And another one for you guys here.
He stared longingly at the photo of Minerva and Rosa; the edges now worn from where he handled it so often. In the six months that had passed since Bulgaria had been taken, he had been home only once.
That visit had been shortly before Christmas, and much shorter than Harry had hoped.
The war was at a pivotal juncture and kept him posted on the continent, and though seemingly little had transpired in the intervening months, Harry's place was here, with the men that continued to fight so boldly.
He wasn't alone in his lack of time away from the front.
Charlus had returned after a two-week spell of recovery and had remained with Harry since. Both Gilbert and Yaxley had not even been granted that.
Harry had granted Arcturus a month of leave when his son had been born, and again when the boy fell ill when he was barely a few months old. Oddly, his wife had already fallen pregnant again with their second child.
Orion, named in a bid to redeem Arcturus's father when he would one day become the Lord Black, had recovered from his dragon pox for the most part, but that didn't stop Arcturus from worrying.
Still, the boy had survived the worst of it.
Charlus and Dorea were planning to marry as soon as they could after Selwyn's unsuccessful ploy.
Hide nor hair had been seen of the man since.
His family reputation was in tatters, so it was best he kept a low profile for some time.
Harry shook his head as he placed the photo within his robes, vowing to return home in the coming days.
Grindelwald was taking a strictly defensive stance for the time being, his only offense being the occasional prod at the ICW defences, but nothing more.
Evidently, he was still licking his wounds from the resounding defeat in Bulgaria and the loss of Gaulitier and Weber.
The thought of the two of them being dead brought a small smile to Harry's lips.
The world was better off without them.
Regardless of what Grindelwald's intentions were, Harry had decided he would be taking some leave, as would Gilbert and Yaxley.
They needed only to wait for the arrival of their newest allies, the thought of which removed Harry's expression of amusement.
Bulgaria had been pillaged, the men, women, and children here neglected at best. Many had died during Grindelwald's occupation, and some even left to starve.
It was the worst that Harry had seen, and even with as many people as he could spare to help right the wrongs Grindelwald and his men had inflicted upon the natives, it had taken weeks to see the fruits of their labour.
Houses had needed to be rebuilt, and almost every person Harry had come across had needed healing in some form.
The malnourished were fed, wounds treated, and the sick healed as best as he and his men could manage.
Still, some succumbed to the ill-treatment they had endured, the road to recovery not one they would travel.
Funeral after funeral had been held, and yet, life had to continue for the rest.
The past two months had been nothing short of exhausting.
"A letter for you, Harry," Charlus's voice broke into his thoughts.
Harry frowned at the seal of the ICW that adorned the missive.
He'd heard nothing from Abreo for months, but it seemed that silence had come to an end.
Breaking the seal, his frown only deepened as he read.
Dear Commander-in-Chief Evans,
Your presence is required at the ICW headquarters for a gathering.
We await your immediate arrival,
Supreme Mugwump of the International Confederation of Warlocks
With a sigh, Harry folded the envelope and placed it in his pocket.
"Can you tell Petr that I have been called in?" he requested.
"I'll do it now."
With that, the Lord Potter took his leave and Harry activated his portkey, appearing in the foyer of the ICW headquarters only a moment later.
"Commander Evans," the receptionist greeted him, her eyes wide as she stared unashamedly. "They are expecting you."
Harry merely nodded as the woman led him towards the chamber where the meetings were held.
When he entered, it was to find the seats filled to capacity.
Even Minister Sokolov was here.
"Commander Evans," Abreo greeted him, the room falling silent as some of the representatives stood to get a better look at him.
It reminded Harry of when his name had been called to be sorted during his first year, something he didn't care for.
"You requested my presence?" he asked as he stepped froward.
"I did indeed," Abreo clarified, "and I thank you for arriving promptly. Please, take a seat."
Harry's gaze shifted around the room once more before doing as he was bid, taking the indicated chair in the centre of the room.
"I don't suppose you've called me here for a casual chat," he deduced.
Abreo shook his head.
"No, I would only bring you here as a matter of the utmost importance," he assured Harry. "There has been a recent development, one that you must be informed of."
Abreo looked distinctly uncomfortable, but excited too.
"A recent development?" Harry asked cautiously.
Abreo released a deep breath.
"It seems as though we have another ally we can call upon," he announced. "Allow me to introduce our guest who will explain better than I can."
He gestured for a man seated next to him to take his place at the podium.
Harry did not recognise him, but he wore navy blue robes, and his brown hair was swept to one side, however, it was the man's bright smile that Harry was drawn to.
It reminded him of Gilderoy Lockhart, and Harry took an immediate disliking to the stranger.
"Commander Evans?" he asked in an American accent.
"Commander-in-Chief," Harry corrected.
The American flinched at the cold tone he received, his smirk faltering slightly.
"Commander-in-Chief," he corrected, his smile plastered firmly across his face once more. "It is a privilege to meet you. Even across the pond, your name is known. As a country, we have been watching the conflict here with interest."
"Watching," Harry snorted. "Whilst we have been your source of interest, good people are dying…"
"Something we wish to change," the American cut in. "My name is John Westbrook. You might know me as the President of the Magical Congress of the United States of America."
Harry shook his head.
"I've never heard of you," he returned honestly, and with a shrug.
"Well, I have only been in office for a year now," he explained. "I imagine you have been quite busy with your own affairs."
Harry merely nodded in response, ignoring the look of amusement Abreo wore.
The Frenchman was quite used to Harry's blunt demeanour by now and took it in his stride.
"I am here to inform you that the United States of America will be joining you to help put an end to Gellert Grindelwald," Westbrook declared.
It was as though the man expected Harry to fall to his knees and thank him profusely, but he would get no such response.
Instead, Harry frowned.
"Why?" he asked.
"Well, we would not have it said that we didn't play our part," Westbrook laughed, still smiling though he seemed confused by the lack of elation his words elicited from Harry.
Harry snorted once more as he shook his head.
"We needed your help two years ago," he pointed out. "No," he corrected, "we needed your help when Grindelwald escaped your custody and you just seemed to forget all about him."
Westbrook appeared uneasy by the implied negligence, but ever seemingly the politician, his smile widened.
"The past is the past, Commander-in-Chief," he said dismissively. "We are here now. I have three thousand men and women who are being trained as we speak. They will arrive here within the next few months."
His tone took on an insistent edge and Harry narrowed his eyes at Westbrook.
"Do they have any battle experience?" he questioned.
The American didn't appear to appreciate the query.
"They will be ready when the time comes."
"That's not what I asked," Harry huffed. "This isn't one of your political games. People are dying here, so before you send your own men and women, you had better realise that. I won't babysit people who are unprepared for what is happening, and I will not be held responsible for what happens to them."
"Our forces will have their own Commander-in-Chief," Westbrook retorted.
"And will they function as a standalone group, or will they fall under the command of Evans here?" Minister Sokolov interjected.
"We will work with you," Westbrook answered.
Harry cursed under his breath.
As much as he appreciated an influx of fighting men, he would rather do without the stress they could bring under the command of another.
Sokolov cursed loudly in his native tongue.
"But they will still act independently," he pointed out. "Even my own men are under the command of Evans. What is to stop yours from doing something that is not in the interest of our campaign?"
Westbrook's smile fell as he looked upon the Russian leader with nothing short of contempt.
Evidently, there was no love lost between the two nations.
"Our interest is to put an end to Grindelwald," he answered diplomatically. "I would like us to work together on this."
"Something we are willing to do," Abreo cut in before either Harry or Sokolov could reply. "You must understand, Mr President, the rest of the world has turned a blind eye to what is happening here. We did not expect any allies to come to us so readily."
"The United States of America is your friend," he said reassuringly. "We hope that us assisting you now will be the beginning of a prosperous and mutually beneficial relationship in the future."
Once more, the American did not seemingly receive the response he expected so turned his attention to Abreo.
"I will communicate with you directly, Supreme Mugwump," he informed his counterpart. "I will leave it to you to keep your men informed. Gentlemen," he added with a bow, addressing the rest of the chamber before activating a portkey and vanishing.
Abreo shot Harry an apologetic look.
"He came to me quite suddenly," he explained. "They will be a powerful ally."
"And a massive pain in the arse," Harry grumbled. "They have no fighting experience, they do not know these lands, and they have a poor relationship with the one nation that came to our aide when it was needed most."
"I have every faith that you will make it work, Harry," Abreo replied simply.
The reaction to the Americans entering the war had been mixed at best amongst the men under Harry's command. Some were under the impression there would be less fighting for them, others understood that the motivation of the President was not selfless, and they did not appreciate the political machinations.
In the few months that he had known, he had become rather apathetic towards it.
If the Americans wanted to risk their lives, who was he to stop them?
However, the moment they endangered the lives of his own men, his reaction would not be so benign.
"What the fuck are they doing?" he grumbled as he heard the sounds of a marching band approaching.
Exiting the room he had billeted for himself in Ohrid, on the western border of Bulgaria, he entered the streets to find a parade of men marching through, an array of instruments playing an obnoxiously loud piece to announce their arrival.
With a wave of his wand, Harry silenced them, bringing the column to an abrupt, confused halt.
"What the bloody hell is with all that noise?" he demanded to know.
"No need for the hostility, friend," a large man placated, approaching Harry from the head of the column. "Music is the spice of life."
He accentuated his point by spitting a glob of brown sludge on the ground.
Evidently, the Americans had arrived.
They were dressed very similarly to the ICW forces, their uniform a slightly brighter shade of green, but the flags that many carried that also adorned the sleeves of their robes were unmissable.
"Not here it isn't," Harry muttered, eliciting murmurs of agreement from his own gathering men.
"Ken Adams," the man introduced himself, offering his hand and ignoring the rebuke. "I'm in command of the fine ladies and gentlemen you see before you."
He accepted the proffered limb, ignoring the whispers of the Americans who tried to get a closer look at him.
"You're younger than I thought you'd be," Adams mused aloud. "Anyway, it looks like we'll be working together to kick Grindelwald's ass."
"If you think you can manage it," Yaxley snorted.
Adams looked towards him challengingly and laughed.
"We'll have this war wrapped up in a few weeks," he declared. "You boys will be home before you know it."
Harry raised an eyebrow at the man, predicting quite the reality check for him in the coming days.
"Well, if you think it will be so easy, the enemy are only camped out a few miles that way," Gilbert informed him, jerking his thumb in the general direction of Grindelwald's forces. "I'm sure they'll give you a warm welcome."
"We might just pay them a visit," Adams replied.
Harry shook his head.
"I wouldn't be too keen to meet them," he broke in, "but you can do as you please. My only rules are that you do not endanger my men, and you leave the natives be. I will not repeat that to you."
"You worry about your men, and I'll worry about mine," Adams replied, evidently not having expected such a cold greeting.
"That works for me," Harry shrugged, "but for the time being, you will be working with my second in command. This is Petr Sokolov, he is the commander of the Russian forces, and the son of the Russian Minister of Magic. In my absence, he carries the same authority as I do. I'm sure he will be pleased to help settle you in."
Petr looked as though he couldn't think of anything worse, and the expression that Adams wore whilst he looked at the Russian was no less eager.
"How long will you be absent?" Adams asked.
"A week, maybe," Harry answered with a shrug. "I'm going home to see my daughter. I will leave you in Petr's capable hands. Oh, and I will not appreciate being called back here because someone had the stupid idea of starting a fight with the enemy. If we are going to work together, we need to plan together."
Adams opened his mouth to speak but Harry cut him off.
"I would get any ideas out of your head about acting independently," he urged. "The enemy will kill you indiscriminately. You've not faced them yet and have no idea what it is you're in for. I would use this time to settle your people in and listen to what my men can tell you of what we have faced."
Adams frowned but nodded.
"I will take your advice into consideration," he replied.
Harry didn't believe he would, but the man would have to learn from his own mistakes.
As far as he was concerned, he'd given fair warning, and it was now time for him to see Minerva and his daughter, something he had been deprived of these past six months.
"Get a message to me if you need to," he murmured to Petr as he passed him.
The Russian nodded and Harry headed back towards his room, hoping that his time with his family would not be cut short.
Tom was having his best year at Hogwarts. With McGonagall having taken a sabbatical, it was one less person to pry into his affairs, and her absence also meant that Dumbledore was busier than usual.
It was the freest that Tom had been in the castle, and he had taken full advantage of it, though his last visit to the restricted section of the library had certainly irked him.
Someone had taken it upon themselves to remove several books, including the one he had wished to revisit.
Not that it mattered.
The Room of Requirement had provided much of what he needed to know.
He would require more information, but that was something he was already working on.
No, whilst he had unimpeded access to the room, Tom focused on perfecting his use of magic and focus on his other magical arts he had been developing.
It wasn't as though he needed to practice for his OWLs.
He would pass them without issue.
Tom could pass his NEWTs now if they were to be administered to him.
The removal of certain tomes from the library was something easily remedied, but the insult of being overlooked as a prefect was not so.
Tom had no doubt that he was the best performing student in his year, and likely the entire school, so why had he been snubbed?
It was a moot question.
He had no doubt Slughorn would have put his name forward. The man had said as such before the previous summer, but final approval fell to the headmaster and his deputy.
As hard as Slughorn would have fought for him to be given the position, Dumbledore would have done equally to ensure he wasn't given it.
It was an affront.
Still, the oversight had allowed him even more freedom within the castle.
Without the need of patrolling and tending to the rather dull duties of a prefect, Tom could focus more time on his own ventures.
He'd even written a list for himself to achieve this year:
- Learn more about Horcruxes (Slughorn)
- Learn more about Legilimency
- Learn more about his family
- Meet Hepzibah Smith
He had hoped the latter would have occurred during the summer, but Mrs Smith had not been in touch with Mr Burke to arrange a meeting.
However, he had been invited back by the owner of the shop to complete his auditing of the stockroom during the approaching summer, so Tom was confident there was a chance he would meet the woman then.
For now, he would focus on the other items on his list.
He shuddered at the icy touch of Helena, the sensation something he would never get used to.
Morphing his expression of irritation at being disturbed into one of pleasant surprise, he turned to greet the ghost.
"Helena," he whispered enthusiastically. "You've never looked for me inside the castle before."
The woman beamed, nodding shyly.
"I have found something I think you will want to see," she replied pointedly.
"Really? What is it?"
She beckoned for him to follow, and Tom did his best to ignore the jolt of excitement he felt.
The ghost had spent months searching for only one thing for him, and it seemed that she may have been successful.
Not that Tom would get his hopes up too much,
Twice already Helena had spoken of things she had found that may be the entrance to the hidden chamber of his ancestor, and both had proven to be nothing but secret passages that led to different parts of the castle.
They were useful, and Tom had put them to use, but they were not what he was seeking.
"I can't go in there," he huffed as he was led to a girl's bathroom on the second floor.
"No one is inside," Helena assured him.
Tom muttered under his breath as he sent a cursory glance around the corridor to make sure no one was nearby.
With a reluctant nod, he entered, the ghost following him closely.
"Over here," she urged.
Tom frowned as he approached the column of sinks, narrowing his eyes as Helena gestured to one of the taps.
Carved into the bronze was a small serpent, so small that it would be missed by any not looking for it.
"This is it," he whispered.
Tom simply knew that he had found it, that this was the entrance to the Chamber of Secrets.
He immediately felt a connection to the place, almost akin to a light scratching at the back of his mind, beckoning him to enter.
Sighing disappointedly, he knew he would have to return to investigate further, to find his way in.
"I am in your debt," he said to the ghost, offering her a bow. "If there is anything I can do for you, I will."
"Do you believe this is it?"
Tom nodded, a sincere smile cresting his lips.
"I have no doubt. Now I just need to work out how to open it," he explained.
"You will do it, Tom," Helena said encouragingly.
"I will," he replied, "but for now, we must leave. It would not look good if we were found here and drew unwanted attention to this place."
Helena nodded her agreement.
"And remember," Tom continued. "No one must know about this."
"I will not tell a soul," Helena vowed, eliciting another smile from the teen.
He truly had the ghost where he wanted her.
There was one place Derek wanted to spend his time on leave and it wasn't back in Britain where only temptation to return to his life of crime awaited.
No, he did not wish to spend any more days in the company of the dementors or looking over his shoulder for the aurors to arrest him.
He was tired of that life, and though he worried what he would do when the war was over, he wouldn't worry about that for now, not when he had a week away from the fighting and the newly arrived Americans who had no idea what they were in for.
The sight of Iulia sprinting towards him from the house as he opened the gate to the garden filled Derek with a warmth he'd never experienced before, and he crouched down without hesitation to pick the girl up.
No one had ever greeted him so enthusiastically as though he truly meant something to them.
It was an overwhelming experience, and he gave a watery chuckle as Iulia babbled at him in her native tongue, something Derek had yet to get a grasp on.
The girl had really come out of her shell since he had met her so many months ago now.
She no longer carried the air of sadness she once had, and her smile had come to mean so much to the man.
"You know he doesn't understand you," Sorina laughed as she stood in the doorway to the house, a smirk of amusement tugging at her lips.
Iulia pouted and Derek lifted her up to sit on his shoulders, eliciting a giggle from the girl.
Sorina greeted him with a kiss on the cheek, the smile she graced him with one of fondness.
"How long until you go back?" she asked.
"I have a week," Derek replied.
"Do you have anywhere else you need to be?"
Derek shook his head.
"No. I was hoping you wouldn't mind tolerating my company for a while."
Sorina's expression softened considerably as she released a deep breath.
"You will always be welcome here," she sighed as she wrapped her arms around him.
Derek melted into her embrace, trying, and failing miserably to remember a time in his life that he had felt so wanted and happy.
The death of Hans and Weber had resulted in more ramifications than Gellert could ever have anticipated. Those that remained who had been loyal to the German had left, no longer willing to serve his cause without the man they followed.
It was quite the blow to lose almost five hundred men, but a soft one in comparison to losing Weber.
Gellert was all but blind to what his enemies were doing, and without information reaching him from around the globe via his former sleuth, he hadn't learned of the Americans allying themselves with the ICW forces until it had been announced in the media.
The day he had feared had come to pass.
Gellert no longer held a numbers advantage when it came to warfare.
However, he had adjusted accordingly, and the defences he had erected in and around his territories were strong enough to repel all but a full-frontal assault.
Still, he could not ignore the shift in position from when the war had begun.
It had been the men of the ICW on the defensive, but through his own efforts to dislodge them from their positions on the French border, Gellert now found himself inadvertently in such an unfavourable situation.
It should never have come to this.
The ICW forces should have been crushed months ago, but they had proven their resilience.
Under the command of Harry Evans, they had thrived, overcome everything that Gellert had thrown at them, and now, his vision was in more jeopardy than ever before.
With the influx of American troops, defeat was much more likely, unless he played his hand very carefully.
He still had a firm hold on Germany, France, and Spain. A few, other less important strategic positions, were still within his grasp, but those three were his most valuable holdings, and where he would break the impending ICW offensive.
They and the Americans would crash against his defences, and they would die in droves.
Gellert accepted that he may not win the war, but he would never concede defeat, never give up on seeing his vision brought to life, so long as there was air in his lungs, and blood flowed through his veins, his fight would continue.
The Americans had arrived less than forty-eight hours ago, and already they causing quite the stir. The tension between Petr and Ken Adams was palpable, and though Reg found it amusing for the most part, it was quickly devolving into something quite ugly.
Twice the two men had to be separated before they had become embroiled in a physical fight, and it was only a matter of time before a third incident occurred.
Evidently, the Americans did not like being questioned as to why it had taken them so long to join the fight, and why now when the men of the ICW were so close to victory.
Their added numbers would be a boon, but there was resentment, and that wouldn't vanish overnight, not with how cocky and arrogant most of them were, nor how insulting of the ICW efforts some had been.
Reg released a deep breath as he approached the canteen, pausing as a large column of Americans passed him, their features alight with excitement.
"What is going on?" he questioned a woman who was helping herself to bowl of stew.
She snorted as she shook her head.
"Ken is going to show the Russian that he isn't a coward," she huffed.
The declaration didn't fill Reg with confidence.
"Fucking idiot," he grumbled. "He has no idea what he is in for."
"No," the woman agreed, "but Ken is pig-headed. We tried to talk him out of it, but he won't listen."
Reg deflated as he accepted the bowl of stew the woman offered him.
"What's he going to do?" he asked.
"Something stupid," the woman huffed irritably.
She was rather tall, almost of a height with Reg with chestnut hair and light grey eyes. Even under the loose robes she wore, it was impossible to miss her slender figure.
"You're an auror," he blurted.
The woman raised an eyebrow at him.
"Am I?" she asked. "How would you know that?"
"I've been around enough of them to know," he replied. "The scar is also similar to mine," he added, indicating the one that marred the left side of his face.
She carried herself similarly to how Gabriel had, and though her veritable mane concealed most of it, her scar too was unmistakably from a cutting curse.
An inch or so of it protruded from her hairline.
The woman attempted to conceal it within her tresses and Reg shook his head as he took her gently by the wrist.
"You should never hide them," he murmured.
"Thanks," Reg replied dryly, a smirk tugging at his lips as he pointed to his own.
Although much of it was hidden by his beard, it was still visible, and the woman's eyes widened when she noticed it.
"No, I didn't mean…"
She trailed off weakly and Reg laughed, holding up a hand to calm the woman.
"It's fine," he assured her. "I'm not fond of mine, but I don't pay attention to it anymore. There are many more important things in life than worrying about a mark on your face. You'll probably learn that quickly here."
The woman grimaced as the sounds of fighting sounded in the distance, and Reg cursed under his breath.
"Where are you going?" the woman asked with a frown as he released a deep breath and placed his bowl of stew on the counter of the canteen.
"Probably to save your stupid leader's arse," he snorted humourlessly, "well, for now. When Harry finds out what he's done, no one will be able to help him."
"I'll come too," the woman declared, placing her own bowl down and following him.
Reg shrugged as he exited the canteen and drew his wand.
"My name is Nancy by the way," the woman introduced herself.
Reg nodded, not breaking his stride as he headed towards the flashes of spell fire in the distance.
"Well, Nancy, if we make it through this, my name is Reg."
The woman smiled brightly, drawing her own wand as she fell into step with him.
It was a frustrated Tom Riddle, his usually kempt hair in disarray, and his sleeves rolled up that glared at the sink adorned with the engraving of the serpent, his patience at an end.
For the past few days, he had been coming here in the early hours of the morning, determined to open the chamber that once belonged to his ancestor.
Unavoidably, his thoughts were filled with what treasures he may find within. Be they gold or knowledge, it mattered not.
Before he could enjoy the contents, however, he first needed to access the damned room.
He had tried everything he could think of.
From unlocking charms to transfigurations, and even placing his own blood on the serpent, but nothing worked.
Tom was so close, yet so far.
He was in the right place. He could feel it in every fibre of his being, but he could not unravel the conundrum he faced.
Taking a calming breath, he tapped the engraving with his wand and cast a diagnostic charm, only to find himself propelled across the room and crashing through one of the cubicle doors.
Sodden from where he had dislodged the toilet within, he growled as he pushed his hair from his eyes.
Having lost what little hold he had left of his temper; Tom shot to his feet and stomped his way towards the sink.
"WHY WON'T YOU OPEN!" he spat, inadvertently slipping into parseltongue.
He stumbled backwards as the pipes around the sink began to groan, and the entire section of column descended into the floor, leaving a large opening.
Cautiously, Tom edged towards it and peered into the abyss.
"I did it," he whispered in disbelief, lighting the tip of his wand.
He could see barely a few feet into the darkness, but he wasn't going to let that deter him from exploring what he had searched so long for.
Taking a final cursory glance around the bathroom, he sat and allowed his legs to dangle over the opening before releasing a deep breath.
Bracing himself, he dropped, his stomach lurching as he slid into the bowels of the castle.
His descent slowed, but he was still launched from the end with considerable force and thudded to the stone floor with a thud.
Cursing under his breath, Tom stood and tried to wipe the dirt from his now torn robes and looked around.
He was within another tunnel, and already having decided against turning back, he made his way through it, the only sound being the dripping of water somewhere in the distance.
Was this really Salazar Slytherin's hidden place?
It was cold and damp down here, not somewhere Tom imagined one of the greatest sorcerers of all time would choose to spend time, but his doubts were alleviated as he came upon an intricate door adorned with several snakes made of bronze.
"Open?" he tried, a sense of excitement filling him as the creatures seemingly came to life and the door popped open with a groan.
The cavern he entered was enormous with two large pools of water lining the walkway, each side decorated with several statues of snakes.
Tom swallowed deeply as he began walking between them in a daze.
It was not often he allowed himself to indulge in emotions that were overwhelming, but he could not stop them now even if he wished to.
The Chamber of Secrets was incredible, and it was now his as it had once been his vaunted ancestor's.
What did give him pause, however, were the footprints on the ground that he had yet to tread.
There were several identical sets of them, some entering the chamber, and others leaving, something that did not sit right with Tom.
Somebody had been here much more recently than a thousand years ago when Salazar roamed the castle.
It angered the teen, his elation all but vanishing as he caught sight of where the footprints led.
In the centre of the room was an enormous skull, of what creature, he couldn't be certain, but it was undoubtedly snakelike in nature.
Stuck to the middle of it was a piece of parchment, and Tom's stomach sunk further than it had at the realisation someone else had been here before him.
With a trembling hand, he removed the note, his jaw clenching as he read.
To Whomever found the chamber,
I congratulate you for your discovery, but I'm afraid your efforts have all been in vain.
The knowledge, the treasures, and the basilisk are all gone, and now serve as compensation for the heir's transgressions against my family.
The legacy of Slytherin is dead.
Tom's breathing became laboured from the unbridled fury he felt.
How dare someone help themselves to what was rightfully his?
He frowned at the final sentence of the note that had been etched into the bottom of the parchment.
You should run now…
As he finished reading, the two statues closest to him exploded in a shower of stone, followed in twos by the rest, each unleashing a geyser of water.
Quickly, the chamber began to flood, and heeding the warning of the note, Tom ran towards the exit, panicking as he tripped over some debris and was submerged in the water.
Pushing himself to his feet, he continued to run towards the exit, his breathing coming in short, sharp bursts, his legs burning from the effort.
Already, the need to escape was overwhelming but only increased as an enormous column of water erupted, carrying the skull of the basilisk atop it.
Tom's eyes widened as the maw opened, the animated behemoth lunging at him from where he had stood only a moment ago.
"OPEN!" he screamed as he hurtled towards the door, passing through it and pulling it closed but a split-second before something crashed against it.
Tom did not stop to catch his breath, nor wait for any other surprises that had been left for him.
Much to his shame, though it was something he would never admit to himself, he ran for all his life was worth, and as far as Tom was concerned, nothing was more valuable than that.
There was nothing that brought Minerva more joy than seeing Harry with Rosa. When he was with their daughter, he was unguarded, his eyes full of youth that had slowly but surely become absent in the past years.
In its place for the most part was a hollowness that only war could bring, especially when he suddenly woke in the early hours of the morning.
He tried to hide his internal struggles from Minerva and everyone else that worried for him, and perhaps he was successful with the others, but he could not keep it from her.
Minerva knew him too well, had watched as he lost more and more of himself through the sacrifices Harry made.
Not that he would be deterred from continuing as he was.
She had accepted long ago that Harry would give his all to putting an end to Grindelwald, and Minerva could only hope that whatever was left was enough of the man she had fallen in love with.
"What is it?" she asked as Harry suddenly laughed, his eyes full of mischief.
"Riddle just found the Chamber of Secrets," he explained. "I doubt he got what he was expecting."
"Is he dead?" Minerva asked somewhat hopefully.
Being a mother, she didn't wish death on any child, but Tom Riddle was no normal child.
Whenever she looked at him, she saw the monster that Harry had described, the evil that lurked behind what he believed to be charismatic persona.
It was all an act, concealing the monster within the boy.
"Maybe, but I doubt it," he grumbled. "He wouldn't die so easily."
Minerva sighed as she shook her head.
"Will it ever end?" she asked.
Harry nodded as he walked towards her with a napping Rosa in his arms.
"It will," he promised. "One day, both Grindelwald and Riddle will be dead."
"And then you will find another monster to slay?"
Harry snorted derisively.
"No," he denied. "There will be no more demons haunting me after that."
Minerva offered him a smile and rested her head against his chest.
"What will you do when it's over?"
"I don't know," Harry answered honestly. "Bloody hell, here we go," he added with a sigh.
Minerva looked up and was greeted by the sight of an ethereal hawk hovering in front of them, its wings flapping silently to keep it airborne.
"Adams didn't listen," it spoke in an irritated voice. "He attempted to attack the Yugoslavian border and lost almost four hundred of his men and got injured in the process. We got most of them back. I just thought you should know."
With that, the hawk vanished, and Harry shook his head, the hollowness returning to his eyes.
"Fucking idiot," he whispered.
It wasn't often Minerva heard Harry curse. He only did so when something had really irked him, as it evidently had now.
"The American?" she asked.
He had told her of their arrival that had left him and the rest of the ICW forces rather unimpressed.
"I knew he would do something stupid," Harry huffed as he handed Rosa to her.
"So, that means you need to go back?"
He'd been home only a few days, and Minerva couldn't hide her disappointment at the thought of him leaving again.
Much to her surprise, Harry shook his head before taking Rosa back.
"No, the bastard can stew," he declared. "It's not like he's going anywhere. I'll deal with him when I get there."
Minerva simply smiled, once more enjoying the sight of Harry holding their daughter whilst he was here.
'For the short time they had him,' she added internally.