"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.
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."
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 rule-breaker. 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.
"It's only a bit of mud to you, boy, but to me it's an extra hour scrubbing!" shouted Filch, a drip shivering unpleasantly at the end of his bulbous nose. "Crime . . . befouling the castle . . . suggested sentence . . ." Dabbing at his streaming nose, Filch squinted unpleasantly at Harry who waited with bated breath for his sentence to fall. But as Filch lowered his quill, there was a great BANG! on the ceiling of the office, which made the oil lamp rattle.
"PEEVES!" Filch roared, flinging down his quill in a transport of rage. "I'll have you this time, I'll have you!" And without a backward glance at Harry, Filch ran flat-footed from the office, Mrs. Norris streaking alongside him.
Peeves was the school poltergeist, a grinning, airborne menace who lived to cause havoc and distress. Harry didn't much like Peeves, but couldn't help feeling grateful for his timing. Hopefully, whatever Peeves had done (and it sounded as though he'd wrecked something very big this time) would distract Filch from Harry. Thinking that he should probably wait for Filch to come back, Harry sank into a moth-eaten chair next to the desk. There was only one thing on it apart from his half-completed form: a large, glossy, purple envelope with silver lettering on the front. With a quick glance at the door to check that Filch wasn't on his way back, Harry picked up the envelope and read: Kwikspell A Correspondence Course in Beginners' Magic.
Intrigued, Harry flicked the envelope open and pulled out the sheaf of parchment inside. More curly silver writing on the front page said: Feel out of step in the world of modern magic? Find yourself making excuses not to perform simple spells? Ever been taunted for your woeful wandwork? There is an answer! Kwikspell is an all-new, fail-safe, quick-result, easy-learn course. Hundreds of witches and wizards have benefited from the Kwikspell
method! Madam Z. Nettles of Topsham writes: "I had no memory for incantations and my potions were a family joke! Now, after a Kwikspell course, I am the center of attention at parties and friends beg for the recipe of my Scintillation Solution!" Warlock D. J. Prod of Didsbury says: "My wife used to sneer at my feeble charms, but one month into your fabulous
Kwikspell course and I succeeded in turning her into a yak! Thank you, Kwikspell!"
Fascinated, Harry thumbed through the rest of the envelope's contents. Why on earth did Filch want a Kwikspell course? Did this mean he wasn't a proper wizard? Harry was just reading "Lesson One: Holding Your Wand (Some Useful Tips)" when shuffling footsteps outside told him Filch was coming back. Stuffing the parchment back into the envelope, Harry threw it back onto the desk just as the door opened.
Filch was looking triumphant. "That vanishing cabinet was extremely valuable!" he was saying gleefully to Mrs. Norris. "We'll have Peeves out this time, my sweet -" His eyes fell on Harry and then darted to the Kwikspell envelope, which, Harry realized too late, was lying two feet away from where it had started. Filch's pasty face went brick red. Harry braced himself for a tidal wave of fury. Filch hobbled across to his desk, snatched up the envelope, and threw it into a drawer. "Have you - did you read -?" he sputtered./FONT>
"No," Harry lied quickly.
Filch's knobbly hands were twisting together. "If I thought you'd read my private - not that it's mine - for a friend - be that as it may - however -"
Harry was staring at him, alarmed; Filch had never looked madder. His eyes were popping, a tic was going in one of his pouchy cheeks, and the tartan scarf didn't help.
"Very well - go - and don't breathe a word - not that - however, if you didn't read - go now,, I have to write up Peeves' report - go -"
Amazed at his luck, Harry sped out of the office, up the corridor, and back upstairs. To escape from Filch's office without punishment was probably some kind of school record.
"Harry! Harry! Did it work?" Nearly Headless Nick came gliding out of a classroom. Behind him, Harry could see the wreckage of a large black-and-gold cabinet that appeared to have been dropped from a great height.
"I persuaded Peeves to crash it right over Filch's office," said Nick eagerly. "Thought it might distract him -"
"Was that you?" said Harry gratefully. "Yeah, it worked, I didn't even get detention. Thanks, Nick!"
Harry was at the point of telling Ron and Hermione about Filch and the Kwikspell course when the salamander suddenly whizzed into the air, emitting loud sparks and bangs as it whirled wildly round the room. The sight of Percy bellowing himself hoarse at Fred and George, the spectacular display of tangerine stars showering from the salamander's mouth, and its escape into the fire, with accompanying explosions, drove both Filch and the Kwikspell envelope from Harry's mind.
But Hermione gave a sudden gasp, pointing down the corridor. "Look!"
Something was shining on the wall ahead. They approached slowly, squinting through the darkness. Foot-high words had been daubed on the wall between two windows, shimmering in the light cast by the flaming torches. "The chamber of secrets has been opened. enemies of the heir, beware."
"What's that thing - hanging underneath?" said Ron, a slight quiver in his voice.
As they edged nearer, Harry almost slipped - there was a large puddle of water on the floor; Ron and Hermione grabbed him, and they inched toward the message, eyes fixed on a dark shadow beneath it. All three of them realized what it was at once, and leapt backward with a splash..Mrs. Norris, the caretaker's cat, was hanging by her tail from the torch bracket. She was stiff as a board, her eyes wide and staring.
For a few seconds, they didn't move. Then Ron said, "Let's get out of here."
"Shouldn't we try and help -" Harry began awkwardly.
"Trust me," said Ron. "We don't want to be found here."
"What's going on here? What's going on?" Attracted no doubt by Malfoy's shout, Argus Filch came shouldering his way through the crowd. Then he saw Mrs. Norris and fell back, clutching his face in horror.
"My cat! My cat! What's happened to Mrs. Norris?" he shrieked.
And his popping eyes fell on Harry.
"You!"he screeched. "You! You've murdered my cat! You've killed her! I'll kill you! I'll -"
Dumbledore had arrived on the scene, followed by a number of other teachers. In seconds, he had swept past Harry, Ron, and Hermione and detached Mrs. Norris from the torch bracket.
"Come with me, Argus," he said to Filch. "You, too, Mr. Potter, Mr. Weasley, Miss Granger."
As they entered Lockhart's darkened office there was a flurry of movement across the walls; Harry saw several of the Lockharts in the pictures dodging out of sight, their hair in rollers. The real Lockhart lit the candles on his desk and stood back. Dumbledore lay Mrs. Norris on the polished surface and began to examine her. Harry, Ron, and Hermione exchanged tense looks and sank into chairs outside the pool of candlelight, watching.
The tip of Dumbledore's long, crooked nose was barely an inch from Mrs. Norris's fur. He was looking at her closely through his half-moon spectacles, his long fingers gently prodding and poking. Professor McGonagall was bent almost as close, her eyes narrowed. Snape loomed behind them, half in shadow, wearing a most peculiar expression: It was as though he was trying hard not to smile. And Lockhart was hovering around all of them, making suggestions.
"It was definitely a curse that killed her - probably the Transmogrifian Torture - I've seen it used many times, so unlucky I wasn't there, I know the very countercurse that would have saved her . .....
Lockhart's comments were punctuated by Filch's dry, racking sobs. He was slumped in a chair by the desk, unable to look at Mrs. Norris, his face in his hands. Much as he detested Filch, Harry couldn't help feeling a bit sorry for him, though not nearly as sorry as he felt for himself If Dumbledore believed Filch, he would be expelled for sure.
Dumbledore was now muttering strange words under his breath and tapping Mrs. Norris with his wand but nothing happened: She continued to look as though she had been recently stuffed.
". . . I remember something very similar happening in Ouagadogou," said Lockhart, "a series of attacks, the full story's in my autobiography, I was able to provide the townsfolk with various amulets, which cleared the matter up at once ......
The photographs of Lockhart on the walls were all nodding in agreement as he talked. One of them had forgotten to remove his hair net.
At last Dumbledore straightened up.
"She's not dead, Argus," he said softly.
Lockhart stopped abruptly in the middle of counting the number of murders he had prevented.
"Not dead?" choked Filch, looking through his fingers at Mrs. Norris. "But why's she all - all stiff and frozen?"
"She has been Petrified," said Dumbledore ("Ah! I thought so!" said Lockhart). "But how, I cannot say . . . ."
"Ask him!" shrieked Filch, turning his blotched and tearstained face to Harry.
"No second year could have done this," said Dumbledore firmly. "it would take Dark Magic of the most advanced -"
"He did it, he did it!" Filch spat, his pouchy face purpling. "You saw what he wrote on the wall! He found - in my office - he knows I'm a - I'm a -" Filch's face worked horribly. "He knows I'm a Squib!" he finished.
"I never touched Mrs. Norris!" Harry said loudly, uncomfortably aware of everyone looking at him, including all the Lockharts on the walls. "And I don't even know what a Squib is."
"Rubbish!" snarled Filch. "He saw my Kwikspell letter!"
"Innocent until proven guilty, Severus," he said firmly.
Snape looked furious. So did Filch.
"My cat has been Petrified!" he shrieked, his eyes popping. "I want to see some punishment!"
"We will be able to cure her, Argus," said Dumbledore patiently. "Professer Sprout recently managed to procure some Mandrakes. As soon as they have reached their full size, I will have a potion made that will revive Mrs. Norris."
"You know, it rings a sort of bell," said Ron slowly. "I think someone told me a story about a secret chamber at Hogwarts once ... might've been Bill . . . ."
"And what on earth's a Squib?" said Harry.
To his surprise, Ron stifled a snigger.
"Well - it's not funny really - but as it's Filch, he said. "A Squib is someone who was born into a wizarding family but hasn't got any magic powers. Kind of the opposite of Muggle-born wizards, but Squibs are quite unusual. If Filch's trying to learn magic from a Kwikspell course, I reckon he must be a Squib. It would explain a lot. Like why he hates students so much." Ron gave a satisfied smile. "He's bitter."
For a few days, the school could talk of little else but the attack on Mrs. Norris. Filch kept it fresh in everyone's minds by pacing the spot where she had been attacked, as though he thought the attacker might come back. Harry had seen him scrubbing the message on the wall with Mrs. Skower's All-Purpose Magical Mess Remover, but to no effect; the words still gleamed as brightly as ever on the stone. When Filch wasn't guarding the scene of the crime, he was skulking red-eyed through the corridors, lunging out at unsuspecting students and trying to put them in detention for things like "breathing loudly' and "looking happy."
Ginny Weasley seemed very disturbed by Mrs. Norris's fate. According to Ron, she was a great cat lover.
"But you haven't really got to know Mrs. Norris," Ron told her bracingly. "Honestly, we're much better off without her." Ginny's lip trembled. "Stuff like this doesn't often happen at Hogwarts," Ron assured her. "They'll catch the maniac who did it and have him out of here in no time. I just hope he's got time to Petrify Filch before he's expelled. I'm only joking -" Ron added hastily as Ginny blanched.
"D'you really think there's a Chamber of Secrets?" Ron asked Hermione.
"I don't know," she said, frowning. "Dumbledore couldn't cure Mrs. Norris, and that makes me think that whatever attacked her might not be - well - human."
As she spoke, they turned a corner and found themselves at the end of the very corridor where the attack had happened. They stopped and looked. The scene was just as it had been that night, except that there was no stiff cat hanging from the torch bracket, and an empty
chair stood against the wall bearing the message "The Chamber of Secrets has been Opened."
"That's where Filch has been keeping guard," Ron muttered.
He broke off, shuddering. Hermione was obviously still trying not to laugh. Feeling they had better get off the subject, Harry said, "Remember all that water on the floor? Where did that come from? Someone's mopped it up."
"It was about here," said Ron, recovering himself to walk a few paces past Filch's chair and pointing. "Level with this door."
Harry forced a laugh, watched Percy walk out of sight, and then headed straight for Moaning Myrtle's bathroom. He couldn't see why Ron and Hermione would be in there again, but after making sure that neither Filch nor any prefects were around, he opened the door and heard their voices coming from a locked stall.
By next morning, however, the snow that had begun in the night had turned into a blizzard so thick that the last Herbology lesson of the term was canceled: Professor Sprout wanted to fit socks and scarves on the Mandrakes, a tricky operation she would entrust to no one else, now that it was so important for the Mandrakes to grow quickly and revive Mrs. Norris and Colin Creevey.
Meanwhile, hidden from the teachers, a roaring trade in talismans, amulets, and other protective devices was sweeping the school. Neville Longbottom bought a large, evil-smelling green onion, a pointed purple crystal, and a rotting newt tail before the other Gryffindor boys pointed out that he was in no danger; he was a pure-blood, and therefore unlikely to be attacked.
"They went for Filch first," Neville said, his round face fearful. "And everyone knows I'm almost a Squib."
There was some heavy murmuring at this, and Ernie went on, "Remember what was written on the wall? Enemies of the Heir, Beware. Potter had some sort of run-in with Filch. Next thing we know, Flich's cat's attacked. That first year, Creevey, was annoying Potter at the Quidditch match, taking pictures of him while he was lying in the mud. Next thing we know - Creevey's been attacked."
Ron was just saying he wished he had asked Hermione how many rat tails you were supposed to add to a HairRaising Potion when an angry outburst from the floor above reached their ears.
"That's Filch," Harry muttered as they hurried up the stairs and paused, out of sight, listening hard.
"You don't think someone else's been attacked?" said Ron tensely.
They stood still, their heads inclined toward Flich's voice, which sounded quite hysterical.
"- even more work for me! Mopping all night, like I haven't got enough to do! No, this is the final straw, I'm going to Dumbledore -"
His footsteps receded along the out-of-sight corridor and they heard a distant door slam.
They poked their heads around the corner. Filch had clearly been manning his usual lookout post: They were once again on the spot where Mrs. Norris had been attacked. They saw at a glance what Filch had been shouting about. A great flood of water stretched over half the corridor, and it looked as though it was still seeping from under the door of Moaning Myrtle's bathroom. Now that Filch had stopped shouting, they could hear Myrtle's wails echoing off the bathroom walls.
"Now what's up with her?" said Ron.
"I know that name .... T. M. Riddle got an award for special services to the school fifty years ago."
"How on earth d'you know that?" said Harry in amazement.
"Because Filch made me polish his shield about fifty times in detention," said Ron resentfully. "That was the one I burped slugs all over. If you'd wiped slime off a name for an hour, you'd remember it, too."
There had been no more attacks since those on Justin and Nearly Headless Nick, and Madam Pomfrey was pleased to report that the Mandrakes were becoming moody and secretive, meaning that they were fast leaving childhood.
"The moment their acne clears up, they'll be ready for repotting again," Harry heard her telling Filch kindly one afternoon. "And after that, it won't be long until we're cutting them up and stewing them. You'll have Mrs. Norris back in no time."
"And Mrs. Norris?" he whispered eagerly.
Harry thought hard, picturing the scene on the night of Halloween.
"The water. . ." he said slowly. "The flood from Moaning Myrtle's bathroom. I bet you Mrs. Norris only saw the reflection . . . ."