Non-magic people (more commonly known as Muggles) were particularly afraid of magic in medieval times, but not very good at recognizing it. On the rare occasion that they did catch a real witch or wizard, burning had no effect whatsoever.
"No need to tell us he's no good," snorted Uncle Vernon, staring over the top of his paper at the prisoner. "Look at the state of him, the filthy layabout! Look at his hair!"
But this didn't tally at all with Harry's past dealings with the Ministry of Magic. "Last year, I got an official warning just because a house-elf smashed a pudding in my uncle's house!" he told Fudge, frowning. "The Ministry of Magic said I'd be expelled from Hogwarts if there was any more magic there!"
"The guards told Fudge that Black's been talking in his sleep for a while now. Always the same words: 'He's at Hogwarts...he's at Hogwarts.' Black is deranged, Molly, and he wants Harry's dead. If you ask me, he thinks murdering Harry will bring You-Know-Who back to power. Black lost everything the night Harry stopped You-Know-Who, and he's had twelve years alone in Azkaban to brood on that."
"We're witnesses," said Harry. "You said hippogriffs attack if you insult them. It's Malfoy's problem that he wasn't listening. We'll tell Dumbledore what really happened."
"Yeah, don't worry, Hagrid, we'll back you up," said Ron.
"Possibly no one's warned you, Lupin, but this class contains Neville Longbottom. I would advise you not to entrust him with anything difficult. Not unless Miss Granger is hissing instructions in his ear."
"Why didn't you let me fight it? said Harry abruptly.
Lupin raised his eyebrows.
"I would have thought that was obvious, Harry," he said, sounding surprised.
Harry, who had expected Lupin to deny that he'd done any such thing, was taken aback.
"It's very lucky he picked tonight, you know," said Hermione as they climbed fully dressed into their sleeping bags and propped themselves onto their elbows to talk. "The one night we weren't in the tower..."
"I reckon he's lost track of time, being on the run," said Ron. "Didn't realize it was Halloween. Otherwise he'd have come bursting in here."
"Didn't they want to help, sir?" said Percy.
"Oh yes," said Dumbledore coldly. "But I'm afraid no dementor will cross the threshold of this castle while I am headmaster."
"Anyone?" Snape said, ignoring Hermione. His twisted smile was back. "Are you telling me that Professor Lupin hasn't even taught you the basic distinction between--"
"We told you," said Parvati suddenly, "we haven't got as far as werewolves yet, we're still on--"
"Silence!" snarled Snape.
"But you were innocent!" said Hermione.
"Think that matters to them? They don' care. Long as they've got a couple o' hundred humans stuck there with 'em, so they can leech all the happiness out of 'em, they don' give a damn who's guilty an' who's not."
"Well, isn't it obvious?" said Hermione, with a look of maddening superiority.
"If you don't want to tell us, don't," snapped Ron.
"Fine," said Hermione haughtily, and she marched off.
"She doesn't know," said Ron, staring resentfully after Hermione. "She's just trying to get us to talk to her again."
Hermione burst into tears. Before Harry could say or do anything, she tucked the enormous book under her arm, and, still sobbing, ran toward the staircase to the girls' dormitories and out of sight.
"Can't you give her a break?" Harry asked Ron quietly.
"No," said Ron flatly. "If she just acted like she was sorry--but she'll never admit she's wrong, Hermione. She's still acting like Scabbers has gone on vacation or something."
"I'm not blamin' yeh!" said Hagrid, waving Harry's apology aside. "Gawd knows yeh've had enough ter be gettin' on with. I've seen yeh practicin' Quidditch ev'ry hour o' the day an' night--but I gotta tell yeh, I thought you two'd value yer friend more'n broomsticks or rats. Tha's all."
"Malfoy's dad's frightened the Committee into it," said Hermione, wiping her eyes. "You know what he's like. They're a bunch of doddery old fools, and they were scared. There'll be an appeal, though, there always is. Only I can't see any hope....Nothing will have changed."
"THE DARK LORD LIES ALONE AND FRIENDLESS, ABANDONED BY HIS FOLLOWERS. HIS SERVANT HAS BEEN CHAINED THESE TWELVE YEARS. TONIGHT, BEFORE MIDNIGHT...THE SERVANT WILL BREAK FREE AND SET OUT TO REJOIN HIS MASTER. THE DARK LORD WILL RISE AGAIN WITH HIS SERVANT'S AID, GREATER AND MORE TERRIBLE THAN EVER BEFORE."
"Your father would have done the same for me. Brave of you, not to run for a teacher. I'm grateful... it will make everything much easier..."
The taunt about his father rang in Harry's ears as though Black had bellowed it.
"I was terrified they would desert me the moment they found out what I was. But of course, they, like you, Hermione, worked out the truth...
"And they didn't desert me at all. Instead, they did something for me that would make my transformations not only bearable, but the best times of my life. They became Animagi."
"That was still really dangerous! Running around in the dark with a werewolf! What if you'd given the others the slip, and bitten somebody?"
"A thought that still haunts me," said Lupin heavily. "And there were near misses, many of them. We laughed about them afterwards. We were young, thoughtless--carried away with our own cleverness."
"But if--if there was a mistake--"
"KEEP QUIET, YOU STUPID GIRL!" Snape shouted, looking suddenly quite deranged. "DON'T TALK ABOUT WHAT YOU DON'T UNDERSTAND!"
"Of course," Lupin breathed. "So simple...so brilliant...he cut if off himself?"
"Just before he transformed," said Black. "When I cornered him, he yelled for the whole street to hear that I'd betrayed Lily and James. Then, before I could curse him, he blew apart the street with the wand behind his back, killed everyone within twenty feet of himself--and sped down into the sewer with the other rats..."
"Yes, I do," said Dumbledore quietly. "But I have no power to make other men see the truth, or to overrule the Minister of Magic..."
Harry stared up into the grave face and felt as though the ground beneath him were falling sharply away. He had grown used to the idea that Dumbledore could solve anything. He had expected Dumbledore to pull some amazing solution out of thin air. But no...their last hope was gone."
"Did anyone see you?"
"Yes, haven't you been listening? I saw me but I thought I was my dad! It's okay!"
"It didn't make any difference," said Harry bitterly. "Pettigrew got away."
"Didn't make any difference?" said Dumbledore quietly. "It made all the difference in the world, Harry. You helped uncover the truth. You saved an innocent man from a terrible fate."