'But Mr Weasley could be anywhere!' said Harry.
A sallow-faced wizard with a short black fringe and an elderly witch with long silver ringlets in the frame beside him, both of whom seemed to have been in the deepest of sleeps, opened their eyes immediately.
'Did I say that?' said Phineas Nigellus, idly examining his silk gloves. 'Now, if you will excuse me, I have better things to do than listen to adolescent agonising . . . good-day to you.'
Dumbledore marched over to another portrait, this time of a clever-looking wizard with a pointed beard, who had been painted wearing the Slytherin colours of green and silver and was apparently sleeping so deeply that he could not hear Dumbledore's voice when he attempted to rouse him.
Oh, Sirius, I'm so grateful . . . they think he'll be there a little while and it would be wonderful to be nearer . . . of course, that might mean we're here for Christmas.'
'That's my business,' said Mr Weasley, though with a small smile. He snatched up the Daily Prophet, shook it open again and said, '] was just reading about Willy Widdershins's arrest when you arrived. You know Willy turned out to be behind those regurgitating toilets back in the summer? One of his jinxes backfired, the toilet exploded and they found him lying unconscious in the wreckage covered from head to foot in - '
'So where were you when it happened, Dad?' asked George.
They followed her through the double doors and along the narrow corridor beyond, which was lined with more portraits of famous Healers and lit by crystal bubbles full of candles that floated up on the ceiling, looking like giant soapsuds. More witches and wizards in lime-green robes walked in and out of the doors they passed; a foul-smelling yellow gas wafted into the passageway as they passed one door, and every now and then they heard distant wailing. They climbed a flight of stairs and entered the Creature-Induced Injuries corridor, where the second door on the right bore the words: 'Dangerous' Dai Llewellyn Ward: Serious Bites. Underneath this was a card in a brass holder on which had been handwritten: Healer-in-Charge: Hippocrates Smethwyck. Trainee Healer: Augustus Pye.
At ten past five in the morning by Ron's watch, the kitchen door swung open and Mrs Weasley entered the kitchen. She was extremely pale, but when they all turned to look at her, Fred, Ron and Harry half rising from their chairs, she gave a wan smile.
Everyone but Harry spent the rest of the morning sleeping. He went up to the bedroom he and Ron had shared over the last few weeks of summer, but while Ron crawled into bed and was asleep within minutes, Harry sat fully clothed, hunched against the cold metal bars of the bedstead, keeping himself deliberately uncomfortable, determined not to fall into a doze, terrified that he might become the serpent again in his sleep and wake to find that he had attacked Ron, or else slithered through the house after one of the others . . .
'No, of course not,' said Mr Weasley, with a slightly bitter smile, 'the Ministry wouldn't want everyone to know a dirty great serpent got - '
'Over here!' called Mrs Weasley, above the renewed clanging of the warlock in the corner, and they followed her to the queue in front of a plump blonde witch seated at a desk marked Enquiries. The wall behind her was covered in notices and posters saying things like: A CLEAN CAULDRON KEEPS POTIONS FROM BECOMING POISONS and ANTIDOTES ARE ANTI-DON'TS UNLESS APPROVED BY A QUALIFIED HEALER. There was also a large portrait of a witch with long silver ringlets which was labelled:
Professor McGonagall got up and moved swiftly to the door. Harry cast a sideways glance at Ron, who was looking terrified.
'It was - ' Harry began; this was even worse than telling McGonagall and Dumbledore. 'I had a - a kind of- vision . . .'
He could not pretend any longer; he gave a theatrical jerk and opened his eyes wide.
'Still alive . . .' he said slowly. 'But that makes it sound . . .'
Avery old, stooped wizard with a hearing trumpet had shuffled to the front of the queue now. 'I'm here to see Broderick Bode!' he wheezed.
Fred and George looked as though they could not care less what the Ministry made of anything. Ron was still ashen-faced and silent.
'It matters because we don't want to draw attention to the fact that Harry is having visions of things that are happening hundreds of miles away!' said Sirius angrily. 'Have you any idea what the Ministry would make oifthat information?'