The Many Faces of Harry Potter 12

“The Many Faces of Harry Potter: Chapter 12”
By = Fayanora

Chapter Twelve: Into the Chamber of Secrets

Note 1: Text in 'Italics and British quotes' is Parseltongue. Usually.

Note 2: Once more, I apologize for the bits and pieces of canon dialogue/narration here and there.

Note 3: I have different styles for the internal speech of Alastair, Harry, and Zoey, and now Iliana (bold, italic, and underlined). (Which is also sometimes used for emphasis in Al's speech, but whatever.)

All those times we were in that bathroom, and she was just three toilets away,” said Ron bitterly at breakfast next day, “and we could’ve asked her, and now we can't.”

At that moment, Percy Weasley came up to Hermione.

“Ah, there you are, Hermione. Your dorm mates were worried about you last night, where were you?” he asked her grumpily.

“She was with me,” Iliana explained. “I've been so scared about this whole Heir business, I had her sleep with me in my bed.”

Percy's face contorted with discomfort and haughtiness, a very odd combination; she guessed he was disapproving for multiple reasons.

“I don't know, Iliana,” he said. “My mother is hardly comfortable with you and Zoey in a boy's dormitory, and now Hermione, too? It just doesn't seem right.”

“Oh come on, Percy. It's just until this Chamber business finishes, if it ever does. Did you know she almost ran off to the library on her own the day Penelope and the Grey Lady got attacked? It could've been her in there now, and I don't know if I could function if she got attacked. I feel better when she's where I can keep an eye on her, during all this bad business. Please, Percy?”

Percy looked shaken, and his eyes were watering as though he was about to cry. Which made sense if Penelope and him were dating.

“Y-yes. Yes, Iliana, I'll just tell McGonagall and the Griffindor girls what's going on. I... well, it might be difficult to convince McGonagall, but I'll try my hardest, okay?”

Iliana smiled at him.

“Thanks, Percy!”

~

It had been hard enough trying to look for spiders. Escaping their teachers long enough to sneak into a girls’ bathroom, the girls’ bathroom, moreover, right next to the scene of the first attack, was going to be almost impossible. Not even Hermione, Iliana, or Zoey could have managed it in the current climate.

Then McGonagall dropped a bombshell on them, by talking about exams. Everyone, except for Hermione, was flabbergasted at this; none of them had thought there would be any exams with this whole Chamber business.

“Can you picture me taking exams with this?” Ron asked, his wand now whistling loudly. Iliana wished there were a way to get her friend a new wand.

Before they could leave class, McGonagall held Iliana back to talk with her.

“Yes, Professor?” she asked.

“Young Percy Weasley spoke to me earlier about Miss Granger staying at your dorm during all this trouble. And while I agree that Miss Granger does need someone with horse sense to keep her safe during all this bother, I don't know if I'm comfortable with two girls – or, well, I suppose three girls, what with Zoey Potter – spending time in a boy's dormitory. Especially Miss Granger, whose form doesn't change like yours does.”

“I understand the concerns you and other adults have, but besides the fact that I trust the boys in my dorm, I also know a number of spells to keep them out of the bed while we're in it. You know, stuff like using duro on the curtains to make them solid, and intruder repelling charms.”

McGonagall looked pensive.

“Well yes, that sounds good, Miss Potter. But what about changing? Where do you and Miss Granger get changed?”

“In the bed, with the curtains closed and solidified. Or we lock the door when nobody else is in the room, and unlock it when we're done.”

“And, um... what about the, uh... the boys you share a body with.”

Iliana turned red.

“They hide and don't look. And it's not like Hermione and I are watching each other get dressed. We're usually doing something else when the other is changing.”

Still, the Professor looked like she was debating with herself as to whether or not to ask something else.

“I'm not how to put this next thing, Miss Potter, but... well... we give all the students their own beds for multiple reasons. I don't know how things are in the Muggle world, but here in our world, relationships of a... romantic sort, between individuals of the same sex... are accepted as a thing that happens sometimes. So we don't exactly encourage students to sleep in each other's beds even when they're the same sex.”

Iliana's face was almost as red as her hair now.

“Hermione's just like a sister to me. That's all, really. Besides, I like boys. Like Oliver Wood.”

McGonagall, for her part, looked almost as uncomfortable as Iliana did.

“Understood, Miss Potter. Well, I'll allow it because of these attacks, but you're both to go back to your normal accomidations after it's been taken care of, understood?”

Iliana nodded.

“Good. Oh, and prepare yourselves; you may need to defend yourselves against accusations of impropriety by other students. And they might not be as... gentle... as I've been.”

“Understood, Professor. We will.”

McGonagall dismissed her with a curt nod and a wave, and Iliana left, trying to keep her face from catching on fire.

~

More good news came three days before the exams, when McGonagall announced that the mandrakes were ready for cutting, and the restorative draught was thus almost ready. Surely the culprit would be found out as soon as Colin and the others woke up. Iliana's eyes watered in silent tears of joy at this news.

“It won’t matter that we never asked Myrtle, then!” Ron said to Iliana.

Just then, Ginny Weasley came over and sat down next to Ron. She looked tense and nervous, and Harry noticed that her hands were twisting in her lap.

“What’s up?” said Ron, helping himself to more porridge.

Ginny didn’t say anything, but glanced up and down the Gryffindor table with a scared look on her face that reminded Iliana of someone, though he couldn’t think who.

“Spit it out,” said Ron, watching her.

Iliana suddenly realized who Ginny looked like. She was rocking backward and forward slightly in her chair, exactly like Dobby did when he was teetering on the edge of revealing forbidden information.

“I’ve got to tell you something,” Ginny mumbled, carefully not looking at Iliana.

“What is it?” said Iliana.

Ginny looked as though she couldn’t find the right words.

What?” said Ron.

Ginny opened her mouth, but no sound came out. Iliana leaned forward and spoke quietly, so that only Ginny and Ron could hear him.

“Is it something about the Chamber of Secrets? Have you seen something? Someone acting oddly?”

Ginny drew a deep breath and, at that precise moment, Percy Weasley appeared, looking tired and wan.

“If you’ve finished eating, I’ll take that seat, Ginny. I’m starving, I’ve only just come off patrol duty.”

Ginny jumped up as though her chair had just been electrified, gave Percy a fleeting, frightened look, and scampered away. Percy sat down and grabbed a mug from the center of the table.

“Percy!” said Ron angrily. “She was just about to tell us something important!”

Halfway through a gulp of tea, Percy choked.

“What sort of thing?” he said, coughing.

“I just asked her if she’d seen anything odd, and she started to say —”

“Oh — that — that’s nothing to do with the Chamber of Secrets,” said Percy at once.

“How do you know?” said Ron, his eyebrows raised.

“This wouldn't have anything to do with your girlfriend, would it?” Iliana asked, making Ron stare at her with just as much bewilderment as Percy, before Percy responded.

“I, what? Me, a girlfriend? No, seriously?”

“You just interrupted Ginny saying something possibly important because of something to do with your girlfriend?” Ron finally managed to splutter.

Percy's face turned very red, and he walked very fast away from them. Iliana frowned.

“Come on, let's go find your sister, see if we can convince her to talk.”

“Oh cummon, Iliana, what could she have seen? She probably just walked in on Percy and his girlfriend kissing. Who's his girlfriend, anyway?”

“I don't know, but I'm not going to just dismiss this as silliness without hearing her out first. It isn't the first time she's tried talking to us.”

It wasn't exactly easy to get a private word with Ginny anywhere, though, with all that had been going on, and she wasn't making it any easier. In fact, Iliana found it very odd that she had somehow managed to vanish from a crowded room when all the teachers and prefects were still on high alert. It was faintly worrisome, but after asking around a bit, she found out Ginny had gone with some other people back to the common room, which made her relax. Maybe Ron was right; maybe she had just seen Percy kissing Penelope.

Then, for no apparent reason they could figure out, they spontaneously transformed from Iliana to Harry. Harry was glad it hadn't happened sooner, or it might've scared Ginny off.

~

Harry knew the whole mystery might be solved tomorrow without their help, but the mystery nagged at him, and he knew Hermione was pulling on her hair some days with frustration at not knowing the answer. It seemed like they'd have to find out along with everyone else. Or it would have, if Hermione hadn't gotten so frustrated one afternoon with her studying that she begged McGonagall to let her, Ron, and Harry into the library.

“Well, yes Miss Granger, you raise a good point. Griffindors!” she announced to the common room. “If anyone else needs to use the library, line up over here.”

Within a few minutes, they were being led to the library at last. When they did, Hermione got a bunch of books for her classes, of course, but also asked the librarian for several books about magical creatures, too.

Harry and Ron helped Hermione read through the books about magical monsters. About half an hour later, Hermione poked them to get their attention. Then, right before their eyes, she did the most un-Hermione-ish thing ever, and tore a page out of the old book, making both boys gasp in shock.

Ignoring them, she pointed her wand at the page, saying, “Gemino.” A copy of the page appeared, looking identical in every way. She took the original page, put it back in the book, and said, “Reparo.” It was good as new.

She jotted a quick note on the copy. Then, as though she'd done nothing more unusual than shoo a fly away, Hermione pointed at the copied page.

“I found it!”

Harry looked at the page, and read:

Of the many fearsome beasts and monsters that roam our land, there is none more curious or more deadly than the Basilisk, known also as the King of Serpents. This snake, which may reach gigantic size and live many hundreds of years, is born from a chicken’s egg, hatched beneath a toad. Its methods of killing are most wondrous, for aside from its deadly and venomous fangs, the Basilisk has a murderous stare, and all who are fixed with the beam of its eye shall suffer instant death. Spiders flee before the Basilisk, for it is their mortal enemy, and the Basilisk flees only from the crowing of the rooster, which is fatal to it.

And beneath this, Hermione had written a single word: Pipes.

The collective's mind immediately went into overdrive, everyone talking at once; but unlike in the outside world, this didn't result in chaos.

“Ron,” he breathed. “She's right. This is it. This is the answer. The monster in the Chamber’s a basilisk — a giant serpent! Of course, we already figured it was a snake creature, because of it speaking Parseltongue.”

He pictured Colin, petrified; Nick and Justin as well. Having not seen Penelope or the Grey Lady petrified, he couldn't picture them that way.

“The basilisk kills people by looking at them. But no one’s died — because no one looked it straight in the eye. Colin saw it through his camera. The basilisk burned up all the film inside it, but Colin just got Petrified. Justin … Justin must’ve seen the basilisk through Nearly Headless Nick! Nick got the full blast of it, but he couldn’t die again … and the same thing happened with Penelope and the Grey Lady!”

Ron’s jaw had dropped.

“And Mrs. Norris?” he whispered eagerly.

“Well that's obvious, isn't it?” Hermione said. “The water on the ground that night.”

“She saw its reflection! Myrtle flooded the bathroom, and Mrs. Norris caught the reflection!”

He scanned the page in his hand eagerly. The more he looked at it, the more it made sense.

“… The crowing of the rooster … is fatal to it!” he read aloud. “Hagrid’s roosters were killed! The Heir of Slytherin didn’t want one anywhere near the castle once the Chamber was opened! Spiders flee before it! It all fits!”

“But how’s the basilisk been getting around the place?” said Ron. “A giant snake … Someone would’ve seen …”

Hermione pointed at the word she'd scribbled at the foot of the page.

“Pipes,” she said. “Pipes … Ron, it’s been using the plumbing.”

“Yes!” Harry said, excited. “I’ve been hearing that voice inside the walls. …”

Ron suddenly grabbed Harry’s arm.

“The entrance to the Chamber of Secrets!” he said hoarsely. “What if it’s a bathroom? What if it’s in —”

“— Moaning Myrtle’s bathroom,” said Harry and Hermione in stereo.

They sat there, excitement coursing through them, hardly able to believe it.

“What’re we going to do?” said Ron, whose eyes were flashing. “Should we go straight to McGonagall?”

“Yeah. Is she still around here?”

“Let me find out,” Hermione said, and went over to Ms. Pince.

McGonagall, as it turned out, had left to go to the staffroom. Not wanting to be discovered hanging around in the corridor, they all went straight into the deserted staffroom. It was a large, paneled room full of dark, wooden chairs. Harry, Ron, and Hermione paced around it, too excited to sit down.

But the bell to signal break never came.

Instead, echoing through the corridors came Professor McGonagall’s voice, magically magnified.

All students to return to their House dormitories at once. All teachers return to the staffroom. Immediately, please.

Harry wheeled around to stare at his friends.

“Another attack? Now?”

“What’ll we do?” said Ron, aghast. “Go back to the dormitory?”

“No,” said Harry, glancing around. There was an ugly sort of wardrobe to his left, full of the teachers’ cloaks. “In here. Let’s hear what it’s all about. Then we can tell them what we’ve found out.”

“I don't know, Harry,” Hermione said, worried. “What if we're caught?”

“Oh come on,” said Ron, ushering Hermione in impatiently.

It was a tight squeeze, all three of them in one old wardrobe, but they managed it. Then they waited, listening to the mass of people moving around the school, until finally the mostly nervous teachers filtered in.

“It has happened,” she told the silent staffroom. “A student has been taken by the monster. Right into the Chamber itself.”

Professor Flitwick let out a squeal. Professor Sprout clapped her hands over her mouth. Snape gripped the back of a chair very hard and said, “How can you be sure?”

“The Heir of Slytherin,” said Professor McGonagall, who was very white, “left another message. Right underneath the first one. ‘Her skeleton will lie in the Chamber forever.’ ”

Professor Flitwick burst into tears.

“Who is it?” said Madam Hooch, who had sunk, weak-kneed, into a chair. “Which student?”

“Ginny Weasley,” said Professor McGonagall.

Harry felt Ron slide silently down onto the wardrobe floor beside him. Iliana's worry and fear threatened to force another transformation, but Harry fought it down. Hermione had her hands over her mouth, a silent tear rolling down her cheek.

The teachers began talking about closing the school tomorrow. But they were interrupted by Lockhart, who was utterly oblivious to the change of tone. The teachers swiftly disabused him of this, though; once they got over their shock at his entrance, Snape and the others told the coward his time had come at last to prove himself, that it was time for the famous Gilderoy Lockhart to once more save the day.

Lockhart did not take this well. His good looks evaporated as he became visibly terrified. He hemmed and hawed for a while, but finally told them, dejectedly, that he would be in his office getting ready.

“Right,” said Professor McGonagall, whose nostrils were flared, “that’s got him out from under our feet. The Heads of Houses should go and inform their students what has happened. Tell them the Hogwarts Express will take them home first thing tomorrow. Will the rest of you please make sure no students have been left outside their dormitories.”

The teachers rose and left, one by one.

~

Back at Griffindor tower later, Harry, Hermione, and the Weasleys all sat around, glum and horror-struck by the news of Ginny.

No afternoon ever lasted as long as that one, nor had Gryffindor Tower ever been so crowded, yet so quiet. Near sunset, Fred and George went up to bed, unable to sit there any longer.

“You were right, Harry; she knew something,” said Ron, speaking for the first time since they had entered the wardrobe in the staffroom. “That’s why she was taken. It wasn’t some stupid thing about Percy at all. She’d found out something about the Chamber of Secrets. That must be why she was —” Ron rubbed his eyes frantically. “I mean, she was a pureblood. There can’t be any other reason.”

“Do you think she's still...?” Hermione asked in a very small voice, not wanting to say the whole thing.

Harry and the rest of the collective doubted it very much, but didn't say so. Despite this, when Ron suggested they go find Lockhart, to tell him what they knew, they agreed. Nobody stopped them as they left.

Darkness was falling as they walked down to Lockhart’s office. There seemed to be a lot of activity going on inside it. They could hear scraping, thumps, and hurried footsteps.

Harry knocked and there was a sudden silence from inside. Then the door opened the tiniest crack and they saw one of Lockhart’s eyes peering through it.

“Oh, Mr. Potter – Mr. Weasley – Ms. Granger. I'm a little busy right now, can you come back later?”

“Sir, we know you're going to the Chamber. We have some information for you. We think it'll help.”

“Er — well — it’s not terribly —” The side of Lockhart’s face that they could see looked very uncomfortable. “I mean — well — all right —”

He opened the door and they entered.

It was immediately apparent that Lockhart had no intention of going to the Chamber, for the room was being stripped, and he was packing. Everyone in the collective getting angry at once, they turned their wand on Lockhart.

“Going somewhere, are you? You really are just a coward, aren't you?”

“Er, well, yes,” said Lockhart, ripping a life-size poster of himself from the back of the door as he spoke and starting to roll it up. “Urgent call — unavoidable — got to go —”

“What about my sister?” said Ron jerkily.

“Well, as to that — most unfortunate —” said Lockhart, avoiding their eyes as he wrenched open a drawer and started emptying the contents into a bag. “No one regrets more than I —”

“You’re the Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher!” said Harry. “You can’t go now! Not with all the Dark stuff going on here!”

“Well — I must say — when I took the job —” Lockhart muttered, now piling socks on top of his robes. “nothing in the job description — didn’t expect —”

“You mean you’re running away? said Harry disbelievingly. “After all that stuff you did in your books —”

“Books can be misleading,” said Lockhart delicately.

“I believed your books,” Hermione said, tears running down her cheeks. “Now come to find you're just a fraud and a coward! And your books are all a pack of lies!”

“I didn't lie. Those things really happened. Just not... not to me.”

What?

“My dear girl,” said Lockhart, straightening up and frowning at Hermione. “Do use your common sense. My books wouldn’t have sold half as well if people didn’t think I’d done all those things. No one wants to read about some ugly old Armenian warlock, even if he did save a village from werewolves. He’d look dreadful on the front cover. No dress sense at all. And the witch who banished the Bandon Banshee had a hairy chin. I mean, come on —”

“So you’ve just been taking credit for what a load of other people have done?” said Harry incredulously.

“Harry, Harry,” said Lockhart, shaking his head impatiently, “it’s not nearly as simple as that. There was work involved. I had to track these people down. Ask them exactly how they managed to do what they did. Then I had to put a Memory Charm on them so they wouldn’t remember doing it. If there’s one thing I pride myself on, it’s my Memory Charms. No, it’s been a lot of work, Harry. It’s not all book signings and publicity photos, you know. You want fame, you have to be prepared for a long hard slog.”

He banged the lids of his trunks shut and locked them.

“Let’s see,” he said. “I think that’s everything. Yes. Only one thing left.”

He pulled out his wand and turned to them.

“Awfully sorry, kids, but I’ll have to put a Memory Charm on you now. Can’t have you blabbing my secrets all over the place. I’d never sell another book —”

Just in time, Harry and Hermione raised their wands. Lockhart had barely raised his, when they bellowed, “Expelliarmus!”

Lockhart was blasted backward, falling over his trunk; his wand flew high into the air; Ron caught it, and flung it out of the open window.

“I'm 12, and I'm officially a more qualified wizard than you are, Lockhart,” Harry said venomously.

“What's the point of all this? I don't know where the Chamber is, I never did! And even if I did, and had my wand, I'm useless.”

Harry grinned maliciously. “You'll make a good human shield, at least.”

Lockhart opened his mouth to counter that, but couldn't think of anything to say.

“Anyway, you're in luck. We think we know where it is and what the monster is. So let's get moving.”

With all three of them pointing their wands at Lockhart, they guided him to Myrtle's bathroom. They found her sitting on one of the toilet tanks.

“Oh, it's you again. What do you want now?”

“To ask you how you died,” Harry said.

Myrtle’s whole aspect changed at once. She looked as though she had never been asked such a flattering question.

“Ooooh, it was dreadful,” she said with relish. “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 importantly, her face shining. “I died.”

“How?” said Harry.

“No idea,” said Myrtle in hushed tones. “I just remember seeing a pair of great, big, yellow eyes. My whole body sort of seized up, and then I was floating away. …” She looked dreamily at Harry. “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.”

“Where exactly did you see the eyes?” said Harry.

“Somewhere there,” said Myrtle, pointing vaguely toward the sink in front of her toilet.

They hurried over to where she had indicated. It looked like a perfectly ordinary sink. But after several minutes of close inspection, Harry saw it: Scratched on the side of one of the copper taps was a tiny snake.

“That tap’s never worked,” said Myrtle brightly as he tried to turn it.

“Harry,” said Ron. “Say something. Something in Parseltongue.”

'Open,' he tried.

The sink began to move; the sink, in fact, sank, right out of sight, leaving a large pipe exposed, a pipe wide enough for a man to slide into.

“I'm going down there,” Harry said.

He couldn’t not go, not now they had found the entrance to the Chamber, not if there was even the faintest, slimmest, wildest chance that Ginny might be alive.

“Me too,” said Ron.

“And me,” said Hermione.

“Well, you hardly seem to need me,” said Lockhart, with a shadow of his old smile. “I’ll just —”

He put his hand on the door knob, but they stopped him.

“You're coming too,” Harry said, and pushed Lockhart over to the sink, then into the pipe.

Their emotions were so intense just then, that they were doing something they'd not done for a long time, different parts of their body changing color and shape, their hair changing texture, eye color changing, as they all vied subconsciously for control of the body.

Harry went down after Lockhart, then Ron came down, then Hermione. Hermione paused to use her wand to clean their robes; everyone except Lockhart, whom she ignored.

They lit their wands.

“Any sign of movement, close your eyes right away.”

There was no movement, though, and no sound, except the crunch of rat bones underneath. It was very dark, as well; they lit their wands and slunk carefully through the darkness. A few minutes in, they had to stop suddenly; Lockhart closed his eyes.

Harry took a closer look at the shape. “It's just a snakeskin. Not the snake.”

Wow, I wonder how much this is worth?

Is this really the time, Al?

There was a sudden movement behind them. Gilderoy Lockhart’s knees had given way.

“Get up,” said Ron sharply, pointing his wand at Lockhart.

Lockhart got to his feet — then he dived at Ron, knocking him to the ground, bowling over Harry and Hermione as well, making them drop their wands.

Harry and Hermione jumped forward to retrieve their wands, but too late — Lockhart was straightening up, panting, Ron’s wand in his hand and a gleaming smile back on his face.

“The adventure ends here, kids!” he said. “I shall take a bit of this skin back up to the school, tell them I was too late to save the girl, and that you three tragically lost your minds at the sight of her mangled body — say good-bye to your memories!”

He raised Ron’s old, decrepit wand high over his head and yelled, “Obliviate!”

It was like a bomb going off. There was rubble everywhere, screaming, and chaos. When it was all over, there was a wall of rubble between him and where Ron, Lockhart, and Hermione were.

“Ron! Hermione! Are you alright in there?”

Someone coughed, then Ron said, “We're okay, Harry. This git isn't, though; he got blasted by the wand. Serves him right, I say. Shite! My wand, it's in pieces! Guess it went out with a literal bang.”

“Well okay. You two clear a path through the rock – by hand! We don't need any more accidents. I'll go on and find Ginny, okay?”

“Okay, Harry,” Hermione said. “Be safe. We'll see you later.”

And he set off alone past the giant snake skin.

He wandered through the darkness until past the time when the sound of shifting rocks disappeared. At last, as he crept around yet another bend, he saw a solid wall ahead on which two entwined serpents were carved, their eyes set with great, glinting emeralds.

'Open.' He said at them.

The serpents parted as the wall cracked open, the halves slid smoothly out of sight, and Harry, shaking from head to foot, walked inside.

~

The chamber was beautiful in an eerie way, more snake statues looking at him with curiously alive-looking eyes. It was big, too, with a tall ceiling. And at the end of this was an enormous statue of an old man with monkeyish features.

Statue that huge, I think ol' Sally was compensating for something, Al remarked. Harry ignored him.

He looked down. Between the statue's feet, face-down, lay a small, black-robed figure with flaming-red hair.

Ginny!” Harry muttered, sprinting to her and dropping to his knees. “Ginny — don’t be dead — please don’t be dead —” he stowed his wand, grabbed Ginny’s shoulders, and turned her over. Her face was white as marble, and as cold, yet her eyes were closed, so she wasn’t Petrified. But then she must be —

“Ginny, please wake up,” Harry muttered desperately, shaking her. Ginny’s head lolled hopelessly from side to side.

“She won’t wake,” said a soft voice.

Harry jumped and spun around on his knees, pointing his wand at the voice.

A tall, black-haired boy was leaning against the nearest pillar, watching. He was strangely blurred around the edges, as though Harry were looking at him through a misted window. But there was no mistaking him.

“YOU! You did this! Stop it now!”

“Ah, so you figured it out, then? But again, with five different people in your head, from what I hear, all of you would have to be utter morons to not figure it out. Especially with all the clues I left you.”

“Clues?”

“Why, yes. Haven't you figured out the other part of things yet?”

At these words, they knew what he meant.

“You were using Ginny. You're trapped in this book, so you needed Ginny. You got into her head somehow, controlled her.”

“Yes, indeed. My, you are quite astute. You would make an excellent Death Eater.”

“I already told the other you, the shriveled, ugly half-ghost you, that I would die before being one of your minions, Tom.”

Tom flinched. “You know who I am, so call me the Dark Lord!”

“You're not a lord, though. You're an orphan, with no land or property to his name. 'Lord Voldemort.' French, right? Means 'cold death'? How pretentious.”

The older boy glared at him. “If you would loan me your wand, Harry, I would be glad to show you how I came up with the name.”

“No thanks. Don't care.” He jabbed his wand at Tom Riddle. “Let her go now.”

Riddle chuckled. “There's nothing you can do to me with that. The weaker Ginny grows, the stronger I get. Pathetic child, she was all too willing to pour her heart out to a kind stranger she found in a strange book. It was soo easy to use her.”

Harry shot a spell at Tom; it went right through him.

“I told you it's no use, Harry. Anyway, I'm glad we could have this little chat. I've been wanting to know more about you ever since Ginny started telling me about you.”

“No doubt curious how I survived.”

“Yes. That does puzzle me, how an infant--”

“It was my mother, Tom. My common, Muggle-born mother; she died to protect me.”

“DON'T CALL ME TOM!”

“Why not? You don't like that name?”

“It is a common name, the name of my worthless Muggle father.”

“Got Daddy issues, eh, Tom? Po wittle bebe.”

Tom growled angrily. “FINE! Fine. I know what I wanted to know, now. That's all that matters. A freak accident, not fate at all. Good. Now I can kill you.”

Tom Riddle turned toward the giant statue of Slytherin, and spoke Parseltongue.

'Salazar Slytherin, greatest of the Hogwarts four, speak to me!'

For reasons they couldn't have explained, even later, they were overtaken by a transformation. The glow of the transformation caught Tom's attention, and he witnessed them grow into Alastair.

“Ah, you must be Alastair Potter. Well you will be dying tonight too, along with the rest of you. It's a shame, really; you would be invaluable as Death Eaters. Unless... perhaps... does Harry speak for all of you?”

“Yes he does, Tommy boy.”

“DO NOT CALL ME TOM, TOMMY, OR TOMMY BOY! I AM LORD VOLDEMORT! YOU WILL CALL ME 'DARK LORD'!”

“Aw, is Tommy-Wommy having a wittle tantwum?”

'GET OUT HERE AND KILL HIM!'

Slytherin’s gigantic stone face was moving. Horrorstruck, Al saw his mouth opening, wider and wider, to make a huge black hole.

And something was stirring inside the statue’s mouth. Something was slithering up from its depths.

He backed away and closed his eyes. This was it; he had his wand against a giant snake, which right now felt like just a piece of wood in his hand. What was he to do? He didn't know any spells that would work against a basilisk.

When he felt the thud of something very heavy hit the ground, his desperate brain gave him the only idea he could think of: talk to it.

'Hey Mr. Basilisk, does this asshole feed you?'

The snake, which had been slithering towards him, froze. 'What?'

Tom looked panicked. Only he was supposed to speak to the basilisk, and be obeyed.

'IGNORE HIM!'

'I saw all those rat bones. That the only thing you've been eating all this time, rats? A creature as enormous and majestic as you, subsisting on vermin? Doesn't befit the king of serpents, to my view. And here's this guy, giving you orders and nothing else. He's not even competent enough to get you human prey; nobody's died yet. Why can't he at least sneak into the kitchens and get you a side of beef or a whole turkey or something like that? Fact is, he could; he doesn't want to. You're just a tool to him. King of serpents, reduced to a servant.'

With his eyes closed, he couldn't see what the giant snake was doing, but he could hear it wasn't moving.

'You are right, human. I have been so hungry, for so long.'

'Makes sense. It's a shame, really; I can't look at you right now, because I don't want to die, but I'm sure you're beautiful. I saw that skin you shed, recently. If that's even half as lustrous as your living skin, you must be gorgeous. You deserve to be treated like royalty.'

'HE IS SIMPLY SPINNING YOU A TALE! KILL HIM!'

'Join my side,' Al continued, 'and I promise on my magic I will bring you food worthy of a king.'

'Hmm...' the snake said.

'DO NOT LISTEN TO HIM, HE IS MERELY TRYING TO SAVE HIS OWN SKIN!'

'You know, Tom, I really don't think Salazar would approve of this blatant animal abuse. Letting this magnificent creature subsist on vermin? Really, what were you thinking?'

'Smaller human, you know how to bring me food worthy of a king?'

'Yes. I could go to the kitchens, get food from the house elves. Heck, if nothing else, I have millions of galleons in my Gringotts account, I could buy you entire cows and goats if you wanted them, live prey, and hardly make a dent in my savings.'

'And you swear on your magic?'

'I swear on my magic I will feed you feasts worthy of the king of serpents, if you join my side against Tom Riddle.'

The giant snake chuckled, an eerie sound. 'You have a deal, human.'

'NO! KILL HIM! KILL HIM!'

The basilisk rounded on Tom. 'YOU ARE NOT MY MASTER! I AM MY OWN MASTER! AND I HAVE A NEW ALLY!'

Al peeked very carefully out, and saw the snake staring Tom down.

'Why is it not working? What are you?' the basilisk demanded of Tom.

'He's a memory trapped in a book. Here,' Al said picking up the diary and tossing it at the snake's head. 'Bite down on this, it will kill him!'

'NOOOO!!!'

The basilisk turned its head, and Al closed his eyes just in time. He didn't know if the creature did as he asked until he heard Tom screaming in agony.

'Please close your eyes, so I can watch my enemy die.'

'Understood. They are closed now.'

Al opened his eyes cautiously, and saw the basilisk was telling the truth. He looked at Tom, who was clutching his head, screaming, and burning. Then he screamed one last time, exploded, and was gone.

When he calmed down enough to speak again, he said, 'I wish to retrieve the book for a trophy of our victory.'

'You may have it.'

He walked over to the basilisk's open mouth. It was very nerve-wracking pulling the diary off of the basilisk's fang, afraid the serpent would change its mind, but he got the diary off its fang and backed away.

'Thank you. Now, the girl will wake up any moment now, and I don't want to frighten her more than I have to. If you go back into hiding, I will be sure you get the biggest slab of meat I can find from the kitchen this very night.'

'I will hold you to that, human.'

'Understood.'

'I go now, human. See you later tonight.'

He heard the thing slide away. He waited, his eyes pressed together, until the sound, growing fainter and fainter, disappeared. Only then did he open his eyes and go over to Ginny, who was stirring. Al hurried toward her as she sat up. Her bemused eyes looked around in terror at the empty Chamber, then to the diary in his hand. She drew a great, shuddering gasp and tears began to pour down her face.

“Al! I tried to tell Harry at b-breakfast, but I c-couldn’t say it in front of P-Percy! It was me, Al--”

“Shh, I know. Riddle told me all about how he controlled you, got into your head with the magic of the diary. It's not your fault, Ginny; he used you like a tool. He was actually Voldemort.”

She squealed in terror at the name. “T-Tom... was You-Know-Who?”

“Yes. He uses people, he can be charming when he wants to be. He used evil magic to make you his meat puppet. It's not your fault he had his magical hand up your--”

AL!

“But that's probably inappropriate. The point is, Ginny; you're not remotely at fault. In fact, I have a pretty good idea who's to blame.”

“W-who?”

“I think Lucius Malfoy put this diary in your book, that day at Flourish and Blotts.”

She gasped. Then she shuddered and began to cry. He let her cry into his shoulder, and he picked her up.

“Come on, let's go.”

“B-but, the b-basilisk! What if it shows up?”

He decided to give her a comforting lie. “I mortally wounded it with a spell I read about in a book once. Lucky shot, it's a miracle I survived. It crawled back into its hidey-hole and died. Tom was quite distraught.”

“How did you kill him?”

“It flailed around in pain before going back to its hidey-hole, accidentally bit the diary as it did. See? Nice big sizzling hole in it.” He showed her the dead diary.

“So Tom's d-dead?”

“The diary was his body. So yeah, he's dead.”

She began to cry again.

“N-nobody's going to b-believe me! They'll t-think I did it!”

“Dumbledore will believe.”

“He's not h-here.”

“Before he left, he told me he would never really leave the school. And I'm sure McGonagall will believe you. I believe you. If anyone tries punishing you for this, I'll demand they give me the same punishment. That usually shuts them up.”

There was a beautiful sound, suddenly, like the most heavenly singing, but birdlike. Then with a whoosh of flames, a beautiful red and gold plumed bird appeared.

“Hey, it's Dumbledore's phoenix, Fawkes. Hey Fawkes, what're you doing here?”

It sang again, then perched on Al's shoulder.

“Too bad I don't speak Phoenix language. Well whatever, you can tag along.”

Ginny was still crying when they got to the hole in the wall that Hermione and Ron had cleared for them.

“Ron! Ginny's alive and well. Crying and exhausted, but alive and well.”

He heard Ron give a strangled cheer, and they turned the next bend to see his and Hermione's eager faces staring through the sizable gap they had managed to make in the rockfall.

Ginny!” Ron thrust an arm through the gap in the rock to pull her through first. “You’re alive! I don’t believe it! What happened? How — what — where did that bird come from?”

Fawkes had swooped through the gap after Ginny.

“He’s Dumbledore’s,” said Al, squeezing through himself.

“What happened down there?”

“Short story: we were right, Tom Riddle was Voldemort. Key word there is 'was,'” he said, holding up the diary so Ron and Hermione could see the hole in it.

“Long story can wait for later.”

“But —”

“Later,” Al said shortly. He didn’t think it was a good idea to tell Ron yet who’d been opening the Chamber, not in front of Ginny, anyway. “Where’s Lockhart?”

“Back there,” said Ron, still looking puzzled but jerking his head up the tunnel toward the pipe. “He’s in a bad way. Come and see.”

The git had completely erased his memories. He could speak, and presumably was still toilet trained, but he was a dimmer bulb than normal, and couldn't remember anything for more than a few seconds. But rather than being disturbed by this, he was quite content.

Al looked up at the pipe. “Well this is lovely. How're we gonna get up there?”

Fawkes came off Al's shoulder and floated there, holding a tail feather. Al looked at him dubiously.

“He looks like he wants you to grab hold …” said Ron, looking perplexed. “But you’re much too heavy for a bird to pull up there —”

“Oh Ron, don't you read? This is a phoenix. They can carry immensely heavy loads,” Hermione said. “And their tears have healing powers. They're amazing birds, I can't believe Dumbledore keeps one as a pet.”

Al turned quickly to the others. “We’ve got to hold on to each other. Ginny, grab Ron’s hand. Hermione, you get Ginny's other hand. Professor Lockhart —”

“He means you,” said Ron sharply to Lockhart.

“You hold Hermione’s other hand —”

Al tucked the diary into his belt and added his hand to the end of the chain. Then, impossibly, they all floated up and out of the chamber.

“Amazing! This is just like magic!” Lockhart cried.

A few minutes of chill air whipping by, and they were landing on the wet floor of Moaning Myrtle's bathroom, the Chamber closing behind them.

Myrtle goggled at them.

“You’re alive,” she said blankly to Al.

“Sharp as a tack, you are. You sound almost disappointed.”

“Oh, well … I’d just been thinking … if you had died, you’d have been welcome to share my toilet,” said Myrtle, blushing silver.

“If I were to die, and if I were to leave a ghost, I might join you; but I'd insist we haunt somewhere more impressive than a loo,” Al responded.

As they left the bathroom, Ron asked, “What do we do now?”

Al pointed. “McGonagall's office.”

Fawkes was leading the way, glowing gold along the corridor. They strode after him, and moments later, found themselves outside Professor McGonagall’s office.

Harry knocked and pushed the door open.

~

Silence reigned for a moment while they stood there, until Mrs. Weasley screamed Ginny's name, and clutched her daughter for dear life, both women crying.

Al, however, was looking past them. Professor Dumbledore was standing by the mantelpiece, beaming, next to Professor McGonagall, who was taking great, steadying gasps, clutching her chest. Fawkes went whooshing past Al’s ear and settled on Dumbledore’s shoulder, just as Al found himself and Ron being swept into Mrs. Weasley’s tight embrace.

“You saved her! You saved her! How did you do it?”

“I think we’d all like to know that,” said Professor McGonagall weakly.

He sat down, and began telling them everything. For 15 minutes he spoke to the rapt adults and kids, explaining about the eerie voice that turned out to be Parseltongue, the diary, their theory about Riddle being Voldemort, even the trip into the Forbidden Forest to see Aragog, and finally finding the answer – basilisk – in the library. And, of course, the Moaning Myrtle connection.

“Very well,” Professor McGonagall prompted him as he paused, “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 all get out of there alive, Potter?”

His voice growing hoarse, Al went with the lie he'd told Ginny, but adding parts of the truth to it.

“Found Ginny lying facedown on the ground, and Tom Riddle standing there. Knew at once who he was, pointed my wand at him. Hit him with a spell, but it went through him without hurting him. He told me nothing I could do with my wand would hurt him. Something about his tone made me think he was including the diary in that. The thing seems to be supernaturally impervious to harm. Or it did.

“Anyway, after he was done discussing me and how I survived as a baby, he summoned his basilisk, and I shot some spells I'd read about at the thing. One of them was a lucky shot, mortally wounding the thing. It thrashed around in pain, accidentally biting the diary. Well, okay, I may have influenced that luck a little. But anyway, it bit the diary, Riddle died, and then the basilisk crawled into its hidey-hole to die, and died.”

“And if this Riddle was just a spirit as you say, Potter, then how--”

“He used another. He tricked someone innocent into spilling their soul to him, and he reached up inside of that person and took control,” he said, looking at Dumbledore.

“Voldemort does have that effect on people,” the man said. “Odd, though, that he could be here when my sources tell me he's hiding in Albania.”

“I don't think this diary was a normal diary. It was... alive. I met Tom once before tonight, he took us into one of his memories. He was 16 when he wrote this diary,” he said, handing the thing to Dumbledore, who examined it carefully.

“Who did he trick, though, Potter?” McGonagall wanted to know. “Who was it he was controlling?”

“Ginny Weasley. And I think Lucius Malfoy slipped her the book that day at Flourish and Blotts.”

Mrs. Weasley started going into fits of worry at this, and Mr. Weasley glowered at thin air, his hands twitching.

“Brilliant,” Dumbledore said softly, examining the diary. “Of course, he was probably the most brilliant student Hogwarts has ever seen.” He turned around to the Weasleys, who were looking utterly bewildered.

“Very few people know that Lord Voldemort was once called Tom Riddle. I taught him myself, fifty years ago, at Hogwarts. He disappeared after leaving the school … traveled far and wide … sank so deeply into the Dark Arts, consorted with the very worst of our kind, underwent so many dangerous, magical transformations, that when he resurfaced as Lord Voldemort, he was barely recognizable. Hardly anyone connected Lord Voldemort with the clever, handsome boy who was once Head Boy here.”

“But, Ginny,” said Mrs. Weasley. “I'm still so confused. What’s our Ginny got to do with — with — him?”

“His d-diary!” Ginny sobbed. “I’ve b-been writing in it, and he’s been w-writing back all year —”

“Ginny!” said Mr. Weasley, flabbergasted. “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. Why didn’t you show the diary to me, or your mother? A suspicious object like that, it was clearly full of Dark Magic —”

“That's kind of an overly broad rule of thumb, Mr. Weasley,” Al said. “As it applies to all the portraits in the school, and some of the mirrors. But yeah, I guess there was a significant difference between them and this diary.”

“I d-didn’t know,” sobbed Ginny. “I found it inside one of the books Mum got me. I th-thought someone had just left it in there and forgotten about it —”

“Miss Weasley should go up to the hospital wing right away,” Dumbledore interrupted in a firm voice. “This has been a terrible ordeal for her. There will be no punishment. Older and wiser wizards than she have been hoodwinked by Lord Voldemort.” He strode over to the door and opened it. “Bed rest and perhaps a large, steaming mug of hot chocolate. I always find that cheers me up,” he added, twinkling kindly down at her. “You will find that Madam Pomfrey is still awake. She’s just giving out Mandrake juice — I daresay the basilisk’s victims will be waking up any moment.”

“So Colin will be okay?”

“There has been no lasting harm done, Ginny,” said Dumbledore.

Mrs. Weasley led Ginny out, and Mr. Weasley followed, still looking deeply shaken.

“You know, Minerva,” Professor Dumbledore said thoughtfully to Professor McGonagall, “I think all this merits a good feast. Might I ask you to go and alert the kitchens?”

“Right,” said Professor McGonagall crisply, also moving to the door. “I’ll leave you to deal with Potter, Granger, and Weasley, shall I?”

“Certainly,” said Dumbledore.

She left the three of them feeling very nervous.

“Alastair, I believe you promised me you wouldn't dig into this anymore, after our talk following Justin and Nicolas's attack. You promised me you would keep yourself safe.”

“What?” Ron and Hermione said in stereo, shocked.

“And you didn't tell your friends about that promise, either, I see.”

Al shrugged. “I fibbed a little.”

“You lied to me. But I will forgive it this time, given the circumstances.”

He paused a moment before speaking again.

“You three will receive special awards for services to the school. And, let me see, 150 points apiece for Griffindor.

“But one of us seems to be keeping mightily quiet about his part in this dangerous adventure,” Dumbledore added. “Why so modest, Gilderoy?”

Al jumped, startled. He'd forgotten about Gitteroy Blockhead. He turned and saw that Lockhart was standing in a corner of the room, still wearing his vague smile. When Dumbledore addressed him, Lockhart looked over his shoulder to see who he was talking to.

“Er, Professor,” Hermione started.

“It was my wand,” Ron said. “He took my wand, tried to obliviate the three of us, and it blew up in his face. He's lost his whole memory.”

“Ah, Gilderoy, hoisted on your own petard.”

“Petard?” Gilderoy said, confused. “What's a petard?”

“Would you two mind taking Professor Lockhart up to the infirmary, too?” Dumbledore said to Ron and Hermione. “I wish to speak with Alastair some more.”

They nodded, and led the man out the room.

Al sat down expectantly, tempted to put his feet up on the desk, but resisting the urge. Dumbledore sat down behind his desk.

“First of all, Alastair, I want to thank you,” said Dumbledore, eyes twinkling again. “You must have shown me real loyalty down in the Chamber. Nothing but that could have called Fawkes to you.”

“I dunno about that. I don't know why he showed up. Though it might've been more help if it had happened earlier, but I don't think we could've gotten out again without him.”

“Oh, there are other ways. A featherlight charm and wingardium leviosa on yourself in combination would get you up the pipe you described.”

Al nodded.

“I got the sense you lied to us today in your story. The story contained elements of the truth, but there's a lie in there somewhere, am I correct?”

“Yeah. I didn't kill the basilisk. I wouldn't have known how.”

“So it is still alive?”

“Yup. In desperation, knowing my wand was largely useless, I fell back on my other skill: Parseltongue.”

Dumbledore's eyes twinkled at him. “You charmed the snake, did you?”

“Yeah. Promised it I would feed it meals fit for the king of serpents. I saw it had been eating nothing but rats for 1000 years, so I figured it could use some variety. And unlike the promise I made to you, I meant this one. I promised on my magic.”

“Ah. Well then, I think we can work out an arrangement for it, then. I shall speak with the house elves about it later.”

“I also promised to bring it something tonight.”

“Well, that can be arranged.”

Dumbledore stroked his phoenix before continuing.

“And so you met Tom Riddle. I'm sure he was quite interested in meeting you.”

“Yes, he was. Wanted to know how I survived as a baby. I told him my mother died to protect me. But that isn't the whole story, is it? If it was that simple, I wouldn't be the first survivor, I'd be like, the four millionth.”

“You are correct, there is probably more to the story than that.”

“And I think you know more than you're telling me, don't you? It has something to do with how we can speak Parseltongue, like he can.”

“You and your collective can speak Parseltongue, Alastair,” said Dumbledore calmly, “because Lord Voldemort — who is the last remaining descendant of Salazar Slytherin — can speak Parseltongue. Unless I’m much mistaken, he transferred some of his own powers to you the night he gave you that scar. Not something he intended to do, I’m sure.”

“That diary seemed awfully alive for just a memory, sir. Tell me, is it possible he put a bit of himself in the diary, too?”

Dumbledore was looking uncomfortable. It was hard to see, most people would miss it, but they saw it.

“If you know something, you should tell me. I figure we're pretty much fated to fight him. Been here two years, been attacked by him twice, I figure that's significant. Then there's the fact that Firenze called us 'The Chorus that Sings a Song Against Evil.' Said it was written in the stars.”

“Alastair, I am truly sorry, but once more, I cannot answer that. You are--”

“Don't give me that crap, please. We may only be 12, but we've seen things and done things that nobody else has, and I'm pretty certain it's nowhere near over yet. Knowledge is power, and—”

“I am sorry, but I must insist.”

Al opened his mouth to argue again, but someone burst unannounced into the room. It was Lucius Malfoy. Al frowned.

How rude.

The man was plainly furious. And trembling between his legs, wrapped in many bandages, was...

“Dobby! He's your master? Why am I not more surprised?”

For a moment, Dobby looked at Al in confusion. Then he saw Al's scar, the same scar all of the Potter collective had, no matter what body they were in, and he gasped.

“Good evening, Lucius,” said Dumbledore pleasantly.

Mr. Malfoy nearly knocked Al out of his seat in his haste to get to Dumbledore. It made Al's hand reach for his wand, in case something happened. Dobby went scurrying in after his master, crouching at the hem of his cloak, a look of abject terror on his face.

The elf was carrying a stained rag with which he was attempting to finish cleaning Mr. Malfoy’s shoes. Apparently Mr. Malfoy had set out in a great hurry, for not only were his shoes half-polished, but his usually sleek hair was disheveled. Ignoring the elf bobbing apologetically around his ankles, he fixed his cold eyes upon Dumbledore.

“So!” he said “You’ve come back. The governors suspended you, but you still saw fit to return to Hogwarts.”

“Well, you see, Lucius,” said Dumbledore, smiling serenely, “the other eleven governors contacted me today. It was something like being caught in a hailstorm of owls, to tell the truth. They’d heard that Arthur Weasley’s daughter had been killed and wanted me back here at once. They seemed to think I was the best man for the job after all. Very strange tales they told me, too. … Several of them seemed to think that you had threatened to curse their families if they didn’t agree to suspend me in the first place.”

Mr. Malfoy went even paler than usual, but his eyes were still slits of fury.

“So — have you stopped the attacks yet?” he sneered. “Have you caught the culprit?”

“We have,” said Dumbledore, with a smile.

Well?” said Mr. Malfoy sharply. “Who is it?”

“The same person as last time, Lucius,” said Dumbledore. “But this time, Lord Voldemort was acting through somebody else. By means of this diary.”

He held up the small black book with the large hole through the center, watching Mr. Malfoy closely.

At this, Dobby began making motions, trying to communicate to Al. Al nodded at him and mouthed, I know already. This made the elf relax in evident relief.

“I see …” said Mr. Malfoy slowly to Dumbledore.

“A clever plan,” said Dumbledore in a level voice, still staring Mr. Malfoy straight in the eye. “Because if Alastair here” — Mr. Malfoy shot Al a swift, sharp look — “and his friends Ron and Hermione hadn’t discovered this book, why — Ginny Weasley might have taken all the blame. No one would ever have been able to prove she hadn’t acted of her own free will.”

Mr. Malfoy said nothing. His face was suddenly mask-like.

“And imagine,” Dumbledore went on, “what might have happened then. … The Weasleys are one of our most prominent pure-blood families. Imagine the effect on Arthur Weasley and his Muggle Protection Act, if his own daughter was discovered attacking and killing Muggle-borns. … Very fortunate the diary was discovered, and Riddle’s memories wiped from it. Who knows what the consequences might have been otherwise. …”

Mr. Malfoy forced himself to speak.

“Very fortunate,” he said stiffly.

“Yes,” Al said, standing up and crossing his arms. “As if you didn't know.”

“I beg your pardon?” Mr. Malfoy said, each word enunciated as though they were slurs.

“You're the one who put the diary in Ginny's cauldron that day you started a fight with Mr. Weasley in the bookstore. You stuck it in her transfiguration book then slipped it back in her cauldron. I'm pretty sure that counts as terrorism.”

He saw Mr. Malfoy’s white hands clench and unclench.

“Why don't you prove it,” he hissed.

“Oh, no one will be able to do that,” said Dumbledore, smiling at Al. “Not now that Riddle has vanished from the book. On the other hand, I would advise you, Lucius, not to go giving out any more of Lord Voldemort’s old school things. If any more of them find their way into innocent hands, I think Arthur Weasley, for one, will make sure they are traced back to you.”

“Yeah, and if you'd seen Mr. Weasley's face earlier... let's just say, if you thought he hated you before, that was nothing to now.”

Lucius Malfoy stood for a moment, and Al distinctly saw his right hand twitch as though he was longing to reach for his wand. Instead, he turned to his house-elf.

“We’re going, Dobby!”

He wrenched open the door and as the elf came hurrying up to him, he kicked him right through it. They could hear Dobby squealing with pain all the way along the corridor. Al stood for a moment, thinking hard. Then it came to him; well, to Harry, who relayed the message to him.

“Professor Dumbledore,” he said hurriedly. “Can I give that diary back to Mr. Malfoy, please?”

“Of course. But hurry. The feast, remember...”

Al grabbed the book and ran out the room. He paused a moment to prepare the package, then ran along until he caught up with the man.

“Mr. Malfoy,” he gasped, skidding to a halt, “I’ve got something for you —”

With a disgusted look, Mr. Malfoy ripped off the filthy sock Al had stretched over the diary, and tossed it aside, looking at the destroyed diary with a mix of fury and fear.

“You’ll meet the same sticky end as your parents one of these days, Potter,” he said softly. “They were meddlesome fools, too.”

He turned to go.

“Come, Dobby. I said, come.”

But Dobby didn’t move. He was holding up Al's disgusting, slimy sock, and looking at it as though it were a priceless treasure.

“Master has give Dobby a sock.”

“What?”

“Master has given a sock,” said the elf in wonderment. “Master gave it to Dobby.”

“What’s that?” spat Mr. Malfoy. “What did you say?”

“Got a sock,” said Dobby in disbelief. “Master threw it, and Dobby caught it, and Dobby — Dobby is free.”

Lucius Malfoy stood frozen, staring at the elf. Then he lunged at Al.

“You’ve lost me my servant, boy!”

But Dobby shouted, “You shall not harm Alastair Potter!”

There was a loud bang, and Mr. Malfoy was thrown backward. He crashed down the stairs, three at a time, landing in a crumpled heap on the landing below. He got up, his face livid, and pulled out his wand, but Dobby raised a long, threatening finger.

“You shall go now,” he said fiercely, pointing down at Mr. Malfoy. “You shall not touch the Potters. You shall go now.”

Lucius Malfoy had no choice. With a last, incensed stare at the pair of them, he swung his cloak around him and hurried out of sight.

“Alastair Potter freed Dobby!” said the elf shrilly, gazing up at Al, moonlight from the nearest window reflected in his orb-like eyes. “Alastair Potter set Dobby free!”

“It was Harry's idea. But I liked it. Nobody deserves to be treated like he treated you. Well, maybe he does. Just promise not to try to save our life again?”

The elf’s ugly brown face split suddenly into a wide, toothy smile, but didn't promise.

Al took a moment to explain to Dobby how they'd worked out his clue. Dobby grinned.

“Dobby is most happy to be of service to the Potters.”

“Well, I’d better go. There’s a feast on. Would you like to come?”

“Dobby eat at a table with wizards and witches?” The elf said in wonderment.

“Yes. I doubt he fed you adequately. And we couldn't have saved the day without your help.”

“Dobby would be honored,” the elf said. “But...” he looked down at his filthy clothes.

With a flash of light, Zoey stood there. Dobby blinked at her, having never met her either. Then she pointed a finger at him, his clothing glowed, and suddenly he was wearing a clean little suit. He was still barefoot, but he was clean and dressed. The lone sock of Al's was clean, so the elf put it on.

“Thank you, Miss... Miss...”

“Zoey Potter,” she said, hugging Dobby. “Come, let's stuff our faces!”

~

This feast was a feast like none before it, for Zoey and company. Everyone was in their Pjs, everyone except Zoey – who was wearing school robes – and Dobby in his suit. Everyone looked in bewilderment at Dobby at first, even after she explained he was her guest and friend.

Zoey didn’t know whether the best bit was Justin hurrying over from the Hufflepuff table to wring her hand and apologize endlessly for suspecting them, or Hagrid turning up at half past three, cuffing Zoey and Ron so hard on the shoulders that they were knocked into their plates of trifle, Dobby's expressions of ecstasy every time he tried something new, or their four hundred fifty points for Gryffindor securing the House Cup for the second year running, or Professor McGonagall standing up to tell them all that the exams had been canceled as a school treat (“Oh, no!” said Hermione), or Dumbledore announcing that, unfortunately, Professor Lockhart would be unable to return next year, owing to the fact that he needed to go away and get his memory back. Quite a few of the teachers joined in the cheering that greeted this news.

“Shame,” said Ron, helping himself to a jam doughnut. “He was starting to grow on me.”

“Like a fungus!” Zoey said, giggling.

The rest of term passed quickly and brightly, in more ways than one. DADA classes were cancelled, leaving those spaces open to do whatever, and Lucius Malfoy had been sacked as a school governor. Draco looked severely put out by this, for some reason.

All too soon, for the second year in a row, they watched their friends and classmates take the thestral-drawn carriages down to the Hogwarts Express, staying behind for a week while they waited for Nicolas Flamel again. But Zoey was Out, and her response to boredom generally entailed a lot of mischief, so the week wouldn't be too bad. In fact, she already had some ideas brewing in her head. ...

End note: Future chapters may take a bit longer than usual, because I've been getting really annoyed with myself following the books so closely, but it was kinda necessary, seeing as there's not actually a lot going on in the first two books. I'm going to try to focus more on character development. I don't know how far afield I'll go; I don't want to go *too* far afield, as that makes things exponentially harder to write, but anyway, that's the gist of it.

End note 2: Thanks, everyone, for all the feedback! It makes writing these things worth it. Especially since funny stuff is always funnier when other people laugh at it, too. :-)



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