“That remains to be seen,” said Mr. Malfoy with a nasty smile. “But as all twelve
of us have voted—”
Hagrid leapt to his feet, his shaggy black head grazing the ceiling.
'An' how many did yeh have ter threaten an' blackmail before they agreed, Malfoy,
eh?” he roared.
“Dear, dear, you know, that temper of yours will lead you into trouble one of
these days, Hagrid,” said Mr. Malfoy. “I would advise you not to shout at the Azkaban
guards like that. They won't like it at all.”
“Yeh can' take Dumbledore!” yelled Hagrid, making Fang the boarhound cower and
whimper in his basket. “Take him away, an' the Muggle-borns won' stand a chance!
There'll be killin' next!”
“Calm yourself, Hagrid,” said Dumbledore sharply. He looked at Lucius Malfoy.
“If the governors want my removal, Lucius, I shall of course step aside—”
“But—” stuttered Fudge.
“No!” growled Hagrid.
Dumbledore had not taken his bright blue eyes off Lucius Malfoy's cold gray ones.
“However,” said Dumbledore, speaking very slowly and clearly so that none of
them could miss a word, “you will find that I will only truly have left this school
when none here are loyal to me. You will also find that help will always be given
at Hogwarts to those who ask for it.”
For a second, Harry was almost sure Dumbledore's eyes flickered towards the corner
where he and Ron stood hidden.
“Admirable sentiments,” said Malfoy, bowing. “We shall all miss your—er—highly
individual way of running things, Albus, and only hope that your successor will
manage to prevent any—ah—”killin's”.”
He strode to the cabin door, opened it and bowed Dumbledore out. Fudge, fiddling
with his bowler, waited for Hagrid to go ahead of him, but Hagrid stood his ground,
took a deep breath and said carefully, “If anyone wanted ter find out some stuff,
all they'd have ter do would be ter follow the spiders. That'd lead 'em right! That's
all I'm sayin'.”
Fudge stared at him in amazement.
“All right, I'm comin',” said Hagrid, pulling on his moleskin overcoat. But as
he was about to follow Fudge through the door, he stopped again and said loudly,
“An' someone'll need ter feed Fang while I'm away.”
The door banged shut and Ron pulled the Invisibility Cloak off.
“We're in trouble now,” he said hoarsely. “No Dumbledore. They might as well
close the school tonight. There'll be an attack a day with him gone.”
Fang started howling, scratching at the closed door.
Summer was creeping over the grounds around the castle; sky and lake alike turned
periwinkle blue and flowers large as cabbages burst into bloom in the greenhouses.
But with no Hagrid visible from the castle windows, striding the grounds with Fang
at his heels, the scene didn't look right to Harry; no better, in fact, than the
inside of the castle, where things were so horribly wrong.
Harry and Ron had tried to visit Hermione, but visitors were now barred from
the hospital wing.
“We're taking no more chances,” Madam Pomfrey told them severely through a crack
in the infirmary door. “No, I'm sorry, there's every chance the attacker might come
back to finish these people off...”
With Dumbledore gone, fear had spread as never before, so that the sun warming
the castle walls outside seemed to stop at the mullioned windows. There was barely
a face to be seen in the school that didn't look worried and tense, and any laughter
that rang through the corridors sounded shrill and unnatural and was quickly stifled.
Harry constantly repeated Dumbledore's final words to himself “I will only truly
have left this school when none here are loyal to me... Help will always be given
at Hogwarts to those who ask for it.” But what good were these words? Who exactly
were they supposed to ask for help, when everyone was just as confused and scared
as they were?
Hagrid's hint about the spiders was far easier to understand the trouble was,
there didn't seem to be a single spider left in the castle to follow. Harry looked
everywhere he went, helped (rather reluctantly) by Ron. They were hampered, of course,
by the fact that they weren't allowed to wander off on their own but had to move
around the castle in a pack with the other Gryffindors. Most of their fellow students
seemed glad that they were being shepherded from class to class by teachers, but
Harry found it very irksome.
One person, however, seemed to be thoroughly enjoying the atmosphere of terror
and suspicion. Draco Malfoy was strutting around the school as though he had just
been appointed Head Boy. Harry didn't realize what he was so pleased about until
the Potions lesson about two weeks after Dumbledore and Hagrid had left, when, sitting
right behind Malfoy, Harry overheard him gloating to Crabbe and Goyle.
“I always thought Father might be the one who got rid of Dumbledore,” he said,
not troubling to keep his voice down. “I told you he thinks Dumbledore's the worst
headmaster the school's ever had. Maybe we'll get a decent headmaster now. Someone
who won't want the Chamber of Secrets closed. McGonagall won't last long, she's
only filling in...”
Snape swept past Harry, making no comment about Hermione's empty seat and cauldron.
“Sir,” said Malfoy loudly. “Sir, why don't you apply for the headmaster's job?”
“Now, now, Malfoy,” said Snape, though he couldn't suppress a thinlipped smile.
“Professor Dumbledore has only been suspended by the governors. I daresay he'll
be back with us soon enough.”
“Yeah, right,” said Malfoy, smirking. “I expect you'd have Father's vote, sir,
if you wanted to apply for the job—I'll tell Father you're the best teacher here,
Snape smirked as he swept off around the dungeon, fortunately not spotting Seamus
Finnigan, who was pretending to vomit into his cauldron.
“I'm quite surprised the Mudbloods haven't all packed their bags by now,” Malfoy
went on. “Bet you five Galleons the next one dies. Pity it wasn't Granger—”
The bell rang at that moment, which was lucky; at Malfoy's last words, Ron had
leapt off his stool, and in the scramble to collect bags and books, his attempts
to reach Malfoy went unnoticed.
“Let me at him,” Ron growled as Harry and Dean hung onto his arms. “I don't care,
I don't need my wand, I'm going to kill him with my bare hands—”
“Hurry up, I've got to take you all to Herbology,” barked Snape over the class's
heads, and off they marched, with Harry, Ron, and Dean bringing up the rear, Ron
still trying to get loose. It was only safe to let go of him when Snape had seen
them out of the castle and they were making their way across the vegetable patch
toward the greenhouses.
The Herbology class was very subdued; there were now two missing from their number,
Justin and Hermione.
Professor Sprout set them all to work pruning the Abyssinian Shrivelfigs. Harry
went to tip an armful of withered stalks onto the compost heap and found himself
face-to-face with Ernie Macmillan. Ernie took a deep breath and said, very formally,
“I just want to say, Harry, that I'm sorry I ever suspected you. I know you'd never
attack Hermione Granger, and I apologize for all the stuff I said. We're all in
the same boat now, and, well—”
He held out a pudgy hand, and Harry shook it.
Ernie and his friend Hannah came to work at the same Shrivelfig as Harry and
“That Draco Malfoy character,” said Ernie, breaking off dead twigs, “he seems
very pleased about all this, doesn't he? D'you know, I think he might be Slytherin's
“That's clever of you,” said Ron, who didn't seem to have forgiven Ernie as readily
“Do you think it's Malfoy, Harry?” Ernie asked.
“No,” said Harry, so firmly that Ernie and Hannah stared.
A second later, Harry spotted something.
Several large spiders were scuttling over the ground on the other side of the
glass, moving in an unnaturally straight line as though taking the shortest route
to a prearranged meeting. Harry hit Ron over the hand with his pruning shears.
“Ouch! What're you—”
Harry pointed out the spiders, following their progress with his eyes screwed
up against the sun.
“Oh, yeah,” said Ron, trying, and failing, to look pleased. “But we can't follow
Ernie and Hannah were listening curiously.
Harry's eyes narrowed as he focused on the spiders. If they pursued their fixed
course, there could be no doubt about where they would end up.
“Looks like they're heading for the Forbidden Forest...”
And Ron looked even unhappier about that.
At the end of the lesson Professor Sprout escorted the class to their Defense
Against the Dark Arts lesson. Harry and Ron lagged behind the others so they could
talk out of earshot.
“We'll have to use the Invisibility Cloak again,” Harry told Ron. “We can take
Fang with us. He's used to going into the forest with Hagrid, he might be some help.”
“Right,” said Ron, who was twirling his wand nervously in his fingers. “Er—aren't
there—aren't there supposed to be werewolves in the forest?” he added as they took
their usual places at the back of Lockhart's classroom.
Preferring not to answer that question, Harry said, “There are good things in
there, too. The centaurs are all right, and the unicorns...”
Ron had never been into the Forbidden Forest before. Harry had entered it only
once and had hoped never to do so again.
Lockhart bounded into the room and the class stared at him. Every other teacher
in the place was looking grimmer than usual, but Lockhart appeared nothing short
“Come now,” he cried, beaming around him. “Why all these long faces?”
People swapped exasperated looks, but nobody answered.
“Don't you people realize,” said Lockhart, speaking slowly, as though they were
all a bit dim, “the danger has passed! The culprit has been taken away—”
“Says who?” said Dean Thomas loudly.
“My dear young man, the Minister of Magic wouldn't have taken Hagrid if he hadn't
been one hundred percent sure that he was guilty,” said Lockhart, in the tone of
someone explaining that one and one made two.
“Oh, yes he would,” said Ron, even more loudly than Dean.
“I flatter myself I know a touch more about Hagrid's arrest than you do, Mr.
Weasley,” said Lockhart in a self-satisfied tone.
Ron started to say that he didn't think so, somehow, but stopped in mid-sentence
when Harry kicked him hard under the desk.
“We weren't there, remember?” Harry muttered.
But Lockhart's disgusting cheeriness, his hints that he had always thought Hagrid
was no good, his confidence that the whole business was now at an end, irritated
Harry so much that he yearned to throw Gadding with Ghouls right in Lockhart's stupid
face. Instead he contented himself with scrawling a note to Ron: Let's do it tonight.
Ron read the message, swallowed hard, and looked sideways at the empty seat usually
filled by Hermione. The sight seemed to stiffen his resolve, and he nodded.
The Gryffindor common room was always very crowded these days, because from six
o'clock onward the Gryffindors had nowhere else to go. They also had plenty to talk
about, with the result that the common room often didn't empty until past midnight.
Harry went to get the Invisibility Cloak out of his trunk right after dinner,
and spent the evening sitting on it, waiting for the room to clear. Fred and George
challenged Harry and Ron to a few games of Exploding Snap, and Ginny sat watching
them, very subdued in Hermione's usual chair. Harry and Ron kept losing on purpose,
trying to finish the games quickly, but even so, it was well past midnight when
Fred, George, and Ginny finally went to bed.
Harry and Ron waited for the distant sounds of two dormitory doors closing before
seizing the cloak, throwing it over themselves, and climbing through the portrait
It was another difficult journey through the castle, dodging all the teachers.
At last they reached the entrance hall, slid back the lock on the oak front doors,
squeezed between them, trying to stop any creaking, and stepped out into the moonlit
“Course,” said Ron abruptly as they strode across the black grass, “we might
get to the forest and find there's nothing to follow. Those spiders might not've
been going there at all. I know it looked like they were moving in that sort of
general direction, but...”
His voice trailed away hopefully.
They reached Hagrid's house, sad and sorry-looking with its blank windows. When
Harry pushed the door open, Fang went mad with joy at the sight of them. Worried
he might wake everyone at the castle with his deep, booming barks, they hastily
fed him treacle fudge from a tin on the mantelpiece, which glued his teeth together.
Harry left the Invisibility Cloak on Hagrid's table. There would be no need for
it in the pitch-dark forest.
“C'mon, Fang, we're going for a walk,” said Harry, patting his leg, and Fang
bounded happily out of the house behind them, dashed to the edge of the forest,
and lifted his leg against a large sycamore tree.
Harry took out his wand, murmured, “Lumos!” and a tiny light appeared at the
end of it, just enough to let them watch the path for signs of spiders.
“Good thinking,” said Ron. “I'd light mine, too, but you know—it'd probably blow
up or something...”
Harry tapped Ron on the shoulder, pointing at the grass. Two solitary spiders
were hurrying away from the wandlight into the shade of the trees.
“Okay,” Ron sighed as though resigned to the worst, “I'm ready. Let's go.”
So, with Fang scampering around them, sniffing tree roots and leaves, they entered
the forest. By the glow of Harry's wand, they followed the steady trickle of spiders
moving along the path. They walked behind them for about twenty minutes, not speaking,
listening hard for noises other than breaking twigs and rustling leaves. Then, when
the trees had become thicker than ever, so that the stars overhead were no longer
visible, and Harry's wand shone alone in the sea of dark, they saw their spider
guides leaving the path.