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"Hi, Harry," said Neville, beaming and taking a seat opposite him.
Harry tried to smile back, but did not speak; his mouth was exceptionally dry. Cho had just smiled at him and sat down on Ron's right. Her friend, who had curly reddish-blonde hair, did not smile, but gave Harry a thoroughly mistrustful look which plainly told him that, given her way, she would not be here at all.
In twos and threes the new arrivals settled around Harry, Ron and Hermione, some looking rather excited, others curious, Luna Lovegood gazing dreamily into space. When everybody had pulled up a chair, the chatter died out. Every eye was upon Harry.
"Er," said Hermione, her voice slightly higher than usual out of nerves. "Well--er--hi."
The group focused its attention on her instead, though eyes continued to dart back regularly to Harry.
"Well...erm...well, you know why you're here. Erm...well, Harry here had the idea--I mean" (Harry had thrown her a sharp look) "I had the idea--that it might be good if people who wanted to study Defense Against the Dark Arts--and I mean, really study it, you know, not the rubbish that Umbridge is doing with us--" (Hermione's voice became suddenly much stronger and more confident) "-- because nobody could call that Defense Against the Dark Arts--" ("Hear, hear," said Anthony Goldstein, and Hermione looked heartened) "--Well, I thought it would be good if we, well, took matters into our own hands."
She paused, looked sideways at Harry, and went on, "And by that I mean learning how to defend ourselves properly, not just in theory but doing the real spells--"
"You want to pass your Defense Against the Dark Arts OWL too, though, I bet?" said Michael Corner, who was watching her closely.
"Of course I do," said Hermione at once. "But more than that, I want to be properly trained in defense because...because..." she took a great breath and finished, "because Lord Voldemort is back."
The reaction was immediate and predictable. Cho's friend shrieked and slopped Butterbeer down herself; Terry Boot gave a kind of involuntary twitch; Padma Patil shuddered, and Neville gave an odd yelp that he managed to turn into a cough. All of them, however, looked fixedly, even eagerly, at Harry.
"Well...that's the plan, anyway" said Hermione. "If you want to join us, we need to decide how we're going to--"
"Where's the proof You-Know-Who's back?" said the blond Hufflepuff player in a rather aggressive voice.
"Well, Dumbledore believes it--" Hermione began.
"You mean, Dumbledore believes him," said the blond boy, nodding at Harry.
"Who are you?" said Ron, rather rudely.
"Zacharias Smith," said the boy, "and I think we've got the right to know exactly what makes him say You-Know-Who's back."
"Look," said Hermione, intervening swiftly, "that's really not what this meeting was supposed to be about--"
"It's okay, Hermione," said Harry.
It had just dawned on him why there were so many people there. He thought Hermione should have seen this coming. Some of these people--maybe even most of them--had turned up in the hopes of hearing Harry's story firsthand.
"What makes me say You-Know-Who's back?" he repeated, looking Zacharias straight in the face. "I saw him. But Dumbledore told the whole school what happened last year, and if you didn't believe him, you won't believe me, and I'm not wasting an afternoon trying to convince anyone."
The whole group seemed to have held its breath while Harry spoke. Harry had the impression that even the barman was listening. He was wiping the same glass with the filthy rag, making it steadily dirtier.
Zacharias said dismissively, "All Dumbledore told us last year was that Cedric Diggory got killed by You-Know-Who and that you brought Diggory's body back to Hogwarts. He didn't give us details, he didn't tell us exactly how Diggory got murdered, I think we'd all like to know--"
"If you've come to hear exactly what it looks like when Voldemort murders someone I can't help you," Harry said. His temper, always so close to the surface these days, was rising again. He did not take his eyes from Zacharias Smith's aggressive face, and was determined not to look at Cho. "I don't want to talk about Cedric Diggory, all right? So if that's what you're here for, you might as well clear out."
He cast an angry look in Hermione's direction. This was, he felt, all her fault; she had decided to display him like some sort of freak and of course they had all turned up to see just how wild his story was. But none of them left their seats, not even Zacharias Smith, though he continued to gaze intently at Harry.
"So," said Hermione, her voice very high-pitched again. "So...like I was saying... if you want to learn some defense, then we need to work out how we're going to do it, how often we're going to meet and where we're going to--"
"Is it true," interrupted the girl with the long plait down her back, looking at Harry, "that you can produce a Patronus?"
There was a murmur of interest around the group at this.
"Yeah," said Harry slightly defensively.
"A corporeal Patronus?"
The phrase stirred something in Harry's memory.
"Er--you don't know Madam Bones, do you?" he asked.
The girl smiled.
"She's my auntie," she said. "I'm Susan Bones. She told me about your hearing. So--is it really true? You make a stag Patronus?"
"Yes," said Harry.
"Blimey, Harry!" said Lee, looking deeply impressed. "I never knew that!"
"Mum told Ron not to spread it around," said Fred, grinning at Harry. "She said you got enough attention as it was."
"She's not wrong," mumbled Harry, and a couple of people laughed.
The veiled witch sitting alone shifted very slightly in her seat.
"And did you kill a Basilisk with that sword in Dumbledore's office?" demanded Terry Boot. "That's what one of the portraits on the wall told me when I was in there last year..."
"Er--yeah, I did, yeah," said Harry.
Justin Finch-Fletchley whistled; the Creevey brothers exchanged awestruck looks and Lavender Brown said "Wow!" softly. Harry was feeling slightly hot around the collar now; he was determinedly looking anywhere but at Cho.
"And in our first year," said Neville to the group at large, "he saved that Sorcerous Stone--"
"Sorcerer's," hissed Hermione.
"Yes, that - from You-Know-Who," finished Neville.
Hannah Abbott's eyes were as round as Galleons.
"And that's not to mention," said Cho (Harry's eyes snapped across to her; she was looking at him, smiling; his stomach did another somersault) "all the tasks he had to get through in the Triwizard Tournament last year - getting past dragons and merpeople and Acromantula and things..."
There was a murmur of impressed agreement around the table. Harry's insides were squirming. He was trying to arrange his face so that he did not look too pleased with himself. The fact that Cho had just praised him made it much, much harder for him to say the thing he had sworn to himself he would tell them.
"Look," he said, and everyone fell silent at once, " I...I don't want to sound like I'm trying to be modest or anything, but... I had a lot of help with all that stuff..."
"Not with the dragon, you didn't," said Michael Corner at once. "That was a seriously cool bit of flying..."
"Yeah, well--" said Harry, feeling it would be churlish to disagree.
"And nobody helped you get rid of those Dementors this summer," said Susan Bones.
"No," said Harry, "no, okay, I know I did bits of it without help, but the point I'm trying to make is -"
"Are you trying to weasel out of showing us any of this stuff?" said Zacharias Smith.
"Here's an idea," said Ron loudly, before Harry could speak, "why don't you shut your mouth?"
Perhaps the word 'weasel' had affected Ron particularly strongly. In any case, he was now looking at Zacharias as though he would like nothing better than to thump him. Zacharias flushed.
"Well, we've all turned up to learn from him and now he's telling us he can't really do any of it," he said.
"That's not what he said," snarled Fred.
"Would you like us to clean out your ears for you?" enquired George, pulling a long and lethal looking metal instrument from inside one of the Zonko's bags.
"Or any part of your body, really, we're not fussy where we stick this," said Fred.
"Yes, well," said Hermione hastily, "moving on...the point is, are we agreed we want to take lessons from Harry?"
There was a murmur of general agreement.
About the book:
In his fifth year at Hogwart's, Harry faces challenges at every turn, from the dark threat of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named and the unreliability of the government of the magical world to the rise of Ron Weasley as the keeper of the Gryffindor Quidditch Team. Along the way he learns about the strength of his friends, the fierceness of his enemies, and the meaning of sacrifice.