“Oh, that's what you said to it?”
“What d'you mean? You were there—you heard me—”
“I heard you speaking Parseltongue,” said Ron. “Snake language. You could have
been saying anything—no wonder Justin panicked, you sounded like you were egging
the snake on or something—it was creepy, you know—”
Harry gaped at him.
“I spoke a different language? But—I didn't realize—how can I speak a language
without knowing I can speak it?”
Ron shook his head. Both he and Hermione were looking as though someone had died.
Harry couldn't see what was so terrible.
“D'you want to tell me what's wrong with stopping a massive snake biting off
Justin's head?” he said. “What does it matter how I did it as long as Justin doesn't
have to join the Headless Hunt?”
“It matters,” said Hermione, speaking at last in a hushed voice, “because being
able to talk to snakes was what Salazar Slytherin was famous for. That's why the
symbol of Slytherin House is a serpent.”
Harry's mouth fell open.
“Exactly,” said Ron. “And now the whole school's going to think you're his great-great-great-great-grandson
“But I'm not,” said Harry, with a panic he couldn't quite explain.
“You'll find that hard to prove,” said Hermione. “He lived about a thousand years
ago; for all we know, you could be.”
Harry lay awake for hours that night. Through a gap in the curtains around his
four-poster he watched snow starting to drift past the tower window and wondered...
Could he be a descendant of Salazar Slithering? He didn't know anything about
his father's family, after all. The Dursleys had always forbidden questions about
his wizarding relatives.
Quietly, Harry tried to say something in Parseltongue. The words wouldn't come.
It seemed he had to be face-to-face with a snake to do it.
“But I'm in Gryffindor,” Harry thought. “The Sorting Hat wouldn't have put me
in here if I had Slytherin blood...”
“Ah,” said a nasty little voice in his brain, “but the Sorting Hat wanted to
put you in Slytherin, don't you remember?”
Harry turned over. He'd see Justin the next day in Herbology and he'd explain
that he'd been calling the snake off, not egging it on, which (he thought angrily,
pummeling his pillow) any fool should have realized.
By next morning, however, the snow that had begun in the night had turned into
a blizzard so thick that the last Herbology lesson of the term was canceled: Professor
Sprout wanted to fit socks and scarves on the Mandrakes, a tricky operation she
would entrust to no one else, now that it was so important for the Mandrakes to
grow quickly and revive Mrs. Norris and Colin Creevey.
Harry fretted about this next to the fire in the Gryffindor common room, while
Ron and Hermione used their time off to play a game of wizard chess.
“For heaven's sake, Harry,” said Hermione, exasperated, as one of Ron's bishops
wrestled her knight off his horse and dragged him off the board. “Go and find Justin
if it's so important to you.”
So Harry got up and left through the portrait hole, wondering where Justin might
The castle was darker than it usually was in daytime because of the thick, swirling
gray snow at every window. Shivering, Harry walked past classrooms where lessons
were taking place, catching snatches of what was happening within. Professor McGonagall
was shouting at someone who, by the sound of it, had turned his friend into a badger.
Resisting the urge to take a look, Harry walked on by, thinking that Justin might
be using his free time to catch up on some work, and deciding to check the library
A group of the Hufflepuffs who should have been in Herbology were indeed sitting
at the back of the library, but they didn't seem to be working. Between the long
lines of high bookshelves, Harry could see that their heads were close together
and they were having what looked like an absorbing conversation. He couldn't see
whether Justin was among them. He was walking toward them when something of what
they were saying met his ears, and he paused to listen, hidden in the Invisibility
“So anyway,” a stout boy was saying, “I told Justin to hide up in our dormitory.
I mean to say, if Potter's marked him down as his next victim, it's best if he keeps
a low profile for a while. Of course, Justin's been waiting for something like this
to happen ever since he let slip to Potter he was Muggle-born. Justin actually told
him he'd been down for Eton. That's not the kind of thing you bandy about with Slytherin's
heir on the loose, is it?”
“You definitely think it is Potter, then, Ernie?” said a girl with blonde pigtails
“Hannah,” said the stout boy solemnly, “he's a Parselmouth. Everyone knows that's
the mark of a Dark wizard. Have you ever heard of a decent one who could talk to
snakes? They called Slytherin himself Serpent-tongue.”
There was some heavy murmuring at this, and Ernie went on, “Remember what was
written on the wall? Enemies of the Heir, Beware. Potter had some sort of run-in
with Filch. Next thing we know, Flich's cat's attacked. That first year, Creevey,
was annoying Potter at the Quidditch match, taking pictures of him while he was
lying in the mud. Next thing we know—Creevey's been attacked.”
“He always seems so nice, though,” said Hannah uncertainly, “and, well, he's
the one who made You-Know-Who disappear. He can't be all bad, can he?”
Ernie lowered his voice mysteriously, the Hufflepuffs bent closer, and Harry
edged nearer so that he could catch Ernie's words.
“No one knows how he survived that attack by You-Know-Who. I mean to say, he
was only a baby when it happened. He should have been blasted into smithereens.
Only a really powerful Dark wizard could have survived a curse like that.” He dropped
his voice until it was barely more than a whisper, and said, “That's probably why
YouKnow-Who wanted to kill him in the first place. Didn't want another Dark Lord
competing with him. I wonder what other powers Potter's been hiding?”
Harry couldn't take anymore. Clearing his throat loudly, he stepped out from
behind the bookshelves. If he hadn't been feeling so angry, he would have found
the sight that greeted him funny: Every one of the Hufflepuffs looked as though
they had been Petrified by the sight of him, and the color was draining out of Ernie's
“Hello,” said Harry. “I'm looking for Justin Finch-Fletchley.”
The Hufflepuffs' worst fears had clearly been confirmed. They all looked fearfully
“What do you want with him?” said Ernie in a quavering voice.
“I wanted to tell him what really happened with that snake at the Dueling Club,”
Ernie bit his white lips and then, taking a deep breath, said, “We were all there.
We saw what happened.”
“Then you noticed that after I spoke to it, the snake backed off?” said Harry.
“All I saw,” said Ernie stubbornly, though he was trembling as he spoke, “was
you speaking Parseltongue and chasing the snake toward Justin. “
“I didn't chase it at him!” Harry said, his voice shaking with anger. “It didn't
even touch him!”
“It was a very near miss,” said Ernie. “And in case you're getting ideas,” he
added hastily, “I might tell you that you can trace my family back through nine
generations of witches and warlocks and my blood's as pure as anyone's, so—”
“I don't care what sort of blood you've got!” said Harry fiercely. “Why would
I want to attack Muggle-borns?”
“I've heard you hate those Muggles you live with,” said Ernie swiftly.
“It's not possible to live with the Dursleys and not hate them,” said Harry.
“Id like to see you try it.”
He turned on his heel and stormed out of the library, earning himself a reproving
glare from Madam Pince, who was polishing the gilded cover of a large spellbook.
Harry blundered up the corridor, barely noticing where he was going, he was in
such a fury. The result was that he walked into something very large and solid,
which knocked him backward onto the floor.
“Oh, hello, Hagrid,” Harry said, looking up.
Hagrid's face was entirely hidden by a woolly, snow-covered balaclava, but it
couldn't possibly be anyone else, as he filled most of the corridor in his moleskin
overcoat. A dead rooster was hanging from one of his massive, gloved hands.
“All righ', Harry?” he said, pulling up the balaclava so he could speak. “Why
aren't yeh in class?”
“Canceled,” said Harry, getting up. “What're you doing in here?”
Hagrid held up the limp rooster.
“Second one killed this term,” he explained. “It's either foxes or a Blood-Suckin
Bugbear, an' I need the Headmaster's permission ter put a charm around the hen coop.”
He peered more closely at Harry from under his thick, snow-flecked eyebrows.
“Yeh sure yeh're all righ'? Yeh look all hot an' bothered—”
Harry couldn't bring himself to repeat what Ernie and the rest of the Hufflepuffs
had been saying about him.
“It's nothing,” he said. “Id better get going, Hagrid, it's Transfiguration next
and I've got to pick up my books.”
He walked off, his mind still full of what Ernie had said about him.
“Justin's been waiting for something like this to happen ever since he let slip
to Potter he was Muggle-born...”
Harry stamped up the stairs and turned along another corridor, which was particularly
dark; the torches had been extinguished by a strong, icy draft that was blowing
through a loose windowpane. He was halfway down the passage when he tripped headlong
over something lying on the floor.
He turned to squint at what he'd fallen over and felt as though his stomach had
Justin Finch-Fletchley was lying on the floor, rigid and cold, a look of shock
frozen on his face, his eyes staring blankly at the ceiling. And that wasn't all.
Next to him was another figure, the strangest sight Harry had ever seen.
It was Nearly Headless Nick, no longer pearly-white and transparent, but black
and smoky, floating immobile and horizontal, six inches off the floor. His head
was half off and his face wore an expression of shock identical to Justin's.
Harry got to his feet, his breathing fast and shallow, his heart doing a kind
of drum-roll against his ribs. He looked wildly up and down the deserted corridor
and saw a line of spiders scuttling as fast as they could away from the bodies.
The only sounds were the muffled voices of teachers from the classes on either side.
He could run, and no one would ever know he had been there. But he couldn't just
leave them lying here... He had to get help... Would anyone believe he hadn't had
anything to do with this?
As he stood there, panicking, a door right next to him opened with a bang. Peeves
the Poltergeist came shooting out.
“Why, it's potty wee Potter!” cackled Peeves, knocking Harry's glasses askew
as he bounced past him. “What's Potter up to? Why's Potter lurking—”
Peeves stopped, halfway through a midair somersault. Upside down, he spotted
Justin and Nearly Headless Nick. He flipped the right way up, filled his lungs and,
before Harry could stop him, screamed, “ATTACK! ATTACK! ANOTHER ATTACK! NO MORTAL
OR GHOST IS SAFE! RUN FOR YOUR LIVES! ATTAAAACK!”
Crash—crash—crash—door after door flew open along the corridor and people flooded
out. For several long minutes, there was a scene of such confusion that Justin was
in danger of being squashed and people kept standing in Nearly Headless Nick. Harry
found himself pinned against the wall as the teachers shouted for quiet. Professor
McGonagall came running, followed by her own class, one of whom still had black-and-white-striped
hair. She used her wand to set off aloud bang, which restored silence, and ordered
everyone back into their classes. No sooner had the scene cleared somewhat than
Ernie the Hufflepuff arrived, panting, on the scene.
“Caught in the act!” Ernie yelled, his face stark white, pointing his finger
dramatically at Harry.
“That will do, Macmillan!” said Professor McGonagall sharply.
Peeves was bobbing overhead, now grinning wickedly, surveying the scene; Peeves
always loved chaos. As the teachers bent over Justin and Nearly Headless Nick, examining
them, Peeves broke into song:
“Oh, Potter, you rotter, oh, what have you done, You're killing off' students,
you think it's good fun—”
“That's enough Peeves!” barked Professor McGonagall, and Peeves zoomed away backward,
with his tongue out at Harry.
Justin was carried up to the hospital wing by Professor Flitwick and Professor
Sinistra of the Astronomy department, but nobody seemed to know what to do for Nearly
Headless Nick. In the end, Professor McGonagall conjured a large fan out of thin
air, which she gave to Ernie with instructions to waft Nearly Headless Nick up the
stairs. This Ernie did, fanning Nick along like a silent black hovercraft. This
left Harry and Professor McGonagall alone together.
“This way, Potter,” she said.
“Professor,” said Harry at once, “I swear I didn't—”
“This is out of my hands, Potter,” said Professor McGonagall curtly.
They marched in silence around a corner and she stopped before a large and extremely
ugly stone gargoyle.
“Lemon drop!” she said. This was evidently a password, because the gargoyle sprang
suddenly to life and hopped aside as the wall behind him split in two. Even full
of dread for what was coming, Harry couldn't fail to be amazed. Behind the wall
was a spiral staircase that was moving smoothly upward, like an escalator. As he
and Professor McGonagall stepped onto it, Harry heard the wall thud closed behind
them. They rose upward in circles, higher and higher, until at last, slightly dizzy,
Harry saw a gleaming oak door ahead, with a brass knocker in the shape of a griffin.
He knew now where he was being taken. This must be where Dumbledore lived.
THE POLYJUICE POTION
They stepped off the stone staircase at the top, and Professor McGonagall rapped
on the door. It opened silently and they entered. Professor McGonagall told Harry
to wait and left him there, alone.