Things didn't get any better from there. Hermione's attack was followed by the arrival of the Minister and Lucius Malfoy as they arrested Hagrid and dismissed Dumbledore as headmaster. Harry had only found out about it as he had snuck down to the cabin in order to ask Hagrid about the Chamber and the spider that the idiots had thought was the Chamber's Monster. Harry had looked into the girls' death and no venom had been found in her system which meant that it was impossible for the spider to have killed her and Harry was a little disappointed about the lack of concrete evidence that the Ministry had used to prosecute Hagrid when he was only thirteen.
When the Ministry came to take Hagrid away just so they could be seen 'doing something', Harry had no doubts that any inquiries of how the girls died had been shushed up so that they could appear to have taken care of the problem. Hagrid's little tidbit given about following the spiders paid off as he was taken away by the Ministry,, however, paid off.. With Hope as his guide, the unicorn had led Harry into one of the darker parts of the Forbidden Forest that he had yet to see in their outings. Hope had made sure that her foals were safe with their heard before escorting him and Harry had to wonder just what they were going to visit that had the usually brave unicorn so antsy.
The answer was Acromantula, giant spiders that frankly scared the hell out of him and had Gabriel yelping at the sight of them. 'How the hell did those things get that big?!' Gabriel hissed as spiders nearly as big as Hope surrounded them from all sides. Hope whinnied nervously as they walked just a tad too close to the unicorn. Harry glared at the spider until it back off a bit, pleased with itself as it chattered happily. Harry started when he understood the gloating the acromantula was doing. 'We can speak spider?'
Gabriel chuckled. 'Not necessarily. Out vocal cords aren't designed for actually speaking the spider's language however we can understand them. It's a perk of being us,' he added in, not elaborating on what he meant. Gabriel was of the opinion that it was still a bit too early to tell Harry about what they were; what twelve year old is going to believe that they're an Archangel? Harry's initial rejection of what they were when he eventually found out would cause nearly as much problems as his soul rejecting their Grace was. Gabriel wanted their Grace to be more interwoven than it was before Harry found out what they were. Harry was interrupted before he could ask anymore questions.
"Who dares to disturb me?" A voice rasped from what looked liked giant blankets of cobweb. Six beady eyes blinked open yet did not settle on them as the largest acromantula that Harry had seen so far resettled. Strangely enough, the acromantula was speaking Queen's English.
Another spider answered from further into the small army of them. "Man!" It chanted, joined by the others around it.
"Hagrid?" the apparent leader of the spider army ('Again,' Gabriel sighed. 'Far too many comic books.') but Harry interrupted before any of them could reply.
"No," he said loudly, relishing at the shocked silence that followed. Harry doubted that it was everyday a lowly human spoke out of turn towards them. Hope snorted, digging her hooves into the ground as she glared at the surrounding acromantula in challenge.
"You are the boy who merged with the Great Tree and shook the forest," Aragog said raspily and turned his head in the direction of Harry. The black haired boy was stunned to see that the giant spider was blind, his eyes a telling milky-white. "Your unicorn companion walks besides you, a great risk as my children surround you."
Hope putted her hooves and snorted menacingly at the surrounding smaller acromantula. They backed off warily, chattering in annoyance as they went. "What have you come to ask of Aragog, Great Tree Child?"
'Is that what they call us?' Gabriel snickered inside their head. 'Well, I guess it is better than the Boy-Who-Lived nonsense that the Wizarding World has going on.'
Harry hummed in agreement before answering the question that the question that Aragog ('Arachnid Leader,' Gabriel mumbled as he translated that Greek 'agog' of the word. ''Ar' for Arachnid and 'agog' for leader.'). "We were sent by Hagrid," Harry answered, the 'we' rolling off his tongue more easily that 'I' would have. "He told us to follow the spiders to find out more about the Chamber of Secrets."
Aragog snarled, giant legs moving in agitation. "That foul home of that beast?" he snarled, his raspy voice seemingly raising in decibel on each word. "Even here, miles from that school, we can feel its presence lurking."
"You know what the monster is?" Harry asked eagerly as the acromantula paused.
"We do not speak its name!" Aragog all but yelled. "It is death to us!"
"Then I was right," he said in satisfaction. "You aren't the Slytherin monster."
Aragog paused, considering him in silence as what Harry now knew were his children settled down in their nests. "No I am not," the spider finally said. "Yet that school believed that I was the monster that dwells in what they call the Chamber of Secrets. Hagrid was expelled for hiding me and I was able to flee into these woods as they attempted to capture me."
"So Hagrid was expelled after he was accused of opening the chamber," Harry mumbled, nodding to himself. He had wondered about what the Ground's Keeper could have possibly done that would have gotten him expelled since the he had met the man almost two years ago. It made sense that they would blame Hagrid for the death; acromantula were rather dangerous creatures that normally had no qualms about killing. Aragog seemed to only stay his hand in killing Harry due to the small fact that Gabriel, while he was still in the tree, had placed a protection on the forest that was still in play even now, nearly a year after Gabriel had left the tree.
'I do good work,' Gabriel said smugly. 'It'll be a long time before that protection fades.'
'Why did you put it up?' Harry asked curiously. Sure, he knew that his counterpart was rather attached to the tree he had been in for who knew how long and he knew that Gabriel adorned their visits in the forest as much as he did but that didn't explain why the forest seemed to thrum with a familiar bright white that Harry had only seen when he had first met Gabriel.
'The inhabitants needed protection,' Gabriel said and Harry got the distinct feeling that his counterpart was embarrassed. 'They had kept people away from my tree for hundreds of years so when settlers began to kill them off, I had to do something...'
'And you call me too caring,' Harry snickered at him silently. It was nice to know that for all the rather rude things Gabriel said or their seemingly great differences in personality (which was odd because how was it possible to be a different person than himself?) Gabriel still had a bit of compassion hidden away. He doubted that any of the forest's inhabitants knew just how protective their 'Great Tree' was of them.
"They believed that it was I who slayed the girl that died," Aragog continued as if Harry tuned back into the conversation. "Even though the girl was found in a bathroom far from the broom cupboard that Hagrid raised me in. He is a good friend to us; even now he brings us food and it was he would brought me my wife, Mosag, and allowed me to have my children."
Aragog's children began chattering again, their large pincers clicking together in excitement. Yet there was something in what Aragog said that gave him pause. "Did you say that she was killed in a bathroom?" Harry asked, eyes narrowed in thought. Gabriel seemed to be thinking on overdrive as well, thought swirling around as he tried to connect the dots that had presented themselves.
"Yes," Aragog confirmed. "I have answered your question, Great Tree Child and now I ask that you leave. My children become antsy with your stay and I fear even the protection your Tree has offered us will not stay their hunger for long."
It was true. Aragog's children were looking at them in a way that spoke uncomfortably of how much they wanted to eat them. Nodding to Hope, he bid the great spider a goodbye and began the walk back towards the castle. It wasn't the long talk that Harry was hoping for but he had gotten a crucial bit of information from the short talk that would help him in his quest to rip the monster to shreds.
'A bathroom, huh?' Gabriel said in a gleeful cackle as they walked through darkened trees. 'Well, it looks like dear old Myrtle might have a use after all.'
Speaking with Myrtle was harder than it should have been. Having filled Ron in on what he had learned (leaving out the involvement of Hope and Aragog's willingness to help him based on the sole fact that he was part of the 'Great Tree'). The redhead was, for once, pleased at being left out of the action. "I bloody hate spiders," he had explained when Harry had given him an odd look at his sigh of relief. "Fred and George transfigured my teddy bear into one when I was little. I had nightmares for months!"
That was all that surprising, in retrospect, and it was even less surprising when the Twins had shown up and demanded to be let in out whatever it was they had found out. It seems that the two had noticed that most everything that happened in the castle found its way to them at some point or another. Harry had easily complied, knowing that with four people trying to interrogate the annoying ghost that was Moaning Myrtle, they would get the information they needed all that much faster.
Or that was the plan. The professor's, on the other hand, seemed determined to unknowingly thwart them as it was now required (after yet another attack in which a Ravenclaw and Slytherin prefect were finally petrified) to be escorted everywhere by a member of the staff. That meant that the teachers were literally everywhere in the school watching their every move. Even the portraits were on red alert and reported any and everyone that so much as stepped a toe out of line. It was because of this that the Twins were now in detention for the rest of the year.
The first time that Harry and Ron managed to get away after a defense class it was halfway through May and the school year was beginning to draw to a close. Harry hadn't even been able to visit Hope or her foals since he had met with Aragog! So when the opportunity to finally payback the bastard that had attacked Hermione and that had gotten Hagrid thrown into jail opened up, Harry grabbed Ron and jumped on it.
Just for McGonagall to show up in time to catch them without a teacher. "And where do you to think you're going?" she had snapped as they attempted to sneak down a hallway without being seen.
Ron paled and seemed to freeze as she stared at them. Harry, on the other hand, finally managed to produce a seamless lie without the help of Gabriel. "We were going to see Hermione," he mumbled, blushing and looking down as the strict Professor froze when she made out his answer. "It's just...we haven't seen her in forever and..." he trailed off, looking up to see her face.
'Finally!' Gabriel cheered in their head. 'It's about time you put those lying skills to use! Now if only we could work on using it in a more selfish way...'
Harry was too busy staring at a teary eyed Professor McGonagall to snark back at his memories (that would never be not weird). It was the first time that he had ever seen the Transfiguration Professor anything other than amused or stern and he almost felt bad for lying to her. 'No!' Gabriel scolded. 'Bad me! Bad! We do not feel bad about lying to get out of trouble! Bad!'
"Oh well," she stuttered, flustered before finally coming to a decision. "Go ahead then. Tell Poppy that you have my permission and I'll let Professor Sprout know where you are." She waved them along, sniffing as she turned to presumably go tell the Herbology teacher that they weren't coming to class.
There was only one problem with going to see Hermione: they couldn't go talk to Myrtle now and Professor McGonagall would expect to hear that they were in the Hospital Wing for the entirety of Herbology. Even if she didn't check, Madam Pomfrey wouldn't just let them leave without escorting them to the classroom which was rather far away from where they wanted to go.
Looking at Hermione made him want to cry. It was heartbreaking to see her so still and the look of fear that was stuck on her face made him feel slightly violent, something that he hadn't felt before but Gabriel seemed to be familiar with. 'Being pissed isn't all that uncommon,' Gabriel reminded him and Harry remembered a few snippets of memories where he, in another life, had experienced a similar emotion.
This seemed different, however, more raw than it had when he slept. Maybe that was because he was still slightly detached from the situation when he was asleep or maybe it was because of the simple fact that Hermione might not be this way if he had insisted that she wait to do the research until they could all help. If Harry hadn't been distracted by the Quidditch game, she might not be lying there on the bed like she was.
'Stop those thoughts right this minute!' Gabriel snapped. It seemed that he had enough of Harry's misery over Hermione's fate. 'We are not responsible for whatever that hell the thing that attacked Hermione! We are the ones that are going to make it wish that it had never existed for doing so! Stop moping and start trying to figure out a way that we can end this!'
It wasn't the best motivational speech in the world and Harry knew that Gabriel hadn't meant for it to be. He had meant for it to wake Harry up and the twelve year old wizard knew that his counterpart was right. Hermione being petrified wasn't their fault; it was the Heir of Slytherin's fault and it was his and Gabriel's job to make them pay for it. To stop them before anymore of the students ended up in the hospital wing.
Reaching out to grab Hermione's hand, Harry started when instead of cold skin he found himself touching parchment. "What?" he mumbled, catching Ron's attention. The redhead glanced at him questioningly but Harry ignored him in favor of slowly prying the parchment that was clenched in Hermione's hands out of its stiff confinement without alerting Madam Pomfrey to his discovery. After a few minutes of careful struggle, the parchment came free and Harry uncurled it as quickly as possible.
He had to stop himself for cursing at the title of the page while Gabriel fell into a horrified silence as they read. "Basilisk," he breathed and Ron seemed to freeze to his own seat next to Harry. The black haired wizard moved the parchment in a way that Ron could read as well and Harry continued on down the torn paper which seemed to have been removed from a library book. 'Spiders flee before it,' he said to Gabriel silently. 'It fits.'
'We've been lucky.' Gabriel answered gravely. 'It seems that none of the petrified victims have looked the basilisk in the eyes or else it would be a vastly different story. They're alive before they only saw the reflection of its gaze and because the basilisk failed to kill them, they weren't devoured as its meal. No creature will eat something that its effects have failed to work on in case that they might poison it.'
Harry felt himself pale as the ramifications of Hermione's handwritten note at the bottom set in. 'It's in the plumbing!' he shouted to Gabriel in horror. 'That's why no one has seen it moving around?!'
'And why Myrtle died in a bathroom. There's most likely an exit to the Chamber of Secrets in there.' Gabriel added and Harry could feel their combined thoughts swirling.
'We need to talk to her tonight,' Harry said in certainty, repeating his thoughts to Ron aloud. The redhead seemed to be growing paler and paler as Harry talked.
'Tonight.' Gabriel agreed.
It turned out that they had picked the best possible time to figure out what was petrifying students. Listening to the teachers talk right outside Myrtle's bathroom where a new message had appeared was the deciding point in how their night was going to end. "Ginny," Ron moaned silently next to them and Harry had to admit to being shocked that his best friend wasn't crying. This was the second of his siblings to fall victim to Slytherin's Heir and Ginny was in much more danger than Percy was.
Gabriel was also suspicious of the Heir's choice in victims. 'Ginny was unusually pale during the first half of the year. She seemed to cry when the roosters were killed and Colin's hospitalization nearly crushed her. That diary tried to leech off of us when we first found it and I remember Ginny having a diary in the beginning of the year...'
'She got it after Diagon Alley,' Harry frowned in thought and was horrified when a black book appeared in his memories of Ginny as they made their way to the Platform. "Oh no," Harry whispered.
"'Oh no'?" Ron asked incredibly. "That's all you have to say!"
Harry interrupted before his friend could get anymore riled up. "Ginny had the diary," he hissed urgently. "She must have gotten it in Diagon Alley but she has the diary. The one that when it was stolen immediately had new attacks popping up!"
Ron seemed to be nearly ghost pale now and he let out a horrified whimper. "Ginny," he moaned silently. Harry nodded and threw the cloak that was hiding them off and slipped it inside his pockets after folding it up.
"We need to hurry before the professor's come back," Harry said as he dragged his friend along into the girls bathroom where Myrtle could be heard sobbing.
"What do you want!" the girl shrieked seemingly forgetting that she had been afraid of Harry prior to this.
Ron looked about ready to yell back but Harry stopped him. "To ask you how you died," he said cautiously. In his experience, dying hurt and telling people about it wasn't on his to do list anytime soon and it would be bad if Myrtle reacted badly and left before they could find out.
The ghost didn't look upset and almost seemed flattered that Harry had asked. "Oh it was horrible," she said gleefully. "Olive Hornby had made fun of my hair that day and I had locked myself in here to cry."
"The door opened and I shouted 'Go away!'" Myrtle continued, ignoring Harry and Ron's exchanged looks of incredulous. "I thought they had gone when I heard hissing. It was a boy's voice so I opened the door to have a good yell at him...and then I died."
"Just like that?" Ron asked in shock, looking around warily.
"Do you remember anything else?" Harry asked hurriedly. They probably didn't have much time before the professor's remember who Myrtle was and he wanted to already be looking for Ginny by then. No offense to their professor's but after last year and their pathetic attempt to protect the stone from Voldemort and not even noticing that Quirrell was acting strange (except Snape, who was apparently ignored) Harry didn't really trust them to save Ginny in time.
"Big round yellow eyes," she said after thinking for a moment. "Over there."
She was pointing at the sink. Harry looked at Ron before making his way over to the sinks unusable faucet and traced the small snakes that were carved into the metal of the faucet. "This is it!" Harry called to the redhead. Ron shook himself and moved over to Harry's side.
"How do we get in?" Ron asked mournfully a few attempts of getting it opened later.
"How should I know?" Harry snapped, aggravated and starting to get pissed. They had been at this for twenty minutes and it seemed that his distrust of the staff was right as none of them had shown up in that time to question Myrtle. In fifty years, the only witness to the murder of one of Hogwarts students and no one had ever questioned her to find out what had killed her. This would never have happened in the Wizarding World was incompetent.
"Why won't you just open!" Harry yelled in anger, not noticing as Ron jerked back in shock. The sink gave a shuddering jerk before it began to move, slowly uncovering a giant hole.
"You're a parselmouth?!" Ron gaped, looking between both the floor and Harry as if he wasn't sure what to do next.
"I'm a what?" Harry asked, staring at the revealed entrance in shock. 'How'd I do that?'
'Remember how you asked me if we could speak spider and I told you that our voices weren't capable of it?' Gabriel asked, also in shock. 'Well we can apparently speak snake.'
"You can speak to snakes!" Ron elaborated rather unnecessarily as Harry had gotten the answer from Gabriel "Why didn't you tell me?"
"Do I look like I knew?" Harry asked sarcastically before shaking his head. "We don't have time for this. We need to get to Ginny and you can explain about parseltongue when we get back." Looking at the revealed entrance to the Chamber, Harry stepped forward and jumped, Ron not far behind him judging from the redhead's screaming as they fell.
Unlike last year where they had landed on Devil's Snare (Gabriel seemed to choke before laughing uproariously) a metal pipe supported their weight as they slid down farther than Harry thought the dungeons of the school were located. Bones, instead of a deadly plant, cushioned their fall and Harry whipped out his wand as quickly as he could while Ron landed next to him.
"Harry," Ron whimpered as he pointed, light filling the cavern from Harry's wand. Said wizard turned to look and paled at what look to be a fifty foot long snake's skin.
'Great,' Gabriel remarked silently with derision. 'It had to be an ancient basilisk, didn't it? It couldn't have been a baby, no that's too easy! It had to be over a thousand years old!'
Harry agreed with Gabriel's annoyance as he surveyed the area. The Chamber looked off to him, the magic of Hogwarts seemingly glowing brighter than Harry had ever seen it. Gabriel was also studying the magic curiously. "We need to find Ginny now," Harry whispered, standing. "Get your wand out," he instructed.
Ron did so only to moan in horror. The wand, having already been old and untaken care of, had withstood far too much during their fall and had snapped in half. Harry looked at the broken wand as Gabriel cursed every known deity in the world. It was obvious that Ron would be of no help with his wand destroyed. "Yell for help," Harry told him after thinking it over. "The professor's will look for us eventually and hopefully they'll hear you."
Ron gave an acknowledging nod before yelling upwards a mix of words that mostly consisted of 'we're down here'. He paused as Harry went to continue onwards, hugging the black haired second year before he could go any further.
"If...if it's too late," Ron seemed to stuttered, tearing up. "If Ginny's already...just get out of there. Mum wouldn't forgive you if you died trying to save her." The unsaid 'neither would I' made Harry hug the redhead back just as tightly as Ron was hugging him.
"I will," he promised before beginning his journey into the depths of the Chamber. Climbing over the snake's skin, Harry felt Gabriel ready himself in the back of their minds.
'We've got a promise to keep,' Gabriel said viciously. 'He'll pay for hurting Hermione and the other's.'
'And he better hope that Ginny is alive,' Harry added, eyes narrowed.
It was time to end this nightmare, once and for all.