Harry looked around. One thing was certain: of all the teachers' offices Harry
had visited so far this year, Dumbledore's was by far the most interesting. If he
hadn't been scared out of his wits that he was about to be thrown out of school,
he would have been very pleased to have a chance to look around it.
It was a large and beautiful circular room, full of funny little noises. A number
of curious silver instruments stood on spindle-legged tables, whirring and emitting
little puffs of smoke. The walls were covered with portraits of old headmasters
and headmistresses, all of whom were snoozing gently in their frames. There was
also an enormous, claw-footed desk, and, sitting on a shelf behind it, a shabby,
tattered wizard's hat—the Sorting Hat.
Harry hesitated. He cast a wary eye around the sleeping witches and wizards on
the walls. Surely it couldn't hurt if he took the hat down and tried it on again?
Just to see... just to make sure it had put him in the right House
He walked quietly around the desk, lifted the hat from its shelf, and lowered
it slowly onto his head. It was much too large and slipped down over his eyes, just
as it had done the last time he'd put it on. Harry stared at the black inside of
the hat, waiting. Then a small voice said in his ear, “Bee in your bonnet, Harry
“Er, yes,” Harry muttered. “Er—sorry to bother you—I wanted to ask—”
“You've been wondering whether I put you in the right House,” said the hat smartly.
“Yes... you were particularly difficult to place. But I stand by what I said before”—Harry's
heart leapt—”you would have done well in Slytherin—”
Harry's stomach plummeted. He grabbed the point of the hat and pulled it off.
It hung limply in his hand, grubby and faded. Harry pushed it back onto its shelf,
“You're wrong,” he said aloud to the still and silent hat. It didn't move. Harry
backed away, watching it. Then a strange, gagging noise behind him made him wheel
He wasn't alone after all. Standing on a golden perch behind the door was a decrepit-looking
bird that resembled a half-plucked turkey. Harry stared at it and the bird looked
balefully back, making its gagging noise again. Harry thought it looked very ill.
Its eyes were dull and, even as Harry watched, a couple more feathers fell out of
Harry was just thinking that all he needed was for Dumbledore's
pet bird to die while he was alone in the office with it, when the bird burst
Harry yelled in shock and backed away into the desk. He looked feverishly around
in case there was a glass of water somewhere but couldn't see one; the bird, meanwhile,
had become a fireball; it gave one loud shriek and next second there was nothing
but a smouldering pile of ash on the floor.
The office door opened. Dumbledore came in, looking very somber.
“Professor,” Harry gasped. “Your bird—I couldn't do anything—he just caught fire—”
To Harry's astonishment, Dumbledore smiled.
“About time, too,” he said. “He's been looking dreadful for days; I've been telling
him to get a move on.”
He chuckled at the stunned look on Harry's face.
“Fawkes is a phoenix, Harry. Phoenixes burst into flame when it is time for them
to die and are reborn from the ashes. Watch him...”
Harry looked down in time to see a tiny, wrinkled, newborn bird poke its head
out of the ashes. It was quite as ugly as the old one.
“It's a shame you had to see him on a Burning Day,” said Dumbledore, seating
himself behind his desk. “He's really very handsome most of the time, wonderful
red and gold plumage. Fascinating creatures, phoenixes. They can carry immensely
heavy loads, their tears have healing powers, and they make highly faithful pets.”
In the shock of Fawkes catching fire, Harry had forgotten what he was there for,
but it all came back to him as Dumbledore settled himself in the high chair behind
the desk and fixed Harry with his penetrating, light-blue stare.
Before Dumbledore could speak another word, however, the door of the office flew
open with an almighty bang and Hagrid burst in, a wild look in his eyes, his balaclava
perched on top of his shaggy black head and the dead rooster still swinging from
“It wasn' Harry, Professor Dumbledore!” said Hagrid urgently. “I was talkin'
ter him seconds before that kid was found, he never had time, sir—”
Dumbledore tried to say something, but Hagrid went ranting on, waving the rooster
around in his agitation, sending feathers everywhere.
“it can't've bin him, I'll swear it in front o' the Ministry o' Magic if I have
“yeh've got the wrong boy, sir, I know Harry never ='
“Hagrid!” said Dumbledore loudly. “I do not think that Harry attacked those people.”
“Oh,” said Hagrid, the rooster falling limply at his side. “Right. I'll wait
outside then, Headmaster.”
And he stomped out looking embarrassed.
“You don't think it was me, Professor?” Harry repeated hopefully as Dumbledore
brushed rooster feathers off his desk.
“No, Harry, I don't,” said Dumbledore, though his face was somber again. “But
I still want to talk to you.”
Harry waited nervously while Dumbledore considered him, the tips of his long
“I must ask you, Harry, whether there is anything you'd like to tell me,” he
said gently. “Anything at all.”
Harry didn't know what to say. He thought of Malfoy shouting, “You'll be next,
Mudbloods!” and of the Polyjuice Potion simmering away in Moaning Myrtle's bathroom.
Then he thought of the disembodied voice he had heard twice and remembered what
Ron had said: “Hearing voices no one else can hear isn't a good sign, even in the
wizarding world.” He thought, too, about what everyone was saying about him, and
his growing dread that he was somehow connected with Salazar Slytherin.
“No,” said Harry. “There isn't anything, Professor...”
The double attack on Justin and Nearly Headless Nick turned what had hitherto
been nervousness into real panic. Curiously, it was Nearly Headless Nick's fate
that seemed to worry people most. What could possibly do that to a ghost? people
asked each other; what terrible power could harm someone who was already dead? There
was almost a stampede to book seats on the Hogwarts Express so that students could
go home for Christmas.
“At this rate, we'll be the only ones left,” Ron told Harry and Hermione. “Us,
Malfoy, Crabbe, and Goyle. What a jolly holiday it's going to be.”
Crabbe and Goyle, who always did whatever Malfoy did, had signed up to stay over
the holidays, too. But Harry was glad that most people were leaving. He was tired
of people skirting around him in the corridors, as though he was about to sprout
fangs or spit poison; tired of all the muttering, pointing, and hissing as he passed.
Fred and George, however, found all this very funny. They went out of their way
to march ahead of Harry down the corridors, shouting, “Make way for the Heir of
Slytherin, seriously evil wizard coming through...
Percy was deeply disapproving of this behavior.
“It is not a laughing matter,” he said coldly.
“Oh, get out of the way, Percy,” said Fred. “Harry's in a hurry.”
“Yeah, he's off to the Chamber of Secrets for a cup of tea with his fanged servant,”
said George, chortling.
Ginny didn't find it amusing either.
“Oh, don't,” she wailed every time Fred asked Harry loudly who he was planning
to attack next, or when George pretended to ward Harry off with a large clove of
garlic when they met.
Harry didn't mind; it made him feel better that Fred and George, at least, thought
the idea of his being Slytherin's heir was quite ludicrous. But their antics seemed
to be aggravating Draco Malfoy, who looked increasingly sour each time he saw them
“It's because he's bursting to say it's really him,” said Ron knowingly. “You
know how he hates anyone beating him at anything, and you're getting all the credit
for his dirty work.”
“Not for long,” said Hermione in a satisfied tone. “The Polyjuice Potion's nearly
ready. We'll be getting the truth out of him any day now.”
At last the term ended, and a silence deep as the snow on the grounds descended
on the castle. Harry found it peaceful, rather than gloomy, and enjoyed the fact
that he, Hermione, and the Weasleys had the run of Gryffindor Tower, which meant
they could play Exploding Snap loudly without bothering anyone, and practice dueling
in private. Fred, George, and Ginny had chosen to stay at school rather than visit
Bill in Egypt with Mr. and Mrs. Weasley.
Percy, who disapproved of what he termed their childish behavior, didn't spend
much time in the Gryffindor common room. He had already told them pompously that
he was only staying over Christmas because it was his duty as a prefect to support
the teachers during this troubled time.
Christmas morning dawned, cold and white. Harry and Ron, the only ones left in
their dormitory, were woken very early by Hermione, who burst in, fully dressed
and carrying presents for them both.
“Wake up,” she said loudly, pulling back the curtains at the window.
“Hermione—you're not supposed to be in here—” said Ron, shielding his eyes against
“Merry Christmas to you, too,” said Hermione, throwing him his present. “I've
been up for nearly an hour, adding more lacewings to the potion. It's ready.”
Harry sat up, suddenly wide awake.
“Are you sure?”
“Positive,” said Hermione, shifting Scabbers the rat so that she could sit down
on the end of Ron's four-poster. “If we're going to do it, I say it should be tonight.”
At that moment, Hedwig swooped into the room, carrying a very small package in
“Hello,” said Harry happily as she landed on his bed. “Are you speaking to me
She nibbled his ear in an affectionate sort of way, which was a far better present
than the one that she had brought him, which turned out to be from the Dursleys.
They had sent Harry a toothpick and a note telling him to find out whether he'd
be able to stay at Hogwarts for the summer vacation, too.
The rest of Harry's Christmas presents were far more satisfactory. Hagrid had
sent him a large tin of treacle fudge, which Harry decided to soften by the fire
before eating; Ron had given him a book called Flying with the Cannons, a book of
interesting facts about his favorite Quidditch team, and Hermione had bought him
a luxury eagle-feather quill. Harry opened the last present to find a new, hand-knitted
sweater from Mrs. Weasley and a large plum cake. He read her card with a fresh surge
of guilt, thinking about Mr. Weasley's car (which hadn't been seen since its crash
with the Whomping Willow), and the bout of rule-breaking he and Ron were planning
No one, not even someone dreading taking Polyjuice Potion later, could fail to
enjoy Christmas dinner at Hogwarts.
The Great Hall looked magnificent. Not only were there a dozen frost-covered
Christmas trees and thick streamers of holly and mistletoe crisscrossing the ceiling,
but enchanted snow was falling, warm and dry, from the ceiling. Dumbledore led them
in a few of his favorite carols, Hagrid booming more and more loudly with every
goblet of eggnog he consumed. Percy, who hadn't noticed that Fred had bewitched
his prefect badge so that it now read “Pinhead,” kept asking them all what they
were sniggering at. Harry didn't even care that Draco Malfoy was making loud, snide
remarks about his new sweater from the Slytherin table. With a bit of luck, Malfoy
would be getting his comeuppance in a few hours' time.
Harry and Ron had barely finished their third helpings of Christmas pudding when
Hermione ushered them out of the hall to finalize their plans for the evening.
“We still need a bit of the people you're changing into,” said Hermione matter-of-factly,
as though she were sending them to the supermarket for laundry detergent. “And obviously,
it'll be best if you can get something of Crabbe's and Goyle's; they're Malfoys
best friends, he'll tell them anything. And we also need to make sure the real Crabbe
and Goyle can't burst in on us while we're interrogating him.
“I've got it all worked out,” she went on smoothly, ignoring Harry's and Ron's
stupefied faces. She held up two plump chocolate cakes. “I've filled these with
a simple Sleeping Draught. All you have to do is make sure Crabbe and Goyle find
them. You know how greedy they are, they're bound to eat them. Once they're asleep,
pull out a few of their hairs and hide them in a broom closet.”
Harry and Ron looked incredulously at each other.
“Hermione, I don't think—”
“That could go seriously wrong—”
But Hermione had a steely glint in her eye not unlike the one Professor McGonagall
“The potion will be useless without Crabbe's and Goyle's hair,” she said sternly.
“You do want to investigate Malfoy, don't you?”
“Oh, all right, all right,” said Harry. “But what about you? Whose hair are you
“I've already got mine!” said Hermione brightly, pulling a tiny bottle out of
her pocket and showing them the single hair inside it. “Remember Millicent Bulstrode
wrestling with me at the Dueling Club? She left this on my robes when she was trying
to strangle me! And she's gone home for Christmas—so I'll just have to tell the
Slytherins I've decided to come back.”
When Hermione had bustled off to check on the Polyjuice Potion again, Ron turned
to Harry with a doom-laden expression.
“Have you ever heard of a plan where so many things could go wrong?”
But to Harry's and Ron's utter amazement, stage one of the operation went just
as smoothly as Hermione had said. They lurked in the deserted entrance hall after
Christmas tea, waiting for Crabbe and Goyle who had remained alone at the Slytherin
table, shoveling down fourth helpings of trifle. Harry had perched the chocolate
cakes on the end of the banisters. When they spotted Crabbe and Goyle coming out
of the Great Hall, Harry and Ron hid quickly behind a suit of armor next to the