A/N: Hahahahaha! Thought I'd abandoned this story, did you?! No chance in hell, suckers! Let's continue, and now on to the tale!
To Laura Wood of England: this chapter is for you, old friend.
D/C: Let me say it in simple English: me no own Harry Potter. J.K. Rowling does. It's as simple as that.
Like a flashing beacon in the dead of night, a single Galleon rose in a lazy arc in the deserted dorm, twirling up towards the ceiling with a glint of gold before cascading back down into an invisible abyss. A slim disembodied hand winked briefly into existence, and with a deft flick of long painted nails the coin went spiraling up once more, and as swiftly as it fell the Galleon vanished into nothingness once again. Unbeknownst to the denizens of the castle a verdict was being rendered somewhere within the Slytherin dorms, and the final say of authority was going to be decided upon by a simple game of chance.
"Decisions, decisions," A cool, collected voice clucked into the emptiness of the room. "Heads or tails, which will it be? So many things to do, so little time to see. There's never enough time in the world..."
"I suppose that's why we're taught to make the most it."
For what was to be the third and final time gold glimmered end over end, contrasting with the shadows of the dark. Unlike before, however, the Galleon did not disappear altogether. Neither did the hand that snaked out to catch it.
"So...Heads - we try something different. Always had my eyes on the Potions classroom cupboards. Wonder if someone around here at least had the sense to try to keep them locked? Tails..."
As one five delicate fingers uncurled revealing the embossed surface of the gold Galleon. Instead of the proud seal of the Ministry, the gilded image of a phoenix taking wing stood in stark relief within the palm of the girl's hand.
"Well, well, well," The offhanded voice continued, sounding pleased. "How fortuitous - tails it is."
Heels thumped hurriedly against the dark green carpeting as the invisible presence began to make its way out of the Slytherin dorms. There were only sixty minutes in an hour, and only so many hours on the clock to spend. Why waste any more? She had spent all her waking hours for the past four days savoring the indescribable sensations of what it was like to be invisible - invisible, and free. Free to make her own choices; free to do whatever she pleased - and perhaps for the first time in her short young life Daphne Greengrass' heart did not go wanting.
...Not that she was about to admit as much to the rest of the world. Certain appearances had to be kept, after all. Besides, it was not like she was an unruly child. The blonde was simply born a natural free spirit; a little curious, a bit adventurous, and perhaps a tad contrary (definitely not headstrong.)
She was also an extremely talented girl.
How many aspiring young witches or wizards could claim that they learned the first half of The Standard Book of Spells just by watching the grownups perform the everyday charms in the comfort of their own sprawling ancestral home? And two years before she'd received her Hogwart's letter at that! Daphne had once considered impressing the adults by letting them in on her extraordinarily proud feat, but after a week of careful deliberation the youthful blonde had deemed it best to keep that thought right under her hat. She was not entirely convinced that her highborn parents would take her learning magic by her lonesome very well, especially when it came to light that she'd been "practicing" with her mother's wand. To defy convention and hence tradition was most unlady-like and improper, if the edicts of pureblood society were to be believed; and off the top of her head she was able to recite each and everyone.
And there were absolutely no doubts in the blonde's mind her dedication to the old ways; there were no uncertainties to be had about that - but the one thing that she believed in more above all other things...
...Was believing first and foremost in herself.
"It's not about who you are that really holds you back," Reasoned the invisible girl as she ascended a short flight of steps. "It's what everyone thinks you are that ultimately does - that's why I never take stock in any of the things that other people have said."
Quieting down at the sound of activity around the corner, Daphne crept cautiously along the wall so as not to collide into anyone (or anything) coming in from the adjacent hall. Her concerns were unfounded; it was only a pair of prefects loitering by the entranceway. She snorted derisively in passing as she took in the state of their disheveled cloaks. Perhaps a lesson in diligence (and propriety) needed to be observed? Deciding to disabuse the notion that ignorance was bliss, the blonde strengthened her resolve and made her move. The snogging prefects (Hufflepuffs, the lot of them - real credits to their house!) did not feel the breeze that overtook them in the passageway, nor did they feel a comforting weight missing from their robes.
"Finders keepers," The blonde sang sung, blending back into the shadows under the guise of Harry's cloak. Leaving herself a mental note to thank the boy once again, Daphne swiftly pocketed her ill gotten gains and skirted around the oblivious pair, fleeing down the passageway to the third junction at the end of the hall. She was humming several bars of a tune up the enchanted staircase when the distant cries of the dismayed couple echoed from the dungeons deep down below.
"Oh, settle down you, two. You'll get your precious back eventually; hopefully soon," The blue eyed Slytherin enthused, twirling their wands between her fingers obviously uncaring to their plight. "All it's going to cost the lot of you are a few simple favors for me. But alas first things first; I've got to figure out what I need before I start on this little venture of mines..."
A 'little venture' couldn't begin to describe the scope of what the blonde was trying to achieve - there was a reason why it wasn't a part of the regular class curriculum after all - and the less was said about it was probably for the best. Luckily for her she didn't have to look very far to get all the information that she needed. She'd wandered into the perfect place on a mere whim just two nights ago. Just to test the waters, so to speak. Initially she hadn't been expecting much at all.
"I never would've thought that breaking in would be this simple," Daphne mused, stepping off the staircase once she realized she'd reached the fourth floor, "Nor could I have ever imagined that this of all places would become like my own second home."
The Library door hinges barely creaked in protest as the invisible girl slipped in, passing the front desk and several rows of shelves with nary a backward glance, her destination already close at hand. It wasn't too long before Daphne came to stop in front of an enclosure at the back of the Library consisting of a single wide paneled wall lorded over by a pair of elaborately crafted doors.
"Here we are..."
She actually smiled as she reached for the brass handles.
Blue eyes flickered with anticipation as the old fashioned latch-plate depressed beneath her questing fingers, allowing the twin set of double doors to swing inward, beckoning for the girl to step in. Row upon row of shelves - brimming with countless tomes arcane and old - greeted her once more upon her entrance, stretching high above her like labyrinth walls for as far as her eyes could see. There were no lamps nor candles to guide her way, and barely any radiance from the slit windows even with the moonlight streaming in. It was quiet; oppressively quiet, so much so that the pitter patter of her light footfalls seemed to echo like a hundred tiny voices whispering her secrets from within the very confines of the darkened room. Fixed into the doorway overhead was a smallish bronzed frame with two boldly printed letters written across the front.
"Restricted Section," It reproachfully proclaimed.
Daphne reigned back a smirk as she briefly mulled over the inaccuracy of the sign. Having been raised a proper young lady, the girl simply refused to let her amusement show - but that didn't mean she didn't feel the wellspring of laughter burbling deep from within. Wizards, she had to admit, were sometimes so brilliant they were backwards sometimes. Just what was the point of the Restricted Section if no one even bothered to ward the bloody thing with impregnable locks and charms?!
It was mind boggling! It was mental! It was also, above all else, terribly convenient.
With that simple command a soft strobe of brilliance flared from the tip of her willow and dragon heart string wand. It lit up the aisle as well as the surrounding shelves, swaying slightly as the girl swept in. Daphne took a second to shine the light over the face of her watch on her way past the first row.
"Eight fifty," She murmured, surprised. In all her eagerness to leave Daphne hadn't paid any heed to the time in which she had left. For once the blonde had set off early - maybe a little too early, as a matter of fact - but now that she thought of it the girl decided she couldn't have picked a better time. After all, the sooner she concluded her business here in the library the sooner she'd be able to slip back into bed. Heavens knew there was plenty more of the castle for the young heiress to explore, but in all the excitement of the past few days the blonde had yet to answer the sandman's seductive call.
She figured the world of dreaming could wait for at least another day.
Little did Daphne know, sleep would not come easy for the girl in the following nights yet to come...
The soft click of locking doors preceded in her wake as the blonde fled out of the library, taking care to flatten out the folds of her housemate's wonderful cloak. Burning the midnight oil four nights in a row had finally begun to take its toll, it seemed, for not even a swig of Pepper-Up Potion (compliments of Madame Pomphrey's stores) managed to ward off the edge of sleep as well as it had so many nights before. Perhaps it was high time to catch up on her beauty sleep, Daphne reflected, as she valiantly fought down a yawn, her previous thoughts of research going adrift in favor of silken bed sheets back in the Slytherin dorms. Thus preoccupied, the invisible slip of a girl hardly reacted in time to the sounds of footfalls approaching swiftly from the opposite end of the hall.
"...Y-y-you know this r-really is quite absurd, S-S-Severus," Whispered a tremulous sounding voice.
"Oh, don't play innocent with me Quirinus, this isn't the first time we've spoken, after all...," Retorted another in a soft dispassionate tone. From around the bend less than five body lengths away came the twin silhouettes of two easily recognizable professors walking astride one another, obviously engaged in a rather heated discussion. "So have you decided yet...?"
"But t-there's nothing to d-decide..." The turbaned Quirrell plaintively cried.
"...Devised a way around Hagrid's infernal beast, then?" Professor Snape interrogated with a scowling eye.
"A-a-as I've said before, w-why would I want the s-s-stone....?"
"You know perfectly well why you would want it, Quirinus, the only question is..."
Very fleetingly, Daphne wondered what nonsense the D.A.D.A instructor and her own Head of House were talking about and realized as they started heading up to her that she really couldn't care less. Quickly reminding herself that the two men couldn't see her (but would most certainly feel her if she chose to stay still in the middle of the hall), Daphne silently backtracked down the corridor, cursing the soft click of her heels as she turned the other way. A set of footsteps stopped.
"W-w-what was that?!" The jumpier of the two professors squeaked.
"Obviously your imagination," The Potions Master grated irritably (she nearly gave herself away sighing in relief that Snape hadn't heard), "Now will you stop jumping at every shadow!"
"S-S-Severus, you know that I-"
"I grow tired of playing games, Quirrell," Snape hissed, backing the turbaned professor against the wall. The man abruptly fell still, wondering if he had just imagined the slight breeze that suddenly blew past his shoulder in the hall. "...You know what I already know; it's only a matter of time before you slip..."
Releasing his hold over the stuttering professor, Professor Snape wordlessly departed down the fourth floor corridor, intent on continuing his patrol. For reasons that even he could not understand the man felt oddly compelled to check for a missing weight within the pockets his robes. He was distinctly puzzled to feel overwhelming relief as he grasped the handle of his blackthorn wand. Snape was still pondering over this strange development on his way to the lower floors when the silent peace was suddenly interrupted by a familiar bumbling professor's screams.
Unbeknownst to poor unfortunate Quirrell who, strangely enough, was flinching back in terror at the screams of displeasure ("You imbecile! You fool!") echoing off the back of his head, the current bane of his existence had not fled as far as one might logically think. Due the lengthening shadows surrounding the fourth floor, one would've been hard pressed to notice a slightly ajar door easily overlooked on the passage's left hand side, at the end of a dead end. If one were to take a cursory peek into the room, all they would've seen would be the obscure silhouettes of desks and chairs lined up against the wall.
It looked like an unused classroom; had the feel of an unused classroom; and the scent of dust and chalk made it seem like one as well. Truth in fact, it wasn't. There was one thing stored in that room that had absolutely no business being there. Something old, something odd, something - dare one say it - dangerous?
"Ah, how I've longed to find a spare," The girl cooed blissfully unawares, examining her latest prize. "Such a waste you were in that wizard's hands. Petrified by his very own subject! But don't worry, and don't fret. I'm not afraid of my shadow like him," Enthused the blonde as she ran a delicate finger over the length of Quirrell's cherry wood wand. "You are in perfectly good hands now."
Deeming it safe to venture out (fifteen minutes in silence felt like an eternity to wait), Daphne made haste to leave the room...Up until her curiosity was piqued by what seemed like furtive movement in the corner of her eye. No, not movement, she realized, turning away from the door, but light. Reflected light; a moonbeam from a slit window sill bouncing brilliantly off the gilded gold frame of the most magnificent mirror that Daphne had ever seen. It was beautiful; it was wonderful; it was truly radiant. A work of art - a masterpiece. Why then, was such an object of so exquisite beauty being secluded like a caged bird in here?
Letting the cloak slide past her shoulders to the floor, Daphne stepped tentatively up towards the mirror, intending only to admire its craftsmanship up close. She reached a dainty hand out to touch the polished surface - and when the girl did, her eyes unavoidably strayed upon her own reflection. All sense of reality in the young heiress' world instantly faded with the fragile sound of a gasp.
Barring the unexpected run in with the troll, it had been a relaxing couple of months for the self proclaimed Young Master of Hogwarts. Four months of happy memories shared in good company; four months experiencing firsthand the intricacies of magic; and four months without a worry in the world - at ease, in contentment, and at peace. Harry Potter could not have asked for a better end to the year.
January first was less than a fortnight away. Spring was coming in to herald the new year, and winter was leaving to usher out the old. He of all people knew this to be true - yet it didn't feel that way to him.
The very essence of winter sang strongly within his veins. It's alluring call, a soft soothing caress before, had only grown stronger with his "independent studies" in recent months. Maybe the Sorting Hat had known what it was talking about it...
Maybe he would become a force of nature one day.
"In time," The boy patiently said. "Right now, I think I can just settle for being at peace with myself."
Soft cushions squeaked as Harry lay back on a sofa, playing a short melody on a Christmas gift of his, Hagrid's hand carved flute. He was lounging in front of the fire grate in the Slytherin common room, seemingly doing nothing at all while he was, in fact, practicing his craft. At a glance it did not seem that way, for the young lad was training his art in perhaps the least expected of ways possible.
He was, quite literally, playing with fire - but it wasn't the flames that Harry was trying to control.
Within the blazing stone hearth a test of the young Slytherin's will was being waged. Glints of arctic blue, silver, and white battled for supremacy amidst the fiery brilliance of yellow, gold, and red. Shadows danced at the back of the fire grate as a single fragile wispy form bobbed innocuously over the leaping tongues of the burning flames.
Just when the heat seemed about to overwhelm the poor thing a second near identical twin came to accompany its side. A third blossomed out of the ether with yet another flicker of blue, followed by a fourth, fifth, and sixth. With each consecutive appearance the temperature in the room noticeably dropped bit by bit. The fire itself, once a proud conflagration, blazed majestically in a final act of defiance before its light, too, began to recede. Not two minutes later nine snowflakes sat in an undulating circlet above the hearth's dying flames. A thin smile played across his stoic features as the slightly winded boy held out his hand for the umpteenth time. His magic flared wondrously to the fore like a deep ocean current in the process of adding a tenth to the nine.
A steady groan of stone sliding against stone gave the Young Master good reason to pause. From the corner of his eye, he watched the false wall partition that hid the Slytherin dorm entrance sliding open and out of place, revealing the narrow passageway leading in. There was no one standing there waiting at the archway; least ways, there was no one there to be seen. Harry knew better than to presume something like that, of course...
"Been too long, hasn't it, Greengrass?" The emerald eyed wonder calmly said, making a subtle hand gesture at the fireplace. Nine glittering snowflakes and the beginnings of a half dispelled soundlessly with the dismissive wave, disintegrating altogether in fine plumes of blue mist. The dying embers, suddenly freed from their glacial prison, practically erupted in response, bursting forth from smoldering ash to a veritable inferno of flames. "Been well these past few days, I hope."
"Couldn't have been better," The blonde replied, shrugging off the invisibility cloak to reveal a familiar mass of princess curls. "I've had an eye opening couple of days, you can say."
"Oh believe me, I don't doubt that," Harry muttered in his customary monotone, fond memories of his first night in the castle flashing in the back of his mind. "I'd have been very surprised if you had not."
Stowing Hagrid's flute under the sleeves of his robes, the boy turned fully away from the fireplace to regard his housemate in full. At first glance Daphne looked to be her usual cool and regal self, but there was something different about her somehow. With the flickering shadows in the room it took another moment to realize exactly what.
"Having a little trouble sleeping, Greengrass?" Harry gently asked.
"No more than I usually do," She calmly demurred, "And even if I was it shouldn't be your concern - not that I mind that you care," She amended smoothly. "Now come on; I've got something to show you..."
"Well aren't you energetic for someone whose next to dead on her feet," He said, sounding distinctly more amused than annoyed by her persistence. "Really, can't this wait until next morning?"
"Perhaps it could," Daphne allowed, tapping the point of her jaw, "But who knows? There's always a possibility it might just disappear long before then." Her taciturn blue eyes settled slyly upon him. "Would you honestly be willing to take that chance?"
"Do I really get a choice in the matter?" Harry asked, having seen that particular look from Susan.
The boy had no sooner stood up to adjust his robes before his housemate grasped hold of his shoulders and began escorting him out the door.
"I guess not."
Minutes passed by quietly as the Slytherin pair went roaming together in the school's dimly lit halls.
"You should have seen it, Potter," The blonde whispered intently (excitedly?) as they strode side by side under the anonymity of Harry's invisibility cloak. "It was just so, so..."
"Breathtaking?" He supplied, studying the undercurrent of emotions on the girl's oddly animated face. "Awe inspiring, perhaps?"
"You've no idea...," She confided with a knowing smirk. "We're almost there; hurry up, come on-"
Feelings of shock and outrage suffused her features as Harry unexpectedly pulled her into a cramped niche on the 4th floor staircase's left side.
"Just what the hell do you think you are playing at, Potter?!" The furious blonde gave a hiss and a snarl.
Harry predictably bit back a growl as he tried to dodge a flurry of the girl's nails.
"Ouch! Will you stop that, this instant!?" He gritted through clenched teeth. "I hear someone coming!"
True to his word a series of familiar voices were drifting down from around the blind corner of the hall. Daphne, for her part, blanched visibly but held her ground, coolly meeting his glaring green eyes. The boy held her gaze a good five seconds longer before turning away with the faintest of smiles; the girl in turn blushed a deep crimson despite her unrepentant looks.
"Don't even think for a second that just because that man is laid up, crying his eyes out in his room that this clears my suspicions of him," Came the surly undertones of the pair's Head of House.
"My dear Severus, you know I cannot afford to presume anything at this point," A jovial grandfatherly voice responded back. "Although, even you must admit, retrieving the stone will be no small undertaking, indeed, now that he has been divested of his wand."
Snape grimaced but apparently could not fault the Headmaster's logic. Harry frowned as well, listening intently but unable to follow their words.
"And what of the Prefects' missing wands? Quite a coincidence for all this to occur on the same night. It is entirely possible that Quirinus is simply faking his loss. Perhaps lure us into a false sense of security; divert all suspicions away from him. He knows very well what it is I suspect..."
"Well then, my friend, one can never be too cautious," Albus Dumbledore smiled with that faint twinkle in his eye. "Hence, the reason why we are all present tonight."
Between Professors Flitwick, McGonagall, and Sprout the magnificent Mirror of Erised floated easily along the deserted corridor, supported by the combined strength of what must have been three carefully applied Hovering charms. The Headmaster himself and his fellow Potions colleague were leading the entourage from the front while the ever silent Professor Vector trailed after them just a short distance behind. Harry, of course, didn't fully grasp what was being said, nor did he understand why he felt his compatriot tense as the procession passed them by.
He was not one of Hogwarts' brightest students, however, not to hazard a guess. Some of his suspicions were immediately confirmed by the insistent tug of fingers upon his hand. His eyebrows shot up to his hairline as the boy turned to stare at the solemn girl.
'Oh, you don't seriously expect me to-,' He tried to communicate through wide disbelieving eyes.
Daphne feigned ignorance as she brushed past his shoulder. Between acting irresponsible versus leaving a friend behind, the stoic Slytherin had little choice but to follow in her steps. Feeling a little more than slightly anxious at the prospect of getting caught, Harry stuck close to her side, keeping them safely clothed under the enchanted folds of the invisibility cloak. He was almost too preoccupied with unease to notice what the professors were doing up ahead.
"They're splitting up," She whispered, and sure enough Snape, Vector, and the rest of the Professors bowed to Dumbledore, going their separate ways leaving him with the mirror on his own.
"Just where is he - that's the Forbidden Corridor," The girl murmured in an oddly detached tone. "He can't take that there; he can't!"
Fearing that the blonde was about to try something truly reckless the boy pulled his housemate bodily behind a row of pillars near an alcove overlooking the third floor corridor entrance. It was a good thing he did and just in time, too, as Daphne didn't seem to be in any mood to be having any of it.
"Greengrass!" The Young Master whispered fiercely into her face. Her efforts to break away from cover instantly ceased with a single sharp glance. "Now listen; listen to me well - relax, just relax."
Staring off at an imaginary point on the wall, Daphne managed to do just that.
"Was that mirror the surprise you wanted me to see?"
"..." The girl murmured.
"'Yes and no?' Such an odd response." Regarding her gently, he said, "You want to know what I think?"
"For something so beautiful, it might deserve a place in the Forbidden Corridor, after all."
To this pronouncement the blonde responded with harsh look.
"Easy. I'm not saying that it's dangerous. Let's face it; what exactly do I know about it?"
"Nothing," The girl arrogantly replied.
"And that's where you're wrong," Smiled the boy, a decidedly wry expression upon his face. "I've seen the way that you've looked at that mirror, and I've observed how you've been acting thus far - and don't tell me it shouldn't concern me, because you know what it does." Stealing a glance around the corner, Harry missed the calculating look that Daphne sent his way. "What did you see in the looking glass?"
His only answer was a sly enigmatic smile.
"Sigh, you're not going make this any easier for me, are you? You're not going to let this go, no matter what I say..."
Daphne never really got a chance to reply as soft lilting music filled the torch lit corridor.
"What is the Headmaster doing back there, anyway?" She huffed, feeling ruffled and rather annoyed once again. "Rehearsing for a ball masque?"
Knowing full well what lay at the end of the corridor, Harry grew momentarily distracted, lost in thought. For whatever reason, his mind was suddenly transported back to Magnolia Elementary. Not to the bullies; not to Dudley; but to the subject of English, where the teachers had them read the many stories of old; The Aesop Fable, The Tales of Grimm, and his favorite ones of all...
"It's a lullaby," He ventured out loud.
"Lullaby?" The blonde echoed, staring closely at him, confused.
"Old Greek legend," He hurriedly explained. "The tale of the legendary bard and lyricist Orpheus, and the three-headed Guardian of the Underworld, the Cerberus. Yes, there's a Cerberus down there; I've seen it with my own eyes." Daphne took one look at his face and didn't doubt him on that. "Guess the Muggle tales the teachers taught at my old school weren't all just bed time stories and myths."
Blue eyes turned at the sound of creaking hinges. Far ahead at the end of the corridor, the Headmaster could be seen standing before the heavy black door. Just before Dumbledore disappeared within Daphne caught a glimpse of an enormous pair of blinking, half lidded baleful looking eyes.
"You seem to know more about Hogwarts than you really should..."
"Why do you sound surprised? You've said something to that effect before," Harry quipped, sobering when all he received was her frown. "I'm sorry the night didn't go the way you wanted it to..."
"It doesn't have to end. Let's go."
Daphne felt an odd sense of achievement as she watched the normally unflappable boy throw his hands up in the air. The cloak billowed off their shoulders, revealing their faces for just a split second. He hastily dropped his hands back down as the cloak fell back into place.
"Suffice it to say, you did not imply that as to mean that we should retire."
"Not at all," The blonde loftily said.
A long suffering sigh escaped the Young Master's frowning lips. For once in a many years, he found himself rooted between a rock and a truly hard place. The boy most certainly did not approve of what his housemate was proposing - it was unspeakably rash, not to mention potentially dangerous for the both of them. But on the flipside of the coin, Harry just couldn't bear the thought of denying the happiness of a friend. Having been so long denied such feelings from the Dursleys left him at a loss with indecision.
He knew very well that he ought to listen to logic - but he'd always been a boy who listened to his heart.
"Just tell me, Greengrass. Why would you recklessly risk getting caught by the Headmaster himself? Sure, we have an invisibility cloak; I'll give you that - but do you really think that will fool him? Besides him and the Cerberus, we don't know what else's down there. Is this really that important to you?"
Uncertainty burned in the face of her resolve as the blonde stared down a pair of startling green pools.
"There's nothing...I can say to convince you otherwise, is there?" The boy sighed.
For a brief instant, the young witch actually looked apologetic. That decided it for Harry.
"Very well," He acquiesced. "Get some sleep, Daphne. If this means so much to you, I promise to accompany you here at ten in the morning. Now come on; it's late. Let's head back for the dorms."
"Eight sharp," The blonde amended quickly.
"That's really pushing it, Greengrass," The Young Master quietly laughed. "But all right. If you must insist, eight it is."
Detaching themselves from the lengthy shadows, the pair of Slytherins slipped stealthily away from the third floor corridor. Neither sensed the malicious red eyes hidden in the alcove behind them.
Morning arrived a bit too soon for the enigmatic boy, who was instantly alert the moment he woke up in his bed. Harry had never set much by the rules (as doing so had only served to limit him in the past), but there were certain lines that even he was not willing to cross - especially if he didn't know beforehand what lied on the other side. The boy didn't need all the wisdom in the world to tell him that this venture was a bad idea. All the same, Harry felt compelled to go.
Not out of duty or obligation (save for concern and well being of a friend), but simple curiosity. What had his housemate seen in the mirror that was so wonderful that she would scatter all sense of logic to the four winds? He had never seen such strong emotions from the taciturn girl, thus it was only natural why what she had seen concerned him so. The "stone" itself (if that was indeed what was safeguarded down there) barely struck him as an item of interest.
Pocketing his shrunken broom, his book bag, and whatever else he deemed useful for the trek Harry hurried purposefully out of the Slytherin dorms, feeling a little too vigilant to bother with a bite to eat. Breakfast could wait, he decided. Even so, the boy dropped by the kitchens to greet the elves and pack themselves a bit of brunch. Having done that he set off for the third floor corridor, where he'd promised Daphne they'd meet.
He hastened his pace once he reached the foot of the changing stairs; he'd dallied a little longer than expected with Twitchy and the elves, and had to hot foot it all the way back so he wouldn't show up late. Four agonizing minutes later (the moving staircases seemed to have something against him) Harry leapt the last two flights of stairs just as the clock struck eight. The third floor was deserted.
Not a soul was there.
"Greengrass?" He stage whispered, wondering if she had concealed herself once again under his father's cloak. There was no reply; only the sounds of his own echo.
A sickening feeling of weightlessness filled his gut as his eyes wandered the empty corridor.
"Oh no..." Drawing out his wand, Harry ran in complete earnest to the door at the end of the hall.
Just as he feared he heard music playing inside the room. Relief washed over him like an ocean wave. Perhaps he wasn't too late? His hopes of finding Daphne were dashed the moment he pushed past the door. There was no trace of the girl to be found; only the massive form of the slumbering Cerberus and a small music box left in the middle of the room. Gingerly picking up the antique so as not to jostle it unnecessarily, Harry walked up to the trapdoor in the middle of the room and pried it open, staring contemplatively down at the vast expanse of gloom.
The Cerberus continued to snore completely unawares as the Moontrimmer unshrunk at his command. Shrinking the music box for safekeeping, the Young Master straddled the broom and steered it down into the black hole, drifting into the shadows long before the three headed dog could come fully awake. He ignored its lethargic growls to focus on a different sound, something like a sibilant hiss.
It was echoing off the walls from somewhere down below.
Harry didn't think for a second that that sounded very pleasant. Never the one to leave possibilities to chance, Harry aimed at the impenetrable darkness with the end of his hemlock wand.
A rather weak gout of flame (little more than a spark; but should that really bother him?) streaked several feet below before igniting on something that the boy couldn't quite see. Whatever it was reacted instantly, producing an earsplitting shriek as the fire spread, and in the sudden brightness he caught sight of a mass of leafy tendrils thrashing and writhing all over the room. Instinctively the mess of vines shrank from the fire and retreated back into the wall, and suddenly the way down was free. Swooping through the gap on his broom, Harry landed unharassed on a rugged stone floor.
"Still weak as ever," He muttered, as the meager flames overhead began to gutter out. "I guess it's expected."
Command over ice had to have its limits, after all. Before the vines could reclaim the darkness the boy spotted a sloping passageway up ahead. Summoning a snowflake to light his path, Harry proceeded forth into the unknown, keeping a vice grip on his wand every step of the way. Perhaps sensing his trepidation the gnarled length of hemlock pulsed comfortably in his hand. The boy stopped momentarily to catch a breather and basked in its soothing flow. When he opened his eyes the Young Master smiled; he felt like usual self once again.
Light at the end of the passageway opened up to a truly impressive chamber with a domed ceiling hung high overhead. It made him think of a great big aviary, filled with the fluttering shapes of what looked like lacewing birds - a misconception that proved untrue as his eyes settled far ahead on a heavy wooden door. A heavy wooden door riddled with the embedded teeth of dozens upon dozens of winged jewel bright keys. Provided that keys lodged halfway into a door wasn't normal Harry was able to deduce three things; one, the keys were booby trapped; two, Alohamora probably wasn't going to work; but most importantly three, Daphne had passed by this way.
Harry was left at a crossroads whether to be angry or relieved.
Ignoring the flock of flying keys and the old school broom lying on the floor the Young Master set his sights solely upon the door. Running his fingers across its front, the wood proved unyielding and sturdy, but the lock, he discovered, was old and rusty, almost in a state of disrepair. He had no qualms about helping the process along, grasping the handle firmly in hand and allowing the essence of winter to achieve its course.
Mist rose from between his fingers as the iridescent sheen of ice crept slowly but gradually across the eroded surface. It spread further and further in a blossoming arch, consuming all in its path until the deep freeze crystallized the entirety of the tarnished metal. The locking mechanism - springs, gears, and all - didn't stand a chance. It splintered audibly with the sound of brittle crack. Accepting that as his cue Harry nudged the door open with his boot, letting the door yaw as he stepped in.
Torches flared to life at his approach, revealing the next chamber for what it was. One huge chessboard with two sets of imposing stone figurines facing down one another from opposite ends. The pieces, some thrice as tall as himself, were truly beautiful to look at, immortalizing their medieval likenesses in smooth monoliths of carved stone.
"Beautiful, just beautiful," The boy breathed. How wonderful would it be if he could just shrink them and take them to his room? Then again..., "Reducio."
Much to his delight, the rook nearest to him began to shrink. To his chagrin the chessboard flashed right under it and began to reverse the process once it shrank to the size of a thimble. Lifting his left hand up into the air, the rook paused in mid growth as the now fist sized piece hovered at his wandless command.
A beam of light flew from the tip of his wand to strike the tower shaped piece. Harry smiled; the rook stayed shrunk. Wandlessly levitating the piece into his book bag Harry proceeded to clear the board, opting to continue with the opposing side first. No sense risking things by taking out his own king first...
Once all the pieces were separated in their designated pockets (putting opposite ends together seemed to inevitably cause them to clash) the Young Master leaned heavily against the wall, contemplating the possibilities of the next challenge. He stumbled across the empty chessboard to the door on the other side of the room, sweaty, drained, not to mention out of breath. Perhaps it hadn't been wise to exert himself so?
"No use worrying about that now," He deduced, fishing a meat pie or two from the recesses of his pack. "But at this rate I have to wonder - which will I find first; the mirror, the stone, or the girl?"
Preparing himself for yet another challenge Harry half expected another chamber beyond the next set of doors. He was decidedly relieved to discover that that was not the case. Between evading monsters and circumventing booby traps, a seemingly endless series of steps was no big deal for him. What's more it was wide and spacious; plenty of room to navigate on a broom. Still recovering as he was the boy took full advantage of just that.
To him it seemed like no time at all had passed when he swooped down into the dimly lit room.
Braking to a stop and landing lightly in the antechamber, Harry was not at all surprised to find what he'd been searching for therein. Partially garbed in his invisibility cloak, Daphne stood stifflly in the center of the enclosed chamber, her gaze fixed solely upon her reflection in the magical mirror. Her princess curls lay in disarray, her robes noticeably wrinkled, disheveled, and unclean; yet for all intents and purposes the girl had weathered her experiences relatively well, unharmed; scot-free. There was no stone to be seen in the room, but that wasn't important; it wasn't like he came here for that.
Unfortunately, there was just something indubitably wrong with the picture.
Daphne was not alone, and she was not in friendly company.
Someone was pacing in and out of the shadows with his wand aimed squarely at her back. He was muttering darkly under his breath, his focus enrapt upon the girl and the mirror, and though the man never looked in his direction Harry could not have missed the purple turban wrapped around his head.
"What?" The boy forced himself to silently exclaim.
Everything that Snape and Dumbledore had alluded the night before suddenly made a whole lot more sense then. The professors had somehow suspected Quirrell of coming after the stone for who knew how long since. From what the boy was seeing at the moment (and even now he was finding it hard to believe) it seemed they were right. Shocked as he was with this revelation he dismissed the feeling out of hand. Daphne was in trouble; that was what really concerned him.
Concealing the hemlock and rock feather wand within the flowing sleeves of his robes, Harry's mind set to work trying to figure out a plan. Fate apparently didn't seem to be agreeing with him today...
"My patience is wearing thin, Greengrass," The normally jumpy professor snarled. "What do you see in the mirror?!"
The girl flinched but otherwise stayed her ground, refusing to match his gaze. Outraged and finally at the end of his tether, the wild eyed wizard made his intentions clear when he raised up his wand.
"It would seem a little persuasion in in order. Crucio!"
Daphne tried to jerk away from the man, eyes dilating in horror and surprise.
A jet of malevolent red light flared from the glowing tip of Quirrell's wand-
Only to be intercepted a split second later by the freezing cold surface of a six sided star of pure of ice. Harry stared as the snowflake shattered, then glanced at his upraised hand. The boy's magic (at least it'd seemed to him then) had suddenly developed a mind all its own.
Quirrell looked equally surprised as well, and he reacted just as quick, too. With a deft snap of his fingers ropes sprang like snakes out of thin air and quickly restrained the Young Master on the spot.
"Potter!" The professor smirked with malicious delight. "Interesting bit of spell work, I must say - surprised you aren't at the top of the class."
"..." Harry didn't really have anything to say to that, so he didn't.
"We thought you might show," Quirrell continued breezily. "You p-p-promised the girl, didn't you? Slytherin, ha! Far from a credit to your very own House..."
"Good morning, Greengrass," The boy politely addressed his friend, ignoring the triumphant visage of the habitual stutterer altogether. "Looks like you've picked up an especially untoward guest."
"Looks that way," Daphne derided the professor in turn. "Practically had to hold his hand, forced me to take the lead every single step of the way. So rude, so improper, so ungentle like." As an afterthought she added, "Took my bloody wand away from me, too."
"Well that's only fair, wretched girl; as they say, turnabout is only fair play!" The wizard snapped. "If I hadn't been wandering the castle, retracing my steps last night, I might have never overheard the both of you talking under that silly cloak, and I would never have guessed who it was who managed to snatch my wand!"
"So you did manage to lose it," Harry said, moving both his hands inconspicuously trying not to look like he was doing anything at all. Daphne seemed to notice but wisely turned her eyes away, keeping it to herself. "The professors said as much you know; pity things didn't stay that way."
"Ah, I suppose you are referring to Snape. Devil knows how that man figured out that I was the one who set troll in the dungeon. While everyone else was running around the castle looking for it, Severus went off to the third floor to head me off. I never did get to test the stone's protections, and it was such a useless distraction anyway. Still not sure who or what did it in, and Snape has been a thorn in my side ever since. Never left me alone; tried to frighten me, as if he ever could. He doesn't know that I'm never alone..."
Quirrell's face twitched unpleasantly. He looked like he was about to say something more when he twitched once again and paled. Binding Daphne up carelessly with a flick of his wand, the professor turned his full attention upon the enchanted mirror, pacing once more as he muttered his thoughts.
Eventually the man asked, "What do you know about this mirror, Potter? Shouldn't put it past you if you already figured something about Flamel's precious stone," He muttered lowly, glancing slyly at the boy, perhaps fishing for a reaction.
"Probably as much as you," The boy honestly said. "I've never actually seen the mirror up close."
Now that he was, Harry was truly able to appreciate the beauty of the thing. He didn't dare look directly into the thing, and it was because of that that he noticed something that Quirrell and Daphne had not. There was an inscription written across the top of the frame. It read, Erised stra ehru oyt ube cafru oyt on woshi. Gibberish? For some reason the Young Master didn't believe that that's what it was. Reading it straight did nothing for him, and assuming they weren't just scrambled words he tried to read the message the other way around. Several attempts at rearranging words later he came up with a legible sentence; I show not your face but your heart's desire. That made Harry especially curious; what would the mirror show someone who couldn't be happier with the world?
"I don't understand...," Quirrell continued to mutter. "I can see myself holding the stone; I'm presenting it to my master...But how do I get it? Should I break it? No...This mirror is the key, but how?! Leave it to Dumbledore to come up with something as complicated as this...Help me, Master!"
"Just who do you think you are talking-?" Daphne paled as she was promptly cut off by the cold sibilant echo emanating from the professor himself.
"Use the boy..." The voice suggested.
Relief washed across the pale wizard's face. Harry's scar began to itch.
"Come here, Potter!"
Quirrell clapped his hands together, freeing Harry in an instant. Seeing the wand digging at his friend's temple, the boy narrowed his eyes but obeyed the professor as the man beckoned him forward, keeping his hands hidden up his sleeves. The temperature in the room had begun to fall; Quirrell stayed oblivious.
"Look in the mirror and tell me what you see. Stand up, girl, isn't this what you and Potter came for?"
The boy paused in mid step as the wizard dragged a protesting Daphne roughly across the floor. Fingers clenched under the sleeves of his robes. Several things that lay relatively harmless in his hands suddenly lengthened into a series of sharp jagged edges. It drained him to do so, but Harry didn't care. The Young Master regarded the mirror fiercely with his mind made up on one thing.
His dear old professor was never going to clap his filthy hands on Flamel's precious stone. Oho, he'd see to that...
Even if it meant destroying the bloody thing; which would be no loss for him. It was only a question of how he was going to find the stone first, and without Quirrell's noticing. No pressure there, he randomly thought. Then he remembered how the man had used Daphne to get this far, the strange spell he'd tried to cast upon his friend, and then the flash of terror he'd seen in her eyes.
Vengeance, he resolved, should be sweet.
Snatching Quirrell's dreams away from him would be justice. Calm green eyes glimmered imperceptibly upon his reflection in the mirror. Thus distracted Harry barely caught his alter echo's knowing smile. He did not miss the sudden motion of its fingers as it reached into the right side of his robes, and he definitely could not ignore the vibrant red gleam in his mirror reflection's hands. It winked broadly, palming the beautiful red stone, before pocketing it once again. When it did the Young Master felt an unfamiliar weight settle in his right breast pocket.
"Potter, what is it?" Quirrell interjected from behind his right shoulder, "Well, what do you see?!"
"I see myself with the stone..." The boy strung his professor along.
Daphne, bound and gagged on the side, looked strangely displeased by this.
"No different than you," Harry continued, dashing all the man's hopes.
Oaths of exclamation slipped freely from between Quirrell's gnashing jaws. The Young Master subtly took several steps back, taking advantage of the man's preoccupation to sidle up towards his friend. His thoughts came to an unexpected turn as the cold raspy voice from before boomed impossibly from behind Quirrell's turbaned head.
"The boy lies..."
"Just what makes you so sure of that?" The boy calmly said, stifling the urge to rub at the scar on his head.
"Let me speak to the boy...Face to face."
Uncertainty and reverence quarreled upon the frowning professor's face.
"Master, are you sure? You - you are not strong enough!"
"Ah, but I have strength for this..."
Bowing to no one in particular, Quirrell began to methodically unwrapping his turban. Harry reached Daphne by then and silently set to work on her binds. No sooner was she freed when the back of the wizard's head was revealed. Staring back at their gaping visages in the mirror was a terrible emaciated face. It was bloodless and gaunt, sickly almost - yet it was somehow vital, and strong. For reasons the Young Master could not fathom, the narrowed red eyes and unnatural tapering slits of its nose reminded him most of a snake.
"Harry Potter," The face laughed in its high pitched, dry crackling tone. "So we meet again. Are you proud, young snake, to be a member of my prestigious House? Your father James would have likely disowned you had he been alive to hear the news! I'm not so sure about his precious Lily, but perhaps I did both your parents a favor that night on Halloween."
Daphne gasped. Harry paled and felt cold all over, and it had nothing to do with his magic's comforting embrace.
"Voldemort...," Seeing his parent's murderer in the flesh was doing nothing for his composure. "Word has it you disappeared..."
Harry would have retreated several steps if it wasn't for the unexpected weight of his petrified friend. The Young Master eased the quaking girl gently to one side, whispering assurances ("Everything will be okay; don't worry. Look away, look away...") while keeping a wary eye on the 'man' before him at all times. It relieved him somewhat that Voldemort's focus lay solely upon him.
"Yes...See what I've become? A shadow of my former self, living through another; a mere parasite! I have form, but only through those willing to let me into their hearts and minds. While there are plenty who are worthy and willing, what I need is a means to create a body of my own...And that means currently lies-"
Amazement briefly overshadowed the savage victory on the twisted thing's face.
"Interesting...," Voldemort cackled at length. "So very difficult to read; I can sense the lies in your words, but not the truth in your mind. You hide your emotions very well, Potter."
Keeping his silence seemed to only amuse the strange not quite man. Fear was replaced by a focused feeling of anger.
"Ah, how touching; bravery. Your parents had it too. I must admit, your father was a true credit to his House - he put up a courageous fight, held his own to the bitter end. Lily, on the other hand, died begging me, pleading to me not to take your life. She needn't have died, and now nor should you. Don't be a fool; don't let your mother's sacrifice be in vain! Join me, Harry. We can bring them back, if that is what you wish. Together we will perform extraordinary things. But I must ask for something in return..."
"...Would you be able to bring them back?"
"Everyone you killed?" Voldemort blinked at the boy's calm frown of defiance. "My parents, the McKinnons, the Prewets, the Bones? Magic might be great, but I doubt even you can claim to have any power over death."
"Casting doubt upon my abilities? You should learn from example, young snake; there is no good and evil. Only power, and those too weak to seek it. KILL HIM!"
Quirrell leapt into action-
But not before Harry did first.
A sweep of his left arm set the Young Master's clothes aflutter. Several glinting hues, almost too quick for the man to see, knifed through the air from the sleeves of the boy's robes. Unable to tell what was coming but knowing for certain it wasn't going to be good for him, Quirrell quickly raised his wand.
The transparent barrier that surrounded Quirrell like an all encompassing bubble buckled and held through the first volley. Its aura faded, however, during the second wave. A wandless tingle rushed through his fingers to the last of the cold needles held in the boy's hands. Swinging his arms in a wide arcs once more, Harry let fly. Unable to reconcile with what it was that he was seeing, Quirrell had only time to cry out and raise up his arms in alarm before bolts of pain overtook him and momentum pitched him off his feet. For a split second the dazed professor experienced the surrealistic thrill of uncontrolled flight. Whatever peace Quirrell derived in that moment proved to be his last as a million shards of mirrored glass buried themselves explosively in the small of his back. Pain like none other filled his world, then everything began to fade to black.
Harry, despite being tense and cautious, still took a moment to shift his position, placing himself between the horrible sight of the dying man and his friend. It was a kind if futile gesture, as Daphne had long since fainted before then.
"If only the great Albus Dumbledore...Were here to see you now," Voldemort managed to chuckle despite his host's horrendous wounds. "And to think the spawn of sweet Lily and James...Could be capable of something like this. How did you...Where is...?"
"Wondering where the stone went?" The Young Master addressed Quirrell (and Voldemort, by extension) through the fog. "I'm wondering how it is you're still alive. All the books say that you died, but your presence here tells me something different. Not quite alive, but not quite dead; is this all there is to your existence now? Don't suppose it's very likely that you'll let me in on your secrets, but still, if you can really detect the truth in my words then I think I can safely tell you this. Believe me when I say that I will do everything in my power to see to that your precious stone is destroyed."
'...Before I'll ever let you hold it in your hands,' Harry resolved, leaving the trail end of his thoughts unsaid.
It was merely a half truth, all honestly told; less than the truth but more than a lie. Voldemort, however, was unable to detect the difference. All he heard was the simple truth and conviction in the boy's words, and despite the unspeakable fury that he was in, the maleficient shade of the once great wizard had little choice but to take him at his word and believe. Having nothing more to gain from his dying follower, Voldemort departed with a hate filled scream and the flash of a dark shadow, a ghostly apparition bounding out of sight beyond the endless flight of steps from whence they came.
"Master...," The professor wheezed.
Quirrell didn't feel the hand rummaging through the pockets of his blood stained robes. He couldn't see Harry get afterwards as he retrieved Daphne's stolen wand. Sounds no longer registered either, so he was unable to hear the boy retreat several steps, pause, and pick up the professor's dropped wand.
"Goodbye professor," Harry said, kneeling down by Daphne's side to pick up the girl. "Let's hope we never meet again."
Carrying the blonde almost bridal style on his broom, the stoic Slytherin sped off up the steps, leaving Quirrell to realize in his final fleeting moments that his master no longer needed him and that he, for all that he had sacrificed for him, had always been well and truly alone.
Daphne gradually came to in an unfamiliar room.
"Nice to have you back again. Guess you haven't been sleeping well for the past few days; it's almost sundown."
"Where are we, Potter?" The girl asked, sitting up in bed.
"Perhaps it's not what you're used to," His calm detached voice issued from the left side of the four poster bed, "But welcome to my humble little abode once again." The boy was reclining lazily in his seat, a plush chair he'd dragged from the common room. "I do believe these belong to you..."
Smiling in silent gratitude, the blonde accepted the music box, the invisibility cloak, and two lengths of willow and cherry wood. Using her own wand she shrunk the music box, wrapped it in the invisibility cloak, and pocketed the whole thing. Immediately afterward the length of willow and dragon string disappeared into her pockets as well. Quirrell's precious cherry wood she hesitated to put away. The girl stared at it long and hard for almost a minute.
"...Exactly, how did we get back here?"
"Your Christmas gift, remember?" Harry smirked, tapping the handle of the fine yet sturdy broom. "It's a very nice broom I've got to admit. Never figured I'd be using it in the castle too..."
"What happened to...?"
"Flamel's stone? It's safe," The boy reassured with a conviction that she didn't doubt.
"As for Quirrell," His serene expression hardened, if by only a little, "Don't worry your head about him; he made a choice and he paid for it. Considering how he carelessly gambled with your life tonight, that man will be of no loss to this school. None of the professors are aware of anything amiss as yet, but they will - before the end of the night - when dinner comes and he fails show. I suspect there will be an announcement after the break that our dear Defense Professor has 'taken an early leave from his duties, expressing his wishes to quietly retire.'"
The blonde blinked, not missing the import of her housemate's words.
"So - the Dark Lord? He's gone...?"
Harry gazed frankly into Daphne's guarded blue eyes.
"McGonagall said that the day my parents died that monster disappeared. She said his curse rebounded on him, but she never said he was dead. I get the impression she thought he was laying low somewhere, recuperating...Guess this year he was just ready to rise back to power. Lucky us, we didn't face him in his former glory. Today could've ended very badly for the both of us."
"In other words...He's..."
A trace of fear underscored her words. As a favor to his friend Harry decided to head that off.
"Voldemort's a spirit now, Greengrass." The boy smiled mildly as the blonde jumped, startled, then glared. "He's not the all powerful wizard that he used to be. Yes, I don't doubt that he's looking for a new host right now, but I don't think he'll find another means to bring himself back any time soon. Finding ways to cheat death can't be too easy, even for someone like him. If it were great witches and wizards like Merlin and Morgana would probably still be around. As far as we can tell they are not."
Daphne didn't look entirely swayed by the Young Master's argument, but his words succeeded in calming her nerves somewhat. At least enough for her to remember to ask a very important question.
"...Could you tell me what you really saw in the mirror, Potter?"
Instead of answering her outright, Harry wrote down the inscription he'd seen on the frame the mirror.
"Look at this as you might in a looking glass," He said, handing her the bit of parchment. "This was the only message I found inscribed on that antique. It might help you understand the mirror's true purpose."
The blonde took the note with some confusion but read the inscription regardless. Several heartbeats passed. Eventually the blonde turned a healthy shade of red.
"Oh...," She simply said. Her expression betrayed nothing, but her tone told him all.
"May I ask...What that mirror showed you?"
She shifted uncomfortably, measuring her next words in her mind.
"It's nothing. Nothing but a dream."
"You don't seem to sound like you believe in it anymore," Harry noted quietly. "What's so different now than it was then? Didn't you want to believe in it so strongly?" The boy gently pressed. "Isn't that why you were so eager to show me before?"
A frosty glare shot him a challenge which softened up immediately under his softhearted look.
Recalling something Susan sometimes did to him whenever she thought he was being broody, the boy reached a hand forward and tapped the girl gently on top if her head. The light brush of his fingers against her forehead surprised the girl enough to pull her out of her own brooding funk.
"Just because you've learned it's just a dream shouldn't make it seem any less real to you. If it's important keep it; don't give up and forget it. Maybe not everything we believe in this world is bound to come true, but I'd still like to think that we all have something to live for in our dreams. Would you have gotten this far if you hadn't, Daphne?"
"Never thought I'd have you to talk sunshine and roses," She laughed, hoping her housemate wasn't too offended by the sound of her tone. "I was almost certain that you were a pessimist at heart."
"Perhaps that's who I used to be," Harry mused.
"So what changed?" Daphne asked. The Young Master tilted his head to one side, sending her one of his patented looks.
"Right," She nodded, rolling her eyes. "How silly of me; how could I have ever forgotten about Bones?"
"And let's not forget about you."
Only Harry's intervention kept the blonde from tumbling out of bed.
"You shouldn't sound too surprised," He said with a bemused, almost childish smile. "I didn't entrust you with my father's cloak just because you gave me a Christmas gift. Speaking of which, you might want to pull it out again."
"Can I ask the reason why?"
"Twitchy and her army of elves are probably putting the finishing touches to dinner by now. I told them I'd be bringing a friend along, and they're just dying to meet you. Supper couldn't hurt, could it?"
"No, it wouldn't," The girl agreed, unfurling the invisibility cloak. "Potter?"
Harry tilted his head with an inquiring look.
"I won't ask how you defeated Quirrell or the Dark Lord," Daphne blushed faintly; he had a feeling it meant she had fainted before then, "That is your secret to tell. But I am still curious; what is your heart's desire?"
"Better to leave you guessing," He detachedly teased. "What's yours?"
Daphne's sly look from the night before lit up her features in full force.
"Wouldn't you like to know," She smirked as she stood up from the bed and covered them both under the cloak. "Maybe you are right, Potter; maybe it's not just a dream. We'll see one day."
"Glad you changed your mind," The Young Master honestly said.
"Me too," Nodded the suspiciously smiling girl. "Take it from me, Potter, I'm going to have lot's of fun finding out if my dream can come true..."
For reasons as yet unknown to him, Harry Potter suddenly experienced a telltale feeling of impending doom.
A/N: I thought writing Halloween was bad! This was the most taxing (but also most fun) chapter I've ever had to write. For those of you still following my story, I'd like to express my gratitude and thanks for your time and patience. Bet you're wondering about Daphne's studies and Harry's shiny new stone! Not to mention what Susan's going to think about certain things...Wait and see. On to Book II: The Chamber of Secrets! Stick around, people! Want me to continue? Praise? Complaints? Whatever the case, review, review!