'We are!' Lavender assured her. 'We went up to her office to see Ler; we took her some daffodils - not the honking ones that Sprout's got, nice ones.'
The back of Harry's robes was damp. One of the jars behind him had broken when he fell against it; the pickled slimy thing within was swirling in its draining potion.
Hermione's Patronus, a shining silver otter, was gambolling around her.
To cap it all, Luna told him over dinner that no issue of The Quibbler had ever sold out faster.
It was the most unusual lesson Harry had ever attended. They did indeed burn sage and mallowsweet there on the classroom floor, and Firenze told them to look for certain shapes and symbols in the pungent fumes, but he seemed perfectly unconcerned that not one of them could see any of the signs he described, telling them that humans were hardly ever good at this, that it took centaurs years and years to become competent, and finished by telling them that it was foolish to put too much faith in such things, anyway, because even centaurs sometimes read them wrongly. He was nothing like any human teacher Harry had ever had. His priority did not seem to be to teach them what he knew, but rather to impress upon them that nothing, not even centaurs' knowledge, was foolproof.
'Reparo,' hissed Snape, and the jar sealed itself at once. 'Well, Potter . . . that was certainly an improvement . . .' Panting slightly, Snape straightened the Pensieve in which he had again stored some of his thoughts before starting the lesson, almost as though he was checking they were still there. 'I don't remember telling you to use a Shield Charm . . . but there is no doubt that it was effective . . ."
'Well,' he said. 'Well, well, well . . .'
'But that would be really scary!' said Lavender, who was shooting puffs of silver vapour out of the end of her wand. 'And I still - 'can't - do it!' she added angrily.
Harry and Ron waited until break next morning to tell Hermione exactly what had happened; they wanted to be absolutely sure they could not be overheard. Standing in their usual corner of the cool and breezy courtyard, Harry told her every detail of the dream he could remember. When he had finished, she said nothing at all for a few moments, but stared with a kind of painful intensity at Fred and George, who were both headless and selling their magical hats from under their cloaks on the other side of the yard.
'What the - ?' he muttered.
'My Lord . . . yes, My Lord,' gasped Rookwood, his voice hoarse with relief.
He was sorry to hear she had shed even more tears over it, but very glad they were on speaking terms again, and even more pleased when she gave him a swift kiss on the cheek and hurried off again. And unbelievably, no sooner had he arrived outside Transfiguration than something just as good happened: Seamus stepped out of the queue to face him.
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Something caught him around the ankles and he fell spectacularly, skidding along on his front for six feet before coming to a halt. Someone behind him was laughing. He rolled over on to his, back and saw Malfoy concealed in a niche beneath an ugly dragon-shaped vase.
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'You are sure of your facts, Rookwood?' asked Harry.
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Harry was a hero in the Gryffindor common room that night. Daringly, Fred and George had put an Enlargement Charm on the front cover of The Quibbler and hung it on the wall, so that Harry's giant head gazed down upon the proceedings, occasionally saying things like THE MINISTRY ARE MORONS' and 'EAT DUNG, UMBRIDGE' in a booming voice. Hermione did not find this very amusing; she said it interfered with her concentration, and she ended up going to bed early out of irritation. Harry had to admit that the poster was not quite as funny after an hour or two, especially when the talking spell had started to wear off, so that it merely shouted disconnected words like 'DUNG' and 'UMBRIDGE' at more and more frequent intervals in a progressively higher voice. In fact, it started to make his head ache and his scar began prickling uncomfortably again. To disappointed moans from the many people who were s t-ting around him, asking him to relive his interview for the umpteenth time, he announced that he too needed an early night.
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Harry turned. The centaur advanced a little towards him. Ron hesitated.
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'You've found - ?' said Umbridge shrilly. 'You've found? Might I remind you, Dumbledore, that under Educational Decree Number Twenty-two - '
'Might I ask you to escort Sybill back upstairs, Professor McGonagall?'