“Not spew,” said Hermione impatiently. “It's S-P-E-W. Stands for the Society
for the Promotion of Elfish Welfare.”
“Never heard of it,” said Ron.
“Well, of course you haven't,” said Hermione briskly, “I've only just started
“Yeah?” said Ron in mild surprise. “How many members have you got?”
“Well—if you two join—three,” said Hermione.
“And you think we want to walk around wearing badges saying 'spew,' do you?”
“S-P-E-W!” said Hermione hotly. “I was going to put Stop the Outrageous Abuse
of Our Fellow Magical Creatures and Campaign for a Change in Their Legal Status—but
it wouldn't fit. So that's the heading of our manifesto.”
She brandished the sheaf of parchment at them.
“I've been researching it thoroughly in the library. Elf enslavement goes
back centuries. I can't believe no one's done anything about it before now.”
“Hermione—open your ears,” said Ron loudly. “They. Like. It. They like being
“Our short-term aims,” said Hermione, speaking even more loudly than Ron,
and acting as though she hadn't heard a word, “are to secure house-elves fair
wages and working conditions. Our long-term aims include changing the law about
non-wand use, and trying to get an elf into the Department for the Regulation
and Control of Magical Creatures, because they're shockingly underrepresented.”
“And how do we do all this?” Harry asked.
“We start by recruiting members,” said Hermione happily. “I thought two Sickles
to join—that buys a badge—and the proceeds can fund our leaflet campaign. You're
treasurer, Ron—I've got you a collecting tin upstairs—and Harry, you're secretary,
so you might want to write down everything I'm saying now, as a record of our
There was a pause in which Hermione beamed at the pair of them, and Harry
sat, torn between exasperation at Hermione and amusement at the look on Ron's
face. The silence was broken, not by Ron, who in any case looked as though he
was temporarily dumbstruck, but by a soft tap, tap on the window. Harry looked
across the now empty common room and saw, illuminated by the moonlight, a snowy
owl perched on the windowsill.
“Hedwig!” he shouted, and he launched himself out of his chair and across
the room to pull open the window.
Hedwig flew inside, soared across the room, and landed on the table on top
of Harry's predictions.
“About time!” said Harry, hurrying after her.
“She's got an answer!” said Ron excitedly, pointing at the grubby piece of
parchment tied to Hedwig's leg.
Harry hastily untied it and sat down to read, whereupon Hedwig fluttered
onto his knee, hooting softly.
“What does it say?” Hermione asked breathlessly.
The letter was very short, and looked as though it had been scrawled in a
great hurry. Harry read it aloud:
I'm flying north immediately. This news about your scar is the latest in
a series of strange rumors that have reached me here. If it hurts again, go
straight to Dumbledore—they're saying he's got Mad-Eye out of retirement, which
means he's reading the signs, even if no one else is.
I'll be in touch soon. My best to Ron and Hermione. Keep your eyes open,
Harry looked up at Ron and Hermione, who stared back at him.
“He's flying north?” Hermione whispered. “He's coming back?”
“Dumbledore's reading what signs?” said Ron, looking perplexed. “Harry—what's
For Harry had just hit himself in the forehead with his fist, jolting Hedwig
out of his lap.
“I shouldn't've told him!” Harry said furiously.
“What are you on about?” said Ron in surprise.
“It's made him think he's got to come back!” said Harry, now slamming his
fist on the table so that Hedwig landed on the back of Ron's chair, hooting
indignantly. “Coming back, because he thinks I'm in trouble! And there's nothing
wrong with me! And I haven't got anything for you,” Harry snapped at Hedwig,
who was clicking her beak expectantly, “you'll have to go up to the Owlery if
you want food.”
Hedwig gave him an extremely offended look and took off for the open window,
cuffing him around the head with her outstretched wing as she went.
“Harry,” Hermione began, in a pacifying sort of voice.
“I'm going to bed,” said Harry shortly. “See you in the morning.”
Upstairs in the dormitory he pulled on his pajamas and got into his four-poster,
but he didn't feel remotely tired.
If Sirius came back and got caught, it would be his, Harry's, fault. Why
hadn't he kept his mouth shut? A few seconds' pain and he'd had to blab... If
he'd just had the sense to keep it to himself.
He heard Ron come up into the dormitory a short while later, but did not
speak to him. For a long time, Harry lay staring up at the dark canopy of his
bed. The dormitory was completely silent, and, had he been less preoccupied,
Harry would have realized that the absence of Neville's usual snores meant that
he was not the only one lying awake.
BEAUXBATONS AND DURMSTRANG
Early next morning, Harry woke with a plan fully formed in his mind, as though
his sleeping brain had been working on it all night. He got up, dressed in the
pale dawn light, left the dormitory without waking Ron, and went back down to
the deserted common room. Here he took a piece of parchment from the table upon
which his Divination homework still lay and wrote the following letter:
I reckon I just imagined my scar hurting, I was half asleep when I wrote
to you last time. There's no point coming back, everything's fine here. Don't
worry about me, my head feels completely normal.
He then climbed out of the portrait hole, up through the silent castle (held
up only briefly by Peeves, who tried to overturn a large vase on him halfway
along the fourth-floor corridor), finally arriving at the Owlery, which was
situated at the top of West Tower.
The Owlery was a circular stone room, rather cold and drafty, because none
of the windows had glass in them. The floor was entirely covered in straw, owl
droppings, and the regurgitated skeletons of mice and voles. Hundreds upon hundreds
of owls of every breed imaginable were nestled here on perches that rose right
up to the top of the tower, nearly all of them asleep, though here and there
a round amber eye glared at Harry. He spotted Hedwig nestled between a barn
owl and a tawny, and hurried over to her, sliding a little on the dropping-strewn
It took him a while to persuade her to wake up and then to look at him, as
she kept shuffling around on her perch, showing him her tail. She was evidently
still furious about his lack of gratitude the previous night. In the end, it
was Harry suggesting she might be too tired, and that perhaps he would ask Ron
to borrow Pigwidgeon, that made her stick out her leg and allow him to tie the
letter to it.
“Just find him, all right?” Harry said, stroking her back as he carried her
on his arm to one of the holes in the wall. “Before the dementors do.”
She nipped his finger, perhaps rather harder than she would ordinarily have
done, but hooted softly in a reassuring sort of way all the same. Then she spread
her wings and took off into the sunrise. Harry watched her fly out of sight
with the familiar feeling of unease back in his stomach. He had been so sure
that Sirius's reply would alleviate his worries rather than increasing them.
“That was a lie, Harry,” said Hermione sharply over breakfast, when he told
her and Ron what he had done. “You didn't imagine your scar hurting and you
“So what?” said Harry. “He's not going back to Azkaban because of me.”
“Drop it,” said Ron sharply to Hermione as she opened her mouth to argue
some more, and for once, Hermione heeded him, and fell silent.
Harry did his best not to worry about Sirius over the next couple of weeks.
True, he could not stop himself from looking anxiously around every morning
when the post owls arrived, nor, late at night before he went to sleep, prevent
himself from seeing horrible visions of Sirius, cornered by dementors down some
dark London street, but betweentimes he tried to keep his mind off his godfather.
He wished he still had Quidditch to distract him; nothing worked so well on
a troubled mind as a good, hard training session. On the other hand, their lessons
were becoming more difficult and demanding than ever before, particularly Moody's
Defense Against the Dark Arts.
To their surprise, Professor Moody had announced that he would be putting
the Imperius Curse on each of them in turn, to demonstrate its power and to
see whether they could resist its effects.
“But—but you said it's illegal, Professor,” said Hermione uncertainly as
Moody cleared away the desks with a sweep of his wand, leaving a large clear
space in the middle of the room. “You said—to use it against another human was—”
“Dumbledore wants you taught what it feels like,” said Moody, his magical
eye swiveling onto Hermione and fixing her with an eerie, unblinking stare.
“If you'd rather learn the hard way—when someone's putting it on you so they
can control you completely—fine by me. You're excused. Off you go.”
He pointed one gnarled finger toward the door. Hermione went very pink and
muttered something about not meaning that she wanted to leave. Harry and Ron
grinned at each other. They knew Hermione would rather eat bubotuber pus than
miss such an important lesson.
Moody began to beckon students forward in turn and put the Imperius Curse
upon them. Harry watched as, one by one, his classmates did the most extraordinary
things under its influence. Dean Thomas hopped three times around the room,
singing the national anthem. Lavender Brown imitated a squirrel. Neville performed
a series of quite astonishing gymnastics he would certainly not have been capable
of in his normal state. Not one of them seemed to be able to fight off the curse,
and each of them recovered only when Moody had removed it.
“Potter,” Moody growled, “you next.”
Harry moved forward into the middle of the classroom, into the space that
Moody had cleared of desks. Moody raised his wand, pointed it at Harry, and
It was the most wonderful feeling. Harry felt a floating sensation as every
thought and worry in his head was wiped gently away, leaving nothing but a vague,
untraceable happiness. He stood there feeling immensely relaxed, only dimly
aware of everyone watching him.
And then he heard Mad-Eye Moody's voice, echoing in some distant chamber
of his empty brain: Jump onto the desk... jump onto the desk...
Harry bent his knees obediently, preparing to spring.
Jump onto the desk...
Why, though? Another voice had awoken in the back of his brain.
Stupid thing to do, really, said the voice.
Jump onto the desk...
No, I don't think I will, thanks, said the other voice, a little more firmly...
no, I don't really want to.
The next thing Harry felt was considerable pain. He had both jumped and tried
to prevent himself from jumping—the result was that he'd smashed headlong into
the desk knocking it over, and, by the feeling in his legs, fractured both his
“Now, that's more like it!” growled Moody's voice, and suddenly, Harry felt
the empty, echoing feeling in his head disappear. He remembered exactly what
was happening, and the pain in his knees seemed to double.
“Look at that, you lot... Potter fought! He fought it, and he damn near beat
it! We'll try that again, Potter, and the rest of you, pay attention—watch his
eyes, that's where you see it—very good, Potter, very good indeed! They'll have
trouble controlling you!”
“The way he talks,” Harry muttered as he hobbled out of the Defense Against
the Dark Arts class an hour later (Moody had insisted on putting Harry through
his paces four times in a row, until Harry could throw off the curse entirely),
“you'd think we were all going to be attacked any second.”
“Yeah, I know,” said Ron, who was skipping on every alternate step. He had
had much more difficulty with the curse than Harry, though Moody assured him
the effects would wear off by lunchtime. “Talk about paranoid...” Ron glanced
nervously over his shoulder to check that Moody was definitely out of earshot
and went on. “No wonder they were glad to get shot of him at the Ministry. Did
you hear him telling Seamus what he did to that witch who shouted 'Boo' behind
him on April Fools' Day? And when are we supposed to read up on resisting the
Imperius Curse with everything else we've got to do?”
All the fourth years had noticed a definite increase in the amount of work
they were required to do this term. Professor McGonagall explained why, when
the class gave a particularly loud groan at the amount of Transfiguration homework
she had assigned.
“You are now entering a most important phase of your magical education!”
she told them, her eyes glinting dangerously behind her square spectacles. “Your
Ordinary Wizarding Levels are drawing closer—”
“We don't take O. W. L. s till fifth year!” s aid Dean Thomas indignantly.
“Maybe not, Thomas, but believe me, you need all the preparation you can
get! Miss Granger remains the only person in this class who has managed to turn
a hedgehog into a satisfactory pincushion. I might remind you that your pincushion,
Thomas, still curls up in fright if anyone approaches it with a pin!”
Hermione, who had turned rather pink again, seemed to be trying not to look
too pleased with herself.
Harry and Ron were deeply amused when Professor Trelawney told them that
they had received top marks for their homework in their next Divination class.
She read out large portions of their predictions, commending them for their
unflinching acceptance of the horrors in store for them—but they were less amused
when she asked them to do the same thing for the month after next; both of them
were running out of ideas for catastrophes.