They had barely set foot in the cool entrance hall when a voice rang out, “There
you are, Potter—Weasley.” Professor McGonagall was walking toward them, looking
stern. “You will both do your detentions this evening.”
“What're we doing, Professor?” said Ron, nervously suppressing a burp.
“You will be polishing the silver in the trophy room with Mr. Filch,” said Professor
McGonagall. “And no magic, Weasley—elbow grease.”
Ron gulped. Argus Filch, the caretaker, was loathed by every student in the school.
“And you, Potter, will be helping Professor Lockhart answer his fan mail,” said
“Oh no—Professor, can't I go and do the trophy room, too?” said Harry desperately.
“Certainly not,” said Professor McGonagall, raising her eyebrows. “Professor
Lockhart requested you particularly. Eight o'clock sharp, both of you.”
Harry and Ron slouched into the Great Hall in states of deepest gloom, Hermione
behind them, wearing a well-you-did-break-schoolrules sort of expression. Harry
didn't enjoy his shepherd's pie as much as he'd thought. Both he and Ron felt they'd
got the worse deal.
“Filch'll have me there all night,” said Ron heavily. “No magic! There must be
about a hundred cups in that room. I'm no good at Muggle cleaning.”
“I'd swap anytime,” said Harry hollowly. “I've had loads of practice with the
Dursleys. Answering Lockhart's fan mail... he'll be a nightmare...”
Saturday afternoon seemed to melt away, and in what seemed like no time, it was
five minutes to eight, and Harry was dragging his feet along the second-floor corridor
to Lockhart's office. He gritted his teeth and knocked.
The door flew open at once. Lockhart beamed down at him.
“Ah, here's the scallywag!” he said. “Come in, Harry, come in.”
Shining brightly on the walls by the light of many candles were countless framed
photographs of Lockhart. He had even signed a few of them. Another large pile lay
on his desk.
“You can address the envelopes!” Lockhart told Harry, as though this was a huge
treat. “This first one's to Gladys Gudgeon, bless her—huge fan of mine—”
The minutes snailed by. Harry let Lockhart's voice wash over him, occasionally
saying, “Mmm” and “Right” and “Yeah.” Now and then he caught a phrase like, “Fame's
a fickle friend, Harry,” or “Celebrity is as celebrity does, remember that.”
The candles burned lower and lower, making the light dance over the many moving
faces of Lockhart watching him. Harry moved his aching hand over what felt like
the thousandth envelope, writing out Veronica Smethley's address. It must be nearly
time to leave, Harry thought miserably, please let it be nearly time...
And then he heard something—something quite apart from the spitting of the dying
candles and Lockhart's prattle about his fans.
It was a voice, a voice to chill the bone marrow, a voice of breathtaking, ice-cold
“Come... come to me... let me rip you .. let me tear you... let me kill you...”
Harry gave a huge jump and a large lilac blot appeared on Veronica Smethley's
“What?” he said loudly.
“I know!” said Lockhart. “Six solid months at the top of the bestseller list!
Broke all records!”
“No,” said Harry frantically. “That voice!”
“Sorry?” said Lockhart, looking puzzled. “What voice?”
“That—that voice that said—didn't you hear it?”
Lockhart was looking at Harry in high astonishment.
“What are you talking about, Harry? Perhaps you're getting a little drowsy? Great
Scott—look at the time! We've been here nearly four hours! Id never have believed
it—the time's flown, hasn't it?”
Harry didn't answer. He was straining his ears to hear the voice again, but there
was no sound now except for Lockhart telling him he mustn't expect a treat like
this every time he got detention. Feeling dazed, Harry left.
It was so late that the Gryffindor common room was almost empty. Harry went straight
up to the dormitory. Ron wasn't back yet. Harry pulled on his pajamas, got into
bed, and waited. Half an hour later, Ron arrived, nursing his right arm and bringing
a strong smell of polish into the darkened room.
“My muscles have all seized up,” he groaned, sinking on his bed. “Fourteen times
he made me buff up that Quidditch cup before he was satisfied. And then I had another
slug attack all over a Special Award for Services to the School. Took ages to get
the slime off... How was it with Lockhart?”
Keeping his voice low so as not to wake Neville, Dean, and Seamus, Harry told
Ron exactly what he had heard.
“And Lockhart said he couldn't hear it?” said Ron. Harry could see him frowning
in the moonlight. “D'you think he was lying? But I don't get it—even someone invisible
would've had to open the door.”
“I know,” said Harry, lying back in his four-poster and staring at the canopy
above him. “I don't get it either.”
THE DEATHDAY PARTY
October arrived, spreading a damp chill over the grounds and into the castle.
Madam Pomfrey, the nurse, was kept busy by a sudden spate of colds among the staff
and students. Her Pepperup potion worked instantly, though it left the drinker smoking
at the ears for several hours afterward. Ginny Weasley, who had been looking pale,
was bullied into taking some by Percy. The steam pouring from under her vivid hair
gave the impression that her whole head was on fire.
Raindrops the size of bullets thundered on the castle windows for days on end;
the lake rose, the flower beds turned into muddy streams, and Hagrid's pumpkins
swelled to the size of garden sheds. Oliver Wood's enthusiasm for regular training
sessions, however, was not dampened, which was why Harry was to be found, late one
stormy Saturday afternoon a few days before Halloween, returning to Gryffindor Tower,
drenched to the skin and splattered with mud.
Even aside from the rain and wind it hadn't been a happy practice session. Fred
and George, who had been spying on the Slytherin team, had seen for themselves the
speed of those new Nimbus Two Thousand and Ones. They reported that the Slytherin
team was no more than seven greenish blurs, shooting through the air like missiles.
As Harry squelched along the deserted corridor he came across somebody who looked
just as preoccupied as he was. Nearly Headless Nick, the ghost of Gryffindor Tower,
was staring morosely out of a window, muttering under his breath, “...don't fulfill
their requirements... half an inch, if that...”
“Hello, Nick,” said Harry.
“Hello, hello,” said Nearly Headless Nick, starting and looking round. He wore
a dashing, plumed hat on his long curly hair, and a tunic with a ruff, which concealed
the fact that his neck was almost completely severed. He was pale as smoke, and
Harry could see right through him to the dark sky and torrential rain outside.
“You look troubled, young Potter,” said Nick, folding a transparent letter as
he spoke and tucking it inside his doublet.
“So do you,” said Harry.
“Ah,” Nearly Headless Nick waved an elegant hand, “a matter of no importance...
It's not as though I really wanted to join... Thought I'd apply, but apparently
I 'don't fulfill requirements'.”
In spite of his airy tone, there was a look of great bitterness on his face.
“But you would think, wouldn't you,” he erupted suddenly, pulling the letter
back out of his pocket, “that getting hit forty-five times in the neck with a blunt
axe would qualify you to join the Headless Hunt?”
“Oh—yes,” said Harry, who was obviously supposed to agree.
“I mean, nobody wishes more than I do that it had all been quick and clean, and
my head had come off properly, I mean, it would have saved me a great deal of pain
and ridicule. However—” Nearly Headless Nick shook his letter open and read furiously:
“'We can only accept huntsmen whose heads have parted company with their bodies.
You will appreciate that it would be impossible otherwise for members to participate
in hunt activities such as Horseback Head-Juggling and Head Polo. It is with the
greatest regret, therefore, that I must inform you that you do not fulfill our requirements.
With very best wishes, Sir Patrick Delaney-Podmore. '”
Fuming, Nearly Headless Nick stuffed the letter away.
“Half an inch of skin and sinew holding my neck on, Harry! Most people would
think that's good and beheaded, but oh, no, it's not enough for Sir Properly Decapitated-Podmore.”
Nearly Headless Nick took several deep breaths and then said, in a far calmer
tone, “So—what's bothering you? Anything I can do?”
“No,” said Harry. “Not unless you know where we can get seven free Nimbus Two
Thousand and Ones for our match against Sly—”
The rest of Harry's sentence was drowned out by a high-pitched mewling from somewhere
near his ankles. He looked down and found himself gazing into a pair of lamp-like
yellow eyes. It was Mrs. Norris, the skeletal gray cat who was used by the caretaker,
Argus Filch, as a sort of deputy in his endless battle against students.
“You'd better get out of here, Harry,” said Nick quickly. “Filch isn't in a good
mood—he's got the flu and some third years accidentally plastered frog brains all
over the ceiling in dungeon five. He's been cleaning all morning, and if he sees
you dripping mud all over the place—”
“Right,” said Harry, backing away from the accusing stare of Mrs. Norris, but
not quickly enough. Drawn to the spot by the mysterious power that seemed to connect
him with his foul cat, Argus Filch burst suddenly through a tapestry to Harry's
right, wheezing and looking wildly about for the rulebreaker. There was a thick
tartan scarf bound around his head, and his nose was unusually purple.
“Filth!” he shouted, his jowls aquiver, his eyes popping alarmingly as he pointed
at the muddy puddle that had dripped from Harry's Quidditch robes. “Mess and muck
everywhere! I've had enough of it, I tell you! Follow me, Potter!”
So Harry waved a gloomy good-bye to Nearly Headless Nick and followed Filch back
downstairs, doubling the number of muddy footprints on the floor.
Harry had never been inside Filch's office before; it was a place most students
avoided. The room was dingy and windowless, lit by a single oil lamp dangling from
the low ceiling. A faint smell of fried fish lingered about the place. Wooden filing
cabinets stood around the walls; from their labels, Harry could see that they contained
details of every pupil Filch had ever punished. Fred and George Weasley had an entire
drawer to themselves. A highly polished collection of chains and manacles hung on
the wall behind Filch's desk. It was common knowledge that he was always begging
Dumbledore to let him suspend students by their ankles from the ceiling.
Filch grabbed a quill from a pot on his desk and began shuffling around looking
“Dung,” he muttered furiously, “great sizzling dragon bogies... frog brains...
rat intestines... I've had enough of it... make an example... where's the form...
He retrieved a large roll of parchment from his desk drawer and stretched it
out in front of him, dipping his long black quill into the ink pot. “Name... Harry
“It was only a bit of mud!” said Harry.
“It's only a bit of mud to you, boy, but to me it's an extra hour scrubbing!”
shouted Filch, a drip shivering unpleasantly at the end of his bulbous nose. “Crime...
befouling the castle... suggested sentence...”
Dabbing at his streaming nose, Filch squinted unpleasantly at Harry who waited
with bated breath for his sentence to fall.
But as Filch lowered his quill, there was a great BANG! on the ceiling of the
office, which made the oil lamp rattle.
“PEEVES!” Filch roared, flinging down his quill in a transport of rage. “I'll
have you this time, I'll have you!”
And without a backward glance at Harry, Filch ran flat-footed from the office,
Mrs. Norris streaking alongside him.
Peeves was the school poltergeist, a grinning, airborne menace who lived to cause
havoc and distress. Harry didn't much like Peeves, but couldn't help feeling grateful
for his timing. Hopefully, whatever Peeves had done (and it sounded as though he'd
wrecked something very big this time) would distract Filch from Harry.
Thinking that he should probably wait for Filch to come back, Harry sank into
a moth-eaten chair next to the desk. There was only one thing on it apart from his
half-completed form: a large, glossy, purple envelope with silver lettering on the
front. With a quick glance at the door to check that Filch wasn't on his way back,
Harry picked up the envelope and read: kwikspell A Correspondence Course in Beginners'
Intrigued, Harry flicked the envelope open and pulled out the sheaf of parchment
inside. More curly silver writing on the front page said: Feel out of step in the
world of modern magic? Find yourself making excuses not to perform simple spells?
Ever been taunted for your woeful wandwork? There is an answer!
Kwikspell is an all-new, fail-safe, quick-result, easy-learn course. Hundreds
of witches and wizards have benefited from the Kwikspell method!
Madam Z. Nettles of Topsham writes: “I had no memory for incantations and my
potions were a family joke! Now, after a Kwikspell course, I am the center of attention
at parties and friends beg for the recipe of my Scintillation Solution!”
Warlock D. J. Prod of Didsbury says: “My wife used to sneer at my feeble charms,
but one month into your fabulous Kwikspell course and I succeeded in turning her
into a yak! Thank you, Kwikspell!”
Fascinated, Harry thumbed through the rest of the envelope's contents. Why on
earth did Filch want a Kwikspell course? Did this mean he wasn't a proper wizard?
Harry was just reading “Lesson One: Holding Your Wand (Some Useful Tips)” when shuffling
footsteps outside told him Filch was coming back. Stuffing the parchment back into
the envelope, Harry threw it back onto the desk just as the door opened.
Filch was looking triumphant.
“That vanishing cabinet was extremely valuable!” he was saying gleefully to Mrs.
Norris. “We'll have Peeves out this time, my sweet.”