Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
“For heaven’s sake, Harry,” said Hermione, exasperated, as one of Ron’s bishops wrestled her knight off his horse and dragged him off the board. “Go and find Justin if it’s so important to you.”
So Harry got up and left through the portrait hole, wondering where Justin might be.
The castle was darker than it usually was in daytime because of the thick, swirling gray snow at every window. Shivering, Harry walked past classrooms where lessons were taking place, catching snatches of what was happening within. Professor McGonagall was shouting at someone who, by the sound of it, had turned his friend into a badger. Resisting the urge to take a look, Harry walked on by, thinking that Justin might be using his free time to catch up on some work, and deciding to check the library first.
A group of the Hufflepuffs who should have been in Herbology were indeed sitting at the back of the library, but they didn’t seem to be working. Between the long lines of high bookshelves, Harry could see that their heads were close together and they were having what looked like an absorbing conversation. He couldn’t see whether Justin was among them. He was walking toward them when something of what they were saying met his ears, and he paused to listen, hidden in the Invisibility section.
“So anyway,” a stout boy was saying, “I told Justin to hide up in our dormitory. I mean to say, if Potter’s marked him down as his next victim, it’s best if he keeps a low profile for a while. Of course, Justin’s been waiting for something like this to happen ever since he let slip to Potter he was Muggle-born. Justin actually told him he’d been down for Eton. That’s not the kind of thing you bandy about with Slytherin’s heir on the loose, is it?”
“You definitely think it is Potter, then, Ernie?” said a girl with blonde pigtails anxiously.
“Hannah,” said the stout boy solemnly, “he’s a Parselmouth. Everyone knows that’s the mark of a Dark wizard. Have you ever heard of a decent one who could talk to snakes? They called Slytherin himself Serpent-tongue.”
There was some heavy murmuring at this, and Ernie went on, “Remember what was written on the wall? Enemies of the Heir, Beware. Potter had some sort of run in with Filch. Next thing we know, Flich’s cat’s attacked. That first year, Creevey, was annoying Potter at the Quidditch match, taking pictures of him while he was lying in the mud. Next thing we know—Creevey’s been attacked.”
“He always seems so nice, though,” said Hannah uncertainly, “and, well, he’s the one who made You-Know-Who disappear. He can’t be all bad, can he?”
Ernie lowered his voice mysteriously, the Hufflepuffs bent closer, and Harry edged nearer so that he could catch Ernie’s words.
“No one knows how he survived that attack by You-Know-Who. I mean to say, he was only a baby when it happened. He should have been blasted into smithereens. Only a really powerful Dark wizard could have survived a curse like that.” He dropped his voice until it was barely more than a whisper, and said, “That’s probably why You-Know-Who wanted to kill him in the first place. Didn’t want another Dark Lord competing with him. I wonder what other powers Potter’s been hiding?”
Harry couldn’t take anymore. Clearing his throat loudly, he stepped out from behind the bookshelves. If he hadn’t been feeling so angry, he would have found the sight that greeted him funny: Every one of the Hufflepuffs looked as though they had been Petrified by the sight of him, and the color was draining out of Ernie’s face.
“Hello,” said Harry. “I’m looking for Justin Finch-Fletchley.”
The Hufflepuffs’ worst fears had clearly been confirmed. They all looked fearfully at Ernie.
“What do you want with him?” said Ernie in a quavering voice.
“I wanted to tell him what really happened with that snake at the Dueling Club,” said Harry.
Ernie bit his white lips and then, taking a deep breath, said, “We were all there. We saw what happened.”
“Then you noticed that after I spoke to it, the snake backed off?” said Harry.
“All I saw,” said Ernie stubbornly, though he was trembling as he spoke, “was you speaking Parseltongue and chasing the snake toward Justin. “
“I didn’t chase it at him!” Harry said, his voice shaking with anger. “It didn’t even touch him!”
“It was a very near miss,” said Ernie. “And in case you’re getting ideas,” he added hastily, “I might tell you that you can trace my family back through nine generations of witches and warlocks and my blood’s as pure as anyone’s, so—”
“I don’t care what sort of blood you’ve got!” said Harry fiercely. “Why would I want to attack Muggle-borns?”
“I’ve heard you hate those Muggles you live with,” said Ernie swiftly.
“It’s not possible to live with the Dursleys and not hate them,” said Harry. “I’d like to see you try it.”
He turned on his heel and stormed out of the library, earning himself a reproving glare from Madam Pince, who was polishing the gilded cover of a large spellbook.
Harry blundered up the corridor, barely noticing where he was going, he was in such a fury. The result was that he walked into something very large and solid, which knocked him backward onto the floor.
“Oh, hello, Hagrid,” Harry said, looking up.
Hagrid’s face was entirely hidden by a woolly, snow covered balaclava, but it couldn’t possibly be anyone else, as he filled most of the corridor in his moleskin overcoat. A dead rooster was hanging from one of his massive, gloved hands.
“All righ’, Harry?” he said, pulling up the balaclava so he could speak. “Why aren’t yeh in class?”
“Canceled,” said Harry, getting up. “What’re you doing in here?”
Hagrid held up the limp rooster.
“Second one killed this term,” he explained. “It’s either foxes or a Blood Suckin Bugbear, an’ I need the Headmaster’s permission ter put a charm around the hen coop.”
He peered more closely at Harry from under his thick, snow flecked eyebrows.
“Yeh sure yeh’re all righ’? Yeh look all hot an’ bothered—”
Harry couldn’t bring himself to repeat what Ernie and the rest of the Hufflepuffs had been saying about him.
“It’s nothing,” he said. “I’d better get going, Hagrid, it’s Transfiguration next and I’ve got to pick up my books.” He walked off, his mind still full of what Ernie had said about him.
“Justin’s been waiting for something like this to happen ever since he let slip to Potter he was Muggle-born…”
Harry stamped up the stairs and turned along another corridor, which was particularly dark; the torches had been extinguished by a strong, icy draft that was blowing through a loose windowpane. He was halfway down the passage when he tripped headlong over something lying on the floor.
He turned to squint at what he’d fallen over and felt as though his stomach had dissolved.
Justin Finch-Fletchley was lying on the floor, rigid and cold, a look of shock frozen on his face, his eyes staring blankly at the ceiling. And that wasn’t all. Next to him was another figure, the strangest sight Harry had ever seen.
It was Nearly Headless Nick, no longer pearly white and transparent, but black and smoky, floating immobile and horizontal, six inches off the floor. His head was half off and his face wore an expression of shock identical to Justin’s.
Harry got to his feet, his breathing fast and shallow, his heart doing a kind of drum roll against his ribs. He looked wildly up and down the deserted corridor and saw a line of spiders scuttling as fast as they could away from the bodies. The only sounds were the muffled voices of teachers from the classes on either side.
He could run, and no one would ever know he had been there. But he couldn’t just leave them lying here… He had to get help… Would anyone believe he hadn’t had anything to do with this?
As he stood there, panicking, a door right next to him opened with a bang. Peeves the Poltergeist came shooting out.
sp; “Why, it’s potty wee Potter!” cackled Peeves, knocking Harry’s glasses askew as he bounced past him. “What’s Potter up to? Why’s Potter lurking—”
Peeves stopped, halfway through a midair somersault. Upside down, he spotted Justin and Nearly Headless Nick. He flipped the right way up, filled his lungs and, before Harry could stop him, screamed, “ATTACK! ATTACK! ANOTHER ATTACK! NO MORTAL OR GHOST IS SAFE! RUN FOR YOUR LIVES! ATTAAAACK!”
Crash—crash—crash—door after door flew open along the corridor and people flooded out. For several long minutes, there was a scene of such confusion that Justin was in danger of being squashed and people kept standing in Nearly Headless Nick. Harry found himself pinned against the wall as the teachers shouted for quiet. Professor McGonagall came running, followed by her own class, one of whom still had black and white striped hair. She used her wand to set off aloud bang, which restored silence, and ordered everyone back into their classes. No sooner had the scene cleared somewhat than Ernie the Hufflepuff arrived, panting, on the scene.
“Caught in the act!” Ernie yelled, his face stark white, pointing his finger dramatically at Harry.
“That will do, Macmillan!” said Professor McGonagall sharply.
Peeves was bobbing overhead, now grinning wickedly, surveying the scene; Peeves always loved chaos. As the teachers bent over Justin and Nearly Headless Nick, examining them, Peeves broke into song:
“Oh, Potter, you rotter, oh, what have you done, you’re killing off’ students, you think it’s good fun—”
“That’s enough, Peeves!” barked Professor McGonagall, and Peeves zoomed away backward, with his tongue out at Harry.
Justin was carried up to the hospital wing by Professor Flitwick and Professor Sinistra of the Astronomy department, but nobody seemed to know what to do for Nearly Headless Nick. In the end, Professor McGonagall conjured a large fan out of thin air, which she gave to Ernie with instructions to waft Nearly Headless Nick up the stairs. This Ernie did, fanning Nick along like a silent black hovercraft. This left Harry and Professor McGonagall alone together.
“This way, Potter,” she said.
“Professor,” said Harry at once, “I swear I didn’t—”
“This is out of my hands, Potter,” said Professor McGonagall curtly.
They marched in silence around a corner and she stopped before a large and extremely ugly stone gargoyle.
“Lemon drop!” she said. This was evidently a password, because the gargoyle sprang suddenly to life and hopped aside as the wall behind him split in two. Even full of dread for what was coming, Harry couldn’t fail to be amazed. Behind the wall was a spiral staircase that was moving smoothly upward, like an escalator. As he and Professor McGonagall stepped onto it, Harry heard the wall thud closed behind them. They rose upward in circles, higher and higher, until at last, slightly dizzy, Harry saw a gleaming oak door ahead, with a brass knocker in the shape of a griffin.
He knew now where he was being taken. This must be where Dumbledore lived.
12. THE POLYJUICE POTION
They stepped off the stone staircase at the top, and Professor McGonagall rapped on the door. It opened silently and they entered. Professor McGonagall told Harry to wait and left him there, alone.
Harry looked around. One thing was certain: of all the teachers’ offices Harry had visited so far this year, Dumbledore’s was by far the most interesting. If he hadn’t been scared out of his wits that he was about to be thrown out of school, he would have been very pleased to have a chance to look around it.
It was a large and beautiful circular room, full of funny little noises. A number of curious silver instruments stood on spindle legged tables, whirring and emitting little puffs of smoke. The walls were covered with portraits of old headmasters and headmistresses, all of whom were snoozing gently in their frames. There was also an enormous, claw footed desk, and, sitting on a shelf behind it, a shabby, tattered wizard’s hat—the Sorting Hat.
Harry hesitated. He cast a wary eye around the sleeping witches and wizards on the walls. Surely it couldn’t hurt if he took the hat down and tried it on again? Just to see… just to make sure it had put him in the right House—
He walked quietly around the desk, lifted the hat from its shelf, and lowered it slowly onto his head. It was much too large and slipped down over his eyes, just as it had done the last time he’d put it on. Harry stared at the black inside of the hat, waiting. Then a small voice said in his ear, “Bee in your bonnet, Harry Potter?”
“Er, yes,” Harry muttered. “Er—sorry to bother you—I wanted to ask—”
“You’ve been wondering whether I put you in the right House,” said the hat smartly. “Yes… you were particularly difficult to place. But I stand by what I said before”—Harry’s heart leapt—“you would have done well in Slytherin—”
Harry’s stomach plummeted. He grabbed the point of the hat and pulled it off. It hung limply in his hand, grubby and faded. Harry pushed it back onto its shelf, feeling sick.
“You’re wrong,” he said aloud to the still and silent hat. It didn’t move. Harry backed away, watching it. Then a strange, gagging noise behind him made him wheel around.