- nine : the writing on the wall

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"WHAT'S GOING ON HERE? What's going on?"

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"WHAT'S GOING ON HERE? What's going on?"

Attracted no doubt by Malfoy's shout, Argus Filch came shouldering his way through the crowd. Then he saw Mrs Norris and fell back, clutching his face in horror.

"My cat! My cat! What's happened to Mrs Norris?" He shrieked.

His popping eyes fell on Harry and I.

"You!" He screeched. "You! You've murdered my cat! You've killed her! I'll kill you! I'll —"

"Argus!"

I sighed relieved when Dumbledore arrived on scene, followed by a number of other teachers. In seconds, he had swept by Harry, Ron, Hermione and I and detached Mrs Norris from the torch bracket.

"Come with me, Argus," he said to Filch. "You too, Mr and Mss Potter, Mr Weasley, Mss Granger."

Lockhart stepped forward eagerly.

"My office is nearest, Headmaster — just upstairs — please feel free . . ."

"Thank you, Gilderoy," Dumbledore said.

The silent crowd parted to let them pass and the four of us followed Dumbledore to Lockhart's office.

As we entered Lockhart's darkened office, there was a flurry of movement across the walls; I saw several of the Lockhart's in the pictures dodging out of sight, their hair in rollers. The real Lockhart lit the candles on his desk and stood back.

Dumbledore laid Mrs Norris on the polished surface and began to examine her. Harry, Ron, Hermione and I exchanged tense looks and sand into chairs outside the pool of candlelight, watching.

The tip of Dumbledore's long, crooked nose was barely an inch from Mrs Norris' fur. He was looking at her closely through his half-moon spectacles, his long fingers gently prodding and poking. Professor McGonagall was bent almost as close, her eyes narrowed. Snape loomed behind them, half in shadow, wearing a most peculiar expression: it was as though he was trying hard not to smile. And Lockhart was hovering around all of them, making suggestions.

"It was definitely a cruse that killed her — probably the Transmogrifian Torture. I've seen it used many times, so unlucky I wasn't there, I know the very counter-curse that would have saved her . . ."

Lockhart's comments were punctuated by Filch's dry, racking sobs. He was slumped in a chair by the desk, unable to look at Mrs Norris, his face in his hands. For a moment, I pitied him. He truly loved Mrs Norris.

Dumbledore was now muttering strange words under his breath and tapping Mrs Norris with his wand, but nothing happened: she continued to look as though she had been recently stuffed.

" . . . I remembered something very similar happening in Ouagadougou," Lockhart said and I would have done anything just to let him shut up for a moment. "A series of attacks, the full story's in my autobiography. I was able to provide the townsfolk with various amulets which cleared the matter up at once . . ."

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