“Chapter Thirty-three: Fight and Flight,” read Mrs. Weasley

Harry had no idea what Hermione was planning, or even whether she had a plan.

“Probably just making it up as I go along,” said Hermione. “Isn’t that what we always do?”

He walked half a pace behind her as they headed down the corridor outside Umbridge’s office, knowing it would look very suspicious if he appeared not to know where they were going. He did not dare attempt to talk to her; Umbridge was walking so closely behind them that he could hear her ragged breathing.

Remus growled slightly. He hated that Harry always found himself in close proximity to that foul woman

Hermione led the way down the stairs into the Entrance Hall. The din of loud voices and the clatter of cutlery on plates echoed from out of the double doors to the Great Hall – it seemed incredible to Harry that twenty feet away were people who were enjoying dinner, celebrating the end of exams, not a care in the world…

“Ignorance is bliss,” said Mr. Granger.

Hermione walked straight out of the oak front doors and down the stone steps into the balmy evening air. The sun was falling towards the tops of the trees in the Forbidden Forest now, and as Hermione marched purposefully across the grass – Umbridge jogging to keep up – their long dark shadows rippled over the grass behind them like cloaks.

It’s hidden in Hagrid’s hut, is it?” said Umbridge eagerly in Harry’s ear.

Tonks’ lips curled into a sneer that reminded both Narcissa and Sirius of her mother’s.

“What an idiot!” she exclaimed. “She was just in the hut when she tried to sack Hagrid and the hut is pretty small. If there was a weapon and if it were there, she would have seen it!”

Of course not,” said Hermione scathingly. “Hagrid might have set it off accidentally”

Yes,” said Umbridge, whose excitement seemed to be mounting. “Yes, he would have done, of course, the great half-breed oaf.”

“Good, play up to her bigotry,” said Moody. “It’ll lead her into a false sense of security.”

She laughed. Harry felt a strong urge to swing round and seize her by the throat, but resisted.

“How?” asked Dean. “I would’ve strangled her the first chance I got.”

His scar was throbbing in the soft evening air but it had not yet burned white-hot, as he knew it would if Voldemort had moved in for the kill.

“Then… where is it?” asked Umbridge, with a hint of uncertainty in her voice as Hermione continued to stride towards the Forest.

In there, of course,” said Hermione, pointing into the dark trees.

“What are you leading her to?” asked Neville

“Maybe you’ll let her get eaten by Aragog,” said Ron

“Or the centaurs will get her.”

“Or Grawp.”

“Or a tree could fall on her,” suggested Fred.

“All good ideas,” said Sirius.

 “It had to be somewhere that students weren’t going to find it accidentally, didn’t it?”

Of course,” said Umbridge, though she sounded a little apprehensive now. “Of course… very well, then… you two stay ahead of me.”

“I’m shocked,” Ginny said dryly.

Can we have your wand, then, if we’re going first?” Harry asked her.

No, I don’t think so, Mr. Potter,” said Umbridge sweetly, poking him in the back with it. “The Ministry places a rather higher value on my life than yours, I’m afraid.”

“Evidentially,” said Harry sardonically. “If Dementors are going to be sent after me for merely getting in Fudge’s way, then of course they will.”

“The Minister didn’t know about the dementors, Dolores was acting on her own when she sent the Dementors,” said Percy.

Harry gave Percy a cool look.

“The way I see it, leaders are responsible for their followers’ actions. Voldemort didn’t personally kill everyone in the war; his Death Eaters did. Yet we still lay their deaths at his feet, right?”

Percy looked slightly annoyed. “But the Minister isn’t You-Know-Who.”

“He’s causing as much damage as him right now,” replied Harry in the same cold tone. “Unless of course you still don’t believe Voldemort is back.”

Percy became very interested in what his shaking hands were doing. What am I doing? I can’t look Harry in the face? My brother’s best friend? Since when?

And Then it came to him.

“I do,” he whispered. “I do, now.”

His family stared at him causing Percy too squirm in his seat. Mrs. Weasley let the book drop with a thud

Arthur rose up from his chair, and Molly made to do the same from the reading stool, but Percy raised his hand.

“Not now Mum, Dad, please keep on reading.”

Arthur swayed indecisively for a moment before collapsing back into his chair. Molly froze, her leg still hanging off the stool.

“I want to find out what’s going to happen with everyone,” he attempted to say in an even tone. His voice cracked slightly. “We can talk later, please…”

Molly looked close to tears and Arthur’s face had gone pale, but they both nodded. Their other children sent Percy withering glares. How dare he make them feel like crap again?

Breathing deeply, Molly read on.

As they reached the cool shade of the first trees, Harry tried to catch Hermione’s eye; walking into the Forest without wands seemed to him to be more foolhardy than anything they had done so far this evening.

She, however, merely gave Umbridge a contemptuous glance and plunged straight into the trees, moving at such a pace that Umbridge, with her shorter legs, had difficulty in keeping up.

“Maybe you’ll get her lost in the forest and leave her to wander, doomed for eternity,” said Seamus hopefully.

Is it very far in?” Umbridge asked, as her robe ripped on a bramble.

Oh yes,” said Hermione, “yes, it’s well hidden.”

Harry’s misgivings increased. Hermione was not taking the path they had followed to visit Grawp, but the one he followed three years ago to the lair of the monster Aragog.

“Wait, you weren’t with us for that,” said Ron.

Hermione had not been with him on that occasion; he doubted she had any idea what danger lay at the end of it.

Er – are you sure this is the right way?” he asked her pointedly.

“Too bad Umbridge is in earshot range,” said Sirius. “Or you could ask Hermione, Are you sure going towards a nest of giant Acromantulas is the right way?”

Oh yes,” she said in a steely voice, crashing through the undergrowth with what he thought was a wholly unnecessary amount of noise. Behind them, Umbridge tripped over a fallen sapling.

“Or maybe you just want her to trip herself to death,” said Dean.

Neither of them paused to help her up again; Hermione merely strode on, calling loudly over her shoulder, “It’s a bit further in!”

Hermione, keep your voice down,” Harry muttered, hurrying to catch up with her. “Anything could be listening in here -“

I want us heard,” she answered quietly, as Umbridge jogged noisily after them. “You’ll see…”

Bill pursed his lips. “Still, you don’t want to get yourselves badly hurt just to get rid of the toad. She isn’t worth it.”

They walked on for what seemed a long time, until they were once again so deep into the Forest that the dense tree canopy blocked out all light. Harry had the feeling he had had before in the Forest, one of being watched by unseen eyes.

“The centaurs then,” said Harry. “Last time I felt that was in first year with Bane and Ronan”

How much further?” demanded Umbridge angrily from behind him.

“She’s like a little kid on a road trip,” said Mrs. Granger angrily. Arthur looked ready to ask something but Molly shushed him.

Not far now!” shouted Hermione, as they emerged into a dim, dank clearing. “Just a little bit -“

An arrow flew through the air and landed with a menacing thud in the tree just over her head.

“Yep, centaurs.”

“Er…didn’t those two centaurs specifically warn you not to go into the Forest again?” Ron asked.

Hermione and Harry exchanged worried looks.

The air was suddenly full of the sound of hooves; Harry could feel the Forest floor trembling; Umbridge gave a little scream and pushed him in front of her like a shield –

Absolutely no one was surprised by this. What else did one expect from a psychopath? For her to shield Harry?

He wrenched himself free of her and turned. Around fifty centaurs were emerging on every side, their bows raised and loaded, pointing at Harry Hermione and Umbridge. They backed slowly into the center of the clearing, Umbridge uttering odd little whimpers of terror. Harry looked sideways at Hermione. She was wearing a triumphant smile.

Remus looked nervous. “Don’t get too comfortable. Centaurs are unpredictable.”

Who are you?” said a voice.

Harry looked left. The chestnut-bodied centaur called Magorian was walking towards them out of the circle: his bow, like those of the others, was raised. On Harry’s right, Umbridge was still whimpering, her wand trembling violently as she pointed it at the advancing centaur.

Subconsciously everyone leaned a bit closer to the book. The woman couldn’t be so colossally stupid as to attack a centaur, right?

I asked you who are you, human,” said Magorian roughly.

I am Dolores Umbridge!” said Umbridge in a high-pitched, terrified voice. “Senior Undersecretary to the Minister for Magic and Headmistress and High Inquisitor of Hogwarts!”

“Would they recognize her name as being anti part-human?” Hermione asked Remus.

“I doubt it,” answered her former professor. “They don’t take too much interest in human affairs, they’d only associate her with the Ministry, which they obviously don’t like. If they did know she was directly responsible for some of the legislation being passed…well….she’d be lucky to come back in one piece.”

You are from the Ministry of Magic?” said Magorian, as many of the centaurs in the surrounding circle shifted restlessly.

“That’s right!” said Umbridge, in an even higher voice, “so be very careful! By the laws laid down by the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures, any attack by half-breeds such as yourselves on a human -“

“That blithering idiot!” snapped McGonagall.

“Oh, she’s in for it now,” smirked Fred.

Sirius didn’t look as happy as the younger students. “Harry and Hermione are still with her though,” he said. “She’s dooming them just as much as herself.”

The students exchanged anxious looks.

What did you call us?” shouted a wild-looking black centaur, whom Harry recognized as Bane.

There was a great deal of angry muttering and tightening of bowstrings around them.

“Hopefully they’re good shots,” said the younger George with a strained look on his face. “If he hits the wrong person…”

Don’t call them that!” Hermione said furiously, but Umbridge did not appear to have heard her.

“Even when you’re in mortal danger, you still stick up for magical creatures,” said Ron.

Hermione glared at him, but was surprised that the look in his eye was not mocking at all. In fact it seemed…affectionate?

She wasn’t sure what the look was, but she blushed and gave her friend a small smile. Ron sat back, a grin playing about his face as Mr. Granger frowned at him and Mrs. Granger hid a smirk.

Still pointing her shaking wand at Magorian, she continued, “Law Fifteen ‘B’ states clearly that ‘any attack by a magical creature who is deemed to have near-human intelligence, and therefore considered responsible for its actions’ —”

“…Near-human intelligence?” McGonagall looked stunned. “I think we’d better check with a Muggle psychologist, it seems Dolores is deliberately trying to get herself killed.”

“This would be so much funnier if Harry and Hermione weren’t in danger,” said Bill.

“All this ‘Law Fifteen B’ crap sounds like Percy’s with them,” said the younger George.

“Oh stop!” Percy snapped at his younger brother.

“Thought you wanted Mum to keep on reading,” George replied snidely. “So don’t yell at me.”

Percy said nothing as their mother reluctantly turned back to the book.

“‘Near-human intelligence’?” repeated Magorian,

“That type of intelligence still sounds smarter than the toad,” said Ginny.

Dumbledore shook his head. “Dolores may be vicious and conniving…but she’s still extremely intelligent for pulling her various schemes off. I would not underestimate her.”

 as Bane and several others roared with rage and pawed the ground. “We consider that a great insult, human! Our intelligence, thankfully, far outstrips your own.”

“Though, that part is completely true,” Dumbledore admitted. “I wouldn’t underestimate a centaur either.”

What are you doing in our Forest?” bellowed the hard-faced grey centaur Harry and Hermione had seen on their last trip into the Forest. “Why are you here?”

“Technically it’s not their forest either,” said Sirius in an irritated tone.

“I suggest you go tell them that,” Tonks replied dryly.

Your Forest?” said Umbridge, shaking now not only with fright but also, it seemed, with indignation. “I would remind you that you live here only because the Ministry of Magic permits you certain areas of land -“

“As if the centaurs couldn’t seize their own land if they wanted,” Remus chuckled darkly. “Dumb toad.”

An arrow flew so close to her head that it caught at her mousy hair in passing: she let out an earsplitting scream and threw her hands over her head, while some of the centaurs bellowed their approval and others laughed raucously.

“Rather close for a warning shot,” said Sirius.

The sound of their wild, neighing laughter echoing around the dimly lit clearing and the sight of their pawing hooves was extremely unnerving.

Whose Forest is it now, human?” bellowed Bane.

Filthy half-breeds!” she screamed, her hands still tight over her head. “Beasts! Uncontrolled animals!”

“Do we have a death pool going for Umbridge?” Fred asked his twin.

“Wish we’d started one, she’s really asking for it now.”

Sirius was dimly aware that the younger people room was turning bloodthirsty for Umbridge’s death, but after all she had done to Harry and the other students, and essentially giving Voldemort an open pathway, he really didn’t care.

Be quiet!” shouted Hermione, but it was too late: Umbridge pointed her wand at Magorian and screamed, “Incarcerous!”

“Congratulations, you attacked one centaur,” said Snape with a sneer. “Now what about the other fifty?”

Ropes flew out of midair like thick snakes, wrapping themselves tightly around the centaur’s torso and trapping his arms:

Hermione snarled. This was absolutely disgusting.

 he gave a cry of rage and reared on to his hind legs, attempting to free himself, while the other centaurs charged.

Harry grabbed Hermione and pulled her to the ground; face down on the Forest floor, he knew a moment of terror as hooves thundered around him, but the centaurs leapt over and around them, bellowing and screaming with rage.

“Thanks,” Hermione said breathlessly. For an instant, Ron wished he’d been able to go along with them to the forest.

Nooooo!” he heard Umbridge shriek. “Noooooo… I am Senior Undersecretary… you cannot-”

“Saying that you’re a high official in the Ministry is just going to piss them off even more,” said Sirius.

 “Unhand me, you animals… nooooo!”

“Same as calling them animals.”

Harry saw a flash of red light and knew she had attempted to Stun one of them;

“At least it wasn’t a flash of green light,” Professor Sprout said darkly.

 then she screamed very loudly. Lifting his head a few inches, Harry saw that Umbridge had been seized from behind by Bane and lifted high into the air, wriggling and yelling with fright. Her wand fell from her hand to the ground, and Harry’s heart leapt. If he could just reach it –

But as he stretched out a hand towards it, a centaur’s hoof descended upon the wand and it broke cleanly in half.

“You have no manner of luck at all,” Neville said to Harry.

“It usually works out in the end, though,” replied Harry, though he thought of the graveyard with a shiver.

Now!” roared a voice in Harry’s ear and a thick hairy arm descended from thin air and dragged him upright. Hermione, too, had been pulled to her feet.

Everyone looked grim. Would the centaurs associate the teenagers with Umbridge?

Over the plunging, many-colored backs and heads of the centaurs, Harry saw Umbridge being borne away through the trees by Bane.

Screaming non-stop, her voice grew fainter and fainter until they could no longer hear it over the trampling of hooves surrounding them.

“Well, at least she’s out of your hair for the foreseeable future,” said Mrs. Granger

And these?” said the hard-faced, grey centaur holding Hermione.

They are young,” said a slow, doleful voice from behind Harry. “We do not attack foals.”

“Hopefully they don’t recognize you,” said Molly worriedly as she looked up from the book.

They brought her here, Ronan,” replied the centaur who had such a firm grip on Harry. “And they are not so young… he is nearing manhood, this one.”

“Well, that’s nice to know,” Harry said dryly.

He shook Harry by the neck of his robes.

“That’s…not so nice,” said Harry as he rubbed his neck.

Please,” said Hermione breathlessly, “please, don’t attack us, we don’t think like her, we aren’t Ministry of Magic employees! We only came in here because we hoped you’d drive her off for us.”

Remus groaned.

“What’s up?” Sirius asked, though he felt he knew the answer.

“They’re not going to like that, they’ll think the two of them are just using them.

Draco laughed. “For someone who claims to care for magical creatures and animals, you really don’t know a lot about them.”

“That means nothing coming from a bigot like you!” Hermione snapped back, her face burning.

Draco sat back in his seat, locking his fingers above his head. He smirked at the red faced teenager as Mrs. Weasley glared at him and read on.

Harry knew at once, from the look on the face of the grey centaur holding Hermione, that she had made a terrible mistake in saying this. The grey centaur threw back his head, his back legs stamping furiously, and bellowed, “You see, Ronan? They already have the arrogance of their kind! So we were to do your dirty work, were we, human girl? We were to act as your servants, drive away your enemies like obedient hounds?”

Draco sniggered as the entire Granger family glared at him once more. Ron was also openly glaring at the boy, something which Harry smile, considering that he constantly told Hermione to lay off of S.P.E.W

No!” said Hermione in a horrorstruck squeak. “Please – I didn’t mean that! I just hoped you’d be able to – to help us -“

But she seemed to be going from bad to worse.

We do not help humans!” snarled the centaur holding Harry, tightening his grip and rearing a little at the same time, so that Harry’s feet left the ground momentarily. “We are a race apart and proud to be so. We will not permit you to walk from here, boasting that we did your bidding!”

“This is getting ugly fast,” said Kingsley worriedly.

We’re not going to say anything like that!” Harry shouted. “We know you didn’t do what you did because we wanted you to -“

But nobody seemed to be listening to him.

A bearded centaur towards the back of the crowd shouted, “They came here unasked, they must pay the consequences!”

A roar of approval met these words and a dun-colored centaur shouted, “They can join the woman!”

“But they’re foals!” shouted Charlie. Everyone stared at him. “Er…I mean kids.”

“Better,” said Hermione amusedly.

You said you didn’t hurt the innocent!” shouted Hermione, real tears sliding down her face now. “We haven’t done anything to hurt you, we haven’t used wands or threats, we just want to go back to school, please let us go back -“

We are not all like the traitor Firenze, human girl!” shouted the grey centaur, to more neighing roars of approval from his fellows. “Perhaps you thought us pretty talking horses?”

Hermione was unpleasantly reminded of earlier in the book when her future self had disparaged Firenze.

 We are an ancient people who will not stand wizard invasions and insults! We do not recognize your laws, we do not acknowledge your superiority, we are -“

“Hypocrites,” Sirius snarled

But they did not hear what else centaurs were,

“I just said they were hypocrites!”

Remus rolled his eyes.

 for at that moment there came a crashing noise on the edge of the clearing so loud that all of them, Harry, Hermione and the fifty or so centaurs filling the clearing, looked around. Harry’s centaur let him fall to the ground again as his hands flew to his bow and quiver of arrows. Hermione had been dropped, too, and Harry hurried towards her as two thick tree trunks parted ominously and the monstrous form of Grawp the giant appeared in the gap.

“Alright!” the room cheered. Things were finally looking up.

The centaurs nearest him backed into those behind; the clearing was now a forest of bows and arrows waiting to be fired, all pointing upwards at the enormous greyish face now looming over them from just beneath the thick canopy of branches.

Hermione looked worried. “Don’t hurt him!” she exclaimed.

Grawp’s lopsided mouth was gaping stupidly; they could see his bricklike yellow teeth glimmering in the half-light, his dull sludgecolored eyes narrowed as he squinted down at the creatures at his feet.

“Again with the unflattering descriptions!” chuckled Flitwick.

Broken ropes trailed from both ankles.

He opened his mouth even wider.

Hagger.”

“Bless you,” Arthur said to his wife.

Her lips twitched. “It’s in the book.”

“Oh.”

“Sounds like Hagrid, maybe he’s looking for him?” suggested Scrimgeour.

Harry did not know what ‘hagger’ meant, or what language it was from, nor did he much care; he was watching Grawp’s feet, which were almost as long as Harry’s whole body. Hermione gripped his arm tightly; the centaurs were quite silent, staring up at the giant, whose huge, round head moved from side to side as he continued to peer amongst them as though looking for something he had dropped.

Hagger!” he said again, more insistently.

“I think he’d know Hagrid if he came across him,” Dean pointed out. “He’s not exactly inconspicuous.”

Get away from here, giant!” called Magorian. “You are not welcome among us!”

These words seemed to make no impression whatsoever on Grawp. He stooped a little (the centaurs’ arms tensed on their bows), then bellowed, “HAGGER!”

A few of the centaurs looked worried now. Hermione, however, gave a gasp.

Harry!” she whispered. “I think he’s trying to say ‘Hagrid’!”

At this precise moment Grawp caught sight of them, the only two humans in a sea of centaurs.

“Took him long enough.”

He lowered his head another foot or so, staring intently at them. Harry could feel Hermione shaking as Grawp opened his mouth wide again and said, in a deep, rumbling voice, “Hermy.”

“Is that-?”

“-Hermione?”

“Still smarter than Krum,” Ron muttered darkly. Harry and Ginny caught each other’s eye and grinned.

Goodness,” said Hermione, gripping Harry’s arm so tightly it was growing numb and looking as though she was about to faint, “he – he remembered!”

“You guys are still in a bit of a situation here,” said Moody amusedly. “I wouldn’t forget everything and start praising the giant.”

HERMY!” roared Grawp. “WHERE HAGGER?”

“WHERE HAGGER? HERMY YOU KNOW WHERE HAGGER IS???”

“Oh shut up Fred,” said Hermione, rolling her eyes.

“Actually I’m George-”

Hermione waved her hand airily. “Fred, George, Gred, Forge, Mufasa, I don’t care!”

“What’s a Mufasa?”

“Never mind.”

“I don’t know!” squealed Hermione, terrified. “I’m sorry, Grawp, I don’t know!”

GRAWP WANT HAGGER!”

One of the giant’s massive hands reached down.

Nearly everyone gasped. The Grangers looked ready to clutch their daughter.

 Hermione let out a real scream, ran a few steps backwards and fell over. Devoid of a wand, Harry braced himself to punch, kick, bite or whatever else it took as the hand swooped towards him and knocked a snow-white centaur off his legs.

“Only you’d try to take on a giant,” said Sirius, who had both concern and pride in his voice.

It was what the centaurs had been waiting for — Grawp’s outstretched fingers were a foot from Harry when fifty arrows soared through the air at the giant, peppering his enormous face, causing him to howl with pain and rage and straighten up, rubbing his face with his enormous hands, breaking off the arrow shafts but forcing the arrowheads in still deeper.

Everyone winced.

He yelled and stamped his enormous feet and the centaurs scattered out of the way; pebble-sized droplets of Grawp’s blood showered Harry

“You always managed to find a way to bloody yourself,” said Ron.

as he pulled Hermione to her feet and the pair of them ran as fast as they could for the shelter of the trees. Once there they looked back; Grawp was snatching blindly at the centaurs as blood ran down his face; they were retreating in disorder, galloping away through the trees on the other side of the clearing. Harry and Hermione watched Grawp give another roar of fury and plunge after them, smashing more trees aside as he went.

“Well at least you guys are out of there,” said Neville.

Oh no,” said Hermione, quaking so badly that her knees gave way. “Oh, that was horrible. And he might kill them all.”

“How tragic,” said Sirius unconcernedly.

“It would be,” replied Dumbledore seriously.

I’m not that fussed, to be honest,” said Harry bitterly.

The sounds of the galloping centaurs and the blundering giant grew fainter and fainter. As Harry listened to them, his scar gave another great throb and a wave of terror swept over him.

They had wasted so much time – they were even further from rescuing Sirius than they had been when he had had the vision. Not only had Harry managed to lose his wand but they were stuck in the middle of the Forbidden Forest with no means of transport whatsoever.

“That wouldn’t be a bad thing,” said Professor McGonagall, “since it’s most likely a false vision.

Harry couldn’t help hoping that his future self wouldn’t actually go rescue Sirius, especially since it didn’t seem likely that his future self was going to remember the mirror anytime soon.

Smart plan,” he spat at Hermione, having to release some of his fury.

Hermione’s glare made Harry quail.

 “Really smart plan. Where do we go from here?”

We need to get back up to the castle,” said Hermione faintly.

By the time we’ve done that, Sirius’ll probably be dead!” said Harry, kicking a nearby tree in temper. A high-pitched chattering started up overhead and he looked up to see an angry Bowtruckle flexing its long twiglike fingers at him.

“You seem to have a knack for pissing off every magical creature this chapter,” said Remus.

Well, we can’t do anything without wands,” said Hermione hopelessly, dragging herself up again. “Anyway, Harry, how exactly were you planning to get all the way to London?”

Yeah, we were just wondering that,” said a familiar voice from behind her.

“God I hope that’s not Umbridge,” said Ron.

“She was alone and the voice said we, hopefully it’s not Malfoy and his cronies,” said Hermione.

“If you would all let me read, we’d find out,” Mrs. Weasley pointed out.

Harry and Hermione moved together instinctively and peered through the trees.

Ron came into sight, closely followed by Ginny, Neville and Luna.

“Finally!” shouted Ron. He’d been hoping he wouldn’t spend the rest of the book being under guard by the ferret.

“We all got away then?” asked Ginny. “What did we do to you, Malfoy?”

Draco flushed. He hoped it hadn’t been anything that would embarrass him.

All of them looked a little the worse for wear – there were several long scratches running the length of Ginny’s cheek;

Ginny ran a finger down her cheek

a large purple lump was swelling above Neville’s right eye;

Neville touched his forehead

Ron’s lip was bleeding worse than ever –

Ron rubbed his lips

but all were looking rather pleased with themselves.

“Looks like Luna made it through unscathed,” said Sirius.

“Oh, it was probably the Curatios,” she replied offhandedly. “They’re very good at healing.”

So,” said Ron, pushing aside a low-hanging branch and holding out Harry’s wand, “had any ideas?”

How did you get away?” asked Harry in amazement, taking his wand from Ron.

Couple of Stunners, a Disarming Charm, Neville brought off a really nice little Impediment Jinx,” said Ron airily,

Neville beamed.

 now handing back Hermione’s wand, too. “But Ginny was best, she got Malfoy – Bat Bogey Hex

“Hah!” shouted Ginny. “You and your scumbag father can just suck it!”

Draco’s face contorted into a snarl, but he didn’t do anything as he noticed Ginny’s hand was on her wand. Not wanting to actually go through the hex, he withdrew his hand from his own wand.

Narcissa frowned. What was the Weasley brat’s problem with her husband? Most likely that Mudblood lover father of hers poisoned her mind against us, she thought. As far as she knew, Lucius had never done anything to that blood traitor family.

– it was superb, his whole face was covered in the great flapping things. Anyway, we saw you out of the window heading into the Forest and followed. What’ve you done with Umbridge?”

She got carried away,” said Harry. “By a herd of centaurs.”

And they left you behind?” asked Ginny, looking astonished.

No, they got chased off by Grawp,” said Harry

Who’s Grawp?” Luna asked interestedly.

“Reality is sometimes stranger than fiction,” said Kingsley sagely.

“But the Nargles and Curatios are reality,” replied Luna dreamily.

“Er…right…”

Hagrid’s little brother,” said Ron promptly. “Anyway, never mind that now. Harry, what did you find out in the fire? Has You-Know-Who got Sirius or -?”

Yes,” said Harry, as his scar gave another painful prickle,

“That damn lying elf of mine,” growled Sirius.

“and I’m sure Sirius is still alive, but I can’t see how we’re going to get there to help him.”

They all fell silent, looking rather scared; the problem facing them seemed insurmountable.

“Well, we’ll have to fly, won’t we?” said Luna, in the closest thing to a matter-of-fact voice Harry had ever heard her use.

Mrs. Weasley pursed her lips. She knew nothing would dissuade Harry, Ron and Hermione from going, but did they have to bring along Ginny, Luna and Neville?

Okay,” said Harry irritably, rounding on her. “First of all, ‘we’ aren’t doing anything if you’re including yourself in that,

“You’re being rather rude, Harry Potter,” said Luna in a frosty tone.

Harry flushed in response.

and second of all, Ron’s the only one with a broomstick that isn’t being guarded by a security troll, so -“

“I’ve got a broom!” said Ginny.

I’ve got a broom!” said Ginny.

“Yeah you said that already,” said Fred as Ginny threw a couch pillow at him.

Yeah, but you’re not coming,” said Ron angrily.

“Like I’m going to listen to you,” Ginny scoffed.

Excuse me, but I care what happens to Sirius as much as you do!” said Ginny, her jaw set so that her resemblance to Fred and George was suddenly striking.

Ron snorted as Sirius smiled. “No you don’t!”

“You’ve only known him slightly longer than I have,” she replied hotly. “And it’s not like I said that I care as much as Harry for him!”

“Never knew I was so loved,” said Sirius, still smiling.

“Wait until they get to know you better,” said Remus, suppressing a smirk.

“Yeah, then they’ll love me even-hey are you mocking me???”

“Yep.”

You’re too -” Harry began, but Ginny said fiercely,

“If you say young, you’re being a hypocrite,” said Ginny.

Harry sighed. He didn’t realize Ginny could be so cunning at times.

“I’m three years older than you were when you fought You-Know-Who over the Philosopher’s Stone, and it’s because of me that Malfoy’s stuck back in Umbridge’s office with giant flying bogies attacking him -“

Yeah, but -“

We were all in the D.A, together,” said Neville quietly. “It was all supposed to be about fighting You-Know-Who, wasn’t it? And this is the first chance we’ve had to do something real – or was that all just a game or something?”

Harry knew he would never forgive himself if any of his friends came to harm. He could tell by the way their future selves were acting, that Ginny, Neville and Luna would come along too.

No — of course it wasn’t -” said Harry impatiently.

Then we should come too,” said Neville simply. “We want to help.”

That’s right,” said Luna, smiling happily.

Harry’s eyes met Ron’s. He knew Ron was thinking exactly what he was: if he could have chosen any members of the D.A., in addition to himself, Ron and Hermione, to join him in the attempt to rescue Sirius, he would not have picked Ginny, Neville or Luna.

“Your future self is being rude again, Harry,” said Luna. Neville flushed as Ginny narrowed her eyes.

“Sorry, everyone,” Harry apologized. “The stress must be getting to me.”

Thankfully, the three of them seemed to understand as they looked back toward the book.

Well, it doesn’t matter, anyway,” said Harry through gritted teeth, “because we still don’t know how to get there -“

I thought we’d settled that,” said Luna maddeningly. “We’re flying!”

“Even if Ginny gets her broomstick, that’s only two for six people,” said Harry. “And I don’t think my future self is going to spend more time breaking mine out of the dungeons.”

Look,” said Ron, barely containing his anger, “you might be able to fly without a broomstick but the rest of us can’t sprout wings whenever we -“

There are ways of flying other than with broomsticks,” said Luna serenely.

I s’pose we’re going to ride on the back of the Kacky Snorgle or whatever it is?” Ron demanded.

Luna giggled. “Don’t be silly, the Crumple Horned Snorkack can’t fly!” She said it as if it were the most obvious thing in the world, which vexed Ron.

The Crumple-Horned Snorkack can’t fly,” said Luna in a dignified voice, “but they can, and Hagrid says they’re very good at finding places their riders are looking for.”

“They?”

Charlie sat up in his seat, babbling.

“Are you having a stroke?” asked Bill, amusedly.

“No, thestrals!”

“You’re having a thestral?”

“No, idiot they can fly!”

Harry whirled round. Standing between two trees, their white eyes gleaming eerily, were two Thestrals, watching the whispered conversation as though they understood every word.

“They might, actually,” said Dumbledore. “I’ll have to ask Hagrid when he comes back from the Ural Mountains.”

Yes!” he whispered, moving towards them. They tossed their reptilian heads, throwing back long black manes, and Harry stretched out his hand eagerly and patted the nearest one’s shining neck; how could he ever have thought them ugly?

“The shock of seeing them will do that,” said Remus.

Is it those mad horse things?” said Ron uncertainly, staring at a point slightly to the left of the Thestral Harry was patting. “Those ones you can’t see unless you’ve watched someone snuff it?”

“How tactful,” said Hermione sarcastically.

Yeah,” said Harry.

How many?”

Just two.”

Well, we need three,” said Hermione, who was still looking a little shaken, but determined just the same.

Four, Hermione,” said Ginny, scowling.

I think there are six of us, actually,” said Luna calmly, counting.

“It takes the Ravenclaw to count correctly,” said Snape sneering. Flitwick couldn’t help chuckling but McGonagall and the other Gryffindors glared at him.

Don’t be stupid, we can’t all go!” said Harry angrily. “Look, you three -” he pointed at Neville, Ginny and Luna, “you’re not involved in this, you’re not -“

They burst into more protests. His scar gave another, more painful, twinge.

“Voldemort’s trying to get you to go to the Ministry quickly,” said Dumbledore wisely.

Every moment they delayed was precious; he did not have time to argue.

Okay, fine, it’s your choice,” he said curtly, “but unless we can find more Thestrals you’re not going to be able -“

“Oh, more of them will come,” said Ginny confidently, who like Ron was squinting in quite the wrong direction, apparently under the impression that she was looking at the horses.

Ginny gave a self-deprecating chuckle

What makes you think that?”

Because, in case you hadn’t noticed, you and Hermione are both covered in blood,” she said coolly, “and we know Hagrid lures Thestrals with raw meat.

“Grawp to the rescue again,” Harry said moodily. The rescue mission was on…as well as the trap they were likely walking into.

That’s probably why these two turned up in the first place.”

Harry felt a soft tug on his robes at that moment and looked down to see the closest Thestral licking his sleeve, which was damp with Grawp’s blood.

“How adorable,” said the younger George sarcastically.

Okay, then,” he said, a bright idea occurring, “Ron and I will take these two and go ahead, and Hermione can stay here with you three and she’ll attract more Thestrals -“

Hermione and Ginny gave him withering glares as Ron and Neville snorted.

I’m not staying behind!” said Hermione furiously.

There’s no need,” said Luna, smiling. “Look, here come more now… you two must really smell…”

Harry turned: no fewer than six or seven Thestrals were picking their way through the trees, their great leathery wings folded tight to their bodies, their eyes gleaming through the darkness. He had no excuse now.

All right,” he said angrily, “pick one and get on, then.”

Harry sighed. “Well, here we go.”

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