Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Page 18) eBook online

Harry had been staring down the packed Gryffindor table, wondering if the new owner of Riddle’s diary was right in front of his eyes. Hermione had been urging him to report the robbery, but Harry didn’t like the idea. He’d have to tell a teacher all about the diary, and how many people knew why Hagrid had been expelled fifty years ago? He didn’t want to be the one who brought it all up again.

As he left the Great Hall with Ron and Hermione to go and collect his Quidditch things, another very serious worry was added to Harry’s growing list. He had just set foot on the marble staircase when he heard it yet again.

“Kill this time… let me rip… tear…”

He shouted aloud and Ron and Hermione both jumped away from him in alarm.

“The voice!” said Harry,—looking over his shoulder. “I just heard it again—didn’t you?”

Ron shook his head, wide eyed. Hermione, however, clapped a hand to her forehead.

“Harry—I think I’ve just understood something! I’ve got to go to the library!” And she sprinted away, up the stairs.

“What does she understand?” said Harry distractedly, still looking around, trying to tell where the voice had come from.

“Loads more than I do,” said Ron, shaking his head.

“But why’s she got to go to the library?”

“Because that’s what Hermione does,” said Ron, shrugging. “When in doubt, go to the library.”

Harry stood, irresolute, trying to catch the voice again, but people were now emerging from the Great Hall behind him, talking loudly, exiting through the front doors on their way to the Quidditch pitch.

“You’d better get moving,” said Ron. “It’s nearly eleven—the match—”

Harry raced up to Gryffindor Tower, collected his Nimbus Two Thousand, and joined the large crowd swarming across the grounds, but his mind was still in the castle along with the bodiless voice, and as he pulled on his scarlet robes in the locker room, his only comfort was that everyone was now outside to watch the game.

The teams walked onto the field to tumultuous applause. Oliver Wood took off for a warm up flight around the goal posts; Madam Hooch released the balls. The Hufflepuffs, who played in canary yellow, were standing in a huddle, having a last minute discussion of tactics.

Harry was just mounting his broom when Professor McGonagall came half marching, half running across the pitch, carrying an enormous purple megaphone.

Harry’s heart dropped like a stone.

“This match has been cancelled,” Professor McGonagall called through the megaphone, addressing the packed stadium. There were boos and shouts. Oliver Wood, looking devastated, landed and ran toward Professor McGonagall without getting off his broomstick.

“But, Professor!” he shouted. “We’ve got to play—the cup—Gryffindor—”

Professor McGonagall ignored him and continued to shout through her megaphone: “All students are to make their way back to the House common rooms, where their Heads of Houses will give them further information. As quickly as you can, please!”

Then she lowered the megaphone and beckoned Harry over to her.

“Potter, I think you’d better come with me…”

Wondering how she could possibly suspect him this time, Harry saw Ron detach himself from the complaining crowd; he came running up to them as they set off toward the castle. To Harry’s surprise, Professor McGonagall didn’t object.

“Yes, perhaps you’d better come, too, Weasley…”

Some of the students swarming around them were grumbling about the match being canceled; others looked worried. Harry and Ron followed Professor McGonagall back into the school and up the marble staircase. But they weren’t taken to anybody’s office this time.

“This will be a bit of a shock,” said Professor McGonagall in a surprisingly gentle voice as they approached the infirmary. “There has been another attack… another double attack.”

Harry’s insides did a horrible somersault. Professor McGonagall pushed the door open and he and Ron entered.

Madam Pomfrey was bending over a fifth year girl with long, curly hair. Harry recognized her as the Ravenclaw they’d accidentally asked for directions to the Slytherin common room. And on the bed next to her was—

“Hermione!” Ron groaned.

Hermione lay utterly still, her eyes open and glassy.

“They were found near the library,” said Professor McGonagall. “I don’t suppose either of you can explain this? It was on the floor next to them…”

She was holding up a small, circular mirror.

Harry and Ron shook their heads, both staring at Hermione.

“I will escort you back to Gryffindor Tower,” said Professor McGonagall heavily. “I need to address the students in any case.

“All students will return to their House common rooms by six o’clock in the evening. No student is to leave the dormitories after that time. You will be escorted to each lesson by a teacher. No student is to use the bathroom unaccompanied by a teacher. All further Quidditch training and matches are to be postponed. There will be no more evening activities.”

The Gryffindors packed inside the common room listened to Professor McGonagall in silence. She rolled up the parchment from which she had been reading and said in a somewhat choked voice, “I need hardly add that I have rarely been so distressed. It is likely that the school will be closed unless the culprit behind these attacks is caught. I would urge anyone who thinks they might know anything about them to come forward.”

She climbed somewhat awkwardly out of the portrait hole, and the Gryffindors began talking immediately.

“That’s two Gryffindors down, not counting a Gryffindor ghost, one Ravenclaw, and one Hufflepuff, “ said the Weasley twins’ friend Lee Jordan, counting on his fingers. “Haven’t any of the teachers noticed that the Slytherins are all safe? Isn’t it obvious all this stuff’s coming from Slytherin? The Heir of Slytherin, the monster of Slytherin—why don’t they just chuck all the Slytherins out?” he roared, to nods and scattered applause.

Percy Weasley was sitting in a chair behind Lee, but for once he didn’t seem keen to make his views heard. He was looking pale and stunned.

“Percy’s in shock,” George told Harry quietly. “That Ravenclaw girl—Penelope Clearwater—she’s a prefect. I don’t think he thought the monster would dare attack a prefect.”

But Harry was only half listening. He didn’t seem to be able to get rid of the picture of Hermione, lying on the hospital bed as though carved out of stone. And if the culprit wasn’t caught soon, he was looking at a lifetime back with the Dursleys. Tom Riddle had turned Hagrid in because he was faced with the prospect of a Muggle orphanage if the school closed. Harry now knew exactly how he had felt.

“What’re we going to do?” said Ron quietly in Harry’s ear. “D’you think they suspect Hagrid?”

“We’ve got to go and talk to him,” said Harry, making up his mind. “I can’t believe it’s him this time, but if he set the monster loose last time he’ll know how to get inside the Chamber of Secrets, and that’s a start.”

“But McGonagall said we’ve got to stay in our tower unless we’re in class—”

“I think,” said Harry, more quietly still, “it’s time to get my dad’s old cloak out again.”

Harry had inherited just one thing from his father: a long and silvery Invisibility Cloak. It was their only chance of sneaking out of the school to visit Hagrid without anyone knowing about it. They went to bed at the usual time, waited until Neville, Dean, and Seamus had stopped discussing the Chamber of Secrets and finally fallen asleep, then got up, dressed again, and threw the cloak over themselves.

The journey through the dark and deserted castle corridors wasn’t enjoyable. Harry, who had wandered the castle at night several times before, had never seen it so crowded after sunset. Teachers, prefects, and ghosts were marching the corridors in pairs, staring around for any unusual activity. Their Invisibility Cloak didn’t stop them making any noise, and there was a particularly tense moment when Ron stubbed his toe only yards from the spot where Snape stood standing guard. Thankfully, Snape sneezed at almost exactly the moment Ron swore. It was with relief that they reached the oak front doors and eased them open.

It was a clear, starry night. They hurried toward the lit windows of Hagrid’s house and pulled off the cloak only when they were right outside his front door.

Seconds after they had knocked, Hagrid flung it open. They found themselves face to face with him aiming a crossbow at them. Fang the boarhound barked loudly behind him.

“Oh,” he said, lowering the weapon and staring at them. “What’re you two doin’ here?”

“What’s that for?” said Harry, pointing at the crossbow as they stepped inside.

“Nothin’—nothin’—” Hagrid muttered. “I’ve bin expectin’—doesn’ matter—Sit down—I’ll make tea—”

He hardly seemed to know what he was doing. He nearly extinguished the fire, spilling water from the kettle on it, and then smashed the teapot with a nervous jerk of his massive hand.

“Are you okay, Hagrid?” said Harry. “Did you hear about Hermione?”

“Oh, I heard, all righ’,” said Hagrid, a slight break in his voice.

He kept glancing nervously at the windows. He poured them both large mugs of boiling water (he had forgotten to add tea bags) and was just putting a slab of fruitcake on a plate when there was a loud knock on the door.

Hagrid dropped the fruitcake. Harry and Ron exchanged panic stricken looks, then threw the Invisibility Cloak back over themselves and retreated into a corner. Hagrid checked that they were hidden, seized his crossbow, and flung open his door once more.

“Good evening, Hagrid.”

It was Dumbledore. He entered, looking deadly serious, and was followed by a second, very odd looking man.

The stranger had rumpled gray hair and an anxious expression, and was wearing a strange mixture of clothes: a pinstriped suit, a scarlet tie, a long black cloak, and pointed purple boots. Under his arm he carried a lime green bowler.

“That’s Dad’s boss!” Ron breathed. “Cornelius Fudge, the Minister of Magic!” Harry elbowed Ron hard to make him shut up.

Hagrid had gone pale and sweaty. He dropped into one of his chairs and looked from Dumbledore to Cornelius Fudge.

“Bad business, Hagrid,” said Fudge in rather clipped tones. “Very bad business. Had to come. Four attacks on Muggle-borns. Things’ve gone far enough. Ministry’s got to act.”

“I never,” said Hagrid, looking imploringly at Dumbledore. “You know I never, Professor Dumbledore, sir—”

“I want it understood, Cornelius, that Hagrid has my full confidence,” said Dumbledore, frowning at Fudge.

“Look, Albus,” said Fudge, uncomfortably. “Hagrid’s record’s against him. Ministry’s got to do something—the school governors have been in touch—”

“Yet again, Cornelius, I tell you that taking Hagrid away will not help in the slightest,” said Dumbledore. His blue eyes were full of a fire Harry had never seen before.

“Look at it from my point of view,” said Fudge, fidgeting with his bowler. “I’m under a lot of pressure. Got to be seen to be doing something. If it turns out it wasn’t Hagrid, he’ll be back and no more said. But I’ve got to take him. Got to. Wouldn’t be doing my duty—”

“Take me?” said Hagrid, who was trembling. “Take me where?”

“For a short stretch only,” said Fudge, not meeting Hagrid’s eyes. “Not a punishment, Hagrid, more a precaution. If someone else is caught, you’ll be let out with a full apology—”

“Not Azkaban?” croaked Hagrid.

Before Fudge could answer, there was another loud rap on the door.

Dumbledore answered it. It was Harry’s turn for an elbow in the ribs; he’d let out an audible gasp.

Mr. Lucius Malfoy strode into Hagrid’s hut, swathed in a long black traveling cloak, smiling a cold and satisfied smile. Fang started to growl.

“Already here, Fudge,” he said approvingly. “Good, good…”

“What’re you doin’ here?” said Hagrid furiously. “Get outta my house!”

“My dear man, please believe me, I have no pleasure at all in being inside your—er—d’you call this a house?” said Lucius Malfoy, sneering as he looked around the small cabin. “I simply called at the school and was told that the headmaster was here.”

“And what exactly did you want with me, Lucius?” said Dumbledore. He spoke politely, but the fire was still blazing in his blue eyes.

“Dreadful thing, Dumbledore,” said Malfoy lazily, taking out a long roll of parchment, “but the governors feel it’s time for you to step aside. This is an Order of Suspension—you’ll find all twelve signatures on it. I’m afraid we feel you’re losing your touch. How many attacks have there been now? Two more this afternoon, wasn’t it? At this rate, there’ll be no Muggle-borns left at Hogwarts, and we all know what an awful loss that would be to the school.”

“Oh, now, see here, Lucius,” said Fudge, looking alarmed, “Dumbledore suspended—no, no—last thing we want just now…”

“The appointment—or suspension—of the headmaster is a matter for the governors, Fudge,” said Mr. Malfoy smoothly. “And as Dumbledore has failed to stop these attacks—”
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