|SIYE Time:9:33 on 20th June 2018|
Category: Pre-OotP, Alternate Universe
Characters:Albus Dumbledore, All, Draco Malfoy, Harry/Ginny, Hermione Granger, Minerva McGonagall, Neville Longbottom, Nymphadora Tonks, Other, Remus Lupin, Ron Weasley, Severus Snape, Sirius Black
Genres: Action/Adventure, Drama, General, Humor, Romance
Warnings: Dark Fiction, Mild Language, Mild Sexual Situations, Violence/Physical Abuse
Summary: Harry had never friends, so he imagined one: a red haired girl he kept forgetting to name. Ginny imagined a shy boy with untidy hair and bright eyes, who knew nothing of magic, so she told him. He dreamt of a world of magic and of a girl who wanted to be his friend. She dreamt of a boy who loved to hear her voice, no matter what. Then dreams become a reality when Harry met Ginny.
Rating changed for later chapters.
*Nominated for 2014 November/December DSTA for Best New Story and Best Romance* *Nominated for 2016 January/Feburary DSTA for Best Comedy, Drama, and Romance*
Hitcount: Story Total: 109747; Chapter Total: 3739
Awards: View Trophy Room
Eight: The Chamber Condensed
That summer, Harry stayed at his grandmother's farm. Aunt Petunia was out almost every day — looking for a new place and a job — and Dudley spent all of his time indoors, but Harry was outside every day. Thea drove him to The Burrow in the mornings, and Mrs. Weasley drove him back in the evenings, or he just stayed there for the night. Aunt Petunia grew nicer with each day, even coming to tell him good night when he wasn't at The Burrow. He and Ginny puzzled over it, and decided that his grandmother was a good influence on his aunt. Uncle Vernon would phone once a day, and never got an answer. Aunt Petunia actually had to restrain Thea from picking up the phone and giving her 'no-good son-in-law' a piece of her mind.
One evening, Harry was in his room at his grandmother's, reading a book Ron had lent him on the Chudley Cannons when a loud CRACK startled him into dropping it.
Before him stood the strangest creature he had ever seen. It was three feet tall, had leathery green skin, enormous green eyes, ears like a bat's, and was dressed in a dirty cloth that resembled a pillowcase.
The creature said his name was Dobby, he was a house-elf, and he was there to warn him to not return to school. Harry flatly refused to not go back to Hogwarts. Dobby begged and begged him, but Harry would not budge. Eyes watering, the house-elf vanished with another loud CRACK.
A few days later, Mrs. Weasley took him, Ginny, her brothers, and his aunt to Diagon Alley to get their school things. He, Ron, and Ginny wondered why Aunt Petunia insisted on coming again, because all she did was look like she didn't want to be there. For a brief moment, Harry wondered if she was there because she missed magic, but he abandoned the theory when she turned her nose up at Quality Quidditch Supplies. They met Draco Malfoy and his father in Flourish and Blotts, and Harry was very pleased to say that when they left, Draco was sporting a flowing nose bleed and Malfoy Senior a black eye, though Mr. Weasley got to claim credit for Mr. Malfoy's injury. They also met Gilderoy Lockhart, whom Mrs. Weasley seemed very fond of and every other Weasley — including Ginny — regarded with distaste. Harry had to agree with Ginny, the man was self-centered, and, in Ginny's words, “Looked like someone had tried to make him handsome and tried too hard.” Of course it didn't help Lockhart's case when he dragged Harry out of the crowd and made him stand for the Daily Prophet photographer's pictures. It turned out that Lockhart would be taking the job of Defense Against the Dark Arts at Hogwarts as well. Harry's afternoon was fully ruined by the time they left even though he did manage to rearrange Malfoy's nose.
As August rolled past, Harry had noticed something odd in the way his aunt looked at him; like she was feeling both guilty and angry at the same time. By then he had also noticed that Ginny was looking at him funny too. Sometimes he'd catch her thinking about him, but not to him, and when he asked about it, she would tell him to mind his own business. To be honest, it did sound like his business — since she was thinking about him — but he didn't dare bring it up. He didn't want to risk a fight.
On the morning of September 1st, Harry was staying with the Weasleys. They agreed to take him to King's Cross with them, so he found himself in their car, looking out the back window and wondering when he'd see The Burrow again.
Of course, he was back five minutes later. And five minutes after that. First, Fred forgot his fireworks. Then George his broomstick. Then, just as they were about to pull out onto the main road, Ginny shrieked in Harry's ear that she'd forgotten her diary. He asked her when she even got the diary, but she didn't answer, just turned pink and ran to get it.
They pulled into King's Cross at quarter to eleven. They all rushed to the barrier, and Harry, Ron, and Ginny ended up the last ones to go. But, when Harry tried to get past the barrier, it wouldn't let him through.
So that was how he found himself back in the car with Ron and Ginny flying it to Hogwarts.
They crashed into a tree, and got detention. Hermione was cross with them, the other students were impressed, and both Ron and Ginny received a Howler from their mum a week later. To make matters worse, Ron's wand had been snapped when the tree started pummeling them. He attempted to repair it with Spellotape, but the results were just short of explosive. Then, a first year called Colin Creevey started following Harry everywhere, talking nonstop and waving his camera around. One morning during break, he asked Harry for a picture and — to make it more embarrassing — asked him to sign it. Then Lockhart showed up and made Harry stand for the photo — again.
First term started out excellently, Harry found himself thinking sarcastically.
As the year moved on, Ginny started spending less and less time with him, Ron, and Hermione. She spent hours holed up in her dorm or the library, and there were times when Harry couldn't even hear her voice in his mind. He tried to get her to talk to him about it, but she would just brush him off by saying that she was working on homework, or spending time with her other friends. Harry was growing even more worried about her, and very confused. One minute, she would be cheerful and laughing with him, the next she looked tired, and would just walk off, claiming she needed to do homework. She developed dark circles under her eyes, and she wasn't smiling as much as she used to do. But even when she did, her smile did not quite reach her eyes. Harry thought he was being driven around the bend as she became more and more distant because as September turned into October, her voice wasn't the only one he could hear in his mind. A second, soft voice appeared. It was never loud enough for him to hear what it was saying, but the sound of it sent chills down his spine.
Around Halloween, Harry's worry turned into panic.
He was at Nearly Headless Nick's deathday party, having Ginny tease him about the feast he'd left behind, when suddenly, he couldn't hear her anymore. He panicked, and ran flat out up towards the Great Hall, but he ran right into Percy, who told him she'd gone back up to the Tower, that she wasn't feeling right. Ignoring Ron and Hermione asking him what was happening, he started up the stairs to find her. Before he could take two steps though, he froze as the second voice touched his ears, but this time he could hear what it was saying.
“Come, come, let me rip you, let me tear you... let me kill you...”
His panic growing greater and greater with each second, he followed the voice, Ron and Hermione running after him.
He stopped on the second floor, staring in horror at a wall painted with ominous warning and the frozen body of Mrs. Norris.
Dumbledore kept him, Ron, and Hermione a while after that as he examined Mrs. Norris. Harry fidgeted as Dumbledore looked over the cat, anxiously glancing at his watch. By the time Dumbledore pronounced Mrs. Norris petrified and Harry innocent, his watch was ticking closer and closer to midnight. Dumbledore let them go, and Harry sprinted up to Gryffindor Tower with Ron and Hermione on his heels.
He finally found her, slumped on a couch in the common room over a little black book.
“Ginny!” he said in relief, shaking her awake.
“What?” she said, blinking up at him. “What's up?”
“I couldn't hear you!” he said. “I was talking to you, and halfway through a sentence you vanished!”
“What?” she said, frowning. She opened her mouth, still looking confused, but then shut it abruptly, her eyes becoming hollow. “Look, I'm tired, I'm going to bed.”
“Ginny!” Harry called after her, but she just walked up the girls' stairs, sending him a quick mental good night.
The school was buzzing the next day. Hermione got Professor Binns to tell them about the Chamber of Secrets, and Harry heard Ginny stifle a minute of mental panic as the ghost explained the legend. He tried to ask her about it, but she shut him out, startling him. He didn't even notice when Binns picked up his lecture about Goblin Rebellions.
He, Ron, and Hermione decided to do something. Harry tried to get Ginny involved, but she just told him she didn't have the time and walked away. This bothered him, but Ron and Hermione did their best to keep his mind on the plan they were hatching. Or rather, they were helping Hermione hatch. There was a potion — Polyjuice Potion she said — that could make the drinker look like someone else for a while.
Hermione got Lockhart permission to check out the book with all the information from the Restricted Section of the Library. It wasn't hard; Lockhart was so full of it that he would sign anything that stood still long enough. Next, they locked themselves in Moaning Myrtle's Out of Order bathroom. Harry and Ron were both very startled when Hermione asked them to spend all that time brewing the Polyjuice Potion in a girls' bathroom, even more so when they found out that to actually brew the potion they would have to steal ingredients from Snape. But, it was for the greater good, and they bowed to Hermione's superior wisdom. So their plan was set into motion.
His next Quidditch game a rogue Bludger broke his arm, and Gilderoy Lockhart — Harry was getting very very ticked with the idiot — vanished all the bones in it, making it look like a large rubber thing had been attached to his shoulder. He spent the night in the hospital wing, tossing in a fitful sleep. Ginny had visited that evening, but left rather quickly after only five minutes.
Harry woke rather suddenly to find Dobby the house-elf sponging his forehead.
“Get off!” he said, sitting up and knocked the elf away.
Dobby squeaked and dropped his sponge. “Harry Potter, sir why isn't you listening to Dobby? Why isn't you staying at home?”
“What do you want Dobby?” Harry asked, sitting up and rubbing moisture off his forehead.
“Dobby wants to apologize for his Bludger, sir.”
“Your Bludger?” Harry repeated, frowning. “You mean you messed with that bludger? You told it to kill me?”
“No, not kill you, sir, never kill you!” the elf cried with wide eyes. “Dobby just wanted you to be sent home, sir.”
Harry flopped back on his pillows. “Well, if they're going to they haven't told me. Why are you trying to get me mutilated, then?”
“Dobby wants you to be safe, sir!” the elf squeaked.
“And charming a Bludger to break every bone in my body does that how?”
“Better to be sent home severely injured, sir, than to stay here while the Chamber of Secrets is opening again!”
Dobby clapped his hands over his mouth like he had let out a disgusting swear word. The little elf grabbed the bottle of Skele-Gro on the table beside Harry and raised it, ready to crack it over his own head. Harry snatched the bottle out of Dobby's hands before he could start beating himself.
“Don't do that,” he admonished. Dobby's fingers inched towards the dark lamp on the night table. “Don't!” Harry insisted. The elf's hands dropped to his sides.
“Thank you, Harry Potter sir,” Dobby said. “You is great indeed.”
“What did you mean, again?” Harry asked. Dobby glanced at the lamp again. “Tell me what you can without hurting yourself,” Harry added.
Dobby thought a moment. “The Chamber is real sir, it is being opened fifty years ago. The monster inside is attacking many students then, and is killing one girl before it is stopping. The person that is being punished for it is innocent though sir. He is not opening the Chamber.”
“Who was punished?” Harry asked, frowning.
“The gamekeeper, sir, Hagrid.”
These words hit Harry like an anvil. “What?” he gasped.
“But Hagrid is not doing it sir! It is being a bad boy, a bad — bad —” Dobby lunged for the lamp. Harry grabbed him and tugged him away from the heavy object, the elf struggling to punish himself.
“Okay, I get it, you can't tell me!” Harry said. “Why not?”
Dobby stopped struggling. He looked up at Harry with reproachful eyes. “Dobby is not supposed to be telling his master's business, sir. Dobby is supposed to be keeping his master's secrets, but Dobby is knowing that if he is not helping Harry Potter then Harry Potter will be losing his most precious!”
“His most precious!”
“Yeah, you said that, but what is it?”
Dobby opened his mouth, but just then voices reached their ears, coming from the hallway beyond.
“Dobby must go, sir!” Dobby said, and with a crack, he vanished. Harry fell back against the pillows and quickly pretended to be asleep.
It was Dumbledore, McGonagall, and the petrified form of Colin Creevey. Harry listened them, and his spirits sank as he heard Dumbledore confirm what Dobby had been saying. The Chamber of Secrets was open and it had been opened before. He told Ron and Hermione as soon as he could, but as he had both dreaded and expected, Ginny didn't care. So their foursome became — for what Harry hoped would be a very short time — a trio.
Lockhart started a dueling club, but it turned out to be useless. In fact, Harry found himself fervently wishing that Lockhart would just pack up and leave, because he kept embarrassing Harry. First it was the Daily Prophet article, then Colin and his stupid desire for a signed photo, and now Parseltongue. Harry was could speak to snakes, and he had to go and find that out for the first time in front of the entire school. Now it wasn't just Ginny who avoided him, it was the whole school except for Ron, Hermione, and for some reason, the twins. Fred and George seemed to find it all very funny, and made a huge deal about marching in front of him calling “Make way for the heir of Slytherin!”
Christmas holidays meant that the castle was near empty, but for the Weasleys and a few other students, including Malfoy. Ginny was disappearing from Harry's mind more and more often. Each time she vanished from his head, his worry and panic grew, but when he found her, she would snap at him or just give him a blank look and leave him confused and hurt. He tried to reconcile whatever he had done in every way he could, he even tried to carry her books for her. But Ginny's behavior grew more and more erratic, either giving him a smile or a glare. Christmas day, he sent her a box of the best chocolates he could find and waited for her in the common room.
When she came down, she was still in her pajamas, her red hair escaping from a loose braid. Her eyes were weary, purple circles resting beneath them. She gave him a tired smile and sat down next to him on the couch.
“Are you all right?” Harry asked. She shrugged.
“Why haven't you been talking to me? Why have you been avoiding me?”
Her eyes flashed sparks. “Just because I don't spend every second with you, Potter, doesn't mean I'm avoiding you!”
“You have!” he insisted. “What's been happening to you? I'm worried about you.”
Ginny flopped back against the couch with a sigh. “Nothing's happening,” she said, but he knew she was lying. He gripped her hand with both of his, a frown creasing his brow.
Something's wrong, Ginny, he thought. She glanced at him. In her eyes, he could see exhaustion, and angst. She glanced down at her hand in his, then met his eyes again. His heart skipped a beat; there was something in her eyes that raised the hairs on the back of his neck and made his blood run cold. She opened her mouth, but then her eyes darkened, and became hollow again. She tugged her hand out of his and stood up, walking away from him without a backward glance, without responding to him when he called after her.
That night, he, Ron, and Hermione took the Polyjuice potion. Hermione didn't go with them to question Malfoy, and when they returned they found out why. She had a tail, and whiskers, and fur everywhere that they could see. They took her straight to Madam Pomfrey, who fortunately didn't question them. Their efforts to get into the Slytherin Common room were useless, because Malfoy wasn't the heir of Slytherin. The only good thing that came out of that night was that they knew to tell Mr. Weasley to search for a hidden cellar in the Malfoy's house.
New Year’s usually was fun, but this year, it crushed Harry. He and Ginny were sitting at the Gryffindor table, enjoying an excellent dinner. During the past few days, she had been more alive; not as exhausted or upset, and more friendly to Harry. He was so grateful for her talking to him like she used to, that he didn't question her. At the New Year’s feast, she was quiet, but she sat with him and smiled at him for real. As the food vanished from the plates and puddings appeared, she leaned her head on her palm and gave him a strange look. He was about to reach for a dish of treacle tart, but stopped as she stared at him.
“I miss this,” she whispered. “I miss talking to you.”
“I miss it too,” he said. “Why have you been so distant if you don't want to?”
She opened her mouth, but didn't say anything. Her eyes, which had been their normal bright brown despite the dark circles beneath them a moment before, darkened for a second before going blank.
“Never mind,” she said, looking away. He frowned; he tried to hear what she was thinking, but something prevented him from hearing her thoughts. A short burst of anger shot through Harry. He grabbed her arm, making her to look at him again.
“Stop blocking me out!” he said. “Stop pushing me away!”
She tugged her arm out of his grip, a glare growing on her face. “Leave me alone,” she snapped.
“Ginny, I'm your best friend; why won't you tell me what's wrong?” Harry demanded. Ginny straightened in her seat, looking him in the eye.
“A real best friend wouldn't nag me,” she said quietly.
He slumped in his seat. “Are you saying you don't want me to be your best friend anymore?” he asked, and immediately regretted it. But he let the question stand. He needed to know; he couldn't just keep going through the vicious cycle anymore
Ginny was silent a moment. Different things flashed through her eyes. He saw hurt and thought maybe she wasn't saying what he thought she was saying, but then it was replaced with anger and she clenched her jaw. Darkness and hurt fought in her eyes, battling fiercely; he reached out to take her hand, but she stood up quickly as the darkness won.
“Yes,” Ginny said softly.
Harry felt like the wind had been knocked out of him. His vision blurred as tears prickled at his eyes. He blinked them away quickly and stood too.
“Fine,” he spat. He stood there a moment, his gaze locked with the girl he had thought he knew, before she turned away and walked quickly out of the Great Hall. He watched her go; this time, he didn't blink away the tears that spilled from his eyes. He glanced around, and left the hall just as quickly to hide his pain.
The weather seemed to agree with him as January went on. The skies were dark before six in the evening, and the sun only half-heartedly attempted to melt the snow that had covered Hogwarts. Icy winds ripped at robes and carried away any loose clothing unless one took the precaution of staying inside. Harry and Ginny kept away from each other whenever possible, and when it wasn't possible they were anything but civil. January was gone soon, and February gave Harry a pounding headache.
Lockhart had brought it upon himself to cheer up the school. Unfortunately, his definition of a pick-me-up was quite different from everyone else. On the morning of the fourteenth, Harry walked into the Great Hall and stopped in the doorway. The whole hall was draped in pink lace and heart shaped confetti. For a moment Harry wondered if he was dreaming, but then he remembered: Valentine's Day. Muttering a curse under his breath, he hurried to the Gryffindor table and grabbed some toast, giving a suddenly giggly Hermione a glare as he did so.
The decorations weren't the worst of it, though. Lockhart had somehow gotten a dozen dwarfs to dress up as little cupids and run around the castle delivering valentines. Harry did his best to ignore them, but they were loud and obnoxious and insist on embarrassing everyone as much as they could. He thought about sending something along the lines of an olive branch to Ginny, but didn't in fear of her hexing him.
Easter came and went. Ginny was growing more and more irritable, and Harry found himself breaking a bit more with each harsh word they traded. People started noticing that they weren't getting along anymore. Percy confronted him after dinner and told him to keep his personal affairs quiet and out of the way of student life. Harry almost punched him, since he didn't really know a good enough hex to express his anger, but didn't because it wasn't worth detention. Ron didn't really say much about their bitter exchanges, only giving Harry confused looks, but Hermione sat him down one evening and told him that he would just have to go and apologize for whatever he had done to annoy Ginny. Harry felt both angry, frustrated, and saddened. He told her everything that had happened, and while she still thought he ought to apologize, he did his best to make it clear that a simple “I'm sorry” would not fix their broken friendship.
Exams loomed over them menacingly, and Hermione began drawing up study schedules for him and Ron. Ginny's voice in his mind was stubbornly quiet, and he guessed that she had closed off their connection. He tried to talk to her but after she forced him out for the tenth time, he gave up. She really did not want to be his friend anymore.
And then Quidditch was canceled. Hermione and a Ravenclaw prefect had been attacked, and now lay in the hospital wing petrified. Madam Pomfrey closed off the Hospital Wing, security was increased, there was talk about closing the school, and Ginny still hated him. Ron and Harry went to go ask Hagrid about what Dobby had told him, but before they could get an answer, the Minister of Magic and Dumbledore showed up. Hagrid was arrested, Lucius Malfoy told Dumbledore that he had been suspended, and they were left with a very upset Fang. The only clue Hagrid could give them was “Follow the spiders,” which didn't really make sense but they followed a string of spiders into the Forbidden Forest anyway. Harry kept his wand lit, Ron kept his in his pocket since it was likely to explode in their faces if he tried to do anything with it, and they stepped into the dark woods with Fang.
It was horribly quiet in the Forest. Harry's heart tried to make up for it by pounding in his ears. Ron was the color of parchment as they followed the spiders deeper into the trees. Half an hour into their walk, the trail of spiders moved off the path. Ron and Harry exchanged looks, and followed them. They ran into Mr. Weasley's car, and then into more spiders. Literally.
Three, giant spiders stood over them. Ron froze with fear. The giant spiders took them to their nest, where they were dropped on the ground. The spiders flocked around them, and started clicking their pincers loudly. Harry heard a word in the din of clicking.
The ground rumbled as another spider, larger than any he had yet seen, crawled out into view. Milky white eyes stared up at the sky, hairy gray legs feeling around as it moved towards them. Harry's heart beat faster as the old spider came closer.
“What is it?” the old spider called. The spider had carried Harry clicked out a reply.
“Is it Hagrid?” Aragog asked.
“Strangers!” Ron's spider said.
“Kill them,” Aragog said dispassionately.
“We — we're friends of Hagrid!” Harry called out as the spiders crawled closer in. Ron whimpered by Harry.
“Friends of Hagrid?” Aragog said. “Hagrid has never sent strangers into our hollow before. What are you doing here, friend of Hagrid?”
“Hagrid's in trouble,” Harry said. “We came because he told us to come to you for answers.”
“Answers to what?”
“The Chamber of Secrets.”
The old spider clicked its pincers angrily. “Hagrid never opened the Chamber of Secrets! He had nothing to do with those attacks!”
“We know he was!” Harry said quickly. “But the Chamber's been opened again, and more people have been attacked. We wanted to know who did it last time, since it wasn't him.”
“I do not know,” Aragog rumbled. “I never saw anything of Hogwarts but for the box Hagrid kept me in. He released me into this forest when a girl was killed. He feared I would be discovered and blamed for the girl's death.”
“Do you know what killed her?” Harry asked.
Aragog shifted his weight nervously. “It is a dark creature, one we spiders fear above all others. We do not speak its name.”
“Can't you tell us?” Harry begged. “Please!”
“I never even told Hagrid what it was. I begged him to let me go when I felt it stirring in the school. He only did after the girl was killed.”
“If we don't know what it is, we can't help Hagrid! He's been sent to prison and he could be there for the rest of his life or worse, unless we prove that it wasn't him!” Harry said. The sea of spiders around them pressed closer still. Their hairy bodies were trembling, either in desire for meat or fear of the monster Aragog was talking about.
“I care deeply for Hagrid,” Aragog said. “He raised me from an egg. It is because of this that I will help you, friend of Hagrid. The monster is a Basilisk.”
The spiders around Harry and Ron shuddered and scurried away from them. Aragog shifted nervously again, but stood his ground.
“A Basilisk?” Harry repeated.
“Yes; I won't say it again! A giant snake, armed with both poisonous fangs and a poisonous gaze. That is how it prefers to kill its victims, but looking them in the eye. Sometimes it doesn't work and the victim is petrified.”
“Who did it kill?” Harry asked.
“A girl, I don't know her name. But I know she died in a bathroom.”
Harry glanced at Ron, who still looked terrified.
“Thank you,” Harry said. “We'll go now.”
The spiders inched forward again. Aragog clicked out something Harry couldn't understand, and the spiders retreated.
“Go now. Help Hagrid. Perhaps if you run fast enough, my children won't catch you.”
“Catch — catch us?” Harry said, his eyes widening.
“They are hungry, and I cannot deny them fresh meat when it wanders so willingly into our midst. I would rather you save Hagrid, but my children feel different. I suggest you run.”
The other spiders pressed closer. Harry jumped up and tugged Ron up too. Fang trembled by Harry's side. The spiders clicking pincers pounded in Harry's ears, and Harry silently cursed Aragog for being so helpful in telling what they needed to know and then decided they weren't worth keeping alive. Ron spoke for the first time since the spiders got them: He swore very, very loudly.
And then the roar of an engine broke the din of spiders rejoicing their new meal. Bright headlights split the sea of spiders, and Mr. Weasley's car skidded to a halt in the dirt before them. Ron swore again, Harry shoved him into the car and the car shot backwards, away from the spiders wailing and clicking their pincers too fast for Harry to catch what they were saying. The car left them at the edge of the forest; they left Fang at Hagrid's hut, and ran back up to the school. One thought kept Harry awake that night: The girl the Basilisk had killed. Aragog had told them that she had died in a bathroom. Harry kept thinking What if she never left? What if she was still there, haunting the toilet? Moaning Myrtle's ghostly face swam before his eyes. What if it had been her?
There was no chance to go and talk to Moaning Myrtle over the next few weeks, since students were required to be back in their common room before six and patrols in the corridors increased heavily. They were escorted everywhere by teachers, so they couldn't sneak off in between classes. Harry tried to get a chance to talk to Myrtle after Defense Against the Dark Arts one afternoon by getting rid of Lockhart, but just as soon as they got away, McGonagall caught them. Harry told her they had been trying to go see Hermione, which made McGonagall soften. She took them to the Hospital Wing and let them sit there for a few minutes before taking them to their next class.
Harry took to haunting the library, looking for books that said anything about his and Ginny's connection. If she didn't want him in her mind anymore, then he was going to find a way to give her what she wanted. He pulled every book that mentioned mental links, mind reading, everything. He read about something called Occlumency, and figured that if he could not find a way to break their connection, they could use that to keep each other out. He spent so much time in the library, that Ron started claiming that he was channeling Hermione while she was petrified, except he wasn't doing schoolwork.
One night in June, Harry was bent over a huge leather bound book, fighting to stay awake as the candles around him burned lower and lower and the clock by Madam Pince's desk ticked closer and closer to closing time. Rain pounding at the high windows behind him, dark storm clouds matching the turmoil fighting in Harry's mind. He listened carefully for Ginny's thoughts in his mind. She was ominously quiet. Even though she was blocking him out, he could normally still hear something on her side of his mind, but tonight she was silent. He valiantly tried to ignore the lack of noise on her side of his mind, to focus on the book before him, but his concentration kept slipping.
“... Occlumency was first discovered in 942 A.D.,” he read. What is she doing? Harry shook his head to clear it and tried to focus on his reading again. “The discovery of this branch of magic was prompted by Merlin's ability to 'read' the emotions and, occasionally, thoughts of his enemies.” Where is she? He let out a low groan and dropped his head onto the book. This is hopeless! Harry thought, I'm never going to find a way to break our connection. She'll just be stuck with me the rest of her life. Harry stared bleakly at the page half an inch from his eyes. I'll have to listen to her hating me for the rest of my life, he thought despairingly.
Harry sat up quickly, staring at the page. Two words stood out against the rest of the page, in a small footnote at the bottom. “Soul bonds” Harry's eyes scanned the page as quickly as he could process it, and then he shot out of his seat and walked as quickly as he could without drawing Madam Pince's ire to the section where he had found the book on Occlumency. He ran his fingers along the spines of the books before him, looking for 'Magic of Merlin's Age'. He found it, and tugged it off the shelf. He started back towards his table, when the unpleasant figure of Madam Pince pounced on him.
“The library is now closed,” she snapped.
Harry was about to open his mouth to protest that it wasn't yet eight, but as he did, the chiming of her clock announced that it was indeed eight o'clock. He shut his mouth quickly.
“Put that back,” Pince said, gesturing at the book in his hands.
“Can't I check it out?”
Her lips pursed, her harsh eyes displaying that she was considering it. “Very well, you may,” she said, and tugged the book out of his hands. He grabbed his bag as they passed his table. Madam Pince stamped the card on the inside of the book and shooed him out of the library. He walked back up to Gryffindor tower, gave the Fat Lady the password and chose an armchair by the fire to read. Most people were still out in the main castle, some still at dinner, so the common room was empty. He remembered as his stomach growled that he hadn't eaten dinner. Ignoring this, Harry cracked the book and started reading. He scanned the table of contents, passing over the lists of spells and potions. He found what he was looking for and flipped to the back of the book.
“Soul bonds are of the rarest branches of magic. It is for this reason that there is very little known about them, and what is known is mostly speculation. There are two types of bonds documented: One being a bond of true love, made at the marriage altar, the other being a bond of mind and soul, made typically when the bonded are of a young age. This soul bond occurs only when two already powerful souls find themselves in need of help from the other. However, this kind of bond should be impossible because at the time such bonds are created, the bonded are too young to control their magic and, in rare cases, the pair had not even met when the bond commenced.
“There are dangers that come with being bonded to another as well as benefits. One such benefit is that the pair will be constantly aware of where the other is.” Harry let out a snort at this. He rarely knew where Ginny was these days. Maybe the book didn't have their kind of bond recorded. “Not in the conventional way but that they would be aware of their proximity to the other. Another is that they would have a mental connection of sorts, able to sense the other's emotions. In a few cases, the pair was able to read the other's thoughts when touching.” Harry frowned. He and Ginny could always hear each other's thoughts, no matter where they were. At least they could until Ginny decided she didn't want to hear him anymore. “Souls bonded in this way have great magical powers, advancing in skill faster than most their age. The reason for this is not known.” Harry strained to remember a time when he had been excelling at any kind of magic. Other than at flying, he came up blank. Ginny was great at Charms and Transfiguration, but he wasn't top in anything.
“Soul bonds are, however, nothing to be trifled with due to the dangers that can occur when one tries to create a soul bond where it is false or to break a soul bond where it is true.” Harry frowned harder at this. Did that mean that he would never be able to let Ginny go? “If someone tries to break a soul bond, the results are explosive. One thing that has happened in the past is that the pair simply dies at any attempt to separate their bond. Another is that they become mentally unstable. There are many things that could and have happened, and none of them are pleasant.” Harry's spirits sank. There was no way to break their connection, not unless he wanted to kill himself. For a moment he considered that option, but the next sentence ended that as a possibility. “In the event that only one of the pair dies, it would simply be kindest to kill the other because the repercussions of one dying are dangerous and painful, not just to the one still living but to those around him or her. Their magic would become unstable, as well as their mind.” Harry scrapped that idea then. He didn't want Ginny to go mad because he tried to break their connection. He stared down at the book half-heartedly. Guess she's stuck with me whether she likes it or not, he thought dejectedly.
Harry sat up quickly, looking around. There was no one in the common room apart from him. He glanced back down at the book in his lap, when he heard his name again. He glanced around the room, but there was still no one there.
The book went flying as he jumped to his feet. Ginny, he thought. He could hear her like she was standing next to him, but she wasn't there. No one was there.
Harry, help me!
He swore. He ran flat out from the common room, cursing himself for not realizing that he hadn't been hearing her call him, he had been hearing her thinking.
Where are you? He thought desperately.
Moaning Myrtle. Parseltongue. Diary.
What? Harry thought, even more confused. Where are you?
Help! Stop him!
A sudden image of a teenage boy flashed before his eyes, coldly handsome features twisted in sick laughter. He felt a rush of pain and shame from her, and stumbled as he ran.
And then he didn't need her to tell him where she was. It clicked. He ran faster, pushing past a sudden throng of people going up the stairs. Vaguely he heard McGonagall's voice booming through the corridors, but he ignored her. Ginny was in the Chamber of Secrets.
He turned a corner on the second floor and thudded to a halt. Ron stood in his way. Both boys fell over, and both swore loudly.
“Ron!” Harry said, scrambling up. “What are you doing?”
“Have you heard?” Ron said. “Someone's been taken down into the Chamber of Secrets by the heir of Slytherin!”
“We have to find Ginny,” Harry said, starting past Ron. But Ron grabbed his arm and stopped him.
“What's the matter?” Ron said, frowning. “She should be up in the common room with everyone else. I was going to tell Lockhart what we found out about the Chamber; he's supposed to go and rescue whoever's down there.”
“Forget Lockhart, he's useless! Ginny's the one down there!”
Ron turned white. “Wha-what? How do you know?”
“There's no time to explain, I have to go rescue her!”
“Harry, you can't go running off half-cocked! We need help, okay?”
“There's no —”
“Yes, there is. We'll get Lockhart. He's not totally useless.”
Ron started dragging Harry away from Myrtle's bathroom, towards Lockhart's office. Harry glanced down the hall to Moaning Myrtle's bathroom door, groaned, and ran to Lockhart's office with Ron.
They pounded on the door. It cracked open, showing a sliver of Lockhart's face.
“Ah, Harry,” he said, his eyes darting around. “Now isn't the best time —”
“My sister's in danger, Professor, you've got to help her!” Ron said.
“Erm, yes, about that — urgent business, can't avoid it, I am sorry, but —”
“But you're the Defense teacher! You're supposed to help with stuff like this!”
“Well, it is regrettable, yes, but I'm afraid there's nothing I can do,” Lockhart said.
“But what about that stuff you talk about in your books? About chivalry and all that?” Harry questioned.
“Uh, books can be misleading,” Lockhart said with a nervous laugh.
“But you wrote them!” Harry and Ron shouted together.
Lockhart threw up his hands, knocking the door open. Two open trunks sat in the room, which looked half stripped of its contents. “Harry, I am misleading! I didn't do any of that stuff, and I don't plan on risking my neck for some silly little girl.”
Harry's wand was drawn and nearly shoved up Lockhart's nose before Ron could even form a look of anger. Lockhart's face turned paper white, his eyes crossing as he tried to keep the tip of Harry's wand in sight.
“You're a coward!” Harry spat. “Ginny is in serious danger, there's someone down there with her and he's hurting her! If you don't save her, I will!”
“Harry, calm down!” Lockhart said in a squeaky voice. “You can't save her, you're just a kid. No one can. She's gone. Nothing you or I can —”
“I can save her!” Harry shouted. “And I will. And then I'll tell Dumbledore that you're a fraud.”
“Oh, dear,” Lockhart said. “No, I'm afraid I can't let you do that.”
“Watch me,” Harry snarled. He turned towards Ron, ready to storm from the office and find Ginny, but Lockhart was determined.
The professor drew his wand and aimed it at Harry's back. Ron grabbed Harry's arm to warn him, as Lockhart shouted “Obliviate!”
The blue light of Lockhart's spell shot from his wand and flew through the air towards Harry. Harry jumped around, and flung out a hand. The spell collided with Harry's palm.
Lockhart smiled maliciously for a moment, but his eyes widened in horror as Harry closed his fist around the fading light, and flung it away from him. The spell intensified in color and enveloped Lockhart.
Lockhart's eyes drifted out of focus, and he fell to the ground.
Ron and Harry stared at Lockhart, stunned.
“H-Harry?” Ron said in a higher voice than normal. “Are you — Do you know who you are?”
“Yeah,” Harry said, frowning at Ron. “Why wouldn't I?”
“That was a memory spell,” Ron said. “It should have wiped your memory.”
Harry glanced at Lockhart and then at the door. “We can worry about that later, Ginny needs our help.”
Ron poked Lockhart with his toe. The man grunted. “Well, he's not dead,” Ron said. Harry glanced at him again, then grabbed Ron's arm and tugged him out of the office.
The two boys ran down the corridors and skidded to a halt in front of Moaning Myrtle's bathroom. Harry pushed open the door and led Ron in.
“Why are we in here?” Ron asked.
“The entrance to the Chamber of Secrets is here,” Harry said.
“How do you know?”
“Because Ginny knows,” Harry said quietly. He stepped in front of one of the sinks and glanced over it. On the faucet, there was a small carving of a snake.
“How do we get in?”
Harry stepped back. He focused on Ginny, his eyes shut tight.
How do I get to you?
Flashes of ghost pain shot through him. He winced as pain seared into his left arm. He focused harder, his fists clenching as he pressed into Ginny's mind.
Parseltongue, her voice said.
He opened his eyes and his mouth.
“Open,” he said. Ron jumped as the word left his mouth.
Silence. All was still for a moment. And then a low rumbling sounded, and the sink in front of them slid backward. Harry peered into the hole beneath the sink; a long tunnel, leading out of sight.
“Let's go,” Harry said. Ron let out a sound akin to a whimper. Harry ignored him, and jumped.
The tunnel walls were slimy and cold. Harry slid over rough stone in darkness. Ron's yelp and string of expletives told him that his friend had followed. Abruptly, the tunnel ended and he dropped onto a carpet of hard, pokey things. He winced as he stood up. Ron came shooting out of the tunnel, still swearing. Harry helped him up, and pulled him down a passage, lighting his wand as he did. They moved slowly, carefully, wary of the monster that waited for them.
The turned a corner, and both boys dropped to the ground. Harry poked his head up, squinting through his eyelashes at the thing before them. It was a husk of snake skin. Long and wide enough for him to stand in, the snake skin glistened in the light of Harry's wand.
“Come on,” Harry whispered to Ron, standing shakily. Ron held his wand at the ready, despite the Spellotape and the fact that his hand was trembling just as much as Harry was. They stepped forward, edging around the skin.
And then several things happened at once. A long, terrible scream tore at Harry's ear drums and stopped his heart. Ron tripped over a loose rock as he darted ahead and crashed into the skin. Harry ran forward, sparks flying from his wand, towards the end of the passage, where the scream was still coming.
“Ginny!” Harry yelled. A blast of light shot from his wand and flew randomly upwards. It hit the ceiling, and Harry froze as the passage groaned. Rocks tumbled from the ceiling; Harry flung himself farther down the passage as Ron ran in the other direction. When he turned back, a pile of rocks blocked the tunnel.
“Ron, are you okay?” Harry yelled.
“Yeah,” came Ron's muffled voice. “Go get Ginny! I'll try and clear the rocks!”
Harry didn't need telling twice. He turned, and ran. The scream had stopped during the cave-in, but Harry's blood was still running cold. His thoughts focused on one thing: Finding Ginny.
The passage opened up into a huge cavern. Ghostly green light flickered across the wet stone, reflected in the water surrounding the stone path. Harry glanced around, and his eyes found her.
“Ginny!” he cried, half in relief, half in horror. He ran to her side; she lay on the ground at the feet of a huge statue. Harry dropped his wand, and fell to his knees beside her. Her eyes were closed, and her chest was still. Her right hand was clasped over the little black diary. Bruises covered her arms, her left arm was flung out beside her, and her sleeve was bloody. “Wake up, please! Wake up!” Harry grabbed her left wrist, feeling for a pulse. As he did, her sleeve fell away, and his stomach turned over. The skin of her upper arm was torn up, long gashes forming a word. Worthless. He fell back, his eyes wide with horror.
“She won't wake.”
Harry turned around with a gasp, to see a teenage boy standing behind him, twirling a wand between his fingers. But he wasn't really there. His outline was blurred, and the lines that formed his body were imprecise.
“Who are you?” Harry said.
“My name is Tom Riddle.”
“What do you mean she won't wake?” Harry asked, glancing down at Ginny. A sudden feeling of even worse panic filled him. “She's not — She isn't —”
“She's still alive,” said Tom Riddle, “but just barely.”
Harry slipped his arms under her back, trying to lift her up. “Please, Tom, you've got to help me!” he said as his arms and legs trembled under Ginny's limp weight.
Tom just smiled. “There's no point,” he said. “You see, as little Ginny grows weaker, I grow stronger.”
Harry found that his scrawny form couldn't hold her up any longer, and he collapsed onto the ground. “What do you mean?”
“Little Ginny Weasley has been writing in my diary for almost a year now,” Tom said. “She poured her heart and soul into me, and after a while, I started pouring a bit back into her. I was able to take over her body, make her do things that she didn't want to do. She opened the Chamber, and petrified those students and the caretaker's cat. I forced her to write that message on the wall. I made her open the Chamber and attack the Mudbloods.”
“No,” Harry whispered. “She — she wouldn't —”
Tom let out a cold, unfeeling laugh. “She fought me, of course. She didn't want to do it, but I had control of her. She could not resist me.”
“But — but what are you doing to her?”
“I am feeding off her energy, and once I finish, I will be strong again.”
“But you'll kill her!”
“Yes, I know that.”
“No!” Harry said, shooting to his feet. “I won't let you!”
Tom Riddle laughed his cold laugh. Harry noticed with a jolt that the wand in Tom's hand was his. “You won't let me? You? A twelve year old boy with no remarkable talent, stop me, the greatest wizard of all time?”
“Dumbledore is the greatest wizard of all time!”
Tom's blurry face twisted with anger. “Dumbledore has been driven out by the mere memory of me! Me, the one to become the Dark Lord, Lord Voldemort!”
“You're — you're Voldemort?”
“I am!” Tom boasted. He raised Harry's wand, and drew in the air three words, Tom Marvolo Riddle. He gave the wand a flick, and the letters rearranged themselves to say 'I am Lord Voldemort'. A stone dropped in Harry's stomach. Tom's lips twisted in a sick smile. “I have many questions for you, Harry Potter. Ginny told me you supposedly defeated me, but she did not know how. So, how is that a baby managed to defeat the greatest wizard of all time?”
“I told you,” Harry said, his hands shaking, “Dumbledore is the greatest wizard of all time.”
Tom's face became less handsome as anger moved his features. He opened his mouth to retort, but he froze. Music had filled the cavernous Chamber. Both Harry and Tom started, looking around to see where it was coming from. It was unnatural, eerie, but it filled Harry with a sense of hope, and from the look on Tom's face, it filled him with fear.
The music swelled, its unearthly sound echoing through the Chamber, and as it reached a peak, a burst of flame appeared above their heads. A bird formed in the flames, fluttering on its red feathered wings, and clutching a ragged bit of cloth in its glinting talons. The bird flew down, dropped the ragged cloth at Harry's feet, and landed on his shoulder.
“Fawkes?” Harry breathed. The bird's talons squeezed his shoulders briefly. Harry bent and picked up the ragged cloth, and shook it out. It was the Sorting Hat. Tom laughed, putting on a brave face, but Harry saw in his eyes that the fear the song had inspired in him still lingered.
“So this is what Dumbledore sends his great defender!” Tom laughed, sneering at Harry and Fawkes. “A songbird and an old hat.”
Harry felt a twinge of disappointment, along with a boatload of fear. How was a hat going to help him?
“Poor Ginny,” Tom said, clucking his tongue, “she was so certain that great, brave Harry Potter was going to come and rescue her.”
And then, anger surged in Harry. His hands shook as he held the hat, the edges of his vision tinted red, and the little stones and pebbles along the stone floor began to vibrate. Tom suddenly looked alarmed, but he quickly masked it. Fawkes' talons dug into his shoulder as the great bird flapped its wings and took off into the air.
“You can talk all you want, but there's no way I'll just stand by and let you kill Ginny! I'll die first!” Harry shouted.
“Harry, Harry,” Tom sighed. “You make an offer I cannot refuse.”
Harry frowned., then his eyes widened in fear and realization.
Tom was striding up to the statue, and then he was speaking in Parseltongue at it. Harry remembered with horror what creature was supposed to be in the Chamber. A Basilisk.
The great snake slithered out of the statue's mouth. Harry was forced to run from Ginny, whose closed eyes would protect her from it, to hide. Tom ordered the snake to kill him. Harry ducked behind a pillar, when he heard an animal's cry of pain. Through his eyelashes, he peeked around the pillar to see the great snake swinging its head through the air, droplets of blood falling like tears to the ground. Fawkes was flying around the snake's head, dodging the Basilisk's fangs. Harry watched in horrified fascination as the phoenix dived towards the snake's head. It let out a roar of pain, and its head turned towards Harry. Before Harry could close his eyes, the Basilisk's gaze landed on Harry's.
Its eyes were crying blood. Both yellow eyes had been popped. It was blind.
Harry felt a surge of affection for the phoenix. And then he was fighting again. Tom hissed at the snake to smell him out, and as it slashed its tail in frustration, something soft was swept into Harry's arms. The Sorting Hat. Harry tugged it on, thinking that it was his last, desperate chance, and begged it for help.
Nothing happened. Harry thought that his last hope had been squandered, but then, the hat twisted, squeezing as though an invisible someone was contracting it, and something heavy and hard thudded onto his head. Stars winked in front of his eyes, and he gripped the hat. Something hard and slim was in it. He pulled it off, to reveal a gleaming silver sword.
The Basilisk was still lunging at the walls, blindly trying to catch him. Harry looked between the sword and the blind snake, and tossed the hat aside, his mind made up. He could either die, and Ginny would too, or he could kill the stupid snake and save his best friend.
Harry charged the Basilisk, yelling to make sure the snake knew where he stood. As the snake turned towards him, and lunged, Harry threw his weight behind the sword, and drove it through the roof of the snake's mouth.
But even as the snake writhed and screamed in agony, hot pain spread over Harry's arm. He ignored it, anger and adrenaline holding him up despite his fear. He twisted the blade out, and the snake fell to the ground with a crashing thud.
When it fell, a single fang broke away from the snake's jaw. Harry looked down in horror and shock at the fang protruding from his arm.
Tom was staring at him in shock too, his gaze flitting from the snake to Harry, as Harry stumbled forward and fell to his knees by Ginny.
“Well,” Tom said, evidently trying to remain calm, “this doesn't matter. You're dead anyway. You'll be dead in minutes.”
Harry knew this. He grasped the fang, and pulled it out of his arm. It glistened with blood and poison. It fell from his numb fingers and clattered to the ground. The red at the edges of his vision turned to black spots. Tom's face showed both triumph and shock now.
“So ends Harry Potter,” he said with a sneer. “Alone and afraid, at the hands of the very person he supposedly defeated.”
Harry looked up at Tom, not afraid but sad. He wasn't afraid, but he was alone; even though his best friend lay beside him, he was alone. Ginny didn't want to be his friend anymore anyway. She wouldn't really care if he died, only that her life would be unstable because of it.
His eyes moved to Ginny, to the diary in her hands. He suddenly knew why she had been vanishing from his mind. She had been possessed. Tom had stolen her from him. It was all because of that diary.
He grabbed it, and laid it on the ground in front of him.
“What are you doing?” Tom asked as Harry picked up the fang again. Harry looked back up at Tom, the fang held over the diary. Tom's outline was still blurred. He had not claimed Ginny's life yet.
“I'm saving Ginny,” he said, and stabbed the diary.
Ink poured from the pages like blood. Tom screamed, his face twisted in ugly pain and anger. Harry pushed the fang clear through the leather cover and the pages. Tom fell to his knees, clutching his head, screaming in pain. And then, he was gone.
Beside Harry, Ginny drew in a sharp breath. Her eyes opened, she sat up slowly, and her eyes locked on Harry's.
“Ginny …” Harry breathed, barely noticing Fawkes landing beside them. Ginny's eyes took in the bloody sword, the Basilisk's body, the diary, the fang, and finally his bloody and numb arm.
Her eyes widened and her lower lip trembled. She stretched out a shaking hand and touched his arm, her cold fingers brushed over his wound.
“Ha-Harry?” her voice came out soft and scared. “Wha-what happened?”
“I killed the Basilisk,” he said. “But it got me.”
Ginny's eyes filled with tears. Her hand now bloody, she threw her arms around his neck and broke down in sobs. “It was me!” she cried. “I opened the Chamber, but I swear, I swear! I did-didn't mean to! T-Tom made me! Oh, Harry, I hated being alone! I c-couldn't hear you half the time and Tom s-said you would hate me be-because I was the one attacking everyone and he said I ha-had to ignore you and be mean — and I hated it! Oh, Harry, I'm sorry! I'm really, really sorry! And — and now you're hurt and it's my fault!”
Harry awkwardly patted her back, even though the numbness was spreading through him. “It wasn't your fault,” he said, “it was Riddle's fault.”
Ginny only cried harder. Her tears soaked the shoulder of his robes. Harry held her tightly to him, his uninjured arm trembling and the other lying limply by his side. Fawkes laid his head on Harry's arms, and Harry saw that Fawkes was crying too. The bird's tears mixed with Ginny's, running down his arm.
Harry let out a gasp. His arm suddenly started stinging. Ginny sat up at his gasp and looked down at his arm, tears still falling from her eyes. Harry watched one of her tears splash right into the center of the gash, but as he watched more tears fall, his arm stopped hurting. The stinging stopped, and the wound started to heal. Both he and Ginny watched in stunned silence as skin regrew over his arm, and the wound disappeared, leaving only a white scar.
Amazed, Harry lifted his arm and ran a finger over the scar.
“How?” Ginny breathed, her eyes wider than before.
“I have no idea,” Harry murmured. Fawkes trilled, lifting both Harry and Ginny's spirits. Harry glanced between Fawkes and Ginny, still stunned.
“Wait a second,” Harry said, “Fawkes is a phoenix. Dumbledore said that phoenixes have all sorts of powers.”
“Like healing tears,” Ginny said, nodding.
Fawkes blinked up at them, then trilled again. Harry ran a hand down Fawkes' feathers. The bird cocked its head and pressed its head into Harry's hand.
“Thank you, Fawkes,” Harry whispered. The bird let out a trill, and hopped over to Ginny's side. Harry glanced back over her, and his stomach twisted again as his eyes fell on her arm. She glanced down at it, and her face drained of blood.
“What happened to you?” Harry asked. “What did he do to you?”
Ginny's eyes stayed on her arm. Harry reached forward and cupped her cheek in his palm, tilting her face up at him. Ginny's wide eyes told him she didn't want to tell him.
“What did he do?” he repeated forcefully. She swallowed anxiously; her eyes refused to meet his. Harry touched a finger to her arm; blood still oozed from the wound, running down her arm and dripping to the floor. Ginny winced and he pulled his finger back quickly.
He beat me, Harry.
Harry's jaw clenched with anger. “Did he — did he touch you?”
Ginny's face flushed pink, though she was still pale. “No, not like that.”
“How did he cut your arm?”
Ginny's eyes fell to the ground. “My wand. He took it and used it to hurt me.”
Harry glanced around, and saw his wand lying next to hers. He reached over and grabbed them. Ginny took hers from his hand, twisting between her fingers. Harry glanced over at Fawkes, then at her arm.
“Could you heal her too?” he asked quietly. Fawkes blinked up at him and trilled. He hopped closer, and rested his head against her arm. Ginny let out a little gasp of pain as fat tears slipped from the phoenix's eyes, mixing with her blood and dripping down her arm. Slowly, the bruises faded, the blood stopped oozing, and the cut sealed itself, leaving behind the word in a scar. Fawkes shook a few more pearly tears onto her arm, but the scar stayed stubbornly white against her skin. Ginny looked down at her arm, her face a mix of emotions, and then smiled gratefully at the bird. Harry patted Fawkes' head, and he trilled warmly.
Harry picked up the diary, the hat, and the sword, helped Ginny to her feet. She was shaky; and had to lean on him, but he lent her all the strength he had and the two of them, with Fawkes, left the Chamber. They found Ron clearing a hole in the cave-in. Ron grabbed Ginny in a hug the second he saw her, his face split in a joyful grin, and Fawkes carried them up the passage back to Moaning Myrtle's bathroom. Fawkes then led them to McGonagall's office, where Dumbledore and Mr. and Mrs. Weasley were waiting.
McGonagall took Ginny and her parents to the Hospital Wing, Mrs. Weasley exclaiming loudly and tearfully about how she was going to murder whoever scarred her little girl. Ron went to owl Azkaban, and Dumbledore kept Harry back to explain about the sword. Harry was stunned to realize that it was the Sword of Gryffindor, but Dumbledore did not seem surprised. Dumbledore then thanked Harry for what he had done, and explained why his arm had been healed when Fawkes cried on it; Harry and Ginny's guess had been right. They then were surprised by Lucius Malfoy, who was enraged that Dumbledore was had dared return to the school. And yet another surprise came in the form of the small creature who was bobbing around Mr. Malfoy's feet. Dobby gave Harry the final clue about the diary, and then Harry returned the favor by tricking Malfoy into freeing Dobby. Harry sat with Ginny at the celebratory feast that night, and they sat together on the train back home.
Aunt Petunia and Thea were waiting for Harry when they arrived on the platform, and Aunt Petunia startled everyone when she wrapped Harry in a tight hug. Harry hugged Ginny good-bye, and promised to visit her the next day. Even though she was still in his mind and he would see her the next morning, Harry felt a definite sense of sadness when Ginny's family climbed into a rented car and drove away.
It seemed that Harry's adventure in the Chamber of Secrets had reached his aunt and grandmother, because the instant the Weasleys were out of hearing range, Aunt Petunia started harping on Harry for risking his life and not letting an adult handle the situation. Harry was too surprised by this sudden show of care for him to tell her that he had tried to let an adult handle it, but the adult had ended up wiping his own memory in an attempt to get out of saving Ginny. Thea said he had been both brave and foolish, and then they took him to lunch before going home. Dudley was still at school apparently, so Harry had three extra days without his annoying cousin. He still got to see Ginny every day, and sometimes he spent the night at her house with Ron, but every time he left her, he felt sad, and the old worry that had come about while she was writing in Riddle's diary would return, even if in a vague form.
One blisteringly hot night in late June, while Harry was at his grandmother's house, Fate appeared by Thea Evans' chicken coop, with Chaos and Night, but this time with a cat by her side. The cat's tabby fur almost glowed in the dark, sleek shades of red and purple, an unnatural color for a cat. The cat was just as large as the wolf, and its eyes gleamed an angry red. Night was perched on the cat's back, and the crow was seeming to enjoy irritating the cat. Night was steadfastly ignoring both the cat and Chaos. One blisteringly hot night in late June, while Harry was at his grandmother's house, Fate appeared by Thea Evans' chicken coop, with Chaos and Night, but this time with a cat by her side. The cat's tabby fur almost glowed in the dark, sleek shades of red and purple, an unnatural color for a cat. The cat was just as large as the wolf, and its eyes gleamed an angry red. Chaos was perched on the cat's back, and the crow was seeming to enjoy irritating the cat. Night was steadfastly ignoring both the cat and Chaos.
Fate leaned heavily on her staff. The moon high above them set her black cloak glimmering. Her eyes were heavy with all her knowledge and having to deal with her squabbling companions. Night was pecking at the cat's head, poking her with his talons and squawking in her ear.
Just then, the cat seemed to be fed up with Chaos. Her claws flashed out and Chaos let out a croaky squawk, launching from her back to Fate's staff.
The cat bared its teeth at Chaos. Night fluffed his feathers at her. Night growled at Chaos, the cat hissed, and Fate pressed the hand not holding her staff over her eyes wearily.
“Chaos,” Fate said softly, “leave her alone.”
“What?” Chaos crowed. “I'm only being friendly.”
Night bared his teeth at Chaos. Chaos flapped his wings and crowed mockingly. The cat pawed the ground with gleaming claws.
“You are being childish,” Fate snapped at the crow. “Apologize.”
Chaos let out a bird's version of a huff.
The cat flicked her tail angrily. Night’s hackles were raised. Fate glared at Chaos, eyebrows raised.
“Fine!” Chaos croaked. “I apologize.”
The cat gave a final flick of her tail, and turned her back on the crow. Night nudged her flank with his shoulder, and the cat shot him an appreciative look.
“Oh, stop it!” Night squawked. “It's bad enough you two don't get off each other when we're normal, but it's freaky when you do it in animal form!”
“Let them be,” Fate snapped. “Or I'll put you in a cage.”
Chaos huffed again. Fate sighed. She conjured a chair with a wave of her hand, and lowered her ancient bones into it. Chaos fluttered to the top of her chair, Fate lay her staff across her knees, and the cat and wolf lay down at her feet. Fate rested her head on the back of her chair, and whispered spells beneath her breath. A millisecond later, her mind was connected to Harry and Ginny's.
She found herself in the middle of a nightmare. The fuzzy figure of Tom Riddle was bent over Ginny, laughing as he touched her and as Ginny begged him to leave her alone. Harry was standing a few feet away, shouting at Riddle, but Riddle was ignoring him. Harry was trying to get to Ginny, but something was holding him back. Ginny was crying. Fate pressed a hand to her mouth. No child should have to experience such sick things, but Fate knew that without this experience, Ginny would not have the strength to carry out her duty in the coming storm.
But to relive it in her dreams was too much. Fate waved a hand, and the nightmare faded. The Chamber was gone, and the two children were in the oasis Fate had first spoken to them in.
Harry had still been fighting against whatever had been holding him away from Ginny when Fate relieved them of their nightmare, and he fell forward when there was suddenly nothing holding him back. He staggered forward, and caught himself before he fell flat on his face. Ginny stopped crying, and looked around. Harry grabbed her hands and pulled the trembling girl to her feet. He wrapped an arm around her, and looked around as well.
“Who's there?” Harry called. Fate made sure that she was as invisible and non-present as she could be without actually leaving. She needed to watch them.
But, as they had been before, her efforts were in vain. Harry spotted her at once, and raised a hand.
A group of animals burst from the forest behind her, and darted around her, growling and snarling. Fate was stunned to see lions, griffins, manticores, hippogriffs, and even a small dragon; all circling her.
“What are you doing here?” Harry demanded. Fate was shell-shocked, but she retained her power of speech.
“I came to observe,” she said. “As I have done in the past.”
Harry narrowed his eyes at her. “I remember you,” he said. “You visited us two years ago.”
“And, like then, I did not intend to speak to you.”
“Why did you want to watch us?” Ginny asked, her voice soft and shaky, but her eyes flashed with indignation.
“I cannot say.”
“Can't or won't?”
“Will not,” Fate said. “I apologize, but you must discover it on your own.”
Harry scowled. “Why?”
“I cannot say.”
Both of them groaned. “Can't you tell us anything?”
Fate paused, thinking. “You are stronger than we thought,” she said. “Especially your bond.”
“What's our bond supposed to be?” Ginny said.
Fate bowed herself out. Next time, she would have to take even greater precautions to avoid being noticed.
“Well?” Chaos crowed in her ear. Fate winced. The cat at her feet batted a paw at the crow, making him fly out of her reach.
“You were incorrect, as always, Chaos,” Fate said.
“Then I was right,” said the cat in a low, purring voice.
“Yes, you were,” Fate sighed. Chaos fluffed his tail feathers at them. Fate glared up at the crow, and flicked a finger at him. With a squawk, Chaos vanished.
“Where did you send him?” said Night. His voice was deep, rhythmic, enchanting.
“Back,” Fate replied simply. “We will join him soon.”
“Why not now?” the cat asked.
Fate lay her head back on the chair. “I want silence for a moment,” she said. The cat's eyes gleamed with mirth, though still an angry mirth. Night settled his head on his paws, and stared up at the sky.
There was one thing she could have mentioned to Harry and Ginny, and Fate did not know why she had kept it from them. When Harry's arm had been pierced with the poisonous fang, he had been doomed to die. And then, against the odds he survived. Dumbledore and the pair of youths had thought it had been Fawkes' tears that had saved him, but that wasn't entirely true.
Phoenix tears alone are not enough to cure Basilisk venom, at least not the amount of venom that Harry had taken on. But when combined with the magic of a powerful bond, they can heal anything. Fawkes had not been the only one crying.
Ginny's tears had healed Harry, not Fawkes. Fate just wished she knew how.
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