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.
Harry squinted at the blackboard; it was not easy to make out the instructions through the haze of multi-coloured steam now filling the dungeon.
'Was there?' said Ron blankly.
'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. 'Mimbuius mimbletonia!'
The Ministry of Magic has always considered the education of young witches and wizards to be of vital importance. The rare gifts with which you were born may come to nothing if not nurtured and honed by careful instruction. The ancient skills unique to the wizarding community must be passed down the generations lest we lose them for ever. The treasure trove of magical knowledge amassed by our ancestors must be guarded, replenished and polished by those who have been called to the noble profession of teaching.'
Contact Fred and George Weasley, Gryffindor common room,
'Yeah, I do,' said Cho.
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 broke off, looking enquiringly at Professor Umbridge. As she was not much taller standing than sitting, there was a moment when nobody understood why Dumbledore had stopped talking, but then Professor Umbridge cleared her throat, 'Hem, hem,' and it became clear that she had got to her feet and was intending to make a speech.
'Settle down,' said Snape coldly, shutting the door behind him.
' - now that we've got our OWLs,' George said hastily. 'I mean, do we really need NEWTs? But we didn't think Mum could take us leaving school early not on top of Percy turning out to be the world's biggest prat.'
'She didn't want me to come back to Hogwarts.'
'Yeah,' said Harry, trying to grin as though the memory of their last meeting was funny as opposed to mortifying. 'So, did you . . . er . . . have a good summer?'
'Maybe . . .' said Hermione thoughtfully.
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.
'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.
'And Harry got it right last night,' retorted Ron. 'If that means we're supposed to get matey with the Slytherins - fat chance.'
'Says me,' said Hermione. 'And Ron.'