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Snape pointed at the parchment, on which the words of Messrs. Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot, and Prongs were still shining. An odd, closed expression appeared on Lupin's face.
"That's not a rat," croaked Sirius Black suddenly.
The black-mustached man was fingering something in his belt; Harry looked and saw that he was running one broad thumb along the blade of a shining axe. Ron opened his mouth to say something, but Hermione nudged him hard in the ribs and jerked her head toward the entrance hall.
The seconds lengthened. And still Harry stood frozen there, wand poised, Black staring up at him, Crookshanks on his chest. Ron's ragged breathing came from near the bed; Hermione was quite silent.
Harry followed him downstairs, trying to wipe his hands clean on the inside of his robes without Snape noticing. They walked down the stairs to the dungeons and then into Snape's office.
Hermione carried the milk jug over to the table and turned it upside down. With a frantic squeak, and much scrambling to get back inside, Scabbers the rat came sliding out onto the table.
Neville didn't need telling twice. He seized the envelope, and holding it before him like a bomb, sprinted out of the hall, while the Slytherin table exploded with laughter at the sight of him. They heard the Howler go off in the entrance hall -- Neville's grandmother's voice, magically magnified to a hundred times its Usual volume, shrieking about how he had brought shame on the whole family.
There was a long silence.
"She could've done with a Cheering Charm on her too," said Ron as the class left for lunch, all grinning broadly -- the Cheering Charms had left them with a feeling of great contentment.
Harry dived; Cho saw what he was doing and tore after him -- Harry was speeding up, excitement flooding him; dives were his speciality, he was ten feet away --
They went down to dinner with everybody else, but did not return to Gryffindor Tower afterward. Harry had the cloak hidden down tie front of his robes; he had to keep his arms folded to hide the lump. They skulked in an empty chamber off the entrance hall, listening, until they were sure it was deserted. They heard a last pair of people hurrying across the hall and a door slamming. Hermione poked her head around the door.
"He's got dark powers the rest of us can only dream of!" Pettigrew shouted shrilly. "How else did he get out of there? I suppose He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named taught him a few tricks!"
"Oh," said Ron, looking slightly put out.