'Not with the dragon, you didn't,' said Michael Corner at once. That was
a seriously cool bit of flying:'
'Yeah, well -' said Harry, feeling it would be churlish to disagree.
'And nobody helped you get rid of those Dementors this summer,' said Susan
'No,' said Harry, 'no, OK, I know I did bits of it without help, but the
point I'm trying to make is -'
'Are you trying to weasel out of showing us any of this stuff?' said Zacharias
'Here's an idea,' said Ron loudly, before Harry could speak, 'why don't you
shut your mouth?'
Perhaps the word 'weasel' had affected Ron particularly strongly. In any
case, he was now looking at Zacharias as though he would like nothing better
than to thump him. Zacharias flushed.
'Well, we've all turned up to learn from him and now he's telling us he can't
really do any of it,' he said.
'That's not what he said, 'snarled Fred.
'Would you like us to clean out your ears for you?' enquired George, pulling
a long and lethal-looking metal instrument from inside one of the Zonko's bags.
'Or any part of your body, really, we're not fussy where we stick this,'
'Yes, well,' said Hermione hastily, 'moving on: the point is, are we agreed
we want to take lessons from Harry?'
There was a murmur of general agreement. Zacharias folded his arms and said
nothing, though perhaps this was because he was too busy keeping an eye on the
instrument in Fred's hand.
'Right,' said Hermione, looking relieved that something had at last been
settled. 'Well, then, the next question is how often we do it. I really don't
think there's any point in meeting less than once a week -'
'Hang on,' said Angelina, 'we need to make sure this doesn't clash with our
'No,' said Cho, 'nor with ours.'
'Nor ours,' added Zacharias Smith.
'I'm sure we can find a night that suits everyone,' said Hermione, slightly
impatiently, 'but you know, this is rather important, we're talking about learning
to defend ourselves against V-Voldemort's Death Eaters -'
'Well said!' barked Ernie Macmillan, who Harry had been expecting to speak
long before this. 'Personally I think this is really important, possibly more
important than anything else we'll do this year, even with our OWLs coming up!'
He looked around impressively, as though waiting for people to cry 'Surely
not!' When nobody spoke, he went on, 'I, personally am at a loss to see why
the Ministry has foisted such a useless teacher on us at this critical period.
Obviously, they are in denial about the return of You-Know-Who, but to give
us a teacher who is trying to actively prevent us from using defensive spells
'We think the reason Umbridge doesn't want us trained in Defence Against
the Dark Arts,' said Hermione, 'is that she's got some: some mad idea that Dumbledore
could use the students in the school as a kind of private army. She thinks he'd
mobilise us against the Ministry.'
Nearly everybody looked stunned at this news; everybody except Luna Lovegood,
who piped up, 'Well, that makes sense. After all, Cornelius Fudge has got his
own private army'
'What?' said Harry, completely thrown by this unexpected piece of information.
'Yes, he's got an army of Heliopaths,' said Luna solemnly.
'No, he hasn't,' snapped Hermione.
'Yes, he has,' said Luna.
'What are Heliopaths?' asked Neville, looking blank.
They're spirits of fire,' said Luna, her protuberant eyes widening so that
she looked madder than ever, 'great tall flaming creatures that gallop across
the ground burning everything in front of -'
They don't exist, Neville,' said Hermione tartly.
'Oh, yes, they do!' said Luna angrily.
'I'm sorry, but where's the proof of that?' snapped Hermione.
There are plenty of eye-witness accounts. Just because you're so narrow-minded
you need to have everything shoved under your nose before you -'
'Hem, hem,' said Ginny, in such a good imitation of Professor Umbridge that
several people looked around in alarm and then laughed. 'Weren't we trying to
decide how often we're going to meet and have defence lessons?'
'Yes,' said Hermione at once, 'yes, we were, you're right, Ginny.'
Well, once a week sounds cool,' said Lee Jordan.
'As long as -' began Angelina.
'Yes, yes, we know about the Quidditch,' said Hermione in a tense voice.
Well, the other thing to decide is where we're going to meet:'
This was rather more difficult; the whole group fell silent.
'Library?' suggested Katie Bell after a few moments.
'I can't see Madam Pince being too chuffed with us doing jinxes in the library,'
'Maybe an unused classroom?' said Dean.
'Yeah,' said Ron, 'McGonagall might let us have hers, she did when Harry
was practising for the Triwizard.'
But Harry was pretty certain that McGonagall would not be so accommodating
this time. For all that Hermione had said about study and homework groups being
allowed, he had the distinct feeling that this one might be considered a lot
'Right, well, we'll try to find somewhere,' said Hermione. 'We'll send a
message round to everybody when we've got a time and a place for the first meeting.'
She rummaged in her bag and produced parchment and a quill, then hesitated,
rather as though she was steeling herself to say something.
'I - I think everybody should write their name down, just so we know who
was here. But I also think,' she took a deep breath, 'that we all ought to agree
not to shout about what we're doing. So if you sign, you're agreeing not to
tell Umbridge or anybody else what we're up to.'
Fred reached out for the parchment and cheerfully wrote his signature, but
Harry noticed at once that several people looked less than happy at the prospect
of putting their names on the list.
'Er:' said Zacharias slowly, not taking the parchment that George was trying
to pass to him, 'well: I'm sure Ernie will tell me when the meeting is.'
But Ernie was looking rather hesitant about signing, too. Hermione raised
her eyebrows at him.
'I - well, we are prefects,' Ernie burst out. 'And if this list was found:
well, I mean to say: you said yourself, if Umbridge finds out -'
'You just said this group was the most important thing you'd do this year,'
Harry reminded him.
'I - yes,' said Ernie, 'yes, I do believe that, it's just -'
'Ernie, do you really think I'd leave that list lying around?' said Hermione
'No. No, of course not,' said Ernie, looking slightly less anxious. 'I -
yes, of course I'll sign.'
Nobody raised objections after Ernie, though Harry saw Cho's friend give
her a rather reproachful look before adding her own name. When the last perscfri
- Zacharias - had signed, Hermione took the parchment back and slipped it carefully
into her bag. There was an odd feeling in the group now. It was as though they
had just signed some kind of contract.
'Well, time's ticking on,' said Fred briskly, getting to his feet. 'George,
Lee and I have got items of a sensitive nature to purchase, we'll be seeing
you all later.'
In twos and threes the rest of the group took their leave, too.
Cho made rather a business of fastening the catch on her bag before leaving,
her long dark curtain of hair swinging forwards to hide her face, but her friend
stood beside her, arms folded, clicking her tongue, so that Cho had little choice
but to leave with her. As her friend ushered her through the door, Cho looked
back and waved at Harry.
'Well, I think that went quite well,' said Hermione happily, as she, Harry
and Ron walked out of the Hog's Head into the bright sunlight a few moments
later. Harry and Ron were clutching their bottles of Butterbeer.
That Zacharias bloke's a wart,' said Ron, who was glowering after the figure
of Smith, just discernible in the distance.
'I don't like him much, either,' admitted Hermione, 'but he overheard me
talking to Ernie and Hannah at the Hufflepuff table and he seemed really interested
in coming, so what could I say? But the more people the better really - I mean,
Michael Corner and his friends wouldn't have come if he hadn't been going out
with Ginny -'
Ron, who had been draining the last few drops from his Butterbeer bottle,
gagged and sprayed Butterbeer down his front.
'He's WHAT?' spluttered Ron, outraged, his ears now resembling curls of raw
beef. 'She's going out with - my sister's going - what d'you mean, Michael Corner?'
'Well, that's why he and his friends came, I think - well, they're obviously
interested in learning defence, but if Ginny hadn't told Michael what was going
When did this - when did she -?'
They met at the Yule Ball and got together at the end of last year,' said
Hermione composedly. They had turned into the High Street and she paused outside
Scrivenshaft's Quill Shop, where there was a handsome display of pheasant feather
quills in the window. 'Hmm: I could do with a new quill.'
She turned into the shop. Harry and Ron followed her.
Which one was Michael Corner?' Ron demanded furiously.
The dark one,' said Hermione.
'I didn't like him,' said Ron at once.
'Big surprise,' said Hermione under her breath.
'But,' said Ron, following Hermione along a row of quills in copper pots,
'I thought Ginny fancied Harry!'
Hermione looked at him rather pityingly and shook her head.
'Ginny used to fancy Harry, but she gave up on him months ago. Not that she
doesn't like you, of course,' she added kindly to Harry while she examined a
long black and gold quill.
Harry, whose head was still full of Cho's parting wave, did not find this
subject quite as interesting as Ron, who was positively quivering with indignation,
but it did bring something home to him that until now he had not really registered.
'So that's why she talks now?' he asked Hermione. 'She never used to talk
in front of me.'
'Exactly,' said Hermione. 'Yes, I think I'll have this one:'
She went up to the counter and handed over fifteen Sickles and two Knuts,
with Ron still breathing down her neck.
'Ron,' she said severely as she turned and trod on his feet, 'this is exactly
why Ginny hasn't told you she's seeing Michael, she knew you'd take it badly.
So don't harp on about it, for heaven's sake.'
'What d'you mean? Who's taking anything badly? I'm not going to harp on about
anything:' Ron continued to chunter under his breath all the way down the street.
Hermione rolled her eyes at Harry and then said in an undertone, while Ron
was still muttering imprecations about Michael Corner, 'And talking about Michael
and Ginny: what about Cho and you?'
'What d'you mean?' said Harry quickly.
It was as though boiling water was rising rapidly inside him; a burning sensation
that was causing his face to smart in the cold -had he been that obvious?
'Well,' said Hermione, smiling slightly, 'she just couldn't keep her eyes
off you, could she?'
Harry had never before appreciated just how beautiful the village of Hogsmeade
- CHAPTER SEVENTEEN -
Educational Decree Number Twenty-four
Harry felt happier for the rest of the weekend than he had done all term.
He and Ron spent much of Sunday catching up with all their homework again, and
although this could hardly be called fun, the last burst of autumn sunshine
persisted, so rather than sitting hunched over tables in the common room they
took their work outside and lounged in the shade of a large beech tree on the
edge of the lake. Hermione, who of course was up to date with all her work,
brought more wool outside with her and bewitched her knitting needles so that
they flashed and clicked in midair beside her, producing more hats and scarves.
Knowing they were doing something to resist Umbridge and the Ministry, and
that he was a key part of the rebellion, gave Harry a feeling of immense satisfaction.
He kept reliving Saturdays meeting in his mind: all those people, coming to
him to learn Defence Against the Dark Arts: and the looks on their faces as
they had heard some of the things he had done: and Cho praising his performance
in the Triwizard Tournament - knowing all those people did not think him a lying
weirdo, but someone to be admired, buoyed him up so much that he was still cheerful
on Monday morning, despite the imminent prospect of all his least favourite
He and Ron headed downstairs from their dormitory, discussing Angelinas idea
that they were to work on a new move called the Sloth Grip Roll during that
night's Quidditch practice, and not until they were halfway across the sunlit
common room did they notice the addition to the room that had already attracted
the attention of a small group of people.
A large sign had been affixed to the Gryffindor noticeboard; so large it
covered everything else on it - the lists of secondhand spellbooks for sale,
the regular reminders of school rules from Argus Filch, the Quidditch team training
timetable, the offers to barter certain Chocolate Frog Cards for others, the
Weasleys' latest advertisement for testers, the dates of the Hogsmeade weekends
and the lost and found notices. The new sign was printed in large black letters
and there was a highly official-looking seal at the bottom beside a neat and