Chapter 25: For Neither Can Live While The Other Survives
Snape's eyebrows climbed.
"Off frolicking in the Forest, is he?"
"No! N-no, sir. I mean, I-I don't know, but –"
Snape raised a hand, stalling Draco mid-sentence.
"Have I been harbouring under the misapprehension that Professor Quirrell's affliction was not a contagious one?"
He may be trustworthy, but he sure as Salazar isn't nice, Draco thought, blushing.
"No, sir, you're not wrong. I just… I'm worried about Harry," he explained. "I can't find him and… and what if he's in trouble, sir?"
Draco saw worry briefly flicker across Snape's face, though he couldn't quite say he was surprised. The man wasn't heartless, especially towards Harry – the year's events had proven that.
"When is Potter not in trouble," Snape muttered, barely loud enough for Draco to hear.
At that, Draco's heart rate almost doubled.
"Please, Professor, you don't understand! The Dark Lord is after the Stone!"
Horrified at the words that had just escaped him, in such a public place, Draco snapped his mouth shut. Fighting against the urge to flinch at the Professor's narrowed and evaluating gaze, he hoped that Snape would not dismiss him – would not treat him like a child.
"Come along, Mr Malfoy," Snape demanded, after a surreptitious glance along the hall. "This is hardly the place to discuss such matters."
"Sir, can I… could I speak to Professor Dumbledore?"
Snape stopped, frowning.
"And yet you came to me?"
Draco shifted guiltily.
"Well, Hermione said –"
"Ah, of course. Miss Granger has other ideas," Snape interjected, almost amused. "However, the Headmaster is not currently in the castle, and you will have to make do with me."
Draco froze at that statement.
"What do you mean he's not in the castle?"
Snape's eyes flashed.
"It is no concern of yours, nor of any student, Mr Malfoy."
Draco's panic had returned in full force.
"Don't you see, sir? It's the perfect time to steal the Stone!"
From the man's speechlessness, it appeared that the idea had not occurred to Snape. The man pinched the bridge of his nose, looking for all the world like the news had chipped a few years off his life.
"Indeed," he finally settled on, gesturing for Draco to follow him, with more urgency.
Again, Draco hesitated.
"T-there's no time, sir," Draco breathed, then lowered his voice. "The Dark Lord has Harry, and he's gone after the Stone."
Snape grabbed Draco's shoulder's, rather forcefully.
"He is gone," Snape hissed, though, if Draco was right, it didn't seem as though the man was fully convinced either.
"I know it's hard to believe, sir, but … just, please."
"What would you have me do, then, Malfoy? I am, not a Gryffindor, and neither are you," Snape growled, annoyed.
In the moment, too consumed with imagining the worst, Draco could barely feel chastised. Though, he thought – if he were a Gryffindor, he would not have gone to a teacher at all.
"I know, but –"
"Potter would not hesitate if the situations were reversed," Snape finished for Draco, sighing.
Draco nodded, wondering, not for the first time, how he'd ever survive over six more years of such Gryffindor madness – if it didn't kill him first.
Snape muttered something under his breath, something that sounded rather to Draco like: "I'll burn that thrice-damned Hat", before leaning in close.
"You will make no attempt to follow me," Snape ordered. "Is that understood?"
"Is that understood?" the professor demanded.
Seeing as Snape would not take no for an answer, Draco agreed, though reluctantly.
"Good. Now, return to the Common Room at once," Snape instructed. "And do not breathe a word of this to anyone."
Draco acquiesced – he did value his life, after all.
"We will speak later. Be sure of it," Snape added, before stalking off in the other direction.
Draco stared after him, wringing his hands in unease.
He did have a very bad feeling about this.
Harry groaned as consciousness reclaimed him, squinting at the light. In reflex, he made to lift a hand to shield his eyes, only to find them – and himself too – restrained. He struggled, pulling at the ropes, the adrenaline shooting through him shaking away his grogginess.
"Ah, ah, we don't want to further damage that leg of yours, do we? I wouldn't want to have killed the mutt for nothing."
Harry cringed at the unexpected voice, though he automatically went to seek its source, but all he could make out was a blur of shapes and colours.
A laugh – not a pleasant one, by any means.
"You really are blind without your glasses, aren't you?"
Harry blinked, trying to hide his confusion.
"It's Professor Quirrell, Potter, and I'm right here."
A laugh again – this time, mocking.
"And you, little Slytherin, are going to do something very important for me."
The memories hit Harry then. Him following Quirrell, foolishly; his wand being taken; forced into the room with Fluffy – Fluffy! Harry glanced down, and his nausea rose upon seeing his trouser leg stained red. And then his leg started throbbing too – he hadn't noticed it until then.
"Who are you?" Harry breathed. "What do you want from me?"
"Oh, they always ask that. But surely you, of all people, have figured it out?"
Harry stiffened as Quirrell's form loomed over him, but all the man did was swish his wand, and Harry blinked at the sudden clear vision. He almost gasped – everything looked so much sharper, and brighter, and better, than they'd ever had.
"That isn't permanent, unfortunately," the man tusked. "You do look much better without those hideous frames."
Harry stared at Quirrell, eyes unfocused.
"Up here, Potter. Rather rude of you to not pay attention to your teachers."
A shot of agony pierced through Harry's chest, as though he'd been stabbed – with a white-hot knife. He bit through his lip in an effort not to yell, and tasted the coppery tang of blood.
"I said look at me, Potter."
Harry whimpered, though he raised his head, still panting – he wasn't about to risk that kind of pain again.
"Good," Quirrell smirked. "You do not want to know just how much worse my master could do."
Even in his haze, Harry realised the wrongness of that sentence.
"Yes," Quirrell replied critically, then flicked his wand, dragging Harry behind him as he paced toward the centre of the chamber.
Harry moaned as his cheek slid across the floor.
"Please, sit up," Quirrell requested, and Harry was yanked into a sitting position, completely against his will.
"Now, I believe you know what this mirror is."
Harry's breath hitched. So this was where Dumbledore moved it to – but, he had warned of the dangers, so why here?
"This is the end. The last obstacle left. But, you see, Potter, no matter how hard I look, that Stone will not move through the damned glass."
Everything clicked into place, then. Draco was right, all along, and he'd been wrong. His mind raced - sure, what he wanted more than anything, at that moment, was to get that Stone, before Quirrell did.
But, he reasoned, if Quirrell knows what the mirror does, then – I can't.
"Perhaps, you will have better luck than me."
The ropes tightened around Harry, forcing him even closer to the mirror.
"Well, tell me what you see," Quirrell demanded, impatient.
Harry steeled himself, and looked into it; as he did, he thought, desperately, for the Stone to stay hidden, for it to stay safe – out of Quirrell's hands. He forced a tear to fall down his cheek, and sniffed, hoping against all hope that he would not be caught out.
"I… I see the Dursley's in prison," he lied, as he saw his reflection wink at him. "My relatives, they're the worst."
"You weren't supposed to – you're useless, boy," he snarled. "Get out of the way."
But as Quirrell was about to kick him aside, a voice spoke – and it didn't belong to the Defence professor.
"The boy knows… he knows… the Stone…"
A chill went down his spine, and apparently, Quirrell was just as affected.
"I will speak to him… let me… I want to see the boy…"
"But Master, your strength–"
Quirrell suddenly fell to his knees, hunched over, as if in pain.
"I will see the boy, Quirinus…"
Quirrell flinched, but reached up to unwrap his turban. Harry stared, sickened, as the garlic stench intensified, and the turban fell away.
"Harry Potter… we meet at last…"
Where the back of Quirrell's head should have been, there was a snake-like face, malevolent red eyes affixed solely on him.
"See, Harry? This is what I have become… and you hide what I need… to live… forever."
Horrified though he was, Harry was unable to tear his eyes away.
"Give me the Stone, Harry Potter… and I will spare your life," the face smiled, the most alarming smile Harry had ever seen, and flared its nostrils. "Join me, Harry, or you will die… as your parents did… begging me for mercy…"
"No… th-they were… they were brave and… you're lying!" Harry stammered, shaking.
Harry had never been this terrified in his life.
"Perhaps… but give me the Stone, and you will have the chance to ask them yourself… Come now, Harry, surely you would like to see them again? Lord Voldemort can make that happen…"
Harry made to reject, but the words stuck in his throat. He glanced at the mirror, longing tugging at his heart.
"Release him, Quirinus," Voldemort ordered, and almost instantly, the ropes binding Harry fell away.
Harry rubbed his sore wrists, as he subconsciously inched closer to the mirror.
"That's it… no reason to be a fool, is there, boy?" Voldemort encouraged. "From one Slytherin… to another… you have no use for bravery… only power. There is only power, Harry… and those too weak to seek it. I will offer you power… power such that you have never known…"
"Hurry up, boy!"
But then, he remembered – his life, and the life he could have had – and he stopped short.
"No," Harry declared, in a word laced with hate. "This is your fault, all of it, and I will never join you."
Rage clouded over Voldemort's features, and he yelled: "Seize him, at once!"
Running only on instinct, Harry clambered away from Quirrell's outstretched hands, and he almost made it to the wall of black flames – what he thought was his only hope – when, as his luck would have it, he tripped.
Voldemort laughed, a shrill note, as Harry sprawled.
"Kill him," Voldemort began, and Harry screwed his eyes shut, sure that he'd met his end, when –
"My Lord," a man breathed.
Harry lifted his head, weakly, and breathed a sigh of relief upon ascertaining the man's identity.
"My Lord, I –"
"Ah… Severus… my loyal servant…"
Harry's eyes widened in shock.
"Where has your loyalty been… Severus?"
He locked eyes with Snape for a split second, his professor's brimming with an emotion he could not understand, a wave of betrayal washed over him, again. As always, he thought bitterly, he could only count on himself.
Later on, Harry would wonder what on earth had possessed him in this moment, but he believed, there and then, that this would be the only chance he got – the only chance, he thought, to end it, forever. So, spurred on by anger, he moved, before he even realised what he was doing, and pounced on Quirrell, knocking him over.
As soon as he made contact, pain like he'd never felt before seared through Harry's scar, and he felt as if his head was about to split in two. Harry yelled, but gritted his teeth against the agony and pounded his fists against Quirrell's skull.
"You ruined it. You ruined it all!" Harry screamed, finally acknowledging that Quirrell was shrieking – and so too was Voldemort – and bubbling blisters were breaking out across Quirrell's face.
He realised what was happening, and it only made him more determined. A hand pulled at his robes, intent on hauling him away, but Harry would not stop. Tears streamed down his face, as a cacophony of noise echoed around him, and a wisp of vapour left Quirrell, two red slits flashing. Harry howled, realising what had just happened, and dropped his hands. The pain in his scar eased, but the pain in his heart did not. He fell to his haunches, weakened and exhausted, sobbing for the part of him that he'd just left behind.
"Harry!" he heard, in – Draco's voice? and his heart seized, hoping that his friend had not seen him like – that.
"Give me that Cloak!" Harry registered, a stern reprimand, amidst a loud buzzing in his ears.
He squinted, trying to make out his surroundings, and suddenly, everything went black.
First and foremost, Happy New Year!
Wow, okay, that was a heavy and hard chapter to write. It was similar to the original, but there were subtle (but rather large) differences, and I do hope that this climax did fit the rest of the story.
As I said before, this story is soon coming to an end, so I really hope that you enjoy these final chapters. And thank you all for joining me in this journey - whether you've been reading this for a day or since I first posted, you've all been such a huge support, and reward. Please continue to leave favourites and reviews.
Until next time.