A lesson interrupted

Professor Binns takes a reluctant break from his usual History of Magic lesson to discuss the Chamber of Secrets

Extract from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

By J.K. Rowling

Today was as boring as ever. Professor Binns opened his notes and began to read in a flat drone like an old vacuum cleaner until nearly everyone in the class was in a deep stupor, occasionally coming round long enough to copy down a name or date, then falling asleep again. He had been speaking for half an hour when something happened that had never happened before. Hermione put up her hand.

Professor Binns, glancing up in the middle of a deadly dull lecture on the International Warlock Convention of 1289, looked amazed.

‘Miss – er –?’

‘Granger, Professor. I was wondering if you could tell us anything about the Chamber of Secrets,’ said Hermione in a clear voice.

Dean Thomas, who had been sitting with his mouth hanging open, gazing out of the window, jerked out of his trance; Lavender Brown’s head came up off her arms and Neville’s elbow slipped off his desk.

Professor Binns blinked.

‘My subject is History of Magic,’ he said in his dry, wheezy voice. ‘I deal with facts, Miss Granger, not myths and legends.’ He cleared his throat with a small noise like chalk snapping and continued, ‘In September of that year, a sub-committee of Sardinian sorcerers –’

He stuttered to a halt. Hermione’s hand was waving in the air again.

‘Miss Grant?’

‘Please, sir, don’t legends always have a basis in fact?’

Professor Binns was looking at her in such amazement, Harry was sure no student had ever interrupted him before, alive or dead.

‘Well,’ said Professor Binns slowly, ‘yes, one could argue that, I suppose.’ He peered at Hermione as though he had never seen a student properly before. ‘However, the legend of which you speak is such a very sensational, even ludicrous tale …’

But the whole class was now hanging on Professor Binns’s every word. He looked dimly at them all, every face turned to his. Harry could tell he was completely thrown by such an unusual show of interest.

‘Oh, very well,’ he said slowly. ‘Let me see … the Chamber of Secrets …

‘You all know, of course, that Hogwarts was founded over a thousand years ago – the precise date is uncertain – by the four greatest witches and wizards of the age. The four school houses are named after them: Godric Gryffindor, Helga Hufflepuff, Rowena Ravenclaw and Salazar Slytherin. They built this castle together, far from prying Muggle eyes, for it was an age when magic was feared by common people, and witches and wizards suffered much persecution.’

He paused, gazed blearily around the room, and continued, ‘For a few years, the founders worked in harmony together, seeking out youngsters who showed signs of magic and bringing them to the castle to be educated. But then disagreements sprang up between them. A rift began to grow between Slytherin and the others. Slytherin wished to be more selective about the students admitted to Hogwarts. He believed that magical learning should be kept within all-magic families. He disliked taking students of Muggle parentage, believing them to be untrustworthy. After a while, there was a serious argument on the subject between Slytherin and Gryffindor, and Slytherin left the school.’

Professor Binns paused again, pursing his lips, looking like a wrinkled old tortoise.

‘Reliable historical sources tell us this much,’ he said, ‘but these honest facts have been obscured by the fanciful legend of the Chamber of Secrets. The story goes that Slytherin had built a hidden chamber in the castle, of which the other founders knew nothing.

‘Slytherin, according to the legend, sealed the Chamber of Secrets so that none would be able to open it until his own true heir arrived at the school. The heir alone would be able to unseal the Chamber of Secrets, unleash the horror within, and use it to purge the school of all who were unworthy to study magic.'

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

By J.K. Rowling