Standing where the twins had left him, with nothing but a guilty weight in the pit of his stomach for company, Harry caught the sound of his own name. Kingsley Shacklebolts deep voice was audible even over the surrounding chatter.
Mrs Weasley let out a shriek just like Hermione's.
'But naturally, you would not care how many times you heard from a witness, if the alternative was a serious miscarriage of justice,' said Dumbledore.
'Booklists have arrived,' he said, throwing one of the envelopes up to Harry, who was standing on a chair. 'About time, I thought they'd forgotten, they usually come much earlier than this . . .'
'Not surprising, is it, when you look at what's happened to the last four?' said George.
there and Mad-Eye Moody stumped in shortly after Harry had got himself a Butterbeer.
The door behind her opened a little wider and Mrs Weasley bucked into the room carrying a pile of freshly laundered robes.
'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 . . .'
Mad-Eye Moody was sniffing at a chicken-leg with what remained of his nose; evidently he could not detect any trace of poison, because he then tore a strip off it with his teeth.
She gave Ron yet another kiss on the cheek, sniffed loudly, and bustled from the room.
'What about you, Sirius?' Ginny asked, thumping Hermione on the back.
'Good point, that,' he grunted. 'All right, lads, ten it is, if you'll take 'em quick.'
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'Ron?' said Hermione, her jaw dropping. 'But . . . are you sure? I mean - '
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The house-elf in question is currently in the employ of Hogwarts School,' said Dumbledore. 'I can summon him here in an instant to give evidence if you wish.'
'Well, I think I'll sort out that Boggart before I turn in . . . Arthur, I don't want this lot up too late, all right? Night, Harry, dear.'
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Harry found himself daydreaming about Hogwarts more and more as the end of the holidays approached; he could not wait to see Hagrid again, to play Quidditch, even to stroll across the vegetable patches to the Herbology greenhouses; it would be a treat just to leave this dusty, musty house, where half of the cupboards were still bolted shut and Kreacher wheezed insults out of the shadows as you passed, though Harry was careful not to say any of this within earshot of Sirius.
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'Yeah, his best one so far has been six Sickles for a bag of Knarl quills,' said George.
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'I never thought it would be me!' he said, shaking his head. 'I thought it would be you!'
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Harry screwed up his face and buried it in his hands. He could not lie to himself; if he had known the prefect badge was on its way, he would have expected it to come to him, not Ron. Did this make him as arrogant as Draco Malfoy? Did he think himself superior to everyone else? Did he really believe he was better than Ron?