Reading Chapter Fifteen: Aragog
“Si- Snuffles!” Harry exclaimed and the dog ran towards him with a happy bark. Harry knelt down and ran his hands through Snuffle’s black fur. “It’s about time you got here!”
“What is that mutt doing here?” Umbridge said with a frown.
“I told you you were a mutt,” Remus said in an undertone to Snuffles who growled at both him and Umbridge.
“This dog is Harry’s familiar of sorts,” Dumbledore answered evenly. “I thought it would be good for Harry to have him here during these tense books.”
Snuffle’s head tilted to the right side a little. “I’ll explain later,” Harry promised him.
“Shall we carry on reading then?” Dumbledore said genially and one by one they filed in the door.
“You should go in last mutt,” Snape snarled at Snuffles with a cruel smile. Snuffles growled back and snapped at Snape’s heels, enjoying the flicker of fear on the man’s face.
Everyone resumed their same seats, only now Snuffles sat at Harry’s feet, though his head was high up enough that Harry could reach it easily.
“It’s my turn!” Hermione said eagerly, excited to read about the part of the year that she had missed.
“Chapter Fifteen: Aragog” Hermione read and Ron paled while Harry shuddered.
Summer was creeping over the grounds around the castle; sky and lake alike turned periwinkle blue and flowers large as cabbages burst into bloom in the greenhouses. But with no Hagrid visible from the castle windows, striding the grounds with Fang at his heels, the scene didn't look right to Harry; no better, in fact, than the inside of the castle, where things were so horribly wrong.
Snuffles lifted his head and looked at Harry questioningly. “Later,” Harry promised.
Harry and Ron had tried to visit Hermione, but visitors were now barred from the hospital wing.
"We're taking no more chances," Madam Pomfrey told them severely through a crack in the infirmary door. "No, I'm sorry, there's every chance the attacker might come back to finish these people off..."
“Oh no he wouldn’t do that!” Harry cried out in mock horror. Then in a lower tone, “Not the perfect Head Boy.” He was glaring at Umbridge as he said it and Ginny gently squeezed his hand.
With Dumbledore gone, fear had spread as never before,
“Well yeah,” George stated as though it was obvious. “Dumbledore’s the only thing that stops everything from going mental around here.”
“Thank you Mr. Weasley.” Dumbledore said with his twinkling eyes.
so that the sun warming the castle walls outside seemed to stop at the mullioned windows. There was barely a face to be seen in the school that didn't look worried and tense, and any laughter that rang through the corridors sounded shrill and unnatural and was quickly stifled.
“It’s worse when people are afraid of something they don’t know…” Remus mused. “It makes paranoia levels rise.”
“Mad-Eye?” Ron asked curiously.
“Mad-Eye,” Remus said, nodding in agreement.
Harry constantly repeated Dumbledore's final words to himself "I will only truly have left this school when none here are loyal to me... Help will always be given at Hogwarts to those who ask for it." But what good were these words? Who exactly were they supposed to ask for help, when everyone was just as confused and scared as they were?
“Good point Harry,” Luna said dreamily.
Hagrid's hint about the spiders was far easier to understand.
“Too easy,” Ron said, his face incredibly pale.
The trouble was, there didn't seem to be a single spider left in the castle to follow.
“Honestly Ron, you’ve got to get over this spider thing,” Fred complained.
“Just wait, then you’ll know why I can’t.” Ron shot back.
Harry looked everywhere he went, helped (rather reluctantly) by Ron. They were hampered, of course, by the fact that they weren't allowed to wander off on their own but had to move around the castle in a pack with the other Gryffindors.
“Because heaven forbid Potter actually take the security measures that are bestowed upon him,” Snape sneered and Snuffles growled.
“Honestly Snuffles, growling at him wont help anything. You’ll just make yourself hoarse,” Remus said, rolling his eyes.
“You’re one to talk,” Harry smirked.
Most of their fellow students seemed glad that they were being shepherded from class to class by teachers, but Harry found it very irksome.
One person, however, seemed to be thoroughly enjoying the atmosphere of terror and suspicion.
“Let me guess who,” Neville said sarcastically.
Draco Malfoy was strutting around the school as though he had just been appointed Head Boy.
Harry couldn’t resist it. “Did you hear that sir?” He asked Snape. “It said that Draco strutted, so does that mean that he is like my father as well?”
Snape chose not to reply under the scrutinizing glares of both Dumbledore and McGonagall.
Harry didn't realize what he was so pleased about until the Potions lesson about two weeks after Dumbledore and Hagrid had left, when, sitting right behind Malfoy, Harry overheard him gloating to Crabbe and Goyle.
"I always thought Father might be the one who got rid of Dumbledore," he said, not troubling to keep his voice down. "I told you he thinks Dumbledore's the worst headmaster the school's ever had.
“No he’s not!” Harry and Remus said loudly while the others chimed in their agreement much more quietly.
Dumbledore merely chuckled at the reaction.
Maybe we'll get a decent headmaster now. Someone who won't want the Chamber of Secrets closed.
“And how no one suspected him after a comment like that astounds me,” Harry said with a roll of his eyes.
McGonagall won't last long, she's only filling in..."
“Thank you for your opinion Mr. Malfoy,” McGonagall said tartly.
“You do realize that you are talking to a book don’t you Minerva?” Snape said dryly, though Harry could have sworn that his lips were twitching.
Harry also shivered and almost felt pity for Snape when he saw the glare that McGonagall sent him. Almost.
Snape swept past Harry, making no comment about Hermione's empty seat and cauldron.
"Sir," said Malfoy loudly. "Sir, why don't you apply for the headmaster's job?"
“Because he wouldn’t be any good at it,” Harry said lowly, only for those near him to hear.
"Now, now, Malfoy," said Snape, though he couldn't suppress a thin-lipped smile. "Professor Dumbledore has only been suspended by the governors. I daresay he'll be back with us soon enough."
“Do try not to sound so excited about it Severus,” Remus said dryly.
“You are quite right Lupin, I’ll save my excitement for a nice full moon.” Snape sneered back.
“Enough!” McGonagall said sternly. “Honestly will you two start acting your age and stop acting like sixth years?”
"Yeah, right," said Malfoy, smirking. "I expect you'd have Father's vote, sir, if you wanted to apply for the job - I'll tell Father you're the best teacher here, sir--"
There was a rather sudden cough that went around the room. Even odder was the fact that it was only the students who seemed affected by it.
Snape smirked as he swept off around the dungeon, fortunately not spotting Seamus Finnigan, who was pretending to vomit into his cauldron.
“Go Seamus!” Neville and Ron cheered, both of them automatically shutting up when Snape glared at them.
"I'm quite surprised the Mudbloods haven't all packed their bags by now," Malfoy went on. "Bet you five Galleons the next one dies. Pity it wasn't Granger--"
“And you saw no reason to act on that?” Remus questioned Snape. “And don’t say you didn’t hear it, you could always hear everything that was being said in those dungeons.”
Snape chose to remain quiet, though he was silently acknowledging that what Lupin said was true. Not that he would ever admit it of course.
The bell rang at that moment, which was lucky; at Malfoy's last words, Ron had leapt off his stool, and in the scramble to collect bags and books, his attempts to reach Malfoy went unnoticed.
“Shame,” Fred sighed. “It would have lovely to hit him.”
"Let me at him," Ron growled as Harry and Dean hung onto his arms. "I don't care, I don't need my wand, I'm going to kill him with my bare hands--"
“It was so tempting to let you go you know,” Harry told Ron with a longing sigh.
"Hurry up, I've got to take you all to Herbology," barked Snape over the class's heads, and off they marched, with Harry, Ron, and Dean bringing up the rear, Ron still trying to get loose.
“You do know that killing him wouldn’t have helped in any way don’t you?” Hermione asked Ron as she looked up from the book. Ron blushed and Harry sniggered.
“Well yeah but I uh…”
Harry decided to take pity on his friend. “Just keep reading Hermione.”
It was only safe to let go of him when Snape had seen them out of the castle and they were making their way across the vegetable patch toward the greenhouses.
The Herbology class was very subdued; there were now two missing from their number, Justin and Hermione.
Professor Sprout set them all to work pruning the Abyssinian Shrivelfigs. Harry went to tip an armful of withered stalks onto the compost heap and found himself face-to-face with Ernie Macmillan.
“Oh this should be good,” George said.
“Yeah does that git finally realize that you aren’t the heir?” Fred asked.
Ernie took a deep breath and said, very formally, "I just want to say, Harry, that I'm sorry I ever suspected you. I know you'd never attack Hermione Granger, and I apologize for all the stuff I said. We're all in the same boat now, and, well-"
“So it was only because you’re best friend was attacked that he finally became convinced that you weren’t the heir?” Neville repeated incredulously.
“Pretty much,” Harry nodded.
He held out a pudgy hand, and Harry shook it.
Ernie and his friend Hannah came to work at the same Shrivelfig as Harry and Ron.
"That Draco Malfoy character," said Ernie, breaking off dead twigs, "he seems very pleased about all this, doesn't he? D'you know, I think he might be Slytherin's heir."
“Oh bravo!” Fred and George clapped, bored. “He finally figured it out!”
"That's clever of you," said Ron, who didn't seem to have forgiven Ernie as readily as Harry.
"Do you think it's Malfoy, Harry?" Ernie asked.
“I did,” Harry admitted.
"No," said Harry, so firmly that Ernie and Hannah stared.
A second later, Harry spotted something.
“That cant be good,” Remus said.
“Why not?” Harry challenged.
“Because normally the book would just say whatever it was. If it says that you noticed it, it must be important, which will probably lead to another death defying adventure.”
Harry thought about this. “Fair point.”
Several large spiders were scuttling over the ground on the other side of the glass, moving in an unnaturally straight line as though taking the shortest route to a prearranged meeting.
“And you’re going to follow them aren’t you?” Remus asked rhetorically. He couldn’t blame them…if Hagrid had given them a clue like that and it had been one of his friends in the Hospital Wing…
Harry hit Ron over the hand with his pruning shears.
"Ouch! What're you--"
Harry pointed out the spiders, following their progress with his eyes screwed up against the sun.
"Oh, yeah," said Ron, trying, and failing, to look pleased. "But we can't follow them now--"
“Did you forget about the two Hufflepuffs next to you Ron?” Ginny asked.
“I think the Nargles got to him,” Luna said. “They can make you forget the obvious.”
“In that case, Ron has Nargles around him constantly,” George quipped.
Ernie and Hannah were listening curiously.
Harry's eyes narrowed as he focused on the spiders. If they pursued their fixed course, there could be no doubt about where they would end up.
"Looks like they're heading for the Forbidden Forest..."
“Again?” Remus questioned weakly. “How many times are you going to go in that forest?”
And Ron looked even unhappier about that.
At the end of the lesson Professor Sprout escorted the class to their Defense Against the Dark Arts lesson. Harry and Ron lagged behind the others so they could talk out of earshot.
"We'll have to use the Invisibility Cloak again," Harry told Ron. "We can take Fang with us. He's used to going into the forest with Hagrid, he might be some help."
“Coward,” Harry said, shaking his head but smiling at the lovable dog.
"Right," said Ron, who was twirling his wand nervously in his fingers. "Er - aren't there - aren't there supposed to be werewolves in the forest?"
“Unbelievable!” Remus said, throwing his hands up in mock exasperation. “How did that get started anyway?” He asked curiously.
Dumbledore cleared his throat. “It was easier to keep the students away from the forest by giving them a just cause.”
Remus sighed. “Yes that’s true I suppose.”
“Did you ever think that the books could have just been foreshadowing?” Hermione asked. “I mean, why bother mentioning werewolves constantly if there wasn’t going to be one later in the story?”
“Or it could just have something to do with overly prejudiced gits in high political positions,” Remus muttered, too low for anyone but Snuffles to hear.
he added as they took their usual places at the back of Lockhart's classroom.
Preferring not to answer that question, Harry said, "There are good things in there, too. The centaurs are all right, and the unicorns..."
Ron had never been into the Forbidden Forest before. Harry had entered it only once and had hoped never to do so again.
Everyone that remembered that particular trip to the forest shuddered.
Lockhart bounded into the room and the class stared at him. Every other teacher in the place was looking grimmer than usual, but Lockhart appeared nothing short of buoyant.
“Well he always was a little slow on the uptake,” Remus said casually. “He probably hasn’t even realized that people have been attacked yet.”
"Come now," he cried, beaming around him. "Why all these long faces?"
People swapped exasperated looks, but nobody answered.
"Don't you people realize," said Lockhart, speaking slowly, as though they were all a bit dim, "the danger has passed! The culprit has been taken away--"
“Says who?” Ginny questioned sharply.
"Says who?" said Dean Thomas loudly.
“Hey you think like Dean!” Ron exclaimed, glad to be rid of the spiders, for now at least.
"My dear young man, the Minister of Magic wouldn't have taken Hagrid if he hadn't been one hundred percent sure that he was guilty,"
Harry coughed lightly and looked up at the Minister with an innocent expression. “Just like he wouldn’t have anything printed in the Prophet unless he was absolutely sure, right sir?” He asked innocently, but smiling on the inside as Fudge squirmed.
said Lockhart, in the tone of someone explaining that one and one made two.
"Oh, yes he would," said Ron, even more loudly than Dean.
"I flatter myself I know a touch more about Hagrid's arrest than you do, Mr. Weasley," said Lockhart in a self-satisfied tone.
“I don’t think so,” Fred commented.
“Ah but you’re forgetting Gred, that they weren’t there,” George put in wisely.
Fred slapped his forehead. “Of course! Do forgive me Forge, I don’t know what came over me!”
Ron started to say that he didn't think so, somehow, but stopped in midsentence when Harry kicked him hard under the desk.
"We weren't there, remember?" Harry muttered.
“Hmm… well there’s worse people to be like I suppose,” George commented.
“Gee thanks,” Harry replied with a wry grin.
But Lockhart's disgusting cheeriness, his hints that he had always thought Hagrid was no good,
“Which is utter bull,” Harry burst in and Hagrid smiled appreciatively.
his confidence that the whole business was now at an end, irritated Harry so much that he yearned to throw Gadding with Ghouls right in Lockhart's stupid face.
Fred and George sighed. “You really should have.”
Instead he contented himself with scrawling a note to Ron: Let's do it tonight.
Ron read the message, swallowed hard, and looked sideways at the empty seat usually filled by Hermione. The sight seemed to stiffen his resolve, and he nodded.
“Oh I’m so glad that my absence made you temporarily overcome your fear of spiders,” Hermione said.
“Hey we were trying to help!” Ron protested and Hermione gave him a soft smile.
“I know, and thank you.”
The Gryffindor common room was always very crowded these days, because from six o'clock onward the Gryffindors had nowhere else to go. They also had plenty to talk about, with the result that the common room often didn't empty until past midnight.
“Which makes sneaking out even more difficult than usual,” Remus said and Snuffles yapped in agreement.
Harry went to get the Invisibility Cloak out of his trunk right after dinner, and spent the evening sitting on it, waiting for the room to clear. Fred and George challenged Harry and Ron to a few games of Exploding Snap, and Ginny sat watching them, very subdued in Hermione's usual chair. Harry and Ron kept losing on purpose, trying to finish the games quickly, but even so, it was well past midnight when Fred, George, and Ginny finally went to bed.
Harry and Ron waited for the distant sounds of two dormitory doors closing before seizing the cloak, throwing it over themselves, and climbing through the portrait hole.
It was another difficult journey through the castle, dodging all the teachers.
“No more stubbed toes then?” Fred smirked.
At last they reached the entrance hall, slid back the lock on the oak front doors, squeezed between them, trying to stop any creaking, and stepped out into the moonlit grounds.
"Course," said Ron abruptly as they strode across the black grass, "we might get to the forest and find there's nothing to follow. Those spiders might not've been going there at all. I know it looked like they were moving in that sort of general direction, but..."
“I think you’re a bit hopeful there Ron,” George said, not unkindly.
“Yeah but you should have realized that if Harry was involved, it would be the exact opposite of what you want it to.”
His voice trailed away hopefully.
They reached Hagrid's house, sad and sorry-looking with its blank windows. When Harry pushed the door open, Fang went mad with joy at the sight of them. Worried he might wake everyone at the castle with his deep, booming barks, they hastily fed him treacle fudge from a tin on the mantelpiece, which glued his teeth together.
“I felt a little bad about that, since I know what it feels like,” Harry admitted.
Harry left the Invisibility Cloak on Hagrid's table. There would be no need for it in the pitch-dark forest.
"C'mon, Fang, we're going for a walk," said Harry, patting his leg, and Fang bounded happily out of the house behind them, dashed to the edge of the forest, and lifted his leg against a large sycamore tree.
Remus chuckled as Snuffles’ head perked up at the mention of the tree. Snuffles playfully growled at Remus who just shook his head in response, still laughing.
Harry took out his wand, murmured, "Lumos!" and a tiny light appeared at the end of it, just enough to let them watch the path for signs of spiders.
"Good thinking," said Ron. "I'd light mine, too, but you know - it'd probably blow up or something..."
“How on Earth did you make it through that year?” Mrs. Weasley wondered, speaking for the first time since the chapter started.
Ron shrugged. “I dunno. I think I got lucky mostly.”
Harry tapped Ron on the shoulder, pointing at the grass. Two solitary spiders were hurrying away from the wandlight into the shade of the trees.
"Okay," Ron sighed as though resigned to the worst, "I'm ready. Let's go."
“I was so not ready,” Ron said fearfully.
“Relax Ron, I’m sure it won’t be described so bad,” Harry tried to reassure him but Ron shook his head.
“Mate, this is you we’re talking about. It’s going to be in very great detail.”
So, with Fang scampering around them, sniffing tree roots and leaves, they entered the forest. By the glow of Harry's wand, they followed the steady trickle of spiders moving along the path. They walked behind them for about twenty minutes, not speaking, listening hard for noises other than breaking twigs and rustling leaves. Then, when the trees had become thicker than ever, so that the stars overhead were no longer visible, and Harry's wand shone alone in the sea of dark, they saw their spider guides leaving the path.
“Don’t leave the path!” Ginny groaned.
“Too late,” Harry replied easily.
Harry paused, trying to see where the spiders were going, but everything outside his little sphere of light was pitch-black. He had never been this deep into the forest before. He could vividly remember Hagrid advising him not to leave the forest path last time he'd been in here.
“And of course you weren’t going to listen to him,” Remus said in a conversational tone. “No, of course not. Instead, you were going to go right off the past chasing spiders. Of course.”
But Hagrid was miles away now, probably sitting in a cell in Azkaban,
Hagrid shivered at the mention of the prison, and though no one besides Harry and Remus noticed, so did Snuffles.
and he had also said to follow the spiders.
Something wet touched Harry's hand and he jumped backward, crushing Ron's foot, but it was only Fang's nose.
"What d'you reckon?" Harry said to Ron, whose eyes he could just make out, reflecting the light from his wand.
"We've come this far," said Ron.
So they followed the darting shadows of the spiders into the trees. They couldn't move very quickly now; there were tree roots and stumps in their way, barely visible in the near blackness. Harry could feel Fang's hot breath on his hand. More than once, they had to stop, so that Harry could crouch down and find the spiders in the wandlight.
“So two second years and a dog walk into the forest with only one light between them,” George began. “Makes an excellent start of a joke don’t you think?”
There were a few weak chuckles at his attempt to ease some of the tension in the room.
They walked for what seemed like at least half an hour, their robes snagging on low-slung branches and brambles. After a while, they noticed that the ground seemed to be sloping downward, though the trees were as thick as ever.
Then Fang suddenly let loose a great, echoing bark, making both Harry and Ron jump out of their skins.
"What?" said Ron loudly, looking around into the pitch-dark, and gripping Harry's elbow very hard.
“That hurt by the way,” Harry told Ron.
“Sorry mate,” Ron said distractedly.
"There's something moving over there," Harry breathed. "Listen... sounds like something big..."
“Not the right thing to say in the Forbidden Forest,” Ginny breathed.
They listened. Some distance to their right, the something big was snapping branches as it carved a path through the trees.
"Oh, no," said Ron. "Oh, no, oh, no, oh--"
“Saying it over and over again doesn’t change it you know,” Fred advised, trying and failing like his twin to make people laugh through the fear.
"Shut up," said Harry frantically. "It'll hear you."
“It might have already heard Fang,” Mr. Weasley pointed out, his face almost as pale as Ron’s. Like his youngest son, Mr. Weasley also hated spiders. He wasn’t afraid of them, of course not, he just didn’t like them very much.
"Hear me?" said Ron in an unnaturally high voice. "It's already heard Fang!"
The darkness seemed to be pressing on their eyeballs as they stood, terrified, waiting. There was a strange rumbling noise and then silence.
"What d'you think it's doing?" said Harry.
"Probably getting ready to pounce," said Ron.
“Now you’re just making a bad situation worse,” Remus said.
“Oh its gets worse than that,” Harry mumbled.
They waited, shivering, hardly daring to move.
"D'you think it's gone?" Harry whispered.
Then, to their right, came a sudden blaze of light, so bright in the darkness that both of them flung up their hands to shield their eyes. Fang yelped and tried to run, but got lodged in a tangle of thorns and yelped even louder.
“Fang,” Harry sighed, shaking his head.
"Harry!" Ron shouted, his voice breaking with relief "Harry, it's our car!"
Harry blundered after Ron toward the light, stumbling and tripping, and a moment later they had emerged into a clearing.
Mr. Weasley's car was standing, empty, in the middle of a circle of thick trees under a roof of dense branches, its headlights ablaze.
“What was my car doing in the Forbidden Forest?” Mr. Weasley asked, mouth agape as he stared at the book in Hermione’s hands.
“I think if you let Hermione read dear,” Mrs. Weasley said, “We may find out.”
Mr. Weasley blushed. “Right.”
As Ron walked, open-mouthed, toward it, it moved slowly toward him, exactly like a large, turquoise dog greeting its owner.
"It's been here all the time!" said Ron delightedly, walking around the car. "Look at it. The forest's turned it wild..."
The sides of the car were scratched and smeared with mud. Apparently it had taken to trundling around the forest on its own. Fang didn't seem at all keen on it; he kept close to Harry, who could feel him quivering. His breathing slowing down again, Harry stuffed his wand back into his robes.
“Never let your guard down,” Remus said shaking his head. “You never know wh-”
“CONSTANT VIGILANCE!” The twins yelled, cutting Remus off as he winced at the volume of their yell.
"And we thought it was going to attack us!" said Ron, leaning against the car and patting it. "I wondered where it had gone!"
Harry squinted around on the floodlit ground for signs of more spiders, but they had all scuttled away from the glare of the headlights.
"We've lost the trail," he said. "C'mon, let's go and find them."
Ron didn't speak. He didn't move. His eyes were fixed on a point some ten feet above the forest floor, right behind Harry. His face was livid with terror.
“And the only thing that does that to Ron,” Fred began.
“Is spiders,” George finished.
Harry didn't even have time to turn around. There was a loud clicking noise and suddenly he felt something long and hairy seize him around the middle and lift him off the ground, so that he was hanging facedown.
“What in the world was that?” Remus asked, his face having paled right along with Ron and Harry’s.
“You’ll see,” Harry said somewhat shakily. “Read on Hermione.”
Struggling, terrified, he heard more clicking, and saw Ron's legs leave the ground, too, heard Fang whimpering and howling - next moment, he was being swept away into the dark trees.
Head hanging, Harry saw that what had hold of him was marching on six immensely long, hairy legs, the front two clutching him tightly below a pair of shining black pincers.
“Spiders?” Ginny whispered.
“Very, very large spiders.” Harry answered.
“Acromantula,” Remus whispered fearfully.
“Er clarification?” Fred asked.
“Very, very large man eating spiders.” Remus answered.
Behind him, he could hear another of the creatures, no doubt carrying Ron. They were moving into the very heart of the forest. Harry could hear Fang fighting to free himself from a third monster, whining loudly, but Harry couldn't have yelled even if he had wanted to; he seemed to have left his voice back with the car in the clearing.
“I don’t blame you,” Remus shivered. “I came across an Acromantula once.”
“When was that?” Harry asked.
“I’ll tell you later.”
He never knew how long he was in the creature's clutches; he only knew that the darkness suddenly lifted enough for him to see that the leaf-strewn ground was now swarming with spiders. Craning his neck sideways, he realized that they had reached the ridge of a vast hollow, a hollow that had been cleared of trees, so that the stars shone brightly onto the worst scene he had ever laid eyes on.
“Up until that point,” Harry corrected. “Seeing Voldemort rise again was definitely the worst.”
“Lies!” Umbridge hissed but no one paid her any mind. It was starting to be easier to drown out that sickly sweet voice.
Spiders. Not tiny spiders like those surging over the leaves below. Spiders the size of carthorses, eight-eyed, eight-legged, black, hairy, gigantic.
There was a collective shudder.
“How do they get that big?” Hermione asked faintly.
Remus shrugged. “As far as I know, that’s simply the species. But seeing that many all in one place…” He shuddered again. “And I thought one was bad enough.”
The massive specimen that was carrying Harry made its way down the steep slope toward a misty, domed web in the very center of the hollow, while its fellows closed in all around it, clicking their pincers excitedly at the sight of its load.
Harry fell to the ground on all fours as the spider released him. Ron and Fang thudded down next to him. Fang wasn't howling anymore, but cowering silently on the spot. Ron looked exactly like Harry felt. His mouth was stretched wide in a kind of silent scream and his eyes were popping.
“I was trying to make some noise…anything that would scare them off but nothing was coming out,” Ron said fearfully.
Harry suddenly realized that the spider that had dropped him was saying something. It had been hard to tell, because he clicked his pincers with every word he spoke.
“They can talk?!” People exclaimed.
“Yeh’” Hargid said gruffly. “Mos’ly though they jus’ talk in their own way see, don’t want no one to know what they’re goin’ on about.”
"Aragog!" it called. "Aragog!"
And from the middle of the misty, domed web, a spider the size of a small elephant emerged, very slowly. There was gray in the black of his body and legs, and each of the eyes on his ugly, pincered head was milky white. He was blind.
“A small elephant?” Remus repeated weakly. “They’re not supposed to get that big.”
“They do when Hagrid looks after them,” Harry said seriously.
Remus’ eyes widened. “Wait a minute. That thing from the diary, the one Riddle tried to kill…it was him wasn’t it? Aragog, I mean.”
"What is it?" he said, clicking his pincers rapidly.
"Men," clicked the spider who had caught Harry.
"Is it Hagrid?" said Aragog, moving closer, his eight milky eyes wandering vaguely.
"Strangers," clicked the spider who had brought Ron.
"Kill them," clicked Aragog fretfully. "I was sleeping..."
“He just told them to kill you and he was complaining about being woken up?” Hermione said.
“Well, he is a giant spider Hermione,” Harry pointed out. “I don’t think killing bothers him too much.”
"We're friends of Hagrid's," Harry shouted. His heart seemed to have left his chest to pound in his throat.
Click, click, click went the pincers of the spiders all around the hollow.
“That must have been really creepy,” Neville shuddered.
“You have no idea,” Ron said in a hoarse voice.
"Hagrid has never sent men into our hollow before," he said slowly.
"Hagrid's in trouble," said Harry, breathing very fast. "That's why we've come."
"In trouble?" said the aged spider, and Harry thought he heard concern beneath the clicking pincers. "But why has he sent you?"
“Because he wasn’t available at the moment, so if you could please leave a message,” George said in a bored tone and Harry and Hermione laughed.
“Muggle thing,” they said at the same time.
Harry thought of getting to his feet but decided against it; he didn't think his legs would support him. So he spoke from the ground, as calmly as he could.
"They think, up at the school, that Hagrid's been setting a - a - something on students.
“A something? Very descriptive Harry,” Fred tsked.
“Hey I didn’t know what it was! Only Hermione knew!”
They've taken him to Azkaban."
Again, Hagrid shivered and Snuffles whimpered.
Aragog clicked his pincers furiously, and all around the hollow the sound was echoed by the crowd of spiders; it was like applause, except applause didn't usually make Harry feel sick with fear.
"But that was years ago," said Aragog fretfully. "Years and years ago. I remember it well. That's why they made him leave the school. They believed that I was the monster that dwells in what they call the Chamber of Secrets. They thought that Hagrid had opened the Chamber and set me free."
“Wait…so the giant spider isn’t the monster?” Neville frowned, trying to keep up.
“Nope,” Harry replied, shaking his head.
"And you... you didn't come from the Chamber of Secrets?" said Harry, who could feel cold sweat on his forehead.
"I!" said Aragog, clicking angrily. "I was not born in the castle. I come from a distant land. A traveler gave me to Hagrid when I was an egg. Hagrid was only a boy, but he cared for me, hidden in a cupboard in the castle, feeding me on scraps from the table. Hagrid is my good friend, and a good man. When I was discovered, and blamed for the death of a girl, he protected me. I have lived here in the forest ever since, where Hagrid still visits me. He even found me a wife, Mosag, and you see how our family has grown, all through Hagrid's goodness..."
“That was a long speech,” Ginny remarked.
“He must really like you Hagrid,” Luna beamed up at the man.
Harry summoned what remained of his courage.
"So you never - never attacked anyone?"
"Never," croaked the old spider. "It would have been my instinct, but out of respect for Hagrid, I never harmed a human. The body of the girl who was killed was discovered in a bathroom. I never saw any part of the castle but the cupboard in which I grew up. Our kind like the dark and the quiet..."
“Hence why they’re hidden deep in the forest,” Remus muttered.
"But then... Do you know what did kill that girl?" said Harry. "Because whatever it is, it's back and attacking people again--"
His words were drowned by a loud outbreak of clicking and the rustling of many long legs shifting angrily; large black shapes shifted all around him.
“They won’t talk about it,” Remus said shaking his head. “Their fear is too strong.”
"The thing that lives in the castle," said Aragog, "is an ancient creature we spiders fear above all others. Well do I remember how I pleaded with Hagrid to let me go, when I sensed the beast moving about the school."
"What is it?" said Harry urgently.
More loud clicking, more rustling; the spiders seemed to be closing in.
"We do not speak of it!" said Aragog fiercely. "We do not name it! I never even told Hagrid the name of that dreaded creature, though he asked me, many times."
“That would have been so much easier,” Harry sighed.
“But Harry, even if Aragog did tell Hagrid what the monster was, it wouldn’t have helped since no one could have opened the Chamber to kill it.” Hermione pointed out.
“I know, but I’d like to think that it would have made my life a whole lot easier.”
Harry didn't want to press the subject, not with the spiders pressing closer on all sides. Aragog seemed to be tired of talking. He was backing slowly into his domed web, but his fellow spiders continued to inch slowly toward Harry and Ron.
"We'll just go, then," Harry called desperately to Aragog, hearing leaves rustling behind him.
“Why do I get the bad feeling that they aren’t going to let you go?” Ginny asked fearfully.
“Because they won’t.” Remus said grimly. “Acromantulas never pass an opportunity for meat. It’s a miracle in itself that they don’t eat Hagrid when he goes to visit.”
"Go?" said Aragog slowly. "I think not..."
"But - but--"
"My sons and daughters do not harm Hagrid, on my command. But I cannot deny them fresh meat, when it wanders so willingly into our midst. Good-bye, friend of Hagrid."
“You know, its not a good thing when you know exactly how a giant spider’s mind is going to work,” Harry pointed out to Remus lightly.
“It’s also not a good thing that you managed to come face to face with a giant spider in your second year,” Remus shot back in the same tone.
Harry opened his mouth to reply but shut it when he realized that Remus was right.
Harry spun around. Feet away, towering above him, was a solid wall of spiders, clicking, their many eyes gleaming in their ugly black heads.
“Did you have to go into that much detail?” Ron whimpered.
“Sorry mate,” Harry apologized. “Trust me, at the time I was wishing I didn’t go into that much detail.”
Even as he reached for his wand, Harry knew it was no good, there were too many of them, but as he tried to stand, ready to die fighting,
“You shouldn’t have been thinking like that!” Mrs. Weasley cried out fearfully as Snuffles whined.
“It’s okay Mrs. Weasley,” Harry said, trying to reassure her. “I’ve had to think like that before.”
“Harry,” Hermione said, shaking her head. “You’re not helping.”
a loud, long note sounded, and a blaze of light flamed through the hollow.
“Now what?” The twins echoed, their faces pale and void of a smile as they worried about their younger brother.
Mr. Weasley's car was thundering down the slope, headlights glaring, its horn screeching, knocking spiders aside; several were thrown onto their backs, their endless legs waving in the air. The car screeched to a halt in front of Harry and Ron and the doors flew open.
“What? How…?” Mr. Weasley stammered, trying to find the right words.
"Get Fang!" Harry yelled, diving into the front seat; Ron seized the boarhound around the middle and threw him, yelping, into the back of the car - the doors slammed shut - Ron didn't touch the accelerator but the car didn't need him; the engine roared and they were off, hitting more spiders. They sped up the slope, out of the hollow, and they were soon crashing through the forest, branches whipping the windows as the car wound its way cleverly through the widest gaps, following a path it obviously knew.
“That was way to close,” Remus breathed in relief. “Can you make me a promise? Try not to go into the forest from now on all right?” He asked the Trio.
“Er…well we can try but you know, its not like I like going in that forest.” Harry said.
Harry looked sideways at Ron. His mouth was still open in the silent scream, but his eyes weren't popping anymore.
"Are you okay?"
“I don’t think he’s able to talk,” Ginny said.
Ron stared straight ahead, unable to speak.
They smashed their way through the undergrowth, Fang howling loudly in the back seat, and Harry saw the side mirror snap off as they squeezed past a large oak. After ten noisy, rocky minutes, the trees thinned, and Harry could again see patches of sky.
“Thank goodness,” most of the adults in the room sighed.
The car stopped so suddenly that they were nearly thrown into the windshield. They had reached the edge of the forest. Fang flung himself at the window in his anxiety to get out, and when Harry opened the door, he shot off through the trees to Hagrid's house, tail between his legs.
“Really can’t blame him for that,” Fred commented.
Harry got out too, and after a minute or so, Ron seemed to regain the feeling in his limbs and followed, still stiff-necked and staring. Harry gave the car a grateful pat as it reversed back into the forest and disappeared from view.
“I wonder if its still there,” Mr. Weasley said thoughtfully.
“Well it doesn’t matter now does it Arthur?” His wife said reprovingly.
“Er…of course not Molly dear.”
Harry went back into Hagrid's cabin to get the Invisibility Cloak. Fang was trembling under a blanket in his basket. When Harry got outside again, he found Ron being violent sick in the pumpkin patch.
“Also can’t blame him for that,” George said, repeating Fred’s words.
"Follow the spiders," said Ron weakly, wiping his mouth on his sleeve. "I'll never forgive Hagrid. We're lucky to be alive."
"I bet he thought Aragog wouldn't hurt friends of his," said Harry.
Hagrid nodded, slightly stunned at how Aragog had behaved.
"That's exactly Hagrid's problem!" said Ron, thumping the wall of the cabin. "He always thinks monsters aren't as bad as they're made out, and look where it's got him! A cell in Azkaban!" He was shivering uncontrollably now. "What was the point of sending us in there? What have we found out, I'd like to know?"
“That Hagrid was innocent,” Remus said.
"That Hagrid never opened the Chamber of Secrets," said Harry, throwing the cloak over Ron and prodding him in the arm to make him walk. "He was innocent."
Ron gave a loud snort. Evidently, hatching Aragog in a cupboard wasn't his idea of being innocent.
As the castle loomed nearer Harry twitched the cloak to make sure their feet were hidden, then pushed the creaking front doors ajar. They walked carefully back across the entrance hall and up the marble staircase, holding their breath as they passed corridors where watchful sentries were walking. At last they reached the safety of the Gryffindor common room, where the fire had burned itself into glowing ash. They took off the cloak and climbed the winding stair to their dormitory.
Ron fell onto his bed without bothering to get undressed. Harry, however, didn't feel very sleepy. He sat on the edge of his fourposter, thinking hard about everything Aragog had said.
“He didn’t really tell you much though,” Neville said.
“Maybe not out right, but what he did say definitely did help tie some things together,” Harry said evenly.
The creature that was lurking somewhere in the castle, he thought, sounded like a sort of monster Voldemort -even other monsters didn't want to name it. But he and Ron were no closer to finding out what it was, or how it petrified its victims. Even Hagrid had never known what was in the Chamber of Secrets.
Harry swung his legs up onto his bed and leaned back against his pillows, watching the moon glinting at him through the tower window.
He couldn't see what else they could do. They had hit dead ends everywhere. Riddle had caught the wrong person, the Heir of Slytherin had got off, and no one could tell whether it was the same person, or a different one, who had opened the Chamber this time. There was nobody else to ask. Harry lay down, still thinking about what Aragog had said.
He was becoming drowsy when what seemed like their very last hope occurred to him, and he suddenly sat bolt upright.
“I thought it was Hermione’s job to suddenly realize stuff like that?” Fred asked.
“Well since she wasn’t there, it fell to Harry since Ron wouldn’t think of anything.” George
said. Evidently now that their brother was safe, they had no problems teasing him.
"Ron," he hissed through the dark, "Ron--"
Ron woke with a yelp like Fang's, stared wildly around, and saw Harry.
"Ron - that girl who died. Aragog said she was found in a bathroom," said Harry, ignoring Neville's snuffling snores from the corner. "What if she never left the bathroom? What if she's still there?"
“Myrtle?” Remus asked. “Myrtle was the girl killed the last time the Chamber was opened?”
Ron rubbed his eyes, frowning through the moonlight. And then he understood, too.
"You don't think - not Moaning Myrtle?"
“That’s the end of the chapter,” Hermione said, closing the book after marking the page. “Ron? Are you okay to read?”
Ron, still very pale took a deep breath and nodded. “Sure, now that that’s over.”