A Riddle to Solve
AN: The text in bold has been borrowed from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling
14th November 1992
"— and then we came here to tell you, sir," Mark finished.
A brief silence followed; the only sound that could be heard was from a peculiar looking brass instrument ticking away on Professor Dumbledore's desk. Ginny's gaze was still fixed on her shoes, occasionally wandering to the small cracks on the old stone floor. Mark's retelling of the events in the chamber had refreshed her memory of all the events that she desperately wished to bury away, but the gnawing in her chest refused to leave her alone.
In a way, Ginny was grateful that Mark was here today. Sitting here, in the Headmaster's office, she wasn't sure if she would have managed to tell Professor Dumbledore anything. But Mark seemed to have no problem. He had recounted everything with a clinical detachment, not embellishing any descriptions, downplaying the emotions involved—and his own part in killing the basilisk. The way he spoke, it was as if it was some mundane report; the kind her Dad often wrote for his work with the Ministry.
Ginny knew that she would've broken down trying to tell everything. Perhaps even chickened out of the meeting. If she was being honest, the urge to just get up and run out the door hadn't completely disappeared yet. Yet, she wasn't sure if she could; there was something holding her here, immobilizing her in this large, plush chair.
She was jerked back from her thoughts when Mark gave her a nudge. She looked up and her eyes briefly met Professor Dumbledore's.
"Ms Weasley," he said, his face sad and tired—probably full of disappointment in her.
"Sorry, sir," she replied immediately, her gaze back at the floor.
"How are you, Ms Weasley?"
"I'm — I'm okay, sir," Ginny replied, swallowing the small lump in her throat. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Mark's grip on the armrest of his chair tighten.
"Ms Weasley, please do not fret," said Professor Dumbledore, "This ordeal must have been horrible for you. It is alright to be not okay."
Ginny found another lump in her throat already. She gulped it down as she nodded in reply. Steeling herself, she clutched her chair and looked into Professor Dumbledore's eyes.
"What will it be sir?" The sympathetic expression on the Headmaster's face muddled into one of confusion.
"I beg your pardon?"
"My punishment. What will my punishment be, sir? I won't be expelled for this will I?"
Of all the reactions she had possibly thought of, she had never imagined something like this. Though it was only for a moment, Ginny was sure she would have the image burned into her mind for as long as she would live. Albus Dumbledore, defeater of Grindelwald and the greatest wizard in the world, looking utterly defeated.
"Ms Weasley," said Dumbledore after a long moment. "Ginny," he added, even gentler than before. "It is I who is responsible for this. As the Headmaster, it is my responsibility to ensure the safety of the students. And I failed to protect you."
Trying to cheer her up, he further added, "Besides, I don't think Mr Smith will let me off my promise that easily."
"But —" Ginny found herself retorting despite herself. "I—I wrote in that diary, sir. I risked the safety of —"
Professor Dumbledore straightened up in his chair, his posture back to its usual wisdom and authority.
"Ms Weasley, Tom Riddle has managed to fool many a wizard in his lifetime. You were not the first," he took a pause, "and I'm afraid you won't be the last. If I'm not mistaken, he must have put a series of complicated charms on the Diary." He looked directly into her eyes, the twinkling of his eyes resembling a piercing beacon, "Charms which would create a compulsion on the user to write in the Diary." Leaning back into his tall chair, he continued.
"As a first-year student, you were in no position to detect and combat the dark magic that was used to create this book," said Dumbledore. "Yet, with the help of Mr Smith here, you did. You managed to throw off the possession of someone who took over many adult wizards with far more ease."
"Do you know what that means? You are one of the bravest to have ever faced Tom Riddle, and you, Ms Weasley, came out victorious." He smiled at Ginny, a grandfatherly pride on his face. "If that is not Gryffindor courage at its finest, I do not know what is."
A long silence followed. Ginny found her eyes misting, the newfound relief and happiness swirling into her guilt that was threatening to surface itself.
A hand found hers, its dark bronze a contrast on her own white, and gave it a squeeze. She turned to look at Mark who was smiling at her with a look of 'I told you so.' Ginny almost chuckled in relief. Almost.
"Sir. There was another thing," said Mark, speaking for the first time since he'd finished telling the story earlier. Seeing the slight nod of acknowledgement on Professor Dumbledore's face he continued.
"I wanted to look into Tom Riddle. Figure out more about him. So, I went to the records room and looked through his file —"
"Students are not permitted in the records room, Mr Smith," Professor Dumbledore interrupted, the hint of an amused smile on his face.
"Right," said Mark, clearly unaffected by the interruption. "Anyway, I found something odd. In 1943, Riddle was given a Special Services award," he took a pause, "regarding the death of one Myrtle Warren."
"I remember" Professor Dumbledore's face was completely serious, his old eyes slightly haunted.
"Did that have anything to do with the Chamber, sir?"
"Yes." The reply came after a long second.
All of this was news to Ginny. Almost.
"Tom," she interrupted, as locked information flooded her brain. "His memory — he had Hagrid expelled, didn't he?"
"That would be correct Ms Weasley," Professor Dumbledore confirmed, clearly uneasy with her knowledge.
"Wait, Hagrid was expelled?" Mark broke in. "Why?"
Professor Dumbledore slumped in resignment as he realised that he would have to give them an honest answer. Taking a deep breath, he began his explanation in a detached manner; Ginny noticed that it was quite similar to how Mark had spoken earlier.
"In the immediate aftermath of Ms Warren's death, evidence was found that Rubeus Hagrid had been illegally hiding a class XXX magical beast in the castle. The evidence that the monster had attacked Ms Warren was circumstantial and insufficient for a criminal proceeding, but Headmaster Dippet had Hagrid expelled."
"Tom Riddle gave the evidence?" Mark interjected, his voice a low snarl.
"He did. He was the Slytherin Prefect and a model student. I was sceptical of it then, but couldn't do anything." Professor Dumbledore paused, his eyes staring at nothing in particular.
"I did somehow manage to convince Armando to keep Hagrid on the grounds," he continued, "Let him have a home. He stayed on as an assistant to Ogg, who was the groundskeeper back then. Hagrid took over for him when he retired."
A momentary silence followed, before Professor Dumbledore turned to Ginny, having remembered something.
"Ms Weasley, have you told your parents yet?"
The sinking feeling returned in Ginny's gut. Reluctantly, she shook her head, fear slowly inching through her arms clutched on the plush chair. Professor Dumbledore just smiled at her.
"I think it will be best that we do so," he said reassuringly. "Their love and support is something that you will need in order to deal with this," he added, silently promising his own.
Ginny gulped and glanced sideways at Mark, who gave her a short nod. She turned back to the Headmaster.
"Very well. I shall contact them and set up a meeting for tomorrow," Professor Dumbledore said, his tone indicating the meeting closed. A small fear shot up through Ginny's gut.
"Sir, can Mark be there?" she found herself asking.
Professor Dumbledore's eyes widened in surprise. It looked as if he was about to object, but stopped after a quick glance at Ginny's hand, which was now clutching onto Mark like a little child.
"Of course, Ms Weasley," he smiled. "I will not deprive you the company of a trusted friend."
15th November 1992
"How could you have been so stupid, Ginevra?"
Mark watched silently from the corner as Ginny's Mum continued to chastise her daughter. He slowly realised why Ginny had been reluctant to involve her mother.
"Did you not remember what your father always says? Never trust something when you can't see its brain? Even then —"
"Molly —" Ginny's dad tried to interrupt his wife's tirade, to no avail.
"— almost jeopardized your father's job in the ministry. What would we have done —"
"Molly" He tried again, a little louder this time.
"— not to mention that the Weasley name —"
"Molly!" Ginny's Dad snapped. "The most important thing here," he looked at his daughter, who was crying openly now, "is that Ginny is safe."
Mrs Weasley seemed to realise the implication of that statement, for she immediately swept up Ginny in an overly tight hug
"Of course. My baby" As she smothered Ginny into her bosom, Mr Weasley turned towards the Headmaster.
"Albus, how did this happen? Where did Ginny get such a dark artefact in the first place?" he asked.
Even Mark wanted to know the answer to that question. Perhaps it was lost somewhere inside Ginny's mind, but there was no way he would be able to retrieve it. Ginny had had enough of people messing around in her mind.
"I am not sure, Arthur," Professor Dumbledore answered. "It happens so that your daughter got a hold of it sometime before term began"
"Before?" said Mrs Weasley. She stopped hugging Ginny, now roughly holding her by the shoulders instead. "Why didn't you tell us then? This could all have been avoided."
"I — I thought that you had gotten it for me," Ginny managed to splutter out. "I found it amongst my school books."
"Why would you think I would give you some dark object? Do you not have any sense, girl?" She was back to scolding Ginny, who was now trembling slightly. Unable to stay silent any longer—and irritated at Mrs Weasley's general attitude towards her daughter—Mark interrupted.
"Mrs Weasley. The Diary seemed completely harmless to her. It tricked her into believing it was a friend. Ginny wouldn't have —"
His plea fell on deaf ears, as Mrs Weasley turned on him instead.
"She should have known better. We did not raise our children without telling them about the dangers of dark objects," she spoke in a cold, condescending voice. "Albus why is this boy here? I thought you said the matter was being kept a secret from the students."
Before anyone else could say anything, Ginny spoke up to defend him.
"Mum, he's my friend. He—he saved me from To—from the Diary."
The look on Mrs Weasley's face was of sheer disbelief. A quick glean—something Mark no longer felt guilty about—revealed that she was under the impression that it had been Professor Dumbledore who had intervened. Mark wondered what she would think if he told her about the basilisk he had killed—as if by invisible agreement, both Professor Dumbledore and Mark had omitted that detail from the narrative.
"Mr Smith is the one who came up with the idea of keeping this under wraps. Since there is no more threat, inciting unnecessary panic is not wise" said Professor Dumbledore. His support for Mark silenced Mrs Weasley, but Mark was able to look into her unvoiced thoughts. He now wished he hadn't.
Mrs Weasley was having suspicions about Mark's motives for keeping this a secret, believing he was hiding something—even partly responsible for putting Ginny in danger.
Mark felt a small prick in his heart. It wasn't that he was looking for some sort of acknowledgement or praise. But being suspect of harming Ginny, that too by her own mother?
Any further thoughts were forgotten when Mr Weasley spoke up.
"Albus, I just remembered something." Turning to his daughter, he smiled in reassurance. "Ginny, did you find the diary before or after our trip to Diagon Alley?" he asked calmly.
"Af—After," said Ginny. "I thought it was a birthday present," she added softly.
"Did you find it inside another book?" asked Mr Weasley, and Ginny's eyes widened in response. She nodded silently. Mr Weasley—a triumphant look on his face—turned to Professor Dumbledore.
"Albus, it was Lucius," Mr Weasley snarled with a ferocity not belonging to the otherwise gentle man
"Lucius Malfoy?" asked Professor Dumbledore. Mr Weasley nodded and began to explain.
"He and I—we had an altercation in front of Flourish and Botts that day. Now that I think of it, he acted a bit too forward that day. As if he wanted to start a fight"
"That is unlike Lucius. He's usually delicate and methodical in his approach" said Professor Dumbledore, absently stroking his long beard.
"Yes, exactly. I think he might have done this as a way to attack the Act."
"Let me look into this, Arthur. If Lucius was in any manner involved …"
"Can we take her home, Albus?" asked Mrs Weasley, clearly unbothered by the implications made by her husband.
"No, mum. I want to stay," Ginny protested, trying to pull away from her mother's grasp.
"Shut up, Ginny," Mrs Weasley snapped, pulling her daughter back in an embrace. "Can we? I don't want her to be here."
Professor Dumbledore—who Mark noticed had been observing the two of them—replied in the negative.
"If we have to keep this a secret, Ginny will have to stay at Hogwarts, Molly. Otherwise, questions will be asked," he said. "The earliest she can go home is during the Christmas break." Looking at the expression of helpless worry on Mrs Weasley, he proposed a compromise. "However, I can arrange for meetings like this every other week."
"Thank you Albus," said Mr Weasley, cutting out any reply his wife might have. Motioning to her that they now leave, Mr Weasley stood up slowly, his demeanour now that of exhaustion. As Mrs Weasley started fussing over Ginny, Mr Weasley walked over to where Mark was seating. Surprised, Mark stood up immediately as the older man approached.
"Mr Smith." Mr Weasley looked at Mark, more thoroughly now than when they had arrived earlier.
"Yes, sir." Mark wondered what the man wanted from him. He was pretty defensive after Mrs Weasley's earlier remarks.
"Thank you," said Mr Weasley, and Mark relaxed. "Thank you for saving my daughter's life down there." He then glanced at Ginny and added further, "And thank you for standing by her now."
"Just doing my job, sir. As a friend."
Mr Weasley looked at him with a peculiar expression—for a moment Mark thought the older man was trying to read his mind. Usually, Mark would've gleaned him already; for some reason he didn't want to.
Mr Weasley now seemed satisfied—having found whatever he was looking for—and smiled.
"I'm glad then." Leaning in a bit closer, he added in a low voice, "Look after her."
Mark didn't react immediately—he could make out the weight those words held. Taking a small gulp, he gave a firm nod in reply.
Giving Mark a pat on the shoulder, Mr Weasley walked over to the door where Ginny and her mother were waiting. Mrs Weasley had a disapproving look on her face—more disapproving than he one she had had when they had met earlier in Diagon Alley. Mark watched as the three of them left, and the door shut closed behind them. He decided to give them a small head start before he left the room as well.
"Mr Smith," Professor Dumbledore called out when he was about to move. Mark turned to face the Headmaster.
"I know you were a bit—taken aback by Molly Weasley's behaviour"
Mark stared at Professor Dumbledore as he pondered over the statement. It wasn't entirely true. His gleaning of Mrs Weasley had told him one thing very clearly—her worry and love for Ginny was genuine.
"A bit, sir. But I understand. She—she cares for Ginny."
Professor Dumbledore seemed pleased by his reply, for he smiled and let out a small sigh.
"Indeed. She is quite overprotective of her family." Looking over his delicate spectacles, he added, "I believe it is a result of her losing her twin brothers in the last war."
The manner in which the Headmaster spoke told Mark that this was private information. Mark simply nodded in reply and took his leave.
"Good day, sir."
17th November 1992
Harry groaned inwardly as he was hauled to the front of the class. Lockhart was keen on including Harry during every one of his enactments, and to say Harry was not interested in being a part of them would be an understatement. The only reason he complied with the ponce of a professor was that any detention he got would also have to be served with Lockhart—and those were ten times worse than this.
This time he was supposed to be acting as a werewolf, one which the great Gilderoy Lockhart had bravely fought and defeated. Reluctantly, he got into his role. The quicker he played his part, the sooner he could get it over with.
"Nice loud howl, Harry — exactly — and then, if you'll believe it, I pounced — like this — slammed him to the floor — thus — with one hand, I managed to hold him down — with my other, I put my wand to his throat — I then screwed up my remaining strength and performed the immensely complex Homorphus Charm — he let out a piteous moan — go on, Harry — higher than that — good — the fur vanished — the fangs shrank — and he turned back into a man. Simple, yet effective — and another village will remember me forever as the hero who delivered them from the monthly terror of werewolf attacks."
The bell rang and Harry sighed in relief. He watched Lockhart get up and address the class.
"Homework — compose a poem about my defeat of the Wagga Wagga Werewolf! Signed copies of Magical Me to the author of the best one!"
Just like always. Another class gone, and Lockhart hadn't taught them any shred of Defence. That was unless theatre performance was a part of it. Looking at Lockhart, Harry decided it was time he checked those records.
AN: I'm back. Writing has resumed, and so will the story. I'm thankful for all the support from my readers. Visiting the review page is an inspirational treat for me.
Harry's story will take a front foot now, and the story has kicked off into action. The impact of the decisions Ginny and Mark made will become more prominent as the story progresses. Though Dumbledore has been informed, Harry doesn't know of the Diary or of Tom Riddle. This I feel is important, since it is an important piece in the puzzle he'll need to solve later; a piece he may not find in time.
As always, I hope you enjoyed reading this chapter. Chapter 13 and 14 have been rewritten and updated, and the rest will be done soon too. The next chapter will be released next week; a schedule I hope I'll be able to stick to.
Again, feedback is welcome. Please read and review.