Harry Potter and the Ashes of Chaos
Year 2: The Sacrificial Slytherin
Chapter 32: Solving Riddles
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June 4, 1993
A Tower Overlooking the Sea
“Did you now?” asked Albus, looking at his old friend and enemy with a deep frown and raised brow.
Grindelwald’s lips twitched. “Come now, Albus, surely you have not forgotten my many talents after all these years.”
“I have not,” said Albus, “though I do wonder whether it was merely a prediction on your part as opposed to something truly prophetic.”
“Who says it was not both?”
Albus seemed to think about that, obviously coming to the conclusion it might well have been both. “I suppose it matters not,” he decided. “I am not here for a reunion, I am afraid, nor am I here for a jailbreak.” Grindelwald snorted. “I have come for information. Whether you pass it to me or I find it elsewhere matters not, though I would, of course, appreciate candidness on your part.”
“Information,” drawled Grindelwald. “Tell me, what could the great and mighty Albus Dumbledore possibly not know? What facet of life or magic could plausibly baffle my defeater? The Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot, the Supreme Mugwump of the International Confederation of Warlocks, and all of the other titles you so proudly flaunt.”
“Information that you specialize in, as a matter of fact.” Dumbledore’s voice was perfectly pleasant despite Grindelwald’s taunts. “Information that is of the utmost importance. It is paramount that I learn of it. Whether from you or another.”
“Ask your question then,” Grindelwald acquiesced with narrowed eyes.
“Very well, I shall deliberate no longer. I am here to ask you about Chaos Magic.”
Meanwhile, back at Hogwarts…
“FULL LOCKDOWN IS IN EFFECT INDEFINITELY! ALL CLASSES ARE CANCELLED UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE! ALL STUDENTS ARE TO REMAIN IN THEIR COMMON ROOMS! THEY ARE NOT TO LEAVE UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES! FURTHER INFORMATION WILL BE PROVIDED BY YOUR HEADS OF HOUSE SHORTLY! THANK YOU!”
Muttering immediately erupted in the Gryffindor common room, spreading and consuming all present as if it were a raging wildfire. The volume rose around the room, as did the urgency with which the hasty words were uttered. It was clear to all present that something had changed. Something likely of great significance, and therefore, most probably, related to the Heir of Slytherin.
In a far corner of the room, shrouded somewhat in shadow, two second-year students sat with deep looks of concern marring their features.
“What do you think has happened?” asked the first; a girl with large front teeth and bushy brown hair.
The second ran a twitching hand through his jet-black hair and fidgeted intensely. “It’s gotta be something involving the Heir,” said Charlus. “Another disappearance, I reckon.”
Hermione bit her lip and began to fidget just as much as the boy sitting beside her. “But we never got a message like that for any of the other disappearances. We were shut down when Greengrass went missing; nothing like this, though. That sounded so… panicked.”
Charlus frowned at that. She had a point — Hermione usually did. He wondered what possibly could have once more escalated things. If it was a disappearance, who could it have been? Or was it possible that more than one person had disappeared? It would explain the sudden shift in tone, but it would contradict the Heir’s message.
Two more pieces left to fall, the menace had told Charlus.
The first had very clearly been Cassius Warrington, who had vanished less than a week ago. Now, Charlus was sure the second had disappeared, but he was equally sure it was only one victim.
So why was the school suddenly so tense? Why was it that everything had seemed to change at a moment’s notice?
He had no idea, and he realized pretty quickly that neither he nor his muggleborn friend were going to be able to figure it out.
That just wouldn’t do, not in a time like this, and especially not with all that was at stake.
Glancing around the room, Charlus noticed pretty quickly that nobody was paying them any attention at all. They were all too caught up in their not-so-hushed speculations, or their rapidly rising panic.
“Come on,” hissed Charlus, grabbing Hermione’s hand and pulling her forcefully to her feet. She made a small sound of protest, but Charlus hushed her as they rushed up the stairs leading towards the boys’ dormitories.
“What are we doing?” Hermione asked in the same hissing tone of voice Charlus had used a moment earlier.
“Figuring out what’s going on.”
“And how are we going to do that? The professors will surely come to the common room and tell us what’s going on. Shouldn’t we—”
“Hermione, has this year not taught you that the professors are useless against the Heir of Slytherin? If they had any clue what was going on, they would have caught them already. Besides, if something really is that serious, I doubt they’ll tell us everything.”
His face was set in a hard line, and Hermione thought it looked as though the boy leading her into his dorm had aged five years in front of her eyes. It was both awe-inducing and utterly terrifying in equal measure. “There’s nothing I want more than to find the Heir of Slytherin, so we need to know everything.”
“Merlin, Hermione, you’re a genius, but you really are thick on common sense sometimes.”
“Excuse you!” exclaimed Hermione, blushing red as she spoke.
“The cloak,” said Charlus, wisely ignoring his friend’s most recent outburst.
Hermione scoffed. “That will never work,” she dismissed. “Even if we can sneak into the staff room — and the professors even meet there — there are most definitely wards on that room to tell the master of the wards who are entering.”
“Ron and I snuck in last year on Samhain,” argued Charlus. “After we got put in lockdown for the night, we snuck in and heard everything. We were never noticed.”
Now that he thought about it, Hermione really did have a point. He knew what his eyes had seen and what his brain remembered. They had done just what he said, and they hadn’t been caught, nor even detected, as far as Charlus knew. Until now, he had never actually considered the logistics of such things.
Hermione was definitely right though.
There certainly should have been at least a tripwire ward on the door, and it wouldn’t be at all out of the question for whoever was in control of the wards to be able to tell exactly how many people were in the room at all times. There really should have been no way that he and Ron could have gotten away with sneaking into that room and listening in to a meeting that was most definitely meant to be secret.
Yet they most definitely had, and it baffled Charlus, now that he thought about it.
He certainly didn’t have an answer for Hermione when she frowned, looking towards him with wide, inquisitive eyes. “That shouldn’t be possible.”
“You’re right,” he admitted, running a distracted hand through his hair once more. “I have no idea how we did it, but I’m telling you, we did. Not even Dumbledore noticed, so there’s no way any of the professors will now.” Hermione didn’t look entirely convinced and Charlus sighed. He didn’t have time to waste valuable moments arguing over something that was going to happen one way or the other. “You can come with me or not. I’m going either way. The choice is yours.”
Hermione huffed. “Fine,” she agreed with a scowl. “I’ll come with you but if we get expelled, I’ll… I’ll—”
“Do all sorts of terrible things, I’m sure. Come on,” he said, withdrawing the folded cloak from the pocket of his robes and frantically gesturing for Hermione to slide underneath it. “We probably don’t have much time!”
“If you had the cloak on you the whole time, why did we have to come up to the dorms?!”
Charlus rolled his eyes. “Jeez, I don’t know. Maybe because if somebody saw us vanish from sight right in front of them, it might be a tad bit suspicious?”
Hermione’s cheeks went pink, and she slid silently under the cloak.
Meanwhile, back at Nurmengard…
“Chaos Magic?” Grindelwald mused, leaning forward slightly on his battered cot. “And tell me, Albus, what the light lord could possibly want to know about Chaos Magic?” His lips twitched. “Or what the pretender of the light could learn about Chaos Magic that he will not know already, more than likely.”
Dumbledore frowned. “I am no pretender, Gellert. We both know that very well. You of all people should know how strongly I am committed to my cause.”
“Committed to a cause born out of a self-deluded sense of obligation. You are committed to cleaning up after your own mistakes. We both know it; you merely pretend otherwise, even to yourself. We both know that you are responsible for just as much destruction as I, in certain ways. The difference is that I intended for it to happen. You simply miscalculated so drastically, you very nearly matched me.”
He smiled thinly at the look on his old friend’s face. It looked as though Albus had just swallowed the world’s most sour lemon and was now doing his best not to vomit.
“If you are done playing perpetuated mind games and carelessly throwing out pointless jabs, I think I shall ask my question.”
“By all means.”
“You have studied Herpo the Foul’s exploitations of Chaos Magic, I’m sure?”
“Then you will have uncovered the basilisk and its great power.” It was more a statement than a question.
Grindelwald fought a smile. “Ah, yes, the king of serpents. How ironic that the few living souls who have heard of the mighty basilisk think it little more than a myth. They think it a perpetuated tale told by those who came before us.”
“That is the case for much of the magic born of Chaos,” reminded Albus. “For all the systemic problems in the governing bodies that rule over the world, they are usually quite efficient when burying things they want to disappear.”
“Even from themselves, most often,” said Gellert, actually allowing the smirk to win out and spread across his face. “I have dealt with many world leaders, and you would be shocked by how many of them had never heard the beautiful tales of Chaos.”
“You forget that I am, as you said, a man of many titles,” Albus said dryly. “I think I would not be quite as surprised as you say.”
“Returning to the topic at hand, I am going to assume you have studied the basilisk more than I?” Gellert inclined his head. “It is safe to assume its gaze truly was lethal, then?”
Grindelwald nodded pensively. “It is impossible to be certain, but I am as close to it as one can possibly be.”
Albus frowned deeply. “Miraculous,” he muttered. “How such magic works, I could only imagine.”
“It is a mystery to even I. Of course, I have my theories, but little more than that.”
“Its gaze is always fatal, according to your research? Never have you come across anything that might suggest other side effects in extreme circumstances?”
Gellert seemed to ponder, drumming his fingers on his knee in a rhythmic pattern. Albus tried to look anywhere but at his filthy fingernails, which had grown long and gnarled over time. “Nothing I have ever read suggests anything of the sort,” he said carefully.
“I sense a caveat.”
“How perceptive of you.” When Albus’s stare did not so much as waver, Grindelwald continued. It felt quite liberating to speak with someone after all this time. Especially someone with a mind to match his own.
“I suspect obscuring one’s sight from the gaze would do the job. The eyes are a conduit for magic. Legilimency is proof of that, and there are other magics supporting that as well. I am sure the basilisk’s gaze is of this nature. If one were to look at the creature with a blindfold, I doubt it would do a thing. If one were to see it through a lens…” he shrugged.
“What do you think might happen to them in the latter case?”
“You cannot predict Chaos Magic. You know this as well as I do. The very nature of such a thing is to make impossible things possible, and to warp reality in ways that the controlled, suppressed magic we normally draw from could never hope of achieving.”
Albus’s mind was working at a hundred miles an hour. If it was a basilisk in the school, there were some problems, even though some of it made sense. Creevey had unmistakably seen it through the camera, hence the destroyed film inside. The cat could have possibly seen it in the reflection of the water that had streamed across the floor.
But the chances of every single person ever petrified in the 40s or missing this past year having seen it through a reflection, lens, or similar manner was next to none. It would be a one in a million chance, and Albus didn’t think it to be the case.
Of course, he had suspected that already before arriving at Nurmengard.
He had suspected a basilisk for some weeks now, but there was one, very important question he needed to ask of his old friend and enemy. A question that, despite as much research into the topic as he could manage, he had been unable to answer.
“It is… safe to assume that whatever ritual is required to birth the basilisk has been lost to time?”
“I think so, yes. It is certainly not the foolish tale involving a chicken’s egg that was popularized by ridiculous misinterpretations of mythology. It is likely something far more… elaborate.”
“And whatever this process may be, the odds of modifying it would be… slim?”
Grindelwald sighed. “You are growing blunt with age, old friend. I know what you are asking. Is it possible to in some way modify the ritual or the creature itself after creation in a way that would allow its gaze to do something other than killing?”
He seemed to think about it as the drumming of his fingers resumed. “I think so,” Grindelwald said after a time. “The ritual itself is difficult to speculate on, knowing next to nothing about it. The creature itself could feasibly be altered. Possibly through more Chaos Magic, possibly through Hemomancy. More likely, through a combination of different magics. I am far from certain, but I think it to be possible, if exceedingly difficult.” His eyes gleamed. “Of course, one would need to not die in the creature’s presence if they wished for this to be possible.”
Albus had heard about all he needed to know.
Slytherin could have survived long enough if he wished to alter the creature after it had been born. From what he had gleaned, it did seem very possible that Herpo had indeed hatched a basilisk. If that was the case, he — being the first-ever Parselmouth on record — had likely been able to control it. Which implied they could be controlled by speakers. Or perhaps it was by those who birthed them through the use of Chaos Magic. In either scenario, Slytherin would have been able to control the snake long enough to stay alive.
Or he had just modified the ritual itself. From what Albus had learned during years of study — a study that had intensified since Voldemort’s rise — Slytherin was a foremost expert in archaic forms of magic. If anyone was capable of it, it was him.
“I thank you for your service, Gellert,” said Albus, bowing his head to the immaculate man sitting before him.
Grindelwald’s lips twitched. “And it shall not be the last, either. You shall return, Albus, mark my words.”
As Dumbledore vanished in a flash of fire, he wondered how true Gellert’s words were. Or whether or not the former dark lord was simply pulling his leg for the sake of it. Either option was equally possible, though he very much hoped the latter was true.
Minutes later, in the Chamber of Secrets…
Harry awoke in a dazed state. The first thing he became aware of was the pounding headache that consumed most of his limited concentration. The next realization he came to was that he didn’t know where he was, which raised the question of how he had gotten there in the first place. For perhaps the first time in his life, his memory nearly failed him. He needed to use Occlumency to force his mind into a calm and clear state before it started working how it was supposed to, at which point the memories began flowing back to him.
He had been hunting the Heir of Slytherin with Ares Black. Ironically, that had been exactly who the Heir of Slytherin was. He remembered the way her eyes had shone blue instead of violet. He remembered her words, her mannerisms, and the shockingly brief and one-sided duel they had shared. And then… she had used Legilimency, overwhelmed his defences, and he had seen nothing at all.
He had been so flustered that he hadn’t entirely put together what was going on. Thinking on it now with a margin of coherence, Harry realized why he had never stood a chance in that duel.
If his assumption was correct, he hadn’t been duelling Ares Black at all. He had instead been duelling Emily Riddle; the magical prodigy from the 1930s and 40s, and the one who had taught him so much about magic. If he was right, she seemed to be using Ares similarly to the way that Voldemort had used Hurst the year before. If this was indeed the case, he had never stood a chance.
“Awake, are we?”
The voice was vaguely familiar, but it didn’t belong to Ares. Harry was actually struggling to place it. It wasn’t identical to anyone he had heard, but something about it rang out in his mind.
He tried to scramble to his feet, only to realize his arms and legs were bound. Panic began to rise within him, but he crushed it using Occlumency without a second thought. Emotions were not going to get him out of this situation. So long as he escaped alive and intact, he would deal with the mental repercussions later.
With his mind now clear once more, Harry finally looked around the unfamiliar, cavernous room he seemed to be held captive in.
The ceiling loomed far above, high enough for several twenty-foot tall columns of roughly hewn stone to stretch from floor to ceiling. The room was fairly dark, though a number of lowly flickering torches were dotted around its perimeter, casting long, dark shadows across the open floor and sending them dancing sinisterly across the walls.
The main feature of the room was the towering statue that Harry was sitting directly in front of. He was facing the statue, as were Cassius on his left and Daphne on his right. It loomed nearly as high as the ceiling and was carved from stones not too dissimilar from the ones used to fashion the columns. This statue was more detailed, though, and it was very obviously of a man. One with a long beard, and one who Harry could only presume to be Salazar Slytherin, for he could think of nowhere else he might be at the present moment but the fabled Chamber of Secrets.
Much as the imposing statue was a sight to behold, it wasn’t what currently held his attention.
Seeing Daphne had sent a pang of guilt, heartbreak, and fury through him. She looked so peaceful in whatever state she was in, but he knew it was an illusion. He wasn’t sure what Ares — or Emily — had done to the other six gathered students. None of them seemed to be conscious, and they all seemed rigid but peaceful. He, Cassius and Daphne were bound to three columns facing Slytherin’s statue. Opposite and facing them were Lillian Moon, Colin Creevey, and the Weasley twins.
Oddly, Harry remembered something about seven being a powerful magical number. It seemed significant, though he couldn’t quite work out why.
Ares laid prone in the centre of the circle. She was deathly pale and faintly shaking. This only added to the surety that it hadn’t been her who had spoken, but another.
Another who stepped out of the shadows a moment later, striding carefully into the circle of victims, stopping directly in front of Harry and peering down at him with a gleam in her eye.
It was Emily Riddle without a doubt. Tall, pale, and angelic, with long, straight black hair and dark blue eyes. The same colour as Ares’s had been when they duelled in the second-floor corridor.
When Harry said her name, Riddle’s eyes widened for a fraction of a second before her features moulded into an impassive mask, though the gleam in her eyes only intensified.
“How interesting,” she said in a soft, cool voice tinged with interest and what Harry thought might have even been amusement. “You’re full of surprises, Harry Potter.” Harry just glared up at her. “How long have you known?” she asked.
“That it was you opening the Chamber of Secrets? Months. I just didn’t know how or who you might have been using to do it.”
“Months, you say?” There was definitely amusement in her tone now. “Yet you told nobody of your suspicions. I’m sure you researched me. There’s no way someone like you didn’t, especially not after you worked out the truth. I’m interested; what made you think you could bring me down alone?”
That… was a really good question he hadn’t actually thought about.
So much of his efforts over the past few months had gone into discovering who the Heir of Slytherin was. Or, at the very least, who Riddle was using to open the Chamber of Secrets. That in and of itself had become so daunting that Harry had never once stopped to consider what he might do if he found the person responsible. His duel with Riddle — or Ares, depending on how one looked at it — had proven exactly how shortsighted that had been. It hadn’t been competitive at all — he had never stood a chance in a fight.
And he should have known it; he was too obsessive and hyper-fixated on one primary goal.
Riddle had been equally as prodigious as himself if her school records said anything on the matter. And she had years of experience on him. She had even been helping him with magic. He should have realized he would have stood no chance. Hell, even if his friends had all been present, he wasn’t sure any of them would have stood a chance.
Something about Riddle seemed… off though.
She had attended Hogwarts in the 1930s and 40s. The Riddle he had been writing to had spoken of travelling for years learning magic, and she had certainly sounded the part.
But this Riddle… she didn’t look nearly old enough to be the Emily Riddle.
She looked to Harry exactly how she had in the pensieve at Black Manor, which shouldn’t have been at all possible.
What the fuck was going on?
He had to stall for time and work out some of these puzzle pieces. “I wasn’t planning a fair fight,” he said. That probably would have been his philosophy too, had he thought it through.
Riddle’s lips twitched. “You weren’t planning a fight at all,” she corrected. “You weren’t planning anything beyond catching me. I think if push came to shove, you would have pondered between an ambush and telling the professors.” She smiled at the somewhat taken aback look on Harry’s face. “Don’t lie to me, Harry. People don’t get away with lying to me. As somebody who I suspect to be a Natural Legilimens, you should understand how that works.”
Suspect? Why did she have to suspect? Harry and Emily had come to the conclusion months ago that he was a Natural Legilimens. None of this was lining up, and a nagging feeling started to gnaw at the back of Harry’s mind. A feeling that he was missing one essential piece of the puzzle. One that would change his entire outlook on things if he were to work out what that piece was.
He forced his mind clear once more and did his best to focus on detecting any probes. If this was really Riddle, he doubted it would do much good. She had been miles ahead of him in the Mind Arts before leaving Hogwarts judging by her notes in the Speaker’s Den. Her abilities then seemed to put Charlotte’s to shame, so he could only imagine what she would become later.
“You seem confused,” said Riddle. “What is it that has you so tongue-tied? I was curious to learn of your deductive genius, but it seems to have stalled.” When Harry didn’t answer, Riddle’s smile turned indulgent. “Alright, let’s try something more simple, and maybe we can fill in the gaps since I’m not planning on you remembering any of this conversation in the long run. How is it you know who I am? More importantly, how did you work out that I was the Heir of Slytherin? It was a rather impressive deduction, I must admit. One that none, save Dumbledore, ever came close to making the last time I opened the Chamber of Secrets.”
When Harry still didn’t answer, Riddle sighed. “Allow me to make this easier on you. I know you saw the memory. I know about everything that has happened around Ares Black at Hogwarts this year. I was the one who got you access to that memory. I know you somehow gleaned it from there, but I’m curious how. Nobody else put it together.”
“It wasn’t exactly complicated,” said Harry. “There’s no way Hagrid was the Heir of Slytherin. He doesn’t have the brains to get away with it, and there was just no way you were stupid enough to believe otherwise.”
A small part of him realized that talking might be a bad idea, but he had no other options. She could apparently tell if he lied, but he still needed to stall. That meant being truthful was, unfortunately, the best way forward he could see.
“A reasonable assumption, but you also know that Hagrid raised an acromantula. You heard the full story via your brother’s letter and relayed it to Ares and the others in the Den.” Riddle’s eyes narrowed. “The same Den you have been frequenting all year.”
How the hell did Riddle know he was using the Den?
“I’m sure the memory helped you, but it was more than that,” she continued. “You’ve known about me and were interested in me long before I ever got you access to that memory. You know more than you’re letting on, and I don’t think it’s just because you looked up my academic records.”
“You’re not exactly one to talk,” Harry bit back, grasping at anything to keep the conversation going. “You’ve been interested in me all year. You framed me as the Heir of Slytherin from the beginning. When that didn’t work, you started attacking my housemates and friends. Now, you lured me here specifically. One more piece left to fall, was it? You had me specifically planned as a target. I think you have from the beginning.”
“From quite early, yes,” admitted Riddle. “At first, you were just a convenient scapegoat. Especially once I realized that yourself and Dumbledore didn’t get along quite as swimmingly as I might have expected.” She scowled. “It seems he doesn’t dislike you quite as much as he did me. If I had been in your spot, he would have expelled me without pause.”
That… was interesting.
Riddle seemed like the sort of student Dumbledore would love and adore. With her grades, prefect status, and eventual Head Girl position, she seemed to be the perfect student.
Then again, Dumbledore had worked out she was the Heir of Slytherin. But if Riddle was speaking in terms of then flipping spots, she meant before he had worked that out.
What had she done to earn Dumbledore’s ire?
This whole thing seemed wrong, but Harry just couldn’t figure out what was going on.
“Once I realized you weren’t going to be expelled,” Riddle continued, “my plans changed. I saw an opportunity to get close to you as Ares. Once you let me into your little group of friends, you never stood a chance. You are very clever and astonishingly intelligent, but you have a soft spot for those who come from similar places to you. That is rather easy to prey on and once I was in, I slowly began to warp things.
“I recognized the level of contempt you held for Dumbledore, and I gave you the weapons needed to hopefully get him removed from the castle. I didn’t expect your other ammunition,” she said with an appraising look. “That was a pleasant surprise, but I had hoped the knowledge of him giving the suspected Heir a job would be enough to do it. Once he was gone, it was just a matter of knocking down pieces and moving others into the correct position.
“I knew how interested you were in me by this point, and there are things about you that intrigue me. I knew I had to talk to you, so I added you as a target. Which brings me back to my question. Why is it you were so interested in me? Whatever the answer is, I’m assuming it’s how you worked everything out in such a timely fashion.”
He was cornered. He couldn’t well tell her that he had learned from the snakes in the dungeons that she was a Parselmouth. That would reveal himself as one. If doing so would somehow get him out of here, he would do it, but otherwise, he was not giving up that information. Not with nothing to gain. She also clearly wasn’t going to accept her academic achievements as a plausible answer, which left him with a small number of options.
As he thought, he realized that the question in and of itself made no sense in the slightest.
She should know why he was interested in her. They had written to each other for months, or so he had thought.
There was only one solution, and how it was possible at all boggled his mind.
There were two Emily Riddles.
It didn’t seem possible, but he could think of no other option.
The sound of her shoe tapping impatiently on the floor brought him back to the present, and he scrambled for an answer. “I… looked into you last year after looking up your records and all the rest. Outside of Hogwarts, there’s barely a mention of you. Something about you fighting in one of the last battles in the Blood War, and then not a mention of you. I found it odd how a prodigy just vanished without a trace and became curious.”
Riddle looked thoughtful, and Harry’s heart pounded in his chest as he occluded as hard as he could, searching for any invasions in his mind.
“That is interesting, isn’t it?” Her voice was soft and little more than a whisper. “Yes,” she muttered, seeming to be speaking more to herself than Harry. “Yes, that would do it. It is suspicious, I will admit. It still seems remarkable you would put it all together, but you’re no normal child. It’s exactly the deduction I would have made at the same age.”
Riddle was pacing back and forth, drumming her fingers against the side of her thigh as she did so. “Very well. I suppose the next question is how did you discover the Speaker’s Den?”
This conversation kept creeping way too close to truths Harry was not at all comfortable sharing. Specifically that he was a Parselmouth.
“Grace,” he lied, which seemed to catch Riddle off guard. He hoped the surprise would be enough to distract her from possibly sniffing out his lie with Legilimency. “She showed me near the end of first year.”
He just hoped it was even possible for a non-Parselmouth to find the Den. If not, that excuse was about to blow up in his face. Mercifully, Riddle seemed to accept it, so it must have been a legitimate possibility.
“You are oddly close with that family,” mused Riddle. “Closer than most, though if your address to the newspapers is to be believed, you knew nothing of magic until the age of eleven. Interesting how quickly that relationship formed.” Her foot tapped the floor again. “Is she also the one who taught you Occlumency? Your defences are unnaturally sound.”
This was tricky, too. He had already implicated Grace in helping him, but that lie had been fairly harmless. This one would not be. This would indicate Riddle perhaps had a challenger, and Harry did not think she would react at all well to that. Nor did he think she would take direct action against Grace for entering the Den. Not when she would be out of Hogwarts by the end of the year.
But if she found out she was prodigious in the Mind Arts…
“Our Defence professor last year got me started on it,” said Harry. “We met up once or twice each week to work on it. I had a sort of natural talent for it so once we started, I didn’t need too much guidance.”
Riddle studied him carefully. “The same Defence professor who vanished at the end of the year,” she noted. “Funnily enough, she vanished right around the time you ended up in the hospital wing with your brother, according to the Malfoy Heir. There wouldn’t happen to be any relation between those two things, would there?”
“There was an… incident. They say the Defence job is cursed. She went a bit mad at the end of the year. Dumbledore stepped in before anything could get too out of hand.”
“It always comes back to Dumbledore, doesn’t it?” Riddle’s voice was colder than it had been thus far.
Harry had the distinct impression she had seen through this most recent deception, but it didn’t seem to be one she was too upset by, as she didn’t seem to have any desire to press him on it.
Instead, she had different plans.
“To business then, Harry. You interest me, but your story is more important than my curiosity.”
“Yes, your story. Your memory is quite exceptional, as you have told Ares and your other friends. So, I would like to know what you remember about Halloween night of 1981.” When Harry immediately stiffened, Riddle’s eyes flashed. “I will take it from your mind myself if you do not comply.”
“What interests you so much about that night?”
“What is there not to be interested in? A magical anomaly the likes of which the world has never seen. A curse that has stood the test of time and failed not even once utterly backfiring upon the greatest wielder of magic the world has ever seen. This same great sorceress is then destroyed by an infant with no sign of any extraordinary powers.”
Harry felt odd alarm bells go off in his mind. There was something about the way Riddle spoke of Voldemort. There was complete and total reverence. Harry had never heard anyone speak a name with such a loving caress in her voice, and put him on edge.
“Why are you so interested in Voldemort?” he asked. “You were supposedly gone during the years she rose to power.”
“How wrong you are, Harry,” Riddle said, a full-blown smile spreading across her face. “I am but a memory, for now. A shade of Emily Riddle left and preserved in this diary for fifty years. A contingency plan, if you will.”
That answered a lot of questions.
There really were two Emily Riddles. The one stood before him — or the impression of one, at least — and the one Merlin only knew where who had written to him for the better part of the year.
But that still prompted questions.
“My question still stands,” said Harry. “If you really are just a shade from the 1940s, then Voldemort came after your time.”
Riddle actually laughed. It was a soft, genuine laugh born out of pure amusement. “Emily Riddle never vanished off the face of the planet, nor was she absent when the Dark Lady rose to power. You have simply missed the obvious truth that has been staring you in the face the entire time. Emily Riddle is Lady Voldemort.”
Meanwhile, in the staff room…
The tension in the staff room could be cut with a knife by the time Charlus and Hermione edged their way inside while under the invisibility cloak. To Hermione’s awe and Charlus’s bewilderment, no wards seemed to trip when they snuck through the door behind Lockhart — the last professor to enter the room.
They stood off to the side, against the far wall, having a full and unobstructed view of the ongoing meeting.
Unlike Dumbledore during the only other meeting Charlus had ever eavesdropped on, McGonagall did not hesitate to begin. “Two students have gone missing.” The tone of her voice conveyed exactly how serious the matter at hand was.
Charlus could not help but be almost as surprised as he was terrified.
The Heir’s last message really had made it seem as though there was only one target for the upcoming attack. They had instead taken two in one strike. Judging by the graveness with which Professor McGonagall spoke, it was clear to all in attendance that this was of the utmost importance.
“Who is it this time?” asked Professor Sprout.
McGonagall took a deep, shaking breath. “Harry Potter and Ares Black.”
Charlus’s mind blanked.
His brother. HIS BROTHER WAS MISSING!?
Guilt slammed into him like a tidal wave. He had suspected his brother for so much of the year and now he was gone?
“Their skeletons shall lie in the chamber forever, was what the Heir wrote on the wall,” said McGonagall. “The same wall that Mrs. Norris was found on during the night of Samhain.”
“Is there anything we can do?” squeaked Flitwick, whose hands were clenched so tightly on the table his knuckles were as white as the finest coat of snow.
McGonagall sighed. “I do not know,” she said despondently. “The school should be closed but if we do that, the Heir might well go through with their threats and cause the deaths of these students.”
“At what point do we step in despite the risks?” asked Snape. Everyone looked at him with varying degrees of horror, but his expression did not so much as shift an inch. “We are partaking in an exercise in futility,” he said sharply. “I am sure you all see that as clearly as I do. Even with time, how many of you believe by now that this Heir will ever be discovered? It would be a great loss, but at what point do we sacrifice those the Heir has taken with the knowledge that it might save hundreds of other lives in the process?”
“Even one life is too much,” said Lockhart at once. “A life is too high a cost to pay. I will happily risk my own if it means the victims have any chance at freedom.”
“Hear, hear!” squeaked Flitwick.
Several of the professors were nodding, but McGonagall looked unsure. “It is not our lives we must consider,” she said with a shake of her head. “It is the lives of the students.”
“And the ones who have been taken!” argued Lockhart.
“I’m not saying we should doom them as Severus is proposing,” said McGonagall. “But I am saying all options need to be considered at this point. I do agree with Severus on one thing. I doubt by now that we will be unmasking the culprit any time soon.”
“What is your plan then, Minerva?” asked Artemis Ashely, the Interim Professor of Astronomy.
McGonagall sighed deeply. “Maintain the forced lockdown of the castle at all costs until morning. I will floo the Minister for Magic then and ask for his opinion. Hopefully, we can get an emergency Wizengamot meeting called as soon as this afternoon if necessary.”
“As the Interim Headmistress, you have the power to close the school of your own will, do you not?” asked Snape.
“I do, but it is a power I am reluctant to wield.”
Snape shut his eyes tightly. “Very well,” he said, though Charlus barely heard him. By now he was shaking and white as a sheet, unresponsive to Hermione’s gentle prods. “I just hope your nobility does not doom us all.”
At the same moment, somewhere on the outskirts of Greece…
Dumbledore appeared back in his hotel room in a flash of blinding fire. He swished his wand as soon as he had material form once more, summoning a quill and a piece of parchment at once.
He could not return to Hogwarts.
Well, he might be able to, but it wasn’t a chance he was willing to take. If the wards registered his intent and chose to categorize him as part of the occupying force… he wasn’t sure what would happen, but it wouldn’t be pleasant.
Fawkes though… he played by different rules, and the phoenix most certainly would not be categorized as part of an occupying force.
Within minutes, he had written the sloppiest and most hastily scrawled note of his life, which he quickly held out to Fawkes. “Make haste,” he told his faithful familiar. “Time is of the utmost importance, yet it is a force that is ruthlessly working against us.”
With a loud squawk of what Albus could only hope to be affirmation, his familiar was gone, leaving behind only a small amount of smoke and a slowly falling feather.
Back in the Chamber of Secrets…
“You?” Harry breathed, hardly willing to believe it.
“In a sense,” said Riddle. “Technically speaking, I am not Lady Voldemort. I just know that my future self becomes her, at some point. I can guess how it happened, but it is of little consequence.
“I am bound to this blasted book, for the time being.” She gestured to a small, black diary lying on the floor some ten feet away from the circle of bound and helpless students. “Soon, I will not be. I will be free of the diary, and I will be free of the single-minded compulsion to gain a physical form at all costs. Then, I can think with a clear mind once more, and I can act of my own volition.
“I am… unsure as to how my mental state will shift with the removal of such compulsions, but I know that I am a perfectionist at my core. I will not allow myself to make the same mistakes my older self once made, so it is imperative I know the truth. If there are any flaws in the most powerful of magics, I must know of them. Regardless of their purpose, it is something I must know. What do you remember about Halloween night, 1981, Harry Potter? How is it that your brother survived with little more than a scar, while Lady Voldemort was stripped of both her body and her powers.”
Harry didn’t answer.
He refused to answer; he would not give this bitch the information she needed.
Riddle sighed and withdrew a wand from her sleeve that Harry immediately recognized as his own. “It is a good match,” she said when she noticed his eyes following it. “It’s attuned to me far better than Ares’s wand ever has been.”
She stepped towards him and knelt, reaching out a cool hand to touch his face. It felt… not quite solid. It apparently was, as she used it to tilt his head up to look her in the eyes, but something about it felt… faint. “Last chance to talk, Harry,” Riddle said softly, caressing his cheek and waiting for an answer.
He shut his eyes as tightly as he could, clearing his mind at the same time and doing everything he could to block the oncoming attack.
Riddle sighed. “You should know that eye contact is not necessary for a Natural Legilimens of my skill.” Harry felt her wand press against his forehead and before he could move, the overwhelming power of her mind and magic slammed into him once more with a single incantation.
Minutes later, in an abandoned classroom…
Charlus was in a near-catatonic state by the time Hermione had dragged him into an abandoned classroom following the conclusion of the staff meeting. He had simply allowed himself to be led. He was numb with guilt, fury, and despair, and he hadn’t said a word since the revelation of his brother’s disappearance had been made known to him.
As soon as Hermione released him once they had entered the classroom, Charlus’s legs gave out. He felt the dull throb of his knees slamming into the classroom floor, but it did little to break through the haze of emotion clouding his thoughts.
It was all too much and he couldn’t make heads or tails of the surge of feelings, nor the sting of tears at the corners of his eyes.
He shut them tightly, not wanting Hermione to see him like this and not wanting to see any of the world around him.
Apparently, the world had other ideas.
There was a light so bright that it shone straight through Charlus’s eyelids, and he heard Hermione let out a startled yell of surprise. Without thinking, Charlus scrambled to his feet and fumbled for his wand. The haze of emotions had not cleared, but adrenaline had kicked in and he had reacted naturally.
Until he froze at the sight of the majestic phoenix sitting on the nearest desk, looking straight at him with meaningful, beady eyes.
The end game is here!
I know that Harry inflated the staff room as well and that some people might think he should have been detected using the wards. There is an explanation for this, I’m just not sharing it at this time.
Next chapter, the Heir’s full plan is revealed and the showdown we have been building towards kicks off in a big way!
Please read and review.
Thank you to my lovely Discord Editors Asmodeus Stahl, hyuck, and Megha Teresa for their corrections/contributions this week.
A massive thank you is also extended to my first top-tier Patron, Κυρία της φωτιάς, Lily of Dreams, for her generous support on that platform! An additional shoutout is extended to my Oracle-level Patron, 3CP, for his unwavering support as well. Your guys’ support means the world to me.
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