Chapter 49 // the tunnel
‘Ginny?’ I whispered, stepping back, staring at him. There was a pause while I let that sink in. ‘I knew something was wrong. I just knew it.’
‘Well, you hardly seem to need me,’ said Lockhart, with a shadow of his old smile. ‘I’ll just –’
He put his hand on the door knob, but Ron and Harry both pointed their wands at him.
‘You can go first,’ I snarled. White-faced and wandless, Lockhart approached the opening.
‘Boys,’ he said, his voice feeble. ‘Boys, what good will it do?’
Harry jabbed him in the back with his wand. Lockhart slid his legs into the pipe. He started to protest, but Ron gave him a push, and he slid out of sight.
Harry followed quickly. Then Ron. Finally, I lowered myself slowly into the pipe, then let go. It was like rushing down an endless, slimy, dark slide. I could see more pipes branching off in all directions, but none as large as ours, which twisted and turned, sloping steeply downward, and I knew that I was falling deeper below the school than even the dungeons.
And then, just as I had begun to worry about what would happen when I hit the ground, the pipe levelled out, and I shot out of the end with a wet thud, landing on the damp floor of a dark stone tunnel large enough to stand in. Ron was getting to his feet a little while away, covered in slime and white as a ghost.
‘We must be miles under the school,’ said Harry, his voice echoing in the black tunnel.
‘Under the lake, probably,’ said Ron, squinting around at the dark, slimy walls. All four of us turned to stare into the darkness ahead.
‘Lumos!’ I muttered to my wand and it lit. ‘C’mon,’ I said to the others, and off we went, our footsteps slapping loudly on the wet floor. The tunnel was so dark that we could only see a little distance ahead. Our shadows on the wet walls looked monstrous in the wandlight.
‘Remember,’ Harry said quietly as we walked cautiously forward, ‘any sign of movement, close your eyes right away…’
‘Why?’ I asked, my voice shaking.
‘The monster… it’s a basilisk. They kill with their gaze.’
I swallowed the lump in my throat, keeping my eyes on the floor. But the tunnel was quiet as the grave, and the first unexpected sound we heard was a loud crunch as Ron stepped on what turned out to be a rat’s skull. I lowered my wand to look at the floor and saw that it was littered with small animal bones. Trying very hard not to imagine what Ginny might look like if we found her, I led the way forward, around a dark bend in the tunnel.
‘Harry — there’s something up there —’ said Ron hoarsely, grabbing Harry’s shoulder.
We froze, watching. Whatever it was, it wasn’t moving.
‘Maybe it’s asleep,’ I breathed, glancing back at the others. Lockhart’s hands were pressed over his eyes. Harry edged forward, his wand held high. The light slid over a gigantic snake skin, of a vivid, poisonous green, lying curled and empty across the tunnel floor. The creature that had shed it must have been twenty feet long at least.
‘Blimey,’ said Ron weakly. There was a sudden movement behind us. Gilderoy Lockhart’s knees had given way.