Professor Umbridge paused here and made a little bow to her fellow staff
members, none of whom bowed back to her. Professor McGonagall's dark eyebrows
had contracted so that she looked positively hawklike, and Harry distinctly
saw her exchange a significant glance with Professor Sprout as Umbridge gave
another little 'hem, hem' and went on with her speech.
Every headmaster and headmistress of Hogwarts has brought something new to
the weighty task of governing this historic school, and that is as it should
be, for without progress there will be stagnation and decay. There again, progress
for progress's sake must be discouraged, for our tried and tested traditions
often require no tinkering. A balance, then, between old and new, between permanence
and change, between tradition and innovation:"
Harry found his attentiveness ebbing, as though his brain was slipping in
and out of tune. The quiet that always filled the Hall when Dumbledore was speaking
was breaking up as students put their heads together, whispering and giggling.
Over on the Ravenclaw table Cho Chang was chatting animatedly with her friends.
A few seats along from Cho, Luna Lovegood had got out The Quibbler again. Meanwhile,
at the Hufflepuff table Ernie Macmillan was one of the few still staring at
Professor Umbridge, but he was glassy-eyed and Harry was sure he was only pretending
to listen in an attempt to live up to the new prefect's badge gleaming on his
Professor Umbridge did not seem to notice the restlessness of her audience.
Harry had the impression that a full-scale riot could have broken out under
her nose and she would have ploughed on with her speech. The teachers, however,
were still listening very attentively, and Hermione seemed to be drinking in
every word Umbridge spoke, though, judging by her expression, they were not
at all to her taste.
': because some changes will be for the better, while others will come, in
the fullness of time, to be recognised as errors of judgement. Meanwhile, some
old habits will be retained, and rightly so, whereas others, outmoded and outworn,
must be abandoned. Let us move forward, then, into a new era of openness, effectiveness
and accountability, intent on preserving what ought to be preserved, perfecting
what needs to be perfected, and pruning wherever we find practices that ought
to be prohibited.'
She sat down. Dumbledore clapped. The staff followed his lead, though Harry
noticed that several of them brought their hands together only once or twice
before stopping. A few students joined in, but most had been taken unawares
by the end of the speech, not having listened to more than a few words of it,
and before they could start applauding properly, Dumbledore had stood up again.
Thank you very much, Professor Umbridge, that was most illuminating,' he
said, bowing to her. 'Now, as I was saying, Quidditch tryouts will be held:"
'Yes, it certainly was illuminating,' said Hermione in a low voice.
'You're not telling me you enjoyed it?' Ron said quietly, turning a glazed
face towards Hermione. That was about the dullest speech I've ever heard, and
I grew up with Percy.'
'I said illuminating, not enjoyable,' said Hermione. 'It explained a lot.'
'Did it?' said Harry in surprise. 'Sounded like a load of waffle to me.'
There was some important stuff hidden in the waffle,' said Hermione grimly.
'Was there?' said Ron blankly.
'How about: "progress for progress's sake must be discouraged"? How about:
"pruning wherever we find practices that ought to be prohibited"?'
'Well, what does that mean?' said Ron impatiently.
I'll tell you what it means,' said Hermione through gritted teeth. 'It means
the Ministry's interfering at Hogwarts.'
There was a great clattering and banging all around them; Dumbledore had
obviously just dismissed the school, because everyone was standing up ready
to leave the Hall. Hermione jumped up, looking flustered.
'Ron, we're supposed to show the first-years where to go!'
'Oh yeah,' said Ron, who had obviously forgotten. 'Hey - hey, you lot! Midgets!'
'Well, they are, they're titchy:'
'I know, but you can't call them midgets! - First-years!' Hermione called
commandingly along the table. This way, please!'
A group of new students walked shyly up the gap between the Gryffindor and
Hufflepuff tables, all of them trying hard not to lead the group. They did indeed
seem very small; Harry was sure he had not appeared that young when he had arrived
here. He grinned at them. A blond boy next to Euan Abercrombie looked petrified;
he nudged Euan and whispered something in his ear. Euan Abercrombie looked equally
frightened and stole a horrified look at Harry, who felt the grin slide off
his face like Stinksap.
'See you later,' he said dully to Ron and Hermione and he made his way out
of the Great Hall alone, doing everything he could to ignore more whispering,
staring and pointing as he passed. He kept his eyes fixed ahead as he wove his
way through the crowd in the Entrance Hall, then he hurried up the marble staircase,
took a couple of concealed short cuts and had soon left most of the crowds behind.
He had been stupid not to expect this, he thought angrily as he walked through
the much emptier upstairs corridors. Of course everyone was staring at him;
he had emerged from the Triwizard maze two months previously clutching the dead
body of a fellow student and claiming to have seen Lord Voldemort return to
power. There had not been time last term to explain himself before they'd all
had to go home - even if he had felt up to giving the whole school a detailed
account of the terrible events in that graveyard.
Harry had reached the end of the corridor to the Gryffindor common room and
come to a halt in front of the portrait of the Fat Lady before he realised that
he did not know the new password.
'Er:' he said glumly, staring up at the Fat Lady, who smoothed the folds
of her pink satin dress and looked sternly back at him.
'No password, no entrance,' she said loftily.
'Harry, I know it!' Someone panted up behind him and he turned to see Neville
jogging towards him. 'Guess what it is? I'm actually going to be able to remember
it for once -' He waved the stunted little cactus he had shown them on the train.
'Correct,' said the Fat Lady, and her portrait swung open towards them like
a door, revealing a circular hole in the wall behind, through which Harry and
Neville now climbed.
The Gryffindor common room looked as welcoming as ever, a cosy circular tower
room full of dilapidated squashy armchairs and rickety old tables. A fire was
crackling merrily in the grate and a few people were warming their hands by
it before going up to their dormitories; on the other side of the room Fred
and George Weasley were pinning something up on the noticeboard. Harry waved
goodnight to them and headed straight for the door to the boys' dormitories;
he was not in much of a mood for talking at the moment. Neville followed him.
Dean Thomas and Seamus Finnigan had reached the dormitory first and were
in the process of covering the walls beside their beds with posters and photographs.
They had been talking as Harry pushed open the door but stopped abruptly the
moment they saw him. Harry wondered whether they had been talking about him,
then whether he was being paranoid.
'Hi,' he said, moving across to his own trunk and opening it.
'Hey, Harry,' said Dean, who was putting on a pair of pyjamas in the West
Ham colours. 'Good holiday?'
'Not bad,' muttered Harry, as a true account of his holiday would have taken
most of the night to relate and he could not face it. 'You?'
'Yeah, it was OK,' chuckled Dean. 'Better than Seamus's, anyway, he was just
'Why, what happened, Seamus?' Neville asked as he placed his Mimbulus mimbletonia
tenderly on his bedside cabinet.
Seamus did not answer immediately; he was making rather a meal of ensuring
that his poster of the Kenmare Kestrels Quidditch team was quite straight. Then
he said, with his back still turned to Harry, 'Me mum didn't want me to come
'What?' said Harry, pausing in the act of pulling off his robes.
'She didn't want me to come back to Hogwarts.'
Seamus turned away from his poster and pulled his own pyjamas out of his
trunk, still not looking at Harry.
'But - why?' said Harry, astonished. He knew that Seamus's mother was a witch
and could not understand, therefore, why she should have come over so Dursleyish.
Seamus did not answer until he had finished buttoning his pyjamas.
'Well,' he said in a measured voice, 'I suppose: because of you.'
'What d'you mean?' said Harry quickly.
His heart was beating rather fast. He felt vaguely as though something was
closing in on him.
'Well,' said Seamus again, still avoiding Harry's eye, 'she: er: well, it's
not just you, it's Dumbledore, too:'
'She believes the Daily Prophet?' said Harry. 'She thinks I'm a liar and
Dumbledore's an old fool?'
Seamus looked up at him.
'Yeah, something like that.'
Harry said nothing. He threw his wand down on to his bedside table, pulled
off his robes, stuffed them angrily into his trunk and pulled on his pyjamas.
He was sick of it; sick of being the person who is stared at and talked about
all the time. If any of them knew, if any of them had the faintest idea what
it felt like to be the one all these things had happened to: Mrs Finnigan had
no idea, the stupid woman, he thought savagely.
He got into bed and made to pull the hangings closed around him, but before
he could do so, Seamus said, 'Look: what did happen that night when: you know,
when: with Cedric Diggory and all?'
Seamus sounded nervous and eager at the same time. Dean, who had been bending
over his trunk trying to retrieve a slipper, went oddly still and Harry knew
he was listening hard.
'What are you asking me for?' Harry retorted. 'Just read the Daily Prophet
like your mother, why don't you? That'll tell you all you need to know.'
'Don't you have a go at my mother,' Seamus snapped.
I'll have a go at anyone who calls me a liar,' said Harry.
'Don't talk to me like that!'
I'll talk to you how I want,' said Harry, his temper rising so fast he snatched
his wand back from his bedside table. 'If you've got a problem sharing a dormitory
with me, go and ask McGonagall if you can be moved: stop your mummy worrying
'Leave my mother out of this, Potter!'
'What's going on?'
Ron had appeared in the doorway. His wide eyes travelled from Harry, who
was kneeling on his bed with his wand pointing at Seamus, to Seamus, who was
standing there with his fists raised.
'He's having a go at my mother!' Seamus yelled.
'What?' said Ron. 'Harry wouldn't do that - we met your mother, we liked
That's before she started believing every word the stinking Daily Prophet
writes about me!' said Harry at the top of his voice.
'Oh,' said Ron, comprehension dawning across his freckled face. 'Oh: right.'
'You know what?' said Seamus heatedly, casting Harry a venomous look. 'He's
right, I don't want to share a dormitory with him any more, he's mad.'
'That's out of order, Seamus,' said Ron, whose ears were starting to glow
red - always a danger sign.
'Out of order, am I?' shouted Seamus, who in contrast with Ron was going
pale. 'You believe all the rubbish he's come out with about You-Know-Who, do
you, you reckon he's telling the truth?'
'Yeah, I do!' said Ron angrily.
Then you're mad, too,' said Seamus in disgust.
'Yeah? Well, unfortunately for you, pal, I'm also a prefect!' said Ron, jabbing
himself in the chest with a finger. 'So unless you want detention, watch your
Seamus looked for a few seconds as though detention would be a reasonable
price to pay to say what was going through his mind; but with a noise of contempt
he turned on his heel, vaulted into bed and pulled the hangings shut with such
violence that they were ripped from the bed and fell in a dusty pile to the
floor. Ron glared at Seamus, then looked at Dean and Neville.
'Anyone else's parents got a problem with Harry?' he said aggressively.
'My parents are Muggles, mate,' said Dean, shrugging. They don't know nothing
about no deaths at Hogwarts, because I'm not stupid enough to tell them.'
'You don't know my mother, she'd weasel anything out of anyone!' Seamus snapped
at him. 'Anyway your parents don't get the Daily Prophet. They don't know our
Headmaster's been sacked from the Wizengamot and the International Confederation
of Wizards because he's losing his marbles -'
'My gran says that's rubbish,' piped up Neville. 'She says it's the Daily
Prophet that's going downhill, not Dumbledore. She's cancelled our subscription.
We believe Harry' said Neville simply. He climbed into bed and pulled the covers
up to his chin, looking owlishly over them at Seamus. 'My gran's always said
You-Know-Who would come back one day. She says if Dumbledore says he's back,
Harry felt a rush of gratitude towards Neville. Nobody else said anything.
Seamus got out his wand, repaired the bed hangings and vanished behind them.
Dean got into bed, rolled over and fell silent. Neville, who appeared to have
nothing more to say either, was gazing fondly at his moonlit cactus.