Sirius raised his wand.
'Harry - get - out - of - it!' snarled Sirius, pushing him aside with his free hand.
'Merry Christmas,' said George. 'Don't go downstairs for a bit.'
He felt as though he had journeyed for miles and miles . . . it seemed impossible that less than twenty-four hours ago Cho Chang had been approaching him under the mistletoe . . . he was so tired . . . he was scared to sleep . . . yet he did not know how long he could fight it . . . Dumbledore had told him to stay . . . that must mean he was allowed to sleep . . . but he was scared . . . what if it happened again?
'Oh, stop feeling all misunderstood,' said Hermione sharply. 'Look, the others have told me what you overheard last night on the Extendable Ears - '
'No,' he said.
'Cured!' he announced brightly to the kitchen at large. 'Completely cured!'
'Fine, go then!' Harry bellowed at the empty frame. 'And tell Dumbledore thanks for nothing!'
'Very funny,' snapped Harry, turning away.
Harry did not mention his vague suspicions to Sirius, whose cheerfulness was evaporating fast now that Christmas was over. As the date of their departure back to Hogwarts drew nearer, he became more and more prone to what Mrs Weasley called 'fits of the sullens', in which he would become taciturn and grumpy, often withdrawing to Buckbeak's room for hours at a time. His gloom seeped through the house, oozing under doorways like some noxious gas, so that all of them became infected by it.
'I think it's the fifth,' said Hermione.
'Why, yes, I suppose I am,' said Snape.
He supposed none of them would want him there any more, now that they knew what was inside him.
Teach?' repeated Lockhart, looking faintly unsettled. 'Me? Did I?'
'Why do I have to study Occlu - thing?' he blurted out.
They were Aurors, you know, and very well respected within the wizarding community,' Mrs Longbottom went on. 'Highly gifted, the pair of them. I - yes, Alice dear, what is it?'
'Harry, dear,' said Mrs Weasley poking her head into his and Ron's bedroom, where the pair of them were playing wizard chess watched by Hermione, Ginny and Crookshanks, 'could you come down to the kitchen? Professor Snape would like a word with you.'
The door of number twelve slammed shut behind them. They followed Lupin down the front steps. As he reached the pavement, Harry looked round. Number twelve was shrinking rapidly as those on either side of it stretched sideways, squeezing it out of sight. One blink later, it had gone.
'Let's go, then,' said Sirius, clapping Harry on the shoulder and smiling grimly, and before Harry could say anything else, they were heading upstairs, stopping before the heavily chained and bolted front door, surrounded by Weasleys.