Disclaimer: This is a work of fan-fiction based on the Harry Potter books by J. K. Rowling. No undue claim nor material profit is intended.

Creatures Great and Small
by Andrea13 and Persephone
Chapter 5

Tom and Rubeus had been much more careful for some time, but still found chances to visit Sharessa. She seemed to like Fido, though they weren't sure whether to build a fire in the Chamber and thus Fido really preferred not to visit that often. One night, however, Sharessa pushed Tom steadily up to the mouth of the tunnel -- and as he stepped out of it, he went deadly pale to see Dumbledore standing quietly by one of the other sinks.

He wondered for one brief, panicked moment if he could just slide back down the tunnel unseen, but Dumbledore's unusually serious blue eyes were fastened on him. "Ah...hello, sir." He turned back to Sharessa before she could slide back down, "Wait at the bottom with Rubeus, please. I'll call you back up when it's safe."

"You sssmell afraid," she returned uncertainly.

"I'll be all right. Go, please."

She went. Tom turned to Dumbledore and swallowed hard. "I'm afraid," Dumbledore said very quietly, "that you've managed to be caught again. Would you care to explain this, Mr. Riddle?"

~Not really,~ Tom thought fleetingly, then squared his shoulders and stepped over to face Dumbledore. The sink slid quietly back into place as he moved away from it. "I'm sorry, sir, I know I shouldn't be out of the dorms after hours. I... Just know I wasn't doing anything harmful."

Dumbledore's eyes turned momentarily from Tom to the sink. "Were you not?"

Tom swallowed. "No sir. I know it looks bad, but..." Tom cut himself off before he could dig himself any deeper into trouble than he was in the moment Dumbledore saw him.

"Where is your brother?" Dumbledore's gaze shifted back to Tom, who met it and found himself thinking he'd almost rather look Sharessa in the eyes instead.

"...This late, I'd think he was in his dormitory, sir." There was no need to bring Rubeus into this, really. His record had enough black marks thanks to his "pets"; no need to add one of his brother's.

"He is not there."

"...Oh."

"Do you know where he is, Tom?"

Tom wondered wildly why Dumbledore had suddenly switched to first names. If it was supposed to be reassuring, it was NOT working. ~Slytherins are cunning,~ he told himself fiercely. ~So show why you're a Slytherin!~ Of course, most Slytherins didn't get caught coming out of a thousand year old hidden Chamber housing a deadly beast. Tom took a deep breath. "Rubeus and I don't get to see each other very much during the school year, sir. I don't keep track of where he goes all the time."

Dumbledore's eyes didn't leave his. "I do seem to recall your making some comment regarding how often you saw each other last time I spoke to you regarding being out -- at a very similar hour to this one, in fact. Again I ask you: where is your brother?"

Tom wondered if Dumbledore could somehow detect lies. Would it be safe to tell the professor about Sharessa? He was a Gryffindor, after all. There was something about him Tom just didn't like, but at the same time, he felt almost as if he could trust the man.... Tom swallowed and admitted, "He's downstairs, sir. But I want you to know that this was all my idea and my responsibility. Rubeus just went along with it, I promise."

The ice-blue thawed slightly. "I can't imagine Rubeus being unenthusiastic about meeting a basilisk, but I am glad you chose to tell me the truth. I followed you here."

Tom's jaw dropped. "A -- You -- How did you --?"

"Recognize a basilisk? Well, there are few serpents that size to begin with, fewer still that are the plausible subject of the legend of secret chambers. More simply? If you spoke to it in Parseltongue it had to be a serpent, and the head I glimpsed was either eyeless or had eyelids, which implies the part-avian ancestry of a basilisk." Dumbledore frowned slightly. "I seriously doubt you would take Rubeus into danger, so I assume you've taken precautions regarding the situation, but you are surely aware of the... unpalatable details of the legends?"

"Sharessa was raised around humans, sir," Tom replied promptly, slightly mollified at the professor's confidence but still insulted that he'd even consider Tom would endanger his little brother. He was still kicking himself for the rather obvious clues Dumbledore mentioned. "She knows to keep her eyes closed, and WE know not to get near her fangs. She's really very nice."

"Is she. And has she... offered any comment on her supposed purpose here? Not, it is clear, that you have demonstrated any intention of carrying it out."

"She said that Salazar Slytherin left her after he argued with Gryffindor, to protect the students in case any enemies breached the castle... and to be a companion and aide to his Heir. Nothing about killing Muggle-borns, sir." Tom's mouth quirked up in a rueful smile. "I'd be a little out of luck there."

"A point. And I am aware of basilisks' protective tendencies; a very plausible scenario." Dumbledore's mouth twitched slightly. "Unfortunate, however, that his chosen entrance happens to fall currently in a girls' restroom."

"Believe me, I thought the same thing when I found it," Tom replied with a hesitant smile. Then tentatively, "Then you're not going to... kill her or send her away, sir?"

"Why do you believe I should do that, Mr. Riddle?"

Back to last names now. It was something of a relief. "Because she's a basilisk. Slytherin's basilisk. But she won't hurt anyone! Not anyone here."

"In other words, you don't believe I should do that."

"Er. That's right. Yes."

"If... Sharessa... is a part of the school's defenses rather than a threat to any of its students, then no, there seems no reason to send her away from the place she was established for that purpose. I must, however, point out that you are still not supposed to be visiting her in the middle of the night."

"...I didn't want to take a chance that the professors would...stop to think things through. She's been here since the school was founded. I -- People would see if I came here during the day..."

"The location could indeed be something of a problem," Dumbledore said gravely. "Don't you exaggerate slightly, though? There was considerable time between the founding itself and Slytherin's... departure."

"She said Slytherin raised her from an egg, and she was around for a while until he left, so she had to have been here since fairly soon after the Founding. I've never asked exactly. Snakes measure time differently anyway." Tom cast a sidelong look at the entrance sink. "Should I call her up, sir? Rubeus must be getting worried..."

"Yes, please do."

Tom returned to the sink and hissed, "Open up." Dumbledore was watching in fascination as the sink sank and the tunnel was revealed. Tom leaned over the opening and called down, "Rubeus, it's all right, you can come up now," then hissed instructions to Sharessa.

After a moment, Rubeus' grinning face showed up as Sharessa pushed him up the tunnel. "So what went wrong, Tom? Was Peeves causin'--" His voice cut off abruptly though his mouth seemed to forget to close as he saw Dumbledore waiting for them. His skin took on an odd shade of green. "...Hello, sir."

"Are you safe, Salazar's Heir?" Sharessa hissed worriedly. "Do you need my help?"

"I'm all right, Sharessa. In a little trouble for visiting you when I'm supposed to be asleep, but it's... it's not very bad. You don't need to do anything."

"Hello, Mr. Hagrid." Dumbledore sighed and shook his head. "Really, there's no need to look so ill. I've caught you in more violations at once than now more times than I can count offhand."

"Uh...I'm sorry, sir," Rubeus offered, ducking his head. "Sharessa wouldn't hurt anybody, Professor."

"So Mr. Riddle has been assuring me. I have no intention of harming, ah, Sharessa. However, I would like to meet her, if possible...?"

Tom blinked. "Er... well, she is right here." He turned to Sharessa and hissed, "Professor Dumbledore wants to meet you."

"Well, I am right here."

"You can come a bit out of the tunnel, if you like," Dumbledore addressed the serpent. "I assume you'll be my translator, Mr. Riddle? I'm quite fascinated to meet someone who knew one of the Founders." His eyes twinkled as he added, "Yes, even one not of my own House."

Sharessa slithered a bit further out and listened as Tom relayed Dumbledore's fascination. She gave a hissing laugh and said, "I knew all four."

"Really?" Dumbledore sounded delighted when Tom relayed that. "Our legends indicate that the monster of the Chamber was a secret to all but Slytherin."

"Monster? I am not a monster." Sharessa sounded slightly offended, then gave a hissing laugh and flicked her tongue in Dumbledore's direction. "Except to enemies of the school, perhaps."

"My apologies. It would seem the stories are not all correct."

Sharessa emerged far enough to raise her head and put her chin on Tom's shoulder. "I was here for some time before I was hidden, and I had met Godric before the school was built at all. He liked me once he got used to me."

"So you were here for the school's founding? How fascinating. Mr. Riddle, you may have just condemned yourself to standing as translator for some very interested historians."

Tom blinked. "S-sir? Are you serious?"

"A living witness to the founding of Hogwarts and four of the most powerful witches and wizards in history? She would appear to be an invaluable resource. I take it you have an objection?"

"No! I just -- wasn't sure if you meant -- Well, the stories do call her a monster, and so on. I wasn't sure the historians would believe her. And she has... she doesn't have the same perspective as a human. Not that she wouldn't be reliable, she just couldn't answer exactly the same questions...."

"A few discreet inquiries should turn up a historian or two willing to work within the... unique constraints. We will, of course, have to inform Headmaster Dippet of your discovery."

Tom paled again. Even if Dumbledore was being, or seemed to be, astonishingly accepting about the whole thing, would Dippet be? Then again, maybe there was some substance to the rumors that Dumbledore could talk the man into almost anything....

"I understand you're concerned about her safety, Mr. Riddle. That's a very laudable sentiment. Might I suggest that, as you seem to be the only one capable of opening the entrance to the Chamber, you will be able to keep Sharessa safe until you are convinced of each person's sincerity."

"Er... yes. I -- sir, do you think Headmaster Dippet will be...." He really should not be having so much trouble forming sentences. But finding Dumbledore here had been quite a shock.

"I believe that the Headmaster will see this as the historical discovery it is...properly presented, of course." Dumbledore's eyes twinkled as if he knew precisely what Tom was thinking. If even half of what Tom had heard of the professor was true, he probably did.

"Ah... yes, sir."

Sharessa nudged his shoulder gently. "I think I like this one. Be calm, Salazar's Heir. He does not smell like someone to fear."

"I...think you're right about him," Tom hissed back nervously, "but I'm a little worried about everyone else. He wants to tell people about you, let you talk to historians about the Founders. I'm just not sure..."

Sharessa considered this. "I was always known before. I do not see why that should be a problem, although I should not wish enemies to learn of me. But I do not know why it had to be secret that Salazar left me here."

"I'm not sure either, but that's why I'm worried about letting everyone know about you now. I don't know if there was a reason for you to be secret."

"But there are stories of me, you said. Sso I am not entirely a ssecret already."

"Yes, but no one believes you actually exist. Wizards have searched for the Chamber for hundreds of years. They'd decided it wasn't real."

Sharessa hissed in distress. "How am I to protect a refuge if no one knows to sseek it if they're in danger?"

Tom blinked. "I...didn't think of it like that. You said that you'd be released if anyone ever breached the school's defenses. Besides, I'm the only Parselmouth in the school. No one else COULD get to it."

"I would have been released, but it wouldn't be much help if the sschool thought me to be an enemy as well... and the Heir was ssupposed to know where to lead other sstudents to ssafety, bessides directing me against foes if needed."

"Well, if you're all right with it, then I guess it's fine. I just don't want you to be hurt."

"I am not easy to destroy, Salazar's Heir, even when I do not fight. Except by roossters, of course."

"Just being protective," Tom said with a rueful grin, scratching her eyeridges. He switched back to English and looked over at Professor Dumbledore, who was regarding him with an expression of amused tolerance. "Sharessa thinks it's a good idea, sir, but I want to make sure precautions are taken so she's kept safe."

"I would expect nothing less, Mr. Riddle." Dumbledore's eyes twinkled merrily. "Now then, boys, why don't you both get back to your dormitories and go to bed? Headmaster Dippet will likely call for you sometime tomorrow, Riddle, after I've told him about Sharessa."

"Yes, sir," Tom sighed in resignation.

"Good. Have a pleasant night, gentlemen." Dumbledore paused at the door to the corridor, then looked back with that infuriating smile of his and added, "Oh, and ten points from both your Houses for wandering around at night."

*****

"There's a what?! --That's not possible." Headmaster Dippet's eyes were very wide as he stared at his colleague across the desk. "Albus, it really is not the best time to be joking about such things."

"I assure you, it's possible. Unless I've been carrying on a conversation with a figment of my imagination.

"...You're a Parselmouth, Albus?"

"Not exactly.... Mr. Riddle was translating."

"One of our students opened the Chamber of Secrets and you haven't yet mentioned expulsion?!"

"It hardly seems to call for such drastic action. He was out after curfew and not engaged in prefect duties, I admit, but even in repeated cases that has not generally been grounds for expulsion. The serpent seems to be quite good-natured and is, after all, a long-
established portion of the school's defenses."

"Defenses?" Dippet spluttered for a moment. "Albus! Need I remind you that the Chamber of Secrets was created to house a monster that would eradicate the Muggle-borns? The monster you now claim is 'good-natured'?"

"The legends appear to have been somewhat mistaken," Dumbledore said gently. "You are aware, I'm sure, that young Mr. Riddle is in fact a half-blood himself? And you will note that he has been in communication with her for some weeks now, apparently, with no ill effects on the school population."

"So you propose that we simply let a deadly beast roam the school at will, with only a fifth-year's word that it will behave?"

"She's hardly been roaming the school. Surely you know me too well to think I'd advocate a course of action likely to destroy the Muggle-born students? Try meeting with her. And think -- it seems that before she was left in the Chamber, she was familiar with all the Founders." Dumbledore chuckled. "I might even wonder if she became a secret partly because no one would have believed Slytherin would have left her behind."

Dippet frowned and folded his hands in front of him. "I will meet with this...thing. You said it was familiar with all the Founders?"

"Indeed. I was rather intrigued by her description of Godric Gryffindor. I'm sure there are several historians who would be panting to come speak with her."

"I'm almost afraid to ask what Slytherin's monster might say about Godric Gryffindor."

"I believe it was along the lines of that he was very nice, and once he got used to her was quite good about petting her scales."

Dippet blinked. Repeatedly. "Not, er, quite what I was expecting."

Dumbledore politely refrained from saying "Obviously." To be fair, it had come as rather a surprise to him too. "Well, it's not quite the usual image of him, I realize."

"Well, since you're so convinced this...creature will not harm the students and you've clearly had more time to think about it than I have, what are you suggesting?"

"First, I am suggesting that you speak with her, and that perhaps we should make discreet inquiries about interested historians. I'd also advise silencing charms on all roosters on the grounds should we decide to introduce her to the student body."

"Hrm. Very well, I will meet it, and make my decision then."

"Good. I'm sure you won't be disappointed."

Dippet's expression suggested he rather doubted that, but he scrawled a note for a house elf to take to whichever professor was currently teaching one Mr. Tom Riddle and followed Dumbledore through the maze of corridors to--"A girls' toilet? Really, Albus, what kind of entrance for the Chamber of Secrets is this?"

"An extremely inconvenient one. I would assume that it had some other purpose at the time of Slytherin's departure."

"I would hope so," Dippet muttered, tapping his foot impatiently until Tom came ducking around the corner.

"You wanted to speak with me, sir?" he asked deferentially.

"I'm afraid technically he should like to speak with Sharessa," Dumbledore explained unnecessarily. Dippet nodded sharply.

Tom nodded, keeping his unhappiness masked. "Of course, sir. The entrance is just inside." He opened the door and gestured the professors in with a little bow.

"Open," he hissed to the tap, then as the sink dropped, "Sharessa? Ah, the headmaster wants to talk to you...."

Sharessa, who'd been waiting for this and hadn't gone back to her sealed den behind the statue, came slithering up and out the tunnel. She flicked her tongue at all three, then settled with her head near Tom's shoulder. "I am here," she hissed unnecessarily.

Dippet's eyes widened.

"As you can see," Dumbledore murmured, "she automatically takes the precaution of closing her eyes."

"Salazar Slytherin raised her from an egg, Headmaster," Tom put in. "He trained her to keep her eyes closed when around people. She's used to it."

"Being kept blind doesn't...frustrate her?" Dippet asked dubiously.

Sharessa hissed a laugh when Tom relayed the question. "It is less frussstrating than being alone. Is he going to let me see the ssstudents again?" A gusty serpentine sigh. "I miss the ssstudents."

"Thanks a lot," Tom laughed before relaying her words to the headmaster.

Dippet raised an eyebrow. "Is she...particularly sociable?"

"Well, I'm not sure what you mean by particularly, but she was raised with people and likes being around them. She was very happy when we started visiting."

"Are you certain that's not purely due to your being a Parselmouth?"

"Yes, sir. Well, that let me get in to see her at all -- but she likes Rubeus too."

"Who I believe has a disturbing fondness for dangerous creatures. Hardly the best recommendations."

Tom bit down firmly on his temper. "Rubeus is very fond of dangerous creatures, but he's definitely not a Parselmouth and thus that can't be the reason Sharessa likes him, sir."

"It could be lying about knowing the Founders at all, trying to trick us into letting it loose in the school."

"Sir...." Tom took a deep breath. "Basilisks tend to be... comparatively docile toward Parselmouths. And I believe I could tell if she were lying. If she expected her purpose to be to answer to Salazar's Heir, why would she try to trick him? She'd assume he'd want her to do what his ancestor expected."

"He sssmells mistrustful," Sharessa pronounced, flicking her tongue towards Dippet. "Why? I answer to you, and you are his ssstudent. I like the other one better."

"I'm starting to agree with you," Tom hissed softly back, "and I never used to like Dumbledore!"

"What did it say? What are you telling it?" Dippet demanded.

"I told her that you were just being cautious of your students, but of course she wouldn't be locked in the Chamber again."

"Mr. Riddle, you really shouldn't make promises you're uncertain of keeping...."

"You're NOT locking her in the Chamber again!" Tom exploded. "How would you feel being locked in one room for a thousand years, with no one to talk to? Sharessa's NOT a danger! Even if you don't want her loose around the school, I'll still visit her."

"Mr. Riddle, calm down!" Dippet sounded outraged.

"She hasn't done ANYTHING to make you think she's a danger! She was left to protect the school by Salazar Slytherin."

"Stop ssshouting, Salazar's Heir," Sharessa hissed urgently, sticking her head in front of Tom's torso and leaning back, seeming determined to keep him on his feet.

"Who was --"

"A Founder, and may be assumed to have had the welfare of the school at heart even if there were some disagreements as to how best to promote it." Dumbledore stepped forward hastily, moving between them to break the line of vision and then resting a hand on Tom's shoulder. Tom assumed this was supposed to be reassuring. Either that or to tell him to keep his mouth shut. "Headmaster," Dumbledore said evenly and formally, "I really believe the young man should easily be forgiven an outburst in the defense of a friend. And I believe she is a friend to him, and would be to us. Despite their reputation, not all basilisks are murderous, I can assure you. And this one has been very polite, and you must admit that neither Mr. Riddle's record nor hers -- fact, I mean, not legend -- gives the slightest indication of malice."

Tom looked back and forth between Dumbledore's hand on his shoulder and Sharessa's head in front of him. Both, it seemed, were determined to keep him calm -- or at least keep him from bodily assaulting Dippet for being an idiot. Tom started to have the faintest inkling why the Gryffindors all seemed so fanatically devoted to their House's Head, and promptly tried to push the feeling aside.

"I apologize for shouting, Headmaster," he said formally, resting one hand on the basilisk's head. "I'm just concerned about Sharessa, but I would never do anything to hurt the students here. The first person I brought down was my brother!"

"And I'm sure all present for Rubeus's Sorting can testify to the affection between them," Dumbledore said, straight-faced.

Tom blushed bright red. Merlin, did everyone have to bring that up constantly? It was three years ago! He struggled to control his blushes and scratched Sharessa's eye ridge instead, soothing both of them.

Dippet's mouth twitched slightly. "Well... well, this is true. Perhaps...."

"Sharessa's bound to obey the Heir of Slytherin, sir," Tom added, a hint of desperation in his voice. "Even if you don't trust her, I promise I can keep her under control."

Dumbledore managed to second this firmly without giving the impression of casting aspersions on Sharessa's character, and Dippet finally gave in and departed. Dumbledore turned to Tom. "I believe that to have been one of the more difficult hurdles." He raised an eyebrow at Sharessa. "It rather looked as if she was concerned about keeping you under control for a moment, I must admit."

"She doesn't like to see me upset, sir," Tom mumbled, looking down at the basilisk and scratching her scales lightly. He swallowed uncomfortably and added, "Thank you for speaking for her, Professor." A slight grin. "Even if you did have to bring up Rubeus's Sorting."

"Even if you do find it embarrassing, the incident has its uses. As I said, it does make it quite difficult to doubt your fondness for your brother, and there are some who would despite all evidence to the contrary. And besides...to amuse someone who does not wish to be amused is often a good first step to persuasion."

"I got teased for a month, by people in every House," Tom muttered. Then he sighed and met Dumbledore's eyes. "Still...thank you for helping Sharessa." Because Merlin knew the Head of Gryffindor would never have done it for him.

"You're very welcome." Dumbledore smiled down at him. "And I should have hated to see Hogwarts lose such a promising student. The Headmaster can jump to conclusions at times, but is generally reasonable after some thought."

Tom's eyebrows flew up. "I -- er, well --" Oh, that was coherent! "I -- should take Sharessa back to the Chamber and get back to class."

"Indeed you should. I do hope you won't suffer excessively from the interruption; I confess I had not expected quite such immediate action."

Tom shrugged. "I was in Potions, sir. I'm three weeks ahead there as it is."

"Well. In that case I suppose I need not be concerned." Dumbledore gestured to the Chamber entrance on his way out. "Proceed, then."

"Yes sir." Tom smiled faintly, then leaned against Sharessa for a moment. "Well, the Headmaster's convinced," he hissed wearily. "Dumbledore seems to think that's going to be the hardest. You'd best go back to the Chamber for a while."

"Are you well, Salazar's Heir? You sound tired and a little shaken."

Tom wondered whether the basilisk had spoken to the Founder himself that way. It was difficult to imagine one of the Founders tired or shaken, but he supposed since they were human, perhaps at times.... "I am a little tired. And... well, it was easy to keep you safe when Rubeus and I were the only ones who knew you were there. I thought Dippet might try to get rid of you. I know you're supposed to be protecting us, but...."

"I will be ssafe, my friend. Don't worry."

"Hey, I'll worry if I want to." Tom hugged her, then scratched her eyeridges once more in farewell. "I'll come talk to you as soon as I can, but I have to get back to class now. Hopefully I'll have news for you then."

She looped a coil around him affectionately, then slithered back down the tunnel. Tom sighed and closed the opening, then left before any students could walk in and ask what he was doing in the girls' toilet.

*****

Dinner at Hogwarts. While on weekdays this tended to be a fairly haphazard affair, with students often rushing out early or skipping entirely to study, practice Quidditch, or whatever else their interests demanded, on Sunday evenings the Great Hall was invariably packed full. Students chatted noisily about the coming week, while the professors at the high table braced themselves for the tumult that was to come.

For all that no one often missed Sunday dinners, nothing much really tended to happen. This was why students were surprised to see Headmaster Dippet rise as the meal wound to a close, tapping on his goblet for silence. "I regret to disturb such important conversations, but I hope that you will all indulge me for a few moments. I have a rather important announcement to make."

Whispers immediately erupted all around the Hall. Even the seventh years couldn't remember many occasions of school-wide announcements in the middle of term. At the Slytherin table, Tom Riddle tried to remain calm and impassive, but exchanged a speaking glance with his younger brother over at the Gryffindor table.

Dippet waited for the whispers to mostly die down before speaking again. "As you all have no doubt come to realize, Hogwarts is a place unlike any other. Our great Founders imbued this castle with many secrets, to educate, amuse, and defend future generations of students. Even after all my years here, there are still aspects of the castle I am discovering." He smiled wryly. "As was proven to me recently by two of our own students. One of our Founders left behind a great resource for us to enjoy, though it was unfortunately lost to us over time. I'm certain," again that wry smile, "that Salazar Slytherin would be pleased to know that a Gryffindor and a Slytherin worked together to rediscover his legacy."

This was met primarily by puzzled and skeptical murmurs. "Okay, first of all -- no offense, Tom -- the stories aren't too positive about 'Slytherin's Legacy'," Roald Parkinson muttered. "Second, why would he be happy about working with a Gryffindor?"

"Bet the Gryffindor wasn't even involved except to make nice with Dumbledore or something," Lucinda Malfoy returned with a sniff. "Then again, maybe that was the point of dragging him in...."

Over at the Gryffindor table, Rubeus was hearing similar (if somewhat reversed) sentiments.

"Why would a Gryffindor want anything to do with a Slytherin?" Edmund Brocklehurst asked loudly. "No offense, Rubeus. But honestly, why would one of US want to find whatever horrible thing Slytherin left?"

Rubeus just shrugged and didn't say anything, making Moira MacMillan narrow her eyes and look sharply across to Tom. Dippet waited another few moments, then gestured and said, "Mr. Riddle, Mr. Hagrid, if you please?"

Tom's friends all gaped openly at him as he pushed back his chair and went up to the head table. He was blushing again, for pity's sake. He wasn't supposed to blush when he was called up in front of the other students to have accomplishments recognized. He never had before. Rubeus, on the other hand, was grinning broadly. That was probably a more appropriate reaction, really....

Strictly speaking, Rubeus wasn't even necessary for this part of the revelation, but Tom insisted that he'd played an equal role in the Chamber's discovery and thus was due equal credit. Dumbledore simply quirked an eyebrow at him, smiled that infuriatingly knowing smile, and agreed. Both boys stopped just in front of the high table and turned back around to face their peers. Tom fought down his blushes and cleared his throat. "Ah...just remember that this is nothing dangerous, not to students anyway, so...stay calm," he suggested, then began hissing in Parseltongue.

From the Gryffindor table, Wood snorted, "Should've known that Riddle would be involved somehow. He's always..." His voice trailed off and his skin assumed a color more appropriate to the Slytherins as he caught sight of Sharessa slithering into the Great Hall behind the professors.

She moved around the head table (at the end nearest the Slytherins, not all of whom looked precisely honored) and, eyes safely and firmly shut, came up to nudge her head between Tom and Rubeus's shoulders. Rubeus was still grinning like this was the most exciting thing to have ever happened to him. Tom finally managed a smile, drawing comfort from Sharessa's presence and her hissed, "Be calm, Salazar's Heir. The presentation will go well. Who would not be honored to meet ME?"

Dippet's face was slightly pale as he looked at the deadly creature posing between two of his students, but in the flickering candlelight no one could tell. "Mr. Riddle and Mr. Hagrid managed to locate and open Slytherin's famed Chamber of Secrets." There were muffled exclamations and the whispers sprung up again full force. Dippet had to speak loudly over the din.

"Contrary to legend, what they discovered was not a monster, but a guardian of the school and a one-time confidante of Salazar Slytherin himself. It has been shown to my satisfaction that the basilisk, who goes by the name Sharessa, is no danger to any but Hogwart's enemies, and will be a valuable resource to the school and the wizarding community at large." He paused, then added, "Fifty points will be awarded to both Slytherin and Gryffindor for this achievement."

There was applause. It was somewhat uncertain at first, to the point that someone could be heard to say dazedly, "Merlin. A basilisk. Wouldn't you know those two would come up with a basilisk," and someone else "Its name is what?!" before efforts on the part of a determined few strengthened it to the point of an appropriately healthy roar. Sharessa flicked her tongue out happily.

There were shrieks from a few more timid first-years, but when Sharessa made no attempt to begin randomly snacking on the student body, they calmed down slightly. Tom reached up to scratch Sharessa's scales, noting with a tinge of pleasure that the Gryffindor MacMillan girl was one of those leading the initial applause. He knew from her reaction to Fido that she didn't share the usual Gryffindor dislike to snakes, so this was a good sign. Of what, exactly, he didn't inquire too deeply. One of the Hufflepuffs eventually raised a hand. Tom turned to look at Dippet, who gestured to him encouragingly, so he cautiously acknowledged the younger boy. "Yes?"

"She hasn't shown any inclination against Muggle-borns?"

"Well," Tom began, "it seems everyone knows I'm half-blood, and apparently that doesn't bother her. And she's been very emphatic that she was supposed to protect the school and the students."

"I really hate to press the issue... but I've been given the impression that Salazar Slytherin may well have considered Muggle-born students a threat to be protected from."

"Would you prefer hearing her direct answer?" Tom asked, then promptly began hissing a translation to Sharessa without waiting for a reply. They hissed back and forth for a few moments, then Tom turned back to the Hufflepuff. "Right, then. Sharessa said that Slytherin and Gryffindor argued a lot about Muggle-born students because they were the ones likely to expose Hogwarts to angry Muggle mobs. We all know that Muggles don't always have the best reactions to finding out about magic." His mouth twisted sourly for a moment. "But Sharessa is very clear that once the Muggle-borns WERE students, she was to protect them equally." He grinned suddenly. "So as long as you avoid bringing in any of those angry mobs, she doesn't have any problem with you."

The boy's mouth twitched. "I think I can avoid that."

"If you couldn't, Mr. Lucas," Professor Dumbledore put in, his eyes twinkling, "I suspect your professors might wish to have a word with you before Sharessa had anything to say about the matter."

The students laughed, the tension broke slightly, and several more hands waved in the air.

"Tom, why'd Slytherin hide her if she's a protector?" a Slytherin third-year asked.

"...She's not entirely sure of that herself," Tom admitted, "but the Chamber of Secrets was originally intended as a refuge in case enemies did get into the school. She was supposed to be released in that event as well, but I think there may have been a, ah, breakdown in communications somewhere along the way, maybe because of the way he left, maybe not, and the way to open the Chamber was lost." He paused. "Then again, to my knowledge Hogwarts never has been invaded, so for all we know there may have been some sort of spell that such an event would have triggered and let her out just fine. I'm inclined to think that's the case."

"...Couldn't that be a problem if people thought she was the enemy as well?"

"Well, that's why we're introducing her." There was a ripple of laughter. Tom took a breath and continued, "Slytherin may not have realized that the way he left would give rise to quite the kind of rumors it did. According to Sharessa, while nobody knew he'd left her there, everyone had pretty much known about her before that and liked her. Yes, even Gryffindor. He may not have expected her ever to be considered a threat at all."

"Gryffindor liked a snake?" Tom couldn't quite identify the voice, as it was somewhat strangled-sounding, but it definitely came from the Gryffindor tables.

"Sharessa said Godric Gryffindor liked her once he got used to her, and used to scratch her eye ridges." Tom paused as Rubeus reached up to do just that, and added dryly, "Of course, she COULD have just been angling for a scratch. She's very greedy about that."

"A bit like Fido, is she?" MacMillan's voice observed, with laughter in it.

"Most serpents like to be petted, by the right people," Tom replied, then fought down a blush by sheer force of will when half the Slytherin table burst into laughter.

Murphy, a Slytherin sixth year, didn't bother raising his hand but just called out his question. "If the Chamber of Secrets could only be opened by the Heir of Slytherin, and you're the only one who can talk to the basilisk, why do we have to share our points with the Gryffindors?"

"Because Rubeus helped me look for it and came down with me to help while I tried to figure out the secondary password." Tom smirked. "And don't even try to tell me you can't see why I'd want him along looking for what was reputed to be a monster."

There was spontaneous applause from the Gryffindor table. Rubeus turned pink.

"So where IS the Chamber?" someone called out.

Tom shrugged, crossed his arms, and casually replied, "Girls' toilet." He waited a moment until everyone stopped laughing, then grinned. "What, you want me to just TELL you?"

"Yes!" someone shouted.

Tom just leaned back against Sharessa. "All it takes is five years of searching and some rudimentary Parseltongue." He winked. "Find it yourself."

*****