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J.K.Rîwling >> Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (page 15)


“This way,” he shouted, and he began to run, up the stairs, into the entrance hall. It was no good hoping to hear anything here, the babble of talk from the Halloween feast was echoing out of the Great Hall. Harry sprinted up the marble staircase to the first floor, Ron and Hermione clattering behind him.

“Harry, what're we—”

“SHH!”

Harry strained his ears. Distantly, from the floor above, and growing fainter still, he heard the voice: “...I smell blood... I SMELL BLOOD!”

His stomach lurched. “It's going to kill someone!” he shouted, and ignoring Ron's and Hermione's bewildered faces, he ran up the next flight of steps three at a time, trying to listen over his own pounding footsteps—Harry hurtled around the whole of the second floor, Ron and Hermione panting behind him, not stopping until they turned a corner into the last, deserted passage.

“Harry, what was that all about?” said Ron, wiping sweat off his face. “I couldn't hear anything...”

But Hermione gave a sudden gasp, pointing down the corridor.

“Look!”

Something was shining on the wall ahead. They approached slowly, squinting through the darkness. Foot-high words had been daubed on the wall between two windows, shimmering in the light cast by the flaming torches.

THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS HAS BEEN OPENED. ENEMIES OF THE HAIR, BEWARE.

“What's that thing—hanging underneath?” said Ron, a slight quiver in his voice.

As they edged nearer, Harry almost slipped—there was a large puddle of water on the floor; Ron and Hermione grabbed him, and they inched toward the message, eyes fixed on a dark shadow beneath it. All three of them realized what it was at once, and leapt backward with a splash.

Mrs. Norris, the caretaker's cat, was hanging by her tail from the torch bracket. She was stiff as a board, her eyes wide and staring.

For a few seconds, they didn't move. Then Ron said, “Let's get out of here.”

“Shouldn't we try and help—” Harry began awkwardly.

“Trust me,” said Ron. “We don't want to be found here.”

But it was too late. A rumble, as though of distant thunder, told them that the feast had just ended. From either end of the corridor where they stood came the sound of hundreds of feet climbing the stairs, and the loud, happy talk of well-fed people; next moment, students were crashing into the passage from both ends.

The chatter, the bustle, the noise died suddenly as the people in front spotted the hanging cat. Harry, Ron, and Hermione stood alone, in the middle of the corridor, as silence fell among the mass of students pressing forward to see the grisly sight.

Then someone shouted through the quiet.

“Enemies of the Heir, beware! You'll be next, Mudbloods!” It was Draco Malfoy. He had pushed to the front of the crowd, his cold eyes alive, his usually bloodless face flushed, as he grinned at the sight of the hanging, immobile cat.

 

 

CHAPTER NINE

THE WRITING ON THE WALL

 

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.

And his popping eyes fell on Harry.

“You!” he screeched. “You! You've murdered my cat! You've killed her! I'll kill you! I'll—”

“Argus!”

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

“Come with me, Argus,” he said to Filch. “You, too, Mr. Potter, Mr. Weasley, Miss Granger.”

Lockhart stepped forward eagerly.

“My office is nearest, Headmaster—just upstairs—please feel free—”

“Thank you, Gilderoy,” said Dumbledore.

The silent crowd parted to let them pass. Lockhart, looking excited and important, hurried after Dumbledore; so did Professors McGonagall and Snape.

As they entered Lockhart's darkened office there was a flurry of movement across the walls; Harry saw several of the Lockharts in the pictures dodging out of sight, their hair in rollers. The real Lockhart lit the candles on his desk and stood back. Dumbledore lay Mrs. Norris on the polished surface and began to examine her. Harry, Ron, and Hermione exchanged tense looks and sank into chairs outside the pool of candlelight, watching.

The tip of Dumbledore's long, crooked nose was barely an inch from Mrs. Norris's 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 curse 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. Much as he detested Filch, Harry couldn't help feeling a bit sorry for him, though not nearly as sorry as he felt for himself If Dumbledore believed Filch, he would be expelled for sure.

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 remember something very similar happening in Ouagadougou,” said Lockhart, “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...”

The photographs of Lockhart on the walls were all nodding in agreement as he talked. One of them had forgotten to remove his hair net.

At last Dumbledore straightened up.

“She's not dead, Argus,” he said softly.

Lockhart stopped abruptly in the middle of counting the number of murders he had prevented.

“Not dead?” choked Filch, looking through his fingers at Mrs. Norris. “But why's she all—all stiff and frozen?”

“She has been Petrified,” said Dumbledore (“Ah! I thought so!” said Lockhart). “But how, I cannot say...”

“Ask him!” shrieked Filch, turning his blotched and tearstained face to Harry.

“No second year could have done this,” said Dumbledore firmly. “it would take Dark Magic of the most advanced—”

“He did it, he did it!” Filch spat, his pouchy face purpling. “You saw what he wrote on the wall! He found—in my office—he knows I'm a—I'm a—” Filch's face worked horribly. “He knows I'm a Squib!” he finished.

“I never touched Mrs. Norris!” Harry said loudly, uncomfortably aware of everyone looking at him, including all the Lockharts on the walls. “And I don't even know what a Squib is.”

“Rubbish!” snarled Filch. “He saw my Kwikspell letter!”

“If I might speak, Headmaster,” said Snape from the shadows, and Harry's sense of foreboding increased; he was sure nothing Snape had to say was going to do him any good.

“Potter and his friends may have simply been in the wrong place at the wrong time,” he said, a slight sneer curling his mouth as though he doubted it. “But we do have a set of suspicious circumstances here. Why was he in the upstairs corridor at all? Why wasn't he at the Halloween feast?”

Harry, Ron and Hermione all launched into an explanation about the deathday party. “...there were hundreds of ghosts, they'll tell you we were there—”

“But why not join the feast afterward?” said Snape, his black eyes glittering in the candlelight. “Why go up to that corridor?”

Ron and Hermione looked at Harry.

“Because—because—” Harry said, his heart thumping very fast; something told him it would sound very far-fetched if he told them he had been led there by a bodiless voice no one but he could hear, “because we were tired and wanted to go to bed,” he said.

“Without any supper?” said Snape, a triumphant smile flickering across his gaunt face. “I didn't think ghosts provided food fit for living people at their parties.”

“We weren't hungry,” said Ron loudly as his stomach gave a huge rumble.

Snape's nasty smile widened.

“I suggest, Headmaster, that Potter is not being entirely truthful,” he said. “It might be a good idea if he were deprived of certain privileges until he is ready to tell us the whole story. I personally feel he should be taken off the Gryffindor Quidditch team until he is ready to be honest.”

“Really, Severus,” said Professor McGonagall sharply, “I see no reason to stop the boy playing Quidditch. This cat wasn't hit over the head with a broomstick. There is no evidence at all that Potter has done anything wrong.”

Dumbledore was giving Harry a searching look. His twinkling lightblue gaze made Harry feel as though he were being X-rayed.

“Innocent until proven guilty, Severus,” he said firmly.

Snape looked furious. So did Filch.

“My cat has been Petrified!” he shrieked, his eyes popping. “I want to see some punishment!”

“We will be able to cure her, Argus,” said Dumbledore patiently. “Professor Sprout recently managed to procure some Mandrakes. As soon as they have reached their full size, I will have a potion made that will revive Mrs. Norris.”

“I'll make it,” Lockhart butted in. “I must have done it a hundred times. I could whip up a Mandrake Restorative Draught in my sleep—”

“Excuse me,” said Snape icily. “But I believe I am the Potions master at this school.”

There was a very awkward pause.

“You may go,” Dumbledore said to Harry, Ron, and Hermione.

They went, as quickly as they could without actually running. When they were a floor up from Lockhart's office, they turned into an empty classroom and closed the door quietly behind them. Harry squinted at his friends' darkened faces.

“D'you think I should have told them about that voice I heard?”

“No,” said Ron, without hesitation. “Hearing voices no one else can hear isn't a good sign, even in the wizarding world.”

Something in Ron's voice made Harry ask, “You do believe me, don't you?”

“Course I do,” said Ron quickly. “But -you must admit it's weird...”

“I know it's weird,” said Harry. “The whole thing's weird. What was that writing on the wall about? The Chamber Has Been Opened... What's that supposed to mean?”

“You know, it rings a sort of bell,” said Ron slowly. “I think someone told me a story about a secret chamber at Hogwarts once... might've been Bill...”

“And what on earth's a Squib?” said Harry.

To his surprise, Ron stifled a snigger.

“Well—it's not funny really—but as it's Filch, he said. “A Squib is someone who was born into a wizarding family but hasn't got any magic powers. Kind of the opposite of Muggle-born wizards, but Squibs are quite unusual. If Filch's trying to learn magic from a Kwikspell course, I reckon he must be a Squib. It would explain a lot. Like why he hates students so much.” Ron gave a satisfied smile. “He's bitter.”

A clock chimed somewhere.

“Midnight,” said Harry. “We'd better get to bed before Snape comes along and tries to frame us for something else.”

For a few days, the school could talk of little else but the attack on Mrs. Norris. Filch kept it fresh in everyone's minds by pacing the spot where she had been attacked, as though he thought the attacker might come back. Harry had seen him scrubbing the message on the wall with Mrs. Skower's All-Purpose Magical Mess Remover, but to no effect; the words still gleamed as brightly as ever on the stone. When Filch wasn't guarding the scene of the crime, he was skulking redeyed through the corridors, lunging out at unsuspecting students and trying to put them in detention for things like “breathing loudly' and “looking happy.”

Ginny Weasley seemed very disturbed by Mrs. Norris's fate. According to Ron, she was a great cat lover.

“But you haven't really got to know Mrs. Norris,” Ron told her bracingly. “Honestly, we're much better off without her.” Ginny's lip trembled. “Stuff like this doesn't often happen at Hogwarts,” Ron assured her. “They'll catch the maniac who did it and have him out of here in no time. I just hope he's got time to Petrify Filch before he's expelled. I'm only joking—” Ron added hastily as Ginny blanched.

The attack had also had an effect on Hermione. It was quite usual for Hermione to spend a lot of time reading, but she was now doing almost nothing else. Nor could Harry and Ron get much response from her when they asked what she was up to, and not until the following Wednesday did they find out.

Harry had been held back in Potions, where Snape had made him stay behind to scrape tubeworms off the desks. After a hurried lunch, he went upstairs to meet Ron in the library, and saw Justin FinchFletchley, the Hufflepuff boy from Herbology, coming toward him. Harry had just opened his mouth to say hello when Justin caught sight of him, turned abruptly, and sped off in the opposite direction.

Harry found Ron at the back of the library, measuring his History of Magic homework. Professor Binns had asked for a three-foot long composition on “The Medieval Assembly of European Wizards.” “I don't believe it, I'm still eight inches short...” said Ron furiously, letting go of his parchment, which sprang back into a roll. “And Hermione's done four feet seven inches and her writing's tiny. “

“Where is she?” asked Harry, grabbing the tape measure and unrolling his own homework.

“Somewhere over there,” said Ron, pointing along the shelves. “Looking for another book. I think she's trying to read the whole library before Christmas.”

Harry told Ron about Justin Finch-Fletchley running away from him.

“Dunno why you care. I thought he was a bit of an idiot,” said Ron, scribbling away, making his writing as large as possible. “All that junk about Lockhart being so great—”

Title: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
Author: J.K.Rîwling
Viewed 102467 times

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