Harry heaved himself up on his pillows and pushed Dobby's sponge away.
“What're you doing here?” he said. “And how did you know I missed the train?”
Dobby's lip trembled and Harry was seized by a sudden suspicion.
“It was you!” he said slowly. “You stopped the barrier from letting us through!”
“Indeed yes, sir,” said Dobby, nodding his head vigorously, ears flapping. “Dobby
hid and watched for Harry Potter and sealed the gateway and Dobby had to iron his
hands afterward”—he showed Harry ten long, bandaged fingers—”but Dobby didn't care,
sir, for he thought Harry Potter was safe, and never did Dobby dream that Harry
Potter would get to school another way!”
He was rocking backward and forward, shaking his ugly head.
“Dobby was 'so shocked when he heard Harry Potter was back at Hogwarts, he let
his master's dinner burn! Such a flogging Dobby never had, sir...”
Harry slumped back onto his pillows.
“You nearly got Ron and me expelled,” he said fiercely. “You'd better get lost
before my bones come back, Dobby, or I might strangle you.”
Dobby smiled weakly.
“Dobby is used to death threats, sir. Dobby gets them five times a day at home.”
He blew his nose on a corner of the filthy pillowcase he wore, looking so pathetic
that Harry felt his anger ebb away in spite of himself.
“Why d'you wear that thing, Dobby?” he asked curiously.
“This, sir?” said Dobby, plucking at the pillowcase. “'Tis a mark of the house-elf's
enslavement, sir. Dobby can only be freed if his masters present him with clothes,
sir. The family is careful not to pass Dobby even a sock, sir, for then he would
be free to leave their house forever.”
Dobby mopped his bulging eyes and said suddenly, “Harry Potter must go home!
Dobby thought his Bludger would be enough to make—”
“Your Bludger?” said Harry, anger rising once more. “What d'you mean, your Bludger?
You made that Bludger try and kill me?”
“Not kill you, sir, never kill you!” said Dobby, shocked. “Dobby wants to save
Harry Potter's life! Better sent home, grievously injured, than remain here sir!
Dobby only wanted Harry Potter hurt enough to be sent home!”
“Oh, is that all?” said Harry angrily. “I don't suppose you're going to tell
me why you wanted me sent home in pieces?”
“Ah, if Harry Potter only knew!” Dobby groaned, more tears dripping onto his
ragged pillowcase. “If he knew what he means to us, to the lowly, the enslaved,
we dregs of the magical world! Dobby remembers how it was when He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named
was at the height of his powers, sir! We house-elves were treated like vermin, sir!
Of course, Dobby is still treated like that, sir,” he admitted, drying his face
on the pillowcase. “But mostly, sir, life has improved for my kind since you triumphed
over He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. Harry Potter survived, and the Dark Lord's power
was broken, and it was a new dawn, sir, and Harry Potter shone like a beacon of
hope for those of us who thought the Dark days would never end, sit... And now,
at Hogwarts, terrible things are to happen, are perhaps happening already, and Dobby
cannot let Harry Potter stay here now that history is to repeat itself, now that
the Chamber of Secrets is open once more—”
Dobby froze, horror-struck, then grabbed Harry's water jug from his bedside table
and cracked it over his own head, toppling out of sight. A second later, he crawled
back onto the bed, cross-eyed, muttering, “Bad Dobby, very bad Dobby...”
“So there is a Chamber of Secrets?” Harry whispered. “And did you say it's been
opened before? Tell me, Dobby!”
He seized the elf's bony wrist as Dobby's hand inched toward the water jug. “But
I'm not Muggle-born—how can I be in danger from the Chamber?”
“Ah, sir, ask no more, ask no more of poor Dobby,” stammered the elf, his eyes
huge in the dark. “Dark deeds are planned in this place, but Harry Potter must not
be here when they happen—go home, Harry Potter, go home. Harry Potter must not meddle
in this, sir, 'tis too dangerous—”
“Who is it, Dobby?” Harry said, keeping a firm hold on Dobby's wrist to stop
him from hitting himself with the water jug again. “Who's opened it? Who opened
it last time?”
“Dobby can't, sir, Dobby can't, Dobby mustn't tell!” squealed the elf. “Go home,
Harry Potter, go home!”
“I'm not going anywhere!” said Harry fiercely. “One of my best friends is Muggle-born;
she'll be first in line if the Chamber really has been opened—”
“Harry Potter risks his own life for his friends!” moaned Dobby in a kind of
miserable ecstasy. “So noble! So valiant! But he must save himself, he must, Harry
Potter must not—”
Dobby suddenly froze, his bat ears quivering. Harry heard it, too. There were
footsteps coming down the passageway outside.
“Dobby must go!” breathed the elf, terrified. There was a loud crack, and Harry's
fist was suddenly clenched on thin air. He slumped back into bed, his eyes on the
dark doorway to the hospital wing as the footsteps drew nearer.
Next moment, Dumbledore was backing into the dormitory, wearing a long woolly
dressing gown and a nightcap. He was carrying one end of what looked like a statue.
Professor McGonagall appeared a second later, carrying its feet. Together, they
heaved it onto a bed.
“Get Madam Pomfrey,” whispered Dumbledore, and Professor McGonagall hurried past
the end of Harry's bed out of sight. Harry lay quite still, pretending to be asleep.
He heard urgent voices, and then Professor McGonagall swept back into view, closely
followed by Madam Pomfrey, who was pulling a cardigan on over her nightdress. He
heard a sharp intake of breath.
“What happened?” Madam Pomfrey whispered to Dumbledore, bending over the statue
on the bed.
“Another attack,” said Dumbledore. “Minerva found him on the stairs.”
“There was a bunch of grapes next to him,” said Professor McGonagall. “We think
he was trying to sneak up here to visit Potter.”
Harry's stomach gave a horrible lurch. Slowly and carefully, he raised himself
a few inches so he could look at the statue on the bed. A ray of moonlight lay across
its staring face.
It was Colin Creevey. His eyes were wide and his hands were stuck up in front
of him, holding his camera.
“Petrified?” whispered Madam Pomfrey.
“Yes,” said Professor McGonagall. “But I shudder to think... If Albus hadn't
been on the way downstairs for hot chocolate—who knows what might have—”
The three of them stared down at Colin. Then Dumbledore leaned forward and wrenched
the camera out of Colin's rigid grip.
“You don't think he managed to get a picture of his attacker?” said Professor
Dumbledore didn't answer. He opened the back of the camera.
“Good gracious!” said Madam Pomfrey.
A jet of steam had hissed out of the camera. Harry, three beds away, caught the
acrid smell of burnt plastic.
“Melted,” said Madam Pomfrey wonderingly. “All melted...”
“What does this mean, Albus?” Professor McGonagall asked urgently.
“It means,” said Dumbledore, “that the Chamber of Secrets is indeed open again.”
Madam Pomfrey clapped a hand to her mouth. Professor McGonagall stared at Dumbledore.
“But, Albus... surely... who?”
“The question is not who,” said Dumbledore, his eyes on Colin. “The question
And from what Harry could see of Professor McGonagall's shadowy face, she didn't
understand this any better than he did.
THE DUELLING CLUB
Harry woke up on Sunday morning to find the dormitory blazing with winter sunlight
and his arm reboned but very stiff. He sat up quickly and looked over at Colin's
bed, but it had been blocked from view by the high curtains Harry had changed behind
yesterday. Seeing that he was awake, Madam Pomfrey came bustling over with a breakfast
tray and then began bending and stretching his arm and fingers.
“All in order,” she said as he clumsily fed himself porridge left-handed. “When
you've finished eating, you may leave.”
Harry dressed as quickly as he could and hurried off to Gryffindor Tower, desperate
to tell Ron and Hermione about Colin and Dobby, but they weren't there. Harry left
to look for them, wondering where they could have got to and feeling slightly hurt
that they weren't interested in whether he had his bones back or not.
As Harry passed the library, Percy Weasley strolled out of it, looking in far
better spirits than last time they'd met.
“Oh, hello, Harry,” he said. “Excellent flying yesterday, really excellent. Gryffindor
has just taken the lead for the House Cup you earned fifty points!”
“You haven't seen Ron or Hermione, have you?” said Harry.
“No, I haven't,” said Percy, his smile fading. “I hope Ron's not in another girls'
Harry forced a laugh, watched Percy walk out of sight, and then headed straight
for Moaning Myrtle's bathroom. He couldn't see why Ron and Hermione would be in
there again, but after making sure that neither Filch nor any prefects were around,
he opened the door and heard their voices coming from a locked stall.
“It's me,” he said, closing the door behind him. There was a clunk, a splash,
and a gasp from within the stall and he saw Hermione's eye peering through the keyhole.
`Harry!” she said. “You gave us such a fright—come in how's your arm?”
“Fine,” said Harry, squeezing into the stall. An old cauldron was perched on
the toilet, and a crackling from under the rim told Harry they had lit a fire beneath
it. Conjuring up portable, waterproof fires was a speciality of Hermione's.
“We'd've come to meet you, but we decided to get started on the Polyjuice Potion,”
Ron explained as Harry, with difficulty, locked the stall again. “We've decided
this is the safest place to hide it.”
Harry started to tell them about Colin, but Hermione interrupted.
“We already know—we heard Professor McGonagall telling
Professor Flitwick this morning. That's why we decided we'd better get going—”
“The sooner we get a confession out of Malfoy, the better,” snarled Ron. “D'you
know what I think? He was in such a foul temper after the Quidditch match, he took
it out on Colin.”
“There's something else,” said Harry, watching Hermione tearing bundles of knotgrass
and throwing them into the potion. “Dobby came to visit me in the middle of the
Ron and Hermione looked up, amazed. Harry told them everything Dobby had told
him—or hadn't told him. Hermione and Ron listened with their mouths open.
“The Chamber of Secrets has been opened before?” Hermione said.
“This settles it,” said Ron in a triumphant voice. “Lucius Malfoy must've opened
the Chamber when he was at school here and now he's told dear old Draco how to do
it. It's obvious. Wish Dobby'd told you what kind of monster's in there, though.
I want to know how come nobody's noticed it sneaking around the school.”
“Maybe it can make itself invisible,” said Hermione, prodding leeches to the
bottom of the cauldron. “Or maybe it can disguise itself—pretend to be a suit of
armor or something—I've read about Chameleon Ghouls—”
“You read too much, Hermione,” said Ron, pouring dead lacewings on top of the
leeches. He crumpled up the empty lacewing bag and looked at Harry.
“So Dobby stopped us from getting on the train and broke your arm.” He shook
his head. “You know what, Harry? If he doesn't stop trying to save your life he's
going to kill you.”
The news that Colin Creevey had been attacked and was now lying as though dead
in the hospital wing had spread through the entire school by Monday morning. The
air was suddenly thick with rumor and suspicion. The first years were now moving
around the castle in tight-knit groups, as though scared they would be attacked
if they ventured forth alone.
Ginny Weasley, who sat next to Colin Creevey in Charms, was distraught, but Harry
felt that Fred and George were going the wrong way about cheering her up. They were
taking turns covering themselves with fur or boils and jumping out at her from behind
statues. They only stopped when Percy, apoplectic with rage, told them he was going
to write to Mrs. Weasley and tell her Ginny was having nightmares.
Meanwhile, hidden from the teachers, a roaring trade in talismans, amulets, and
other protective devices was sweeping the school. Neville Longbottom bought a large,
evil-smelling green onion, a pointed purple crystal, and a rotting newt tail before
the other Gryffindor boys pointed out that he was in no danger; he was a pureblood,
and therefore unlikely to be attacked.
“They went for Filch first,” Neville said, his round face fearful. “And everyone
knows I'm almost a Squib.”
In the second week of December Professor McGonagall came around as usual, collecting
names of those who would be staying at school for Christmas. Harry, Ron, and Hermione
signed her list; they had heard that Malfoy was staying, which struck them as very
suspicious. The holidays would be the perfect time to use the Polyjuice Potion and
try to worm a confession out of him.
Unfortunately, the potion was only half finished. They still needed the Bicorn
horn and the boomslang skin, and the only place they were going to get them was
from Snape's private stores. Harry privately felt he'd rather face Slytherin's legendary
monster than let Snape catch him robbing his office.
“What we need,” said Hermione briskly as Thursday afternoon's double Potions
lesson loomed nearer, “is a diversion. Then one of us can sneak into Snape's office
and take what we need.”
Harry and Ron looked at her nervously.
“I think Id better do the actual stealing,” Hermione continued in a matter-of-fact
tone. “You two will be expelled if you get into any more trouble, and I've got a
clean record. So all you need to do is cause enough mayhem to keep Snape busy for
five minutes or so.
Harry smiled feebly. Deliberately causing mayhem in Snape's Potions class was
about as safe as poking a sleeping dragon in the eye.
Potions lessons took place in one of the large dungeons. Thursday afternoon's
lesson proceeded in the usual way. Twenty cauldrons stood steaming between the wooden
desks, on which stood brass scales and jars of ingredients. Snape prowled through
the fumes, making waspish remarks about the Gryffindors' work while the Slytherins
sniggered appreciatively. Draco Malfoy, who was Snape's favorite student, kept flicking
puffer-fish eyes at Ron and Harry, who knew that if they retaliated they would get
detention faster than you could say “Unfair.”