'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,
'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
'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 two-month holiday, when someone walked around the
corner towards them.
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
'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 Harry's. 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,
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. 'I 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
'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 heavy-handed 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 multicoloured 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
'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.
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.