He seemed to deflate under Mrs Weasley's piercing gaze.
'Nor me,' whispered Ginny.
It was Sirius's turn to flush. Snape's lip curled in triumph as he turned to Harry.
'And look, Broderick, you've been sent a pot plant and a lovely calendar with a different fancy Hippogriff for each month; they'll brighten things up, won't they?' said the Healer, bustling along to the mumbling man, setting a rather ugly plant with long, swaying tentacles on the bedside cabinet and fixing the calendar to the wall with her wand. 'And - oh, Mrs Longbottom, are you leaving already?'
Snape raised an eyebrow.
An ugly flush suffused Snape's pallid face. Harry sat down in a chair beside Sirius, facing Snape across the table.
Thanks for the book, Harry,' she said happily. 'I've been wanting that New Theory of Numerology for ages! And that perfume's really unusual, Ron.'
He was sinking into shadows . . .
'Well . . . well, I don't know whether you know what - what stitches are?'
'And you two are clearly Weasleys,' Mrs Longbottom continued, proffering her hand regally to Ron and Ginny in turn. 'Yes, I know your parents - not well, of course - but fine people, fine people . . . and you must be Hermione Granger?'
Sirius looked slightly disconcerted for a moment, then said, 'I'll look for him later, I expect I'll find him upstairs crying his eyes out over my mother's old bloomers or something. Of course, he might have crawled into the airing cupboard and died . . . but I mustn't get my hopes up.'
'Well, we'd better get back,' sighed Mrs Longbottom, drawing on long green gloves. 'Very nice to have met you all. Neville, put that wrapper in the bin, she must have given you enough of them to paper your bedroom by now.'
Hermione looked rather startled that Mrs Longbottom knew her name, but shook hands all the same.
The door of number twelve slammed shut behind them. They followed Lupin down the front steps. As he reached the pavement, Harry looked round. Number twelve was shrinking rapidly as those on either side of it stretched sideways, squeezing it out of sight. One blink later, it had gone.
'Professor Snape, dear. In the kitchen. He'd like a word.'
Tin sorry,' Harry said, and he meant it. 'So . . . so, do you think I'm being possessed, then?'
'What floor's this?'
He reached the black door but could not open it. . . he stood gazing at it, desperate for entry . . . something he wanted with all his heart lay beyond . . . a prize beyond his dreams . . . if only his scar would stop prickling . . . then he would be able to think more clearly . . .