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Post Reply Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets
Posted 12/14/07
CHAPTER SIXTEEN
THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS

“All those times we were in that bathroom, and she was just three toilets away,” said Ron bitterly at breakfast next day, “and we could've asked her, and now ..”
It had been hard enough trying to look for spiders. Escaping their teachers long enough to sneak into a girls' bathroom, the girls' bathroom, moreover, right next to the scene of the first attack, was going to be almost impossible.
But something happened in their first lesson, Transfiguration, that drove the Chamber of Secrets out of their minds for the first time in weeks. Ten minutes into the class, Professor McGonagall told them that their exams would start on the first of June, one week from today.
“Exams?” howled Seamus Finnigan. “We're still getting exams?”
There was a loud bang behind Harry as Neville Longbottom's wand slipped, vanishing one of the legs on his desk. Professor McGonagall restored it with a wave of her own wand, and turned, frowning, to Seamus.
“The whole point of keeping the school open at this time is for you to receive your education,” she said sternly. “The exams will therefore take place as usual, and I trust you are all studying hard.”
Studying hard! It had never occurred to Harry that there would be exams with the castle in this state. There was a great deal of mutinous muttering around the room, which made Professor McGonagall scowl even more darkly.
“Professor Dumbledore's instructions were to keep the school running as normally as possible, she said. “And that, I need hardly point out, means finding out how much you have learned this year.
Harry looked down at the pair of white rabbits he was supposed to be turning into slippers. What had he learned so far this year? He couldn't seem to think of anything that would be useful in an exam.
Ron 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.
Three days before their first exam, Professor McGonagall made another announcement at breakfast.
“I have good news,” she said, and the Great Hall, instead of falling silent, erupted.
“Dumbledore's coming back!” several people yelled joyfully.
“You've caught the Heir of Slytherin!” squealed a girl at the Ravenclaw table.
“Quidditch matches are back on!” roared Wood excitedly.
When the hubbub had subsided, Professor McGonagall said, “Professor Sprout has informed me that the Mandrakes are ready for cutting at last. Tonight, we will be able to revive those people who have been Petrified. I need hardly remind you all that one of them may well be able to tell us who, or what, attacked them. I am hopeful that this dreadful year will end with our catching the culprit.”
There was an explosion of cheering. Harry looked over at the Slytherin table and wasn't at all surprised to see that Draco Malfoy hadn't joined in. Ron, however, was looking happier than he'd looked in days.
“It won't matter that we never asked Myrtle, then!” he said to Harry. “Hermione'll probably have all the answers when they wake her up! Mind you, she'll go crazy when she finds out we've got exams in three days' time. She hasn't studied. It might be kinder to leave her where she is till they're over.”
Just then, Ginny Weasley came over and sat down next to Ron. She looked tense and nervous, and Harry noticed that her hands were twisting in her lap.
“What's up?” said Ron, helping himself to more porridge.
Ginny didn't say anything, but glanced up and down the Gryffindor table with a scared look on her face that reminded Harry of someone, though he couldn't think who.
“Spit it out,” said Ron, watching her.
Harry suddenly realized who Ginny looked like. She was rocking backward and forward slightly in her chair, exactly like Dobby did when he was teetering on the edge of revealing forbidden information.
“I've got to tell you something,” Ginny mumbled, carefully not looking at Harry.
“What is it?” said Harry.
Ginny looked as though she couldn't find the right words.
“What?” said Ron.
Ginny opened her mouth, but no sound came out. Harry leaned forward and spoke quietly, so that only Ginny and Ron could hear him.
“Is it something about the Chamber of Secrets? Have you seen something? Someone acting oddly?”
Ginny drew a deep breath and, at that precise moment, 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. Percy sat down and grabbed a mug from the center of the table.
“Percy!” said Ron angrily. “She was just about to tell us some-' thing important!”
Halfway through a gulp of tea, Percy choked.
“What sort of thing?” he said, coughing.
“I just asked her if she'd seen anything odd, and she started to say
“Oh—that—that's nothing to do with the Chamber of Secrets,” said Percy at once.
“How do you know?” said Ron, his eyebrows raised.
“Well, er, if you must know, Ginny, er, walked in on me the other day when I was—well, never mind—the point is, she spotted me doing something and I, um, I asked her not to mention it to anybody. I must say, I did think she'd keep her word. It's nothing, really, Id just rather—”

Harry had never seen Percy look so uncomfortable.
“What were you doing, Percy?” said Ron, grinning. “Go on, tell us, we won't laugh.”
Percy didn't smile back.
“Pass me those rolls, Harry, I'm starving.”
Harry knew the whole mystery might be solved tomorrow without their help, but he wasn't about to pass up a chance to speak to Myrtle if it turned up—and to his delight it did, midmorning, when they were being led to History of Magic by Gilderoy Lockhart.
Lockhart, who had so often assured them that all danger had passed, only to be proved wrong right away, was now wholeheartedly convinced that it was hardly worth the trouble to see them safely down the corridors. His hair wasn't as sleek as usual; it seemed he had been up most of the night, patrolling the fourth floor.
“Mark my words,” he said, ushering them around a corner. “The first words out of those poor Petrified people's mouths will be “It was Hagrid.” Frankly, I'm astounded Professor McGonagall thinks all these security measures are necessary.”
“I agree, sir,” said Harry, making Ron drop his books in surprise.
“Thank you, Harry, said Lockhart graciously while they waited for a long line of Hufflepuffs to pass. “I mean, we teachers have quite enough to be getting on with, without walking students to classes and standing guard all night...”
“That's right,” said Ron, catching on. “Why don't you leave us here, sir, we've only got one more corridor to go—”
“You know, Weasley, I think I will,” said Lockhart. “I really should go and prepare my next class—”
And he hurried off.
“Prepare his class,” Ron sneered after him. “Gone to curl his hair, more like.”
They let the rest of the Gryffindors draw ahead of them, then darted down a side passage and hurried off toward Moaning Myrtle's bathroom. But just as they were congratulating each other on their brilliant scheme
“Potter! Weasley! What are you doing?”
It was Professor McGonagall, and her mouth was the thinnest of thin lines.
“We were -we were-” Ron stammered. “We were going to—to go and see—”
“Hermione,” said Harry. Ron and Professor McGonagall both looked at him.
“We haven't seen her for ages, Professor,” Harry went on hurriedly, treading on Ron's foot, “and we thought we'd sneak into the hospital wing, you know, and tell her the Mandrakes are nearly ready and, er, not to worry—”
Professor McGonagall was still staring at him, and for a moment, Harry thought she was going to explode, but when she spoke, it was in a strangely croaky voice.
“Of course,” she said, and Harry, amazed, saw a tear glistening in her beady eye. “Of course, I realize this has all been hardest on the friends of those who have been... I quite understand. Yes, Potter, of course you may visit Miss Granger. I will inform Professor Binns where you've gone. Tell Madam Pomfrey I have given my permission.”
Harry and Ron walked away, hardly daring to believe that they'd avoided detention. As they turned the corner, they distinctly heard Professor McGonagall blow her nose.
“That,” said Ron fervently, “was the best story you've ever come up with.”
They had no choice now but to go to the hospital wing and tell Madam Pomfrey that they had Professor McGonagall's permission to visit Hermione.
Madam Pomfrey let them in, but reluctantly.
“There's just no point talking to a Petrified. person,” she said, and they had to admit she had a point when they'd taken their seats next to Hermione. It was plain that Hermione didn't have the faintest inkling that she had visitors, and that they might just as well tell her bedside cabinet not to worry for all the good it would do.
“Wonder if she did see the attacker, though?” said Ron, looking sadly at Hermione's rigid face. “Because if he sneaked up on them all, no one'll ever know...”
But Harry wasn't looking at Hermione's face. He was more interested in her right hand. It lay clenched on top of her blankets, and bending closer, he saw that a piece of paper was scrunched inside her fist.
Making sure that Madam Pomfrey was nowhere near, he pointed this out to Ron.
“TG and get it out,” Ron whispered, shifting his chair so that he blocked Harry from Madam Pomfrey's view.
It was no easy task. Hermione's hand was clamped so tightly around the paper that Harry was sure he was going to tear it. While Ron kept watch he tugged and twisted, and at last, after several tense minutes, the paper came free.
It was a page torn from a very old library book. Harry smoothed it out eagerly and Ron leaned close to read it, too.
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.
And beneath this, a single word had been written, in a hand Harry recognized as Hermione's. Pipes.
It was as though somebody had just flicked a light on in his brain.
“Ron,” he breathed. “This is it. This is the answer. The monster in the Chamber's a basilisk—a giant serpent! That why I've been hearing that voice all over the place, and nobody else has heard it. It's because I understand Parseltongue...”
Harry looked up at the beds around him.
“The basilisk kills people by looking at them. But no one's died—because no one looked it straight in the eye. Colin saw it through his camera. The basilisk burned up all the film inside it, but Colin just got Petrified. Justin... Justin must've seen the basilisk through Nearly Headless Nick! Nick got the full blast of it, but he couldn't die again... and Hermione and that Ravenclaw prefect were found with a mirror next to them. Hermione had just realized the monster was a basilisk. I bet you anything she warned the first person she met to look around corners with a mirror first! And that girl pulled out her mirror—and—”
Rods jaw had dropped.
“And Mrs. Norris?” he whispered eagerly.
Harry thought hard, picturing the scene on the night of Halloween.
“The water...” he said slowly. “The flood from Moaning Myrtle's bathroom. I bet you Mrs. Norris only saw the reflection...”
He scanned the page in his hand eagerly. The more he looked at it, the more it made sense.
“...The crowing of the rooster... is fatal to it!” he read aloud. “Hagrid's roosters were killed! The Heir of Slytherin didn't want one anywhere near the castle once the Chamber was opened! Spiders flee before it! It all fits!”
“But how's the basilisk been getting around the place?” said Ron. “A giant snake... Someone would've seen...”
Harry, however, pointed at the word Hermione had scribbled at the foot of the page.
“Pipes,” he said. “Pipes... Ron, it's been using the plumbing. I've been hearing that voice inside the walls...”

Ron suddenly grabbed Harry's arm.
“The entrance to the Chamber of Secrets!” he said hoarsely. “What if it's a bathroom? What if it's in—”
“Moaning Myrtle's bathroom, “said Harry.
They sat there, excitement coursing through them, hardly able to believe it.
“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.”
“What're we going to do?” said Ron, whose eyes were flashing. “Should we go straight to McGonagall?”
“Let's go to the staff room,” said Harry, jumping up. “She'll be there in ten minutes. It's nearly break.”
They ran downstairs. Not wanting to be discovered hanging around in another corridor, they went straight into the deserted staff room. It was a large, paneled room full of dark, wooden chairs. Harry and Ron paced around it, too excited to sit down.
But the bell to signal break 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 staff room. Immediately, please.”
Harry wheeled around to stare at Ron.

“Not another attack? Not now?”
“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.”
They hid themselves inside it, listening to the rumbling of hundreds of people moving overhead, and the staff room door banging 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.
“It has happened,” she told the silent staff room. “A student has been taken by the monster. Right into the Chamber itself.”
Professor Flitwick let out a squeal. Professor Sprout clapped her hands over her mouth. Snape gripped the back of a chair very hard and said, “How can you be sure?”
“The Heir of Slytherin,” said Professor McGonagall, who was very white, “left another message. Right underneath the first one. Her skeleton will lie in the Chamber forever.”
Professor Flitwick burst into tears.
“Who is it?” said Madam Hooch, who had sunk, weak-kneed, into a chair. “Which student?”
“Ginny Weasley,” said Professor McGonagall.
Harry felt Ron slide silently down onto the wardrobe floor beside him.
“We shall have to send all the students home tomorrow,” said Professor McGonagall. “This is the end of Hogwarts. Dumbledore always said...”
The staff-room door banged open again. For one wild moment, Harry was sure it would be Dumbledore. But it was Lockhart, and he was beaming.
“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.”
Lockhart blanched.
“That's right, Gilderoy,” chipped in Professor Sprout. “Weren't you saying just last night that you've known all along where the entrance to the Chamber of Secrets is?”
“I—well, I -“sputtered Lockhart.
“Yes, didn't you tell me you were sure you knew what was inside it?” piped up Professor Flitwick.
“D-did I? I don't recall—”
“I certainly remember you saying you were sorry you hadn't had a crack at the monster before Hagrid was arrested,” said Snape. “Didn't you say that the whole affair had been bungled, and that you should have been given a free rein from the first?”
Lockhart stared around at his stony-faced colleagues.
“I—I really never—you may have misunderstood—”
“We'll leave it to you, then, Gilderoy,” said Professor McGonagall. “Tonight will be an excellent time to do it. We'll make sure everyone's out of your way. You'll be able to tackle the monster all by yourself. A free rein at last.”
Lockhart gazed desperately around him, but nobody came to the rescue. He didn't look remotely handsome anymore. His lip was trembling, and in the absence of his usually toothy grin, he looked weak-chinned and feeble.
“V—very well,” he said. “I'll—I'll be in my office, getting—getting ready.”
And he left the room.
“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.
It was probably the worst day of Harry's entire life. He, Ron, Fred, and George sat together in a corner of the Gryffindor common room, unable to say anything to each other. Percy wasn't there. He had gone to send an owl to Mr. and Mrs. Weasley, then shut himself up in his dormitory.
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, Harry,” said Ron, speaking for the first time since they had entered the wardrobe in the staff room. “That's why she was taken. 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 was a pureblood. There can't be any other reason.”
Harry could see the sun sinking, blood-red, below the skyline. This was the worst he had ever felt. If only there was something they could do. Anything.
“Harry” said Ron. “D'you think there's any chance at all she's not—you know—”
Harry didn't know what to say. He couldn't see how Ginny could still be alive.
“D'you know what?” said Ron. “I think we should go and see Lockhart. Tell him what we know. He's going to try and get into the Chamber. We can tell him where we think it is, and tell him it's a basilisk in there.”
Because Harry couldn't think of anything else to do, and because he wanted to be doing something, he agreed. The Gryffindors around them were so miserable, and felt so sorry for the Weasleys, that nobody tried to stop them as they got up, crossed the room, and left through the portrait hole.
Darkness was falling as they walked down to Lockhart's office. There seemed to be a lot of activity going on inside it. They could hear scraping, thumps, and hurried footsteps.
Harry knocked and there was a sudden silence from inside. Then the door opened the tiniest crack and they saw one of Lockhart's eyes peering through it.
“Oh—Mr. Potter—Mr. Weasley—” he said, opening the door a bit wider. “I'm rather busy at the moment—if you would be quick—”
“Professor, we've got some information for you,” said Harry. “We think it'll help you.”
“Er—well—it's not terribly—” The side of Lockhart's face that they could see looked very uncomfortable. “I mean—well all right—”
He opened the door and they entered.
His office had been almost completely stripped. Two large trunks stood open on the floor. Robes, jade-green, lilac, midnight blue, had been hastily folded into one of them; books were jumbled untidily into the other. The photographs that had covered the walls were now crammed into boxes on the desk.
“Are you going somewhere?” said Harry.
“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 my sister?” said Ron jerkily.
“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 Harry. “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 Harry disbelievingly. “After all that stuff you did in your books—”
“Books can be misleading,” said Lockhart delicately.
“You wrote them!” Harry 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 Id 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 harelip. I mean, come on—”
“So you've just been taking credit for what a load of other people have done?” said Harry incredulously.
“Harry, Harry,” said Lockhart, shaking his head impatiently, “it's not nearly as simple as that. There was work involved. I had to track these people down. Ask them exactly how they managed to do what they did. Then I had to put a Memory Charm on them so they wouldn't remember doing it. If there's one thing I pride myself on, it's my Memory Charms. No, it's been a lot of work, Harry. It's not all book signings and publicity photos, you know. You want fame, you have to be prepared for a long hard slog.”
He banged the lids of his trunks shut and locked them.
“Let's see,” he said. “I think that's everything. Yes. Only one thing left.”
He pulled out his wand and turned to them.
“Awfully sorry, boys, but I'll have to put a Memory Charm on you now. Can't have you blabbing my secrets all over the place. Id never sell another book—”
Harry reached his wand just in time. Lockhart had barely raised his, when Harry bellowed, “Expelliarmus!”
Lockhart was blasted backward, falling over his trunk; his wand flew high into the air; Ron caught it, and flung it out of the open window.
“Shouldn't have let Professor Snape teach us that one,” said Harry furiously, kicking Lockhart's trunk aside. Lockhart was looking up at him, feeble once more. Harry was still pointing his wand at him.
“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.
They sent Lockhart in first. Harry was pleased to see that he was shaking.
Moaning Myrtle was sitting on the tank of the end toilet.
“Oh, it's you,” she said when she saw Harry. “What do you want this time?”
“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. Id 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.
Harry and Ron hurried over to it. Lockhart was standing well back, a look of utter terror on his face.
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.”
“But—” Harry thought hard. The only times he'd ever managed to speak Parseltongue were when he'd been faced with a real snake. He stared hard at the tinyengraving, trying to imagine it was real.
“Open up,” he said.
He looked at Ron, who shook his head.
“English,” he said.
Harry looked back at the snake, willing himself to believe it was alive. If he moved his head, the candlelight made it look as though it were moving.
“Open up,” he said.
Except that the words weren't what he heard; a strange hissing had escaped him, and 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.
He couldn't not go, not now they had found the entrance to the Chamber, not if there was even the faintest, slimmest, wildest chance that Ginny might be alive.
“Me too,” said Ron.
There was a pause.
“Well, you hardly seem to need me,” said Lockhart, with a shadow of his old smile. “I'll just—”
He put his hand on the door knob, but Ron and Harry both pointed their wands at him.
“You can go first,” Ron snarled.
White-faced and wandless, Lockhart approached the opening.
“Boys,” he said, his voice feeble. “Boys, what good will it do?”
Harry jabbed him in the back with his wand. Lockhart slid his legs into the pipe.
“I really don't think—” he started to say, but Ron gave him a push, and he slid out of sight. Harry followed quickly. He lowered himself slowly into the pipe, then let go.
It was like rushing down an endless, slimy, dark slide. He could see more pipes branching off in all directions, but none as large as theirs, which twisted and turned, sloping steeply downward, and he knew that he was falling deeper below the school than even the dungeons. Behind him he could hear Ron, thudding slightly at the curves.
And then, just as he had begun to worry about what would happen when he hit the ground, the pipe leveled out, and he shot out of the end with a wet thud, landing on the damp floor of a dark stone tunnel large enough to stand in. Lockhart was getting to his feet a little ways away, covered in slime and white as a ghost. Harry stood aside as Ron came whizzing out of the pipe, too.
“We must be miles under the school,” said Harry, his voice echoing in the black tunnel.
“Under the lake, probably,” said Ron, squinting around at the dark, slimy walls.
All three of them turned to stare into the darkness ahead.
“Lumos!” Harry muttered to his wand and it lit again. “C'mon,” he said to Ron and Lockhart, and off they went, their footsteps slapping loudly on the wet floor.
The tunnel was so dark that they could only see a little distance ahead. Their shadows on the wet walls looked monstrous in the wandlight.
“Remember,” Harry said quietly as they walked cautiously forward, “any sign of movement, close your eyes right away...”
But the tunnel was quiet as the grave, and the first unexpected sound they heard was a loud crunch as Ron stepped on what turned out to be a rat's skull. Harry lowered his wand to look at the floor and saw that it was littered with small animal bones. Trying very hard not to imagine what Ginny might look like if they found her, Harry led the way forward, around a dark bend in the tunnel.
“Harry—there's something up there—” said Ron hoarsely, grabbing Harry's shoulder.
They froze, watching. Harry could just see the outline of something huge and curved, lying right across the tunnel. It wasn't moving.
“Maybe it's asleep,” he breathed, glancing back at the other two. Lockhart's hands were pressed over his eyes. Harry turned back to look at the thing, his heart beating so fast it hurt.
Very slowly, his eyes as narrow as he could make them and still see, Harry edged forward, his wand held high.
The light slid over a gigantic snake skin, of a vivid, poisonous green, lying curled and empty across the tunnel floor. The creature that had shed it must have been twenty feet long at least.
“Blimey,” said Ron weakly.
There was a sudden movement behind them. Gilderoy Lockhart's knees had given way.
“Get up,” said Ron sharply, pointing his wand at Lockhart.
Lockhart got to his feet—then he dived at Ron, knocking him to the ground.
Harry jumped forward, but too late—Lockhart was straightening up, panting, Ron's wand in his hand and a gleaming smile back on his face.
“The adventure ends here, boys!” he said. “I shall take a bit of this skin back up to the school, tell them I was too late to save the girl, and that you two tragically lost your minds at the sight of her mangled body—say good-bye to your memories!”
He raised Ron's Spellotaped wand high over his head and yelled, “Obliviate!”
The wand exploded with the force of a small bomb. Harry flung his arms over his head and ran, slipping over the coils of snake skin, out of the way of great chunks of tunnel ceiling that were thundering to the floor. Next moment, he was standing alone, gazing at a solid wall of broken rock.
“Ron!” he shouted. “Are you okay? Ron!”
“I'm here!” came Ron's muffled voice from behind the rockfall. “I'm okay—this git's not, though—he got blasted by the wand—”
There was a dull thud and a loud “ow!” It sounded as though Ron had just kicked Lockhart in the shins.
“What now?” Ron's voice said, sounding desperate. “We can't get through—it'll take ages...”
Harry looked up at the tunnel ceiling. Huge cracks had appeared in it. He had never tried to break apart anything as large as these rocks by magic, and now didn't seem a good moment to try—what if the whole tunnel caved in?
There was another thud and another “ow!” from behind the rocks. They were wasting time. Ginny had already been in the Chamber of Secrets for hours... Harry knew there was only one thing to do.
“Wait there,” he called to Ron. “Wait with Lockhart. I'll go on... If I'm not back in an hour...”
There was a very pregnant pause,
“I'll try and shift some of this rock,” said Ron, who seemed to be trying to keep his voice steady. “So you can—can get back through. And, Harry—”
“See you in a bit,” said Harry, trying to inject some confidence into his shaking voice.
And he set off alone past the giant snake skin.
Soon the distant noise of Ron straining to shift the rocks was gone. The tunnel turned and turned again. Every nerve in Harry's body was tingling unpleasantly. He wanted the tunnel to end, yet dreaded what he'd find when it did. And then, at last, as he crept around yet another bend, he saw a solid wall ahead on which two entwined serpents were carved, their eyes set with great, glinting emeralds.
Harry approached, his throat very dry. There was no need to pretend these stone snakes were real; their eyes looked strangely alive.
He could guess what he had to do. He cleared his throat, and the emerald eyes seemed to flicker.
“Open, “said Harry, in a low, faint hiss.
The serpents parted as the wall cracked open, the halves slid smoothly out of sight, and Harry, shaking from head to foot, walked inside.

(hpvn.net)
Posted 12/14/07
CHAPTER SEVENTEEN
THE HEIR OF 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.
His heart beating very fast, Harry stood listening to the chill silence. Could the basilisk be lurking in a shadowy corner, behind a pillar? And where was Ginny?
He pulled out his wand and moved forward between the serpentine columns. Every careful footstep echoed loudly off the shadowy walls. He kept his eyes narrowed, ready to clamp them shut at the smallest sign of movement. The hollow eye sockets of the stone snakes seemed to be following him. More than once, with a jolt of the stomach, he thought he saw one stir.
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 monkey-like, 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.
“Ginny!” Harry muttered, sprinting to her and dropping to his knees. “Ginny—don't be dead—please don't be dead—” He flung his wand aside, grabbed Ginny's shoulders, and turned her over. Her face was white as marble, and as cold, yet her eyes were closed, so she wasn't Petrified. But then she must be
“Ginny, please wake up,” Harry muttered desperately, shaking her. Ginny's head lolled hopelessly from side to side.
“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—Tom Riddle?”
Riddle nodded, not taking his eyes off Harry's face.
“What d'you mean, she won't wake?” Harry said desperately. “She's not—she's not -?”
“She's still alive,” said Riddle. “But only just.”
Harry stared at him. Tom Riddle had been at Hogwarts fifty years ago, yet here he stood, a weird, misty light shining about him, not a day older than sixteen.
“Are you a ghost?” Harry said uncertainly.
“A memory,” said Riddle quietly. “Preserved in a diary for fifty years.”
He pointed toward the floor near the statue's giant toes. Lying open there was the little black diary Harry had found in Moaning Myrtle's bathroom. For a second, Harry wondered how it had got there—but there were more pressing matters to deal with.
“You've got to help me, Tom,” Harry said, raising Ginny's head again. “We've got to get her out of here. There's a basilisk... I don't know where it is, but it could be along any moment... Please, help me.”
Riddle didn't move. Harry, sweating, managed to hoist Ginny half off the floor, and bent to pick up his wand again.
But his wand had gone.
“Did you see -?”
He looked up. Riddle was still watching him—twirling Harry's wand between his long fingers.
“Thanks,” said Harry, stretching out his hand for it.
A smile curled the corners of Riddle's mouth. He continued to stare at Harry, twirling the wand idly.
“Listen,” said Harry urgently, his knees sagging with Ginny's dead weight. “We've got to go! If the basilisk comes—”
“It won't come until it is called,” said Riddle calmly.
Harry lowered Ginny back onto the floor, unable to hold her up any longer.
“What d'you mean?” he said. “Look, give me my wand, I might need it—”
Riddle's smile broadened.
“You won't be needing it,” he said.
Harry stared at him.
“What d'you mean, I won't be -?”
“I've waited a long time for this, Harry Potter,” said Riddle. “For the chance to see you. To speak to you.”
“Look,” said Harry, losing patience, “I don't think you get it. We're in the Chamber of Secrets. We can talk later—”
“We're going to talk now,” said Riddle, still smiling broadly, and he pocketed Harry's wand.
Harry stared at him. There was something very funny going on here.
“How did Ginny get like this?” he asked slowly.
“Well, that's an interesting question,” said Riddle pleasantly. “And quite a long story. I suppose the real reason Ginny Weasley's like this is because she opened her heart and spilled all her secrets to an invisible stranger.”
“What are you talking about?” said Harry.
“The diary,” said Riddle. `My diary. Little Ginny's been writing in it for months and months, telling me all her pitiful worries and woes—how her brothers tease her, how she had to come to school with secondhand robes and books, how” -Riddle's eyes glinted “how she didn't think famous, good, great Harry Potter would ever like her...”
All the time he spoke, Riddle's eyes never left Harry's face. There was an almost hungry look in them.
“It's very boring, having to listen to the silly little troubles of an elevenyear-old girl,” he went on. “But I was patient. I wrote back. I was sympathetic, I was kind. Ginny simply loved me. No one's ever understood me like you, Tom... I'm so glad I've got this diary to confide in... It's like having a friend I can carry around in my pocket...”
Riddle laughed, a high, cold laugh that didn't suit him. It made the hairs stand up on the back of Harry's neck.
“If I say it myself, Harry, I've always been able to charm the people I needed. So Ginny poured out her soul to me, and her soul happened to be exactly what I wanted... I grew stronger and stronger on a diet of her deepest fears, her darkest secrets. I grew powerful, far more powerful than little Miss Weasley. Powerful enough to start feeding Miss Weasley a few of my secrets, to start pouring a little of my soul back into her...”
“What d'you mean?” said Harry, whose mouth had gone very dry.
“ Haven't you guessed yet, Harry Potter?” said Riddle softly. “Ginny Weasley opened the Chamber of Secrets. She strangled the school roosters and daubed threatening messages on the walls. She set the Serpent of Slytherin on four Mudbloods, and the Squib's cat.
“No,” Harry whispered.
“Yes,” said Riddle, calmly. “Of course, she didn't know what she was doing at first. It was very amusing. I wish you could have seen her new diary entries... far more interesting, they became... Dear Tom,” he recited, watching Harry's horrified face, `I think I'm losing my memory. There are rooster feathers all over my robes and 1 don't know how they got there. Dear Tom, l can't remember what 1 did on the night of Halloween, but a cat was attacked and I've got paint all down my front. Dear Tom, Percy keeps telling me I'm pale and I'm not myself. I think he suspects me... There was another attack today and I don't know where I was. Tom, what am I going to do? I think I'm going mad... I think I'm the one attacking everyone, Tom!”
Harry's fists were clenched, the nails digging deep into his Palms.
“it took a very long time for stupid little Ginny to stop trusting her diary,” said Riddle. “But she finally became suspicious and tried to dispose of it. And that's where you came in, Harry. You found it, and I couldn't have been more delighted. Of all the people who could have picked it up, it was you, the very person I was most anxious to meet...”
“And why did you want to meet me?” said Harry. Anger was coursing through him, and it was an effort to keep his voice steady.
“Well, you see, Ginny told me all about you, Harry,” said Riddle. “Your whole fascinating history. “ His eyes roved over the lightning scar on Harry's forehead, and their expression grew hungrier. “I knew I must find out more about you, talk to you, meet you if I could. So I decided to show you my famous capture of that great oaf, Hagrid, to gain your trust—”
“Hagrid's my friend,” said Harry, his voice now shaking. “And you framed him, didn't you? I thought you made a mistake, but—”
Riddle laughed his high laugh again.
“It was my word against Hagrid's, Harry. Well, you can imagine how it looked to old Armando Dippet. On the one hand, Tom Riddle, poor but brilliant, parentless but so brave, school prefect, model student... on the other hand, big, blundering Hagrid, in trouble every other week, trying to raise werewolf cubs under his bed, sneaking off to the Forbidden Forest to wrestle trolls... but I admit, even I was surprised how well the plan worked. I thought someone must realize that Hagrid couldn't possibly be the Heir of Slytherin. It had taken me five whole years to find out everything I could about the Chamber of Secrets and discover the secret entrance... as though Hagrid had the brains, or the power!
“Only the Transfiguration teacher, Dumbledore, seemed to think Hagrid was innocent. He persuaded Dipper to keep Hagrid and train him as gamekeeper. Yes, I think Dumbledore might have guessed... Dumbledore never seemed to like me as much as the other teachers did...”
“I bet Dumbledore saw right through you,” said Harry, his teeth gritted.
“Well, he certainly kept an annoyingly close watch on me after Hagrid was expelled,” said Riddle carelessly. “I knew it wouldn't be safe to open the Chamber again while I was still at school. But I wasn't going to waste those long years Id spent searching for it. I decided to leave behind a diary, preserving my sixteen-year-old self in its pages, so that one day, with luck, I would be able to lead another in my footsteps, and finish Salazar Slytherin's noble work.”
“Well, you haven't finished it,” said Harry triumphantly. “No one's died this time, not even the cat. In a few hours the Mandrake Draught will be ready and everyone who was Petrified will be all right again—”
“Haven't I already told you,” said Riddle quietly, “that killing Mudbloods doesn't matter to me anymore? For many months now, my new target has been -you.”
Harry stared at him.
“Imagine how angry I was when the next time my diary was opened, it was Ginny who was writing to me, not you. She saw you with the diary, you see, and panicked. “What if you found out how to work it, and I repeated all her secrets to you? What if, even worse, I told you who'd been strangling roosters? So the foolish little brat waited until your dormitory was deserted and stole it back. But I knew what I must do. It was clear to me that you were on the trail of Slytherin's heir. From everything Ginny had told me about you, I knew you would go to any lengths to solve the mystery -particularly if one of your best friends was attacked. And Ginny had told me the whole school was buzzing because you could speak Parseltongue...”
“So I made Ginny write her own farewell on the wall and come down here to wait. She struggled and cried and became very boring. But there isn't much life left in her... She put too much into the diary, into me. Enough to let me leave its pages at last... I have been waiting for you to appear since we arrived here. I knew you'd come. I have many questions for you, Harry Potter.”
“Like what?” Harry spat, fists still clenched.
“Well,” said Riddle, smiling pleasantly, “how is it that you a skinny boy with no extraordinary magical talent—managed to defeat the greatest wizard of all time? How did you escape with nothing but a scar, while Lord Voldemort's powers were destroyed?”
There was an odd red gleam in his hungry eyes now.
“Why do you care how I escaped?” said Harry slowly. “Voldemort was after your time...”
“Voldemort,” said Riddle softly, “is my past, present, and future, Harry Potter...”
He pulled Harry's wand from his pocket and began to trace it through the air, writing three shimmering words:
TOM MARVOLO RIDDLE
Then he waved the wand once, and the letters of his name rearranged themselves:
I AM LORD VOLDEMORT
“You see?” he whispered. “It was a name I was already using at Hogwarts, to my most intimate friends only, of course. You think I was going to use my filthy Muggle father's name forever? I, in whose veins runs the blood of Salazar Slytherin himself, through my mother's side? I, keep the name of a foul, common Muggle, who abandoned me even before I was born, just because he found out his wife was a witch? No, Harry—I fashioned myself a new name, a name I knew wizards everywhere would one day fear to speak, when I had become the greatest sorcerer in the world!”
Harry's brain seemed to have jammed. He stared numbly at Riddle, at the orphaned boy who had grown up to murder Harry's own parents, and so many others... At last he forced himself to speak.
“You're not,” he said, his quiet voice full of hatred.
“Not what?” snapped Riddle.
“Not the greatest sorcerer in the world,” said Harry, breathing fast. “Sorry to disappoint you and all that, but the greatest wizard in the world is Albus Dumbledore. Everyone says so. Even when you were strong, you didn't dare try and take over at Hogwarts. Dumbledore saw through you when you were at school and he still frightens you now, wherever you're hiding these days—”
The smile had gone from Riddle's face, to be replaced by a very ugly look.
“Dumbledore's been driven out of this castle by the mere memory of me!” he hissed.
“He's not as gone as you might think!” Harry retorted. He was speaking at random, wanting to scare Riddle, wishing rather than believing it to be true
Riddle opened his mouth, but froze.
Music was coming from somewhere. Riddle whirled around to stare down the empty Chamber. The music was growing louder. It was eerie, spine-tingling, unearthly; it lifted the hair on Harry's scalp and made his heart feel as though it was swelling to twice its normal size. Then, as the music reached such a pitch that Harry felt it vibrating inside his own ribs, flames erupted at the top of the nearest pillar.
A crimson bird the size of a swan had appeared, piping its weird music to the vaulted ceiling. It had a glittering golden tail as long as a peacock's and gleaming golden talons, which were gripping a ragged bundle.
A second later, the bird was flying straight at Harry. It dropped the ragged thing it was carrying at his feet, then landed heavily on his shoulder. As it folded its great wings, Harry looked up and saw it had a long, sharp golden beak and a beady black eye.
The bird stopped singing. It sat still and warm next to Harry's cheek, gazing steadily at Riddle.
“That's a phoenix,” said Riddle, staring shrewdly back at it.
“Fawkes?” Harry breathed, and he felt the bird's golden claws squeeze his shoulder gently
“And that—” said Riddle, now eyeing the ragged thing that Fawkes had dropped, “that's the old school Sorting Hat—”
So it was. Patched, frayed, and dirty, the hat lay motionless at Harry's feet.
Riddle began to laugh again. He laughed so hard that the dark chamber rang with it, as though ten Riddles were laughing at once
“This is what Dumbledore sends his defender! A songbird and an old hat! Do you feel brave, Harry Potter? Do you feel safe now?”
Harry didn't answer. He might not see what use Fawkes or the Sorting Hat were, but he was no longer alone, and he waited for Riddle to stop laughing with his courage mounting.
“To business, Harry,” said Riddle, still smiling broadly. “Twice—in your past, in my future—we have met. And twice I failed to kill you. How did you survive? Tell me everything. The longer you talk,” he added softly, “the longer you stay alive.”
Harry was thinking fast, weighing his chances. Riddle had the wand. He, Harry, had Fawkes and the Sorting Hat, neither of which would be much good in a duel. It looked bad, all right... but the longer Riddle stood there, the more life was dwindling out of Ginny... and in the meantime, Harry noticed suddenly, Riddle's outline was becoming clearer, more solid... . If it had to be a fight between him and Riddle, better sooner than later.
“No one knows why you lost your powers when you attacked me,” said Harry abruptly. “I don't know myself But I know why you couldn't kill me. Because my mother died to save me. My common Muggle-born mother,” he added, shaking with suppressed rage. “She stopped you killing me. And I've seen the real you, I saw you last year. You're a wreck. You're barely alive. That's where all your power got you. You're in hiding. You're ugly, you're foul—”
Riddle's face contorted. Then he forced it into an awful smile. “So. Your mother died to save you. Yes, that's a powerful counter-charm. I can see now... there is nothing special about you, after all. I wondered, you see. There are strange likenesses between us, after all. Even you must have noticed. Both half-bloods, orphans, raised by Muggles. Probably the only two Parselmouths to come to Hogwarts since the great Slytherin himself. We even look something alike... But after all, it was merely a lucky chance that saved you from me. That's all I wanted to know.”
Harry stood, tense, waiting for Riddle to raise his wand. But Riddle's twisted smile was widening again.
“Now, Harry, I'm going to teach you a little lesson. Let's match the powers of Lord Voldemort, Heir of Salazar Slytherin, against famous Harry Potter, and the best weapons Dumbledore can give him...”
He cast an amused eye over Fawkes and the Sorting Hat, then walked away. Harry, fear spreading up his numb legs, watched Riddle stop between the high pillars and look up into the stone face of Slytherin, high above him in the half-darkness. Riddle opened his mouth wide and hissed—but Harry understood what he was saying...
“Speak to me, Slytherin, greatest of the Hogwarts Four. “
Harry wheeled around to look up at the statue, Fawkes swaying on his shoulder.
Slytherin's gigantic stone face was moving. Horrorstruck, Harry saw his mouth opening, wider and wider, to make a huge black hole.
And something was stirring inside the statue's mouth. Something was slithering up from its depths.
Harry backed away until he hit the dark Chamber wall, and as he shut his eyes tight he felt Fawkes' wing sweep his cheek as he took flight. Harry wanted to shout, “Don't leave me!” but what chance did a phoenix have against the king of serpents?
Something huge hit the stone floor of the Chamber. Harry felt it shudder—he knew what was happening, he could sense it, could almost see the giant serpent uncoiling itself from Slytherin's mouth. Then he heard Riddle's hissing voice: “Kill him.”
The basilisk was moving toward Harry; he could hear its heavy body slithering heavily across the dusty floor. Eyes still tightly shut, Harry began to run blindly sideways, his hands outstretched, feeling his way—Voldemort was laughing...
Harry tripped. He fell hard onto the stone and tasted blood the serpent was barely feet from him, he could hear it coming.
There was a loud, explosive spitting sound right above him, and then something heavy hit Harry so hard that he was smashed into the wall. Waiting for fangs to sink through his body he heard more mad hissing, something thrashing wildly off the pillars.
He couldn't help it—he opened his eyes wide enough to squint at what was going on.
The enormous serpent, bright, poisonous green, thick as an oak trunk, had raised itself high in the air and its great blunt head was weaving drunkenly between the pillars. As Harry trembled, ready to close his eyes if it turned, he saw what had distracted the snake.
Fawkes was soaring around its head, and the basilisk was snapping furiously at him with fangs long and thin as sabers.
Fawkes dived. His long golden beak sank out of sight and a sudden shower of dark blood spattered the floor. The snake's tail thrashed, narrowly missing Harry, and before Harry could shut his eyes, it turned—Harry looked straight into its face and saw that its eyes, both its great, bulbous yellow eyes, had been punctured by the phoenix; blood was streaming to the floor, and the snake was spitting in agony.
“NO!” Harry heard Riddle screaming. “LEAVE THE BIRD! LEAVE THE BIRD! THE BOY IS BEHIND YOU. YOU CAN STILL SMELL HIM. KILL HIM!”
The blinded serpent swayed, confused, still deadly. Fawkes was circling its head, piping his eerie song, jabbing here and there at its scaly nose as the blood poured from its ruined eyes.
“Help me, help me,” Harry muttered wildly, “someone—anyone!”
The snake's tail whipped across the floor again. Harry ducked. Something soft hit his face.
The basilisk had swept the Sorting Hat into Harry's arms. Harry seized it. It was all he had left, his only chance—he rammed it onto his head and threw himself flat onto the floor as the basilisk's tail swung over him again.
“Help me—help me—” Harry thought, his eyes screwed tight under the hat. “Please help me!”
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.
“KILL THE BOY! LEAVE THE BIRD! THE BOY IS BEHIND YOU. SNIFF—SMELL HIM.”
Harry was on his feet, ready. The basilisk's head was falling, its body coiling around, hitting pillars as it twisted to face him. He could see the vast, bloody eye sockets, see the mouth stretching wide, wide enough to swallow him whole, lined with fangs long as his sword, thin, glittering, venomous...
It lunged blindly. Harry dodged and it hit the Chamber wall. It lunged again, and its forked tongue lashed Harry's side. He raised the sword in both his hands.
The basilisk lunged again, and this time its aim was true—Harry threw his whole weight behind the sword and drove it to the hilt into the roof of the serpent's mouth.
But as warm blood drenched Harry's arms, he felt a searing pain just above his elbow. One long, poisonous fang was sinking deeper and deeper into his arm and it splintered as the basilisk keeled over sideways and fell, twitching, to the floor.
Harry slid down the wall. He gripped the fang that was spreading poison through his body and wrenched it out of his arm. But he knew it was too late. White-hot pain was spreading slowly and steadily from the wound. Even as he dropped the fang and watched his own blood soaking his robes, his vision went foggy. The Chamber was dissolving in a whirl of dull color.
A patch of scarlet swam past, and Harry heard a soft clatter of claws beside him.
“Fawkes,” said Harry thickly. “You were fantastic, Fawkes...” He felt the bird lay its beautiful head on the spot where the serpent's fang had pierced him.
He could hear echoing footsteps and then a dark shadow moved in front of him.
“You're dead, Harry Potter,” said Riddle's voice above him. “Dead. Even Dumbledore's bird knows it. Do you see what he's doing, Potter? He's crying.”
Harry blinked. Fawkes's head slid in and out of focus. Thick, pearly tears were trickling down the glossy feathers.
“I'm going to sit here and watch you die, Harry Potter. Take your time. I'm in no hurry.”
Harry felt drowsy. Everything around him seemed to be spinning.
“So ends the famous Harry Potter,” said Riddle's distant voice. “Alone in the Chamber of Secrets, forsaken by his friends, defeated at last by the Dark Lord he so unwisely challenged. You'll be back with your dear Mudblood mother soon, Harry... She bought you twelve years of borrowed time... but Lord Voldemort got you in the end, as you knew he must...”
If this is dying, thought Harry, it's not so bad. Even the pain was leaving him...
But was this dying? Instead of going black, the Chamber seemed to be coming back into focus. Harry gave his head a little shake and there was Fawkes, still resting his head on Harry's arm. A pearly patch of tears was shining all around the wound—except that there was no wound.
“Get away, bird,” said Riddle's voice suddenly. “Get away from him—I said, get away!”
Harry raised his head. Riddle was pointing Harry's wand at Fawkes; there was a bang like a gun, and Fawkes took flight again in a whirl of gold and scarlet.
“Phoenix tears...” said Riddle quietly, staring at Harry's arm. “Of course... healing powers... I forgot...”
He looked into Harry's face. “But it makes no difference. In fact, I prefer it this way. Just you and me, Harry Potter... you and me...”
He raised the wand.
Then, in a rush of wings, Fawkes had soared back overhead and something fell into Harry's lap—the diary.
For a split second, both Harry and Riddle, wand still raised, stared at it. Then, without thinking, without considering, as though he had meant to do it all along, Harry seized the basilisk fang on the floor next to him and plunged it straight into the heart of the book.
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.
Shaking all over, Harry pulled himself up. His head was spinning as though he'd just traveled miles by Floo powder. Slowly, he gathered together his wand and the Sorting Hat, and, with a huge tug, retrieved the glittering sword from the roof of the basilisk's mouth.
Then came a faint moan from the end of the Chamber. Ginny was stirring. As Harry hurried toward her, she sat up. Her bemused eyes traveled from the huge form of the dead basilisk, over Harry, in his blood-soaked robes, then to the diary in his hand. 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 rremember 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—”
“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?”
Fawkes was waiting for them, hovering in the Chamber entrance. Harry urged Ginny forward; they stepped over the motionless coils of the dead basilisk, through the echoing gloom, and back into the tunnel. Harry heard the stone doors close behind them with a soft hiss.
After a few minutes' progress up the dark tunnel, a distant sound of slowly shifting rock reached Harry's ears.
“Ron!” Harry yelled, speeding up. “Ginny's okay! I've got her!”
He heard Ron give a strangled cheer, and they turned the next bend to see his eager face staring through the sizable gap he had managed to make in the rock fall.
“Ginny!” Ron thrust an arm through the gap in the rock to pull her through first. “You're alive! I don't believe it! What happened?” How—what—where did that bird come from?”
Fawkes had swooped through the gap after Ginny.
“He's Dumbledore's,” said Harry, squeezing through himself
“How come you've got a sword?” said Ron, gaping at the glittering weapon in Harry's hand.
“I'll explain when we get out of here,” said Harry with a sideways glance at Ginny, who was crying harder than ever.
“But—”
“Later,” Harry said shortly. He didn't think it was a good idea to tell Ron yet who'd been opening the Chamber, not in front of Ginny, anyway. “Where's Lockhart?”
“Back there,” said Ron, still looking puzzled but jerking his head up the tunnel toward the pipe. “He's in a bad way. Come and see.”
Led by Fawkes, whose wide scarlet wings emitted a soft golden glow in the darkness, they walked all the way back to the mouth of the pipe. Gilderoy Lockhart was sitting there, humming placidly to himself.
“His memory's gone,” said Ron. “The Memory Charm backfired. Hit him instead of us. Hasn't got a clue who he is, or where he is, or who we are. I told him to come and wait here. He's a danger to himself”
Lockhart peered good-naturedly up at them all.
“Hello,” he said. “Odd sort of place, this, isn't it? Do you live here?”
“No,” said Ron, raising his eyebrows at Harry.
Harry bent down and looked up the long, dark pipe.
“Have you thought how we're going to get back up this?” he said to Ron.
Ron shook his head, but 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—”
“Fawkes,” said Harry, “isn't an ordinary bird.” He turned quickly to the others. “We've got to hold on to each other. Ginny, grab Ron's hand. Professor Lockhart—”
“He means you,” said Ron sharply to Lockhart.
“You hold Ginny's other hand—”
Harry tucked the sword and the Sorting Hat into his belt, Ron took hold of the back of Harry's robes, and Harry reached out and took hold of Fawkes's strangely hot tail feathers.
An extraordinary lightness seemed to spread through his whole body and the next second, in a rush of wings, they were flying upward through the pipe. Harry could hear Lockhart dangling below him, saying, “Amazing! Amazing! This is just like magic!” The chill air was whipping through Harry's hair, and before he'd stopped enjoying the ride, it was over—all four of them were hitting the wet floor of Moaning Myrtle's bathroom, and as Lockhart straightened his hat, the sink that hid the pipe was sliding back into place.
Myrtle goggled at them.
“You're alive,” she said blankly to Harry.
“There's no need to sound so disappointed,” he said grimly, wiping flecks of blood and slime off his glasses.
“Oh, well... Id just been thinking... if you had died, you'd have been welcome to share my toilet,” said Myrtle, blushing silver.
“Urgh!” said Ron as they left the bathroom for the dark, deserted corridor outside. “Harry! I think Myrtle's grown fond of you! You've got competition, Ginny!”
But tears were still flooding silently down Ginny's face.
“Where now?” said Ron, with an anxious look at Ginny. Harry pointed.
Fawkes was leading the way, glowing gold along the corridor. They strode after him, and moments later, found themselves outside Professor McGonagall's office.
Harry knocked and pushed the door open.

(hpvn.net)
Posted 12/14/07
CHAPTER EIGHTEEN
DOBBY'S REWARD

For a moment there was silence as Harry, Ron, Ginny, and Lockhart stood in the doorway, covered in muck and slime and (in Harry's case) blood. Then there was a scream.
“Ginny!”
It was Mrs. Weasley, who had been sitting crying in front of the fire. She leapt to her feet, closely followed by Mr. Weasley, and both of them flung themselves on their daughter.
Harry, however, was looking past them. Professor Dumbledore was standing by the mantelpiece, beaming, next to Professor McGonagall, who was taking great, steadying gasps, clutching her chest. Fawkes went whooshing past Harry's ear and settled on Dumbledore's shoulder, just as Harry found himself and Ron being swept into Mrs. Weasleys tight embrace.
“You saved her! You saved her! How did you do it?”
“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.
Then he started telling them everything. For nearly a quarter of an hour he spoke into the rapt silence: He told them about hearing the disembodied voice, how Hermione had finally realized that he was hearing a basilisk in the pipes; how he and Ron had followed the spiders into the forest, that Aragog had told them where the last victim of the basilisk had died; how he had guessed that Moaning Myrtle had been the victim, and that the entrance to the Chamber of Secrets might be in her bathroom...
“Very well,” Professor McGonagall prompted him as he paused, “so you found out where the entrance was—breaking a hundred school rules into pieces along the way, I might add—but how on earth did you all get out of there alive, Potter?”
So Harry, his voice now growing hoarse from all this talking, told them about Fawkes's timely arrival and about the Sorting Hat giving him the sword. But then he faltered. He had so far avoided mentioning Riddle's diary—or Ginny. She was standing with her head against Mrs. Weasley's shoulder, and tears were still coursing silently down her cheeks. What if they expelled her? Harry thought in panic. Riddle's diary didn't work anymore... How could they prove it had been he who'd made her do it all?
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.”
Relief—warm, sweeping, glorious relief—swept over Harry. “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 took the diary from Harry and peered keenly down his long, crooked nose at its burnt and soggy pages.
“Brilliant,” he said softly. “Of course, he was probably the most brilliant student Hogwarts has ever seen.” He turned around to the Weasleys, who were looking utterly bewildered.
“Very few people know that Lord Voldemort was once called Tom Riddle. I taught him myself, fifty years ago, at Hogwarts. He disappeared after leaving the school... traveled far and wide... sank so deeply into the Dark Arts, consorted with the very worst of our kind, underwent so many dangerous, magical transformations, that when he resurfaced as Lord Voldemort, he was barely recognizable. Hardly anyone connected Lord Voldemort with the clever, handsome boy who was once Head Boy here.”
“But, Ginny,” said Mrs. Weasley. “What's our Ginny got to do with—with—him?”
“His d-diary!” Ginny sobbed. “I've b-been writing in it, and he's been w-writing back all year—”
“Ginny!” said Mr. Weasley, flabbergasted. “Haven't I taught you anything. What have I always told you? Never trust anything that can think for itself if you can't see where it keeps its brain? Why didn't you show the diary to me, or your mother? A suspicious object like that, it was clearly full of Dark Magic!”
“I d-didn't know,” sobbed Ginny. “I found it inside one of the books Mum got me. I th-thought someone had just left it in there and forgotten about it—”
“Miss Weasley should go up to the hospital wing right away,” Dumbledore interrupted in a firm voice. “This has been a terrible ordeal for her. There will be no punishment. Older and wiser wizards than she have been hoodwinked by Lord Voldemort.” He strode over to the door and opened it. “Bed rest and perhaps a large, steaming mug of hot chocolate. I always find that cheers me up,” he added, twinkling kindly down at her. “You will find that Madam Pomfrey is still awake. She's just giving out Mandrake juice—I daresay the basilisk's victims will be waking up any moment.”
“So Hermione's okay!” said Ron brightly.
“There has been no lasting harm done, Ginny,” said Dumbledore.
Mrs. Weasley led Ginny out, and Mr. Weasley followed, still looking deeply shaken.
“You know, Minerva,” Professor Dumbledore said thoughtfully to Professor McGonagall, “I think all this merits a good feast. Might I ask you to go and alert the kitchens?”
“Right,” said Professor McGonagall crisply, also moving to the door. “I'll leave you to deal with Potter and Weasley, shall I?”
“Certainly,” said Dumbledore.
She left, and Harry and Ron gazed uncertainly at Dumbledore. What exactly had Professor McGonagall meant, deal with them? Surely—surely—they weren't about to be punished?
“I seem to remember telling you both that I would have to expel you if you broke any more school rules, said Dumbledore.
Ron opened his mouth in horror.
“Which goes to show that the best of us must sometimes eat our words,” Dumbledore went on, smiling. “You will both receive Special Awards for Services to the School and—let me see—yes, I think two hundred points apiece for Gryffindor.”
Ron went as brightly pink as Lockhart's valentine flowers and closed his mouth again.
“But one of us seems to be keeping mightily quiet about his part in this dangerous adventure,” Dumbledore added. “Why so modest, Gilderoy?”
Harry gave a start. He had completely forgotten about Lockhart. He turned and saw that Lockhart was standing in a corner of the room, still wearing his vague smile. When Dumbledore addressed him, Lockhart looked over his shoulder to see who he was talking to.
“Professor Dumbledore,” Ron said quickly, “there was an accident down in the Chamber of Secrets. Professor Lockhart—”
“Am I a professor?” said Lockhart in mild surprise. “Goodness. I expect I was hopeless, was I?”
“He tried to do a Memory Charm and the wand backfired,” Ron explained quietly to Dumbledore.
“Dear me,” said Dumbledore, shaking his head, his long silver mustache quivering. “Impaled upon your own sword, Gilderoy!”
“Sword?” said Lockhart dimly. “Haven't got a sword. That boy has, though.” He pointed at Harry. “He'll lend you one.”
“Would you mind taking Professor Lockhart up to the infirmary, too?” Dumbledore said to Ron. “Id like a few more words with Harry...”
Lockhart ambled out. Ron cast a curious look back at Dumbledore and Harry as he closed the door.
Dumbledore crossed to one of the chairs by the fire.
“Sit down, Harry,” he said, and Harry sat, feeling unaccountably nervous.
“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.
“And so you met Tom Riddle,” said Dumbledore thoughtfully. “I imagine he was most interested in you...”
Suddenly, something that was nagging at Harry came tumbling out of his mouth.
“Professor Dumbledore... Riddle said I'm like him. Strange likenesses, he said...”
“Did he, now?” said Dumbledore, looking thoughtfully at Harry from under his thick silver eyebrows. “And what do you think, Harry?”
“I don't think I'm like him!” said Harry, more loudly than he'd intended. “I mean, I'm—I'm in Gryffindor, I'm...”
But he fell silent, a lurking doubt resurfacing in his mind.
“Professor,” he started again after a moment. “The Sorting Hat told me I'd—I'd have done well in Slytherin. Everyone thought I was Slytherin's heir for a while... because I can speak Parseltongue...”
“You can speak Parseltongue, Harry,” said Dumbledore calmly, “because Lord Voldemort—who is the last remaining ancestor of Salazar Slytherin—can speak Parseltongue. Unless I'm much mistaken, he transferred some of his own powers to you the night he gave you that scar. Not something he intended to do, I'm sure...”
“Voldemort put a bit of himself in me?” Harry said, thunderstruck.
“It certainly seems so.”
“So I should be in Slytherin,” Harry said, looking desperately into Dumbledore's face. “The Sorting Hat could see Slytherin's power in me, and it—”
“Put you in Gryffindor,” said Dumbledore calmly. “Listen to me, Harry. You happen to have many qualities Salazar Slytherin prized in his handpicked students. His own very rare gift, Parseltongue—resourcefulness—determination—a certain disregard for rules,” he added, his mustache quivering again. “Yet the Sorting Hat placed you in Gryffindor. You know why that was. Think.”
“It only put me in Gryffindor,” said Harry in a defeated voice, “because I asked not to go in Slytherin...”
“Exactly,” said Dumbledore, beaming once more. “Which makes you very different from Tom Riddle. It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” Harry sat motionless in his chair, stunned. “If you want proof, Harry, that you belong in Gryffindor, I suggest you look more closely at this.”
Dumbledore reached across to Professor McGonagall's desk, picked up the blood-stained silver sword, and handed it to Harry. Dully, Harry turned it over, the rubies blazing in the firelight. And then he saw the name engraved just below the hilt.
Godric Gryffindor
“Only a true Gryffindor could have pulled that out of the hat, Harry,” said Dumbledore simply.
For a minute, neither of them spoke. Then Dumbledore pulled open one of the drawers in Professor McGonagall's desk and took out a quill and a bottle of ink.
What you need, Harry, is some food and sleep. I suggest you go down to the feast, while I write to Azkaban—we need our gamekeeper back. And I must draft an advertisement for the Daily Prophet, too,” he added thoughtfully. “We'll be needing a new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher... Dear me, we do seem to run through them, don't we?”
Harry got up and crossed to the door. He had just reached for the handle, however, when the door burst open so violently that it bounced back off the wall.
Lucius Malfoy stood there, fury in his face. And cowering behind his legs, heavily wrapped in bandages, was Dobby.
“Good evening, Lucius,” said Dumbledore pleasantly.
Mr. Malfoy almost knocked Harry over as he swept into the room. Dobby went scurrying in after him, crouching at the hem of his cloak, a look of abject terror on his face.
The elf was carrying a stained rag with which he was attempting to finish cleaning Mr. Malfoys shoes. Apparently Mr. Malfoy had set out in a great hurry, for not only were his shoes half-polished, but his usually sleek hair was disheveled. Ignoring the elf bobbing apologetically around his ankles, he fixed his cold eyes upon Dumbledore.
“So!” he said “You've come back. The governors suspended you, but you still saw fit to return to Hogwarts.”
“Well, you see, Lucius,” said Dumbledore, smiling serenely, “the other eleven governors contacted me today. It was something like being caught in a hailstorm of owls, to tell the truth. They'd heard that Arthur Weasleys daughter had been killed and wanted me back here at once. They seemed to think I was the best man for the job after all. Very strange tales they told me, too... Several of them seemed to think that you had threatened to curse their families if they didn't agree to suspend me in the first place.”
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 friend Ron 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 mask-like.
“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?”
He saw Mr. Malfoy's white hands clench and unclench.
“Prove it,” he hissed.
“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.
He caught up with them at the top of the stairs.
“Mr. Malfoy,” he gasped, skidding to a halt, “I've got something for you—”
And he forced the smelly sock into Lucius Malfoy's hand.
“What the -?”
Mr. Malfoy ripped the sock off the diary, threw it aside, then looked furiously from the ruined book to Harry.
You'll meet the same sticky end as your parents one of these days, Harry Potter,” he said softly. “They were meddlesome fools, too.
He turned to go.
“Come, Dobby. I said, come.”
But Dobby didn't move. He was holding up Harry's disgusting, slimy sock, and looking at it as though it were a priceless treasure.
“Master has given a sock,” said the elf in wonderment. “Master gave it to Dobby.”
“What's that?” spat Mr. Malfoy. “What did you say?”
“Got a sock,” said Dobby in disbelief. “Master threw it, and Dobby caught it, and Dobby—Dobby is free. “
Lucius Malfoy stood frozen, staring at the elf Then he lunged at Harry.
“You've lost me my servant, boy!”
But Dobby shouted, “You shall not harm Harry Potter!”
There was a loud bang, and Mr. Malfoy was thrown backward. He crashed down the stairs, three at a time, landing in a crumpled heap on the landing below. He got up, his face livid, and pulled out his wand, but Dobby raised a long, threatening finger.
“You shall go now,” he said fiercely, pointing down at Mr. Malfoy. “You shall not touch Harry Potter. You shall go now.”
Lucius Malfoy had no choice. With a last, incensed stare at the pair of them, he swung his cloak around him and hurried out of sight.
“Harry Potter freed Dobby!” said the elf shrilly, gazing up at Harry, moonlight from the nearest window reflected in his orb-like eyes. “Harry Potter set Dobby free!”
“Least I could do, Dobby,” said Harry, grinning. “Just promise never to try and save my life again.”
The elf's ugly brown face split suddenly into a wide, toothy smile.
“I've just got one question, Dobby,” said Harry as Dobby pulled on Harry's sock with shaking hands. “You told me all this had nothing to do with He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, remember? Well—”
“It was a clue, sir,” said Dobby, his eyes widening, as though this was obvious. “Was giving you a clue. The Dark Lord, before he changed his name, could be freely named, you see?”
“Right,” said Harry weakly. “Well, Id better go. There's a feast, and my friend Hermione should be awake by now...”
Dobby threw his arms around Harry's middle and hugged him.
“Harry Potter is greater by far than Dobby knew!” he sobbed. “Farewell, Harry Potter!”
And with a final loud crack, Dobby disappeared.
Harry had been to several Hogwarts feasts, but never one quite like this. Everybody was in their pajamas, and the celebration lasted all night. Harry didn't know whether the best bit was Hermione running toward him, screaming “You solved it! You solved it!” or Justin hurrying over from the Hufflepuff table to wring. his hand and apologize endlessly for suspecting him, or Hagrid turning up at half past three, cuffing Harry and Ron so hard on the shoulders that they were knocked into their plates of trifle, or his and Ron's four hundred points for Gryffindor securing the House Cup for the second year running, or Professor McGonagall standing up to tell them all that the exams had been canceled as a school treat (“Oh, no!” said Hermione), or Dumbledore announcing that, unfortunately, Professor Lockhart would be unable to return next year, owing to the fact that he needed to go away and get his memory back. Quite a few of the teachers joined in the cheering that greeted this news.
“Shame,” said Ron, helping himself to a jam doughnut. “He was starting to grow on me.”
The rest of the final term passed in a haze of blazing sunshine. Hogwarts was back to normal with only a few, small differences—Defense Against the Dark Arts classes were canceled (“but we've had plenty of practice at that anyway,” Ron told a disgruntled Hermione) and Lucius Malfoy had been sacked as a school governor. Draco was no longer strutting around the school as though he owned the place. On the contrary, he looked resentful and sulky. On the other hand, Ginny Weasley was perfectly happy again.
Too soon, it was time for the journey home on the Hogwarts Express. Harry, Ron, Hermione, Fred, George, and Ginny got a compartment to themselves. They made the most of the last few hours in which they were allowed to do magic before the holidays. They played Exploding Snap, set off the very last of Fred and George's Filibuster fireworks, and practiced disarming each other by magic. Harry was getting very good at it.
They were almost at King's Cross when Harry remembered something.
“Ginny—what did you see Percy doing, that he didn't want you to tell anyone?”
“Oh, that,” said Ginny, giggling. “Well—Percy's got a girlfriend.” Fred dropped a stack of books on George's head.
“What?”
“It's that Ravenclaw prefect, Penelope Clearwater,” said Ginny. “That's who he was writing to all last summer. He's been meeting her all over the school in secret. I walked in on them kissing in an empty classroom one day. He was so upset when she was—you know—attacked. You won't tease him, will you?” she added anxiously.
“Wouldn't dream of it,” said Fred, who was looking like his birthday had come early.
“Definitely not,” said George, sniggering.
The Hogwarts Express slowed and finally stopped.
Harry pulled out his quill and a bit of parchment and turned to Ron and Hermione.
“This is called a telephone number,” he told Ron, scribbling it twice, tearing the parchment in two, and handing it to them. “I told your dad how to use a telephone last summer—he'll know. Call me at the Dursleys', okay? I can't stand another two months with only Dudley to talk to...”
“Your aunt and uncle will be proud, though, won't they?” said Hermione as they got off the train and joined the crowd thronging toward the enchanted barrier. “When they hear what you did this year?”
“Proud?” said Harry. “Are you crazy? All those times I could've died, and I didn't manage it? They'll be furious...”
And together they walked back through the gateway to the Muggle world.

(hpvn.net)
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