J.K.Rwling >> Harry Potter and the Order of Phoenix (page 26)

But it did not come. Instead, a quite different voice, a brisk female one, was calling out, "First-years line up over here, please! All first-years to me!'

A lantern came swinging towards Harry and by its light he saw the prominent chin and severe haircut of Professor Grubbly-Plank, the witch who had taken over Hagrid's Care of Magical Creatures lessons for a while the previous year.

'Where's Hagrid?' he said out loud.

'I don't know,' said Ginny, 'but we'd better get out of the way, we're blocking the door.'

'Oh, yeah:'

Harry and Ginny became separated as they moved off along the platform and out through the station. Jostled by the crowd, Harry squinted through the darkness for a glimpse of Hagrid; he had to be here, Harry had been relying on it - seeing Hagrid again was one of the things he'd been looking forward to most. But there was no sign of him.

He can't have left, Harry told himself as he shuffled slowly through a narrow doorway on to the road outside with the rest of the crowd. He's just got a cold or something:

He looked around for Ron or Hermione, wanting to know what they thought about the reappearance of Professor Grubbly-Plank, but neither of them was anywhere near him, so he allowed himself to be shunted forwards on to the dark rain-washed road outside Hogsmeade Station.

Here stood the hundred or so horseless stagecoaches that always took the students above first year up to the castle. Harry glanced quickly at them, turned away to keep a lookout for Ron and Hermione, then did a double-take.

The coaches were no longer horseless. There were creatures standing between the carriage shafts. If he had had to give them a name, he supposed he would have called them horses, though there was something reptilian about them, too. They were completely fleshless, their black coats clinging to their skeletons, of which every bone was visible. Their heads were dragonish, and their pupil-less eyes white and staring. Wings sprouted from each wither - vast, black leathery wings that looked as though they ought to belong to giant bats. Standing still and quiet in the gathering gloom, the creatures looked eerie and sinister. Harry could not understand why the coaches were being pulled by these horrible horses when they were quite capable of moving along by themselves.

'Where's Pig?' said Ron's voice, right behind Harry.

'That Luna girl was carrying him,' said Harry, turning quickly, eager to consult Ron about Hagrid. 'Where d'you reckon -'

'- Hagrid is? I dunno,' said Ron, sounding worried. 'He'd better be OK:'

A short distance away, Draco Malfoy, followed by a small gang of cronies including Crabbe, Goyle and Pansy Parkinson, was pushing some timid-looking second-years out of the way so that he and his friends could get a coach to themselves. Seconds later, Hermione emerged panting from the crowd.

'Malfoy was being absolutely foul to a first-year back there. I swear I'm going to report him, he's only had his badge three minutes and he's using it to bully people worse than ever: where's Crookshanks?'

'Ginny's got him,' said Harry. There she is:'

Ginny had just emerged from the crowd, clutching a squirming Crookshanks.

Thanks,' said Hermione, relieving Ginny of the cat. 'Come on, let's get a carriage together before they all fill up:"

'I haven't got Pig yet!' Ron said, but Hermione was already heading off towards the nearest unoccupied coach. Harry remained behind with Ron.

'What are those things, d'you reckon?' he asked Ron, nodding at the horrible horses as the other students surged past them.

'What things?'

Those horse -'

Luna appeared holding Pigwidgeon's cage in her arms; the tiny owl was twittering excitedly as usual.

'Here you are,' she said. 'He's a sweet little owl, isn't he?'

'Er: yeah: he's all right,' said Ron gruffly. 'Well, come on then, let's get in: what were you saying, Harry?'

'I was saying, what are those horse things?' Harry said, as he, Ron and Luna made for the carriage in which Hermione and Ginny were already sitting.

'What horse things?'

The horse things pulling the carriages!' said Harry impatiently. They were, after all, about three feet from the nearest one; it was watching them with empty white eyes. Ron, however, gave Harry a perplexed look.

'What are you talking about?'

'I'm talking about - look!'

Harry grabbed Ron's arm and wheeled him about so that he was face to face with the winged horse. Ron stared straight at it for a second, then looked back at Harry.

'What am I supposed to be looking at?'

'At the - there, between the shafts! Harnessed to the coach! It's right there in front -'

But as Ron continued to look bemused, a strange thought occurred to Harry.

'Can't: can't you see them?'

'See what?'

'Can't you see what's pulling the carriages?'

Ron looked seriously alarmed now.

'Are you feeling all right, Harry?'

'I: yeah:'

Harry felt utterly bewildered. The horse was there in front of him, gleaming solidly in the dim light issuing from the station windows behind them, vapour rising from its nostrils in the chilly night air. Yet, unless Ron was faking - and it was a very feeble joke if he was - Ron could not see it at all.

'Shall we get in, then?' said Ron uncertainly, looking at Harry as though worried about him.

'Yeah,' said Harry. 'Yeah, go on:'

'It's all right,' said a dreamy voice from beside Harry as Ron vanished into the coach's dark interior. 'You're not going mad or anything. I can see them, too.'

'Can you?' said Harry desperately, turning to Luna. He could see the bat-winged horses reflected in her wide silvery eyes.

'Oh, yes,' said Luna, 'I've been able to see them ever since my first day here. They've always pulled the carriages. Don't worry. You're just as sane as I am:

Smiling faintly, she climbed into the musty interior of the carriage after Ron. Not altogether reassured, Harry followed her.


The Sorting Hat's New Song

Harry did not want to tell the others that he and Luna were having the same hallucination, if that was what it was, so he said nothing more about the horses as he sal down inside the carriage and slammed the door behind him. Nevertheless, he could not help watching the silhouettes of the horses moving beyond the window.

'Did everyone see that Grubbly-Plank woman?' asked Ginny. 'What's she doing back here? Hagrid can't have left, can he?'

I'll be quite glad if he has,' said Luna, 'he isn't a very good teacher, is he?'

'Yes, he is!' said Harry, Ron and Ginny angrily.

Harry glared at Hermione. She cleared her throat and quickly said, 'Erin: yes: he's very good.'

'Well, we in Ravenclaw think he's a bit of a joke,' said Luna, unlazed.

'You've got a rubbish sense of humour then,' Ron snapped, as the wheels below them creaked into motion.

Luna did not seem perturbed by Ron's rudeness; on the contrary, she simply watched him for a while as though he were a mildly interesting television programme.

Rattling and swaying, the carriages moved in convoy up the road. When they passed between the tall stone pillars topped with winged boars on either side of the gates to the school grounds, Harry leaned forwards to try and see whether there were any lights on in Hagrid's cabin by the Forbidden Forest, but the grounds were in complete darkness. Hogwarts Castle, however, loomed ever

closer: a towering mass of turrets, jet black against the dark sky, here and there a window blazing fiery bright above them.

The carriages jingled to a halt near the stone steps leading up to the oak front doors and Harry got out of the carriage first. He turned again to look for lit windows down by the Forest, but there was definitely no sign of life within Hagrid's cabin. Unwillingly, because he had half-hoped they would have vanished, he turned his eyes instead upon the strange, skeletal creatures standing quietly in the chill night air, their blank white eyes gleaming.

Harry had once before had the experience of seeing something that Ron could not, but that had been a reflection in a mirror, something much more insubstantial than a hundred very solid-looking beasts strong enough to pull a fleet of carriages. If Luna was to be believed, the beasts had always been there but invisible. Why, then, could Harry suddenly see them, and why could Ron not?

'Are you coming or what?' said Ron beside him.

'Oh: yeah,' said Harry quickly and they joined the crowd hurrying up the stone steps into the castle.

The Entrance Hall was ablaze with torches and echoing with footsteps as the students crossed the flagged stone floor for the double doors to the right, leading to the Great Hall and the start-of-term feast.

The four long house tables in the Great Hall were filling up under the starless black ceiling, which was just like the sky they could glimpse through the high windows. Candles floated in midair all along the tables, illuminating the silvery ghosts who were dotted about the Hall and the faces of the students talking eagerly, exchanging summer news, shouting greetings at friends from other houses, eyeing one another's new haircuts and robes. Again, Harry noticed people putting their heads together to whisper as he passed; he gritted his teeth and tried to act as though he neither noticed nor cared.

Luna drifted away from them at the Ravenclaw table. The moment they reached Gryffindors, Ginny was hailed by some fellow fourth-years and left to sit with them; Harry, Ron, Hermione and Neville found seats together about halfway down the table between Nearly

Headless Nick, the Gryffindor house ghost, and Parvati Patil and Lavender Brown, the last two of whom gave Harry airy, overly-friendly greetings that made him quite sure they had stopped talking about him a split second before. He had more important things to worry about, however: he was looking over the students' heads to the staff table that ran along the top wall of the Hall.

'He's not there.'

Ron and Hermione scanned the staff table too, though there was no real need; Hagrid's size made him instantly obvious in any lineup.

'He can't have left,' said Ron, sounding slightly anxious.

'Of course he hasn't,' said Harry firmly.

'You don't think he's: hurt, or anything, do you?' said Hermione uneasily.

'No,' said Harry at once.

'But where is he, then?'

There was a pause, then Harry said very quietly, so that Neville, Parvati and Lavender could not hear, 'Maybe he's not back yet. You know - from his mission - the thing he was doing over the summer for Dumbledore.'

'Yeah: yeah, that'll be it,' said Ron, sounding reassured, but Hermione bit her lip, looking up and down the staff table as though hoping for some conclusive explanation of Hagrid's absence.

'Who's that?' she said sharply, pointing towards the middle of the staff table.

Harry's eyes followed hers. They lit first upon Professor Dumbledore, sitting in his high-backed golden chair at the centre of the long staff table, wearing deep-purple robes scattered with silvery stars and a matching hat. Dumbledore's head was inclined towards the woman sitting next to him, who was talking into his ear. She looked, Harry thought, like somebody's maiden aunt: squat, with short, curly, mouse-brown hair in which she had placed a horrible pink Alice band that matched the fluffy pink cardigan she wore over her robes. Then she turned her face slightly to take a sip from her goblet and he saw, with a shock of recognition, a pallid, toadlike face and a pair of prominent, pouchy eyes.

'It's that Umbridge woman!'

'Who?' said Hermione.

'She was at my hearing, she works for Fudge!'

'Nice cardigan,' said Ron, smirking.

'She works for Fudge!' Hermione repeated, frowning. 'What on earth's she doing here, then?'


Hermione scanned the staff table, her eyes narrowed.

'No,' she muttered, 'no, surely not:'

Harry did not understand what she was talking about but did not ask; his attention had been caught by Professor Grubbly-Plank who had just appeared behind the staff table; she worked her way along to the very end and took the seat that ought to have been Hagrid's. That meant the first-years must have crossed the lake and reached the castle, and sure enough, a few seconds later, the doors from the Entrance Hall opened. A long line of scared-looking first-years entered, led by Professor McGonagall, who was carrying a stool on which sat an ancient wizard's hat, heavily patched and darned with a wide rip near the frayed brim.

The buzz of talk in the Great Hall faded away. The first-years lined up in front of the staff table facing the rest of the students, and Professor McGonagall placed the stool carefully in front of them, then stood back.

The first-years' faces glowed palely in the candlelight. A small boy right in the middle of the row looked as though he was trembling. Harry recalled, fleetingly, how terrified he had felt when he had stood there, waiting for the unknown test that would determine to which house he belonged.

The whole school waited with bated breath. Then the rip near the hat's brim opened wide like a mouth and the Sorting Hat burst into song:

Title: Harry Potter and the Order of Phoenix
Author: J.K.Rwling
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