Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
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.
“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 dread creature, though he asked me, many times.”
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.
“Go?” said Aragog slowly. “I think not…”
“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.”
Harry spun around. Feet away, towering above him, was a solid wall of spiders, clicking, their many eyes gleaming in their ugly black heads.
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, a loud, long note sounded, and a blaze of light flamed through the hollow.
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.
“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.
Harry looked sideways at Ron. His mouth was still open in the silent scream, but his eyes weren’t popping anymore.
“Are you okay?” 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.
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. 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.
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 violently sick in the pumpkin patch.
“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.
“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 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 four-poster, thinking hard about everything Aragog had said.
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.
“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?”
Ron rubbed his eyes, frowning through the moonlight. And then he understood, too.
“You don’t think—not Moaning Myrtle?”
16. THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS
“All those times we were in that bathroom, and she was just three toilets away,” said Ron bitterly at breakfast next day, “and we could’ve asked her, and now…”
It had been hard enough trying to look for spiders. Escaping their teachers long enough to sneak into a girls’ bathroom, the girls’ bathroom, moreover, right next to the scene of the first attack, was going to be almost impossible.
But something happened in their first lesson, Transfiguration, that drove the Chamber of Secrets out of their minds for the first time in weeks. Ten minutes into the class, Professor McGonagall told them that their exams would start on the first of June, one week from today.
“Exams?” howled Seamus Finnigan. “We’re still getting exams?”
There was a loud bang behind Harry as Neville Longbottom’s wand slipped, vanishing one of the legs on his desk. Professor McGonagall restored it with a wave of her own wand, and turned, frowning, to Seamus.
“The whole point of keeping the school open at this time is for you to receive your education,” she said sternly. “The exams will therefore take place as usual, and I trust you are all studying hard.”
Studying hard! It had never occurred to Harry that there would be exams with the castle in this state. There was a great deal of mutinous muttering around the room, which made Professor McGonagall scowl even more darkly.
“Professor Dumbledore’s instructions were to keep the school running as normally as possible,” she said. “And that, I need hardly point out, means finding out how much you have learned this year.
Harry looked down at the pair of white rabbits he was supposed to be tu
rning into slippers. What had he learned so far this year? He couldn’t seem to think of anything that would be useful in an exam.
Ron looked as though he’d just been told he had to go and live in the Forbidden Forest.
“Can you imagine me taking exams with this?” he asked Harry, holding up his wand, which had just started whistling loudly.
Three days before their first exam, Professor McGonagall made another announcement at breakfast.
“I have good news,” she said, and the Great Hall, instead of falling silent, erupted.
“Dumbledore’s coming back!” several people yelled joyfully.
“You’ve caught the Heir of Slytherin!” squealed a girl at the Ravenclaw table.
“Quidditch matches are back on!” roared Wood excitedly.
When the hubbub had subsided, Professor McGonagall said, “Professor Sprout has informed me that the Mandrakes are ready for cutting at last. Tonight, we will be able to revive those people who have been Petrified. I need hardly remind you all that one of them may well be able to tell us who, or what, attacked them. I am hopeful that this dreadful year will end with our catching the culprit.”
There was an explosion of cheering. Harry looked over at the Slytherin table and wasn’t at all surprised to see that Draco Malfoy hadn’t joined in. Ron, however, was looking happier than he’d looked in days.
“It won’t matter that we never asked Myrtle, then!” he said to Harry. “Hermione’ll probably have all the answers when they wake her up! Mind you, she’ll go crazy when she finds out we’ve got exams in three days’ time. She hasn’t studied. It might be kinder to leave her where she is till they’re over.”
Just then, Ginny Weasley came over and sat down next to Ron. She looked tense and nervous, and Harry noticed that her hands were twisting in her lap.
“What’s up?” said Ron, helping himself to more porridge.
Ginny didn’t say anything, but glanced up and down the Gryffindor table with a scared look on her face that reminded Harry of someone, though he couldn’t think who.
“Spit it out,” said Ron, watching her.
Harry suddenly realized who Ginny looked like. She was rocking backward and forward slightly in her chair, exactly like Dobby did when he was teetering on the edge of revealing forbidden information.
“I’ve got to tell you something,” Ginny mumbled, carefully not looking at Harry.
“What is it?” said Harry.
Ginny looked as though she couldn’t find the right words.
“What?” said Ron.
Ginny opened her mouth, but no sound came out. Harry leaned forward and spoke quietly, so that only Ginny and Ron could hear him.
“Is it something about the Chamber of Secrets? Have you seen something? Someone acting oddly?”
Ginny drew a deep breath and, at that precise moment, Percy Weasley appeared, looking tired and wan.
“If you’ve finished eating, I’ll take that seat, Ginny. I’m starving, I’ve only just come off patrol duty.”
Ginny jumped up as though her chair had just been electrified, gave Percy a fleeting, frightened look, and scampered away. Percy sat down and grabbed a mug from the center of the table.
“Percy!” said Ron angrily. “She was just about to tell us something important!”
Halfway through a gulp of tea, Percy choked.
“What sort of thing?” he said, coughing.
“I just asked her if she’d seen anything odd, and she started to say—”
“Oh—that—that’s nothing to do with the Chamber of Secrets,” said Percy at once.
“How do you know?” said Ron, his eyebrows raised.
“Well, er, if you must know, Ginny, er, walked in on me the other day when I was—well, never mind—the point is, she spotted me doing something and I, um, I asked her not to mention it to anybody. I must say, I did think she’d keep her word. It’s nothing, really, I’d just rather—”
Harry had never seen Percy look so uncomfortable.
“What were you doing, Percy?” said Ron, grinning. “Go on, tell us, we won’t laugh.” Percy didn’t smile back.
“Pass me those rolls, Harry, I’m starving.”
Harry knew the whole mystery might be solved tomorrow without their help, but he wasn’t about to pass up a chance to speak to Myrtle if it turned up—and to his delight it did, midmorning, when they were being led to History of Magic by Gilderoy Lockhart.
Lockhart, who had so often assured them that all danger had passed, only to be proved wrong right away, was now wholeheartedly convinced that it was hardly worth the trouble to see them safely down the corridors. His hair wasn’t as sleek as usual; it seemed he had been up most of the night, patrolling the fourth floor.
“Mark my words,” he said, ushering them around a corner. “The first words out of those poor Petrified people’s mouths will be ‘It was Hagrid.’ Frankly, I’m astounded Professor McGonagall thinks all these security measures are necessary.”
“I agree, sir,” said Harry, making Ron drop his books in surprise.
“Thank you, Harry,” said Lockhart graciously while they waited for a long line of Hufflepuffs to pass. “I mean, we teachers have quite enough to be getting on with, without walking students to classes and standing guard all night…”
“That’s right,” said Ron, catching on. “Why don’t you leave us here, sir, we’ve only got one more corridor to go—”
“You know, Weasley, I think I will,” said Lockhart. “I really should go and prepare my next class—”
And he hurried off.
“Prepare his class,” Ron sneered after him. “Gone to curl his hair, more like.”
They let the rest of the Gryffindors draw ahead of them, then darted down a side passage and hurried off toward Moaning Myrtle’s bathroom. But just as they were congratulating each other on their brilliant scheme—
“Potter! Weasley! What are you doing?”
It was Professor McGonagall, and her mouth was the thinnest of thin lines.
“We were—we were ” Ron stammered. “We were going to—to go and see—”
“Hermione,” said Harry. Ron and Professor McGonagall both looked at him.
“We haven’t seen her for ages, Professor,” Harry went on hurriedly, treading on Ron’s foot, “and we thought we’d sneak into the hospital wing, you know, and tell her the Mandrakes are nearly ready and, er, not to worry—”
Professor McGonagall was still staring at him, and for a moment, Harry thought she was going to explode, but when she spoke, it was in a strangely croaky voice.
“Of course,” she said, and Harry, amazed, saw a tear glistening in her beady eye. “Of course, I realize this has all been hardest on the friends of those who have been… I quite understand. Yes, Potter, of course you may visit Miss Granger. I will inform Professor Binns where you’ve gone. Tell Madam Pomfrey I have given my permission.”
Harry and Ron walked away, hardly daring to believe that they’d avoided detention. As they turned the corner, they distinctly heard Professor McGonagall blow her nose.
“That,” said Ron fervently, “was the best story you’ve ever come up with.”
They had no choice now but to go to the hospital wing and tell Madam Pomfrey that they had Professor McGonagall’s permission to visit Hermione.
Madam Pomfrey let them in, but reluctantly.
“There’s just no point talking to a Petrified person,” she said, and they had to admit she had a point when they’d taken their seats next to Hermione. It was plain that Hermione didn’t have the faintest inkling that she had visitors, and that they might just as well tell her bedside cabinet not to worry for all the good it would do.
“Wonder if she did see the attacker, though?” said Ron, looking sadly at Hermione’s rigid face. “Because if he sneaked up on them all, no one’ll ever know…”
But Harry wasn’t looking at Hermione’s face. He was more interested in
her right hand. It lay clenched on top of her blankets, and bending closer, he saw that a piece of paper was scrunched inside her fist.
Making sure that Madam Pomfrey was nowhere near, he pointed this out to Ron.
“Go on and get it out,” Ron whispered, shifting his chair so that he blocked Harry from Madam Pomfrey’s view.
It was no easy task. Hermione’s hand was clamped so tightly around the paper that Harry was sure he was going to tear it. While Ron kept watch he tugged and twisted, and at last, after several tense minutes, the paper came free.
It was a page torn from a very old library book. Harry smoothed it out eagerly and Ron leaned close to read it, too.
Of the many fearsome beasts and monsters that roam our land, there is none more curious or more deadly than the Basilisk, known also as the King of Serpents. This snake, which may reach gigantic size and live many hundreds of years, is born from a chicken’s egg, hatched beneath a toad. Its methods of killing are most wondrous, for aside from its deadly and venomous fangs, the Basilisk has a murderous stare, and all who are fixed with the beam of its eye shall suffer instant death. Spiders flee before the Basilisk, for it is their mortal enemy, and the Basilisk flees only from the crowing of the rooster, which is fatal to it.
And beneath this, a single word had been written, in a hand Harry recognized as Hermione’s. Pipes.
It was as though somebody had just flicked a light on in his brain.
“Ron,” he breathed. “This is it. This is the answer. The monster in the Chamber’s a basilisk—a giant serpent! That’s why I’ve been hearing that voice all over the place, and nobody else has heard it. It’s because I understand Parseltongue…”
Harry looked up at the beds around him.
“The basilisk kills people by looking at them. But no one’s died—because no one looked it straight in the eye. Colin saw it through his camera. The basilisk burned up all the film inside it, but Colin just got Petrified. Justin… Justin must’ve seen the basilisk through Nearly Headless Nick! Nick got the full blast of it, but he couldn’t die again… and Hermione and that Ravenclaw prefect were found with a mirror next to them. Hermione had just realized the monster was a basilisk. I bet you anything she warned the first person she met to look around corners with a mirror first! And that girl pulled out her mirror—and—”
Ron’s jaw had dropped.
“And Mrs. Norris?” he whispered eagerly.
Harry thought hard, picturing the scene on the night of Halloween.
“The water…” he said slowly. “The flood from Moaning Myrtle’s bathroom. I bet you Mrs. Norris only saw the reflection…”
He scanned the page in his hand eagerly. The more he looked at it, the more it made sense.
“‘…The crowing of the rooster… is fatal to it!’” he read aloud. “Hagrid’s roosters were killed! The Heir of Slytherin didn’t want one anywhere near the castle once the Chamber was opened! ‘Spiders flee before it!’ It all fits!”
“But how’s the basilisk been getting around the place?” said Ron. “A giant snake… Someone would’ve seen…”
Harry, however, pointed at the word Hermione had scribbled at the foot of the page.
“Pipes,” he said. “Pipes… Ron, it’s been using the plumbing. I’ve been hearing that voice inside the walls…”
Ron suddenly grabbed Harry’s arm.
“The entrance to the Chamber of Secrets!” he said hoarsely. “What if it’s a bathroom? What if it’s in—”
“Moaning Myrtle’s bathroom,” said Harry.
They sat there, excitement coursing through them, hardly able to believe it.
“This means,” said Harry, “I can’t be the only Parselmouth in the school. The Heir of Slytherin’s one, too. That’s how he’s been controlling the basilisk.”
“What’re we going to do?” said Ron, whose eyes were flashing. “Should we go straight to McGonagall?”
“Let’s go to the staff room,” said Harry, jumping up. “She’ll be there in ten minutes. It’s nearly break.”
They ran downstairs. Not wanting to be discovered hanging around in another corridor, they went straight into the deserted staff room. It was a large, paneled room full of dark, wooden chairs. Harry and Ron paced around it, too excited to sit down.
But the bell to signal break never came.
Instead, echoing through the corridors came Professor McGonagall’s voice, magically magnified.
“All students to return to their House dormitories at once. All teachers return to the staff room. Immediately, please.”
Harry wheeled around to stare at Ron.
“Not another attack? Not now?”
“What’ll we do?” said Ron, aghast. “Go back to the dormitory?”
“No,” said Harry, glancing around. There was an ugly sort of wardrobe to his left, full of the teachers’ cloaks. “In here. Let’s hear what it’s all about. Then we can tell them what we’ve found out.”
They hid themselves inside it, listening to the rumbling of hundreds of people moving overhead, and the staff room door banging open. From between the musty folds of the cloaks, they watched the teachers filtering into the room. Some of them were looking puzzled, others downright scared. Then Professor McGonagall arrived.
“It has happened,” she told the silent staff room. “A student has been taken by the monster. Right into the Chamber itself.”
Professor Flitwick let out a squeal. Professor Sprout clapped her hands over her mouth. Snape gripped the back of a chair very hard and said, “How can you be sure?”
“The Heir of Slytherin,” said Professor McGonagall, who was very white, “left another message. Right underneath the first one. ‘Her skeleton will lie in the Chamber forever.’”
Professor Flitwick burst into tears.
“Who is it?” said Madam Hooch, who had sunk, weak kneed, into a chair. “Which student?”
“Ginny Weasley,” said Professor McGonagall.
Harry felt Ron slide silently down onto the wardrobe floor beside him.
“We shall have to send all the students home tomorrow,” said Professor McGonagall. “This is the end of Hogwarts. Dumbledore always said…”
The staff room door banged open again. For one wild moment, Harry was sure it would be Dumbledore. But it was Lockhart, and he was beaming.
“So sorry—dozed off—what have I missed?”
He didn’t seem to notice that the other teachers were looking at him with something remarkably like hatred. Snape stepped forward.
“Just the man,” he said. “The very man. A girl has been snatched by the monster, Lockhart. Taken into the Chamber of Secrets itself. Your moment has come at last.”
“That’s right, Gilderoy,” chipped in Professor Sprout. “Weren’t you saying just last night that you’ve known all along where the entrance to the Chamber of Secrets is?”
“I—well, I—” sputtered Lockhart.
“Yes, didn’t you tell me you were sure you knew what was inside it?” piped up Professor Flitwick.
“D-did I? I don’t recall—”
“I certainly remember you saying you were sorry you hadn’t had a crack at the monster before Hagrid was arrested,” said Snape. “Didn’t you say that the whole affair had been bungled, and that you should have been given a free rein from the first?”
Lockhart stared around at his stony faced colleagues.
“I—I really never—you may have misunderstood—”
“We’ll leave it to you, then, Gilderoy,” said Professor McGonagall. “Tonight will be an excellent time to do it. We’ll make sure everyone’s out of your way. You’ll be able to tackle the monster all by yourself. A free rein at last.”
Lockhart gazed desperately around him, but nobody came to the rescue. He didn’t look remotely handsome anymore. His lip was trembling, and in the absence of his usually toothy grin, he looked weak chinned and feeble.
“V-very well,” he said. “I’ll—I’ll be in my office, getting—getting ready.”
And he left the room.
“Right,” said Professor McGonagall, whose nostrils were flared, “that’s got him out from under our feet. The Heads of Houses should go and inform their students what has happened. Tell them the Hogwarts Express will take them home first thing tomorrow. Will the rest of you please make sure no students have been left outside their dormitories.”
The teachers rose and left, one by one.
It was probably the worst day of Harry’s entire life. He, Ron, Fred, and George sat together in a corner of the Gryffindor common room, unable to say anything to each other. Percy wasn’t there. He had gone to send an owl to Mr. and Mrs. Weasley, then shut himself up in his dormitory.
No afternoon ever lasted as long as that one, nor had Gryffindor Tower ever been so crowded, yet so quiet. Near sunset, Fred and George went up to bed, unable to sit there any longer.
“She knew something, Harry,” said Ron, speaking for the first time since they had entered the wardrobe in the staff room. “That’s why she was taken. It wasn’t some stupid thing about Percy at all., She’d found out something about the Chamber of Secrets. That must be why she was—” Ron rubbed his eyes frantically. “I mean, she was a pureblood. There can’t be any other reason.”
Harry could see the sun sinking, blood red, below the skyline. This was the worst he had ever felt. If only there was something they could do. Anything.
“Harry,” said Ron. “D’you think there’s any chance at all she’s not—you know—”
Harry didn’t know what to say. He couldn’t see how Ginny could still be alive.
“D’you know what?” said Ron. “I think we should go and see Lockhart. Tell him what we know. He’s going to try and get into the Chamber. We can tell him where we think it is, and tell him it’s a basilisk in there.”
Because Harry couldn’t think of anything else to do, and because he wanted to be doing something, he agreed. The Gryffindors around them were so miserable, and felt so sorry for the Weasleys, that nobody tried to stop them as they got up, crossed the room, and left through the portrait hole.
Darkness was falling as they walked down to Lockhart’s office. There seemed to be a lot of activity going on inside it. They could hear scraping, thumps, and hurried footsteps.
Harry knocked and there was a sudden silence from inside. Then the door opened the tiniest crack and they saw one of Lockhart’s eyes peering through it.
“Oh—Mr. Potter—Mr. Weasley—” he said, opening the door a bit wider. “I’m rather busy at the moment—if you would be quick—”
“Professor, we’ve got some information for you,” said Harry. “We think it’ll help you.”
“Er—well—it’s not terribly—” The side of Lockhart’s face that they could see looked very uncomfortable. “I mean—well all right—”
He opened the door and they entered.
His office had been almost completely stripped. Two large trunks stood open on the floor. Robes, jade green, lilac, midnight blue, had been hastily folded into one of them; books were jumbled untidily into the other. The photographs that had covered the walls were now crammed into boxes on the desk.
“Are you going somewhere?” said Harry.
“Er, well, yes,” said Lockhart, ripping a life size poster of himself from the back of the door as he spoke and starting to roll it up. “Urgent call—unavoidable—got to go—”
“What about my sister?” said Ron jerkily.
“Well, as to that—most unfortunate—” said Lockhart, avoiding their eyes as he wrenched open a drawer and started emptying the contents into a bag. “No one regrets more than I—”
“You’re the Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher!” said Harry. “You can’t go now! Not with all the Dark stuff going on here!”
“Well—I must say—when I took the job—” Lockhart muttered, now piling socks on top of his robes. “nothing in the job description—didn’t expect—”
“You mean you’re running away?” said Harry disbelievingly. “After all that stuff you did in your books—”
“Books can be misleading,” said Lockhart delicately.
“You wrote them!” Harry shouted.