Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Page 21) eBook online

“My dear boy,” said Lockhart, straightening up and frowning at Harry. “Do use your common sense. My books wouldn’t have sold half as well if people didn’t think I’d done all those things. No one wants to read about some ugly old Armenian warlock, even if he did save a village from werewolves. He’d look dreadful on the front cover. No dress sense at all. And the witch who banished the Bandon Banshee had a harelip. I mean, come on—”

“So you’ve just been taking credit for what a load of other people have done?” said Harry incredulously.

“Harry, Harry,” said Lockhart, shaking his head impatiently, “it’s not nearly as simple as that. There was work involved. I had to track these people down. Ask them exactly how they managed to do what they did. Then I had to put a Memory Charm on them so they wouldn’t remember doing it. If there’s one thing I pride myself on, it’s my Memory Charms. No, it’s been a lot of work, Harry. It’s not all book signings and publicity photos, you know. You want fame, you have to be prepared for a long hard slog.”

He banged the lids of his trunks shut and locked them.

“Let’s see,” he said. “I think that’s everything. Yes. Only one thing left.”

He pulled out his wand and turned to them.

“Awfully sorry, boys, but I’ll have to put a Memory Charm on you now. Can’t have you blabbing my secrets all over the place. I’d never sell another book—”

Harry reached his wand just in time. Lockhart had barely raised his, when Harry bellowed, “Expelliarmus!”

Lockhart was blasted backward, falling over his trunk; his wand flew high into the air; Ron caught it, and flung it out of the open window.

“Shouldn’t have let Professor Snape teach us that one,” said Harry furiously, kicking Lockhart’s trunk aside. Lockhart was looking up at him, feeble once more. Harry was still pointing his wand at him.

“What d’you want me to do?” said Lockhart weakly. “I don’t know where the Chamber of Secrets is. There’s nothing I can do.”

“You’re in luck,” said Harry, forcing Lockhart to his feet at wandpoint. “We think we know where it is. And what’s inside it. Let’s go.”

They marched Lockhart out of his office and down the nearest stairs, along the dark corridor where the messages shone on the wall, to the door of Moaning Myrtle’s bathroom.

They sent Lockhart in first. Harry was pleased to see that he was shaking.

Moaning Myrtle was sitting on the tank of the end toilet.

“Oh, it’s you,” she said when she saw Harry. “What do you want this time?”

“To ask you how you died,” said Harry.

Myrtle’s whole aspect changed at once. She looked as though she had never been asked such a flattering question.

“Ooooh, it was dreadful,” she said with relish. “It happened right in here. I died in this very stall. I remember it so well. I’d hidden because Olive Hornby was teasing me about my glasses. The door was locked, and I was crying, and then I heard somebody come in. They said something funny. A different language, I think it must have been. Anyway, what really got me was that it was a boy speaking. So I unlocked the door, to tell him to go and use his own toilet, and then—” Myrtle swelled importantly, her face shining. “I died.”

“How?” said Harry.

“No idea,” said Myrtle in hushed tones. “I just remember seeing a pair of great, big, yellow eyes. My whole body sort of seized up, and then I was floating away…” She looked dreamily at Harry. “And then I came back again. I was determined to haunt Olive Hornby, you see. Oh, she was sorry she’d ever laughed at my glasses.”

“Where exactly did you see the eyes?” said Harry.

“Somewhere there,” said Myrtle, pointing vaguely toward the sink in front of her toilet.

Harry and Ron hurried over to it. Lockhart was standing well back, a look of utter terror on his face.

It looked like an ordinary sink. They examined every inch of it, inside and out, including the pipes below. And then Harry saw it: Scratched on the side of one of the copper taps was a tiny snake.

“That tap’s never worked,” said Myrtle brightly as he tried to turn it.

“Harry,” said Ron. “Say something. Something in Parseltongue.”

“But—” Harry thought hard. The only times he’d ever managed to speak Parseltongue were when he’d been faced with a real snake. He stared hard at the tinyengraving, trying to imagine it was real.

“Open up,” he said.

He looked at Ron, who shook his head.

“English,” he said.

Harry looked back at the snake, willing himself to believe it was alive. If he moved his head, the candlelight made it look as though it were moving.

“Open up,” he said.

Except that the words weren’t what he heard; a strange hissing had escaped him, and at once the tap glowed with a brilliant white light and began to spin. Next second, the sink began to move; the sink, in fact, sank, right out of sight, leaving a large pipe exposed, a pipe wide enough for a man to slide into.

Harry heard Ron gasp and looked up again. He had made up his mind what he was going to do.

“I’m going down there,” he said.

He couldn’t not go, not now they had found the entrance to the Chamber, not if there was even the faintest, slimmest, wildest chance that Ginny might be alive.

“Me too,” said Ron.

There was a pause.

“Well, you hardly seem to need me,” said Lockhart, with a shadow of his old smile. “I’ll just—”

He put his hand on the door knob, but Ron and Harry both pointed their wands at him.

“You can go first,” Ron snarled.

White faced and wandless, Lockhart approached the opening.

“Boys,” he said, his voice feeble. “Boys, what good will it do?”

Harry jabbed him in the back with his wand. Lockhart slid his legs into the pipe.

“I really don’t think—” he started to say, but Ron gave him a push, and he slid out of sight. Harry followed quickly. He lowered himself slowly into the pipe, then let go.

It was like rushing down an endless, slimy, dark slide. He could see more pipes branching off in all directions, but none as large as theirs, which twisted and turned, sloping steeply downward, and he knew that he was falling deeper below the school than even the dungeons. Behind him he could hear Ron, thudding slightly at the curves.

And then, just as he had begun to worry about what would happen when he hit the ground, the pipe leveled out, and he shot out of the end with a wet thud, landing on the damp floor of a dark stone tunnel large enough to stand in. Lockhart was getting to his feet a little ways away, covered in slime and white as a ghost. Harry stood aside as Ron came whizzing out of the pipe, too.

“We must be miles under the school,” said Harry, his voice echoing in the black tunnel.

“Under the lake, probably,” said Ron, squinting around at the dark, slimy walls.

All three of them turned to stare into the darkness ahead.

“Lumos!” Harry muttered to his wand and it lit again. “C’mon,” he said to Ron and Lockhart, and off they went, their footsteps slapping loudly on the wet floor.

The tunnel was so dark that they could only see a little distance ahead. Their shadows on the wet walls looked monstrous in the wandlight.

“Remember,” Harry said quietly as they walked cautiously forward, “any sign of movement, close your eyes right away…”

But the tunnel was quiet as the grave, and the first unexpected sound they heard was a loud crunch as Ron stepped on what turned out to be a rat’s skull. Harry lowered his wand to look at the floor and saw that it was littered with small animal bones. Trying very hard not to imagine what Ginny might look like if they found her, Harry led the way forward, around a dark bend in the tunnel.

“Harry—there’s something up there—” said Ron hoarsely, grabbing Harry’s shoulder.

They froze, watching. Harry could just see the outline of something huge and curved, lying right across the tunnel. It wasn’t moving.

“Maybe it’s asleep,” he breathed, glancing back at the other two. Lockhart’s hands were pressed over his eyes. Harry turned back to look at the thing, his heart beating so fast it hurt.

Very slowly, his eyes as narrow as he could make them and still see, Harry edged forward, his wand held high.

The light slid over a gigantic snake skin, of a vivid, poisonous green, lying curled and empty across the tunnel floor. The creature that had shed it must have been twenty feet long at least.

“Blimey,” said Ron weakly.

There was a sudden movement behind them. Gilderoy Lockhart’s knees had given way.

“Get up,” said Ron sharply, pointing his wand at Lockhart.

Lockhart got to his feet—then he dived at Ron, knocking him to the ground.

Harry jumped forward, but too late—Lockhart was straightening up, panting, Ron’s wand in his hand and a gleaming smile back on his face.

“The adventure ends here, boys!” he said. “I shall take a bit of this skin back up to the school, tell them I was too late to save the girl, and that you two tragically lost your minds at the sight of her mangled body—say good bye to your memories!”

He raised Ron’s Spellotaped wand high over his head and yelled, “Obliviate!”

The wand exploded with the force of a small bomb. Harry flung his arms over his head and ran, slipping over the coils of snake skin, out of the way of great chunks of tunnel ceiling that were thundering to the floor. Next moment, he was standing alone, gazing at a solid wall of broken rock.

“Ron!” he shouted. “Are you okay? Ron!”

“I’m here!” came Ron’s muffled voice from behind the rockfall. “I’m okay—this git’s not, though—he got blasted by the wand—”

There was a dull thud and a loud “ow!” It sounded as though Ron had just kicked Lockhart in the shins.

“What now?” Ron’s voice said, sounding desperate. “We can’t get through—it’ll take ages…”

Harry looked up at the tunnel ceiling. Huge cracks had appeared in it. He had never tried to break apart anything as large as these rocks by magic, and now didn’t seem a good moment to try—what if the whole tunnel caved in?

There was another thud and another “ow!” from behind the rocks. They were wasting time. Ginny had already been in the Chamber of Secrets for hours… Harry knew there was only one thing to do.

“Wait there,” he called to Ron. “Wait with Lockhart. I’ll go on… If I’m not back in an hour…”

There was a very pregnant pause.

“I’ll try and shift some of this rock,” said Ron, who seemed to be trying to keep his voice steady. “So you can—can get back through. And, Harry—”

“See you in a bit,” said Harry, trying to inject some confidence into his shaking voice.

And he set off alone past the giant snake skin.

Soon the distant noise of Ron straining to shift the rocks was gone. The tunnel turned and turned again. Every nerve in Harry’s body was tingling unpleasantly. He wanted the tunnel to end, yet dreaded what he’d find when it did. And then, at last, as he crept around yet another bend, he saw a solid wall ahead on which two entwined serpents were carved, their eyes set with great, glinting emeralds.

Harry approached, his throat very dry. There was no need to pretend these stone snakes were real; their eyes looked strangely alive.

He could guess what he had to do. He cleared his throat, and the emerald eyes seemed to flicker.

“Open,” said Harry, in a low, faint hiss.

The serpents parted as the wall cracked open, the halves slid smoothly out of sight, and Harry, shaking from head to foot, walked inside.




17. THE HEIR OF SLYTHERIN


He was standing at the end of a very long, dimly lit chamber. Towering stone pillars entwined with more carved serpents rose to support a ceiling lost in darkness, casting long, black shadows through the odd, greenish gloom that filled the place. His heart beating very fast, Harry stood listening to the chill silence. Could the basilisk be lurking in a shadowy corner, behind a pillar? And where was Ginny?

He pulled out his wand and moved forward between the serpentine columns. Every careful footstep echoed loudly off the shadowy walls. He kept his eyes narrowed, ready to clamp them shut at the smallest sign of movement. The hollow eye sockets of the stone snakes seemed to be following him. More than once, with a jolt of the stomach, he thought he saw one stir.

Then, as he drew level with the last pair of pillars, a statue high as the Chamber itself loomed into view, standing against the back wall.

Harry had to crane his neck to look up into the giant face above: It was ancient and monkey like, with a long, thin beard that fell almost to the bottom of the wizard’s sweeping stone robes, where two enormous gray feet stood on the smooth Chamber floor. And between the feet, facedown, lay a small, black robed figure with flaming red hair.

“Ginny!” Harry muttered, sprinting to her and dropping to his knees. “Ginny—don’t be dead—please don’t be dead—”

He flung his wand aside, grabbed Ginny’s shoulders, and turned her over. Her face was white as marble, and as cold, yet her eyes were closed, so she wasn’t Petrified. But then she must be—

“Ginny, please wake up,” Harry muttered desperately, shaking her. Ginny’s head lolled hopelessly from side to side.
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