Disclaimer: Harry Potter and his world are the inestimable creation of J.K. Rowling. I am a trespasser, playing for my amusement (and hopefully yours).

Summary: When Ron and Hermione get together, they notice only each other. A nightmare prompts Harry to return alone to the empty Chamber of Secrets, and leads to a new look at an old enemy. Harry enjoys the company, but with Dominique LeStrange actively hunting him, how far can he trust a Death Eater's son? (H/D friendship -- progressing to mild slash) Sixth year. Rated R for unseemly behavior (drinking, stealing, and Dark Arts), occasional cursing (the non-magical sort), and a non-explicit, but icky rape/murder related by one of the characters in chapter 18.

Author's Note: I had a young teen tell me this story inspired him to try getting drunk, with (fortunately temporary) miserable results. Please don't be this foolish. If you are violating the ratings (which I do not encourage), it is your responsibility to maintain an appropriate maturity level in your processing of the story.

Dreams and Memories

Harry dreamed.

He was back in the tunnel that led to the Chamber of Secrets. This time, however, he was not accompanied by Ron and Gilderoy Lockhart, but by Ron and Hermione. This should have been an improvement, but was not. Ron and Hermione were strolling along holding hands, giggling, and occasionally stopping to kiss. "Ron!" Harry yelled. "It's your sister, in there!" Ron didn't seem to hear him.

In the rubble of the old landslide, Harry left them. They didn't notice. He went on towards the chamber and found the door open.

At the end of the last tunnel, he peered out into the great chamber. The far end was lit by a circle of torches, each torch held by a hooded and masked figure. The dead and rotting basilisk formed a circle about them, and its stench rolled, in visible chartreuse waves, to envelope Harry. He was sure there was a charm to clear the air, but he could not remember it.

At the end of the chamber, one of the Death Eaters hissed. The others echoed the sound. The great statue of Salazar Slytherin opened its mouth. Nagini slithered out; on her back was Voldemort.

Voldemort stood, in mid-air, above the Death Eaters. Nagini continued, making a circle that covered the rotting basilisk, and he arose, alive once more. The two serpents reared up, one on either side of the circle ...

Quite suddenly, they struck at something inside the circle. A silver dragon shot out of the middle, and headed straight for Harry. Harry reached for his wand, and realized he'd forgotten it. He waited for death, but the dragon simply raced past him. Harry noticed first that it was quite a young one, hardly larger than Norbert, and second, that the Death Eaters were coming after it, and therefore straight towards him. He turned and tried to run, but the tunnel was full of loose rubble and bones, with deep, slippery puddles of blood, or perhaps ink.

He caught up with the dragon just outside the Chamber door. A rockslide blocked their way. The Death Eaters came up behind them and arrayed themselves, in lines and lines - far too many lines - on the far side of the doorway. Harry pressed back against the piled rocks. He didn't have his wand, or even a knife, and Ron and Hermione wouldn't hear him if he called. The small dragon crouched beside him, growling and trembling.

Dominique LeStrange floated to the front, her dark hair shining thick about her. Regally, she pointed at them.

"Kill the spare," she said.

Suddenly, Harry realized that he was not helpless. Voldemort had not come with his Death Eaters; only Harry and Voldemort could open the Chamber. As the Death Eaters' wands slowly rose and pointed, Harry hissed out a command.

The door swung closed and sealed itself.

Harry woke in his bed at Hogwarts. His sheets were tangled and damp with sweat. Automatically, he lifted his hand to his forehead, but he knew even as he made the motion that there was no pain. This had not been a vision then, he told himself, just a dream.

Nonetheless, he lay awake. Ron and Hermione ... Okay, obviously it bugged him that they had scarcely noticed his existence since their little talk on Halloween. The Chamber of Secrets - maybe he thought of it as a link to Voldemort, thus the Death Eaters, and probably Nagini reminded him of the basilisk. The rotting basilisk - well, that was what he would see if he went down there. The young dragon seemed pretty random. He considered it from several angles: A link to Hagrid? A monster that needed protection? Monster is as monster does? The last seemed the most likely, what with the hysteria generated by Dumbledore's latest allies, who seemed good enough, though ugly.

Then, the LeStrange woman - well, no mystery about that. After the death of her husband, she had announced to the world that she would kill him, so he pictured her in the Dark Lord's place, starting the cycle of Cedric all over again.

And at the end . . . Harry shivered. At the end, he had saved himself by speaking Parseltongue, because, of all the evil crowd that faced him, no other was a Parselmouth.

Why had he thought of that? Was he reassuring himself that the ability did not make him evil? Or did it - was he standing before LeStrange as the mirror of the Dark Lord?

Maybe it just means I should use what I've got, Harry thought. Or maybe I wanted out of the dream, and that was the only way I'd left not to die.

Just before he fell back to sleep, Harry realized that he had never closed the chamber door when leaving the real Chamber of Secrets. He was pretty sure he had heard the door close behind him, though. Had the Chamber sealed itself, or not?

Though the details of the dream faded, Harry was unable to stop thinking about the Chamber of Secrets. He had never explored it, he realized. It could have other things in it - after all, it wasn't called "The Chamber of Secret". He also wondered about the door. Did it need to be properly sealed, or did it seal itself automatically when the Parselmouth left?

A few days later, Harry woke from another nightmare, in which the Chamber was swarming with baby basilisks, and Hagrid cooed over them and would not allow Harry to kill them. Harry lay in the dark for a while, picturing the spreading yarn-ball of tiny, deadly serpents. He knew he wouldn't be able to sleep until he investigated. Quietly, Harry got out of bed and took his invisibility cloak from his trunk. He went to wake up Ron, but Ron's bed was empty and undisturbed. Frowning, Harry went to the window and looked out at the waning moon. It was very late. Where was Ron? He found his watch and decided not to wait. At this point, he would need to hurry to get to the Chamber, check it quickly, and be back before dawn. He closed the curtains on his bed, so it was not obvious he was gone, put on his invisibility cloak, and crept down the dark stairway to the common room.

Cautiously, Harry moved through the dim-lit halls to the first-floor girl's toilet. He looked to confirm no one was near, then opened the door and slipped quietly inside. A whispered charm set the lamps alight, and he pushed back his hood to look around.

Harry surveyed the dingy bathroom and tried to remember what was where. He hadn't been in here for a few years, he realized. He identified Moaning Myrtle's cubicle first, then moved to the sink across from it. With a bit of effort, he found the little etched snake, and hissed to it to open. As it had four years before, the tap glowed white and spun. The sink sank down, leaving an open pipe, which still showed wide streaks in the grime, where Harry, Ron, and Gilderoy Lockhart had slid down it.

"Don't say hello, or anything," a petulant voice said behind him. Harry turned to see Myrtle hovering outside her cubicle.

"Um... Hi," Harry said.

"What are you doing here?" Myrtle asked. She smiled coquettishly at Harry. "Have you come to visit?" she cooed.

Harry's stomach squirmed. "I ... I need to check on the Chamber."

"You never come see me!" she whined.

"Look, Myrtle, I'm really not supposed to be in here..." Harry tried to smile engagingly at her. He didn't really like her, and he hated pretending to be friendly. It felt slimy.

"You said you'd come visit me. After I helped you, too." Myrtle advanced on him in a savage swoop. Her icy shade slashed through him like an icicle. Harry jerked back. With a wordless wail, she did it again, then again, until he had retreated all the way to the wall beside the door.

"Myrtle! This is a girl's bathroom!"

"You come in here, though! You used to come in all the time. It's fine when you have something to do!" Moaning Myrtle drew back far enough that Harry could focus on her and folded her arms over her transparent chest. "Well, I'm not going to allow it." The ghost hovered above Harry and smirked at him. "You're just using me, that's all. I'm going to call Peeves, and then you'll be sorry!"

"Myrtle, I'll be out in a minute -"

"Peeves!" Myrtle shrieked. "There's a boy in my bathroom!

"Myrtle, please don't --!"

"No. You're just another nasty boy who pretends to be nice when you want something. Nasty, sneaky, lying Harry! I don't like you anymore."

"Myrtle, I just want to walk through your bathroom -"

"Well, you can't. Peeves! I have someone you can get in trou-ble!" At Myrtle's sing-song "trouble", a crash sounded from above. Harry threw the hood of his cloak back over his head and bolted out the door.

He rushed wildly away, stopping to be silent now and then. He heard Peeves cackling nearby several times, but he never sighted the poltergeist, and he was not revealed. Harry made it back to his dormitory before anyone else awoke.

Panting, Harry slid between the curtains and into his bed. So much for investigating. He was still hot with anger and embarrassment. It wasn't until his heartbeat had slowed, and he was drifting off to sleep, that he remembered - he had not returned the sink to its place. Myrtle's bathroom now had a gaping hole in the place of one of the sinks, and anyone could wander in and go down to the possibly unsealed Chamber of Secrets -

Harry stopped the thought there. No one uses that bathroom, he told himself. No one will see the hole. I can't shut it now. I'll shut it tonight.

That night, Quidditch practice ran late. Harry was half-asleep before he thought of the sink. "Tomorrow," he murmured, and drifted off.

Over the next few days, he worried about the sink often, but never when he was able to do something about it. When he might have gone back, the matter slipped his mind completely. It wasn't until he had another nightmare, worse than the first, that he was pressed to act.

It was late at night, not early in the morning. All his roommates were in and asleep. Harry again drew his bed curtains, and returned to Myrtle's bathroom.

When he entered the room, the sink was back in place. At first, he was reassured, but after a second's thought, this was more frightening than having it be gone. Only another Parselmouth should be able to move the sink, Harry thought. He walked tentatively over to what he thought was the correct sink, but he couldn't find the little snake. He kept expecting Myrtle to emerge and start yelling at him, but she did not. He hoped she was gone or, better yet, snubbing him.

Unable to see the snake, Harry tried to run his hand along the pipe, but his hand went through it, instead. He nearly fell into the open space.

Harry wrenched himself back so quickly he tumbled to the ground. A satisfied snicker came from one of the stalls. Harry ignored it. He felt along the ground. The sink was not there - it just looked like it was.

Harry poked his head through the intangible pipes and pedestal. Once inside the illusion, he could see the real pipe, descending into darkness. Bracing himself carefully with his left hand, Harry pulled out his wand with his right, and cast a ladder charm. Strong thin strands sped out of his wand and spun themselves into a rope ladder, which bonded seamlessly to the floor. Harry climbed down into the pipe.

It took a lot longer to climb down than it had to slide down, four years earlier.

Harry walked down the tunnel. It was long, but not as long as he had remembered. His previous circumstances had probably distorted his sense of time. When he came to the Chamber door, it was closed, but not sealed by the ring of serpents. Harry shivered. He set his hand to the circle of stone, but it was flush to the wall and too heavy to budge with just his fingertips. He stepped back and pointed his wand at it.

"Alohamora," he whispered. The door opened. Harry shook his head. This was bad.

Harry walked as quietly as possible down the last tunnel, his wand held low and behind him, to shed as little light as would allow him to walk. At the end, he peered out into the great chamber. It was entirely dark. Harry wasn't sure what he had expected - Death Eaters? Slytherins? Ron and Hermione? The last thought made him grin. This spot certainly had privacy!

Still moving cautiously, Harry climbed down the short ladder into the chamber itself. He walked forward, wondering how close he would need to come to the body of the basilisk, then realized he smelled nothing other than wet rock. He wondered if four years was really enough time for a creature that large to decay.

He nearly tripped over an object on the floor, and had jumped back precipitously enough to strain his ankle, before he recognized that the hard thing was just an unlit torch. Cautiously, he picked it up.

"Fax Incendia," he whispered. The torch flared to life, shedding far more light then Harry's wand. He pointed to the torch with his wand. "Fax Leviosa." He let go of the torch. It floated up above him, shedding a wider circle of light.

The first things Harry saw were the reflective lines of water. They led his eye, inevitably, to the massive statue of Salazar Slytherin which dominated the end of the Chamber. The statue's mouth, Harry noted with relief, was closed. There was no sign of the basilisk, however. Harry would have felt better if there had been bones, at least. Salazar sneered disapprovingly at an empty room.

Harry didn't want to look up at the huge monument to Salazar Slytherin's self-importance. He looked away, over at the wall on which Tom Riddle's memory had written his name, in words of blood red. That spot was blank now, but closer to Harry was new writing, in plain black. Harry walked closer, so he could read the words. They said simply:

My friends suck!

Harry's first reaction was to be shocked that someone had defaced the wall of such an important place. When the thought sunk in, he looked over at Salazar's statue, and slowly, he smiled.

"This isn't your manor, anymore," he said, quietly, but with satisfaction.

He looked back at the writing, and found he was tempted to add, "mine too," underneath it. Slowly, he brought out his wand. His friends didn't suck, not really - they just didn't notice him, now. Harry looked down at the water-stained stone of the floor. If he really had problems - ones he could tell them about - Ron and Hermione would make time. He was sure they still cared, really.

He looked back up at the wall. "My friends suck," he repeated under his breath. He took a step closer and whispered "Scribere." Pointing at the mineral-streaked wall, he wrote:

My friends don't have time for me.

He felt a little nervous, under Salzar's disapproving frown. For a moment, he was tempted to deface the statue, just to make it less frightening. The Riddikulus spell sprang to mind, and he pictured Salazar in Neville's grandmother's clothes, and smiled.

Despite the moment of amusement, he decided he wanted to be away. His ankle ached, and he was dizzy with unused adrenaline. He would explore another day. He left the chamber, hesitating at the door, but finally leaving it open. At the bathroom, again, he hesitated. He looked back at the sinks and realized he would need to find the right one, again. Shrugging, he decided to leave it. If the worst thing that would happen was student graffiti, he could deal with that.

Harry regretted that decision by the time he woke up. He thought about going back the next day, but Quidditch practice ran late, in a rain that turned to snow, and by the time he got back to the dormitories, he could think of nothing but burrowing into his warm bed and staying there. He woke up terrified.

"What was I thinking?" he muttered as he dressed. "I didn't even check to make sure it was safe! I need to go back, tonight."

Friday evening, the Slytherins had the pitch. Harry did his homework in the Common Room. He hoped Ron and Hermione could be persuaded to come along with him - it was always better to explore with friends. When he had finished, however, Ron and Hermione still were not there. He considered checking the Marauders' Map, then decided against it. He wasn't going to hunt them down for this. Besides, he was not sure he wanted to find them; he'd never dared ask Ron for details on how much he did with Hermione - Harry didn't even want to think about it - so he wasn't sure how embarrassing it would be to find them. Harry left the dormitory, threw on his cloak, and went directly to Myrtle's bathroom.

The Chamber of Secrets was empty, but the torch, and a second one, had been affixed to the wall with something that looked like spun stone. Harry lit both torches. The light reflected from the water, and lit a small, central section of the long hall. On the wall between the lights, under Harry's words, it now said:

I'm not sure I have friends, really. I have lots of people.

Harry knew what to add to this. He wrote:

I do.

He thought about that. Ron and Hermione were his friends, and eventually, they'd remember that. Neville, Dean, and Seamus. . . . He sighed. He liked them, well enough. They liked him. For all that, they weren't real friends - not the "share secrets" sort of friends. The same with Ginny. And Sirius - Sirius was something altogether different, perhaps because he was an adult.

With a whispered charm, he tried to erase "I do." It was difficult. The words seemed to have soaked into the stone. He managed to get the "do" faint, and changed the line to:

I have at least two friends. Usually. And some other "people."

Harry looked around at the pool of light. It was a good idea, he decided. He resolved to lift a couple of school torches on the way down, next time he came. He looked back at Salazar Slytherin, looming in the gloom at the end of the hall. His gaze tracked down to where Ginny had lain. A dark stain marked the spot. For one horrified moment, he thought it was blood. Slowly, he walked to the spot and knelt. The stones were black with spattered ink, but there was no blood or fang. He looked back along the wall to the space between the torches. His new words shimmered beneath the old.

A shiver went through him as he remembered the diary. Now here he was again, conversing with an unseen correspondent. Somehow, though, "my friends suck," seemed like a very human, a very student, thing to write. Hesitantly, he raised his wand again. Deliberately picking the spot where Tom Riddle had written his old and new names, he wrote:

Are you here?

Harry stared at the words, but nothing happened. He crossed them out with a single line and began to explore.

After about an hour, Harry was convinced that nothing more lurked in the Chamber of Secrets. He had walked in the tunnels, marking each turning, and discovered they were overlapping and fewer than he thought. He had spoken to each carved snake in Parseltongue, and no further ones had moved. He had gone into Salazar Slytherin's opened mouth - an entirely creepy experience - and found the basilisk's old lair, but there was nothing in there but dried bones and more unresponsive carvings.

Harry left the chamber, climbed out the ladder, performed a quick cleaning spell on his robe, and headed back to Gryffindor tower. He wanted more than ever to talk to Ron and Hermione. When he got back to the tower, however, they still weren't in the Common Room. Ron wasn't in the dormitory, either.

"Hi Harry," Neville said quietly. He was doing his homework in the seat by the window.

"Hi Neville." Harry managed a quick smile. "Have you seen Ron or Hermione? I need to talk to them."

Neville shook his head. "I thought they might be with you, for once." He glanced down, then fearfully up. "We're supposed to be in, now," he said, almost accusingly.

"Yeah, well. . . ." Harry shrugged slightly, smiling just a little. It wasn't so bad for him to be out, he thought, but Hermione was a prefect, and should be setting a better example.

"I know. You don't care about that." Neville shook his head. "I don't know how you avoid Filch so often!"

Harry laughed. "It's an inherited trait," he said. "So I'm told."

Neville's smile faltered quickly, and he turned back to his homework. Harry stared at the back of Neville's round head. What had Neville's parents been like in school, he wondered? Did anyone tell Neville about the things they did? Or did he just hear that were smarter, more talented? For the fiftieth time that year, Harry opened his mouth to ask - that was my dad, what were your parents like? - but he couldn't get the words out. He left again.

The common room was almost deserted. Two seventh-years were snogging on the couch. They might have heard the portrait swing closed, but Harry was safely out of sight by then.

He wandered about the school, looking in the dark library, the Astronomy tower, and some of the cozier classrooms. He didn't find Ron or Hermione, and he eventually got tired of walking in the cold stone corridors. He realized he should have checked the Marauder's map, and went back to his dormitory. Neville was asleep now, and Seamus's and Dean's beds had the curtains drawn. Ron's bed was still empty. Harry, rather than getting the map, lay down on his own bed, feeling suddenly angry. Well, then, maybe he wouldn't talk to Ron. What was the point, really? He imagined himself whispering his fears to Ron at breakfast.

"Ron, I've been down in the Chamber of Secrets, having a conversation by writing on the wall. Do you think it could be Tom Riddle, again? Or something older? I think it's just another student."

And Ron would gaze at Hermione, and say "Uh huh. Yeah, I mean, likely so, right?"

And Hermione would say "You what! You can't go down there, Harry! What if Salazar Slytherin left some other little surprise?" or, worse yet, she wouldn't notice what he'd said to Ron, and just nod when Ron nodded.

Harry decided Ron could just stay out of it, and Hermione with him. He closed his eyes and tried not to think. When Ron came in, he lay still. He heard Ron's breathing steady before he fell asleep himself.

He was tempted to go down to the chamber the next night, but Hermione was studying, and Ron wanted to play Exploding Snap. Harry was too surprised by the offer to refuse. They had a pleasant enough time, and twice Harry nearly mentioned the chamber, but he didn't want to be the first to talk about what he had been doing. Ron never asked. Ron's conversation consisted mainly of complaints about how he couldn't buy Hermione the Christmas present he wanted to get for her. Harry wished he could just give him the money, but Ron would never accept money from him. He tried telling Ron not to buy him a present, and spend the money on Hermione's, instead. When that didn't work, he suggested that his present to Ron could be buying Hermione's present, but Ron would not agree to that, either. Finally, Harry said:

"Honestly, Ron, she loves you! Get her anything she can keep and hold. As long as she can look at it and know it's from you, she won't care what it cost."

"You just don't understand anything!" Ron had shouted, throwing down the rest of the cards and causing a minor series of explosions. "When are you going to grow up?!"

Harry went to bed.