A/N – Just a point of clarification from last chapter. While Harry did get hit by Malfoy's spell, it wasn't like his leg was about to fall off or he was spraying arterial blood everywhere. It was just a minor cut, which, combined with the black Hogwarts robes, means that McGonagall might not have even noticed it. And for those who think it was unrealistic that he was punished, it happens. I had a friend in high school who got attacked by two other boys. He fought back, and when the teachers found them, he was the one standing, and thus was harshly punished, even though he had a broken nose. Sometimes teachers make quick decisions without getting all the facts. Consider how harshly Harry was punished in book 6, even though Malfoy was about to use an unforgiveable on him. Granted, that was Snape's doing, but none of the other teachers protested the punishment.

And note that McGonagall initially took 50 points from both houses. It was Harry arguing back that cost him the extra 50 points. From our perspective, Harry's got a valid point, but in McGonagall's eyes, Harry is just complaining about a fair punishment.

Chapter 10: Solving Problems with Bedsheets

It's amazing how quickly people's opinions can change in a short time, Harry thought cynically to himself. Once people found out that he was singlehandedly responsible for the largest drop in house points in memory, everything that he had done before now was forgotten. Even students in Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw seemed to be angry at him for ruining the chance to dethrone Slytherin. Malfoy, being the git that he was, played up his rather minor injuries to portray himself as the victim of a vicious, out-of-control Harry. And somehow, everyone seemed to buy it.

To Harry's surprise, his argument that he was defending himself after being attacked by three Slytherins was just as ineffective with the other students as it had been with McGonagall. Percy Weasley, of all people, had lectured him on the importance of restraint and obedience to the rules.

"If you want to win so badly that you'll let yourself get beat up for a stupid, meaningless award, that's just fine. I'm going to defend myself." Percy's ears had turned bright pink, whether out of embarrassment or anger, Harry didn't know, and he didn't bother to find out, walking up the stairs to the dorm before the prefect could respond.

But perhaps the worst confrontation came a few days later at the start of Quidditch practice.

"I'm sorry, Alicia, I must have misheard you", Harry said, his voice deceptively calm. "What did you just say?"

Alicia Spinnet seemed slightly unnerved by the obvious hostility in Harry's eyes, but answered the question anyway. "I said it's just a pity that all our hard work has been undone by a little boy that can't control his temper."

"I didn't realize having a feast decorated with Gryffindor colors meant so much to you. Tell you what? Next time a group of Slytherins is looking for someone to beat up, I'll point them in your direction." His smile turned bloodthirsty as he continued, "I'll even help them out."

"Look, we're all on the same team here," Angelina tried to intercede, while the other members of the team were silent, just looking awkwardly at the fight.

"Joy, stuck on a team with a self-centered brat who shouldn't even be allowed to play and that doesn't care how his actions impact others," Alicia snarled sarcastically as she glared at the younger boy.

A year ago, Harry would likely have backed down. After years of being beaten down by the Dursleys (metaphorically for the most part, unless Dudley was involved) he had learned not to stand up for himself unless it really mattered. All it resulted in was more punishment. But now, Harry knew better. He had value. He had worth. He certainly didn't have to put up with people's abuse for things that weren't even his fault. And if nobody else was going to stand up for him, he would stand up for himself.

"You don't like it, take it up with McGonagall. She's the one that stuck me on this team without even asking if I wanted to play. And she's the one who deducted a ridiculous number of points for having the nerve to defend myself when attacked." Harry's voice was as cold as ice. "But in the end, it doesn't matter, because if you think I'm going to just sit here and be insulted by a stupid little bint like you and the rest of the Gryffin-dorks, you've got another thing coming. I quit."

He turned and began to walk out of the room. "You can't quit," Oliver shouted. "We need you." Harry just kept walking.

"Harry, I'm sure she didn't mean it," Angelina tried.

Harry laughed bitterly as he turned to look back at his former teammates. "Oh, she meant it alright. And if you really cared about me being on the team, I guess you should have told the ugly cow over there to shut her mouth. She's been shooting snide comments at me for weeks and not one of you said a thing. In fact, I don't think any of you have spoken to me lately, unless it's to insult me for something you think I did wrong. You and the rest of the morons up in the tower have made it perfectly clear you don't want me in Gryffindor. You don't get to treat me like pond scum and then expect that I'll try to win a trophy for you. Good luck with my replacement," he called as he pushed through the doorway, leaving the stunned Gryffindor team behind.

Not surprisingly, Harry's refusal to play for Gryffindor in the final match didn't make him any more popular. Even Ron Weasley, who it seemed was constantly trying to cozy up to Harry, had distanced himself for this 'betrayal'. Harry just ignored the insults. "Bloodied, but Unbowed," he muttered to himself when the snide, derisive comments got to be too much. When he first saw it over the summer, he hadn't fully understood the poem that his mother had put on the wall in the office at Timeland. Now, however, he could more readily appreciate the strength of will that it took to stand strong against the 'bludgeonings of chance'.

He was particularly angered when McGonagall called him to her office, not in an attempt to deal with the horrendous treatment he had been subjected to, but rather to confiscate his broom. As she explained it, the only reason he had been allowed to have it in the first place was because he was on the Quidditch team. Since that was no longer the case, he no longer had any justification for such an exception to the rules.

He felt a little bad that Hermione and Neville were getting a bit of the same treatment as well, but figured that it was their choice to stay friends with him. It was frustrating that Hermione seemed to agree somewhat that he deserved to be punished (albeit, perhaps not so harshly), but at least Neville was firmly on Harry's side.

The lack of Quidditch practice gave Harry quite a bit more time, which was a pleasant thing in Harry's mind. Even though he wasn't nearly as concerned about his classes as his bushy-haired friend, he did still want to do reasonably well, and so the extra time quickly filled up with more studying and spell practice. He could now cast every spell they had covered this year perfectly with no hesitation, and had continued to refine his abilities with some additional spells from the textbooks.

Weeks passed, and the exams grew nearer and nearer. Harry just couldn't wait for the school year to end. After all the frustrations of Hogwarts, it would be nice to be back in the real world, where his only concern was his relatives. And Harry had a plan for them.

One of the potions he had paid particular attention to when he first discovered Timeland was called Unctuous Unction, which made the person who took drank it think that whoever the potion was keyed to was their best friend. While Harry had been a bit concerned about the morality of such a potion at first, after so many weeks of abuse, he just didn't care anymore. The potion wasn't too difficult to brew, nor were the ingredients particularly expensive. There was a note that the more magically powerful a person was, the more potion would be required, so he figured that it wouldn't take much to affect muggles like the Dursleys. And if worst came to worst, he had disguising potions and aging potions. It shouldn't be too difficult to just leave and live on his own for a few months.

Sometimes, it seemed as though the thought of how wonderful everything would be during the rapidly approaching summer was the only thing keeping him sane.

Neville stared, open-mouthed, as Harry finished describing everything that had happened during his detention. Hermione, however, was in what Harry called 'deep-thinking mode', a scowl on her face as she bit her lower lip. "It is surprising that Firenze knew about the stone," she finally said.

Harry just stared at her. "Really? I just about got killed by a Ringwraith/Myrddraal thing and that's the part that you focus on?"

"Well, I'm glad you're okay, and horrified that you went through that, but I did think that my observation was an important thing that you maybe didn't notice," Hermione defended herself.

Neville shrugged. "Maybe Hagrid let it slip? He's not exactly the best at keeping secrets."

Hermione nodded slowly. Harry, however, still felt the whole thing smelled fishy. Why would Dumbledore include Hagrid in his secret plans if he knows Hagrid is so bad at keeping secrets? He knew from his mother's diary that Hagrid had been considered a fixture at Hogwarts even during her time, meaning that Dumbledore must have known Hagrid for several decades. Surely long enough to know that the large man could not be trusted with such important hidden knowledge.

"So, if Firenze's little hints are right, that thing was actually Voldemort. And he's trying to get the stone so he can cure himself and be back to full strength." Harry sighed in frustration. "Great. The classmates that're supposed to be like family hate me for defending myself, I've got a teacher possibly trying to kill me, and now it turns out Voldemort might be returning. It's amazing how the magical world makes even being stuck with the Dursleys look pleasant," he finished angrily, ignoring the concerned looks from his friends at the mention of his less-than-pleasant relatives.

"So, what do we do?" Neville asked after a few moments.

"What can we do? We're three first years," Harry responded bitterly. "McGonagall won't believe us about any of this."

"I'm sure everything will be fine. Dumbledore is the only one that Voldemort ever feared. Everyone knows that. He won't try anything as long as the Headmaster is here," Hermione said reassuringly.

Harry wasn't so sure that he agreed, but chose not to say anything. Nothing he said would make any difference, after all.

In some ways, Harry actually felt like the tests were a bit of a let-down. I wonder if this is how Hermione feels all the time? You put so much effort preparing for something and then it's a lot easier than you were expecting. It's actually kind of disappointing. His eyes widened and he physically shook his head to derail that train of thought when he realized that he had been wishing that the end-of-year exams had been harder. Clearly, he had been spending too much time around Hermione. That, or whatever she had was contagious.

There was now less than one week remaining before they would be free for the summer. Harry couldn't wait. With tests finally done, the only thing that people were talking about now was the final quidditch game of the season. Ravenclaw vs. Gryffindor, to determine who would win the Cup. It wasn't looking good for Gryffindor, and some people continued to blame Harry for that. In some ways, he agreed. But if they wanted him to play, they shouldn't have treated him like dirt for so long.

From what Harry had overheard, his replacement as seeker, a burly second year named Cormac McLaggen, was causing quite a bit of frustration for the other members. Ravenclaw was easily the best of the three other teams, with a nearly unstoppable chaser line that had been together for 3 years, and a skilled sixth year for Seeker. The general consensus in Gryffindor was that the lions' relatively inexperienced chasers would have a hard time keeping up, which meant that the best chance for victory would be for the seeker to catch the snitch before the Claws were more than 140 points ahead. Even a tie would mean that the house of the supposed bookworms would win the cup, because they had scored so many more points in their other games.

Nobody had any confidence that McLaggen would be successful. He was a bit of a braggart, constantly trying to tell others how to play their positions. And while he was skilled on a broom, and knew a great deal about the game, he just wasn't the level of seeker that would be needed. Oliver had been giving Harry some speculative looks as the game drew nearer, which Harry had mixed feelings about. After all, winning the cup would show everyone that they were wrong to treat him like that, but still, it would also suggest that their treatment of him had been forgotten. Not to mention, if he did rejoin the team and failed, that would only make things worse. No doubt his detractors would then blame everything on him. It was a mess, to be sure. And of course, there was no guarantee that Oliver would ask Harry to rejoin the team at all.

"The Headmaster's not here."

It took a while for Hermione's comment to register amongst all the thoughts of his Quidditch dilemma. "What?" Harry finally asked as the trio sat down for lunch.

Hermione looked somewhat scared. "The Headmaster's not here. He wasn't here at breakfast, and he still isn't here now."

Harry turned to look. Sure enough, Dumbledore's familiar, bearded face was nowhere to be seen.

"Where could he be?" Neville wondered aloud.

Harry sighed in frustration. Despite his mixed feelings about Dumbledore, and his quite uncharitable feelings toward his head of house, he also didn't want the stone to be stolen. "Let's talk to McGonagall. Dumbledore needs to know that someone is after the stone."

McGonagall proved to be just as helpful as she had always been.

"The Headmaster is a busy man with many obligations," she said, peering sternly over her glasses at the three students in front of her. "There are some complicated issues and debates going on right now in our government in which Professor Dumbledore plays a crucial role. I will notify him that you wish to speak with him, but I am sure that whatever it is, it can wait."

"It's about the Philosopher's Stone," Harry cried out in frustration. "We think someone is trying to steal it."

McGonagall dropped the books she was carrying in shock. "I don't know how you three found out about that, but I assure you, the stone is perfectly safe. No one can possibly steal it, it's too well protected."

Hermione opened her mouth to protest, but Harry just pulled her away without saying a word. "Don't waste your breath," he said bitterly when they were out of earshot of the strict professor. "She never listens to anything."

The three Gryffindors walked back up to the tower. "It's the perfect time," Hermione said as she looked out the common room window to where most of the students were playing on the grounds below. "Everyone is relaxed now that school is over. I bet even the teachers aren't paying as much attention now as normal."

"So, what do we do?" Neville asked, looking as unsure and scared as Harry had ever seen.

"We wait and hope that Dumbledore is back at dinner and talk to him then. If he's not, we'll cross that bridge when we come to it," Harry replied with more confidence than he felt.

Not surprisingly, the Headmaster was still nowhere to be seen when dinner came around.

Harry could feel Neville's eyes boring into the back of his head the whole way back to Gryffindor tower. The trio quickly found a table in the corner where they could talk quietly without being overheard.

"He's not back," Hermione said unnecessarily.

"So, what now?" Neville asked, still looking at Harry.

The messy-haired boy looked down at the ground with his head in his hands. Taking a deep breath, he looked up at his two friends. "We steal the stone first." Both Neville and Hermione looked frightened, but they nodded in agreement.

"I've got my cloak, which will help, but we should still grab anything else that might be useful," Harry continued. "We know how to get past Fluffy, but we don't know what other obstacles there are. We'll need to be prepared."

"Right," Hermione said quietly, then ran up to the girl's dorm.

Harry and Neville entered the first-year boys' dorm. Thankfully, they were the only ones there. Opening his trunk, Harry grabbed a space expanded backpack. "This should hold everything we need," he said.

Neville whistled in surprise and appreciation. "Space expanded? That's brilliant! Where did you get it?"

"Odds and ends shop in Diagon Alley," Harry lied remorselessly as he began to shove everything he could find that could possibly be useful into the bag. He trusted Neville, but still wasn't comfortable telling his friend about Timeland and the other things he had discovered from his parents, especially given how supportive his Gran was of Dumbledore.

"Umm, Harry," Neville began timidly. "Did you realize that you are putting you're putting the bedsheets into the backpack?"

Harry nodded. "They might be useful somehow. Maybe as a rope or something."

Neville shrugged, then pulled his own sheets and blanket off and added them to Harry's gear. "Leave the bed cover," Harry instructed. "That way people won't notice that we've packed the sheets."

The boys regrouped with Hermione down in the common room, once more sitting in the corner. As usual, nobody had anything to say to them. One by one, the students in the common room walked up the stairs to the dormitories, until it was just the three of them left.

"Last chance to back out," Harry said softly. He couldn't help but smile a little at his friends' fervent refusal.

The three preteens stepped out of the room. The fat lady was gone from her portrait, so there was now no going back. Taking a deep breath, Harry began to lead them down the corridor, whispering softly. "I've got my cloak, but it would be tough for us all to fit, and we'd be likely to trip. We'll just listen carefully, and if we hear anything, we can stop and hide under it."

The others nodded in acknowledgement.

They walked quickly but quietly. Fortunately, they didn't have too far to go. But as they neared the third floor, it seemed that their luck had run out. Noises could clearly be heard coming their way. Harry felt as though his heart would break out of his chest, it was beating so loud as the three teens huddled under the cloak, hoping that whoever it was would pass quickly.

His throat caught for a minute as he heard the high, malicious chuckling of the resident poltergeist, then he relaxed. Sure enough, about ten seconds later, Peeves turned the corner ahead. "Who's there?" he called. "Peeves knows someone's there, even if I can't see you."

Ignoring Hermione and Neville's panic, Harry pushed the cloak aside. "Hello Peeves," he said with a smile. "I believe we have an agreement about situations like this?"

Peeves studied the students for a moment, and Harry worried for a moment that he would back out on his promise, but then small creature smiled. "I remember. Should Peevesie help Potty?"

"We're going to the forbidden corridor down the hall. If anybody else comes, I'd like you to make some sort of a distraction to lead them away."

Peeves chuckled. "Naughty Potty. It's going to cost extra…"

"I'll bring more next year," Harry promised. When the poltergeist nodded in agreement, he pulled Hermione and Neville to their feet and began to lead the way back toward where the stone was hidden.

"What arrangement do you have with Peeves?" Hermione asked quietly.

"I gave him some pranking supplies, and he leaves me and my friends alone," Harry replied absentmindedly, paying more attention to his surroundings than to his female friend.

"What supplies?" Hermione demanded.

"Shh," Neville whispered.

"Sorry," Hermione responded, much more quietly, then turned back to Harry. "What supplies?" she repeated.

"Just some basic pranking things. Some dungbombs. A potion that turns your hair funny colors. Other harmless stuff like…" Harry struggled for a minute to think of what else he had given the poltergeist, "enchanted centipedes."

This was apparently the wrong thing to say. "What?" Hermione shrieked. Both boys turned to glare at her. "Shh!"

Hermione looked around for a minute, then turned back to Harry, as angry as he had ever seen her. "You gave Peeves those centipedes," she hissed.

Shocked by her vitriol, Harry just nodded. "Why?" he finally asked.

"Do you have any idea what he did with those?" she demanded.

"No? Why? Did it affect you? He wasn't supposed to do anything to either of you."

"No, it didn't affect me, it was just on the Ravenclaw girls. I heard Padma telling Parvati."

"What did he do?" Neville asked curiously.

Hermione blushed. "Well, I'm not going to tell you exactly what it was, but you should be ashamed of yourself."

"Whatever, we can talk about this later," Harry said as the door, already partially ajar, came into view. The soft sounds of a harp could be heard, along with the steady, rhythmic breathing of three large heads.

Harry pushed the door open a little more, and they looked in to see Fluffy fast asleep as a small golden harp on the floor played a soft tune. There was a trap door in the floor, and the three students walked over and opened it carefully. Inky blackness awaited them.

"Should we jump?" Neville suggested, though it was clear he was hoping somebody else had a different idea.

Harry resisted the urge to insult McGonagall. If she hadn't confiscated his broom, this would have been simple. Then he remembered what he had said to his friend earlier in the dorm. He set the backpack down and began pulling out the sheets. "Don't need to jump. We'll climb down," he said with a grin.

They tied the sheets together, and tied a massive knot on the end, which they slipped under the door and wedged tight in the crack by the hinge. There was a moment of panic when the harp stopped playing, but at Neville's quick call of, "Play repeat," the music began once more.

"How did you know how to do that?" Hermione asked as Harry climbed down the makeshift rope.

"My gran has a harp like that," the boy responded.

A few minutes later, Harry made it back up to his friends. "There's some sort of plant down there, but I'm not sure what it is." He pulled himself out of the hole to make room for their resident herbology genius.

"It's Devil's Snare," Neville called up softly a minute later. "If you use a lumos before you step on it, it will go dormant."

Neville's instructions proved correct. It didn't take long for Hermione to climb down, and then Harry went last. It was a strange feeling to stand on the slowly moving plant, but it didn't make any moves to stop them as they carefully made their way down the stone passageway. In the back of his mind, Harry was a little bit confused. Devil's Snare may be a challenge if caught off guard, but they had learned about it earlier that year. It shouldn't be enough to deter a determined thief.

Harry could hear a rustling noise ahead as the passageway turned and opened into a large, well-lit chamber. The air above them was filled with hundreds of shiny objects flying around quickly. Harry looked more closely, before understanding. "They're keys! Keys with wings!"

Neville pointed to some brooms leaning against one wall. "Maybe we're supposed to catch the right one," he suggested.

Harry shook his head. "I've been on a cursed broom once before, and that was plenty for me. I'm not going to trust a broom that was specifically left down here."

"Do you have more sheets?" Hermione asked. "We could tie some weights down on the corners, levitate the sheet over the correct key, then cancel the charm, trapping the key in the blanket."

It took a few minutes to find the correct key. Harry was extremely grateful for the new glasses he had purchased over the summer. He couldn't imagine how tough it would have been had he still been trying with the incorrect prescription his relatives had given him before. Once they saw the key, it was quite simple. Though Neville's charmwork was still a bit spotty, he was able to do the levitation charm well enough to lift his corner of the sheet.

The sheet gradually moved over the slowly moving key. "Drop it on three." Harry said.

"Is that one-two-three then drop, or one-two-drop as you say three?" Hermione asked.

Harry was concentrating so hard on the key above them, he had to think for a minute to understand what she was saying. "I'll say one, two, three, drop," he responded.

"Okay," the girl said.

Harry could see that Neville was struggling, so began the count quickly. "One, two, three, DROP!" Without the spell to hold it up, the blanket was pulled down by the heavy books they had tied to the corners. All three students gave a soft cheer as the key they needed was trapped and pulled to the ground, along with about a dozen others.

They pulled the keys out one at a time. It was Neville that finally grabbed the right one, and they all trotted over to the heavy door. Sure enough, the door opened easily. That wasn't much of a challenge either, Harry thought, but focused instead on the next challenge.

A massive chessboard filled the room. "Do we have to play our way across?" Hermione asked. Without waiting for a response, she added, "And I bet that we're supposed to take the place of some of the pieces, as well. That's the only reason for it to be so large. Otherwise, you could just as easily have a regular sized board and the door only unlocks after you've won."

"I'm starting to wish we'd brought Weasley along," Neville muttered.

The mention of their red-headed classmate reminded Harry of the present he had originally purchased for the boy. He began digging through the backpack. "Do I have it?" He pulled one object after another out. "Nope, nope, that's not it, nope, YES!" He held the automatic chessboard triumphantly, much to his friends' confusion.

"This is an automatic chessboard. There's got to be some way that we can use it to get across. And it's way better than Weasley. On the hardest setting, it beats me faster than he ever could," Harry explained.

Hermione looked at the board, then back at the chess pieces in the room, obviously thinking deeply. "We're supposed to take the place of the black pieces. So the room will be white. If we play on Harry's board as white, we can put whatever move the room does onto Harry's board. Then, whatever move the board does, we use that as our move in the room." She slowly sped up as she gained confidence in what she was saying, a broad smile on her face. "It will end up with the room and the board playing against each other. We just have to make sure that we correctly mimic their moves."

"That's easy enough," Harry said as he switched the board to the hardest setting and began setting up the pieces. "The most powerful pieces will probably be the safest, so Hermione, you take king, Neville can take the queen, and I'll take one of the rooks."

He looked to see that Neville had already taken the place of the kingside rook, and Hermione was just stepping on to the square of the queen. "You're the king, Harry," Neville said.

With a sigh, he took his place, and the game began. To Harry's great relief, his faith in the small board was well justified. It took less than two dozen moves to checkmate the white king. Now that the game was over, all three students relaxed noticeably. Even though it required very little actual thought, it had still been the most stressful challenge by far. Of course, the brutality shown when the pieces attacked each other probably had something to do with that.

It was a relief that the troll in the next room was already dead or unconscious. Harry had no desire to repeat the near-death experience from his last encounter with a troll.

Neville jumped in fright when strange colored flames rose up in front and behind them as they entered the next room. Harry stared at the seven bottles on the table curiously as Hermione read the riddle.

"Brilliant," she said. "This isn't magic – it's logic – a puzzle. A lot of the greatest wizards haven't got an ounce of logic, they'd be stuck here forever."

Neville looked mildly offended for a minute, then shrugged. "That's probably fair."

"Let me see the riddle," Harry said. He read it once, then pulled out some paper. Setting the poem on the table where they could both see, Harry and Hermione went to work.

So, poison on nettle wine's left side. That means nettle wine cannot be #1. But poison could be #7, because there are 3 poisons, and only 2 wine. Harry made a few marks on his paper, then continued.

Neither the largest nor the smallest has poison. A quick glance at the bottles on the table showed that the second from the right was the "giant", while the third from the left was the "dwarf".

The next clue didn't seem to help him at that point, but Harry smiled at the final clue. The second left and second from the right are the same. That means that they're either both poison or both nettle wine. And since I know that the giant can't be poison, that means that #2 and #6 must be nettle wine. So, #1 and #5 must be poison.

"Got it," Hermione announced proudly.

"Let me finish to make sure that we have the same answer," Harry said quickly.

He glanced back at the third clue. If the ends are different, but neither lets us go forward, then the one on the right must be the potion that sends us back, because we've used all the nettle wine and it can't be poison. That means we only have #3 and #4 left. And #3 is the dwarf, which can't hold poison, so that must be the potion that lets us go forward.

"The smallest one lets us go forward, and the one on the far right lets us go back, right?" he said, looking to Hermione for confirmation. It might have been just his imagination, but Hermione almost looked disappointed for just a second, but she nodded nevertheless.

"That's what I got, too," she confirmed.

"It doesn't look like there's much in there," Neville said doubtfully.

Harry looked at the tiny bottle, then back at his friends. Neville was right. There wouldn't be enough for all of them.

"Go back and make McGonagall get Dumbledore – whatever you have to do. I'll go ahead and stop Snape or Voldemort or whoever it is."

Neville looked shocked. Hermione looked like she was about to cry. After a second, the girl threw herself forward, wrapping Harry in a rib-crushing hug. "Be careful," she said.

"Just get Dumbledore as fast as you can," Harry said. With a nod to Neville, Harry turned back to the black flames that lead to the next room. He tipped his head back and swallowed the contents of the bottle, belatedly wondering if perhaps whoever it was that had come before had switched the order of the potions on the table, and what that would mean for him, but it was too late now.

An icy cold filled his body. "I think it's working," he said to his friends.

"Good luck," Neville said as he took a drink from the other bottle. Hermione nodded in fervent agreement, concern evident on her face.

Taking a deep breath, Harry stepped through the flames.

A/N – The poem Harry was thinking of is Invictus, by William Ernest Henley. Seriously, one of the greatest poems of all time, IMHO, and a perfect fit for my version of HP. The same poem was referenced in the prologue, and it'll pop up a few more times, as well.

Until I reread this section of the book, I hadn't remembered just how badly Harry was treated for losing those points. Everybody is quick to point out how he was treated in Chamber of Secrets, but this is arguably worse. After all, in CoS, the students actually thought their lives were on the line, and Harry had a talent that was heavily associated with Voldemort. That's at least somewhat understandable. Shunning and insulting a kid for weeks who was excessively punished for a minor offense is absurd. That 'not talking to Harry for weeks' thing? That's canon. And even when they found out the story, nobody argued that the one to blame was really McG (even Fred and George, which just makes them hypocrites). Needless to say, this Harry is not going to be quite as forgiving.

I'm a bit surprised that some people thought that I was making McGonagall's actions last chapter ridiculously over the top. In canon, she took 50 points from each of the Gryffindors for sneaking out at night, just minutes after she had taken only 20 points from Slytherin for Malfoy doing the exact same thing. Punishing a minor offense so harshly that it completely throws off the house cup competition? And then ignoring the following weeks or even months of emotional abuse against a student in her own house? That's ridiculous.

And no, I'm not ever going to explain what Peeves did with the centipedes. Use your imagination! :)