Chapter 18: Nothing Ever Really Ends
The three were quiet as they rode the moving spiral staircase upwards. The other two boys wouldn't look at each other, or at Harry. They simply stared at the floor as if afraid it would fall out from underneath them. Harry didn't know quite know what to say that wouldn't make the already bad situation worse, so he kept his peace, wondering all the while how he was going to explain it all.
The staircase reached the landing in front of Dumbledore's office. Harry reached forward, knocked twice, and pushed the door open.
There was a long, drawn out moment as the two Weasley parents, Professor McGonagall, a well-dressed couple that Harry didn't recognize, and Professor Dumbledore all stared at the new arrivals. Justin and Ron were covered in filth, while Harry added blood to the muck and mire.
Then Molly Weasley screamed. She rushed from where she had been sitting beside the fireplace and flung herself at her youngest son. Tears ran from her eyes as she moaned, "Oh, my baby, my baby…" over and over again. Ron didn't offer any resistance to the hug he found himself enveloped in. Indeed, he barely registered the hug at all.
The well-dressed woman stepped quickly to Justin's side and crouched down beside him. She placed a hand gently on his shoulder. "Justin? Are you… are you all right? Do you need a doctor? What happened?"
The identities of the man and woman became clear to Harry, and the realization caused a sharp stab of regret. Justin's Mum and Dad. His own parents could never be called to the Headmaster's office in an emergency. Or for the good things either. The pain of it faded quickly, but the regret stayed.
Harry looked past the Weasleys and Finch-Fletchleys and met Professor Dumbledore's eyes. The older man was beaming at him. Next to him, Professor McGonagall seemed to be having trouble breathing, Harry stepped forward, intent on approaching the Headmaster and his Head of House, when he was suddenly pulled into Molly Weasley's embrace. Seeing as she hadn't let go of Ron yet, the hug was slightly painful, if well-intentioned.
"Harry… er." It was Arthur Weasley. He reached toward Harry as if to put a hand on his shoulder, then hesitated. "Er… Ginny… did you… is she…?"
Harry nodded. "She's safe. Ginny's safe." The pronouncement caused Molly to start sobbing even louder, and once again Harry found himself squeezed into Ron. Mrs. Weasley released the pair, and then took Harry by the shoulders. She stared into Harry's eyes, and for the first time he realized where it was that Ginny got her chocolate-brown eyes.
"She… Ginny, I mean… she is taking Hermione Granger to the Hospital Wing. Hermione's hurt." It was the first time Justin Finch-Fletchley spoke. "Rather badly."
"How did you do it, Harry? What happened?" she asked.
Professor McGonagall coughed. "I think that is something we'd all like to know," she muttered, just loudly enough to be heard.
Mrs. Weasley let go of the boys. Harry shrugged, and then walked over to the Headmaster's desk. He carefully placed the remains of Tom Riddle's diary, ink still oozing from it, in the middle of the broad surface.
"We… a bunch of us… Neville, and the twins, and Ginny and I… figured out where the entrance to the Chamber of Secrets was. We didn't think you'd believe us if we told you, Professor -- " he shot a sharp look at McGonagall, who blanched, " -- but we knew someone had to do something if… well… you know, if Ron and Hermione were to survive. So we sort of snuck into the Chamber. And… well…"
Harry stopped speaking. The adults waited for him to resume. When he showed no sign of doing so, Dumbledore prompted him. "Go on, Harry. It will be all right."
Despite the Headmaster's reassurances, Harry hesitated. He hadn't mentioned Ron or the diary. Ron was standing there with his head on his mother's shoulder, crying silently. The pain Harry could see in his friend's eyes was almost tangible. What if they expel him, Harry thought, or send him to Azkaban! There was no proof, after all, that Tom Riddle had possessed Ron through the diary. Harry turned his gaze to Justin, who looked just as shocked and horrified. And what about Justin! They'll say he helped to hurt everyone!
Harry glanced at the ruined book that even now dripped black ink onto the Headmaster's desk. "You see, sir," he began… then stopped. His mouth opened and closed several times before he looked back up at Dumbledore.
"Tell me, Harry." The old man's voice was soothing and kind. "Do you know how it was that Lord Voldemort was able to impose such influence on these two young boys? During your rescue, did you find out? I'd be ever so interested in know how he accomplished that, when my sources say he's currently hiding out in an Albanian forest."
Relief poured over Harry like rain.
"What did you say, Headmaster?" Arthur Weasley was white from shock. "You-Know-Who did this? He was behind all of… But, Ron… is Ron going to… will he be…"
"It was this diary, sir." Harry put his hand on it where the book lay on the desk. "Tom Riddle… Voldemort… he created it when he was a student." Harry didn't notice when the Weasleys and McGonagall cringed at the name.
Dumbledore picked the remains of the diary up and inspected it. He peered at it over his glasses, turning it over and flipping through the pages. "Yes, Tom Riddle was very likely the most brilliant student this school has ever seen, with perhaps the exception of myself and your Miss Granger."
The Headmaster looked up from the diary to meet Arthur Weasley's confused and frightened stare. "Very few people alive today know that the one we call Lord Voldemort was once a Hogwarts student named Tom Riddle. I myself was one of his teachers."
"Tom Riddle?" McGonagall gasped. "That smarmy Slytherin boy who was always kissing up to the teachers? Headmaster, are you trying to tell me that he turned into You-Know-Who?" At Dumbledore's nod, she sighed. "I always knew he'd get up to no good." She glanced at the Weasleys, the Finch-Fletchleys (who were watching the entire discussion with some confusion), and Harry, who was staring at her with a bemused look on her face. "Tom Riddle was a year behind me when I was a student here at Hogwarts," she said, finally. "I never liked him."
"But, Ron," began Mrs. Weasley. "What does Ron – what does HE have to do with Ron?"
Everyone looked to Ron, who remained silent.
"The diary; Ron's been writing in it. Riddle… the ghost, or whatever he was that we saw, he said that because Ron had written in the diary all year, he… Riddle, I mean… was able to possess Ron."
"Ron!" cried Arthur Weasley. "What have I always said about things that can think for themselves? Never trust them unless you can tell where it keeps its brain! Why didn't you show…" Arthur trailed off, looking sad and hopeless as he saw the blank expression on his son's face. "Son, why didn't you show it to me or your mother?"
"I didn't know I didn't know I didn't know I DIDN'T KNOW!" Ron's reply started as a whisper and ended in a shout. The blank expression had been replaced by rage and sorrow. "I found it in my books! I thought Mum had bought it for me! I thought I finally had something that was just mine and hadn't belonged to one of the – "
"Arthur," Dumbledore interrupted. The Headmaster's voice was calm and level. "I think it might be wise for you to take young Mister Weasley to the hospital wing. It is obvious that this experience has been very taxing on him. Mister Finch-Fletchley as well, I think." Dumbledore strode over to the door and held it for the two families, who shuffled out quietly.
Professor Dumbledore was silent for a moment. To Harry, it was obvious that his Headmaster was thinking, in that deep, quiet, very contemplative manner adults get when they are mulling over something dreadfully important. He looked from Professor Dumbledore, then to Professor McGonagall, then back to Dumbledore.
Harry opened his mouth to speak, just to put an end to the uncomfortable silence, when Dumbledore spoke. "Minerva," the Headmaster said to Professor McGonagall. "I think this happy occasion calls for a celebration. Might I ask you to go alert the kitchens that they are to go all out tonight? A full feast would be wonderful."
Professor McGonagall opened her mouth to speak, glanced at Harry, and then said nothing. After a moment, she nodded. "Right. I'll leave you to deal with Potter, then, shall I?" Dumbledore merely nodded as Professor McGonagall moved to the door. In a moment, Harry and the Headmaster were alone.
Harry's face was a mask of uncertainty. What did Professor McGonagall mean, exactly… deal with them, he asked himself silently. Certainly she didn't mean we'd be punished! Surely…
Dumbledore's voice brought the internal turmoil to a close. It was as if the old man could read Harry's mind. "Fear not. No one will be punished. Wizards who are far older and far more experienced than Ronald Weasley have been fooled and corrupted by the schemes of Lord Voldemort, and I can hardly punish you, or Miss…" Dumbledore interrupted himself. The old professor shook his head for a moment, and then gave a grim smile. "I mean Mrs. Potter… or Mister Longbottom for saving the lives of your classmates. The three of you will receive a Special Award for Services to the School and -- I think – yes, let's have a hundred and fifty points apiece for Gryffindor."
The thought of the massive points award – surely enough to put Gryffindor over the top for the House Cup – made Harry smile, but only for a moment. He was too worried about his friends.
Dumbledore crossed his office to one of the chairs in front of the fireplace. He gestured towards one of them. Harry sat. He fidgeted nervously as the Headmaster stared for a moment into the fire. "So," the old man said at last. "You have met Tom Riddle." To Harry, it seemed the Headmaster's voice was unaccountably sad. "I'd imagine he was most interested in meeting you…"
Harry was about to speak when Dumbledore interrupted. "Before you came to Hogwarts, I had hoped that you'd have as normal a childhood as you could find. But now it seems you're fated for a destiny that is anything but normal. Twice in as many years the specter of Lord Voldemort has intruded upon your life. It is fair to say that your home life with the Dursleys was less than salutary and for that I must apologize. And now you have found yourself involuntarily enmeshed in a relationship that would have suited you just fine had it happened in five or six years… but twelve?" Dumbledore shook his head. "It isn't what I would have wanted for your life, Harry, regardless of how happy you seem to be. Such a situation… you are still children! It never should have happened, but all we can do is deal with it now."
"Professor, are you talking about me and Gin – " Harry started to ask, his anger building.
But Dumbledore cut him off. "Ah, well. That is a subject for another day. I dare say you'll no doubt be wanting to join your friends and your… your young bride… in the Hospital Wing. I'm sure you'll still find Madame Pomfrey up and around, now that she has young Mister Weasley and the others to look after in addition to the Lovegood girl."
Harry took a step toward the door, but stopped. "So Luna's okay?" Harry asked.
"Yes, yes… she'll make a full recovery in time. There has been no lasting harm done."
"No lasting harm," Harry echoed. "Professor, she had to have been – " Harry stopped for a moment. "I mean, sir –" The boy gulped, hating the thought that was in his head. "She was tortured, wasn't she? Tom Riddle used Ron to torture Luna, just like he tortured Hermione Granger. Won't that cause her lasting harm?"
Dumbledore's eyes widened, and lost some of their grandfatherly kindness. "I am saddened to hear that Miss Granger was tortured. I assume that someone took her to the Hospital Wing so that Madame Pomfrey can look after her?"
Harry frowned at the change of subject, but as it was a reasonable question he didn't say anything. "Neville and Ginny did. Took Hermione to the Hospital Wing, I mean." He rubbed his hand absently under his suddenly stuffy nose. The pressures of the day's events were beginning to land on him, hard, and it was all he could do to not burst out in tears.
The Headmaster stared at Harry, his expression softening as he realized what Harry was going through. "Go to your friends, Harry. Get some rest, and have Madame Pomfrey attend to your own injuries. You've done enough for today. Even heroes have to rest sometime. We'll talk again, soon. And I assure you, neither Miss Lovegood nor Miss Granger will want for help in recovering from their ordeals. You have my promise."
The Headmaster opened his office door and held it, as he had done for the Weasleys, the Finch-Fletchleys, and Professor McGonagall. On the other side of the door, his silver-headed walking stick raised so as to knock, stood Lucius Malfoy. Crouching fearfully behind his legs was a house elf Harry recognized: Dobby!
Malfoy eyes shifted as they took in both the Headmaster and Harry Potter. With a sneer, he turned from Harry to address Dumbledore. "So, Dumbledore. I'm here as a representative of the Board of Directors." He raised a roll of parchment in his clenched fist. "This latest attack has several important families in disarray, and they have demanded your suspension. It was bad enough when the victims were squibs and the Muggleborn, but now that the murder victim is a Pureblood –" Malfoy interrupted himself to sneer down at Harry before continuing, " -- and from a family attached to one of the Twelve, we–"
"Ron Weasley is still alive. So is Hermione Granger for that matter." Harry's voice was level, but it masked a sudden anger. How could Malfoy have known so quickly what was going on? And the remark about it being 'bad enough' when the victims were Mister Filch and Colin Creevey, merely a Squib and a Muggbleborn, caused Harry's blood to start boiling. "The cause of the attacks has been stopped. You've got no call to –"
"You should learn, boy, to not interrupt your betters." Harry could see Lucius Malfoy's ears turning pink. The man turned to Dumbledore and stared for a moment. "So – the attacks have been stopped?"
"Yes, Lucius, the attacks have been stopped," Dumbledore said with a sigh.
Malfoy's smile became wider and, if possible, even more reptilian than it had been before. "And the culprit? You've caught the person responsible?"
"Yes," came Dumbledore's patient response.
Harry was on the verge of screaming. It was obvious who the actual culprit was. Out of nowhere, a thought stopped him from speaking. The thought came as a voice… a deeper, very familiar voice. But there's no proof, and he'd just buy his way out of Minister Fudge's jail anyway. You'll get your chance later.
"Well?" Mr. Malfoy demanded. "Who was it?"
The Headmaster was quiet for a moment, before responding. "Lord Voldemort. Through the use of an enchanted diary, Lord Voldemort was able to take control of a student. Once in control, Voldemort opened the Chamber of Secrets and unleashed the monster on the school."
Malfoy muttered, "I see."
"It was a clever plan," Dumbledore continued. "And it might have worked, had young Harry here, along with some of his friends, not figured it out and put a stop to it. They discovered what the book was, you see, and discovered what it was doing. Otherwise, I'd fairly say the blame would have landed on Ronald Weasley's head, since no one could tell he wasn't acting on his own volition."
Malfoy's face was completely blank. It seemed to Harry as if the man had suddenly become aware of the thin ice upon which he was skating. "Well," he said at last, "it is very fortunate for all of us that Mister Potter was there to save the day." He glanced toward the boy, and if looks could kill Harry knew he'd have been dead on the office floor.
"Well then, there's no need for me to stay." Malfoy whirled toward the door. "Come, Dobby… we're leaving." He wrenched the door open and kicked the house elf through it. Harry and Dumbledore could both here the creature's pain-filled squeals as it fell down the staircase.
"Professor Dumbledore," Harry said angrily. "Please excuse me, but there is something I have to do."
"Wait, Harry… don't—" but the closing door cut the Headmaster's words off. Harry pulled his wand from his pocket, then rushed down the staircase as quickly as he could without tripping. When he reached the corridor outside of the Headmaster's office, he glanced to the left and right, searching. There – Lucius Malfoy was striding through the empty hall, occasionally giving poor Dobby a kick to keep the elf moving.
Harry ran after him. "Malfoy! Lucius Malfoy! Stop where you are!" Malfoy stopped at the head of a staircase and turned, incredulous, as Harry skidded to a halt in front of him.
"Lucius Malfoy!" Harry gasped, a bit out of breath. He inhaled deeply through his nose to calm his breathing. "I warned you in the bookstore, Malfoy. You did this. You gave Ron Weasley the diary,"
Malfoy's hands clenched and unclenched. "Why don't you prove it," he hissed.
"Oh, I think we both know I can't prove it. But I know, Malfoy. I know. You put this entire plot into action, and by doing so, you put members of my family – you put my brother-in-law -- in the path of Lord Voldemort. I warned you."
Malfoy growled. His hand went to the silver serpent-head of his walking stick, but Harry was faster. With a gesture, the cane flew from Malfoy's hands, only to land on the cobblestones behind Harry. The older man's eyes widened in shock. "Wha—" Lucius Malfoy swallowed, calming himself. "What do you want, Potter." The man's voice still quavered. "You have no proof it was me. You've got no call to pursue any sort of vendetta. The Twelve Families would–"
"– no doubt do something bad to me, yes." Harry was thoughtful. "I'm sorry, Lucius, but there must be some reparation. Or did you forget I'm the head of one of the Twelve, just as you are? You hurt my family. You hurt the Sept-daughter of a second family. There is a price to be paid for all of this, and you're going to pay it."
"Harry." It was Dumbledore. The Headmaster just stood there, calmly, holding Malfoy's walking stick in one hand and his own wand in the other. "Perhaps… perhaps some other form of reparation. You need not take the price out in blood."
A strange feeling of calm washed over Harry at the Headmaster's words. Casually, as if it had been his intention all along, Harry lowered his wand. "Other form of reparation," Harry muttered. He stared at Lucius Malfoy for a long moment, taking in the man's form. Then his eyes turned to Dobby; Harry nodded. "Yes, other forms of reparation."
Harry pushed his hand into one of his pockets and fumbled around for whatever he carried. When he pulled it out, his fist held a piece of lint, an old scrap of parchment with an indecipherable note on it, and three knuts. "This is my demand. The House of Malfoy will sell the House of Potter all of its house elves for the sum of three knuts. That'll be the reparations, or else it will be war upon Draco Malfoy by not only my House, but by the Longbottoms as well." With that, Harry tossed the coins at Malfoy's feet.
"What? That's preposter–" Malfoy's outburst was interrupted by a soft cough from the Headmaster. Malfoy was quiet for a moment, before sighing. "That price is accepted." He stooped to pick up the coins, then turned to Dobby. "Dobby, Mister Potter is now your owner. My last order to you is this: you will go and inform Mamby that she has been sold, and then you will report to Mister Potter for new instructions."
"Thank you, Lucius." Dumbledore stepped forward to give Malfoy his cane back. "Harry, you were going to see your friends in the Hospital Wing."
Harry nodded tiredly and walked away.
Lucius Malfoy watched Harry Potter fade into the shadows of the corridor before speaking. "There is something decidedly off about that young man. Tell me, Dumbledore," he eyed the Headmaster speculatively. "What sort of twelve year old boy speaks like that? What child acts like that?"
Dumbledore was loathe to discuss Harry with the man who had just caused so much chaos in the school. But to this comment, he couldn't help but respond. Lucius was, after all, correct. "I wish I knew."
It was late by the time Harry, Ginny, and Neville made it back to the Gryffindor dormitories. They had missed the extravagant feast thrown in celebration of their accomplishments, preferring to stay by the bedside of their injured friends. They hadn't even known the feast was going on, or indeed hadn't spared a thought toward dinner either. The three children would probably have stayed in the Hospital Wing all night had Professor McGonagall not come to retrieve them.
"I can't believe they're thinking about erasing Hermione's memory when she wakes up," Neville said with a sigh.
"Just the memory of the torture, Neville. I think it's for the best. Who would want to remember that?" Ginny patted her friend on the back. Harry merely nodded, still lost in his own thoughts.
"What if something goes wrong and she doesn't remember any of us?" The thought scared Neville. He wasn't sure what he exactly felt for Hermione Granger, but he knew that it would hurt if she suddenly didn't remember him. "They didn't have to erase Luna's memory! What if…"
"Mister Longbottom." The calm, curt voice of Professor McGonagall stopped the impending hysterical rant. "I assure you that if it comes to it, the Ministry Obliviators know what they are doing. You will not lose your friendship with Miss Granger. I personally guarantee it." The Deputy-Headmistress gave the password to the Fat Lady, opening the door to the Gryffindor dorms. She waved her students through, then followed.
"Now, I know this has been an exciting day for all of you, but I want you to go straight to bed and try–" Minerva McGonagall broke off, suddenly. She couldn't believe what she was seeing. "Mister Potter, I distinctly remember telling you to release Mister Weasley's rat earlier. What is it still doing in a cage on this study table?" She stepped toward the table, gesturing Potter to follow. "I do not put up with disobedience from my students, Mister Potter. Ten points from Gryffindor, and I am sorry to say this, given your recent achievements, but detention with me tomorrow night."
She turned back to the table and pulled her wand from her robes. She had just begun the wand movement to banish the cage when her arm was suddenly tugged out-of-line. Instead of the cage being banished, one of the large candlesticks lighting the room was banished. She looked down to see Harry Potter's hand on her arm.
Of all the nerve, she thought to herself. "Mister Potter, do not compound your–"
"Please, professor. Don't. Not until you check! I'll take more punishment. I serve a week's worth of detention and you can take a hundred points from me… just don't do anything without checking!" Harry's eyes were imploring. She looked from the black-haired boy to the Weasley girl, who shared Harry's obvious distress, then to Longbottom, who merely looked confused. "Please, professor… it isn't just a rat. It's Peter Pettigrew. He's an animagus, and he's been hiding out for nearly twelve years. And Sirius Black has been rotting in prison for just as long, even though he's innocent. You can't just ignore… you can't…" Potter's words trailed away as he broke up into tears.
McGonagall's heart broke a little. She'd been so wrapped up in making sure that she wasn't favoring the child of two of her all time favorite students that she'd forgotten that this boy was a child of two of her favorite students.
"Very well, Harry. Very well." McGonagall began the Hominem Revealo spell that would put an end to this foolishness once and for all. "But when this is over, I expect –" Once again her words were interrupted, this time as the rat in the cage began to glow a dull white. It took a moment for her conscious mind to realize what this meant.
The rat was an animagus after all.
"Well. That wasn't what I expected." Professor McGonagall leaned down toward the cage and eyed the rat, who was now frantically trying to find a way out. "I don't know who you are," she said to the animagus she was coming to suspect would prove to be the long-thought-dead Pettigrew, "but we will be finding out shortly."
Behind her, Ginny pulled Harry into a hug and patted his back. "See," she whispered into his ear. "Everything's going to be just fine. Voldemort's gone, your godfather is going to be released from prison, and everything is going to be just fine from now on. You'll see.
It had been three days, and he'd hated each and every second.
Ron Weasley sat on the gabled eave of his older brother Percy's room, having crawled out onto the Burrow's roof from his own room. Despite being May, the night was chilly, and the wind didn't help at all. But Ron barely felt it. He'd been this cold and colder for a long time… ever since Tom Riddle started seeping into his soul from the diary.
Physically, Ron had recovered from whatever dark magic the diary had been working on him fairly quickly. An hour or two after crawling out of the Chamber of Secrets, Madame Pomfrey had proclaimed him "healthy as a thirteen year old boy was supposed to be" and released him to his parents, who immediately took him home.
That had been three days ago, and he'd hated each and every second.
For most of the year, he'd been afraid of one thing or another. Afraid of his sister's… whatever it was his sister had with Harry. Afraid he was losing contact with Harry. Afraid of his burgeoning feelings for Hermione Granger. Afraid of not having something for himself, that was special to him and not just something he inherited from someone else. But that fear had led him to the diary, and the last thing he wanted to think about was the diary. Thinking about what the diary had done to him was bad enough, but thinking about the diary…
It was too horrible to contemplate. He'd certainly never admit it to his family.
He wasn't afraid of the diary. He wasn't afraid of the spirit of the evil young man who had come out of the diary to dominate him so completely. No, fear was too weak a word. He was terrified, not merely afraid. He became a slave in his own body, and nothing he tried stopped it.
His friendship with Harry and Hermione was over. Ron was sure of it. Under the control of Tom Riddle or not, he had been aware of everything that was going on. He'd watched as Riddle used his body to kill Argus Filch, and Colin Creevey. To try and kill Justin Finch-Fletchley. To torture Luna Lovegood.
He'd have nightmares about Hermione for years.
Ron looked down at the ground, four stories below him. He pictured himself pushing off of the roof and just falling. It wouldn't take long, he figured, and then it would be all over. The pain, the fear, the anguish, the guilt. The massive, massive guilt that ate at him all the time now. But most especially, falling to his death would end the whispering voice that even now crept up from the darkest recesses of his mind.
"You still belong to me, Ron Weasley," the specter of Tom Riddle said. "I'm still here, and I will be here forever. You won't believe the things I will show you. The things I will teach you. You are going to get everything you ever wanted, Ron. You're going to be recognized as more than just the youngest Weasley boy. You'll have power, and respect. Because I'm not done with you yet…"
Tom Riddle's voice. Ron closed his eyes and shivered, but not from the wind. He leaned forward and looked again to the ground, so far below.
All he'd have to do is just give himself a bit of a push.
'Cause I can't get up.
I'm as cold as a stone,
I can feel the life fade from me.
I'm down on the ground,
I've got seconds to live,
Then what's there that waits for me?
'Cause love, like a sentence of death
Has left me stunned, and I'm reeling.
And if you go, Furious Angels
Will bring you back to me.
Rob Dugan, Furious Angels