Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Page 8) eBook online

“Flint!” Wood bellowed at the Slytherin Captain. “This is our practice time! We got up specially! You can clear off now!”

Marcus Flint was even larger than Wood. He had a look of trollish cunning on his face as he replied, “Plenty of room for all of us, Wood.”

Angelina, Alicia, and Katie had come over, too. There were no girls on the Slytherin team, who stood shoulder to shoulder, facing the Gryffindors, leering to a man.

“But I booked the field!” said Wood, positively spitting with rage. “I booked it!”

“Ah,” said Flint. “But I’ve got a specially signed note here from Professor Snape.”



“I, Professor S. Snape, give the Slytherin team permission to practice today on the Quidditch field owing to the need to train their new Seeker.”


“You’ve got a new Seeker?” said Wood, distracted. “Where?”

And from behind the six large figures before them came a seventh, smaller boy, smirking all over his pale, pointed face. It was Draco Malfoy.

“Aren’t you Lucius Malfoy’s son?” said Fred, looking at Malfoy with dislike.

“Funny you should mention Draco’s father,” said Flint as the whole Slytherin team smiled still more broadly. “Let me show you the generous gift he’s made to the Slytherin team.”

All seven of them held out their broomsticks. Seven highly polished, brand new handles and seven sets of fine gold lettering spelling the words Nimbus Two Thousand and One gleamed under the Gryffindors’ noses in the early morning sun.

“Very latest model. Only came out last month,” said Flint carelessly, flicking a speck of dust from the end of his own. “I believe it outstrips the old Two Thousand series by a considerable amount. As for the old Cleansweeps”—he smiled nastily at Fred and George, who were both clutching Cleansweep Fives—“sweeps the board with them.”

None of the Gryffindor team could think of anything to say for a moment. Malfoy was smirking so broadly his cold eyes were reduced to slits.

“Oh, look,” said Flint. “A field invasion.” Ron and Hermione were crossing the grass to see what was going on.

“What’s happening?” Ron asked Harry. “Why aren’t you playing? And what’s he doing here?” He was looking at Malfoy, taking in his Slytherin Quidditch robes.

“I’m the new Slytherin Seeker, Weasley,” said Malfoy, smugly. “Everyone’s just been admiring the brooms my father’s bought our team.”

Ron gaped, open mouthed, at the seven superb broomsticks in front of him.

“Good, aren’t they?” said Malfoy smoothly. “But perhaps the Gryffindor team will be able to raise some gold and get new brooms, too. You could raffle off those Cleansweep Fives; I expect a museum would bid for them.” The Slytherin team howled with laughter.

“At least no one on the Gryffindor team had to buy their way in,” said Hermione sharply. “They got in on pure talent.”

The smug look on Malfoy’s face flickered.

“No one asked your opinion, you filthy little Mudblood,” he spat.

Harry knew at once that Malfoy had said something really bad because there was an instant uproar at his words. Flint had to dive in front of Malfoy to stop Fred and George jumping on him, Alicia shrieked, “How dare you!”; and Ron plunged his hand into his robes, pulled out his wand, yelling, “You’ll pay for that one, Malfoy!” and pointed it furiously under Flint’s arm at Malfoy’s face.

A loud bang echoed around the stadium and a jet of green light shot out of the wrong end of Ron’s wand, hitting him in the stomach and sending him reeling backward onto the grass.

“Ron! Ron! Are you all right?” squealed Hermione.

Ron opened his mouth to speak, but no words came out. Instead he gave an almighty belch and several slugs dribbled out of his mouth onto his lap.

The Slytherin team were paralyzed with laughter. Flint was doubled up, hanging onto his new broomstick for support. Malfoy was on all fours, banging the ground with his fist. The Gryffindors were gathered around Ron, who kept belching large, glistening slugs. Nobody seemed to want to touch him.

“We’d better get him to Hagrid’s, it’s nearest,” said Harry to Hermione, who nodded bravely, and the pair of them pulled Ron up by the arms.

“What happened, Harry? What happened? Is he ill? But you can cure him, can’t you?” Colin had run down from his seat and was now dancing alongside them as they left the field. Ron gave a huge heave and more slugs dribbled down his front.

“Oooh,” said Colin, fascinated and raising his camera. “Can you hold him still, Harry?”

“Get out of the way, Colin!” said Harry angrily. He and Hermione supported Ron out of the stadium and across the grounds toward the edge of the forest.

“Nearly there, Ron,” said Hermione as the gamekeeper’s cabin came into view. “You’ll be all right in a minute—almost there—”

They were within twenty feet of Hagrid’s house when the front door opened, but it wasn’t Hagrid who emerged. Gilderoy Lockhart, wearing robes of palest mauve today, came striding out.

“Quick, behind here,” Harry hissed, dragging Ron behind a nearby bush. Hermione followed, somewhat reluctantly.

“It’s a simple matter if you know what you’re doing!” Lockhart was saying loudly to Hagrid. “If you need help, you know where I am! I’ll let you have a copy of my book. I’m surprised you haven’t already got one—I’ll sign one tonight and send it over. Well, good bye!” And he strode away toward the castle.

Harry waited until Lockhart was out of sight, then pulled Ron out of the bush and up to Hagrid’s front door. They knocked urgently.

Hagrid appeared at once, looking very grumpy, but his expression brightened when he saw who it was.

“Bin wonderin’ when you’d come ter see me—come in, come in—thought you mighta bin Professor Lockhart back again—”

Harry and Hermione supported Ron over the threshold into the oneroomed cabin, which had an enormous bed in one corner, a fire crackling merrily in the other. Hagrid didn’t seem perturbed by Ron’s slug problem, which Harry hastily explained as he lowered Ron into a chair.

“Better out than in,” he said cheerfully, plunking a large copper basin in front of him. “Get ’em all up, Ron.”

“I don’t think there’s anything to do except wait for it to stop,” said Hermione anxiously, watching Ron bend over the basin. “That’s a difficult curse to work at the best of times, but with a broken wand—”

Hagrid was bustling around making them tea. His boarhound, Fang, was slobbering over Harry.

“What did Lockhart want with you, Hagrid?” Harry asked, scratching Fang’s ears.

“Givin’ me advice on gettin’ kelpies out of a well,” growled Hagrid, moving a half plucked rooster off his scrubbed table and setting down the teapot. “Like I don’ know. An’ bangin’ on about some banshee he banished. If one word of it was true, I’ll eat my kettle.”

It was most unlike Hagrid to criticize a Hogwarts’ teacher, and Harry looked at him in surprise. Hermione, however, said in a voice somewhat higher than usual, “I think you’re being a bit unfair. Professor Dumbledore obviously thought he was the best man for the job—”

“He was the on’y man for the job,” said Hagrid, offering them a plate of treacle fudge, while Ron coughed squelchily into his basin. “An’ I mean the on’y one. Gettin’ very difficult ter find anyone fer the Dark Arts job. People aren’t too keen ter take it on, see. They’re startin’ ter think it’s jinxed. No one’s lasted long fer a while now. So tell me,” said Hagrid, jerking his head at Ron. “Who was he tryin’ ter curse?”

“Malfoy called Hermione something—it must’ve been really bad, because everyone went wild.”

“It was bad,” said Ron hoarsely, emerging over the tabletop looking pale and sweaty. “Malfoy called her ‘Mudblood,’ Hagrid—”

Ron dived out of sight again as a fresh wave of slugs made their appearance. Hagrid looked outraged.

“He didn’!” he growled at Hermione.

“He did,” she said. “But I don’t know what it means. I could tell it was really rude, of course—”

“It’s about the most insulting thing he could think of,” gasped Ron, coming back up. “Mudblood’s a really foul name for someone who is Muggle-born—you know, non magic parents. There are some wizards—like Malfoy’s family—who think they’re better than everyone else because they’re what people call pure blood.” He gave a small burp, and a single slug fell into his outstretched hand. He threw it into the basin and continued, “I mean, the rest of us know it doesn’t make any difference at all. Look at Neville Longbottom—he’s pure blood and he can hardly stand a cauldron the right way up.”

“An’ they haven’t invented a spell our Hermione can’ do,” said Hagrid proudly, making Hermione go a brilliant shade of magenta.

“It’s a disgusting thing to call someone,” said Ron, wiping his sweaty brow with a shaking hand. “Dirty blood, see. Common blood. It’s ridiculous. Most wizards these days are half-blood anyway. If we hadn’t married Muggles we’d’ve died out.” He retched and ducked out of sight again.

“Well, I don’ blame yeh fer tryin’ ter curse him, Ron,” said Hagrid loudly over the thuds of more slugs hitting the basin. “Bu’ maybe it was a good thing yer wand backfired. ’Spect Lucius Malfoy would’ve come marchin’ up ter school if yeh’d cursed his son. Least yer not in trouble.”

Harry would have pointed out that trouble didn’t come much worse than having slugs pouring out of your mouth, but he couldn’t; Hagrid’s treacle fudge had cemented his jaws together.

“Harry,” said Hagrid abruptly as though struck by a sudden thought. “Gotta bone ter pick with yeh. I’ve heard you’ve bin givin’ out signed photos. How come I haven’t got one?”

Furious, Harry wrenched his teeth apart.

“I have not been giving out signed photos,” he said hotly. “If Lockhart’s still spreading that around—” But then he saw that Hagrid was laughing.

“I’m only jokin’,” he said, patting Harry genially on the back and sending him face first into the table. “I knew yeh hadn’t really. I told Lockhart yeh didn’ need teh. Yer more famous than him without tryin’.”

“Bet he didn’t like that,” said Harry, sitting up and rubbing his chin.

“Don’ think he did,” said Hagrid, his eyes twinkling. “An’ then I told him I’d never read one o’ his books an’ he decided ter go. Treacle fudge, Ron?” he added as Ron reappeared.

“No thanks,” said Ron weakly. “Better not risk it.”

“Come an’ see what I’ve bin growin’,” said Hagrid as Harry and Hermione finished the last of their tea.

In the small vegetable patch behind Hagrid’s house were a dozen of the largest pumpkins Harry had ever seen. Each was the size of a large boulder.

“Gettin’ on well, aren’t they?” said Hagrid happily. “Fer the Halloween feast… should be big enough by then.”

“What’ve you been feeding them?” said Harry.

Hagrid looked over his shoulder to check that they were alone.

“Well, I’ve bin givin’ them—you know—a bit o’ help—”

Harry noticed Hagrid’s flowery pink umbrella leaning against the back wall of the cabin. Harry had had reason to believe before now that this umbrella was not all it looked; in fact, he had the strong impression that Hagrid’s old school wand was concealed inside it. Hagrid wasn’t supposed to use magic. He had been expelled from Hogwarts in his third year, but Harry had never found out why—any mention of the matter and Hagrid would clear his throat loudly and become mysteriously deaf until the subject was changed.

“An Engorgement Charm, I suppose?” said Hermione, halfway between disapproval and amusement. “Well, you’ve done a good job on them.”

“That’s what yer little sister said,” said Hagrid, nodding at Ron. “Met her jus’ yesterday.” Hagrid looked sideways at Harry, his beard twitching. “Said she was jus’ lookin’ round the grounds, but I reckon she was hopin’ she might run inter someone else at my house.” He winked at Harry. “If yeh ask me, she wouldn’ say no ter a signed—”

“Oh, shut up,” said Harry. Ron snorted with laughter and the ground was sprayed with slugs.

“Watch it!” Hagrid roared, pulling Ron away from his precious pumpkins.

It was nearly lunchtime and as Harry had only had one bit of treacle fudge since dawn, he was keen to go back to school to eat. They said good bye to Hagrid and walked back up to the castle, Ron hiccoughing occasionally, but only bringing up two very small slugs.

They had barely set foot in the cool entrance hall when a voice rang out, “There you are, Potter—Weasley.” Professor McGonagall was walking toward them, looking stern. “You will both do your detentions this evening.”

“What’re we doing, Professor?” said Ron, nervously suppressing a burp.

“You will be polishing the silver in the trophy room with Mr. Filch,” said Professor McGonagall. “And no magic, Weasley—elbow grease.”

Ron gulped. Argus Filch, the caretaker, was loathed by every student in the school.

“And you, Potter, will be helping Professor Lockhart answer his fan mail,” said Professor McGonagall.

“Oh no—Professor, can’t I go and do the trophy room, too?” said Harry desperately.

“Certainly not,” said Professor McGonagall, raising her eyebrows. “Professor Lockhart requested you particularly. Eight o’clock sharp, both of you.”

Harry and Ron slouched into the Great Hall in states of deepest gloom, Hermione behind them, wearing a well-you-did-break-school-rules sort of expression. Harry didn’t enjoy his shepherd’s pie as much as he’d thought. Both he and Ron felt they’d got the worse deal.

“Filch’ll have me there all night,” said Ron heavily. “No magic! There must be about a hundred cups in that room. I’m no good at Muggle cleaning.”

“I’d swap anytime,” said Harry hollowly. “I’ve had loads of practice with the Dursleys. Answering Lockhart’s fan mail… he’ll be a nightmare…”

Saturday afternoon seemed to melt away, and in what seemed like no time, it was five minutes to eight, and Harry was dragging his feet along the second floor corridor to Lockhart’s office. He gritted his teeth and knocked.

The door flew open at once. Lockhart beamed down at him.

“Ah, here’s the scallywag!” he said. “Come in, Harry, come in—”

Shining brightly on the walls by the light of many candles were countless framed photographs of Lockhart. He had even signed a few of them. Another large pile lay on his desk.

“You can address the envelopes!” Lockhart told Harry, as though this was a huge treat. “This first one’s to Gladys Gudgeon, bless her—huge fan of mine—”

The minutes snailed by. Harry let Lockhart’s voice wash over him, occasionally saying, “Mmm” and “Right” and “Yeah.” Now and then he caught a phrase like, “Fame’s a fickle friend, Harry,” or “Celebrity is as celebrity does, remember that.”

The candles burned lower and lower, making the light dance over the many moving faces of Lockhart watching him. Harry moved his aching hand over what felt like the thousandth envelope, writing out Veronica Smethley’s address. It must be nearly time to leave, Harry thought miserably, please let it be nearly time…

And then he heard something—something quite apart from the spitting of the dying candles and Lockhart’s prattle about his fans.

It was a voice, a voice to chill the bone marrow, a voice of breathtaking, ice cold venom.

“Come… come to me… let me rip you… let me tear you… let me kill you…”

Harry gave a huge jump and a large lilac blot appeared on Veronica Smethley’s street.

“What?” he said loudly.

“I know!” said Lockhart. “Six solid months at the top of the bestseller list! Broke all records!”

“No,” said Harry frantically. “That voice!”

“Sorry?” said Lockhart, looking puzzled. “What voice?”

“That—that voice that said—didn’t you hear it?”

Lockhart was looking at Harry in high astonishment.

“What are you talking about, Harry? Perhaps you’re getting a little drowsy? Great Scott—look at the time! We’ve been here nearly four hours! I’d never have believed it—the time’s flown, hasn’t it?”

Harry didn’t answer. He was straining his ears to hear the voice again, but there was no sound now except for Lockhart telling him he mustn’t expect a treat like this every time he got detention. Feeling dazed, Harry left.

It was so late that the Gryffindor common room was almost empty. Harry went straight up to the dormitory. Ron wasn’t back yet. Harry pulled on his pajamas, got into bed, and waited. Half an hour later, Ron arrived, nursing his right arm and bringing a strong smell of polish into the darkened room.

“My muscles have all seized up,” he groaned, sinking on his bed. “Fourteen times he made me buff up that Quidditch cup before he was satisfied. And then I had another slug attack all over a Special Award for Services to the School. Took ages to get the slime off… How was it with Lockhart?”

Keeping his voice low so as not to wake Neville, Dean, and Seamus, Harry told Ron exactly what he had heard.

“And Lockhart said he couldn’t hear it?” said Ron. Harry could see him frowning in the moonlight. “D’you think he was lying? But I don’t get it—even someone invisible would’ve had to open the door.”

“I know,” said Harry, lying back in his four-poster and staring at the canopy above him. “I don’t get it either.”




8. THE DEATHDAY PARTY


October arrived, spreading a damp chill over the grounds and into the castle. Madam Pomfrey, the nurse, was kept busy by a sudden spate of colds among the staff and students. Her Pepperup potion worked instantly, though it left the drinker smoking at the ears for several hours afterward. Ginny Weasley, who had been looking pale, was bullied into taking some by Percy. The steam pouring from under her vivid hair gave the impression that her whole head was on fire. Raindrops the size of bullets thundered on the castle windows for days on end; the lake rose, the flower beds turned into muddy streams, and Hagrid’s pumpkins swelled to the size of garden sheds. Oliver Wood’s enthusiasm for regular training sessions, however, was not dampened, which was why Harry was to be found, late one stormy Saturday afternoon a few days before Halloween, returning to Gryffindor Tower, drenched to the skin and splattered with mud.

Even aside from the rain and wind it hadn’t been a happy practice session. Fred and George, who had been spying on the Slytherin team, had seen for themselves the speed of those new Nimbus Two Thousand and Ones. They reported that the Slytherin team was no more than seven greenish blurs, shooting through the air like missiles.

As Harry squelched along the deserted corridor he came across somebody who looked just as preoccupied as he was. Nearly Headless Nick, the ghost of Gryffindor Tower, was staring morosely out of a window, muttering under his breath, “…don’t fulfill their requirements… half an inch, if that…”

“Hello, Nick,” said Harry.

“Hello, hello,” said Nearly Headless Nick, starting and looking round. He wore a dashing, plumed hat on his long curly hair, and a tunic with a ruff, which concealed the fact that his neck was almost completely severed. He was pale as smoke, and Harry could see right through him to the dark sky and torrential rain outside.

“You look troubled, young Potter,” said Nick, folding a transparent letter as he spoke and tucking it inside his doublet.

“So do you,” said Harry.

“Ah,” Nearly Headless Nick waved an elegant hand, “a matter of no importance… It’s not as though I really wanted to join… Thought I’d apply, but apparently I ‘don’t fulfill requirements.’”

In spite of his airy tone, there was a look of great bitterness on his face.

“But you would think, wouldn’t you,” he erupted suddenly, pulling the letter back out of his pocket, “that getting hit forty five times in the neck with a blunt axe would qualify you to join the Headless Hunt?”

“Oh—yes,” said Harry, who was obviously supposed to agree.

“I mean, nobody wishes more than I do that it had all been quick and clean, and my head had come off properly, I mean, it would have saved me a great deal of pain and ridicule. However—” Nearly Headless Nick shook his letter open and read furiously:

“‘We can only accept huntsmen whose heads have parted company with their bodies. You will appreciate that it would be impossible otherwise for members to participate in hunt activities such as Horseback Head Juggling and Head Polo. It is with the greatest regret, therefore, that I must inform you that you do not fulfill our requirements. With very best wishes, Sir Patrick Delaney-Podmore.’”

Fuming, Nearly Headless Nick stuffed the letter away.

“Half an inch of skin and sinew holding my neck on, Harry! Most people would think that’s good and beheaded, but oh, no, it’s not enough for Sir Properly Decapitated Podmore.”

Nearly Headless Nick took several deep breaths and then said, in a far calmer tone, “So—what’s bothering you? Anything I can do?”

“No,” said Harry. “Not unless you know where we can get seven free Nimbus Two Thousand and Ones for our match against Sly—”

The rest of Harry’s sentence was drowned out by a high pitched mewling from somewhere near his ankles. He looked down and found himself gazing into a pair of lamp like yellow eyes. It was Mrs. Norris, the skeletal gray cat who was used by the caretaker, Argus Filch, as a sort of deputy in his endless battle against students.

“You’d better get out of here, Harry,” said Nick quickly. “Filch isn’t in a good mood—he’s got the flu and some third years accidentally plastered frog brains all over the ceiling in dungeon five. He’s been cleaning all morning, and if he sees you dripping mud all over the place—”

“Right,” said Harry, backing away from the accusing stare of Mrs. Norris, but not quickly enough. Drawn to the spot by the mysterious power that seemed to connect him with his foul cat, Argus Filch burst suddenly through a tapestry to Harry’s right, wheezing and looking wildly about for the rulebreaker. There was a thick tartan scarf bound around his head, and his nose was unusually purple.

“Filth!” he shouted, his jowls aquiver, his eyes popping alarmingly as he pointed at the muddy puddle that had dripped from Harry’s Quidditch robes. “Mess and muck everywhere! I’ve had enough of it, I tell you! Follow me, Potter!”

So Harry waved a gloomy good bye to Nearly Headless Nick and followed Filch back downstairs, doubling the number of muddy footprints on the floor. Harry had never been inside Filch’s office before; it was a place most students avoided. The room was dingy and windowless, lit by a single oil lamp dangling from the low ceiling. A faint smell of fried fish lingered about the place. Wooden filing cabinets stood around the walls; from their labels, Harry could see that they contained details of every pupil Filch had ever punished. Fred and George Weasley had an entire drawer to themselves. A highly polished collection of chains and manacles hung on the wall behind Filch’s desk. It was common knowledge that he was always begging Dumbledore to let him suspend students by their ankles from the ceiling.

Filch grabbed a quill from a pot on his desk and began shuffling around looking for parchment.

“Dung,” he muttered furiously, “great sizzling dragon bogies… frog brains… rat intestines… I’ve had enough of it… make an example… where’s the form… yes…”

He retrieved a large roll of parchment from his desk drawer and stretched it out in front of him, dipping his long black quill into the ink pot.

“Name… Harry Potter. Crime…”

“It was only a bit of mud!” said Harry.
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