J.K.Rwling >> Harry Potter and the Order of Phoenix (page 58)

A pair of blank, white, shining eyes were growing larger through the gloom and a moment later the dragonish face, neck and then skeletal body of a great, black, winged horse emerged from the darkness. It surveyed the class for a few seconds, swishing its long black tail, then bowed its head and began to tear flesh from the dead cow with its pointed fangs.

A great wave of relief broke over Harry. Here at last was proof that he had not imagined these creatures, that they were real: Hagrid knew about them too. He looked eagerly at Ron, but Ron was still staring around into the trees and after a few seconds he whispered, 'Why doesn't Hagrid call again?'

Most of the rest of the class were wearing expressions as confused and nervously expectant as Ron's and were still gazing everywhere but at the horse standing feet from them. There were only two other people who seemed to be able to see them: a stringy Slytherin boy standing just behind Goyle was watching the horse eating with an expression of great distaste on his face; and Neville, whose eyes were following the swishing progress of the long black tail.

'Oh, an' here comes another one!' said Hagrid proudly, as a second black horse appeared out of the dark trees, folded its leathery wings closer to its body and dipped its head to gorge on the meat. 'Now: put yer hands up, who can see 'em?'

Immensely pleased to feel that he was at last going to understand the mystery of these horses, Harry raised his hand. Hagrid nodded at him.

'Yeah: yeah, I knew you'd be able ter, Harry,' he said seriously. 'An' you too, Neville, eh? An' -'

'Excuse me,' said Malfoy in a sneering voice, 'but what exactly are we supposed to be seeing?'

For an answer, Hagrid pointed at the cow carcass on the ground. The whole class stared at it for a few seconds, then several people gasped and Parvati squealed. Harry understood why: bits of flesh stripping themselves away from the bones and vanishing into thin air had to look very odd indeed.

'What's doing it?' Parvati demanded in a terrified voice, retreating behind the nearest tree. 'What's eating it?'

Thestrals,' said Hagrid proudly and Hermione gave a soft 'Oh!' of comprehension at Harry's shoulder. 'Hogwarts has got a whole herd of 'em in here. Now, who knows -?'

'But they're really, really unlucky!' interrupted Parvati, looking alarmed. They're supposed to bring all sorts of horrible misfortune on people who see them. Professor Trelawney told me once -'

'No, no, no,' said Hagrid, chuckling, 'tha's jus' superstition, that is, they aren' unlucky, they're dead clever an' useful! Course, this lot don' get a lot o' work, it's mainly jus' pullin' the school carriages unless Dumbledore's takin' a long journey an' don' want ter Apparate - an' here's another couple, look -'

Two more horses came quietly out of the trees, one of them passing very close .to Parvati, who shivered and pressed herself closer to the tree, saying, 'I think I felt something, I think it's near me!'

'Don' worry, it won' hurt yen,' said Hagrid patiently. 'Righ', now, who can tell me why some o' yeh can see 'em an' some can't?'

Hermione raised her hand.

'Go on then,' said Hagrid, beaming at her.

The only people who can see Thestrals,' she said, 'are people who have seen death.'

Tha's exactly right,' said Hagrid solemnly, 'ten points ter Gryffindor. Now, Thestrals -'

'Hem, hem.'

Professor Umbridge had arrived. She was standing a few feet away from Harry, wearing her green hat and cloak again, her clipboard at the ready. Hagrid, who had never heard Umbridge's fake cough before, was gazing in some concern at the closest Thestral, evidently under the impression that it had made the sound.

'Hem, hem.'

'Oh, hello!' Hagrid said, smiling, having located the source of the noise.

'You received the note I sent to your cabin this morning?' said Umbridge, in the same loud, slow voice she had used with him earlier, as though she were addressing somebody both foreign and very slow. Telling you that I would be inspecting your lesson?'

'Oh, yeah,' said Hagrid brightly. 'Glad yeh found the place all righ'! Well, as you can see - or, I dunno - can you? We're doin' Thestrals today -'

'I'm sorry?' said Professor Umbridge loudly, cupping her hand around her ear and frowning. 'What did you say?'

Hagrid looked a little confused.

'Er - Thestrals!' he said loudly. 'Big - er - winged horses, yeh know!'

He flapped his gigantic arms hopefully. Professor Umbridge raised her eyebrows at him and muttered as she made a note on her clipboard: 'Has: to: resort: to: crude: sign: language.'

'Well: anyway:" said Hagrid, turning back to the class and looking slightly flustered, 'erm: what was I sayin'?'

'Appears: to: have: poor: short: term: memory,' muttered Umbridge, loudly enough for everyone to hear her. Draco Malfoy looked as though Christmas had come a month early; Hermione, on the other hand, had turned scarlet with suppressed rage.

'Oh, yeah,' said Hagrid, throwing an uneasy glance at Umbridge's clipboard, but ploughing on valiantly. 'Yeah, I was gonna tell yeh how come we got a herd. Yeah, so, we started off with a male an' five females. This one,' he patted the first horse to have appeared, 'name o' Tenebrus, he's my special favourite, firs' one born here in the Forest -'

'Are you aware,' Umbridge said loudly, interrupting him, 'that the Ministry of Magic has classified Thestrals as "dangerous"?'

Harry's heart sank like a stone, but Hagrid merely chuckled.

Thestrals aren' dangerous! All righ', they might take a bite outta yeh if yeh really annoy them -'

'Shows: signs: of: pleasure: at: idea: of: violence,' muttered Umbridge, scribbling on her clipboard again.

'No - come on!' said Hagrid, looking a little anxious now. 'I mean, a dog'll bite if yeh bait it, won' it - but Thestrals have jus' got a bad reputation because o' the death thing - people used ter think they were bad omens, didn' they? Jus' didn' understand, did they?'

Umbridge did not answer; she finished writing her last note, then looked up at Hagrid and said, again very loudly and slowly, 'Please continue teaching as usual. I am going to walk,' she mimed walking (Malfoy and Pansy Parkinson were having silent fits of laughter) 'among the students' (she pointed around at individual members of the class) 'and ask them questions.' She pointed at her mouth to indicate talking.

Hagrid stared at her, clearly at a complete loss to understand why she was acting as though he did not understand normal English. Hermione had tears of fury in her eyes now.

'You hag, you evil hag!' she whispered, as Umbridge walked towards Pansy Parkinson. 'I know what you're doing, you awful, twisted, vicious -'

'Erm: anyway,' said Hagrid, clearly struggling to regain the flow of his lesson, 'so - Thestrals. Yeah. Well, there's loads o' good stuff abou' them:'

'Do you find,' said Professor Umbridge in a ringing voice to Pansy Parkinson, 'that you are able to understand Professor Hagrid when he talks?'

Just like Hermione, Pansy had tears in her eyes, but these were tears of laughter; indeed, her answer was almost incoherent because she was trying to suppress her giggles.

'No: because: well: it sounds: like grunting a lot of the time

Umbridge scribbled on her clipboard. The few unbruised bits of Hagrid's face flushed, but he tried to act as though he had not heard Pansy's answer.

'Er: yeah: good stuff abou' Thestrals. Well, once they're tamed, like this lot, yeh'll never be lost again. 'Mazin' sense o' direction, jus' tell 'em where yeh want ter go -'

'Assuming they can understand you, of course,' said Malfoy loudly, and Pansy Parkinson collapsed in a fit of renewed giggles. Professor Umbridge smiled indulgently at them and then turned to Neville.

'You can see the Thestrals, Longbottom, can you?' she said.

Neville nodded.

'Who did you see die?' she asked, her tone indifferent.

'My: my grandad,' said Neville.

'And what do you think of them?' she said, waving her stubby hand at the horses, who by now had stripped a great deal of the carcass down to bone.

'Erm,' said Neville nervously, with a glance at Hagrid. Well, they're: er: OK:"

'Students: are: too: intimidated: to: admit: they: are: frightened,' muttered Umbridge, making another note on her clipboard.

'No!' said Neville, looking upset. 'No, I'm not scared of them!'

'It's quite all right,' said Umbridge, patting Neville on the shoulder with what she evidently intended to be an understanding smile, though it looked more like a leer to Harry. 'Well, Hagrid,' she turned to look up at him again, speaking once more in that loud, slow voice, 'I think I've got enough to be getting along with. You will receive' (she mimed taking something from the air in front of her) 'the results of your inspection' (she pointed at the clipboard) 'in ten days' time.' She held up ten stubby little fingers, then, her smile wider and more toadlike than ever before beneath her green hat, she bustled from their midst, leaving Malfoy and Pansy Parkinson in fits of laughter, Hermione actually shaking with fury and Neville looking confused and upset.

That foul, lying, twisting old gargoyle!' stormed Hermione half an hour later, as they made their way back up to the castle through the channels they had made earlier in the snow. 'You see what she's up to? It's her thing about half-breeds all over again - she's trying to make out Hagrid's some kind of dimwitted troll, just because he had a giantess for a mother - and oh, it's not fair, that really wasn't a bad lesson at all - I mean, all right, if it had been Blast-Ended Skrewts again, but Thestrals are fine - in fact, for Hagrid, they're really good!'

'Umbridge said they're dangerous,' said Ron.

'Well, it's like Hagrid said, they can look after themselves,' said Hermione impatiently, 'and I suppose a teacher like Grubbly-Plank wouldn't usually show them to us before NEWT level, but, well, they are very interesting, aren't they? The way some people can see them and some can't! I wish I could.'

'Do you?' Harry asked her quietly.

She looked suddenly horrorstruck.

'Oh, Harry - I'm sorry - no, of course I don't - that was a really stupid thing to say.'

'It's OK,' he said quickly, 'don't worry'

'I'm surprised so many people could see them,' said Ron. Three in a class -'

'Yeah, Weasley, we were just wondering,' said a malicious voice. Unheard by any of them in the muffling snow, Malfoy, Crabbe and Goyle were walking along right behind them. 'D'you reckon if you saw someone snuff it you'd be able to see the Quaffle better?'

He, Crabbe and Goyle roared with laughter as they pushed past on their way to the castle, then broke into a chorus of 'Weasley is our King'. Ron's ears turned scarlet.

'Ignore them, just ignore them,' intoned Hermione, pulling out her wand and performing the charm to produce hot air again, so that she could melt them an easier path through the untouched snow between them and the greenhouses.

* * *

December arrived, bringing with it more snow and a positive avalanche of homework for the fifth-years. Ron and Hermione's prefect duties also became more and more onerous as Christmas approached. They were called upon to supervise the decoration of the castle ('You try putting up tinsel when Peeves has got the other end and is trying to strangle you with it,' said Ron), to watch over first- and second-years spending their break-times inside because of the bitter cold ('And they're cheeky little snot-rags, you know, we definitely weren't that rude when we were in first year,' said Ron) and to patrol the corridors in shifts with Argus Filch, who suspected that the holiday spirit might show itself in an outbreak of wizard duels ('He's got dung for brains, that one,' said Ron furiously). They were so busy that Hermione had even stopped knitting elf hats and was fretting that she was down to her last three.

'All those poor elves I haven't set free yet, having to stay here over Christmas because there aren't enough hats!'

Harry, who had not had the heart to tell her that Dobby was taking everything she made, bent lower over his History of Magic essay. In any case, he did not want to think about Christmas. For the first time in his school career, he very much wanted to spend the holidays away from Hogwarts. Between his Quidditch ban and worry about whether or not Hagrid was going to be put on probation, he felt highly resentful towards the place at the moment. The only thing he really looked forward to were the DA meetings, and they would have to stop over the holidays, as nearly everybody in the DA would be spending the time with their families. Hermione was going skiing with her parents, something that greatly amused Ron, who had never heard of Muggles strapping narrow strips of wood on to their feet to slide down mountains. Ron was going home to The Burrow. Harry endured several days of envy before Ron said, in response to Harry asking him how he was going to get home for Christmas: 'But you're coming too! Didn't I say? Mum wrote and told me to invite you weeks ago!'

Title: Harry Potter and the Order of Phoenix
Author: J.K.Rwling
Viewed 388881 times


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