Harry sorted through his presents and found one with Hermione's handwriting on it. She had given him, too, a book that resembled a diary except that every time he opened a page it said aloud things like: 'Do it today or later you'll pay!'
'Typical Dad,' said Ginny, shaking her head as they set off up the corridor. 'Stitches . . . I ask you . . .'
'Look, I didn't learn joined-up writing for nothing, you know!'
Well - now don't get upset, Molly, but Augustus Pye had an idea . . . he's the Trainee Healer, you know, lovely young chap and very interested in . . . um . . . complementary medicine . . . I mean, some of these old Muggle remedies . . . well, they're called stitches, Molly, and they work very well on - on Muggle wounds - '
It was Sirius's turn to flush. Snape's lip curled in triumph as he turned to Harry.
An ugly flush suffused Snape's pallid face. Harry sat down in a chair beside Sirius, facing Snape across the table.
They do, do they?' said Harry, glaring at Ron and Ginny. Ron looked down at his feet but Ginny seemed quite unabashed.
And then the smile reappeared upon his face so suddenly it was rather alarming.
'Right - yeah,' said Harry distractedly; it was his last chance to tell Sirius to be careful; he turned, looked into his godfathers face and opened his mouth to speak, but before he could do so Sirius was giving him a brief, one-armed hug, and saying gruffly, 'Look after yourself, Harry.' Next moment, Harry found himself being shunted out into the icy winter air, with Tonks (today heavily disguised as a tall, tweedy woman with iron-grey hair) chivvying him down the steps.
And he was gone. Sirius glared after him, his wand at his side.
'Yeah . . .' said Sirius, frowning. 'You know, I think that's the last time I saw him, too . . . he must be hiding upstairs somewhere.'
Thanks for the book, Harry,' she said happily. 'I've been wanting that New Theory of Numerology for ages! And that perfume's really unusual, Ron.'
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'We tried to comfort her,' said Fred, moving around the bed to look at Harry's portrait. Told her Percy's nothing more than a humungous pile of rat droppings.'
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'Blimey!' said Ron, also staring at the man.
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'I think I'll just leave his present here,' said Hermione, laying the package neatly in the middle of the depression in the rags and blankets and closing the door quietly. 'He'll find it later, that'll be fine.'
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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?'
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'He couldn't have left, could he?' said Harry. 'I mean, when you said "out", maybe he thought you meant get out of the house?'
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Well, it's nothing to be ashamed of!' said Mrs Longbottom angrily. 'You should be proud, Neville, proud! They didn't give their health and their sanity so their only son would be ashamed of them, you know!'
'No!' said Harry indignantly, racking his brains to think what he could have done that would make Snape pursue him to Grimmauld Place. Had his last piece of homework perhaps earned a 'T'?