He glared at them.
"You're right Harry," said Hermione in a small voice.
"I'll use the invisibility cloak," said Harry. "It's just lucky I got it back."
"But will it cover all three of us?" said Ron.
"All — all three of us?"
"Oh, come off it, you don't think we'd let you go alone?"
"Of course not," said Hermione briskly. "How do you think you'd get to the Stone
without us? I'd better go and took through my books, there might be something useful..."
"But if we get caught, you two will be expelled, too."
"Not if I can help it," said Hermione grimly. "Flitwick told me in secret that
I got a hundred and twelve percent on his exam. They're not throwing me out after
After dinner the three of them sat nervously apart in the common room. Nobody
bothered them; none of the Gryffindors had anything to say to Harry any more, after
all. This was the first night he hadn't been upset by it. Hermione was skimming
through all her notes, hoping to come across one of the enchantments they were about
to try to break. Harry and Ron didn't talk much. Both of them were thinking about
what they were about to do.
Slowly, the room emptied as people drifted off to bed.
"Better get the cloak," Ron muttered, as Lee Jordan finally left, stretching
and yawning. Harry ran upstairs to their dark dormitory. He putted out the cloak
and then his eyes fell on the flute Hagrid had given him for Christmas. He pocketed
it to use on Fluffy — he didn't feel much like singing.
He ran back down to the common room.
"We'd better put the cloak on here, and make sure it covers all three of us —
if Filch spots one of our feet wandering along on its own - — "
"What are you doing?" said a voice from the corner of the room. Neville appeared
from behind an armchair, clutching Trevor the toad, who looked as though he'd been
making another bid for freedom.
"Nothing, Neville, nothing," said Harry, hurriedly putting the cloak behind his
Neville stared at their guilty faces.
"You're going out again," he said.
"No, no, no," said Hermione. "No, we're not. Why don't you go to bed, Neville?"
Harry looked at the grandfather clock by the door. They couldn't afford to waste
any more time, Snape might even now be playing Fluffy to sleep.
"You can't go out," said Neville, "you'll be caught again. Gryffindor will be
in even more trouble."
"You don't understand," said Harry, "this is important."
But Neville was clearly steeling himself to do something desperate.
I won't let you do it," he said, hurrying to stand in front of the portrait hole.
"I'll — I'll fight you!"
"Neville, "Ron exploded, "get away from that hole and don't be an idiot - — "
"Don't you call me an idiot!" said Neville. I don't think you should be breaking
any more rules! And you were the one who told me to stand up to people!"
"Yes, but not to us," said Ron in exasperation. "Neville, you don't know what
He took a step forward and Neville dropped Trevor the toad, who leapt out of
"Go on then, try and hit me!" said Neville, raising his fists. "I'm ready!"
Harry turned to Hermione.
"Do something," he said desperately.
Hermione stepped forward.
"Neville," she said, "I'm really, really sorry about this."
She raised her wand.
"Petrificus Totalus!" she cried, pointing it at Neville.
Neville's arms snapped to his sides. His legs sprang together. His whole body
rigid, he swayed where he stood and then fell flat on his face, stiff as a board.
Hermione ran to turn him over. Neville's jaws were jammed together so he couldn't
speak. Only his eyes were moving, looking at them in horror.
"What've you done to him?" Harry whispered.
"It's the full Body-Bind," said Hermione miserably. "Oh, Neville, I'm so sorry."
"We had to, Neville, no time to explain," said Harry.
"You'll understand later, Neville," said Ron as they stepped over him and pulled
on the invisibility cloak.
But leaving Neville lying motionless on the floor didn't feel like a very good
omen. In their nervous state, every statue's shadow looked like Filch, every distant
breath of wind sounded like Peeves swooping down on them. At the foot of the first
set of stairs, they spotted Mrs. Norris skulking near the top.
"Oh, let's kick her, just this once," Ron whispered in Harry's ear, but Harry
shook his head. As they climbed carefully around her, Mrs. Norris turned her lamplike
eyes on them, but didn't do anything.
They didn't meet anyone else until they reached the staircase up to the third
floor. Peeves was bobbing halfway up, loosening the carpet so that people would
"Who's there?" he said suddenly as they climbed toward him. He narrowed his wicked
black eyes. "Know you're there, even if I can't see you. Are you ghoulie or ghostie
or wee student beastie?"
He rose up in the air and floated there, squinting at them.
"Should call Filch, I should, if something's a-creeping around unseen."
Harry had a sudden idea.
"Peeves," he said, in a hoarse whisper, "the Bloody Baron has his own reasons
for being invisible."
Peeves almost fell out of the air in shock. He caught himself in time and hovered
about a foot off the stairs.
"So sorry, your bloodiness, Mr. Baron, Sir," he said greasily. "My mistake, my
mistake — I didn't see you — of course I didn't, you're invisible — forgive old
Peevsie his little joke, sir."
"I have business here, Peeves," croaked Harry. "Stay away from this place tonight."
"I will, sir, I most certainly will," said Peeves, rising up in the air again.
"Hope your business goes well, Baron, I'll not bother you."
And he scooted off
"Brilliant, Harry!" whispered Ron.
A few seconds later, they were there, outside the third-floor corridor -- and
the door was already ajar.
"Well, there you are," Harry said quietly, "Snape's already got past Fluffy."
Seeing the open door somehow seemed to impress upon all three of them what was
facing them. Underneath the cloak, Harry turned to the other two.
"If you want to go back, I won't blame you," he said. "You can take the cloak,
I won't need it now."
"Don't be stupid," said Ron.
"We're coming," said Hermione.
Harry pushed the door open.
As the door creaked, low, rumbling growls met their ears. All three of the dog's
noses sniffed madly in their direction, even though it couldn't see them.
"What's that at its feet?" Hermione whispered.
"Looks like a harp," said Ron. "Snape must have left it there."
"It must wake up the moment you stop playing," said Harry. "Well, here goes..."
He put Hagrid's flute to his lips and blew. It wasn't really a tune, but from
the first note the beast's eyes began to droop. Harry hardly drew breath. Slowly,
the dog's growls ceased — it tottered on its paws and fell to its knees, then it
slumped to the ground, fast asleep.
"Keep playing," Ron warned Harry as they slipped out of the cloak and crept toward
the trapdoor. They could feel the dog's hot, smelly breath as they approached the
giant heads. "I think we'll be able to pull the door open," said Ron, peering over
the dog's back. "Want to go first, Hermione?"
"No, I don't!"
"All right." Ron gritted his teeth and stepped carefully over the dog's legs.
He bent and pulled the ring of the trapdoor, which swung up and open.
"What can you see?" Hermione said anxiously.
"Nothing — just black — there's no way of climbing down, we'll just have to drop."
Harry, who was still playing the flute, waved at Ron to get his attention and
pointed at himself.
"You want to go first? Are you sure?" said Ron. "I don't know how deep this thing
goes. Give the flute to Hermione so she can keep him asleep."
Harry handed the flute over. In the few seconds' silence, the dog growled and
twitched, but the moment Hermione began to play, it fell back into its deep sleep.
Harry climbed over it and looked down through the trapdoor. There was no sign
of the bottom.
He lowered himself through the hole until he was hanging on by his fingertips.
Then he looked up at Ron and said, "If anything happens to me, don't follow. Go
straight to the owlery and send Hedwig to Dumbledore, right?"
"Right," said Ron.
"See you in a minute, I hope...
And Harry let go. Cold, damp air rushed past him as he fell down, down, down
and — FLUMP. With a funny, muffled sort of thump he landed on something soft. He
sat up and felt around, his eyes not used to the gloom. It felt as though he was
sitting on some sort of plant.
"It's okay!" he called up to the light the size of a postage stamp, which was
the open trapdoor, "it's a soft landing, you can jump!"
Ron followed right away. He landed, sprawled next to Harry.
"What's this stuff?" were his first words.
"Dunno, some sort of plant thing. I suppose it's here to break the fall. Come
The distant music stopped. There was a loud bark from the dog, but Hermione had
already jumped. She landed on Harry's other side.
"We must be miles under the school, she said.
"Lucky this plant thing's here, really," said Ron.
"Lucky!" shrieked Hermione. "Look at you both!"
She leapt up and struggled toward a damp wall. She had to struggle because the
moment she had landed, the plant had started to twist snakelike tendrils around
her ankles. As for Harry and Ron, their legs had already been bound tightly in long
creepers without their noticing.
Hermione had managed to free herself before the plant got a firm grip on her.
Now she watched in horror as the two boys fought to pull the plant off them, but
the more they strained against it, the tighter and faster the plant wound around
"Stop moving!" Hermione ordered them. "I know what this is — it's Devil's Snare!"
"Oh, I'm so glad we know what it's called, that's a great help," snarled Ron,
leaning back, trying to stop the plant from curling around his neck. "Shut up, I'm
trying to remember how to kill it!" said Hermione.
"Well, hurry up, I can't breathe!" Harry gasped, wrestling with it as it curled
around his chest.
"Devil's Snare, Devil's Snare... what did Professor Sprout say? — it likes the
dark and the damp
"So light a fire!" Harry choked.
"Yes — of course — but there's no wood!" Hermione cried, wringing her hands.
"HAVE YOU GONE MAD?" Ron bellowed. "ARE YOU A WITCH OR NOT?"
"Oh, right!" said Hermione, and she whipped out her wand, waved it, muttered
something, and sent a jet of the same bluebell flames she had used on Snape at the
plant. In a matter of seconds, the two boys felt it loosening its grip as it cringed
away from the light and warmth. Wriggling and flailing, it unraveled itself from
their bodies, and they were able to pull free.
"Lucky you pay attention in Herbology, Hermione," said Harry as he joined her
by the wall, wiping sweat off his face.
"Yeah," said Ron, "and lucky Harry doesn't lose his head in a crisis -- 'there's
no wood,' honestly."
"This way," said Harry, pointing down a stone passageway, which was the only
All they could hear apart from their footsteps was the gentle drip of water trickling
down the walls. The passageway sloped downward, and Harry was reminded of Gringotts.
With an unpleasant jolt of the heart, he remembered the dragons said to be guarding
vaults in the wizards' bank. If they met a dragon, a fully-grown dragon — Norbert
had been bad enough...
"Can you hear something?" Ron whispered.
Harry listened. A soft rustling and clinking seemed to be coming from up ahead.
"Do you think it's a ghost?"
"I don't know... sounds like wings to me."
"There's light ahead — I can see something moving."
They reached the end of the passageway and saw before them a brilliantly lit
chamber, its ceiling arching high above them. It was full of small, jewel-bright
birds, fluttering and tumbling all around the room. On the opposite side of the
chamber was a heavy wooden door.
"Do you think they'll attack us if we cross the room?" said Ron.
"Probably," said Harry. "They don't look very vicious, but I suppose if they
all swooped down at once... well, there's no other choice... I'll run."
He took a deep breath, covered his face with his arms, and sprinted across the
room. He expected to feel sharp beaks and claws tearing at him any second, but nothing
happened. He reached the door untouched. He pulled the handle, but it was locked.
The other two followed him. They tugged and heaved at the door, but it wouldn't
budge, not even when Hermione tried her Alohomora charm.
"Now what?" said Ron.
"These birds... they can't be here just for decoration," said Hermione.
They watched the birds soaring overhead, glittering — glittering?