Chapter 2: The Tasteless Things Some People Hang on Walls
In times of
wet weather, all the dampness in Hogwarts Castle seeped into Slytherin
House. It stayed there, even when the
weather was fine outside. So, although the
night was bright and starry, Snape’s shoes splashed through a thin rivulet of
slimy water that was trickling down the stairs beside him. He reached a patch of wall where the stones
were particularly mossy and dank, and announced, “Semper Callidus.”
doorway to the Slytherin dungeons creaked opened. Snape stepped into the
cavernous tunnel that served as a common room.
The space was opulently decorated, yet the smell of mildew permeated the
leather armchairs and wafted from the silk tapestries. The room was also, as Snape had expected,
to the fireplace, his eyes fixed on the disappointingly empty silver frame
hanging there. A plaque below the frame
indicated that the portrait of Phineas Nigellus, the least popular Headmaster
of Hogwarts and the last to be chosen from Slytherin House, should have
occupied the painting. Snape tapped the
plaque impatiently with his index finger.
It was only
then that he noticed the dead owl on the mantelpiece.
was skeletally thin and its plumage was disheveled. It appeared to have been living rough for some time before its
very recent demise. Snape prized a
messily scrawled letter, which was addressed to him, from the owl’s stiff claw.
have desided to do a spot of Noondoo hunting this yeer. We aint coming back from Affcria so my gurl
woant be gowing back to school.
you see the D.L., tell him I’m reelly, reelly sorry.
You can keep the owl if it livvs.
be from one of the Greengrasses,” a snide voice remarked. The Potions Master looked up to see the
supercilious features of Phineas Nigellus, now returned to his portrait,
reading over Snape’s shoulder.
family is totally illiterate. His
great-grandfather couldn’t spell ‘bat’.”
Phineas Nigellus ran a silk-gloved finger over one of his long, dark
eyebrows. “So, I dare say, losing the
daughter will be no great loss to Slytherin.
What was her name again?”
Snape said. Then he added uncertainly,
“Or was it Daphne?” As a student, Miss
Greengrass had been so obedient and innocuous that Snape had hardly paid her
any mind the whole five years she had been at Hogwarts.
But, he had
not expected to lose the Greengrass girl. Sylvester and his inoffensive wife
had run a small magical menagerie in Dorking for decades. The Aurors might have brought him in for
questioning once or twice, but Sylvester Greengrass’ days in Lord Voldemort’s service
had been so brief, so inconsequential and so long ago, that Snape refused to
believe anybody would care any more.
Yet despite all this, Sylvester had fled in apparent fear of his life.
as though he’d rather fight a Nundu than face the Dark Lord,” Phineas said in a
wouldn’t?” Snape breathed.
going to tell the Aurors where he is?”
Snape dropped the letter into the fire.
The ornamental silver snakes, which slithered along the edges of the
fireguard, hissed their approval. Then
he pointed his wand at the remains of the owl and whispered, “Evanesco.” Leaning closer to the portrait, Snape
asked, “Are all the students at dinner?”
one.” The former Headmaster rolled his eyes melodramatically. “Little Mary’s
crying in her room again.”
three weedy, pathetic first years that the Sorting Hat had recently foisted on
Slytherin, Mary Floyd was perhaps the most contemptible. Short for her age, with a round, babyish
face, Miss Floyd was horribly prone to homesickness. Her cow-brown eyes seemed permanently overflowing with
tears. After a week and a half,
Professor Snape was thoroughly sick of it.
He swore under his breath.
she’s got a bit more than usual to cry about tonight,” Phineas Nigellus
explained happily. “She received some
biscuits and sweets from home today.
Young Mr Malfoy wasn’t too keen when she refused to hand them over. So he’s given her a nice, pink snout.”
right, the little oddball,” Snape muttered.
He wasn’t even sure why he found Miss Floyd’s ululations so
irritating. Maybe it was because, when
so many people had fear of death looming over them, he had no pity to spare for
the inconsequential woes of small children.
careful, Snivellus,” Phineas said with a smirk. “Don’t forget how much Albus Dumbledore loves all his little
oddballs. Who knows, he might even make
her Head of House one day.”
keen to change the subject. “The
Headmaster told me you have a message.”
wizard in the portrait tried to sound surprised. He pulled at his pointed beard ruminatively. “Oh yes,” he said lazily. “Now, let me
see? What was it?”
visiting Lucius Malfoy,” Snape whispered urgently. The pudding course had probably already been served upstairs, and
there was no time left to play Phineas Nigellus’ infuriating games.
right! Lucky you, eh? Going back to see your old chums in Azkaban!” Phineas
spoke so loudly that Snape held his hand up to the portrait’s painted lips.
When he lowered them again, the former Headmaster wore a wicked grin.
take the boy to Narcissa on Friday morning,” Phineas said.
Manor?” Snape kept a (wholly unauthorised) Portkey for Malfoy Manor in his
rooms. He had not used it for some
no.” Phineas waved a hand
dismissively. “They’d never allow
that. You have to go down to the
Magical Law Enforcement Office branch in Hogsmeade. The authorities are setting up a Portkey from there. Narcissa will send a servant to tell you
when she’s ready.”
it?” Snape did not expect his
assignment would be so simple.
Dumbledore would like to know if Lucius has anything interesting to say.”
already been questioned by the Aurors.”
By the best Aurors, too, Snape thought. Kingsley Shacklebolt had been unable to gain any information from
Lucius at all. However, Shacklebolt’s
investigation had been dealt a blow when his decision to use Veritaserum was
overturned. The Wizengamot had accepted
Garfield Barwick’s argument that the truth serum would exacerbate Lucius’
guard might be down in the company of a master of deception such as your good
self.” This flattery was accompanied by an insincere smile. “Especially, if you give him the impression
that you’re ready to go along with his schemes.”
supposed to help him escape?” Snape
could not see how anything less would regain Lucius’ trust. He doubted that Malfoy would be willing to
ever forgive his absence at the Department of Mysteries that fateful Thursday
night, even if Snape presented Lucius with the keys to Azkaban and Dumbledore’s
head on a silver platter.
tut-tutted. “You’re not thinking with
your usual subtlety, dear boy. Lucius
seems very keen at the moment to stay just where he is. But, you should provide him with any other
assistance he asks for. And, a discreet
word with Narcissa wouldn’t go astray, either.”
Malfoy has never been involved -”
Nigellus had risen from his chair and was walking to the edge of his
frame. “I believe I’ve said enough,” he
stated curtly. “Now if you don’t mind,
I’m off to Professor Moody’s office.
You haven’t been up there this term, have you?”
frowned and shook his head. This was
the first time in fifteen years that he had not applied to teach Defence
Against the Dark Arts. He had given up
all hope of winning the post. He did
not expect he would have any business in the Defence Against the Dark Arts
professor’s office ever again.
more pleasant up there, now that those dreadful kittens on plates have been
removed. I’ve arranged to spend the
evening playing backgammon with a quite civilised portrait of a vampire.” As Phineas Nigellus left his frame, he
murmured, “But I ask you – kittens! I
can hardly fathom the tasteless things some people hang on walls.”
resolved to retire to his rooms early, but when he passed the stairs to the
girls’ dormitory the sound of sobbing stopped him. With a heavy sigh, he drew his wand and made his way to the first
years’ rooms. His only consoling
thought was that, since Draco Malfoy had cast the jinx on Miss Floyd, the spell
would no doubt be a weak one. It should
be a simple thing to fix.
* * * * *
By the time
the main course was served, Harry Potter no longer expected Ron or Hermione to
be joining him for dinner. He had
chosen a seat a little way down the Gryffindor table from Neville Longbottom, Seamus
Finnigan and Dean Thomas, on the excuse of saving his two best friends a
place. But the truth was he did not
mind eating alone.
become accustomed to solitude after two lonely months at Privet Drive. The Dursleys, particularly his aunt, had
treated him with jittery respect – almost as though he was an unexploded
bomb. They had been happy to let him
remain in his room for days on end and to give him a wide berth when he
emerged. After his encounter with
Mad-Eye Moody and the luggage trolley, Uncle Vernon had no objection to any
number of “ruddy owls” befouling his windowsills. When Fred and George Weasley went so far as to send Harry a box
of Weasleys’ Wildfire Whiz-bangs for his birthday, all Uncle Vernon did was
turn purple in silence, as the fireworks burnt his hydrangeas to a crisp and
then swept a path of fiery destruction all the way to Magnolia Crescent.
received many long, informative letters over the summer, and he wrote enough
taciturn ones to keep his friends from worrying. Hedwig fetched him a copy of the Daily Prophet every
morning. He shook his head in disbelief
when he read the newspaper’s polls, confirming that Fudge’s popularity had
reached an all time high. Sometimes,
through his bedroom window, he spied Mrs Figg and a cohort of scraggy cats
patrolling the alleyway. Once or twice
he noticed Mundungus Fletcher leaning on the front fence. But nobody gave him the news he needed to
him that it was safe to leave.
reflected miserably that, in years gone by, he would not have stayed put and
waited for the “all clear” message. He
would not have remained docile until it was time to be escorted to Kings Cross
Station, flanked by Remus Lupin (under an Invisibility Cloak) and Mundungus (in
a blonde wig and an extremely frumpy dress).
He would have marched out the front door and stuck out his wand for the
Knight Bus. But, in earlier years, he
had always been ready to act before thinking things through. And that’s why Sirius is dead.
been so much time for wondering, “What if?” over the summer. Harry had watched the veil of the stone
archway flutter a thousand times in his mind.
But each time, the veil went still again and Sirius was gone. There was no way he could repair the damage
he had done.
So as the
sticky warmth of July was replaced by an even wetter August - as the seventh
month died - Harry found himself thinking of the veil and the arch less
frequently. Instead, he remembered an
ancient stone bowl decorated with runes.
A woman’s misty form twirled above it.
He remembered her voice, harsh and hoarse. And he played her words over and over in his thoughts – and
either must die at the hand of the other, for none can live while the other
Harry had known which career he wanted to follow. He was certain that he wanted to be an Auror. Now it was autumn, and outwardly Harry was
on his way to achieving his goal. He
was even reading Potions at a N.E.W.T. level, despite only obtaining an “A” on
his O.W.L. examination. Harry knew that
Professor McGonagall must have had a hand in this; Snape’s sour expression
every time Harry entered the Potions dungeon confirmed it. But, Harry had come to realise that he was
not just going to be an Auror. As
Sybill Trelawney had
prophesised, Harry was
also going to be a murderer. If he did
not become a murderer, then any other choice of career he might make would be
Harry had encountered when deciding on his career of murderer was that the
prerequisite knowledge was never clearly spelt out. How could he learn to kill?
Not from paying attention in lessons, Harry thought glumly. He had hoped that, with Professor Moody as
teacher, Defence Against the Dark Arts classes would become more
practical. His hopes had only been
partly fulfilled. In the first lesson
of the year, Moody had promised to teach them a whole raft of defensive spells
– stronger Shield Charms, better Disarming Spells and ways to fight off a vast
array of curses. But, unlike the
“other” Professor Moody, who had taught Harry in fourth year, the lesson plan
did not include teaching Harry’s class how to attack. When Neville had raised his hand and mumbled something about
“Unforgiveables,” Moody had been adamant that such wickedness would not be
taught in his class.
“If you lot
want to learn that sort of evil clap-trap,” Moody had growled, his magical eye
revolving to scan the whole class, “you might as well go and join the Death
Harry had been forced to resort to less orthodox ways of filling in the gaps in
his education. He had written a letter
to the sort of people who didn’t mind bending a rule or two. And he was relieved when, just that morning,
a package had arrived from them. While
he sat and picked at a baked potato, he hoped that Ron would be done with his
prefect duties soon. Because he was
counting on Ron having some time after dinner, so that they could open the
package together and Harry could explain his plan.
course platters were vanishing along the length of the House tables, and
delectable trays of puddings were appearing in their places. Ron and Hermione hurried into the Great
Hall, both looking very cross.
Ron said as he sat down and reached for a treacle tart.
see you too, mate,” Harry responded.
Ron had already stuffed half the tart in his mouth by the time Hermione
took her seat.
Shnape offcorz,” Ron explained between chews.
He spat a volley of moist crumbs as he pronounced, “Prat.”
used to him being unfair, but I thought he was more astute than that,” Hermione
whispered bitterly. She stabbed a slice
of flan with a fork, skewered a stewed apricot and held it midway to her lips.
“Ten house points from us, and not even a reprimand for Malfoy. He can’t go on
favouring Death Eaters’ sons. People
will start to question his loyalties.”
“He hasn’t got
any loyalty to question.” Ron licked
his fingers and reached for another tart.
“Bill reckons he’s shonky, through and through. So do Fred and George, and they’re all in
the Order. Fred says he’d trust Snape
as far as he could comfortably spit out a rat.” Then Ron pushed the tart into his mouth, whole.
trusts him,” Harry said quietly. Ron’s
eyes bulged and watered, possibly because he disagreed violently, but more
probably because the tart had gone down the wrong way. While he thumped his best friend between the
shoulder blades, Harry reflected that he had as much, if not more, reason to
hate Snape in sixth year as he had in any of his earlier years at
Hogwarts. But even though he hated
Snape unreservedly, Harry had also come to begrudgingly accept that he had no
real reason to mistrust the Potions Master.
might not be able to save Snape from himself this year,” Hermione murmured
darkly, as she passed Ron a glass of water.
“Fudge is terrifically popular, and anybody who ever once looked like
a Death Eater is being rounded up.”
Ron gave an
enormous, retching cough that attracted the attention of most of the students
in the Great Hall. Luna Lovegood looked
up from the far end of the Ravenclaw table.
Noticing Ron, she rose and strolled over to him.
sounds nasty,” Luna said dreamily, running her finger along her chain of
Butterbeer corks. A bronze and blue
badge dangled from the necklace. Harry
could still not get used to the idea that Luna was a prefect. Quite a few Ravenclaw students were looking
over their shoulders at her, as though they did not wish to believe it either.
also accessorised her uniform with a pair of large, rectangular earrings. These spun frenetically on short chains
below her earlobes. “I’m not surprised,” Luna continued. “The house-elves put
Bundimun secretion in the treacle to thicken it - ”
not!” Hermione interrupted angrily.
prominent, pale eyes stared unblinkingly at Ron. “It must make the treacle taste rather odd, too.”
it would – it’s highly poisonous!”
Hermione’s eyebrows had knitted together into a most unfriendly
expression. “So, putting it in food is
just, well, it’s not possible.”
down, as though she had just realised that Hermione was sitting there. “Lots of peculiar things get put in food by
house-elves, you know. My dad
interviewed a woman whose daughter ate a Moke.”
Hermione hissed, her eyes narrowing “But your father also interviewed a woman
who saw Lord Voldemort buying cheese from the Tesco on Salisbury’s Castle
to recognise the insult. She nodded
sagely and said, “The Quibbler thinks its readers have a right to know
these things. Everybody needs to keep a
sharp eye out, you know.” She pinched
one of her earrings between her thumb and forefinger, so that it stopped its
rapid twirling. Harry saw that it had a
message written on it, which read: BE ALERT, BE ALARMED, Dob in a Death
“It’s one of the fridge magnets,”
Harry said. He immediately wished he
hadn’t. Ron had only just managed to
stop gasping for breath, but now he turned pink again to the tips of his ears.
never been one for letter writing but the subject of the fridge magnets had
filled some of his longest letters to Harry that summer. It had all begun with Arthur Weasley’s
birthday, which was early in July.
Percy had been invited back to the Burrow for a family supper and had
shown such obsequious contrition towards his parents that, according to Ron’s
first letter, all the other Weasley children had wanted to puke. Even more
maddening, Percy had failed to react in his normal, pompous way when Fred and
George had offered him a Fainting Fancy after dinner or when Ginny had put a
Doxy in his pocket. Obviously, Percy
was prepared to do anything to get back into his family’s good graces.
needn’t have bothered with the turn-the-other-cheek-humble-pie rubbish, Ron had written, because Mum and
Dad welcomed him back with open arms.
It was like he’d been lost, or something. Mum couldn’t stop grabbing him, and hugging him, all the way
through dinner. And Dad kept talking
about Ministry business and politics as though Percy was his best friend in the
world. Neither of them seemed to mind
that Percy’s the glob of Lobalug’s spit who’d stabbed them in the back.
somehow, in the course of the conversations about Ministry business and
politics, the subject of fridge magnets arose.
Arthur Weasley had started a collection of fridge magnets that he had
picked up, here and there. He showed
Percy a wide selection, mounted in a glass topped display case, of magnets
touting the services of plumbers, catteries, dentists, hairdressers and
florists. As Ron explained:
Dad just kept going on about how brilliant they were for
advertising stuff. And, I guess Percy
was too busy smarming up to Dad to notice that he always keeps his
magnets under glass.
star at the Ministry had been rising rapidly up until the summer. Fudge had even given him the job of
preparing all the guides to personal and home defence that the Ministry was
planning to provide, free of charge, to every wizard household. These guidebooks were nearly ready to be
distributed in mid-July, when Percy had his big idea. He contacted a Muggle manufacturer and arranged for them to make
enough fridge magnets to include a couple in each package of the guidebooks,
and he sent them to every wizarding home in Britain.
read about the fridge magnet fiasco in the newspaper before Ron’s letter
arrived. But, the tone of Ron’s message
was something he would never forget:
HA HA HA
HA HA HA HA! The stupid stupid
twit! I mean, everyone knows what magnets do when there’s too much magic
about. It’s worse than
eckeltricity! Mum opened the parcel and
the magnets shot out and nearly chopped off old Errol’s foot. The mad things kept flying around the
kitchen (the magnets, not Errol), quicker and quicker and Mum was trying to swat them away with a feather
duster and then they got onto the crockery shelf and smashed everything. So, Mum’s shouting out, “Reparo! Reparo!”
and chasing the magnets like they’re the Golden Snitches from hell. But, casting spells only made things worse
and soon the magnets were dive-bombing Mum’s head and knocked her wand clear
across the room. Finally, Ginny opened
a window and she and I managed to hit them out with Fred and George’s Beaters’
bats. But they kept crashing into the
glass for hours, until Dad came home from work and caught them both in a jam
jar. Now, they’ve taken pride of place
in his collection.
Luna let go
of her earring, and it began to whir like a frenzied gyroscope again. “People sent them in to The Quibbler with
letters of complaint. Dad’s got a
filing cabinet full of them - it jumps all around his office.” She began to
giggle, but then stopped very suddenly and said in a low voice, “Do you know, a
little boy in Walthamstowe named Billy Gudgeon lost an eye?”
know,” Hermione said quietly.
think that chap at the Ministry who sent them out lost his job,” Luna said vaguely.
“No. He didn’t,” Ron said defiantly. In fact, this was not entirely true. Percy had been removed from his post
as Assistant Secretary of the newly created Department of Civil Defence. But, Arthur had pulled every string in the
Ministry he could grasp and called in every favour, until he finally arranged for Percy to be
rehired, at a greatly reduced salary, by the Ludicrous Patents Office. Harry was impressed by the loyalty Ron now
showed to his brother. It appeared that
the young Weasleys were once again prepared to accept Percy into their hearts,
since fate had punished him sufficiently for his very great misdeeds.
Hermione also noticed the reddening of Ron’s ears. “Er, I think we’d better get back to work,” she said as she
pushed her flan aside. “Do you have the
Spellotape we asked you for?”
as though she was trying to focus on something tiny which was floating in the
air near Harry’s nose. “Spellotape?”
posters,” Hermione said with great restraint.
“We asked you to bring it to us.
“I think I
saw a roll of Spellotape in a classroom.”
Luna sounded most uncertain.
can borrow some more from Madam Pince’s office,” Hermione said briskly. She stood up and added, “Come on, Ron.” Ron reached for another tart, but thought
better of it, and followed Hermione from the table.
not sure what to say to Luna, or whether she expected him to say anything at
all. She was still gazing at nothing in particular. “I, er, think I’ll go to the library too,” he said in a hurried
then,” Luna said. She began to hum as
she drifted back towards her house table.
walked quickly to the doors of the Great Hall, and once outside rushed to catch
up with his friends. They were not very
“Yes, I know
she’s a nutter,” Ron was saying as Harry approached. “But I’m still telling you, those tarts
suppose you’ll be telling me next that You-Know-Who likes cheese,” Hermione
said with a sniff.
“No,” Ron said
thoughtfully. “But Scabbers used to
love it. You don’t think - you know –
stopped walking and bestowed a withering look on Ron. “Scabbers was a rat. Of
course he liked cheese.” She turned to
Harry and asked, “You don’t believe that girl’s blibbering stories, do you?”
shrugged. “As far as Voldemort goes, The
Quibbler’s guess is as good as mine.”
He walked along beside his friends, not talking to or listening to them,
but thinking about Lord Voldemort. He
did not believe that The Quibbler knew the whereabouts of the most evil
wizard on earth. But, the magazine
seemed to know as much as the Ministry of Magic, or even the Order of the
Phoenix. Wherever Voldemort was, he was
coming to the library too, Harry?” Hermione asked. They had already walked past the Gryffindor Tower staircase.
some Divination stuff to look up,” Harry explained. Ron, who had discontinued his Divination study that year, seemed
very pleased to hear it.
got you working on?” Ron said as he rubbed his hands together with glee. He continued in an impersonation of the
Divination teacher’s mystical whisper.
“Horoscopes for your twenty closest living relations? Dream diary for the next seventeen months? How about a nice essay on logomancy?”
for Trelawney,” Harry said. One of the
worst things about Divination that year was that the subject had been divided
between two teachers. Sybill Trelawney
had returned to her old position, but Firenze had not left his. So, the school had split the course between
what it called “Human Predictive Methods,” such as palmistry, tea leaves
reading, crystal ball gazing and the like (taught by Trelawney) and “Reading the
Signs of Nature,” which was taught by Firenze.
Both teachers appeared to think it was their right to teach astrology
too, even though they went about it in completely different ways.
not understand why Harry had wanted to persevere with Divination. But then, Harry had never fully explained
the contents of the glass orb, which they had tried to take from the Hall of
Prophecies, to Ron.
Firenze never used to set homework!” Ron exclaimed, in his normal voice.
“I think we
should expect more homework for every subject this year. These are N.E.W.T. level courses,” Hermione
not even actually homework,” Harry explained.
“Firenze said we were going to do some scatomancy tomorrow. I just thought I’d check what that means.”
screwed up her nose and offered a definition of “scatomancy.” Harry groaned in horror, but Ron laughed
“Well, if that’s
what it is,” Ron said, still grinning broadly, “I reckon you should go back to
Gryffindor and get a bloody good rest before tomorrow. You’ll need your strength.”
“Yeah.” Harry was not relishing the prospect of
tomorrow’s visit to classroom eleven at all.
Then, he remembered the unopened parcel in his school trunk. He asked Ron, “Will you be finished soon?”
“As soon as
I can figure out how to stick something to an unstickable wall,” Ron answered
means we could be quite some time,” Hermione firmly said.
reached the statue of Boniface the Boring, just outside the door to the library. Ron and Hermione went inside. Harry dithered at the doorway for a little
while, but then turned back. As Harry
turned, Boniface rolled his bronze eyes and said, “Well, it took you
long enough to make up your mind.”
as though Harry would be opening his post on his own.