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, 'I 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 -'
I'll 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
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 I8 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 'co-operate 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.
It 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:
I 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
'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,
I, 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
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
'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.
I'll 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:'