'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
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,
'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
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:
'I 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
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.
I'll 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
'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: I 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, waist-length, 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.
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.
'I 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
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, I 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
'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. I 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.'