Chapter 36 / Thestrals
I didn’t know how much time had passed before the door slid open a third time, but this time I pulled up my hood as fast as I could and stared out the window. Luna and Ginny noticed, placing their bodies in between, so that Draco didn’t have a clear view.
I didn’t follow the conversation at all, scared that my cover would be blown even before we got to Hogwarts, but Draco didn’t notice me at all.
The weather remained undecided as they travelled farther and farther north. Rain spattered the windows in a half-hearted way, then the sun put in a feeble appearance before clouds drifted over it once more. When darkness fell and lamps came on inside the carriages, Luna rolled up The Quibbler, put it carefully away in her bag and took to staring at everyone in the compartment instead.
‘So, why are you hiding from Draco?’ Luna asked suddenly, breaking the silence.
‘He doesn’t know I’m me,’ I answered, conscious of all their eyes on me. ‘He thinks I’m a transfer or something, Kath Riddle. I didn’t get a chance to tell him yet.’
‘Are you going to?’ Ginny asked, worry in her voice.
‘Eventually, I guess. But for now, it’s better to present myself as Kath Riddle. He didn’t make any connection yet. This way, I can get close to him, something I can’t do if I’m just Katherine Macmillan.’
‘Why would you want to get close to him?’ Harry asked, frowning.
‘I have an assignment. Dumbledore asked me to keep an eye out.’
Silence fell over the carriage again.
‘We’d better change,’ said Hermione at last, and all of them opened their trunks with difficulty and pulled on their school robes. Luckily, I had already changed into my school robes. At last, the train began to slow down and we heard the usual racket up and down it as everybody scrambled to get their luggage and pets assembled, ready for departure. Ron and Hermione were supposed to supervise all this; they disappeared from the carriage again, leaving us to look after Crookshanks and Pigwidgeon.
‘I’ll carry that owl, if you like,’ said Luna to Harry, reaching out for Pigwidgeon as Neville stowed Trevor carefully in an inside pocket.
‘Oh–er–thanks,’ said Harry, handing her the cage and hoisting Hedwig’s more securely into his arms.
We shuffled out of the compartment feeling the first sting of the night air on our faces as we joined the crowd in the corridor. Slowly, we moved towards the doors. I could smell the pine trees that lined the path down to the lake and smiled.
‘Where’s Hagrid?’ Harry said out loud. I looked around if I saw the familiar shape of the half-giant walking around.
‘I don’t know,’ said Ginny, ‘but we’d better get out of the way, we’re blocking the door. ‘
‘Oh, yeah. . . ‘
Ginny, Luna and I got separated from Harry when we reached the hundred or so horseless stagecoaches that always took the students above first year up to the castle.
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.
‘Harry and Ron are over there,’ she pointed, ‘let’s go. 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... 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. 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 we made for the carriage in which Hermione and Ginny were already sitting.
‘What horse things?’
‘The horse things pulling the carriages!’ said Harry impatiently. Ron, however, gave Harry a perplexed look and I stared at Harry.
‘What are you talking about?’ I asked.
‘I’m talking about–look!’
Harry grabbed my arm and wheeled me about so that I was looking straight at a carriage. I 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–. Can’t . . . can’t you see them?’
‘See what?’ Ron asked, a bewildered look on his face.
‘Can’t you see what’s pulling the carriages?’ Ron looked seriously alarmed now and even I started to feel a little uneasy.
‘Are you feeling all right, Harry?’
‘I . . . yeah. . . ‘
‘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 Luna’s dreamy voice from beside me 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.
‘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.
‘I know that doesn’t sound very reassuring,’ I said, putting my hand on Harry’s shoulder. ‘But Luna’s not crazy. She’s a bit weird, but that’s about it. If she says it’s fine, then it’s fine.’
‘How can you be sure?’
‘Their called Thestrals,’ I answered, ‘they helped us find the Macmillan cave. I can tell you about them later.’