It sometimes surprised Harry how easily the snake's tongue fell from his lips.
The sink lowered itself into the floor, revealing the dark tunnel behind it. Behind him, Moaning Myrtle gave a small squeak of shock. Harry was wearing his Invisibility Cloak, and had long ago mastered the art of walking silently. This was the first action that could have betrayed his presence.
He checked his pocket to make sure his shrunken broom was still there. It was. He jumped into the tunnel and braced himself over the hole with his hands, not quite falling in. Not yet.
"Close," he whispered and let go. He heard the entrance slam shut behind him as he whizzed through the tunnels. No one would be able to follow him now.
Idle thoughts flickered through his mind as he slid. It was a ten minute journey to the deepest, secret levels of Hogwarts, but the time passed surprisingly quickly.
When he reached the cavern at the base of the tunnel he took of the Invisibility Cloak. For such a large object, it folded into a surprisingly small shape. He managed to stuff it into one of his pockets. Of course, practice hadn't hurt either.
He didn't bother to light up his wand as he continued along the path he had trodden so many times before. He knew the way by heart far better than he did by eye and he navigated with ease.
It wasn't until he reached a section almost entirely blocked by rocks that the memories started returning. Lockhart prepared to wipe his mind. The terrible sound of rocks falling. The fear for his friend's safety. And, of course, the mind numbing fear of what lay ahead.
He shook his head to clear it of such dark thoughts and busied himself with widening the hole in the rocks. It had been months since he had last felt the need to retreat into his sanctuary. Months since he had been able.
He cleared the rocks by hand. That was how Ron had done it the first time around, so that was how Harry would do it this time.
He wondered if Ron was worried about him. He wondered if Ron had even noticed he was gone.
Soon, the gap was just wide enough that he could squeeze through. He never widened it any more than that. Striding confidently on, he came to main cavern. The Great Hall he privately called it.
Sometimes he preferred it to the real Great Hall. Down in the dark, no one started or whispered or wondered about the Boy Who Lived.
But it was very lonely.
Right now, that was just what he needed.
At the end of the chamber lay the corpse of the basilisk coiled upon itself as it had fallen in its death throes.
Sometimes he could imagine it was simply sleeping. Those times he pretended he didn't see the blood pooled at it's head.
Two years after the fact, the mixture of blood and ink looked hardly fresh but somehow curiously timeless. The copper had dulled to brown and the ink had faded, but he could still picture that day clearly in his mind's eye. Too clearly.
He wasn't sure why he approached the body of the beast. He rarely did. He stood at it's head remembering when it had been a creature of nightmares. But now it was gone. The nightmares were still there. They never really left. They were usually overshadowed by worse images. Tonight he knew he would dream of the beast. It would make a welcome change.
The basilisk's fang was lying on the ground exactly where he had dropped it so long ago when he was so sure it was his time to die.
He picked it up and turned it over in his hands, staring at it with a strange, morbid fascination. It had a simple elegance to it. One long, uninterrupted curve ending in a lethal point. The end that had broken off ruined the picture slightly, but only just a little.
The fang was hollow. Once it had been filled with the most lethal poison on Earth. Now it was harmless. He could still see the crater where the venom had leaked out. He made a point to avoid it. No point in asking for trouble when it came uninvited.
He placed the fang back on the ground, carefully positioning it so it looked as though it had never been touched.
He followed the basilisk's body for the next part of the journey. He didn't know why. It would have been easier to walk a straight path, but he didn't. Instead he curved one way and looped another and went back twenty feet from where he meant to go and forwards again until finally he reached the tip of the tail.
He hadn't realized the first time quite how long the basilisk actually was. The tip of the tail was inside the chamber where the basilisk was kept. Or maybe it had fallen there by chance. He had no way of knowing.
It was there that he first lit his wand. This cavern was about three-quarters the size of the Other Great Hall, but much less ostentatious. In fact, the only feature worth noting was a spiral staircase to his immediate left.
He picked his way up it carefully. Over time the stone steps had begun falling apart. They were crumbling and weakened, some having even fallen out unknown centuries ago. One wrong move could send him crashing down.
He navigated the stairs without mishap and found himself in a small, circular room decorated with the snake motif Salazar Slytherin had so appreciated and filled with vials of memories. In the middle of the room, a Pensieve rested on a pedestal. Except for those, and a few candle fixtures, the room was bare.
He lit the candles with a touch of the wand and a whispered spell. They were surprisingly tall. It was almost eerie. He suspected that the last person to use the room had simply replaced the candles, but he knew that would have been nearly a millennium ago.
He had never looked at the memories on the shelves. The room was called the Chamber of Secrets after all. It wasn't much of a secret if he knew about it.
He straddled a fine line after a childhood in a cupboard under the stairs. On one hand, he hated enclosed spaces, but on the other hand, any wide open space would have too many people. There were some times when he just didn't want to have any people around.
The Chamber was the perfect balance. On one hand, it was wide open with plenty of space, on the other hand, only he could access it. Perfection.
It didn't hurt that it was Slytherin's chamber either.
When he had first arrived at Hogwarts, he had always wondered about that particular founder. His young mind couldn't comprehend why the other, nobler founder would welcome the help of one so obviously evil as the founder of Slytherin House.
It wasn't until the incident with Norbert that he finally understood: Salazar Slytherin wasn't evil, it was merely very easy to twist the facts to make it look that way.
When he had come to Hogwarts, as much as he hated his fame, he had to admit that he took it somewhat for granted that his fame was largely, and permanently, positive. He couldn't have been more wrong.
It had come out of the blue when all of a sudden Harry Potter, The Boy Who Lived, was everybody's least favorite person. The student body had needed someone to blame for Gryffindor's failure. Since everybody knew who Harry Potter, The Boy Who Lived, was, it was all to easy to shove the blame onto him.
It was then he realized that Salazar Slytherin, Founder of Hogwarts, would have gone through much the same thing.
Ambition and cunning. It been ambitious, yes, but not perhaps the most cunning to choose those as House Traits. After all, what would-be conqueror wasn't ambitious. What conman or thief wasn't cunning.
So when the first criminal Slytherin showed up, it would have been all too easy to blame it on the Founder.
He knew the feeling well. It was one he had been acquainted with more than once. He knew how it would grow to the point where not even your first and truest friend would stand by you anymore.
And somehow, knowing there was someone else who had ever known what he had felt, Harry suddenly felt much better.
He looked down at his watch and realized he had been brooding for hours. It was time to leave his sanctuary.
He made his way back just as deliberately. He always did. He unshrunk his broom, donned his Invisibility Cloak, and flew back out of the tunnel.
"Open," he hissed. And then "close."
He returned his broom to his pocket and strolled casually back up to Gryffindor Tower, feeling as though a huge weight had been lifted off his chest.
"Where have you been?" Hermione demanded when he entered the Common Room. "I've been worried sick!"
"Calm down, Hermione," he said. "I just went for a bit of a stroll."
Hermione didn't buy it. "A stroll?" she asked icily. "Where to?" Her pleasant smile assure Harry he was in for a world of hurt if he didn't answer truthfully. Thankfully, Ron came to the rescue.
"Come on, Hermione," he said. "A man's got to have some secrets." He still sent Harry a questioning glance. Harry shook his head.
He had his secrets, a whole chamber full of them, and he wasn't going to share them with anybody.
A/N: For anyone who wants to know when this takes place, I don't know. Harry refused to tell me. I think it's sometime between the First and Second tasks. Please let me know what you thought