If you were to ask someone from each of the Hogwarts Houses what it means to be a Gryffindor, you would probably come up with four different answers. Gryffindors themselves will harp on proudly about bravery in the face of terrible odds, and great feats of heroism. Ravenclaws, on the other hand, will point to their history books and happily tell you about dozens of historical Gryffindors who were anything but heroic. A more naturally-cautious Hufflepuff might tell you that Gryffindors have a tendency to dive into dangerous situations without thinking, or stick their noses into things that do not concern them. And Slytherins? Everyone knows what they think: that Gryffindors are all hot air and arrogance, and that a person usually has to die to be proclaimed a hero.
Which do I think is right? They all are, to some extent. Some Gryffindors are more one thing than the other, and for some of us, it depends upon the day of the week, or which way the wind is blowing. One thing upon which all the Houses can usually agree is that, if a person is doing something for shock value, nine times out of ten, that person is a Gryffindor.
When I was Sorted to the red and gold five years ago, the Hat said a number of things to me that I will not repeat here, but I will say that it was quiet for a long time after I put it on, and when it made its judgment, its declaration of "GRYFFINDOR!" held a note of reluctance which only I seemed to notice. I do not know why I was Sorted as I was, except that McLaggens are usually Gryffindors, and my name is Lina McLaggen. It makes no difference who my mother was.
Which kind of Gryffindor am I, you ask? No question about it. I am a shock-value Gryffindor. And for my next trick, I'll be bagging myself a Slytherin boyfriend.
It almost never happens. The rivalry between the Houses tends to crush any romantic notions under its weight. Multiply that by ten if one is on the Quidditch team, as I am. But there is nothing I enjoy so much as a genuine look of openmouthed disbelief. The bloke I have my eye on is an absolute dish, too. Dark hair, dark eyes, clever, and as tall as I am, though he is a year younger.
I know it's forward of me to do the asking, but that's part of the fun. Even better, I get to ask him in front of Walburga Black. She's a Slytherin in my year, and I know she's had her eye on him too, but she's sour-faced as a hag, and not meant for something as tasty as him.
"Tom," I say, biting my lip as if I'm nervous to be asking, which I'm not. "It's Hogsmeade next weekend. Do you fancy stepping out with me?"
He gives me an appraising look from my eyes to my toes and back again. I know what he sees. I'm too tall for a girl, and skinny as a stick, lacking in any kind of feminine curves, not to mention the thick-rimmed spectacles I wear. I do, however, have rather pleasing sleek, black hair, and enough of the right kind of reputation to make a boy think he might be in with a chance.
A slow smile curves the corners of his mouth. "All right."
So I have an engagement with Tom Riddle for next weekend.
Tom is different from other boys. More of a mystery. It's as if he is made of secrets. Other boys I've been out with -- and there have been a few, in spite of the specs and the absence of a bosom -- have been all hands and hopeful compliments. Not Tom. I can't tell if he is interested or not, and that intrigues me.
He likes to talk about people. Not that he's a gossip, but he speculates. He seems to enjoy nothing more than watching people and trying to determine what motivates them, as if he is an observer of humanity, but not a part of it.
We are enjoying an unseasonably pleasant October day, relaxing on the Hogsmeade village green, and he wants to talk about Dumbledore, of all things. Professor Dumbledore is our Transfiguration master, and the Head of Gryffindor House. Tom is asking me questions as if I should know the man better than he does.
"I don't know," I say for the third time. "I hardly see him outside of meals and lessons, same as you. We've never spoken, except for academic matters. Why do you care so much what he's like?"
Tom shrugs and gives me a disarming smile. "I just hoped you might be able to tell me something new. Almost all the Slytherins are on friendly terms with old Sluggy. I thought you could give me a little inside information on Dumbledore. He doesn't like me, you know."
I am surprised. "He doesn't? Are you sure, Tom?" I've never heard of Dumbledore being less than cordial with a student before.
Tom grins in a way that does not quite reach his eyes. "Oh, there's a lot you don't know about me, Lina," he says with a wink. "I have a dark and shady past."
"You?" I laugh. "You're not old enough to have any kind of past at all."
He raises an eyebrow. "I've always been a bit advanced for my years."
Then he leans over and kisses me. It's so unexpected that I almost pull away. With all the talk about Dumbledore, I had begun to think he wasn't interested in me after all. But his mouth is sure on mine. There is no hesitancy about him. Something about the way he kisses makes me wonder if this is some kind of test -- as if he is less interested in kissing than in finding out what will happen when he does. I am more than happy to show him. I relax against him, parting my lips, and he does the same, his tongue teasing mine.
A disgusted tcha! spoils the moment. We look up to see an elderly witch with a crup on a lead, gazing down her nose at us in disapproval.
"You two ought to be ashamed of yourselves," she says primly. Her eyes fix on my knee where my robes have ridden up to expose the tops of my stockings. "That is no way for a proper young lady to behave."
I give her icy look for icy look. "Go tell that to a proper young lady, you old hag."
With a shocked intake of breath, the woman turns and quickly walks away.
"Lina!" says Tom, delighted. "I think I'm in love."
He isn't, of course, and part of me wonders if he ever could be, or if I would want him to be. He's a handsome lad, and nice enough for kissing, but he's so --
"Cold," I mutter.
He cocks his head. "What?"
"I'm cold," I say. "Let's go back to the castle."
That is not the last time I step out with Tom Riddle. He may be a bit odd, but he is also intelligent, which is appealing, and, as I mentioned, easy on the eyes and the lips. I like the mystery of him, and the challenge. It's entertaining to play the older woman. Perhaps I can bend this young Slytherin to my will.
One thing I learn in the weeks following our Hogsmeade outing is that Tom loves Hogwarts. Really loves it. He seems to know everything about its history and architecture, and if he finds something he doesn't know, he spends every waking moment in the library, or exploring dusty forgotten corridors, until he figures it out. Sometimes, he invites me along on these "expeditions", as he calls them.
Today, I find him in the library, deeply absorbed in a weighty tome filled with small print, reading obliviously as the first snows of winter fall past the windows.
"What are you looking for now?" I ask, leaning over his shoulder to see.
He snaps the book shut and looks up at me, calculating. "Let's go for a walk."
I have to step quickly to keep up with him as he strides along, taking this turn and that, coming at last to a halt in a long-disused corridor.
"Tom!" I giggle, trying to catch my breath. "You know you don't have to go to this much trouble if you want to kiss me. I'm perfectly happy to do it in the library. Let them stare."
But he is looking around, up and down the corridor and out the high narrow window and through an age-darkened door and behind a dusty tapestry of two bearded wizards with crossed staffs.
"What are you up to, Tom?" I ask, puzzled.
"Shhh!" he hisses.
At last, satisfied that there is no one within earshot, he says in a low voice, "Do you know anything about the Chamber of Secrets?"
It sounds familiar, but I can't place it. I shake my head.
"It's a legend from the time of the Founders. You know, Godric Gryffindor and that lot," Tom says, rocking back on his heels. "I've been looking for it for ages. The legend says that just before old Salazar Slytherin left the school for good, he built a secret chamber. You know how he believed in keeping Wizarding bloodlines pure, and the others were all for that 'equal rights for Mudbloods' nonsense?"
He is testing me. Most Gryffindors favour bringing Muggleborns and half-bloods into our world, but I come from an old pure-blood family, and I understand that magic is best left to those who are born and raised to it. Those with Muggle connections only endanger us, and threaten us with exposure. I nod.
"Well, in his secret chamber," Tom continues, "Slytherin put a monster of some sort that would live pretty much forever, and could only be controlled by him and his heirs. When he left, he vowed that one day his heir would return to open the chamber and use the monster to wipe out all the Mudbloods at the school."
"What kind of monster is it supposed to be?" I ask, intrigued.
Tom shrugs. "No one knows. But I mean to find out. I'm going to find the Chamber of Secrets and try to open it, and you're going to help me."
"All right," I say.
There is a thought forming in the back of my mind, but he cuts it off with a swift, fierce kiss. He is excited, but not by me; he is excited about this mysterious chamber of Salazar Slytherin's. It doesn't matter. The end result is the same.
I break the kiss and give him an enticing smile. "We can start searching later," I tell him. "Besides, I think better on my back."
The look he gives me is one I cannot interpret. "I know a place."
That night, I lie in the darkness of my curtained bed, recalling a most enjoyable afternoon spent in the company of Tom Riddle in one of Hogwarts' many guest rooms (usually locked, but there are ways around that). I am still trying to decide whether or not it was his first time. He seemed no more than mildly interested in the proceedings. I have known more experienced boys -- and one or two girls -- who were far more nervous about sex than Tom appeared. He was not an expert lover, but he knew what went where, which, at not quite sixteen, is as much as could be expected.
Lingering upon the memory is pleasant, but Tom's words from earlier in the afternoon are still nagging at the back of my mind. A monster, he said, which can only be controlled by Slytherin and his heirs. That bears consideration.
My father, Jovis McLaggen, comes from a long line of Gryffindors, and was very proud of the fact. I had a red and gold scarf before I was ever Sorted. When I made Chaser on the House Quidditch team, he bought me the finest racing broom available -- a Cleansweep Three -- and came to see me in my first match.
I never knew my mother. She died not long after I was born. As a child, I asked my father about her. He told me that she came from an old Wizarding family which had fallen on hard times. When I asked if he missed her, he looked sad and said that it was an arrangement of convenience, which her father had asked for, and he had not known her for very long.
I was too young then to understand what it meant -- "an arrangement of convenience" -- but when I asked again, before he died last year, he told me that my mother had become infatuated with a Muggle, much to the horror of her family, and her father had quickly arranged a marriage for her to the first pure-blood man who would have her.
"'Slytherin's blood will never mix with a filthy Muggle's,' her father told me."
"Was she really Slytherin's blood?" I asked.
My father had smiled at that. "I couldn't say, Lina. But she certainly believed she was."
If my mother came from Slytherin's line, then so do I. If this Chamber of Secrets exists, and I can find it, I'll prove it. For shock value, that would certainly raise a few more eyebrows than something as trivial as a Gryffindor bedding a Slytherin.
I turn over and close my eyes, a smile playing on my lips, and drift into dreams of stunned onlookers watching, openmouthed, as I ride Slytherin's monster out of the Chamber of Secrets. In my dreams no one is more shocked than the unflappable Tom Riddle. I don't think I will tell him I am Slytherin's heir, though. Not yet.
After the first time, Tom takes every opportunity he can to get me alone for another quick go-around. I enjoy the sport of it, but the pleasure he finds in our trysts still feels wrong to me. It doesn't feel like passion or desire or even simple adolescent lust, yet he clearly takes great satisfaction in having me every chance he gets. Sometimes, I think it would be exciting to be caught in the act, but Tom prefers to keep our affair private.
When I am summoned to Professor Dumbledore's office, I am puzzled, but I do not suspect that it has anything to do with Tom.
"Sit down please, Miss McLaggen." The Transfiguration master looks unusually grave.
"It has come to my attention," he says, steepling his fingers, "that you and Mr Riddle have -- ah -- formed an attachment, shall we say?"
I see no reason to deny it. "Yes, Sir."
He purses his lips, stroking his auburn beard, and appears to choose his next words carefully. "Please understand that I do not, as a rule, interfere in the personal associations of my students without good cause. However, in this case, I must insist that you do not pursue your liaison with Mr Riddle any further."
I am more puzzled than ever. "May I ask why, Sir?"
He frowns. "It is a matter of some delicacy. I would not ask it of you if it were not important, Miss McLaggen."
I lie and meekly agree to break it off. Then I go straight to Tom, of course, and tell him what Dumbledore said.
"It's odd that he wouldn't want me seeing you, isn't it? He's usually all about House unity."
Tom shrugs. "I told you he doesn't like me."
"What do you think we should do?" I ask. "Can he really stop us seeing one another?"
"Do you want to stop seeing me?" Tom's eyes are dark and unreadable.
"Of course not."
"Good. I have no intention of abiding by Dumbledore's injunction. We'll just have to maintain our distance in public."
I reluctantly agree, but in reality, the thrill of shocking people by kissing a Slytherin in public pales in comparison to the thought of sneaking illicit sex, and perhaps being caught in the act.
Once we begin our search for the Chamber of Secrets in earnest, Tom seems at least as excited about that as he is about getting me alone. He has a methodical mind, drawing up sketches of the castle and explaining the patterns of Hogwarts' moving floor plan. His knowledge of the school is as profound as his understanding of its history.
Tom has been searching off and on since he learned of the Chamber's possible existence in his second year, but to no avail. Many areas of the castle, he has already scrutinised. He is experienced in measuring the thickness of walls and floors, pacing the geometry of rooms and the distances along corridors, looking for discrepancies and areas where hidden spaces might be concealed. He teaches me to do the same.
We divide up the castle into areas of accessibility: places either of us may venture with impunity, places only a Slytherin or a Gryffindor may visit, places only a boy or a girl may go. Some areas are off limits to either of us, and we will need to create opportunities to search them. In the meantime, there are plenty of areas within the castle and grounds where access is not an issue.
The Chamber must be well-concealed, Tom reasons, or it would have been found by now, but it should be marked in some way. Old Slytherin meant for his heir to find it. Tom believes, and I agree, that we can safely rule out those parts of the school traditionally occupied by the other three Houses. Why would Slytherin conceal his chamber in Gryffindor's tower? But the school is enormous, and even working together, we spend months in fruitless searching.
It is almost by accident that I find something early that spring.
I am not feeling quite myself, and have ducked out of Arithmancy to visit the girls' lavatory. When I open the door, my ears are assailed by the sound of angry sobs. I groan. Myrtle Grumley. She's always crying and she's always in here. What an appalling bore.
Ignoring her wails of distress, I go to the sink and turn on the tap, but nothing comes out. I always forget that this sink doesn't work. Why does no one ever fix it?
I go to the next sink over and turn on the cold water, splashing some onto my face. Turning my head to glare nearsightedly at the useless, offending tap, I freeze, water dripping from the end of my nose. There, faint but unmistakable, is a tiny serpent, scratched into the side of the tap.
It can't be. This was not even a lavatory in Slytherin's day.
Experimentally, I twist the knob on the broken tap again. It turns easily, but nothing happens.
I bend my head down into the sink and peer up the pipe. "Open Sesame!" I say, feeling rather foolish.
"What are you doing?" asks a thick, sniffly voice close behind me.
I jump, banging my forehead on the metal tap, and spin around, cursing. Grumley stares at me suspiciously.
"Nothing," I snap, embarrassed and a little dizzy. "Don't you know it's not nice to sneak up on people?"
She peers at me through her thick specs. "Are you all right? You look like you've just seen a ghost."
"I'm fine," I say, pushing rudely past her. I can come back for another look at the tap later.
By the time I have a chance to tell Tom about my discovery, I am feeling better.
"I don't think it can be anything to do with the Chamber," I finish. "The plumbing's modern, isn't it?"
He rubs his chin thoughtfully. "You're probably right. I'll go take a look later, just to be sure."
"It's in the girls' toilets, Tom!" I exclaim, scandalised.
He grins. It's not often that he is able to shock me. "We haven't done it there yet, have we?"
"No," I agree, half amused. "Not yet."
"Fancy a walk?" That has become our code for finding a little privacy.
"Not right now." My head is still throbbing from where I banged it. "I'm a little tired. I want to lie down for a bit before supper."
It is the longest Tom and I have gone without having sex since we started. In the week since my inadvertent discovery in the girls' toilets, I have barely seen him. To complicate matters, I have made a second discovery that I need to tell him about, and he is probably not going to like this one.
Passing him on my way to Potions, I lay a hand on his arm. "What's going on, Tom?"
He smiles and leans in to murmur, "You'll see."
"I want a word with you," I tell him, but he is already walking away.
Two days later, he is right; I do see. And, as it turns out, I see a lot more than I want to.
I am loitering outside the hospital wing, debating with myself whether or not to go in and see Madam Zeller, the matron, when I hear a commotion on the steps behind me. Without thinking, I duck behind the heavy oak door, out of sight.
Coming up the steps are Headmaster Dippet, Professor Dumbledore, and Professor Merrythought, the elderly Defence Against the Dark Arts mistress. Floating in front of them is -- a body. My stomach turns over and I feel faint. The girl -- a Hufflepuff I know by sight, but not by name -- wears an expression of rigid surprise. Her limbs stick out stiffly at odd angles. The three professors, grim-faced, guide their cargo into the hospital wing.
Standing as close to the door as I dare, I hear Madam Zeller's cry of shock.
"Oh, Galatea! What's happened?"
"She's not dead, Claudia," Professor Merrythought says grimly, and I let out a breath I did not know that I was holding. "I believe she has been petrified. It may be possible to restore her."
"But how did it happen?" the matron cries.
"We do not know." Dumbledore's voice is soothing. "Please, try to calm yourself, Claudia. I believe the girl is in no immediate danger."
"I must send word to her parents. Miss Bones is a member of my House," says Professor Merrythought stiffly, and hurries off. I duck behind the door just in time.
Inside the hospital wing, the matron is fussing over the petrified girl, trying to pull the blankets up over her awkwardly-bent limbs. The headmaster and Dumbledore are speaking together in low voices. They are close enough to the entrance that I can hear every word.
"Did I see what I thought I saw, Albus?" Headmaster Dippet wheezes. "My eyesight is not as good as it once was."
"Do you mean the writing on the wall above Miss Bones?" Dumbledore asks grimly.
"Tell me what it said, Albus; there's a good lad."
Dumbledore sighs. "It said, 'Slytherin's Heir Returns Triumphant. The Chamber of Secrets Has Been Opened'."
"But what can it mean, Albus?" asks the headmaster. "The Chamber is only a legend."
"I don't know, Armando," says Dumbledore. "But I mean to find out."
They may not know what it means, but I do. There is only one other person besides me who has been searching for the Chamber of Secrets, and I would wager that my discovery of the little serpent in the girls' toilets last week is no coincidence.
It has to be Tom who has opened the Chamber. But how can that be? I am the one who has Slytherin's blood. Tom was raised in a Muggle orphanage, if what I've heard is true. Slytherin's heir can't be spawned from Muggles. It's not possible. There is one way to find out for sure, and with Dumbledore busy, it should not be difficult to manage.
The room containing the Hogwarts Book is next to Dumbledore's office. The Book is very large and very old, and it lies on an oak pedestal with the Quill poised over its age-yellowed parchment. Whenever a magical child is born in Britain, the Quill inscribes a new line, noting the child's name, the date of birth, the names of the parents, and, if the parents are magical as well, page references to locate their own entries in the Book.
I carefully turn back the pages seventeen years to the date of my own birth. There I am: Marvolina McLaggen, 4 October 1925, born to Jovis McLaggen and Merope Gaunt. My father's ancestry might be interesting to explore one day, but right now, it is my mother's family I need to know about. I flip back further still to her own birth, in 1908, to Marvolo Gaunt, my grandfather and namesake, and his wife, Maud Gaunt, and then back again to find Marvolo's father and grandfather. The Gaunt line ends abruptly in the early sixteenth century with Matthias of Ghent, who emigrated to Britain from the Netherlands. His ancestors are not included in the Book. Frustrated, I turn back and try another branch.
It takes over an hour, but at last I locate my connection to Salazar Slytherin, through the Peverell line. The entry is only a few pages from the start of the Book, and the ink is faded with age. In 1005 AD, Alys Peverell bore a son to Salazar Slytherin. Reverently, I touch the names of my remote ancestors.
That proves it. Now I only need to check Tom's line. If one of his parents was magical, I will be able to look them up. Perhaps we are distant cousins. I flip back to the record of my own birth, and then one page past it. Tom is a year younger than I am, born on New Year's Eve. Yes, there he is. Tom Marvolo Riddle. Marvolo? But --
And that is when I make my third discovery. I stare in horror at the page before me, where the words are printed, clear and undeniable against the pale parchment: Tom Marvolo Riddle, 31 December 1926, born to Tom Riddle and Merope Gaunt.
No. It can't be true. My mother died. Tom can't possibly be my -- my brother. Sick horror overwhelms me. I cling to the pedestal, feeling as if I might faint or vomit. I press a hand to my mouth to keep from screaming.
What am I going to do? I have to tell him. I have to tell him everything. At least then I will have someone to share my distress.
Shakily, I turn the pages of the Book forwards to the half-finished one, hiding the evidence of the most shocking thing I have ever done. I've lost my taste for inspiring stunned looks. All I want to do now is hide.
I find Tom leaning against the bannister of the great staircase, watching a stream of subdued and whispering students enter the Great Hall for supper, a smug expression on his face. In my agitation, I had almost forgotten about the petrified Hufflepuff in the hospital wing.
"Tom, I need to talk to you. Now."
"All right," he shrugs.
I walk past him up the stairs to the second floor, and go into an empty classroom, not looking to see if he follows me. He does, though. I shut the door, drawing my wand to lock it behind us.
"Lina," he says with a smirk, "I know it's been a few days, but if you missed me, all you had to do was ask."
I slap him hard across the face. The smirk vanishes.
"You -- you -- !" I am almost too angry to speak. "You opened the Chamber, didn't you? Without telling me. And that girl -- !"
"It was mine to open," he replies coolly. "I'm Slytherin's heir, as it turns out."
I bite back my first reply. I am upset. This is going to be as much of a shock to him as it was to me. I should break the news to him gently. Taking a deep breath, I lay a conciliatory hand on his arm.
"That's not actually what I wanted to talk to you about," I say, struggling for calm. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have struck you. I'm not thinking straight. Tom, I-I'm pregnant."
His face is unreadable for a moment, and then a slow smile spreads across it. This time, it reaches his eyes.
"Really?" he says. "How wonderful! On the day that I've shown myself to be Slytherin's true heir, the line of succession is secured. An excellent omen. Our son will have the secret of Slytherin's Chamber after me."
I realise that my mouth is hanging open in shock, and close it. He actually sounds pleased. He won't be when I tell him the rest of it.
"Tom," I say, choosing my words as carefully as I know how, "let's sit down."
"If you like."
We sit facing one another across two classroom desks. I reach to take his hands, and then draw back. He's my brother. Another wave of nausea assails me.
"I'm not having this baby," I tell him. "I can't."
"Why not?" He looks no more than puzzled. The smile does not waver.
"I found something else out today." The words are incredibly hard to say. "I found out your mother's name. It's the same as my mother's. I'm your sister, Tom. Your half-sister. We can't have a baby together."
He sighs. "I had hoped you wouldn't find out yet, Lina."
I stare at him, uncomprehending. "You knew? Is that why we haven't been -- ? But you just said you were pleased that -- Tom, what in Merlin's name is going on?"
He shrugs. "I've known you were my sister for a few years. When I learned your name was Marvolina, I checked, because it's so close to my middle name. When you invited me to Hogsmeade with you, it was too good an opportunity to pass up."
The tide of onrushing horror is threatening to sweep me away. He has known that I am his sister all along. All the things we did -- I cannot suppress a shudder of revulsion.
"I am not having this baby, Tom," I say again, more firmly than ever.
His expression turns dark, and I notice a red cast to his eyes that I have somehow missed before. "Enough of this nonsense, Lina," he says sternly. "That's my heir you're talking about, and the heir of Salazar Slytherin himself, after me. He'll be great, and he'll have Slytherin's blood on both sides."
That makes my blood boil. How dare he presume to tell me what to do?
"You call yourself Slytherin's heir?" I hiss, rising from my seat. "Our mother was married to my father when she ran off with that Muggle. You're a bastard and a half-blood, and you're younger than me. So who's Slytherin's heir now? Tell me that, Tom Riddle!"
I raise my hand to strike him again, but he grabs my wrist, twisting my arm painfully.
"You will not lay hands on me, woman," he says coldly. "No female can be the heir of Salazar Slytherin. And you will not address me by that Muggle's name. My mother named me Tom Marvolo Riddle, but I have taken a new name for myself out of it. From this day forwards, I am Lord Voldemort."
I might have laughed at such a pretentious declaration under almost any other circumstances, but the look in his eyes is terrifying, and his grip on my wrist hurts.
"Stop it, Tom," I say, trying to keep my voice steady. "You're scaring me."
He lets go of me, and turns to leave.
"Don't test me, Lina," he says when he reaches the door. "You've seen what I can do to those who vex me. Think about it. I'll give you three days to come to me."
I don't know what to do. Two days have passed. Another student has been found petrified, and the school is in a state of panic. I know who is behind it. I could tell them, but they would ask how I know. To speak up would be to implicate myself. I sought out the Chamber. I found the entrance. I told Tom where to look. I have Slytherin's blood. Who would believe my word -- the word of the Gryffindor showoff -- against that of popular, clever, good-looking Tom Riddle? And then there is whatever Tom would do to me, and what he almost certainly will do to me if I fail to bear his child.
I don't have to tell what I know. What are the Muggleborns of this school to me, weighed against my own life and safety? If I do bear the child and hand it over to him, he might even let me go my own way. Or he might consider me a liability, and kill me. I believe that he is capable of it. Even if he decides not to, he will stain my name with incest when he declares our child to be Slytherin's blood on both sides.
Perhaps not. Who's to say we aren't merely cousins? It's not as if anyone knows who our mother was. Except --
Dumbledore. Dumbledore knows. That's why he didn't want me seeing Tom. Why didn't he tell me? I was so sure he just didn't like Tom.
But he doesn't like Tom, I realise. Dumbledore is one of the few people who seem immune to his charm. Could he help me? He is a powerful wizard, and most people agree that he is a wise man. He should be more than a match for Tom Riddle.
I can't tell Dumbledore what I know about the Chamber, or about being Slytherin's blood. I am Slytherin's heir, no matter what Tom may think, and I want whatever power and privilege comes with that title. It's mine by right, and if I have to bring down my brother to claim that right, then so be it. I have to find a way to make Dumbledore my ally and Tom's enemy, and make him swear never to reveal to anyone what he knows of our parentage.
"You wished to speak with me, Miss McLaggen?" Professor Dumbledore gives me a searching look over the top of his half-moon specs. "Do you perhaps have information regarding the recent occurrences?"
"No, Sir," I say, as meekly as I can manage. "I -- I have a problem, and I need help."
"Any student may tell me anything in confidence, child," he says kindly. "What is troubling you?"
"I -- oh, Professor!" I cry in tones of well-feigned despair. "I'm pregnant!"
"Ah. Is it, perhaps -- ?" he inquires delicately.
"Tom's," I say miserably, burying my face in my hands so that he cannot judge my expression too closely. I rub my eyes hard, trying to make them look red with weeping.
"I am sorry to hear it."
I look up, biting my lip. "I know, Professor. I know why you didn't want me seeing him. I found out. But it was too late. I was already -- oh, what am I going to do?"
"Does Mr Riddle know?" Dumbledore asks gently.
"About this?" I ask, waving a hand over my belly. "Or that we're -- ?"
"Both," I whisper with false reluctance.
The Transfiguration master frowns. "And what were his feelings on the matter?"
I do not have to fake a look of disgust. "He seemed happy about it. All of it. He scared me. And -- " here is the part where I pull out all the stops, and I am pleased to feel real tears spring to my eyes -- "and he hurt me when I said I didn't want to have it, and that what we had done was wrong! I'm so scared, Sir. Please, I think he might do something awful if I can't get away from him."
Dumbledore looks sympathetic. "I feared that might be his reaction. Do not worry yourself, Miss McLaggen. I can protect you from him. If you choose to bear the child, you can be hidden until it is born, and I can keep it safe from him after that."
My look of shocked disbelief is real. "You can't expect me to have this child!"
"Of course not, my dear," he says kindly. "These are difficult circumstances for any young person to bear. The decision rests with you, and you alone. You need not make it at once, but my understanding is that these things are best dealt with sooner, rather than later. Madam Zeller will be able to advise you better than I. In the meantime, I can protect you. You need not fear Mr Riddle, whatever you decide."
Slowly, I nod. "How will you hide me, Sir? I think Tom might really be dangerous. Especially to me, after this."
"Are you really so afraid of him, child?"
I nod, lowering my eyes. "I think he'd kill me if he ever found me." That much, at least, is true.
He seems to believe me. "If that is the case, then it may not be safe for you to be Marvolina McLaggen, at least for a time. I will keep an eye on Mr Riddle. If he shows himself to be violent or dangerous, he will be brought to justice and contained. But until that time, you would have to live a different life -- build a new identity. Are you prepared to do this?"
I nod again. "My father is dead. I have no other family. I could -- be someone else. It would be like Tom never had a sister. You won't tell anyone, will you Sir?" I ask, blinking large, innocent eyes. "I think you might be the only one who knows."
"I promise, Miss McLaggen," he says solemnly. "Your secret will be safe with me."
I am going. I won't say where. Tom doesn't know. He will be furious when he finds out. Maybe he'll kill a few Mudbloods and be sent to Azkaban. Then I'll be safe.
Maybe I'll have this baby after all, just to spite him. The thought of the child being out there in the world, and Tom not being able to touch it, feels like a victory. Tom was right about one thing; Slytherin must have an heir. If I have the baby, I'll give it to Dumbledore when it's born. Merlin knows I don't want to raise such a creature. But someday maybe I will ask where it is.
In the meantime, I will hide. I will stay away until Marvolina McLaggen is forgotten by almost everyone who ever knew her.
One day, I will emerge like a butterfly from a chrysalis, a new creature with a new name. I have chosen the name already -- taken it from my old one, as he did, to taunt him. I should be able to make my way in the Wizarding world, even though no one has ever heard of Minerva McGonagall. I won't have my NEWTs, but my marks on the OWLs were excellent, and if I ever need work, I can come to Dumbledore.
The real power is here, at Hogwarts. The Chamber is here, and Slytherin's monster, too. Perhaps I can bide my time as a teacher, moulding the minds of the young. And one day, I will meet my brother again, face to face. If I ally myself with Dumbledore for now, when that day comes, I will be in a position to strike Tom Riddle down. Then all the power and influence that are due to the heir of Salazar Slytherin will be mine at last.