"You mean this is what the Chamber of Secrets looked like?" inquired Susan, now gaining a completely new fearful respect for their already scare-inspiring surroundings.
Harry, knowing they needed to have more information about their latest environment, swallowed and determined to answer them. Just as soon as he could help Ginny get over her shock. It was very disconcerting to see her in this condition; she had effectively been the glue binding the group together.…
Most amazingly however, she had already seemingly shoved most of her fear back into the elevator as she left it again. "It's okay, I'm all right," she answered shakily but bravely, trying to stave of their attempts at assistance. Harry felt bad he couldn't do anything more than offer words of encouragement.
Then he began to answer all of the inquiries. "This is very similar to the Chamber of Secrets under Hogwarts, but it's still different."
"Yes," Ginny continued, "the overall architecture was different, but…this is still so…similar.…" she trailed off.
Nodding agreement, Harry continued, "The old chamber also was made of this same thick granite brick and covered in slime… there were loads of diverting tunnels, just like we see here." Except instead of being lots of miles under the lake, we're miles under London.…
Everyone basically stayed silent as Harry and Ginny continued the comparison of the two locations. She glanced at him meaningfully and muttered, "I wouldn't be entirely surprised if they were connected somehow." This possibility, if that's what one could call it, was extremely remote. Especially considering the two sites of London and Hogwarts were hundreds of miles apart. But this was Voldemort and Salazar they were discussing here. Not exactly namby-pamby stuff.
The group stepped over to the most imposing artifact in the cavernous room. It was a porthole type doorway, just as in the original chamber, complete with realistic-looking snakes built into the access panels. But this one had a feature on it that was completely unlike the one in the Chamber of Secrets. A flat picture of a golden crown was in the centre of the rounded doorplate.
"I wonder what all the crowns mean…" Ginny murmured aloud.
Then Dean said, "Were the crowns not in the Chamber of Secrets?"
Ginny and Harry responded with an emphatic, "No."
Harry said, "Logically, it looks like the only way we're going to get through that access way is with a little bit of Parseltongue."
Neville turned to him and said, "Is that how you did it before…?"
Nodding Harry said, "Yep." Then he gestured everyone to step aside so he could stand alone in front of the doorway. "Allow me, please."
He stared hard at the bejeweled eyes of the largest metallic snake in front of him, and drew to the surface that talent which so few humans possessed.
Open sesame! Harry thought at the serpent. The hissing words came to him easier than they ever had before. He was surprised at how little concentration it required. But oddly enough, the access hatch remained shut. He tried again. OPEN SESAME! he repeated, vehemently as one could manage in snake language.
The snakes still didn't give any hint of movement. This was despite the fact Harry even felt a bit of energy drain off him as he'd said the words. Strange.
After a third and equally fruitless attempt, Harry's friends stepped forward and used every charm they could think of (and even a few made-up on the spot) to try and open that doorway, but it was no use. The thing wouldn't budge.
Ginny had been uncharacteristically reticent this entire time, choosing instead to watch as the others took action. Harry could hardly blame her; the Chamber of Secrets had been some of his worst past encounters, too. Being here was dredging up the darkest memories the girl had ever had the misfortune to experience. And it didn't matter to Ginny that she'd not been personally responsible for what had happened to those people during second year. It was obvious to someone like Harry that she still felt all of that telltale shame and guilt. Her very countenance reflected all the signs of a now surmounted, but no less recallable weakness. For it was Lord Voldemort's most unforgettable legacy: Pain.
Ginny was now sitting on a relatively slime-free ledge that went along the bottom of the wall, staring at the floor in a slightly lost way. Harry slowly walked over and crouched down so he would be level with her.
"You okay?" he inquired kindly. It seemed an utterly useless thing to ask, but he didn't know what else to do.
Ginny's answer had nothing to do with his question, however. "'Do not deny the Imperius Curse'…" she continued looking at the floor as she repeated the stranger's last words softly aloud.
She blinked hard, and then looked straight into his eyes. "Don't you understand, Harry?" He just lifted his eyebrows and gazed at her, inviting her to elaborate.
Swallowing, she continued, "The only thing that's going to open that door is Parseltongue." He nodded, intending to debate the issue, since snake language was obviously not working at this point. But Ginny went on.
"Parseltongue from a living person. And one of us needs to do it, since you can't."
Harry felt his heart skip a beat (amazed that sensation hadn't left him). Surely…Ginny couldn't mean what she was implying. Slowly he straightened back up, paced a bit, and replied, "But none of you is a Parselmouth. How can you…?"
Ginny continued to eye him. "That's where the Imperius Curse comes in. You're going to have to use it on one of us so we can open that door." She then stood up to her full height, and said valiantly, "Since I've already spoken Parseltongue before, I volunteer to be the one you choose."
Harry wanted to yell, wanted to shout, wanted to scream at her that she was all wrong about this, but he didn't. Not so deep down, he knew that each word Ginny was saying was true. Do not deny the Imperius Curse…for doing so meant certain death for him if he did. Ginny was right. But that didn't mean he would ever do it.
"No," he exacted loudly, "that is something I could never ask, let alone require of anyone; much less a friend or someone I respect. So please, just forget about it. Nobody will have to volunteer for something like that because I won't do it." Then he faltered just a bit, and scratched out, "I…can't…do it."
Taking slow yet purposeful steps toward him, Ginny replied understandingly, but with even more intent, "No, Harry. I know you can't." It was nice to know, if a tad bittersweet, that he didn't have to argue the point with her anymore—Harry had been expecting some more of Ginny's spitfire over meritoriously using an Unforgivable Curse on someone. But then she pointed to his scar and continued in a steely tone, "But he can."
The words cracked like a whip between them; there could be no mistake. The "he" that Ginny had just mentioned was, quite plainly, Lord Voldemort.
Even though the rest of their friends didn't understand exactly what was happening, they seemed to sense the need to stay quiet. The person who best knew to deal with this was already speaking with Harry.
It was the most incomprehensible and upsetting thing of all that he could still be infested with the taint of Voldemort, even in death. Was there no end to the Evil One's influence? Why didn't Voldemort just get it bloody over with, and kill him outright? Or maybe spiritual torment was something he happened to specialise in. There must be something to that, or Lord Voldemort would've succeeded in murdering Harry along with his parents back in Godric's Hollow all those years ago.
As Harry battled with himself, something else came to him. Ginny had essentially pointed out that awful, mental link between he and his hated enemy. Up to this point, it had been used on him repeatedly, to torture Harry with images of physical suffering, mental anguish, to twist his thought patterns and manipulate him. And now Sirius was gone as a result of it. But…could there be that possibility, however remote, Harry could…turn Voldemort's own powers against him?
The realisation of this must've shown on his face, because Ginny spoke up again, in a small triumphant voice. "Yes," she said, smiling slightly, "you see, it can be done. V-Voldemort," she winced as she made herself say it, and Harry nearly started in surprise, "was the proprietor of your so-called death, and…now you can…throw it back on him, to bring yourself back."
Then Luna said, her eyes burning importantly, "You have to do this, Harry. To your enemies, the best revenge is living well. Especially if they already consider you dead. It's poetic justice."
This time, the others started sponsorship of Ginny's cause. "Yeah. Listen to them, Harry. I don't pretend to understand all of what's going on, but if anybody deserves to get one over on You-Know-Who, it would be you," Neville stressed. Most of the others murmured agreement with him.
Harry knew he was hardly the only person to suffer at the hands of Voldemort and his Death Eaters. And here was Neville, who himself had lost so much due to Bellatrix Lestrange torturing his own mum and dad into insanity, supporting him without hesitation.
Also, Ginny had known she was really the only choice to handle this kind of a curse. She was a strong person and knew precisely what she was getting into. The girl had been under Voldemort's influence already, for nearly an entire school year, and lived to tell about it. Ironically enough, that was also largely due to Harry's personal intervention.… That really didn't make this much easier though, if at all.
Before he could change his mind, or even make it up, really—Ginny strode over purposefully to stand in front of the access hatch.
"Okay," she said, shutting her eyes and balling her hands into fists, "I'm ready. Let's get this over with."
Slightly dazed, Harry followed her. Was he really going to do this? Put an Unforgivable Curse on another being just for his own purposes? Deserving or not, it still seemed unspeakably cruel to put someone under his own will. This wasn't against Ginny's will though, technically. Harry stretched out his arm, black wand held high.
He shut his own eyes, and reached down, down, through himself. Now was the time he had to find that—that thing…that unwelcome monster that resided within him. But it was the monster, which he was just now starting to realise as he went through this process, that was the very reason Harry was still not yet dead. Good Godric. So that was why Voldemort couldn't kill him. He'd be killing himself if he did.
"Waiting…" Ginny spoke up softly, cutting through Harry's inner war.
"Yeah, okay…okay." He responded, as if from a great depth, trying to focus on the situation.
Think of it. Coiled and ready, eye of the snake, fang of the snake, I am the snake—"IMPERIO!" shouted Harry as loudly as he could. He felt an indescribable drain on his reserves from somewhere close by as he bore down on his connection with Lord Voldemort. A resultant physical/psychiatric surge slammed into him. Ghost or no, dead or not, Harry screamed and fell to the floor in agony.
During his incantation, a radioactive green poured out the end of his wand. The slithering band of magic seemed almost sentient; it swirled around Ginny, starting its dance from the floor and coiling high into the air, finally settling down over her upper body in an almost loving way. Her features grew blank and dreamlike. It made Harry feel almost sick to think he'd been the cause of it. But he couldn't let the girl's sacrifice go unanswered; they had a job to finish.
Trembling harder than he'd ever thought himself capable, previous life or present, he pushed himself determinedly from the floor. Now Harry knew precisely what lay on the other side of that door. And it wasn't just his wand. It also answered the perplexing question of why he'd felt such a close-by draining of spirit. Through the mental connection, at least to Voldemort, Harry was still safe—untouchable. But the cold-blooded man had found a way to subvert that little detail. That unbelievable bastard.
Looking around fully for the first time, Harry saw the only one of his friends currently standing was…Ginny. She swayed, in her trance, midst huddling figures on the floor. Oh, no! Had that surge also caught his friends in its wake?
"Are all of you okay?" he called to them at-large, deeply concerned. The only responses he got were groggy moans. Revenge was a very risky business, apparently. Harry could only guess the reason why his friends had been subjected to this surge was because he no longer had physical form to contain it. Without the solidity of his body, Harry had not yet learned a way to deflect, let alone focus, power of such magnitude.
Okay, one thing at a time. He had to hurry up and open that door, so he could remove the wretched curse from Ginny. But before he could even turn back around, he heard a telltale ding! come from the elevator. Normally Harry would've ran and hid, but he knew living people couldn't see him. Not unless he really wanted them to, anyway. That was something he'd managed to find out, however inadvertently.
He watched as three Death Eater robe-clad individuals emerged from the elevator. Apparently, it had closed back up and been summoned to the surface at hospital and his group hadn't noticed.
The one individual in front turned around to the other two and addressed them. "What the…? Why is the Weasley girl here, and why is she standing in front of the door?"
Only it wasn't a mature sounding voice at all. It was a voice Harry knew personally, all too well. That meant the other two behind the first one had to be—
"Dunno. Can we take the masks off now?" called out a dull, stupid-sounding bass.
"Yeah, it's hard to breathe in here."
"Fine, you great buffoons. If you want her to notice you, go straight ahead. I wonder why she hasn't turned around.…" the figure stepped forward, waving a hand in front of Ginny's face. So busy were the three they failed to even notice the other figures on the stone and in the shadows, just behind them over there. Now Harry hoped his friends didn't wake up.
This was quite unnerving; learning that the very worst of his classmates had known about this second chamber for who knew how long. What are they doing here? Surely they wouldn't be able to get into the chamber. Not without Parseltongue.
"It's okay," called the thin, tall one next to Ginny. "She can't see or hear anything. She's entranced—I think someone's put an Imperius Curse on her. I wonder who it was?" Then all three figures removed their head masks, thereby removing all doubt of their identities.
"Hey, I think it was bloody brilliant, having us dress up as Death Eaters the day we came back from school," said Goyle, and Crabbe sniggered darkly.
Draco's eyebrow arched and he replied coldly, "First of all, I don't 'dress up' as anything. Second of all, even though it hardly mattered in the end, as Potter never regained consciousness, it was a rather clever idea, wasn't it?" He gave his trademark smirk.
Harry's head swam with this new revelation. These three were directly involved with the car crash? Had they really been the ones to execute those curses Ginny had told him about?
"Yes," continued Draco arrogantly, "even though the Dark One didn't appreciate it at first," he winced slightly, and Harry found sinister pleasure in the fact that Voldemort had somehow punished Malfoy for his presumptions, "he eventually came around to see how my little plot for tagging 'St. Potter' as a murdering lunatic could work to his advantage." Clenching his teeth together and rolling his hand into a fist, Draco continued, "My only regret is the weak fool wasn't awake or sane enough for me to let him know I was the one who was truly responsible for what happened to him. Never mess with Malfoy," he spat, and punched his fist into the opposite open palm.
Harry saw blood-red. If he'd thought he was capable of feeling homicidal before, this was nothing in comparison to the ultimate, all-encompassing murderous rage he was feeling now. It seemed to perpetuate, and feed on itself in a never-ending tide of flame and fury. Despite the fact Voldemort had always been Harry's quintessential worst enemy, the man had chosen to single him out largely due to a prophecy, rather than any initial dislike for him. Or at least that's how Harry chose to see it. For the moment, anyway.
With Draco however, it was very different. Harry had never done anything to him, short of existing, to provoke his definitive anger. Harry had made that last final mistake of actually having people believe him when he'd told them Lucius Malfoy was still a staunch supporter of Voldemort. And as a result, the younger Malfoy had not only sworn vengeance against Harry, but had gotten it by framing him for murder. On all counts. Draco's childhood enemy was not only practically dead, but all he had left behind, his friends, his reputation, everything—had been branded by the scourge of the Ministry's guilty verdict. And now Harry would make that rat mongrel pay for it. Dearly.