Dark clouds streamed across the ceiling of the Great Hall. A clatter of plates and cutlery rumbled beneath in place of thunder.
Harry folded Sirius’ letter in half, then tucked it under the edge of his plate.
So my invisibility cloak’s a very old family heirloom. Harry stared up at the teachers’ table. If it resists summoning charms, the revealing spell, and all the others Sirius listed, maybe it could’ve let me cross the age line. Dumbledore probably knows it can, that’s why he thinks I did it.
He pulled the Marauders’ Map out of his pocket and scanned the swarm of names. ‘Igor Karkoroff’s not in the castle and Professor Moody’s still in his office, like always. Which leaves Snape, who’s in his office as well, but I’m pretty sure Sirius only suggested him because he hates him.’
Harry folded the map over, then another name appeared at the edge of the quidditch pitch. Peter Pettigrew. He bounced his wand against his fingers. If I catch him, I can prove Sirius’ innocence.
The name vanished.
Next time, perhaps.
‘Harrikins.’ The twins slid themselves onto the bench across from him. ‘Long time no see.’
‘We should probably stop calling him that, Fred.’
I’ve been called worse. Harry tucked the letter out of sight.
‘I suppose,’ the other, possibly George, said. ‘He did survive the dragon.’
‘Shouldn’t the two of you be over there?’ Harry nodded in the direction of Angelina, Alicia, and Katie.
‘No,’ Fred said.
‘They’re coming over here,’ George said. ‘We told you this wouldn’t last long if we could help it.’
‘Although it was Katie that did most of the persuading,’ Fred added.
Harry watched the three Gryffindor girls approach and drew a calm face over the cocktail of feelings churning in his stomach. He pictured the circle of black ink on white paper and took a quiet, deep breath. ‘Angelina, Alicia.’ He smiled. ‘Katie.’
‘Harry.’ Katie squirmed. ‘Nice to see you again.’
Angelina put her hands on her hips. ‘I was assured you’d hear me out, despite Hermione telling me otherwise.’
‘I promised somebody that I‘d at least listen to you. I keep my promises.’
She drummed her fingers on her hip. ‘Then I’m sorry about what I did. You’ve represented both Gryffindor and Hogwarts as well as I could’ve, regardless of whether you used an invisibility cloak to put your name into the goblet.’
‘So you don’t believe me, but have moved past your jealousy at not being chosen yourself.’ Harry cast a glance down the table at Hermione and Ron. ‘An invisibility cloak isn’t enough to cross an age line. I heard someone in Ravenclaw tried it.’
Angelina’s finger’s curled into her waist and turned pale. ‘I suppose that’s a fair description.’
She’d do it again. Harry’s thoughts welled up from the back of his mind in Riddle’s voice. Forgive and forget and you’ll be betrayed next time, too.
‘Then I’ll tell you what I told the rest of you. I don’t forgive you and I won’t forget what you did, but I do understand why you did it well enough not to hold a grudge and perpetuate this affair. We’re no longer friends, if we ever were. ‘
Katie beamed. A glitter of white teeth between pale, pink lips, her mahogany eyes glimmered beneath a scatter of loose dark hair. ‘Thank you, Harry.’
‘I get the feeling you don’t mean Katie,’ Alicia said.
‘She was the one who convinced me to listen to you.’
Alicia smirked. ‘I’m not very surprised Katie didn’t go along with everything.’
Katie flushed and tugged at her little finger. ‘Thank you for listening.’ She shot a glance at her friends, who stepped back and took a seat several metres down the table.
‘I said I would.’ Harry eyed Katie’s fingers. Her anxious fidgeting seeped into him. ‘Er…’
‘Do you want to go to Hogsmeade at the weekend?’ She blurted.
‘Who’s going?’ Harry asked.
‘Me,’ Katie whispered.
Oh. A date. Harry blinked. A date with Katie.
She stared up at him with wide eyes, biting at her lower lip. ‘If you don’t want to go it’s ok,’ she murmured.
She’s cute and she’s fun. Harry struggled for a reason to say no. She seems to want to go with me and I don’t really have plans.
‘What time?’ he asked.
Katie grinned, a bright blush on her cheeks. ‘Eleven. I’m not much of a planner. We can figure out what to do when we get there.’
What am I meant to do? Or wear? Harry’s stomached coiled into a knot. Maybe I should’ve said no.
‘Sounds perfect.’ He flashed her a smile.
Katie’s blush bypassed all remaining intermediate shades of red and skipped straight to crimson. She glanced back down the table to where Angelina and Alicia were giggling to each other, then bounced forward and wrapped her arms round him.
A soft warmth enveloped him. Harry slid his arms back round her, breathing in the scent of fresh cut grass, broom polish, and cherries.
‘I’m sorry,’ she said, when she let go and stepped back. ‘I’ve never asked anyone on a date before and I sort of expected you to say no.’ Katie’s words tumbled over one another into a happy burble. ‘ I need to get some food and go find Angelina and Alicia and then there’re classes…’ She gave him a wave and a smile, then skipped to her friends.
‘Hogsmeade with Katie Bell.’ Ginny spoke up from a few places down the table.
How long has she been there?
‘I was going to ask you if you’d take me to the Yule Ball.’ Ginny’s tone was bright but her smile trembled. ‘But if you’re going on dates with Katie, then you’ll be going with her.’
‘I guess I will be.’
It would be a bit strange if I didn’t ask her now.
‘I suppose I’ve missed my chance, then.’ Ginny’s smile grew wider.
‘I can go with Dean or with Michael. I’ll enjoy myself with either of them.’
‘Don’t make any decisions with me in the back of your mind,’ Harry said. ‘I like Katie.’
‘Ah.’ A sad, small smile crept onto Ginny’s lips and she blinked several times. ‘I hope you enjoy going with Katie, then.’
I’m sorry. I’m not the boy you grew up dreaming about. I’ve never been the boy any of you grew up hearing about.
‘I think I’m probably going to hate the Yule Ball,’ he murmured.
Katie will make it bearable. Harry headed for the Chamber of Secrets. Salazar’s very unlikely to cry, ask me on a date, or invite me to a ball. Well, I certainly hope he doesn’t, at least.
Ron rose from his seat and stepped into his path. ‘What the bloody hell did you say to my sister?’
Dean glowered past Ron’s shoulder, fists and jaw clenched.
Ginny did mention Dean. Did he ask her already?
‘I told her something she knew I would, but hoped I wouldn’t.’
‘Was she not good enough for you?’ Dean banged his goblet on the table. ‘You thought it was alright to just toss her away?’
‘Would you rather I’d lied to her?’
‘So you just crush her and walk away?’ Ron’s face turned puce. ‘Does she mean nothing to you?!’
‘Better she understands now and has the chance to move on.’ Harry sighed. ‘Seriously, Ron. The longer it goes on, the worse it is for her. I’m not going to magically change my feelings for her over night. This is the right thing to do for her and me.’
Dean snorted. ‘Something tells me you’re more concerned about yourself, mate.’
Ron snarled. ‘If you’ve hurt her–’
‘You’ll do what?’ Harry let his wand slip into his hand. ‘It’s not your place to decide things for Ginny, but if you want to play at being the protective older brother, you can start by asking Dean what his intentions were in asking her to the Yule Ball.’
Ron swivelled to stare at Dean.
‘I was going to tell you if she said yes,’ Dean said. ‘But she wanted time to think about it, obviously because she wanted to go with him.’
Ron chewed that over clenching and unclenching his fists. ‘It’s alright. I trust you, Dean, but if you upset her, same bloody rules apply. You’ll have me and all her older brothers to explain yourself too.’ He glared at Harry. ‘You’ve already hurt her, you arrogant prat, and you’ll pay for it.’
‘Threatening me, Ron, isn’t a good idea. If you were smarter, you’d know that.’ Harry tapped his wand against his palm. ‘You think you scare me? More than a dragon? A basilisk? Voldemort?’
‘Exactly.’ Harry slid his wand back into his sleeve. ‘If you can’t even say a silly made up name, you might as well get the hell out of my way.’ He brushed through the pair of them and headed for the chamber.
‘Did you read all the books?’ Salazar asked as Harry carried him over the bridge.
‘I did.’ Harry staggered to the side of the chamber and leant the picture against the wall. ‘More than once, as some took a few tries to wrap my head round.’
‘You understand the principles, then?’ Salazar asked. ‘How blood magic, sacrificial magic, and rituals all fit together.’
‘I understand the principles, but not how you would decide on an appropriate sacrifice.’
‘That comes from understanding yourself and what you’re after. Was there anything in the books that caught your eye?’
‘Yes.’ Harry opened the Secrets of the Darkest Arts. ‘There’re over a hundred pieces of parchment covered in Tom Riddle’s handwriting stuffed in this book. I found it curious he’d devoted so much effort to the subject, but it wasn’t part of my reading.’
Salazar frowned down at the book. ‘Tom, like yourself, found he took well to certain areas of magic and pursued them single-mindedly.’
Harry tapped the tome. ‘Do you know what a Horcrux is?’
Salazar nodded. ‘It’s a branch of soul magic. It anchors a person to the world when they would otherwise die. A dangerous, double-edged piece of magic, I would imagine.’
I was less than the meanest ghost, but I was alive. Harry recalled Voldemort’s words in their first meeting. That’s how he survived.
‘Tom Riddle created one,’ he said.
‘Whatever he made into a horcrux is anchoring him here,’ Salazar said. ‘It would have to be destroyed before Riddle can be killed.’
‘How can I find it?’
Salazar stroked his chin with one hand and the head of his snake with the other. ‘These items will be very dangerous, even if they’re only magically protected by the creator. I would suspect a soul fragment could affect any magical, living thing that interacts with it. In all manner of ways.’
Harry’s eye drifted to the clean patch of stone near the maw of the basilisk’s corpse. All manner of ways, huh. Like showing memories, absorbing life, and casting magic?
‘Could it possess someone?’
‘I believe it could in the right circumstances,’ Salazar replied. ‘Possession is a crude word for what I would describe as imbuing a living thing with yourself. I’ve little practical experience with this aspect of soul magic, though. Why?’
‘When I slew your basilisk it had been unleashed on the school by a girl possessed by a shade of Tom Riddle. The shade was connected to a diary and was only destroyed when I stabbed it with a basilisk fang.’
It was a horcrux. A grim certainty settled on Harry. But if I destroyed it, does that mean Riddle is finally dead?
‘That may very well have been a horcrux. What else did the diary do?’
‘It wrote back if you wrote in it, it showed me his memories, and it tried to drain the life from Ginny to become real again.’
‘Horcrux or not that was certainly no ordinary enchanted book,’ Salazar said. ‘It is possible Tom Riddle created something different with similar effects, but it sounds like the diary was imbued with more than just magic. To act with intelligence and autonomy rather than just respond, that would require it to be imbued with intent of its own. A fragment of soul, if you like.’
Someone needs to know.
‘I have to tell Professor Dumbledore,’ Harry said. ‘I gave him the book after leaving the chamber, what if it’s not completely destroyed?’
‘Basilisk venom is an unnatural substance, designed to destroy both organic tissue and any magic it comes into contact with. Whatever that diary was, horcrux or not, it’s destroyed. This Professor Dumbledore, he is the same one that taught Tom Riddle and defeated Grindelwald, a powerful dark wizard?’
‘Yes. He’s recognised as the most powerful living wizard.’
‘If he’s as powerful and knowledgeable as Tom Riddle feared and you believe, then I’ve little doubt he knows exactly what the diary was.’
Harry shook his head. ‘He would have told me. Or, he would’ve told someone in the ministry. We’d’ve seen something happen.’
Salazar stroked his chin. ‘Perhaps, but it seems he hasn’t, and I can’t help but wonder why. There’s too much that we don’t know.’
‘He might not’ve realised.’
But he always knows. Every year. Harry scowled. Dumbledore suggested we use the time-turner be used to save Sirius and Buckbeak, Fawkes came to help with the basilisk, and Dumbledore found me before the Mirror of Erised twice.
‘It doesn’t yet matter,’ Salazar said. ‘We’ve no real proof he ever created one, just a stack of notes on the subject. Read through them and perhaps we’ll learn something. Albus Dumbledore will have his reasons for keeping this a secret. It’s possible he intends to quietly destroy the other anchor and wishes to ensure Riddle does not suspect anything.’
And Trelawney made that stupid prophecy about him rising again, so he can’t have died during second year.
‘There has to be another anchoring horcrux,’ Harry said. ‘The diary was destroyed by the basilisk venom, so there has to be another one somewhere.’
‘The horcrux will be well hidden and warded.’
‘I’m surprised he left the notes.’
‘Tom was the last of his family,’ Salazar murmured. ‘Not only is this place well protected by the basilisk, but many wards. It was as much a sanctuary to him, as it is to you now.’ Salazar sighed and his eyes darkened. ‘Tom’s hubris was born in this room and it grew to consume him, amongst other things. He would’ve never believed I might find a more suitable heir than him even if some other blood relative came here, so he likely expects my Chamber of Secrets to be his for as long as he lives.’
‘Dumbledore must be searching for the other horcrux,’ Harry said. ‘That must be why he’s not said anything.’
‘Or he’s already found the anchor and is searching for a way to destroy it and confirmation it is the only one. It’s unlikely there are more than a few, the side effects of such magic are not something to lightly risk.’
He didn’t look human. The crimson eyes, slit nostrils, pale face and smoke-black spirit of Voldemort flashed through Harry’s mind. Barely human at all.
‘What kind of effects?’
‘The soul is a reflection of many things,’ Salazar said. ‘I studied the subject in an attempt to create an artefact such as the one my daughter and I searched for. I swiftly gave up when I realised I didn’t have enough of my lifetime left to master such magic.’
‘When I saw him in first year, he looked inhuman.’
‘Voldemort, for it seems there’s little left of Tom, appears to have severely damaged himself, or, at least, changed himself. I would imagine it is the result of however you create horcruxes.’ Salazar shuddered. ‘It would require a truly terrible desire to live, no less than an act of absolute selfishness would be powerful enough to fuel such magic, likely inflicting the very thing the creator wishes to escape on another to save himself.’
‘Is his soul weaker?’
‘A soul doesn’t have strength in such a simple way. It’s the essence of yourself. Your intentions in all things, great and small, and everything associated to them. Your body has strength, your magic has power, your mind has its intellect and will. The soul is that little bit more behind them. Any soul magic is cast upon your own consciousness and magic itself. Something not to be undertaken lightly, Harry.’
So true soul magic’s another very abstract, powerful kind of magic. Like blood magic, but the medium’s your intent and magic itself.