For those of you who decided to stick around after I killed off Hermione Granger, I would like to thank you. I know it's not always easy when your favorite canon heroine is killed off. That you're placing your trust in me means a lot. So thanks.
Now on with the story.
Chapter 22: The One Who Calls Himself Heir
It would not come as a surprise to most that Harry Potter had been unable to sleep that night. Indeed, very few people in Gryffindor had been able to get much sleep. Most had stayed up well into the night and only went to bed when their bodies demanded rest. The last to fall asleep that night had been Neville, who spent most of his time after Professor McGonagall's announcement lying on his bed in a complete daze.
Much like his friend, Harry's mind had been in a hazy state since their Head of House dropped the bomb on them. It was not a dissimilar feeling to when someone was only half awake; not quite asleep but not really alert either. He knew he was awake, he could feel it, but his mind felt like it was still asleep, like all this was a dream.
If only that were true. Maybe if it was he wouldn't be feeling this way.
After lying on his bed for several hours, Harry Potter decided to leave. He couldn't stay there, lying in bed and trying to rest with the news that one of his friends was dead. And so, wrapped in his invisibility cloak and with a disillusionment charm thrown over him for good measure, the young, emerald eyed boy left the dorms, and then the Gryffindor common room altogether.
He silently made his way down the many halls and winding corridors that made up Hogwarts. Having spent two years within these halls, Harry had memorized every nook and cranny of the place. At least those places he had been to. Right now, the destination he was traveling towards was one he had visited a number of times last year due to one reason or another.
The walk was not very long. A mere fifteen minutes. He'd managed to cut his time by taking several secret passages he had discovered by accident. It also helped him avoid the many aurors that were now crowding the place. And there were a lot of them. He had only used three halls in total, but had run into six aurors in that time. Despite this, he'd made it to his destination and now he stood in front of the doors to the hospital wing.
Should he go in? The question plagued him. If his friend were to be anywhere within the school, it would be inside the hospital wing. He wanted to see her. He wanted to see her so badly. And yet at the same time, he was afraid. A part of him had yet to accept Hermione's death. So long as he did not see her body, he could pretend that she was still alive.
'But for how long?' His mind asked him. How long would be able to feign ignorance? By tomorrow morning the news of Hermione's death would have spread throughout Hogwarts. Everyone would know, not just the Gryffindors. Would he be able to pretend then? Would he be able to act like she was still alive after that? Probably not.
With a trepidation he had never felt before, Harry slowly opened the door that led into the hospital wing and stepped inside. A quick look around revealed that no one was there. Madame Pomfrey must have been in a staff meeting. He looked over at the beds. Professor Lockhart was lying in one of them, the one closest to the entrance, his face set in a mask of surprise. The one farthest from the entrance had another figure, one whose entire body was covered by a blanket.
Harry felt his knees weaken. He didn't want to see anymore. His mind screamed at him to leave. It told him that if he left now, he wouldn't have to be confronted by the reality of what happened, that he didn't have to do this.
And yet, in spite of his mind telling him to go back, his body moved forward. He walked towards the bed, his steps sounding loudly in his ears despite the silencing charm that had been cast over him. His heart was beating erratically in his chest, causing his breathing to come out in harsh pants that sounded more like a dying man than the perfectly healthy young man that he was.
He stopped by the bed. From where he stood he could see the lump much more clearly now. The contours revealed that the body hidden underneath the blanket was a budding female. His experienced eyes could pick out very specific details, familiar details about the shape. And each time they did something in his chest cracked. Despite not wanting to, his hand slowly grabbed the covers near the head of the bed and pulled them back.
Harry did not gasp. Not a sound came out of his mouth, even though it had opened wide along with his eyes. He should have not been surprised by what he saw, and yet he was, he was very surprised.
The sound of something shattering rang in his ears. It was all internal however, there was no one here but him. Him and the body of one of his friends.
Hermione lay there on the bed. He could not see her body as it was still under the covers, but he could see her face. Her eyes were closed and her mouth slightly parted. She would have looked like she was simply sleeping peacefully were it not for the deathly pale tone her skin had taken and the fact that she was not breathing.
A shaking hand reached out and touched Hermione's face. Her skin was cold. Deathly cold. It was like the skin of someone who'd been standing outside for hours in the middle of a Scotland winter. If ever there were any proof he needed of his friend's demise, this was it.
The hand jerked away from Hermione's face as if scalded. As Harry dropped to his knees that same hand moved to his mouth as bile rose up into his throat. Despite trying not to let it escape, vomit leaked out of his mouth and between his fingers, spilling to the floor. It took nearly five minutes before his bodies physical reaction to the death of someone he cared about subsided, but what took its place was far worse, and Harry almost wished the sickness would return.
Despair. Hopelessness. An unfathomable anguish that mere words could never hope to describe. It filled his being, tearing into his spirit with the force of a hurricane. So powerful was this emotion that it sent Harry spilling to the floor as his legs gave out, no longer able to support his weight as they should have.
His friend was dead. Why? Why was she dead? She had done nothing to deserve this fate. Hermione had never done anything to anyone. Who could possibly want her dead?
The person who took her life, that's who. Harry was beginning to regret not taking a more proactive approach in apprehending the criminal. It was clear to him now that none of the adults were capable of solving this mystery, and now one of his friends was dead because of it. If he had actually bothered to investigate this wouldn't have happened. Hermione would still be alive and the person responsible for the attacks would have been sent to jail.
Blood began spilling onto his lips as he grit his teeth. Someone had killed his friend. He didn't know who they were, but it didn't matter. It didn't matter because he was going to kill them. And the best place to start looking was the second floor girls restroom where Hermione had gone during the party.
After the first incident with the petrification of Filch's cat and the writing on the wall, Harry had originally determined that someone was using the Chamber of Secrets myth as a scare tactic to terrify the school. That thought had stayed with him all throughout the year. If the chamber did indeed exist, then only the heir of Slytherin would be able to open it.
Those thoughts had fled upon discovering that Hermione was dead. Only the Avada Kadavra was capable of killing someone without leaving a mark. Cursed objects that could kill without leaving so much as a sign were even more rare. Often times cursed objects designed to kill someone did so violently, the dark nature of their curse ensuring that whoever came into contact with it was mained in some way, shape or form. This left only two options as to how Hermione had died: first, someone had used the killing curse on her; second, the Chamber of Secrets was real and Slytherin's monster was capable of killing without leaving so much as a mark. Either way, this meant he only had one option available to him if he wanted to discover the truth.
Upon arriving at the girls second floor restroom, Harry found himself frowning. His eyes narrowed as he studied the facility, taking in every intricate detail about his surroundings. Nothing looked out of place; the water had been cleaned up and the stalls were as pristine as the stalls of a loo could be.
Harry's nose twitched as he caught a whiff of the strange scent in the air. It was a smell he could not quite qualify, but if he had to take a gander, he would say it was the scent of death mixed with something else. Not a very pleasant smell to be sure, and it was strong. Whatever had caused it had come through recently.
"Who's there?" Turning his head, the young boy was greeted by the sight of Moaning Myrtle. Her appearance was that of a typical nerdy girl, complete with glasses and pimples on her face. She was not very attractive, but Harry supposed such things didn't matter much when you were dead. "Oh, it's you." And she had such a pleasant demeanor too. "What are you doing here? You know boys aren't allowed in the girls bathroom."
"How did you die?" Harry asked with none of the subtlety he usually went for. In his anger and need to find Hermione's killer, tact appeared to have flown out the window.
"How I died?" Moaning Myrtle looked surprised for a second, but then a smile lit her face. She actually looked please to know that someone was curious about her death. What an odd girl. "Ooooh, it was dreadful. It happened right in here. I died in this very stall. I remember it so well. I'd hidden because Olive Hornby was teasing me about my glasses. The door was locked,and I was crying, and then I heard somebody come in. They said something funny. A different language, I think it must have been. Anyway, what really got me was that it was a boy speaking. So I unlocked the door, to tell him to go and use his own toilet, and then―"Myrtle swelled with a sense of self-importance, her face shining. "―I died."
Harry frowned. She died? Just like that? One minute she was opening to stall to tell some boy to piss off and the next she died? "How did you die?"
"No idea," said Myrtle, shrugging. "I just remember seeing a pair of great, big, yellow eyes. My whole body sort of seized up, and then I was floating away . . . ." had Harry been in his right mind, the dreamy look on Myrtles face when she spoke of herself dying would have probably disturbed him. "And then I came back again. I was determined to haunt Olive Hornby, you see. Oh, she was sorry she'd ever laughed at my glasses."
"And where exactly did you see these eyes?"
"Somewhere over there," Myrtle said, pointing off towards the sink near her toilet.
Harry walked over to the sink in question and began to search. The sink did not look much different from any other sink. It was, in all regards, fairly ordinary. However, after giving it a thorough once over, he saw something that made his eyes narrow into small slits: the carving of a snake scratched onto one of the copper caps.
"That taps never worked," Myrtle informed him helpfully.
"I see," Harry said, studying the sink with a critical eye. Was this really the entrance to the Chamber of Secrets? He guessed there was only one way to find out.
Moving to stand directly in front of the faucet, Harry glared at the object made of porcelain and pipes.
"Open," he hissed. Myrtle gasped.
"That's the way that other boy was speaking!"
The tap began glowing with a brilliant white light. Soon it began to spin. And then it began to move; the entire sink began moving down, sinking into the floor which opened up to reveal a large pipe that was more than wide enough for several grown men to fit through with ease. Harry Potter stared down into the darkened shaft, his glowing green eyes barely able to pick out any details due to how little light reached the inside.
Without further ado, he allowed himself to fall feet first into the hole. His body hit the inside of the pipe. The entire interior was slick with slime. It made traveling down it easier, though not at all pleasant. As he slid down he could see other pipes branching off from his own. They were smaller, too small for him to fit through.
Just as he was beginning to wonder if this tunnel would ever end, the pipe leveled out, and Harry was shot out of the end. He managed to land on his feet, but because of how slippery the floor and his shoes now were, he ended up falling down.
Standing up and casting a cleaning charm on his clothes and shoes, Harry looked at his new surroundings. His wand lit up like a flare in the night, casting away some of the darkness and letting him see the dark, slime covered walls. This tunnel was definitely far below the school, and judging by how much moisture had gathered, he might even be below the lake.
With nothing there for him, Harry set off, traveling deeper into the tunnel. The lumos spell lighting his wand and his animal enhanced vision allowed him to see much further than most. As he walked along the tunnel, a crunching sound was heard underneath him. Looking down, he saw that it was bones. Hundreds of bones from what looked like both animal and human. Were these skeletal remains of all the victims of the monster that lived in this chamber?
After traveling for several dozen feet, Harry paused upon seeing something large and curved laying against the tunnel floor. A moments inspection revealed it to be a snake skin, a very large snake skin that was poisonous green in color. It was lying curled up across the floor. With a speculative eye, Harry judged the skin to be at least twenty feet long.
How long ago had this been shed? Had the monster of Slytherin still been growing when it shed this skin? How large was it now?
Walking up to it, Harry placed his hand against the skin. It was rough and leathery. Very hard too. Not to mention it was likely incredibly durable. Would a spell even be able to penetrate something so thick? How much magic would it cost him?
Shaking his head, Harry continued on. There was no point worrying about these kinds of problems right now.
He continued making his way down the tunnel, well past the snake skin. Eventually, he came upon a solid wall that blocked his path, upon which a carving of two entwined serpents could be seen, their eyes set with gleaming emeralds.
Walking up to them, Harry did not hesitate to hiss in parseltongue. "Open." And just like that, the wall cracked up. The two halves slid smoothly into the walls on either side, out of sight, revealing a large chamber beyond the doorway. Harry did not hesitate to walk inside.
Sharp green eyes surveyed their surroundings. Standing on either side of him were towering stone pillars that rose to support the ceiling with entwined snakes carved into them. These tall monoliths, which rose so high their tops were cast in shadow, cast long, ominous shadows through the unusual, green light that filled the room.
With his wand out and at the ready, Harry walked further into the chamber. His eyes flickered about, searching for threats that were not there. His senses were going haywire in this place, telling him that he was in danger when no danger had presented itself. What was this ominous feeling?
He eventually came to the last pair of pillars. Craning his neck to look up, Harry found himself staring into a gigantic face. It was the face of an ancient looking man, with a long, gray beard that traveled down, almost reaching the bottom of the wizard's sweeping stone robes, where two enormous feet stood on the smooth stone floor. As he stared at the base of the statue, his eyes were inexorably drawn towards the figure with flaming-red hair that was lying between those feet: it was Ginny.
Keeping a wary eye on his surroundings, Harry slowly walked up to the girl. When he reached her, the young boy knelt down and used his free hand to carefully turn her over so she was lying on her back. Ginny's face was pale, whiter than even the ghosts that haunted Hogwart's halls, and it was cold. Her eyes were closed, and his sharp vision picked up the slow rise and fall of her chest. She was not petrified, that much was certain.
Two fingers pressed against her neck, checking her pulse. It was a faint, and getting fainter as the seconds passed, but it was still there.
So, Ginny was here, but where was her captor? According to the writing he'd seen on the wall before entering the second floor girls bathroom, someone had taken Ginny down here. Yet he'd not seen another soul since entering. Where were they?
The sound of two feet lightly padding along the stone floor drew his attention away from the comatose female. Quick as whip he stood up and pointed his wand at the robed figure walking towards him. "Who are you?" Harry demanded of the tall young man with hair as black as Harry's and eyes that were just as dark that had appeared before him.
"That's right, we haven't been properly introduced, have we?" the young man said, his tone conversational, as if he were speaking about the weather or what he would like to have for dinner. "My name is Tom Marvolo Riddle. It's a pleasure to meet you, Harry Potter. I've heard so much about you."
Harry frowned. He didn't recognize him, and considering he knew the face of every student in Hogwarts, that should not have been possible.
"I've never heard of any Tom Riddle at Hogwarts," Harry narrowed his eyes into a glare. "You're not a student here."
"Not anymore," Tom Riddle corrected with a very slight, yet very smug smirk. "I went to Hogwarts many years ago, graduated at the top of my class, and went on to become one of the greatest wizards to ever grace this world."
The frown deepened. Harry had never heard of a Tom Riddle before. Ever. The only Tom he knew of was the barkeep of the Leaky Cauldron, and that Tom might be a kind old man, but he was nowhere near great.
"I am told that you're quite the achiever as well," Tom continued, forcing Harry out of his introspection. Blinking his eyes back into focus, the young boy with the lightning bolt scar on his forehead stared at the other male. "I've heard that you're at the top of your class in every subject, and that you have managed to earn some of the highest marks Hogwarts has ever seen. That's quite remarkable in one so young."
Perhaps it was the tone in the older boy's voice, or maybe it was the almost lustful gleam in his eyes, but Harry felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end. How did this Tom Riddle person know so much about him? How could he have snuck into this school, opened the Chamber of Secrets, killed one of the students and kidnapped another without anyone being the wiser? There was something he was missing, a piece to this puzzle that was just out of reach.
Trying not to let on how disconcerted he was, Harry observed the other boy further. It was then that he noticed something; Tom Riddle's form was not consisted or in any way solid. It wavered in and out of focus, as if it were some kind of illusion created by swirling mists. "What are you?" he asked. Tom Riddle smirked.
"I am a memory. A memory that has been preserved within a diary for fifty years."
Upon hearing this, Harry's eyes flickered over to Ginny, where they found a diary, the very same diary he'd seen her holding many nights ago, laying weakly within her grasp.
"You're a memory who has managed to regain a semi-corporeal form by feeding off the energy of Ginny," Harry's mind ran several hundred miles per second as he created an on the spot hypothesis. Of course, even with that basic hypothesis made, there were still a number of holes. What kind of magic was this? How could a diary contain a memory? And how could a memory gain a physical form?
"Very good," Tom Riddle brought his hands up and clapped in a slow, mocking manner. "You truly are a genius, to be able to come up with such an on the spot theory with so little information. Yes, I have managed to regain much of my form by draining young Ginny's life. The stupid little girl has been writing in my diary for months now, telling me all her pitiful worries and woes―how her brothers tease her, how she had to come to school with secondhand robes and books, how―" Riddle's eyes glinted, "―how she didn't think famous, good, great Harry Potter would ever like her . . . ."
Harry Potter tried to keep a calm demeanor as he continued listening to Riddle speak. The longer the older boy talked, the harder it became. But he kept his cool and exercised restraint. He needed more information before acting. This Tom Riddle might have been the one who opened the Chamber, but someone else was behind this, pulling the strings. The person who gave Ginny the diary. He needed to know who they were.
"It was very boring, having to listen to the silly little troubles of an eleven-year-old girl," he continued digging his grave. The more he said the more information Harry acquired. It was only a matter of time before he had enough to deal with Riddle. Just keep him talking. "But I was patient. I wrote back. I was sympathetic, and I was kind. Ginny simply loved me. No one's ever understood me like you, Tom...I'm so glad I've got this diary to confide in...it's like having a friend you can carry around in your pocket..."
A shrill, piercing laugh escaped from Riddle's mouth. The sound caused Harry to wince as the intense vibrations it caused rattled his overly sensitive eardrums.
"If I say it myself, Harry, I've always been able to charm the people I needed. So Ginny poured out her soul to me, and her soul happened to be exactly what I wanted...I grew stronger and stronger on a diet of her deepest fears, her darkest secrets. I grew powerful, far more powerful than little Miss Weasley. Powerful enough to start feeding Miss Weasley a few of my secrets, to start pouring a little of my soul back into her. . ."
"I see..." Harry looked back down at Ginny for a second, before his eyes moved back to Riddle. "So Ginny is the one who opened the Chamber of Secrets. You controlled her like some kind of puppet." He didn't know who he was angrier at, Ginny for being so stupid as to listen to a diary that could talk back, or Riddle for being the one who coerced her into opening the Chamber of Secrets in the first place.
"That's right," Riddle smiled, "I was the one who made her open the Chamber of Secrets. There's no way she or anyone else would have been able to open it without my help." He then adopted a genuinely confused look, even as he stared at Harry with a speculative gleam. "Which is why I am so surprised you were able to open it."
So Riddle was fishing for information? Well, he wouldn't get anything out of Harry.
"That still doesn't explain who you are or why you would do this." Keep calm, Potter. Don't screw this up. You need to learn everything you can before wiping this man from the face of the planet. "What reason could you possibly have for returning to Hogwarts and opening the Chamber of Secrets? Who even gave you to Ginny in the first place?"
"Now that would be telling." Harry "tsked." So it seemed he wasn't the only one who realized the other was trying to gleam information from them. The boy was intelligent, he would give him that. Unfortunately for Harry, this was going to make things much more difficult. "As for my reasons for returning to Hogwarts...well, I suppose at first it was to continue Salazar's noble work of ridding the magical world of its filth. Those we call mudbloods, or something like that." Harry's hands clenched into fists. "However, after spending nearly a year with young Ginny, I found myself wanting to go after a new target: you."
"Me?" Through his anger and outrage towards the young man standing before him, Harry felt confusion. What did the memory of a person who had gone to Hogwarts around fifty years ago want with him? "Why?"
"Oh, I have many reasons, I suppose," Tom had to have known his words were getting to Harry. His eyes were gleaming as he spoke, an odd luster that shone within them and caused his younger counterpart to shudder in revulsion. "You and I are quite alike, you know. Both orphans, both model students. Our talent for magic far surpasses everyone else. From the way stupid little Ginny praises your very name, you'd think you were the reincarnation of Merlin himself."
The look in Tom Riddle's eyes turned hungry.
"Ever since learning of you from Ginny I wanted to meet you," Tom continued softly. "I have so many questions I want to ask. Of course, actually getting your attention was quite difficult. You don't do anything unless it benefits you in some way, and chasing after the mystery of the Chamber of Secrets holds no benefit. I needed something to get your attention. It took a while. When those aurors showed up I was forced to go to ground, but that may have been a blessing in disguise. While the aurors were investigating I increase my hold over Ginny, taking more and more of her essence into myself until she was but a shell. By the time I decided to act, Ginny was nothing more than a vessel for my will."
"Decided to act..." Harry's eyes widened as he instantly caught onto what Tom was saying. "Hermione!"
"Yes," Tom's smile was anything but pleasant. "You're little mudblood friend was the perfect target."
So that was the reason Hermione was dead? Because this man, this psychotic, megalomaniac of a man wanted to get his attention?
Harry's blood began to boil.
"I had actually thought about killing one of the others," Tom continued, oblivious to Harry's building rage. "You're especially fond of that Greengrass girl, but killing someone of her stature would have caused a much more thorough investigation and I would have undoubtedly gotten caught." An almost nostalgic smile appeared on his face. "Ah Harry, you should have seen the look on her face when Ginny fired the killing curse at her. It was quite priceless. I was―"
Tom's eyes widened in shock the green light of the killing curse burst forth from the tip of Harry's wand and flew straight at him. Most unfortunately, it did not hit Tom, instead proceeded to go right through him as if he weren't even there. It then plowed into the statue directly behind Tom, taking a large chunk out of the statue.
"I'm impressed," Tom said genuinely, "Casting the Killing Curse at such a young age is quite the feat. Not everyone can cast that curse, even when they become adults." The smile became mocking as he looked his young adversary over. "Though it looks like the task of firing off a killing curse is rather draining for you."
Harry grit his teeth as he stood there, hunched over, his breathing heavy. Several beads of sweat ran down his forehead and tried to get into his eyes. He blinked them away quickly, unwilling to let this man out of his sight for too long.
"I see, you must not have studied the killing curse in depth, have you?" Tom's grin was condescending as looked down his nose at Harry, who longed to wipe that smug look from his face. If only he hadn't let his anger get the best of him. "If you had, then you would know that the killing curse doesn't just require a lot of hatred and the desire to kill. If that were the case, plenty of people would be able to use it. No, the killing curse requires an intense amount of control over ones magic...and it appears yours is in fluctuation."
"Tch!" Harry longed to deny those words, but couldn't. His magic was in fluctuation due to going through puberty early. Most people would never notice, and Harry was so good at magic that it usually wasn't a problem. Obviously, Tom was not most people. Or even a real person for that matter.
"Now, onto business," Tom quickly switched topics. "Tell me how you survived the night Voldemort killed your parents? Tell me how a mere child was able to destroy the greatest wizard known to man? The longer you talk, the longer I'll let you live."
"You think I'm going to tell you anything," Harry's breathing was harsh, but it wasn't fully due to casting the Killing Curse without knowing how. His rage was reaching its peak. This man had killed Hermione, his friend. He had killed her to get to him. Well, Tom had him now, and Harry was going to make sure he regretted that fact. "I'm not going to tell you a damn thing!"
Making a whipping motion with his wand, the world around Tom Riddle exploded in a shower of debris as Harry's overpowered bombarda destroyed the spot he was standing on. The attack should have blown a hole threw Tom's body, but once again it had gone right through him without giving the man so much as a scratch.
"I see," Tom was no longer smiling. Indeed he looked rather angry. "So you're not going to tell me what I want to know? Very well then, I suppose that means your usefulness has come to an end."
Harry ignored the words as he began casting every spell he could think of. Bombarda's flew, Diffindos tried to slice Tom apart, and Reductos lit the tip of his wand and blew large chunks of stone from the walls. Nothing worked. They just went right through Tom, who ignored the spells and turned to look at the giant statue of Salazar Slytherin and began to hiss.
"Speak to me, Slytherin, greatest of the Hogwarts Four."
Harry looked up at the giant statue, his eyes narrowing at what he saw. The stone face, it was moving. Glaring into the darkness, the emerald eyed boy watched as the mouth opened wider and wider.
Slowly, Harry closed his eyes. What he had to do next would not be easy, especially as he had so foolishly wasted a good portion of his magic on an ill-attempted Killing Curse and all those other spells after. If he wanted to beat the beast of the chamber, then he would need to make every second count.
His magic pulsed. He could feel it, the center of his magic, the core of who he was. The barely closed gate within his soul that kept his magic at bay. But it was not just his core that he could feel. There was something else as well, two somethings in fact.
Harry opened the gate and allowed one of the two beings that represented him out. And as he unleashed his inner anime he began to morph, to change, to shift. He became something other than human.
The shifting from human to animal was a strange process. He could feel his legs getting longer, could feel his arms growing. His body began to compact and elongated at the same time, bones snapping as they were reshaped to match his chosen transformation. Even his nose and jaw were not able to escape the slightly uncomfortable feeling of morphing into that which he was technically not supposed to be. However, less then a second of feeling his bones being snapped and his skin being stretched the transformation ended, and in Harry's place stood a creature of myth.
It had been a while since he'd used this transformation. He'd only transformed a couple of times, because the overlapping fields of vision he got from it gave him a migraine. Harry had only spent enough time in this form to understand the mechanics and powers it gave him.
"A griffin." If Harry Potter were not so overcome with anger at the man, he would have probably grinned at Tom's gaping expression. The young man didn't just look stunned, he looked utterly gobsmacked. "You're an animagus!? A griffin animagus!? That shouldn't be possible!"
Harry could have answered, if he wanted to. Unlike most animagus transformations, his griffin form was more than capable of communicating with people. If he'd felt like it, he could have said something.
He didn't. There was nothing to say to this man. Tom Riddle was a dead man walking, and he had no desire to speak with a dead man. Instead what Harry did was give his large wings a flap and take the the air. He was just in time to, because in that exact moment the creature of the Chamber of Secrets emerged from the statue.
So it was just as he thought. The creature was a Basilisk, and a very big one at that. In retrospect, it was fairly obvious that Slytherin's monster would be the king of serpents. The man had been a well-known parselmouth. Why wouldn't he get himself a giant snake that could kill people by simply staring at them and stick it in a school full of children?
Spanning what had to be at least fifty feet in length, the creature's entire circumference was enough that it could eat several Hagrids in one bite. It's scales were a poisonous green, and its mouth was a row of sharp fangs that could easily rend his flesh from his bones.
Bright, glowing yellow eyes peered up at Harry who, thanks to his animagus form, was capable of returning the look and not being killed. Magical creatures were not affected by the powers of other magical creatures.
As Tom Riddle commanded the Basilisk to slay him, the great creature responded to its master's orders, lunging at Harry's flying form like an uncoiling spring. The human turned griffin was able to dodge the attack, barrel-rolling out of the way. At the same time the snake head on his tail hissed at the much larger reptile and spat out several large globs of venom that hit the creature's scales. The venom hissed as it tried to eat away at the scales to no avail. The magic protecting the Basilisk was far stronger than Harry's magic.
The Basilisk attacked again and Harry was forced to ascend even higher. He traveled towards the ceiling, the great scaled beast following hot on his hooves. It stood on it's tail, reaching its full height, which Harry soon realized was much longer than a mere fifty feet. The ceiling of the chamber had to be at least fifty-feet, and if it could stand all the way to the ceiling and still have several meters of tail left over for balance, it was definitely larger than fifty feet.
Large jaws snapped at him again, forcing Harry to swiftly descend. His mind began racing as the giant snake followed after him. He needed to find some way to kill this thing, and quickly, as his magic was beginning to run dry. Keeping up this transformation on top of having used a spell he simply wasn't prepared to cast was starting to take its toll.
Not knowing what he should do, Harry did his best to analyze everything he knew about Basilisks. It was admittedly not very much. He'd not studied magical creatures in depth and had only learned about the King of Serpents while looking through a magical creature glossary when he'd been researching information on griffins. He knew that all who looked into their eyes died, and that their venom was the most toxic and deadly poison in the world, as well as the fact that they could live for thousands of years, but that was about it.
First things first then. He needed to get rid of those eyes. As a griffin, he didn't have any powers that could pierce through those scales. Not to mention this animagus transformation was actually constantly draining his reserves due to the inherently magical nature of a griffin. But what could he use to rob the Basilisk of its sight? Maybe...it was a long shot, he'd never tried it before, but it could work.
When the Basilisk came in for another attempt at taking a bite out of him, Harry ascended above the creature with a mighty flap of his wings. As he came in eye level with the giant serpent, the small hissing snake head acting as his tail spat out several large globs of a strangely viscous liquid.
His aim was slightly off due to how fast he was moving, but he'd spat out enough of the stuff that he still managed to hit the Basilisk's two glowing yellow eyes. The King of Serpents let out an unusually loud hiss. It reared its head back and shook it, accidentally bashing into one of the many serpent pillars that supported the ceiling. As the pillar came crashing down, Harry got a good look at the creature's eyes. Excellent. He'd managed to cover its eyes completely, and because it didn't have arms it wouldn't be able to pry the stuff off.
Unfortunately for Harry, his magic seemed to run dry, because in that moment his transformation ended. He reverted back to his human form and ended up crashing onto the ground below. At the very least he was quick enough to turn his crash landing into a roll, even if he still ended up smacking into one of the walls with bone rattling force.
"Don't think that just because you've robbed my pet of its eyesight means you've won!" Tom Riddle shouted. He sounded angry. Furious even. Good, that would make dealing with him much easier. An angry opponent was an opponent who couldn't think clearly. "It might not be able to see you, but it can still smell you."
"Tch," Harry grunted as he climbed to his feet. He was just in time to see the giant creature he'd blinded try to take a bite out of him. Eyes widening in shock, the young man threw himself out of the serpents path, just narrowly avoiding an ignoble death.
This did not mean he was out of danger though, because when the Basilisk crashed into the wall it ended up taking the entire wall out. The chamber shook as several large chunks of brick was thrown in all directions. Harry managed to avoid the worst of it, but still ended up taking several hits from a number of smaller fragments. One particular piece of brick crashed into his left forearm, causing Harry to wince as he felt the bone crack.
Gritting his teeth, Harry scrambled to his feet and held up the hand holding his wand. Or rather, the hand that had been holding his wand. It wasn't there anymore. Which means he must have lost it when he'd taken his impromptu tumble to the ground. The situation was made ten times worse because the Basilisk had recovered from crushing a wall and was now attacking him again.
Harry ran quickly, heading to his left just as the giant serpent lunged at him. He managed to dodge its jaws, but unfortunately the beast moved faster than he had anticipated and ended up getting smacked by the thing's tail. The unexpected lashing ended up with Harry smacking into one of the many pillars, blood and spittle flying out of his mouth as the air was knocked from his lungs and his ribs were rattled something fierce.
Barely managing to withhold a wince, Harry stood back to his feet, a hand on his chest. He couldn't tell exactly how much damage had been done to him, but he'd definitely cracked at least one or two of his ribs, maybe more. He could feel something sharp and painful poking his organs, like someone was stabbing his lungs with a knife. He really hoped that didn't mean his lungs had been punctured. That would seriously hamper his ability to fight, and probably kill him.
Which was not good, because the Basilisk was coming his way again.
Knowing that he had to move if he didn't want to become this creature's next meal, Harry tried to run, to move out of the serpent's way. Yet the moment he made an attempt to move pain flared up in his chest, sending him to the ground coughing as blood began dribbling from his mouth. Yeah, his lungs had definitely been punctured.
The Basilisk reared its head back, preparing to attack. Harry grit his bloodstained teeth as his intelligent mind raced to come up with something, anything that would get him out of his situation. Things couldn't end like this. If nothing else, he wanted to kill Riddle for what the man had done to Hermione.
Just as he was beginning to lose hope, a large ball of flame burst into existence right in front of him. Harry was forced to cover his eyes as the fire, a powerful white flame, flared so brightly that it burned his retina. The sound of singing filled the air. Harry didn't know what was singing, but he could not deny it was a beautiful sound. However, all good things must come to an end and so to did the singing. Seconds later there was a loud explosion, followed by a hiss of anger from the basilisk, and then a clang as something that sounded decidedly metallic in nature crashed to the floor. When the flare died down, Harry opened his eyes, blinking the spots out of them. He then saw the basilisk shaking back and forth, a large scorch mark on its face, and just several feet in front of Harry himself was an object.
A sword to be precise. A beautifully crafted sword that shone and glinted in the low lighting with a surface that was polished to perfection. The hilt was inset with rubies and there were several motifs that Harry recognized as belonging to house Gryffindor. Engraved into the blades length just beneath the hilt was a name: Godric Gryffindor.
Not really caring that this was quite possibly one of the greatest treasures of all time, Harry dashed towards the blade, scooping it up and wrapping his hand tightly around the hilt. He had very little magic left, he was tired, and hurt. All he wanted to do now was slay this thing and then kill Riddle. If could do that he would be satisfied.
Lifting the sword into the air, Harry directed what little magic he had left into holding the blade aloft. Directing and channeling his power into the blade, he took aim at the giant serpent. The monster was just now regaining its baring. Whatever that fire that had struck it was, it had clearly hurt the creature.
With his eyes narrowing in concentration, Harry aimed at the basilisk's open mouth. He would only have one shot at this, so he would have to make it count. He waited until the King of Serpents had fully turned its head to him and began rushing forward, it's jaws open to clamp down on his flesh and devour him. Tom Riddle saw what he was doing and quickly tried to warn the basilisk to little to late.
At the last possible moment, Harry let loose with a burst of his magic and launched the sword straight at the basilisk. The blade flew into the beast's mouth, striking the tender flesh on the roof of the monster oral cavity. The basilisk shrieked a terrible sounding death knell. It writhed and shook, smashing pillars and walls as Godric's sword penetrated the pink flesh of its mouth and made its way into the monster's brain. Harry was forced to run out of the way as several large chunks of debris threatened to crush him. When the dust settled and no more chunks of stone fell, Harry was able to see the basilisk lying on the floor, covered by rubble, unmoving. It was clearly dead.
Harry didn't know what happened. One moment he was standing there, panting in exhaustion as he stared at the creature he'd slain. The next he was suffering from indescribable pain as every muscle fiber in his body underwent the most excruciating agony he'd ever experienced. It felt like someone had taken each strand of fiber from his muscles and then proceeded to dip them all in acid. Fire coursed through his veins, invading his mind like a thousand burning hot needles. It was unbearable!
With a jerk, Harry body fell backwards, his head hitting the ground with a loud crack and leaving a bloodstain on the stone floor. Yet the pain didn't even register. His body was already suffering so much that something as little as a concussion inducing head bash was next to nothing for him. Instead he lay there, writhing in agony, a scream tearing from his lips as he was forced to endure what felt like ten-thousand years of pain in a single second.
It felt like forever, but his suffering eventually came to an end. Even then, his body would twitch and spasm as phantom jolts of pain raced through his nervous system. It was only after several seconds of blinking his unfocused, glazed over eyes that Harry finally came to. When he did regain a modicum of conscious thought and vision, it was to see Tom Riddle standing over him.
He looked murderous. The man's face was a rictus of anger and hatred. He was also breathing quite heavily and had sweat beading down his forehead, as if he were straining to retain some of his sanity and self-restraint. It didn't look like it was working too well.
Harry noticed that there was a wand in his hand. He belatedly recognized it as Ginny's wand, having seen it twice before throughout the year. How was Riddle using it though? Didn't the wand choose the wizard? Olivander had said that. So then how...unless. Yes, that might be why. Hadn't he said something about Ginny's magic allowing him to manifest a physical form? Something like that. If the magic that made his body was Ginny's, then it would only make sense that he could use her wand.
Of course, if he was able to use her wand it also meant Riddle had regained enough of his physical form to interact with the world. That could not be a good thing, especially as he was now staring down at Harry and pointing a wand at him.
"That was very well played," Riddle's voice was composed, but also very tight. He clearly was not happy that Harry had killed off his pet snake. "You're much more skilled than even I had imagined. It seems that I have underestimated you."
In many of the novels he'd read and movies he watched, this would have been the part where Harry came up with a snappy come back. Maybe he would say something along the lines of how he got that a lot, or perhaps it would be about how villains are always overconfident and underestimating him. Were this a movie, Harry also would have done something by now and defeated this man with some secret weapon he had been saving for just that moment.
This wasn't a movie. Harry did none of those things. Even if he was inclined to do so, he was far too tired.
That didn't mean he did nothing. There was one last trick he had up his sleeve.
With what little magic Harry had left, he summoned two items to his hands. The first was the sword, which was covered in slime and some kind of black, viscous liquid that burned his hands to touch. He ignored the pain. It was unimportant. The second object he summoned was more important than the feeling of his hands being burned by the acidic nature of the basilisk's venom: it was Tom Riddle's diary.
Riddle's eyes widened when he saw what Harry had in his hand. "No! Don't!"
Without preamble, Harry stabbed the sword into the diary. A loud, painful, shriek emitted from it. It was ear-splitting. Being so close to the cause of the noise, Harry's ears began to bleed as his eardrums burst from the impossibly loud sound. At the same time, Tom Riddle's body became riddled with cracks. Light began leaking from the cracks, as if the magic that had been used to build his body was being converted into light particles. The man made from a memory grabbed at his face, clawing as he writhed about. His torso soon bent back as he let loose with a scream that sounded absolutely inhuman.
And then he exploded. All that compressed energy blew outward in a powerful shockwave that would have knocked Harry on his back had he not been laying down. That didn't mean the energy did nothing as it passed over him. There was so much magic compressed into that shockwave that all of the air had been superheated. Harry could actually feel his skin sizzling as the furnace-hot winds passed over him.
It was only many minutes after the magically saturated shockwave had flashed over him that Harry found himself able to move again. He slowly stood to his feet, casting a glance about the room. The place was a complete wreck. Pillars had been destroyed, parts of the ceiling had collapsed, and there were large chunks of debris from the size of a pebble to that of a boulder lying strewn about the floor. It looked like a level five hurricane had plowed through there.
The area around Ginny remained mostly untouched. A few pebbles had fallen on the girl, and she was covered in dust from when the ceiling had been falling down. But she didn't appear injured. Harry wasn't sure if that was a good thing or not.
Slowly, he walked up to the girl. She was still out of it, but a quick hand on her neck revealed that she now had a steady pulse. The paleness of her skin was likely just because she didn't have much magic left due to Riddle stealing most of it.
As he stood there, Harry's mind began to finally comprehend his position. Riddle was dead, the basilisk had been slain, Ginny was safe, but none of that managed to bring him any form of satisfaction. A part of him almost wished Ginny was dead. The basilisk meant next to nothing to him. And Riddle's death wouldn't bring Hermione back. Nothing would.
Maybe that was why all he felt in that moment was emptiness.
There were very few circumstances that ever angered Albus Dumbledore. Not since the great war in which he fought against his best friend and secret lover, Gellert Grendelwald had he truly gotten legitimately angry. His patience, congeniality, and ability to make the best out of any situation kept his attitude positive near constantly.
Such was not the case right now.
"I am sorry, but I seem to be losing my hearing in my old age," Albus' voice was dry and flat as he spoke. It was a remarkable difference from the normally amiable tone he often used. "Could you repeat that?"
"L-Look Dumbledore, it's nothing personal," Minister Fudge said, sounding nervous. And indeed the small, round man was very nervous. If the way he was fiddling with his bowler hat didn't tell the headmaster that, then the way his eyes kept shifting as he tried not to look at Dumbledore did. "One girl has already died and another has been taken down the Chamber of Secrets. The Ministry has to be seen doing something. Surely you can understand the need to keep people calm."
"What I cannot understand, Minister, is how you think removing me will calm the populace," Albus stated in what could almost be considered a calm manner. Almost because there was a gleam in his eyes that spoke of possible danger. Never let it be said that Albus Dumbledore did not take his job of protecting the students under his care very seriously. "And as I recall, it was, in fact, your idea to remove the aurors from the school, thus allowing whoever was responsible to kill one of my students and take another captive."
Minister Fudge's face turned red. "Now see here, Dumbledore! You know as well as I do that the choice to remove them was because no danger had presented itself! I couldn't reasonably keep them here when there didn't seem to be any danger!"
"Ah, so we are using hind sight in this argument, are we?" Dumbledore's reply, while not scathing, was more than just a little insulting. This meeting was keeping him from trying to find the chamber and save young Ms. Weasley. It may even already be too late. "It is said that hindsight is always 20-20, however, I believe it has also been said that it is better to be safe than sorry. When there is a potential killer on the lose, I like to go with the safe option. Don't you?"
While Minister Fudge looked like he was trying to Avada Kadavra Albus with his eyes, one of the headmaster's least favorite people stepped in. Lucius Malfoy took a calm step forward, until he was standing alongside Fudge. He looked down at the headmaster from where he sat. Albus could practically feel the smugness oozing off the man. "While it is true that some faults may have been made in the decision to withdraw the aurors, it is equally true that you did not manage to find the killer. You are the headmaster of this school, and therefore responsible for the students and their well-being. That you have not done your job of protecting them shows a lack of care on your part. I do not think you would disagree."
If he were not the experienced and consummate politician that he was, Albus would have glared at Lucius Malfoy, who looked like Christmas had come early. What made the situation even worse was that there really was nothing that could be said to dispute the man's words. Even now, Albus was in a constant state of self-recriminations. There were so many things he could have done better about this situation, actions that could have been taken to resolve the problem quicker. That the words actually rang true just rankled him all the more.
Ever since last night the situation had been tense. The Weasley's had arrived several hours ago and caused quite a bit of ruckus, especially their matriarch. Molly Weasley had been practically shouting about how she wanted her daughter back. Understandable. Their daughter had been taken. Albus could certainly empathize with them. However, after he'd managed to calm them down and direct them to one of the many guest rooms where they could stay until something in the situation changed, these two had come in and began causing even more problems.
"Lucius makes a good point, Dumbledore," Minister Fudge was quick to latch onto the words of his staunchest supporter, regardless of whether or not the man's reputation had taken a hit. Albus had to wonder what Fudge was thinking, letting Lucius still have the reigns after that disastrous confrontation at the New Year Gala. The head of the Noble House of Malfoy might still be filthy rich, but at least five percent of his supporters had deserted him after his son's rather blatant and poor choice of words at the gala.
And while some might think a five percent loss of support was better than Harry's ten percent, such was not actually the case. Lucius had actually lost more supporters than Harry because, frankly speaking, he had more supporters to begin with.
Thanks to Harry being new to the game of politics, he only had a few people supporting him. Lucius had nearly twice the amount that Harry did, and when broken down into numbers, it became clear that the Malfoy head had lost more supporters than the young Hogwarts student had. Albus actually had a good chuckle over that. It must have really ranked on Lucius' nerves to have technically lost to a twelve year old, even though he'd won the game of words.
Albus Dumbledore prepared to respond to Lucius words, but before he could so much as get a word in edge-wise his wards flared, signifying the approach of someone, and they were coming in hot.
The door soon burst open without the person on the other end even knocking. With much haste, Madam Pomfrey rushed into the room and over to the headmaster's desk, completely ignore both Fudge and Lucius. While the portly Minister bristled, Lucius sent the school healer a very harsh glare.
From the moment he felt the school medi-witch rush past his wards, Albus knew something was afoot. Seeing the near hysterical look on Madam Pomfrey's face merely confirmed the fact that something momentous had indeed happened. Whether that something was good or bad would likely be determined in the next second.
"Ginny Weasley is back!"
"I'm sorry, could you repeat that?" asked Albus, not quite sure he had heard right.
Madam Pomfrey took several calming breaths before beginning again. "It's Ginerva Weasley, headmaster. She's back. We don't know what happened," she added upon seeing the equal expressions of shock on the faces of all three people present, "Ms. Weasley is still asleep and seems to be suffering an almost fatal case of magical exhaustion, but she appeared in the hospital wing while I was administering Mr. and Mrs. Weasley a calming drought and dreamless sleep potion."
Hope began to rise in Albus' heart once again. He didn't know what was going on, nor how Ginny managed to escape from the Chamber of Secrets, but this could only be good news. Maybe now he could find out what was going on.
Standing up, the ancient headmaster looked at Fudge and Lucius, and offered them both a genial smile that was not returned. "I apologize, Minister Fudge, Lord Malfoy, but it appears that one of my students has returned from grave danger and I must see to her. She will no doubt be very frantic when she wakes up in the hospital."
"Now just hold on one second, Dumbledore," Minister Fudge started, "We're not finished here. There is still much to discuss."
"My apologies," Albus continued smiling, only now it was somewhat condescending, "But unless you have a signed ruling from the board of governors implicitly stating that I am to relinquish my title as headmaster, then there really isn't anything to discuss."
Before either Fudge or Lucius could make a proper retort, the wards flared again and Professor McGonagall rushed through the open door. The woman looked positively frazzled. Her eyes were wide and frantic with disbelief and maybe even shock. She was also breathing heavily, showing that she had likely run here from where ever she had been previously.
No one was able to say anything before Minerva spoke up, saying five words that would be the cause the wizarding world no small degree of shock in the year to come.
"Harry Potter has gone missing!"
Looks like I've dropped another doozy on you guys. There will be one more chapter for book 2 after this. I hope you're all looking forward to it. The Q&A for chapter 21 has also been posted on my blog. The link to it is on my website.