The headmaster is back, Hagrid is back, the basilisk is gone, and so is Lockhart. The Chamber of Secrets is discovered and I wish to explore it in person but want you to accompany me. Come tonight as soon as you can.
Severus's letter, posted probably in the wee hours of the morning, arrived around noon today. I didn't wait until evening to go to Hogwarts but streaked out into the yard to apparate without a second thought. Arriving outside the Hogwarts main gates I ran full tilt across the grounds where I pounded, breathless, on Hagrid's cabin door.
It took him some time to answer. I learned later that there had been an all night celebratory feast and he was trying to sleep in. When he did finally open the door, I hurled myself against him in a maneuver worthy of Fang, only instead of slobbering like the dog would, I burst into tears.
Hagrid burst into tears too, but that at least is normal. Hagrid tends to be a bit emotional.
"Are you all right?" I finally managed to ask, wiping my face on my sleeve.
"Yeah, I'm okay. Don't worry about me." answered Hagrid gruffly.
And Hagrid did look good, much better than Royal had after his Azkaban stay. I had been imagining Hagrid wasting away in there but he really didn't look much the worse for wear. I guess maybe his giant blood helped him stay healthy, though as I talked to him it became obvious to me that the dementors themselves have traumatized him a bit. He didn't want to talk about his time in prison at all. He was interested in what I've been doing, how Fang has been, and full of news about the night's excitement.
Unfortunately, Hagrid could not answer most of the questions that I had. I felt embarrassed to have been outdone by a twelve year old. How had Harry Potter managed to find the chamber when I couldn't? I was anxious to get to Severus and hear the full story.
I spent all afternoon with Hagrid who seemed tired but very upbeat. One good thing that's come out of this mess is that his name has been completely cleared once and for all. When he was released from Azkban it was with an apology, which Hagrid must have happily repeated to me at least a dozen times. I can't blame him for being happy about it. I know that the old accusation has haunted him all of his life and he's touchy about having been expelled. Little wonder. One's magic is a very personal thing and it would be horrible to have the right to use it taken away for a crime you didn't commit.
When I knew it was time for dinner at the castle I went up there. The double doors of the Great Hall stood open, emitting the sounds of youthful banter and the aroma of delicious food. Bright candlelight gleamed warmly off of the golden plates. I paused there just long enough to catch Severus's eye, knowing that nothing ever gets past his notice.
He caught up with me not even halfway to the dungeons, looking more excited than I've ever seen him before. "We're going down there -- now." He declared, grasping me almost roughly by the arm. "But first we have to go down to my office to retrieve the brooms."
"Brooms?" I questioned.
"It will make getting back easier."
"I talked to Hagrid but I've only heard bits and pieces."
"What did you hear?" asked Severus, setting a quick pace that I had to hurry to keep up with.
"That Harry Potter went into the chamber and killed the basilisk. How did he do it? How could he find the chamber? And how did he kill the basilisk? And what happened to Lockhart? Did the basilisk eat him?"
"Unfortunately no, but the truth is almost as good. It's a very long story and there still points that even I don't know yet. I'll explain as best I can on the way."
"What about --- you know --- the person behind the attacks?" I asked.
"The basilisk was controlled by another possessed individual. This possession was of a much more rudimentary form than the last one. It was accomplished through a cursed book that belonged to Tom Riddle. Ginny Weasley acquired it somehow and she's the one who has been ordering the attacks as directed by Riddle."
Severus paused only briefly to look back at me, stopped in my tracks. "Hurry up."
"Ginny?" I repeated, hurrying to catch up.
"Yes. She disappeared into the chamber last night and Potter and Weasley went after her. They'd been playing detective again."
"How? I tried! I really did! How could a couple of kids find it when I couldn't?"
"Don't feel guilty. You only had a month to search whereas they've had all year." answered Severus, scrutinizing my expression. "That would explain their potions grades."
"Potter is a Parselmouth you remember. Perhaps that has something to do with it."
"If you'd let me search more..." I started to accuse. "And Harry killed the basilisk? How? Did he even try reasoning with it?"
"Reason with a monster?" asked Severus, glancing at me as though I'd lost it.
"It wasn't a monster -- just an animal."
"And it's a dead animal now. I'm not sure how the boy actually killed it. The headmaster has been very busy so I don't have all the details. He's been closeted with everyone from the school governors to the Minister of Magic himself. "
We had arrived at Severus's office door. He opened it, reached around the corner and retrieved two broomsticks before shutting and locking it again.
"Why is it that Ron and Harry are always involved in these things?" I wondered aloud.
"Because they'd rather do anything than study. You'd think the headmaster would reign them in, wouldn't you?"
"Give him a break -- he's only just come back. Do Ron's parents know about this?"
"They were here last night."
I tried to imagine Mrs. Weasley's reaction and was glad that I hadn't had to be the one to deal with her. "Why are you in such a hurry?" I asked. We were practically jogging now.
"Aren't you interested in seeing it?" asked Severus, incredulous. "The history -- Slytherin himself built it. Other than recent events no one has been down there to disturb it for centuries. It must be almost exactly as he left it."
I had to admit that it did catch my curiosity when phrased like that. It was interesting from a historical perspective if nothing else.
Severus unceremoniously burst through the door of a girl's restroom without a moment's pause and began examining taps with manic energy.
"The entrance is here?" I asked. "We were sort of on the right track. We knew it would be either near the kitchen or a bathroom, but we were expecting it to be on the ground floor. Of all the ones in this school, how did Ron and Harry pick the right one?"
There was a wail and a gurgling noise as Moaning Myrtle emerged from a toilet. I turned my back on her. Because of her I was always willing to run to another bathroom no matter how far away. It's just uncomfortable using a toilet when you don't know whether or not someone is hiding inside it.
Severus paused in his examination of the taps for only a moment.
"Why do people keep coming in here and disturbing my death?" Myrtle wanted to know.
"Here it is." said Severus, ignoring her as he motioned me over. A tiny snake was etched into the tap that he indicated. If you weren't looking for it, you wouldn't know it was there. "I believe you must speak to it -- tell it to open in Parseltongue." he demanded.
I glanced significantly at Myrtle who was whining about how no one ever listened to her.
"It's like you can see right through me!" she wailed dramatically.
"We can." answered Severus absently.
That did it. With an ear splitting shriek she dove back into her favorite toilet.
"A teenager --- frozen in time forever." said Severus with a shudder. "Proceed." He gestured to the tap again and looked at me expectantly.
Rolling my eyes I turned to the sink and said, "Open." in a soft hiss. I jumped back when the entire thing began to move with a heavy, grating sound. "Wow." I said, looking down into the dark, gaping hole that had been uncovered. "That looks narrow."
"We'll have to slide down. The brooms are for getting back."
"Fun. You go first."
Severus did not seem to notice my sarcasm. I've never seen him look so enthusiastic as he sat down on the edge of the opening and disappeared inside.
Only great affection for Severus would have convinced me to follow. The hole was dark and I was willing to bet that there was a lot of slime down there. My stomach dropped as I began sliding down the tunnel. It was kind of like going down a dark water slide but without the water. It seemed to go on forever until the chute began to gradually level out and I skidded to a stop at the bottom.
Severus was waiting with his wand tip lit. I saw that I was in a tunnel and yes -- it was slimy. I opened my mouth to complain but Severus offered me a hand and I couldn't bring myself to do it.
"This way." he said needlessly, as there was only one direction we could go.
The tunnel was made of natural rock. It was so old and there was so much fungus growing on the walls that I couldn't decide if it had been carved out by humans or not. I followed after Severus who advanced confidently and lit my wand tip, wondering what was crunching under my feet. Examination showed the ground to be strewn with animal bones, remnants of the basilisk's meals.
"We must be under the lake." I speculated, judging by the dampness.
"I wonder if we're anywhere near your chambers. Slytherin built those too. And if we're under the lake, maybe there is some exit to the outside somewhere. That would be where the basilisk was getting its water."
"Next year we'll come down here and explore in more detail. For now I'll be content just to see the chamber itself." said Severus, his voice ringing throughout the tunnel.
We passed a papery, faded snake skin of enormous proportions. I had expected the basilisk to be of that size but it was still incredible to look at the evidence. "It's such a shame that he had to kill it." I mourned.
"Ignorant boy." Severus agreed. "No sense of history."
"Obviously his sense of self preservation was stronger." I said in annoyance as we continued on.
Eventually we came to a huge rock fall. There was a small gap that we had to enlarge in order to get through. As we continued on, Severus explained to me what had happened to Lockhart. His wand had backfired while he was trying to erase Ron and Harry's memories.
"Why?" I wondered, though I wasn't really shocked. I'd seen Lockhart's nasty side once.
"He got down here with them and panicked."
This piece of information did not surprise me either.
The tunnel widened and became more uniform and linear. I was certain that this part was manmade or at least had been improved upon more than the other. The light of our wands suddenly met an apparent dead end, a massive stone wall. It was blank except for a pair of intertwined snakes whose emerald eyes winked coldly at us.
Again Severus looked at me in expectation.
"Open." I hissed, facing the wall.
With a cracking noise, the wall split open and retracted into the rock on either side of the tunnel. "Impressive." I had to admit.
Severus smiled in satisfaction.
We found ourselves inside a long, rectangular cavern. It was enormous -- on a scale comparable with the pyramids of Egypt. Broad stone pillars twined with carved serpents vaulted to the high ceiling, disappearing in darkness.
"Incendio." said Severus, lighting a torch hanging nearby.
The light magically leapt from torch to torch as others came to life all around the room. Those high up on the walls ignited the ceiling which was encrusted with diamonds and emeralds, reflecting green and white light down upon us.
"Incredible." I admitted, moving closer to Severus and winding my arm through his.
We stood together in companionable silence, taking in the scene. I felt closer to him than I ever had before as we viewed the handiwork of our common ancestor.
"Handsome fellow -- modest too." I said, looking at the statue of Slytherin that dominated the furthest wall. He was ensconced on a throne like an ancient Pharaoh.
Severus sniffed in disapproval of my lack of reverence for Slytherin. Keeping my arm secured in his, he advanced deeper into the room.
I had been so overwhelmed by the size of the place that I had managed to overlook the massive serpentine body crumpled on the floor. I guessed that at one time, the green and gold scales had been vivid, though in death they were faded with a milky white cast.
Detaching myself from Severus, I examined the body. It's eyes were ruined, clawed out of the sockets. The head was tilted to one side, jaws gaping so that I could see a stab wound through the roof of it's mouth. I guessed that it had penetrated to the brain and that was what had killed it.
"How did he do this?" I asked incredulously.
"The sword of Gryffindor was involved somehow." said Severus, almost reluctantly. "And Dumbledore's bird."
"That would explain the eyes. But what was Gryffindor's sword doing down here?"
"That's one part of the story that is not completely clear to me yet." He said blankly, not seeming at all offended that his hero had left him in the dark.
"It really is a shame. Imagine the things that it could have told us."
"The boy could never have managed this if the thing had not been blinded."
Severus and I circled the chamber, surrounded by dancing green and white light shining down from the precious gems above. Over time some had fallen free and Severus's quick eyes inevitably found them. He retrieved them, dusted them off, and divided them between us as we walked. "If you sell these I will never speak to you again." he threatened.
"Don't they belong to the school?" I asked.
"No. They belong to us. The chamber was Slytherin's and we are his heirs. It will give you something of value to pass on to the next generation.
I didn't agree with his logic, but I knew better than to argue too. I decided to hang onto them, set them away somewhere safe for the time being.
We rode the brooms back up the tunnel and then up the chute, the latter maneuver proving to be a tricky one.
"Do you think the basilisk has anything to do with ---?" I pointed at Myrtle's toilet once we were in the bathroom again.
"Perhaps. I'll look into the records." answered Severus, sounding curious, not concerned. Personally, I was starting to feel a little sorry for Myrtle. I wondered if she even knew what had hit her.
It was nearly midnight. Severus, dressed in his habitual black didn't look as horrible as I did with my summer dress covered in slime and showing wear. I knew I'd have to go home and shower before getting into bed and that in only a couple of hours I'd have to go to work. I didn't mind though. I'm glad that Severus and I had that time together.
"I'll see you at graduation." he promised as we parted.
Next Chapter : The story concludes along with the school year as Kerri and Tonks graduate.
Excerpt : It was still fairly early when there was a disturbance in the form of a naked man running through the ball room. I only saw him from behind but I was pretty sure I recognized the brown, curly hair.
"I'd recognize that butt anywhere!" I heard Tonks exclaim from somewhere out of my immediate view.
"What is Streak doing here?" I asked Remus.
"I have no idea, but maybe we'd better find out."
We left the ball, stepping out onto the brick pathway that ran around the outside of the circular room. Lounging on the grass beyond was Basil and three of the boys -- all of whom were clothed.
"Streak wanted to congratulate you but he's running from the guards right now." Mel laughed.
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