No, no, I'll do it myself later,' beamed Mrs Weasley, 'you have your drink. We're having a little bit of a celebration, actually . . .' She gestured at the scarlet banner. 'Fourth prefect in the family!' she said fondly, ruffling Ron's hair.
Fred rolled his eyes.
Ron, who still had not said a word, took the badge, stared at it for a moment, then held it out to Harry as though asking mutely for confirmation that it was genuine. Harry took it. A large 'P' was superimposed on the Gryffindor lion. He had seen a badge just like this on Percy's chest on his very first day at Hogwarts.
'He just didn't want to get his own hopes up even more,' said Hermione wisely. 'And he probably felt a bit guilty himself, because I think a part of him was really hoping you'd be expelled. Then you'd both be outcasts together.'
'No,' said Harry quickly, pushing the badge back into Ron's hand. 'It's Ron, not me.'
Fred and George Apparated right beside Harry. He was so used to them doing this by now that he didn't even fall off his chair.
But maybe, said the small voice fairly, maybe Dumbledore doesn't choose prefects because they've got themselves into a load of dangerous situations . . . maybe he chooses them for other reasons . . . Ron must have something you don't . . .
'Wiv all the trouble I went to to get 'em?' said Mundungus, his saggy, bloodshot eyes stretching even wider. 'I'm sorry, lads, but I'm not taking a Knut under twenty.'
'We are familiar with Clause Seven, thank you very much!' snarled Fudge.
'It's my name on the letter,' he said.
'What?' said Fred. 'Mum's busy cooing over Prefect Ron, we're OK.'
Fred's mouth fell open, too.
'Cleared,' Harry said, pulling the door closed behind him, 'of all charges!'
Hermione was talking very earnestly to Lupin about her view of elf rights.
That's Dumbledore's brother Aberforth, only time I ever met him, strange bloke . . . that's Dorcas Meadowes, Voldemort killed her personally . . . Sirius, when he still had short hair . . . and . . . there you go, thought that would interest you!'
Harry tiptoed up the stairs in the hall past the stuffed elf-heads, glad to be on his own again, but as he approached the first landing he heard noises. Someone was sobbing in the drawing room.
'I knew it!' she said excitedly, brandishing her letter. 'Me too, Harry, me too!'
Mrs Weasley and Bill were having their usual argument about Bill's hair.
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Then the whispering stopped. Harry wanted to look up at the judges, but found that it was really much, much easier to keep examining his laces.