'Good afternoon, class.'
'Good afternoon, Professor Umbridge,' they chanted dully.
'Wands away, please.'
But there was no answering flurry of movement this time; nobody had bothered
to take out their wands.
'Please turn to page thirty-four of Defensive Magical Theory and read the
third chapter, entitled "The Case for Non-Offensive Responses to Magical Attack".
There will be -'
'- no need to talk,' Harry, Ron and Hermione said together, under their breaths.
* * *
'No Quidditch practice,' said Angelina in hollow tones when Harry, Ron and
Hermione entered the common room after dinner that night.
'But I kept my temper!' said Harry, horrified. 'I didn't say anything to
her, Angelina, I swear, I -'
'I know, I know,' said Angelina miserably. 'She just said she needed a bit
of time to consider.'
'Consider what?' said Ron angrily. 'She's given the Slytherins permission,
why not us?'
But Harry could imagine how much Umbridge was enjoying holding the threat
of no Gryffindor Quidditch team over their heads and could easily understand
why she would not want to relinquish that weapon over them too soon.
'Well,' said Hermione, 'look on the bright side - at least now you'll have
time to do Snape's essay!'
That's a bright side, is it?' snapped Harry, while Ron stared incredulously
at Hermione. 'No Quidditch practice, and extra Potions?'
Harry slumped down into a chair, dragged his Potions essay reluctantly from
his bag and set to work. It was very hard to concentrate; even though he knew
Sirius was not due in the fire until much later, he could not help glancing
into the flames every few minutes just in case. There was also an incredible
amount of noise in the room: Fred and George appeared finally to have perfected
one type of Skiving Snackbox, which they were taking turns to demonstrate to
a cheering and whooping crowd.
First, Fred would take a bite out of the orange end of a chew, at which he
would vomit spectacularly into a bucket they had placed in front of them. Then
he would force down the purple end of the chew, at which the vomiting would
immediately cease. Lee Jordan, who was assisting the demonstration, was lazily
Vanishing the vomit at regular intervals with the same Vanishing Spell Snape
kept using on Harry's potions.
What with the regular sounds of retching, cheering and the sound of Fred
and George taking advance orders from the crowd, Harry was finding it exceptionally
difficult to focus on the correct method for Strengthening Solution. Hermione
was not helping matters; the cheers and the sound of vomit hitting the bottom
of Fred and George's bucket were punctuated by her loud and disapproving sniffs,
which Harry found, if anything, more distracting.
'Just go and stop them, then!' he said irritably, after crossing out the
wrong weight of powdered griffin claw for the fourth time.
'I can't, they're not technically doing anything wrong,' said Hermione through
gritted teeth. They're quite within their rights to eat the foul things themselves
and I can't find a rule that says the other idiots aren't entitled to buy them,
not unless they're proven to be dangerous in some way and it doesn't look as
though they are.'
She, Harry and Ron watched George projectile-vomit into the bucket, gulp
down the rest of the chew and straighten up, beaming with his arms wide to protracted
'You know, I don't get why Fred and George only got three OWLs each,' said
Harry, watching as Fred, George and Lee collected gold from the eager crowd.
They really know their stuff.'
'Oh, they only know flashy stuff that's of no real use to anyone,' said Hermione
'No real use?' said Ron in a strained voice. 'Hermione, they've made about
twenty-six Galleons already.'
It was a long while before the crowd around the Weasley twins dispersed,
then Fred, Lee and George sat up counting their takings even longer, so it was
well past midnight when Harry, Ron and Hermione finally had the common room
to themselves. At long last, Fred had closed the doorway to the boys' dormitories
behind him, rattling his box of Galleons ostentatiously so that Hermione scowled.
Harry, who was making very little progress with his Potions essay, decided to
give it up for the night. As he put his books away, Ron, who was dozing lightly
in an armchair, gave a muffled grunt, awoke, and looked blearily into the fire.
'Sirius!' he said.
Harry whipped round. Sirius's untidy dark head was sitting in the fire again.
'Hi,' he said, grinning.
'Hi,' chorused Harry, Ron and Hermione, all three kneeling down on the hearthrug.
Crookshanks purred loudly and approached the fire, trying, despite the heat,
to put his face close to Sirius's.
'How're things?' said Sirius.
'Not that good,' said Harry, as Hermione pulled Crookshanks back to stop
him singeing his whiskers. The Ministry's forced through another decree, which
means we're not allowed to have Quidditch teams -'
'Or secret Defence Against the Dark Arts groups?' said Sirius.
There was a short pause.
'How did you know about that?' Harry demanded.
'You want to choose your meeting places more carefully,' said Sirius, grinning
still more broadly. The Hog's Head, I ask you.'
'Well, it was better than the Three Broomsticks!' said Hermione defensively.
That's always packed with people -'
'Which means you'd have been harder to overhear,' said Sirius. 'You've got
a lot to learn, Hermione.'
'Who overheard us?' Harry demanded.
'Mundungus, of course,' said Sirius, and when they all looked puzzled he
laughed. 'He was the witch under the veil.'
That was Mundungus?' Harry said, stunned. 'What was he doing in the Hog's
What do you think he was doing?' said Sirius impatiently. 'Keeping an eye
on you, of course.'
'I'm still being followed?' asked Harry angrily.
'Yeah, you are,' said Sirius, 'and just as well, isn't it, if the first thing
you're going to do on your weekend off is organise an illegal defence group.'
But he looked neither angry nor worried. On the contrary, he was looking
at Harry with distinct pride.
'Why was Dung hiding from us?' asked Ron, sounding disappointed. 'We'd've
liked to've seen him.'
'He was banned from the Hog's Head twenty years ago,' said Sirius, 'and that
barman's got a long memory. We lost Moody's spare Invisibility Cloak when Sturgis
was arrested, so Dung's been dressing as a witch a lot lately: anyway: first
of all, Ron - I've sworn to pass on a message from your mother.'
'Oh yeah?' said Ron, sounding apprehensive.
'She says on no account whatsoever are you to take part in an illegal secret
Defence Against the Dark Arts group. She says you'll be expelled for sure and
your future will be ruined. She says there will be plenty of time to learn how
to defend yourself later and that you are too young to be worrying about that
right now. She also' (Sirius's eyes turned to the other two) 'advises Harry
and Hermione not to proceed with the group, though she accepts that she has
no authority over either of them and simply begs them to remember that she has
their best interests at heart. She would have written all this to you, but if
the owl had been intercepted you'd all have been in real trouble, and she can't
say it for herself because she's on duty tonight.'
'On duty doing what?' said Ron quickly.
'Never you mind, just stuff for the Order,' said Sirius. 'So it's fallen
to me to be the messenger and make sure you tell her I passed it all on, because
I don't think she trusts me to.'
There was another pause in which Crookshanks, mewing, attempted to paw Sirius's
head, and Ron fiddled with a hole in the hearthrug.
'So, you want me to say I'm not going to take part in the Defence group?'
he muttered finally.
'Me? Certainly not!' said Sirius, looking surprised. 'I think it's an excellent
'You do?' said Harry, his heart lifting.
'Of course I do!' said Sirius. 'D'you think your father and I would've lain
down and taken orders from an old hag like Umbridge?'
'But - last term all you did was tell me to be careful and not take risks
'Last year, all the evidence was that someone inside Hogwarts was trying
to kill you, Harry!' said Sirius impatiently. This year, we know there's someone
outside Hogwarts who'd like to kill us all, so I think learning to defend yourselves
properly is a very good idea!'
'And if we do get expelled?' Hermione asked, a quizzical look on her face.
'Hermione, this whole thing was your idea!' said Harry, staring at her.
'I know it was. I just wondered what Sirius thought,' she said, shrugging.
'Well, better expelled and able to defend yourselves than sitting safely
in school without a clue,' said Sirius.
'Hear, hear,' said Harry and Ron enthusiastically.
'So,' said Sirius, 'how are you organising this group? Where are you meeting?'
'Well, that's a bit of a problem now,' said Harry. 'Dunno where we're going
to be able to go.'
'How about the Shrieking Shack?' suggested Sirius.
'Hey, that's an idea!' said Ron excitedly, but Hermione made a sceptical
noise and all three of them looked at her, Siriuss head turning in the flames.
'Well, Sirius, it's just that there were only four of you meeting in the
Shrieking Shack when you were at school,' said Hermione, 'and all of you could
transform into animals and I suppose you could all have squeezed under a single
Invisibility Cloak if you'd wanted to. But there are twenty-eight of us and
none of us is an Animagus, so we wouldn't need so much an Invisibility Cloak
as an Invisibility Marquee -'
'Fair point,' said Sirius, looking slightly crestfallen. 'Well, I'm sure
you'll come up with somewhere. There used to be a pretty roomy secret passageway
behind that big mirror on the fourth floor, you might have enough space to practise
jinxes in there.'
'Fred and George told me it's blocked,' said Harry, shaking his head. 'Caved
in or something.'
'Oh:' said Sirius, frowning. 'Well, I'll have a think and get back to -'
He broke off. His face was suddenly tense, alarmed. He turned sideways, apparently
looking into the solid brick wall of the fireplace.
'Sirius?' said Harry anxiously.
But he had vanished. Harry gaped at the flames for a moment, then turned
to look at Ron and Hermione.
Why did he -?'
Hermione gave a horrified gasp and leapt to her feet, still staring at the
A hand had appeared amongst the flames, groping as though to catch hold of
something; a stubby, short-fingered hand covered in ugly old-fashioned rings.
The three of them ran for it. At the door of the boys' dormitory Harry looked
back. Umbridge's hand was still making snatching movements amongst the flames,
as though she knew exactly where Siriuss hair had been moments before and was
determined to seize it.
- CHAPTER EIGHTEEN -
'Umbridge has been reading your mail, Harry. There's no other explanation.'
'You think Umbridge attacked Hedwig?' he said, outraged.
'I'm almost certain of it,' said Hermione grimly. 'Watch your frog, it's
Harry pointed his wand at the bullfrog that had been hopping hopefully towards
the other side of the table - 'Accio!' - and it zoomed gloomily back into his
Charms was always one of the best lessons in which to enjoy a private chat;
there was generally so much movement and activity that the danger of being overheard
was very slight. Today, with the room full of croaking bullfrogs and cawing
ravens, and with a heavy downpour of rain clattering and pounding against the
classroom windows, Harry, Ron and Hermione's whispered discussion about how
Umbridge had nearly caught Sirius went quite unnoticed.
'I've been suspecting this ever since Filch accused you of ordering Dungbombs,
because it seemed such a stupid lie,' Hermione whispered. 'I mean, once your
letter had been read it would have been quite clear you weren't ordering them,
so you wouldn't have been in trouble at all - it's a bit of a feeble joke, isn't
it? But then I thought, what if somebody just wanted an excuse to read your
mail? Well then, it would be a perfect way for Umbridge to manage it - tip off
Filch, let him do the dirty work and confiscate the letter, then either find
a way of stealing it from him or else demand to see it - I don't think Filch
would object, when's he ever stuck up for a student's rights? Harry, you're
squashing your frog.'
Harry looked down; he was indeed squeezing his bullfrog so tightly its eyes
were popping; he replaced it hastily upon the desk.
'It was a very, very close call last night,' said Hermione. 'I just wonder
if Umbridge knows how close it was. Silencio.'
The bullfrog on which she was practising her Silencing Charm was struck dumb
mid-croak and glared at her reproachfully.
'If she'd caught Snuffles -'
Harry finished the sentence for her.
'- He'd probably be back in Azkaban this morning.' He waved his wand without
really concentrating; his bullfrog swelled like a green balloon and emitted
a high-pitched whistle.