7th November 1992
Harry sat in the infirmary, his arm flapping around like a noodle. He never thought he could have hated someone as much as he hated Lockhart right now.
The match against Slytherin today was something that they had been looking forward to for weeks. Wood had been even more aggressive during the practices this year since they had missed the Quidditch Cup last year. Harry had his own reasons to win; Draco Malfoy was the seeker opposite him, and Harry sorely wanted an opportunity to wipe the smug smile off the Slytherin's face.
The moment the match began, Harry quickly flew higher than everyone else. It was a new strategy Wood had him practice—get a broader view of the entire field from higher up in the air to find the Snitch faster and avoid being tailed. It would have worked well on a good day, but today hadn't been one of them.
It began to rain just minute into the match, affecting the general visibility on the field. Although it affected all players equally, it was slightly worse for Harry since he was a Seeker. On top of it, the Slytherin team quickly gained a lead of sixty points; equipped with Nimbus 2001s, their Chasers were easily dominating the match. This only raised the stakes further on Harry—at this rate, he would have to catch the Snitch as fast as possible to have any chance of a Gryffindor win.
But fate was not on Harry's side, and it pushed him to his limit. It happened when Malfoy approached him in the air—zooming around to show off the speed of his broom. When Harry gave no visible reaction, Malfoy resorted to one of his unimaginative taunts. Harry didn't even get a chance to reply, for at that very moment Harry spotted a Bludger heading straight at him. He managed to dodge it in time to see George chasing it, his Beater's bat in hand. Harry saw him smack the Bludger at one of the Slytherin players, but for some reason, it didn't work. Moments after being hit by George, the Bludger turned mid-flight and headed straight back at Harry. Harry dodged it again, and George whacked it once more, this time towards Malfoy. Yet, the Bludger still returned, swerving like a boomerang.
This wasn't normal—as far as Harry knew, Bludgers were supposed to pursue and unseat as many people as possible, not concentrate on a single player like this.
Deciding to put some distance between himself and the heavy ball chasing him, Harry leaned forward and zoomed off towards the other end of the field. He dodged and weaved through the other players—mainly Slytherin—in an inspired effort to lose the Bludger in between. It didn't work, and the Bludger still focused on just him, whistling along behind like a bullet with his name written on it.
In a last-ditch hope, Harry headed towards Fred, who was lying in wait for the Bludger to appear. With a huge swing, the Gryffindor beater hit the Bludger with a loud crack. The blow should have thrown the Bludger back to the other end of the field. But it didn't. The Bludger still returned, as if magnetically attracted to Harry.
It was obvious that the Bludger was tampered with, so they called for a time-out. Madam Hooch, sceptical of their claim, checked the Bludgers for any signs of tampering. She found none. A more thorough investigation could have been carried out, but that would have required Gryffindor to forfeit the current match. Given that Slytherin had a lead of eighty points by now, Harry had insisted that Fred and George concentrate on keeping the other Bludger off the chasers. He would deal with the rogue one on his own. They had objected at first, but after Harry managed to convince Wood, they had to grudgingly accept.
A small part of Harry had wanted to believe that the Bludger would leave him alone; of course, that wasn't the case. The moment he was back in the air, Harry had been forced to do loopbacks and twirls and all sorts of ridiculous manoeuvring just to avoid the ball hell-bent on pursuing him. Weaving through the field like an errant fly, Harry narrowly kept ahead of the Bludger at all times.
Harry did have an advantage; unlike him, the Bludger was small and heavy, unable to perform sharp turns due to its momentum. Harry exploited it as much as he could, even briefly managing to increase the distance between himself and the pursuing Bludger. His decision to handle the Bludger by himself did pay off, as the Gryffindor team managed to reduce Slytherin's lead by thirty points.
That was when Harry had seen it; The Golden Snitch, hovering just behind Malfoy's ear, who was too busy trying to ridicule Harry's manoeuvres.
A smirk appeared on Harry's face as he shot straight at Malfoy; the sheer terror that gripped Malfoy's face on seeing Harry barrelling straight at him with a Bludger in tow was a sight that Harry happily etched in his mind.
It was a perfect ending to an enthralling match; at least for everybody else. The moment Harry's hand closed around the Snitch, he heard a loud, sickening crack. It took a moment for Harry to register where it had come from, but the sharp pain that soon shot up his arm was a clear indicator. The Bludger had rammed into his outstretched arm, breaking the bone instantly.
It was a mixed feeling; there was the pain, obviously, from the broken arm. There was also relief, as Harry miraculously managed to land on the pitch without further injury. There was some joy—Gryffindor had managed to win the match. But for Harry, there was a sense of accomplishment. He had managed to outfly Malfoy, managed to outmanoeuvre a seemingly rogue Bludger out for his blood—at least for most of the match—and most importantly, he had managed to swipe the Snitch right from under Malfoy's nose.
Soon, amidst the cheers and the euphoria, the pain from the broken arm dulled Harry's senses—something he shouldn't have let happen in hindsight. In the haze of the pain, he remembered Wood and the others cheering him, awaiting Madam Pomfrey's arrival. Harry remembered Lockhart arriving, and claiming that he could mend the bone. He remembered trying to protest, saying he would rather wait for Madam Pomfrey. But Lockhart had insisted on doing the spell himself, waving off Harry's concerns.
What Harry did know for sure was this—one moment he had a human looking arm, the next he had a flesh noodle attached to his shoulder; instead of healing it, Lockhart had vanished all the bones in Harry's arm.
"Well, the bones are no longer broken," Lockhart had said, before disappearing off somewhere.
If Harry was being honest, it was probably a good thing that Lockhart removed the bones from his arm; Harry might have actually strangled the man in anger.
Harry cursed inwardly as he opened his eyes. It was dark—near midnight perhaps. He squinted in the darkness to take a look at his arm; it wasn't exactly difficult—the excruciating waves of pain rolling off his injury pointed Harry's gaze in the right direction. Immobilized in the cast, Harry could feel the Skele-Grow doing its job inside his arm. He could literally feel splinters of bone growing inside the flesh; something Harry would have found disgusting in normal circumstances. He wondered if the pain from his arm was what had woken him. Then, he suddenly felt something on his forehead.
"Aah," he cried out in surprise. Looking around, Harry noticed large eyeballs peering at him through the darkness—eyeballs he had seen once before in Privet Drive.
As Harry's eyes adjusted to the darkness, he noticed that the house-elf looked devastated. A single tear was running down its long, pointed nose.
"Harry Potter came back to school," Dobby whispered miserably. "Dobby warned Harry Potter again and again, sir. Why didn't you heed Dobby, Harry Potter? Why did you not go home when you missed the train?"
Harry tried sitting up, pushing down on the pillows. It was difficult to move when his arm was trapped in a sling.
"What are you doing here Dobby?" Harry turned towards the elf. "And how did you find out that I missed the train?" he asked after a moment.
Dobby's eyes darted around, trying to avoid Harry's gaze. Realisation dawned on Harry.
"You did it," he said slowly. "You made the barrier stop Ron and me from getting onto the Platform!"
"Dobby did, sir," replied the elf, nodding his head vigorously, his large bat-like ears flapping. "Dobby lay in wait for Harry Potter to arrive and sealed the gateway before he entered. Dobby did not mean to trouble Harry Potter's Wheezy, sir."
The elf then held both his arms in front of him. Harry noticed that they had been bandaged with dirty linen.
"Dobby had to iron his hands afterwards, sir, but Dobby didn't care, for Dobby thought Harry Potter was now safe. Never did Dobby dream Harry Potter would get to school another way." Dobby finished, his body rocking back and forth.
Looking at Dobby's fingers made Harry sick. They were ironed? And Dobby did that to himself? Harry knew about Dobby punishing himself for going against his master's wishes, but he wouldn't have imagined something like this. Still, the elf had gotten him into trouble, and Harry tried to reluctantly chide him for his actions.
"You nearly got Ron and me expelled, Dobby. You know what it's like for me at the Dursleys. I can't lose Hogwarts, Dobby."
"But you mustn't be here, sir! It is not safe for you! Dobby was so shocked to know that Harry Potter was back at Hogwarts, Dobby let his master's dinner burn! Dobby never had such a flogging before!"
Harry slumped back onto his pillows. Hearing dobby speak of his life brought unpleasant memories to the surface.
"Does that happen often? You—getting punished like that?"
Dobby smiled weakly but remained silent.
Realising that he wasn't going to get any answers like this, Harry decided to take charge of the conversation.
"Why are you here now Dobby?" Harry asked. "Your plan clearly failed. I made it to Hogwarts."
"Ah, but Harry Potter got hurt in the match. You see sir, tis' not safe for you here."
"It was a rogue Bludger. That doesn't happen usually—" Harry saw a brief gleam of victory in Dobby's large eyes, and his suspicions were aroused.
"Wait a second! You tampered the Bludger!"
Harry's accusation broke through and Dobby's face fell.
"Dobby thought his Bludger would be enough to—"
"To what? Kill me?" Harry was mad. "If my arm wasn't in this sling right now—"
"No! No!" Dobby wailed, "Not kill you, sir, never kill you!" Dobby wrung his hand on the pillow cover that he was wearing. "Dobby wants to save Harry Potter's life! Grievously injure, yes. But only enough to be sent home!" he pleaded.
"Oh, is that all?" said Harry angrily. "I don't suppose you're going to tell me why you wanted me sent home in pieces?"
"If only you knew sir, if only you knew!" Dobby's tears were flowing freely now. An odd expression gripped his face; a mix of sorrow and fear. Turning to Harry the elf started to explain.
"Dobby remembers how it was when He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named was powerful, sir. Dobby remembers how the house-elves were treated then. We house-elves, we the lowly, the enslaved, the dregs of the magical world!" Dobby clasped his hands in front of himself as if praying to some invisible deity. "Before the Dark Lord's power was broken, the house-elves were forced to serve his supporters, sir. Treated like vermin, sir! Of course, Dobby is still treated like that."
"But when Harry Potter survived! Oh, it was a new dawn, sir! You shone like a beacon of hope! The old masters were taken away, and the lives of house-elves bettered."
Unwillingly, Harry found himself drawn into Dobby's story. He'd always felt that the people were exaggerating his role when they spoke of those times. The way Dobby told it… Was it really that bad before?
His thoughts were interrupted when Dobby continued.
"But now… bad things are happening again sir. Evil plots sir, the most evil plots—things no decent wizard —" he trailed off. Looking into Harry's eyes, Dobby spoke directly to him.
"This is why Harry Potter must leave! He is the hope for the house-elves, for all of us. Dobby cannot let Harry Potter stay here now that history is to repeat itself, now that the Chamber of Secrets is open once more —"
Dobby froze; his face gripped in horror. Swiftly he moved to Harry's bedside table and grabbed the water jug that was kept on it before cracking it over his head. The blow toppled him on the floor, the water spilling everywhere. Harry heard the elf mutter "Bad dobby… bad dobby…" between soft sobs.
"So, the Chamber of Secrets? It's real then?" Harry whispered. That was what Dobby was trying to warn about all this time? Suddenly Harry remembered something that Dobby had said.
"Wait—you said it's been opened before. When? Who?"
"Please, Harry Potter, go home." Dobby looked at Harry tiredly. "'tis too dangerous, sir. Dobby begs you, please…"
Harry wasn't giving up lightly. Dobby knew about the chamber—had known, even in the summer.
"I'm not muggleborn, Dobby—How can I be in danger from the Chamber?"
"Do not ask this of Dobby, sir, ask no more of poor Dobby." He climbed on to Harry's bed. "The dark deeds that are planned—Harry Potter will be in danger—you will be in danger."
"You know who's opened the chamber?" Harry was desperate now. With his good hand, he gripped Dobby's arm. "Tell me Dobby! I can help. Tell me! One of my best friends is a muggle-born. If what you're saying is true, she'll be in danger, more so than me!"
An expression of understanding dawned on Dobby's face.
"Harry Potter is too noble. He thinks of his friends, even when Harry Potter's own life is in danger. Dobby sees now. Harry Potter will not leave Hogwarts. Dobby cannot help Harry Potter anymore," he said dejectedly, hopping off of Harry's bed. He looked up at Harry.
"Dobby asks one last time sir. For Harry Potter's own good. Please go home, sir."
"Who is it Dobby?" Harry asked coldly. "Who's opened the Chamber? Who opened it last time?"
Dobby shook his head vigorously, his face contorted in pain.
"Dobby is sorry, Harry Potter," the elf whispered before disappearing with a pop.
Mark rocked his head as he moved through the corridor, silently humming the lyrics to an AC/DC song. Trying to avoid encountering any of the patrolling prefects, he crept his way toward the Room of Requirement for his weekly archiving session.
The archiving was going even better than he had initially anticipated. After a brief chat with Corky—who had confirmed that he was free to do as he wished with the stuff he found—he had managed to create an efficient workflow for the behemoth of a task that awaited him. Thankfully, the room had been of help—at his request, it expanded even more, creating enough space for him to properly examine everything. In the past two sessions, he had managed to sort through a total of five piles. Apart from unsalvageable garbage—old, broken quills and the like—he found old textbooks, notes, robes, and a lot of broken furniture. Mark arranged all of these into separate sections, noting down everything on a notebook. To his luck, he even found a couple of old Dicta-quills—Mark immediately started to use one to record the findings, speeding up the sorting process even quicker, while the other he pocketed for his personal use.
The feast on Halloween had caused him to miss out on his weekly session. Originally, Mark had planned on proceeding to the Room after the feast, but the Chamber message snuffed that plan out pretty quickly.
Everyone had been on an edge ever since that day. Neville had even warned him not to go out at night like this, but Mark just found it hilarious. He wasn't really sure why people were taking all this so seriously. It was likely just a prank gone too far by one of the older students. Fred and George had told Mark that Mr Filch was a squib—a non-magical born to magical parents—and about the general attitude that the magical world had about squibs. They were looked down upon and ridiculed, some even being kicked out of their own families. Given that, it wasn't surprising that someone targeted Mr Filch's cat. Some people were stupid and cruel, and sometimes they went too far. It wasn't surprising at all; especially not for Mark.
After all, it wasn't just people like Mr Filch that the magical community looked down upon; it was everything non-magical or non-magical in origin. It was so ingrained into everyone that even his friends had trouble understanding what Mark found offensive.
Of course, there were leagues of difference between them and people like Draco Malfoy. His friends were ignorant of their own behaviour, but they appreciated non-magical things and were willing and eager to learn more. Draco, on the other hand, was someone who had learnt to hate the non-magical right from his childhood.
Mark smiled to himself as he recalled the Quidditch match from earlier today. Sitting on the bench, he hadn't been able to see much of it in the pouring rain. But, to his luck, the final catch by Harry had happened right in front of him. The look on Draco's face as he probably shat his pants was priceless.
As Mark turned around the corner, any further thoughts were stubbed as a flash of red caught his eye. Squinting, he peered up the corridor, only to see the unmistakable red hair of Ginny Weasley turn around the corner.
'What's she doing out after curfew?' Mark wondered. As he started following her, he chuckled to himself as he realised what she must be up to. 'On her way to set up some prank, no doubt. Making her brothers proud.'
Mark picked up his pace as he tried to reduce the distance between Ginny and himself. From what Fred and George had told him—admitted in private, mind you—Ginny was even better than them at pranks. Obviously, she wasn't as good with the trick potions and charms that they excelled at. But what she lacked in skill, she made up with creativity. Both Mark and Neville had squirmed at the very thought of the 'underwear prank' that the twins had mentioned.
That was what was occupying Mark's thoughts; given the possibility of a prank from Ginny, it was better to be safe than sorry. Knowing what she was up to would definitely be useful. Maybe he would even sneak up on her to give her a bit of a scare.
As he followed her, Mark tried to guess where she was setting up the prank. Her direction seemed to indicate the Great Hall; it was the likely target for a school-wide prank. Mark didn't think she would target a single person or house; unlike her brothers, Ginny had a much more refined sense of fun—something Mark had appreciated on the Express.
Mark's guess, however, turned out to be false when Ginny took a wrong turn, heading left towards the Charms corridor. She wasn't headed towards the Great Hall. Before Mark could ponder on her destination any further, Ginny took another turn—this time disappearing behind a tapestry depicting the goblin rebellion of 1612. Mark moved the tapestry aside to find a secret passage behind it; a passage he had no idea existed.
Mark's respect for Ginny grew, and so did his curiosity. She had come to Hogwarts barely two months ago. When and how had she found this passage? Did the twins tell her about it? Was it on that map of theirs?
As he moved through the pitch-black passage, Mark's mind started growing uneasy. He couldn't point it out yet, but something was off. The more he thought about it the more the unease grew.
He was finally able to point it out. It was the way Ginny was moving. She wasn't sneaking around, but walking with purpose and confidence—something that was unlike a student going to set up a prank.
The moment Mark exited the secret passage, he got a sinking feeling in his stomach. He was standing in a corridor on the second-floor. Specifically, the corridor where the message about the Chamber had been found, along with the petrified body of Mr Filch's cat.
As realisation began to set in, Mark slowly crept towards the bathroom. The door was open, and he could hear Ginny's voice coming from within—he couldn't make sense of her words. Taking a deep breath, Mark peeked around the doorway.
Inside, Ginny was standing in front of the sinks, hissing at them. The sinks began to move, sliding away right out of sight, leaving a large pipe exposed—large enough for a man to go through. Ginny hissed again.
The pipe began to contort itself, turning into a stone staircase going down. Ginny walked straight towards it, and soon disappeared from view.
Closing his eyes, Mark pinched himself. No this was not a dream, nor was it some horrible nightmare. Something was very, very wrong here. As he thought and re-thought through all the possible explanations for what he had just seen, Mark found his feet making their way towards the staircase. His sweaty palm encountered cold, rough wood; Mark realised he had already drawn out his wand. Taking an audible breath, Mark began going down the staircase. Whatever was going on—he was going to get at the bottom of this.
AN: And there we go!
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