Images

Meaning of One, Part Two: Chambers and Secrets - Chapter 27: Images by Sovran

    Chapter number: 
    27

    Chapter 27: Images

    They ached. Every inch of their body felt as though it were being pressed down by crushing stone, and their mind was clouded and sluggish. Somewhere, people were speaking excitedly, but their voices were too far away to understand. Gradually, they became aware that the hazy glow ahead of them was bright light shining through their eyelids. At the same moment, they realised that their eyes were dry and scratchy, and they blinked instinctively.

    Their surroundings lightened when they opened their eyes, but the fuzzy brightness still dominated their vision. Then Madam Pomfrey’s head appeared only a few inches in front of their face, her expression grave. “Mr. Potter?”

    She reached across his face and lowered his glasses onto his nose. The blur around him resolved into the hospital wing, lit by lanterns and torches shining through white fabric all around him.

    “Mr. Potter, do you hear me?”

    Harry swallowed, his mouth as parched as his eyes, and tried to speak. To his consternation, he found that he could only groan feebly. He focused on the matron and nodded.

    “Good. Drink this, now.” She held a glass of water to his lips, but she only tipped a few drops into his mouth. When he tried to reach up and take the glass from her, his arm did not respond. He groaned again at the pain.

    What happened?

    I dunno. There was that… Light. Maybe a spell?

    Pomfrey allowed him another sip of water, and he swallowed a few times to clear his throat.

    It was yellow, wasn’t it? What spells are yellow?

    I… I don’t… Remember. Harry? What’s…?

    Panic seared through Harry’s mind, scouring away the last of his torpor. Ginny was gone, just as she had been for a few minutes on Christmas in their first year. He tried to sit up, but his muscles merely convulsed painfully.

    “Again, Mr. Potter,” Madam Pomfrey said, allowing him to drink a bit more water. “Don’t try to move yet. The restorative potion does not work instantly. In a few more moments, I’ll give you something to help you move.”

    He licked his lips to moisten them. “Ginny,” he whispered harshly. “Where’s Ginny?”

    Professor McGonagall leaned over him, her eyes bright and her lips flat with tension. “We were hoping you could tell us, Harry,” she said in a choked voice.

    “What?” he asked. “What do you mean? What happened?”

    “She has… disappeared,” McGonagall said, and Harry felt her hand shake as she squeezed his own. “No-one has seen her for nearly two hours.”

    What? I was… right there. Harry?!

    “But…” Harry swallowed and accepted another mouthful of water. “She was right behind me. Dumbledore saw her about a minute ago.”

    The professor’s face paled horribly. “Dumbledore? He hasn’t… not since… oh, good heavens. What’s the last thing you remember, Harry?”

    “Erm… we were leaving the Headmaster’s office. I rounded a corner, and… and then I was here. Ginny was right behind me.”

    “Harry…” McGonagall squeezed his hand again, almost painfully. “That was around the end of the Easter holidays, wasn’t it?”

    “Yeah.” Her words finally registered. “Wait, how long have I been here?”

    “Today is the twenty-ninth of May, Harry.”

    May? It can’t be…

    “May?”

    Madam Pomfrey appeared again with a yellowish potion. “Drink this, Mr. Potter,” she said. “It’ll help you to move.”

    He gulped the potion down, ignoring its overpowering mint flavour. Seconds later, he felt tiny sparks of sensation flowing outward from his chest. The wave of prickling pain flowed down his arms and legs, splashed off of his fingers and toes, and then ebbed back towards his stomach.

    “Now listen to me, Mr. Potter,” Pomfrey said. “This potion will let you move a bit, but you mustn’t try to get out of bed for at least an hour. If you do, you risk damaging your muscles rather than strengthening them. Do you understand?”

    “Why isn’t Ginny here? Why don’t we remember anything? How is she missing?”

    McGonagall leaned forward again, taking the matron’s place. “I don’t know the answers to any of those questions, Harry.”

    Harry managed to sit up halfway, and the professor stuffed pillows behind his back to support him. “But… but if it’s been that long, and Ginny… Ginny’s been missing for two hours, you said. She’s…” He racked his brain, trying to dredge up memories he knew should be there. “I think she’s been Stunned, Professor, but I don’t remember anything.”

    “Stunned? What makes you say that?”

    “It feels like it did last Christmas. She’s still here, sort of, but she’s gone distant again.”

    I hate this. I can’t… if I was there…

    McGonagall leaned towards him, moving her grip to his shoulder. “She’s still there, in your mind? You’re absolutely sure?”

    “Of course I’m sure!” When her expression sagged into obvious relief, Harry heaved himself the rest of the way upright. “Why shouldn’t she be in my mind?” When she did not respond, he grabbed the sleeve of her robes. “Please, Professor.”

    She swallowed and nodded. “I will… I will try to explain, Harry, but it is… complicated. I don’t know everything you want to know.”

    “Tell me what you do know, then, so I can find her.”

    McGonagall paled again, but she cleared her throat and began to speak. “Do you recall the attacks on Mr. Creevey and the others?” Harry nodded. “Well, the same thing happened to you in that corridor during the Easter holidays. You’ve been Petrified for six weeks.”

    Oh, no… Harry… are you okay?

    I think so. It’s you that… “But what about Ginny? Why isn’t she here? Why can’t we—”

    “Please, Harry,” the professor said, raising her hand to cut him off. “I am doing the best I can.”

    He took a deep breath and successfully took another drink of water. “Okay.”

    “Ginny was… well, she was not attacked as you were, but I cannot say she was unharmed. She has suffered horribly without you. We have all been very frightened for her. Nevertheless, she has survived and was doing a bit better in the last week or two.

    “Earlier today, Ginny contacted me to say she had discovered what Slytherin’s monster is. It is a Basilisk, though I suspect you have no idea what that means. Suffice to say that it is terribly, terribly dangerous. It is nothing less than a miracle that you and the others were merely Petrified and not killed. I have summoned the Hogwarts Express to take the students home and evacuate the castle, and it is almost here.”

    I don’t remember… doing any… suffering. And what’s a… a… that monster?

    I don’t know. I don’t know!

    Professor McGonagall paused for a moment and then seemed to brace herself. “The last people to see Ginny were her roommates, two hours ago. At that time she was in her dormitory packing her trunk. When Madam Hooch went to all the girls’ rooms to check their progress, Ginny was gone. She was not anywhere else in the Tower, and the Aurors guarding the portrait hole had not seen her leave.

    “At about the same time, Mr. Filch found a new message on the wall in the second-floor corridor, beneath the first one. It says…” She took a deep breath. “It says, ‘Her skeleton will lie in the Chamber forever.’ We did not know who it referred to until… until I heard from Madam Hooch that Ginny was missing. Every other student in the castle is accounted for.”

    My…

    A new voice rasped loudly from just beyond the partition. “What?

    McGonagall reached up and pulled aside the fabric, and Harry saw Hermione blinking and looking frightened in the bed next to his. “Her skeleton?” she croaked.

    Harry gaped at her. “Hermione? What are you doing here?”

    “Drink this, Miss Granger,” Pomfrey said, hurrying forward with another vial of yellow potion.

    Hermione’s body shuddered as she drank it, but then she heaved herself onto her side to face Harry and McGonagall. “Harry! You don’t remember?”

    “No! What happened to you?” he asked.

    “Miss Granger was Petrified two weeks ago,” McGonagall said.

    “What’s happened to Ginny?” Hermione asked. “Are we really leaving the castle?”

    The professor nodded. “Yes, Miss Granger, we are leaving the castle, thanks in part to your research on the monster of Slytherin. Ginny managed to finish it.”

    I don’t understand! Ginny’s terror and frustration was a distant twinge in Harry’s mind.

    “She did?” Hermione asked. “What was it? Was it in the book?”

    “As a matter of fact it was, Miss Granger,” McGonagall said quickly. “It was—”

    “Basilisk!” Harry shouted, his eyes slamming shut as a supernova of sensations fractured his thoughts. “It’s a Basilisk! It kills! And… Parseltongue! I’m sorry! I’m sorry! It—”

    He screamed wordlessly and collapsed back onto the pillows as Ginny’s memories rampaged through their mind. Her loss. The distant grass below the Astronomy Tower. Cheering Charms. Painless agony. Hermione was gone. A pewter goblet. Her family’s smothering concern. Fire everywhere. A jagged shard of elation. Despair.

    And then, as Harry’s body clenched against the assault, he felt Ginny inhale.

    “Basilisk!” they both shouted, and her voice echoed around her.

    We’re here! Ginny said. You’re okay, we’re whole!

    Ginny’s memories of six weeks and Harry’s of barely six minutes snapped together. The constriction in their minds released, and they felt everything. Four arms, four legs, Ginny’s hair falling around her face, and Harry’s fingernails gouging his palms.

    But Ginny’s wide eyes saw only blackness. Her right wrist throbbed in pain, and her entire body felt bruised.

    “Hurts. Everything hurts.”

    “Harry?” McGonagall asked.

    Hermione’s shriek was louder. “Ginny!”

    “She’s alive!” Harry cried, his fear receding. Just as he opened his eyes and focused on an open area nearby, they felt a horrible sensation of falling. Harry lay in his bed in the hospital wing, but Ginny was tumbling through dark, cold nothingness. He vomited, spat, and then they tried to Shift her to the ward with him. Nothing happened. They concentrated, ignoring the chaos of her surroundings and the warm sick on his clothes. “We can’t bring her. She’s falling!”

    Pomfrey rushed to the windows and looked out, but Harry and Ginny knew she was not outside. The darkness around her was absolute.

    “Where, Harry? Where is she?”

    With another jolt to her already aching body, Ginny landed on hard stone and collapsed. Gasping, she raised her head and saw that she was sprawled on the flagstones in the middle of her dormitory. Lavender and Parvati’s trunks were missing, as were all of the things Ginny and Hermione normally kept out. But Ginny’s mahogany trunk and Hermione’s painted one sat at the ends of their beds, the wood gleaming dully in the light of the sunset.

    She tried to Shift again, but still nothing happened. Harry then tried Shifting to her with the same result.

    “She’s in her dormitory, but we can’t Shift,” Harry murmured, still focused on Ginny. “Why can’t we Shift?”

    “Never mind that,” McGonagall said in a commanding voice. “Ginny, go downstairs and find Madam Hooch.”

    Ginny rolled to her hand and knees but gasped when the pain in her forearm flared. Looking down, she saw a jagged red gash on the inside of her wrist. The wound oozed blood, and the skin around it was hot and swollen. Holding her right hand to her chest protectively, Ginny heaved herself to her feet.

    She froze. Someone was lying face-down on her bed. The girl had long, vividly red hair, and she was wearing a familiar-looking jumper and a pair of jeans.

    What the? Ginny asked. She looked down at herself and saw the very same outfit, though hers was torn in a few places and smeared with some sort of damp grime.

    “There’s another Ginny,” Harry said aloud.

    “Excuse me?”

    “She’s in her room, but there’s another Ginny on the bed. She’s asleep or… or…”

    “Can you feel that Ginny, too, Harry?” Hermione asked.

    He shook his head. “No. She’s not here.”

    How can there be two of me?

    No idea. Maybe… maybe it’s someone else using Polyjuice?

    Ginny tiptoed closer to her bed. Her doppelganger was sprawled on her front, but her legs were curled as though she had been sitting up before she dozed off. Ginny saw the corner of a book beneath the loose fan of her hair.

    It’s that diary, isn’t it?

    Just as she was reaching towards the book to pull it free, the other Ginny took a long, deliberate breath and flexed her fingers.

    McGonagall spoke from very close to Harry’s ear. “What’s going on, Harry?”

    “I don’t know. The other girl… she’s alive. She’s waking up. Hang on.”

    Ginny quickly backed away from the bed. “Erm… hello?”

    The other girl did not respond.

    This isn’t right, Ginny said. Isn’t it nighttime?

    “Professor, wasn’t I supposed to wake up around ten?”

    “Yes, Harry. It’s a few minutes after, now.”

    “Then why is the sun still setting?”

    Hermione spoke in a terrified whisper. “It’s not, Harry.”

    He opened his eyes and turned. The sky outside the window was completely dark.

    It’s a memory, Harry!

    What?

    Remember being in the Pensieve? Everything here matches the last thing I remember. I was sitting on my bed writing in that diary, wearing these clothes, and the trunks were packed. That was about two hours ago, I guess, when the sun was just setting.

    “Can you hear me?” Ginny said loudly. The girl on the bed was still flexing her hands and slowly straightening her legs, but she did not react at all.

    Ginny reached down to pat the girl, but her hand passed right through her shoulder and the bed.

    “It is a memory!” Harry said. “Everything’s the same as it was two hours ago, and she can’t touch anything. It’s just like the Pensieve, Professor!”

    “Blinkin!”

    Harry ignored Professor McGonagall’s instructions to the house-elf as the other Ginny finally began to raise her head. She moved slowly and carefully, as though she had been asleep for a long time.

    Bloody hell!

    Something was wrong with her eyes. They were brown, and they focused properly as they darted around the room, but they were horribly flat. In the worst moments of their two lives, Harry and Ginny had never seen eyes so utterly devoid of humanity.

    “It’s not her,” Harry mumbled, fighting the urge to retch again.

    “What?”

    “It looks like her, but it’s not. It’s a thing. Not her.”

    “You’re certain the Pensieve has not been disturbed?”

    “Yes, ma’am.”

    “Where can she be, Professor?”

    The Ginny-shaped abomination sat up and then, with more confidence, got to its feet. It flexed its fingers again, and the pink lips twisted into a satisfied smile. It reached into a pocket and pulled out Harry’s wand, stroking it once and then rolling it between delicate fingers. With the wand in its left hand, the thing raised its right arm, a look of disgust and disdain on its stolen features. Then the wand sliced downwards, purple light flashed, and blood spurted from its arm. The silver bracelet with its round charm fell to the floor.

    The thing reached towards the bed and then scowled at the blood flowing freely from its wrist. With another flick of Harry’s wand, the wound closed almost completely, allowing only a slow trickle of blood to drip onto the flagstones. The thing turned back to the bed and picked up the diary, examining it briefly before tucking it into a pocket. Then, grinning faintly, it flung open the top of Ginny’s trunk and lifted out a handful of slithering nothingness. Its arms swung, and it vanished.

    It’s got the Cloak! Ginny shouted.

    How did it know?

    The door opened and did not close. Ginny lunged forward into the stairwell and heard a soft shuffling noise to her left. She bounded down the stairs and reached the door to the common room. As she strained to hear over the babble of voices in the room beyond, the door swung open. On the other side, a female Auror frowned at the opening and then turned her head to scan the nearby students.

    Where is it going?

    Outside? Up to the boys’ side?

    Or it’s looking for someone here.

    They hesitated for a moment, and then Ginny wound her way across the room to the portrait hole, ignoring the clusters of excited students and the piles of their luggage. She stood directly in front of the portrait, facing the door to the boys’ dormitories and straining to see and hear everything at once.

    A Gryffindor banner hanging at Ginny’s elbow fluttered ever so slightly, and then the portrait opened and passed right through her body. Two more Aurors on the other side turned immediately and peered into the common room. Ginny dodged between them and ran a few yards away down the corridor, trying to get away from the noise as they shouted confused questions into the Tower.

    Downstairs or up the passage?

    What could it want up here? Dumbledore’s office?

    Maybe that’s where the Pensieve is?

    Ginny hated the implications of that idea, but it was their only clue. She moved up the corridor, moving as quickly and quietly as she could. When she reached a corner, she froze and strained to hear any hint of the thing’s location.

    “Harry! Please, tell us what’s happening!”

    He opened his eyes and turned towards Hermione, who was struggling to sit up. “The thing that’s not Ginny… it left the tower. We’re following it on the seventh floor.”

    “How did it evade the Aurors, Harry?” McGonagall asked.

    “It took the Invisibility Cloak. It opened the portrait and went right past them.”

    “But where is it going?”

    “We’re not—”

    The scene around Ginny changed suddenly, and she found herself struggling for balance on the main staircase leading down from the seventh floor.

    “It’s heading downstairs.”

    Maybe it’s trying to leave the castle?

    Another soft shuffling sound rose from the next landing down. She ran after it and was soon able to hear footsteps descending the stairs.

    You don’t normally make that much noise.

    That’s not me. It’s just — Ginny shuddered, wondering if it was possible to be sick in a memory— shaped the same.

    They followed the clumsy footsteps further down the stairs. At the second floor landing, the sound stopped abruptly. Ginny tiptoed into the corridor, listening intently.

    We’ll catch up to it if

    A door slammed somewhere down the corridor out of sight, and Ginny heard quick, heavy footfalls approaching. Without thinking, she hurried to the side of the corridor and hid herself as best as she could behind a suit of armour.

    Professor Lockhart hurried into view, his plum-coloured cloak flapping where he had only half fastened it, followed by a procession of luggage floating in mid-air.

    What’s he doing? Is the train here?

    It can’t be. This is two hours ago, right?

    “Where’s Lockhart?” Harry asked aloud.

    “Professor Lockhart? He should either be packing his own things or waiting in the staff lounge.”

    Maybe he’s going there.

    Lockhart had almost reached Ginny’s hiding place when she heard a rustle of fabric and the Ginny-shaped thing appeared in the middle of the corridor. It spoke for the first time, and its voice was as alien as its eyes. Familiar, but horribly twisted. Nothing Ginny had ever felt had made her sound like that. “Hello, Lockhart.”

    The professor stumbled to a halt, staring open-mouthed at the thing. “Miss… Miss Weasley! How did you… I mean to say, what are you doing out and about? You should be in your dormitory!”

    The thing smiled. “I’m impressed. You’ve done quite well for yourself, haven’t you?”

    The blond man’s smile flashed weakly for a moment. “Well, I… hard work and… and a moderate amount of natural talent, and…” He trailed off when the thing’s smile widened.

    “Lies.”

    “Erm… what?”

    The thing cocked its head at him, still grinning lazily. “You are lying, Gilbert. The fool who blustered his way through Hogwarts with only a shred of ability and his dubious charm? Who became a Prefect only by framing his so-called best friend? That coward could not have done any of it.”

    Lockhart’s eyes narrowed as his smile vanished. “That’s a very serious accusation, Miss Weasley. Where did you hear such nonsense?”

    “Memory Charms can be broken, especially such a clumsy one, and I wanted to know the truth. Not that it mattered. One idiot or the other as Prefect, it made no difference to me. I even put the Charm back when I was finished. It certainly wasn’t worth me getting caught.” The thing suddenly crowed in amusement, a sound totally unlike Ginny’s real laughter. “That’s it, isn’t it? You’re using your Memory Ccharms to steal other wizards’ stories. You must have got much better at them.”

    “I… I don’t know what you’re talking about.” The professor’s face had gone pale, and his hand moved slowly towards his pocket.

    “I think you do, Gilbert, unless you’ve managed to erase your own memory, too.” The borrowed voice crackled with icy sarcasm. “Tell me… did poor Buggins ever remember what really happened at his O.W.L.s? Oh, but he must not have, or you wouldn’t be here.”

    Lockhart stood perfectly still, his hand in his pocket and his expression flat. “No one alive knows that.”

    “Are you sure?” the thing asked tauntingly. “Couldn’t there have been one Memory Charm along the way that didn’t work? One wizard you couldn’t sneak up on?”

    Lockhart’s face twisted into a horrible scowl. “Riddle.

    Red light flashed in the corridor. Lockhart flew backwards and slid across the flagstones as his wand sailed to the floor at the thing’s feet. Ginny had not even seen it move.

    “Excellent,” the thing breathed, stroking Harry’s wand again. Its voice lowered to a whisper. “Oh, I have missed that.”

    It snapped Lockhart’s wand beneath its heel and advanced, Harry’s wand held loosely in its left hand. “I’m so glad to have run into you, Gilbert. I never wanted to let you get away with it, but at the time I had no choice. You see, I wanted to be a Prefect, too.”

    Lockhart rose to his hands and knees, his eyes wide. “How did you…? I… I was never going to hurt you… if you had simply let me tell y—”

    Hurt me? You could never have hurt me. Far greater wizards have tried, and none have succeeded.” The thing paused and then nodded absently. “Ah, but you thought one had, didn’t you? You thought I was gone forever.”

    “I… no, I… that is…”

    The thing laughed again. “You need not bother. There is no answer you could give which would save you.”

    “Tom, I—”

    Do not use that name!” The thing slashed Harry’s wand through the air, and Lockhart fell onto his back again with a scream. He lay there, covering his head with his arms and sobbing softly.

    “I wish I had more time to kill you, Gilbert, but I have important matters to attend to.” It pointed Harry’s wand at Lockhart’s face, but then it froze. Its half-smile faded into a thoughtful expression, and it gave a false little sigh. “Once again, I cannot dispose of you as I would like. I need a bit more time, and I cannot attract attention to myself.”

    “I will… I will never speak a word. I’ll run and you’ll never—”

    A slow, cruel smile spread across Ginny’s face. “Oh, you’re quite right about that. It’s a pity, really. I doubt anyone will ever appreciate the irony.” It took a deep breath, and Ginny imagined that she could see the magic gathering within it. Then it jabbed Harry’s wand at Lockhart’s forehead. “Obliviate!

    No light flashed, but Lockhart fell backwards, his face slack and expressionless. The thing stepped forward and crouched over his face, examining his vacant eyes. It waved Harry’s wand, and Lockhart’s features sagged into those of the much older man Ginny and Harry had seen on Valentine’s Day. The thing shook its head and then slapped him sharply. His eyes slid into focus.

    The thing gripped Lockhart’s head and spoke from only a few inches away. “Hide. If anyone sees you tonight, I will kill you.” It stood up and slashed the wand again, making the prone man writhe and yelp. “Go!”

    Lockhart scrambled to his feet, looked frantically around the corridor, and then sprinted back the way he had come. The thing in Ginny’s body waved its wand a few more times, and the professor’s luggage vanished. Then it gathered the Invisibility Cloak from the floor and set off down the corridor after him.

    Harry swallowed and forced himself to speak as Ginny followed the monster in her body. “Lockhart was in the corridor. The thing stopped him and… it was like they knew each other. The thing kept calling Lockhart ‘Gilbert’ for some reason, and it knew about something from when he was at school.”

    “Harry,” Professor McGonagall said intently, “did Professor Lockhart know the thing, too?”

    “Not at first, but then later he called it ‘Riddle,’ and then ‘Tom.’”

    Tom Riddle? Ginny asked, keeping pace with the thing on the second floor. That’s the bloke who made that diary, isn’t it?

    Harry heard a small gasp, and he opened his eyes to see McGonagall with her hands over her mouth, her face pale and waxen. “Professor?”

    “Tom Riddle? Are you sure?” she whispered.

    The thing paused outside the girls’ bathroom on the second floor, examining the wall where red letters still shone: ‘The Chamber of Secrets has been opened. Enemies of the Heir, beware.

    “Yes,” Harry said. “Who is that?”

    McGonagall shook her head and dug her fingers into Harry’s arm. “Run, Ginny. Run!

    What?!

    “She can’t run, can she? It’s a memory.”

    It shouldn’t be able to hurt you, though.

    Except that it is me.

    Frightened and confused, Ginny watched as the thing swept Harry’s wand across the surface of the wall, adding the second phrase exactly as McGonagall had repeated it.

    “Professor, what’s wrong?” Hermione’s voice asked. “Who is Tom Riddle?”

    “Where is he now, Harry?” McGonagall asked, recovering her composure though she still looked terrified. “Wait, it doesn’t matter yet. Poppy! This castle must be emptied now. Contact the Aurors. Tell them to take the students anywhere they can. Use brooms, Portkeys, the Floo… anything that gets them away from Hogwarts. Go!

    “Harry, where is he?”

    The thing walked up to one of the sinks and stared into the mirror above it. “Hello, Ginny,” it said. Its voice was lower and silkier than Ginny thought was possible.

    “Wait!” Harry said, closing his eyes again. “It’s talking to us.”

    “And hello to Harry, too, of course. I suspect you’re there.”

    What the hell is going on?

    The thing smiled. “You cannot imagine how surprised I was to learn your little secret. Surprised, but pleased.” It licked Ginny’s lips. “Very pleased.”

    Someone shook Harry’s shoulder. “Where is he?”

    “Quiet!” he snapped.

    “I had thought that I would only get to kill Harry Potter, you see,” the thing said, its voice conversational and almost cheerful. “That was all I wanted, and indeed I regret that I will not be able to do it directly. But no matter.”

    It pulled Ginny’s wand out of a pocket and held it next to Harry’s, studying them both. “I would never have thought that such a thing was possible,” it muttered. “Such power. Such convenient skills.” It looked into the mirror again, and Ginny could not help but meet its gaze. “They will be quite helpful to me, I think. It is a good bargain.”

    A strand of Ginny’s hair fell into its face, and it reached up clumsily to pull the stray locks aside. It miscalculated and jerked Ginny’s head to one side with a grimace, a few red strands falling to the floor.

    “Now, instead of simply killing Harry Potter, I will be able to use him. It is only fitting, really.” It paused, and another cruel smile spread over Ginny’s features. “Ah, yes. Yes, indeed. I will be able to use you, too, Ginny. We will become very close, you and I. Though you may find yourself somewhat… diminished.”

    The thing put Ginny’s wand back in its pocket and leaned over the sink, staring into the mirror. “Ginny and I are going to the Chamber of Secrets, Harry. Once we get there, we will wait for you. If you do not come, she will die. She will do anything I want her to do, you see.” It raised Harry’s wand, pointed it at Ginny’s temple, and said, “Avada Kedav—”

    Harry bellowed in horror as Ginny lunged forward uselessly, but the thing stopped suddenly. “I suspect you understand. If you do not come for her, she will die, and then you will wish you were dead. In fact, I think that after a while you might take your own life. But of course you will come, so we need not dwell on that. And you will both live, after a fashion.

    “You will come alone, Harry. As you will soon discover, you are the only one with the ability to enter the Chamber. Anyone who tried to accompany you would die, and it would be your fault. I am confident that you will find a way to come alone.” It grinned again. “Indeed, I know you will, because I know everything about you. I have been you.”

    Ginny and Harry remained perfectly still, transfixed by the thing’s words. “Pay close attention, Harry. If you do not know how to follow us, she will most certainly die. Ginny, follow closely so that he doesn’t miss anything.”

    It put Harry’s wand back in its pocket and leaned over the sink. With one thumb, it brushed the side of one of the taps, and Ginny saw something etched onto the pipe. She leaned closer and realised that it was a tiny snake, scratched deeply into the copper of the tap.

    The thing stared at the serpent and said, “Open.

    The tap suddenly glowed white and began to spin. As the thing waited calmly, the sink itself began to descend into the stone floor, revealing an opening in the wall behind. Inside, Ginny saw the end of a long, wide pipe.

    Someone patted Harry’s cheek forcefully, and his eyes flew open. Professor McGonagall was inches away. “Harry! I have to know where he is!”

    Harry squeezed his eyes closed and whispered. “He’s taking her to the Chamber of Secrets.”

    “Where? Where is it?”

    “I don’t know yet! I have to pay attention so I can find her!”

    The thing in Ginny’s body climbed into the end of the huge pipe feet first and quickly slid out of sight. Taking a deep breath to steady her nerves, Ginny herself climbed in after it and began to slide down the smooth metal tube. It twisted and curved, and smaller pipes branched off in all directions, but always the main pipe guided her further down into the ground beneath the castle.

    At last, Ginny flew out of the end of the pipe and tumbled across a stone floor littered with jagged debris. She came to a halt and raised her head. The thing was standing nearby with Harry’s wand lit, revealing a slimy stone tunnel with the pipe protruding at one end. The other end stretched out into the darkness.

    Ginny got to her feet and realised that the thing’s clothes now matched hers exactly. Every slimy smudge and ragged tear was the same. As Ginny noticed the damp, mucky ends of the thing’s hair and guessed that hers was identically filthy, the doppelganger started off down the tunnel.

    They walked for a long time, the only sound their damp footsteps squelching on the stone floor. The tunnel turned occasionally but did not branch, giving Ginny the feeling of being trapped in a deep, jagged pit. As they rounded a sharp corner, she spotted something long and thick lying across the floor. The creature ahead of her stepped over it without hesitation, but Ginny paused to examine it in the bobbing light of the wand. It looked like a giant rubber hose, with a mottled pattern of browns and greens scattered along its length.

    It’s the snake!

    Ginny leapt backwards, but then she realized that the creature was not moving. She took another step forward and saw that it was translucent, just as Hagrid’s Boomslang skin had been.

    This must be where it lives. Near the pipes, just like McGonagall said.

    In the fading light, Ginny looked for the ends of the monstrous skin, but she could not make them out in the darkness. The part she could see was at least ten feet long and as big around as a Quaffle.

    The light was almost gone, so Ginny abandoned the skin and ran further down the tunnel. She caught up with the thing and walked along behind it, trying not to look at the small bones and skulls that littered the floor of the passageway. After a few more minutes, the tunnel came to an abrupt end at a tall vertical wall. Two enormous snakes were carved into the stone, rearing up from the floor and facing each other like sentinels.

    The thing raised Harry’s wand high, and the polished eyes of the serpents glinted oddly in the white light. “Open,” it whispered again, and this time the sibilant echoes revealed that it was speaking Parseltongue, though its voice sounded normal to her.

    The snakes came alive, sliding away from each other towards the sides of the tunnel. The stone between them parted as well, separating until the entire wall had vanished. Beyond that opening, the passageway widened into a chamber nearly as wide as the Great Hall and much longer. The walls were broken by gargantuan columns that rose into the darkness towards a ceiling too high to see. Each column was adorned with hundreds of stone serpents, all carved from different colours of stone and wrapped tightly around the main column. Between the columns the walls were scabbed with huge patches of something that glowed a faint, sickly green. The muted light cast bizarre shadows among the carved snakes, making them look terribly real.

    The thing paused a few yards into the chamber. It whispered lovingly into the darkness. “If any living thing crosses this threshold without having given the command in Parseltongue, these will all awaken and attack. It is magnificent to see.”

    The chamber faded to absolute darkness for a moment and then brightened again in an instant. Ginny wondered if perhaps the thing’s light spell had failed somehow, but it did not seem to notice. Instead it proceeded down the length of the chamber, and Ginny followed it cautiously. On some level, she was sure that nothing could hurt her while she was inside a memory, but her doppelganger’s threats and the sheer malevolence of the place unnerved her.

    After a hundred yards or more, the hall widened and ended in a huge, round cavern. At the very back of the chamber stood a monumental statue of a wizard with a thin beard and almost non-human features. It towered over the room, seemingly prepared to raise one of its massive feet and crush anyone who dared to enter.

    The fake Ginny walked forward without hesitation and knelt directly in front of the statue. Then, inexplicably, it pulled the thin diary out of its pocket, opened it, and set the book flat on the floor at arm’s length. It raised its head and spoke loudly, its voice echoing against the stone. “In ten minutes she will be dead, Harry. Come before then, and perhaps you both will live.”

    As Ginny watched, the thing bent at the waist and lowered its head until its forehead was almost resting on the opened diary. The room was still and silent for a moment, and then Ginny felt herself flying upwards through the freezing darkness again. She tumbled, out of control, before falling a short distance and landing on her hands and knees on a stone surface. In a split second of clarity, she recognised the diary lying open a few inches from her face.

    Then her consciousness vanished, and Harry was alone again.

    “No!” he shouted. He tried to Shift to the underground chamber, tried to Shift her back to him, but he knew it was pointless. Her presence in his mind had faded into a taunting echo.

    “Where is he, Harry?” McGonagall yelled. “Where has he taken her?”

    He heaved himself sideways, rolling off of the bed and landing hard on his knees. “The Chamber… the Chamber of Secrets. I have to go and get her.” He lurched to his feet and staggered towards the doors, his arms and legs screaming as he forced them to move.

    “Harry, you can’t—”

    “Mr. Potter!”

    “Where is it, Harry? Tell us how to get there and we will find her.”

    Harry, no! You have to… wait! You… need help!

    “No!” he bellowed again. “If anyone else goes, you’ll die! It has to be me.”

    “Nonsense! You shouldn’t be moving at all. Let me help you, Harry!”

    “It’s no good, Minerva. Petrificus—”

    No!” Harry spun awkwardly, waving his arm through the air. Madam Pomfrey and Professor McGonagall fell over backwards, and Hermione tumbled off of her bed away from him. He fought for his balance and continued towards the door, heaving it open in front of him.

    “Harry, please!”

    “It has to be me. You have to stay.” He slammed the door closed behind him, leaning against it for a moment. “You have to stay, or you’ll die,” he said more softly. Then he banged his fist on the door. “You. Have. To. Stay!”

    The heavy wood of the door writhed and reformed into a solid wall of reddish brick, but Harry did not stay to marvel at it. He staggered down the corridor towards the stairs. When he reached them, he found that he could not balance well enough to climb them, so he crawled laboriously up two flights. There, he was able to regain his feet, and he ran as well as he could to the girls’ bathroom.

    “What are you doing here?” Myrtle yelled.

    Harry ignored her and leaned heavily against the sink with the serpent symbol. He focused on it and thought of the giant snake-skin below. “Open.”

    The sink slid out of the way, and Harry dived headfirst into the exposed pipe.

    Harry, you… mustn’t do this!

    He held his hands in front of his face to protect it and his glasses from the curves in the pipe, but he tried to let himself slide as quickly as possible. I have to save you. You can’t have gone through all of that for nothing!

    But you don’t… have a wand!

    So? It’s got something to do with that book, I know it has. All I have to do is get you out and destroy it.

    How? You can barely… hold yourself up, much less… carry me.

    If I can just wake you up, we can Shift right back to the hospital wing.

    Harry shot out of the end of the pipe and skidded a few yards along the slimy corridor. The tunnel was perfectly black, but he knew that he only needed to follow it in the direction he had tumbled. Holding tight to an outcropping in the wall, he pulled himself to his feet and staggered towards the huge chamber in the dark, leaning against the wall for support and guidance. Occasionally he fell, but he forced himself up again each time. When he slipped in the damp muck at the edge of the tunnel and could not regain his footing, he crawled until he could stand again.

    He tripped over the Basilisk’s skin, but he passed it without hesitation and finally reached the door to the chamber, where a faint green glow emanated from the walls. The enormous portal had closed, revealing its serpentine guardians, but he was already gasping the command as he approached. “Open!

    Harry fell again as he entered the Chamber of Secrets, and he had to use one of the stone snakes on a nearby column to pull himself up. The carved figure felt slightly warm under his fingers, and he snatched them away as soon as he could. Step by step and column by column, he lurched towards the statue at the end. When he could make out the bright red of Ginny’s hair, he broke into an agonizing jog and kept it up long enough to collapse next to her.

    Ginny was lying almost the same way she had been in her dormitory, with her legs partially folded and her torso sprawled over the diary. Harry propped himself up with one hand and grabbed her jumper in the other, using it to roll her towards him and away from the innocent-looking book. Her eyes were closed, and her face was horribly still.

    “Wake up,” he said breathlessly. “Come on, Ginny, you have to wake up.”

    I don’t think… I’m asleep, Harry.

    He reached for her hand, and as he squeezed it tightly in his own, he felt the familiar sense of power igniting and flowing between them. It was a dizzying sensation after the strain of his journey. The room spun around him, and Harry squeezed his eyes closed as he fell backwards, still clinging to Ginny’s hand. The disorienting sensation did not stop, however, and when he opened his eyes again he saw only a dim blur of dark green. Even that faded quickly, and he realised that the sound of his own breathing was becoming more distant. His eyelids sagged meaninglessly over his sightless eyes.

    After a few moments, Harry dragged his eyes open again. The dim chamber was visible once more, and he could hear his own quick, desperate breath. He raised a hand to rub his eyes and found that his glasses were gone. He focused on his hand and saw smaller, more delicate fingers than he expected. Blood trickled slowly across the palm from a cut at the wrist.

    “Harry?” she said aloud.

    Ginny.

    Her body ached, but it was the soreness of sliding down the long pipe and landing roughly at the bottom. She did not feel the painful tearing in all of her muscles that Harry had done due to his Petrification. She sat up easily and looked down at herself, finding her own body and tattered clothes. Turning, she saw Harry lying on his back in filthy hospital pyjamas, his eyes closed and his face pallid.

    What’s going on?

    I don’t…

    Someone laughed nearby, a short, sharp sound. Ginny looked up to see a boy a few years older than Harry standing several yards away. He stood next to the giant statue, rolling Harry’s wand in long, pale fingers. He smiled at her, and she recognised the terrifying, inhuman coldness of that expression. Ginny had seen it on her own face only a few minutes before.

    “Hello again, Ginny. It’s so nice of you to bring Harry for me. You needn’t watch him die, though.”

    Pressure against Ginny’s thigh told her that her own stubby wand was still in the pocket of her jeans. She prised it out and took aim at the boy, who had not moved. “Petrificus Totalus!” The light of the spell passed right through him and dissipated harmlessly against the wall of the cavern.

    “I’m afraid that won’t work, Ginny. In any case, you should save your energy. I might need it later.”

    She backed a few steps away from him, but she did not want to get too far from Harry. “What are you talking about? Who are you?”

    He stepped forward, his eyes fixed for a moment on Harry’s immobile face. “You have never understood the relationship you and he share, have you? Of course not. You have neither the need nor the ability. But you need to understand, Ginny. You need to know what is going to happen to you.

    “You and Harry are not connected. It is an easy thing to say, and perhaps it is comforting to some. But it is a lie. Instead, you share something. One thing that is for both of you, rather than two things which are connected.” He nodded encouragingly to her. “You’ve suspected as much, haven’t you?”

    Ginny could not help nodding in return. Could this malignant boy possibly be able to explain the truth of their existence?

    “Some wizards call it the soul, but that is a very clumsy term. Instead, let us call it… an essence. You have just one of these essences, and it is anchored to each of your bodies. It is what enables a wizard to do magic, and you have shown me that it is also where a wizard’s personality resides. Isn’t that interesting?”

    The boy stepped forward and held his hand out, palm down, over Harry’s chest. His fingers arched as though he were straining to spread them as widely as possible. When he spoke again, his voice had dropped to an enraptured whisper. “Right now, Harry’s body is under my control, just as yours was earlier. That lets me access the power of your essence, but it is not truly mine. The power is enough, though. It leads back to the anchor. It shows me where to find the place where the body and the essence meet.”

    The meaning of some of his words began to register for Ginny. “Wait… you’re Tom? Tom Riddle?”

    His face twitched, but he did not look up from his fascinated contemplation. “So much power,” he muttered. “Enough to create an entirely new body, if you have the ability. And then, I think, enough to move the anchor.”

    He raised his head and caught Ginny’s gaze, his pupils huge and dark. “Do you see, Ginny? Very soon, Harry will be gone, and I will have his connection to your essence. I will be his part of you. The power, the knowledge, the abilities… mine.”

    He can’t…

    Ginny froze, frantically searching her mind for any trace, any tiny fragment, which was not her or Harry. “You can’t do that,” she said in a choked whisper.

    “I believe that I can. And I believe that I am.”

    Harry?

    I’m here. I don’t… feel anything different.

    “No. It doesn’t work that way,” she said, shaking her head more to reassure herself than to persuade him. “It doesn’t work with only one of us.”

    “But that is the most fascinating thing, Ginny,” he replied flexing his fingers again. “Parts of it do work. When one of you is Petrified or even under another’s control, the power is still there. You’ve proved that over and over again. One little touch, even a brush of skin, and it comes forth. Your ‘Shifting’ doesn’t work, and your memories fade away, but those things are not as important as the power. Once I have the power, I can surely regain the rest.”

    Run, Ginny! He can’t… do that unless he… touch you.

    No! I’m not leaving you here.

    The boy — Tom — stepped over Harry’s body and leaned down to Ginny’s eye level. In spite of herself, she was momentarily transfixed by the sheer energy of his eyes. “And so you have a choice, little Ginny. You can accept me and share in the power. Share in the things I will accomplish. Help me to cleanse the wizarding race and ensure our rightful place in the world. You will find that I reward those who serve me well. Your life can be comfortable. Easy. You never have to hear another word of criticism and judgment. You can be what you are meant to be.”

    He paused, staring into Ginny’s eyes. She finally managed to blink, swallowed, and said, “Or?”

    His lips curled. “Or you can serve me anyway, but without any of the benefits. I do not need your trivial memories or your paltry skills. I only need the power, and that works perfectly when you are Petrified, does it not? It’s really quite simple. Once you are Petrified, as Harry was, I will shrink you until you fit in my pocket. You will never age or sicken, and the slightest touch will provide me the power I require.

    “People have always treated you like a pretty little doll, haven’t they? If you do not cooperate, then that is what you will become. And you will be mine.”

    Revulsion provided a fresh rush of adrenaline, and Ginny lashed out, kicking at one of his kneecaps as hard as she could. Her foot passed through his body, however, and she fell onto Harry’s outstretched arm. Power surged between them again, and she heard Tom’s ecstatic gasp above her.

    “By all means, Ginny, stay where you are. That will speed things up considerably.”

    She scrambled off of Harry’s body and moved well away.

    What do I do?

    Stall? He’s making a… body, right? So…

    So at some point I’ll be able to hex him. Right.

    “You can still hear him, can’t you?”

    Ginny looked up to find Tom watching her, a curious expression on his elegant features. She raised her chin defiantly. “Always.”

    “Or so you believe,” he said, grinning again. “Tell me, Ginny. Do you want to be a doll? A pretty toy for me to play with?”

    She tried to remain passive, but the idea horrified her so much that she found her head shaking by instinct alone.

    “Then your choice is easy. Join me willingly, and enjoy the life you deserve.”

    Keep him talking, Ginny! Say… anything.

    Ginny took two deep breaths, trying to make her voice work properly. “Wait… I… I don’t understand. Why are you trying to kill Harry? Why are you doing any of this?” She swallowed again. “I’ve never heard of Tom Riddle,” she said more quietly. “What did Harry ever do to you?”

    Tom’s calm broke, but he was not angry. Instead he threw back his head and laughed. His voice echoed around the chamber, the mocking sound ricocheting back to Ginny from every direction. Then, just as suddenly as he had begun, he stopped laughing. He leaned towards Ginny again and smiled. “You have never heard of Tom Riddle? Good, Ginny. That’s very good. Because he no longer exists.

    “Tom Riddle was a wizard. He was born to a witch, he went to Hogwarts, and he learned magic. He was very good at it. In fact, he learned so much that he discovered he did not need to be a man anymore. He could be something far, far greater than a destitute wizard with a ridiculous Muggle name. And so Tom Riddle ceased to exist. Oh, he left a bit of himself in a diary,” he nodded towards the little book still open on the ground, “but then he became someone else.”

    “But…” Ginny floundered for any sense in the boy’s words, anything she could say to keep him talking. “But you told me you were Tom Riddle. In that diary. You told Lockhart you were Tom Riddle.”

    “In certain circumstances, it is useful to revive the fiction. It would not do for anyone to understand too quickly, would it?” He straightened, exaggerating his height. “After all, people might be frightened if they knew that Lord Voldemort himself was loose in the school.”

    No! He’s not… he can’t… he’s just a spirit! He can’t be here!

    “Lord…” Ginny tried to repeat the name, but the instincts of her childhood froze her tongue.

    “Yes, Ginny. Tom Riddle became Lord Voldemort. He became me. And now, you are going to become part of me, too.” He stepped back towards Harry, and Ginny saw his shoe pass through Harry’s hand. He was not yet solid. “What is your choice, Ginny Weasley? Do you want to be a doll, or do you want to be a wizard?”

    Talk!

    “I… I’m not sure.” Ginny forced her mind to think past the reality of whom she was facing. “I don’t… how could you do that? The Basilisk was Petrifying people, not you. I don’t think you could do it.” She nodded firmly, hoping for bravado. “I think you’re bluffing.”

    “Stupid girl,” Voldemort breathed. “I have no need to lie. Yes, the Basilisk Petrified those people. But who do you suppose was controlling it? Who has the gift of Parseltongue, and who knows more than anyone about the secrets of Salazar Slytherin?”

    Ginny shook her head slowly, genuinely confused. He was in a book. How could he?

    “Stupid girls are easy to control, Ginny, as you should know. I could not control you at first, not when I was weak and you were strong, so I had you pass me to someone else. And then on and on, until I found someone who suited my needs. Someone lonely and pathetic enough to let me control them, even if they didn’t know it until much too late. Someone to release the Basilisk and tell it what I wanted it to do.”

    “There’s… there’s nothing in the books about Petrification. I read them.”

    The gleam of curiosity was back in the boy’s face. “You’re right. I don’t think anyone knew it was possible. But after the cat and the idiot boy survived, I knew that something different was happening. Something unknown. So I took the time to learn what it was. I conducted an experiment. My puppet told the Basilisk not to attack until it saw someone alone with a ghost. I admit to some surprise when they both survived, but it proved my theory, and I was confident that the Basilisk could still kill when necessary. I had no idea then that the Petrification effect would prove so useful.”

    Voldemort began to pace slightly in front of Harry’s body, but his shoes did not disturb the moisture on the stone floor. “Harry was supposed to die,” he said, frowning slightly. “I did not know how he had survived until I learned it from your memory. But his survival taught me so much, in the end, about the two of you. Without that, I would never have known about your peculiar abilities, and perhaps I would never have had the opportunity to control you. So, once again, events transpired in Lord Voldemort’s favour, as they so often do.”

    “And… and Hermione?”

    He sneered. “Your Mudblood friend was lucky, no more. She wandered into the path of the Basilisk when it was going to kill Harry. Unfortunately, she managed to scream before the Basilisk saw her. She will be the first to die when we leave this place.”

    “But… who was telling the Basilisk what to do? I…” Ginny sagged as she realized her mistake. “I lost track of the diary,” she said. “I just… let it go. I don’t even know who had it.”

    “Amusing, isn’t it? You were all so easy to manipulate.” He watched her for a moment in silence, and his face stilled into an inhumanly calm mask. “And you are trying to manipulate me, aren’t you? You think that by delaying, you’ll soon be able to attack Lord Voldemort and win? Foolish girl.”

    “Harry beat you,” Ginny said, gripping her wand more tightly.

    “Harry Potter was nothing!” Voldemort bellowed. “It was his mother who saved him. You said it yourself! And she is not here now because I killed her. Harry Potter is nothing!” He raised Harry’s wand and let its tip hover in front of Ginny’s throat. “I will be able to use magic against you before you are able to use it against me, Ginny. Now make your choice.”

    I don’t think he’s lying about that.

    Neither… do I.

    Ginny drew herself up to her full height, though she still barely reached his shoulder. “You know my choice, Voldemort.”

    He smiled, slowly and maliciously. “Of course I do, Ginevra. I know you as well as you know yourself. But I gave you a chance. Lord Voldemort’s gift in return for what he will take. Rejecting it proves you even more a fool. You are only fit to be a plaything, after all.”

    He spun to face the giant statue at the back of the chamber. His voice called out in ringing Parseltongue. “Speak to me, Slytherin, greatest of the Hogwarts Four!

    Far above their heads, the mouth of the enormous statue began to open. “Do not bother to run, Ginny,” Voldemort said. “The Basilisk only needs to see you.”

    A dark shape began to emerge from the statue’s open mouth, and Ginny reacted instantly. She tried one more time to hex Voldemort, but the spell had no effect. Then, her heart racing, she turned and sprinted out of the circular chamber. Behind her, Voldemort’s laughter mixed with the sound of something huge and heavy landing on the wet floor of the cavern.

    How’s he going to keep it from killing me?

    Who cares! How are we going to… Stop it?

    He’d have to put something between me and it. But there’s nothing on me that would help, and there’s nothing in the cave. Maybe some puddles, but not enough of them. He couldn’t count on that.

    Ginny!

    So it has to be something on the Basilisk. Like… goggles or something.

    She knew she was concentrating on the wrong problem, but her overtaxed mind could not change its tack.

    No one makes goggles for a giant snake, do they?

    Wait, Ginny! You’re right! You just need…

    … to cover its eyes! Just like he must’ve done. But how?

    Ginny reached the very end of the chamber, where the huge doors blocked her path. When her loud footsteps stopped echoing, she could hear the harsh rasp of scales against stone behind her. Desperate, she darted behind the last pillar on the left, putting it between her and the Basilisk.

    Do not bite!” Tom’s voice rang out. “You can have the boy once you’ve finished the girl!”

    Parseltongue. Open!

    Ginny looked up at the doors. “Open!” The enormous doors did not move.

    Put something over its head?

    But what?

    Erm. My jumper, maybe?

    You can’t get… close enough.

    I could… I could throw it.

    Once.

    Well, I need something!

    All she could think of was her jumper. She reached for its hem, trying to picture herself leaping from behind the column, eyes closed, throwing the jumper, and somehow knowing it had landed on the huge snake’s eyes. It was ludicrous.

    Maybe… levitate a rock?

    I’d have to see it to hit it with a small rock, and there aren’t any big enough that I could hit it throwing blindly. I’d need to throw something… something…

    The snake was close now. She thought it must be no more than two pillars away, and it sounded like it was already on her side of the huge corridor.

    Bugger!

    Ginny raised her left hand to cover her eyes and spun out from behind the column with her wand raised. “Farinam! Farinam! Farinam!”

    She pictured the largest, blackest balls of dough she could imagine. Big enough to fill the corridor, thick enough not to splatter apart on impact, and sticky enough to stay where they landed. “Farinam Farinam Farinam!”

    She cast the spell a dozen times, trying to aim for the sound of the snake’s progress. Then, finally, she heard a loud hiss mere feet away followed by something thrashing against one of the stone pillars. She cast the spell four more times, pointing right at the sound, and then threw herself back behind the last column.

    The thrashing sounds continued. Now or never.

    Go!

    Ginny leaned out from behind the pillar and raised her hand slowly, focusing on the floor as more and more of it became visible. Then she spotted the snake’s tail whipping around the corridor. When she realized that it was facing away from her, she moved her hand completely. The Basilisk, unbelievably long and as big around as her shoulders, was coated in black dough from its head to its midpoint. The dough on its body was crumbling and falling off as the powerful muscles flexed and coiled, but the layers on its head stayed in place.

    What now?

    Run! Get further… away! Then, again!

    Ginny darted across the end of the corridor and sprinted back towards the statue, giving the thrashing serpent a wide berth. Voldemort stood there, his face contorted with fury. “This way! Come this way!”

    The Basilisk coiled around and began to weave back towards Ginny. Its path started out fairly straight, but as it approached it veered off and brushed against a column.

    Ginny ran a few steps forward and cast again. “Farinam farinam farinam!”

    “Damn you!” Tom flicked Harry’s wand in her direction and red light spurted forth, but it faded out just a few feet from the wand. “This way!” he repeated in Parseltongue.

    Again the snake wound towards them, and this time it was properly aimed for the main chamber, guided by Voldemort’s voice.

    What do I do? This can’t last forever!

    Memory rushed to the front of Ginny’s mind for a split-second. She felt herself begin to shake slightly, but she nodded.

    Scrape it off!” Voldemort commanded. “Rub your head on the floor!”

    As the Basilisk clumsily began to do as it had been commanded, Ginny launched another set of dough-balls onto its head. Then she turned and dodged around Voldemort to Harry’s body. With her left hand, she reached down and gripped Harry’s elbow. Power erupted between them, and Voldemort turned towards her with a look of triumph. She aimed her wand through his body.

    “Ignis Caeruleus!

    A twenty-foot fireball erupted in the air, passed through Voldemort, and struck the writhing Basilisk just behind its midpoint. A third of its body evaporated instantly, and then the blue flames began to devour the huge serpent in both directions. It thrashed wildly, trying pitifully to escape the flames, but its motions were no more than the final, involuntary contractions of an animal that was already dead.

    Within seconds, the Basilisk’s immolation was complete. All that remained of it were a few vertebrae and a charred skull, its horrible mouth gaping and motionless. All around the chamber, smoke sizzled up from the stone of the walls and floor where flaming bits of its skin had flown free of its body.

    Rousing herself, Ginny released Harry’s hand and stood up, placing herself between him and Voldemort, who was still staring at the Basilisk. She waited, ready for anything he might do and prepared for none of it.

    “Impressive,” Voldemort said quietly. “I look forward to trying that myself.” He turned slowly and focused on Ginny, his eyes burning with hatred. “Perhaps on your Muggle-loving father.

    “But sadly, you will not be able to watch. You may have avoided the Basilisk’s gaze, but you have not changed your fate. Very soon I will be able to Petrify you myself. My version will not be as flawless as the Basilisk’s, but no matter. You will serve your purpose.”

    Ginny looked frantically around the chamber, hoping to find anything that might help her against Voldemort. The doors were locked somehow, and even with a levitation spell she would not be able to move Harry quickly. And, above all else, she needed to stop Voldemort from taking Harry’s place.

    Suddenly, she remembered Harry’s intent as he dragged himself down to the Chamber of Secrets to find her. Destroy the book.

    It lay on the floor, untouched in the chaos of the Basilisk’s death.  Hoping that Voldemort still could not stop her, she scooped it up and snapped it shut. Holding it in one hand, she cast a cloth-cutting charm on its cover. Nothing happened.

    Voldemort laughed, his voice higher and even colder than before. “You know nothing of magic, Ginny. Go ahead and try. Try to escape. Try to survive. You are already finished.”

    She spun in a circle, looking again for anything that might help her. She spotted the smoke rising from the Basilisk’s remains and dropped the diary to the ground. Backing up to stand nearly on Harry’s chest, she pointed her wand and concentrated. “Ignis Caeruleus.” A perfect fireball the size of her head engulfed the small book. For a moment it appeared to burn, and she looked up at Voldemort. His body wavered as though viewed through light fog, but then it solidified again. When she looked back at the diary, it was whole, and the fire was gone.

    Cursing, Ginny picked up the diary. It was not even warm in her hands.

    What do I do, Harry? It won’t cut, and it won’t burn. What’s left?

    A sudden sizzling sound drew her attention, and she saw a larger cloud of smoke rising from the Basilisk’s skull. She edged around Voldemort, who was still smirking at her, and crept closer.

    It’s not fire, Harry said.

    What…?

    Ginny did not want to get any closer to the corpse than she had to, but she peered through the shifting smoke. Thick, green liquid was oozing from the Basilisk’s fangs and slowly dripping onto the stone floor. Beneath each fang was a small crater, and more smoke rose each time the liquid dripped into the hole.

    It’s eating right through stone!

    Deadly venom, remember? It’s like… acid.

    Without stopping to think or give Voldemort time to react, Ginny took the diary in both hands, leaned over, and rammed it onto one of the exposed fangs. Voldemort gasped behind her, and when she looked over her shoulder she saw that his body had become translucent.

    Again!

    She pulled the diary free and saw a small hole in the cover. It was not large, but it was there. She yanked the book open and smashed it onto the fang with all of her weight behind it, forcing the sharp tooth through the spine from the inside.

    Voldemort howled. With a grunt of triumph and effort, Ginny wrenched the diary back off of the fang and then slammed it down again. Wanting to destroy it as completely as possible, she turned a few pages and then rammed the untouched parchment onto the poisonous fang as well. Over and over she pierced the book as Voldemort howled behind her. Finally, with another blow to the book’s spine, it tore completely in half, and the howling stopped.

    She looked around, her vision hazy from effort. Voldemort was gone. Harry’s wand lay untouched on the ground where he had been standing.

    You did it! Ginny, you did it!

    It’s never just me, she said, frantic energy giving way to exhaustion already.

    She stood up and moved towards Harry’s body, looking for any sign of consciousness. After her first step, she felt herself falling, and she hit the ground hard before she understood why.

    Ginny!

    Distantly, Ginny became aware of pain. She curled onto her side and looked down at herself. She saw a blotch of colour on the outside of her right arm, not far from the wound Voldemort had healed so clumsily. She brought her wrist closer to her face. There was a gash in her jumper which revealed a long, shallow scratch in her arm. The fabric was stained with blood, but beneath it her skin was darkening from pale ivory to blue, and then to purple. As she watched, lines of livid green began to spread from the wound through the darkened flesh, following her veins.

    Harry, I think I… I might have…

    Her arm fell to the ground, and her eyes fell closed.

    … deadly venom.

    ***

    Harry did not wake gradually. He heaved himself upright, ignoring the screaming pain in his muscles and the burning of Ginny’s flesh, and crawled towards her. With one spastic jerk, he ripped off the damaged sleeve of her jumper and threw it aside.

    Ginny!

    I think I…

    No! Ginny!

    The darkness of her skin had spread nearly to her elbow, and the livid green branches of her veins were not far behind. Slowly and inexorably, a thick line of green venom was spreading towards the crook of her arm. He put his hands around her thin forearm, trying to stop the progress of the poison, but it spread beneath his grip without slowing.

    We have to get you to Madam Pomfrey. She can fix it.

    I…

    Shift, Ginny!

    I’ll try.

    Harry concentrated and tried to send her there, but nothing happened. She was already unconscious, if not worse.

    “Ginny!” he shouted aloud. The venom was halfway up her arm now, and the largest of the green lines were growing more quickly. Thinking frantically of anything that might help, he snatched up the severed sleeve of her jumper and twisted it into a thick rope. Then he looped it around the middle of her upper arm and, bracing himself for the pain, cinched it as tightly as he could.

    He felt nothing.

    He left the crude rope knotted and watched for a few seconds. The purple stain was still spreading, but he thought it might not be moving as quickly.

    There was no one there but him, and he knew nothing of healing injuries. Out of sheer desperation, he snatched up his wand and tried the incantation Mrs. Weasley had used to cure their sunburns, but it had no effect.

    Try… cleaning it. Mum always says…

    He spotted a large puddle a few feet away. He tore off the other sleeve of Ginny’s jumper and threw himself forward, soaking the wool in water. Then he dragged himself back to her and squeezed the liquid out over her wound. The water steamed, and some of it flowed down her arm, but the discoloration did not fade.

    Use the water charm, Harry!

    Harry was crawling towards his wand when a huge impact echoed through the chamber. Looking down the corridor towards the sound, he saw dust rising near the huge doors.

    There’s someone out there! Don’t die, Ginny, there’s someone there!

    He forced himself onto his feet and staggered down the corridor. “Help! Help me, please!”

    Another boom shook the cave, and as its echoes faded he heard an amplified voice penetrating the thick doors. “HARRY!? GINNY!? OPEN, DAMN YOU!”

    The doors shook again. “Help us!” Harry shouted.

    “HARRY?”

    “Yes! Ginny… Ginny’s dying! I need help! Hang on, I’ll try to open the door!” He focused on the stone snakes all around the door. “Open!

    The doors began to slide open, whatever locked them having faded with Voldemort’s death. On the other side, wand raised, stood Professor McGonagall. She rushed forward, but Harry threw himself into the opening and collided with her to keep her out.

    “No! If you cross the threshold, the snakes will attack, and we’ll all die! You have to tell me how to help Ginny! Or… or I’ll bring her here, and you have to take her to Madam Pomfrey.”

    “Snakes?”

    “Thousands of them! See?” He waved behind him at the stone pillars covered in serpents. “You have to stay out or you won’t be able to help Ginny. Tell me what to do! Please, please!”

    “Very well, Harry,” McGonagall said, calming somewhat in the face of his frenzy. “What’s happened to her?”

    Harry took a deep breath and tried to explain coherently. “Basilisk venom. She scratched her arm on its fang. It’s not a big scratch, but her skin’s turning purple. And it’s got green lines in it. It’s all spreading! We have to stop it, right?”

    “Basilisk venom, Harry? Are you absolutely sure?”

    “Yes!”

    McGonagall’s face fell. “Harry… Harry, there is only one cure for Basilisk venom, and I don’t have it. I think it might be in the castle, but…”

    “Okay. I’ll bring her here, and you can take her. You can get back out, right?”

    “Yes, but…”

    Harry spun shakily, overbalanced, and fell to his hands and knees. He lurched into a rapid crawl and then hauled himself to his feet, staggering as he went.

    “Harry, no! You can’t move fast enough to save her! Do you understand? There’s no time! I’ll have to… I’ll send help, Harry. Stay with her. I’ll send help!” There was a faint rush of air, and then silence.

    Harry was focused on reaching Ginny, but he turned his head and saw that she had vanished. “I’m coming, Ginny,” he muttered. “Hang on.”

    He limped, stumbled, and crawled back to her. The ugly stain of the poison had nearly reached the ragged shoulder seam of her jumper. He tore the remains of the garment open down the front and watched as the green lines spread from her armpit onto her chest.

    Hang on, Ginny. Please, hang on.

    Okay.

    Harry thought that her voice in his mind was becoming weaker. He placed his palm flat over her heart. Straining to be still and quiet, he felt a weak pulse beneath his hand. He somehow knew that if the poison reached her heart or her head, then nothing would be able to save her. He kept his hand over her heart, counting its beats and willing them not to stop.

    You can’t die, Ginny. We just won. You can’t die now. You beat him!

    The poison covered her shoulder and began to branch in all directions, creeping across her collarbone, down her side, and across her chest towards her heart.

    I don’t know how to stop it, Ginny, he said, tears flowing down his cheeks onto her body. I can’t stop it. I’m so sorry.

    It’s okay, Harry. We stopped him. No one else has to hurt.

    Suddenly the greenish tinge of the chamber was replaced by bright yellow light. Harry looked up and saw Fawkes hovering above them, his body momentarily afire and his talons outstretched. Even as the flames faded, he tucked his wings and dove straight down towards Harry and Ginny. Harry instinctively moved to protect Ginny’s face, but Fawkes pulled out of his dive to land next to her injured forearm. Her entire arm and hand were completely purple, shot through with a complex web of sickly green. Her wrist had swollen to twice its normal size, and the blood that still oozed from the gash was thick and black.

    Fawkes gave a sharp cry that made Harry feel even worse than he already did, and then the beautiful bird turned his head sideways. Slowly, a tear dripped from his black eye and down his beak to drop onto the open wound. Ginny’s skin sizzled where it landed, but the steam that rose from the liquid was purest white. More tears fell, and as steam billowed around her arm, the swelling began to subside. Each point where a tear had landed was soon marked with a circle of healthy skin, and the circles began to expand.

    “It’s helping! Ginny, it’s helping!”

    The gash finally closed, and just as the poison had spread from it, so too did the antidote. Healthy, pale skin grew down towards Ginny’s bloated fingers and up towards the tourniquet Harry had placed on her arm. He quickly ripped it away, hoping that would help the antidote more than it helped the poison.

    He looked back towards Ginny’s chest. The cure was spreading quickly, but the poison had not yet stopped its advance. Ropes of green had reached Harry’s fingertips where they were splayed over her heart.

    “Fawkes!” he cried. “It’s almost to her heart!”

    The phoenix lifted his head, hopped into the space between Ginny’s arm and her body, and leaned over to nudge Harry’s hand until he moved it. Then, with a suddenness that barely permitted Harry to panic, Fawkes drove his beak into the skin above Ginny’s heart. Bright, fresh blood gushed up from the wound, but Fawkes immediately turned his head and let his tears fall directly into the opening.

    The new wound healed instantly, and the advancing tide of decay stopped. It began to shrink from both sides until it looked like nothing more than a vivid bruise on her shoulder.

    Then it was gone.

    Harry.

    Her voice was clear, and her mind was deep and rich with memory. Fawkes took to the air hurriedly as Harry flung himself over Ginny’s body, scooping her up in his arms and clutching her to him. Ginny!

    He felt her lungs expand beneath his arms, and he felt the pressure of his arms yield to the force of her breath. She gave a long sigh and felt it whisper along Harry’s neck. When they opened their eyes, they could at last see everything.

    “Thanks,” Ginny said. Her physical voice was tired, but it was her own.

    “Yeah,” he gasped. “It was really Fawkes, though.”

    She smiled against his cheek. “I know. I was there.”

    Fawkes trilled above them, and they both looked up to watch him. He swooped downwards again, more slowly this time, and landed on Ginny’s raised knee. He stretched his neck forward and looked into her left eye from a distance of only a few inches.

    Harry and Ginny gasped together as images burst forth from their minds. Ginny shouting and cursing at her family, trying to ignore the hurt in her father’s eyes. Screaming at Dumbledore on the school grounds. Standing in a circle of blackened earth behind The Burrow. Hiding with Harry at the pond, wishing and not wishing that someone would look for them. Casting Cheering Charms in secret. Hurling insults at Ginny’s family. Refusing to return Scabbers to his usual shape. Burning with anger at Dobby. Shouting at Hermione. Facing Dumbledore across a platform, hoping to humiliate him. Taunting Draco Malfoy. Staring down from the top of the Astronomy Tower.

    Ginny began to sob in Harry’s arms, but she could not look away from Fawkes’s glittering eyes.

    Wading through the ash of thousands of spiders, wanting nothing but to find more of them to kill. Refusing to eat simply because she could. Resenting Harry for his blissful distance from her suffering. Resenting Hermione for never, ever giving up on her, and then leading Hermione to her own Petrification. Telling everything to a diary and agreeing that her family had failed her. Almost, almost wanting the oblivion that Voldemort had offered.

    “I’m sorry,” she whispered through her tears. “I’m so sorry.”

    The torrent of images stopped, but Ginny kept crying. Now that she was herself again, she could not imagine how she had done the things she had while Harry was gone. Resenting her family was one thing, but giving up on them was unspeakably worse. And how could she ever face Hagrid again?

    “I’m sorry!” she wailed, burying her head in Harry’s shoulder as Fawkes finally looked away.

    Fawkes began to sing then, a quiet song that made them think of flying and carefree games in the summertime. Ginny and Harry both stopped crying and watched the phoenix, enraptured by his music. They could almost picture themselves alongside him, soaring through the sky for the simple joy of flight.

    On cue, Fawkes launched himself into the air, gave a final trill of exuberance, and disappeared in a flash of orange fire. As the light faded, a single, perfect tail feather fell gently into Ginny’s lap.

    5
    Average: 5 (2 votes)

    Comments

    Darkarma's picture

    What is this necromancy?

    5

    Sovran,
    I had almost lost hope. Instinct told me to be here and you posted up a chapter. Granted its not a new one but its enough to perk my interest. So what is the necromancy that ye practices?

    Do I dare hope that this

    Do I dare hope that this means a new chapter may be posted soon? I'd really love to be able to continue reading this story, it's still one of the best fanfics I've read.

    -SC

    Sovran's picture

    The rest of the story is in

    The rest of the story is in the works. I'm giving up on guessing when things will be posted, but I can at least say that the rest of Part Two has been written.

    NotACat's picture

    Good to hear from you!

    5

    I'll have to go back and catch up on the saga to date, but it's fantastic to see the story hasn't died ;-)

    One oddity: the alert email contains URLs which use IP addresses instead of "www.metafic.com" which I guess means something needs attention.

    Darkarma's picture

    Binge

    Guess it's time I do my one of my regular binge readings or re-readings in this case. Man I remember back when I was in community college refreshing the page nighly to see an update. Usually had pretty good timing then too.

    So Sovran have you been telepathing me all these years?

    That's good to hear. :-)

    That's good to hear. :-) though I guess there isn't much of Part Two left at this point.