set up an unauthorised Portkey.’

‘Remus says you’re a good flier,’ said Kingsley Shacklebolt in his

deep voice.

‘He’s excellent,’ said Lupin, who was checking his watch.

‘Anyway, you’d better go and get packed, Harry, we want to be

ready to go when the signal comes.’

‘I’ll come and help you,’ said Tonks brightly.

She followed Harry back into the hall and up the stairs, looking

around with much curiosity and interest.

‘Funny place,’ she said. ‘It’s a bit too clean, d’you know what 1

mean? Bit unnatural. Oh, this is better,’ she added, as they

entered Harry’s bedroom and he turned on the light.

His room was certainly much messier than the rest of the house.

Confined to it for four days in a very bad mood, Harry had not

bothered tidying up after himself. Most of the books he owned

were strewn over the floor where he’d tried to distract himself

with each in turn and thrown it aside; Hedwig’s cage needed

cleaning out and was starting to smell; and his trunk lay open,

revealing a jumbled mixture of Muggle clothes and wizards’

robes that had spilled on to the floor around it.

Harry started picking up books and throwing them hastily into

his trunk. Tonks paused at his open wardrobe to look critically at

her reflection in the mirror on the inside of the door.

‘You know, I don’t think violet’s really my colour,’ she said pensivey,

tugging at a lock of spiky hair. ‘D’you think it makes me

look a bit peaky?’

‘Er -‘ said Harry, looking up at her over the top of Quidditch

Teams of Britain and Ireland.

‘Yeah, it does,’ said Tonks decisively. She screwed up her eyes in

a strained expression as though she was struggling to remember

something. A second later, her hair had turned bubble-gum pink.

‘How did you do that?’ said Harry, gaping at her as she opened

her eyes again.

‘I’m a Metamorphmagus,’ she said, looking back at her reflection

and turning her head so that she could see her hair from all

directions. ‘It means I can change my appearance at will,’ she

added, spotting Harrys puzzled expression in the mirror behind

her. ‘I was born one. I got top marks in Concealment and

Disguise during Auror training without any study at all, it was

great.’

‘You’re an Auror?’ said Harry, impressed. Being a Dark-wizardcatcher

was the only career he’d ever considered after Hogwarts.

‘Yeah,’ said Tonks, looking proud. ‘Kingsley is as well, he’s a bit

higher up than me, though. I only qualified a year ago. Nearly

failed on Stealth and Tracking. I’m dead clumsy, did you hear

me break that plate when we arrived downstairs?’

‘Can you learn how to be a Metamorphmagus?’ Harry asked her,

straightening up, completely forgetting about packing.

Tonks chuckled.

‘Bet you wouldn’t mind hiding that scar sometimes, eh?’

Her eyes found the lightning-shaped scar on Harrys forehead.

‘No, I wouldn’t mind,’ Harry mumbled, turning away. He did not

like people staring at his scar.

‘Well, you’ll have to learn the hard way, I’m afraid,’ said Tonks.

‘Metamorphmagi are really rare, they’re born, not made. Most

wizards need to use a wand, or potions, to change their

appearance. But we’ve got to get going, Harry, we’re supposed

to be packing,’ she added guiltily, looking around at all the mess

on the floor.

‘Oh — yeah,’ said Harry, grabbing a few more books.

‘Don’t be stupid, it’ll be much quicker if I – pack!’ cried Tonks,

waving her wand in a long, sweeping movement over the floor.

Books, clothes, telescope and scales all soared into the air and

flew pell-mell into the trunk.

‘It’s not very neat,’ said Tonks, walking over to the trunk and

looking down at the jumble inside. ‘My mums got this knack of

getting stuff to fit itself in neatly – she even gets the socks to

fold themselves – but I’ve never mastered how she does it – it’s a

kind of flick -‘ She flicked her wand hopefully.

One of Harry’s socks gave a feeble sort of wiggle and flopped

back on top of the mess in the trunk.

‘Ah, well,’ said Tonks, slamming the trunk’s lid shut, ‘at least it’s

all in. That could do with a bit of cleaning, too.’ She pointed her

wand at Hedwig’s cage. ‘Scourgify.’ A few feathers and droppings

vanished. ‘Well, that’s a bit better – I’ve never quite got the hang

of these householdy sort of spells. Right – got everything?

Cauldron? Broom? Wow! – A FireboltT

Her eyes widened as they fell on the broomstick in Harry’s right

hand It was his pride and joy, a gift from Sirius, an internationalstandard

broomstick.

‘And I’m still riding a Comet Two Sixty’ said Tonks enviously. ‘Ah

well… wand still in your jeans? Both buttocks still on? OK, let’s

go. Locomotor trunk.’

Harry’s trunk rose a few inches into the air. Holding her wand

like a conductor’s baton, Tonks made the trunk hover across the

room and out of the door ahead of them, Hedwig’s cage in her

left hand. Harry followed her down the stairs carrying his

broomstick.

Back in the kitchen Moody had replaced his eye, which was

spinning so fast after its cleaning it made Harry feel sick to look

at it. Kingsley Shacklebolt and Sturgis Podmore were examining

the microwave and Hestia Jones was laughing at a potato peeler

she had come across while rummaging in the drawers. Lupin was

sealing a letter addressed to the Dursleys.

‘Excellent,’ said Lupin, looking up as Tonks and Harry entered.

We’ve got about a minute, I think. We should probably get out

into the garden so we’re ready. Harry, I’ve left a letter telling

your aunt and uncle not to worry –

They won’t,’ said Harry.

– that you’re safe -‘That’ll just depress them.’

– and you’ll see them next summer.’

‘Do I have to?’

Lupin smiled but made no answer.

‘Come here, boy,’ said Moody gruffly, beckoning Harry towards

him with his wand. ‘I need to Disillusion you.’

‘You need to what?’ said Harry nervously.

‘Disillusionment Charm,’ said Moody, raising his wand. ‘Lupin

says you’ve got an Invisibility Cloak, but it won’t stay on while

we’re flying; this’ll disguise you better. Here you go –

He rapped him hard on the top of the head and Harry felt a

curious sensation as though Moody had just smashed an egg

there;

cold trickles seemed to be running down his body from the

point the wand had struck.

‘Nice one, Mad-Eye,’ said Tonks appreciatively, staring at Harry’s

midriff.

Harry looked down at his body, or rather, what had been his

body, for it didn’t look anything like his any more. It was not

invisible; it had simply taken on the exact colour and texture of

the kitchen unit behind him. He seemed to have become a

human chameleon.

‘Come on,’ said Moody, unlocking the back door with his wand.

They all stepped outside on to Uncle Vernon’s beautifully kept

lawn.

‘Clear night,’ grunted Moody, his magical eye scanning the

heavens. ‘Could’ve done with a bit more cloud cover. Right, you,’

he barked at Harry, ‘we’re going to be flying in close formation.

Tonks’ll be right in front of you, keep close on her tail. Lupin’ll be

covering you from below I’m going to be behind you. The rest’ll

be circling us. We don’t break ranks for anything, got me? If one

of us is killed –

‘Is that likely?’ Harry asked apprehensively, but Moody ignored

him.

– the others keep flying, don’t stop, don’t break ranks. If they

take out all of us and you survive, Harry, the rear guard are

standing by to take over; keep flying east and they’ll join you.’

‘Stop being so cheerful, Mad-Eye, he’ll think we’re not taking this

seriously’ said Tonks, as she strapped Harry’s trunk and

Hedwig’s cage into a harness hanging from her broom.

‘I’m just telling the boy the plan,’ growled Moody. ‘Our jobs to

deliver him safely to Headquarters and if we die in the attempt –

‘No one’s going to die,’ said Kingsley Shacklebolt in his deep,

calming voice.

‘Mount your brooms, that’s the first signal!’ said Lupin sharply

pointing into the sky.

Far, far above them, a shower of bright red sparks had flared

among the stars, Harry recognised them at once as wand sparks.

He swung his right leg over his Firebolt, gripped its handle tightly

and felt it vibrating very slightly, as though it was as keen as he

was to be up in the air once more.

‘Second signal, let’s go!’ said Lupin loudly as more sparks, green

this time, exploded high above them.

Harry kicked off hard from the ground. The cool night air rushed

through his hair as the neat square gardens of Privet Drive fell

away, shrinking rapidly into a patchwork of dark greens and

blacks, and every thought of the Ministry hearing was swept

from his mind as though the rush of air had blown it out of his

head. He felt as though his heart was going to explode with

pleasure; he was flying again, flying away from Privet Drive as

he’d been fantasising about all summer, he was going home… for

a few glorious moments, all his problems seemed to recede to

nothing, insignificant in the vast, starry sky.

‘Hard left, hard left, there’s a Muggle looking up!’ shouted Moody

from behind him. Tonks swerved and Harry followed her,

watching his trunk swinging wildly beneath her broom. ‘We need

more height… give it another quarter of a mile!’

Harry’s eyes watered in the chill as they soared upwards; he

could see nothing below now but tiny pinpricks of light that were

car headlights and streetlamps. Two of those tiny lights might

belong to Uncle Vernon’s car… the Dursleys would be heading

back to their empty house right now, full of rage about the nonexistent

Lawn Competition… and Harry laughed aloud at the

thought, though his voice was drowned by the flapping robes of

the others, the creaking of the harness holding his trunk and the

cage, and the whoosh of the wind in their ears as they sped

through the air. He had not felt this alive in a month, or this

happy.

‘Bearing south!’ shouted Mad-Eye. Town ahead!’

They soared right to avoid passing directly over the glittering

spider’s web of lights below.

‘Bear southeast and keep climbing, there’s some low cloud ahead

we can lose ourselves in!’ called Moody.

‘We’re not going through clouds!’ shouted Tonks angrily, ‘we’ll

get soaked, Mad-Eye!’

Harry was relieved to hear her say this; his hands were growing

numb on the Firebolt’s handle. He wished he had thought to put

on a coat; he was starting to shiver.

They altered their course every now and then according to Mad-

Eyes instructions. Harrys eyes were screwed up against the rush

of icy wind that was starting to make his ears ache; he could

remember being this cold on a broom only once before, during

the Quidditch match against Hufflepuff in his third year, which

had taken place in a storm. The guard around him was circling

continuously like giant birds of prey. Harry lost track of time. He

wondered how long they had been flying, it felt like an hour at

least.

Turning southwest!’ yelled Moody ‘We want to avoid the

motorway!’

Harry was now so chilled he thought longingly of the snug, dry

interiors of the cars streaming along below, then, even more

longingly, of travelling by Floo powder; it might be

uncomfortable to spin around in fireplaces but it was at least

warm in the flames… Kingsley Shacklebolt swooped around him,

bald pate and earring gleaming slightly in the moonlight… now

Emmeline Vance was on his right, her wand out, her head

turning left and right… then she, too, swooped over him, to be

replaced by Sturgis Podmore…

‘We ought to double back for a bit, just to make sure we’re not

being followed!’ Moody shouted.

‘ARE YOU MAD, MAD-EYE?’ Tonks screamed from the front.

We’re all frozen to our brooms! If we keep going off-course we’re

not going to get there until next week! Besides, we’re nearly

there now!’

Time to start the descent!’ came Lupin’s voice. ‘Follow Tonks,

Harry!’

Harry followed Tonks into a dive. They were heading for the

largest collection of lights he had yet seen, a huge, sprawling

crisscrossing mass, glittering in lines and grids, interspersed with

patches of deepest black. Lower and lower they flew, until Harry

could see individual headlights and streetlamps, chimneys and

television aerials. He wanted to reach the ground very much,

though he felt sure someone would have to unfreeze him from

his broom.

‘Here we go!’ called Tonks, and a few seconds later she had

landed.

Harry touched down right behind her and dismounted on a patch

of unkempt grass in the middle of a small square. Tonks was

already unbuckling Harry’s trunk. Shivering, Harry looked around.

The grimy fronts of the surrounding houses were not welcoming;

some of them had broken windows, glimmering dully in the light

fro the streetlamps, paint was peeling from many of the doors

and heaps of rubbish lay outside several sets of front steps.

‘Where are we?’ Harry asked, but Lupin said quietly, ‘In a

minute.’

Moody was rummaging in his cloak, his gnarled hands clumsy

with cold.

‘Got it,’ he muttered, raising what looked like a silver cigarette

lighter into the air and clicking it.

The nearest streetlamp went out with a pop. He clicked the

unlighter again; the next lamp went out; he kept clicking until

every lamp in the square was extinguished and the only

remaining light came from curtained windows and the sickle

moon overhead.

‘Borrowed it from Dumbledore,’ growled Moody, pocketing the

Put-Outer. That’ll take care of any Muggles looking out of the

window, see? Now come on, quick.’

He took Harry by the arm and led him from the patch of grass,

across the road and on to the pavement; Lupin and Tonks

followed, carrying Harry’s trunk between them, the rest of the

guard, all with their wands out, flanking them.

The muffled pounding of a stereo was coming from an upper

window in the nearest house. A pungent smell of rotting rubbish

came from the pile of bulging bin-bags just inside the broken

gate.

‘Here,’ Moody muttered, thrusting a piece of parchment towards

Harry’s Disillusioned hand and holding his lit wand close to it, so

as to illuminate the writing. ‘Read quickly and memorise.’

Harry looked down at the piece of paper. The narrow handwriting

was vaguely familiar. It said:

The Headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix may be found at

number twelve, Grimmauld Place, London.

— CHAPTER FOUR —

Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place

‘What’s the Order of the -?’ Harry began.

‘Not here, boy!’ snarled Moody. ‘Wait till we’re inside!’

He pulled the piece of parchment out of Harry’s hand and set fire

to it with his wand-tip. As the message curled into flames and

floated to the ground, Harry looked around at the houses again.

They were standing outside number eleven; he looked to the left

and saw number ten; to the right, however, was number thirteen.

‘But where’s -?’

Think about what you’ve just memorised,’ said Lupin quietly.

Harry thought, and no sooner had he reached the part about

number twelve, Grimmauld Place, than a battered door emerged

out of nowhere between numbers eleven and thirteen, followed

swiftly by dirty walls and grimy windows. It was as though an

extra house had inflated, pushing those on either side out of its

way. Harry gaped at it. The stereo in number eleven thudded on.

Apparently the Muggles inside hadn’t felt anything.

‘Come on, hurry,’ growled Moody, prodding Harry in the back.

Harry walked up the worn stone steps, staring at the newly

materialised door. Its black paint was shabby and scratched. The

silver doorknocker was in the form of a twisted serpent. There

was no keyhole or letterbox.

Lupin pulled out his wand and tapped the door once. Harry heard

many loud, metallic clicks and what sounded like the clatter of a

chain. The door creaked open.

‘Get in quick, Harry,’ Lupin whispered, ‘but don’t go far inside

and don’t touch anything.’

Harry stepped over the threshold into the almost total darkness

of the hall. He could smell damp, dust and a sweetish, rotting

smell; the place had the feeling of a derelict building. He looked

over his shoulder and saw the others filing in behind him, Lupin

and Tonks carrying his trunk and Hedwig’s cage. Moody was

standing on the top step releasing the balls of light the Put-Outer

had stolen from the streetlamps; they flew back to their bulbs

and the square glowed momentarily with orange light before

Moody limped inside and closed the front door, so that the

darkness in the hall became complete.

‘Here -‘

He rapped Harry hard over the head with his wand; Harry felt as

though something hot was trickling down his back this time and

knew that the Disillusionment Charm must have lifted.

‘Now stay still, everyone, while I give us a bit of light in here,’

Moody whispered.

The others’ hushed voices were giving Harry an odd feeling of

foreboding; it was as though they had just entered the house of

a dying person. He heard a soft hissing noise and then oldfashioned

gas lamps sputtered into life all along the walls,

casting a flickering insubstantial light over the peeling wallpaper

and threadbare carpet of a long, gloomy hallway, where a

cobwebby chandelier glimmered overhead and age-blackened

portraits hung crooked on the walls. Harry heard something

scuttling behind the skirting board. Both the chandelier and the

candelabra on a rickety table nearby were shaped like serpents.

There were hurried footsteps and Rons mother, Mrs Weasley,

emerged from a door at the far end of the hall. She was beaming

in welcome as she hurried towards them, though Harry noticed

that she was rather thinner and paler than she had been last

time he had seen her.

‘Oh, Harry, it’s lovely to see you!’ she whispered, pulling him into

a rib-cracking hug before holding him at arm’s length and

examining him critically. ‘You’re looking peaky; you need feeding

up, but you’ll have to wait a bit for dinner, I’m afraid.’

She turned to the gang of wizards behind him and whispered

urgently, ‘He’s just arrived, the meeting’s started.’

The wizards behind Harry all made noises of interest and

excitement and began filing past him towards the door through

which Mrs Weasley had just come. Harry made to follow Lupin,

but Mrs Weasley held him back.

‘No, Harry, the meetings only for members of the Order. Ron and

Hermione are upstairs, you can wait with them until the

meetings over, then we’ll have dinner. And keep your voice down

in the hall,’ she added in an urgent whisper.

‘Why?’

‘I don’t want anything to wake up.’

‘What d’you -?’

Til explain later, I’ve got to hurry, I’m supposed to be at the

meeting – I’ll just show you where you’re sleeping.’

Pressing her finger to her lips, she led him on tiptoe past a pair

of long, moth-eaten curtains, behind which Harry supposed there

must be another door, and after skirting a large umbrella stand

that looked as though it had been made from a severed troll’s

leg they started up the dark staircase, passing a row of shrunken

heads mounted on plaques on the wall. A closer look showed

Harry that the heads belonged to house-elves. All of them had

the same rather snout-like nose.

Harry’s bewilderment deepened with every step he took. What

on earth were they doing in a house that looked as though it

belonged to the Darkest of wizards?

‘Mrs Weasley, why -?’

‘Ron and Hermione will explain everything, dear, I’ve really got

to dash,’ Mrs Weasley whispered distractedly. There -‘ they had

reached the second landing, ‘- you’re the door on the right. I’ll

call you when it’s over.’

And she hurried off downstairs again.

Harry crossed the dingy landing, turned the bedroom doorknob,

which was shaped like a serpents head, and opened the door.

He caught a brief glimpse of a gloomy high-ceilinged, twinbedded

room; then there was a loud twittering noise, followed by

an even louder shriek, and his vision was completely obscured

by a large quantity of very bushy hair. Hermione had thrown

herself on to him in a hug that nearly knocked him flat, while

Ron’s tiny owl, Pigwidgeon, zoomed excitedly round and round

their heads.

‘HARRY! Ron, he’s here, Harrys here! We didn’t hear you arrive!

Oh, how are you? Are you all right? Have you been furious with

us? I bet you have, I know our letters were useless – but we

couldn’t tell you anything, Dumbledore made us swear we

wouldn’t, oh, we’ve got so much to tell you, and you’ve got

things to tell us -the Dementors! When we heard – and that

Ministry hearing – it’s just outrageous, I’ve looked it all up, they

can’t expel you, they just can’t, there’s provision in the Decree

for the Reasonable Restriction of Underage Sorcery for the use of

magic in life-threatening situations -‘

‘Let him breathe, Hermione,’ said Ron, grinning as he closed the

door behind Harry. He seemed to have grown several more

inches during their month apart, making him taller and more

gangly looking than ever, though the long nose, bright red hair

and freckles were the same.

Still beaming, Hermione let go of Harry, but before she could say

another word there was a soft whooshing sound and something

white soared from the top of a dark wardrobe and landed gently

on Harrys shoulder.

‘Hedwig!’

The snowy owl clicked her beak and nibbled his ear affectionately

as Harry stroked her feathers.

‘She’s been in a right state,’ said Ron. ‘Pecked us half to death

when she brought your last letters, look at this -‘

He showed Harry the index finger ol his right hand, which

sported a half-healed but clearly deep cut.

‘Oh, yeah,’ Harry said. ‘Sorry about that, but I wanted answers,

you know -‘

‘We wanted to give them to you, mate,’ said Ron. ‘Hermione was

going spare, she kept saying you’d do something stupid if you

were stuck all on your own without news, but Dumbledore made

us -‘

‘— swear not to tell me,’ said Harry. ‘Yeah, Hermione’s already

said. ‘

The warm glow that had flared inside him at the sight of his two

best friends was extinguished as something icy flooded the pit of

his stomach. All of a sudden – after yearning to see them for a

solid month — he felt he would rather Ron and Hermione left him

alone.

There was a strained silence in which Harry stroked Hedwig

automatically, not looking at either of the others.

‘He seemed to think it was best,’ said Hermione rather

breathlessly. ‘Dumbledore, I mean.’

‘Right,’ said Harry. He noticed that her hands, too, bore the

marks of Hedwigs beak and found that he was not at all sorry.

‘I think he thought you were safest with the Muggles -‘ Ron

began.

‘Yeah?’ said Harry, raising his eyebrows. ‘Have either of you

been attacked by Dementors this summer?’

‘Well, no – but that’s why he’s had people from the Order of the

Phoenix tailing you all the time -‘

Harry felt a great jolt in his guts as though he had just missed a

step going downstairs. So everyone had known he was being

followed, except him.

‘Didn’t work that well, though, did it?’ said Harry, doing his

utmost to keep his voice even. ‘Had to look after myself after all,

didn’t I?’

‘He was so angry,’ said Hermione, in an almost awestruck voice.

‘Dumbledore. We saw him. When he found out Mundungus had

left before his shift had ended. He was scary.’

‘Well, I’m glad he left,’ Harry said coldly. ‘If he hadn’t, I wouldn’t

have done magic and Dumbledore would probably have left me

at Privet Drive all summer.’

‘Aren’t you… aren’t you worried about the Ministry of Magic

hearing?’ said Hermione quietly.

‘No,’ Harry lied defiantly. He walked away from them, looking

around, with Hedwig nestled contentedly on his shoulder, but

this room was not likely to raise his spirits. It was dank and dark.

A blank stretch of canvas in an ornate picture frame was all that

relieved the bareness of the peeling walls, and as Harry passed it

he thought he heard someone, who was lurking out of sight,

snigger.

‘So why’s Dumbledore been so keen to keep me in the dark?’

Harry asked, still trying hard to keep his voice casual. ‘Did you –

er – bother to ask him at all?’

He glanced up just in time to see them exchanging a look that

told him he was behaving just as they had feared he would. It

did nothing to improve his temper.

‘We told Dumbledore we wanted to tell you what was going on,’

said Ron. ‘We did, mate. But he’s really busy now, we’ve only

seen him twice since we came here and he didn’t have much

time, he just made us swear not to tell you important stuff when

we wrote, he said the owls might be intercepted.’

‘He could still’ve kept me informed if he’d wanted to,’ Harry said

shortly. ‘You’re not telling me he doesn’t know ways to send

messages without owls.’

Hermione glanced at Ron and then said, ‘1 thought that, too. But

he didn’t want you to know anything.’

‘Maybe he thinks 1 can’t be trusted,’ said Harry, watching their

expressions.

‘Don’t be thick,’ said Ron, looking highly disconcerted.

‘Or that I can’t take care of myself.’

‘Of course he doesn’t think that!’ said Hermione anxiously.

‘So how come I have to stay at the Dursleys’ while you two get

to join in everything that’s going on here?’ said Harry, the words

tumbling over one another in a rush, his voice growing louder

with every word. ‘How come you two are allowed to know

everything that’s going on?’

‘We’re not!’ Ron interrupted. ‘Mum won’t let us near the

meetings, she says we’re too young -‘

But before he knew it, Harry was shouting.

‘SO YOU HAVEN’T BEEN IN THE MEETINGS, BIG DEAL! YOU’VE

STILL BEEN HERE, HAVEN’T YOU? YOU’VE STILL BEEN

TOGETHER! ME, I’VE BEEN STUCK AT THE DURSLEYS’ FOR A

MONTH! AND I’VE HANDLED MORE THAN YOU TWO’VE EVER

MANAGED AND DUMBLEDORE KNOWS IT -WHO SAVED THE

PHILOSOPHER’S STONE? WHO GOT RID OF RIDDLE? WHO

SAVED BOTH YOUR SKINS FROM THE DEMENTORS?’

Every bitter and resentful thought Harry had had in the past

month was pouring out of him: his frustration at the lack of news,

the hurt that they had all been together without him, his fury at

being followed and not told about it – all the feelings he was halfashamed

of finally burst their boundaries. Hedwig took fright at

the noise and soared off to the top of the wardrobe again;

Pigwidgeon twittered in alarm and zoomed even taster around

their heads.

‘WHO HAD TO GET PAST DRAGONS AND SPHINXES AND EVERY

OTHER FOUL THING LAST YEAR? WHO SAW HIM COME BACK?

WHO HAD TO ESCAPE FROM HIM? ME!’

Ron was standing there with his mouth half-open, clearly

stunned and at a loss for anything to say, whilst Hermione

looked on the verge of tears.

‘BUT WHY SHOULD I KNOW WHAT’S GOING ON? WHY SHOULD

ANYONE BOTHER TO TELL ME WHAT’S BEEN HAPPENING?’

‘Harry, we wanted to tell you, we really did -‘ Hermione began.

‘CANT’VE WANTED TO THAT MUCH, CAN YOU, OR YOU’D HAVE

SENT ME AN OWL, BUT Dl/MBLEDORE MADE YOU SWEAR –

Well, he did -‘

‘FOUR WEEKS I’VE BEEN STUCK IN PRIVET DRIVE, NICKING

PAPERS OUT OF BINS TO TRY AND FIND OUT WHAT’S BEEN

GOING ON -‘

We wanted to -‘

‘I SUPPOSE YOU’VE BEEN HAVING A REAL LAUGH, HAVEN’T YOU,

ALL HOLED UP HERE TOGETHER -‘

‘No, honest -‘

‘Harry we’re really sorry!’ said Hermione desperately, her eyes

now sparkling with tears. ‘You’re absolutely right, Harry – I’d be

furious if it was me!’

Harry glared at her, still breathing deeply, then turned away

from them again, pacing up and down. Hedwig hooted glumly

from the top of the wardrobe. There was a long pause, broken

only by the mournful creak of the floorboards below Harry’s feet.

‘What is this place, anyway?’ he shot at Ron and Hermione.

‘Headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix,’ said Ron at once.

‘Is anyone going to bother telling me what the Order of the

Phoenix -?’

‘It’s a secret society,’ said Hermione quickly. ‘Dumbledore’s in

charge, he founded it. It’s the people who fought against You-

Know-Who last time.’

‘Who’s in it?’ said Harry, coming to a halt with his hands in his

pockets.

‘Quite a few people -‘

‘We’ve met about twenty of them,’ said Ron, ‘but we think there

are more.’

Harry glared at them.

Well?’ he demanded, looking from one to the other.

‘Er,’ said Ron. ‘Well what?’

Voldemort!’ said Harry furiously, and both Ron and Hermione

winced. ‘What’s happening? What’s he up to? Where is he? What

are we doing to stop him?’

‘We’ve told you, the Order don’t let us in on their meetings,’ said

Hermione nervously. ‘So we don’t know the details – but we’ve

got a general idea,’ she added hastily, seeing the look on Harry’s

face.

‘Fred and George have invented Extendable Ears, see,’ said Ron.

They’re really useful.’

‘Extendable -?’

‘Ears, yeah. Only we’ve had to stop using them lately because

Mum found out and went berserk. Fred and George had to hide

them all to stop Mum binning them. But we got a good bit of use

out of them before Mum realised what was going on. We know

some of the Order are following known Death Eaters, keeping

tabs on them, you know -‘

‘Some of them are working on recruiting more people to the

Order -‘ said Hermione.

‘And some of them are standing guard over something,’ said Ron.

They’re always talking about guard duty.’

‘Couldn’t have been me, could it?’ said Harry sarcastically.

‘Oh, yeah,’ said Ron, with a look of dawning comprehension.

Harry snorted. He walked around the room again, looking

anywhere but at Ron and Hermione. ‘So, what have you two

been doing, if you’re not allowed in meetings?’ he demanded.

‘You said you’d been busy.’

‘We have,’ said Hermione quickly. ‘We’ve been decontaminating

this house, it’s been empty for ages and stuff’s been breeding in

here. We’ve managed to clean out the kitchen, most of the

bedrooms and I think we’re doing the drawing room tomo—

AARGH!’

With two loud cracks, Fred and George, Ron’s elder twin brothers,

had materialised out of thin air in the middle of the room.

Pigwidgeon twittered more wildly than ever and zoomed off to

join Hedwig on top of the wardrobe.

‘Stop doing that!’ Hermione said weakly to the twins, who were

as vividly red-haired as Ron, though stockier and slightly shorter.

‘Hello, Harry,’ said George, beaming at him. ‘We thought we

heard your dulcet tones.’

‘You don’t want to bottle up your anger like that, Harry, let it all

out,’ said Fred, also beaming. There might be a couple of people

fifty miles away who didn’t hear you.’

‘You two passed your Apparation tests, then?’ asked Harry

grumpily.

‘With distinction,’ said Fred, who was holding what looked like a

piece of very long, flesh-coloured string.

‘It would have taken you about thirty seconds longer to walk

down the stairs,’ said Ron.

Time is Galleons, little brother,’ said Fred. ‘Anyway, Harry, you’re

interfering with reception. Extendable Ears,’ he added in

response” to Harry’s raised eyebrows, and held up the string

which Harry now saw was trailing out on to the landing. We’re

trying to hear what’s going on downstairs.’

‘You want to be careful,’ said Ron, staring at the Ear, ‘if Mum

sees one of them again…”

‘It’s worth the risk, that’s a major meeting they’re having,’ said

Fred.

The door opened and a long mane of red hair appeared.

‘Oh, hello, Harry!’ said Ron’s younger sister, Ginny, brightly. ‘I

thought I heard your voice.’

Turning to Fred and George, she said, ‘It’s no-go with the

Extendable Ears, she’s gone and put an Imperturbable Charm on

the kitchen door.’

‘How d’you know?’ said George, looking crestfallen.

Tonks told me how to find out,’ said Ginny. ‘You just chuck stuff

at the door and if it can’t make contact the door’s been

Imperturbed. I’ve been flicking Dungbombs at it from the top of

the stairs and they just soar away from it, so there’s no way the

Extendable Ears will be able to get under the gap.’

Fred heaved a deep sigh.

‘Shame. I really fancied finding out what old Snape’s been up to.’

‘Snape!’ said Harry quickly. ‘Is he here?’

‘Yeah,’ said George, carefully closing the door and sitting down

on one of the beds; Fred and Ginny followed. ‘Giving a report.

Top secret.’

‘Git,’ said Fred idly.

‘He’s on our side now,’ said Hermione reprovingly.

Ron snorted. ‘Doesn’t stop him being a git. The way he looks at

us when he sees us.’

‘Bill doesn’t like him, either,’ said Ginny, as though that settled

the matter.

Harry was not sure his anger had abated yet; but his thirst for

information was now overcoming his urge to keep shouting. He

sank on to the bed opposite the others.

‘Is Bill here?’ he asked. ‘I thought he was working in Egypt?’

‘He applied for a desk job so he could come home and work for

the Order,’ said Fred. ‘He says he misses the tombs, but; he

smirked, ‘there are compensations.’

‘What d’you mean?’

‘Remember old Fleur Delacour?’ said George. ‘She’s got a job at

Gringotts to eempwve ‘er Eeenglish -‘

‘And Bill’s been giving her a lot of private lessons,’ sniggered

Fred.

‘Charlie’s in the Order, too,’ said George, ‘but he’s still in

Romania. Dumbledore wants as many foreign wizards brought in

as possible, so Charlie’s trying to make contacts on his days off.’

‘Couldn’t Percy do that?’ Harry asked. The last he had heard, the

third Weasley brother was working in the Department of

International Magical Co-operation at the Ministry of Magic.

At Harry’s words, all the Weasleys and Hermione exchanged

darkly significant looks.

‘Whatever you do, don’t mention Percy in front of Mum and

Dad,’ Ron told Harry in a tense voice.

‘Why not?’

‘Because every time Percy’s name’s mentioned, Dad breaks

whatever he’s holding and Mum starts crying,’ Fred said.

‘It’s been awful,’ said Ginny sadly.

‘I think we’re well shot of him,’ said George, with an

uncharacteristically ugly look on his face.

‘What’s happened?’ Harry said.

‘Percy and Dad had a row,’ said Fred. ‘I’ve never seen Dad row

with anyone like that. It’s normally Mum who shouts.’

‘It was the first week back after term ended,’ said Ron. ‘We were

about to come and join the Order. Percy came home and told us

he’d been promoted.’

‘You’re kidding?’ said Harry.

Though he knew perfectly well that Percy was highly ambitious,

Harry’s impression was that Percy had not made a great success

of his first job at the Ministry of Magic. Percy had committed the

fairly large oversight of failing to notice that his boss was being

controlled by Lord Voldemort (not that the Ministry had believed

it – they all thought Mr Crouch had gone mad).

‘Yeah, we were all surprised,’ said George, ‘because Percy got

into a load of trouble about Crouch, there was an inquiry and

everything. They said Percy ought to have realised Crouch was

off his rocker and informed a superior. But you know Percy,

Crouch left him in charge, he wasn’t going to complain.’

‘So how come they promoted him?’

That’s exactly what we wondered,’ said Ron, who seemed very

keen to keep normal conversation going now that Harry had

stopped yelling. ‘He came home really pleased with himself –

even more pleased than usual, if you can imagine that — and

told Dad he’d been offered a position in Fudge’s own office. A

really good one for someone only a year out of Hogwarts: Junior

Assistant to the Minister. He expected Dad to be all impressed, I

think.’

‘Only Dad wasn’t,’ said Fred grimly.

‘Why not?’ said Harry. .f-

‘Well, apparently Fudge has been storming round the Ministry

checking that nobody’s having any contact with Dumbledore,’

said George.

‘Dumbledore’s name is mud with the Ministry these days, see,’

said Fred. They all think he’s just making trouble saying You-

Know-Whos back.’

‘Dad says Fudge has made it clear that anyone who’s in league

with Dumbledore can clear out their desks,’ said George.

‘Trouble is, Fudge suspects Dad, he knows he’s friendly with

Dumbledore, and he’s always thought Dad’s a bit of a weirdo

because of his Muggle obsession.’

‘But what’s that got to do with Percy?’ asked Harry, contused.

‘I’m coming to that. Dad reckons Fudge only wants Percy in his

office because he wants to use him to spy on the family – and

Dumbledore.’

Harry let out a low whistle.

‘Bet Percy loved that.’

Ron laughed in a hollow sort of way.

‘He went completely berserk. He said — well, he said loads of

terrible stuff. He said he’s been having to struggle against Dad’s

lousy reputation ever since he joined the Ministry and that Dad’s

got no ambition and that’s why we’ve always been – you know –

not had a lot of money, I mean -‘

What?’ said Harry in disbelief, as Ginny made a noise like an

angry cat.

‘I know,’ said Ron in a low voice. ‘And it got worse. He said Dad

was an idiot to run around with Dumbledore, that Dumbledore

was heading for big trouble and Dad was going to go down with

him, and that he – Percy – knew where his loyalty lay and it was

with the Ministry. And if Mum and Dad were going to become

traitors to the Ministry he was going to make sure everyone

knew he didn’t belong to our family any more. And he packed his

bags the same night and left. He’s living here in London now.’

Harry swore under his breath. He had always liked Percy least of

Ron’s brothers, but he had never imagined he would say such

things to Mr Weasley.

‘Mum’s been in a right state,’ said Ron dully. ‘You know – crying

and stuff. She came up to London to try and talk to Percy but he

slammed the door in her face. I dunno what he does if he meets

Dad at work – ignores him, I’s’pose.’

‘But Percy must know Voldemort’s back,’ said Harry slowly. ‘He’s

not stupid, he must know your mum and dad wouldn’t risk

everything without proof.’

‘Yeah, well, your name got dragged into the row,’ said Ron,

shooting Harry a furtive look. ‘Percy said the only evidence was

your word and… I dunno… he didn’t think it was good enough.’

‘Percy takes the Daily Prophet seriously,’ said Hermione tartly,

and the others all nodded.

‘What are you talking about?’ Harry asked, looking around at

them all. They were all regarding him warily.

‘Haven’t – haven’t you been getting the Daily Prophet!’ Hermione

asked nervously.

‘Yeah, I have!’ said Harry.

‘Have you – er – been reading it thoroughly?’ Hermione asked,

still more anxiously.

‘Not cover to cover,’ said Harry defensively. ‘If they were going

to report anything about Voldemort it would be headline news,

wouldn’t it?’

The others flinched at the sound of the name. Hermione hurried

on, ‘Well, you’d need to read it cover to cover to pick it up, but

they – um – they mention you a couple of times a week.’

‘But I’d have seen -‘

‘Not if you’ve only been reading the front page, you wouldn’t,’

said Hermione, shaking her head. ‘I’m not talking about big

articles. They just slip you in, like you’re a standing joke.’

‘What d’you -?’

‘It’s quite nasty, actually,’ said Hermione in a voice of forced

calm. They’re just building on Rita’s stuff.’

‘But she’s not writing for them any more, is she?’

‘Oh, no, she’s kept her promise — not that she’s got any choice,’

Hermione added with satisfaction. ‘But she laid the foundation

for what they’re trying to do now.’

‘Which is what?’ said Harry impatiently.

‘OK, you know she wrote that you were collapsing all over the

place and saying your scar was hurting and all that?’

‘Yeah,’ said Harry, who was not likely to forget Rita Skeeter’s

stories about him in a hurry.

‘Well, they’re writing about you as though you’re this deluded,

attention-seeking person who thinks he’s a great tragic hero or

something,’ said Hermione, very fast, as though it would be less

unpleasant for Harry to hear these facts quickly. They keep

slipping in snide comments about you. If some far-fetched story

appears, they say something like, “A tale worthy of Harry Potter”,

and if anyone has a funny accident or anything it’s, “Let’s hope

he hasn’t got a scar on his forehead or we’ll be asked to worship

him next” -‘

‘I don’t want anyone to worship —’ Harry began hotly.

‘I know you don’t,’ said Hermione quickly, looking frightened. ‘I

know, Harry. But you see what they’re doing? They want to turn

you into someone nobody will believe. Fudge is behind it, I’ll bet

anything. They want wizards on the street to think you’re just

some stupid boy who’s a bit of a joke, who tells ridiculous tall

stories because he loves being famous and wants to keep it

going.’

‘I didn’t ask – 1 didn’t want – Voldemort killed my parents!’ Harry

spluttered. ‘I got famous because he murdered my family but

couldn’t kill me! Who wants to be famous for that? Don’t they

think I’d rather it’d never -‘

‘We know, Harry,’ said Ginny earnestly.

‘And of course, they didn’t report a word about the Dementors

attacking you,’ said Hermione. ‘Someone’s told them to keep

that quiet. That should’ve been a really big story, out-of-control

Dementors. They haven’t even reported that you broke the

International Statute of Secrecy. We thought they would, it

would tie in so well with this image of you as some stupid showoff.

We think they’re biding their time until you’re expelled, then

they’re really going to go to town – I mean, if you’re expelled,

obviously,’ she went on hastily. ‘You really shouldn’t be, not if

they abide by their own laws, there’s no case against you.’

They were back on the hearing and Harry did not want to think

about that. He cast around for another change of subject, but

was saved the necessity of finding one by the sound of footsteps

coming up the stairs.

‘Uh oh.’

Fred gave the Extendable Ear a hearty tug; there was another

loud crack and he and George vanished. Seconds later, Mrs

Weasley appeared in the bedroom doorway.

The meeting’s over, you can come down and have dinner now.

Everyone’s dying to see you, Harry. And who’s left all those

Dungbombs outside the kitchen door?’

‘Crookshanks,’ said Ginny unblushmgly. ‘He loves playing with

them.’

‘Oh,’ said Mrs Weasley, ‘I thought it might have been Kreacher,

he keeps doing odd things like that. Now don’t forget to keep

your voices down in the hall. Ginny, your hands are filthy, what

have you been doing? Go and wash them before dinner, please.’

Ginny grimaced at the others and followed her mother out of the

room, leaving Harry alone with Ron and Hermione. Both of them

were watching him apprehensively, as though they feared he

would start shouting again now that everyone else had gone.

The sight of them looking so nervous made him feel slightly

ashamed.

‘Look…’ he muttered, but Ron shook his head, and Hermione said

quietly, ‘We knew you’d be angry, Harry, we really don’t blame

you, but you’ve got to understand, we did try to persuade

Dumbledore -‘

‘Yeah, 1 know,’ said Harry shortly.

He cast around for a topic that didn’t involve his headmaster,

because the very thought of Dumbledore made Harry’s insides

burn with anger again.

‘Who’s Kreacher?’ he asked.

The house-elf who lives here,’ said Ron. ‘Nutter. Never met one

like him.’

Hermione frowned at Ron.

‘He’s not a nutter, Ron.’

‘His life’s ambition is to have his head cut off and stuck up on a

plaque just like his mother,’ said Ron irritably. ‘Is that normal,

Hermione?’

‘Well – well, if he is a bit strange, it’s not his fault.’

Ron rolled his eyes at Harry.

‘Hermione still hasn’t given up on SPEW

‘It’s not SPEW!’ said Hermione heatedly. ‘It’s the Society for the

Promotion of Elfish Welfare. And it’s not just me, Dumbledore

says we should be kind to Kreacher too.’

‘Yeah, yeah,’ said Ron. ‘C’mon, I’m starving.’

He led the way out of the door and on to the landing, but before

they could descend the stairs –

‘Hold it!’ Ron breathed, flinging out an arm to stop Harry and

Hermione walking any further. They’re still in the hall, we might

be able to hear something.’

The three of them looked cautiously over the banisters. The

gloomy hallway below was packed with witches and wizards,

including all of Harrys guard. They were whispering excitedly

together. In the very centre of the group Harry saw the dark,

greasy-haired head and prominent nose of his least favourite

teacher at Hogwarts, Professor Snape. Harry leant further over

the banisters. He was very interested in what Snape was doing

for the Order of the Phoenix…

A thin piece of flesh-coloured string descended in front of Harrys

eyes. Looking up, he saw Ered and George on the landing above,

cautiously lowering the Extendable Ear towards the dark knot of

people below. A moment later, however, they all began to move

towards the front door and out of sight.

‘Dammit,’ Harry heard Fred whisper, as he hoisted the

Extendable Ear back up again.

They heard the front door open, then close.

‘Snape never eats here,’ Ron told Harry quietly. Thank God.

C’mon.’

‘And don’t forget to keep your voice down in the hall, Harry,’

Hermione whispered.

As they passed the row of house-elf heads on the wall, they saw

Lupin, Mrs Weasley and Tonks at the front door, magically

sealing its many locks and bolts behind those who had just left.

‘We’re eating down in the kitchen,’ Mrs Weasley whispered,

meeting them at the bottom of the stairs. ‘Harry, dear, if you’ll

just tiptoe across the hall it’s through this door here -‘

CRASH.

Tonks!’ cried Mrs Weasley in exasperation, turning to look

behind her.

‘I’m sorry!’ wailed Tonks, who was lying flat on the floor. ‘It’s

that stupid umbrella stand, that’s the second time I’ve tripped

over -‘

But the rest of her words were drowned by a horrible, earsplitting,

blood-curdling screech.

The moth-eaten velvet curtains Harry had passed earlier had

flown apart, but there was no door behind them. For a split

second, Harry thought he was looking through a window, a

window behind which an old woman in a black cap was

screaming and screaming as though she were being tortured –

then he realised it was simply a life-size portrait, but the most

realistic, and the most unpleasant, he had ever seen in his life.

The old woman was drooling, her eyes were rolling, the

yellowing skin of her face stretched taut as she screamed; and

all along the hall behind them, the other portraits awoke and

began to yell, too, so that Harry actually screwed up his eyes at

the noise and clapped his hands over his ears.

Lupin and Mrs Weasley darted forward and tried to tug the

curtains shut over the old woman, but they would not close and

she screeched louder than ever, brandishing clawed hands as

though trying to tear at their faces.

‘Filth! Scum! By-products of dirt and vileness! Half-breeds,

mutants, freaks, begone from this place! How dare you befoul

the house of my fathers -‘

Tonks apologised over and over again, dragging the huge, heavy

troll’s leg back off the floor; Mrs Weasley abandoned the attempt

to close the curtains and hurried up and down the hall, Stunning

all the other portraits with her wand; and a man with long black

hair came charging out of a door facing Harry.

‘Shut up, you horrible old hag, shut UP!’ he roared, seizing the

curtain Mrs Weasley had abandoned.

The old woman’s face blanched.

Yoooou!’ she howled, her eyes popping at the sight of the man.

‘Blood traitor, abomination, shame of my flesh!’

‘I said – shut – UP!’ roared the man, and with a stupendous effort

he and Lupin managed to force the curtains closed again.

The old woman’s screeches died and an echoing silence fell.

Panting slightly and sweeping his long dark hair out of his eyes,

Harry’s godfather Sirius turned to face him.

‘Hello, Harry,’ he said grimly, ‘I see you’ve met my mother.’

CHAPTER FIVE —

The Order of the Phoenix

‘Your -?’

‘My dear old mum, yeah,’ said Sirius. ‘We’ve been trying to get

her down for a month but we think she put a Permanent Sticking

Charm on the back of the canvas. Let’s get downstairs, quick,

before they all wake up again.’

‘But what’s a portrait of your mother doing here?’ Harry asked,

bewildered, as they went through the door from the hall and led

the way down a flight of narrow stone steps, the others just

behind them.

‘Hasn’t anyone told you? This was my parents’ house,’ said Sirius.

‘But I’m the last Black left, so it’s mine now. I offered it to

Dumbledore for Headquarters – about the only useful thing I’ve

been able to do.’

Harry, who had expected a better welcome, noted how hard and

bitter Sirius’s voice sounded. He followed his godfather to the

bottom of the steps and through a door leading into the

basement kitchen.

It was scarcely less gloomy than the hall above, a cavernous

room with rough stone walls. Most of the light was coming from

a large fire at the far end of the room. A haze of pipe smoke

hung in the air like battle fumes, through which loomed the

menacing shapes of heavy iron pots and pans hanging from the

dark ceiling. Many chairs had been crammed into the room for

the meeting and a long wooden table stood in the middle of

them, littered with rolls of parchment, goblets, empty wine

bottles, and a heap of what appeared to be rags. Mr Weasley and

his eldest son Bill were talking quietly with their heads together

at the end of the table.

Mrs Weasley cleared her throat. Her husband, a thin, balding,

red-haired man who wore horn-rimmed glasses, looked around

and jumped to his feet.

‘Harry!’ Mr Weasley said, hurrying forward to greet him, and

shaking his hand vigorously. ‘Good to see you!’

Over his shoulder Harry saw Bill, who still wore his long hair in a

ponytail, hastily rolling up the lengths of parchment left on the

table.

‘Journey all right, Harry?’ Bill called, trying to gather up twelve

scrolls at once. ‘Mad-Eye didn’t make you come via Greenland,

then?’

‘He tried,’ said Tonks, striding over to help Bill and immediately

toppling a candle on to the last piece of parchment. ‘Oh no –

sorry –

‘Here, dear,’ said Mrs Weasley, sounding exasperated, and she

repaired the parchment with a wave of her wand. In the flash of

light caused by Mrs Weasley’s charm Harry caught a glimpse of

what looked like the plan of a building.

Mrs Weasley had seen him looking. She snatched the plan off the

table and stuffed it into Bill’s already overladen arms.

‘This sort of thing ought to be cleared away promptly at the end

of meetings,’ she snapped, before sweeping off towards an

ancient dresser from which she started unloading dinner plates.

Bill took out his wand, muttered, ‘Evanesco!’ and the scrolls

vanished.

‘Sit down, Harry,’ said Sirius. ‘You’ve met Mundungus, haven’t

you?’

The thing Harry had taken to be a pile of rags gave a prolonged,

grunting snore, then jerked awake.

‘Some’n say m’name?’ Mundungus mumbled sleepily. ‘I ‘gree

with Sirius…’ He raised a very grubby hand in the air as though

voting, his droopy, bloodshot eyes unfocused.

Ginny giggled.

‘The meeting’s over, Dung,’ said Sirius, as they all sat down

around him at the table. ‘Harry’s arrived.’

‘Eh?’ said Mundungus, peering balefully at Harry through his

matted ginger hair. ‘Blimey, so ‘e ‘as. Yeah… you all right, ‘Any?’

‘Yeah,’ said Harry.

Mundungus fumbled nervously in his pockets, still staring at

Harry, and pulled out a grimy black pipe. He stuck it in his

mouth, ignited the end of it with his wand and took a deep pull

on it. Great billowing clouds of greenish smoke obscured him

within seconds.

‘Owe you a ‘pology,’ grunted a voice from the middle of the

smelly cloud.

‘For the last time, Mundungus,’ called Mrs Weasley, ‘will you

please not smoke that thing in the kitchen, especially not when

we’re about to eat!’

‘Ah,’ said Mundungus. ‘Right. Sorry, Molly.’

The cloud of smoke vanished as Mundungus stowed his pipe

back in his pocket, but an acrid smell of burning socks lingered.

‘And if you want dinner before midnight I’ll need a hand,’ Mrs

Weasley said to the room at large. ‘No, you can stay where you

are, Harry dear, you’ve had a long journey.’

‘What can I do, Molly?’ said Tonks enthusiastically, bounding

forwards.

Mrs Weasley hesitated, looking apprehensive.

‘Er – no, it’s all right, Tonks, you have a rest too, you’ve done

enough today.’

‘No, no, I want to help!’ said Tonks brightly, knocking over a

chair as she hurried towards the dresser, from which Ginny was

collecting cutlery.

Soon, a series of heavy knives were chopping meat and

vegetables of their own accord, supervised by Mr Weasley, while

Mrs Weasley stirred a cauldron dangling over the fire and the

others took out plates, more goblets and food from the pantry.

Harry was left at the table with Sirius and Mundungus, who was

still blinking at him mournfully.

‘Seen old Figgy since?’ he asked.

‘No,’ said Harry, ‘I haven’t seen anyone.’

‘See, I wouldn’t ‘ave left,’ said Mundungus, leaning forward, a

pleading note in his voice, ‘but I ‘ad a business opportunity -‘

Harry felt something brush against his knees and started, but it

was only Crookshanks, Hermione’s bandy-legged ginger cat, who

wound himself once around Harry’s legs, purring, then jumped

on to Sirius’s lap and curled up. Sirius scratched him absentmindedly

behind the ears as he turned, still grim-faced, to Harry.

‘Had a good summer so far?’

‘No, it’s been lousy,’ said Harry.

For the first time, something like a grin flitted across Sirius’s face.

‘Don’t know what you’re complaining about, myself.’

What?’ said Harry incredulously.

‘Personally, I’d have welcomed a Dementor attack. A deadly

struggle for my soul would have broken the monotony nicely.

You think you’ve had it bad, at least you’ve been able to get out

and about, stretch your legs, get into a few fights… I’ve been

stuck inside for a month.’

‘How come?’ asked Harry, frowning.

‘Because the Ministry of Magic’s still after me, and Voldemort will

know all about me being an Animagus by now, Wormtail will

have told him, so my big disguise is useless. There’s not much I

can do for the Order of the Phoenix… or so Dumbledore feels.’

There was something about the slightly flattened tone of voice in

which Sirius uttered Dumbledore’s name that told Harry that

Sirius, too, was not very happy with the Headmaster. Harry felt

a sudden upsurge of affection for his godfather.

At least you’ve known what’s been going on,’ he said bracingly.

‘Oh yeah,’ said Sirius sarcastically. ‘Listening to Snape’s reports,

having to take all his snide hints that he’s out there risking his

life while I’m sat on my backside here having a nice comfortable

time… asking me how the cleanings going -‘

‘What cleaning?’ asked Harry.

Trying to make this place fit for human habitation,’ said Sirius,

waving a hand around the dismal kitchen. ‘No one’s lived here

for ten years, not since my dear mother died, unless you count

her old house-elf, and he’s gone round the twist – hasn’t cleaned

anything in ages.’

‘Sirius,’ said Mundungus, who did not appear to have paid any

attention to the conversation, but had been closely examining an

empty goblet. ‘This solid silver, mate?’

‘Yes,’ said Sirius, surveying it with distaste. ‘Finest fifteenthcentury

goblin-wrought silver, embossed with the Black family

crest.’

That’d come orf, though,’ muttered Mundungus, polishing it with

his cuff.

‘Fred – George – NO, JUST CARRY THEM!’ Mrs Weasley shrieked.

Harry, Sirius and Mundungus looked round and, within a split

second, they had dived away from the table. Fred and George

had bewitched a large cauldron of stew, an iron flagon of

Butterbeer and a heavy wooden breadboard, complete with knife,

to hurtle through the air towards them. The stew skidded the

length of the table and came to a halt just before the end,

leaving a long black burn on the wooden surface; the flagon of

Butterbeer fell with a crash, spilling its contents everywhere; the

bread knife slipped off the board and landed, point down and

quivering ominously, exactly where Sirius’s right hand had been

seconds before.

‘FOR HEAVEN’S SAKE!’ screamed Mrs Weasley. THERE WAS NO

NEED – I’VE HAD ENOUGH OF THIS – JUST BECAUSE YOU’RE

ALLOWED TO USE MAGIC NOW, YOU DON’T HAVE TO WHIP

YOUR WANDS OUT FOR EVERY TINY LITTLE THING!’

‘We were just trying to save a bit of time!’ said Fred, hurrying

forward to wrench the bread knife out of the table. ‘Sorry, Sirius,

mate – didn’t mean to -‘

Harry and Sirius were both laughing; Mundungus, who had

toppled backwards off his chair, was swearing as he got to his

feet; Crookshanks had given an angry hiss and shot off under

the dresser, from where his large yellow eyes glowed in the

darkness.

‘Boys,’ Mr Weasley said, lifting the stew back into the middle of

the table, ‘your mother’s right, you’re supposed to show a sense

of responsibility now you’ve come of age -‘

‘None of your brothers caused this sort of trouble!’ Mrs Weasley

raged at the twins as she slammed a fresh flagon of Butterbeer

on to the table, and spilling almost as much again. ‘Bill didn’t feel

the need to Apparate every few feet! Charlie didn’t charm

everything he met! Percy -‘

She stopped dead, catching her breath with a frightened look at

her husband, whose expression was suddenly wooden.

‘Let’s eat,’ said Bill quickly.

‘It looks wonderful, Molly,’ said Lupin, ladling stew on to a plate

for her and handing it across the table.

For a few minutes there was silence but for the chink of plates

and cutlery and the scraping of chairs as everyone settled down

to their food. Then Mrs Weasley turned to Sirius.

‘I’ve been meaning to tell you, Sirius, there’s something trapped

in that writing desk in the drawing room, it keeps rattling and

shaking. Of course, it could just be a Boggart, but I thought we

ought to ask Alastor to have a look at it before we let it out.’

‘Whatever you like,’ said Sirius indifferently.

‘The curtains in there are full of Doxys, too,’ Mrs Weasley went

on. ‘I thought we might try and tackle them tomorrow.’

‘I look forward to it,’ said Sirius. Harry heard the sarcasm in his

voice, but he was not sure that anyone else did.

Opposite Harry, Tonks was entertaining Hermione and Ginny by

transforming her nose between mouthfuls. Screwing up her eyes

each time with the same pained expression she had worn back in

Harry’s bedroom, her nose swelled to a beak-like protuberance

that resembled Snape’s, shrank to the size of a button

mushroom and then sprouted a great deal of hair from each

nostril. Apparently this was a regular mealtime entertainment,

because Hermione and Ginny were soon requesting their

favourite noses.

‘Do that one like a pig snout, Tonks.’

Tonks obliged, and Harry, looking up, had the fleeting impression

that a female Dudley was grinning at him from across the table.

Mr Weasley, Bill and Lupin were having an intense discussion

about goblins.

They’re not giving anything away yet,’ said Bill. ‘I still can’t work

out whether or not they believe he’s back. Course, they might

prefer not to take sides at all. Keep out of it.’

‘I’m sure they’d never go over to You-Know-Who,’ said Mr

Weasley, shaking his head. They’ve suffered losses too;

remember that goblin family he murdered last time, somewhere

near Nottingham?’

‘I think it depends what they’re offered,’ said Lupin. ‘And I’m not

talking about gold. If they’re offered the freedoms we’ve been

denying them for centuries they’re going to be tempted. Have

you still not had any luck with Ragnok, Bill?’

‘He’s feeling pretty anti-wizard at the moment,’ said Bill, ‘he

hasn’t stopped raging about the Bagman business, he reckons

the Ministry did a cover-up, those goblins never got their gold

from him, you know -‘

A gale of laughter from the middle of the table drowned the rest

of Bill’s words. Fred, George, Ron and Mundungus were rolling

around in their seats.

‘… and then,’ choked Mundungus, tears running down his face,

‘and then, if you’ll believe it, ‘e says to me, ‘e says, “‘Ere, Dung,

where didja get all them toads from? ‘Cos some son of a

Bludger’s gone and nicked all mine!” And I says, “Nicked all your

toads, Will, what next? So you’ll be wanting some more, then?”

And if you’ll believe me, lads, the gormless gargoyle buys all ‘is

own toads back orf me for a lot more’n what ‘e paid in the first

place -‘

‘1 don’t think we need to hear any more of your business

dealings, thank you very much, Mundungus,’ said Mrs Weasley

sharply, as Ron slumped forwards on to the table, howling with

laughter.

‘Beg pardon, Molly,’ said Mundungus at once, wiping his eyes

and winking at Harry. ‘But, you know, Will nicked ’em orf Warty

Harris in the first place so I wasn’t really doing nothing wrong.’

‘I don’t know where you learned about right and wrong,

Mundungus, but you seem to have missed a few crucial lessons,’

said Mrs Weasley coldly.

Fred and George buried their faces in their goblets of Butterbeer;

George was hiccoughing. For some reason, Mrs Weasley threw a

very nasty look at Sirius before getting to her feet and going to

fetch a large rhubarb crumble for pudding. Harry looked round at

his godfather.

‘Molly doesn’t approve of Mundungus,’ said Sirius in an

undertone.

‘How come he’s in the Order?’ Harry said, very quietly.

‘He’s useful,’ Sirius muttered. ‘Knows all the crooks – well, he

would, seeing as he’s one himself. But he’s also very loyal to

Dumbledore, who helped him out of a tight spot once. It pays to

have someone like Dung around, he hears things we don’t. But

Molly thinks inviting him to stay for dinner is going too far. She

hasn’t forgiven him for slipping off duty when he was supposed

to be tailing you.’

Three helpings of rhubarb crumble and custard later and the

waistband on Harrys jeans was feeling uncomfortably tight

(which was saying something as the jeans had once been

Dudley’s). As he laid down his spoon there was a lull in the

general conversation: Mr Weasley was leaning back in his chair,

looking replete and relaxed; Tonks was yawning widely, her nose

now back to normal; and Ginny who had lured Crookshanks out

from under the dresser, was sitting cross-legged on the floor,

rolling Butterbeer corks for him to chase.

‘Nearly time for bed, I think,’ said Mrs Weasley with a yawn.

‘Not just yet, Molly’ said Sirius, pushing away his empty plate

and turning to look at Harry. ‘You know, I’m surprised at you. I

thought the first thing you’d do when you got here would be to

start asking questions about Voldemort.’

The atmosphere in the room changed with the rapidity Harry

associated with the arrival of Dementors. Where seconds before

it had been sleepily relaxed, it was now alert, even tense. A

frisson had gone around the table at the mention of Voldemort’s

name. Lupin, who had been about to take a sip of wine, lowered

his goblet slowly, looking wary.

‘I did!’ said Harry indignantly. ‘I asked Ron and Hermione but

they said we’re not allowed in the Order, so -‘

‘And they’re quite right,’ said Mrs Weasley. ‘You’re too young.’

She was sitting bolt upright in her chair, her fists clenched on its

arms, every trace of drowsiness gone.

‘Since when did someone have to be in the Order of the Phoenix

to ask questions?’ asked Sirius. ‘Harry’s been trapped in that

Muggle house for a month. He’s got the right to know what’s

been happen—’

‘Hang on!’ interrupted George loudly.

‘How come Harry gets his questions answered?’ said Fred angrily.

‘We’ve been trying to get stuff out of you for a month and you

haven’t told us a single stinking thing!’ said George.

“You’re too young, you’re not in the Order,'” said Fred, in a

high-pitched voice that sounded uncannily like his mother’s.

‘Harry’s not even of age!’

‘It’s not my fault you haven’t been told what the Order’s doing,’

said Sirius calmly, ‘that’s your parents’ decision. Harry, on the

other hand -‘

‘It’s not down to you to decide what’s good for Harry!’ said Mrs

Weasley sharply. The expression on her normally kind face

looked dangerous. ‘You haven’t forgotten what Dumbledore said,

I suppose?’

‘Which bit?’ Sirius asked politely, but with the air of a man

readying himself for a fight.

The bit about not telling Harry more than he needs to know,’

said Mrs Weasley, placing a heavy emphasis on the last three

words.

Ron, Hermione, Fred and George’s heads swivelled from Sirius to

Mrs Weasley as though they were following a tennis rally. Ginny

was kneeling amid a pile of abandoned Butterbeer corks,

watching the conversation with her mouth slightly open. Lupin’s

eyes were fixed on Sirius.

‘I don’t intend to tell him more than he needs to know, Molly,’

said Sirius. ‘But as he was the one who saw Voldemort come

back’ (again, there was a collective shudder around the table at

the name) ‘he has more right than most to -‘

‘He’s not a member of the Order of the Phoenix!’ said Mrs

Weasley. ‘He’s only fifteen and -‘

‘And he’s dealt with as much as most in the Order,’ said Sirius,

‘and more than some.’

‘No one’s denying what he’s done!’ said Mrs Weasley, her voice

rising, her fists trembling on the arms of her chair. ‘But he’s still

-‘

‘He’s not a child!’ said Sirius impatiently.

‘He’s not an adult either!’ said Mrs Weasley, the colour rising in

her cheeks. ‘He’s not James, Sirius!’

‘I’m perfectly clear who he is, thanks, Molly,’ said Sirius coldly.

‘I’m not sure you are!’ said Mrs Weasley. ‘Sometimes, the way

you talk about him, it’s as though you think you’ve got your best

friend back!’

‘What’s wrong with that?’ said Harry.

‘What’s wrong, Harry, is that you are not your father, however

much you might look like him!’ said Mrs Weasley, her eyes still

boring into Sirius. ‘You are still at school and adults responsible

for you should not forget it!’

‘Meaning I’m an irresponsible godfather?’ demanded Sirius, his

voice rising.

‘Meaning you have been known to act rashly, Sirius, which is why

Dumbledore keeps reminding you to stay at home and -‘

‘We’ll leave my instructions from Dumbledore out of this, if you

please!’ said Sirius loudly.

‘Arthur!’ said Mrs Weasley, rounding on her husband. ‘Arthur,

back me up!’

Mr Weasley did not speak at once. He took off his glasses and

cleaned them slowly on his robes, not looking at his wife. Only

when he had replaced them carefully on his nose did he reply.

‘Dumbledore knows the position has changed, Molly. He accepts

that Harry will have to be filled in, to a certain extent, now that

he is staying at Headquarters.’

‘Yes, but there’s a difference between that and inviting him to

ask whatever he likes!’

‘Personally,’ said Lupin quietly, looking away from Sirius at last,

as Mrs Weasley turned quickly to him, hopeful that finally she

was about to get an ally, ‘I think it better that Harry gets the

facts -not all the facts, Molly, but the general picture – from us,

rather than a garbled version from… others.’

His expression was mild, but Harry felt sure Lupin, at least, knew

that some Extendable Ears had survived Mrs Weasley’s purge.

‘Well,’ said Mrs Weasley, breathing deeply and looking around

the table for support that did not come, ‘well… I can see I’m

going to be overruled. I’ll just say this: Dumbledore must have

had his reasons for not wanting Harry to know too much, and

speaking as someone who has Harry’s best interests at heart -‘

‘He’s not your son,’ said Sirius quietly.

‘He’s as good as,’ said Mrs Weasley fiercely. ‘Who else has he

got?’

‘He’s got me!’

‘Yes,’ said Mrs Weasley, her lip curling, ‘the thing is, it’s been

rather difficult for you to look after him while you’ve been locked

UP in Azkaban, hasn’t it?’

Sirius started to rise from his chair.

‘Molly, you’re not the only person at this table who cares about

Harry,’ said Lupin sharply. ‘Sirius, sit down.’

Mrs Weasley’s lower lip was trembling. Sirius sank slowly back

into his chair, his face white.

‘I think Harry ought to be allowed a say in this,’ Lupin continued,

‘he’s old enough to decide for himself.’

‘I want to know what’s been going on,’ Harry said at once.

He did not look at Mrs Weasley. He had been touched by what

she had said about his being as good as a son, but he was also

impatient with her mollycoddling. Sirius was right, he was not a

child.

‘Very well,’ said Mrs Weasley, her voice cracking. ‘Ginny – Ron –

Hermione – Fred – George – I want you out of this kitchen, now.’

There was instant uproar.

‘We’re of age!’ Fred and George bellowed together.

‘If Harry’s allowed, why can’t I?’ shouted Ron.

‘Mum, I want to hear!’ wailed Ginny.

‘NO!’ shouted Mrs Weasley, standing up, her eyes overbright. ‘I

absolutely forbid -‘

‘Molly, you can’t stop Fred and George,’ said Mr Weasley wearily.

They are of age.’

They’re still at school.’

‘But they’re legally adults now,’ said Mr Weasley, in the same

tired voice.

Mrs Weasley was now scarlet in the face.

‘I – oh, all right then, Fred and George can stay, but Ron -‘

‘Harry’ll tell me and Hermione everything you say anyway!’ said

Ron hotly. ‘Won’t – won’t you?’ he added uncertainly, meeting

Harry’s eyes.

For a split second, Harry considered telling Ron that he wouldn’t

tell him a single word, that he could try a taste of being kept in

the dark and see how he liked it. But the nasty impulse vanished

as they looked at each other.

‘Course I will,’ Harry said.

Ron and Hermione beamed.

‘Fine!’ shouted Mrs Weasley. ‘Fine! Ginny – BED!’

Ginny did not go quietly. They could hear her raging and

storming at her mother all the way up the stairs, and when she

reached the hall Mrs Blacks ear-splitting shrieks were added to

the din. Lupin hurried off to the portrait to restore calm. It was

only after he had returned, closing the kitchen door behind him

and taking his seat at the table again, that Sirius spoke.

‘OK, Harry… what do you want to know?’

Harry took a deep breath and asked the question that had

obsessed him for the last month.

‘Where’s Voldemort?’ he said, ignoring the renewed shudders

and winces at the name. ‘What’s he doing? I’ve been trying to

watch the Muggle news, and there hasn’t been anything that

looks like him yet, no funny deaths or anything.’

That’s because there haven’t been any funny deaths yet,’ said

Sirius, ‘not as far as we know, anyway… and we know quite a

lot.’

‘More than he thinks we do, anyway,’ said Lupin.

‘How come he’s stopped killing people?’ Harry asked. He knew

Voldemort had murdered more than once in the last year alone.

‘Because he doesn’t want to draw attention to himself,’ said

Sirius. ‘It would be dangerous for him. His comeback didn’t come

off quite the way he wanted it to, you see. He messed it up.’

‘Or rather, you messed it tip for him,’ said Lupin, with a satisfied

smile.

‘How?’ Harry asked, perplexed.

‘You weren’t supposed to survive!’ said Sirius. ‘Nobody apart

from his Death Eaters was supposed to know he’d come back.

But you survived to bear witness.’

‘And the very last person he wanted alerted to his return the

moment he got back was Dumbledore,’ said Lupin. ‘And you

made sure Dumbledore knew at once.’

‘How has that helped?’ Harry asked.

‘Are you kidding?’ said Bill incredulously. ‘Dumbledore was the

only one You-Know-Who was ever scared of!’

Thanks to you, Dumbledore was able to recall the Order of the

Phoenix about an hour after Voldemort returned,’ said Sirius.

‘So, what’s the Order been doing?’ said Harry, looking around at

them all.

‘Working as hard as we can to make sure Voldemort can’t carry

out his plans,’ said Sirius.

‘How d’you know what his plans are?’ Harry asked quickly.

‘Dumbledore’s got a shrewd idea,’ said Lupin, ‘and Dumbledore’s

shrewd ideas normally turn out to be accurate.’

‘So what does Dumbledore reckon he’s planning?’

‘Well, firstly, he wants to build up his army again,’ said Sirius. ‘In

the old days he had huge numbers at his command: witches and

wizards he’d bullied or bewitched into following him, his faithful

Death Eaters, a great variety of Dark creatures. You heard him

planning to recruit the giants; well, they’ll be just one of the

groups he’s after. He’s certainly not going to try and take on the

Ministry of Magic with only a dozen Death Eaters.’

‘So you’re trying to stop him getting more followers?’

‘We’re doing our best,’ said Lupin.

‘How?’

‘Well, the main thing is to try and convince as many people as

possible that You-Know-Who really has returned, to put them on

their guard,’ said Bill. ‘It’s proving tricky, though.’

‘Why?’

‘Because of the Ministry’s attitude,’ said Tonks. ‘You saw

Cornelius Fudge after You-Know-Who came back, Harry. Well, he

hasn’t shifted his position at all. He’s absolutely refusing to

believe it’s happened.’

‘But why?’ said Harry desperately. Why’s he being so stupid? If

Dumbledore -‘

‘Ah, well, you’ve put your finger on the problem,’ said Mr

Weasley with a wry smile. ‘Dumbledore.’

‘Fudge is frightened of him, you see,’ said Tonks sadly.

‘Frightened of Dumbledore?’ said Harry incredulously.

‘Frightened of what he’s up to,’ said Mr Weasley. ‘Fudge thinks

Dumbledore’s plotting to overthrow him. He thinks Dumbledore

wants to be Minister for Magic.’

‘But Dumbledore doesn’t want -‘

‘Of course he doesn’t,’ said Mr Weasley. ‘He’s never wanted the

Minister’s job, even though a lot of people wanted him to take it

when Millicent Bagnold retired. Fudge came to power instead,

but

he’s never quite forgotten how much popular support

Dumbledore had, even though Dumbledore never applied for the

job.’

‘Deep down, Fudge knows Dumbledore’s much cleverer than he

is a much more powerful wizard, and in the early days of his

Ministry he was forever asking Dumbledore for help and advice,’

said Lupin. ‘But it seems he’s become fond of power, and much

more confident. He loves being Minister for Magic and he’s

managed to convince himself that he’s the clever one and

Dumbledore’s simply stirring up trouble for the sake of it.’

‘How can he think that?’ said Harry angrily. ‘How can he think

Dumbledore would just make it all up – that I’d make it all up?’

‘Because accepting that Voldemort’s back would mean trouble

like the Ministry hasn’t had to cope with for nearly fourteen

years,’ said Sirius bitterly. ‘Fudge just can’t bring himself to face

it. It’s so much more comfortable to convince himself

Dumbledore’s lying to destabilise him.’

‘You see the problem,’ said Lupin. ‘While the Ministry insists

there is nothing to fear from Voldemort it’s hard to convince

people he’s back, especially as they really don’t want to believe

it in the first place. What’s more, the Ministry’s leaning heavily

on the Daily Prophet not to report any of what they’re calling

Dumbledore’s rumour-mongering, so most of the wizarding

community are completely unaware any things happened, and

that makes them easy targets for the Death Eaters if they’re

using the Imperius Curse.’

‘But you’re telling people, aren’t you?’ said Harry, looking around

at Mr Weasley, Sirius, Bill, Mundungus, Lupin and Tonks. ‘You’re

letting people know he’s back?’

They all smiled humourlessly.

‘Well, as everyone thinks I’m a mad mass-murderer and the

Ministry’s put a ten thousand Galleon price on my head, I can

hardly stroll up the street and start handing out leaflets, can I?’

said Sirius restlessly.

‘And I’m not a very popular dinner guest with most of the

community,’ said Lupin. ‘It’s an occupational hazard of being a

werewolf.’

‘Tonks and Arthur would lose their jobs at the Ministry if they

started shooting their mouths off,’ said Sirius, ‘and it’s very

important for us to have spies inside the Ministry, because you

can bet Voldemort will have them.’

‘We’ve managed to convince a couple of people, though,’ said Mr

Weasley. Tonks here, for one – she’s too young to have been in

the Order of the Phoenix last time, and having Aurors on our side

is a huge advantage – Kingsley Shacklebolt’s been a real asset,

too; he’s in charge of the hunt for Sirius, so he’s been feeding

the Ministry information that Sirius is in Tibet.’

‘But if none of you are putting the news out that Voldemorts

back -‘ Harry began.

‘Who said none of us are putting the news out?’ said Sirius. Why

d’you think Dumbledore’s in such trouble?’

‘What d’you mean?’ Harry asked.

They’re trying to discredit him,’ said Lupin. ‘Didn’t you see the

Daily Prophet last week? They reported that he’d been voted out

of the Chairmanship of the International Confederation of

Wizards because he’s getting old and losing his grip, but it’s not

true; he was voted out by Ministry wizards after he made a

speech announcing Voldemorts return. They’ve demoted him

from Chief Warlock on the Wizengamot – that’s the Wizard High

Court – and they’re talking about taking away his Order of Merlin,

First Class, too.’

‘But Dumbledore says he doesn’t care what they do as long as

they don’t take him off the Chocolate Frog Cards,’ said Bill,

grinning.

‘It’s no laughing matter,’ said Mr Weasley sharply. ‘If he carries

on defying the Ministry like this he could end up in Azkaban, and

the last thing we want is to have Dumbledore locked up. While

You-Know-Who knows Dumbledore’s out there and wise to what

he’s up to he’s going to go cautiously. If Dumbledore’s out ol the

way – well, You-Know-Who will have a clear field.’

‘But if Voldemort’s trying to recruit more Death Eaters it’s bound

to get out that he’s come back, isn’t it?’ asked Harry desperately.

‘Voldemort doesn’t march up to people’s houses and bang on

their front doors, Harry,’ said Sirius. ‘He tricks, jinxes and

blackmails them. He’s well-practised at operating in secret. In

any case, gathering followers is only one thing he’s interested in.

He’s got other plans too, plans he can put into operation very

quietly indeed, and he’s concentrating on those for the moment.’

‘What’s he after apart from followers?’ Harry asked swiftly. He

thought he saw Sirius and Lupin exchange the most fleeting of

looks before Sirius answered.

‘Stuff he can only get by stealth.’

When Harry continued to look puzzled, Sirius said, ‘Like a

weapon. Something he didn’t have last time.’

‘When he was powerful before?’

‘Yes.’

‘Like what kind of weapon?’ said Harry. ‘Something worse than

the Avada Kedavra -?’

‘That’s enough!’

Mrs Weasley spoke from the shadows beside the door. Harry

hadn’t noticed her return from taking Ginny upstairs. Her arms

were crossed and she looked furious.

‘I want you in bed, now. All of you,’ she added, looking around at

Fred, George, Ron and Hermione.

‘You can’t boss us -‘ Fred began.

‘Watch me,’ snarled Mrs Weasley. She was trembling slightly as

she looked at Sirius. ‘You’ve given Harry plenty of information.

Any more and you might just as well induct him into the Order

straightaway.’

‘Why not?’ said Harry quickly. Til join, I want to join, I want to

fight.’

‘No.’

It was not Mrs Weasley who spoke this time, but Lupin.

The Order is comprised only of overage wizards,’ he said.

‘Wizards who have left school,’ he added, as Fred and Georg^

opened their mouths. There are dangers involved of which you

can have no idea, any of you… I think Molly’s right, Sirius. We’ve

said enough.’

Sirius half-shrugged but did not argue. Mrs Weasley beckoned

imperiously to her sons and Hermione. One by one they stood up

and Harry, recognising defeat, followed suit.

— CHAPTER SIX

The Noble and Most Ancient House of Black

Mrs Weasley followed them upstairs looking grim.

‘I want you all to go straight to bed, no talking,’ she said as they

reached the first landing, ‘we’ve got a busy day tomorrow. I

expect Ginny’s asleep,’ she added to Hermione, ‘so try not to

wake her up.’

‘Asleep, yeah, right,’ said Fred in an undertone, after Hermione

bade them goodnight and they were climbing to the next floor.

‘If Ginny’s not lying awake waiting for Hermione to tell her

everything they said downstairs then I’m a Flobberworm…’

‘All right, Ron, Harry,’ said Mrs Weasley on the second landing,

pointing them into their bedroom. ‘Off to bed with you.’

‘Night,’ Harry and Ron said to the twins.

‘Sleep tight,’ said Fred, winking.

Mrs Weasley closed the door behind Harry with a sharp snap.

The bedroom looked, if anything, even danker and gloomier than

it had on first sight. The blank picture on the wall was now

breathing very slowly and deeply, as though its invisible

occupant was asleep. Harry put on his pyjamas, took off his

glasses and climbed into his chilly bed while Ron threw Owl

Treats up on top of the wardrobe to pacify Hedwig and

Pigwidgeon, who were clattering around and rustling their wings

restlessly.

‘We can’t let them out to hunt every night,’ Ron explained as he

pulled on his maroon pyjamas. ‘Dumbledore doesn’t want too

many owls swooping around the square, thinks it’ll look

suspicious. Oh yeah… I forgot…’

He crossed to the door and bolted it.

‘What’re you doing that for?’

‘Kreacher,’ said Ron as he turned off the light. ‘First night I was

here he came wandering in at three in the morning. Trust me,

you don’t want to wake up and find him prowling around your

room. Anyway…’ he got into his bed, settled down under the

covers then turned to look at Harry in the darkness; Harry could

see his outline by the moonlight filtering in through the grimy

window, ‘what d’you reckon?’

Harry didn’t need to ask what Ron meant.

‘Well, they didn’t tell us much we couldn’t have guessed, did

they?’ he said, thinking of all that had been said downstairs. ‘I

mean, all they’ve really said is that the Order’s trying to stop

people joining Vol—’

There was a sharp intake of breath from Ron.

‘—demort,’ said Harry firmly. ‘When are you going to start using

his name? Sirius and Lupin do.’

Ron ignored this last comment.

‘Yeah, you’re right,’ he said, ‘we already knew nearly everything

they told us, from using the Extendable Ears. The only new bit

was -‘

Crack.

‘OUCH!’

‘Keep your voice down, Ron, or Mum’ll be back up here.’

‘You two just Apparated on my knees!’

‘Yeah, well, it’s harder in the dark.’

Harry saw the blurred outlines of Fred and George leaping down

from Ron’s bed. There was a groan of bedsprings and Harry’s

mattress descended a few inches as George sat down near his

feet.

‘So, got there yet?’ said George eagerly.

The weapon Sirius mentioned?’ said Harry.

‘Let slip, more like,’ said Fred with relish, now sitting next to Ron.

‘We didn’t hear about that on the old Extendables, did we?’

‘What d’you reckon it is?’ said Harry.

‘Could be anything,’ said Fred.

‘But there can’t be anything worse than the Avada Kedavra

Curse, can there?’ said Ron. What’s worse than death?’

‘Maybe it’s something that can kill loads of people at once,’

suggested George.

‘Maybe it’s some particularly painful way of killing people,’ said

Ron fearfully.

‘He’s got the Cruciatus Curse for causing pain,’ said Harry, ‘he

doesn’t need anything more efficient than that.’

There was a pause and Harry knew that the others, like him,

were wondering what horrors this weapon could perpetrate.

‘So who d’you think’s got it now?’ asked George.

‘I hope it’s our side,’ said Ron, sounding slightly nervous.

‘If it is, Dumbledore’s probably keeping it,’ said Fred. *!

‘Where?’ said Ron quickly. ‘Hogwarts?’ •’

‘Bet it is!’ said George. That’s where he hid the Philosopher’s

Stone.’

‘A weapons going to be a lot bigger than the Stone, though!’ said

Ron.

‘Not necessarily’ said Fred.

‘Yeah, size is no guarantee of power,’ said George. ‘Look at

Ginny.’

‘What d’you mean?’ said Harry.

‘You’ve never been on the receiving end of one of her Bat-Bogey

Hexes, have you?’

‘Shhh!’ said Fred, half-rising irom the bed. ‘Listen!’

They fell silent. Footsteps were coming up the stairs.

‘Mum,’ said George and without further ado there was a loud

crack and Harry felt the weight vanish from the end of his bed. A

few seconds later, they heard the floorboard creak outside their

door; Mrs Weasley was plainly listening to check whether or not

they were talking.

Hedwig and Pigwidgeon hooted dolefully. The floorboard creaked

again and they heard her heading upstairs to check on Fred and

George.

‘She doesn’t trust us at all, you know,’ said Ron regretfully.

Harry was sure he would not be able to fall asleep; the evening

had been so packed with things to think about that he fully

expected to lie awake for hours mulling it all over. He wanted to

continue talking to Ron, but Mrs Weasley was now creaking back

downstairs again, and once she had gone he distinctly heard

others making their way upstairs… in fact, many-legged

creatures were cantering softly up and down outside the

bedroom door, and Hagrid the Care of Magical Creatures teacher

was saying, ‘Beauties, arm they, eh, Harry? We’ll be studyin’

weapons this term …” and Harry saw that the creatures had

cannons for heads and were wheeling to face him… he ducked…

The next thing he knew, he was curled into a warm ball under

his bedclothes and Georges loud voice was filling the room.

‘Mum says get up, your breakfast is in the kitchen and then she

needs you in the drawing room, there are loads more Doxys than

she thought and she’s found a nest of dead Puffskeins under the

sofa.’

Half an hour later Harry and Ron, who had dressed and

breakfasted quickly, entered the drawing room, a long, highceilinged

room on the first floor with olive green walls covered in

dirty tapestries. The carpet exhaled little clouds of dust every

time someone put their foot on it and the long, moss green

velvet curtains were buzzing as though swarming with invisible

bees. It was around these that Mrs Weasley, Hermione, Ginny,

Fred and George were grouped, all looking rather peculiar as

they had each tied a cloth over their nose and mouth. Each of

them was also holding a large bottle of black liquid with a nozzle

at the end.

‘Cover your faces and take a spray,’ Mrs Weasley said to Harry

and Ron the moment she saw them, pointing to two more bottles

of black liquid standing on a spindle-legged table. ‘It’s Doxycide.

I’ve never seen an infestation this bad – what that house-elf’s

been doing for the last ten years -‘

Hermione’s face was half concealed by a tea towel but Harry

distinctly saw her throw a reproachful look at Mrs Weasley.

‘Kreacher’s really old, he probably couldn’t manage -‘

‘You’d be surprised what Kreacher can manage when he wants to,

Hermione,’ said Sirius, who had just entered the room carrying a

bloodstained bag of what appeared to be dead rats. ‘I’ve just

been feeding Buckbeak,’ he added, in reply to Harrys enquiring

look. ‘I keep him upstairs in my mothers bedroom. Anyway… this

writing desk…’

He dropped the bag of rals into an armchair, then bent over Jo

examine the locked cabinet which, Harry now noticed for the

fülst time, was shaking slightly.

‘Well, Molly, I’m pretty sure this is a Boggart,’ said Sirius,

peering through the keyhole, ‘but perhaps we ought to let MadEye

have a shifty at it before we let it out – knowing my mother,

it could be something much worse.’

‘Right you are, Sirius,’ said Mrs Weasley.

They were both speaking in carefully light, polite voices that told

Harry quite plainly that neither had forgotten their disagreement

of the night before.

A loud, clanging bell sounded from downstairs, followed at once

by the cacophony of screams and wails that had been triggered

the previous night by Tonks knocking over the umbrella stand.

‘I keep telling them not to ring the doorbell!’ said Sirius exasperatedly,

hurrying out of the room. They heard him thundering

down the stairs as Mrs Black’s screeches echoed up through the

house once more:

Stains, of dishonour, filthy half-breeds, blood traitors, children

of filth

‘Close the door, please, Harry,’ said Mrs Weasley.

Harry took as much time as he dared to close the drawing-room

door; he wanted to listen to what was going on downstairs.

Sirius had obviously managed to shut the curtains over his

mother’s portrait because she had stopped screaming. He heard

Sirius walking down the hall, then the clattering of the chain on

the front door, and then a deep voice he recognised as Kingsley

Shacklebolt’s saying, ‘Hestia’s just relieved me, so she’s got

Moody’s Cloak now, thought I’d leave a report for Dumbledore…’

Feeling Mrs Weasley’s eyes on the back of his head, Harry

regretfully closed the drawing-room door and rejoined the Doxy

party.

Mrs Weasley was bending over to check the page on Doxys in

Gilderoy Lockhart’s Guide to Household Pests, which was lying

open on the sofa.

‘Right, you lot, you need to be careful, because Doxys bite and

their teeth are poisonous. I’ve got a bottle of antidote here, but

I’d rather nobody needed it.’

She straightened up, positioned herself squarely in front of the

curtains and beckoned them all forward.

‘When I say the word, start spraying immediately,’ she said.

They’ll come Hying out at us, I expect, but it says on the sprays

one good squirt will paralyse them. When they’re immobilised,

just throw them in this bucket.’

She stepped carefully out of their line of fire, and raised her own

spray.

‘All right – squirt!’

Harry had been spraying only a few seconds when a fully-grown

Doxy came soaring out of a fold in the material, shiny beetle-like

wings whirring, tiny needle-sharp teeth bared, its fairy-like body

covered with thick black hair and its four tiny lists clenched with

fury. Harry caught it full in the face with a blast of Doxycide. It

froze in midair and fell, with a surprisingly loud thunk, on to the

worn carpet below. Harry picked it up and threw it in the bucket.

‘Fred, what are you doing?’ said Mrs Weasley sharply. ‘Spray

that at once and throw it away!’

Harry looked round. Fred was holding a struggling Doxy between

his forefinger and thumb.

‘Right-o,’ Fred said brightly, spraying the Doxy quickly in the

face so that it fainted, but the moment Mrs Weasley’s back was

turned he pocketed it with a wink.

‘We want to experiment with Doxy venom for our Skiving

Snackboxes,’ George told Harry under his breath.

Deftly spraying two Doxys at once as they soared straight for his

nose, Harry moved closer to George and muttered out of the

corner of his mouth, ‘What are Skiving Snackboxes?’

‘Range of sweets to make you ill,’ George whispered, keeping a

wary eye on Mrs Weasley’s back. ‘Not seriously ill, mind, just ill

enough to get you out of a class when you feel like it. Fred and I

have been developing them this summer. They’re double-ended,

colour-coded chews. If you eat the orange half of the Puking

Pastilles, you throw up. Moment you’ve been rushed out of the

lesson for the hospital wing, you swallow the purple half -‘

”- which restores you to full fitness, enabling you to pursue the

leisure activity of your own choice during an hour that would

otherwise have been devoted to unprofitable boredom.” That’s

what we’re putting in the adverts, anyway,’ whispered Fred, who

had edged over out of Mrs Weasley’s line of vision and was now

sweeping a few stray Doxys from the floor and adding them to

his pocket. ‘But they still need a bit of work. At the moment our

testers are having a bit of trouble stopping themselves puking

long enough to swallow the purple end.’

Testers?’

‘Us,’ said Fred. ‘We take it in turns. George did the Fainting

Fancies – we both tried the Nosebleed Nougat -‘

‘Mum thought we’d been duelling,’ said George.

‘Joke shop still on, then?’ Harry muttered, pretending to be

adjusting the nozzle on his spray.

‘Well, we haven’t had a chance to get premises yet,’ said Fred,

dropping his voice even lower as Mrs Weasley mopped her brow

with her scarf before returning to the attack, ‘so we’re running it

as a mail-order service at the moment. We put advertisements

in the Daily Prophet last week.’

‘All thanks to you, mate,’ said George. ‘But don’t worry… Mum

hasn’t got a clue. She won’t read the Daily Prophet any more,

’cause of it telling lies about you and Dumbledore.’

Harry grinned. He had forced the Weasley twins to take the

thousand Galleons prize money he had won in the Triwizard

Tournament to help them realise their ambition to open a joke

shop, but he was still glad to know that his part in furthering

their plans was unknown to Mrs Weasley. She did not think

running a joke shop was a suitable career for two of her sons.

The de-Doxying of the curtains took most of the morning. It was

past midday when Mrs Weasley finally removed her protective

scarf, sank into a sagging armchair and sprang up again with a

cry of disgust, having sat on the bag of dead rats. The curtains

were no longer buzzing; they hung limp and damp from the

intensive spraying. At the foot of them unconscious Doxys lay

crammed in the bucket beside a bowl of their black eggs, at

which Crook-shanks was now sniffing and Fred and George were

shooting covetous looks.

‘I think we’ll tackle those after lunch.’ Mrs Weasley pointed at

the dusty glass-fronted cabinets standing on either side of the

mantelpiece. They were crammed with an odd assortment of

objects: a selection of rusty daggers, claws, a coiled snakeskin, a

number of tarnished silver boxes inscribed with languages Harry

could not understand and, least pleasant of all, an ornate crystal

bottle with a large opal set into the stopper, full of what Harry

was quite sure was blood.

The clanging doorbell rang again. Everyone looked at Mrs

Weasley.

‘Stay here,’ she said firmly, snatching up the bag of rats as Mrs

Black’s screeches started up again from down below. I’ll bring up

some sandwiches.’

She left the room, closing the door carefully behind her. At once,

everyone dashed over to the window to look down on the

doorstep. They could see the top of an unkempt gingery head

and a stack of precariously balanced cauldrons.

‘Mundungus!’ said Hermione. ‘What’s he brought all those

cauldrons for?’

‘Probably looking for a sale place to keep them,’ said Harry. ‘Isn’t

that what he was doing the night he was supposed to be tailing

me? Picking up dodgy cauldrons?’

‘Yeah, you’re right!’ said Fred, as the front door opened;

Mundungus heaved his cauldrons through it and disappeared

from view. ‘Blimey, Mum won’t like that…’

He and George crossed to the door and stood beside it, listening

closely. Mrs Black’s screaming had stopped.

‘Mundungus is talking to Sirius and Kingsley,’ Fred muttered,

frowning with concentration. ‘Can’t hear properly… d’you reckon

we can risk the Extendable Ears?’

‘Might be worth it,’ said George. ‘I could sneak upstairs and get a

pair -‘

But at that precise moment there was an explosion of sound

from downstairs that rendered Extendable Ears quite

unnecessary. All of them could hear exactly what Mrs Weasley

was shouting at the top of her voice.

WE ARE NOT RUNNING A HIDEOUT FOR STOLEN GOODS!’

I love hearing Mum shouting at someone else,’ said Fred, with a

satisfied smile on his face as he opened the door an inch or so to

allow Mrs Weasley’s voice to permeate the room better, ‘it

makes such a nice change.’

‘- COMPLETELY IRRESPONSIBLE, AS IF WE HAVEN’T GOT

ENOUGH TO WORRY ABOUT WITHOUT YOU DRAGGING STOLEN

CAULDRONS INTO THE HOUSE -‘

The idiots are letting her get into her stride,’ said George,

shaking his head. ‘You’ve got to head her off early otherwise she

builds up a head of steam and goes on for hours. And she’s been

dying to have a go at Mundungus ever since he sneaked off

when he was supposed to be following you, Harry – and there

goes Sirius’s mum again.’

Mrs Weasley’s voice was lost amid fresh shrieks and screams

from the portraits in the hall.

George made to shut the door to drown the noise, but before he

could do so, a house-elf edged into the room.

Except for the filthy rag tied like a loincloth around its middle, it

was completely naked. It looked very old. Its skin seemed to be

several times too big for it and, though it was bald like all houseelves,

there was a quantity of white hair growing out of its large,

batlike ears. Its eyes were a bloodshot and watery grey and its

fleshy nose was large and rather snoutlike.

The elf took absolutely no notice of Harry and the rest. Acting as

though it could not see them, it shuffled hunchbacked, slowly

and doggedly, towards the far end of the room, all the while

muttering under its breath in a hoarse, deep voice like a

bullfrogs.

‘… smells like a drain and a criminal to boot, but she’s no better,

nasty old blood traitor with her brats messing up my mistress’s

house, oh, my poor mistress, if she knew, if she knew the scum

they’ve let into her house, what would she say to old Kreacher,

oh, the shame of it, Mudbloods and werewolves and traitors and

thieves, poor old Kreacher, what can he do…’

‘Hello, Kreacher,’ said Fred very loudly, closing the door with a

snap.

The house-elf froze in his tracks, stopped muttering, and gave a

very pronounced and very unconvincing start of surprise.

‘Kreacher did not see young master,’ he said, turning around and

bowing to Fred. Still facing the carpet, he added, perfectly

audibly, ‘Nasty little brat of a blood traitor it is.’

‘Sorry?’ said George. ‘Didn’t catch that last bit.’

‘Kreacher said nothing,’ said the elf, with a second bow to

George, adding in a clear undertone, ‘and there’s its twin,

unnatural little beasts they are.’

Harry didn’t know whether to laugh or not. The elf straightened

up, eyeing them all malevolently, and apparently convinced that

they could not hear him as he continued to mutter.

‘… and there’s the Mudblood, standing there bold as brass, oh, if

my mistress knew, oh, how she’d cry, and there’s a new boy,

Kreacher doesn’t know his name. What is he doing here?

Kreacher doesn’t know…”

This is Harry, Kreacher,’ said Herrmone tentatively. ‘Harry

Potter.’

Kreacher’s pale eyes widened and he muttered faster and more

furiously than ever.

The Mudblood is talking to Kreacher as though she is my friend,

if Kreacher’s mistress saw him in such company, oh, what would

she say -‘

‘Don’t call her a Mudblood!’ said Ron and Ginny together, very

angrily.

‘It doesn’t matter,’ Hermione whispered, ‘he’s not in his right

mind, he doesn’t know what he’s -‘

‘Don’t kid yourself, Hermione, he knows exactly what he’s

saying,’ said Fred, eyeing Kreacher with great dislike.

Kreacher was still muttering, his eyes on Harry.

‘Is it true? Is it Harry Potter? Kreacher can see the scar, it must

be true, that’s the boy who stopped the Dark Lord, Kreacher

wonders how he did it -‘

‘Don’t we all, Kreacher,’ said Fred.

‘What do you want, anyway?’ George asked.

Kreacher’s huge eyes darted towards George.

‘Kreacher is cleaning,’ he said evasively.

‘A likely story,’ said a voice behind Harry.

Sirius had come back; he was glowering at the elf from the

doorway. The noise in the hall had abated; perhaps Mrs Weasley

and Mundungus had moved their argument down into the

kitchen.

At the sight of Sirius, Kreacher flung himself into a ridiculously

low bow that flattened his snoutltke nose on the floor.

‘Stand up straight,’ said Sirius impatiently. ‘Now, what are you

up to?’

‘Kreacher is cleaning,’ the elf repeated. ‘Kreacher lives to serve

the Noble House of Black -‘

‘And it’s getting blacker every day, it’s filthy,’ said Sirius.

‘Master always liked his little joke,’ said Kreacher, bowing again,

and continuing in an undertone, ‘Master was a nasty ungrateful

swine who broke his mother’s heart -‘

‘My mother didn’t have a heart, Kreacher,’ snapped Sirius. ‘She

kept herself alive out of pure spite.’

Kreacher bowed again as he spoke.

‘Whatever Master says,’ he muttered furiously. ‘Master is not fit

to wipe slime from his mother’s boots, oh, my poor mistress,

what would she say if she saw Kreacher serving him, how she

hated him, what a disappointment he was -‘

‘1 asked you what you were up to,’ said Sirius coldly. ‘Every time

you show up pretending to be cleaning, you sneak something off

to your room so we can’t throw it out.’

‘Kreacher would never move anything from its proper place in

Master’s house,’ said the elf, then muttered very fast, ‘Mistress

would never forgive Kreacher if the tapestry was thrown out,

seven centuries it’s been in the family, Kreacher must save it,

Kreacher will not let Master and the blood traitors and the brats

destroy it -‘

‘I thought it might be that,’ said Sirius, casting a disdainful look

at the opposite wall. ‘She’ll have put another Permanent Sticking

Charm on the back of it, I don’t doubt, but if 1 can get rid of it I

certainly will. Now go away, Kreacher.’

It seemed that Kreacher did not dare disobey a direct order;

nevertheless, the look he gave Sirius as he shuffled out past him

was full of deepest loathing and he muttered all the way out of

the room.

‘- comes back from Azkaban ordering Kreacher around, oh, my

poor mistress, what would she say if she saw the house now,

scum living in it, her treasures thrown out, she swore he was no

son of hers and he’s back, they say he’s a murderer too -‘

‘Keep muttering and I will be a murderer!’ said Sirius irritably as

he slammed the door shut on the elf.

‘Sirius, he’s not right in the head,’ Hermione pleaded, ‘1 don’t

think he realises we can hear him.’

‘He’s been alone too long,’ said Sirius, ‘taking mad orders from

my mother’s portrait and talking to himself, but he was always a

foul little -‘

‘If you could just set him free,’ said Hermione hopefully, ‘maybe

-‘

‘We can’t set him free, he knows too much about the Order,’ said

Sirius curtly. ‘And anyway, the shock would kill him. You suggest

to him that he leaves this house, see how he takes it.’

Sirius walked across the room to where the tapestry Kreacher

had been trying to protect hung the length of the wall. Harry and

the others followed.

The tapestry looked immensely old; it was faded and looked as

though Doxys had gnawed it in places. Nevertheless, the golden

thread with which it was embroidered still glinted brightly

enough to show them a sprawling family tree dating back (as far

as Harry could tell) to the Middle Ages. Large words at the very

top of the tapestry read:

The Noble and Most Ancient House oj Black Toujours pur’

‘You’re not on here!’ said Harry, after scanning the bottom of the

tree closely.

‘I used to be there,’ said Sirius, pointing at a small, round,

charred hole in the tapestry, rather like a cigarette burn. ‘My

sweet old mother blasted me off after I ran away from home –

Kreacher’s quite fond of muttering the story under his breath.’

‘You ran away from home?’

‘When I was about sixteen,’ said Sirius. ‘I’d had enough.’

‘Where did you go?’ asked Harry, staring at him.

‘Your dad’s place,’ said Sirius. ‘Your grandparents were really

good about it; they sort of adopted me as a second son. Yeah, I

camped out at your dad’s in the school holidays, and when I was

seventeen I got a place of my own. My Uncle Alphard had left me

a decent bit of gold – he’s been wiped off here, too, that’s

probably why – anyway, after that I looked after myself. I was

always welcome at Mr and Mrs Potter’s for Sunday lunch,

though.’

‘But… why did you… ?’

‘Leave?’ Sirius smiled bitterly and ran his fingers through his

long, unkempt hair. ‘Because I hated the whole lot of them: my

parents, with their pure-blood mania, convinced that to be a

Black made you practically royal… my idiot brother, soft enough

to believe them… that’s him.’

Sirius jabbed a finger at the very bottom of the tree, at the

name ‘Regulus Black’. A date of death (some fifteen years

previously) followed the date of birth.

‘He was younger than me,’ said Sirius, ‘and a much better son,

as 1 was constantly reminded.’

‘But he died,’ said Harry.

‘Yeah,’ said Sirius. ‘Stupid idiot… he joined the Death Eaters.’

‘You’re kidding!’

‘Come on, Harry, haven’t you seen enough of this house to tell

what kind of wizards my family were?’ said Sirius testily.

‘Were – were your parents Death Eaters as well?’

‘No, no, but believe me, they thought Voldemort had the right

idea, they were all for the purification of the wizarding race,

getting rid of Muggle-borns and having pure-bloods in charge.

They weren’t alone, either, there were quite a few people, before

Voldemort showed his true colours, who thought he had the right

idea about things… they got cold feet when they saw what he

was prepared to do to get power, though. But I bet my parents

thought Regulus was a right little hero for joining up at first.’

‘Was he killed by an Auror?’ Harry asked tentatively.

‘Oh, no,’ said Sirius. ‘No, he was murdered by Voldemort. Or on

Voldemort’s orders, more likely; I doubt Regulus was ever

important enough to be killed by Voldemort in person. From

what I found out after he died, he got in so far, then panicked

about what he was being asked to do and tried to back out. Well,

you don’t just hand in your resignation to Voldemort. It’s a

lifetime of service or death.’

‘Lunch,’ said Mrs Weasleys voice.

She was holding her wand high in front of her, balancing a huge

tray loaded with sandwiches and cake on its tip. She was very

red in the face and still looked angry. The others moved over to

her, eager for some food, but Harry remained with Sirius, who

had bent closer to the tapestry.

‘I haven’t looked at this for years. There’s Phineas Nigellus… my

great-great-grandfather, see?… least popular Headmaster

Hogwarts ever had… and Araminta Mehflua… cousin of my

mothers… tried to force through a Ministry Bill to make Mugglehunting

legal… and dear Aunt Elladora… she started the family

tradition of beheading house-elves when they got too old to

carry tea trays… of course, any time the family produced

someone halfway decent they were disowned. I see Tonks isn’t

on here. Maybe that’s why Kreacher won’t take orders from her –

he’s supposed to do whatever anyone in the family asks him -‘

‘You and Tonks are related?’ Harry asked, surprised.

‘Oh, yeah, her mother Andromeda was my favourite cousin,’ said

Sirius, examining the tapestry closely. ‘No, Andromeda’s not on

here either, look -‘

He pointed to another small round burn mark between two

names, Bellatrix and Narcissa.

‘Andromeda’s sisters are still here because they made lovely,

respectable pure-blood marriages, but Andromeda married a

Muggle-born, Ted Tonks, so -‘

Sirius mimed blasting the tapestry with a wand and laughed

sourly. Harry, however, did not laugh; he was too busy staring

at the names to the right of Andromeda’s burn mark. A double

line of gold embroidery linked Narcissa Black with Lucius Malfoy

and a single vertical gold line from their names led to the name

Draco.

‘You’re related to the Malfoys!’

The pure-blood families are all interrelated,’ said Sirius. Tf you’re

only going to let your sons and daughters marry pure-bloods

your choice is very limited; there are hardly any of us left. Molly

and I are cousins by marriage and Arthur’s something like my

second cousin once removed. But there’s no point looking for

them on here – if ever a family was a bunch of blood traitors it’s

the Weasleys.’

But Harry was now looking at the name to the left of

Andromeda’s burn: Bellatrix Black, which was connected by a

double line to Rodolphus Lestrange.

‘Lestrange…’ Harry said aloud. The name had stirred something

in his memory; he knew it from somewhere, but for a moment

he couldn’t think where, though it gave him an odd, creeping

sensation in the pit of his stomach.

They’re in Azkaban,’ said Sirius shortly.

Harry looked at him curiously.

‘Bellatrix and her husband Rodolphus came in with Barty Crouch

junior,’ said Sirius, in the same brusque voice. ‘Rodolphuss

brother Rabastan was with them, too.’

Then Harry remembered. He had seen Bellatrix Lestrange inside

Dumbledore’s Pensieve, the strange device in which thoughts

and memories could be stored: a tall dark woman with heavylidded

eyes, who had stood at her trial and proclaimed her

continuing allegiance to Lord Voldemort, her pride that she had

tried to find him after his downfall and her conviction that she

would one day be rewarded for her loyalty.

‘You never said she was your -‘

‘Does it matter if she’s my cousin?’ snapped Sirius. ‘As far as I’m

concerned, they’re not my family. She’s certainly not my family.

I haven’t seen her since I was your age, unless you count a

glimpse of her coming into Azkaban. D’you think I’m proud of

having a relative like her?’

‘Sorry,’ said Harry quickly, ‘I didn’t mean – I was just surprised,

that’s all -‘

‘It doesn’t matter, don’t apologise,’ Sirius mumbled. He turned

away from the tapestry, his hands deep in his pockets. ‘I don’t

like being back here,’ he said, staring across the drawing room.

‘I never thought I’d be stuck in this house again.’

Harry understood completely. He knew how he would feel, when

he was grown up and thought he was free of the place for ever,

to return and live at number four, Privet Drive.

‘It’s ideal for Headquarters, of course,’ Sirius said. ‘My father put

every security measure known to wizardkind on it when he lived

here. It’s unplottable, so Muggles could never come and call – as

if they’d ever have wanted to – and now Dumbledore’s added his

protection, you’d be hard put to find a safer house anywhere.

Dumbledore is Secret Keeper for the Order, you know – nobody

can find Headquarters unless he tells them personally where it is

– that note Moody showed you last night, that was from

Dumbledore…’ Sirius gave a short, bark-like laugh. ‘If my

parents could see the use their house was being put to now…

well, my mothers portrait should give you some idea

He scowled for a moment, then sighed.

‘I wouldn’t mind if I could just get out occasionally and do

something useful. I’ve asked Dumbledore whether I can escort

you to your hearing – as Snuffles, obviously – so I can give you a

bit of moral support, what d’you think?’

Harry felt as though his stomach had sunk through the dusty

carpet. He had not thought about the hearing once since dinner

the previous evening; in the excitement of being back with the

people he liked best, and hearing everything that was going on,

it had completely flown his mind. At Sirius’s words, however, the

crushing sense of dread returned to him. He stared at Hermione

and the Weasleys, all tucking into their sandwiches, and thought

how he would feel if they went back to Hogwarts without him.

‘Don’t worry,’ Sirius said. Harry looked up and realised that

Sirius had been watching him. ‘I’m sure they’ll clear you, there’s

definitely something in the International Statute of Secrecy

about being allowed to use magic to save your own life.’

‘But if they do expel me,’ said Harry quietly, ‘can I come back

here and live with you?’

Sirius smiled sadly.

‘We’ll see.’

‘I’d feel a lot better about the hearing if I knew I didn’t have to

go back to the Dursleys’,’ Harry pressed him.

‘They must be bad if you prefer this place,’ said Sirius gloomily.

‘Hurry up, you two, or there won’t be any food left,’ Mrs Weasley

called.

Sirius heaved another great sigh, cast a dark look at the tapestry,

then he and Harry went to join the others.

Harry tried his best not to think about the hearing while they

emptied the glass-fronted cabinets that afternoon. Fortunately

for him, it was a job that required a lot of concentration, as

many of the objects in there seemed very reluctant to leave their

dusty shelves. Sirius sustained a bad bite from a silver snuffbox;

within seconds his bitten hand had developed an unpleasant

crusty covering like a tough brown glove.

‘Its OK,’ he said, examining the hand with interest before

tapping it lightly with his wand and restoring its skin to normal,

‘must be Wartcap powder in there.’

He threw the box aside into the sack where they were depositing

the debris from the cabinets; Harry saw George wrap his own

hand carefully in a cloth moments later and sneak the box into

his already Doxy-filled pocket.

They found an unpleasant-looking silver instrument, something

like a many-legged pair of tweezers, which scuttled up Harrys

arm like a spider when he picked it up, and attempted to

puncture his skin. Sirius seized it and smashed it with a heavy

book entitled Nature’s Nobility: A Wizarding Genealogy. There

was a musical box that emitted a faintly sinister, tinkling tune

when wound, and they all found themselves becoming curiously

weak and sleepy, until Ginny had the sense to slam the lid shut;

a heavy locket that none of them could open; a number of

ancient seals; and, in a dusty box, an Order of Merlin, First Class,

that had been awarded to Sirius’s grandfather for ‘services to the

Ministry’.

‘It means he gave them a load of gold,’ said Sirius

contemptuously, throwing the medal into the rubbish sack.

Several times Kreacher sidled into the room and attempted to

smuggle things away under his loincloth, muttering horrible

curses every time they caught him at it. When Sirius wrested a

large golden ring bearing the Black crest from his grip, Kreacher

actually burst into furious tears and left the room sobbing under

his breath and calling Sirius names Harry had never heard before.

‘It was my father’s,’ said Sirius, throwing the ring into the sack.

‘Kreacher wasn’t quite as devoted to him as to my mother, but 1

still caught him snogging a pair of my father’s old trousers last

week.’

Weasley kept them all working very hard over the next few days.

The drawing room took three days to decontaminate. Finally, the

only undesirable things left in it were the tapestry of the Black

family tree, which resisted all their attempts to remove it from

the wall, and the rattling writing desk. Moody had not dropped by

Headquarters yet, so they could not be sure what was inside it.

They moved from the drawing room to a dining room on the

ground floor where they found spiders as large as saucers

lurking in the dresser (Ron left the room hurriedly to make a cup

of tea and did not return for an hour and a half). The china,

which bore the Black crest and motto, was all thrown

unceremoniously into a sack by Sirius, and the same fate met a

set of old photographs in tarnished silver frames, all of whose

occupants squealed shrilly as the glass covering them smashed.

Snape might refer to their work as ‘cleaning’, but in Harrys

opinion they were really waging war on the house, which was

putting up a very good fight, aided and abetted by Kreacher. The

house-elf kept appearing wherever they were congregated, his

muttering becoming more and more offensive as he attempted

to remove anything he could from the rubbish sacks. Sirius went

as far as to threaten him with clothes, but Kreacher fixed him

with a watery stare and said, ‘Master must do as Master wishes,’

before turning away and muttering very loudly, ‘but Master will

not turn Kreacher away, no, because Kreacher knows what they

are up to, oh yes, he is plotting against the Dark Lord, yes, with

these Mudbloods and traitors and scum…’

At which Sirius, ignoring Hermione’s protests, seized Kreacher by

the back of his loincloth and threw him bodily from the room.

The doorbell rang several times a day, which was the cue for

Sirius’s mother to start shrieking again, and for Harry and the

others to attempt to eavesdrop on the visitor, though they

gleaned very little from the brief glimpses and snatches of

conversation they were able to sneak before Mrs Weasley

recalled them to their tasks. Snape flitted in and out of the house

several times more, though to Harry’s relief they never came

face to face; Harry also caught sight of his Transfiguration

teacher Professor McGonagall, looking very odd in a Muggle

dress and coat, and she also seemed too busy to linger.

Sometimes, however, the visitors stayed to help. Tonks joined

them for a memorable afternoon in which they found a

murderous old ghoul lurking in an upstairs toilet, and Lupin, who

was staying in the house with Sirius but who left it for long

periods to do mysterious work for the Order, helped them repair

a grandfather clock that had developed the unpleasant habit of

shooting heavy bolts at passers-by. Mundungus redeemed

himself slightly in Mrs Weasley’s eyes by rescuing Ron from an

ancient set of purple robes that had tried to strangle him when

he removed them from their wardrobe.

Despite the fact that he was still sleeping badly, still having

dreams about corridors and locked doors that made his scar

prickle, Harry was managing to have fun for the first time all

summer. As long as he was busy he was happy; when the action

abated, however, whenever he dropped his guard, or lay

exhausted in bed watching blurred shadows move across the

ceiling, the thought of the looming Ministry hearing returned to

him. Fear jabbed at his insides like needles as he wondered what

was going to happen to him if he was expelled. The idea was so

terrible that he did not dare voice it aloud, not even to Ron and

Hermione, who, though he often saw them whispering together

and casting anxious looks in his direction, followed his lead in not

mentioning it. Sometimes, he could not prevent his imagination

showing him a faceless Ministry official who was snapping his

wand in two and ordering him back to the Dursleys’… but he

would not go. He was determined on that. He would come back

here to Grimmauld Place and live with Sirius.

He felt as though a brick had dropped into his stomach when Mrs

Weasley turned to him during dinner on Wednesday evening and

said quietly, ‘I’ve ironed your best clothes for tomorrow morning,

Harry, and I want you to wash your hair tonight, too. A good

first impression can work wonders.’

Ron, Hermione, Fred, George and Ginny all stopped talking and

looked over at him. Harry nodded and tried to keep eating his

chop, but his mouth had become so dry he could not chew.

‘How am I getting there?’ he asked Mrs Weasley, trying to sound

unconcerned.

‘Arthurs taking you to work with him,’ said Mrs Weasley gently.

Mr Weasley smiled encouragingly at Harry across the table.

‘You can wait in my office until it’s time for the hearing,’ he said.

Harry looked over at Sirius, but before he could ask the question,

Mrs Weasley had answered it.

‘Professor Dumbledore doesn’t think it’s a good idea for Sirius to

go with you, and I must say I -‘

‘- think he’s quite right,’ said Sirius through clenched teeth.

Mrs Weasley pursed her lips.

‘When did Dumbledore tell you that?’ Harry said, staring at Sirius.

‘He came last night, when you were in bed,’ said Mr Weasley.

Sirius stabbed moodily at a potato with his fork. Harry lowered

his own eyes to his plate. The thought that Dumbledore had

been in the house on the eve of his hearing and not asked to see

him made him feel, if it were possible, even worse.

— CHAPTER SEVEN —

The Ministry of Magic

Harry awoke at half past five the next morning as abruptly and

completely as if somebody had yelled in his ear. For a few

moments he lay immobile as the prospect of the disciplinary

hearing filled every tiny particle of his brain, then, unable to bear

it, he leapt out of bed and put on his glasses. Mrs Weasley had

laid out his freshly laundered jeans and T-shirt at the foot of his

bed. Harry scrambled into them. The blank picture on the wall

sniggered.

Ron was lying sprawled on his back with his mouth wide open,

fast asleep. He did not stir as Harry crossed the room, stepped

out on to the landing and closed the door softly behind him.

Trying not to think of the next time he would see Ron, when they

might no longer be fellow students at Hogwarts, Harry walked

quietly down the stairs, past the heads of Kreacher’s ancestors,

and down into the kitchen.

He had expected it to be empty, but when he reached the door

he heard the soft rumble of voices on the other side. He pushed

it open and saw Mr and Mrs Weasley, Sirius, Lupin and Tonks

sitting there almost as though they were waiting for him. All

were fully dressed except Mrs Weasley, who was wearing a

quilted purple dressing gown. She leapt to her feet the moment

Harry entered.

‘Breakfast,’ she said as she pulled out her wand and hurried over

to the fire.

‘M – in – morning, Harry,’ yawned Tonks. Her hair was blonde

and curly this morning. ‘Sleep all right?’

‘Yeah,’ said Harry.

‘I’ve b – b – been up all night,’ she said, with another shuddering

yawn. ‘Come and sit down…’

She drew out a chair, knocking over the one beside it in the

process.

‘What do you want, Harry?’ Mrs Weasley called. ‘Porridge?

Muffins? Kippers? Bacon and eggs? Toast?’

‘Just – just toast, thanks,’ said Harry.

Lupin glanced at Harry, then said to Tonks, ‘What were you

saying about Scrimgeour?’

‘Oh… yeah… well, we need to be a bit more careful, he’s been

asking Kmgsley and me funny questions…’

Harry felt vaguely grateful that he was not required to join in the

conversation. His insides were squirming. Mrs Weasley placed a

couple of pieces of toast and marmalade in front of him; he tried

to eat, but it was like chewing carpet. Mrs Weasley sat down on

his other side and started fussing with his T-shirt, tucking in the

label and smoothing out the creases across his shoulders. He

wished she wouldn’t.

‘… and I’ll have to tell Dumbledore I can’t do night duty

tomorrow, I’m just’t -1 – too tired,’ Tonks finished, yawning

hugely again.

I’ll cover for you,’ said Mr Weasley. ‘I’m OK, I’ve got a report to

finish anyway

Mr Weasley was not wearing wizards’ robes but a pair of

pinstriped trousers and an old bomber jacket. He turned from

Tonks to Harry.

‘How are you feeling?’

Harry shrugged.

‘It’ll all be over soon,’ Mr Weasley said bracingly. Tn a few hours’

time you’ll be cleared.’

Harry said nothing.

The hearing’s on my floor, in Amelia Bones’s office. She’s Head

of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, and the one

who’ll be questioning you.’

‘Amelia Bones is OK, Harry,’ said Tonks earnestly. ‘She’s fair,

she’ll hear you out.’

Harry nodded, still unable to think of anything to say.

‘Don’t lose your temper,’ said Sirius abruptly. ‘Be polite and stick

to the facts.’

Harry nodded again.

The law’s on your side,’ said Lupin quietly. ‘Even underage

wizards are allowed to use magic in life-threatening situations.’

Something very cold trickled down the back of Harrys neck; for a

moment he thought someone was putting a Disillusionment

Charm on him, then he realised that Mrs Weasley was attacking

his hair with a wet comb. She pressed hard on the top of his

head.

‘Doesn’t it ever lie flat?’ she said desperately.

Harry shook his head.

Mr Weasley checked his watch and looked up at Harry.

‘I think we’ll go now,’ he said. ‘We’re a bit early but I think you’ll

be better off at the Ministry than hanging around here.’

‘OK,’ said Harry automatically, dropping his toast and getting to

his feet.

‘You’ll be all right, Harry,’ said Tonks, patting him on the arm.

‘Good luck,’ said Lupin. ‘I’m sure it will be fine.’

‘And if it’s not,’ said Sirius grimly ‘I’ll see to Amelia Bones for

you…’

Harry smiled weakly. Mrs Weasley hugged him.

‘We’ve all got our fingers crossed,’ she said.

‘Right,’ said Harry. ‘Well… see you later then.’

He followed Mr Weasley upstairs and along the hall. He could

hear Sirius’s mother grunting in her sleep behind her curtains.

Mr Weasley unbolted the door and they stepped out into the cold,

grey dawn.

‘You don’t normally walk to work, do you?’ Harry asked him, as

they set off briskly around the square.

‘No, I usually Apparate,’ said Mr Weasley, ‘but obviously you

can’t, and I think it’s best we arrive in a thoroughly non-magical

fashion… makes a better impression, given what you’re being

disciplined for…’

Mr Weasley kept his hand inside his jacket as they walked. Harry

knew it was clenched around his wand. The run-down streets

were almost deserted, but when they arrived at the miserable

little underground station they found it already full of earlymorning

commuters. As ever when he found himself in close

proximity to

Muggles going about their daily business, Mr Weasley was hard

put to contain his enthusiasm.

‘Simply fabulous,’ he whispered, indicating the automatic ticket

machines. ‘Wonderfully ingenious.’

They’re out of order,’ said Harry, pointing at the sign.

‘Yes, but even so…’ said Mr Weasley, beaming at them fondly

They bought their tickets instead from a sleepy-looking guard

(Harry handled the transaction, as Mr Weasley was not very

good with Muggle money) and five minutes later they were

boarding an underground train that rattled them off towards the

centre of London. Mr Weasley kept anxiously checking and rechecking

the Underground Map above the windows.

‘Four more stops, Harry… Three stops left now… Two stops to go,

Harry…’

They got off at a station in the very heart of London, and were

swept from the train in a tide of besuited men and women

carrying briefcases. Up the escalator they went, through the

ticket barrier (Mr Weasley delighted with the way the stile

swallowed his ticket), and emerged on to a broad street lined

with imposing-looking buildings and already full of traffic.

‘Where are we?’ said Mr Weasley blankly, and for one heartstopping

moment Harry thought they had got off at the wrong

station despite Mr Weasley’s continual references to the map;

but a second later he said, ‘Ah yes… this way, Harry,’ and led

him down a side road.

‘Sorry,’ he said, ‘but I never come by train and it all looks rather

different from a Muggle perspective. As a matter of fact, I’ve

never even used the visitors’ entrance before.’

The further they walked, the smaller and less imposing the

buildings became, until finally they reached a street that

contained several rather shabby-looking offices, a pub and an

overflowing skip. Harry had expected a rather more impressive

location for the Ministry of Magic.

‘Here we are,’ said Mr Weasley brightly, pointing at an old red

telephone box, which was missing several panes of glass and

stood before a heavily graffitied wall. ‘After you, Harry.’

He opened the telephone-box door.

Harry stepped inside, wondering what on earth this was about.

Mr Weasley folded himself in beside Harry and closed the door. It

was a tight fit; Harry was jammed against the telephone

apparatus, which was hanging crookedly from the wall as though

a vandal had tried to rip it off. Mr Weasley reached past Harry

for the receiver.

‘Mr Weasley, I think this might be out of order, too,’ Harry said.

‘No, no, I’m sure it’s fine,’ said Mr Weasley, holding the receiver

above his head and peering at the dial. ‘Let’s see… six…” he

dialled the number, ‘two… four… and another four… and another

two…”

As the dial whirred smoothly back into place, a cool female voice

sounded inside the telephone box, not from the receiver in Mr

Weasley’s hand, but as loudly and plainly as though an invisible

woman were standing right beside them.

‘Welcome to the Ministry of Magic. Please state your name and

business.’

‘Er…’ said Mr Weasley, clearly uncertain whether or not he should

talk into the receiver. He compromised by holding the

mouthpiece to his ear, ‘Arthur Weasley, Misuse of Muggle

Artefacts Office, here to escort Harry Potter, who has been asked

to attend a disciplinary hearing…’

Thank you,’ said the cool female voice. ‘Visitor, please take the

badge and attach it to the front of your robes.’

There was a click and a rattle, and Harry saw something slide

out of the metal chute where returned coins usually appeared.

He picked it up: it was a square silver badge with Harry Potter,

Disciplinary Hearing on it. He pinned it to the front of his T-shirt

as the female voice spoke again.

‘Visitor to the Ministry, you are required to submit to a search

and present your wand for registration at the security desk,

which is located at the far end of the Atrium.’

The floor of the telephone box shuddered. They were sinking

slowly into the ground. Harry watched apprehensively as the

pavement seemed to rise up past the glass windows of the

telephone box until darkness closed over their heads. Then he

could see nothing at all; he could hear only a dull grinding noise

as the tele-phone box made its way down through the earth.

After about a minute, though it felt much longer to Harry, a

chink of golden light illuminated his feet and, widening, rose up

his body, until it hit him in the face and he had to blink to stop

his eyes watering.

The Ministry of Magic wishes you a pleasant day,’ said the

woman’s voice.

The door of the telephone box sprang open and Mr Weasley

stepped out of it, followed by Harry, whose mouth had fallen

open.

They were standing at one end of a very long and splendid hall

with a highly polished, dark wood floor. The peacock blue ceiling

was inlaid with gleaming golden symbols that kept moving and

changing like some enormous heavenly noticeboard. The walls

on each side were panelled in shiny dark wood and had many

gilded fireplaces set into them. Every few seconds a witch or

wizard would emerge from one of the left-hand fireplaces with a

soft whoosh. On the right-hand side, short queues were forming

before each fireplace, waiting to depart.

Halfway down the hall was a fountain. A group of golden statues,

larger than life-size, stood in the middle of a circular pool. Tallest

of them all was a noble-looking wizard with his wand pointing

straight up in the air. Grouped around him were a beautiful witch,

a centaur, a goblin and a house-elf. The last three were all

looking adoringly up at the witch and wizard. Glittering jets of

water were flying from the ends of their wands, the point of the

centaur’s arrow, the tip of the goblins hat and each of the houseelf’s

ears, so that the tinkling hiss of falling water was added to

the pops and cracks of the Apparators and the clatter of

footsteps as hundreds of witches and wizards, most of whom

were wearing glum, early-morning looks, strode towards a set of

golden gates at the far end of the hall.

This way,’ said Mr Weasley.

They joined the throng, wending their way between the Ministry

workers, some of whom were carrying tottering piles of

parchment, others battered briefcases; still others were reading

the Daily Prophet while they walked. As they passed the fountain

Harry saw silver Sickles and bronze Knuts glinting up at him

from the bottom of the pool. A small smudged sign beside it

read:

ALL PROCEEDS FROM THE FOUNTAIN OF MAGICAL BRETHREN

WILL BE GIVEN TO ST MUNGO’S HOSPITAL FOR MAGICAL

MALADIES

AND INJURIES.

If I’m not expelled from Hogwarts, I’ll put in ten Galleons, Harry

found himself thinking desperately.

‘Over here, Harry,’ said Mr Weasley, and they stepped out of the

stream of Ministry employees heading for the golden gates.

Seated at a desk to the left, beneath a sign saying Security, a

badly-shaven wizard in peacock blue robes looked up as they

approached and put down his Daily Prophet.

‘I’m escorting a visitor,’ said Mr Weasley, gesturing towards

Harry.

‘Step over here,’ said the wizard in a bored voice.

Harry walked closer to him and the wizard held up a long golden

rod, thin and flexible as a car aerial, and passed it up and down

Harrys front and back.

‘Wand,’ grunted the security wizard at Harry, putting down the

golden instrument and holding out his hand.

Harry produced his wand. The wizard dropped it on to a strange

brass instrument, which looked something like a set of scales

with only one dish. It began to vibrate. A narrow strip of

parchment came speeding out of a slit in the base. The wizard

tore this off and read the writing on it.

‘Eleven inches, phoenix-feather core, been in use four years.

That correct?’

‘Yes,’ said Harry nervously.

‘I keep this,’ said the wizard, impaling the slip of parchment on a

small brass spike. ‘You get this back,’ he added, thrusting the

wand at Harry.

Thank you.’

‘Hang on…’ said the wizard slowly.

His eyes had darted from the silver visitors badge on Harry’s

chest to his forehead.

Thank you, Eric,’ said Mr Weasley firmly, and grasping Harry by

the shoulder he steered him away from the desk and back into

the stream of wizards and witches walking through the golden

gates.

Jostled slightly by the crowd, Harry followed Mr Weasley through

the gates into the smaller hall beyond, where at least twenty lifts

stood behind wrought golden grilles. Harry and Mr Weasley

joined the crowd around one of them. Nearby, stood a big

bearded wizard holding a large cardboard box which was

emitting rasping noises.

‘All right, Arthur?’ said the wizard, nodding at Mr Weasley.

‘What’ve you got there, Bob?’ asked Mr Weasley, looking at the

box.

‘We’re not sure,’ said the wizard seriously. ‘We thought it was a

bog-standard chicken until it started breathing fire. Looks like a

serious breach of the Ban on Experimental Breeding to me.’

With a great jangling and clattering a lift descended in front of

them; the golden grille slid back and Harry and Mr Weasley

stepped into the lift with the rest of the crowd and Harry found

himself jammed against the back wall. Several witches and

wizards were looking at him curiously; he stared at his feet to

avoid catching anyone’s eye, flattening his fringe as he did so.

The grilles slid shut with a crash and the lift ascended slowly,

chains rattling, while the same cool female voice Harry had

heard in the telephone box rang out again.

‘Level Seven, Department of Magical Games and Sports,

incorporating the British and Irish Quidditch League

Headquarters, Official Gobstones Club and Ludicrous Patents

Office.’

The lift doors opened. Harry glimpsed an untidy-looking corridor,

with various posters of Quidditch teams tacked lopsidedly on the

walls. One of the wizards in the lift, who was carrying an armful

of broomsticks, extricated himself with difficulty and disappeared

down the corridor. The doors closed, the lift juddered upwards

again and the woman’s voice announced:

‘Level Six, Department of Magical Transportation, incorporating

the Floo Network Authority, Broom Regulatory Control, Portkey

Office and Apparation Test Centre.’

Once again the lift doors opened and four or five witches and

wizards got out; at the same time, several paper aeroplanes

swooped into the lift. Harry stared up at them as they flapped

idly around above his head; they were a pale violet colour and

he could see Ministry of Magic stamped along the edge of their

wings.

‘Just inter-departmental memos,’ Mr Weasley muttered to him.

‘We used to use owls, but the mess was unbelievable… droppings

all over the desks…’

As they clattered upwards again the memos flapped around ihe

lamp swaying from the lift’s ceiling.

‘Level Five, Department of International Magical Co-operation,

incorporating the International Magical Trading Standards Body,

the International Magical Office of Law and the International

Confederation of Wizards, British Seats.’

When the doors opened, two of the memos zoomed out with a

few more of the witches and wizards, but several more memos

zoomed in, so that the light from the lamp flickered and flashed

overhead as they darted around it.

‘Level Four, Department for the Regulation and Control of

Magical Creatures, incorporating Beast, Being and Spirit

Divisions, Goblin Liaison Office and Pest Advisory Bureau.’

‘S’cuse,’ said the wizard carrying the fire-breathing chicken and

he left the lift pursued by a little flock of memos. The doors

clanged shut yet again.

‘Level Three, Department of Magical Accidents and Catastrophes,

including the Accidental Magic Reversal Squad, Obliviator

Headquarters and Muggle-Worthy Excuse Committee.’

Everybody left the lift on this floor except Mr Weasley, Harry and

a witch who was reading an extremely long piece of parchment

that was trailing on the floor. The remaining memos continued to

soar around the lamp as the lift juddered upwards again, then

the doors opened and the voice made its announcement.

‘Level Two, Department of Magical Law Enforcement, including

the Improper Use of Magic Office, Auror Headquarters and

Wizengamot Administration Services.’

This is us, Harry,’ said Mr Weasley, and they followed the witch

out of the lift into a corridor lined with doors. ‘My office is on the

other side of the floor.’

‘Mr Weasley’ said Harry, as they passed a window through which

sunlight was streaming, ‘aren’t we still underground?’

‘Yes, we are,’ said Mr Weasley. Those are enchanted windows.

Magical Maintenance decide what weather we’ll get every day.

We had two months of hurricanes last time they were angling for

a pay rise… Just round here, Harry.’

They turned a corner, walked through a pair of heavy oak doors

and emerged in a cluttered open area divided into cubicles,

which was buzzing with talk and laughter. Memos were zooming

in and out of cubicles like miniature rockets. A lopsided sign on

the nearest cubicle read: Auror Headquarters.

Harry looked surreptitiously through the doorways as they

passed. The Aurors had covered their cubicle walls with

everything from pictures of wanted wizards and photographs of

their families, to posters of their favourite Quidditch teams and

articles Irom the Daily Prophet. A scarlet-robed man with a

ponytail longer than Bill’s was sitting with his boots up on his

desk, dictating a report to his quill. A little further along, a witch

with a patch over one eye was talking over the top of her cubicle

wall to Kingsley Shacklebolt.

‘Morning, Weasley,’ said Kingsley carelessly, as they drew nearer.

‘I’ve been wanting a word with you, have you got a second?’

‘Yes, if it really is a second,’ said Mr Weasley, “I’m in rather a

hurry.’

They were talking as though they hardly knew each other and

when Harry opened his mouth to say hello to Kingsley, Mr

Weasley stood on his foot. They followed Kingsley along the row

and into the very last cubicle.

Harry received a slight shock; blinking down at him from every

direction was Sirius’s face. Newspaper cuttings and old

photographs – even the one of Sirius being best man at the

Potters’ wedding -papered the walls. The only Sirius-free space

was a map of the world in which little red pins were glowing like

jewels.

‘Here,’ said Kingsley brusquely to Mr Weasley, shoving a sheaf of

parchment into his hand. ‘I need as much information as

possible on flying Muggle vehicles sighted in the last twelve

months. We’ve received information that Black might still be

using his old motorcycle.’

Kingsley tipped Harry an enormous wink and added, in a whisper,

‘Give him the magazine, he might find it interesting.’ Then he

said in normal tones, ‘And don’t take too long, Weasley, the

delay on that firelegs report held our investigation up for a

month.’

‘If you had read my report you would know that the term is

firearms,’ said Mr Weasley coolly. ‘And I’m afraid you’ll have to

wait for information on motorcycles; we’re extremely busy at the

moment.’ He dropped his voice and said, ‘If you can get away

before seven, Molly’s making meatballs.’

He beckoned to Harry and led him out of Kingsley’s cubicle,

through a second set of oak doors, into another passage, turned

left, marched along another corridor, turned right into a dimly lit

and distinctly shabby corridor, and finally reached a dead end,

where a door on the left stood ajar, revealing a broom cupboard,

and a door on the right bore a tarnished brass plaque reading:

Misuse of Muggle Artefacts.

Mr Weasley’s dingy office seemed to be slightly smaller than the

broom cupboard. Two desks had been crammed inside it and

there was barely space to move around them because of all the

overflowing filing cabinets lining the walls, on top of which were

tottering piles of files. The little wall space available bore witness

to Mr Weasley’s obsessions: several posters of cars, including

one of a dismantled engine; two illustrations of postboxes he

seemed to have cut out of Muggle children’s books; and a

diagram showing how to wire a plug.

Sitting on top of Mr Weasley’s overflowing in-tray was an old

toaster that was hiccoughing in a disconsolate way and a pair of

empty leather gloves that were twiddling their thumbs. A

photograph of the Weasley family stood beside the in-tray. Harry

noticed that Percy appeared to have walked out of it.

‘We haven’t got a window,’ said Mr Weasley apologetically,

taking off his bomber jacket and placing it on the back of his

chair. ‘We’ve asked, but they don’t seem to think we need one.

Have a seat, Harry, doesn’t look as if Perkins is in yet.’

Harry squeezed himself into the chair behind Perkins’s desk while

Mr Weasley riffled through the sheaf of parchment Kingsley

Shacklebolt had given him.

‘Ah,’ he said, grinning, as he extracted a copy of a magazine

entitled The Quibbler from its midst, ‘yes…’ He flicked through it.

‘Yes, he’s right, I’m sure Sinus will find that very amusing – oh

dear, what’s this now?’

A memo had just zoomed in through the open door and fluttered

to rest on top of the hiccoughing toaster. Mr Weasley unfolded it

and read it aloud.

‘Third regurgitating public toilet reported in Bethnal Green,

kindly investigate immediately.” This is getting ridiculous…’

‘A regurgitating toilet?’

‘Anti-Muggle pranksters,’ said Mr Weasley, frowning. ‘We had

two last week, one in Wimbledon, one in Elephant and Castle.

Muggles are pulling the flush and instead of everything

disappearing – well, you can imagine. The poor things keep

calling in those – pumbles, I think they’re called – you know, the

ones who mend pipes and things.’

‘Plumbers?’

‘Exactly, yes, but of course they’re flummoxed. I only hope we

can catch whoever’s doing it.’

‘Will it be Aurors who catch them?’

‘Oh no, this is too trivial for Aurors, it’ll be the ordinary Magical

Law Enforcement Patrol – ah, Harry, this is Perkins.’

A stooped, timid-looking old wizard with fluffy white hair had just

entered the room, panting.

‘Oh, Arthur!’ he said desperately, without looking at Harry.

Thank goodness, 1 didn’t know what to do for the best, whether

to wait here for you or not. I’ve just sent an owl to your home

but you’ve obviously missed it – an urgent message came ten

minutes ago -‘

‘I know about the regurgitating toilet,’ said Mr Weasley.

‘No, no, it’s not the toilet, it’s the Potter boy’s hearing – they’ve

changed the time and venue – it starts at eight o’clock now and

it’s down in old Courtroom Ten -‘

‘Down in old – but they told me – Merlin’s beard!’

Mr Weasley looked at his watch, let out a yelp and leapt from his

chair.

‘Quick, Harry, we should have been there five minutes ago!’

Perkins flattened himself against the filing cabinets as Mr

Weasley left the office at a run, Harry close on his heels.

‘Why have they changed the time?’ Harry said breathlessly, as

they hurtled past the Auror cubicles; people poked out their

heads and stared as they streaked past. Harry felt as though

he’d left all his insides back at Perkins’s desk.

I’ve no idea, but thank goodness we got here so early, if you’d

missed it, it would have been catastrophic!’

Mr Weasley skidded to a halt beside the lifts and jabbed

impatiently at the ‘down’ button.

‘Come ON!’

The lift clattered into view and they hurried inside. Every time it

stopped Mr Weasley cursed furiously and pummelled the number

nine button.

Those courtrooms haven’t been used in years,’ said Mr Weasley

angrily. ‘I can’t think why they’re doing it down there – unless –

but no -‘

A plump witch carrying a smoking goblet entered the lift at that

moment, and Mr Weasley did not elaborate.

The Atrium,’ said the cool female voice and the golden grilles slid

open, showing Harry a distant glimpse of the golden statues in

the fountain. The plump witch got out and a sallow-skinned

wizard with a very mournful face got in.

‘Morning, Arthur,’ he said in a sepulchral voice as the lift began

to descend. ‘Don’t often see you down here.’

‘Urgent business, Bode,’ said Mr Weasley, who was bouncing on

the balls of his feet and throwing anxious looks over at Harry.

‘Ah, yes,’ said Bode, surveying Harry unblinkingly. ‘Of course.’

Harry barely had emotion to spare for Bode, but his unfaltering

gaze did not make him feel any more comfortable.

‘Department of Mysteries,’ said the cool female voice, and left it

at that.

‘Quick, Harry,’ said Mr Weasley as the lift doors rattled open, and

they sped up a corridor that was quite different from those

above. The walls were bare; there were no windows and no

doors apart from a plain black one set at the very end of the

corridor. Harry expected them to go through it, but instead Mr

Weasley seized him by the arm and dragged him to the left,

where there was an opening leading to a flight of steps.

‘Down here, down here,’ panted Mr Weasley, taking two steps at

a time. The lift doesn’t even come down this far… why they’re

doing it down there I…’

They reached the bottom of the steps and ran along yet another

corridor, which bore a great resemblance to the one that led to

Snape’s dungeon at Hogwarts, with rough stone walls and

torches in brackets. The doors they passed here were heavy

wooden ones with iron bolts and keyholes.

‘Courtroom… Ten… I think… we’re nearly… yes.’

Mr Weasley stumbled to a halt outside a grimy dark door with an

immense iron lock and slumped against the wall, clutching at a

stitch in his chest.

‘Go on,’ he panted, pointing his thumb at the door. ‘Get in there.’

‘Aren’t – aren’t you coming with -?’

‘No, no, I’m not allowed. Good luck!’

Harry’s heart was beating a violent tattoo against his Adam’s

apple. He swallowed hard, turned the heavy iron door handle

and stepped inside the courtroom.

— CHAPTER EIGHT —

The Hearing

Harry gasped; he could not help himself. The large dungeon he

had entered was horribly familiar. He had not only seen it before,

he had been here before. This was the place he had visited

inside Dumbledore’s Pensieve, the place where he had watched

the Lestranges sentenced to life imprisonment in Azkaban.

The walls were made of dark stone, dimly lit by torches. Empty

benches rose on either side of him, but ahead, in the highest

benches of all, were many shadowy figures. They had been

talking in low voices, but as the heavy door swung closed behind

Harry an ominous silence fell.

A cold male voice rang across the courtroom.

‘You’re late.’

‘Sorry,’ said Harry nervously ‘I — I didn’t know the time had

been changed.’

That is not the Wizengamot’s fault,’ said the voice. ‘An owl was

sent to you this morning. Take your seat.’

Harry dropped his gaze to the chair in the centre of the room,

the arms of which were covered in chains. He had seen those

chains spring to life and bind whoever sat between them. His

footsteps echoed loudly as he walked across the stone floor.

When he sat gingerly on the edge of the chair the chains clinked

threateningly, but did not bind him. Feeling rather sick, he

looked up at the people seated at the bench above.

There were about fifty of them, all, as far as he could see,

wearing plum-coloured robes with an elaborately worked silver

‘W on the left-hand side of the chest and all staring down their

noses at him, some with very austere expressions, others looks

of frank curiosity.

THE HE A RING

In the very middle of the front row sat Cornelius Fudge, the

Minister for Magic. Fudge was a portly man who often sported a

lime-green bowler hat, though today he had dispensed with it;

he had dispensed, too, with the indulgent smile he had once

worn when he spoke to Harry. A broad, square-jawed witch with

very short grey hair sat on Fudge’s left; she wore a monocle and

looked forbidding. On Fudge’s right was another witch, but she

was sitting so far back on the bench that her face was in shadow.

‘Very well,’ said Fudge. The accused being present – finally -let

us begin. Are you ready?’ he called down the row.

‘Yes, sir,’ said an eager voice Harry knew. Ron’s brother Percy

was sitting at the very end of the front bench. Harry looked at

Percy, expecting some sign of recognition from him, but none

came. Percy’s eyes, behind his horn-rimmed glasses, were fixed

on his parchment, a quill poised in his hand.

‘Disciplinary hearing of the twelfth of August,’ said Fudge in a

ringing voice, and Percy began taking notes at once, ‘into

offences committed under the Decree for the Reasonable

Restriction of Underage Sorcery and the International Statute of

Secrecy by Harry James Potter, resident at number four, Privet

Drive, Little Whinging, Surrey.

‘Interrogators: Cornelius Oswald Fudge, Minister for Magic;

Amelia Susan Bones, Head of the Department of Magical Law

Enforcement; Dolores Jane Umbridge, Senior Undersecretary to

the Minister. Court Scribe, Percy Ignatius Weasley -‘

‘Witness for the defence, Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore,’

said a quiet voice from behind Harry, who turned his head

so fast he cricked his neck.

Dumbledore was striding serenely across the room wearing long

midnight-blue robes and a perfectly calm expression. His long

silver beard and hair gleamed in the torchlight as he drew level

with Harry and looked up at Fudge through the half-moon

spectacles that rested halfway down his very crooked nose.

The members of the Wizengamot were muttering. All eyes were

now on Dumbledore. Some looked annoyed, others slightly

frightened; two elderly witches in the back row, however, raised

their hands and waved in welcome.

A powerful emotion had risen in Harry’s chest at the sight of

Dumbledore, a fortified, hopeful feeling rather like that which

phoenix song gave him. He wanted to catch Dumbledore’s eye,

but Dumbledore was not looking his way; he was continuing to

look up at the obviously flustered Fudge.

‘Ah,’ said Fudge, who looked thoroughly disconcerted.

‘Dumbledore. Yes. You – er – got our – er – message that the

time and -er – place of the hearing had been changed, then?’

‘I must have missed it,’ said Dumbledore cheerfully. ‘However,

due to a lucky mistake I arrived at the Ministry three hours early,

so no harm done.’

‘Yes – well – I suppose we’ll need another chair – I – Weasley,

could you -?’

‘Not to worry, not to worry,’ said Dumbledore pleasantly; he took

out his wand, gave it a little flick, and a squashy chintz armchair

appeared out of nowhere next to Harry. Dumbledore sat down,

put the tips of his long fingers together and surveyed Fudge over

them with an expression of polite interest. The Wizengamot was

still muttering and fidgeting restlessly; only when Fudge spoke

again did they settle down.

‘Yes,’ said Fudge again, shuffling his notes. ‘Well, then. So. The

charges. Yes.’

He extricated a piece of parchment from the pile before him,

took a deep breath, and read out, The charges against the

accused are as follows:

That he did knowingly, deliberately and in full awareness of the

illegality of his actions, having received a previous written

warning from the Ministry of Magic on a similar charge, produce

a Patronus Charm in a Muggle-inhabited area, in the presence of

a Muggle, on the second of August at twenty-three minutes past

nine, which constitutes an offence under Paragraph C of the

Decree for the Reasonable Restriction of Underage Sorcery, 1875,

and also under Section 13 of the International Confederation of

Warlocks’ Statute of Secrecy.

‘You are Harry James Potter, of number four, Privet Drive, Little

Whinging, Surrey?’ Fudge said, glaring at Harry over the top of

his parchment.

‘Yes,’ Harry said.

‘You received an official warning from the Ministry for using

illegal magic three years ago, did you not?’

‘Yes, but -‘

‘And yet you conjured a Patronus on the night of the second of

August?’ said Fudge.

‘Yes,’ said Harry, ‘but -‘

‘Knowing that you are not permitted to use magic outside school

while you are under the age of seventeen?’

‘Yes, but -‘

‘Knowing that you were in an area full of Muggles?’

‘Yes, but -‘

‘Fully aware that you were in close proximity to a Muggle at the

time?’

‘Yes,’ said Harry angrily, ‘but 1 only used it because we were -‘

The witch with the monocle cut across him in a booming voice.

‘You produced a fully-fledged Patronus?’

‘Yes,’ said Harry, ‘because -‘

‘A corporeal Patronus?’

‘A – what?’ said Harry.

‘Your Patronus had a clearly defined form? I mean to say, it was

more than vapour or smoke?’

‘Yes,’ said Harry, feeling both impatient and slightly desperate,

‘it’s a stag, it’s always a stag.’

‘Always?’ boomed Madam Bones. ‘You have produced a Patronus

before now?’

‘Yes,’ said Harry, ‘I’ve been doing it for over a year.’

‘And you are fifteen years old?’

‘Yes, and -‘

‘You learned this at school?’

‘Yes, Professor Lupin taught me in my third year, because of the

-‘

‘Impressive,’ said Madam Bones, staring down at him, ‘a true

Patronus at his age… very impressive indeed.’

Some of the wizards and witches around her were muttering

again; a few nodded, but others were frowning and shaking their

heads.

‘It’s not a question of how impressive the magic was,’ said Fudge

in a testy voice, ‘in fact, the more impressive the worse it is, I

would have thought, given that the boy did it in plain view of a

Muggle!’

Those who had been frowning now murmured in agreement, but

it was the sight of Percy’s sanctimonious little nod that goaded

Harry into speech.

‘I did it because of the Dementors!’ he said loudly, before

anyone could interrupt him again.

He had expected more muttering, but the silence that fell

seemed to be somehow denser than before.

‘Dementors?’ said Madam Bones after a moment, her thick

eyebrows rising until her monocle looked in danger of falling out.

‘What do you mean, boy?’

‘I mean there were two Dementors down that alleyway and they

went for me and my cousin!’

‘Ah,’ said Fudge again, smirking unpleasantly as he looked

around at the Wizengamot, as though inviting them to share the

joke. ‘Yes. Yes, I thought we’d be hearing something like this.’

‘Dementors in Little Whinging?’ Madam Bones said, in a tone of

great surprise. ‘I don’t understand -‘

‘Don’t you, Amelia?’ said Fudge, still smirking. ‘Let me explain.

He’s been thinking it through and decided Dementors would

make a very nice little cover story, very nice indeed. Muggles

can’t see Dementors, can they, boy? Highly convenient, highly

convenient… so it’s just your word and no witnesses…’

‘I’m not lying!’ said Harry loudly, over another outbreak of

muttering from the court. There were two of them, coming from

opposite ends of the alley, everything went dark and cold and

my cousin felt them and ran for it -‘

‘Enough, enough!’ said Fudge, with a very supercilious look on

his face. ‘I’m sorry to interrupt what I’m sure would have been a

very well-rehearsed story -‘

Dumbledore cleared his throat. The Wizengamot fell silent again.

‘We do, in fact, have a witness to the presence of Dementors in

that alleyway,’ he said, ‘other than Dudley Dursley, I mean.’

Fudge’s plump face seemed to slacken, as though somebody had

let air out of it. He stared down at Dumbledore for a moment or

two, then, with the appearance of a man pulling himself back

together, said, ‘We haven’t got time to listen to more

tarradiddles, I’m afraid, Dumbledore. I want this dealt with

quickly -‘

‘I may be wrong,’ said Dumbledore pleasantly, ‘but I am sure

that under the Wizengamot Charter of Rights, the accused has

the right to present witnesses for his or her case? Isn’t that the

policy of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, Madam

Bones?’ he continued, addressing the witch in the monocle.

‘True,’ said Madam Bones. ‘Perfectly true.’

‘Oh, very well, very well,’ snapped Fudge. ‘Where is this person?’

‘I brought her with me,’ said Dumbledore. ‘She’s just outside the

door. Should 1 -?’

‘No — Weasley, you go,’ Fudge barked at Percy, who got up at

once, ran down the stone steps from the judge’s balcony and

hurried past Dumbledore and Harry without glancing at them.

A moment later, Percy returned, followed by Mrs Figg. She

looked scared and more batty than ever. Harry wished she had

thought to change out of her carpet slippers.

Dumbledore stood up and gave Mrs Figg his chair, conjuring a

second one for himself.

‘Full name?’ said Fudge loudly, when Mrs Figg had perched

herself nervously on the very edge of her seal.

‘Arabella Doreen Figg,’ said Mrs Figg in her quavery voice.

‘And who exactly are you?’ said Fudge, in a bored and lofty voice.

‘I’m a resident of Little Whinging, close to where Harry Potter

lives,’ said Mrs Figg.

‘We have no record of any witch or wizard living in Little

Whinging, other than Harry Potter,’ said Madam Bones at once.

That situation has always been closely monitored, given… given

past events.’

‘I’m a Squib,’ said Mrs Figg. ‘So you wouldn’t have me registered,

would you?’

‘A Squib, eh?’ said Fudge, eyeing her closely. ‘We’ll be checking

that. You’ll leave details of your parentage with my assistant

Weasley. Incidentally, can Squibs see Dementors?’ he added,

looking left and right along the bench.

‘Yes, we can!’ said Mrs Figg indignantly.

Fudge looked back down at her, his eyebrows raised. ‘Very well,’

he said aloofly. ‘What is your story?’

‘I had gone out to buy cat food from the corner shop at the end

of Wisteria Walk, around about nine o’clock, on the evening of

the second of August,’ gabbled Mrs Figg at once, as though she

had learned what she was saying by heart, ‘when I heard a

disturbance down the alleyway between Magnolia Crescent and

Wisteria Walk. On approaching the mouth of the alleyway I saw

Dementors running -‘

‘Running?’ said Madam Bones sharply. ‘Dementors don’t run,

they glide.’

That’s what 1 meant to say,’ said Mrs Figg quickly, patches of

pink appearing in her withered cheeks. ‘Gliding along the alley

towards what looked like two boys.’

‘What did they look like?’ said Madam Bones, narrowing her eyes

so that the edge of the monocle disappeared into her flesh.

‘Well, one was very large and the other one rather skinny -‘

‘No, no,’ said Madam Bones impatiently. ‘The Dementors…

describe them.’

‘Oh,1 said Mrs Figg, the pink flush creeping up her neck now.

They were big. Big and wearing cloaks.’

Harry felt a horrible sinking in the pit of his stomach. Whatever

Mrs Figg might say, it sounded to him as though the most she

had ever seen was a picture of a Dementor, and a picture could

never convey the truth of what these beings were like: the eerie

way they moved, hovering inches over the ground; or the rotting

smell of them; or that terrible rattling noise they made as they

sucked on the surrounding air…

In the second row, a dumpy wizard with a large black moustache

leaned close to whisper in the ear of his neighbour, a frizzyhaired

witch. She smirked and nodded.

‘Big and wearing cloaks,’ repeated Madam Bones coolly, while

Fudge snorted derisively. ‘I see. Anything else?’

‘Yes,’ said Mrs Figg. ‘I felt them. Everything went cold, and this

was a very warm summer’s night, mark you. And I felt… as

though all happiness had gone from the world… and I

remembered… dreadful things…’

Her voice shook and died.

Madam Bones’s eyes widened slightly. Harry could see red marks

under her eyebrow where the monocle had dug into it.

‘What did the Dementors do?’ she asked, and Harry felt a rush of

hope.

They went for the boys,’ said Mrs Figg, her voice stronger and

more confident now, the pink flush ebbing away from her face.

‘One of them had fallen. The other was backing away, trying to

repel the Dementor. That was Harry. He tried twice and

produced only silver vapour. On the third attempt, he produced a

Patronus, which charged down the first Dementor and then, with

his encouragement, chased the second one away from his cousin.

And that that is what happened,’ Mrs Figg finished, somewhat

lamely.

Madam Bones looked down at Mrs Figg in silence. Fudge was not

looking at her at all, but fidgeting with his papers. Finally, he

raised his eyes and said, rather aggressively, That’s what you

saw, is it?’

That is what happened,’ Mrs Figg repeated.

‘Very well,’ said Fudge. ‘You may go.’

Mrs Figg cast a frightened look from Fudge to Dumbledore, then

got up and shuffled otf towards the door. Harry heard it thud

shut behind her.

‘Not a very convincing witness,’ said Fudge loftily.

‘Oh, I don’t know,’ said Madam Bones, in her booming voice.

‘She certainly described the effects of a Dementor attack very

accurately. And I can’t imagine why she would say they were

there if they weren’t.’

‘But Dementors wandering into a Muggle suburb and just

happening to come across a wizard?’ snorted Fudge. The odds on

that must be very, very long. Even Bagman wouldn’t have bet -‘

‘Oh, 1 don’t think any of us believe the Dementors were there by

coincidence,’ said Dumbledore lightly.

The witch sitting to the right of Fudge, with her face in shadow,

moved slightly but everyone else was quite still and silent.

And what is that supposed to mean?’ Fudge asked icily.

‘It means that I think they were ordered there,’ said Dumbledore.

‘I think we might have a record of it if someone had ordered a

pair of Dementors to go strolling through Little Whanging!’

barked Fudge.

‘Not if the Dementors are taking orders from someone other than

the Ministry of Magic these days,’ said Dumbledore calmly. ‘I

have already given you my views on this matter, Cornelius.’

‘Yes, you have,’ said Fudge forcefully, ‘and I have no reason to

believe that your views are anything other than bilge,

Dumbledore. The Dementors remain in place in Azkaban and are

doing everything we ask them to.’

Then,’ said Dumbledore, quietly but clearly, ‘we must ask

ourselves why somebody within the Ministry ordered a pair of

Dementors into that alleyway on the second of August.’

In the complete silence that greeted these words, the witch to

the right of Fudge leaned forwards so that Harry saw her for the

first time.

He thought she looked just like a large, pale toad. She was

rather squat with a broad, flabby face, as little neck as Uncle

Vernon and a very wide, slack mouth. Her eyes were large,

round and slightly bulging. Even the little black velvet bow

perched on top of her short curly hair put him in mind of a large

fly she was about to catch on a long sticky tongue.

The Chair recognises Dolores Jane Umbridge, Senior

Undersecretary to the Minister,’ said Fudge.

The witch spoke in a fluttery, girlish, high-pitched voice that took

Harry aback; he had been expecting a croak.

‘I’m sure I must have misunderstood you, Professor

Dumbledore,’ she said, with a simper that left her big, round

eyes as cold as ever. ‘So silly of me. But it sounded for a teensy

moment as though you were suggesting that the Ministry of

Magic had ordered an attack on this boy!’

She gave a silvery laugh that made the hairs on the back of

Harry’s neck stand up. A few other members of the Wizengamot

laughed with her. It could not have been plainer that not one of

them was really amused.

‘If it is true that the Dementors are taking orders only from the

Ministry of Magic, and it is also true that two Dementors

attacked Harry and his cousin a week ago, then it follows

logically that somebody at the Ministry might have ordered the

attacks,’ said Dumbledore politely. ‘Of course, these particular

Dementors may have been outside Ministry control -‘

‘There are no Dementors outside Ministry control!’ snapped

Fudge, who had turned brick red.

Dumbledore inclined his head in a little bow.

Then undoubtedly the Ministry will be making a full inquiry into

why two Dementors were so very far from Azkaban and why

they attacked without authorisation.’

‘It is not for you to decide what the Ministry of Magic does or

does not do, Dumbledore!’ snapped Fudge, now a shade of

magenta of which Uncle Vernon would have been proud.

‘Of course it isn’t,’ said Dumbledore mildly. ‘I was merely

expressing my confidence that this matter will not go uninvestigated.’

He glanced at Madam Bones, who readjusted her monocle and

stared back at him, frowning slightly.

‘I would remind everybody that the behaviour of these

Dementors, if indeed they are not figments of this boy’s

imagination, is not the subject of this hearing!’ said Fudge. ‘We

are here to examine Harry Potter’s offences under the Decree for

the Reasonable Restriction of Underage Sorcery!’

‘Of course we are,’ said Dumbledore, ‘but the presence of

Dementors in that alleyway is highly relevant. Clause Seven of

the Decree states that magic may be used before Muggles in

exceptional circumstances, and as those exceptional

circumstances include situations which threaten the life of the

wizard or witch him- or herself, or any witches, wizards or

Muggles present at the time of the -‘

‘We are familiar with Clause Seven, thank you very much!’

snarled Fudge.

‘Of course you are,’ said Dumbledore courteously. Then we are in

agreement that Harrys use of the Patronus Charm in these

circumstances falls precisely into the category of exceptional

circumstances the clause describes?’

‘If there were Dementors, which I doubt.’

‘You have heard it from an eyewitness,’ Dumbledore interrupted.

‘If you still doubt her truthfulness, call her back, question her

again. 1 am sure she would not object.’

‘I – that – not -‘ blustered Fudge, fiddling with the papers before

him. ‘It’s – I want this over with today, Dumbledore!’

‘But naturally, you would not care how many times you heard

from a witness, if the alternative was a serious miscarriage of

justice,’ said Dumbledore.

‘Serious miscarriage, my hat!’ said Fudge at the top of his voice.

‘Have you ever bothered to tot up the number of cock-and-bull

stories this boy has come out with, Dumbledore, while trying to

cover up his flagrant misuse of magic out of school? I suppose

you’ve forgotten the Hover Charm he used three years ago -‘

That wasn’t me, it was a house-elf!’ said Harry.

‘YOU SEE?’ roared Fudge, gesturing flamboyantly in Harry’s

direction. ‘A house-elf! In a Muggle house! I ask you.’

The house-elfin question is currently in the employ of Hogwarts

School,’ said Dumbledore. ‘I can summon him here in an instant

to give evidence if you wish.”

‘I – not – I haven’t got time to listen to house-elves! Anyway,

that’s not the only – he blew up his aunt, for God’s sake!’ Fudge

shouted, banging his fist on the judge’s bench and upsetting a

bottle of ink.

‘And you very kindly did not press charges on that occasion,

accepting, I presume, that even the best wizards cannot always

control their emotions,’ said Dumbledore calmly, as Fudge

attempted to scrub the ink off his notes.

‘And I haven’t even started on what he gets up to at school.’

‘But, as the Ministry has no authority to punish Hogwarts

students for misdemeanours at school, Harry’s behaviour there is

not relevant to this hearing,’ said Dumbledore, as politely as

ever, but now with a suggestion of coolness behind his words.

‘Oho!’ said Fudge. ‘Not our business what he does at school, eh?

You think so?’

The Ministry does not have the power to expel Hogwarts

students, Cornelius, as I reminded you on the night of the

second of August,’ said Dumbledore. ‘Nor does it have the right

to confiscate wands until charges have been successfully proven;

again, as

I reminded you on the night of the second of August. In your

admirable haste to ensure that the law is upheld, you appear,

inadvertently I am sure, to have overlooked a few laws yourself.’

‘Laws can be changed,’ said Fudge savagely.

‘Of course they can,’ said Dumbledore, inclining his head. ‘And

vou certainly seem to be making many changes, Cornelius. Why,

in the few short weeks since I was asked to leave the

Wizengamot, it has already become the practice to hold a full

criminal trial to deal with a simple matter of underage magic!’

A few of the wizards above them shifted uncomfortably in their

seats. Fudge turned a slightly deeper shade of puce. The toadlike

witch on his right, however, merely gazed at Dumbledore, her

face quite expressionless.

‘As far as I am aware,’ Dumbledore continued, ‘there is no law

yet in place that says this court’s job is to punish Harry for every

bit of magic he has ever performed. He has been charged with a

specific offence and he has presented his defence. All he and I

can do now is to await your verdict.’

Dumbledore put his fingertips together again and said no more.

Fudge glared at him, evidently incensed. Harry glanced sideways

at Dumbledore, seeking reassurance; he was not at all sure that

Dumbledore was right in telling the Wizengamot, in effect, that it

was about time they made a decision. Again, however,

Dumbledore seemed oblivious to Harry’s attempt to catch his eye.

He continued to look up at the benches where the entire

Wizengamot had fallen into urgent, whispered conversations.

Harry looked at his feet. His heart, which seemed to have

swollen to an unnatural size, was thumping loudly under his ribs.

He had expected the hearing to last longer than this. He was not

at all sure that he had made a good impression. He had not

really said very much. He ought to have explained more fully

about the Dementors, about how he had fallen over, about how

both he and Dudley had nearly been kissed…

Twice he looked up at Fudge and opened his mouth to speak, but

his swollen heart was now constricting his air passages and both

times he merely took a deep breath and looked back down at his

shoes.

Then the whispering stopped. Harry wanted to look up at the

judges, but found that it was really much, much easier to keep

examining his laces.

Those in favour of clearing the witness of all charges?’ said

Madam Boness booming voice.

Harrys head jerked upwards. There were hands in the air, many

of them… more than half! Breathing very fast, he tried to count,

but before he could finish, Madam Bones had said, ‘And those in

favour of conviction?’

Fudge raised his hand; so did half a dozen others, including the

witch on his right and the heavily-moustached wizard and the

frizzy-haired witch in the second row.

Fudge glanced around at them all, looking as though there was

something large stuck in his throat, then lowered his own hand.

He took two deep breaths and said, in a voice distorted by

suppressed rage, ‘Very well, very well… cleared of all charges.’

‘Excellent,’ said Dumbledore briskly, springing to his feet, pulling

out his wand and causing the two chintz armchairs to vanish.

‘Well, I must be getting along. Good-day to you all.’

And without looking once at Harry, he swept from the dungeon.

— CHAPTER NINE

The Woes of Mrs Weasky

Dumbledore’s abrupt departure took Harry completely by

surprise. He remained sitting where he was in the chained chair,

struggling with his feelings of shock and relief. The Wizengamot

were all getting to their feet, talking, gathering up their papers

and packing them away. Harry stood up. Nobody seemed to be

paying him the slightest bit of attention, except the toadlike

witch on Fudge’s right, who was now gazing down at him instead

of at Dumbledore. Ignoring her, he tried to catch Fudge’s eye, or

Madam Bones’s, wanting to ask whether he was free to go, but

Fudge seemed quite determined not to notice Harry, and Madam

Bones was busy with her briefcase, so he took a few tentative

steps towards the exit and, when nobody called him back, broke

into a very fast walk.

He took the last few steps at a run, wrenched open the door and

almost collided with Mr Weasley, who was standing right outside,

looking pale and apprehensive.

‘Dumbledore didn’t say -‘

‘Cleared,’ Harry said, pulling the door closed behind him, ‘of all

charges!’

Beaming, Mr Weasley seized Harry by the shoulders.

‘Harry, that’s wonderful! Well, of course, they couldn’t have

found you guilty, not on the evidence, but even so, 1 can’t

pretend I wasn’t -‘

But Mr Weasley broke off, because the courtroom door had just

opened again. The Wizengamot were filing out.

‘Merlin’s beard!’ exclaimed Mr Weasley wonderingly, pulling

Harry aside to let them all pass. ‘You were tried by the full

court?’

‘I think so,’ said Harry quietly.

One or two of the wizards nodded to Harry as they passed and a

few, including Madam Bones, said, ‘Morning, Arthur,’ to Mr

Weasley, but most averted their eyes. Cornelius Fudge and the

toadlike witch were almost the last to leave the dungeon. Fudge

acted as though Mr Weasley and Harry were part of the wall, but

again, the witch looked almost appraisingly at Harry as she

passed. Last of all to pass was Percy. Like Fudge, he completely

ignored his father and Harry; he marched past clutching a large

roll of parchment and a handful of spare quills, his back rigid and

his nose in the air. The lines around Mr Weasleys mouth

tightened slightly, but other than this he gave no sign that he

had seen his third son.

‘I’m going to take you straight back so you can tell the others

the good news,’ he said, beckoning Harry forwards as Percy’s

heels disappeared up the steps to Level Nine. Til drop you off on

the way to that toilet in Bethnal Green. Come on…”

‘So, what will you have to do about the toilet?’ Harry asked,

grinning. Everything suddenly seemed five times funnier than

usual. It was starting to sink in: he was cleared, he was going

back to Hogwarts.

‘Oh, its a simple enough anti-jinx,’ said Mr Weasley as they

mounted the stairs, ‘but it’s not so much having to repair the

damage, its more the attitude behind the vandalism, Harry.

Muggle-baiting might strike some wizards as funny, but it’s an

expression of something much deeper and nastier, and I for one

-‘

Mr Weasley broke off in mid-sentence. They had just reached the

ninth-level corridor and Cornelius Fudge was standing a few feet

away from them, talking quietly to a tall man with sleek blond

hair and a pointed, pale face.

The second man turned at the sound of their footsteps. He, too,

broke off in mid-conversation, his cold grey eyes narrowed and

fixed upon Harry’s face.

‘Well, well, well… Patronus Potter,’ said Lucius Malfoy coolly.

Harry felt winded, as though he had just walked into something

solid. He had last seen those cold grey eyes through slits in a

Death Eaters hood, and last heard that man’s voice jeering in a

dark graveyard while Lord Voldemort tortured him. Harry could

not believe that Lucius Malfoy dared look him in the face; he

could not believe that he was here, in the Ministry of Magic, or

that Cornelius Fudge was talking to him, when Harry had told

Fudge mere weeks ago that Malfoy was a Death Eater.

‘The Minister was just telling me about your lucky escape,

Potter,’ drawled Mr Malfoy. ‘Quite astonishing, the way you

continue to wriggle out of very tight holes… snakelike, in fact.’

Mr Weasley gripped Harry’s shoulder in warning.

‘Yeah,’ said Harry, ‘yeah, I’m good at escaping.’

Lucius Malfoy raised his eyes to Mr Weasley’s face.

‘And Arthur Weasley too! What are you doing here, Arthur?’

‘I work here,’ said Mr Weasley curtly.

‘Not here, surely?’ said Mr Malfoy, raising his eyebrows and

glancing towards the door over Mr Weasley’s shoulder. ‘I thought

you were up on the second floor… don’t you do something that

involves sneaking Muggle artefacts home and bewitching them?’

‘No,’ Mr Weasley snapped, his fingers now biting into Harrys

shoulder.

What are you doing here, anyway?’ Harry asked Lucius Malfoy.

‘I don’t think private matters between myself and the Minister

are any concern of yours, Potter,’ said Malfoy, smoothing the

front of his robes. Harry distinctly heard the gentle clinking of

what sounded like a full pocket of gold. ‘Really, just because you

are Dumbledore’s favourite boy, you must not expect the same

indulgence from the rest of us… shall we go up to your office,

then, Minister?’

‘Certainly’ said Fudge, turning his back on Harry and Mr Weasley.

This way, Lucius.’

They strode off together, talking in low voices. Mr Weasley did

not let go of Harry’s shoulder until they had disappeared into the

lift.

Why wasn’t he waiting outside Fudge’s office if they’ve got

business to do together?’ Harry burst out furiously. What was he

doing down here?’

‘Trying to sneak down to the courtroom, if you ask me,’ said Mr

Weasley, looking extremely agitated and glancing over his

shoulder as though making sure they could not be overheard.

Trying

One or two of the wizards nodded to Harry as they passed and a

few, including Madam Bones, said, ‘Morning, Arthur,’ to Mr

Weasley, but most averted their eyes. Cornelius Fudge and the

toadlike witch were almost the last to leave the dungeon. Fudge

acted as though Mr Weasley and Harry were part of the wall, but

again, the witch looked almost appraisingly at Harry as she

passed. Last of all to pass was Percy. Like Fudge, he completely

ignored his father and Harry; he marched past clutching a large

roll of parchment and a handful of spare quills, his back rigid and

his nose in the air. The lines around Mr Weasley’s mouth

tightened slightly, but other than this he gave no sign that he

had seen his third son.

‘I’m going to take you straight back so you can tell the others

the good news,’ he said, beckoning Harry forwards as Percy’s

heels disappeared up the steps to Level Nine. Til drop you off on

the way to that toilet in Bethnal Green. Come on…”

‘So, what will you have to do about the toilet?’ Harry asked,

grinning. Everything suddenly seemed five times funnier than

usual. It was starting to sink in: he was cleared, he was going

back to Hogwarts.

‘Oh, it’s a simple enough anti-jinx,’ said Mr Weasley as they

mounted the stairs, ‘but it’s not so much having to repair the

damage, it’s more the attitude behind the vandalism, Harry.

Muggle-baiting might strike some wizards as funny, but it’s an

expression of something much deeper and nastier, and I for one

-‘

Mr Weasley broke off in mid-sentence. They had just reached the

ninth-level corridor and Cornelius Fudge was standing a few feet

away from them, talking quietly to a tall man with sleek blond

hair and a pointed, pale face.

The second man turned at the sound of their footsteps. He, too,

broke off in mid-conversation, his cold grey eyes narrowed and

fixed upon Harry’s face.

‘Well, well, well… Patronus Potter,’ said Lucius Malfoy coolly.

Harry felt winded, as though he had just walked into something

solid. He had last seen those cold grey eyes through slits in a

Death Eaters hood, and last heard that man’s voice jeering in a

dark graveyard while Lord Voldemort tortured him. Harry could

not believe that Lucius Malfoy dared look him in the face; he

could not believe that he was here, in the Ministry of Magic, or

that Cornelius Fudge was talking to him, when Harry had told

Fudge mere weeks ago that Malfoy was a Death Eater.

The Minister was just telling me about your lucky escape, Potter,’

drawled Mr Malfoy. ‘Quite astonishing, the way you continue to

wriggle out of very tight holes… snakdike, in fact.’

Mr Weasley gripped Harry’s shoulder in warning.

‘Yeah,’ said Harry, ‘yeah, I’m good at escaping.’

Lucius Malfoy raised his eyes to Mr Weasley’s face.

‘And Arthur Weasley too! What are you doing here, Arthur?’

‘I work here,’ said Mr Weasley curtly.

‘Not here, surely?’ said Mr Malfoy, raising his eyebrows and

glancing towards the door over Mr Weasley’s shoulder. ‘I thought

you were up on the second floor… don’t you do something that

involves sneaking Muggle artefacts home and bewitching them?’

‘No,’ Mr Weasley snapped, his fingers now biting into Harry’s

shoulder.

‘What are you doing here, anyway?’ Harry asked Lucius Malfoy.

‘I don’t think private matters between myself and the Minister

are any concern of yours, Potter,’ said Malfoy, smoothing the

front of his robes. Harry distinctly heard the gentle clinking of

what sounded like a full pocket of gold. ‘Really, just because you

are Dumbledore’s favourite boy, you must not expect the same

indulgence from the rest of us… shall we go up to your office,

then, Minister?’

‘Certainly’ said Fudge, turning his back on Harry and Mr Weasley.

This way, Lucius.’

They strode off together, talking in low voices. Mr Weasley did

not let go of Harry’s shoulder until they had disappeared into the

lift.

‘Why wasn’t he waiting outside Fudge’s office if they’ve got

business to do together?’ Harry burst out furiously. ‘What was he

doing down here?’

‘Trying to sneak down to the courtroom, if you ask me,’ said Mr

Weasley, looking extremely agitated and glancing over his

shoulder as though making sure they could not be overheard.

Trying to find out whether you’d been expelled or not. I’ll leave a

note for Dumbledore when I drop you off, he ought to know

Malfoys been talking to Fudge again.’

‘What private business have they got together, anyway?’

‘Gold, I expect,’ said Mr Weasley angrily. ‘Malfoy’s been giving

generously to all sorts of things for years… gets him in with the

right people… then he can ask favours… delay laws he doesn’t

want passed… oh, he’s very well-connected, Lucius Malfoy.’

The lift arrived; it was empty except for a flock of memos that

flapped around Mr Weasley’s head as he pressed the button for

the Atrium and the doors clanged shut. He waved them away

irritably.

‘Mr Weasley’ said Harry slowly, ‘if Fudge is meeting Death Eaters

like Malfoy, if he’s seeing them alone, how do we know they

haven’t put the Imperius Curse on him?’

‘Don’t think it hasn’t occurred to us, Harry’ said Mr Weasley

quietly. ‘But Dumbledore thinks Fudge is acting of his own accord

at the moment – which, as Dumbledore says, is not a lot of

comfort. Best not talk about it any more just now, Harry.’

The doors slid open and they stepped out into the now almostdeserted

Atrium. Eric the watchwizard was hidden behind his

Daily Prophet again. They had walked straight past the golden

fountain before Harry remembered.

‘Wait…’ he told Mr Weasley, and, pulling his moneybag Irom his

pocket, he turned back to the fountain.

He looked up into the handsome wizard’s face, but close-to Harry

thought he looked rather weak and foolish. The witch was

wearing a vapid smile like a beauty contestant, and from what

Harry knew of goblins and centaurs, they were most unlikely to

be caught staring so soppily at humans of any description. Only

the house-elf’s attitude of creeping servility looked convincing.

With a grin at the thought of what Hermione would say if she

could see the statue of the elf, Harry turned his moneybag

upside-down and emptied not just ten Galleons, but the whole

contents into the pool.

*

‘I knew it!’ yelled Ron, punching the air. ‘You always get away

with stuff!’

They were bound to clear you,’ said Hermione, who had looked

positively faint with anxiety when Harry had entered the kitchen

and was now holding a shaking hand over her eyes, ‘there was

no case against you, none at all.’

‘Everyone seems quite relieved, though, considering you all

knew I’d get off,’ said Harry, smiling.

Mrs Weasley was wiping her face on her apron, and Fred, George

and Ginny were doing a kind of war dance to a chant that went:

‘He got off, he got off, he got off…”

That’s enough! Settle down!’ shouted Mr Weasley, though he too

was smiling. ‘Listen, Sirius, Lucius Malfoy was at the Ministry -‘

‘What?’ said Sirius sharply.

‘He got off, he got off, he got off…”

‘Be quiet, you three! Yes, we saw him talking to Fudge on Level

Nine, then they went up to Fudge’s office together. Dumbledore

ought to know.’

‘Absolutely,’ said Sirius. ‘We’ll tell him, don’t worry.’

‘Well, I’d better get going, there’s a vomiting toilet waiting for

me in Bethnal Green. Molly, I’ll be late, I’m covering for Tonks,

but Kingsley might be dropping in for dinner -‘

‘He got off, he got off, he got off…”

That’s enough – Fred – George – Ginny!’ said Mrs Weasley, as Mr

Weasley left the kitchen. ‘Harry, dear, come and sit down, have

some lunch, you hardly ate breakfast.’

Ron and Hermione sat themselves down opposite him, looking

happier than they had done since he had first arrived at

Grimmauld Place, and Harry’s feeling of giddy relief, which had

been somewhat dented by his encounter with Lucius Malfoy,

swelled again. The gloomy house seemed warmer and more

welcoming all of a sudden; even Kreacher looked less ugly as he

poked his snoutlike nose into the kitchen to investigate the

source of all the noise.

‘Course, once Dumbledore turned up on your side, there was no

way they were going to convict you,’ said Ron happily, now

dishing great mounds of mashed potato on to everyone’s plates.

‘Yeah, he swung it for me,’ said Harry. He felt it would sound

highly ungrateful, not to mention childish, to say, ‘I wish he’d

talked to me, though. Or even looked at me.’

And as he thought this, the scar on his forehead burned so badly

that he clapped his hand to it.

‘What’s up?’ said Hermione, looking alarmed.

‘Scar,’ Harry mumbled. ‘But it’s nothing… it happens all the time

now…’

None of the others had noticed a thing; all of them were now

helping themselves to food while gloating over Harrys narrow

escape; Fred, George and Ginny were still singing. Hermione

looked rather anxious, but before she could say anything, Ron

had said happily, ‘I bet Dumbledore turns up this evening, to

celebrate with us, you know.’

‘I don’t think he’ll be able to, Ron,’ said Mrs Weasley, setting a

huge plate of roast chicken down in front of Harry. ‘He’s really

very busy at the moment.’

‘HE GOT OFF, HE GOT OFF, HE GOT OFF

‘SHUT UP!’ roared Mrs Weasley.

*

Over the next few days Harry could not help noticing that there

was one person within number twelve, Grimmauld Place, who did

not seem wholly overjoyed that he would be returning to

Hogwarts. Sirius had put up a very good show of happiness on

first hearing the news, wringing Harry’s hand and beaming just

like the rest of them. Soon, however, he was moodier and surlier

than before, talking less to everybody, even Harry, and spending

increasing amounts of time shut up in his mother’s room with

Buckbeak.

‘Don’t you go feeling guilty!’ said Hermione sternly, after Harry

had confided some of his feelings to her and Ron while they

scrubbed out a mouldy cupboard on the third floor a few days

later. ‘You belong at Hogwarts and Sirius knows it. Personally, I

think he’s being selfish.’

That’s a bit harsh, Hermione,’ said Ron, frowning as he

attempted to prise off a bit of mould that had attached itself

firmly to his finger, ‘you wouldn’t want to be stuck inside this

house without any company.’

‘He’ll have company!’ said Hermione. ‘It’s Headquarters to the

Order of the Phoenix, isn’t it? He just got his hopes up that Harry

would be coming to live here with him.’

don’t think that’s true/ said Harry, wringing out his cloth. ‘He

wouldn’t give me a straight answer when I asked him if 1 could.’

‘He just didn’t want to get his own hopes up even more,’ said

Hermione wisely. ‘And he probably felt a bit guilty himself,

because I think a part of him was really hoping you’d be expelled.

Then you’d both be outcasts together.’

‘Come off it!’ said Harry and Ron together, but Hermione merely

shrugged.

‘Suit yourselves. But I sometimes think Rons mums right and

Sirius gets confused about whether you’re you or your father,

Harry.’

‘So you think he’s touched in the head?’ said Harry heatedly.

‘No, I just think he’s been very lonely for a long time,’ said

Hermione simply.

At this point, Mrs Weasley entered the bedroom behind them.

‘Still not finished?’ she said, poking her head into the cupboard.

‘I thought you might be here to tell us to have a break!’ said Ron

bitterly. ‘D’you know how much mould we’ve got rid of since we

arrived here?’

‘You were so keen to help the Order,’ said Mrs Weasley, ‘you can

do your bit by making Headquarters fit to live in.’

‘I feel like a house-elf,’ grumbled Ron.

‘Well, now you understand what dreadful lives they lead, perhaps

you’ll be a bit more active in SPEW!’ said Hermione hopefully, as

Mrs Weasley left them to it. ‘You know, maybe it wouldn’t be a

bad idea to show people exactly how horrible it is to clean all the

time – we could do a sponsored scrub ol Gryffindor common

room, all proceeds to SPEW, it would raise awareness as well as

funds.’

‘I’ll sponsor you to shut up about SPEW,’ Ron muttered irritably,

but only so Harry could hear him.

*

Harry found himself daydreaming about Hogwarts more and

more as the end of the holidays approached; he could not wait to

see Hagrid again, to play Quidditch, even to stroll across the

vegetable patches to the Herbology greenhouses; it would be a

treat just to leave this dusty, musty house, where half of the

cupboards were still bolted shut and Kreacher wheezed insults

out of the shadows as you passed, though Harry was careful not

to say any of this within earshot of Sirius.

The fact was that living at the Headquarters of the anti-

Voldemort movement was not nearly as interesting or exciting as

Harry would have expected before he’d experienced it. Though

members of the Order of the Phoenix came and went regularly,

sometimes staying for meals, sometimes only for a few minutes

of whispered conversation, Mrs Weasley made sure that Harry

and the others were kept well out of earshot (whether

Extendable or normal) and nobody, not even Sirius, seemed to

feel that Harry needed to know anything more than he had heard

on the night of his arrival.

On the very last day of the holidays Harry was sweeping up

Hedwigs owl droppings from the top of the wardrobe when Ron

entered their bedroom carrying a couple of envelopes.

‘Booklists have arrived,’ he said, throwing one of the envelopes

up to Harry, who was standing on a chair. ‘About time, I thought

they’d forgotten, they usually come much earlier than this…”

Harry swept the last of the droppings into a rubbish bag and

threw the bag over Ron’s head into the wastepaper basket in the

corner, which swallowed it and belched loudly. He then opened

his letter. It contained two pieces of parchment: one the usual

reminder that term started on the first of September; the other

telling him which books he would need for the coming year.

‘Only two new ones,’ he said, reading the list, The Standard Book

of Spells, Grade 5, by Miranda Goshawk, and Defensive Magical

Theory, by Wilbert Slinkhard.’

Crack.

Fred and George Apparated right beside Harry. He was so used

to them doing this by now that he didn’t even fall off his chair.

‘We were just wondering who set the Slinkhard book,’ said Fred

conversationally.

‘Because it means Dumbledore’s found a new Defence Against

the Dark Arts teacher,’ said George.

‘And about time too,’ said Fred.

‘What d’you mean?’ Harry asked, jumping down beside them.

‘Well, we overheard Mum and Dad talking on the Extendable

Ears a few weeks back,’ Fred told Harry, ‘and from what they

were saying, Dumbledore was having real trouble finding anyone

to do the job this year.

‘Not surprising, is it, when you look at what’s happened to the

last four?’ said George.

‘One sacked, one dead, one’s memory removed and one locked

in a trunk for nine months,’ said Harry, counting them off on his

fingers. ‘Yeah, I see what you mean.’

‘What’s up with you, Ron?’ asked Fred.

Ron did not answer. Harry looked round. Ron was standing very

still with his mouth slightly open, gaping at his letter from

Hogwarts.

‘What’s the matter?’ said Fred impatiently, moving around Ron to

look over his shoulder at the parchment.

Fred’s mouth fell open, too.

‘Prefect?’ he said, staring incredulously at the letter. ‘Prefect?’

George leapt forwards, seized the envelope in Ron’s other hand

and turned it upside-down. Harry saw something scarlet and

gold fall into George’s palm.

‘No way,’ said George in a hushed voice.

There’s been a mistake,’ said Fred, snatching the letter out of

Ron’s grasp and holding it up to the light as though checking for

a watermark. ‘No one in their right mind would make Ron a

prefect.’

The twins’ heads turned in unison and both of them stared at

Harry.

‘We thought you were a cert!’ said Fred, in a tone that suggested

Harry had tricked them in some way.

‘We thought Dumbledore was bound to pick you!’ said George

indignantly.

‘Winning the Triwizard and everything!’ said Fred.

‘I suppose all the mad stuff must’ve counted against him,’ said

George to Fred.

‘Yeah,’ said Fred slowly. ‘Yeah, you’ve caused too much trouble,

mate. Well, at least one of you’s got their priorities right.’

He strode over to Harry and clapped him on the back while

giving Ron a scathing look.

Prefect… ickle Ronnie the Prefect.’

‘Ohh, Mum’s going to be revolting,’ groaned George, thrusting

the prefect badge back at Ron as though it might contaminate

him.

Ron, who still had not said a word, took the badge, stared at it

for a moment, then held it out to Harry as though asking mutely

for confirmation that it was genuine. Harry took it. A large T’ was

superimposed on the Gryffindor lion. He had seen a badge just

like this on Percys chest on his very first day at Hogwarts.

The door banged open. Hermione came tearing into the room,

her cheeks flushed and her hair flying. There was an envelope in

her hand.

‘Did you – did you get -?’

She spotted the badge in Harry’s hand and let out a shriek.

‘] knew it!’ she said excitedly, brandishing her letter. ‘Me too,

Harry, me too!’

‘No,’ said Harry quickly, pushing the badge back into Ron’s hand.

‘It’s Ron, not me.’ :

‘It – what?’ i

Ron’s prefect, not me,’ Harry said.

‘Ron?’ said Hermione, her jaw dropping. ‘But… are you sure? I

mean -‘

She turned red as Ron looked round at her with a defiant

expression on his face.

‘Its my name on the letter,’ he said.

‘I…’ said Hermione, looking thoroughly bewildered. ‘1… well…

wow! Well done, Ron! That’s really -‘

‘Unexpected,’ said George, nodding.

‘No,’ said Hermione, blushing harder than ever, ‘no it’s not…

Ron’s done loads of… he’s really…’

The door behind her opened a little wider and Mrs Weasley

backed into the room carrying a pile of freshly laundered robes.

‘Ginny said the booklists had come at last,’ she said, glancing

around at all the envelopes as she made her way over to the bed

and started sorting the robes into two piles. ‘If you give them to

me I’ll take them over to Diagon Alley this afternoon and get

your books while you’re packing. Ron, I’ll have to get you more

pyjamas, these are at least six inches too short, I can’t believe

how fast you’re growing… what colour would you like?’

Tut WOES OF MRS WEASLEY

‘Get him red and gold to match his badge,’ said George, smirking.

‘Match his what?’ said Mrs Weasley absently, rolling up a pair of

maroon socks and placing them on Ron’s pile.

‘His badge,’ said Fred, with the air of getting the worst over

quickly. ‘His lovely shiny new prefect’s badge.’

Fred’s words took a moment to penetrate Mrs Weasley’s

preoccupation with pyjamas.

‘His… but… Ron, you’re not…?’

Ron held up his badge.

Mrs Weasley let out a shriek just like Hermione’s.

‘I don’t believe it! I don’t believe it! Oh, Ron, how wonderful! A

prefect! That’s everyone in the family!’

‘What are Fred and I, next-door neighbours?’ said George

indignantly, as his mother pushed him aside and flung her arms

around her youngest son.

‘Wait until your father hears! Ron, I’m so proud of you, what

wonderful news, you could end up Head Boy just like Bill and

Percy, it’s the first step! Oh, what a thing to happen in the

middle of all this worry, I’m just thrilled, oh, Ronnie —

Fred and George were both making loud retching noises behind

her back but Mrs Weasley did not notice; arms tight around

Ron’s neck, she was kissing him all over his face, which had

turned a brighter scarlet than his badge.

‘Mum… don’t… Mum, get a grip…’ he muttered, trying to push her

away.

She let go of him and said breathlessly, ‘Well, what will it be? We

gave Percy an owl, but you’ve already got one, of course.’

W-what do you mean?’ said Ron, looking as though he did not

dare believe his ears.

‘You’ve got to have a reward for this!’ said Mrs Weasley fondly.

‘How about a nice new set of dress robes?’

‘We’ve already bought him some,’ said Fred sourly, who looked

as though he sincerely regretted this generosity.

‘Or a new cauldron, Charlies old one’s rusting through, or a new

rat, you always liked Scabbers -‘

‘Mum,’ said Ron hopefully, ‘can I have a new broom?’

Mrs Weasley’s face fell slightly; broomsticks were expensive.

‘Not a really good one!’ Ron hastened to add. ‘Just -just a new

one for a change…”

Mrs Weasley hesitated, then smiled.

‘Of course you can… well, I’d better get going if I’ve got a broom

to buy too. I’ll see you all later… little Ronnie, a prefect! And

don’t forget to pack your trunks… a prefect… oh, I’m all of a

dither!’

She gave Ron yet another kiss on the cheek, sniffed loudly, and

bustled from the room.

Fred and George exchanged looks.

‘You don’t mind if we don’t kiss you, do you, Ron?’ said Fred in a

falsely anxious voice.

‘We could curtsey, if you like,’ said George.

‘Oh, shut up,’ said Ron, scowling at them.

‘Or what?’ said Fred, an evil grin spreading across his face.

‘Going to put us in detention?’

I’d love to see him try,’ sniggered George.

‘He could if you don’t watch out!’ said Hermione angrily.

Fred and George burst out laughing, and Ron muttered, ‘Drop it,

Hermione.’

‘We’re going to have to watch our step, George,’ said Fred,

pretending to tremble, ‘with these two on our case…’

‘Yeah, it looks like our law-breaking days are finally over,’ said

George, shaking his head.

And with another loud crack, the twins Disapparated.

Those two!’ said Hermione furiously, staring up at the ceiling,

through which they could now hear Fred and George roaring with

laughter in the room upstairs. ‘Don’t pay any attention to them,

Ron, they’re only jealous!’

‘I don’t think they are,’ said Ron doubtfully, also looking up at

the ceiling. They’ve always said only prats become prefects…

still,’ he added on a happier note, ‘they’ve never had new

brooms! I wish I could go with Mum and choose… she’ll never be

able to afford a Nimbus, but there’s the new Cleansweep out,

that’d be great… yeah, I think I’ll go and tell her I like the

Cleansweep, just so she knows

He dashed from the room, leaving Harry and Hermione alone.

For some reason, Harry found he did not want to look at

THE WOES OF MRS WE A SLEY 1^

Hermione. He turned to his bed, picked up the pile of clean robes

Mrs Weasley had laid on it and crossed the room to his trunk.

‘Harry?’ said Hermione tentatively.

‘Well done, Hermione,’ said Harry, so heartily it did not sound

like his voice at all, and, still not looking at her, ‘brilliant. Prefect.

Great.’

Thanks,’ said Hermione. ‘Erm – Harry – could I borrow Hedwig so

I can tell Mum and Dad? They’ll be really pleased – I mean

prefect is something they can understand.’

‘Yeah, no problem,’ said Harry, still in the horrible hearty voice

that did not belong to him. Take her!’

He leaned over his trunk, laid the robes on the bottom of it and

pretended to be rummaging for something while Hermione

crossed to the wardrobe and called Hedwig down. A few

moments passed; Harry heard the door close but remained bent

double, listening; the only sounds he could hear were the blank

picture on the wall sniggering again and the wastepaper basket

in the corner coughing up the owl droppings.

He straightened up and looked behind him. Hermione had left

and Hedwig had gone. Harry hurried across the room, closed the

door, then returned slowly to his bed and sank on to it, gazing

unseeingly at the foot of the wardrobe.

He had forgotten completely about prefects being chosen in the

fifth year. He had been too anxious about the possibility of being

expelled to spare a thought for the fact that badges must be

winging their way towards certain people. But if he had

remembered… if he had thought about it… what would he have

expected?

Not this, said a small and truthful voice inside his head.

Harry screwed up his face and buried it in his hands. He could

not lie to himself; if he had known the prefect badge was on its

way, he would have expected it to come to him, not Ron. Did

this make him as arrogant as Draco Malfoy? Did he think himself

superior to everyone else? Did he really believe he was better

than Ron?

No, said the small voice defiantly.

Was that true? Harry wondered, anxiously probing his own

feelings.

I’m better at Quidditch, said the voice. But I’m not better at

anything else.

That was definitely true, Harry thought; he was no better than

Ron in lessons. But what about outside lessons? What about

those adventures he, Ron and Hermione had had together since

starting at Hogwarts, often risking much worse than expulsion?

Well, Ron and Hermione were with me most of the time, said the

voice in Harry’s head.

Not all the time, though, Harry argued with himself. They didn’t

fight Quirrell with me. They didn’t take on Riddle and the Basilisk.

They didn’t get rid of all those Dementors the night Sirius

escaped. They weren’t in that graveyard with me, the night

Voldemort returned…

And the same feeling of ill-usage that had overwhelmed him on

the night he had arrived rose again. I’ve definitely done more,

Harry thought indignantly. I’ve done more than either of them!

But maybe, said the small voice fairly, maybe Dumbledore

doesn’t choose prefects because they’ve got themselves into a

load of dangerous situations… maybe he chooses them for other

reasons… Ron must have something you don’t

Harry opened his eyes and stared through his fingers at the

wardrobe’s clawed feet, remembering what Fred had said: ‘No

one in their right mind would make Ron a prefect…’

Harry gave a small snort of laughter. A second later he felt

sickened with himself.

Ron had not asked Dumbledore to give him the prefect badge.

This was not Ron’s fault. Was he, Harry, Ron’s best friend in the

world, going to sulk because he didn’t have a badge, laugh with

the twins behind Ron’s back, ruin this for Ron when, for the first

time, he had beaten Harry at something?

At this point Harry heard Ron’s footsteps on the stairs again. He

stood up, straightened his glasses, and hitched a grin on to his

face as Ron bounded back through the door.

‘Just caught her!’ he said happily. ‘She says she’ll get the

Cleansweep if she can.’

‘Cool,’ Harry said, and he was relieved to hear that his voice had

stopped sounding hearty. ‘Listen – Ron – well done, mate.’

The smile faded off Ron’s face.

‘I never thought it would be me!’ he said, shaking his head. ‘I

thought it would be you!’

‘Nah, I’ve caused too much trouble,’ Harry said, echoing Fred.

‘Yeah,’ said Ron, ‘yeah, I suppose… well, we’d better get our

trunks packed, hadn’t we?’

It was odd how widely their possessions seemed to have

scattered themselves since they had arrived. It took them most

of the afternoon to retrieve their books and belongings from all

over the house and stow them back inside their school trunks.

Harry noticed that Ron kept moving his prefects badge around,

first placing it on his bedside table, then putting it into his jeans

pocket, then taking it out and lying it on his folded robes, as

though to see the effect of the red on the black. Only when Fred

and George dropped in and offered to attach it to his forehead

with a Permanent Sticking Charm did he wrap it tenderly in his

maroon socks and lock it in his trunk.

Mrs Weasley returned from Diagon Alley around six o’clock,

laden with books and carrying a long package wrapped in thick

brown paper that Ron took from her with a moan of longing.

‘Never mind unwrapping it now, people are arriving for dinner, 1

want you all downstairs,’ she said, but the moment she was out

of sight Ron ripped off the paper in a frenzy and examined every

inch of his new broom, an ecstatic expression on his face.

Down in the basement Mrs Weasley had hung a scarlet banner

over the heavily laden dinner table, which read:

CONGRATULATIONS

RON AND HERMIONE

NEW PREFECTS

She looked in a better mood than Harry had seen her all holiday.

‘I thought we’d have a little party, not a sit-down dinner,’ she

told Harry, Ron, Hermione, Fred, George and Ginny as they

entered the room. ‘Your father and Bill are on their way, Ron.

I’ve sent them both owls and they’re thrilled,’ she added,

beaming.

Fred rolled his eyes.

Sirius, Lupin, Tonks and Kingsley Shacklebolt were already there

and Mad-Eye Moody stumped in shortly after Harry had got

himself a Butterbeer.

‘Oh, Alastor, I am glad you’re here,’ said Mrs Weasley brightly,

as Mad-Eye shrugged off his travelling cloak. ‘We’ve been

wanting to ask you for ages – could you have a look in the

writing desk in the drawing room and tell us what’s inside it? We

haven’t wanted to open it just in case it’s something really

nasty.’

‘No problem, Molly…’

Moody’s electric-blue eye swivelled upwards and stared fixedly

through the ceiling of the kitchen.

‘Drawing room…’ he growled, as the pupil contracted. ‘Desk in

the corner? Yeah, I see it… yeah, it’s a Boggart… want me to go

up and get rid of it, Molly?’

‘No, no, I’ll do it myself later,’ beamed Mrs Weasley, ‘you have

your drink. We’re having a little bit of a celebration, actually…’

She gestured at the scarlet banner. ‘Fourth prefect in the family!’

she said fondly, ruffling Ron’s hair.

‘Prefect, eh?’ growled Moody, his normal eye on Ron and his

magical eye swivelling around to gaze into the side of his head.

Harry had the very uncomfortable feeling it was looking at him

and moved away towards Sirius and Lupin.

Well, congratulations,’ said Moody, still glaring at Ron with his

normal eye, ‘authority figures always attract trouble, but I

suppose Dumbledore thinks you can withstand most major jinxes

or he wouldn’t have appointed you…’

Ron looked rather startled at this view of the matter but was

saved the trouble of responding by the arrival of his father and

eldest brother. Mrs Weasley was in such a good mood she did

not even complain that they had brought Mundungus with them;

he was wearing a long overcoat that seemed oddly lumpy in

unlikely places and declined the offer to remove it and put it with

Moody’s travelling cloak.

Well, I think a toast is in order,’ said Mr Weasley, when everyone

had a drink. He raised his goblet. To Ron and Hermione, the new

Gryffindor prefects!’

Ron and Hermione beamed as everyone drank to them, and then

applauded.

‘I was never a prefect myself,’ said Tonks brightly from behind

Harry as everybody moved towards the table to help themselves

to food. Her hair was tomato red and waist-length today; she

looked like Ginny’s older sister. ‘My Head of House said I lacked

certain necessary qualities.’

‘Like what?’ said Ginny, who was choosing a baked potato.

‘Like the ability to behave myself,’ said Tonks.

Ginny laughed; Hermione looked as though she did not know

whether to smile or not and compromised by taking an extra

large gulp of Butterbeer and choking on it.

‘What about you, Sirius?’ Ginny asked, thumping Hermione on

the back.

Sirius, who was right beside Harry, let out his usual bark-like

laugh.

‘No one would have made me a prefect, I spent too much time in

detention with James. Lupin was the good boy, he got the

badge.’

‘I think Dumbledore might have hoped I would be able to

exercise some control over my best friends,’ said Lupin. ‘I need

scarcely say that 1 failed dismally.’

Harry’s mood suddenly lifted. His father had not been a prefect

either. All at once the party seemed much more enjoyable; he

loaded up his plate, feeling doubly fond of everyone in the room.

Ron was rhapsodising about his new broom to anybody who

would listen.

‘… nought to seventy in ten seconds, not bad, is it? When you

think the Comet Two Ninety’s only nought to sixty and that’s

with a decent tailwind according to Which Broomstick?’

Hermione was talking very earnestly to Lupin about her view of

elf rights.

‘I mean, it’s the same kind of nonsense as werewolf segregation,

isn’t it? It all stems from this horrible thing wizards have of

thinking they’re superior to other creatures…”

Mrs Weasley and Bill were having their usual argument about

Bill’s hair.

‘… getting really out of hand, and you’re so good-looking, it

would look much better shorter, wouldn’t it, Harry?’

‘Oh – I dunno -‘ said Harry, slightly alarmed at being asked his

opinion; he slid away from them in the direction of Fred and

George, who were huddled in a corner with Mundungus.

Mundungus stopped talking when he saw Harry, but Fred winked

and beckoned Harry closer.

‘Its OK,’ he told Mundungus, ‘we can trust Harry, he’s our

financial backer.’

‘Look what Dung’s got us,’ said George, holding out his hand to

Harry. It was full of what looked like shrivelled black pods. A

faint rattling noise was coming from them, even though they

were completely stationary.

‘Venomous Tentacula seeds,’ said George. ‘We need them for the

Skiving Snackboxes but they’re a Class C Non-Tradeable

Substance so we’ve been having a bit of trouble getting hold of

them.’

Ten Galleons the lot, then. Dung?’ said Fred.

‘Wiv all the trouble 1 went to to get ’em?’ said Mundungus, his

saggy, bloodshot eyes stretching even wider. ‘I’m sorry, lads,

but I’m not taking a Knut under twenty.’

‘Dung likes his little joke,’ Fred said to Harry.

‘Yeah, his best one so far has been six Sickles for a bag of Knarl

quills,’ said George.

‘Be careful,’ Harry warned them quietly.

‘What?’ said Fred. ‘Mum’s busy cooing over Prefect Ron, we’re

OK.’

‘But Moody could have his eye on you,’ Harry pointed out.

Mundungus looked nervously over his shoulder.

‘Good point, that,’ he grunted. ‘All right, lads, ten it is, if you’ll

take ’em quick;

‘Cheers, Harry!’ said Fred delightedly, when Mundungus had

emptied his pockets into the twins’ outstretched hands and

scuttled off towards the food. ‘We’d better get these upstairs…’

Harry watched them go, feeling slightly uneasy. It had just

occurred to him that Mr and Mrs Weasley would want to know

how Fred and George were financing their joke shop business

when, as was inevitable, they finally found out about it. Giving l

he twins his Triwizard winnings had seemed a simple thing to do

at the time, but what if it led to another family row and a Percylike

estrangement? Would Mrs Weasley still feel that Harry was

as

Tut Woi – OF MR— WEASIEY

good as her son il she lound out he had made it possible for Fred

and George to start a career she thought quite unsuitable?

Standing where the twins had left him, with nothing but a guilty

weight in the pit ol his stomaeh tor eompany, Harry caught the

sound ol his own name. Kingsley Shacklebolt’s deep voice was

audible even over the surrounding chatter.

‘… why Dumbledore didn’t make Potter a prefect?’ said Kingsley.

‘He’ll have had his reasons,’ replied Lupin.

‘But it would’ve shown confidence in him. It’s what I’d’ve done,’

persisted Kingsley, ‘specially with the Daily Prophet having a go

at him every few days…”

Harry did not look round; he did not want Lupin or Kingsley to

know he had heard. Though not remotely hungry, he followed

Mundungus back towards the table. His pleasure in the party had

evaporated as quickly as it had come; he wished he were

upstairs in bed.

Mad-Eye Moody was sniffing at a chicken-leg with what remained

of his nose; evidently he could not detect any trace of poison,

because he then tore a strip off it with his teeth.

‘… the handles made of Spanish oak with anti-jinx varnish and

in-built vibration control -‘ Ron was saying to Tonks.

Mrs Weasley yawned widely.

‘Well, I think I’ll sort out that Boggart before I turn in… Arthur, 1

don’t want this lot up too late, all right? Night, Harry, dear.’

She left the kitchen. Harry set down his plate and wondered

whether he could follow her without attracting attention.

‘You all right, Potter?’ grunted Moody.

‘Yeah, fine,’ lied Harry.

Moody took a swig from his hipflask, his electric-blue eye staring

sideways at Harry.

‘Come here, I’ve got something that might interest you,’ he said.

From an inner pocket of his robes Moody pulled a very tattered

old wizarding photograph.

‘Original Order of the Phoenix,’ growled Moody. ‘Found it last

night when I was looking for my spare Invisibility Cloak, seeing

as Podmore hasn’t had the manners to return my best one…

thought people might like to see it.’

Harry took the photograph. A small crowd of people, some

waving at him, others lifting their glasses, looked back up at him.

There’s me,’ said Moody, unnecessarily pointing at himself. The

Moody in the picture was unmistakeable, though his hair was

slightly less grey and his nose was intact. ‘And there’s

Dumbledore beside me, Dedalus Diggle on the other side… that’s

Marlene McKinnon, she was killed two weeks after this was taken,

they got her whole family. That’s Frank and Alice Longbottom -‘

Harrys stomach, already uncomfortable, clenched as he looked

at Alice Longbottom; he knew her round, friendly face very well,

even though he had never met her, because she was the image

of her son, Neville.

‘— poor devils,’ growled Moody. ‘Better dead than what

happened to them… and that’s Emmeline Vance, you’ve met her,

and that there’s Lupin, obviously… Benjy Fenwick, he copped it

too, we only ever found bits of him… shift aside there,’ he added,

poking the picture, and the little photographic people edged

sideways, so that those who were partially obscured could move

to the front.

That’s Edgar Bones… brother of Amelia Bones, they got him and

his family, too, he was a great wizard… Sturgis Podmore, blimey,

he looks young… Caradoc Dearborn, vanished six months after

this, we never found his body… Hagrid, of course, looks exactly

the same as ever… Elphias Doge, you’ve met him, I’d forgotten

he used to wear that stupid hat… Gideon Prewett, it took five

Death Eaters to kill him and his brother Fabian, they fought like

heroes… budge along, budge along…’

The little people in the photograph jostled among themselves

and those hidden right at the back appeared at the forefront of

the picture.

That’s Dumbledore’s brother Aberforth, only time 1 ever met him,

strange bloke… that’s Dorcas Meadowes, Voldemort killed her

personally… Sirius, when he still had short hair… and… there you

go, thought that would interest you!’

Harry’s heart turned over. His mother and father were beaming

up at him, sitting on either side of a small, watery-eyed man

whom Harry recognised at once as Wormtail, the one who had

betrayed his parents’ whereabouts to Voldemort and so helped

to bring about their deaths.

‘Eh?’ said Moody.

Harry looked up into Moody’s heavily scarred and pitted face.

Evidently Moody was under the impression he had just given

Harry a bit of a treat.

‘Yeah,’ said Harry, once again attempting to grin. ‘Er… listen, I’ve

just remembered, I haven’t packed my…’

He was spared the trouble of inventing an object he had not

packed. Sirius had just said, ‘What’s that you’ve got there, Mad-

Eye?’ and Moody had turned towards him. Harry crossed the

kitchen, slipped through the door and up the stairs before

anyone could call him back.

He did not know why it had been such a shock; he had seen

pictures of his parents before, after all, and he had met Wormtail

but to have them sprung on him like that, when he was least

expecting it… no one would like that, he thought angrily…

And then, to see them surrounded by all those other happy

faces… Benjy Eenwick, who had been found in bits, and Gideon

Prewett, who had died like a hero, and the Longbottoms, who

had been tortured into madness… all waving happily out of the

photograph forever more, not knowing that they were doomed…

well, Moody might find that interesting… he, Harry, found it

disturbing…

Harry tiptoed up the stairs in the hall past the stuffed elf-heads,

glad to be on his own again, but as he approached the first

landing he heard noises. Someone was sobbing in the drawing

room.

‘Hello?’ Harry said.

There was no answer but the sobbing continued. He climbed the

remaining stairs two at a time, walked across the landing and

opened the drawing-room door.

Someone was cowering against the dark wall, her wand in her

hand, her whole body shaking with sobs. Sprawled on the dusty

old carpet in a patch of moonlight, clearly dead, was Ron.

All the air seemed to vanish from Harry’s lungs; he felt as

though he were falling through the floor; his brain turned icy

cold – Ron dead, no, it couldn’t be –

But wait a moment, it couldn’t be – Ron was downstairs –

HARRY Po i TER

‘Mrs Weasley?’ Harry croaked.

R – r – riddikulus!’ Mrs Weasley sobbed, pointing her shaking

wand at Ron’s body.

Crack.

Ron’s body turned into Bill’s, spread-eagled on his back, his eyes

wide open and empty. Mrs Weasley sobbed harder than ever.

‘R – riddikulus!’ she sobbed again.

Crack.

Mr Weasley’s body replaced Bill’s, his glasses askew, a trickle of

blood running down his face.

‘No!’ Mrs Weasley moaned. ‘No… riddikulus] Riddikulus! RIDDlKULUSr

Crack. Dead twins. Crack. Dead Percy. Crack. Dead Harry…

‘Mrs Weasley, just get out of here!’ shouted Harry, staring down

at his own dead body on the floor. ‘Let someone else -‘

‘What’s going on?’

Lupin had come running into the room, closely followed by Sirius,

with Moody stumping along behind them. Lupin looked from Mrs

Weasley to the dead Harry on the tloor and seemed to

understand in an instant. Pulling out his own wand, he said, very

ürmly and clearly:

‘Riddikulus!’

Harry’s body vanished. A silvery orb hung in the air over the spot

where it had lain. Lupin waved his wand once more and the orb

vanished in a puff of smoke.

‘Oh – oh – oh!’ gulped Mrs Weasley, and she broke into a storm

of crying, her face in her hands.

‘Molly,’ said Lupin bleakly, walking over to her. ‘Molly don’t…”

Next second, she was sobbing her heart out on Lupin’s shoulder.

‘Molly, it was just a Boggart,’ he said soothingly, patting her on

the head, ‘just a stupid Boggart…’

‘I see them d-d – dead all the time!’ Mrs Weasley moaned into

his shoulder. ‘All the’t -‘t – time! 1 d – d – dream about it…’

Sirius was staring at the patch of carpet where the Boggart,

pretending to be Harry’s body, had lain. Moody was looking at

Harry, who avoided his gaze. He had a funny feeling Moody’s

magical eye had followed him all the way out of the kitchen.

THEWOFS OF MRS WEASLEY

‘D-d – don’t tell Arthur,’ Mrs Weasley was gulping now, mopping

her eyes frantically with her cuffs. ‘I d – d – don’t want him to

know… being silly…’

Lupin handed her a handkerchief and she blew her nose.

‘Harry, I’m so sorry. What must you think of me?’ she said

shakily. ‘Not even able to get rid of a Boggart…’

‘Don’t be stupid,’ said Harry, trying to smile.

‘I’m just’s -‘s – so worried,’ she said, tears spilling out of her

eyes again. ‘Half the f – f – family’s in the Order, it’ll b – b – be a

miracle if we all come through this… and P – P – Percys not

talking to us… what if something d-d – dreadful happens and

we’ve never in – in – made it up with him? And what’s going to

happen if Arthur and I get killed, who’s g – g – going to look after

Ron and Ginny?’

‘Molly that’s enough; said Lupin firmly. ‘This isn’t like last time.

The Order are better prepared, we’ve got a head start, we know

what Voldemorts up to -‘

Mrs Weasley gave a little squeak of fright at the sound of the

name.

‘Oh, Molly, come on, it’s about time you got used to hearing his

name – look, I can’t promise no one’s going to get hurt, nobody

can promise that, but we’re much better off than we were last

time. You weren’t in the Order then, you don’t understand. Last

time we were outnumbered twenty to one by the Death Eaters

and they were picking us off one by one…’

Harry thought of the photograph again, of his parents’ beaming

faces. He knew Moody was still watching him.

‘Don’t worry about Percy’ said Sirius abruptly. ‘He’ll come round.

It’s only a matter of time before Voldemort moves into the open;

once he does, the whole Ministry’s going to be begging us to

forgive them. And I’m not sure I’ll be accepting their apology,’

he added bitterly.

‘And as for who’s going to look after Ron and Ginny if you and

Arthur died,’ said Lupin, smiling slightly, ‘what do you think we’d

do, let them starve?’

Mrs Weasley smiled tremulously.

‘Being silly,’ she muttered again, mopping her eyes.

But Harry, closing his bedroom door behind him some ten

HARRY Pun ER

minutes later, could not think Mrs Weasley silly. He could still

see his parents beaming up at him from the tattered old

photograph, unaware that their lives, like so many of those

around them, were drawing to a close. The image of the Boggart

posing as the corpse of each member of Mrs Weasley’s family in

turn kept flashing before his eyes.

Without warning, the scar on his forehead seared with pain again

and his stomach churned horribly.

‘Cut it out,’ he said firmly, rubbing the scar as the pain receded.

‘First sigh of madness, talking to your own head,’ said a sly voice

from the empty picture on the wall.

Harry ignored it. He felt older than he had ever felt in his lite and

it seemed extraordinary to him that barely an hour ago he had

been worried about a joke shop and who had got a prefects

badge.

— CHAPTER TEN —

Luna Lovegood

Harry had a troubled nights sleep. His parents wove in and out of

his dreams, never speaking; Mrs Weasley sobbed over Kreachers

dead body, watched by Ron and Hermione who were wearing

crowns, and yet again Harry found himself walking down a

corridor ending in a locked door. He awoke abruptly with his scar

prickling to find Ron already dressed and talking to him.

‘… better hurry up, Mum’s going ballistic, she says we’re going to

miss the tram

There was a lot of commotion in the house. From what he heard

as he dressed at top speed, Harry gathered that Fred and

George had bewitched their trunks to fly downstairs to save the

bother of carrying them, with the result that they had hurtled

straight into Ginny and knocked her down two flights of stairs

into the hall; Mrs Black and Mrs Weasley were both screaming at

the top of their voices.

‘- COULD HAVE DONE HER A SERIOUS INJURY, YOU IDIOTS -‘

‘- FILTHY HALF-BREEDS, BESMIRCHING THE HOUSE OF MY

FATHERS -‘

Hermione came hurrying into the room looking flustered, just as

Harry was putting on his trainers. Hedwig was swaying on her

shoulder, and she was carrying a squirming Crookshanks in her

arms.

‘Mum and Dad just sent Hedwig back.’ The owl fluttered

obligingly over and perched on top of her cage. ‘Are you ready

yet?’

‘Nearly. Is Ginny all right?’ Harry asked, shoving on his glasses.

‘Mrs Weasley’s patched her up,’ said Hermione. ‘But now Mad-

Eye’s complaining that we can’t leave unless Sturgis Podmore’s

here, otherwise the guard will be one short.’

‘Guard?’ said Harry. ‘We have to go to King’s Cross with a

guard?’

‘You have to go to King’s Cross with a guard,’ Hermione

corrected him.

‘Why?’ said Harry irritably. ‘I thought Voldemort was supposed to

be lying low, or are you telling me he’s going to jump out from

behind a dustbin to try and do me in?’

‘I don’t know, it’s just what Mad-Eye says,’ said Hermione

distractedly, looking at her watch, ‘but if we don’t leave soon

we’re definitely going to miss the train…’

WILL YOU LOT GET DOWN HERE NOW, PLEASE!’ Mrs Weasley

bellowed and Hermione jumped as though scalded and hurried

out of the room. Harry seized Hedwig, stuffed her

unceremoniously into her cage, and set off downstairs after

Hermione, dragging his trunk.

Mrs Black’s portrait was howling with rage but nobody was

bothering to close the curtains over her; all the noise in the hall

was bound to rouse her again, anyway.

‘Harry, you’re to come with me and Tonks,’ shouted Mrs Weasley

– over the repeated screeches of ‘MUDBLOODS! SCUM!

CREATURES OF DIRT!’ – ‘Leave your trunk and your owl,

Alastor’s going to deal with the luggage… oh, for heaven’s sake,

Sinus, Dumbledore said no!’

A bear-like black dog had appeared at Harry’s side as he was

clambering over the various trunks cluttering the hall to get to

Mrs Weasley.

‘Oh honestly…’ said Mrs Weasley despairingly. ‘Well, on your own

head be it!’

She wrenched open the front door and stepped out into the weak

September sunlight. Harry and the dog followed her. The door

slammed behind them and Mrs Blacks screeches were cut off

instantly.

Where’s Tonks?’ Harry said, looking round as they went down

the stone steps of number twelve, which vanished the moment

they reached the pavement.

‘She’s waiting for us just up here,’ said Mrs Weasley stiffly,

averting her eyes from the lolloping black dog beside Harry.

An old woman greeted them on the corner. She had tightly

curled grey hair and wore a purple hat shaped like a pork pie.

‘Wotcher, Harry,’ she said, winking. ‘Better hurry up, hadn’t we,

Molly?’ she added, checking her watch.

‘I know, I know,’ moaned Mrs Weasley, lengthening her stride,

‘but Mad-Eye wanted to wait for Sturgis… if only Arthur could

have got us cars from the Ministry again… but Fudge won’t let

him borrow so much as an empty ink bottle these days… how

Muggles can stand travelling without magic

But the great black dog gave a joyful bark and gambolled around

them, snapping at pigeons and chasing its own tail. Harry

couldn’t help laughing. Sirius had been trapped inside for a very

long time. Mrs Weasley pursed her lips in an almost Aunt

Petunia-ish way.

It took them twenty minutes to reach King’s Cross on foot and

nothing more eventful happened during that time than Sirius

scaring a couple of cats for Harry’s entertainment. Once inside

the station they lingered casually beside the barrier between

platforms nine and ten until the coast was clear, then each of

them leaned against it in turn and fell easily through on to

platform nine and three-quarters, where the Hogwarts Express

stood belching sooty steam over a platform packed with

departing students and their families. Harry inhaled the familiar

smell and felt his spirits soar… he was really going back…

‘1 hope the others make it in time,’ said Mrs Weasley anxiously,

staring behind her at the wrought-iron arch spanning the

platform, through which new arrivals would come.

‘Nice dog, Harry!’ called a tall boy with dreadlocks.

‘Thanks, Lee,’ said Harry, grinning, as Sirius wagged his tail

frantically.

‘Oh good,’ said Mrs Weasley, sounding relieved, ‘here’s Alastor

with the luggage, look…’

A porter’s cap pulled low over his mismatched eyes, Moody came

limping through the archway pushing a trolley loaded with their

trunks.

‘All OK,’ he muttered to Mrs Weasley and Tonks, ‘don’t think we

were followed…’

Seconds later, Mr Weasley emerged on to the platform with Ron

and Hermione. They had almost unloaded Moody’s luggage

trolley when Fred, George and Ginny turned up with Lupin.

‘No trouble?’ growled Moody.

‘Nothing,’ said Lupin.

Til still be reporting Sturgis to Dumbledore,’ said Moody, ‘that’s

the second time he’s not turned up in a week. Getting as

unreliable as Mundungus.’

‘Well, look after yourselves,’ said Lupin, shaking hands all round.

He reached Harry last and gave him a clap on the shoulder. ‘You

too. Harry. Be careful.’

‘Yeah, keep your head down and your eyes peeled,’ said Moody,

shaking Harry’s hand too. ‘And don’t forget, all of you – careful

what you put in writing. If in doubt, don’t put it in a letter at all.’

‘It’s been great meeting all of you,’ said Tonks, hugging

Hermione and Ginny ‘We’ll see you soon, I expect.’

A warning whistle sounded; the students still on the platform

started hurrying on to the train.

‘Quick, quick,’ said Mrs Weasley distractedly, hugging them at

random and catching Harry twice. ‘Write… be good… if you’ve

forgotten anything we’ll send it on… on to the train, now,

hurry…”

For one brief moment, the great black dog reared on to its hind

legs and placed its front paws on Harry’s shoulders, but Mrs

Weasley shoved Harry away towards the train door, hissing, ‘For

heaven’s sake, act more like a dog, Sirius!’

‘See you!’ Harry called out of the open window as the train

began to move, while Ron, Hermione and Ginny waved beside

him. The figures of Tonks, Lupin, Moody and Mr and Mrs Weasley

shrank rapidly but the black dog was bounding alongside the

window, wagging its tail; blurred people on the platform were

laughing to see it chasing the train, then they rounded a bend,

and Sirius was gone.

‘He shouldn’t have come with us,’ said Hermione in a worried

voice.

‘Oh, lighten up,’ said Ron, ‘he hasn’t seen daylight for months,

poor bloke.’

‘Well,’ said Fred, clapping his hands together, ‘can’t stand around

chatting all day, we’ve got business to discuss with Lee. See you

later,’ and he and George disappeared down the corridor to the

right.

The train was gathering still more speed, so that the houses

outside the window flashed past, and they swayed where they

stood.

‘Shall we go and find a compartment, then?’ Harry asked.

Ron and Hermione exchanged looks.

‘Er,’ said Ron.

‘We’re – well – Ron and I are supposed to go into the prefect

carriage,’ Hermione said awkwardly.

Ron wasn’t looking at Harry; he seemed to have become

intensely interested in the fingernails on his left hand.

‘Oh,’ said Harry. ‘Right. Fine.’

‘I don’t think we’ll have to stay there all journey,’ said Hermione

quickly. ‘Our letters said we just get instructions from the Head

Boy and Girl and then patrol the corridors from time to time.’

‘Fine,’ said Harry again. ‘Well, I – I might see you later, then.’

‘Yeah, definitely,’ said Ron, casting a shifty, anxious look at

Harry. ‘It’s a pain having to go down there, I’d rather – but we

have to -I mean, I’m not enjoying it, I’m not Percy,’ he finished

defiantly.

‘I know you’re not,’ said Harry and he grinned. But as Hermione

and Ron dragged their trunks, Crookshanks and a caged

Pigwidgeon off towards the engine end of the train, Harry felt an

odd sense of loss. He had never travelled on the Hogwarts

Express without Ron.

‘Come on,’ Ginny told him, ‘if we get a move on we’ll be able to

save them places.’

‘Right,’ said Harry, picking up Hedwig’s cage in one hand and the

handle of his trunk in the other. They struggled off down the

corridor, peering through the glass-panelled doors into the

compartments they passed, which were already full. Harry could

not help noticing that a lot of people stared back at him with

great interest and that several of them nudged their neighbours

and pointed him out. After he had met this behaviour in five

consecutive carriages he remembered that the Daily Prophet had

been telling its readers all summer what a lying show-off he was.

He wondered dully whether the people now staring and

whispering believed the stories.

In the very last carriage they met Neville Longbottom, Harry’s

fellow fifth-year Gryffindor, his round face shining with the effort

of pulling his trunk along and maintaining a one-handed grip on

his struggling toad, Trevor.

‘Hi, Harry’ he panted. ‘Hi, Ginny… everywhere’s full… 1 can’t find

a seat…’

‘What are you talking about?’ said Ginny, who had squeezed past

Neville to peer into the compartment behind him. There’s room

in this one, there’s only Loony Lovegood in here —’

Neville mumbled something about not wanting to disturb anyone.

‘Don’t be silly,’ said Ginny, laughing, ‘she’s all right.’

She slid the door open and pulled her trunk inside. Harry and

Neville followed.

‘Hi, Luna,’ said Ginny, ‘is it OK if we take these seats?’

The girl beside the window looked up. She had straggly, waistlength,

dirty blonde hair, very pale eyebrows and protuberant

eyes that gave her a permanently surprised look. Harry knew at

once why Neville had chosen to pass this compartment by. The

girl gave off an aura of distinct dottiness. Perhaps it was the fact

that she had stuck her wand behind her left ear for safekeeping,

or that she had chosen to wear a necklace of Butterbeer corks,

or that she was reading a magazine upside-down. Her eyes

ranged over Neville and came to rest on Harry. She nodded.

Thanks,’ said Ginny, smiling at her.

Harry and Neville stowed the three trunks and Hedwig’s cage in

the luggage rack and sat down. Luna watched them over her

upside-down magazine, which was called The Quibbler. She did

not seem to need to blink as much as normal humans. She

stared and stared at Harry, who had taken the seat opposite her

and now wished he hadn’t.

‘Had a good summer, Luna?’ Ginny asked.

‘Yes,’ said Luna dreamily, without taking her eyes off Harry. ‘Yes,

it was quite enjoyable, you know. You’re Harry Potter,’ she

added.

‘1 know I am,’ said Harry.

Neville chuckled. Luna turned her pale eyes on him instead.

‘And I don’t know who you are.’

‘I’m nobody,’ said Neville hurriedly.

‘No you’re not,’ said Ginny sharply. ‘Neville Longbottom – Luna

Love good. Luna’s in my year, but in Ravenclaw.’

‘Wit beyond measure is man’s greatest treasure,’ said Luna in a

singsong voice.

She raised her upside-down magazine high enough to hide her

face and fell silent. Harry and Neville looked at each other with

their eyebrows raised. Ginny suppressed a giggle.

The train rattled onwards, speeding them out into open country.

It was an odd, unsettled sort of day; one moment the carriage

was full of sunlight and the next they were passing beneath

ominously grey clouds.

‘Guess what I got for my birthday?’ said Neville.

‘Another Remembrall?’ said Harry, remembering the marble-like

device Neville’s grandmother had sent him in an effort to

improve his abysmal memory.

‘No,’ said Neville. ‘I could do with one, though, 1 lost the old one

ages ago… no, look at this…”

He dug the hand that was not keeping a firm grip on Trevor into

his schoolbag and after a little bit of rummaging pulled out what

appeared to be a small grey cactus in a pot, except that it was

covered with what looked like boils rather than spines.

Mimbulus mimbletonia,’ he said proudly.

Harry stared at the thing. It was pulsating slightly, giving it the

rather sinister look of some diseased internal organ.

‘It’s really, really rare,’ said Neville, beaming. ‘I don’t know it

there’s one in the greenhouse at Hogwarts, even. 1 can’t wait to

show it to Professor Sprout. My Great Uncle Algie got it for me in

Assyria. I’m going to see if I can breed from it.’

Harry knew that Neville’s favourite subject was Herbology but for

the life of him he could not see what he would want with this

stunted little plant.

‘Does it – er – do anything?’ he asked.

‘Loads of stuff!’ said Neville proudly. ‘It’s got an amazing

defensive mechanism. Here, hold Trevor for me…’

He dumped the toad into Harry’s lap and took a quill from his

schoolbag. Luna Lovegood’s popping eyes appeared over the top

of her upside-down magazine again, to watch what Neville was

doing. Neville held the Mimbulus mimbletonia up to his eyes, his

tongue between his teeth, chose his spot, and gave the plant a

sharp prod with the tip of his quill.

Liquid squirted from every boil on the plant; thick, stinking, dark

green jets of it. They hit the ceiling, the windows, and spattered

Luna Lovegood’s magazine; Ginny, who had flung her arms up in

front of her face just in time, merely looked as though she was

wearing a slimy green hat, but Harry, whose hands had been

busy preventing Trevor’s escape, received a faceful. It smelled

like rancid manure.

Neville, whose face and torso were also drenched, shook his

head to get the worst out of his eyes.

‘S – sorry,’ he gasped. ‘I haven’t tried that before… didn’t realise

it would be quite so… don’t worry, though, Stinksap’s not

poisonous,’ he added nervously, as Harry spat a mouthful on to

the floor.

At that precise moment the door of their compartment slid open.

‘Oh… hello, Harry,’ said a nervous voice. ‘Urn… bad time?’

Harry wiped the lenses of his glasses with his Trevor-free hand.

A very pretty girl with long, shiny black hair was standing in the

doorway smiling at him: Cho Chang, the Seeker on the

Ravenclaw Quidditch team.

‘Oh… hi,’ said Harry blankly.

‘Urn…” said Cho. ‘Well… just thought I’d say hello… bye then.’

Rather pink in the face, she closed the door and departed. Harry

slumped back in his seat and groaned. He would have liked Cho

to discover him sitting with a group of very cool people laughing

their heads off at a joke he had just told; he would not have

chosen to be sitting with Neville and Loony Lovegood, clutching a

toad and dripping in Stinksap.

‘Never mind,’ said Ginny bracingly. ‘Look, we can easily get rid of

all this.’ She pulled out her wand. ‘Scourgify!’

The Stinksap vanished.

‘Sorry,’ said Neville again, in a small voice.

Ron and Hermione did not turn up for nearly an hour, by which

time the food trolley had already gone by. Harry, Ginny and

Neville had finished their pumpkin pasties and were busy

swapping Chocolate Frog Cards when the compartment door slid

open and they walked in, accompanied by Crookshanks and a

shrilly hooting Pigwidgeon in his cage.

‘I’m starving,’ said Ron, stowing Pigwidgeon next to Hedwig,

grabbing a Chocolate Frog from Harry and throwing himself into

the seat next to him. He ripped open the wrapper, bit off the

frog’s head and leaned back with his eyes closed as though he

had had a very exhausting morning.

‘Well, there are two fifth-year prefects from each house,’ said

Hermione, looking thoroughly disgruntled as she took her seat.

‘Boy and girl from each.’

‘And guess who’s a Slytherin prefect?’ said Ron, still with his

eyes closed.

‘Malfoy,’ replied Harry at once, certain his worst fear would be

confirmed.

‘Course,’ said Ron bitterly, stuffing the rest of the Frog into his

mouth and taking another.

‘And that complete cow Pansy Parkinson,’ said Hermione

viciously. ‘How she got to be a prefect when she’s thicker than a

concussed troll…’

‘Who are Hufflepuff’s?’ Harry asked.

‘Ernie Macmillan and Hannah Abbott,’ said Ron thickly.

‘And Anthony Goldstein and Padma Patil for Ravenclaw,’ said

Hermione.

‘You went to the Yule Ball with Padma Patil,’ said a vague voice.

Everyone turned to look at Luna Lovegood, who was gazing

unblinkingly at Ron over the top of The Quibbler. He swallowed

his mouthful of Frog.

‘Yeah, I know I did,’ he said, looking mildly surprised.

‘She didn’t enjoy it very much,’ Luna informed him. ‘She doesn’t

think you treated her very well, because you wouldn’t dance with

her. I don’t think I’d have minded,’ she added thoughtfully, ‘1

don’t like dancing very much.’

She retreated behind The Quibbler again. Ron stared at the

cover with his mouth hanging open for a few seconds, then

looked around at Ginny for some kind of explanation, but Ginny

had stuffed her knuckles in her mouth to stop herself giggling.

Ron shook his head, bemused, then checked his watch.

‘We’re supposed to patrol the corridors every so often,’ he told

Harry and Neville, ‘and we can give out punishments if people

are misbehaving. I can’t wait to get Crabbe and Goyle for

something

‘You’re not supposed to abuse your position, Ron!’ said Hermione

sharply.

‘Yeah, right, because Malfoy won’t abuse it at all,’ said Ron

sarcastically.

‘So you’re going to descend to his level?’

‘No, I’m just going to make sure I get his mates before he gets

mine.’

‘For heaven’s sake, Ron -‘

Til make Goyle do lines, it’ll kill him, he hates writing,’ said Ron

happily. He lowered his voice to Goyle’s low grunt and, screwing

up his face in a look of pained concentration, mimed writing in

midair. ‘I… must… not… look…like… a… baboon’s… backside.’

Everyone laughed, but nobody laughed harder than Luna

Lovegood. She let out a scream of mirth that caused Hedwig to

wake up and flap her wings indignantly and Crookshanks to leap

up into the luggage rack, hissing. Luna laughed so hard her

magazine slipped out of her grasp, slid down her legs and on to

the floor.

That was funny!’

Her prominent eyes swam with tears as she gasped for breath,

staring at Ron. Utterly nonplussed, he looked around at the

others, who were now laughing at the expression on Ron’s face

and at the ludicrously prolonged laughter of Luna Lovegood, who

was rocking backwards and forwards, clutching her sides.

‘Are you taking the mickey?’ said Ron, frowning at her.

‘Baboon’s… backside!’ she choked, holding her ribs.

Everyone else was watching Luna laughing, but Harry glancing at

the magazine on the floor, noticed something that made him

dive for it. Upside-down it had been hard to tell what the picture

on the front was, but Harry now realised it was a fairly bad

cartoon of Cornelius Fudge; Harry only recognised him because

of the lime-green bowler hat. One of Fudge’s hands was clenched

around a bag of gold; the other hand was throttling a goblin. The

cartoon was captioned: How Far Will Fudge Go to Gain

Gringotts?

Beneath this were listed the titles of other articles inside the

magazine.

Corruption in the Quidditch League:

How the Tornados are Taking Control

Secrets of the Ancient Runes Revealed

Sirius Black: Villain or Victim?

‘Can I have a look at this?’ Harry asked Luna eagerly.

She nodded, still gazing at Ron, breathless with laughter.

Harry opened the magazine and scanned the index. Until this

moment he had completely forgotten the magazine Kingsley had

handed Mr Weasley to give to Sirius, but it must have been this

edition of The Quibbler.

He found the page, and turned excitedly to the article.

This, too, was illustrated by a rather bad cartoon; in fact, Harry

would not have known it was supposed to be Sirius if it hadn’t

been captioned. Sirius was standing on a pile of human bones

with his wand out. The headline on the article said:

SIRIUS – BLACK AS HE’S PAINTED?

Notorious mass murderer or innocent singing sensation?

Harry had to read this first sentence several times before he was

convinced that he had not misunderstood it. Since when had

Sirius been a singing sensation?

For fourteen years Sirius Black has been believed guilty of the

mass murder of twelve innocent Muggles and one wizard. Black’s

audacious escape from Azkaban two years ago has led to the

widest manhunt ever conducted by the Ministry of Magic. None

of us has ever questioned that he deserves to be recaptured and

handed back to the Dementors.

BUT DOES HE?

Startling new evidence has recently come to light that Sirius

Black may not have committed the crimes for which he was sent

to Azkaban. In fact, says Doris Purkiss, of 18 Acanthia Way,

Little Norton, Black may not even have been present at the

killings.

What people don’t realise is that Sirius Black is a false name,’

says Mrs Purkiss. ‘The man people believe to be Sirius Black is

actually Stubby Boardman, lead singer of popular singing group

The Hobgoblins, who retired from public life after being struck on

the ear by a turnip at a concert in Little Norton Church Hall

nearly fifteen years ago. I recognised him the moment I saw his

picture in the paper. Now, Stubby couldn’t possibly have

committed those crimes, because on the day in question he

happened to be enjoying a romantic candlelit dinner with me. I

have written to the Minister for Magic and am expecting him to

give Stubby, alias -Sirius, a full pardon any day now.’

Harry finished reading and stared at the page in disbelief.

Perhaps it was a joke, he thought, perhaps the magazine often

printed spoof Hems. He flicked back a few pages and found the

piece on Fudge.

Cornelius Fudge, the Minister for Magic, denied that he had any

plans to take over the running of the Wizarding Bank, Gringotts,

when he was elected Minister for Magic five years ago. Fudge

has always insisted that he wants nothing more than to ‘cooperate

peacefully’ with the guardians of our gold.

BUT DOES HE?

Sources close to the Minister have recently disclosed that

Fudge’s dearest ambition is to seize control of the goblin gold

supplies and that he will not hesitate to use force if need be.

Tt wouldn’t be the first time, either,’ said a Ministry insider.

‘Cornelius “Goblin-Crusher” Fudge, that’s what his friends call

him. If you could hear him when he thinks no one’s listening, oh,

he’s always talking about the goblins he’s had done in; he’s had

them drowned, he’s had them dropped off buildings, he’s had

them poisoned, he’s had them cooked in pies…”

Harry did not read any further. Fudge might have many faults

but Harry found it extremely hard to imagine him ordering

goblins to be cooked in pies. He flicked through the rest of the

magazine. Pausing every few pages, he read: an accusation that

the Tutshill Tornados were winning the Quidditch League by a

combination of blackmail, illegal broom-tampering and torture;

an interview with a wizard who claimed to have flown to the

moon on a Cleansweep Six and brought back a bag of moon

frogs to prove it; and an article on ancient runes which at least

explained why Luna had been reading The Quibbler upside-down.

According to the magazine, if you turned the runes on their

heads they revealed a spell to make your enemy’s ears turn into

kumquats. In fact, compared to the^rest of the articles in The

Quibbler, the suggestion that Sirius might really be the lead

singer of The Hobgoblins was quite sensible.

‘Anything good in there?’ asked Ron as Harry closed the

magazine.

‘Of course not,’ said Hermione scathingly, before Harry could

answer. The Quibbler’s rubbish, everyone knows that.’

‘Excuse me,’ said Luna; her voice had suddenly lost its dreamy

quality. ‘My father’s the editor.’

‘I – oh,’ said Hermione, looking embarrassed. ‘Well… it’s got

some interesting… 1 mean, it’s quite…”

‘I’ll have it back, thank you,’ said Luna coldly, and leaning

forwards she snatched it out of Harry’s hands. Riffling through it

to page fifty-seven, she turned it resolutely upside-down again

and disappeared behind it, just as the compartment door opened

for the third time.

Harry looked around; he had expected this, but that did not

make the sight of Draco Malfoy smirking at him from between

his cronies Crabbe and Goyle any more enjoyable-.

‘What?’ he said aggressively, before Malfoy could open his mouth.

‘Manners, Potter, or I’ll have to give you a detention,’ drawled

Malfoy, whose sleek blond hair and pointed chin were just like

his fathers. ‘You see, 1, unlike you, have been made a prefect,

which means that I, unlike you, have the power to hand out

punishments.’

‘Yeah,’ said Harry, ‘but you, unlike me,-are a git, so get out and

leave us alone.’

Ron, Hermione, Ginny and Neville laughed. Malfoy’s lip curled.

‘Tell me, how does it feel being second-best to Weasley, Potter?’

he asked.

‘Shut up, Malfoy,’ said Hermione sharply.

‘I seem to have touched a nerve,’ said Malfoy, smirking. ‘Well,

just watch yourself, Potter, because I’ll be dogging your

footsteps in case you step out of line.’

‘Get out!’ said Hermione, standing up.

Sniggering, Malfoy gave Harry a last malicious look and departed,

with Crabbe and Goyle lumbering along in his wake. Hermione

slammed the compartment door behind them and turned to look

at Harry, who knew at once that she, like him, had registered

what Malfoy had said and been just as unnerved by it.

‘Chuck us another Frog,’ said Ron, who had clearly noticed

nothing.

Harry could not talk freely in front of Neville and Luna. He

exchanged another nervous look with Hermione, then stared out

of the window.

He had thought Sirius coming with him to the station was a bit of

a laugh, but suddenly it seemed reckless, if not downright

dangerous… Hermione had been right… Sirius should not have

come. What if Mr Malfoy had noticed the black dog and told

Draco? What if he had deduced that the Weasleys, Lupin, Tonks

and Moody knew where Sirius was hiding? Or had Malfoy’s use of

the word ‘dogging’ been a coincidence?

The weather remained undecided as they travelled further and

further north. Rain spattered the windows in a half-hearted way,

then the sun put in a feeble appearance before clouds drifted

over it once more. When darkness fell and lamps came on inside

the carriages, Luna rolled up The Quibbler, put it carefully away

in her bag and took to staring at everyone in the compartment

instead.

Harry was sitting with his forehead pressed against the train

window, trying to get a first distant glimpse of Hogwarts, but it

was a moonless night and the rain-streaked window was grimy.

‘We’d better change,’ said Hermione at last, and all of them

opened their trunks with difficulty and pulled on their school

robes. She and Ron pinned their prefect badges carefully to their

chests. Harry saw Ron checking his reflection in the black

window.

At last, the train began to slow down and they heard the usual

racket up and down it as everybody scrambled to get their

luggage and pets assembled, ready to get off. As Ron and

Hermione were supposed to supervise all this, they disappeared

from the carriage again, leaving Harry and the others to look

after Crookshanks and Pigwidgeon.

Til carry that owl, if you like,’ said Luna to Harry, reaching out

for Pigwidgeon as Neville stowed Trevor carefully in an inside

pocket.

‘Oh – er – thanks,’ said Harry, handing her the cage and hoisting

Hedwig’s more securely into his arms.

They shuffled out of the compartment feeling the first sting of

the night air on their faces as they joined the crowd in the

corridor. Slowly, they moved towards the doors. Harry could

smell the pine trees that lined the path down to the lake. He

stepped down on to the platform and looked around, listening for

the familiar call of ‘firs’-years over ‘ere… firs’-years…’

But it did not come. Instead, a quite different voice, a brisk

female one, was calling out, “First-years line up over here,

please! All first-years to me!’

A lantern came swinging towards Harry and by its light he saw

the prominent chin and severe haircut of Professor Grubbly-Plank,

the witch who had taken over Hagrid’s Care of Magical Creatures

lessons for a while the previous year.

‘Where’s Hagrid?’ he said out loud.

‘I don’t know,’ said Ginny, ‘but we’d better get out of the way,

we’re blocking the door.’

‘Oh, yeah…’

Harry and Ginny became separated as they moved off along the

platform and out through the station. Jostled by the crowd,

Harry squinted through the darkness for a glimpse of Hagrid; he

had to be here, Harry had been relying on it – seeing Hagrid

again was one of the things he’d been looking forward to most.

But there was no sign of him.

He can’t have left, Harry told himself as he shuffled slowly

through a narrow doorway on to the road outside with the rest of

the crowd. He’s just got a cold or something

He looked around for Ron or Hermione, wanting to know what

they thought about the reappearance of Professor Grubbly-Plank,

but neither of them was anywhere near him, so he allowed

himself to be shunted forwards on to the dark rain-washed road

outside Hogsmeade Station.

Here stood the hundred or so horseless stagecoaches that

always took the students above first year up to the castle. Harry

glanced quickly at them, turned away to keep a lookout for Ron

and Hermione, then did a double-take.

The coaches were no longer horseless. There were creatures

standing between the carriage shafts. If he had had to give them

a name, he supposed he would have called them horses, though

there was something reptilian about them, too. They were

completely fleshless, their black coats clinging to their skeletons,

of which every bone was visible. Their heads were dragonish,

and their pupil-less eyes white and staring. Wings sprouted from

each wither – vast, black leathery wings that looked as though

they ought to belong to giant bats. Standing still and quiet in the

gathering gloom, the creatures looked eerie and sinister. Harry

could not understand why the coaches were being pulled by

these horrible horses when they were quite capable of moving

along by themselves.

‘Where’s Pig?’ said Ron’s voice, right behind Harry.

‘That Luna girl was carrying him,’ said Harry, turning quickly,

eager to consult Ron about Hagrid. ‘Where d’you reckon -‘

‘- Hagrid is? I dunno,’ said Ron, sounding worried. ‘He’d better

be OK…’

A short distance away, Draco Malfoy, followed by a small gang of

cronies including Crabbe, Goyle and Pansy Parkinson, was

pushing some timid-looking second-years out of the way so that

he and his friends could get a coach to themselves. Seconds

later, Hermione emerged panting from the crowd.

‘Malfoy was being absolutely foul to a first-year back there. I

swear I’m going to report him, he’s only had his badge three

minutes and he’s using it to bully people worse than ever…

where’s Crookshanks?’

‘Ginny’s got him,’ said Harry. There she is…’

Ginny had just emerged from the crowd, clutching a squirming

Crookshanks.

Thanks,’ said Hermione, relieving Ginny of the cat. ‘Come on,

let’s get a carriage together before they all fill up…”

‘I haven’t got Pig yet!’ Ron said, but Hermione was already

heading off towards the nearest unoccupied coach. Harry

remained behind with Ron.

‘What are those things, d’you reckon?’ he asked Ron, nodding at

the horrible horses as the other students surged past them.

‘What things?’

Those horse -‘

Luna appeared holding Pigwidgeon’s cage in her arms; the tiny

owl was twittering excitedly as usual.

‘Here you are,’ she said. ‘He’s a sweet little owl, isn’t he?’

‘Er… yeah… he’s all right,’ said Ron gruffly. ‘Well, come on then,

let’s get in… what were you saying, Harry?’

‘I was saying, what are those horse things?’ Harry said, as he,

Ron and Luna made for the carriage in which Hermione and

Ginny were already sitting.

‘What horse things?’

The horse things pulling the carriages!’ said Harry impatiently.

They were, after all, about three feet from the nearest one; it

was watching them with empty white eyes. Ron, however, gave

Harry a perplexed look.

‘What are you talking about?’

‘I’m talking about – look!’

Harry grabbed Ron’s arm and wheeled him about so that he was

face to face with the winged horse. Ron stared straight at it for a

second, then looked back at Harry.

‘What am I supposed to be looking at?’

‘At the – there, between the shafts! Harnessed to the coach! It’s

right there in front -‘

But as Ron continued to look bemused, a strange thought

occurred to Harry.

‘Can’t… can’t you see them?’

‘See what?’

‘Can’t you see what’s pulling the carriages?’

Ron looked seriously alarmed now.

‘Are you feeling all right, Harry?’

‘I… yeah…’

Harry felt utterly bewildered. The horse was there in front of him,

gleaming solidly in the dim light issuing from the station

windows behind them, vapour rising from its nostrils in the chilly

night air. Yet, unless Ron was faking – and it was a very feeble

joke if he was – Ron could not see it at all.

‘Shall we get in, then?’ said Ron uncertainly, looking at Harry as

though worried about him.

‘Yeah,’ said Harry. ‘Yeah, go on…’

‘It’s all right,’ said a dreamy voice from beside Harry as Ron

vanished into the coach’s dark interior. ‘You’re not going mad or

anything. I can see them, too.’

‘Can you?’ said Harry desperately, turning to Luna. He could see

the bat-winged horses reflected in her wide silvery eyes.

‘Oh, yes,’ said Luna, ‘I’ve been able to see them ever since my

first day here. They’ve always pulled the carriages. Don’t worry.

You’re just as sane as I am:

Smiling faintly, she climbed into the musty interior of the

carriage after Ron. Not altogether reassured, Harry followed her.

— CHAPTER ELEVEN —

The Sorting Hat’s New Song

Harry did not want to tell the others that he and Luna were

having the same hallucination, if that was what it was, so he said

nothing more about the horses as he sal down inside the

carriage and slammed the door behind him. Nevertheless, he

could not help watching the silhouettes of the horses moving

beyond the window.

‘Did everyone see that Grubbly-Plank woman?’ asked Ginny.

‘What’s she doing back here? Hagrid can’t have left, can he?’

Til be quite glad if he has,’ said Luna, ‘he isn’t a very good

teacher, is he?’

‘Yes, he is!’ said Harry, Ron and Ginny angrily.

Harry glared at Hermione. She cleared her throat and quickly

said, ‘Erin… yes… he’s very good.’

‘Well, we in Ravenclaw think he’s a bit of a joke,’ said Luna,

unlazed.

‘You’ve got a rubbish sense of humour then,’ Ron snapped, as

the wheels below them creaked into motion.

Luna did not seem perturbed by Ron’s rudeness; on the contrary,

she simply watched him for a while as though he were a mildly

interesting television programme.

Rattling and swaying, the carriages moved in convoy up the road.

When they passed between the tall stone pillars topped with

winged boars on either side of the gates to the school grounds,

Harry leaned forwards to try and see whether there were any

lights on in Hagrid’s cabin by the Forbidden Forest, but the

grounds were in complete darkness. Hogwarts Castle, however,

loomed ever

closer: a towering mass of turrets, jet black against the dark sky,

here and there a window blazing fiery bright above them.

The carriages jingled to a halt near the stone steps leading up to

the oak front doors and Harry got out of the carriage first. He

turned again to look for lit windows down by the Forest, but

there was definitely no sign of life within Hagrids cabin.

Unwillingly, because he had half-hoped they would have

vanished, he turned his eyes instead upon the strange, skeletal

creatures standing quietly in the chill night air, their blank white

eyes gleaming.

Harry had once before had the experience of seeing something

that Ron could not, but that had been a reflection in a mirror,

something much more insubstantial than a hundred very solidlooking

beasts strong enough to pull a fleet of carriages. If Luna

was to be believed, the beasts had always been there but

invisible. Why, then, could Harry suddenly see them, and why

could Ron not?

‘Are you coming or what?’ said Ron beside him.

‘Oh… yeah,’ said Harry quickly and they joined the crowd

hurrying up the stone steps into the castle.

The Entrance Hall was ablaze with torches and echoing with

footsteps as the students crossed the flagged stone floor for the

double doors to the right, leading to the Great Hall and the startof-

term feast.

The four long house tables in the Great Hall were filling up under

the starless black ceiling, which was just like the sky they could

glimpse through the high windows. Candles floated in midair all

along the tables, illuminating the silvery ghosts who were dotted

about the Hall and the faces of the students talking eagerly,

exchanging summer news, shouting greetings at friends from

other houses, eyeing one another’s new haircuts and robes.

Again, Harry noticed people putting their heads together to

whisper as he passed; he gritted his teeth and tried to act as

though he neither noticed nor cared.

Luna drifted away from them at the Ravenclaw table. The

moment they reached Gryffindors, Ginny was hailed by some

fellow fourth-years and left to sit with them; Harry, Ron,

Hermione and Neville found seats together about halfway down

the table between Nearly

Headless Nick, the Gryffindor house ghost, and Parvati Patil and

Lavender Brown, the last two of whom gave Harry airy, overlyfriendly

greetings that made him quite sure they had stopped

talking about him a split second before. He had more important

things to worry about, however: he was looking over the

students’ heads to the staff table that ran along the top wall of

the Hall.

‘He’s not there.’

Ron and Hermione scanned the staff table too, though there was

no real need; Hagrid’s size made him instantly obvious in any

lineup.

‘He can’t have left,’ said Ron, sounding slightly anxious.

‘Of course he hasn’t,’ said Harry firmly.

‘You don’t think he’s… hurt, or anything, do you?’ said Hermione

uneasily.

‘No,’ said Harry at once.

‘But where is he, then?’

There was a pause, then Harry said very quietly, so that Neville,

Parvati and Lavender could not hear, ‘Maybe he’s not back yet.

You know – from his mission – the thing he was doing over the

summer for Dumbledore.’

‘Yeah… yeah, that’ll be it,’ said Ron, sounding reassured, but

Hermione bit her lip, looking up and down the staff table as

though hoping for some conclusive explanation of Hagrid’s

absence.

‘Who’s that?’ she said sharply, pointing towards the middle of

the staff table.

Harry’s eyes followed hers. They lit first upon Professor

Dumbledore, sitting in his high-backed golden chair at the centre

of the long staff table, wearing deep-purple robes scattered with

silvery stars and a matching hat. Dumbledore’s head was

inclined towards the woman sitting next to him, who was talking

into his ear. She looked, Harry thought, like somebody’s maiden

aunt: squat, with short, curly, mouse-brown hair in which she

had placed a horrible pink Alice band that matched the fluffy pink

cardigan she wore over her robes. Then she turned her face

slightly to take a sip from her goblet and he saw, with a shock of

recognition, a pallid, toadlike face and a pair of prominent,

pouchy eyes.

‘It’s that Umbridge woman!’

‘Who?’ said Hermione.

‘She was at my hearing, she works for Fudge!’

‘Nice cardigan,’ said Ron, smirking.

‘She works for Fudge!’ Hermione repeated, frowning. ‘What on

earth’s she doing here, then?’

‘Dunno…’

Hermione scanned the staff table, her eyes narrowed.

‘No,’ she muttered, ‘no, surely not…’

Harry did not understand what she was talking about but did not

ask; his attention had been caught by Professor Grubbly-Plank

who had just appeared behind the staff table; she worked her

way along to the very end and took the seat that ought to have

been Hagrids. That meant the first-years must have crossed the

lake and reached the castle, and sure enough, a few seconds

later, the doors from the Entrance Hall opened. A long line of

scared-looking first-years entered, led by Professor McGonagall,

who was carrying a stool on which sat an ancient wizard’s hat,

heavily patched and darned with a wide rip near the frayed brim.

The buzz of talk in the Great Hall faded away. The first-years

lined up in front of the staff table facing the rest of the students,

and Professor McGonagall placed the stool carefully in front of

them, then stood back.

The first-years’ faces glowed palely in the candlelight. A small

boy right in the middle of the row looked as though he was

trembling. Harry recalled, fleetingly, how terrified he had felt

when he had stood there, waiting for the unknown test that

would determine to which house he belonged.

The whole school waited with bated breath. Then the rip near the

hat’s brim opened wide like a mouth and the Sorting Hat burst

into song:

In times of old when I was new And Hogwarts barely started The

founders of our noble school Thought never to be parted: United

by a common goal,

They had the selfsame yearning,

To make the world’s best magic school

And pass along their learning.

‘Together we will build and teach!’

The four good friends decided

And never did they dream that they

Might some day be divided,

For were there such friends anywhere

As Slytherin and Gryffindor?

Unless it was the second pair

Of Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw?

So how could it have gone so wrong?

How could such friendships fail?

Why, I was there and so can tell

The whole sad, sorry tale.

Said Slytherin, ‘We’ll teach just those

Whose ancestry is purest.’

Said Ravenclaw, ‘We’ll teach those whose

Intelligence is surest.’

Said Gryffindor, ‘We’ll teach all those

With brave deeds to their name,’

Said Hufflepuff, Til teach the lot,

And treat them just the same.’

These differences caused little strife

When first they came to light,

For each of the four founders had

A house in which they might

Take only those they wanted, so,

For instance, Slytherin

Took only pure-blood wizards

Of great cunning, just like him,

And only those of sharpest mind

Were taught by Ravenclaw

While the bravest and the boldest

Went to daring Gryffindor.

Good Hufflepuff, she took the rest,

And taught them all she knew,

Thus the houses and their founders

Retained friendships firm and true.

So Hogwarts worked in harmony

For several happy years,

But then discord crept among us

Feeding on our faults and fears.

The houses that, like pillars four,

Had once held up our school,

Now turned upon each other and,

Divided, sought to rule.

And for a while it seemed the school

Must meet an early end,

What with duelling and with jighting

And the clash of friend on friend

And at last there came a morning

When old Slytherin departed

And though the fighting then died out

He left us quite downhearted.

And never since the founders four

Were whittled down to three

Have the houses been united

As they once were meant to be.

And now the Sorting Hat is here

And you all know the score:

I sort you into houses

Because that is what I’m for,

But this year I’ll go further,

Listen closely to my song:

Though condemned I am to split you

Still I worry that it’s wrong,

Though / must fulfil my duty

And must quarter everv year

Still I wonder whether Sorting

May not bring the end I fear.

Oh, know the perils, read the signs,

The warning history shows,

For our Hogwarts is in danger

From external, deadly foes

And we must unite inside her

Or we’ll crumble from within

I have told you, I have warned you…

Let the Sorting now begin.

The Hat became motionless once more; applause broke out,

though it was punctured, for the first time in Harrys memory,

with muttering and whispers. All across the Great Hall students

were exchanging remarks with their neighbours, and Harry,

clapping along with everyone else, knew exactly what they were

talking about.

‘Branched out a bit this year, hasn’t it?’ said Ron, his eyebrows

raised.

Too right it has,’ said Harry.

The Sorting Hat usually confined itself to describing the different

qualities looked for by each of the four Hogwarts houses and its

own role in Sorting them. Harry could not remember it ever

trying to give the school advice before.

‘I wonder if it’s ever given warnings before?’ said Hermione,

sounding slightly anxious.

‘Yes, indeed,’ said Nearly Headless Nick knowledgeably, leaning

across Neville towards her (Neville winced; it was very

uncomfortable to have a ghost lean through you). The Hat feels

itself honour-bound to give the school due warning whenever il

feels –

But Professor McGonagall, who was waiting to read out the list of

first-years’ names, was giving the whispering students the sort

of look that scorches. Nearly Headless Nick placed a see-through

finger to his lips and sat primly upright again as the muttering

came to an abrupt end. With a last frowning look that swept the

four house tables, Professor McGonagall lowered her eyes to her

long piece of parchment and called out the first name.

‘Abercrombie, Euan.’

The terrified-looking boy Harry had noticed earlier stumbled

forwards and put the Hat on his head; it was only prevented

from falling right down to his shoulders by his very prominent

ears. The Hat considered for a moment, then the rip near the

brim opened again and shouted:

‘Gryffindor!’

Harry clapped loudly with the rest of Gryffindor house as Euan

Abercrombie staggered to their table and sat down, looking as

though he would like very much to sink through the floor and

never be looked at again.

Slowly, the long line of first-years thinned. In the pauses

between the names and the Sorting Hat’s decisions, Harry could

hear Rons stomach rumbling loudly. Finally, ‘Zeller, Rose’ was

Sorted into Hufflepuff, and Professor McGonagall picked up the

Hat and stool and marched them away as Professor Dumbledore

rose to his feet.

Whatever his recent bitter feelings had been towards his

Headmaster, Harry was somehow soothed to see Dumbledore

standing before them all. Between the absence of Hagrid and the

presence of those dragonish horses, he had felt that his return to

Hogwarts, so long anticipated, was full of unexpected surprises,

like jarring notes in a familiar song. But this, at least, was how it

was supposed to be: their Headmaster rising to greet them all

before the start-of-term feast.

To our newcomers,’ said Dumbledore in a ringing voice, his arms

stretched wide and a beaming smile on his lips, ‘welcome! To our

old hands – welcome back! There is a time for speech-making,

but this is not it. Tuck in!’

There was an appreciative laugh and an outbreak of applause as

Dumbledore sat down neatly and threw his long beard over his

shoulder so as to keep it out of the way of his plate – for food

had appeared out of nowhere, so that the five long tables were

groaning under joints and pies and dishes of vegetables, bread

and sauces and flagons of pumpkin juice.

‘Excellent,’ said Ron, with a kind of groan of longing, and he

seized the nearest plate of chops and began piling them on to his

plate, watched wistfully by Nearly Headless Nick.

‘What were you saying before the Sorting?’ Hermione asked the

ghost. ‘About the Hat giving warnings?’

‘Oh, yes,’ said Nick, who seemed glad of a reason to turn away

from Ron, who was now eating roast potatoes with almost

indecent enthusiasm. ‘Yes, I have heard the Hat give several

warnings before, always at times when it detects periods of great

danger for the school. And always, of course, its advice is the

same: stand together, be strong from within.’

‘Ow kunnit nofe skusin danger ifzat?’ said Ron.

His mouth was so full Harry thought it was quite an achievement

for him to make any noise at all.

‘I beg your pardon?’ said Nearly Headless Nick politely, while

Hermione looked revolted. Ron gave an enormous swallow and

said, ‘How can it know if the school’s in danger if it’s a Hat?’

‘I have no idea,’ said Nearly Headless Nick. ‘Of course, it lives in

Dumbledore’s office, so I daresay it picks things up there.’

‘And it wants all the houses to be friends?’ said Harry, looking

over at the Slytherin table, where Draco Malfoy was holding

court. ‘Fat chance.’

‘Well, now, you shouldn’t take that attitude,’ said Nick

reprovingly. ‘Peaceful co-operation, that’s the key. We ghosts,

though we belong to separate houses, maintain links of

friendship. In spite of the competitiveness between Gryffindor

and Slytherin, 1 would never dream of seeking an argument with

the Bloody Baron.’

‘Only because you’re terrified of him,’ said Ron.

Nearly Headless Nick looked highly affronted.

Terrified? I hope I, Sir Nicholas de Mimsy-Porpington, have never

been guilty of cowardice in my life! The noble blood that runs in

my veins -‘

‘What blood?’ asked Ron. ‘Surely you haven’t still got -?’

‘Its a figure of speech!’ said Nearly Headless Nick, now so

annoyed his head was trembling ominously on his partially

severed neck. ‘I assume I am still allowed to enjoy the use of

whichever words I like, even if the pleasures of eating and

drinking are denied me! But I am quite used to students poking

fun at my death, I assure you!’

‘Nick, he wasn’t really laughing at you!’ said Hermione, throwing

a furious look at Ron.

Unfortunately, Ron’s mouth was packed to exploding point again

and all he could manage was ‘Node iddum eentup sechew,’ which

Nick did not seem to think constituted an adequate apology.

Rising into the air, he straightened his feathered hat and swept

away from them to the other end of the table, coming to rest

between the Creevey brothers, Colin and Dennis.

‘Well done, Ron,’ snapped Hermione.

‘What?’ said Ron indignantly, having managed, finally, to swallow

his tood. ‘I’m not allowed to ask a simple question?’

‘Oh, forget it,’ said Hermione irritably, and the pair of them

spent the rest of the meal in huffy silence.

Harry was too used to their bickering to bother trying to

reconcile them; he felt it was a better use of his time to eat his

way steadily through his steak and kidney pie, then a large

plateful of his favourite treacle tart.

When all the students had finished eating and the noise level in

the Hall was starting to creep upwards again, Dumbledore got to

his feet once more. Talking ceased immediately as all turned to

lace the Headmaster. Harry was feeling pleasantly drowsy now.

His lour-poster bed was waiting somewhere above, wonderfully

warm and soft…

‘Well, now that we are all digesting another magnificent feast, 1

beg a few moments of your attention for the usual start-of-term

notices,’ said Dumbledore. ‘First-years ought to know that the

Forest in the grounds is out-of-bounds to students – and a few of

our older students ought to know by now, too.’ (Harry, Ron and

Hermione exchanged smirks.)

‘Mr Filch, the caretaker, has asked me, for what he tells me is

the lour-hundred-and-sixty-second time, to remind you all that

magic is not permitted in corridors between classes, nor are a

number of other things, all of which can be checked on the

extensive list now fastened to Mr Filch’s office door.

‘We have had two changes in staffing this year. We are very

pleased to welcome back Professor Grubbly-Plank, who will be

taking Care of Magical Creatures lessons; we are also delighted

to introduce Professor Umbridge, our new Defence Against the

Dark Arts teacher.’

There was a round of polite but fairly unenthusiastic applause,

during which Harry, Ron and Hermione exchanged slightly

panicked looks; Dumbledore had not said for how long Grubbly-

Plank would be teaching.

Dumbledore continued, Tryouts for the house Quidditch teams

will take place on the -‘

He broke off, looking enquiringly at Professor Umbridge. As she

was not much taller standing than sitting, there was a moment

when nobody understood why Dumbledore had stopped talking,

but then Professor Umbridge cleared her throat, ‘Hem, hem,’ and

it became clear that she had got to her feet and was intending to

make a speech.

Dumbledore only looked taken aback for a moment, then he sat

down smartly and looked alertly at Professor Umbridge as

though he desired nothing better than to listen to her talk. Other

members of staff were not as adept at hiding their surprise.

Professor Sprout’s eyebrows had disappeared into her flyaway

hair and Professor McGonagall’s mouth was as thin as Harry had

ever seen it. No new teacher had ever interrupted Dumbledore

before. Many of the students were smirking; this woman

obviously did not know how things were done at Hogwarts.

Thank you, Headmaster,’ Professor Umbridge simpered, ‘for

those kind words of welcome.’

Her voice was high-pitched, breathy and little-girlish and, again,

Harry felt a powerful rush of dislike that he could not explain to

himself; all he knew was that he loathed everything about her,

from her stupid voice to her fluffy pink cardigan. She gave

another little throat-clearing cough (‘hem, hem’) and continued.

‘Well, it is lovely to be back at Hogwarts, I must say!’ She smiled,

revealing very pointed teeth. ‘And to see such happy little faces

looking up at me!’

Harry glanced around. None of the faces he could see looked

happy. On the contrary, they all looked rather taken-aback at

being addressed as though they were five years old.

‘I am very much looking forward to getting to know you all and

I’m sure we’ll be very good friends!’

Students exchanged looks at this; some of them were barely

concealing grins.

‘I’ll be her friend as long as I don’t have to borrow that

cardigan,’ Parvati whispered to Lavender, and both of them

lapsed into silent giggles.

Professor Umbridge cleared her throat again (‘hem, hem’), but

when she continued, some of the breathiness had vanished from

her voice. She sounded much more businesslike and now her

words had a dull learned-by-heart sound to them.

The Ministry of Magic has always considered the education of

young witches and wizards to be of vital importance. The rare

gifts with which you were born may come to nothing if not

nurtured and honed by careful instruction. The ancient skills

unique to the wizarding community must be passed down the

generations lest we lose them tor ever. The treasure trove of

magical knowledge amassed by our ancestors must be guarded,

replenished and polished by those who have been called to the

noble profession of teaching.’

Professor Umbridge paused here and made a little bow to her

fellow staff members, none of whom bowed back to her.

Professor McGonagall’s dark eyebrows had contracted so that

she looked positively hawklike, and Harry distinctly saw her

exchange a significant glance with Professor Sprout as Umbridge

gave another little ‘hem, hem’ and went on with her speech.

Every headmaster and headmistress o( Hogwarts has brought

something new to the weighty task of governing this historic

school, and that is as it should be, lor without progress there will

be stagnation and decay. There again, progress for progress’s

sake must be discouraged, for our tried and tested traditions

often require no tinkering. A balance, then, between old and new,

between permanence and change, between tradition and

innovation…”

Harry lound his attentiveness ebbing, as though his brain was

slipping in and out of tune. The quiet that always filled the Hall

when Dumbledore was speaking was breaking up as students put

their heads together, whispering and giggling. Over on the

Ravenclaw table Cho Chang was chatting animatedly with her

friends. A few seats along from Cho, Luna Lovegood had got out

The Quibbler again. Meanwhile, at the Hufflepuff table Ernie

Macmillan was one of the few still staring at Professor Umbridge,

but he was glassy-eyed and Harry was sure he was only

pretending to listen in an attempt to live up to the new prefect’s

badge gleaming on his chest.

Professor Umbridge did not seem to notice the restlessness of

her audience. Harry had the impression that a full-scale riot

could have broken out under her nose and she would have

ploughed on with her speech. The teachers, however, were still

listening very attentively, and Hermione seemed to be drinking

in every word Umbridge spoke, though, judging by her

expression, they were not at all to her taste.

‘… because some changes will be for the better, while others will

come, in the fullness of time, to be recognised as errors of

judgement. Meanwhile, some old habits will be retained, and

rightly so, whereas others, outmoded and outworn, must be

abandoned. Let us move forward, then, into a new era of

openness, effectiveness and accountability, intent on preserving

what ought to be preserved, perfecting what needs to be

perfected, and pruning wherever we find practices that ought to

be prohibited.’

She sat down. Dumbledore clapped. The staff followed his lead,

though Harry noticed that several of them brought their hands

together only once or twice before stopping. A few students

joined in, but most had been taken unawares by the end of the

speech, not having listened to more than a few words of it, and

before they could start applauding properly, Dumbledore had

stood up again.

Thank you very much, Professor Umbridge, that was most

illuminating,’ he said, bowing to her. ‘Now, as I was saying,

Quidditch tryouts will be held…”

‘Yes, it certainly was illuminating,’ said Hermione in a low voice.

‘You’re not telling me you enjoyed it?’ Ron said quietly, turning a

glazed face towards Hermione. That was about the dullest

speech I’ve ever heard, and I grew up with Percy.’

‘I said illuminating, not enjoyable,’ said Hermione. ‘It explained a

lot.’

‘Did it?’ said Harry in surprise. ‘Sounded like a load of waffle to

me.’

There was some important stuff hidden in the waffle,’ said

Hermione grimly.

‘Was there?’ said Ron blankly.

‘How about: “progress for progress’s sake must be discouraged”?

How about: “pruning wherever we find practices that ought to be

prohibited”?’

‘Well, what does that mean?’ said Ron impatiently.

Til tell you what it means,’ said Hermione through gritted teeth.

‘It means the Ministry’s interfering at Hogwarts.’

There was a great clattering and banging all around them;

Dumbledore had obviously just dismissed the school, because

everyone was standing up ready to leave the Hall. Hermione

jumped up, looking flustered.

‘Ron, we’re supposed to show the first-years where to go!’

‘Oh yeah,’ said Ron, who had obviously forgotten. ‘Hey – hey,

you lot! Midgets!’

‘Ron!’

‘Well, they are, they’re titchy…’

‘I know, but you can’t call them midgets! – First-years!’

Hermione called commandingly along the table. This way,

please!’

A group of new students walked shyly up the gap between the

Gryffindor and Hufflepuff tables, all of them trying hard not to

lead the group. They did indeed seem very small; Harry was

sure he had not appeared that young when he had arrived here.

He grinned at them. A blond boy next to Euan Abercrombie

looked petrified; he nudged Euan and whispered something in

his ear. Euan Abercrombie looked equally frightened and stole a

horrified look at Harry, who felt the grin slide off his face like

Stinksap.

‘See you later,’ he said dully to Ron and Hermione and he made

his way out of the Great Hall alone, doing everything he could to

ignore more whispering, staring and pointing as he passed. He

kept his eyes fixed ahead as he wove his way through the crowd

in the Entrance Hall, then he hurried up the marble staircase,

took a couple of concealed short cuts and had soon left most of

the crowds behind.

He had been stupid not to expect this, he thought angrily as he

walked through the much emptier upstairs corridors. Of course

everyone was staring at him; he had emerged from the Triwizard

maze two months previously clutching the dead body of a fellow

student and claiming to have seen Lord Voldemort return to

power. There had not been time last term to explain himself

before they’d all had to go home – even if he had felt up to

giving the whole school a detailed account of the terrible events

in that graveyard.

Harry had reached the end of the corridor to the Gryffindor

common room and come to a halt in front of the portrait of the

Fat Lady before he realised that he did not know the new

password.

‘Er…’ he said glumly, staring up at the Fat Lady, who smoothed

the folds of her pink satin dress and looked sternly back at him.

‘No password, no entrance,’ she said loftily.

‘Harry, I know it!’ Someone panted up behind him and he turned

to see Neville jogging towards him. ‘Guess what it is? I’m

actually going to be able to remember it for once -‘ He waved

the stunted little cactus he had shown them on the train.

Mimbulus mimble-tonifl!’

‘Correct,’ said the Fat Lady, and her portrait swung open towards

them like a door, revealing a circular hole in the wall behind,

through which Harry and Neville now climbed.

The Gryffindor common room looked as welcoming as ever, a

cosy circular tower room full of dilapidated squashy armchairs

and rickety old tables. A fire was crackling merrily in the grate

and a few people were warming their hands by it before going up

to their dormitories; on the other side of the room Fred and

George Weasley were pinning something up on the noticeboard.

Harry waved goodnight to them and headed straight for the door

to the boys’ dormitories; he was not in much of a mood for

talking at the moment. Neville followed him.

Dean Thomas and Seamus Finnigan had reached the dormitory

first and were in the process of covering the walls beside their

beds with posters and photographs. They had been talking as

Harry pushed open the door but stopped abruptly the moment

they saw him. Harry wondered whether they had been talking

about him, then whether he was being paranoid.

‘Hi,’ he said, moving across to his own trunk and opening it.

‘Hey, Harry,’ said Dean, who was putting on a pair of pyjamas in

the West Ham colours. ‘Good holiday?’

‘Not bad,’ muttered Harry, as a true account of his holiday would

have taken most of the night to relate and he could not face it.

‘You?’

‘Yeah, it was OK,’ chuckled Dean. ‘Better than Seamus’s, anyway,

he was just telling me.’

‘Why, what happened, Seamus?’ Neville asked as he placed his

Mimbulus mimbletonia tenderly on his bedside cabinet.

Seamus did not answer immediately; he was making rather a

meal of ensuring that his poster of the Kenmare Kestrels

Quidditch team was quite straight. Then he said, with his back

still turned to Harry, ‘Me mam didn’t want me to come back.’

‘What?’ said Harry, pausing in the act of pulling off his robes.

‘She didn’t want me to come back to Hogwarts.’

Seamus turned away from his poster and pulled his own pyjamas

out of his trunk, still not looking at Harry.

‘But – why?’ said Harry, astonished. He knew that Seamus’s

mother was a witch and could not understand, therefore, why

she should have come over so Dursleyish.

Seamus did not answer until he had finished buttoning his

pyjamas.

‘Well,’ he said in a measured voice, ‘I suppose… because of you.’

‘What d’you mean?’ said Harry quickly.

His heart was beating rather fast. He felt vaguely as though

something was closing in on him.

‘Well,’ said Seamus again, still avoiding Harrys eye, ‘she… er…

well, it’s not just you, it’s Dumbledore, too…’

‘She believes the Daily Prophet?’ said Harry. ‘She thinks I’m a

liar and Dumbledore’s an old fool?’

Seamus looked up at him.

‘Yeah, something like that.’

Harry said nothing. He threw his wand down on to his bedside

table, pulled off his robes, stuffed them angrily into his trunk and

pulled on his pyjamas. He was sick of it; sick of being the person

who is stared at and talked about all the time. If any of them

knew, if any of them had the faintest idea what it felt like to be

the one all these things had happened to… Mrs Finnigan had no

idea, the stupid woman, he thought savagely.

He got into bed and made to pull the hangings closed around

him, but before he could do so, Seamus said, ‘Look… what did

happen that night when… you know, when… with Cedric Diggory

and all?’

Seamus sounded nervous and eager at the same time. Dean,

who had been bending over his trunk trying to retrieve a slipper,

went oddly still and Harry knew he was listening hard.

‘What are you asking me for?’ Harry retorted. ‘Just read the

Daily Prophet like your mother, why don’t you? That’ll tell you all

you need to know.’

‘Don’t you have a go at my mother,’ Seamus snapped.

Til have a go at anyone who calls me a liar,’ said Harry.

‘Don’t talk to me like that!’

Til talk to you how I want,’ said Harry, his temper rising so fast

he snatched his wand back from his bedside table. ‘If you’ve got

a problem sharing a dormitory with me, go and ask McGonagall

if you can be moved… stop your mummy worrying -‘

‘Leave my mother out of this, Potter!’

‘What’s going on?’

Ron had appeared in the doorway. His wide eyes travelled from

Harry, who was kneeling on his bed with his wand pointing at

Seamus, to Seamus, who was standing there with his fists raised.

‘He’s having a go at my mother!’ Seamus yelled.

‘What?’ said Ron. ‘Harry wouldn’t do that — we met your mother,

we liked her…”

That’s before she started believing every word the stinking Daily

Prophet writes about me!’ said Harry at the top of his voice.

‘Oh,’ said Ron, comprehension dawning across his freckled face.

‘Oh… right.’

‘You know what?’ said Seamus heatedly, casting Harry a

venomous look. ‘He’s right, I don’t want to share a dormitory

with him any more, he’s mad.’

‘That’s out of order, Seamus,’ said Ron, whose ears were starting

to glow red – always a danger sign.

‘Out of order, am I?’ shouted Seamus, who in contrast with Ron

was going pale. ‘You believe all the rubbish he’s come out with

about You-Know-Who, do you, you reckon he’s telling the truth?’

‘Yeah, I do!’ said Ron angrily.

Then you’re mad, too,’ said Seamus in disgust.

‘Yeah? Well, unfortunately for you, pal, I’m also a prefect!’ said

Ron, jabbing himself in the chest with a finger. ‘So unless you

want detention, watch your mouth!’

Seamus looked for a few seconds as though detention would be

a reasonable price to pay to say what was going through his

mind; but with a noise of contempt he turned on his heel,

vaulted into bed and pulled the hangings shut with such violence

that they were ripped from the bed and fell in a dusty pile to the

floor. Ron glared at Seamus, then looked at Dean and Neville.

‘Anyone else’s parents got a problem with Harry?’ he said

aggressively.

‘My parents are Muggles, mate,’ said Dean, shrugging. They

don’t know nothing about no deaths at Hogwarts, because I’m

not stupid enough to tell them.’

‘You don’t know my mother, she’d weasel anything out of

anyone!’ Seamus snapped at him. ‘Anyway your parents don’t

get the Daily Prophet. They don’t know our Headmaster’s been

sacked from the Wizengamot and the International

Confederation of Wizards because he’s losing his marbles -‘

‘My gran says that’s rubbish,’ piped up Neville. ‘She says it’s the

Daily Prophet that’s going downhill, not Dumbledore. She’s

cancelled our subscription. We believe Harry’ said Neville simply.

He climbed into bed and pulled the covers up to his chin, looking

owlishly over them at Seamus. ‘My gran’s always said You-

Know-Who would come back one day. She says if Dumbledore

says he’s back, he’s back.’

Harry felt a rush of gratitude towards Neville. Nobody else said

anything. Seamus got out his wand, repaired the bed hangings

and vanished behind them. Dean got into bed, rolled over and

fell silent. Neville, who appeared to have nothing more to say

either, was gazing fondly at his moonlit cactus.

Harry lay back on his pillows while Ron bustled around the next

bed, putting his things away. He felt shaken by the argument

with Seamus, whom he had always liked very much. How many

more people were going to suggest that he was lying, or

unhinged?

Had Dumbledore suffered like this all summer, as first the

Wizengamot, then the International Confederation of Wizards

had thrown him from their ranks? Was it anger at Harry, perhaps,

that had stopped Dumbledore getting in touch with him for

months? The two of them were in this together, after all;

Dumbledore had believed Harry, announced his version of events

to the whole school and then to the wider wizarding community.

Anyone who thought

HE SORTING HAT’S NEW SONG

Harry was a liar had to think that Dumbledore was, too, or else

that Dumbledore had been hoodwinked…

They’ll know we’re right in the end, thought Harry miserably, as

Ron got into bed and extinguished the last candle in the

dormitory. But he wondered how many more attacks like

Seamus’s he would have to endure before that time came.

— CHAPTER TWELVE —

Professor Umbridge

Seamus dressed at top speed next morning and left the

dormitory before Harry had even put on his socks.

‘Does he think he’ll turn into a nutter if he stays in a room with

me too long?’ asked Harry loudly, as the hem of Seamus’s robes

whipped out of sight.

‘Don’t worry about it, Harry,’ Dean muttered, hoisting his

schoolbag on to his shoulder, ‘he’s just…’

But apparently he was unable to say exactly what Seamus was,

and after a slightly awkward pause followed him out of the room.

Neville and Ron both gave Harry an it’s-his-problem-not-yours

look, but Harry was not much consoled. How much more of this

would he have to take?

‘What’s the matter?’ asked Hermione five minutes later, catching

up with Harry and Ron halfway across the common room as they

all headed towards breakfast. ‘You look absolutely – Oh for

heaven’s sake.’

She was staring at the common-room noticeboard, where a large

new sign had been put up.

GALLONS OF GALLEONS.’ Pocket money failing to keep pace with

your outgoings?

Like to earn a little extra gold? Contact Fred and George Weasley,

Gryffindor common room,

for simple, part-time, virtually painless jobs. (We regret that all

work is undertaken at applicant’s own risk.)

They are the limit,’ said Hermione grimly, taking down the sign,

which Fred and George had pinned up over a poster giving the

I

date of the first Hogsmeade weekend, which was to be in

October. ‘We’ll have to talk to them, Ron.’

Ron looked positively alarmed.

‘Why?’

‘Because we’re prefects!’ said Hermione, as they climbed out

through the portrait hole. ‘It’s up to us to stop this kind of thing!’

Ron said nothing; Harry could tell from his glum expression that

the prospect of stopping Fred and George doing exactly what

they liked was not one he found inviting.

‘Anyway, what’s up, Harry?’ Hermione continued, as they walked

down a flight of stairs lined with portraits of old witches and

wizards, all of whom ignored them, being engrossed in their own

conversation. ‘You look really angry about something.’

‘Seamus reckons Harry’s lying about You-Know-Who,’ said Ron

succinctly, when Harry did not respond.

Hermione, who Harry had expected to react angrily on his behalf,

sighed.

‘Yes, Lavender thinks so too,’ she said gloomily.

‘Been having a nice little chat with her about whether or not I’m

a lying, attention-seeking prat, have you?’ Harry said loudly.

‘No,’ said Hermione calmly. ‘I told her to keep her big fat mouth

shut about you, actually. And it would be quite nice if you

stopped jumping down our throats, Harry, because in case you

haven’t noticed, Ron and I are on your side.’

There was a short pause.

‘Sorry,’ said Harry in a low voice.

That’s quite all right,’ said Hermione with dignity. Then she

shook her head. ‘Don’t you remember what Dumbledore said at

the last end-of-term feast?’

Harry and Ron both looked at her blankly and Hermione sighed

again.

‘About You-Know-Who. He said his “gift for spreading discord

and enmity is very great. We can fight it only by showing an

equally strong bond of friendship and trust —”‘

‘How do you remember stuff like that?’ asked Ron, looking at her

in admiration.

‘I listen, Ron,’ said Hermione, with a touch of asperity.

‘So do I, but I still couldn’t tell you exactly what -‘

The point,’ Hermione pressed on loudly, ‘is that this sort of thing

is exactly what Dumbledore was talking about. You-Know-Who’s

only been back two months and we’ve already started fighting

among ourselves. And the Sorting Hats warning was the same:

stand together, be united —’

‘And Harry got it right last night,’ retorted Ron. ‘If that means

we’re supposed to get matey with the Slytherins -fat chance.’

‘Well, I think it’s a pity we’re not trying for a bit of inter-house

unity,’ said Hermione crossly.

They had reached the foot of the marble staircase. A line of

fourth-year Ravenclaws was crossing the Entrance Hall; they

caught sight of Harry and hurried to form a tighter group, as

though frightened he might attack stragglers.

‘Yeah, we really ought to be trying to make friends with people

like that,’ said Harry sarcastically.

They followed the Ravenclaws into the Great Hall, all looking

instinctively at the staff table as they entered. Professor

Grubbly-Plank was chatting to Professor Sinistra, the Astronomy

teacher, and Hagrid was once again conspicuous only by his

absence. The enchanted ceiling above them echoed Harry’s

mood; it was a miserable rain-cloud grey.

‘Dumbledore didn’t even mention how long that Grubbly-Plank

woman’s staying,’ he said, as they made their way across to the

Gryffindor table. *• .

‘Maybe…’ said Hermione thoughtfully. ‘•’••’

‘What?’ said both Harry and Ron together.

‘Well… maybe he didn’t want to draw attention to Hagrid not

being here.’

‘What d’you mean, draw attention to it?’ said Ron, half-laughing.

‘How could we not notice?’

Before Hermione could answer, a tall black girl with long braided

hair had marched up to Harry.

‘Hi, Angelina.’

‘Hi,’ she said briskly, ‘good summer?’ And without waiting for an

answer, ‘Listen, I’ve been made Gryffindor Quidditch Captain.’

‘Nice one,’ said Harry, grinning at her; he suspected Angelina’s

pep talks might not be as long-winded as Oliver Wood’s had

been, which could only be an improvement.

‘Yeah, well, we need a new Keeper now Oliver’s left. Tryouts are

on Friday at five o’clock and I want the whole team there, all

right? Then we can see how the new person’ll fit in.’

‘OK,’ said Harry.

Angelina smiled at him and departed.

‘I’d forgotten Wood had left,’ said Hermione vaguely as she sat

down beside Ron and pulled a plate of toast towards her. ‘I

suppose that will make quite a difference to the team?’

‘I’s’pose,’ said Harry, taking the bench opposite. ‘He was a good

Keeper…’

‘Still, it won’t hurt to have some new blood, will it?’ said Ron.

With a whoosh and a clatter, hundreds of owls came soaring in

through the upper windows. They descended all over the Hall,

bringing letters and packages to their owners and showering the

breakfasters with droplets of water; it was clearly raining hard

outside. Hedwig was nowhere to be seen, but Harry was hardly

surprised; his only correspondent was Sirius, and he doubted

Sirius would have anything new to tell him after only twenty-four

hours apart. Hermione, however, had to move her orange juice

aside quickly to make way for a large damp barn owl bearing a

sodden Daily Prophet in its beak.

‘What are you still getting that for?’ said Harry irritably, thinking

of Seamus as Hermione placed a Knut in the leather pouch on

the owl’s leg and it took off again. ‘I’m not bothering… load of

rubbish.’

‘It’s best to know what the enemy is saying,’ said Hermione

darkly, and she unfurled the newspaper and disappeared behind

it, not emerging until Harry and Ron had finished eating.

‘Nothing,’ she said simply, rolling up the newspaper and laying it

down by her plate. ‘Nothing about you or Dumbledore or

anything.’

Professor McGonagall was now moving along the table handing

out timetables.

‘Look at today!’ groaned Ron. ‘History of Magic, double Potions,

Divination and double Defence Against the Dark Arts… Binns,

Snape, Trelawney and that Umbridge woman all in one day! I

wish Fred and George’d hurry up and get those Skiving

Snackboxes sorted…’

‘Do mine ears deceive me?’ said Fred, arriving with George and

squeezing on to the bench beside Harry. ‘Hogwarts prefects

surely don’t wish to skive off lessons?’

‘Look what we’ve got today,’ said Ron grumpily, shoving his

timetable under Fred’s nose. That’s the worst Monday I’ve ever

seen.’

‘Fair point, little bro,’ said Fred, scanning the column. ‘You can

have a bit of Nosebleed Nougat cheap if you like.’

‘Why’s it cheap?’ said Ron suspiciously.

‘Because you’ll keep bleeding till you shrivel up, we haven’t got

an antidote yet,’ said George, helping himself to a kipper.

‘Cheers,’ said Ron moodily, pocketing his timetable, ‘but I think

I’ll take the lessons.’

‘And speaking of your Skiving Snackboxes,’ said Hermione,

eyeing Fred and George beadily, ‘you can’t advertise for testers

on the Gryffindor noticeboard.’

‘Says who?’ said George, looking astonished.

‘Says me,’ said Hermione. ‘And Ron.’

‘Leave me out of it,’ said Ron hastily.

Hermione glared at him. Fred and George sniggered.

‘You’ll be singing a different tune soon enough, Hermione,’ said

Fred, thickly buttering a crumpet. ‘You’re starting your fifth year,

you’ll be begging us for a Snackbox before long.’

‘And why would starting fifth year mean I want a Skiving

Snackbox?’ asked Hermione.

‘Fifth year’s OWL year,’ said George.

‘So?’

‘So you’ve got your exams coming up, haven’t you? They’ll be

keeping your noses so hard to that grindstone they’ll be rubbed

raw,’ said Fred with satisfaction.

‘Half our year had minor breakdowns coming up to OWLs,’ said

George happily. Tears and tantrums… Patricia Stimpson kept

coming over faint…”

‘Kenneth Towler came out in boils, d’you remember?’ said Fred

reminiscently.

That’s ’cause you put Bulbadox powder in his pyjamas,’ said

George.

‘Oh yeah,’ said Fred, grinning. ‘I’d forgotten… hard to keep track

sometimes, isn’t it?’

‘Anyway, it’s a nightmare of a year, the fifth,’ said George. ‘If

you care about exam results, anyway. Fred and I managed to

keep our peckers up somehow.’

‘Yeah… you got, what was it, three OWLs each?’ said Ron.

‘Yep,’ said Fred unconcernedly. ‘But we feel our futures lie

outside the world of academic achievement.’

‘We seriously debated whether we were going to bother coming

back for our seventh year,’ said George brightly, ‘now that we’ve

got-‘

He broke off at a warning look from Harry, who knew George

had been about to mention the Triwizard winnings he had given

them.

‘- now that we’ve got our OWLs,’ George said hastily. ‘I mean, do

we really need NEWTs? But we didn’t think Mum could take us

leaving school early, not on top of Percy turning out to be the

world’s biggest prat.’

‘We’re not going to waste our last year here, though,’ said Fred,

looking afiectionately around at the Great Hall. ‘We’re going to

use it to do a bit of market research, find out exactly what the

average Hogwarts student requires from a joke shop, carefully

evaluate the results of our research, then produce products to fit

the demand.’

‘But where are you going to get the gold to start a joke shop?’

Hermione asked sceptically. ‘You’re going to need all the

ingredients and materials – and premises too, I suppose…”

Harry did not look at the twins. His face felt hot; he deliberately

dropped his fork and dived down to retrieve it. He heard Fred

say overhead, ‘Ask us no questions and we’ll tell you no lies,

Hermione. C’mon, George, if we get there early we might be able

to sell a few Extendable Ears before Herbology.’

Harry emerged from under the table to see Fred and George

walking away, each carrying a stack of toast.

‘What did that mean?’ said Hermione, looking from Harry to Ron.

‘”Ask us no questions…” Does that mean they’ve already got

some gold to start a joke shop?’

‘You know, I’ve been wondering about that,’ said Ron, his brow

furrowed. They bought me a new set of dress robes this summer

and I couldn’t understand where they got the Galleons…”

Harry decided it was time to steer the conversation out of these

dangerous waters.

‘D’you reckon it’s true this year’s going to be really tough?

Because of the exams?’

‘Oh, yeah,’ said Ron. ‘Bound to be, isn’t it? OWLs are really

important, affect the jobs you can apply for and everything. We

get career advice, too, later this year, Bill told me. So you can

choose what NEWTs you want to do next year.’

‘D’you know what you want to do after Hogwarts?’ Harry asked

the other two, as they left the Great Hall shortly afterwards and

set off towards their History of Magic classroom.

‘Not really,’ said Ron slowly. ‘Except… well…’

He looked slightly sheepish.

‘What?’ Harry urged him.

‘Well, it’d be cool to be an Auror,’ said Ron in an off-hand voice.

‘Yeah, it would,’ said Harry fervently.

‘But they’re, like, the elite,’ said Ron. ‘You’ve got to be really

good. What about you, Hermione?’

‘I don’t know,’ she said. ‘I think I’d like to do something really

worthwhile.’

‘An Auror’s worthwhile!’ said Harry.

‘Yes, it is, but it’s not the only worthwhile thing,’ said Hermione

thoughtfully, ‘I mean, if I could take SPEW further…’

Harry and Ron carefully avoided looking at each other.

History of Magic was by common consent the most boring

subject ever devised by wizardkind. Professor Binns, their ghost

teacher, had a wheezy, droning voice that was almost

guaranteed to cause severe drowsiness within ten minutes, five

in warm weather. He never varied the form of their lessons, but

lectured them without pausing while they took notes, or rather,

gazed sleepily into space. Harry and Ron had so far managed to

scrape passes in this subject only by copying Hermione’s notes

before exams; she alone seemed able to resist the soporific

power of Binns’s voice.

Today, they suffered an hour and a half’s droning on the subject

of giant wars. Harry heard just enough within the first ten

minutes to appreciate dimly that in another teacher’s hands this

subject might have been mildly interesting, but then his brain

disengaged, and he spent the remaining hour and twenty

minutes playing hangman on a corner of his parchment with Ron,

while Hermione shot them filthy looks out of the corner of her

eye.

‘How would it be,’ she asked them coldly, as they left the

classroom for break (Binns drifting away through the blackboard),

‘if I refused to lend you my notes this year?’

‘We’d fail our OWL,’ said Ron. ‘If you want that on your

conscience, Hermione…’

‘Well, you’d deserve it,’ she snapped. ‘You don’t even try to

listen to him, do you?’

‘We do try’ said Ron. ‘We just haven’t got your brains or your

memory or your concentration – you’re just cleverer than we are

– is it nice to rub it in?’

‘Oh, don’t give me that rubbish,’ said Hermione, but she looked

slightly mollified as she led the way out into the damp courtyard.

A fine misty drizzle was falling, so that the people standing in

huddles around the edges of the yard looked blurred at the

edges. Harry, Ron and Hermione chose a secluded corner under

a heavily dripping balcony, turning up the collars of their robes

against the chilly September air and talking about what Snape

was likely to set them in the first lesson of the year. They had

got as far as agreeing that it was likely to be something

extremely difficult, just to catch them off guard after a twomonth

holiday, when someone walked around the corner

towards them.

‘Hello, Harry!’

It was Cho Chang and, what was more, she was on her own

again. This was most unusual: Cho was almost always

surrounded by a gang of giggling girls; Harry remembered the

agony of trying to get her by herself to ask her to the Yule Ball.

‘Hi,’ said Harry, feeling his face grow hot. At least you’re not

covered in Stinksap this time, he told himself. Cho seemed to be

thinking along the same lines.

‘You got that stuff off, then?’

‘Yeah,’ said Harry, trying to grin as though the memory of their

last meeting was funny as opposed to mortifying. ‘So, did you…

er… have a good summer?’

The moment he had said this he wished he hadn’t – Cedric had

been Cho’s boyfriend and the memory of his death must have

affected her holiday almost as badly as it had affected Harrys.

Something seemed to tauten in her face, but she said, ‘Oh, it

was all right, you know…’

‘Is that a Tornados badge?’ Ron demanded suddenly, pointing to

the front of Cho’s robes, where a sky-blue badge emblazoned

with a double gold T’ was pinned. ‘You don’t support them, do

you?’

‘Yeah, I do,’ said Cho.

‘Have you always supported them, or just since they started

winning the league?’ said Ron, in what Harry considered an

unnecessarily accusatory tone of voice.

‘I’ve supported them since I was six,’ said Cho coolly. ‘Anyway…

see you, Harry.’

She walked away. Hermione waited until Cho was halfway across

the courtyard before rounding on Ron.

‘You are so tactless!’

‘What? I only asked her if -‘

‘Couldn’t you tell she wanted to talk to Harry on her own?’

‘So? She could’ve done, I wasn’t stopping -‘

‘Why on earth were you attacking her about her Quidditch

team?’

‘Attacking? I wasn’t attacking her, I was only -‘

‘Who cares if she supports the Tornados?’

‘Oh, come on, half the people you see wearing those badges only

bought them last season -‘

‘But what does it matter!’

‘It means they’re not real fans, they’re just jumping on the

bandwagon -‘

That’s the bell,’ said Harry dully, because Ron and Hermione

were bickering too loudly to hear it. They did not stop arguing all

the way down to Snape’s dungeon, which gave Harry plenty of

time to reflect that between Neville and Ron he would be lucky

ever to have two minutes of conversation with Cho that he could

look back on without wanting to leave the country.

And yet, he thought, as they joined the queue lining up outside

Snape’s classroom door, she had chosen to come and talk to him,

hadn’t she? She had been Cedric’s girlfriend; she could easily

have hated Harry for coming out of the Triwizard maze alive

when Cedric had died, yet she was talking to him in a perfectly

friendly way, not as though she thought him mad, or a liar, or in

some horrible way responsible for Cedric’s death… yes, she had

definitely chosen to come and talk to him, and that made the

second time in two days… and at this thought, Harry’s spirits

rose. Even the ominous sound of Snape’s dungeon door creaking

open did not puncture the small, hopeful bubble that seemed to

have swelled in his chest. He filed into the classroom behind Ron

and Hermione and followed them to their usual table at the back,

where he sat down between Ron and Hermione and ignored the

huffy, irritable noises now issuing from both of them.

‘Settle down,’ said Snape coldly, shutting the door behind him.

There was no real need for the call to order; the moment the

class had heard the door close, quiet had fallen and all fidgeting

stopped. Snape’s mere presence was usually enough to ensure a

class’s silence.

‘Before we begin today’s lesson,’ said Snape, sweeping over to

his desk and staring around at them all, ‘I think it appropriate to

remind you that next June you will be sitting an important

examination, during which you will prove how much you have

learned about the composition and use of magical potions.

Moronic though some of this class undoubtedly are, I expect you

to scrape an “Acceptable” in your OWL, or suffer my…

displeasure.’

His gaze lingered this time on Neville, who gulped.

‘After this year, of course, many of you will cease studying with

me,’ Snape went on. ‘1 take only the very best into my NEWT

Potions class, which means that some of us will certainly be

saying goodbye.’

His eyes rested on Harry and his lip curled. Harry glared back,

feeling a grim pleasure at the idea that he would be able to give

up Potions after fifth year.

‘But we have another year to go before that happy moment of

farewell,’ said Snape softly, ‘so, whether or not you are intending

to attempt NEWT, I advise all of you to concentrate your efforts

upon maintaining the high pass level I have come to expect from

my OWL students.

Today we will be mixing a potion that often comes up at

Ordinary Wizarding Level: the Draught of Peace, a potion to calm

anxiety and soothe agitation. Be warned: if you are too heavyhanded

with the ingredients you will put the drinker into a heavy

and sometimes irreversible sleep, so you will need to pay close

attention to what you are doing.’ On Harry’s left, Hermione sat

up a little straighter, her expression one of utmost attention. The

ingredients and method -‘ Snape flicked his wand ‘- are on the

blackboard -‘ (they appeared there) ‘- you will find everything

you need —’ he flicked his wand again ‘- in the store cupboard —

‘ (the door of the said cupboard sprang open) ‘- you have an

hour and a half… start.’

Just as Harry, Ron and Hermione had predicted, Snape could

hardly have set them a more difficult, fiddly potion. The

ingredients had to be added to the cauldron in precisely the right

order and quantities; the mixture had to be stirred exactly the

right number of times, firstly in clockwise, then in anti-clockwise

directions; the heat of the flames on which it was simmering had

to be lowered to exactly the right level for a specific number of

minutes before the final ingredient was added.

‘A light silver vapour should now be rising from your potion,’

called Snape, with ten minutes left to go.

Harry, who was sweating profusely, looked desperately around

the dungeon. His own cauldron was issuing copious amounts of

dark grey steam; Ron’s was spitting green sparks. Seamus was

feverishly prodding the flames at the base of his cauldron with

the tip of his wand, as they seemed to be going out. The surface

of Hermione’s potion, however, was a shimmering mist of silver

vapour, and as Snape swept by he looked down his hooked nose

at it without comment, which meant he could find nothing to

criticise.

At Harry’s cauldron, however, Snape stopped, and looked down

at it with a horrible smirk on his face.

‘Potter, what is this supposed to be?’

The Slytherins at the front of the class all looked up eagerly;

they loved hearing Snape taunt Harry.

The Draught of Peace,’ said Harry tensely.

Tell me, Potter,’ said Snape softly, ‘can you read?’

Draco Malfoy laughed.

‘Yes, I can,’ said Harry, his fingers clenched tightly around his

wand.

‘Read the third line of the instructions for me, Potter.’

Harry squinted at the blackboard; it was not easy to make out

the instructions through the haze of multi-coloured steam now

filling the dungeon.

‘”Add powdered moonstone, stir three times counter-clockwise,

allow to simmer for seven minutes then add two drops of syrup

of hellebore.”‘

His heart sank. He had not added syrup of hellebore, but had

proceeded straight to the fourth line of the instructions after

allowing his potion to simmer for seven minutes.

‘Did you do everything on the third line, Potter?’

‘No,’ said Harry very quietly.

‘I beg your pardon?’

‘No,’ said Harry, more loudly. ‘I forgot the hellebore.’

‘I know you did, Potter, which means that this mess is utterly

worthless. Evanesce.’

The contents of Harry’s potion vanished; he was left standing

foolishly beside an empty cauldron.

Those of you who have managed to read the instructions, fill one

flagon with a sample of your potion, label it clearly with your

name and bring it up to my desk for testing,’ said Snape.

‘Homework: twelve inches of parchment on the properties of

moonstone and its uses in potion-making, to be handed in on

Thursday.’

While everyone around him filled their flagons, Harry cleared

away his things, seething. His potion had been no worse than

Ron’s, which was now giving off a foul odour of bad eggs; or

Neville’s, which had achieved the consistency of just-mixed

cement and which

Neville was now having to gouge out of his cauldron; yet it was

he, Harry, who would be receiving zero marks for the day’s work.

He stuffed his wand back into his bag and slumped down on to

his seat, watching everyone else march up to Snape’s desk with

filled and corked flagons. When at long last the bell rang, Harry

was first out of the dungeon and had already started his lunch by

the time Ron and Hermione joined him in the Great Hall. The

ceiling had turned an even murkier grey during the morning.

Rain was lashing the high windows.

That was really unfair,’ said Hermione consolingly, sitting down

next to Harry and helping herself to shepherd’s pie. ‘Your potion

wasn’t nearly as bad as Goyle’s; when he put it in his flagon the

whole thing shattered and set his robes on fire.’

‘Yeah, well,’ said Harry, glowering at his plate, ‘since when has

Snape ever been fair to me?’

Neither of the others answered; all three of them knew that

Snape and Harry’s mutual enmity had been absolute from the

moment Harry had set foot in Hogwarts.

‘I did think he might be a bit better this year,’ said Hermione in a

disappointed voice. ‘I mean… you know…’ she looked around

carefully; there were half a dozen empty seats on either side of

them and nobody was passing the table ‘… now he’s in the Order

and everything.’

‘Poisonous toadstools don’t change their spots,’ said Ron sagely.

‘Anyway I’ve always thought Dumbledore was cracked to trust

Snape. Where’s the evidence he ever really stopped working for

You-Know-Who?’

‘I think Dumbledore’s probably got plenty of evidence, even if he

doesn’t share it with you, Ron,’ snapped Hermione.

‘Oh, shut up, the pair of you,’ said Harry heavily, as Ron opened

his mouth to argue back. Hermione and Ron both froze, looking

angry and offended. ‘Can’t you give it a rest?’ said Harry. ‘You’re

always having a go at each other, it’s driving me mad.’ And

abandoning his shepherd’s pie, he swung his schoolbag back

over his shoulder and left them sitting there.

He walked up the marble staircase two steps at a time, past the

many students hurrying towards lunch. The anger that had just

flared so unexpectedly still blazed inside him, and the vision of

Ron and Hermione’s shocked faces afforded him a sense of deep

satisfaction. Serve them right, he thought, why can’t they give it

a rest bickering all the time… it’s enough to drive anyone up

the wall

He passed the large picture of Sir Cadogan the knight on a

landing; Sir Cadogan drew his sword and brandished it fiercely at

Harry, who ignored him.

‘Come back, you scurvy dog! Stand fast and fight!’ yelled Sir

Cadogan in a muffled voice from behind his visor, but Harry

merely walked on and when Sir Cadogan attempted to follow him

by running into a neighbouring picture, he was rebuffed by its

inhabitant, a large and angry-looking wolfhound.

Harry spent the rest of the lunch hour sitting alone underneath

the trapdoor at the top of North Tower. Consequently, he was

the first to ascend the silver ladder that led to Sybill Trelawney’s

classroom when the bell rang.

After Potions, Divination was Harrys least favourite class, which

was due mainly to Professor Trelawney’s habit of predicting his

premature death every few lessons. A thin woman, heavily

draped in shawls and glittering with strings of beads, she always

reminded Harry of some kind of insect, with her glasses hugely

magnifying her eyes. She was busy putting copies of battered

leather-bound books on each of the spindly little tables with

which her room was littered when Harry entered the room, but

the light cast by the lamps covered by scarves and the lowburning,

sickly-scented fire was so dim she appeared not to

notice him as he took a seat in the shadows. The rest of the

class arrived over the next five minutes. Ron emerged from the

trapdoor, looked around carefully, spotted Harry and made

directly for him, or as directly as he could while having to wend

his way between tables, chairs and overstuffed pouffes.

‘Hermione and me have stopped arguing,’ he said, sitting down

beside Harry.

‘Good,’ grunted Harry.

‘But Hermione says she thinks it would be nice if you stopped

taking out your temper on us,’ said Ron.

‘I’m not -‘

‘I’m just passing on the message,’ said Ron, talking over him.

‘But I reckon she’s right. It’s not our fault how Seamus and

Snape treat you.’

‘I never said it -‘

‘Good-day,’ said Professor Trelawney in her usual misty, dreamy

voice, and Harry broke off, again feeling both annoyed and

slightly ashamed of himself. ‘And welcome back to Divination. I

have, of course, been following your fortunes most carefully over

the holidays, and am delighted to see that you have all returned

to Hogwarts safely – as, of course, I knew you would.

‘You will find on the tables before you copies of The Dream

Oracle, by Inigo Imago. Dream interpretation is a most

important means of divining the future and one that may very

probably be tested in your OWL. Not, of course, that I believe

examination passes or failures are of the remotest importance

when it comes to the sacred art of divination. If you have the

Seeing Eye, certificates and grades matter very little. However,

the Headmaster likes you to sit the examination, so…’

Her voice trailed away delicately, leaving them all in no doubt

that Professor Trelawney considered her subject above such

sordid matters as examinations.

Turn, please, to the introduction and read what Imago has to say

on the matter of dream interpretation. Then, divide into pairs.

Use The Dream Oracle to interpret each others most recent

dreams. Carry on.’

The one good thing to be said for this lesson was that it was not

a double period. By the time they had all finished reading the

introduction of the book, they had barely ten minutes left for

dream interpretation. At the table next to Harry and Ron, Dean

had paired up with Neville, who immediately embarked on a

long-winded explanation of a nightmare involving a pair of giant

scissors wearing his grandmother’s best hat; Harry and Ron

merely looked at each other glumly.

‘I never remember my dreams,’ said Ron, ‘you say one.’

‘You must remember one of them,’ said Harry impatiently.

He was not going to share his dreams with anyone. He knew

perfectly well what his regular nightmare about a graveyard

meant, he did not need Ron or Professor Trelawney or the stupid

Dream Oracle to tell him.

‘Well, I dreamed I was playing Quidditch the other night,’ said

Ron, screwing up his face in an effort to remember. ‘What d’you

reckon that means?’

‘Probably that you’re going to be eaten by a giant marshmallow

or something,’ said Harry, turning the pages of The Dream

Oracle without interest. It was very dull work looking up bits of

dreams in the Oracle and Harry was not cheered up when

Professor Trelawney set them the task of keeping a dream diary

for a month as homework. When the bell went, he and Ron led

the way back down the ladder, Ron grumbling loudly.

‘D’you realise how much homework we’ve got already? Binns set

us a foot-and-a-half-long essay on giant wars, Snape wants a

foot on the use of moonstones, and now we’ve got a month’s

dream diary from Trelawney! Fred and George weren’t wrong

about OWL year, were they? That Umbridge woman had better

not give us any…”

When they entered the Defence Against the Dark Arts classroom

they found Professor Umbridge already seated at the teacher’s

desk, wearing the fluffy pink cardigan of the night before and the

black velvet bow on top of her head. Harry was again reminded

forcibly of a large fly perched unwisely on top of an even larger

toad.

The class was quiet as it entered the room; Professor Umbridge

was, as yet, an unknown quantity and nobody knew how strict a

disciplinarian she was likely to be.

‘Well, good afternoon!’ she said, when finally the whole class had

sat down.

A few people mumbled ‘good afternoon’ in reply.

Tut, tut,’ said Professor Umbridge. ‘That won’t do, now, will it? I

should like you, please, to reply “Good afternoon, Professor

Umbridge”. One more time, please. Good afternoon, class!’

‘Good afternoon, Professor Umbridge,’ they chanted back at her.

There, now,’ said Professor Umbridge sweetly. That wasn’t too

difficult, was it? Wands away and quills out, please.’

Many of the class exchanged gloomy looks; the order ‘wands

away’ had never yet been followed by a lesson they had found

interesting. Harry shoved his wand back inside his bag and

pulled out quill, ink and parchment. Professor Umbridge opened

her handbag, extracted her own wand, which was an unusually

short one, and tapped the blackboard sharply with it; words

appeared on the board at once:

Defence Against the Dark Arts A Return to Basic Principles

‘Well now, your teaching in this subject has been rather

disrupted and fragmented, hasn’t it?’ stated Professor Umbridge,

turning to face the class with her hands clasped neatly in front of

her. The constant changing of teachers, many of whom do not

seem to have followed any Ministry-approved curriculum, has

unfortunately resulted in your being far below the standard we

would expect to see in your OWL year.

‘You will be pleased to know, however, that these problems are

now to be rectified. We will be following a carefully structured,

theory-centred, Ministry-approved course of defensive magic this

year. Copy down the following, please.’

She rapped the blackboard again; the first message vanished

and was replaced by the ‘Course Aims’.

. Understanding the principles underlying defensive magic.

. Learning to recognise situations in which defensive magic can

legally be used.

. Placing the use of defensive magic in a context for practical use.

For a couple of minutes the room was full of the sound of

scratching quills on parchment. When everyone had copied down

Professor Umbridge’s three course aims she asked, ‘Has

everybody got a copy of Defensive Magical Theory by Wilbert

Slinkhard?’

There was a dull murmur of assent throughout the class.

‘I think we’ll try that again,’ said Professor Umbridge. ‘When I

ask you a question, I should like you to reply, “Yes, Professor

Umbridge”, or “No, Professor Umbridge”. So: has everyone got a

copy of Defensive Magical Theory by Wilbert Slinkhard?’

‘Yes, Professor Umbridge,’ rang through the room.

‘Good,’ said Professor Umbridge. ‘I should like you to turn to

page five and read “Chapter One, Basics for Beginners”. There

will be no need to talk.’

Professor Umbridge left the blackboard and settled herself in the

chair behind the teacher’s desk, observing them all closely with

those pouchy toad’s eyes. Harry turned to page five of his copy

of Defensive Magical Theory and started to read.

It was desperately dull, quite as bad as listening to Professor

Binns. He felt his concentration sliding away from him; he had

soon read the same line half a dozen times without taking in

more than the first few words. Several silent minutes passed.

Next to him, Ron was absent-mindedly turning his quill over and

over in his fingers, staring at the same spot on the page. Harry

looked right and received a surprise to shake him out of his

torpor. Hermione had not even opened her copy of Defensive

Magical Theory. She was staring fixedly at Professor Umbridge

with her hand in the air.

Harry could not remember Hermione ever neglecting to read

when instructed to, or indeed resisting the temptation to open

any book that came under her nose. He looked at her enquiringly,

but she merely shook her head slightly to indicate that she was

not about to answer questions, and continued to stare at

Professor Umbridge, who was looking just as resolutely in

another direction.

After several more minutes had passed, however, Harry was not

the only one watching Hermione. The chapter they had been

instructed to read was so tedious that more and more people

were choosing to watch Hermione’s mute attempt to catch

Professor Umbridge’s eye rather than struggle on with ‘Basics for

Beginners’.

When more than half the class were staring at Hermione rather

than at their books, Professor Umbridge seemed to decide that

she could ignore the situation no longer.

‘Did you want to ask something about the chapter, dear?’ she

asked Hermione, as though she had only just noticed her.

‘Not about the chapter, no,’ said Hermione.

‘Well, we’re reading just now,’ said Professor Umbridge, showing

her small pointed teeth. ‘If you have other queries we can deal

with them at the end of class.’

‘I’ve got a query about your course aims,’ said Hermione.

Professor Umbridge raised her eyebrows.

‘And your name is?’

‘Hermione Granger,’ said Hermione.

‘Well, Miss Granger, I think the course aims are perfectly clear if

you read them through carefully’ said Professor Umbridge in a

voice of determined sweetness.

‘Well, I don’t,’ said Hermione bluntly. There’s nothing written up

there about using defensive spells.’

There was a short silence in which many members of the class

turned their heads to frown at the three course aims still written

on the blackboard.

‘Using defensive spells?’ Professor Umbridge repeated with a

little laugh. ‘Why, I can’t imagine any situation arising in my

classroom that would require you to use a defensive spell, Miss

Granger. You surely aren’t expecting to be attacked during

class?’

‘We’re not going to use magic?’ Ron exclaimed loudly.

‘Students raise their hands when they wish to speak in my class,

Mr-?’

‘Weasley,’ said Ron, thrusting his hand into the air.

Professor Umbridge, smiling still more widely, turned her back on

him. Harry and Hermione immediately raised their hands too.

Professor Umbridge’s pouchy eyes lingered on Harry for a

moment before she addressed Hermione.

‘Yes, Miss Granger? You wanted to ask something else?’

‘Yes,’ said Hermione. ‘Surely the whole point of Defence Against

the Dark Arts is to practise defensive spells?’

‘Are you a Ministry-trained educational expert, Miss Granger?’

asked Professor Umbridge, in her falsely sweet voice.

‘No, but -‘

‘Well then, I’m afraid you are not qualified to decide what the

“whole point” of any class is. Wizards much older and cleverer

than you have devised our new programme of study. You will be

learning about defensive spells in a secure, risk-free way -‘

‘What use is that?’ said Harry loudly. ‘If we’re going to be

attacked, it won’t be in a -‘

‘Hand, Mr Potter!’ sang Professor Umbridge.

Harry thrust his fist in the air. Again, Professor Umbridge

promptly turned away from him, but now several other people

had their hands up, too.

‘And your name is?’ Professor Umbridge said to Dean.

‘Dean Thomas.’

‘Well, Mr Thomas?’

‘Well, it’s like Harry said, isn’t it?’ said Dean. ‘If we’re going to be

attacked, it won’t be risk free.’

‘I repeat,’ said Professor Umbridge, smiling in a very irritating

fashion at Dean, ‘do you expect to be attacked during my

classes?’

‘No, but -‘

Professor Umbridge talked over him. ‘I do not wish to criticise

the way things have been run in this school,’ she said, an

unconvincing smile stretching her wide mouth, ‘but you have

been exposed to some very irresponsible wizards in this class,

very irresponsible indeed – not to mention,’ she gave a nasty

little laugh, ‘extremely dangerous half-breeds.’

‘If you mean Professor Lupin,’ piped up Dean angrily, ‘he was the

best we ever -‘

Hand, Mr Thomas! As I was saying – you have been introduced

to spells that have been complex, inappropriate to your age

group and potentially lethal. You have been frightened into

believing that you are likely to meet Dark attacks every other

day -‘

‘No we haven’t,’ Hermione said, ‘we just -‘

‘Your hand is not up, Miss Granger!’

Hermione put up her hand. Professor Umbridge turned away

from her.

‘It is my understanding that my predecessor not only performed

illegal curses in front of you, he actually performed them on

you.’

‘Well, he turned out to be a maniac, didn’t he?’ said Dean hotly.

‘Mind you, we still learned loads.’

Your hand is not up, Mr Thomas!’ trilled Professor Umbridge.

‘Now, it is the view of the Ministry that a theoretical knowledge

will be more than sufficient to get you through your examination,

which, after all, is what school is all about. And your name is?’

she added, staring at Parvati, whose hand had just shot up.

‘Parvati Patil, and isn’t there a practical bit in our Defence

Against the Dark Arts OWL? Aren’t we supposed to show that we

can actually do the counter-curses and things?’

‘As long as you have studied the theory hard enough, there is no

reason why you should not be able to perform the spells under

carefully controlled examination conditions,’ said Professor

Umbridge dismissively.

‘Without ever practising them beforehand?’ said Parvati

incredulously. ‘Are you telling us that the first time we’ll get to

do the spells will be during our exam?’

‘I repeat, as long as you have studied the theory hard enough -‘

‘And what good’s theory going to be in the real world?’ said

Harry loudly, his fist in the air again.

Professor Umbridge looked up.

‘This is school, Mr Potter, not the real world,’ she said softly.

‘So we’re not supposed to be prepared for what’s waiting for us

out there?’

There is nothing waiting out there, Mr Potter.’

‘Oh, yeah?’ said Harry. His temper, which seemed to have been

bubbling just beneath the surface all day, was reaching boiling

point.

‘Who do you imagine wants to attack children like yourselves?’

enquired Professor Umbridge in a horribly honeyed voice.

‘Hmm, let’s think…’ said Harry in a mock thoughtful voice.

‘Maybe… Lord VoldemortT

Ron gasped; Lavender Brown uttered a little scream; Neville

slipped sideways off his stool. Professor Umbridge, however, did

not flinch. She was staring at Harry with a grimly satisfied

expression on her face.

Ten points from Gryffindor, Mr Potter.’

The classroom was silent and still. Everyone was staring at either

Umbridge or Harry.

‘Now, let me make a few things quite plain.’

Professor Umbridge stood up and leaned towards them, her

stubby-fingered hands splayed on her desk.

‘You have been told that a certain Dark wizard has returned from

the dead -‘

‘He wasn’t dead,’ said Harry angrily, ‘but yeah, he’s returned!’

‘Mr-Potter-you-have-already-lost-your-house-ten-points-do-notmake-

matters-worse-for-yourself,’ said Professor Umbridge in

one breath without looking at him. ‘As I was saying, you have

been informed that a certain Dark wizard is at large once again.

This is a lie.’

‘It is NOT a lie!’ said Harry. ‘I saw him, I fought him!’

‘Detention, Mr Potter!’ said Professor Umbridge triumphantly.

Tomorrow evening. Five o’clock. My office. I repeat, this is a lie.

The Ministry of Magic guarantees that you are not in danger from

any Dark wizard. If you are still worried, by all means come and

see me outside class hours. If someone is alarming you with fibs

about reborn Dark wizards, I would like to hear about it. I am

here to help. I am your friend. And now, you will kindly continue

your reading. Page five, “Basics for Beginners”.’

Professor Umbridge sat down behind her desk. Harry, however,

stood up. Everyone was staring at him; Seamus looked halfscared,

half-fascinated.

‘Harry, no!’ Hermione whispered in a warning voice, tugging at

his sleeve, but Harry jerked his arm out of her reach.

‘So, according to you, Cedric Diggory dropped dead of his own

accord, did he?’ Harry asked, his voice shaking.

There was a collective intake of breath from the class, for none

of them, apart from Ron and Hermione, had ever heard Harry

talk about what had happened on the night Cedric had died.

They stared avidly from Harry to Professor Umbridge, who had

raised her eyes and was staring at him without a trace of a fake

smile on her face.

‘Cedric Diggory’s death was a tragic accident,’ she said coldly.

‘It was murder,’ said Harry. He could feel himself shaking. He

had hardly spoken to anyone about this, least of all thirty

eagerly listening classmates. ‘Voldemort killed him and you know

it.’

Professor Umbridge’s face was quite blank. For a moment, Harry

thought she was going to scream at him. Then she said, in her

softest, most sweetly girlish voice, ‘Come here, Mr Potter, dear.’

He kicked his chair aside, strode around Ron and Hermione and

up to the teacher’s desk. He could feel the rest of the class

holding its breath. He felt so angry he did not care what

happened next.

Professor Umbridge pulled a small roll of pink parchment out of

her handbag, stretched it out on the desk, dipped her quill into a

bottle of ink and started scribbling, hunched over so that Harry

could not see what she was writing. Nobody spoke. After a

minute or so she rolled up the parchment and tapped it with her

wand; it sealed itself seamlessly so that he could not open it.

Take this to Professor McGonagall, dear,’ said Professor

Umbridge, holding out the note to him.

He took it from her without saying a word, turned on his heel

and left the room, not even looking back at Ron and Hermione,

slamming the classroom door shut behind him. He walked very

fast along the corridor, the note to McGonagall clutched tight in

his hand, and turning a corner walked slap into Peeves the

poltergeist, a wide-mouthed little man floating on his back in

midair, juggling several inkwells.

‘Why it’s Potty Wee Potter!’ cackled Peeves, allowing two of the

inkwells to fall to the ground where they smashed and spattered

the walls with ink; Harry jumped backwards out of the way with

a snarl.

‘Get out of it, Peeves.’

‘Oooh, Crackpot’s feeling cranky’ said Peeves, pursuing Harry

along the corridor, leering as he zoomed along above him. ‘What

is it this time, my fine Potty friend? Hearing voices? Seeing

visions? Speaking in -‘ Peeves blew a gigantic raspberry ‘—

tongues?’

‘I said, leave me ALONE!’ Harry shouted, running down the

nearest flight of stairs, but Peeves merely slid down the banister

on his back beside him.

‘Oh, most think he’s barking, the potty wee lad, But some are

more kindly and think he’s just sad, But Peevesy knows better

and says that he’s mad —

‘SHUT UP!’

A door to his left flew open and Professor McGonagall emerged

from her office looking grim and slightly harassed.

‘What on earth are you shouting about, Potter?’ she snapped, as

Peeves cackled gleefully and zoomed out of sight. ‘Why aren’t

you in class?’

‘I’ve been sent to see you,’ said Harry stiffly.

‘Sent? What do you mean, sent?’

He held out the note from Professor Umbridge. Professor

McGonagall took it from him, frowning, slit it open with a tap of

her wand, stretched it out and began to read. Her eyes zoomed

from side to side behind their square spectacles as she read

what Umbridge had written, and with each line they became

narrower.

‘Come in here, Potter.’

He followed her inside her study. The door closed automatically

behind him.

‘Well?’ said Professor McGonagall, rounding on him. ‘Is this true?’

‘Is what true?’ Harry asked, rather more aggressively than he

had intended. ‘Professor?’ he added, in an attempt to sound

more polite.

‘Is it true that you shouted at Professor Umbridge?’

‘Yes,’ said Harry.

‘You called her a liar?’

‘Yes.’

‘You told her He Who Must Not Be Named is back?’

‘Yes.’

Professor McGonagall sat down behind her desk, watching Harry

closely. Then she said, ‘Have a biscuit, Potter.’

‘Have – what?’

‘Have a biscuit,’ she repeated impatiently, indicating a tartan tin

lying on top of one of the piles of papers on her desk. ‘And sit

down.’

There had been a previous occasion when Harry, expecting to be

caned by Professor McGonagall, had instead been appointed by

her to the Gryffindor Quidditch team. He sank into a chair

opposite her and helped himself to a Ginger Newt, feeling just as

confused and wrong-footed as he had done on that occasion.

Professor McGonagall set down Professor Umbridge’s note and

looked very seriously at Harry.

‘Potter, you need to be careful.’

Harry swallowed his mouthful of Ginger Newt and stared at her.

Her tone of voice was not at all what he was used to; it was not

brisk, crisp and stern; it was low and anxious and somehow

much more human than usual.

‘Misbehaviour in Dolores Umbridge’s class could cost you much

more than house points and a detention.’

‘What do you -?’

‘Potter, use your common sense,’ snapped Professor McGonagall,

with an abrupt return to her usual manner. ‘You know where she

comes from, you must know to whom she is reporting.’

The bell rang for the end of the lesson. Overhead and all around

came the elephantine sounds of hundreds of students on the

move.

‘It says here she’s given you detention every evening this week,

starting tomorrow,’ Professor McGonagall said, looking down at

Umbridge’s note again.

‘Every evening this week!’ Harry repeated, horrified. ‘But,

Professor, couldn’t you -?’

‘No, I couldn’t,’ said Professor McGonagall flatly.

‘But -‘

‘She is your teacher and has every right to give you detention.

You will go to her room at five o’clock tomorrow for the first one.

Just remember: tread carefully around Dolores Umbridge.’

‘But 1 was telling the truth!’ said Harry, outraged. ‘Voldemort is

back, you know he is; Professor Dumbledore knows he is -‘

‘For heaven’s sake, Potter!’ said Professor McGonagall,

straightening her glasses angrily (she had winced horribly when

he had used Voldemort’s name). ‘Do you really think this is

about truth or lies? It’s about keeping your head down and your

temper under control!’

She stood up, nostrils wide and mouth very thin, and Harry

stood up, too.

‘Have another biscuit,’ she said irritably, thrusting the tin at him.

‘No, thanks,’ said Harry coldly.

‘Don’t be ridiculous,’ she snapped. •,••

He took one.

‘Thanks,’ he said grudgingly.

‘Didn’t you listen to Dolores Umbridge’s speech at the start-ofterm

feast, Potter?’

‘Yeah,’ said Harry. ‘Yeah… she said… progress will be prohibited

or… well, it meant that… that the Ministry of Magic is trying to

interfere at Hogwarts.’

Professor McGonagall eyed him closely for a moment, then

sniffed, walked around her desk and held open the door for him.

‘Well, I’m glad you listen to Hermione Granger at any rate,’ she

said, pointing him out of her office.

— CHAPTER THIRTEEN —

Dinner in the Great Hall that night was not a pleasant experience

for Harry. The news about his shouting match with Umbridge had

travelled exceptionally fast even by Hogwarts’ standards. He

heard whispers all around him as he sat eating between Ron and

Hermione. The funny thing was that none of the whisperers

seemed to mind him overhearing what they were saying about

him. On the contrary, it was as though they were hoping he

would get angry and start shouting again, so that they could

hear his story first-hand.

‘He says he saw Cedric Diggory murdered…’

‘He reckons he duelled with You-Know-Who…’

‘Come off it…”

‘Who does he think he’s kidding?’

Tur-Zease…”

‘What I don’t get,’ said Harry through clenched teeth, laying

down his knife and fork (his hands were shaking too much to

hold them steady), ‘is why they all believed the story two

months ago when Dumbledore told them…’

‘The thing is, Harry, I’m not sure they did,’ said Hermione grimly.

‘Oh, let’s get out of here.’

She slammed down her own knife and fork; Ron looked longingly

at his half-finished apple pie but followed suit. People stared at

them all the way out of the Hall.

‘What d’you mean, you’re not sure they believed Dumbledore?’

Harry asked Hermione when they reached the first-floor landing.

‘Look, you don’t understand what it was like after it happened,’

said Hermione quietly. ‘You arrived back in the middle of the

lawn clutching Cedric’s dead body… none of us saw what

happened in the maze… we just had Dumbledore’s word for it

that You-Know-Who had come back and killed Cedric and fought

you.’

‘Which is the truth!’ said Harry loudly.

‘I know it is, Harry, so will you please stop biting my head off?’

said Hermione wearily. ‘It’s just that before the truth could sink

in, everyone went home for the summer, where they spent two

months reading about how you’re a nutcase and Dumbledore’s

going senile!’

Rain pounded on the windowpanes as they strode along the

empty corridors back to Gryffindor Tower. Harry felt as though

his first day had lasted a week, but he still had a mountain of

homework to do before bed. A dull pounding pain was developing

over his right eye. He glanced out of a rain-washed window at

the dark grounds as they turned into the Fat Lady’s corridor.

There was still no light in Hagrid’s cabin.

Mimbulus mimbletonia,’ said Hermione, before the Fat Lady

could ask. The portrait swung open to reveal the hole behind it

and the three of them scrambled through it.

The common room was almost empty; nearly everyone was still

down at dinner. Crookshanks uncoiled himself from an armchair

and trotted to meet them, purring loudly, and when Harry, Ron

and Hermione took their three favourite chairs at the fireside he

leapt lightly on to Hermione’s lap and curled up there like a furry

ginger cushion. Harry gazed into the flames, feeling drained and

exhausted.

‘How can Dumbledore have let this happen?’ Hermione cried

suddenly, making Harry and Ron jump; Crookshanks leapt off

her, looking affronted. She pounded the arms of her chair in fury,

so that bits of stuffing leaked out of the holes. ‘How can he let

that terrible woman teach us? And in our OWL year, too!’

‘Well, we’ve never had great Defence Against the Dark Arts

teachers, have we?’ said Harry. ‘You know what it’s like, Hagrid

told us, nobody wants the job; they say it’s jinxed.’

‘Yes, but to employ someone who’s actually refusing to let us do

magic! What’s Dumbledore playing at?’

‘And she’s trying to get people to spy for her,’ said Ron darkly.

‘Remember when she said she wanted us to come and tell her if

we hear anyone saying You-Know-Who’s back?’

‘Of course she’s here to spy on us all, that’s obvious, why else

would Fudge have wanted her to come?’ snapped Hermione.

‘Don’t start arguing again,’ said Harry wearily, as Ron opened his

mouth to retaliate. ‘Can’t we just… let’s just do that homework,

get it out of the way…’

They collected their schoolbags from a corner and returned to

the chairs by the fire. People were coming back from dinner now.

Harry kept his face averted from the portrait hole, but could still

sense the stares he was attracting.

‘Shall we do Snape’s stuff first?’ said Ron, dipping his quill into

his ink. “The properties… of moonstone… and its uses … in

potion-making…'” he muttered, writing the words across the top

of his parchment as he spoke them. There.’ He underlined the

title, then looked up expectantly at Hermione.

‘So, what are the properties of moonstone and its uses in potionmaking?’

But Hermione was not listening; she was squinting over into the

far corner of the room, where Fred, George and Lee Jordan were

now sitting at the centre of a knot of innocent-looking first-years,

all of whom were chewing something that seemed to have come

out of a large paper bag that Fred was holding.

‘No, I’m sorry, they’ve gone too far,’ she said, standing up and

looking positively furious. ‘Come on, Ron.’

‘1 – what?’ said Ron, plainly playing for time. ‘No – come on,

Hermione – we can’t tell them off for giving out sweets.’

‘You know perfectly well that those are bits of Nosebleed Nougat

or – or Puking Pastilles or -‘

‘Fainting Fancies?’ Harry suggested quietly.

One by one, as though hit over the head with an invisible mallet,

the first-years were slumping unconscious in their seats; some

slid right on to the floor, others merely hung over the arms of

their chairs, their tongues lolling out. Most of the people

watching were laughing; Hermione, however, squared her

shoulders and marched directly over to where Fred and George

now stood with clipboards, closely observing the unconscious

first-years. Ron rose halfway out of his chair, hovered

uncertainly for a moment or two, then muttered to Harry, ‘She’s

got it under control,’ before sinking as low in his chair as his

lanky frame permitted.

That’s enough!’ Hermione said forcefully to Fred and George,

both of whom looked up in mild surprise.

‘Yeah, you’re right,’ said George, nodding, ‘this dosage looks

strong enough, doesn’t it?’

‘I told you this morning, you can’t test your rubbish on students!’

‘We’re paying them!’ said Fred indignantly.

‘I don’t care, it could be dangerous!’

‘Rubbish,’ said Fred.

‘Calm down, Hermione, they’re fine!’ said Lee reassuringly as he

walked from first-year to first-year, inserting purple sweets into

their open mouths.

‘Yeah, look, they’re coming round now,’ said George.

A few of the first-years were indeed stirring. Several looked so

shocked to find themselves lying on the floor, or dangling off

their chairs, that Harry was sure Fred and George had not

warned them what the sweets were going to do.

‘Feel all right?’ said George kindly to a small dark-haired girl

lying at his feet.

‘I – I think so,’ she said shakily.

‘Excellent,’ said Fred happily, but the next second Hermione had

snatched both his clipboard and the paper bag of Fainting

Fancies from his hands.

‘It is NOT excellent!’

‘Course it is, they’re alive, aren’t they?’ said Fred angrily.

‘You can’t do this, what if you made one of them really ill?’

‘We’re not going to make them ill, we’ve already tested them all

on ourselves, this is just to see if everyone reacts the same -‘

‘If you don’t stop doing it, I’m going to -‘

‘Put us in detention?’ said Fred, in an I’d-like-to-see-you-try-it

voice.

‘Make us write lines?’ said George, smirking.

Onlookers all over the room were laughing. Hermione drew

herself up to her full height; her eyes were narrowed and her

bushy hair seemed to crackle with electricity.

‘No,’ she said, her voice quivering with anger, ‘but I will write to

your mother.’

‘You wouldn’t,’ said George, horrified, taking a step back from

her.

‘Oh, yes, I would,’ said Hermione grimly. ‘1 can’t stop you eating

the stupid things yourselves, but you’re not to give them to the

first-years.’

Fred and George looked thunderstruck. It was clear that as far

as they were concerned, Hermione’s threat was way below the

belt. With a last threatening look at them, she thrust Fred’s

clipboard and the bag of Fancies back into his arms, and stalked

back to her chair by the fire.

Ron was now so low in his seat that his nose was roughly level

with his knees.

Thank you for your support, Ron,’ Hermione said acidly.

‘You handled it fine by yourself,’ Ron mumbled.

Hermione stared down at her blank piece of parchment for a few

seconds, then said edgily, ‘Oh, it’s no good, I can’t concentrate

now. I’m going to bed.’

She wrenched her bag open; Harry thought she was about to put

her books away, but instead she pulled out two misshapen

woolly objects, placed them carefully on a table by the fireplace,

covered them with a few screwed-up bits of parchment and a

broken quill and stood back to admire the effect.

‘What in the name of Merlin are you doing?’ said Ron, watching

her as though fearful for her sanity.

They’re hats for house-elves,’ she said briskly, now stuffing her

books back into her bag. ‘I did them over the summer. I’m a

really slow knitter without magic but now I’m back at school I

should be able to make lots more.’

‘You’re leaving out hats for the house-elves?’ said Ron slowly.

‘And you’re covering them up with rubbish first?’

‘Yes,’ said Hermione defiantly, swinging her bag on to her back.

That’s not on,’ said Ron angrily. ‘You’re trying to trick them into

picking up the hats. You’re setting them free when they might

not want to be free.’

‘Of course they want to be free!’ said Hermione at once, though

I

her face was turning pink. ‘Don’t you dare touch those hats,

Ron!’

She turned on her heel and left. Ron waited until she had

disappeared through the door to the girls’ dormitories, then

cleared the rubbish off the woolly hats.

‘They should at least see what they’re picking up,’ he said firmly.

‘Anyway…’ he rolled up the parchment on which he had written

the title of Snape’s essay, ‘there’s no point trying to finish this

now, I can’t do it without Hermione, I haven’t got a clue what

you’re supposed to do with moonstones, have you?’

Harry shook his head, noticing as he did so that the ache in his

right temple was getting worse. He thought of the long essay on

giant wars and the pain stabbed at him sharply. Knowing

perfectly well that when the morning came, he would regret not

finishing his homework that night, he piled his books back into

his bag.

‘I’m going to bed too.’

He passed Seamus on the way to the door leading to the

dormitories, but did not look at him. Harry had a fleeting

impression that Seamus had opened his mouth to speak, but he

sped up and reached the soothing peace of the stone spiral

staircase without having to endure any more provocation.

*

The following day dawned just as leaden and rainy as the

previous one. Hagrid was still absent from the staff table at

breakfast.

‘But on the plus side, no Snape today’ said Ron bracingly.

Hermione yawned widely and poured herself some coffee. She

looked mildly pleased about something, and when Ron asked her

what she had to be so happy about, she simply said, The hats

have gone. Seems the house-elves do want freedom after all.’

‘1 wouldn’t bet on it,’ Ron told her cuttingly. They might not

count as clothes. They didn’t look anything like hats to me, more

like woolly bladders.’

Hermione did not speak to him all morning.

Double Charms was succeeded by double Transfiguration.

Professor Flitwick and Professor McGonagall both spent the first

fifteen minutes of their lessons lecturing the class on the

importance of OWLs.

‘What you must remember,’ said little Professor Flitwick

squeakily perched as ever on a pile of books so that he could see

over the top of his desk, ‘is that these examinations may

influence your futures for many years to come! If you have not

already given serious thought to your careers, now is the time to

do so. And in the meantime, I’m afraid, we shall be working

harder than ever to ensure that you all do yourselves justice!’

They then spent over an hour revising Summoning Charms,

which according to Professor Flitwick were bound to come up in

their OWL, and he rounded off the lesson by setting them their

largest ever amount of Charms homework.

It was the same, if not worse, in Transfiguration.

‘You cannot pass an OWL,’ said Professor McGonagall grimly,

‘without serious application, practice and study. I see no reason

why everybody in this class should not achieve an OWL in

Transfiguration as long as they put in the work.’ Neville made a

sad little disbelieving noise. ‘Yes, you too, Longbottom,’ said

Professor McGonagall. There’s nothing wrong with your work

except lack of confidence. So… today we are starting Vanishing

Spells. These are easier than Conjuring Spells, which you would

not usually attempt until NEWT level, but they are still among

the most difficult magic you will be tested on in your OWL.’

She was quite right; Harry found the Vanishing Spells horribly

difficult. By the end of a double period neither he nor Ron had

managed to vanish the snails on which they were practising,

though Ron said hopefully he thought his looked a bit paler.

Hermione, on the other hand, successfully vanished her snail on

the third attempt, earning her a ten-point bonus for Gryffindor

from Professor McGonagall. She was the only person not given

homework; everybody else was told to practise the spell

overnight, ready for a fresh attempt on their snails the following

afternoon.

Now panicking slightly about the amount of homework they had

to do, Harry and Ron spent their lunch hour in the library looking

up the uses of moonstones in potion-making. Still angry about

Ron’s slur on her woolly hats, Hermione did not join them. By

the time they reached Care of Magical Creatures in the afternoon,

Harry’s head was aching again.

The day had become cool and breezy, and as they walked down

the sloping lawn towards Hagrid’s cabin on the edge of the

Forbidden Forest, they felt the occasional drop of rain on their

faces. Professor Grubbly-Plank stood waiting for the class some

ten yards from Hagrid’s front door, a long trestle table in front of

her laden with twigs. As Harry and Ron reached her, a loud shout

of laughter sounded behind them; turning, they saw Draco

Malfoy striding towards them, surrounded by his usual gang of

Slytherin cronies. He had clearly just said something highly

amusing, because Crabbe, Goyle, Pansy Parkinson and the rest

continued to snigger heartily as they gathered around the trestle

table and, judging by the way they all kept looking over at Harry,

he was able to guess the subject of the joke without too much

difficulty.

‘Everyone here?’ barked Professor Grubbly-Plank, once all the

Slytherins and Gryffindors had arrived. ‘Let’s crack on then. Who

can tell me what these things are called?’

She indicated the heap of twigs in front of her. Hermione’s hand

shot into the air. Behind her back, Malfoy did a buck-toothed

imitation of her jumping up and down in eagerness to answer a

question. Pansy Parkinson gave a shriek of laughter that turned

almost at once into a scream, as the twigs on the table leapt into

the air and revealed themselves to be what looked like tiny pixieish

creatures made of wood, each with knobbly brown arms and

legs, two twiglike fingers at the end of each hand and a funny

flat, barklike face in which a pair of beetle-brown eyes glittered.

‘Oooooh!’ said Parvati and Lavender, thoroughly irritating Harry.

Anyone would have thought Hagrid had never shown them

impressive creatures; admittedly, the Flobberworms had been a

bit dull, but the Salamanders and Hippogriffs had been

interesting enough, and the Blast-Ended Skrewts perhaps too

much so.

‘Kindly keep your voices down, girls!’ said Professor Grubbly-

Plank sharply, scattering a handful of what looked like brown rice

among the stick-creatures, who immediately fell upon the food.

‘So – anyone know the names of these creatures? Miss Granger?’

‘Bowtruckles,’ said Hermione. They’re tree-guardians, usually

live in wand-trees.’

‘Five points for Gryffindor,’ said Professor Grubbly-Plank. ‘Yes,

these are Bowtruckles, and as Miss Granger rightly says, they

generally live in trees whose wood is of wand quality. Anybody

know what they eat?’

‘Woodlice,’ said Hermione promptly which explained why what

Harry had taken to be grains of brown rice were moving. ‘But

fairy eggs if they can get them.’

‘Good girl, take another five points. So, whenever you need

leaves or wood from a tree in which a Bowtruckle lodges, it is

wise to have a gift of woodlice ready to distract or placate it.

They may not look dangerous, but if angered they will try to

gouge at human eyes with their fingers, which, as you can see,

are very sharp and not at all desirable near the eyeballs. So if

you’d like to gather closer, take a few woodlice and a Bowtruckle

– I have enough here for one between three – you can study

them more closely. I want a sketch from each of you with all

body-parts labelled by the end of the lesson.’

The class surged forwards around the trestle table. Harry

deliberately circled around the back so that he ended up right

next to Professor Grubbly-Plank.

‘Where’s Hagrid?’ he asked her, while everyone else was

choosing Bowtruckles.

‘Never you mind,’ said Professor Grubbly-Plank repressively,

which had been her attitude last time Hagrid had failed to turn

up for a class, too. Smirking all over his pointed face, Draco

Malfoy leaned across Harry and seized the largest Bowtruckle.

‘Maybe,’ said Malfoy in an undertone, so that only Harry could

hear him, ‘the stupid great oaf’s got himself badly injured.’

‘Maybe you will if you don’t shut up,’ said Harry out of the side of

his mouth.

‘Maybe he’s been messing with stuff that’s too big for him, if you

get my drift.’

Malfoy walked away, smirking over his shoulder at Harry, who

felt suddenly sick. Did Malfoy know something? His father was a

Death Eater after all; what if he had information about Hagrid’s

fate that had not yet reached the ears of the Order? He hurried

back around the table to Ron and Hermione who were squatting

on the grass some distance away and attempting to persuade a

Bowtruckle to remain still long enough for them to draw it. Harry

pulled out parchment and quill, crouched down beside the others

and related in a whisper what Malfoy had just said.

‘Dumbledore would know if some thing had happened to Hagrid,’

said Hermione at once. ‘It’s just playing into Malfoy’s hands to

look worried; it tells him we don’t know exactly what’s going on.

We’ve got to ignore him, Harry. Here, hold the Bowtruckle for a

moment, just so I can draw its face…’

‘Yes,’ came Malfoy’s clear drawl from the group nearest them,

‘Father was talking to the Minister just a couple of days ago, you

know, and it sounds as though the Ministry’s really determined

to crack down on sub-standard teaching in this place. So even if

that overgrown moron does show up again, he’ll probably be

sent packing straightaway.’

‘OUCH!’

Harry had gripped the Bowtruckle so hard that it had almost

snapped, and it had just taken a great retaliatory swipe at his

hand with its sharp fingers, leaving two long deep cuts there.

Harry dropped it. Crabbe and Goyle, who had already been

guffawing at the idea of Hagrid being sacked, laughed still harder

as the Bowtruckle set off at full tilt towards the Forest, a little

moving stick-man soon swallowed up among the tree roots.

When the bell echoed distantly over the grounds, Harry rolled up

his blood-stained Bowtruckle picture and marched off to

Herbology with his hand wrapped in Hermione’s handkerchief,

and Malfoy’s derisive laughter still ringing in his ears.

‘If he calls Hagrid a moron one more time…’ said Harry through

gritted teeth.

‘Harry, don’t go picking a row with Malfoy, don’t forget, he’s a

prefect now, he could make life difficult for you…’

‘Wow, I wonder what it’d be like to have a difficult life?’ said

Harry sarcastically. Ron laughed, but Hermione frowned.

Together, they traipsed across the vegetable patch. The sky still

appeared unable to make up its mind whether it wanted to rain

or not.

‘I just wish Hagrid would hurry up and get back, that’s all,’ said

Harry in a low voice, as they reached the greenhouses. ‘And

don’t say that Grubbly-Plank woman’s a better teacher!’ he

added threateningly.

‘I wasn’t going to,’ said Hermione calmly.

‘Because she’ll never be as good as Hagrid,’ said Harry firmly,

fully aware that he had just experienced an exemplary Care of

Magical Creatures lesson and was thoroughly annoyed about it.

The door of the nearest greenhouse opened and some fourthyears

spilled out of it, including Ginny.

‘Hi,’ she said brightly as she passed. A few seconds later, Luna

Lovegood emerged, trailing behind the rest of the class, a

smudge of earth on her nose, and her hair tied in a knot on the

top of her head. When she saw Harry, her prominent eyes

seemed to bulge excitedly and she made a beeline straight for

him. Many of his classmates turned curiously to watch. Luna

took a great breath and then said, without so much as a

preliminary hello, ‘I believe He Who Must Not Be Named is back

and I believe you fought him and escaped from him.’

‘Er – right,’ said Harry awkwardly. Luna was wearing what looked

like a pair of orange radishes for earrings, a fact that Parvati and

Lavender seemed to have noticed, as they were both giggling

and pointing at her earlobes.

‘You can laugh,’ Luna said, her voice rising, apparently under the

impression that Parvati and Lavender were laughing at what she

had said rather than what she was wearing, ‘but people used to

believe there were no such things as the Blibbering Humdinger

or the Crumple-Horned Snorkack!’

‘Well, they were right, weren’t they?’ said Hermione impatiently.

There weren’t any such things as the Blibbering Humdinger or

the Crumple-Horned Snorkack.’

Luna gave her a withering look and flounced away, radishes

swinging madly Parvati and Lavender were not the only ones

hooting with laughter now.

‘D’you mind not offending the only people who believe me?’

Harry asked Hermione as they made their way into class.

‘Oh, for heaven’s sake, Harry, you can do better than her,’ said

Hermione. ‘Ginny’s told me all about her; apparently, she’ll only

believe in things as long as there’s no proof at all. Well, I

wouldn’t expect anything else from someone whose father runs

The Quibbler.’

Harry thought of the sinister winged horses he had seen on the

night he had arrived and how Luna had said she could see them

too. His spirits sank slightly. Had she been lying? But before he

could devote much more thought to the matter, Ernie Macmillan

had stepped up to him.

‘I want you to know, Potter,’ he said in a loud, carrying voice,

‘that it’s not only weirdos who support you. I personally believe

you one hundred per cent. My family have always stood firm

behind Dumbledore, and so do I.’

‘Er – thanks very much, Ernie,’ said Harry, taken aback but

pleased. Ernie might be pompous on occasions like this, but

Harry was in a mood to deeply appreciate a vote of confidence

from somebody who did not have radishes dangling from their

ears. Ernie’s words had certainly wiped the smile from Lavender

Brown’s face and as he turned to talk to Ron and Hermione,

Harry caught Seamuss expression, which looked both confused

and defiant.

To nobody’s surprise, Professor Sprout started their lesson by

lecturing them about the importance of OWLs. Harry wished all

the teachers would stop doing this; he was starting to get an

anxious, twisted feeling in his stomach every time he

remembered how much homework he had to do, a feeling that

worsened dramatically when Professor Sprout gave them yet

another essay at the . end of class. Tired and smelling strongly

of dragon dung, Professor Sprout’s preferred type of fertiliser,

the Gryffindors trooped back up to the castle an hour and a half

later, none of them talking very much; it had been another long

day.

As Harry was starving, and he had his first detention with

Umbridge at five o’clock, he headed straight for dinner without

dropping off his bag in Gryffindor Tower so that he could bolt

something down before facing whatever she had in store for him.

He had barely reached the entrance of the Great Hall, however,

when a loud and angry voice yelled, ‘Oi, Potter!’

‘What now?’ he muttered wearily, turning to face Angelina

Johnson, who looked as though she was in a towering temper.

‘I’ll tell you what now,’ she said, marching straight up to him and

poking him hard in the chest with her finger. ‘How come you’ve

landed yourself in detention for five o’clock on Friday?’

‘What?’ said Harry. ‘Why… oh yeah, Keeper tryouts!’

‘Now he remembers!’ snarled Angelina. ‘Didn’t I tell you I wanted

to do a tryout with the whole team, and find someone who fitted

in with everyone! Didn’t I tell you I’d booked the Quidditch pitch

specially? And now you’ve decided you’re not going to be there!’

‘I didn’t decide not to be there!’ said Harry, stung by the

injustice of these words. ‘I got detention from that Umbridge

woman, just because I told her the truth about You-Know-Who.’

‘Well, you can just go straight to her and ask her to let you off

on Friday,’ said Angelina fiercely, ‘and 1 don’t care how you do it.

Tell her You-Know-Who’s a figment of your imagination if you

like, just make sure you re there}’

She turned on her heel and stormed away.

‘You know what?’ Harry said to Ron and Hermione as they

entered the Great Hall. ‘I think we’d better check with

Puddlemere United whether Oliver Wood’s been killed during a

training session, because Angelina seems to be channelling his

spirit.’

‘What d’you reckon are the odds of Umbridge letting you off on

Friday?’ said Ron sceptically, as they sat down at the Gryffindor

table.

‘Less than zero,’ said Harry glumly, tipping lamb chops on to his

plate and starting to eat. ‘Better try, though, hadn’t I? I’ll offer

to do two more detentions or something, I dunno…” He

swallowed a mouthful of potato and added, ‘I hope she doesn’t

keep me too long this evening. You realise we’ve got to write

three essays, practise Vanishing Spells for McGonagall, work out

a counter-charm for Flitwick, finish the Bowtruckle drawing and

start that stupid dream diary for Trelawney?’

Ron moaned and for some reason glanced up at the ceiling.

‘And it looks like it’s going to rain.’

‘What’s that got to do with our homework?’ said Hermione, her

eyebrows raised.

‘Nothing,’ said Ron at once, his ears reddening.

At five to five Harry bade the other two goodbye and set off for

Umbridge’s office on the third floor. When he knocked on the

door she called, ‘Come in,’ in a sugary voice. He entered

cautiously, looking around.

He had known this office under three of its previous occupants.

In the days when Gilderoy Lockhart had lived here it had been

plastered in beaming portraits of himself. When Lupin had

occupied it, it was likely you would meet some fascinating Dark

creature in a cage or tank if you came to call. In the impostor

Moody’s days it had been packed with various instruments and

artefacts for the detection of wrongdoing and concealment.

Now, however, it looked totally unrecognisable. The surfaces had

all been draped in lacy covers and cloths. There were several

vases full of dried flowers, each one residing on its own doily,

and on one of the walls was a collection of ornamental plates,

each decorated with a large technicolour kitten wearing a

different bow around its neck. These were so foul that Harry

stared at them, transfixed, until Professor Umbridge spoke again.

‘Good evening, Mr Potter.’

Harry started and looked around. He had not noticed her at first

because she was wearing a luridly flowered set of robes that

blended only too well with the tablecloth on the desk behind her.

‘Evening, Professor Umbridge,’ Harry said stiffly.

‘Well, sit down,’ she said, pointing towards a small table draped

in lace beside which she had drawn up a straight-backed chair. A

piece of blank parchment lay on the table, apparently waiting for

him.

‘Er,’ said Harry, without moving. ‘Professor Umbridge. Er – before

we start, I – I wanted to ask you a… a favour.’

Her bulging eyes narrowed.

‘Oh, yes?’

‘Well, I’m… I’m in the Gryffindor Quidditch team. And I was

supposed to be at the tryouts for the new Keeper at five o’clock

on Friday and I was – was wondering whether I could skip

detention that night and do it – do it another night… instead…’

He knew long before he reached the end of his sentence that it

was no good.

‘Oh, no,’ said Umbridge, smiling so widely that she looked as

though she had just swallowed a particularly juicy fly. ‘Oh, no,

no, no. This is your punishment for spreading evil, nasty,

attention-seeking stories, Mr Potter, and punishments certainly

cannot be adjusted to suit the guilty one’s convenience. No, you

will come

•r here at five o’clock tomorrow, and the next day, and on Friday

too, and you will do your detentions as planned. I think it rather

a good thing that you are missing something you really want to

do. It ought to reinforce the lesson I am trying to teach you.’

Harry felt the blood surge to his head and heard a thumping

noise in his ears. So he told ‘evil, nasty, attention-seeking

stones’, did he?

She was watching him with her head slightly to one side, still

smiling widely, as though she knew exactly what he was thinking

and was waiting to see whether he would start shouting again.

With a massive effort, Harry looked away from her, dropped his

schoolbag beside the straight-backed chair and sat down.

There,’ said Umbridge sweetly, ‘we’re getting better at

controlling our temper already, aren’t we? Now, you are going to

be doing some lines for me, Mr Potter. No, not with your quill,’

she added, as Harry bent down to open his bag. ‘You’re going to

be using a rather special one of mine. Here you are.’

She handed him a long, thin black quill with an unusually sharp

point.

‘I want you to write, / must not tell lies,’ she told him softly.

‘How many times?’ Harry asked, with a creditable imitation of

politeness.

‘Oh, as long as it takes for the message to sink in,’ said

Umbridge sweetly. ‘Off you go.’

She moved over to her desk, sat down and bent over a stack of

parchment that looked like essays for marking. Harry raised the

sharp black quill, then realised what was missing.

‘You haven’t given me any ink,’ he said.

‘Oh, you won’t need ink,’ said Professor Umbridge, with the

merest suggestion of a laugh in her voice.

Harry placed the point of the quill on the paper and wrote: /

must not tell lies.

He let out a gasp of pain. The words had appeared on the

parchment in what appeared to be shining red ink. At the same

time, the words had appeared on the back of Harrys right hand,

cut into his skin as though traced there by a scalpel – yet even

as he stared at the shining cut, the skin healed over again,

leaving the place where it had been slightly redder than before

but quite smooth.

Harry looked round at Umbridge. She was watching him, her

wide, toadlike mouth stretched in a smile.

‘Yes?’

‘Nothing,’ said Harry quietly.

He looked back at the parchment, placed the quill on it once

more, wrote I must not tell lies, and felt the searing pain on the

back of his hand for a second time; once again, the words had

been cut into his skin; once again, they healed over seconds

later.

And on it went. Again and again Harry wrote the words on the

parchment in what he soon came to realise was not ink, but his

own blood. And, again and again, the words were cut into the

back of his hand, healed, and reappeared the next time he set

quill to parchment.

Darkness fell outside Umbridge’s window. Harry did not ask

when he would be allowed to stop. He did not even check his

watch. He knew she was watching him for signs of weakness and

he was not going to show any, not even if he had to sit there all

night, cutting open his own hand with this quill…

‘Come here,’ she said, after what seemed hours.

He stood up. His hand was stinging painfully. When he looked

down at it he saw that the cut had healed, but that the skin

there was red raw.

‘Hand,’ she said.

He extended it. She took it in her own. Harry repressed a

shudder as she touched him with her thick, stubby fingers on

which she wore a number of ugly old rings.

Tut, tut, 1 don’t seem to have made much of an impression yet,’

she said, smiling. ‘Well, we’ll just have to try again tomorrow

evening, won’t we? You may go.’

Harry left her office without a word. The school was quite

deserted; it was surely past midnight. He walked slowly up the

corridor, then, when he had turned the corner and was sure she

would not hear him, broke into a run.

*

He had not had time to practise Vanishing Spells, had not written

a single dream in his dream diary and had not finished the

drawing of the Bowtruckle, nor had he written his essays. He

skipped breakfast next morning to scribble down a couple of

made-up dreams for Divination, their first lesson, and was

surprised to find a dishevelled Ron keeping him company.

‘How come you didn’t do it last night?’ Harry asked, as Ron

stared wildly around the common room for inspiration. Ron, who

had been fast asleep when Harry got back to the dormitory,

muttered something about ‘doing other stuff, bent low over his

parchment and scrawled a few words.

That’ll have to do,’ he said, slamming the diary shut. ‘I’ve said I

dreamed 1 was buying a new pair of shoes, she can’t make

anything weird out of that, can she?’

They hurried off to North Tower together.

‘How was detention with Umbridge, anyway? What did she make

you do?’

Harry hesitated for a fraction of a second, then said, ‘Lines.’

That’s not too bad, then, eh?’ said Ron.

‘Nope,’ said Harry.

‘Hey – I forgot – did she let you off for Friday?’

‘No,’ said Harry.

Ron groaned sympathetically.

It was another bad day for Harry; he was one of the worst in

Transfiguration, not having practised Vanishing Spells at all. He

had to give up his lunch hour to complete the picture of the

Bowtruckle and, meanwhile, Professors McGonagall, Grubbly-

Plank and Sinistra gave them yet more homework, which he had

no prospect of finishing that evening because of his second

detention with Umbridge. To cap it all, Angelina Johnson tracked

him down at dinner again and, on learning that he would not be

able to attend Friday’s Keeper tryouts, told him she was not at

all impressed by his attitude and that she expected players who

wished to remain on the team to put training before their other

commitments.

‘I’m in detention!’ Harry yelled after her as she stalked away.

‘D’you think I’d rather be stuck in a room with that old toad or

playing Quidditch?’

‘At least it’s only lines,’ said Hermione consolingly, as Harry sank

back on to his bench and looked down at his steak and kidney

pie, which he no longer fancied very much. ‘It’s not as if it’s a

dreadful punishment, really…”

Harry opened his mouth, closed it again and nodded. He was not

really sure why he was not telling Ron and Hermione exactly

what was happening in Umbridge’s room: he only knew that he

did not want to see their looks of horror; that would make the

whole thing seem worse and therefore more difficult to face. He

also felt dimly that this was between himself and Umbridge, a

private battle of wills, and he was not going to give her the

satisfaction of hearing that he had complained about it.

‘I can’t believe how much homework we’ve got,’ said Ron

miserably.

‘Well, why didn’t you do any last night?’ Hermione asked him.

‘Where were you, anyway?’

‘I was… I fancied a walk,’ said Ron shiftily.

Harry had the distinct impression that he was not alone in

concealing things at the moment.

*

The second detention was just as bad as the previous one. The

skin on the back of Harry’s hand became irritated more quickly

now and was soon red and inflamed. Harry thought it unlikely

that it would keep healing as effectively for long. Soon the cut

would remain etched into his hand and Umbridge would, perhaps,

be satisfied. He let no gasp of pain escape him, however, and

from the moment of entering the room to the moment of his

dismissal, again past midnight, he said nothing but ‘good

evening’ and ‘goodnight’.

His homework situation, however, was now desperate, and when

he returned to the Gryffindor common room he did not, though

exhausted, go to bed, but opened his books and began Snape’s

moonstone essay. It was half past two by the time he had

finished it. He knew he had done a poor job, but there was no

help for it; unless he had something to give in he would be in

detention with Snape next. He then dashed off answers to the

questions Professor McGonagall had set them, cobbled together

something on the proper handling of Bowtruckles for Professor

Grubbly-Plank, and staggered up to bed, where he fell fully

clothed on top of the covers and fell asleep immediately.

X

Thursday passed in a haze of tiredness. Ron seemed very sleepy

too, though Harry could not see why he should be. Harry’s third

detention passed in the same way as the previous two, except

that after two hours the words ‘/ must not tell lies’ did not fade

from the back of Harrys hand, but remained scratched there,

oozing droplets of blood. The pause in the pointed quill’s

scratching made Professor Umbridge look up.

‘Ah,’ she said softly, moving around her desk to examine his

hand herself. ‘Good. That ought to serve as a reminder to you,

oughtn’t it? You may leave for tonight.’

‘Do I still have to come back tomorrow?’ said Harry picking up

his schoolbag with his left hand rather than his smarting right

one.

‘Oh yes,’ said Professor Umbridge, smiling as widely as before.

‘Yes, I think we can etch the message a little deeper with

another evening’s work.’

Harry had never before considered the possibility that there

might be another teacher in the world he hated more than Snape,

but as he walked back towards Gryffindor Tower he had to admit

he had found a strong contender. She’s evil, he thought, as he

climbed a staircase to the seventh floor, she’s an evil, twisted,

mad old-

‘Ron?’

He had reached the top of the stairs, turned right and almost

walked into Ron, who was lurking behind a statue of Lachlan the

Lanky, clutching his broomstick. He gave a great leap of surprise

when he saw Harry and attempted to hide his new Cleansweep

Eleven behind his back.

‘What are you doing?’

‘Er – nothing. What are you doing?’

Harry frowned at him.

‘Come on, you can tell me! What are you hiding here for?’

‘I’m – I’m hiding from Fred and George, if you must know,’ said

Ron. They just went past with a bunch of first-years, I bet

they’re testing stuff on them again. I mean, they can’t do it in

the common room now, can they, not with Hermione there.’

He was talking in a very fast, feverish way.

‘But what have you got your broom for, you haven’t been flying,

have you?’ Harry asked.

‘I – well – well, OK, I’ll tell you, but don’t laugh, all right?’ Ron

said defensively, turning redder with every second. ‘I – I thought

I’d try out for Gryffindor Keeper now I’ve got a decent broom.

There. Go on. Laugh.’

‘I’m not laughing,’ said Harry. Ron blinked. ‘It’s a brilliant idea!

It’d be really cool if you got on the team! I’ve never seen you

play Keeper, are you good?’

‘I’m not bad,’ said Ron, who looked immensely relieved at

Harry’s reaction. ‘Charlie, Fred and George always made me

Keep for them when they were training during the holidays.’

‘So you’ve been practising tonight?’

‘Every evening since Tuesday… just on my own, though. I’ve

been trying to bewitch Quaffles to fly at me, but it hasn’t been

easy and I don’t know how much use it’ll be.’ Ron looked

nervous and anxious. ‘Fred and George are going to laugh

themselves stupid when I turn up for the tryouts. They haven’t

stopped taking the mickey out of me since I got made a prefect.’

‘I wish I was going to be there,’ said Harry bitterly, as they set

off together towards the common room.

‘Yeah, so do – Harry, what’s that on the back of your hand?’

Harry, who had just scratched his nose with his free right hand,

tried to hide it, but had as much success as Ron with his

Cleansweep.

‘It’s just a cut – it’s nothing – it’s -‘

But Ron had grabbed Harry’s forearm and pulled the back of

Harry’s hand up level with his eyes. There was a pause, during

which he stared at the words carved into the skin, then, looking

sick, he released Harry.

‘I thought you said she was just giving you lines?’

Harry hesitated, but after all, Ron had been honest with him, so

he told Ron the truth about the hours he had been spending in

Umbridge’s office.

The old hag!’ Ron said in a revolted whisper as they came to a

halt in front of the Fat Lady, who was dozing peacefully with her

head against her frame. ‘She’s sick! Go to McGonagall, say

something!’

‘No,’ said Harry at once. ‘I’m not giving her the satisfaction of

knowing she’s got to me.’

Got to you? You can’t let her get away with this!’

‘I don’t know how much power McGonagall’s got over her,’ said

Harry.

‘Dumbledore, then, tell Dumbledore!’

‘No,’ said Harry flatly.

‘Why not?’

‘He’s got enough on his mind,’ said Harry, but that was not the

true reason. He was not going to go to Dumbledore for help

when Dumbledore had not spoken to him once since June.

‘Well, 1 reckon you should -‘ Ron began, but he was interrupted

by the Fat Lady, who had been watching them sleepily and now

burst out, ‘Are you going to give me the password or will 1 have

to stay awake all night waiting for you to finish your

conversation?’

*

Friday dawned sullen and sodden as the rest of the week.

Though Harry automatically glanced towards the staff table when

he entered the Great Hall, it was without any real hope of seeing

Hagrid, and he turned his mind immediately to his more pressing

problems, such as the mountainous pile of homework he had to

do and the prospect of yet another detention with Umbridge.

Two things sustained Harry that day. One was the thought that it

was almost the weekend; the other was that, dreadful though his

final detention with Umbridge was sure to be, he had a distant

view of the Quidditch pitch from her window and might, with luck,

be able to see something of Ron’s tryout. These were rather

feeble rays of light, it was true, but Harry was grateful for

anything that might lighten his present darkness; he had never

had a worse first week of term at Hogwarts.

At five o’clock that evening he knocked on Professor Umbridge’s

office door for what he sincerely hoped would be the final time,

and was told to enter. The blank parchment lay ready for him on

the lace-covered table, the pointed black quill beside it.

‘You know what to do, Mr Potter,’ said Umbridge, smiling sweetly

at him.

Harry picked up the quill and glanced through the window. If he

just shifted his chair an inch or so to the right… on the pretext of

shifting himseli closer to the table, he managed it. He now had a

distant view of the Gryffindor Quidditch team soaring up and

down the pitch, while half a dozen black figures stood at the foot

of the three high goalposts, apparently awaiting their turn to

Keep. It was impossible to tell which one was Ron at this

distance.

I must not tell lies, Harry wrote. The cut in the back of his right

hand opened and began to bleed atresh.

I must not tell lies. The cut dug deeper, stinging and smarting.

I must not tell lies. Blood trickled down his wrist.

He chanced another glance out of the window. Whoever was

defending the goalposts now was doing a very poor job indeed.

Katie Bell scored twice in the few seconds Harry dared to watch.

Hoping very much that the Keeper wasn’t Ron, he dropped his

eyes back to the parchment shining with blood.

I must not tell lies.

I must not tell lies.

He looked up whenever he thought he could risk it; when he

could hear the scratching of Umbridges quill or the opening of a

desk drawer. The third person to try out was pretty good, the

fourth was terrible, the fifth dodged a Bludger exceptionally well

but then fumbled an easy save. The sky was darkening, and

Harry doubted he would be able to see the sixth and seventh

people at all.

I must not tell lies.

I must not tell lies.

The parchment was now dotted with drops of blood from the

back of his hand, which was searing with pain. When he next

looked up, night had fallen and the Quidditch pitch was no longer

visible.

‘Let’s see if you’ve got the message yet, shall we?’ said

Umbridges soft voice half an hour later.

She moved towards him, stretching out her short ringed fingers

for his arm. And then, as she took hold of him to examine the

words now cut into his skin, pain seared, not across the back of

his hand, but across the scar on his forehead. At the same time,

he had a most peculiar sensation somewhere around his midriff.

He wrenched his arm out of her grip and leapt to his feet, staring

at her. She looked back at him, a smile stretching her wide,

slack mouth.

‘Yes, it hurts, doesn’t it?’ she said softly.

He did not answer. His heart was thumping very hard and fast.

Was she talking about his hand or did she know what he had just

felt in his forehead?

‘Well, I think I’ve made my point, Mr Potter. You may go.’

He caught up his schoolbag and left the room as quickly as he

could.

Stay calm, he told himself, as he sprinted up the stairs. Stay

calm, it doesn’t necessarily mean what you think it means

Mimbulus mimbletonia!’ he gasped at the Fat Lady, who swung

forwards once more.

A roar of sound greeted him. Ron came running towards him,

beaming all over his face and slopping Butterbeer down his front

from the goblet he was clutching.

‘Harry, I did it, I’m in, I’m Keeper!’

‘What? Oh – brilliant!’ said Harry, trying to smile naturally, while

his heart continued to race and his hand throbbed and bled.

‘Have a Butterbeer.’ Ron pressed a bottle on him. ‘1 can’t believe

it – where’s Hermione gone?’

‘She’s there,’ said Fred, who was also swigging Butterbeer, and

pointed to an armchair by the fire. Hermione was dozing in it,

her drink tipping precariously in her hand.

‘Well, she said she was pleased when I told her,’ said Ron,

looking slightly put out.

‘Let her sleep,’ said George hastily. It was a few moments before

Harry noticed that several of the first-years gathered around

them bore unmistakeable signs of recent nosebleeds.

‘Come here, Ron, and see if Oliver’s old robes fit you,’ called

Katie Bell, ‘we can take off his name and put yours on instead…’

As Ron moved away, Angelina came striding up to Harry.

‘Sorry I was a bit short with you earlier, Potter,’ she said

abruptly. ‘It’s stressful this managing lark, you know, I’m

starting to think I was a bit hard on Wood sometimes.’ She was

watching Ron over the rim of her goblet with a slight frown on

her face.

‘Look, I know he’s your best mate, but he’s not fabulous,’ she

said bluntly. ‘I think with a bit of training he’ll be all right,

though. He comes from a family of good Quidditch players. I’m

banking on him turning out to have a bit more talent than he

showed today, to be honest. Vicky Frobisher and Geoffrey

Hooper both flew better this evening, but Hoopers a real whiner,

he’s always moaning about something or other, and Vicky’s

involved in all sorts of societies. She admitted herself that if

training clashed with her Charms Club she’d put Charms first.

Anyway, we’re having a practice session at two o’clock tomorrow,

so just make sure you’re there this time. And do me a favour

and help Ron as much as you can, OK?’

He nodded, and Angelina strolled back to Alicia Spinnet. Harry

moved over to sit next to Hermione, who awoke with a jerk as

he put down his bag.

‘Oh, Harry, it’s you… good about Ron, isn’t it?’ she said blearily.

‘I’m just so-so – so tired,’ she yawned. ‘I was up until one o’clock

making more hats. They’re disappearing like mad!’

And sure enough, now that he looked, Harry saw that there were

woolly hats concealed all around the room where unwary elves

might accidentally pick them up.

‘Great,’ said Harry distractedly; if he did not tell somebody soon,

he would burst. ‘Listen, Hermione, I was just up in Umbridge’s

office and she touched my arm

Hermione listened closely. When Harry had (inished, she said

slowly ‘You’re worried You-Know-Who’s controlling her like he

controlled Quirrell?’

‘Well,’ said Harry, dropping his voice, ‘it’s a possibility, isn’t it?’

‘I suppose so,’ said Hermione, though she sounded unconvinced.

‘But I don’t think he can be possessing her the way he possessed

Quirrell, I mean, he’s properly alive again now, isn’t he, he’s got

his own body, he wouldn’t need to share someone else’s. He

could have her under the Imperius Curse, I suppose…”

Harry watched Fred, George and Lee Jordan juggling empty

Butterbeer bottles for a moment. Then Hermione said, ‘But last

year your scar hurt when nobody was touching you, and didn’t

Dumbledore say it had to do with what You-Know-Who was

feeling at the time? I mean, maybe this hasn’t got anything to do

with

Umbridge at all, maybe it’s just coincidence it happened while

you were with her?’

‘She’s evil,’ said Harry flatly. Twisted.’

‘She’s horrible, yes, but… Harry, I think you ought to tell

Dumbledore your scar hurt.’

It was the second time in two days he had been advised to go to

Dumbledore and his answer to Hermione was just the same as

his answer to Ron.

‘I’m not bothering him with this. Like you just said, its not a big

deal. It’s been hurting on and off all summer – it was just a bit

worse tonight, that’s all -‘

‘Harry, I’m sure Dumbledore would want to be bothered by this –

‘Yeah,’ said Harry, before he could stop himself, ‘that’s the only

bit of me Dumbledore cares about, isn’t it, my scar?’

‘Don’t say that, it’s not true!’

‘I think I’ll write and tell Sirius about it, see what he thinks -‘

‘Harry, you can’t put something like that in a letter!’ said

Hermione, looking alarmed. ‘Don’t you remember, Moody told us

to be careful what we put in writing! We just can’t guarantee

owls aren’t being intercepted any more!’

‘All right, all right, I won’t tell him, then!’ said Harry irritably. He

got to his feet. ‘I’m going to bed. Tell Ron for me, will you?’

‘Oh no,’ said Hermione, looking relieved, ‘if you’re going that

means I can go too, without being rude. I’m absolutely

exhausted and I want to make some more hats tomorrow. Listen,

you can help me if you like, it’s quite fun, I’m getting better, I

can do patterns and bobbles and all sorts of things now.’

Harry looked into her face, which was shining with glee, and

tried to look as though he was vaguely tempted by this offer.

‘Er… no, I don’t think I will, thanks,’ he said. ‘Er- not tomorrow.

I’ve got loads of homework to do…’

And he traipsed off to the boys’ stairs, leaving her looking

slightly disappointed.

— CHAPTER FOURTEEN —

Percy and Padfoot

Harry was first to wake up in his dormitory next morning. He lay

for a moment watching dust swirl in the ray of sunlight coming

through the gap in his four-posters hangings, and savoured the

thought that it was Saturday. The first week of term seemed to

have dragged on for ever, like one gigantic History of Magic

lesson.

Judging by the sleepy silence and the freshly minted look of that

beam of sunlight, it was just after daybreak. He pulled open the

curtains around his bed, got up and started to dress. The only

sound apart from the distant twittering of birds was the slow,

deep breathing of his fellow Gryffindors. He opened his

schoolbag carefully, pulled out parchment and quill and headed

out of the dormitory for the common room.

Making straight for his favourite squashy old armchair beside the

now extinct fire, Harry settled himself down comfortably and

unrolled his parchment while looking around the room. The

detritus of crumpled-up bits of parchment, old Gobstones, empty

ingredient jars and sweet wrappers that usually covered the

common room at the end of each day was gone, as were all

Hermione’s elf hats. Wondering vaguely how many elves had

now been set free whether they wanted to be or not, Harry

uncorked his ink bottle, dipped his quill into it, then held it

suspended an inch above the smooth yellowish surface of his

parchment, thinking hard… but after a minute or so he found

himself staring into the empty grate, at a complete loss for what

to say.

He could now appreciate how hard it had been for Ron and

Hermione to write him letters over the summer. How was he

supposed to tell Sirius everything that had happened over the

past week and pose all the questions he was burning to ask

without giving potential letter-thieves a lot of information he did

not want them to have?

He sat quite motionless for a while, gazing into the fireplace,:

then, finally coming to a decision, he dipped his quill into the ink

bottle once more and set it resolutely on the parchment.

Dear Snuffles,

Hope you’re OK, the first week back here’s been terrible, I’m

really

glad it’s the weekend.

We’ve got a new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher,

Professor Umbridge. She’s nearly as nice as your mum. I’m

writing because that thing I wrote to you about last summer

happened again last night when I was doing a detention with

Umbridge.

We’re all missing our biggest friend, we hope he’ll be back soon.

Please write back quickly.

Best,

Harry

Harry reread the letter several times, trying to see it from the

point of view of an outsider. He could not see how they would

know what he was talking about – or who he was talking to – just

from reading this letter. He did hope Sirius would pick up the

hint about Hagrid and tell them when he might be back. Harry

did not want to ask directly in case it drew too much attention to

what Hagrid might be up to while he was not at Hogwarts.

Considering it was a very short letter, it had taken a long time to

write; sunlight had crept halfway across the room while he had

been working on it and he could now hear distant sounds of

movement from the dormitories above. Sealing the parchment

carefully, he climbed through the portrait hole and headed off for

the Owlery.

‘I would not go that way if I were you,’ said Nearly Headless Nick,

drifting disconcertingly through a wall just ahead of Harry as he

walked down the passage. ‘Peeves is planning an amusing joke

on the next person to pass the bust of Paracelsus halfway down

the corridor.’

‘Does it involve Paracelsus falling on top of the persons head?’

asked Harry.

‘Funnily enough, it does,’ said Nearly Headless Nick in a bored

voice. ‘Subtlety has never been Peeves’s strong point. I’m off to

try and find the Bloody Baron… he might be able to put a stop to

it… see you, Harry

‘Yeah, bye,’ said Harry and instead of turning right, he turned

left, taking a longer but safer route up to the Owlery. His spirits

rose as he walked past window after window showing brilliantly

blue sky; he had training later, he would be back on the

Quidditch pitch at last.

Something brushed his ankles. He looked down and saw the

caretaker’s skeletal grey cat, Mrs Norns, slinking past him. She

turned lamplike yellow eyes on him for a moment before

disappearing behind a statue of Wilfred the Wistful.

‘I’m not doing anything wrong,’ Harry called after her. She had

the unmistakeable air of a cat that was ofi to report to her boss,

yet Harry could not see why; he was perfectly entitled to walk up

to the Owlery on a Saturday morning.

The sun was high in the sky now and when Harry entered the

Owlery the glassless windows dazzled his eyes; thick silvery

beams of sunlight crisscrossed the circular room in which

hundreds of owls nestled on rafters, a little restless in the earlymorning

light, some clearly just returned from hunting. The

straw-covered floor crunched a little as he stepped across tiny

animal bones, craning his neck for a sight of Hedwig.

There you are,’ he said, spotting her somewhere near the very

top of the vaulted ceiling. ‘Get down here, I’ve got a letter for

you.”

With a low hoot she stretched her great white wings and soared

down on to his shoulder.

‘Right, I know this says Snuffles on the outside,’ he told her,

giving her the letter to clasp in her beak and, without knowing

exactly why, whispering, ‘but it’s for Sirius, OK?’

She blinked her amber eyes once and he took that to mean that

she understood.

‘Safe flight, then,’ said Harry and he carried her to one of the

windows; with a moment’s pressure on his arm, Hedwig took off

into the blindingly bright sky. He watched her until she became a

tiny black speck and vanished, then switched his gaze to

Hagrid’s hut, clearly visible from this window, and just as clearly

uninhabited, the chimney smokeless, the curtains drawn.

The treetops of the Forbidden Forest swayed in a light breeze.

Harry watched them, savouring the fresh air on his face, thinking

about Quidditch later… then he saw it. A great, reptilian winged

horse, just like the ones pulling the Hogwarts carriages, with

leathery black wings spread wide like a pterodactyl’s, rose up out

of the trees like a grotesque, giant bird. It soared in a great

circle, then plunged back into the trees. The whole thing had

happened so quickly, Harry could hardly believe what he had

seen, except that his heart was hammering madly.

The Owlery door opened behind him. He leapt in shock and,

turning quickly, saw Cho Chang holding a letter and a parcel in

her hands.

‘Hi,’ said Harry automatically.

‘Oh… hi,’ she said breathlessly. ‘I didn’t think anyone would be

up here this early… I only remembered five minutes ago, it’s my

mum’s birthday.’

She held up the parcel.

‘Right,’ said Harry. His brain seemed to have jammed. He

wanted to say something funny and interesting, but the memory

of that terrible winged horse was fresh in his mind.

‘Nice day,’ he said, gesturing to the windows. His insides seemed

to shrivel with embarrassment. The weather. He was talking

about the weather

‘Yeah,’ said Cho, looking around for a suitable owl. ‘Good

Quidditch conditions. 1 haven’t been out all week, have you?’

‘No,’ said Harry.

Cho had selected one of the school barn owls. She coaxed it

down on to her arm where it held out an obliging leg so that she

could attach the parcel.

‘Hey, has Gryffindor got a new Keeper yet?’ she asked.

‘Yeah,’ said Harry. ‘It’s my friend Ron Weasley, d’you know him?’

The Tornados-hater?’ said Cho rather coolly. ‘Is he any good?’

‘Yeah,’ said Harry, ‘I think so. I didn’t see his tryout, though, I

was in detention.’

Cho looked up, the parcel only half-attached to the owl’s legs.

That Umbridge woman’s foul,’ she said in a low voice. ‘Putting

you in detention just because you told the truth about how – how

– how he died. Everyone heard about it, it was all over the school.

You were really brave standing up to her like that.’

Harry’s insides re-inflated so rapidly he felt as though he might

actually float a few inches off the dropping-strewn floor. Who

cared about a stupid flying horse; Cho thought he had been

really brave. For a moment, he considered accidentally-onpurpose

showing her his cut hand as he helped her tie her parcel

on to her owl… but the very instant this thrilling thought

occurred, the Owlery door opened again.

Filch the caretaker came wheezing into the room. There were

purple patches on his sunken, veined cheeks, his jowls were

aquiver and his thin grey hair dishevelled; he had obviously run

here. Mrs Norris came trotting at his heels, gazing up at the owls

overhead and mewing hungrily. There was a restless shifting of

wings from above and a large brown owl snapped his beak in a

menacing fashion.

‘Aha!’ said Filch, taking a flat-footed step towards Harry, his

pouchy cheeks trembling with anger. ‘I’ve had a tip-off that you

are intending to place a massive order for DungbombsP

Harry folded his arms and stared at the caretaker.

‘Who told you 1 was ordering Dungbombs?’

Cho was looking from Harry to Filch, also frowning; the barn owl

on her arm, tired of standing on one leg, gave an admonitory

hoot but she ignored it.

‘I have my sources,’ said Filch in a self-satisfied hiss. ‘Now hand

over whatever it is you’re sending.’

Feeling immensely thankful that he had not dawdled in posting

off the letter, Harry said, ‘I can’t, it’s gone.’

Gone?’ said Filch, his face contorting with rage.

‘Gone,’ said Harry calmly.

Filch opened his mouth furiously, mouthed for a few seconds,

then raked Harrys robes with his eyes.

‘How do I know you haven’t got it in your pocket?’

‘Because -‘

‘I saw him send it,’ said Cho angrily.

Filch rounded on her.

‘You saw him -?’

That’s right, I saw him,’ she said fiercely.

There was a moments pause in which Filch glared at Cho and

Cho glared right back, then the caretaker turned on his heel and

shuffled back towards the door. He stopped with his hand on the

handle and looked back at Harry.

‘If I get so much as a whiff of a Dungbomb

He stumped off down the stairs. Mrs Norris cast a last longing

look at the owls and followed him.

Harry and Cho looked at each other.

Thanks,’ Harry said.

‘No problem,’ said Cho, finally fixing the parcel to the barn owl’s

other leg, her face slightly pink. ‘You weren’t ordering

Dungbombs, were you?’

‘No,’ said Harry.

‘I wonder why he thought you were, then?’ she said as she

carried the owl to the window.

Harry shrugged. He was quite as mystified by that as she was,

though oddly it was not bothering him very much at the moment.

They left the Owlery together. At the entrance of a corridor that

led towards the west wing of the castle, Cho said, ‘I’m going this

way. Well, I’ll… I’ll see you around, Harry.’

‘Yeah… see you.’

She smiled at him and departed. Harry walked on, feeling quietly

elated. He had managed to have an entire conversation with her

and not embarrassed himself once… you were really brave

standing up to her like that… Cho had called him brave… she did

not hate him for being alive…

Ol course, she had preferred Cedric, he knew that… though if

he’d only asked her to the Ball before Cedric had, things might

have turned out differently… she had seemed sincerely sorry that

she’d had to refuse when Harry asked her…

‘Morning,’ Harry said brightly to Ron and Hermione as he joined

them at the Gryffindor table in the Great Hall.

‘What are you looking so pleased about?’ said Ron, eyeing Harry

in surprise.

‘Erm… Quidditch later,’ said Harry happily, pulling a large platter

of bacon and eggs towards him.

‘Oh… yeah…’ said Ron. He put down the piece of toast he was

eating and took a large swig of pumpkin juice. Then he said,

‘Listen… you don’t fancy going out a bit earlier with me, do you?

Just to – er – give me some practice before training? So I can,

you know, get my eye in a bit.’

‘Yeah, OK,’ said Harry.

‘Look, 1 don’t think you should,’ said Hermione seriously. ‘You’re

both really behind on homework as it -‘

But she broke off; the morning post was arriving and, as usual,

the Daily Prophet was soaring towards her in the beak of a

screech owl, which landed perilously close to the sugar bowl and

held out a leg. Hermione pushed a Knut into its leather pouch,

took the newspaper, and scanned the front page critically as the

owl took off.

‘Anything interesting?’ said Ron. Harry grinned, knowing Ron

was keen to keep her off the subject of homework.

‘No,’ she sighed, ‘just some guff about the bass player in the

Weird Sisters getting married.’

Hermione opened the paper and disappeared behind it. Harry

devoted himself to another helping of eggs and bacon. Ron was

staring up at the high windows, looking slightly preoccupied.

‘Wait a moment,’ said Hermione suddenly. ‘Oh no… Sirius!’

‘What’s happened?’ said Harry, snatching at the paper so

violently it ripped down the middle, with him and Hermione each

holding one half.

“The Ministry of Magic has received a tip-off from a reliable

source that Sirius Black, notorious mass murderer… blah blah

blah… is currently hiding in London!”‘ Hermione read from her

half in an anguished whisper.

‘Lucius Malfoy I’ll bet anything,’ said Harry in a low, furious voice.

‘He did recognise Sirius on the platform…’

‘What?’ said Ron, looking alarmed. ‘You didn’t say -‘

‘Shh!’ said the other two.

… “Ministry warns wizarding community that Black is very

dangerous… killed thirteen people… broke out of Azkaban …” the

usual rubbish,’ Hermione concluded, laying down her half of the

paper and looking fearfully at Harry and Ron. ‘Well, he just won’t

be able to leave the house again, that’s all,’ she whispered.

‘Dumbledore did warn him not to.’

Harry looked down glumly at the bit ol the Prophet he had torn

off. Most of the page was devoted to an advertisement for

Madam Malkins Robes for All Occasions, which was apparently

having a sale.

‘Hey!’ he said, flattening it down so Hermione and Ron could see

it. ‘Look at this!’

‘I’ve got all the robes I want,’ said Ron.

‘No,’ said Harry. ‘Look… this little piece here…’

Ron and Hermione bent closer to read it; the item was barely an

inch long and placed right at the bottom of a column. It was

headlined:

TRESPASS AT MINISTRY

Sturgis Podmore, 38, of number two, Laburnum Gardens,

Clapham, has appeared in front of the Wizengamot charged with

trespass and attempted robbery at the Ministry of Magic on 3ISI

August. Podmore was arrested by Ministry of Magic watchwizard

Eric Munch, who found him attempting to force his way through

a top-security door at one o’clock in the morning. Podmore, who

refused to speak in his own defence, was convicted on both

charges and sentenced to six months in Azkaban.

‘Sturgis Podmore?’ said Ron slowly. ‘He’s that bloke who looks

like his head’s been thatched, isn’t he? He’s one of the Ord—’

‘Ron, shh!’ said Hermione, casting a terrified look around them.

‘Six months in Azkaban!’ whispered Harry, shocked. ‘Just for

trying to get through a door!’

‘Don’t be silly, it wasn’t just for trying to get through a door.

What on earth was he doing at the Ministry of Magic at one

o’clock in the morning?’ breathed Hermione.

‘D’you reckon he was doing something for the Order?’ Ron

muttered.

‘Wait a moment…’ said Harry slowly. ‘Sturgis was supposed to

come and see us off, remember?’

The other two looked at him.

‘Yeah, he was supposed to be part of our guard going to King’s

Cross, remember? And Moody was all annoyed because he didn’t

turn up; so he couldn’t have been on a job for them, could he?’

‘Well, maybe they didn’t expect him to get caught,’ said

Hermione.

‘It could be a frame-up!’ Ron exclaimed excitedly. ‘No – listen!’

he went on, dropping his voice dramatically at the threatening

look on Hermione’s face. The Ministry suspects he’s one of

Dumbledore’s lot so – I dunno – they lured him to the Ministry,

and he wasn’t trying to get through a door at all! Maybe they’ve

just made something up to get him!’

There was a pause while Harry and Hermione considered this.

Harry thought it seemed far-fetched. Hermione, on the other

hand, looked rather impressed.

‘Do you know, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if that were true.’

She folded up her half of the newspaper thoughtfully. As Harry

laid down his knife and fork, she seemed to come out of a

reverie.

‘Right, well, I think we should tackle that essay for Sprout on

self-fertilising shrubs first and if we’re lucky we’ll be able to start

McGonagall’s Inanimatus Conjurus Spell before lunch…’

Harry felt a small twinge of guilt at the thought of the pile of

homework awaiting him upstairs, but the sky was a clear,

exhilarating blue, and he had not been on his Firebolt for a

week…

‘I mean, we can do it tonight,’ said Ron, as he and Harry walked

down the sloping lawns towards the Quidditch pitch, their

broomsticks over their shoulders, and with Hermione’s dire

warnings that they would fail all their OWLs still ringing in their

ears. ‘And we’ve got tomorrow. She gets too worked up about

work, that’s her trouble…’ There was a pause and he added, in a

slightly more anxious tone, ‘D’you think she meant it when she

said we weren’t copying from her?’

‘Yeah, I do,’ said Harry. ‘Still, this is important, too, we’ve got to

practise if we want to stay on the Quidditch team…’

‘Yeah, that’s right,’ said Ron, in a heartened tone. ‘And we have

got plenty of time to do it all…’

As they approached the Quidditch pitch, Harry glanced over to

his right to where the trees of the Forbidden Forest were swaying

darkly. Nothing flew out of them; the sky was empty but for a

few distant owls fluttering around the Owlery tower. He had

enough to worry about; the flying horse wasn’t doing him any

harm; he pushed it out of his mind.

They collected balls from the cupboard in the changing room and

set to work, Ron guarding the three tall goalposts, Harry playing

Chaser and trying to get the Quaffle past Ron. Harry thought

Ron was pretty good; he blocked three-quarters of the goals

Harry attempted to put past him and played better the longer

they practised. After a couple of hours they returned to the

castle for lunch – during which Hermione made it quite clear she

thought they were irresponsible — then returned to the

Quidditch pitch for the real training session. All their teammates

but Angelina were already in the changing room when they

entered.

‘All right, Ron?’ said George, winking at him.

‘Yeah,’ said Ron, who had become quieter and quieter all the

way down to the pitch.

‘Ready to show us all up, Ickle Prefect?’ said Fred, emerging

tousle-haired from the neck of his Quidditch robes, a slightly

malicious grin on his face.

‘Shut up,’ said Ron, stony-faced, pulling on his own team robes

for the first time. They fitted him well considering they had been

Oliver Wood’s, who was rather broader in the shoulder.

‘OK, everyone,’ said Angelina, entering from the Captain’s office,

already changed. ‘Let’s get to it; Alicia and Fred, if you can just

bring out the ball crate for us. Oh, and there are a couple of

people out there watching but I want you to just ignore them, all

right?’

Something in her would-be casual voice made Harry think he

might know who the uninvited spectators were, and sure enough,

when they left the changing room for the bright sunlight of the

pitch it was to a storm of catcalls and jeers from the Slytherin

Quidditch team and assorted hangers-on, who were grouped

halfway up the empty stands and whose voices echoed loudly

around the stadium.

‘What’s that Weasley’s riding?’ Malfoy called in his sneering drawl.

‘Why would anyone put a flying charm on a mouldy old log like

that?’

Crabbe, Goyle and Pansy Parkinson guffawed and shrieked with

laughter. Ron mounted his broom and kicked off from the ground

and Harry followed him, watching his ears turn red from behind.

‘Ignore them,’ he said, accelerating to catch up with Ron, ‘we’ll

see who’s laughing after we play them…’

‘Exactly the attitude I want, Harry,’ said Angelina approvingly,

soaring around them with the Quaffle under her arm and slowing

to hover on the spot in front of her airborne team. ‘OK, everyone,

we’re going to start with some passes just to warm up, the

whole team please -‘

‘Hey, Johnson, what’s with that hairstyle, anyway?’ shrieked

Pansy Parkinson from below. ‘Why would anyone want to look

like they’ve got worms coming out of their head?’

Angelina swept her long braided hair out of her face and

continued calmly, ‘Spread out, then, and let’s see what we can

do…’

Harry reversed away from the others to the far side of the pitch.

Ron fell back towards the opposite goal. Angelina raised the

Quaffle with one hand and threw it hard to Fred, who passed to

George, who passed to Harry, who passed to Ron, who dropped

it.

The Slytherins, led by Malfoy, roared and screamed with laughter.

Ron, who had pelted towards the ground to catch the Quaffle

before it landed, pulled out of the dive untidily, so that he

slipped sideways on his broom, and returned to playing height,

blushing. Harry saw Fred and George exchange looks, but

uncharacteristically neither of them said anything, for which he

was grateful.

‘Pass it on, Ron,’ called Angelina, as though nothing had

happened.

Ron threw the Quaffle to Alicia, who passed back to Harry, who

passed to George…

‘Hey, Potter, how’s your scar feeling?’ called Malfoy. ‘Sure you

don’t need a lie down? It must be, what, a whole week since you

were in the hospital wing, that’s a record for you, isn’t it?’

George passed to Angelina; she reverse-passed to Harry, who

had not been expecting it, but caught it in the very tips of his

fingers and passed it quickly to Ron, who lunged for it and

missed by inches.

‘Come on now, Ron,’ said Angelina crossly, as he dived for the

ground again, chasing the Quaffle. ‘Pay attention.’

It would have been hard to say whether Ron’s face or the Quaffle

was a deeper scarlet when he again returned to playing height.

Malfoy and the rest of the Slytherin team were howling with

laughter.

On his third attempt, Ron caught the Quaffle; perhaps out of

relief he passed it on so enthusiastically that it soared straight

through Katie’s outstretched hands and hit her hard in the face.

‘Sorry!’ Ron groaned, zooming forwards to see whether he had

done any damage.

‘Get back in position, she’s fine!’ barked Angelina. ‘But as you’re

passing to a teammate, do try not to knock her off her broom,

won’t you? We’ve got Bludgers for that!’

Katie’s nose was bleeding. Down below, the Slytherins were

stamping their feet and jeering. Fred and George converged on

Katie.

‘Here, take this,’ Fred told her, handing her something small and

purple from out of his pocket, ‘it’ll clear it up in no time.’

‘All right,’ called Angelina, ‘Fred, George, go and get your bats

and a Bludger. Ron, get up to the goalposts. Harry, release the

Snitch when I say so. We’re going to aim for Ron’s goal,

obviously.’

Harry zoomed off after the twins to fetch the Snitch.

‘Ron’s making a right pig’s ear of things, isn’t he?’ muttered

George, as the three of them landed at the crate containing the

balls and opened it to extract one of the Bludgers and the Snitch.

‘He’s just nervous,’ said Harry, ‘he was fine when I was

practising with him this morning.’

‘Yeah, well, I hope he hasn’t peaked too soon,’ said Fred

gloomily.

They returned to the air. When Angelina blew her whistle, Harry

released the Snitch and Fred and George let fly the Bludger.

From that moment on, Harry was barely aware of what the

others were doing. It was his job to recapture the tiny fluttering

golden ball that was worth a hundred and fifty points to the

Seeker’s team and doing so required enormous speed and skill.

He accelerated, rolling and swerving in and out of the Chasers,

the warm autumn air whipping his face, and the distant yells of

the Slytherins so much meaningless roaring in his ears… but too

soon, the whistle brought him to a halt again.

‘Stop – stop – STOP!’ screamed Angelina. ‘Ron – you’re not

covering your middle post!’

Harry looked round at Ron, who was hovering in front of the lefthand

hoop, leaving the other two completely unprotected.

‘Oh… sorry…’

‘You keep shifting around while you’re watching the Chasers!’

said Angelina. ‘Either stay in centre position until you have to

move to defend a hoop, or else circle the hoops, but don’t drift

vaguely off to one side, that’s how you let in the last three

goals!’

‘Sorry…’ Ron repeated, his red face shining like a beacon against

the bright blue sky.

‘And Katie, can’t you do something about that nosebleed?’

‘It’s just getting worse!’ said Katie thickly, attempting to stem

the flow with her sleeve.

Harry glanced round at Fred, who was looking anxious and

checking his pockets. He saw Fred pull out something purple,

examine it for a second and then look round at Katie, evidently

horror-struck.

‘Well, let’s try again,’ said Angelina. She was ignoring the

Slytherins, who had now set up a chant of ‘Gryffindor are losers,

Gryffindor are losers,’ but there was a certain rigidity about her

seat on the broom nevertheless.

This time they had been flying for barely three minutes when

Angelinas whistle sounded. Harry, who had just sighted the

Snitch circling the opposite goalpost, pulled up feeling distinctly

aggrieved.

‘What now?’ he said impatiently to Alicia, who was nearest.

‘Katie,’ she said shortly.

Harry turned and saw Angelina, Fred and George all flying as fast

as they could towards Katie. Harry and Alicia sped towards her,

too. It was plain that Angelina had stopped training just in time;

Katie was now chalk white and covered in blood.

‘She needs the hospital wing,’ said Angelina.

‘We’ll take her,’ said Fred. ‘She – er – might have swallowed a

Blood Blisterpod by mistake -‘

‘Well, there’s no point continuing with no Beaters and a Chaser

gone,’ said Angelina glumly as Fred and George zoomed off

towards the castle supporting Katie between them. ‘Come on,

let’s go and get changed.’

The Slytherins continued to chant as they trailed back into the

changing rooms.

‘How was practice?’ asked Hermione rather coolly half an hour

later, as Harry and Ron climbed through the portrait hole into

the Gryffindor common room.

‘It was -‘ Harry began.

‘Completely lousy,’ said Ron in a hollow voice, sinking into a

chair beside Hermione. She looked up at Ron and her frostiness

seemed to melt.

‘Well, it was only your first one,’ she said consolingly, ‘it’s bound

to take time to -‘

‘Who said it was me who made it lousy?’ snapped Ron.

‘No one,’ said Hermione, looking taken aback, ‘I thought -‘

‘You thought I was bound to be rubbish?’

‘No, of course I didn’t! Look, you said it was lousy so 1 just -‘

‘I’m going to get started on some homework,’ said Ron angrily

and stomped off to the staircase to the boys’ dormitories and

vanished from sight. Hermione turned to Harry.

‘Was he lousy?’

‘No,’ said Harry loyally.

Hermione raised her eyebrows.

‘Well, 1 suppose he could’ve played better,’ Harry muttered, ‘but

it was only the first training session, like you said…’

Neither Harry nor Ron seemed to make much headway with their

homework that night. Harry knew Ron was too preoccupied with

how badly he had performed at Quidditch practice and he himself

was having difficulty in getting the ‘Gryffindor are losers’ chant

out of his head.

They spent the whole of Sunday in the common room, buried in

their books while the room around them filled up, then emptied.

It was another clear, fine day and most of their fellow

Gryffindors spent the day out in the grounds, enjoying what

might well be some of the last sunshine that year. By the

evening, Harry felt as though somebody had been beating his

brain against the inside of his skull.

‘You know, we probably should try and get more homework done

during the week,’ Harry muttered to Ron, as they finally laid

aside Professor McGonagall’s long essay on the Inanimatus

Conjurus Spell and turned miserably to Professor Sinistra’s

equally long and difficult essay about Jupiter’s many moons.

‘Yeah,’ said Ron, rubbing slightly bloodshot eyes and throwing

his fifth spoiled bit of parchment into the fire beside them.

‘Listen… shall we just ask Hermione if we can have a look at

what she’s done?’

Harry glanced over at her; she was sitting with Crookshanks on

her lap and chatting merrily to Ginny as a pair of knitting needles

flashed in midair in front of her, now knitting a pair of shapeless

elf socks.

‘No,’ he said heavily, ‘you know she won’t let us.’

And so they worked on while the sky outside the windows

became steadily darker. Slowly, the crowd in the common room

began to thin again. At half past eleven, Hermione wandered

over to them, yawning.

‘Nearly done?’

‘No,’ said Ron shortly.

‘Jupiter’s biggest moon is Ganymede, not Callisto,’ she said,

pointing over Ron’s shoulder at a line in his Astronomy essay,

‘and it’s lo that’s got the volcanoes.’

Thanks,’ snarled Ron, scratching out the offending sentences.

‘Sorry, I only -‘

‘Yeah, well, if you’ve just come over here to criticise -‘

‘Ron -‘

‘I haven’t got time to listen to a sermon, all right, Hermione, I’m

up to my neck in it here -‘

‘No – look!’

Hermione was pointing to the nearest window. Harry and Ron

both looked over. A handsome screech owl was standing on the

windowsill, gazing into the room at Ron.

‘Isn’t that Hermes?’ said Hermione, sounding amazed.

‘Blimey, it is!’ said Ron quietly, throwing down his quill and

getting to his feet. ‘What’s Percy writing to me for?’

He crossed to the window and opened it; Hermes flew inside,

landed on Ron’s essay and held out a leg to which a letter was

attached. Ron took the letter off it and the owl departed at once,

leaving inky footprints across Ron’s drawing of the moon lo.

That’s definitely Percy’s handwriting,’ said Ron, sinking back into

his chair and staring at the words on the outside of the scroll:

Ronald Weasley, Gryffindor House, Hogwarts. He looked up at

the other two. ‘What d’you reckon?’

‘Open it!’ said Hermione eagerly, and Harry nodded.

Ron unrolled the scroll and began to read. The further down the

parchment his eyes travelled, the more pronounced became his

scowl. When he had finished reading, he looked disgusted. He

thrust the letter at Harry and Hermione, who leaned towards

each other to read it together:

Dear Ron,

I have only just heard (from no less a person than the Minister

for Magic himself, who has it from your new teacher, Professor

Umbridge) that you have become a Hogwarts prefect.

was most pleasantly surprised when I heard this news and must

firstly offer my congratulations. 1 must admit that I have always

been afraid that you would take what we might call the ‘Fred and

George’ route, rather than following in my footsteps, so you can

imagine my feelings on hearing you have stopped flouting

authority and have decided to shoulder some real responsibility.

But I want to give you more than congratulations, Ron, I want to

give you some advice, which is why I am sending this at night

rather than by the usual morning post. Hopefully, you will be

able to read this away from prying eyes and avoid awkward

questions.

From something the Minister let slip when telling me you are

now a prefect, I gather that you are still seeing a lot of Harry

Potter. 1 must tell you, Ron, that nothing could put you in

danger of losing your badge more than continued fraternisation

with that boy. Yes, I am sure you are surprised to hear this – no

doubt you will say that Potter has always been Dumbledore’s

favourite — but I feel bound to tell you that Dumbledore may not

be in charge at Hogwarts much longer and the people who count

have a very different – and probably more accurate – view of

Potter’s behaviour. I shall say no more here, but if you look at

the Daily Prophet

tomorrow you will get a good idea of the way the wind is blowing

and see if you can spot yours truly!

Seriously, Ron, you do not want to be tarred with the same

brush as Potter, it could be very damaging to your future

prospects, and I am talking here about life after school, too. As

you must be aware, given that our father escorted him to court,

Potter had a disciplinary hearing this summer in front of the

whole Wizengamot and he did not come out of it looking too

good. He got off on a mere technicality, if you ask me, and many

of the people I’ve spoken to remain convinced of his guilt.

It may be that you are afraid to sever ties with Potter – / know

that he can be unbalanced and, for all I know, violent – but if you

have any worries about this, or have spotted anything else in

Potter’s behaviour that is troubling you, I urge you to speak to

Dolores Umbridge, a truly delightful woman who I know will be

only too happy to advise you.

This leads me to my other bit of advice. As I have hinted above,

Dumbledore’s regime at Hogwarts may soon be over. Your

loyalty, Ron, should be not to him, but to the school and the

Ministry. I am very sorry to hear that, so far, Professor Umbridge

is encountering very little co-operation from staff as she strives

to make those necessary changes within Hogwarts that the

Ministry so ardently desires (although she should find this easier

from next week — again, see the Daily Prophet tomorrow!). I

shall say only this – a student who shows himself willing to help

Professor Umbridge now may be very well-placed for Head

Boyship in a couple of years!

I am sorry that I was unable to see more of you over the

summer. It pains me to criticise our parents, but I am afraid i

can no longer live under their roof while they remain mixed up

with the dangerous crowd around Dumbledore. (If you are

writing to Mother at any point, you might tell her that a certain

Sturgis Podmore, who is a great friend of Dumbledore’s, has

recently been sent to Azkabanfor trespass at the Ministry.

Perhaps that will open their eyes to the kind of petty criminals

with whom they are currently rubbing shoulders.) I count myself

very lucky to have escaped the stigma of association with such

people – the Minister really could not be more gracious to me —

and 1 do hope, Ron, that you will

not allow family ties to blind you to the misguided nature of our

parents’ beliefs and actions, either. I sincerely hope that, in time,

they will realise how mistaken they were and I shall, of course,

be ready to accept a full apology when that day comes.

Please think over what I have said most carefully, particularly

the bit about Harry Potter, and congratulations again on

becoming prefect.

Your brother,

Percy

Harry looked up at Ron.

‘Well,’ he said, trying to sound as though he found the whole

thing a joke, ‘if you want to – er – what is it?’ – he checked

Percy’s letter – ‘Oh yeah – “sever ties” with me, I swear 1 won’t

get violent.’

‘Give it back,’ said Ron, holding out his hand. ‘He is -‘ Ron said

jerkily, tearing Percy’s letter in half ‘the world’s -‘ he tore it into

quarters ‘biggest -‘ he tore it into eighths ‘git.’ He threw the

pieces into the fire.

‘Come on, we’ve got to get this finished sometime before dawn,’

he said briskly to Harry, pulling Professor Sinistra’s essay back

towards him.

Hermione was looking at Ron with an odd expression on her face.

‘Oh, give them here,’ she said abruptly.

‘What?’ said Ron.

‘Give them to me, I’ll look through them and correct them,’ she

said.

‘Are you serious? Ah, Hermione, you’re a life-saver,’ said Ron,

‘what can I -?’

‘What you can say is, “We promise we’ll never leave our

homework this late again,”‘ she said, holding out both hands for

their essays, but she looked slightly amused all the same.

Thanks a million, Hermione,’ said Harry weakly, passing over his

essay and sinking back into his armchair, rubbing his eyes.

It was now past midnight and the common room was deserted

but for the three of them and Crookshanks. The only sound was

that of Hermione’s quill scratching out sentences here and there

on their essays and the ruffle of pages as she checked various

facts in the reference books strewn across the table. Harry was

exhausted. He also felt an odd, sick, empty feeling in his

stomach that had nothing to do with tiredness and everything to

do with the letter now curling blackly in the heart of the fire.

He knew that half the people inside Hogwarts thought him

strange, even mad; he knew that the Daily Prophet had been

making snide allusions to him for months, but there was

something about seeing it written down like that in Percys

writing, about knowing that Percy was advising Ron to drop him

and even to tell tales about him to Umbridge, that made his

situation real to him as nothing else had. He had known Percy

for four years, had stayed in his house during the summer

holidays, shared a tent with him during the Quidditch World Cup,

had even been awarded full marks by him in the second task of

the Triwizard Tournament last year, yet now, Percy thought him

unbalanced and possibly violent.

And with a surge of sympathy for his godfather, Harry thought

Sirius was probably the only person he knew who could really

understand how he felt at the moment, because Sirius was in the

same situation. Nearly everyone in the wizarding world thought

Sirius a dangerous murderer and a great Voldemort supporter

and he had had to live with that knowledge for fourteen years…

Harry blinked. He had just seen something in the fire that could

not have been there. It had flashed into sight and vanished

immediately. No… it could not have been… he had imagined it

because he had been thinking about Sirius…

‘OK, write that down,’ Hermione said to Ron, pushing his essay

and a sheet covered in her own writing back to Ron, ‘then add

this conclusion I’ve written for you.’

‘Hermione, you are honestly the most wonderful person I’ve ever

met,’ said Ron weakly, ‘and if I’m ever rude to you again -‘

‘- I’ll know you’re back to normal,’ said Hermione. ‘Harry, yours

is OK except for this bit at the end, I think you must have

misheard Professor Sinistra, Europa’s covered in ice, not mice –

Harry?’

Harry had slid off his chair on to his knees and was now

crouching on the singed and threadbare hearthrug, gazing into

the flames.

‘Er – Harry?’ said Ron uncertainly. ‘Why are you down there?’

‘Because I’ve just seen Sirius’s head in the fire,’ said Harry.

He spoke quite calmly; after all, he had seen Sirius’s head in this

very fire the previous year and talked to it, too; nevertheless, he

could not be sure that he had really seen it this time… it had

vanished so quickly…

‘Sirius’s head?’ Hermione repeated. ‘You mean like when he

wanted to talk to you during the Triwizard Tournament? But he

wouldn’t do that now, it would be too – Sirius!’

She gasped, gazing at the fire; Ron dropped his quill. There in

the middle of the dancing flames sat Sirius’s head, long dark hair

falling around his grinning face.

‘1 was starting to think you’d go to bed before everyone else had

disappeared,’ he said. ‘I’ve been checking every hour.’

‘You’ve been popping into the fire every hour?’ Harry said, halflaughing.

‘Just for a few seconds to check if the coast was clear.’

‘But what if you’d been seen?’ said Hermione anxiously.

‘Well, 1 think a girl – first-year, by the look of her – might’ve got

a glimpse of me earlier, but don’t worry’ Sirius said hastily, as

Hermione clapped a hand to her mouth, ‘I was gone the moment

she looked back at me and I’ll bet she just thought I was an

oddly-shaped log or something.’

‘But, Sirius, this is taking an awful risk -‘ Hermione began.

‘You sound like Molly,’ said Sirius. This was the only way I could

come up with of answering Harrys letter without resorting to a

code – and codes are breakable.’

At the mention of Harry’s letter, Hermione and Ron both turned

to stare at him.

‘You didn’t say you’d written to Sirius!’ said Hermione accusingly.

‘I forgot,’ said Harry, which was perfectly true; his meeting with

Cho in the Owlery had driven everything before it out of his mind.

‘Don’t look at me like that, Hermione, there was no way anyone

would have got secret information out of it, was there, Sirius?’

‘No, it was very good,’ said Sirius, smiling. ‘Anyway, we’d better

be quick, just in case we’re disturbed – your scar.’

‘What about -?’ Ron began, but Hermione interrupted him. .

‘We’ll tell you afterwards. Go on, Sirius.’

‘Well, I know it can’t be fun when it hurts, but we don’t think it’s

anything to really worry about. It kept aching all last year, didn’t

it?’

‘Yeah, and Dumbledore said it happened whenever Voldemort

was feeling a powerful emotion,’ said Harry, ignoring, as usual,

Ron and Hermione’s winces. ‘So maybe he was just, I dunno,

really angry or something the night I had that detention.’

‘Well, now he’s back it’s bound to hurt more often,’ said Sirius.

‘So you don’t think it had anything to do with Umbridge touching

me when I was in detention with her?’ Harry asked.

‘I doubt it,’ said Sirius. ‘I know her by reputation and I’m sure

she’s no Death Eater -‘

‘She’s foul enough to be one,’ said Harry darkly, and Ron and

Hermione nodded vigorously in agreement.

‘Yes, but the world isn’t split into good people and Death Eaters,’

said Sirius with a wry smile. ‘I know she’s a nasty piece of work,

though — you should hear Remus talk about her.’

‘Does Lupin know her?’ asked Harry quickly, remembering

Umbridge’s comments about dangerous half-breeds during her

first lesson.

‘No,’ said Sirius, ‘but she drafted a bit of anti-werewolf legislation

two years ago that makes it almost impossible for him to get a

job.’

Harry remembered how much shabbier Lupin looked these days

and his dislike of Umbridge deepened even further.

‘What’s she got against werewolves?” said Hermione angrily.

‘Scared of them, I expect,’ said Sirius, smiling at her indignation.

‘Apparently she loathes part-humans; she campaigned to have

merpeople rounded up and tagged last year, too. Imagine

wasting your time and energy persecuting merpeople when there

are little toerags like Kreacher on the loose.’

Ron laughed but Hermione looked upset.

‘Sirius!’ she said reproachfully. ‘Honestly, if you made a bit of an

effort with Kreacher, I’m sure he’d respond. After all, you are the

only member of his family he’s got left, and Professor

Dumbledore said -‘

‘So, what are Umbridge’s lessons like?’ Sirius interrupted. ‘Is she

training you all to kill half-breeds?’

‘No,’ said Harry, ignoring Hermione’s affronted look at being cut

off in her defence of Kreacher. ‘She’s not letting us use magic at

all!’

‘All we do is read the stupid textbook,’ said Ron.

‘Ah, well, that figures,’ said Sirius. ‘Our information Irom inside

the Ministry is that Fudge doesn’t want you trained in combat.’

Trained in combat!’ repeated Harry incredulously. ‘What does he

think we’re doing here, forming some sort of wizard army?’

That’s exactly what he thinks you’re doing,’ said Sirius, ‘or,

rather, that’s exactly what he’s afraid Dumbledore’s doing –

forming his own private army, with which he will be able to take

on the Ministry of Magic.’

There was a pause at this, then Ron said, That’s the most stupid

thing I’ve ever heard, including all the stuff that Luna Lovegood

comes out with.’

‘So we’re being prevented from learning Defence Against the

Dark Arts because Fudge is scared we’ll use spells against the

Ministry?’ said Hermione, looking furious.

‘Yep,’ said Sirius. ‘Fudge thinks Dumbledore will stop at nothing

to seize power. He’s getting more paranoid about Dumbledore by

the day. It’s a matter of time before he has Dumbledore arrested

on some trumped-up charge.’

This reminded Harry of Percy’s letter.

‘D’you know if there’s going to be anything about Dumbledore in

the Daily Prophet tomorrow? Ron’s brother Percy reckons there

will be -‘

‘I don’t know,’ said Sirius, ‘I haven’t seen anyone from the Order

all weekend, they’re all busy. It’s just been Kreacher and me

here

There was a definite note of bitterness in Sirius’s voice.

‘So you haven’t had any news about Hagrid, either?’

‘Ah…’ said Sirius, ‘well, he was supposed to be back by now, no

one’s sure what’s happened to him.’ Then, seeing their stricken

faces, he added quickly, ‘But Dumbledore’s not worried, so don’t

you three get yourselves in a state; I’m sure Hagrid’s fine.’

‘But if he was supposed to be back by now…’ said Hermione in a

small, anxious voice.

‘Madame Maxime was with him, we’ve been in touch with her

and she says they got separated on the journey home – but

there’s nothing to suggest he’s hurt or – well, nothing to suggest

he’s not perfectly OK.’

Unconvinced, Harry, Ron and Hermione exchanged worried looks.

‘Listen, don’t go asking too many questions about Hagrid,’ said

Sirius hastily, ‘it’ll just draw even more attention to the fact that

he’s not back and I know Dumbledore doesn’t want that.

Hagrid’s tough, he’ll be OK.’ And when they did not appear

cheered by this, Sirius added, ‘When’s your next Hogsmeade

weekend, anyway? I was thinking, we got away with the dog

disguise at the station, didn’t we? I thought I could —’

‘NO!’ said Harry and Hermione together, very loudly.

‘Sirius, didn’t you see the Daily Prophet?’ said Hermione

anxiously.

‘Oh, that,’ said Sirius, grinning, ‘they’re always guessing where I

am, they haven’t really got a clue -‘

‘Yeah, but we think this time they have,’ said Harry. ‘Something

Malfoy said on the train made us think he knew it was you, and

his father was on the platform, Sirius – you know, Lucius Malfoy –

so don’t come up here, whatever you do. If Malfoy recognises

you again -‘

‘All right, all right, I’ve got the point,’ said Sirius. He looked most

displeased. ‘Just an idea, thought you might like to get together.’

‘I would, I just don’t want you chucked back in Azkaban!’ said

Harry.

There was a pause in which Sirius looked out of the fire at Harry,

a crease between his sunken eyes.

‘You’re less like your father than I thought,’ he said finally, a

definite coolness in his voice. The risk would’ve been what made

it fun for James.’

‘Look -‘

‘Well, I’d better get going, I can hear Kreacher coming down the

stairs,’ said Sirius, but Harry was sure he was lying. Til write to

tell you a time I can make it back into the fire, then, shall I? If

you can stand to risk it?’

There was a tiny pop, and the place where Sirius’s head had

been was flickering flame once more.

— CHAPTER FIFTEEN —

The Hogwarts High Inquisitor

They had expected to have to comb Hermione’s Daily Prophet

carefully next morning to find the article Percy had mentioned in

his letter. However, the departing delivery owl had barely

cleared the top of the milk jug when Hermione let out a huge

gasp and flattened the newspaper to reveal a large photograph

of Dolores Umbridge, smiling widely and blinking slowly at them

from beneath the headline.

MINISTRY SEEKS EDUCATIONAL REFORM

DOLORES UMBR1DGE APPOINTED

FIRST EVER HIGH INQUISITOR

‘Umbridge – “High Inquisitor”?’ said Harry darkly, his half-eaten

piece of toast slipping from his fingers. ‘What does that mean?’

Hermione read aloud:

‘In a surprise move last night the Ministry of Magic passed new

legislation giving itself an unprecedented level of control at

Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

‘”The Minister has been growing uneasy about goings-on at

Hogwarts for some time,” said junior Assistant to the Minister,

Percy Weasley. “He is now responding to concerns voiced by

anxious parents, who feel the school may be moving in a

direction they do not approve of.”

‘This is not the first time in recent weeks that the Minister,

Cornelius Fudge, has used new laws to effect improvements at

the

wizarding school. As recently as 30ih August, Educational Decree

Number Twenty-two was passed, to ensure that, in the event of

the current Headmaster being unable to provide a candidate for

a teaching post, the Ministry should select an appropriate person.

‘”That’s how Dolores Umbridge came to be appointed to the

teaching staff at Hogwarts,” said Weasley last night.

“Dumbledore couldn’t find anyone so the Minister put in

Umbridge, and of course, she’s been an immediate success —”‘

‘She’s been a WHAT?’ said Harry loudly. ‘Wait, there’s more,’

said Hermione grimly.

‘”— an immediate success, totally revolutionising the teaching of

Defence Against the Dark Arts and providing the Minister with

on-the-ground feedback about what’s really happening at

Hogwarts.”

‘It is this last function that the Ministry has now formalised with

the passing of Educational Decree Number Twenty-three, which

creates the new position of Hogwarts High Inquisitor.

“This is an exciting new phase in the Minister’s plan to get to

grips with what some are calling the falling standards at

Hogwarts,” said Weasley. “The Inquisitor will have powers to

inspect her fellow educators and make sure that they are coming

up to scratch. Professor Umbridge has been offered this position

in addition to her own teaching post and we are delighted to say

that she has accepted.”

‘The Ministry’s new moves have received enthusiastic support

from parents of students at Hogwarts.

“T feel much easier in my mind now that I know Dumbledore is

being subjected to fair and objective evaluation,” said Mr Lucius

Malfoy, 41, speaking from his Wiltshire mansion last night.

“Many of us with our children’s best interests at heart have been

concerned about some of Dumbledore’s eccentric decisions in the

last few years and are glad to know that the Ministry is keeping

an eye on the situation.”

Among those eccentric decisions are undoubtedly the

controversial staff appointments previously described in this

newspaper, which have included the employment of werewolf

Remus Lupin, half-giant Rubeus Hagrid and delusional ex-Auror,

“Mad-Eye” Moody.

‘Rumours abound, of course, that Albus Dumbledore, once

Supreme Mugwump of the International Confederation of

Wizards and Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot, is no longer up to

the task of managing the prestigious school of Hogwarts.

‘”I think the appointment of the Inquisitor is a first step towards

ensuring that Hogwarts has a headmaster in whom we can all

repose our confidence,” said a Ministry insider last night.

‘Wizengamot elders Griselda Marchbanks and Tiberius Ogden

have resigned in protest at the introduction of the post of

Inquisitor to Hogwarts.

‘”Hogwarts is a school, not an outpost of Cornelius Fudge’s

office,” said Madam Marchbanks. “This is a further, disgusting

attempt to discredit Albus Dumbledore.”

‘(For a full account of Madam Marchbanks’s alleged links to .

subversive goblin groups, turn to page seventeen.)’

Hermione finished reading and looked across the table at the

other two.

‘So now we know how we ended up with Umbridge! Fudge

passed this “Educational Decree” and forced her on us! And now

he’s given her the power to inspect the other teachers!’

Hermione was breathing fast and her eyes were very bright. ‘I

can’t believe this. It’s outrageous]’

‘I know it is,’ said Harry. He looked down at his right hand,

clenched on the table-top, and saw the faint white outline of the

words Umbridge had forced him to cut into his skin.

But a grin was unfurling on Ron’s face.

‘What?’ said Harry and Hermione together, staring at him.

‘Oh, I can’t wait to see McGonagall inspected,’ said Ron happily.

‘Umbridge won’t know what’s hit her.’

‘Well, come on,’ said Hermione, jumping up, ‘we’d better get

going, if she’s inspecting Binns’s class we don’t want to be late…’

But Professor Umbridge was not inspecting their History of Magic

lesson, which was just as dull as the previous Monday, nor was

she in Snape’s dungeon when they arrived for double Potions,

where Harry’s moonstone essay was handed back to him with a

large, spiky black ‘D’ scrawled in an upper corner.

THE Hoc WARTS HIGH INQUISITOR

‘I have awarded you the grades you would have received if you

presented this work in your OWL,’ said Snape with a smirk, as he

swept among them, passing back their homework. This should

give you a realistic idea of what to expect in the examination.’

Snape reached the front of the class and turned on his heel to

face them.

The general standard of this homework was abysmal. Most of

you would have failed had this been your examination. I expect

to see a great deal more effort for this weeks essay on the

various varieties of venom antidotes, or I shall have to start

handing out detentions to those dunces who get a “D’V

He smirked as Malfoy sniggered and said in a carrying whisper,

‘Some people got a “D”? Ha!’

Harry realised that Hermione was looking sideways to see what

grade he had received; he slid his moonstone essay back into his

bag as quickly as possible, feeling that he would rather keep that

information private.

Determined not to give Snape an excuse to fail him this lesson,

Harry read and reread every line of instructions on the

blackboard at least three times before acting on them. His

Strengthening Solution was not precisely the clear turquoise

shade of Hermione’s but it was at least blue rather than pink,

like Neville’s, and he delivered a flask of it to Snape’s desk at the

end of the lesson with a feeling of mingled defiance and relief.

‘Well, that wasn’t as bad as last week, was it?’ said Hermione, as

they climbed the steps out of the dungeon and made their way

across the Entrance Hall towards lunch. ‘And the homework

didn’t go too badly, either, did it?’

When neither Ron nor Harry answered, she pressed on, ‘I mean,

all right, 1 didn’t expect the top grade, not if he’s marking to

OWL standard, but a pass is quite encouraging at this stage,

wouldn’t you say?’

Harry made a non-committal noise in his throat.

‘Of course, a lot can happen between now and the exam, we’ve

got plenty of time to improve, but the grades we’re getting now

are a sort of baseline, aren’t they? Something we can build on…”

They sat down together at the Gryffmdor table.

‘Obviously, I’d have been thrilled if I’d got an “O” -‘

‘Hermione,’ said Ron sharply ‘if you want to know what grades

we got, ask.’ : -‘

‘I don’t – I didn’t mean – well, if you want to tell me -‘ ••-

‘I got a “P”,’ said Ron, ladling soup into his bowl. ‘Happy?’

‘Well, that’s nothing to be ashamed of,’ said Fred, who had just

arrived at the table with George and Lee Jordan and was sitting

down on Harry’s right. ‘Nothing wrong with a good healthy “P”.’

‘But,’ said Hermione, ‘doesn’t “P” stand for…”

‘”Poor”, yeah,’ said Lee Jordan. ‘Still, better than “D”, isn’t it?

“Dreadful”?’

Harry felt his face grow warm and faked a small coughing fit

over his roll. When he emerged from this he was sorry to find

that Hermione was still in full flow about OWL grades.

‘So top grade’s “O” for “Outstanding”,’ she was saying, ‘and then

there’s “A” -‘

‘No, “E”,’ George corrected her, ‘”E” for “Exceeds Expectations”.

And I’ve always thought Fred and I should’ve got “E” in

everything, because we exceeded expectations just by turning

up for the exams.’

They all laughed except Hermione, who ploughed on, ‘So, after

“E” it’s “A” for “Acceptable”, and that’s the last pass grade, isn’t

it?’

‘Yep,’ said Fred, dunking an entire roll in his soup, transferring it

to his mouth and swallowing it whole.

Then you get “P” for “Poor”-‘ Ron raised both his arms in mock

celebration – ‘and “D” for “Dreadful”.’

‘And then “T”,’ George reminded him.

‘T”?’ asked Hermione, looking appalled. ‘Even lower than a “D”?

What on earth does “T” stand for?’

‘Troll”,’ said George promptly.

Harry laughed again, though he was not sure whether or not

George was joking. He imagined trying to conceal from Hermione

that he had received T’s in all his OWLs and immediately

resolved to work harder from now on.

‘You lot had an inspected lesson yet?’ Fred asked them.

‘No,’ said Hermione at once. ‘Have you?’

‘Just now, before lunch,’ said George. ‘Charms.’

THE Hoc WARTS HIGH INQUISITOR

‘What was it like?’ Harry and Hermione asked together.

Fred shrugged.

‘Not that bad. Umbridge just lurked in the corner making notes

on a clipboard. You know what Flitwick’s like, he treated her like

a guest, didn’t seem to bother him at all. She didn’t say much.

Asked Alicia a couple of questions about what the classes are

normally like, Alicia told her they were really good, that was it.’

‘I can’t see old Flitwick getting marked down,’ said George, ‘he

usually gets everyone through their exams all right.’

‘Who’ve you got this afternoon?’ Fred asked Harry.

Trelawney -‘

‘A “T” if ever I saw one.’

‘- and Umbridge herself.’

‘Well, be a good boy and keep your temper with Umbridge today’

said George. ‘Angelina’ll do her nut if you miss any more

Quidditch practices.’

But Harry did not have to wait for Defence Against the Dark Arts

to meet Professor Umbridge. He was pulling out his dream diary

in a seat at the very back of the shadowy Divination room when

Ron elbowed him in the ribs and, looking round, he saw

Professor Umbridge emerging through the trapdoor in the floor.

The class, which had been talking cheerily fell silent at once. The

abrupt fall in the noise level made Professor Trelawney, who had

been wafting about handing out copies of The Dream Oracle,

look round.

‘Good afternoon, Professor Trelawney,’ said Professor Umbridge

with her wide smile. ‘You received my note, I trust? Giving the

time and date of your inspection?’

Professor Trelawney nodded curtly and, looking very disgruntled,

turned her back on Professor Umbridge and continued to give

out books. Still smiling, Professor Umbridge grasped the back of

the nearest armchair and pulled it to the front of the class so

that it was a few inches behind Professor Trelawneys seat. She

then sat down, took her clipboard from her flowery bag and

looked up expectantly, waiting for the class to begin.

Professor Trelawney pulled her shawls tight about her with

slightly trembling hands and surveyed the class through her

hugely magnifying lenses.

‘We shall be continuing our study of prophetic dreams today,’

she said in a brave attempt at her usual mystic tones, though

her voice shook slightly. ‘Divide into pairs, please, and interpret

each other’s latest night-time visions with the aid of the Oracle.’

She made as though to sweep back to her seat, saw Professor

Umbridge sitting right beside it, and immediately veered left

towards Parvati and Lavender, who were already deep in

discussion about Parvati’s most recent dream.

Harry opened his copy of The Dream Oracle, watching Umbridge

covertly. She was already making notes on her clipboard. After a

few minutes she got to her ieet and began to pace the room in

Trelawney’s wake, listening to her conversations with students

and posing questions here and there. Harry bent his head

hurriedly over his book.

Think of a dream, quick,’ he told Ron, ‘in case the old toad

comes our way.’

‘I did it last time,’ Ron protested, ‘it’s your turn, you tell me one.’

‘Oh, I dunno…’ said Harry desperately, who could not remember

dreaming anything at all over the last few days. ‘Lets say I

dreamed I was… drowning Snape in my cauldron. Yeah, that’ll

do…’

Ron chortled as he opened his Dream Oracle.

‘OK, we’ve got to add your age to the date you had the dream,

the number of letters in the subject… would that be “drowning”

or “cauldron” or “Snape”?’

‘It doesn’t matter, pick any of them,’ said Harry, chancing a

glance behind him. Professor Umbridge was now standing at

Professor Trelawneys shoulder making notes while the Divination

teacher questioned Neville about his dream diary.

‘What night did you dream this again?’ Ron said, immersed in

calculations.

‘I dunno, last night, whenever you like,’ Harry told him, trying to

listen to what Umbridge was saying to Professor Trelawney. They

were only a table away from him and Ron now. Professor

Umbridge was making another note on her clipboard and

Professor Trelawney was looking extremely put out.

‘Now,’ said Umbridge, looking up at Trelawney, ‘you’ve been in

this post how long, exactly?’

Professor Trelawney scowled at her, arms crossed and shoulders

hunched as though wishing to protect herself as much as

possible from the indignity of the inspection. After a slight pause

in which she seemed to decide that the question was not so

offensive that she could reasonably ignore it, she said in a

deeply resentful tone, ‘Nearly sixteen years.’

‘Quite a period,’ said Professor Umbridge, making a note on her

clipboard. ‘So it was Professor Dumbledore who appointed you?’

That’s right,’ said Professor Trelawney shortly.

Professor Umbridge made another note.

‘And you are a great-great-granddaughter of the celebrated Seer

Cassandra Trelawney?’

‘Yes,’ said Professor Trelawney, holding her head a little higher.

Another note on the clipboard.

‘But 1 think – correct me if I am mistaken – that you are the first

in your family since Cassandra to be possessed of Second Sight?’

‘These things often skip – er – three generations,’ said Professor

Trelawney.

Professor Umbridge’s toadlike smile widened.

‘Of course,’ she said sweetly, making yet another note. ‘Well, if

you could just predict something for me, then?’ And she looked

up enquiringly, still smiling.

Professor Trelawney stiffened as though unable to believe her

ears. ‘I don’t understand you,’ she said, clutching convulsively at

the shawl around her scrawny neck.

‘I’d like you to make a prediction for me,’ said Professor

Umbridge very clearly.

Harry and Ron were not the only people now watching and

listening sneakily from behind their books. Most of the class were

staring transfixed at Professor Trelawney as she drew herself up

to her full height, her beads and bangles clinking.

The Inner Eye does not See upon command!’ she said in

scandalised tones.

‘I see,’ said Professor Umbridge softly, making yet another note

on her clipboard.

‘I – but – but… wait!’ said Professor Trelawney suddenly, in an

attempt at her usual ethereal voice, though the mystical effect

was ruined somewhat by the way it was shaking with anger. ‘I…

I think I do see something… something that concerns you… why,

1 sense something… something dark… some grave peril…’

Professor Trelawney pointed a shaking finger at Professor

Umbridge who continued to smile blandly at her, eyebrows

raised.

‘I am afraid… I am afraid that you are in grave danger!’

Professor Trelawney finished dramatically.

There was a pause. Professor Umbridge surveyed Professor

Trelawney.

‘Right,’ she said softly, scribbling on her clipboard once more.

‘Well, if that’s really the best you can do…’

She turned away, leaving Professor Trelawney standing rooted to

the spot, her chest heaving. Harry caught Ron’s eye and knew

that Ron was thinking exactly the same as he was: they both

knew that Professor Trelawney was an old fraud, but on the

other hand, they loathed Umbridge so much that they felt very

much on Trelawneys side – until she swooped down on them a

few seconds later, that is.

‘Well?’ she said, snapping her long fingers under Harry’s nose,

uncharacteristically brisk. ‘Let me see the start you’ve made on

your dream diary, please.’

And by the time she had interpreted Harrys dreams at the top of

her voice (all of which, even the ones that involved eating

porridge, apparently foretold a gruesome and early death), he

was feeling much less sympathetic towards her. All the while,

Professor Umbridge stood a few feet away, making notes on that

clipboard, and when the bell rang she descended the silver

ladder first and was waiting for them all when they reached their

Defence Against the Dark Arts lesson ten minutes later.

She was humming and smiling to herself when they entered the

room. Harry and Ron told Hermione, who had been in

Arithmancy, exactly what had happened in Divination while they

all took out their copies of Defensive Magical Theory, but before

Hermione could ask any questions Professor Umbridge had called

them all to order and silence fell.

‘Wands away’ she instructed them all with a smile, and those

people who had been hopeful enough to take them out, sadly

returned them to their bags. ‘As we finished Chapter One last

THE HOG WARTS HIGH INQUISITOR

lesson, I would like you all to turn to page nineteen today and

commence “Chapter Two, Common Defensive Theories and their

Derivation”. There will be no need to talk.’

Still smiling her wide, self-satisfied smile, she sat down at her

desk. The class gave an audible sigh as it turned, as one, to

page nineteen. Harry wondered dully whether there were enough

chapters in the book to keep them reading through all this year’s

lessons and was on the point of checking the contents page

when he noticed that Hermione had her hand in the air again.

Professor Umbridge had noticed, too, and what was more, she

seemed to have worked out a strategy for just such an

eventuality. Instead of trying to pretend she had not noticed

Hermione she got to her feet and walked around the front row of

desks until they were face to face, then she bent down and

whispered, so that the rest of the class could not hear, ‘What is it

this time, Miss Granger?’

‘I’ve already read Chapter Two,’ said Hermione.

‘Well then, proceed to Chapter Three.’

‘I’ve read that too. I’ve read the whole book.’

Professor Umbndge blinked but recovered her poise almost

instantly.

‘Well, then, you should be able to tell me what Slinkhard says

about counter-jinxes in Chapter Fifteen.’

‘He says that counter-jinxes are improperly named,’ said

Hermione promptly. ‘He says “counter-jinx” is just a name

people give their jinxes when they want to make them sound

more acceptable.’

Professor Umbridge raised her eyebrows and Harry knew she

was impressed, against her will.

‘But I disagree,’ Hermione continued.

Professor Umbridge’s eyebrows rose a little higher and her gaze

became distinctly colder.

‘You disagree?’ she repeated.

‘Yes, I do,’ said Hermione, who, unlike Umbridge, was not

whispering, but speaking in a clear, carrying voice that had by

now attracted the attention of the rest of the class. ‘Mr Slinkhard

doesn’t like jinxes, does he? But. 1 think they can be very useful

when they’re used defensively.’

‘Oh, you do, do you?’ said Professor Umbridge, forgetting to

whisper and straightening up. ‘Well, I’m afraid it is Mr

Slinkhard’s opinion, and not yours, that matters within this

classroom, Miss Granger.’

‘But -‘ Hermione began.

That is enough,’ said Professor Umbridge. She walked back to

the front of the class and stood before them, all the jauntiness

she had shown at the beginning of the lesson gone. ‘Miss

Granger, 1 am going to take five points from Gryffindor house.’

There was an outbreak of muttering at this. :

‘What for?’ said Harry angrily.

‘Don’t you get involved!’ Hermione whispered urgently to him.

‘For disrupting my class with pointless interruptions,’ said

Professor Umbridge smoothly. ‘I am here to teach you using a

Ministry-approved method that does not include inviting students

to give their opinions on matters about which they understand

very little. Your previous teachers in this subject may have

allowed you more licence, but as none of them – with the

possible exception of Professor Quirrell, who did at least appear

to have restricted himself to age-appropriate subjects – would

have passed a Ministry inspection -‘

‘Yeah, Quirrell was a great teacher,’ said Harry loudly, ‘there was

just that minor drawback of him having Lord Voldemort sticking

out of the back of his head.’

This pronouncement was followed by one of the loudest silences

Harry had ever heard. Then –

‘I think another week’s detentions would do you some good, Mr

Potter,’ said Umbridge sleekly.

*

The cut on the back of Harry’s hand had barely healed and, by

the following morning, it was bleeding again. He did not

complain during the evening’s detention; he was determined not

to give Umbridge the satisfaction; over and over again he wrote

I must not tell lies and not a sound escaped his lips, though the

cut deepened with every letter.

The very worst part of this second week’s worth of detentions

was, just as George had predicted, Angelinas reaction. She

cornered him just as he arrived at the Gryffindor table for

breakfast on Tuesday and shouted so loudly that Professor

McGonagall came sweeping down upon the pair of them from the

staff table.

‘Miss Johnson, how dare you make such a racket in the Great

Hall! Five points from Gryffindor!’

‘But Professor – he’s gone and landed himself in detention again

‘What’s this, Potter?’ said Professor McGonagall sharply,

rounding on Harry. ‘Detention? From whom?’

‘From Professor Umbridge,’ muttered Harry, not meeting

Professor McGonagalls beady, square-framed eyes.

‘Are you telling me,’ she said, lowering her voice so that the

group of curious Ravenclaws behind them could not hear, ‘that

after the warning I gave you last Monday you lost your temper in

Professor Umbridge’s class again?’

‘Yes,’ Harry muttered, speaking to the floor.

‘Potter, you must get a grip on yourself! You are heading for

serious trouble! Another five points from Gryffindor!’

‘But – what -? Professor, no!’ Harry said, furious at this injustice,

‘I’m already being punished by her, why do you have to take

points as well?’

‘Because detentions do not appear to have any effect on you

whatsoever!’ said Professor McGonagall tartly. ‘No, not another

word of complaint, Potter! And as for you, Miss Johnson, you will

confine your shouting matches to the Quidditch pitch in future or

risk losing the team captaincy!’

Professor McGonagall strode back towards the staff table.

Angelina gave Harry a look of deepest disgust and stalked away,

upon which he flung himself on to the bench beside Ron, fuming.

‘She’s taken points off Gryffindor because I’m having my hand

sliced open every night! How is that fair, how?’

‘I know, mate,’ said Ron sympathetically, tipping bacon on to

Harry’s plate, ‘she’s bang out of order.’

Hermione, however, merely rustled the pages of her Daily

Prophet and said nothing.

‘You think McGonagall was right, do you?’ said Harry angrily to

the picture of Cornelius Fudge obscuring Hermione’s face.

‘I wish she hadn’t taken points from you, but I think she’s right

to warn you not to lose your temper with Umbridge,’ said

Hermione’s voice, while Fudge gesticulated forcefully from the

front page, clearly giving some kind of speech.

Harry did not speak to Hermione all through Charms, but when

they entered Transfiguration he forgot about being cross with

her. Professor Umbridge and her clipboard were sitting in a

corner and the sight of her drove the memory of breakfast right

out of his head.

‘Excellent,’ whispered Ron, as they sat down in their usual seats.

‘Let’s see Umbridge get what she deserves.’

Professor McGonagall marched into the room without giving the

slightest indication that she knew Professor Umbridge was there.

That will do,’ she said and silence fell immediately. ‘Mr Finnigan,

kindly come here and hand back the homework – Miss Brown,

please take this box of mice – don’t be silly, girl, they won’t hurt

you – and hand one to each student -‘

Hem, hem,’ said Professor Umbridge, employing the same silly

little cough she had used to interrupt Dumbledore on the first

night of term. Professor McGonagall ignored her. Seamus handed

back Harry’s essay; Harry took it without looking at him and saw,

to his relief, that he had managed an ‘A’.

‘Right then, everyone, listen closely – Dean Thomas, if you do

that to the mouse again I shall put you in detention – most of

you have now successfully Vanished your snails and even those

who were left with a certain amount of shell have got the gist of

the spell. Today, we shall be -‘

Hem, hem,’ said Professor Umbridge.

‘Yes?’ said Professor McGonagall, turning round, her eyebrows so

close together they seemed to form one long, severe line.

‘1 was just wondering, Professor, whether you received my note

telling you of the date and time of your inspec—’

‘Obviously I received it, or I would have asked you what you are

doing in my classroom,’ said Professor McGonagall, turning her

back firmly on Professor Umbridge. Many of the students

exchanged looks of glee. ‘As 1 was saying: today, we shall be

practising the altogether more difficult Vanishment of mice. Now,

the Vanishing Spell -‘

‘Hem, hem.’

‘I wonder,’ said Professor McGonagall in cold fury, turning on

Professor Umbridge, ‘how you expect to gain an idea of my usual

teaching methods if you continue to interrupt me? You see, I do

not generally permit people to talk when I am talking.’

Professor Umbridge looked as though she had just been slapped

in the face. She did not speak, but straightened the parchment

on her clipboard and began scribbling furiously.

Looking supremely unconcerned, Professor McGonagall

addressed the class once more.

‘As I was saying: the Vanishing Spell becomes more difficult with

the complexity of the animal to be Vanished. The snail, as an

invertebrate, does not present much of a challenge; the mouse,

as a mammal, offers a much greater one. This is not, therefore,

magic you can accomplish with your mind on your dinner. So –

you know the incantation, let me see what you can do…’

‘How she can lecture me about not losing my temper with

Umbridge!’ Harry muttered to Ron under his breath, but he was

grinning – his anger with Professor McGonagall had quite

evaporated.

Professor Umbridge did not follow Professor McGonagall around

the class as she had followed Professor Trelawney; perhaps she

realised Professor McGonagall would not permit it. She did,

however, take many more notes while sitting in her corner, and

when Professor McGonagall finally told them all to pack away,

she rose with a grim expression on her face.

‘Well, it’s a start,’ said Ron, holding up a long wriggling mousetail

and dropping it back into the box Lavender was passing

around.

As they filed out of the classroom, Harry saw Professor Umbridge

approach the teacher’s desk; he nudged Ron, who nudged

Hermione in turn, and the three of them deliberately fell back to

eavesdrop.

‘How long have you been teaching at Hogwarts?’ Professor

Umbridge asked.

Thirty-nine years this December,’ said Professor McGonagall

brusquely, snapping her bag shut.

Professor Umbridge made a note.

‘Very well,’ she said, ‘you will receive the results of your

inspection in ten days’ time.’

‘I can hardly wait,’ said Professor McGonagall, in a coldly

indifferent voice, and she strode off towards the door. ‘Hurry up,

you three,’ she added, sweeping Harry, Ron and Hermione

before her.

Harry could not help giving her a faint smile and could have

sworn he received one in return.

He had thought that the next time he would see Umbridge would

be in his detention that evening, but he was wrong. When they

walked down the lawns towards the Forest for Care of Magical

Creatures, they found her and her clipboard waiting for them

beside Professor Grubbly-Plank.

‘You do not usually take this class, is that correct?’ Harry heard

her ask as they arrived at the trestle table where the group of

captive Bowtruckles were scrabbling around for woodlice like so

many living twigs.

‘Quite correct,’ said Professor Grubbly-Plank, hands behind her

back and bouncing on the balls of her feet. ‘I am a substitute

teacher standing in for Professor Hagrid.’

Harry exchanged uneasy looks with Ron and Hermione. Malfoy

was whispering with Crabbe and Goyle; he would surely love this

opportunity to tell tales on Hagrid to a member of the Ministry.

‘Hmm,’ said Professor Umbridge, dropping her voice, though

Harry could still hear her quite clearly. ‘1 wonder – the

Headmaster seems strangely reluctant to give me any

information on the matter – can you tell me what is causing

Professor Hagrid’s very extended leave of absence?’

Harry saw Malfoy look up eagerly and watch Umbridge and

Grubbly-Plank closely.

‘Fraid I can’t,’ said Professor Grubbly-Plank breezily. ‘Don’t know

anything more about it than you do. Got an owl from

Dumbledore, would I like a couple of weeks’ teaching work. I

accepted. That’s as much as I know. Well… shall 1 get started

then?’

‘Yes, please do,’ said Professor Umbridge, scribbling on her

clipboard.

Umbridge took a different tack in this class and wandered

amongst the students, questioning them on magical creatures.

Most people were able to answer well and Harry’s spirits lifted

somewhat; at least the class was not letting Hagrid down.

‘Overall,’ said Professor Umbridge, returning to Professor

Grubbly-Plank’s side after a lengthy interrogation of Dean

Thomas, ‘how do you, as a temporary member of staff- an

objective outsider,

I suppose you might say — how do you find Hogwarts? Do you

feel you receive enough support from the school management?’

‘Oh, yes, Dumbledore’s excellent,’ said Professor Grubbly-Plank

heartily. ‘Yes, I’m very happy with the way things are run, very

happy indeed.’

Looking politely incredulous, Umbridge made a tiny note on her

clipboard and went on, ‘And what are you planning to cover with

this class this year – assuming, of course, that Professor Hagrid

does not return?’

‘Oh, I’ll take them through the creatures that most often come

up in OWL,’ said Professor Grubbly-Plank. ‘Not much left to do –

they’ve studied unicorns and Nifflers, I thought we’d cover

Porlocks and Kneazles, make sure they can recognise Crups and

Knarls, you know…’

‘Well, you seem to know what you’re doing, at any rate,’ said

Professor Umbridge, making a very obvious tick on her clipboard.

Harry did not like the emphasis she put on ‘you’ and liked it even

less when she put her next question to Goyle. ‘Now, I hear there

have been injuries in this class?’

Goyle gave a stupid grin. Malfoy hastened to answer the

question.

That was me,’ he said. ‘1 was slashed by a Hippogriff.’

‘A Hippogriff?’ said Professor Umbridge, now scribbling frantically.

‘Only because he was too stupid to listen to what Hagrid told him

to do,’ said Harry angrily.

Both Ron and Hermione groaned. Professor Umbridge turned her

head slowly in Harry’s direction.

‘Another nights detention, I think,’ she said softly. ‘Well, thank

you very much, Professor Grubbly-Plank, I think that’s all I need

here. You will be receiving the results of your inspection within

ten days.’

‘Jolly good,’ said Professor Grubbly-Plank, and Professor

Umbridge set off back across the lawn to the castle.

*

It was nearly midnight when Harry left Umbridge’s office that

night, his hand now bleeding so severely that it was staining the

scarf he had wrapped around it. He expected the common room

to be empty when he returned, but Ron and Hermione had sat

up waiting for him. He was pleased to see them, especially as

Hermione was disposed to be sympathetic rather than critical.

‘Here,’ she said anxiously, pushing a small bowl of yellow liquid

towards him, ‘soak your hand in that, it’s a solution of strained

and pickled Murtlap tentacles, it should help.’

Harry placed his bleeding, aching hand into the bowl and

experienced a wonderful feeling of relief. Crookshanks curled

around his legs, purring loudly, then leapt into his lap and settled

down.

‘Thanks,’ he said gratefully, scratching behind Crookshanks’s

ears with his left hand.

‘I still reckon you should complain about this,’ said Ron in a low

voice.

‘No,’ said Harry flatly.

‘McGonagall would go nuts if she knew —’

‘Yeah, she probably would,’ said Harry dully. ‘And how long do

you reckon it’d take Umbridge to pass another decree saying

anyone who complains about the High Inquisitor gets sacked

immediately?’

Ron opened his mouth to retort but nothing came out and, after

a moment, he closed it again, defeated.

‘She’s an awful woman,’ said Hermione in a small voice. ‘Awful.

You know, 1 was just saying to Ron when you came in… we’ve

got to do something about her.’

‘I suggested poison,’ said Ron grimly.

‘No… I mean, something about what a dreadful teacher she is,

and how we’re not going to learn any Defence from her at all,’

said Hermione.

‘Well, what can we do about that?’ said Ron, yawning. “S too late,

isn’t it? She’s got the job, she’s here to stay. Fudge’ll make sure

of that.’

‘Well,’ said Hermione tentatively. ‘You know, I was thinking

today…’ she shot a slightly nervous look at Harry and then

plunged on, ‘I was thinking that – maybe the time’s come when

we should just – just do it ourselves.’

‘Do what ourselves?’ said Harry suspiciously, still floating his

hand in the essence of Murtlap tentacles.

‘Well – learn Defence Against the Dark Arts ourselves,’ said

Hermione.

‘Come off it,’ groaned Ron. ‘You want us to do extra work? D’you

realise Harry and I are behind on homework again and it’s only

the second week?’

‘But this is much more important than homework!’ said

Hermione.

Harry and Ron goggled at her.

‘I didn’t think there was anything in the universe more important

than homework!’ said Ron.

‘Don’t be silly, of course there is,’ said Hermione, and Harry saw,

with an ominous feeling, that her face was suddenly alight with

the kind of fervour that SPEW usually inspired in her. ‘It’s about

preparing ourselves, like Harry said in Umbridge’s first lesson,

for what’s waiting for us out there. It’s about making sure we

really can defend ourselves. If we don’t learn anything for a

whole year -‘

‘We can’t do much by ourselves,’ said Ron in a defeated voice. ‘I

mean, all right, we can go and look jinxes up in the library and

try and practise them, I suppose -‘

‘No, I agree, we’ve gone past the stage where we can just learn

things out of books,’ said Hermione. ‘We need a teacher, a

proper one, who can show us how to use the spells and correct

us if we’re going wrong.’

‘If you’re talking about Lupin…’ Harry began.

‘No, no, I’m not talking about Lupin,’ said Hermione. ‘He’s too

busy with the Order and, anyway, the most we could see him is

during Hogsmeade weekends and that’s not nearly often

enough.’

‘Who, then?’ said Harry, frowning at her.

Hermione heaved a very deep sigh.

‘Isn’t it obvious?’ she said. ‘I’m talking about you, Harry.’

There was a moment’s silence. A light night breeze rattled the

windowpanes behind Ron, and the fire guttered.

‘About me what?’ said Harry.

‘I’m talking about you teaching us Defence Against the Dark

Arts.’

Harry stared at her. Then he turned to Ron, ready to exchange

the exasperated looks they sometimes shared when Hermione

elaborated on far-fetched schemes like SPEW To Harrys

consternation, however, Ron did not look exasperated.

He was frowning slightly, apparently thinking. Then he said,

That’s an idea.’

‘What’s an idea?’ said Harry.

‘You,’ said Ron. Teaching us to do it.’

‘But…’

Harry was grinning now, sure the pair of them were pulling his

leg.

‘But I’m not a teacher, I can’t -‘

‘Harry, you’re the best in the year at Defence Against the Dark

Arts,’ said Hermione.

‘Me?’ said Harry, now grinning more broadly than ever. ‘No I’m

not, you’ve beaten me in every test -‘

‘Actually, I haven’t,’ said Hermione coolly. ‘You beat me in our

third year – the only year we both sat the test and had a teacher

who actually knew the subject. But I’m not talking about test

results, Harry. Think what you’ve done]’

‘How d’you mean?’

‘You know what, I’m not sure I want someone this stupid

teaching me,’ Ron said to Hermione, smirking slightly. He turned

to Harry.

‘Let’s think,’ he said, pulling a face like Goyle concentrating.

‘Uh… first year – you saved the Philosopher’s Stone from You-

Know-Who.’

‘But that was luck,’ said Harry, ‘it wasn’t skill -‘

‘Second year,’ Ron interrupted, ‘you killed the Basilisk and

destroyed Riddle.’

‘Yeah, but if Fawkes hadn’t turned up, I -‘

Third year,’ said Ron, louder still, ‘you fought off about a

hundred Dementors at once -‘

‘You know that was a fluke, if the Time-Turner hadn’t -‘

‘Last year,’ Ron said, almost shouting now, ‘you fought off You-

Know-Who again -‘

‘Listen to me!’ said Harry, almost angrily, because Ron and

Hermione were both smirking now. ‘Just listen to me, all right? It

sounds great when you say it like that, but all that stuff was luck

– I didn’t know what I was doing half the time, I didn’t plan any

of it, I just did whatever I could think of, and I nearly always had

help -‘

Ron and Hermione were still smirking and Harry felt his temper

rise; he wasn’t even sure why he was feeling so angry.

‘Don’t sit there grinning like you know better than I do, 1 was

there, wasn’t 1?’ he said heatedly. ‘I know what went on, all

right? And I didn’t get through any of that because I was brilliant

at Defence Against the Dark Arts, I got through it all because –

because help came at the right time, or because I guessed right

– but I just blundered through it all, I didn’t have a clue what I

was doing -STOP LAUGHING!’

The bowl of Murtlap essence fell to the floor and smashed. He

became aware that he was on his feet, though he couldn’t

remember standing up. Crookshanks streaked away under a sofa.

Ron and Hermione’s smiles had vanished.

‘You don’t know what it’s like! You – neither of you – you’ve

never had to face him, have you? You think it’s just memorising

a bunch of spells and throwing them at him, like you’re in class

or something? The whole time you’re sure you know there’s

nothing between you and dying except your own – your own

brain or guts or whatever -like you can think straight when you

know you’re about a nanosecond from being murdered, or

tortured, or watching your friends die -they’ve never taught us

that in their classes, what it’s like to deal with things like that –

and you two sit there acting like I’m a clever little boy to be

standing here, alive, like Diggory was stupid, like he messed up

— you just don’t get it, that could just as easily have been me, it

would have been if Voldemort hadn’t needed me -‘

‘We weren’t saying anything like that, mate,’ said Ron, looking

aghast. ‘We weren’t having a go at Diggory, we didn’t – you’ve

got the wrong end of the -‘

He looked helplessly at Hermione, whose face was stricken.

‘Harry,’ she said timidly, ‘don’t you see? This… this is exactly

why we need you… we need to know what it’s r-really like…

facing him… facing V-Voldemort.’

It was the first time she had ever said Voldemort’s name and it

was this, more than anything else, that calmed Harry. Still

breathing hard, he sank back into his chair, becoming aware as

he did so that his hand was throbbing horribly again. He wished

he had not smashed the bowl of Murtlap essence.

‘Well… think about it,’ said Hermione quietly. ‘Please?’

Harry could not think of anything to say. He was feeling

ashamed of his outburst already. He nodded, hardly aware of

what he was agreeing to.

Hermione stood up.

‘Well, I’m off to bed,’ she said, in a voice that was clearly as

natural as she could make it. ‘Erm… night.’

Ron had got to his feet, too.

‘Coming?’ he said awkwardly to Harry.

‘Yeah,’ said Harry. ‘In… in a minute. I’ll just clear this up.’

He indicated the smashed bowl on the floor. Ron nodded and left.

Reparo,’ Harry muttered, pointing his wand at the broken pieces

of china. They flew back together, good as new, but there was

no returning the Murtlap essence to the bowl.

He was suddenly so tired he was tempted to sink back into his

armchair and sleep there, but instead he forced himself to his

feet and followed Ron upstairs. His restless night was punctuated

once more by dreams of long corridors and locked doors and he

awoke next day with his scar prickling again.

— CHAPTER SIXTEEN

In the Hogs Head

Hermione made no mention of Harry giving Defence Against the

Dark Arts lessons for two whole weeks after her original

suggestion. Harry’s detentions with Umbridge were finally over

(he doubted whether the words now etched into the back of his

hand would ever fade entirely); Ron had had four more

Quidditch practices and not been shouted at during the last two;

and all three of them had managed to Vanish their mice in

Transfiguration (Hermione had actually progressed to Vanishing

kittens), before the subject was broached again, on a wild,

blustery evening at the end of September, when the three of

them were sitting in the library, looking up potion ingredients for

Snape.

‘I was wondering,’ Hermione said suddenly, ‘whether you’d

thought any more about Defence Against the Dark Arts, Harry.’

‘Course I have,’ said Harry grumpily, ‘can’t forget it, can we,

with that hag teaching us -‘

‘I meant the idea Ron and I had -‘ Ron cast her an alarmed,

threatening kind of look. She frowned at him, ‘- Oh, all right, the

idea I had, then – about you teaching us.’

Harry did not answer at once. He pretended to be perusing a

page of Asiatic Anti-Venoms, because he did not want to say

what was in his mind.

He had given the matter a great deal of thought over the past

fortnight. Sometimes it seemed an insane idea, just as it had on

the night Hermione had proposed it, but at others, he had found

himself thinking about the spells that had served him best in his

various encounters with Dark creatures and Death Eaters – found

himself, in fact, subconsciously planning lessons…

‘Well,’ he said slowly, when he could no longer pretend to find

Asiatic Anti-Venoms interesting, ‘yeah, 1 – I’ve thought about it a

bit.’

‘And?’ said Hermione eagerly.

‘I dunno,’ said Harry, playing for time. He looked up at Ron.

‘I thought it was a good idea from the start,’ said Ron, who

seemed keener to join in this conversation now that he was sure

Harry was not going to start shouting again.

Harry shifted uncomfortably in his chair.

‘You did listen to what I said about a load of it being luck, didn’t

you?’

‘Yes, Harry,’ said Hermione gently, ‘but all the same, there’s no

point pretending that you’re not good at Defence Against the

Dark Arts, because you are. You were the only person last year

who could throw off the Imperius Curse completely, you can

produce a Patronus, you can do all sorts of stuff that full-grown

wizards can’t, Viktor always said -‘

Ron looked round at her so fast he appeared to crick his neck.

Rubbing it, he said, ‘Yeah? What did Vicky say?’

‘Ho ho,’ said Hermione in a bored voice. ‘He said Harry knew

how to do stuff even he didn’t, and he was in the final year at

Durmstrang.’

Ron was looking at Hermione suspiciously.

‘You’re not still in contact with him, are you?’

‘So what if I am?’ said Hermione coolly, though her face was a

little pink. ‘I can have a pen-pal if I -‘

‘He didn’t only want to be your pen-pal,’ said Ron accusingly.

Hermione shook her head exasperatedly and, ignoring Ron, who

was continuing to watch her, said to Harry, ‘Well, what do you

think? Will you teach us?’

‘Just you and Ron, yeah?’

‘Well,’ said Hermione, looking a mite anxious again. ‘Well… now,

don’t fly off the handle again, Harry, please… but I really think

you ought to teach anyone who wants to learn. I mean, we’re

talking about defending ourselves against V-Voldemort. Oh,

don’t be pathetic, Ron. It doesn’t seem fair if we don’t offer the

chance to other people.’

Harry considered this for a moment, then said, ‘Yeah, but I

doubt anyone except you two would want to be taught by me.

I’m a nutter, remember?’

‘Well, I think you might be surprised how many people would be

interested in hearing what you’ve got to say’ said Hermione

seriously. ‘Look,’ she leaned towards him – Ron, who was still

watching her with a frown on his face, leaned forwards to listen

too – ‘you know the first weekend in October’s a Hogsmeade

weekend? How would it be if we tell anyone who’s interested to

meet us in the village and we can talk it over?’

‘Why do we have to do it outside school?’ said Ron.

‘Because,’ said Hermione, returning to the diagram of the

Chinese Chomping Cabbage she was copying, ‘I don’t think

Umbridge would be very happy if she found out what we were up

to.’

*

Harry had been looking forward to the weekend trip into

Hogsmeade, but there was one thing worrying him. Sirius had

maintained a stony silence since he had appeared in the fire at

the beginning of September; Harry knew they had made him

angry by saying they didn’t want him to come – but he still

worried from time to time that Sirius might throw caution to the

winds and turn up anyway. What were they going to do if the

great black dog came bounding up the street towards them in

Hogsmeade, perhaps under the nose of Draco Malfoy?

‘Well, you can’t blame him for wanting to get out and about,’

said Ron, when Harry discussed his fears with him and Hermione.

‘I mean, he’s been on the run for over two years, hasn’t he, and

I know that can’t have been a laugh, but at least he was free,

wasn’t he? And now he’s just shut up all the time with that

ghastly elf.’

Hermione scowled at Ron, but otherwise ignored the slight on

Kreacher.

The trouble is,’ she said to Harry, ‘until V-Voldemort – oh, for

heaven’s sake, Ron – comes out into the open, Sirius is going to

have to stay hidden, isn’t he? I mean, the stupid Ministry isn’t

going to realise Sirius is innocent until they accept that

Dumbledore’s been telling the truth about him all along. And

once the fools start catching real Death Eaters again, it’ll be

obvious Sirius isn’t one… I mean, he hasn’t got the Mark, for one

thing.’

‘I don’t reckon he’d be stupid enough to turn up,’ said Ron bracingly.

‘Dumbledore’d go mad if he did and Sirius listens to

Dumbledore even if he doesn’t like what he hears.’

When Harry continued to look worried, Hermione said, ‘Listen,

Ron and I have been sounding out people who we thought might

want to learn some proper Defence Against the Dark Arts, and

there are a couple who seem interested. We’ve told them to

meet us in Hogsmeade.’

‘Right,’ said Harry vaguely, his mind still on Sirius.

‘Don’t worry, Harry’ Hermione said quietly. ‘You’ve got enough

on your plate without Sirius, too.’

She was quite right, of course, he was barely keeping up with his

homework, though he was doing much better now that he was

no longer spending every evening in detention with Umbridge.

Ron was even further behind with his work than Harry, because

while they both had Quidditch practice twice a week, Ron also

had his prefect duties. However, Hermione, who was taking more

subjects than either of them, had not only finished all her

homework but was also finding time to knit more elf clothes.

Harry had to admit that she was getting better; it was now

almost always possible to distinguish between the hats and the

socks.

The morning of the Hogsmeade visit dawned bright but windy.

After breakfast they queued up in front of Filch, who matched

their names to the long list of students who had permission from

their parents or guardian to visit the village. With a slight pang,

Harry remembered that if it hadn’t been for Sirius, he would not

have been going at all.

When Harry reached Filch, the caretaker gave a great sniff as

though trying to detect a whiff of something from Harry. Then he

gave a curt nod that set his jowls aquiver again and Harry

walked on, out on to the stone steps and the cold, sunlit day.

‘Er – why was Filch sniffing you?’ asked Ron, as he, Harry and

Hermione set off at a brisk pace down the wide drive to the

gates.

‘I suppose he was checking for the smell of Dungbombs,’ said

Harry with a small laugh. ‘I forgot to tell you…’

And he recounted the story of sending his letter to Sirius and

Filch bursting in seconds later, demanding to see the letter. To

his slight surprise, Hermione found this story highly interesting,

much more, indeed, than he did himself.

‘He said he was tipped off you were ordering Dungbombs? But

who tipped him off?’

‘I dunno,’ said Harry, shrugging. ‘Maybe Malfoy, he’d think it was

a laugh.’

They walked between the tall stone pillars topped with winged

boars and turned left on to the road into the village, the wind

whipping their hair into their eyes.

‘Malfoy?’ said Hermione, sceptically. ‘Well… yes… maybe…’

And she remained deep in thought all the way into the outskirts

of Hogsmeade.

‘Where are we going, anyway?’ Harry asked. The Three

Broomsticks?’

‘Oh – no,’ said Hermione, coming out of her reverie, ‘no, it’s

always packed and really noisy. I’ve told the others to meet us in

the Hog’s Head, that other pub, you know the one, it’s not on

the main road. I think it’s a bit… you know… dodgy… but

students don’t normally go in there, so I don’t think we’ll be

overheard.’

They walked down the main street past Zonko’s Wizarding Joke

Shop, where they were not surprised to see Fred, George and

Lee Jordan, past the post office, from which owls issued at

regular intervals, and turned up a side-street at the top of which

stood a small inn. A battered wooden sign hung from a rusty

bracket over the door, with a picture on it of a wild boar’s

severed head, leaking blood on to the white cloth around it. The

sign creaked in the wind as they approached. All three of them

hesitated outside the door.

‘Well, come on,’ said Hermione, slightly nervously. Harry led the

way inside.

It was not at all like the Three Broomsticks, whose large bar

gave an impression of gleaming warmth and cleanliness. The

Hog’s Head bar comprised one small, dingy and very dirty room

that smelled strongly of something that might have been goats.

The bay windows were so encrusted with grime that very little

daylight could permeate the room, which was lit instead with the

stubs of candles sitting on rough wooden tables. The floor

seemed at first glance to be compressed earth, though as Harry

stepped on to it he realised that there was stone beneath what

seemed to be the accumulated filth of centuries.

Harry remembered Hagrid mentioning this pub in his first year:

‘Yeh get a lot o’ funny folk in the Hogs Head/ he had said,

explaining how he had won a dragon’s egg from a hooded

stranger there. At the time Harry had wondered why Hagrid had

not found it odd that the stranger kept his face hidden

throughout their encounter; now he saw that keeping your face

hidden was something of a fashion in the Hog’s Head. There was

a man at the bar whose whole head was wrapped in dirty grey

bandages, though he was still managing to gulp endless glasses

of some smoking, fiery substance through a slit over his mouth;

two figures shrouded in hoods sat at a table in one of the

windows; Harry might have thought them Dementors if they had

not been talking in strong Yorkshire accents, and in a shadowy

corner beside the fireplace sat a witch with a thick, black veil

that fell to her toes. They could just see the tip of her nose

because it caused the veil to protrude slightly.

‘I don’t know about this, Hermione,’ Harry muttered, as they

crossed to the bar. He was looking particularly at the heavily

veiled witch. ‘Has it occurred to you Umbridge might be under

that?’

Hermione cast an appraising eye over the veiled figure.

‘Umbridge is shorter than that woman,’ she said quietly. ‘And

anyway, even if Umbridge does come in here there’s nothing she

can do to stop us, Harry, because I’ve double- and triplechecked

the school rules. We’re not out of bounds; I specifically

asked Professor Flitwick whether students were allowed to come

in the Hog’s Head, and he said yes, but he advised me strongly

to bring our own glasses. And I’ve looked up everything I can

think of about study groups and homework groups and they’re

definitely allowed. I just don’t think it’s a good idea if we parade

what we’re doing.’

‘No,’ said Harry drily, ‘especially as it’s not exactly a homework

group you’re planning, is it?’

The barman sidled towards them out of a back room. He was a

grumpy-looking old man with a great deal of long grey hair and

beard. He was tall and thin and looked vaguely familiar to Harry.

‘What?’ he grunted.

Three Butterbeers, please,’ said Hermione.

The man reached beneath the counter and pulled up three very

dusty, very dirty bottles, which he slammed on the bar.

‘Six Sickles,’ he said.

Til get them,’ said Harry quickly, passing over the silver. The

barman’s eyes travelled over Harry, resting for a fraction of a

second on his scar. Then he turned away and deposited Harry’s

money in an ancient wooden till whose drawer slid open

automatically to receive it. Harry, Ron and Hermione retreated to

the furthest table from the bar and sat down, looking around.

The man in the dirty grey bandages rapped the counter with his

knuckles and received another smoking drink from the barman.

‘You know what?’ Ron murmured, looking over at the bar with

enthusiasm. ‘We could order anything we liked in here. I bet that

bloke would sell us anything, he wouldn’t care. I’ve always

wanted to try Firewhisky -‘

‘You – are – a – prefect,’ snarled Hermione.

‘Oh,’ said Ron, the smile fading from his face. ‘Yeah…’

‘So, who did you say is supposed to be meeting us?’ Harry asked,

wrenching open the rusty top of his Butterbeer and taking a swig.

‘Just a couple of people,’ Hermione repeated, checking her watch

and looking anxiously towards the door. ‘I told them to be here

about now and I’m sure they all know where it is – oh, look, this

might be them now.’

The door of the pub had opened. A thick band of dusty sunlight

split the room in two for a moment and then vanished, blocked

by the incoming rush of a crowd of people.

First came Neville with Dean and Lavender, who were closely

followed by Parvati and Padma Patil with (Harry’s stomach did a

back-flip) Cho and one of her usually-giggling girlfriends, then

(on her own and looking so dreamy she might have walked in by

accident) Luna Lovegood; then Katie Bell, Alicia Spinnet and

Angelina Johnson, Colin and Dennis Creevey, Ernie Macmillan,

Justin Finch-Fletchley, Hannah Abbott, a Hufflepuff girl with a

long plait down her back whose name Harry did not know; three

Ravenclaw boys he was pretty sure were called Anthony

Goldstein, Michael Corner and Terry Boot, Ginny, closely followed

by a tall skinny blond boy with an upturned nose whom Harry

recognised vaguely as being a member of the Hufflepuff

Quidditch team and, bringing up the rear, Fred and George

Weasley with their friend Lee Jordan, all three of whom were

carrying large paper bags crammed with Zonko’s merchandise.

‘A couple of people?’ said Harry hoarsely to Hermione. ‘A couple

of people?’

‘Yes, well, the idea seemed quite popular,’ said Hermione happily

‘Ron, do you want to pull up some more chairs?’

The barman had frozen in the act of wiping out a glass with a rag

so filthy it looked as though it had never been washed. Possibly,

he had never seen his pub so full.

‘Hi,’ said Fred, reaching the bar first and counting his

companions quickly, ‘could we have… twenty-five Butterbeers,

please?’

The barman glared at him for a moment, then, throwing down

his rag irritably as though he had been interrupted in something

very important, he started passing up dusty Butterbeers from

under the bar.

‘Cheers,’ said Fred, handing them out. ‘Cough up, everyone, I

haven’t got enough gold for all of these…’

Harry watched numbly as the large chattering group took their

beers from Fred and rummaged in their robes to find coins. He

could not imagine what all these people had turned up for until

the horrible thought occurred to him that they might be

expecting some kind of speech, at which he rounded on

Hermione.

‘What have you been telling people?’ he said in a low voice.

‘What are they expecting?’

‘I’ve told you, they just want to hear what you’ve got to say,’

said Hermione soothingly; but Harry continued to look at her so

furiously that she added quickly, ‘you don’t have to do anything

yet, I’ll speak to them first.’

‘Hi, Harry,’ said Neville, beaming and taking a seat opposite him.

Harry tried to smile back, but did not speak; his mouth was

exceptionally dry. Cho had just smiled at him and sat down on

Ron’s right. Her friend, who had curly reddish-blonde hair, did

not smile, but gave Harry a thoroughly mistrustful look which

plainly told him that, given her way, she would not be here at all.

In twos and threes the new arrivals settled around Harry, Ron

and Hermione, some looking rather excited, others curious, Luna

Lovegood gazing dreamily into space. When everybody had

pulled up a chair, the chatter died out. Every eye was upon

Harry.

‘Er,’ said Hermione, her voice slightly higher than usual out of

nerves. ‘Well – er – hi.’

The group focused its attention on her instead, though eyes

continued to dart back regularly to Harry.

‘Well… erm… well, you know why you’re here. Erm… well, Harry

here had the idea – I mean’ (Harry had thrown her a sharp look)

‘I had the idea – that it might be good if people who wanted to

study Defence Against the Dark Arts – and I mean, really study it,

you know, not the rubbish that Umbridge is doing with us -‘

(Hermione’s voice became suddenly much stronger and more

confident) ‘- because nobody could call that Defence Against the

Dark Arts -‘ (‘Hear, hear,’ said Anthony Goldstein, and Hermione

looked heartened) ‘- Well, I thought it would be good if we, well,

took matters into our own hands.’

She paused, looked sideways at Harry, and went on, ‘And by

that I mean learning how to defend ourselves properly, not just

in theory but doing the real spells -‘

‘You want to pass your Defence Against the Dark Arts OWL too,

though, I bet?’ said Michael Corner, who was watching her

closely.

‘Of course I do,’ said Hermione at once. ‘But more than that, I

want to be properly trained in defence because… because…” she

took a great breath and finished, ‘because Lord Voldemort is

back.’

The reaction was immediate and predictable. Cho’s friend

shrieked and slopped Butterbeer down herself; Terry Boot gave a

kind of involuntary twitch; Padma Patil shuddered, and Neville

gave an odd yelp that he managed to turn into a cough. All of

them, however, looked fixedly, even eagerly, at Harry.

‘Well… that’s the plan, anyway’ said Hermione. ‘If you want to

join us, we need to decide how we’re going to -‘

‘Where’s the proof You-Know-Who’s back?’ said the blond

Hufflepuff player in a rather aggressive voice.

‘Well, Dumbledore believes it -‘ Hermione began.

‘You mean, Dumbledore believes him,’ said the blond boy,

nodding at Harry.

‘Who are you?’ said Ron, rather rudely.

‘Zacharias Smith,’ said the boy, ‘and I think we’ve got the right

to know exactly what makes him say You-Know-Who’s back.’

‘Look,’ said Hermione, intervening swiftly, ‘that’s really not what

this meeting was supposed to be about -‘

‘It’s OK, Hermione,’ said Harry.

It had just dawned on him why there were so many people there.

He thought Hermione should have seen this coming. Some of

these people – maybe even most of them – had turned up in the

hopes of hearing Harry’s story firsthand.

‘What makes me say You-Know-Who’s back?’ he repeated,

looking Zacharias straight in the face. ‘I saw him. But

Dumbledore told the whole school what happened last year, and

if you didn’t believe him, you won’t believe me, and I’m not

wasting an afternoon trying to convince anyone.’

The whole group seemed to have held its breath while Harry

spoke. Harry had the impression that even the barman was

listening. He was wiping the same glass with the filthy rag,

making it steadily dirtier.

Zacharias said dismissively, ‘All Dumbledore told us last year

was that Cedric Diggory got killed by You-Know-Who and that

you brought Diggory’s body back to Hogwarts. He didn’t give us

details, he didn’t tell us exactly how Diggory got murdered, I

think we’d all like to know -‘

‘If you’ve come to hear exactly what it looks like when Voldemort

murders someone I can’t help you,’ Harry said. His temper,

always so close to the surface these days, was rising again. He

did not take his eyes from Zacharias Smith’s aggressive face,

and was determined not to look at Cho. ‘I don’t want to talk

about Cedric Diggory, all right? So if that’s what you’re here for,

you might as well clear out.’

He cast an angry look in Hermione’s direction. This was, he felt,

all her fault; she had decided to display him like some sort of

freak and of course they had all turned up to see just how wild

his story was. But none of them left their seats, not even

Zacharias Smith, though he continued to gaze intently at Harry.

‘So,’ said Hermione, her voice very high-pitched again. ‘So… like

I was saying… if you want to learn some defence, then we need

to work out how we’re going to do it, how often we’re going to

meet and where we’re going to -‘

‘Is it true,’ interrupted the girl with the long plait down her back,

looking at Harry, ‘that you can produce a Patronus?’

There was a murmur of interest around the group at this.

‘Yeah,’ said Harry slightly defensively.

‘A corporeal Patronus?’

The phrase stirred something in Harry’s memory.

‘Er – you don’t know Madam Bones, do you?’ he asked.

The girl smiled.

‘She’s my auntie,’ she said. ‘I’m Susan Bones. She told me about

your hearing. So – is it really true? You make a stag Patronus?’

‘Yes,’ said Harry.

‘Blimey, Harry!’ said Lee, looking deeply impressed. ‘I never

knew that!’

‘Mum told Ron not to spread it around,’ said Fred, grinning at

Harry. ‘She said you got enough attention as it was.’

‘She’s not wrong,’ mumbled Harry, and a couple of people

laughed.

The veiled witch sitting alone shifted very slightly in her seat.

‘And did you kill a Basilisk with that sword in Dumbledore’s

office?’ demanded Terry Boot. That’s what one of the portraits on

the wall told me when I was in there last year…’

‘Er – yeah, I did, yeah,’ said Harry.

Justin Finch-Fletchley whistled; the Creevey brothers exchanged

awestruck looks and Lavender Brown said ‘Wow!’ softly. Harry

was feeling slightly hot around the collar now; he was

determinedly looking anywhere but at Cho.

‘And in our first year,’ said Neville to the group at large, ‘he

saved that Philological Stone -‘

‘Philosopher’s,’ hissed Hermione.

‘Yes, that – from You-Know-Who,’ finished Neville.

Hannah Abbott’s eyes were as round as Galleons.

‘And that’s not to mention,’ said Cho (Harry’s eyes snapped

across to her; she was looking at him, smiling; his stomach did

another somersault) ‘all the tasks he had to get through in the

Triwizard Tournament last year – getting past dragons and

merpeople and Acromantula and things…’

There was a murmur of impressed agreement around the table.

Harry’s insides were squirming. He was trying to arrange his face

so that he did not look too pleased with himself. The fact that

Cho had just praised him made it much, much harder for him to

say the thing he had sworn to himself he would tell them.

‘Look,’ he said, and everyone fell silent at once, ‘1… I don’t want

to sound like I’m trying to be modest or anything, but… I had a

lot of help with all that stuff…’

‘Not with the dragon, you didn’t,’ said Michael Corner at once.

That was a seriously cool bit of flying…’

‘Yeah, well -‘ said Harry, feeling it would be churlish to disagree.

‘And nobody helped you get rid of those Dementors this

summer,’ said Susan Bones.

‘No,’ said Harry, ‘no, OK, 1 know I did bits of it without help, but

the point I’m trying to make is -‘

‘Are you trying to weasel out of showing us any of this stuff?’

said Zacharias Smith.

‘Here’s an idea,’ said Ron loudly, before Harry could speak, ‘why

don’t you shut your mouth?’

Perhaps the word ‘weasel’ had affected Ron particularly strongly.

In any case, he was now looking at Zacharias as though he

would like nothing better than to thump him. Zacharias flushed.

‘Well, we’ve all turned up to learn from him and now he’s telling

us he can’t really do any of it,’ he said.

‘That’s not what he said, ‘snarled Fred.

‘Would you like us to clean out your ears for you?’ enquired

George, pulling a long and lethal-looking metal instrument from

inside one of the Zonko’s bags.

‘Or any part of your body, really, we’re not fussy where we stick

this,’ said Fred.

‘Yes, well,’ said Hermione hastily, ‘moving on… the point is, are

we agreed we want to take lessons from Harry?’

There was a murmur of general agreement. Zacharias folded his

arms and said nothing, though perhaps this was because he was

too busy keeping an eye on the instrument in Fred’s hand.

‘Right,’ said Hermione, looking relieved that something had at

last been settled. ‘Well, then, the next question is how often we

do it. I really don’t think there’s any point in meeting less than

once a week -‘

‘Hang on,’ said Angelina, ‘we need to make sure this doesn’t

clash with our Quidditch practice.’

‘No,’ said Cho, ‘nor with ours.’

‘Nor ours,’ added Zacharias Smith.

‘I’m sure we can find a night that suits everyone,’ said Hermione,

slightly impatiently, ‘but you know, this is rather important,

we’re talking about learning to defend ourselves against VVoldemort’s

Death Eaters -‘

‘Well said!’ barked Ernie Macmillan, who Harry had been

expecting to speak long before this. ‘Personally I think this is

really important, possibly more important than anything else

we’ll do this year, even with our OWLs coming up!’

He looked around impressively, as though waiting for people to

cry ‘Surely not!’ When nobody spoke, he went on, ‘I, personally

am at a loss to see why the Ministry has foisted such a useless

teacher on us at this critical period. Obviously, they are in denial

about the return of You-Know-Who, but to give us a teacher who

is trying to actively prevent us from using defensive spells -‘

‘We think the reason Umbridge doesn’t want us trained in

Defence Against the Dark Arts,’ said Hermione, ‘is that she’s got

some… some mad idea that Dumbledore could use the students

in the school as a kind of private army. She thinks he’d mobilise

us against the Ministry.’

Nearly everybody looked stunned at this news; everybody except

Luna Lovegood, who piped up, ‘Well, that makes sense. After all,

Cornelius Fudge has got his own private army’

‘What?’ said Harry, completely thrown by this unexpected piece

of information.

‘Yes, he’s got an army of Heliopaths,’ said Luna solemnly.

‘No, he hasn’t,’ snapped Hermione.

‘Yes, he has,’ said Luna.

‘What are Heliopaths?’ asked Neville, looking blank.

They’re spirits of fire,’ said Luna, her protuberant eyes widening

so that she looked madder than ever, ‘great tall flaming

creatures that gallop across the ground burning everything in

front of -‘

They don’t exist, Neville,’ said Hermione tartly.

‘Oh, yes, they do!’ said Luna angrily.

‘I’m sorry, but where’s the proof of that?’ snapped Hermione.

There are plenty of eye-witness accounts. Just because you’re so

narrow-minded you need to have everything shoved under your

nose before you -‘

Hem, hem,’ said Ginny, in such a good imitation of Professor

Umbridge that several people looked around in alarm and then

laughed. ‘Weren’t we trying to decide how often we’re going to

meet and have defence lessons?’

‘Yes,’ said Hermione at once, ‘yes, we were, you’re right, Ginny.’

Well, once a week sounds cool,’ said Lee Jordan.

‘As long as -‘ began Angelina.

‘Yes, yes, we know about the Quidditch,’ said Hermione in a

tense voice. Well, the other thing to decide is where we’re going

to meet…’

This was rather more difficult; the whole group fell silent.

‘Library?’ suggested Katie Bell after a few moments.

‘1 can’t see Madam Pince being too chuffed with us doing jinxes

in the library,’ said Harry.

‘Maybe an unused classroom?’ said Dean.

‘Yeah,’ said Ron, ‘McGonagall might let us have hers, she did

when Harry was practising for the Triwizard.’

But Harry was pretty certain that McGonagall would not be so

accommodating this time. For all that Hermione had said about

study and homework groups being allowed, he had the distinct

feeling that this one might be considered a lot more rebellious.

‘Right, well, we’ll try to find somewhere,’ said Hermione. ‘We’ll

send a message round to everybody when we’ve got a time and

a place for the first meeting.’

She rummaged in her bag and produced parchment and a quill,

then hesitated, rather as though she was steeling herself to say

something.

‘I – I think everybody should write their name down, just so we

know who was here. But I also think,’ she took a deep breath,

‘that we all ought to agree not to shout about what we’re doing.

So if you sign, you’re agreeing not to tell Umbridge or anybody

else what we’re up to.’

Fred reached out for the parchment and cheerfully wrote his

signature, but Harry noticed at once that several people looked

less than happy at the prospect of putting their names on the list.

‘Er…’ said Zacharias slowly, not taking the parchment that

George was trying to pass to him, ‘well… I’m sure Ernie will tell

me when the meeting is.’

But Ernie was looking rather hesitant about signing, too.

Hermione raised her eyebrows at him.

‘I – well, we are prefects,’ Ernie burst out. ‘And if this list was

found… well, I mean to say… you said yourself, if Umbridge finds

out -‘

‘You just said this group was the most important thing you’d do

this year,’ Harry reminded him.

‘I – yes,’ said Ernie, ‘yes, I do believe that, it’s just -‘

‘Ernie, do you really think I’d leave that list lying around?’ said

Hermione testily.

‘No. No, of course not,’ said Ernie, looking slightly less anxious.

‘I – yes, of course I’ll sign.’

Nobody raised objections after Ernie, though Harry saw Cho’s

friend give her a rather reproachful look before adding her own

name. When the last perscfri – Zacharias – had signed, Hermione

took the parchment back and slipped it carefully into her bag.

There was an odd feeling in the group now. It was as though

they had just signed some kind of contract.

‘Well, time’s ticking on,’ said Fred briskly, getting to his feet.

‘George, Lee and I have got items of a sensitive nature to

purchase, we’ll be seeing you all later.’

In twos and threes the rest of the group took their leave, too.

Cho made rather a business of fastening the catch on her bag

before leaving, her long dark curtain of hair swinging forwards to

hide her face, but her friend stood beside her, arms folded,

clicking her tongue, so that Cho had little choice but to leave

with her. As her friend ushered her through the door, Cho looked

back and waved at Harry.

‘Well, I think that went quite well,’ said Hermione happily, as she,

Harry and Ron walked out of the Hog’s Head into the bright

sunlight a few moments later. Harry and Ron were clutching

their bottles of Butterbeer.

That Zacharias bloke’s a wart,’ said Ron, who was glowering

after the figure of Smith, just discernible in the distance.

‘I don’t like him much, either,’ admitted Hermione, ‘but he

overheard me talking to Ernie and Hannah at the Hufflepuff table

and he seemed really interested in coming, so what could I say?

But the more people the better really – I mean, Michael Corner

and his friends wouldn’t have come if he hadn’t been going out

with Ginny -‘

Ron, who had been draining the last few drops from his

Butterbeer bottle, gagged and sprayed Butterbeer down his front.

‘He’s WHAT?’ spluttered Ron, outraged, his ears now resembling

curls of raw beef. ‘She’s going out with – my sister’s going – what

d’you mean, Michael Corner?’

‘Well, that’s why he and his friends came, I think – well, they’re

obviously interested in learning defence, but if Ginny hadn’t told

Michael what was going on -‘

When did this – when did she -?’

They met at the Yule Ball and got together at the end of last

year,’ said Hermione composedly. They had turned into the High

Street and she paused outside Scrivenshaft’s Quill Shop, where

there was a handsome display of pheasant feather quills in the

window. ‘Hmm… I could do with a new quill.’

She turned into the shop. Harry and Ron followed her.

Which one was Michael Corner?’ Ron demanded furiously.

The dark one,’ said Hermione.

‘I didn’t like him,’ said Ron at once.

‘Big surprise,’ said Hermione under her breath.

‘But,’ said Ron, following Hermione along a row of quills in

copper pots, ‘1 thought Ginny fancied Harry!’

Hermione looked at him rather pityingly and shook her head.

‘Ginny used to fancy Harry, but she gave up on him months ago.

Not that she doesn’t like you, of course,’ she added kindly to

Harry while she examined a long black and gold quill.

Harry, whose head was still full of Cho’s parting wave, did not

find this subject quite as interesting as Ron, who was positively

quivering with indignation, but it did bring something home to

him that until now he had not really registered.

‘So that’s why she talks now?’ he asked Hermione. ‘She never

used to talk in front of me.’

‘Exactly,’ said Hermione. ‘Yes, I think I’ll have this one…’

She went up to the counter and handed over fifteen Sickles and

two Knuts, with Ron still breathing down her neck.

‘Ron,’ she said severely as she turned and trod on his feet, ‘this

is exactly why Ginny hasn’t told you she’s seeing Michael, she

knew you’d take it badly. So don’t harp on about it, for heaven’s

sake.’

‘What d’you mean? Who’s taking anything badly? I’m not going

to harp on about anything…’ Ron continued to chunter under his

breath all the way down the street.

Hermione rolled her eyes at Harry and then said in an undertone,

while Ron was still muttering imprecations about Michael Corner,

‘And talking about Michael and Ginny… what about Cho and you?’

‘What d’you mean?’ said Harry quickly.

It was as though boiling water was rising rapidly inside him; a

burning sensation that was causing his face to smart in the cold –

had he been that obvious?

‘Well,’ said Hermione, smiling slightly, ‘she just couldn’t keep her

eyes off you, could she?’

Harry had never before appreciated just how beautiful the village

of Hogsmeade was.

— CHAPTER SEVENTEEN —

Educational Decree Number Twenty-four

Harry felt happier for the rest of the weekend than he had done

all term. He and Ron spent much of Sunday catching up with all

their homework again, and although this could hardly be called

fun, the last burst of autumn sunshine persisted, so rather than

sitting hunched over tables in the common room they took their

work outside and lounged in the shade of a large beech tree on

the edge of the lake. Hermione, who of course was up to date

with all her work, brought more wool outside with her and

bewitched her knitting needles so that they flashed and clicked in

midair beside her, producing more hats and scarves.

Knowing they were doing something to resist Umbridge and the

Ministry, and that he was a key part of the rebellion, gave Harry

a feeling of immense satisfaction. He kept reliving Saturdays

meeting in his mind: all those people, coming to him to learn

Defence Against the Dark Arts… and the looks on their faces as

they had heard some of the things he had done… and Cho

praising his performance in the Triwizard Tournament – knowing

all those people did not think him a lying weirdo, but someone to

be admired, buoyed him up so much that he was still cheerful on

Monday morning, despite the imminent prospect of all his least

favourite classes.

He and Ron headed downstairs from their dormitory, discussing

Angelinas idea that they were to work on a new move called the

Sloth Grip Roll during that night’s Quidditch practice, and not

until they were halfway across the sunlit common room did they

notice the addition to the room that had already attracted the

attention of a small group of people.

A large sign had been affixed to the Gryffindor noticeboard; so

large it covered everything else on it – the lists of secondhand

spellbooks for sale, the regular reminders of school rules from

Argus Filch, the Quidditch team training timetable, the offers to

barter certain Chocolate Frog Cards for others, the Weasleys’

latest advertisement for testers, the dates of the Hogsmeade

weekends and the lost and found notices. The new sign was

printed in large black letters and there was a highly officiallooking

seal at the bottom beside a neat and curly signature.

BY ORDER OF THE HIGH INQUISITOR OF HOGWARTS

All student organisations, societies, teams, groups and dubs are

henceforth disbanded.

An organisation, society, team, group or club is hereby defined

as a regular meeting of three or more students.

Permission to re-form may be sought from the High Inquisitor

(Professor Umbridge).

No student organisation, society, team, group or club may exist

without the knowledge and approval of the High Inquisitor.

Any student found to have formed, or to belong to, an organisation,

society, team, group or club that has not been approved by

the High Inquisitor will be expelled.

The above is in accordance with Educational Decree Number

Twenty-four.

Signed: Dolores Jane Umbridge, High Inquisitor

Harry and Ron read the notice over the heads of some anxiouslooking

second-years.

‘Does this mean they’re going to shut down the Gobstones Club?’

one of them asked his friend.

‘I reckon you’ll be OK with Gobstones,’ Ron said darkly, making

the second-year jump. ‘I don’t think we’re going to be as lucky,

though, do you?’ he asked Harry as the second-years hurried

away.

Harry was reading the notice through again. The happiness that

had filled him since Saturday was gone. His insides were pulsing

with rage.

This isn’t a coincidence,’ he said, his hands forming fists. ‘She

knows.’

‘She can’t,’ said Ron at once.

There were people listening in that pub. And let’s face it, we

don’t know how many of the people who turned up we can

trust… any of them could have run off and told Umbridge…’

And he had thought they believed him, thought they even

admired him…

‘Zacharias Smith!’ said Ron at once, punching a fist into his hand.

‘Or – I thought that Michael Corner had a really shifty look, too -‘

‘I wonder if Hermione’s seen this yet?’ Harry said, looking round

at the door to the girls’ dormitories.

‘Let’s go and tell her,’ said Ron. He bounded forwards, pulled

open the door and set off up the spiral staircase.

He was on the sixth stair when there was a loud, wailing, klaxonlike

sound and the steps melted together to make a long,

smooth stone slide like a helter-skelter. There was a brief

moment when Ron tried to keep running, arms working madly

like windmills, then he toppled over backwards and shot down

the newly created slide, coming to rest on his back at Harry’s

feet.

‘Er – 1 don’t think we’re allowed in the girls’ dormitories,’ said

Harry, pulling Ron to his feet and trying not to laugh.

Two fourth-year girls came zooming gleefully down the stone

slide.

‘Oooh, who tried to get upstairs?’ they giggled happily, leaping to

their feet and ogling Harry and Ron.

‘Me,’ said Ron, who was still rather dishevelled. ‘I didn’t realise

that would happen. It’s not fair!’ he added to Harry, as the girls

headed off for the portrait hole, still giggling madly. ‘Hermione’s

allowed in our dormitory, how come we’re not allowed -?’

‘Well, it’s an old-fashioned rule,’ said Hermione, who had just

slid neatly on to a rug in front of them and was now getting to

her feet, ‘but it says in Hogwarts: A History, that the founders

thought boys were less trustworthy than girls. Anyway, why

were you trying to get in there?’

‘To see you – look at this!’ said Ron, dragging her over to the

noticeboard.

Hermione’s eyes slid rapidly down the notice. Her expression

became stony.

‘Someone must have blabbed to her!’ Ron said angrily.

They can’t have done,’ said Hermione in a low voice.

‘You’re so naive,’ said Ron, ‘you think just because you’re all

honourable and trustworthy -‘

‘No, they can’t have done, because I put a jinx on that piece of

parchment we all signed,’ said Hermione grimly. ‘Believe me, if

anyone’s run off and told Umbridge, we’ll know exactly who they

are and they will really regret it.’

‘What’ll happen to them?’ said Ron eagerly.

‘Well, put it this way’ said Hermione, ‘it’ll make Eloise Midgeon’s

acne look like a couple of cute freckles. Come on, let’s get down

to breakfast and see what the others think… I wonder whether

this has been put up in all the houses?’

It was immediately apparent on entering the Great Hall that

Umbridge’s sign had not only appeared in Gryffindor Tower.

There was a peculiar intensity about the chatter and an extra

measure of movement in the Hall as people scurried up and

down their tables conferring on what they had read. Harry, Ron

and Hermione had barely taken their seats when Neville, Dean,

Fred, George and Ginny descended upon them.

‘Did you see it?’

‘D’you reckon she knows?’

‘What are we going to do?’

They were all looking at Harry. He glanced around to make sure

there were no teachers near them.

‘We’re going to do it anyway of course,’ he said quietly.

‘Knew you’d say that,’ said George, beaming and thumping Harry

on the arm.

The prefects as well?’ said Fred, looking quizzically at Ron and

Hermione.

‘Of course,’ said Hermione coolly.

‘Here come Ernie and Hannah Abbott,’ said Ron, looking over his

shoulder. ‘And those Ravenclaw blokes and Smith… and no one

looks very spotty.’

Hermione looked alarmed.

‘Never mind spots, the idiots can’t come over here now, it’ll look

really suspicious – sit down!’ she mouthed to Ernie and Hannah,

gesturing frantically to them to rejoin the Hufflepuff table. ‘Later!

We’ll – talk – to – you – later!’

Til tell Michael,’ said Ginny impatiently, swinging herself off her

bench, ‘the fool, honestly…’

She hurried off towards the Ravenclaw table; Harry watched her

go. Cho was sitting not far away, talking to the curly-haired

friend she had brought along to the Hog’s Head. Would

Umbridge’s notice scare her off meeting them again?

But the full repercussions of the sign were not felt until they

were leaving the Great Hall for History of Magic.

‘Harry! Ron/’

It was Angelina and she was hurrying towards them looking

perfectly desperate.

‘It’s OK,’ said Harry quietly, when she was near enough to hear

him. ‘We’re still going to -‘

‘You realise she’s including Quidditch in this?’ Angelina said over

him. ‘We have to go and ask permission to re-form the

Gryffindor team!’

What?’ said Harry.

‘No way,’ said Ron, appalled.

‘You read the sign, it mentions teams too! So listen, Harry… I am

saying this for the last time… please, please don’t lose your

temper with Umbridge again or she might not let us play any

more!’

‘OK, OK,’ said Harry, for Angelina looked as though she was on

the verge of tears. ‘Don’t worry, I’ll behave myself…’

‘Bet Umbridge is in History of Magic,’ said Ron grimly, as they

set off for Binns’s lesson. ‘She hasn’t inspected Binns yet… bet

you anything she’s there…’

But he was wrong; the only teacher present when they entered

was Professor Binns, floating an inch or so above his chair as

usual and preparing to continue his monotonous drone on giant

wars. Harry did not even attempt to follow what he was saying

today; he doodled idly on his parchment ignoring Hermiones

frequent glares and nudges, until a particularly painful poke in

the ribs made him look up angrily.

‘What?’

She pointed at the window. Harry looked round. Hedwig was

perched on the narrow window ledge, gazing through the thick

glass at him, a letter tied to her leg. Harry could not understand

it; they had just had breakfast, why on earth hadn’t she

delivered the letter then, as usual? Many of his classmates were

pointing out Hedwig to each other, too.

‘Oh, I’ve always loved that owl, she’s so beautiful,’ Harry heard

Lavender sigh to Parvati.

He glanced round at Professor Binns who continued to read his

notes, serenely unaware that the class’s attention was even less

focused upon him than usual. Harry slipped quietly off his chair,

crouched down and hurried along the row to the window, where

he slid the catch and opened it very slowly.

He had expected Hedwig to hold out her leg so that he could

remove the letter and then fly off to the Owlery but the moment

the window was open wide enough she hopped inside, hooting

dolefully. He closed the window with an anxious glance at

Professor Binns, crouched low again and sped back to his seat

with Hedwig on his shoulder. He regained his seat, transferred

Hedwig to his lap and made to remove the letter tied to her leg.

Only then did he realise that Hedwig’s feathers were oddly

ruffled; some were bent the wrong way, and she was holding

one of her wings at an odd angle.

‘She’s hurt!’ Harry whispered, bending his head low over her.

Hermione and Ron leaned in closer; Hermione even put down her

quill. ‘Look – there’s something wrong with her wing -‘

Hedwig was quivering; when Harry made to touch the wing she

gave a little jump, all her feathers on end as though she was

inflating herself, and gazed at him reproachfully.

‘Professor Binns,’ said Harry loudly, and everyone in the class

turned to look at him. ‘I’m not feeling well.’

Professor Binns raised his eyes from his notes, looking amazed,

as always, to find the room in front of him full of people.

‘Not feeling well?’ he repeated hazily.

‘Not at all well,’ said Harry firmly getting to his feet with Hedwig

concealed behind his back. ‘1 think I need to go to the hospital

wing.’

‘Yes,’ said Professor Binns, clearly very much wrong-footed.

‘Yes… yes, hospital wing… well, off you go, then, Perkins…’

Once outside the room, Harry returned Hedwig to his shoulder

and hurried off up the corridor, pausing to think only when he

was out of sight of Binns’s door. His first choice of somebody to

cure Hedwig would have been Hagrid, of course, but as he had

no idea where Hagrid was his only remaining option was to find

Professor Grubbly-Plank and hope she would help.

He peered out of a window at the blustery, overcast grounds.

There was no sign of her anywhere near Hagrid’s cabin; if she

was not teaching, she was probably in the staff room. He set off

downstairs, Hedwig hooting feebly as she swayed on his shoulder.

Two stone gargoyles flanked the staff-room door. As Harry

approached, one of them croaked, ‘You should be in class, Sonny

Jim.’

This is urgent,’ said Harry curtly.

‘Ooooh, urgent, is it?’ said the other gargoyle in a high-pitched

voice. ‘Well, that’s put us in our place, hasn’t it?’

Harry knocked. He heard footsteps, then the door opened and he

found himself face to face with Professor McGonagall.

‘You haven’t been given another detention!’ she said at once, her

square spectacles flashing alarmingly.

‘No, Professor!’ said Harry hastily.

‘Well then, why are you out of class?’

‘It’s urgent, apparently,’ said the second gargoyle snidery.

‘I’m looking for Professor Grubbly-Plank,’ Harry explained. ‘It’s

my owl, she’s injured.’

‘Injured owl, did you say?’

Professor Grubbly-Plank appeared at Professor McGonagall’s

shoulder, smoking a pipe and holding a copy of the Daily Prophet.

‘Yes,’ said Harry, lifting Hedwig carefully off his shoulder, ‘she

turned up after the other post owls and her wing’s all funny, look

-‘

Professor Grubbly-Plank stuck her pipe firmly between her teeth

and took Hedwig from Harry while Professor McGonagall watched.

‘Hmm,’ said Professor Grubbly-Plank, her pipe waggling slightly

as she talked. ‘Looks like something’s attacked her. Can’t think

what would have done it, though. Thestrals will sometimes go for

birds, of course, but Hagrid’s got the Hogwarts Thestrals welltrained

not to touch owls.’

Harry neither knew nor cared what Thestrals were; he just

wanted to know that Hedwig was going to be all right. Professor

McGonagall, however, looked sharply at Harry and said, ‘Do you

know how far this owl’s travelled, Potter?’

‘Er,’ said Harry. ‘From London, I think.’

He met her eyes briefly and knew, by the way her eyebrows had

joined in the middle, that she understood ‘London’ to mean

‘number twelve, Grimmauld Place’.

Professor Grubbly-Plank pulled a monocle out of the inside of her

robes and screwed it into her eye, to examine Hedwig’s wing

closely. ‘I should be able to sort this out if you leave her with me,

Potter,’ she said, ‘she shouldn’t be flying long distances for a few

days, in any case.’

‘Er – right – thanks,’ said Harry, just as the bell rang for break.

‘No problem,’ said Professor Grubbly-Plank gruffly, turning back

into the staff room.

‘Just a moment, Wilhelmina!’ said Professor McGonagall. ‘Potters

letter!’

‘Oh yeah!’ said Harry, who had momentarily forgotten the scroll

tied to Hedwig’s leg. Professor Grubbly-Plank handed it over and

then disappeared into the staff room carrying Hedwig, who was

staring at Harry as though unable to believe he would give her

away like this. Feeling slightly guilty, he turned to go, but

Professor McGonagall called him back.

‘Potter!’

‘Yes, Professor?’

She glanced up and down the corridor; there were students

coming from both directions.

‘Bear in mind,’ she said quickly and quietly, her eyes on the

scroll in his hand, ‘that channels of communication in and out of

Hogwarts may be being watched, won’t you?’

‘I -‘ said Harry, but the flood of students rolling along the

corridor was almost upon him. Professor McGonagall gave him a

curt nod and retreated into the staff room, leaving Harry to be

swept out into the courtyard with the crowd. He spotted Ron and

Hermione already standing in a sheltered corner, their cloak

collars turned up against the wind. Harry slit open the scroll as

he hurried towards them and found five words in Sirius’s

handwriting:

Today, same time, same place.

‘Is Hedwig OK?’ asked Hermione anxiously, the moment he was

within earshot.

‘Where did you take her?’ asked Ron.

To Grubbly-Plank,’ said Harry. ‘And I met McGonagall… listen…”

And he told them what Professor McGonagall had said. To his

surprise, neither of the others looked shocked. On the contrary,

they exchanged significant looks.

‘What?’ said Harry, looking from Ron to Hermione and back

again.

Well, 1 was just saying to Ron… what if someone had tried to

intercept Hedwig? I mean, she’s never been hurt on a flight

before, has she?’

‘Who’s the letter from, anyway?’ asked Ron, taking the note from

Harry.

‘Snuffles,’ said Harry quietly.

‘”Same time, same place?” Does he mean the fire in the common

room?’

‘Obviously,’ said Hermione, also reading the note. She looked

uneasy. ‘I just hope nobody else has read this…’

‘But it was still sealed and everything,’ said Harry, trying to

convince himself as much as her. ‘And nobody would understand

what it meant if they didn’t know where we’d spoken to him

before, would they?’

‘I don’t know,’ said Hermione anxiously, hitching her bag back

over her shoulder as the bell rang again, ‘it wouldn’t be exactly

difficult to re-seal the scroll by magic… and if anyone’s watching

the Floo Network… but I don’t really see how we can warn him

not to come without that being intercepted, too!’

They trudged down the stone steps to the dungeons for Potions,

all three of them lost in thought, but as they reached the bottom

of the steps they were recalled to themselves by the voice of

Draco Malfoy who was standing just outside Snape’s classroom

door, waving around an official-looking piece of parchment and

talking much louder than was necessary so that they could hear

every word.

‘Yeah, Umbridge gave the Slytherin Quidditch team permission

to continue playing straightaway, I went to ask her first thing

this morning. Well, it was pretty much automatic, 1 mean, she

knows my father really well, he’s always popping in and out of

the Ministry… it’ll be interesting to see whether Gryffindor are

allowed to keep playing, won’t it?’

‘Don’t rise,’ Hermione whispered imploringly to Harry and Ron,

who were both watching Malfoy, faces set and fists clenched. ‘It’s

what he wants.’

‘I mean,’ said Malfoy, raising his voice a little more, his grey

eyes glittering malevolently in Harry and Ron’s direction, ‘if it’s a

question of influence with the Ministry, I don’t think they’ve got

much chance… from what my father says, they’ve been looking

for an excuse to sack Arthur Weasley for years… and as for

Potter… my father says it’s a matter of time before the Ministry

has him carted off to St Mungo’s… apparently they’ve got a

special ward for people whose brains have been addled by

magic.’

Malfoy made a grotesque face, his mouth sagging open and his

eyes rolling. Crabbe and Goyle gave their usual grunts of

laughter; Pansy Parkinson shrieked with glee.

Something collided hard with Harry’s shoulder, knocking him

sideways. A split second later he realised that Neville had just

charged past him, heading straight for Malfoy.

‘Neville, no!’

Harry leapt forward and seized the back of Neville’s robes;

Neville struggled frantically, his fists flailing, trying desperately

to get at Malfoy who looked, for a moment, extremely shocked.

‘Help me!’ Harry flung at Ron, managing to get an arm around

Neville’s neck and dragging him backwards, away from the

Slytherins. Crabbe and Goyle were flexing their arms as they

stepped in front of Malfoy, ready for the fight. Ron seized

Neville’s arms, and together he and Harry succeeded in dragging

Neville back into the Gryffindor line. Neville’s face was scarlet;

the pressure Harry was exerting on his throat rendered him quite

incomprehensible, but odd words spluttered from his mouth.

‘Not… funny… don’t… Mungo’s… show… him…’

The dungeon door opened. Snape appeared there. His black eyes

swept up the Gryffindor line to the point where Harry and Ron

were wrestling with Neville.

‘Fighting, Potter, Weasley, Longbottom?’ Snape said in his cold,

sneering voice. Ten points from Gryffindor. Release Longbottom,

Potter, or it will be detention. Inside, all of you.’

Harry let go of Neville, who stood panting and glaring at him.

‘I had to stop you,’ Harry gasped, picking up his bag. ‘Crabbe

and Goyle would’ve torn you apart.’

Neville said nothing; he merely snatched up his own bag and

stalked off into the dungeon.

‘What in the name of Merlin,’ said Ron slowly, as they followed

Neville, ‘was that about?’

Harry did not answer. He knew exactly why the subject of people

who were in St Mungo’s because of magical damage to their

brains was highly distressing to Neville, but he had sworn to

Dumbledore that he would not tell anyone Neville’s secret. Even

Neville did not know Harry knew.

Harry, Ron and Hermione took their usual seats at the back of

the class, pulled out parchment, quills and their copies of One

Thousand Magical Herbs and Fungi. The class around them was

whispering about what Neville had just done, but when Snape

closed the dungeon door with an echoing bang, everybody

immediately fell silent.

‘You will notice,’ said Snape, in his low, sneering voice, ‘that we

have a guest with us today.’

He gestured towards the dim corner of the dungeon and Harry

saw Professor Umbridge sitting there, clipboard on her knee. He

glanced sideways at Ron and Hermione, his eyebrows raised.

Snape and Umbridge, the two teachers he hated most. It was

hard to decide which one he wanted to triumph over the other.

‘We are continuing with our Strengthening Solution today. You

i

will find your mixtures as you left them last lesson; if correctly

made they should have matured well over the weekend –

instructions -‘ he waved his wand again ‘- on the board. Carry

on.’

Professor Umbridge spent the first half hour of the lesson making

notes in her corner. Harry was very interested in hearing her

question Snape; so interested, that he was becoming careless

with his potion again.

‘Salamander blood, Harry !’ Hermione moaned, grabbing his

wrist to prevent him adding the wrong ingredient for the third

time, ‘not pomegranate juice!’

‘Right,’ said Harry vaguely, putting down the bottle and

continuing to watch the corner. Umbridge had just got to her

feet. ‘Ha,’ he said softly, as she strode between two lines of

desks towards Snape, who was bending over Dean Thomas’s

cauldron.

‘Well, the class seem fairly advanced for their level,’ she said

briskly to Snape’s back. Though I would question whether it is

advisable to teach them a potion like the Strengthening Solution.

I think the Ministry would prefer it if that was removed from the

syllabus.’

Snape straightened up slowly and turned to look at her.

‘Now… how long have you been teaching at Hogwarts?’ she

asked, her quill poised over her clipboard.

‘Fourteen years,’ Snape replied. His expression was

unfathomable. Harry, watching him closely, added a few drops to

his potion; it hissed menacingly and turned from turquoise to

orange.

‘You applied first for the Defence Against the Dark Arts post, I

believe?’ Professor Umbridge asked Snape.

‘Yes,’ said Snape quietly.

‘But you were unsuccessful?’

Snape’s lip curled.

‘Obviously’

Professor Umbridge scribbled on her clipboard.

‘And you have applied regularly for the Defence Against the Dark

Arts post since you first joined the school, I believe?’

‘Yes,’ said Snape quietly, barely moving his lips. He looked very

angry.

‘Do you have any idea why Dumbledore has consistently refused

to appoint you?’ asked Umbridge.

‘I suggest you ask him,’ said Snape jerkily. .?

‘Oh, I shall,’ said Professor Umbridge, with a sweet smile.

‘I suppose this is relevant?’ Snape asked, his black eyes

narrowed.

‘Oh yes,’ said Professor Umbridge, ‘yes, the Ministry wants a

thorough understanding of teachers’ – er – backgrounds.’

She turned away, walked over to Pansy Parkinson and began

questioning her about the lessons. Snape looked round at Harry

and their eyes met for a second. Harry hastily dropped his gaze

to his potion, which was now congealing foully and giving off a

strong smell of burned rubber.

‘No marks again, then, Potter,’ said Snape maliciously, emptying

Harry’s cauldron with a wave of his wand. ‘You will write me an

essay on the correct composition of this potion, indicating how

and why you went wrong, to be handed in next lesson, do you

understand?’

‘Yes,’ said Harry furiously. Snape had already given them

homework and he had Quidditch practice this evening; this

would mean another couple of sleepless nights. It did not seem

possible that he had awoken that morning feeling very happy. All

he felt now was a fervent desire for this day to end.

‘Maybe I’ll skive off Divination,’ he said glumly, as they stood in

the courtyard after lunch, the wind whipping at the hems of

robes and brims of hats. Til pretend to be ill and do Snape’s

essay instead, then I won’t have to stay up half the night.’

‘You can’t skive off Divination,’ said Hermione severely.

‘Hark who’s talking, you walked out of Divination, you hate

Trelawney!’ said Ron indignantly.

‘I don’t hate her,’ said Hermione loftily. ‘I just think she’s an

absolutely appalling teacher and a real old fraud. But Harrys

already missed History of Magic and I don’t think he ought to

miss anything else today!’

There was too much truth in this to ignore, so half an hour later

Harry took his seat in the hot, overperfumed atmosphere of the

Divination classroom, feeling angry at everybody. Professor

Trelawney was yet again handing out copies of The Dream

Oracle. Harry thought he’d surely be much better employed

doing Snape’s punishment essay than sitting here trying to find

meaning in a lot of made-up dreams.

It seemed, however, that he was not the only person in

Divination who was in a temper. Professor Trelawney slammed a

copy of the Oracle down on the table between Harry and Ron

and swept away, her lips pursed; she threw the next copy of the

Oracle at Seamus and Dean, narrowly avoiding Seamus’s head,

and thrust the final one into Neville’s chest with such force that

he slipped off his pouffe.

‘Well, carry on!’ said Professor Trelawney loudly, her voice highpitched

and somewhat hysterical, ‘you know what to do! Or am I

such a sub-standard teacher that you have never learned how to

open a book?’

The class stared perplexedly at her, then at each other. Harry,

however, thought he knew what was the matter. As Professor

Trelawney flounced back to the high-backed teacher’s chair, her

magnified eyes full of angry tears, he leaned his head closer to

Ron’s and muttered, ‘I think she’s got the results of her

inspection back.’

‘Professor?’ said Parvati Patil in a hushed voice (she and

Lavender had always rather admired Professor Trelawney).

‘Professor, is there anything – er – wrong?’

‘Wrong!’ cried Professor Trelawney in a voice throbbing with

emotion. ‘Certainly not! I have been insulted, certainly…

insinuations have been made against me… unfounded

accusations levelled… but no, there is nothing wrong, certainly

not!’

She took a great shuddering breath and looked away from

Parvati, angry tears spilling from under her glasses.

‘I say nothing,’ she choked, ‘of sixteen years of devoted service…

it has passed, apparently, unnoticed… but I shall not be insulted,

no, I shall not!’

‘But, Professor, who’s insulting you?’ asked Parvati timidly.

The Establishment!’ said Professor Trelawney, in a deep,

dramatic, wavering voice. ‘Yes, those with eyes too clouded by

the mundane to See as I See, to Know as I Know… of course, we

Seers have always been feared, always persecuted… it is – alas –

our fate.’

She gulped, dabbed at her wet cheeks with the end of her shawl,

then she pulled a small embroidered handkerchief from her

sleeve, and blew her nose very hard with a sound like Peeves

blowing a raspberry.

Ron sniggered. Lavender shot him a disgusted look.

‘Professor,’ said Parvati, ‘do you mean… is it something Professor

Umbridge -?’

‘Do not speak to me about that woman!’ cried Professor

Trelawney, leaping to her feet, her beads rattling and her

spectacles flashing. ‘Kindly continue with your work!’

And she spent the rest of the lesson striding among them, tears

still leaking from behind her glasses, muttering what sounded

like threats under her breath.

‘… may well choose to leave… the indignity of it… on probation…

we shall see… how she dares…’

‘You and Umbridge have got something in common,’ Harry told

Hermione quietly when they met again in Defence Against the

Dark Arts. ‘She obviously reckons Trelawney’s an old fraud, too…

looks like she’s put her on probation.’

Umbridge entered the room as he spoke, wearing her black

velvet bow and an expression of great smugness.

‘Good afternoon, class.’

‘Good afternoon, Professor Umbridge,’ they chanted dully.

‘Wands away, please.’

But there was no answering flurry of movement this time;

nobody had bothered to take out their wands.

‘Please turn to page thirty-four of Defensive Magical Theory and

read the third chapter, entitled “The Case for Non-Offensive

Responses to Magical Attack”. There will be -‘

‘- no need to talk,’ Harry, Ron and Hermione said together,

under their breaths.

*

‘No Quidditch practice,’ said Angelina in hollow tones when Harry,

Ron and Hermione entered the common room after dinner that

night.

‘But I kept my temper!’ said Harry, horrified. ‘I didn’t say

anything to her, Angelina, I swear, I -‘

‘I know, I know,’ said Angelina miserably. ‘She just said she

needed a bit of time to consider.’

‘Consider what?’ said Ron angrily. ‘She’s given the Slytherins

permission, why not us?’

But Harry could imagine how much Umbridge was enjoying

holding the threat of no Gryffindor Quidditch team over their

heads and could easily understand why she would not want to

relinquish that weapon over them too soon.

‘Well,’ said Hermione, ‘look on the bright side – at least now

you’ll have time to do Snape’s essay!’

That’s a bright side, is it?’ snapped Harry, while Ron stared

incredulously at Hermione. ‘No Quidditch practice, and extra

Potions?’

Harry slumped down into a chair, dragged his Potions essay

reluctantly from his bag and set to work. It was very hard to

concentrate; even though he knew Sirius was not due in the fire

until much later, he could not help glancing into the flames every

few minutes just in case. There was also an incredible amount of

noise in the room: Fred and George appeared finally to have

perfected one type of Skiving Snackbox, which they were taking

turns to demonstrate to a cheering and whooping crowd.

First, Fred would take a bite out of the orange end of a chew, at

which he would vomit spectacularly into a bucket they had

placed in front of them. Then he would force down the purple

end of the chew, at which the vomiting would immediately cease.

Lee Jordan, who was assisting the demonstration, was lazily

Vanishing the vomit at regular intervals with the same Vanishing

Spell Snape kept using on Harrys potions.

What with the regular sounds of retching, cheering and the

sound of Fred and George taking advance orders from the crowd,

Harry was finding it exceptionally difficult to focus on the correct

method for Strengthening Solution. Hermione was not helping

matters; the cheers and the sound of vomit hitting the bottom of

Fred and George’s bucket were punctuated by her loud and

disapproving sniffs, which Harry found, if anything, more

distracting.

‘Just go and stop them, then!’ he said irritably, after crossing out

the wrong weight of powdered griffin claw for the fourth time.

‘I can’t, they’re not technically doing anything wrong,’ said

Hermione through gritted teeth. They’re quite within their rights

to eat the foul things themselves and I can’t find a rule that says

the other idiots aren’t entitled to buy them, not unless they’re

proven to be dangerous in some way and it doesn’t look as

though they are.’

She, Harry and Ron watched George projectile-vomit into the

bucket, gulp down the rest of the chew and straighten up,

beaming with his arms wide to protracted applause.

‘You know, I don’t get why Fred and George only got three OWLs

each,’ said Harry, watching as Fred, George and Lee collected

gold from the eager crowd. They really know their stuff.’

‘Oh, they only know flashy stuff that’s of no real use to anyone,’

said Hermione disparagingly.

‘No real use?’ said Ron in a strained voice. ‘Hermione, they’ve

made about twenty-six Galleons already.’

It was a long while before the crowd around the Weasley twins

dispersed, then Fred, Lee and George sat up counting their

takings even longer, so it was well past midnight when Harry,

Ron and Hermione finally had the common room to themselves.

At long last, Fred had closed the doorway to the boys’

dormitories behind him, rattling his box of Galleons

ostentatiously so that Hermione scowled. Harry, who was making

very little progress with his Potions essay, decided to give it up

for the night. As he put his books away, Ron, who was dozing

lightly in an armchair, gave a muffled grunt, awoke, and looked

blearily into the fire.

‘Sirius!’ he said.

Harry whipped round. Siriuss untidy dark head was sitting in the

fire again.

‘Hi,’ he said, grinning.

‘Hi,’ chorused Harry, Ron and Hermione, all three kneeling down

on the hearthrug. Crookshanks purred loudly and approached

the fire, trying, despite the heat, to put his face close to Sirius’s.

‘How’re things?’ said Sirius.

‘Not that good,’ said Harry, as Hermione pulled Crookshanks

back to stop him singeing his whiskers. The Ministry’s forced

through another decree, which means we’re not allowed to have

Quidditch teams -‘

I

‘Or secret Defence Against the Dark Arts groups?’ said Sirius.

There was a short pause.

‘How did you know about that?’ Harry demanded.

‘You want to choose your meeting places more carefully,’ said

Sirius, grinning still more broadly. The Hog’s Head, I ask you.’

‘Well, it was better than the Three Broomsticks!’ said Hermione

defensively. That’s always packed with people -‘

‘Which means you’d have been harder to overhear,’ said Sirius.

‘You’ve got a lot to learn, Hermione.’

‘Who overheard us?’ Harry demanded.

‘Mundungus, of course,’ said Sirius, and when they all looked

puzzled he laughed. ‘He was the witch under the veil.’

That was Mundungus?’ Harry said, stunned. ‘What was he doing

in the Hog’s Head?’

What do you think he was doing?’ said Sirius impatiently.

‘Keeping an eye on you, of course.’

‘I’m still being followed?’ asked Harry angrily.

‘Yeah, you are,’ said Sirius, ‘and just as well, isn’t it, if the first

thing you’re going to do on your weekend off is organise an

illegal defence group.’

But he looked neither angry nor worried. On the contrary, he

was looking at Harry with distinct pride.

‘Why was Dung hiding from us?’ asked Ron, sounding

disappointed. ‘We’d’ve liked to’ve seen him.’

‘He was banned from the Hog’s Head twenty years ago,’ said

Sirius, ‘and that barman’s got a long memory. We lost Moody’s

spare Invisibility Cloak when Sturgis was arrested, so Dung’s

been dressing as a witch a lot lately… anyway… first of all, Ron –

I’ve sworn to pass on a message from your mother.’

‘Oh yeah?’ said Ron, sounding apprehensive.

‘She says on no account whatsoever are you to take part in an

illegal secret Defence Against the Dark Arts group. She says

you’ll be expelled for sure and your future will be ruined. She

says there will be plenty of time to learn how to defend yourself

later and that you are too young to be worrying about that right

now. She also’ (Sirius’s eyes turned to the other two) ‘advises

Harry and Hermione not to proceed with the group, though she

accepts that she has no authority over either of them and simply

begs them to remember that she has their best interests at heart.

She would have written all this to you, but if the owl had been

intercepted you’d all have been in real trouble, and she can’t say

it for herself because she’s on duty tonight.’

‘On duty doing what?’ said Ron quickly.

‘Never you mind, just stuff for the Order,’ said Sirius. ‘So it’s

fallen to me to be the messenger and make sure you tell her I

passed it all on, because I don’t think she trusts me to.’

There was another pause in which Crookshanks, mewing,

attempted to paw Sirius’s head, and Ron fiddled with a hole in

the hearthrug.

‘So, you want me to say I’m not going to take part in the

Defence group?’ he muttered finally.

‘Me? Certainly not!’ said Sirius, looking surprised. ‘I think it’s an

excellent idea!’

‘You do?’ said Harry, his heart lifting.

‘Of course I do!’ said Sirius. ‘D’you think your father and I

would’ve lain down and taken orders from an old hag like

Umbridge?’

‘But – last term all you did was tell me to be careful and not take

risks -‘

‘Last year, all the evidence was that someone inside Hogwarts

was trying to kill you, Harry!’ said Sirius impatiently. This year,

we know there’s someone outside Hogwarts who’d like to kill us

all, so I think learning to defend yourselves properly is a very

good idea!’

‘And if we do get expelled?’ Hermione asked, a quizzical look on

her face.

‘Hermione, this whole thing was your idea!’ said Harry, staring at

her.

‘I know it was. I just wondered what Sirius thought,’ she said,

shrugging.

‘Well, better expelled and able to defend yourselves than sitting

safely in school without a clue,’ said Sirius.

‘Hear, hear,’ said Harry and Ron enthusiastically.

‘So,’ said Sirius, ‘how are you organising this group? Where are

you meeting?’

‘Well, that’s a bit of a problem now,’ said Harry. ‘Dunno where

we’re going to be able to go.’

‘How about the Shrieking Shack?’ suggested Sirius.

‘Hey, that’s an idea!’ said Ron excitedly, but Hermione made a

sceptical noise and all three of them looked at her, Siriuss head

turning in the flames.

‘Well, Sirius, it’s just that there were only four of you meeting in

the Shrieking Shack when you were at school,’ said Hermione,

‘and all of you could transform into animals and I suppose you

could all have squeezed under a single Invisibility Cloak if you’d

wanted to. But there are twenty-eight of us and none of us is an

Animagus, so we wouldn’t need so much an Invisibility Cloak as

an Invisibility Marquee -‘

‘Fair point,’ said Sirius, looking slightly crestfallen. ‘Well, I’m sure

you’ll come up with somewhere. There used to be a pretty roomy

secret passageway behind that big mirror on the fourth floor,

you might have enough space to practise jinxes in there.’

‘Fred and George told me it’s blocked,’ said Harry, shaking his

head. ‘Caved in or something.’

‘Oh…’ said Sirius, frowning. ‘Well, I’ll have a think and get back

to -‘

He broke off. His face was suddenly tense, alarmed. He turned

sideways, apparently looking into the solid brick wall of the

fireplace.

‘Sirius?’ said Harry anxiously.

But he had vanished. Harry gaped at the flames for a moment,

then turned to look at Ron and Hermione.

Why did he -?’

Hermione gave a horrified gasp and leapt to her feet, still staring

at the fire.

A hand had appeared amongst the flames, groping as though to

catch hold of something; a stubby, short-fingered hand covered

in ugly old-fashioned rings.

The three of them ran for it. At the door of the boys’ dormitory

Harry looked back. Umbridge’s hand was still making snatching

movements amongst the flames, as though she knew exactly

where Siriuss hair had been moments before and was

determined to seize it.

— CHAPTER EIGHTEEN —

Dumbledore’s Army

‘Umbridge has been reading your mail, Harry. There’s no other

explanation.’

‘You think Umbridge attacked Hedwig?’ he said, outraged.

‘I’m almost certain of it,’ said Hermione grimly. ‘Watch your frog,

it’s escaping.’

Harry pointed his wand at the bullfrog that had been hopping

hopefully towards the other side of the table – ‘Accio!’ – and it

zoomed gloomily back into his hand.

Charms was always one of the best lessons in which to enjoy a

private chat; there was generally so much movement and

activity that the danger of being overheard was very slight.

Today, with the room full of croaking bullfrogs and cawing

ravens, and with a heavy downpour of rain clattering and

pounding against the classroom windows, Harry, Ron and

Hermione’s whispered discussion about how Umbridge had

nearly caught Sirius went quite unnoticed.

‘I’ve been suspecting this ever since Filch accused you of

ordering Dungbombs, because it seemed such a stupid lie,’

Hermione whispered. ‘I mean, once your letter had been read it

would have been quite clear you weren’t ordering them, so you

wouldn’t have been in trouble at all – it’s a bit of a feeble joke,

isn’t it? But then 1 thought, what if somebody just wanted an

excuse to read your mail? Well then, it would be a perfect way

for Umbridge to manage it – tip off Filch, let him do the dirty

work and confiscate the letter, then either find a way of stealing

it from him or else demand to see it – 1 don’t think Filch would

object, when’s he ever stuck up for a student’s rights? Harry,

you’re squashing your frog.’

r

Harry looked down; he was indeed squeezing his bullfrog so

tightly its eyes were popping; he replaced it hastily upon the

desk.

‘It was a very, very close call last night,’ said Hermione. ‘I just

wonder if Umbridge knows how close it was. Silencio.’

The bullfrog on which she was practising her Silencing Charm

was struck dumb mid-croak and glared at her reproachfully.

‘If she’d caught Snuffles -‘

Harry finished the sentence for her.

‘- He’d probably be back in Azkaban this morning.’ He waved his

wand without really concentrating; his bullfrog swelled like a

green balloon and emitted a high-pitched whistle.

Silencio!’ said Hermione hastily, pointing her wand at Harry’s

frog, which deflated silently before them. ‘Well, he mustn’t do it

again, that’s all. I just don’t know how we’re going to let him

know. We can’t send him an owl.’

‘I don’t reckon he’ll risk it again,’ said Ron. ‘He’s not stupid, he

knows she nearly got him. Silencio.’

The large and ugly raven in front of him let out a derisive caw.

‘Silencio. SILENCIO!’

The raven cawed more loudly.

‘Its the way you’re moving your wand,’ said Hermione, watching

Ron critically, ‘you don’t want to wave it, it’s more a sharp jab.’

‘Ravens are harder than frogs,’ said Ron through clenched teeth.

‘Fine, let’s swap,’ said Hermione, seizing Rons raven and

replacing it with her own fat bullfrog. ‘Silencio!’ The raven

continued to open and close its sharp beak, but no sound came

out.

‘Very good, Miss Granger!’ said Professor Flitwick’s squeaky little

voice, making Harry, Ron and Hermione all jump. ‘Now, let me

see you try, Mr Weasley.’

‘Wha—? Oh – oh, right,’ said Ron, very flustered. ‘Er – silendo!’

He jabbed at the bullfrog so hard he poked it in the eye: the frog

gave a deafening croak and leapt off the desk.

It came as no surprise to any of them that Harry and Ron were

given additional practice of the Silencing Charm for homework.

They were allowed to remain inside over break due to the

downpour outside. They found seats in a noisy and overcrowded

classroom on the first floor in which Peeves was floating dreamily

up near the chandelier, occasionally blowing an ink pellet at the

top of somebody’s head. They had barely sat down when

Angelina came struggling towards them through the groups of

gossiping students.

‘I’ve got permission!’ she said. To re-form the Quidditch team!’

Excellent!’ said Ron and Harry together.

‘Yeah,’ said Angelina, beaming. ‘I went to McGonagall and I think

she might have appealed to Dumbledore. Anyway, Umbridge had

to give in. Ha! So I want you down at the pitch at seven o’clock

tonight, all right, because we’ve got to make up time. You realise

we’re only three weeks away from our first match?’

She squeezed away from them, narrowly dodged an ink pellet

from Peeves, which hit a nearby first-year instead, and vanished

from sight.

Ron’s smile slipped slightly as he looked out of the window,

which was now opaque with hammering rain.

‘Hope this clears up. What’s up with you, Hermione?’

She, too, was gazing at the window, but not as though she really

saw it. Her eyes were unfocused and there was a frown on her

face.

‘Just thinking…’ she said, still frowning at the rain-washed

window.

‘About Siri— Snuffles?’ said Harry.

‘No… not exactly…’ said Hermione slowly. ‘More… wondering… 1

suppose we’re doing the right thing… I think… aren’t we?’

Harry and Ron looked at each other.

‘Well, that clears that up,’ said Ron. ‘It would’ve been really

annoying if you hadn’t explained yourself properly.’

Hermione looked at him as though she had only just realised he

was there.

‘I was just wondering,’ she said, her voice stronger now,

‘whether we’re doing the right thing, starting this Defence

Against the Dark Arts group.’

‘What?’ said Harry and Ron together.

‘Hermione, it was your idea in the first place!’ said Ron

indignantly.

‘I know,’ said Hermione, twisting her fingers together. ‘But after

talking to Snuffles…’

‘But he’s all for it,’ said Harry.

‘Yes,’ said Hermione, staring at the window again. ‘Yes, that’s

what made me think maybe it wasn’t a good idea after all…’

Peeves floated over them on his stomach, peashooter at the

ready; automatically all three of them lifted their bags to cover

their heads until he had passed.

‘Let’s get this straight,’ said Harry angrily, as they put their bags

back on the floor, ‘Sirius agrees with us, so you don’t think we

should do it any more?’

Hermione looked tense and rather miserable. Now staring at her

own hands, she said, ‘Do you honestly trust his judgement?’

‘Yes, I do!’ said Harry at once. ‘He’s always given us great

advice!’

An ink pellet whizzed past them, striking Katie Bell squarely in

the ear. Hermione watched Katie leap to her feet and start

throwing things at Peeves; it was a few moments before

Hermione spoke again and it sounded as though she was

choosing her words very carefully.

‘You don’t think he has become… sort of… reckless… since he’s

been cooped up in Grimmauld Place? You don’t think he’s… kind

of… living through us?’

‘What d’you mean, “living through us”?’ Harry retorted.

‘I mean… well, I think he’d love to be forming secret Defence

societies right under the nose of someone from the Ministry… I

think he’s really frustrated at how little he can do where he is…

so I think he’s keen to kind of… egg us on.’

Ron looked utterly perplexed.

‘Sirius is right,’ he said, ‘you do sound just like my mother.’

Hermione bit her lip and did not answer. The bell rang just as

Peeves swooped down on Katie and emptied an entire ink bottle

over her head.

*

The weather did not improve as the day wore on, so that at

seven

^o’clock that evening, when Harry and Ron went down to the

^uidditch pitch for practice, they were soaked through within

min-ates, their feet slipping and sliding on the sodden grass. The

sky

pwas a deep, thundery grey and it was a relief to gain the

warmth and light of the changing rooms, even if they knew the

respite was only temporary. They found Fred and George

debating whether to use one of their own Skiving Snackboxes to

get out of flying.

‘… but I bet she’d know what we’d done,’ Fred said out of the

corner of his mouth. ‘If only I hadn’t offered to sell her some

Puking Pastilles yesterday.’

‘We could try the Fever Fudge,’ George muttered, ‘no one’s seen

that yet -‘

‘Does it work?’ enquired Ron hopefully, as the hammering of rain

on the roof intensified and wind howled around the building.

‘Well, yeah,’ said Fred, ‘your temperature’ll go right up.’

‘But you get these massive pus-filled boils, too,’ said George,

‘and we haven’t worked out how to get rid of them yet.’

‘I can’t see any boils,’ said Ron, staring at the twins.

‘No, well, you wouldn’t,’ said Fred darkly, ‘they’re not in a place

we generally display to the public.’

‘But they make sitting on a broom a right pain in the -‘

‘All right, everyone, listen up,’ said Angelina loudly, emerging

from the Captain’s office. ‘I know it’s not ideal weather, but

there’s a chance we’ll be playing Slytherin in conditions like this

so it’s a good idea to work out how we’re going to cope with

them. Harry, didn’t you do something to your glasses to stop the

rain fogging them up when we played Hufflepuff in that storm?’

‘Hermione did it,’ said Harry. He pulled out his wand, tapped his

glasses and said, ‘Impervius!’

‘I think we all ought to try that,’ said Angelina. ‘If we could just

keep the rain off our faces it would really help visibility – all

together, come on – Impervius! OK. Let’s go.’

They all stowed their wands back in the inside pockets of their

robes, shouldered their brooms and followed Angelina out of the

changing rooms.

They squelched through the deepening mud to the middle of the

pitch; visibility was still very poor even with the Impervius

Charm; light was fading fast and curtains of rain were sweeping

the grounds.

‘All right, on my whistle,’ shouted Angelina.

Harry kicked off from the ground, spraying mud in all directions,

and shot upwards, the wind pulling him slightly off course.

He had no idea how he was going to see the Snitch in this

weather; he was having enough difficulty seeing the one Bludger

with which they were practising; a minute into the practice it

almost unseated him and he had to use the Sloth Grip Roll to

avoid it. Unfortunately, Angelina did not see this. In fact, she did

not appear to be able to see anything; none of them had a clue

what the others were doing. The wind was picking up; even at a

distance Harry could hear the swishing, pounding sounds of the

rain pummelling the surface of the lake.

Angelina kept them at it for nearly an hour before conceding

defeat. She led her sodden and disgruntled team back into the

changing rooms, insisting that the practice had not been a waste

of time, though without any real conviction in her voice. Fred

and George were looking particularly annoyed; both were bandylegged

and winced with every movement. Harry could hear them

complaining in low voices as he towelled his hair dry.

‘I think a few of mine have ruptured,’ said Fred in a hollow voice.

‘Mine haven’t,’ said George, through clenched teeth, ‘they’re

throbbing like mad… feel bigger if anything.’

‘OUCH!’ said Harry.

He pressed the towel to his face, his eyes screwed tight with pain.

The scar on his forehead had seared again, more painfully than it

had in weeks.

‘What’s up?’ said several voices.

Harry emerged from behind his towel; the changing room was

blurred because he was not wearing his glasses, but he could

still tell that everyone’s face was turned towards him.

‘Nothing,’ he muttered, ‘I – poked myself in the eye, that’s all.’

But he gave Ron a significant look and the two of them hung

back as the rest of the team filed back outside, muffled in their

cloaks, their hats pulled low over their ears.

‘What happened?’ said Ron, the moment Alicia had disappeared

through the door. ‘Was it your scar?’

Harry nodded.

‘But…’ looking scared, Ron strode across to the window and

stared out into the rain, ‘he – he can’t be near us now, can he?’

‘No,’ Harry muttered, sinking on to a bench and rubbing his

forehead. ‘He’s probably miles away. It hurt because… he’s…

angry.’

Harry had not meant to say that at all, and heard the words as

though a stranger had spoken them – yet knew at once that they

were true. He did not know how he knew it, but he did;

Voldemort, wherever he was, whatever he was doing, was in a

towering temper.

‘Did you see him?’ said Ron, looking horrified. ‘Did you… get a

vision, or something?’

Harry sat quite still, staring at his feet, allowing his mind and his

memory to relax in the aftermath of the pain.

A confused tangle of shapes, a howling rush of voices…

‘He wants something done, and it’s not happening fast enough,’

he said.

Again, he felt surprised to hear the words coming out of his

mouth, and yet was quite certain they were true.

‘But… how do you know?’ said Ron.

Harry shook his head and covered his eyes with his hands,

pressing down upon them with his palms. Little stars erupted in

them. He felt Ron sit down on the bench beside him and knew

Ron was staring at him.

‘Is this what it was about last time?’ said Ron in a hushed voice.

‘When your scar hurt in Umbridge’s office? You-Know-Who was

angry?’

Harry shook his head.

‘What is it, then?’

Harry was thinking himself back. He had been looking into

Umbridge’s face… his scar had hurt… and he had had that odd

feeling in his stomach… a strange, leaping feeling… a happy

feeling… but of course, he had not recognised it for what it was,

as he had been feeling so miserable himself…

‘Last time, it was because he was pleased,’ he said. ‘Really

pleased. He thought… something good was going to happen. And

the night before we came back to Hogwarts…’ he thought back to

the moment when his scar had hurt so badly in his and Ron’s

bedroom in Grimmauld Place… ‘he was furious

He looked round at Ron, who was gaping at him.

‘You could take over from Trelawney, mate,’ he said in an awed

voice.

‘I’m not making prophecies,’ said Harry.

‘No, you know what you’re doing?’ Ron said, sounding both

scared and impressed. ‘Harry, you’re reading You-Know-Who’s

mind!’

‘No,’ said Harry, shaking his head. ‘It’s more like… his mood, I

suppose. I’m just getting flashes of what mood he’s in.

Dumbledore said something like this was happening last year. He

said that when Voldemort was near me, or when he was feeling

hatred, I could tell. Well, now I’m feeling it when he’s pleased,

too…”

There was a pause. The wind and rain lashed at the building.

‘You’ve got to tell someone,’ said Ron.

‘I told Sirius last time.’

‘Well, tell him about this time!’

‘Can’t, can I?’ said Harry grimly. ‘Umbridge is watching the owls

and the fires, remember?’

‘Well then, Dumbledore.’

‘I’ve just told you, he already knows,’ said Harry shortly, getting

to his feet, taking his cloak off his peg and swinging it around

him. There’s no point telling him again.’

Ron did up the fastening of his own cloak, watching Harry

thoughtfully.

‘Dumbledore’d want to know,’ he said.

Harry shrugged.

‘C’mon… we’ve still got Silencing Charms to practise.’

They hurried back through the dark grounds, sliding and

stumbling up the muddy lawns, not talking. Harry was thinking

hard. What was it that Voldemort wanted done that was not

happening quickly enough?

‘… he’s got other plans… plans he can put into operation very

quietly indeed… stuff he can only get by stealth… like a weapon.

Something he didn’t have last time.’

Harry had not thought about those words in weeks; he had been

too absorbed in what was going on at Hogwarts, too busy

dwelling on the ongoing battles with Umbridge, the injustice of

all the Ministry interference… but now they came back to him

and made him wonder… Voldemort’s anger would make sense if

he was no nearer to laying hands on the weapon, whatever it

was. Had the Order thwarted him, stopped him from seizing it?

Where was it kept? Who had it now?

Mimbulus mimbletonia,’ said Ron’s voice and Harry came back

to his senses just in time to clamber through the portrait hole

into the common room.

It appeared that Hermione had gone to bed early, leaving

Crookshanks curled in a nearby chair and an assortment of

knobbly knitted elf hats lying on a table by the fire. Harry was

rather grateful that she was not around, because he did not

much want to discuss his scar hurting and have her urge him to

go to Dumbledore, too. Ron kept throwing him anxious glances,

but Harry pulled out his Charms books and set to work on

finishing his essay, though he was only pretending to

concentrate and by the time Ron said he was going up to bed,

too, he had written hardly anything.

Midnight came and went while Harry was reading and rereading

a passage about the uses of scurvy-grass, lovage and

sneezewort and not taking in a word of it.

These plantes are moste efficacious in the inflaming of the braine,

and are therefore much used in Confusing and Befuddlement

Draughts, where the wizard is desirous of producing hotheadedness

and recklessness…

… Hermione said Sirius was becoming reckless cooped up in

Grimmauld Place…

moste efficacious in the inflaming of the braine, and are

therefore much used

… the Daily Prophet would think his brain was inflamed if they

found out that he knew what Voldemort was feeling…

therefore much used in Confusing and Befuddlement

Draughts

… confusing was the word, all right; why did he know what

Voldemort was feeling? What was this weird connection between

them, which Dumbledore had never been able to explain

satisfactorily?

where the wizard is desirous

… how Harry would like to sleep…

…of producing hot-headedness…

… it was warm and comfortable in his armchair before the fire,

with the rain still beating heavily on the windowpanes,

Crookshanks purring, and the crackling of the flames…

The book slipped from Harry’s slack grip and landed with a dull

thud on the hearthrug. His head lolled sideways…

He was walking once more along a windowless corridor, his

footsteps echoing in the silence. As the door at the end of the

passage loomed larger, his heart beat fast with excitement… if

he could only open it… enter beyond…

He stretched out his hand… his fingertips were inches from it…

‘Harry Potter, sir!’

He awoke with a start. The candles had all been extinguished in

the common room, but there was something moving close by.

‘Whozair?’ said Harry, sitting upright in his chair. The fire was

almost out, the room very dark.

‘Dobby has your owl, sir!’ said a squeaky voice.

‘Dobby?’ said Harry thickly, peering through the gloom towards

the source of the voice.

Dobby the house-elf was standing beside the table on which

Hermione had left half a dozen of her knitted hats. His large,

pointed ears were now sticking out from beneath what looked

like all the hats Hermione had ever knitted; he was wearing one

on top of the other, so that his head seemed elongated by two or

three feet, and on the very topmost bobble sat Hedwig, hooting

serenely and obviously cured.

‘Dobby volunteered to return Harry Potter’s owl,’ said the elf

squeakily, with a look of positive adoration on his face, ‘Professor

Grubbly-Plank says she is all well now, sir.’ He sank into a deep

bow so that his pencil-like nose brushed the threadbare surface

of the hearthrug and Hedwig gave an indignant hoot and

fluttered on to the arm of Harry’s chair.

Thanks, Dobby!’ said Harry, stroking Hedwig’s head and blinking

hard, trying to rid himself of the image of the door in his dream…

it had been very vivid. Surveying Dobby more closely, he noticed

that the elf was also wearing several scarves and innumerable

socks, so that his feet looked far too big for his body.

‘Er… have you been taking all the clothes Hermione’s been

leaving out?’

‘Oh, no, sir,’ said Dobby happily. ‘Dobby has been taking some

for Winky, too, sir.’

‘Yeah, how is Winky?’ asked Harry.

Dobby’s ears drooped slightly.

‘Winky is still drinking lots, sir,’ he said sadly, his enormous

round green eyes, large as tennis balls, downcast. ‘She still does

not care for clothes, Harry Potter. Nor do the other house-elves.

None of them will clean Gryffindor Tower any more, not with the

hats and socks hidden everywhere, they finds them insulting, sir.

Dobby does it all himself, sir, but Dobby does not mind, sir, for

he always hopes to meet Harry Potter and tonight, sir, he has

got his wish!’ Dobby sank into a deep bow again. ‘But Harry

Potter does not seem happy,’ Dobby went on, straightening up

again and looking timidly at Harry. ‘Dobby heard him muttering

in his sleep. Was Harry Potter having bad dreams?’

‘Not really bad,’ said Harry, yawning and rubbing his eyes. ‘I’ve

had worse.’

The elf surveyed Harry out of his vast, orb-like eyes. Then he

said very seriously, his ears drooping, ‘Dobby wishes he could

help Harry Potter, for Harry Potter set Dobby free and Dobby is

much, much happier now.’

Harry smiled.

‘You can’t help me, Dobby, but thanks for the offer.’

He bent and picked up his Potions book. He’d have to try to

finish the essay tomorrow. He closed the book and as he did so

the firelight illuminated the thin white scars on the back of his

hand – the result of his detentions with Umbridge…

‘Wait a moment – there is something you can do for me, Dobby,’

said Harry slowly.

The elf looked round, beaming.

‘Name it, Harry Potter, sir!’

‘I need to find a place where twenty-eight people can practise

Defence Against the Dark Arts without being discovered by any

of the teachers. Especially,’ Harry clenched his hand on the book,

so that the scars shone pearly white, ‘Professor Umbridge.’

He expected the elf’s smile to vanish, his ears to droop; he

expected him to say it was impossible, or else that he would try

to find somewhere, but his hopes were not high. What he had

not expected was for Dobby to give a little skip, his ears

waggling cheerfully, and clap his hands together.

‘Dobby knows the perfect place, sir!’ he said happily. ‘Dobby

heard tell of it from the other house-elves when he came to

Hogwarts, sir. It is known by us as the Come and Go Room, sir,

or else as the Room of Requirement!’

‘Why?’ said Harry curiously.

‘Because it is a room that a person can only enter,’ said Dobby

seriously, ‘when they have real need of it. Sometimes it is there,

and sometimes it is not, but when it appears, it is always

equipped for the seeker’s needs. Dobby has used it, sir,’ said the

elf, dropping his voice and looking guilty, ‘when Winky has been

very drunk; he has hidden her in the Room of Requirement and

he has found antidotes to Butterbeer there, and a nice elf-sized

bed to settle her on while she sleeps it off, sir… and Dobby

knows Mr Filch has found extra cleaning materials there when he

has run short, sir, and -‘

‘And if you really needed a bathroom,’ said Harry, suddenly

remembering something Dumbledore had said at the Yule Ball

the previous Christmas, ‘would it fill itself with chamber pots?’

‘Dobby expects so, sir,’ said Dobby, nodding earnestly. ‘It is a

most amazing room, sir.’

‘How many people know about it?’ said Harry, sitting up

straighter in his chair.

‘Very few, sir. Mostly people stumbles across it when they needs

it, sir, but often they never finds it again, for they do not know

that it is always there waiting to be called into service, sir.’

‘It sounds brilliant,’ said Harry, his heart racing. ‘It sounds

perfect, Dobby. When can you show me where it is?’

‘Any time, Harry Potter, sir,’ said Dobby, looking delighted at

Harrys enthusiasm. ‘We could go now, if you like!’

For a moment Harry was tempted to go with Dobby. He was

halfway out of his seat, intending to hurry upstairs for his

Invisibility Cloak when, not for the first time, a voice very much

like Hermione’s whispered in his ear: reckless. It was, after all,

very late, he was exhausted, and had Snape’s essay to finish.

‘Not tonight, Dobby,’ said Harry reluctantly, sinking back into his

chair. This is really important… I don’t want to blow it, it’ll need

proper planning. Listen, can you just tell me exactly where this

Room of Requirement is, and how to get in there?’

*

Their robes billowed and swirled around them as they splashed

across the flooded vegetable patch to double Herbology, where

they could hardly hear what Professor Sprout was saying over

the hammering of raindrops hard as hailstones on the

greenhouse roof. The afternoons Care of Magical Creatures

lesson was to be relocated from the storm-swept grounds to a

free classroom on the ground floor and, to their intense relief,

Angelina had sought out her team at lunch to tell them that

Quidditch practice was cancelled.

‘Good,’ said Harry quietly, when she told him, ‘because we’ve

found somewhere to have our first Defence meeting. Tonight,

eight o’clock, seventh floor opposite that tapestry of Barnabas

the Barmy being clubbed by those trolls. Can you tell Katie and

Alicia?’

She looked slightly taken aback but promised to tell the others.

Harry returned hungrily to his sausages and mash. When he

looked up to take a drink of pumpkin juice, he found Hermione

watching him.

‘What?’ he said thickly.

‘Well… it’s just that Dobby’s plans aren’t always that safe. Don’t

you remember when he lost you all the bones in your arm?’

This room isn’t just some mad idea of Dobby’s; Dumbledore

knows about it, too, he mentioned it to me at the Yule Ball.’

Hermione’s expression cleared. V

‘Dumbledore told you about it?’

‘Just in passing,’ said Harry, shrugging.

‘Oh, well, that’s all right then,’ said Hermione briskly and raised

no more objections.

Together with Ron they had spent most of the day seeking out

those people who had signed their names to the list in the Hog’s

Head and telling them where to meet that evening. Somewhat to

Harry’s disappointment, it was Ginny who managed to find Cho

Chang and her friend first; however, by the end of dinner he was

confident that the news had been passed to every one of the

twenty-five people who had turned up in the Hog’s Head.

At half past seven Harry, Ron and Hermione left the Gryffindor

common room, Harry clutching a certain piece of aged

parchment in his hand. Fifth-years were allowed to be out in the

corridors until nine o’clock, but all three of them kept looking

around nervously as they made their way along the seventh floor.

‘Hold it,’ Harry warned, unfolding the piece of parchment at the

top of the last staircase, tapping it with his wand and muttering,

‘I solemnly swear that I am up to no good.’

A map of Hogwarts appeared on the blank surface of the

parchment. Tiny black moving dots, labelled with names, showed

where various people were.

‘Filch is on the second floor,’ said Harry, holding the map close to

his eyes, ‘and Mrs Norris is on the fourth.’

‘And Umbridge?’ said Hermione anxiously.

‘In her office,’ said Harry, pointing. ‘OK, lets go.’

They hurried along the corridor to the place Dobby had described

to Harry, a stretch of blank wall opposite an enormous tapestry

depicting Barnabas the Barmy’s foolish attempt to train trolls for

the ballet.

‘OK,’ said Harry quietly, while a moth-eaten troll paused in his

relentless clubbing of the would-be ballet teacher to watch them.

‘Dobby said to walk past this bit of wall three times,

concentrating hard on what we need.’

They did so, turning sharply at the window just beyond the blank

stretch of wall, then at the man-sized vase on its other side. Ron

had screwed up his eyes in concentration; Hermione was

whispering something under her breath; Harry’s fists were

clenched as he stared ahead of him.

We need somewhere to learn to fight … he thought. Just give us

a place to practise… somewhere they can’t find us

‘Harry!’ said Hermione sharply, as they wheeled around after

their third walk past.

A highly polished door had appeared in the wall. Ron was staring

at it, looking slightly wary. Harry reached out, seized the brass

handle, pulled open the door and led the way into a spacious

room lit with flickering torches like those that illuminated the

dungeons eight floors below.

The walls were lined with wooden bookcases and instead of

chairs there were large silk cushions on the floor. A set of

shelves at the far end of the room carried a range of instruments

such as Sneakoscopes, Secrecy Sensors and a large, cracked

Foe-Glass that Harry was sure had hung, the previous year, in

the fake Moodys office.

These will be good when we’re practising Stunning,’ said Ron

enthusiastically, prodding one of the cushions with his foot.

‘And just look at these books!’ said Hermione excitedly, running

a finger along the spines of the large leather-bound tomes. ‘A

Compendium of Common Curses and their Counter-Actions… The

Dark Arts Outsmarted… Self-Defensive Spellwork… wow…” She

looked around at Harry, her face glowing, and he saw that the

presence of hundreds of books had finally convinced Hermione

that what they were doing was right. ‘Harry, this is wonderful,

there’s everything we need here!’

And without further ado she slid Jinxes for the Jinxed from its

shelf, sank on to the nearest cushion and began to read.

There was a gentle knock on the door. Harry looked round.

Gmny, Neville, Lavender, Parvati and Dean had arrived.

‘Whoa,’ said Dean, staring around, impressed. ‘What is this

place?’

Harry began to explain, but before he had finished more people

had arrived and he had to start all over again. By the time eight

o’clock arrived, every cushion was occupied. Harry moved across

to the door and turned the key protruding from the lock; it

clicked in a satisfyingly loud way and everybody fell silent,

looking at him. Hermione carefully marked her page of Jinxes for

the Jinxed and set the book aside.

‘Well,’ said Harry, slightly nervously. This is the place we’ve

found for practice sessions, and you’ve – er – obviously found it

OK.’

‘It’s fantastic!’ said Cho, and several people murmured their

agreement.

‘It’s bizarre,’ said Fred, frowning around at it. ‘We once hid from

Filch in here, remember, George? But it was just a broom

cupboard then.’

‘Hey, Harry, what’s this stuff?’ asked Dean from the rear of the

room, indicating the Sneakoscopes and the Foe-Glass.

‘Dark detectors,’ said Harry, stepping between the cushions to

reach them. ‘Basically they all show when Dark wizards or

enemies are around, but you don’t want to rely on them too

much, they can be fooled…’

He gazed for a moment into the cracked Foe-Glass; shadowy

figures were moving around inside it, though none was

recognisable. He turned his back on it.

‘Well, I’ve been thinking about the sort of stuff we ought to do

first and – er -‘ He noticed a raised hand. ‘What, Hermione?’

‘I think we ought to elect a leader,’ said Hermione.

‘Harry’s leader,’ said Cho at once, looking at Hermione as though

she were mad.

Harrys stomach did yet another back-flip.

‘Yes, but I think we ought to vote on it properly,’ said Hermione,

unperturbed. ‘It makes it formal and it gives him authority. So –

everyone who thinks Harry ought to be our leader?’

Everybody put up their hand, even Zacharias Smith, though he

did it very half-heartedly.

‘Er – right, thanks,’ said Harry, who could feel his face burning.

‘And – what, Hermione?’

‘I also think we ought to have a name,’ she said brightly, her

hand still in the air. ‘It would promote a feeling of team spirit

and unity, don’t you think?’

‘Can we be the Anti-Umbridge League?’ said Angelina hopefully.

‘Or the Ministry of Magic are Morons Group?’ suggested Fred.

‘I was thinking,’ said Hermione, frowning at Fred, ‘more of a

name that didn’t tell everyone what we were up to, so we can

refer to it safely outside meetings.’

The Defence Association?’ said Cho. The DA for short, so nobody

knows what we’re talking about?’

‘Yeah, the DA’s good,’ said Ginny. ‘Only let’s make it stand for

Dumbledores Army, because that’s the Ministry’s worst fear, isn’t

it?’

There was a good deal of appreciative murmuring and laughter

at this.

‘All in favour of the DA?’ said Hermione bossily, kneeling up on

her cushion to count. That’s a majority – motion passed!’

She pinned the piece of parchment with all of their signatures on

it on to the wall and wrote across the top in large letters:

‘Right,’ said Harry, when she had sat down again, ‘shall we get

practising then? I was thinking, the first thing we should do is

Expelliarmus, you know, the Disarming Charm. I know it’s pretty

basic but I’ve found it really useful -‘

‘Oh, please,’ said Zacharias Smith, rolling his eyes and folding

his arms. ‘I don’t think Expelliarmus is exactly going to help us

against You-Know-Who, do you?’

‘I’ve used it against him,’ said Harry quietly. ‘It saved my life in

June.’

Smith opened his mouth stupidly. The rest of the room was very

quiet.

‘But if you think it’s beneath you, you can leave,’ Harry said.

Smith did not move. Nor did anybody else.

‘OK,’ said Harry, his mouth slightly drier than usual with all these

eyes upon him, ‘I reckon we should all divide into pairs and

practise.’

It felt very odd to be issuing instructions, but not nearly as odd

as seeing them followed. Everybody got to their feet at once and

divided up. Predictably, Neville was left partnerless.

‘You can practise with me,’ Harry told him. ‘Right – on the count

of three, then – one, two, three -‘

The room was suddenly full of shouts of Expelliarmus. Wands

flew in all directions; missed spells hit books on shelves and sent

them flying into the air. Harry was too quick for Neville, whose

wand went spinning out of his hand, hit the ceiling in a shower of

sparks and landed with a clatter on top of a bookshelf, from

which Harry retrieved it with a Summoning Charm. Glancing

around, he thought he had been right to suggest they practise

the basics first; there was a lot of shoddy spellwork going on;

many people were not succeeding in Disarming their opponents

at all, but merely causing them to jump backwards a few paces

or wince as their feeble spell whooshed over them.

Expelliarmus!’ said Neville, and Harry, caught unawares, ielt his

wand fly out of his hand.

‘I DID IT!’ said Neville gleefully. ‘I’ve never done it before – I DID

IT!’

‘Good one!’ said Harry encouragingly, deciding not to point out

that in a real duel Nevilles opponent was unlikely to be staring in

the opposite direction with his wand held loosely at his side.

‘Listen, Neville, can you take it in turns to practise with Ron and

Hermione for a couple of minutes so I can walk around and see

how the rest are doing?’

Harry moved off into the middle of the room. Something very

odd was happening to Zacharias Smith. Every time he opened

his mouth to disarm Anthony Goldstein, his own wand would fly

out of his hand, yet Anthony did not seem to be making a sound.

Harry did not have to look far to solve the mystery: Fred and

George were several feet from Smith and taking it in turns to

point their wands at his back.

‘Sorry, Harry’ said George hastily, when Harry caught his eye.

‘Couldn’t resist.’

Harry walked around the other pairs, trying to correct those who

were doing the spell wrong. Ginny was teamed with Michael

Corner; she was doing very well, whereas Michael was either

very bad or unwilling to jinx her. Ernie Macmillan was flourishing

his wand unnecessarily, giving his partner time to get in under

his guard; the Creevey brothers were enthusiastic but erratic

and mainly responsible for all the books leaping off the shelves

around them; Luna Lovegood was similarly patchy, occasionally

sending Justin Finch-Fletchley’s wand spinning out of his hand,

at other times merely causing his hair to stand on end.

‘OK, stop!’ Harry shouted. ‘Stop! STOP!’

I need a whistle, he thought, and immediately spotted one lying

on top of the nearest row of books. He caught it up and blew

hard. Everyone lowered their wands.

That wasn’t bad,’ said Harry, ‘but there’s definite room for

improvement.’ Zacharias Smith glared at him. ‘Let’s try again.’

He moved off around the room again, stopping here and there to

make suggestions. Slowly, the general performance improved.

He avoided going near Cho and her friend for a while, but after

walking twice around every other pair in the room felt he could

not ignore them any longer.

‘Oh no,’ said Cho rather wildly as he approached.

Expelliarmious! I mean, Expellimellius’t’t 1 – oh, sorry, Marietta!’

Her curly-haired friend’s sleeve had caught fire; Marietta

extinguished it with her own wand and glared at Harry as though

it was his fault.

‘You made me nervous, I was doing all right before then!’ Cho

told Harry ruefully.

That was quite good,’ Harry lied, but when she raised her

eyebrows he said, ‘Well, no, it was lousy, but I know you can do

it properly, I was watching from over there.’

She laughed. Her friend Marietta looked at them rather sourly

and turned away.

‘Don’t mind her,’ Cho muttered. ‘She doesn’t really want to be

here but I made her come with me. Her parents have forbidden

her to do anything that might upset Umbridge. You see – her

mum works for the Ministry.’

‘What about your parents?’ asked Harry.

‘Well, they’ve forbidden me to get on the wrong side of

Umbridge, too,’ said Cho, drawing herself up proudly. ‘But if they

think I’m not going to fight You-Know-Who after what happened

to Cedric -‘

She broke off, looking rather confused, and an awkward silence

fell between them; Terry Boot’s wand went whizzing past Harry’s

ear and hit Alicia Spinnet hard on the nose.

‘Well, my dad is very supportive of any anti-Ministry action!’ said

Luna Lovegood proudly from just behind Harry; evidently she

had been eavesdropping on his conversation while Justin Finch-

Fletchley attempted to disentangle himself from the robes that

had flown up over his head. ‘He’s always saying he’d believe

anything of Fudge; 1 mean, the number of goblins Fudge has

had assassinated! And of course he uses the Department of

Mysteries to develop terrible poisons, which he secretly feeds to

anybody who disagrees with him. And then there’s his

Umgubular Slashkilter —’

‘Don’t ask,’ Harry muttered to Cho as she opened her mouth,

looking puzzled. She giggled.

‘Hey, Harry,’ Hermione called from the other end of the room,

‘have you checked the time?’

He looked down at his watch and was shocked to see it was

already ten past nine, which meant they needed to get back to

their common rooms immediately or risk being caught and

punished by Filch for being out of bounds. He blew his whistle;

everybody stopped shouting ‘Expelliannus’ and the last couple of

wands clattered to the floor.

‘Well, that was pretty good,’ said Harry, ‘but we’ve overrun, we’d

better leave it here. Same time, same place next week?’

‘Sooner!’ said Dean Thomas eagerly and many people nodded in

agreement.

Angelina, however, said quickly The Quidditch season’s about to

start, we need team practices too!’

‘Let’s say next Wednesday night, then,’ said Harry, ‘we can

decide on additional meetings then. Come on, we’d better get

going.’

He pulled out the Marauder’s Map again and checked it carefully

for signs of teachers on the seventh floor. He let them all leave

in threes and fours, watching their tiny dots anxiously to see that

they returned safely to their dormitories: the Hufflepuffs to the

basement corridor that also led to the kitchens; the Ravenclaws

to a tower on the west side of the castle, and the Gryffindors

along the corridor to the Fat Lady’s portrait.

‘That was really, really good, Harry’ said Hermione, when finally

it was just her, Harry and Ron who were left.

‘Yeah, it was!’ said Ron enthusiastically, as they slipped out of

the door and watched it melt back into stone behind them. ‘Did

you see me disarm Hermione, Harry?’

‘Only once,’ said Hermione, stung. ‘I got you loads more than

you got me -‘

‘I did not only get you once, I got you at least three times -‘

‘Well, if you’re counting the one where you tripped over your

own feet and knocked the wand out of my hand -‘

They argued all the way back to the common room, but Harry

was not listening to them. He had one eye on the Marauder’s

Map, but he was also thinking of Cho saying he made her

nervous.

— CHAPTER NINETEEN —

The Lion and the Serpent

Harry felt as though he were carrying some kind of talisman

inside his chest over the following two weeks, a glowing secret

that supported him through Umbridge’s classes and even made it

possible for him to smile blandly as he looked into her horrible

bulging eyes. He and the DA were resisting her under her very

nose, doing the very thing she and the Ministry most feared, and

whenever he was supposed to be reading Wilbert Slinkhard’s

book during her lessons he dwelled instead on satisfying

memories of their most recent meetings, remembering how

Neville had successfully disarmed Hermione, how Colin Creevey

had mastered the Impediment Jinx after three meetings’ hard

effort, how Parvati Patil had produced such a good Reductor

Curse that she had reduced the table carrying all the

Sneakoscopes to dust.

He was finding it almost impossible to fix a regular night of the

week for the DA meetings, as they had to accommodate three

separate team’s Quidditch practices, which were often

rearranged due to bad weather conditions; but Harry was not

sorry about this; he had a feeling that it was probably better to

keep the timing of their meetings unpredictable. If anyone was

watching them, it would be hard to make out a pattern.

Hermione soon devised a very clever method of communicating

the time and date of the next meeting to all the members in case

they needed to change it at short notice, because it would look

suspicious if people from different Houses were seen crossing the

Great Hall to talk to each other too often. She gave each of the

members of the DA a fake Galleon (Ron became very excited

when he first saw the basket and was convinced she was actually

giving out gold).

‘You see the numerals around the edge of the coins?’ Hermione

said, holding one up for examination at the end of their fourth

meeting. The coin gleamed fat and yellow in the light from the

torches. ‘On real Galleons that’s just a serial number referring to

the goblin who cast the coin. On these fake coins, though, the

numbers will change to reflect the time and date of the next

meeting. The coins will grow hot when the date changes, so if

you’re carrying them in a pocket you’ll be able to feel them. We

take one each, and when Harry sets the date of the next meeting

he’ll change the numbers on his coin, and because I’ve put a

Protean Charm on them, they’ll all change to mimic his.’

A blank silence greeted Hermione’s words. She looked around at

all the faces upturned to her, rather disconcerted.

‘Well – I thought it was a good idea,’ she said uncertainly, ‘I

mean, even if Umbridge asked us to turn out our pockets,

there’s nothing fishy about carrying a Galleon, is there? But…

well, if you don’t want to use them -‘

‘You can do a Protean Charm?’ said Terry Boot.

‘Yes,’ said Hermione.

‘But that’s… that’s NEWT standard, that is,’ he said weakly.

‘Oh,’ said Hermione, trying to look modest. ‘Oh… well… yes, I

suppose it is.’

‘How come you’re not in Ravenclaw?’ he demanded, staring at

Hermione with something close to wonder. ‘With brains like

yours?’

‘Well, the Sorting Hat did seriously consider putting me in

Ravenclaw during my Sorting,’ said Hermione brightly, ‘but it

decided on Gryffindor in the end. So, does that mean we’re using

the Galleons?’

There was a murmur of assent and everybody moved forwards

to collect one from the basket. Harry looked sideways at

Hermione.

‘You know what these remind me of?’

‘No, what’s that?’

The Death Eaters’ scars. Voldemort touches one of them, and all

their scars burn, and they know they’ve got to join him.’

‘Well… yes,’ said Hermione quietly, ‘that is where I got the idea •

•. but you’ll notice I decided to engrave the date on bits of metal

rather than on our members’ skin.’

‘Yeah… I prefer your way,’ said Harry, grinning, as he slipped his

Galleon into his pocket. ‘1 suppose the only danger with these is

that we might accidentally spend them.’

‘Fat chance,’ said Ron, who was examining his own fake Galleon

with a slightly mournful air, ‘I haven’t got any real Galleons to

confuse it with.’

As the first Quidditch match of the season, Gryffindor versus

Slytherin, drew nearer, their DA meetings were put on hold

because Angelina insisted on almost daily practices. The fact that

the Quidditch Cup had not been held for so long added

considerably to the interest and excitement surrounding the

forthcoming game; the Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs were taking a

lively interest in the outcome, for they, of course, would be

playing both teams over the coming year; and the Heads of

House of the competing teams, though they attempted to

disguise it under a decent pretence of sportsmanship, were

determined to see their own side victorious. Harry realised how

much Professor McGonagall cared about beating Slytherin when

she abstained from giving them homework in the week leading

up to the match.

‘I think you’ve got enough to be getting on with at the moment,’

she said loftily. Nobody could quite believe their ears until she

looked directly at Harry and Ron and said grimly, ‘I’ve become

accustomed to seeing the Quidditch Cup in my study, boys, and I

really don’t want to have to hand it over to Professor Snape, so

use the extra time to practise, won’t you?’

Snape was no less obviously partisan; he had booked the

Quidditch pitch for Slytherin practice so often that the

Gryffindors had difficulty getting on it to play. He was also

turning a deaf ear to the many reports of Slytherin attempts to

hex Gryffindor players in the corridors. When Alicia Spinnet

turned up in the hospital wing with her eyebrows growing so

thick and fast they obscured her vision and obstructed her

mouth, Snape insisted that she must have attempted a Hairthickening

Charm on herself and refused to listen to the fourteen

eye-witnesses who insisted they had seen the Slytherin Keeper,

Miles Bletchley, hit her from behind with a jinx while she worked

in the library.

Harry felt optimistic about Gryffindor’s chances; they had, after

all, never lost to Malfoy’s team. Admittedly, Ron was still not

performing to Wood’s standard, but he was working extremely

hard to improve. His greatest weakness was a tendency to lose

confidence after he’d made a blunder; if he let in one goal he

became flustered and was therefore likely to miss more. On the

other hand, Harry had seen Ron make some truly spectacular

saves when he was on form; during one memorable practice he

had hung one-handed from his broom and kicked the Quaffle so

hard away from the goalhoop that it soared the length of the

pitch and through the centre hoop at the other end; the rest of

the team felt this save compared favourably with one made

recently by Barry Ryan, the Irish International Keeper, against

Poland’s top Chaser, Ladislaw Zamojski. Even Fred had said that

Ron might yet make him and George proud, and that they were

seriously considering admitting he was related to them,

something they assured him they had been trying to deny for

four years.

The only thing really worrying Harry was how much Ron was

allowing the tactics of the Slytherin team to upset him before

they even got on to the pitch. Harry, of course, had endured

their snide comments for over four years, so whispers of, ‘Hey,

Potty, I heard Warrington’s sworn to knock you off your broom

on Saturday’, far from chilling his blood, made him laugh.

‘Warrington’s aim’s so pathetic I’d be more worried if he was

aiming for the person next to me,’ he retorted, which made Ron

and Hermione laugh and wiped the smirk off Pansy Parkinsons

face.

But Ron had never endured a relentless campaign of insults,

jeers and intimidation. When Slytherins, some of them seventhyears

and considerably larger than he was, muttered as they

passed in the corridors, ‘Got your bed booked in the hospital

wing, Weasley?’ he didn’t laugh, but turned a delicate shade of

green. When Draco Malfoy imitated Ron dropping the Quaffle

(which he did whenever they came within sight of each other),

Ron’s ears glowed red and his hands shook so badly that he was

likely to drop whatever he was holding at the time, too.

October extinguished itself in a rush of howling winds and driving

rain and November arrived, cold as frozen iron, with hard irosts

every morning and icy draughts that bit at exposed hands and

faces. The skies and the ceiling of the Great Hall turned a pale,

pearly grey, the mountains around Hogwarts were snowcapped,

and the temperature in the castle dropped so low that many

students wore their thick protective dragonskin gloves in the

corridors between lessons.

The morning of the match dawned bright and cold. When Harry

awoke he looked round at Ron’s bed and saw him sitting bolt

upright, his arms around his knees, staring fixedly into space.

‘You all right?’ said Harry.

Ron nodded but did not speak. Harry was reminded forcibly of

the time Ron had accidentally put a Slug-vomiting Charm on

himself; he looked just as pale and sweaty as he had done then,

not to mention as reluctant to open his mouth.

‘You just need some breakfast,’ Harry said bracingly. ‘C’mon.’

The Great Hall was filling up fast when they arrived, the talk

louder and the mood more exuberant than usual. As they passed

the Slytherin table there was an upsurge of noise. Harry looked

round and saw that, in addition to the usual green and silver

scarves and hats, every one of them was wearing a silver badge

in the shape of what seemed to be a crown. For some reason

many of them waved at Ron, laughing uproariously. Harry tried

to see what was written on the badges as he walked by, but he

was too concerned to get Ron past their table quickly to linger

long enough to read them.

They received a rousing welcome at the Gryffindor table, where

everyone was wearing red and gold, but far from raising Ron’s

spirits the cheers seemed to sap the last of his morale; he

collapsed on to the nearest bench looking as though he were

facing his final meal.

‘I must’ve been mental to do this,’ he said in a croaky whisper.

Mental.’

‘Don’t be thick,’ said Harry firmly, passing him a choice of

cereals, ‘you’re going to be fine. It’s normal to be nervous.’

‘I’m rubbish,’ croaked Ron. ‘I’m lousy. I can’t play to save my life.

What was I thinking?’

‘Get a grip,’ said Harry sternly. ‘Look at that save you made with

your foot the other day, even Fred and George said it was

brilliant.’

Ron turned a tortured face to Harry.

That was an accident,’ he whispered miserably. ‘I didn’t mean to

do it – I slipped off my broom when none of you were looking

and when I was trying to get back on I kicked the Quaffle by

accident.’

‘Well,’ said Harry, recovering quickly from this unpleasant

surprise, ‘a few more accidents like that and the game’s in the

bag, isn’t it?’

Hermione and Ginny sat down opposite them wearing red and

gold scarves, gloves and rosettes.

‘How’re you feeling?’ Ginny asked Ron, who was now staring into

the dregs of milk at the bottom of his empty cereal bowl as

though seriously considering attempting to drown himself in

them.

‘He’s just nervous,’ said Harry.

‘Well, that’s a good sign, I never feel you perform as well in

exams if you’re not a bit nervous,’ said Hermione heartily.

‘Hello,’ said a vague and dreamy voice from behind them. Harry

looked up: Luna Lovegood had drifted over from the Ravenclaw

table. Many people were staring at her and a few were openly

laughing and pointing; she had managed to procure a hat

shaped like a life-size lion’s head, which was perched

precariously on her head.

‘I’m supporting Gryffindor,’ said Luna, pointing unnecessarily at

her hat. ‘Look what it does…’

She reached up and tapped the hat with her wand. It opened its

mouth wide and gave an extremely realistic roar that made

everyone in the vicinity jump.

‘It’s good, isn’t it?’ said Luna happily. ‘I wanted to have it

chewing up a serpent to represent Slytherm, you know, but

there wasn’t time. Anyway… good luck, Ronald!’

She drifted away. They had not quite recovered from the shock

of Luna’s hat before Angelina came hurrying towards them,

accompanied by Katie and Alicia, whose eyebrows had mercifully

been returned to normal by Madam Pomfrey.

‘When you’re ready’ she said, ‘we’re going to go straight down to

the pitch, check out conditions and change.’

‘We’ll be there in a bit,’ Harry assured her. ‘Ron’s just got to

have some breakfast.’

It became clear after ten minutes, however, that Ron was not

capable of eating anything more and Harry thought it best to get

him down to the changing rooms. As they rose from the table,

Hermione got up, too, and taking Harry’s arm she drew him to

one side.

‘Don’t let Ron see what’s on those Slytherins’ badges,’ she

whispered urgently.

Harry looked questioningly at her, but she shook her head warningly;

Ron had just ambled over to them, looking lost and

desperate.

‘Good luck, Ron,’ said Hermione, standing on tiptoe and kissing

him on the cheek. ‘And you, Harry -‘

Ron seemed to come to himself slightly as they walked back

across the Great Hall. He touched the spot on his face where

Hermione had kissed him, looking puzzled, as though he was not

quite sure what had just happened. He seemed too distracted to

notice much around him, but Harry cast a curious glance at the

crown-shaped badges as they passed the Slytherin table, and

this time he made out the words etched on to them:

Weasley is our King

With an unpleasant feeling that this could mean nothing good, he

hurried Ron across the Entrance Hall, down the stone steps and

out into the icy air.

The frosty grass crunched under their feet as they hurried down

the sloping lawns towards the stadium. There was no wind at all

and the sky was a uniform pearly white, which meant that

visibility would be good without the drawback of direct sunlight

in the eyes. Harry pointed out these encouraging factors to Ron

as they walked, but he was not sure that Ron was listening.

Angelina had changed already and was talking to the rest of the

team when they entered. Harry and Ron pulled on their robes

(Ron attempted to do his up back-to-front for several minutes

before Alicia took pity on him and went to help), then sat down

to listen to the pre-match talk while the babble of voices outside

grew steadily louder as the crowd came pouring out of the castle

towards the pitch.

‘OK, I’ve only just found out the final line-up for Slytherin,’ said

Angelina, consulting a piece of parchment. ‘Last year’s Beaters,

Derrick and Bole, have left, but it looks as though Montague’s

replaced them with the usual gorillas, rather than anyone who

can fly particularly well. They’re two blokes called Crabbe and

Goyle, I don’t know much about them -‘

‘We do,’ said Harry and Ron together.

‘Well, they don’t look bright enough to tell one end of a broom

from the other,’ said Angelina, pocketing her parchment, ‘but

then I was always surprised Derrick and Bole managed to find

their way on to the pitch without signposts.’

‘Crabbe and Goyle are in the same mould,’ Harry assured her.

They could hear hundreds of footsteps mounting the banked

benches of the spectators’ stands. Some people were singing,

though Harry could not make out the words. He was starting to

feel nervous, but he knew his butterflies were as nothing

compared to Ron’s, who was clutching his stomach and staring

straight ahead again, his jaw set and his complexion pale grey.

‘It’s time,’ said Angelina in a hushed voice, looking at her watch.

‘C’mon everyone… good luck.’

The team rose, shouldered their brooms and marched in single

file out of the changing room and into the dazzling sunlight. A

roar of sound greeted them in which Harry could still hear

singing, though it was muffled by the cheers and whistles.

The Slytherin team was standing waiting for them. They, too,

were wearing those silver crown-shaped badges. The new

Captain, Montague, was built along the same lines as Dudley

Dursley, with massive forearms like hairy hams. Behind him

lurked Crabbe and Goyle, almost as large, blinking stupidly in

the sunlight, swinging their new Beaters’ bats. Malfoy stood to

one side, the sunlight gleaming on his white-blond head. He

caught Harry’s eye and smirked, tapping the crown-shaped

badge on his chest.

‘Captains, shake hands,’ ordered the referee Madam Hooch, as

Angelina and Montague reached each other. Harry could tell that

Montague was trying to crush Angelina’s fingers, though she did

not wince. ‘Mount your brooms…’

Madam Hooch placed her whistle in her mouth and blew.

The balls were released and the fourteen players shot upwards.

Out of the corner of his eye Harry saw Ron streak off towards

the goalhoops. Harry zoomed higher, dodging a Bludger, and set

off on a wide lap of the pitch, gazing around for a glint of gold;

on the other side of the stadium, Draco Malfoy was doing exactly

the same.

‘And it’s Johnson -Johnson with the Quaffle, what a player that

girl is, I’ve been saying it for years but she still won’t go out with

me -‘

‘JORDAN!’ yelled Professor McGonagall.

‘- just a fun fact, Professor, adds a bit of interest – and she’s

ducked Warrington, she’s passed Montague, she’s — ouch – been

hit from behind by a Bludger from Crabbe… Montague catches

the Quaffle, Montague heading back up the pitch and – nice

Bludger there from George Weasley, that’s a Bludger to the head

for Montague, he drops the Quaffle, caught by Katie Bell, Katie

Bell of Gryffindor reverse-passes to Alicia Spinnet and Spinnet’s

away -‘

Lee Jordan’s commentary rang through the stadium and Harry

listened as hard as he could through the wind whistling in his

ears and the din of the crowd, all yelling and booing and singing.

‘- dodges Warrington, avoids a Bludger – close call, Alicia – and

the crowd are loving this, just listen to them, what’s that they’re

singing?’

And as Lee paused to listen, the song rose loud and clear from

the sea of green and silver in the Slytherin section of the stands:

‘Weasley cannot save a thing, He cannot block a single ring,

That’s why Slytherins all sing: Weasley is our King.

‘Weasley was born in a bin He always lets the Quaffle in Weasley

will make sure we win Weasley is our King.’

and Alicia passes back to Angelina!’ Lee shouted, and as

Harry swerved, his insides boiling at what he had just heard, he

knew Lee was trying to drown out the words of the song. ‘Come

on now,

Angelina — looks like she’s got just the Keeper to beat! – SHE

SHOOTS – SHE – aaaah…’

Bletchley, the Slytherin Keeper, had saved the goal; he threw

the Quaffle to Warrington who sped off with it, zig-zagging in

between Alicia and Katie; the singing from below grew louder

and louder as he drew nearer and nearer Ron.

‘Weasley is our King, Weasley is our King, He always lets the

Quaffle in Weasley is our King.’

Harry could not help himself: abandoning his search for the

Snitch, he wheeled around to watch Ron, a lone figure at the far

end of the pitch, hovering before the three goalhoops while the

massive Warrington pelted towards him.

‘- and it’s Warrington with the Quaffle, Warrington heading for

goal, he’s out of Bludger range with just the Keeper ahead -‘

A great swell of song rose from the Slytherin stands below:

‘Weasley cannot save a thing, He cannot block a single ring…”

‘- so it’s the first test for new Gryffindor Keeper Weasley, brother

of Beaters Fred and George, and a promising new talent on the

team – come on, Ron!’

But the scream of delight came from the Slytherins’ end: Ron

had dived wildly, his arms wide, and the Quaffle had soared

between them straight through Ron’s central hoop.

‘Slytherin score!’ came Lee’s voice amid the cheering and booing

from the crowds below, ‘so that’s ten-nil to Slytherin – bad luck,

Ron.’

The Slytherins sang even louder:

‘WEASLEY WAS BORN IN A BIN

HE ALWAYS LETS THE QUAFFLE IN…’

‘- and Gryffindor back in possession and it’s Katie Bell tanking up

the pitch -‘ cried Lee valiantly, though the singing was now so

deafening that he could hardly make himself heard above it.

‘WEASLEY WILL MAKE SURE WE WIN WEASLEY IS OUR KING…’

‘Harry, WHAT ARE YOU DOING?’ screamed Angelina, soaring

past him to keep up with Katie. ‘GET GOING!’

Harry realised he had been stationary in midair for over a minute,

watching the progress of the match without sparing a thought for

the whereabouts of the Snitch; horrified, he went into a dive and

started circling the pitch again, staring around, trying to ignore

the chorus now thundering through the stadium:

‘WEASLEY IS OUR K1NC, WEASLEY IS OUR KING…’

There was no sign of the Snitch anywhere he looked; Malfoy was

still circling the stadium just as he was. They passed one another

midway around the pitch, going in opposite directions, and Harry

heard Malfoy singing loudly:

‘WEASLEY WAS BORN IN A BIN…’

and it’s Warrington again,’ bellowed Lee, ‘who passes to

Pucey, Pucey’s off past Spinnet, come on now, Angelina, you can

take him – turns out you can’t – but nice Bludger from Fred

Weasley, I mean, George Weasley, oh, who cares, one of them,

anyway, and Warrington drops the Quaffle and Katie Bell — er –

drops it, too – so that’s Montague with the Quaffle, Slytherin

Captain Montague takes the Quaffle and he’s off up the pitch,

come on now, Gryffindor, block him!’

Harry zoomed around the end of the stadium behind the

Slytherin goalhoops, willing himself not to look at what was

going on at Ron’s end. As he sped past the Slytherin Keeper, he

heard Bletchley singing along with the crowd below:

‘WEASLEY CANNOT SAVE A TH7NG…”

‘- and Pucey’s dodged Alicia again and he’s heading straight for

goal, stop it, Ron!’

Harry did not have to look to see what had happened: there was

a terrible groan from the Gryffindor end, coupled with fresh

screams and applause from the Slytherins. Looking down, Harry

saw the pug-faced Pansy Parkinson right at the front of the

stands, her back to the pitch as she conducted the Slytherin

supporters who were roaring:

THAT’S WHY SLYTHERINS ALL SING WEASLEY IS OUR KING.’

But twenty-nil was nothing, there was still time for Gryffindor to

catch up or catch the Snitch. A few goals and they would be in

the lead as usual, Harry assured himself, bobbing and weaving

through the other players in pursuit of something shiny that

turned out to be Montague’s watchstrap.

But Ron let in two more goals. There was an edge of panic in

Harry’s desire to find the Snitch now. If he could just get it soon

and finish the game quickly.

‘- and Katie Bell of Gryffindor dodges Pucey, ducks Montague,

nice swerve, Katie, and she throws to Johnson, Angelina Johnson

takes the Quaffle, she’s past Warrington, she’s heading for goal,

come on now, Angelina – GRYFFINDOR SCORE! It’s forty-ten,

forty-ten to Slytherin and Pucey has the Quaffle

Harry could hear Luna’s ludicrous lion hat roaring amidst the

Gryffindor cheers and felt heartened; only thirty points in it, that

was nothing, they could pull back easily. Harry ducked a Bludger

that Crabbe had sent rocketing in his direction and resumed his

frantic scouring of the pitch for the Snitch, keeping one eye on

Malfoy in case he showed signs of having spotted it, but Malfoy,

like him, was continuing to soar around the stadium, searching

fruitlessly…

‘— Pucey throws to Warrington, Warrington to Montague,

Montague back to Pucey -Johnson intervenes, Johnson takes the

Quaffle, Johnson to Bell, this looks good – I mean bad – Bells hit

by a Bludger from Goyle of Slytherin and it’s Pucey in possession

‘WEASLEY WAS BORN IN A BIN

HE ALWAYS LETS THE QUAFFLE IN ->.

WEASLEY WILL MAKE SURE WE WIN

But Harry had seen it at last: the tiny fluttering Golden Snitch

was hovering feet from the ground at the Slytherin end of the

pitch.

He dived…

In a matter of seconds, Malfoy was streaking out of the sky on

Harry’s left, a green and silver blur lying flat on his broom…

The Snitch skirted the foot of one of the goalhoops and scooted

off towards the other side of the stands; its change of direction

suited Malfoy, who was nearer; Harry pulled his Firebolt around,

he and Malfoy were now neck and neck…

Feet from the ground, Harry lifted his right hand from his broom,

stretching towards the Snitch… to his right, Malfoy’s arm

extended too, was reaching, groping…

It was over in two breathless, desperate, windswept seconds –

Harry’s fingers closed around the tiny, struggling ball – Malfoy’s

fingernails scrabbled the back of Harrys hand hopelessly – Harry

pulled his broom upwards, holding the struggling ball in his hand

and the Gryffindor spectators screamed their approval…

They were saved, it did not matter that Ron had let in those

goals, nobody would remember as long as Gryffindor had won –

WHAM.

A Bludger hit Harry squarely in the small of the back and he flew

forwards off his broom. Luckily he was only five or six feet above

the ground, having dived so low to catch the Snitch, but he was

winded all the same as he landed flat on his back on the frozen

pitch. He heard Madam Hooch’s shrill whistle, an uproar in the

stands compounded of catcalls, angry yells and jeering, a thud,

then Angelinas frantic voice.

‘Are you all right?’

‘Course I am,’ said Harry grimly, taking her hand and allowing

her to pull him to his feet. Madam Hooch was zooming towards

one of the Slytherin players above him, though he could not see

who it was from this angle.

‘It was that thug Crabbe,’ said Angelina angrily, ‘he whacked the

Bludger at you the moment he saw you’d got the Snitch – but we

won, Harry, we won!’

Harry heard a snort from behind him and turned around, still

holding the Snitch tightly in his hand: Draco Malfoy had landed

close by. White-faced with fury, he was still managing to sneer.

‘Saved Weasley’s neck, haven’t you?’ he said to Harry. ‘I’ve

never seen a worse Keeper… but then he was born in a bin… did

you like my lyrics, Potter?’

Harry didn’t answer. He turned away to meet the rest of the

team who were now landing one by one, yelling and punching

the air in triumph; all except Ron, who had dismounted from his

broom over by the goalposts and seemed to be making his way

slowly back to the changing rooms alone.

‘We wanted to write another couple of verses!’ Malfoy called, as

Katie and Alicia hugged Harry. ‘But we couldn’t find rhymes for

fat and ugly – we wanted to sing about his mother, see -‘

Talk about sour grapes,’ said Angelina, casting Malfoy a

disgusted look.

‘- we couldn’t fit in useless loser either – for his father, you know

-‘

Fred and George had realised what Malfoy was talking about.

Halfway through shaking Harry’s hand, they stiffened, looking

round at Malfoy.

‘Leave it!’ said Angelina at once, taking Fred by the arm. ‘Leave

it, Fred, let him yell, he’s just sore he lost, the jumped-up little -‘

‘- but you like the Weasleys, don’t you, Potter?’ said Malfoy,

sneering. ‘Spend holidays there and everything, don’t you? Can’t

see how you stand the stink, but I suppose when you’ve been

dragged up by Muggles, even the Weasleys’ hovel smells OK -‘

Harry grabbed hold of George. Meanwhile, it was taking the

combined efforts of Angelina, Alicia and Katie to stop Fred

leaping on Malfoy, who was laughing openly. Harry looked

around for

Madam Hooch, but she was still berating Crabbe for his illegal

Sludger attack.

‘Or perhaps,’ said Malfoy, leering as he backed away, ‘you can

remember what your mother’s house stank like, Potter, and

Weasleys pigsty reminds you of it —’

Harry was not aware of releasing George, all he knew was that a

second later both of them were sprinting towards Malfoy. He had

completely forgotten that all the teachers were watching: all he

wanted to do was cause Malfoy as much pain as possible; with

no time to draw out his wand, he merely drew back the fist

clutching the Snitch and sank it as hard as he could into Malfoys

stomach –

‘Harry! HARRY! GEORGE! NO/’

He could hear girls’ voices screaming, Malfoy yelling, George

swearing, a whistle blowing and the bellowing of the crowd

around him, but he did not care. Not until somebody in the

vicinity yelled ‘Impedimenta!’ and he was knocked over

backwards by the force of the spell, did he abandon the attempt

to punch every inch of Malfoy he could reach.

‘What do you think you’re doing?’ screamed Madam Hooch, as

Harry leapt to his feet. It seemed to have been her who had hit

him with the Impediment Jinx; she was holding her whistle in

one hand and a wand in the other; her broom lay abandoned

several feet away. Malfoy was curled up on the ground,

whimpering and moaning, his nose bloody; George was sporting

a swollen lip; Fred was still being forcibly restrained by the three

Chasers, and Crabbe was cackling in the background. ‘I’ve never

seen behaviour like it – back up to the castle, both of you, and

straight to your Head of House’s office! Go! Now.”

Harry and George turned on their heels and marched off the

pitch, both panting, neither saying a word to the other. The

howling and jeering of the crowd grew fainter and fainter until

they reached the Entrance Hall, where they could hear nothing

except the sound of their own footsteps. Harry became aware

that something was still struggling in his right hand, the knuckles

of which he had bruised against Malfoy’s jaw. Looking down, he

saw the Snitch’s silver wings protruding from between his fingers,

struggling for release.

They had barely reached the door of Professor McGonagall’s

office when she came marching along the corridor behind them.

She was wearing a Gryffindor scarf, but tore it from her throat

with shaking hands as she strode towards them, looking livid.

‘In!’ she said furiously, pointing to the door. Harry and George

entered. She strode around behind her desk and faced them,

quivering with rage as she threw the Gryffindor scarf aside on to

the floor.

Well?’ she said. ‘I have never seen such a disgraceful exhibition.

Two on one! Explain yourselves!’

‘Malfoy provoked us,’ said Harry stiffly.

‘Provoked you?’ shouted Professor McGonagall, slamming a fist

on to her desk so that her tartan tin slid sideways off it and burst

open, littering the floor with Ginger Newts. ‘He’d just lost, hadn’t

he? Of course he wanted to provoke you! But what on earth he

can have said that justified what you two —’

‘He insulted my parents,’ snarled George. ‘And Harry’s mother.’

‘But instead of leaving it to Madam Hooch to sort out, you two

decided to give an exhibition of Muggle duelling, did you?’

bellowed Professor McGonagall. ‘Have you any idea what you’ve

-?’

‘Hem, hem.’

Harry and George both wheeled round. Dolores Umbridge was

standing in the doorway wrapped in a green tweed cloak that

greatly enhanced her resemblance to a giant toad, and was

smiling in the horrible, sickly, ominous way that Harry had come

to associate with imminent misery.

‘May I help, Professor McGonagall?’ asked Professor Umbridge in

her most poisonously sweet voice.

Blood rushed into Professor McGonagall’s face.

‘Help?’ she repeated, in a constricted voice. ‘What do you mean,

help?’

Professor Umbridge moved forwards into the office, still smiling

her sickly smile.

‘Why, I thought you might be grateful for a little extra authority’

Harry would not have been surprised to see sparks fly from

Professor McGonagall’s nostrils.

‘You thought wrong,’ she said, turning her back on Umbridge.

‘Now, you two had better listen closely. I do not care what

provocation Malfoy offered you, I do not care if he insulted every

family member you possess, your behaviour was disgusting and

I am giving each of you a week’s worth of detentions! Do not

look at me like that, Potter, you deserve it! And if either of you

ever -‘

‘Hem, hem.’

Professor McGonagall closed her eyes as though praying for

patience as she turned her face towards Professor Umbridge

again.

‘Yes?’

‘I think they deserve rather more than detentions,’ said

Umbridge, smiling still more broadly.

Professor McGonagall’s eyes flew open.

‘But unfortunately’ she said, with an attempt at a reciprocal

smile that made her look as though she had lockjaw, ‘it is what I

think that counts, as they are in my House, Dolores.’

‘Well, actually, Minerva,’ simpered Professor Umbridge, ‘I think

you’ll find that what I think does count. Now, where is it?

Cornelius just sent it… I mean,’ she gave a false little laugh as

she rummaged in her handbag, ‘the Minister just sent it… ah

yes…”

She had pulled out a piece of parchment which she now unfurled,

clearing her throat fussily before starting to read what it said.

‘Hem, hem… “Educational Decree Number Twenty-five”.’

‘Not another one!’ exclaimed Professor McGonagall violently.

‘Well, yes,’ said Umbridge, still smiling. ‘As a matter of fact,

Minerva, it was you who made me see that we needed a further

amendment… you remember how you overrode me, when I was

unwilling to allow the Gryffindor Quidditch team to re-form? How

you took the case to Dumbledore, who insisted that the team be

allowed to play? Well, now, I couldn’t have that. I contacted the

Minister at once, and he quite agreed with me that the High

Inquisitor has to have the power to strip pupils of privileges, or

she – that is to say, I – would have less authority than common

teachers! And you see now, don’t you, Minerva, how right I was

in attempting to stop the Gryffindor team re-forming? Dreadful

tempers… anyway, I was reading out our amendment… hem,

hem… “the High Inquisitor will henceforth have supreme

authority over all punishments, sanctions and removal of

privileges pertaining to the students of Hogwarts, and the power

to alter such punishments, sanctions and removals of privileges

as may have been ordered by other staff members. Signed,

Cornelius Fudge, Minister for Magic, Order of Merlin First Class,

etc., etc.”‘

She rolled up the parchment and put it back into her handbag,

still smiling.

‘So… I really think 1 will have to ban these two from playing

Quidditch ever again,’ she said, looking from Harry to George

and back again.

Harry felt the Snitch fluttering madly in his hand.

‘Ban us?’ he said, and his voice sounded strangely distant. ‘From

playing… ever again?’

‘Yes, Mr Potter, I think a lifelong ban ought to do the trick,’ said

Umbridge, her smile widening still further as she watched him

struggle to comprehend what she had said. ‘You and Mr Weasley

here. And I think, to be safe, this young man’s twin ought to be

stopped, too – if his teammates had not restrained him, I feel

sure he would have attacked young Mr Malfoy as well. I will want

their broomsticks confiscated, of course; I shall keep them safely

in my office, to make sure there is no infringement of my ban.

But I am not unreasonable, Professor McGonagall,’ she continued,

turning back to Professor McGonagall who was now standing as

still as though carved from ice, staring at her. The rest of the

team can continue playing, I saw no signs of violence from any

of them. Well… good afternoon to you.’

And with a look of the utmost satisfaction, Umbridge left the

room, leaving a horrified silence in her wake.

*

‘Banned,’ said Angelina in a hollow voice, late that evening in the

common room. ‘Banned. No Seeker and no Beaters… what on

earth are we going to do?’

It did not feel as though they had won the match at all.

Everywhere Harry looked there were disconsolate and angry

faces; the team themselves were slumped around the fire, all

apart from Ron, who had not been seen since the end of the

match.

‘It’s just so unfair,’ said Alicia numbly. ‘I mean, what about

Crabbe and that Bludger he hit after the whistle had been blown?

Has she banned htm?’

‘No,’ said Ginny miserably; she and Hermione were sitting on

either side of Harry. ‘He just got lines, 1 heard Montague

laughing about it at dinner.’

‘And banning Fred when he didn’t even do anything!’ said Alicia

furiously, pummelling her knee with her fist.

‘It’s not my fault I didn’t,’ said Fred, with a very ugly look on his

face, ‘1 would’ve pounded the little scumbag to a pulp if you

three hadn’t been holding me back.’

Harry stared miserably at the dark window. Snow was falling.

The Snitch he had caught earlier was now zooming around and

around the common room; people were watching its progress as

though hypnotised and Crookshanks was leaping from chair to

chair, trying to catch it.

‘I’m going to bed,’ said Angelina, getting slowly to her feet.

‘Maybe this will all turn out to have been a bad dream… maybe

I’ll wake up tomorrow and find we haven’t played yet…’

She was soon followed by Alicia and Katie. Fred and George

sloped off to bed some time later, glowering at everyone they

passed, and Ginny went not long after that. Only Harry and

Hermione were left beside the fire.

‘Have you seen Ron?’ Hermione asked in a low voice.

Harry shook his head.

‘I think he’s avoiding us,’ said Hermione. ‘Where do you think

he-?’

But at that precise moment, there was a creaking sound behind

them as the Fat Lady swung forwards and Ron came clambering

through the portrait hole. He was very pale indeed and there was

snow in his hair. When he saw Harry and Hermione, he stopped

dead in his tracks.

‘Where have you been?’ said Hermione anxiously, springing up.

‘Walking,’ Ron mumbled. He was still wearing his Quidditch

things.

‘You look frozen,’ said Hermione. ‘Come and sit down!’

Ron walked to the fireside and sank into the chair furthest from

Harry’s, not looking at him. The stolen Snitch zoomed over their

heads.

‘I’m sorry,’ Ron mumbled, looking at his feet.

‘What for?’ said Harry.

‘For thinking I can play Quidditch,’ said Ron. ‘I’m going to resign

first thing tomorrow.’

‘If you resign,’ said Harry testily, ‘there’ll only be three players

left on the team.’ And when Ron looked puzzled, he said, ‘I’ve

been given a lifetime ban. So’ve Fred and George.’

‘What?’ Ron yelped.

Hermione told him the full story; Harry could not bear to tell it

again. When she had finished, Ron looked more anguished than

ever.

This is all my fault -‘

‘You didn’t make me punch Malfoy,’ said Harry angrily.

‘- if I wasn’t so terrible at Quidditch -‘

‘- it’s got nothing to do with that.’

‘- it was that song that wound me up -‘

‘- it would’ve wound anyone up.’

Hermione got up and walked to the window, away from the

argument, watching the snow swirling down against the pane.

‘Look, drop it, will you!’ Harry burst out. ‘It’s bad enough,

without you blaming yourself for everything!’

Ron said nothing but sat gazing miserably at the damp hem of

his robes. After a while he said in a dull voice, ‘This is the worst

I’ve ever felt in my life.’

‘Join the club,’ said Harry bitterly.

‘Well,’ said Hermione, her voice trembling slightly. ‘I can think of

one thing that might cheer you both up.’

‘Oh yeah?’ said Harry sceptically.

‘Yeah,’ said Hermione, turning away from the pitch-black, snowflecked

window, a broad smile spreading across her face.

‘Hagrids back.’

CHAPTER TWENTY

Hagrid’s Talc

Harry sprinted up to the boys’ dormitories to fetch the Invisibility

Cloak and the Marauder’s Map from his trunk; he was so quick

that he and Ron were ready to leave at least five minutes before

Hermione hurried back down from the girls’ dormitories, wearing

scarf, gloves and one of her own knobbly elf hats.

‘Well, it’s cold out there!’ she said defensively, as Ron clicked his

tongue impatiently.

They crept through the portrait hole and covered themselves

hastily in the Cloak – Ron had grown so much he now needed to

crouch to prevent his feet showing – then, moving slowly and

cautiously, they proceeded down the many staircases, pausing at

intervals to check on the map for signs of Filch or Mrs Norris.

They were lucky; they saw nobody but Nearly Headless Nick,

who was gliding along absent-mindedly humming something that

sounded horribly like ‘Weasley is our King’. They crept across the

Entrance Hall and out into the silent, snowy grounds. With a

great leap of his heart, Harry saw little golden squares of light

ahead and smoke coiling up from Hagrid’s chimney. He set off at

a quick march, the other two jostling and bumping along behind

him. They crunched excitedly through the thickening snow until

at last they reached the wooden front door. When Harry raised

his fist and knocked three times, a dog started barking frantically

inside.

‘Hagrid, its us!’ Harry called through the keyhole.

‘Shoulda known!’ said a gruff voice.

They beamed at each other under the Cloak; they could tell by

Hagrid’s voice that he was pleased. ‘Bin home three seconds…

out the way, Fang… out the way, yeh dozy dog…’

The bolt was drawn back, the door creaked open and Hagrid’s

head appeared in the gap.

Hermione screamed.

‘Merlin’s beard, keep it down!’ said Hagrid hastily, staring wildly

over their heads. ‘Under that Cloak, are yeh? Well, get in, get

in!’

‘I’m sorry!’ Hermione gasped, as the three of them squeezed

past Hagrid into the house and pulled the Cloak off themselves

so he could see them. ‘I just – oh, Hagrid!’

‘It’s nuthin’, it’s nuthin’!’ said Hagrid hastily, shutting the door

behind them and hurrying to close all the curtains, but Hermione

continued to gaze up at him in horror.

Hagrid’s hair was matted with congealed blood and his left eye

had been reduced to a puffy slit amid a mass of purple and black

bruising. There were many cuts on his face and hands, some of

them still bleeding, and he was moving gingerly, which made

Harry suspect broken ribs. It was obvious that he had only just

got home; a thick black travelling cloak lay over the back of a

chair and a haversack large enough to carry several small

children leaned against the wall inside the door. Hagrid himself,

twice the size of a normal man, was now limping over to the fire

and placing a copper kettle over it.

‘What happened to you?’ Harry demanded, while Fang danced

around them all, trying to lick their faces.

Told yeh, nuthin’,’ said Hagrid firmly. ‘Want a cuppa?’

‘Come off it,’ said Ron, ‘you’re in a right state!’

‘I’m tellin’ yeh, I’m fine,’ said Hagrid, straightening up and

turning to beam at them all, but wincing. ‘Blimey, it’s good ter

see yeh three again – had good summers, did yeh?’

‘Hagrid, you’ve been attacked!’ said Ron.

‘Per the las’ time, it’s nuthin’!’ said Hagrid firmly.

‘Would you say it was nothing if one of us turned up with a

pound of mince instead of a face?’ Ron demanded.

‘You ought to go and see Madam Pomfrey, Hagrid,’ said

Hermione anxiously, ‘some of those cuts look nasty.’

‘I’m dealin’ with it, all righ’?’ said Hagrid repressively.

He walked across to the enormous wooden table that stood in

the middle of his cabin and twitched aside a tea towel that had

been lying on it. Underneath was a raw, bloody, green-tinged

steak slightly larger than the average car tyre.

‘You’re not going to eat that, are you, Hagrid?’ said Ron, leaning

in for a closer look. ‘It looks poisonous.’

‘It’s’s’posed ter look like that, it’s dragon meat,’ Hagrid said. ‘An’

I didn’ get it ter eat.’

He picked up the steak and slapped it over the left side of his

face. Greenish blood trickled down into his beard as he gave a

soft moan of satisfaction.

Tha’s better. It helps with the stingin’, yeh know.’

‘So, are you going to tell us what’s happened to you?’ Harry

asked.

‘Can’t, Harry. Top secret. More’n me job’s worth ter tell yeh

that.’

‘Did the giants beat you up, Hagrid?’ asked Hermione quietly.

Hagrid’s fingers slipped on the dragon steak and it slid squelchily

on to his chest.

‘Giants?’ said Hagrid, catching the steak before it reached his

belt and slapping it back over his face, ‘who said anythin’ abou’

giants? Who yeh bin talkm’ to? Who’s told yeh what I’ve – who’s

said I’ve bin – eh?’

‘We guessed,’ said Hermione apologetically.

‘Oh, yeh did, did yeh?’ said Hagrid, surveying her sternly with

the eye that was not hidden by the steak.

‘It was kind of… obvious,’ said Ron. Harry nodded.

Hagrid glared at them, then snorted, threw the steak back on to

the table and strode over to the kettle, which was now whistling.

‘Never known kids like you three fer knowin’ more’n yeh oughta,’

he muttered, splashing boiling water into three of his bucketshaped

mugs. ‘An’ I’m not complimentin’ yeh, neither. Nosy,

some’d call it. Interferin’.’

But his beard twitched.

‘So you have been to look for giants?’ said Harry, grinning as he

sat down at the table.

Hagrid set tea in front of each of them, sat down, picked up his

steak again and slapped it back over his face.

‘Yeah, all righ’,’ he grunted, ‘I have.’

‘And you found them?’ said Hermione in a hushed voice.

‘Well, they’re not that difficult ter find, ter be honest,’ said

Hagrid. ‘Pretty big, see.’

‘Where are they?’ said Ron.

‘Mountains,’ said Hagrid unhelpfully.

‘So why don’t Muggles -?’

They do,’ said Hagrid darkly. ‘On’y their deaths are always put

down ter mountaineerin’ accidents, aren’ they?’

He adjusted the steak a little so that it covered the worst of the

bruising.

‘Come on, Hagrid, tell us what you’ve been up to!’ said Ron. Tell

us about being attacked by the giants and Harry can tell you

about being attacked by the Dementors -‘

Hagrid choked in his mug and dropped his steak at the same

time; a large quantity of spit, tea and dragon blood was sprayed

over the table as Hagrid coughed and spluttered and the steak

slid, with a soft splat, on to the floor.

‘Whadda yeh mean, attacked by Dementors?’ growled Hagrid.

‘Didn’t you know?’ Hermione asked him, wide-eyed.

‘I don’ know anythin’ that’s bin happenin’ since I left. I was on a

secret mission, wasn’ I, didn’ wan’ owls followin’ me all over the

place – ruddy Dementors! Yeh’re not serious?’

‘Yeah, 1 am, they turned up in Little Whingmg and attacked my

cousin and me, and then the Ministry of Magic expelled me -‘

‘WHAT?’

‘- and I had to go to a hearing and everything, but tell us about

the giants first.’

‘You were expelled!’

Tell us about your summer and I’ll tell you about mine.’

Hagrid glared at him through his one open eye. Harry looked

right back, an expression of innocent determination on his face.

‘Oh, all righ’,’ Hagrid said in a resigned voice.

He bent down and tugged the dragon steak out of Fang’s mouth.

‘Oh, Hagrid, don’t, it’s not hygien—’ Hermione began, but Hagrid

had already slapped the meat back over his swollen eye.

He took another fortifying gulp of tea, then said, ‘Well, we set off

righ’ after term ended -‘

‘Madame Maxime went with you, then?’ Hermione interjected.

‘Yeah, tha’s righ’,’ said Hagrid, and a softened expression

appeared on the few inches of face that were not obscured by

beard or green steak. ‘Yeah, it was jus’ the pair of us. An’ I’ll tell

yeh this, she’s not afraid of roughin’ it, Olympe. Yeh know, she’s

a fine, well-dressed woman, an’ knowin’ where we was goin’ I

wondered ‘ow she’d feel abou’ clamberin’ over boulders an’

sleepin’ in caves an’ tha’, bu’ she never complained once.’

‘You knew where you were going?’ Harry repeated. ‘You knew

where the giants were?’

‘Well, Dumbledore knew, an’ he told us,’ said Hagrid.

‘Are they hidden?’ asked Ron. ‘Is it a secret, where they are?’

‘Not really’ said Hagrid, shaking his shaggy head. ‘It’s jus’ that

mos’ wizards aren’ bothered where they are,’s’long as it’s a good

long way away. But where they are’s very difficult ter get ter, fer

humans anyway, so we needed Dumbledore’s instructions. Took

us abou’ a month ter get there -‘

‘A month?’ said Ron, as though he had never heard of a journey

lasting such a ridiculously long time. ‘But – why couldn’t you just

grab a Portkey or something?’

There was an odd expression in Hagrid’s unobscured eye as he

surveyed Ron; it was almost pitying.

‘We’re bein’ watched, Ron,’ he said gruffly.

‘What d’you mean?’

‘Yeh don’ understand,’ said Hagrid. The Ministry’s keepin’ an eye

on Dumbledore an’ anyone they reckon’s in league with ‘im, an’ –

‘We know about that,’ said Harry quickly keen to hear the rest of

Hagrid’s story, ‘we know about the Ministry watching

Dumbledore -‘

‘So you couldn’t use magic to get there?’ asked Ron, looking

thunderstruck, ‘you had to act like Muggles all the way?’

‘Well, not exactly all the way’ said Hagrid cagily. ‘We jus’ had ter

be careful, ’cause Olympe an’ me, we stick out a bit —’

Ron made a stifled noise somewhere between a snort and a sniff

and hastily took a gulp of tea.

‘- so we’re not hard ter follow. We was pretendin’ we was goin’

on holiday together, so we got inter France an’ we made like we

I

was headin’ fer where Olympes school is, ’cause we knew we

was bein’ tailed by someone from the Ministry. We had to go

slow, ’cause I’m not really’s’posed ter use magic an’ we knew the

Ministry’d be lookin’ fer a reason ter run us in. But we managed

ter give the berk tailin’ us the slip round abou’ Dee-John —’

‘Ooooh, Dijon?’ said Hermione excitedly. ‘I’ve been there on

holiday, did you see -?’

She fell silent at the look on Ron’s face.

‘We chanced a bit o’ magic after that an’ it wasn’ a bad journey.

Ran inter a couple o’ mad trolls on the Polish border an’ I had a

sligh’ disagreement with a vampire in a pub in Minsk, bu’ apart

from tha’ couldn’t’a bin smoother.

‘An’ then we reached the place, an’ we started trekkin’ up

through the mountains, lookin’ fer signs of ’em…

We had ter lay off the magic once we got near ’em. Partly ’cause

they don’ like wizards an’ we didn’ want ter put their backs up

too soon, an’ partly ’cause Dumbledore had warned us You-

Know-Who was bound ter be after the giants an’ all. Said it was

odds on he’d sent a messenger off ter them already. Told us ter

be very careful of drawin’ attention ter ourselves as we got

nearer in case there was Death Eaters around.’

Hagrid paused for a long draught of tea.

‘Go on!’ said Harry urgently.

‘Found ’em,’ said Hagrid baldly. ‘Went over a ridge one nigh’ an’

there they was, spread ou’ underneath us. Little fires burnin’

below an’ huge shadows… it was like watchin’ bits o’ the

mountain movin’.’

‘How big are they?’ asked Ron in a hushed voice.

‘Bout twenty feet,’ said Hagrid casually. ‘Some o’ the bigger ones

mighta bin twenty-five.’

‘And how many were there?’ asked Harry.

‘I reckon abou’ seventy or eighty,’ said Hagrid.

‘Is that all?’ said Hermione.

‘Yep,’ said Hagrid sadly, ‘eighty left, an’ there was loads once,

musta bin a hundred diff’rent tribes from all over the world. Bu’

they’ve bin dyin’ out fer ages. Wizards killed a few, o’ course, bu’

mostly they killed each other, an’ now they’re dyin’ out faster

than ever. They’re not made ter live bunched up together like

tha’. Dumbledore says it’s our fault, it was the wizards who

forced ’em to go an’ made ’em live a good long way from us an’

they had no choice bu’ ter stick together fer their own

protection.’

‘So,’ said Harry, ‘y°u saw them and then what?’

‘Well, we waited till morning, didn’ want ter go sneakin’ up on

’em in the dark, fer our own safety,’ said Hagrid. “Bout three in

the mornin’ they fell asleep jus’ where they was sittin’. We didn’

dare sleep. Fer one thing, we wanted ter make sure none of ’em

woke up an’ came up where we were, an’ fer another, the snorin’

was unbelievable. Caused an avalanche near mornin’.

‘Anyway, once it was light we wen’ down ter see ’em.’

‘Just like that?’ said Ron, looking awestruck. ‘You just walked

right into a giant camp?’

‘Well, Dumbledore’d told us how ter do it,’ said Hagrid. ‘Give the

Gurg gifts, show some respect, yeh know.’

‘Give the what gifts?’ asked Harry.

‘Oh, the Gurg – means the chief.’

‘How could you tell which one was the Gurg?’ asked Ron.

Hagrid grunted in amusement.

‘No problem,’ he said. ‘He was the biggest, the ugliest an’ the

laziest. Sittin’ there waitin’ ter be brought food by the others.

Dead goats an’ such like. Name o’ Karkus. I’d put him at twentytwo,

twenty-three feet an’ the weight o’ a couple o’ bull

elephants. Skin like rhino hide an’ all.’

‘And you just walked up to him?’ said Hermione breathlessly.

‘Well… down ter him, where he was lyin’ in the valley. They was

in this dip between four pretty high mountains, see, beside a

mountain lake, an’ Karkus was lyin’ by the lake roarin’ at the

others ter feed him an’ his wife. Olympe an’ I went down the

mountainside -‘

‘But didn’t they try and kill you when they saw you?’ asked Ron

incredulously.

‘It was def’nitely on some o’ their minds,’ said Hagrid, shrugging,

‘but we did what Dumbledore told us ter do, which was ter hold

our gift up high an’ keep our eyes on the Gurg an’ ignore the

others. So tha’s what we did. An’ the rest of ’em went quiet an’

watched us pass an’ we got right up ter Karkus’s feet an’ we

bowed an’ put our present down in front o’ him.’

‘What do you give a giant?’ asked Ron eagerly. ‘Food?’

‘Nah, he can get food all righ’ fer himself,’ said Hagrid. ‘We took

him magic. Giants like magic, jus’ don’ like us usin’ it against ’em.

Anyway, that firs’ day we gave ‘im a branch o’ Gubraithian fire.’

Hermione said, ‘Wow!’ softly, but Harry and Ron both frowned in

puzzlement.

‘A branch of -?’

‘Everlasting fire,’ said Hermione irritably, ‘you ought to know

that by now. Professor Flitwick’s mentioned it at least twice in

class!’

‘Well, anyway,’ said Hagrid quickly, intervening before Ron could

answer back, ‘Dumbledore’d bewitched this branch to burn fer

evermore, which isn’ somethin’ any wizard could do, an’ so I lies

it down in the snow by Karkus’s feet and says, “A gift to the

Gurg of the giants from Albus Dumbledore, who sends his

respectful greetings.'”

‘And what did Karkus say?’ asked Harry eagerly.

‘Nothin’,’ said Hagrid. ‘Didn’ speak English.’

‘You’re kidding!’

‘Didn’ matter,’ said Hagrid imperturbably, ‘Dumbledore had

warned us tha’ migh’ happen. Karkus knew enough to yell fer a

couple o’ giants who knew our lingo an’ they translated fer us.’

‘And did he like the present?’ asked Ron.

‘Oh yeah, it went down a storm once they understood what it

was,’ said Hagrid, turning his dragon steak over to press the

cooler side to his swollen eye. ‘Very pleased. So then I said,

“Albus Dumbledore asks the Gurg to speak with his messenger

when he returns tomorrow with another gift.”‘

Why couldn’t you speak to them that day?’ asked Hermione.

‘Dumbledore wanted us ter take it very slow,’ said Hagrid. ‘Let

’em see we kept our promises. We’ll come back tomorrow with

another present, an’ then we do come back with another present

– gives a good impression, see? An’ gives them time ter test out

the firs’ present an’ find out it’s a good one, an’ get ’em eager

fer more. In any case, giants like Karkus – overload ’em with

information an’

they’ll kill yeh jus’ to simplify things. So we bowed outta the way

an’ went off an’ found ourselves a nice little cave ter spend that

night in an’ the followin’ mornin’ we went back an’ this time we

found Karkus sittin’ up waitin’ fer us lookin’ all eager.’

‘And you talked to him?’

‘Oh yeah. Firs’ we presented him with a nice battle helmet –

goblin-made an’ indestructible, yeh know – an’ then we sat down

an’ we talked.’

‘What did he say?’

‘Not much,’ said Hagrid. ‘Listened mostly. Bu’ there were good

signs. He’d heard o’ Dumbledore, heard he’d argued against the

killin’ o’ the last giants in Britain. Karkus seemed ter be quite

int’rested in what Dumbledore had ter say. An’ a few o’ the

others, ‘specially the ones who had some English, they gathered

round an’ listened too. We were hopeful when we left that day.

Promised ter come back next mornin’ with another present…;.•

‘Bu’ that night it all wen’ wrong.’ ^:

What d’you mean?’ said Ron quickly.

‘Well, like I say, they’re not meant ter live together, giants,’ said

Hagrid sadly. ‘Not in big groups like that. They can’ help

themselves, they half kill each other every few weeks. The men

fight each other an’ the women fight each other; the remnants of

the old tribes fight each other, an’ that’s even without squabbles

over food an’ the best fires an’ sleepin’ spots. Yeh’d think, seein’

as how their whole race is abou’ finished, they’d lay off each

other, bu’…’

Hagrid sighed deeply.

That night a fight broke out, we saw it from the mouth of our

cave, lookin’ down on the valley. Went on fer hours, yeh wouldn’

believe the noise. An’ when the sun came up the snow was

scarlet an’ his head was lyin’ at the bottom o’ the lake.’

‘Whose head?’ gasped Hermione.

‘Karkus’s,’ said Hagrid heavily. There was a new Gurg,

Golgomath.’ He sighed deeply. ‘Well, we hadn’ bargained on a

new Gurg two days after we’d made friendly contact with the firs’

one, an’ we had a funny feelin’ Golgomath wouldn’ be so keen

ter listen to us, bu’ we had ter try.’

i

‘You went to speak to him?’ asked Ron incredulously. ‘After you’d

watched him rip off another giant’s head?’

‘Course we did,’ said Hagrid, ‘we hadn’ gone all that way ter give

up after two days! We wen’ down with the next present we’d

meant ter give ter Karkus.

‘I knew it was no go before I’d opened me mouth. He was sitting

there wearin’ Karkus’s helmet, leerin’ at us as we got nearer.

He’s massive, one o’ the biggest ones there. Black hair an’

matchin’ teeth an’ a necklace o’ bones. Human-lookin’ bones,

some of ’em. Well, I gave it a go – held out a great roll o’ dragon

skin – an’ said, “A gift fer the Gurg of the giants —” Nex’ thing I

knew, I was hangin’ upside-down in the air by me feet, two of

his mates had grabbed me.’

Hermione clapped her hands to her mouth.

‘How did you get out of that?’ asked Harry.

‘Wouldn’ta done if Olympe hadn’ bin there,’ said Hagrid. ‘She

pulled out her wand an’ did some o’ the fastes’ spellwork I’ve

ever seen. Ruddy marvellous. Hit the two holdin’ me right in the

eyes with Conjunctivitus Curses an’ they dropped me

straightaway -bu’ we were in trouble then, ’cause we’d used

magic against ’em, an’ that’s what giants hate abou’ wizards. We

had ter leg it an’ we knew there was no way we was going ter be

able ter march inter the camp again.’

‘Blimey, Hagrid,’ said Ron quietly.

‘So, how come it’s taken you so long to get home if you were

only there for three days?’ asked Hermione.

We didn’ leave after three days!’ said Hagrid, looking outraged.

‘Dumbledore was relyin’ on us!’

‘But you’ve just said there was no way you could go back!’

‘Not by daylight we couldn’, no. We just had ter rethink a bit.

Spent a couple o’ days lyin’ low up in the cave an’ watchin’. An’

wha’ we saw wasn’ good.’

‘Did he rip off more heads?’ asked Hermione, sounding

squeamish.

‘No,’ said Hagrid, ‘I wish he had.’

‘What d’you mean?’

‘I mean we soon found out he didn’ object ter all wizards – just

us.’

‘Death Eaters?’ said Harry quickly.

‘Yep,’ said Hagrid darkly. ‘Couple of ’em were visitin’ him ev’ry

day, bringin’ gifts ter the Gurg, an’ he wasn’ dangling them

upside-down.’

‘How d’you know they were Death Eaters?’ said Ron.

‘Because I recognised one of ’em,’ Hagrid growled. ‘Macnair,

remember him? Bloke they sent ter kill Buckbeak? Maniac, he is.

Likes killin’ as much as Golgomath; no wonder they were gettin’

on so well.’

‘So Macnairs persuaded the giants to join You-Know-Who?’ said

Hermione desperately.

‘Hold yer Hippogriffs, I haven’ finished me story yet!’ said Hagrid

indignantly, who, considering he had not wanted to tell them

anything in the first place, now seemed to be rather enjoying

himself. ‘Me an’ Olympe talked it over an’ we agreed, jus’

’cause the Gurg looked like favourin’ You-Know-Who didn’ mean

all of ’em would. We had ter try an’ persuade some o’ the others,

the ones who hadn’ wanted Golgomath as Gurg.’

‘How could you tell which ones they were?’ asked Ron.

‘Well, they were the ones bein’ beaten to a pulp, weren’ they?’

said Hagrid patiently. The ones with any sense were keepin’

outta Golgomath’s way, hidin’ out in caves roun’ the gully jus’

like we were. So we decided we’d go pokin’ round the caves by

night an’ see if we couldn’ persuade a few o’ them.’

‘You went poking around dark caves looking for giants?’ said Ron,

with awed respect in his voice.

‘Well, it wasn’ the giants who worried us most,’ said Hagrid. We

were more concerned abou’ the Death Eaters. Dumbledore had

told us before we wen’ not ter tangle with ’em if we could avoid

it, an’ the trouble was they knew we was around — ‘spect

Golgomath told ’em abou’ us. At night, when the giants were

sleepin’ an’ we wanted ter be creepin’ inter the caves, Macnair

an’ the other one were sneakin’ round the mountains lookin’ fer

us. I was hard put to stop Olympe jumpin’ out at ’em,’ said

Hagrid, the corners of his mouth lifting his wild beard, ‘she was

rarin’ ter attack ’em… she’s somethin’ when she’s roused,

Olympe… fiery, yeh know… ‘spect it’s the French in her…’

Hagrid gazed misty-eyed into the fire. Harry allowed him thirty

seconds of reminiscence before clearing his throat loudly.

‘So, what happened? Did you ever get near any of the other

giants?’

‘What? Oh… oh, yeah, we did. Yeah, on the third night after

Karkus was killed we crept outta the cave we’d bin hidin’ in an’

headed back down inter the gully, keepin’ our eyes skinned fer

the Death Eaters. Got inside a few o’ the caves, no go – then, in

abou’ the sixth one, we found three giants hidin’.’

‘Cave must’ve been cramped,’ said Ron.

‘Wasn’ room ter swing a Kneazle,’ said Hagrid.

‘Didn’t they attack you when they saw you?’ asked Hermione.

‘Probably woulda done if they’d bin in any condition,’ said Hagrid,

‘but they was badly hurt, all three o’ them; Golgomath’s lot had

beaten ’em unconscious; they’d woken up an’ crawled inter the

nearest shelter they could find. Anyway, one o’ them had a bit of

English an’

‘e translated fer the others, an’ what we had ter say didn’ seem

ter go down too badly. So we kep’ goin’ back, visitin’ the

wounded… I reckon we had abou’ six or seven o’ them convinced

at one poin’.’

‘Six or seven?’ said Ron eagerly. ‘Well that’s not bad – are they

going to come over here and start fighting You-Know-Who with

us?’

But Hermione said, ‘What do you mean “at one point”, Hagrid?’

Hagrid looked at her sadly.

‘Golgomath’s lot raided the caves. The ones tha’ survived didn’

wan’ no more ter to do with us after that.’

‘So… so there aren’t any giants coming?’ said Ron, looking

disappointed.

‘Nope,’ said Hagrid, heaving a deep sigh as he turned over his

steak and applied the cooler side to his face, ‘but we did wha’ we

meant ter do, we gave ’em Dumbledore’s message an’ some o’

them heard it an’ I spect some o’ them’ll remember it. Jus’

maybe, them that don’ want ter stay around Golgomath’ll move

outta the mountains, an’ there’s gotta be a chance they’ll

remember Dumbledore’s friendly to ’em… could be they’ll come.’

Snow was filling up the window now. Harry became aware that

the knees of his robes were soaked through: Fang was drooling

with his head in Harry’s lap.

‘Hagrid?’ said Hermione quietly after a while.

‘Mmm?’

‘Did you… was there any sign of… did you hear anything about

your… your… mother while you were there?’

Hagrid’s unobscured eye rested upon her and Hermione looked

rather scared.

‘I’m sorry… I… forget it -‘

‘Dead,’ Hagrid grunted. ‘Died years ago. They told me.’

‘Oh… I’m… I’m really sorry’ said Hermione in a very small voice.

Hagrid shrugged his massive shoulders.

‘No need,’ he said shortly. ‘Can’t remember her much. Wasn’ a

great mother.’

They were silent again. Hermione glanced nervously at Harry

and Ron, plainly wanting them to speak.

‘But you still haven’t explained how you got in this state, Hagrid,’

Ron said, gesturing towards Hagrid’s bloodstained face.

‘Or why you’re back so late,’ said Harry. ‘Sirius says Madame

Maxime got back ages ago -‘

‘Who attacked you?’ said Ron.

‘I haven’ bin attacked!’ said Hagrid emphatically. ‘I -‘

But the rest of his words were drowned in a sudden outbreak of

rapping on the door. Hermione gasped; her mug slipped through

her fingers and smashed on the floor; Fang yelped. All four of

them stared at the window beside the doorway. The shadow of

somebody small and squat rippled across the thin curtain.

‘It’s her!’ Ron whispered.

‘Get under here!’ Harry said quickly; seizing the Invisibility Cloak,

he whirled it over himself and Hermione while Ron tore around

the table and dived under the Cloak as well. Huddled together,

they backed away into a corner. Fang was barking madly at the

door. Hagrid looked thoroughly confused.

‘Hagrid, hide our mugs!’

Hagrid seized Harry and Ron’s mugs and shoved them under the

cushion in Fang’s basket. Fang was now leaping up at the door;

Hagrid pushed him out of the way with his foot and pulled it

open.

Professor Umbridge was standing in the doorway wearing her

green tweed cloak and a matching hat with earflaps. Lips pursed,

she leaned back so as to see Hagrid’s face; she barely reached

his navel.

‘So,’ she said slowly and loudly, as though speaking to somebody

deaf. ‘You’re Hagrid, are you?’

Without waiting for an answer she strolled into the room, her

bulging eyes rolling in every direction.

‘Get away,’ she snapped, waving her handbag at Fang, who had

bounded up to her and was attempting to lick her face.

‘Er – I don’ want ter be rude,’ said Hagrid, staring at her, ‘but

who the ruddy hell are you?’

‘My name is Dolores Umbridge.’

Her eyes were sweeping the cabin. Twice they stared directly

into the corner where Harry stood, sandwiched between Ron and

Hermione.

‘Dolores Umbridge?’ Hagrid said, sounding thoroughly confused.

‘I thought you were one o’ them Ministry – don’ you work with

Fudge?’

‘I was Senior Undersecretary to the Minister, yes,’ said Umbridge,

now pacing around the cabin, taking in every tiny detail within,

from the haversack against the wall to the abandoned travelling

cloak. ‘I am now the Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher -‘

Tha’s brave of yeh,’ said Hagrid, ‘there’s not many’d take tha’

job any more.’

‘- and Hogwarts High Inquisitor,’ said Umbridge, giving no sign

that she had heard him.

‘Wha’s that?’ said Hagrid, frowning.

‘Precisely what I was going to ask,’ said Umbridge, pointing at

the broken shards of china on the floor that had been Hermione’s

mug.

‘Oh,’ said Hagrid, with a most unhelpful glance towards the

corner where Harry, Ron and Hermione stood hidden, ‘oh, tha’

was… was Fang. He broke a mug. So I had ter use this one

instead.’

Hagrid pointed to the mug from which he had been drinking, one

hand still clamped over the dragon steak pressed to his eye.

Umbridge stood facing him now, taking in every detail of his

appearance instead of the cabin’s.

‘I heard voices,’ she said quietly.

‘I was talkin’ ter Fang,’ said Hagrid stoutly.

‘And was he talking back to you?’

‘Well… in a manner o’ speakin’,’ said Hagrid, looking

uncomfortable. ‘I sometimes say Fang’s near enough human -‘

There are three sets of footprints in the snow leading from the

castle doors to your cabin,’ said Umbridge sleekly.

Hermione gasped; Harry clapped a hand over her mouth. Luckily,

Fang was sniffing loudly around the hem of Professor Umbridge’s

robes and she did not appear to have heard.

‘Well, 1 on’y jus’ got back,’ said Hagrid, waving an enormous

hand at the haversack. ‘Maybe someone came ter call earlier an’

I missed ’em.’

‘There are no footsteps leading away from your cabin door.’

‘Well, I… 1 don’ know why that’d be…’ said Hagrid, tugging

nervously at his beard and again glancing towards the corner

where Harry, Ron and Hermione stood, as though asking for help.

‘Erm…’

Umbridge wheeled round and strode the length of the cabin,

looking around carefully. She bent and peered under the bed.

She opened Hagrid’s cupboards. She passed within two inches of

where Harry, Ron and Hermione stood pressed against the wall;

Harry actually pulled in his stomach as she walked by. After

looking carefully inside the enormous cauldron Hagrid used for

cooking, she wheeled round again and said, ‘What has happened

to you? How did you sustain those injuries?’

Hagrid hastily removed the dragon steak from his face, which in

Harrys opinion was a mistake, because the black and purple

bruising all around his eye was now clearly visible, not to

mention the large amount of fresh and congealed blood on his

face. ‘Oh, 1… had a bit of an accident,’ he said lamely.

‘What sort of accident?’

‘I – I tripped.’

‘You tripped,’ she repeated coolly.

‘Yeah, tha’s right. Over… over a friend’s broomstick. I don’ fly,

meself. Well, look at the size o’ me, I don’ reckon there’s a

broomstick that’d hold me. Friend o’ mine breeds Abraxan horses,

1 dunno if you’ve ever seen ’em, big beasts, winged, yeh know,

I’ve had a bit of a ride on one o’ them an’ it was -‘

‘Where have you been?’ asked Umbridge, cutting coolly through

Hagrid’s babbling.

‘Where’ve I -?’

‘Been, yes,’ she said. Term started two months ago. Another

teacher has had to cover your classes. None of your colleagues

has been able to give me any information as to your

whereabouts. You left no address. Where have you been?’

There was a pause in which Hagrid stared at her with his newly

uncovered eye. Harry could almost hear his brain working

furiously.

‘I – I’ve been away for me health,’ he said.

‘For your health,’ repeated Professor Umbridge. Her eyes

travelled over Hagrid’s discoloured and swollen face; dragon

blood dripped gently and silently on to his waistcoat. ‘I see.’

‘Yeah,’ said Hagrid, ‘bit o’ – o’ fresh air, yeh know -‘

‘Yes, as gamekeeper fresh air must be so difficult to come by,’

said Umbridge sweetly. The small patch of Hagrid’s face that was

not black or purple, flushed.

‘Well — change o’ scene, yeh know -‘

‘Mountain scenery?’ said Umbridge swiftly.

She knows, Harry thought desperately.

‘Mountains?’ Hagrid repeated, clearly thinking fast. ‘Nope, South

o’ France fer me. Bit o’ sun an’… an’ sea.’

‘Really?’ said Umbridge. ‘You don’t have much of a tan.’

‘Yeah… well… sensitive skin,’ said Hagrid, attempting an

ingratiating smile. Harry noticed that two of his teeth had been

knocked out. Umbridge looked at him coldly; his smile faltered.

Then she hoisted her handbag a little higher into the crook of her

arm and said, ‘I shall, of course, be informing the Minister of

your late return.’

‘Righ’,’ said Hagrid, nodding.

‘You ought to know, too, that as High Inquisitor it is my

unfortunate but necessary duty to inspect my fellow teachers. So

I daresay we shall meet again soon enough.’

She turned sharply and marched back to the door.

‘You’re inspectin’ us?’ Hagrid repeated blankly, looking after her.

‘Oh, yes,’ said Umbridge softly, looking back at him with her

hand on the door handle. The Ministry is determined to weed out

unsatisfactory teachers, Hagrid. Goodnight.’

She left, closing the door behind her with a snap. Harry made to

pull off the Invisibility Cloak but Hermione seized his wrist.

‘Not yet,’ she breathed in his ear. ‘She might not be gone yet.’

Hagrid seemed to be thinking the same way; he stumped across

the room and pulled back the curtain an inch or so.

‘She’s goin’ back ter the castle,’ he said in a low voice. ‘Blimey…

inspectin’ people, is she?’

‘Yeah,’ said Harry, pulling off the Cloak. Trelawney’s on

probation already…’

‘Um… what sort of thing are you planning to do with us in class,

Hagrid?’ asked Hermione.

‘Oh, don’ you worry abou’ that, I’ve got a great load o’ lessons

planned,’ said Hagrid enthusiastically, scooping up his dragon

steak from the table and slapping it over his eye again. ‘I’ve bin

keepin’ a couple o’ creatures saved fer yer OWL year; you wait,

they’re somethin’ really special.’

‘Erm… special in what way?’ asked Hermione tentatively.

‘I’m not sayin’,’ said Hagrid happily. ‘I don’ want ter spoil the

surprise.’

‘Look, Hagrid,’ said Hermione urgently, dropping all pretence,

‘Professor Umbridge won’t be at all happy if you bring anything

to class that’s too dangerous.’

‘Dangerous?’ said Hagrid, looking genially bemused. ‘Don’ be

silly, I wouldn’ give yeh anythin’ dangerous! I mean, all righ’,

they can look after themselves -‘

‘Hagrid, you’ve got to pass Umbridge’s inspection, and to do that

it would really be better if she saw you teaching us how to look

after Porlocks, how to tell the difference between Knarls and

hedgehogs, stuff like that!’ said Hermione earnestly.

‘But tha’s not very interestin’, Hermione,’ said Hagrid. The stuff

I’ve got’s much more impressive. I’ve bin bringin’

’em on fer years, I reckon I’ve got the on’y domestic herd in

Britain.’

‘Hagrid… please…’ said Hermione, a note of real desperation in

her voice. ‘Umbridge is looking for any excuse to get rid of

HA GRID’S TALE

teachers she thinks are too close to Dumbledore. Please, Hagrid,

teach us something dull that’s bound to come up in our OWL.’

But Hagrid merely yawned widely and cast a one-eyed look of

longing towards the vast bed in the corner.

‘Lis’en, it’s bin a long day an’ it’s late,’ he said, patting Hermione

gently on the shoulder, so that her knees gave way and hit the

floor with a thud. ‘Oh – sorry -‘ He pulled her back up by the

neck of her robes. ‘Look, don’ you go worryin’ abou’ me, I

promise yeh I’ve got really good stuff planned fer yer lessons

now I’m back… now you lot had better get back up to the castle,

an’ don’ forget ter wipe yer footprints out behind yeh!’

‘I dunno if you got through to him,’ said Ron a short while later

when, having checked that the coast was clear, they walked

back up to the castle through the thickening snow, leaving no

trace behind them due to the Obliteration Charm Hermione was

performing as they went.

Then I’ll go back again tomorrow,’ said Hermione determinedly.

Til plan his lessons for him if I have to. I don’t care if she throws

out Trelawney but she’s not getting rid of Hagrid!’

— CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE —

The Eye of the Snake

Hermione ploughed her way back to Hagrid’s cabin through two

feet of snow on Sunday morning. Harry and Ron wanted to go

with her, but their mountain of homework had reached an

alarming height again, so they remained grudgingly in the

common room, trying to ignore the gleeful shouts drifting up

from the grounds outside, where students were enjoying

themselves skating on the frozen lake, tobogganing and, worst

of all, bewitching snowballs to zoom up to Gryffindor Tower and

rap hard on the windows.

‘Oi!’ bellowed Ron, finally losing patience and sticking his head

out of the window, ‘I am a prefect and if one more snowball hits

this window – OUCH!’

He withdrew his head sharply, his face covered in snow.

‘It’s Fred and George,’ he said bitterly, slamming the window

behind him. ‘Gits…’

Hermione returned from Hagrid’s just before lunch, shivering

slightly, her robes damp to the knees.

‘So?’ said Ron, looking up when she entered. ‘Got all his lessons

planned for him?’

‘Well, I tried,’ she said dully, sinking into a chair beside Harry.

She pulled out her wand and gave it a complicated little wave so

that hot air streamed out of the tip; she then pointed this at her

robes, which began to steam as they dried out. ‘He wasn’t even

there when 1 arrived, I was knocking for at least half an hour.

And then he came stumping out of the Forest -‘

Harry groaned. The Forbidden Forest was teeming with the kind

of creatures most likely to get Hagrid the sack. ‘What’s he

keeping in there? Did he say?’ he asked.

‘No,’ said Hermione miserably. ‘He says he wants them to be a

surprise. 1 tried to explain about Umbridge, but he just doesn’t

get it. He kept saying nobody in their right mind would rather

study Knarls than Chimaeras – oh, I don’t think he’s got a

Chimaera,’ she added at the appalled look on Harry and Ron’s

faces, ‘but that’s not for lack of trying, from what he said about

how hard it is to get eggs. 1 don’t know how many times I told

him he’d be better off following Grubbly-Plank’s plan, I honestly

don’t think he listened to half of what 1 said. He’s in a bit of a

funny mood, you know. He still won’t say how he got all those

injuries.’

Hagrid’s reappearance at the staff table at breakfast next day

was not greeted by enthusiasm from all students. Some, like

Fred, George and Lee, roared with delight and sprinted up the

aisle between the Gryffindor and Hufflepuff tables to wring

Hagrid’s enormous hand; others, like Parvati and Lavender,

exchanged gloomy looks and shook their heads. Harry knew that

many of them preferred Professor Grubbly-Plank’s lessons, and

the worst of it was that a very small, unbiased part of him knew

that they had good reason: Grubbly-Plank’s idea of an

interesting class was not one where there was a risk that

somebody might have their head ripped off.

It was with a certain amount of apprehension that Harry, Ron

and Hermione headed down to Hagrid’s on Tuesday, heavily

muffled against the cold. Harry was worried, not only about what

Hagrid might have decided to teach them, but also about how

the rest of the class, particularly Malfoy and his cronies, would

behave if Umbridge was watching them.

However, the High Inquisitor was nowhere to be seen as they

struggled through the snow towards Hagrid, who stood waiting

for them on the edge of the Forest. He did not present a

reassuring sight; the bruises that had been purple on Saturday

night were now tinged with green and yellow and some of his

cuts still seemed to be bleeding. Harry could not understand

this: had Hagrid perhaps been attacked by some creature whose

venom prevented the wounds it inflicted from healing? As though

to complete the ominous picture, Hagrid was carrying what

looked like half a dead cow over his shoulder.

‘We’re workin’ in here today!’ Hagrid called happily to the

approaching students, jerking his head back at the dark trees

behind him. ‘Bit more sheltered! Anyway, they prefer the dark.’

‘What prefers the dark?’ Harry heard Malfoy say sharply to

Crabbe and Goyle, a trace of panic in his voice. ‘What did he say

prefers the dark – did you hear?’

Harry remembered the only other occasion on which Malfoy had

entered the Forest before now; he had not been very brave then,

either. He smiled to himself; after the Quidditch match anything

that caused Malfoy discomfort was all right with him.

‘Ready?’ said Hagrid cheerfully, looking around at the class.

‘Right, well, I’ve bin savin’ a trip inter the Forest fer yer fifth year.

Thought we’d go an’ see these creatures in their natural habitat.

Now, what we’re studyin’ today is pretty rare, 1 reckon I’m

probably the on’y person in Britain who’s managed ter train ’em.’

‘And you’re sure they’re trained, are you?’ said Malfoy, the panic

in his voice even more pronounced. ‘Only it wouldn’t be the first

time you’d brought wild stuff to class, would it?’

The Slytherins murmured agreement and a few Gryffindors

looked as though they thought Malfoy had a fair point, too.

‘Course they’re trained,’ said Hagrid, scowling and hoisting the

dead cow a little higher on his shoulder.

‘So what happened to your face, then?’ demanded Malfoy.

‘Mind yer own business!’ said Hagrid, angrily. ‘Now, if yeh’ve

finished askin’ stupid questions, follow me!’

He turned and strode straight into the Forest. Nobody seemed

much disposed to follow. Harry glanced at Ron and Hermione,

who sighed but nodded, and the three of them set off after

Hagrid, leading the rest of the class.

They walked for about ten minutes until they reached a place

where the trees stood so closely together that it was as dark as

twilight and there was no snow at all on the ground. With a grunt,

Hagrid deposited his half a cow on the ground, stepped back and

turned to face his class, most of whom were creeping from tree

to tree towards him, peering around nervously as though

expecting to be set upon at any moment.

‘Gather roun’, gather roun’,’ Hagrid encouraged. ‘Now, they’ll be

attracted by the smell o’ the meat but I’m goin’ ter give ’em a

call anyway, ’cause they’ll like ter know it’s me.’

He turned, shook his shaggy head to get the hair out of his face

and gave an odd, shrieking cry that echoed through the dark

trees like the call of some monstrous bird. Nobody laughed:

most of them looked too scared to make a sound.

Hagrid gave the shrieking cry again. A minute passed in which

the class continued to peer nervously over their shoulders and

around trees for a first glimpse of whatever it was that was

coming. And then, as Hagrid shook his hair back for a third time

and expanded his enormous chest, Harry nudged Ron and

pointed into the black space between two gnarled yew trees.

A pair of blank, white, shining eyes were growing larger through

the gloom and a moment later the dragonish face, neck and then

skeletal body of a great, black, winged horse emerged from the

darkness. It surveyed the class for a few seconds, swishing its

long black tail, then bowed its head and began to tear flesh from

the dead cow with its pointed fangs.

A great wave of relief broke over Harry. Here at last was proof

that he had not imagined these creatures, that they were real:

Hagrid knew about them too. He looked eagerly at Ron, but Ron

was still staring around into the trees and after a few seconds he

whispered, ‘Why doesn’t Hagrid call again?’

Most of the rest of the class were wearing expressions as

confused and nervously expectant as Ron’s and were still gazing

everywhere but at the horse standing feet from them. There

were only two other people who seemed to be able to see them:

a stringy Slytherin boy standing just behind Goyle was watching

the horse eating with an expression of great distaste on his face;

and Neville, whose eyes were following the swishing progress of

the long black tail.

‘Oh, an’ here comes another one!’ said Hagrid proudly, as a

second black horse appeared out of the dark trees, folded its

leathery wings closer to its body and dipped its head to gorge on

the meat. ‘Now… put yer hands up, who can see ’em?’

Immensely pleased to feel that he was at last going to

understand the mystery of these horses, Harry raised his hand.

Hagrid nodded at him.

‘Yeah… yeah, I knew you’d be able ter, Harry,’ he said seriously.

‘An’ you too, Neville, eh? An’ -‘

‘Excuse me,’ said Malfoy in a sneering voice, ‘but what exactly

are we supposed to be seeing?’

For an answer, Hagrid pointed at the cow carcass on the ground.

The whole class stared at it for a few seconds, then several

people gasped and Parvati squealed. Harry understood why: bits

of flesh stripping themselves away from the bones and vanishing

into thin air had to look very odd indeed.

‘What’s doing it?’ Parvati demanded in a terrified voice,

retreating behind the nearest tree. ‘What’s eating it?’

Thestrals,’ said Hagrid proudly and Hermione gave a soft ‘Oh!’ of

comprehension at Harry’s shoulder. ‘Hogwarts has got a whole

herd of ’em in here. Now, who knows -?’

‘But they’re really, really unlucky!’ interrupted Parvati, looking

alarmed. They’re supposed to bring all sorts of horrible

misfortune on people who see them. Professor Trelawney told

me once -‘

‘No, no, no,’ said Hagrid, chuckling, ‘tha’s jus’ superstition, that

is, they aren’ unlucky, they’re dead clever an’ useful! Course,

this lot don’ get a lot o’ work, it’s mainly jus’ pullin’ the school

carriages unless Dumbledore’s takin’ a long journey an’ don’

want ter Apparate – an’ here’s another couple, look -‘

Two more horses came quietly out of the trees, one of them

passing very close .to Parvati, who shivered and pressed herself

closer to the tree, saying, ‘I think 1 felt something, I think it’s

near me!’

‘Don’ worry, it won’ hurt yen,’ said Hagrid patiently. ‘Righ’, now,

who can tell me why some o’ yeh can see ’em an’ some can’t?’

Hermione raised her hand.

‘Go on then,’ said Hagrid, beaming at her.

The only people who can see Thestrals,’ she said, ‘are people

who have seen death.’

Tha’s exactly right,’ said Hagrid solemnly, ‘ten points ter

Gryffindor. Now, Thestrals -‘

‘Hem, hem.’

Professor Umbridge had arrived. She was standing a few feet

away from Harry, wearing her green hat and cloak again, her

clipboard at the ready. Hagrid, who had never heard Umbridge’s

fake cough before, was gazing in some concern at the closest

Thestral, evidently under the impression that it had made the

sound.

‘Hem, hem.’

‘Oh, hello!’ Hagrid said, smiling, having located the source of the

noise.

‘You received the note I sent to your cabin this morning?’ said

Umbridge, in the same loud, slow voice she had used with him

earlier, as though she were addressing somebody both foreign

and very slow. Telling you that I would be inspecting your

lesson?’

‘Oh, yeah,’ said Hagrid brightly. ‘Glad yeh found the place all

righ’! Well, as you can see – or, I dunno – can you? We’re doin’

Thestrals today -‘

‘I’m sorry?’ said Professor Umbridge loudly, cupping her hand

around her ear and frowning. ‘What did you say?’

Hagrid looked a little confused.

‘Er – Thestrals!’ he said loudly. ‘Big – er – winged horses, yeh

know!’

He flapped his gigantic arms hopefully. Professor Umbridge

raised her eyebrows at him and muttered as she made a note on

her clipboard: ‘Has… to… resort… to… crude… sign… language.’

‘Well… anyway…” said Hagrid, turning back to the class and

looking slightly flustered, ‘erm… what was I sayin’?’

Appears… to… have… poor… short… term… memory,’ muttered

Umbridge, loudly enough for everyone to hear her. Draco Malfoy

looked as though Christmas had come a month early; Hermione,

on the other hand, had turned scarlet with suppressed rage.

‘Oh, yeah,’ said Hagrid, throwing an uneasy glance at

Umbridge’s clipboard, but ploughing on valiantly. ‘Yeah, I was

gonna tell yeh how come we got a herd. Yeah, so, we started off

with a male an’ five females. This one,’ he patted the first horse

to have appeared, ‘name o’ Tenebrus, he’s my special favourite,

firs’ one born here in the Forest -‘

‘Are you aware,’ Umbridge said loudly, interrupting him, ‘that the

Ministry of Magic has classified Thestrals as “dangerous”?’

Harry’s heart sank like a stone, but Hagrid merely chuckled.

Thestrals aren’ dangerous! All righ’, they might take a bite outta

yeh if yeh really annoy them -‘

‘Shows… signs… of… pleasure… at… idea… of… violence,’

muttered Umbridge, scribbling on her clipboard again.

‘No – come on!’ said Hagrid, looking a little anxious now. ‘I mean,

a dog’ll bite if yeh bait it, won’ it – but Thestrals have jus’ got a

bad reputation because o’ the death thing – people used ter think

they were bad omens, didn’ they? Jus’ didn’ understand, did

they?’

Umbridge did not answer; she finished writing her last note, then

looked up at Hagrid and said, again very loudly and slowly,

‘Please continue teaching as usual. I am going to walk,’ she

mimed walking (Malfoy and Pansy Parkinson were having silent

fits of laughter) ‘among the students’ (she pointed around at

individual members of the class) ‘and ask them questions.’ She

pointed at her mouth to indicate talking.

Hagrid stared at her, clearly at a complete loss to understand

why she was acting as though he did not understand normal

English. Hermione had tears of fury in her eyes now.

‘You hag, you evil hag!’ she whispered, as Umbridge walked

towards Pansy Parkinson. ‘I know what you’re doing, you awful,

twisted, vicious -‘

‘Erm… anyway,’ said Hagrid, clearly struggling to regain the flow

of his lesson, ‘so – Thestrals. Yeah. Well, there’s loads o’ good

stuff abou’ them…’

‘Do you find,’ said Professor Umbridge in a ringing voice to Pansy

Parkinson, ‘that you are able to understand Professor Hagrid

when he talks?’

Just like Hermione, Pansy had tears in her eyes, but these were

tears of laughter; indeed, her answer was almost incoherent

because she was trying to suppress her giggles.

‘No… because… well… it sounds… like grunting a lot of the time

Umbridge scribbled on her clipboard. The few unbruised bits of

Hagrid’s face flushed, but he tried to act as though he had not

heard Pansy’s answer.

‘Er… yeah… good stuff abou’ Thestrals. Well, once they’re tamed,

like this lot, yeh’ll never be lost again. ‘Mazin’ sense o’ direction,

jus’ tell ’em where yeh want ter go -‘

‘Assuming they can understand you, of course,’ said Malfoy

loudly, and Pansy Parkinson collapsed in a fit of renewed giggles.

Professor Umbridge smiled indulgently at them and then turned

to Neville.

‘You can see the Thestrals, Longbottom, can you?’ she said.

Neville nodded.

‘Who did you see die?’ she asked, her tone indifferent.

‘My… my grandad,’ said Neville.

‘And what do you think of them?’ she said, waving her stubby

hand at the horses, who by now had stripped a great deal of the

carcass down to bone.

‘Erm,’ said Neville nervously, with a glance at Hagrid. Well,

they’re… er… OK…”

Students… are… too… intimidated… to… admit… they… are…

frightened,’ muttered Umbridge, making another note on her

clipboard.

‘No!’ said Neville, looking upset. ‘No, I’m not scared of them!’

‘It’s quite all right,’ said Umbridge, patting Neville on the

shoulder with what she evidently intended to be an

understanding smile, though it looked more like a leer to Harry.

‘Well, Hagrid,’ she turned to look up at him again, speaking once

more in that loud, slow voice, ‘I think I’ve got enough to be

getting along with. You will receive’ (she mimed taking

something from the air in front of her) ‘the results of your

inspection’ (she pointed at the clipboard) ‘in ten days’ time.’ She

held up ten stubby little fingers, then, her smile wider and more

toadlike than ever before beneath her green hat, she bustled

from their midst, leaving Malfoy and Pansy Parkinson in fits of

laughter, Hermione actually shaking with fury and Neville looking

confused and upset.

That foul, lying, twisting old gargoyle!’ stormed Hermione half an

hour later, as they made their way back up to the castle through

the channels they had made earlier in the snow. ‘You see what

she’s up to? It’s her thing about half-breeds all over again – she’s

trying to make out Hagrid’s some kind of dimwitted troll, just

because he had a giantess for a mother – and oh, it’s not fair,

that really wasn’t a bad lesson at all – I mean, all right, if it had

been Blast-Ended Skrewts again, but Thestrals are fine – in fact,

for Hagrid, they’re really good!’

‘Umbridge said they’re dangerous,’ said Ron.

‘Well, it’s like Hagrid said, they can look after themselves,’ said

Hermione impatiently, ‘and 1 suppose a teacher like Grubbly-

Plank wouldn’t usually show them to us before NEWT level, but,

well, they are very interesting, aren’t they? The way some

people can see them and some can’t! 1 wish 1 could.’

‘Do you?’ Harry asked her quietly.

She looked suddenly horrorstruck.

‘Oh, Harry – I’m sorry – no, of course I don’t – that was a really

stupid thing to say.’

‘It’s OK,’ he said quickly, ‘don’t worry’

‘I’m surprised so many people could see them,’ said Ron. Three

in a class -‘

‘Yeah, Weasley, we were just wondering,’ said a malicious voice.

Unheard by any of them in the muffling snow, Malfoy, Crabbe

and Goyle were walking along right behind them. ‘D’you reckon if

you saw someone snuff it you’d be able to see the Quaffle

better?’

He, Crabbe and Goyle roared with laughter as they pushed past

on their way to the castle, then broke into a chorus of ‘Weasley

is our King’. Ron’s ears turned scarlet.

‘Ignore them, just ignore them,’ intoned Hermione, pulling out

her wand and performing the charm to produce hot air again, so

that she could melt them an easier path through the untouched

snow between them and the greenhouses.

*

December arrived, bringing with it more snow and a positive

avalanche of homework for the fifth-years. Ron and Hermione’s

prefect duties also became more and more onerous as Christmas

approached. They were called upon to supervise the decoration

of the castle (‘You try putting up tinsel when Peeves has got the

other end and is trying to strangle you with it,’ said Ron), to

watch over first- and second-years spending their break-times

inside because of the bitter cold (‘And they’re cheeky little snotrags,

you know, we definitely weren’t that rude when we were in

first year,’ said Ron) and to patrol the corridors in shifts with

Argus Filch, who suspected that the holiday spirit might show

itself in an outbreak of wizard duels (‘He’s got dung for brains,

that one,’ said Ron furiously). They were so busy that Hermione

had even stopped knitting elf hats and was fretting that she was

down to her last three.

‘All those poor elves I haven’t set free yet, having to stay here

over Christmas because there aren’t enough hats!’

Harry, who had not had the heart to tell her that Dobby was

taking everything she made, bent lower over his History of Magic

essay. In any case, he did not want to think about Christmas.

For the first time in his school career, he very much wanted to

spend the holidays away from Hogwarts. Between his Quidditch

ban and worry about whether or not Hagrid was going to be put

on probation, he felt highly resentful towards the place at the

moment. The only thing he really looked forward to were the DA

meetings, and they would have to stop over the holidays, as

nearly everybody in the DA would be spending the time with

their families. Hermione was going skiing with her parents,

something that greatly amused Ron, who had never heard of

Muggles strapping narrow strips of wood on to their feet to slide

down mountains. Ron was going home to The Burrow. Harry

endured several days of envy before Ron said, in response to

Harry asking him how he was going to get home for Christmas:

‘But you’re coming too! Didn’t I say? Mum wrote and told me to

invite you weeks ago!’

Hermione rolled her eyes, but Harry’s spirits soared: the thought

of Christmas at The Burrow was truly wonderful, though slightly

marred by Harry’s guilty feeling that he would not be able to

spend the holiday with Sirius. He wondered whether he could

possibly persuade Mrs Weasley to invite his godfather for the

festivities. Even though he doubted whether Dumbledore would

permit Sirius to leave Grimmauld Place anyway, he could not

help but think Mrs Weasley might not want him; they were so

often at loggerheads. Sirius had not contacted Harry at all since

his last appearance in the fire, and although Harry knew that

with Umbridge on constant watch it would be unwise to attempt

to contact him, he did not like to think of Sirius alone in his

mother’s old house, perhaps pulling a lonely cracker with

Kreacher.

Harry arrived early in the Room of Requirement for the last DA

meeting before the holidays and was very glad he had, because

when the torches burst into flame he saw that Dobby had taken

it upon himself to decorate the place for Christmas. He could tell

the elf had done it, because nobody else would have strung a

hundred golden baubles from the ceiling, each showing a picture

of Harry’s face and bearing the legend: ‘HAVE A VERY HARRY

CHRISTMAS!’

Harry had only just managed to get the last of them down before

the door creaked open and Luna Love good entered, looking as

dreamy as usual.

‘Hello,’ she said vaguely, looking around at what remained of the

decorations. These are nice, did you put them up?’

‘No,’ said Harry, ‘it was Dobby the house-elf.’

‘Mistletoe,’ said Luna dreamily, pointing at a large clump of white

berries placed almost over Harry’s head. He jumped out from

under it. ‘Good thinking,’ said Luna very seriously. ‘It’s often

infested with Nargles.’

Harry was saved the necessity of asking what Nargles are by the

arrival of Angelina, Katie and Alicia. All three of them were

breathless and looked very cold.

‘Well,’ said Angelina dully, pulling off her cloak and throwing it

into a corner, ‘we’ve finally replaced you.’

‘Replaced me?’ said Harry blankly.

‘You and Fred and George,’ she said impatiently. ‘We’ve got

another Seeker!’

‘Who?’ said Harry quickly.

‘Ginny Weasley,’ said Katie.

Harry gaped at her.

‘Yeah, I know,’ said Angelina, pulling out her wand and flexing

her arm, ‘but she’s pretty good, actually. Nothing on you, of

course,’ she said, throwing him a very dirty look, ‘but as we can’t

have you…’

Harry bit back the retort he was longing to utter: did she

imagine for a second that he did not regret his expulsion from

the team a hundred times more than she did?

‘And what about the Beaters?’ he asked, trying to keep his voice

even.

‘Andrew Kirke,’ said Alicia without enthusiasm, ‘and Jack Sloper.

Neither of them are brilliant, but compared to the rest of the

idiots who turned up…’

The arrival of Ron, Hermione and Neville brought this depressing

discussion to an end, and within five minutes the room was full

enough to prevent Harry seeing Angelina’s burning, reproachful

looks.

‘OK,’ he said, calling them all to order. ‘I thought this evening we

should just go over the things we’ve done so far, because it’s the

last meeting before the holidays and there’s no point starting

anything new right before a three-week break -‘

‘We’re not doing anything new?’ said Zacharias Smith, in a

disgruntled whisper loud enough to carry through the room. ‘If

I’d known that, I wouldn’t have come.’

‘We’re all really sorry Harry didn’t tell you, then,’ said Fred loudly.

Several people sniggered. Harry saw Cho laughing and felt the

familiar swooping sensation in his stomach, as though he had

missed a step going downstairs.

‘- we can practise in pairs,’ said Harry. We’ll start with the

Impediment Jinx, for ten minutes, then we can get out the

cushions and try Stunning again.’

They all divided up obediently; Harry partnered Neville as usual.

The room was soon full of intermittent cries of ‘Impedimenta!

‘People froze for a minute or so, during which their partner would

stare aimlessly around the room watching other pairs at work,

then would unfreeze and take their turn at the jinx.

Neville had improved beyond all recognition. After a while, when

Harry had unfrozen three times in a row, he had Neville join Ron

and Hermione again so that he could walk around the room and

watch the others. When he passed Cho she beamed at him; he

resisted the temptation to walk past her several more times.

After ten minutes on the Impediment Jinx, they laid out cushions

all over the floor and started practising Stunning again. Space

was really too confined to allow them all to work this spell at

once; half the group observed the others for a while, then

swapped over.

Harry felt himself positively swelling with pride as he watched

them all. True, Neville did Stun Padma Patil rather than Dean, at

whom he had been aiming, but it was a much closer miss than

usual, and everybody else had made enormous progress.

At the end of an hour, Harry called a halt.

‘You’re getting really good,’ he said, beaming around at them.

‘When we get back from the holidays we can start doing some of

the big stuff – maybe even Patronuses.’

There was a murmur of excitement. The room began to clear in

the usual twos and threes; most people wished Harry a ‘Happy

Christmas’ as they went. Feeling cheerful, he collected up the

cushions with Ron and Hermione and stacked them neatly away.

Ron and Hermione left before he did; he hung back a little,

because Cho was still there and he was hoping to receive a

‘Merry Christmas’ from her.

‘No, you go on,’ he heard her say to her friend Marietta and his

heart gave a jolt that seemed to take it into the region of his

Adam’s apple.

He pretended to be straightening the cushion pile. He was quite

sure they were alone now and waited tor her to speak. Instead,

he heard a hearty sniff.

He turned and saw Cho standing in the middle of the room, tears

pouring down her face.

‘Wha—?’

He didn’t know what to do. She was simply standing there,

crying silently.

‘What’s up?’ he said, feebly.

She shook her head and wiped her eyes on her sleeve.

‘I’m – sorry,’ she said thickly. ‘I suppose… it’s just… learning all

this stuff… it just makes me… wonder whether… if he’d known it

all… he’d still be alive.’

Harry’s heart sank right back past its usual spot and settled

somewhere around his navel. He ought to have known. She

wanted to talk about Cedric.

‘He did know this stuff,’ Harry said heavily. ‘He was really good

at it, or he could never have got to the middle of that maze. But

if Voldemort really wants to kill you, you don’t stand a chance.’

She hiccoughed at the sound of Voldemort’s name, but stared at

Harry without flinching.

You survived when you were just a baby,’ she said quietly.

‘Yeah, well,’ said Harry wearily, moving towards the door, ‘I

dunno why nor does anyone else, so it’s nothing to be proud of.’

‘Oh, don’t go!’ said Cho, sounding tearful again. ‘I’m really sorry

to get all upset like this… I didn’t mean to…’

She hiccoughed again. She was very pretty even when her eyes

were red and puffy. Harry felt thoroughly miserable. He’d have

been so pleased with just a ‘Merry Christmas’.

‘I know it must be horrible for you,’ she said, mopping her eyes

on her sleeve again. ‘Me mentioning Cedric, when you saw him

die… I suppose you just want to forget about it?’

Harry did not say anything to this; it was quite true, but he felt

heartless saying it.

‘You’re a r-really good teacher, you know,’ said Cho, with a

watery smile. ‘I’ve never been able to Stun anything before.’

Thanks,’ said Harry awkwardly.

They looked at each other for a long moment. Harry felt a

burning desire to run from the room and, at the same time, a

complete inability to move his feet.

‘Mistletoe,’ said Cho quietly, pointing at the ceiling over his head.

‘Yeah,’ said Harry. His mouth was very dry. ‘It’s probably full of

Nargles, though.’

‘What are Nargles?’

‘No idea,’ said Harry. She had moved closer. His brain seemed to

have been Stunned. ‘You’d have to ask Loony. Luna, I mean.’

Cho made a funny noise halfway between a sob and a laugh. She

was even nearer to him now. He could have counted the freckles

on her nose.

‘I really like you, Harry.’

He could not think. A tingling sensation was spreading through

him, paralysing his arms, legs and brain.

She was much too close. He could see every tear clinging to her

eyelashes…

He returned to the common room half an hour later to find

Hermione and Ron in the best seats by the fire; nearly

everybody else had gone to bed. Hermione was writing a very

long letter; she had already filled half a roll of parchment, which

was dangling from the edge of the table. Ron was lying on the

hearthrug, trying to finish his Transfiguration homework.

‘What kept you?’ he asked, as Harry sank into the armchair next

to Hermione’s.

Harry didn’t answer. He was in a state of shock. Half of him

wanted to tell Ron and Hermione what had just happened, but

the other half wanted to take the secret with him to the grave.

‘Are you all right, Harry?’ Hermione asked, peering at him over

the tip of her quill.

Harry gave a half-hearted shrug. In truth, he didn’t know

whether he was all right or not. ‘What’s up?’ said Ron, hoisting

himself up on his elbow to get a clearer view of Harry. ‘What’s

happened?’

Harry didn’t quite know how to set about telling them, and still

wasn’t sure whether he wanted to. Just as he had decided not to

say anything, Hermione took matters out of his hands.

‘Is it Cho?’ she asked in a businesslike way. ‘Did she corner you

after the meeting?’

Numbly surprised, Harry nodded. Ron sniggered, breaking off

when Hermione caught his eye.

‘So – er – what did she want?’ he asked in a mock casual voice.

‘She -‘ Harry began, rather hoarsely; he cleared his throat and

tried again. ‘She – er -‘

‘Did you kiss?’ asked Hermione briskly.

Ron sat up so fast he sent his ink bottle flying all over the rug.

Disregarding this completely, he stared avidly at Harry.

‘Well?’ he demanded.

Harry looked from Ron’s expression of mingled curiosity and

hilarity to Hermione’s slight frown, and nodded.

‘HA!’

Ron made a triumphant gesture with his fist and went into a

raucous peal of laughter that made several timid-looking secondyears

over beside the window jump. A reluctant grin spread over

Harry’s face as he watched Ron rolling around on the hearthrug.

Hermione gave Ron a look of deep disgust and returned to her

letter.

‘Well?’ Ron said finally, looking up at Harry. ‘How was it?’

Harry considered for a moment.

‘Wet,’ he said truthfully.

Ron made a noise that might have indicated jubilation or disgust,

it was hard to tell.

‘Because she was crying,’ Harry continued heavily.

‘Oh,’ said Ron, his smile fading slightly. ‘Are you that bad at

kissing?’

‘Dunno,’ said Harry, who hadn’t considered this, and immediately

felt rather worried. ‘Maybe I am.’

‘Of course you’re not,’ said Hermione absently, still scribbling

away at her letter.

‘How do you know?’ said Ron very sharply.

‘Because Cho spends half her time crying these days,’ said

Hermione vaguely. ‘She does it at mealtimes, in the loos, all over

the place.’

‘You’d think a bit of kissing would cheer her up,’ said Ron,

grinning.

‘Ron,’ said Hermione in a dignified voice, dipping the point of her

quill into her inkpot, ‘you are the most insensitive wart I have

ever had the misfortune to meet.’

‘What’s that supposed to mean?’ said Ron indignantly. ‘What sort

of person cries while someone’s kissing them?’

‘Yeah,’ said Harry, slightly desperately, ‘who does?’

Hermione looked at the pair of them with an almost pitying

expression on her face.

‘Don’t you understand how Cho’s feeling at the moment?’ she

asked.

‘No,’ said Harry and Ron together.

Hermione sighed and laid down her quill.

‘Well, obviously, she’s feeling very sad, because of Cedric dying.

Then I expect she’s feeling confused because she liked Cedric

and now she likes Harry, and she can’t work out who she likes

best. Then she’ll be feeling guilty, thinking it’s an insult to

Cedric’s memory to be kissing Harry at all, and she’ll be worrying

about what everyone else might say about her if she starts going

out with Harry. And she probably can’t work out what her

feelings towards Harry are, anyway, because he was the one

who was with Cedric when Cedric died, so that’s all very mixed

up and painful. Oh, and she’s afraid she’s going to be thrown off

the Ravenclaw Quidditch team because she’s been flying so

badly.’

A slightly stunned silence greeted the end of this speech, then

Ron said, ‘One person can’t feel all that at once, they’d explode.’

‘Just because you’ve got the emotional range of a teaspoon

doesn’t mean we all have,’ said Hermione nastily picking up her

quill again.

‘She was the one who started it,’ said Harry. ‘I wouldn’tVe – she

just sort of came at me – and next thing she’s crying all over me

– I didn’t know what to do —’

‘Don’t blame you, mate,’ said Ron, looking alarmed at the very

thought.

‘You just had to be nice to her,’ said Hermione, looking up

anxiously. ‘You were, weren’t you?’

‘Well,’ said Harry, an unpleasant heat creeping up his face, ‘I

sort of – patted her on the back a bit.’

Hermione looked as though she was restraining herself from

rolling her eyes with extreme difficulty.

‘Well, 1 suppose it could have been worse,’ she said. ‘Are you

going to see her again?’

Til have to, won’t I?’ said Harry. ‘We’ve got DA meetings, haven’t

we?’

‘You know what I mean,’ said Hermione impatiently.

Harry said nothing. Hermione’s words opened up a whole new

vista of frightening possibilities. He tried to imagine going

somewhere with Cho — Hogsmeade, perhaps – and being alone

with her for hours at a time. Of course, she would have been

expecting him to ask her out after what had just happened… the

thought made his stomach clench painfully.

‘Oh well,’ said Hermione distantly, buried in her letter once more,

‘you’ll have plenty of opportunities to ask her.’

‘What if he doesn’t want to ask her?’ said Ron, who had been

watching Harry with an unusually shrewd expression on his face.

‘Don’t be silly,’ said Hermione vaguely, ‘Harry’s liked her for ages,

haven’t you, Harry?’

He did not answer. Yes, he had liked Cho for ages, but whenever

he had imagined a scene involving the two of them it had always

featured a Cho who was enjoying herself, as opposed to a Cho

who was sobbing uncontrollably into his shoulder.

‘Who’re you writing the novel to, anyway?’ Ron asked Hermione,

trying to read the bit of parchment now trailing on the floor.

Hermione hitched it up out of sight.

‘Viktor.’

‘Krum?’

‘How many other Viktors do we know?’

Ron said nothing, but looked disgruntled. They sat in silence for

another twenty minutes, Ron finishing his Transfiguration essay

with many snorts of impatience and crossings-out, Hermione

writing steadily to the very end of the parchment, rolling it up

carefully and sealing it, and Harry staring into the fire, wishing

more than anything that Sirius’s head would appear there and

give him some advice about girls. But the fire merely crackled

lower and lower, until the red-hot embers crumbled into ash and,

looking around, Harry saw that they were, yet again, the last

ones in the common room.

‘Well, night,’ said Hermione, yawning widely as she set olf up the

girls’ staircase.

‘What does she see in Krum?’ Ron demanded, as he and Harry

climbed the boys’ stairs.

‘Well,’ said Harry, considering the matter, ‘I’s’pose he’s older,

isn’t he… and he’s an international Quidditch player…’

‘Yeah, but apart from that,’ said Ron, sounding aggravated. ‘I

mean, he’s a grouchy git, isn’t he?’

‘Bit grouchy, yeah,’ said Harry, whose thoughts were still on Cho.

They pulled off their robes and put on pyjamas in silence; Dean,

Seamus and Neville were already asleep. Harry put his glasses

on his bedside table and got into bed but did not pull the

hangings closed around his four-poster; instead, he stared at the

patch of starry sky visible through the window next to Neville’s

bed. If he had known, this time last night, that in twenty-four

hours’ time he would have kissed Cho Chang…

‘Night,’ grunted Ron, from somewhere to his right.

‘Night,’ said Harry.

Maybe next time… if there was a next time… she’d be a bit

happier. He ought to have asked her out; she had probably been

expecting it and was now really angry with him… or was she

lying in bed, still crying about Cedric? He did not know what to

think. Hermione’s explanation had made it all seem more

complicated rather than easier to understand.

That’s what they should teach us here, he thought, turning over

on to his side, how girls’ brains work… it’d be more useful than

Divination, anyway

Neville snuffled in his sleep. An owl hooted somewhere out in the

night.

Harry dreamed he was back in the DA room. Cho was accusing

him of luring her there under false pretences; she said he had

promised her a hundred and fifty Chocolate Frog Cards if she

showed up. Harry protested… Cho shouted, ‘Cedricgave me loads

of Chocolate Frog Cards, look!’ And she pulled out fistfuls of

Cards from inside her robes and threw them into the air. Then

she turned into Hermione, who said, ‘You did promise her, you

know, Harry… I think you’d better give her something else

instead… how about your Firebolt?’ And Harry was protesting

that he could not give Cho his Firebolt, because Umbridge had it,

and anyway the whole thing was ridiculous, he’d only come to

the DA room to put up some Christmas baubles shaped like

Dobby’s head…

The dream changed…

His body felt smooth, powerful and flexible. He was gliding

between shining metal bars, across dark, cold stone… he was flat

against the floor, sliding along on his belly… it was dark, yet he

could see objects around him shimmering in strange, vibrant

colours… he was turning his head… at first glance the corridor

was empty… but no… a man was sitting on the floor ahead, his

chin drooping on to his chest, his outline gleaming in the dark…

Harry put out his tongue… he tasted the man’s scent on the air…

he was alive but drowsy… sitting in front of a door at the end of

the corridor…

Harry longed to bite the man… but he must master the impulse…

he had more important work to do…

But the man was stirring… a silver Cloak fell from his legs as he

jumped to his feet; and Harry saw his vibrant, blurred outline

towering above him, saw a wand withdrawn from a belt… he had

no choice… he reared high from the floor and struck once, twice,

three times, plunging his fangs deeply into the man’s flesh,

feeling his ribs splinter beneath his jaws, feeling the warm gush

of blood…

The man was yelling in pain… then he fell silent… he slumped

backwards against the wall… blood was splattering on to the

floor…

His forehead hurt terribly… it was aching fit to burst…

‘Harry! HARRY!’

He opened his eyes. Every inch of his body was covered in icy

sweat; his bed covers were twisted all around him like a straitjacket;

he felt as though a white-hot poker were being applied to

his forehead.

‘Harry!’

Ron was standing over him looking extremely frightened. There

were more figures at the foot of Harry’s bed. He clutched his

head in his hands; the pain was blinding him… he rolled right

over and vomited over the edge of the mattress.

‘He’s really ill,’ said a scared voice. ‘Should we call someone?’

‘Harry! Harry!’

He had to tell Ron, it was very important that he tell him… taking

great gulps of air, Harry pushed himself up in bed, willing himself

not to throw up again, the pain half-blinding him.

‘Your dad,’ he panted, his chest heaving. ‘Your dad’s… been

attacked…’

‘What?’ said Ron uncomprehendingly.

‘Your dad! He’s been bitten, it’s serious, there was blood

everywhere…”

‘I’m going for help,’ said the same scared voice, and Harry heard

footsteps running out of the dormitory.

‘Harry, mate,’ said Ron uncertainly, ‘you… you were just

dreaming…’

‘No!’ said Harry furiously; it was crucial that Ron understand.

‘It wasn’t a dream… not an ordinary dream… I was there, I saw

it… I did it…’

He could hear Seamus and Dean muttering but did not care. The

pain in his forehead was subsiding slightly, though he was still

sweating and shivering feverishly. He retched again and Ron

leapt backwards out of the way.

‘Harry, you’re not well,’ he said shakily. ‘Neville’s gone for help.’

‘I’m fine!’ Harry choked, wiping his mouth on his pyjamas and

shaking uncontrollably. There’s nothing wrong with me, it’s your

dad you’ve got to worry about – we need to find out where he is

– he’s bleeding like mad – I was – it was a huge snake.’

He tried to get out of bed but Ron pushed him back into it; Dean

and Seamus were still whispering somewhere nearby. Whether

one minute passed or ten, Harry did not know; he simply sat

there shaking, feeling the pain recede very slowly from his scar…

then there were hurried footsteps coming up the stairs and he

heard Neville’s voice again.

‘Over here, Professor.’

Professor McGonagall came hurrying into the dormitory in her

tartan dressing gown, her glasses perched lopsidedly on the

bridge of her bony nose.

‘What is it, Potter? Where does it hurt?’

He had never been so pleased to see her; it was a member of

the Order of the Phoenix he needed now, not someone fussing

over him and prescribing useless potions.

‘It’s Ron’s dad,’ he said, sitting up again. ‘He’s been attacked by

a snake and it’s serious, I saw it happen.’

‘What do you mean, you saw it happen?’ said Professor

McGonagall, her dark eyebrows contracting.

‘I don’t know… I was asleep and then I was there…’

‘You mean you dreamed this?’

‘No!’ said Harry angrily; would none of them understand? ‘I was

having a dream at first about something completely different,

something stupid… and then this interrupted it. It was real, I

didn’t imagine it. Mr Weasley was asleep on the floor and he was

attacked by a gigantic snake, there was a load of blood, he

collapsed, someone’s got to find out where he is…’

Professor McGonagall was gazing at him through her lopsided

spectacles as though horrified at what she was seeing.

‘I’m not lying and I’m not mad!’ Harry told her, his voice rising to

a shout. ‘I tell you, I saw it happen!’

‘I believe you, Potter,’ said Professor McGonagall curtly. ‘Put on

your dressing gown – we’re going to see the Headmaster.’

— CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO —

St Mungo’s Hospital

for Magical Maladies

and Injuries

Harry was so relieved she was taking him seriously that he did

not hesitate, but jumped out of bed at once, pulled on his

dressing gown and pushed his glasses back on to his nose.

‘Weasley, you ought to come too,’ said Professor McGonagall.

They followed Professor McGonagall past the silent figures of

Neville, Dean and Seamus, out of the dormitory, down the spiral

stairs into the common room, through the portrait hole and off

along the Fat Lady’s moonlit corridor. Harry felt as though the

panic inside him might spill over at any moment; he wanted to

run, to yell for Dumbledore; Mr Weasley was bleeding as they

walked along so sedately, and what if those fangs (Harry tried

hard not to think ‘my fangs’) had been poisonous? They passed

Mrs Norris, who turned her lamplike eyes upon them and hissed

faintly, but Professor McGonagall said, ‘Shoo!’ Mrs Norris slunk

away into the shadows, and in a few minutes they had reached

the stone gargoyle guarding the entrance to Dumbledore’s office.

‘Fizzing Whizzbee,’ said Professor McGonagall.

The gargoyle sprang to life and leapt aside; the wall behind it

split in two to reveal a stone staircase that was moving

continually upwards like a spiral escalator. The three of them

stepped on to the moving stairs; the wall closed behind them

with a thud and they were moving upwards in tight circles until

they reached the highly polished oak door with the brass knocker

shaped like a griffin.

Though it was now well past midnight there were voices coming

from inside the room, a positive babble of them. It sounded as

though Dumbledore was entertaining at least a dozen people.

Professor McGonagall rapped three times with the griffin knocker

and the voices ceased abruptly as though someone had switched

them all off. The door opened of its own accord and Professor

McGonagall led Harry and Ron inside.

The room was in half-darkness; the strange silver instruments

standing on tables were silent and still rather than whirring and

emitting puffs of smoke as they usually did; the portraits of old

headmasters and headmistresses covering the walls were all

snoozing in their frames. Behind the door, a magnificent red and

gold bird the size of a swan dozed on its perch with its head

under its wing.

‘Oh, it’s you, Professor McGonagall… and… ah.’

Dumbledore was sitting in a high-backed chair behind his desk;

he leaned forward into the pool of candlelight illuminating the

papers laid out before him. He was wearing a magnificently

embroidered purple and gold dressing gown over a snowy white

nightshirt, but seemed wide-awake, his penetrating light blue

eyes fixed intently upon Professor McGonagall.

‘Professor Dumbledore, Potter has had a… well, a nightmare,’

said Professor McGonagall. ‘He says…’

‘It wasn’t a nightmare,’ said Harry quickly.

Professor McGonagall looked round at Harry, frowning slightly.

‘Very well, then, Potter, you tell the Headmaster about it.’

‘I… well, I was asleep…’ said Harry and, even in his terror and his

desperation to make Dumbledore understand, he felt slightly

irritated that the Headmaster was not looking at him, but

examining his own interlocked fingers. ‘But it wasn’t an ordinary

dream… it was real… I saw it happen…’ He took a deep breath,

‘Ron’s dad – Mr Weasley – has been attacked by a giant snake.’

The words seemed to reverberate in the air after he had said

them, sounding slightly ridiculous, even comic. There was a

pause in which Dumbledore leaned back and stared meditatively

at the ceiling. Ron looked from Harry to Dumbledore, whitefaced

and shocked.

‘How did you see this?’ Dumbledore asked quietly, still not

looking at Harry.

‘Well… I don’t know,’ said Harry, rather angrily – what did it

matter? ‘Inside my head, I suppose -‘

‘You misunderstand me,’ said Dumbledore, still in the same calm

tone. ‘I mean… can you remember — er – where you were

positioned as you watched this attack happen? Were you

perhaps standing beside the victim, or else looking down on the

scene from above?’

This was such a curious question that Harry gaped at

Dumbledore; it was almost as though he knew…

‘I was the snake,’ he said. ‘I saw it all from the snake’s point of

view.’

Nobody else spoke for a moment, then Dumbledore, now looking

at Ron who was still whey-faced, asked in a new and sharper

voice, ‘Is Arthur seriously injured?’

‘Yes,’ said Harry emphatically – why were they all so slow on the

uptake, did they not realise how much a person bled when fangs

that long pierced their side? And why could Dumbledore not do

him the courtesy of looking at him?

But Dumbledore stood up, so quickly it made Harry jump, and

addressed one of the old portraits hanging very near the ceiling.

‘Everard?’ he said sharply. ‘And you too, Dilys!’

A sallow-faced wizard with a short black fringe and an elderly

witch with long silver ringlets in the frame beside him, both of

whom seemed to have been in the deepest of sleeps, opened

their eyes immediately.

‘You were listening?’ said Dumbledore.

The wizard nodded; the witch said, ‘Naturally.’

The man has red hair and glasses,’ said Dumbledore. ‘Everard,

you will need to raise the alarm, make sure he is found by the

right people -‘

Both nodded and moved sideways out of their frames, but

instead of emerging in neighbouring pictures (as usually

happened at Hogwarts) neither reappeared. One frame now

contained nothing but a backdrop of dark curtain, the other a

handsome leather armchair. Harry noticed that many of the

other headmasters and mistresses on the walls, though snoring

and drooling most convincingly, kept sneaking peeks at him from

under their eyelids, and he suddenly understood who had been

talking when they had knocked.

‘Everard and Dilys were two of Hogwarts’s most celebrated

Heads,’ Dumbledore said, now sweeping around Harry, Ron and

Professor McGonagall to approach the magnificent sleeping bird

on his perch beside the door. Their renown is such that both

have portraits hanging in other important wizarding institutions.

As they are free to move between their own portraits, they can

tell us what may be happening elsewhere…”

‘But Mr Weasley could be anywhere!’ said Harry.

‘Please sit down, all three of you,’ said Dumbledore, as though

Harry had not spoken, ‘Everard and Dilys may not be back for

several minutes. Professor McGonagall, if you could draw up

extra chairs.’

Professor McGonagall pulled her wand from the pocket of her

dressing gown and waved it; three chairs appeared out of thin

air, straight-backed and wooden, quite unlike the comfortable

chintz armchairs that Dumbledore had conjured up at Harry’s

hearing. Harry sat down, watching Dumbledore over his shoulder.

Dumbledore was now stroking Fawkes’s plumed golden head

with one finger. The phoenix awoke immediately. He stretched

his beautiful head high and observed Dumbledore through bright,

dark eyes.

‘We will need,’ Dumbledore said very quietly to the bird, ‘a

warning.’

There was a flash of fire and the phoenix had gone.

Dumbledore now swooped down upon one of the fragile silver

instruments whose function Harry had never known, carried it

over to his desk, sat down facing them again and tapped it

gently with the tip of his wand.

The instrument tinkled into life at once with rhythmic clinking

noises. Tiny puffs of pale green smoke issued from the minuscule

silver tube at the top. Dumbledore watched the smoke closely,

his brow furrowed. After a few seconds, the tiny puffs became a

steady stream of smoke that thickened and coiled in the air… a

serpent’s head grew out of the end of it, opening its mouth wide.

Harry wondered whether the instrument was confirming his

story: he looked eagerly at Dumbledore for a sign that he was

right, but Dumbledore did not look up.

‘Naturally, naturally,’ murmured Dumbledore apparently to

himself, still observing the stream of smoke without the slightest

sign of surprise. ‘But in essence divided?’

Harry could make neither head nor tail of this question. The

smoke serpent, however, split itself instantly into two snakes,

both coiling and undulating in the dark air. With a look of grim

satisfaction, Dumbledore gave the instrument another gentle tap

with his wand: the clinking noise slowed and died and the smoke

serpents grew faint, became a formless haze and vanished.

Dumbledore replaced the instrument on its spindly little table.

Harry saw many of the old headmasters in the portraits follow

him with their eyes, then, realising that Harry was watching

them, hastily pretend to be sleeping again. Harry wanted to ask

what the strange silver instrument was for, but before he could

do so, there was a shout from the top of the wall to their right;

the wizard called Everard had reappeared in his portrait, panting

slightly.

‘Dumbledore!’

‘What news?’ said Dumbledore at once.

‘I yelled until someone came running,’ said the wizard, who was

mopping his brow on the curtain behind him, ‘said I’d heard

something moving downstairs – they weren’t sure whether to

believe me but went down to check – you know there are no

portraits down there to watch from. Anyway, they carried him up

a few minutes later. He doesn’t look good, he’s covered in blood,

I ran along to Elfrida Cragg’s portrait to get a good view as they

left -‘

‘Good,’ said Dumbledore as Ron made a convulsive movement. ‘I

take it Dilys will have seen him arrive, then -‘

And moments later, the silver-ringleted witch had reappeared in

her picture, too; she sank, coughing, into her armchair and said,

‘Yes, they’ve taken him to St Mungo’s, Dumbledore… they

carried him past my portrait… he looks bad…’

Thank you,’ said Dumbledore. He looked round at Professor

McGonagall.

‘Minerva, I need you to go and wake the other Weasley children.’

‘Of course…’

Professor McGonagall got up and moved swiftly to the door.

Harry cast a sideways glance at Ron, who was looking terrified.

‘And Dumbledore – what about Molly?’ said Professor McGonagall,

pausing at the door.

That will be a job for Fawkes when he has finished keeping a

lookout for anybody approaching,’ said Dumbledore. ‘But she

may already know… that excellent clock of hers…’

Harry knew Dumbledore was referring to the clock that told, not

the time, but the whereabouts and conditions of the various

Weasley family members, and with a pang he thought that Mr

Weasley’s hand must, even now, be pointing at mortal peril. But

it was very late. Mrs Weasley was probably asleep, not watching

the clock. Harry felt cold as he remembered Mrs Weasley’s

Boggart turning into Mr Weasley’s lifeless body, his glasses

askew, blood running down his face… but Mr Weasley wasn’t

going to die… he couldn’t…

Dumbledore was now rummaging in a cupboard behind Harry

and Ron. He emerged from it carrying a blackened old kettle,

which he placed carefully on his desk. He raised his wand and

murmured, ‘Portus!’ For a moment the kettle trembled, glowing

with an odd blue light; then it quivered to rest, as solidly black

as ever.

Dumbledore marched over to another portrait, this time of a

clever-looking wizard with a pointed beard, who had been

painted wearing the Slytherin colours of green and silver and

was apparently sleeping so deeply that he could not hear

Dumbledore’s voice when he attempted to rouse him.

‘Phineas. Phineas.’

The subjects of the portraits lining the room were no longer

pretending to be asleep; they were shifting around in their

frames, the better to watch what was happening. When the

clever-looking wizard continued to feign sleep, some of them

shouted his name, too.

‘Phineas! Phineas! PHINEAS!’

He could not pretend any longer; he gave a theatrical jerk and

opened his eyes wide.

‘Did someone call?’

‘I need you to visit your other portrait again, Phineas,’ said

Dumbledore. ‘I’ve got another message.’

‘Visit my other portrait?’ said Phineas in a reedy voice, giving a

long, fake yawn (his eyes travelling around the room and

focusing on Harry). ‘Oh, no, Dumbledore, I am too tired tonight.’

Something about Phineas’s voice was familiar to Harry, where

had he heard it before? But before he could think, the portraits

on the surrounding walls broke into a storm of protest.

‘Insubordination, sir!’ roared a corpulent, red-nosed wizard,

brandishing his fists. ‘Dereliction of duty!’

‘We are honour-bound to give service to the present Headmaster

of Hogwarts!’ cried a frail-looking old wizard whom Harry

recognised as Dumbledore’s predecessor, Armando Dippet.

‘Shame on you, Phineas!’

‘Shall I persuade him, Dumbledore?’ called a gimlet-eyed witch,

raising an unusually thick wand that looked not unlike a birch rod.

‘Oh, very well,’ said the wizard called Phineas, eyeing the wand

with mild apprehension, ‘though he may well have destroyed my

picture by now, he’s done away with most of the family -‘

‘Sirius knows not to destroy your portrait,’ said Dumbledore, and

Harry realised immediately where he had heard Phineas’s voice

before: issuing from the apparently empty frame in his bedroom

in Grimmauld Place. ‘You are to give him the message that

Arthur Weasley has been gravely injured and that his wife,

children and Harry Potter will be arriving at his house shortly. Do

you understand?’

‘Arthur Weasley, injured, wife and children and Harry Potter

coming to stay,’ repeated Phineas in a bored voice. ‘Yes, yes…

very well

He sloped away into the frame of the portrait and disappeared

from view at the very moment the study door opened again.

Fred, George and Ginny were ushered inside by Professor

McGonagall, all three of them looking dishevelled and shocked,

still in their night things.

‘Harry – what’s going on?’ asked Ginny, who looked frightened.

‘Professor McGonagall says you saw Dad get hurt -‘

‘Your father has been injured in the course of his work for the

Order of the Phoenix,’ said Dumbledore, before Harry could

speak. ‘He has been taken to St Mungo’s Hospital for Magical

Maladies and Injuries. I am sending you back to Sirius’s house,

which is much more convenient for the hospital than The Burrow.

You will meet your mother there.’

‘How’re we going?’ asked Fred, looking shaken. Tloo powder?’

‘No,’ said Dumbledore, Tloo powder is not safe at the moment,

the Network is being watched. You will be taking a Portkey.’ He

indicated the old kettle lying innocently on his desk. ‘We are just

waiting for Phineas Nigellus to report back… I want to be sure

that the coast is clear before sending you -‘

There was a flash of flame in the very middle of the office,

leaving behind a single golden feather that floated gently to the

floor.

‘It is Fawkes’s warning,’ said Dumbledore, catching the feather

as it fell. ‘Professor Umbridge must know you’re out of your

beds… Minerva, go and head her off – tell her any story -‘

Professor McGonagall was gone in a swish of tartan.

‘He says he’ll be delighted,’ said a bored voice behind

Dumbledore; the wizard called Phineas had reappeared in front

of his Slytherin banner. ‘My great-great-grandson has always

had an odd taste in house-guests.’

‘Come here, then,’ Dumbledore said to Harry and the Weasleys.

‘And quickly, before anyone else joins us.’

Harry and the others gathered around Dumbledore’s desk.

‘You have all used a Portkey before?’ asked Dumbledore, and

they nodded, each reaching out to touch some part of the

blackened kettle. ‘Good. On the count of three, then… one…

two…’

It happened in a fraction of a second: in the infinitesimal pause

before Dumbledore said ‘three’, Harry looked up at him – they

were very close together – and Dumbledore’s clear blue gaze

moved from the Portkey to Harry’s face.

At once, Harry’s scar burned white-hot, as though the old wound

had burst open again – and unbidden, unwanted, but terrifyingly

strong, there rose within Harry a hatred so powerful he felt, for

that instant, he would like nothing better than to strike – to bite –

to sink his fangs into the man before him —

‘… three.’

Harry felt a powerful jerk behind his navel, the ground vanished

from beneath his feet, his hand was glued to the kettle; he was

banging into the others as they all sped forwards in a swirl of

colours and a rush of wind, the kettle pulling them onwards…

until his feet hit the ground so hard his knees buckled, the kettle

clattered to the ground, and somewhere close at hand a voice

said:

‘Back again, the blood-traitor brats. Is it true their father’s

dying?’

‘OUT!’ roared a second voice.

Harry scrambled to his feet and looked around; they had arrived

in the gloomy basement kitchen of number twelve, Grimmauld

Place. The only sources of light were the fire and one guttering

candle, which illuminated the remains of a solitary supper.

Kreacher was disappearing through the door to the hall, looking

back at them malevolently as he hitched up his loincloth; Sirius

was hurrying towards them all, looking anxious. He was

unshaven and still in his day clothes; there was also a slightly

Mundungus-like whiff of stale drink about him.

‘What’s going on?’ he said, stretching out a hand to help Ginny

up. Thineas Nigellus said Arthur’s been badly injured —’

‘Ask Harry,’ said Fred.

‘Yeah, I want to hear this for myself,’ said George.

The twins and Ginny were staring at him. Kreacher’s footsteps

had stopped on the stairs outside.

‘It was -‘ Harry began; this was even worse than telling

McGonagall and Dumbledore. ‘I had a – a kind of – vision

And he told them all that he had seen, though he altered the

story so that it sounded as though he had watched from the

sidelines as the snake attacked, rather than from behind the

snake’s own eyes. Ron, who was still very white, gave him a

fleeting look, but did not speak. When Harry had finished, Fred,

George and Ginny continued to stare at him for a moment. Harry

did not know whether he was imagining it or not, but he fancied

there was something accusatory in their looks. Well, if they were

going to blame him just for seeing the attack, he was glad he

had not told them that he had been inside the snake at the time.

‘Is Mum here?’ said Fred, turning to Sirius.

‘She probably doesn’t even know what’s happened yet,’ said

Sirius. The important thing was to get you away before

Umbridge could interfere. I expect Dumbledores letting Molly

know now.’

‘We’ve got to go to St Mungo’s,’ said Ginny urgently. She looked

around at her brothers; they were of course still in their pyjamas.

‘Sirius, can you lend us cloaks or anything?’

‘Hang on, you can’t go tearing off to St Mungo’s!’ said Sirius.

‘Course we can go to St Mungo’s if we want,’ said Fred, with a

mulish expression. ‘He’s our dad!’

‘And how are you going to explain how you knew Arthur was

attacked before the hospital even let his wife know?’

‘What does that matter?’ said George hotly.

‘It matters because we don’t want to draw attention to the fact

that Harry is having visions of things that are happening

hundreds of miles away!’ said Sirius angrily. ‘Have you any idea

what the Ministry would make of that information?’

Fred and George looked as though they could not care less what

the Ministry made of anything. Ron was still ashen-faced and

silent.

Ginny said, ‘Somebody else could have told us… we could have

heard it somewhere other than Harry.’

‘Like who?’ said Sirius impatiently. ‘Listen, your dad’s been hurt

while on duty for the Order and the circumstances are fishy

enough without his children knowing about it seconds after it

happened, you could seriously damage the Order’s -‘

‘We don’t care about the dumb Order!’ shouted Fred.

‘It’s our dad dying we’re talking about!’ yelled George.

‘Your father knew what he was getting into and he won’t thank

you for messing things up for the Order!’ said Sirius, equally

angry. This is how it is – this is why you’re not in the Order – you

don’t understand – there are things worth dying for!’

‘Easy for you to say, stuck here!’ bellowed Fred. ‘I don’t see you

risking your neck!’

The little colour remaining in Sirius’s face drained from it. He

looked for a moment as though he would quite like to hit Fred,

but when he spoke, it was in a voice of determined calm.

‘I know it’s hard, but we’ve all got to act as though we don’t

know anything yet. We’ve got to stay put, at least until we hear

from your mother, all right?’

Fred and George still looked mutinous. Ginny, however, took a

few steps over to the nearest chair and sank into it. Harry looked

at Ron, who made a funny movement somewhere between a nod

and a shrug, and they sat down too. The twins glared at Sirius

for another minute, then took seats either side of Ginny.

That’s right,’ said Sirius encouragingly, ‘come on, let’s all… let’s

all have a drink while we’re waiting. Accio Butterbeer!’

He raised his wand as he spoke and half a dozen bottles came

flying towards them out of the pantry, skidded along the table,

scattering the debris of Sinus’s meal, and stopped neatly in front

of the six of them. They all drank, and for a while the only

sounds were those of the crackling of the kitchen fire and the

soft thud of their bottles on the table.

Harry was only drinking to have something to do with his hands.

His stomach was full of horrible hot, bubbling guilt. They would

not be here if it were not for him; they would all still be asleep in

bed. And it was no good telling himself that by raising the alarm

he had ensured that Mr Weasley was found, because there was

also the inescapable business of it being he who had attacked Mr

Weasley in the first place.

Don’t be stupid, you haven’t got fangs, he told himself, trying to

keep calm, though the hand on his Butterbeer bottle was shaking,

you were lying in bed, you weren’t attacking anyone

But then, what just happened in Dumbledore’s office? he asked

himself. I felt like I wanted to attack Dumbledore, too

He put the bottle down a little harder than he meant to, and it

slopped over on to the table. No one took any notice. Then a

burst of fire in midair illuminated the dirty plates in front of them

and, as they gave cries of shock, a scroll of parchment fell with a

thud on to the table, accompanied by a single golden phoenix tail

feather.

‘Fawkes!’ said Sirius at once, snatching up the parchment. That’s

not Dumbledore’s writing – it must be a message from your

mother – here -‘

He thrust the letter into George’s hand, who ripped it open and

read aloud: ‘Dad is still alive. I am setting out for St Mungo’s

now. Stay where you are. I will send news as soon as I can.

Mum.’

George looked around the table.

‘Still alive…’ he said slowly. ‘But that makes it sound…’

He did not need to finish the sentence. It sounded to Harry, too,

as though Mr Weasley was hovering somewhere between life and

death. Still exceptionally pale, Ron stared at the back of his

mothers letter as though it might speak words of comfort to him.

Fred pulled the parchment out of George’s hands and read it for

himself, then looked up at Harry, who felt his hand shaking on

his Butterbeer bottle again and clenched it more tightly to stop

the trembling.

If Harry had ever sat through a longer night than this one, he

could not remember it. Sirius suggested once, without any real

conviction, that they all go to bed, but the Weasleys’ looks of

disgust were answer enough. They mostly sat in silence around

the table, watching the candle wick sinking lower and lower into

liquid wax, occasionally raising a bottle to their lips, speaking

only to check the time, to wonder aloud what was happening,

and to reassure each other that if there was bad news, they

would know straightaway, for Mrs Weasley must long since have

arrived at St Mungo’s.

Fred fell into a doze, his head lolling sideways on to his shoulder.

Ginny was curled like a cat on her chair, but her eyes were open;

Harry could see them reflecting the firelight. Ron was sitting with

his head in his hands, whether awake or asleep it was impossible

to tell. Harry and Sirius looked at each other every so often,

intruders upon the family grief, waiting… waiting…

At ten past five in the morning by Ron’s watch, the kitchen door

swung open and Mrs Weasley entered the kitchen. She was

extremely pale, but when they all turned to look at her, Fred,

Ron and Harry half rising from their chairs, she gave a wan smile.

‘He’s going to be all right,’ she said, her voice weak with

tiredness. ‘He’s sleeping. We can all go and see him later. Bill’s

sitting with him now; he’s going to take the morning off work.’

Fred fell back into his chair with his hands over his face. George

and Ginny got up, walked swiftly over to their mother and

hugged her. Ron gave a very shaky laugh and downed the rest

of his Butterbeer in one.

‘Breakfast!’ said Sirius loudly and joyfully, jumping to his feet.

‘Where’s that accursed house-elf? Kreacher! KREACHER!’

But Kreacher did not answer the summons.

‘Oh, forget it, then,’ muttered Sirius, counting the people in front

of him. ‘So, it’s breakfast for – let’s see – seven… bacon and eggs,

1 think, and some tea, and toast -‘

Harry hurried over to the stove to help. He did not want to

intrude on the Weasleys’ happiness and he dreaded the moment

when Mrs Weasley would ask him to recount his vision. However,

he had barely taken plates from the dresser when Mrs Weasley

lifted them out of his hands and pulled him into a hug.

‘I don’t know what would have happened if it hadn’t been for you,

Harry,’ she said in a muffled voice. They might not have found

Arthur for hours, and then it would have been too late, but

thanks to you he’s alive and Dumbledore’s been able to think up

a good cover story for Arthur being where he was, you’ve no

idea what trouble he would have been in otherwise, look at poor

Sturgis…”

Harry could hardly bear her gratitude, but fortunately she soon

released him to turn to Sirius and thank him for looking after her

children through the night. Sirius said he was very pleased to

have been able to help, and hoped they would all stay with him

as long as Mr Weasley was in hospital.

‘Oh, Sirius, I’m so grateful… they think he’ll be there a little while

and it would be wonderful to be nearer… of course, that might

mean we’re here for Christmas.’

The more the merrier!’ said Sirius with such obvious sincerity

that Mrs Weasley beamed at him, threw on an apron and began

to help with breakfast.

‘Sirius,’ Harry muttered, unable to stand it a moment longer.

‘Can I have a quick word? Er – now?’

He walked into the dark pantry and Sirius followed. Without

preamble, Harry told his godfather every detail of the vision he

had had, including the fact that he himself had been the snake

who had attacked Mr Weasley.

When he paused for breath, Sirius said, ‘Did you tell Dumbledore

this?’

‘Yes,’ said Harry impatiently, ‘but he didn’t tell me what it meant.

Well, he doesn’t tell me anything any more.’

‘I’m sure he would have told you if it was anything to worry

about,’ said Sirius steadily.

‘But that’s not all,’ said Harry, in a voice only a little above a

whisper. ‘Sirius, I… I think I’m going mad. Back in Dumbledore’s

office, just before we took the Portkey… for a couple of seconds

there I thought I was a snake, I felt like one – my scar really

hurt when I was looking at Dumbledore – Sirius, I wanted to

attack him!’

He could only see a sliver of Siriuss face; the rest was in

darkness.

‘It must have been the aftermath of the vision, that’s all,’ said

Sirius. ‘You were still thinking of the dream or whatever it was

and -‘

‘It wasn’t that,’ said Harry, shaking his head, ‘it was like

something rose up inside me, like there’s a snake inside me.’

‘You need to sleep,’ said Sirius firmly. ‘You’re going to have

breakfast, then go upstairs to bed, and after lunch you can go

and see Arthur with the others. You’re in shock, Harry; you’re

blaming yourself for something you only witnessed, and it’s lucky

you did witness it or Arthur might have died. Just stop worrying.’

He clapped Harry on the shoulder and left the pantry, leaving

Harry standing alone in the dark.

*

Everyone but Harry spent the rest of the morning sleeping. He

went up to the bedroom he and Ron had shared over the last few

weeks of summer, but while Ron crawled into bed and was

asleep within minutes, Harry sat fully clothed, hunched against

the cold metal bars of the bedstead, keeping himself deliberately

uncomfortable, determined not to fall into a doze, terrified that

he might become the serpent again in his sleep and wake to find

that he had attacked Ron, or else slithered through the house

after one of the others…

When Ron woke up, Harry pretended to have enjoyed a

refreshing nap too. Their trunks arrived from Hogwarts while

they were eating lunch, so they could dress as Muggles for the

trip to St Mungo’s. Everybody except Harry was riotously happy

and talkative as they changed out of their robes into jeans and

sweatshirts. When Tonks and Mad-Eye turned up to escort them

across London, they greeted them gleefully, laughing at the

bowler hat Mad-Eye was wearing at an angle to conceal his

magical eye and assuring him, truthfully, that Tonks, whose hair

was short and bright pink again, would attract far less attention

on the Underground.

Tonks was very interested in Harry’s vision of the attack on Mr

Weasley, something Harry was not remotely interested in

discussing.

There isn’t any Seer blood in your family, is there?’ she enquired

curiously, as they sat side by side on a train rattling towards the

heart of the city.

‘No,’ said Harry, thinking of Professor Trelawney and feeling

insulted.

‘No,’ said Tonks musingly, ‘no, I suppose it’s not really prophecy

you’re doing, is it? I mean, you’re not seeing the future, you’re

seeing the present… it’s odd, isn’t it? Useful, though…’

Harry didn’t answer; fortunately, they got out at the next stop, a

station in the very heart of London, and in the bustle of leaving

the train he was able to allow Fred and George to get between

himself and Tonks, who was leading the way. They all followed

her up the escalator, Moody clunking along at the back of the

group, his bowler tilted low and one gnarled hand stuck in

between the buttons of his coat, clutching his wand. Harry

thought he sensed the concealed eye staring hard at him. Trying

to avoid any more questions about his dream, he asked Mad-Eye

where St Mungo’s was hidden.

‘Not far from here,’ grunted Moody as they stepped out into the

wintry air on a broad store-lined street packed with Christmas

shoppers. He pushed Harry a little ahead of him and stumped

along just behind; Harry knew the eye was rolling in all

directions under the tilted hat. ‘Wasn’t easy to find a good

location for a hospital. Nowhere in Diagon Alley was big enough

and we couldn’t have it underground like the Ministry – wouldn’t

be healthy. In the end they managed to get hold of a building up

here. Theory was, sick wizards could come and go and just blend

in with the crowd.’

He seized Harry’s shoulder to prevent them being separated by a

gaggle of shoppers plainly intent on nothing but making it into a

nearby shop full of electrical gadgets.

‘Here we go,’ said Moody a moment later.

They had arrived outside a large, old-fashioned, red-brick

department store called Purge 6z Dowse Ltd. The place had a

shabby, miserable air; the window displays consisted of a few

chipped dummies with their wigs askew, standing at random and

modelling fashions at least ten years out of date. Large signs on

all the dusty doors read: ‘Closed for Refurbishment’. Harry

distinctly heard a large woman laden with plastic shopping bags

say to her friend as they passed, ‘It’s never open, that place…’

‘Right,’ said Tonks, beckoning them towards a window displaying

nothing but a particularly ugly female dummy. Its false

eyelashes were hanging off and it was modelling a green nylon

pinafore dress. ‘Everybody ready?’

They nodded, clustering around her. Moody gave Harry another

shove between the shoulder blades to urge him forward and

Tonks leaned close to the glass, looking up at the very ugly

dummy, her breath steaming up the glass. ‘Wotcher,’ she said,

‘we’re here to see Arthur Weasley.’

Harry thought how absurd it was for Tonks to expect the dummy

to hear her talking so quietly through a sheet of glass, with

buses rumbling along behind her and all the racket of a street

full of shoppers. Then he reminded himself that dummies

couldn’t hear anyway. Next second, his mouth opened in shock

as the dummy gave a tiny nod and beckoned with its jointed

finger, and Tonks had seized Ginny and Mrs Weasley by. the

elbows, stepped right through the glass and vanished.

Fred, George and Ron stepped after them. Harry glanced around

at the jostling crowd; not one of them seemed to have a glance

to spare for window displays as ugly as those of Purge & Dowse

Ltd; nor did any of them seem to have noticed that six people

had just melted into thin air in front of them.

‘C’mon,’ growled Moody, giving Harry yet another poke in the

back, and together they stepped forward through what felt like a

sheet of cool water, emerging quite warm and dry on the other

side.

There was no sign of the ugly dummy or the space where she

had stood. They were in what seemed to be a crowded reception

area where rows of witches and wizards sat upon rickety wooden

chairs, some looking perfectly normal and perusing out-of-date

copies of Witch Weekly, others sporting gruesome

disfigurements such as elephant trunks or extra hands sticking

out of their chests. The room was scarcely less quiet than the

street outside, for many of the patients were making very

peculiar noises: a sweaty-faced witch in the centre of the front

row, who was fanning herself vigorously with a copy of the Daily

Prophet, kept letting off a high-pitched whistle as steam came

pouring out of her mouth; a grubby-looking warlock in the corner

clanged like a bell every time he moved and, with each clang, his

head vibrated horribly so that he had to seize himself by the ears

to hold it steady.

Witches and wizards in lime-green robes were walking up and

down the rows, asking questions and making notes on clipboards

like Umbridge’s. Harry noticed the emblem embroidered on their

chests: a wand and bone, crossed.

‘Are they doctors?’ he asked Ron quietly.

‘Doctors?’ said Ron, looking startled. Those Muggle nutters that

cut people up? Nah, they’re Healers.’

‘Over here!’ called Mrs Weasley above the renewed clanging of

the warlock in the corner, and they followed her to the queue in

front of a plump blonde witch seated at a desk marked Enquiries.

The wall behind her was covered in notices and posters saying

things like: A CLEAN CAULDRON KEEPS POTIONS FROM

BECOMING POISONS and ANTIDOTES ARE ANTI-DON’TS

UNLESS APPROVED BY A QUALIFIED HEALER. There was also a

large portrait of a witch with long silver ringlets which was

labelled:

Dilys Derwent

St Mungo’s Healer 1722-

Headmistress of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry

1741-

Dilys was eyeing the Weasley party closely as though counting

them; when Harry caught her eye she gave a tiny wink, walked

sideways out of her portrait and vanished.

Meanwhile, at the front of the queue, a young wizard was