J.K.Rwling >> Harry Potter and the Order of Phoenix (page 37)

There you are,' he said, spotting her somewhere near the very top of the vaulted ceiling. 'Get down here, I've got a letter for you."

With a low hoot she stretched her great white wings and soared down on to his shoulder.

'Right, I know this says Snuffles on the outside,' he told her, giving her the letter to clasp in her beak and, without knowing exactly why, whispering, 'but it's for Sirius, OK?'

She blinked her amber eyes once and he took that to mean that she understood.

'Safe flight, then,' said Harry and he carried her to one of the windows; with a moment's pressure on his arm, Hedwig took off into the blindingly bright sky. He watched her until she became a tiny black speck and vanished, then switched his gaze to Hagrid's hut, clearly visible from this window, and just as clearly uninhabited, the chimney smokeless, the curtains drawn.

The treetops of the Forbidden Forest swayed in a light breeze. Harry watched them, savouring the fresh air on his face, thinking about Quidditch later: then he saw it. A great, reptilian winged horse, just like the ones pulling the Hogwarts carriages, with leathery black wings spread wide like a pterodactyl's, rose up out of the trees like a grotesque, giant bird. It soared in a great circle, then plunged back into the trees. The whole thing had happened so quickly, Harry could hardly believe what he had seen, except that his heart was hammering madly.

The Owlery door opened behind him. He leapt in shock and, turning quickly, saw Cho Chang holding a letter and a parcel in her hands.

'Hi,' said Harry automatically.

'Oh: hi,' she said breathlessly. 'I didn't think anyone would be up here this early: I only remembered five minutes ago, it's my mum's birthday.'

She held up the parcel.

'Right,' said Harry. His brain seemed to have jammed. He wanted to say something funny and interesting, but the memory of that terrible winged horse was fresh in his mind.

'Nice day,' he said, gesturing to the windows. His insides seemed to shrivel with embarrassment. The weather. He was talking about the weather:

'Yeah,' said Cho, looking around for a suitable owl. 'Good Quidditch conditions. I haven't been out all week, have you?'

'No,' said Harry.

Cho had selected one of the school barn owls. She coaxed it down on to her arm where it held out an obliging leg so that she could attach the parcel.

'Hey, has Gryffindor got a new Keeper yet?' she asked.

'Yeah,' said Harry. 'It's my friend Ron Weasley, d'you know him?'

The Tornados-hater?' said Cho rather coolly. 'Is he any good?'

'Yeah,' said Harry, 'I think so. I didn't see his tryout, though, I was in detention.'

Cho looked up, the parcel only half-attached to the owl's legs.

That Umbridge woman's foul,' she said in a low voice. 'Putting you in detention just because you told the truth about how - how - how he died. Everyone heard about it, it was all over the school. You were really brave standing up to her like that.'

Harry's insides re-inflated so rapidly he felt as though he might actually float a few inches off the dropping-strewn floor. Who cared about a stupid flying horse; Cho thought he had been really brave. For a moment, he considered accidentally-on-purpose showing her his cut hand as he helped her tie her parcel on to her owl: but the very instant this thrilling thought occurred, the Owlery door opened again.

Filch the caretaker came wheezing into the room. There were purple patches on his sunken, veined cheeks, his jowls were aquiver and his thin grey hair dishevelled; he had obviously run here. Mrs Norris came trotting at his heels, gazing up at the owls overhead and mewing hungrily. There was a restless shifting of wings from above and a large brown owl snapped his beak in a menacing fashion.

'Aha!' said Filch, taking a flat-footed step towards Harry, his pouchy cheeks trembling with anger. 'I've had a tip-off that you are intending to place a massive order for Dungbombs'.

Harry folded his arms and stared at the caretaker.

'Who told you I was ordering Dungbombs?'

Cho was looking from Harry to Filch, also frowning; the barn owl on her arm, tired of standing on one leg, gave an admonitory hoot but she ignored it.

'I have my sources,' said Filch in a self-satisfied hiss. 'Now hand over whatever it is you're sending.'

Feeling immensely thankful that he had not dawdled in posting off the letter, Harry said, 'I can't, it's gone.'

'Gone?' said Filch, his face contorting with rage.

'Gone,' said Harry calmly.

Filch opened his mouth furiously, mouthed for a few seconds, then raked Harry's robes with his eyes.

'How do I know you haven't got it in your pocket?'

'Because -'

'I saw him send it,' said Cho angrily.

Filch rounded on her.

'You saw him -?'

That's right, I saw him,' she said fiercely.

There was a moments pause in which Filch glared at Cho and Cho glared right back, then the caretaker turned on his heel and shuffled back towards the door. He stopped with his hand on the handle and looked back at Harry.

'If I get so much as a whiff of a Dungbomb

He stumped off down the stairs. Mrs Norris cast a last longing look at the owls and followed him.

Harry and Cho looked at each other.

Thanks,' Harry said.

'No problem,' said Cho, finally fixing the parcel to the barn owl's other leg, her face slightly pink. 'You weren't ordering Dungbombs, were you?'

'No,' said Harry.

'I wonder why he thought you were, then?' she said as she carried the owl to the window.

Harry shrugged. He was quite as mystified by that as she was, though oddly it was not bothering him very much at the moment.

They left the Owlery together. At the entrance of a corridor that led towards the west wing of the castle, Cho said, 'I'm going this way. Well, I'll: I'll see you around, Harry.'

'Yeah: see you.'

She smiled at him and departed. Harry walked on, feeling quietly elated. He had managed to have an entire conversation with her and not embarrassed himself once: you were really brave standing up to her like that: Cho had called him brave: she did not hate him for being alive:

Ol course, she had preferred Cedric, he knew that: though if he'd only asked her to the Ball before Cedric had, things might have turned out differently: she had seemed sincerely sorry that she'd had to refuse when Harry asked her:

'Morning,' Harry said brightly to Ron and Hermione as he joined them at the Gryffindor table in the Great Hall.

'What are you looking so pleased about?' said Ron, eyeing Harry in surprise.

'Erm: Quidditch later,' said Harry happily, pulling a large platter of bacon and eggs towards him.

'Oh: yeah:' said Ron. He put down the piece of toast he was eating and took a large swig of pumpkin juice. Then he said, 'Listen: you don't fancy going out a bit earlier with me, do you? Just to - er - give me some practice before training? So I can, you know, get my eye in a bit.'

'Yeah, OK,' said Harry.

'Look, I don't think you should,' said Hermione seriously. 'You're both really behind on homework as it -'

But she broke off; the morning post was arriving and, as usual, the Daily Prophet was soaring towards her in the beak of a screech owl, which landed perilously close to the sugar bowl and held out a leg. Hermione pushed a Knut into its leather pouch, took the newspaper, and scanned the front page critically as the owl took off.

'Anything interesting?' said Ron. Harry grinned, knowing Ron was keen to keep her off the subject of homework.

'No,' she sighed, 'just some guff about the bass player in the Weird Sisters getting married.'

Hermione opened the paper and disappeared behind it. Harry devoted himself to another helping of eggs and bacon. Ron was staring up at the high windows, looking slightly preoccupied.

'Wait a moment,' said Hermione suddenly. 'Oh no: Sirius!'

'What's happened?' said Harry, snatching at the paper so violently it ripped down the middle, with him and Hermione each holding one half.

'"The Ministry of Magic has received a tip-off from a reliable source that Sirius Black, notorious mass murderer: blah blah blah: is currently hiding in London!"' Hermione read from her half in an anguished whisper.

'Lucius Malfoy I'll bet anything,' said Harry in a low, furious voice. 'He did recognise Sirius on the platform:'

'What?' said Ron, looking alarmed. 'You didn't say -'

'Shh!' said the other two.

: "Ministry warns wizarding community that Black is very dangerous: killed thirteen people: broke out of Azkaban:" the usual rubbish,' Hermione concluded, laying down her half of the paper and looking fearfully at Harry and Ron. 'Well, he just won't be able to leave the house again, that's all,' she whispered. 'Dumbledore did warn him not to.'

Harry looked down glumly at the bit of the Prophet he had torn off. Most of the page was devoted to an advertisement for Madam Malkins Robes for All Occasions, which was apparently having a sale.

'Hey!' he said, flattening it down so Hermione and Ron could see it. 'Look at this!'

'I've got all the robes I want,' said Ron.

'No,' said Harry. 'Look: this little piece here:'

Ron and Hermione bent closer to read it; the item was barely an inch long and placed right at the bottom of a column. It was headlined:


Sturgis Podmore, 38, of number two, Laburnum Gardens, Clapham, has appeared in front of the Wizengamot charged with trespass and attempted robbery at the Ministry of Magic on 3ISI August. Podmore was arrested by Ministry of Magic watchwizard Eric Munch, who found him attempting to force his way through a top-security door at one o'clock in the morning. Podmore, who refused to speak in his own defence, was convicted on both charges and sentenced to six months in Azkaban.

'Sturgis Podmore?' said Ron slowly. 'He's that bloke who looks like his head's been thatched, isn't he? He's one of the Ord-'

'Ron, shh!' said Hermione, casting a terrified look around them.

'Six months in Azkaban!' whispered Harry, shocked. 'Just for trying to get through a door!'

'Don't be silly, it wasn't just for trying to get through a door. What on earth was he doing at the Ministry of Magic at one o'clock in the morning?' breathed Hermione.

'D'you reckon he was doing something for the Order?' Ron muttered.

'Wait a moment:' said Harry slowly. 'Sturgis was supposed to come and see us off, remember?'

The other two looked at him.

'Yeah, he was supposed to be part of our guard going to King's Cross, remember? And Moody was all annoyed because he didn't turn up; so he couldn't have been on a job for them, could he?'

'Well, maybe they didn't expect him to get caught,' said Hermione.

'It could be a frame-up!' Ron exclaimed excitedly. 'No - listen!' he went on, dropping his voice dramatically at the threatening look on Hermione's face. The Ministry suspects he's one of Dumbledore's lot so - I dunno - they lured him to the Ministry, and he wasn't trying to get through a door at all! Maybe they've just made something up to get him!'

There was a pause while Harry and Hermione considered this. Harry thought it seemed far-fetched. Hermione, on the other hand, looked rather impressed.

'Do you know, I wouldn't be at all surprised if that were true.'

She folded up her half of the newspaper thoughtfully. As Harry laid down his knife and fork, she seemed to come out of a reverie.

'Right, well, I think we should tackle that essay for Sprout on self-fertilising shrubs first and if we're lucky we'll be able to start McGonagall's Inanimatus Conjurus Spell before lunch:'

Harry felt a small twinge of guilt at the thought of the pile of homework awaiting him upstairs, but the sky was a clear, exhilarating blue, and he had not been on his Firebolt for a week:

'I mean, we can do it tonight,' said Ron, as he and Harry walked down the sloping lawns towards the Quidditch pitch, their broomsticks over their shoulders, and with Hermione's dire warnings that they would fail all their OWLs still ringing in their ears. 'And we've got tomorrow. She gets too worked up about work, that's her trouble:' There was a pause and he added, in a slightly more anxious tone, 'D'you think she meant it when she said we weren't copying from her?'

'Yeah, I do,' said Harry. 'Still, this is important, too, we've got to practise if we want to stay on the Quidditch team:'

'Yeah, that's right,' said Ron, in a heartened tone. 'And we have got plenty of time to do it all:'

As they approached the Quidditch pitch, Harry glanced over to his right to where the trees of the Forbidden Forest were swaying darkly. Nothing flew out of them; the sky was empty but for a few distant owls fluttering around the Owlery tower. He had enough to worry about; the flying horse wasn't doing him any harm; he pushed it out of his mind.

They collected balls from the cupboard in the changing room and set to work, Ron guarding the three tall goalposts, Harry playing Chaser and trying to get the Quaffle past Ron. Harry thought Ron was pretty good; he blocked three-quarters of the goals Harry attempted to put past him and played better the longer they practised. After a couple of hours they returned to the castle for lunch - during which Hermione made it quite clear she thought they were irresponsible - then returned to the Quidditch pitch for the real training session. All their teammates but Angelina were already in the changing room when they entered.

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