A few people pointed out that Krios was stupid not to question the diary talking back to him. A couple others wondered what happened so that he didn't take it to Snape. All I have to say on the matter is that it's Voldemort's horcrux. Do you really think it won't have defences to stop that kind of thing from happening, to ensure that its purpose is fulfilled in the way that Voldemort wants?

Thanks to Thobeobo and 1saaa for beta-reading this chapter.

I do NOT own Harry Potter or its universe. All rights go to JK Rowling and her publisher.

ENJOY!


Chapter 17

The Strength of Heart


Darkness rushed past them as they plunged deeper into the depths of the school like an endless, slimy slide, falling lower than even the dungeons. The pipe turned and curved, swerving and thumping Krios's body against the wall. He could do nothing to stop it, with Tom in control. But then the pipe levelled out without warning and they shot out into a dark stone tunnel with a damp floor.

Tom seemed to have expected it, however, as he ran forward a few steps to slow his momentum.

"Almost there," Tom said, twisting Krios's lips into a cruel smirk. He started walking down the tunnel. "Soon I shall have my own body once more."

The tunnel was so dark they could barely see, but Tom didn't seem to need sight to find his way. It startled Krios when Tom stepped on something crunchy, but he couldn't see what it was. Then they passed the shed skin of a frighteningly long snake. Nearly ten metres of vivid, poisonous green scales wrapped and curled across the tunnel floor.

Krios feared how large the real thing was now.

"It was easy, you know," Tom said as he walked. "Manipulating you. For a Slytherin, you are awfully blind to the subtleties of true cunning. You are weak, Harry Potter, for believing that a word I ever told you was true, even if some were. I was a speaking book, yet you didn't begin to doubt the safety of keeping me in your possession until it was too late.

"By the time you started to wonder, I had already gained control over you, if only a little. Then came the night I attacked an entire group of students with Salazar's serpent. Oh, how I had wanted to kill them all then—it would have been too easy—but that would have created problems for me. You would have been more suspicious, the school would have been placed under stricter security.

"No, it was best I stay patient, and look how I have been rewarded!" Tom laughed. It was a cold sound that echoed around the tunnel. "My patience has given me an opportunity I could never have dreamt of before I gained great control over you. Now, the Boy-Who-Lived, the child who defeated Lord Voldemort through no real talent, shall supply a very powerful soul for my own return."

'What are you talking about?' Krios demanded. 'I'm not the Boy-Who-Lived.'

"Oh, but you are, Harry," Tom said. "I have seen what truly happened that night. Even if you do not remember it, it exists in your memories. All of your secrets have been laid bare to me while you slept, allowing me unlimited access to all I could have ever wanted or needed to know before my return."

Krios's mind spun. The revelation of just how badly he had messed up made him wish he was capable of feeling sick. Everything that had happened since picking up the diary was his fault. Everything that would happen if Tom was to escape his prison would be his fault.

'But the Dark Lord imprisoned you in the diary.'

"No, Harry, he did not. Lord Voldemort indeed placed me where I am, but not out of ill will towards me. It was my job to continue the task started fifty years ago, when I was a student myself. And you and Ginny Weasley have been so invaluable in your assistance."

'Ginny Weasley?'

But even as he asked the question, Krios knew the truth. He remembered encountering Ginny before finding the diary. He remembered the frightened look she had given him. At the time he had thought it was because of the rumours going on about him, but now he suspected there was more behind it that hadn't even been a consideration then.

"Ginny confided so many secrets in my diary," Tom said, laughing. "The stupid girl thought I actually cared about her jealousy that her brother was friends with Evan Potter when she was not, that there was any compassion to be shared when she admitted to her hatred of her secondhand robes and her family's lack of wealth.

"But I digress," he went on. "You doubt you are the Boy-Who-Lived? Allow me to show you the truth."

Before Krios could do anything, his vision blackened as he was forcibly thrust into his own memories of a night over a decade earlier. He was in a small room he didn't recognize, looking at the unfamiliar face of a woman with Lily's red hair, but Petunia's blue eyes. She was crying, terrified, and she glanced over her shoulder at the door, waiting for something.

"I'm so sorry," she whispered, looking back at him. "I'm sorry, Lily."

The door burst open, the meager barricades tossed aside effortlessly, and a figure entered the room.

The woman screamed.

"Please!" she begged. "Please don't hurt them!"

A burst of green illuminated the room, and she collapsed out of sight.

The figure stepped closer. Harry cried as he stared up into a gaunt, unnaturally pale face. Tears fell down his cheeks as he cried, filled with fear at the man before him, at his crimson eyes, filled with a cruel, malevolent glee. The figure raised his hand, and with it a stick.

"Avada Kedavra!"

Another burst of green light brought unfathomable pain.

"So you see, Harry," Tom said softly, "you are indeed the Boy-Who-Lived."

Krios tried to shake his head, to no avail. The fog that murked his thoughts remained, making it almost impossible to think. His body, though he could not control it, ached with the same pain he had felt in the memory. His limbs trembled as Tom forced him to raise an arm. A flicker of concern passed through Tom's thoughts, echoing in his.

"No matter," Tom muttered, looking up. "I do not need this body for much longer. Only then will you have my permission to die."

They stood before a solid wall. Carved on the wall were two entwined serpents with huge, glimmering emeralds for eyes.

"Open," Tom hissed in Parseltongue, and the serpents parted. The wall cracked open and the two halves smoothly slid out of sight.

Tom grinned. "In we go."

They entered a long, dark corridor. The floor was made of smooth stone tiles, but soaking wet from the water that quietly splashed and flowed on either side of the path. Flanking the aisle like sentries were several statues: carved serpent heads with bared fangs and extended, hissing tongues. A green glow reflected off the stone path, casting a nightmarish illumination across the statues.

"Home," Tom said softly, "at last."

The heels of his shoes clacking on the stone and the trickling water were the only sounds as Tom stepped further into the Chamber of Secrets. Krios's own thoughts were silent, too stunned and awed by everything around him to say anything. Tom's amusement was aimed at him like a dagger, but Krios fought to ignore it.

When they entered the cavernous space at the end of the path, Krios swore his body's heart stopped beating, even if he had no more control over it. This… This was what Salazar Slytherin had created, and it was equal parts magnificent as it was terrifying. A chill raced over him, coating his skin like a cloak threaded from something evil beyond words. There was a Darkness that filled the air, suffocating in its thickness, like the chill of winter. It clung to Krios's body, dragging him in and pushing him away.

"Welcome, Harry, to the Chamber of Secrets!"

Tom threw his head back and laughed. The cold sound echoed around them, as if an audience of ghosts had joined in. His arms spread wide as he basked in his return to the dwelling of Slytherin's monster, and perhaps where Salazar himself had once spent his time, a thousand years ago.

Tom turned to face the centrepiece of it all: a titanic bust of a bald man whose long beard spread around him like writhing snakes. Even for a carved statue, the man's eyes were hard, frigid, disapproving of the presence of a half-blood in his sacred chamber. He resembled pictures Krios had once seen of Greek gods, his power emanating around them as if he were about to call forth lightning to destroy Krios's body and cleanse this place of muggle taint, no matter how small it was.

"Noble ancestor," Tom whispered, his voice hushed with awe and respect, "at last I have come, after many decades away, to finish your work and purge this school of those who are unworthy. For months I have struggled in the limited forms of my hosts, but soon I shall have my own body once more, and my power will not be nearly so restrained."

As he spoke the words, Krios felt Tom's presence receding. His body collapsed as Tom vanished entirely, relinquishing control. He shivered on the ground, both from the unbearable cold that permeated everything and the extreme loss of blood. His head swam, unable to think clearly.

But he remembered one thing: Tom was limited so long as he did not have a body of his own.

"You need only fight a little longer, Harry Potter," Tom said. His voice was full of malice, and it took a moment for Krios to realize Tom had not spoken inside his head.

With all the effort he could muster, Krios looked up, and was filled with dread.

Glimmering and hazy was a boy both young yet older than himself. He appeared like a mirage, simmering with heat in the chill of the Chamber. His hair was dark and silky, his skin pale and smooth, his face thin and handsome. But his eyes were a window that revealed the monster: the evil within that could only be hidden for so long before it clawed its way out.

"I grow stronger with each passing moment," Tom said. He sounded distant, but each word spoken seemed as if he was getting closer. "Soon, your suffering shall at last be given peace."

Krios glared up at Tom with as much ferocity as he could muster, his entire body trembling.

"You have been most helpful in getting me this far," Tom continued, smiling at Krios. "Your power is much greater than Ginny Weasley's, unquestionably, and it has helped me more than hers ever could. For several months she wrote in my diary, yet you were able to give me in weeks enough to match. It truly is a shame you must die, but your strength shall go to a worthy cause, I assure you."

"Go," Krios stuttered out through clattering, clenched teeth, "to hell."

Tom's smile didn't so much as flicker. He went on like they were having a pleasant conversation over afternoon tea, "That, I am afraid, will never be a possibility, dear Harry, for Lord Voldemort shall never know what it is to die."

The world around them seemed to stop. All sound dropped into silence as swiftly as a sharpened knife cuts through string. Krios struggled to breathe, realizing how foolish he had been, how easily he had been played, and how utterly doomed others would be if he did not act.

Krios had been right: Tom Riddle was the Dark Lord.

And as he made the thought, the final puzzle piece fell into place. The Dark Lord had not killed Tom Riddle to remove any connection to a muggle family, to the Gaunt line that had disgraced them. The Dark Lord had killed Tom Riddle in order to become something worse, to allow Lord Voldemort to rise in his place, hiding any connection he had to his muggle father.

"I see you have come to see the light," Tom said softly. His lips twisted and his eyes were full of mirth, as if he had made a clever joke. "Yes, Harry, I, Tom Marvolo Riddle, am Lord Voldemort: a wizard so feared by others they do not dare to speak my true name. They tremble at the mere mention of me, look to the shadows as if I am a demon ready to strike at them.

"But we are not so different, are we?" he went on, baring his teeth at Krios. "Both of us the son of a filthy muggle, the son of a father who abandoned us. Both intelligent and powerful, beloved by our professors for our talent, feared by our peers for what we can do." His eyes sharpened. "Both of us taking on new names to rid ourselves of the one given to us by our hated fathers, casting off the chains of the heritage we do not desire to live as wizards reborn.

"You and I, alike in so many ways," Tom finished, speaking softly once more. "It is no wonder my future self sought to teach you through someone as pathetic as Quirinus Quirrell. You would have made a powerful, valuable ally, had you lived long enough. But, alas, you have a far greater privilege before you than my future self could possibly have foreseen.

"It is your honour, Harry, to give your soul and restore Lord Voldemort to true power."

If there was one thing positive about this horror, it was that Krios's wand wasn't down here with them. He didn't know why Tom hadn't brought it, but he didn't even consider complaining. If the Dark Lord were to not only return to power, but possess a wand as well, then they were truly in trouble.

But then Tom spoke again, and Krios's fears were heightened greater than ever before.

"However," he said, "before you die, Harry Potter, I would like for you to see Slytherin's basilisk. I want you to know how easy it will be to rid this school of the mudbloods that fill its halls like a disease."

He turned to face the bust of Salazar Slytherin, he hissed a command in Parseltongue.

"Speak to me, Slytherin, greatest of the Hogwarts four!"

Krios couldn't see the bust from his position, but he heard stone grinding against stone, and pictured in his mind the gigantic mouth opening—it was the only possibility he could think of. Something stirred within the statue, slithering in its depths and scraping its scales against the stone.

The sound of something massive splashing in the pool of water at the base of the bust echoed around them like a cannon blast. Freezing water drenched Krios, chilling him even more, smearing the blood from the wound on his arm so that it soaked into his robes. The source of the noise entered Krios's sight a brief moment later, and his head spun at the sheer size of it.

He had always thought calling it 'Slytherin's monster' made it seem like something out of a child's book, but seeing it in person made him think that it was the only appropriate name. Nothing could quite describe the beast the way 'monster' did. It was slightly thicker than the shed skin, but over twice as long with much darker scales. The basilisk slithered around Krios, keeping its head turned away from him so he could not see its face, as Tom had commanded, while moving further down the length of the Chamber. It curled around them like a barrier between Krios and the only exit.

"The most dangerous creature in the world, the basilisk has been called," Tom whispered. His eyes were focused on the monster. "And for good reason, as I'm sure you have come to realize. Able to kill anything that so much as glances in its eyes with venom more destructive than almost anything else on this planet… It is a worthy beast to be called Salazar Slytherin's."

Krios's head slumped against the cold, hard floor. He stared up at the ceiling, which was so high above him that it was hidden by shadows. He didn't know where the creepy green light was coming from, but he almost wished the entire Chamber was unseeable. Sight made it all so much worse. Even when he closed his eyes, the green filled his vision. Serpent spectres danced across the inside of his eyelids, unrelenting in their reminder that he was going to die down here, alone and betrayed.

Betrayed… The pain of it made his heart feel as if it would explode. Was he condemned to live a life of mistrust, not knowing who was there for him and not what he could do for them? Many of those who had sought to be his friend this year only did so because of his abilities, not out of respect for him. They had not cared to get to know Krios Black, only the rumoured Heir of Slytherin.

And, in a tormenting twist of fate, those rumours had turned out to have a shred of truth in them.

The knowledge of his impending death should have terrified him, but all Krios felt was acceptance.

A part of him wondered if anyone would miss him… Perhaps James and Lily would cry for a while, but they didn't truly know him, they had never discussed his life… No, they wouldn't miss him… Professor Snape probably wouldn't either… Sure, he and Krios spent a lot of time together, but surely the teacher would do that for any other Slytherin student in Krios's position?

No, Professor Snape wouldn't miss him. Not when he had more important things to stress over.

But what about Altair and Daphne? He was closer to them than anyone else.

Krios liked to think they would miss him, but in reality, he didn't know if they would. He had only known Altair for less than a year. What of Daphne, though? Would she miss him?

He didn't know, and the thought that no one cared enough to miss him terrified Krios more than death ever could. He wanted to feel important to someone, but what if he wasn't?

His head lolled to the side, and his eyes fell on Tom's diary, unblemished and dry despite the puddles of water that surrounded it. How he wished he could destroy it, and with it Tom, ending this torture both to his mind and body. But nothing could touch it; not water, not ink, possibly not even fire. It was seemingly indestructible because of the magic the Dark Lord had imbued it with…

Seemingly…

Krios glanced at the basilisk. Perhaps he was insane, maybe he was just desperate, but the madness that consumed his thoughts in that moment was, he believed, his best chance.

But what point was there in trying? To get that far he risked looking in the monster's eyes, which would only serve to bring him a quick death, like it had with Lockhart.

The memory of smoking eyes floated through his mind made Krios hesitate. He couldn't make things right again if he was dead.

It was a miracle he had survived as long as he had.

More desperately than he ever had in his life, even when he was locked in the cupboard beneath the stairs at Privet Drive, he found himself praying for help from anyone, from anything. He only needed a chance to fix his mistakes and stop the Dark Lord before he could regain his body.

'Please,' he begged. 'Help me.'

Krios was certain he was delirious, that he had lost too much blood, as music came from nowhere. It rang around the Chamber, growing louder and louder.

Tom whirled, searching for the source with narrowed eyes.

The music was eerie and unearthly, and it made Krios's spine tingle. It filled him with a courage he would not have believed himself capable of possessing, warming his body enough that he no longer noticed the frozen air and water that surrounded him. Then, as the music reached such a pitch that he felt he was about to erupt, flames appeared from nothing beside one of the serpentine statues.

A large bird with crimson feathers floated there as if weightless. The song emanated from it, filling the entirety of the Chamber. It had a glittering golden tail as long as a peacock's and gleaming talons. As it continued to sing, Krios felt hope return to him, true belief that he could make it through this.

"What is this?" Tom demanded furiously.

The phoenix soared over him and landed beside Krios, where it bent its head low over his arm. Tears leaked from its eyes immediately, sealing his wound and bringing clarity to his mind once more.

"Get back!" Tom bellowed. "Get away from him!"

He started to run at them, but Krios leapt to his feet with renewed strength energizing his body. He didn't know what he was going to do, but he refused to let the Dark Lord return because of him. With a phoenix resting on his shoulder, its song warming his very being, he knew it was possible. Even as he looked, it seemed that Tom's form was growing blurrier, losing strength as Krios finally fought back.

"You dare defy Lord Voldemort?" Tom hissed. "You dare defy your master?"

"I am no one's slave," Krios said calmly.

His eyes full of rage, Tom turned to the basilisk.

"KILL HIM!"

The phoenix leapt from Krios's shoulder, but he didn't panic. The phoenix's song still filled his heart, swelling it so that it seemed twice as large.

As the basilisk turned to obey its master's command, the phoenix lashed out at its eyes. The basilisk shrieked, writhing and whipping its head in an attempt to fend off its attacker, but it was to no avail.

The basilisk turned enough for Krios to see its bloody eye sockets, the power of its gaze rendered useless, powerless, unable to cause anyone harm anymore.

"NO!" Tom roared. He whipped around, his eyes blazing, to face Krios again. "You will suffer for this, Harry Potter. I had planned on giving you a merciful death to show my gratitude for your service, but no more. You will spend years in pain inflicted by my curses, and I will not allow you to die. You will—"

"I'm sure whatever you have to say is very creative," Krios deadpanned as he bent to pick up the diary, making a show of brushing it off. He pointed at it with a pleased smile. "But I'm afraid you won't be around long enough to do that."

Tom's eyes widened with fear. "Wait, no—!"

"You have my permission to die, Tom."

Krios threw the diary in the basilisk's open, shrieking mouth, full of fangs dripping venom.

Tom screamed in pain as his diary began to melt. Blinding light cracked through his distorted body, tearing him apart from the inside. Krios shielded his eyes as Tom's body exploded.

And he was gone.

The basilisk lashed out at the phoenix again. Struck by impetuous urge, Krios shouted, "STOP!"

To his surprise, the serpent stilled. It moved its head to face him, though it could not see, and waited for Krios to give his next command, beguiled by his voice.

The phoenix stopped attacking it and flew over to rest on Krios's shoulder.

"You shall not harm another," Krios hissed at the basilisk. His heart clenched, aching with a pain he knew others would condemn him for, when he looked into its bloody eyes. "Your sight has been taken from you, there is no need to lose your life as well."

"You think yourself capable of killing me, child?"

The basilisk's voice was softer than he had ever heard it, and the question was asked with curiosity more than anger. There was an underlying doubt in its tone, however, that made it clear the basilisk thought itself to be his superior, at least in this regard.

"I don't want to find out," Krios answered honestly. "You have not wronged me."

'Only Lockhart, really,' he added in his thoughts. He wasn't too upset about that, all things considered. Truthfully, Krios was just happy that none of the students or likeable professors had been killed.

More to avoid the gruesome sight than anything, he looked away from the basilisk. His gaze fell on something beneath it that made him freeze.

The diary.

For a moment he worried it hadn't really been destroyed, that this was all a ploy of Tom's to make him lower his guard, but then Krios noticed the massive hole burned through the center because of the basilisk's venom. There was no way Tom had survived something like that, but Krios wasn't going to take any chances, not this time.

Hesitant, he approached the diary, keeping his focus on the basilisk, but it didn't move. The diary was mostly covered in venom that was eating away at it. Krios picked it up by a dry corner and moved to the pool at the base of Slytherin's bust, then dropped the diary inside the shallows. He watched the water wash away most of the venom. Only once enough of it was gone that he wouldn't risk burning himself to death with the stuff did he remove it from the pool.

He figured Professor Snape would want to see this. Him and Regulus. With their combined knowledge of the Dark Arts, they might be able to figure out how the Dark Lord had preserved his younger self.

"You are a strange human," the basilisk hissed.

Krios couldn't help it.

He snorted.

"You aren't the first to tell me that."

The basilisk leant closer, and Krios's breath caught in his chest. Terror spiked through him. For a moment he wondered whether he had made a mistake in not trying, foolishly, to kill the monster.

But then it paused. Its tongue darted out and flicked over him, tasting him.

Krios vaguely recalled hearing that snakes smelled things with their tongues instead of nostrils. The absurdity of the thought at this particular moment nearly made him laugh.

"You taste of him," the basilisk said. "But you are not him."

Krios didn't know how to respond to that.

"Strange human," the basilisk repeated before turning away from him. It slithered off and disappeared into the darkness of the Chamber, leaving Krios alone with a phoenix and a destroyed diary.

He stared into the phoenix's eyes.

"Do you have any idea what that was about?" he asked. He wasn't sure why he had thought talking to a speechless bird would give him any answers, but it was all he could think to do.

The phoenix trilled a soft, musical note.

"Yeah," Krios sighed. "Me neither."

He could have sworn the phoenix laughed at him.

As he started heading to the exit of the Chamber of Secrets, he had a realization.

"How the hell are we supposed to get out of here?"


THANKS FOR READING!