12th November 1992
"Excuse me, sorry, excuse me —"
Neville tried to bustle his way through the sea of students in front of him as he made his way towards the entrance hall. Professor Sprout had asked him to assist her with the weekly trimming of the Mandrakes today, and that was where he was headed; greenhouse number two.
As he kept pushing through the crowd, Neville wondered just what these people were doing in the corridor. This wasn't usually a busy passage like the Charms corridor, nor was it particularly popular with loitering kids. So, what exactly were all these students doing here now? Before he could think anymore about the question, a voice broke in from further up the corridor.
"Gather 'round, gather 'round —" Drawn to the attention-grabbing words, Neville pushed through some of the taller kids in front of him.
"What in the —" Neville muttered as he took in the peculiar sight in front of him. An older Ravenclaw student—a sixth year named Trumper, if Neville remembered correctly—was standing on one side of the corridor and inviting everyone around to come near. In front of him was a small table covered with a plain white cloth, and on it was a bizarre collection of items put up on display. As Neville's gaze scanned the table, he noticed a modest selection of talismans, bracelets and different sorts of protective artefacts. On one side were small vials of colourful powders and one the other a small stack of greenish roots. As Neville stared dumbly at the table and its contents, Trumper began to speak to the gathered crowd in front of him
"Come here, folks. These are some of the best defences you can buy to ward off evil. Look at this. Genuine Egyptian ankh. Will protect you from any monsters that are lurking nearby, eh. And this. The bracelet of Cliodne. Keeps away pesky spirits who try and interfere. Here—take a look at this—you'll need this if you're a muggleborn mate. The Heir will be after you. Even you Wiggins. I don't remember old Slytherin being too friendly with the half-bloods either —"
Trumper's words had an immediate effect as whispers broke out in the crowd. The rumours regarding the Chamber had been swirling around amongst the student body ever since that ominous message had appeared on Halloween two weeks ago. As there had been no attack since, a wave of calm had just begun to settle in when someone pointed out the astronomical significance of Halloween; everyone immediately started working out the next significant astronomical event on which the attack might happen.
Having lived in the wizarding world all his life, Neville knew better than to be dismissive towards protective magic and the supposed 'ignorant superstitions.' From the many stories that his Gran and great uncle Algie had told him, Neville knew that magic worked in all sorts of mysterious ways. As the students around him began whispering about the seriousness of the threat looming over them, Neville found himself wondering about the same question as them. Were they really safe?
Even though the other purebloods like him weren't bothered by the message on Halloween, Neville had a niggling doubt in the back of his mind. After all, before coming here to Hogwarts, Neville had been considered a near squib by his family, hadn't he? Would that not be something the Heir would take into account? Squibs were considered the lowliest by the blood supremacists—after all, the first attack had been on Mr Filch's cat. There was a good chance that he might be targeted.
And even if he was safe, what about his friends? The Weasleys were well-known blood traitors, while Mark was a muggleborn. What would happen if the Heir attacked him? After all, Mark hadn't exactly kept his head down over the past year whenever Malfoy had tried instigating any quarrels.
If there was one thing that Neville was sure of, it was that Mark would never buy any of this protective stuff. If he wanted his friend to be safe, Neville would have to buy something himself and then find some way to stick it inside Mark's bag. Finalising on this course of action, Neville stepped forward and began to examine the stuff that Trumper had displayed on the table in front of him.
Most of it looked genuine—not that Neville had any idea how to check for that kind of stuff. His attention was drawn to the large green bulbs kept on the corner. He picked one up and examined it closer. Bringing it to his nose, he took a whiff.
"Here mate—that's Bavarian Gurdyroot. The best in the business for general protection against dark magic. Yours for seven sickles"
Gurdyroot? This wasn't Gurdyroot. He knew that because he had some actual Gurdyroot growing in the greenhouse at his home.
"No, it's not. This isn't Gurdyroot. It's an onion. It's a rather large one, but still an onion."
Trumper got a bit shifty at that and acted as if he hadn't heard Neville's words. He began paying attention to the other students who were looking at the Egyptian ankhs. Realising something was amiss, Neville spoke again—this time even louder.
"Wait. Does any of this stuff actually work?" asked Neville. "Where did you get all this in the first place?"
Now that he remembered, Trumper was a muggleborn. There was no place he could have gotten all this from. Neville's words seemed to have its effects, for the people broke out into whispers at them. Trumper—sensing that it was better to wrap up his spiel—began to move quickly and started packing up all the stuff on the table. With a wave of his wand, the table folded itself and disappeared inside a smallish bag that he was carrying, while the white tablecloth shrank into a handkerchief that he deftly pocketed.
"Well, the sale's over folks. I need to be somewhere. If you need any such stuff to protect yourself, you know where to find me." Stretching his hand, Trumper grabbed the fake Gurdyroot from Neville's hand and put it back in his bag. Shouldering the straps, he spoke in a louder voice than before.
"Remember chaps, the monster in the Chamber is still out there. Only a matter of time before it and the Heir comes for one of us. Better be safe than sorry."
Neville stared dumbstruck as he watched the Ravenclaw expertly disappear into the crowd. As the students began to disperse off, Neville stood there still lost in his thoughts. It was only after he realised that the corridor was empty again that he remembered Professor Sprout and the Mandrakes. Shaking his head, he decided to put away these thoughts and began moving towards the greenhouses.
Harry skipped on the grass path as he made his way to Hagrid' hut. The sun was out and the air was fresh—as Harry took in a deep breath as he kicked a pebble at his feet further down the path. He had been itching to be outside ever since he had been released from the Hospital Wing, but apart from a brief walk near the lake, he hadn't gotten the opportunity to truly stretch his legs. In all honesty, the fresh air that was filling his lungs now was just making him want to hop on his Nimbus and go off for a fly. But since Madam Pomfrey had been adamant about him not flying for at least a week, Harry was here doing the next best thing. As he neared his destination, Hagrid's large frame appeared into his view; he could make out a sizeable bunch of radishes in Hagrid's hand.
"Hey, Hagrid. How are you?" Harry slowed down on the path, trying to avoid the slippery moss that had appeared in some places. He noticed Hagrid's beetle-like eyes searching for something, or rather someone, behind him.
"I'm good, Harry, I'm good. Where's Ron and Hermione?"
Harry rolled his eyes inwardly. Why did everyone find it odd if he was somewhere by himself?
"Oh. Well, they're—well, Hermione's already studying for the term exams, and Ron's feeling a bit under the weather." Addressing the worry on Hagrid's face, he added immediately, "Nothing serious, he's just sleeping it off." Hagrid nodded in understanding and gestured Harry to follow him inside.
"Come to visit me then? Want a cuppa tea?"
"Yes, thank you," Harry said, as he entered through the large doorway to the hut, rubbing his hands over his shoulders. He sat down on one of the chairs, while Hagrid shuffled around and put the kettle on.
"So 'Arry, how's your arm?" Hagrid asked, his back still towards Harry.
"Good. It's back to normal, I guess," he replied, his fingers instinctively curling into a tight grip. He shrugged his shoulder to feel the regrown socket. "But somehow I can still feel the bones growing inside me. Madam Pomfrey says the sensation should go away in another week. It's just my mind playing tricks on me," he finished.
"Bloody Lockhart," Harry heard Hagrid mutter under his breath as he poured the tea into two mugs.
"You don't like him? Professor Lockhart?" Harry asked with a slight surprise. It was unlike Hagrid to criticize or curse a professor. Even last year Hagrid had kept defending Snape whenever they spoke. Granted, it turned out that Snape was on Professor Dumbledore's side. But for Hagrid to actually say that about Lockhart? Evidently, Hagrid noticed the slip of his tongue and tried to cover it up.
"Ah, Harry. It's nothing, nothing at all." Harry looked at him sceptically, trying to urge him to say the truth. Finally, Hagrid relented.
"Well, I shouldn't say this seeing he's your Professor an' all, but no, I don't like tha' man," he finished hesitantly.
"Really? I don't think he's a good teacher at all," Harry said with confidence. "He isn't actually teaching us anything useful in class. Ron agrees with me too," he took a pause, "Hermione disagrees, obviously. Says anyone who Professor Dumbledore hired must have been good enough for the job."
Hagrid snorted into his mug of tea. "More like the only one for the job," he said darkly.
"What?" Harry spurted out. Surely Hagrid was joking, right? Hagrid took another sip of his tea before explaining.
"He was the only applicant for the Defence position this year. People don't want it, you see."
"Why?" Harry asked, and realised immediately that it was the wrong thing to say. Hagrid realised that he had revealed a little too much, and Harry could see the wheels turning in his head as he considered telling everything. Finally, Hagrid spoke.
"There's rumours—rumours mind you, tha' the positions cursed. No one lasts as the Defence professor for more than a year. Dumbledore has to call for new applicants every year."
"What? Since when—how long?" Harry asked, his tea now forgotten and cold.
"Hmm. Let me think." Hagrid leaned back and closed his eyes, his mind trying to work out the answer to Harry's question. "The last defence professor I remember seeing stick around was Professor Wilkes. Right," he nodded to himself. "Dumbledore sacked 'im a few years after he became the Headmaster. That was what, '68, 69'? Yeah since '69 I reckon," he finished, now looking back at Harry. Harry's mind raced as he made the calculations.
"That's more than twenty years! You're saying there's never been a Defence professor at Hogwarts longer than a year since then?" he exploded in realisation. He was on the edge of his seat now, trying to make sense of this new information. "Has Professor Dumbledore checked for a curse? Is it even possible to put a curse on something like that?"
Hagrid just shrugged in reply as he sipped on his tea. In Harry's opinion, the attitude Hagrid had towards all this seemed a bit a callous; then again, after all this time he must have been used to the idea now.
"Dunno," replied Hagrid, setting down the mug in his hand. "Dumbledore did check for it, does so every year," he tried reassuring Harry. "But so far, he hasn't found evidence of anything yet."
An uncomfortable silence permeated the cosy hut as Harry pondered over Hagrid's words. After a moment, Hagrid decided to take control of the conversation again.
"Anyway, they're matters best left alone. So, Harry, how's the classes? You enjoying at Hogwarts?" he asked. "I heard from Professor Flitwick tha' you were one of the top students last year," Hagrid remarked, his tone filled with pride, "Didn't I tell you that you'd be a thumping good wizard once you got yourself trained up?"
Harry found his mouth curl into a genuine smile as he remembered the day Hagrid had rescued him from the Dursleys, and what a nervous wreck he had been on his first visit to Diagon Alley. Taking a long sip from his now cold tea, Harry replied in a soft voice.
"It's good, Hagrid. It's great," said Harry. "It's much — It's much better, you know, than—than before," he added with a sad smile. Looking at Hagrid, whose face was turning dark, Harry smiled more naturally.
"Thank you, for bringing me to Hogwarts, Hagrid," Harry said to his first friend in the magical world. "Thanks for everything that you did for me."
"Jus' doing my job, Harry, jus' doin' my job."
1943 - Special Award for Services to the School (regards to the incident with the death of Ms Warren)
Bloody Hell. Death of Ms Warren? Did he kill someone the last time?
As Mark continued reading the file, he became increasingly pissed off. Evidently, Tom Riddle had managed to fool everyone that he had met.
After Ginny had told him the full name of Voldemort, Mark's curiosity had been piqued. Logically, it was obvious that Voldemort must have been a student once. But to actually think of him as one? That had been difficult to fathom. In any case, given the rumours of the Chamber having been opened before, it didn't take Mark to connect the dots to the fact that Voldemort must have opened it while he was still in school.
So here he had come, to the student records room. Mr Filch was busy with the fifth-floor portraits today, so it had been the perfect time to sneak around. He didn't have any idea where to begin, and they weren't taught the point-me spell until the fifth year, which could have come in handy today—Mark promised himself to learn it as soon as possible. So, he had to do his search manually.
He had a fair idea of the time period. Voldemort was at the height of his powers in the 1970's. Therefore, it was likely that he was probably older than thirty then. That would put him in Hogwarts sometime before 1955. So, that's where Mark decided to begin his search.
It took him about twenty minutes of searching before he struck gold; back then the number of students at Hogwarts was about three times the present. But he did find him, in a plain manila folder with the Hogwarts crest and Class of 1945 neatly printed on the front.
Tom Marvolo Riddle
Attended - 1938 to 1945
House - Slytherin
1943 - Prefect for Slytherin House
1943 - Special Award for Services to the School (regards to the incident with the death of Ms Warren)
1944 - Received twelve O.W.L. certifications, three with Distinction.
1945 - Head Boy
1945 - Transfiguration Award
1945 - Arithmancy Award
1945 - Received eight N.E.W.T certifications, three with Distinction.
Point of Contact - 1938 - 1945 Wool's Orphanage, London
- 1945 - Borgin and Burkes, Diagon Alley
Mark closed the file and glanced at his pocket watch. He had been here for nearly thirty minutes. Committing the entry to memory, he placed the file back where he found it and left the records room as inconspicuously as possible. As he made his way back to the common room, his mind reeled with confusion.
Why the hell did a guy like Riddle go to work in a shop? Wasn't he from a wizarding family? So why was he in an orphanage in London? None of it made any sense. Looking back, it was glaringly obvious that Riddle was the likely culprit in whatever incident that happened in '45 that he had gotten an award for.
'Shit,' Mark cursed inwardly. He should have checked the record for that Ms Warren who Tom had attacked and probably killed. It would have certainly given him more insight into whatever had happened.
As much as Mark wished to put this all behind him, the whole business with the Chamber, the Basilisk, and Tom Riddle was something that was trespassing on his thoughts again and again. There were times when he found himself lost in thought, wondering exactly why Slytherin had built the Chamber in the first place—something about the story Professor Binns told them in class wasn't making sense to him. If it wasn't this which encroached Mark's thoughts, then it was the uneasy realisation that he had had near-death experiences at Hogwarts in the past six months. Twice.
When Mark had gone to the library, he hadn't found any mention to the Basilisk in any of the books on magical creatures. Frankly, it was something he had expected—after all, if the basilisk had been a beast of common knowledge, then the identity of Slytherin's monster would not have been a mystery to everyone. So, Mark then decided to check the restricted section in the Room of Requirement. After scanning through a dozen books on rare magical creatures—which, by the way, looked quite interesting—he finally found a reference in a fairly ominous passage. After reading and rereading it a dozen times, it was practically burned into his mind.
Of the many fearsome beasts and monsters that roam our land, there is none more curious or more deadly than the Basilisk, known also as the King of Serpents. Its methods of killing are most wondrous, for aside from its deadly and venomous fangs, the Basilisk has a murderous stare, and all who are fixed with the beam of its eye shall suffer instant death.
Instant death. No big deal. One thing was certain—Mark had never been more glad that he had listened to Ginny down in the Chamber. She had practically saved his life.
And it wasn't just the deathly stare that had freaked Mark out. When they had returned from the Chamber, Mark had slipped a basilisk fang into one of his pockets, hoping to keep it as a memento of having killed a bloody forty-foot snake. It was stupid in hindsight, but it had been an instinctive reaction for him then, and he hadn't given it much thought after he dropped it inside his trunk. That changed the moment he read about the Basilisk. Mark had immediately hurried back to his dorm and carefully wrapped the fang in a spare cloth before packing it in one of the spare sections of his trunk—of course, he had had no idea that it was loaded with the most potent venom in existence.
His mother's locket was another thing that had grabbed Mark's attention; or rather its absence. He had been in the shower when he reached for it out of habit and found it missing. After searching everywhere—even using the summoning charm to help in the effort—Mark found no trace of the locket anywhere. The only conclusion he could draw from this was that it must have broken off its chain sometime during his confrontation with the Basilisk. The only way he could make certain of it was by going down to the Chamber, and Mark wasn't particularly keen to return to that god-forsaken place.
Actually, if he thought about it, Mark was pretty sure that his mother wouldn't mind his losing the family heirloom—given that it had happened during a fight with a forty-foot killer snake. Though there wasn't any way to be sure, Mark liked to believe that his mother would have been proud of her son. At least a bit.
As his feet carried him over the castle floor, Mark soon found himself outside the Gryffindor portrait hole. His thoughts were drawn back to reality the moment he stepped inside and saw Ginny get up from the couch; clearly, she had been waiting for him. Looking around, he saw a small alcove at the back of the common room that was currently unoccupied. Mark gestured Ginny to follow him there, and she immediately nodded in agreement.
"What's up?" he asked her once they reached the alcove. Ginny looked odd; she wasn't standing still and kept twisting her fingers in nervousness, but her eyes reflected a grim resoluteness of having made a decision.
"I want to tell him."
"Dumbledore." Ginny centred herself and stood still. "I want to tell him." Her eyes quickly darted around the common room, as she continued. "The rumours. They're getting out of hand. I—I think it's the right thing to do. Telling him."
Mark waited until her eyes stopped wandering and returned to meet his own.
"Are you sure?" he asked in a neutral tone. He wanted to make sure she had reached the decision without any external pressure.
"Yes. But only him."
"What if he insists about telling your Mum and Dad?"
Ginny shrugged in resignment. Mark nodded. She had made her decision.
"Alright then," said Mark. "Tomorrow's Friday. We'll go on Saturday after the reserve practices." Looking at Ginny's slightly confused expression, he continued, "When you speak with him, time is the one thing that should not be a constraint."
Ginny nodded in agreement, and her gaze darted around in nervousness. Mark saw the shell that she had propped her confidence on crack and her nervousness return.
"You'll come with me?" she finally asked, her eyes pointed down at her feet.
"I will," Mark said. She was still looking down. "Ginny," he called her, and her eyes returned to meet his. "I'll be there. Okay?"
AN: Another chapter done, and the only one for a while. The next chapter will be posted after a few months, likely in December 2019/January 2020. There are a few other things and upcoming exams that I need to focus on for a while, so no new chapters will be released until then. I might work occasionally on editing/reworking the older chapters, so those will be the only updates for a while.
I hope you enjoy the direction the story is taking. Now that the divergences have begun, the story and character development starts to flourish. The next chapters (when released) will slowly shift focus on Harry and his arc/adventure for Year 2. The changes are significant, and so will their repercussions be.
Fun fact: The character of Trumper was inspired by the character from Jeffrey Archer's As the Crow Flies.
Feedback is welcome. Please read and review. Thanks!