'I -' said Harry, but the flood of students rolling along the corridor was
almost upon him. Professor McGonagall gave him a curt nod and retreated into
the staff room, leaving Harry to be swept out into the courtyard with the crowd.
He spotted Ron and Hermione already standing in a sheltered corner, their cloak
collars turned up against the wind. Harry slit open the scroll as he hurried
towards them and found five words in Sirius's handwriting:
Today, same time, same place.
'Is Hedwig OK?' asked Hermione anxiously, the moment he was within earshot.
'Where did you take her?' asked Ron.
To Grubbly-Plank,' said Harry. 'And I met McGonagall: listen:"
And he told them what Professor McGonagall had said. To his surprise, neither
of the others looked shocked. On the contrary, they exchanged significant looks.
'What?' said Harry, looking from Ron to Hermione and back again.
Well, I was just saying to Ron: what if someone had tried to intercept Hedwig?
I mean, she's never been hurt on a flight before, has she?'
'Who's the letter from, anyway?' asked Ron, taking the note from Harry.
'Snuffles,' said Harry quietly.
'"Same time, same place?" Does he mean the fire in the common room?'
'Obviously,' said Hermione, also reading the note. She looked uneasy. 'I
just hope nobody else has read this:'
'But it was still sealed and everything,' said Harry, trying to convince
himself as much as her. 'And nobody would understand what it meant if they didn't
know where we'd spoken to him before, would they?'
'I don't know,' said Hermione anxiously, hitching her bag back over her shoulder
as the bell rang again, 'it wouldn't be exactly difficult to re-seal the scroll
by magic: and if anyone's watching the Floo Network: but I don't really see
how we can warn him not to come without that being intercepted, too!'
They trudged down the stone steps to the dungeons for Potions, all three
of them lost in thought, but as they reached the bottom of the steps they were
recalled to themselves by the voice of Draco Malfoy who was standing just outside
Snape's classroom door, waving around an official-looking piece of parchment
and talking much louder than was necessary so that they could hear every word.
'Yeah, Umbridge gave the Slytherin Quidditch team permission to continue
playing straightaway, I went to ask her first thing this morning. Well, it was
pretty much automatic, I mean, she knows my father really well, he's always
popping in and out of the Ministry: it'll be interesting to see whether Gryffindor
are allowed to keep playing, won't it?'
'Don't rise,' Hermione whispered imploringly to Harry and Ron, who were both
watching Malfoy, faces set and fists clenched. 'It's what he wants.'
'I mean,' said Malfoy, raising his voice a little more, his grey eyes glittering
malevolently in Harry and Ron's direction, 'if it's a question of influence
with the Ministry, I don't think they've got much chance: from what my father
says, they've been looking for an excuse to sack Arthur Weasley for years: and
as for Potter: my father says it's a matter of time before the Ministry has
him carted off to St Mungo's: apparently they've got a special ward for people
whose brains have been addled by magic.'
Malfoy made a grotesque face, his mouth sagging open and his eyes rolling.
Crabbe and Goyle gave their usual grunts of laughter; Pansy Parkinson shrieked
Something collided hard with Harry's shoulder, knocking him sideways. A split
second later he realised that Neville had just charged past him, heading straight
Harry leapt forward and seized the back of Neville's robes; Neville struggled
frantically, his fists flailing, trying desperately to get at Malfoy who looked,
for a moment, extremely shocked.
'Help me!' Harry flung at Ron, managing to get an arm around Neville's neck
and dragging him backwards, away from the Slytherins. Crabbe and Goyle were
flexing their arms as they stepped in front of Malfoy, ready for the fight.
Ron seized Neville's arms, and together he and Harry succeeded in dragging Neville
back into the Gryffindor line. Neville's face was scarlet; the pressure Harry
was exerting on his throat rendered him quite incomprehensible, but odd words
spluttered from his mouth.
'Not: funny: don't: Mungo's: show: him:'
The dungeon door opened. Snape appeared there. His black eyes swept up the
Gryffindor line to the point where Harry and Ron were wrestling with Neville.
'Fighting, Potter, Weasley, Longbottom?' Snape said in his cold, sneering
voice. Ten points from Gryffindor. Release Longbottom, Potter, or it will be
detention. Inside, all of you.'
Harry let go of Neville, who stood panting and glaring at him.
'I had to stop you,' Harry gasped, picking up his bag. 'Crabbe and Goyle
would've torn you apart.'
Neville said nothing; he merely snatched up his own bag and stalked off into
'What in the name of Merlin,' said Ron slowly, as they followed Neville,
'was that about?'
Harry did not answer. He knew exactly why the subject of people who were
in St Mungo's because of magical damage to their brains was highly distressing
to Neville, but he had sworn to Dumbledore that he would not tell anyone Neville's
secret. Even Neville did not know Harry knew.
Harry, Ron and Hermione took their usual seats at the back of the class,
pulled out parchment, quills and their copies of One Thousand Magical Herbs
and Fungi. The class around them was whispering about what Neville had just
done, but when Snape closed the dungeon door with an echoing bang, everybody
immediately fell silent.
'You will notice,' said Snape, in his low, sneering voice, 'that we have
a guest with us today.'
He gestured towards the dim corner of the dungeon and Harry saw Professor
Umbridge sitting there, clipboard on her knee. He glanced sideways at Ron and
Hermione, his eyebrows raised. Snape and Umbridge, the two teachers he hated
most. It was hard to decide which one he wanted to triumph over the other.
'We are continuing with our Strengthening Solution today. You will find your
mixtures as you left them last lesson; if correctly made they should have matured
well over the weekend - instructions -' he waved his wand again '- on the board.
Professor Umbridge spent the first half hour of the lesson making notes in
her corner. Harry was very interested in hearing her question Snape; so interested,
that he was becoming careless with his potion again.
'Salamander blood, Harry !' Hermione moaned, grabbing his wrist to prevent
him adding the wrong ingredient for the third time, 'not pomegranate juice!'
'Right,' said Harry vaguely, putting down the bottle and continuing to watch
the corner. Umbridge had just got to her feet. 'Ha,' he said softly, as she
strode between two lines of desks towards Snape, who was bending over Dean Thomas's
'Well, the class seem fairly advanced for their level,' she said briskly
to Snape's back. Though I would question whether it is advisable to teach them
a potion like the Strengthening Solution. I think the Ministry would prefer
it if that was removed from the syllabus.'
Snape straightened up slowly and turned to look at her.
'Now: how long have you been teaching at Hogwarts?' she asked, her quill
poised over her clipboard.
'Fourteen years,' Snape replied. His expression was unfathomable. Harry,
watching him closely, added a few drops to his potion; it hissed menacingly
and turned from turquoise to orange.
'You applied first for the Defence Against the Dark Arts post, I believe?'
Professor Umbridge asked Snape.
'Yes,' said Snape quietly.
'But you were unsuccessful?'
Snape's lip curled.
Professor Umbridge scribbled on her clipboard.
'And you have applied regularly for the Defence Against the Dark Arts post
since you first joined the school, I believe?'
'Yes,' said Snape quietly, barely moving his lips. He looked very angry.
'Do you have any idea why Dumbledore has consistently refused to appoint
you?' asked Umbridge.
'I suggest you ask him,' said Snape jerkily.
'Oh, I shall,' said Professor Umbridge, with a sweet smile.
'I suppose this is relevant?' Snape asked, his black eyes narrowed.
'Oh yes,' said Professor Umbridge, 'yes, the Ministry wants a thorough understanding
of teachers' - er - backgrounds.'
She turned away, walked over to Pansy Parkinson and began questioning her
about the lessons. Snape looked round at Harry and their eyes met for a second.
Harry hastily dropped his gaze to his potion, which was now congealing foully
and giving off a strong smell of burned rubber.
'No marks again, then, Potter,' said Snape maliciously, emptying Harry's
cauldron with a wave of his wand. 'You will write me an essay on the correct
composition of this potion, indicating how and why you went wrong, to be handed
in next lesson, do you understand?'
'Yes,' said Harry furiously. Snape had already given them homework and he
had Quidditch practice this evening; this would mean another couple of sleepless
nights. It did not seem possible that he had awoken that morning feeling very
happy. All he felt now was a fervent desire for this day to end.
'Maybe I'll skive off Divination,' he said glumly, as they stood in the courtyard
after lunch, the wind whipping at the hems of robes and brims of hats. I'll
pretend to be ill and do Snape's essay instead, then I won't have to stay up
half the night.'
'You can't skive off Divination,' said Hermione severely.
'Hark who's talking, you walked out of Divination, you hate Trelawney!' said
'I don't hate her,' said Hermione loftily. 'I just think she's an absolutely
appalling teacher and a real old fraud. But Harry's already missed History of
Magic and I don't think he ought to miss anything else today!'
There was too much truth in this to ignore, so half an hour later Harry took
his seat in the hot, overperfumed atmosphere of the Divination classroom, feeling
angry at everybody. Professor Trelawney was yet again handing out copies of
The Dream Oracle. Harry thought he'd surely be much better employed doing Snape's
punishment essay than sitting here trying to find meaning in a lot of made-up
It seemed, however, that he was not the only person in Divination who was
in a temper. Professor Trelawney slammed a copy of the Oracle down on the table
between Harry and Ron and swept away, her lips pursed; she threw the next copy
of the Oracle at Seamus and Dean, narrowly avoiding Seamus's head, and thrust
the final one into Neville's chest with such force that he slipped off his pouffe.
'Well, carry on!' said Professor Trelawney loudly, her voice high-pitched
and somewhat hysterical, 'you know what to do! Or am I such a sub-standard teacher
that you have never learned how to open a book?'
The class stared perplexedly at her, then at each other. Harry, however,
thought he knew what was the matter. As Professor Trelawney flounced back to
the high-backed teacher's chair, her magnified eyes full of angry tears, he
leaned his head closer to Ron's and muttered, 'I think she's got the results
of her inspection back.'
'Professor?' said Parvati Patil in a hushed voice (she and Lavender had always
rather admired Professor Trelawney). 'Professor, is there anything - er - wrong?'
'Wrong!' cried Professor Trelawney in a voice throbbing with emotion. 'Certainly
not! I have been insulted, certainly: insinuations have been made against me:
unfounded accusations levelled: but no, there is nothing wrong, certainly not!'
She took a great shuddering breath and looked away from Parvati, angry tears
spilling from under her glasses.
'I say nothing,' she choked, 'of sixteen years of devoted service: it has
passed, apparently, unnoticed: but I shall not be insulted, no, I shall not!'
'But, Professor, who's insulting you?' asked Parvati timidly.
The Establishment!' said Professor Trelawney, in a deep, dramatic, wavering
voice. 'Yes, those with eyes too clouded by the mundane to See as I See, to
Know as I Know: of course, we Seers have always been feared, always persecuted:
it is - alas -our fate.'
She gulped, dabbed at her wet cheeks with the end of her shawl, then she
pulled a small embroidered handkerchief from her sleeve, and blew her nose very
hard with a sound like Peeves blowing a raspberry.
Ron sniggered. Lavender shot him a disgusted look.
'Professor,' said Parvati, 'do you mean: is it something Professor Umbridge
'Do not speak to me about that woman!' cried Professor Trelawney, leaping
to her feet, her beads rattling and her spectacles flashing. 'Kindly continue
with your work!'
And she spent the rest of the lesson striding among them, tears still leaking
from behind her glasses, muttering what sounded like threats under her breath.
': may well choose to leave: the indignity of it: on probation: we shall
see: how she dares:'
'You and Umbridge have got something in common,' Harry told Hermione quietly
when they met again in Defence Against the Dark Arts. 'She obviously reckons
Trelawney's an old fraud, too: looks like she's put her on probation.'
Umbridge entered the room as he spoke, wearing her black velvet bow and an
expression of great smugness.