'Laws can be changed,' said Fudge savagely.
'Well, well, well . . . Patronus Potter,' said Lucius Malfoy coolly.
A few of the wizards above them shifted uncomfortably in their seats. Fudge turned a slightly deeper shade of puce. The toadlike witch on his right, however, merely gazed at Dumbledore, her face quite expressionless.
'And Arthur Weasley too! What are you doing here, Arthur?'
No, no, I'll do it myself later,' beamed Mrs Weasley, 'you have your drink. We're having a little bit of a celebration, actually . . .' She gestured at the scarlet banner. 'Fourth prefect in the family!' she said fondly, ruffling Ron's hair.
'Prefect?' he said, staring incredulously at the letter. 'Prefect?'
'He got off, he got off, he got off . . .'
The second man turned at the sound of their footsteps. He, too, broke off in mid-conversation, his cold grey eyes narrowed and fixed upon Harry's face.
'Mum . . . don't . . . Mum, get a grip . . .' he muttered, trying to push her away.
That's enough! Settle down!' shouted Mr Weasley, though he too was smiling. 'Listen, Sirius, Lucius Malfoy was at the Ministry - '
'Of course you can . . . well, I'd better get going if I've got a broom to buy too. I'll see you all later . . . little Ronnie, a prefect! And don't forget to pack your trunks . . . a prefect . . . oh, I'm all of a dither!'
Oh - I dunno - ' said Harry, slightly alarmed at being asked his opinion; he slid away from them in the direction of Fred and George, who were huddled in a corner with Mundungus.
None of the others had noticed a thing; all of them were now helping themselves to food while gloating over Harry's narrow escape; Fred, George and Ginny were still singing. Hermione looked rather anxious, but before she could say anything, Ron had said happily, 'I bet Dumbledore turns up this evening, to celebrate with us, you know.'
Not all the time, though, Harry argued with himself. They didn't fight Quirrell with me. They didn't take on Riddle and the Basilisk. They didn't get rid of all those Dementors the night Sirius escaped. They weren't in that graveyard with me, the night Voldemort returned . . .
'No, I just think he's been very lonely for a long time,' said Hermione simply.
'What d'you mean?' Harry asked, jumping down beside them.
'I don't think they are,' said Ron doubtfully, also looking up at the ceiling. They've always said only prats become prefects . . . still,' he added on a happier note, 'they've never had new brooms! I wish I could go with Mum and choose . . . she'll never be able to afford a Nimbus, but there's the new Cleansweep out, that'd be great . . . yeah, I think I'll go and tell her I like the Cleansweep, just so she knows . . .'
'I think Dumbledore might have hoped I would be able to exercise some control over my best friends,' said Lupin. 'I need scarcely say that I failed dismally.'