Author name: Ruskbyte
Disclaimer: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.
Author's Note: As with my previous story, Issues of Trust and Faith, this short story came about by me wondering what might have happened if Harry had acted slightly differently in a given situation. This time at the conclusion of CoS, with poor Ginny.
The Riddle of the Diary
Harry Potter, much exalted, much revered, much loved, much hated, and currently much of a mess, felt as though he had been run over by a car. An old, battered and hideously turquoise coloured Ford Anglia, to be more precise. But that car had disappeared into the Forbidden Forest at the beginning of term and now roamed wild through the woods, only making an occasional appearance to save foolishly brave second-year students about to become dinner for a colony of giant spiders.
Which, Harry supposed, meant that his multitude of aches and pains were the sole result of being battered and thrown about by a Basilisk, the king of snakes. The same giant serpent that had so far petrified half a dozen Hogwarts students, not to mention the infamous Mrs Norris, caused the imprisonment of Hagrid, the banishment of Professor Dumbledore and a hundred other headaches for Harry over the course of the year.
The gigantic snake had only minutes ago been blinded by the headmaster's phoenix, Fawkes, and then skewered, inexpertly but effectively, through the head by Harry with the aid of a magical sword that had mysteriously appeared from within the Sorting Hat of all things.
Doubtless to say Tom Marvolo Riddle, or rather the living memory of Lord Voldemort, had not been overly pleased by this, especially as Harry once again proved to be living a charmed life by not dying from the Basilisk's usually lethal bite. Riddle in turn had, in a twist of divine irony, met his own end when Harry had plunged the same Basilisk fang that had pierced his arm through the pages of the diary preserving Tom's essence.
And now the Chamber of Secrets was quiet once again, as it had been for the past fifty years.
Or as quiet as it could be, what with a shaking and exhausted young wizard, a shivering young witch and the twitching corpse of a Basilisk within its ancient walls.
With his wand once again in the hands of its rightful owner, the Sorting Hat and the gleaming silver sword that had appeared from it, Harry rushed to where Ginny Weasley was lying. The girl was beginning to regain consciousness now that Riddle's diary was destroyed. As Harry hurried to kneel by her side, she sat up and took in his dishevelled appearance, covered in the slime that coated the passage to the Chamber, his robes torn and soaked with the mingled blood of the dead Basilisk and his own injuries, bruised and beaten, but grinning with relief at her recovery.
Brushing a strand of her fiery, Weasley, red hair out of her face, Ginny smiled with bemusement as Harry sank down onto the stone floor beside her. Her warm chocolate brown eyes made a cursory examination of the boy she had a terribly strong crush on and suddenly became riveted on the battered diary Harry held in his hand, ink dripping from it like blood. Her smile faltered, faded and disappeared in the space of a heartbeat. Tears began to flow like rivers and streamed down her pale, exhausted face as she was wracked by shuddering sobs.
"Harry - oh, Harry - I tried to tell you at b-breakfast," she wailed keenly, curling into a ball of misery. With her knees drawn up to her chest and arms wrapped tightly around her legs, Ginny wept in anguish, "but I c-couldn't say it in front of Percy. It was me, Harry - but I - I swear I d-didn't mean to - R-Riddle made me, he t-took me over - and..."
Harry's heart went out to the poor girl, who was trembling so heavily that her words were barely intelligible. Having never been comforted by much of anyone in his life, the Dursleys would have been dancing with glee if he had been in such a state, Harry was somewhat at a loss for what to do to help her. Finally, mostly on instinct, he shifted close to Ginny and wrapped his arm around her shoulders and tried to steady her shaking form.
"Shhhh, it's okay, Ginny, it's okay. It's all over now," he whispered gently in what he hoped was a soothing tone, "Everything is going to be fine, you'll see. There's no need to get upset about what happened - it wasn't your fault."
Ginny looked up at him, her face swimming with tears of despair. Confusion reigned in her eyes as disjointed memories surfaced within her as she searched the Chamber, "How did you kill that - that thing?" she asked when she spotted the limp remains of the Basilisk, "W-where's Riddle? The last thing I remember is him coming out of the diary..."
Harry smiled at her, giving her a tender squeeze, "Don't worry about Riddle," he told her, his own gaze shifting to the dead Basilisk, "As for that overgrown snake, well to cut a long story short, I stuck a sword the Sorting Hat gave me through its head."
He reached out with the arm that was not around Ginny's shoulders and picked up the sword that was lying, along with the Sorting Hat and Riddle's diary, next to them on the floor. Struggling to hold its heavy weight with just the one hand he showed her the weapon, its gleaming blade encrusted with dried blood. Ginny's eyes became wide as saucers and her pale face seemed to lose what little colour it had left. Quickly returning the sword to its place on the floor, Harry motioned at the shimmering scarlet and gold form of Fawkes, who was gliding about the Chamber.
"Couldn't have done it without Fawkes here, of course," he said as the phoenix swooped down and landed before them, singing a note of triumph as it settled.
"Fawkes?" asked Ginny, her voice a whisper of astonishment.
Harry smiled and stroked a stray lock of hair from her face, "He's Dumbledore's," he told her, a smile on his lips as Ginny suddenly realized what he was doing and flushed a brilliant scarlet that matched Fawkes' plumage, "Although I'm starting to think that nobody could claim to own a phoenix. I'll have to ask Dumbledore next time I see him."
"D'you think he'll come back now?" Ginny's voice was quivering with guilt.
"Dumbledore never left Hogwarts, Gin," he told her, "As long as even one of us still has faith in him, is still loyal to him, he will always be here... 'Help will always be given at Hogwarts to those who ask for it'."
Ginny looked at him with a weak, but amused smile, "That sounds like something he'd have said," she told him, her bright brown eyes beginning to clear of tears.
Harry grinned at her and, without thinking, reached up to stroke her cheek, "He did," he said as she blushed scarlet once again.
"What about T-Tom?" asked Ginny, again searching the gloomy depths of the Chamber as she began to tremble in his embrace, "Where did he go?"
"Back to the nothingness that spawned him," replied Harry, thinking that he sounded melodramatic about it, but not really caring, "He was never really alive or real. It was just a memory of him, an enchantment he left inside the diary fifty years ago."
This time, instead of the sword, Harry held up the ink soaked diary, clearly showing Ginny the ragged hole that pierced straight through the small book. "Without the diary Tom Riddle couldn't survive by himself. He's finished, Ginny. Him and the Basilisk."
He had hoped this would calm and comfort her, instead Ginny ducking her head against her knees and began wailing and crying on a scale that would impress even Moaning Myrtle. "I'm going to be expelled!" she sobbed, "I've looked forward to coming to Hogwarts ever since B-Bill came and n-now I'll have to leave and - w-what'll Mum and Dad say?"
Oh boy, Harry thought, it never rains except when it pours. He twisted himself and Ginny about until he could hold her properly in both arms, embracing her in the most comforting hug he could muster.
"Ginny, listen to me," he said, gently rocking her back and forth, "They're your parents, Gin, and they love you more than anything. You and your brothers mean the world to them, and even if I don't really know them that well, I'm willing to bet the only thing they'll say is that they are both very glad, absolutely ecstatic in fact, that you're back with them, safe and sound."
"But this is all my fault!" protested Ginny.
"No," insisted Harry, grabbing her face by the chin and forcing her to look up at him, "if it's anyone's fault, it's Voldemort's!"
Oops, he thought as Ginny jerked violently in his embrace, shocked that he would dare to speak You-Know-Who's name out loud. He sighed and shifted a little away from Ginny so that he could turn her to face him.
"Tom Marvolo Riddle," he said, using his wand to magically trace the name in the air, just as Riddle had done only minutes before. Using his wand he began nudging the letters about, moving them into the positions required to spell out the name and title of the foul creature that had murdered his parents so many years before.
"I am Lord Voldemort," whispered Ginny, staring at the glowing words in amazement and horror.
Harry nodded and with a wave of his wand extinguished the writing, "You see, Ginny? Even fifty years ago, when he was still a kid, still at school like the rest of us, he was calling himself by the name everyone is so afraid to speak.
Ginny shook her head in disbelief, "But, but you defeated You-Know-Who!" she protested.
"Voldemort," corrected Harry, suddenly finding himself annoyed with her. She flinched once again at the mention of the dark lord's name. "Ginny, Voldemort may be the most powerful, most evil, dark wizard in the last hundred years, but he was just a man. A man, a boy, called Tom Riddle. You know this. Being afraid to speak his name, and not even his real name, just increases your fear of him. Don't let him control you like that."
His words were soft and encouraging, considering all that had happened to her he could somewhat understand her fear, but refused to allow her to dominated by it like so many others. Ginny was looking hesitantly at him with wide eyes, but after swallowing nervously she nodded acceptance of his words.
"And it's also my fault," Harry admitted, thinking guiltily back over the past year.
"What?" exclaimed Ginny and began protesting, "Harry, no! It wasn't, it isn't..."
Harry shushed her with a finger to the lips, "Gin, you're my best friend's 'baby sister'. And by thinking of you that way, I was automatically dismissing you, fixing you in a set category, and ignoring the person that you are." He smiled and brushed another errant tendril of red hair from her cheek, "Your parents and your brothers have been very good to me, treating me as part of the family, while saving me from my own. I should've taken the time to get to know the girl that the Weasley boys are so protective of."
Ginny ducked her head in embarrassment, her cheeks flushing red, and he couldn't resist a small dig at her, "Besides, if you'd known me better, well enough to talk to me about your troubles, instead of turning as red as a beet, making funny noises and then running off, perhaps we could have avoided all this."
"I didn't make funny noises!" protested Ginny, faint traces of an indignant smile curving her lips as she looked up at him.
Harry grinned broadly, relieved that he had managed to cheer her spirits, however lightly. Not really feeling like it, but knowing he had to, Harry pulled away from Ginny and pushed himself to his feet. Trying not to fall over as the blood rushed to his head he retrieved the sword, the Sorting Hat and Riddle's diary. Tucking the sword and the Sorting Hat into his belt and slipping the diary into a pocket, he offered a hand to Ginny.
"Come on," he said helping her up, "We'd better hurry or Ron'll have torn all his hair out."
Stepping over the still form of the Basilisk Harry nodded, "In the tunnels. There was a cave in and he was stuck on the other side. That idiot Lockhart tried to do a memory charm on us using Ron's wand and it kind of blew up in his face."
Ginny looked slightly alarmed, "Is he okay?"
"I didn't bother to check," admitted Harry wryly, "I had someone more important on my mind."
"But - but he's your friend!" Ginny protested, not fully realizing what Harry had just said.
Harry looked at her as if she were crazy for a moment before it dawn on him what she was talking about. He grinned at her as they entered the tunnel, the massive stone doors swinging closed behind them. "Ron's fine, Gin," he told her, "I was talking about Lockhart."
A moment passed and Harry could, even in the gloom of the tunnel, see Ginny's face suddenly glow bright red, almost matching her hair. He supposed she had just backtracked to what he had said and its significance.
"You think I'm important?" she asked shyly, practically whispering.
Harry smiled and reached out to encircle her waist, pulling her close to him. They continued to trek through the dank tunnel, side-by-side, with Ginny resting her head against his arm as they walked. After a few minutes the sounds of rock scraping and muffled curses reached their ears.
"Ron!" yelled Harry, pulling away from Ginny to cup his hands around his mouth, "Ginny's okay! I've got her! We're all right!"
They could hear Ron give a short, exhausted sounding cheer and soon they were coming round the last bend in the tunnel. Ron, having made a good deal of headway in clearing away the rock fall, greeted them both with a relieved grin and a heartfelt sigh.
"Ginny!" breathed Ron, reaching a hand through the narrow gap he had managed to clear, grabbing his sister and helping her through, "You're alive! I don't believe it! What happened?"
Harry turned to look at Fawkes and waving him forward, "After you."
The phoenix swept through the hole Ron had managed to excavate, entering the other side of the rock fall as the red-haired boy tried to draw his sister into a hug. Ginny resisted, fresh sobs wracking her tiny body as she shook her head furiously and backed away from him.
"It's okay, Ginny. No need to cry - you're okay," he tried to reassure her, not noticing Fawkes until the bird almost flew into him, "It's over now, it's - where did that bird come from?"
"He's Dumbledore's," explained Harry, squeezing his way through the narrow passage, sword in one hand and the Sorting Hat in the other.
Ron looked at him, taking in the copious amounts of slime, grime and most of all, the blood that covered Harry head-to-toe in varying degrees. "And how come you've got a sword?"
Harry slipped the sword back under his belt, risking a sideways glance at Ginny, and then looked at his friend and sighed, "It's a long story."
Ginny was going to be expelled.
She was absolutely, one hundred and ten percent positive about it.
Even if Harry said it wasn't her fault. She knew, inside she knew, that it was. This entire mess was entirely her own damn fault and she was going to be expelled. Worst of all was the knowledge that, despite everything, she deserved this fate.
She, Harry and her brother Ron, were making their way through the empty halls and corridors of Hogwarts to Professor McGonagall's office. Oh, Lockhart was also there, but from what Harry had said, not to mention Ginny's own experiences with the man, that wasn't saying very much.
As they approached their destination Ginny wondered what would happen to her now. Besides being expelled. She knew that they would be snapping her wand in half, as was tradition, and she would be forbade from ever practicing magic again. But what would happen to her then? She didn't think she could ever bear to look at her parents again, not to mention her brothers. They would all be so disappointed with her, with her failure, her weakness.
"Well, here we go again," Harry said to Ron as they stood for a moment outside the office. Sighing Harry rapped his knuckles on the door and pushed it open without waiting for a response.
The four adults that were inside the room stared, or even gaped, at the three children for a moment in stunned silence. Ginny's mum was sitting in front to the crackling fire, her dad at her side to comfort her. Professor Dumbledore and Professor McGonagall were standing by the mantle, obviously having been engaged in serious conversation with the Weasley parents.
Her mum had launched herself from the chair she had been sitting in and crossed the distance between them in an eye blink, her dad following close behind. As Ginny was swept up in the tight embrace of her parents she couldn't take it anymore and began sobbing once again. She had never felt worse in all her life, and feeling this horrible when her family were so obviously happy at her safe return only made it even more hard to bear.
Her mother suddenly released her and promptly engulfed poor Harry, who looked quite uncomfortable in her tight embrace, "You saved her! You saved her! How did you do it?" she was practically shouting, too overjoyed to retain any sense of decorum.
"I think we'd all like to know that," agreed Professor McGonagall, clutching her chest and looking rather faint.
Freed from Molly Weasley's grasp, Harry hesitated for a moment, glancing at Ginny. She might have been imagining it, but she thought she could see something like worry flicker inside his bright green eyes. Straightening up, he walked to the professor's desk and carefully laid out the sword, the Sorting Hat and lastly the ink soaked diary.
"You may want to sit down, Mrs Weasley, Mr Weasley," he said, motioning at the chairs by the fire, "It's kind of a long story."
After her parents had settled down, her mum holding Ginny in a comforting hug, Harry began to weave the tale. It would have made a fine horror story, or a mystery, Ginny decided as the details came out. The resourcefulness, determination and bravery of Harry and his friends amazed her and apparently everyone else too.
"Very well," concluded McGonagall when Harry paused just after revealing how he and Ron had discovered the location of the Chamber, "so you found out where the entrance was - breaking a hundred school rules into pieces along the way, I might add - but how on earth did you get out of there alive, Potter?"
This was a question that Ginny found just as interesting, and the answers just as enthralling, as the adults, since she had been unconscious throughout the fierce battle that had taken place. It would mean revealing the truth about what she had done and undoubtedly result in her expulsion, but Harry had not only defeated the monster and saved the school, but had also saved her life in doing so.
She had to know.
"After I got into the Chamber," Harry began, picking up where he had left off - the rock fall in the tunnel and his separation from Ron, "I found Ginny, lying unconscious at the foot of a big statue of Salazar Slytherin. The Basilisk came out and attacked just after that, but Fawkes was able to save me."
He indicated the phoenix, who was sitting on Dumbledore's shoulder, "He brought me the Sorting Hat and, while I had my eyes shut, blinded the Basilisk. I don't know how he managed to get that close to it without being petrified, but he did it."
Now Harry picked up the sword that had been resting on the desk, "I somehow... pulled this out of the Sorting Hat. I'd put it on while Fawkes was distracting the snake and asked it for help... I guess it gave me the sword. Or I was just lucky." He placed the sword back on the desk and after a deep breath continued.
"The Basilisk couldn't see me, but it could still smell me. When it came after me I stabbed it with the sword - in its mouth, actually, but it bit me at the same time," he raised his arm and displayed for them the ragged tear in his sleeve, "Fawkes healed me with his tears though, good thing too, I would have died otherwise."
This revelation made Ginny feel particularly queasy and she snuggled closer to her mother. The thought of Harry dying while trying to save her made Ginny feel even worse, causing a fresh flow of tears to begin streaming from her eyes.
"But - but who opened the Chamber in the first place?" asked McGonagall.
This was it, Ginny realized. She was about to be expelled. She pulled a little bit away from her mum and looked up at Harry. She found him staring straight at her, an unreadable expression on his face. His eyes flicked briefly between her and Dumbledore, then turned to McGonagall as he finally answered her question.
"A student," he told the deputy head mistress. Ginny's stomach lurched and she dropped her head, unable to watch as her life, her future, was about to be destroyed.
"A student?" breathed McGonagall, sounding utterly appalled and disbelieving of it.
Ginny heard her father clear his throat and ask, "Who? And where is he now?"
Not he, dad, Ginny thought sadly, she.
"His name," stated Harry clearly, "Is Tom Marvolo Riddle."
Ginny looked up at Harry in surprise, her mouth dropping open as she stared at him in total and utter consternation. He was looking at her again, his expression just as inscrutable. For some reason she couldn't explain Ginny found herself glancing at Dumbledore, who was standing by the fireplace and appeared to be watching both her and Harry closely.
"Riddle?" asked McGonagall, "Riddle? We don't have any student's by that name."
"Not any more," agreed Harry, "He was taught here, at Hogwarts, fifty years ago. He was a Prefect in Slytherin. If you go look in the Trophy Room you'll find a Special Services Award for him. When the Chamber was open back then, he was the one that did it. He framed Hagrid after Moaning Myrtle was killed and closed the Chamber off again, so as not to arrange suspicion."
"But where is he?" asked Ginny's mum, "Did you leave him in the Chamber? Did he escape?"
Harry's turned to Dumbledore and began speaking, sounding as if it were just the two of them in the room, "I imagine it happened something like this; after leaving Hogwarts he disappeared... travelling the world in search of... anything that could help him in his rise to power."
"Power?" asked McGonagall, sounding thoroughly confused, "What the devil are you talking about."
"I doubt very many people recognised him when he finally returned," continued Harry, looking at Dumbledore, who nodded in confirmation.
"Potter, what are you going on about?" McGonagall repeated, beginning to sound annoyed.
Harry finally turned away from Dumbledore, who was smiling faintly, and looked first to the impatient professor and then at Ginny. Sighing tiredly he drew his wand, "I seem to be getting a lot of practise doing this."
Quickly and surely Harry traced the true name of the Heir of Slytherin in the air. Ginny, who was the only one, besides perhaps Dumbledore, who knew what was coming, watched her teacher, brother and parents closely. She imagined their reactions would be entertaining. Who knew, she just might not be expelled after all. With a wry smile Harry began nudging the letters of Riddle's name to and fro, shaping a phrase that few witches or wizards would dare speak out loud.
"Sweet Merlin," breathed McGonagall, clutching her chest once again.
"W-what?" stuttered her father, sounding utterly stunned, "You Know Who? He was here?"
Harry waved his wand and cleared away the shimmering words as Dumbledore said, "I'm curious myself, Harry. How did Tom manage to enchant Ginny, when my sources tell me he is currently in hiding in the forests of Albania."
"What!?" squeaked Ginny's mum, "En-enchant Ginny? But Ginny's not... Ginny hasn't..."
"It was this diary," explained Harry, picking up the burnt and ink stained diary, handing it to Dumbledore who peer keenly at it, "He imbued it with his memories, his thoughts and personality fifty years ago, when he was sixteen and still at school. After it had absorbed enough power to function without her, that diary was Riddle."
"Brilliant," summed up Dumbledore, "Of course, he was probably the most brilliant student Hogwarts has ever seen."
Harry snorted and muttered, "At least until Hermione wakes up."
"But Ginny," asked her mum, "What's our Ginny got to do with - with him?"
Ginny pulled away from her parents, moving to stand by herself in one of the corners, sobbing loudly as barely able to see through the tears. Before she could bring herself to speak, Harry interrupted, "I presume you remember the... incident... with Lucius Malfoy? In Flourish and Blotts? When we were getting our school supplies?"
Her parents and Ron nodded, her father somewhat ashamedly as her mum glared at her husband. Harry smiled wryly and continued, "It was all staged. He set us up so that he could plant the diary in Ginny's Transfiguration book."
"I d-didn't know!" Ginny sobbed, "I th-thought someone had just left it in there and forgotten about it..."
"Ginny!" exclaimed her father, "Haven't I taught you anything? What have I always told you? Never trust anything that can think for itself if you can't see where it keeps its brain!"
Ginny was at the verge of bawling her eyes out, she was feeling just horrible, when a pair of hands gripped her shoulders. She looked up in surprise to find Harry standing before her, hands holding her tightly. Gently, but firmly, he steered her back to her parents, who greeted her with open arms and, in the case of her mum, tears.
"It wasn't really her fault," Harry said, releasing her, "The more she wrote in the diary, the stronger he became. The stronger he became, the more he made her write in the diary."
"Quite so. A vicious circle indeed," agreed Dumbledore, "I believe Ms Weasley should be taken to the Hospital Wing now. This had been a terrible ordeal for her, I'm sure."
Her parents rose from where they were sitting and Ginny, struggled to suppress her tears. As it was, she began to hiccough sharply, which did not make her feel any better. He was right, it had been terrible and this interrogation, and imminent expulsion, were even worse.
"There will be no punishment."
Ginny almost gave herself whiplash her head snapped up so suddenly at the headmaster's words. She gaped at him in disbelief, his eyes twinkling gently at her over the rims of his half-moon spectacles. Ginny looked at Harry and found him grinning broadly and clearly looking relieved.
"Older and wiser witches than she have been hoodwinked by Lord Voldemort," Dumbledore continued, "Bed rest and perhaps a large, steaming mug of hot chocolate. I always find that cheers me up. You will find Madam Pomfrey is still awake. She's just giving out Mandrake juice - I dare say the Basilisk's victims will be waking up any moment."
"So Hermione's okay?" asked Ron, visibly perking up.
"There has been no lasting harm done," Ginny heard Dumbledore assure Ron as she was led out of the office by her shaken parents. As they walked down the corridor, towards the infirmary, she could just hear him saying, "You know, Minerva, I think all this merits a good feast. Might I ask you to go and alert the kitchens?"
Still held in the warm embrace of her mum, Ginny, for the first time in weeks, felt her spirits begin to rise. She was not going to be expelled or given a detention or even have house points deducted. True, she would probably never be able to go anywhere without having either her parents or brothers looking over her shoulders, but still...
She would have to find a way to thank Harry. If not tomorrow, then someday soon.