The voice rang across the Entrance Hall. Snape had emerged from the staircase leading down to his office and at the sight of him Harry felt a great rush of hatred beyond anything he felt towards Malfoy . . . whatever Dumbledore said, he would never forgive Snape . . . never . . .
They looked at each other. Luna was smiling slightly. Harry did not know what to say, or to think; Luna believed so many extraordinary things . . . yet he had been sure he had heard voices behind the veil, too.
'Michael Corner,' she said.
Harry felt almost as though he had lost his godfather all over again in losing the hope that he might be able to see or speak to him once more. He walked slowly and miserably back up through the empty castle, wondering whether he would ever feel cheerful again.
'Michael - but - ' said Ron, craning around in his seat to state at her. 'But you were going out with him!'
'It looks like he and Trelawney are both going to teach,' said Ginny.
'Professor McGonagall!' said Snape, striding forwards. 'Out of St Mungo's, I see!'
'Add some more?'
'Speaking of centaurs,' said Hermione, when she had recovered a little, 'who's Divination teacher now? Is Firenze staying?'
'And do I look like the kind of man who can be intimidated?' barked Uncle Vernon.
A most peculiar expression stole over Nearly Headless Nick's face as he inserted a finger in the stiff ruff at his neck and tugged it a little straighter, apparently to give himself thinking time. He desisted only when his partially severed neck seemed about to give way completely.
'I'm sorry,' Harry mumbled.
Harry nodded. He somehow could not find words to tell them what it meant to him, to see them all ranged there, on his side. Instead, he smiled, raised a hand in farewell, turned around and led the way out of the station towards the sunlit street, with Uncle Vernon, Aunt Petunia and Dudley hurrying along in his wake.
'No . . . no . . .' said Umbridge, sinking back into her pillows. 'No, I must have been dreaming . . .'
Harry and Ron whiled away most of the journey playing wizard chess while Hermione read out snippets from the Prophet. It was now full of articles about how to repel Dementors, attempts by the Ministry to track down Death Eaters and hysterical letters claiming that the writer had seen Lord Voldemort walking past their house that very morning . . .
Sirius didn't have his mirror on him when he went through the archway, said a small voice in Harry's head. That's why it's riot working . . .
Harry opened the door of the nearest classroom and Nearly Headless Nick sighed.
As Mr Weasley had single-handedly demolished most of the Dursleys' living room two years previously, Harry would have been very surprised if Uncle Vernon had forgotten him. Sure enough, Uncle Vernon turned a deeper shade of puce and glared at Mr Weasley, but chose not to say anything, partly, perhaps, because the Dursleys were outnumbered two to one. Aunt Petunia looked both frightened and embarrassed; she kept glancing around, &s though terrified somebody she knew would see her in such company. Dudley, meanwhile, seemed to be trying to look small and insignificant, a feat at which he was failing extravagantly.
'You are forgetting the next part of the prophecy, the final identifying feature of the boy who could vanquish Voldemort . . . Voldemort himself would mark him as his equal. And so he did, Harry. He chose you, not Neville. He gave you the scar that has proved both blessing and curse.'