“You don’t believe me, do you?”
Harry looks between his two best friends. Hermione is chewing her lips, a sure sign of nerves. Ron is looking pointedly at anywhere but his face. Their body postures are non-threatening, his accusatory tone earns nothing more than a wince from Hermione. Ron is beginning to pick at a loose thread on his robes. Harry feels a pang of anger and betrayal.
“Come on , guys,” he says, trying to ignore the anger for now, for the urge to lash out and prove he is right, he’ll make them all see… but he doesn’t, he pushes it down. It comes out pitiful and pleading, “You know I’m right about this. Riddle is the heir of Slytherin. It’s obvious!”
Ron clears his throat, “Yeah, mate, we hear you, it’s just… that’s what you said about that time last year with the duelling club and the snake. And that turned out to be an accident. And then there was that thing with being ratted out to Umbridge and it was Edgecombe--”
“It’s just,” Hermione says, rather diplomatically, “You have a tendency to obsess over Tom Riddle. And blame him for everything. And he hasn’t done anything so far.”
“He called you a mudblood! And told you that your parents were filthy savages and your mother was probably--”
“I know what he said!” Hermione snaps, flushing, still upset by the words even two years later, “But you’re the one who punched him in the face!”
“He deserved it,” Harry says, mutinously. “You would have too if you had got there in time.”
“He was winding you up because you could produce a corporeal patronus and he couldn’t even manage a mist,” she snaps, exasperated, probably just unwilling to admit she would have punched Riddle in the face as well had she the chance, “And he’s so used to being the top of the class--”
“I thought you were the top of the class.”
“Not in everything!”
“She’s got a point,” Ron says, “You didn’t even know he existed until then. You bumped into him in second year and called him ‘Avery’,” he sighs, “I miss those days. Before Dumbledore assigned the pair of you detention together and you didn’t even know his name. But after it was all ‘Riddle this’ and ‘Riddle that’ and if I didn’t know you better and you didn’t have a crush on Cho all this year I’d say you fancied the guy.”
“I do not--”
“We know,” Hermione soothes, “But you have to hear yourself. You think Tom Riddle is the heir of Slytherin and has been petrifying students? You really think that Tom Riddle had something to do with Myrtle Warren’s death?”
“He can’t be the heir,” Ron says, anyway, with a certain finality to it, like he’s already made up his mind and nothing Harry says can sway him, “He’s a muggleborn.”
“He’s a parselmouth!”
“Nobody else heard him, Harry. Just you.”
“FINE! Fine ,” he sighs. His fingers twitch, urging him to do something . They don’t believe him. They never believe him about Riddle, they just can’t see through the other boy’s perfect facade but Harry can. Harry has seen through the cracks-- “I just… if they don’t catch the killer, they’re going to close the school.” He looks up at them, slightly desperately, “They’re going to close Hogwarts!” he repeats, emphatically, “I heard them talking! I can’t - they can’t do that! I’ll be sent back to the Dursleys. For good!” he adds, as if he hasn’t got his point across.
“Maybe you could live with Sirius?” Ron suggests, “Now he’s back in the country--”
Harry looks somewhat hopeful, but Hermione snorts, “Black spent twelve years as a prisoner on the wrong side of the stalemate. He’s not exactly--” she breaks off, casting Harry a nervous glance.
He sighs, “Hermione’s right. Sirius isn’t… in a good place. He’s not allowed custody. And Remus is a werewolf, and your mum is lovely, Ron, but she’s got seven of you. Don’t argue - you know it’s true.”
Hermione reaches out to wrap a hand around his, “The aurors are searching,” she says, trying to sound reassuring, “They might find something.” She smiles at him, but it’s shaky with wariness and fear. The culmination of months of terror permeating the school has taken its toll. Their underground duelling club had been shut down by the Ministry official sent in to try and restore order. It had just caused further unrest and now--
Now a student was dead.
A strange mix of guilt and fear permeates Harry’s lungs. He knows-- knew Myrtle, he had taught her a bit of spellwork. Maybe if he’d taught she better she’d still be alive--
But they were going to close the school. Hogwarts - his home, his safety net - it was going to be forbidden to him and Harry refuses to let that happen.
He pulls away from Hermione’s grip, “I’m going up to bed,” he says. Ron and Hermione aren’t going to do anything. He can see that. He will have to take matters into his own hands.
The announcement will come tomorrow, no doubt, which means he has hours . He is running out of time.
He leaves his best friends, their worried eyes gazing at him as he vanishes up the stairs to the dorm. They see him ascend, they never see him descend, shrouded in his father’s invisibility cloak.
They might not believe him, but Harry knows he is right about this. Tom Riddle opened the Chamber of Secrets. The other boy had been acting suspiciously the whole year; Harry has seen him sneaking around, watched his footsteps linger on the Marauder's Map then vanish from view.
He’s guilty, Harry knows this already.
Now all that is left is Harry needs to prove it.
He watches Riddle’s ink dot on the map pacing one of the seventh floor corridors. His own dot approaches rapidly, his footsteps silenced and invisibility cloak shielding him from prying eyes. The school is chilled and eerily empty. An aura of fear and unknown uncertainty hangs over the whole place.
It’s been hanging around for a while, ever since the first petrification. It has only grown worse. People had taken to travelling in clumps, nobody willing to be caught out on their own. Even silenced and invisible, Harry’s heart still beats in his chest so loud he thinks the monster might be able to seek him out and end him before he ever gets a chance to confront Riddle.
But no - he makes it to the route the fifth year prefect is walking, at ease in the dark of the evening. Of course he’s at ease, Harry thinks, he’s the murderer. He’s hardly going to be scared of himself.
His plan is half-cocked and too-Gryffindor. It’s all confront-confront-get-a-confession. He rolls his holly wand between his fingers, contemplating how best to do this. A stunner and tying him up - old-fashioned - it should work though--
It might well have worked, had fate not interfered, potentially literally in the bug-eyed form of Professor Trelawney hurrying around the corner clutching several large crystal bottles of sherry. So focussed on Riddle, Harry had not been aware of her dot hurrying towards the seventh floor, and he doesn’t realise she’s there until she walks into the back of him. Her shriek sounds in his ears and he just manages to keep the cloak on as several sherry bottles go flying with a shattering crash.
Riddle whirls around, alerted to her presence. He’s oddly still, staring at the Divination Professor, “Professor Trelawney,” he says, simperingly. Harry can taste vomit. “Are you okay?”
She blinks, her eyes many times magnified by her thick-lensed glasses. Her expression turns into devastation at the shattered crystal and red liquid of her precious alcohol. Harry thinks he got some on the cloak, he frantically mutters the few cleaning charms he knows in case it affects his visibility. “I-I must have tripped,” Trelawney mutters, clearly confused, “I just walked right into something--”
Riddle’s eyes light up at that, “Really?” he drawls. His eyes flicker around at the destruction, at the mumbling seer amongst the sea of glass and fortified wine, of the way the crystals scatter. She’s still talking but neither Harry nor Tom are really paying attention. Maybe if they had her hoarse mutterings would have been of greater interest, but as it is Tom Riddle and Harry Potter always manage to become the object of each other’s obsessions.
Potter’s got an invisibility cloaks, Tom must realise, at about the same time as Harry realises that Tom knows Trelawney walked into some one not some thing .
“ Homenum Re --” Tom is saying, at about the same time as Harry just straight out grabs him and shoves him through the nearest convenient doorway. He hadn’t even known there was a room here, but it serves its purpose and Riddle’s arms windmill as he tries to avoid falling over.
Trelawney comes out of her trance to an empty corridor, “How rude,” she says, clicking her tongue, and going about trying to rescue what is left of her sherry.
This, Harry thinks, was not his plan. He watches Tom Riddle off-balance for less than a second before he’s whirling around and putting a stunner straight into the spot Harry would have been in had he not moved already.
“Potter,” Riddle says, staring carefully around, “What do you think you’re doing?”
This isn’t going to go very far with his cloak on, nor with Riddle pointing his wand at him, so Harry tries for his original plan of stunning Riddle. It doesn’t work. The red jet bounces off a shield and just gives away his position. With a snarl of annoyance he ducks away from his previous position, tugging off the cloak, “I just want to talk,” he says, “ Expelliarmus !” he shouts, and Riddle knocks the spell aside with a sneer.
“Really, Potter? A disarming charm? How pitiful. Bombarda .”
“Woah!” Harry deflects the exploding jinx, catches whatever the next spell Tom sends his way and throws it back, “I said I wanted to talk!”
“You’re the one who tried to disarm me. And shoved me into this room. And snuck up on me invisible…”
“And you’re the one who murdered a girl!” Harry snaps, glowering. This, he thinks, is why he hates Tom Riddle. Nobody else quite gets under his skin in the same way, nobody else can wind him up and get his blood burning and adrenaline pumping. Riddle’s face grows cold at those words and Harry’s shield takes about five hits, two of which looks nasty and brutal. “ Senia! Depulso! Stupefy!” he sends back, chaining them.
Tom leaps out of the way. The room is oddly suited to duelling, Harry thinks, as if it was prepared for their fight, but the next second Tom is casting at him and he’s casting back--
“ Arrente !”
“ Malaire !”
One is a crimson red-brown, the other is a forest-green. The lights flash and Harry is moving to deflect or dodge when there is a deep-seated tug from the wand in his hands, and in that moment the lights hit each other.
Harry’s wand explodes. Not literally, in wooden splinters and burning phoenix feather, but practically. Light burns and his wand is suddenly an unstoppable force that he can barely hold onto. It trembles and shakes and he claws at it, following the beam of light that spills out of it.
It links directly, inexplicably, to Tom Riddle’s own wand. The normally poised prefect looks alarmed, like this was the last thing he was prepared to happen. His wand bucks and lightning dances across the beam like electricity along a wire. Harry expects to get shocked as it brushes past him, but it feels gentle and soothing and he hears a phoenix singing--
“No!” Tom panics. It’s clear in his eye, and he yanks his wand away. The rope - impossibly bright, impossibly strong - breaks with a crack and for a moment Harry is blinking black spots as the light vanishes like a candle blown out.
Harry takes his chance, “Expelliarmus !” he shouts, and this time Riddle doesn’t dodge. It hits him, sending him stumbling, but it doesn’t knock his wand from his hands. Tom has already dropped his wand like it burned him the moment the golden link broke - it’s already on the floor rolling around. The spell instead rips a small black book out of Tom’s grip and sends it flying to the side.
Harry stands there a moment, adrenaline still coursing through him. He sways a bit, weary, but keeps his wand pointed at Riddle, “Is that a diary?” he sneers, squinting at the small black book embossed with gold lettering, “You have a diary?”
Riddle looks fed up and brimming with anger, “What do you want , Potter? You better have a good reason, because I will go to Dumbledore, and he will have you in detention from now until graduation for attacking me unprovoked--”
“Unprovoked?” Harry laughs, outraged, “Unprovoked--well I’ll take detention, you’ll be expelled ! You murdered someone!”
Tom’s face - handsome and good-looking - looks alien in that moment as something flashes across it. It makes him look cruel and ugly and it’s gone before Harry can identify it. He smiles, charmingly, “I’m sorry, I don’t follow. I murdered who?”
“You know who,” Harry sneers, “Myrtle Warren. That Ravenclaw who got picked on because of her glasses. The girl they found dead in a second-floor bathroom. The one your pet killed.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Tom says, completely blase.
“Don’t you?” Harry blinks, “It’s Slytherin’s monster, Slytherin’s heir, most of the school might not have made the link but I know you’re a parselmouth and so was Salazar Slytherin. It doesn’t take a genius to work out you’re the one behind all these attacks.”
Tom steps forwards, and Harry might still have his wand but it means nothing when Riddle looks at him like that. Like he’s prey. Like he’s a diamond or something he hadn’t seen before. Harry wants to step backwards, but he is a Gryffindor, so he holds his ground and juts his chin out until Riddle is so close. Harry’s wand digs into the older boy’s chest, but Tom ignores it, an odd smile on his face as he looks down at Harry. “You spin a good story, Harry,” and his name sounds sinful on his tongue, “But where’s your proof? Who, exactly, is going to believe you - a reckless emotional Gryffindor who skims by all his classes because of a poor attitude and talent for picking inane fights - over me - perfect record, highest grades in the year, prefect, unblemished record, poor orphan Tom Riddle?”
“That’s a bit of a stretch,” Harry says.
Riddle scoffs, “You disagree? You think you’re doing better than barely-passable grades?”
“Oh, no, you’re probably right about that - except in defence where I trounce you. But highest grades in the year - I’m pretty sure Hermione has you beat,” Riddle’s face twitches, “And that galls you, doesn’t it? That a mudblood has better grades than you do. But you’re right. You said it yourself - I have no proof. Just my word against yours. And you haven’t even admitted anything now, have you? This is all hypothetical, right?” Harry scoffs.
Riddle’s head tilts to one side, almost curiously. “You’re a lot smarter than you act,” he says, insultingly.
“And you’re stupider,” Harry says, “Because hypothetically, if there was an unknown monster killing the students, and there was somebody out there who could control them - well, you should have worked out what happens next by now, surely.”
“Surely,” Tom shrugs, still relaxed, at ease, “The monster strikes again, Slytherin’s heir appeases the masses of oppressed inbred purebloods.” His torn is scornful.
“Somebody died , Tom. There are consequences, there are always consequences. They’re going close the school!”
“They what ?” his face shutters. The perfect facade cracks and Harry can’t help but smirk at his victory. “No,” he shakes his head, horror stealing into his voice, “No, they can’t , they wouldn’t--”
“Riddle, somebody died .” Harry's voice is cold, “They can't leave it open if there are going to be more deaths. Dumbledore is already facing enquiries from the Ministry, there are auror teams patrolling daily, they can't afford to keep them up. Both financially and if more people die.”
Riddle’s eyes widen, like a fly trapped in a web, “Nobody will believe you,” he says, wildly, “They can’t pin me to any of the petrifications, I can’t--” he pauses, “You knew it was me, you’ve known I was a parselmouth ever since that thing with the snake at the duelling club. You knew it was me, but you don’t have proof, so why on earth did you confront me, reckless, Gryffindor move, unless--”
Harry takes a careful step away from Riddle. His wand drops to his side and he focuses on anywhere other than the dark eyes of the Slytherin prefect, “You have two options,” he says, “You turn yourself in and the attacks stop,” he can see already how that suggestion goes down. He swallows down a lump in his throat, “Or you can help me find something else to pin it on and the heir of Slytherin dies. Tonight. Because despite your murderous ways I know you’re the only person who probably wants the school open more than I do. They'll send you back to the orphanage, and then where will the great heir of Slytherin be?” he scoffs, “No, you have to stop, and you have to help me.”
He’s so busy bathing in his victory he misses the moment Tom lurches forwards, hand closing around his collar as Riddle slams him backwards against the wall. The other hand comes up to press on Harry’s wrist where his wand is, grip cruel as he pins Harry in place, “How?” Riddle’s words are smooth and deadly, “How do you know about the orphanage?”
Harry swears at him.
Tom’s grip grows bruisingly tight, “Tell me,” he hisses, words almost parseltongue.
“Because I asked!” he snaps out, thrashing in Riddle’s grip. Tom relaxes it slightly but doesn’t let go, “I asked to stay over the summer, okay? Dumbledore said ‘no’, said you already asked! I’ve known since second year!”
That of all things forces Riddle to step back, a frown creasing his face as he lets Harry go. They stand there, too close, breathes intermingling, “Why on earth would you , precious Gryffindor’s Golden Boy, Potter heir to a fortune comfortable enough that you will never have to work a day in your life - why would you want to stay at Hogwarts? Guardians not spoil you enough?”
Harry sneers, “They’re muggles ,” he snaps, and even the weakness that comes with revealing that is worth it to see Riddle flinch, “My mother’s family - they don’t like magic. They think I’m going to curse them in their sleep - you of all people probably know what that’s like.”
Tom Riddle’s expression flickers and for an absurd moment Harry thinks he is about to apologise… but then the moment is gone and he’s looking at Harry with those dark eyes, an almost obsessive gleam in his eyes. He steps forwards and Harry cringes back. The wall is right behind him, and he doesn’t make it far as Tom rests against the wall with one arm, half caging him in.
Remembering his wand, Harry brings it up and jabs it into Riddle’s throat but doesn’t deter him, “So you’re proposing a partnership?” he asks, voice almost a purr, “ You’re going to help me cover this up?”
“You could always turn yourself in,” Harry suggests, sweetly, and Riddle laughs. He looks oddly exhilarated, but Harry can’t work out why, “The last thing I want to do is help out a murderer, and I’d try to catch you red-handed except even you’re not stupid enough to go back with aurors crawling all over.”
“But you have an invisibility cloak,” Tom’s eyes gleam. Harry’s stomach does an odd sort of flip - he can’t believe he’s doing this. All instincts scream at him to turn Tom in, to tell Dumbledore, to do something , somebody died --
But nobody will listen to Harry. Maybe in another world where he has a scar across his brow and a title earned before he could speak, but here? Here; Harry Potter is an orphan whose one desire is to leave his childhood far behind and never return.
And if the solution to that is to work with Tom Riddle, well, some things have to be done.
“Deal,” Riddle says, decision made, “We cover it up. Hogwarts stays open. You keep your pretty mouth shut.”
“You stay away from the second floor bathroom and your pretty snake-adorned sink,” Harry adds, pointedly.
Riddle’s eyes widen subtly at the knowledge of exactly how much Harry has worked out, “Fine,” he grinds out, “The Chamber stays closed. You tell nobody I’m a parselmouth.”
It’s not an unbreakable vow, but as Harry feels the magic tingling in the air he thinks it’s as good as.
“This is fantastic - we shouldn’t need to close the school, see Lucius, didn’t I say it would all work out?”
Lucius Malfoy looks like he’s swallowed something sour, “Of course, Minister.”
“This is fantastic, great news, special awards to both Mr Potter and Mr Riddle, I think, and, uh, maybe a monetary sum? I trust that the public don’t need to be made aware of the acromantula roaming the school, it’s a miracle the papers only just heard about the death--”
“I’ve told you already, Cornelius, acromantula are not capable of petrifying--”
“That thing was ancient - who knows what it could or couldn’t do - we’d have someone look at it of course, but I had them burn the body-- don’t look at me like that Dumbledore, I’ve heard your basilisk theory but there is no way an acromantula would be anywhere near the castle if there was a giant snake around. And a basilisk - don’t you think someone would have noticed a giant snake, Albus?”
Dumbledore's blue gaze feels like a piercing dagger but Harry smiles blandly and keeps his gaze focussed on where the Minister is bumbling about rewards. The look their headteacher gives Tom is too knowing. Riddle himself is smiling blandly at Malfoy who appears to be busy critiquing Dumbledore’s robe choice to notice. Somewhere Harry wonders in odd detachment if Madame Umbridge made it out of the forbidden forest in one piece.
He decides he doesn’t really care.
“Are you sure there isn’t anything you would like to tell me, Harry?” Dumbledore appeals to Harry, appearing to already recognise that Tom will give him nothing. Harry wonders if he spoke up now if he even could or if their deal would bind his tongue.
“No, Professor,” he says, meeting the blue gaze for a moment, thinking about the spider the size of a car, of it’s fangs, of Tom screaming at him to use a more effective spell you idiot and of the curse that finally pierces the exoskeleton into pieces--
“I’ll have to tell Hagrid,” Dumbledore says, quietly, “I believe the acromantula may be from his colony - he had one as a pet once--”
“Ah yes, that was what got him expelled, wasn’t it?” Tom asks, too casually, “It’s a shame we didn’t manage to find whoever brought the acromantula in and scrawled the messages on the walls, I’m sorry we couldn’t do better--” he ducks his head. It’s the perfect act. Harry marvels at it, just a little bit.
“Not at all, not at all,” Fudge eats it up, “What you two did was very brave, wasn’t it Lucius?”
“Indeed,” Malfoy says, his gaze linger on the pair, “A most fascinating team up.”
He looks a bit unsettled by it, actually, the idea of Tom Riddle and Harry Potter teaming up.
Sensible, Harry thinks, they’d made for a brutally efficient team. Harry himself had been scared by how well they had worked together.
“A fucking basilisk?” Harry hisses, when the Minister and Malfoy and Dumbledore finally leave them alone in the hospital wing, recovering from their baiting of an acromantula, “A giant freaking snake? Of cour-- ” his words are cut off as Tom lunges across to his bed, grabbing Harry’s collar and dragging him up so they’re eye to eye.
“You won’t breathe a word of this,” Tom says, voice low and dangerous. His dark eyes track over Harry, the threat clear in every line of his body.
“I tell them,” Harry says, slowly, “They’ll still close the school. There’s a basilisk in the basement . Don’t worry. Your murderous secrets are safe with me. But anymore dead bodies, Tom, and I’ll go to the aurors. To Dumbledore--”
“You can’t,” Tom says, smirking as he relaxes his grip on Harry’s collar, pausing to smooth out the wrinkles and then step backwards, “You’re complicit now, Potter. How does that really make you better than me?”
“So?” Hermione asks, the next day, “Were you right? Was Riddle the heir?”
And Harry meets her gaze squarely, unflinchingly, “No,” he lies, “I was wrong. But I found the monster and RIddle may have helped.”