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The Potter Twins and the Chamber of Secrets

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Chrysanthemum Potter woke to the soft cries of an owl. It was a tragically beautiful sound. The nearly twelve-year-old girl rolled out of bed and knelt in front of the cage where Hedwig the owl was kept prisoner. Not knowing how else to comfort her, Chrys squeezed her fingertips between the bars and stroked at the snowy white feathers. Though she barely had enough space to move, Hedwig somehow managed to nuzzle against Chrys. Temptingly, a sweet breeze brushed past the curtains. The bird and the girl sighed in unison. As Chrys had slept in a cupboard under the stairs for nearly eleven years, she understood the pangs of claustrophobia.

"I'll get you out of here," Chrys whispered. "I promise."

"Don't make promises you can't keep." Her twin brother Harry had woken up, green eyes squinting down at her from the top bunk. "We haven't found out where Uncle Vernon's stashed the key."

"Not yet, but soon, if I have my way," Chrys said firmly.

"Which is when? When do we ever have our way?" Harry argued, pessimistic as always. Hedwig hooted again, no doubt attempting to mediate.

A resounding crash from the other room followed by shouts of "That ruddy owl!" singled that Uncle Vernon had woken up as well.

"Some day this is shaping up to be." Harry whistled 'happy birthday to me,' badly out of tune.

Chrys grinned. "We can't give up hope just yet. I'm sure you'll be less grumpy after we've had a bite to eat."

It may have been premature of her to assume breakfast would cheer them up. The morning meal at Number Four Privet Drive was a strained affair, as all meals had been recently.

Trying for some diplomacy, Harry pleaded with Uncle Vernon to let Hedwig out.

"Do I look stupid?" their uncle spat, spewing bits of fried egg all over the table.

"Is that a trick question?" Chrys mumbled under her breath. Harry snorted quietly. Aunt Petunia tutted and dabbed at the tablecloth. Harry opened his mouth to speak again, but their cousin Dudley Dursley interrupted with an earth-shattering burp. "I am simultaneously impressed and disturbed," Chrys admitted. Dudley grinned at her, taking this as a compliment.

"Pass the bacon," he ordered, waving his meaty hand at the pan.

"You've forgotten the magic word," Harry reminded him, ever involved in the seemingly impossible task of teaching Dudley some manners. Chrys winced as the Dursleys exploded (unfortunately not in the literal sense).

Uncle Vernon jumped up, flapping limbs making him look rather like an out of control windmill. Dudley scrambled backwards, leaving smashed plates and overturned chairs in his wake. Aunt Petunia took one look at the state of her kitchen and slumped over in a near faint.

The Durselys only settled down once Harry had thoroughly apologized for using the 'M-Word.'

"I'm not surprised the thought of politeness shocks them so much," Chrys joked, though she knew perfectly well it was the use of the word 'magic' that had thrown them off.

"They keep acting like I'm about to explode," Harry grumbled as Aunt Petunia attempted to tidy the room and soothe her husband at the same time. "I'm not a bomb."

"With a temper like yours, you might as well be," Chrys teased.

Harry frowned. "I'm serious, this isn't ordinary behavior, even for them."

Chrys shrugged. "I reckon the Durselys have always thought of us as about as much good as spoiled milk," she said. Harry laughed bitterly. "Besides, we're better than ordinary, we're extraordinary." Chrys glanced over her shoulder to make sure the others were properly distracted, and then continued in a quieter tone. "I'm a witch, you're a wizard, and we go to the best school for magic there is. You should be proud."

"Easy for you to say, when you're second in our year," Harry pointed out.

Chrys rolled her eyes. "Your marks are fine. Anyway, it's not like school is the only proper measure of intelligence. You're plenty smart, Harry, you wouldn't have survived otherwise. Need I remind you it's now been two times we've now faced off with the man who killed our parents and lived to tell the tell? That's got to be worth something."

"I guess." Harry shrugged. Sometimes Chrys admired her brother's humility, mostly it was just annoying.

"Aren't you excited to get back to Hogwarts? I've missed learning new spells, and being with Hermione and Ron…" Chrys trailed off at the look on Harry's face. "It's getting boring with only you and the Durselys for company," she continued, so that he wouldn't have time to dwell on their friends' absence. "You know, I even miss Lavender Brown filling me in on the latest gossip."

"I don't know about that… but I am looking forward to playing a bit of Quidditch." Harry ran his hands through his hair, smiling at the memory.

"After everything we've been through, that's what you choose to reminisce about?" Chrys didn't have much fondness for the popular wizarding sport, especially as it tended to put her brother in more danger than she considered necessary.

"The way things are going you won't have to worry about Quidditch much longer." Harry sighed. Chrys gave him a questioning look. "If I don't practice over the summer, they're bound to kick me off the team," he elaborated.

"You're being too hard on yourself," Chrys told him, not for the first time, and certainly not for the last.

"Yeah, well…" Harry paused, suddenly refocusing on the Dursleys' conversation.

"Now as we all know, today is a very important day," Uncle Vernon announced pompously. Harry's eyes gleamed hopefully. "This could well be the day I make the biggest deal of my career," Vernon continued. Harry wilted. Chrys patted his back. Her poor brother must have assumed their uncle had finally remembered their birthday.

Instead Uncle Vernon was dead set on throwing the perfect dinner party so that his clients would hand over as much money as possible. Aunt Petunia and Dudley had been assigned various tasks of buttering up the guests, while Harry and Chrys were told to go to their room, not make a sound, and feign non-existence. Chrys thought this sounded much easier than forcing the Dursleys' hostile personalities to seem hospitable.

At least Harry cheered up watching Dudley practice appearing polite. Aunt Petunia would have punished him for laughing, but luckily she was too busy shooing them out of the house so that she could undertake her grandest cleaning venture of the year.

"Come on, Harry." Chrys linked arms with him. "We'll celebrate twelve years of existing if it kills us."

Harry peered through the window nervously. "If we interrupt Aunt Petunia she might actually kill us." For once he wasn't dramatizing. Still, Harry and Chrys did their best. They sang a roaring chorus of Happy Birthday, for a moment suspending disbelief in their musical abilities. Chrys gave Harry her usual handmade card, this year's version featuring a lion in a birthday hat.

"What's wrong, baby brother?" She poked at his sides. Harry didn't swat her away, or even start their usual argument of who had been born first.

"It's great, Chrys… I just thought for the first time in my life I'd get a birthday card from someone other than you." His puppy dog eyes pulled at her heartstrings. "Did we do something wrong? Maybe we hurt their feelings without realizing."

Chrys didn't have to ask whom he was talking about. There had been no word from Ron or Hermione since end of term. "It could be some sort of elaborate prank," she considered.

Harry shook his head. "I might expect that from Fred and George, but not Ron and Hermione. We should have heard from them by now." He plucked a piece of gravel from the driveway and tossed it from hand to hand. Growing up without toys, Harry and Chrys were old pros at getting creative for entertainment.

"Bet you can't hit that hedge," Chrys challenged him. This had been one of Harry's favorite games. Chrys would pick a target, and amazingly Harry would always hit the mark.

Harry smiled weakly. "You're on." He lifted his arm, ready to throw… and then dropped to his hands and knees, staring fiercely. "There are eyes in that shrub."

Hoping he hadn't lost the last vestiges of his sanity, Chrys crawled down beside him and squinted through the leafy green. "Oh." Either she'd gone just as mad, or there were a pair of green eyes, as big as dinner plates (without any head or body visibly attached) floating in the shade of the hedge.

However, she was cut off from making any conclusions by her cousin's snorting laughter.

"Why are you crawling around like babies?"

"Of course ickle-Diddykins, we're the infantile ones," Chrys responded without missing a beat. Dudley scratched his head. Harry sat up, wiping his palms on his jeans.

"Whatever it was, it's gone now. Dudley must have scared it away," he informed her, ignoring their cousin.

"Poor whatever-it-was. If only it had known that Dudley's bark is much worse than his bite," Chrys sighed mildly. Dudley's brow was wrinkled to the point of him looking like a chubby shar pei.

He attempted to gain control of the situation the only way he knew how. "Oh yeah? Well at least I don't spend my birthday staring at hedges!"

An unbidden smile slipped onto her face. "You remembered our birthday?" This was more than she could say for his parents.

Harry was not as easily affected. "Actually, I was trying to figure out which spell to use to set the hedge on fire," he said. Dudley was shaken, but still able to call Harry's bluff. Even someone as dumb as Dudley knew that Uncle Vernon would kick the twins out at the first sign of magic, and as much as they'd like to leave, they didn't really have anywhere else to go. Angrily, Harry stood up and chased Dudley around shouting out words of nonsense. "Jiggery pokery! Hocus Pocus! Squiggley wiggly!"

Chrys laughed, though she thought the last one was rather weak. She laughed harder as Dudley did what any sensible twelve year old would do—called for his mummy. Unfortunately, Aunt Petunia didn't find the situation nearly as funny. She stuck her head out the window, and after taking a quick cursory glance at the situation, swung at Harry with her heaviest saucepan. Chrys gasped in fear, and then again in relief as Harry intuitively dodged the blow.

"You could have seriously injured him!" Chrys screamed at Petunia.

"Quiet down before the neighbors hear you!" Petunia hissed.

"If you go near him again I'll shout so loud, they'll hear me in China," Chrys threatened. Harry gripped her shoulders, stopping her from advancing on Petunia, fists shaking.

His voice in her ear was the only thing stopping her from breaking free and pouncing. "I'm fine, Chrys, it's okay, really, don't worry about it."

"See, he's fine," Aunt Petunia repeated. She was eyeing Chrys somewhat warily, yet she still had the audacity to assign the twins a round of cleaning, for punishment for scaring Dudley. "And don't expect a crumb of food until you've finished!"

"Nobody wants your horrible cooking anyway," Chrys grumbled.

Aunt Petunia narrowed her eyes, seeming to take this personally. "Get to it, girl!"

Chrys took a deep breath, and marched away, shooting one last glare at her aunt.

As Dudley ate the ice cream his mother had given to him to help him recover from his trauma, Harry and Chrys pulled, picked, and scrubbed away all of Number Four's impurities. Chrys might have been proud of their accomplishments, especially having managed to do so much in such blazing heat—had she not been busy fuming at Aunt Petunia.

Chrys was so frustrated with her aunt that she didn't even eat her meager supper, comprised of stale bread and cheese. She had to leave the kitchen before her body betrayed her, mouth watering and stomach growling as she saw the mountain of whipped cream and sugar roses Aunt Petunia was preparing for pudding. Harry sighed wistfully as the scent of roasting pork met their noses. Aunt Petunia was pleased to see them watching. "That'll teach you to insult my cooking," she said primly, before shooing them upstairs.

The twins' roles from earlier that day had flipped-flopped. Harry attempted to cheer Chrys up by handing over the extra bread and cheese he'd hidden in his pockets. Chrys ate it, somewhat reluctantly, but she ate it all the same. Like any child who'd gone hungry, Chrys knew to eat whenever she got the chance. "It'll be a nice quiet night in," Harry tried to play up their situation. "We can play with that set of cards you found in Dudley's waste bin."

"I'd prefer Exploding Snap," Chrys mumbled, recalling the much more interesting wizarding version of cards.

"Pyromaniac," Harry teased.

"Maybe a little." Chrys grinned. Exploding Snap was aptly named after all.

"Bet I win the first round."

Chrys was never one to turn down a challenge. "You're on."

They never found out who would have won that night, as they were rather preoccupied by other matters. The bulbous green eyes from earlier had returned, this time with a body and a head. And what a head it was.

Chapter Text

"What the—" Chrys started. Harry clapped his hands over her mouth, muffling her shouts. He gave her a pointed look as he slowly lowered his hands. "Oh right, I don't exist," Chrys recalled in a whisper. The strange creature sitting on her bed tilted his head and observed her curiously. "Just a little inside joke between us and our uncle," Chrys informed him. "Er, why are you sitting on my bed?" The creature immediately scrambled off her mattress and squished himself into a low bow against the carpet. Chrys watched him guiltily. "Sorry, that was rude of me."

"No—not at all, Miss!" The creature squeaked out in a voice like a dog whistle. "It is Dobby's fault, Dobby should have been more respectful…"

"Um, thanks?" Chrys turned to Harry, silently urging him to do something.

"Ah… Hello, Dobby is it?" Harry bent down to be more on level with Dobby.

"Yes! Dobby, Dobby the house-elf. And you, Harry Potter! Dobby is honored to meet you sir!" Dobby cried out. Suddenly spent, Chrys sunk into Dudley's abandoned wheelie chair, the bent springs creaking.

"Excellent…" Harry said untruthfully. He kept glancing at the door, no doubt wondering how far Dobby's voice might carry. Aunt Petunia's horsey laughs buzzed through the walls. If they could hear Aunt Petunia, chances were Aunt Petunia could hear them. Not good, not good at all. Harry ran his hands through his hair. "Listen, sorry to be so direct, but this really isn't a great time for us to have a house elf in our room." Dobby dipped his head apologetically. Harry frowned. "Not that we're not pleased to meet you but…"

"Is there any particular reason you're here?" Chrys finished for him.

"Oh yes, sir and miss." Dobby nodded. "Dobby has come to tell you…well, it is difficult to know where to begin…" His long boney fingers scratched at fluff protruding from his bat-like ears. Chrys felt her hands itch as she was almost overcome by the urge to snatch up a pencil and do a sketch.

"You've got great ears," Chrys burst out. Dobby blinked at her.

"Thank you, miss." He seemed truly grateful for the comment, maybe even too grateful. His eyes were watering.

"Please..." Chrys gestured at her bed. "Sit down, get more comfortable."

The dam burst. Dobby's tears overflowed. He seemed horrified at having been asked to sit down. "There, there…" Harry patted the elf's back. "We didn't mean to offend you." Through his sobs Dobby explained that he was not offended, to the contrary he felt blessed by their kindness, their ease at treating him like an equal. Chrys frowned, wondering how badly Dobby was usually treated if offering him a seat drove him to the point of happy tears. Harry seemed to be thinking along the same lines, joking lightly that Dobby can't have meet many decent wizards. Dobby nodded in agreement, and finally stopped crying.

Instead he did something worse, jumping up and repeatedly slamming his head against the window screaming, "Bad Dobby! Bad Dobby!"

Harry pulled him up by the neck of his pillowcase toga. The elf thrashed, bashing his little fists against his head. Dobby needed to calm down before he got them all killed. Chrys gripped his hands in her own.

"Hush now," she told him firmly. Dobby was shocked enough by the contact to fall silent. "Deep breaths," Chrys suggested. He followed her advice dutifully, and Harry gently lowered him to the floor.

"What was all that about?" Harry wanted to know. Standing somewhat wobbly, Dobby explained that he was required to punish himself every time he spoke ill of his family.

"Your family?" Harry questioned, his brow furrowing.

"The wizard family Dobby serves, sir," Dobby explained. "Dobby is a house elf, bound to serve one house and family forever."

"They don't sound like the type to let you out for visiting hours," Chrys thought.

Dobby sheepishly admitted he would have to be punished for this offense. He tentatively touched his ears. "Dobby will have to shut his ears in the oven door for this…"

Chrys bit her tongue, swallowing her automatic angry response.

Harry frowned. "Won't they be suspicious about the extra punishments?" He wondered. Dobby shot this query down, explaining that his masters tended to assign extra punishments anyway, so a couple more wouldn't be amiss. "That's horrible. Why don't you leave? Escape?" Dobby couldn't do that. He was magically bound to the family. Chrys shuddered, hating that she identified with Dobby's situation. Both of them were stuck living with horrible excuses for families, yet quite unable to leave. Harry sympathized as well. "Do you have someone, anyone who could help you?"

"He has us," Chrys said immediately. "We'll help you." Again Dobby bowed to the twins, praising their greatness. Chrys coughed, unable to repress the underserved pride creeping up in her chest.

Of course Harry brushed the compliments aside. "We're not all that great Dobby. Sure Chrys is clever, almost as clever as Hermione but I'm only…" He trailed off. Chrys understood. Hermione's name made her chest ache as well.

"Harry Potter is humble and modest," Dobby observed admiringly.

"More than he knows." Chrys grinned. Harry rolled his eyes.

Dobby glanced between the two of them. "You speak not of your great triumph over He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named."

Harry shook his head. "Voldemort—"

"Please, sir! Speak not the name!" Dobby squeaked in terror.

Harry winced. "Sorry, I know lots of people don't like it. My friend Ron…" His wounded puppy dog eyes were back. Chrys scrunched up her nose. Ron better have a good explanation for hurting Harry like this.

"Dobby heard tell," Dobby continued. "That the Potters met the Dark Lord for the second time just weeks ago, and that the Potters escaped again!" Chrys and Harry nodded.

"We did," she confirmed aloud.

"Ah!" Dobby's eyes shone. "The Potters are valiant and bold! They have braved many dangers already!"

"Not that I don't enjoy all the compliments Dobby, but what's the point of all this?" Chrys wondered.

Dobby sat up a little straighter. "Dobby has come to protect the Potters, to warn them, even if he does have to shut his ears in the oven door later... The Potters must not go back to Hogwarts!"

"No way!" Harry and Chrys protested.

"We've got to go back," Harry said. "Term starts on September 1st--"

"We've been counting down the days," Chrys interjected.

"It's all that's kept me going," Harry continued, frowning at Dobby. "You don't know what it's like here. I don't belong here. I belong in your world. At Hogwarts--"

"No, no, no." Dobby shook his head, his ears flopping. "The Potters must stay where they are safe. They are too great, too good to lose. If the Potters go back to Hogwarts, they will be in mortal danger."

"Look, I'm not sure what you mean by 'mortal danger,' but whatever it is, the risk is probably worth it," she thought. "And, I mean, like you said, we have faced our fair share of danger."

"Not like this," Dobby said. "There is a plot, Miss, a plot to make most terrible things happen at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry this year. Dobby has known for months. The Potters must not put themselves in peril. They are too important!"

"What terrible things?" Harry wanted to know. "Who's plotting them?" Dobby choked and smacked his head against the wardrobe. "All right!" Harry grabbed his arm to stop him. "You can't tell us, I understand. But why are you warning us?"

"Well..." Chrys said. "There is a certain someone we're involved with who likes to plot terrible things." Harry blinked.

"Is it Vol—I mean, You-Know-Who?" He asked Dobby. Dobby moved to bang his head again. "You could just nod or shake your head!" Harry added quickly. Dobby took a deep breath and shook his head.

"Not... not He-who-must-not-be-named, sir."

But there was something about his tone that reminded Chrys of their enigmatic Headmaster at school.

"So, it isn't him, but someone related to him?" She wondered aloud.

"Related?" Harry repeated. "He hasn't got a brother, has he?"

"That's not what I meant," Chrys said. Harry grimaced.

"I know." He laughed a little awkwardly. "Anyway, whoever it is, they'll have a hard time completing any nefarious deeds with Dumbledore around." He looked at Dobby. "You know who Dumbledore is, don't you?"

Dobby nodded. "Albus Dumbledore is the greatest headmaster Hogwarts as ever had. Dobby knows, sir. Dobby has heard Dumbledore's powers rival those of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named at the height of his strength. But, sir..." Dobby looked around, his voice dropping to a whisper. "...There are powers that Dumbledore doesn't understand, that no decent wizard--" Dobby suddenly let out a shout and slipped out of Harry's grip and jumped on top of the desk, grabbing the desk lamp and beating himself with it.

"It's okay, it's okay," Chrys muttered, feeling disingenuous as she tried to peel the lamp out of his hand. Harry glanced nervously at the door. Chrys realized that, aside from Dobby's heavy breathing, the house had gone worryingly quiet.

And then, "Dudley must have left his television on again," Uncle Vernon's voice boomed from downstairs. "The little tyke!" Chrys snorted.

"Quick!" They heard his footsteps thundering up the stairs. "In the closet!" Harry said, seizing Dobby and hiding him just as their bedroom door opened.

"What the devil are you doing?" Uncle Vernon interrogated them in a forced whisper.

"Pretending not to exist," Chrys shot back.

"Well you're doing a bang awful job of it," Uncle Vernon grunted, glaring. "You ruined the punch line of my Japanese golfer joke!"

"Racist," Chrys singsonged under her breath.

His beady eyes snapped to her. "What was that?"

"We're sorry, Uncle Vernon," Harry interrupted quickly. "Won't happen again."

"It better not, or you'll wish you'd never been born!" Uncle Vernon shut the door tightly behind him.

"Fine thing to say on someone's birthday." Chrys sighed.

"Shut up," Harry told her, his legs shaking a bit. He let Dobby out of the closet. "Don't you see why we've got to go back to Hogwarts? We can't stay here. Hogwarts is the only place where weve got… well, where I think we've got friends."

"Friends who don't even write?" Dobby said quietly.

Harry drooped. "I expect they've just been busy…" He frowned. "Hold up…"

"How do you know our friends haven't been writing to us?" Chrys finished his thought. Dobby suddenly became very interested in the dirt under his fingernails. "Dobby?"

"Please, don't be angry." His voice shrunk even more.

Telling Harry not to be angry only ever made him angrier. His eyebrows knit together. "Have you been stopping our letters?"

Dobby slowly pulled a bundle of letters out of his toga. Harry took a step forward, but Dobby hopped up onto the desk, out of reach. As Harry seethed, Dobby explained that he'd taken the letters, hoping it would make Harry think his friends had abandoned him, and make him sad enough to not want to return to school. Like the natural seeker he was, Harry snatched left and right for the letters, but Dobby was surprisingly quick. He said he'd only give back the letters if the twins promised not to return to Hogwarts.

"Not a chance," the twins said in unison. They both jumped for the letters at once, accidentally slamming into each other. Dobby used Harry's back as a springboard, flying over them, pulling open the door and sprinting down the hallway. Chrys let out a word that would have made Hermione wash her mouth with soap. Then she followed Harry who had raced after Dobby.

She bounded down the stairs and into the kitchen, heart nearly leapt into the pudding as Dobby somehow made Aunt Petunia's masterpiece soar into the air. "Please, they'll kill us," Harry begged.

"The Potters must say they will not go back to school."

"We can't," Harry choked out.

"Then Dobby must do it, for the Potters' own good."

Chrys couldn't agree less.

As the pudding floated into the sitting room, it hovered above Uncle Vernon's client's heads, pausing tauntingly for a moment before it dropped.

Dobby disappeared into thin air as the screams rang out, leaving Harry and Chrys standing suspiciously with their hands stretched out.

"Sorry!" Harry shouted, not helping matters. Uncle Vernon looked as if his eyes might pop out of his head.

"It's not his fault," Chrys tried to tell the two strangers covered in a sticky mess. "I… I threw it! He was only trying to stop me."

"She's mad you see," Uncle Vernon quickly took up with her story. "Not quite right in the head—she's a danger to herself and everyone around her, so we've got to keep her away from the strangers." Chrys nodded wildly as Mr. and Mrs. Mason blinked in confusion.

"Well, if it's involuntary…" Mr. Mason gave Chrys a piteous glance, and she thought for one glorious moment she might get away with it—that is, until the owl swooped through the window and dropped a letter on Mrs. Mason's head. She shrieked hysterically and went running out of the house, leaving a trail of pudding as she went. Mr. Mason crossed his arms. "My wife has a very serious case of ornithophobia." Uncle Vernon blinked stupidly. "She's deathly afraid of birds!" Mr. Mason explained. Uncle Vernon's mouth made a wide O shape. "This is even less tolerable than your Japanese golfer joke, Vernon." Mr. Mason stomped out of the room, waving aside Aunt Petunia's offers to wash his suit.

"Open it!" Vernon ordered, slapping Harry over the head with the letter he'd fished out of a puddle of pudding. Harry delicately tore open the envelope, Chrys reading over his shoulder.

Apparently they'd been given a warning, threatening expulsion from school because of Dobby's bit of magic. Uncle Vernon read it as well, clapping his hands gleefully as he realized Harry and Chrys were forbidden from doing magic. He grabbed them each by the scruff of their shirts and dragged them up stairs. "I'm locking you up!" He announced cheerfully. "You'll never be able to get back to that school—and if you try to magic yourself out—they'll expel you." He threw them into their room, lock clicking with a horrible sense of finality.

Chrys shuddered at the sound of his evil laughter.

Slowly, the twins turned to look at each other. "I'm sorry," they said in unison. "It's not your fault," they chorused. Chrys stared. Harry stared. Then together they burst into laughter even madder than Uncle Vernon's.

Chapter Text

"You two, up, now!" Aunt Petunia's shrill shouts and sharp knocks were unmistakable. Chrys half expected to be showered with spiders as had often happened when she sat up too quickly and banged her head on the cupboard ceiling.

Oddly enough, this was worse.

Aunt Petunia lead them to the bathroom, apparently not trusting to them to do even so much as that without supervision. "We'll let you out once in the morning and once in the evening to do your business, but otherwise you are not to leave your room, do you hear me?"

Chrys wondered if she dared ask, "What about food?"

Aunt Petunia turned her nose up, as was her response to any question. "Your uncle is fitting a cat flap onto your door. I will put your meals through it."

"Wow, thanks, that's so generous of you." The words laced in sarcasm spewed from her mouth before she had a chance to hold them back. Aunt Petunia glared. Chrys cleared her throat, hoping against all odds that one day she would learn the delicate art of shutting up.

When they got back from the bathroom, Uncle Vernon had finished with the cat flap, and moved onto examining something by the window.

"Come here," he commanded them. Chrys did as ordered, albeit warily. For a moment she imagined Uncle Vernon grabbing her by the collar and chucking her out of the window. She was calculating the likelihood of her survival when she finally noticed the bars. Uncle Vernon patted the thick iron frame with the kind of pride men like him usually reserved for their first-born sons. "Blocked off this entrance as well, in case you were thinking of getting clever."

Clever or not, there was certainly no way out of that window with those bars over it.

Hedwig raised her head in curiosity. "Now we match," Chrys sadly told the caged bird.

Within a day, Chrys was ready to start gnawing at the bars and body slamming into the walls.

"We've been shut up for longer periods of time," Harry reminded her. "At least this room is bigger than our cupboard."

"A cage is still a cage, no matter the size." Chrys sighed. "I suppose I just got used to being able to move about freely at Hogwarts. Maybe it would've been better if I never got a taste for freedom." Hedwig hooted dolefully.

"No." Harry frowned. "There's got to be a way out of here, we just haven't thought of it yet." He threw a lonesome sock at Chrys. She glared at him as it bounced off her head. "Come on, we have all the time in the world—let's brainstorm."

"You're being unusually plucky," she observed.

"You aren't," he countered.

"Fair point. I'll give it a try." She grimaced. "Let's think up a storm."

Unfortunately, just as Hogwarts had tempered Chrys for freedom, the Great Hall had tempered her stomach for filling. While in the past she may have lasted weeks with little to eat, currently she was the queen of woozy heads, and woozy heads are the mortal enemies of productive thought. Though, technically Aunt Petunia had stuck to her word and was feeding the twins, it was clear she was only handing over the bare minimum.

"It's because I insulted her cooking," Chrys thought aloud, eyeing the gloopy bowl of caned soup, which hadn't even been heated up.

"It's better than nothing," Harry said gently.

"Then why aren't you eating it?" Chrys grunted. Harry was attempting to feed his portion of the mush to Hedwig, who looked as if she had a more refined culinary palate.

"We've got to keep up our strength," Harry reasoned. "There's no use turning your beak up at it."

"I haven't got a beak," Chrys argued.

Harry laughed. "I was talking to Hedwig."

"Ah. That makes more sense."

"You're becoming delirious, let's get some rest."

"Not like there's anything else to do." Chrys snuggled under the covers, staring blankly up at Harry's bedsprings.

His voice floated down from the top bunk. "Maybe if we wait it out until the end of summer, Hogwarts will notice we haven't shown up and send someone to come get us."

"That's a long shot Harry."

"It's all we've got."

"We have got hope," she added.

"For now," he agreed, halfheartedly.

She stayed awake until his snores echoed through the room. The sound of his slow breathing had just started to lull her to sleep, when she suddenly heard a tap, tap.

Chrys tumbled out of bed, thinking it was Hedwig calling out for attention.

Instead, a familiarly freckly nose was poking through the bars.

"Ron," she cried.

At the sound of Ron's name, Harry nearly fell out of bed. Luckily he didn't actually fall out of bed, as the noise probably would've woken Uncle Vernon, which would certainly ruin the Weasley brothers' lovely prison break attempt, even with their impressive getaway vehicle.

"Your car is flying," Harry observed, once he'd stumbled over to the window for a closer look.

"Never mind that," Ron answered. "Why have you got bars on your window?"

"Our Uncle thinks he's a genius," Chrys said. Ron scratched his nose. "We're being punished," she elaborated.

Ron nodded. "I thought something might be up when you two didn't respond to any of my letters."

Fred Weasley popped his head out of the car window. "Little Ronnie has been missing you something fierce."

"I've heard him cry himself to sleep at night." George wiped invisible tears out of his eyes.

"Oh Ron! I didn't know you cared," Chrys played along.

"Oh ha ha, you'll have plenty of time to take the mickey out of me later," Ron went on. He turned to Harry. "Why've you done magic out of school? You know we're not allowed."

"You're one to talk." Harry gestured at the car. "Anyway, how'd you know about the whole 'doing magic out of school' thing?"

"Dad enchanted the car, so technically we're in the clear," Ron finagled. "And he works at the ministry, so he told us about the warning—said you've got a chance of being expelled if it happens again." He turned to Chrys. "By the way, Hermione's sent me an entire research paper on the 'undeniable repercussions of unethical expulsion' in your defense."

Chrys beamed. "That's sweet her."

"Oh yeah, sweet of her to waste all that parchment for nothing," Ron grumbled.

Harry cleared his throat. "And it was sweet of you three to come and visit, but if the Dursleys catch you—"

"Nonsense," Fred interrupted. "We've never gotten caught."

"Well there was that one time," George reminded him.

"Sure, but I count that as a win since it was thanks to that we found the thing."

"Ah, too true, the thing was a worthwhile payment for all risks and punishment involved."

"What thing?" Chrys wanted to know.

"Later." Harry waved his hand dismissively. "Ron, can you tell them at Hogwarts that I'm a bit tied up—"

"Locked up," Chrys corrected him.

"Tell them that we're locked up and can't get out," Harry finished.

"You're gibbering," Ron noted, bemused.

"He does that when he's nervous," Chrys agreed. "What's the plan?"

"We're busting you out of here of course." Ron grinned. Harry blinked in confusion.

"How? Without magic…"

"That's why I've brought along these two." Ron jerked his thumb at his older brothers.

"That, and you needed someone to drive the car," Fred pointed out.

"I wouldn't exactly call what you do driving," Ron grumbled.

"Boys," Chrys said warningly. "Let's get back on track before the Durselys wake up."

"And kill us all," Harry added.

"Don't you worry your scruffy little heads." Fred rubbed his hands together gleefully. "Ready, George?"

"Ready, Fred." George grinned and tossed a bit of rope hard through the bars. Harry snatched it out of the air automatically. "Tie that around there." Harry did as instructed, continuously glancing over his shoulder to keep in eye on the door.

"We are so dead," Harry repeated over and over. Chrys felt inclined to agree. Then Fred did an excellent bit of maneuvering, driving the car vertically into the sky. The bars came off with a snap. Ron caught them and lowered them down noiselessly. Fred drove back close to the window, and Chrys was all ready to jump in and ride off into the sunrise with them, but Harry pointed out that all of their school things were still downstairs, locked in the cupboard.

"Easy-peasy." George shrugged, slinking out of the car and into the room. He held up a hairpin triumphantly before leaning down to pick the lock.

"Never underestimate a muggle-trick," Fred told them.

Ron chuckled. "You sound like dad."

"Why thank you." Fred grinned. "Though I doubt I'm anywhere near his level…yet." Chrys gave him a questioning look. "You'll see when you meet him. Now wait for it…" George stood up and bowed as the door popped open.

"My hero." Chrys gave him a bone-crushing hug. "You've got to teach me that sometime."

"I wouldn't want to corrupt you." George grinned sheepishly.

"Corrupting youths?" Fred popped up between them. "That's my favorite past time."  Uncle Vernon let out an alarming snort from the other room. Fred lowered his voice, "Though perhaps now isn't the best time."

"Right, I'll help Fred and George get the trunks as they'll be heavy." Harry's leader-mode switched on. "Chrys, you and Ron should get things together up here."

"Aye-aye, captain." Chrys saluted him.

Harry ignored her, used to such antics. "Careful, there's a creaky stair at the bottom," he whispered to the Weasley twins as they tiptoed down the hall. Chrys quickly put together a bag of extra clothes, books and art supplies. Ron reached out his long arms and took it carefully.

"Thanks for coming to get us," she told him warmly. Unbidden, her voice grew hoarse. "I'll admit, for a while I was rather angry… I thought you… might have forgotten us."

Ron scoffed. "Don't be stupid. I'm your friend, aren't I?"

"Yeah… yeah, I guess you are."

By the time they lugged the trunks upstairs, puzzle-pieced everything into the car, and Harry forced his two-sizes-too-small trainers onto his feet, the unthinkable happened. Uncle Vernon stampeded down the hall, his pounding and swearing enough to rival an entire herd of rhinoceroses.

"In you go." Harry grabbed Chrys around the middle and flung her into Ron's awaiting arms.

"Oomph! You're heavier than you look," Ron complained as she crawled off of him.

"Really?" Chrys brightened. Then Uncle Vernon bashed the door open. He roared in fury when he spotted Harry, who crouching—teetering on the windowsill.

"Just in the nick of time," Harry grinned as he jumped into the car.

"Wait! You've forgotten Hedwig!" Chrys gasped in horror. Harry swore. He leapt through the window, clutching the cage to his chest. Uncle Vernon latched onto his ankle.

"Let go of him you big lump!" Chrys stomped hard on Vernon's fingers while Ron and George pulled with all their might.

"Step on it, Fred!" Ron cried out. The car gave a horrible lurch and Uncle Vernon was left dangling dangerously out the window, with only Harry's left shoe for company.

"See you next summer!" Harry shouted as Chrys dissolved into laughter.

"You are completely mad," Ron said, grinning.

Chapter Text

"Don't look down, don't look down," she muttered to herself. She hugged her knees to her chest, silently cursing Fred's driving skills, or lack thereof. Harry patted her on the shoulder, grimaced sympathetically, and then turned to Ron.

"Let Hedwig out. She can fly behind us. She hasn't had a chance to stretch her wings for ages."

George passed back the hairpin and Ron picked the lock on Hedwig's cage.

Hedwig zipped towards the horizon. Chrys kept her eyes glued to the white blur.

"So, what's the story, Harry?" Ron asked, settling back into his seat.

"Well… it all started when we got a visit from Dobby," Harry began.

"And who, might we ask, is Dobby?" The Weasley twins chorused from the front.

"Dobby the well-meaning, but decidedly misguided house-elf," Chrys answered.

"A house-elf at your aunt and uncle's place?" Ron frowned. "I've never seen anywhere so muggle."

"You're not likely to, no matter how hard you look," Harry agreed. "Even with Dobby chucking pudding at Uncle Vernon's important clients, Number 4 Privet Drive is still the mugglest of all muggle houses."

"Pudding?" George chuckled. "Sounds fun."

"Maybe, if it hadn't gotten us locked up with barely anything to eat," Chrys grumbled. George turned, his expression properly admonished. In the rearview mirror Chrys saw Fred's gaze burn.

"Can't believe we left that house without setting any booby-traps." For a moment his playfully dark tone gave her chills. Then George snapped him out of it.

"Ha! Booby-traps." George grinned and nudged Fred in the ribs.

"Oi! Not while I'm driving."

"Right, sorry."

Ron rolled his eyes. "Go on then, Harry."

Harry cleared his throat. "Ah, yeah so Dobby was the one who was blocking our mail."

"Knew it must have been something like that." Ron nodded thoughtfully. Harry raised an eyebrow. "What? Not that I could've guessed that a house-elf was involved, but I did figure… well I reckoned it was forces beyond your control… I mean you're not the type to drop out of touch like that." Harry beamed. Ron flushed.

"Hate to break up this love fest," Fred commented. Harry rubbed his neck. "Only, I am curious to know why some random house-elf was blocking your letters."

"I think Dobby was just doing his best to help us," Chrys thought aloud.

"Help you what? Tidy your room?" George joked.

"Not that we couldn't use it… but no." Harry twiddled his thumbs. "He said someone was plotting to unleash a dark force in Hogwarts so it wouldn't be safe for us to return." The car grew quiet, except for Hedwig, who had returned with a proud hoot as she dropped a mouse carcass in Harry's lap. Chrys brushed it aside.

"That's why he took the letters, to try and convince us that we weren't wanted at Hogwarts," she continued.

"Very fishy," Fred decided.

"Definitely dodgy," George agreed. "So, he wouldn't even tell you who's supposed to be plotting all this stuff?"

"Well, our first suspect was the murderous scum who killed our parents, but Dobby said it wasn't him," Chrys explained.

"Dobby was so close to giving something away… if only he didn't have to keep punishing himself." Harry ran a hand through his hair. Fred ho-hummed and glanced at George. Harry didn't miss the look that passed between them. "What? You think he was lying to us?"

"Well, put it this way," Fred said. "House-elves have got powerful magic of their own, but they can’t usually use it without their master’s permission. I reckon old Dobby was sent to stop you coming back to Hogwarts. Someone’s idea of a joke. Can you think of anyone at school with a grudge against you?

"Yes," Harry and Ron said immediately.

Chrys frowned. "We've all ready crossed Voldemort off the list," she reminded them. Fred and George flinched. Ron hissed in protest. Chrys rolled her eyes. "Sorry, I mean Dobby all ready told us it wasn't You-Know-Who."

"I wasn't thinking of him." Harry waved his hand flippantly. "I meant Malfoy." Ron nodded.

"Draco Malfoy?"' George twisted in his seat to look at them. "Not Lucius Malfoy's son?"

"I don't know," Chrys admitted. "He talks about his dad all the time, but it's not like he refers to him by name. It's always my father will hear about this!" She stuck her chin up in the air and sneered her best Malfoy impression. Ron snorted loudly.

"It must be his dad," Harry thought. "It's not a very common name, is it? Anyway..." He looked curiously at George. "Why do you ask?"

"I've heard dad talking about him," George told them. "He was a big supporter of You-Know-Who."

"And when You-Know-Who disappeared...” Fred continued, peeking at them in the rearview mirror again. “...Lucius Malfoy came back saying he’d never meant any of it. Load of dung—Dad reckons he was right in You-Know-Who’s inner circle."

"Not surprising. Malfoy makes Dudley look like a kind, thoughtful, sensitive boy," Harry grumbled.

"Oh, I'm sure Malfoy is plenty sensitive if you know where to kick him." Chrys laughed manically. The boys winced in unison.

Fred cleared his throat. "Moving on, the Malfoys certainly are rich enough, and Pureblooded enough to have a house-elf or two stashed away."

"Mum's always wishing we had a house-elf to do the ironing," George said. Chrys frowned.

"It doesn't sound like they get treated very well, house-elves."

"Not generally," George admitted. "But they're treated well enough at-" Fred shot him a look. "-In certain places. Anyway, you wouldn't catch one in our house. They're more likely to be found in big old manors, and castles, and places like that. All we've got is a lousy old ghoul in the attic and gnomes in the garden."

"What are ghouls and gnomes?" Chrys wondered. Fred grinned.

"You'll see soon enough."

"Don't get too excited though, Chrys," George said. "They really aren't much. I mean, it's home, and we love it, but it's not exactly..." He trailed off, and the three Weasleys frowned.

"Well..." Harry said after a moment of awkward silence. "Whatever it is Dobby is up to, thanks anyway for coming to get us."

"Our pleasure," Fred and George chorused.

"And it's good to know what held up the letters," Ron thought. "At first I assumed it was Errol as usual."

"Errol?" Chrys and Harry wondered in unison.

"The family owl. He's ancient. Wouldn't be the first time he'd collapsed on a delivery." Ron shrugged.

"How sad," Chrys thought.

"So then I tried to borrow Hermes—"

"The Greek god of thieves and travelers?" Chrys bounced in her seat. "He exists?"

"Um, no. Hermes is the owl Percy got for making prefect. Only, Percy refuses to share him."

"Percy has been acting odd this summer," George commented. "Been sending a lot of letters from his room… which he hardly ever leaves."

"Ooh, secretive." Chrys grinned. George laughed.

"With Percy it's more likely he's been polishing his prefect badge the entire time…" He tapped the compass on the dashboard. "Hold up, Fred, you're getting off course."

Harry was ruffling his hair again. "I'm guessing your dad doesn't know you've taken the car out for a joyride?"

"Not a joyride, a rescue mission!" Fred corrected.

"Hear, hear!" Chrys cried out gratefully.

"He's got work tonight," Ron said to Harry. "So as long as we get it back into the garage without mum noticing, we're home free."

"He works at the Ministry of Magic, right?" Chrys recalled. Ron nodded.

"What does he do there?" Harry wondered.

Ron sighed. "He works in the most boring department. The Misuse of Muggle Artifacts Office."

"The what?" Chrys and Harry asked.

"It’s all to do with bewitching things that are Muggle made, you know, in case they end up back in a Muggle shop or house," Ron explained. "Like, last year, some old witch died and her tea set was sold to an antiques shop. This Muggle woman bought it, took it home, and tried to serve her friends tea in it. It was a nightmare—Dad was working overtime for weeks."

Chrys narrowed her eyes suspiciously. "What was wrong with the teapot?"

"Like I said, somebody must've enchanted it," Ron said. "I don't know what spell exactly, but, whatever it was, the teapot went berserk and squirted boiling tea all over the place, and one man ended up in the hospital with the sugar tongs clamped to his nose. Dad was going frantic—it’s only him and an old warlock called Perkins in the office—and they had to do Memory Charms and all sorts of stuff to cover it up—"

Harry blinked. "But, your dad, this car..." He looked around them.

Fred chuckled fondly. "Yeah, Dad’s crazy about everything to do with Muggles; our shed’s full of Muggle stuff. He takes it apart, puts spells on it, and puts it back together again. If he raided our house he'd have to put himself under arrest. It drives Mum mad."

Suddenly George leaned over to look through the windshield. "That's the main road," he told them. "We'll be there in ten minutes. Just as well, it's getting light..." Chrys looked around them at the pink tinged sky. It was almost sort of pretty, if she didn't look down. Harry was looking down as the car got lower and lower. "We're just outside the village-Ottery St. Catchpole."

The car got even lower, and then... "Touchdown!" Fred said excitedly as they landed with a bump. Chrys held her hand over her mouth, letting her stomach settle as she looked around at the worn down garage, and the small yard bathed in red sunlight. Harry scrambled out of the car to get a better look. Chrys followed slowly, dodging out of the way as a fat brown chicken tried to peck at her foot.

She tilted her head so she could read the lopsided signpost sticking out of the dirt. "The Burrow." The house was just as lopsided as the sign. The rooms appeared to have been stacked up on top of each other without any regard to keeping it symmetrical. In fact, it seemed highly improbable that the whole thing was standing at all. Aunt Petunia would've hated it, and that made Chrys grin.

"It's not much," Ron mumbled, rubbing the back of his neck. He eyed the stack of rubber boots and an old rusty cauldron near the front door.

"It's wonderful," Harry said.

"Glorious," Chrys agreed, liking the way Harry's face lit up at the sight of the strange structure. Ron's ears went red.

"Now, we’ll go upstairs really quietly,” Fred said as George heaved the trunks out of the boot. Harry automatically moved over to help him. “We'll wait for Mum to call us for breakfast. Then, Ron, you come bounding downstairs going, ‘Mum, look who turned up in the night!’ and she’ll be so pleased to see Harry and Chrys that no one need ever know we flew the car."

"Right." Ron nodded. "Come on, guys, I sleep at the—" He froze, his freckles standing out on his suddenly very pale face.

The woman marching towards them was very chubby, and dressed in in a flowery apron. She was nonetheless one of the most formidable looking women Chrys had ever seen, including the indomitable Professor McGonagall.

"Ah," Fred said.

"Oh dear," George said. Mrs. Weasley came to a stop, resting her hands on her hips.

"So..."

Faced with such a challenge, Chrys became even more determined. She stuck out her hand and threw on her most winsome smile. "Good morning, Mrs. Weasley, nice to see you again!"

For a moment, Mrs. Weasley was startled out of her fury. "Why yes…" They shook hands. "Lovely to see you again, dear."

"Morning, mum!" George grinned, clearly thinking he was in the clear. Mrs. Weasley rounded on him.

"You! Do you have any idea how worried I've been?" Mrs. Weasley's voice could have frozen the heart of a dragon.

"Sorry, mum," George continued on bravely. "But we had to—"

"Beds empty! No note! Car gone—could have crashed—out of my mind with worry—did you care?—" Mrs. Weasley continued, red-faced. Harry and Chrys exchanged a guilty look. "Never, as long as I’ve lived—you wait until your father gets home, we never had trouble like this from Bill or Charlie or Percy—"

"Perfect Percy," Fred muttered.

"You could do with taking a leaf out of Percy's book," Mrs. Weasley roared, prodding Fred on the chest. Chrys tensed, relaxing slightly when Mrs. Weasley didn't move to strike him. "You could have died, you could have been seen, you could have lost your father his job—" Eventually, when her throat had gone too hoarse for her to continue, Mrs. Weasley ushered the Potter twins into the house. "Have some breakfast." It sounded like an order. A kindly order, but an order all the same.

Chrys, who hadn't a bite to eat since that slurp of soup hours ago, was well ready to follow that order. She practically skipped across the threshold. Harry was a bit more reluctant to follow, so Chrys pulled him by the hand. The kitchen was a bit cramped, most of the room taken up by a large wooden table. Mrs. Weasley busied herself at the stove, still muttering under her breath.

"Er, do you need any help, Mrs. Weasley?" Harry offered, hovering.

"Oh! Thank you dear, but I'm fine. Sit down, sit down." Mrs. Weasley waved her hand. They sat down, Ron still eyeing his mother somewhat warily.

"Sorry if we've caused any trouble," Chrys spoke up.

"Oh, I don't blame you," Mrs. Weasley said.

"Ron and Fred and George were only trying to help," Chrys pushed on. Ron shot her a look like 'just shut up already!' "They were worried..."

"Arthur and I were worried as well," Mrs. Weasley admitted. "Just last night we were saying we'd come and get you ourselves if you hadn't written back to Ron by Friday." Chrys blinked in surprise. She'd only briefly met Mrs. Weasley before, and she'd never met Arthur before, whom she assumed was Ron's dad. Why should they be worried about her and Harry? She turned to Harry, expecting him to be surprised as well, but he seemed preoccupied by looking around the kitchen at a clock, some books on a shelf, and a radio playing low. The clock was a bit odd. It didn't appear to have numbers on it, but before Chrys could get a closer look at it, she was distracted by the smell of food. "But honestly..." Mrs. Weasley placed a plate of about nine sausages and three eggs in front of Harry.

"Oh wow," he said quietly. Harry moved to share out the contents of his plate, before he realized Mrs. Weasley was putting more plates full of food in front of everyone. Chrys couldn't help realizing that she and Harry had the largest portions.

Mrs. Weasley motioned her wand at the sink without looking, and sponge floated up and started scrubbing at the frying pan.

"...Flying an illegal car halfway across the country! Anyone could have seen you."

"It was cloudy, mum!" Fred protested.

"You keep your mouth closed while your eating!" Mrs. Weasley retorted as Chrys breathed in the steam rising off of her food.

"If this is a dream, don't wake me." She sighed. Harry playfully pinched her side. She yelped. "What'd you do that for?"

"Just proving it's real." He grinned. "You said—" She shoved an egg in his mouth to shut him up, doing a little victory dance as yolk dribbled down his chin.

He chewed and swallowed, cut off from making any comeback by George saying, "They were starving them, mum!"

Chrys stiffened awkwardly. Mrs. Weasley paused for a moment, buttered several slices of toast and put them onto her and Harry's plates.

"Well," Mrs. Weasley started, but before she could finish, a red haired girl wearing a nightgown stepped into the room, saw Harry, squealed, and ran out again.

Chrys blinked. "What?"

"My sister Ginny," Ron told her. "She's been talking about you two all summer. Harry in particular."

"Next she'll be wanting your autograph." Fred laughed, nudging Harry's side.

"What? Why?" Harry's forehead scrunched up.

"We're famous, remember?" Chrys teased.

Fred grinned mischievously. "Yeah, there's that and that fact that she sort of fan—"

Mrs. Weasley glared at him and he went quiet.

After breakfast Harry volunteered to help out the Weasley brothers with their chores. Chrys was more than ready to go to sleep, but not wanting to seem less considerate than Harry, she rolled up her sleeves.

"Now, let's see what Lockhart's got to say on the subject." Mrs. Weasley took down one of the books Harry had been looking at. It was titled: Gilderoy Lockhart's Guide to Household Pests. Mrs. Weasley took an extra moment to admire the man on the cover, whom Chrys presumed was said Gilderoy Lockhart.

"Mum fancies him," Fred grumbled.

"Don't be ridiculous," Mrs. Weasley said, blushing.

"I suppose he is rather handsome," Chrys said, coming to Mrs. Weasley's defense. He did look a bit like the blonde haired blue eyed princes on the historical fantasy shows Aunt Petunia liked to pretended not to watch sometimes. Though Chrys always preferred rooting for the dragon.

Fred groaned. "Not you too." Not knowing what else to do, Chrys stuck her tongue out at him. Fred rolled his eyes, but seemed pacified for the moment.

The three Weasley brothers, Harry and Chrys spent the rest of the morning chucking wrinkly brown creatures called gnomes over the fence. Chrys felt sort of bad for tossing around cognizant beings, but Ron assured her that they were thick skulled enough to take it.

She continued with vengence when one gnome chomped down on Harry's hand. "Get off of him you little bugger!" She shouted, kick dropping the offender into a nearby tree.

"You know, you wouldn't have done half-bad at football," Harry commented admiringly.

Chrys shrugged dismissively. "Who would have played with us?"

Harry considered. "Bet I can get more gnomes than you," he challenged her.

"You're on." She grinned. Pretty soon Fred, George and Ron joined in. Harry came out on top, with Fred and George not far behind.

"Thank you, thank you." Fred and George bowed in turn.

"Show-offs." Ron shook his head.

"What's next?" Harry asked eagerly.

"Well…" Before Ron could answer Fred stood up straight.

"Dad's home!"

Chrys felt a traitorous stab of jealousy as the Weasleys crowded around their balding patriarch. She tried not to imagine her own father arriving home (wherever that was) from his job (whatever that was) and showering her with hugs and kisses. The images only intensified her urge to run and hide.

She tuned back in when she realized the man's bespectacled gaze was directed towards her. Mr. Weasley gave Chrys a warm smile.

"And you must be Chrys. Pleased to meet you, Ron's told us so much about—"

Mrs. Weasley interrupted, going on a rant about the danger his sons had put themselves in. Though Mr. Weasley seemed more impressed than anything else, he did his best to admonish his sons. Figuring this was a waste of time, Ron motioned Chrys over, leading her and Harry up the stairs.

"I'll show you my bedroom." They dawdled up the stairs, pausing at the third landing where they caught another glimpse of Ginny before she disapeared again. Ron shook his head. "You don't know how weird it is for her to be this shy. She never shuts up normally."

"I know the feeling." Harry elbowed Chrys lightly. She shoved him back, but stopped as soon as she realized high up they were. Dizziness threatened to defeat her. Just when she thought her head would spin clear off her neck and bounce down the stairs, Ron finally came to a stop.

"Cute plaque, Ronald," Chrys commented, tapping the gold colored sign that labeled his door.

"Glad you like it," Ron replied.

"Cute sarcasm," she added.

"I learnt from the best," he quipped.

Harry chuckled, pausing as they stepped inside. "It's so…"

"Shabby? Cramped? Untidy?" Ron guessed self-deprecatingly.

"Orange," Harry finished.

"Oh." Ron let out a breath of relief. "Yeah, it's cause of the Chudley Cannons…"

"Your Quidditch team?" Harry inferred, eyeing poster covered walls.

As the boys rambled on about Quidditch, Chrys squeezed into the niche next to the fish tank. She greeted Scabbers the rat with a scratch behind the ears, and went on to devour Ron's pile of wizarding comic books.

Chapter Text

Chrys read five volumes of The Adventures of Martin Miggs the Mad Muggle in under an hour. "Are there anymore? Please say there are," Chrys begged Ron.

Ron blinked at her. "Ah… they're sort of outdated so you can get loads of them for a knut at the Flourish and Blotts resale section."

"Can we go to Diagon Alley?"

"What, like right now?" He asked. She nodded eagerly at him. He shook his head. "Slow down Chrys. We'll be going there soon enough once our school lists come."

"Really?"

"Really."

"Thank you, thank you, thank you!" She gave him a tight hug while Harry watched on in amusement.

"They should write a new series, Chrys the Crazy Lord of Chaos," Ron muttered.

"Sounds catchy." Harry grinned.

Later that night, Mrs. Weasley came up to see where Chrys had gotten to.

"It's getting late dear. I'll show you to Ginny's room so you can get some rest."

Chrys pouted. "Do Harry and Ron have to go to sleep as well?"

"Of course." Mrs. Weasley gave Ron a strong look. Ron slouched.

"Come on, Harry, I'll drag the camp bed out for you."

Mrs. Weasley led Chrys down stairs, pausing in front of a door that had Ginevra painted on it in curly black script. "Now if Ginny seems a bit shy, it's only because she's excited to have guests over," Mrs. Weasley explained.

"Okay, not a problem," Chrys assured her. In fact, Chrys found Ginny's star struck behavior sort of flattering.

"I'll leave you to it, then." Mrs. Weasley smiled. "Come and get me if you need anything, Arthur and I are just above Ron."

Chrys privately thought she was not about to climb all of those stairs again unless completely necessary, though she appreciated the gesture. She waved until Mrs. Weasley was out of sight. Eager to meet another Weasley, Chrys flung open the door. She regretted it immediately.

Chrys had almost woken Ginny, who was curled up on a rickety wooden chair, her knees hugged to her chest. Ginny's deep breaths fluttered open her curtain of hair, revealing a freckled nose, just like Ron's. Chrys tiptoed through doorway, pulling the door behind her with a gentle snap.

Her efforts of stealth were completely ruined as she let out a high-pitched squeak. Something furry had woven between her legs.

The culprit (a scrawny ginger cat) gave her a judgmental stare, making Chrys feel rather like a peasant in the presence of the Queen. She pulled at her cheeks and made a funny face at the cat, but it ignored her, hoping on to the bed closest to the window and kneading a pile of dirty clothes as if it were her regal duty.

Excepting the cat, Ginny's room was welcoming. Warm lamps flickered, illuminating the walls, which just like Ron's, were smothered in posters. One poster of a rather hairy bassist, looked as if it had been torn up and then painstakingly taped together again.

"Bugger!"

Chrys turned to see Ginny had woken. "Well hello to you to."

"Ah, no…" Ginny flushed blotchily. "I meant I was waiting up for you, but I must have dozed off… and mum told me to clean up, but it's a mess in here."

"I don't mind. I like it… it's great that you have your own room." Chrys sighed.

Ginny blinked. "You don't?" She asked. Chrys grimaced in response. "Why not?"

"We just don't get along with our aunt and uncle much." As always, Chrys kept the explanation to a minimum.

Ginny flushed again, this time with righteous anger, punching her small fist into the air.

"That's not fair! Even I have my own room and getting the permits to extend the house costs a fortune."

An awkward silence followed as Ginny slowly lowered her arm.

Chrys coughed, "Um, you said you needed to clean your room?" Ginny nodded. "Want some help?"

"Really? Well, if you like."

Between the two of them the room was spick and span in no time. Chrys flopped down on the pull out bed, sniffing her two-day-old pajamas to make sure they weren't too stinky yet.

"Thanks for helping out." Ginny smiled gratefully as she settled down on her own bed.

"No problem, just don't tell Harry I'm so good at cleaning or else he'll expect me to do it on a regular basis."

Ginny laughed. "I don't think you need to worry about that, seeing as I'm barely able to look at him without running away."

"Why not? I promise he won't bite," Chrys teased.

Ginny shook her head wildly. "No it's just… Merlin it's weird talking about this with you of all people."

Chrys rolled over onto her stomach, giving Ginny a quizzical look. "Why not? I've got just as good ears as anyone else."

"It's just… er, you two were my heroes growing up. I used to imagine that one day I'd meet you and help you save the wizarding world." Ginny buried her face in her pillow.

"Hmmm…" Chrys considered this for a moment. "Well, it's not too late you know. Maybe we'll still save the world together at one point."

Ginny popped out from behind her pillow, eyebrows knitted. "I know I'm being silly, but it's not nice to take the mickey out of me after I've just revealed something embarrassing."

"I'm not making fun of you," Chrys said hurriedly. Ginny frowned disbelievingly. Chrys brushed her fingers through her hair, thinking how badly she needed a bath. When she was younger Aunt Petunia used to allow longer bathes and she would sit in the tub for ages, not caring about getting clean, only caring about the dreams rushing through her head. "Want to know what my favorite daydream used to be? I used to imagine I'd have friends—friends who'd make me laugh, and cry and just feel something other than the dullness of every day life. And yeah, I know it sounds stupid, but hey, I didn't figure out that magic was real until I turned eleven. Now I attend what is supposedly the best school of magic, and I have friends who wouldn't give up on me even when I'd given up on me. If that can happen, than anything can."

"… Then, before we save the world together, how about we become friends first?" Ginny suggested.

Chrys grinned. "I'd like that. I'd like that a lot."

Ginny spent the rest of the night introducing Chrys to the wonders of The Weird Sisters. Chrys hadn't had much of an opinion on music in the past, but when Ginny switched on the beaten up radio, Chrys felt the drum beat echo in her chest.

Ginny nodded eagerly. "I get what you mean. I never got why Charlie was so into them, but it was the first time he'd shown any interest in anything besides dragons, so I was curious. After a couple of listens I was obsessed. When one of the cellists quit I owled in asking to be his replacement."

"You play the cello?" Chrys was impressed.

"Not a single note," Ginny said solemnly. Chrys couldn't help but laugh.

"Harry says I sound like a dying cat but…" She hummed a couple of bars of the song, horribly out of tune as always. "What do you think, could I pass an audition?"

"No," Ginny said immediately. Chrys pouted. "You're not hairy enough."

"Oh. How about now?" Chrys flipped her hair so it covered her face. Ginny snorted.

"In a heartbeat," she giggled. "Me?" Her hair wasn't nearly as long, but that didn't make her actions any less hilarious.

"We'd be the stars of the show," Chrys said, in all seriousness.

After several songs they had to switch off the radio when they heard Mrs. Weasley coming down the stairs.

"Quick, pretend you're asleep," Ginny whispered, flipping her blanket over her head and slowing her breath. Chrys followed her example, hearing the door creak open, and then after a pause, shut closed again. Chrys opened her eyes, and caught Ginny peeking out from behind her blanket.

"This is fun," Ginny giggled. "I've never had someone to stay up late with like this. What do you want to do next?" Her bright brown eyes glinted excitedly. Chrys let out a lion-like yawn.

"To tell you the truth I'm exhausted. I think I'll turn in for the night."

"Oh… okay." Ginny's disappointment hung in the air. "Goodnight, Chrysanthemum."

"Chrys," Chrys corrected her. "Friends call me Chrys."

"Goodnight, Chrys." She could hear Ginny's smile in her voice.

 

It was a goodnight. Chrys felt relatively well rested.  The good mood continued into the next day, when Chrys ate until she had to leave the zipper open on her hand-me-down Aunt Petunia skirt. When the mirror in the kitchen kept telling Harry to brush his hair, she laughed until her sides hurt.

Yet when night fell she still felt hollow. Once she got over the marvel of Mrs. Weasley tucking her into bed, Chrys got up, dragging a throw pillow with her.

"Where are you going?" The giggling, mischievous Ginny whom Chrys got to know last night was gone. The wide-eyed little girl was back.

"Nowhere… I just have trouble falling asleep sometimes, I didn't want to bother you," Chrys explained.

"We're friends," Ginny argued. "If you're bothered then so am I… so what can I do to help?"

"Oh, um I don't know… Hermione usually sits up with me and we read."

Ginny glanced around the room. "Well, I haven't got many books, but I have got an idea." Ginny pulled the radio out from underneath her bed.

"I don't think the Weird Sisters will help me fall asleep at all," Chrys said. "And hey, I only just noticed, but does that radio say 'property of Ronald Weasley' on it?"

"I'm borrowing it," Ginny said slowly.

"Uh-huh, sure you are." Chrys laughed.

"Forget about that for now, just focus on this." Ginny had been turning the dial for a while now, but she finally stopped, as Myron Wagtail's voice floated out of the speakers.

"Ginny, I thought I told you…" Chrys trailed off. This was different. Instead of the caffeinated beats of last night, this song was a cool breeze on a hot summer's night.

"It's a lullaby," Ginny said softly. "Wagtail wrote it when his son was born."

"I could listen to this again and again," Chrys mumbled, feeling her heartbeat slow.

"I'll be starting my first year at Hogwarts in September, so you could borrow the radio any time you like."

"That'd be great, we can listen to it together!"

"You're sure you'll still want to hang out with me? If you'd rather read with Hermione—"

"Hermione is Hermione." Chrys stifled a yawn. "I love the girl, but I don't think the world could handle two of her. You're Ginny Weasley and I quite like Ginny Weasley."

"Well then, as long as you don't tell Ron I've got his radio, I'm looking forward to some more late night Weird Sisters sessions at Hogwarts."

 

The start of school term snuck up on Chrys.

She hadn't expected the stack of envelopes sandwiched between the bowl of potatoes and the plate of sausages at breakfast one morning.

"Dumbledore already knows you're here," Mr. Weasley said, handing the Potters theirs. "Doesn't miss a tick, that man."

While George complained about the price of the schoolbooks, Chrys chewed distractedly at her fork. Harry poked her, giving her a questioning look.

"I'm excited to get back to Hogwarts, but I'll miss being at the Burrow," she explained.

"I understand. Everyone here seems to like us… it's strange, but not a bad sort of strange." He smiled.

"It's far from boring," Chrys agreed. Mr. Weasley leaned in-between them.

"Am I interrupting?"

"Not at all," Chrys and Harry chorused.

"Excellent. Now about the rubber ducks, I still don't understand their purpose. Why ducks? And do they always have to be yellow?" Mr. Weasley gestured wildly, knocking his glasses clean off his face.

Ginny caught them neatly. "Slow down, dad, you're going to hurt someone," she chided, though there was a hint of amusement in the corner of her mouth.

Mr. Weasley wagged his finger, squinting. "Now, Ginny, you can never ask too many questions."

Harry sighed happily. "I love this place." At the sound of his voice Ginny floundered and dropped her father's glasses. Harry sighed less happily and stared at the ceiling. Mr. Weasley bent over and felt around for his glasses.

He got them back on, but his triumphant grin faded as Mrs. Weasley loomed over him.

"Arthur, dear, have you been tinkering with my oven again?"

Mr. Weasley's ears went red. "Er… well you see…"

"Comb your hair!" The mirror barked out.

Chrys turned to make fun of Harry, but it was Percy standing in front of the mirror, his curls having taken on a life of their own.

"You know, I actually think it looks better like that, your hair," Chrys commented lightly.

Percy would have normally been suspicious of a compliment from Chrys, whom he was not on the best terms with, but this morning he was unusually cheerful.

"Why thank you! Lovely morning, isn't it?"

"Sure…." Chrys turned to Fred. "What's with him?" She whispered.

"We told you, he's been odd this summer. Do you know his exam results came the day before you got here? Twelve O.W.Ls and he hardly gloated."

Harry's brow furrowed. "Ordinary Wizarding Levels," George answered his silent question. "Bill's got twelve too." If Chrys recalled correctly, Bill was the eldest Weasley brother, who worked in Egypt, breaking curses for Gringotts. Curses in the pyramids sounded exciting. She wondered if any of the Egyptian mythology she'd read was real. After all, she had met a Cererbus... "If we're not careful, we'll have another Head Boy in the family. I don't think I could stand the shame." George held his hand over his head and fell dramatically against Fred, who laughed and shoved him off.

"Anyway, he's definitely not himself," Fred concluded.

As if to prove his point, Percy burst into flowery prose. "The sun shines more brightly today, the roses smell sweeter, and the birdsong tells us…"

"The birdsong tells us it's time to leave." Fred and George bounced up, putting their plates in the sink, and kissing their mother's cheeks in tandem.

Chrys got up to follow them, but Ron stopped her, gesturing at a lumpy grey shape, which was growing bigger by the minute. Chrys took off her glasses, scrubbed them clean, and put them back on again. "Oh. Ouch." She winced as the large grey owl slammed headfirst into the closed window. "Errol?" She guessed as Ron stood up to retrieve the owl and his letters.

"Bloody bird is pathetic," he mumbled, shaking his head.

"Perhaps I should hold off cleaning the windows so he can see them better," Mrs. Weasley thought. "Who's the letter from, Ronnie?"

"Mum," Ron groaned.

"Ooh, it's from Hermione!" Chrys snatched it out of his hands and read it aloud. Hermione had preemptively told Ron off for doing something illegal to rescue the twins…"… As Chrys is only too likely to go along with it and get herself into trouble." Chrys frowned at this, though she beamed at Hermione's invitation to meet at Diagon Alley. Mrs. Weasley agreed this sounded like a good idea.

"In the meantime, Fred and George have challenged us to a game of Quidditch," Harry told Chrys excitedly.

"And by us you mean…?"

"Ron and I," Harry confirmed.

Chrys let out a relieved breath. "Stay safe."

Harry shook his head. "Not likely with my track record."

"Harry!"

He laughed.

"They invited Percy, but not me," Ginny grumbled. "They never invite me." Chrys studied her doubtfully. Ginny's hands snapped to her hips. "I know I'm a girl, and I'm the youngest, but that doesn't mean—"

"That doesn't mean anything," Chrys agreed. "Only, you do turn into a bumbling strawberry every time Harry so much as looks at you. So, I don't think you'd be too helpful in a game of Quidditch at the moment."

"Oh."

Ginny slumped onto the couch, snatching up the passing cat and examining its new outfit.

"I know he's your brother… but there's just something about him—" She was interrupted by the cat's annoyed hiss, but Chrys got the point.

"So you fancy him." Chrys shrugged. Then she grinned, realizing something. "Hey! If you two get married then you'll be my sister!"

Ginny gave her a shove. "I don't want to marry him."

Chrys ran her fingers through her hair. "What do you want from him then?"

Ginny stroked the cat into submission. "I think I just want him to notice me."

"He notices. He asked me just the other day why Ron's little sister was avoiding him."

"That's exactly the problem."

"You avoiding him? I agree."

"No, I mean… I want him to really notice me, like not as Ron's little sister, but as me."

Chrys blew a strand of hair away from her face. "If you want him to treat you as a normal person, then you have to try and do the same from him. Me, I love being called a hero, but Harry's humbler than a monk, so your behavior freaks him out a bit."

Ginny nodded slowly, releasing the cat, to its great relief.

"By the way, Chrysanthemum, why was the cat wearing my jumper?"

"Fred did it," Chrys said quickly, deciding not to mention her involvement.

"And you didn't think to stop him?"

Chrys shrugged. "It was a laugh."

 

For the next week the Burrow was even more filled with laughter than usual as the women of the group attempted to complete two impossible tasks.

"I know the White Queen said she'd do two impossible tasks before breakfast, but if I waited until we completed these tasks then I'd never eat again," Chrys thought. Hermione had sent Chrys a copy of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland the other day.

"Thanks for the vote of confidence," Ginny said dryly. Chrys had been attempting to couch Ginny to speak more easily with Harry, but so far Ginny was still as skittish as the cat.

"Eh, it's more me than you." Chrys sighed.

"Chrys dear, can you fetch me those dishes from the cabinet?" Mrs. Weasley called from the other side of the kitchen.

"Yes ma'am!" Chrys grabbed the dishes, rushed them over to Mrs. Weasley and then ran back to Ginny. After Harry had mentioned how much of a disaster Chrys was in the kitchen, Mrs. Weasley offered to give Chrys cooking lessons. When Chrys refused, Mrs. Weasley seemed to accept it, but Chrys soon learned that the acceptance was a front. "She keeps luring me into the kitchen and trying to get me to stay there and watch her cook. I don't know if she thinks her skills will just rub off on me or something, but it definitely isn't working."

"If mum didn't give up after you set the cat's tail on fire, then I don't think she'll ever give up on you," Ginny reasoned.

Suddenly a sleepy eyed Ron popped his head through the door. "I smell bacon."

"What, not even a 'good morning' for your dear sister?" Ginny stared at him.

Ron ignored her. "Bacon?" He asked Chrys.

"Your mum is making sandwiches for an early breakfast before we head off to Diagon Alley," Chrys explained.

"That's right." Mrs. Weasley appeared behind them with a large tray of sandwiches.

"Looks great, mum," Ron said happily.

"Thank you, Ronald." Mrs. Weasley smiled at him. "And I'd be happy to give the recipe to whomever wants it."

Chrys pointedly avoided eye contact with the impressive matriarch. "Is Harry up yet?" She asked Ron.

Ron said something like "Jug a boat!" through a mouthful of food.

"He said 'just about," Ginny translated, placing three sandwiches on her own plate.

Slowly the rest of the family filed down the stairs, most like Ron awoken early by the smell of Mrs. Weasley's cooking.

"I will miss this," Harry said, patting his unusually full stomach.

"Time to get our coats on," Mr. Weasley announced.

Harry and Chrys pulled on their Weasley jumpers, "Because they're the best we've ever had," which made Mrs. Weasley tear up a bit.

Mrs. Weasley wiped her eyes as she reached into a flowerpot on top of the fireplace.

"Um, what's your mum doing?" Chrys whispered to Ginny, hoping she hadn't upset Mrs. Weasley to the point of madness. Ginny gave her a weird look which quickly morphed into an expression of understanding.

"Sometimes I forget you were raised by muggles . It's floo powder, we use it to travel," Ginny informed her.

"I see," Chrys lied.

Harry seemed equally confused as Mrs. Weasley offered him the flowerpot.

"Harry and Chrys have never traveled by floo powder before," Ron interjected. "Sorry, I forgot." He shot the Potter twins apologetic looks.

"Never?" Mr. Weasley blinked. "But how did you get to Diagon Alley to buy your things last year?"

"We went on the Underground—" Harry started.

"Really?" Mr. Weasley's eyes shone brightly. "Were there escapators?"

"Escalators?" Chrys guessed.

"Es-ca-la-tors," Mr. Weasley sounded out. "Excellent! How do they—"

"Not now, Arthur," Mrs. Weasley said. She was looking worriedly at the Potters. "Floo powder is a lot quicker, but goodness me, if you've never used it before—"

"They'll be alright, mum," Fred said. "Just watch us first." He took a pinch of the sparkling powder out of the pot, and through it in to the lit fireplace.

As soon as the dust hit the flames, the fire pulsed, changing in color to a bright emerald green.

"It matches your eyes," Chrys told Harry.

Harry was more concerned with watching Fred, as he stepped into the fireplace, and unharmed by the flames shouted out, "Diagon Alley!"

Then Fred was gone.

After George went, it was Harry's turn again.

"You must speak clearly, dear," Mrs. Weasley told him. "And be sure to get out at the right grate."

"The right what?" Harry asked nervously.

"Well, there are an awful lot of wizarding fires to choose from, you know," Mrs. Weasley explained, somehow without actually explaining anything. "But as long as you speak clearly..."

"Can we go together?" Chrys wondered aloud, not wanting Harry to get lost on his own.

"It's better if we go single file," Mr. Weasley said. "Don't worry, Harry will be fine."

She trusted the Weasleys, but nevertheless she got a squirmy feeling in her stomache as Harry stepped into the fireplace and disappeared in a coughing fit.

"Damn," Mr. Weasley muttered under his breath.

"What, what went wrong?" Chrys pulled hard on Ginny's arm.

Ginny winced. "I don't think he spoke clearly enough."

"Who knows where he'll end up now," Ron added nervously.

"Sometimes I hate magic," Chrys whimpered.

Mr. Weasley suggested Ginny and Chrys go together. Chrys did not argue, but tapped her foot impatiently in the heat of the flames as Ginny spoke carefully. Chrys gripped hard to Ginny's arm as she spun, feeling like her whole body was being sucked down a giant sink drain. She got glimpses of fireplaces rushing past, blurred by speed. Just when it felt like Chrys was going to lose her bacon sandwiches, the girls stumbled out of a fireplace, into a bustling room in the Flourish & Blotts bookstore.

Chrys ignored a group of employees setting something up in the middle of the room, and ran to Fred and George who were looking through a book titled 101 Broomstick Jokes.

"Hey, Chrys, Ginny, listen to this one," George said excitedly. "What did the broomstick say to the—"

"Not now, George," Ginny interrupted him. "Harry's gone missing."

"Are you sure? Maybe he just ended up in another store," George suggested.

"Okay, let's go." Ginny started marching towards the door.

"Not so fast." Fred caught her by the back of her coat. "You stay here with George and wait for mum and dad. Chrys and I will go check the next couple of stores."

"Why does she get to go and I have to stay?" Ginny whined.

"He's her brother," Fred reminded Ginny. Chrys, who had been fighting to stay still and silent for the last couple of minutes, now tugged on Fred's sleeve and looked up at him.

"Please," she said quietly. He nodded.

"Come on."

Fred and Chrys popped into Quality Quidditch Supplies, and then Madame Malkin's, but neither of them contained a disgruntled Harry in their fireplace.

However, hovering in front of Gringotts, Chrys ran into someone else familiar.

"Hermione!" Chrys ran at her and nuzzled at her best friend's neck.

"Chrys, what's wrong?" Hermione questioned, feeling Chrys shaking in her arms.

"We've misplaced Harry," Fred answered. "Have you seen a bespectacled midget about yay high," he gestured at his waist, "Probably covered in soot."

Chrys bit back her laughter, but it escaped her a moment later when she saw Hagrid walking towards them, Harry at his side. Harry was indeed dusty looking, and his glasses seemed cracked.

Chrys pounced, toppling him to the ground. "Don't you ever do that again!"

Harry stared at her. "Okay, Chrys, I promise, please don't cry," he begged.

"Wha—" Chrys raised a hand to her cheek and was surprised to feel it wet. "Oh. Sorry, I'm being silly." A large hand came from above, offering her an equally large checkered handkerchief. "Thanks, Hagrid." Chrys sniffled and dabbed at her eyes. "And thanks for bringing him back to me."

"S' no problem," Hagrid assured her. "And 'm sorry teh hear bout how those lousy muggles were treating yeh this summer."

"Oh, that." Chrys had nearly forgotten their earlier summer, thanks to the great time she'd been having at the Burrow.

"Here comes mum," Fred announced. "Ha—look at her go!" Mrs. Weasley was racing towards them, pulling Ginny behind her like a floppy doll.

"You'd better apologize to them for making them worry as well," Chrys lectured, as Hagrid helped Harry to his feet.

"What on earth is going on?" Hermione looked confusedly between them.

"I'll explain everything later," Harry said, coming to meet the Weasleys.

Soon enough Mrs. Weasley had dusted Harry off, and Mr. Weasley had taught them a useful spell for mending glasses. Harry told everyone about how he had ended up in a shop called Borgin and Burkes, which was located in the darker version of Diagon Alley, the adjacent Knockturn Alley. Mrs. Weasley fretted all the more after hearing this, while Mr. Weasley was curious to hear about what Harry had seen.

"Malfoy and his father were in the store, selling off their dark magic items," Harry said.

Mr. Weasley was pleased to hear this, as it meant his raids to confiscate such items were intimidating even the likes of Malfoy.

"Well all of that sounds horrible." Hermione frowned. "Just don't mention it when you meet my parents. I don't want to worry them."

"Your parents are here?" Chrys just barely remembered the kindly looking couple from Platform 9 ¾. She'd thought dentists were supposed to be scarier.

"Are your parents muggles?" Mr. Weasley asked excitedly.

"Yes…" Hermione eyed him nervously.

"I don't suppose you could introduce me?" Mr. Weasley was practically vibrating with excitement.

"Now, now, Arthur, don't crowd them," Mrs. Weasley chided.

The group split off in Gringotts so that they could withdraw some money for shopping. Chrys considered waiting in the lobby, as she wasn't all too fond of the speeding carts that lead to the vaults, but she couldn't stand to be separated from Harry at the moment.

She clung onto him as they zipped past tight twists and corners. Harry was beaming delightfully, though his smile melted off of his face, as Mrs. Weasley who happened to be accompanying them, opened her vault and removed the entire contents of one small pile of sickles.

"I'd give them all of it if I didn't think it'd hurt their feelings," he muttered as he shoved a random handful of coins from the stuffed full Potter vault into a bag.

Harry was much quieter on the ride back. After her dizziness wore off a bit, Chrys thanked Fred for helping her search for Harry.

"Hey, I get it. I don't know what I'd do if this bugger-head disappeared on me," he said, rubbing George's head roughly.

"Get off, you!" George and Fred scrambled with each other for a moment, before they spotted their friend Lee.

"See you later, mum!" They called, rushing off to join him.

"Remember, meet at Flourish and Blotts in an hour!" Mrs. Weasley called after them. "They'd better not being going to Knockturn Alley," she mumbled to herself. Ginny waved goodbye as her mother steered her in the opposite direction.

"How about some ice cream?" Harry suggested, holding up his bursting bags of coins. Ron eyed it in distaste. "Or if you'd rather do something else…" Harry trailed off awkwardly.

"Ice cream isn't good for your teeth anyway. Or so I've heard," Hermione added, glancing back at her parents.

"Don't tell me you've never eaten ice cream?" Ron gasped.

Hermione considered. "I think I had some at a fair when I was younger."

Ron pushed her forward. "That's it, Harry, we've got to her to Fortescue's—it's the best Ice Cream Parlour in the whole world."

"That's improbable," Hermione said, still watching her parents nervously as Ron tried to pull her towards the ice cream shop.

"They have a strawberry peanut butter flavor that practically melts in your mouth." Ron moaned at his own description.

"Quick!" Chrys grabbed Hermione's hand. "Let's go while Mr. Weasley's got your parents distracted."

So Harry bought them each a triple scoop cone, which was just as good as, if not better than Ron had promised.

"I think I'm going to marry this ice cream," Chrys decided.

"It'd be a short lived marriage," Harry commented, gesturing at the small drop of pink left in her teeny nub of cone.

"Good point, then you'll just have to give me some of yours." Chrys leaned over his shoulder and tried to get a lick, but Harry's reactions were quicker.

Meanwhile Hermione was convincing Ron not to spend his next year's worth of allowance on a set of Chuddley Cannon's robes.

"It wouldn't be a good investment, and besides, you've just told me you need a new bottle of ink."

"I could just take one from Chrys. She has like ten of them stashed away," Ron argued.

"Most of those are for sketching purposes only," Chrys told him, tickling Harry's sides.

Harry nearly dropped his ice cream. "Look, there's Fred, George, and Lee!"

"Where?"

"In that joke shop over there."

"Ooh, a joke shop!" Chrys pressed up against the window and looked inside. She caught Lee's eye. He laughed, and squished his cheeks flat to show her what she looked like.

"It's nearly time to meet your mother, so we should head back to Flourish and Blotts," Hermione told Ron.

Ron sighed and finally tore his gaze away from the Qudditch Shop.

"We should definitely go in there when we've got the time," Chrys said, still watching the joke shop as they walked away.

"Sure," Harry said, licking the last of his ice cream off his fingers.

"Hey, you tricked me!"

Harry laughed.

"Hello, Percy," Hermione said politely. Percy was standing by the entrance of the bookstore, completely absorbed in something titled Perfects Who Gained Power.

"Fascinating," Ron commented.

"Go away, Ron," Percy grumbled, turning back to his book.

"Percy's always been ambitious," Ron said as they moved along. "He wants to be the Minister of Magic some day. I reckon he's got his whole career planned out."

"That's responsible." Hermione nodded.

Ron frowned. "Oh, should we go back and get you a copy of that book?"

"No thanks, I'm not all too fussed about gaining power." Hermione rolled her eyes.

"I wouldn't mind it," Chrys said thoughtfully. "Though I'm not sure I'd be that good of a prefect."

"You'd probably be a bad influence," Ron agreed, smiling slightly. "Hey look, that must be what they were setting up earlier."

Chrys read the giant, eye achingly purple sign, which proclaimed that Gilderoy Lockhart will be signing copies of his autobiography Magical Me today.

"Ah, that's the author who your mum fancies," Chrys recalled.

"She doesn't fancy him—" Ron started to say, though he stopped abruptly when he saw his mother preening nearby. "Ugh, mum…"

"She's probably just excited to be able to meet such a well-known author," Hermione squeaked. "I mean he's written practically the whole booklist!"

"Yeah, so he'd better be a good writer or else Defense will be horribly boring this year," Chrys thought.

"Can't be worse than last year," Harry put in.

"Ah, I suppose any teacher would be an improvement to a bloke in turban with Voldemort in the back of his head," Chrys agreed.

Ron shuffled uncomfortably. Before Chrys could tell him off for being such a wuss, someone suddenly cried, "It can't be Harry Potter!" And Harry was yanked from her side, to the front of the table were Mr. Lockhart was signing books in front of many flashing cameras. "Together we can make the front page," Lockhart told him.

"And what am I, chopped liver?" Chrys grumbled, as Harry tumbled back towards her.

"Trust me," Harry said. "You got the better end of the deal." Suddenly, Lockhart reached over and pulled Harry back into the center of the room.

With his arm around Harry's shoulders, he announced that he was the new Defense Against the Dark Arts professor at Hogwarts.

Ron groaned. "Sounds like a rotten deal for all of us," he thought. Chrys watched worriedly as Lockhart shoved what looked like his entire collection of books into Harry's arms. "Why'd he hire this fame obsessed lunatic?"

"Now Ron," Hermione began.

"I'm going to find Harry," Chrys interupted, seeing him disapear into the crowd.

"Wait!" Hermione called out as Chrys rushed after him.

Harry was in a corner with Ginny, depositing the books he'd just gotten into her new cauldron. "You have these. I can buy my own..."

Ginny frowned, looking like she was about to protest. Chrys was trying to think of something to say to convince her to take the books without hurting her pride, when she spotted a familar figure stalking towards them. "Uh oh." She tugged on Harry's sleeve.

"Bet you loved that, didn't you, Potter?" Draco Malfoy said. Harry sighed and straightened up, turning towards him.

"Not particularly, no. Can't say I did."

Chrys snickered. Malfoy ignored her. "Famous Harry Potter." He sneered. "Can't even go into a bookshop without making the front page.

Chrys opened her mouth to defend him, but she this time she didn't need to. Ginny marched straight up to Malfoy, glaring.

"Leave him alone. He didn't ask for all that!"

Chrys grinned, proud that Ginny was finally showing her true colors in front of Harry.

"Potter, you've got yourself a girlfriend," Malfoy teased. Chrys repressed a snort of laughter at Ginny's blush. And then Ron and Hermione pushed through way through the crowd.

"Oh, it's you." Ron made a face. "Bet you're surprised to see Harry here, eh?"

"Not as surprised as I am to see you in a shop, Weasley," Malfoy replied. "I suppose your parents will go hungry for a month to pay for all these." He motioned around at their books. This time it was Ron flushing, and less cutely than Ginny.

Chrys scowled as Ron tossed his books into Ginny's cauldron and started towards Malfoy. Harry and Hermione hurriedly held him back.

"Ron!" Mr. Weasley was coming over with Fred and George. "What are you doing? It's too crowded in here. Let's go outside."

"Good idea," Chrys said, squeezing Ron's shoulder.

"Well, well, well." A man with long blonde hair walked up and rested his hand on Malfoy's shoulder. "Arthur Weasley..."

"Lucius." Mr. Weasley nodded at him stiffly.

Mr. Weasley sneered identically to his son. "Busy time at the Ministry, I hear. All these raids, I hope they're paying you over time?" He reached into Ginny's cauldron and picked up one of her second hand spellbooks, examining it an in unimpressed manner. "Obviously not." Chrys squeezed Ron's shoulder harder. "Dear me, what’s the use of being a disgrace to the name of wizard if they don’t even pay you well for it?"

Mr. Weasley flushed hard. "We have a very different idea of what disgraces the name of wizard, Malfoy."

"Clearly..." Mr. Malfoy glanced over at Hermione's parents, who were watching them nervously from across the crowd. "The company you keep, Weasley… and I thought your family could sink no lower—"

Mr. Weasley jumped on Mr. Malfoy.

"Dad!" Ginny cried in surprise, dropping her cauldron.

The two fathers grappled with each other, banging into bookshelves and sending books flying everywhere. Harry pulled Ginny out of the way, as one heavy volume narrowly missed hitting her on the head.

"We've got to stop them before someone gets hurt," Hermione hissed.

Ron grinned. "Hermione, I know you've got a thing for books, but trust me, Malfoy's dad is getting what was coming to him."

Fred and George seemed to agree as they cheered for their dad. Mrs. Weasley, on the other hand, seemed to be more along the lines of Hermione's thinking.

"Arthur no! What are you doing?"

Just then Chrys spotted Hagrid standing outside the bookshop. She caught his eye, and gestured for him to come in. Immediately Hagrid grabbed both men and held them apart at arms length.

"Unhand me at once!" Mr. Malfoy exclaimed. Hagrid dropped him none too gently. Mr. Malfoy straightened up, sneering again, though the effect was rather ruined by his brilliantly bruising eye. He was still holding Ginny's book. "Here, girl, take your book..." He held it out to her roughly. "It's the best your father can give you." He stalked off, his son on his tail.

"Not that I'm any authority on the subject, but your dad seems loads better than his," Chrys said to Ginny. "At least to me." Ginny smiled weakly at her.

Outside the shop Mrs. Weasley shrieked at her husband as she healed his bloody lip.

"Hermione, what's going on?" One of the Dr. Grangers asked nervously. Hermione tried to explain in hushed tones as the boys came to see if Ginny was okay.

"I'm fine, Percy, stop fretting over me."

"Are you sure, you're okay?" George started pinching and poking at her.

Fred laughed shakily, "Did you hear what that Lockhart said? He was excited about the fight, wanted to use it as some sort of publicity stunt."

"He's no good I tell you," Ron muttered.

Chapter Text

"Ah!" Chrys cried out.

"What is it?" Harry asked, leaping up and knocking over Ron's chess set. Ron cursed as the pieces screeched, flailing their arms.

Chrys pulled her knees up against her chest. "With all the excitement last week I forgot to look through the resale section for more Martin Miggs…"

Ron rolled his eyes, as he reset the board. "You're as bad as Ginny is with the Weird Sisters." He paused as he tried to remember where one particular pawn had been.

"I think that one was out," Harry lied. Ron flicked a Bertie's Botts Bean at him. Harry caught it in his mouth. Ron laughed.

"Well they're a good band," Chrys defended as Ron chucked more beans at Harry.

"This is all Charlie's fault," Ron muttered.

"How dat?" Harry asked through a mouthful of beans.

"Charlie had this girlfriend who was obsessed with them, so he bought that radio with all of his savings so that he could give them a listen. When they broke up he gave me the radio, but it was too late… Ginny was already in deep."

Chrys frowned. "So what's wrong with liking music?"

"Now she'll never give my radio back," Ron explained.

"Ha, you're probably right about that," Chrys agreed. "Cheer up though, your mum said she's making a huge dinner tonight as a sort of going away party." Ron grinned, but his melancholy mood seemed to have passed on to Harry, who sighed loudly. "What's wrong baby brother?" Chrys poked him on the shoulder.

"You've still haven't got any proof that you're the older one," he reminded her.

"If you don't want me to call you a baby then don't act like one. Now tell me what's wrong."

"It's nothing… I'll just really miss this place when we're gone."

"Oh." Chrys and Ron looked at each other.

"I thought you said Hogwarts felt like home to you though," Ron said slowly.

"It does, but the Burrow is the best homes of all homes," Harry sighed again.

Ron's ears turned pink. "I keep telling you mate, it's nothing special here."

"Well, you're wrong about that," Chrys told him. "It takes a lot to make someone as pessimistic as Harry happy, and this past month he's been practically glowing. So take the compliment and go play some Quidditch or something."

"Yes, ma'am." Ron saluted. "Come on, Harry, let's go get Fred and George."

"Why don't you invite Ginny to play with you?" Chrys called after him. Ron laughed.

"Ginny? What does she know about Quidditch?"

Chrys tutted at his retreating back. "His ignorance is going to end up biting him on the arse."

By the end of dinner that night Chrys was so blissfully ignorant, she felt as if she could face off with the world, consequences be damned.

"That, was the best thing I ever tasted," Harry told Mrs. Weasley as he finished his third bowl of treacle tart.

"I'm glad you liked it dear." Mrs. Weasley smiled. "And Chrys, thank you for all the licorice…" She glanced at the large bowl of assorted licorice, which Chrys had made up.

"It was my thanks to you for being such a great host the past month," Chrys explained. "I may not be the best cook—" Harry hastily turned his laughter into a cough. "—But I wanted to try to contribute something anyway."

Mrs. Weasley grinned even wider and patted Chrys on the shoulder. "Well you two have been such wonderful guests, of course you're welcome to come back any time!"

"And until then…" Fred and George stood up, snapping their fingers and setting off an impressive display of Filibuster fireworks.

The Weasleys and the Potters stayed at the dinner table long after the food had been cleared away, watching red and blue stars dance against the ceiling.

"Beautiful." Chrys yawned.

"I suppose so," Percy grumbled as one went off particularly close to his nose.

Mrs. Weasley took this as a sign to send them all to bed.

"I'm still sort of hungry though," Ron spoke up, looking hopefully at his mother. Mrs. Weasley sighed.

"Oh alright, one more cup of hot chocolate, and then its lights off—no complaints!" She wagged her finger at her sons and then turned to busy herself at the stove.

Mr. Weasley was having one last question session about muggles with Harry, while Fred and George tried to get Percy to spill the reason for his recent cheerfulness. Ginny was curled up on her chair, her head drooping onto Fred's shoulder. Mrs. Weasley spotted the sleepy little girl as she levitated several mugs of hot chocolate towards them.

"Fred dear, why don't you bring your sister up to bed," Mrs. Weasley suggested.

"Not sleepy," Ginny insisted as a giant yawn escaped her.

"I've got her, Molly," Mr. Weasley said, standing and giving his wife a quick peck on the lips before scooping up his daughter.

"I'm not sleepy," Ginny repeated as she snuggled into her father's arms. "I want to stay up with the others… just because I'm the youngest doesn't mean that…" Her weakening protests disappeared up the stairwell.

"You two are so sweet," Chrys told Mrs. Weasley as the older woman cradled her cup of hot chocolate.

Mrs. Weasley fumbled slightly, her cheeks pink. "Oh nonsense, we're just like any other husband and wife…" She trailed off awkwardly as Chrys and Harry exchanged a meaningful look. It was hard to imagine Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon acting so openly affectionate with each other. "Now then, I see you've finished your chocolate, Ronald, so off to bed."

"One more cup?" Ron asked hopefully. Mrs. Weasley shook her head.

"We've got him, mum," Fred and George said in unison, looping his arms with theirs and practically dragging him up the stairs.

"Do you need any help cleaning up, mother?" Percy wondered, looking around.

"Oh yeah." Harry grabbed up some of the abandoned mugs. "We'd be happy to—"

"No, no, it's the night before you leave, you should get a good night's sleep," Mrs. Weasley told them.

Lying in bed, listening to Ginny's soft snores, Chrys tried to follow Mrs. Weasley's advice. However the sounds of crickets and the bittersweet expectation for tomorrow, left her up long after the stars had faded and the first blush of pink streaked across the sky.

Just when she was starting to drift off, she was jerked awake again by the sound of Mrs. Weasley screeching something about socks.

"Sometimes mum has too many feet to deal with," Ginny explained sleepily.

"Mmm…" Chrys rolled over and fell out of bed.

Ginny was in and out of the room for the next ten minutes as Chrys tried to find a comfortable position on the floor. "Come on." Ginny nudged her. "Mum's on a rampage, we don't want to give her an excuse to get any worse."

This was evidenced as Mrs. Weasley bursting into the room and chucking pieces of toast at them.

"Oh, I'm so sorry, Chrys," Mrs. Weasley apologized as Chrys rubbed the butter off her face. "But I'm afraid we're running quite late."

"It's barely after dawn though," Ron complained, hovering in the doorway. Mrs. Weasley turned, her eyes flashing.

"You get six children ready for school and then you will have earned the right to decide what time to wake up in the morning," she hissed, shooing him forward.

Chrys licked the butter off her fingers and crawled under her bed to search for a recent pair of hand-me-down jeans from Hermione.

Chrys had just finished getting dressed when Ginny realized she'd left her hairbrush in the bathroom. There was a line going down the hall, headed by a shirtless Percy who was complaining about having misplaced his glasses. "They're on your head," Chrys called to him, having had the same experience several times in the past.

After Ginny bullied herself to the front of the line and finally retrieved her hairbrush, the girls were nearly finished packing.

Spotting them sitting around doing nothing, Mr. Weasley waved them over. "Think you can give me a hand with the luggage?"

Chrys shrugged. "Sure, why not?" She pulled Ginny's heavy bag across the lawn, as Mr. Weasley tried to balance Fred and George's trunks in either hand. Fumbling, he just managed to avoid a crossing chicken and make it to the car parked at the start of the dirt road.

"Wow." Chrys wasn't sure what else to say as Mr. Weasley opened the back of the car to reveal a space as deep as an undersea cave.

"I may have made a couple of improvements," he admitted, ears turning pink.

Chrys laughed. "Mum's the word." She winked.

It wasn't much later when the family piled into the magically expanded car. However, they did have several false starts.

"My fireworks!" George cried. Mr. Weasley sighed and turned the car around.

"My broomstick!" Fred remembered just as they were starting up again.

"My diary!" Ginny yelled when they were almost down the hill.

"Damn," Mr. Weasley muttered under his breath.

"Since when have you kept a diary?" Ron wondered as they watched Mr. Weasley jog up the hill.

"Yeah, what sort of secrets are you keeping in it?" Fred tugged at her hair.

"Shut up," Ginny warned.

"Or what?"

Ginny dropped her cauldron, which she had been clutching to her chest with worry. It rolled to the backseat—straight over Fred's waiting feet. "Or that," Ginny said, grinning as Fred cried out in pain.

"Is she like this all the time?" Chrys asked the person next to her.

"Hmmm?" Percy, who was carefully reading a letter, seemed to have missed the entire exchange.

"Oh never mind. Good job, Ginny." Chrys reached over and clapped her on the back.

Mrs. Weasley, who the rest had thought to be out of earshot, made an approving noise.

"Mum, have you been listening the whole time?" Ron asked.

"Oh look, there's Arthur."

This time the car set off for good. Harry sighed wistfully as the Burrow grew smaller in the distance.

"Cheer up, mate, you'll be back," Ron promised him.

"Yeah, who else can put up with little Ronniekins?" Fred pinched his little brother's cheek and stretched.

"Yeah, I'll need someone else to beat at chess for a change," Ron replied, rubbing his face.

Fred coughed. "That was one time."

"Only cause you've been too afraid to play me since," Ron said happily.

"By now we most certainly are running late," Mrs. Weasley grumbled as they paused at a traffic light.

As his watch ticked onward Mr. Weasley seemed to gain some courage. "Molly dear, there is this small button I've added…"

Mrs. Weasley turned sharply towards him. "What sort of button do you mean?"

"It's er, an Invisibility Booster." Mr. Weasley cleared his throat as Mrs. Weasley's eyebrows shot up past her hairline. "If we use that in combination with a bit of flying we could be there in no time."

"No." And that was that.

The rest of the drive was slow and somewhat boring, but eventually they arrived in front of King's Cross Station.

"Boys, get the trunks onto the trolleys. We're cutting it close."

With tricky timing the lot of them gathered near the barrier to Platform 9 ¾, careful to only pass through it when the muggles weren't watching. After Percy, Fred and George had gone through, Mr. Weasley offered to escort Chrys, but she politely declined. She preferred to wait for Harry, who was standing to the side arguing with Ron about some Quidditch move.

"See you in a bit, then," Mr. Weasley said cheerfully, casually leaning against the pillar and disappearing through it.

"Right." Mrs. Weasley glanced over the rest of them. "Ginny and I will go next, and then Harry and Chrys, and then Ron." She squeezed Ginny's hand and then smiled nervously at them before she too left through the barrier.

"This is it then," Ron sighed. "End of summer."

"I guess, but at least we'll get to see Hermione again," Chrys reminded him.

"There's that I guess," Ron agreed reluctantly.

"If you two are done gossiping, it's nearly time for the train to leave," Harry spoke up, frowning at the giant clock above them.

"Fine, let's go then." Chrys grabbed Harry's hand ("I can walk just fine myself thanks.") and the two of them took over for the barrier at a run.

Next thing she knew, Hedwig was hooting ungratefully in her ear, as she lay sideways in a tangle of limbs with Harry.

"What happened?" Ron asked, as he came up behind them.

"That's exactly what I'd like to know!" A guard barked at them.

Harry stumbled to his feet. "Sorry, sorry, lost control of the trolley," he lied.

The guard grunted. "Well, just watch where you're going next time."

"Sure thing." Ron waved him away. As soon as the guard was gone, Ron poked confusedly at the barrier, which was inexplicably solid. "Mum and Ginny went through just a minute ago… what could've gone wrong?"

Harry looked up at the clock. "We've got a bigger problem—the train's leaving in 5…4…3…2…1."

Ron pulled at his hair. "What if mum and dad are stuck on the platform and can't get back to us? I haven't got any muggle money so I can't pay for transport and…"

"There, there." Chrys patted him soothingly on the back. "If it makes you feel better we haven't got any money either."

Ron snorted. "Why would that make me feel better?"

Chrys squeezed Hedwig's cage a bit too tightly, making the snowy owl screech in protest.

"Animal cruelty," one woman hissed as she passed.

"We can't stay here," Harry decided. "We're attracting too much attention. Maybe we should go back and wait in front of the car just in case your parents find a way—"

"That's it!" Ron cried, gripping Harry's shoulders. "That's bloody brilliant, Harry!"

"Um… what?"

"I can remember how to get into the car!"

Chrys was running out of patience. "So?"

"So, we can fly the car to Hogwarts," Ron explained.

"…Isn't that illegal," Harry said.

"Who are you, Hermione? Besides, even underage wizards are allowed to use magic if it's a real emergency, and I bet you anything this counts as an emergency."

"How will your mum and dad get home though?" Harry said concernedly.

"They can apparate." Seeing their looks of confusion Ron added, "They can disappear and reappear any where they like."

"Can't we just do that then?" Chrys wondered. She was not too keen on flying in the car again.

Ron shook his head. "I haven't learnt how yet, and it's supposed to be really dangerous if you get it wrong."

"It was fun to fly in the car," Harry said thoughtfully. Chrys made a noise of disagreement. "Can you drive it?"

"No problem."

"That's doubtful," Chrys muttered.

They started off alright, with Ron opening the boot with a series of taps with his wand (reminding Chrys of the taps used to enter Diagon Alley from the Leaky Cauldron) and then started the engine in much of the same way. Things started to get rocky when invisibility booster refused to stick, leaving them blinking in and out of sight up in the clouds. However, Ron lived up to his word, flying the car rather smoothly until they caught up with the Hogwarts Express.

"It's heading due north," Ron noted, glancing at the compass.

"This is great!" Harry exclaimed, watching the clouds rush by as he munched on a bag of sweets that had been left in the glove compartment. "Imagine the looks on Fred and George's faces when we land."

Ron grinned. "Oh yeah."

"I hate you both," Chrys moaned from the back seat, eyes squeezed shut as she squeezed Hedwig's cage against her spinning stomach.

"Love you too," Harry said pleasantly.

However, it wasn't long before Ron and Harry began to feel some of her anxiety.

"It's too hot…" Ron took his hand off the steering wheel for a moment to wipe his brow. "Why couldn't we be in the train, drinking down a nice cold pumpkin juice?"

"I can't help wondering why the barrier didn't let us through," Harry agreed.

It was worse when the sun began to sink below the horizon.

"Ugh, it's going to be so much harder to see the train like this," Ron complained. The engine made an identical noise of protest. "Uh-oh. Poor car sounds tired as well."

Chrys nodded off sweating, but woke shivering.

The sky was now an inky black, a coat of icicles glinting on the windshield as the headlights flickered. Her teeth chattered.

"Here." Harry tossed his jumper back at her.

Chrys yawned. "Aren't you cold?"

Ron was patting the dashboard like it was a puppy. "Come on, just a bit long, you can do it…"

"There!" Harry shouted out. Chrys jumped, knocking over Hedwig's cage. She straightened it, hushing Hedwig's hoots as the bright windows of Hogwart's towers shone in the distance.

Her stomach flipped as the car dropped. "We're going to crash!"

Ron jerked the steering wheel, just avoiding the outer wall of the castle. Instead they went plummeting towards a swaying willow tree on the bank of the Black Lake. Ron had taken his wand out and was tapping it against things in desperation.

"…Is everyone alright?" Chrys squinted into the front seat, her glasses fogged up by the steam curling out of the car's dented hood.

"No," Ron groaned. "My wand, my wand is completely—" He was cut off as something like a giant beater's bat came slamming against the all ready weakened vehicle. The car rocked sideways, Ron landing with a thud in Harry's lap.

Chrys grabbed Hedwig and crawled into the front seat, narrowly avoiding the roof sagging in with a crunch.

"Hit reverse!" Harry told her. Chrys pulled the lever, silently thanking Uncle Vernon for all his chatter about cars over the years.

The car sped backwards, the tree's unusually animated branches slamming against them as they retreated.

Chrys scrambled out and kissed the dirt. "Thank you, thank you!"

"Um…" Harry blinked in surprised as the car titled and he plopped out next to her. Ron and their baggage were thrown out in a similar matter. "Did it just eject us?"

Having removed the bulk of its weight, the car took off, speeding into the forest without a second's notice.

"Come back!" Ron cried, brandishing his broken wand. "Dad is going to kill me."

Chrys sighed. "Can't say I blame the car for running off, after all it's been through."

"Shut up," Ron mumbled.

"Let's go up to the castle," Harry suggested.

Ron rubbed his stomach. "Do you think the feast is still on?"

Chrys grunted, dragging her suitcase forward with some difficulty.

"We'd better hurry or we'll miss Ginny's sorting," she pointed out.

"Right, can't have that." Ron quickened his pace.

They reached the doors to the Great Hall just in time to see the line of new first years scurry in.

Harry peeked through the crack in the door, studying the teacher's table.

"Ugh, there's Lockhart… but hang on, where's Snape?"

"Maybe he's ill," Ron suggested.

"Or maybe he left cause he's missed out on the Dark Arts Job again," Harry thought aloud.

Chrys heard the familiar dramatic swish of fabric and turned slowly. Bright eyes met dark ones. She gulped. "Or maybe," Ron continued. "He got sacked!"

"Ron." She tugged at his sleeve.

"I mean everyone hates him—what, Chrys…?"

All the color drained from Ron's face.

"Speak of the devil," Harry muttered as Snape glared down at them.

"Follow me," the potions master hissed. Snape gilded down into the dungeons, Harry and Ron dragging their feet as slowly as possible behind him. "So..." Snape turned, robes twirling. "The train wasn't good enough for the famous Potter twins? Wanted to arrive with a bang?"

"No, sir, it was the barrier—" Harry tried to explain, but Snape cut him off.

"Silence! What have you done to the car?"

"Ah, what car?" Chrys attempted innocence. Snape took a newspaper off his desk and unfolding it with a flick. "Oh. That car." The title of the prophet read Flying Ford Anglia Mystifies Muggles. "Those reporters sure work fast."

"Indeed," Snape agreed. The sadistic professor delighted in the fact that the son of a Misuse of Muggle Artifacts Office employee had publicly unveiled an illegally enchanted car.

"It wasn't Mr. Weasley's fault," Chrys defended.

"Save your protests." Snape sneered. "You have broken laws and injured a very valuable Whomping Willow—"

"I think it damaged us worse than we did it," Ron muttered.

"Unfortunately," Snape went on, ignoring him. "You are not in my house and therefore not my responsibility."

"Then why'd you bring us down here?" Chrys grumbled.

"Wait here," Snape ordered them as he strode out of the room, slamming the door behind him.

"We're no better off than you," Harry whispered sadly to a pickled frog sitting in a jar on Snape's desk.

"We'll be alright," Chrys tried to soothe him. "McGonagall is fair."

The room's atmosphere did improve a bit when their head off house arrived. She lit a fire in the previously empty grate, and gestured for them to sit.

"Explain," she said, studying them over the rim of her glasses. Chrys was reminded of Dumbledore in that moment.

"The barrier wouldn't let us through," Harry repeated.

"Yeah, so we thought we'd use the car to get to school," Ron said eagerly.

"And why didn't you send an owl asking for assistance?" Professor McGonagall wondered.

"Ah." Chrys and Harry looked at each other. "We didn't think," they admitted in unison.

"That much is obvious," McGonagall agreed.

There was a knock at the door. Snape practically, gleeful at McGonagall's insult, bounced up to answer it.

A solemn looking Dumbledore came in and stood across from them.

"I'd rather take my chances with the willow," Harry whispered to Ron. Still, Harry proceeded bravely, "The barrier at King's Cross wouldn't let us through. So we found this flying car outside..." Chrys felt a stab of fondness at Harry trying to cover for Mr. Weasley. "And we flew that here. Unfortunatley, it was dark, and we collided with that tree— or it collided with us, really, but, ah, either way, we are sorry about the damage..." Ron's nose wrinkled. "And, yeah, ah, that's about it." They waited, but Dumbledore said nothing.

No one said anything, until Ron sighed, "Well, I guess we'll go get our stuff."

Professor McGonagall's brow furrowed. "What do you mean Mr. Weasley?"

"You're expelling us, right?" Ron sounded fairly sure of himself.

"Not today," Dumbledore said. Snape wilted. Chrys grimaced. Did this mean it might be a possibility in the future? "But I must impress upon both of you the seriousness of what you have done. I will be writing to both your families tonight. I must also warn you that if you do anything like this again, I will have no choice but to expel you." Snape looked a little hopeful again.

"Professor Dumbledore, these three have flouted the Decree for the Restriction of Underage Wizardry, caused serious damage to an old and valuable tree—surely acts of this nature—"

"It will be for Professor McGonagall to decide on these boys’ punishments, Severus," Dumbledore said, in that calm tone that was both soothing and infuriarting. "They are in her House and are therefore her responsibility." He nodded at Professor McGonagall. "I must go back to the feast, Minerva, I've got to give out a few notices. There’s a delicious looking custard tart I want to sample." Snape glared at them, Harry in particular. "Come, Severus, I'm sure we can find something you like as well." Snape reluctantly followed hiim out of the office.

"Mr. Weasley." McGonagall turned to him. "You are bleeding. Off to the Hospital Wing at once."

"It's nothing." Ron waved it off. "I'd rather see my sister being sorted."

"The sorting is over," McGonagall informed him. "Your sister is in Gryffindor."

"Good on that." Ron nodded. Chrys smiled.

However, McGonagall frowned. "Speaking of Gryffindor, the points—"

"Please, Professor," Harry interrupted. "Since the term hasn't officially started, it wouldn't really be fair to take off any house points."

"That was brave of you," Professor McGonagall said. Chrys could have sworn a smirk flitted across her face. Whatever it was left just as swiftly, replaced by the Professor's usual firm severity. "Very well, I will not take off any points, but you will each have detention."

"That's reasonable," Chrys agreed. "Thank you, Professor."

McGonagall shook her head. With a neat little twist and flick of her wand she conjured a plate of sandwiches and three goblets of pumpkin juice onto Snape's desk. "Eat," she ordered. Ron didn't need telling twice. He flopped down and took a large bite of a sandwich. Professor McGonagall watched him distastefully. "After you have finished go straight to your dormitories." With that she left.

"That went better than I'd expected," Chrys thought aloud.

"I'll say," Ron agreed between bites.

Back in the common room it seemed like the entirety of Gryffindor was waiting to congratulate the trio on their spectacular entrance.

Chrys took a deep bow. "Thank you, thank you all."

Lee Jordan and several others applauded enthusiastically.

However, Hermione had quite the opposite reaction.

"Chrysanthemum Potter, how dare you!" She shrieked. "And you two!" She whirled, catching Ron and Harry who had been sneaking out of the room and pinned them down with her gaze.

"We're tired, Hermione," Ron groaned. "Can't the lecture wait until tomorrow?"

"Yes, yes, let them get some sleep," George suggested helpfully.

"Off to bed, young whippersnappers." Fred steered them to the stairs, just past a furious-looking Percy.

Apparently this rescue mission did not extend to Chrys.

The poor Potter girl was left with Percy and Hermione standing on either side of her, fierce glares, crossed arms and tapping feet exactly alike. Knowing where she could escape at least one of them, Chrys made a run for it into the girl's dormitory.

Hermione followed, stomping loudly. She owned her mouth, but before she could continue her rampage, Lavender Brown spoke up.

"Did you really fly a car to Hogwarts?" She squealed.

"Well, it was Ron who did the actual flying," Chrys admitted.

"Of course it was," Hermione muttered darkly. Lavender giggled.

"Tell us about it." Parvati Patil was sitting on the edge of her bed, hugging a large teddy bear. Chrys glanced at the teddy bear, jealous of how fluffy and soft it looked.

"I'd love to, but I am actually quite tired." She yawned. Hermione studied her dubiously. "I didn't get much sleep last night," Chrys explained. Hermione sighed, as Lavender and Parvati exchanged knowing looks. The girls were quite well informed on her insomnia, having dealt with her tossing and turning, and screaming waking from nightmares all last year.

"Better at least give it a try," Parvati said. Lavender waved her wand and the lamps flickered off.

"Goodnight, girls."

"Night," they chorused.

After a moment of lying in the dark, Chrys slipped out of bed and hovered in front of Hermione. "Can I come in?" She whispered, lifting the corner of the comforter. She could just make out Hermione's nod. Chrys got in and snuggled against Hermione's side. "I missed you."

She saw a flash of Hermione's retainer as the girl gave a toothy smile.

"Oh Chrys, it's far too difficult to stay angry with you."

Chapter Text

"Ronald, however, is an entirely different matter," Hermione grumbled as they sat down for breakfast the next morning. "I won't forgive him even if he apologizes one hundred times."

"You always say that…" Chrys licked some honey off her spoon. "…But then he apologizes once and you melt like putty."

Hermione gasped. "I do not melt!"

"You do, just a bit." Chrys patted her arm sympathetically.

"Who does what?" Harry asked, leaning over the table.

"Hermione—" Chrys started. Hermione elbowed her side sharply, effectively shutting her up.

Harry raised an eyebrow. "Do I even want to know?"

"No, no you don't," Hermione told him.

"Where's Ron?" Chrys wondered. Harry glanced down the hall.

"With Seamus and Dean, getting showered in compliments." He laughed.

Hermione humphed. "Well I'm certainly not encouraging him." She took a large book out of her bag and began reading at an even fiercer speed than usual.

"Morning," Ron said, sitting next to Harry. Hermione merely grunted. Ron frowned. "What's gotten into her?" Hermione's gaze over the top of her book was blazing.

"Good morning," Neville said cheerfully, sitting next to Chrys.

"Er..." Chrys cleared her throat. "Morning, Neville." Clearly Neville had trouble reading the atmosphere.

"Hope the post comes soon," Neville chatted. "Gran's supposed to send me a few things I've forgotten."

Hermione and Ron were engaged in a fierce staring contest.

"Pass the oatmeal," Chrys asked Harry. He did. "Milk please." Before Harry could pass the milk there was a fwosh and a flurry of owls flew down from the ceiling. One grey blob fell with a whir and splashed into the jug of milk. "On second thought maybe I'll go without milk," Chrys decided, as Ron fished Errol out.

"Oh no!" Ron dropped Errol's limp body with a smack.

Hermione tugged at his feathers. "Don't worry, I think he's still alive."

"It's not that it's that." Ron gestured dramatically at the red envelope clutched in Errol's claws.

"What, you don't like the color red?" Chrys joked. "I'm sorry to say you're probably in the wrong house, then."

Ron ignored her, exchanging a nervous glance with Neville. "Have you ever…?"

"Once." Neville shivered. "You'd better open it, it gets worse if you don't."

"What is it?" Harry wondered.

"A howler," Ron answered shortly. He took a deep breath. "Well, here I go." Then he slit open the envelope like he was jumping to his death.

Apparently death had Mrs. Weasley's dulcet tones.

Chrys followed Neville's lead and stuffed her fingers in her ears as the thunderous voice rang out through the hall.

"—YOUR FATHER IS FACING AN INQUERY AT WORK AND IT'S ENTIRELY YOUR FAULT!"

Ron turned the color of his hair and sunk below the table.

"YOU COULD HAVE KILLED YOURSELF AND BROUGHT CHRYS AND HARRY ALONG WITH YOU!"

Harry cringed.

"ANOTHER TOE OUT OF LINE AND WE'LL BRING YOU STRAIGHT BACK HOME."

With that final note, the envelope went up in flames, leaving only ashes and Ron's humiliation.

Hermione shut her book with a vindicated snap.

"Don't you start," Ron warned her. Harry eat to take a spoonful of porridge, but ending up missing his mouth, squishing it against the outside of his cheek.

"Don't you start either," Chrys told him, reaching across the table and dabbing him with a napkin.

Harry squirmed. "Start what? I haven't done anything."

"Exactly. So don't go blaming yourself for getting the Weasleys in trouble. We may have acted stupidly, but remember, it's we, you aren't alone in this."

"I know that." Harry sighed and nudged her foot with his. "Don't suppose I'll ever get a quiet moment to myself?"

"Never," Chrys promised.

The Gryffindor's first class after breakfast was Herbology.

"I do feel kind of bad…" Harry said as they watched Professor Sprout bandaging the injured whomping willow in the distance. Chrys rolled her eyes.

"My wand still isn't the same," Ron reminded him. Harry sighed.

"Yeah, but—hey doesn't Professor Sprout look sort of… frazzled to you?"

Chrys glanced over and groaned. "Yeah, and I can see why."

"What's Lockhart doing here?" Ron wondered.

Apparently the dandy blonde fancied himself an expert in healing whomping willows.

"Surely Professor Sprout knows more about that than he would?" Chrys said rather loudly.

The teachers looked over at her, Professor Sprout trying not to smile, Lockhart peering down at her in disdain.

"Come along, children, we've got a lesson in Greenhouse three today!" Professor Sprout announced. Several of the students whooped at this.

"Greenhouse three is only used for the really dangerous plants," Harry recalled, bouncing on his heels.

Chrys laughed. "So of course you're eager to see what's inside."

However, before Harry had a chance Lockhart came over and practically dragged the poor boy off to the side.

"Should we wait for him?" Chrys chewed on her lip.

"Don't worry, I'm sure Professor Lockhart will treat him just fine," Hermione sniffed.

"Surely you're not jealous, Hermione." Chrys tickled at her friend's sides.

"I am not!" Hermione protested, swatting her out of the way.

Ron snorted. "Yeah, and I'm the richest wizard in Britain."

"Ron…" Hermione frowned. Then she caught sight of what lined the two long tables inside the Greenhouse. "Ooh look, mandrakes! This should be an exciting lesson."

"I don't know…" Chrys picked up the fluffy pair of earmuffs set at her station.

"Look, Harry's back," Ron pointed out. "What did Lockhart want?"

"Tell you later," Harry whispered as Professor Sprout began the lesson.

"We’ll be repotting Mandrakes today," she announced. "Now, who can tell me the properties of the Mandrake?

Hermione's hand (as usual) was the first in the air. "Mandrake, or Mandragora, is a powerful restorative," she said, before Professor Sprout had even called on her. "It is used to return people who have been transfigured or cursed to their original state." Snape would have probably taken points off for speaking out of turn, but Professor Sprout just smiled and nodded.

"Excellent. Ten points to Gryffindor. The Mandrake forms an essential part of most antidotes. It is also, however, dangerous. Who can tell me why?"

Chrys swore as Hermione waved her hand in the air to give another answer, accidentally knocking her glasses off her face.

"Thanks," she muttered as Ron caught them neatly and handed them over.

"The cry of the Mandrake is fatal to anyone who hears it," Hermione said, not having noticed Chrys. Ron shook his head.

"Precisely." Professor Sprout nodded again. "Take another ten points. Now, the Mandrakes we have here are still very young." She gestured at a row of trays on the table in front of her.

"They look sort of unremarkable to me," Harry muttered. Neville's eyebrows went up.

"Unremarkable!"

"Earmuffs on!" Professor Sprout warned them.

"I hate wearing pink," Chrys complained.

"Now, the Mandrakes we have here are still very young," Professor Sprout said loudly.

"Have mine, then," Neville offered. "It's dangerous to work with mandragora without something to protect your ears." Chrys beamed.

"Brilliant." She snapped the inoffensive green earmuffs over her ears just in time for Professor Sprout to pull her mandrake out of its pot. The gnarled wooden baby screeched loud enough to be heard slightly through the earmuffs, waving its scratchy branches in protest. After Sprout put it into a new, larger pot and covered it completely with dirt, she gave her students a thumbs up, indicating that it was fine to remove their earmuffs. "Whew, good call, Neville. I could imagine I might've gone deaf if I didn't have these." Chrys patted her earmuffs appreciatively.

"Er, or worse, if these weren't only saplings," Neville told her.

Chrys tilted her head to the side. "Harry wasn't kidding when he said this was the Greenhouse filled with the dangerous plants."

"Yes… but they're not so bad if you know how to treat them properly. Though the Venomous Tentacula can be a bit moody when it's teething."

Chrys grimaced at the reminder of almost being strangled by that plant the previous year. She turned to mention it to Hermione, but some curly blonde kid had all of her attention.

"Who are you?"

"Manners," Hermione hissed in her ear.

Chrys sighed. "You're in Hufflepuff," she recalled. "Right?" The boy nodded. "Sorry, but I don't remember your name."

"It's fine." He grinned. "I don't think we've been properly introduced. I'm Justin Finch-Fletchley." He held out his hand. She shook it. "You're Chrysanthemum Potter." It wasn't a question. Chrys expected the normal ogling of her scar before he moved on to Harry, but instead he turned back to Hermione. "I've just been talking with Hermione about how delightfully challenging the coursework looks like it will be this year. As a fellow top of the year student I expect you are also looking forward to getting back into the flow of things. By the way, I was wondering if I could have your opinion on a couple of issues." Like Hermione, the boy seemed to have lungs of steel, requiring no pause in his speech to take a breath of air.

"Well…" Chrys was saved from having to answer by Professor Sprout swooping up behind them.

"Only four per group," she said apologetically as she came around to check on them.

"I'll go work with Neville," Chrys said immediately.

"Don't leave me here with them," Ron groaned as Justin Finch-Fletchly and Hermione started rambling on about the proper citation format for History of Magic essays.

Chrys patted him on the arm. "Don't worry, once you've got the earmuffs on you won't be able to hear a thing." With that she inched over to Neville and the other two Gryffindor boys in her year.

"Hey, Chrys." Dean Thomas gave her a little wave.

Seamus Finnigan clapped his hands together. "Excellent. Between you and Neville I'll bet we get the best score in the class."

Neville flushed. Chrys cleared her throat. "Actually Seamus, I haven't got much of a green thumb."

Seamus blinked. "Wait-what?"

"Earmuffs on!" Professor Sprout called out again.

 

By the time class ended Chrys was drenched in sweat and mud that stung at her cuts.

"Maybe you should go to Pomfrey," Dean suggested, studying the scratch across her cheek.

"Ugh no." Chrys shook her head. "She'll be furious with me for getting injured so early in the year. Besides, it's only a flesh wound."

Dean chuckled. "Well, if you're sure you're okay…"

"What's so funny?" Seamus wondered.

"It's a muggle thing," Dean told him.

"And…"

Chrys laughed as Dean and Seamus wandered up to the castle, with Dean jumping back and forth to act out the entire scene from Monty Python.

"Madame Pomfrey wouldn't be that angry," Neville spoke up hesitantly.

"I'm fine, Neville." She draped an arm over his shoulder. "And I have you to thank for that."

"I-I don't even cast that good of a lumos," Neville stuttered.

"It was good enough to ward off the Venomous Tentacula long enough for Professor Sprout to calm it down."

"I guess." Neville sighed. Then he glanced over his shoulder and paled. "Chrys… why is your brother glaring at me?"

Chrys turned. "Oh. Don't worry, Neville, it's me he's glaring at."

Harry strode towards them at an impressive speed. "You're bleeding."

"Only a little," she assured him.

"Are you alright?" Hermione cupped her hands around her face and stared hard at her.

"Hermione!" Chrys whined. She gave Ron a pleading look as Hermione continued to fuss over her.

Ron grabbed Hermione's elbow. "Come on, we'll be late for our next class if we don't hurry."

"I hate Venomous Tentacula," Harry grumbled.

Harry only calmed down once Professor McGonagall's lecture started and required his full attention. He ran his hand through his hair and sighed.

"I don't remember any of this stuff."

Chrys shrugged. "Neither do I, but it'll come back to me."

Harry shook his head. "My brain is like a sieve."

"Hmmm, my brain is more like a ill-tempered sponge." She glanced over at Hermione who was reciting the answer to Professor McGonagall's question verbatim from their textbook. "And Hermione's brain is like a camera."

"Yeah, but all that school stuff doesn't leave room for anything fun in her head," Ron muttered, adjusting the Spellotape that was holding the broken pieces of his wand together.

"You know that isn't true," Chrys tutted. "Also, did you mean to set your notes on fire?"

Ron cursed and tried to stop the flames from bursting out of his wand.

Unfortunately the fire was only the start of Ron's wand troubles.

Not too far into the lesson Ron accidentally exploded an inkwell, which startled Lavender, who nearly choked on her gum, until Parvati slapped her back, sending the gum flying into Hermione's hair, which left Hermione scowling at Ron, who raised his wand to help her out, instead sending a gush of green gas into the air.

Understandably, Professor McGonagall held Ron back after class to lecture him on wand safety.

"How'd it go?" Chrys said nasally, as she was pinching her nose. The scent of the gas had been worse than Uncle Vernon's socks.

"Terrific," Ron muttered, dabbing at the ink on the front of his robes. "McGongall's said I need to get a new wand."

Hermione nodded. "Well, she's not wrong."

"Can't you write home and ask for one?" Harry suggested.

"And have mum send another howler? Have you gone mad?"

Hermione plopped her perfectly transfigured buttons onto the lunch table. "Ronald, without a proper wand you'll never be able to cast a spell properly."

"Just because you do everything perfectly…" Ron muttered under his breath.

Hermione frowned. "What was that?"

"Just shut it."

"Excuse me? I was only telling you the truth."

"Yeah, well—"

Harry cleared his throat. "So, what's next on the schedule?"

Of course it was Hermione who answered, "Defense Against the Dark Arts."

"Bet you're looking forward to that," Chrys teased.

Hermione sputtered. "I look forward to all of my classes. There's nothing special about this one."

Chrys grinned. "Oh? So and I suppose that's why you let Lavender do your hair this morning?"

Harry squinted at the high ponytail. "Now that you mention it, it does look a bit different."

"Really? I hadn't noticed." Ron huffed and crossed his arms.

As they passed through the courtyard, Chrys grabbed Hermione's shoulders, narrowly preventing her from running over a startled first year.

Chrys tutted. "Reading and walking is dangerous. Remember what happened last time?"

Hermione glanced up from her book.

"While I feel bad for Trevor, Hagrid did have him healed by the next day."

"Still. You've read that book three times all ready." She glanced distastefully at Lockhart's picture grinning at her from the back cover. "The writing's not even that good."

"The picture is well done, though," a small voice piped up. Chrys turned slowly.

The first year she had rescued from Hermione was staring up at her with wide eyes. When Chrys met his gaze, his cheeks went red.

"Hi, um, I'm Colin Creevy," he introduced himself. Chrys smiled at him and he squeaked. "You're Chrys right?" Chrys nodded. Colin shuffled his feet. "You know I'm in Gryffindor too, and I was wondering, I mean, if it wouldn't be too much trouble… could I get a picture of you and your brother?"

Chrys couldn't help it. She giggled.

"Hold on." Harry leaned over her shoulder. "What do you want a picture of us for?"

"For proof!" Colin said quickly. "Proof that I've met you. Cause everyone's told me about the amazing things that you two have done, like making You-Know-Who disappear… and then a boy in my dorm said if I developed the photos in this potion they would move! And I could show them to my dad, he's a milkman, and it'd be really cool!"

"That does sound cool." Chrys nodded thoughtfully. "Let's do it." She grabbed a disgruntled Harry by the arm and pulled him forward. "How's the lighting over here Colin?"

Colin squinted at them. "Great if you just step a bit to the right…" He suggested. Chrys did so. "Perfect!" Colin pulled his camera out of his bag and lined up the shot. "Maybe after I finish you could sign it?"

"Sure!"

"Chrys," Harry groaned. "What are you doing?"

"Having some fun," she told him.

"People are staring."

Chrys waved her hand dismissively. "They're usually staring anyway, might as well give them something new to look at."

Harry opened his mouth to protest, but before he could get a word out, Draco Malfoy slunk towards them.

"Potter! What's this I hear about signed photos?"

"Nothing, shove off, Malfoy," Harry said.

"Hey line up, the Potter twins are giving away signed photos!"

"You're just jealous!" Colin squeaked up.

"Jealous? Of what?" Malfoy looked around at the gathering crowd, seeming more and more delighted the more uncomfortable Harry got. "I don’t want a foul scar right across my head, thanks. I don’t think getting your head cut open makes you that special, myself."

Chrys got up in Malfoy's face, forcing him to take a step back. Crabbe and Goyle cracked their knuckles threateningly, but she just ignored them.

"So, Malfoy, are you our first customer? Who shall I make it out to… daddy's little boy?"

"A-at least I have a father!" Malfoy sputtered out, cheeks flushed.

"Eat slugs, Malfoy!" Ron said. Harry's fists balled up, but Chrys just rolled her eyes.

She let out an exaggerated yawn. "Oh how boring, one would've thought you'd get some new material since last year."

"Really…then why don't you give an autograph to Weasley? It'd probably be worth more than his entire house."

Ron cried out, just barely held back by Hermione's tight grip on his arm.

"Careful, Weasley. Wouldn't want to disappoint your mother. Put another toe out of line—"

Chrys interrupted Malfoy's ridiculous impression of Mrs. Weasley's howler by stomping on his foot. He yowled and hopped up and down. Crabbe and Goyle stepped in front of him, snarling down at Chrys.

Harry had his wand out.

"Now, now."

Chrys groaned. Short of Uncle Vernon, this was the last voice she wanted to hear at the moment.

"What's all this?" Lockhart wondered. "Who's giving out signed photos?" Harry opened his mouth, but Lockhart was already sligning an arm over his shoulders. "Should't have asked! We meet again, Harry." Lockhart smiled at Colin. "Come on then, Mr. Creevey, a double portrait, can’t do better than that, and we’ll both sign it for you." Harry's face flushed. Malfoy smirked. Colin snapped the photo. After they signed it, he rushed off, and the crowd largely dispersed. "Walk with me, Harry." Harry didn't have much of a choice as Lockhart pulled him along down the hall, Chrys, Ron, and Hermione hurrying after them. "Now, I know we talked earlier about you continuing on to the path to stardom, but really at this stage I think signed autographs comes off as somewhat big-headed."

"Hypocrisy at its finest," Chrys muttered. Lockhart turned to her.

"And Chrysanthemum." He let out a great big sigh that would not have been out of place in the worst production of Shakespeare. "Let's be honest, most of your fame comes from association with your brother. If you wish to garner your own space in the limelight the first thing to do would be to improve your sense of style." He tutted down at her knotted hair and mismatched socks. "Of course having a great deal of experience in such matter," he swished his sparkly rainbow scarf over his shoulder. "I would be glad to help you out. Until then, I do have a class to teach!" He went on ahead of them.

"I can't believe you fancy that misogynistic glitter fart," Chrys growled at Hermione, arms crossed as she trudged to the defense room. Harry laughed weakly.

"Chrys, if you wanted my spot in the limelight that badly, all you had to do was ask."

She shoved him.

Thirty minutes later she had finally finished the most excruciating pop quiz she'd ever taken (and she had survived potions with a professor who constantly looked like he wanted to poison her).

Throwing caution to the wind, Chrys answered the questions as honestly as she possibly could.

1) What is Gilderoy Lockhart's favorite color?

The pink color of cat vomit.

2) What is Gilderoy Lockhart's secret ambition?

To drain the youth out of small children in order to stay young forever.

3) What, in your opinion, is Gilderoy Lockhart's greatest achievement to date?

Being handsome enough to blind the sensibilities of otherwise intelligent people.

Surprisingly, she actually got half a point for that last answer.

Unsurprisingly Hermione was awarded the highest score, along with a flash of the smile that had won him Witch Weekly's Most Charming Smile Award five times over.

By the time Hermione finished swooning, Lockhart had moved on to the next part of the lesson.

With a flourish, Lockhart removed the covering off the cage on his desk, revealing a whole lot of…

"Freshly caught Cornish pixies!" Lockhart announced. Chrys couldn't blame Seamus for letting out a snort of laughter. The flittering balls of blue light seemed more annoying than dangerous.

Than again, it's never good to judge something solely based on its appearance.

Once Lockhart released the creatures they streamed forward endlessly. They let out a high-pitched war cry and immediately began attacking the students. As Neville got lifted up by his ears and hung off the chandelier by the back of his robe, Chrys suddenly understood why pixies had gotten such a mischievous reputation in muggle literature.

Harry grabbed a heavy book and swatted one out of the air, but the majority of the class was cowering beneath their desks.

As soon as the bell rang, Seamus ripped a pixie out of Dean's hair and roared out "Retreat!" as he ran for the door.

Lockhart attempted to help, but his pixie-repelling spell sputtered at the tip of his wand. In the end he cleared his throat and nodded at Hermione who had finally hit her target and frozen it in mid-air.

"I'll just leave the rest to you," he said, rushing out after the rest of the class.

"Well he's about as useful as this thing," Ron grumbled, throwing his busted wand against his desk. It let out a shower of sparks which he just managed to doge.

"I'm sure he just wanted to give us the opportunity for some hands on experience," Hermione argued.

"She's lost all sense, I give up." Harry put his hands in the air.

"Careful," Chrys warned, as he teetered on the ladder.

"I'm fine." Harry stepped onto the top and worked the back of Neville's robe free from the chandelier. "Oh, sh--"

Neville fell to the floor with a loud thump. "I'm okay," he assured them. "I've got a thick skull."

"Speaking of which." Chrys sighed, glancing at Hermione who was still heatedly defending Lockhart from Ron. "How love is blind."

Chapter Text

Ron sighed. "Thank Merlin it's Friday."

"I don't blame you, mate." Chrys patted him on the shoulder.

"How's Professor Flitwick doing?" Harry wondered.

"He's fine. Madame Pomfrey managed to stop the boil from swelling before it constricted his breathing."

"You're lucky she happened to be just down the corridor," Hermione told him. "That wand of yours is really becoming a safety hazard, I can't believe you—"

"Yeah, I know." Ron slumped down on to his favorite couch in the common room, sinking until his face disappeared under the cushions.

"Give him some space, Hermione," Harry suggested. "He's had a rough week."

Ron's response was muffled.

"What's that?" Chrys lifted the cushions off of him.

"I'm not the only one," he repeated. "Lockhart and that Creevey boy have been hounding you at every corner."

"Colin isn't that bad," Chrys said.

Harry groaned. "I know he means well, but the popping up out of nowhere and flashing a camera in my face is getting a bit old."

Chrys remembered the recent picture of her and Ginny's impromptu karaoke session that had now circled all over the castle. Even Malfoy had gotten his hands on it.

"You've got a point," she admitted. "Lockhart is much worse though."

"Undoubtedly," Harry agreed. Hermione frowned.

Ron sat up. "Oh don't you start. If I have to hear you gushing about how handsome and intelligent he is one more time—"

"I wasn't going to say anything about Professor Lockhart," Hermione interrupted. "I was merely going to suggest that if you've had such a rough time you might want to head to bed early."

"That's not a bad idea." Harry nodded. Ron protested weakly, but Harry practically dragged him upstairs. Chrys laughed and then made her own way to bed.

As always, she spent several hours staring at the canopy of her four-poster bed before drifting in and out of nightmarish sleep.

When at last the sun rose through the meandering mist Chrys decided it was an acceptable time to be up and about. She tugged on the jumper Mrs. Weasley had sent her last Christmas and snuggled up on the carpet in front of the fire.

She was just finishing up a particularly good sketch of Malfoy being attacked by Cornish pixies, when she heard a familiar yawn echo from up the stairs.

"You're up early," she greeted her brother.

He yawned again. "Yeah, that's more your thing." He squinted over her shoulder. "Is that Malfoy?" She nodded. He shook his head. "Anyway, I'll see you later, I've got Quidditch practice."

"Can I tag along?" Chrys wondered. It made her nervous to watch Harry fly, but she couldn't deny that the red and gold form streaking across the sky made for good art.

"Me too?" Another voice squeaked. Chrys and Harry turned to see Colin Creevey.

"Hey, Colin," Harry recited tiredly.

Chrys waved him over. "What've you got there?"

"It's the one of you and Professor Lockhart," Colin told her. "I've been so busy with the others that I hadn't got around to developing it yet…" Chrys laughed as she watched Harry's photograph-self struggle to escape Lockhart's grasp as her photographic-self mimed barfing behind him.

"I'll take one of those."

"Don't encourage him," Harry hissed in her ear.

"What, it's amusing."

Harry only managed to get free of Colin's exuberance once practice started, and an irate Oliver Wood chased all spectators into the stands.

"Come on, let's get a good seat," Chrys suggested.

Colin froze. "You want to sit with me?"

"Sure, why not?"

Colin's squeal was nearly as high-pitched as the pixies.

Unfortunately for Colin, his first experience with Quidditch started off as quite boring. Oliver went through endless strategy diagrams as his team fought the urge to sleep.

Just as nearly all of them had succumbed, Ron and Hermione came down into the stands.

"That looks like fun," Ron said dryly, shooing Colin away so he could have the seat next to Chrys. Hermione sat on her other side, handing over a piece of toast wrapped in a napkin.

Chrys savored it bite by bite.

"I think Oliver's nearly finished," Hermione noted, as the Gryffindor team began to wake up and drift towards the stands.

"Want some?" Chrys offered as Harry stared longingly at her toast.

"Alright," Harry sighed. "Better be quick about it though. I've only got a minute."

"Aren't you done yet?" Ron wondered.

Harry swallowed his bit of toast. "We haven't even started."

When the official practice finally went forward Colin rushed up to the highest point in the stands to get a better angle. Chrys could feel the embarrassment oozing off her brother as he flew by.

"Should I tell him to bugger off?" Ron suggested. "He's distracting the team."

"I think they're about to have a bigger distraction," Chrys said, spotting a sea of people in green and silver walking towards the field.

Red and green faced off as the Gryffindors landed in front of the Slytherins.

"I can't believe it!" Ron rushed down the stands.

"What's he seen?" Hermione said, standing on tiptoes.

Chrys groaned. "Come on, we'd better get down there. Harry's going to need some back-up."

Draco Malfoy was standing in the middle of the group of Slytherins. He grinned even wider when the three extra Gryffindors came to stand beside Harry.

"Weasley, come to see the new brooms my father's bought for the team?" He held up his shiny new broomstick with a matching glint in his eye.

Ron was doing his best not to look impressed.

"If you're looking for some extra coin, I expect a museum might take some of those Cleansweep Fives," Malfoy snickered, raising his eyebrows at the Gryffindor brooms.

"At least no one on the Gryffindor team had to buy their way in," Hermione said hotly. "They got in on pure talent."

Malfoy frowned, but swiftly recovered his smirk. "No one asked you, filthy little Mudblood."

Fred and George let out a roar of anger and leapt towards Malfoy, only blocked by the Slytherin captain's muscular bulk.

Alicia Spinnet turned pink and shrieked, "How dare you!"

In the heat of the moment Ron forgot himself, and went for his wand. It backfired and he was thrown backward.

Hermione rushed to him. "Ron! Ron!"

Ron's only answer was to turn over on his side, and let out a horrible burp…accompanied by several large slimy slugs.

The Slytherin team keeled over, holding their sides in laughter.

The Gryffindor team hovered awkwardly over Ron, no one quite sure of what to do.

"Come on, we'd better get him to Hagrid's, that's the closest," Harry said.

Hermione and Chrys grabbed Ron by the armpits and pulled him to his feet.

They were interrupted several times on their way to Hagrid's. First Colin wanted to take a picture (Harry growled at him until he left), and then of course they had to stop every couple of minutes to let Ron release more slugs from his stomach.

"We're almost there, you'll be fine," Hermione said soothingly.

The last interruption came at Hagrid's doorway, where a bemused-looking Lockhart was being pushed out of Hagrid's house.

"Can't imagine why anyone wouldn't want my advice," Lockhart muttered as he made his way back up to the castle.

Harry dragged Ron into a bush until Lockhart had passed.

Hagrid was pleased to see them, even with Ron puking slugs all of his carpet.

"Better out than in," he said, grinning and handing over a bucket. Ron clutched at it gratefully as the next wave passed. Hermione floundered through the books she had in her bag, but unfortunately the only solution seemed to be to wait until the curse passed. Hagrid made them tea as he complained about how much of a phony Lockhart had to be. Harry agreed, but as always Hermione rushed to the professor's defense.

"If on'y Dumbledore coulda found someone else fer the job," Hagrid sighed. Unfortunately it wasn't to appealing as none of the other professors lasted more than a year. The position seemed to be cursed. Speaking of which, Hagrid wanted to know who Ron had been trying to curse.

"Malfoy," Chrys and Harry announced in unison.

"He called Hermione something…" Harry's brow furrowed. "It must have been really bad because everyone went wild."

"It was bad," Ron spoke up, his face now as green and damp as the slugs. "Hagrid, he called her a mud—" Ron stuck his head back into the bucket as more slugs came rushing up. Hagrid's giant hands clenched into fists the size of troll club's. After Ron had a breath to spare, he explained how 'mudblood' was a derogatory term for those who didn't have magical parents. The word was mainly used by families like the Malfoys, who thought their magical heritage made them superior to all others. "It's not like blood really makes a difference." Ron shook his head. "I mean, look at Neville, he's a pure-blood and he can hardly stand a cauldron the right way up."

"That's because Snape is always lurking over his shoulder," Chrys put in.

Ron shrugged and wiped his mouth. "Whereas Hermione…"

"There's not a spell our Hermione canna do," Hagrid gushed. Hermione flushed. Though Hagrid didn't blame Ron for trying to teach Malfoy some manners, it might be a streak of luck that his wand backfired. Apparently Malfoy's father had a habit of sticking his nose into things and making a mess of it. "Least yer not in trouble."

Harry looked doubtful, but couldn't voice his thoughts as he'd just taken a rather large bite of Hagrid's impossibly sticky treacle toffee. Chrys handed him a cup of tea, which he drank down eagerly.

The rest of the visit was rather pleasant… well, for everyone except Ron.

Hagrid teased Harry about Lockhart, and showed them the giant pumpkins he was growing in his backyard.

"An engorgement charm," Hermione guessed. Hagrid cleared his throat and glanced at the sky. Chrys elbowed Hermione, trying to silently remind her that Hagrid wasn't supposed to be doing magic, so it was probably best to avoid that topic. Hermione sighed. "Well, you've done a good job on them at any rate."

"That's what yet little sister said." Hagrid smiled at Ron.

"Ooh, Ginny's been here?" Chrys jumped up and down. "Excellent, I thought you two would get along." Hagrid patted her on the back, nearly sending her flying into the pumpkin patch.

"Bin glad fer the company, but I think she was hopin' she'd run inta someone else." He winked heavily at Harry. "If yeh ask me she wouldna say no to a signed autograph."

"Oh shut up," Harry grumbled. Chrys giggled.

Ron snorted, letting out a spray of slugs.

"Not on me pumpkins!" Hagrid roared, grabbing Ron and pointing him in another direction.

Luckily, Ron's curse started dwindling around lunchtime.

"I do think they're getting smaller," Hermione observed as Ron burped up two more slimy creatures.

Unfortunately…

"Potter, Weasley, and Potter." Professor McGonagall cut them off just as they opened the door to the Great Hall. "The three of you will have your detentions this evening." Clever as always, Professor McGonagall had assigned them each a different task.

Ron was going to be polishing the silver in the trophy rooms with Filch.

Harry was going to help Lockhart answer his fan mail (Chrys would have laughed if Harry hadn't looked so genuinely traumatized).

As for Chrys… "And here I thought Professor McGonagall actually cared about my well-being," Chrys groaned, burying her head in her hands.

"I'm sure she does," Hermione said softly. And less softly, "However, you did break the rules so she is entitled to assign you detention."

"Yeah, but with Snape? He's exactly the type who would be able to commit murder without being found out."

"That's not funny." Harry shuddered.

"I wasn't joking," Chrys muttered.

At Hermione's insistence, Chrys left Gryffindor tower early to head down to the dungeons. Still, perhaps Hermione had a point. Chrys didn't want to turn up to detention late and give Snape an excuse to give her more punishment.

"Evening, Professor." She purposefully left out the 'good.'

"Potter." He looked up from his papers and nodded in her direction.

There was a long pause of silence, only interrupted by the scratching of Snape's quill.

"So…" Chrys glanced around the room. Was it possible the place had gotten creepier since her last potions lesson? "Professor McGonagall said I'd be organizing some specimens for you?"

"Did I ask you to speak?" Snape said, without even looking up this time.

Chrys shut her mouth and sat down at her usual desk towards the middle of the room (Chrys had wanted to sit in the back, and Hermione had wanted to sit in the front, so they'd compromised).

After an excruciating ten minutes Snape finally stood up and motioned for her to follow.

Her heart thumped as he took out into the hall and through a door she'd never really noticed before.

"This, is my private store room," Snape drawled. Small and out of the way, the three walls were lined with shelves stuffed with dripping jars and opaque containers of mystery. "Recently our resident poltergeist decided it would be amusing to reorder my supplies." He reached into his robe and handed her a piece of parchment. "This is my catalogue with the items and their descriptions listed in the correct order. Within the next couple of hours you are to see to it that everything is in its rightful place or else, to our mutual disappointment, you will report back here tomorrow." He turned around with a swish of his cloak. Before his instructions could even sink in, he was back, levitating a chair into the perfect position to watch her from the hallway.

"Is that really necessary?" Chrys asked. His gaze made her feel like one of Ron's slugs was inching up her spine.

"I will not have any of my possessions go missing will you are in that room," he informed her.

Chrys rolled her eyes. Not that she wouldn't be tempted to steal something from him right under his nose but… "If you don't trust me with your stuff then why'd you assign this job to me?"

The corner of Snape's lips curled into what looked like a painful smile.

"If you must know, the Headmaster suggested that I request you."

Chrys frowned. "For such a wise old man he does make some stupid decisions sometimes."

Snape said nothing, but the look on his face spoke clear agreement.

Chrys sighed, rolled up her sleeves and got to work.

The lamps in the hall were flickering low when Chrys was just finishing organizing the last shelf of ingredients. Then she spotted something that made her laugh.

"Well look at that." She held up the bottle and squinted. "It's a bezoar."

"Potter…" Snape's cool tone made her shiver.

"What? I promise I'm not stealing it."

"You aren't looking at the catalogue."

"I didn't need to." Chrys shrugged. "Since you made such a big deal about it in that first class last year, I studied up on the thing." She rubbed her thumb over the clouded surface of the glass bottle. "I like it that something so plain looking has such great potential." Chrys turned, and saw Snape inspecting her intently, his expression even less readable than usual. She cleared her throat. "Anyway, I've finished."

He stood, his lips parting slowly.

I tore… I ripped… I killed…

It wasn't Snape who had spoken.

Though the tone was just as cold, the delight it held was more chilling than anything Chrys had ever heard. Well, anything except for-

"Potter!" Snape said sharply. Chrys looked up. He was still staring at her, now with the usual annoyance on his face. "I called your name several times. I will allow you to leave now."

Shoving his catalogue back into his hands, Chrys took off at a speed more suited to Harry's athleticism, and predictably crashed into someone as she took the stairs two at a time.

"S-sorry, sorry," she sputtered, trying to force the tears back into her eyes.

Warm hands gripped her shoulders.

"Chrys?" It was Ron's voice. She squinted up at him through her fogged glasses. "What's wrong? What did that slimy git do to you?"

"Nothing," she hiccupped. She cleaned her glasses on her robes, and when she put them back on again, saw Ron watching her disbelievingly. "No really." She sighed. "I can handle Snape just fine. It was something else…something else happened and it gave me a bit of a shock."

Chapter Text

Chrys fell asleep in Harry's arms.

She hadn't done that for ages… not since the nightmares started a couple years back.

However, she wasn't alone in her cause of panic.

Harry had heard the voice too.

"And of course you played it cool," Chrys sniffled, getting snot all over his shirt. "I haven't cried in front of people for ages. I think I freaked Snape out, though. That's better than nothing."

Hermione hit Harry's shoulder with a cleaning spell. He nodded at her gratefully.

"It's alright to cry in front of me if you need to," Hermione said. Chrys peeked up at her from behind Harry. Hermione blushed. "I mean, you were a great help to me last year when Ron…" She trailed off.

Ron winced.

"Thanks, Hermione." Chrys gave her arm a squeeze. "I think I'm all out of tears though."

"Good." Ron let out a breath.

"Ron." Hermione shot him a warning glance. Ron coughed.

"Er, I mean, take your time, Chrys."

Chrys laughed.

In the month of October laughter was a rare commodity.

The grey skies echoed people's mood.

The glumness was enough to make students ill to the point where Madam Pomfrey recruited help from qualified seventh years to distribute pepper up potions.

Only a sixth year himself, Percy Weasley did his own fair of distribution.

"Come on, Ginny, you've been under the weather lately. This will make you better."

"I don't want to take it, you prat. Leave me alone."

He wilted. "I'm only trying to help."

"I don't want your help."

"Ginny…" He watched her stomp out of the Great Hall.

"She has been rather grumpy lately," Chrys noted as she took the empty seat at the Gryffindor table.

Percy shook his head.

"I'm sure it's just a cold, but I do wish she'd let me take precautions."

"It's nice to see you care about someone other than yourself for once," Chrys said under her breath.

"What was that?" He squinted suspiciously at her.

Chrys smiled. "I said I'll have a talk with her if you like."

Percy's paranoia may have been on point for once.

Though she was normally fiercely cheerful, lately Ginny had been irritable and withdrawn.

Chrys wasn't a stranger to that sort of thing.

It wasn't Harry's natural reaction to accept help either, even when he needed it the most.

Luckily, when it was about Harry, Chrys exhibited an uncharacteristic amount of patience. She reminded him she was always there to listen… and then she waited.

When Harry finally managed to lance the wound it had been icky and uncomfortable, but afterwards she liked to think that he'd healed up nicely.

So one morning she invited Ginny out for a walk around the lake. Ginny's hands were stuffed in her pockets, her eyes on the ground. "You've been a bit moody lately," Chrys started slowly. Ginny looked up and glared. Chyrs raised her hands in surrender. "I'm just worried about you… You don't have to say anything, but if you want to, I'm here to listen."

Ginny flushed, her cheeks clashing with her hair.

"I've been getting… forgetful recently. I can't remember things, and it makes me angry," she admitted. "I thought I might not be getting enough sleep…" Chrys nodded sympathetically. "So I talked to Madame Pomfrey about it and she said…" Ginny glanced around to make sure nobody was in earshot. "She said my body's probably preparing itself for um, lady stuff."

"Oh…" Chrys blushed as well. "In that case, maybe I'm not the best person to talk to after all. I haven't… I mean I haven't gotten mine yet, so I'm not sure I could be much help."

Ginny blinked. "You haven't? You're a whole year older than me though."

Chrys shrugged. "Hermione made me talk to Pomfrey about it last year. She questioned me about my eating habits and then prescribed me this nourishment potion. Supposedly that should help me get things back on track. It tasted awful though." Chrys made a face. Ginny threw her head back and laughed. "There. That's more like the Ginny I know." Chrys chewed on her lip as they walked in silence for a bit. "If you're in pain you should talk to Parvati Patil. She gets real bad cramps, but her mum sends her some sort of tea that helps."

"Thanks." She tucked her hair behind her ear, and smiled softly.

"No problem. And Ginny?"

"Hmmm?"

"Do me a favor and take the damn pepper up potion. Percy wouldn't stop bugging me about it."

It was lucky Chrys had chosen that day to take her walk. By the next morning a storm caused the lake to swell and swallow up the path.

The grounds became a gross slop that Chrys sank into ankle deep.

Still, the mad Oliver Wood continued to schedule Quidditch practice after Quidditch practice.

Chrys waited in Hagrid's hut for Harry to be released from his captain's clutches. She cradled a cup of tea, watching the rain pummel the windowpanes as Hagrid bragged about the size of his pumpkins.

Later rather sooner, Harry showed up at the gamekeeper's doorstep, boots squelching. Hagrid rubbed him dry with a towel until his hair stood up even more than usual.

"You didn't have to wait for me," Harry told her as they tracked mud through the castle halls. "I wouldn't have even gone outside today if it wasn't for Wood." Chrys shrugged.

"It's nice to visit Hagrid." And she'd be worried about Harry somehow falling in the lake and drowning. "Oh." As they turned the corner she spotted their house ghost murmuring to himself. "Hello Nick," she and Harry said in unison. He nodded distractedly at them. "Something wrong?" Chrys wondered.

Nearly Headless Nick explained that no matter how many times he tried, he wasn't nearly headless enough to join the Headless Horsemen union.

"According to Sir Patrick Delaney-Podmore, an inch of skin is just too much." Nick sighed deeply. "And what about you, Harry? You're looking a bit troubled yourself. Anything I could do to help?" Chrys smiled at his goodwill.

"It's just Quidditch," Harry said. Nick nodded, his head wobbling.

"Well—" He was interrupted by a loud hiss as Harry accidentally took stepped on Mrs. Norris the cat's tail. "You'd better go. If Filch catches you tracking mud into the halls…"

"Right." Harry grabbed his sister's arm and pulled her forward, but not quickly enough.

Filch was standing in front of them, nose red and unpleasantly snotty. "Filthy Potters!" He hissed, not unlike his cat. "Mud everywhere! Come with me." He motioned for them to follow. Chrys and Harry waved goodbye to Nick.

Filch's office was hypocritically dirty. Aunt Petunia would have fainted at the sight of some of the mold, worse than a primary student's science fair project. Mrs. Norris stuck her nose in a bowl of something fishy sitting at the foot of a filing cabinet. The cabinet drawers were organized alphabetically, except for one between 'W' and 'X' which was reserved solely for the Weasley twins. Chrys giggled, thinking about what sort of amusing stories might be in those files.

Harry nudged her foot with his, pointing at the shiny chains and manacles hanging on the wall behind Filch's desk. Chrys reckoned they were the cleanest things in the entire room.

Filch didn't notice their stares. He was too busy scribbling down their crime and punishment on a piece of parchment. Harry protested, but before the argument could escalate there was a loud bang and the ceiling rattled. "Peeves!" Filch shouted, leaping up and running out of the room.

"That was oddly convenient timing," Chrys thought aloud. Harry frowned.

"Hey, what's this?" He leaned forward and snatched up a bright white envelope, which stood out from the squalor on Filch's desk. Harry glanced at the empty doorway, and then back at the envelope. "It's already open…"

"Well then, what's inside?" Chrys gestured for him to continue. Harry slid out the letter, eyes zooming across it. The handwriting was curly cursive, difficult to make out, but Chrys got the gist of it. Apparently Filch was having a bit of trouble with his spell work, and sent out to this Kwikspell agency to get some help. "Come to think of it, I've never really seen Filch use a wand, even though his work would be lots easier with some of Mrs. Weasley's house cleaning spells."

"Yeah, but…" Harry trailed off, hearing footsteps approaching. He quickly threw the letter back on the desk. Filch came in, thundering about Peeves ruining a valuable vanishing cabinet, when he suddenly realized his letter had been moved.

His cheeks went splotchy red. He grabbed the letter and locked it in his desk drawer.

"Did you… have you read…?"

"No, no," Harry lied bald-faced.

Filch wrung his hands. "It's private… not that it's mine… for a friend you see… but still…" His eyes were wide and watery. Chrys was worried he might start full out bawling. "Well—out you go, and if I hear you say anything…"

"We won't." Chrys grabbed her brother's hand and ran.

"Wonder if anyone's ever escaped Filch's office that fast without punishment," Harry said. Chrys stopped, spotting Nick floating hesitantly toward them.

"Did it work?" He asked hopefully. Chrys looked at him questioningly. Harry glanced through the ghost's opaque body, and saw the splintered remnants of a cabinet. "I persuaded Peeves to crash it right over Filch's office," Nick explained. "Thought it might distract him."

"It did." Harry bounced excitedly on his heels. "Thanks, Nick!"

"I'm sure you're cleverer than all those Heedless Horsemen put together," Chrys told him.

Nick frowned. Harry sighed. "It sounds like that means a lot to you, wish there was something we could do to help."

"Actually, there might be." Nick's form rippled. "You see this Halloween will be my five hundredth deathday."

"Err…" Harry and Chrys exchanged a confused look.

"Congratulations?" Chrys decided.

"Thank you! You see, I'm holding a party down in one of the roomier dungeons… friends will be coming from all over the country. And it would be such a honor if you two could attend— Mr. Weasley and Miss Granger are welcome to come as well… but I suppose you'd rather go to the school feast." His head wobbled dangerously.

"No, we'll come," Harry said immediately. Sir Nick smiled nervously.

"And if you could possibly mention to Sir Patrick how frightening and impressive you find me?"

Chrys tried not to laugh. "Anything for a friend."

Hermione buzzed about the educational opportunities of attending a deathday party.

"Give it a rest." Ron was staring at his potions assignment with dead eyes. Chrys had finished her homework all ready, and so decided to elbow her way through the crowd of people surrounding Fred and George.

"Now, now, there's room for everybody," George announced cheerfully.

"What are you doing?" Hermione wondered, having followed Chrys.

"We wanted to know what would happen if you fed a fire salamander filibuster fireworks," Fred explained. He poked a small bit of string into the fiery lizard's mouth. It swallowed, and then sizzled brighter. Chrys clapped and cheered as the creature zipped into the air and bounced off the ceiling… until Percy caught on and forced it to a stop.

"My own brothers," he said dramatically. "I have half a mind to write to my mother about this."

"Half a mind is all you've got," Chrys muttered, grumpy that the festivities had ended.

Still, there were more than enough festivities to be had at this time of year.

The Halloween Feast was shaping up to be the most spectacular in centuries, or so some of the nosier portraits were whispering. Chrys heard rumors of dancing skeletons and mountains of food that would make the tables sink. Indeed, if Hagrid's live bats and giant pumpkins were anything to go by, it would be a great event.

Unfortunately, Chrys and her friends had other commitments.

"I'm starting to regret promising Nick we'd go to his party," Harry groaned.

"A promise is a promise," Hermione lectured.

So at seven o'clock sharp the four of them headed down to the dungeons, taking an unusual turn and coming to a dead end. The passageway was blocked off by moth-eaten black curtains. It was lit by candles, though the candles may as well have been burnt out for all the good they were doing. Their flames burned an eerie blackish blue.

Chrys shook her head. "The mood lighting is too spot on." Even the temperature was a chilling sort of affair, probably caused by the ghostly breath of Nick's guests.

"Is that supposed to be music?" Ron grumbled, shoving his hands over his ears as a noise like fingernails across a blackboard echoed off the walls. Hermione opened her mouth to answer, but stopped as Nick phased through the curtains to greet them.

"My dear friends… welcome… come in."

Harry gulped and pulled aside the black drapes.

Inside the room hundreds of ghostly persons drifted about. Chrys saw a couple of them swaying back and forth to the music Ron found so distasteful. The orchestra played a screeching tune with saws, their performance illuminated by a chandelier, which held the same blue-black candles as the outside hallway. Harry suggested they take a walk around.

"Or else my toes might freeze off," he muttered.

"Well careful you don't walk through anyone or it'll only get worse," Ron warned. They passed a man in chains chatting to the Fat Friar, the Hufflepuff house ghost. Not too far off the Bloody Baron, the Slytherin ghost was ignored, bobbing by himself in a corner.

Chrys agreed with the other guests. There were few ghosts that she found less appealing than the Bloody Baron. Of course, just as she thought this, an even less appealing ghost appeared.

"Oh no." Hermione hid behind Chrys. "There's Moaning Myrtle, let's hurry before she sees us."

Chrys nodded, but Ron perked up, curious. "Who?" Harry whispered.

"Moaning Myrtle," Hermione repeated. "Chrys dragged me to one of the toilets on the first floor to see if the rumors were true. They were. It's awfully hard to take a pee with Myrtle moaning in the stall next to you."

Ron's forehead wrinkled. "Why would she haunt a toilet?" Then he grinned. "Never mind, I've found some food. Good thing too, I've been missing the feast…" He stopped. Chrys had never been picky about what she ate, but the rotten fish smell was enough to curl anyone's stomach. Besides the fish, the long table displayed a selection of cake (burnt black), haggis (being devoured by maggots), and cheese (furry and green). The cake had the words Sir Nicholas De Mimsy-Porpington, Died 31st October, 1492 spelled out in sticky black icing.

Just then a chubby ghost opened his mouth wide and floated through the sticky fish.

"Can you taste it?" Harry asked.

"Almost," the ghost sighed.

"They probably let it rot to give it a stronger flavor," Hermione theorized, muffled as she pinched her nose. Ron looked green.

"I'm going to be sick."

However, before they could escape the stench, a familiar face popped out from underneath the table. "Hello Peeves," Harry said politely. Peeves grinned like a piranha.

"Nibbles?" He offered them a bowl of moldy peanuts.

"No thanks," Hermione said quickly.

Peeves looked at her. "Heard you talking about Myrtle. Rude you was." He sucked in a breath of air and shouted, "Oi! Myrtle!"

"Shoot," Hermione muttered under her breath. Long-haired and bespectacled, Myrtle wasn't much different than Chrys, except the ghost had rounder cheeks and a deeper frown.

"What?"

"Oh, hello, Myrtle." Hermione tried to recover. "It's nice to see you out of the toilet." Myrtle sniffled. The poor girl was perpetually on the edge of angry tears.

"Miss Granger was just talking about you," Peeves giggled into Myrtle's ear.

"I was just saying, er… how nice you look tonight." Hermione gave Peeves a hard glare.

"You're making fun of me," Myrtle said knowingly.

"No—I really was saying how nice you—right guys?" She elbowed the boys.

"Uh, yeah…

"She was…"

"Don't lie to me," Myrtle hissed. Peeves continued to snicker. "I know what people call me behind my back. Fat Myrtle, ugly Myrtle, miserable, moaning, moping Myrtle!"

"You've forgotten pimply," Peeves reminded her. Myrtle's sobs became deafening. She shrieked and zoomed out of the dungeon, Peeves following, throwing peanuts and shouting insults.

Chrys frowned. "Even Myrtle doesn't deserve that," she thought. "I'd like to give Peeves a good smack." Hermione shook her head.

"Poltergeists are only tangible when they choose to be."

"How disappointing," Chrys grunted.

The rest of the party didn't go any better, though they lied about this when Nick asked. He was pleased with the turnout, but his face turned sour when his frienemies the Headless Horsemen interrupted his deathday speech. Like they had promised, the twins tried to convince Sir Patrick that Nick was the most impressively terrifying ghost they'd ever met, but Sir Patrick saw through the rouse. The only four living people in the room snuck out just as the horsemen began playing hockey with their heads in place of a puck.

Ron hopped that they might make it to the Great Hall in time for pudding.

However, before they could get far, Chrys collapsed.

"Rip… tear… kill…" It was that voice again.

"Harry." She was panting, leaning on her hands and knees. Harry was standing, but barely, clutching at the wall for support. Hermione hovered over them.

"What's wrong?" Ron gripped his friend's shoulder as he shuddered.

"Can't you hear it?" Harry snapped. The voice seemed to be drifting upwards. "Come on." Harry grabbed her hand and pulled her to her feet. "This way." He ran.

They chased the voice. "I smell blood, I smell blood!"

It faded in an empty passageway on the second floor.

Ron's fringe was dripping sweat. "What was that about?"

"It said it was going—going to kill someone," Chrys said hoarsely. Ron frowned.

"I didn't hear anything—"

"Look!" Hermione cut him off. In the distance something glinted on the wall. Harry ran up to it. His feet splashed in the water puddled on the floor.

Wet, red words were scrawled over the stone, dripping softly.

"Is that… blood?" Chrys felt dizzy. That wasn't the worst of it. Filch's loyal cat, Mrs. Norris was hanging upside down by her tail from one of the torches nearby. Her eyes were wide, and her body was unnaturally still.

"Let's go." Ron's hand was on her arm.

"Shouldn't we try to help?" Harry wondered. Ron shook his head.

"Trust me, we don't want to be found here."

It was too late.

People were coming from either side of the passageway. The feast must have ended. The students were making their way back to the dorms when they came upon four Gryffindors, standing in front of a scene of disaster.

The cheerful noises of the crowd fell away.

Then someone read the words on the wall aloud.

"Enemies of the Heir, beware!" Malfoy laughed coldly. "You'll be next mudbloods!"

Chrys felt a snarl rise in her throat. "How can you laugh at something like this?"

Chapter Text

Filch must have been attracted by the shouting.

He snickered at Chrys and Malfoy's face-off, before his eyes drifted to the wall.

"Oh!" He cried out like he'd been stabbed in the stomach. "Mrs. Norris, my sweet…" He hobbled towards Chrys, who was at the front of the group. "You—you murdered my cat! I'll kill you!" Chrys opened and closed her mouth dumbly. Filch reached his arms towards her neck. Harry and Hermione stepped up to flank her. Ron gripped his broken wand.

"Argus." Dumbledore's steely voice sent a shiver up her spine, but at least it had stopped Filch in his tracks. Dumbledore came closer and for a moment Chrys thought he was going to finish Filch's revenge. Instead he gently eased the cat off of its hanging place. "Come with me, Argus." He glanced at Chrys and her friends. "You four as well."

Lockhart slipped forward. "If I may, Headmaster, my office is the closest," he suggested. His teeth glinted as all eyes landed on him. Dumbledore nodded.

"Thank you, Gilderoy."

Chrys groaned, but followed Dumbledore dutifully up the stairs, Professors Snape and McGonagall bringing up the rear.

The many versions of Lockhart scattered out of their portraits.

"You should have warned us we had visitors," one of them squeaked, trying to hide the curlers in his hair. Chrys would have laughed, but Dumbledore's expression sobered her up.

He was studied Mrs. Norris, his half moon glasses sliding down his nose. Professor McGonagall's lips were a tight white line, while the corners of Snape's mouth curled almost imperceptibly.

He might have been amused by how Lockhart was flitting about making suggestions as to what could have killed the cat. Or maybe Snape thought it was funny how Filch was slumped in a chair, sobbing into his hands.

If so, Chrys did not share his sense of humor.

"I almost feel sorry for him," she muttered under her breath.

"He did threaten to kill you," Harry reminded her. She shrugged.

"I'm not fussed."

He nodded. "Yeah, I'm more worried that they'll blame you for the cat's murder and you'll be expelled."

Chrys snorted. "Now you sound like Hermione."

When they stopped whispering, Dumbledore came to a conclusion.

"She's not dead, Argus."

Filch peeked through his fingers. "Not dead?" He sniffled. "But... she's frozen stiff."

"She's been petrified," Dumbledore explained.

"Ah! I thought so!" Lockhart interjected.

"Yeah right," Chrys grumbled.

Dumbledore ignored them. "Though I cannot say how this has happened."

"Ask her!" Filch pointed his bony finger at Chrys.

"No second year could have done this," Dumbledore said. "It is an advanced Dark Magic—"

"She did it, she did it!" Filch insisted. He squinted at Harry. "Or it was her brother. One of them must have written that on the wall…" His voice shrunk. "They know I'm a squib." He nearly swallowed the last word.

"We never touched Mrs. Norris," Harry protested.

"And I have no idea what a squib is," Chrys added, glancing at Hermione.

"Rubbish! You saw my Kwikspell letter!" Filch snarled.

"If I might speak, Headmaster." Snape stepped out of the shadows. Harry tensed. "The Potters and their friends might have simply been in the wrong place at the wrong time." Chrys frowned. Snape was the least likely person to defend her. Then he grinned. "…Though this is a suspicious set of circumstances. Why were they in the upstairs corridor at all? Why weren't they at the Halloween feast?"

"We were at Sir Nick's deathday party," Hermione spoke up. "With hundreds of ghosts. Ask any of them."

"Why not join the feast afterwards?" Snape continued his interrogation. "Why go to that particular corridor?" Harry and Chrys exchanged a look. She could see in his eyes that he agreed—saying they'd followed a disembodied voice didn't seem like the best explanation.

"We were tired, wanted to go to bed," Harry said.

"Without any supper?" Snape's grin was absolutely terrifying. She could see all of his yellowing teeth. "I didn't think ghosts provided food fit for living people at their parties."

"We weren't hungry," Ron said. His stomach growled in disagreement. Chrys winced.

"I suggest that Potter isn't being entirely truthful," Snape said. "Perhaps he should be taken off the Gryffindor Quidditch team until he decides to tell us the full story."

"Really, Severus." Professor McGonagall gave him her fiercest glare, the one she usually reserved for students who had been caught cheating on exams. "I don't see how Quidditch is related to this. It's not as if the cat was hit over the head with a broomstick." Chrys held back a giggle. "Besides, there's no evidence that Potter has done anything wrong."

Chrys nodded vehemently. Dumbledore agreed as well. "Innocent until proven guilty Severus."

Snape's smile melted off his face. Finally. "My cat has been petrified!" Filch squawked. "I want to see some punishment!" Chrys shivered, thinking about the chains and cuffs hanging in his office.

"We will be able to cure her," Dumbledore reassured him. "Professor Sprout has recently procured some mandrakes. As soon as they reach their full size, a potion will be made to revive Mrs. Norris."

"I'll make the potion," Lockhart whined. His arms were crossed petulantly. "I've done it a hundred times. I could whip up a Mandrake Restorative Draught in my sle—"'

"Excuse me," Snape hissed. "I believe I am the Potions Master at this school."

Dumbledore cleared his throat. "You may go." He inclined his head at the students.

Instead of heading directly to Gryffindor tower, Harry dove into an empty room nearby.

"Do you think we should have told them about the voice?" He asked Chrys.

"No," Ron answered for her. "Hearing voices isn't a good sign, even in the wizarding world."

Harry frowned. "It's not like I'm going mad, Chrys heard it too."

"You do believe us, don't you?" Chrys looked at her friends. Hermione nodded slowly.

"It's unlikely that both of you would hear the same thing if it didn't really exist," she admitted.

"Of course we believe you," Ron told them. Harry smiled warmly at him. "It's just weird, isn't it?" Harry's smile fell.

"Well it's been a weird night." He sighed. "That writing on the wall… what's the Chamber of Secrets?" Ron scratched his ear.

"It rings a bell. I think one of my brothers told me a story, something about Hogwarts…"

"And what's a squib?" Chrys still hadn't gotten her answer.

Ron laughed, but stopped at a look from Hermione. "Well it's not funny really, but as it's Filch… A squib is someone who's born into a wizarding family but hasn't got any magic. It's kind of the opposite of being a muggle born, except squibs are more unusual. Anyway, it makes sense Filch is a squib if he's using Kwikspell. But I dunno why he works in a school. He's bound to be bitter watching everyone else learn while he can't." A clock in the corner of the room chimed midnight. Harry glanced at it.

"We'd better get to bed before Snape tries to frame us for something else."

 

The next morning Chrys was tempted to go back to that fateful corridor. She was almost certain it had all been a dream. She'd had stranger dreams after all.

Fred and George stopped her on the way over. "You'd better not." George shook his head. "Filch's stalking the entrance. Tried to give me a detention for breathing too loudly."

"Then I laughed and he gave me a detention for looking happy," Fred added. Chrys frowned. He looked her over. "What's up? You aiming to get a detention for looking too gloomy?"

Chrys forced a grin. "Ha, ha. I'm just… a bit shaken by this whole thing."

"Ginny too," Fred and George said. "She's a great cat lover. She hadn't gotten to know Mrs. Norris enough to know that being petrified is probably an improvement."

At breakfast, Ron seemed to agree with his brothers. "Anyway, they'll catch the maniac who did it and have him out of here in no time," he assured his little sister. "I just hope he's got time to petrify Filch before he's expelled." Ginny turned as white as the potatoes on her plate. Chrys kicked Ron's shin. "Only joking," he yelped.

Wednesday Chrys woke to find Hermione sitting on the floor, surrounded by piles of books.

Of course, this was not an unusual occurrence, but her friend's crinkled brow told Chrys that something was up. "What's wrong, Hermione?" She yawned.

"I left my copy of Hogwarts: A History at home. It wouldn't fit in my trunk with all the Lockhart books." She glared at Lockhart's photo smiling at her from the back cover.

Chrys giggled behind her hand.

"Sorry to hear that. I'd let you borrow mine, but I lent it to Neville and he lost it," she said. Hermione harrumphed. "Why don't you check out a copy from the library?"

They went to the library that afternoon. Chrys tapped her quill against the table. Snape had held Harry back to scrape tubeworms off the desks. "What's taking him so long?"

"I'm sure he'll be here soon," Hermione said soothingly, her voice muffled by the thick book she was holding in front of her face. "Oh, hello, Justin." Hermione's Hufflepuff friend gave her a nod, and started towards her, only to stop stiff when Chrys grinned and gave him a wave. He practically ran away, almost banging into Harry at the doorway. When he saw Harry, he sped off even faster.

"What's with Justin?" Harry wondered, plopping down next to Ron.

"He has to be a bit of an idiot, considering he's Lockhart's fan," Ron muttered.

"Hermione is Lockhart's fan," Chrys reminded him. "And she's anything but stupid."

"Yeah, but Hermione is…" Ron faded off. "Gone. Again." He groaned. "She was supposed to help me with my essay."

"Where'd she go?" Harry glanced around.

"Probably back between the shelves," Chrys answered. "All the copies of Hogwarts: A History have been checked out, and there's a two-week waiting list, but I think she thinks she can find one hidden somewhere."

"What does she want it so badly for?"

"I want it for the same reason everyone else wants it." Hermione appeared suddenly behind them. "…To read up on the legend of the Chamber of Secrets."

Their library visited faded into one of Hermione and Ron's infamous arguments, and before long it was time to head to History of Magic. Chrys had almost beaten Harry at hangman when a wave of murmurs washed over the room.

"No way, nobody every raises their hand in this class," Lavender whispered to Parvati.

Chrys turned and was unsurprised to see Hermione's arm stretched as high as it would go.

Professor Binns blinked rapidly. "Miss…?"

"Granger," Hermione reminded him (if he had ever known in the first place), "I was wondering if you could tell us about the Chamber of Secrets?"

Neville fell out of his chair. Dean jolted awake and wiped the drool from the corner of his mouth.

Professor Binns didn't seem to have noticed. "My subject is History of Magic," he wheezed. "I deal with facts, not myths and legends."

"How boring," Chrys muttered, earning a nod from Harry. Unfortunately, Professor Binns decided to continue his lecture on every single event that had happened in 1289. That is, until Hermione interrupted him with a second brazen wave of her hand.

"Miss Grant?" Binns frowned.

"Please, sir, don't legends always have a basis in fact?"

Chrys clapped her hands together. "You go, girl."

"Well… I suppose one could argue that," Binns allowed. "However the legend of which you speak of is such sensational, ludicrous…" Binns trailed off. His eyes bulged out as he realized all of his students were suddenly hanging on his every word. It must have been nice for a change. "Very well." So Binns recounted the origin of Hogwarts.

In a time when witchcraft was looked at as the work of the Devil, Godric Gryffindor, Helga Hufflepuff, Rowena Ravenclaw, and Salazar Slytherin came together to create a safe environment to learn magic. However, before long a rift grew up between Slytherin and the others. Slytherin thought that they should only accept students from all-magical families. When the others wouldn't agree, Slytherin left. Binns sourly admitted that there were rumors that Slytherin had built a secret chamber in the castle, and had taken care to seal it before he left. The story went that only Slytherin's true heir would be able to open the chamber and "Unleash the horror within and use it to purge the school of all who were unworthy to study magic."

Binns thought this was stupid, as no such chamber had ever been found. Seamus pointed out that the whole point of a secret was that it'd be difficult to find, especially if only one person was destined to find it. Binns argued that surely any one of the headmasters would have been capable.

"Not if it has to be opened by dark magic," Parvati reasoned. Chrys reached over and gave her a high five. Still, Binns stuck by his theory that if the headmasters, especially one as powerful as Dumbledore, couldn't do it, then it simply couldn't be done.

"…But if you've related to Slytherin to open it, then even Dumbledore wouldn't be able to," Dean rebutted.

At this Binns exploded and essentially told them all to shut up.

The noise and excitement dissipated, and the everyday boredom settled back over the class.

"Always knew Salazar Slytherin was a twisted old loony." Ron nodded to himself as they finally exited the room. He frowned as Hermione struggled against the rush of people heading to the Great Hall. "Aren't we going to dinner?"

"I'd like to drop off my bag first," Hermione said, nearly breathless.

Ron came up beside her. "Anyway, now that I know he started all that pure blood stuff, it only proves my point. I wouldn't be in his House if you paid me. Honestly, if the Sorting Hat tried to put me in Slytherin, I'd get straight on the train back home." He shooed the crowd off and they continued on. Hermione gave him an adorable beaver-like grin. Harry was frowning at his shoes. Whatever glum thought he was thinking was interrupted by the appearance of Colin Creevey.

"Hello, Colin," Harry and Chrys greeted him automatically, one with more enthusiasm than the other.

"Harry, a boy in my class has been saying—" Colin squeaked as the crowd dragged him down the hall. "See you later!" He shouted out before he disappeared completely.

Hermione chewed on her lip. "I wonder what the boy in his class was saying about you."

"That I'm Slytherin's heir, I expect," Harry figured. "That's probably why Justin was so freaked out earlier."

"People will believe anything," Ron grumbled, turning his nose up. "I mean, who's to say there even is a Chamber of Secrets?"

"I don't know," Hermione admitted. "But Dumbledore couldn't heal Mrs. Norris… that makes me think whatever attacked her might not be, well, human. Oh, speaking of which." They stopped. The path back to Gryffindor Tower passed by the corridor where it had all gone down. Chrys peeked around the corner.

"Fred and George said Flich has been guarding it, but he's not here now."

"Can't hurt to have a poke around," Harry decided, getting down on his hands and knees for a better look. It paid off. "Scorch marks!" He realized. "Here, and here…"

"And look at this!" Hermione cried out. She pointed at the window. There was a fuzzy black line along the top. Chrys squinted and took a step closer. It was a line of spiders, squeezing their way through a small hole. "How funny. Have you ever seen spiders act like that?"

Harry shook his head. "What about you Ron?" He turned. "Ron…?" Ron inched backwards and was now trying to hide behind a much shorter Chrys. Harry looked at him concernedly. "What's up?"

"I, don't, like, spiders." Ron struggled to get the words out.

"I never knew that." Hermione stared. "We've used them in Potions loads of times."

"I don't mind when they're dead," he explained. "I just don't like the way they move."

Hermione giggled. Chrys pinched her arm. "Ouch! What was that for?"

"It's not funny," she said quietly. She recognized the look in his eyes. She figured she looked the same whenever she got too high above the ground…

Ron shot Chrys a nervous grin. "Thanks."

"What?" Hermione glanced between them.

"If you must know," Ron sighed. "Fred turned my teddy bear into a great big filthy spider because I broke his toy broomstick… you wouldn't like them either if you'd been holding your bear and suddenly it had too many legs…"

Harry cleared his throat. "Um, remember all that water on the floor the night we found Mrs. Norris? Where'd it come from?"

Ron latched onto the change in conversation. "Yeah. Someone's mopped it up now, but it was about over here I think." He moved over a couple of paces, pass the chair where Filch had been sitting and keeping guard. "Must have come from in here." Ron reached for the handle of an old arched door, but stopped suddenly.

"What's the matter?" Harry wondered.

"Can't go in there," Ron mumbled. "It's a girls' toilet."

Chrys and Hermione exchanged a look. "Oh Ron, that's Moaning Myrtle's place, nobody goes in there," Hermione told him. She grabbed the brass handle and tugged open the door.

Moaning Myrtle's bathroom hadn't changed much since last Chrys had been there.

The mirrors were still caked with mold and the sinks were still chipped, broken ceramic littering the floor. Hermione tiptoed over to the stall at the end, where Myrtle usually hung out. "Hello?"

The grumpy ghost phased through the door, staring suspiciously at Harry and Ron. "This is a girls' bathroom, they aren't girls."

"No," Hermione agreed. "I just wanted to show them… how… er, nice it is in here."

"Ask her if she saw anything?" Harry whispered into Hermione's hair.

Myrtle turned on him. "What are you whispering about?""

"Nothing," Harry lied. "Just wondering if you—"

"I wish people would stop talking behind my back!" Large tears blobbed down Myrtle's silvery face. "I do have feelings you know, even if I am dead."

"Myrtle, no one wants to upset you," Hermione said quickly.

"Ha!" Myrtle shouted. "That's a good one. My life was nothing but misery and now people want to come along and ruin my death as well."

"We just wanted to ask if you've seen anything funny lately." Hermione persevered. "A cat was attacked right outside this door on Halloween."

"Did you see anything that night?" Harry asked, keeping voice calm.

"I wasn't paying attention," Myrtle sniffed. "I'd come in here to kill myself because Peeves upset me, but then I remembered that I'm… I'm…"

"Already dead," Ron finished for her.

Myrtle let out a moan worthy of her nickname before diving into a nearby toilet and disappearing completely.

"Ew…" Chrys flicked her wand, muttering the words for a drying spell. Being splattered in toilet water reminded her too much of her primary school days.

"Honestly, that was somewhat cheerful for Myrtle," Hermione said as they walked out the door.

"Ron!" Percy Weasley's aghast shout rang out through the hall. "What are you doing coming out of a girls' bathroom?"

"Just having a look around." Ron shrugged. "For clues, you know."

Percy squared his shoulders. "Get away from there! Don't you know what it looks like sneaking around here while everyone's at dinner?"

"Listen." Ron got up in his brother's face. "We never laid a hand on that cat!"

"I know that." Percy stared back just as fiercely. "But you've got poor Ginny all worked up. She's been crying because she thinks you'll be expelled." Chrys frowned. She thought Ginny had been doing better recently. Was this just Percy overreacting, or was something still wrong? And if so, why hadn't Ginny said anything to her? She thought they were closer than that. "You could at least care about what she thinks."

"Like you actually care about how Ginny feels," Ron scoffed. "You're just afraid I'll make you look bad and ruin your chances of making head boy next year."

"Five points from Gryffindor!" Percy shouted. He and Ron had matching bright red ears. "And I hope that teaches you a lesson: no more detective work or I'll write to mum!" With that he stomped away, clutching at the prefect's badge on his chest.

That night Percy kept glancing over at Ron from the other side of the common room. Ron pretended not to notice, but he pressed his quill so hard to his parchment that his Charm's homework was soon littered with holes. He snatched up his wand to fix it, and ending up setting it on fire instead. Harry knocked it to the floor and stomped it out, holding the charred remains up to Ron apologetically. Ron slammed shut his coarse book and crossed his arms, glaring. His moody image was ruined as his stomach let out a growl. He groaned. It hadn't helped that they'd missed dinner.

Chrys reached into her bag and pulled out a roll of bread she'd squirreled away earlier. Old habits die hard. "Here." She tossed it at him.

He caught it neatly. "Thanks," he sighed, tearing off a piece. Hermione opened her mouth. "Don't you start," Ron warned her.

Her brow furrowed. "What do you mean?"

"Don't you tell me off for not finishing my homework."

"Oh, that." Hermione waved her hand flippantly. "I understand. I've been having trouble concentrating as well." She followed suit and closed her book. Harry blinked. Hermione hunched over, leaning her elbows on her knees. "I can't help wondering, who could it be? Who'd want to frighten all the squibs and muggleborns out of Hogwarts?"

"Hmmm, let me think." Ron tapped his temple. "Who do we know who thinks muggleborns are scum?"

Hermione shook her head. "If you're talking about Malfoy—"

"Course I am!" Ron cut her off. In his excitement he accidentally squashed the roll in his fist. "You heard him, 'You'll be next Mudbloods!' Come on, you've only got to look at his foul rat face to know it's him that—"

"Malfoy, the Heir of Slytherin?" Hermione snorted.

"Well, look at his family," Harry put in. "The whole lot of them have been in Slytherin—he's always boasting about it. They could easily be Slytherin's descendants. His dad's definitely evil enough." Chrys thought about the way the usually mild mannered Mr. Weasley had practically pounced on Malfory Sr. in the bookshop. She nodded.

"They've could've had the key to the Chamber for centuries," Ron continued. "Could've handed it down from father to son."

"Well…" Hermione tilted her head to the side. "I suppose it's possible."

"We'd have to prove it though," Harry muttered.

"There might be a way," Hermione said slowly. She glanced over her shoulder, and then leaned in close to the others. "Of course, it'd be difficult and dangerous, and we'd be breaking about fifty school rules…"

Ron polished off his roll. "Let us know when you feel like explaining."

"Alright." Hermione rolled her eyes. "What we need to do is get inside the Slytherin common room and ask Malfoy a few questions without him realizing it's us."

"That's impossible," Harry said immediately. Chrys patted his shoulder.

"Always the pessimist, I'm sure our dear Hermione has a plan."

"Yes I do," Hermione said. "All need is some Polyjuice Potion."

"Ah-ha!" Chrys caught on. "Brilliant." She gave her friend a squeeze. Hermione flushed.

"What's is it?" Ron and Harry wondered.

"Snape mentioned it in class a few weeks ago," Hermione reminded them.

"We've got better things to do than listen to Snape," Ron mumbled.

"It's a transforming potion," Chrys explained. "It can make somebody look like somebody else. We could use it to transform into Slytherins and chat up Malfoy about all his secrets."

"I don't know, sounds a bit dodgy to me." Ron frowned. "What if we're stuck looking like Slytherins forever?"

"Don't worry, it wears off," Hermione assured him. "The hard part will be getting a hold of the recipe. Snape mentioned it was in a book called Moste Potente Potions, but that's bound to be in the restricted section."

"Which brings up another issue," Harry said. "What teacher is going to give us permission to take out a suspicious book like that?"

"We could use the invisibility cloak," Chrys thought aloud.

Harry chuckled. "Yeah, cause that worked out so well last time."

Chapter Text

"There's only one teacher thick enough to fall for this," Ron decided.

So they formulated a plan.

After the whole pixie episode, Lockhart decided to take another approach to his lessons.

Unfortunately, this approach often involved Harry.

Lockhart would stage dramatic readings of the exploits in his books, with Harry as the supporting actor.

"It's for the plan," Harry muttered to himself when Lockhart called him to the front of the room.

"It's for the plan," Hermione reminded Chrys, when she clutched her hands into fists under her desk. It was amusing to watch Harry howl like a werewolf—at first. Then Lockhart decided to reenact his defeat of the creature a little too realistically.

"I'm fine," Harry assured her as the rest of the class began to file out of the room. Chrys continued to check him over for bruises until he swatted her away. He turned to Hermione. "Now it's your turn."

Hermione watched the last student leave the room. "Okay," she sighed, patting down her hair before stepping up to Lockhart's desk. "Er, Professor?" She stuttered. "I wanted to, to get this book out of the library—just for some background reading! But the thing is it's in the Restricted Section… so I need a teacher to sign it." She held out the carefully written note, the parchment crinkling as she clutched it hard. "I think it would really help me understand what you said in Gadding with Ghouls, you know, about the slow acting venoms—"

"Ah!" Lockhart brightened at the title of one of his books, reaching out and taking the note. "Gadding with the Ghouls is possible my favorite. You enjoyed it?"

Hermione bobbed her head, hair bouncing. "Yes. Very clever how you trapped the last one with a tea-strainer—"

"Well I'm sure no one will mind me giving the best student of the year a little extra help," he said warmly. Hermione hummed at the compliment. Lockhart took out a peacock quill with a flourish. Ron grunted, whether at the ridiculous quill, or Hermione's blush, Chrys wasn't sure. Lockhart signed the note in his overdone handwriting and handed it back. Then he turned to Harry. "Tomorrow's the first match of the season I believe. Gryffindor against Slytherin, is it not? I hear you're a useful player. I was a seeker too. I was asked to play for the National Squad, but preferred to dedicate my life to the eradication of the Dark Forces. Still, if you ever feel the need for a little private training—" At Lockhart's wink Chrys grabbed her brother's arm and dragged him away in fear for his safety.

"Ah, excuse me," she heard Hermione stammer. "We're late for… a thing." Ron snorted.

 

"I don't believe it," Harry said as they entered the library. "He didn't even read it. He would've signed anything."

"That's cause he's a brainless git," Ron said. "But who cares, we got what we—"

"He is not a brainless git," Hermione squeaked. Ron rolled his eyes.

"Just cause he said you were the best student in the year…" He trailed off as Madame Pince spotted them.

Hermione coughed. "We'd like to check out this book please," she said, handing over the note. Madame Pince held the note up to the light, like the lady in the corner shop had done with a couple of pounds had Chrys stolen from Aunt Petunia's purse one time to refill her secret licorice stash.

"Wait here," the librarian said, stuffing the note in her pocket and going off to the relevant shelf. Hermione watched her longingly.

"I was hoping I could keep it…"

"Give it up. We'll get you another autograph," Ron grumbled. "Lockhart will sign just about anything you shove under his nose."

Next they headed off to Moaning Myrtle's bathroom. Ron protested, but Hermione pointed out it was the last place anyone would expect to find them.

"And you'll have the added satisfaction of knowing Percy wouldn't approve," Chrys told him. Ron sighed and obeyed.

The quartet sat on the cold damp floor, huddled around the book they'd worked so hard to get.

"…Well," Harry said after they'd flipped through a couple of sections. "I can see why this was in the restricted section."

"Yeah." Chrys shivered at the illustration of a man who'd been turned inside out. Whoever the artist was, they were way too talented. "Hermione," she spoke up hesitantly. "These potions can have a lot of really bad side effects, do you really think it's worth it to brew the polyjuice?"

Hermione's expression hardened. "Don't you want to find out who's targeting the muggleborns?"

Ron frowned. "We won't let anything happen to you," he said quietly.

Hermione's expression softened. "Ron…"

"Or any of the other muggleborns," Harry added. "Of course we'll brew the potion, no matter the risk."

Chrys sighed as the other three turned to look at her. "I hate it when you gang up on me… okay, what's the first step?"

"Well…" Hermione turned to the correct page, eyes whizzing side to side. "Most of the ingredients we can find in the student supplies, but some of them will be hard to get. Of course, the hardest ingredient will be a bit of whoever we want to turn into."

"Excuse me?" Ron stared. "A bit of what? I don't want to have to drink Crabbe's toenails or something."

Chrys tutted. "And you just sounded so gallant."

Hermione ignored both of them. "Of course, that's also the last ingredient to be added, so we don't have to worry about that just yet. As for the other ingredients…"

"I know where we can get them!" Chrys said hurriedly. Hermione blinked.

"You do?"

Chrys pouted. "Ye of little faith… didn't I tell you I reorganized Snape's entire private stores the other day? I may not have your picture perfect memory, but I do think some of the ingredients listed here sound familiar." She tapped thoughtfully at the book's yellowing pages.

"That's a lot we'd have to steal," Harry pointed out. "It won't be pretty if Snape catches us."

Hermione closed the book with a snap. "Well, if the three of you think following the rules and not getting in trouble is worth risking the lives of our classmates, then I'll take care of this by myself!"

Ron rolled his eyes. "Calm down, will you? Nobody said we were ditching you."

"Yeah, don't you know us at all?" Chrys smiled. "We complain, but we get the job done in the end."

"Besides." Ron grinned as well. "I kind of like that you're so excited about breaking the rules."

Hermione flushed. "You!"

Predictably, Ron was much less enthusiastic when he discovered the potion would take an entire month to brew. "It'd be much easier if you just knocked Malfoy off his broom tomorrow," he muttered to Harry.

Harry trudged slowly as Ron rushed after Hermione. "You worried about the game?" Chrys asked.

Harry sighed. "Well, yeah. Wood's going to be furious if we don't win."

"It's only the first game of the season, perhaps he'll be lenient," Chrys suggested, though she didn't really believe it herself.

"And each member of the Slytherin team is equipped with the best broom there is, thanks to Malfoy's deep pockets."

"We probably have enough in the vault to buy all the Gryffindors the latest model broomstick, if it's really bothering you that much."

"No." Harry shook his head. "Hermione's right. You can't buy talent. We'll just have to get out there and do our best."

Chrys was proud of Harry's ounce of optimism, but by the time morning came, the air was hot and sticky, and smelled like air smells just before it's about to rain. She, Ron, and Hermione stood in the locker room doorway so they could hear Wood's pre-match pep talk. She nearly leapt at him when he told Harry to 'get the snitch or dying trying.'

"I'm sure it's just an expression," Hermione told her as Ron dragged her up to the stands. They clapped along with all the other Gryffindors, the Ravenclaws, and the Hufflepuffs as the red and gold players stepped out onto the field. When the Syltherin team came on, to their credit, the Slytherin spectators managed to be just as loud as the other three houses put together.

"I hate this." Chrys nibbled at her lip as she watched her brother soar higher and higher. She could just make him out, a dab of color against the darkening clouds. She gripped Ron's arm and cried out as what looked like a blugger flew at Harry and narrowly missed him as he ducked.

"Chill out," Ron told her, peeling her fingers off his arm. "Fred and George have got him covered." Chrys looked up to see the Weasley twins circling Harry, fending off the evil bludger that just wouldn't give it a rest. "Although…" Ron frowned. "That can't be right." He was momentarily distracted as Angelina Johnson took a shot on goal. He groaned. "She almost had it."

"What can't be right?" Chrys asked him, tugging on his sleeve.

"That bludger." Ron looked up at Harry again. "It shouldn't be so focused on one person. You know, I reckon it could be tampered with."

"Someone must agree with you," Hermione said. "Look, they've called a time out." Chrys peered down, watching Harry and the rest of the team argue with each other. She couldn't make out the words, but she had the distinct feeling that Harry was saying something stupid. "Oh dear," was all Hermione could say as the players rose up into the air again. "If something's wrong they should've waited for an investigation…"

"Yeah, but we're already behind as it is," Ron reasoned. "If there's an investigation we might have to forfeit."

"I'd rather Gryffindor never win if it kept Harry safe," Chrys muttered. Ron looked at her.

"I don't think Harry'd be too happy about that though."

Chrys sighed. "Yeah, you're right."

Then out of nowhere a burning pain blossomed from her elbow. She cursed and gripped it tightly. "Chrys?" Her vision went white and blurry, but she could hear Hermione calling out to her.

"What happened?" Ron asked.

"I don't—" Hermione started. "Oh! Look at Harry!" Ron let out a string of impressive curses.

Chrys fumbled trying to see what they were talking about. She heard a solid thump and a chorus of gasps from the crowd. "We've got to get down there, Chrys, can you move?"

Chrys blinked strongly. Her head was swimming and things still looked a bit fuzzy, but at least she could make out general shapes now. "Sure."

Hermione gripped her hand and they flew down the stairs, closely followed by a darkly muttering Ron.

"That bastard, if he touches Harry I'll—"

"Ron!"

As her vision cleared even more, she could see a small body splayed out across the grass. Her heart thumped and she ran forward, coming to kneel next to her brother.

"Harry?" His eyes were closed, and one of his arms was sticking out at a weird angle. She patted his cheek, the knot in her stomach untangling as his eyelids fluttered and she saw that brilliant green.

"Chrys?" He blinked up at her. "What—Oh no. Not you," Harry groaned. Chrys turned to see Lockhart arrive with a swish of his brightly colored cloak.

"Poor boy is delirious," Lockhart said. "Not to worry, Harry, I'm here to fix your arm."

"No!" Harry said strongly. He tried to sit up, but winced and lay down his head again. "Thanks but I'd rather keep it like this…" Before Chrys could do anything, a bright light went off, practically blinding her and the crowd that had surrounded them.

"Not now, Colin," Chrys scolded.

"It's a simple charm," Lockhart continued over Harry's protests. "I've used it countless times."

"Can't I just go to the hospital wing?" Harry was practically begging. Chrys would gladly get on her hands and knees if it would keep this mad man away from them.

"He really should professor." Oliver Wood came up, his white teeth sparkling in contrast to the mud he was splattered with. "Spectacular capture, Harry, best one yet."

"Wood, I really wouldn't test my patience any further," Chrys warned him. She was really itching to punch somebody and was quickly growing less fussed about whose face she smashed in.

Then she heard Harry cry out. "No—don't…"

Chrys watched helplessly as Harry's arm began to shrivel up.

"Ah." Lockhart's smile froze. "Well… this things happen sometimes—but the point is the bones are no longer broken." He turned and saw Hermione and Ron who had finally fought their way through the crowd of curious observers. "Mr. Weasley, Miss Granger! Why don't you escort him to the hospital wing? Madam Pomfrey can, um, tidy things up a bit."

Ron looked from Harry's arm to Hermione's perturbed face. "Tell me again how Lockhart isn't an idiot?"

"Everyone makes mistakes," she said weakly.

"Uh-huh." Ron watched as Harry tried to move his arm. It flapped like a rubber glove in the wind. "Sure."

 

"You should have come straight to me!" Madam Pomfrey roared as she examined what was left of Harry's arm.

"Nobody is denying that," Chrys sighed, sinking into the chair next to Harry's bed.

Madam Pomfrey gave her a curious look before waving her hands in a shooing motion. "Get up, give him some privacy so he can change."

Chrys stood up and went to stand next to Hermione as Ron pulled shut a curtain around Harry's bed.

When he was done, Chrys went to zip back to his side but was blocked by the sudden appearance of the entire Gryffindor team. They brought sweats and compliments and Chrys saw a smile light up Harry's face. Some of her hatred for Quidditch started to melt away.

Not too long after, Madam Pomfrey had shoved all of the visitors except for Chrys out of the room. "You really should return to your dorm," Madam Pomfrey tutted.

"I'll just sneak back in," Chrys told her in all honesty. Pomfrey narrowed her eyes.

"You'll keep quiet? He needs rest to help him heal."

Harry was already slumped against his pillow, snoring softly. "I'd never do anything to risk Harry's health," Chrys said, though in her mind she could think of a few dozen exceptions to this rule.

"Fine." Pomfrey waved her wand and a second pair of pajamas like the ones she'd given Harry appeared. "As soon as you're changed I'll turn off the lights. And I don't want to hear a peep out of you, alright?"

"Okay." Chrys yawned, unabashedly pulling off her robes and changing into the stripped trousers and shirt. Madam Pomfrey frowned at her.

"You're still quite skinny—have you been taking the nutrition potions I sent you?"

"Yeah..." Chrys nodded. She had been surprised when the crate carried by two owls arrived, and even more surprised when she opened it to find a letter from Madame Pomfrey, with a row of potions lined up neatly beneath it. The Dursleys had quickly confiscated the box and locked it under the stairs with the rest of the 'magical contraband' but after the Weasley brothers broke her out of Privet Drive, Chrys had made sure to take the recommended dosage of potion each night. She figured that plus Mrs. Weasley's cooking had helped her recovery from the recent bout of starvation faster than she ever had before.

"Well…" Madam Pomfrey paused. "Call me if you need anything." She waved her wand, the lights dimming.

"Hmmm…." Chrys muttered, slipping under the feather soft hospital wing blankets. It'd been a while since she slept here over night. Madam Pomfrey began to make her way to the back room. "Madam Pomfrey?" Chrys called out quietly.

"Yes, Miss Potter?" She turned. The shadows of the low lamplight made her seem more wrinkled than usual. Chrys wondered how long Pomfrey had worked here. "Thanks, for everything."

Pomfrey's bright eyes glinted. "You are welcome. Now, sleep well, Miss Potter."

Chrys had never slept so soundly. She dreamed that she lay on a cloud while Harry zipped around on a broom below her. She waved and called out to him and he turned. A gust of wind knocked him off the broom and he screamed as he fell. Chrys reached out to him, unable to do anything else.

She woke, Harry's scream still ringing in her ears. She stood and took two careful steps over to the bed next to her, knowing from past experience that she wouldn't fall asleep again until she knew for sure he was safe. As she got closer she saw something move in the darkness.

"Harry?" She whispered, not wanting to alert Pomfrey.

"Dobby!" Cried Harry's voice.

"What?" Chrys squeaked as something cat-sized landed next to her.

"Sorry to disturb you, Miss Potter," Dobby the house elf told her, bowing low.

"What the heck were you doing in my brother's bed?" Chrys asked him.

"Giving me a sponge bath, apparently," Harry answered.

"That's…" Chrys couldn't decide if that was sweat or creepy. Maybe a bit of both?

"Did you come all the way from wherever-it-is to give me a wash?" Harry wondered.

"No," Dobby admitted. "Dobby warned the Potters not to return to school, but the Potters did return, even after they missed the train."

"Hang on, how did you know we missed the train?" Harry said. Hearing a scuffling noise, Chrys reached over and helped him sit up.

"Dobby," she said softly. "Was it you who stopped the barrier from letting us through?"

"Indeed, yes it was, Miss." Dobby nodded so hard his ears started flopping around like little bats. "Dobby had to iron his hands afterward…" He held up his bandaged fingers. Chrys winced. "But it was worth it if the Potters were safe. Never did Dobby dream the Potters would find another way to get to school." Dobby started rocking back and forth like he had in their bedroom in Privet Drive. Chrys wasn't sure whether to pat him on the shoulder to calm him down, or strangle him for putting Harry at risk. "Dobby was so shocked when he heard that he let his master's dinner burn. Such a flogging Dobby had…" Dobby shivered.

"You nearly got the three of us expelled," Harry said, his voice rough. "You're lucky my bones are broken or else I might've strangled you."

Dobby smiled. Chrys felt something tighten in her chest. "Dobby is used to death threats, sir. Dobby gets them five times a day at home." He blew his nose on his pillowcase toga.

Harry and Chrys looked at each other. Chrys knew she couldn't stay angry at Dobby for long. He was a kindred spirit, someone who wasn't welcome in what was supposed to be his own home.

"Why do you wear that thing, Dobby?" Harry asked, anger fading away into his normal state of curiosity.

"This?" Dobby pulled at the dirty cloth. "Tis a mark a house-elf's enslavement," he explained. "Dobby can only be freed if his master presents him with real clothes. The family is careful not to pass Dobby even a sock, for then he would be free to leave their house forever." Dobby rubbed at his fish-like eyes and then looked up. "The Potters must go home. Dobby thought his bludger would be enough to—"

"Your bludger?" Harry and Chrys broke out in unison. Why did Dobby make it so hard for them to like him?

"You almost killed him," Chrys hissed.

"Not kill," Dobby gasped. "Never kill. Dobby wants to save the Potters' lives. Better sent home, grievously injured than remain here. Dobby thought if Harry Potter was injured he would be sent home, and the Miss would follow."

"I don't suppose you'll tell us why it's so important we go home, even if it's in pieces?" Harry grumbled.

"Ah, if only you knew." Dobby sighed, more tears leaking. "If only you knew what you mean to us house-elves. Before you defeated the Dark Lord our kind was treated like vermin…." Dobby paused. "Of course, Dobby is still treated like vermin, but mostly life has greatly improved for us since He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named was broken. The Potter Twins were a beacon of hope for us when we thought the dark days would never end… but now the dark days have returned to Hogwarts, Dobby could not leave the Potters alone. Not when history is about to repeat itself, when the Chamber of secrets is opened once more…." Dobby trailed of, his eyes widening. "Stupid!" He cried out, grabbing Harry's water jug and slamming it repetitively over his head.

Without thinking Chrys reached over and ripped the jug from his grasp, sending water splashing down her front and Dobby flying backwards, crashing into Harry's bedside table.

"Why?" Dobby stood up, wobbling, looking at her cross-eyed. "Dobby was bad."

"Sorry," Chrys said. "I just…" She bit her lip.

"So there is a Chamber of Secrets," Harry surmised. "And you said it was opened before? Dobby, tell me!" Dobby reached out to Chrys, as if to take back the water jug. Harry grabbed onto the elf's wrist. Chrys could see the gears whirring in his head. "But we're not muggle-born, so why would the Chamber opening mean we were in danger?"

"Please, sir, ask no more of poor Dobby," Dobby begged. "Dark deeds are planned in this place, but the Potters must not be here when it happens. Go home. The Potters must not meddle in this. It is too dangerous—" Dobby suddenly stopped rambling.

"Who opened it last time?" Harry prodded.

"Dobby can't tell, Dobby musn't. The Potters must go home!"

"We're not going anywhere!" Harry said firmly. "One of our best friends is muggle-born and—"

"Harry Potter would risk his life for his friends." That same painful smile spread across Dobby's face. "But the Potters must save themselves…" Dobby stopped again.

"Footsteps," Harry realized.

"Dobby must go," Dobby squeaked. And with a pop like a firecracker, he vanished into thin air.

"Sometimes magic makes me angry," Chrys muttered.

"Chrys, get back in bed," Harry told her. She blinked.

"Right." With a hop, a skip and a jump she was back under the covers, eyes closed to slits when the Hospital Wing doors opened.

It was Dumbledore, donning a wool cap as long as his beard, and a matching dressing gown. Chrys stifled the giggle that came bubbling up. In the next moment any trace of laughter was gone when she saw Professor McGonagall's expression. She had never seen Professor McGonagall look afraid.

McGonagall disappeared through the back door and reappeared with Madame Pomfrey trailing after her. She leaned over something Dumbledore had placed on one of the beds.

"What happened?" She gasped.

"Another attack," Dumbledore told her. "Minerva found him on the stairs." Someone was hurt? Chrys tried to sit up more without being too obvious about it.

"There were a bunch of grapes next to him," Professor McGonagall added. "We think he was sneaking up here to visit the Potters." Chrys thought for sure that the pounding of her heart would give her away.

"Petrified?" Madame Pomfrey asked.

"Yes," McGonagall said. "But I shudder to think." The dependable firmness was gone from her voice. "If Albus hadn't been on the way downstairs for a hot chocolate…" She looked down at the boy. "You don't think he managed to get a picture of his attacker?" She considered.

Dumbledore answered by reaching over and pulling open the back of the camera.

"Good gracious!" Madam Pomfrey cried out as a thick billow of smoke rose up.

Chrys smelled something that burnt at her throat. She suddenly remembered years back when she had 'borrowed' one of Duddley's toy soldiers. He threw it in the fire, claiming it had cooties now. Chrys watched it slowly melt, the smell leaving a horrible taste in her mouth.

"Melted," Madam Pomfrey pronounced. "All melted…"

"What does this mean, Albus?" Professor McGonagall sounded starved for an answer.

"It means," Dumbledore said slowly. "That the Chamber of Secrets is indeed open again."

Madam Pomfrey put a hand over her mouth to block out her small cry.

Professor McGonagall was wide eyed. "Albus… who?"

"The question is not who," Dumbledore said. "The question is how."

The three adults stayed long into the night. When sunlight began to glow behind the curtains Madame Pomfrey finally insisted they go to bed. "Even professors and headmasters need their rest," she told them.

When she too had left the room, Harry cautiously sat up and looked at Chrys.

"Are you…?"

"I'm awake," she answered flatly.

"I'm sorry," Harry said. "I know you liked him."

"I was so angry with him yesterday," Chrys said. "It was insensitive for him to take pictures of you when you were hurt. It's like when Ron was spitting up those slugs… but he's just a kid." She looked at Harry. "Not that I think any less of him cause of that," she added hurriedly.

"I know," Harry said. He met her gaze and then scooted over, patting the spot on the bed next to him. Chrys jumped in beside him.

"He was really good at taking those pictures," she muttered into his shoulder. "What if he never gets the chance to take another one?"

"Hey, I thought I was the pessimistic twin," Harry teased her. She frowned at him. He sighed. "Chrys, it's horrible what's happened, but I wouldn't give up hope just yet. Look at this." He held up his arm and wiggled his fingers. "It's all fixed."

Chrys sat up, nearly knocking heads with him. "Sorry! I nearly forgot about your arm what with… well, I'm glad you're doing better."

Harry nodded. "Yeah, and if Madame Pomfrey can fix me after one of Lockhart's lousy spells, I'm sure she'll be able to fix Colin back up."

Chrys laughed hollowly. "Hey, Harry?"

"Hmmm?"

"Can I stay here with you?" She suddenly felt shy. She knew they were getting older, and maybe he'd want more space to himself.

He hesitated. "Pomfrey will yell at me."

"Not if I'm sleeping, she won't want to wake me up."

"Okay." Harry twisted around his newly healed arm and awkwardly patted her on the head.

 

Her eyes were itchy. She woke up and rubbed away the crust. "Sleep well?"

Chrys sat up slowly, her head feeling heavy. "Madame Pomfrey?" She looked around, but the hospital wing was empty except for a drawn curtain on the other side of the room. Chrys chewed her lip, wondering if she'd be allowed to see Colin. Then she noticed the Harry shaped space next to her was empty. "Where's Harry?"

"I discharged him hours ago," Madame Pomfrey said.

"Oh." Chrys frowned, wondering why he left without her. "Then I'll just get dressed and be out of your hair."

"Not before you eat," Pomfrey said, plopping a tray of breakfast down on her knees.

"I can eat later," Chrys said, trying to push it to the side.

"Nonsense."

"But I'm not even sick," Chrys whined.

"Miss Potter, have you been sleeping well lately?"

Chrys froze, wondering what the most convincing lie would be. "I'm fine," she said.

"That's not what I asked," Madame Pomfrey told her. She frowned. "I don't like to overstep my boundaries, but you've been here for Dreamless Sleep Potions in the past. Have you slept well lately?"

"No," Chrys admitted, not seeing a way out of this. "But I'm used to it."

"You shouldn't be," Pomfrey told her. "Miss Potter, your immune system isn't the strongest, if you keep up this sleeping schedule you risk becoming seriously ill."

"Okay, I get what you're saying, but I don't think there's really anything I can do about it."

"For now, eat," Pomfrey told her.

Chrys looked at the two slices of toast, each with a fried egg resting on top. The line of sliced peach beneath it made the breakfast smile up at her. She admitted it looked adorable and delicious but… "What's eating got to do with sleeping?"

"You've got to build up your strength, and that starts with giving your body more fuel to burn." She looked Chrys over. "It wouldn't hurt to fit some exercise into your routine either."

Chrys glanced at her skinny arms. "Point taken, I'll talk to someone more sporty about it, but… I'm concerned about Harry, how about I take my breakfast on the go?"

Madame Pomfrey tilted her head and sighed. "I'll get you a bag."

 

Chrys munched on her toast as she walked down the hall, wondering where Harry and others could've gotten to. She brightened when she spotted a shock of red hair, but when she got closer she saw it was the wrong Weasley.

"Ginny!" She said brightly. "I haven't seen you for ages." Ginny was sitting on a bench in the hall, eyes far away and unfocused. "Gin?" Chrys said, waving her hand in front of the girl's face. Ginny blinked.

"Oh! Chrys, when did you get here?"

"Just a minute ago, you space case."

"What?"

"Just forget about it." Chrys waved her hand, sitting next to her friend. She frowned. Ginny was paler than usual, dark circles under her eyes standing out against her skin. Her hands were shaking slightly. "You don't look too great."

Ginny looked at her. "Neither do you."

"Well… yeah. I haven't slept well, you?"

Ginny shrugged. "Honestly I can't tell if I'm not sleeping enough or if I'm sleeping too much. I keep forgetting things. Like I'll come to in some strange corridor and not remember how I've got there."

"Maybe you're sleep-walking?" Chrys wondered, though she didn't have any experience with it herself.

"I don't know and… Chrys, I heard about Colin. Felt like I was going to be sick."

Chrys leaned closer. Even Ginny's warm brown eyes seemed faded. "I know. It's scary."

"Yes." Ginny pursed her lips, like there was something else, but she didn't know how to put it into words. All Chrys could do was give her a hug.

Wait, no, there was something else she could do.

And suddenly she knew where Harry, Ron and Hermione would be.

Moaning Myrtle's bathroom was bright and cheerful as always.

"Lovely place to be after a night like last," Chrys said as she saw the others squished into a single bathroom stall. "Are you stuck? Because I think I could do wonders with butter and a rope."

Ron twisted around to stare at her. "I don't want to know how your brain works."

"Chrys!" Hermione jumped up, narrowly avoiding knocking her head against the wall. She squeezed past the boys and leapt on top of her.

Chrys patted her back awkwardly. "Um… there, there, I missed you too."

Hermione pulled away. "That's not it!" She paused. "Well, I did miss you. Lavender and Parvati were talking about Witch Weekly's new fashion column all night long, but that's besides the point." Hermione gripped her shoulders and studied her face. "Are you alright? Harry told me you were crying in your sleep last night."

Chrys glared at her brother. Harry ran a hand through his hair and started whistling out of tune.

"The whole thing with Colin was rough," she admitted. "Ginny's not taking it too well either."

Ron looked up. "Oh yeah. I guess they were in class together. Should I… say something?"

Chrys frowned, realizing she did the same thing to Ginny that Harry had done to her.

"Not unless she tells you directly. I don't think Ginny likes looking weak."

Ron nodded slowly. "Well, it's hard, cause she's the youngest, but I get what you mean."

Unfortunately the Weasley brothers were not completely stupid. They all figured out Ginny was upset, and each tried to help in their own little ways. Ron was the least harmful, simply scooping extra servings of food onto Ginny's plate until she glared at him and asked, "What are you, mum?"

For some reason Fred and George decided it was a good idea to charm themselves to look hideous and then jump out at her every time she rounded a corner. The third time this happened, Percy stepped forward and threatened to write to their mother. Chrys saw him twitch his wand behind his back, but didn't think of much of it until she got back to the common room and saw Fred and George were still wearing the ingredients of her stolen wart kit.

"Come on, Angie," George begged his friend. "You're the best at Charms in our year—you've got to know some way to get this stuff off of me."

"Serves you right if you're stuck like that forever," Angelina Johnson said, clearly trying not to laugh. Chrys settled down in the corner and sketched out George's hairy, warty face. It was quite good. Maybe he'd like it as a Christmas present. Fred agreed.

"Handsome," he said, sitting down next to her. "Not as good as me though," he added, wiggling his extra thick eyebrows. Chrys giggled. "See?" Fred sighed. "You think it's funny. Don't know why Percy has to suck the fun out of everything."

Chrys frowned. "There's nothing fun about giving Ginny nightmares," she told him. Fred laughed, but there was nervous tinge to it.

"Oh come off it, we were just having a laugh. Ginny's always liked our jokes."

"I don't think she's in a joking mood at the moment," Chrys said.

"That's exactly why we need to make her laugh," Fred explained.

"I see…" Chrys stared at a blank space in her notebook. "Don't think you're going about it the right way though."

Fred looked at her. "What, was the wart kit too amateur?"

"Hmmm… No. She'd probably find it funny, normally, but she's been so jumpy lately. If you have to surprise her, you might as well make it a pleasant one."

Taking her own advice, Chrys made a group of origami kittens by following the instructions in the book her friend Padma had recently given her after hearing that she hadn't recieved any of her birthday presents, and then charmed them to move around and mew cutely. Ginny smiled weakly. It wasn't enough. It seemed there was only one thing to do if Chrys wanted to assuage the fear bubbling up amongst the students.

"You ready?" Hermione asked, chucking what looked like a crystal, a newt's tail, and a green onion into the bin. Chrys raised an eyebrow at her. "The plan," Hermione reminded her. "You're to keep a lookout while Harry and Ron cause a distraction so I can sneak out and steal the last ingredients from Snape's storage room."

"I know that," Chrys assured her. They'd gone over the plan at least three times. "I meant, what's that stinky stuff you just threw in the bin?"

"Oh." Hermione looked down at it. "Neville bought into those so called 'protection charms' that people have been selling."

"He's a pureblood though," Chrys pointed out. "What does he need protection from?"

"Well, he thinks he's as good as a squib anyhow…" Hermione grimaced. "It's no fair to be taking advantage of people's fear to make money off of junk like this. As soon as I find out whose selling it I'm setting Percy on them." Chrys laughed.

In the dungeons Snape was doing his usual rounds, complaining about his students' stupidity and poking at all their sore spots. While he was sufficiently absorbed in doing this to Neville, Chrys gave her brother a nod. Harry ducked under his desk, lit the Filibuster Firework she'd 'borrowed' from Fred, and flung it into Goyle's cauldron.

There was an immediate uproar as Goyle's swelling solution splashed everywhere. Hermione slipped out just as Malfoy's nose began to blow up like a balloon, and was back just as Snape finally got everyone to calm down. He treated those who had been inflicted with a Deflating Draught and then quickly found the disaster's origin point.

He studied the firework closely with his beady black eyes. Snape was so busy glaring at the twins and threatening expulsion that he never noticed the bulge in Hermione's robes where she'd shoved the ingredients down her bra.

Back in the bathroom, they watched the Polyjuice bubble suggestively as Chrys slipped in the final ingredients.

"And now we wait," Ron sighed.

Though, it was not as if they had nothing to do during the waiting period. The Great Hall was packed to the brim with students after the announcement that a dueling club was being formed. While Chrys thought that the rules and regulations of dueling would be useless against Slytherin's monster, she was excited by Hermione suggestion that Professor Flitwick, who had been a dueling master back in the day, might be the teacher. Professor Flitwick always managed to make his lessons challenging and fun, a rare and satisfying combination.

Harry groaned as Lockhart walked onto a stage set up especially for the occasion.

"Cheer up," Ron said. "At least it wasn't—"

"Professor Snape, my assistant!" Lockhart announced like he was the ringmaster and Snape was the lion.

Harry glared at Ron as if to say this was his fault. "Maybe they'll finish each other off," Ron said hopefully. Chrys watched Lockhart and Snape turn to face each other, bowing neatly. Snape's expression certainly seemed predatory. Hermione gripped her arm.

"Expelliarmus!" Snape cried. A blinding flash of red light went off, sending Lockhart crashing into the wall and sliding down onto the floor. Hermione gasped.

"Do you think he's alright?" She squeaked.

"Who cares?" Ron and Harry said in unison.

Unfortunately Lockhart popped up again as if nothing had happened, claiming he'd meant to do this, to show them the effects of the Disarming Charm. Lavender scurried up, having retrieved his wand from Lavender.

"Ah, thank you Miss Brown." He beamed at her. She blushed. "And now if we could split into pairs. Professor, if you'd like to help me…"

Neville looked relieved to be put with Justin Finch-Fletchley, but Snape refused to let Ron and Harry team up. Malfoy smirked as he strode up to face Harry. Hermione groaned as she lined up to face Millicent Bulstrode, a Slytherin in their year so large that she was rumored to be part troll.

Chrys was relieved that Padma grabbed her by the wrist, but less happy with the spot Lockhart put them in. She didn't have the best view of Harry, but wasn't the least bit surprised when she saw Malfoy go down. She laughed, even though Padma had neatly disarmed her and caught her wand. "Come on now, Chrys," Padma tutted. "I know you can do better than that." But it was a lost cause.

Soon almost everyone was crowded around Harry and Malfoy, who were flinging curses at each other like there was no tomorrow, firmly ignoring Lockhart's shouts of "I said Disarm only!"

Finally Snape managed to get in-between the two boys and brought the shouting to a stop. Now that Harry was out of danger (for the time being), Chrys had time to look at the others. Harry was tugging Hermione out of Millicent's headlock and Ron was apologizing to Dean Thomas, who'd he somehow managed to give a black eye.

"It's fine," Dean muttered. "I know that wand of yours is rubbish."

Thinking that he'd better demonstrate a blocking spell before they continued, Lockhart set Harry and Malfoy up against each other again. Having been embarrassed enough last round, Malfoy finally got the drop on Harry, shooting a live snake out of his wand in a split second.

"Oh dear," Padma cried quietly, shivering as she watched the snake slither across the stage towards Harry. "I do hope someone gets rid of it." Both Lockhart and Snape moved forward to do just that. Unfortunately Lockhart got there first. With a flash and a bang the snake was flung into the air and crashed down in front of Justin Finch-Fletchly.

"What did you do?" The snake hissed at Justin. "I'll get you for this!"

"No," Chrys muttered. "It wasn't him. It's the man with the fake-looking hair."

"Chrys," Padma gasped, staring wide-eyed at her. Chrys was about to tell her she was only joking when Harry called out loudly for the snake to leave Justin alone. The snake froze.

"I can understand you…" The snake said, amazed.

Harry smiled gently at Justin. "It'll be alright now."

"No it won't be," Justin said, backing up swiftly. "What are you playing at, Potter?" Whispers rose up among the crowd. People parted around Harry like he had the plague. Even Snape was staring at Harry with a peculiar expression on his face. Ron grabbed Harry and marched him out of the hall, Hermione rushing after.

The doors snapped shut and the trickle of whispers became a shower.

"Did you hear that?"

"Merlin's hairy chest! He is the heir of Slytherin after all…"

Chrys sighed, she had been afraid this would happen.

"What about his sister?"

Chrys could feel the eyes slowly turn on her.

She turned to Padma, whose brow was furrowed deep, like it did when she was working out a particularly difficult question on their homework. Chrys didn't care about what the others thought, for the most part, but after unwittingly speaking Parsletongue in front of her friend, she figured Padma deserved an explanation.

As if following her thought process exactly, Padma caught her eye and shook her head.

"You don't have to say anything," she murmured. "Go after your brother." Chrys chewed at her lip. "Quickly!" Padma gave her a little shove towards the door. "Before they start swarming at you like vultures."

 

When Chrys got to the common room it was empty except for her three closest friends.

Harry was just standing up, his voice echoing. Ron was sunk into the couch, his head in his hands. Hermione patted him on the shoulder.

"It's my fault," Chrys said. "I've known we were parslemouths since last year." She'd come across the term in a book Wizarding Myths: Fact or Fiction? "I should have warned you about the stigma…"

"Yeah." Harry crossed his arms over his chest. "Why didn't you?"

"All known parlsemouths have been dark wizards, all the way back to Salazar Slytherin himself. I knew that would make you question yourself, and I didn't want to take away the confidence you've been building since we came to this school."

"We're supposed to tell each other everything," he said. His anger had melted away, leaving only disappointment. Her heart ached, but she figured she deserved the pain.

She woke up the next morning with chilly feet, having kicked off her blanket sometime while she slept. The windowpanes were frosted, but she could just make out the swirling, glittering white. It was a Saturday morning, so she'd expect the girls to be sleeping in, but their beds were already made.

She padded downstairs, the common room just as quiet as the dorms.

Hermione and Ron were the lone figures in the room, hunched over a table as they continued their endless chest tournament. Hermione scowled as Ron's bishop took down one of her knights.

"Good morning, Chrys," Ron said cheerfully.

"Yeah, the snow's beautiful," she yawned. "Nice of you to let me sleep all my free time away." Ron and Hermione exchanged a look.

"We figured you could use the extra rest," Ron said.

"Where's Harry?" Chrys asked, suddenly suspicious.

Hermione sighed. "He went to find Justin. Said he wouldn't rest until he'd explained what really happened."

Chrys shook her head. "I doubt Justin will agree to see him." Still, he had a point. Chrys yawned and stretched. "I'm going to find Padma for much of the same reason."

"What?" Ron frowned up at her. "She thinks you've set a snake on her?" Chrys rolled her eyes.

"No, you bugger… but she did hear me speak Parseltongue."

"Oh." Hermione straightened up a little. "Do you want us to go with you?"

"No, no. I think this is something I've got to do on my own."

She'd been to Ravenclaw tower a couple of times to hang out with Padma. Leaning down to get closer to the door, she spoke to bronze knocker in the shape of an eagle.

"Hello, what have you got for me today?"

"What has no substance, no smell or taste, yet fills and warms completely?" The eagle asked.

Chrys smiled. "Love," she said, without much of a thought. The door swung open.

The Ravenclaw common room was a pleasant contrast to the eerie quiet of Gryffindor tower. Kids were sprawled out on the deep blue rug, reading aloud passages from books, and debating over any subject imaginable. There was a statue of Rowena Ravenclaw in the center of the room. Someone had leaned at broom against her, and draped a sash over her chest that stated 'Ravenclaw for the win!'

"We might actually have a chance this year," Padma said. Chrys turned to greet her friend, wishing once again that Padma's face wasn't always so blank.

"If Harry doesn't make it, I'll root for you guys," she promised. Padma nodded.

"Good… and speaking of your brother, where is he?"

Chrys sighed. "He's gone to explain things to Justin, and I thought you deserved the same."

"What's to explain?" Padma shrugged. "It's annoying you've learned a whole language without even trying, but I don't have much of an opinion otherwise."

Chrys pounced on Padma, hoping to convey the rush of affection she felt in the squeeze of her hug. "You're terrific. With all the evidence pointing at Harry, I wouldn't blame you for doubting us."

Padma shook her head. "I'm just trying to learn from my mistakes," she said quietly. Chrys must have looked confused, because Padma continued, "I turned my back on you last year because everyone else was angry with you, that was stupid of me. I shouldn't let other people's opinions cloud my judgment."

Chrys spotted a set of Scrabble on one of the room's many bookshelves and challenged Padma to a game. Half an hour later, she almost regretted it. "Are you sure you've never played this before?" She huffed. Padma grinned and plopped a Q down on a triple letter score tile. Chrys groaned. However before she could think of her next move, a large group of girls rushed into the room. Many were pale and breathless, a few were crying.

"What's going on?" A boy wearing prefect badge asked.

"Oh it's horrible," one of the girls answered. "Another student's been petrified—and the Gryffindor ghost as well!"

"I didn't know ghosts could be petrified," someone said.

"I mean, doesn't it depend on the method of petrification?" Someone else responded. "Though either way, if the monster can petrify both the living and the dead, whatever it is has got to be pretty powerful."

"Why don't you ask her what it is?" One of the girls shoutined shrilly, stepping forward and pointing at Chrys. All eyes zipped to her.

"Now wait just one minute," Chrys called out. "If I knew something that could help get rid of that thing I certainly wouldn't keep it to myself."

"But you must know," the girl continued. "Your brother was taken to the Headmaster's office minutes after the petrified boy and ghost were discovered. What do you call that, a coincidence?"

"There is such a thing as being in the wrong place at the wrong time!" Chrys argued, but her heart sank. The girl sounded emotional, but truthful enough. She turned to Padma. "I've got to go find out what's happened."

"Of course," Padma said. "Let me know if there's anyway I can help."

"You've helped me plenty," Chrys assured her.

She rushed off towards the staircase, not knowing exactly where the Dumbledore's office was, but remembering George saying something about it being 'upstairs.' Luckily she didn't have to go far.

"Oof!" She slammed into something cushiony that smelt of leather and dogs. "Hagrid."

He looked down, his face twisted up like he was trying not to cry. "What's wrong?"

"…Harry's been accused of opening the chamber," Hagrid said, after hesitating for a moment. "But Dumbledore's a good man, he'll hear reason. I've just got to tell him Harry's innocent!"

"I'm coming too," Chrys said, making it quite clear she wouldn't take no for an answer.

"Hurry up, then," Hagrid said, taking five steps at a time. Lungs burning, Chrys wished she'd taken Madame Pomfrey's advice and gotten some exercise.

Chapter Text

It took several flights of stairs for Chrys to realize that Hagrid was holding a dead rooster by its neck. "What's—" She took a long breath. "What's with the bird, Hagrid?"

"Huh?" He looked down as if just realizing it was there. "Oh yeah. Something's been killin' the roosters," he said, explaining nothing. He stopped abruptly and Chrys crashed into him again. "Sorry 'bout that." He cleared his throat. "Lemon drop," he told the large stone gargoyle in front of them. The gargoyle's grumpy expression twisted into a toothy smile. The wall behind it slid out of the way. Chrys followed Hagrid through the new passageway (it was a bit of a squeeze, for him) and up a spiraling staircase.

At the top of the stairs was a door with a brass knocker similar to that of Ravenclaw's except it was a Griffin instead of an eagle. Griffin-door. Chrys giggled quietly.

However, Hagrid didn't even bother to use the knocker, throwing the door open with an echoing thud. Hagrid waved the dead rooster about as he began his uproarious defense of Harry. Chrys peeked behind her friend's bulk and caught sight of her brother sitting on one side of a desk, Dumbledore on the other attempting to get Hagrid's attention. A feather landed on her nose. She sneezed.

"Bless you, Chrysanthemum," Dumbledore said, finally cutting off Hagrid's speech. "And Hagrid, I do not think Harry attacked those people."

"Oh." Hagrid's cheeks, already flushed from the cold, went blotchy. "I'll just wait outside, then." He stepped out, shutting the door carefully.

"So…" Chrys cleared her throat. "We're free to go then?"

"In a moment. First I must ask if there is anything either of you would like to tell me." Dumbledore steepled his fingers like he was Sherlock Holmes or something. Harry gulped. "Anything at all?"

"No, professor," Harry said after a beat. Dumbledore turned his piercing blue eyes on Chrys. She shrugged, avoiding his gaze.

The twins drifted back to their common room in silence.

"Dumbledore's office looked interesting," Chrys spoke up. The quiet was beginning to give her a headache. "Would've liked more time to look around."

"Mmm-hmm," Harry mumbled agreeably.

Harry had little to say over the next couple of days. Hermione and Ron did their best to steer him away from the loud whispers and pointed stares, but it was impossible to avoid the whole student body. Malfoy and his gang took to hissing loudly whenever he past.

And though Harry was definitely getting the worst of it, Chrys found herself constantly on edge. People started trying to catch her on her own so they could interrogate her about her brother. One third-year even asked if he had fangs and spit venom.

"That doesn't even fit with the rest of their bullocks," Padma said. "Your brother's supposed to be the heir, not the monster." She shook her head. "You think they'd at least be consistent in their stupidity." Other than Padma and Hermione, the Weasleys were the only ones Chrys could have a decent conversation with nowadays.

Fred and George took to following Harry around.

"Make way for the heir of Syltherin!" George shouted, waving his hands about.

"Seriously evil wizard coming through," Fred finished, shoving some first years to the side.

Harry just rolled his eyes, but Chrys saw his shoulders relax slightly. She couldn't help but laugh.

"This is not a laughing matter!" Percy inserted himself into the conversation. "Chrysanthemum, you of all people…"

"It's better than the warts," Chrys pointed out. Percy seemed to consider this. "Besides..." Chrys caught a glance of Malfoy's grumpy face as George pretended to ward Harry off with a clove of garlic. "It upsets Malfoy, so that's a bonus."

"Yes." Percy sighed. "But it upsets Ginny as well." They both turned to look at Ginny who looked about ready to cry. Chrys winced.

"You're sure you don't want to go with your mum and dad to visit your brother in Egypt?" Chrys asked Ginny later on. Ginny shook her head.

"Ron and the others are staying so I'll stay too." She paused. "Also, I haven't been feeling so well. Wouldn't want mum to fuss," she admitted.

"Well… I'm here if you need anything," Chrys told her. She patted Ginny on the head a bit. Ginny rolled her eyes, but the slightest smile slipped onto her lips.

Chrys and Hermione invited Ginny to sleep in the third year dorms so she wouldn't be alone during the holidays. They tried to convert Hermione into a Weird Sisters fan. Chrys thought she'd started to tap her quill to the beat while she started early on the homework.

Christmas morning Hermione shook awake the other girls. She was already fully dressed, hair brushed back into a plait like she did when she wanted to get it out of the way.

"Come now." She shuffled Chrys and Ginny out of bed. "You two get dressed and then we'll go open our presents with Ron and Harry." Ginny brightened at the suggestion.

"It was way too quiet last year without the boys," she admitted. Ron grumbled when they woke him, and didn't fully wake up until Ginny cracked open a tin of their mother's fudge.

"Get your own!" She slapped his hand away when he reached out.

As per tradition, Chrys had drawn out a personalized Christmas card for each of her friends and her brother. Harry's was an image of him riding a giant snake (which he groaned good-naturedly at). Ginny shuddered at the picture, but laughed uproariously at the image of herself, very hairy and playing the bass. Chrys tugged on her new Weasley sweater, and began doodling on Harry's toffee wrappers with the new color changing ink Hermione had gotten her. She went to thank Hermione again, but noticed she and Ron were sitting in a corner, heads bent together as they whispered.

"Hey, Gin!" Ron called out. "Why don't you go and check on the others? Bet George isn't even awake yet." Ginny studied him for a moment and then jumped up. After she'd gone Ron motioned for Hermione to speak.

"I've added the lacewing flies to the potion, it's all finished except for the bit of who we want to turn into."

Chrys nodded. "Ah, so that's why you've got your hair up."

"Yeah, you always wear it like that during potions," Ron agreed. Hermione blushed slightly.

"Anyway, if we're quite done talking about my hair, I've got the rest of the plan figured out." She tugged two rich looking chocolate pastries out of her robes. "If we want to find out what Malfoy knows, it'll be best for the boys to turn into Crabbe and Goyle. He tells them everything. I've laced the cakes with a sleeping draught. We'll just leave them out after dinner, and when Crabbe and Goyle are out cold you can grab your hairs and hide them in a broom closet."

Neither Harry nor Ron looked altogether happy with the idea, but Hermione shut them up with the McGonagall-like glare she'd been practicing.

"What about you two?" Harry grunted. "Whose hair are you ripping out?"

Hermione smirked. "We've already got ours. I got mine off of Millicent Bulstrode when she put me in a headlock during that dueling club meeting," she explained. Ron snorted. Hermione elbowed him. "She's supposed to be going home for Christmas so I'll just say she—I mean, I changed my mind." They boys looked at Chrys.

"You know that quiet girl who trails after Pansy Parkinson all the time?" She said. Daphne Greengrass was the most ambivalent of Parkinson's followers. "I 'accidentally' tripped and fell onto her earlier this week."

Dinner was a nice interlude. Chrys was humming with excitement for their mission, but she did manage to get distracted by the decorations (warm and soft enchanted snow falling from the ceiling), the laughter (Hagrid got louder the more eggnog he drank) and Percy's badge. He still hadn't noticed Fred had charmed it to say 'pinhead' and Chrys couldn't stop her giggles every time she looked at it. She did almost punch Malfoy when he made a rude comment about the Weasley sweaters, but Harry held her back. "He'll get his comeuppance soon," he promised.

Hermione's plan went off without a hitch.

The quartet congregated in Moaning Myrtle's bathroom, Ron complaining about how heavy Crabbe and Goyle were. "You'll be wearing that weight soon," Chrys reminded him.

Having thought of everything, Hermione handed out new robes to fit their new bodies. Then she scooped the potion into cups and everyone added their hairs. Chrys watched her dose turn into a dull brown. It smelled like dirt.

She shuffled into one of the stalls, took a deep breath and then, "Down the hatchet." She gulped. It tasted like dirt too—like spicy dirt. The taste tingled through her body, which bubbled under her skin and quickly became unrecognizable. She slipped out of the stall, trying to catch a glimpse of herself in the murky mirror.

"Can't help feeling like you've got the better end of the deal," came Goyle's low rasping voice. Chrys jumped.

"Harry." Daphne's voice came out soft and quite calmer than Chrys felt. "Where are Ron and Hermione?"

"You two alright?" 'Goyle' called.

"Yeah." Ron/Crabbe came out of one of the cubicles, blinking and staring at his hands as if he'd never seen them before.

"Right." Harry glanced at his watch, which was about to pop off of Goyle's fat wrist. "We haven't got much time. We've got to find the Slytherin common room and then casually start a conversation about the Chamber with Malfoy."

"I—" Hermione's voice floated out of one of the cubicles, high-pitched and shaky. "I don't think I'm coming after all. You go on without me."

"What? Hermione, is something wrong?" Chrys asked.

"No, no," Hermione answered rather unconvincingly. "Just go, you haven't got much time."

Chrys wanted to argue more but Harry gave her a look and she sighed. "Okay."

As they walked down the stairs Chrys suddenly thought of something.

"Won't it be strange that I'm with you? It's not like Greengrass is friends with Crabbe and Goyle."

Harry stopped perfecting Ron's performance of Crabbe and looked at her. He winced.

"You're right, I don't think I've even seen them say hello."

"I don't think I've ever seen Greengrass speak to anyone," Chrys admitted. "She just frowned at me when I bumped into her."

"Well, I've got something that might help." Ron rummaged around in his robes and brought out the invisibility cloak. "I thought if there was an emergency—"

"Brilliant!" Chrys gave Ron a short hug. She couldn't wrap Daphne's arms around Crabbe's bulk. It was weird to seeing Crabbe blushing and looking at her like that. He cleared his throat. Chrys tugged on the cloak. "Right, I'll be just behind you boys."

The three of them did not start off well. First Chrys pointed out a girl who she thought might be a Slytherin. Ron asked her the way to their common room, only for her to look down her nose and inform them she was in Ravenclaw. "My bad," Chrys whispered in his ear. Ron jerked away from her.

"Stop that! It tickles…"

"Uh-oh." Harry spotted someone coming towards them. It was Percy.

"What are you doing here?" Ron wanted to know.

"That, is none of your business," Percy said stiffly. Chrys was sure he was hiding something. The tips of his ears were pink. He squinted at Ron. "It's Crabbe, isn't it?"

"Wh—oh, yeah," Ron remembered.

"Well, get off to your dormitories," Percy ordered. "It's not safe to go wandering about dark corridors these days."

Ron frowned. "You are."

"I..." Percy straightened up. "...Am a prefect. Nothing's about to attack me." Chrys snorted. Percy looked around confusedly. Harry cleared his throat.

Luckily, Malfoy came along before Percy could question what he'd heard.

"There you are,” he said lazily. "Have you two been pigging out in the Great Hall all this time? I’ve been looking for you. I want to show you something really funny.” Percy opened his mouth. Malfoy stuck up his chin, looking down his nose at him. "And what're you doing down here, Weasley?"

“You want to show a bit more respect to a school prefect!” Percy bristled. “I don’t like your attitude!” Malfoy smiled mockingly and turned, motioning for 'Crabbe' and 'Goyle' to follow him. Ron and Harry did.

"That Peter Weasley," Malfoy said as they turned the corner.

"Percy," Ron corrected. Chrys elbowed him. Ron grunted.

"Whatever," Malfoy said. "I’ve noticed him sneaking around a lot lately. And I bet I know what he’s up to. He thinks he’s going to catch Slytherin’s heir single handed." Ron and Harry exchanged a meaningful look. It seemed like it wouldn't be hard at all to get Malfoy talking about what they wanted to know.

He led them down to the dungeons and through a stone wall into the Slytherin common room. The flickering green lamps were almost pretty. Chrys leaned on the back of Harry's chair by the fire as Malfoy went to fetch something he thought would make them laugh. "I can't say I share his sense of humor," she muttered. Harry snorted.

Malfoy came back with a newspaper clipping, which he tossed at Ron.

Ron gave it quick read and then shoved it at Harry. Chrys read it over her shoulder. Oh no. Her heart sank. Mr. Weasley had been fined and personally ridiculed for breaking the Muggle Protection Act (a law he'd fought for) by charming his car. Mr. Weasley was threatened with losing his job and having the law repealed. At least Mrs. Weasley had threatened to set the family ghoul on the journalists. Whatever that meant.

Harry forced himself to laugh when he realized Malfoy was looking at him expectantly. Malfoy went on complaining about the Weasleys (which nearly set Ron off), and the muggleborns, and Colin (which nearly set Chrys off), and finally the fact that people suspected Harry Potter, of all people, to be the Heir of Slytherin. Harry and Ron sat up straighter. Chrys tiptoed over to stand closer to Malfoy.

"Wish I knew who it was," Malfoy muttered. Chrys shook her head. Always a disappointment, this one.

"But you must have some idea," Harry urged. He continued to milk Malfoy for information as Ron continued to get more and more annoyed at Malfoy. Finally the polyjuice potion began to wear off and the boys ran for the door with the excuse that Crabbe needed some medicine for a stomachache.

Although she could feel Daphne's skin bubbling, she still had the cloak, and decided to stay a moment longer, not wanting to waste the opportunity. She snuck up to the dorms, into the bathroom, and after finding Malfoy's belongings, poured a concoction she'd made into his shampoo bottle. She giggled, making a boy by the sinks jump. She shut up and rushed after Harry and Ron.

"Where were you?" Harry asked as they approached Moaning Myrtle's bathroom. She patted his shoulder. She was glad to see his face back to the way it was supposed to be.

"Well…" She said slowly. "Poor Daphne didn't get to have any fun tonight, so I thought I should do something before she disappeared." Harry narrowed his eyes at her.

"What exactly do you mean by—"

"Guys!" Ron called from the other side of the bathroom. "Something's wrong with Hermione, she won't come out of the stall."

Chrys banged on the door. "Hermione you come out here this instance or I'll break down the damn door!" She heard a sniffle and the lock clicked.

Someone laughed. "Oh wait until you see it!" Moaning Myrtle floated out of the stall before Hermione. "It's horrible."

Chapter Text

"I told her I was reading about how to become an animagus and got curious about one of the spells…"

"And she believed that?" Chrys stared doubtfully at the black fuzzy ears sticking out the top of Hermione's head.

"You know I'm no good lying under pressure!" Hermione hissed, ears wilting. Chrys giggled. Hermione glared.

"Sorry, sorry. It's just… I never liked cats much, but you're sort of cute."

Just a bit of a blush showed through the thinning fur on Hermione's cheeks.

"Yes well, as long as you keep your opinions to yourself." She glanced up at the curtains shielding her Hospital Wing bed from view. Chrys wondered why Madame Pomfrey even bothered. Surely this would only make people more curious?

"If you weren't such an active participant in class, people wouldn't wonder so much about you being absent," Chrys reasoned aloud.

"I've tried that before," Hermione said quietly. "I'd rather the curiosity than the loneliness."

"Sorry." Chrys reached over and ruffled her hair. Hermione let out a low rumbling noise, and then stopped abruptly, her green diamond eyes widening considerably. "Did you just…?"

"Don't," Hermione warned her. "Just don't."

 

Chrys got back to the common room and pulled up a chair to join Harry and Ron.

"How is she?" Ron asked without looking up from the chessboard.

"Oh Ron, I didn't think you cared," Chrys cried out dramatically. She swooned and flopped over onto his lap. He shoved her off unceremoniously.

"Yeah well, if she'd let us visit I wouldn't have to ask."

Chrys sighed. "We've been over this. You understand why she's embarrassed."

"So what? Little Miss Perfect made a mistake for once. I'm not going to hold it against her." Ron gestured for one of his knights to take Harry's last pawn. Harry groaned.

"That's exactly the sort of language that got you off her guest list," Chrys told him.

"Fine. But I don't get why Neville's still allowed to visit her. They're not even close friends." Ron slammed his hand down on the table, causing the chess figures to squeak and topple over. Ron cursed. "Now the game's ruined!" He stood up and stomped away.

Chrys poked the little king, setting him upright again. He gave her a sweeping bow.

"You've been awfully quiet," she said to her brother. Harry rubbed the back of his neck.

"You know I don't like getting in the middle of these things."

"Neville's been really sweet, actually," Chrys continued. "He closes his eyes when he comes to see her, and yesterday he brought her his Herbology notes… do you think he's jealous? Ron, I mean."

Harry shrugged. "Maybe. I don't know. I think he's more upset that we've got nothing to show for all that time and effort with the polyjuice."

Chrys glanced around to make sure nobody was listening. "I wouldn't say nothing."

Harry grinned. "I'll admit it was a good look for him." The last day of Christmas break Malfoy had shown up to breakfast sporting Weasley red hair with golden highlights. Chrys was quite proud of her mixture of muggle and wizarding dyes. Rumor had it that it'd taken Snape himself several tries to reverse the effect.

"Too bad Colin wasn't around to take pictures," she said softly. "Could've brought one to Hermione. That might've cheered her up." Harry clapped her on the shoulder.

"We'll figure it out, Chrys. We'll figure out who's doing this and we'll stop them once and for all."

 

Eventually Hermione allowed Ron to visit her. His anger faded for a short while, only to rise up stronger than ever when he found a 'get well' card from Lockhart under her pillow. "He's the most full-of-himself bloke I've ever met and girls look at him like the sun's shining out of his arse," Ron grumbled.

"Don't look at me." Chrys raised her hands up defensively. "I don't understand it any more than you do." Before Ron could say anything else, Filch's roaring voice came echoing down the hall. Harry snapped out of his daydream.

"Shall we?" He gestured forward.

"Don't mind if I do!" Chrys skipped down the hall. After peering around the corner to make sure Filch had cleared off, Chrys and her boys entered the corridor where Mrs. Norris had been attacked at the start of it all. Ron wrinkled his nose.

"Gross. Myrtle's flooded the bathroom again."

"Uh-huh." Chrys tiptoed, trying not to get her socks wet. "Wonder what's set her off this time."

It turned out that somebody had thrown a book at the school's resident whinny teenaged ghost. Harry pointed out it couldn't exactly have done her any bodily harm.

"Books can be dangerous though," Ron said, eyeing the soaking leather volume warily as Harry picked it up.

"What, you mean like The Communist Manifesto or something?" Chrys wondered. Ron stared at her. Chrys sighed. "I mean, like the ideas inside can inspire people to do stupid things," she elaborated. Ron shook his head.

"Na, I meant more literally. Dad has told me about stuff he's confiscated. One book burnt people's eyes out. Another had you speaking in limericks the rest of your life, and there was one you just couldn't stop reading no matter how hard you tried."

"I'll be careful," Harry promised. Chrys rolled her eyes.

However, rather than dangerous, the book was so far proving to be boring. It was empty, except for its owner's name on the front cover. Ron identified T. M. Riddle as a former Hogwarts student who'd won an award for services to the school. "I had to keep cleaning it over and over again cause I kept puking up slugs on it."

It was only when Hermione got out of the hospital wing that the rest of them got to thinking. Riddle went to school just around the time the Chamber had first been opened. His award couldn't be a coincidence.

True to form Harry became obsessed, carrying the journal around with him wherever he went. After trying several spells and tricks, Hermione opted to give it a rest for now.

"It's not like I'm giving up," she told Ron firmly. "I just don't see what else I can do for now. Professor Sprout says the mandrakes are maturing. Once the cure is made, maybe the victims will be able to give us the information we need to put the pieces together." Chrys wasn't surprised Hermione dove back into her studying. She was surprised when Hermione came back early from the library.

"What's wrong?" She patted Hermione's arm awkwardly. Her friend's lips were pressed in a tight line. She looked ready to cry—or hit someone.

"Ernie Macmillan," she answered after a deep breath. "He asked me if I wanted to join his study group, and I said I didn't really have the time to commit, but he said I'm always welcome and so I've sat with them sometimes and today I went to their table and he looked at me like I was a cockroach or something and told me if I'm keeping friends like Harry that's as good as striking down muggleborns myself."

"And what did you say?" Chrys asked, feeling like Parvati during one of Lavender's juicier stories.

Hermione shook her head. "I said I thought he was smarter than that."

"…You know," Chrys began thoughtfully. "Cockroaches are one of the most resilient creatures on earth." Hermione snorted. They paused in front of the bulletin board, Hermione's eyes scanning the calendar.

"By the way, can I borrow your color-changing ink?"

"Sure. What for?"

"... A project," Hermione said vaguely. Chrys eyed the date on the calendar marked with a little red heart.

 

Chrys had never thought much of Valentine's Day. In primary school kids were forced by teachers to give each other cards, but Dudley stole hers and Harry's so he could eat the candy. Now it was early morning on the fourteenth and she was sharing her beloved licorice with a sniffly Lee Jordan who had yet again been rejected by the girl he'd asked out. "Thanks, Chrys. It's nice to know someone cares." He blew his nose loudly. "Fred will never let me live this down. I think he and George had bets going, actually." Chrys stopped herself from laughing and nodded solemnly instead.

"Um…well if you're feeling a bit better, why don't you get washed up and we can head down for breakfast," she suggested.

"Ah food," Lee sighed. "The most commonly prescribed cure for heartbreak." When they got downstairs Lee took one look around and immediately stomped over to Fred and George. He grabbed Fred by the collar. "This better not have been you!" He growled, gesturing around at the giant roses and heart-shaped confetti falling from the ceiling.

Fred raised his hands up in surrender.

"Honestly, mate, I wish I had thought of something like this. I've never seen Snape look so murderous, and I've seen the way he looks at Harry."

Lee sunk onto the bench, head in his hands. "There, there." George piled some bacon and potatoes on his plate. "Eat up."

"Lockhart," Chrys realized the culprit. His robes matched the décor.

"Yep." Fred popped the 'p.' Chrys glanced around and spotted Ron and Hermione sitting not too far away. She looked back at Lee, who was tentatively poking at his food.

"Well…" She squeezed his shoulder. "Feel better, then." She turned, but suddenly felt someone's fingers in her hair. She froze. Fred was ruffling her hair.

"Hey," he laughed. "You're covered in little hearts." Chrys shook her head like a dog out of water and his hand retracted.

"Like weirdly festive dandruff," George commented.

Chrys laughed haltingly. "Very romantic, Georgie."

"We aim to please," the brothers said in unison. Fred winked.

Breakfast seemed to drag on and on. Lockhart bragged about the forty-six cards he'd received. Ron narrowed his eyes at Hermione.

"So that's what you borrowed my ink for," Chrys said aloud before she could stop herself. Hermione shot her a 'gee, thanks a lot' look. Any ensuing argument was postponed by the appearance of dwarves wearing pink leotards, golden wings and carrying harps. Harry almost choked on the confetti that got stuck to his bacon.

"My friendly, card carrying cupids!” Lockhart announced. "They will be roving around the school today delivering your valentines! And the fun doesn’t stop here! I’m sure my colleagues will want to enter into the spirit of the occasion! Why not ask Professor Snape to show you how to whip up a Love Potion! And while you’re at it, Professor Flitwick knows more about Entrancing Enchantments than any wizard I’ve ever met, the sly old dog!” 

Flitwick sunk so low he nearly slid off his chair.

In the hall Harry got chased down by one of the dwarves, who grabbed him by the bag. Harry's bag split, his ink bottle smashing and covering everything.

"I know just the spell to prevent staining," Chrys told Harry as the dwarf sat on his ankles.

"Never mind that!" Harry said. "Get him off of me!"

"What's going on here?" Malfoy said, pushing himself to the front of the crowd that had gathered behind them. Harry flushed.

"Ugh, not him," he muttered.

"What's all the commotion?" Percy asked, also forcing himself through the crowd. Ron, who had been trying to keep from laughing, sighed and shook his head.

The dwarf recited Harry's singing valentine. Chrys and Ron burst into laughter, along with most of the crowd. Hermione was biting her lip hard. Percy was trying to shoo away the crowd. "Off to class now. And you, Malfoy..." Percy turned to him.

"Give that back!" Harry said sharply. Chrys stopped laughing long enough to realize that Malfoy had snatched up Riddle's diary and was showing it off to Crabbe and Goyle.

"Wonder what Potter's written in this?" Malfoy said tauntingly.

"Oh."

Chrys turned to see Ginny, white as a sheet, staring at the diary.

"Hand it over, Malfoy," Percy said in his best I'm-a-prefect voice.

"When I've had a look..." Malfoy flipped it open.

"As a school prefect-" Percy started.

"Expelliarmus!" Harry interrupted. The diary soared just over Harry's head. Ron snatched it up, grinning.

"Good one," Chrys said to both of them.

"No, it's not!" Percy said. "Harry, there's no magic in the corridors. I'll have to report this, you know."

Ron's smile faded. "Hold on, that's no fair."

Harry shrugged. "Leave it. I don't care."

Ginny started to squeeze through the hall. "I don't think Potter liked your valentine much!" Malfoy said hotly. Now her face went bright red. She ran down the hall.

"Oh dear," Hermione said.

"You leave my sister alone!" Ron snarled at Malfoy. He raised his wand.

"Ron! No magic in the halls!" Percy reiterated.

Harry caught his arm. "Don't want you burping up slugs…again," he muttered. Chrys abandoned Charms in favor of going after Ginny.

She found the little ginger hiding in the nearest bathroom.

"Gin? It's me."

"Merlin," Ginny groaned from inside the stall. "Is it possible to die of embarrassment?"

"Unfortunately I think you'll survive," Chrys told her. "… But honestly, Ginny, what were you thinking?"

"I thought… I mean, it's Valentine's Day and I know it's supposed to be romantic but those dwarves just looked so stupid, I hope Lockhart is paying them decently... so I thought why not give it a go? It'll be a laugh, right?" Well, there was a lot of laughter. "But no one was supposed to know it was me. Damn Malfoy." Ginny opened the door. Her face was still on fire.

"So…you're not planning on a career in poetry or anything like that?" Chrys asked carefully. Ginny scoffed.

"Please. I know I'm awful. That's what made it so funny." She worried her lip between her teeth. "Harry's been so low lately, I thought I'd try and cheer him up."

Chrys felt something ache in her chest. "Hey." She opened her arms and cuddled the younger girl up. Ginny was warm and soft. "Thanks for trying." Her hair smelled like flowers.

In the common room, Ginny was somehow able to laugh as Fred and George launched into a chorus of her poem for the third time that night. Harry looked more embarrassed than her, and went up to bed early.

Chrys slept over in Ginny's dorm that night.

"You don't have to watch over me, I'm not a baby."

"Who says you're not the one watching over me? Or maybe I just wanted to hang out."

Even though they spent the night taking fashion quizzes in a magazine Ginny borrowed from her dorm mate, come sunrise Chrys felt refreshed. It made her wonder what it would've been like if Dudley hadn't bullied people away from her. She'd always have Harry of course, but each new friend made her feel a little bit stronger.

Then she met Harry down in the common room. He was pale as he recounted his experience with Riddle's diary—How he'd written in the diary and Riddle had written back to him. Riddle had sucked him into the diary to show him a memory of Hagrid releasing the Slytherin monster into the castle, the first time the Chamber was opened.

"No," Chrys said, crossing her arms over her chest and glaring.

"Chrys, I saw it-" Harry started.

"What did you see exactly?" Chrys wanted to know. "Did you see the monster? Did Hagrid explicitly say 'go attack muggleborns, o monster of Syltherin!'?"

"Well, it was kind of dark," Harry admitted. "But there was definitely some kind of large, hairy creature. It had pincers, I think, I'm not sure..."

"So, you can't be sure what you saw," Chrys pointed out.

"Hagrid would never do that," Chrys said firmly.

"Riddle might have the wrong person," Hermione reasoned. "Maybe it was some other monster that was attacking people..."

"How many monsters d'you think this place can hold?" Ron wondered. Chrys shrugged.

"It's a big castle."

"Look, I'm sure Hagrid never meant to kill anybody, but what if it was an accident?" Harry said.

"If something was a danger to the students he wouldn't bring it into the castle," Chrys insisted.

"He does have a tendency to infantilize dangerous creatures," Hermione reminded her. "Remember Fluffy?"

"Look at the facts," Harry said. "We always knew Hagrid had been expelled, and the attacks must've stopped after Hagrid was kicked out. Otherwise, Riddle wouldn't have got his award."

"Riddle does sound like Percy," Ron thought. "Who asked him to squeal on Hagrid, anyway?"

"But the monster killed someone, Ron," Hermione said.

"And Riddle was going to go back to some muggle orphangage if they closed Hogwarts," Harry added. Chrys tensed, remembering all the times Uncle Vernon had threatend to throw them out. In an orphange, they would likely be separated... "I don't blame him for wanting to stay here..."

"You met Hagrid down Knockturn Alley, didn't you, Harry?" Hermione asked him.

Chrys frowned. "So? I know you said it's dodgy, but I'm sure he had a good reason for being there."

"He was buying Flesh Eating Slug Repellent," Harry told her. They fell quiet.

"Do you think we should go ask Hagrid about it?" Hermione suggested hesitnatly.

Ron snorted. "That'd be a cheerful visit. Hello, Hagrid. Tell us, have you been setting anything mad and hairy loose in the castle lately."

Chrys laughed nervously. "Let's not, for now," Harry decided. "But if there's another attack... why might not have a choice."

"I still don't think it was him," Chrys said. "Even if Hagrid's monster accidentally killed someone, he would go straight to Dumbledore, and Dumbledore would have put it right in no time."

Harry shook his head. "Dumbledore wasn't Headmaster back then. He didn't have as much… influence. You didn't see the memory."

"Yeah, and who's fault is that?" Chrys put her hands on her hips. "The moment something weird started happening with the diary you should've come and got us."

Ron nodded. "Can't argue with that."

"You've got to learn how to trust us, Harry," Hermione told him, disappointment evident.

"I do." Harry frowned. "Everything just happened so fast."

The tension that had built up after Harry's discovery came to a head as the time came for the second year students to choose their classes for next year.

Chrys tapped her quill against her parchment.

"You okay, Chrys?" Neville asked politely.

Chrys shrugged. "Yeah, just having trouble with this class list."

Neville nodded. "Me too." He held up a stack of envelopes. "My entire family's written in to give me their advice, but I think they've just made it worse."

Harry laughed from beside her. "Can you imagine the Dursleys offering their advice?"

"My family is muggle as well," Dean commiserated. "I don't even know what half of these classes are."

"That's why you're supposed to do the research," Hermione spoke up. "If you don't make an informed decision you're bound to regret it later." Harry slid his parchment out of the way so she wouldn't see he was blindly copying Ron's choices.

"Well…" Dean closed his eyes, spun his quill around and circled a class at random. "Suppose I'll deal with it then."

Hermione scoffed.

The short reprieve from Harry's obsession with Riddle's diary ended when Neville discovered that someone had ransacked the boys' dorm.

"They took the diary," Harry told Hermione in an undertone.

"Well whoever it is, they have to be a Gryffindor, they wouldn't know the password otherwise," she reasoned.

Chrys shook her head. "Not necessarily. People tell their friends in other houses their passwords all the time." She paused. "But if it wasn't a Gryffindor, somebody probably would've seen them heading up to the dorms."

"For now just focus on tomorrow's match," Ron suggested, thumping the despondent Harry on the back. Harry groaned.

"And you," Hermione rounded on Chrys. "You still need to choose your classes, the deadline's almost here."

At breakfast the next morning, Lavender and Parvati were pestering Padma to take off her black and yellow scarf.

"No way." Padma shook her head. "If Hufflepuff beats Gryffindor then Ravenclaw will be back in the running. And I don't care that red and gold would look better with my hair," she told Lavender who had just opened her mouth.

Lavender pouted. "How'd you know I was going to say that?"

Parvati giggled. "Wouldn't exactly be out of character for you, Lav."

"Precisely." Padma nodded. "Now get back to your table, you three." She shooed them away.

"Well, you tried," Chrys told the girls, hiding her smile with a sip of pumpkin juice.

"Lot of help you were." Lavender frowned. "You should've logicked her out of it or something." Chrys snorted.

"Who do you think I am, Hermione?" She looked around. "By the way, where is she?"

Lavender shrugged. "The three musketeers went back up to the tower," Dean leaned over the table to tell her. "Harry forgot his broom."

"Right." Chrys stood up and stretched. "I'll go join them, make sure they don't get lost or something." Seamus laughed and started to say something, but her senses were overwhelmed by that cold voice echoing off the walls.

"Kill this time… let me rip…tear…"

Chrys leapt to her feet. She had to find Harry. They had to find the owner of the voice, stop it from killing its next victim. "Chrys…"

She blinked, realizing several of her housemates were staring at her, worried.

"You're so pale," Parvati said, holding a hand to her forehead.

"I'm fine." Chrys pushed her away gently.

"Such a shame, you've been getting more color since last year," Lavender observed.

"Have you had enough to eat?" Parvati offered her a bowl of fruit salad.

"Thanks, but I'm fine," Chrys repeated. "Got to go." She tore off up the stairs, climbing until she reached Ron and Harry, who were now coming back down. Harry gave her a questioning look. She nodded.

"Nothing we can do about it right now," Ron said, seeming to have followed their silent conversation. "The match is about to start." Chrys rolled her eyes.

"Quidditch," she grumbled. She looked around. "By the way, where's Hermione?"

"Went to the library." Ron rolled his eyes as well. "Who knows why." Chrys was torn between going up to find Hermione, and staying with Ron in case Harry fell off his broom again. Again, Ron seemed to understand what she was thinking. "Harry's alright—and if he's not, I've got his back. You can follow Hermione if you like. Try and find out what she's up to this time."

"Thanks." She grinned at Ron. "I'll see you in a bit." She raced up the stairs again. This time she ran in to Percy.

"Er, hello, Chrysanthemum," Percy said, his ears slightly pink. She squinted at him, wondering what he could possibly be embarrassed about at the moment. "Where are you headed to? I thought you'd be at the match with Ron and the others…"

"Looking for Hermione," Chrys explained. "Think she went to the library." Percy nodded.

"Ah, I'm looking for someone as well, so perhaps I'll join you." They walked in an awkward silence until they came to the corridor that lead to the library.

"You really didn't have to walk me all the way," Chrys muttered. Percy waved his hand dismissively.

"Nonsense, I was already…" He trailed off, his eyes going wide. "Penny!" He crushed forward, kneeling in front of a Ravenclaw girl Chrys thought looked vaguely familiar. "Penny, Penny?" Percy was gripping her shoulders and looking around frantically. Chrys was staring at the person lying perfectly still next to her. Hermione.

"They've been petrified," she realized slowly, barely recognizing her own voice.

"Quickly, I need some parchment and a quill," Percy told her, motioning. She reached into her robes and handed it over. She could see him quickly scrawling out a note to Professor McGonagall that two more students had been petrified. Then he waved his wand and the paper folded itself, looking like a small bird as it took off into the air, presumably to find McGonagall. "You should leave," Percy said quietly to Chrys. "Whatever got them could be nearby."

Chrys frowned deeply. "No way am I leaving Hermione here."

Percy glanced at the Ravenclaw girl, his eyes soft.

"Fine," he grunted, surprisingly not arguing. Chrys frowned, reaching over and picking up a small circular mirror from the ground. "That's Penny's." Percy took it from her, smoothing his thumb over the wooden frame.

"What was she doing, checking her makeup in the middle of the corridor?" Chrys wondered. Percy shook his head, at a loss. He just sighed, gripping his wand tighter. Chrys slid her wand out and kept her eyes open.

It didn't take long for Professor McGonagall to arrive, Dumbledore and Flitwick in tow.

"Mr. Weasley, Miss Potter…" She glanced at them before staring down at the two frozen students. "Oh goodness. Miss Clearwater and Miss Granger." Dumbledore looked down his glasses at Chrys, studying her.

"Did either of you see anything?"

Percy shook his head. "They were like this when we found them, Headmaster."

Dumbledore nodded. "Minerva, you and Mr. Weasley should go down to the pitch, bring the students back to their dorms. Fillius, if you could locate any students out and about the castle…"

"Of course." Professor McGonagall nodded firmly. "Mr. Weasley." Percy gave Penelope Clearwater one last glance before following McGonagall at a run. Professor Flitwick gave Chrys a firm pat on the shoulder, though his hand was shaking slightly. Then he left. Dumbledore and Chrys were left standing in the corridor with Hermione and Penny.

"Miss Potter, I assume you would like to accompany Ms. Granger to the Hospital Wing?" Dumbledore said, levitating both girls into the air with his wand. Chrys nodded, unable to find the words to respond. She followed Dumbledore down to the Hospital Wing. Madame Pomfrey pounced on them immediately, making a bed up for each girl and steering Chrys into an armchair, shoving a cup of what smelled like hot chocolate into her hands.

"Drink up," Pomfrey said. "It will help with the shock." Chrys didn't argue, ignoring the sting when she burned her tongue on the thick sweet liquid.

It wasn't long before Professor McGonagall brought Harry and Ron to join them.

"Hermione!" Ron shouted out and rushed to the side of her bed. Harry gave Chrys a confused look. Chrys shook her head.

In the Gryffindor common room, Professor McGonagall made an announcement. There was now a six o'clock curfew. Students weren't allowed to move about without being accompanied by a teacher. All clubs activities, "yes, including Quidditch, Mr. Wood" were suspended. McGonagall was a little choked up when she urged anyone who knew anything about the incidents to come forward with information.

Lee Jordan was complaining about how none of the Slytherin students had been petrified.

"Isn't it obvious all this stuff's coming from Slytherin?" He shouted. "The Heir of Slytherin, the monster of Slytherin—why don't they just chuck all the Slytherins out?" Many of the Gryffindors applauded and nodded in agreement.

"Percy's being uncharacteristically quiet," Harry muttered. Percy sat in the corner, gripping the arms of his chair so tightly, his knuckles went white.

"Percy's in shock," George whispered. "That Ravenclaw girl—Penelope Clearwater—she's a prefect. I don't think he thought the monster would dare attack a prefect." Chrys snorted and shook her head.

"Think there's more too it than that, George," she muttered. Penny's mirror was sitting on Percy's lap. George frowned, but before he could respond, Ron motioned the Potters over to the window where it was less crowded.

"If the culprit isn't caught soon, we're looking at a lifetime back with the Dursleys," Harry thought quietly. He ran a hand through his hair. "Now I know how Tom Riddle felt when he turned in Hagrid." Chrys gave her brother a sharp look.

"Do you think they suspect Hagrid?" Ron wondered, concerned.

"We've got to go talk to him," Harry decided. "I can't believe it's him this time, but if he set the monster loose last time, he'll know how to get inside the Chamber of Secrets, and that's a start."

"How can you possibly think he's got anything to do with this?" Chrys snapped at him, as quietly as possible. "Hagrid cried when his pumpkins started to rot. There's no way he let loose a monster who's hurting people." Harry shook his head.

"Also, McGonagall said we've got to stay in our tower unless we're in class," Ron pointed out.

Harry looked at Chrys. "Whatever you think about Hagrid, we can't risk staying here and doing nothing."

"Fine." She crossed her arms over her chest, her brow furrowed.

Harry nodded. "I'll get dad's cloak."

That night, Parvati and Lavender tried their best to comfort Chrys about Hermione.

"Look, I appreciate the effort, but I'm just going to sit up and read," she lied. "No way I'm getting any sleep tonight." Well, at least that part was true. Parvati nodded.

"Alright, Chrys. Just… feel free to wake us up if you need anything, even just to talk."

Lavender nodded quickly. "We know we're not as good friends with you as Hermione, but I think we can understand how you feel." She glanced at Parvati. "There's no need for you to face this alone, okay?" Chrys smiled weakly.

Later, when everyone had fallen asleep, she met Harry and Ron down in the common room. The three of them were quiet as they walked through the corridors. They had to continuously swerve to avoid ghosts, professors, and prefects who were patrolling. At one point, Ron stubbed his toe. Chrys and Harry both clamped a hand over his mouth as his eyes watered. A couple feet away, Snape looked around suspiciously.

A cool breeze brushed through the window, making Snape sneeze, his eyes closing at just the right moment for Harry to push open the front doors. They waited to take off the cloak until they were directly in front of Hagrid's door.

Hagrid answered with a crossbow in their face. Ron yelped.

"Oh…" Hagrid lowered his weapon as Fang leaped up, happily greeting Chrys by licking her face all over. She pushed him away unenthusiastically. "What're you three doing here?"

"What's that for?" Harry wondered, gesturing at the crossbow.

"Nothin'," Hagrid said unconvincingly. "I've been expectin'… doesn't matter. Sit down. I'll make tea." He busied himself with the kettle, having to re-lit the fire several times as he sloshed water over it. Ron finally sighed and got up to help him with it.

"Are you okay, Hagrid?" Harry and Chrys asked him in unison.

"Did you hear about Hermione?" Harry wondered.

"Oh, I heard about that alright." Hagrid's voice cracked slightly. His hands shook as he went to put a piece of his stone hard fruitcake on a plate. Then someone knocked on the door. He dropped the plate. He cursed and waved his hand at them. Harry threw the cloak over them and they huddled in the corner. Hagrid grabbed his crossbow again, and answered the door.

"Good evening, Hagrid."

Chrys had to stop herself from sighing in relief. It was only Dumbledore. His expression was odd though, none of the usual twinkle in his eye. A second man followed him inside Hagrid's hut. He was wearing a purple pinstripe suit, scarlet tie, and a long black cloak. In his hands, he was twirling a lime green bowler hat. Chrys tilted her head.

"That's dad's boss, Cornelius Fudge, Minster of Magic!" Ron whispered frantically. Harry unceremoniously elbowed him. Ron clamped his mouth shut. Chrys noticed Hagrid had gone pale and sweaty. He sat down with a loud thump, looking back and forth from Dumbledore to Fudge.

"Bad business, Hagrid," Fudge said. "Very bad business. Had to come. Four attacks on Muggle-borns. Things've gone far enough. Ministry's got to act."

"I never—" Hagrid began loudly. He looked at Dumbledore. "You know I never, Professor Dumbledore, sir." Chrys felt her chest ache.

"I want it understood, Cornelius, that Hagrid has my full confidence," Dumbledore said, frowning at the minister. Chrys felt a rush of affection for him. She gave Harry a pointed look.

"Look, Albus," Fudge said, spinning his hat even faster. "Hagrid's record is against him. Ministry's got to do something—the school's governors have been in touch—"

"Yet again, Cornelius, I tell you that taking Hagrid away will not help in the slightest," Dumbledore said. Now he looked almost angry.

"Look at it from my point of view," Fudge implored. "I'm under a lot of pressure. Got to be seen doing something." Chrys narrowed her eyes at him. "If it turns out it wasn't Hagrid, he'll be back and no more said, but I've got to take him. Got to. Wouldn't be doing my duty—"

"Take me?" Hagrid interrupted, his voice shaking. "Take me where?"

"For a short stretch only," Fudge told him, looking away uncomfortably. "Not a punishment, Hagrid, more a precaution. If someone else is caught, you'll be let out with a full apology—"

"Not Azkaban?" Hagrid croaked. Ron gasped. Harry gave him a sharp look. Before Fudge could answer, someone knocked on the door yet again. This time Harry gasped. Chrys and Ron elbowed him from either side.

Lucius Malfoy walked into the room, his smile cold.

"Already here, Fudge?" Lucius nodded. "Good, good…"

"What are you doin' here?" Hagrid growled. "Get outta my house!"

"My dear man, please believe me, I have no pleasure at all in being inside your… er… you call this a house?" Lucius looked around doubtfully. Chrys felt like slapping him. "I simply called at he school and was told that the headmaster was here."

Chrys frowned. "And what exactly did you want with me, Lucius?" Dumbledore asked.

"Dreadful thing, Dumbledore," Lucius said, his snide tone just like his son's. He took out a long roll of parchment. "… but the governors feel it's time for you to step aside. This is an Order of Suspension—you'll find all twelve signatures on it. I'm afraid we feel you're losing your touch. How many attacks have there been now? Two more this afternoon, wasn't it? At this rate, there'll be no Muggleborns left at Hogwarts, and we all know what an awful loss that would be to the school."

"Now see here Lucius," Fudge said disapprovingly. Chrys wondered if she should revise her initial impression of him. "Dumbledore suspended? No, that's the last thing we want just now."

"The appointment, or suspension of the headmaster is a matter for the governors," Lucius told him. "And as Dumbledore as failed to stop the attacks…"

"See here, Malfoy," Fudge argued. "If Dumbledore can't stop them, I mean to say… who can?"

"That remains to be seen," Lucius said, not seeming to care. "… But as all twelve of us has voted—" Hagrid leapt up.

"Yeah? And how many did ya have to threaten an' blackmail before they agreed, eh Malfoy?" He roared.

"Dear, dear, that temper of yours will lead you into trouble one of these days, Hagrid," Lucius said. "I would advise you not to shout at the Azkaban guards like that. They won't like it at all." Ron shivered.

"Ya can't take Dumbledore!" Hagrid protested. Fang whimpered. "Take him away and the muggle-borns won't stand a chance! There'll be killin' next!" Dumbledore gave him a sharp look.

"Calm yourself, Hagrid," he said. He looked at Malfoy. "If the governors want my removal, Lucius, I shall, of course, step aside—"

"But—" Fudge frowned.

"No!" Hagrid shouted. Dumbledore merely stared at Malfoy, meeting his eyes.

"However, you'll find that I will only truly have left this school when none here are loyal to me," he said. "You will also find that help will always be given at Hogwarts to those who ask for it…" For a moment, Chrys felt for certain that he looked straight into the corner where they huddled under the cloak.

"Admirable sentiments." Malfoy bowed his head. "We shall all miss your… er… highly individual way of running things, Albus, and only hope that your successor will manage to prevent any ah… killins." He said the last word with a bit of an accent, mocking Hagrid's. Then he walked over to the door and opened it for Dumbledore. Fudge stared at his hat for a moment and then looked up at Hagrid.

Hagrid took a deep breath. "If anyone wanted ta find out some stuff, all they'd have ta do would be ta follow the spiders," he siad loudly. "That'd lead them right! That's all I'm sayin'." Fudge looked understandably confused. Hagrid pulled on his coat and went to follow him out, before pausing at the door. "Oh, and someone'll need to feed Fang while I'm away." Chrys nodded, though he couldn't see them. The door shut with a thud, and Ron threw the cloak off of them.

"We're in trouble now," he said, his voice rough. "No Dumbledore… might as well close the school tonight. There'll be an attack a day with him gone." Fang howled and started scratching at the door. Chrys walked over, kneeled in front of him and pulled him into a hug, not moving even as he slobbered all over her face.

Chapter Text

Madame Pomfrey had all but barricaded herself in the Hospital Wing.

"We're taking no more chances," she told them through a crack in the door.

"But, Madame Pomfrey—" Chrys tried.

"No, I'm sorry, there's every chance the attacker might come back to finish these people off…" With that, she frowned and slammed the door shut.

"Dumbledore said we're supposed to ask for help, but who are we supposed to ask when everyone's just as frightened and confused as we are?" Harry grumbled as they followed the large pack of Gryffindors down to potions.

"No idea," Chrys admitted.

"And Hagrid's advice is even worse," Ron figured. They'd been following any spider they spotted, to no end. Chrys patted him on the shoulder, thinking him quite brave considering his fear of the spindly creatures.

"And how are we supposed to get anything done when we can't get a second to ourselves?" Harry continued to complain as Snape motioned them into the room and looked both ways before locking the door behind them.

It warm and bright outside, but the still cool corridors of the basement, and the slimy specimens that lined the Potions classroom walls were more in line with the castle's current mood.

"I always thought Father might be the one who got rid of Dumbledore," Malfoy bragged loudly. Chrys glared at him over her cauldron. He just smirked and turned to Crabbe. "I told you he thinks Dumbledore's the worst headmaster the school's ever had. Maybe we'll get a decent headmaster now. Someone who won't want the Chamber of Secrets closed. McGonagall won't last long, she's only filling in…"

"McGonagall's ten times better than anyone Malfoy's dad could think of," Seamus muttered to Chrys, leaning over Hermione's empty chair. Chrys nodded wearily. Seamus quickly straightened up as Snape swept by.

"Sir," Malfoy called after him. "Sir, why don't you apply for the headmaster's job?"

"Now, now, Malfoy," Snape said. Chrys wrinkled her nose as his lips curled into something like a smile. "Professor Dumbledore has only been suspended by the governors. I daresay he'll be back with us soon enough." Chrys blinked, wondering if he actually believed that. Snape often disagreed with Dumbledore, but he'd never openly opposed him.

"Yeah, right," Malfoy thought. "I expect you'd have Father's vote, sir, if you wanted to apply for the job—I'll tell Father you're the best teacher, here, sir." Snape mirrored Malfoy's smirk and moved deeper into the room to criticize about other student's potions. Seamus quickly stopped miming vomiting into his cauldron. Chrys smiled slightly.

It seemed like forever before class finally came to an end and the students started getting to their feet.

"I'm quite surprised the Mudbloods haven't all packed their bags by now," Malfoy continued. "Bet you five Galleons the next one dies. Pity it wasn't Granger—"

Chrys and Ron leapt forward at the same time. Malfoy automatically took a large step backwards. Luckily for him, Seamus had grabbed Chrys, while it took Harry and Dean's combined effort to keep back a struggling Ron.

"Remember your wand," Harry told him in a tone of forced calm.

"Let me at him," Ron growled. "I don't care, I don't need my wand, I'm going to kill him with my bare hands—"

"Hurry up, I've got to take you all to Herbology!" Snape snapped. Dean and Harry ignored Ron's dark muttering, and frog-marched him down to the Greenhouse.

"I'm fine," Chrys told Seamus, swatting him off of her arm.

"You're sure?" Seamus eyed Malfoy distastefully. "Not that I wouldn't like to take a swing at him too… but doing it right under Snape's nose is just asking for it, you know."

"I know, I know." She sighed. She followed him, joining their Herbology group with Dean and Neville. She glanced over at Harry and Ron, who were down to two as both Justin and Hermione were now petrified. She frowned as Ernie Macmillan and one of his friends moved over to her brother.

"Now what?" Seamus wondered. "You've got that look on your face like you might hit someone again." He looked around. "What's happening now?"

"Nothing… just, Macmillan's been rude to Hermione before, about the whole 'Harry being the heir' thing," Chrys admitted.

Dean watched Ernie and Harry shake hands. "Looks like they've made up. That's good."

"Come on," Neville said. "We've got to start pruning the Abyssinian Shrivelfigs before they rot."

As Professor Sprout led them back to the castle, Chrys slowed down to join Harry and Ron towards the back of the group.

"Guess what?" Harry said. "We saw these huge spiders in class. They were walking in like, a perfectly straight line."

"And even better," Ron continued, distinctly sarcastic, "They were heading for the Forbidden Forest."

"Huh," Chrys said. "Haven't been in there for ages…" She caught Harry's eye. "Dad's cloak after dark?" He smiled slightly and nodded.

"Just what I was thinking… and we should take Fang. He's been to the Forest loads more times than we have."

"I don't know." Ron hesitated as they moved down the hall to Defense Against the Dark Arts. "Aren't there supposed to be werewolves—"

Chrys waved her hand. "Werewolves are just people who turn into wolf-creatures once a month, aren't they?" She figured. "As long as it's not a full moon tonight—"

"And besides, there are good things in there too," Harry continued over her. "The centaurs weren't so bad." Chrys nodded.

"And the unicorns are pretty." She paused, tilting her head. "Probably prettier when they aren't dead." Ron shuddered. Harry gave her a look, like 'you are not helping things.' She winced.

 

"Ugh, look at Lockhart," Chrys mumbled to Ron as they moved into their seats for DADA.

"I try not to," Ron said darkly.

"Yeah, but how can he look so… happy after everything that's happened?" She wondered. Ron gave him a glance and groaned.

"Why all the long faces?" Lockhart asked, looking around the room.

"Are you serious?" Chrys said, forgetting to keep her voice down. Lockhart looked annoyed for a moment before plastering on his bright smile again.

"Now, Miss Potter, I understand you may have been frightened about this whole, er, unfortunate business with the muggleborns—after all, you aren't an accomplished monster fighter, such as myself. However, the danger has now passed!" He opened his arms and beamed out at his captive audience. "The culprit has been taken away—"

"Says who?" Dean called out. Chrys decided to forgive him for losing that color-changing ink she'd lent him.

"My dear young man," Lockhart responded slowly, as if Dean were stupid. "The Minister of Magic wouldn't have taken Hagrid if he hadn't been one hundred percent sure that he was guilty."

"Oh, yes he would," Ron shouted.

"I flatter myself if I know a touch more about Hagrid's arrest than you do, Mr. Weasley," Lockhart told him. Ron opened his mouth to disagree, but stopped suddenly, wincing. Chrys was fairly certain Harry had kicked him under the desk.

Lockhart's attitude convinced Ron that they needed to head to the Forbidden Forest tonight—werewolves or not.

 

Normally, the common room emptied out around ten, but what with the six o'clock curfew, the Gryffindors had been lingering until around midnight.

Chrys knew Fred and George were trying to be responsible for once by keeping an eye on them. She only wished they hadn't chosen tonight to do so.

Harry and Ron kept losing at exploding snap, hoping Fred and George would get bored and go to bed early, but no such luck. Chrys pretended to listen to Lee drone on about a recent magic microphone development, while she watched a despondent Ginny sink into Hermione's favorite chair.

"She'll be alright," Chrys said, trying to convince herself as much as Ginny. "They all will." Ginny nodded distractedly.

"I think I'll go to bed now," she whispered, standing wobbly. Her paleness had gotten worse through the year. Chrys wanted to tell her to go to Madam Pomfrey, but even if the stubborn Ginny would agree, the healer had enough on her hands at the moment.

"Might as well do the same," George figured, mussing Ginny's hair as he yawned.

"Finally," Ron grunted as he watched his siblings disappear up the stairs.

"One sec," Harry said, heading up the stairs to grab the cloak.

Ron and Chrys sat in silence for a moment.

"You really think she's be okay?" Ron asked suddenly. Chrys blinked. "Hermione, I mean." Chrys chewed at her lip.

"I don't know," she admitted. "I hope so." Ron nodded.

"Well, Harry's right. We can't just sit around hoping, we've got to do something about it."

 

"Course, we might've been wrong," Ron thought as they moved under the cloak, across the lawn. Chrys shivered as blades of grass dragged dewdrops over her ankles. "Maybe the spiders weren't going to the forest after all…" They'd reached Hagrid's hut.

Chrys put up with Fang's licking, knowing how lonely he must be feeling. Unfortunately, his cheerful barking might give them away. Harry hastily fed him one of Hagrid's infamous treacle tarts, which clamped his jaws shut.

Chrys watched Fang trying to lick the sticky goop of his teeth.

"That wasn't very nice," Chrys told Harry as they moved. Harry patted Fang on the rump apologetically.

"Come on, Fang, we're going for a walk." Harry looked around for somewhere to stash the cloak. "We won't need it in the dark…"

"Here." Chrys grabbed it and shoved it under some of Hagrid's knitting. Harry nodded approvingly, and they set off. "Fang, wait up!" He'd bounded off somewhere. "Lumos." She lit her wand and spotted Fang peeing on a tree at the edge of the forest.

"Good thinking." Harry lit his wand too.

"Yeah, I'd follow suit, but…" Ron held up his wand and frowned at it.

By the wand light, Harry spotted the line of scurrying spiders again, and they began to follow the insects deeper into the wood.

"Didn't Hagrid say not to leave the path the last time we were in here?" Chrys said hesitantly as the spiders veered off.

"Well, he also said to follow the spiders," Harry pointed out. He jumped suddenly and Ron cried out. "Sorry, Ron, it was just Fang…" Ron reached down and rubbed his foot. He turned to glare at Fang, who stared back lovingly. Ron sighed.

"Well, we've come this far," he figured.

They continued walking.

After a while, Harry was glanced from side to side, squinting.

"Did you hear that?" A branch snapped. Fang and Ron both whimpered. "Shut up," Harry told Ron. "It'll hear us."

"Tell that to Fang," Ron said, his voice high-pitched. They stood stone still for a moment before Chrys grabbed Harry's arm. A light was zooming towards them. Harry through up his other arm to shield his face as the light got closer, accompanied by an odd rumbling sound. Fang yelped and tried to jump away. He jumped straight into a thorn bush and howled louder.

"Harry, Chrys…" Ron let out a breath, sounding relieved. Harry uncovered his face. "It's our car!" Ron ran towards the light and they followed.

Rather, it was Mr. Weasley car, green paint scratched by the branches of the tree it was huddling under. When Ron approached, it moved closer, bumping its hood against Ron's outstretched hand like a hesitant dog.

"Has it been here all this time?" Chrys wondered. Her heart had stopped thumping in her ears, so she copied Ron and started patting the car's hood.

"Must've been," Ron thought. "The forest has turned it wild…"

"We've lost the trail," Harry said disappointedly, looking around the forest floor for spiders. "We'll have to double back a bit and…" He trailed off at the look pure terror on Ron's face. Chrys raced forward, but it was too late. A spider—about the size of Fang—had grabbed Harry by the middle with its hairy legs, and raced off with him.

"Harry!" Chrys cried out.

"Chrys!" Ron squeaked. More large dog-sized spiders were approaching. Chrys ran to put herself in-between them and Ron (who looked about ready to faint). She set up a shower of sparks. The spiders hung back slightly, rows of beady black eyes studying her.

"No!" Chrys screamed. They'd snuck up behind and grabbed Ron too. She struggled against another spider's grip as it spirited her away, hopefully to the same place the boys had been taken.

Chrys had thought the spiders that grabbed them were enormous. She was wrong. As the spider dumped her onto a clearing floor, she looked around, spotting more spiders of increasing largeness. The second largest spiders were the size of wild horses. The largest was a spider the size of an elephant.

The elephant spider sat in the middle of a suitably sized web. The other spiders gathered around him, like children waiting to hear a story. Her ears were filled with the spiders' chattering pincers. After a moment, she realized they were communicating with each other.

"Aragog!" The spider carrying Harry cried out between clicks. "Aragog!"

The elephant sized spider moved closer. The other spiders had coarse black hair, but his was grey. Their eyes were like coal. His eyes were pearly white.

"What is it?" The spider called Aragog asked.

"Men," Harry's spider answered.

"Is it Hagrid?" Aragog asked hopefully. Chrys realized the spider was blind.

"Strangers," Ron's spider told him.

"Kill them," Aragog said. "I was sleeping—"

"We're friends of Hagrid's!" Harry said quickly.

"Hagrid has never sent men into our hollow before," Aragog said doubtfully.

"Hagrid's in trouble," Harry continued, panting.

"In trouble?" Aragog repeated, clearly upset. "But why has he sent you?"

Harry took a deep breath. "They think, up at the school, that Hagrid' been setting a—a… something on students. They've taken him to Azkaban."

Aragog clicked his pincers irritably. "But that was years ago, years and years ago. I remember it well. That's why they made him leave the school. They believed that I was the monster that dwells in what they call the Chamber of Secrets. They thought that Hagrid had opened the Chamber and set me free."

"And you…" Harry shivered. "You didn't come from the Chamber of Secrets?"

"I! I was not born in the castle. I come from a distant land. A traveler gave me to Hagrid when I was an egg. Hagrid was only a boy, but he cared for me." Aragog told them how Hagrid had hidden him in the castle, until he was discovered and blamed for the death of a girl. Hagrid moved him into the forest, and had later brought Aragog a wife. "And you see how our family has grown, all through Hagrid's goodness."

"So you never… never attacked anyone?" Harry asked.

"Never," Aragog repeated. "It would have been my instinct, but out of respect for Hagrid, I never harmed a human. The body of the girl who was killed was discovered in a bathroom." Chrys straightened up. "I never saw any part of the castle but the cupboard in which I grew up. Our kind like the dark and the quiet…"

"But then, do you know what did kill that girl?" Harry asked, his curiosity overwhelming his fear. "Because whatever it is, it's back and attacking people again—"

The spiders chattered and shuffled uncomfortably.

"The thing that lives in the castle is an ancient creature we spiders fear above all others. Well do I remember how I pleaded with Hagrid to let me go, when I sensed the beast moving about the school."

"What is it?" Harry wanted to know.

"We do not speak of it!" Aragog cried. Chrys was uncomfortably reminded of Voldemort and his title of You-Know-Who. "We do not name it! I never even told Hagrid the name of that dread creature, though he asked me, many times."

"We'll… just go, then," Harry said, glancing around at the spiders.

"Go?" Aragog repeated. "I think not…"

Chrys gripped her wand. "But… but…" Harry stammered.

"My sons and daughters do not harm Hagrid, on my command. But I cannot deny them fresh meat, when it wanders so willingly into our midst. Goodbye, friend of Hagrid."

"You'll be sorry!" Chrys shouted, suddenly finding her voice as she jumped to her feet. Chrys drew closer to Harry, who had moved in front of Ron and a shaking Fang. Aragog hissed, and several spiders advanced.

Then a rumbled sound vibrated the ground beneath her feet. A stream of light zoomed towards them, scattering the spiders. The car's doors flung open.

"Get in!" Chrys said, shoving Harry into the back.

"Don't forget Fang!" Harry added. Ron pushed Fang in next to Harry before leaping into the driver's seat, Chrys next to him.

Ron didn't even need to put his foot on the accelerator. The car moved forward on its own, racing through the woods with hairpin turns to avoid trees and chasing spiders.

"Ron?" After they had been moving for a while, Chrys hesitantly put her hand on his shoulder. He let out a breath, his expression slightly calmer.

Then the car stopped with a jerk, Chrys nearly banging her head into the windshield. She yelped as the doors popped open, the car clearly telling them to get going. Fang ran off, as Chrys looked around. They were back at the edge of the forest, Fang probably already scratching at Hagrid's door.

"Thanks." Harry patted the car on his way out. Ron massaged his neck as he watched the car race back into the wood.

Chrys patted Ron's pack as he vomited into the pumpkin patch.

"How's Fang?" She asked as Harry got back with the invisibility cloak.

"Hiding under his blanket," Harry told her. Ron wiped his mouth on his sleeve.

"Follow the spiders," he muttered. "I'll never forgive Hagrid."

Chrys frowned. "Aragog said he promised Hagrid never to kill humans, Hagrid probably took him at his word."

"That's exactly Hagrid's problem!" Ron snapped. "He always thinks monsters aren't as bad as they're made out, and look where it's got him! A cell in Azkaban!"

"Ron." Chrys saw how he was shaking, but he still shouldn't be talking about Hagrid like that.

"What was the point of sending us in there? What have we found out, I'd like to know?"

"Well, Hagrid never opened the Chamber, for one," Harry said, throwing the cloak over them.

"I've been telling you that for ages," Chrys complained.

"Well, now we know for sure that he's innocent," Harry reasoned. Ron snorted.

"Hiding Aragog in a cupboard isn't exactly my idea of innocent!"

"And there's something else," Chrys said quietly as they moved back into the common room.

"Can it wait until tomorrow?" Ron said tiredly. Chrys looked around at their muddy clothes, and their scratched and battered bodies. She nodded. Ron gave her a grateful look, before trudging upstairs. Harry squeezed her shoulder before following.

Chrys wondered if she could take a shower without waking the other girls.

Chapter Text

"All those times we were in that bathroom, and she was just three toilets away," Ron said at breakfast the next morning, after Chrys reminded them that Aragog said the last time the Chamber was opened a girl had been killed in a bathroom. "And now…"

"It was hard enough sneaking around looking for spiders under the nose of all the patrolling teachers," Harry complained. "A girls' bathroom is going to be even harder."

"I think you're forgetting something," Chrys said, spooning more porridge into her bowl.

"What's that?" Harry wondered.

"I'm a girl," she pointed out. Harry and Ron blinked. "The next time we're near Moaning Myrtle's bathroom, I'll ask the teacher to let me pop into the loo for a moment, and then I'll ask Myrtle how she died."

 

"Your brother isn't with you?" Myrtle asked, disappointed. She peered around Chrys, as if Harry might be hiding behind her.

"No."

"Well at least you didn't bring that rude ginger and the puffy haired bookworm."

Chrys frowned. "That rude ginger and puffy haired bookworm are my best friends…" She paused. "And anyway, you're getting me off track. I came here to ask you about the day you died."

"Oh?" Myrtle's eyes lit up. "Well, let me tell you, it was dreadful." She grinned. "It happened right in here." She gestured. "I died in this very stall. I remember it so well. I'd hidden because Oliver Hornby was teasing me about my glasses." Chrys felt a flash of sympathy. The live and dead girl exchanged a commiserating bespeckled glance before Myrtle continued, "The door was locked, and I was crying, and then I heard somebody come in. They said something funny. A different language, it must have been. Anyway, what really got me was that it was a boy that was speaking. So I unlocked the door, to tell him to go and use his own toilet, and then…" She paused dramatically. "I died."

"Could you... be more specific?" Chrys asked slowly. Myrtle frowned.

"Well, I don't know."

"You don't remember anything at all?"

"…There were these big yellow eyes. My whole body sort of seized up, and then I was floating away… And then I came back again. I was determined to haunt Oliver Hornby, you see. Oh she was sorry she'd ever laughed at my glasses."

"Good for you," Chrys said. "Do you remember where exactly you saw those eyes?"

"Somewhere over there." Myrtle gestured at the closest sink. Chrys moved over and started examining the tap. "It's never worked, that tap." Chrys moved her hand over the grimy metal, and thought she felt something.

Just then, the prefect who had escorted Chrys to the bathroom, stuck his head in.

"Everything alright in there?" He asked, looking a bit embarrassed.

"Fine," Chrys called back. She figured it'd be suspicious if she stuck around any longer, so she hurried along. "I'll be back," she told Mrytle in an undertone.

"I'll be here." Mrytle waved. "Not as if I have anywhere else to go."

 

Chrys met Harry and Ron back in Transfiguration.

"We really ought to go with you, help you search the bathroom," Harry thought.

"Yeah, but how?" Ron wondered.

Then, McGonagall caused a distraction by announcing that their exams would start on June 1st.

"Exams?" Seamus repeated, aghast. "We're still getting exams?"

Next to Chrys, Neville dropped his wand, causing the table to fall on top of them as the table legs vanished. Professor McGonagall quickly set it right again. Neville rubbed the back of his neck and shot Chrys an apologetic look.

"The whole point of keeping the school open at this time is for you to receive your education," McGonagall told Seamus. "The exams will therefore take place as usual, and I trust you are all studying hard."

"I haven't been studying at all," Neville whispered. "Have you?" Chrys shrugged.

"Not really, not since Hermione…" She frowned. Neville gave her an awkward pat on the shoulder. "Well, I can probably get by on Charms," she thought. "If I study a bit, I might pass transfiguration, but potions… well, that's always a wild card."

"Yeah," Neville agreed, obviously thinking of Snape as he sighed.

"Well, you'll be better off than me, in any case," Ron figured, eyeing his wand.

 

A couple of days passed since her conversation with Mrytle and Chrys was itching to get back.

However, between the patrols and the sudden onslaught of studying, the trio hadn't any time to get to Moaning Mrytle's bathroom.

"I have good news," Professor McGonagall said, standing up during breakfast.

"Exams are canceled?" Neville said hopefully.

"Dumbledore's back!" Dean thought.

"You've caught the Heir of Slytherin!" Some girl in Ravenclaw called out.

"Quidditch matches are back on!" Wood said, loudest of them all. Harry gave him a somewhat amused look.

Professor McGonagall waited for the noise to clear and then continued, "Professor Sprout has informed me that the mandrakes are ready for cutting at last. Tonight, we will be able to revive those people who have been petrified."

The crowd seemed at a loss for words. Chrys beamed.

Neville hummed thoughtfully. "I wonder if Professor Sprout needs any help…"

"I need hardly remind you all that one of them may well be able to tell us who, or what, attacked them," Professor McGonagall went on. "I am hopeful that this dreadful year will end with our catching the culprit."

The crowd found its voice again, and cheered.

"Malfoy doesn't look so happy," Harry noticed, glancing over at the Slytherins.

"Forget Malfoy," Chrys said.

"So, it won't matter that we haven't been able to search the bathroom," Ron said excitedly. "Hermione'll probably have all the answers when they wake her up. Mind you, she'll go crazy when she finds out we've got exams in three days' time. She hasn't studied. It might be kinder to leave her where she is till they're over."

"Ron!" Chrys said, elbowing him but unable to keep from laughing slightly.

"Um…" Ginny suddenly squeezed her way in to sit between Chrys and Ron.

"What's up?" Ron wondered, grabbing a bowl and helping her to a large helping of porridge. Ginny stared at the food.

"I…" She twisted her hands in her lap.

"Spit it out," Ron told her. Chrys frowned as Ginny rocked slowly back and forth, eyeing the people around her with suspicion.

"She looks like Dobby, going against an order," Harry said in her ear. Chrys frowned deeper.

"Gin, you feeling okay?" She asked. Ginny took a breath.

"Chrys, I need to tell you something…"

"What is it?" Harry wondered, leaning around Chrys. Ginny pursed her lips.

"What?" Ron repeated.

"Is it something about the Chamber of Secrets?" Harry asked quietly. Ginny stiffened. Unfortunately, before she could say anything, Percy suddenly came up behind them. Chrys jumped.

"If you're finishing eating, I'll take that seat, Ginny. I'm starving. I've only just come off patrol duty."

Ginny zipped up and away.

Chrys unceremoniously shoved Percy's shoulder as he dug into Ginny's untouched bowl of porridge. Then she got up to find Ginny.

Ginny was faster than she looked. Chrys found no sight of her, and glowered all the way to and through Defense Against the Dark Arts.

"Cheer up, we can talk to her later," Harry tried to reassure her.

"It's not as if she's usually a ray of sunshine in this class," Ron pointed out.

Weirdly enough, Lockhart did cheer her up a bit. He kept trying to touch up his hair, which was a frazzeled mess, as he complained about being up all night patrolling the corridors. Chrys looked at Harry to share a laugh, but rather than amused, Harry looked thoughtful. "Mark my words," Lockhart said as they rounded the corner. "The first words out of those poor Petrified people’s mouths will be ‘It was Hagrid.’ Frankly, I’m astounded Professor McGonagall thinks all these security measures are necessary."

Chrys clenched her fists and opened her mouth, but Harry elbowed her.

"I agree, sir."

Ron dropped his books, staring at Harry. "Thank you, Harry," Lockhart said, as they paused to let a long line of Hufflepuffs pass. "I mean, we teachers have quite enough to be getting on with, without walking students to classes and standing guard all night..." Harry grinned slightly, and Ron and Chrys exchanged a sudden look of understanding.

"That's right," Ron said. "Why don’t you leave us here, sir, we’ve only got one more corridor to go—"

"You know, Weasley, I think I will," Lockhart said immediately. "I really should go and prepare my next class—" He sped off.

"Where's he off to?" Seamus wondered from somewhere behind them.

"Off to prepare for his next class." Ron snorted. "Gone to curl his hair, more like." Seamus laughed and continued on through the corridor as the path cleared again.

The trio disentangled themselves from the rest of the Gryffindors and moved towards the bathroom.

"Well done," Ron told Harry, grinning.

"Not so bad yourself," Harry responded.

"It was clever thinking," Chrys agreed. "But it's not like he took a lot of convincing."

"You three!" Professor McGonagall called out, spotting them and advancing. Chrys smiled awkwardly. "What are you doing?"

"We were… we were just…" Ron swallowed. "Um, we were going to see…"

"Hermione!" Harry said suddenly. Ron tried to nod along as if this were exactly what he had been about to say. "We haven't seen her in ages, Professor. And we thought we'd sneak into the hospital wing, you now, and tell her the mandrakes are nearly ready, and er… not to worry." Chrys gave him a doubtful look. He stepped on her foot.

"Of course," Professor McGonagall said suddenly. Her voice was a bit hoarse, and Chrys swore she saw a single tear in the professor's eye. "Of course, I realize this has all been hardest on the friends of those who have been… I quite understand. Of course you may visit Miss Granger. I will inform Professor Binns where you've gone. Tell Madam Pomfrey I've given my permission."

Chrys smiled for real this time. "Thanks, Professor."

McGonagall nodded as she walked off, blowing her nose.

"That, was the best story you've ever come up with," Ron said, looking at Harry with respect. Chrys shrugged.

"Well, it'll have to be the truth now. If Professor McGonagall hears we haven't been to the hospital wing, she may get suspicious."

Harry nodded. "May as well take advantage of her giving permission, and actually visit Hermione."

They did, though Madam Pomfrey was reluctant to let them in.

"There's just no point in talking to a petrified person," she told them.

"Well, it may give Ron a piece of mind, anyhow," Chrys said, patting Ron on the back. Ron gave her a weird look, but Madam Pomfrey let them be.

"Wonder if she did see the attack, though?" Ron thought. He stared wistfully at Hermione's glassy eyes. Chrys reached over and held one of Hermione's hands, which was clenched into a fist. "Because if he sneaked up on them all, no one'll ever know—"

"Ah-ha!" Chrys said suddenly.

"What?" Harry blinked.

"There's a piece of paper in her fist!" With some difficulty, and Ron keeping watch for Madam Pomfrey, Harry and Chrys managed to get the piece of paper out. The parchment was old, and looked as if it'd been torn from a book.

"Must be important if Hermione's willing to wreck a book to get at it," Ron thought.

They leaned over and read about the Basilisk, King of the Serpents.

"A giant snake, no wonder only me and Chrys could hear it," Harry thought.

It had venomous fangs, and the ability to kill just by looking somebody in the eye.

"That's just how Myrtle died!" Chrys realized.

"And look at this." Harry pointed at one section. "Spiders flee before the Basilisk, for it is their mortal enemy."

"And the basilisk flees only from the crowing of the rooster, which is fatal to it," Chrys finished reading. "Hagrid said something's been killing the roosters! It must be the heir, doing it to protect the basilisk—Slytherin's monster!"

"How's it been getting around the castle without being seen, though?" Ron thought. "If it's that large…" Harry turned over the paper. Hermione had scrawled one word on it: pipes. Chrys beamed.

"Even petrified, Hermione's doing all the work."

"Speaking of which," Ron said. "If people die when they look in its eye—like Myrtle—then how come everybody else has been getting petrified instead?"

Harry ran his hand through his hair. "Well... maybe no one has been looking it directly in the eyes. Colin saw it through his camera. Justin… Justin must have seen it through Nearly Headless Nick!"

"And Nick couldn't exactly die again," Ron thought. Harry nodded enthusiastically.

"Mrs. Norris…there was water on the floor that night. She must have seen its reflection. And Hermione and the Ravenclaw girl…" He paused.

"Penelope Clearwater had a mirror on her," Chrys said suddenly. "If Hermione ran into her in the library… she might've asked Penelope to use the mirror to check corners, make sure they didn't meet the basilisk head on."

"Well, what are we waiting for?" Ron said. "Let's go tell McGonagall!" Harry glanced at the old clock.

"It's almost break, so she'll be in the staffroom in about ten minutes."

 

As they ran through the halls, Professor McGonagall's voice came echoing towards them, as if projected by a loudspeaker.

"All students to return to their House dormitories at once. All teachers return to the staffroom. Immediately, please."

"Something's happened," Chrys realized. Harry shook his head in frustration.

"Not another attack, not now!"

"What'll we do?" Ron wondered. "Go back to the dormitory?"

"No." Harry looked around. He came to a stop in front of the staffroom. "They're bound to come in here to talk about what's happened so…" He wheeled into the room, shutting the door behind him. "There!" He spotted an ugly wardrobe and slipped inside. Ron and Chrys exchanged a wary look before following. Ron shut the door, leaving a small gap to see through.

Chrys moved a hanging coat away from her face, trying to hear the mutters of the teachers entering the room.

"It has happened," Professor McGonagall said. Everyone fell silent. "A student has been taken by the monster. Right into the chamber itself."

Professor Flitwick let out a gasp. Professor Sprout covered her mouth with her hands. Snape grabbed the back of a chair to steady himself, his knuckles going white.

"How can you be sure?" He asked hoarsely.

"The Heir of Syltherin…" Professor McGonagall took a deep gulp of air. "… Left another message. Right underneath the first one. Her skeleton will lie in the Chamber forever."

Professor Flitwick burst into tears. Chrys couldn't blame him.

"Who is it?" Madam Hooch asked, collapsing into a chair. "Which student?"

"Ginny Weasely," McGonagall told them. Ron stumbled back against Chrys. She held him up, though she was shaking. "We shall have to send all the students home tomorrow. This is the end of Hogwarts. Dumbledore always said—"

The staffroom door crashed open. Harry looked up hopefully, his face sinking as he saw the brightly smiling Lockhart.

"So sorry, dozed off. What have I missed?"

He seemed remarkably unaware of the looks of hatred all the other teachers were giving him.

Snape stepped forward. "Just the man," he said coolly. "The very man. A girl has been snatched by the monster, Lockhart. Taken into the Chamber of Secrets itself. Your moment has come." Chrys looked on doubtfully, wondering if Snape had finally lost his already small amount of common sense. Then Lockhart blanched and Snape's lip curled into a smirk.

"That's right," Professor Sprout put in. "Weren't you saying just last night that you've known all along where the entrance to the Chamber of Secrets is?"

"I… well… I…" Lockhart spluttered.

"Yes, didn't you tell me you were sure you knew what was inside it?" Flitwick added.

"D-did I? I don't recall…"

"I certainly remember you saying you were sorry you hadn't had a crack at the monster before Hagrid was arrested," Snape continued. "Didn't you say that the whole affair had been bungled, and that you should have been given a free rein from the first?"

That did indeed sound like something Lockhart would say.

"I really never… you must have misunderstood…"

"We'll leave it to you then, Gilderoy," Professor McGonagall said, as if the matter was decided. "Tonight will be an excellent time to do it. We'll make sure everyone's out of your way. You'll be able to tackle the monster all by yourself. A free rein at last."

Lockhart was trembling, drooping like a dead flower.

"Very well, I'll be in my office, getting ready." He left in a hurry. Chrys nearly snorted.

"Right." Professor McGonagall's nostrils flared. "That's got him out from under our feet." Everyone nodded in relief. "The Heads of Houses should go and inform their students what has happened. Tell them the Hogwarts Express will take them home first thing tomorrow. Will the rest of you please make sure no students have been left outside their dormitories."

The trio waited until the teachers had cleared out and then snuck back into the tower. Chrys gripped Ron's arm tightly the whole way, but he never once complained.

As soon as the portrait flung open, Fred and George ran at them.

"You three…" Fred let out a breath.

"Merlin," George said. "We thought, maybe…" Percy studied Ron for a moment before nodding stiffly.

"I'm going to send a letter to our parents." His jaw clenched. "You three are not to leave here again—you hear me?" He gave Ron, Chrys, and Harry each a hard look. Ron nodded without feeling. Fred and George steered him over to Chrys' favorite window seat, in the corner, away from the whispers of their fellow students.

After he got back, Percy thundered up the stairs. Oliver Wood followed, but came back down a moment later.

"He's locked himself in," he told one of their dormates. "I don't know what to... Should we leave him be?"

Chrys considered going up to talk to him, but she wouldn't know what to say.

It was only when George started nodding off on Fred's shoulder, that she convinced the two of them to go up to bed.

Fred eyed Ron, who hadn't spoken a word since they got back. "Don't let him out of your sight," he muttered to Harry, who nodded.

"She knew something," Ron said finally, when they were alone. Chrys and Harry looked at him. "That's why she was taken. If only Percy hadn't… she'd found out something about the Chamber of Secrets. That must be why she was…" Ron rubbed at his eyes. "I mean, she was a pureblood." Chrys felt her heart sink to her stomach at his use of the past tense. "There can't be any other reason."

Harry glanced out the window at the violently red sunset.

"I wish… there was something, anything, we could do," he said hoarsely.

"Harry…" Ron hesitated. "Do you think there's any chance at all she's not…" Harry stayed silent. Chrys swallowed, her throat feeling very dry. "You know, I think we should go see Lockhart. Tell him what we know. There's no way he knows where the Chamber is, he would've already rushed to take credit for it… but we have a clue. There might be something in Moaning Myrtle's bathroom. Maybe if we tell him about that, and about the basilisk, he'll stand a fighting chance."

Chrys doubted it. Though the exploits in his book were impressive, the man she'd gotten to know throughout the year was nothing like how he portrayed himself in writing. Still…

She stood up and nodded. "Let's go."

Most of the Gryffindors had gone to bed by now. Those who hadn't watched Ron leave with pitying looks on their faces. Chrys felt like hitting somebody. She marched on.

Behind the door to Lockhart's office they heard much scrapping and scuttling. Harry knocked on the door. There was a pause of silence before the door opened just a crack.

"Oh, the Potter twins and Mr. Weasley," said Lockhart's eye (which was all they could see of him). "I'm rather busy at the moment, if you would be quick."

"Professor, we've got some information," Harry told him. "We think it'll help you."

"Er, well, it's not terribly…" A bit more of Lockhart's face came into view. He looked uncomfortable. "I mean, well…"

"Please." Chrys stared hard at him.

"Well, alright." Lockhart opened the door. Ron blinked.

The office had been cleared out. Brightly colored robes, books, and posters of Lockhart's smiling face were shoved into two large trunks near the door. Lockhart picked up one book he'd missed and tossed it in.

Harry's eyes narrowed. "Are you going somewhere?"

"Er, well, yes. Urgent call, unavoidable, got to go…"

"What about my sister?" Ron barked.

"Well, as to that, most unfortunate…" Lockhart jerked a drawer out of his desk and dumped the contents into the trunk. "No one regrets more than I—" He reached for a stack of socks, but Chrys stepped in front of him.

"You're the Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher!" Harry shouted. "You can't go now! Not with all the Dark stuff going on here!"

"Well, I must say, when I took this job… nothing in the job description…" Lockhart muttered. Ron caught Chrys as Lockhart shoved her out of the way. He tossed his socks in his trunk. "… I mean, I didn't expect…"

"You mean, you're running away?" Harry realized. "After all that stuff you did in your books—"

"Books can be misleading," Lockhart said carefully.

"You wrote them!" Harry roared.

"My dear boy." Lockhart straightened up. "Do use your common sense. My books wouldn't have sold half as well if people didn't think I'd done all those things. No one wants to read about some ugly old Armenian warlock, even if he did save a village from werewolves. He'd look dreadful on the front cover. No dress sense at all. And the witch who banished the Bandon Banshee had a hairy chin. I mean, come on—"

"So you've just been taking credit for what a load of other people have done?" Harry, for some reason, sounded shocked. Ron and Chrys exchanged a look of vindication.

"I knew you were just a shiny bit of nothing," Chrys muttered. Lockhart frowned.

"Now, now, Harry, Chrysanthemum..." He shook his head. "It's not nearly as simple as that. There was work involved. I had to track these people down. Ask them exactly how they managed to do what they did. Then I had to put a Memory Charm on them so they wouldn't remember doing it. If there's one thing I pride myself on, it's my Memory Charms." Her brow furrowed.

"But—"

"No buts about it, Miss Potter. It's really been a lot of work. Not all book signings and publicity photos, you know. You want fame, you have to be prepared for a long, hard, slog." He snapped the lids of his trunks shut and locked them. "Let's see… I think that's everything. Yes, only one thing left." He turned, holding his wand on them. Harry stepped in front of Chrys and Ron. Harry's hand gropped behind him. Chrys subtley pulled his wand out of his pocket and rested it in his hand. "Awfully sorry about this, but I can't have you blabbing my secrets all over the place. I'd never sell another book—"

"Expelliarmus!" Harry shouted. Lockhart was slammed backwards against one of his trunks. He groaned. Ron caught his wand. "Shouldn't have let Professor Snape teach us that one!" Harry and Chrys advanced on Lockhart, who was trembling again.

"What do you want me to do?" Lockhart asked. "I don't know where the Chamber of Secrets is. There's nothing I can do."

"What luck," Harry said. "We have gotten an idea where to look." He gestured. "Up on your feet." Chrys frowned.

"Are we bringing him with us?" She asked. Harry nodded. "He'll just be dead weight."

"Can you guarantee he won't get away if we leave him here?" Harry said. "Cause all those people he stole memories from deserve a little justice."

"Bring him to McGonagall, then," Chrys suggested.

"She'll lock us in the dorms." Harry sighed. "This is our only chance, Chrys. If we leave that monster down there, we're as good as he is." He glanced distastefully at Lockhart. Chrys nodded slowly and helped march Lockhart down the hall.

"Oh, you brought your brother this time," Myrtle said, pleased as she spotted the twins. She frowned slightly at Ron.

"Hello, Myrtle," Chrys and Harry said vaguely. Chrys nodded at Ron. "Keep an eye on Mr. Memory Charm… I want to take another look at something…" She moved over to the tap. "Ah… I thought I felt something."

"What is it?" Ron wondered, trying to look at her and Lockhart at the same time.

"A small etching of a snake," Harry told him, studying it.

"Oh!" Ron nodded. "One of you, quick, say something in Parseltounge!"

"Um… open sesame," Chrys tried.

"Nope, that was English." Ron looked slightly amused.

"Open," Harry tried. Ron shook his head. Chrys closed her eyes, thinking of the boa constrictor she and her brother had made friends with at the zoo last year.

"Open," she breathed. She heard a hiss, and realized a second later that it was coming from her mouth. She opened her eyes and saw the tap start to glow and spin, and sink downwards until it disappeared into the porcelain basin.

"Oh," Ron said again, staring. Then the basin itself sunk back into the wall, leaving only the pipe, which was wide enough for a fully-grown man to fit into. Harry studied if for a moment and then nodded to himself.

"I've got to go down there," he decided. "If there's even the slimmest chance Ginny's still alive—"

"Me too," Ron said quickly. Chrys frowned.

"What about him?" She jerked her head at Lockhart. He tried to smiled.

"Well, you hardly seem to need me, so I'll just…" He backed up to the door, but Harry and Chrys pointed their wands at him.

"You can go first," Ron snarled. "See if it's safe." Lockhart's eyes widened. Chrys grinned.

"I like the sound of that." She moved towards him. He backed away, up against the entrance of the pipe.

"Now, Chrysanthemum, boys, I don't think that—" He squeaked as Ron gave him a sharp push. After a moment, the shouting stopped. "What in the name of—" Lockhart's voice sounded far away.

"Our turn." Harry jumped in. Chrys and Ron followed.

It was like a playground slide, except slimy, dark, and seemingly endless.

Luckily there was an end. Chrys was flung with a slip of pipe sludge, onto the floor of a tunnel. Lockhart was standing shakily. Harry leaned over and helped Chrys, and then Ron to their feet.

"We must be miles beneath the school," he thought, his tone full of wonder. Chrys felt less wondrous as she spat out a lock of her slime-covered hair.

"Under the lake probably," Ron figured.

"Yeah, yeah." She grabbed the elastic band from around her wrist and pulled her hair up, ignoring the painful tug of tangles. "Lumos."

Harry did the same. "Come on," he said, nodding at Ron and Lockhart. The four of them walked slowly, footsteps echoing off the stone walls. "Remember, any sign of movement, close your eyes right away." Chrys nodded. Lockhart looked curious.

"Why's that?"

"Because the monster is a basilisk. One look in its eye and you're dead," she explained. Lockhart gulped.

Ron yelped as something crunched underfoot. Chrys shone her light over it. Ron's face turned green at the sight of the floor, littered in animal bones.

"Lovely," Lockhart muttered sarcastically. For once, she agreed.

"Over there," Ron said urgently. They eyed the serpentine shadow. It was three times Ron's height and width. No one moved, including the shadow.

"Maybe it's asleep," Harry thought, inching forward. Lockhart threw his hands over his eyes.

"Harry…" Chrys hesitated, but followed him.

They raised their wands, illuminating the giant husk of snakeskin. Lockhart fell to his knees with a thud. Chrys rolled her eyes.

"Blimey," Ron said. Chrys blinked, spotting movement behind him.

"Ron, watch out—" It was too late. Lockhart had thrown himself at Ron, knocking them onto the ground. "Get off of him!"

She tried to aim her wand, but they were too close together—she could hit Ron if she tried anything.

The two of them struggled, but Lockhart had the element of surprise on his side, and managed to grab Ron's wand.

"The adventure ends here!" Lockhart shouted, holding Ron's wand aloft.

Harry growled and went to move forward, but Chrys gripped his arm.

"Wait," she told him carefully. Harry looked at Lockhart, and then at her, and nodded slowly.

"It's too late, Chrysanthemum," Lockhart told her, his smile the most complacent she'd ever seen (even on him). "No chance to save yourself now. I'll take a bit of this skin back up to the school, and say that you three lost your minds at the side of such a fearsome beast. Say goodbye to your memories!" And with that, he raised Ron's Spellotaped wand. "Obliviate!"

The wand exploded. Harry threw himself on top of Chrys, shielding her from the blast.

"Harry!" Chrys coughed as the rock dust began to settle. "Ron?" She tried to stand up, but slipped on a bit of exploded snakeskin. Harry pulled her up, frowning at the pile of rocks blocking off the tunnel.

"Ron!" He called louder. "Are you okay?"

"Ron!" Chrys joined him.

"I'm here!" Ron's voice came back, muffled. "I'm okay… this git's not, though, he got blasted by the wand."

"Is he alive?" Chrys wondered, slightly guilty. Lockhart deserved to be blasted in the face, but she'd still feel bad if she had let him kill himself.

"One sec…" They heard a groan. Chrys guessed Ron had kicked him. "Yeah, he's alive… what now, though? I can't get through. It'll take ages."

Harry studied the blockage. The boulders were filled with long tracks and fissures.

"I've never tried to take anything apart by magic," he said slowly. "And even if I knew the right spell… that pile of rocks looks unsteady. The whole thing might come tumbling down on us."

Chrys nodded. "We'd be wasting time. We need to go on, see if we can find Ginny."

"Alright." Harry grimaced. He cupped his hands over his mouth. "Ron, wait there! We'll go on, and if we're not back in an hour…"

"I'll try and shift some of this rock," Ron said, his voice shaking. "So you can… can get back through. Harry…"

"See you in a bit," Harry said, with false confidence. The twins walked forward. "I don't suppose you'd stay back and help him?" Harry avoided eye contact with her. She scoffed. Harry laughed nervously. "Yeah, I didn't think so."

Chapter Text

Not too far along the tunnel, Harry and Chrys came upon a circular door. Two stone snakes curled around the rim, intertwined. Their emerald eyes glittered in the wand light.

"Open," Harry said. Chrys heard the hiss with the word, and knew he'd gotten it on the first try.

The door slid open.

Chrys walked into the chamber. Her footsteps splashed through water puddled on the ground. The sound echoed off the high ceilings.

"My socks are getting wet," she complained quietly. Harry shushed her, eyeing the large columns that supported the ceiling, with more stone snakes curled around them. She gripped her wand tighter. Harry moved past the columns, further into the chamber, and she followed. Another statue stood at the end of the room, nearly as tall as the ceiling. "Salazar Slytherin," she figured, wondering if he really could be their great-great-great (and so on…) grandfather. She saw nothing familiar in his stern face.

"Ginny!" Harry cried out suddenly, rushing to a small figure at the foot of the statue. "Ginny, don't be dead, please don't be dead," he begged, dropping his wand and grabbing her shoulders. Her face was so pale.

"Is she…?"

"Ginny, please wake up." Harry shook her gently.

"She won't wake," said a soft voice. Harry and Chrys whirled around. It was a boy, with dark hair and startlingly blue eyes. He looked to be around Percy's age.

"What…?" Chrys felt Harry tense behind her. She glanced back, seeing him grip Ginny tightly. Chrys stepped in front of them, her wand raised. "Who are you, what do you want?"

"Why don't you ask your brother?" The boy glanced around at Harry.

"It can't be." Harry frowned. "Tom… Tom Riddle?"

Chrys stared. "From the diary?"

Riddle nodded, moving closer, leaning slightly, trying to get a better look at Harry around her.

Chrys stood her ground.

"What do you mean, she won't wake?" Harry asked him. "She's not…"

"She's still alive," Riddle told them. Chrys let out a breath of relief. "But only just." She frowned.

The boy's body wobbled in the air, as if it were made of mist.

"…What are you?" Chrys amended her earlier question. The boy's responding smile sent a shiver up her spine.

"Are you a ghost?" Harry said, unsure.

"A memory," Riddle corrected him. "Preserved in the diary for fifty years." He pointed and Chrys turned. She thought she saw Riddle move out of the corner of her eyes, but she was distracted by the sight of the diary, lying on the floor near Ginny. Harry's brow furrowed.

"How…?" He shook his head. "More importantly, Tom, we need your help. We've got to get Ginny out of here. There's a basilisk. We don't know where it is, but it could be along any moment." Harry struggled to pull Ginny off the floor. Chrys would have helped him, but Riddle had her full attention. He was holding Harry's— "My wand…" Harry realized. Riddle raised his hand, twirling Harry's wand with his fingers.. "Thanks." Harry reached out to take it, but Riddle didn't move.

"Harry…" Chrys frowned at Riddle. "I don't think…"

"Listen," Harry said to Riddle. "We've got to go!" He struggled under Ginny's weight. "If the basilisk comes—"

"It won't come until it's called," Riddle said calmly. Harry collapsed under Ginny's weight, on his knees again.

"What do you mean?"

"Harry," Chrys said again, warningly.

"Look, give me my wand," Harry continued to Riddle. "I might need it."

"You won't be needing it," Riddle told him.

"What do you mean?" Harry repeated.

"Harry!" Chrys snapped. "Shut up!" Riddle finally turned his gaze towards her. "Expelliarmus!" A flash of red light zoomed out of her wand, but Riddle waved Harry's wand and the light dissipated.

Harry stared at her. "Chrys, what…?"

"Harry, he's the heir of Slytherin," Chrys said impatiently. "He was there fifty years ago, the first time, and now…" Riddle smiled.

"You know, I was sure the boy would be the more interesting one, but you…" He studied her.

"What did you do to Ginny?" Chrys asked him, shaking slightly.

"Now, that is an interesting question." His head tilted. "And quite a long story. I suppose the real reason Ginny Weasley's like this is because she opened her heart and spilled all her secrets to an invisible stranger."

"You," Chrys surmised.

"Well, me, and the diary," Riddle amended. "My diary. Little Ginny's been writing in it for months and months, telling me all her pitiful worries and woes—how her brothers tease her, how she had to come to school with secondhand robes and books, how…" Riddle smirked. "… How she didn't think famous, good, great Harry Potter would ever like her…" Riddle was back to looking at Harry with an intensity that worried Chrys. "It's very boring, having to listen to the silly little troubles of an eleven year old girl, but I was patient. I wrote back. I was sympathetic. I was kind. Ginny simply loved me. No one's ever understood me like you, Tom… I'm so glad I've got this diary to confide in… it's like having a friend I can carry around in my pocket." Chrys wondered why Ginny hadn't confided in her… but she thought she knew the answer deep down. Chrys was Harry's sister, and Ron's friend. Ginny needed someone separate to talk to… and Riddle had taken advantage of that.

Chrys gritted her teeth. "You're horrible," she thought. Riddle laughed. It was a cold laugh that didn't match the handsomeness of his face, or the charm in his voice. It made the hairs on the back of her neck stand at attention.

"Am I?" He grinned. "Maybe… but if I do say so myself, I've always been able to charm the people I needed. So Ginny poured out her soul to me, and her soul happened to be exactly what I wanted… I grew stronger and stronger on a diet of her deepest fears, her darkest secrets. I grew powerful, far more powerful than little Miss Weasley. Powerful enough to start feeding Miss Weasley a few of secrets, to start pouring a little of my soul back into her…"

"What do you mean?" Harry asked a third time. He sounded like a broken record… although, Chrys would also like to know the answer this time.

"Haven't figured it out this time, Chrysanthemum Potter?" Riddle looked her over. She stayed silent. "No?" He laughed again. "Ginny Weasley opened the Chamber of Secrets. She strangled the school roosters and daubed threatening messages on the walls. She set the Serpent of Slytherin on four Mudbloods, and the squib's cat."

"No," Harry said quietly.

"Yes," Riddle disagreed. Chrys frowned. Her brow was furrowed so hard that she was getting a headache. "Of course, she didn't know what she was doing at first. It was very amusing. I wish you could have seen her new diary entries… far more interesting, they became…"

"Ginny was missing time," Chrys told Harry. "I thought… I thought she might be sleepwalking."

"Not exactly," Riddle said, and slipped into a mimickery of Ginny's high-pitched voice: "Dear Tom, I think I'm losing my memory. There are rooster feathers all over my robes and I don't know how they got there. Dear Tom, I can't remember what I did on the night of Halloween, but a cat was attacked and I've got paint all down my front." Chrys shook her head, her stomach turning. "Dear Tom, Percy keeps telling me I'm pale and not myself. I think he suspects. I think he's sent Chrys to keep an eye on me. I don't know who to trust." He looked pleased at the painful look on Chrys' face. "There was another attack today, and I don't know where I was. Tom, what am I going to do? I think I'm going mad… I think I'm the one attacking everyone, Tom!" Chrys still held her wand up, but her arm was shaking. She was barely holding the tears back. "It took a very long time for stupid little Ginny to stop trusting her diary, but she finally became suspicious and tried to dispose of it."

"The bathroom…" Harry suddenly realized. Riddle nodded.

"That's right. That's where you came in, Harry. You found the diary and I couldn't have been more delighted. Of all people who could have picked it up, it was you, the very person I was most anxious to meet…"

"Why did…?" Chrys' throat closed up.

"Why did you want to meet me?" Harry finished for her, his voice rough with anger.

"Well, you see, Ginny told me all about you… the fascinating history of the Potter twins." His eyes flickered over their foreheads. "I knew I must find out more about you, talk to you, meet you if I could." He nodded at Harry. "So I decided to show you my famous capture of that great oaf, Hagrid to gain your trust—"

"Hagrid is not an oaf!" Chrys huffed out.

"He's our friend," Harry said. "And you framed him, didn't you? I thought you made a mistake, but—" Riddle interrupted him with another laugh. Something about his cold laughter was almost… familiar.

Chrys shivered. "It was my word against Hagrid's," Riddle reminded him. "Well, you can imagine how it looked to old Armando Dippet. On one hand, Tom Riddle, poor, but brilliant, parentless, but so brave, school prefect, model student… on the other hand, big, blundering Hagrid, in trouble every other week, trying to raise werewolf cubs under his bed, sneaking off to the Forbidden Forest to wrestle trolls—"

"Oh, shut up!" Chrys snapped, having enough of his blatant lies. Not that Hagrid didn't like dangerous creatures, but Chrys had read about werewolves. They didn't have cubs. And besides, even Hagrid wasn't big enough to wrestle a troll. Riddle narrowed his eyes at her. Harry slowly stood up.

"Dumbledore saw right through you," he said. Riddle frowned.

"The transfiguration teacher, Dumbledore… he was the only one who thought Hagrid was innocent. He persuaded Dippet to keep Hagrid and train him as gamekeeper. Yes, I think Dumbledore may have guessed…" Riddle shrugged one translucent shoulder. Chrys squinted. Was his body less translucent than it had been a moment ago? "Dumbledore never seemed to like me as much as the other teachers did, and he certainly kept an annoying close watch on me after Hagrid was expelled." He waved his hand dismissively. Chrys was now certain he was becoming more solid. She turned back at Ginny, staring at the faint movement of her chest, up and down, up… "I knew it wouldn't be safe to open the Chamber again while I was still at school. But, it took me five whole years to find out everything I could about the Chamber of Secrets and discover the secret entrance—I wasn't about to waste the effort! So, I decided to leave behind a diary, preserving my sixteen year old self in its pages. One day, with luck, I would be able to lead another in my footsteps and finish Salazar Syltherin's noble work."

"You haven't finished it," Harry said vindictively. "No one's died this time, not even the cat. In a few hours the mandrake draught will be ready and everyone who was petrified will be alright again—"

"Haven't I already told you?" Riddle interrupted. "Killing mudbloods doesn't matter to me anymore. For many months now, my new target has been you."

"You won't hurt him," Chrys said firmly. She ran spells through her head, but was coming up empty. Worse came to worse, she wasn't bad with her fists, but Riddle was still somewhat un-solid, so how…? Riddle smirked.

"And you're going to stop me? Chrysanthemum, you have some brains, but your talents are nothing to match mine." He looked her over. "Though, it would have been interesting if you had found the diary, rather than your brother… it's irrelevant, as Ginny eventually got it back. By then, I knew what I must do. From my conversation with him, and what Ginny had told me, I knew Harry was close on the trail of Slytherin's heir." He turned back to Harry. "And I knew you would do anything to solve the mystery—particularly if one of your friends were attacked." Chrys growled. Riddle continued to smile. "Then Ginny told me the whole school was buzzing because Harry Potter could speak Parseltongue… so, I made Ginny write her own farewell on the wall and come down here to wait. She struggled and cried, and became very boring… but there isn't much life left in her. She put too much into the diary, into me. Enough to let me leave its pages at last… I have been waiting for you to appear since we arrived here. Now, I have many questions for you… the famous Potter twins."

"Like what?" Harry asked, he stood, resting a hand on his sister's shoulder. The weight and warmth were reassuring, but… not enough.

"Well, for one, how is it that you, skinny children with no extraordinary magical talent—managed to defeat the greatest wizard of all time? How did you escape with nothing but scars, while Lord Voldemort's powers were destroyed?"

Chrys swore she saw a flash of red in his eyes.

"Why do you care how we escaped?" Harry continued, slowly. "Voldemort was after your time."

"Voldemort is my past, present, and future," Riddle said. He raised Harry's wand again. Chrys tensed, ready to retaliate, or at least drag Harry out of the way, but Ridde merely pointed the wand upwards. He wrote shimmering words in the air: Tom Marvalo Riddle. He waved the wand and the letters rearranged themselves into: I am Lord Voldemort.

"…The most evil wizard in the world, chose his name with an anagram?" Chrys said, disbelievingly. Riddle—no, young Voldemort, glanced at her.

"The point is, that I fashioned it for myself." The young Voldemort looked very much like he was restraining himself from rolling his eyes. "You didn't expect me to use my filthy muggle father's name forever, did you? In my veins runs the blood of Salazar Slytherin himself. Why should I keep the name of a common, foul muggle, who abandoned me even before I was born—just because he found out his wife was a witch? No, Chrysanthemum. I made a name for myself, one that I knew wizards everywhere would one day fear to speak—when I had become the greatest sorcerer in the world!"

"You're not," Harry said quietly.

"Not what?" Riddle snapped.

"Not the greatest sorcerer in the world," Harry elaborated. He took a deep breath. "Sorry to disappoint you, and all that, but the greatest wizard in the world is Albus Dumbledore. Everyone says so. Even when you were strong, you didn't dare try and take over at Hogwarts. Dumbledore saw through you when you were at school, and he still frightens you, when you're hiding these days—"

Riddle let out a hiss. His pretty face twisted as he glared at Harry.

"Dumbledore's been driven out of this castle by the mere memory of me!"

"Dumbledore said he will have only truly left this school, when no one here is loyal to him," Chrys recalled. "And plenty of people here are loyal. So—"

She broke off, stiffening as she thought she heard something in the distnace. Riddle and Harry went still as well, listening to the sudden twinkle of music that echoed through the chamber. It grew louder and louder. Chrys felt it filling her up. It was like the warmth she felt when Hermione said she missed her, or when she made Ron laugh. She glanced at Harry, and saw the slightest of a smile on his lips— a nearby pillar burst into flames.

She jumped, and her mouth dropped open. A large bird swooped down from the ceiling, still singing its strange and beautiful song. Its long gold tail seemed to glitter as it moved, a contrast to the plainness of the bundle of rags it carried in its talons.

The bird dropped the bundle at Harry's feet, and then landed heavily on Chrys' shoulder. Chrys felt its warmth spread through her, and reached up, awed as the bird's beak nuzzled into her hand.

"That's a phoenix," Riddle realized.

"Fawkes," Harry said, reaching out and giving the bird a pet as well. Fawkes the Phoenix let out a trill.

"And that…" Riddle looked down at what Chrys had thought was a bundle of rags. "…Is the old school Sorting Hat." Harry reached down and picked up the hat, staring at it. Riddle laughed loudly. "This is what Dumbledore sends his defenders? A songbird and an old hat! Do you feel brave? Do you feel safe now?"

"Actually, a bit," Chrys said honestly. The phoenix and his song had given her a little boost of courage, though she wasn't sure what the Sorting Hat was for. Riddle frowned.

"Enough. On to business… Twice in your past, and in my future, we have met. And twice I failed to kill you. I want to know how you survived. Tell me everything." His smile twisted. "The longer you talk, the longer you stay alive."

Harry frowned, glancing from Ginny to Riddle. Chrys knew he'd seen what she had. Ginny was growing weaker as Riddle grew stronger. If they didn't stop Riddle soon, Ginny would be gone for good.

"No one knows why you lost your powers when you attacked us," Harry said slowly. Chrys could see him thinking about what to do next. "I don't know myself… but I know why you couldn't kill us. Because our mother died to died us."

"Our common, muggleborn mother," Chrys added fiercely. "Our mother stopped you—and you became weak—and now you look as disgusting on the outside as you are on the inside."

"All that power, and you're barely alive," Harry taunted. Riddle snarled.

"You…" He took a breath, trying to steady himself. "I see… your mother died to save you. Yes, that's a powerful counter-charm. I can see now, there is nothing special about you, after all." Chrys frowned. "I wondered, you see… because there are strange likeness between us, Harry Potter." Harry frowned. "You may not be as observant as your sister, but even you must have noticed. Both of us are half bloods, orphans, raised by muggles. We are the only two parselmouths to come to Hogwarts for generations, at least." Chrys didn't bother to disagree. "We even look somewhat alike…" Not really. They both had dark hair and a slight build, but Riddle was pale while Harry was brown, and Harry's eyes were bright to Riddle's dark. "But after all, it was merely lucky chance that save you from me. That's all I wanted to know."

"You…" Chrys held up her wand shakily.

"Oh no, I'm not going to fight you Chrysanthemum. At your level of skill, that would be far too… boring. I'm going to teach you a lesson." Riddle walked up to the statue of Slytherin, and hissed, "Speak to me, Slytherin, greatest of the Hogwarts four."

It must have been some sort of code, because the statue's mouth opened, and out of its throat, Chrys saw something slithering to the surface.

"Chrys!" Harry grabbed her wrist. She was frozen stiff, so he pulled her backwards. She could feel Fawkes, swaying on her shoulder. "Chrys, close your eyes!"

She did, feeling her back against the one of the columns. Harry's feet shuffled frantically. Riddle was laughing again. Now she recognized his laughter. It was the laughter from a reoccurring nightmare of the moment her parents died.

"Kill them," Riddle hissed to the snake.

Harry was trying to guide her forward, but she heard him fall to the floor in front of her. "Damn it!" Chrys grunted, reaching out with her hands, trying to find him. There was another thud—much louder, in front of her. She jumped backwards, wobbling. "Harry!" Fawkes disappeared from her shoulder. She heard the phoenix cry out. Chrys took a deep breath and opened her eyes.

The basilisk was facing upwards, distracted by Fawkes flitting here and there. The basilisk had trouble maneuvering after the bird and slammed its head into one of the stone columns. Chrys took the opportunity to grab Harry and drag him to his feet.

Chrys heard Fawkes cry out again, and forgot to close her eyes as the basilisk turned—but it didn't matter. Fawkes had pecked out the snake's deadly eyes. Chrys grimaced at the bloody mess. The snake hissed in pain.

"No!" Riddle shouted in Parseltongue. "Leave the bird! Leave the bird! The children are right behind you! You can smell them! Kill them!"

"What can I do? What can I do?" Harry muttered. "I need help… somebody… anyone…" Chrys shoved Harry out of the way as the snake's tail swept out. It knocked her over and her back slammed against the ground. For a moment she couldn't breath. "Chrys…" Harry helped her up again. She stared. With his free hand he was trying to hold up the weight of a ruby encrusted sword.

"Where the hell did you find that thing?"

"…It was in the hat," Harry told her dubiously. He let go of her hand and balanced the weight of the weapon more evenly in both of his hands.

"Kill them!" Riddle shouted again. Chrys looked at the sword and then craned her neck back, following the sight of the basilisk's head, still chasing Fawkes high up towards the ceiling.

"We need to get closer to the basilisk," she reasoned.

"Right. So…" Harry looked around, thinking.

"I've got it." She raced towards the statue.

"Chrys!" Harry cried out worriedly. She took a deep breath and started climbing the statue. She tried not to look down as her stomach churned. Putting one foot in front of the other, she reached the top of Slytherin's head. She held on tightly to one of his ears with one hand, and in the other raised her wand.

"Diffindo!" She called out, aiming at the column the basilisk had crashed into earlier. The already cracked stone gave way and broke apart, boulders raining down on the snake's head. Chrys held tight to the statue, as the impact from the basilisk landing threw up a rush of air and rocks. She saw Harry running towards the snake. Her head swam from how small he looked from up here. She ignored the bile rising in her throat and scuttled down the statue, moving to her brother. "Harry! Harry!" She ran hard, reaching him just as he stabbed the sword up into the roof of the monster's mouth. Relieved tears filled her eyes. "You did it, Harry!"

"Yeah…" He let out a breath, sinking onto the ground. Her eyes widened. His face was pale. Blood dripped down his arm, from where the basilisk's cracked fang was embedded. She reached, shakily, to pull it out. "No!" Harry gave her a sharp look and pulled it out by himself. "Don't touch it, Chrys… it's poisonous."

"No…" Chrys shook her head. But she could feel the poison moving through her—no, moving through him, like his blood was on fire. "No… Harry…" Her tears were flowing freely now. He slumped more, and she moved his head onto her lap. Wings brushed her side, talons scrapping the floor as Fawkes landed next to them.

"It's okay, Chrys," Harry tried to tell her. He was struggling to keep his eyes open. "You were great, both of you. Chrys, and Fawkes… fantastic…" His breathing was labored, shuddering. Fawkes rested his head against Harry's wound. Harry's eyes slipped closed.

"No," Chrys said again. She was lightheaded from feeling his pain, but that was nothing compared to the way her chest clenched as he lay there, so still. "No, come on Harry, open your eyes… you can do it… don't leave me… please, don't leave me."

Riddle's footsteps were quite solid now, as he walked up behind her. Was Ginny gone?

"Are you afraid of being alone?" Riddle asked knowingly. "I'll stay with you, Chrysanthemum, for now. Together, let's watch him die. It won't be long. And then you can follow. Soon, you'll join your mudblood mother." Her wand was still in her hand, but she didn't move to face him. If Harry was dead, and Ginny was dead, then what was the point? Chrys clenched Harry's wrist. Had his heart stopped yet? She couldn't tell. Then, something hot and wet dribbled between her fingers. At first she thought it was blood from Harry's wound, but then she saw that Fawkes was crying. The bird's tears rolled over Harry's arm, and dripped steadily onto her hand. Riddle laughed. "Even the bird is crying!" Chrys blinked. She watched the phoenix tears drip onto Harry's skin, where the wound had been a moment ago. His skin was whole again. Small splotches of blood evaporated with a hiss as the phoenix tears hit. "No!" Riddle leaned over, moving to grab Fawkes. "Get that bird away!" Chrys curled up, sheltering the bird, and Harry, with her body. Riddle's foot kicked hard at her back. "Move, girl!" She did. She could feel Harry moving.

He sat up and blinked at Chrys, eyes full of wonder. She beamed through her tears. His expression grew dark again. Chrys turned. Riddle was pointing Harry's wand at them.

"Phoenix tears… healing powers… I forgot." Riddle grimaced. Harry swayed slightly. He was still weak. Chrys put a hand on his back. "… Well, I've always preferred to do things myself."

There was a flash of scarlet as Fawkes flew past again. Chrys gripped the diary that had landed in her lap.

For second, her eyes met Riddle's. Then she reached out, grabbing the broken fang that had pierced Harry's arm. Chrys stabbed the diary, again and again. Riddle was screaming. Good. Black ink spurted up, splattering her face, getting in her mouth, but she kept stabbing. She heard something clatter to the floor. She kept going until she felt Harry grip her wrist.

"Chrys… it's over… he's gone."

"Oh…"

Harry reached over and grabbed his wand. They leaned on each other as they stood. Then he picked up the hat.

"Can't forget the sword." He motioned at the blade, still stuck in the dead snake's mouth.

"I'll get it!" Chrys raced over.

"Careful!" Harry called out. It took a hard tug, but she got it out. It was heavy, so she dragged the tip against the ground, the scraping ringing in her ears as she moved back towards him.

Then, someone moaned.

Chrys and Harry looked at each other. "Ginny!" They cried out in unison, going to her. The twins helped her sit up. She stared around, wide eyed at dead basilisk, and the sword in Chrys' hand. Then she looked at Harry, covered in blood, and holding the diary.

"Oh!" Ginny started to cry as soon as she saw the diary. "Oh, Harry, Chrys! I tried to tell you at breakfast…. b-but I c-couldn't! I couldn't say it in front of Percy—it was me. Harry, I swear I didn't mean to… Chrys, Riddle made me, he t-took me over and… how… Chrys, did you kill that… that thing? W-where's Riddle? The last thing I remember was him coming out of the diary…"

"It's alright." Harry held up the diary, motioning at the hole. "Chrys stabbed it. Riddle's gone."

"And Harry killed the basilisk, so that's gone too," Chrys added proudly.

Harry smiled slightly. "Let's just get out of here and—"

"I'm going to be expelled!" Ginny cried out. Harry awkwardly helped her to her feet. Chrys laughed. Harry and Ginny stared at her.

"What?" Harry looked like he was worried she'd gone mad.

"Oh, I was just remembering Hermione saying something similar the first time we met Fluffy."

Harry laughed too.

"Who's Fluffy?" Ginny wondered.

"A giant three headed dog," Harry said lightly. "You know… I wonder whatever happened to him."

"Hagrid said he's gone back to Greece," Chrys told him. "Also, the correct term is Cerberus, you know that."

He rolled his eyes."I don't think that's the important part, Chrys."

"What is the important part, then?"

"All the heads…" Harry motioned. "And the fact that Hagrid thought to name it Fluffy… honestly, between Fluffy and Aragog…"

Ginny looked back and forth between them, frowning.

"I don't understand. Do you think I'm gonna be expelled? Cause I've been looking forward to coming here ever since Bill first… and oh! What will mum and dad say?"

"They'll be relieved you're okay," Chrys said confidently. Harry reached out a hand to help Ginny over the dead basilisk's tail. Ginny blushed. Chrys grinned.

As they moved down the tunnel, they started to hear the sound of stone scrapping against stone.

"Ron!" Harry called out, rushing forward. "Ginny's okay! We've got her!"

Ron cheered. "And Chrys?"

"I'm good," Chrys replied. "Where are you, Ron?"

"Here." Ron waved his hand through a sizeable gap in the pile of boulders. He shifted and they saw his face beaming up at them. "Ginny!"

"You first," Harry said, helping her up the wall. Ron pulled her through.

"You're alive!" He shouted. When Harry and Chrys squeezed through the opening, they saw Ron squeezing Ginny tightly. She was crying again, and his eyes weren't entirely dry either. "I don't believe it! What happened? How? What…" He blinked as Fawkes brought up the rear, landing on Harry's shoulder. "Where did that bird come from?"

"He's Dumbledore's," Harry told him.

"He's a phoenix and his name is Fawkes," Chrys added. Fawkes trilled.

Ron stared at Chrys. "And how come you've got a sword?"

"Cause Harry's too tired to hold it right now," Chrys said easily. Ron gaped.

"What—"

"Later," Harry said, throwing a pointed look at Ginny. Ron looked puzzled, but nodded. "Where's Lockhart?"

"Back there." Ron motioned at the pipe entrance. "He's in a bad way. Come and see." They moved forward, Fawkes flitting between them, his brightly colored feathers almost glowing in the darkness. Lockhart was sitting in front of the pipe, humming pleasantly to himself. "His memory's gone," Ron explained. "The memory charm backfired, hit him instead of us. Hasn't got a clue who he is, or where he is, or who we are. I told him to come and wait here." Ron shook his head. "He's a danger to himself."

Chrys crouched down. "Hello," Lockhart said. "Odd sort of place, this, isn't it?"

"Yes…" Chrys agreed, staring.

"Do you live here?" Lockhart wondered, his tone completely free of judgment.

"No," Ron said shortly. He gave Harry a look.

"Have you thought how we're going to get back up this?" Harry asked him.

Ron shook his head. "Well, it's much too slippery and tilted to climb," Chrys figured. "So…" She blinked as Fawkes flew up to the mouth of the pipe, waving his tail feathers and then looking at them pointedly.

"He looks like he wants you to grab hold…" Ron frowned. "But you're much too heavy for a bird to pull up there."

"Maybe not," Chrys said thoughtfully.

Harry nodded. "Fawkes isn't an ordinary bird." He glanced around at the group. "Right. So, we've got to hold on to each other. Chrys, you'll take my hand, and then Ron's. Ron, you'll take Ginny's hand, and Ginny grab onto Professor Lockhart."

"He means you," Ron told Lockhart. Harry shoved the diary into the hat, and then tucked that into his belt. Chrys ripped off the bottom of her robes with a satisfyingly loud tear, and wrapped that around the sword, using the excess fabric to tie it to her waist.

They all grabbed on as Harry instructed, and then Fawkes was off like a rocket.

The cold air slapped their faces as they shot up the pipe.

"Amazing!" Lockhart shouted. "Amazing! This is just like magic!"

Chrys laughed.

At the top of the pipe, the five of them plopped wetly onto the floor of the bathroom. The sink slid back into place, as if nothing had happened.

"Oh." Mrytle glanced at Harry. "You're alive." Chrys squinted at her.

"There's no need to sound so disappointed," Harry said. He attempted to wipe flecks of blood and slime off of his glasses.

"It's no good," Chrys told him, resigned.

"Oh… I was just thinking, if you had died, you'd have been welcome to share my toilet…" Myrtle blushed silver.

"That's, er, very kind of you, Myrtle, but we've got… stuff to do," Chrys said awkwardly, half shoving Harry out of the bathroom and away from the teenaged ghost.

"Harry, I think Myrtle's grown fond of you!" Ron realized. He wrinkled his nose, and then laughed, shooting Ginny and teasing grin. "You've got competition!" Ginny blinked tearfully. Ron back peddled. "Ah, I mean…"

Chrys laughed, mostly out of exhaustion.

"Come on, Gin." Chrys gripped her arm. "Let's keep moving." It was only after following Fawkes through several hallways, that Chrys realized he was leading them to Professor McGonagall's office.

Chapter Text

There was a moment of silence as the motley crew entered Professor McGonagall's office. Most of them were covered in pipe sludge—Harry was additionally covered in blood. Chrys had a phoenix on her shoulder, and Lockhart was smiling vaguely at the door.

"Ginny!" Mrs. Weasley cried out, running to her daughter. Chrys could see tear stains on her face. Mr. Weasley followed, looked from Ginny to Ron, and pulled his entire family up into his arms. Chrys looked away.

She followed Harry's gaze to see Dumbledore standing by the fire, smiling down at them over the rim of his half-spectacles. Next to him, Professor McGonagall was taking a couple of deep breaths to steady herself. Chrys gave her a sympathetic look. It had been a long day.

Then she blinked, slightly disappointed as Fawkes left her shoulder, flying with a whoosh to perch on Dumbledore instead.

She didn't have long to be disappointed, however, as Mrs. Weasley grabbed Chrys and Harry into a tight hug of their own.

"You saved her!" She cried. "You saved her! How did you do it?"

"I think we'd all like to know that," Professor McGonagall put in, straightening up.

"Oh, well, um…" Chrys looked around awkwardly as Mrs. Weasley withdrew. "Well, first off, this thing is heavy, so…" She untied the sword from her waist and handed it over to Dumbledore, feeling he was the most likely to know what to do with it. He unwrapped it from the fabric torn off her robes. Professor McGonagall gasped at the sparkle of rubies… and the duller red of blood over the blade.

Harry silently moved over to McGonagall's desk, placing the sorting hat and what was left of Riddle's diary onto it.

"It's a long story, sir," he said to Dumbledore. "I wouldn't know where to start."

"I find the beginning is the best," Dumbledore said.

"Okay." Chrys sat with an 'oomph!' in the chair Mrs. Weasley had vacated. "So, all year Harry and I have been hearing this murderous, disembodied voice, but no one else could hear it." Mr. Weasley blinked worriedly at her.

"Before she was petrified, Hermione tore this page out of a book—it was about basilisks," Harry continued. Professor McGonagall rested a hand on her chest. "After figuring out we could talk to snakes…" Harry shot Chrys a look. She winced, still guilty about not telling him before the whole school found out.

"… The pieces started to fit together."

"For example, Hagrid said something's been killing the roosters—and a rooster's cry is fatal to a basilisk," Harry explained. Ginny shrunk back further into her father's arms. Harry noticed and continued quickly, "Ah—also, spiders are scared of basilisks."

"So, we talked to this giant spider in the forest," Chrys went on. Ron shuffled uncomfortably. "Ron was very brave—facing his fear and all that." She smiled at him. Mr. Weasley looked torn between pride and admonishment.

"The giant spider, Aragog was his name… told us that last time the chamber had been opened, a girl had been killed in a bathroom," Harry went on. Dumbledore frowned.

"We figured that meant Moaning Myrtle," Chrys said. "So, I had a chat with her, and she said the last thing she remembered was hearing a boy speak, and seeing a big pair of yellow eyes near the tap."

"Looking into a basilisk's eyes is deadly," Harry added, matter a fact.

Mrs. Weasley gasped.

"Only people haven't been looking into its eyes directly, so they've been petrified instead," Ron cut in. "Like Colin saw it through his camera, and Mrs. Norris saw its reflection in a puddle. Anyway, the mandrake draught should be done now—so it's all right, mum." Professor McGonagall nodded slowly at the other woman.

"When we heard Ginny was taken, we knew we had to do something, so we went back to examine the tap Myrtle mentioned, and found a snake etched into the side," Harry told them.

"We told it to open in parseltongue, and it did," Chrys said. Professor McGonagall held up her hand.

"Very well. So you found out where the entrance was—breaking a hundred rules into pieces along the way, I might add—but how on earth did you get out of there alive?" She wanted to know, looking from Harry to Chrys.

Harry and Chrys exchanged a glance.

Harry cleared his throat. "Well, that's when Fawkes showed up, sir," he said, looking nervously at Dumbledore. Dumbledore smiled enigmatically.

Chrys was a bit annoyed, as she would've liked some explanation, but she sauntered on. "So yeah, Fawkes brought the sorting hat." She was tired and wanted to get this over with. " Harry pulled the sword out of the hat and stabbed the basilisk with it."

"Only after you broke a bunch of rocks over its head," Harry added, throwing her a quick grin.

"And what about Ginny?" Mr. Weasley wanted to know.

"Well…" Harry and Chrys looked at each other again.

"Ginny—it wasn't her fault," Chrys said determinedly.

"No, I'd imagine not," Dumbledore agreed, nodding. Chrys and Harry sighed in unison. "However, what interests me most is how Lord Voldemort managed to enchant Ginny, when my sources tell me he is currently hiding in the forest of Albania."

Ginny's eyes went wide.

"W-What's that?" Mr. Weasley stammered out. "You-Know-Who? En-enchant Ginny? But Ginny's not…" He gripped her shoulders, hard enough for her to wince. "Ginny hasn't been… has she?"

"It was this diary," Harry told him hurriedly, picking it up and holding it out to Dumbledore. "Riddle wrote in it when he was sixteen…" Dumbledore turned the diary over in his hands.

"Brilliant," he said quietly. "Of course, he was probably the most brilliant student Hogwarts has ever seen." Chrys huffed. What good was brilliance if you used it to hurt and manipulate people? Dumbledore gave her a small smile. "Very few people know that Lord Voldemort was once called Tom Riddle," Dumbledore explained to the confused looking Weasleys (Ginny and Ron included). Ginny gasped. "I taught him myself, fifty years ago, at Hogwarts. He disappeared after leaving the school… traveled far and wide… sank so deeply into the Dark Arts, consorted with the very worst of our kind, underwent so many dangerous, magical transformation, that when he resurfaced as Lord Voldemort, he was barely recognizable." Harry and Chrys nodded.

"He looked totally different," Chrys agreed, thinking of the boy from the diary versus the snake-like man they met last year.

"Hardly anyone connected Lord Voldemort with the clever, handsome boy who was once Head Boy here, "Dumbledore finished.

"But, Ginny," Mrs. Weasley said frantically. "What's Ginny got to do with—with him?" Ginny glanced around nervously. Chrys gave her an encouraging look.

Ginny took a deep breath. "His d-diary," she got out, between tears. "I've b-been writing in it, and he's been w-writing back all year—"

"Ginny!" Mr. Weasley exclaimed, aghast. "Haven't I taught you anything? What have I always told you? Never trust anything that can think for itself if you can't see where it keeps its brain." Ron nodded slowly. Chrys thought Mr. Weasley's cleverness was certainly underrated. "Why didn't you show the diary to me, or your mother? A suspicious object like that, it was clearly full of Dark Magic—"

"I d-didn't know," Ginny told him. "I found it inside one of the books mum got me. I th-thought someone had just left it in there and forgotten about it…" Harry and Chrys frowned at each other.

"Miss Weasley should go up to the hospital wing right away," Dumbledore said firmly. "This has been a terrible ordeal for her. There will be no punishment." Chrys smiled. "Older and wiser wizards than she have been hoodwinked by Lord Voldemort." He moved over to the door and opened it. "Bed rest and perhaps a large, steaming mug of hot chocolate. I always find that cheers me up." He smiled softly at Ginny. Chrys ambled up to give Ginny a short squeeze and a pat on the back.

"Madam Pomfrey makes excellent an chocolate—you'll see."

"It's quite late…" Mrs. Weasley said, hesitating slightly.

"You'll find that Madam Pomfrey is still awake," Dumbledore assured her. "She's just giving out Mandrake juice—I daresay the basilisk's victims will be waking up any moment now."

"So Hermione's okay!" Ron beamed at the thought.

"There has been no lasting harm done, Ginny," Dumbledore told her. Chrys frowned at the haunted look on Ginny's face, and quite disagreed, but that was a discussion for another time. Mrs. and Mr. Weasley led Ginny out, looking nearly as shaken as she did. "You know, Minerva," Dumbledore continued. "I think all this merits a good feast. Might I ask you to go and alert the kitchens?"

"Right." Professor McGonagall moved stiffly to the door. She looked around at the Potter twins and Ron. "I'll leave you to deal with these three, shall I?"

"Certainly." Dumbledore nodded. Harry and Ron watched Dumbledore nervously. Chrys tried to put on a brave face. Whatever punishment they got for breaking the rules was worth it. She did not regret saving Ginny, or getting rid of the giant snake. "I seem to remember telling you three that I would have to expel you if you broke any more school rules…" Dumbledore recalled. Ron gaped. "Which goes to show that the best of us must sometimes eat out words." Dumbledore smiled and Chrys nearly laughed. "You will each receive Special Awards for Services to the School…" Chrys faltered slightly, remembering this was the same award Riddle had received for kicking out Hagrid. "… And… let me see, yes, I think one hundred points apiece for Gryffindor." Ron gaped again, flushing. "But one of us seems to be keeping mightily quiet about his part in this dangerous adventure." Dumbledore looked over towards the door. "Why so modest, Gilderoy?"

"Oh dear," Chrys said, only just remembering Lockhart's situation.

"Professor Dumbledore," Ron said hurriedly. "There was an accident down in the Chamber of Secrets. Professor Lockhart—"

"Am I a professor?" Lockhart wondered mildly. "Goodness. I expect I was hopeless, was I?" Chrys nearly laughed again.

"He tried to do a Memory Charm and the wand backfired," Ron finished explaining.

"Dear me…" Dumbledore shook his head, beard and Fawkes on his shoulder swaying. "Impaled upon your own sword, Gilderoy!"

"Sword?" Lockhart repeated. "Haven't got a sword. The girl had, though. She'll lend you one." Chrys frowned.

"Professor…" She stared hard at Dumbledore. "Did you know about Lockhart's memory charms—that he's been erasing the memories of heroes and claiming their adventures as his own?" Dumbledore frowned.

"I certainly did not—I would have never let him in the school…" He looked her in the eye. "However, I'll admit I suspected Gilderoy's words were not always so truthful… well, as did the rest of the staff here, I should think." Chrys nodded, somewhat satisfied. Dumbledore turned to Ron. "Would you mind taking Professor Lockhart up to the infirmary, too? I'd like a few more words with Harry and Chrysanthemum." Lockhart left without having to be told twice. Ron studied Dumbledore for a moment before hurrying after the absent-minded professor. "Please…" Dumbledore waved his wand—making a two more chairs appear before the fire. "Sit." The three of them did so. Harry looked nervous. Chrys patted his arm. "First of all, I would like to thank you. You must have shown me real loyalty down in the Chamber. Nothing but that could have called Fawkes to you." Fawkes fluttered over and landed on Harry's knee. Harry stroked his feathers as Dumbledore watched. "So… you met Tom Riddle. I imagine he was most interested in you…"

Chrys frowned. "Professor Dumbledore," Harry said suddenly. "Riddle said I'm like him. Strange likeness, he said."

"Did he now? And what do you think?"

"I don't think I'm like him!" Harry winced at the volume of his own voice. "I—I mean, I'm Gryffindor…" He trailed off. "Professor… and Chrys, I never told you…" Chrys blinked at him, surprised. "The Sorting Hat told me I'd—I'd have done well in Slytherin."

Chrys burst out laughing. Harry stared at her. Dumbledore looked on with polite interest.

"Oh, Harry, that's what you were so moody about after you got out of Professor Dumbledore's office?" She patted his shoulder again. "When I was sorted, the Sorting Hat said Slytherin would be good for me as well. However, I insisted on Gryffindor, and that's where I ended up. I reckon that's the more important thing."

Harry blinked. "B-but, everyone thought I was the Heir Slytherin for a while, because I can speak parseltongue."

Chrys rolled her eyes.

"You can speak parseltongue, because Lord Voldemort, who is the last remaining descendant of Salazar Slytherin, can speak parseltongue," Dumbledore told them. Chrys frowned. "Unless I'm much mistaken, he transferred some of his own powers to you the night he gave you those scars. Not something he intended to do, I'm sure…"

"Voldemort put a bit of himself inside of us?" Harry surmised worriedly.

"It certainly seems so."

"Then, I—we should be in Slytherin," Harry thought. "The Sorting Hat—"

"Chrysanthemum has made an excellent point," Dumbledore interrupted him. "Listen, Harry. Yes, you happen to have many qualities Salazar Slytherin prized in his handpicked students. His own rare gift, parseltongue, as well as resourcefulness, determination, and a certain disregard for the rules…" He looked as if he was having difficulty not smiling. "Yet the Sorting Hat placed you in Gryffindor. Why?"

"Because I asked not to be put in Slytherin, just like Chrys asked to be put in Gryffindor…" Harry said slowly. Dumbledore nodded.

"Exactly." Dumbledore could not help but smile this time. "Which makes you very different from Tom Riddle. As, I think Chrysanthemum knows, it is our choices that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities." Chrys smiled back at him. "If you want proof, Harry, that you belong in Gryffindor, I suggest you look more closely at this." He got up and picked up the sword from Professor McGonagall's desk. Chrys watched the rubies and silver sparkle in the firelight as Harry turned over the sword. With his finger, he traced the name engraved just bellow the hilt: Godric Gryffindor. "Only a true Gryffindor could have pulled that out of the hat, Harry."

For a moment, the only sound in the room was the quiet crackle of the fire. Then Chrys let out a great big yawn. She blushed slightly.

"Excuse me."

Dumbledore merely smiled. "Far be it, Chrysanthemum, for me to keep you from sleep—or food. I suggest you two go down to the feast, while I write to Azkaban—we need our gamekeeper back."

Chrys beamed. "Hurray!"

"Indeed," Dumbledore agreed. He paused. "And I must draft an advertisement for the Daily Prophet, too. We'll be needing a new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher… dear me, we do seem to run through them, don't we?"

Chrys tilted her head. Harry stood up, and she followed suit. He was just about to open the door, when it swung open, a livid Lucius Malfoy standing in front of them. Chrys grabbed Harry's arm and pulled him back from Malfoy Sr. Then she stared, for standing behind Malfoy's dad, was a bandaged wrapped Dobby. She frowned. Dobby was attempting to finish Malfoy's half-shined shoes as the man continued clip-clopping forwards towards Dumbledore. Chrys noted that his hair was also, only partially slicked back.

"So!" Lucius cried out. "You've come back. The governors suspended you, but you still saw fit to return to Hogwarts." Chrys stepped up, thinking there were quite a few things she'd like to say to this person, but Dumbledore shot her a sharp look.

"Well, you see, Lucius," Dumbledore said, tone and smile calm. "The other eleven governors contacted me today. It was something like being caught in a hailstorm of owls, to tell the truth. They'd heard that Arthur Weasley's daughter had been killed and wanted me back here at once. They seemed to think I was the best man for the job after all. Very strange tales they told me, too… Several of them seemed to think that you had threatened to curse their families if they didn't agree to suspend me in the first place."

Chrys gave Malfoy a hard look. She wouldn't put it past him.

Malfoy went a bit pale, but soldiered on. "So—have you stopped the attacks yet?" He sneered. "Have you caught the culprit?"

"We have." Dumbledore nodded.

"Well?" Malfoy snapped. "Who is it?"

"The same person as last time, Lucius… but this time, Lord Voldemort was acting through somebody else. By means of this diary." He picked up the husk of the book, watching Malfoy closely. Chrys turned to Harry, finding him watching Dobby instead. Dobby was looking meaningfully from Harry to the diary, and then to Malfoy. He banged his fist against his head several times as he did so.

Harry and Chrys exchanged a look.

"I see…" Malfoy said slowly.

"A clever plan," Dumbledore said, catching Malfoy's eye. "Because if Harry, Chrysanthemum, and their friend Ron hadn't discovered this book—why, Ginny Weasley might have taken all the blame." Chrys frowned. "No one would ever have been able to prove she hadn't acted of her own free will…" Malfoy fell silent. "And what might have happened then… the Weasleys are one of our most prominent pure-blood families. Imagine the effect on Arthur Weasley and his Muggle Protection Act, if his own daughter was discovered attacking and killing muggleborns… very fortunate the diary was discovered, and Riddle's memories wiped from it. Who know what consequences might have been otherwise…"

"Very fortunate," Malfoy repeated, unconvincingly.

"Not very fortunate that the diary found its way into Ginny's possession in the first place," Chrys said suddenly. Harry nodded.

"You wouldn't have any idea about that, would you, Mr. Malfoy?"

"How should I know how the stupid little girl got hold of it?" Malfoy snarled.

"Because you gave it to her," Harry and Chrys said in unison. Malfoy stiffened.

"In Flourish and Blotts," Chrys recalled.

"You picked up her old transfiguration book, and slipped this diary inside of it, didn't you?" Harry gave him a pointed look.

Malfoy squeezed his hands into fists so tight that his knuckles went white.

"Prove it," he hissed.

"Oh, no one will be able to do that," Dumbledore admitted, giving Harry and Chrys proud looks nonetheless. "Not now that Riddle has vanished from the book. On the other hand, I would advise you, Lucius, not to go giving out any more of Lord Voldemort's old school things. If any more of them find their way into innocent hands, I think Arthur Weasley, for one, will make sure they are traced back to you."

Malfoy's hand twitched. Chrys thought he might go for his wand, but he merely twirled around, his cloak spinning with him.

"We're going, Dobby!" He tore the door open, and kicked Dobby through it. Chrys opened her mouth to protest, but Harry laid a hand on her shoulder.

"Professor Dumbledore," Harry said quickly. "Can I give that diary back to Mr. Malfoy, please?" Chrys frowned confusedly.

"Certainly, Harry." Dumbledore nodded. "But hurry. The feast, remember." Harry rushed out with Chrys on his heels. He paused in the hallway. Chrys hugged her arms around herself as she saw Malfoy and a whimpering Dobby disappear around the corner.

"Harry…"

"One sec." Harry took off one of his shoes, then one of his slimy socks, and stuffed the diary into it. Then Harry shoved his shoe back on and started running again. Chrys followed, staring at his back until it clicked.

She grinned as Harry called after Malfoy and shoved the sock into his hand.

"What the—" Malfoy must have felt the weight of the diary in the sock, because he tore off the sock, flinging it over his shoulder and stared at the diary darkly. "You'll meet the same sticky end as your parents one of these days, Harry Potter. They were meddlesome fools, too."

"Sometimes meddling is quite worth it," Chrys thought aloud. Malfoy's brow furrowed, but he ignored her, turning again. "Come on, Dobby." Dobby didn't move. "I said, come."

Dobby was holding Harry's slimy sock, staring reverently at it.

"Master has given a sock," Dobby said in awe. "Master gave it to Dobby."

"What's that?" Malfoy's nose wrinkled. "What did you say?"

"Got a sock," Dobby said. "Master threw it, and Dobby caught it. And Dobby, Dobby is free!"

"Congratulations, Dobby," Chrys said happily, reaching down to shake his hand. Dobby shook it enthusiastically, as Malfoy's face grew redder and redder.

"You lost me my servant, boy!" He lunged at Harry. Chrys went for her wand, but Dobby was quicker.

"You shall not harm Harry Potter!"

There was a bang and Malfoy was thrown backwards. He thumped all the way down a nearby staircase. Chrys stared admiringly at Dobby.

It took Malfoy a moment to stand up, but when he did, his wand was out and he was glaring hard at Dobby.

"You shall go," Dobby said, waving a finger warningly at him. "You shall not touch the Potters, and you shall go now." Malfoy whirled around and stomped away. Dobby turned, beaming at Harry. "Harry Potter freed Dobby! Harry Potter set Dobby free!" He cried. Chrys felt very proud indeed.

"Least I could do, Dobby." Harry smiled back. "Just promise never to try and save my life again." Dobby's smile turned a bit sheepish. "One question," Harry continued. "You told us all this had nothing to do with He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, remember? Well—"

"It was a clue," Dobby explained. "Dobby was giving you a clue. The Dark Lord, before he changed his name, could be freely named, you see?"

Chrys tilted her head. "I guess so…"

"Well… we'd better go," Harry decided. "There's a feast, and our friend Hermione should be awake by now…" Chrys bounced excitedly on the balls of her feet.

"Harry Potter is greater far by far than Dobby knew!" Dobby said.

"Yeah, he's alright," Chrys agreed. She bent down to his level. "You take care of yourself Dobby." She gave him a quick hug. Dobby blinked at her.

"Miss Potter—"

"Chrys, please," she corrected him. "That's what my friends call me."

"Friends," Dobby repeated. "Dobby has friends… Farewell, my friends!" And with that, he disappeared with a crack.

Chrys was half ready to crawl into bed, but her stomach was growling, and she couldn't pass up the chance to see Hermione.

Chrys laughed as they entered the Great Hall, to find everyone eating pudding in their pajamas.

"Harry! Chrys!" Hermione shouted, running towards them. She gave them each a strangling hug. "You solved it! You solved it!"

"We never could have done it without you," Harry told her truthfully, grinning. "Now…" He looked around. "I don't suppose there's any treacle tart?"

"Chrys, you're an absolute mess!" Lavender said as Chrys plopped down at the table with her arm around Hermione. "You'll need a shower, and I'll look up some cleaning spells to see if we can save those robes—"

"She means—thank goodness you're alright," Parvati corrected, laughing. Lavender rubbed the back of her neck.

"Well… yes…" She glanced at Hermione. "And you too, Hermione. It's been too dark in the dorm, without your reading light on." Hermione smiled.

"Oh," Parvati said suddenly. Chrys and Hermione turned to see Justin Finch-Fletchly standing in front of Harry with his arm outstretched.

"Harry—I'm so sorry I ever suspected you," Justin said earnestly. "I don't know how to tell you—"

"It's fine," Harry said, shaking the offered hand. "Good to see you, er, not petrified." Justin nodded enthusiastically.

"Seriously though, if there's ever any way I can make it up to you—"

"Just enjoy the feast, Justin," Harry suggested. "I think we all deserve a bit of celebration."

When the doors opened again, to reveal Hagrid standing hesitantly in the entrance, Chrys ran down the hall and pounced to give him a great big hug.

"Ah, and our gamekeeper has returned," Dumbledore said happily, his voice magically magnified. The crowd settled down a bit, ready to listen. "We have a few matters still left to address, of course. Firstly, congratulations to Gryffindor for winning the House Cup, second year in the running." Gryffindor cheered, Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw clapping politely as Slytherin sulked. Malfoy was sinking down in his chair, nearly sliding under the table in his silk pajama set. "Secondly, as a school treat, I have decided to cancel all end of the year exams."

"Oh, no!" Hermione cried quietly, as everyone else cheered. Ron snorted. Chrys grinned.

"Thirdly, I regret to announce that Professor Lockhart will be unable to return next year, owing to the fact he will be away, recovering from an accident with a memory charm."

Students and teachers alike cheered at this. "Shame," Ron said thoughtfully. "He was just starting to grow on me."

"Ha!" Chrys said.

 

"I can't believe Professor Dumbledore couldn't find anyone to take over Defense Against the Dark Arts lessons until end of term," Hermione complained later that week. Those classes had become a free period, during which Hermione lost several times at chess, and Harry lost several times at hangman.

"Eh." Ron waved his hand. "We've got plenty of practice with that anyway."

Harry nodded. "Any A's?" He asked Chrys hopefully.

"No." Chrys drew the head on Harry's hangman. "Dead again, brother."

Harry crossed his arms and pouted. Hermione sighed.

"Anyway, have you seen Malfoy recently?" Ron went on. "The smirk's finally been wiped off his face." Chrys grinned.

"Meanwhile, Ginny's finally cheered up a bit," Harry noted. Ron nodded.

"Yeah, I saw her chasing Fred and George around after they charmed mustaches onto her Holyhead Harpies poster."

"Hermione, if you want to get more practice in, I'd go with the disarming charm," Harry suggested. "That's been the most useful so far." Hermione nodded thoughtfully.

 

On the Hogwarts Express, Hermione and Harry made the most of their last moments allowed to use magic until next year by practicing disarming each other.

Chrys huffed as the exploding snaps cards blew off her eyebrows.

"Now I know how Seamus feels," she muttered.

Fred chuckled. "Hey, it's a look, no eyebrows."

George nodded. "Maybe you'll start a trend."

Chrys threw her cards at them.

"Oi!" They said as the cards exploded, setting off a firework in Fred's pocket. Ginny quickly opened the window, and the firework zoomed out, going off colorfully in the sky.

"Pity, that was the last of them," Fred complained. Hermione looked out the window.

"Almost at the station," she noted. "We'd better start getting our things down."

"Right." Fred and George started pulling down their trunks.

"Oh," Harry said suddenly. "I just remembered. Ginny, what did you see Percy doing, that he didn't want you to tell anyone?"

"Oh, that." Ginny giggled. "Well, Percy's got a girlfriend." Fred dropped his trunk on George's head.

"Hey!" George said.

"What?" Fred stared, wide-eyed at Ginny.

"Let me guess, Penelope Clearwater, the Ravenclaw prefect?" Chrys said, finishing off a cauldron cake. Ginny nodded.

"That's who he was writing to all last summer. He's been meeting her all over the school in secret. I walked in on them kissing in an empty classroom one day," she explained.

"Kissing, Percy?" Fred mouthed at George. George shrugged.

"He was so upset when she was attacked," Chrys recalled. "I reckon he really cares about her."

"Yeah, so you won't tease him, will you?" Ginny looked at Fred and George.

Fred smirked. "Wouldn't dream of it."

"Definitely not," George agreed falsely. Ginny shrugged, holding back a smile.

"I thought of something else…" Harry looked around. "Chrys—I need a bit of parchment and a quill…" She handed them over. "Thanks." He tore off two bits of paper and wrote the Dursleys' phone number on each of them. He gave one to Hermione and one to Ron. "This is called a telephone number," Harry told Ron carefully. "I told your dad how to use a telephone last summer—he'll know. Call me at the Durselys', okay? I can't stand another two months with only Chrys to talk to…"

"Hey!" Chrys protested. Harry smiled at her.

"Your aunt and uncle will be proud, won't they?" Hermione thought as Fred and George finished unloading the trunks onto Platform 9 ¾. "When they hear what you've done?"

Chrys and Harry looked doubtfully at each other.

"I don't see why we'd tell them," Chrys said.

"Yeah, all those times we could've died and didn't manage it? They'll be furious," Harry thought. Hermione frowned.

"Surely you're joking?"

Harry and Chrys looked at each other.

"Yep," they said quickly.