Harry Potter & the Philosopher's Stone: Take Two
Disclaimer: I own nothing but the plot switch and any original characters I may add into the mix as I deem necessary. Everything else belongs to J.K. Rowling. Should any other literary references be used, they will be so noted at that point.
Dialogue is in double quotes ("") and Thoughts are in single quotes ('').
In the years that would follow, Harry would wonder how he had managed to get through his first-year exams with the worry that Voldemort was about to bust into Hogwarts and carry him off. Or kill him. Or just leave him in brutalizing pain. Or all three. It was also blisteringly hot, and sometimes even the strongest cooling charms did little to deflect the waves of heat.
"At least your common room is underground," whinged Ron. "The Tower is bloody awful this time of year!"
Harry's Slytherin housemates were a little more understanding than the Gryffindors were about Harry's fear of Voldemort, but even the thought of Voldemort crashing the party, so to speak, was not enough to dislodge their fear of not passing first year exams; as Hermione had pointed out, without them, they wouldn't be entering second year. Even the children of Death Eaters could not fully appreciate the magnitude of fear that Harry was harbouring; they had grown up after the fall of the Dark Lord.
Their exams were completed with specially provided quills that had been enchanted with an anti-cheating charm. They took written as well as practical exams. In Charms, they had to make a mango tap-dance across a table. In Transfiguration, they had to change mouse into a cigar box. Points were added for how pretty the box was, but taken away if it retained a tail or whiskers. Neville and Hermione were particularly relieved to know that the mice would all be reverted to form, with no harm done, after exams were finished. Snape made everyone nervous in the Practical Potions Probe, even his own house, hovering over their shoulders, as they tried to remember how to make a forgetfulness potion.
Their last exam was History of Magic, for which there was simply a written. Hermione and Pansy gloated to each other after it was over for both Houses on how easy it had been and how they did not have to know all about Elfric the Eager or the Goblin Uprising of 394. They actually wanted to go over the exam papers, but Ron said it made him ill, so the group wandered out towards the lake to relax.
Harry was rubbing his scar, staring out across the deceptively calm surface of the lake. "I wish I knew what this means," Harry said to his friends at large.
Pansy looked up briefly from a book Hermione had in her lap. "Go to Madam Pomfrey," she suggested.
"No," Harry shook his head, "I don't think I'm sick. It's more like a warning that something is coming."
"Did you ever talk to Professor Snape," Draco asked.
Blaise nodded. "The next morning after breakfast. We learned from Bulstrode's fine example never to intercept the Professor on his way to strong coffee!"
Draco chortled at this.
"But he couldn't help us. He said he would take it up with the Headmaster, and that he was keeping an eye on Quirrell. That, and as long as Dumbledore is around, we shouldn't have anything to worry about."
"Plus," Neville added, "Hagrid would quit before he'd be unfaithful to Dumbledore."
"Purposely unfaithful, that is!" Harry jumped up. "That's what has been bothering me! Isn't it rather convenient that a stranger showed up with a dragon egg – something Hagrid has always wanted more than anything else in the world – and is willing to risk it in a game of cards?"
Hermione and Pansy looked at each other, dawning horror evident in both their eyes as they realized what Harry meant.
"We have got to go talk with Hagrid right now!" Harry sped off towards the Gamekeeper's hut, Hermione and Pansy hot on his heels, the rest following gamely, if a bit perplexed, behind them.
Harry rapped forcefully on the door, causing Fang to bark noisily from inside in return. "Back Fang, Back! Down Boy!" came Hagrid's gruff voice.
He pulled the door open cautiously, struggling to keep his slobbery boarhound at his heels. His face lit upon seeing Harry. "Harry! Come on in! Ah, yeh have the lot with yeh! Come on in. 'ow were yeh exams?"
Hermione and Pansy beamed and began telling Hagrid all about the exams and where they thought they had erred until Harry sighed and motioned to Hermione to stop.
"Hagrid," said Harry, "when you won the dragon egg in Knockturn Alley . . . did you see your opponent in the game at all?"
Hagrid shook his head. "Nah, but that 'snot that unusual in such a shady place as the Hog's Head Tavern, Harry. Lots o' folks don't want anyone to know who they or, more often, what they look like. Lots o' hags down there, yeh know?" This last bit said in a whisper; or at least, as much of a whisper as Hagrid was capable.
"What did you talk to him about," asked Neville, "did he mention Hogwarts at all?"
Hagrid closed his eyes in thought. "He might've at that, wanted to know if I had any experience in dealing with temperamental animals. Told 'im after dealing w'Fluffy a lil' dragon would be a cinch!"
Very cautiously, Draco asked, "Was he curious about Fluffy?"
"O'course!" Hagrid cried, "Tol' 'im, 'how many three-headed dogs do yeh run 'cross?'" Hagrid nodded. "Tol' 'im yeh just got to know how to soothe a beast. Bit o' music and Fluffy nods right off –"
Hagrid stopped abruptly, looking horrified.
"Shouldn't a tol' yeh that!"
"Hagrid," Hermione said gently, "did you tell the person with the dragon egg how to deal with Fluffy?"
Hagrid just continued to stare at them. Harry took one look at the Gamekeeper's distraught face, looked at his friends, pointed out the door, and ran out abruptly.
"We'll see you later, Hagrid," Blaise called over his shoulder.
The seven friends raced into the Entrance Hall, which seemed rather gloomy after the bright sunshine. "We've got to tell Dumbledore," Harry said between gasps for air, "Hagrid pretty much insinuated that he told that person how to get past Fluffy. It was probably Quirrell!"
Pansy nodded. "You're right. Neville was too. Hagrid would never betray Dumbledore on purpose, but he talks about things he shouldn't to people he barely knows. He didn't do this to hurt anyone; he is simply too trusting."
With heavy hearts, they headed towards the entrance to the Headmaster's Office, where they ran into Professor McGonagall, her arms full of books.
"What are you seven doing inside on a day like this? Your exams are finished; you should be outside enjoying the weather."
"We have to see Professor Dumbledore, Ma'am," explained Harry earnestly.
The Deputy Headmistress looked over her glasses at Harry. She couldn't help but like the boy; she always had, but she would be lying to herself if she said his Slytherin side didn't unnerve her a bit. She felt, perhaps, that it was showing through now.
"Mr. Potter, there couldn't possibly be anything urgent enough that you had to see the Headmaster about."
Harry stepped closer to the woman and dropped his voice to a whisper. "It's about the Philosopher's Stone."
Whatever she was expecting him to say, it was not that, and, to Hermione's dismay, Professor McGonagall unceremoniously dropped her armload of books onto the hard Stone floor.
"Mr. Potter, I have no earthly idea how knowledge of that particular item came to you, but I assure you it is perfectly safe."
"I assure you it isn't," Draco said. Hermione nodded in agreement.
Professor McGonagall sighed. "The Stone is well protected by several professors here."
"We must see the Headmaster, please," breathed Harry, rather desperately.
"Mr. Potter! The Headmaster cannot see you; he was called away to London rather urgently this morning." She stooped down to pickup her books. "Now, please go back outside. If I see you lot inside before the next meal, I will be forced to deduct points. Yes, even from my own House, Miss Granger. Now, shoo!"
The group trudged back outside and sat morosely on the steps to Hogwarts. "It's going to be tonight," Harry said firmly. "I know it is. Quirrell found out a way to get past Fluffy and he will go after the Stone for Voldemort this evening."
Draco nodded. "I bet that urgent message from London was a fake."
A shadow fell over them. Harry looked up to see the stern face of his Head of House.
"Good afternoon," he said smoothly.
"Good afternoon, sir," the group chorused softly.
Snape quirked an eyebrow at the sullen teens. "Your exams are completed and it is a lovely day out. What on earth is wrong with the lot of you? The rest of your classmates are celebrating . . . although I dare say some may be celebrating the end of their first year at Hogwarts a bit prematurely," he concluded, a bit of his usual sarcastic vein staunchly in place.
Not one of the Gryffindors jumped to his bait. Professor Snape sighed and sat down next to Harry.
"Now," he said, "tell me what is going on." His words were clipped and precise.
Harry looked at his friends. They leaned in towards Snape so that no one would over hear them.
"Oh, for Merlin's . . ." Professor Snape, although willing to do his duty when members of his house were involved in a group of disturbed students, he was not willing to have this many of them clustered around as if he were a mother hen. He pulled out his wand and cast a quick silencing spell around the group. He leaned back slightly from the lot of them.
"From the beginning, or at least, as close as is necessary."
"Sir," began Harry, "we are as sure as we can be that Hagrid accidentally let it slip to a cloaked stranger in Knockturn Alley how to control Fluffy. He told us under minimal prodding and then was horrified. But he would have been so wrapped up in what he was involved with that night that we don't think he would have realized he had slipped up."
"We know he would never intentionally betray Hogwarts, sir," continued Pansy, "but you know he can be very trusting, often of the wrong sort of people."
Snape sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose between his fingers.
"Have you told the Headmaster?"
"We tried, to, sir," said Neville, a bit nervously, "but Professor McGonagall told us he had been called away by an urgent message to London. And then she shooed us outside with the threat of docking points from all of us if she caught us inside again."
"And I think the message was faked," finished Draco. "You know that is easy enough to do."
The Potions Master ran a tired hand through his hair.
"Harry, did you tell Professor McGonagall why you wanted to talk to the Headmaster?"
"Yes, sir, and she was so shocked she dropped her armful of books and told us the Stone was well protected by the professors here . . . but"
"But somehow you had already found out that Quirrell was one of those protecting the Stone and deemed the Stone therefore unsafe?" asked Snape.
Hermione and Pansy nodded.
Snape sighed again.
"Let me talk to Professor McGonagall about it. I will talk to Quirrell as well. You lot need to be very careful. Especially you Harry; if what you told me about what you saw in the Forest is accurate, you could be in grave danger. Do not let your Gryffindor bravery let you rush into situations that could get you hurt or killed, or, well, expelled."
Harry looked up in alarm.
"I have no plans to expel you, Mr. Potter, but I cannot control the actions that others may take. Good day."
Snape flicked his wand, ending the silencing spell, and in one smooth motion, stood and strolled back inside the castle.
Harry sighed and dropped his head into his hands. Hermione patted his back gently. "It will be alright, Harry."
He shook his head. "No, it shan't," he mumbled through his fingers. "If Voldemort gets the Stone and makes the Elixir of Life, he will be unbeatable. That monster killed my parents and scores of other people. He committed unspeakable tragedies against Muggles and Wizards alike. We know what is going down and we have to do something about it!"
Neville nodded. "I'm with Harry. Vol – Voldemort essentially took my parents from me as well. I don't ever want that to happen to another person," he said fervently.
Draco met Harry's intense gaze. "Well then, what do you propose that we do about it?"
"I am going after the Stone myself."
"But, but Harry!" exclaimed Blaise, "You heard what Professor Snape said! You can't risk getting expelled!"
Pansy smacked Blaise lightly on his back. "Really Blaise! Are you taking the Mickey? Hogwarts would never ever expel Harry Potter! Snape just said that to try to get us to follow the rules and stay safe!"
Hermione nodded. "Besides, we're all in this together. We will go after the Stone tonight."
Harry jerked upright in surprise. "Hermione! I can't let you do that! They might not expel me for whatever stupidly special reasons they have, but I can't have you risk your education!"
"No one is expelling Hermione," Ron said smugly.
"What do you mean?"
Hermione blushed. "Professor Flitwick told me in private that I made 112 on his exam. They're not throwing me out after that."
Grins broke out around the circle. "Way to go, Hermione!" exclaimed Draco. "Though, I'm sure I will get the brunt end of my Father's wrath on how a – excuse me, Hermione, – Mudblood bested me on my exams. I suppose I shall act the part of the woebegone Slytherin victim. Woe is me! A Gryffindor mudblood girl is smarter than I!"
Hermione giggled nervously at his antics. "Will your Father hurt you?"
Draco shook his head. "At least, I don't think he will. I will try to get an owl out in a roundabout manner to let everyone know what comes of it. In the meantime, we have more important things to concern ourselves with."
"So it is settled then?" inquired Harry.
The six friends seated in front of him eyed each other and then nodded affirmatively.
"No one is going to back out, right?" asked Hermione, looking at each person carefully.
"We could swear a Wizard's Oath," offered Ron hesitantly.
Draco quirked a brow. "It actually isn't a bad idea. The thing that we are planning to do is rather serious. I would like to trust that none of us would back out at the last second due to nerves or whatnot, but I agree with Ronald."
"Does everyone know what to do?" Pansy asked.
Harry shook his head, a bit embarrassed, especially since Hermione already knew and she was Muggleborn.
Neville patted Harry's hand. "You wouldn't have any reason to know about Wizard Oath's. Hermione only knows because she's trying to read the entire library before we graduate!"
Draco smiled. "Everyone hold out your wand, swear that you will not back out of the plan to save the Philosopher's Stone and then let all the wand tips touch each other at once. That will seal the oath."
After a momentary hesitation, the seven friends committed themselves in a glow of white light. Had Professor Snape known what they had done, he would have been tempted to expel them all - after they went through with their foolish plan. They weren't wrong that the oath would keep them from backing out, but if anyone didn't fulfill the oath, they'd meet an untimely end.
That evening after their meal, the seven friends casually strolled in groups of two up to the forbidden corridor. Harry came last wearing his beloved Invisibility Cloak. With heavy hearts, they watched as Hermione cast Alohamora on the door. It swung silently open to reveal . . . silence. They stood frozen by the door and as their breathing calmed, they heard strains of music coming from an enchanted harp and the soft snores of a very, very, very large dog. 'One very for each head,' mused Blaise.
Ron moved towards the trap door that was propped open in front of the dog's paws and pulled it fully open. He looked through the hole. "There seems to be some sort of plant down there, so I don't think the landing will hurt much," he whispered.
One by one, each of the seven jumped through the hole, leaving the slumbering dog behind them. Once through, however, they discovered that the soft plant was actually a trap in disguise. Strong vines began curling around their bodies, holding them fast in place. They struggled to no avail. Pansy paused in exhaustion and discovered that when completely calm, the plant let go, allowing her to slip through its clutches, dropping her in the straw below.
"Guys!" she called out, "You have got to relax and it will let you go!" Eventually they were all standing beside her except for Ron who was unable to relax in the death grip of the plant. With each movement he made, the vines clenched harder.
"Do you recognize the plant, Hermione?" Harry asked in alarm.
She shook her head.
"I know what it is," exclaimed Neville suddenly, "It's Devil's Snare! Professor Sprout told me all about it. It hates the sunlight!"
Without a second thought, Blaise whipped out his wand and cast a beam of light into the midst of the plant. It instantly shriveled up into itself and dropped Ron unceremoniously on top of Draco with a soft oomph!
"Ronald, you really need to stop eating so much," Draco announced once he had his breath back.
Ron frowned at him. Draco smirked back good-naturedly.
The next door brought them the sounds of small objects or animals whooshing through the air. Harry cracked the door and peaked in. Nothing accosted him so he stepped through.
"Are they birds?" asked Neville.
Hermione shook her head. "No, they're . . . they're keys!"
Harry scanned the room until he spotted a large door with an ancient brass lock. "We need the key that fits that lock," said Harry, pointing at the door.
"How in the world are we going to –?"
Draco's thought cut off suddenly when he spotted an old Quidditch broom in the corner of the room nearest the door.
"Harry! You'll have to fly for it."
Harry nodded and moved over towards the broom. He looked up at the brass key that Pansy had suddenly spotted; it had a broken wing from the earlier capture Quirrell had somehow made of it. Taking a deep breath, he mounted the broom.
The moment his body made full contact with the broomstick, the flight of the keys became frenzied; they flung themselves at Harry like tiny missiles. As soon as Harry acclimated himself to the old broom, his Seeker skills kicked in and he soared upwards to snag the broken-winged key. Flying low, he flung the key into Draco's hand, and flew upwards again, leading the flock of keys away from his friends. Draco made haste to the door and with a quick twist of brass against brass, flung the door open. As soon as the six kids on the ground had made it into the next room, Harry raced through, still on the broom. Blaise and Ron shoved the door shut behind him. Harry panted in exhaustion as the remaining keys thudded into the door, impaling themselves like a Ninja's throwing stars.
A large chess set stood before them in the next room.
"Wicked!" exclaimed Ron. "Life-size Wizard's Chess!"
Ron swiveled to face his friends. "I already know about Harry and Hermione's skill in this game . . . or, lack there of," he said, winking at his friends. "How skilled are the rest of you in Wizards Chess?"
"I would say that I am a relatively decent player, Ron," answered Draco after a momentary pause. "But chess is one of the areas that I am actually not that competitive in."
"Would you be willing to take my direction?"
Draco nodded solemnly.
Ron studied the board. "I'm going to need one more player. There are three empty spots. I'm taking one of them or the game shan't accept my commands."
Blaise stepped forward. "I'll do it."
Ron nodded. "I'm going to be a knight. Draco, you're a bishop, and Blaise, you'll be a castle."
The three boys took their spots.
"White always plays first," muttered Ron. "Yes, see –" he pointed at the other side where a white pawn had moved forward two squares.
Ron began to direct the black pieces on their side. They moved silently wherever he sent them. Draco's knees were trembling. 'What if we lose?' he mused.
"Draco," Ron called, startling him out of his discomfort, "move diagonally four squares to the right."
The friends' first real shock came when their other knight was taken. The white queen smashed him to the floor and dragged him off the board; where he lay quite still, face down.
"Had to let that happen," said Ron, looking shaken. "Leaves you free to take that bishop, Blaise, go on."
Gingerly, Blaise moved forward, cheered when white lost one of their men, but in light of the queen's destruction of one of their pieces, the thrill of live chess had quite diminished.
Every time one of their own was lost, the white pieces showed no mercy. Soon there was a cluster of limp black players slumped along the far wall. Twice, Ron only just noticed in time that Blaise and Draco were in danger. He himself darted around the board taking almost as many white pieces as they had lost black ones.
"We're nearly there," he muttered suddenly. "Let me think . . ."
The white queen turned her blank face towards him.
"Yes," said Ron softly, "it's the only way . . . I've got to be taken."
Draco was quick to realize what he meant. "NO!" he cried, "Ron, you cannot do that! You've seen what happens to the captured pieces!"
"That's chess!" snapped Ron. "You've got to make sacrifices to win! I take one-step forward and she'll take me. That leaves you free to checkmate the king, Draco!"
"Do you want to stop Quirrell or not?" retorted Ron.
Draco sighed resignedly.
"Ready?" Ron called; his face pale but resolute. "Here I go – don't hang around once you've won."
He stepped forward and the white queen pounced. There was no other word for her movement, like a large feral cat. She struck Ron hard around the head with her stone arm and he crashed to the floor hard. He looked as if he had been knocked out.
Shaking, Draco moved three spaces to the left.
The white king took off his crown and threw it at Draco's feet. They had won; but at what price?
The chessmen parted and bowed, leaving the door ahead clear. With one last desperate look at Ron, the group charged ahead through the door and up the next passageway.
"What if he's . . ." Draco couldn't complete the sentence.
"He'll . . . he'll be alright," voiced Harry, not wanting to consider any alternatives. "What do you reckon's next?"
"We've had Sprout's, Flitwick must have charmed the keys, McGonagall transfigured the chessmen to bring them to life . . . that leaves Snape . . . and Quirrell," Pansy finished darkly.
Blaise pointed out a door at the end of the room and the group carefully pulled it open and poked their heads through.
They smelled the troll before they saw it lying heaped on the floor, glad that Quirrell had already taken this task out of harm's way. Draco, Ron, and Harry knew their first encounter with the troll was just, as McGonagall had put it, "sheer, dumb luck!" and were in no mood to tackle another any time soon.
This brought them to the next door.
Harry tentatively pushed it open.
It was moderately lit and starkly decorated. In fact, the only thing to see was a long oak table with seven vials, each holding a potion. As soon as they had stepped over the threshold, magic fire sprung up blocking the entrance and exit from the room.
Hermione and Pansy, easily the two best Potions students of the seven of them, cautiously approached the table to investigate. The boys peered over their shoulders. In front of the bottles lay a single piece of parchment.
Pansy picked it up, noting that it was most definitely written by her Head of House. "It's a poem, of sorts," she muttered to Hermione. "Who would have thought Professor Snape was capable of writing poetry?"
"I thought his first-year speech was rather indicative of that," Hermione countered, a small smirk in place.
"True. Well, what do you make of it?"
Danger lies before you, while safety lies behind,
Two of us will help you, whichever you would find,
One among us seven will let you move ahead,
Another will transport the drinker back instead,
Two among our number hold only nettle wine,
Three of us are killers, waiting hidden in line.
Choose, unless you wish to stay here forevermore,
To help you in your choice, we give you these clues four:
First, however slyly the poison tries to hide
You will always find some on nettle wine's left side;
Second, different are those who stand at either end,
But if you would move onward, neither is your friend;
Third, as you see clearly, all are different size,
Neither dwarf nor giant holds death in their insides;
Fourth, the second left and the second on the right
Are twins once you taste them, though different at first sight.
Hermione read over the words several times until she was sure she understood. "It's a logic puzzle," Hermione exclaimed! "Professor Snape was very smart to employ such protection; most wizards do not spend a lot of time reasoning out puzzles like this and they would not be able to decipher it."
"Aren't we in a bit of a bind, then," asked Neville.
Pansy flashed him a look that was half-smile, half-smirk. "Not with Hermione, here, Neville. Did you forget she is Muggleborn?"
Neville blushed. "Oh, right, so you can solve it?"
Hermione nodded. She pulled her wand out of her pocket, swiped a broom twig off Harry's robe, transfigured it into a quill, and went to work.
"The poem tells us that only one bottle will move us ahead, and likewise, only one will move us backward. I will label those "F" and "B". Likewise, two vials hold nettle wine . . . so that will be two "W's". There are three bottles of poison which we will call "P" and poison is always to the left of wine."
Hermione studied the bottles. "That means the first bottle can't be poison; there isn't anything to the left of it. They cannot be together either as that would leave at least one without a bottle of wine to stand next to. Two could be together but only if wine is immediately to the right. If bottle one cannot be poison, bottle two cannot be wine. The first and last cannot be the same; neither can be "F". The biggest and smallest bottles are not poison. Two and six is the same potion – the twins. Two and six cannot be "F" since there is only one "F"; likewise neither two nor six can be "B"."
Hermione's brow furrowed as she worked out the details. The other six were silent, not wanting to disturb her when an error could bring death.
She studied her notes, re-read the poem, examined each bottle, and finally announced, "The smallest bottle will move us forward, through that black fire through the door to the last room."
"Are you sure," asked Harry.
Hermione nodded, "Yes, Harry, I'm sure." She held the bottle out towards him.
"But there's only enough for one of us . . ."
"Well, it better be you then, mate," said Blaise, patting him on the back, "You've got the best shot of all of us of taking on whatever is through that door."
"You . . . are you . . . erm, sure?"
"I've got faith in you, Harry!" added Neville.
Harry sighed and accepted the smallest vial from Hermione. "Bottoms up," he said cheerlessly as he tipped the vial back to drink whatever may be inside.
It was like drinking liquid ice; Harry felt as if his insides were frozen. He shuddered violently. "One of you needs to go back and owl Dumbledore," Harry instructed his friends.
"I'll go," said Draco. Hermione handed him the other potion; again, just enough for one. Draco tipped it back and shuddered as well. "I'll have to ask Professor Snape what in the world we just drank," he muttered, shivering violently. He gave Harry a quick, if slightly unexpected, embrace. "Be careful, you hear me?"
Harry nodded. "You, too."
The boys looked at their friends and parted, Harry going forward through the black flames, Draco backwards through the purple.
Harry saw the flames licking his body but did not feel their heat.
Before he knew it, he was standing in the next room.
Although Harry made no noise stepping into the room, Quirrell whipped around and, with a wave of his hand, slammed the door shut. With a second movement, ropes appeared out of thin air and bound Harry.
"You're too nosy to live, Potter. Scurrying around the school at all hours; Halloween, for example. Now, wait quietly; I need to examine this interesting mirror."
Harry quickly realized it was the Mirror of Erised. 'Dumbledore had nothing to worry about by hiding it down here. I never would have run across it again, were it not for Quirrell.'
"The mirror is the key to finding the Stone," Quirrell murmured, tapping his way around the frame. "Trust Dumbledore to come up with something like this . . . but he's in London . . . and I'll be far, far away by the time he gets back . . ."
Harry continued to struggle fruitlessly against the ties that bind.
"I see the St-stone . . . I am presenting it to my master . . . but where is it?"
"Hagrid told me you didn't used to be so nervous," Harry suddenly interjected.
Quirrell gave him an appraising look. 'Sometimes," he said, "I find it hard to follow my master . . . he is a great wizard and I am weak . . ."
"He was giving you instructions here at Hogwarts!" Harry asked incredulously, fear touching the edges of his voice.
'He is with me wherever I go," said Quirrell quietly. "I met him when I travelled around the world. A foolish young man I was then, full of ridiculous ideas about good and evil. Lord Voldemort showed me how wrong I was. There is no good and evil; only power and those too weak to seek it. Sin—"
"Power corrupts," Harry said, his voice full of disdain.
"You would think that, you foolish little boy. You are nothing but a pawn for Dumbledore. My master is hard on me," he continued as if there had been no interruption. "When I failed to steal the stone from Gringotts," Quirrell shivered suddenly. "I . . . " For a moment, Harry thought he saw regret on the other man's face, but it was fleeting, and vanished when he blinked.
Harry abruptly remembered his trip with Professor Snape to Diagon Alley where he had met Quirrell . . . and how much his scar had hurt when he had been shoved perilously close to the man. 'If only I had known then what was going on! If only I had known that my scar hurting was an indication of evil nearby!'
Quirrell cursed. "I don't understand, is the Stone inside the Mirror? Should I break it?"
Harry's mind was racing. 'What I want more than anything is to find the Stone before Quirrell does, so if I look in the Mirror, I should see myself finding it! But I must be extremely cautious,' he thought, his Slytherin side kicking in forcefully.
He edged slowly to the left, painfully aware of the ropes around him, scrunching his feet so that he moved sideways like an inchworm to keep himself upright. He paused for a moment when his feet began to cramp.
Quirrell was still muttering when another voice, dark and raspy, filled the room.
"Use the boy . . . Use the boy . . ."
Quirrell rounded on Harry.
"Potter, come here." He clapped his hands and the ropes binding Harry fell off.
"Come here," the man repeated, "look in the Mirror and tell me what you see."
Harry slowly moved past Quirrell, powerfully aware of the noxious odor that seemed to ooze from the man's turban. He stepped in front of the Mirror and took a deep breath.
He saw his reflection, pale, scared. But a moment later, his image smiled at him. It put its hand into its pocket and pulled out a blood-red stone. It winked and put the Stone back in its pocket – and as it did so, Harry felt something heavy drop into his real pocket. Somehow, – incredibly – he'd received the Stone.
"Well?" asked Quirrell impatiently.
Harry screwed up his fleeting Gryffindor courage; strongly wanting to take the advice of his Slytherin tendencies to flee, even though there was no easy way out of this room.
"I see myself shaking hands with Dumbledore," he lied smoothly, "I've won the House Cup for Slytherin."
Quirrell cursed again and shoved Harry aside.
Hoping Quirrell wouldn't notice, Harry began to edge towards the door when the dark voice came once again.
"He lies . . . he lies . . ."
Quirrell whipped around. "Potter, come back here! Tell me the truth, what did you see!"
The voice spoke again. "Let me speak to him . . . face to face . . ."
"Master, you are not strong enough!"
"I have strength . . . for this."
Harry felt as if the Devil's Snare had rooted him into place. Petrified, he watched as Quirrell reached up and unwrapped his turban. Quirrell's head looked peculiar and small without it. Then the man turned around.
Harry wanted to scream but was unable to. Where the back of the man's head should have been was a terrible face. It was gaunt, chalk white, glaring red eye, and slits for nostrils. It was like some horrible mixture of a snake and a dying man. Edvard Munch's painting come to life. But a thousand times more grotesque.
"Harry Potter . . ." it murmured. "See what I have become? What you have done to me? Barely clinging to life, only able to sustain what I have left due to Professor Quirrell's kindness towards me, his willingness to drink the Unicorn's blood until my body could be restored. How is it, Harry Potter, that you, a small infant, from your Mudblood mother, was able to do this to me?"
Harry suddenly regained feeling in his legs and he stumbled backwards, desperate to remove himself from this awful visage.
"I have done nothing to you," Harry said in a strangled voice. "Nothing. You brought this on yourself!"
The horror-face hardened in anger. "Don't be silly boy, give me the Stone! You cannot escape your fate today. Or do you want to die for some foolish cause as your parents did? Begging me for mercy!"
"Liar!" cried Harry.
Quirrell was walking backwards at him so that Voldemort could still see him, a smile of pure evil pasted across his face.
"How touching," it hissed. "I always value bravery . . . Yes, boy, your parents were brave . . . I killed your father first and he put up a courageous fight, but your Mother needn't have died, at least not when she did, the filthy Mudblood . . . she died trying to protect you. Now give me the Stone, unless you want her to have died in vain!"
Harry sprang towards the door, but Voldemort shrieked, "SEIZE HIM!" and Harry felt Quirrell's hand close over his wrist. At once, a needle-like pain laced through Harry's scar and he felt perhaps his head would split in two, like a stormy sky torn asunder by a bolt of lightning.
To his surprise, he realized that Quirrell had let him go despite Voldemort's cries to get him back. He saw the man huddled on the floor; his fingers that had touched Harry were blistering before his eyes.
When Voldemort's cries became harsher, Quirrell lunged again, knocking Harry off his feet, landing on top of him, both hands around his neck. Harry' scar putting him in blinding pain, yet he could see Quirrell howling in agony.
'Serves you right, you bloody git!' thought Harry, massaging his neck where the man had tried to strangle him.
"Master, I cannot, I cannot," Quirrell was crying, "my hands burn so when I touch him, I cannot abide it."
Harry saw the man's hands appeared burnt, bright red and shiny.
"Then kill him, you fool!"
Quirrell raised his wand to perform the deadly curse, but Harry reached up and grabbed the man's face. An instinctive defensive move that would save his life.
He screeched in anguish. Quirrell rolled off Harry, his face now blistering as well. Harry jumped to his feet, eager to place his hands on Quirrell now that he knew Quirrell couldn't touch him without suffering. Harry did not understand the reason behind it, but he wasn't about to look a gift horse in the mouth.
Harry grabbed the man's arm as tightly as he could. The man shrieked, Voldemort squealed, Harry's scar felt as if it would burst with the intensity . . . and then all Harry knew was blackness.
Something gold was glinting just above him, right out of his reach. The Snitch! Harry struggled to grab it, but his arms felt like lead and he was unable to move them. He blinked to clear his vision and the Snitch dissolved into a pair of glasses. The Headmaster's, to be precise.
"Good afternoon, Harry," said Dumbledore.
Harry stared at him. Then he remembered, "Sir! The Stone! Quirrell has it, Sir, a qu—"
"Calm yourself, Harry, or Madam Pomfrey will likely have me thrown out of the Infirmary! You are a little behind the times, my dear boy." Dumbledore patted Harry's hand. "Quirrell does not have the Stone."
Harry swallowed and looked around him. He realised he must be in the hospital wing. He was lying in a bed with white linen sheets and next to him was a table piled high with what looked like half the sweet-shop.
"Tokens from your friends and admirers," said Dumbledore beaming. "What happened between you and Professor Quirrell is a complete secret, so, naturally, the whole school knows. I believe Misters Fred and George Weasley were responsible for trying to send you a lavatory seat. No doubt, they thought it would amuse you. Madam Pomfrey, however, felt it might not be very hygienic, and confiscated it."
Harry could not help but grin. Then his brow furrowed. "How long have I been here, sir? And is Ron okay?"
"Ron is fine; he had a bit of a headache, but was lucky to suffer no concussion. A mild pain draught set him right. You have been here three days. Your friends have been quite worried about you."
"And the Stone?"
"I see you will not be distracted from your intent. Very well, the Stone. Professor Quirrell did not manage to take it from you. I arrived in time to prevent that, although you were doing very well on your own, I must say."
"You got there? You got Draco's owl?"
"We must have crossed mid-air. No sooner had I reached London than it became clear to me that the place I should be was the one I had just left. I arrived just in time to pull Quirrell off you, although at the time I feared I might be too late."
"You nearly were. I couldn't have kept him off the Stone much longer."
"Not the Stone, my dear boy – the effort nearly killed you, Harry. For one terrible moment, I was afraid it very well had. As for the Stone, it has been destroyed."
"Destroyed? But your friend Flamel . . ."
"Oh, you know about Nicolas?" he sounded delighted. "You did do this properly, didn't you? Nicolas and I have had a little chat and agreed it was all for the best."
"But won't he and his wife die?"
"No, Harry, they are immortal; eternal wizards. The Philosopher's Stone is known among men, yes, even Muggles, to be a source of rejuvenation and immortality. Muggles tend to call it the elixir of life. The Flamels have had enough that they do believe they are immortal now. Someone, could, perhaps, kill them, but they will not die of old age. Not that they would mind, which I can see by your expression seems a terrible thing, but I believe to them it would be like going to sleep after a very long day. It seemed like a lark at the time; all the money and life one could wand . . . alas, humans have the knack for choosing those things that are worst for them."
Harry felt a bit lost for words.
"Sir," he finally said, "I've been thinking. Even if the Stone is Gone, Vol . . . I mean You-Know-Who—"
"Call him Voldemort, Harry. Fear of the name merely increases fear of the thing itself."
Harry nodded. "Well, Voldemort's going to try other ways of coming back, isn't he? He hasn't gone, has he?"
"No, Harry, he has not. He is still out there, somewhere, perhaps looking for another body to host him . . . not being truly alive, he cannot be killed. He left Quirrell to die; he shows his followers no more mercy than he shows his victims. Perhaps we will be lucky and he will be delayed time and again and never really return to power."
Harry nodded, but stopped when he realised it made his head hurt. "Sir, there are some other things I would like to know, if you can tell me . . . things I want to know the truth about. He told me I made him what he is now, a partially alive . . thing, and -"
Dumbledore sighed, and held up a hand to stop Harry. "The truth is a beautiful but terrible thing and should be treated with great caution. I will answer your questions unless I have a very good reason not to, in which case, I beg you will forgive me. I shall not, of course, lie." Harry thought a moment. He knew in his heart that he was not responsible for the way that monster was the way he was today. Harry did want to know why he said it, but, more importantly . . .
"Voldemort told me that my parents died protecting me . . . Why did he want to kill me in the first place?"
"Alas, the very first thing you ask me is something I cannot tell you."
Harry sighed and realized that he had heard the faint rustle of movement at the Headmaster's words. He turned his head slightly to see the black robes of Head of House.
Dumbledore turned to look at his Potions Master. "Ah, yes, Professor Snape is under the belief that you should not be coddled and have all the truth told at once, but then he operates on the principle that you are all simply small adults with the capacity to handle what those far older than you are can."
Harry's respect for Snape edged up even further and he gave the man a small smile.
Although Severus' face remained impassive, Harry felt he had a moment of understanding with him. Perhaps Snape would be willing to share a little more detail with him later under the guise of being counseled.
Dumbledore, seeming to read Harry's thoughts, gave the boy a stern look. "This is not something you can know at this time," he repeated sternly.
Harry closed his eyes in resignation, but he did not answer. Snape smirked.
"Any other questions, my boy?"
Harry blinked at the Headmaster. "Why . . ." he paused to gather his thoughts. "Why was Quirrell unable to touch me?"
"That is far more simple, yet, at the same time, utterly complex and mysterious."
Harry glanced at Snape with a look that seemed to say, 'Does the Headmaster ever give a straight answer?'
Snape quirked an eyebrow and inclined his head, although he chose not to elaborate with commentary.
When Harry returned his gaze to the Headmaster, Albus said, "Your Mother died to save you, Harry. You are protected by ancient blood magic and the gift of unconditional love."
Harry blushed slightly and fought to control the tears that seemed imminent.
Dumbledore continued, not looking at Harry so as not to embarrass him. "If there is one thing Voldemort does not understand, it is love. He did not realise that love as powerful as your Mother's for you leaves its own mark. Not a scar," he said as Harry's hand touched the one that Voldemort had given him, "no visible sign . . . to have been loved so deeply, even though the person who loves us is gone, will give us some protection for ever. It is in your very skin. Quirrell, full of hatred, greed and ambition, sharing his soul with Voldemort, could not touch for this reason. It was agony to touch a person marked by something so good."
When Harry found his voice again, he said, "And the Invisibility Cloak do you know who sent it to me?"
"Your Father happened to leave it in my possession and I thought you might like it." His eyes twinkled. "Useful things . . . your Father used it mainly for sneaking off to the kitchens to steal food when he was here."
Harry gave the Headmaster a half smile. "One more thing, sir. How did the Stone get into the Mirror? Or, rather, how did I get the Stone?"
"Ah, now, I am glad you asked me that, my boy. It was one of my more brilliant ideas, and between you and me, that is saying something."
Severus scoffed softly. Albus ignored him.
"You see, only someone who wanted to find – find, but not use– the Stone, would be ale to get it. Otherwise, they'd just see themselves making gold or drinking the Elixir of Life. My brain surprises even me sometimes. Now, enough questions. I suggest you make a start on these sweets. Ah! Bertie Bott's Every-Flavour Beans! I was unfortunate enough in my youth to come across a vomit-flavoured one, and since then I'm afraid I've rather lost my liking for them – but I think Ill be safe with a nice toffee, don't you?"
Severus scoffed softly. Albus ignored him.
He smiled and popped the golden-brown bean into his mouth. Then he choked and said, "Alas! Earwax!"
Harry and Severus shuddered.
Madam Pomfrey was a nice woman, very motherly. She was also very strict.
"Just five minutes," Harry pleaded.
"You let Professors Dumbledore and Snape in . . ."
"Well, that was different. You. Need. Rest."
"I am resting, look, lying down and everything. Oh, go on, Madam Pomfrey!"
"Oh, very well," she said resignedly, "but five minutes only!"
And she let in six very anxious students.
Hermione looked ready to fling her arms around him. For that matter, so did Blaise and Draco. Harry was glad they didn't for his head was still very sore.
"Oh, Harry, we were so worried! We were sure you were going to . . . Dumbledore was so worried . . ."
"The whole school's talking about it," said Ron. "What really happened?"
It was one of those rare occasions when the true story is even more strange and exciting than the wild rumours. Harry told them everything: Quirrell, the Mirror; the Stone and Voldemort. They were a good audience; they gasped in all the right places, and, when Harry told them what was under Quirrell's turban, Hermione screamed out loud.
"So, the Stone's gone then," asked Ron finally. "Flamel's just going to die?"
"Flamel is immortal," Hermione said, in a fairly good impersonation of Snape talking to someone who had just asked a very stupid question. Or blown something up. Again.
Ron flushed. Harry was glad he wasn't the only stupid one regarding that matter.
"So what happened to everyone else?" asked Harry.
"Well, I got back alright," said Draco. "I bought Ronald around – that took awhile, he is quite lucky not to have a concussion – and we were dashing up to the owlery to contact Dumbledore when we met him in the Entrance Hall. He already knew – he just said, "Harry's gone after him, hasn't he?" and hurtled off to the third floor.
"D'you think he meant you to do it?" said Ron. "Sending you your Father's cloak and everything?"
"Well," Hermione exploded, "if he did – I mean to say – that's terrible – you could have been killed!"
"No, it isn't," Harry mused thoughtfully. "He's a funny man, Dumbledore. I think he rather wanted to give me a chance. I think he knows more or less everything that goes on here, you know. I reckon he had a pretty good idea we were going to try, and instead of trying to stop us, he just taught us enough to help. I don't think it was an accident he let me find out how the Mirror worked. It's almost like he thought I had the right to face Voldemort if I could . . ."
Draco snorted. "Yeh, well, he's barking all right. Grown men cannot even face Voldemort and live to tell about it. You're something else, Harry."
"Are you going to be up for the end-of-the-year feast tomorrow? The teachers are all being quite secretive as to what House won the House Cup. The food ought to be good," finished Ron, thinking from his stomach, as always.
At that moment, Madam Pomfrey bustled over.
"You've had fifteen minutes, now out!" she said firmly.
After a decent night's sleep, Harry felt nearly back to normal.
"I want to go to the feast," he told Madam Pomfrey as she reorganized his many sweet-boxes. "I can, can't I?"
She sniffed. "The Headmaster has granted allowance for you to do so." Harry could tell she obviously did not agree with this assessment. "And you have another visitor."
"Oh!" exclaimed Harry "Who is it?"
Hagrid sidled through the door as Harry spoke. As usual when he was indoors, Hagrid looked far too big to be allowed. He sat down next to Harry, took one look and burst into tears.
"It's all my fault!" he sobbed, his face in his hands. "I tol' the evil git how ter get past Fluffy! I told him! I t was the only thing he didn' know an' I tol' him! Yeh could've died! All fer a dragon egg! I'll never drink again! I should be chucked out an' made ter live as a Muggle!"
"Hagrid!" Harry was shocked to see Hagrid so full of remorse. His giant tears would flood the room, Harry thought, much as Alice's had in Alice in Wonderland, if he did not gain control of himself. "Hagrid, he would have found out somehow, this is Voldemort we're talking about."
"Yeh could've died! An' don' say the name!"
Harry took as deep a breath as his slightly sore ribs would allow and bellowed, "VOLDEMORT!"
Hagrid was shocked out of his tears.
"I've met him and I'm calling him by his name. Please cheer up, Hagrid. We saved the Stone, it's gone, he can't use it. Have a Chocolate Frog. I've got loads."
Hagrid wiped his nose and said, "That reminds me. I've got yeh a present."
"It's not a stoat sandwich is it?"
Hagrid gave a weak chuckle. He'd offered a sandwich full of stoat meat to Harry and his friends once. Just once. Hermione was aghast that anyone would want to eat weasel meat, which understandably set off the Weasley brothers. Hagrid never suggested that again.
"Nah. Dumbledore gave me the day off yesterday ter fix it. 'Course he shoulda had me sacked . . . great man, Dumbledore."
He handed Harry a handsome, leather-covered book. Harry opened it curiously. It was full of wizard photographs. Smiling and waving at him from every page were his parents.
"Sent owls off ter all yer parents' old school friends, askin' fer photos . . . Knew yeh didn' have any . . . D'yeh like it?"
Harry couldn't speak, but Hagrid understood.
Harry slowly made his way down to the Great Hall for the feast alone that night. He had been held up by Madam Pomfrey's last minute fussing-about, so the Great Hall was already full.
It was curiously absent of any House colours.
When Harry walked in, there was a sudden hush and then the conversations resumed.
He slipped into a seat between Draco and Blaise at the Slytherin table. Pansy gave him a shy smile and asked how he was doing. Harry said he was still sore but feeling much better. He tried to ignore the cold looks some of his own House was giving him – and the fact that other Houses were standing on chairs to get a better look at him.
Fortunately, Dumbledore arrived moments later. The babble quickly died away without the Headmaster having to utter a word. Or a spell.
"Another year gone!" he said cheerfully. "And I must trouble you with an old man's wheezing flimflam before we sink our teeth into our delicious feast. What a year it has been! Hopefully your heads are a little fuller than they were . . . you have the whole summer ahead to get them nice and empty before next year starts . . .
Now, as I understand it, the House Cup here needs awarding and the points stand thus: in fourth place, Hufflepuff, with two hundred and twelve points; in third, Slytherin, with three hundred and thirty-two; Gryffindor has three hundred and fifty-two, and Ravenclaw, three hundred and eighty-five."
A storm of cheering and stamping broke out from the Ravenclaw table. Harry turned slightly to see his friends disheartened looks at Gryffindor. Hufflepuff didn't seem very upset. The Slytherins, however, were quite annoyed. Several were sure it was Harry's fault.
"Yes, yes, well done, Ravenclaw," said Dumbledore. "However, recent events must be taken into account."
The room went very still. The Ravenclaws' smiles faded.
"He can't possibly be taking points away from us after what you saved the school from, can he?" asked Pansy nervously.
Harry shrugged. "It doesn't seem like it, not after the way he acted towards me in the Infirmary."
"Ahem," said Dumbledore. "I have a few last-minute points to dish out. Let me see. Yes . . ."
"First – to Mr. Ronald Weasley . . ."
Ron went purple in the face. It clashed rather awfully with his hair.
". . . for the best-played game of chess Hogwarts has seen in many years, I award Gryffindor House twenty-five points."
The Gryffindors burst out into raucous cheers, but Dumbledore was not finished.
"Second – to Miss Hermione Granger . . . for the cool use of logic in the face of fire, I award Gryffindor House twenty-five points."
Hermione buried her face in her arms; Harry strongly suspected she had burst into tears.
"Third – to Mr. Harry Potter . . ." said Dumbledore. The room went deadly quiet. ". . . for pure nerve and outstanding courage, I award Slytherin House seventy points."
The din was deafening. It was unheard of. Two Houses had tied for the House Cup. The two Houses who were always at each other's throats.
Slytherin and Gryffindor now stood equally at four hundred and two points.
"Which means," Dumbledore called over the storm of applause, "we need our decorations!"
He clapped his hands, and instantly, large House flags appeared, green Slytherin flags hanging over the Gryffindor table, red Gryffindor flags over the Slytherins. Harry glanced upwards and then turned a questioning eye at the Headmaster. His eyes twinkled merrily with mischief and merriment.
Professor Snape and Professor McGonagall looked on with amazement at the results. A small replica of the House Cup appeared in front of both of them. Snape discovered, much to his amusement, that they appeared to be full of Ogden's Firewhiskey.
Harry had almost forgotten that the exam results were still to come, but come they did. All seven of them received good marks; Hermione, of course, came in at top of the year. Even Neville scraped through, his most excellent Herbology mark making up for the abysmal Potions one. They had hoped that Goyle, who appeared almost as stupid as he was vicious, might be thrown out, but he had passed as well.
Suddenly, their wardrobes were empty, their trunks packed, notes were handed out to all students, warning them not to use magic over the holidays; Hagrid was there to take them down to the fleet of boats that sailed across the lake; they were boarding the Hogwarts Express; talking and laughing as the countryside became greener and tidier; eating Bertie Bott's Beans as they sped past Muggle towns; pulling off their wizard robes and putting on jackets and coats; pulling into platform nine and three-quarters at King's Cross Station.
It took quite a while for them all to get off the platform. A wizened guard was by the barrier, letting them through in twos and threes so as to not attract undue attention from the Muggles.
"You must come and stay this summer," said Ron, to the group at large. "I'll send owls."
Draco shook his head. "Don't send the Slytherins owls – our parents will be suspicious. I'll try to find a way we can communicate that won't get any of us in trouble . . . though knowing my Father, he has already heard about Harry, the Stone, and Voldemort . . . hopefully nothing evil will come of it. I'll try to keep in touch. Maybe one day we can visit normally, Ronald. I'd like that."
The red-head blushed, although not with the same dreadful purple colour that had surfaced during the feast.
"Well enough, then," he said good naturedly, holding out a hand for a parting shake.
"Thanks," said Harry. "I'll need something to look forward too. I suspect this summer will be worse than others.
People jostled them as they moved forwards towards the barrier. Some of them called:
"See you, Potter!"
"Still famous," said Blaise, grinning at him.
"Not where I'm going, I assure you of that," said Harry.
He, Ron, and Hermione passed through the gateway together.
"Ready, are you?"
It was Uncle Vernon, still purple-faced, still moustached, still looking furious at anything related to Harry. Behind him stood a terrified looking Aunt Petunia and Dudley.
"Hurry up, boy, we haven't got all day!" He walked away.
"See you over the summer?" asked Harry.
Ron nodded. Hermione looked a bit shocked at just how unpleasant Harry's Uncle truly was. "Hope you, er – have a good holiday," said Hermione.
"Oh, I will," said Harry. "They don't know we're not supposed to do magic. I'm going to have a splendid time teasing Dudley this summer."
The three said a final goodbye. Harry had already bid his Housemates farewell before venturing through the barrier.
With a resigned sigh, Harry strode off after his Uncle. He did not see the dark shape of his Head of House lurking in the shadows, his eyes hard and cold as he once again stood witness to the treatment that Harry's family displayed. 'Even in public, Muggles are so uncouth," thought Snape. The Headmaster had sent him in secret. He had gone as far as Hogsmeade and then apparated to the Wizarding section of the station.
'You will have a good summer, child,' he thought silently, still fuming. 'Slytherins protect their own.'
There will be a sequel.
Updated 2 February 2017