Malfoy started taking pictures with an imaginary camera and did a cruel but accurate impression of Colin: "`Potter, can I have your picture, Potter? Can I have your autograph? Can I lick your shoes, please, Potter?"'
He dropped his hands and looked at Harry and Ron.
"What's the matter with you two?"
Far too late, Harry and Ron forced themselves to laugh, but Malfoy seemed satisfied; perhaps Crabbe and Goyle were always slow on the uptake.
"Saint Potter, the Mudbloods' friend," said Malfoy slowly. "He's another one with no proper wizard feeling, or he wouldn't go around with that jumped up Granger Mudblood. And people think he's Slytherin's heir!"
Harry and Ron waited with bated breath: Malfoy was surely seconds away from telling them it was him - but then
"I wish I knew who it is," said Malfoy petulantly. "I could help them."
Ron's jaw dropped so that Crabbe looked even more clueless than usual. Fortunately, Malfoy didn't notice, and Harry, thinking fast, said, "You must have some idea who's behind it all ......
"You know I haven't, Goyle, how many times do I have to tell you?" snapped Malfoy. "And Father won't tell me anything about the last time the Chamber was opened either. Of course, it was fifty years ago, so it was before his time, but he knows all about it, and he says that it was all kept quiet and it'll look suspicious if I know too much about it. But I know one thing - last time the Chamber of Secrets was opened, a Mudblood died. So I bet it's a matter of time before one of them's killed this time .... I hope it's Granger," he said with relish.
Ron was clenching Crabbe's gigantic fists. Feeling that it would be a bit of a giveaway if Ron punched Malfoy, Harry shot him a warning look and said, "D'you know if the person who opened the Chamber last time was caught?"
"Oh, yeah ... whoever it was was expelled," said Malfoy. "They're probably still in Azkaban."
"Azkaban?" said Harry, puzzled.
"Azkaban - the wizard prison, Goyle," said Malfoy, looking at him in disbelief "Honestly, if you were any slower, you'd be going backward."
He shifted restlessly in his chair and said, "Father says to keep my head down and let the Heir of Slytherin get on with it. He says the school needs ridding of all the Mudblood filth, but not to get mixed up in it. Of course, he's got a lot on his plate at the moment. You know the Ministry of Magic raided our manor last week?"
Harry tried to force Goyle's dull face into a look of concern.
"Yeah. . ." said Malfoy. "Luckily, they didn't find much. Father's got some very valuable Dark Arts stuff. But luckily, we've got our own secret chamber under the drawing-room floor -"
"Ho!" said Ron.
Malfoy looked at him. So did Harry. Ron blushed. Even his hair was turning red. His nose was also slowly lengthening - their hour was up, Ron was turning back into himself, and from the look of horror he was suddenly giving Harry, he must be, too.
They both jumped to their feet.
"Medicine for my stomach," Ron grunted, and without further ado they sprinted the length of the Slytherin common room, hurled themselves at the stone wall, and dashed up the passage, hoping against hope that Malfoy hadn't noticed anything. Harrycould feel his feet slipping around in Goyle's huge shoes and had to hoist up his robes as he shrank; they crashed up the steps into the dark entrance hall, which was full of a muffled pounding coming from the closet where they'd locked Crabbe and Goyle. Leaving their shoes outside the closet door, they sprinted in their socks up the marble staircase toward Moaning Myrtle's bathroom.
"Well, it wasn't a complete waste of time," Ron panted, closing the bathroom door behind them. "I know we still haven't found out who's doing the attacks, but I'm going to write to Dad tomorrow and tell him to check under the Malfoys' drawing room."
Harry checked his face in the cracked mirror. He was back to normal. He put his glasses on as Ron hammered on the door of Hermione's stall.
"Hermione, come out, we've got loads to tell you -"
"Go away!" Hermione squeaked.
Harry and Ron looked at each other.
"What's the matter?" said Ron. "You must be back to normal by now, we are
But Moaning Myrtle glided suddenly through the stall door. Harry had never seen her looking so happy.
"Ooooooh, wait till you see," she said. "It's awful-"
They heard the lock slide back and Hermione emerged, sobbing, her robes pulled up over her head.
"What's up?" said Ron uncertainly. "Have you still got Millicent's nose or something?"
Hermione let her robes fall and Ron backed into the sink.
Her face was covered in black fur. Her eyes had turned yellow and there were long, pointed ears poking through her hair.
"It was a c-cat hair!" she howled. "M-Millicent Bulstrodem-must have a cat! And the p-potion isn't supposed to be used for animal transformations!"
"Uh-oh," said Ron.
"You'll be teased something dreadful," said Myrtle happily.
"It's okay, Hermione," said Harry quickly. "We'll take you up to the hospital wing. Madam Pomfrey never asks too many questions ......
It took a long time to persuade Hermione to leave the bathroom. Moaning Myrtle sped them on their way with a hearty guffaw. "Wait till everyone finds out you've got a tail!"
ermione remained in the hospital wing for several weeks. There was a flurry of rumor about her disappearance when the rest of the school arrived back from their Christmas holidays, because of course everyone thought that she had been attacked. So many students filed past the hospital wing trying to catch a glimpse of her that Madam Pomfrey took out her curtains again and placed them around Hermione's bed, to spare her the shame of being seen with a furry face.
Harry and Ron went to visit her every evening. When the new term started, they brought her each day's homework.
"If Id sprouted whiskers, Id take a break from work," said Ron, tipping a stack of books onto Hermione's bedside table one evening.
"Don't be silly, Ron, I've got to keep up," said Hermione briskly. Her spirits were greatly improved by the fact that all the hair hadgone from her face and her eyes were turning slowly back to brown. "I don't suppose you've got any new leads?" she added in a whisper, so that Madam Pomfrey couldn't hear her.
"Nothing," said Harry gloomily.
"I was so sure it was Malfoy," said Ron, for about the hundredth time.
"What's that?" asked Harry, pointing to something gold sticking out from under Hermione's pillow.
"Just a get well card," said Hermione hastily, trying to poke it out of sight, but Ron was too quick for her. He pulled it out, flicked it open, and read aloud:
"To Miss Granger, wishing you a speedy recovery, from your concerned teacher, Professor Gilderoy Lockhart, Order of Merlin, Third Class, Honorary Member of the Dark Force Defense League, and five-time winner of Witch Weekly's Most- Charming-Smile Award. "
Ron looked up at Hermione, disgusted.
"You sleep with this under your pillow?"
But Hermione was spared answering by Madam Pomfrey sweeping over with her evening dose of medicine.
"Is Lockhart the smarmiest bloke you've ever met, or what?" Ron said to Harry as they left the infirmary and started up the stairs toward Gryffindor Tower. Snape had given them so much homework, Harry thought he was likely to be in the sixth year before he finished it. 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.
"Let's go and see," said Harry, and holding their robes over their ankles they stepped through the great wash of water to the door bearing its OUT OF ORDER sign, ignored it as always, and entered.
Moaning Myrtle was crying, if possible, louder and harder than ever before. She seemed to be hiding down her usual toilet. It was dark in the bathroom because the candles had been extinguished in the great rush of water that had left both walls and floor soaking wet.
"What's up, Myrtle?" said Harry.
"Who's that?" glugged Myrtle miserably. "Come to throw something else at me?"
Harry waded across to her stall and said, "Why would I throw something at you?"
"Don't ask me," Myrtle shouted, emerging with a wave of yet more water, which splashed onto the already sopping floor
. "Here I am, minding my own business, and someone thinks it's funny to throw a book at me ......
"But it can't hurt you if someone throws something at you," said Harry, reasonably. "I mean, it'd just go right through you, wouldn't it?"
He had said the wrong thing. Myrtle puffed herself up and shrieked, "Let's all throw books at Myrtle, because she can't feel it! Ten points if you can get it through her stomach! Fifty points if it goes through her head! Well, ha, ha, ha! What a lovely game, I don't think!"
"Who threw it at you, anyway?" asked Harry.
"I don't know... I was just sitting in the U-bend, thinking about death, and it fell right through the top of my head," said Myrtle, glaring at them. "It's over there, it got washed out ......
Harry and Ron looked under the sink where Myrtle was pointing. A small, thin book lay there. It had a shabby black cover and was as wet as everything else in the bathroom. Harry stepped forward to pick it up, but Ron suddenly flung out an arm to hold him back.
"What?" said Harry.
"Are you crazy?" said Ron. "It could be dangerous."
"Dangerous?"said Harry, laughing. "Come off it, how could it be dangerous?"
"You'd be surprised," said Ron, who was looking apprehensively at the book. "Some of the books the Ministry's confiscated Dad's told me - there was one that burned your eyes out. Andeveryone who read Sonnets of a Sorcerer spoke in limericks for the rest of their lives. And some old witch in Bath had a book that you could never stop reading! You just had to wander around with your nose in it, trying to do everything one-handed. And -"
"All right, I've got the point," said Harry.
The little book lay on the floor, nondescript and soggy.
"Well, we won't find out unless we look at it," he said, and he ducked around Ron and picked it up off the floor.
Harry saw at once that it was a diary, and the faded year on the cover told him it was fifty years old. He opened it eagerly. On the first page he could just make out the name "T M. Riddle" in smudged ink.
"Hang on," said Ron, who had approached cautiously and was looking over Harry's shoulder. "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."
Harry peeled the wet pages apart. They were completely blank. There wasn't the faintest trace of writing on any of them, not even Auntie Mabel's birthday, or dentist, half-past three.
"He never wrote in it," said Harry, disappointed.
"I wonder why someone wanted to flush it away?" said Ron curiously.
Harry turned to the back cover of the book and saw the printed name of a variety store on Vauxhall Road, London.
"He must've been Muggle-born," said Harry thoughtfufly. "To have bought a diary from Vauxhall Road ......
"Well, it's not much use to you," said Ron. He dropped his voice. "Fifty points if you can get it through Myrtle's nose."
Harry, however, pocketed it.
Hermione left the hospital wing, de-whiskered, tail-less, and furfree, at the beginning of February. On her first evening back in Gryffindor Tower, Harry showed her T. M. Riddle's diary and told her the story of how they had found it.
"Oooh, it might have hidden powers," said Hermione enthusiastically, taking the diary and looking at it closely.
"If it has, it's hiding them very well," said Ron. "Maybe it's shy. I don't know why you don't chuck it, Harry."
"I wish I knew why someone did try to chuck it," said Harry. "I wouldn't mind knowing how Riddle got an award for special services to Hogwarts either."
"Could've been anything," said Ron. "Maybe he got thirty O.WL.s or saved a teacher from the giant squid. Maybe he murdered Myrtle; that would've done everyone a favor .....
But Harry could tell from the arrested look on Hermione's face that she was thinking what he was thinking.
"What?" said Ron, looking from one to the other.
"Well, the Chamber of Secrets was opened fifty years ago, wasn't it?" he said. "That's what Malfoy said."
"Yeah. . ." said Ron slowly.
"And this diary is fifty years old," said Hermione, tapping it excitedly.
"Oh, Ron, wake up," snapped Hermione. "We know the person who opened the Chamber last time was expelled fifty years ago. We know T. M. Riddle got an award for special services to the school fifty years ago. Well, what if Riddle got his special award for catching the Heir of Slytherin? His diary would probably tell us everything - where the Chamber is, and how to open it, and what sort of creature lives in it - the person who's behind the attacks this time wouldn't want that lying around, would they?"
"That's a brilliant theory, Hermione," said Ron, "with just one tiny little flaw. There's nothing written in his diary."
But Hermione was pulling her wand out of her bag.
"It might be invisible ink!" she whispered.
She tapped the diary three times and said, "Aparecium!"
Nothing happened. Undaunted, Hermione shoved her hand back into her bag and pulled out what appeared to be a bright red eraser.
"It's a Revealer, I got it in Diagon Alley," she said.
She rubbed hard on January first. Nothing happened.
"I'm telling you, there's nothing to find in there," said Ron. "Riddle just got a diary for Christmas and couldn't be bothered filling it in."
Harry couldn't explain, even to himself, why he didn't just throw Riddle's diary away. The fact was that even though he knew the diary was blank, he kept absentmindedly picking it up and turning the pages, as though it were a story he wanted to finish. And while Harry was sure he had never heard the name T. M. Riddle before, it still seemed to mean something to him, almost as though
Riddle was a friend he'd had when he was very small, and had halfforgotten. But this was absurd. He'd never had friends before Hogwarts, Dudley had made sure of that.
Nevertheless, Harry was determined to find out more about Riddle, so next day at break, he headed for the trophy room to examine Riddle's special award, accompanied by an interested Hermione and a thoroughly unconvinced Ron, who told them he'd seen enough of the trophy room to last him a lifetime.
Riddle's burnished gold shield was tucked away in a corner cabinet. It didn't carry details of why it had been given to him ("Good thing, too, or it'd be even bigger and Id still be polishing it," said Ron). However, they did find Riddle's name on an old Medal for Magical Merit, and on a list of old Head Boys.
"He sounds like Percy," said Ron, wrinkling his nose in disgust. "Prefect, Head Boy ... probably top of every class -"
"You say that like it's a bad thing," said Hermione in a slightly hurt voice.
The sun had now begun to shine weakly on Hogwarts again. Inside the castle, the mood had grown more hopeful. 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."
Perhaps the Heir of Slytherin had lost his or her nerve, thought Harry. It must be getting riskier and riskier to open the Chamber of Secrets, with the school so alert and suspicious. Perhaps the monster, whatever it was, was even now settling itself down to hibernate for another fifty years ....
Ernie Macmillan of Hufflepuff didn't take this cheerful view. He was still convinced that Harry was the guilty one, that he had "given himself away" at the Dueling Club. Peeves wasn't helping matters; he kept popping up in the crowded corridors singing "Oh, Potter, you rotter . . ." now with a dance routine to match.
Gilderoy Lockhart seemed to think he himself had made the attacks stop. Harry overheard him telling Professor McGonagall so while the Gryffindors were lining up for Transfiguration.
"I don't think there'll be any more trouble, Minerva," he said, tapping his nose knowingly and winking. "I think the Chamber has been locked for good this time. The culprit must have known it was only a matter of time before I caught him. Rather sensible to stop now, before I came down hard on him.
"You know, what the school needs now is a morale-booster. Wash away the memories of last term! I won't say any more just now, but I think I know just the thing . . . ."
He tapped his nose again and strode off.
Lockhart's idea of a morale-booster became clear at breakfast time on February fourteenth. Harry hadn't had much sleep because of a late- running Quidditch practice the night before, and he hurried down to the Great Hall, slightly late. He thought, for a moment, that he'd walked through the wrong doors.
The walls were all covered with large, lurid pink flowers. Worse