There was a long silence. Then Dumbledore said, “Please explain why you did this.”
It would have been better if he had shouted. Harry hated the disappointment in
his voice. For some reason, he was unable to look Dumbledore in the eyes, and spoke
instead to his knees. He told Dumbledore everything except that Mr. Weasley owned
the bewitched car, making it sound as though he and Ron had happened to find a flying
car parked outside the station. He knew Dumbledore would see through this at once,
but Dumbledore asked no questions about the car. When Harry had finished, he merely
continued to peer at them through his spectacles.
“We'll go and get our stuff,” said Ron in a hopeless sort of voice.
“What are you talking about, Weasley?” barked Professor McGonagall.
“Well, you're expelling us, aren't you?” said Ron.
Harry looked quickly at Dumbledore.
“Not today, Mr. Weasley,” said Dumbledore. “But I must impress upon both of you
the seriousness of what you have done. I will be writing to both your families tonight.
I must also warn you that if you do anything like this again, I will have no choice
but to expel you.”
Snape looked as though Christmas had been canceled. He cleared his throat and
said, “Professor Dumbledore, these boys have flouted the Decree for the Restriction
of Underage Wizardry, caused serious damage to an old and valuable tree—surely acts
of this nature—”
“It will be for Professor McGonagall to decide on these boys' punishments, Severus,”
said Dumbledore calmly. “They are in her House and are therefore her responsibility.”
He turned to Professor McGonagall. “I must go back to the feast, Minerva, I've got
to give out a few notices. Come, Severus, there's a delicious-looking custard tart
I want to sample.”
Snape shot a look of pure venom at Harry and Ron as he allowed himself to be
swept out of his office, leaving them alone with Professor McGonagall, who was still
eyeing them like a wrathful eagle.
“You'd better get along to the hospital wing, Weasley, you're bleeding.”
“Not much,” said Ron, hastily wiping the cut over his eye with his sleeve. “Professor,
I wanted to watch my sister being Sorted—”
“The Sorting Ceremony is over,” said Professor McGonagall. “Your sister is also
“Oh, good,” said Ron.
“And speaking of Gryffindor—” Professor McGonagall said sharply, but Harry cut
in: “Professor, when we took the car, term hadn't started, so—so Gryffindor shouldn't
really have points taken from it—should it?” he finished, watching her anxiously.
Professor McGonagall gave him a piercing look, but he was sure she had almost
smiled. Her mouth looked less thin, anyway.
“I will not take any points from Gryffindor,” she said, and Harry's heart lightened
considerably. “But you will both get a detention.”
It was better than Harry had expected. As for Dumbledore's writing to the Dursleys,
that was nothing. Harry knew perfectly well they'd just be disappointed that the
Whomping Willow hadn't squashed him flat.
Professor McGonagall raised her wand again and pointed it at Snape's desk. A
large plate of sandwiches, two silver goblets, and a jug of-iced pumpkin juice appeared
with a pop.
“You will eat in here and then go straight up to your dormitory,” she said. “I
must also return to the feast.”
When the door had closed behind her, Ron let out a long, low whistle.
“I thought we'd had it,” he said, grabbing a sandwich.
“So did I,” said Harry, taking one, too.
“Can you believe our luck, though?” said Ron thickly through a mouthful of chicken
and ham. “Fred and George must've flown that car five or six times and no Muggle
ever saw them.” He swallowed and took another huge bite. “Why couldn't we get through
Harry shrugged. “We'll have to watch our step from now on, though,” he said,
taking a grateful swig of pumpkin juice. “Wish we could've gone up to the feast...”
“She didn't want us showing off,” said Ron sagely. “Doesn't want people to think
it's clever, arriving by flying car.”
When they had eaten as many sandwiches as they could (the plate kept refilling
itself) they rose and left the office, treading the familiar path to Gryffindor
Tower. The castle was quiet; it seemed that the feast was over. They walked past
muttering portraits and creaking suits of armor, and climbed narrow flights of stone
stairs, until at last they reached the passage where the secret entrance to Gryffindor
Tower was hidden, behind an oil painting of a very fat woman in a pink silk dress.
“Password?” she said as they approached.
“Er—” said Harry.
They didn't know the new year's password, not having met a Gryffindor prefect
yet, but help came almost immediately; they heard hurrying feet behind them and
turned to see Hermione dashing toward them.
“There you are! Where have you been? The most ridiculous rumors—someone said
you'd been expelled for crashing a flying car.”
“Well, we haven't been expelled,” Harry assured her.
“You're not telling me you did fly here?” said Hermione, sounding almost as severe
as Professor McGonagall.
“Skip the lecture,” said Ron impatiently, “and tell us the new password.”
“It's “wattlebird”,” said Hermione impatiently, “but that's not the point—”
Her words were cut short, however, as the portrait of the fat lady swung open
and there was a sudden storm of clapping. It looked as though the whole of Gryffindor
House was still awake, packed into the circular common room, standing on the lopsided
tables and squashy armchairs, waiting for them to arrive. Arms reached through the
portrait hole to pull Harry and Ron inside, leaving Hermione to scramble in after
“Brilliant!” yelled Lee Jordan. “Inspired! What an entrance! Flying a car right
into the Whomping Willow, people'll be talking about that one for years—”
“Good for you,” said a fifth year Harry had never spoken to; someone was patting
him on the back as though he'd just won a marathon; Fred and George pushed their
way to the front of the crowd and said together, “Why couldn't we've come in the
car, eh?” Ron was scarlet in the face, grinning embarrassedly, but Harry could see
one person who didn't look happy at all. Percy was visible over the heads of some
excited first years, and he seemed to be trying to get near enough to start telling
them off. Harry nudged Ron in the ribs and nodded in Percy's direction. Ron got
the point at once.
“Got to get upstairs—bit tired,” he said, and the two of them started pushing
their way toward the door on the other side of the room, which led to a spiral staircase
and the dormitories.
“Night,” Harry called back to Hermione, who was wearing a scowl just like Percy's.
They managed to get to the other side of the common room, still having their
backs slapped, and gained the peace of the staircase. They hurried up it, right
to the top, and at last reached the door of their old dormitory, which now had a
sign on it saying SECOND YEARS. They entered the familiar, circular room, with its
five four-posters hung with red velvet and its high, narrow windows. Their trunks
had been brought up for them and stood at the ends of their beds.
Ron grinned guiltily at Harry.
“I know I shouldn't've enjoyed that or anything, but—”
The dormitory door flew open and in came the other second year Gryffindor boys,
Seamus Finnigan, Dean Thomas, and Neville Longbottom.
“Unbelievable!” beamed Seamus.
“Cool,” said Dean.
“Amazing,” said Neville, awestruck.
Harry couldn't help it. He grinned, too.
The next day, however, Harry barely grinned once. Things started to go downhill
from breakfast in the Great Hall. The four long house tables were laden with tureens
of porridge, plates of kippers, mountains of toast, and dishes of eggs and bacon,
beneath the enchanted ceiling (today, a dull, cloudy gray). Harry and Ron sat down
at the Gryffindor table next to Hermione, who had her copy of Voyages with Vampires
propped open against a milk jug. There was a slight stiffness in the way she said
“Morning,” which told Harry that she was still disapproving of the way they had
arrived. Neville Longbottom, on the other hand, greeted them cheerfully. Neville
was a round-faced and accident-prone boy with the worst memory of anyone Harry had
“Mail's due any minute—I think Gran's sending a few things I forgot.”
Harry had only just started his porridge when, sure enough, there was a rushing
sound overhead and a hundred or so owls streamed in, circling the hall and dropping
letters and packages into the chattering crowd. A big, lumpy package bounced off
Neville's head and, a second later, something large and gray fell into Hermione's
jug, spraying them all with milk and feathers.
“Errol!” said Ron, pulling the bedraggled owl out by the feet. Errol slumped,
unconscious, onto the table, his legs in the air and a damp red envelope in his
“Oh, no—” Ron gasped.
“It's all right, he's still alive,” said Hermione, prodding Errol gently with
the tip of her finger.
“It's not that—it's that.”
Ron was pointing at the red envelope. It looked quite ordinary to Harry, but
Ron and Neville were both looking at it as though they expected it to explode.
“What's the matter?” said Harry.
“She's—she's sent me a Howler,” said Ron faintly.
“You'd better open it, Ron,” said Neville in a timid whisper. “It'll be worse
if you don't My gran sent me one once, and I ignored it and”—he gulped—”it was horrible.”
Harry looked from their petrified faces to the red envelope.
“What's a Howler?” he said.
But Ron's whole attention was fixed on the letter, which had begun to smoke at
“Open it,” Neville urged. “It'll all be over in a few minutes—”
Ron stretched out a shaking hand, eased the envelope from Errol's beak, and slit
it open. Neville stuffed his fingers in his ears. A split second later, Harry knew
why. He thought for a moment it had exploded; a roar of sound filled the huge hall,
shaking dust from the ceiling.
“STEALING THE CAR, I WOULDN'T HAVE BEEN SURPRISED IF THEY'D EXPELLED YOU, YOU
WAIT TILL I GET HOLD OF YOU, I DON'T SUPPOSE YOU STOPPED TO THINK WHAT YOUR FATHER
AND I WENT THROUGH WHEN WE SAW IT WAS GONE—”
Mrs. Weasleys yells, a hundred times louder than usual, made the plates and spoons
rattle on the table, and echoed deafeningly off the stone walls. People throughout
the hall were swiveling around to see who had received the Howler, and Ron sank
so low in his chair that only his crimson forehead could be seen.
“LETTER FROM DUMBLEDORE LAST NIGHT, I THOUGHT YOUR FATHER WOULD DIE OF SHAME,
WE DIDN'T BRING YOU UP TO BEHAVE LIKE THIS, YOU AND HARRY COULD BOTH HAVE DIED—”
Harry had been wondering when his name was going to crop up. He tried very hard
to look as though he couldn't hear the voice that was making his eardrums throb.
“-ABSOLUTELY DISGUSTED—YOUR FATHER'S FACING AN INQUIRY AT WORK, IT'S ENTIRELY
YOUR FAULT AND IF YOU PUT ANOTHER TOE OUT OF LINE WE'LL BRING YOU STRAIGHT BACK
A ringing silence fell. The red envelope, which had dropped from Ron's hand,
burst into flames and curled into ashes. Harry and Ron sat stunned, as though a
tidal wave had just passed over them. A few people laughed and, gradually, a babble
of talk broke out again.
Hermione closed Voyages with Vampires and looked down at the top of Ron's head.
“Well, I don't know what you expected, Ron, but you—”
“Don't tell me I deserved it,” snapped Ron.
Harry pushed his porridge away. His insides were burning with guilt. Mr. Weasley
was facing an inquiry at work. After all Mr. and Mrs. Weasley had done for him over
But he had no time to dwell on this; Professor McGonagall was moving along the
Gryffindor table, handing out course schedules. Harry took his and saw that they
had double Herbology with the Hufflepuffs first.
Harry, Ron, and Hermione left the castle together, crossed the vegetable patch,
and made for the greenhouses, where the magical plants were kept. At least the Howler
had done one good thing: Hermione seemed to think they had now been punished enough
and was being perfectly friendly again.
As they neared the greenhouses they saw the rest of the class standing outside,
waiting for Professor Sprout. Harry, Ron, and Hermione had only just joined them
when she came striding into view across the lawn, accompanied by Gilderoy Lockhart.
Professor Sprout's arms were full of bandages, and with another twinge of guilt,
Harry spotted the Whomping Willow in the distance, several of its branches now in
Professor Sprout was a squat little witch who wore a patched hat over her flyaway
hair; there was usually a large amount of earth on her clothes and her fingernails
would have made Aunt Petunia faint. Gilderoy Lockhart, however, was immaculate in
sweeping robes of turquoise, his golden hair shining under a perfectly positioned
turquoise hat with gold trimming.
“Oh, hello there!” he called, beaming around at the assembled students. “Just
been showing Professor Sprout the right way to doctor a Whomping Willow! But I don't
want you running away with the idea that I'm better at Herbology than she is! I
just happen to have met several of these exotic plants on my travels...”
“Greenhouse three today, chaps!” said Professor Sprout, who was looking distinctly
disgruntled, not at all her usual cheerful self.
There was a murmur of interest. They had only ever worked in greenhouse one before—greenhouse
three housed far more interesting and dangerous plants. Professor Sprout took a
large key from her belt and unlocked the door. Harry caught a whiff of damp earth
and fertilizer mingling with the heavy perfume of some giant, umbrellasized flowers
dangling from the ceiling. He was about to follow Ron and Hermione inside when Lockhart's
hand shot out.
“Harry! I've been wanting a word—you don't mind if he's a couple of minutes late,
do you, Professor Sprout?”