'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 - '
'I beg your pardon?' said Nearly Headless Nick politely, while Hermione looked revolted. Ron gave an enormous swallow and said, 'How can it know if the school's in danger if it's a Hat?'
'Well,' he said in a measured voice, I suppose . . . because of you.'
Divination and double Defence Against the Dark Arts . . . Binns, Snape, Trelawney and that Umbridge woman all in one day! I wish Fred and George'd hurry up and get those Skiving Snackboxes sorted . . ."
There was a round of polite but fairly unenthusiastic applause, during which Harry, Ron and Hermione exchanged slightly panicked looks; Dumbledore had not said for how long Grubbly-Plank would be teaching.
Slowly, the long line of first-years thinned. In the pauses between the names and the Sorting Hat's decisions, Harry could hear Ron's stomach rumbling loudly. Finally, 'Zeller, Rose' was Sorted into Hufflepuff, and Professor McGonagall picked up the Hat and stool and marched them away as Professor Dumbledore rose to his feet.
'Ron, we're supposed to show the first-years where to go!'
A fine misty drizzle was falling, so that the people standing in huddles around the edges of the yard looked blurred at the edges. Harry, Ron and Hermione chose a secluded corner under a heavily dripping balcony, turning up the collars of their robes against the chilly September air and talking about what Snape was likely to set them in the first lesson of the year. They had got as far as agreeing that it was likely to be something extremely difficult, just to catch them off guard after a two-month holiday, when someone walked around the corner towards them.
Neville and Ron both gave Harry an it's-his-problem-not-yours look, but Harry was not much consoled. How much more of this would he have to take?
'Well, they are, they're titchy . . .'
'You got that stuff off, then?'
There was an appreciative laugh and an outbreak of applause as Dumbledore sat down neatly and threw his long beard over his shoulder so as to keep it out of the way of his plate - for food had appeared out of nowhere, so that the five long tables were groaning under joints and pies and dishes of vegetables, bread and sauces and flagons of pumpkin juice.
'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 grans always said You-Know-Who would come back one day. She says if Dumbledore says he's back, he's back.'
His eyes rested on Harry and his lip curled. Harry glared back, feeling a grim pleasure at the idea that he would be able to give up Potions after fifth year.
'Today we will be mixing a potion that often comes up at Ordinary Wizarding Level: the Draught of Peace, a potion to calm anxiety and soothe agitation. Be warned: if you are too heavy-handed with the ingredients you will put the drinker into a heavy and sometimes irreversible sleep, so you will need to pay close attention to what you are doing.' On Harry's left, Hermione sat up a little straighter, her expression one of utmost attention. The ingredients and method - ' Snape flicked his wand ' - are on the blackboard - (they appeared there) ' - you will find everything you need - ' he flicked his wand again ' - in the store cupboard - ' (the door of the said cupboard sprang open) ' - you have an hour and a half . . . start.'
It was Cho Chang and, what was more, she was on her own again. This was most unusual: Cho was almost always surrounded by a gang of giggling girls; Harry remembered the agony of trying to get her by herself to ask her to the Yule Ball.
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.
'Did you do everything on the third line, Potter?'
'That's before she started believing every word the stinking Daily Prophet writes about me!' said Harry at the top of his voice.