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J.K.Rîwling >> Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (page 16)


Hermione emerged from between the bookshelves. She looked irritable and at last seemed ready to talk to them.

“All the copies of Hogwarts, A History have been taken out,” she said, sitting down next to Harry and Ron. “And there's a two-week waiting list. I wish I hadn't left my copy at home, but I couldn't fit it in my trunk with all the Lockhart books.”

“Why do you want it?” said Harry.

“The same reason everyone else wants it,” said Hermione, “to read up on the legend of the Chamber of Secrets.”

“What's that?” said Harry quickly.

“That's just it. I can't remember,” said Hermione, biting her lip. “And I can't find the story anywhere else—”

“Hermione, let me read your composition,” said Ron desperately, checking his watch.

“No, I won't,” said Hermione, suddenly severe. “You've had ten days to finish it—”

“I only need another two inches, come on—”

The bell rang. Ron and Hermione led the way to History of Magic, bickering.

History of Magic was the dullest subject on their schedule. Professor Binns, who taught it, was their only ghost teacher, and the most exciting thing that ever happened in his classes was his entering the room through the blackboard. Ancient and shriveled, many people said he hadn't noticed he was dead. He had simply got up to teach one day and left his body behind him in an armchair in front of the staff room fire; his routine had not varied in the slightest since.

Today was as boring as ever. Professor Binns opened his notes and began to read in a flat drone like an old vacuum cleaner until nearly everyone in the class was in a deep stupor, occasionally coming to long enough to copy down a name or date, then falling asleep again. He had been speaking for half an hour when something happened that had never happened before. Hermione put up her hand.

Professor Binns, glancing up in the middle of a deadly dull lecture on the International Warlock Convention of 1289, looked amazed.

“Miss—er -?”

“Granger, Professor. I was wondering if you could tell us anything about the Chamber of Secrets,” said Hermione in a clear voice.

Dean Thomas, who had been sitting with his mouth hanging open, gazing out of the window, jerked out of his trance; Lavender Brown's head came up off her arms and Neville Longbottom's elbow slipped off his desk.

Professor Binns blinked.

“My subject is History of Magic,” he said in his dry, wheezy voice. “I deal with facts, Miss Granger, not myths and legends.” He cleared his throat with a small noise like chalk s!-ping and continued, “In September of that year, a subcommittee of Sardinian sorcerers—”

He stuttered to a halt. Hermione's hand was waving in the air again.

“Miss Grant?”

“Please, sir, don't legends always have a basis in fact?”

Professor Binns was looking at her in such amazement, Harry was sure no student had ever interrupted him before, alive or dead.

“Well,” said Professor Binns slowly, “yes, one could argue that, I suppose.” He peered at Hermione as though he had never seen a student properly before. “However, the legend of which you speak is such a very sensational, even ludicrous tale—”

But the whole class was now hanging on Professor Binns's every word. He looked dimly at them all, every face turned to his. Harry could tell he was completely thrown by such an unusual show of interest.

“Oh, very well,” he said slowly. “Let me see... the Chamber of Secrets...

“You all know, of course, that Hogwarts was founded over a thousand years ago—the precise date is uncertain—by the four greatest witches and wizards of the age. The four school Houses are named after them: Godric Gryffindor, Helga Hufflepuff, Rowena Ravenclaw, and Salazar Slytherin. They built this castle together, far from prying Muggle eyes, for it was an age when magic was feared by common people, and witches and wizards suffered much persecution.”

He paused, gazed blearily around the room, and continued.

“For a few years, the founders worked in harmony together, seeking out youngsters who showed signs of magic and bringing them to the castle to be educated. But then disagreements sprang up between them. A rift began to grow between Slytherin and the others. Slytherin wished to be more selective about the students admitted to Hogwarts. He believed that magical learning should be kept within all-magic families. He disliked taking students of Muggle parentage, believing them to be untrustworthy. After a while, there was a serious argument on the subject between Slytherin and Gryffindor, and Slytherin left the school.”

Professor Binns paused again, pursing his lips, looking like a wrinkled old tortoise.

“Reliable historical sources tell us this much,” he said. “But these honest facts have been obscured by the fanciful legend of the Chamber of Secrets. The story goes that Slytherin had built a hidden chamber in the castle, of which the other founders knew nothing.

“Slytherin, according to the legend, sealed the Chamber of Secrets so that none would be able to open it until his own true heir arrived at the school. The heir alone would be able to unseal the Chamber of Secrets, unleash the horror within, and use it to purge the school of all who were unworthy to study magic.”

There was silence as he finished telling the story, but it wasn't the usual, sleepy silence that filled Professor Binns's classes. There was unease in the air as everyone continued to watch him, hoping for more. Professor Binns looked faintly annoyed.

“The whole thing is arrant nonsense, of course,” he said. “Naturally, the school has been searched for evidence of such a chamber, many times, by the most learned witches and wizards. It does not exist. A tale told to frighten the gullible.”

Hermione's hand was back in the air.

“Sir—what exactly do you mean by the `horror within' the Chamber?”

“That is believed to be some sort of monster, which the Heir of Slytherin alone can control,” said Professor Binns in his dry, reedy voice.

The class exchanged nervous looks.

“I tell you, the thing does not exist,” said Professor Binns, shuffling his notes. “There is no Chamber and no monster.”

“But, sir,” said Seamus Finnigan, “if the Chamber can only be opened by Slytherin's true heir, no one else would be able to find it, would they?”

“Nonsense, O'Flaherty,” said Professor Binns in an aggravated tone. “If a long succession of Hogwarts headmasters and headmistresses haven't found the thing—”

“But, Professor,” piped up Parvati Patil, “you'd probably have to use Dark Magic to open it—”

“Just because a wizard doesn't use Dark Magic doesn't mean he can't, Miss Pennyfeather,” snapped Professor Binns. “I repeat, if the likes of Dumbledore—”

“But maybe you've got to be related to Slytherin, so Dumbledore couldn't—” began Dean Thomas, but Professor Binns had had enough.

“That will do,” he said sharply. “It is a myth! It does not exist! There is not a shred of evidence that Slytherin ever built so much as a secret broom cupboard! I regret telling you such a foolish story! We will return, if you please, to history, to solid, believable, verifiable fact!”

And within five minutes, the class had sunk back into its usual torpor.

“I always knew Salazar Slytherin was a twisted old loony,” Ron told Harry and Hermione as they fought their way through the teeming corridors at the end of the lesson to drop off their bags before dinner. “But I never knew he started all this pure-blood stuff. I wouldn't be in his house if you paid me. Honestly, if the Sorting Hat had tried to put me in Slytherin, I'd've got the train straight back home...”

Hermione nodded fervently, but Harry didn't say anything. His stomach had just dropped unpleasantly.

Harry had never told Ron and Hermione that the Sorting Hat had seriously considered putting him in Slytherin. He could remember, as though it were yesterday, the small voice that had spoken in his ear when he'd placed the hat on his head a year before: You could be great, you know, it's all here in your head, and Slytherin would help you on the way to greatness, no doubt about that...

But Harry, who had already heard of Slytherin House's reputation for turning out Dark wizards, had thought desperately, Not Slytherin! and the hat had said, Oh, well, if you're sure... better be Gryffindor...

As they were shunted along in the throng, Colin Creevy went past.

“Hiya, Harry!”

“Hullo, Colin,” said Harry automatically.

“Harry—Harry—a boy in my class has been saying you're—”

But Colin was so small he couldn't fight against the tide of people bearing him toward the Great Hall; they heard him squeak, “See you, Harry!” and he was gone.

“What's a boy in his class saying about you?” Hermione wondered.

“That I'm Slytherin's heir, I expect,” said Harry, his stomach dropping another inch or so as he suddenly remembered the way Justin FinchFletchley had run away from him at lunchtime.

“People here'll believe anything,” said Ron in disgust.

The crowd thinned and they were able to climb the next staircase without difficulty.

“D'you really think there's a Chamber of Secrets?” Ron asked Hermione.

“I don't know,” she said, frowning. “Dumbledore couldn't cure Mrs. Norris, and that makes me think that whatever attacked her might not be—well—human.”

As she spoke, they turned a corner and found themselves at the end of the very corridor where the attack had happened. They stopped and looked. The scene was just as it had been that night, except that there was no stiff cat hanging from the torch bracket, and an empty chair stood against the wall bearing the message “The Chamber of Secrets has been Opened.”

“That's where Filch has been keeping guard,” Ron muttered.

They looked at each other. The corridor was deserted.

“Can't hurt to have a poke around,” said Harry, dropping his bag and getting to his hands and knees so that he could crawl along, searching for clues.

“Scorch marks!” he said. “Here—and here—”

“Come and look at this!” said Hermione. “This is funny...”

Harry got up and crossed to the window next to the message on the wall. Hermione was pointing at the topmost pane, where around twenty spiders were scuttling, apparently fighting to get through a small crack. A long, silvery thread was dangling like a rope, as though they had all climbed it in their hurry to get outside.

“Have you ever seen spiders act like that?” said Hermione wonderingly.

“No,” said Harry, “have you, Ron? Ron?”

He looked over his shoulder. Ron was standing well back and seemed to be fighting the impulse to run.

“What's up?” said Harry.

“I—don't—like—spiders,” said Ron tensely.

“I never knew that,” said Hermione, looking at Ron in surprise. “You've used spiders in Potions loads of times...

“I don't mind them dead,” said Ron, who was carefully looking anywhere but at the window. “I just don't like the way they move...

Hermione giggled.

“It's not funny,” said Ron, fiercely. “If you must know, when I was three, Fred turned my—my teddy bear into a dirty great spider because I broke his toy broomstick... You wouldn't like them either if you'd been holding your bear and suddenly it had too many legs and...”

He broke off, shuddering. Hermione was obviously still trying not to laugh. Feeling they had better get off the subject, Harry said, “Remember all that water on the floor? Where did that come from? Someone's mopped it up.”

“It was about here,” said Ron, recovering himself to walk a few paces past Filch's chair and pointing. “Level with this door.”

He reached for the brass doorknob but suddenly withdrew his hand as though he'd been burned.

“What's the matter?” said Harry.

“Can't go in there,” said Ron gruffly. “That's a girls' toilet.”

“Oh, Ron, there won't be anyone in there,” said Hermione, standing up and coming over. “That's Moaning Myrtle's place. Come on, let's have a look.”

And ignoring the large OUT of ORDER sign, she opened the door.

It was the gloomiest, most depressing bathroom Harry had ever set foot in. Under a large, cracked, and spotted mirror were a row of chipped sinks. The floor was damp and reflected the dull light given off by the stubs of a few candles, burning low in their holders; the wooden doors to the stalls were flaking and scratched and one of them was dangling off its hinges.

Hermione put her fingers to her lips and set off toward the end stall. When she reached it she said, “Hello, Myrtle, how are you?”

Harry and Ron went to look. Moaning Myrtle was floating above the tank of the toilet, picking a spot on her chin.

“This is a girls' bathroom,” she said, eyeing Ron and Harry suspiciously. “They're not girls.”

“No,” Hermione agreed. “I just wanted to show them how er—nice it is in here.”

She waved vaguely at the dirty old mirror and the damp floor.

“Ask her if she saw anything,” Harry mouthed at Hermione.

“What are you whispering?” said Myrtle, staring at him.

“Nothing,” said Harry quickly. “We wanted to ask—”

“I wish people would stop talking behind my back!” said Myrtle, in a voice choked with tears. “I do have feelings, you know, even if I am dead—”

“Myrtle, no one wants to upset you,” said Hermione. “Harry only—”

“No one wants to upset me! That's a good one!” howled Myrtle. “My life was nothing but misery at this place and now people come along ruining my death!”

“We wanted to ask you if you've seen anything funny lately,” said Hermione quickly. “Because a cat was attacked right outside your front door on Halloween.”

“Did you see anyone near here that night?” said Harry.

“I wasn't paying attention,” said Myrtle dramatically. “Peeves upset me so much I came in here and tried to kill myself Then, of course, I remembered that I'm—that I'm “

“Already dead,” said Ron helpfully.

Myrtle gave a tragic sob, rose up in the air, turned over, and dived headfirst into the toilet, splashing water all over them and vanishing from sight, although from the direction of her muffled sobs, she had come to rest somewhere in the U-bend.

Title: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
Author: J.K.Rîwling
Viewed 104242 times

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