82 It’s time
The other victim was a sixth-year girl with long, curly hair. A Ravenclaw called Penelope Clearwater.
However, no one except Percy Wesley and her friends seemed to really care about her. They were occupied with another thing.
The disappearance of Arthur Kingscrown.
No one knew where he had gone. It was as if he had never existed in the first place. All traces of him disappeared.
Professor McGonagall guided the numb Ron and Harry back to the Gryffindor Common room where she made an announcement.
"All students will return to their House common rooms by six o'clock in the evening. No student is to leave the dormitories after that time. You will be escorted to each lesson by a teacher. No student is to use the bathroom unaccompanied by a teacher. All further Quidditch training and matches are to be postponed. There will be no more evening activities."
The Gryffindors packed inside the common room listened to Professor McGonagall in silence. She rolled up the parchment from which she had been reading and said in a somewhat choked voice, "I need hardly add that I have rarely been so distressed. It is likely that the school will be closed unless the culprit behind these attacks is caught. I would urge anyone who thinks they might know anything about them to come forward."
She climbed somewhat awkwardly out of the portrait hole, and the Gryffindors began talking immediately.
"That's four Gryffindors down, counting in Arthur who is missing, one Ravenclaw, and one Hufflepuff, " said the Weasley twins' friend Lee Jordan, counting on his fingers. "Haven't any of the teachers noticed that the Slytherins are all safe? Isn't it obvious all this stuff's coming from Slytherin? The Heir of Slytherin, the monster of Slytherin — why don't they just chuck all the Slytherins out?" he roared, to nods and scattered applause.
Percy Weasley was sitting in a chair behind Lee, but for once he didn't seem keen to make his views heard. He was looking pale and stunned.
"Percy's in shock," George told Harry quietly. "That Ravenclaw girl — Penelope Clearwater — she's a prefect. I don't think he thought the monster would dare attack a prefect."
But Harry was only half-listening. He didn't seem to be able to get rid of the picture of Hermione, lying on the hospital bed as though carved out of stone. He also couldn't help but feel a sense of loss at the realization that Arth has disappeared.
For the first time in his life, Harry felt powerless. He felt as though he was useless and unable to do anything without the help of his smart friends.
He felt alone.
And the feeling choked him, as if a hand had grabbed his heart and was slowly squeezing it tighter and tighter.
Ron blanket walked over to Harry and sat down right next to him.
"It can't get any worse can it?"
How wrong he was.
The next morning, another piece of news had people fearing for their future.
Dumbledore has been suspended from his position as headmaster.
With Dumbledore gone, fear had spread as never before, 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.
One person, however, seemed to be thoroughly enjoying the atmosphere of terror and suspicion. Draco Malfoy was strutting around the school as though he had just been appointed Head Boy. 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. Maybe we'll get a decent headmaster now. Someone who won't want the Chamber of Secrets closed. McGonagall won't last long, she's only filling in..."
"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, but I bet that the pretty boy Arth was killed."
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.
"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 —"
"Shut up Ron!" Hissed Harry. "Stop being reckless! We can't afford to be stupid now! We have no one to take care of us now."
Ron glared at Malfoy before forcibly turning his head around to look at Harry.
"So what do you want to do now?"
Harry went silent as he put his head down deep in thought.
What would Arth do?
Harry glanced at Ron with a grim face.
"I think," said Harry, more quietly still, "it's time to get my dad's old cloak out again."