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Harry Potter/Granger and the Philosopher's Stone
"Did you honestly think that it was Snape all this time?" Quirrell asked, looking mockingly at Harry, his usual stutter having vanished from his tone as he looked at the young boy before him. "Then again, I suppose he was the likely suspect; next to him who would suspect p-p-poor st-stuttering P-Professor Q-Quirrell?"
Harry took little satisfaction in noting that his stutter this time was evidently fake; the casual, almost taunting expression on his face made it clear that he'd been feigning his earlier 'scared-of-his-own-shadow' attitude.
He may not like that fact, but at least it meant that he had a better idea of what he was up against right now; it wouldn't do for him to get into a fight thinking that he was dealing with a weakling who was afraid of his own shadow.
"But… but Snape tried to kill me!" he yelled; inwardly, he already thought he'd worked out where Quirrell fit into the pieces of the puzzle that they'd thought fitted together to show Snape, but it couldn't hurt to make Quirrell think he was more confused and less confident than he actually was.
"No, no; I tried to kill you, but your foolish sister knocked me down and broke my eye contact while I was trying to make your broom throw you off; an accident, of course, but it was practically impossible for me to get the chance to do it again before the game finished," Quirrell explained nonchalantly, which at least confirmed Harry's theory; he'd suspected that was how Quirrell tied into that little 'incident' as soon as he saw the man standing in the room instead of Snape. "I would have done it already if Snape hadn't been muttering the counter-curse trying to save you; he even went so far as to referee your next Quidditch match just to make sure I wouldn't try that again…"
Harry blinked incredulously; he'd been expecting the part about why his broom had stopped bucking, but couldn't quite believe what he'd just heard about why he hadn't fallen off earlier.
"Sorry; Snape wanted to protect me?" he said, staring at Quirrell as though the man had just told him that the sky was green. "What are you talking about; he hates me! He's never even given me points in class; why would he try to save me?"
"Naturally he hates you; he was at Hogwarts with your father," Quirrell said casually, as he stared at the young boy tied up in front of him. "The two of them really did hate each other back then, but he doesn't want you dead. That's why he refereed your next game; he wanted to make sure I wouldn't try something like that again."
Then he smiled maliciously as he continued to stare at his target, reminding Harry uncomfortably of a shark eyeing its prey. "Pointless, really; with Dumbledore watching I'd have to be completely insane to try anything at that moment. Letting that troll in to provide a distraction on Halloween was one thing; at least then he couldn't see what I was doing during all that chaos…"
"You let that thing in?" Harry yelled; if it wasn't for the fact that he'd prefer to find out more about what was going on, he might have risked countering Quirrell's earlier comment about not being insane.
"Certainly," the so-called 'Defence Against the Dark Arts' teacher continued, a slight sneer on his face as though he couldn't believe Harry hadn't guessed that already. "I have a certain 'gift' with trolls; you must have seen what I did to the one in the chamber back there? Unfortunately, not only did you actually knock it out before it could cause enough chaos, but Snape tried to head me off at the third floor, and that stupid dog couldn't even bite his leg off properly when he got a bit too close."
Well, Harry mused to himself, recalling his old theory about Snape's leg injury that long-ago day in the courtyard, at least I was right about where he got the limp from…
"Now then," Quirrell continued, turning away from Harry as though the young wizard was now beneath his notice, "be quiet, boy; I need to examine this fascinating mirror."
Now that Quirrell had mentioned it, thus drawing Harry's attention off the demented basket-case in the turban before him, he finally realised what the object was behind Quirrell, in the centre of the room.
It was a magnificent mirror, high enough to reach the ceiling in a conventional room, with an ornate gold frame perched on two clawed 'feet'. Written above the glass were the words erised stra ehru oyt ube cafru oyt on wohsi,which Harry mentally reversed as mirror-writing for I show not your face but your heart's desire.
It can show you what you'd want the most when you look into it? Harry mused to himself, looking in surprise at the mirror before him as Quirrell walked over to stand in front of it. Interesting idea, I admit, but what's something like that doing down here
"This mirror is the key to finding the Stone…" Quirrell mtutered to himself as he studied the mirror before him, almost sounding as though he'd forgotten Harry was even there in the first place. "Trust Dumbledore to come up with something like this… but he'll never get back from London in time to discover what's been happening; I have all the time I need…"
Ah, Harry mused to himself, nodding thoughtfully despite his perdicament. He supposed that kind of idea might work out; if this mirror showed you what you wanted to see the most, than anyone coming this far would probably most want to see them finding the Stone, which would probably mean they'd see where it was hidden…
But that just seemed to be almost too simple to Harry; there had to be something about this part of the test that would make sure the Stone was protected. Admittedly, some of the stuff he, Ron and Hermione had confronted had only been dealt with because they were each using their particular strengths and worked as a group rather than the individuals the traps had been designed to target, but it still seemed to him that, after all those previous 'not-so-difficult' tests, Dumbledore would have wanted to make sure that this last test would keep the Stone safe.
"I see the Stone…" Quirrell muttered in front of Harry, apparently unconcered about the young wizard now that he'd tied him up for the moment. "I'm presenting it to my master… but where is it?"
OK then, Harry mused to himself, as he tried to struggle against his bonds without making it obvious that he was trying to get out of them, looks like my second theory was correct; this thing doesn't show you where the Stone's hidden even if you want it badly enough; I've still got a chance at figuring out where it's gone.
The only problem was, what was he going to do now? Tackling Quirrell while he was tied up like this would be practically pointless, and even if he was fully mobile and armed, he had little doubt that Quirrell could effectively counter any spell he'd been taught up to this point.
Quirrell cursed under his breath.
"I don't understand… is the Stone inside that mirror? Should I break it?"
Great; now the whackjob's talking to himself… Harry groaned mentally as he tried to figure out what his next move should be. Fighting Quirrell wasn't an option- the odds were too much in favour of the other guy winning the confrontation- but, equally, just staying here wasn't an option; he'd probably be killed as soon as Quirrell had what he wanted…
"What does this mirror do?" Quirrell asked, looking pathetically up at the ceiling. "How does it work? Help me, master!"
Then, to Harry's shock, a voice answered, apparently coming from the back of Quirrell's head.
"Use the boy… use the boy…"
As Quirrell rounded on Harry, a broad, malicious grin on his face as he clapped his hands and the bonds around Harry's arms and legs vanished, leaving the young wizard free to slightly tense himself and prepare for whatever might be about to happen; he may be mobile once more, but he still doubted now was the best time to try and fight back.
"Potter," Quirrell stated as he glared at Harry, one hand hovering uncomfortably close to his wand, "come here, look in the mirror, and tell me what you see."
As Harry walked towards the mirror, he noted, with a slight smile, that Quirrell's interogation abilities were evidently not that efficient; he hadn't given Harry a single reason to actually tell him anything useful.
Does he seriously think that I'll be honest with somebody who's threatening to kill me? he mused to himself, as he positioned himself in front of the mirror. He may have little chance of surviving this little 'confrontation' with this raving loony, but at least in his current position he might at least manage to discover something useful about whatever he was dealing with here.
A part of him had to wonder what he'd have seen if he'd actually looked into this mirror during a quieter moment; his biological parents sprung to mind, but, quite frankly, after spending so long with the Grangers treating him as their son, he barely spent much time even thinking about what life would have been like if he'd been brought up with his parents from the beginning…
Then, as he found himself in front of the mirror, he looked into it, and was more than slightly disappointed to find that it didn't seem to be doing anything; all that was happening was that he was being shown his own reflection, as it was at the present, with all the cuts and bruises that he'd accumulated over this whole mess.
So much for showing your greatest desire, Harry mused to himself, as his cheek smarted slightly from where a key had come a bit too close to him. I don't even look like I'm in good health, never mind that I'm finding the Stone…
Then, much to his surprise, his reflection reached into its pocket and pulled out a blood-red stone, about the size of a fist. It winked briefly at Harry, and then dropped the stone back into its pocket…
At the very moment that Harry felt a sudden weight in his own pocket.
His eyes widened in shock.
Somehow, he'd got the Stone.
"What is it?" Quirrell's voice said, breaking into Harry's train of thought; fortunately, Harry hadn't allowed himself to show his surprise at having the stone in his pocket. "What do you see?"
Harry swallowed; this was a risk, but it was all he could think of that wouldn't be guaranteed to get him killed without making him seem like he wasn't taking the situation seriously.
"I… I see myself leaving the trapdoor," he said simply. "I've… well, it looks like I've managed to get out of here."
Cursing under his breath, Quirrell shoved Harry to the side as he moved back in front of the mirror. For a moment, Harry thought about making a run for it- he definitely wasn't eager for the Stone to be discovered- but then that same eerie voice spoke once more, and Harry knew that any escape plan would have to go on hold.
"He lies… he lies…"
"Potter!" Quirrell yelled, spinning around to glare at the student once again. "What did you see?"
Something in his tone finally managed to drive Harry to shake off any ideas that he might manage to get out of this confrontation alive so long as he avoided actively insulting or defying Quirrell.
If he was going to die, he'd die on his feet; he'd tried cowering away when he'd known what was going to happen to him in the past, and nearly ended up dead as a result of it.
"You want to know what I saw?" he stated grimly as he turned to look at his opponent, one hand reaching for his wand as he did so. "If your 'master' is so powerful, why don't you make me tell you?"
For a moment, as Quirrell glared at Harry, the young wizard thought that he was about to be attacked, but then that same strange voice 'spoke' once more, and Harry knew that he was about to have more things to worry about.
"Let me speak to him…" the voice whispered, "face to face…"
"But Master…" Quirrell began uncertainly, "you are not strong enough-"
"I have strength enough… for this…"
As Quirrell's hands reached up to begin to unravel his turban, Harry briefly slid his hand inside his sleeve, where he'd hidden his wand shortly after the escape from the Devil's Snare, but, after a moment's hesistation, decided that it was best left where it was; at the moment, there was nothing to be gained from trying to fight someone who was far more experienced than he was.
Besides, as Quirrell's turban fell away, leaving him with a surprisingly small head, Harry had to confess to a certain curiosity about where that voice was coming from…
Then Quirrell turned around, revealing a chalk-white face with red eyes and a snake-like nose on the back of his head, and Harry suddenly knew that things were far worse than he'd imagined.
"Harry Potter…" the face whispered, in a voice that left Harry feelings as though he was frozen to the spot; a part of him wanted to run, but the rest of him was absolutely terrified at the idea of even moving right now.
"Voldemort, I take it?" Harry countered, trying to sound less terrified than he actually was; after spending so long hearing about what Voldemort was capable of, it was rather intimidating to meet him 'face-to-face' at long last.
"You've come down a bit in the world, haven't you?" he said, trying to avoid sounding as terrified as he felt as he indicated Voldemort's position on the back of Quirrell's head; getting Voldemort angry might not be the smartest move, but angry people tended to make mistakes, and, right now, Harry was rather pressed for ideas as far as coming up with a fighting strategy went. "I mean, using somebody else's body? That's kind of pathetic, isn't it?"
"I only exist this way because of you…" Voldemort retorted, his eyes seeming to flash as he glared at Harry. "Condemned to exist as mere shadow and vapour… possessing form only when I use the body of another… but there have always been those willing to welcome me into their hearts and mind… Unicorn blood has strengthened me these past few weeks… and once I possess the Elixir of Life, I will be able to create a new, fresh body of my own… Now, why don't you give me that stone in your pocket?"
As Harry's hand instinctively moved for the stone in his pocket, he mentally cursed; so much for any hope that he might be able to bluff his way through this immediate 'meeting'.
"Sorry, but I'm not that interested in letting you come back," he retorted, allowing himself a slight smirk that he hoped would contain his fear at the current situation. "As a man renowned for his cunning plans once said, 'my mother always taught me to stand up to homicidal maniacs', and I wholeheartedly agree with his advice on that front."
"Don't be a fool…" Voldemort's face hissed, looking at Harry with a malicious gleam in his eyes. "Better to save your life and join me than defy me and meet your parents' fate… I greatly enjoyed that final confrontation with them… they both died begging me for mercy…"
It was that last comment, more than anything, that made Harry snap out of the shocked state; nobody insulted his parents like that while he was around.
"Shut UP!" he roared, pulling both hands out of his pockets and clenching them into firsts. Before he even had time to realise what a monumentally bad idea this was, he charged towards Voldemort, lashed out with the strongest punch he could throw directly towards Voldemort's face- he was only tall enough to reach the chin, but it still made contact, sending a momentary blinding pain through the scar on his forehead…
And left a large, ugly-looking burn on the 'face' in front of him, right where his fist had made contact with it?
"AARRGGHHH!" Quirrell screamed from the other side of the 'head', clutching at the face behind his own; either Voldemort was so shocked at what had happened that he couldn't scream, or he didn't really register Quirrell's pain as his own.
"Stop him, you fool!" Voldemort yelled as Quirrell staggered back, clutching the burned area where Harry had made contact with him as Harry stared at his hand, trying to work out what had just happened. He was pretty sure some of kind of 'Fire Punch'- for lack of a better term; his fist wasn't actually on fire, but how else did you explain the burn on Voldemort's 'face'- wasn't a magical skill that students were taught at any time in their school careers, so how had he managed to burn Voldemort just by touching him?
Then Quirrell began to turn around, his arms raised as though he was about to perform a curse of some kind, and Harry decided to put off analysis of this particular 'trick' until later; right now, his more immediate problem was to survive. Lunging forward before Quirrell could even open his mouth to speak, Harry grabbed Quirrell's face in both hands, a grim expression on his own face as smoke leaked out from under his fingers as they made contact with Quirrell's flesh.
The pain in his scar was almost killing him, but Harry refused to let go now that he had the upper hand over this… this thing that had nearly killed him ten years ago. As he desperately tightened his grin, Harry barely even registered the world around him begin to blur… barely even noticed that the face in his hands was starting to give way in his grip, as though it was falling apart… barely heard a faint voice that seemed to be yelling at him from off to the side…
Then, after what felt like only a moment's blackness- but, given the sunlight now shining on his face, was probably at least a few hours- Harry sat bolt upright in bed, blinking in confusion at his surroundings.
"Uh…" he groaned, as he slowly sat up, blinking as he reached over to pick up his glasses from a nearby bedside table and place them on his nose. "Wha… what happened?"
"Harry!" another voice suddenly yelled, Harry almost instantly finding himself wrapped in the arms of someone he definitely hadn't been expecting to see at Hogwarts.
"Wha… Mum?" he said, pulling back to look in shock at Jane Granger, who was looking at him with faint tears in her eyes as she smiled in relief at him. "What are you doing here?"
"Your headmaster called us as soon as he learned about your… well, 'confrontation', I suppose is the best term… with that… 'Voldemort' person," Jane replied, pulling back to smile at her adopted son, the faint glimmer of tears in her eyes as she looked at him. "As soon as we learned the full details- he'd vanished, his 'host' was dead and you were in a coma- your father and I have been taking turns having days off at the surgery to keep an eye on you; we had to get in a couple of assistants to help keep up with the patients, but it seems to have worked out so far. Quite frankly, you had us worried for a while; you've been in that coma for almost a week."
"A week?" Harry repeated, before he groaned and slumped back onto the bed. "Well, at least I'd already passed the exams…"
Jane chuckled slightly at that comment.
"At least you still appear to be all right up here," she said, smiling slightly as she looked down at her son and tapped her forehead. "Only you and Hermione would actually worry about missing exams at your age…"
"Indeed, Mrs Granger; you have raised two remarkable children," another voice said from the door. Glancing over at the voice, Harry's eyes narrowed slightly as he saw the speaker, and he was only slightly surprised to see that his mother didn't look all that happy to see the new arrival either.
Then again, Dumbledore had been conspicuous by his absence when Harry had been forced to risk his life against a demented Dark Lord who was using the body of one of his teachers; it was hardly a surprise that Jane would be at least slightly annoyed at the man who'd meant to be protecting her son from stuff like that.
"And, as I've told you before now," Jane said as she stood up to glare at the older man, her voice a cold, level tone that Harry couldn't recall ever hearing before, "if you don't promise to actually listen to those 'children' the next time they try to tell you something, my husband and I will be forced to consider transferring our children to another wizarding school."
"I assure you, Mrs Granger-" Dumbledore began, looking at the woman before him in as casual a manner as possible.
"You've already apologised to me; I just wanted you to know that Harry knows my feelings on the matter as well," Jane interrupted, as she glared at the headmaster of Hogwarts. "I can understand that you thought you knew what you were doing, but be assured, if my children are ever endangered by your actions- or inactions- at any future date, I will not rest until you have lost your job, your reputation, or whatever else I can take from you in a court of law for incompetence. Are we clear?"
"Naturally," Dumbledore replied, bowing slightly at Harry's adopted mother as he fixed her with a reassuring smile. "I shall remember that, I can assure you; should Harry or Hermione ever have something they feel they must tell me, I shall ensure that my staff know that they are to take it seriously."
Glancing at his mother's expression, Harry couldn't stop himself from slightly shuddering as he saw the cold expression on his mother's face at the reference to 'staff'; reminded of how Professor McGonagall hadn't believed them when they'd gone to tell her about the Stone, he found himself wondering if his parents had already had some words with the deputy headmistress about that particular 'mistake' of theirs…
"Good," Jane said, nodding briefly at the headmaster before she looked back at Harry and smiled. "I'll just go and see if I can find your sister and let her know you're awake, OK? I'll be back as soon as I've found her, I promise."
"Uh… sure thing," Harry said, nodding in understanding at Jane as she walked out of the hospital wing. For a moment, he thought about asking Dumbledore if somebody should go with her- he didn't want to imagine what could happen if his mother ran into somebody like Malfoy while walking about- but then he saw a student he vaguely recognised as a Gryffindor seventh year walking along with her, and relaxed; it looked like she already had a 'bodyguard' to deal with any magical unpleasantness she might encounter.
"Simply a minor security measure against some of the more… rowdy members of the student body," Dumbledore explained, noting Harry's gaze before he looked directly at the boy in question. "Now then, Harry, you will be pleased to know that Quirrell failed to get his hands on the stone; I managed to arrive in time to prevent that, although you were doing well on your own, I must say."
"Hold on; you got back that fast?" Harry interjected, looking in confusion at the headmaster. "I know Hedwig's good, but she's not that good…"
"We must have crossed in mid-air; no sooner had I arrived in London than it became clear to me that I was needed most where I had just departed. Regardless, I managed to pull Quirrell off you before the strain proved too much for you- as it was, as you've noted, you were unconscious for a while afterwards- and the Stone has been destroyed to ensure such a thing can never happen again."
Harry's eyes widened at that.
"Wait; the Stone's been destroyed?" he asked, looking in shock at the headmaster. "But- but what about Nicholas Flamel? Doesn't he need the Stone-?"
"Oh, you know about Nicholas?" Dumbledore asked, souning quite delighted at Harry's deduction. "You did do your research on the matter, didn't you? Well, Nicholas and I had a little chat, and we both agreed that it was for the best."
"But… he'll die, won't he?"
"He has enough Elixir of Life to set his affairs in order, and then, yes, he will die."
Harry couldn't help but feel slightly disappointed about that. After all the effort he'd gone to while trying to save the Stone to prevent Voldemort from causing any more deaths, he'd ended up being responsible- however indirectly- for somebody dying…
Dumbledore, as though sensing his thoughts, smiled reassuringly at Harry.
"I do not doubt that it is somewhat confusing for someone as young as you, but for Nicholas and Perenelle, dying is merely like going to bed after a remarkably long day. In many ways, when you think about it, it is probably for the best; the human mind was never intended to cope with immortality. The trouble is that people have a terrible habit of choosing "
"Ah," Harry said, nodding briefly in understanding before he looked inquiringly at the headmaster. "Uh… so… with the Stone gone… is that the only way Voldemort could come back, or are there others?"
"Alas, there are other ways," Dumbledore replied, sighing slightly as he looked apologetically at the young man before him. "Darker, more terrible ways that could give him his body back once again… but, without a follower, he is once again a mere spirit, less even than the meanest of ghosts, unable to be killed, but unable to truly do anything in his current state… It is likely that, without a new follower, and with somebody always there to try and stop him, he will never truly return to power."
Great, Harry mused to himself as he lay back in bed. So, in other words, he could come back, but there's no way of knowing how…
Despite that, however, Harry knew that he couldn't dwell on details like that until the time came when he could actually do something about it.
Besides, right now, he had a few questions he really wanted to know the answer to…
"Uh… Professor?" he asked, looking inquiringly at Dumbledore. "Can I ask you… well, a few questions?"
"Obviously, you've already asked me one," Dumbledore replied, smiling slightly at Harry. "However, you may feel free to ask me more if you wish."
"Well…" Harry paused for a moment, thinking about what he should ask first, and then decided to go with one of the more long-term questions he had right now. "Were you the one who sent me the cloak?"
Dumbledore blinked in surprise.
"How very intuitive of you, Harry," he said, looking in surprise at the young boy before him. "May I ask how you worked that out?"
"Well… the note suggested that it had been given to someone who was at school with my dad and also knew me, so that kind of left just you, Professor McGonagall, Hagrid, and Snape," Harry explained. "Hagrid's not great at keeping secrets- no offence to him, of course-, I don't see McGonagall breaking rules, and as for Snape…"
He shrugged slightly, unable to stop a slight glare in his eyes at the thought. "Well, from what Quirrell mentioned, it sounded like he and my father hated each other."
"Very intuitive, Harry," Dumbledore said, smiling in approval at the student. "And yes, Professor Snape and your father did indeed not get on when they were at school together- much like yourself and Mr Malfoy, really-, a state of affairs that only became worse when your father did something that Snape could never forgive."
"He saved his life."
"Yes…" Dumbledore smiled, nodding at Harry's surprised expression. "Odd the way some people see things, isn't it? Professor Snape couldn't bear remaining in your father's debt, so I think he worked so hard to protect you this year because he felt that you make him and your father equals, thus allowing him to hate your father's memory in peace."
Harry supposed that made sense; he'd certainly read more demented reasons for people's actions in all his mystery novels.
"Oh, one thing's really puzzling me… why couldn't Quirrell touch me?"
"Your mother died to save you," Dumbledore explained, looking directly at Harry for the first time as he spoke. "If there is one thing Quirrell and Voldemort cannot understand, it is love. He failed to realise that love like your mother's for you would leave a mark- not a scar, no, but a mark that lives in your very skin, granting you some protection for as long as you live. Quirrell, full of hatred, greed and ambition, sharing his soul with Voldemort
For a moment, Harry couldn't speak, taking a moment or two to collect himself as Dumbledore feigned interest in a bird outside the window.
Even after all the time he'd spent with the Grangers, it was still a relief when he heard something that made it clear that he'd once had biological relatives who actually cared about him…
It really made him feel… better about himself, he supposed.
At least he knew that not all of his biological family had regarded him as being lower than toilet scum…
Finally, he took a deep breath and looked back at the headmaster.
"Just one last detail I can't quite figure out; how did I get the Stone out of the mirror?"
"Ah, that was one of my more brilliant ideas," Dumbeldore smiled broadly, before leaning over to whisper briefly to Harry, "and between you and me, that's saying something. You see, only a person who wanted to find the Stone- find it, but not use it- would be able to get it, otherwise they would merely see themselves making gold or drinking Elixir of Life…"
With that said, Dumbledore smiled nonchalantly over at Harry as he reached over to pick up one of the boxes of sweets that Harry only now registered were lying around his bed; with his mother and then Dumbledore talking to him, Harry hadn't the time to look around and see how many cards and presents he seemed to have received while he was unconscious.
"Ah, Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans!" Dumbledore smiled, picking out one of the multicoloured beans in question- a golden-brown one, Harry noted- and looking at it with a slight smile. "I was most unfortunate in my youth to come across a vomit flavor one, and since then I'm afraid I've lost my liking for them, but I think I could be safe with a nice toffee, don't you?"
As Dumbledore popped the bean into his mouth, Harry was only slightly surprised when the headmaster choked, a rather distasteful expression appearing on his face as he looked regretfully at Harry. "Alas! Ear-wax."
Harry could only shrug apologetically at that as Dumbledore headed towards the door, a slightly pale expression on his face; clearly, he was in no mood to try another sweet after another rather 'poor' encounter with the Every Flavour Beans.
Shrugging it off- quite frankly, he wasn't sure what else he could have said to Dumbledore even if the headmaster had stayed around longer- Harry turned his attention back to the piles of food around him, but before he could even open a Chocolate Frog, Harry heard a loud, familiar voice yelling his name in joy, and he once again found himself engulfed by a bushy-haired figure who was, once again, simultaneously yelling and sobbing into his shoulder.
"THE NEXT TIME YOU DO SOMETHING THAT IDIOTIC, HARRY POTTER," Hermione yelled practically into his ear, shock and fear clear in her voice, "I MIGHT BE TEMPTED TO DISOWN YOU! WHAT WERE YOU THINKING?"
"Hermione…" Harry gasped weakly; his sister, as always when she was either very excited or very scared, was squeezing him so hard he felt like his ribs were going to break, "firstly… limited options… Remember? Secondly… I need to breath…"
"Oh… uh… right…" Hermione said, blushing slightly awkwardly as she pulled back before she continued to glare at her brother. "Seriously, though, the next time you're tempted to put yourself into a coma by tackling a powerful dark wizard, at least try and think of something less… potentially lethal, OK?"
"I'll bear that in mind…" Harry replied, nodding briefly at his sister before he glanced over at his mother and Ron, who were currently standing at the foot of his bed. "Oh, by the way, good to see you're OK, Ron; I was a bit worried about you after the white queen hit you."
"If you ever needed another reason to dislike Emma Frost, there you have it," Hermione said, chuckling slightly as she indicated the lump on Ron's head. "She helped contribute to the Dark Phoenix mess, and her namesake nearly killed a friend of ours in a chess game."
"Uh… who's Emma Frost?" Ron said, looking in confusion at his friend.
Hermione could only roll her eyes as she exchanged a brief, frustrated glare with her brother, briefly sharing their joint exasperation with wizards and their general ignorance of muggle pop culture gems such as the X-Men, before Mrs Granger spoke once again.
"Well, I'd better go and let your father know you're up, Harry," she said, looking over slightly apologetically at her son. "If we can, we'll try and drop in on you before term ends, but if not, we'll see you when you and Hermione get home, OK?"
"Uh… sure thing, Mum," Harry said, nodding briefly at his mother, not wanting to voice his confusion; why wouldn't she be allowed to come back?
Fortunately, he didn't have to wonder for long; as soon as Jane had departed the hospital wing, Hermione had noted Harry's confusion and was willing to answer his question.
"It's not exactly normal for muggles to spend so much time in Hogwarts, so the protective charms on the castle have never really been altered to accommodate their presence," she explained. "All the anti-muggle charms may not work if you're actually invited into the building, but it's still generally uncomfortable for Mum and Dad to be inside the castle on a long-term basis; I think there's something in Hogwarts: A History that suggests that there could be long-term damage if they stay inside for too long, but nobody really wants to find out."
"Ah," Harry said, nodding in understanding. "So… they might not be let back in because of… basically… health issues?"
"Pretty much; annoying, isn't it?" Hermione said, sighing slightly before she assumed a more serious expression as she looked at her brother. "Anyway, now that the minor details are out of the way, care to tell me exactly what actually happened through the flames? We've heard that Quirrell was possessed by… well, Voldemort… but that's about it; what really happened down there?"
As Harry recounted the story of what had taken place during that terrible confrontation, he was pleased to note that he still had his little knack for making Hermione jump when he wanted to; admittedly, in this case it was from shock at what he told her had been under Quirrell's turban rather than because he was playing a joke, but the general principle remained the same.
"So… the Stone's gone?" Ron said, as Harry finished the story by explaining what Dumbledore had just told him. "Flamel's just going to die?"
"I know… it's kind of depressing for me, too," Harry sighed, as he looked over at Hermione. "I know I shouldn't blame myself- if nothing else, Dumbledore assures me that Flamel's decided it's for the best- but… well, y'know… I was trying to stop people ending up dead because of Voldemort."
Smiling sympathetically at her brother, Hermione reached over and squeezed his hand, looking reassuringly at him.
"You did the best you could, Harry; nobody can blame you if your best just wasn't quite good enough," she said, as she looked at him. "You can't save everybody, you know."
"Yeah… I know," Harry said, nodding slightly dejectedly at the thought. "Doesn't stop me wishing I could, but I know what you mean."
For a moment, there was silence as the three of them sat there, contemplating what they'd learned, and then Harry shrugged and looked up at his friends. "Anyway, what happened to you guys after we split up?"
"Well," Hermione responded, taking up the story, "I managed to get back to the chess room and get Ron out of there- he was still a bit dazed, but he could walk easily enough-, we took one of the brooms to get past the Devil's Snare, but we were just on our way up to the owlery when we ran into Dumbledore in the entrance hall; he seemed to know what was happening- he just said "Harry's gone after him, hasn't he?"- and hurried off to the third floor corridor to help you."
"Uh… do you think he meant you to do that?" Ron asked, looking uncertainly at his friend. "I mean, if he sent you the cloak and everything…"
"Who knows?" he said, almost nonchalantly, as he looked back at his friend and his sister. "Maybe he guessed that we'd figure it out anyway, so… I dunno, he decided it was best to give us a chance to crack the mystery ourselves rather than go in there half-cocked and totally screw it up?"
He shrugged slightly as he leant back, wincing slightly at a brief pain in his head; evidently, he still wasn't quite operating at a hundred per cent yet, but he was getting there. "I'm not saying I like it, but I can kind of see where he was coming from at least."
"Yeah, he's barking all right," Ron said, smiling slightly before his expression became slightly dejected as he looked at Harry. "Oh, by the way, the points are all in, and Slytherin won in the end- you missed the last Quidditch match and we were steamrolled by Ravenclaw without you- but at least the food'll be good; the end-of-term feast is tomorrow."
"Ah," Harry said, groaning slightly as he leant back in his bed. Overall, he supposed it wasn't surprising that Slytherin had won in the end- it had been pretty close between the two houses before the exams, and without the points they would have won by winning the Quidditch cup it was probably only to be expected that Slytherin managed to get a lead- but it was still kind of annoying.
All that work, only to be ended by one stupid coma…
Hearing the faint sound of footsteps, Hermione sighed as she looked at her brother and her friend.
"Sounds like Madam Pomfrey's coming back; we'd better go," she said, looking apologetically at Harry. "We'll see you tomorrow, OK?"
Nodding affirmatively at his sister, Harry watched briefly as she and Ron departed the hospital wing, before he closed his eyes and sank back into a deep rest.
The next morning, baring the occasional twinge in his scar, Harry felt nearly back to normal, and, despite Madam Pomfery's apparent uncertainty, was nevertheless given permission to attend the leaving feast that night.
"Just take care not to over-strain yourself; you don't just snap back from the kind of experience you've had," Madam Pomfrey said grimly as she looked at Harry. "And you also have another visitor."
Harry was about to ask who it was, but then he saw Hagrid sidle in through the door, as always looking too big to really be allowed inside in the first place. Walking over to Harry, Hagrid sat down beside his bed, took one look at the boy, and burst into tears.
"It's-all-my-ruddy-fault!" he sobbed, his face in his hands. "I told the evil git how ter get past Fluffy! I told him! It was the only thing he didn't know an' I told 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 said, looking sympathetically at his friend. "This is Voldemort we're talking about here… he'd have found out some other way even if you hadn't told him… you shouldn't blame yourself for it…"
"Yeh could've died!" Hagrid sobbed. "An' don' say the name!"
"VOLDEMORT!" Harry yelled, causing Hagrid to stop crying in shock. "I've met him, I've called him by his name, and he's been defeated; the Stone's gone, he can't use it again, and, all in all, everything worked out. Hagrid, please, just sit down, cheer up, and… have a Chocolate Frog or something…"
Wiping his nose on the back of his hand, Hagrid smiled weakly at the young boy.
"That reminds me; I've got yer a present," he said, as he reached into his large pocket and pulled out a handsome, leather-covered book. "Dumbledore gave me the day off ter fix it- he shoulda sacked me instead- but I sent owls off ter all yer parents' school friends, asking for… well, just open it an' see."
Opening the book curiously, Harry's eyes widened as he saw the contents. There in the book, smiling at him on every page, were wizarding photographs of two people who could only be his parents; the young man who occupied most of the pictures even looked like him, just with the occasional 'deliberate mistake', such as the lack of a scar or the grown eyes where his own were green.
"Knew yeh didn' have of yer own, and… well… thought yeh'd like it," Hagrid explained, smiling slightly at the young boy before him.
Harry couldn't even speak, but Hagrid understood.
Having been through one last check-up, Harry made his way down to the end-of-year feast alone that night. Arriving in the already-full Great Hall, Harry tried to ignore the green-and-silver banners showing the Slytherin serpent that were hanging up to celebrate Slytherin's winning the house cup for the seventh year in a row. Trying not to react too much to the sudden hush and subsequent whispered conversations that began as he entered the room, Harry slipped into a seat between Ron and Hermione at the Gryffindor table and tried to ignore the people who were now standing up to look at him, grateful when Dumbledore rose to speak.
"Another year gone!" Dumbledore said cheerfully. "And I must trouble you with an old man's wheezing waffle before we sink our teeth into our delicious feast. What a year it has been! Hopefully your heads are all 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 three hundred and fifty-two points; in third, Ravenclaw, with four hundred and twenty-six; Gryffindor has four hundred and sixty-two points, and Slytherin, four hundred and seventy-two."
A storm of cheering and stamping broke out from the Slytherin table. Harry could see Draco Malfoy banging his goblet on the table. It was a sickening sight.
"Yes, yes, well done, Slytherin, well done," said Dumbledore. "However, recent events must be taken into account."
The room went very still. The Slytherins' smiles faded a little.
"Ahem," said Dumbledore. "I have a few last-minute points to dish out. Let me see. Yes ... to Mr. Ronald Weasley" (Harry noted with a slight smile that Ron suddenly looked like a sunburned radish), "to Miss Hermione Granger" (Hermione buried her face in her arms; Harry couldn't tell if she was embarrassed or overcome) "and to Mr. Harry Potter, for the best-played game of chess Hogwarts has seen in many years, for the use of cool logic in the face of fire, and for pure nerve and outstanding courage, I award them each fifty points."
Anything else that might have been said was drowned out amid the chorus of cheers as three-quarters of the entire hall went wild, with even Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff celebrating the downfall of Slytherin at long last. Glancing over, Harry saw Malfoy staring in shock at the three of them, prompting him to wave cheerily at his school 'adversary' (Although he freely acknowledged that Voldemort was the more dangerous of the two, Malfoy was unquestionably the more… annoying, to say the least), prompting Malfoy's expression to shift to a look that suggested he would have a serious heart attack.
Of course, as Harry looked around at his housemates and the celebrating students, he knew that it was only a minor victory in the overall scheme of things- the real triumph lay in Voldemort's defeat, not some inter-house championship- but, nevertheless, it was quite an achievement. As Harry, Ron and Hermione exchanged broad grins and handshakes with the surrounding students, he couldn't help but feel a certain… satisfaction, he supposed… at how things had turned out.
If nothing else, at least if he was still going to be famous now, he could be famous for something he remembered doing, rather than for something he'd had no control over.
Once the chaos of the feast was over, Harry and his friends finally received their exams results for the year. All in all, the marks weren't as surprising as they might have been; Ron's scores were a bit lower than Harry and Hermione's, and Harry's marks were more on the practical side of the course than Hermione's ones- Hermione, naturally, excelled at anything involving essays- but otherwise it was pretty straightforward. Neville's Herbology grade made up for his poor Potions one, but apart from that everyone's scores were pretty much evenly spread throughout the curriculum.
After the last few details of packing had been sorted out- Trevor once again making a bid for freedom that had to be averted, and there was some slight frustration at the notes forbidding the use of magic when out of school- the students were all transported back to the Hogwarts Express, where Harry, Ron, Hermione, Fred and George spent the whole trip back talking and laughing as they exchanged stories and jokes about the past year's events.
Finally, they pulled into King's Cross, the three first years sitting around and talking as the guard filed the students out of the platform in small groups to prevent them attracting too much attention.
"You've got to come and stay over the holiday," Ron said as they waited. "I'll send an owl as soon as I can."
"Cool," Hermione smiled, nodding at her friend in agreement. "Just don't expect us to spend all our time there; if nothing else, the family'll be coming around for Harry's birthday, and we wouldn't want to miss seeing them- particularly with Natalie apparently possessing magical abilities herself…"
"Yeah…" Harry said, nodding in confirmation before he glanced up and saw the guard waving them over. "Well, let's get going; I, for one, would like to see Dad again."
"Yeah, you weren't exactly very talkative the last time he saw you…" Hermione said, chuckling slightly before her face fell as a thought occurred to her. "We're going to be in so much trouble for what we did, aren't we?"
"Well, look at it this way," he said, as he smiled over at his sister. "We may be grounded for ages because we nearly got ourselves killed, but at least we're all still alive to get grounded."
And we've got a family who cares enough to actually worry about us, he added mentally.
He didn't voice it, of course- he hated to remind Hermione of his life with the Dursleys, even if it was only a brief comment- but he knew that it was true.
After all, what were the chances that he'd even have told the Dursleys about this whole mess if he'd still been staying with them? They'd just have been disappointed that he hadn't died…
As it was, as Harry walked back into the muggle world, he had relatives who cared what he did and whether he lived or died, and he was grateful for it.