– CHAPTER ELEVEN –
The Sorting Hat’s New Song
Harry did not want to tell the others that he and Luna were having the same hallucination, if that was what it was, so he said nothing more about the horses as he sat down inside the carriage and slammed the door behind him. Nevertheless, he could not help watching the silhouettes of the horses moving beyond the window.
‘Did everyone see that Grubbly-Plank woman?’ asked Ginny. ‘What’s she doing back here? Hagrid can’t have left, can he?’
I’ll be quite glad if he has,’ said Luna, ‘he isn’t a very good teacher, is he?’
‘Yes, he is!’ said Harry, Ron and Ginny angrily.
Harry glared at Hermione. She cleared her throat and quickly said, ‘Erin… yes… he’s very good.’
‘Well, we in Ravenclaw think he’s a bit of a joke,’ said Luna, unfazed.
‘You’ve got a rubbish sense of humour then,’ Ron snapped, as the wheels below them creaked into motion.
Luna did not seem perturbed by Ron’s rudeness; on the contrary, she simply watched him for a while as though he were a mildly interesting television programme.
Rattling and swaying, the carriages moved in convoy up the road. When they passed between the tall stone pillars topped with winged boars on either side of the gates to the school grounds, Harry leaned forwards to try and see whether there were any lights on in Hagrid’s cabin by the Forbidden Forest, but the grounds were in complete darkness. Hogwarts Castle, however, loomed ever closer: a towering mass of turrets, jet black against the dark sky, here and there a window blazing fiery bright above them.
The carriages jingled to a halt near the stone steps leading up to the oak front doors and Harry got out of the carriage first. He turned again to look for lit windows down by the Forest, but there was
definitely no sign of life within Hagrid’s cabin. Unwillingly, because he had half-hoped they would have vanished, he turned his eyes instead upon the strange, skeletal creatures standing quietly in the chill night air, their blank white eyes gleaming.
Harry had once before had the experience of seeing something that Ron could not, but that had been a reflection in a mirror, something much more insubstantial than a hundred very solid-looking beasts strong enough to pull a fleet of carriages. If Luna was to be believed, the beasts had always been there but invisible. Why, then, could Harry suddenly see them, and why could Ron not?
‘Are you coming or what?’ said Ron beside him.
‘Oh… yeah,’ said Harry quickly and they joined the crowd hurrying up the stone steps into the castle.
The Entrance Hall was ablaze with torches and echoing with footsteps as the students crossed the flagged stone floor for the double doors to the right, leading to the Great Hall and the start-of-term feast.
The four long house tables in the Great Hall were filling up under the starless black ceiling, which was just like the sky they could glimpse through the high windows. Candles floated in midair all along the tables, illuminating the silvery ghosts who were dotted about the Hall and the faces of the students talking eagerly, exchanging summer news, shouting greetings at friends from other houses, eyeing one another’s new haircuts and robes. Again, Harry noticed people putting their heads together to whisper as he passed; he gritted his teeth and tried to act as though he neither noticed nor cared.
Luna drifted away from them at the Ravenclaw table.