125 Chapter 125: Green Pastures

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19 March 1993, Hogwarts

Harry pondered on his conversation with Dumbledore as he made his way to the Hospital Wing. He felt vindicated, in a way, to finally get a real win against the headmaster. What he had done was essentially give the man a choice between risking his newly regained position as headmaster or not investigating Harry's involvement in the whole Chamber of Secrets fiasco.

This was the plan ever since Harry decided that he needed to get Longbottom to get into the chamber.

It was a big step, in a way, for Harry to finally stop clinging to the shadows and step into the light. When he decided that he would have to fight Riddle, he knew that he couldn't stay hidden anymore and Dumbledore's attention was more likely going to be on him.

So, the first thing he did was secure the fact that the old man wouldn't have any influence on him. This was easily done by asking Arcturus Black to take him as his ward. The paperwork took a couple of days to arrange, which was why Harry calibrated the rune to shut down Neville's consciousness for that duration.

The next step was moving the Chamber, which was done by using a mixture of compulsion charm and hypnosis on the unconscious body of the Longbottom boy. While Harry had disabled his consciousness, technically speaking, his unconscious mind still worked in the background. Giving him the image of a snake and asking him to tell that snake to move allowed Harry to analyze that particular word using his Arcane Hearing and use it to change the location of the entrance to the Chamber. It was like the boy who lived talked in his sleep, so, he wouldn't really remember anything.

The sword trick was far more advanced. Harry didn't think it would appear but didn't really discount the possibility because of whatever Destiny bullshit tended to happen around Longbottom. So, all it took was analyzing the enchantments on the sword and seeing whatever Godric Gryffindor added to it. Honestly, it was mostly Harry screwing around with it, and he had given up about making it disappear. And wasn't it a surprise, finding out that the sword disappeared? The Weasley boy wasn't one to hold his mouth.

It was like Fate itself wanted Harry to get one over Dumbledore. He didn't know if it was something he did when he messed with the sword, or if there was a hidden functionality that made it disappear when certain parameters are met, but he didn't care. It worked and that's enough.

It would have honestly been better to not have involved Longbottom at all, but it was mostly done to cover most of his bases. The Parseltongue was useful, but the fact that Neville should be protected by the prophecy meant that he had an edge that Harry could use against Riddle. It was a bit cruel, but it worked. The idiot actually killed a fucking Basilisk, with a sword that appeared out of thin air.

Changing his memories was something that Dumbledore would notice, especially considering the trauma that a memory charm would leave on the kid. Harry was many things, but he wasn't cruel. Maybe he could have used whatever bullshit his magic crest had done when they were attacked by Quirrell a year back, but he didn't know how to use it. Also, the fact that the boy who lived was in extreme pain during the encounter already hid any sign of trauma that could be caused by memory manipulation.

Still, Harry had won. He had denied Dumbledore an asset in the Basilisk corpse, let alone whatever Jörmungandr was. He had forced the man to not involve himself in his business, and most importantly, he defeated Riddle.

In a way, Harry was disappointed with the fact that the game ended. Did that make him a bad person? That he still craved the intellectual challenge of a rival, that he missed the blood pumping through his veins, the thrill of the chase against an impossible deadline.

Tom Riddle was a fascinating puzzle, a Horcrux that somehow combined with the portrait-like personality depicted in the Diary, and somehow became alive. More alive than Lord Voldemort.

It was probably a mistake, considering how unprepared Tom Riddle was when he made his first Horcrux. The soul wasn't some tangible thing that could be quantified. It's the summation of someone's character, of their true self. Theoretically speaking, making a Horcrux would make one immortal because of the paradoxical nature of someone being both alive and dead at the same time. Herpo the foul perverted the Phylactery ritual by finding out that souls that are split into pieces are still connected enough that if anchored properly could convince the world that you were still alive and that your body is the anchor. The advantage is the idea that you avoided the dangers of someone discovering your phylactery and using soul magic to literally remake you. But the main disadvantage is that splitting your soul is splitting your personality.

The idea, on principle, is to give away your ability to do something or feel something, into the book. Tom Riddle, who had accidentally killed an innocent student, wanted to get rid of the guilt he felt and unconsciously resented his complex planning, and his cunning that didn't account for him making a mistake. He put all of it into the diary, and slowly, without him noticing, started to lose those attributes, becoming the power-hungry monster that Voldemort was.

This spark of brilliance, cunning, and guilt, combined with the memories inside the diary, became a new person entirely, a broken person, who latched into Luna and wanted to create a world where she would be happy. But his prime directive was to open the Chamber of Secrets and kick out Dumbledore, so everything he did had to be related to that. Now, that was complicated enough on its own, but adding in the memories of being alive, of being a real person, Tom wanted nothing more than to live once more. So, he combined his three ambitions at once, which resulted in a chaotic complex plan, that Harry was able to stop. Oh, it was brilliant, but still too overcomplicated since he tried to do many things at once.

And Hermione paid the price for it. Harry didn't know why he felt so guilty about it. He literally couldn't have done anything quicker. It took exactly two attacks for him to narrow down everything, but the muggleborn was still trapped in the diary, in the dream world that Riddle had crafted for Luna months back. Hopefully, Dumbledore and the Unspeakables will figure something out, since that kind of magic was a bit over Harry's pay grade.

The thing was that Harry normally wouldn't have jumped into the danger like that if it wasn't for Daphne being attacked. And if he had stayed his hand, then Riddle would have probably succeeded with his ritual, and probably trapped an entire generation of British wizards and witches in his diary.

Daphne's petrification made things personal. It made him angry, far angrier than anything he had ever experienced. And that's what drove him to relentlessly hunt down Riddle.

Maybe this was a lesson to be a bit more proactive?

The whole Chamber of Secrets fiasco ended because Harry decided to dismiss the idea of subtlety and go for the kill. If he hadn't calmed himself before and made a few plans to make sure to reveal as little as possible while mitigating the consequences of his reveal.

And he did it for the girl who was petrified in front of him, her blond hair frozen, blue eyes slightly widened, her expression being a mixture of fear and panic.

"This is your first time visiting her," a voice stated behind him.

He didn't need to turn to know that it was Tracy. She and Blaise were pretty cross with him for his behaviour ever since she was petrified. Yeah, Harry didn't deal with loss very well. He was so consumed with revenge, in a vain effort to avoid the guilt he felt, that he didn't visit her. He didn't trust himself to handle it properly.

"It was about time," he simply answered.

"So, what are you going to do, now that you've avenged her?" Blaise's voice asked with a mocking tone.

Harry turned, his eyes wide, and Tracy chuckled at his reaction, "Oh, come on. You disappeared for two days straight, researching or whatever, and disappeared during the night. Except for being conveniently seen in the dormitory on the night Longbottom and Granger are found unconscious. You acted normally for a couple of days until Longbottom woke up, got called up to Dumbledore's office, and decided to visit Daphne for the first time. We know how smart you are, and most of all, we know you. Daphne probably gave you the red bean thing and was involved in your manhunt for the heir of Slytherin. When she was attacked, you couldn't handle the guilt and just decided to seek revenge, and no one even knows about it."

The Potter scion just stood there, gaping at his friends, "What? How?"

"You're like an open book to us, mate," Blaise said, "But you could have just asked us to help."

"I didn't want to involve you…"

"Well, next time, do. Here's our answer, you idiot," he tossed a red jellybean at Harry, followed by Tracy, "See, we choose the red pill. Now you don't have to act all mysterious with us."

Harry was a bit overwhelmed and nodded. After a minute of silence he stated, "I really appreciate this, guys. Can you give me a few moments with Daph? I have a few things I want to get off my chest."

"Sure thing, mate," the dark-skinned boy replied.

After the two had left, Harry took a deep breath, "You know, I have no idea if you can hear me or not. You know, theoretically being petrified means that you experience everything, but there's very little research on Basilisk stares, since, you know, people tend to die when that happens. I really should have visited you sooner, but I was so wrapped up in my guilt that I just didn't want to face you without having beat the guy who hurt you like this."

He sighed and continued, "I blamed myself for what happened to you. I should have been there to protect you, and I failed. I couldn't bear the thought that I might have been the reason you were petrified. That my games with Riddle spilt over to include you as well. I was so wrapped up in finally having a challenge that I didn't even consider that he wouldn't play with the same rules. Although, I guess I broke the rules first when I went after him the first time."

Tears welled up in Harry's eyes as he spoke, his emotions pouring out, "I want you to know that I'm so sorry, Daphne. And that I miss you, so much, more than I even imagined to be possible. You've been my anchor, my confidante, my partner-in-mischief since the very beginning. The last few days without you, I just felt empty, this void in my life that I tried to smother with my rage towards Riddle. I guess with my plan finished, with all that rage gone, I just realized how much seeing you like this hurts me. I'm not the most social person. Hell, I've never really had any friends outside of you, Tracy, and Blaise. I was ignored from the moment I was left on my aunt's doorstep, one night, and I guess I never realized that I wasn't alone anymore. What I want to say is, that the moment you wake up, I promise that I will never take you for granted again. I guess I'll see you tomorrow."

With a sad smile on his face, Harry turned and made his way to exit the infirmary. Of course, that's when he felt a spell coming at him with his arcane hearing and ducked out of the way.

Of course, he couldn't have a peaceful evening for once. It was Neville Longbottom who was pointing his wand at him with a look of rage on his face, "What the hell, Potter?"

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