"What d'you mean, I won't be -?"
"I've waited a long time for this, Harry Potter," said Riddle. "For the chance to see you. To speak to you."
"Look," said Harry, losing patience, "I don't think you get it. We're in the Chamber of Secrets. We can talk later -"
"We're going to talk now," said Riddle, still smiling broadly, and he pocketed Harry's wand.
Harry stared at him. There was something very funny going on here ....
"How did Ginny get like this?" he asked slowly.
"Well, that's an interesting question," said Riddle pleasantly. "And quite a long story. I suppose the real reason Ginny Weasley's like this is because she opened her heart and spilled all her secrets to an invisible stranger."
"What are you talking about?" said Harry.
"The diary," said Riddle. `My diary. Little Ginny's been writing in it for months and months, telling me all her pitiful worries and woes - how her brothers tease her, how she had to come to school with secondhand robes and books, how" -Riddle's eyes glinted "how she didn't think famous, good, great Harry Potter would ever like her . . . ."
All the time he spoke, Riddle's eyes never left Harry's face. There was an almost hungry look in them.
"It's very boring, having to listen to the silly little troubles of an eleven- year-old girl," he went on. "But I was patient. I wrote back. I was sympathetic, I was kind. Ginny simply loved me. No one's ever understood me like you, Tom .... I'm so glad I've got this diary to
confide in .... It's like having a friend I can carry around in my pocket . . . .
Riddle laughed, a high, cold laugh that didn't suit him. It made the hairs stand up on the back of Harry's neck.
"If I say it myself, Harry, I've always been able to charm the people I needed. So Ginny poured out her soul to me, and her soul happened to be exactly what I wanted .... I grew stronger and stronger on a diet of her deepest fears, her darkest secrets. I grew powerful, far more powerful than little Miss Weasley. Powerful enough to start feeding Miss Weasley a few of my secrets, to start pouring a little of my soul back into her. . ."
"What d'you mean?" said Harry, whose mouth had gone very dry.
" Haven't you guessed yet, Harry Potter?" said Riddle softly. "Ginny Weasley opened the Chamber of Secrets. She strangled the school roosters and daubed threatening messages on the walls. She set the Serpent of Slytherin on four Mudbloods, and the Squib's cat.
"No," Harry whispered.
"Yes," said Riddle, calmly. "Of course, she didn't know what she was doing at first. It was very amusing. I wish you could have seen her new diary entries ... far more interesting, they became .... Dear Tom," he recited, watching Harry's horrified face, `I think I'm losing my memory. There are rooster feathers all over my robes and 1 don't know how they got there. Dear Tom, l can't remember what 1 did on the night of Halloween, but a cat was attacked and I've got paint all down my front. Dear Tom, Percy keeps telling me I'm pale and I'm not myself. I think he suspects me... There was another attack todayand I don't know where I was. Tom, what am I going to do? I think I'm going mad... I think I'm the one attacking everyone, Tom!"
Harry's fists were clenched, the nails digging deep into his Palms.
"it took a very long time for stupid little Ginny to stop trusting her diary," said Riddle. "But she finally became suspicious and tried to dispose of it. And that's where you came in, Harry. You found it, and I couldn't have been more delighted. Of all the people who could have picked it up, it was you, the very person I was most anxious to meet . . . ."
"And why did you want to meet me?" said Harry. Anger was coursing through him, and it was an effort to keep his voice steady.
"Well, you see, Ginny told me all about you, Harry," said Riddle. "Your whole fascinating history. " His eyes roved over the lightning scar on Harry's forehead, and their expression grew hungrier. "I knew I must find out more about you, talk to you, meet you if I could. So I decided to show you my famous capture of that great oaf, Hagrid, to gain your trust -"
"Hagrid's my friend," said Harry, his voice now shaking. "And you framed him, didn't you? I thought you made a mistake, but -"
Riddle laughed his high laugh again.
"It was my word against Hagrid's, Harry. Well, you can imagine how it looked to old Armando Dippet. On the one hand, Tom Riddle, poor but brilliant, parentless but so brave, school prefect, model student ... on the other hand, big, blundering Hagrid, in trouble every other week, trying to raise werewolf cubs under his bed, sneaking off to the Forbidden Forest to wrestle trolls ... but Iadmit, even I was surprised how well the plan worked. I thought someone must realize that Hagrid couldn't possibly be the Heir of Slytherin. It had taken me five whole years to find out everything I could about the Chamber of Secrets and discover the secret entrance ... as though Hagrid had the brains, or the power!
"Only the Transfiguration teacher, Dumbledore, seemed to think Hagrid was innocent. He persuaded Dipper to keep Hagrid and train him as gamekeeper. Yes, I think Dumbledore might have guessed .... Dumbledore never seemed to like me as much as the other teachers did ......
"I bet Dumbledore saw right through you," said Harry, his teeth gritted.
"Well, he certainly kept an annoyingly close watch on me after Hagrid was expelled," said Riddle carelessly. "I knew it wouldn't be safe to open the Chamber again while I was still at school. But I wasn't going to waste those long years Id spent searching for it. I decided to leave behind a diary, preserving my sixteen-year-old self in its pages, so that one day, with luck, I would be able to lead another in my footsteps, and finish Salazar Slytherin's noble work."
"Well, you haven't finished it," said Harry triumphantly. "No one's died this time, not even the cat. In a few hours the Mandrake Draught will be ready and everyone who was Petrified will be all right again -"
"Haven't I already told you," said Riddle quietly, "that killing Mudbloods doesn't matter to me anymore? For many months now, my new target has been -you."
Harry stared at him.
"Imagine how angry I was when the next time my diary wasopened, it was Ginny who was writing to me, not you. She saw you with the diary, you see, and panicked. "What if you found out how to work it, and I repeated all her secrets to you? What if, even worse, I told you who'd been strangling roosters? So the foolish little brat waited until your dormitory was deserted and stole it back. But I knew what I must do. It was clear to me that you were on the trail of Slytherin's heir. From everything Ginny had told me about you, I knew you would go to any lengths to solve the mystery --
particularly if one of your best friends was attacked. And Ginny had told me the whole school was buzzing because you could speak Parseltongue ....
"So I made Ginny write her own farewell on the wall and come down here to wait. She struggled and cried and became very boring. But there isn't much life left in her .... She put too much into the diary, into me. Enough to let me leave its pages at last .... I have been waiting for you to appear since we arrived here. I knew you'd come. I have many questions for you, Harry Potter."
"Like what?" Harry spat, fists still clenched.
"Well," said Riddle, smiling pleasantly, "how is it that you a skinny boy with no extraordinary magical talent - managed to defeat the greatest wizard of all time? How did you escape with nothing but a scar, while Lord Voldemort's powers were destroyed?"
There was an odd red gleam in his hungry eyes now.
"Why do you care how I escaped?" said Harry slowly. "Voldemort was after your time ......
"Voldemort," said Riddle softly, "is my past, present, and future, Harry Potter . . . ."
He pulled Harry's wand from his pocket and began to trace it through the air, writing three shimmering words:
TOM MARVOLO RIDDLE
Then he waved the wand once, and the letters of his name rearranged themselves:
I AM LORD VOLDEMORT
"You see?" he whispered. "It was a name I was already using at Hogwarts, to my most intimate friends only, of course. You think I was going to use my filthy Muggle father's name forever? I, in whose veins runs the blood of Salazar Slytherin himself, through my mother's side? I, keep the name of a foul, common Muggle, who abandoned me even before I was born, just because he found out his wife was a witch? No, Harry - I fashioned myself a new name, a name I knew wizards everywhere would one day fear to speak, when I had become the greatest sorcerer in the world!"
Harry's brain seemed to have jammed. He stared numbly at Riddle, at the orphaned boy who had grown up to murder Harry's own parents, and so many others .... At last he forced himself to -,peak.
"You're not," he said, his quiet voice full of hatred.
"Not what?" snapped Riddle.
"Not the greatest sorcerer in the world," said Harry, breathing fast. "Sorry to disappoint you and all that, but the greatest wizard in the world is Albus Dumbledore. Everyone says so. Even when you were strong, you didn't dare try and take over at Hogwarts. Dumbledore saw through you when you were at school and he still frightens you now, wherever you're hiding these days -"
The smile had gone from Riddle's face, to be replaced by a very ugly look.
"Dumbledore's been driven out of this castle by the mere memory of me!" he hissed.
"He's not as gone as you might think!" Harry retorted. He was speaking at random, wanting to scare Riddle, wishing rather than believing it to be true
Riddle opened his mouth, but froze.
Music was coming from somewhere. Riddle whirled around to stare down the empty Chamber. The music was growing louder. It was eerie, spine-tingling, unearthly; it lifted the hair on Harry's scalp and made his heart feel as though it was swelling to twice its normal size. Then, as the music reached such a pitch that Harry felt it vibrating inside his own ribs, flames erupted at the top of the nearest pillar.
A crimson bird the size of a swan had appeared, piping its weird music to the vaulted ceiling. It had a glittering golden tail as long as a peacock's and gleaming golden talons, which were gripping a ragged bundle.
A second later, the bird was flying straight at Harry. It dropped the ragged thing it was carrying at his feet, then landed heavily on his shoulder. As it folded its great wings, Harry looked up and saw it had a long, sharp golden beak and a beady black eye.
The bird stopped singing. It sat still and warm next to Harry's cheek, gazing steadily at Riddle.
"That's a phoenix<span class="Apple-tab-span" style="white-space:pre"> </span>said Riddle, staring shrewdly back at it.
"Fawkes?" Harry breathed, and he felt the bird's golden claws squeeze his shoulder gently
"And that -" said Riddle, now eyeing the ragged thing that Fawkes had dropped, "that's the old school Sorting Hat -"
So it was. Patched, frayed, and dirty, the hat lay motionless at Harry's feet.
Riddle began to laugh again. He laughed so hard that the dark chamber rang with it, as though ten Riddles were laughing at once
"This is what Dumbledore sends his defender! A songbird and an old hat! Do you feel brave, Harry Potter? Do you feel safe now?"
Harry didn't answer. He might not see what use Fawkes or the Sorting Hat were, but he was no longer alone, and he waited for Riddle to stop laughing with his courage mounting.
"To business, Harry," said Riddle, still smiling broadly. "Twice - in your past, in my future - we have met. And twice I failed to kill you. How did you survive? Tell me everything. The longer you talk," he added softly, "the longer you stay alive."
Harry was thinking fast, weighing his chances. Riddle had the wand. He, Harry, had Fawkes and the Sorting Hat, neither of which would be much good in a duel. It looked bad, all right ... but the longer Riddle stood there, the more life was dwindling out of Ginny ... and in the meantime, Harry noticed suddenly, Riddle's outline was becoming clearer, more solid .... If it had to be a fight between him and Riddle, better sooner than later.
"No one knows why you lost your powers when you attacked me," said Harry abruptly. "I don't know myself But I know why you couldn't kill me. Because my mother died to save me. My common Muggle-born mother," he added, shaking with suppressed rage. "She stopped you killing me. And I've seen the real you, I saw you last year. You're a wreck. You're barely alive. That's where all your power got you. You're in hiding. You're ugly, you're foul -"
Riddle's face contorted. Then he forced it into an awful smile. "So. Your mother died to save you. Yes, that's a powerful countercharm. I can see now ... there is nothing special about you, after all. I wondered, you see. There are strange likenesses between us, after all. Even you must have noticed. Both half-bloods, orphans, raised by Muggles. Probably the only two Parselmouths to come to Hogwarts since the great Slytherin himself We even look something alike ... but after all, it was merely a lucky chance that saved you from me. That's all I wanted to know."
Harry stood, tense, waiting for Riddle to raise his wand. But Riddle's twisted smile was widening again.
"Now, Harry, I'm going to teach you a little lesson. Let's match the powers of Lord Voldemort, Heir of Salazar Slytherin, against famous Harry Potter, and the best weapons Dumbledore can give him . . . ."
He cast an amused eye over Fawkes and the Sorting Hat, then walked away. Harry, fear spreading up his numb legs, watched Ridthe stop between the high pillars and look up into the stone face of Slytherin, high above him in the half-darkness. Riddle opened his mouth wide and hissed - but Harry understood what he was saying ....
"Speak to me, Slytherin, greatest of the Hogwarts Four. "
Harry wheeled around to look up at the statue, Fawkes swaying on his shoulder.
Slytherin's gigantic stone face was moving. Horrorstruck, Harry 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. 3 1
Harry backed away until he hit the dark Chamber wall, and as he shut his eyes tight he felt Fawkes' wing sweep his cheek as he took flight. Harry wanted to shout, "Don't leave me!" but what chance did a phoenix have against the king of serpents?
Something huge hit the stone floor of the Chamber. Harry felt it shudder - he knew what was happening, he could sense it, could almost see the giant serpent uncoiling itself from Slytherin's mouth. Then he heard Riddle's hissing voice:
"Kill him. "
The basilisk was moving toward Harry; he could hear its heavy body slithering heavily across the dusty floor. Eyes still tightly shut, Harry began to run blindly sideways, his hands outstretched, feeling his way - Voldemort was laughing
Harry tripped. He fell hard onto the stone and tasted blood the serpent was barely feet from him, he could hear it coming
There was a loud, explosive spitting sound right above him, and then something heavy hit Harry so hard that he was smashed into the wall. Waiting for fangs to sink through his body he heard more mad hissing, something thrashing wildly off the pillars
He couldn't help it - he opened his eyes wide enough to squint at what was going on.
The enormous serpent, bright, poisonous green, thick as an oak trunk, had raised itself high in the air and its great blunt head was weaving drunkenly between the pillars. As Harry trembled, ready to close his eyes if it turned, he saw what had distracted the snake.
Fawkes was soaring around its head, and the basilisk was snapping furiously at him with fangs long and thin as sabers
Fawkes dived. His long golden beak sank out of sight and asudden shower of dark blood spattered the floor. The snake's tail thrashed, narrowly missing Harry, and before Harry could shut his eyes, it turned - Harry looked straight into its face and saw that its eyes, both its great, bulbous yellow eyes, had been punctured by the phoenix; blood was streaming to the floor, and the snake was spitting in agony.
"NO!" Harry heard Riddle screaming. "LEAVE THE BIRD! LEAVE THE BIRD! THE BOY IS BEHIND YOU. YOU CAN STILL SMELL HIM. KILL HIMI"
The blinded serpent swayed, confused, still deadly. Fawkes was circling its head, piping his eerie song, jabbing here and there at its scaly nose as the blood poured from its ruined eyes.
"Help me, help me," Harry muttered wildly, "someone - anyone
The snake's tail whipped across the floor again. Harry ducked. Something soft hit his face.
The basilisk had swept the Sorting Hat into Harry's arms. Harry seized it. It was all he had left, his only chance - he rammed it onto his head and threw himself flat onto the floor as the basilisk's tail swung over him again.
Help me - help me - Harry thought, his eyes screwed tight under the hat. Please help me
There was no answering voice. Instead, the hat contracted, as though an invisible hand was squeezing it very tightly.
Something very hard and heavy thudded onto the top of Harry's head, almost knocking him out. Stars winking in front of his eyes, he grabbed the top of the hat to pull it off and felt something long and hard beneath it.
A gleaming silver sword had appeared inside the hat, its handle glittering with rubies the size of eggs.
"KILL THE BOY! LEAVE THE BIRD! THE BOY IS BEHIND YOU. SNIFF -- SMELL HIM."
Harry was on his feet, ready. The basilisk's head was falling, its body coiling around, hitting pillars as it twisted to face him. He could see the vast, bloody eye sockets, see the mouth stretching wide, wide enough to swallow him whole, lined with fangs long as his sword, thin, glittering, venomous -
It lunged blindly -- Harry dodged and it hit the Chamber wall. It lunged again, and its forked tongue lashed Harry's side. He raised the sword in both his hands -
The basilisk lunged again, and this time its aim was true -- Harry threw his whole weight behind the sword and drove it to the hilt into the roof of the serpent's mouth -
But as warm blood drenched Harry's arms, he felt a searing pain just above his elbow. One long, poisonous fang was sinking deeper and deeper into his arm and it splintered as the basilisk keeled over sideways and fell, twitching, to the floor.
Harry slid down the wall. He gripped the fang that was spreading poison through his body and wrenched it out of his arm. But he knew it was too late. White-hot pain was spreading slowly and steadily from the wound. Even as he dropped the fang and watched his own blood soaking his robes, his vision went foggy. The Chamber was dissolving in a whirl of dull color.
A patch of scarlet swam past, and Harry heard a soft clatter of claws beside him.
"Fawkes," said Harry thickly. "You were fantastic, Fawkes . . . ."
He felt the bird lay its beautiful head on the spot where the serpent's fang had pierced him.
He could hear echoing footsteps and then a dark shadow moved in front of him.
"You're dead, Harry Potter," said Riddle's voice above him. "Dead. Even Dumbledore's bird knows it. Do you see what he's doing, Potter? He's crying."
Harry blinked. Fawke's head slid in and out of focus. Thick, pearly tears were trickling down the glossy feathers.
"I'm going to sit here and watch you die, Harry Potter. Take your time. I'm in no hurry."
Harry felt drowsy. Everything around him seemed to be spinning.
"So ends the famous Harry Potter," said Riddle's distant voice. "Alone in the Chamber of Secrets, forsaken by his friends, defeated at last by the Dark Lord he so unwisely challenged. You'll be back with your dear Mudblood mother soon, Harry... She bought you twelve years of borrowed time ... but Lord Voldemort got you in the end, as you knew he must . . . ."
If this is dying, thought Harry, it's not so bad.
Even the pain was leaving him ....
But was this dying? Instead of going black, the Chamber seemed to be coming back into focus. Harry gave his head a little shake and there was Fawkes, still resting his head on Harry's arm. A pearly patch of tears was shining all around the wound -- except that there was no wound
"Get away, bird," said Riddle's voice suddenly. "Get away from him - I said, get away --"
Harry raised his head. Riddle was pointing Harry's wand at
Fawkes; there was a bang like a gun, and Fawkes took flight again in a whirl of gold and scarlet.
"Phoenix tears. - ." said Riddle quietly, staring at Harry's arm. "Of course ... healing powers ... I forgot. . ."
He looked into Harry's face. "But it makes no difference. In fact, I prefer it this way. Just you and me, Harry Potter ... you and me....
He raised the wand
Then, in a rush of wings, Fawkes had soared back overhead and something fell into Harry's lap -- the diary.
For a split second, both Harry and Riddle, wand still raised, stared at it. Then, without thinking, without considering, as though he had meant to do it all along, Harry seized the basilisk fang on the floor next to him and plunged it straight into the heart of the book.
There was a long, dreadful, piercing scream. Ink spurted out of the diary in torrents, streaming over Harry's hands, flooding the floor. Riddle was writhing and twisting, screaming and flailing and then
He had gone. Harry's wand fell to the floor with a clatter and there was silence. Silence except for the steady drip drip of ink still oozing from the diary. The basilisk venom had burned a sizzling hole right through it.
Shaking all over, Harry pulled himself up. His head was spinning as though he'd just traveled miles by Floo powder. Slowly, he gathered together his wand and the Sorting Hat, and, with a huge tug, retrieved the glittering sword from the roof of the basilisk's mouth.
Then came a faint moan from the end of the Chamber. Ginny was stirring. As Harry hurried toward her, she sat up. Her bemusedeyes traveled from the huge form of the dead basilisk, over Harry, in his blood-soaked robes, then to the diary in his hand. She drew a great, shuddering gasp and tears began to pour down her face.
"Harry -- oh, Harry -- I tried to tell you at b-breakfast, but I c-couldn't say it in front of Percy -- it was me, Harry -- but I -- I s-swear I d- diddt mean to -- R-Riddle made me, he t-took me over -- and - how did you kill that -- that thing? W-where's Riddle? The last thing I r- remember is him coming out of the diary --"
" It's all right," said Harry, holding up the diary, and showing Ginny the fang hole, "Riddle's finished. Look! Him and the basilisk. C'mon, Ginny, let's get out of here --"
"I'm going to be expelled!" Ginny wept as Harry helped her awkwardly to her feet. "I've looked forward to coming to Hogwarts ever since B-Bill came and n-now I'll have to leave and -- w-what'll Mum and Dad say?"
Fawkes was waiting for them, hovering in the Chamber entrance. Harry urged Ginny forward; they stepped over the motionless coils of the dead basilisk, through the echoing gloom, and back into the tunnel. Harry heard the stone doors close behind them with a soft hiss.
After a few minutes' progress up the dark tunnel, a distant sound of slowly shifting rock reached Harry's ears.
"Ron!" Harry yelled, speeding up. "Ginny's okay! I've got her!"
He heard Ron give a strangled cheer, and they turned the next bend to see his eager face staring through the sizable gap he had managed to make in the rock fall.
"Ginny!" Ron thrust an arm through the gap in the rock to pullher 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 Harry, squeezing through himself
"How come you've got a sword?" said Ron, gaping at the glittering weapon in Harry's hand.
"I'll explain when we get out of here," said Harry with a sideways glance at Ginny, who was crying harder than ever.
"Later," Harry 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."
Led by Fawkes, whose wide scarlet wings emitted a soft golden glow in the darkness, they walked all the way back to the mouth of the pipe. Gilderoy Lockhart was sitting there, humming placidly to himself.
"His memory's gone," said Ron. "The Memory Charm backfired. Hit him instead of us. Hasn't got a clue who he is, or where he is, or who we are
. I told him to come and wait here. He's a danger to himself"
Lockhart peered good-naturedly up at them all.
"Hello," he said. "Odd sort of place, this, isn't it? Do you live here?"
"No," said Ron, raising his eyebrows at Harry.
Harry bent down and looked up the long, dark pipe.
"Have you thought how we're going to get back up this?" he said to Ron.
Ron shook his head, but Fawkes the phoenix had swooped past Harry and was now fluttering in front of him, his beady eyes bright in the dark. He was waving his long golden tail feathers. Harry looked uncertainly at him.
"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 -"
"Fawkes," said Harry, "isn't an ordinary bird." He turned quickly to the others. "We've got to hold on to each other. Ginny, grab Ron's hand. Professor Lockhart --"
"He means you," said Ron sharply to Lockhart.
"You hold Ginny's other hand --"
Harry tucked the sword and the Sorting Hat into his belt, Ron took hold of the back of Harry's robes, and Harry reached out and took hold of Fawkes's strangely hot tail feathers.
An extraordinary lightness seemed to spread through his whole body and the next second, in a rush of wings, they were flying upward through the pipe. Harry could hear Lockhart dangling below him, saying, "Amazing! Amazing! This is just like magic!" The chill air was whipping through Harry's hair, and before he'd stopped enjoying the ride, it was over -- all four of them were hitting the wet floor of Moaning Myrtle's bathroom, and as Lockhart straightened his hat, the sink that hid the pipe was sliding back into place.
Myrtle goggled at them.
"You're alive," she said blankly to Harry.
"There's no need to sound so disappointed," he said grimly, wiping flecks of blood and slime off his glasses.
"Oh, well ... Id just been thinking ... if you had died, you'd have been welcome to share my toilet," said Myrtle, blushing silver.
"Urgh!" said Ron as they left the bathroom for the dark, deserted corridor outside. "Harry! I think Myrtle's grown fond of you! You've got competition, Ginny!"
But tears were still flooding silently down Ginny's face.
"Where now?" said Ron, with an anxious look at Ginny. Harry pointed.
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.
G F-I A P T E IR
k' I G 14 T V V N
or a moment there was silence as Harry, Ron, Ginny, and Lockhart stood in the doorway, covered in muck and slime and (in Harry's case) blood. Then there was a scream.
It was Mrs. Weasley, who had been sitting crying in front of the fire. She leapt to her feet, closely followed by Mr. Weasley, and both of them flung themselves on their daughter.
Harry, 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 Harry's ear and settled on Dumbledore's shoulder, just as Harry found himself and Ron being swept into Mrs. Weasleys 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.
Mrs. Weasley let go of Harry, who hesitated for a moment, then walked over to the desk and laid upon it the Sorting Hat, the rubyencrusted sword, and what remained of Riddle's diary.
Then he started telling them everything. For nearly a quarter of an hour he spoke into the rapt silence: He told them about hearing the disembodied voice, how Hermione had finally realized that he was hearing a basilisk in the pipes; how he and Ron had followed the spiders into the forest, that Aragog had told them where the last victim of the basilisk had died; how he had guessed that Moaning Myrtle had been the victim, and that the entrance to the Chamber of Secrets might be in her bathroom ....
"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?"
So Harry, his voice now growing hoarse from all this talking, told them about Fawkes's timely arrival and about the Sorting Hat giving him the sword. But then he faltered. He had so far avoided mentioning Riddle's diary -- or Ginny. She was standing with her head against Mrs. Weasley's shoulder, and tears were still coursing silently down her cheeks. What if they expelled her? Harry thought in panic. Riddle's diary didn't work anymore .... How could they prove it had been he who'd made her do it all?
Instinctively, Harry looked at Dumbledore, who smiled faintly, the firelight glancing off his half-moon spectacles.
"\What interests me most," said Dumbledore gently, "is how Lord Voldemort managed to enchant Ginny, when my sources tell me he is currently in hiding in the forests of Albania."
Relief -- warm, sweeping, glorious relief -- swept over Harry. "W- what's that?" said Mr. Weasley in a stunned voice. "YouKnow-Who? En-enchant Ginny? But Ginny's not ... Ginny hasn't been ... has she?"
"It was this diary," said Harry quickly, picking it up and showing it to Dumbledore. "Riddle wrote it when he was sixteen . . . ."
Dumbledore took the diary from Harry and peered keenly down his long, crooked nose at its burnt and soggy pages.
"Brilliant," he said softly. "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. "What's our Ginny got to do with - with -- him?"
"His d-diaryl" Ginny sobbed. "I've b-been writing in it, and he's been w-writing back all year --"
"tinny!" 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 ='
"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 Hermione's okay!" said Ron brightly.
"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 and Weasley, shall I?"
"Certainly," said Dumbledore.
She left, and Harry and Ron gazed uncertainly at Dumbledore. What exactly had Professor McGonagall meant, deal with them? Surely - surely - they weren't about to be punished?
"I seem to remember telling you both that I would have to expel you if you broke any more school rules, said Dumbledore.
Ron opened his mouth in horror.
"Which goes to show that the best of us must sometimes eat our words," Dumbledore went on, smiling. "You will both receive Special Awards for Services to the School and -- let me see - yes, I think two hundred points apiece for Gryffindor."
Ron went as briglitly pink as Lockhart's valentine flowers and closed his mouth again.
"But one of us seems to be keeping mightily quiet about his part in this dangerous adventure," Dumbledore added. "Why so modest, Gilderoy?"
Harry gave a start. He had completely forgotten about Lockhart. 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.
"Professor Dumbledore," Ron said quickly, "there was an accident down in the Chamber of Secrets. Professor Lockhart --"
"Am I a professor?" said Lockhart in mild surprise. "Goodness. I expect I was hopeless, was I?"
"He tried to do a Memory Charm and the wand backfired," Ron explained quietly to Dumbledore.
"Dear me," said Dumbledore, shaking his head, his long silver mustache quivering. "Impaled upon your own sword, Gilderoy!"
"Sword?" said Lockhart dimly. "Haven't got a sword. That boy has, though." He pointed at Harry. "He'll lend you one."
"Would you mind taking Professor Lockhart up to the infirmary, too?" Dumbledore said to Ron. "Id like a few more words with Harry .....
Lockhart ambled out. Ron cast a curious look back at Dumbledore and Harry as he closed the door.
Dumbledore crossed to one of the chairs by the fire.
"Sit down, Harry," he said, and Harry sat, feeling unaccountably nervous.
"First of all, Harry, 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."
He stroked the phoenix, which had fluttered down onto his knee. Harry grinned awkwardly as Dumbledore watched him.
"And so you met Tom Riddle," said Dumbledore thoughtfully. "I imagine he was most interested in you . . . . "
Suddenly, something that was nagging at Harry came tumbling out of his mouth.
"Professor Dumbledore ... Riddle said I'm like him. Strange likenesses, he said ......
"Did he, now?" said Dumbledore, looking thoughtfully at Harry from under his thick silver eyebrows. "And what do you think, Harry?"
"I don't think I'm like him!" said Harry, more loudly than he'd intended. "I mean, I'm -- I'm in Gryffindor, I'm . . ."
But he fell silent, a lurking doubt resurfacing in his mind.
"Professor," he started again after a moment. "The Sorting Hat told me Id -- Id have done well in Slytherin. Everyone thought I was Slytherin's heir for a while ... because I can speak Parseltongue ....
"You can speak Parseltongue, Harry," said Dumbledore calmly, "because Lord Voldemort -- who is the last remaining ancestorof 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 ....
"Voldemort put a bit of himself in me?" Harry said, thunderstruck.
"It certainly seems so."
"So I should be in Slytherin," Harry said, looking desperately into Dumbledore's face. "The Sorting Hat could see Slytherin's power in me, and it --"
"Put you in Gryffindor," said Dumbledore calmly. "Listen to me, Harry. You happen to have many qualities Salazar Slytherin prized in his hand- picked students. His own very rare gift, Parseltongue - resourcefulness - determination -- a certain disregard for rules," he added, his mustache quivering again. "Yet the Sorting Hat placed you in Gryffindor. You know why that was. Think."
"It only put me in Gryffindor," said Harry in a defeated voice, "because I asked not to go in Slytherin . . . ."
`Exactly, "said Dumbledore, beaming once more. "Which makes you very different from Tom Riddle. It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities." Harry sat motionless in his chair, stunned. "If you want proof, Harry, that you belong in Gryffindor, I suggest you look more closely at this."
Dumbledore reached across to Professor McGonagall's desk, picked up the blood-stained silver sword, and handed it to Harry. Dully, Harry turned it over, the rubies blazing in the firelight. And then he saw the name engraved just below the hilt.
"Only a true Gryffindor could have pulled that out of the hat, Harry," said Dumbledore simply.
For a minute, neither of them spoke. Then Dumbledore pulled open one of the drawers in Professor McGonagall's desk and took out a quill and a bottle of ink.
What you need, Harry, is some food and sleep. I suggest you go down to the feast, while I write to Azkaban -- we need our gamekeeper back. And I must draft an advertisement for the Daily Prophet, too," he added thoughtfully. "We'll be needing a new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher... Dear me, we do seem to run through them, don't we?"
Harry got up and crossed to the door. He had just reached for the handle, however, when the door burst open so violently that it bounced back off the wall.
Lucius Malfoy stood there, fury in his face. And cowering behind his legs, heavily wrapped in bandages, was Dobby.
"Good evening, Lucius," said Dumbledore pleasantly.
Mr. Malfoy almost knocked Harry over as he swept into the room. Dobby went scurrying in after him, 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. Malfoys 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 Weasleys 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. Harry, however, was watching Dobby.
The elf was doing something very odd. His great eyes fixed meaningfully on Harry, he kept pointing at the diary, then at Mr. Malfoy, and then hitting himself hard on the head with his fist.
"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 Harry here" --Mr. Malfoy shot Harry a swift, sharp look -- "and his friend Ron hadn't discovered this book, why -- Ginny Weasley might have taken allthe 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 masklike.
"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.
And still, behind his back, Dobby was pointing, first to the diary, then to Lucius Malfoy, then punching himself in the head.
And Harry suddenly understood. He nodded at Dobby, and Dobby backed into a corner, now twisting his ears in punishment.
"Don't you want to know how Ginny got hold of that diary, Mr. Malfoy?" said Harry.
Lucius Malfoy rounded on him.
"How should I know how the stupid little girl got hold of it?" he said.
"Because you gave it to her," said Harry. "In Flourish and Blotts. You picked up her old Transfiguration book and slipped the diary inside it, didn't you?"
He saw Mr. Malfoy's white hands clench and unclench.
"Prove it," he hissed.
"Oh, no one will be able to do that," said Dumbledore, smiling at Harry. "Not now that Riddle has vanished from the book. Onthe 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 ......
Lucius Malfoy stood for a moment, and Harry 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. Harry stood for a moment, thinking hard. Then it came to him -
"Professor Dumbledore," he said hurriedly. "Can I give that diary back to Mr. Malfoy, please?"
"Certainly, Harry," said Dumbledore calmly. "But hurry. The feast, remember ......
Harry grabbed the diary and dashed out of the office. He could hear Dobby's squeals of pain receding around the corner. Quickly, wondering if this plan could possibly work, Harry took off one of his shoes, pulled off his slimy, filthy sock, and stuffed the diary into it. Then he ran down the dark corridor.
He caught up with them at the top of the stairs.
"Mr. Malfoy," he gasped, skidding to a halt, "I've got something for you --"
And he forced the smelly sock into Lucius Malfoy's hand.
")What the --?"
Mr. Malfoy ripped the sock off the diary, threw it aside, then looked furiously from the ruined book to Harry.
You'll meet the same sticky end as your parents one of these days, Harry 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 Harry's disgusting, slimy sock, and looking at it as though it were a priceless treasure.
"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 Harry.
"You've lost me my servant, boy!"
But Dobby shouted, "You shall not harm Harry 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 Harry Potter. 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.
"Harry Potter freed Dobby!" said the elf shrilly, gazing up at Harry, moonlight from the nearest window reflected in his orb-like eyes. "Harry Potter set Dobby free!"
"Least I could do, Dobby," said Harry, grinning. "Just promise never to try and save my life again."
The elf's ugly brown face split suddenly into a wide, toothy smile.
"I've just got one question, Dobby," said Harry as Dobby pulled on Harry's sock with shaking hands. "You told me all this had nothing to do with He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, remember? Well --"
"It was a clue, sir," said Dobby, his eyes widening, as though this was obvious. "Was giving you a clue. The Dark Lord, before he changed his name, could be freely named, you see?"
"Right," said Harry weakly. "Well, Id better go. There's a feast, and my friend Hermione should be awake by now .....
Dobby threw his arms around Harry's middle and hugged him.
"Harry Potter is greater by far than Dobby knew!" he sobbed. "Farewell, Harry Potter!"
And with a final loud crack, Dobby disappeared.
Harry had been to several Hogwarts feasts, but never one quite like this. Everybody was in their pajamas, and the celebration lasted all night. Harry didn't know whether the best bit was Hermione running toward him, screaming "You solved it! You solved it!" or Justin hurrying over from the Hufflepuff table to wring. his hand and apologize endlessly for suspecting him, or Hagrid turning up at half past three, cuffing Harry and Ron so hard on the shoulders that they were knocked into their plates of trifle, or his and Ron's four hundred points for Gryffindor securing the House Cup for the second year running, or Professor McGonagall standing up totell 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."
The rest of the final term passed in a haze of blazing sunshine. Hogwarts was back to normal with only a few, small differences - Defense Against the Dark Arts classes were canceled ("but we've had plenty of practice at that anyway," Ron told a disgruntled Hermione) and Lucius Malfoy had been sacked as a school governor. Draco was no longer strutting around the school as though he owned the place. On the contrary, he looked resentful and sulky. On the other hand, Ginny Weasley was perfectly happy again.
Too soon, it was time for the journey home on the Hogwarts Express. Harry, Ron, Hermione, Fred, George, and Ginny got a compartment to themselves. They made the most of the last few hours in which they were allowed to do magic before the holidays. They played Exploding Snap, set off the very last of Fred and George's Filibuster fireworks, and practiced disarming each other by magic. Harry was getting very good at it.
They were almost at King's Cross when Harry remembered something.
"Ginny - what did you see Percy doing, that he didn't want you to tell anyone?"
"Oh, that," said Ginny, giggling. "Well - Percy's got a girlfriend." Fred dropped a stack of books on George's head.
"It's that Ravenclaw prefect, Penelope Clearwater," said Ginny. "That's who he was writing to all last summer. He's been meeting her all over the school in secret. I walked in on them kissing in an empty classroom one day. He was so upset when she was -- you know - attacked. You won't tease him, will you?" she added anxiously.
"Wouldn't dream of it," said Fred, who was looking like his birthday had come early.
"Definitely not," said George, sniggering.
The Hogwarts Express slowed and finally stopped.
Harry pulled out his quill and a bit of parchment and turned to Ron and Hermione.
"This is called a telephone number," he told Ron, scribbling it twice, tearing the parchment in two, and handing it to them. "I told your dad how to use a telephone last summer - he'll know. Call me at the Dursleys', okay? I can't stand another two months with only Dudley to talk to ......
"Your aunt and uncle will be proud, though, won't they?" said Hermione as they got off the train and joined the crowd thronging toward the enchanted barrier. "When they hear what you did this year?"
"Proud?" said Harry. "Are you crazy? All those times I could've died, and I didn't manage it? They'll be furious ......
And together they walked back through the gateway to the Muggle world. '