A/N: I had a few people ask after the last chapter, and with certain events which take place in this chapter I wanted to clarify that this is NOT going to be a Dark!Harry story, at least in terms of him being like Voldemort. Voldemort has very little presence in this story.

Also, in case anyone is interested, Von has written a ficception based on this story called DoB: F. The link is on my profile, as well as here, if you paste it in place of the number for my story in the URL: s/10914953/1/DoB-F

It's really good, and in many ways I like it better than my own version.

The Chamber of Secrets has been opened. Enemies of the Heir, beware.

The words had been echoing throughout Hogwarts for days, students forgoing the usual gossip to spread rumors about the identity of the mysterious Heir of Slytherin. Everyone had heard Binns' tale, and at any time of the day one could catch someone peeking around a corner or rapping on a wall in morbid hope of finding the mysterious Chamber.

Even the teachers had gotten caught up in the excitement and paranoia of the moment. Filch prowled the halls like a thief, jumping out at any student daring to draw near the sight of his cat's petrification and questioning them until they fled. McGonagall, Sprout, and Flitwick had set strict curfews on their houses, and even the ever-detached Snape had become more watchful; although whether to catch the Heir or protect them, Harry could not say.

I don't get it, Harry scribbled down, tuning out Lockhart's ranting as he had taken to doing. The pompous idiot was not exempt from the buzz circulating the school, but unlike the rest he had used it as an excuse to further his own popularity, spending day after day boasting about how he could "surely defeat the Heir, should the coward show his face!" or whatnot. Ron shared Harry's disgust but both were disappointed to discover that Hermione was quite smitten with the blond, and even now was swallowing every word in adoration. If this is really the Heir of Slytherin, why is he—or she—doing all of this?

His words vanished, and Tom's smooth scrawl replied, Whatever do you mean?

Writing on the wall, petrifying Filch's cat, it doesn't seem all that Slytherin-y to me. Aren't Slytherins supposed to be sneaky? Telling everyone you're there isn't sneaky at all.

Well maybe they weren't trying to be sneaky, Tom retorted instantly. Maybe they were trying to send a message. To scare people.

But wouldn't it have been scarier if no one knew who or what it was? All people are saying now is that it's probably a First Year trying to intimidate his classmates.

Tom went silent for several seconds. That seems… unlikely, he answered slowly.

Harry huffed, blowing a lock of hair from his eyes. All it's done is make Lockhart even more annoying than usual. He's spent a week spewing nonsense about his own greatness. I wish someone would actually challenge him just to show everyone what a complete idiot he is.

Well if this Heir is the real deal, perhaps he will take care of Lockhart for you.

Who knows, maybe Lockhart is the Heir of Slytherin. This seems like something he would do for attention.

Don't even joke about that, Tom replied instantly. That would be an insult to my House.

Harry had, at first, been surprised to learn that Tom had been a Slytherin, but as time went on he began to see how that might be so. His brains and wit—the traits which had led Harry to assume him to be a Ravenclaw—were only matched by his ruthless cunning and cold logic, the same things to which Slytherin was often attributed. In fact Harry had come to respect Tom's Slytherin-ness—unlike Malfoy, whose cunning was as lacking as his tact. Or maybe the Heir is a Gryffindor. That would be very cunning, to put yourself in a different house just to remove suspicion—

"What's that?"

Harry slammed the Diary closed so fast his quill snapped between the pages. He whirled to meet the surprised gaze of Hermione, who had somehow managed to tear her eyes from Lockhart for long enough to notice what Harry was doing. Then he realized that the man himself was gone; in fact, the rest of the class had already departed, hinting that he'd missed the announcement for the end of class.

"It's nothing," he tried, even knowing that the odds of her accepting this excuse were slim. "Just… taking notes."

She frowned. "I've never heard of a notebook that writes for you. Let me see." She reached for it but he yanked it away before she could.

"It's nothing," he repeated more forcefully, hands clenching.

Smart as she was, Hermione had never been very good at taking hints, so instead of backing off her frown just deepened. "Then why won't you show me?" Her eyes widened. "It's not anything illegal is it?"

"No!" Harry snapped, perhaps a bit louder than he should have. "It's just a stupid bewitched notebook. It's not illegal, it's just private. I'm still allowed my own things, aren't I?"

"Of course, but I was just wondering—"

"Well stop wondering." He stood up abruptly, gathering his materials in his arms. "It's none of your business."

Hermione sat back, looking stunned, and with a last parting scowl Harry turned and stormed from the classroom.

As Christmas rolled around the holidays proved to be, yet again, rather bad luck for Harry. Although there were no mysterious writings or earth-shaking revelations, his recent disagreement with Hermione made the festive season less enjoyable than it should've been. He knew on some level that she hadn't meant anything ill by it, but her unceasing desire to pry into his business reminded him far too much of his Aunt Petunia. It hadn't stopped them talking, but any conversations were stilted and often short, and Harry would admit to relief upon finding out that she had gone home for the holidays. Ron's absence was felt more strongly, since the two spent far more time together, but Tom's constant companionship had eased that ache.

Said thoughts weighed heavily on Harry's mind as he crept through the dark corridors of the Third Floor, his Invisibility Cloak drawn tightly around his figure. Although still too long to wear as a proper cloak, the inches he'd grown since his last midnight excursion made him glad that he never had to share this gift with Ron or Hermione. No doubt in another year or two they wouldn't have been able to fit together; this way it was his and his alone.

He was tempted to use a Lumos to light his path but, conscious of the many sleeping portraits lining the hall outside the library, decided against it. After his last visit to the Restricted Section Madame Pince had upgraded their security, adding more watchful eyes in hopes of preventing more books from being stolen. Part of him felt guilty for becoming a thief but another, larger part knew that what he'd done was necessary, even if what he'd learned from it hurt.

Not for the hundredth or even thousandth time Harry cursed Tony Stark, wishing more than anything that Hagrid had never given him that photo album. Now even those happy thoughts were tainted by the man, leaving nothing but bitterness and grief where hope had once resided.

A whispered Alohamora unlocked the door and he was thankful that no higher-level locking spell could be used if only so that Filch could always get in. A few portraits moved when he pulled open the door, the old metal creaking, so he ducked inside as quickly as he could to minimize the stray sounds. The library was, thankfully, void of any similar measures, and so the boy paid no heed to the echoes of his footsteps as he hurried through the stacks. Much like last time the Restricted Section was pitch-black, no windows or sconces to light his way, and it was only then that he pulled aside his Cloak so that his wand could brighten the gloom. With his other hand he clutched the Diary, Tom's words burned into his brain.

Magic is power, Harry. The more magic you know the more power you have. Stronger, smarter, faster, better. Why restrict yourself only to that which is provided? Seek it out. Take it. Make it your own.

He knew what Tom was hinting at, no matter how he might've dressed it up. Dark Magic. Tom was talking about Dark Magic. And no matter how much he loved to learn, Harry couldn't deny a shiver of fear when he thought about those sort of spells. He was smart, smart enough to be bored with the simple spells they did in class, but this carried with it a deeper weight. A burden he wasn't sure he wanted.

He paused at the threshold of the D's, sensing even then the darkness permeating the aisle. The books shivered as he drew near, a few rattling in their chains, and though the urge to flee was strong Harry simply gripped the Diary tighter, willing strength from it as he stepped forward.

The Dark Arts were one of the most dangerous branches of magic, and the most corruptive. Dark Magic was designed to hurt, to kill, and to destroy; nothing more. It had no practical application and no trace of mercy. It was ruthless through and through, and as Harry's eyes skimmed over titles with words like destruction, death, and dismemberment, his drive to be there lessened more and more.

Focus Harry, he reminded himself, squaring his shoulders. You're not here to learn any of that stuff. After Collin was petrified Tom told him that he needed to learn to defend himself against the Heir of Slytherin, especially with his—although secret—Muggleborn status, and this was the best way to do that. He didn't need to kill or to maim; he only needed to learn how to fight back, and the Hogwarts spells just wouldn't cut it against the Heir of Slytherin.

Finally, after almost ten minutes of searching, Harry's eyes found the title he was seeking. Secrets and Spells of the Old Ways. Not Dark Magic, not completely anyway, but according to Tom just the sort of thing he needed to know. Spells which might save his life one day.

"I trust you, Tom," the boy whispered, sliding the book off the shelf and stuffing it into his bag. The other books began to shift on the shelves, whispers filling the air as the wood rattled, and Harry wasted no time in pulling the Cloak over his head and hurrying from the stacks.

"I'm just asking for a look is all!"

"Leave him alone 'Mione," Ron sighed, having undoubtedly grown tired of her begging. "Harry doesn't have to show you if he doesn't want to."

Even without turning Harry could hear her annoyed huff, though he ignored it as best he could. Hermione had been slowly growing more and more curious about the nature of the Diary, and more than once had tried to cajole him into letting her examine it. She'd gone so far as to try grabbing it out of his hands, only to act shocked when he promptly grabbed it back.

"I'm not going to damage it!" the bushy-haired girl snapped, voice echoing loudly across the crowded hallway and earning more than a few annoyed looks. "I just need to know how it works! What's wrong with that?"

"Because you don't need to know," Harry cut in, "you want to. Even though I keep telling you that I've already tested it, and it doesn't match anything I've found."

Hermione quickened her pace until she was alongside him. "Then why not let me do it?" she pleaded. "Two heads are better than one! Besides, there might be something you missed! I've already checked, and I'm sure a spell of revelation would tell us all we need—"

"I've already done that," he informed her. She opened her mouth again and he added, "And checked for invisible ink, and potion residue, and bewitched binding. I've already read every book in the library about this, Hermione. Trust me; there's nothing."

"But if you'd just let me try—"

He ground to a halt, ignoring the flow of students cutting around him as he turned and faced her head-on. "What is your problem?" he demanded, gaining a wide-eyed response. "Why can't you just leave this alone? Why can't you take my word for it? Do you think I'm not smart enough to figure this out on my own or something?" His eyes were fixed on hers, and as such he didn't miss the expression which flickered across her face at his words. "Oh my god, you do."

Hermione was quick to throw up her hands in defense. "It's not that I don't think you're smart enough! It's just… well, you've never been much of a reader, and what with how you sometimes don't do Professor McGonagall's homework I thought that—"

"Homework? That's what this is about?" Harry asked, shaking his head in disbelief. "You're telling me that because I don't do the reading I'm somehow less competent than you? I've had higher grades than you since First Year!"

The Muggleborn's face reddened in either shame or anger. "That's not what I meant and you know it!"

"Well then enlighten me, oh great and wise one! What did you mean if not that you're brilliant and I'm stupid?"

"I just—I didn't—" She stomped her foot. "I just think you might need my help is all!"

"Thanks, but I think I've got it covered," he told her with a scowl. "If I need someone standing over me telling me how I need to be more like them, I'll give Malfoy a call."

Without another word Harry turned and stormed away, blood burning, feeling Hermione's equally infuriated stare on the back of his head until he rounded the corner and she disappeared from sight.

"The Seal of the Beyonder… the Aegis of the Celestials… the Rite of the Phoenix Force…" Harry wrinkled up his nose in confusion, shaking his head to himself as he flipped through the pages of the stolen library book. He wasn't sure what he'd expected when he finally built up the courage to open the book, but certainly not this. He thought there would be spells or potions like in his textbooks, but was surprised to find that for the most part it almost seemed like a glossary, its pages decorated with bizarre symbols and names so long and complicated he could barely pronounce half of them.

This is not the manufactured magic the Ministry provides, Tom explained when Harry voiced this question. These spells are for more than cooking and cleaning and polishing the floor. This is magic designed to conquer cities and destroy armies. The Ministry forbids its practice not because it is evil, but because it frightens them.

Harry shivered as he skipped past a page covered with horned skulls drawn in red, the name 'Mephisto' jumping out at him. He wasn't really sure he agreed with Tom's claims of Dark Magic merely being mislabeled; powerful they might be, he had a nagging feeling that there was a steeper price to those kinds of spells than to a simple Expelliarmus.

Don't worry, Tom soothed reassuringly. This is just for emergencies. Protection. You don't need to know how to turn your enemies' blood to acid; you just need to know how to fight back. How many times have you nearly died because you lacked the skill to defend yourself? Do you truly think there is any other way you will learn?

Tom was right on that account. Harry had attended the Dueling Club hosted by Lockhart, hoping, like the rest of the student body, for a way to protect himself from the Heir of Slytherin, but was profoundly disappointed at Lockhart's display. He'd ended up in yet another argument with Hermione upon voicing this to his friends, her crush on the blond idiot blinding her to his obvious stupidity, and what little peace they'd garnered since their last fight was quickly forgotten.

Not only that, but Harry had begun to suspect that he was coming down with some kind of magical illness or allergy. Recently he'd begun finding himself dizzy and lightheaded, and once or twice even blacked out. He was reluctant to make a fuss by going to the hospital wing so instead had begun researching magical illnesses, hoping that it could be easily explained. Tom told him that it was his body's way of maturing and strengthening his magic, a sign of his grown as a wizard, but Harry couldn't help but wonder why it made him feel so awful if so.

He skimmed down the page, sitting up a bit straighter as his eyes landed on a spell which, for the first time, didn't seem to involve transforming the victim into stone or making them vomit acid. It was just a kind of binding spell; powerful, yes, but not to an extent that would be considered "conquering cities"-level. He mouthed the words silently to himself a few times over, making a mental note to research what a "Cyttorak" was, and what it had to do with binding spells.

"Back again, Harry?"

For a second time Harry's insides turned to ice at the soft voice and he turned, heart racing in his chest as the figure of Albus Dumbledore appeared through the (stupidly left open) doorway. Harry wasn't sure what he'd expected, but the same gentle smile the Headmaster always wore was not it.

"Professor," Harry said, trying to situate himself so that the stolen book was not visible. However, his heart sank as Dumbledore raised an eyebrow in apparent amusement, evidently unable to be fooled by such a simple ploy. Fearful thoughts were already racing through his head about what might happen next; would they snap his wand? Send him back to the Dursleys? The thought of losing his magic made his throat go dry.

"I was wondering if you might help me," said the old man, not noticing or pretending not to notice the panic-stricken look on the boy's face. "It seems a book went missing from the library a few nights ago, and Madame Pince has been ever-so-worried about its safe return. Would you happen to know anything about it?"

Harry stared up at him in bewilderment, slowly turning to look at the very-much-visible book in question. "…a book, sir?"

"Oh yes, quite," Dumbledore said with a nod, looking away to pull a small sack of yellow candies from his pocket. "I imagine it was not done with any ill will—these are frightening times at Hogwarts, and fear can drive even the most clever into impulse—but I am afraid I simply cannot allow such a questionable item to remain among the student body, no." He held out the sack. "Sherbet Lemon?"

"Uh… no thank you, Professor."

The Headmaster nodded, popping one into his mouth. "Yes, taking such circumstances into account I would be more than willing to look past this incident, provided it is found quickly."

For several long seconds Harry just stared at the man, unable to believe what he was hearing. He scarcely knew the man, having only even spoken to him twice, yet he was willing to brush this under the rug? "Why?" he asked himself, only a moment later realizing that it had been spoken aloud.

"Ah, why. That is the question, isn't it?" He vanished the sack of candy into his colorful robes, folding his hands neatly in front of him. "Perhaps I know what it is to be tempted by the easy way out, or to find oneself drawn in by the allure of power. Perhaps I believe that, as an old friend once told me, 'Just because someone stumbles, loses their way, it doesn't mean they're lost forever.'" He met Harry's eyes with a twinkle in his own. "Or perhaps I just don't like completing the mountain of paperwork required to expel someone from Hogwarts."

Unbidden a smile appeared on Harry's face, and Dumbledore gave him one in return. The boy turned and grabbed the book from the table, holding it out. "I, uh, found this a little while ago. It should be what you're looking for."

Dumbledore took the book in his wizened old hands, running a hand across the cover before sliding it, like the Sherbet Lemons, into some hidden pocket in his robes. "I am sure Madame Pince will be delighted," he declared, bowing his head. "Thank you, Mr. Potter." He turned to exit but stopped mid-turn, spectacled eyes fixing on the Diary. He looked from it to Harry and then back again, brow crinkling further. "And… should you ever need to talk to me about anything—" Here he looked right at Harry, twinkle gone. "—you need only come find me."

With a swish of his robes he was gone, leaving Harry staring into the darkened hallway with only the Diary and a profound sense of foreboding.

Harry upended another drawer, an annoyed growl escaping him when nothing but half a dozen shirts spilled out onto the ground. He dug through them for a moment before acknowledging the folly of such an action, and slammed the now-empty drawer back into place with a loud bang.

"I don't get it," said Neville, rifling through his own drawers at a more sedate pace. "Who would want to break in here? And why? The only valuable thing here is Seamus' toenail-clippings collection."

Harry looked over to the other three beds, its occupants having already conducted a search and concluded that nothing was missing. It hadn't just been Harry's things upended but he'd noticed, after a bit, that the others' had only been overturned, while his own had been rifled through on a much more precise level. It struck him as the result of someone who'd been in a rush to find something of his, but who'd been clever enough to mess with the others' things to throw him off the trail. Unfortunately for them, he was smarter.

"I'm not sure Neville," he replied, crouching down under his bed. "But we won't know who did it until we find out what's missing." And something was indeed missing, he was sure of it. He pulled back his bedcovers to find nothing, similarly to when he removed his pillow. It was only when he'd searched absolutely everywhere that an idea sparked to life in his mind, and he wanted to hit himself for not thinking of it sooner. Indeed, when he lifted his mattress he found nothing there; and for once, that was exactly what he'd feared.

The Diary was gone.

"It had to have been someone in our House," Neville pointed out helpfully as Harry dropped the mattress, cursing. "Only a Gryffindor or a teacher could've gotten past the Fat Lady."

Harry nodded absently in agreement, though his brain was already racing over the possibilities. A teacher seemed unlikely, as even someone like Snape wouldn't have left the place in such a mess. No, it had to have been a student. One of the other boys, perhaps, messing with their own possessions as a cover? No, they weren't clever enough for that, and none of them had any reason to be interested in the Diary. He'd had minimal contact with any of the older boys , so it wasn't likely to be any of them. The girls either, for that matter. Although speaking of the girls, could it have been Ginny? It didn't seem to be in her nature, and yet she had been very upset when she found the Diary missing, and had apparently been looking for it for almost a week afterwards. It was possible, Harry supposed, that she'd seen him writing in it or even heard Ron mention it in passing, and had tried to steal it back.

Harry nodded to himself. Yes, Ginny seemed the most likely culprit. He shoved the mattress back into place, scooping his clothes from the floor and shoving him into the nearest open drawer, resolving to sort them out later. Neville gave him a strange look, obviously noticing his newfound vigor, but didn't pry, a trait which Harry appreciated in the rotund boy. Once his things were roughly in place Harry hurried out the room, taking the stairs down to the Common Room two at a time. It didn't take him long to find Ginny, her bright orange hair standing out even in the red room, and he quickly crossed to her.

"Ginny," he spoke up, drawing her gaze up from her book. Instantly a flush filled her face, though he did his best to ignore it. "I need to talk to your brother. Have you seen him?" He knew, of course, that Ron was downstairs dropping off his late homework, but Ginny didn't.

"I-I-don't-" she stammered, cheeks darkening to match the armchair she was sitting in.

"See, someone broke into our dorm," Harry continued, watching her closely. "I'm trying to find out who it was." She was staring at him, eyes wide and face red, and gave no reactions to his words. He supposed she could've been pretending, but if her current reaction was anything to go on lying wasn't her forte. "Did you see anyone pass through here recently?"

Ginny stammered for a moment before forcing out, "J-Just Hermione. She said, um... she said that she had a project she was working on, and uh... not to... not to tell anyone..." She bit her lip, looking away for a moment.

Harry's mind was racing, though he still managed to give her a smile. "Thanks, Ginny. And don't worry-I'm sure Hermione won't mind." He turned away, the smile sliding from his face as he walked towards the door, his footsteps quickening into a run the moment the Fat Lady closed behind him. It all made sense, and now he felt even stupider for not realizing it. He should've realized from the beginning who this was-for weeks Hermione had been nagging him about the Diary, only to stop a few days before. Why hadn't he questioned it? He knew that once she got her teeth in something she'd never let go, but he hadn't noticed in the face of everything else that had been happening.

He ran first to the library, disappointed but not unsurprised to find it empty of the bushy-haired Muggleborn. Hermione was too smart to go somewhere so obvious, and he paused in the doorway, wracking his brains for a place she might've gone. Hermione was smart but she was also predictable; she wouldn't visit any of the abandoned parts of the castle because they were off-limits, and wouldn't go into the dungeons because she secretly feared getting lost. The empty classrooms were a possibility, and though he dreaded the thought of checking them all it also didn't seem her style. If she feared detection, and knew he'd come looking for her, she'd try and out-think him. She'd know his expectations, and she would know that he'd try and predict her actions. Which meant there was only one place she'd think he would overlook, and that was the one both most and least obvious.

His feet took him down the flights of stairs and through the twisting corridors, brushing past Prefects and running through ghosts without a care to the yells which came after him. He made his way down to the first floor, finally coming to a halt at the end of a very familiar hallway. Professor Dumbledore had finally gotten around to replacing the damaged stone and wood, but Harry could still remember the way they'd broken and cracked when the troll had gotten in during Halloween, and Hermione's scream echoing across these very walls.

He pushed open the door and stepped inside, stopping in the doorway at the sight of Hermione, exactly as he predicted, sitting cross-legged on the floor. The Diary was spread open on the floor before her, one page gripped between her fingers, and in her other hand was her wand, murmured spells escaping her lips as jets of colored light spilled out across the page. Several empty potion vials sat on the ground around her, and Harry didn't have to ask to know exactly what she was doing.

"You didn't listen to me."

The girl jumped violently, her spell chain cutting off as she looked up at him with wide eyes. She didn't even bother to try and hide what she was doing; they both knew exactly what was going on. "I had to be sure," she replied, setting her jaw. "And I was right. This thing, whatever it is-" She poked it with her wand. "-it's wrong. It's Dark Magic, Harry, it has to be. That's the only explanation."

"The only explanation for what?" he demanded, taking a few steps towards her. "For you not knowing something? For someone actually managing to beat you at magic?"

"Nothing hurts it," she stressed, picking it up and holding the unmarked page up for him to see. "Not poisons, not spells, nothing! It shouldn't be possible! Only a Dark artifact could do something like this."

"And how do you know that? Your two years of magical schooling? Your illustrious childhood with Muggle dentists?"

Hermione reared back in shock. "I was only trying to help you-"

"By stealing from me? By breaking into my room and going through my things? By lying to me and trying to destroy something I care about? This was never about helping me, this was about helping you. About you proving to me and to everyone else, all those purebloods who mock you, that you're smart enough to be here. That you deserve magic. Well guess what, you do."

She stared at him in bewilderment. "I... I do?"

"You deserve magic," he repeated, "because you're willing to put it above everything. Especially our friendship." He strode forwards and ripped the Diary from her grasp. "So congratulations, Hermione. You got what you wanted."

He turned and walked away, ignoring the frantic sounds of her scrambling to her feet, as well as the cries of "Harry, wait!" which followed him as he let the bathroom door close firmly behind him. He knew what she would say, her apologies, her promises to never do it again, but he didn't care. She'd burned that bridge.

And he was done giving second chances.


Harry stirred, the faint nose like a tiny drill burrowing into his brain.


A murmur escaped him, one hand reaching up to cover his eyes.


Green eyes snapped open and Harry sat straight up, a heaving gasp escaping him. His vision swam with spots and he shut them tightly for a moment, pressing a hand to the side of his head as he became aware of the pounding headache pulsing behind his forehead. When he opened his eyes again the spots were gone, allowing him to make out his surroundings for the first time.

He was surrounded by darkness, which at first seemed to completely enshroud his vision. After a moment, though, Harry realized that the darkness was not total; the shadows were deep, but pulled away from a small green orb hovering a meter or so away from him, giving Harry just enough light to make out the room. It was carved from stone, as the rest of Hogwarts was, but unlike the rest of the school the walls and floor were still jagged and rough, as though the job had been left unfinished. Enormous stalactites pointed down at him like spears, and the further he looked from the light the more the room took on the appearance of a cave, with side passages sprouting in every direction.

On either side of him were two rows of pillars, and after a moment Harry realized that the winding designs on them were in fact snakes; enormous, unnaturally-realistic serpents whose eyes emerald eyes seemed to glitter as they followed him. The pillars vanished into the darkness behind him, but in front of him came to a stop shortly before the wall, a wall which was also an enormous carving, so tall its head was invisible in the gloom.

"Impressive, is it not?"

Harry whirled at the sound of the voice, his heart hammering in his chest as, from the shadows behind him, a boy emerged. He didn't appear to be much older than Harry, his dark hair parted and his robes bearing the Slytherin colors. But there was something off about him, and Harry narrowed his eyes suspiciously.

"Who are you?" he asked. He tried to push himself to his feet but a burst of weakness hit him mid-motion and he collapsed again, the boy watching dispassionately the entire time. "Where are we?" His eyes slid downwards and widened upon seeing his wand held in the boy's pale fingers. "What are you doing with my wand?"

The boy's lips curled in a smirk as he stepped forward, ignoring Harry's questions. He stepped around him, making his way towards the floating orb of light, which upon his beckoning floated its way to his outstretched hand. "I had hoped that you might recognize me at first glance but, alas, it seems that would be too much to hope for."

Harry's brow creased at the cryptic speech. He immediately wracked his brains for what he could mean but came up with nothing. "I don't understand."

The boy's smirk grew slightly and he snapped his fingers, the sound echoing loudly throughout the room. Immediately a train of light split off from the orb, spiraling through the air to form words in a familiar looping cursive.

Tom Marvolo Riddle.

"Tom?" Harry repeated in bewilderment. "But that's impossible, you were just-"

"A Diary?" Tom finished. "A Diary capable of independent thought, of having survived for fifty years without its magic fading or mutating? Come now child, you know as well as I that even magic has its limits."

It only became apparent in that moment that the older boy was not as... real as he had first appeared. In the glow of the acidic-green light Harry could see his edges flicker and blur, like that of an old photograph. "Why now?" Harry demanded, earning a surprised look from Tom. "Why wait to tell me this now, not before?"

"I wasn't strong enough," Tom answered, surprisingly. He turned Harry's wand between his fingertips, eyes unfocusing. "Magic is... tricky, you see. It abhors that which might contradict the natural flow of the world, and every day sought to rip my away. My anchor was strong, but to exist beyond that took great struggle. I had to bide my time."

Harry looked again to the great pillars, taking note of the serpents there. He'd found stories, he remembered, when the Ministry had taken Hagrid away, about the Chamber of Secrets being opened once before. Fifty years before. "You're the Heir of Slytherin," he realized, turning back to Tom. "You've been opening the Chamber of Secrets."

Tom smiled. "I had wondered when you would put it together."

"But why, Tom?" Harry asked, hating how weak his voice sounded. "I thought you were my friend!" His head dropped down.

Chilly fingers touched his face, tilting his chin up. "But I am your friend, child," Tom whispered, giving him a devastating smile. "Don't you see? That's why I brought you here. That's why I am telling you all this. So you can understand."

Tom stood, waving Harry's wand in a wide arc and setting the previously-unseen sconces ablaze with light. It flooded the Chamber, reaching all the way up to the statue now visible glaring down at them in the darkness.

"What's there to understand?" Harry questioned him, a tremor in his voice that he tried to hide. "You want to kill Muggleborns. I'm a Muggleborn."

"This was never about Muggleborns," Tom said, taking a step towards the statue. "It was about respect. Respect that the students of Hogwarts sorely need to learn.

"To respect what? Their pureblood betters?"

"The world is changing, Harry Potter. Monsters and mutations creep into the edges of our world, chipping away at us piece by piece. These children live in ignorance, believing themselves safe from the growing Muggle threat, and that makes them weak." He turned to point at Harry. "You've seen it. The hatred. The fear. The Muggles turn on their own kind like rabid dogs, and one day they will do the same to us. They will use those with ties to their world, children who will do anything to see their Muggle families safe, and what then? Will they fight? Or will they die?"

"But you can't... you can't kill them, Tom!"

"And I didn't. Any drop of magical blood spilt is a waste, and the Basilisk's stare was a threat I knew they would fail to recognize. I just wanted to prove a point; how long did it take before the authorities came to Hogwarts' aid? How long did it take before anyone recognized the threat for what it was? How many times did they dismiss it before it became too large for them to cover up?"

Harry swallowed, any argument dying in his throat. Tom was right. It had taken them months before they admitted that anything was wrong, at which point they'd arrested the first man they could think of. "But that doesn't make all Muggles bad, Tom."

"And what of your Muggle relatives, who abused you for possessing gifts their feeble minds could scarcely comprehend? What of your neighbors, who stood by and watched as it continued on for years? What of your Muggle father, a man with everything who could not make time to so much as speak to the child he'd sired?"

Harry flinched away, Tom's words striking deep.

"Our way of life is dying. We can choose to accept it, or we can fight back. You possess a mind unlike any other, Harry. Join me and we can conquer the world." He stretched out a hand.

After a few moments Harry finally found his voice. "Yea, that's all well and good," he said, turning to look up at Tom. "But I didn't say yes to Voldemort the first time he offered, and I won't say yes to him this time, either." At Tom's shocked look he pointed past the teen, to the words still hanging in the air. "I finally put it together. Took me long enough."

Tom's charming face instantly morphed into something twisted and ugly as he reared back, eyes flashing a murderous red. "Very well then," he spat out, yanking his hand back. "Then enjoy oblivion, Harry Potter."

He clenched his hand into a fist and Harry cried out as pain rocketed through him. He lifted his hand, horrified to see that it had begun to blur at the edges, while Tom's form grew steadily more and more real. His eyes locked on his wand but he knew that he'd never be able to get it while in this state, even if Tom made no move to defend himself.

"Goodbye, Harry Potter," the Dark Lord said, a crimson glow burning in the depths of his eyes. "When I strike down your filthy Muggle father, I'll be sure to tell him who to thank."

Something dark and painful twisted inside Harry at the words and he clenched his teeth together, betrayal erupting into a fierce anger. It roared through him like a fire, making his blood boil, and when he lifted his gaze to Tom he saw the boy's falter.


A yell erupted from Harry's throat as he threw his hands outwards, calling upon the magic of a spell he'd sworn he'd never cast. Ruby light materialized in spheres about his hands and exploded outwards in the form of a dozen glittering ribbons. They surged through the air, slicing clear through the hasty Protego Tom summoned and coiling around the boy's wrists. Tom screamed, Harry's wand tumbling from his grip as the crimson bands coiled their way up his arms and across his body, their touch making his form smoke and flicker.

"You taught me too well, Tom," Harry hissed out, suddenly finding himself with the strength to rise to his feet. He clenched his hands and the bands tightened, another scream forced from Tom's throat as they began to sizzle with heat. "Not even you can break through the Crimson Bands of Cyttorak."

At his silent command the magic began to strengthen, the bands shining brighter and brighter until they were more white than red. The Diary, discarded on the floor, began to glow as well, rising slowly into the air, and he knew it was working.

Suddenly Tom threw his head back, a loud, cold laugh splitting the Chamber air even as his body began to fizzle out of existence. "You've opened your heart to the Darkness," the Dark Lord intoned, eyes gleaming brightly. "You've used its power, and now you must pay the price. You've forfeited your soul, Harry Potter." He grined broadly, the final piece of him visible as ribbons of red mummified him alive.

"I win."

With a sound like the earth itself roaring Tom exploded, shards of red light blasting outwards in every direction, dissipating before they hit the ground. The Diary tumbled to the floor, and when Harry looked at it he could see the rope-like burns melted into the leather cover, forever sealing it and the entity within. Tom wasn't destroyed, but Harry knew that, no matter what happened, he wouldn't be getting out again.

And as the last echoes of the battle faded from the Chamber, Harry let himself fall to the floor and cry for the friend he'd lost.

"I'm tired, Hedwig."

The cold Scottish air gusted over him, rustling his hair as his trusty owl settled down beside him. He stroked her plumage with one hand, turning to look out over the Hogwarts grounds stretching out beyond the Astronomy Tower's balcony. He was seated right at the edge, one foot hanging over the side, but he wasn't worried about the height. He knew, on some logical level, that there was magic keeping him from falling, but a deeper part of him almost wished there wasn't. That danger, the hint of temptation that comes when one stands atop a high place, was one of the things that always made him feel most alive.

"I used to think Hogwarts was this perfect place," he said to his owl, her intelligent yellow eyes fixating on him. "I thought that wizards would be different. I thought they'd be... I don't know. Better. But they're not, are they?"

He dropped his hand with a sigh. Hedwig chirped and hopped into his lap, nestling herself against him. It managed to force a smile from him and he rubbed her head in thanks. "You're the only one who's always been there for me, Hedwig. The only one." His eyes stung and he closed them for a moment, choosing to blame the wind rather than the truth.

Dumbledore had taken the Diary, and no matter how much a twisted part of him wanted to keep it, Harry was glad that it was no longer there to tempt him. He'd told the old man everything-how Tom had pretended to be his friend, how he'd used him to open the Chamber, and how, in the final moments, he'd asked Harry to join him. Dumbledore had tried to console him, had told him it wasn't his fault, but Harry knew the truth, even if the Headmaster was too kind to say it. It was his fault. He'd been too stupid and blind and needy to see what had been right in front of him the whole time, and he'd nearly paid the ultimate price for it. And now the Diary was going to be destroyed by Dumbledore, and a twisted, traitorous part of him wanted to stop it.

"They're all the same," he muttered to himself, looking out over the Great Lake. The Dursleys, with their facades hiding the pathetic creatures beneath. Hermione, so desperate to be heard but so unwilling to listen. Dumbledore, all gentle consolations and worried questions masking a man who'd never managed to be there when it counted. And Tom... Tom, who knew how to use the prettiest of lies and the ugliest of truths to make Harry believe they were the same, but who, like all the others, wanted something from him. In a sick sort of way he missed the sharp sting of Tony's rejection; at least, for once in his life, he'd known exactly where he stood.

"I'm done with them," Harry whispered to Hedwig. "All of them." He pressed his face into her feather, finally allowing the tears to run hot and free.

"Never again, Hedwig. Never again."

A/N: There might be some of you non-comic fans out there who've heard the name Cyttorak before or who are curious, so allow me to explain. Cyttorak is the name of an extra-dimensional entity in the Marvel Universe, similar to Dormammu. Magic in the Marvel Universe is often drawn from such higher entities, and the Crimson Bands of Cyttorak are a binding spell often used by Doctor Strange and the Scarlet Witch against enemies. (In the movies it was that metal cage thing he used against Kaecilius.) In a related element, Juggernautfeatured in Deadpool 2gets his power, not from a mutant X-Gene, but from exposure to a magical artifact called the Ruby of Cyttorak, which makes him unstoppable to any ordinary power. Harry using this spell without a wand has nothing to do with his own power and everything to do with the nature of this kind of Dark Magic, as it isn't coming from inside him like normal spells. Cyttorak will not be featured in this story beyond this spell.

Some other Marvel references I drop are the Beyonder (an extradimensional entity with basically limitless power), the Celestials (an ancient race of space gods known for tampering with sentient racesseen in Guardians of the Galaxy as the original wielders of the Power Stone), and The Phoenix Force (the cosmic embodiment of life and evolution, and a being so unfathomably powerful that the Avengers labelled it "the most feared being in all creation"it is known for its bond with the mutant X-Man Jean Grey, and is supposedly appearing in the upcoming X-Men: Dark Phoenix movie). I also referenced mutants.

Yes, I am still alive, and I am still working on this story. I have been studying abroad in Germany and Austria for the past few months though, which has rather distracted me from writing. Now that I'm settled in Graz for school I am hoping to get back into the swing of it, but no promises. This chapter is the most important yet and was a pain to write so hopefully it gets easier.

I'm sure I'll get some asshole ranting about Harry not going to Dumbledore or not being stupid enough to trust Tom, so let me explain something: Harry. Is. A. Child. Yes, he's brilliant, and yes, he has all this untapped potential, but he is a child. Too many stories confuse intellect with maturity, and write clever!Harry as some kind of all-knowing god. Harry trusts Tom because, like all people, he wants someone to understand him. He goes to Dumbledore because he is hurt and scared and doesn't know what to do. Being smart does not mean you can't be scared or uncertain, it just means that when you lose your way, the consequences are greater.

As for Hermione, this is Second Year, and her friendship with Harry, due to the events of First Year, is not as strong as in the books. Additionally, this kind of tunnel vision is something Hermione has often displayed, so it seemed reasonable to me for this kind of result to occur in the right circumstances. But I'm sure I'll still get some random person screaming at me for changing their favorite character, so not sure why I bother with this.

Finally, if you have any questions about this or about the Marvel Universe, let me know, as I am quite the comic buff—meaning, that is, that I've read thousands upon thousands of Marvel Comics, including a very large percentage of all X-Men stories. I enjoy interlacing a lot of comic elements into my stories, as the movies, although enjoyable, are still vastly inferior to the books, and many times I will be deviating from movie canon to tweak things. I try to keep it focused on less important stuff but if something confuses you let me know.