Harry Potter and the Trouble With Neurotypicals 15

Harry Potter and the Trouble With Neurotypicals: Book Two.
Or, "Aspie Potter and the Chamber of Secrets."

Note: I do not own this. J. K. Rowling does. This is just fan fiction. No money is being made.

Note 2: There may be a few bits and pieces lifted word-for-word from the canon material. I tried to do that as little as possible, though.

Chapter 7: Riddle Me That

Dumbledore's removal from the school only made everyone's fear increase, because if Dumbledore was the only one Voldemort feared, how could they think the Heir of Slytherin would be any different? The Heir would have free reign now, or at least freer reign.

His removal also complicated other matters. Wizard Studies class was canceled for the time being, becoming a free study period, but with as paranoid as all the teachers were, everyone who'd been taking the class ended up in their dorm rooms during that period.

Luckily, though, McGonagall and Flitwick kept up the Dueling Club, despite the 6 o'clock curfew. At 7 PM, when it was over, they would escort everyone to their respective dorms, which let Harry, Ron, and Hermione see where the Hufflepuff dorms were at last: near the kitchens.

MAC was canceled for the foreseeable future, of course. This gave them very little time around Draco now. Draco's standing in Slytherin wasn't increasing any, though, as he kept complaining loudly about his father's “stupid decision” to remove Dumbledore.

“Yes, the man's eccentric,” they heard him saying in class once, “but he defeated Grindlewald in a duel, and he was the only one You-Know-Who feared. The Heir will be afraid of him too, I've no doubt. I've already sent an owl to father about his idiotic decision, but I haven't gotten a reply back.”

Another time, they heard him worrying aloud that he thought his father couldn't have heard yet about Draco's current standing in Slytherin, or that the Heir was attacking Slytherins now, too.

“And I'm a blood traitor now! I've been going to MAC, questioning father's ideology. I'm terrified to leave my dorm! I'm terrified to stay in my dorm, too; the Heir is surely a Slytherin, after all. I'm bound to be next! I explained all this in my letter to father; I wish he would hurry and write back.”

“Draco, try not to worry too much,” Harry told him. “Danzia, Willem, Antigone, and Angela are there with you, too. Power in numbers, and all that.”

Draco nodded, but didn't look very convinced.

They were having no luck figuring out what the monster was, either. Between the disorganized library and the librarian's unhelpfulness, it was still an uphill battle trying to figure that out. Nor was looking for the spiders helping, as they all seemed to have scarpered already.

In fact, it wasn't until Herbology class one day that Harry noticed some spiders fleeing, making a beeline for the Forbidden Forest. He pointed this out to Ron and Hermione.

“Forbidden Forest, right,” Ron said. “But with the teachers taking us from class to class now, and the curfew, there's no way we'll be able to get away!”

“Not without my father's cloak, anyway,” Harry said.

Hermione twisted her mouth uncertainly. “I see your point, Harry,” she said, “But that didn't go so well last time, remember? And what about that giant spider that was in Hagrid's box, in the vision Riddle showed you? It could be out there.”

“I think that's why Hagrid wants us to go there, to talk with it.”

Ron's eyes bugged out. “No way! No, I am not going to go talk with a giant talking spider!”

“Hermione and I will be there, too, Ron.”

“Yeah, but I came across something in one of those creature books the other day, about giant spiders called acromantulas. If that's what Hagrid had in that box, they grow to the size of cart horses and eat humans!”

“Well, maybe. But there's good things in there, too. Like the centaurs.”

Ron snorted. “I really doubt the centaurs and an acromantula are gonna live in the same parts of the forest.”

“Yeah, but they have weapons. And anyway, there's only one acromantula.”

“That we know of,” Ron snapped. “You know Hagrid as well as I do. I wouldn’t put it past him to have thought his pet giant spider was lonely, and gotten it a mate.”

“Hermione, do you know any spells against acromantulas?”

Arania Exumai,” she said. “Not sure how effective it is, though.”

“Well if we're going into the Forest, we can take Fang with us,” Ron said.

“Fang is a coward though, remember?” Harry answered. “He'd be useless.”

“Oh, right.”

They had to stop talking, then, because class was over, and Professor Sprout had to escort them to Defense Against the Dark Arts. Harry used the time to think about the planned trip into the Forest.

“Don't worry too much, Harry,” Ron said when they sat down. “If we can somehow get your Slytherin friends in there with us, they'll know some more effective spells, since they're older.”

“I suppose so. Not sure how we're going to get a message to them, though.”

“If we survive this year, you should get some two-way mirrors or something from Diagon Alley.”

Harry nodded to this.

Just then, Professor Lockhart came in, looking for all the world like the world couldn't be more beautiful, as opposed to everyone else's fear. Harry barely listened as he expressed his certainty that Hagrid was the culprit; he didn't feel like getting in trouble for hexing a teacher. Not even one as idiotic as Lockhart. As it was, Harry had to stop Ron blabbing things they shouldn't be able to know, by kicking him under the desk.

At some point during class, Harry made a decision, and scrawled a pair of notes to Ron and Hermione, saying 'Let's do it tonight.'

Ron looked grim, but determined. Hermione looked unsure. She scribbled a note on the other side and passed it back to him. The note said, 'But the Slytherins?'

Grabbing another piece of parchment, he sent back another reply, which said, 'I'll give them a note at dinnertime.'

After reading the note, she nodded.

At dinnertime, Harry went over to Antigone, and passed her a note. Well, really it was more of a letter. He'd taken the precaution of writing most of it in invisible ink, too. If a teacher looked at it, it was just a short note saying he missed them, hoped the Heir problem would be solved soon so they could restart MAC, and contained a coded message (without being obvious) that instructed her to use a Revealer on the other side of the page. He hoped she would figure it out. Antigone being a quintessential Slytherin, it was hard to doubt she'd miss it, but he still worried.

Since it was so hard to get away from the common room these days, being as they had nowhere else to go because of the curfew, Harry ended up sitting on his cloak all night long, playing games with people to pass the time. But the place was so crowded and noisy, especially with games like Exploding Snap, that he started getting a headache after a couple hours, and after taking a headache cure, he put his earmuffs on and took to reading a Defense book of his instead.

Finally, though, the three of them were the last people in the common room, so they seized on the opportunity to slip away under the invisibility cloak and out the portrait hole. But getting through the hallways was difficult, as they were full of teachers and Prefects patrolling. While sensible, it was annoying, and it took almost a whole hour to slowly make their way out the front doors, where to nobody's surprise they bumped into Antigone, Angela, and Danzia, who were Disillusioned.

“Everyone here?” Harry whispered outside the door.

They answered in the affirmative, so he told them where they were going.

When they got into the Forbidden Forest, Harry and the other two Griffindors took off the cloak, and the three Slytherin girls undid their Disillusionment Charms so they could see each other as they followed the spiders. Then they all lit their wands - except for Ron, who feared his might explode if he did - and followed the little trail of arachnids.

By the light of five wands, they went deeper and deeper into the Forest, until they had to leave the forest path – something Hagrid had warned them not to do, but he'd also told them to follow the spiders. Reluctantly, the six of them continued through the ever-darkening forest after the thin trail of arachnids.

They walked for over an hour, according to Danzia's wristwatch, their robes getting snagged frequently on the thickening brush. Several times they had to stop for minutes at a time, either to find the spiders again, or to find a way past an especially thick patch of brambles or bushes that the spiders were just blithely going through or over, but every time they managed to find their little eight-legged leaders again. After a while, they noticed that the ground seemed to be sloping downward, though the trees were as thick as ever.

Antigone stopped them all with a raised arm and a whispered admonition. She'd heard something, and needed to listen.

“What is it?” Ron whimpered, clutching Hermione's arm.

Harry heard it too. Something large was coming through the thick woods, breaking branches as it moved through the brush.

“Oh, no,” said Ron. “Oh, no, oh, no, oh —”

“Shut up,” said Harry frantically. “It’ll hear you.”

The darkness seemed to be pressing on their eyeballs as they stood, terrified, waiting. But the sound was gone.

“We've lost the trail,” Antigone said quietly, searching the ground for spiders.

The others made to look with her, except for Harry, who was looking at Ron. Ron's face had gone pale as death, and he was staring at a point 10 feet above the forest floor, right behind Harry. It was plain that Ron was very close to pissing himself in terror.

With a sudden clicking noise, Harry found himself being hoisted into the air, hanging facedown. Struggling, terrified, hearing more horrible clicking, he saw the legs of Ron and a few others being hoisted as well, while others were making a lot of terrified noise, not sure what was going on. Then he saw only darkness as whatever had him walked very fast away from the lights of the wands and into a hollow that had been cleared of trees. He had brief glimpses of giant hairy spider legs, and a massive structure made of webbing, and starlight overhead. They had found the acromantulas, then; Ron had been right, there was more than one. Who knew how many there were, after all these decades?

Craning his neck, he got a better image of the hollow, and what he saw made him want to wet himself. Hundreds of massive spiders, large as cart horses, as well as myriad other smaller spiders, all swarming over a massive area. From what he could tell, he wouldn’t have been surprised if there'd been 1000 or more of the horrible acromantulas living there, it was like a small domed city made of webbing.

What was worse, dozens – nay, scores – of the monsters were gathering around, clicking in excitement at Harry and whoever else had been caught. They released him and Ron, and he also saw Hermione at his other side. He felt mildly relieved, as it looked like there'd only been three of the giant spiders that found them, unless there were others that were being held up. He hoped that the three Slytherin girls, at least, had escaped. But at the same time, he was annoyed that they hadn't tried to fight the things, as far as he could remember from the chaos that the monsters had sown.

He took a better look at his two Griffindor friends. Ron's eyes were popping, his mouth in a silent scream, his whole body like a statue, except that he was quivering in terror. Hermione, too, looked utterly terrified, covering her eyes and weeping silently. Harry felt much the same; he wondered how bad he looked.

Harry forced himself to calm down a little, trying to think of what spells he could use to get out of this situation, as this clearly had been a horrible idea. But his thoughts were interrupted as he realized the spiders were speaking, saying over and over again the word “Aragog.” It had been hard to tell at first, because they clicked their pincers whenever they spoke.

And from the middle of the misty, domed web, a spider the size of a small elephant emerged, very slowly. There was gray in the black of his body and legs, and each of the eyes on his ugly, pincered head was milky white. He was blind. He was clearly very old, too, which made Harry wonder if this was Hagrid's original pet, the one from the vision.

“What is it?” the old spider said, clicking his pincers rapidly.

“Humans,” clicked the spider that had been carrying Harry.

“Is it Hagrid?” said Aragog, moving closer, his eight milky eyes wandering vaguely.

“Strangers,” clicked the spider who had brought Ron.

“Kill them,” clicked Aragog fretfully. “I was sleeping. …”

“We’re friends of Hagrid’s,” Harry shouted. His heart seemed to have left his chest to pound in his throat.

Click, click, click went the pincers of the spiders all around the hollow.

Aragog paused.

“Hagrid has never sent men into our hollow before,” he said slowly.

“Hagrid’s in trouble,” said Harry, breathing very fast. “That’s why we’ve come.”

“In trouble?” said the aged spider, and Harry thought he heard concern beneath the clicking pincers. “But why has he sent you?”

Unable to trust himself to stand, he stayed seated, speaking as calmly as he could.

“They think he's the Heir of Slytherin. They think he's setting a monster on students, so they took him to Azkaban.”

“But that was years ago,” said Aragog fretfully. “Years and years ago. I remember it well. That’s why they made him leave the school. They believed that I was the monster that dwells in what they call the Chamber of Secrets. They thought that Hagrid had opened the Chamber and set me free.”

“So it wasn't you?”

“I? No, I was not the monster they sought. Hagrid got me as an egg from a distant land. I never saw anything in the castle except for the box he kept me in until I had to escape, the night I was discovered.”

“You never attacked anyone?”

“Never,” croaked the old spider. “It would have been my instinct, but out of respect for Hagrid, I never harmed a human. The body of the girl who was killed was discovered in a bathroom. I never saw any part of the castle but the cupboard in which I grew up. Our kind like the dark and the quiet. …”

“So... what did kill that girl?”

“We do not speak of it!” Aragog shouted to a backdrop of hundreds of angry clicks. “The thing that lives in the castle,” said Aragog, “is an ancient creature we spiders fear above all others. Well do I remember how I pleaded with Hagrid to let me go, when I sensed the beast moving about the school. But do not ask me to speak more of it!”

Harry nodded, sensing he'd gotten all he could out of the spider, and beginning to plan an escape. But just in case it was reasonable, he spoke again.

“Thanks for that. We'll just go back now and tell the teachers that, so Hagrid can be released.”

“Go?” said Aragog slowly. “I think not.”

“So you don't want Hagrid released?”

Aragog paused, thinking.

“It matters not, one way or another,” the blind spider said. “I do care for Hagrid, but I have my family to care for now. There are many mouths to feed here in our hollow, and while I myself do not attack humans for Hagrid's sake, and my children do not harm Hagrid on my command, I cannot deny my sons and daughters fresh meat when it wanders so willingly into our midst. So farewell, friends of Hagrid.”

Harry stood up suddenly with his wand and shouted, “Arania Exumai!” at the nearest spiders. A burst of light hit the thing, but hardly did anything to the spider. The light itself had far more effect, as the spiders flinched away from it.

“LUMOS MAXIMA!” he shouted, blinding the spiders, causing an uproar of furious clicks.

“Dobby! Netty!” he said, as he grabbed Ron and Hermione.

The two house elves appeared with a loud crack, confused at first. They barely had time to regard the spiders with terror before Harry forced his friends' hands into the elves' hands and shouted, “GO! BACK TO THE CASTLE! TAKE THEM WITH YOU!”

With a loud crack, the four of them vanished, leaving Harry alone with the monsters. Hermione might have been useful, if she hadn't been nearly as catatonic as Ron had been, so he'd gotten them to safety instead.

He ran, shooting more bursts of light after him, but it was hopeless; the spiders were so fast that they would surely catch him at any moment, light or no light.

But then, he saw flashes of variously colored lights up ahead, and then heard shouts. He recognized the voices as Antigone, Angela, and Danzia. They hadn't run away after all, but were instead shooting various spells and hexes at nearby spiders.

Getting close enough for him to see her, Antigone jumped out and shot several bombarda spells at the nearest spiders, causing fiery explosions that not only made charbroiled, exploded spider guts fly everywhere, but also made bright lights. Harry did the same, using the spell for the first time ever. It didn't work the first couple times he tried, but on the third time he got it.

Danzia and Angela arrived, too, and he heard words like defodio, confringo, and expulso, which all had various destructive effects on the attacking spiders. He even saw one of them, with a shouted 'vocabo acidum,' send a torrent of burning acid at the acromantulas, resulting in a lot of inhuman screams of agony.

All these and more, poorly aimed because they were all running for their lives and firing blindly behind them, slowed down the giant spiders enough for Harry to call back Netty and Dobby. Dobby took Angela's and Antigone's robes, Netty took Harry's free hand, and they all Disapparated away, appearing in an unfamiliar dorm room with a view of the underside of the lake.

Harry collapsed, panting with exhaustion, trying to calm down his racing heart. They were bloody lucky to be alive. If he hadn't thought to call for the two elves, they'd probably be dead now.

“Where are we?” he asked when he finally calmed down enough to speak.

“This is our dorm room,” Antigone responded. “Angela's and mine.”

Dobby stood up on shaking legs, but Netty was still on the floor, crying and shaking. Dobby disappeared with a crack, and Harry didn't blame him. But a few minutes later, he reappeared, and handed Harry something, which he took in bewilderment.

“Dobby is finding Harry Potter's invisibility cloak, Sir,” the elf said by way of explanation.

“Thank you, Dobby. And Dobby, Netty, thank you both for saving our lives.”

“You is most welcome, Harry Potter sir,” said Dobby proudly. Netty merely nodded.

“Where are the others, Dobby?”

“Dobby is putting the two Griffindors back in Griffindor common room, Sir. The other Slytherin girl--”

Danzia burst into the room then, hugging Dobby thankfully.

“Is here, Sir,” Dobby explained unnecessarily.

She let go of Dobby, and moved on to hugging Netty. Free of her squeezing embrace, Dobby cleared his throat.

“So,” he said, “is Harry Potter wanting Dobby to take him back to the Griffindor common room?”

“Let me check something first. Antigone? Angela? You two okay?”

Angela nodded, but said nothing. She was crying, and holding her knees. Antigone nodded as well.

“And you, Danzia?”

“I may have nightmares about giant spiders for the next few months, but yeah, I'm fine.”

“Good. I better go reassure the others. Dobby, I'm ready.”

He took the elf's hand. No sooner had they reappeared in Griffindor Common Room than Hermione tackled him with a crushing bear hug, that Ron soon joined.

“Oh thank God you're alright! I was afraid you'd been eaten! What took you so long? How'd you get out of there?”

“Well I probably wouldn’t have escaped if not for Danzia and the others showing up, helping me slow down the acromantulas with various exploding spells and other destructive spells and curses, which bought time for Dobby and Netty to come back for us. They took us to Antigone's dorm room, and we had to recover a little before--”

Ron had spotted Dobby, and was giving the little elf a giant hug. Hermione, seeing this, joined in as well. The two Griffindors praised Dobby's bravery and help, which made the little elf grin ecstatically. Then Harry called Netty, and she appeared, looking like she was recovering, and they all praised her, too, before finally dismissing the two elves.

Harry and Ron had a hard time getting to sleep that night, understandably. It took over an hour of whispered conversation between the two friends before they started to drift off at last. But Harry sat up like a bolt just before falling asleep, and woke Ron up to tell him what he'd figured out.

Ron awoke with a yelp, looking frantically around for the danger, before seeing Harry just wanted to talk with him again.

“Ron — that girl who died. Aragog said she was found in a bathroom,” said Harry, ignoring Neville’s snuffling snores from the corner. “What if she never left the bathroom? What if she’s still there?”

Ron rubbed his eyes, frowning through the moonlight. And then he understood, too.

“You don’t think — not Moaning Myrtle?”

~

After relaying to Hermione the revelation about Moaning Myrtle being the girl who died, she gasped and slapped her own face, clearly thinking she should have put it together herself already. It was only a shame that not even Hermione could get away with using that bathroom anymore, what with it being the site of the first attack and the words in red on the wall still being stuck there, Filch unable to clean them off.

But something happened in Transfiguration that drove the Chamber out of the minds of everyone, for they found they were still having exams. The only person, to Harry's knowledge, who didn't look surprised by this was Hermione, and even she looked like she thought it might not be a great idea in the current climate. Even workaholic Hermione would doubtless find it hard to study while worrying about some giant monster attacking people at any time.

Ron took it worst of all, though; he looked as though he’d just been told he had to go and live in the Forbidden Forest.

“Can you imagine me taking exams with this?” he asked Harry, holding up his wand, which had just started whistling loudly.

“If you let me buy you a new wand via owl order, it might arrive in time.”

“Maybe. But I dunno about that, either. 'The wand chooses the wizard,' remember? How can I trust some random wand that didn't pick me?”

“The wand you have now is hand-me-down, isn't it?”

“Yeah, but that's different. Family wands tend to be much more likely to accept new users from the same family. And even so, this one took me a few months to get the hang of. Everyone but me and Neville got the hang of theirs faster.”

Harry didn't know what to say to this.

Three days before their first exam, though, McGonagall announced some happy news: the mandrakes were almost ready to be made into a restorative draught, so they'd soon be finding out who the culprit was.

Harry glanced at the Slytherin table, and saw Draco looking relieved, and talking with Danzia.

“It won’t matter that we never asked Myrtle, then!” Ron said to Harry and Hermione during dinner. “I feel bad for the kids that missed most of the year, though; how're they gonna pass exams when they've missed so much?”

“Probably they'll be tutored to get caught up,” Hermione mused.

Just then, Ginny came up to Harry, looking very nervous.

“I have to tell you something,” she said to him. But she hesitated, looking worried and reluctant.

“Does this have something to do with the Chamber of Secrets?” he asked.

Before she could answer, Percy Weasley appeared, looking tired and wan.

“If you’ve finished eating, I’ll take that seat, Ginny. I’m starving, I’ve only just come off patrol duty.”

Ginny jumped up as though her chair had just been electrified, gave Percy a fleeting, frightened look, and scampered away. Harry rushed after her while Ron and Hermione berated Percy for his timing, but she disappeared in the crowded room, and he lost track of her. He continued trying to find her, asking people if they'd seen her. But she'd made a clean getaway. Given that the teachers were ushering them through the halls for everything, this worried him more than anything. He headed up to the staff table to talk with McGonagall.

“Professor McGonagall?”

“What is it, Potter? We're trying to eat dinner.”

“I know that, but I can't find Ginny Weasley anywhere. She was about to tell me something that I think was about the Chamber of Secrets, given her nervousness, but Percy scared her off, and she vanished into the crowd. I've been looking for several minutes, but nobody's seen her.”

McGonagall frowned a little. “She's probably still in the room, Potter. Nobody's allowed out into the halls without a teacher escort, you know.”

“I know, but I have an instinct that she's given whoever's at the door the slip.”

“You think she gave Professor Snape the slip?”

“If that's who's at the doors, then yes.”

“Whatever for?”

“It's hard to explain, but I think she might know who the Heir of Slytherin is. Or she at least saw somebody or something suspicious. I got that vibe from her, before she got spooked.”

The stern older woman sighed. “I'll have the Prefects look for her, then.”

“You might want to exclude Percy from that, since he spooked her.”

“Yes, yes, Mr. Potter, I'll do that. Students shouldn't be wandering about, and if he's the reason for it, we can't chance her running away from him again.”

Harry nodded. She dismissed him, and he went back to Ron and Hermione to tell them what had happened.

Thankfully, because they still had exams to study for, Hermione was able to convince McGonagall to escort the Griffindors to the library after lunch one day. They wouldn’t be able to stay long, because of the curfew, but it gave the three of them the chance to check out a bunch more creature books to look through for a giant snake monster when they returned to the common room. McGonagall gave the three of them a weird look when she saw they were all carrying so many books they could barely see where they were going, but said nothing as she escorted them back.

The three of them had been there for less than an hour going through their books when Hermione stumbled on the right creature.

“Harry! Ron!” she whispered excitedly at them. “I found it!”

She pointed to the page in the book she had open, and Harry got there first, reading:

Of the many fearsome beasts and monsters that roam our land, there is none more curious or more deadly than the Basilisk, known also as the King of Serpents. This snake, which may reach gigantic size and live many hundreds of years, is born from a chicken’s egg, hatched beneath a toad. Its methods of killing are most wondrous, for aside from its deadly and venomous fangs, the Basilisk has a murderous stare, and all who are fixed with the beam of its eye shall suffer instant death. Spiders flee before the Basilisk, for it is their mortal enemy, and the Basilisk flees only from the crowing of the rooster, which is fatal to it.

“Wow, Hermione! I think you're right. It all fits! A giant snake, which explains how I can understand it, we knew that much already.”

“And you said you thought people were seeing it through things, right?” Hermione asked.

“Yeah. Colin through his camera, and Justin through Nick. But since Nick is already dead, he can't die. I don't know about the last one, though.”

“I do,” Hermione said. “I asked around, and the two Prefect girls who were attacked had been found with a mirror. From what I've heard of the two of them, the Slytherin Prefect was probably checking her hair, and Penelope Clearwater may also have been looking at the mirror, too.”

Ron’s jaw had dropped.

“And Mrs. Norris?” he whispered eagerly.

“The water,” Harry and Hermione said in stereo. Harry let Hermione continue.

“Mrs. Norris saw the basilisk's reflection in the water, Ron,” she finished. “Myrtle's bathroom was flooding, remember?”

“Oh yeah.”

“'The crowing of the rooster is fatal to it,'” Harry read. “And Hagrid said his roosters had been killed. The Heir had to get them out of the way. Then 'spiders flee before it.' Even Aragog and the other acromantulas were terrified of this thing, like it was a monster You-Know-Who.”

“But how’s the basilisk been getting around the place?” said Ron. “A giant snake, someone would’ve seen it?”

“Pipes,” said Hermione with a smirk.

“It's been using the plumbing? Which is why Harry can hear it in the walls, and we didn't; Parseltongue sounds like hissing.”

“This means,” said Harry, “I can’t be the only Parselmouth in the school. The Heir of Slytherin’s one, too. That’s how he’s been controlling the basilisk.”

“Wait, Harry. Wasn't You-Know-Who a Parselmouth, too?” Hermione asked.

“So?”

“Well he might be old enough. Maybe he was in school the same time Tom Riddle was?”

“Damn. Wish I'd thought of that before. I could've asked Tom if he knew of any ugly snake-looking guys in school.”

“I doubt he looked like that in school, Harry. Guy without a nose would kinda stand out, right? Hard to think Riddle would suspect Hagrid when someone like that was about. So if it was You-Know-Who, then he could've looked like anything! Hell, he could be this Tom Riddle bloke for all we know. He could've set Hagrid up as a fall guy. You said Riddle didn't want to go back to that orphanage, right? He hears his plot is going to get him sent back there, he sets somebody up to take the blame so he can stay at Hogwarts.”

“But Riddle is handsome!”

“Think that matters? Dad said something once about dark magic often deforming the people who used it. He could've been handsome in his youth, but then the dark magic took his nose away, among other deformities, from what I've heard of him.”

“Could it really be Tom Riddle?” Harry asked Hermione.

“How should I know? But Ron might be right. I've never heard of a diary acting like that before. I mean, it could just be something similar to a pensieve – a sort of stone bowl to watch memories from. But, like, combined with something like a portrait, in writing? And if so, it would have the self awareness and memories to reopen the Chamber.”

“Yeah!” Ron said. “And it's really suspicious it just showed up here at the right time, just as the Chamber was open, to conveniently point the finger at Hagrid again.”

“I don't know,” Harry said, uncertain. “I got a malevolent vibe from You-Know-Who the first time, but Riddle seemed alright. Charming, even.”

“Well, Harry, I've heard serial killers are often charming. And You-Know-Who is basically a power-hungry, magical serial killer.”

“But the Voldemort I met by the Mirror of Erised wasn't charming. I think he was trying to be, but failing miserably. He was about as charming as something pale and slimy under a stone.”

“Yeah, Harry, but there were no attacks when you had the thing with you, and they started up again when it got nicked.”

“But if the diary is just a written-word portrait, how is it acting?”

“It must be using somebody,” Hermione said. “Using some living human as an accomplice, you know? It wouldn’t be able to act on its own, if it's like a portrait.”

“But doesn't that kinda leave us at square one? We have no idea who it's using, who the accomplice is. Unless...”

“Unless what, Harry?” Ron said.

“No, it couldn't be. Too much of a coincidence, two DADA teachers in a row being evil. But Quirrell pretended to be a stuttering coward; Lockhart could be pretending to be a total idiot.”

“What’re we going to do?” said Ron, whose eyes were flashing. “Should we go straight to McGonagall?”

“Let’s go to the staffroom,” said Harry, jumping up. “She’ll be there in ten minutes. It’s nearly time for the next class.”

They ran out the portrait hole and over to the staff room. Not wanting to be discovered hanging around in a corridor without an escort, the three of them went straight into the deserted staffroom. It was a large, paneled room full of dark, wooden chairs. The three Griffindors paced around it, too excited to sit down.

But the bell to signal the next class never came.

Instead, echoing through the corridors came Professor McGonagall’s voice, magically magnified.

All students to return to their House dormitories at once. All teachers return to the staffroom. Immediately, please.

“Not another attack, surely?” Hermione fretted.

“What’ll we do?” said Ron, aghast. “Go back to the dormitory?”

“No,” said Harry, glancing around. There was an ugly sort of wardrobe to his left, full of the teachers’ cloaks. “In here. Let’s hear what it’s all about. Then we can tell them what we’ve found out.”

“I don't know about this, Harry,” Hermione said. “We might—”

“If we get in trouble, so what? We need to get this information to McGonagall, and I can't think of another way.”

Sighing with resignation, Hermione nodded. They hid themselves inside the wardrobe, which was a tight fit for three second year students, listened to the rumbling of hundreds of people moving overhead, before the staffroom door banged open. From between the musty folds of the cloaks, they watched the teachers filtering into the room. Some of them were looking puzzled, others downright scared. Then Professor McGonagall arrived.

From what they witnessed, there was indeed another attack, but this one was different. Nobody had been found. Instead, another message had been left by the Heir of Slytherin, saying 'Her body will rot in the chamber forever.' And what was worse, the student who had been abducted was Ginny Weasley. Ron slid to the bottom of the wardrobe in despair, and Hermione – barely visible in the dark – looked like she was trying very hard not to cry. It was hard, just then, but Harry continued listening, and there was talk about closing the school and sending the students home.

Then Lockhart came into the room, and he was beaming, clearly with no idea what was going on. This didn't make him any less a suspect in Harry's mind.

“So sorry — dozed off — what have I missed?”

He didn’t seem to notice that the other teachers were looking at him with something remarkably like hatred. Snape stepped forward.

“Just the man,” he said. “The very man. A girl has been snatched by the monster, Lockhart. Taken into the Chamber of Secrets itself. Your moment has come at last.”

The look that took over Lockhart's face almost made Harry want to laugh, as his beauty and happiness melted into ugly cowardice, and a weak chin. The rest of the conversation didn't fare much better for the man, as he got backed into a corner, metaphorically speaking. He had no choice but to agree to going after the monster, leaving the room quickly, looking utterly terrified.

“Right,” said Professor McGonagall, whose nostrils were flared, “that’s got him out from under our feet. The Heads of Houses should go and inform their students what has happened. Tell them the Hogwarts Express will take them home first thing tomorrow. Will the rest of you please make sure no students have been left outside their dormitories.”

The teachers rose and left, one by one.

How the three of them got back to the common room after that, they could never remember, they were all so dejected and terrified about Ginny being taken. They weren't alone, either; everyone in Griffindor was quiet for once, all of them feeling the same thing.

No afternoon ever lasted as long as that one, nor had Gryffindor Tower ever been so crowded, yet so quiet. Near sunset, Fred and George went up to bed, unable to sit there any longer.

“She knew something,” said Ron, speaking for the first time since they had entered the wardrobe in the staffroom. “That’s why she was taken. You missed this when you looked for Ginny the other day, Harry, but I thought she'd seen Percy doing something embarrassing, and told him as much. But now it's clear I was wrong. It wasn’t some stupid thing about Percy at all. She’d found out something about the Chamber of Secrets. That must be why she was —” Ron rubbed his eyes frantically. “I mean, she's a pureblood. There can’t be any other reason.”

Harry looked at Ron and Hermione, and came to a decision.

“I think she's still alive. We have to go find her. We have to stop Lockhart, if it's him.”

“You think it's him? He looked like a coward, when the teachers sent him after Ginny.”

“Could be an act. He's convinced people all over the world to buy his stupid books, hasn't he?”

“Do you really think he's that clever?”

“After Quirrell, I won't dismiss the possibility so easily.”

“Good point. You coming too, Hermione?”

“Of course I am. You two in the Chamber alone? I shudder to think. But let's stop at Lockhart's office first, just in case you're wrong about him.”

“Alright, then,” Harry agreed, standing up.

Getting out of there was absurdly easy; nobody so much as looked at them as they left, all of them being lost in worry for Ginny. And the halls, despite everything, were almost deserted. He supposed the teachers were busy with plans to get the students out of there.

As they made their way to Lockhart's office, Harry's heart pained him, his mind having suddenly thought about Luna for the first time in days or longer, given everything that was going on. He made a mental note to go straight to her if he survived this, and hoped she was safe.

There was a flurry of activity in Lockhart's office, given all the noise. Noise that stopped suddenly the moment they knocked. The door opened a crack and they saw one of his blue eyes peer out at them.

“Oh, Misters Potter and Weasley, and Ms. Granger,” he said, opening the door a bit wider. “I’m rather busy at the moment, so please be quick.”

Harry turned his wand on the bewildered man.

“Tell the truth now,” Harry demanded, “are you the Heir of Slytherin?”

After a moment of gaping open-mouthed at Harry in bewilderment, Lockhart said, “Me? 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, the Heir of Slytherin? Madness! Sheer lunacy! Your brain must be going, young man.”

“Yeah, okay, there's that, but our last DADA teacher was secretly evil, too. Pretended to be a coward. You say you've done all this stuff, but either you're a lying imbecile, or you're pretending to be a lying imbecile. Either way, I think it would be best if we accompany you to the Chamber of Secrets.”

The door suddenly closed, but Harry hit it with bombarda, blasting it to splinters. His friends stared at him in shock, but followed Harry inside, where Lockhart was freaking out and almost crying.

The room was almost completely stripped. Luggage lay open, as well. The man had clearly been packing.

“Going somewhere?” Harry asked.

“Er, well, yes,” said Lockhart, ripping a life-size poster of himself from the back of the door as he spoke and starting to roll it up. “Urgent call — unavoidable — got to go —”

“What about Ron's sister?” Hermione demanded.

“Well, as to that — most unfortunate —” said Lockhart, avoiding their eyes as he wrenched open a drawer and started emptying the contents into a bag. “No one regrets more than I —”

“You’re the Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher!” said Hermione. “You can’t go now! Not with all the Dark stuff going on here!”

“Well — I must say — when I took the job —” Lockhart muttered, now piling socks on top of his robes. “nothing in the job description — didn’t expect —”

“You mean you’re running away?” said Ron disbelievingly. “After all that stuff you did in your books —”

“Books can be misleading,” said Lockhart delicately.

“You wrote them!” Ron shouted.

“My dear boy,” said Lockhart, straightening up and frowning at Harry. “Do use your common sense. My books wouldn’t have sold half as well if people didn’t think I’d done all those things. No one wants to read about some ugly old Armenian warlock, even if he did save a village from werewolves. He’d look dreadful on the front cover. No dress sense at all. And the witch who banished the Bandon Banshee had a hairy chin. I mean, come on —”

“So you’ve just been taking credit for what a load of other people have done?” said Harry incredulously.

Lockhart started to explain, but Harry's head twinged.

“Enough! Villain or simpleton, I don't care. Let's go to the Chamber now.”

Lockhart lifted his wand then, taking Harry by surprise, but Hermione disarmed the teacher with a spell first. Ron caught the wand and tossed it out an open window.

“What d’you want me to do?” said Lockhart weakly. “I don’t know where the Chamber of Secrets is. There’s nothing I can do.”

“You’re in luck,” said Harry, forcing Lockhart to his feet at wandpoint. “We think we know where it is. And what’s inside it. Let’s go.”

They marched Lockhart out of his office and down the nearest stairs, along the dark corridor where the messages shone on the wall, to the door of Moaning Myrtle’s bathroom.

Upon opening the door, they saw Antigone and Danzia.

“Hi guys,” Harry said. “I know why we're here, what about you?”

“Figured out Moaning Myrtle was the girl killed,” Antigone answered.

“Us too. Where's Angela?”

“Too scared to join us, after the spiders.”

“Ah, okay. Probably best.”

“What's with him? Why are you keeping him at wandpoint?”

“I suspected he's working with the Heir. Only now, he's proving to be so useless that I think he's innocent, but I don't care. He couldn't even disarm second year students!”

“Yeah, that's incompetent alright, even if one of you is Hermione. Why's he here, though?”

“Human shield, at this point.”

“So where's the Chamber, d'ya reckon?”

“I dunno, let's ask Myrtle.”

“Someone's talking about me,” said the gloomy ghost, who was floating above one of the cubicles. “I don't like it when people talk about me behind my back. What are you all doing here?”

“To ask you how you died,” said Harry.

Myrtle’s whole aspect changed at once. She looked as though she had never been asked such a flattering question.

“Ooooh, it was dreadful,” she said with relish. “It happened right in here. I died in this very stall. I remember it so well. I’d hidden because Olive Hornby was teasing me about my glasses. The door was locked, and I was crying, and then I heard somebody come in. They said something funny. A different language, I think it must have been. Anyway, what really got me was that it was a boy speaking. So I unlocked the door, to tell him to go and use his own toilet, and then —” Myrtle swelled importantly, her face shining. “I died.”

“How?” said Harry.

“No idea,” said Myrtle in hushed tones. “I just remember seeing a pair of great, big, yellow eyes. My whole body sort of seized up, and then I was floating away. …” She looked dreamily at Harry. “And then I came back again. I was determined to haunt Olive Hornby, you see. Oh, she was sorry she’d ever laughed at my glasses.”

“Where exactly did you see the eyes?” said Harry.

“Somewhere there,” said Myrtle, pointing vaguely toward the sink in front of her toilet.

Everyone looked where she pointed, except Lockhart, who was plainly terrified.

It looked like an ordinary sink. They examined every inch of it, inside and out, including the pipes below. And then Harry saw it: Scratched on the side of one of the copper taps was a tiny snake.

“That tap’s never worked,” said Myrtle brightly as he tried to turn it.

“Harry,” said Ron. “Say something. Something in Parseltongue.”

Harry nodded; it made sense. Only, he wasn't sure he could do it without a real snake there. But he focused on the feeling of it, and spoke.

'Open,' he said.

At once the tap glowed with a brilliant white light and began to spin. Next second, the sink began to move; the sink, in fact, sank, right out of sight, leaving a large pipe exposed, a pipe wide enough for a man to slide into.

Harry heard Ron gasp and looked up again. He had made up his mind what he was going to do.

“I’m going down there,” he said.

Ron nodded. “Me too.”

“And me,” Hermione said. “If there's any chance at all Ginny's still alive, we need to go.”

“Well you seem to have things covered, then, so I'll just be going now,” Lockhart said. He made for the door, but all five of their wands were pointed at him, which drove him toward the opening.

“Remember,” Harry said, “you're our human shield.”

“Me? But why?”

“Better you than us.”

“Um... good point there.”

Ron jabbed him with his wand, making the wand spark dangerously, and Lockhart fell hollering down the hole.

“Really quite disgusting down here,” they finally heard him comment.

Harry approached the lip of the pipe and sent a scourgify spell down there before jumping in. It didn't really help, as he got dirty anyway, but he cleaned himself off with his wand when he stood up, keeping a wary eye on Lockhart as he did.

He looked around as the others all took turns coming down, using his lit wand to see in the dark. It was indeed disgusting, with mud and slime and copious rat bones everywhere. They were a long way down, possibly under the lake.

Directing the others to be careful, and shutting their eyes the moment they saw any movement, they continued on through the debris of centuries of snake poop and/or snake vomit, with Lockhart in the lead.

When they turned a corner, they saw something that made them all freeze in terror, but it turned out to just be an enormous snake skin. But while they had their guard down, Lockhart grabbed Ron's wand and jumped back, shouting “Expelliarmus!” at them.

The old, dying wand exploded violently, rocks falling noisily, people screaming and trying to flee. When the dust settled, Harry and Antigone found themselves on one side of a wall of fallen rock.

“Ron! Hermione! Danzia! Are you okay?”

“We're fine,” said Danzia.

“Yeah, we're all fine,” Ron said. “Except for Lockhart, though. Git got blasted by the wand, and... oh shit.”

“What?”

“I... Harry, I think Lockhart is... wait, no, there's a pulse. But he's in a bad way, bleeding from his head.”

“Well... try to stop the bleeding, see if Danzia can help with that. Then try to clear some rocks away. We'll be back later, but we've got to continue on, rescue Ginny if we can. If we're not back in an hour...”

“Gotcha,” Danzia said. Ron repeated her.

“Come on,” Harry said to Antigone.

They continued on, Harry feeling a lot of dread about what would be at the end of the tunnel, but feeling better for having someone here with him. He couldn't see her well in the dark, even with his wand light, but he knew Antigone was there.

He and his friend turned another bend, and saw a solid wall with two entwined serpents there, looking very lifelike. He said 'Open' to them in Parseltongue, and the two halves of the wall split open. Harry, shaking with worry, stepped inside.

As soon as he entered, he turned his head barely in time to see Antigone Disillusion herself and vanish from his vision. She winked at him just before it happened, which made him realize she had a plan. Of course she has a plan, he thought, she's a Slytherin.

He was standing at the end of a very long, dimly lit chamber. Towering stone pillars entwined with more carved serpents rose to support a ceiling lost in darkness, casting long, black shadows through the odd, greenish gloom that filled the place.

He worried that the basilisk might be behind a pillar somewhere, and found himself wishing he knew a spell to make himself temporarily blind. It didn't help his nerves that the columns looked like snakes, and all seemed to be alive.

Then, as he drew level with the last pair of pillars, a statue high as the Chamber itself loomed into view, standing against the back wall.

Harry had to crane his neck to look up into the giant face above: It was ancient and monkeyish, with a long, thin beard that fell almost to the bottom of the wizard’s sweeping stone robes, where two enormous gray feet stood on the smooth Chamber floor. And between the feet, facedown, lay a small, black-robed figure with flaming-red hair.

Every Griffindor instinct he had told him to run to her. But – whether because there was a friendly Slytherin in the room with him or something else, he decided to be more cautious. Remembering some TV shows he'd seen in the past, involving urban warfare, he emulated their behavior, hiding behind columns, looking around for the enemy, ready to shut his eyes at a moment's notice, before finally making it over to her pale body.

He checked for a pulse with his free hand, and while it was weak, it was there. He pointed his wand at her.

Rennervate,” he incanted. But nothing happened.

“She won’t wake,” said a soft voice.

Harry jumped and spun around on his knees.

A tall, black-haired boy was leaning against the nearest pillar, watching. He was strangely blurred around the edges, as though Harry were looking at him through a misted window. But there was no mistaking him.

“Tom Riddle.”

The boy nodded.

“You're doing something to her, aren't you? My friends were right, you are the one opening the Chamber. You're Voldemort.”

“Very good, very good indeed. Yes, Potter, I am the boy who grew up to become the Dark Lord Voldemort. And yes, I am doing something to her. Poor little fool thought I was a mysterious magical friend in a diary, and so she poured her heart into my Diary, which was just what I needed. I fed her a bit of myself in turn, and used her like a puppet. Ginny daubed threatening messages on walls, Ginny killed the school roosters, and set the basilisk on the mudbloods. Or at least, her body did. Ginny had no idea what she was doing, of course. But when she suspected what was going on, she wrote about it to me. At least, until she realized I had something to do with it. Then she tried to get rid of the diary, but it ended up in your hands. Which was excellent, as I have been wanting to meet you for a very long time.”

“I don't doubt it.”

“So now, enough about me. I want to talk about you, Harry Potter.”

Harry considered Ginny, who was fading fast.

“No.”

“No? What do you mean, no?”

“You're probably going to ask me how I survived your killing curse, rendering the other you less than a ghost, right? Well I don't know the answer, and wouldn’t tell you if I did. BOMBARDA!”

The spell passed right through Riddle/Voldemort, doing nothing.

“Ouch, ouch, the pain the pain,” Riddle said in a flat, sarcastic tone. “How ever shall I manage?” Then he grinned viciously. “That won't do much until Ginny is dead, and by then it will be too late. Then you will be faced with the greatest sorcerer who ever lived!”

“No I won't.”

“Pardon?”

“You're not the greatest sorcerer who ever lived. That's Dumbledore.”

Riddle glared at Harry.

“You're trying to goad me, Harry Potter. But I will have that information from you, if I have to wait for Ginny to die so I can torture it out of you.”

“Okay, fine, so I fudged facts a little. Dumbledore said something about my mother dying to protect me being what saved me. But I don't know if that's all there is to it. If it was that simple, I wouldn’t be the first person to survive the killing curse, or even the 100th. I don't have any other explanation, though.”

“Hmm... well, that is enough for me to extrapolate what happened. But I shall be like you, and keep the information from you. You seem in a hurry to die, anyway, so I shall call the basilisk to kill you.”

He turned to the giant statue of Salazar Slytherin and said in Parseltongue, 'Salazar Slytherin, greatest of the Hogwarts four, speak to me!'

Harry spotted the Diary, then, and grabbed it, tossing it somewhere where he could hit it with another bombarda spell. He hit it with the spell, but nothing happened.

“Foolish boy! That will not work! No spell you can squeeze out of your pitiful wand will hurt me!”

The statue's mouth was opening now, and Harry caught a glimpse of movement and something acid green, before he turned away, snatching up the Diary as he ran off. He wondered, as he hid from the basilisk, where Antigone had gone. He tried putting himself in her shoes, so to speak. She would want to observe the situation and then try to work out the best course of action. But what was that? He was only a second year student, and she was two years ahead of him. And what could a fourth year do in this situation? What could even a fully qualified wizard do against an old monster and his even older pet monster snake? About his only real hope was that Riddle was no more intelligent or skilled than he'd been at 16, but that assumed the elder Voldemort hadn't written in his Diary since then, to keep his younger self up to date.

Then there was a strange, ethereal birdsong, and a beautiful red and gold feathered bird flew into the room, dropping something on Harry before flying over to the basilisk and attacking it. At least, it sounded like an attack; Harry had his eyes closed, but he could hear inhuman screaming and wet sounds like talons through meat.

NO!” Harry heard Riddle screaming. “LEAVE THE BIRD! LEAVE THE BIRD! THE BOY IS BEHIND YOU! YOU CAN STILL SMELL HIM! KILL HIM!

Harry opened his eyes to look at the basilisk, and saw that it was blinded. But he barely had time to process this fact before various destructive spells hit the basilisk's side from another place. He looked to the source and saw nobody, which told him Antigone was still Disillusioned. Smart, that; hard to hit a target you can't see.

But not smart enough. The basilisk was momentarily confused, probably smelling both him and Antigone, and not sure which to attack. But since her spells hadn't done more than annoy it, it went off in Harry's direction. He ran, holding the thing the bird (a phoenix?) had dropped on him, recognizing it as the Sorting Hat. That was absurd! The bird had at least blinded the basilisk, but what good was the Sorting Hat?

Well, information is power, and this hat contains the minds of the four House founders, so I guess I'll try that.

Harry found a place to hide, sliding between some bars that the basilisk wouldn’t be able to fit through, and put the Hat on his head.

Help me! Sorting Hat, you're here for a reason! I need help! Something, anything!

There was no answering voice. Instead, the hat contracted, as though an invisible hand was squeezing it very tightly.

Something very hard and heavy thudded onto the top of Harry’s head, almost knocking him out. Stars winking in front of his eyes, he grabbed the top of the hat to pull it off and felt something long and hard beneath it.

A gleaming silver sword had appeared inside the hat, its handle glittering with rubies the size of eggs.

“This will do,” he said. Then, in a sudden inspiration, he crept over to the current source of Antigone's spells, and found her by bumping into her.

“Ow! Harry, what are you doing?”

“Put this on your head! It gave me a sword, maybe it'll give you something, too.”

“What?”

“Just do it!”

“Fine, fine. Cover me.”

“Cover you?” he asked, confused.

“You know, cover fire?”

“Okay,” he said. And, taking her literally, cast fireballs at the basilisk. Which, of course, bounced right off its hide, and it ignored them, still sniffing for him. But it bought time for Antigone to put on the hat and presumably ask for help.

“Ouch! What the...?”

It was very weird seeing a hat floating on a Disillusioned person. It was even weirder seeing said person pull a plain-looking sword out of the hat, and toss the hat aside. But the sword, for all it looked normal, wasn't. In Antigone's hands, its blade glowed red-hot and caught fire.

“A flaming sword. Pretty awesome,” Antigone said. “Shall we?”

“Yes.”

The two friends charged the basilisk, hacking pieces off the giant snake; the pieces Antigone hacked off became great burns on the creature's flank.

In rage, it turned its head and tried biting them, but that made its head their new target. One of them even managed to cut one of its enormous curved fangs off, where it went clattering away.

“You keep hacking its head, I have an idea,” Harry said.

“Okay.”

He stabbed the thing in the side and held on, remembering something he'd read in Dune by Frank Herbert, and hoping he wasn't just being an idiot. But sure enough, the basilisk turned its body away from the wound, pulling him up on top of it. Only then did he pull out the sword, and made his way up its length as best he could without falling over, up to the back of its head. It was a struggle, getting to the right spot, but when he did, he rammed the sword into the back of its neck, killing it. Antigone leapt backwards as its head fell.

“NOOOO!” Riddle screamed, at his snake being killed.

When Riddle calmed down, though, he sneered at them.

“No matter. Soon Ginny Weasley will be dead, and I will live again, then I will kill you both!”

Harry looked at the severed fang, and figured that any creature that could kill by looking at you might have venom powerful enough to destroy the undestroyable, so he grabbed the fang by its base, took out the Diary, and stabbed it with the fang.

There was a long, dreadful, piercing scream. Ink spurted out of the diary in torrents, streaming over Harry’s hands, flooding the floor. Riddle was writhing and twisting, screaming and flailing and then...

He had gone. Harry’s wand fell to the floor with a clatter and there was silence. Silence except for the steady drip drip of ink still oozing from the diary. The basilisk venom had burned a sizzling hole right through it.

“We should come back down here sometime,” Antigone said, after making herself visible again. “Basilisk venom, basilisk skin, and who knows what else... probably worth millions.

Harry shrugged, being too keen on going over to check on Ginny, who was waking up. Antigone, in the meantime, was staring thoughtfully at the flaming sword, trying to figure out how to turn it off.

When Ginny sat up, she looked bemusedly at Harry and the dead basilisk, and the ink on Harry's hands from the dying diary. Then she looked over at Antigone, who had put the Sorting Hat back on to ask it how to turn the flaming sword off. She drew a great, shuddering gasp and tears began to pour down her face.

“Harry — oh, Harry — I tried to tell you at b-breakfast, but I c-couldn’t say it in front of Percy — it was me, Harry — but I — I s-swear I d-didn’t mean to — R-Riddle made me, he t-took me over — and — how did you kill that — that thing? W-where’s Riddle? The last thing I r-remember is him coming out of the diary...”

“It’s all right,” said Harry, holding up the diary, and showing Ginny the fang hole, “Riddle’s finished. Look! Him and the basilisk. C’mon, Ginny, let’s get out of here.”

“Yeah, short stuff,” Antigone said, the sword finally cooling down. “No lasting harm done. We're all alive.”

“I’m going to be expelled!” Ginny wept as Harry helped her awkwardly to her feet. “I’ve looked forward to coming to Hogwarts ever since B-Bill came and n-now I’ll have to leave and — w-what’ll Mum and Dad say?

“Probably be glad you're alive, I'd reckon.”

Harry urged Ginny up and over to the Chamber entrance, where the phoenix was waiting for them. When they got up to it, he thought he recognized something in its eyes.

“Fawkes?” he asked.

It sang in response, its eyes twinkling like Dumbledore's did. He took that as a yes.

So the three of them started their way out the Chamber and into the tunnel, back to where the others were waiting, lit only by the light of their wands, and light emanating from the phoenix's feathers.

When they heard the sound of rocks being shifted, Harry called out.

“Ron! Hermione! Danzia! I've got Ginny! All three of us are alive!”

They heard three cheers, and saw a huge hole in the fallen stones. Ron and the two girls had been clearing stone the whole time, though right now Danzia was casting spells to keep what they'd cleared from causing another collapse, strengthening the remaining stone.

“Ginny!” Ron ran to her and hugged her. “You’re alive! I don’t believe it! What happened? How — what — where did that bird come from?”

“He belongs to Dumbledore. Not sure how he knew to show up, but he was a life saver.”

“You've both got swords! How'd you get those?”

“From the Sorting Hat, oddly enough,” Antigone said. “Mine doesn't look like much, but when needed, it catches fire. A flaming sword! Biblical power! And it's got Slytherin's crest on it. Harry got what I think is Griffindor's sword, and I got Slytherin's sword.”

“We should get out of here, now. Where's Lockhart?”

“He's still where he was,” Hermione said as everyone passed back through the hole to the escape side. “We got the bleeding to stop, but he hasn't woken up yet. Rennervate didn't work, and I'm afraid to try again, or to move him. We need to get Madam Pomfrey down here. Is it... is it safe to leave him here for now?”

“Well the Heir and the basilisk are both dead, if that's what you mean. But someone should stay with him until we can get Pomfrey down here, just in case of like, rats or something.”

“I'll do it,” Danzia volunteered.

“Okay, the rest of us will go on. I'll be back for you two.”

“Understood.”

Ginny and the others continued on to the place where the pipe came out at.

“Damn. How're we gonna get out, mate?”

Fawkes the phoenix had swooped past Harry and was now fluttering in front of him, his beady eyes bright in the dark. He was waving his long golden tail feathers. Harry looked uncertainly at him.

“He looks like he wants you to grab hold …” said Ron, looking perplexed. “But you’re much too heavy for a bird to pull up there.”

“Ronald, Fawkes is a phoenix,” Hermione said. “They can carry immensely heavy loads, and their tears have healing pow--”

“Okay okay, I got it. Thanks, 'mione.”

It took a bit of work, but they managed to daisy-chain themselves to the phoenix, who lifted them all up in such a way that Harry thought the bird had to have cast some sort of version of a feather-light charm.

When they alighted on the bathroom floor, Myrtle gasped.

“You're alive? Except... two of you are missing.”

“Lockhart is wounded, so Danzia is tending to him. I'll go back for them later. For now, we have to get Madam Pomfrey.”

“Why, Myrtle? You disappointed?”

“Well, I was just thinking, if you died, Harry, you're welcome to share my---”

“Thanks, but no thanks. Come on, let's go before the school is closed.”

“Where now?” said Ron, with an anxious look at Ginny, who was still crying. Harry pointed.

Fawkes was leading the way, glowing gold along the corridor. They all strode after him, and moments later, found themselves outside Professor McGonagall’s office.

Harry knocked and pushed the door open.

For a moment, as the five of them stood there, covered in slime, dust, and – in Harry's case – ink, there was silence. Then there was a scream, as Mrs. Weasley – tearful with joyous relief, flung herself at her daughter, hugging her like she'd never let go again.

“You saved her! How?”

“I think we’d all like to know that,” said Professor McGonagall weakly.

Mrs. Weasley let go of Harry, who hesitated for a moment, then walked over to the desk and laid upon it the Sorting Hat, the ruby-encrusted sword, and what remained of Riddle’s diary. Antigone followed him, putting her own sword down next to his.

It took an hour for the two of them to relate the tale of what had happened. As soon as they mentioned about Lockhart and Danzia being down there still – and how Harry had left the door open – McGonagall sent something silver out of the room, and soon Madam Pomfrey was there, being directed to where a patient was. She nodded, and left at once.

Then they got to the part of the story that included Ginny, and they both paused, looking at one another. How to tell the tale without implicating Ginny? But Antigone winked quickly at him and took over the tale, telling the truth but leaving out Ginny's involvement. Harry tried hard to keep his face from betraying his thoughts, which were that the story had a massive hole in it.

Instinctively, Harry looked at Dumbledore, who smiled faintly, the firelight glancing off his half-moon spectacles.

“What interests me most,” said Dumbledore gently, “is how Lord Voldemort managed to enchant Ginny, when my sources tell me he is currently in hiding in the forests of Albania.”

Antigone frowned at Harry as if to say 'Gee thanks, I go to all that trouble and you ruin it. Silly kid.' But Harry didn't mind. They would have pointed out the hole in the story eventually.

“W-what’s that?” said Mr. Weasley in a stunned voice. “You-Know-Who? En-enchant Ginny? But Ginny’s not … Ginny hasn’t been … has she?”

“It was this diary,” said Harry quickly, picking it up and showing it to Dumbledore. “Riddle wrote it when he was sixteen. …”

Dumbledore picked up the diary, admiring the genius of it, which Harry thought a bit odd, but then, it was Dumbledore, who had always been odd. He listened with half his attention as the others put everything else together, about Riddle being Voldemort, and how that connected to the Diary.

Then Dumbledore was calling for Ginny to go to the hospital wing, and also mentioned that Madam Pomfrey had been in the process of giving the basilisk's victims Mandrake Restorative Draught when she'd been called away. Everyone was going to be okay!

After calling, also, for a celebratory feast, Dumbledore ushered the adults and Ginny out of the room.

“Misters Potter and Weasley,” he said. “Ms. Dreyfuss, and Ms. Granger. You and Ms. McCullough will all be receiving special awards for services to the school, for your brave acts today. And one hundred points apiece for the three Griffindors, I think. Also, one hundred and fifty points to each of the Slytherins, which evens things out, as there were only two this time around. Hmm... that puts Griffindor in the lead on points. We can't have that, can we? I'll give Ms. Whitechapel another 50 points to Slytherin, so we once more have a tie between the two houses, and a shared house cup once more. Which is only fitting, as it was a joint effort.”

Several of them cheered. Even Hermione, who hadn't cheered, beamed instead.

“Now, Mr. Weasley and Ms. Granger, if you wouldn't mind going to the hospital wing too, just in case. There was a rockslide, after all.”

They nodded, and left. Dumbledore waited a few heartbeats after the door closed, then turned to Harry and Antigone.

“Sit down, you two, please.”

They did sit, feeling nervous about what they were going to be talking with Dumbledore about.

“First of all, Harry, I want to thank you,” said Dumbledore, eyes twinkling again. “You must have shown me real loyalty down in the Chamber. Nothing but that could have called Fawkes to you.”

He stroked the phoenix, which had fluttered down onto his knee. Harry grinned awkwardly as Dumbledore watched him.

“Secondly, I want to remark upon something else that happened down there in the chamber. It is no surprise to me that someone as brave as Harry called Griffindor's sword in an hour of need. But for all that Griffindor House focuses on bravery over other things, the other Houses value it as well. If that were not the case, Ms. Dreyfuss, the Flaming Sword of Slytherin would not have come to you.”

Antigone beamed.

“Of course, they are historical relics, and belong to the school, so you will not be getting them back.”

Harry nodded, fully expecting that. Antigone looked disappointed, though.

“Now, Ms. Dreyfuss, I would like to talk with Mr. Potter alone, if you please.”

“Um... Harry?”

“Go ahead.”

“Okay,” she said, smiling, taking one last look at the currently inactive sword she'd pulled out of
the Hat before she did.

“So, Harry,” Dumbledore said when they were alone together. “You met Tom Riddle. I suspect he was rather eager to meet you.”

“Yes. He wanted to know how I survived as a baby. I told him what you told me, that it was my mother dying to save me.”

He briefly considered telling the man the rest of what he'd said, but decided that Dumbledore might not even know more himself, as unprecedented as the whole thing was.

“Did he make any other remarks? Did he, for instance, comment on your similarities?”

“Our similarities? What do you mean?”

“Well, you're both orphans, both half-bloods raised by Muggles, both highly intelligent, and when Riddle was young, his home situation was also rather less than ideal. Nobody at the orphanage ever liked him, you see, even as a small child. Even as a baby, the fact that he never cried rather disturbed a lot of people there, among other issues.”

Harry was confused.

“Yeah, those are all good points, but... well, I'm black and he's not, and I have autism and he doesn't. Though I wouldn't call him normal by any means. Pretty sure he's either a psychopath or a sociopath, but I don't know which; I always get those two confused. But now you mention it, there is something else as well.”

“What is that, Mr. Potter?”
“Well... I'm only telling you this because I get the sense you're wise enough to be discreet about it, and also it's been bugging me for a long time, the coincidence of it all, but... you see, I'm a Parselmouth.”

Dumbledore nodded. “I did wonder, given what I know of what Tom has been up to over the years, and given the intelligence I've received that your scar hurts you sometimes, if perhaps Tom accidentally transferred some of his powers to you. It is rather too coincidental to be coincidence, you two having that same ability, when none before you in your family's history had the same gift.”

“You knew my scar was hurting me?”

“Oh yes, I hear things here and there. I wasn't certain of it, though, until you confirmed it.”

“So he accidentally gave me one of his powers the night he tried to kill me? How does that work?”

“Ah, well, that is rather complicated I'm afraid, and contains information that I do not think appropriate for one so young as yourself just yet, Harry, but in time I will fill you in on what little I know of the situation, and the much greater amount that I have deduced about it. But not today, I'm afraid.”

Harry didn't like that much. He opened his mouth to argue, but then someone came into the room with a slam of the door and marched over to Dumbledore's desk. It was a white-blond man Harry instantly recognized as Draco's father. The man looked absolutely livid. And cowering behind his legs, heavily wrapped in bandages, was Dobby.

“You! So you've come back, have you? The governors suspended you, and yet you dare--”

“Yes, Lucius, I am back. When Ginny Weasley was taken into the Chamber of Secrets, the other governors seemed to think I was the best man for the job after all. And very odd stories they told me, too; according to them, the only reason they voted me out to begin with was because you threatened their families if they did not comply.”

Mr. Malfoy went even paler than usual, but his eyes were still slits of fury.

“So — have you stopped the attacks yet?” he sneered. “Have you caught the culprit?”

“We have,” said Dumbledore, with a smile.

Well?” said Mr. Malfoy sharply. “Who is it?”

“The same person as last time, Lucius,” said Dumbledore. “But this time, Lord Voldemort was acting through somebody else. By means of this diary.”

He held up the small black book with the large hole through the center, watching Mr. Malfoy closely. Harry, however, was watching Dobby.

The elf was doing something very odd. His great eyes fixed meaningfully on Harry, he kept pointing at the diary, then at Mr. Malfoy, and then hitting himself hard on the head with his fist.

“I see …” said Mr. Malfoy slowly to Dumbledore.

“A clever plan,” said Dumbledore in a level voice, still staring Mr. Malfoy straight in the eye. “Because if Harry here” — Mr. Malfoy shot Harry a swift, sharp look — “and his friends hadn’t discovered this book, why — Ginny Weasley might have taken all the blame. No one would ever have been able to prove she hadn’t acted of her own free will. …”

Mr. Malfoy said nothing. His face was suddenly masklike.

“And imagine,” Dumbledore went on, “what might have happened then. … The Weasleys are one of our most prominent pure-blood families. Imagine the effect on Arthur Weasley and his Muggle Protection Act, if his own daughter was discovered attacking and killing Muggle-borns. … Very fortunate the diary was discovered, and Riddle’s memories wiped from it. Who knows what the consequences might have been otherwise. …”

Mr. Malfoy forced himself to speak.

“Very fortunate,” he said stiffly.

And still, behind his back, Dobby was pointing, first to the diary, then to Lucius Malfoy, then punching himself in the head.

And Harry suddenly understood. He nodded at Dobby, and Dobby backed into a corner, now twisting his ears in punishment.

“Don’t you want to know how Ginny got hold of that diary, Mr. Malfoy?” said Harry.

Lucius Malfoy rounded on him.

“How should I know how the stupid little girl got hold of it?” he said.

“Because you gave it to her,” said Harry. “In Flourish and Blotts. You picked up her old Transfiguration book and slipped the diary inside it, didn’t you? I didn't witness it, but I heard about the fight you picked with Mr. Weasley.”

“Why don't you prove it!”

“Oh, no one will be able to do that,” said Dumbledore, smiling at Harry. “Not now that Riddle has vanished from the book. On the other hand, I would advise you, Lucius, not to go giving out any more of Lord Voldemort’s old school things. If any more of them find their way into innocent hands, I think Arthur Weasley, for one, will make sure they are traced back to you.”

Lucius Malfoy stood for a moment, and Harry distinctly saw his right hand twitch as though he was longing to reach for his wand. Instead, he turned to his house-elf.

“We’re going, Dobby!”

He wrenched open the door and as the elf came hurrying up to him, he kicked him right through it. They could hear Dobby squealing with pain all the way along the corridor. Harry stood for a moment, thinking hard. Then it came to him —

“Professor Dumbledore,” he said hurriedly. “Can I give that diary back to Mr. Malfoy, please?”

“Certainly, Harry,” said Dumbledore calmly. “But hurry. The feast, remember. …”

Harry grabbed the diary and dashed out of the office. He could hear Dobby’s squeals of pain receding around the corner. Quickly, wondering if this plan could possibly work, Harry took off one of his shoes, pulled off his slimy, filthy sock, and stuffed the diary into it. Then he ran down the dark corridor.

What happened next was both brilliant and kind of stupid. Brilliant, that part is obvious, but stupid that it worked. Mr. Malfoy took the diary out of the sock and – incredibly – he absent-mindedly tossed the sock to the side, and Dobby caught it. Which of course meant Dobby was free; and judging by Dobby's tone of voice and watering eyes when he said 'Dobby is free!' about himself, the elf was ecstatic about it.

Mr. Malfoy was, naturally, pissed as all Hell about it, and drew his wand, ready to hex Harry, but Dobby defended him with his elf magic, throwing the racist git to the ground and scaring him off at last. The man said something along the lines of “You haven't seen the last of me, you meddling kid” and took off in a huff.

Once Harry was safe from his old master, Dobby too took off, to enjoy his freedom. And Harry left for the impromptu feast Dumbledore had called for, wondering all the way there if the tie would persist until the end of term, then deciding Dumbledore would likely ensure it would.

As a school treat, and understandable given the circumstances of that year, Dumbledore canceled all the exams, leaving the rest of the term for everyone to enjoy and play in the sunshine until the Hogwarts Express would take them back home.

Professor Lockhart had suffered brain damage from the cave-in, and was still in a coma. Nobody knew if he would wake up, or when, or how he would be when he did. Lucius Malfoy had also been sacked as a school governor, for his part in the whole thing (the parts they could prove, anyway).

Ginny Weasley, on the other hand, was feeling a lot better. She had to see a mind healer because of the trauma of having her mind repeatedly violated, and then the stuff down in the chamber, but she was already doing a lot better by the end of the year.

Hagrid also came back from Azkaban, a little shaken up but otherwise unharmed.

On the train home, Harry found out why Percy had scared Ginny off when she was trying to tell Harry about her role in things, and also why Percy was so weird about it to Ron and Hermione; apparently he and the Ravenclaw prefect Penelope Clearwater were a couple, and Ginny had caught them snogging; Percy had thought Ginny was going to tell on him.

On a more positive note, Harry made sure to give his phone number to his friends, with instructions on how to use a phone for those who needed them, though he didn't think Dobby would be a problem anymore, and there was always Netty anyway.

Then, as they pulled into the station, he prepared himself for another summer with the Dursleys. He smiled when he saw Dumbledore at the platform waiting for him in another lurid three-piece suit that drew quite as much attention as the man's wizard robes would have, and took his headmaster's hand once they were somewhere safe to Apparate from. And with a twirl, they were away.

Endnote one: Vocabo acidum – the acid-conjuring spell – is my own creation, for this fic.

Endnote two: Sorry for the long wait. Hope the long chapter made up for it. :-)



If you liked this post, you can leave a comment and/or a kudos!
Click the Thumbs Up! button below to leave the author a kudos:
up
83 users have voted.

And please, remember to comment, too! Thanks. 
This story is 13757 words long.