The Three Brothers: Book 1

Guilt

Guilt

7th November 1992

Mark groaned. Fighting a Basilisk seemed cool. Killing a Basilisk felt even cooler. Being pinned under the body of a Basilisk — not so much.

He needed to get himself out of here. His leg had gone numb under the crushing weight of the carcass, and Mark needed to know exactly how much damage it had done to his limb. Hesitantly, he edged his hand towards the dry, scaly skin of the snake, holding in all the disgust that was threatening to vomit itself inside himself. His fingers brushed against the greenish hide before he jerked it back in shock.

"Eeugh—I can't do it. I can't," he muttered to himself, rubbing his hand vigorously over his shirt. Damn the reptiles, and damn the evolutionary process for ever creating them in the first place. He needed to find some other way—some way to get this bloody thing off of him without touching it.

Maybe he could use his wand; after all, if performed correctly, the effect of a levitation spell wasn't dependent on the mass of the object. It could work—if he could get his hand on his wand, which had slipped from his hand when the dead basilisk fell on him. Turning his head, Mark's eyes found the piece of ash-brown wood lying about two feet away from him. Stretching his hand, he tried to reach for the wand but came up a few inches short. He tried swiping back and forth in a vain attempt to touch it but still fell short. He then stretched his body, hoping to gain a longer reach, but immediately grunted out in pain. It was simple really: The more he stretched, the more his leg moved underneath the weight of the snake. The more his leg moved underneath the weight, the sharper the pain which shot up his thighs.

Mark steeled himself and tried reaching again. After a second or two, his fingers finally brushed against his wand. Ecstatic, he tried rolling it towards himself, his fingers curling to provide the required force. But luck was not on his side, and the desperate attempt only ended up giving the wand a push away from him.

"Shit," he whispered. Before he could think of something else to do, Mark heard the soft sobs of Ginny echo through the chamber. Realising that she could help him, he tried to call her.

"Ginny," he croaked, his throat parched. She must not have heard him, for there was no response. Gulping down to wet his throat, he tried again, louder this time.

"Ginny."

"Huh," Ginny looked around, and suddenly remembered. "Mark!" she cried as she stood up and hurried towards him. "Are you alright? Of course not. I'm so sorry. I—It's all my fault. I'm—I'm—It's all my fault—sorry" she broke down again into sobs.

"Ginny—Ginny!" Mark grabbed her attention. She looked straight at him with her tear-stained eyes, her face twisted with guilt.

"My wand?"

Looking towards where he was pointing, Ginny quickly grabbed the wand and handed it to Mark.

"All right —" Mark steeled himself. If what he remembered from first aid was right, this was going to hurt like hell. Pointing the wand towards the huge head of the Basilisk, he scrunched his face in concentration.

"Wingardium Leviosa."

Although he barely whispered the words, they had the desired effect. The Basilisk slowly rose from where it had trapped his leg. Mark bit his lip to dull the pain from his leg. Moments later, he let the dead serpent drop unceremoniously.

"Shit," Mark mumbled. The pain was much greater than he'd realised. He must have dislocated something when he had tried reaching for his wand.

"Don't move," Ginny ordered him, her helpless visage now replaced by a business-like expression. "It needs to be put in a splint. Wait here. Don't move."

Ginny got up and ran to where her wand had fallen. After picking it up, she returned swiftly. Squatting down, she turned to Mark and swallowed a visible lump in her throat.

"This is going to hurt some," she said before pointing her wand at his leg and muttering something. Mark couldn't make out what she said, but the immediate pain that hit his leg felt like a cricket bat to the knee. As his eyes opened up again, he could see that she had straightened his leg and conjured a splint around it.

"Now stay still," she told him. "Episkey. Episkey. Episkey." Mark felt the pain slowly ebb away from his leg, a sensation of numbness taking over instead. After a few moments, all he could feel was akin to a sprained ankle.

"Is it done?" he asked, partly impressed by the efficiency of Ginny's actions

"I'm not sure. I've only seen Mum use that spell once before, when Fred fell off from his broom. It's supposed to be used for minor injuries." Ginny wrung her hands in nervousness.

"Hey, you did a good job with the splint," Mark reassured her in a tired voice as he sat up slowly. "That looked quite advanced." Ginny's face dropped at this, her tears returning.

"What's the matter? Ginny?"

"I — I — Tom taught — I learned it from — from him," she slowly whispered.

"Oh." Mark swallowed, unsure of how to reply. That was a bummer. "Well, it did come in handy," he remarked. "Think of it as a silver lining."

Ginny was now crying silently once more, her shoulders slowly racking in between the sobs.

"Ginny, what's the matter?" Mark asked "It's over. It's done. He's gone, Ginny. He can't trouble you any further."

"I know," she replied.

"Then what's the matter?"

"I—I'm afraid," she finally whispered her reply.

"Of what?"

"Everyone else," said Ginny. "What will they think—what will everyone say? I—I wrote the message, opened the Chamber. They'll think I was the Heir. I tried attacking the school—was going to attack the students," she spilt out in between her sniffed sobs. "They'll expel me for this."

Mark stared at her dumbly as he tried processing her words. Though he did not want to believe it, he was slowly realising the truth behind them.

"Dumbledore would understand, I think," said Mark, in a weak attempt at reassuring Ginny. "He'll understand that it was Voldemort. He'll make sure you won't be punished."

"Maybe. But what of everyone else? Maybe they won't expel me, but they'll still blame me, wouldn't they? They won't forget it—will make sure I won't forget it."

Mark had never expected this reaction from Ginny. As she spilt out her thoughts, it was like he was seeing her for the first time—seeing the real Ginny. A girl who was angry at Tom Riddle; who was resentful towards the small-mindedness of the magical world. A girl who was scared of the future.

"I—I attacked Mrs Norris," continued Ginny. "Almost killed her. Maybe they won't say it to my face, but they'll definitely say it behind my back. A dark witch—that's what they'll call me"

"I don't think —" Mark began but was interrupted with a tear-filled look from Ginny.

"You tell me, Mark. If I was someone else—some other student that you found here. Someone you didn't know as well. What would you have thought? Would you have accepted the truth as easily? That I wasn't the Heir? That I—I wasn't actually planning on—on attacking you?"

Her question tore at Mark's heart like a piece of cardboard. This was what was eating at her the most—that she would have attacked him. And from a purely objective perspective, she wasn't wrong. The more he thought about it, the more he realised that she was right. The gossip and rumour mill of Hogwarts was strong. From what Mark knew of the wizarding world, any hint of Dark Magic was persecuted by the people. No amount of explanations would suffice—Ginny would be vilified.

"They won't talk to me. Play with me. Be friends with a dark witch like me," she continued, "Mum will hate me. Ron will hate me. You know how he thinks of Slytherins," she finished, her tone becoming more miserable every minute.

Mark made a decision. Looking straight at her he spoke clearly.

"No one needs to know."

It took a moment for Ginny to absorb his statement.

"What?" She looked at him, her eyes puffed by crying. Mark took a deep breath and repeated himself.

"I said, no one needs to know. Nobody knows we're down here, and nobody will know we were. Not unless we tell them. And we won't."

"But —"

"What does it matter anyway? The Diary is destroyed, the bloody snake is dead. Nobody's in any danger anymore."

Ginny stared at him in confusion—clearly, this wasn't something she had ever considered.

"You're hurt," she said finally. "You can't not show your leg to Madam Pomfrey. How will you explain that?"

"I was on my way to set up a prank near Ravenclaw Tower when I missed a trick step on the fourth-floor staircase," Mark replied in a dispassionate tone. As far as cover stories went, it was fairly solid.

"You'll get detention for it," reminded Ginny. Mark realised she was trying to offer him a way out.

"More like a week's worth," he replied. "Still, a small price to pay. You didn't hurt anyone Ginny. You shouldn't suffer because of it."

"But what about Mrs Norris? She was hurt —"

"She was petrified and will be back to normal once the Mandrake restorative potion is ready. So, we'll be deprived of her charming personality for a few months."

Ginny continued to stare at Mark with a peculiar expression—a stare which Mark didn't back out of. As they locked gazes for what seemed like an eternity, Ginny finally broke the silence.

"You'd do that for me? Keep this a secret?"

"As long as needed," Mark replied at once. "You're my friend, Ginny. It's the least I could do."

Ginny launched herself at Mark and hugged him tightly, burying her head in his shoulder. Mark patted her awkwardly as she silently sobbed into his shirt.

"Come on, let's get out of here."

10th November 1992

'12.25'

Mark yawned and slipped the pocket watch back into his pocket—it had once belonged to his grandfather. Still seated on the couch, he tried stretching himself. He reckoned that he could probably stay up for another hour or so.

Cracking his knuckles, he picked up the book lying face down on the couch beside him. Currently, he was occupied in reading through a chapter on the mechanics and properties of the Blood replenishing potion. It was used to treat acute blood loss—Mark hoped he could understand how the potion triggered the production of new blood inside the body. It was, in essence, accelerating regeneration capabilities of certain types of cells. Maybe combined with the Elixir…

Mark gave a deep sigh. Why on earth were wizards such terrible authors? The book was less a textbook on potions and more a detailed description of completely irrelevant historical events. Seriously, who and why would someone care that Elliot Harbinger was the minister of trade the year Gurdyroot imports went down, leading to use of Goosegrass in some potions?

Feeling a little cold, Mark stretched his legs and twiddled his toes. All perfectly normal. According to what Madam Pomfrey had said, the healing spells that Ginny used had stabilised the fracture in the bone, making it much easier for her to heal. Of course, Mark had to claim that he had done the spell on himself after he slipped in through the trick stair—something he wasn't that happy taking the credit for. Still, his cover had held, and no one seemed to have any idea that anything was amiss. He even got an admiring pat on the back from Fred for 'making efforts.' Mark had been even more surprised when Professor McGonagall didn't assign him any detention—obviously, she took twenty points from Gryffindor, but that was it. According to her, his broken leg was punishment enough.

Mark's thoughts were interrupted as he saw Ginny come down the stairs from the girl's dormitories. Her eyes went to the couch in front of the fireplace, and her face fell when she saw that it was occupied by some of the older students. She must have been hoping to sit in the warmth.

As her eyes scanned the common room, her gaze locked with Mark, who gave her a small smile. He watched as she slowly made her way over towards him. Her shoulders were slumped, her gait tired and her eyes shallow—quite unlike the girl he'd met on the Express.

"Couldn't sleep?" asked Mark once she reached him. Giving just a tired shrug in reply Ginny plopped on the couch beside him. Her light blue pyjamas—which probably belonged to one of her older brothers at one time—hung loosely on her small frame. Even her usually vivid hair looked dull.

Ginny sat in silence, her eyes wandering nowhere in particular. She was deep in thought, and it looked like she wanted to get something off her chest.

"What is it?" Mark asked after a few minutes. Ginny opened her mouth to speak but closed it again. After another minute of silence, she finally spoke.

"It's—It's what everyone is talking about." Her words started pouring out, eyes staring off into empty space. "Still talking about the chamber. Wondering what's going to happen. Who's responsible." Ginny then looked straight at Mark. "They'll find out, won't they? What—What will happen when they do?"

Frankly, Mark wasn't surprised by her words. This was what was troubling her, and it was something that was troubling him too. The imminent feeling of someone finding out—of his cover story falling apart. A niggling sense of paranoia swirled in the back of his mind, even after he had taken steps to check if the secret had spilt. Over the past two days, he had purposefully gleaned into the minds of almost all the students at school, trying to see if there was any suspicion about them; no one seemed to have any idea at all.

Wondering if Ginny had some different information to draw upon, Mark turned towards her.

"Why do you think they will find out?" he asked cautiously.

"The truth comes out, doesn't it? I'm the one who — I'm responsible for it. They'll know. And then they'll hate me," Ginny rambled.

Mark narrowed his eyes as he reflected on Ginny's words. Something felt off. Whatever was fuelling her worry, it wasn't the possibility of others finding out—at least not completely. It was more subtle, lying underneath and stemming from something else entirely.

Mark wished he could get a read on her, but entering her mind wasn't the appropriate thing to do—especially in this situation. In fact, Mark was surprised by the fact that Ginny hadn't asked him about his Legilimency yet, given everything that happened down in the Chamber. She obviously knew about Occlumency, since he had never been able to get a read on her ever since they met on the Express. Tom must have already taught her by then.

A fleeting thought suddenly entered Mark's mind. Trusting his intuition, he decided to run with it.

"Do you want them to find out?"

Ginny snapped her head to look at Mark, her face betraying her thoughts for a moment.

"What? No!" she said immediately. "Of course not," she added after a moment, her eyes darting around to avoid Mark's gaze. Realising his instinct was correct, Mark took a moment to choose his words carefully.

"Because it sounds like you do," he said. "Look, Ginny. You're a good person—you have a good heart. You're—you're a Gryffindor inside," Mark rambled for a few moments as he tried to search for the correct words. "You think—you are thinking that you are a coward—No that's not —"

"What are you trying to say?" Ginny interrupted him.

"Just—let me finish, okay? Where was I — Oh, yes. You're a Gryffindor. You think by hiding this you're being a coward, and that's what feels wrong to you. About hiding this I mean."

"You're saying that I'm being too noble?" asked Ginny, finally catching on to his train of thought. "Isn't that the right thing to do? Telling the truth?"

"Why?" Mark asked, coming to his point at once.

"Why what?"

"Why is it the right thing to do?" He spoke pointedly. "And right for whom? What—what exactly will happen if the students of Hogwarts know the truth? Will it change anything for them? What repercussion will keeping all this a secret have on the others? None. What repercussions will it have on you? Everything."

Ginny didn't say anything in response, but her face betrayed the conflict within. Mark continued. "People will still talk about it, turn it into gossip before promptly forgetting it. As I said earlier Ginny, the threats are gone. Who will we be helping by telling everyone? Who will we be hurting?"

A few minutes passed, neither of them saying a world. Ginny's eyes darted across the floor, trying to make herself believe the truth; Mark's stayed fixed on her. Finally, Ginny leaned back, her gaze pointed at the ceiling.

"It still feels wrong," she whispered.

"It does. Because in your heart, you think you are guilty," he said. "Because in your heart—deep within—you are a good person who thinks she deserves to be punished."

"But I —"

"No, you don't. Are you guilty of writing in a blank Diary? Yes. Are you guilty of opening the Chamber and attacking Mr Filch's cat? Bloody hell no."

A neutral silence followed Mark's words—the crackling of the wood in the fireplace drawing Mark's attention to the fact that they were now alone in the common room. Deciding to give Ginny some space to reflect on the issue, Mark turned back to the passage on the reactants of the Blood replenishing potion. He was soon engrossed in its pages, while Ginny snuggled into the cushions as she stared into the dying embers of the fireplace. It was quite a while later that she finally broke the silence.

"Maybe what you said …" she trailed off

"Hmm?" Mark was still absorbed in his book. Realising Ginny had spoken something, he tore his eyes away from the page and looked at her. She looked straight at him.

"Dumbledore. You said he'll understand?" she asked.

"I think so. He's—He's different." Mark couldn't exactly explain himself. His encounter with the Headmaster after the incident in June had left a favourable impression of Professor Dumbledore on Mark. Underneath the powerful wizard and a magical genius, Mark had seen that the Headmaster was a kind and thoughtful person.

"Do you trust him?" Ginny asked, her voice cracking.

"With this? I would," Mark answered confidently. "If I'm not wrong, he'll even agree to keep it a secret," he added after a moment. "You want to tell him?"

Ginny's face betrayed the conflict inside her.

"Maybe—I don't know. I need some time to think," she said. Mark nodded silently in response. Ginny continued, "What if he insists that my parents be told?"

She didn't want to tell her parents about this? The way she said it, Mark guessed she'd rather have everyone else but her parents know about it.

"You don't want them to know?"

Ginny looked unsure of her answer. Taking a moment, she answered slowly.

"My Dad, yes. My mother—I'm not sure. She'll either love me to death or blame me for my stupidity. Sometimes I —" she trailed off. Mark felt a small stab of envy.

"You're lucky to have her, you know."

It took Ginny a moment before the realisation hit her and her face took on a horror-struck expression. Immediately, she tried to apologise.

"Oh no. That was so stupid. I'm so —"

"It's alright," Mark interrupted. "Really, it's Okay."

Ginny nodded reluctantly and kept silent for a few moments before trying to change the subject.

"Will you tell Dumbledore?" she asked in a timid voice.

Mark felt confused. She didn't want to tell Dumbledore herself?

"Do you want me to?" Ginny's face took on a guilty expression, and Mark understood what she'd been trying to imply. She was worried if he would go to Dumbledore himself—tell the Headmaster behind her back. Her guilt was still eating at her.

"No, I'm not telling anyone until you give me the signal." Mark took a pause. "You're the affected party here, Ginny. It's your life, and it's your decision. Remember what I told you down there? I'm your friend, Ginny. If and when you take a decision—whatever that decision maybe—I'll support you."

AN: The Chamber of Secrets wrapped up! As is evident, the Basilisk and the Diary have been taken care of well before they were in Canon. The fact that no student was attacked and that Mark and Ginny are deciding to keep this a secret will have some solid repercussions on the plot. In my opinion, this is the central plot point of Book One, and was one of the first cornerstones in the development of this story. I hope you enjoyed reading this just as much as I enjoyed creating it.

Feedback is welcome. Please read and review. Thanks!