Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Page 14) eBook online

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 its tail.

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 into flames.

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 his hand.

“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 to—”

“Hagrid, I—”

“—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 fingers together.

“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 at it.

“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 the light.

“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 her beak.

“Hello,” said Harry happily as she landed on his bed. “Are you speaking to me again?”

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 about of rule breaking he and Ron were planning next.

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 sometimes had.

“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 ripping out?”

“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 front door.

“How thick can you get?” Ron whispered ecstatically as Crabbe gleefully pointed out the cakes to Goyle and grabbed them. Grinning stupidly, they stuffed the cakes whole into their large mouths. For a moment, both of them chewed greedily, looks of triumph on their faces. Then, without the smallest change of expression, they both keeled over backward onto the floor.

By far the hardest part was hiding them in the closet across the hall. Once they were safely stowed among the buckets and mops, Harry yanked out a couple of the bristles that covered Goyle’s forehead and Ron pulled out several of Crabbe’s hairs. They also stole their shoes, because their own were far too small for Crabbe and Goyle-size feet. Then, still stunned at what they had just done, they sprinted up to Moaning Myrtle’s bathroom.

They could hardly see for the thick black smoke issuing from the stall in which Hermione was stirring the cauldron. Pulling their robes up over their faces, Harry and Ron knocked softly on the door.

“Hermione?”

They heard the scrape of the lock and Hermione emerged, shinyfaced and looking anxious. Behind her they heard the gloop gloop of the bubbling, glutinous potion. Three glass tumblers stood ready on the toilet seat.

“Did you get them?” Hermione asked breathlessly.

Harry showed her Goyle’s hair.

“Good. And I sneaked these spare robes out of the laundry,” Hermione said, holding up a small sack. “You’ll need bigger sizes once you’re Crabbe and Goyle.”

The three of them stared into the cauldron. Close up, the potion looked like thick, dark mud, bubbling sluggishly.

“I’m sure I’ve done everything right,” said Hermione, nervously rereading the splotched page of Moste Potente Potions. “It looks like the book says it should… once we’ve drunk it, we’ll have exactly an hour before we change back into ourselves.”

“Now what?” Ron whispered.

“We separate it into three glasses and add the hairs.”

Hermione ladled large dollops of the potion into each of the glasses. Then, her hand trembling, she shook Millicent Bulstrode’s hair out of its bottle into the first glass.

The potion hissed loudly like a boiling kettle and frothed madly. A second later, it had turned a sick sort of yellow.

“Urgh—essence of Millicent Bulstrode,” said Ron, eyeing it with loathing. “Bet it tastes disgusting.”

“Add yours, then,” said Hermione.

Harry dropped Goyle’s hair into the middle glass and Ron put Crabbe’s into the last one. Both glasses hissed and frothed: Goyle’s turned the khaki color of a booger, Crabbe’s a dark, murky brown.

“Hang on,” said Harry as Ron and Hermione reached for their glasses. “We’d better not all drink them in here… Once we turn into Crabbe and Goyle we won’t fit. And Millicent Bulstrode’s no pixie.”

“Good thinking,” said Ron, unlocking the door. “We’ll take separate stalls.”

Careful not to spill a drop of his Polyjuice Potion, Harry slipped into the middle stall.

“Ready?” he called.

“Ready,” came Ron’s and Hermione’s voices.

“One—two—three—”

Pinching his nose, Harry drank the potion down in two large gulps. It tasted like overcooked cabbage.

Immediately, his insides started writhing as though he’d just swallowed live snakes—doubled up, he wondered whether he was going to be sick—then a burning sensation spread rapidly from his stomach to the very ends of his fingers and toes—next, bringing him gasping to all fours, came a horrible melting feeling, as the skin all over his body bubbled like hot wax—and before his eyes, his hands began to grow, the fingers thickened, the nails broadened, the knuckles were bulging like bolts—his shoulders stretched painfully and a prickling on his forehead told him that hair was creeping down toward his eyebrows—his robes ripped as his chest expanded like a barrel bursting its hoops—his feet were agony in shoes four sizes too small.
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