This is my AU/Continuation of Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality. Chapter One takes the place of HPMOR Ch. 105. This story takes a different approach to HPMOR, especially with regard to Quirrell (who is not leather-pantsed: he still casts AK at will), the Philosopher's Stone, and the endgame.
Many thanks to the Reddit user /u/kulyok for her services as beta.
The words seemed to echo inside Harry's head, sparking resonances that as quickly died away, broken patterns trying to complete themselves and failing.
Tom Riddle is a
Tom Riddle was the
Professor Quirrell briefly looked expectant, but then the expression was gone. "And though I must credit your deduction, Mr. Potter - or Riddle, as the case may be - it is a little more complicated than that."
"I," Harry croaked, "what do you mean?"
The Defence Professor sighed, and his shoulders dropped, but the gun and the wand remained perfectly steady, the eyes sharp and icy. "I had rather hoped, Mr. Potter, that that would now be clear to you. No matter, we have time." His lips curled into a customary small smile. "If it puts you at ease, suffice it to say that you are only mostly Voldemort. As for me... well. Something of a riddle, Mr. Potter."
A note of hope soared in Harry's breast, buoyed still further by the fact that the Professor was upright and verbose, before his inner Slytherin shot it out of the sky in its anti-wishful-thinking instinct. Even if the Defence Professor wasn't evil it was still in his best interests to stay on guard.
Harry opened his mouth to say something - he wasn't sure what. Professor Quirrell... didn't gesture with the gun, but it suddenly somehow seemed far more prominent.
"Now. I obviously do not want to kill you, Mr. Potter, so please relax to the extent that it is reasonable to do so when a perfect Occlumens is pointing a gun at you and assuring you that he means no harm."
Harry tensed even further, and that earned him the ghost of a grin.
"I must apologise for threatening you, Mr. Potter, but you do have a staggering anti-talent for meddling." The Defence Professor's voice became clipped. "When I tell you to do so, you are going to remove your Time-Turner, which you will seize by the chain. You will then remove your pouch and emergency portkeys, and hand everything to me. We are both considering loopholes in that, so allow me to say that I have raised anti-Portkey wards, and if I do suspect that you are doing anything untoward I shall be forced to shoot you in the arm. I do not wish to harm you, but you have tourniquets in your pouch and are a good enough Occlumens to ignore the pain. Begin."
Harry swallowed and obeyed.
Harry's time machine disappeared into the flowing professorial robes, and the spares stored in his pouch floated up and deposited themselves in pockets and around the Professor's neck. Professor Quirrell pointed his wand at the pouch and muttered something vaguely Latinate, then handed it back to Harry. The gun vanished as though it had never been.
The Defence Professor smiled. "Now, Mr. Potter, today we are going to follow in the footsteps of every child in Gryffindor and a handful of the staff, and delve into a hideously dangerous maze of traps set by the greatest wizard alive. Doesn't that sound like fun?"
Some people are so likeable it's hard to hate them properly, said Draco's imagined voice in Harry's mind.
But he implied he's not Voldemort - if we can get the Stone Professor Quirrell might not die -
Waves of relief were washing through Harry, so powerful that he felt like laughing. The idea that he was wrong, that Quirrell was not the Dark Lord, and that he might not have to lose a friend again...
At that thought, Harry recalled watching Hermione Granger as her heart failed for lack of blood, as magic fled her broken shell and carried her mind with it.
He remembered Lily Potter's last stand, how she'd died with her wand in her hand, how Voldemort had stood over the corpse of a hero and laughed.
He remembered the story of the man who called for his country to unite, and the skins nailed to the wall.
He remembered the statistics, thousands dead by Voldemort's hand alone - that is, he thought about Hermione, and tried to multiply that feeling by a thousand.
And then he locked cold green eyes on the entity before him. Professor Quirrell was possibly Voldemort in some way, and that meant he couldn't afford to be happy yet.
All right. Back to being sane now.
Hermione's voice in his head was telling him not to trust Quirrell... Voldemort... Quirrellmort? Harry ignored the bizarre urge to laugh again. It was just nervousness and relief, and he didn't need that. Hermione was supported by half of Hufflepuff, the other half of which was standing up for Harry's friend and mentor. Ravenclaw was trying to remember where it had heard "something of a riddle" before. Harry set all of that aside. How can I get the truth from someone who plays "one level higher than you"?
"Mr. Potter, in all seriousness, I am indeed dying. The unicorn will sustain me only long enough for this. The Philosopher's Stone is located here, and it has power beyond what, I suspect, Dumbledore knows. Dumbledore may be able to twist himself into opposing immortality, but if he knew the healing it truly could do, he would have seized it from Flamel long ago. As you must have guessed, I need your help, Mr. Potter. I realise that it is... impolite to threaten one's friends with firearms, but I hope you'll understand, given that my life is at stake."
Harry cleared his throat and clicked a stronger, calmer, sombre aspect into place. "If Lord Voldemort has a reputation for telling the truth, Professor, I have not heard it."
"Which is why it is fortunate that you are not speaking to Lord Voldemort, Mr. Potter. Not quite, at any rate."
That's exactly what the Dark Lord Voldemort WOULD say, hissed Hufflepuff and Slytherin.
Harry shut the thought down, and considered how to ask why he should believe the Professor without offending him.
"Ssnakess can't lie," hissed Professor Quirrell.
"Two pluss two equalss four." Harry had tried to say "three". How does this work... Harry mustered the strongest Occlumency barrier he could. "Green ssmellss like-" Harry couldn't make any further Parseltongue pass his lips. "Interesting." How does Parseltongue determine the truth? Could I guess Interdicted lore by trying different statements until one of them worked, or is it just things I think are true? If that's the case, could a False Memory Charm beat it?
"Honesstly do not hold ill will towardss you. Am not truly Dark Lord in meaningful ssensse. No particular tasste for ssensseless murderss, though admit that value placcced on mosst livess iss not commenssurate with that of mossst moralisstss. Sseek Sstone to ssave own life, iss devicce of great healing power."
The drowning sense of horror had drained away, and the overwhelming relief was replaced by growing pressure.
He needed more time, he couldn't make a decision so quickly, couldn't just change his whole viewpoint again in a few seconds...
Harry ignored his brain.
Voldemort or not, the Defence Professor was not a good man. He never had been, Harry had always known that. He could cast the Killing Curse at will, would probably not lose much sleep over murdering anyone who seriously annoyed him...
But... it was idealism, sheer foolish idealism, but... he was also Harry's friend.
You didn't just give up on friends even when they were this badly wrong, not while you had a chance of saving them.
You certainly didn't let them go off and pose a risk to other people.
You didn't allow them to die through your own inaction, either.
And it wasn't as though he had much of a choice.
"All right, Professor. Let's go and get that Stone."
"Professor?" asked Harry as they came to a halt directly before the polished oaken door. "What exactly does the Stone do?"
Harry had mastered his breathing, now, and he saw the Defence Professor clearly. The man's cheeks were sunken and his limbs thin and his skin grey - the sickness hadn't all been bluff... unless Quirrell was an exceptional actor and a wizard, which he was. Of course, he could just want the Stone for...
... other reasons...
"An excellent question, Mr. Potter, and one I found myself asking. Consider, if you will, a witch or a wizard with a heart blacker far than the Dark Lord's, selfish and jealous of their ancient device, a key not only to immortality but also to enormous healing power, such that they withhold it from all. Consider also that Dumbledore, master and servant of a Phoenix, holds this person as a close personal friend."
"Flamel is a perfect Occlumens who convinced Dumbledore that he needed to keep the Stone away from people?"
"Of course. And clearly, one such as he would not tell the truth to the greatest wizard in the world, but he might enjoy leaving hints. So, Mr. Potter, bearing in mind that Flamel creates specifically gold, true gold, and lives six hundred years, and the world still does not run on happy stories, and this device is truly unique and of ancient power, what does the Philosopher's Stone do?"
"It makes other magic permanent," replied Harry almost automatically. It might have just been a guess, or it might have been some half-remembered speculation from one of the few texts on the Stone, or maybe it was the fact that gold did not tarnish or fade like lesser metals. It felt like a certain guess, along the lines of the truth about Dementors or the secret of the Killing Curse. Harry was beginning to suspect that there was some subtle secondary effect of the Interdict, lest magic ever be truly lost...
"Quite so. The Philosopher's Stone will render a Transfigured item the true substance, and grant permanence to Charms and rituals. This is is a power beyond almost any other magic. There are some very few spells and items that are truly enduring, others such as the castle Hogwarts that are sustained by a constant well of magic, and many that are fleeting, but the Philosopher's Stone imparts true endurance to any magic. Naturally, this will save my life, and I will gladly assist you in using the Stone to resurrect the late Miss Granger. Sstone truly impartss permanenccce, sshall usse it to raissse girl-child-friend."
Harry's heart did not stop, because that would be an absolutely ridiculous evolutionary adaptation, but it seemed a very accurate metaphor.
Harry started to smile. The Defence Professor was not the Dark Lord, he might actually really be able to save Hermione... if Harry had been holding a wand at that moment, he thought, he might have burned away all the Dementors of Azkaban from where he stood.
"I assume you Transfigured Miss Granger's corpse into the ring on your finger? The diamond would be the more obvious option to check, and its magic would mask that of the ring."
Harry was struggling to stay properly pessimistic. "As a certain someone would say, Professor, not paranoid enough. I hoped people would assume that, and when they tested it and failed it would provide a second layer of cover. I Transfigured her into as big a diamond toe-ring as I could, to minimise Transfiguration damage, and just hid her under my pillow when Dumbledore summoned me."
As it happened, Dumbledore had never checked the ring. It seemed likely that he had simply sensed that it was wholly mundane. Harry's recently-unlocked Time-Turner had allowed him to hide Hermione's corpse before his bed was inspected.
"Cunning indeed. Now, Mr. Potter, rest assured that we have time. Our discovery here would raise quite the hue and cry, and since your Quidditch game went uninterrupted it seems likely it shall not come to pass. Still, it does not do to tarry in any case." Professor Quirrell gestured at the door.
Harry took a deep breath and readied himself, conscious as ever of the hard weight on his left foot.