Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Page 6) eBook online

It wasn’t at all the triumphant arrival they had pictured. Stiff, cold, and bruised, they seized the ends of their trunks and began dragging them up the grassy slope, toward the great oak front doors.

“I think the feast’s already started,” said Ron, dropping his trunk at the foot of the front steps and crossing quietly to look through a brightly lit window. “Hey—Harry—come and look—it’s the Sorting!”

Harry hurried over and, together, he and Ron peered in at the Great Hall.

Innumerable candles were hovering in midair over four long, crowded tables, making the golden plates and goblets sparkle. Overhead, the bewitched ceiling, which always mirrored the sky outside, sparkled with stars.

Through the forest of pointed black Hogwarts hats, Harry saw a long line of scared looking first years filing into the Hall. Ginny was among them, easily visible because of her vivid Weasley hair. Meanwhile, Professor McGonagall, a bespectacled witch with her hair in a tight bun, was placing the famous Hogwarts Sorting Hat on a stool before the newcomers.

Every year, this aged old hat, patched, frayed, and dirty, sorted new students into the four Hogwarts houses (Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, and Slytherin). Harry well remembered putting it on, exactly one year ago, and waiting, petrified, for its decision as it muttered aloud in his ear. For a few horrible seconds he had feared that the hat was going to put him in Slytherin, the house that had turned out more Dark witches and wizards than any other—but he had ended up in Gryffindor, along with Ron, Hermione, and the rest of the Weasleys. Last term, Harry and Ron had helped Gryffindor win the House Championship, beating Slytherin for the first time in seven years.

A very small, mousy haired boy had been called forward to place the hat on his head. Harry’s eyes wandered past him to where Professor Dumbledore, the headmaster, sat watching the Sorting from the staff table, his long silver beard and half moon glasses shining brightly in the candlelight. Several seats along, Harry saw Gilderoy Lockhart, dressed in robes of aquamarine. And there at the end was Hagrid, huge and hairy, drinking deeply from his goblet.

“Hang on…” Harry muttered to Ron. “There’s an empty chair at the staff table… Where’s Snape?”

Professor Severus Snape was Harry’s least favorite teacher. Harry also happened to be Snape’s least favorite student. Cruel, sarcastic, and disliked by everybody except the students from his own house (Slytherin), Snape taught Potions.

“Maybe he’s ill!” said Ron hopefully.

“Maybe he’s left,” said Harry, “because he missed out on the Defense Against Dark Arts job again!”

“Or he might have been sacked!” said Ron enthusiastically. “I mean, everyone hates him—”

“Or maybe,” said a very cold voice right behind them, “he’s waiting to hear why you two didn’t arrive on the school train.”

Harry spun around. There, his black robes rippling in a cold breeze, stood Severus Snape. He was a thin man with sallow skin, a hooked nose, and greasy, shoulder length black hair, and at this moment, he was smiling in a way that told Harry he and Ron were in very deep trouble.

“Follow me,” said Snape.

Not daring even to look at each other, Harry and Ron followed Snape up the steps into the vast, echoing entrance hall, which was lit with flaming torches. A delicious smell of food was wafting from the Great Hall, but Snape led them away from the warmth and light, down a narrow stone staircase that led into the dungeons.

“In!” he said, opening a door halfway down the cold passageway and pointing.

They entered Snape’s office, shivering. The shadowy walls were lined with shelves of large glass jars, in which floated all manner of revolting things Harry didn’t really want to know the name of at the moment. The fireplace was dark and empty. Snape closed the door and turned to look at them.

“So,” he said softly, “the train isn’t good enough for the famous Harry Potter and his faithful sidekick Weasley. Wanted to arrive with a bang, did we, boys?”

“No, sir, it was the barrier at King’s Cross, it—”

“Silence!” said Snape coldly. “What have you done with the car?”

Ron gulped. This wasn’t the first time Snape had given Harry the impression of being able to read minds. But a moment later, he understood, as Snape unrolled today’s issue of the Evening Prophet.

“You were seen,” he hissed, showing them the headline: FLYING FORD ANGLIA MYSTIFIES MUGGLES. He began to read aloud: “Two Muggles in London, convinced they saw an old car flying over the Post Office tower… at noon in Norfolk, Mrs. Hetty Bayliss, while hanging out her washing… Mr. Angus Fleet, of Peebles, reported to police… Six or seven Muggles in all. I believe your father works in the Misuse of Muggle Artifacts Office?” he said, looking up at Ron and smiling still more nastily. “Dear, dear… his own son…”

Harry felt as though he’d just been walloped in the stomach by one of the mad tree’s larger branches. If anyone found out Mr. Weasley had bewitched the car… he hadn’t thought of that…

“I noticed, in my search of the park, that considerable damage seems to have been done to a very valuable Whomping Willow,” Snape went on.

“That tree did more damage to us than we—” Ron blurted out.

“Silence!” snapped Snape again. “Most unfortunately, you are not in my House and the decision to expel you does not rest with me. I shall go and fetch the people who do have that happy power. You will wait here.”

Harry and Ron stared at each other, white faced. Harry didn’t feel hungry any more. He now felt extremely sick. He tried not to look at a large, slimy something suspended in green liquid on a shelf behind Snape’s desk. If Snape had gone to fetch Professor McGonagall, head of Gryffindor House, they were hardly any better off. She might be fairer than Snape, but she was still extremely strict.

Ten minutes later, Snape returned, and sure enough it was Professor McGonagall who accompanied him. Harry had seen Professor McGonagall angry on several occasions, but either he had forgotten just how thin her mouth could go, or he had never seen her this angry before. She raised her wand the moment she entered; Harry and Ron both flinched, but she merely pointed it at the empty fireplace, where flames suddenly erupted.

“Sit,” she said, and they both backed into chairs by the fire.

“Explain,” she said, her glasses glinting ominously.

Ron launched into the story, starting with the barrier at the station refusing to let them through.

“…so we had no choice, Professor, we couldn’t get on the train.”

“Why didn’t you send us a letter by owl? I believe you have an owl?” Professor McGonagall said coldly to Harry.

Harry gaped at her. Now she said it, that seemed the obvious thing to have done.

“I—I didn’t think—”

“That,” said Professor McGonagall, “is obvious.”

There was a knock on the office door and Snape, now looking happier than ever, opened it. There stood the headmaster, Professor Dumbledore.

Harry’s whole body went numb. Dumbledore was looking unusually grave. He stared down his very crooked nose at them, and Harry suddenly found himself wishing he and Ron were still being beaten up by the Whomping Willow.

There was a long silence. Then Dumbledore said, “Please explain why you did this.”

It would have been better if he had shouted. Harry hated the disappointment in his voice. For some reason, he was unable to look Dumbledore in the eyes, and spoke instead to his knees. He told Dumbledore everything except that Mr. Weasley owned the bewitched car, making it sound as though he and Ron had happened to find a flying car parked outside the station. He knew Dumbledore would see through this at once, but Dumbledore asked no questions about the car. When Harry had finished, he merely continued to peer at them through his spectacles.

“We’ll go and get our stuff,” said Ron in a hopeless sort of voice.

“What are you talking about, Weasley?” barked Professor McGonagall.

“Well, you’re expelling us, aren’t you?” said Ron.

Harry looked quickly at Dumbledore.

“Not today, Mr. Weasley,” said Dumbledore. “But I must impress upon both of you the seriousness of what you have done. I will be writing to both your families tonight. I must also warn you that if you do anything like this again, I will have no choice but to expel you.”

Snape looked as though Christmas had been canceled. He cleared his throat and said, “Professor Dumbledore, these boys have flouted the Decree for the Restriction of Underage Wizardry, caused serious damage to an old and valuable tree—surely acts of this nature—”

“It will be for Professor McGonagall to decide on these boys’ punishments, Severus,” said Dumbledore calmly. “They are in her House and are therefore her responsibility.” He turned to Professor McGonagall. “I must go back to the feast, Minerva, I’ve got to give out a few notices. Come, Severus, there’s a delicious looking custard tart I want to sample.”

Snape shot a look of pure venom at Harry and Ron as he allowed himself to be swept out of his office, leaving them alone with Professor McGonagall, who was still eyeing them like a wrathful eagle.

“You’d better get along to the hospital wing, Weasley, you’re bleeding.”

“Not much,” said Ron, hastily wiping the cut over his eye with his sleeve. “Professor, I wanted to watch my sister being Sorted—”

“The Sorting Ceremony is over,” said Professor McGonagall. “Your sister is also in Gryffindor.”

“Oh, good,” said Ron.

“And speaking of Gryffindor—” Professor McGonagall said sharply, but Harry cut in: “Professor, when we took the car, term hadn’t started, so—so Gryffindor shouldn’t really have points taken from it—should it?” he finished, watching her anxiously.

Professor McGonagall gave him a piercing look, but he was sure she had almost smiled. Her mouth looked less thin, anyway.

“I will not take any points from Gryffindor,” she said, and Harry’s heart lightened considerably. “But you will both get a detention.”

It was better than Harry had expected. As for Dumbledore’s writing to the Dursleys, that was nothing. Harry knew perfectly well they’d just be disappointed that the Whomping Willow hadn’t squashed him flat.

Professor McGonagall raised her wand again and pointed it at Snape’s desk. A large plate of sandwiches, two silver goblets, and a jug of iced pumpkin juice appeared with a pop.

“You will eat in here and then go straight up to your dormitory,” she said. “I must also return to the feast.”

When the door had closed behind her, Ron let out a long, low whistle.

“I thought we’d had it,” he said, grabbing a sandwich.

“So did I,” said Harry, taking one, too.

“Can you believe our luck, though?” said Ron thickly through a mouthful of chicken and ham. “Fred and George must’ve flown that car five or six times and no Muggle ever saw them.” He swallowed and took another huge bite. “Why couldn’t we get through the barrier?”

Harry shrugged. “We’ll have to watch our step from now on, though,” he said, taking a grateful swig of pumpkin juice. “Wish we could’ve gone up to the feast…”

“She didn’t want us showing off,” said Ron sagely. “Doesn’t want people to think it’s clever, arriving by flying car.”

When they had eaten as many sandwiches as they could (the plate kept refilling itself) they rose and left the office, treading the familiar path to Gryffindor Tower. The castle was quiet; it seemed that the feast was over. They walked past muttering portraits and creaking suits of armor, and climbed narrow flights of stone stairs, until at last they reached the passage where the secret entrance to Gryffindor Tower was hidden, behind an oil painting of a very fat woman in a pink silk dress.

“Password?” she said as they approached.

“Er—” said Harry.

They didn’t know the new year’s password, not having met a Gryffindor prefect yet, but help came almost immediately; they heard hurrying feet behind them and turned to see Hermione dashing toward them.

“There you are! Where have you been? The most ridiculous rumors—someone said you’d been expelled for crashing a flying car!”

“Well, we haven’t been expelled,” Harry assured her.

“You’re not telling me you did fly here?” said Hermione, sounding almost as severe as Professor McGonagall.

“Skip the lecture,” said Ron impatiently, “and tell us the new password.”

“It’s ‘wattlebird,’” said Hermione impatiently, “but that’s not the point—”

Her words were cut short, however, as the portrait of the fat lady swung open and there was a sudden storm of clapping. It looked as though the whole of Gryffindor House was still awake, packed into the circular common room, standing on the lopsided tables and squashy armchairs, waiting for them to arrive. Arms reached through the portrait hole to pull Harry and Ron inside, leaving Hermione to scramble in after them.

“Brilliant!” yelled Lee Jordan. “Inspired! What an entrance! Flying a car right into the Whomping Willow, people’ll be talking about that one for years—”

“Good for you,” said a fifth year Harry had never spoken to; someone was patting him on the back as though he’d just won a marathon; Fred and George pushed their way to the front of the crowd and said together, “Why couldn’t we’ve come in the car, eh?” Ron was scarlet in the face, grinning embarrassedly, but Harry could see one person who didn’t look happy at all. Percy was visible over the heads of some excited first years, and he seemed to be trying to get near enough to start telling them off. Harry nudged Ron in the ribs and nodded in Percy’s direction. Ron got the point at once.

“Got to get upstairs—bit tired,” he said, and the two of them started pushing their way toward the door on the other side of the room, which led to a spiral staircase and the dormitories.

“Night,” Harry called back to Hermione, who was wearing a scowl just like Percy’s.

They managed to get to the other side of the common room, still having their backs slapped, and gained the peace of the staircase. They hurried up it, right to the top, and at last reached the door of their old dormitory, which now had a sign on it saying SECOND YEARS. They entered the familiar, circular room, with its five four-posters hung with red velvet and its high, narrow windows. Their trunks had been brought up for them and stood at the ends of their beds.

Ron grinned guiltily at Harry.

“I know I shouldn’t’ve enjoyed that or anything, but—”

The dormitory door flew open and in came the other second year Gryffindor boys, Seamus Finnigan, Dean Thomas, and Neville Longbottom.

“Unbelievable!” beamed Seamus.

“Cool,” said Dean.

“Amazing,” said Neville, awestruck.

Harry couldn’t help it. He grinned, too.




6. GILDEROY LOCKHART


The next day, however, Harry barely grinned once. Things started to go downhill from breakfast in the Great Hall. The four long house tables were laden with tureens of porridge, plates of kippers, mountains of toast, and dishes of eggs and bacon, beneath the enchanted ceiling (today, a dull, cloudy gray). Harry and Ron sat down at the Gryffindor table next to Hermione, who had her copy of Voyages with Vampires propped open against a milk jug. There was a slight stiffness in the way she said “Morning,” which told Harry that she was still disapproving of the way they had arrived. Neville Longbottom, on the other hand, greeted them cheerfully. Neville was a round faced and accident prone boy with the worst memory of anyone Harry had ever met.

“Mail’s due any minute—I think Gran’s sending a few things I forgot.”

Harry had only just started his porridge when, sure enough, there was a rushing sound overhead and a hundred or so owls streamed in, circling the hall and dropping letters and packages into the chattering crowd. A big, lumpy package bounced off Neville’s head and, a second later, something large and gray fell into Hermione’s jug, spraying them all with milk and feathers.

“Errol!” said Ron, pulling the bedraggled owl out by the feet. Errol slumped, unconscious, onto the table, his legs in the air and a damp red envelope in his beak.

“Oh, no—” Ron gasped.

“It’s all right, he’s still alive,” said Hermione, prodding Errol gently with the tip of her finger.

“It’s not that—it’s that.”

Ron was pointing at the red envelope. It looked quite ordinary to Harry, but Ron and Neville were both looking at it as though they expected it to explode.

“What’s the matter?” said Harry.

“She’s—she’s sent me a Howler,” said Ron faintly.

“You’d better open it, Ron,” said Neville in a timid whisper. “It’ll be worse if you don’t. My gran sent me one once, and I ignored it and”—he gulped—“it was horrible.”

Harry looked from their petrified faces to the red envelope.

“What’s a Howler?” he said.

But Ron’s whole attention was fixed on the letter, which had begun to smoke at the corners.

“Open it,” Neville urged. “It’ll all be over in a few minutes—”

Ron stretched out a shaking hand, eased the envelope from Errol’s beak, and slit it open. Neville stuffed his fingers in his ears. A split second later, Harry knew why. He thought for a moment it had exploded; a roar of sound filled the huge hall, shaking dust from the ceiling.

“—STEALING THE CAR, I WOULDN’T HAVE BEEN SURPRISED IF THEY’D EXPELLED YOU, YOU WAIT TILL I GET HOLD OF YOU, I DON’T SUPPOSE YOU STOPPED TO THINK WHAT YOUR FATHER AND I WENT THROUGH WHEN WE SAW IT WAS GONE—”

Mrs. Weasley’s yells, a hundred times louder than usual, made the plates and spoons rattle on the table, and echoed deafeningly off the stone walls. People throughout the hall were swiveling around to see who had received the Howler, and Ron sank so low in his chair that only his crimson forehead could be seen.

“—LETTER FROM DUMBLEDORE LAST NIGHT, I THOUGHT YOUR FATHER WOULD DIE OF SHAME, WE DIDN’T BRING YOU UP TO BEHAVE LIKE THIS, YOU AND HARRY COULD BOTH HAVE DIED—”

Harry had been wondering when his name was going to crop up. He tried very hard to look as though he couldn’t hear the voice that was making his eardrums throb.

“—ABSOLUTELY DISGUSTED—YOUR FATHER’S FACING AN INQUIRY AT WORK, IT’S ENTIRELY YOUR FAULT AND IF YOU PUT ANOTHER TOE OUT OF LINE WE’LL BRING YOU STRAIGHT BACK HOME.”

A ringing silence fell. The red envelope, which had dropped from Ron’s hand, burst into flames and curled into ashes. Harry and Ron sat stunned, as though a tidal wave had just passed over them. A few people laughed and, gradually, a babble of talk broke out again.

Hermione closed Voyages with Vampires and looked down at the top of Ron’s head.

“Well, I don’t know what you expected, Ron, but you—”

“Don’t tell me I deserved it,” snapped Ron.

Harry pushed his porridge away. His insides were burning with guilt. Mr. Weasley was facing an inquiry at work. After all Mr. and Mrs. Weasley had done for him over the summer…

But he had no time to dwell on this; Professor McGonagall was moving along the Gryffindor table, handing out course schedules. Harry took his and saw that they had double Herbology with the Hufflepuffs first.

Harry, Ron, and Hermione left the castle together, crossed the vegetable patch, and made for the greenhouses, where the magical plants were kept. At least the Howler had done one good thing: Hermione seemed to think they had now been punished enough and was being perfectly friendly again.

As they neared the greenhouses they saw the rest of the class standing outside, waiting for Professor Sprout. Harry, Ron, and Hermione had only just joined them when she came striding into view across the lawn, accompanied by Gilderoy Lockhart. Professor Sprout’s arms were full of bandages, and with another twinge of guilt, Harry spotted the Whomping Willow in the distance, several of its branches now in slings.

Professor Sprout was a squat little witch who wore a patched hat over her flyaway hair; there was usually a large amount of earth on her clothes and her fingernails would have made Aunt Petunia faint. Gilderoy Lockhart, however, was immaculate in sweeping robes of turquoise, his golden hair shining under a perfectly positioned turquoise hat with gold trimming.

“Oh, hello there!” he called, beaming around at the assembled students. “Just been showing Professor Sprout the right way to doctor a Whomping Willow! But I don’t want you running away with the idea that I’m better at Herbology than she is! I just happen to have met several of these exotic plants on my travels…”

“Greenhouse three today, chaps!” said Professor Sprout, who was looking distinctly disgruntled, not at all her usual cheerful self.

There was a murmur of interest. They had only ever worked in greenhouse one before—greenhouse three housed far more interesting and dangerous plants. Professor Sprout took a large key from her belt and unlocked the door. Harry caught a whiff of damp earth and fertilizer mingling with the heavy perfume of some giant, umbrellasized flowers dangling from the ceiling. He was about to follow Ron and Hermione inside when Lockhart’s hand shot out.

“Harry! I’ve been wanting a word—you don’t mind if he’s a couple of minutes late, do you, Professor Sprout?”

Judging by Professor Sprout’s scowl, she did mind, but Lockhart said, “That’s the ticket,” and closed the greenhouse door in her face.

“Harry,” said Lockhart, his large white teeth gleaming in the sunlight as he shook his head. “Harry, Harry, Harry.”

Completely nonplussed, Harry said nothing.

“When I heard—well, of course, it was all my fault. Could have kicked myself.”

Harry had no idea what he was talking about. He was about to say so when Lockhart went on, “Don’t know when I’ve been more shocked. Flying a car to Hogwarts! Well, of course, I knew at once why you’d done it. Stood out a mile. Harry, Harry, Harry.”

It was remarkable how he could show every one of those brilliant teeth even when he wasn’t talking.

“Gave you a taste for publicity, didn’t I?” said Lockhart. “Gave you the bug. You got onto the front page of the paper with me and you couldn’t wait to do it again.”

“Oh, no, Professor, see—”

“Harry, Harry, Harry,” said Lockhart, reaching out and grasping his shoulder. “I understand. Natural to want a bit more once you’ve had that first taste—and I blame myself for giving you that, because it was bound to go to your head—but see here, young man, you can’t start flying cars to try and get yourself noticed. Just calm down, all right? Plenty of time for all that when you’re older. Yes, yes, I know what you’re thinking! ‘It’s all right for him, he’s an internationally famous wizard already!’ But when I was twelve, I was just as much of a nobody as you are now. In fact, I’d say I was even more of a nobody! I mean, a few people have heard of you, haven’t they? All that business with He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named!” He glanced at the lightning scar on Harry’s forehead. “I know, I know—it’s not quite as good as winning Witch Weekly’s Most Charming Smile Award five times in a row, as I have—but it’s a start, Harry, it’s astart.”

He gave Harry a hearty wink and strode off. Harry stood stunned for a few seconds, then, remembering he was supposed to be in the greenhouse, he opened the door and slid inside.

Professor Sprout was standing behind a trestle bench in the center of the greenhouse. About twenty pairs of different colored ear muffs were lying on the bench. When Harry had taken his place between Ron and Hermione, she said, “We’ll be repotting Mandrakes today. Now, who can tell me the properties of the Mandrake?”

To nobody’s surprise, Hermione’s hand was first into the air.

“Mandrake, or Mandragora, is a powerful restorative,” said Hermione, sounding as usual as though she had swallowed the textbook. “It is used to return people who have been transfigured or cursed to their original state.”

“Excellent. Ten points to Gryffindor,” said Professor Sprout. “The Mandrake forms an essential part of most antidotes. It is also, however, dangerous. Who can tell me why?”

Hermione’s hand narrowly missed Harry’s glasses as it shot up again.

“The cry of the Mandrake is fatal to anyone who hears it,” she said promptly.

“Precisely. Take another ten points,” said Professor Sprout. “Now, the Mandrakes we have here are still very young.”
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