Keeping an eye on the map, Harry raced through the hallways. It was clear now why the Weasleys had been so successful in their pranking. The ability to know where the professors were and where every other student was would have made getting around easy.
Harry didn't even bother with the invisibility cloak; it would be difficult to run with it and read the map at the same time.
Most of the portraits were sleeping, although a few called out indignantly as he raced by. Considering that Harry really didn't care about detentions or house points it didn't really matter. There wasn't anything the school could do to him with the exception of expulsion that could be any worse than what had happened to him already.
Despite this, Harry kept an eye out for other teachers. Mrs. Norris was still petrified, which meant that Filch was a great deal less dangerous, but Harry could see that Snape and McGonagall were still out patrolling.
Even if he'd been inclined to inform them, Harry couldn't take the risk that they'd stop him. Snape would ask why he was stalking Ginny Weasley, and Harry wouldn't have a good answer.
If he could find out enough this time he'd be able to stop it, even if he had to come back again. Dying without learning anything would just make everything worse.
She'd stopped in the hallway where the first message about the Chamber of Secrets had been left for almost five minutes. Harry still wasn't sure how she'd painted the message in blood considering that the words were too high for her to reach. Magic of some sort, he supposed.
If there was another message it would strongly suggest that she was the one painting them.
Harry stopped suddenly as Ginny vanished from the map.
She'd been in Myrtle's bathroom just a moment before and suddenly she vanished. Was it a glitch in the system? Harry quickly checked for everyone else that he knew, and he saw everyone was where he expected them to be.
Myrtle Warren had been killed in that bathroom, at least according to the records Harry had seen in the last iteration. There had been water at the site of the Chamber of Secrets message.
The conclusion was obvious. The chamber hadn't been found in a thousand years because it was warded somehow, and the entrance was in that bathroom.
Harry wouldn't be able to take on the Basilisk by himself, so he had to get help. Snape would be the obvious choice; Harry had seen enough of his skills during the dueling club meetings to know that he was probably a close match for Flitwick as a duelist. However, he wasn't sure whether he trusted Snape or not and Snape would ask too many questions. The same could be said for Dumbledore.
Trelawny wouldn't be able to protect anyone from a flobberworm, much less a full grown basilisk and Harry didn't want to lose Flitwick or McGonagall. He didn't know any of the other teachers well enough to ask them for help.
Lockhart however...if he was actually Voldemort's servant, this was Harry's chance to prove it. If he was simply faking his skills for some other reason, then Harry would have the assistance of a renowned monster fighter.
If he was an idiot, Harry was reasonably sure he could run faster than the man. Eating him might distract the Basilisk long enough for Harry to escape.
It was a risky plan, but there wasn't much of a choice.
"Her skeleton will lie in the Chamber forever? Hmmm..." Lockhart said, staring up at the message. "An intriguing problem. And you believe that the entrance is in the girl's bathroom."
"Do you think we should inform the other professors?" Harry asked.
Lockhart's answer to the question would lend a great deal to proving him in Voldemort's service or not. Any reasonable person would insist on informing the Headmaster or at least Snape. A basilisk was a lot for one wizard to handle.
"Nonsense, my boy," Lockhart said. His smile seemed forced though. "This is something we can handle ourselves."
Harry turned as though to head toward the girl's bathroom; he was ready when he saw Lockhart pulling his wand out.
"I'm sorry about this, boy...obliv-"
Harry had his wand before he could complete the sentence. He slapped Lockhart with a stinging charm.
"What's Voldemort planning?"
He wasn't able to use any of the Unforgivables, not least because he didn't know how, but he really didn't see why they were necessary. There were spells that accomplished most of what the Unforgiveables did without a mandatory lifetime in Azkaban.
"What?" Lockhart asked. "Help! Help!"
"There aren't any portraits to go get help anywhere near here," Harry said disgustedly. The man looked as though he was going to wet himself. At least Quirrell, for all his faults had been courageous. "That's why it was chosen as a place to put the message."
Pale and trembling, Lockhart said, "We can talk about this, Harry. Madam Pomprey has excellent calming draughts."
"Why is Voldemort attacking us with a basilisk instead of something more reasonable? Is he trying to threaten the Slytherin parents who didn't join him the last time?"
Harry had wracked his brain as to why Voldemort was using the basilisk. Was he trying to get the school shut down? Was it a simple terroristic attack meant to show that he could attack people where it hurt them the most?
Voldemort always seemed to have plans within plans.
"How long have you been working for Voldemort?" Harry asked, wand extended.
Lockhart flinched at the sound of the name. "I don't know what you're talking about. I've never worked for You-Know-Who."
"You were about to attack me," Harry said. He stared at Lockhart for a moment, then said, "I'm sure you've heard how I feel about that."
He pulled out Lockart's wand and leaned toward the man.
"I don't even have to use my own wand. Who do you think the aurors will believe, you, or the boy-who-lived? Especially if they check our wands."
Harry waited for a moment, staring at Lockhart. He really didn't want to torture the man; despite all his posturing he still had some scruples. He wasn't unaware of the fact that his scruples seemed to be deteriorating every time he died though.
A few more deaths and maybe it wouldn't bother him to have a grown man crying in front of him. Now, however it was hard to watch.
"I was just going to wipe your memory," Lockart said. "Get you to stop all this foolishness about the girl."
The spell he had almost cast had started with obli... It was just barely possible that he was telling the truth. Harry would have expected a killing curse, or at least a crucio or imperio from a Death Eater.
"You think I wouldn't figure it out?" Harry scowled.
"None of the others did!" Lockhart shouted.
Both of them froze, and Harry watched as the color drained out of Lockhart's face.
"None of who?"
The thought that Lockhart had been wiping the memories of Hermione or Neville, taking advantage of them made Harry feel enraged. His hand tightened on Lockhart's wand.
"What did you do to Hermione? To Neville?"
Harry slowly raised his wand and pointed it at Lockhart. He'd never realized that someone could literally see red, but he was now.
"I'm a fraud!" Lockhart blurted out. "All those things in the books...I didn't do any of them. I talked to the people who really did and then made them forget and took the credit."
"What?" Harry asked.
"I only took the job here because my book sales were declining and I hoped that I could ride your coattails to stay famous."
"And you didn't do anything to Hermione or Neville."
"They didn't know anything," Lockhart said. "Miss Granger was always a favorite of mine, attentive and helpful."
For all his paranoia, Harry suddenly realized that he believed Lockhart. An entire year of pretending to be an idiot, and the man hadn't slipped up once. No one was that good of an actor. Quirrell had slipped up numerous times, but no one had been watching.
Harry had been watching Lockhart closely.
A solution occurred to Harry. He'd been an idiot to think about going after the girl himself. What was he, a Gryffindor?
Harry felt himself being shaken awake.
His wand was in his hand and pointed at the shadowy figure standing over his bed before he was awake enough to realize what he was doing.
"Continue to point that wand at me, boy and you may not live to regret it," Snape gritted out.
Harry noted that Snape's own wand was also out, although carefully pointed toward the floor. Apparently Snape had some idea about how Harry was likely to react to being awakened in the middle of the night.
Harry suddenly wondered what had gone with his plan. Having Lockhart tell Snape that he'd found the girl himself but lost her in the bathroom, and having him tell Snape about the Weasley twins' countermeasures for the basilisk was supposed to save Harry a nasty bit of work.
"What's going on?" Harry asked.
"I suspect you already know," Snape said. He had a shrewd expression on his face. "You always seem to know everything that goes on if it involves the Dark Lord."
Harry glanced around the room. His roommates were all still asleep; apparently Snape had cast some sort of spell to muffle sound around his bed.
That was worrying; perhaps his roommates weren't as much protection as he'd thought. Being killed in his sleep would be almost impossible to solve if he never saw his own murderer.
"Ginny Weasley was seen going into what is believed to be the Chamber of Secrets," Snape said. "She has not come out."
"You can't find the way in?" Harry asked. That had been the one weakness in his plan all alone. The Chamber had remained hidden for a thousand years. Even knowing the room it was in might not be enough to find it.
"We questioned the ghost and are reasonably sure we've found the entrance," Snape said. "But it requires someone with Parseltongue to open it."
"Ginny Weasley's a parseltongue?" Harry asked, staring up at Snape stupidly.
"It would seem to be a requirement to being an Heir of Slytherin," Snape said dryly.
The only light coming into the room was coming from the door; Snape's face was wreathed in darkness.
Harry cursed to himself. Staying out of it had been the whole point. The last thing Harry wanted or needed was to be killed yet again and have to repeat the year over. He was sick of the year already and he'd only repeated a couple of months.
"Why not simply wait until she comes back up and capture her then?"
"I don't recall saying that she went alone," Snape said, and there was enough light to see him smirking.
"You didn't say she didn't."
"The Dark Lord has been looking to inhabit a body, and while the body of a female child might not be aesthetically pleasing, he is not particular."
Considering that he'd been willing to stay on the back of someone's head for a year, Harry could well believe that.
Harry grimaced. Snape was right. If there was a chance that whoever was coming back up wouldn't actually be Ginny Weasley they had to stop it. If Voldemort someone possessed Ginny entirely, he might be himself enough to actually kill Harry for good.
Reaching for his robes, Harry asked Snape, "The Weasley twins came up with a way to deal with the basilisk's gaze."
"I've been informed," Snape said.
The expression on his face made Harry want to laugh. The thought of seeing Snape wear the fake nose or even better yet the eyeballs on springs was enough to make getting up worthwhile. Harry wished he had Colin's camera available.
He slipped his own visor into his pocket, hoping Snape didn't see it. His visor was less humiliating than Snape's and therefore was likely to be confiscated.
"Let's go," Harry said.
"So what do I do?" Harry asked.
Apparently the Headmaster was away, presumably fighting Death Eaters, although it was possible that he had a love life of some kind. The fact that he was over a hundred made Harry want to scrub that image from his brain, not that he was actually a hundred percent what was involved.
"Ask it to open," Snape said. "It can't have been too complicated because the Dark Lord discovered how to open it when he was a boy."
Harry stared at the mirror in front of him and tried to remember what it had been like to speak snake. It took him a moment, but as he looked down at the faucet, he noticed a tiny snake engraved onto it. In the light it almost looked alive.
He finally opened his mouth and hissed "Open."
The pipe glowed and began to spin; a moment later the entire sink began to sink into the floor.
Harry carefully didn't look at Snape. If he really was working for the Dark Lord, there wouldn't be a better time to attack Harry. Taking him down into a dark pit where anything could happen.
"Go on back to bed, Potter," Snape said. He was staring at the blackness and his expression was suddenly one that was very tired.
Suddenly feeling much more charitable toward Snape, Harry said, "Don't forget to tap the glasses on the side, or they won't work."
If Snape really was working both sides, he had to want the war over almost as much as Harry did. There might be a chance that he could be an ally instead of an enemy.
Harry's only regret was not getting to see him in the glasses.
"Good luck, sir," Harry said.
Harry turned to go. It couldn't be easy, having to fight one's former master. Snape probably should have brought some backup, just in case.
Before he could leave, Harry thought he saw a movement from inside the shadows of the pit leading down into the Chamber. He saw the tip of a wand emerge from the shadows and before he could react, he heard a girlish voice yelling "Accio, boy!"
He found himself flying through the air. A moment later he found himself flashing past the figure of Ginny Weasley, who was returning fire from a spell being aimed at her by Snape.
She shouted the word "Close" in Parselmouth, and the small circle of light from the bathroom up above suddenly vanished up above. He heard Snape shout as he tried to reach the entrance but it was too late.
Harry fell down a steep slide; it seemed endless, especially as he was in total darkness. He couldn't see anything, although occasionally he felt strange breezes and thought he felt openings into the pipe as he flashed past.
He was going down headfirst; Harry wondered if he was going to crush his head when he finally reached his destination. If he did, at least he'd know how to get into the Chamber of Secrets.
It leveled out and he slid out onto the damp floor of a large tunnel. He struggled to his feet and pulled out his wand. Thankfully he hadn't lost it in the slide or he'd have been in deep trouble.
Harry backed slowly away from the entrance to the tube. Ginny likely had to come through the tube to get at him, but unfortunately, he didn't dare turn his back on anything. The chances of meeting the basilisk were too great.
Pulling the visor out of his pocket, Harry slipped it on.
With the goggles on he really couldn't see anything, but he could hear everything. He could hear Ginny running through some sort of side tunnel over his head, even has he heard the deep breathing of the basilisk off in the distance.
He turned and ran. He was going to have to fight her sooner or later, and catching her in the dark might give him the edge he needed to win. He still had the last of the Peruvian Darkness powder after all.
He was able to sense things well enough that he could run without hitting the walls. Eventually he came to a doorway in the wall. He had to reach out and feel the protrusions on the door to realize that they were in the shape of snakes.
"Open," he hissed, and they did.
He entered a wide hallway; in the distance he could hear the sound of labored breathing. He approached and he could sense a small figure lying huddled on the floor.
Wand out he slowly approached.
"It's your fault you know," a voice whispered in his ear.
Harry whirled around, but he couldn't see anyone.
"All the roosters, spoiling my plans...I knew who it had to be," the voice said. This time it was farther away.
Frustrated, Harry pulled his visor off, to discover that the room was dimly lit. Against a pillar stood an unfamiliar young man.
"Voldemort," he said, guessing. "Or Tom."
"Take your pick," the boy said smiling. "I had to speed up my plans, you know. I had intended to take over poor Ginny slowly; the transition is less painful that way, but you had to be difficult."
"I've been told that I am," Harry admitted.
"You don't appreciate everything I've done to get you here?" Tom asked. "Ginny found out about the map...and she mentioned that you might be able to use it to the twins. You'd be surprised how powerful the right word in the right ear can be."
"Why do you even want me here?" Harry asked. "If all you wanted was a new body, why bother with the basilisk. Why not just do everything quietly?"
"One has to develop a power base," Tom said, smirking. "The creature proves that I'm the heir and I will develop a following."
Harry stared. Voldemort already had a following; he wouldn't need to add anymore. Looking at Tom, he realized that the boy didn't look any older than sixteen.
"You're just a copy!" he blurted out.
"I am no copy!" the boy shouted. He suddenly had his wand in hand, and Harry was moving as well.
A moment later they were both pointing their wands at each other, standing and staring.
"Is that what the other one is going to think?" Harry asked. "He's thirty or forty years older than you and he already has his own followers."
"We are the same!" Tom insisted.
Harry shrugged. "I'm different than I was three years ago. I can't imagine how much I'll be different in thirty years."
"We will work together for a better world," Tom said. "One that is safe for the pure."
"As long as you are useful I suppose," Harry said. "And then he'll get rid of you."
At Tom's scowl, Harry said, "How long do you think he'll trust you? He knows you better than anyone, and he'll know you won't tolerate being second fiddle. He'll be waiting for you to stab him in the back, and he'll have to do it first."
Tom's expression changed. For a moment he looked troubled before he focused on Harry again."How very Slytherin of you. Trying to turn me against myself?"
Harry shrugged. "I figured you'd hate yourself. It was worth a try."
"We aren't so unalike," Tom said. "Brilliant, driven, flexible. I heard what you did to those boys...it felt like something I would have done at your age."
"I'm nothing like you!" Harry said, gritting his teeth.
"You are becoming more like me every day," Tom said. "It's a pity that's about to end. According to the prophecy, only one of us is going to survive, and I'm afraid it's not going to be you."
He stepped forward. "I don't know how you survived this long, but it ends now."
With that he called out in parseltongue, and a moment later Harry felt a rumbling in the floor. Something was coming, and it was coming fast.