(Well, this is it. The last chapter. Thanks to everyone who has reviewed and I hope you find the end satisfying. I've made minor edits to all the previous chapters and the format of the story is now much more consistent.
Disclaimer: Still don't own Harry Potter or FFVII. Copyright belongs to JK Rowling and Square-Enix.)
Their plan didn't work, however. Professor McGonagall found them skulking around the Entrance Hall.
"Get back up to your common rooms!" she exploded. "You're as bad as Potter, Weasley and Granger, thinking they know more about the school being in danger than we do."
The four friends looked at each other.
"What do you mean, Professor?" Aerith asked.
"Never you mind!"
She started to chivvy them away.
"Professor, could you just do us one favour?" asked Cloud.
"What now, Strife?"
"If Dumbledore comes back, could you tell him what Harry and the others said about the school being in danger?"
"Dumbledore won't be back tonight," said Professor McGonagall. "Go now, before I lose my patience!"
They had no choice. They walked up the marble staircase, and parted on the sixth floor.
"It's all right," said Aerith. "It hasn't happened yet. I think I'd know if it did. The planet would scream out..."
"I hope you're right," said Cloud. "Well, see you."
They nodded. Aerith and Tifa started walking together, and Vincent was just about to follow them, when Cloud stopped him.
"Vincent. Look after Aerith, will you?"
The boy's dark eyes bored into Cloud's. His expression didn't change at all, but he nodded. Cloud returned to Gryffindor Tower alone. Harry, Ron and Hermione were in the common room. They had a steely glint in their eyes that Cloud knew only too well. What were they planning?
The three of them started towards the portrait hole, but Cloud blocked them.
"You're going out again, aren't you?" he said.
"Cloud, please don't stop us," said Hermione.
"I won't let you," he said. It was dangerous out there. He couldn't let them get into trouble again, especially Harry. "You told me to stand up to people," he said.
"Yes, but not to us," said Ron in frustration.
Cloud decided that he should warn them about the danger outside. But if they knew something, were they going out to meet it willingly? That was crazy.
He didn't have time to say anything more. Hermione stepped forward and raised her wand.
"I'm really, really sorry, Cloud," she said. "Petrificus Totalus!"
This time he felt not only his legs lock together, but his whole body. His arms snapped to his sides and he keeled over. His body hit the floor with a dull thump. Pain exploded in the back of his head, and his back was bruised too. But he couldn't cry out. It was all he could do to breathe through his nose. His eyes stared unblinkingly at the ceiling. Harry, Hermione and Ron had left. He could only hope that Dumbledore would come in time to save them.
He lay unmoving, waiting for the curse to wear off.
It felt like an age, but in actual fact it was barely a minute later that a low voice muttered something and Cloud felt the magical bonds fall away from his body. He blinked in relief and sat up, ready to thank whoever it was. Then his eyes widened in shock at the person standing before him.
It was Vincent.
"How… how did you get in here?" Cloud asked.
"Not very grateful, are we?"
"How did you get in here?" Cloud repeated.
Vincent sighed. "After I took Aerith and Tifa back to their common room, I thought I'd go and try to find Potter and his friends. I arrived just as they emerged from the portrait hole and managed to slip in without them seeing me."
Cloud narrowed his eyes suspiciously. "How could you possibly do that?"
"I may have… kept the Invisibility Cloak."
"Without telling us?"
"Look, do you want to go after Potter or not?"
Cloud straightened up, a determined glint in his blue eyes. "Let's do it."
They left the common room. As they stepped into the corridor, Vincent threw the Invisibility Cloak over both of them.
"Did you see where they went?"
"I think they have an Invisibility Cloak too," Vincent whispered. "They vanished a short way down this corridor."
"So you've no idea where they've gone?"
Cloud groaned. How were they supposed to find a group of invisible students who could have gone anywhere in the school? Think, Cloud, think.
"Okay," said Cloud, "if we don't know where to find them, maybe we should go back to the Entrance Hall and meet Dumbledore. He might know something…"
They crept down the deserted corridor, and Cloud took a short cut which led to the fourth floor. It was strange walking under the Invisibility Cloak; he could sense Vincent walking next to him, but it was as though his body had Transfigured into thin air. He could hear his own footsteps, feel his heart beating, his quick breaths and his muscles working, but he could see nothing. Vincent didn't speak, but one of his arms gripped Cloud's, so they kept close together and the Cloak covered them both.
The castle was strangely quiet. The only person they passed was a ghost, floating mournfully along, staring ahead with a preoccupied air. Cloud had to jump back to prevent the ghost passing right through him; he knew how unpleasant a sensation that was. Vincent stumbled then and let out a faint sound of exasperation, but luckily the ghost didn't notice. Other than that, their progress was smooth.
Finally, they descended the marble staircase and arrived in the Entrance Hall. Cloud cast around.
"Looks like Dumbledore hasn't arrived yet. I hope we haven't missed him…"
"At least McGonagall has gone."
Vincent shrugged off the Invisibility Cloak, exposing his head and torso. He pulled it off Cloud and stuffed it inside his robes. Cloud sat down at the bottom of the marble steps. He had a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach. He should have gone with Harry, Hermione and Ron, instead of trying to stop them. Or at least he could have warned them… But they hadn't given him a chance. They think I'm useless, he thought. They think I'll just get in the way.
Vincent sat next to him and examined his interlocking fingers. The air was heavy with silence.
Cloud licked his dry lips. "They know something. They must do. I wonder what it is…"
"Aerith thinks it's He Who Must Not Be Named."
"But where? How would he get inside the school? What's he after?"
"Maybe he's after Harry," said Cloud. "Maybe he wants to finish what he started and Harry's walking into a trap." Just like that night when Malfoy challenged him to a duel, he thought.
"We can only speculate," said Vincent.
But suddenly Cloud's mind was racing… the night of the duel, when they ran away from Filch… and into the forbidden corridor on the third floor. There had lurked the monstrous three-headed dog – he'd hardly given it a second thought in recent months, but it had been there, all along – and what had Hermione said?
"It's obviously guarding something."
Guarding something: a secret object hidden inside the school. What if someone was after the thing that was being guarded? If it got past the three-headed dog…
Cloud stood up.
"Where are you going?" Vincent asked.
"The third floor. I think that's where Harry and his friends might have gone."
Vincent looked at him curiously. "Do you mean the forbidden corridor?"
He catches on fast, Cloud thought. "Come on," he said out loud, and without further ado dashed up the staircase. There was no time for the Invisibility Cloak now. Vincent followed; he could hear the boy panting behind him.
"But what about Dumbledore?" Vincent huffed.
"What about him indeed?" a deep voice uttered.
Cloud and Vincent both jumped. They turned. A figure they recognised stood at the foot of the marble staircase. His eyes sparkled behind his half-moon glasses and his benign face crinkled into a smile. He clutched a crumpled piece of parchment in one hand; the other held his wand.
"Professor Dumbledore!" Cloud gasped. They ran forward and Cloud immediately started gabbling out everything he knew. "Sir – Harry and his friends – I think they've gone to the forbidden corridor, sir!"
Dumbledore listened gravely but when Cloud mentioned the third floor corridor, he straightened up and his wand hand twitched.
"We must hurry," said Dumbledore. "Come."
As Cloud and Vincent tried to keep up with the Headmaster's long strides, Cloud told him about their suspicions.
"I take it you sent me that letter?" Dumbledore asked, as they ascended a spiral staircase.
"I commend both of you for doing so. I can only hope we're not too late."
Cloud felt a chill spread through his entire body when they approached the door on the third floor corridor. Dumbledore paused.
"Wait here," he instructed them. A quick flick of his wand, and they heard the lock click. Dumbledore stepped forward, his robes billowing, and suddenly the door banged open and a girl flew out and tumbled off a broomstick. Dumbledore bent swiftly and caught her.
She straightened up, her eyes wide and frightened, her bushy hair sticking out in all directions.
"Professor – how did you – you've got to help Harry, he went to face You Know Who by himself!"
Hermione's face was white and she clutched at Dumbledore's arm with a grip that made him wince. Behind her, something (and Cloud was very sure he knew what it was) snarled.
Dumbledore gently prised Hermione's arm off his robe. "Don't worry, I'll go at once. Mr Strife, please look after Miss Granger here. Stay outside. Now, Miss Granger, do you mind if I borrow your broomstick?"
"Of course not," Hermione squeaked.
Dumbledore thrust the rolled-up parchment at Cloud, then picked up the broomstick and slipped inside the door, leaving the three students staring after him. Hermione was breathing heavily; he could see tear tracks running down her cheeks.
He's mad, thought Cloud – doesn't he know what's in there? But the snarling had ceased; instead he could hear music playing; a harp maybe. The music lasted only a few seconds and when it stopped Cloud wondered if he was hearing things. This whole day had been so hectic; he hardly knew what to think anymore. Then he noticed Hermione leaning against the wall, panting, and her eyes still dilated with fear. His head cleared.
"Are you all right?" He patted her arm, a little awkwardly.
"Yes… just out of breath."
"What happened down there?" Vincent asked. His dark eyes were alight with curiosity.
Hermione cleared her throat and as her breathing returned to normal she told them her story.
"The Philosopher's Stone – have you heard of it?"
Vincent nodded, while Cloud looked blank, but Hermione continued regardless.
"It's hidden down there," she said, "and Sn- someone was trying to steal it."
Vincent raised his eyebrows. "So you tried to get there first? You didn't tell a teacher?"
"We tried to find Professor Dumbledore," said Hermione defensively, "but he'd gone! And Professor McGonagall wouldn't believe us."
Cloud and Vincent exchanged glances. Slowly, the pieces were coming together.
"There were a lot of obstacles to get past. Ron got knocked out by a giant chess piece." She gave a tiny squeak. "It was horrible! I tried to revive him, but he was still unconscious, and I needed to go and get Dumbledore quickly. He's still down there. I do hope he's all right…"
"What about Harry?" Cloud asked.
Hermione shook her head in despair. "There was a room – it was blocked by fire; there was a potion to get through it but it was only enough for one person… Harry went to face You Know Who by himself."
Vincent stared at her incredulously. "He'll be killed!"
Hermione bit her lip; she seemed close to tears again.
"Dumbledore will save him," said Cloud firmly. "Besides, Harry defeated him when he was only a baby. This should be no problem for him." Cloud didn't really believe what he was saying, but both Vincent and Hermione's faces lit up at his words. Boosting morale, he thought – that's the best I can do, for now.
To keep Hermione distracted, he asked her how they had found out about the Philosopher's Stone. Her story surprised him. Snape, working for Lord Voldemort? The teacher was nasty, but Cloud had never imagined anything like that. Snape had planned to steal the Stone and use it to bring his master back to full power. Hermione then went on to describe the various obstacles they had faced when trying to get to the Stone, but she kept diverting from her explanations and fretting about her friends instead. Cloud could hardly blame her; he was very worried too, and he wasn't as close to Harry and Ron as Hermione was. Aerith had been right, he thought. Evil did lurk here – but Aerith was back in her common room, so he couldn't ask her if she could sense what was happening. Would she know if Voldemort's plan succeeded?
He was jolted out of his thoughts by the arrival of Dumbledore. The door to the forbidden corridor flew open once more (all three of them had moved away from it, not wanting to be too close to the monster inside) and Dumbledore strode out. He had his wand raised. The prone forms of both Harry and Ron followed him, laid out on stretchers that the Headmaster had conjured.
Hermione rushed forward. "Professor, are they all right? What happened?"
"They will be fine," Dumbledore answered. He looked weary, but his eyes twinkled more merrily than ever. "Harry managed to stop Quirrell from reaching the Philosopher's Stone in time. Lord Voldemort has fled and no-one is seriously hurt."
"Quirrell?" Hermione repeated. "It was Quirrell?" She frowned.
"Indeed it was. If you'd like to accompany your friends to the hospital wing, I am sure they will explain everything in due course."
Dumbledore swept Hermione and the two stretchers before him. Cloud and Vincent followed in his wake. As Hermione went on ahead, Dumbledore stopped for a moment and addressed Cloud.
"You two may go back to your common rooms," he said.
Vincent nodded, and Cloud said, "Yes, sir." But Dumbledore suddenly pressed one long-fingered hand on Cloud's shoulder.
"That was a very worthy thing you did," he said quietly. "If you hadn't sent the owl to warn me, I may not have returned in time. I award you both five points."
Cloud grinned. "Thanks, sir!"
Dumbledore smiled and his long white beard swished as he turned. Cloud and Vincent watched him catch up with Hermione, on their way to the hospital wing.
"We'd better go back ourselves," said Vincent.
"Right," said Cloud. He was feeling a huge sense of relief now. It was all over; evil had not triumphed – and he had helped to stop it! Cloud and Vincent separated on their way to their respective common rooms. Cloud grinned as he imagined how much Vincent had to tell the other Ravenclaws. He had a story of his own for the Gryffindors too.
He could hardly believe it. The end of his first year at Hogwarts. It had been an eventful year, he thought. Giant three-headed dogs, plots against Malfoy, the disastrous night of the dragon, and then finally Aerith's mysterious insights. But all was well; Lord Voldemort had not returned.
Now, at the end-of-term feast, it was clear everything was going to be all right. Unfortunately, Gryffindor had come bottom of the house championship, but considering how things might have gone, this didn't seem like too harsh a blow. He wished he didn't have to see the Slytherin banners draping the Great Hall though.
He had passed all his exams too, which was something.
Dumbledore stood up and called for attention.
"I have a few last-minute points to give out," he said. "Firstly, to Mr Ronald Weasley, for the best played game of chess Hogwarts has seen in many years, I award Gryffindor House fifty points."
"Oh yeah!" said Cloud as the Gryffindors around him whooped and cheered. Everyone had heard the story by now (partly thanks to Vincent and Cloud telling as many people as possible), of how Harry, Ron and Hermione had gone to find the Philosopher's Stone, and got past a series of magical obstructions to get to it. There were rumours that Harry had somehow met Lord Voldemort in the final chamber. Not everyone took these rumours seriously, but Cloud knew it was true. Perhaps then Dumbledore would give out points to Hermione and Harry too...
"Second – to Miss Hermione Granger... for the use of cool logic in the face of fire, I award Gryffindor House fifty points."
The Gryffindor table were screaming with delight – they were a hundred points up.
Dumbledore's voice rose above the clamour. "And third, to Mr Harry Potter, for sheer nerve and outstanding courage, I award Gryffindor House sixty points."
Cloud cheered himself hoarse.
"You go, Harry!" Barret yelled, thumping the boy on the back. Harry grinned in an embarrassed sort of way.
"Shit," said Cid. "I just worked it out. We're level with Slytherin now. Why couldn't the old bastard have given us just one more point, dammit."
The Gryffindors held their breath, for Dumbledore was speaking again.
"There are all kinds of courage," he said, smiling. "It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends. I therefore award ten points to Mr Cloud Strife."
Cloud gasped. Dumbledore had just given him the points that meant Gryffindor had won the House Championship!
"Never knew you had it in you, Chocobo-head!" said Cid. "Good on ya!"
Everyone was cheering and screaming. Cloud blushed.
"I think this calls for a change of decoration!" said Dumbledore. He snapped his fingers and immediately the Slytherin colours of green and silver were replaced by red and gold, and the Slytherin snake banner became a roaring Gryffindor lion.
Cloud had tears of joy in his eyes. He couldn't imagine a better ending to the year.
(Year the Second… coming soon.)