Chapter 19 The Lion And The Serpent
Harry felt as though he were carrying some kind of talisman inside his chest over the following two weeks, a glowing secret that supported him through Umbridge's classes and even made it possible for him to smile blandly as he looked into her horrible bulging eyes. He and the DA were resisting her under her very nose, doing the very thing she and the Ministry most feared, and whenever he was supposed to be reading Wilbert Slinkhard's book during her lessons he dwelled instead on satisfying memories of their most recent meetings, remembering how Neville had successfully disarmed Hermione, how Colin Creevey had mastered the Impediment Jinx after three meetings’ hard effort, how Parvati Patil had produced such a good Reductor Curse that she had reduced the table carrying all the Sneakoscopes to dust.
He was finding it almost impossible to fix a regular night of the week for the DA meetings, as they had to accommodate three separate: team's Quidditch practices, which were often rearranged due to bad weather conditions; but Harry was not sorry about this; he had a feeling that it was probably better to keep the timing of their meetings unpredictable. If anyone was watching them, it would be hard to make out a pattern.
Hermione soon devised a very clever method of communicating the time and date of the next meeting to all the members in case they needed to change it at short notice, because it would look suspicious if people from different Houses were seen crossing the Great Hall to talk to each other too often. She gave each of the members of the DA a fake Galleon (Ron became very excited when he first saw the basket and was convinced she was actually giving out gold).
‘You see the numerals around the edge of the coins?’ Hermione said, holding one up for examination at the end of their fourth meeting. The coin gleamed fat and yellow in the light from the torches. ‘On real Galleons that's just a serial number referring to the goblin who cast the coin. On these fake coins, though, the numbers will change to reflect the time and date of the next meeting. The coins will grow hot when the date changes, so if you're carrying them in a pocket you'll be able to feel them. We take one each, and when Harry sets the date of the next meeting he'll change the numbers on his coin, and because I've put a Protean Charm on them, they'll all change to mimic his.’
A blank silence greeted Hermione's words. She looked around at all the faces upturned to her, rather disconcerted.
‘Well—I thought it was a good idea,’ she said uncertainly, ‘I mean, even if Umbridge asked us to turn out our pockets, there's nothing fishy about carrying a Galleon, is there? But ... well, if you don't want to use them—’
‘You can do a Protean Charm?’ said Terry Boot.
‘Yes,’ said Hermione.
‘But that's ... that's NEWT standard, that is,’ he said weakly.
‘Oh,’ said Hermione, trying to look modest. ‘Oh ... well ... yes, I suppose it is.’
‘How come you're not in Ravenclaw?’ he demanded, staring at Hermione with something close to wonder. ‘With brains like yours?’
‘Well, the Sorting Hat did seriously consider putting me in Ravenclaw during my Sorting,’ said Hermione brightly, ‘but it decided on Gryffindor in the end. So, does that mean we're using the Galleons?’
There was a murmur of assent and everybody moved forwards to collect one from the basket. Harry looked sideways at Hermione.
‘You know what these remind me of?’
‘No, what's that?’
The Death Eaters’ scars. Voldemort touches one of them, and all their scars burn, and they know they've got to join him.’
‘Well ... yes,’ said Hermione quietly, ‘that is where I got the idea ... but you'll notice I decided to engrave the date on bits of metal rather than on our members’ skin.’
‘Yeah ... I prefer your way,’ said Harry, grinning, as he slipped his Galleon into his pocket. ‘I suppose the only danger with these is that we might accidentally spend them.’
‘Fat chance,’ said Ron, who was examining his own fake Galleon with a slightly mournful air, ‘I haven't got any real Galleons to confuse it with.’
As the first Quidditch match of the season, Gryffindor versus Slytherin, drew nearer, their DA meetings were put on hold because Angelina insisted on almost daily practices. The fact that the Quidditch Cup had not been held for so long added considerably to the interest and excitement surrounding the forthcoming game; the Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs were taking a lively interest in the outcome, for they, of course, would be playing both teams over the coming year; and the Heads of House of the competing teams, though they attempted to disguise it under a decent pretence of sportsmanship, were determined to see their own side victorious. Harry realised how much Professor McGonagall cared about beating Slytherin when she abstained from giving them homework in the week leading up to the match.
I think you've got enough to be getting on with at the moment,’ she said loftily. Nobody could quite believe their ears until she looked directly at Harry and Ron and said grimly, ‘I've become accustomed to seeing the Quidditch Cup in my study, boys, and I really don't want to have to hand it over to Professor Snape, so use the extra time to practise, won't you?’
Snape was no less obviously partisan; he had booked the Quidditch pitch for Slytherin practice so often that the Gryffindors had difficulty getting on it to play. He was also turning a deaf ear to the many reports of Slytherin attempts to hex Gryffindor players in the corridors. When Alicia Spinnet turned up in the hospital wing with her eyebrows growing so thick and fast they obscured her vision and obstructed her mouth, Snape insisted that she must have attempted a Hair-thickening Charm on herself and refused to listen to the fourteen eye-witnesses who insisted they had seen the Slytherin Keeper, Miles Bletchley, hit her from behind with a jinx while she worked in the library.
Harry felt optimistic about Gryffindors chances; they had, after all, never lost to Malfoy's team. Admittedly, Ron was still not performing to Wood's standard, but he was working extremely hard to improve. His greatest weakness was a tendency to lose confidence after he'd made a blunder; if he let in one goal he became flustered and was therefore likely to miss more. On the other hand, Harry had seen Ron make some truly spectacular saves when he was on form; during one memorable practice he had hung one-handed from his broom and kicked the Quaffle so hard away from the goalhoop that it soared the length of the pitch and through the centre hoop at the other end; the rest of the team felt this save compared favourably with one made recently by Barry Ryan, the Irish International Keeper, against Poland's top Chaser, Ladislaw Zamojski. Even Fred had said that Ron might yet make him and George proud, and that they were seriously considering admitting he was related to them, something they assured him they had been trying to deny for four years.