The next morning at breakfast, Harry handed a note to Ginny telling her that he would speak to her about anything she wanted after dinner. He didn’t want to lay too much on her shoulders just before she began her first day of school. Judging by the way she barely touched her porridge, however, it looked like his efforts to spare her unwanted stress weren’t making much difference.
“Hermione,” said Harry as she perused Voyages with Vampires, “I was thinking about McGonagall being an Animagus.”
“I wish I could be an Animagus,” said Ron wistfully. “Being a dog would be wicked.”
Harry smirked, thinking of his godfather. “What about the fleas?”
The frown on Ron’s face caused a spate of laughter from the surrounding Gryffindors.
“What I was thinking,” resumed Harry, “was that it would be valuable to know what the process was and how to identify one. I can’t believe that Dark wizards would voluntarily register themselves once they’ve completed the transformation.”
“Hmm,” said the brunette, her eyes unfocusing as she became lost in thought. “That might be very useful.”
She closed her book and they were pelted by the delivery of the morning’s mail.
Harry gave Ginny a supporting wave as they left the Great Hall and trudged down to Herbology under a gloomy gray sky.
Lockhart was as predictable as ever, and spoke animatedly to Professor Sprout, who looked very put out. Even though his excuse of helping Sprout fix the Whomping Willow was not a factor in this timeline, Harry was somewhat amused to discover that Lockhart just couldn’t help being a git. Harry thought about Disillusioning himself to avoid detection, but that was N.E.W.T.-level and he would gain more attention from using it than he would from letting Lockhart have his way with him.
Luck was with Harry, however, and they were able to slip into greenhouse three undetected, leaving a sour-looking Sprout to shake off Lockhart’s meddling.
The Mandrakes were as hideous as ever, but it was a source of reassurance to Harry that the restorative they would provide at the end of the year would still be available – just in case. He was still dithering about doing something with the Basilisk to prevent its possible use by Voldemort.
Transfiguration was extremely boring. Out of sheer frustration to do something with his magic, Harry Transfigured his beetle into a button before Hermione had even finished practicing her wand movements. Ron’s eyes grew wide as Harry turned it back into a beetle and then into a more extravagant gold button, complete with engraved Griffin.
“Blimey,” said Ron. “Where’d you learn how to do Transfiguration like that?”
Harry realized his mistake immediately and, before McGonagall could make her way back to their seats, he flicked his wand and the beetle was back, meandering around his desk as if nothing had happened. “Must have been an accident,” he lied casually, but resolved to tell both of his friends the truth with Ginny that night.
As the end of the lesson grew nearer, Hermione lined up her row of coat buttons on her desk and frowned. Harry had noticed that she’d picked up a new book from the library entitled Animagi: Discovering Your Inner Animal. It was propped in her lap and she had been stealing glances at it throughout the lesson.
Five minutes before the bell rang, Hermione packed up everything but her new book and began to tap her foot anxiously. When the bell finally sounded, she shot over to McGonagall’s desk and began to pepper her with questions. Harry was deliberately slow cleaning up, much to Ron’s frustration, and Hermione was pointing at something in her book.
“Come on. I don’t want to be late for lunch,” said Ron.
Harry waited for a few more seconds and then hoisted his bag. “Let’s see what’s bugging Hermione first,” he said and Ron gratefully followed him to the front of the class.
They approached McGonagall’s desk just as Hermione finished her questions. McGonagall gave them curious looks as Ron and Harry trailed a gleeful Hermione to the Great Hall.
“What was that all about?” asked Harry knowingly.
“Oh, I was just asking her how to recognize an Animagus,” she said loftily. Harry had forgotten how annoying Hermione was at this age. He briefly wondered if her many adventures in his future had given her a better respect for her peers and if missing most of those would make him desire her less as a friend.
Ron’s eyes grew hungry and Harry knew that it wasn’t because of his stomach. “Did she give you any tips on how to become one?” Ron said.
“Not exactly,” she replied as they arrived in the Great Hall for lunch.
Harry’s eyes immediately searched for Ginny, but the first-years hadn’t arrived.
“What does that mean?” asked Ron, whose attention was now divided equally between filling up his plate and extracting details about the Animagus transformation from Hermione.
What Harry was bursting to say was that he was already an Animagus, having completed the process just before Ginny died. She was one, too, but she had become pregnant soon after and was unable to use it to escape Voldemort during their fateful encounter.
Harry pushed away the melancholy that tried to suffocate him and felt it dissipate completely when a small sun of happiness arrived in the form of Ginny.
“Hi,” she said breathlessly and plopped down between Harry and Ron, the latter of which was still engaged in conversation with Hermione. Ginny ignored them and cast her happy gaze to Harry. “Flitwick reckons I’ve got a gift for Charms.”
“Yeah?” asked Harry. “Don’t tell Hermione,” he said with a small smile. “She’s a bit insecure right now.”
Ginny looked at Hermione again and they watched as she scolded Ron for his poor table manners before flipping her hair back and excused herself to go to the library – something that was sure to inflame Ron’s curiosity about Animagi even more.
“I can’t believe that girl,” Ron said, but Harry knew he was nursing the beginnings of a crush on her, one that had led him into the darkest part of a spider-infested forest in the old timeline. Would he be able to prove his affection for her in the same way this time?
Ginny gave Ron’s leg a pat. “You shouldn’t provoke her like that.”
“She deserves it,” he replied, shoving another bite of sandwich into his mouth. “Sheeth a ni’mare.”
Ginny simply shook her head and selected a turkey sandwich from the stack. “Whatever, Ron.”
Harry grinned, but the joy of seeing a first-year Ginny unencumbered by the Diary was tempered with the knowledge that he was about to tell the three most important people in his life that his spirit was from the future and that the pretty redhead beside him was his wife in that future. So it was with a mixed sense of peace and dread that he finished his classes that day. Not even the excitement of a class full of errant pixies could keep Harry’s attention for long.
After dinner, they retired to the Gryffindor common room. Harry surreptitiously cast the Muffliato Charm and waited for one of them to bring up his strange behavior.
Ron had convinced Hermione to get slaughtered at wizard’s chess while Ginny doodled on her Lockhart assignment. Fred and George were huddled together with Lee, Katie, and Alicia in the far corner of the room, no doubt cooking up plans for what would be the beginning of Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes – or maybe they were just figuring out another way to prank Filch.
After three straight losses, Hermione finally gave up. “I don’t know why I keep playing against you,” she said. “We really should be doing our homework anyway.”
Ron made a frustrated noise. “I’ve only got to practice McGonagall’s lesson tonight and I can do that anytime,” he said.
“Well that’s fine for you,” replied Hermione disdainfully, but before she could get a full head of steam, Ginny cut her off.
“Aren’t we all forgetting something?” she said, casting Harry a significant look. Ron and Hermione both turned, their argument evaporating in an instant. “Didn’t you want to share something with us, Harry?”
He searched her face, which was still girlish but was showing some of the signs of maturation that would one day capture his fancy. As it was, Harry was still every bit in love with her soul as he was the day she had died. “Yeah,” he said softly. He straightened up in his chair. “I’ve been meaning to tell you this for a few weeks, but I wanted us all to be together, and I wanted to make sure a few things were going to happen the way they should before I told you what I’m about to tell you.”
Hermione’s eyebrows were knit together in thought. Harry could tell that some things were slipping into place in her mind.
“There’s really no good way to say this, so I’ll just explain what happened to me. Ginny’s already heard part of this, but I think she’s got a few questions now that it’s sunk in.”
Ginny nodded once, her face very serious, which caused Harry to sit on his hands in an effort to not reach out for her. “Right,” he said. “I’m from the future. Well,” he amended, “my spirit is from the future.”
“But –” said Hermione, her eyes blazing with curiosity.
Harry held up his hand. “No questions until after I’m done.”
She pulled her lips between her teeth and clamped them tight.
“When I was fourteen, Voldemort returned to his body. When I was twenty-two, he had killed everyone that opposed him but me. Each of you,” he said, his voice oddly husky as he held their eyes in turn. “Each of you had died.” He had to swallow a few times to get his emotions back under control. “I came back to The Burrow to end it. I was tired of running and I knew there was only one way I could end the war. I lured him there and waited for him in what was left of Ron’s room – the only place outside of Hogwarts that I really felt at home.”
Ron’s face was screwed up with some unidentifiable emotion that Harry guessed was a mixture of fear and happiness. Ginny continued to listen with rapt attention, while Hermione began to chew on one of her fingernails.
“They surrounded me – Voldemort and all of his followers. He threatened to kill me and I snapped. I don’t really know why I did it, or what caused me to even consider it, but somehow, I pulled all the magic in my body into a single sphere of power.” Hermione sucked in her breath. “Somehow I knew that exploding my magic would be able to bypass whatever enchantments or rituals he’d undergone and kill him forever.” Again, he did not bring up the Horcruxes, choosing to broach that subject when they had been given a chance to absorb what he was in the middle of telling them. “Since it was my magic, I could still control it, even though it was outside of my body. I compressed it into a single, tiny point and then released it.
“The explosion was huge – bigger than I’d imagined. It killed everyone within miles, I’d wager, including me.”
Hermione was almost bouncing in her seat with the effort to not ask questions. “I’m almost there, Hermione. One more thing and then you can ask as many questions as you like, but Ginny gets the first crack at me.” He caught her eye and she nodded, still regarding him with those intense brown eyes.
“Something else unexpected happened. As soon as the explosion was finished, a hole appeared in the middle of the air, just underneath me. I stared at it forever, thinking I had lost my mind, when I realized that it was pulling me – my spirit, I guess – until everything turned pitch black and then... I woke up in The Burrow in the middle of the night in this body. I figured out that I had gone back in time somehow, but that I also remembered everything from my past... future... whatever... life.”
Harry took a deep breath and waited for the questions to start. Hermione immediately jumped in to fill the quiet.
“Oh,” said Hermione excitedly, “I bet the explosion created a tear in space-time. That’s how you came back...”
“Hold on,” said Ginny. She turned to Harry. “Are you done? Because I have a question for you.”
Harry nodded, holding his breath and dreading the worst.
She pointed at him and then jerked her thumb at her chest. “What were we in the future? Were we friends?”
Harry felt something pinch his heart. He wanted so badly to hold her. “Yes,” he said in a small voice that, for once since he’d fallen into this body, matched his age. “We were the best of friends.”
Ginny held his gaze for a moment and with the same intellectual alacrity that Harry loved about her, said, “Were we more than friends?”
“Yes,” he admitted. “We were married.”
Ron’s eyes darkened and Hermione’s lips quivered just a bit, but Harry saw only Ginny’s face. Nothing changed on it, but she stood abruptly and turned her head so her eyes were hidden. “I... I have to go.”
Harry reached up a hand to stop her, but she was already on the stairs. She didn’t even take her book bag.
For the rest of the week, Harry watched Ginny. He knew that approaching her directly would only force her muddled feelings to solidify into anger and resentment. He didn’t know everything that was going through her mind, but he could tell what he’d said upset her and a large part of him couldn’t blame her in the least. If she had come to him as an eleven-year-old and declared that they were going to be married one day, he’d have thought she was mental. As it was, he reasoned that a few days of isolation from her was easily justifiable and a small price to pay if she would be able to accept his story.
Hermione and Ron, however, couldn’t ask him enough questions. He answered them the best he could, but explained that there were some things he wouldn’t tell them because the timeline had already changed and he didn’t want to set them up for failure. For example, he didn’t tell them who they married in his life. Not that he thought they wouldn’t eventually gravitate together, but he simply didn’t know how it would work now that he’d meddled with the events he knew would lead his friends down that particular path.
Ron seemed a little distant at first and Harry knew that it was his relationship with Ginny in his other life that gave Ron pause. It was still very odd to him to think about Ginny that way considering her age. Nevertheless, as time went by, Ron’s frosty exterior seemed to slowly melt and his friend appeared once more.
On Friday night, Luna Lovegood brought Harry another note from Dumbledore that explained he should meet the Headmaster in his office after dinner. Harry excused himself as soon as the last of his lamb stew had been mopped up with his bread and chewed as he walked slowly to the exit. Ginny caught his eye and offered him a small smile, the first he’d had in days, and it invigorated him in a way he hadn’t experienced since he’d held her as his wife.
Dumbledore was already in his office. Fawkes raggedly stood on his perch behind the Headmaster’s desk and Harry remembered that his burning day was approaching.
“You wanted to see me, sir?” asked Harry, unable to restrain the twelve-year-old from coming out a little more than normal.
Dumbledore surveyed him once again from across the large oak desk. He tapped his hand on the still-intact Diary. “We have some unfinished business that I’d like to discuss with you. There is also the matter of how your spirit came to be here. I believe I may have discovered a little more on how that occurred and what it may mean for our world.”
“It all comes down to Voldemort and the prophecy, doesn’t it?” Harry asked.
The Headmaster’s face betrayed the barest hint of surprise. “Sometimes I forget that you already know so much. I had intended to keep the contents of the prophecy away from you for as long as possible.”
“With all due respect,” said Harry tiredly, “you can’t protect my childhood any more. I may be twelve physically, but I’m twenty-two mentally and emotionally.”
With a nod of affirmation, Dumbledore drummed his fingers on the leather-bound Horcrux. “As sorry as I am to hear it, I do understand. However mature you are, I hope that you will take into account the very delicate structure of events that make up our world.” He paused to select a lemon drop and offered one to Harry, who took one gratefully. “Each action and every choice we make has far-reaching effects.”
“The butterfly effect,” said Harry idly and when Dumbledore didn’t offer his usual twinkle of understanding, Harry explained. “They say a butterfly can flap its wings in Africa and the disturbed air can turn into a hurricane in America.”
The twinkle returned. “Exactly, Harry. That’s precisely what I mean. Take, for example, your aunt and uncle. As much as I know you do not like to stay with them each year, changing that arrangement can have repercussions that reach out not just in your own life, but in their lives as well.”
“I don’t...” said Harry, but Dumbeldore continued as if Harry hadn’t interrupted.
“You are undoubtedly influenced by them, even though you fight valiantly to distance yourself, but consider for a moment that the opposite circumstance is just as true.” Harry’s mind jammed. In all the years he had lived with the Dursleys, he’d never once considered that he’d had even a minute effect on them. Now that he was forced to look back on his last interaction with them, he could see things that hadn’t been there before. The look on his aunt’s face as she dithered with telling him good bye... The fact that his cousin was decent to him for the first time in sixteen years... In a sickeningly strange way, he actually missed them.
“I see what you mean,” Harry finally said. “But that doesn’t mean I’m responsible for making them better people. No one should have to carry that burden, least of all me.”
Dumbledore’s beard twitched and Harry imagined that under the wiry whiskers, his mouth was turned into a frown. “I don’t believe anyone has the right to add to your burdens, Harry, and you certainly have more than your fair share, but I’ve always believed that some responsibilities fall upon uniquely-gifted shoulders for a reason. It may be that you are the only one that can help them be more responsible citizens and better human beings.”
Now it was Harry’s turn to frown. How could anyone expect the Dursleys to change simply because Harry lived with them? Why should he even be bothered by this strange twist in their conversation? It was Hermione’s words from his old fifth year that answered his question. It was his ‘saving people thing’ that made him worry about everyone – even the very relatives that ruined his childhood.
“Alas,” said Dumbledore, “I do not think you came here to be lectured on the effects of time-travel tampering. Instead, I think we should focus on the present problem of this Diary.” He held it up for inspection. “It is not affected by most kinds of magic and the Tom held within its pages is as skillful in deception as the Tom that went to school here fifty years ago.”
“Shouldn’t we just destroy it?” asked Harry. Why did he feel the need to poke and prod at everything that resisted discovery? As soon as the question passed across his mind, Harry knew that this was Dumbledore’s ‘thing’. He was cursed with an insatiable appetite for learning and discovery. He thought of the blackened and burned hand from his old sixth year and the stories of Dumbledore’s dealings with Grindelwald.
“Indeed we shall,” Dumbledore said. “But I confess I lack a method. Fiendfyre is a Dark spell that I will not cast unless I absolutely have to. The only known goblin-wrought sword obtained by a wizard was the one owned by Godric Gryffindor and it has not been seen for over a millennia. Finally, the Basilisk is a Dark creature that takes many years to develop from an egg – it would be devilishly tricky to contain considering its particular deadly qualities.”
Harry smirked. Now they were getting somewhere. “There just happens to be a Basilisk in the castle as we speak.”
Dumbledore’s eyebrows arched high on his forehead. “If I may ask, how is it that I am not aware of it, Harry?”
“You are,” he replied. “It’s just that the last time it killed, its owner felt it too risky to use again and he hasn’t been back at the school for... oh, about fifty years.” Harry gave Dumbledore a knowing smile.
“Ah,” said Dumbledore. “Salazar’s Chamber of Secrets.”
“Indeed,” said Harry, with inflected humor. “Only a Parseltongue can open it.”
“And you are?” asked Dumbledore.
Harry tapped a finger to his scar. “Voldemort put a bit of himself in here when he died. We’ll have to think about how to deal with that one as well, actually. It seems I’m his accidental Horcrux.”
If Dumbledore was surprised at Harry’s revelations before, it was nothing compared with the reaction Harry witnessed then. “Extraordinary! I always suspected something of his was transferred to you, but a Horcrux?”
“Indeed,” said Harry again, smiling. “But we can plan for my death another time. I’ve already done it twice and I’m in no hurry to repeat it – I might not get a chance to come back this time.”
Dumbledore stood, disturbed by Harry’s latest revelation for only a fraction of a second. “Very well. It’s late and you’ll need your sleep before we visit the Basilisk. Shall we arrange to meet after breakfast, then?”
“Yes,” said Harry, who, now that Dumbledore had mentioned it, was feeling very sleepy. He silently cursed his young body and wished he could keep going. “It’ll go a lot better this time if you just bring a rooster. I’ll call the Basilisk out and we’ll let the rooster do the rest.”
“An excellent plan, Harry,” aid Dumbledore affectionately. “Where shall we meet?”
“In the girls’ lavatory off the second floor where the Basilisk’s last victim died.”
“Myrtle,” said Dumbledore with a grim smile. “Tomorrow, then?”
“Good night, Headmaster,” said Harry, who unsuccessfully stifled a huge yawn.
As Harry left Dumbledore’s office and began to take the stairs, he heard the familiar tired voice behind him. “Good night, Harry.”
At breakfast, Harry noticed Dumbledore was not at the head table. He chalked it up to the Headmaster getting ready for their visit to the Chamber – something Harry hadn’t really had time to do since their conversation the previous evening. But it was someone else’s absence that made Harry realize the real reason he felt so distracted – Ginny.
“Anyone seen Ginny this morning?” asked Harry as casually as he could. Ron shook his head, but he was so busy piling bacon, sausage, and eggs onto his plate that he probably didn’t hear anyway.
“She said she’s not feeling well,” said Hermione.
“Oh,” replied Harry. He pushed his eggs around his plate for a while before he felt Hermione nudge his arm.
“What’s the matter, Harry?” she asked.
He sighed. “Nothing.” He tried to keep his voice casual, but something must have tipped Hermione off. She was an intelligent witch after all.
“Listen,” she said and put her fork and knife on her plate, “Ginny’s a little upset right now. She has a lot to digest, as you can imagine.” Hermione smiled reassuringly. “Just give her some time. She’ll come around.”
Harry tried to smile back, but couldn’t make it reach his eyes. “I guess,” he said and waited for breakfast to end. “I’ve got to do something with Dumbledore this morning. I might be gone for a while.”
“Watch yourself,” said Ron, whose expression told Harry that Ron could tell he was about to miss out on an adventure.
Harry smiled, thinking of the adventure in the Chamber that Ron almost missed in Harry’s other second year. “Thanks.”
The Chamber was as dank and morbid as Harry remembered it. Dumbledore’s presence made the trip a little easier and the older man didn’t seem to have a single smudge of dirt on his midnight blue robes when they were deposited at the base of the pipe. Harry, however, was even more messy and unkempt than the first time.
The door to the Chamber proper opened to Harry’s hissed command and he followed Dumbledore through the door, holding a brass cage in his hand and his wand in the other. The rooster inside had been charmed to be temporarily blind, but was otherwise unharmed. Dumbledore explained on the way down that they would simply prod the bird to crow when the time was right.
“Why not just use a spell to create a rooster’s crow?” asked Harry, who knew there were spells that could produce all kinds of animal sounds.
“Unfortunately, it takes the pure sound of a rooster’s crow to kill a Basilisk,” explained Dumbledore.
Slytherin’s statue loomed above them. Dumbledore pointed his lit wand around the Chamber and muttered to himself things like ‘remarkable’, and ‘fascinating’. When Dumbledore was satisfied with his survey, he conjured two blindfolds and handed one to Harry. “It will be difficult to not peek, but you must not make eye contact with the Basilisk.”
Harry rolled his eyes and tucked the bit of cloth in his pocket. “I think I’ll manage, thanks.”
Dumbledore pursed his lips, but did not repeat his request. Instead, he tied the blindfold tightly around his head and assumed a ready stance; his wand held loosely in his hand and pointed in the general direction of the statue’s mouth. “You may summon the Basilisk whenever you are ready, Harry.”
Harry looked into the eyes of the Hogwarts founder. “Speak to me, Salazar Slytherin,” said Harry in the hissed snake-language. The mouth slowly gaped open to reveal a large hole. Harry shut his eyes and focused instead on his hearing. There was a thud that sent tremors through his legs. Harry was about to prod the rooster when the snake began to hiss.
“Who calls me from my slumber?”
Harry froze. Should he stick with the plan and simply kill the giant snake? What if the Basilisk was more useful to them alive? What if he could convince it to aid them in fighting against Voldemort? The king of serpents was bound to be handy somehow.
He decided to hedge. “My name is Harry Potter.”
“Harry,” said Dumbledore softly, “now would be as good a time as any to induce our rooster to crow.”
Harry gripped his wand more tightly and was about to do exactly that when the snake spoke again.
“Why do you call me, speaker, and yet have a rooster with you? Do you intend to kill me?”
Harry was taken back. He hadn’t expected the Basilisk to be intelligent, let alone capable of restraint around humans. He remembered distinctly the sound of it slithering through Hogwarts saying, ‘Kill’ and ‘I smell blood’. How could he even consider trying to tame it?
“I’m afraid that you pose a great threat to the students at my school,” Harry replied, his decision made.
“I’m sorry to hear that,” said the Basilisk. There was a sound like a great body being dragged across a wet floor. “I’m afraid I can’t let you kill me quite yet.”
“Harry,” said Dumbledore more urgently.
He risked a peek at the floor and saw the shadow moving swiftly toward him. The head was lifting higher, ready to strike. Harry jammed his wand at the rooster who let out giant squawk which turned into a keening crow. The sound echoed around the Chamber until it died, the rooster itself seeming surprised that it had made such a loud noise.
Harry’s eyes were riveted on the shadow. It swayed in place, seeming to vacillate between striking Harry or Dumbledore first. Then, as if it had been held up by a string that was suddenly cut, the shadow drooped and fell.
“Look out!” yelled Harry, who dropped the cage and sprang at Dumbledore. The head crashed into the stone floor in front of them, sending shards of broken rock sailing in their direction. Harry felt something hard nick his face and hand as he connected with the Headmaster and they fell together in a heap.
“Are you all right?” asked Harry, who took a chance and looked up into the dull yellow eyes of the now dead Basilisk. The rooster was clucking hopelessly in its cage as it rolled around on the floor.
Harry looked back to Dumbledore, who was sitting up. “Is it safe to look?” he asked and Harry pulled the knot of his blindfold loose.
“Yes, the Basilisk’s dead.”
Dumbledore’s eyes swept across the room and then he winced and brought a hand to his face. “Ah,” he said. “I appear to have been hit with a piece of one of the fangs.” Protruding from his cheek was the broken tip of one of the giant snake’s teeth.
Harry blanched. “Fawkes!” he yelled and in a burst of fire, the bird appeared above them, circling and trilling soothing notes of eerie music. “Down here. Dumbledore’s hurt.”
The Headmaster pulled the fang tip free and Fawkes swooped close, tipping his head over the wound. Soon, the tears closed the injury and Dumbledore was on his feet. “Thank you,” he said to his familiar, who hopped up onto his shoulder. He turned to Harry. “And thank you, for your quick thinking.”
“Not a problem,” he said.
“Now, let us retrieve a few fangs and be on our way.” Dumbledore produced a large glass phial. With his wand, he extracted all the fangs that were not broken and placed them in the phial, closing the lid with a Sealing Charm.
“These should fetch a high price at the local Apothecary,” he said and, with a twinkle in his eye, added, “I imagine the Quidditch teams could benefit from some new brooms this year. I’ve always believed that sports should be a show of courage and skill, not of deep pockets.”
Harry smiled, wondering how Dumbledore knew about Lucius’ ‘donation’. “Malfoy won’t be happy about that.”