The Girl's Bathroom

Merlin's return came as something of a shock to most students, they gawked at him as he strode through the corridor, speculated in urgent whispers that nonetheless carried over to him.

"Merlin's back?"

"I thought he'd been arrested—"

Someone had turned his disappearance into a wild story of a midnight arrest—he'd dueled two auror's at once apparently. Of course, all of Slytherin knew what had really happened thanks to Professor Snape, but they felt there was no need to tell the rest of the school. Which was why a flurry of confusion followed Merlin his first day back. But for once, he didn't care. He didn't hunch his shoulders or cringe as he heard Dean Thomas and Seamus Finnegan shout after him, and even smiled at the soft-spoken Ravenclaw first-year with snowy hair when she asked what had really happened. His mind was clear. His head didn't hurt. He wasn't perpetually tired. He could think and pay attention in class with a stunning clarity he didn't even know was possible.

The first night back in the common room, Daphne Greengrass had come up to him with a warm smile. "You look well, Merlin."

"That's what happens when you finally get a curse broken," and he smiled too.

"I forgot you knew how to do that," Pansy scoffed, but her words didn't hold the same bite they normally did. She came to stand next to Daphne and tossed her short dark hair in a flippant manner. "Welcome back to the land of the living."

"Did I really look that bad?"

"Well, now it's really obvious," Blaise said with a sneer. "I'd forgotten what you looked like when you weren't imitating a corpse."

"Stop exaggerating," Draco said. "If it was that bad, someone would've done something about it before."

"Someone should've anyway," came Daphne's voice, soft and clipped.

"It's all right," Merlin said, getting to his feet. "It was partly my fault too, I mean, I ignored everyone who told me to go to the Hospital Wing," he laughed.

"Yeah, all it took was for you to sleep walk out of the dorms," Blaise said, rolling his eyes. He sighed, and leaned back in his chair, putting his feet on the table in front of him. "Of course, the heir went silent after you left, blast him."

Merlin snapped his fingers. "That explains why the Gryffindors look equal parts gob smacked and furious," he said.

"As if there was anyone for him to petrify anyway," Pansy said, folding her arms. "Every muggleborn within Hogwarts went home for the holidays."

"Everyone went home," Theodore said. "It was just Higgs and me, and a handful of Ravenclaw sixth years."

But there was just no rationalizing with the Gryffindors, for the next morning it'd taken all of ten minutes before someone shouted, "Bloody Hell, what lie did you use to weasel your way out of this one, Evans?"

Merlin sighed and grabbed the pumpkin juice. The only way to clear his name would be to catch the Heir of Slytherin. He knew Snape would hate that idea—leave it for the adults, and all that. But considering that the Heir of Slytherin had a large snake at his disposal that could somehow petrify its victims, Parseltongue would be a necessity. He didn't think he could control the snake himself—he would try, of course—but it would be useful against the Heir.

After all, he'd already fought Tom Riddle once.

Unlike the rest of his classmates, he already knew who the Heir of Slytherin was. The Bloody Baron had told him how Tom had opened the chamber fifty years ago, killing one student in the process. And, if there was any reason why he'd come to this time period in the first place, he was willing to bet that it included defeating Lord Voldemort. But the Dark Lord wouldn't pull the same move twice and possess someone. Dumbledore would be keeping a careful eye on that front. So how was he, a mere vapor, controlling the snake?

Unless—Merlin's eyes widened and he set his fork and knife down. Around him, students were heading off to class. He followed his fellow Slytherins in something of a trance, a nervous excitement tingling in his fingers. Unless, he was the snake! It would make sense. Why couldn't he possess his own snake? If he killed a student, or two, the Ministry would have to report on it and he'd get the attention of his Death Eaters or maybe he was biding his time until he escaped during summer break—either way, Merlin had to find the Chamber of Secrets and stop him. The next lecture he received from Snape was sure to be a good one.

"Hey, I think Ginny Weasley is following you."

Merlin hummed and looked up. Draco nodded behind him and Merlin turned. At first, he didn't see her, then a flash of ginger hair as Ginny Weasley peered around the corner. Their eyes met and she froze. He watched her brown gaze dart from him, to the Slytherins filing toward History of Magic, and turned on her heel.

"Maybe she likes you," Draco said, sneering. "You're chummy with the twins, perhaps they finally convinced her you're innocent. Such a shame they can't persuade the rest of those idiots."

"Come off it," Merlin said, laughing. "She didn't think it was me even before Christmas. Remember when she walked Hermione back to the common room?"

"Look at you, that memory's coming back," Draco said as they headed into the classroom and found their seats.

"Recent events are, yeah," Merlin said, and then they were forced to stop talking. Professor Binns had begun his lecture on the continued history of the Medieval Assembly of European Wizards. Even healthy once more, Merlin only just managed not to fall asleep to the extraordinarily boring recount of the 1442 confusion of succession after three members of the Medieval Assembly died while on holiday in Greece.

Only A Boy

That night, Merlin slipped out of the castle and ran deep into the Forbidden Forest. The last time he'd visited Korrizahar, Norberta, and Aithusa he'd been delirious with fever, and had collapsed in the snow. He cringed at the memory—that should've been the last straw, but of course his common sense had fled by that point. Still, he could only imagine what Korrizahar must think, vanishing on him without even a goodbye before the holidays.

Draco, to his credit, had raised his eyebrow when Merlin mentioned he was stepping out for a bit. If anyone asked, he'd say Merlin had gone to bed early. He'd done it often enough back while under the effects of the curse that no one would question it.

Merlin had almost reached the clearing when a furious snarl brought him skidding to a halt. He didn't have time to turn around. He heard ragged breathing at his ear and threw his hand back, as he turned on his heel. Levitating in midair, lips pulled back to reveal a row of sharp ivory teeth, was Korrizahar. Though he hadn't grown much since the last time Merlin had seen him, the dragon was formidable enough at the size of a small black bear, and had a wingspan twice that.

"Kor?" Merlin began, taking a step back as he lowered the dragon onto the snow.

Korrizahar's tail whipped behind him in a catlike manner, his eyes narrowed as he continued to growl. Merlin stared, baffled. "O drakon," he began, then the dragon hissed at him.

"What happened?" Kor said through gritted teeth.

"Shouldn't I be asking you that?" Merlin said, eyeing the spikes at the end of the erratic tail.

"Let's see, last time you were a walking zombie, and then you vanished from the face of the earth for two weeks, and it's not like I can just waltz into the castle to find out what happened to you." Acrid smoke curled from his black nostrils. "You look better," he added, with a huff.

"Are you going to kill me the next time I leave you hanging for a few weeks?" Merlin asked, trying not to smile. He'd known Korrizahar would be worried, but not angry.

"I might." The dragon took a deep breath, and went on in a more subdued voice, "You're all I have, you know."

"That's not true. You have Aithusa and—"

"It's not the same. You know it's not."

Merlin fell silent. Kor was right. And, it was the same for Merlin. As wonderful as Hermione and Draco and Snape and all of them were, there was something different about the relationship he had with Korrizahar. His kin.

"Yeah," he agreed. "Now, a lot's happened," he went on, taking a seat on the snow. He told Kor about everything that had happened, how Snape had found him sleepwalking in the Great Hall, and waking up in St. Mungo's Hospital. When he reached the part about Bill Weasley breaking the curse, Korrizahar got to his feet and strode over to curl up around him. Warmth wrapped around him, and he smiled as Kor laid his large black and red head on Merlin's knees. His golden eyes never strayed as Merlin finished.

"It's gone then," he said. Merlin nodded and Kor lifted his head until they were eye-to-eye. "I cannot believe what a stubborn sack of frog urine—"

"I know—I know, but it was mostly the curse's fault, okay?"

"Are you kidding? I know you could've gone to someone way before the symptoms got so bad."

Merlin grimaced. It was true, of course. "Great, first Snape, now you…" he groaned.

Korrizahar snorted. "Good, I'm glad I'm not the only one worried about what a complete dunderhead you are. If you ever pull this again, I don't care, I'll drag you to Snape myself."

"I bet he'd like that," Merlin said. He wondered if Snape would hear Korrizahar out before he cursed him.

"I'm serious."

"I know you are." He ran his fingers over the hot scales of Kor's neck. "It won't happen again. Not now that the curse as been broken."

The dragon snorted again. "I'll believe that when it happens. Can you remember who cursed you?"

"Not yet."

"You'll remember."

Merlin shrugged. Somehow, he didn't think so. That had probably been the curse's intention from the very beginning. He opened his bag and pulled out the book Silas had given him for Christmas: You and Your Dragon, How to Connect Magically. Korrizahar twisted his head so that he could read the title.

"I can't stay long," Merlin said, thinking of the night patrols. Ever since the attacks began, the number of people wandering the castle at night had increased ten-fold. "But I thought we should start on this. Could be useful, right?"

Korrizahar's lips pulled back again, this time in a feral smile.

Only A Boy

Merlin couldn't remember having so much homework. He didn't have to make up all the work he had missed before Christmas, but his professors seemed determined to give him enough new work to offset the difference. Professor McGonagall especially took any opportunity to assign him extra work. Talking out of turn? Essay! Wrong answer? Essay! Staring off into space? Essay!

And to top it all off, Ginny Weasley kept following him. She'd hover in his peripheral vision, pale-faced and nervous. She never seemed to want to approach him while his classmates surrounded him.

"If I didn't know better," Pansy said with a sniff in her direction. "I'd say she's spying on you. Poorly."

"Probably drew the short straw, you know the lot of them are just waiting for you to incriminate yourself," Blaise said, nudging Merlin's shoulder.

"Or, she likes you," Draco said. He turned toward Ginny and called, "It's polite to talk to your crush, you know!" and laughed when she skidded out of sight.

It was so weird that Merlin ran to catch up with the Weasley twins after lunch on Thursday. When he started to tell them about Ginny following him around, George burst into laughter and Fred put his hand over his heart with a dreamy expression on his face.

"Oh, our dear sister, such a relief she has good taste in men."

"You can't be serious," Merlin said, staring at them.

"She talked about you all holiday," Fred said, wiping away a fake tear.

"Yeah, Ron nearly blew his gasket," George added, still laughing. "He didn't believe Bill at first when he told us he was treating you."

"Very stubborn, our ickle Ronnie-kins."

"But, we think we've convinced him that you're not evil incarnate."

Merlin rolled his eyes. "Yes, how splendid. Now if you could convince everyone else."

"I'm sure you'll beat us to that," Fred said with a wink. "Now, as for Ginny, just let her down easy, okay?"

"Or don't. I'm sure mom would get a kick out of being the great Merlin's mother-in-law," George said, and Fred snorted into giggles. Merlin left them like that, howling with laughter as he left, now calling, "Merlin Weasley," after him as if it were the funniest joke they'd ever heard.

Did Ginny Weasley like him? Merlin mulled the thought over as he headed for Defense Against the Dark Arts. What should he do? He might look twelve but he was, in fact, much older. It was almost too weird to contemplate. He took his seat at the back of the classroom next to Draco and Blaise, seconds before Lockhart emerged from his office in robes of resplendent green.

Lockhart was perhaps the only professor who didn't drown them in homework. Merlin almost wished he would—rather than whatever it was that he did. Their first class back he had bounded before them, all smile. "Welcome back, welcome back," he'd announced, as if they hadn't seen each other in months. "I trust you all had a good holiday? Of course, we are delighted to have young Merlin back with us," he clapped his hands together, but no one joined in on the applause and he tapered off after the fourth one. "Feeling better, are we? I do wish you'd come to me, Merlin. I've broken many a curse in my day—I could've had that thing off you in a jiffy. I've done it on multiple occasions. Allow me to direct you to page 14—"

And he'd proceeded to spend the rest of class going over every instance of curse breaking in his books. By the end of class they still hadn't covered them all and today Merlin wondered if Lockhart would just pick up where he left off.

Lockhart strode over to his desk as if it were a stage, returning a cheeky wink from one of his portraits with one of his own. How could someone be that vain? Merlin wondered as Lockhart cleared his throat and instructed them to pull out Year of the Yeti and follow along as he read select passages. Merlin flipped open his book to a random page and entertained himself with a furtive game of tic-tac-toe with Blaise until the bell rang.

"One moment, Merlin," Lockhart called over the class and Merlin's heart sank. He should've known Lockhart couldn't go an entire class without talking to him.

"I've got Potions," he tried to say but Lockhart only smiled.

"I'm sure Professor Snape won't mind."

"You'd think that by now he'd know that Snape would mind," Draco muttered under his breath. "I'll let him know," he added, "Maybe he'll come rescue you if you don't show up in five minutes."

The thought of Snape showing up to yell at Lockhart for making his students late put a smile on Merlin's face. "One can hope," he said. He waited until everyone had left before shouldering his bag and walked up to Lockhart's desk. Lockhart had gone around it to stand in front of a life-size portrait of himself in canary yellow, and only turned around when Merlin cleared his throat.

"Merlin, Merlin," he said, shaking his head and he strode forward to grip the back of his chair. "And how goes your search for the Chamber of Secrets, eh? I know, I know—" he added when Merlin opened his mouth, "—You're not doing anything of the sort." He gave a knowing wink. Then he laughed, a boisterous full sound. He wiped the corner of his left eye.

"But I don't think you need to worry," he went on, starting a slow walk around his desk. Merlin wondered if it'd be too obvious if he started doing the same, if only to keep the distance between them. "It's only a matter of time before I catch the heir—in fact, I wouldn't be surprised if they stopped attacking soon," he tapped his nose.

"You've lost me," Merlin said. If Lockhart caught the Heir of Slytherin he would eat Gadding with Ghouls, binding and all. Lockhart leaned on the corner of his desk and sighed, shaking his head with an almost pitying smile.

"Merlin, Merlin, Merlin," Lockhart went on, "I'm sure you understand. We're just alike you know?"

Merlin scoffed. "We definitely aren't." He had a feeling he knew where this was going, and it coiled in his gut like worms. He took a step back and folded his arms. He wasn't going to let Lockhart use him.

"I have a sense about these things, believe me," Lockhart went on, as if he hadn't heard Merlin. "I know all the details about your little incident with Quirrell. You can't stop yourself from figuring this out. But going against the Heir of Slytherin?" Lockhart shook his head, a chuckle on his breath. "You aren't ready to handle something like that."

Merlin narrowed his eyes. "And let me guess, you are?"

Lockhart missed the sarcasm. He beamed, wide and toothy, and straightened his robes. "You do understand. Bless. It's just—" he heaved a sigh, "—there's just experience I have that you don't. And we wouldn't want anything bad to happen to you, of course. You're a rising star! I'd consider it such a shame if it were to be extinguished prematurely."

"Come off it," Merlin said rolling his eyes. "You're just worried I'll steal all your fame!"

The smile went stiff. "Merlin, what a thing to say, I don't—"

"Yeah right, you've been cozying up to me all year and I'm sick of it." It felt liberating to say it out loud. He had been trying to pinpoint why his skin crawled every time he and Lockhart were in the same room, and at last he'd figured it out. The man was a sham. A fraud. And he was desperate to leech off of someone with real power. "I doubt you could defeat the Heir of Slytherin, even if he let you have the first shot. You're all talk."

"Detention!" Lockhart snapped, the smile falling further. "Well, well, it's clear you haven't been paying attention in class! But," and he forced his smile back on his face. "I'm sure it's hardly your fault, what with the curse and all. Don't know what you're saying—bless. I'll send along the details of your detention later—I'm sure Professor Snape is anxious for you to return to class," and he shooed Merlin out of the classroom

But Merlin didn't care that he'd gotten detention. If anything, it was an opportunity to figure out how much a fraud Lockhart really was.

Only A Boy

No matter how many times Draco exclaimed that Lockhart was an overzealous twat and that Merlin shouldn't get detention for saying the truth, it didn't change reality. Merlin tried not to think about the detention to occur that evening, stabbing at his kippers harder than was necessary. Although, perhaps a detention could provide the perfect cover—Korrizahar would want his Friday night update—and what a better way to explain away his absence then a late detention? Still he grimaced at the idea of spending time with the peacock, even if Merlin managed to prove what a fake he was.

Owls swooshed by over his head, delivering messages. He glanced up, out of habit, and was surprised to see a tawny school owl glide over to him, drop a piece of parchment on his plate, and fly out again. He tried to wipe some of the oil off the paper, and read:

Meet me after dinner at the second floor corridor.

"Either he's going to make you scrub that message," Draco said, reading it over his shoulder. "Or he's going to try to make you help him look for the entrance to the chamber."

Merlin grimaced. He had a sinking feeling it was the latter. "Is that even legal?" he groaned, folding the piece of paper and sticking it into his pocket. He wanted to be able to use as evidence later if Lockhart tried to pin the entire idea on him.

"Not unless it involves some reckless endangerment," and Draco smirked. "Which ought to happen, knowing him. Or maybe the monster of Slytherin will get him first, that'd solve all our problems."

Merlin rolled his eyes. As much as he disliked Lockhart, he didn't think the man deserved to die. Still, it was with some reluctance that he made his way toward the second floor corridor after dinner.

He'd gotten there first. On a whim, he tilted his head and closed his eyes. No voice reached him through the stone. Were they biding their time? Selecting their next target? Merlin knew that Tom Riddle wouldn't stop. He strode forward, his footsteps echoing along the corridor. No water this time. He reached the words, red stains that still shone bright. Filtch had long since stopped his attempt to scrub the wall clean. He had even stopped patrolling the space. Merlin had a feeling he probably stopped by Professor Sprout's office every day to ask about the Mandrakes. He might not like Filtch, but he couldn't deny him the pain he felt for Mrs. Norris.

"You came."

Merlin jumped. That wasn't Lockhart. He turned to see Ginny emerge from the girl's bathroom across him. He paused, staring at her. His hand went to the pocket he'd placed the morning's note. "You sent it?" he said, somewhat taken aback. "Well, uh, not that I wouldn't like to find out why you're following me, but I have detention with Lockhart."


"Yeah, I thought the note was from him," Merlin shrugged.

"Oh, well this won't take long," she said. "Most detentions start about an hour after dinner finishes anyway."

That was mostly true. And Merlin had no desire to rush off to Lockhart's office any sooner than he needed to. The man hadn't even given him a time. How would he know he was late? "Uh, sure. So," Merlin paused, appraising the Gryffindor in front of him. "Why are you following me?"

"In here," Ginny said, pushing open the door to the bathroom again. "I don't want to be overheard."

If Draco was right and this was some sort of love confession, Merlin would never hear the end of it. He hesitated a second before following her inside. He'd only been here once before, right after the first attack on Halloween. But, although Moaning Myrtle had flooded the corridor she hadn't seen who—or what—attacked Mrs. Norris. A dead end. Or so Merlin had thought—as he walked across the chipped tiles and appraised the grime-coated mirrors, a twisting sensation seized his gut. His magic could taste something old and familiar, an enchantment it both embraced and recoiled against. In his cursed state, he hadn't noticed it.

"Okay, so it's like this," Ginny began in a rush, turning around to face him. She took a deep breath, and went on in a slower tone, "I've been doing a lot of thinking about this Chamber of Secrets business and I think I-" she faltered.

"Think what?" Merlin prompted when the silence began to drag. Out of everything Ginny Weasley wanted to talk to him about, the Chamber of Secrets hadn't even occurred to him. Not in this context.

Ginny chewed on the inside of her cheek. She shook her head, and then relaxed. She took another breath and then said, "I'll start at the beginning. I came here a few weeks ago, and ended up having a conversation with Moaning Myrtle."

"I did that too, but she didn't see anything that night," Merlin said, furrowing his brow.

Ginny held up her hand, a spark entering her eyes. "That's what I thought too," and she turned to walk toward the stalls. "Myrtle? Are you here?"

Silence, and then a choked sob reached them. It sounded like it was coming from somewhere beneath them. Then, the sound shifted and a voice drifted from the end stall, "What?" Myrtle poked her silvered face through the door. She caught sight of Merlin and gave a hiccup, her sobs tapering off. "What's a boy doing here?" she asked.

"I want you tell him about how you died," Ginny said.

Myrtle stared at the pair of them. She didn't seem to understand the question. And then she broke into a wide smile. She flew forward, appearing before them with an excited giggle. "Oh, I'd love to! It was terrible! It happened right here in this bathroom fifty years ago. The same thing had been happening then, you know, and—"

Merlin's eyes went wide. How had he not realized-the Bloody baron had mentioned a death! "You mean," he said, unable to stop himself, "you were killed by the snake—the monster of Salazar?"

Myrtle gave him a severe look for interrupting her, but shrugged. "I don't know," she said shaking her head so that her hair tossed. "I just remember seeing a pair of great big yellow eyes and," she held her head high, "I died."

"Myrtle, tell him the whole story," Ginny admonished, waving toward her.

If anything, Myrtle looked flattered at being asked to elaborate. "So, I'd hidden in here because Olive Hornby had been teasing me about my glasses. And I heard someone come in, and of course I didn't care because I was crying but then they said something funny. It wasn't English. But what really got me was that it was a boy speaking, so I unlocked the door to tell him to go use his own toilet when," she smiled at the pair of them. "I died."

All this time it had been right in front of him. How could he have been so stupid? Merlin turned from the ghost and began to pace up and down the room. A snake with a killing sight—now the name came to his tongue. A Basilisk. He could remember Gaius mentioning the creatures. They had been the things of epic quests in Camelot. He felt Ginny's eyes and after he'd walked the length of the room again, turned to her.

"The entrance to the Chamber of Secrets is in this room."

Ginny had gone pale. She cast her eyes about the cracked tiles. "Okay." She didn't sound skeptical in the slightest.

"Help me look for…" he trailed off. He had no idea what to look for.

"Something that says Chamber of Secrets got it." She didn't smile, but the corners of her lips lightened. Merlin laughed.

"Yeah, you know, and engraved snake or something."

Merlin began a methodical search of the toilet stalls, starting with the one across from where Moaning Myrtle had died. He ignored the toilet—plumbing hadn't been invented at the time of the chamber's creation—and instead inspected the stone. Nothing. Neither the walls nor the floor had any engravings. He went on to the next one, and the next one.

"Anything?" he asked Ginny.

"Not yet," came her voice from the other side of the room. She paused. "What if you just asked where it is?"

Merlin rolled his eyes. "Sure, because I'm sure the Chamber of Secrets is just waiting for someone to ask where—"

"In Parseltongue?" Ginny interrupted.

Merlin paused. He pushed open the door to the stall he was in and looked at Ginny. She was leaning against one of the chipped sinks, her arms folded. It didn't look like she'd been helping him search. In fact, she looked rather smug. The ghost was floating above the pair of them, too interested in what was happening to wail and moan.

"That would make more sense," Merlin said, slowly.

"Doesn't it just?"

Merlin strode forward until he was somewhat in the center of the room. He cleared his throat. "Where are you?" he hissed. He heard nothing then—"Here," came a soft whisper near the sinks. Merlin rushed toward it and circled the place once. No plumbing meant there wouldn't have been sinks either. They had to have been a later edition. But what could have been here before? A laundry shoot? A well? Merlin bent down to examine the stone at the base of the sinks. There, engraved into the stone, half-hidden beneath a tower of porcelain, was a stone serpent.

"Okay," Merlin said straightening. He stared down at the stone, his heart racing. He had found it. Did he go down there, right now? What if he didn't, and there was another attack? Did he go tell The Headmaster and Snape, but he already knew whom they would have to face—

Who he needed face…

"Okay," he repeated, turning to Ginny. "I need you to go get Professor Snape. Tell him what's happened."

Ginny looked from him to the mark on the stone. "You're going down there?" she said, blinking. She sounded almost impressed or maybe it was incredulity, he couldn't tell. "Alone?"

"I can't explain," Merlin said and he took step back. "Please?" he prompted and although Ginny gave him a long surveying look, she turned and fled the room.

Now alone—except for Myrtle, who had taken a seat atop one of the stall doors—he took a deep breath. He rolled up his sleeves. "Open, Chamber of Secrets," he commanded in Parseltongue. There was a shudder, and then stone shifted against stone, and a circular opening formed in the floor. He bent down to inspect it, but the pipe extended far out of sight.

"Snape's going to give me detention for a year," he grumbled, but he slid inside all the same. The path wasn't quite as steep as he feared, but it twisted and turned, and he invoked his magic to slow his progress, so that instead of shooting out the exit, he landed gently on his shoes.

Even gently, a resounding crack echoed and Merlin froze. In the darkness he couldn't see a thing. He lifted his hand and with a flicker of gold in his eyes, a small orb of light appeared in his hand. He cringed. The ground was littered in tiny animal bones, caking the ground in a skeletal carpet. Not exactly an encouraging start. Still, there was nothing for it. If he wanted to get there before Dumbledore and Snape had a chance to catch up, he'd better get moving.

He'd taken three steps when a sound behind him had him wheeling around in time to see Ginny Weasley fly out the pipe. She landed in a sprawled heap with a loud, uncomfortable crunch. "What are you doing?" Merlin hissed as she got to her feet. "I told you to go get Dumbledore!"

"I couldn't let you go alone!" she snapped back. "I told Moaning Myrtle to do it."

Merlin couldn't believe it. Either he was going to get this girl killed or she was going to find out how powerful he really was. "You need to go back up there!"

"How?" she retorted, folding her arms. "You going to push me back up the pipe?"

"If I have to," Merlin said, narrowing his eyes. He was sure he could think of a spell that could do the trick.

"Then I'll slide right back down—look," she went on, interrupting a protest he'd begun, "It's either that or we wait here for Dumbledore and Snape to arrive."

Merlin stared at her. Her lip twisted into a sneer as she lit her wand. "I thought so. Come on then," and she started down the passageway.

Ginny Weasley was not what he had expected, that was for certain. "Bloody Gryffindors," Merlin hissed, jolting himself. Just trust her to find the snake before he did, or for help to arrive too early.

But up in the second floor bathroom, Moaning Myrtle sat atop her cubicle, picking at a mole on her chin. Albus Dumbledore sat in his study reading a book on advanced alchemy while Professor Snape opened his door to find a perturbed Lockhart. And at the end of the second floor corridor, new words shimmered in red beneath the first: