Seriously, Ron, you do not want to be tarred with the same brush as Potter,
it could be very damaging to your future prospects, and I am talking here about
life after school, too. As you must be aware, given that our father escorted
him to court, Potter had a disciplinary hearing this summer in front of the
whole Wizengamot and he did not come out of it looking too good. He got off
on a mere technicality, if you ask me, and many of the people I've spoken to
remain convinced of his guilt.
It may be that you are afraid to sever ties with Potter - / know that he
can be unbalanced and, for all I know, violent - but if you have any worries
about this, or have spotted anything else in Potter's behaviour that is troubling
you, I urge you to speak to Dolores Umbridge, a truly delightful woman who I
know will be only too happy to advise you.
This leads me to my other bit of advice. As I have hinted above, Dumbledore's
regime at Hogwarts may soon be over. Your loyalty, Ron, should be not to him,
but to the school and the Ministry. I am very sorry to hear that, so far, Professor
Umbridge is encountering very little co-operation from staff as she strives
to make those necessary changes within Hogwarts that the Ministry so ardently
desires (although she should find this easier from next week - again, see the
Daily Prophet tomorrow!). I shall say only this - a student who shows himself
willing to help Professor Umbridge now may be very well-placed for Head Boyship
in a couple of years!
I am sorry that I was unable to see more of you over the summer. It pains
me to criticise our parents, but I am afraid i can no longer live under their
roof while they remain mixed up with the dangerous crowd around Dumbledore.
(If you are writing to Mother at any point, you might tell her that a certain
Sturgis Podmore, who is a great friend of Dumbledore's, has recently been sent
to Azkabanfor trespass at the Ministry. Perhaps that will open their eyes to
the kind of petty criminals with whom they are currently rubbing shoulders.)
I count myself very lucky to have escaped the stigma of association with such
people - the Minister really could not be more gracious to me - and I do hope,
Ron, that you will not allow family ties to blind you to the misguided nature
of our parents' beliefs and actions, either. I sincerely hope that, in time,
they will realise how mistaken they were and I shall, of course, be ready to
accept a full apology when that day comes.
Please think over what I have said most carefully, particularly the bit about
Harry Potter, and congratulations again on becoming prefect.
Harry looked up at Ron.
'Well,' he said, trying to sound as though he found the whole thing a joke,
'if you want to - er - what is it?' - he checked Percy's letter - 'Oh yeah -
"sever ties" with me, I swear I won't get violent.'
'Give it back,' said Ron, holding out his hand. 'He is -' Ron said jerkily,
tearing Percy's letter in half 'the world's -' he tore it into quarters 'biggest
-' he tore it into eighths 'git.' He threw the pieces into the fire.
'Come on, we've got to get this finished sometime before dawn,' he said briskly
to Harry, pulling Professor Sinistra's essay back towards him.
Hermione was looking at Ron with an odd expression on her face.
'Oh, give them here,' she said abruptly.
'What?' said Ron.
'Give them to me, I'll look through them and correct them,' she said.
'Are you serious? Ah, Hermione, you're a life-saver,' said Ron, 'what can
'What you can say is, "We promise we'll never leave our homework this late
again,"' she said, holding out both hands for their essays, but she looked slightly
amused all the same.
Thanks a million, Hermione,' said Harry weakly, passing over his essay and
sinking back into his armchair, rubbing his eyes.
It was now past midnight and the common room was deserted but for the three
of them and Crookshanks. The only sound was that of Hermione's quill scratching
out sentences here and there on their essays and the ruffle of pages as she
checked various facts in the reference books strewn across the table. Harry
was exhausted. He also felt an odd, sick, empty feeling in his stomach that
had nothing to do with tiredness and everything to do with the letter now curling
blackly in the heart of the fire.
He knew that half the people inside Hogwarts thought him strange, even mad;
he knew that the Daily Prophet had been making snide allusions to him for months,
but there was something about seeing it written down like that in Percy's writing,
about knowing that Percy was advising Ron to drop him and even to tell tales
about him to Umbridge, that made his situation real to him as nothing else had.
He had known Percy for four years, had stayed in his house during the summer
holidays, shared a tent with him during the Quidditch World Cup, had even been
awarded full marks by him in the second task of the Triwizard Tournament last
year, yet now, Percy thought him unbalanced and possibly violent.
And with a surge of sympathy for his godfather, Harry thought Sirius was
probably the only person he knew who could really understand how he felt at
the moment, because Sirius was in the same situation. Nearly everyone in the
wizarding world thought Sirius a dangerous murderer and a great Voldemort supporter
and he had had to live with that knowledge for fourteen years:
Harry blinked. He had just seen something in the fire that could not have
been there. It had flashed into sight and vanished immediately. No: it could
not have been: he had imagined it because he had been thinking about Sirius:
'OK, write that down,' Hermione said to Ron, pushing his essay and a sheet
covered in her own writing back to Ron, 'then add this conclusion I've written
'Hermione, you are honestly the most wonderful person I've ever met,' said
Ron weakly, 'and if I'm ever rude to you again -'
'- I'll know you're back to normal,' said Hermione. 'Harry, yours is OK except
for this bit at the end, I think you must have misheard Professor Sinistra,
Europa's covered in ice, not mice -Harry?'
Harry had slid off his chair on to his knees and was now crouching on the
singed and threadbare hearthrug, gazing into the flames.
'Er - Harry?' said Ron uncertainly. 'Why are you down there?'
'Because I've just seen Sirius's head in the fire,' said Harry.
He spoke quite calmly; after all, he had seen Sirius's head in this very
fire the previous year and talked to it, too; nevertheless, he could not be
sure that he had really seen it this time: it had vanished so quickly:
'Sirius's head?' Hermione repeated. 'You mean like when he wanted to talk
to you during the Triwizard Tournament? But he wouldn't do that now, it would
be too - Sirius!'
She gasped, gazing at the fire; Ron dropped his quill. There in the middle
of the dancing flames sat Sirius's head, long dark hair falling around his grinning
'I was starting to think you'd go to bed before everyone else had disappeared,'
he said. 'I've been checking every hour.'
'You've been popping into the fire every hour?' Harry said, half-laughing.
'Just for a few seconds to check if the coast was clear.'
'But what if you'd been seen?' said Hermione anxiously.
'Well, I think a girl - first-year, by the look of her - might've got a glimpse
of me earlier, but don't worry' Sirius said hastily, as Hermione clapped a hand
to her mouth, 'I was gone the moment she looked back at me and I'll bet she
just thought I was an oddly-shaped log or something.'
'But, Sirius, this is taking an awful risk -' Hermione began.
'You sound like Molly,' said Sirius. This was the only way I could come up
with of answering Harry's letter without resorting to a code - and codes are
At the mention of Harry's letter, Hermione and Ron both turned to stare at
'You didn't say you'd written to Sirius!' said Hermione accusingly.
'I forgot,' said Harry, which was perfectly true; his meeting with Cho in
the Owlery had driven everything before it out of his mind. 'Don't look at me
like that, Hermione, there was no way anyone would have got secret information
out of it, was there, Sirius?'
'No, it was very good,' said Sirius, smiling. 'Anyway, we'd better be quick,
just in case we're disturbed - your scar.'
'What about -?' Ron began, but Hermione interrupted him. . 'We'll tell you
afterwards. Go on, Sirius.'
'Well, I know it can't be fun when it hurts, but we don't think it's anything
to really worry about. It kept aching all last year, didn't it?'
'Yeah, and Dumbledore said it happened whenever Voldemort was feeling a powerful
emotion,' said Harry, ignoring, as usual, Ron and Hermione's winces. 'So maybe
he was just, I dunno, really angry or something the night I had that detention.'
'Well, now he's back it's bound to hurt more often,' said Sirius.
'So you don't think it had anything to do with Umbridge touching me when
I was in detention with her?' Harry asked.
'I doubt it,' said Sirius. 'I know her by reputation and I'm sure she's no
Death Eater -'
'She's foul enough to be one,' said Harry darkly, and Ron and Hermione nodded
vigorously in agreement.
'Yes, but the world isn't split into good people and Death Eaters,' said
Sirius with a wry smile. 'I know she's a nasty piece of work, though - you should
hear Remus talk about her.'
'Does Lupin know her?' asked Harry quickly, remembering Umbridge's comments
about dangerous half-breeds during her first lesson.
'No,' said Sirius, 'but she drafted a bit of anti-werewolf legislation two
years ago that makes it almost impossible for him to get a job.'
Harry remembered how much shabbier Lupin looked these days and his dislike
of Umbridge deepened even further.
'What's she got against werewolves?" said Hermione angrily.
'Scared of them, I expect,' said Sirius, smiling at her indignation. 'Apparently
she loathes part-humans; she campaigned to have merpeople rounded up and tagged
last year, too. Imagine wasting your time and energy persecuting merpeople when
there are little toerags like Kreacher on the loose.'
Ron laughed but Hermione looked upset.
'Sirius!' she said reproachfully. 'Honestly, if you made a bit of an effort
with Kreacher, I'm sure he'd respond. After all, you are the only member of
his family he's got left, and Professor Dumbledore said -'
'So, what are Umbridge's lessons like?' Sirius interrupted. 'Is she training
you all to kill half-breeds?'
'No,' said Harry, ignoring Hermione's affronted look at being cut off in
her defence of Kreacher. 'She's not letting us use magic at all!'
'All we do is read the stupid textbook,' said Ron.
'Ah, well, that figures,' said Sirius. 'Our information from inside the Ministry
is that Fudge doesn't want you trained in combat.'
'Trained in combat!' repeated Harry incredulously. 'What does he think we're
doing here, forming some sort of wizard army?'
That's exactly what he thinks you're doing,' said Sirius, 'or, rather, that's
exactly what he's afraid Dumbledore's doing - forming his own private army,
with which he will be able to take on the Ministry of Magic.'
There was a pause at this, then Ron said, That's the most stupid thing I've
ever heard, including all the stuff that Luna Lovegood comes out with.'
'So we're being prevented from learning Defence Against the Dark Arts because
Fudge is scared we'll use spells against the Ministry?' said Hermione, looking
'Yep,' said Sirius. 'Fudge thinks Dumbledore will stop at nothing to seize
power. He's getting more paranoid about Dumbledore by the day. It's a matter
of time before he has Dumbledore arrested on some trumped-up charge.'
This reminded Harry of Percy's letter.
'D'you know if there's going to be anything about Dumbledore in the Daily
Prophet tomorrow? Ron's brother Percy reckons there will be -'
'I don't know,' said Sirius, 'I haven't seen anyone from the Order all weekend,
they're all busy. It's just been Kreacher and me here
There was a definite note of bitterness in Sirius's voice.
'So you haven't had any news about Hagrid, either?'
'Ah:' said Sirius, 'well, he was supposed to be back by now, no one's sure
what's happened to him.' Then, seeing their stricken faces, he added quickly,
'But Dumbledore's not worried, so don't you three get yourselves in a state;
I'm sure Hagrid's fine.'
'But if he was supposed to be back by now:' said Hermione in a small, anxious
'Madame Maxime was with him, we've been in touch with her and she says they
got separated on the journey home - but there's nothing to suggest he's hurt
or - well, nothing to suggest he's not perfectly OK.'
Unconvinced, Harry, Ron and Hermione exchanged worried looks.
'Listen, don't go asking too many questions about Hagrid,' said Sirius hastily,
'it'll just draw even more attention to the fact that he's not back and I know
Dumbledore doesn't want that. Hagrid's tough, he'll be OK.' And when they did
not appear cheered by this, Sirius added, 'When's your next Hogsmeade weekend,
anyway? I was thinking, we got away with the dog disguise at the station, didn't
we? I thought I could -'