It was Ree's turn to read now. She took the book from Charlie and cleared her throat before beginning to read.

Chapter Seventeen: The Man With Two Faces

Harry sighed. For the first time, he was going to hear his grandmother read him a story. He never truly realized just how much he'd missed out on, not having grandparents.

It was Quirrell.

Sirius shrieked loudly. "Not the Defense Professor!" he screamed dramatically.

Severus smirked in amusement. He'd known who it was for quite a while now.

"You!" gasped Harry.

Quirrell smiled. His face wasn't twitching at all.

"So it was all an act," Remus stated matter-of-factly.

"Me," he said calmly. "I wondered whether I'd be meeting you here, Potter."

"But I thought – Snape – "

"Severus?" Quirrell laughed, and it wasn't his usual quivering treble, either, but cold and sharp. "Yes, Severus does seem the type, doesn't he? So useful to have him swooping around like an overgrown bat. Next to him, who would suspect p-p-poor st-stuttering P-Professor Quirrell?"

"OVERGROWN BAT! Who does he think he's talking about here?" Severus raged. "That bastard! Overgrown bat, Merlin's most hairy toes!"

Harry couldn't take it in. This couldn't be true, it couldn't.

"Yes, it could," the whole room chorused together.

"But Snape tried to kill me!"

"No, no, no. I tried to kill you.

Most of the women shuddered at this.

Sirius just looked like he was seriously contemplating murder.

Your friend Miss Granger accidentally knocked me over as she rushed to set fire to Snape at the Quidditch match. She broke my eye contact with you.

"Well, that's convenient," Minerva muttered. "What are the odds of that happening?"

"Three-hundred twenty to one," Luna stated.

"Is it really?"

"Actually, I have no idea what the odds are. I just thought that number sounded good," Luna said, smiling benignly.

Several people rolled their eyes, but most of them grinned.

Another few seconds and I'd have got you off that broom. I'd have managed it before then if Snape hadn't been muttering a countercurse, trying to save you."

James stood and walked over to Severus. He held out a hand and said, "I know I've been a right terrible git and a bully, but you still saved my son. I'm sorry for bullying you. I'd kinda like to be friends now, if you don't mind too terribly."

Severus eyed the hand, then slowly reached out and shook it. "Apology accepted. Friends," he confirmed.

Remus and Sirius both stood up then, and also apologized and shook Severus' hand.

Ree looked somewhat teary eyed, and Harry beamed with pride at his father. He really had felt terrible that his father had behaved just like the very people he most despised.

"Snape was trying to save me?"

"You didn't have to sound so shocked, you know," Severus said, sounding miffed.

"Of course," said Quirrell coolly. "Why do you think he wanted to referee your next match? He was trying to make sure I didn't do it again. Funny, really ... he needn't have bothered. I couldn't do anything with Dumbledore watching. All the other teachers thought Snape was trying to stop Gryffindor from winning, he did make himself unpopular ... and what a waste of time, when after all that, I'm going to kill you tonight."

Sirius growled angrily.

Quirrell snapped his fingers. Ropes sprang out of thin air and wrapped themselves tightly around Harry.

Remus' eyes glowed with rage. If he could, he probably would have turned into a wolf, leapt into the book, and killed Quirrell.

"You're too nosy to live, Potter. Scurrying around the school at Halloween like that, for all I knew you'd seen me coming to look at what was guarding the Stone."

"Isn't Quirrell in Alice's defense class?" James asked Lily suddenly.

Lily thought for a moment. "Yes, I think he is."

"Good."

All three Marauders looked gleeful.

"You let the troll in?"

"Certainly. I have a special gift with trolls – you must have seen what I did to the one in the chamber back there? Unfortunately, while everyone else was running around looking for it, Snape, who already suspected me, went straight to the third floor to head me off – and not only did my troll fail to beat you to death, that three-headed dog didn't even manage to bite Snape's leg off properly."

Sirius looked thoughtful. "I suggest we help Hagrid 'train' his Cerberus, and train it to attack anyone wearing turbans."

"Ooh, good idea, Padfoot!" Remus said, impressed. "That's really quite brilliant."

"Now, wait quietly, Potter. I need to examine this interesting mirror."

"Oh, like that's going to work on a Potter," Minerva muttered.

It was only then that Harry realized what was standing behind Quirrell. It was the Mirror of Erised.

"Brilliant," Dumbledore muttered, looking as though Christmas had come early and Dobby had given him a house full of socks.

"This 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 ... I'll be far away by the time he gets back ..."

"Idiot!" Minerva said and smacked the back of the Headmaster's head.

All Harry could think of doing was to keep Quirrell talking and stop him concentrating on the mirror.

"I like this kid!" Snape said in appreciation.

"I saw you and Snape in the Forest – " he blurted out.

"Yes," said Quirrell idly, walking around the mirror to look at the back. "He was on to me by that time, trying to find out how far I'd got. He suspected me all along. Tried to frighten me – as though he could, when I had Lord Voldemort on my side ..."

Lily paled.

Quirrell came back out from behind the mirror and stared hungrily into it.

"I see the Stone ... I'm presenting it to my master ... but where is it?"

Harry struggled against the ropes binding him, but they didn't give. He had to keep Quirrell from giving his whole attention to the mirror.

"But Snape always seemed to hate me so much."

"Oh, he does," said Quirrell casually, "heavens, yes. He was at Hogwarts with your father, didn't you know? They loathed each other. But he never wanted you dead."

"I'm not going to treat you that way this time around," Snape said. "I refuse to turn into a bullying git."

"Thanks," Harry said.

"But I heard you a few days ago, sobbing – I thought Snape was threatening you ..."

For the first time, a spasm of fear flitted across Quirrell's face.

"Sometimes," he said, "I find it hard to follow my master's instructions – he is a great wizard and I am weak – "

"VOLDEMORT WAS IN THE SCHOOL?"Dumbledore yelled.

"You mean he was there in the classroom with you?" Harry gasped.

"He is with me wherever I go," said Quirrell quietly.

"Shit!" Severus said loudly.

Dumbledore even looked scared.

"I met him when I traveled 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.

"Idiot," Draco muttered. "Letting himself be manipulated that way."

There is no good and evil, there is only power, and those too weak to seek it ... Since then, I have served him faithfully, although I have let him down many times. He has had to be very hard on me." Quirrell shivered suddenly.

Dudley whimpered.

"He does not forgive mistakes easily. When I failed to steal the Stone from Gringotts, he was most displeased. He punished me ... decided he would have to keep a closer watch on me ..."

"Well, bugger!" Neville declared.

Quirrell's voice trailed away. Harry was remembering his trip to Diagon Alley – how could he have been so stupid? He'd seen Quirrell there that very day, shaken hands with him in the Leaky Cauldron.

Harry shuddered at the memory.

Quirrell cursed under his breath.

"I don't understand ... is the Stone inside the mirror? Should I break it?"

Dumbledore chuckled in amusement. "That would only keep him from ever retrieving the Stone."

Harry's mind was racing.

What I want more than anything else in the world at the moment, he thought, is to find the Stone before Quirrell does. So if I look in the mirror, I should see myself finding it – which means I'll see where it's hidden! But how can I look without Quirrell realizing what I'm up to?

"Absolutely brilliant," Severus said.

He tried to edge to the left, to get in front of the glass without Quirrell noticing, but the ropes round his ankles were too tight: he tripped and fell over. Quirrell ignored him. He was still talking to himself.

"Nutters," George and Fred said together.

"What does this mirror do? How does it work? Help me, Master!"

And to Harry's horror, a voice answered, and the voice seemed to come from Quirrell himself.

Dudley sobbed loudly at this. "NOOO!" he wailed. "I knew it would happen! The mysterious voice is there! It always is!"

Petunia looked concerned. What was wrong with her little boy?

Vernon just looked embarrassed. His son was supposed to braver than that.

"Use the boy ... use the boy ..."

"Well, that can't be good," Charles said.

"That's obvious," Charlie replied, rolling his eyes.

Quirrell rounded on Harry.

"Yes – Potter – come here."

He clapped his hands once and the ropes binding Harry fell off. Harry got slowly to his feet.

"Come here," Quirrell repeated. "Look in the mirror and tell me what you see."

Harry walked toward him.

I must lie, he thought desperately. I must look and lie about what I see, that's all.

"Ah," Severus said, "if only the Dark Lord weren't a Legilimens."

"Alas," Dumbledore added his two Knuts, "he is as good a Legilimens as I."

Quirrell moved close behind him. Harry breathed in the funny smell that seemed to come from Quirrell's turban.

"Now that I'm older, I realize that it was the smell of rotting flesh disguised by garlic cloves in the turban," Harry said, shuddering.

Everyone looked ill at that statement.

He closed his eyes, stepped in front of the mirror and opened them again.

He saw his reflection, pale and scared-looking at first. But a moment later, the reflection 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 got the Stone.

"Wow!" James said in awe.

"Brilliant," said Neville who'd never heard the complete story 'til now.

"Thank you," Dumbledore said, but received glares for the effort.

"Well?" said Quirrell impatiently. "What do you see?"

Harry screwed up his courage.

"I see myself shaking hands with Dumbledore," he invented. "I – I've won the House Cup for Gryffindor."

Sirius grinned. "An excellent lie considering the circumstances, Harry is definitely a true Marauder!"

Quirrell cursed again.

"Get out of the way," he said. As Harry moved aside he felt the Sorcerer's Stone against his leg. Dare he make a break for it?

"YES!" Draco yelled suddenly.

"RUN FOR YOUR LIFE!" Dudley agreed.

But he hadn't walked five paces before a high voice spoke, though Quirrell wasn't moving his lips.

"He lies ... He lies ..."

"Raise your hand if you saw that one coming," Ginny said.

Everyone but the two elder Dursleys raised their hands. They didn't want to join in.

"Appparently, Petunia and Vernon are too stupid to have seen it coming," Snape sneered.

Petunia looked affronted but couldn't defend herself as she was still silenced.

"Potter, come back here!" Quirrell shouted. "Tell the truth! What did you just see?"

The high voice spoke again.

"Let me speak to him ... face to face ..."

"Master, you are not strong enough!"

"Ooh," Snape winced. "Never tell the Dark Lord something like that! It's a sure way to get yourself killed."

Harry nodded in agreement.

"I have strength enough ... for this ..."

Harry felt as if the Devil's Snare was rooting him to the spot. He couldn't move a muscle. Petrified, he watched as Quirrell reached up and began to unwrap his turban. What was going on? The turban fell away. Quirrell's head looked strangely small without it. Then he turned slowly on the spot.

"Why?" Sirius asked, confused.

Harry would have screamed, but he couldn't make a sound. Where there should have been a back to Quirrell's head, there was a face, the most terrible face Harry had ever seen. It was chalk white with glaring red eyes and slits for nostrils, like a snake.

Severus and Dudley both shuddered violently.

"Harry Potter ..." it whispered.

Harry tried to take a step backwards but his legs wouldn't move.

"See what I have become?" the face said. "Mere shadow and vapor ... I have form only when I can share another's body ... but there have always been those willing to let me into their hearts and minds ... Unicorn blood has strengthened me, these past weeks ... you saw faithful Quirrell drinking it for me in the forest ... and once I have the Elixir of Life, I will be able to create a body of my own ... Now ... why don't you give me that Stone in your pocket?"

Dudley screamed and crawled under the table to hide.

Hermione and Lily, who were both wearing skirts, immediately crossed the legs and pulled their skirts tight against their legs so Dudley wouldn't see anything.

So he knew. The feeling suddenly surged back into Harry's legs. He stumbled backwards.

"Don't be a fool," snarled the face. "Better save your own life and join me ... or you'll meet the same end as you parents ... they died begging me for mercy ..."

"Oh that's rich," James said snootily. "The day I beg Voldemort for anything, is the day I French kiss Snape. No offense or anything, Snape," he finished.

"None taken," Severus waved it off. "I completely understand."

"LIAR!" Harry shouted suddenly.

Quirrell was walking backwards at him, so that Voldemort could still see him. The evil face was now smiling.

"How touching ..." it hissed. "I always value bravery ... Yes, boy, you're parents were brave ... I killed your father first, and he put up a courageous fight ... but your mother needn't have died ... she was trying to protect you ...

"Huh?" James said, "that makes no sense. If we had made him so mad that he decided to kill us, then why…"

"The prophecy," Harry said. "He wasn't after you; he was after me. You were just a bonus to him, three for the price of one."

Lily and James both shuddered.

Ree continued to read after a long moment of silence

Now give me the Stone, unless you want her to have died in vain."

"Okay, now that's just cruel," Sirius said, "bringing up your dead mother and saying something like that about her death."

"NEVER!"

Harry sprang towards the flame door, but Voldemort screamed, "SEIZE HIM!" and the next second, Harry felt Quirrell's hand close on his wrist.

"Kick him! Bite him! Claw him! DECK him!" Sirius screamed out.

"Get him in a headlock!" Dudley added. Petunia and Vernon stared at their son as though they'd never seen him before.

At once, a needle-sharp pain seared across Harry''s scar; his head felt as though it was about to split in two; he yelled, struggling with all his might, and to his surprise, Quirrell let go of him.

"Why?" Remus asked.

The pain in his head lessened – he looked around wildly to see where Quirrell had gone, and saw him hunched in pain, looking at his fingers – they were blistering before his eyes.

"Accidental magic?" Lily asked the professors.

"Damned if I know!" Severus said, perplexed.

"Seize him! SEIZE HIM!" shrieked Voldemort again and Quirrell lunged, knocking Harry clean off his feet, landing on top of him, both hands round Harry's neck –

"NO!" almost all of the women in the room yelled.

Harry's scar was almost blinding him with pain, yet he could see Quirrell howling in agony.

"Serves him right," Fred, George, James, and of all people, Severus said.

"Master, I cannot hold him – my hands – my hands!"

And Quirrell, though pinning Harry to the ground with his knees, let go of his neck and stared, bewildered, at his own palms – Harry could see they looked burnt, raw, red and shiny.

"Impressive burns, Harry," Charlie said.

"Then kill him, fool, and be done!" screeched Voldemort.

Quirrell raised his hand to perform a deadly curse, but Harry, by instinct, reached up and grabbed Quirrell's face –

"AAAARGH!"

Quirrell rolled off him, his face blistering, too, and then Harry knew: Quirrell couldn't touch his bare skin, not without suffering terrible pain – his only chance was to keep hold of Quirrell, keep him in enough pain to stop him doing a curse.

"Very Slytherin," Draco said, impressed.

Harry jumped to his feet, caught Quirrell by the arm, and hung on as tight as he could. Quirrell screamed and tried to throw Harry off – the pain in Harry's head was building – he couldn't see – he could only hear Quirrell's terrible shrieks and Voldemort's yells of, "KILL HIM! KILL HIM!" and other voices, maybe in Harry's own head, crying, "Harry! Harry!"

"Man, Voldemort is really determined to kill you, isn't he?" Charlie said.

"Yup," Harry confirmed.

He felt Quirrell's arm wrenched from his grasp, knew all was lost, and fell into blackness, down ... down ... down ...

"Magical exhaustion," Ree said, "Harry probably slept for a week afterwards."

Something gold was glinting just above him. The Snitch! He tried to catch it, but his arms were too heavy.

The Marauders snickered.

He blinked. It wasn't the Snitch at all. It was a pair of glasses. How strange.

He blinked again. The smiling face of Albus Dumbledore swam into view above him.

"Good afternoon, Harry," said Dumbledore.

Harry stared at him. Then he remembered: "Sir! The Stone! It was Quirrell! He's got the Stone! Sir, quick – "

"Calm yourself, dear boy, you are a little behind the times," said Dumbledore. "Quirrell does not have the Stone."

"Wait, do you call everyone 'dear boy'?" Charles asked.

"No," Dumbledore replied, shocked. "I also call them 'dear girl' depending on the gender of the person."

Everyone groaned in annoyance.

"Then who does? Sir, I – "

"Harry, please relax, or Madame Pomfrey will have me thrown out."

Harry swallowed and looked around him. He realized 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.

"I had to give most of it away," Harry said. "It was just too much."

"Tokens from your friends and admirers," said Dumbledore, beaming. "What happened down in the dungeons between you and Professor Quirrell is a complete secret, so, naturally, the whole school knows.

Sirius snorted then, as though it were a signal, the Marauders, Harry included, and Fred and George all burst into laughter.

I believe your friends Misters Fred and George Weasley were responsible for trying to send you a toilet seat. No doubt they thought it would amuse you. Madame Pomfrey, however, felt it might not be very hygienic, and confiscated it."

"Rotten luck too," Harry said. "I would have hung it on the wall of my room at the Dursleys' as a souvenir."

The elder two Dursleys looked ill, but Dudley said, "COOL!"

Fred and George puffed out their chests in pride, and Ginny pecked Harry on the cheek.

"How long have I been here?"

"Three days.

"NO WAY!" Ree yelled in shock. "Magical exhaustion always takes a lot longer than that to fix."

"Grandmum," Harry said, drawing looks of shock from people, "Suffice it to say, that I have more than stumped Madam Pomfrey on numerous occasions. I am a Healer's worst nightmare, or as the case may be, their dream come true."

Ree looked a bit teary-eyed when he called her 'Grandmum', but looked intrigued by the rest of his statement. "Can I give you a physical after this chapter?" she asked. "I love medical anomalies."

Harry blushed, but agreed.

Mr. Ronald Weasley and Miss Granger will be most relieved you have come round, they have been extremely worried."

"But sir, the Stone – "

"I see you are not to be distracted. Very well, the Stone. Professor Quirrell did not manage to take it from you.

Severus breathed a huge sigh of relief.

I arrived in time to prevent that, although you were doing very well on your own, I must say."

All of the Potters and soon-to-be Potters looked at Harry with pride.

"You got there? You got Hermione's owl?"

"We must have crossed in 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 – "

"You realized that my butt," Snape sneered. "More like the Minister had no clue why you were there."

"It was you."

"I feared I might be too late."

"You nearly were, I couldn't have kept him off the Stone much longer – "

"Not the Stone, boy, you – the effort involved nearly killed you.

Ree looked shocked and interested, at this. Overall, the look on her face was quite amusing to Sirius.

For one terrible moment there, I was afraid it had. As for the Stone, it has been destroyed."

"Destroyed?" said Harry blankly. "But your friend – Nicolas Flamel – "

"Oh, you know about Nicolas?" said Dumbledore, sounding quite delighted. "You did do the thing properly, didn't you?

"Like I said, it was a set-up," Severus declared.

Well, Nicolas and I have had a little chat and agreed it's all for the best."

"But that means he and his wife will die, won't they?"

"They have enough Elixir stored to set their affairs in order and then, yes, they will die."

Dumbledore smiled at the look of amazement on Harry's face.

"To one as young as you, I'm sure it seems incredible, but to Nicolas and Perenelle, it really is like going to bed after a very, very long day. After all, to the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure.

"You're barmy!" Draco said, staring at Dumbledore incredulously.

You know, the Stone was really not a wonderful thing. As much money and life as you could want! The two things most human beings would choose above all – the trouble is, humans do have a knack of choosing precisely those things which are worst for them."

Severus rolled his eyes.

Harry lay there, lost for words. Dumbledore hummed a little and smiled at the ceiling.

"Sir?" said Harry. "I've been thinking ... Sir – even if the Stone's gone, Vol -, I mean, You-Know-Who – "

"Call him Voldemort, Harry. Always use the proper name for things. Fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself."

"Wait!" Harry said suddenly. "Then shouldn't we be calling him Tom?"

"Yes," Dumbledore chuckled. "We probably should."

Ginny looked rather pale during this conversation.

"Yes, sir. Well, Voldemort's going to try other ways of coming back, isn't he? I mean, he hasn't gone, has he?"

"No, Harry, he has not. He is still out there somewhere, perhaps looking for another body to share ... not being truly alive, he cannot be killed. He left Quirrell to die; he shows just as little mercy to his followers as his enemies. Nevertheless, Harry, while you may only have delayed his return to power, it will merely take someone else who is prepared to fight what seems a losing battle next time – and if he is delayed again, and again, why, he may never return to power."

Harry snorted at this.

Harry nodded, but stopped quickly, because it made his head hurt. Then he said, "Sir, there are some things I'd like to know, if you can tell me ... things I want to know that truth about ..."

"The truth." Dumbledore sighed. "It is a beautiful and terrible thing, and should therefore be treated with great caution. However, I shall answer your questions unless I have a very good reason not to, in which case I beg you'll forgive me. I shall not, of course, lie."

Harry arched a brow. "Neglecting to tell the truth can, at times, be just as bad as lying, Sir," he said to the Headmaster.

"Well ... Voldemort said that he only killed my mother because she tried to stop him killing me. But why would he want to kill me in the first place?"

Dumbledore sighed very deeply this time.

"Alas, the first thing you ask me, I cannot tell you. Not today. Not now. You will know, one day ... put it from your mind for now, Harry. When you are older ... I know you hate to hear this ... when you are ready, you will know."

"Yeah, right!" Harry said. "That was a load of Hippogriff excrement!"

Charlie cringed. "That stuff smells terrible, too."

"Why do you think I said it?" Harry asked rhetorically.

And Harry knew it was no good to argue.

"But why couldn't Quirrell touch me?"

"Your mother died to save you. If there is one thing Voldemort cannot understand, it is love. He didn't realize that love as powerful as your mother's for you leaves its own mark. Not a scar, no visible sign ... to have been loved so deeply, even though the person who loved 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 you for this reason. It was agony to touch a person marked by something so good."

Ree and Minerva both frowned.

"Lots of mothers have died to protect their children, but the children still died as well, so what are you on?" Ree asked.

"Let me guess," Minerva hissed. "You made up that load of dung to hide from Harry the fact that is more powerful than anyone else, and thereby, to avoid him asking questions about why he was only average in class."

Dumbledore cringed away from the irate witch.

Dumbledore now became very interested in a bird out on the window-sill, which gave Harry time to dry his eyes on the sheet. When he had found his voice again, Harry said, "And the invisibility cloak – do you know who sent it to me?"

"Good question," Arthur said.

"Ah – your father happened to leave it in my possession and I thought you might like it."

"Why would I do that?" James asked.

Harry shrugged.

Dumbledore's eyes twinkled. "Useful things ... your father used it mainly for sneaking off to the kitchens to steal food when he was here."

James snorted. "It's not stealing if they offer it to you!"

"And there's something else ..."

"Fire away."

"Quirrell said Snape – "

"Professor Snape, Harry."

"Yes, him – Quirrell said he hates me because he hated my father. Is that true?"

"Well, they did rather detest each other. Not unlike yourself and Mr. Malfoy …

"I beg your pardon, but neither Draco nor I bullied each other. We'd just insult or hex each other. Give and take, you know, equals," Harry said

And then, your father did something Snape could never forgive."

"What?"

"He saved his life."

"What?"

"Yes ..." said Dumbledore dreamily. "Funny, the way people's minds work, isn't it? Professor Snape couldn't bear being in your father's debt ... I do believe he worked so hard to protect you this year because he felt that would make him and your father even. Then he could go back to hating your father's memory in peace ..."

"That makes sense…sorta," Remus said.

Harry tried to understand this but it made his head pound, so he stopped.

"And, sir, there's one more thing ..."

"Just the one?"

"Amazing," Fred said.

George continued, "Free rein to ask as many questions as he likes…"

"And," Fred continued, "he only asks five!"

"How did I get the Stone out of the mirror?"

"Ah, now, I'm glad you asked me that. It was one of my more brilliant ideas, and between you and me, that's saying something. You see, only one who wanted to find the Stone – find it, but not use it – would be able to get it, otherwise they'd just see themselves making gold or drinking Elixir of Life.

"Brilliant," George said. "Fred, are you thinking what I'm thinking?"

"Are we twins or not?" Fred retorted.

My brain surprises even me sometimes ... Now, enough questions. I suggest you make a start on these sweets. Ah! Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans! I was unfortunate enough in my youth to come across a vomit flavored one,

"Eeewww!" the girls and Sirius said together.

…and since then I'm afraid I've rather lost my liking for them – but I think I'll be safe with a nice toffee, don't you?"

He smiled and popped the golden-brown bean into his mouth. Then he choked and said, "Alas! Earwax!"

"Rotten luck!" Ron said. "First vomit, then earwax, what next…pickled toad?"

Dumbledore shuddered at that thought.

Madam Pomfrey, the nurse, was a nice woman, but very strict.

"POPPY!" Sirius cried out blissfully, making Harry groan.

"Just five minutes," Harry pleaded.

"Absolutely not."

"You let Professor Dumbledore in ..."

"Well, of course, that was the Headmaster, quite different. You need rest."

"I am resting, look, lying down and everything. Oh, go on, Madam Pomfrey ..."

"Oh, very well," she said. "But five minutes only."

"It worked?" the three Marauders, Charles and Charlie all said together.

And she let Ron and Hermione in.

"Harry!"

Hermione looked ready to fling her arms around him again, but Harry was glad she held herself in as his head was still very sore.

"Oh, Harry, we were sure you were going to – Dumbledore was so worried – "

"Well, magical exhaustion is nothing to be trifled with," Ree explained. "There's always the chance of turning into a Squib."

"Really?" Harry asked. "I didn't know that."

"Really."

"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 rumors. Harry told them everything: Quirrell; the mirror; the Stone; and Voldemort. Ron and Hermione were a very 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?" said Ron finally. "Flamel's just going to die?"

"That's what I said, but Dumbledore thinks that – what was it? – 'to the well organized mind, death is but the next great adventure'."

"I always said he was off his rocker," said Ron, looking quite impressed at how mad his hero was.

"I'm glad you feel that way, Mr. Weasley," Dumbledore said, smiling. "Lemon Drop?"

"Err," Ron muttered. "No…thanks."

"Ahh. Pity."

"So what happened to you two?" said Harry.

"Well I got back all right," said Hermione. "I brought Ron round – that took a while – 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."

"Set up!" Severus sang.

"D'you think he meant you to do it?" said Ron. "Sending you your father's cloak and everything?"

"It's chess!" Ron had an epiphany. "Dumbledore is playing a giant chess game, and we're the pawns!"

"Ten points to Mr. Weasley!" Snape barked.

"Well," Hermione exploded, "if he did – I mean to say – that's terrible – you could have been killed."

"No, it isn't," said Harry thoughtfully. "He's a funny man, Dumbledore. I think he sort of 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 stopping 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 ..."

"Brilliant, my boy," Dumbledore said in awe.

Harry arched a brow, looking uncannily like Severus. "Indeed," he said, channeling his inner snarkiness.

"Yeah, Dumbledore's barking, all right," said Ron proudly. "Listen, you've got to be up for the end-of-year feast tomorrow. The points are all in and Slytherin won, of course – you missed the last Quidditch match, we were steamrollered by Ravenclaw without you – but the food'll be good."

James and Charles both groaned.

At that moment, Madam Pomfrey bustled over.

"You've had nearly fifteen minutes, now OUT!" she said firmly.

After a good night's sleep, Harry felt nearly back to normal.

Ree looked shocked.

"I want to go to the feast," he told Madam Pomfrey as she straightened his many candy boxes. "I can, can't I?"

"NO!" Ree said. "Do you want to do permanent damage to your magical core?"

"Professor Dumbledore says you are allowed to go," she said sniffily, as though in her opinion Professor Dumbledore didn't realize how risky feasts could be. "And you have another visitor."

"Oh good," said Harry. "Who is it?"

Hagrid sidled through the door as he spoke. As usual when he was indoors, Hagrid looked too big to be allowed. He sat down next to Harry, took one look at him 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!

"That will be the day," Minerva muttered.

I should be chucked out an' made ter live as a Muggle!"

"Like that would work," Severus said. "He's huge!"

"Hagrid!" said Harry, shocked to see Hagrid shaking with grief and remorse, great tears leaking down into his beard. "Hagrid, he'd have found out somehow, this is Voldemort we're talking about, he'd have found out even if you hadn't told him."

"You are so sweet," Lily said to Harry, making him blush.

"Yeh could've died!" sobbed Hagrid. "An' don' say the name!"

"VOLDEMORT!" Harry bellowed, and Hagrid was so shocked, he stopped crying.

"Wow!" Draco said, impressed.

"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 ..."

"Oh dear Merlin, you're turning into the barmy old coot," Minerva said in shock. "Here, have a sweet, he says. Like that'll solve everything," she ridiculed.

Hagrid wiped his nose on the back of his hand and said, "That reminds me. I've got yeh a present."

"Aww," Lily cooed.

"It's not a stoat sandwich, is it?" said Harry anxiously, and at last Hagrid gave a weak chuckle.

"Nah. Dumbledore gave me the day off yesterday ter fix it. 'Course, he shoulda sacked me instead – anyway, got yeh this ..."

It seemed to be 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 mother and father.

"Aww," Molly cooed, this time. "He gave you that album you carry everywhere? For that, he gets a tin of fudge for Christmas!"

"Sent owls off ter all yer parents' old school friends, askin' fer photos ... Knew yeh didn' have any ... D'yeh like it?"

"He must have contacted you, Remus, though I can't imagine who else he would have contacted?" Harry said.

"Oy, what about me?" Sirius asked.

"You were indisposed."

"Peter?" asked James.

"Indisposed," Hermione said.

"Marlene McKinnon?" came from Lily.

"Worse," Molly said.

"Alice?" Lily tried again.

"St. Mungos, permanently," Neville answered, "and my dad too."

"He probably also contacted the Diggorys, now that I think on it," Harry said.

"What happened to everyone?" Lily asked weakly.

"War," Ginny answered, making the seventeen year olds flinch.

Harry couldn't speak, but Hagrid understood.

Harry made his way down to the end-of-year feast alone that night. He had been held up by Madam Pomfrey's fussing about, insisting on giving him one last checkup, so the Great Hall was already full. It was decked out in the Slytherin colors of green and silver to celebrate Slytherin's winning the House Cup for the seventh year in a row.

Severus smirked.

A huge banner showing the Slytherin serpent covered the wall behind the High Table.

When Harry walked in there was a sudden hush, and then everybody started talking loudly at once. He slipped into a seat between Ron and Hermione at the Gryffindor table and tried to ignore the fact that people were standing up to look at him.

"James would have bowed to them," Sirius said.

"You're barmy," Harry told his father.

Fortunately, Dumbledore arrived moments later. The babble died away.

"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 a little fuller than they were ... you have the whole summer ahead to get them nice and empty before the next year starts ...

Minerva and Severus groaned.

"Now, as I understand it, the house cup here needs awarding, and the points stand thus: In fourth place, Gryffindor, with three hundred and twelve points; in third, Hufflepuff, with three hundred and fifty-two; Ravenclaw have four hundred and twenty-six, 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.

"Gee…thanks, Potter," Draco sneered.

"You're welcome," Harry replied good-naturedly, making his dad and godfather laugh.

"Yes, yes, well done, Slytherin," said Dumbledore. "However, recent events must be taken into account."

"That was really rude of you," Harry said. "If you were gonna do it, then you should have done it before the feast."

Lily and Hermione nodded in agreement.

Dumbledore blushed.

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 ...

"First – to Mr. Ronald Weasley ..."

Ron went purple in the face; he looked like a radish with bad sunburn.

Ron groaned.

"... for the best-played game of chess Hogwarts has seen in many years, I award Gryffindor house fifty points."

Gryffindor cheers nearly reached the bewitched ceiling; the stars overhead seemed to quiver. Percy could be heard telling the other Prefects, "My brother, you know! My youngest brother! Got past McGonagall's giant chess set!"

"The only time he ever complimented me," Ron muttered.

At last there was silence again.

"Second – to Miss Hermione Granger ... for the use of cool logic in the face of fire,

Several people snorted or rolled their eyes at that.

I award Gryffindor house fifty points."

Hermione buried her face in her arms; Harry strongly suspected she had burst into tears.

The girl in question was redder than her boyfriend's hair.

Gryffindors up and down the table were beside themselves – they were a hundred points up.

"Third – to Mr. Harry Potter ..." said Dumbledore. The room went deadly quiet. "... for pure nerve and outstanding courage, I award Gryffindor house sixty points."

The din was deafening. Those who could add up while yelling themselves hoarse knew that Gryffindor now had four hundred and seventy-two points – exactly the same as Slytherin.

Severus moaned. Apparently, the younger Snape was freer with his emotions.

They had tied for the House Cup – if only Dumbledore had given Harry just one more point.

Dumbledore raised his hand. The room gradually fell silent.

"There are all kinds of courage," said Dumbledore, 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. Neville Longbottom."

Now, Neville was the one blushing.

Someone standing outside the Great Hall might well have thought some sort of explosion had taken place, so loud was the noise that erupted from the Gryffindor table. Harry, Ron and Hermione stood up to yell and cheer as Neville, white with shock, disappeared under a pile of people hugging him. He had never won so much as a point for Gryffindor before.

"HEY! I earn points all the time in Herbology," Neville said, annoyed.

Harry, still cheering, nudged Ron in the ribs and pointed at Malfoy, who couldn't have looked more stunned and horrified if he'd just had the Body-Bind curse put on him.

Draco huffed.

"Which means," Dumbledore called over the storm of applause, for even Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff were celebrating the downfall of Slytherin, "we need a little change of decoration."

"No, no, no…" moaned Severus.

He clapped his hands. In an instant, the green hangings became scarlet and the silver became gold; the huge Slytherin serpent vanished and a towering Gryffindor lion took its place. Snape was shaking Professor McGonagall's hand, with a horrible forced smile. He caught Harry's eye and Harry knew at once that Snape's feelings toward him hadn't changed one jot. This didn't worry Harry. It seemed as though life would be back to normal next year, or as normal as it ever was at Hogwarts.

Neville stared at Harry in shock. "You're my hero," he said. "You aren't scared of Snape at all."

It was the best evening of Harry's life, better than winning at Quidditch, or Christmas, or knocking out mountain trolls ... he would never, ever forget tonight.

"But it wasn't a Patronus memory," Harry said.

"What is your Patronus memory?" Hermione asked.

Harry blushed. "They're sitting right there, Hermione." He nodded his head in the direction of the Marauders and his mother.

The four people mentioned looked embarrassed but proud.

Harry had almost forgotten that the exam results were still to come, but come they did. To their great surprise, both he and Ron passed with good marks; Hermione, of course, had the best grades of the first years.

"Boy, was Lucius furious about that," Draco said.

Even Neville scraped through, his good Herbology mark making up for his abysmal Potions one.

Neville blushed.

They had hoped that Goyle, who was almost as stupid as he was mean, might be thrown out, but he had passed, too. It was a shame, but as Ron said, you couldn't have everything in life.

And suddenly, their wardrobes were empty, their trunks were packed, Neville's toad was found lurking in a corner of the toilets; notes were handed out to all students, warning them not to use magic over the holidays ("I always hope they'll forget to give us these," said Fred Weasley sadly);

Molly glared at her son, but he just grinned cheekily at her.

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 country-side became greener and tidier; eating Bertie Bott's Every Flavor 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.

"I hate summer," Harry moaned, causing a fresh round of glares aimed at the Headmaster.

It took a while for them all to get off the platform. A wizened old guard was up by the ticket barrier, letting them go through the gate in twos and threes so they didn't attract attention by all bursting out of a solid wall at once and alarming the Muggles.

"You know, I never actually thought about why they did that before," Luna commented, making everyone stare at her in shock.

"You must come and stay this summer," said Ron, "both of you – I'll send you an owl."

"Thanks," said Harry. "I'll need something to look forward to."

People jostled them as they moved forwards toward the gateway back to the Muggle world. Some of them called:

"Bye, Harry!"

"See you, Potter!"

"More people said goodbye to me than had talked to me all year," Harry said, shaking his head in confusion.

"Still famous," said Ron grinning at him.

"Not where I'm going, I promise you," said Harry.

He, Ron, and Hermione passed through the gateway together.

"There he is, Mum, there he is, look!"

It was Ginny Weasley, Ron's younger sister, but she wasn't pointing at Ron.

Ginny moaned in embarrassment.

"You were cute," Harry said, trying to make her feel better, and it apparently helped some.

"Harry Potter!" she squealed. "Look, Mum! I can see – "

"Be quiet, Ginny, and it's rude to point."

Mrs. Weasley smiled down at them.

"Busy year?" she said.

"Very," said Harry. "Thanks for the fudge and the sweater, Mrs. Weasley."

"Always so well mannered," Molly commented happily.

"Oh, it was nothing, dear."

"Ready, are you?"

It was Uncle Vernon, still purple-faced, still mustached, still looking furious at the nerve of Harry, carrying an owl in a cage in a station full of ordinary people. Behind him stood Aunt Petunia and Dudley, looking terrified at the very sight of Harry.

Dudley, who had rejoined them at the table, actually looked embarrassed, Harry noted with awe.

"You must be Harry's family!" said Mrs. Weasley.

"In a manner of speaking," said Uncle Vernon. "Hurry up, boy, we haven't got all day." He walked away.

"A ruder man, I've never met," Molly said, glaring at Vernon with distaste.

Harry hung back for a last word with Ron and Hermione.

"See you over the summer, then."

"Hope you have – er – a good holiday," said Hermione, looking uncertainly after Uncle Vernon, shocked that anyone could be so unpleasant.

Hermione shuddered in remembrance.

"Oh, I will," said Harry, and they were surprised at the grin that was spreading over his face.

"Why?" James asked incredulously.

"They don't know we're not allowed to use magic at home. I'm going to have a lot of fun with Dudley this summer ..."

Almost everyone laughed hysterically at that.

After about fifteen minutes, Harry said, "Will you two behave if I remove the silencing charm from you?" to his aunt and uncle.

They nodded.

Harry waved an arm, and the two Muggles began conversing in furious whispers.

"Well, Grandmum," Harry said, turning to Ree. "You ready for my physical?"

She beamed and said, "I most certainly am!"

- - -

Behind a Harry-conjured partition…

"I'll kill those monsters with my bare hands!" Ree yelled out.

"Oh, come on, it can't be that bad," Harry said.

"Thirty broken bones, and that's just before the age of eleven! None of them were set properly. The only reason you aren't walking with a limp, and your face isn't lopsided is because of your magic!"

Harry blushed.

Ree screeched suddenly. "TEN YEARS OF MALNOURISHMENT! THOSE BASTARDS!"

A minute and a half later…

"You had the measles and were never treated!"

"Really?" Harry asked in shock.

A scan later…

"Oh, HELL NO!"

"What is it now?"

"Stunted growth! Blocked Metamorphmagus powers! BLOCKED ELEMENTAL POWERS! WHAT NEXT?"

Fifteen minutes later…

"A Basilisk," she muttered weakly, sitting down in a chair that Harry barely managed to conjure in time for her to land on.

"You survived a bloody Basilisk bite!"

"Yep."

"Nearly kissed by a Dementor?"

"Twice."

"A Blood Quill?"

"More times than I care to remember!"

"A poisoned dagger!"

"Wait! When the bleep did that happen?"

"According to my scan? A little over a year ago."

"Bloody hell, that rat tried to kill me during the resurrection ceremony!"

"Resurrection ceremony? Do I want to know?"

"I was kidnapped, and my blood was taken against my will to resurrect good-ole Tommy-boy."

"Five Memory Charms?"

"WHAT THE?"

"One when you were five, probably after a bout of major accidental magic. Then when you were eleven, probably to prevent you from remember exactly what happened to Quirrell. You might have seen him die. One again when you were twelve, no idea why. Another when you were thirteen, and again when you were fifteen. Do you want them removed, even knowing that the memories could be very traumatic?"

"YES!"

"Reiterate!"

Ten minutes later…

"So…Vernon tried to kill me after I vanished a baseball bat that he was trying to hit me with?"

"The Muggle is going to die!"

"I killed Quirrell using accidental magic?"

"So it would seem."

"And that bastard Lockhart raped Penelope Clearwater, and I walked in on it?"

"Yuck, and apparently."

"AND DUMBLEDORE CONSPIRED WITH SNAPE TO KEEP SIRIUS ON THE RUN?!"

"I have no idea what you're talking about, but…okay…"

"And the Umbitch used the Cruciatus on me in an attempt to gain information for Tom?"

"I'll murder her in her sleep. No…I'll turn her into a flea, a harmless, little flea, and then I'll put that flea in a box, and then I'll put that box inside of another box, and then I'll mail that box to myself, and when it arrives...I'll smash it with a hammer! It's brilliant, brilliant, brilliant, I tell you! Genius, I say!" Ree cackled insanely while Harry looked on in pride.

"You're the best Grandmum in the whole wide world!" Harry declared, suddenly hugging her tightly.

"Thank you, dear. So…what does this…Umbitch(?) person look like?"

"Ah, scary beyond all reason?"

Ree shuddered. "Perhaps we should try something a little more…descriptive."

"She looks like a giant toad, and that hideous bow she always wears looks like a fly perched on her head." Harry shuddered.

"Yup, scary beyond all reason sums it up nicely."

- - -

After Harry vanished the screen and chair…

Ginny was standing next to the twins when Harry approached them. "So, what did you guys do while we were gone?" Harry asked her as he wrapped an arm around her shoulders.

"Two words…Operation Nemesis," she replied.

He looked nervous. "I'm not sure I want to know the details."

"You don't!" the twins chorused.

Just then, Moera walked in making the room go silent.

"So…I see you are done with the first book. What have you decided?" she asked Dumbledore.


How was that for a cliff-hanger?

SEQUEL UP SOON! "What To Do? Part 2"

Have fun guessing the hidden movie referrences. 10 Points each.