'Fourteen years,' Snape replied. His expression was unfathomable. Harry, watching him closely, added a few drops to his potion; it hissed menacingly and turned from turquoise to orange.
Again, he felt surprised to hear the words coming out of his mouth, and yet was quite certain they were true.
'Well, it's an old-fashioned rule,' said Hermione, who had just slid neatly on to a rug in front of them and was now getting to her feet, 'but it says in Hogwarts: A History, that the founders thought boys were less trustworthy than girls. Anyway, why were you trying to get in there?'
'Which means you'd have been harder to overhear,' said Sirius. 'You've got a lot to learn, Hermione.'
'Does it work?' enquired Ron hopefully, as the hammering of rain on the roof intensified and wind howled around the building.
Professor Umbridge scribbled on her clipboard.
Harry sat quite still, staring at his feet, allowing his mind and his memory to relax in the aftermath of the pain.
There was a short pause.
'Or secret Defence Against the Dark Arts groups? Said Sirius.
'Well, Sirius, it's just that there were only four of you meeting in the Shrieking Shack when you were at school,' said Hermione, 'and all of you could transform into animals and I suppose you could all have squeezed under a single Invisibility Cloak if you'd wanted to. But there are twenty-eight of us and none of us is an Animagus, so we wouldn't need so much an Invisibility Cloak as an Invisibility Marquee - '
'Sirius!' he said.
'It was a very, very close call last night,' said Hermione. 'I just wonder if Umbridge knows how close it was. Silendo.'
'Excellent!' said Ron and Harry together.
corridor was almost upon him. Professor McGonagall gave him a curt nod and retreated into the staff room, leaving Harry to be swept out into the courtyard with the crowd. He spotted Ron and Hermione already standing in a sheltered corner, their cloak collars turned up against the wind. Harry slit open the scroll as he hurried towards them and found five words in Sirius's handwriting:
'Er,' said Harry. 'From London, I think.'
'This isn't a coincidence,' he said, his hands forming fists. 'She knows.'
'Good afternoon, Professor Umbridge,' they chanted dully.
Ron looked utterly perplexed.