'Yeah,' said Cho, looking around for a suitable owl. 'Good Quidditch conditions. I haven't been out all week, have you?'
'I mean, we can do it tonight,' said Ron, as he and Harry walked down the sloping lawns towards the Quidditch pitch, their broomsticks over their shoulders, and with Hermione's dire warnings that they would fail all their OWLs still ringing in their ears. 'And we've got tomorrow. She gets too worked up about work, that's her trouble . . .' There was a pause and he added, in a slightly more anxious tone, 'D'you think she meant it when she said we weren't copying from her?'
Umbridge at all, maybe it's just coincidence it happened while you were with her?'
'Well, why didn't you do any last night?' Hermione asked him. 'Where were you, anyway?'
'So you've been practising tonight?'
'What are you doing?'
She blinked her amber eyes once and he took that to mean that she understood.
They returned to the air. When Angelina blew her whistle, Harry released the Snitch and Fred and George let fly the Bludger. From that moment on, Harry was barely aware of what the others were doing. It was his job to recapture the tiny fluttering golden ball that was worth a hundred and fifty points to the Seeker's team and doing so required enormous speed and skill. He accelerated, rolling and swerving in and out of the Chasers, the warm autumn air whipping his face, and the distant yells of the Slytherins so much meaningless roaring in his ears . . . but too soon, the whistle brought him to a halt again.
She was watching him with her head slightly to one side, still smiling widely, as though she knew exactly what he was thinking and was waiting to see whether he would start shouting again. With a massive effort, Harry looked away from her, dropped his schoolbag beside the straight-backed chair and sat down.
'You saw him - ?'
Something brushed his ankles. He looked down and saw the caretaker's skeletal grey cat, Mrs Norris, slinking past him. She turned lamplike yellow eyes on him for a moment before disappearing behind a statue of Wilfred the Wistful.
'You keep shifting around while you're watching the Chasers!' said Angelina. 'Either stay in centre position until you have to move to defend a hoop, or else circle the hoops, but don't drift vaguely off to one side, that's how you let in the last three goals!'
It would have been hard to say whether Ron's face or the Quaffle was a deeper scarlet when he again returned to playing height. Malfoy and the rest of the Slytherin team were howling with laughter.
'Sorry!' Ron groaned, zooming forwards to see whether he had done any damage.
'Hey!' he said, flattening it down so Hermione and Ron could see it. 'Look at this!'
'I'm not doing anything wrong,' Harry called after her. She had the unmistakeable air of a cat that was off to report to her boss, yet Harry could not see why; he was perfectly entitled to walk up to the Owlery on a Saturday morning.
And on it went. Again and again Harry wrote the words on the parchment in what he soon came to realise was not ink, but his own blood. And, again and again, the words were cut into the back of his hand, healed, and reappeared the next time he set quill to parchment.