Chapter 15 The Chamber of Secrets

The next few days passed quietly at Hogwarts. When Malfoy reappeared, he was subdued. His father had written lacerating him for his lack of subtlety, his housemates were shunning him for violating their unwritten code, even Crabbe and Goyle seemed to be leaving him to his own devices. Harry and Snape settled into their new routine. Ron continued to keep his distance from Harry and Hermione. And the rest of the school had found other topics of conversation. Apparently, someone had got into Hagrid chicken coop and eviscerated all the roosters, leaving the hens in a distressed state. Dumbledore had been down and detected dark magic and the Aurors had been summoned to check the Forbidden Forest. There was much speculation in the Common Rooms about how they would track down the perpetrator.

Then, walking down to Snape's quarters one evening with Hermione and Neville, Harry heard a low, sibilant voice "Sso hungry masster. Let me kill." It appeared to be coming from the wall next to them and moving away in the direction they had just come. Harry turned and ran after it. Neville and Hermione watched him go in confusion, and with a shrug followed him at a slower pace.

Rounding the corner, they saw Harry standing in a pool of water looking up a dead cat dangling from the ceiling. On the wall next to him, smeared in large red letters read "The Chamber of Secrets has been opened. Enemies of the Heir, beware."

"What does it mean 'The Chamber of Secrets'," asked Neville.

"How did you know it was here Harry? We only passed the end of this corridor a minute ago," asked Hermione.

"Didn't you hear the voice?" asked Harry.

But before any of them could answer each other, the Slytherin quidditch team, led by Marcus Flint came along the corridor. They were soon followed by the Heads of House and Professor Dumbledore, who had been alerted by the portraits. The headmaster dispersed the crowd and shepherded Harry, Hermione and Neville into Snape's quarters.

Half an hour later, Harry was sulking in his bedroom. He had been thoroughly scolded and grounded for a week for running after an unknown voice that talked about killing. Truth be told, he was angry with himself. He hadn't even managed a week of freedom without doing something 'foolish', as Professor Snape had pointedly told him. Now he wouldn't get to spend his meal times with Hermione and he couldn't do anything special for her birthday next Wednesday. Worse, he was awaiting a painful visit. He curled up on his bed with his back to the door.

When Snape entered the room, Harry wouldn't look at him.

"Do I need to add disrespect to your offences?" said a low menacing voice.

Tears pricked in Harry's eyes. He hated that voice. Gone was the patience he had enjoyed over the past week, gone was the kindness. Snape was angry. Harry stood and met his eyes, silently pleading.

Snape sighed, his voice softening, "The consequences for putting yourself in danger, are not, and will never be, negotiable, Harry. Let's get this over with."

"I'm really sorry, I just reacted. I know I could have come for help now, but I was startled and my instincts took over," explained Harry.

"Harry, you are twelve. Not everything is your problem to solve."

"I know. I just can't do nothing. Are you angry with me?"

"Not angry, disappointed that we are back to this so soon."

"Me too." said Harry in a small voice. But he stepped forward with shoulders squared.

Bottom bared and over Snape's lap, he shut his eyes. This was so embarrassing. Snape slapped twice, not particularly hard, then stopped.

"How do you feel Harry?" he asked.

"Like a naughty toddler." he whimpered, his distress not at all related to pain.

"And how is that?"

"Small, powerless…"

"I want you to remember that feeling next time you have the urge to rush into danger." He landed four more smacks and then stood Harry up, righting his clothing.

Harry looked at him confused "Is that it?"

"Have you understood my message?" Snape was regarding at him intently, as if testing something.

"Yes, sir."

"Then, it is enough."

"Why do you think no-one else could hear the voice, sir?" Harry asked as he cuddled on Snape's lap.

"Show me your memory Harry," said Snape. He entered Harry's mind effortlessly and quickly recoiled as the harsh sounds of parseltongue reached his senses.

"The speaker was a parselmouth! How is this possible? But it explains why you could understand it."

"Could this be what Dobby was warning about?" asked Harry.

"It would be a strange co-incidence if it were not? I will inform the headmaster of the new information this evening. Now, promise me you will come to me immediately, if you hear the voice again."

"Yes, sir. I promise."

"Good. And you are forbidden to investigate. Is that clear?"

"Yes, sir. I have to leave it to the adults."

"Good boy, now into bed with you."

"May I read for a while?"

"No, you may sulk," said Snape with humour. "You're grounded."

As Harry lay in the dark, his mind wandered to the voice. Perhaps he could get Hermione to bring him a book about snakes from the library. After all, researching wasn't really the same as investigating.

The next morning, he was not able to have a proper conversation until after Potions. Hermione was a bit upset that he was going to be grounded for her birthday, but they made plans to do something together the following weekend. Wood, it was reported, was also annoyed that Harry would be missing the first quiditch practice of the season, though Harry was secretly pleased that he would not have to get up at 6am on Saturday. Apparently, Ginny Weasley had been very upset in the Common Room when Hermione had returned. The twins thought it was because she has found out that Harry was Hermione's boyfriend (her crush on him was a family joke), but Neville thought it was because she was fond of cats, and even though it had been established that Mrs Norris was not dead, the idea of a living thing turned to stone was still not pleasant.

Malfoy, new seeker on the Slytherin quidditch team, talked very loudly about how being caught at the scene of the crime was highly suspicious to anyone who would listen. Fortunately for Harry, that meant only Pansy Parkinson. And everybody wanted to know what the Chamber of Secrets was. Hermione, typically, was the one with the nerve to ask Professor Binns, who was rather surprised to be interrupted from his usual monologue. By the end of the day, however, the students all knew that Salazar Slytherin had built the Chamber and that it was said to house a monster. Harry managed to share his idea about some sort of snake with Hermione during Charms, but, due to his restrictions, she would not be able to bring him any library books until Monday. To say he was frustrated was an understatement.

Meanwhile, Ronald Weasley had another secret meeting with Marlene Johnston. Marlene told him that her mother had proof that Professor Snape had done something unforgivable and she wanted to show it to Harry. She proposed that Harry meet her in Hogsmeade, with Marlene, on the next Hogsmeade weekend, which was mid-October. Ron's task was to persuade Harry to sneak out of school to visit the village. Marlene proposed the use of Polyjuice Potion, which, she explained, would disguise him as an older student to get past Filch.

Ron knew that it was going to be a challenge to talk round this new law-abiding Harry to the adventure. Nevertheless, he agreed to work on it. He pestered his three older brothers for details about the delights of Hogsmeade and even went so far as to read a library book-well some of it anyway- about the history of the village. Once Harry was back from his grounding, he would begin his campaign.

Harry was frustrated. He sat in the back of Snape's fourth year Potions lesson. They were making notes, so there wasn't even anything interesting to watch. He had finished his homework; he had read his textbook until he was weary; he hadn't had more than a snatched conversation with his friends in days. Being grounded was tedious. He needed a respite from studying, otherwise, something was going to snap. Soon.

"Would you prefer to read or scrub cauldrons?" asked a silky voice behind him.

Without a word, Harry got up and walked to the sink at the back of the room. He knew Snape had not intended to inflict a punishment task on him, but he was feeling bloody-minded.

"Unfair. Birthday. Too much. Git. Control freak," he muttered to himself as water gushed from the tap into the largest, dirtiest cauldron. He grabbed a cloth and began to pour his rage into his scrubbing. Within seconds, the water in the cauldron began to boil and he withdrew a blistered arm with a scream that brought the class to his side. He lost consciousness.

"Class dismissed," thundered Snape, forcing his way to Harry's side. He summoned burn salve and plastered it onto Harry's arm from finger tips to elbow. He carried the unconscious child to his bed before reviving him and forcing down a potion for the pain. Harry looked contrite as Snape quietly bandaged his arm.

"I lost it again. I'm sorry," he began.

"Don't apologise, just explain, Harry," said Snape, sitting beside him on the bed. Harry looked conflicted, so Snape continued. "Right now, you have a free pass to say whatever you want without consequences. Explain."

"I'm trying really hard to keep all the rules," Harry began doubtfully, "but I can't do it. I'm upset because it's Hermione's birthday tomorrow and I can't make it special for her. I'm angry with you becauseI hate being grounded, but I feel like I can't express anything without breaking the rules."

"What about the journal, Harry? Have you been writing?" asked Snape.

"It's not enough. I don't feel listened to. I need my friends. They let me vent," he said.

"Was I unreasonable to ground you?" Snape sighed.

"No," said Harry, raising his injured arm and looking at it sadly, "but it's too long. I'm cracking up."

"I admit, I had not considered the date of Miss Granger's birthday when I set the punishment. But, as you, yourself, did not see fit to remind me I can't take full responsibility for the angst you have put yourself through this week. I will, of course, release you tomorrow and you may serve your two remaining days afterwards. "

"Thank you. I don't deserve…."

"Stop. You will write 'I deserve to be heard.' 200 times when your arm is recovered." He looked at Harry sternly, eliciting a blush. "Perhaps next time, we can avoid drama and injury, Harry. I promise to listen to you, but if you don't feel you can talk to me, write me a letter. Yes, that would give us both chance to address any problem calmly."

Harry reached out his good arm to hug the Professor and Snape reciprocated carefully. "Now, I think a visitor might be in order to help you plan tomorrow's festivities," Snape suggested.

"Ron, please?" asked Harry after a moment's thought. It was time to try to repair his friendship.

Half an hour later, Ron was sitting on the end of Harry's bed inexpertly gift-wrapping the satchel Harry had bought for Hermione. He had been alarmed at the lurid and exaggerated description of Harry's accidental magic and subsequent burns delivered to Gryffindor tower by an over-excited Hufflepuff fourth year. He was also rather smug that he, Ron Weasley, not Hermione, not Neville, not the twins, had received the summons from Professor Snape. Obviously, Harry was coming to his senses.

"Professor Snape says it will be as good as new by tomorrow evening," Harry told him. "Thank Merlin for potions, right?"

"S'pose," agreed Ron. "So what do you want to do tomorrow?"

"How do you fancy putting an order in at the kitchens for me? Hermione loves strawberries, so we can ask for some for breakfast for her, and a chocolate fudge cake with 13 candles for the common room later," Harry enthused.

"Great, mate," said Ron. "I wish we could get to Hogsmeade. Fred and George told me you can buy butterbeer there. It's this amazing hot fudge flavoured drink."

"Ask the house elves," replied Harry. "They're amazing at getting stuff. Did you know they could go shopping in Diagon Alley? Professor Snape's elf fetched me all my new clothes. It's so great not to have to wear Dudley's old underwear."

Ron laughed. "Okay, he said. "I'll head down to the kitchens." Maybe Harry wasn't going to be tempted to Hogsmeade by shopping. There had to be another way. Ron needed help. He needed Hermione.

When Ron returned to Gryffindor tower, he was besieged by the same girl as soon as he got through the portrait hole.

"Honestly, he fine, Hermione. It was just his right arm got scalded and it will be healed by tomorrow night. The best news is Snape's letting him out all day tomorrow. So, you'll see him at breakfast."

"Why did he want you?" asked Hermione huffily.

"Hermione, he's grounded. Do you think he got to choose?" retorted Ron.

"I just wish I could see him."

"I know you do," said Ron sympathetically. "We should persuade him to move back to the tower. He's under a microscope with Snape. No wonder he lost it today."

The next morning Ron and Neville escorted Hermione to the breakfast table at 7am to meet a slightly bedraggled Harry.

"Well, it's hard getting dressed with one hand," he protested as Hermione did his tie for him and straightened his robes.

"How are you going to take notes today anyway?" asked Ron.

"He can duplicate mine later," said Hermione decisively. At that moment, Hedwig swooped into the Great Hall accompanied by two other owls.

"Happy Birthday, Hermione," said Harry, as Neville helped her detach parcels from them. "Enlarge this one first."

She was thrilled with her featherlight satchel and lost no time transferring all her belongings from her old school bag. She was engrossed in reading the accompanying instructions about its protective enchantments when a bowl of strawberries popped up in front of her place.

"Wow, out-of-season strawberries! This is a treat!" she exclaimed.

"Nothing is ever out-of-season for wizards, Hermione," explained Neville, the Herbology expert among them. He passed her another package.

"My Mum and Dad have sent a voucher for Flourish and Blott's and a couple of T-shirts," she said holding them up. Ron, predictably, gave her a box of chocolate frogs, saying you could never have too much chocolate, and Neville gave her a rare book of Charms from the Longbottom library, saying his Gran didn't rate Charms much when she protested that it was too much. She was overwhelmed when Harry presented his second gift, the wand holster and knocked his injured arm against the table in her eagerness to thank him with a hug.

The other Gryffindor students drifted in and wished Hermione a happy birthday. Fred and George were intrigued by the stationary picture of a cat on the greetings card from her parents, but it resisted their attempts to charm it into action. Hermione managed to distract Professor Flitwick with the topic that morning, so they had a very enjoyable lesson about adding animation and singing greetings. This resulted in Hermione receiving a dozen more birthday cards from her classmates.

At lunchtime, Harry asked Hermione to take a walk with him alone. "Are you enjoying your birthday?" he asked.

"It's great. I've never had so many friends to wish me happy birthday before. That's the best part," she replied. Harry stopped and rested his hands on her waist, leaning forward to kiss her gently. "Okay, you changed my mind. This is the best part," she grinned kissing him back.

"Harry," she began as they continued walking, "are you truly okay? I mean your accidental magic yesterday was pretty scary."

"Yes, I think so. I'm just ….I don't know…..Sometimes I can't say things to Professor Snape that I need to say. It's not his fault," he assured her, "but sometimes I get flashes of how he used to be last year and I'm really trying to be polite. Sometimes polite words don't really express things very well. So, I'm bottling it all up and, twice now, I've kind of exploded."

"Do you think things might be less intense if you moved back to the dorms?" she suggested quietly.

"Maybe. I was too scared before because of the Dobby thing, but maybe it's time. I can ask Professor Snape tonight."

"What do you think would happen if you swore at him?" Hermione asked.

"Nothing too terrible. Being sent to my room. Lines probably. But that's not the point. I just don't want to make him angry. He's been so kind to me, kinder than any adult has ever been, except Hagrid, but I don't really count him as an adult any more, and -this is going to sound really needy- I just want him to be proud of me," Harry confessed.

"I think it's really great how you appreciate him," said Hermione. "I appreciate my parents sometimes, like today when they send me gifts, but most of the time I take them for granted and only think about them once a week when I'm writing to them. But then, they've always been there for me. It's all new for you."

"You don't think I'm being weird about him then?"

"No. I just think it will take time for you to feel secure. Once you're comfortable enough to throw a tantrum your accidental magic will probably stop."

"But I don't want to throw a tantrum."

"That's because you feel perfectly rational now. Don't you sometimes want to be unreasonable?"

"How come you're always right? If I'd just thrown my books across the room and told Snape he was a git, I wouldn't have burnt myself yesterday. But then again, he probably wouldn't have let me out of jail for the day either."

"No, Harry," cried Hermione in alarm. "You can't hurt yourself to get your own way. That's emotional blackmail. Plus, you're not in control. What if you did serious damage to your magic, or hurt someone else by accident?"

"A bad idea, I get it. Come on, we better get back to the castle before we're late for Transfiguration."

Harry was not particularly successful in transforming his mouse into a water goblet with his wand in his left hand and it came as a relief when Professor Snape collected him to escort him to the hospital wing. However, after being lectured on the dangers of accidental magic at his age, being threatened with a long stay in St Mungo's if there was another incident and receiving an embarrassingly long list of remedial potions to take, Harry would have rather stayed in class. It wasn't that he disliked Madame Pomphrey, or that she was unkind. She just seemed to want him to move into the hospital wing permanently.

"Professor, I'd like to move into Gryffindor Tower this weekend. What do you think?" asked Harry as they left the hospital wing.

"I'm glad that you asked, Harry and I think it would be a healthy move, though of course, I will miss having you at home," Snape replied in measured tones. "How would you feel about me placing a tracking charm on your port-key in case of emergencies?"

"How would it work?"

"You've seen something similar at the Weasley home, I believe."

"So, you would know if I was in mortal peril?"

"I would hope that would be a rarely used category, I am more concerned to find you if you are injured or distressed in some way, or to locate you quickly if we have a repeat of the incident with Dobby."

"So, you would always know where I am?"

"Yes. It shouldn't be a problem unless you have plans to go somewhere you should not be, or to break curfew or skip meals, perhaps."

"I don't have any plans exactly, but sometimes things just happen. I might need to do something slightly against the rules to stop myself from doing something worse."

"I'm not sure I understand." Snape said.

"Well, it's just something Hermione said this lunchtime. If I had thrown a normal teenage tantrum about being grounded, I probably wouldn't have lost control of my magic. Maybe I need to stop trying to be perfect for you."

"I see what you're saying but I can't compromise on anything that affects your safety or your health. If you have a strong urge to break the rules, perhaps you might trust me enough to tell me first?"

"But you know I'm not like that. I do what seems right, then apologise later if I need to."

"Harry," Snape sighed, "your honesty today is refreshing, even if your logic is flawed. I would suggest that the world is not black and white; there are myriad shades between. Consider the possibility that there are many ways to release tension that are not remotely dangerous, or likely to earn you a sanction. We will discuss this later." The pair had arrived at the portrait of the Fat Lady. "Now, enjoy your friend's birthday celebration and I will collect you at 8pm."