‘D’you – d’you think he’s OK?’ Ron asked quietly, nodding over at the door to the boys’ dormitory.
Hermione shook her head. ‘He’s hardly ever been this quiet, except after meeting Dementors.’ She hesitated, then said, ‘We shouldn’t leave him alone.’ She turned her attention back to her mountain of homework, but Ron kept on talking.
‘What, because you think he might go off his head? Give him some space, Hermione. You know he doesn’t like people confronting him all the time.’
Hermione bit her lip. ‘But it’s not good for him to be alone,’ she said distractedly, flipping through her copy of Numerology and Grammatica. ‘You’ve seen him when he gets his mind fixed on something. Before you know it, he’ll be wanting to – to go after Black or something …’
Ron stared at her, as if the idea had not occurred to him before. ‘But that’s stupid,’ he said shakily. ‘Black’s a madman, he’s dangerous, and even if he weren’t already out to get Harry, Harry wouldn’t stand a chance.’
Hermione nodded. ‘You and I both know that. But Harry will be too upset to think straight.’
‘So, what do you want to do? You want to go talk to him, or what?’
Hermione looked torn. She kept glancing between the door to the boys’ dormitory and the stacks of books and parchment in front of her. Finally she said, ‘You talk to him, Ron; I’ve got to finish this essay and another tonight.’
‘It’s the holidays tomorrow, Hermione; you deserve a break …’ Ron trailed off when he saw that she was busily writing out line after line of Arithmancy homework, too intent on it to hear him. Sighing, he turned away from her, mounted the steps to the boys’ dormitory and pushed the door open slowly.
The dormitory was quiet. The hangings around Harry’s four-poster bed were tightly drawn. Ron tiptoed around to the other side and saw Harry’s glasses on his bedside cabinet. He shut the door behind him and rejoined Hermione. Drumming on the table to get her attention, he said, ‘He’s asleep.’
‘How do you know?’ Hermione said, stopping only to dip her quill in her inkwell.
‘His glasses were off. Listen, Hermione, if you’re so worried, we can talk to him about it tomorrow.’
Ron awoke late the next morning to an almost-empty dormitory. It was the start of the Christmas break; Neville, Dean and Seamus had all left, leaving just him and Harry, who always stayed at Hogwarts as often as he could. And, speaking of him …
The curtains around Harry’s bed were still drawn.
‘Harry?’ said Ron cautiously, breaking the silence. ‘Are you awake? Hermione and I want to talk to you.’
There was no answer. Ron counted to ten. When there was still no answer, he gave it up, got dressed and went downstairs.
‘Goo— good morning,’ said Hermione, who was sitting at the Gryffindor table, yawning into her toast as she tried to read a huge book called Home Life and Social Habits of British Muggles. ‘I had to get up early; I’ve simply got loads of homework to get done,’ she added, by way of explanation. ‘How are you? Where’s Harry?’
‘I’m fine – Harry’s still sleeping, though,’ said Ron. ‘Maybe he’ll turn up soon.’
But Harry didn’t appear at breakfast, either. Once they got back to the common room, Hermione immediately got down to business, filling three tables with books and parchment. Too pleased at the prospect of holidays to get any homework done, Ron threw himself into an armchair and watched the snow fall outside the windows. Before long, Hermione’s ginger cat, Crookshanks, came down out of the cold dormitory and spread himself out on the rug in front of the cosy fireplace.
‘You don’t suppose he’s avoiding us, do you?’ Ron said finally, after over an hour of silence.
‘He’s just sleeping,’ said Hermione, not ceasing to write.
‘But it’s past eleven o’clock! And he hardly ever sleeps in.’
‘Yes, and how much time do you think he spent lying awake, just thinking about Black last night?’
‘You’re not still on about that!’ Ron said, twisting around to stare at Hermione, who was scratching away at her parchment with a quill, oblivious to his gaze.
‘Come on, Ron, he just heard that an escaped mass murderer betrayed his parents to You-Know-Who! Of course he’s upset; he doesn’t show it sometimes, is all.’
‘So … so what do you want to say to him? When he does come down, I mean.’
Hermione didn’t answer, and Ron wasn’t sure she had heard him. At last she said, ‘Don’t just jump into things without thinking … don’t do anything stupid, like trying to go after Black …’
‘Because Black may be a crazy murderer, but he isn’t worth dying for,’ said Ron, catching on. He grabbed a Peppermint Toad from a pile left behind on a table and ripped it open, thinking. He, Ron, was Harry’s best friend in the world. Normally he disliked these sorts of uncomfortable subjects, but if it jolted Harry out of a stubborn streak and made him see reason, it would be worth it. If Harry reacted badly … well, he and Hermione would always be there for him, and that was all that mattered.
‘I’ll go and wake him up if he doesn’t come down soon,’ he said to nobody in particular. Fortunately, he didn’t need to. Harry stumbled into the common room a few minutes later, looking as if he hadn’t slept all night.