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J.K.Rîwling >> Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (page 14)


His eyes fell on Harry and then darted to the Kwikspell envelope, which, Harry realized too late, was lying two feet away from where it had started.

Filch's pasty face went brick red. Harry braced himself for a tidal wave of fury. Filch hobbled across to his desk, snatched up the envelope, and threw it into a drawer.

“Have you—did you read -?” he sputtered.

“No,” Harry lied quickly.

Filch's knobbly hands were twisting together.

“If I thought you'd read my private—not that it's mine—for a friend—be that as it may—however—”

Harry was staring at him, alarmed; Filch had never looked madder. His eyes were popping, a tic was going in one of his pouchy cheeks, and the tartan scarf didn't help.

“Very well—go—and don't breathe a word—not that—however, if you didn't read—go now, I have to write up Peeves' report—go—”

Amazed at his luck, Harry sped out of the office, up the corridor, and back upstairs. To escape from Filch's office without punishment was probably some kind of school record.

“Harry! Harry! Did it work?”

Nearly Headless Nick came gliding out of a classroom. Behind him, Harry could see the wreckage of a large black-and-gold cabinet that appeared to have been dropped from a great height.

“I persuaded Peeves to crash it right over Filch's office,” said Nick eagerly. “Thought it might distract him—”

“Was that you?” said Harry gratefully. “Yeah, it worked, I didn't even get detention. Thanks, Nick!”

They set off up the corridor together. Nearly Headless Nick, Harry noticed, was still holding Sir Patrick's rejection letter..

“I wish there was something I could do for you about the Headless Hunt,” Harry said.

Nearly Headless Nick stopped in his tracks and Harry walked right through him. He wished he hadn't; it was like stepping through an icy shower.

“But there is something you could do for me,” said Nick excitedly. “Harry—would I be asking too much—but no, you wouldn't want—”

“What is it?” said Harry.

“Well, this Halloween will be my five hundredth deathday,” said Nearly Headless Nick, drawing himself up and looking dignified.

“Oh,” said Harry, not sure whether he should look sorry or happy about this. “Right.”

“I'm holding a party down in one of the roomier dungeons. Friends will be coming from all over the country. It would be such an honor if you would attend. Mr. Weasley and Miss Granger would be most welcome, too, of course—but I daresay you'd rather go to the school feast?” He watched Harry on tenterhooks.

“No,” said Harry quickly, “I'll come—”

“My dear boy! Harry Potter, at my deathday party! And”—he hesitated, looking excited—”do you think you could possibly mention to Sir Patrick how very frightening and impressive you find me?”

“Of—of course,” said Harry.

Nearly Headless Nick beamed at him.

“A deathday party?” said Hermione keenly when Harry had changed at last and joined her and Ron in the common room. “I bet there aren't many living people who can say they've been to one of those—it'll be fascinating!”

“Why would anyone want to celebrate the day they died?” said Ron, who was halfway through his Potions homework and grumpy. “Sounds dead depressing to me...”

Rain was still lashing the windows, which were now inky black, but inside all looked bright and cheerful. The firelight glowed over the countless squashy armchairs where people sat reading, talking, doing homework or, in the case of Fred and George Weasley, trying to find out what would happen if you fed a Filibuster firework to a salamander. Fred had “rescued” the brilliant orange, fire-dwelling lizard from a Care of Magical Creatures class and it was now smouldering gently on a table surrounded by a knot of curious people.

Harry was at the point of telling Ron and Hermione about Filch and the Kwikspell course when the salamander suddenly whizzed into the air, emitting loud sparks and bangs as it whirled wildly round the room. The sight of Percy bellowing himself hoarse at Fred and George, the spectacular display of tangerine stars showering from the salamander's mouth, and its escape into the fire, with accompanying explosions, drove both Filch and the Kwikspell envelope from Harry's mind.

By the time Halloween arrived, Harry was regretting his rash promise to go to the deathday party. The rest of the school was happily anticipating their Halloween feast; the Great Hall had been decorated with the usual live bats, Hagrid's vast pumpkins had been carved into lanterns large enough for three men to sit in, and there were rumors that Dumbledore had booked a troupe of dancing skeletons for the entertainment.

“A promise is a promise,” Hermione reminded Harry bossily. “You said you'd go to the deathday party.”

So at seven o'clock, Harry, Ron, and Hermione walked straight past the doorway to the packed Great Hall, which was glittering invitingly with gold plates and candles, and directed their steps instead toward the dungeons.

The passageway leading to Nearly Headless Nick's party had been lined with candles, too, though the effect was far from cheerful: These were long, thin, jet-black tapers, all burning bright blue, casting a dim, ghostly light even over their own living faces. The temperature dropped with every step they took. As Harry shivered and drew his robes tightly around him, he heard what sounded like a thousand fingernails scraping an enormous blackboard.

“Is that supposed to be music?” Ron whispered. They turned a corner and saw Nearly Headless Nick standing at a doorway hung with black velvet drapes.

“My dear friends,” he said mournfully. “Welcome, welcome... so pleased you could come...”

He swept off his plumed hat and bowed them inside.

It was an incredible sight. The dungeon was full of hundreds of pearlywhite, translucent people, mostly drifting around a crowded dance floor, waltzing to the dreadful, quavering sound of thirty musical saws, played by an orchestra on a raised, black-draped platform. A chandelier overhead blazed midnight-blue with a thousand more black candles. Their breath rose in a mist before them; it was like stepping into a freezer.

“Shall we have a look around?” Harry suggested, wanting to warm up his feet.

“Careful not to walk through anyone,” said Ron nervously, and they set off around the edge of the dance floor. They passed a group of gloomy nuns, a ragged man wearing chains, and the Fat Friar, a cheerful Hufflepuff ghost, who was talking to a knight with an arrow sticking out of his forehead. Harry wasn't surprised to see that the Bloody Baron, a gaunt, staring Slytherin ghost covered in silver bloodstains, was being given a wide berth by the other ghosts.

“Oh, no,” said Hermione, stopping abruptly. “Turn back, turn back, I don't want to talk to Moaning Myrtle—”

“Who?” said Harry as they backtracked quickly.

“She haunts one of the toilets in the girls' bathroom on the first floor,” said Hermione.

“She haunts a toilet?”

“Yes. It's been out-of-order all year because she keeps having tantrums and flooding the place. I never went in there anyway if I could avoid it; it's awful trying to have a pee with her wailing at you—”

“Look, food!” said Ron.

On the other side of the dungeon was a long table, also covered in black velvet. They approached it eagerly but next moment had stopped in their tracks, horrified. The smell was quite disgusting. Large, rotten fish were laid on handsome silver platters; cakes, burned charcoal-black, were heaped on salvers; there was a great maggoty haggis, a slab of cheese covered in furry green mold and, in pride of place, an enormous gray cake in the shape of a tombstone, with tar-like icing forming the words, Sir Nicholas de MimsyPorpington died 31st October, 1492

Harry watched, amazed, as a portly ghost approached the table, crouched low, and walked through it, his mouth held wide so that it passed through one of the stinking salmon.

“Can you taste it if you walk though it?” Harry asked him. “Almost,” said the ghost sadly, and he drifted away.

“I expect they've let it rot to give it a stronger flavor,” said Hermione knowledgeably, pinching her nose and leaning closer to look at the putrid haggis.

“Can we move? I feel sick,” said Ron.

They had barely turned around, however, when a little man swooped suddenly from under the table and came to a halt in midair before them.

“Hello, Peeves,” said Harry cautiously.

Unlike the ghosts around them, Peeves the Poltergeist was the very reverse of pale and transparent. He was wearing a bright orange party hat, a revolving bow tie, and a broad grin on his wide, wicked face.

“Nibbles?” he said sweetly, offering them a bowl of peanuts covered in fungus.

“No thanks,” said Hermione.

“Heard you talking about poor Myrtle,” said Peeves, his eyes dancing. “Rude you was about poor Myrtle.” He took a deep breath and bellowed, “OY! MYRTLE!”

“Oh, no, Peeves, don't tell her what I said, she'll be really upset,” Hermione whispered frantically. “I didn't mean it, I don't mind her—er, hello, Myrtle.”

The squat ghost of a girl had glided over. She had the glummest face Harry had ever seen, half-hidden behind lank hair and thick, pearly spectacles.

“What?” she said sulkily.

“How are you, Myrtle?” said Hermione in a falsely bright voice. “It's nice to see you out of the toilet.”

Myrtle sniffed.

“Miss Granger was just talking about you—” said Peeves slyly in Myrtle's ear.

“Just saying—saying—how nice you look tonight,” said Hermione, glaring at Peeves.

Myrtle eyed Hermione suspiciously.

“You're making fun of me,” she said, silver tears welling rapidly in her small, see-through eyes.

“No—honestly—didn't I just say how nice Myrtle's looking?” said Hermione, nudging Harry and Ron painfully in the ribs.

“Oh, yeah—”

“She did—”

“Don't lie to me,” Myrtle gasped, tears now flooding down her face, while Peeves chuckled happily over her shoulder. “D'you think I don't know what people call me behind my back? Fat Myrtle! Ugly Myrtle! Miserable, moaning, moping Myrtle!”

“You've forgotten pimply,” Peeves hissed in her ear.

Moaning Myrtle burst into anguished sobs and fled from the dungeon. Peeves shot after her, pelting her with moldy peanuts, yelling, “Pimply! Pimply!”

“Oh, dear,” said Hermione sadly.

Nearly Headless Nick now drifted toward them through the crowd.

“Enjoying yourselves?”

“Oh, yes,” they lied.

“Not a bad turnout,” said Nearly Headless Nick proudly. “The Wailing Widow came all the way up from Kent... It's nearly time for my speech, I'd better go and warn the orchestra...”

The orchestra, however, stopped playing at that very moment. They, and everyone else in the dungeon, fell silent, looking around in excitement, as a hunting horn sounded.

“Oh, here we go,” said Nearly Headless Nick bitterly.

Through the dungeon wall burst a dozen ghost horses, each ridden by a headless horseman. The assembly clapped wildly; Harry started to clap, too, but stopped quickly at the sight of Nick's face.

The horses galloped into the middle of the dance floor and halted, rearing and plunging. At the front of the pack was a large ghost who held his bearded head under his arm, from which position he was blowing the horn. The ghost leapt down, lifted his head high in the air so he could see over the crowd (everyone laughed), and strode over to Nearly Headless Nick, squashing his head back onto his neck.

“Nick!” he roared. “How are you? Head still hanging in there?”

He gave a hearty guffaw and clapped Nearly Headless Nick on the shoulder. “Welcome, Patrick,” said Nick stiffly.

“Live 'uns!” said Sir Patrick, spotting Harry, Ron, and Hermione and giving a huge, fake jump of astonishment, so that his head fell off again (the crowd howled with laughter).

“Very amusing,” said Nearly Headless Nick darkly.

“Don't mind Nick!” shouted Sir Patrick's head from the floor. “Still upset we won't let him join the Hunt! But I mean to say—look at the fellow—”

“I think,” said Harry hurriedly, at a meaningful look from Nick, “Nick's very—frightening and—er—”

“Ha!” yelled Sir Patrick's head. “Bet he asked you to say that!”

“If I could have everyone's attention, it's time for my speech!” said Nearly Headless Nick loudly, striding toward the podium and climbing into an icy blue spotlight.

“My late lamented lords, ladies, and gentlemen, it is my great sorrow...”

But nobody heard much more. Sir Patrick and the rest of the Headless Hunt had just started a game of Head Hockey and the crowd were turning to watch. Nearly Headless Nick tried vainly to recapture his audience, but gave up as Sir Patrick's head went sailing past him to loud cheers.

Harry was very cold by now, not to mention hungry.

“I can't stand much more of this,” Ron muttered, his teeth chattering, as the orchestra ground back into action and the ghosts swept back onto the dance floor.

“Let's go,” Harry agreed.

They backed toward the door, nodding and beaming at anyone who looked at them, and a minute later were hurrying back up the passageway full of black candles.

“Pudding might not be finished yet,” said Ron hopefully, leading the way toward the steps to the entrance hall.

And then Harry heard it.

“...rip... tear... kill...”

It was the same voice, the same cold, murderous voice he had heard in Lockhart's office.

He stumbled to a halt, clutching at the stone wall, listening with all his might, looking around, squinting up and down the dimly lit passageway.

“Harry, what're you -?”

“It's that voice again—shut up a minute—”

“...soo hungry... for so long...”

“Listen!” said Harry urgently, and Ron and Hermione froze, watching him.

“...kill... time to kill...”

The voice was growing fainter. Harry was sure it was moving away—moving upward. A mixture of fear and excitement gripped him as he stared at the dark ceiling; how could it be moving upward? Was it a phantom, to whom stone ceilings didn't matter?

Title: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
Author: J.K.Rîwling
Viewed 104359 times

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