'Family argument, eh?' smirked the blonde witch behind the desk. 'You're the third I've seen today . . . Spell Damage, fourth floor.'
'What is it?' Harry asked.
A sallow-skinned, mournful-looking wizard lay in the bed opposite staring at the ceiling; he was mumbling to himself and seemed quite unaware of anything around him. Two beds along was a woman whose entire head was covered in fur; Harry remembered something similar happening to Hermione during their second year, although fortunately the damage, in her case, had not been permanent. At the far end of the ward flowery curtains had been drawn around two beds to give the occupants and their visitors some privacy.
An ugly flush suffused Snape's pallid face. Harry sat down in a chair beside Sirius, facing Snape across the table.
'Very funny,' snapped Harry, turning away.
'Goodbye, Harry, take care,' said Mrs Weasley, hugging him.
'I fancy a cup of tea, too,' said Harry, jumping to his feet.
'Come on, the quicker we get on the bus the better,' said Tonks, and Harry thought there was nervousness in the glance she threw around the square. Lupin flung out his right arm.
'That dream I had about your dad and the snake, though - '
'Oh, don't lie, Harry,' she said impatiently. 'Ron and Ginny say you've been hiding from everyone since you got back from St Mungo's.'
Teach?' repeated Lockhart, looking faintly unsettled. 'Me? Did I?'
'Why do I have to study Occlu - thing?' he blurted out.
They walked along the corridor, through a set of double doors and found a rickety staircase lined with more portraits of brutal-looking Healers. As they climbed it, the various Healers called out to them, diagnosing odd complaints and suggesting horrible remedies. Ron was seriously affronted when a medieval wizard called out that he clearly had a bad case of spattergroit.
And he was gone. Sirius glared after him, his wand at his side.
That nights meal should have been a cheerful one, with Mr Weasley back amongst them. Harry could tell Sirius was trying to make it so, yet when his godfather was not forcing himself to laugh loudly at Fred and George's jokes or offering everyone more food, his face fell back into a moody, brooding expression. Harry was separated from him by Mundungus and Mad-Eye, who had dropped in to offer Mr Weasley their congratulations. He wanted to talk to Sirius, to tell him he shouldn't listen to a word Snape said, that Snape was goading him deliberately and that the rest of them didn't think Sirius was a coward for doing as Dumbledore told him and remaining in Grimmauld Place. But he had no opportunity to do so, and, eyeing the ugly look on Sirius's face, Harry wondered occasionally whether he would have dared to mention it even if he had the chance. Instead, he told Ron and Hermione under his voice about having to take Occlumency lessons with Snape.
With a sudden rush of understanding, Harry realised who the people in the end beds must be. He cast around wildly for some means of distracting the others so that Neville could leave the ward unnoticed and unquestioned, but Ron had also looked up at the sound of the name 'Longbottom', and before Harry could stop him had called out, 'Neville!'
Sirius pushed his chair roughly aside and strode around the table towards Snape, pulling out his wand as he went. Snape whipped out his own. They were squaring up to each other, Sirius looking livid, Snape calculating, his eyes darting from Sirius's wand-tip to his face.